20 Mistakes the Axis Powers Made in World War II

20 Mistakes the Axis Powers Made in World War II

Larry Holzwarth - August 29, 2018

The first mistake was starting the war in the first place. Most histories mark September 1, 1939, as the date on which World War II began, with Hitler’s invasion of Poland opening the global conflict. But the Japanese had been fighting in China for several years, and the Italian adventurism in North Africa – Mussolini’s second Roman Empire – was likewise several years old. It took the invasion of Poland for Britain and France to finally move to contain Hitler, and in response to the invasion and Hitler’s ignoring an ultimatum to withdraw, the western Allies declared war and then for the most part sat on their hands as the Nazi’s and the Soviets carved up Poland.

Hitler’s generals and even more stridently his admirals counseled against war in 1939. The German military buildup was insufficiently complete for the nation to enter into a sustained conflict with the west. On paper, the French army was larger, had more tanks, and were supported by the defenses of the Maginot Line. The combined French and British Air Forces outnumbered the Luftwaffe, and the combined allied navies greatly outweighed the German and Italian fleets. Even the vaunted U-Boats were in relatively short supply when the war began. Hitler achieved surprise in Poland, but in hindsight it was the first of many mistakes made by the Axis powers during the Second World War.

20 Mistakes the Axis Powers Made in World War II
Polish prisoners of war await their fate in September 1939. Wikimedia

Here are some of the mistakes made by the Axis powers and their impact on the war and the post war world.

20 Mistakes the Axis Powers Made in World War II
Although this figurine depicts the Axis powers riding together in reality there was little coordination and cooperation between them. Wikimedia

Lack of coordinated actions

During the Second World War, even before the United States was involved in combat operations, the leaders of Great Britain and the United States met to discuss joint strategy. Once the United States was actively at war these discussions grew to include Josef Stalin and the Free French forces leader Charles de Gaulle. Though often contentious, these meetings and those of the combined staffs of the allies led to coordinated operations directed at achieving specific goals, including the manner in which the freed European nations would be rehabilitated. In the Pacific, similar meetings were held at a somewhat lower level than national leaders, though Churchill and Roosevelt did discuss Pacific strategy at their meetings.

The Axis powers had no such coordination, operated almost independently of each other, and failed to support each other. Britain and France declared war on Germany in September 1939. Il Duce did not respond by having Italy declare war on the allies until June, 1940, when German troops were deep in France and the British Expeditionary Force was routed. Japan, at war with the United States and Great Britain, maintained a posture of neutrality with the Soviets until just weeks before the end of the war. The Axis powers were completely outnumbered by the populations, economies, and military strength of the allies. Their failure to coordinate their operations and goals merely made the disadvantage worse.

20 Mistakes the Axis Powers Made in World War II
Although this 1928 Italian copybook is bound in Fascist propaganda, in reality the Italians were unready for war more than a decade later. Wikimedia

Italian unpreparedness

As early as 1938, German intelligence reported to Hitler that the Italians would be a burden upon Germany should Mussolini enter the war on their side. In virtually every measure of preparedness for war Italy fell woefully short. The Italian army had not distinguished itself in North Africa, nor during its intervention in the Spanish Civil War. Italy had a large and powerful surface fleet in the Mediterranean, but the navy was torn by class consciousness which adversely affected morale among the sailors of the fleet. It also lacked aircraft carriers, with the Italian admirals believing that land based air was sufficient to support the surface units.

As late as May of 1940, Hitler suggested to Mussolini that the Italians remain out of the war against France and Britain, adopting instead a policy of friendly neutrality. Mussolini kept the Italians out of the war until the fall of France was all but assured. Following Italy’s entry into the war, Hitler and Mussolini had several disagreements regarding French territorial cessions to the “Italian Empire”, which continued until the Axis invaded Vichy France in 1942. As had been predicted by the German High Command, defending Italy rapidly became a burden on the German military, and cooperation between the Italian army and their German counterparts was sporadic at best.

20 Mistakes the Axis Powers Made in World War II
A Yugoslavian tank in the spring of 1941. German intervention in the Balkans, caused by Italian ineptitude, delayed the invasion of the Soviet Union by several weeks. Wikimedia

The Balkan conflicts

In 1941 Hitler hoped to avoid war in the Balkans. When he was informed by Mussolini that the Italians intended to invade and occupy Greece, he expressed his concern that such an action could force him to intervene. When the Italian campaigns in central Europe and North Africa faltered, the Germans occupied Greece and Yugoslavia, and were forced to engage in a struggle to suppress partisan guerrillas for the rest of the war. Italy became in all but name a vassal state of the Germans. Germany demanded that the Italians send forced laborers to supply German industry, German troops garrisoned Sicily, and the Africa Corps took over the defense of the Italian colonies in North Africa.

The performance of the Italian military and industrial base was entirely predictable, and the German High Command was aware before the invasion of France that Italy would be a drain on German manpower in the Mediterranean. German aircraft which could have been available against the British, and later the Russians, was diverted to defend the Italian possessions. Mussolini and Hitler remained personally on friendly terms, but Hitler on several occasions lamented the performance of his Mediterranean ally. The Italian military not only failed to coordinate with their German allies, the Italian navy, army, and air forces frequently failed to cooperate with each other.

20 Mistakes the Axis Powers Made in World War II
Russian equipment which they likely captured from the Poles, which fell into German hands in 1941. Wikimedia

The invasion of the Soviet Union

Besides the military failings of Germany invading the Soviet Union, stoutly supported by the forces of their ally Romania, the attack was a mistake on several other levels. By June 1941 Germany was effectively blockaded by the British Navy, and the receipt of badly needed war materials was required to come from continental Europe. Since 1940 the Soviet Union had been supplying many of these, with Stalin using German dependence on his exports as leverage to negotiate certain areas in the region of the Persian Gulf as spheres of Soviet influence. Germany received iron ore, grains, oil, mineral oil, and other needed materials from the Soviets.

When Stalin increased his territorial demands Hitler decided to initiate his invasion, which led to early success, before the sheer weight of the Soviet armies ground the Germans to dust. His Japanese allies ignored the Pact of Steel and the Comintern Pact which they had signed, and maintained formal neutrality with the Soviets. Had the Japanese honored their agreement and invaded the Soviet Union, as well as sending their fleet into the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, the conduct of the war and the post-war world would have been significantly different. But by June of 1941, Japanese preparations to attack the United States in the Pacific were well underway.

20 Mistakes the Axis Powers Made in World War II
The attack on Pearl Harbor crippled the US Fleet, but not its ability to operate from the forward base, a critical error on the part of the Japanese. US Navy

The attack on Pearl Harbor

In terms of a surprise military operation against an adversary the Japanese strike at Pearl Harbor was a resounding success when measured by the damage done to each side. In fact, in almost every military measure, Pearl Harbor was a failure. It disrupted the longstanding American strategy of sending the battle line to intervene in the event of Japanese attacks on the Philippines. Such a strategy would have likely failed anyway, the vulnerability of the older battleships to air attack being clearly established. What Pearl Harbor did was create national determination to destroy Japan, vilification of the Japanese as a race, and unification of the American people.

The Japanese also failed to bomb the oil supply tanks at Pearl Harbor, which if destroyed would have forced the United States Navy to abandon the anchorage and withdraw to the west coast. Abandoning Hawaii would have left Midway Island and its potential as a submarine base indefensible. The submarine base and repair yards at Pearl Harbor were relatively undamaged, and US submarines were very quickly conducting unrestricted operations against the ships of the Japanese Empire. Within weeks of the attack the United States was conducting nuisance raids against Japan, and by the end of June 1942, the Japanese were forced over to the defensive.

20 Mistakes the Axis Powers Made in World War II
When FDR requested a declaration of war on Japan he didn’t mention Germany, which declared war on the United States in a few days. National Archives

Declaring war on the United States

When Franklin Roosevelt asked for a declaration of war against Japan the day following the attack on Pearl Harbor he made no mention of Hitler, Germany, or the war in Europe. Although the United States was already involved in combat operations against German U-Boats, following a standing order to “shoot on sight”, Roosevelt’s speech was focused on the Japanese attacks in the Pacific. American and British military planners had already established, in prewar (for the United States) conferences, that the strategy to be followed when the United States entered the war was the destruction of Germany first, and that European operations would take priority over actions against Japan.

On December 11, 1941, Adolf Hitler declared war on the United States, the single biggest mistake made by the Axis, and by Hitler himself, during World War II. Although Japan had disregarded the Tripartite Pact as it applied to the Russo-German war, its ambassador requested of Joachim Ribbentrop that Germany declare war against the United States. Hitler made the decision to declare war after learning of the Japanese attack on Singapore, and that Britain had joined in the war against Japan. It was a decision, which according to John Kenneth Galbraith, one of Roosevelt’s advisors, was unwise. “It was a totally irrational thing for him to do,” wrote Galbraith, continuing, “and I think it saved Europe.”

20 Mistakes the Axis Powers Made in World War II
German Heinkel bombers during the Battle of Britain, which failed to subdue the Royal Air Force and the British will to fight. Imperial War Museum

The Battle of Britain

The Royal Air Force, immortalized by Churchill”s “the few”, were not as few as that master of propaganda implied. The British held several advantages during the Battle of Britain, including advanced radar allowing them to detect incoming attacks and vectoring fighters to meet them. German fighters had limited fighting time in the skies over Britain, due to the fuel expended just getting to the target areas. Still, the Luftwaffe pounded British radar stations, airfields, and ground installations, inflicting heavy casualties on the fighters which opposed them. They also suffered significant casualties. The raids of the bombers, a prelude to invasion, did heavy damage, but did not destroy the RAF.

During the battle the number of available pilots for the Royal Air Force increased, as did the number of available fighter aircraft. Pilots arrived from throughout the British Empire, and from exiles from the Polish, Czech, French, and other air forces of Europe. By September, unable to defeat the RAF in the air and in response to British bombing raids at night on German cities, the Luftwaffe initiated the bombing campaign which came to be known as the Blitz. The Blitz did significant damage to British cities, caused the evacuation of children to the country in many cases, but did not break British morale. By the time Hitler canceled the invasion of England the Luftwaffe had suffered severely in lost planes and pilots, which may have been useful against the Soviets.

20 Mistakes the Axis Powers Made in World War II
The French battleship Strasbourg sinking at its moorings in Toulon, an act which denied its use by the Germans. Wikimedia

The failure to secure the French fleet at Toulon

When the German Army swept through France, some of the French fleet units were sent to ports in North Africa. The bulk of the French Mediterranean fleet was at its main anchorage at Toulon. The armistice between the Germans and the Vichy government specified that the French fleet would be confined to French ports. British task forces destroyed the French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir, and fought other units with less success at Dakar. The French base at Toulon, which was too strongly defended to be attacked from the sea, held some of Europe’s most modern and powerful warships, which remained under the control of the Vichy government.

Hitler was not a naval strategist and had little use for naval affairs, other than an appreciation for the successes of the U-Boats. Despite the urgings of several junior naval officers, and some more senior, the French ships remained in port, crewed by French sailors. When Operation Torch led to the Germans and Italians occupying Vichy France in 1942, the Germans decided to seize the fleet, which had been within their reach for two years, though they did nothing about it. French officers and crews, aware of the German attempt, scuttled the fleet in the port of Toulon. Three battleships, seven cruisers, and 67 other vessels were denied to the German navy by the scuttling operations.

20 Mistakes the Axis Powers Made in World War II
The Japanese mistakenly believed their communication codes were secure, allowing the US Navy to identify Midway Atoll as the target of their next attack in the Spring of 1942. US Navy

Japanese failure to recognize their naval codes had been broken

The ability of the United States to decipher Japan’s most crucial naval communications led to several defeats of the Japanese during Second World War, including the crucial victory at the Battle of Midway. The knowledge of the Japanese plan, including the simultaneous operations in the Aleutians being a diversion, enabled Admiral Chester Nimitz to plot an ambush. American aircraft carriers were sent to lie in wait for the Japanese and Midway’s defenses were bolstered. The Japanese suffered their first major defeat as a result of the battle, bolstering American morale, and crippling the Japanese carrier strike forces. The Japanese under Admiral Yamamoto was forced to withdraw.

The ability to read the Japanese mail, so to speak, also led to the Japanese losing their most respected naval leader in 1943. US Navy code breakers were able to obtain Yamamoto’s itinerary during a tour of the Solomon Islands in April. Armed with the information, which included the type of aircraft in which Yamamoto was travelling, US Army Air Force fighters were dispatched to intercept the Admiral. The mission was a planned aerial assassination. Yamamoto was shot down on April 18, 1943, and was killed either during the attack or in the subsequent crash of the aircraft, in heavy jungle on the island of Bougainville. The American decryption of Japanese code continued throughout the war.

20 Mistakes the Axis Powers Made in World War II
When the Russian T-34 tank appeared on the battlefields of the Eastern Front the German tanks were outclassed and outgunned. Wikimedia

German underestimation of the Soviets

When the German armies crossed the Russian frontiers and initiated Operation Barbarossa in 1941, they entered enemy territory unequipped for Russian weather, supremely confident, at least at the level of Hitler, the Soviets would capitulate before autumn. The early successes achieved by the Germans served to reinforce this overconfidence. But it wasn’t long before the Germans discovered that they weren’t going to shoot the Soviet Air Force out of the sky, and as they drove deeper into Russia the enemy resistance stiffened. Logistics became a problem as the supply lines grew longer. Pauses by the German advances to regroup were met with counterattacks.

By autumn the Germans were forced to a halt with advance units of the German army within sight of Moscow. It was as far as they would go. New Soviet weaponry, including tanks superior to those of the Panzer divisions shifted the initiative to the Russians. A seemingly inexhaustible supply of fresh troops swelled the Russian lines. An old Russian ally, the weather, shifted into their favor and the Germans were ill-equipped to fight in the increasingly inclement conditions. Lend Lease supplies from the United States bolstered the Russian logistical situation. An increase in partisan activity behind the front lines meant more and more garrison troops were needed to protect supply lines. The Soviets were far better prepared than the Germans estimated, and the Germans paid for the mistake.

20 Mistakes the Axis Powers Made in World War II
The Italian battleship Littorio, supported by harbor repair vessels, sinking following the British action at Taranto. Wikimedia

Battle of Taranto

The first all airplane ship-to-ship battle was not the attack on Pearl Harbor, nor any of the early battles of the Pacific War. It was an attack launched by the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean against the Italian fleet in its anchorage at Taranto, in the arch of the Italian boot. The Italians believed that their fleet was safe in the anchorage, which was well defended against attack from the sea, and their strategy was to keep the fleet, which included six powerful battleships, in place as a fleet in being. Prior to the war the Italian fleet had been developed as a counter to the French fleet, which by November of 1940 was in the hands of the collaborative Vichy government. The British moved to eliminate the threat from the Italians.

The British launched 21 Fairey Swordfish – obsolete biplane torpedo bombers – in a night attack from the deck of the aircraft carrier Illustrious. The bombers launched their torpedoes at the moored Italian ships in two waves, delivering a heavy blow to the structure and morale of the Italian navy. One battleship was sunk, two others were heavily damaged, at the cost of two British aircraft. The Italians were unable to replace lost capital ships, and were challenged even in restoring damaged ships to service, due to inadequate supplies of steel. The Italian Navy was forced to relocate the fleet to Naples, and two of the battleships were eventually restored to service, but for a time control of the Mediterranean shifted to the Royal Navy.

20 Mistakes the Axis Powers Made in World War II
The battleship Bismarck just after being launched in 1939. Hitler resented the cost of the big capital ships and preferred to ignore naval affairs. US Navy

Hitler never grasped naval affairs and sea power

Adolf Hitler failed to initiate Operation Sea Lion, the proposed invasion of Great Britain, because he lacked the naval power to gain control of the British Channel for the necessary time to execute the operation. At the same time, though the U-Boats gained significant successes against the supply convoys keeping England alive, he lacked the ability to disrupt the British further using surface ships. Several powerful surface units existed, but after the loss of the Graf Spee and Bismarck, Hitler demanded that the surface ships be kept for the most part in port, not wanting to have another loss damaging German morale. The aircraft carrier under construction was suspended.

Had Hitler allowed Plan Z to be completed, which would have provided the Germans with several additional, powerful, capital ships, prior to starting the war in Europe, the German Navy would have been in a better position to contest the mastery of the seas around Europe, especially being supported by the Italian Navy and the captured ships of the French Navy. Hitler was a soldier in the First World War, and he had a soldier’s contempt of ships and the sea, focused on the land operations on the continent. The German Navy attempted to fight for control of the sea almost exclusively with U-Boats, and as the Allies adopted new techniques to fight them, the Battle of the Atlantic was lost.

20 Mistakes the Axis Powers Made in World War II
Although Germany and Italy intervened on Franco’s behalf during the Spanish Civil War, the Spanish dictator remained neutral throughout the Second World War. Wikimedia

The failure to have Spain join the Axis

German forces fought in support of Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War, as did the Italians, and Franco himself was a Fascist dictator. Yet despite numerous diplomatic overtures and negotiations including Spain gaining North African possessions, Franco could not be persuaded to join the Axis militarily. In political positions, the Spanish dictator was close to Mussolini, but the Italian leader was equally unsuccessful in persuading Spain to support the Germans and Italians. Spain relied on imports from the United States for most of its oil, and Franco may have been reticent to go to war so soon after the Spanish Civil War, which had been long and costly.

In fact, though politically aligned with the Nazis and Fascists, Spain became a haven for escaping Allied prisoners of war and Jews fleeing the Nazis. Spain also became a hotbed of spies and espionage agents from all of the combatant nations through their embassies, consulates, and business activities there. Hitler finally grew to be disgusted with Franco, and refused to have any further contact with him as the deteriorating situation in North Africa and then the Mediterranean made Spain a less important strategic position. Had Spain been persuaded to join the Axis it would have opened additional Atlantic ports to the U-Boats, as well as making the British base at Gibraltar untenable.

20 Mistakes the Axis Powers Made in World War II
US war production during World War II was a staggering blow to the Axis, who could not match either its pace or its quality. Wikimedia

Failure to understand the United States industrial capacity

Both the Germans and the Japanese failed to grasp the industrial power of the United States, and its ability to arm, feed, and clothe its own troops and those of its Allies, as well as replace lost ships to carry the materiel to them. During the period between December 1941 and August 1945 the United States built the largest navy in the history of the world, the largest merchant marine in the history of the world, and more airplanes than any other country. In 1944 the United States produced more airplanes than Japan did in all of the war years combined. Although Yamamoto never made the often quoted line that he had awakened a sleeping giant, the sentiment was nonetheless true.

Hitler was contemptuous of the United States, believing its people to be soft and spoiled, distracted by living well and avoiding commitment and hard work. He did not believe that the Americans could launch the war effort which would be necessary to overthrow his regime. Hitler also personally hated Franklin Roosevelt, considering him to be the epitome of the idle rich. The population of the United States was, in Hitler’s estimation, mongrelized, unaware of world affairs, and not likely to give up their creature comforts to support a war in Europe. The massive American industrial effort in the Second World War was simply beyond the comprehension of the Axis powers.

20 Mistakes the Axis Powers Made in World War II
Winston Churchill in December 1941, after Hitler’s declaration of war on the United States won his campaign for American support of the British Empire for him. Wikimedia

Underestimating the British Empire

It is easy to consider, as many histories do, that Great Britain stood alone against Germany after the fall of France. This is a false image. Germany faced, not Great Britain alone, but the British Empire, the world’s global superpower. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, flowed to the Mother Country from the expanses of the Empire; from Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, India, Rhodesia, and everywhere the Union Jack flew. So did materials, supplies, food, clothing, raw materials, iron ore and coal, bullion, bauxite, tin, rubber, and all of the needs for war. Churchill’s wartime rhetoric was deliberately calculated for both English and American ears, the former to encourage morale and the latter to appeal for support.

The size of the British Empire, on which it was said the sun never set, dictated the size of the Royal Navy, and the bulk of British defense expenditures and strategy. Churchill’s rhetoric aimed at the Americans was carefully crafted to indicate that Great Britain was fighting a war against Nazi tyranny, not a war to maintain the British Empire, two very different things in the minds of many Americans of the day. The British Empire was not without many examples of tyranny of its own. Churchill also knew that Great Britain could never mount the industrial campaign undertaken by the Americans, safe from German bombing, and that the Americans would have to fight the bulk of the war against Japan.

20 Mistakes the Axis Powers Made in World War II
The tanker Ohio was so badly damaged by Italian and German attacks that after unloading its cargo in Malta it was taken out of the harbor and scuttled. Wikimedia

The failure to capture Malta

Beginning in 1940 and continuing through 1942 German and Italian naval and air units besieged the island of Malta, a British possession in the Mediterranean which was critical to controlling the sea lanes to North Africa. British ships and aircraft on the island were in a position to attack Axis ships carrying supplies and troops to North Africa. In some ways the battle for Malta was similar to the Battle of Britain; if the Germans and their Italian allies could gain control of the sea lanes long enough to execute an amphibious and airborne invasion the island could be taken and the allied troops in North Africa could be isolated. The Germans concentrated on bombing the islands defenses and port facilities.

The RAF and the Royal Navy defended the island against the Luftwaffe and the Italian fleet, as well as the Italian Air Force. Over three thousand bombing raids were launched against Malta, supported by fighters, and the losses suffered by both sides were heavy. During the bombing attacks, the Royal Navy engaged Italian and German naval units while defending the convoys from Gibraltar which kept the island supplied. In November of 1942 the defeat of the Germans at El Alamein led to a shift to the protection of German forces in Tunisia, and the attacks on Malta eased. Malta was then reinforced and began launching attacks of its own on Axis ships carrying supplies to the troops in North Africa. The failure of the Germans to capture Malta led to their loss of North Africa.

20 Mistakes the Axis Powers Made in World War II
One of the topics of the 1943 Teheran Conference was the importance of severing the ties between Turkey and Germany. Wikimedia

Turkey remained neutral through most of the war

Had the Axis been able to convince Turkey, which had fought on the side of the Germans in the First World War, to join them they would have a created a land bridge from the Caucasus to the southern Russian front, as well as gaining the support of Turkish troops. Diplomatic overtures to the Turks continued for most of the war. Germany and Turkey signed a non-aggression pact in 1941, only days before the onset of Operation Barbarossa. But further efforts to have Turkey fully ally themselves with the Axis forces remained futile. Turkey remained officially neutral, positioned like a cork sealing the Germans from southern Soviet republics.

Had Turkey joined the Axis it would have had implications for other actions in the Persian Gulf region, as well as the southern flank of the Russian front. In 1943 and 1944 Germany sent over 100 locomotives and supporting rail cars to facilitate the shipment of chromite ore it wanted to purchase. The United States and the British intervened to purchase as much of the ore as they could, despite not needing it, in order to deny it to the Germans. When the Soviet Union overran Bulgaria in 1944, Turkey was cut off from the rest of Europe, and in February 1945, under Soviet pressure, Turkey declared war on Germany, entering the war three months before its end.

20 Mistakes the Axis Powers Made in World War II
Allied bombing and the gradual loss of conquered territory destroyed the German economy, which shifted to a war footing too late. US Army

The failure of the German war economy

Hitler instituted rationing in Germany in 1939, but in order to maintain the support of the German people he did not place the German economy on a full war-time footing for several years. Instead the German economy ran on the loot pillaged from the conquered countries of Europe. The ferocity of the Russian scorched earth policy meant that little flowed to Germany behind its advancing armies, but the absence was made up for by the amount of loot which went to Germany from western Europe, which in most cases was so large that it caused significant deprivation in the regions from which it was obtained. By 1943 for example, 40% of Norway’s national income ended up in German coffers.

Despite depriving the conquered countries of their produce and minerals there was still not enough of some materials to support the war effort and maintain a non-war economy. In 1943 Hitler finally put Germany’s economy on a war footing. German leaders always retained the memory that the loss of World War I began with the deprived citizens at home, rather than with a military defeat, the German armies were still deep in France at the end of the war. The shift to a war economy was too little, too late, and the deprivations instilled were blamed by the propaganda ministry under Joseph Goebbels on the Allied bombing rather than the fact that the war was steadily being lost.

20 Mistakes the Axis Powers Made in World War II
The Japanese Zero, seen here on Rabaul, was a state of the art fighter when the United States entered the war, but all but obsolete by early 1945. Wikimedia

Japanese failure to develop new weapons as the war evolved

When Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor they had in their arsenal one of the most advanced fighter planes in the world, the famed Zero. They also possessed weapons which were technically superior, and their warships carried flashless powder, enabling them to engage in night battles at sea, as they did in several battles in and around the Solomon Islands. The Americans often found their battle lines illuminated during these engagements, leading to the loss of several ships in the battles fought during the Guadalcanal campaign. The US rushed to develop competing technology, including better fighter and torpedo planes, and superior tactics.

Over the course of the war the Japanese failed to develop improved aircraft and other weapons, and somewhat quickly lost the technological edge to the Americans. The Japanese, deprived of oil and other raw materials such as rubber in their home islands, found their empire under pressure from American submarines and air strikes which destroyed their merchant ships and tankers. The failure to develop new weapons using the technology which emerged during the course of the war, which is a factor of most extended wars, was a critical mistake for the Japanese. By the end of the war the Japanese were fighting with mostly obsolete weapons and equipment, using the tactics of fighting to the death, which their own planning made all but inevitable.

20 Mistakes the Axis Powers Made in World War II
The ruins of Germany, reflected here by the shattered Reichstag, were the direct result of dozens of Axis mistakes. US Army

Hitler’s stand and defend orders

As the German campaign in the Soviet Union shifted into one of defending their positions against the ever growing strength of the Russians, Hitler on many occasions refused to give his generals permission to withdraw to better positions and to correct the battle lines. Hitler became obsessed with his new wonder weapons under development, the V-1, the V-2, the massive Panzer Mark VIII Maus, jet aircraft, and more. Hitler was convinced that the new weapons would change the course of the war, the V-1 and V-2 would finish what the Luftwaffe could not in 1940 and bring England to its knees, after which the massive new tanks and jet fighters would crush the western and Soviet armies.

So he refused to allow his armies to give ground, fighting on all fronts to retain his conquests and the slave labor and important materials to his Third Reich. The policy led to his armies being destroyed in the fields while the round-the-clock Allied bombing destroyed the German cities and demoralized the German people. Following the German winter offensive in the Ardennes in 1944 the German resistance collapsed quickly in east and west and the ability to produce the wonder weapons he fantasized would save him and his cronies was lost. Fanatical elements of the Wehrmacht and the Waffen SS continued to resist until informed that Hitler was dead.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”, by William Shirer, 2011

“Hitler and Mussolini: The Secret Meetings”, by Santi Corvaja, 2008

“Hitler’s New Disorder: The Second World War in Yugoslavia”, by Stevan K. Pavlowitch, 2008

“The Second World War”, by Anthony Beevor, 2012

“War in the Pacific: From Pearl Harbor to Tokyo Bay”, by Harry A. Gailey, 1997

“How Hitler Could Have Won World War II”, by Alexander Bevin, 2000

“The Burning Blue: A New History of the Battle of Britain”, by Paul Addison and Jeremy Crang, 2000

“Germany and the Second World War”, by Wilhelm Deist, Klaus A. Maier, et al, 1990

“Battle of Wits: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in World War II”, by Stephen Budiansky, 2000

“Moscow 1941: A City and its People at War”, by Rodic Braithewaite, 2010

“The Attack on Taranto: Blueprint for Pearl Harbor”, by Thomas P. Lowry and John W. G. Wellham, 1995

“Battle of the Atlantic”, by Bernard Ireland, 2003

“The Franco Regime: 1936-1975”, by Stanley G. Payne, 1987

“The Third Reich: A New History”, by Michael Burleigh, 2001

“In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War”, by David Reynolds, 2005

“Fortress Malta: An Island Under Siege 1940-1943”, by James Holland, 2003

“Turkish Foreign Policy During the Second World War: An Active Neutrality”, by Selim Deringil, 2004

“Inside the Third Reich”, by Albert Speer, 1970

“Imperial Japan’s World War Two: 1931-1945”, by Werner Gruhl, 2011

“The Wages of Destruction: The Making and the Breaking of the Nazi Economy”, by Adam Tooze, 2007