When Did Nazi Commanders Realize The War Was Lost? September 3, 1939!

September 3, 1939 is the day the Nazis understood they were going to lose the war. Before that fatidic day, the Nazis always got their way. That day, they got to fight the two largest empires, that is, to fight the world: all of Africa, most of Eurasia, Canada, Australia. In spite of their alliances with Stalin, Mussolini and Hirohito, how could they win? The disaster was obvious, and even inside their puny brains, they perceived it.

I am not trying to be cute. On September 3, 1939, Hitler was in the Reich Chancellery. 48 hours earlier, Great Britain and the French Republic had given him 48 hours to get out of Poland. The entire German Nazi government was milling around Hitler’s gigantic office, and the hallways leading to it. First came the British declaration of war. Then the French one. Hitler said nothing. He went to a gigantic window and looked at Berlin. Von Ribbentrop, the Foreign Minister, who had insured Hitler for years, that Britain would not join France, was aghast, but silent. Nobody said anything. The minutes went by, Hitler still watching Berlin. Eight minutes said some witnesses.

Then Hitler turned around, and with an anger none of those present had ever seen before, said in the loudest and most savage voice:”NOW, WHAT!!!???

Nobody said anything. The Nazi elite was crestfallen. The past was obvious to them. Starting in 1912, the so-called “Second Reich” had meticulously prepared a surprise attack to annihilate the French Republic. In Aout 1914, the entire German army, but for eight divisions protecting Eastern Prussia, attacked France. Germany had twice the population of France, and had been preparing its world war attack for twenty months. The French resistance was ferocious: day after day of butchery. Just on August 22, three weeks in the German all-out attack, furious French counterattacks cost the French 27,000 soldiers killed in action, all wearing red pants. German losses are unknown, but they were so serious that, in their rage, the Germans committed well-documented atrocities. Worse was to come: a monster counterattack by the French armies on September 6, using thousands of motor vehicles, even taxis, nearly destroyed the German armies which had to promptly retreat and entrench themselves.

In 1914, the German army was ready to fight a world war, even though the timing was everything: first France had to be defeated before the British army could be created and intervene in significant numbers. Then Russia, known to be slow to mobilize, had to be defeated thoroughly, and Britain somehow to be persuaded to make peace. US and Dutch “neutrality” would enable to break the British blockade. But then, of course, the French nearly destroyed the German army, so the entire plan collapsed.

In 1939, Germany was absolutely not prepared to fight a world war. When it dawned on German generals that Hitler was using tactics so dangerous that he was going to cause a world war, they decided to organize a coup, as early as 1937. But Britain and the US told Hitler, of the preparations the German generals had naively informed them of, so the coup petered out.

Now, on September 3, 1939, what the generals feared had happened: war with the two superpowers. Germany was allied with… its natural enemy, Stalin. The entire German army was invading Poland. 110 French divisions were mobilizing in the west. French tanks forces were much larger than the German ones, and with better tanks. Together, the French and Royal air forces were larger… navies did not compare; the two democratic allies had a much larger fleet, with aircraft carriers… The Nazis had only two modern battleships, no aircraft carrier. The blockade had strangled Germany in World War One… even though the US and the Netherlands had enabled to evade it for a while. But now the Netherlands had to be invaded to fight Britain. Obviously, for the Nazis, the situation was grim. They had persuaded themselves, for years, that Britain would never side with France in opposition to Nazism, that the two allies would never declare war… that the Nazis would be free to attack in the east (that was made explicit with Britain during the negotiations leading to the British-Nazi Naval Treaty). And now what?

Finally, after a silent disarray caused by Hitler’s savage outburst, Hermann Goering, second in power in the Nazi regime, head of the Luftwaffe, among other things, calmly, and sorrowfully, declared:”If we lose this war, God help us all.

Throughout the Second World War, Germany was horse-drawn. Why? Not enough oil, to start with. Also, hard to believe, blinded by their hubris, Hitler and his idiotic colleagues in the National-Socialist Party had not anticipated war against highly mechanized France (and soon the highly mechanized British, Russian and US!) Yes ten Nazi Panzer divisions, and a few other units, were highly mechanized, but that was it.

It looked completely impossible that Nazi Germany could defeat France and Britain… even to the Nazis. Britain had not much of an army, as usual, but a formidable Navy. France had the world’s strongest land army. Together the French and British air forces were superior to the Luftwaffe. Even the Nazis, in spite of their colossal stupidity, could see this.

France had a gigantic empire spanning the globe. Britain had an even bigger and wealthier empire, spanning the globe. British empire forces and French empire forces provided enormous manpower, from all over, many of them expert at war. 

As in World War One, the French and British navies stood ready to strangle Germany, by cutting off vital supplies. High explosives and food in World War One. In World War Two, high quality iron came from northern Sweden, transited through Norway, and sailed down the coast, facing the main Royal Navy gigantic basis at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands. And the strangulation would happen: Nazi Germany would run out of oil so much it could not train air crews, and had to drag jets with oxen. Said jets had aluminum engines that would burn up in a few hours because the rare elements needed to make high temperature steel alloys were not available anymore, after declaring war to everybody, etc.

So why did the Nazis persist in a war they were sure to lose? Mental inertia, hubris… Nazis had to give up on Nazism, surrender, or trust in God.  “Gott mit Uns!”, God With Us, proclaimed their belts. In the first ten months of the war, God was with Nazism, indeed, from a whole succession of unlikely events, the incompetency (at best!) of the French High Command, and the betrayal of France and Britain by their ungrateful American child. 

So when looking at Chinese dictator Xi, or the Russian czar, please do not underestimate their mental inertia and hubris. They could well ride, of their own volition and hubristic stupidity, a world war they would be bound to lose.

It is not because one is an anachronism, that one does not ride history to one’s doom! It is precisely the opposite! Xi and Putin are anachronisms, enraged tyrannosauruses snarling furiously at forces which spell their worlds’ doom. This is precisely their anachronistic despair which make them so dangerous.

Twice Germany’s leadership fell into the trap of mental fascism in the Twentieth century: the lesson is apparently hard to learn. Why France and Britain did not fall in the same trap is simple: they had been the European superpowers, 14 centuries in the case of France, eight in the case of Britain, even before Germany was created as a state. That’s a total of 22 centuries in which to make mistakes, but never mistakes so bad as to terminate the state. Thus French and British leaderships had plenty of time to learn about the pitfalls of mental inertia and hubris, and learn to avoid their exaggerated expressions.

To help Russia, China, and the world, then, one must do what was not done in the 1910s, or 1930s. What we need now is a united democratic front, ready for anything.

Patrice Ayme

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8 Responses to “When Did Nazi Commanders Realize The War Was Lost? September 3, 1939!”

  1. ianmillerblog Says:

    My view, as usual, will be a bit controversial, but I don’t think loss was inevitable in 1939, provided Stalin did not attack Germany. Of course, if you take that to its logical conclusion, Hitler should leave Poland as a buffer state if he thinks that is possible and there is no war. Nevertheless, given the success on France, Germany needed to throw everything at capturing the BEF at Dunkirk, and then use its paratroops to capture the French Navy when France surrendered. At that point, i think some sort of negotiated peace with Britain might have been possible. Not necessarily a win, but it avoids the loss. If not, Germany has to invade Britain quickly, and not rely on Goering and his air force. Maybe not easy to do, but he loses if he doesn’t so there is no alternative. The need for being quick is that time would not be on Germany’s side.


    • Gmax Says:

      I think Patrice said in the past that defeating Britain in 1940 was impossible for the Nazis. Completely impossible. They had lost too many planes, and their drug drive through France got them completely nuts and weak. Also she said Hitler was after Polish oil and Stalin got that. How would they have crossed the sea? Napoleon had ships and a gigantic army, couldn’t do it. Hitler had no fleet to speak of.


      • Patrice Ayme Says:

        Yes, thanks. No boats to cross… Indeed! Plus Churchill was ready with poison gas, poison wells, etc. 🙂
        The Royal Navy was no cake walk… And it would have had air cover…


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Hi Ian, thanks for the comment. First my idea was to illustrate the fact that, just like a cat will cross a road at the last moment because it’s its last chance to do, so do wars get started, by stupid dictators, even when sure to fail: because it’s last chance to do so. Actually that exactly the formal reasoning of the “German” High Command on December 11, 1912.

      As Gmax said I detailed excruciatingly the impossibility for the Nazis of winning in 1940. OK, will explain again the succession of miracles…

      Hitler had to attack Stalin if and because he did not defeat Great Britain. Hitler said it himself to all his commanders. Nazis just assumed it would be easy. But, as Hitler pointed to the Finnish commander, nobody expected that the Soviets would have 37,000 tanks… Although that they had the fuel for them should not have been surprising…

      I wrote a piece somewhere describing what would have been the best Nazi strategy: launch a million man army towards Egypt, then Iraq… instead of Barbarossa!


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      The First French army blocked the Nazis at Dunkerque, long enough for the entire BEF to evacuate. It was not a mistake of Goering, as spin doctors presented it later. After a quick amphetamine advance, the Wehrmacht got beaten to a standstill. The same happened towards the end of June, and so the ceasefire with France was agreed on, in part in the hope of pivoting towards the invasion of England. But there was no way…

      From Wikipedia:
      The desperate resistance of Allied forces, especially the French forces, including the French 12th Motorised Infantry Division from the Fort des Dunes, had bought time for the evacuation of the bulk of the troops. The Wehrmacht captured some 35,000 soldiers, almost all of them French. These men had protected the evacuation until the last moment and were unable to embark. The same fate was reserved for the survivors of the French 12th Motorised Infantry Division (composed in particular of the French 150th Infantry Regiment); they were taken prisoner on the morning of 4 June on the beach of Malo-les-Bains. The flag of this regiment was burnt so as not to fall into enemy hands.[42]


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      France did not surrender to the Nazis. There was a ceasefire. The French fleet was in inexpugnable places (Toulon, Bizerte, Mers El Kebir), out of range of Nazi paratroops. North Africa in particular was defended by the French Air Force. When the Nazis invaded southern France, their main objective was to seize French ships in Toulon. All ships present were scuttled, the Nazis captured none.
      The Brits and the Americans did not have an easy time capturing North Africa, in Operation Torch, although the French defense was mostly symbolic, they suffered more than 1,000 dead and an aircraft carrier sunk… Among other problems…


  2. Don Kemerling Says:

    I understand they were allies, but there was little communication, them being basically halfway around the world from each other. I recall a U boat being dispatched for communication. That’s a very awkward and time-consuming means. There was much enemy territory between them, and I’ll assume that submarines would need to refuel, making them vulnerable. It was a near impossible mission, and they had a more important mission in the Atlantic, disrupting supplies.

    How did they communicate otherwise? Even more important, in time of war is material support. I find that an even more difficult challenge. Axis powers declaring common aims or admiration doesn’t amount to much. It might be argued that even Italy wasn’t much of an ally to Germany, because of their general incompetence. The Japanese weren’t incompetent, or course, even if they didn’t match American military intelligence and planning and execution.

    I understand there was some more effective communication between the US and the USSR, but only 2% of war material support their was able to be given by the US. The vague coordination of efforts was arranged, mostly by the summits between Churchill, Stalin, and FDR. The USSR held down the large majority of German efforts on land. The Brits isolated Germany by sea, except for the limited power of U boats. If Hitler hadn’t attacked the Soviets it seems difficult to say that we would have won the war without the use of atomic weapons in Europe. Even after he did attack, he made terrible blunders, such as the siege of Stalingrad.

    I hadn’t realized the extent of the history between Germany and Japan, before Hitler. Their enmity in WWI was news to me.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Don Kemerling The alliance between Germany and Japan lasted decades, before and after WWI (when they were enemies). The “Axis” was formally created by 1936, and encouraged various attacks. Of Germany against Spain, of Japan against China, of Italy against Ethiopia…

      All the while, US plutocrats threw gasoline on the fires, literally… Nothing to lose, profits all over, and an “American Century” to gain. An obscured part of history, deliberately.

      The Nazi and Japanese attacks had this in common: they were desperate and highly likely to fail, their own instigators admitted. There is a lesson for today, especially as this is not the only case. See my comment to Ian…


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