Does luck explain German military successes up to end of 1941 ?

tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
14,257
Point 5: I was talking about the overall strategy. We cannot invade (too few, and our allies do not want to commit lot of troops on the continent), and we do not want a blood bath as was WWI. So we fight on a small front (Belgium) and rely on heavy fortifications on the east. On the other hand, German should have difficiulties to supply its loss, thanks to USSR neutrality (which was not the case, but which was hardly an evidence in the 20-30's). If you want a back-up force to counter attack, you have to take it from somewhere. With more troops near Sedan, german ofensive could have failed, it's true, but those panzer divisions were really fast and the allies were always too slow.

7... you have to understand the geo political view of France after the battle of France. Our few allies (UK + Canada + ANZAC if you want) commited how many troops on the front? For what effectiveness? To France HQ and overall perception, it was 0. The geo political situation of Europe was as following: USSR was more or less allied with Germany, France was surrounded with pro facists regimes, US president said that the US would not go to war this time, the tiny UK army had fled away. Those are the pure facts you have, in 1940, to make a decision. For lot of french generals, the deal was to let the storm pass, making an acceptable armistice, and for some of them (as Giraud did) keeping in reserve the possibility to strike back when an other army could have been raised.

Oh I am not saying the situation was easy for France, but here we are taking the German view..... From the German perspective it was really a piece of luck that France gave up so "easily"... In war you cannot count on your adversary doing you such big favors....
 

caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,357
it is absolutely true that prior to September 1939 the Germans were very anxious about French superiority (the French Army, rightly or wrongly, was thought generally to be the best in the world at that time) and when testing the western frontiers had orders to retreat if the French reacted. Remember that the push through the Ardennes wasn't just about the Maginot Line - it was an attempt to make an armoured breakthrough in an area thought to be poorly defended. The Germans were right and pulled it off.
 
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Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
23,371
SoCal
I suggest this book



In particular the germans may have had some good tactics, and were good at limited operations.... But their tactics did not always work (one problem was the obsession with counterattack)... At the strategic level they were appalling...

The short war concept was also due quite a bit to their limited resources (chiefly Oil).... But what would happen if the ennemy refused to give up ? The germans did not really have an answer....

Early German successes, were mostly against small countries with token militaries.. The one exception was France, a "battlefield" that Germany had been familiar with for the past 70 years (note that they won the 1870 war without radios, planes or tanks with LESS casualties than in 1940) or more if you count the 1814-1815 campaigns... Even in 1914, success was close and perhaps would have been had if not for the russians moving into Prussia and a few german operational mistakes..... With the 1870 war in mind , the success against France in 1940 becomes less "exceptional"

Then early success against the USSR can mostly be traced back to the inadequate forward defense used by the soviets, the soviet bet that the germans would not attack in 1941 and Stalin's military incompetence... Still german casualties were quite heavy and unsustainable....
Your view about the Germans being good at tactics and bad at strategy would probably be shared by @Underlankers if some of his old posts here are anything to go by. I do wonder if it is foolish to actually go to war in the first place if one doesn't actually have a clear idea as to how exactly one is supposed to end this war. That said, though, wishful thinking wasn't only the domain of the Germans; after all, Winston Churchill continued the war against Nazi Germany after the Fall of France in 1940 in spite of the fact that he'd need both Soviet and US entry into the war to actually defeat Nazi Germany--and while this ultimately indeed happened, it certainly wasn't guaranteed to occur from the perspective of 1940 without any hindsight.
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
23,371
SoCal
Point 5: I was talking about the overall strategy. We cannot invade (too few, and our allies do not want to commit lot of troops on the continent), and we do not want a blood bath as was WWI. So we fight on a small front (Belgium) and rely on heavy fortifications on the east. On the other hand, German should have difficiulties to supply its loss, thanks to USSR neutrality (which was not the case, but which was hardly an evidence in the 20-30's). If you want a back-up force to counter attack, you have to take it from somewhere. With more troops near Sedan, german ofensive could have failed, it's true, but those panzer divisions were really fast and the allies were always too slow.
AFAIK, the French also wanted to avoid having their resource-rich and heavily industrialized areas fall into the hands of the Germans during WWII due to their memories of how France was hurt when these areas fell under German occupation during WWI. Basically, France wanted to ensure that it would be able to continue relying on the resources and industrial base of northeastern France in the event of any Franco-German war--which might have been especially pertinent considering that France was not guaranteed to be able to rely on either Russian or American help in its war with Germany this time around.

7... you have to understand the geo political view of France after the battle of France. Our few allies (UK + Canada + ANZAC if you want) commited how many troops on the front? For what effectiveness? To France HQ and overall perception, it was 0. The geo political situation of Europe was as following: USSR was more or less allied with Germany, France was surrounded with pro facists regimes, US president said that the US would not go to war this time, the tiny UK army had fled away. Those are the pure facts you have, in 1940, to make a decision. For lot of french generals, the deal was to let the storm pass, making an acceptable armistice, and for some of them (as Giraud did) keeping in reserve the possibility to strike back when an other army could have been raised.
Oh, certainly, France's decision to give up the fight certainly seemed reasonable in 1940. In fact, one could argue that, without hindsight, Churchill's decision to continue the war during this time was less reasonable than the French decision.
 

stevev

Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
3,728
Las Vegas, NV USA
If you call allied failures "luck'' for Germany, than it's luck. Hitler did not expect Britain and France to declare war when he invaded Poland. Two days passed before they did. At that point the French had military superiority along Germany's western frontier. The Westwall was no Maginot Line. After several days without evidence of a French offensive, he relaxed. He had sized up his enemy correctly. The French were not offensive minded. They would hide behind their Maginot Line.
 
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royal744

Ad Honoris
Jul 2013
10,958
San Antonio, Tx
Countries that start wars against peaceful countries very nearly always “win” in the early months. But if they can’t subdue the country they are fighting quickly and if the “victim” has a large country and population, they can sometimes retreat into the interior of their country and return to destroy the invader. Small countries can’t do this. The Germans were not very careful planners and their leadership preferred to assume they were invincible rather than study their Soviet opponent, who came back to pummel the Germans into oblivion.

The Germans suffered from hubris, perhaps understandable given their defeat of the Poles, French, Dutch, Belgians , and Norwegians in short order. But these were countries unprepared and not mobilized for war..

How the Germans could have looked at a map and determined with nary a deep thought that the Russians could be easily defeated when Russia was I don’t know how many times bigger and deeper than Germany. Russia is a giant country and Germany isn’t.
 

royal744

Ad Honoris
Jul 2013
10,958
San Antonio, Tx
I should add that the French have never forgiven the British for the capture and sinking of naval vessels, ordered to prevent their capture by the Germans. French veterans maintain that they were not going to meekly hand over their ships. Britain wasn't so sure, but then, they had America to impress - the US was at that stage predicting Britain's defeat within months.
“Real politiek” is what I think of when I consider the sinking of the French fleet in North Africa. The loss of French lives was bad and very unfortunate but the French were given notice and given choices on where to sail the fleet. They refused. As the only “free” country remaining in Europe, Great Britain was in dire straits and fighting for its survival. Deciding to sink the French fleet was a terrible and difficult decision but putting yourself in GB’s place, I would have done the same because to do otherwise might wind up with a German fleet using French ships which would have been completely unacceptable to the British.

I don’t think the British thought about impressing the Americans; they were out to keep the French fleet out of German hands which was the immediate threat and the immediate threat was dire in the minds of the British admiralty.
 

royal744

Ad Honoris
Jul 2013
10,958
San Antonio, Tx
This was the best explanation and summary of German military operation effectiveness and performance I have ever read. In total , in concept of operational methods and effectiveness , they studied and prepared a lot more than their rivals before World War I and inter war years. They focused on short quick and decisevely victorious campaign concept.
It didn’t work out well for them. Winning against an unprepared enemy is hardly a surprise, especially in the absence of a declaration of war. That all the countries attacked before France were either tiny (Holland, Belgium, Denmark) or very thinly populated with a tiny army (Norway). France was where a good bit of political turmoil was taking place and with a sclerotic and technically backward army and Air Force.

From what I have read, the German supply system for the troops at the front was quite poor. Plus, when you attack a country the size of Russia, there is no such thing as blitzkrieg. Mucho too big.
 
May 2018
1,019
Michigan
There is a similar pattern in a lot of wars, and not just the ones I mention here.

1. Opening stage - Britain/America suffers massive defeats early in the conflict. Often times, there is a tactical genius leading the enemy forces. (Napoleon/Hitler/Hannibal/Robert E. Lee/Imperial Germany/Imperial Japan)

2. Usually, the antagonist begins to falter, their advance halts, and Britian/America/Rome recovers and begins to repair their grievous losses.

3. Through a combination of at least passable tactical and strategic thought (some better than others) but moreover, a material superiority and a strong sense of national unity continue the war "as long is necessary for victory" in spite of massive cost in both life and treasure, close to twenty years in two cases.

4. The protagonist (in these cases) prevails completely, to the point of occupying the enemy's home country.

Was Hitler lucky? In many ways, but he was just following a similar rough pattern of previous "world wars" (and in one case, a civil war) which teaches us don't **** with nations who have a high degree of national identity and fighting spirit who also possess huge amounts of resources an a large population.
 

caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,357
I don’t think the British thought about impressing the Americans; they were out to keep the French fleet out of German hands which was the immediate threat and the immediate threat was dire in the minds of the British admiralty.
On the contrary, impressing the Americans was paramount to Churchill's political strategy. At that point, May 1940, America was almost writing Britain off. The common joke in the US at the time was that "Churchill wanted to fight to the last American". The Neutrality Act, the isolationism of many Americans, and the pro-German sympathies of a lesser proportion of them were difficult obstacles to American assistance. Only by showing that Britain was determined and ruthless could Roosevelt be sufficiently willing to invest in backing Britain. it was, to my mind, the greatest victory Churchill achieved.
 
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