During the Second World War, the two main warring sides were the Allies and the Axis. The end of the war saw the Allied powers defeat the Axis powers. Each of these was made up of various countries at a global scale. For the Axis, the primary powers were Germany, Japan, and Italy. According to Goldsmith (1946) a number of factors lead to the defeat of the Axis powers. These ranged from tactical errors made by the individual Axis powers to economic disadvantage of the Axis powers. Some authors for example Overy (1995) argue that even though the resource factors in terms of population and economy were useful in determining the war, they didn’t characterize the Allies winning or the Axis losing. It is also clear that, the war took long given the various factors at play especially the superiority of the Axis in 1941 and 1942 which was as a result of the economic and resource advantage of the Axis power; they could have easily defeated the Allies. This essay therefore seeks to establish why the Axis were defeated in the second world war and why it took so long for the war to end, or rather, for one side to defeat the other. This will be done through literature review.
Why the Axis lost
According to Overy (1995), one of the primary reasons why the Axis lost was due to their ignorance of the importance of the sea. Germany which was one of the three major powers in the Axis alliance and under Hitler overlooked the importance of sea power as a result of this; the Germany navy didn’t get the support it really needed from Hitler. It is true that he (Hitler) supported the use of wolf-pack tactics and U-boats, but he was obsessed by land battles and therefore he didn’t get to explore the superiority at sea as should have been the case (Hanson, 1971). The Allied powers on the other hand had firm grip of the sea and even though they almost lost in 1942, they were able to recover and reverse the gains the Axis had made. With a firm grip of the sea, the Allied took control of Axis routes therefore cutting their supplies and shipping of war goods.
As a result of supporting U-boats and lack of sufficient investment in sea power in general, Germany submarines were effectively destroyed in the war, with two thirds of the entire Germany subs being destroyed by the Allies in particular by United States navy (O’Brien, 2015). The US superior technology combined with heightened production led to crushing of the Germany U-boats threat with the US units ceasing combat effectiveness of 10% dead. In addition to the sea-power, the US employed the use of combat aircrafts to hunt subs.
The second reason that has been raised by Overy (1995) is the tactical error for the Axis powers. There are a number of errors that have been recorded that the Axis powers engaged in therefore, diverging useful combat power and resources that would have been otherwise used in the Second World War. Each of the three major powers in the Axis alliance had a fair share of tactical errors which accumulatively weakened the Axis alliance. The first was Germany which undertook a number of tactical errors with the primary being the invasion to Russia (Hanson, 1971). One of the principal objectives of the Axis war campaign was to expand their territory through the colonial sphere. As a result, the major tactical errors were geared towards this objective and so was the invasion to Russian by Germany.
Known as the Operation Barbarossa, the invasion was an effort to fulfill German’s objectives in the East with Hitler determined to claim a vast session of the USSR territory. Hitler sought to acquire Russia for himself by purging it into two, the Bolshevism and the other part for the undesirables that is the Jews and the Slavs (Hanson, 1971). Because he was hell-bent towards acquiring Russia, he ignored intelligence and being motivated by the recent success in France and Finland and the embarrassing defeat of the Russians by Finland, Hitler made his fateful move. The attach of 1941 was the largest in human history with the front line extending 1000 miles and at the beginning of the war, it involved 3 million soldiers from the Axis alliance from 117 army divisions. In defense, the Russians mounted 132 army divisions with 34 of them armored. The fatal miscalculation of diverting forces from Army Group Centre to the south in the direction of Kiev by Hitler saw the ill-equipped German army battle in one of the worst recorded winters in Moscow with the Germanys never to recover (Overy, 1995). The result was withdrawal from all Russian sectors and a devastating loss of resources both weapons and personnel.
The other tactical error was by Italy in an effort to invade Greece. Under Mussolini, and with the challenge from Germany for conquering France, Italy invaded Greece as a strategy to prove that it was at the level of the world great powers, and more so, equal to Hitler in Germany (Goldsmith, 1946). In 1940, Mussolini made the first campaign but the Greeks counteracted to force over 500,000 Italian troops to retreat. In 1941, a similar attack also failed, but Hitler came in to support his ally and in 1941, Greece was completely defeated by the Germany and Italian forces. Even though this was ultimately successful, the error was in committing Axis troop to a side-mission in a time of war. At the time, Germany was in war with Russian and this diversion of troops caused the Russian invasion to be delayed.
The third tactical error was by the Japanese and the attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1941, the expansionist policies and continued encroachment into the South East Asia and South Pacific regions made Japan vulnerable to the then prevailing sanctions and military conflicts (Hanson, 1971). These included those from Netherlands, Britain, and the US, with the US in particular seizing oil exports to Japan, and providing military support to china. Japanese military leaders planned a major offensive in the Dutch East Indies and south Asia which was deemed necessary for securing the highly needed oil and rubber. To Pearl Harbor attack was meant to stave the Americans by destroying their crucial fleet and therefore severely dent the Americans morale. The attack realized limited success and the intended purposes never got realized but rather caused the Americans to amass their military power and target Japan therefore taking the Allies side.
The third reason why the Axis was defeated was because of diminished resources and primarily personnel. At the start of the Second World War in 1939, the Axis powers were overweighed by the axis in terms of population and economic power (Goldsmith, 1946). Even though this was largely due to the high number of colonies the Allied powers had, it was largely due to the inability of the Axis to get some of the members to contribute resources for the war, in particular Spain and Turkey (Hanson, 1971). Spain was a member of the Axis but it never contributed to the Axis troops. The country steadfastly refused entering into the war mainly because of the risk of having to loss its oil imports from US. In addition, Spain had just gotten out of the Spanish Civil War. Turkey on the other hand, which was a member of Axis declared itself neutral soon after the war began (Alexander, 2000) and got concerned with a conflict with the Soviet Union. In 1943, Italy was knocked out of the Axis alliance which meant decreased resources available for their military campaign (O’Brien, 2014). In addition, Turkey which had signed a non-aggression pact with Germany declared war on Axis in 1944.
The fourth reason for the defeat of the Axis powers was due to Germany’s fixation to what Hitler referred to as the “wonder weapons”. The final attack which marked the end of the Second World War was the attack on Japan by the US with atomic bomb. It can therefore be argued that, the Axis powers were defeated for not having atomic bomb at their disposal. According to Alexander (2000), Germany which was the major force among the Axis made all types of weapons, except that which mattered, the atomic bomb. While the US, Canada, and Britain concentrated on the Manhattan project, German failed to follow suit and its nuclear project was underfunded and without the support of the military leaders which was mainly because it was associated with Jewish science. German concentrated on V1 and V2 rockets, jet combat aircrafts, and massive tanks (Goldsmith, 1946).
Why the war took so long
Based on the mighty power of both the Axis and the Allied forces at the time the Second World War broke, it could have been expected for it to take less time, but it ended up running from 1939-1945. One of the reasons for this was the shift of balance economically from the pre-war period and when the war got underway (Smith, 1956). At the pre-war period, the Allied powers were at an advantaged position economically. The Allied forces had more population, wider territory, and higher GDP compared to the Axis powers. However, soon after the war began, the Allied resources began to diminish with their lowest being in 1942. However, due to the errors discussed above, the Axis powers couldn’t finish the war by defeating the Allied forces therefore they got an opportunity to mobilize their resources and gained the resource capability to remain in war.
The second reason for the long time the war took was because of the anti-war feeling that the Allied forces had adopted at the initial stages of the war (Goldsmith, 1946). The allied forces and in particular Britain, still held the idea that negotiations would work in solving the problem the Germany under Hitler had caused. As a result of this belief, the Allied forces did not undertake to active and full-blown war at the initial stages of the war, which would have provided the power to defeat the Axis therefore end the war. At the initial stages of the war, the Allied forces remained mainly on the defensive without offensive and still trying negotiations and using credits to undermine the operations of German especially market influence.
The third reason is based on the action of France and Italy. In 1941, France was knocked out of the Allied forces and ended up joining the Axis. Due to this shift, the operations of the Allied in defeating the Axis were dealt a major blow which meant the Allied forces had to re-strategize therefore the war dragging on (Hanson, 1971). In addition to France shifting, Italy was knocked out of the Axis powers which also meant a change in the Axis side therefore affecting the strategic plan for the Axis powers.
According to Overy (1995), the Allied powers failed to defeat the Axis powers and end the war especially due to their misallocation of resources for example, allocation of resources to essentially useless operations like strategic bombing. Strategic bombing was a US and British air offensive strategy that involved targeting German industry and aimed at wrecking the enemies production of war goods. This strategy however didn’t have the desired effects because in Germany for example, the country increased production (Smith, 1959). In the latter stages of the war, especially in 1944, strategic bombing worked for example targeting German air defenses, dams, rail centers, power plants, and refineries and other war related sites.
There are a number of factors that contributed to the defeat of the Axis forces in the Second World War. One of the primary reasons was due to their ignorance of the importance of the sea. Germany for example overlooked the importance of sea power as a result; Germany submarines were effectively destroyed in the war, with two thirds of the entire Germany subs being destroyed by the Allies in particular by United States navy. The second reason is the tactical error for the Axis powers which included the invasion to Russian by Germany, Italy invasion to Greece, and Japan attack on Pearl Harbor. The third reason for the defeat was because of diminished resources and primarily personnel, and the last was due to Germany’s fixation to what Hitler referred to as the “wonder weapons”. The war lasted for so long because of the shift of balance economically from the pre-war period and when the war got underway, because of the anti-war feeling that the Allied forces had adopted at the initial stages of the war and preference of negotiation and credits, the action of France and Italy to shift position and move out of the conflicting sides respectively and lastly, the Allied powers failed to defeat the Axis powers and end the war especially due to their misallocation of resources.
- Alexander, Bevin. How Hitler Could Have Won World War II: The Fatal Errors that Led to Nazi Defeat. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2000.
- Goldsmith, R. W., “The power of victory: munitions output in World War II”, Military Affairs, 10 (1946), pp. 69-80.
- Hanson, P., “East-West comparisons and comparative economic systems”, Soviet Stud., 22 (1971), pp. 327-43.
- O’Brien, Phillips Payson. How the War Was Won: Air-Sea Power and Allied Victory in World War II. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
- Overy, Richard. Why the Allies Won. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1995.
- Smith, R. E., The army and economic mobilization. Washington, D. C., 1959.