The Fall of the Third Reich

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War in Europe - 1939-45

The war in Europe between 1939 and 1945 can be broken down into 3 phases: a period of conquest, a period of decisive reverses and a period of retreat. 

Conquest 1939-42: Germany crushed Poland. Spring it occupied Norway and Denmark. The occupation of Norway was quickly followed by the fall of Holland, Belgium and France in May-June. Hitler toyed with the idea of crossing the Channel but put his plans to invade Britain on hold after his air force failed to win control of the skies over south-east England. 

He turned his attention to Russia. In 1940-1 he prepared the ground for an attack on Soviet Russia by tightening his grip on south-eastern Europe. Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria became Germany's allies and Yugoslavia and Greece were invaded. 

The attack on Soviet Russia, code-named Operation Barbarossa launced in June 1941. Huge tracks of western Russia fell to the Nazis in the first year of fighting. 

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Decisive Reverses 1942-3

German armies suffered two shattering defeats on the so-called Eastern Front. The first was at Stalingrad and the second in the tank battle of Kursk. These two battles forced Germany's armies in Soviet Russia on to the retreat. 

Meanwhile in N. Africa, German forces were sent to help Mussolini's Italy hold Libya and later attempted to fight their way through to the oil fields of the Middle East

They were defeated by the British at El Alamein and surrendered to British and American forces at Tunis. The Desert War - as it was known - diverted German resources away from the Eastern Front.

Stalingrad and Kursk: Germans batled to win control of a built-up area street-by-street and house-by-house before they were themselves surrounded by a Russian counter-attack and forced to surrender. Kursk was fought in open country across a wide area with tanks at the centre of things. 

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Retreat 1943-5

Eastern Front: Russian armies advanced westwards, entering Poland in mid-1944 and Germany itself in January 1945. In western Europe, Anglo-American forces landed in Normandy in June 1944 and entered German territory in October 1944

There were in this phase of the war some ferociuos German counter-attacks which held up both the Russians in the east and the British and Americans in the west. Germany was, however, fighting a losing battle. Hitler committed suicide on 30 April 1945

Political Developments - Radicalisation

  • 1937-38 Hitler removed non-Nazi conservatives like Schacht from positions of influence in his government because they voiced doubts about his plans to wage war in the near future.
  • In 1939 Hitler embarked on the war non-Nazi conservatives had warned him against
  • Under the cover of war, the Nazis launched genocidal policies - not only the Holocaust, but also the mass killing of the Roma and Sinti and of the mentally ill and disabled through the T-4 euthanasia programme 
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Hitler's Disappearance from Public View

After the war began Hitler was seen in public less and less. He spent more of his time at his military headquarters. He didnt visit German troops in battle zones; didnt go to German cities hit by Allied bombing raids to offer comfort to the victims and didnt try to monilise support for the war effort by making numerous speeches and radio broadcasts.

In the later stages of the war, Propaganda Minister Goebbles replaced Hitler as the public face of the Nazi regime. While Hitler moped at his military headquarters, blaming his generals and even the German people for letting him down, Goebbles criss-crossed German encouraging people to fight on. 

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Limited in the 1930s in part bc Hitler was popular, in part because of the effectiveness of Himmler's Gestapo. By mid 1930s the Gestapo had largely destroyed the underground networks set up by the Social Democrats and the Communists. The later years of war saw an increase in resistance to Nazism within Germany. 

  • Memvers of the Commie resistance which re-emerged in working-class heartlands were old foes of the Nazis
  • White Rose group based at Munich Uni consisted of idealistic uni students horrified by Nazi anti-Jewish atrocities. They distributed anti-Nazi leaflets and covered walls w/anti-Nazi graffiti - leaders were arrested and executed
  • Kreisau Circle was a loose association of upper-class political moderates brought together by a shared loathing of Nazi barbarism. Discussion group which concentrated on drawing up plans for a post-war democratic Germany
  • Beck-Goerdeler group was made up of old-fashioned upper-class nationalists who turned against Nazism when it became clear that Hitler was leading Germany to defeat and disaster. Their plan was to remove Hitler from power by assassinating him.
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The July Plot

Bek and Goerdeler had many supporters in senior ranks of the German army and so knew they could get close to Hitler

They made their move in July 1944

Claus von Stauffenberg planted a bomb in a conference room at Hitler's military headquarters. 4 people were killed when it went off but Hitler escaped serious injury. Those connected were killed. 

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German Economy - Use of Foreign Resources

  • Germany gained access to new food supplies and to some key raw materials as a result of its conquests. France provided coal and iron ore, Romania oil and south Russia wheat. Germany was also able to exploit industrial facilities located within the conquered territories - steelworks and munitions factories in France and Belgium i.e.
  • Germany captured large quantities of military equipment - former French tanks and artillery were in service w/the German army right up until 1945
  • Conquered territories provided Germany with much-needed supplies of labour. Nazis put French and Russian prisoners of war to work in their factories. 
  • Transported milions of civilians to Germany from Poland, France and other occupeied countries to work as slave labourers. 
  • 1/5 of the German workforce was foreign and treated atrociously. 
  • Prisoners held in SS-run concentration and extermination camps were also used as slave labour. Himmler's SS built up huge business enterprises on the basis of concentration camp labor. There were SS-run firms making things like building materials, clothing, furniture and armaments. 
  • Conquered territories didnt meet al of G's needs. Most slave labourers were unskilled. 
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How did Albert Speer contrib. to the German war ef

Albert Speer - Armaments Minister - v extensive power that he effectively replaced Goering. Hitler lost confidence in Goering becasue he had failed to stop the British evacuation, failed to win the Battle of Britain and then failed to prevent the bombing of Germany cities. 

Speer was a surprising choice because he had no military experience and no background in industry. On the other hand, he was a first-class organiser and a personal friend of Hitler's. Also a realist and saw that Germany had to reorganize itself for prolonged "total" war

He proved to be highly effective - increases in armament production took place by 1944 weapon production had been trebled. Speer replaced a chaotic system in which different gov departments competed against each other for resources with more orderly arrangements. He tried to concentrate production in a small number of gigantic factories. Streamlined production, cutting out waste and duplication. Ineffective managers were sacked. Intensive use was made of foreign slave labor. 

His task became increasingly difficult as a result of the damage inflicted by the Anglo-American bombing campaign but his efforts enabled Germany to hold out for longer than it might otherwise have done but he could not prevent defeat. 

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Impact of War on German Society

Military Casualties: human cost was immense. 16 million served, over 3 million of them killed, 1.5 taken priosners. Most of those taken by Russians died in captivity. More German soldiers died in the last four months of the war than in the previous two years combined. 

Later stages of war saw desperate measres being taken to keep Germany's enemies at bay. 1944 Hitler ordered the creation of a People's Army (Volkssturm) a sort of home guard made up of men aged 16-60 who were not in the armed forces. Members of the Hitler Youth were also pressed into service. Some of those who fought in the defence of Berlin in 1945 were as young as 14. 

Bombing and Its Effects: 1943-45 intense air attacks. Americans by day and the British by night. 300,000 civilians killed and 750,000 injured. 1/5 of Germany's housing stock was damaged or destroyed. 7 million were homeless. Centres of Germany's main cities had been reduced to rubble.

Wanted to weaken the German war economy. Targetted the Ruhr and also to cause panic and break civilian morale. Firebombing of Hamburg and Dresden cost at least 60,000 people their lives. People displayed considerable resilience and the authorities organized efficient clear-up operations to sustain morale. Only in the last months did people lose the will to fight on. 

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More Impacts

Refugees: German armies that invaded Soviet Russia treated the civilian population in a ruthless and savage manner. Atrocities occured routinely and on a large scale. Same happened when Russian troops entered eastern Germany and bc the Germans were terrified they fled westwards. 5 million germans left their homes and the authorities in western Germany were left to deal with huge numbers of displaced people.

Women at War: Air raids ever-present danger, food, clothing and fuel strictly rationed. Women expected wherever possible to make a contribution to the war effort by working in factories or on the land. War years didnt see a spectacular increase in the number of women involved in paid employment. This was because the number of women working in industry or agriculture was v high even before war broke out.

The end of the war brought one final horror for German women. Soviet soldiers advanced into eastern Germany and captured Berlin engaged in acts of **** on a massive scale. Number of vitims in Berlin alone ahs been estimated at more than 100,000

Wartime Prop.: Goebbles declared that Germany would suffer total destruction if it didnt wage total war. Played on people's fear of the Russians. 

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Why did Germany lose the war?

Economic Resources: 1941-45 Germany was fighting Britain, Soviet Russia and the US simultaneously. 3 of the world's most powerful economies. Each of them had access to abundant supplies of war materials and each had huge manufacturing potential. Germany had fewer people, fewer factories and fewer raw materials. 

Effective Allied Forces: German army was a formidable fighting machine throughout the war. It won quick and spectacular victories, however on the retreat in 1942-45 it proved stubborn and resilient. Took Germany's enemies time to build up forces of comparable quality. At the end of the war, British and Russian forces were better equipped, better trained and better led than they had been at the start.

Russia initially lost huge amounts of territory, 4 million men, 8,000 aircrafts and 17,000 tanks but lessons were learnt and changes were made in the Russian army's training, organisation, tactics and leadership. Morale improved.

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Hitler's Miscalculations and Mistakes

1. After the fall of Poland and France, Hitler assumed that Britain would make peace and leave him free to attack Russia. He didn't allow for Churchill's stubborn determination to fight on.

2. Hitler massively under-estimated Russia's capacity to wage war. He viewed Russians as racial inferiors and believed they would give up without much of a fight when Germany attacked. 

3. Late 1941 Hitler abruptly declared war on the US. He did so a few days after the Japanese attack on the Americans at Pearl Harbor. He was relaxed about his decision and seemed to believe that the US would come to Britain's aid sooner or later. He also believed that it would be years before the US could mobilise its economic resources against him. Although it was Japanese aggression that had invovled them in the war, the Americans opted to make the defeat of Germany their first priority. In addition, theyir genius for mass production made itself felt far more quickly than Hitler expected. 

4. 250,000-strong German army which had found itself besieged at Stalingrad could have fought its way through the encircling Russian forces back to the safety of the German lines. All the military advice Hitler received supported the idea of a 'break-out' of this kind. But he ignored his advisers and orderd his generals in Stalingrad to fight to the last man. Eventually, the army was forced to surrender. 150,000 Germans were killed and 100,000 taken prisoner. 

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Bombing of Germany

Anglo-American air assault on Germany remains controversial. Whether it was legitimate to target civilians is a matter which continues to be hotly debated. In militarty terms, though, the bombing campaign made a significant contribution to Germany's defeat.

  • It cut output from Germany's factories in the later stages of the war by about 20%
  • Germany had to use scarce resources to build new factproes in areas less likely to be bombed.
  • Germany was forced to use much of its air force to combat the Allied bombers. By 1944 over 80% of the Luftwaffe's fighter aircraft were being used to defend the skies over Germany. This meant that they werent available to give support to German ground forces in the battle zones. In the summer of 1944, for example, there were only 200 German warplanes facing the 12,000 allied aircraft involved in the invasion of France. 
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Why was Germany defeated

There were many reasons for Germany's defeat in the 1939 - 1945 war. Others could be added to those which have been highlighted here. Britain and the US both benefited from inspirational political leadership in the Second World War. The work of British code-breakers in many cases gave Germany's enemies advanced warning of its intentions. 

Resistance movements in many European countries tied down large numbers of German soldiers. The list could go on. But three of the causes of Germany's defeat were more important than the others:

  • Germany's relative economic weakness
  • Success of Germany's enemies in creating highly motivated and effective armed forces
  • Hitler's miscalculations 
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