A political science professor recently posed a question to me. He wanted me to examine a scenario where Hitler defeated the Soviet Union in World War II. I was to look at how international politics would look different and if it were at all possible for it to be beneficial in the long term to the allied powers. That following is that analysis.
In the summer of 1942, Nazi Germany had a strategy that, if successful, would have changed the outcome of World War II severely. It’s debatable whether or not the defeat of the Soviet Union would have ultimately led to a total Nazi victory in Europe. One thing is for certain; there are a lot of ‘what ifs’ that can be considered. There are many forks in the road where one can speculate what would have happened had Germany defeated Russia. Could the Nazis have repelled the D-Day invasion? Would they have made another move on Great Britain? Would Hitler stop at Europe? If D-Day was still successful would the forces be strong enough to deal with Germany fighting a single front? The questions are endless. The answers are purely speculative, but fascinating to consider.
The only way these questions can truly be addressed is to approach the question as an alternative history. Plenty of alternative history novels exist about the post-World War II world. Most notably is “The Man in the High Castle” by Philip K. Dick. In that novel America is occupied jointly by the Nazis in the east and Japan in the west. In terms of international politics it’s a worst case scenario. The Nazis are allowed to continue their ethnic cleansing and after they finish the Jews they move on to Africa and continue their extermination policies with the indigenous people there.
In Dick’s novel, the point where history diverts is the assassination of Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. When approaching this question the diverging point has to be the Battle of Stalingrad because the question does not speculate that the allies lost World War II, only that the Soviet Union was eliminated early. Stalingrad was turning point in the war because it was the first significant point where the Nazis were repelled. They failed to take Moscow the previous year, but were able to regroup. After Stalingrad, the Soviet Union began their march to Berlin, which the Nazis were never able to overcome. So when approaching the question of what the postwar world would be like if the Soviet Union were defeated by Germany, the point of divergence is Stalingrad. The following is a speculation of those events.
The German army had a window of opportunity. The allied forces were two years away from being ready to launch an offensive across the English Channel. Hitler was fighting a single front war against the Soviet Union. The previous summer, Germany invaded the Soviet Union, breaking their non-aggression pact. After some initial success, Germany succumbed to the Russian winter and lost the Battle of Moscow. It took until the spring for Germany to regroup their front and prepare for another offensive. This time Hitler would make a move on Stalingrad and the Caucasus.
Stalingrad was the industrial jewel of the Soviet Union. If the Russians had learned anything from their conflicts with Japan and in World War I it was that they were ill prepared to compete with the rest of Europe. So Stalingrad was turned into the city that would end the notion of Russia as a backwards power. Hitler’s plan was to capture Stalingrad, crippling the Soviets’ industrial power. At the same time he would take the Caucasus and their oilfields. These moves would also give Hitler the strategic superiority of the Volga River, from which Hitler would be poised to take the rest of Eastern Russia.
After three months of brutal fighting, Hitler had most of Stalingrad under his control. He would soon be able to declare victory of the city that bore his enemy’s name. This is the point where history gives way to speculation. The Soviet Union launches a counterattack. Their supply lines are limited to a dangerous crossing of the Volga. The German army is able to take advantage of the vulnerability of the crossing and every attempt to gain a foothold is repelled. The two sides are left with a stalemate at the riverbanks until the spring of 1943 when the favorable weather allows Germany to make their move across the river. Once they have control of the river they will be able to move freely deeper into Russia and make a move on Moscow from three fronts.
After being unable to repel the German crossing, the Soviet troops retreat to turn Moscow into a fortress. The Germans spend months softening up the city with Luftwaffe bombardment. By the fall of 1943, Germany begins their offensive on Moscow. The bombardment has left the troops in the city disorganized and ill prepared to fend off the Germans. By the end of the year, Moscow falls. Much like de Gaulle in France, Stalin and the Russian forces that are left form a resistance whose main focus is sabotage.
With the victory in Russia, Hitler turns his attention to the Atlantic Wall. The allies have been training for two years and Hitler expects an attempted invasion in the early summer. This is the moment where questions need to start being considered. Could Hitler have repelled the D-Day invasion if his Atlantic Wall had been reinforced by the soldiers no longer needed on the Eastern front? Looking at the German forces would the advantage be that noticeable? It raised the question between battle hardened troops and battle fatigued troops. The Germans would have the advantage of more experience, but they have also just been through two difficult Russian winters.
If D-Day fails in June of 1944 the allies would be left with at least a year of regrouping. By that time the atomic bomb would be ready. While the allies are preparing in England, atomic bombs are dropped on Berlin. If intelligence is strong, the allies can probably take out Hitler with one of the bombs. The German leadership collapses and the second invasion of France is attempted. This time it succeeds. As Germany desperately tries to organize a new provisional government, the allies begin their march across northern France. Fortunately for Germany, Rommel still has his tanks. The field commanders, free from their strategic disagreements with Hitler consolidate German power. Because of the single front for Germany, Patton’s third army moves at a crawl.
Meanwhile, American atomic strength needs to regroup. After taking out as many leadership positions in Germany as they could their supply of atomic weapons is exhausted. They’re faced with a full out invasion of the Japanese mainland. If the destruction of Germany did not force surrender from Japan in reality, their atomic destruction was unlikely to faze them.
By the winter of 1946, the European war is at a stalemate. After a successful invasion of mainland Japan, the United States are having difficulty finding a cohesive strategy. Most of the Japanese cities had already been bombed to near total destruction. The guerilla tactics adopted by the remaining Japanese forces were provoking stalemate there as well. It becomes clear to the United States that the next atomic attack must remove Japan from the war. Much like the real life scenario, the United States strikes Japan with atomic weapons and they surrender.
The end of the Pacific battle is just the tip of the balance that the allies need in Europe. General MacArthur comes from the Pacific to Europe and relieves General Omar Bradley as Supreme Allied Commander of Europe after he relieved General Eisenhower following his resignation after the first failed D-Day invasion. Patton’s tanks are reinforced by the newly available troops from the Pacific. The march into Germany picks up speed as the weaknesses of German leadership are exposed.
In a risky move, the allies open up a second front by invading Norway. The strategy was an adoption of the Pacific plans from MacArthur. He would use the strategy of island hopping to cross Scandinavia, but in this case he would use the 101st Airborne in a series of jumps to secure strongholds until a front could be formed in Finland. The plan was a success and in the summer of 1946 allied forces began a southern march liberating Russia.
Liberating Russia would serve two purposes. The first was the immediate benefit of liberating the Russian POW’s and using them to reopen the eastern front into Germany. The second was the plan of Winston Churchill and Harry Truman to stamp out communism in postwar Europe. Unlike de Gaulle in France, Stalin would not be allowed to reassume power and the allied postwar occupation would stifle any attempt by the Bolsheviks to reestablish their strength. If possible, Stalin would never be allowed to resurface. Truman and Churchill speculated that if they could dispose of him quietly the Bolsheviks would have no foothold for regaining power. As far as they were concerned the Soviet Union was a thing of the past and Stalin was its final relic. Germany had already done their part by burning Lenin’s preserved body in Red Square. If everything went to plan Russia would be democratized alongside Germany and Japan.
As Moscow returned to the hands of the allies and more atomic bombs were dropped on German targets allied victory appeared inevitable. German forces were feeling the fatigue of battle. They had been fighting since 1939. Many allied troops had only begun in 1945. On top of that civilians had been brought into the picture with horrific results because of the atomic bombs. The German soldiers not only had to deal with the enemy on their front, but their families were being annihilated in their homes. The morale of the German troops was at rock bottom. What they were fighting to protect was being destroyed by a series of mushroom clouds. Many troops began to see the facts that nothing would be left of their country if they continued to fight, but if they surrendered they would be able to rebuild with the help of the allies.
The German provisional government was made up of military leadership who weren’t willing to surrender. Much like Russia during World War I, German troops began surrendering and rebelling in enormous numbers. In some cases, entire German companies were laying down their arms without a shot fired.
Germany was also unable to establish an eastern defense against the allied forces coming from Russia so the march across Poland for the allies were made with ease. Under pressure from both sides and atomic wasteland in the middle, German Provisional Government members began putting their pistols in their mouths. German Chancellor Rommel sent communications to the allies that he wanted to travel to London and offer unconditional surrender to General Patton, his main adversary.
At the end of the war all the principles who were there in the beginning were gone. Roosevelt was dead and Eisenhower resigned in shame. Hitler was killed in the first atomic blasts. Stalin was mysteriously never heard from after the liberation of Moscow. Churchill was ousted by his party and replaced by General Montgomery.
Truman and Montgomery met with Rommel after the surrender to come up with a plan for postwar reconstruction. General Omar Bradley was having enormous success in Japan, so he was brought in as an advisor. It was clear that no distinction would be made between postwar Germany and postwar Russia. Their political systems both required an overhaul. Bradley was dispatched to Moscow to organize democracy with financial support from the newly passed Marshall Plan.
Truman and Montgomery were worried about factioning in Russia, but to their relief the war torn country was in a politically exhausted state. Truman particularly was worried about a replay of the Russian Revolution. The furor that led to Revolution in 1917 did not exist mainly because there was no antagonist to point to and they had learned from the Bolshevik take over that patience was necessary in forming a new government.
Germany was a different problem. The atomic war had left significant portions of the country uninhabitable. Germany would be the challenge of postwar Europe, but it was not the same scenario that bridged the first and second World Wars. After the First World War, Germany lost, but remained infrastructurally intact. The destruction of war had not reached their borders, but in this case the war had devastated them. They could not regroup without significant help from the Marshall Plan and even then major portions of Germany were hopeless thanks to the atomic radiation.
Under pressure from the military leadership who were responsible for the clean up of Germany, Truman was forced to abandon atomic weaponry. In a dramatic speech in Red Square Truman declared that, “We who fought to repel totalitarianism committed the same crimes that we were fighting. If there is a higher power to judge us all for this war there will be no innocents. We’ve all become war criminals because of this atrocious conflict. After seeing the damage first hand I will make it my mission that this destruction of humanity will be a thing of the past. We are establishing a United Nations to carry the flag that the League of Nations was unable to carry. We’ve learned from their mistakes and we’ll learn from our own. Because we’re committed to learning from our own mistakes the first resolution passed by the United Nations will be the outlawing of atomic weapons. Machiavelli wrote that the ends justifies the means. So many centuries later we’re still not sure if that is true or not, but what is true is that we need to try our hardest that the ends that requires us to use criminal means be stomped out. I hope that the United Nations can accomplish this. Our former enemies agree. We will work together free of animosity. We will work together for a better world so that the children of these brave soldiers will never have to see what we’ve all seen. We owe it to future generations to succeed.”
This speculation is very American-centric. It would be the ideal of the United States to see the totalitarian powers clash and destroy each other while allowing the strong democratic powers to shape the wreckage in their image. But drastic change does not occur without drastic mistakes to learn from. The United States would not be able to lead the democratization of the world without acknowledging the blood on their hands. Leaving Germany in atomic ruin would be a shock to the systems of common sense that was needed after World War I that never came. It’s a common theory that one can only rise above their flaws after they’ve succumbed to them. In real history, the United States and Soviet Union did not succumb to their flaws so the result was the Cold War. In this version everyone got a dose of humility. World War II was not sobering for the victors the way it should have. International politics benefits when nations can be taught lessons. The nations that came out the strongest morally after World War II were Germany and Japan. They saw the error of their ways because they lost. They had to face their own humility. The United States and the Soviet Union were never forced to see the error of their ways. They went on carrying the victory flag for fifty years and nearly destroyed themselves because they were never forced to learn from the mistakes of the victors. That’s the bottom line of this argument. No one can force the victors to acknowledge their mistakes. In this case they would have had to be drastic enough to horrify themselves for the victors to come out of international conflicts the better.