A Nazi Rally at The Stadium in Nuremberg in 1934
Adolph Hitler was the most evil dictator the world has ever known*. During Hitler’s 12 years in power, some 11 Million people were put to death and, as a result of the World War he caused, some 70 Million military and civilian people died.
This paper is not about Hitler; it is an account of the re-armament and the military operations of the German armed forces in the eight years from 1933, when Hitler and the Nationalist Socialist Democratic Workers Party (Nazi party) came to power, to the year that Germany was at the peak of its power, 1941.
At the beginning of 1933, the unemployment rate in Germany was over 30%. The standard of living was low; the country was in a demoralized state. The Versailles Treaty limited the German Army to 100,000 men for security duties only. There was no Air Force. The Navy was restricted to 24 old WW1 ships and 15,000 men.
As soon as Hitler and the Nazis took power in 1933 they set about dismantling the existing democratic form of government and installing Nazism throughout Germany. By 1934, Germany was a totalitarian state. From the start, Hitler’s policy was World Domination. In 1935 the Versailles Treaty was torn up and a Four Year Re-armament Plan was launched.
In 1935, the whole nation was put on a war footing. Over the next four years enormous and wide-ranging projects were undertaken. Industry was expanded to produce armaments in large quantities. Over 2,000 Km of motorway (autobahn) was constructed. Strikes were illegal. Every fit man had to take part in the war effort or was conscripted into the armed forces. Unemployment went down to zero.
The German Armed forces underwent massive expansion. The military strategy of Germany’s new armed forces was to be the ‘Blitzkreig’ (lighting war). There were to be Stuka dive-bombers to terrorise the enemy ground forces; highly mobile ‘motorized’ infantry and artillery to overwhelm them; the tanks were to be of greater speed and fire-power than of any other European army; the Luftwaffe was to have a greater number of, and more advanced fighter and bomber aircraft, than any other European Air Force; the Navy was to have ‘pocket battleships’ (small, fast and superior fire-power cruisers) as well as some modern battle ships, destroyers etc; the main naval weapon was to be the ‘U-Boat’ (submarine), in numbers greater than in any other Navy,
By 1940, at the end of the Four Year Plan, the German Army had 2.5 million men and 2,500 tanks. The Air Force had been re-established and was equipped with 3,200 warplanes. The Navy had some 40 new warships and 67 submarines -- and a U-boat building programme which launched several hundred more in the following years.
In 1938, Hitler started to implement his plans for world domination – “Greater Germany”. First was the annexation of Austria. Next that year was the annexation of Sudetenland, a part of Czechoslovakia.
In 1939 the rest of Czechoslovakia was invaded by German forces and occupied. Next, Poland was invaded and the Polish armed forces were quickly overcome. Poland was divided in two – half being occupied by Germany and the other half by USSR.
In 1940 the German Army attacked and overran the Armies of France, Belgium, Holland, Norway and took control of Denmark by non-violent agreement. The British Expeditionary Force in France comprising some of 400,000 men was defeated. Later that year, the German Army occupied Hungary and Romania.
It was in 1940 that the German forces suffered their first set-back. Having occupied most of Western Europe, the German Army prepared to invade Britain from France. This required German air supremacy over the English Channel. The Luftwaffe (German Air Force) attempted but was unable to achieve this while suffering heavy losses in the attempt. The invasion was abandoned and, instead, the Navy’s Submarine fleet was given the job of securing the UK’s submission by denying the Atlantic to Britain’s merchant ships and thus cutting the vital supply line between the UK and the USA and Canada. In this the U-boats nearly, but not quite, succeeded.
In 1941 the German military occupations continued. Greece, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Crete fell. The German Army landed a force in North Africa which threatened to conquer Egypt and the Suez Canal, and onwards to the Middle East and the oil-fields. (In the event, that plan failed.) In June that year, the German Army invaded the Soviet Union and in the following six months they took control of a very large area of Western USSR – by December they were nearing Moscow.
At this point, the end of 1941, just eight years after Hitler came to power, Germany had gained control of 15 countries, a territory several times greater than Germany itself, and the number of people now under German rule was several times greater than Germany’s own population of 80 million. In the annals of history, for one nation to accomplish such industrial and military results in just eight years has to be unique.
By the end of 1941, the advance on Moscow had failed and the German Army was forced to retreat. It was the beginning of the end of Hitler’s plans for world domination. By 1945, 12 years after he came to power, the Germans had left all the territories they had occupied, Germany itself was occupied and in ruins, millions of Germans had lost their lives in the war, and Hitler had killed himself.
* A possible exception is Joseph Stalin, Dictator of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1953, who put to death an estimated 20 Million to 30 Million people.