'For the want of a nail, the battle was lost' Or won!

* * * * * * *

As a result of a very wide reading of literature concerning the 2nd World War through fifty years, I was fascinated by a large number of pivotal and apparently 'chance' incidents and mistakes upon which the positive fate of the Allies eventually turned out to hinge in remarkable ways. These could serve as striking illustrations of the truth of the saying, 'for the want of a nail, the battle was lost', in effect, that battles can be won or lost due to some minor event. Not all of these are well appreciated, nor is their peculiarly insignificant or coincidental nature seen as such by war historians. When I for some years tended to believe there was some kind of providence or divine control in world events (a belief I have since yet again finally put behind me) I saw these as possible points of intervention - some kind of 'divine tweak points' which had effects far out of proportion to the final outcome of the 2nd WW. These were crucial pivotal events.

The main weakness of my views then was that - in common with most writers - I looked for incidents which bore out my thesis and became so absorbed in them that I neglected to stand back and look for other incidents of the contrary tendency which would have put these 'special coincidences' into proper persepctive. That said, it is still perhaps of interest to look at the points I raised, if only to show something of what an extremely chance affair warfare is, especially when on such a large scale as the 2nd WW.

Most of the fateful strategic mistakes of the war were made by Hitler more or less on his own, often against the advice of his best generals, and sometimes in the face both of reason and common sense. The explanation of these fatal errors is Hitler's having an unstable psyche, becoming ever more inflated as to his own importance and genius, and certain uncorrected paranoid delusions. Yet the fact that such enormously fateful consequences could depend entirely upon virtual whims and fixed ideas shows how delicate the balance hangs between right and wrong as to the final outcome. Were there an omniscient and omnipotent divinity, which is a surmise without any empirical foundation - a flight of speculative logic - it seems clear that such a being would in fact only had to make minor interventions at certain pivotal points so as to alter the outcome of the war.

Several major strategic victories depended, not merely on superiority in men, weapons and materials, but often only on slender margins of difference, timing and circumstance. In his brilliant analysis, Why the Allies Won, (U.K. 1995) Richard Overy wrote: "The decisive engagement at Midway Island was won because ten American bombs out of the hundreds dropped fell on the right target. The victory in the Atlantic came with the introduction of a small number of long-range aircraft to cover the notorious Atlantic Gap. The bombing offensive, almost brought to a halt in the winter of 1943-4, was saved by the addition of long-range fuel tanks to escort-fighters, a tiny expense in the overall cost of the bombing campaign. The Battle of Stalingrad depended on the desperate, almost incomprehensible courage of a few thousand men who held up the German 6th Army long enough to spring a decisive trap. The invasion of France hung on the ability to keep the enemy guessing, against every conceivable odds, the centre of operational gravity, and then on the weather."

In addition to these highly relevant instances, there are yet less obvious but decisive details in these and other campaigns which might be put down to 'accident' or 'good fortune', but more often were probably instances of the triumph of motivated will and the quality and autonomy of the military leadership over a flawed and eventually chaotic enemy order of battle. In chronological order, the following are such examples:-

Chamberlain's 'unfeasable' military guarantee to Poland. The accepted reason for the guarantee, shortly before the outbreak of war, of military aid to Poland if attacked by Hitler was to try to hinder him from usurping Danzig and the Polish Corridor, which he had demanded as German-populated territory. Yet Britain (and also her ally, France) were entirely powerless to lend armed support to geographically-isolated Poland in the event of German hostilites, as the case later proved too. The guarantee also gave a largely corrupt and out-dated militaristic oligarchy in Poland support in fighting an impossible war (with cavalry!), rather than secede the partly-German territories of Danzig and the Polish Corridor - the status of which had long been uncertain or controversial anyhow - and possibly to save their country from the total destruction that followed.

The declaration of war on Germany by Britain at that point in time was largely a matter of honour (after the guarantee given) and of drawing a line against Hitler somewhere at last. The British guarantee and consequent declaration of war while so unprepared were both proven to be militarily very unsound, evidently not based on any rational strategy. It was more of a 'gut-reaction' poker bluff from a harried politician... which proved despite all to have a positive outcome. Chamberlain's guarantee was an 'incalculable' hinge of fate which, due to the turns of events beyond the control of human thought or action, saved the Continent from the conquest of Russia and its consequences. This was mainly because of:-

Hitler's 'unforced gift' of Polish territory to Russia before any hostilities commenced Hitler's main aim - the conquest of Soviet Russia - was cunningly concealed by the Hitler-Stalin pact, but it was delayed and weakened by the Allies' becoming hostile on his western borders, which Hitler had not expected. This helped save Russia in the long run, but Hitler's secret agreement with Russia was of equally great moment for Russia's final salvation. The secret protocols of the Hitler-Stalin pact divided Poland between Germany and Russia, thus in effect advancing Russia's boundary 200 kms. westward towards Germany. Stalin was desperate to avoid war with Hitler, as all his behaviour clearly signalled, at least for some years until Russia would be able to reach Germany's military standards for the inevitable conflict between them. The extra 200 kms. of Polish territory as a buffer between them made all the difference in Hitler's invasion of Russia, which fell short of its chief strategic goal, the occupation of Moscow, by only 40 kms. Had the German Armies' starting point been 200 kms. closer Moscow they must have been able to overrun Moscow before winter set in and thus achieve victory over the Soviet Union. Hitler could have usurped the whole of Poland - ignoring the Soviet pact - with small risk of Russian hostilities, as was also shown when Germany later attacked Russia and were at first not even opposed by Stalin. Germany knew well the exact condition of Stalin's desperate rearmament programme, for they were themselves the suppliers of the industrial technology and even of much of the combat air force. Hitler was already delayed by the second front involving the invasion of the Low Countries and France, the failed campaign against the British Isles and, last but not least, by their last-minute invasion of the Balkan.

Therefore, had Chamberlain not given the Polish guarantee, totally ineffective as it obviously proved to Poland, or opened a second front, Hitler would surely have destroyed the Soviets, even despite the greater distance to Moscow involved by the partition of Poland.

Hitler's not eliminating the British forces at Dunkirk General von Rundtsted's panzer forces halted on Hitler's orders while over 400,000 British troops escaped. The Luftwaffe failed to stop the rescue, as Hitler had supposed it would. Yet the panzers could with relative ease have destroyed the backbone of the British Army - all the several hundred thousand crack troops - and made a quick invasion (fully planned as 'Operation Sealion') of the quite unprepared and still virtually unarmed British Isles a real possibility, despite the British Navy. Hitler's decision proved to be his 'fatal mistake' as regards Britain and thus of the outcome of the war. The mistake was made due to Hitler's belief that his forces were atthe limit of their extent and that the british were much better equipped than was the case, but also because of his view that a stand-off could help make the British to enter an armistice pact with him against the great common threat, Soviet Bolshevism.

The cessation of massed bombing raids at the moment prior to success Goering stopped the bombing and strafing of R.A.F. fighter airfields, radar stations and airplane factories on the very day after the R.A.F. had first been left with not a single extra fighter to throw into the battle. The decisive factor in the Battle of Britain was her defensive air power, which was right on the verge of being broken. Had the Luftwaffe not changed their strategy of bombing fighter stations when it was very close to success or had not avoided fighter conflicts by going over to night bombing, a few more squadrons of Spitfires would have been disable or shot down and Britain would have been virtually defenseless to the planned invasion, as the Navy could only have operated effectively with dominant air support in defending the beaches. Very shortly thereafter the factors of success altered radically due to the further development of radar's range, an improved mark of Spitfire etc., which robbed Germany of the chance successfully to attack again. Hitler soon ridiculed Goering's boast about his mighty Luftwaffe Blitzkrieg.

The single 'lucky torpedo' that hit the Bismark. Many strategians view the sinking of the Bismark in May 1941 as possibly the crucial turning point of the Battle of the Atlantic, and hence of the whole war in Europe. It was not only the first major morale-building success of the British, coming shortly after the Bismark had sunk the battleship Hood and while the British debacle in Crete was under way. but also their gain of dominance over the German sufrace fleet. The Bismark was the fastest warship afloat and alone could outpace the Queen liners which were crucial, large capacity Atlantic troopships. Had the the steering gear and one propeller of the powerfully steel-armoured vessel Bismark not been disabled, by luck rather than judgement in an airborne torpedo attack under dreadful weather conditions, it would soon have reached the cover of the Luftwaffe and would then, together with the warships Scheinhorst and Gneisenau and co-ordinated with U-boat packs, have been able from Brest to dominate the Atlantic shipping lanes and sink millions of tons of Allied shipping. As it was, without steering or power, the Bismark was pounded to death by the surrounding British fleet. The convoy lifeline would have been broken and the supplying and arming of Great Britain would have been crucially reduced. This could well have been the blow that defeated Britain and made Germany virtually impregnable.

Second front against the Soviets opened, weeks later than planned. Many strategic commentators regard Hitler's decision to invade Russia and thus fight on two fronts as the most fateful act of the war. However, conquest of Russian Communism was Hitler's chief plan even before the first years of the Nazi party. The unexpected huge success of his panzer-led armies on the plains of Northern France gave every confidence of the same success on the plains of Russia, which was indeed the case up until the onset of winter while still 40 kms. from Moscow. The invasion date was delayed by 6 weeks due to an incursion to pacify the Balkans after American diplomatic agitation in Romania made Hitler's flank and oil supplies insecure. Those 6 weeks proved crucial for the Red Army, causing Hitler's forces to lose momentum before the Russian winter began. The Balkan diversion was carefully engineered by Churchill and Roosevelt, who knew exactly of Hitler's plan to invade Russia due to secret British possession of the German cypher machine, Enigma, the codes of which were regularly broken. Stalin had refused to believe their warnings, taking them as a mere attempt to destroy the Russo-German pact, which was a continuation of existing broad military and industrial co-operation for many years prior to the pact (the facts of which first came to light as late as the mid-1990s).

Hitler's failure to secure North Africa before invading Russia Hitler decided not to secure the Mediterranean and Malta by dominating the whole of North Africa, including Egypt. North Africa was then held only in part and by weak Italian forces, so as also to secure an impregnable desert base line to the great continental 'triangle' that Hitler's forces had otherwise pacified. The Italian weakness - plus the continued resistance of Malta - led to Hitler having to sap his armies of crack divisions on his Eastern front, including General Rommel, so as to shore up the failing Italians and then to fight on two African fronts - with Montgomery in Egypt and the American-British invasion from the west of North Africa. It was in North Africa that the Germans decisively lost their first major tank battle, at El Alamein. Hitler was unable to supply Rommel's panzers to regroup or counterattack due to the huge commitments required on his Eastern front. With the African campaign, Germany had not two fronts, but three, even four.

Hitler's unforced decision to sacrifice key forces at Moscow. Hitler's implacable 'Hold or Die' order to the Wehrmacht's highly trained land forces at the turn of 1941-2 on his eastern front (including Moscow) first punctured the mutual myth of German invincibility, then broke morale as a whole army froze, starved and was encircled. The initiative was lost in the Mediterranean due to consequent lack of reinforcements and supplies there, esp. petroleum, which were crucial in Rommel's defeat at El Alamein.

Hitler's one-sided, self-defeating declaration of war on the U.S.A. Hitler declared war on the U.S. in support of the Axis ally, Japan, after their very successful surprise attack on Pearl Harbour, even though this was not required by any mutual treaty. Nor did Hitler ask for any reciprocal aid, and most notably did not ensure that the Japanese reciprocate and attack the Soviets, thus opening a second front to relieve the German armies, which were already being counter-attacked and had retreated at Rostov. Nor did Hitler enter into any other co-ordination of global plans with the Japanese, which could conceivably easily have turned the direction of the whole war. With Russia non-belligerent, the Japanese therefore gained a secure boundary to their north so that they could launch an attack in southward directions instead. Worse by far, however, for Hitler, was the fact that - unless he had declared war on the USA, Roosevelt would hardly have been able to follow the strategically-essential 'Germany first' policy, because American voters' anger was all directed towards Japan. Isolationist scepticism towards European wars was still very strong too, and so was the opposition of many generals and the US Navy to the Atlantic-first policy. It was very uncertain whether Rooseveldt would even have felt able to declare war on Germany under those circumstances. Thus, Hitler would have had free play in Europe.

'Chances' that gave the U.S. victory at the crucial Battle of Midway The detection of the Japanese fleet was made possible through superior code-breaking intelligence. However, the arrival of the US dive bombers over the fleet at the exact time when the Japanese Zero fighters were fighting torpedo planse at sea level was a very fortunate 'coincidence', leading to the destruction of three aircraft carriers and the end of Japanese sea superiority in the Pacific. Otherwise, the outcome would surely have been very much less sucessful for the US. The impetuous naval fleet commander Admiral Halsey was hospitalised for a skin disorder just before the advance of the Japanese fleet for what became the Midway battle. Halsey had recommended his friend Spruance as his replacement, whose steady-minded judgement and unconventional tactics led to the American victory against very long odds at the decisive Midway sea battle that set the final limit to Japanese naval advancements across the Pacific. Spruance firstly took the unusual initiative of sending his dive-bombers off before the enemy did the same, even though the enemy fleet's position was not clearly known. After the sinking of the chief Jap carriers and against great pressures from his staff, Spruance very wisely refused to follow up by attacks on the remaining Japanese fleet and withdrew out of range of the heavy battleships, thus saving the only US carriers left in the Pacific and thus ensuring that Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast were protected. The success in sinking four carriers was due to the sheer chance. Japanese fighters were flying at low level to attack the U.S. torpedo planes (which inflicted no carrier damage at all and were mostly shot down) when the U.S. dive bombers found the target by chance at that moment, after having lost their way and searching for it. Hence, the dive bombers had unimpeded flight-paths to the carriers, which they would not have had if Japanese Zero fighters had not all then been engaged at sea level. Had Admiral Halsey been fit, moreover, the strategic battle would almost certainly not have been won. The ten bombs mentioned by Overy (see introduction) virtually crippled the Japanese fleet for the rest of the war, since the crucial key to air supremacy and hence control of the Pacific, four of its aircraft carriers, were sunk.

Hitler's obsession with Stalingrad Hitler's later abandonment of his most professional and battle-hardened Sixth Army to encirclement and elimination at Stalingrad in the autumn of 1943, rather than accept their failure to take the city, which was not even strategically necessary, as it could have been bypassed and soon have been flattened by constant shelling instead. The loss of prestige at not taking the city with the name of Hitler's chief enemy, Stalin, blinded Hitler to sound principles and obsessed him violently. The 6th Army could have fought its way out to the West or towards a relief force that came within 35 miles, but Hitler would not give General Paulus permission to break out. Over 90,000 were taken prisoner and of these, less than 5,000 survived imprisonment. 70,000 German lives were lost in the battle itself. This virtually broke the back of the Wehrmacht both in terms of efficient manpower and morale among all levels of military staff. General Paulus' not following Hitler's order to commit suicide was an unprecedented act of defiance.

Hitler's long refusal to build the jet fighter. The Allies' massive bombing of Germany could have been stopped completely by the Luftwaffe if Albert Speer had been allowed to continue production of the superior fighter, the first jet-propelled airplane ever, developed already there in 1943. Instead, Hitler insisted on production priority to bombers and anti-aircraft ammunition and guns. Subsequent experience showed that fighter power decided the air war over Germany, and that German machines were able to win decisively in the air. Yet at the crucial period of the bombing of Germany, insufficient numbers were available. Otherwise this could have reversed fortunes, especially if the very superior German jet fighter ME-262 had been produced earlier, most probably despite the introduction of the long-range Mustang fighters that at last successfully protected the bombers. The first German models of jet fighter flew in combat in the last year of the war.

The failure of Hitler to recognise the D-Day invasion. Though the invasion fleet of over 5,000 vessels was seen on radar, the operators thought it must be due to static or other disturbance, perhaps due to bad weather... even though they had long been expecting a major invasion. Their uncertainty was compounded by the knowledge of very unfavourable general weather conditions for invasion. Secondly, the overall commander von Rundstedt, who was in Paris at the time, simply refused to believe that the interception of messages to the French resistance from the BBC were the invasion signal, though the cipher experts already knew the exact words that would announce the D-day invasion of France had been awaiting them and recognised them immediately they arrived. Thirdly, the defending forces on the Normandy shore were given no warning and local armoured support was not provided until too late in the day. This was due to the scepticism of Rommel's staff that the Normandy landing was the main invasion, Rommel himself being absent in Germany. Fourth, von Rundtsteds' 5 panzer divisions of the Fifteenth Army, which could surely have crushed the invasion on the beaches of the five Allied divisions, were not released from the Pas de Calais. Hitler released only one division after great delays, while the other four were held back for all of seven weeks in the belief that the main attack would still come at Calais! The Allies had, however, gone to considerable lengths to deceive the enemy as to where and when the main thrust would come. Even so, unlike Hitler, Rommel and other generals realised that Normandy was the main force within hours of being informed.

Compounding the confusion and indecision, Hitler was in Berechtsgaden, Bavaria, having just gone to sleep with the aid of sleeping pills and nobody dared to awaken him until late in the day, when Jodl briefed him at 10 a.m. After that at noon, Hitler drove for one hour to attend a 'showpiece' briefing at Klessheim Castle given for visiting Hungarian visitors of state! Hitler insisted on commanding the panzers himself from Berechtsgaden, 500 miles away from the scene of battle... a most inefficient battle arrangement.

The absence from the war zone on D-Day of Rommel and other commanders. The first leave that Rommel had taken for months began early on June 4th, about 40 hours before the invasion began, at which time he was beyond telephone contact 500 miles away in Germany with his family on his wife's birthday. General Rommel's H.Q. was in Normandy near the beaches. He was second-in-command of the Western armies after General von Rundstedt, who was at Pas de Calais. Further, Army Group B's operations officer, Von Tempelhof, was also in Germany. Admiral Krancke, naval commander in the west, was absent on the way to Bordeaux. General von Rundstedt's intelligence officer was off on leave and out of contact. Senior commanders in Normandy and the Cherbourg peninsular were also away from their commands partaking in a 'war-game' at Rennes in Brittany! (These included 243rd Division commander Lt. Hellmich, Lt. Gen. von Schlieben, 709th Division, Major General Falley, 91st Air Landing Division and Colonel Meyer-Detring). The fact that a near gale was blowing on the 5th June, predicted to last 3 days, helped cause the Germans to drop their guard.

The German Luftwaffe's absences from the war front on D-Day. There were only two Luftwaffe planes operative in the area during most of the first day. These two were the only remaining within range of the beaches, two fighters of the 26th Fighter Wing, the planes of which the Luftwaffe High Command had ordered away for safety from British bombing raids. No other fighter units were available. The Allies flew 15,000 sorties unchallenged on the first day. Only 183 Luftwaffe fighters are known to have been in the whole of France at that time. The landing beaches were not bombed at all until late on June 6th by a squadron of Dorniers.

The absence of the guns of the Point du Hoc battery. The crucial guns covering the Omaha and Utah beaches from a 100 ft. high cliff were found to be missing when the cliff was stormed by the Rangers. The guns were later found heavily camouflaged and complete with ammunition etc., but unmanned, half a mile inland, to where they had been moved, most likely due to previous very heavy R.A.F. bombing.They could have caused incalculable damage, but it seems that, by some mischance on the German side, the crews to man them had never been sent.

The disrupted parachute drop confused the German defenders. The 12,000 soldiers of the 81st and 102nd American airborne divisions dropped on the right flank of the Normandy beaches were spread by high winds and other conditions, some landing 30 miles away from their objectives.This had the effect, however, of baffling the Germans and made them think an extremely subtle plan was underway, which mistaken idea cause them a crucial loss of time.

The accidental sinking of U-1063 that stopped a late U-boat offensive. The Observer for May 13, 1945 reported: "But for the accidental sinking of U-boat No. 1063 in a fjord near Bergen last February, the war might still be going on, certainly from Norway, and V-Day still to be celebrated." The U-boat was on trials; it had dived and failed ever to surface again. It was one of the first of a fleet of 200 prefabricated U-boats already in existence. The reason for the accident, or any suspected fault was not found, due to which the new fleet of U-boats were never sent into action. They could have prolonged the war very considerably by causing great havoc to Atlantic convoys.

ALBERT SPEER'S VIEW OF EVENTS Albert Speer was undoubtedly Hitler's closest associate for many of the most crucial years, the only non-political figure given constant personal and private access to Hitler. He later became a brilliant minister of armaments through most of the war, which he himself served to prolong by many months - if not even over a year - through his competent management and his limitation of economic damage from bombing and doubling of armaments output. His monumental autobiography Inside the Third Reich (Macmillan 1970) shows how Hitler's growing and excessive mismanagement of the war came about. In a letter to Hitler written early April 1945 - which Hitler incidentally officially refused to receive - Speer wrote: "I believe in the future of the German people. I believe in a Providence that is just and inexhorable, and thus I believe in God. It pained me deeply during the victorious days of 1940 to see how many among our leaders were losing their inner integrity. This was the moment when we should have commended ourselves to Providence by our decency and inner modesty. Then Fate would have been on our side. But during these months we were weighed in the balance and found too light for ultimate victory. We wasted a year of time luxuriating in our easily won success when we could have been girding ourselves for battle. This was why we were caught unprepared in the decisive years of 1944 and 1945. If all our new weapons had been ready a year earlier, we would be in a very different position now. As if we were being warned by providence, from 1940 on all our military undertakings were dogged by unprecedented ill luck. Never before has an outside element such as the weather played such a decisive and devastating role as in this, the most technological of all wars: The cold in Moscow, the fog in Stalingrad, and the blue sky above the winter offensive in the West in 1944."
(Note: The 'offensive in the West' refers to the 1944 Ardennes breakout by German forces, also called the 'Battle of the Bulge'.)

At that time, Speer was still a follower of Hitler, though he was actually at odds with most of Hitler's orders and openly worked against many of them in the higher interest of the German populace. Had Hitler followed Speer's well-founded recommendations on the need for developing a fighter force, the early production of the jet fighter and other advanced weapons already on the factory line - instead of cancelling them in favour of ill-judged offensives and priorities - the outcome of the war may have been very different indeed. Almost all of Speer's priorities have been proved correct by the subsequent march of military technology and strategy.

Conclusion It is well-known how during the war many and varied experiences of fate and fortune of rationally-inexplicable kinds are taken to be 'miraculous' by those directly implicated. Few of these have consequences for the outcome in major strategic and political terms. However, it appears from the above that the fate of the world actually several times hinged very largely on such quite minor, unpredictable and uncontrollable coincidental events or on entirely irrational mistakes, some minor in nature but all major in consequence. These events were fortunate for the Allies, to say the least, and tend strongly to reinforce the conviction of those who saw Divine Providence at work through them.

History leaves no doubt that Hitler was the aggressor, though the great totalitarian Russian state under Stalin was always the main enemy, an equally unprincipled player for world domination and a growing threat to Hitler's Third Reich. Hitler struck first, hoping for world domination before the USSR could develop its tremendous resources. Hitler's armies were driven on by cunning and entirely ruthless leaders ruling over the tyrannous Nazi State and its extremely brutal terrorist organisations, the SS and the Gestapo. These fanatical forces fought for ungodly ends, never eschewing the most unprecedented and terrible inhumane means of warfare, suppression, torture, lethal experiments on prisoners and the systematic extermination of millions of captives, both civilian and military besides genocide against the Jews, gypsies and others minorities. The British fighter ace, Richard Hillary, aptly wrote that the purpose of Nazism was to "stamp out the divine spark in man". The 2nd World War war is estimated to have cost over 25 million lives. In recently published research, the leader of the Hawaiian Peace Research Institute, Rudolf J. Rummel, has shown that the death toll of the three great totalitarian leaders to have been: Stalin = around 42 million deaths, Mao = 38 million and Hitler = 21 million.

The era of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain was, seen in terms of the spirit of the times on a very broad canvas of cause and effect, a result and a reflection of Cold Heartedness and Iron Materialism that predominated intellectual thought in most nations throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

The tragic upheavals and terrors of the two World Wars and the Cold War seem somehow to have been rather inevitable, at least in outline though probably not as determined networks of specific events. Neither the specific invasions, battles nor persons involved were likely to have been inevitable, though some such major conflicts were inevitable as a continuation of the war against Fascism and the overall historical trend of civilisation in that era. For some time I conjectured that, seeing faith in an intelligent creative entity of some supernatural kind was so eroded, the scene was inexorably set for the huge excesses of 'dialectical materialism' as well as for the economism, capitalism and monopolism that was its rapacious but also humanistic counterpart. I have found - for reasons beyond any comprehensible, comprehensive summary - that my faith in such an intelligence must be misplaced after all. So the vista of humanity and our expansion appears to me now in all its fascinating outlines and interstices as an indeterminate development in extension of natural evolution, furthering it in some respects through human will and intelligent choice. That some major conflict - which turned out to be the 2nd WW - was inevitable on the background of the pertaining state of world affairs does not invalidate this conviction.


So as not to be charged with complete neglect of the opposite viewpoint, I would briefly list a few incidents in which the Allies were frustrated by 'coincidences' and failures of leadership, intelligence and planning. These imponderables help to balance the account somewhat and show that chance and uncertainties played a similar role on both sides of the conflict.

The first two years of the war were disasterous for the British (before they were joined by Allies).
The mistakes made were often exactly of the type 'for the want of a nail, the battle was lost'. The invasion of Norway was largely a failure because the skis provided for soldiers were without the correct bindings! In brief on may fairly assert that the total lack of foresight of the Danish, Norwegian and British governments in the invasion of Denmark and Norway by the Wehrmacht equalled in kind (if not in magnitude) that of Stalin as regards the invasion of Russia and the German miscalculations in the advance on Moscow and the ability to give sufficient air support to Von Paulus at Stalingrad.

The failure to heed intelligence at Pearl Harbour
Even after the successful destruction of most of the Italian fleet by outdated aircraft at Taranto long before the Japanese attacked, this disaster came from even more misguided leadership than Hitler's mistaken assessment of the Normandy invasion. That the approaching aircraft were misidentified more than matches the failure of the Germans to identify the Normandy invasion fleet, despite the difference in the long-term outcome of each event.

The failed defence of the rear of Singapore
That was a huge blunder, due to total underestimation of Japanese warfare tactics. Like the German advance through the supposedly 'impenetrable' Ardennes in April 1940, the Japanese use of bicycles and foot tracks in the inhospitable Malayan jungle completely suprised the British commanders, who took the threat lightly, even though Singapore had virtually no defence towards the mainland where the Japanese were know to have been advancing for weeks.One might as well call this oversight a 'trick of fate'too.

The US torpedo failures in US submaries in the Pacific war
These went on for a year or more - a result of massive bungling and stubborn deafness of high-ups (a so-called SNAFU) - gave the Japanese an almost clear run in occupying the Philippines and many other islands.

The Wrong Targets in the Invasion of Italy
Had virtually undefended Sardinia been invaded rather than Sicily, major German forces south of Rome would have been cut off and lost while the extremely slow and costly Allied struggles to advance along the length of the easily defended terrain from Sicily to Rome would have been unnecessay, as would the huge blunders at Anzio by General Mark Clarke and at Monte Cassino where the fighting was far too costly. The war could have been shortened considerably as Allied forces could have moved into Yugoslavia and also would have probably been able to save Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary etc. from Soviet influence.

The Normany break-out
The Allied forces were bottled up in the 'bocage' countryside, and so took many weeks longer than planned. Considering the immense intelligence effort involved in the planning of the invasion, the prime failure was not to realise that the lanes of the bocage are sunken and the fields have high surrounding banks,ideal defensive territory. Air reconnaissance showed the territory from above and the fields and lanes seemed flat. But they had been there since being built by the Romans, and intelligence thereby failed totally as to the crucial battleground area.This oversight was another minor slip with huge unforseen consequences, costing thousands of casulties and vast wastage of equipment.

The disasterous drafting of personnel by the US Army command.
The policy of casualty replacements the US command was almost a disaster, since replacements were allocated on a purely numerical basis from a pool, totally independent of former affiliations. The men found themselves joining established companies where they were outsiders, knew no one and were considered a liabilities - such as through drawing enemy fire on their units - until they became battle-wise. The fighting US forces in contact with the enemy the European campagin had abnormally high losses and replacements were often between 100% and 200% in any division. This was done to ensure divisions would always be up to strength and could remain in the line continuously. However, the extremely high casualities suggest that this policy worked badly.

The failure to act soon enough on sound intelligence about Hitler's secret weapons
Absurd lack of vision and proper analysis caused the British to ignore the top intelligence from the Austrian-born Paul Rosbaud, a Doctor of Physics who knew Otto Hahn and Werner Heisenbverg well. He had published Otto Hahn's sensational article on the splitting of uranium in January 1939. Through his Norwegian contact, Sverre Bergh, he conveyed the soundest of information about the state of German nuclear research but not least on the secret weapons projects at Peenemunde, including the planning of the V1 and V2 rockets, and the Messerschmidt ME-262 jet fighter project as early as 1940. The British thought them too fantastic and did not take them seriously and only in 1942 did they begin to raid Peenemunde. Had they done so at once, the V-weapons and the jet fighter would probably never have flown. These weapons - along with the new submarines - could even have won the war had Hitler had a few more months to launch them in. Rosbaud and Bergh even conveyed samples of the new heat-resistant alloy made for thejet engines of the ME-360.

The failure to support the coup against Hitler
Though there were numerous connections between the plotters on Hitler's life and Western sources, Allied intelligence did nothing to help the coup. The stated policy at Casablanca of demanding 'total surrender' was part of this failure, since the war could certainly have been ended on most favourable terms to the Allies by negotiation if the plot against Hitler had succeeded and Rommel had become head of state. Morover the huge loss of lives in the closing phases of the European campaign could have been avoided.

BRIEF BIBLIOGRAPHY(relevant to the above)

Ambrose, Stephen. E. Citizen Soliders, 1997
Bergh, Sverre & Svein Saether
Spion is Hitlers Rike Damm, Oslo, 2007
Churchill, Winston S. The History of the Second World War Vols. 1-6
Collier, Richard 1940 - The World in Flames (Penguin. 1980)
Collier, Richard Eagle Day (Hodder & Stoughton. 1966)
Collins, Larry Is Paris Burning? (1985)
Congdon, Don Combat - European Theater (Dell. 1958)
Deighton, Len Blitzkrieg (1979).
Deighton, Len Fighter - The True Story of the Battle of Britain (Panther 1979).
D'Este, Carlo A Genius for War: a Life of General George Patton (1995)
Eisenhower, Gen. Dwight D. Crusade in Europe (1948)
Farago, Ladislas The Game of the Foxes (N.Y. 1971).
Klein, Alexander The Counterfeit Traitor (U.S.A. 1958) .
Masterman, Sir John The Double Cross System
Merriam, Robert E. The Battle of the Bulge (Ballantine 1957)
Montgomery of Alamein Memoirs (1958).
Mure, David Practice to Deceive (Kimber. London 1977)
Observer , The May 13, 1945.
Overy, Richard Why the Allies Won
Russell, Edward F.The Scourge of the Swastika
Ryan, CorneliusThe Longest Day (Simon & Schuster, 1977)
Ryan, CorneliusThe Last Battle (1966).
Shirer, William The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1964).
Speer, Albert Inside the Third Reich (Macmillan 1970)
Steinbeck, John Once there was a War (1958)
Stevenson, William A Man Called Intrepid (Harcourt-Brace 1976).
Trevor-Roper, Hugh The Last Days of Hitler
Trevor-Roper, Hugh The Secret Conversations of Hitler (recorded by Martin Bormann & edited by Trevor-Roper)
Warner, Philip The Secret Forces of World War II (Granada London. 1985)

The preceeding article is the copyright of Robert Priddy, Oslo 1999 see bibliography Return to Overview