Nazism and fascism, in the popular imagination, are associated with evil, immoral, inhumane treatment across conquered groups and their own subjects alike. These evil actions loom even larger because the thought of an entire society dedicated to military industry, extending its reach across and beyond Europe, inspires ghastly fears not only of evil intent but also astonishing military might that could overwhelm the Allies with the technological wonder of the V2 rocket, the deadly and ever-present U-boat threat, and the German “Royal Tiger” tank that was so well armored that Sherman-fired shells literally bounced off of it. This vision of the Nazis as conquering through technological and industrial superiority is not just a mistake of modern historians, but is actually based on the overestimation of their foes by the Allies and on the disastrously misplaced overconfident messaging of the Germans, Italians, and Japanese that their technology, industrial power, and elan gave them even a chance of victory. The miscalculation of the Hitler in extrapolating his successes in Poland and France to assuming his alliance could overwhelm the combined defenses of over 1.5 billion people represents the most astonishing delusion in military history.
The inspiration for this comes from Victor Davis Hanson’s fascinating economic and industrial history, The Second World Wars. One of his major arguments is that the Axis leaders lost because their commitment to their ideology became a fantasy that they had abilities that directly contradicted the reality of their actual abilities and those of their opponents. I heartily recommend the book and this shorter interview where he lays out the book’s central concepts. My major takeaway was that this fantasy has gone beyond the minds of Hitler, Tojo, and Mussolini, and the vision of a vast industrial empire looming over the world is now imprinted on our memory of World War II. I think it is past time that we recognize Nazism as not only immoral but also incompetent. Below, I hope to share some astonishing statistics that show beyond a shadow of a doubt that the modern concept of Nazi military might is a myth.
- The Allies rode in cars, the Germans rode horses. In 1939, the only transportation available to 85% of German infantry other than walking was horses. By 1945…it was still 85%. In total, the US and UK produced almost 4 million general-use vehicles, compared to 160,000 German vehicles. That is a 25-fold advantage. The Allies also had 1 million infantry-supporting artillery compared to less than 100,000 for all of the Axis.
- Where were the supplies? The Allies had 46 million tonnes of merchant shipping vessels to the Axis’ 5 million, five times as much aluminum (key for engines and planes), and by 1943 had cut off all German access to rare metals such as tungsten, one of the key metals used in munitions, manufacturing, and electronics. The US supplied Britain and the USSR through the Lend-Lease Act with almost $700 billion (inflation-adjusted 2019 dollars) in supplies throughout the war, which is roughly double the entire German annual GDP in 1939.
- The Allies swam to victory on a sea of oil. Though Rommel came within a battle of accessing the British Middle-Eastern oil fields, the Axis still had astonishingly little fuel (which they needed to power their King Tiger, which drank a gallon of gas every 700 yards, the vast Luftwaffe that put over 130,000 planes into action, and their gigantic battleship Bismark). The Axis as a whole used 66 million metric tonnes of oil, while the Allies used a billion. A 15X advantage.
- The panzers were neither numerous nor superior technologically. The Mark 1 and 2 panzers that conquered France were actually less numerous and less technologically advanced than France’s. While blitzkrieg and elan overwhelmed the French, even the Mark 4–the most commonly used panzer in the late war–underperformed Shermans in infantry support and reliability and were even considered inferior to the Soviet T34 by Hitler himself. Even including the outmoded Czech tanks repurposed by the Germans, they fielded only 67,000 tanks on all fronts to face 270,000 Allied tanks (with no help from Italy, with a pitiful 3,300 tanks, and Japan largely ignored mobile land armor and created only 4,500 tanks). The environment of idealogical zeal in Germany prevented a military researcher from telling Hitler about the true tank numbers of the Soviets, as Hitler himself recognized later in the war by repeating that if he had known the true number of T34’s he faced, he would never have invaded. The US and USSR deployed massive numbers of upgraded Shermans and the workhorse T34s, while Germany sank huge investments into specialized and scary duds the Royal Tiger–300,000 man-hours and ten times as much as a Sherman. Only 1,300 Royal Tigers were ever produced, and their 70 tonnes of weight, constant mechanical issues, and cost undercut their supremacy in tank-on-tank duels. The US and Britain used precision bombing to inflict major tank losses on Germany, and while German tanks outfought Soviet tanks roughly 4:1, by 1945 the Soviets still had 25,000 tanks against the Germans’ 6,000.
- Collaboration helps both tech and strategy. The Allies worked together–the Sherman’s underpowered 75mm (corrected) could be upgraded with a British gun because of interoperability of parts, and the US and Brits delivered over 12,000 tanks and 18,000 planes to the Soviets under Lend-Lease; the Germans did not even have replaceable parts for their own tanks, and the Germans never helped their Italian allies (who had lost a land invasion even to the collapsing French) develop industrial capabilities. Bletchley Park gave advance warning to US merchant convoys, but the Italians and Japanese found out that Hitler had invaded the USSR only after troops had crossed into Ukraine.
- Fascism is not industrially sound. Even though the Nazis put an astonishing 75% of their GDP toward the military by 1944 and despite taking on unsustainable debt to sustain their production, their GDP in 1939 was $384 billion, roughly equal to the Soviets and $100 billion less than the UK and France combined. By the end of the war, this fell to $310 billion, compared to a whopping $1.4 trillion US GDP. However, even these numbers do not fully represent how non-mechanized, non-scalable, and non-industrial Germany was even under military dictatorship. While German science and engineering had been pre-eminent pre-WW I, the central control and obsession with infeasible, custom projects before and during the war meant that the Germans had a lower percentage of their population that could be mobilized for wartime production than their opponents, not to mention that their GDP per capita was half of that of the US, and yet the Axis still took on opponents that had productive populations five times their size.
- The V2 was a terrible investment. After losing the Battle of Britain (largely because of inferior training, radar, and plane production), the Nazis tried to use ballistic missiles to bomb the Brits into submission. The less technologically sophisticated V1 delivered a respectable 1,000 kg of explosives, but despite launching over 10,000, by mid-1944 the British countermeasures stopped 80% of these, and many misfired, failed to explode, or had guidance system malfunctions. The V2 was more sophisticated, but was never mass produced: only 3,000 were launched, and more Nazis were killed as part of the development of the rocket than Brits by their launch. The V1 and V2 programs combined cost 50% more than the Manhattan project, and even compared to the US’s most expensive bombing program (developing the B29), the cost-per-explosives-delivered was thirty times higher for the V2.
- The Luftwaffe was completely overmatched even by the RAF alone. Before the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe (2,500 planes) outnumbered the RAF (about 1,500), and the RAF was using more outdated Hurricanes than they were the newer Spitfire; however, the Brits scaled up training and production and even put novel innovations into their manufacturing within the 3 months of battle.
- The Germans underestimated the scalability of their opponent’s production. By the end of the war, the Brits manufactured 177,000 planes, 44,000 more than Germany. Crucially, though they started the war with far fewer experienced pilots, the Brits used this production advantage to train their pilots far better (in fact, the Brits had over 40,000 training aircraft). The US was similarly underprepared in terms of both aircraft production and training, but within a year had increased production from one B-24 every two weeks in 1940 to one every two hours in 1942. The US manufactured almost 300,000 planes by the end of the war, with far superior bombers (the figher-resistant B-17 and the giant, sophisticated Super Fortress B-29). However, the German air force personnel still needed to be more numerous than either the US or Britain because of the lack of mechanization.
- The Germans could not replace their pilots. By early 1945, the Germans were losing 30% of their pilots every month, even after giving up on bombing campaigns because of high pilot and plane attrition. They never scaled training and were sending completely green pilots against well-trained Allied opponents who had numerical, technological, and experience superiority by 1943 and air supremacy by 1944.
- The Germans did not deploy new air technologies to their advantage. While the jet engine and V2 rockets would revolutionize air power after the war, they did not impact the outcome of the war except to drain German R&D. Germany also failed to develop a functional heavy bomber, did not update their fighters’ technology during the war, never fully or effectively deployed radar, and never matched the Allies’ anti-aircraft defenses.
- The Allies could win through strategic bombing, but the reverse was not true. Both sides targeted industry and killed civilians en masse in strategic campaigns, but Germany never had the ability to strategically reduce their enemies’ production. Though Germany dropped 760,000 tonnes of ordnance on the Soviets and systematically destroyed production west of the Urals, the Soviets moved their industry to the East and continued outproducing their opponents with respect to tanks, vehicles, artillery, machine guns, and munitions. The Germans never produced a functional 4-engine bomber, so they could not use strategic bombing to undercut industry beyond this; the Blitz killed 40,000 civilians and destroyed over a million homes, but never developed into a threat against British military production. This also cost the Luftwaffe over 2,200 planes and 3,500 of their best pilots. However, nearly every major German and Japanese city was reduced by an unbelievable 3.5 million tonnes of ordnance dropped by the Allies, which killed over 700,000 German and Japanese civilians and destroyed the majority of both empires’ military production.
- The U-boat campaign became a colossal failure by 1943. Though the unrestricted submarine warfare of 1940-41 was sinking enough merchant vessels to truly threaten British supplies, Allied countermeasures–code-cracking, sonar, depth charges, Hedgehogs, Squids, and the use of surface aircraft to screen fleets–systematically destroyed the U-boats, which had losses of over 80% by the end of the war. In fact, the Germans barely managed to exceed the total merchant losses inflicted in World War I, and in May-June 1943 only sank two ships for every U-boat lost, ending the Battle of the Atlantic in just two disastrous months. The US was producing ships and supplies so quickly and in such vast quantities that the U-boats needed to sink 700,000 tonnes of shipping every month just to keep up with this production, which they did in only one month (November 1942); this number sank to less than a tenth of that by early 1943.
- The US actually waged a successful submarine campaign. Unlike the Germans, the US completely neutered the Japanese merchant fleet using submarines, which also inflicted over 55% of total Japanese fleet losses during the war, with minimal losses of submarine crews. Using just 235 submarines, the US sank 1,000 ships, compared to roughly 2,000 sunk by Germany (which cost almost 800 U-boat losses).
- Naval war had changed, and only the US responded. After the sinking of the HMS Prince of Wales near Singapore, all nations should have recognized that naval air forces were the new way to rule the waves. And yet, the Germans only ever built a single aircraft carrier despite their need to support operations in North Africa, and built the Tirpitz, a gigantic Bismarck-class battleship (that cost as much as 20 submarines), which barely participated in any offensive action before being destroyed by successive air raids. Germany never assembled a fleet capable of actually invading Britain, so even if they had won the Battle of Britain, there were no serious plans to actually conquer the island. Japan recognized the importance of aircraft carriers, and built 18, but the US vastly overmatched them with at least 100 (many of them more efficient light carriers), and Japan failed to predict how naval air supremacy would effectively cut them off from their empire and enable systematic destruction of their homeland without a single US landing on Japanese home soil.
- The Nazis forgot blitzkrieg. The rapid advances of Germany in 1939 is largely attributable to the decentralized command structure that enabled leaders on the front to respond flexibly based on mission-driven instructions rather than bureaucracy. However, as early as Dunkirk (when Hitler himself held back his tank forces out of fear), the command structure had already shifted toward top-down bureaucracy that drummed out gifted commanders and made disastrous blunders through plodding focuses on besieging Sevastopol and Stalingrad rather than chasing the reeling Soviets. Later, the inflexibility of defenses and “no-retreat” commands that allowed encirclement of key German forces replayed in reverse the inflexibility of the Maginot line and Stalin’s early mistakes, showing that the fascist system prevented learning from one’s enemy and even robbed the Germans of their own institutional advantages over the course of the war.
- Even the elan was illusory. Both Germany and Japan knew they were numerically inferior and depended on military tradition and zeal to overcome this. While German armies generally went 1:1 or better (especially in 1941 against the Soviets, when they killed or captured 4 million badly-led, outdated Soviet infantry), even the US–fighting across an ocean, with green infantry and on the offensive against the dug-in Germans–matched the Germans in commitment to war and inflicted casualties at 1:1. At the darkest hour, alone against the entire continent and while losing their important Pacific bases one by one, the Brits threw themselves into saving themselves and the world from fascists; only secret police and brute force kept the Nazis afloat once the tide had turned. The German high command was neutered by the need for secrecy and the systematic replacement of talented generals with loyal idiots, and the many mutinies, surrenders, and assassination attempts by Nazi leaders show that the illusory unity of fascism was in fact weaker under pressure than the commitment and cooperation of democratic systems.
- The Nazis never actually had plans that could win an existential war. Blitzkrieg scored some successes against the underprepared Poles and demoralized French, but these major regional victories were fundamentally of a different character than the conflicts the Nazis proceeded to start. While the Germans did take over a million square miles from the Soviets while destroying a 4-million-strong army, the industry was eventually transferred beyond the Urals and the Soviets replenished their army with, over 4 years, a further 30 million men. But most of all, even if Hitler somehow achieved what Napoleon himself could not, neither he nor Tojo had any ability to attack Detroit, so an implacable, distant foe was able to rain down destruction without ever facing a threat on home soil. The Nazis simply did not have the technology, money, or even the plans to conquer their most industrially powerful opponent, and perhaps the greatest tragedy of the entire war is that 60 million people died to prove something that was obvious from the start.
Overall, the Nazis failed to recognize how air and naval air superiority would impact the war effort, still believed that infantry zeal could overcome technological superiority, could not keep pace with the scale of the Allies’ industry or speed of their technological advances, spent inefficiently on R&D duds, never solved crucial resource issues, and sacrificed millions of their own subjects in no-retreat disasters. Fooled by their early success, delusions of grandeur, and belief in their own propaganda, Hitler and his collaborators not only instituted a morally repugnant regime but destroyed themselves. Fascism a scary ideology that promises great power for great personal sacrifice, but while the sacrifice was real, the power was illusory: as a system, it actually underperformed democracy technologically, strategically, industrially, and militarily in nearly every important category. Hopefully, this diametrical failure is evidence enough for even those who are morally open to fascism to discard it as simply unworkable. And maybe, if we dispel the myth of Nazi industry, we can head off any future experiments in fascism and give due recognition to the awe-inspiring productivity of systems that recognize the value of liberty.
This is in no way exhaustive, and in the interest of space I have not included the analogous Italian and Japanese military delusions and industrial shortcomings in World War II. I hope that this shortlist of facts inspires you to learn more and tell posterity that fascism is not only evil but delusional and incompetent.
All facts taken from The Second World Wars, Wikipedia, or general internet trawling.
42 thoughts on “The Myth of the Nazi War Machine”
Methinks #15 actually refers to the TIrpitz.
I moved to syr ny in 78. There were lots of Eastern Europeans who lived through the war . Every single one said they liked the Germans but hated the Russians with a passion. We never heard of Russian atrocities because they were our allies.
[…] The Myth of the Nazi War Machine […]
Correct, German soldiers weren’t seen as the enemy. Russians were uncivilized, barbaric hordes.
I believe Bismarck was sunk out in the Atlantic by a combination of torpedoes (air- and surface-launched) plus naval gunfire as well as detonation of scuttling charges by Bismarck personnel.
TJ and J Miano– Thank you, I did mean the Tirpitz (a Bismarck-class battleship), corrected in the text!!
It’s hard to argue with most of the points made in the article, but what is undeniable is the number of casualties…military casualties that is. Against the Russians, the Germans had a 5:1 advantage and against the “Western Allies” the ratio was 3:1. For all of their problems the Germans were able to inflict a very disproportional number of casualties. These numbers do not include civilian casualties. By the way, I’m a huge fan of Victor Davis Hanson…a great Writer and Historian.
Yes, I’ve read V. Hanson, too. And I agree with your pov. Despite any Nazi shortcomings or mistakes, they still had the upper hand, till about 1943.
Pretty much agree. On a tactical level I think the Wehrmacht was superior for most of the war, but that couldn’t overcome their manpower and industrial inferiority (well documented in this article) and the strategic incompetence of Hitler and the OKW. Hitler expected the Soviet Union to collapse in 6 weeks, however no strategic objectives were ever defined for Barbarossa. Even if the Luftwaffe could have “won” (however one would define that) the Battle of Britain Germany did not have the necessary transports to land a sufficient number of troops to conquer England. Hitler’s “no retreat” orders contributed much to the Wehrmacht’s collapse on the Eastern front, along with the insane decision to throw away an entire army at Stalingrad.
Everyone I talked to who fought them like my father who was wounded twice in Italy and discharged from an army hospital in 1944 or my uncles they all said the Germans were just plain good at waging war.
Correct and that makes the Elan statement an attempt at overstating his point. Its a sad overreach for which VDH normally avoids.
L’audace! Toujours, l’audace! The numbers make your case. But numbers do not automatically lead to victory. The allies of 1939-45 fought to win. The world has changed. Now we fight to manage?
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Reblogged this on Utopia, you are standing in it! and commented:
The V1 and V2 programs combined cost 50% more than the Manhattan project,
The Sherman was never armed with a 70mm cannon. It was a short barreled low velocity 75mm, then an upgunned 76mm and a 105mm howitzer.
Great article, it’s interesting because until this day Germans are very ashamed of the country’s Nazi history. Hitler was an unrepentant Nazi, Germany was too cocky by declaring war on three superpowers. They paid a large price!
[…] 2. Myth of the Nazi war machine. […]
All of this has been well known to a serious historian for some time.
Given the limited German resources, it’s unclear what trade offs you wanted them to make? If they didn’t have good enough tanks, how could they spare more resources for aircraft carriers? Etc. Etc.
I’m not entirely sure that the Germans did underestimate their opponents. As far as I can tell the invasion of Russia was based entirely on the premise that control of vast Soviet raw materials was going to be necessary to match the might of the Anglo-Americans.
Can we actually imagine Stalin supplying the Nazi’s indefinitely against the Anglo Americans? It’s pretty obvious that at some point he would turn on Hitler. An effort to negotiate Soviet entry into the war was made in 1940, but Stalins demands were deemed too great (these included control of the Romanian oil fields).
Stalins original plan was for Hitler to bloody himself in the west, then swoop in and pick apart and exhausted Germany. The Fall of France put a wrinkle in that, but without Barbarossa isn’t that just going to be the long term outcome anyway.
Hitler tried to get peace with the Anglos and failed. He couldn’t trust Stalin long term. Striking in 1941 when he was strong and Stalin weak was probably the best chance of creating an empire capable to matching the Anglos long term.
We can say he underestimate the Soviets, but much of the German plan amounted to the belief that the Soviet Union would fall apart politically if attacked. Even the generals around Hitler admitted that under the rosiest assumptions they couldn’t reach Moscow. It was all based on “if we kick in the door, the entire rotten structure will come tumbling down.” When that proved wrong, it was over, regardless of how many T-34s they could field.
The only solution for Hitler in Summer 1940 is to try and get peace with Britain at any cost.
This should be part of every high-school curriculum.
– In Germany, we don’t associate the term Blitzkrieg with Great Britain but with the quick advances made with invading France (done in 45 days) and Poland (done in 36 days). This kind of Blitz is still used by some as proof for our “elan”. It is underreported though that soldiers were deliberately given Pervitin, a chemical used for reducing the need for sleep, increase self-belief, as well as physical and cognitive capacity. Soldiers called it tank-chocolate, today we call it Crystal Meth.
– When Stalingrad was lost and the eastern front quickly marched towards Germany, every kind of supply whether in food, fuel, weapons or troops was badly needed. But all military supply freight trains were deprioritized (e.g. halted) against shipments of people into concentration camps.
Just as the Nazis were inefficient at home, Mark Mazower in his book “Hitler’s Europe” explored how they also failed to use effectively the resources of their allies and the occupied countries. The Japanese were, if anything, far, far more inefficient than the Germans.
The Germans were quite inefficient, as were Hindenburg and luddendorf in 1917.
They guessed right about air power being decisive and were smart to build a very good Air Force that basically won the battle of France for them, though badly managed those affairs as time went on.
Their allies weren’t useful in any way.
The occupied territories of Europe were never of much use. Without key raw materials their realistic output was way below potential. Those materials could only be found overseas or in the SU. The Germans looted whatever wasn’t nailed down (trucks, rail stock) and used it for Barbarossa.
One key point that seems to get often ignored or overlooked when talking about Britain during WWII and its industrial capabilities was in fact it still had an empire with its Dominions (now the Commonwealth); Canada, Australia, India and South Africa. It had a diverse productive industrial base over three continents that Germany couldn’t reach, plus access to plentiful key natural resources and processing mills. Britain was not alone prior to December 7th 1941 as the myth is sometimes portrayed. All four countries had massive trade surpluses with Britain by 1943 exporting either commodities, key parts or finished munitions
[…] Not sure I believe it but fun fact: […]
Ridiculous. The Nazi’s had a lot of monstrous attributes but the war machine conquered vast territories and to suggest the inefficiencies listed in this in insane. A better way to look at this is what other country could have militarily achieved what they did. Wrapped in all this is somehow the German war machine was less efficient because of economic advantages the allied had. That is of course very true but it doesn’t make the war machine less efficient it simply explains as many have before that the Germans were beat by mass production they could not match.
I agree with this, it also seems true for the Japanese in the first 6 months of the war. But the Japanese advantage in training/doctrine/equipment was even less sustainable than Germany’s was, and was gone by late 42
It should be noted that these gross figures of German (Japan) production tend to imply a steady production of units from 1939-45, which was not the case. Germany started the war with the accumulated production of 1936-39, when they were re-arming and the allies were not. The UK and France didn’t really begin responding till 1938, and the USSR was just coming out of the great purges at that time. When the actual war started, the UK went to full war mobilization, Germany did not. They didn’t really fully mobilize until 1942 (Speer in part, though perhaps he is over-rated), and peaked in 43/44, after the war was already lost.
Germany (also Japan, but not Itally) achieved what they did economically not by efficiency, but by effort. They devoted a larger percent of their smaller/less efficient industries to war production, which gave them an initial lead, and mitigated for a time their smaller/less efficient economies. But by 1942, the moment had passed.
Casualty figures also track this, the casualties they inflicted early were indeed stunning, by the end of the war, they were taking more then they inflicted almost everywhere, except I think Japan in China (fighting a pre-modern state) and the USSR (fighting somebody as casualty-irrelevant as they were).
I have studied these issues carefully and I came to the following conclusions:
1.Economy: The territories under Nazi control after the Fall of France were basically the European Union after Brexit plus Japan and (from the Maddison dataset) they had approximately 80% of the combined pre-war GDP of the Allies (US+UK+USSR+Canada+Australia+Brazil). Also, physical indicators such a railway freight, coal production, sulfuric acid production, suggest that Axis block had approximately 80% of the industrial output of the Allied block (for example, railway freight in Continental Europe + Japan was 1.4 billion tons in 1938, compared to 1.8 billion tons in the US+UK+USSR+Canada+Brazil+Australia).
The Nazis had a pronounced industrial advantage over the Soviet Union, with Germany producing at annual rates 350 million tons of coal and 30 million tons of steel in 1942-1943, compared to 80 million tons of coal and 8.5 million tons of steel for the USSR. They were alone against each other on the European continent for nearly 3 years, yet Germany was unable to conquer the USSR, instead, the USSR had already managed to turn the tide of the war 18 months before D-Day.
So the outcome of WW2 cannot be explained in terms of raw economic potential of the territories controlled by each coalition as the Allied advantage was too modest and it was a severe disadvantage in the European theater as US material help was actually small (less than 10% of USSR’s GDP).
Therefore, the USSR defeated Germany despite being very inferior in industrial and economic terms (it was basically like Russia defeating the whole European Union post-Brexit). The USSR only managed to defeat Germany by sacrificing a much higher percentage of its adult male population than Germany. From 1941 to 1944, German losses against the USSR were 5.6 million soldiers killed, wounded and captured, compared to Soviet losses of 26 million soldiers killed, wounded and captured.
German losses of 5.6 million against the USSR in WW2 up to the end of 1944 were similar to their losses against UK+France+US in the Western Front in WW1, which was around 4.8 to 5.2 million.
2. Strategic Bombing: The Allied effort against Germany was a complete failure, as documented in German data from a sample of 10,500 factories that employed more than half of the industrial workforce. They show that bombing in mid-1944, when the intensity of bombing was at its peak, reduced the number of hours worked in manufacturing by approximately 3.5% which includes the hours lost to cleaning debris and repairs. Strategic bombing was a complete failure in its stated objectives: it did not substantially reduce German industrial production nor it managed to reduce their morale. In the end, trying to bomb Germany killed 120,000 allied aircrews plus 350,000 German civilians without military gains.
By the way, the actual bombing tonnage statistics are as follows:
Germany dropped 740,000 metric tons of bombs on the USSR
Germany dropped 77,000 metric tons of bombs on the UK
USA+UK dropped 1,260,000 metric tons of bombs on Germany
USA dropped 145,000 metric tons of bombs on Japan
The 3.4 million tons of bombs data you cite are in terms of short tons not metric tons and include bombs dropped on tactical engagements all over the European and Pacific theaters.
By comparison, Germany produced from 1940 to 1944, 8.5 million metric tons of artillery shells, which were mostly spent on the USSR and killed and wounded 20 million Soviet soldiers.
3. Technology/Effectiveness: Both sides had access to the same basic set of technologies: Germans, American and British troops had similar types of equipment to each other. Measured in terms of firepower by the projectile weight of all guns their firepower was approximately the same. Gemrans had some toys like V2 and jet fighters but they were strategically irrelevant (their main impact was a contribution to allied victory as it diverted German resources away from the army).
As Trevor Dupuy in 1976 did a study utilizing data from dozens of engagements in Italy and France in 1943 and 1944 and concluded that: Americans and British outnumbered Germans on average 2 to 1, Allied casualties were the same as the Germans (which implies that Germans were 156% as effective as the Americans and British in inflicting casualties, despite Allied air superiority).
4. Horses: It is true the US and UK had fully motorized armies while Germany did not. German armies were about 50% motorized: a German infantry division had 550 trucks plus 2,500 horses, except for the Panzer and armored infantry divisions which were 100% motorized. However, full motorization was only an advantage the US and UK enjoyed, these two powers deployed only 100 divisions in Europe while 90% of the 560 divisions the USSR had deployed in Europe were also horse-drawn. During the war, the Germans were fighting 90% of the time against the horse-drawn Soviet divisions.
5. Japan: Japan was a poor third world country in 1940, compared to Germany it was strategically almost irrelevant: Japan produced 6 million tons of steel and 55 million tons of coal while European steel production capacity under German control was 47 million tons, coal production capacity was 450 million tons. People talk about Japan a lot because the as US fought against it and US’s propaganda focused more on Japan than its actual strategic impact.
6. Serious historians know that the outcome of WW2 hinged on the Germany-USSR conflict. That the USSR won was thanks to an extreme level of civilian sacrifice combined with German arrogance. They attacked the USSR in 1941 based on the assumption that the USSR would be completely defeated in 4 months. The German generals made their war plans based on the assumption that the USSR would be able to mobilize at most 300 divisions during the initial German invasion, instead, the USSR managed to mobilize 550 divisions over these 4 months.
To give the Eastern Front some perspective: During the whole war, USSR mobilized 35 million soldiers, lost 29 million killed, captured and wounded. By the effect of comparison, the USA only managed to land 3 million soldiers and 61 divisions on European soil by the end of the war in May 1945.
The effect of US participation in WW2 was that helped to save a lot of Soviet lives as the war was over a bit more quickly after D-day and it helped to liberate countries from Stalinist oppression but it was the USSR that did 90% of the work in defeating Hitler, despite being the poorest of the 3 major allied powers.
From a Nazi perspective in 1940, after the Fall of France, rational expectations implied that:
(a). US and UK would have to do an amphibious invasion, which would be extremely hard and would certainly fail if they had to engage the whole German army.
(b). The USSR was the last major power in continental Europe opposing them, the USSR was a poor country that had collapsed in WW1 against a portion of the German army, now they could focus most of their resources against them.
So the USSR should have collapsed and the Nazis would be in complete control of continental Europe. It would have been a very difficult proposition for the remaining Allies to try to re-conquer Europe through an amphibious invasion. Therefore, given the information they had available after the fall of France, the Nazis had essentially already won the war.
The Nazis never had a chance. Their strategy was to recapture what was taken from them by the rapacious & unfair Treaties of Versaille, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, & Trianon through a series of snatch & negotiate from a position of power maneuvers. But the Nazis got manipulated into a War they couldn’t win against the world’s superpowers.
After Britain & France declared war on Germany, many of its subsequent steps were strategic maneuvers that it would not have been taken, but for Britain’s & France’s rash & improvident declarations of war. Please read, “The Unnecessary War,” by Pat Buchanan.
Germany was the main impediment to Stalin’s conquest of Europe & Japan was the main impediment to Stalin’s conquest of Asia. So, Stalin manipulated the allies into bombing Germany & Japan back to the stone ages.
After Soviet General Zhukov surrounded & decimated Germany’s premier fighting force (the Sixth Army) early in 1943, the war was all but over. After that the Germans fought a withering retreat back to Berlin where they were slaughtered in the Halbe Forest & at Seelow Heights. Any German counter-attacks along the retreat route were conducted in hopes of getting the allies to negotiate a peace treaty. But the allies were hellbent on destroying Germany & Japan.
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America had something strongly resembling a fascist economy during WWII that directed industrial might into producing war material via directives from Washington. Plus rationing.
Points well taken.
However, the same general argument can be made of the Allies. The Soviets won battles by throwing away the lives of their own soldiers. They were utterly unprepared in 1941 and mythic losses of 20 or 25 million (or whatever the real number is) they suffered were as much due to their own failures as to German brutality. American lend lease was crucial for the Soviets’ ability to wage the war they did. The incompetence of Western leaders, especially, at the start of the war was staggering. Their failure to support Czechoslovakia was just the start. They forced the Poles to delay mobilization (at the threat of reneging on treaties of mutual assistance) and they did nothing to help as Hitler launched almost his entire army and air force against Poland. (BTW, the Poles were hardly “underprepared” given the size of their economy.) While Nazi tanks like the Mk I and II were inferior to many Allied tanks, the weapons are only as good as those who use them and the commanders who deploy them. For all the undeniable failures of German (and Japanese) leaders, it took overwhelming forces and 5 years to bring the war to an end. The Allies had the resources, time and space to win in spite of their failures.
I have thought for quite a long while that the Nazis were incompetent. Evil, dangerous, but incompetent.
When invading the USSR, Germany had no maps. Stalin treated road maps like state secrets.
The Germans were going to Moscow, 1500 miles away and they had no maps.
To an excellent analysis and strategic overview, I would add dominant facts with controls our world today.
In an open physics conference held in Berlin in 1939, a speculative design of an Atomic bomb was presented. All major combatant nations knew of this potential weapon. Eisenstein conjectured that it would be the size of a large ship and thus become a threat to a major port. Only the US devoted the intellectual and industrial resources needed to develop it. Within hours of the war usage in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese High Command knew what had destroyed their cities, yet with no defense, they unanimously voted to continue the slaughter.
A post war assessment judged the “Berlin” bomb would probably have worked. Stalin stole our secrets and developed his own “ultimate” weapon within a few years; US government assessments had judged it would take the better part of a century for the USSR to achieve this.
Today, the DoD spends, every few months, the entire first cost of our civilian nuclear power fleet. Eisenhower offered this conundrum; Either man learns to use this energy for peace, or it will annihilate all life on this planet.
We must learn from history.
So, I was going to write this article; but the author beat me to it and Victor Davis Hanson spoon fed it to both of us in less than five hours.
I would emphasize: This war saw the two deadliest days in the known history of warfare in Dresden and weeks later in Tokyo during February and March 1945.
Yet, this is an unusual war in which the death toll on the losers’ sides is far exceeded by the death toll on the side of the victorious allies. Usually, the victor does the most killing. But this was a war to stop killing, not provoke it.
As Hanson explains it, the Nazi or Japanese soldier was a killing machine. Per capita, each Nazi or Japanese soldier was responsible for between ten and twenty civilian deaths – mostly Soviet and Chinese. This is not to mention Italy’s contributions in places from the Balkans to Somaliland.
The US and Britain sacrificed many fewer lives in defeating Italy outright and playing at least an equal role in the defeat of Germany and its other smaller allies. Of course, the US alone also took out Japan. And, BTW, the overriding policy reason for bombing Dresden was that Stalin demanded it.
Especially regarding the Japanese, its civilian population applauded when it bombed everyone else; but like the Germans thought that nobody was going to bomb Japan. In fact, the first B-29 missions run from Tinian and China beginning in late 1944 were proving dangerous, costly, ineffective and a failure. Hence, it wasn’t until late February 1945 that Japan tasted the first of what was to become the systematic and breathtakingly efficient torching of nearly 100 Japanese cities by August 1945 – before any nuclear bombs were even dropped.
As Hanson points out, the reductionist view of the Americans and British through the eyes of someone in Dresden or Tokyo has been popular in both Germany and Japan. It is also dishonest because the fact is thousands more innocents were dying at the hands of Nazi and Japanese forces until they day they were forced – with heavy doses of their own terror – either to surrender or at least for Japan’s emperor to admit that Japan had for once suffered the insufferable and endured the unendurable.
So the question becomes, how many thousands of innocents died every day the war continued? And did that outweigh the morally less defensible pain suffered in places like Dresden and Tokyo? In my belief, we saved more lives than we took.
I guarantee you there are more than a billion people from Eastern Europe to the Pacific who disagree that Dresden or Tokyo were in any manner overkill.
To what extent did point #3, Allied oil superiority determine points #1, 9, 10 and 16? If you don’t have enough oil, then building more planes, trucks and tanks is pointless, training pilots is more difficult, blitzkrieg is not possible in attack or defence.
When Barbarossa began, Germany had oil reserves for three months; bad roads increased fuel consumption above the expected rates and inadequate logistical support sometimes worsened fuel shortages at the front.
It is perhaps with oil in mind that in November 1941, Timoshenko said the loss of Moscow would be a grave defeat, but the loss of the Caucasus would be a disaster.
Some of the stats here appear at best to be incomplete, and at worst, selected to make an invalid point.
1. Yes, Allied bombing of Germany was initially useless. We tried and tried until we got it right. That was to interdict oil and transportation. Then it made a big difference.
2. The Dresden casualty figures are a myth propagated to try to show how beastly the Allies were to the poor Germans.
3. The statement comparing the Allies’ merchant marine to the Germans’ ignores that Germany was a land empire that didn’t much need a merchant marine.
“I hope that this shortlist of facts inspires you to learn more and tell posterity that fascism is not only evil but delusional and incompetent.”
This is a really silly article. It only talks about the physical aspects of the German Army. I’m surprised that the author didn’t include German shoe sizes. What really matters is the philosophical distinction between what the author chooses to call “Fascism” and “Communism.” The Germans were anti-communists. I’m not saying that war is good, or that the Germans were angels, but its important for young people to understand that World War Two was not a tank battle. It was an ideological conflict. On one side, you had Russia, who had deposed the Royal Family, and replaced them with a bureaucracy. On the other side, you had Germany, which still held Royal Families in high regard. In Germany, the name of your family, and your education, and your reputation were important. In Russia, men were taught that none of those things were important anymore. The only thing that matters is loyalty to the State. The Soviets and the Chinese created a symbol for all communists to wear: The Red Bandanna.
That’s why Tony the Tiger wears a Red Bandanna. He’s a Communist.
Relatively minor quibble, but those post confuses the Tiger I and Tiger II tanks in Point 4. Just under 500 Tiger IIs (Royal Tigers) were produced and were deployed starting in the second half of 1944. The 1300 figure is for the Tiger I, which began service in 1942, and weighed closer to 50 tons.
I think calling the Tiger I a “dud” isn’t quite fair. Yes there were supply and mechanical problems, but the tank’s combat record was excellent.
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