World War Two is one of the most tragic events ever to have happened. Never before in the history as many people were killed, raped, maimed, their houses destroyed, cities turned into rubble, young generations lost, as were in this war. The question remains: “how did this all happen?”
The simpler and widely known account for the start of the greatest war in history, is that Germany invaded small and defenceless Poland out of the blue and Hitler set out for world domination by attacking countries after countries, under the tactic called ‘blitzkrieg’. However, there were a few countries like USA, UK and USSR who fought for the noble cause of liberating Europe and the rest of the world from the hands of a tyrannous, brutal, totalitarian dictator of Nazi regime – Adolf Hitler.
Nevertheless, the story is quite different, complicated and long. Seeds for the next war were sown with the end of the First World War – long before Hitler came to power. So, we have to understand clearly what was happening before the invasion of Poland and after the end of WWI?
Treaty of Versailles
It was a treaty whose terms were solely dictated by victors and were a complete surprise for the defeated Germans. The guilt of the entire war was put on Germany and nothing was said to Russia or Serbia. Germany was to pay the reparation cost. Some German territories were given to France, Lithuania, Poland, Belgium, Sweden and Czechoslovakia. It was clear that all of it was done to punish Germans and maintaining peace was not their priority. This treaty was aimed at the total destruction of German economy.
Issues with the Treaty of Versailles
Germany was made to pay crushing reparation cost which was almost impossible for them to pay. With the loss of territories, Germany lost access to coal in Saarland and this made it even harder to pay the compensation amount. Last reparation payment was made in the year 2010. Furthermore, as the German lands werr given to other countries, German people living there become minorities. This happened in Danzig whose population was 90% German but was in Poland and now a newly created country, Czechoslovakia, has 3.1 million Sudeten Germans who are again in minority.
According the Versailles Treaty, Rhineland, which was situated in-between the German-French border, was to be demilitarized. However, in 1923, French and Belgium troops invaded the area. Germany did not respond.
In 1925, Locarno pact was signed according to which Britain, French, Belgium, Germany and Italy would guarantee peace in Europe. After 10 years, in 1935, France made a mutual assistance pact with USSR which was clearly aimed at enveloping and threatening Germany, thus violating the pact of Locarno. At this point, Hitler felt no longer obliged to the Locarno pact and therefore he moved his forces on March 7, 1936 into the previously German territory of Rhineland and took control of it. This act was general not liked by Allies.
According to Lloyd George, “but if Herr Hitler had allowed that to go without protecting his country, he would have been a traitor to the Fatherland.”
After WWI a new country emerged on map – Czechoslovakia. This country contained Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, Slavs and Germans. With Germans living on the sides of the country called Sudetenland, Germans were persecuted and hundreds of them were killed by the much dominated Slavs and Czechs. This forced Hitler to demand their annexation with the German Reich. After Munich conference on Sep 30, 1938 attended by England, France and Italy ultimately this land was given back to Germany.
Poland’s Attitude towards Germany
After the First World War wasn’t great. East and West Prussia were connected through a land corridor. After the Second World War that corridor was given to Poland and the League of Nations took the mandate of the Danzig port city which also came inside Polish territory. Poland at many places threatened to fully capture Danzig. Reparation costs and Great Depression were strangling Germany and soon she was not able to pay Poland for using its railroad routes to connect with East Prussia and Danzig. This could lead to an energy crisis and other problems in the East wing of the Reich. Therefore, on Oct 24, 1938 negotiations started. Hitler made humble requests to allow access to its railroads and in return, they could have territorial rights over East Prussia- an offer which Poles had been trying to obtain since the 1920s but had failed.
Germany, despite being a strong country was trying to solve the differences while at the same time Josef Pilsudski, Poland’s Statesman, asked France many times to launch, simultaneously, an attack on Germany, but France refused to do so. Adolf Hitler again tried to avoid military confrontation by proposing that Danzig should culturally be German and economically be Polish in return for an extra-territorial Highway, connecting both wings of the German Reich. Poland, on the other hand, became more stubborn as it was guaranteed full support, in March 1939, by France and England, if attacked and this thing made negotiations meaningless.
War was made almost inevitable with the denial of usage of railroads and extra-territorial Highway to connect to the isolated East Prussia. To make matters worse, Poles attacked German civilian transport planes, burned their villages and killed the fleeing Germans.
Bolshevik’s Secret Plan
In the revolution of 1917-22, Bolsheviks came into power and now they wanted a worldwide revolution by sweeping their forces through whole of Europe. Soviets possessed more tanks than all of the European countries combined before WWII. Stalin wanted to upgrade his army even more to get the job done and the money to upgrade was generated by selling crops abroad, which in turn caused severe famines in USSR that led to the deaths of millions in Ukraine alone. Upgrading army required time and he had to buy time. That is why Stalin came on friendly terms with the allies and also, later on, signed a no-aggression pact with Hitler.
No-aggression pact was also important for Stalin as it encouraged Hitler to deal with Poland with force while making Hitler think that England and France would not declare war and this is what Stalin wanted.
Stalin was setting up a trap for Hitler!
UK, USA and France
French ambassador said in the 1930s, “We can live with Germany but it would be way better if we drive them away… ”. Similarly, Sectary of British Foreign Office, Sir Robert Vansittart said, ”The enemy is the German Reich, not the Nazism”. England was playing a double game by prompting Poles for war, while provoking the Germans for peace.
Moreover, Roosevelt knew the secret agreement for the division of Poland by Germany and USSR but he did not let the Poles know of this development. Had they known, they would have come to terms with Germany and the war would have been avoided. It was clear that Germany, a growing military power, was being pushed into a fatal trap that would bring Germany back to the time when she was weak.
First WWII shots were fired by Japanese Imperial Kwangtung army in 1931 when they invaded Manchuria. In 1937, brutal Japanese armies invaded China on a full scale war. In 1935, Ethiopia was attacked and captured by Italians. In 1936, Spanish Civil War broke out. Here, the big powers like USSR and Germany played a proxy war. Nationalists supported by Germany and Italy while Republicans supported by Soviet Union.
The Global War Starts
Invasion of Poland
“At 5:45 hours today we are firing back. From now on every bomb will be repaid with a bomb”, Hitler declared. On September 1, 1939 Germany attacked Poland after all negotiations failed. During the war, Hitler kept the door for talks open. Even when Warsaw was sieged, Hitler called for talks but the Poles did not show up. In just three weeks, East Poland was defeated by Germany and West Poland was annexed by Soviets.
Ironically, Britain and France declared war on Germany while making an alliance with the Soviet Union when in fact, both countries had attacked Poland.
Defeat of Poland and Peace offer
After Poland was defeated, the victorious Hitler made a peace offer to Britain and even agreed to withdraw all its troops from all of Poland, except from Danzig and other formerly German areas. The terms were quite just and the point to continue war made no sense. World War could have ended in the same month of 1939, had Britain allowed Germany to evacuate Poland. Hitler did not want to attack the French neither did he want to attack the British, but British troops kept on arriving on the European shores. Anglo-German war began after Poland no longer existed. British war aim kept on changing from defending Poland to liberating Europe to saving people from the wrath of Nazism and concentration camps.
French Defeat, Allies and Peace Offer
It was futile for Hitler to wait while the Allies were mounting their forces on the western border of Germany. Hitler had no option but to attack France, Belgium and British Expeditionary Force (BEF). France was defeated and surrendered on June 22, 1940. At this point, Hitler sent the third peace offer to England but it was ignored by Britain. According to Historian, David Irving, Churchill was standing on his terrace and made a fist towards the sky and said, “Why would you not come?” He was surprised that Germany had not started bombing London yet.
Americans were not even willing to cease the war. In 1941, at the time of the Nazi invasion of Soviet Union, Henry Truman declared in the senate, “If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible.” America apparently was neutral but she was greatly supporting the British war aim. It gave Britain 50 cruisers to fight Germans and a lot of military support through Lend-Lease Act. Before Pearl Harbour, German U-boats were asked not to engage US ships. Moreover, it is surprising that Roosevelt and his government knew nothing about Pearl Harbour even though they had broken the Japanese code – Purple.
While on the other side, Hitler had a different mindset. He praised English people and he would often say that they looked like Germans and they had high standards of living just like Germans. Hitler even said, as David Irving described,
“What point is there for me to attack the British Empire and destroy London? If I destroy Britain as I can, then the only beneficiaries will be Americans and the Japanese and what purpose have I got in wasting good European blood to benefit those two races.”
Hitler’s Good Intention –Dunkirk Incident
France was defeated in just six weeks and BEF was corned at the port of Dunkirk with their backs to the sea and faces towards German Panzers. With more than 300,000 British troops trapped and no way to go, Hitler could massacre them in Blitzkrieg and could force England to surrender rapidly. At this point, England was considering the option of surrendering seriously. Surprisingly, Hitler ordered his troops to halt the advance. This gave BEF enough time to evacuate on anything that they could find, including fishing boats. This act of compassion had no effect on England as the British war doctrine was of war escalation.
“It has got to be a real fight to the finish and the real finish”
Sir Robert Vansittart
Eastern Front and the German Assault
Germany and the Soviet Union were still at peace under no-aggression pact. However, USSR broke no-aggression pacts with other neighbouring states like Finland, Lithuania and Estonia and occupied them.
On Nov 12, 1940, USSR foreign minister Molotov talked to Hitler about territorial demands for western security zone including Bulgaria, Rumania and Yugoslavia. These countries provided encirclement against Germany to Soviet Union and that is why Hitler rejected the offer. This demand was indirectly a threat to the German Reich.
On May 5, 1941, nearly two months before Germany’s pre-emptive strike on Russia, Stalin spoke to the Military graduates at Moscow that now they have invested in their army and upgraded her with modern technology. They must switch from defence to offence. The war with Poland and Finland were not defensive wars. The red army is now a modern army and a modern army is an army built for attack.
During the same period Germany started receiving reports of heavy deployment of soviet military on their western front when in fact there was no danger of any attack as with Germany they had a no-aggression pact.
It was clear that Soviets were preparing for a worldwide Bolshevik Revolution by taking over whole of the Europe. Soviet plans were now very clear as Josef Garbles quoted in his diary, a conversation with Hitler in which Hitler said,
“We have to act now. Moscow will stay out of the war until Europe is exhausted and has bled to death”
To avoid a two front war and the destruction of his Fatherland, Hitler had to quickly knock out USSR before more Allied soldiers landed on western beaches of Europe. Therefore, a pre-emptive strike was launched on June 22, 1941 under the name, Operation Barbarossa. German Wehrmacht confronted the most massive army ever assembled in History – 6 million men, more than twenty thousand tanks and nearly nineteen thousand planes- but Russians were taken with surprise and their army was in an offensive position, so it could not defend itself.
In the beginning of the war, some 3 million of Soviet troops were taken as prisoners of war.
The End of Germany and Hitler
Nearly a dozen peace offers were made by Hitler but all were rejected. Germany could no longer fight the evil powers of the world.
Then after the surrender in the Battle of Stalingrad, during severe cold, defeat in Battle of Kursk, Allies’ landings in Sicily and then at Normandy, German Reich which was to live for a thousand years, was taking her last breaths. On May 8, 1945, Berlin finally fell to the Russians. WWII ended in Europe.
General Otto Ernst Remer who was commander of guard unit in Hitler’s headquarters spoke to Hitler about the crisis with Poland and the outbreak of the war and Hitler replied,
“You are mistaken. I knew as early as March 1939 that Roosevelt had determined to bring about a world war, and I knew that the British were cooperating in this, and that Churchill was involved. God knows that I certainly did not want a world war. That’s why I sought to solve the Polish problem in my own way with a kind of punishment expedition, without a declaration of war. After all, there had been thousands of murders of ethnic Germans and 1.2 million ethnic German refugees. What should I have done? I had to act. And for that reason, four weeks after this campaign, I made the most generous offer of peace that any victorious leader could ever have made. Unfortunately, it wasn’t successful.”
One of the German Veterans was interviewed and he said, “We defended our country and most importantly all of Europe. If we hadn’t stopped it, it (Bolshevism) would have reached your country and France too”.
People volunteered to fight for Germany from dozens of countries including Albania, Belgium, Bosnia, Chile, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Italy, France, UK, USA and USSR.
Churchill escalated the war when he had the power to finish it within the same month of its beginning. On the East, Bolsheviks wanted to overrun Europe. Hitler was cornered. Ultimately all Capitalist and Communist empires united to defeat Germany.
“Every day that this war continues keeps me from
doing the work that I am still destined to accomplish
for the welfare of the German people.”
Written by: Hamza Nazir