Were there endemic weaknesses which explain the defeat of the Third Reich?
In the aftermath of the Second War, historians- their judgement clearer with the benefit of hindsight- have clamoured to give their accounts of why Hitler’s Third Reich was defeated, often pointing to structural failings within the state. Nazi Germany’s downfall was not inevitable, though, and indeed for over two years, between the summer of 1940 and autumn of 1942, the outcome of the war was far from certain. Yet, just a few months later following America’s entrance into the war, defeat of the Axis was in sight. In order to properly assess the question, it is important to define two key terms. Firstly, the word ‘endemic’, which can be defined as “constantly or regularly found among a (specified) people, or in a (specified) country” , which leads onto the second term for discussion; ‘Third Reich’. The concept that German people were ‘working towards the Führer’ is widespread, with Hitler being viewed by historians from the Intentionalist school of historiography as the ‘Master of the Third Reich’ . Therefore, when I refer to endemic weaknesses within the Third Reich, I am referring not only to structural weaknesses such as a lack of resources, but also to weaknesses of Hitler himself as his was a highly personalised regime and without him there would be no state. This essay will argue that whilst endemic weaknesses stemming from Hitler were clearly evident within Germany, it was the resources, resilience and strategy of the Allies which ultimately led to defeat of Third Reich.
There is compelling evidence of “endemic weaknesses” within the Third Reich, and certainly the most common argument for why Germany lost the war is simply that it was overstretched. Hitler’s decision to fight a war on two fronts was a gamble. It was widely assumed that if Germany did not win the war quickly its overstrained economy would collapse long before the economies of the British and the French with their investments and empires . Undoubtedly, Germany suffered oil shortages, difficulties in coal supply and a serious shortage of animal feed as they attempted to enact Hitler’s Grossraum policy but these were mainly as a result of the British blockade, suggesting that Allied tactics were crucial in the failure of the Third Reich. Furthermore, as Overy rightly points out, the United States faced a war on three fronts- two of which were thousands of miles away from the security of the home country- which all competed with each other for resources and yet still came out victorious, suggesting that being overstretched on its own was not enough to defeat Nazi Germany. The key difference between Germany and America, however, was resources, and this is highlighted by Raymond Goldsmith’s argument that “Gross Domestic Policy won the war” . Allied to economically weak states, Germany appeared to stand little chance against the combined industrial might of Britain, France and America with their ability to produce far greater amounts of weapons. In addition to this, Italy had imperial expansion aims of their own and their advance into Greece and Egypt was a damaging distraction for Hitler, delaying ‘Operation Barbarossa’, his grand assault on Soviet Union, in June 1941 . However, as Overy argued, China had a large economic product in the 1930s but this did not make it a significant warring state. Furthermore, Germany had access to greater industrial capacity than Britain and the Soviet Union combined in 1941 yet was still unable to defeat either power. Clearly, resources alone were not enough to secure victory and so it can be argued that the desire to win was also crucial for the Allied victory. There is evidence in the form of letters and memoirs to suggest that some of Hitler’s key ministers, such as Udet , the head of the of Luftwaffe, Canaris the head of the intelligence service, and Todt the head of the armaments ministry all shared the same fatalistic view that...
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