World War II was the most widespread war in the history of humanity. It was a conflict that consumed almost the entire world. Today, it is widely studied by professional historians and armchair generals. It is a war where the decisions of leaders of all sides are still scrutinized to this day. As dictators, the Axis leaders had no one to challenge their decisions or prevent their mistakes. It’s not surprising that they were defeated in part by their own strategic blunders. Here are four of the biggest strategic blunders of World War II:
1. German Invasion of Russia. When Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, he committed his Armies to a huge undertaking against a resilient and nearly insurmountable foe. According to “Hitler, Germany’s Worst General,” a paper published by historian Robert C. Daniels, “going against the advice of many of his general officers, Hitler ordered the implementation of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the USSR, to begin on June 22, 1941, effectively creating a two front war and beginning the downfall of the German Third Reich.” While the Germans initially smashed through Russian defenses, the Russians were to retreat, regroup, improve, and counter-attack. The Germans didn’t have enough forces and they didn’t have proper winter gear. Hitler also interfered with the conduct of the Russian campaign and made poor tactical decisions. In martial arts, when facing multiple foes, you should attempt to isolate them and take them on one at a time. Hitler’s plan opened Germany up to attack from the East and West.
2. Germany’s Declaration of War on US. As if fighting Britain and Russia wasn’t enough, Nazi Germany declared war on an angry United States that was focused on Japan and avenging Pearl Harbor. According to Daniels, “Before the United States entered the war, England, for all practical purposes, stood alone on Germany’s west. England, although showing signs of renewed strength through the lend-lease material sent by the United States, was still, however, not a major threat to Germany, and was still teetering on defeat.” Hitler’s declaration of war brought America actively into the war in Europe. It gave Russia access to American war materiel. It gave Britain direct help in the form of troops and equipment. It ultimately led to the D-Day landings in Normandy and the liberation of France. It was truly a mistake that changed everything.
3. Pearl Harbor Attack. While the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was an impressive tactical victory, it brought America into World War 2 and united the American people against Japan. After years of isolationism, America was able to adopt a total war footing, harness vast industries, and unleash an unstoppable military machine. According to “Mistakes at Pearl Harbor,” a paper by historians, Bill Paige and Dr. Xiao Bing Li, most historians agree on their assessment of the Pearl Harbor Attack, ” They identify the military leaders of the Empire of Japan misjudged the ir future enemy’s military, government, and most of all, its people. As a result, the commanders did not anticipate the drive, which the USA maintained in exacting their revenge. Such a grievous miscalculation led the majority of historians to declare the air strike a critical strategic blunder.”
4. German Failure to Eliminate RAF. Germany failed to achieve air superiority over the British Isles. One of the key German problems was what historian Walter J. Boyne characterized as “an almost casual changing of objectives that must have had Clausewitz turning in his grave.” Instead of focusing their attacks on radar installations, air bases. and RAF fighters, the Luftwaffe split their time between terrorizing cities with bombing missions and attacks on RAF installations. Despite romantic notions to the contrary, World War II was a war of attrition in the skies. In Clash of Wings, Boyne writes, “had the Luftwaffe been allowed to fight to the bitter end to eradicate the RAF, it might have done so.” If the Luftwaffe would have eliminated the RAF, they could have provided air cover for an invasion of England and the ultimate defeat of Great Britain.
Boyne, Walter J. “Clash of Wings”, Simon & Schuster, 1994
Daniels, Robert C., “Hitler, Germany’s Worst General” Military History Online, May 2007.
Paige, Bill., “Mistakes at Pearl Harbor” Academia.edu, July 2011.