1933-1939 1943-1945

Nazi Germany, 1939-1943

Administration . Foreign Policy . Domestic Policy . The Economy . Demography . Cultural History

Administration . President 1934-1945 Adolf Hitler (NSDAP), chancellor 1933-1945 Adolf Hitler (NSDAP); no general elections held in 1939-1943.

Foreign Policy
Non-Aggression Pact . Norway, France . Britain Holding Out . Conduct of Occupying Forces . German-Soviet Relations 1939-1941 . Balkans Campaign . German Invasion of Russia . Africa Campaign . U.S. Entry in the War . Russian Front . North Africa
A.) The German-Soviet Agreement to Partition Eastern Central Europe and it's Application
On August 23rd 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed a Non-Aggression Pact. In a secret appendix, the two countries agreed to split the independent states of Eastern Central Europe; Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Finland were to be garbled up.
After a border violation allegedly committed by Polish forces (in fact staged by German soldiers in Polish uniforms), on September 1st 1939 Germany began it's attack on Poland. Britain and France, allied with Poland in mutual defense pacts, declared war on Germany. The German tactics, splitting and envelopping enemy forces by fast moving panzer (tank) units supported by the airforce, was led to quick success. In 18 days, Polish forces were defeated (Blitzkrieg), western and central Poland occupied by German troops. On September 17th, Soviet forces entered Polish territory, occupying Eastern Poland. Britain and France did not declare war on the USSR.
Technically, Germany was at war with France and Britain. But there was no activity on the western front. The French, as in World War I, trusted in their strategy of patiently waiting out a German offence. Behind their Maginot Line, and with a land army regarded the strongest in the world, they felt secure. The phase between September 1939 and May 1940 is called Drole de Guerre (a joke of a war; the Phoney War). During these months, German troops enjoyed an undeclared armistice, while the eyes of the world focussed on Finland, which defended itself against the superior invading Soviet Army in the Winter War.
B.) The Campaigns in Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg and France
On April 9th, German forces occupied Denmark (without resistance) and invaded Norway, where they met considerable resistance. The British navy, invited by Norway's government, landed on several strips of Norway's long Atlantic coast and had to be expelled. The occupation was completed by June 10th; a Norwegian sympathizer of the Nazi party, Vidkun Quisling, was named premier of a pro-German Norwegian government. His name became synonymous with that of a traitor willing to sell out his country to the enemy.
On May 10th 1940, Germany's forces began the campaign in the west. The neutrality of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg was disrespected. The Netherlands surrendered on May 15th, Belgium on May 28th. German forces reached the English Channel; the British forces in France (ca. 335.000 troops) were successfully evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk. meanwhile, German panzer units had cut through the Maginot Line, moving fast into France. On June 10th, Italy entered the war on Germany's side. On June 22nd, an armistice was signed. Northern and western France were to be occupied by Germany, the South was to be administered by a French government residing in Vichy. It was headed by General Henri Philippe Petain, a World War I hero who evaluated further resistance as self-destructive. German troops occupied the (British) Channel Islands. Again, German arms had prevailed in another Blitzkrieg.
C.) Britain Holding Out
On June 23rd 1940, prime minister Winston Churchill's Britain found itself standing alone in a war against Germany and Italy. The British army was hopelessly outnumbered by the German Army, it depended entirely on it's navy and airforce. German offers for a peace treaty were rejected, and on July 10th the German air assault on Britain (the Battle of Britain) began. The German airforce outnumbered the British 4 to 1, but the Royal Air Force, assisted by remnants of the Polish and Czechoslovak Airforces now stationed in Britain, inflicted heavy losses on the attacking force. The German side broke off the attack in spring 1941; Britain had held out.
Britain was not standing absolutely alone. On it's soil were the Exile Governments of Poland, the Netherlands, Norway, France and Latvia. The Dutch, and Norwegian navy, the air forces of these countries and of Poland and Czechooslovakia, as far as they had managed to escape, were stationed in Britain.
D.) Conduct of the Occupying Forces
Invasions often began without a war formally being declared. The German airforce heavily bombarded the cities of Warsaw and Rotterdam, the latter after the Netherlands had surrendered, in order to enduce other governments to quickly surrender. If, in an occupied country, a German soldier was shot by a sniper, the German authorities did not bother attempting to get a hold of the culprit. German soldiers entered a village nearby, lined up the male population over 15 and executed them indiscriminately. The respective resistance got the message; they refrained from hurting German soldiers, and targetted local collaborators instead. The German authorities were especially harsh in the occupied areas in the East (former Czechoslovakia and Poland).
E.) German-Soviet Relations, 1939-1941
Before the Non-Agression Pact of August 23rd 1939, Hitler had often held tirades against Communism, picturing the danger of an imminent Bolshevist invasion of Europe. Nazi propaganda had also depicted Bolshevism as the enemy. With the pact signed, this seized immediately. Similarily, Soviet propaganda treated Hitler's Germany accordingly. The Non-Agression Pact led to an abrupt change in the treatment of each other in media (propaganda). Germany and the USSR agreed on a peaceful transfer of the ethnic Germans living in Estonia and Latvia to Germany. Stalin trusted in Hitler sticking to the pact. Hitler, however, stuck to his goal of gaining Lebensraum im Osten (living space (for the German nation) in the East) and ordered secret preparations for the invasion. However, because of Italian lack of progress on the Greek front, it was postponed - German authority had to be established there first.
F.) The Balkans Campaign, April-June 1941
Germany established alliances with Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. Yugoslavia resented German offers; on April 6th Germany opened hostilities by bombing Belgrade. The country was quickly occupied, as was continental Greece. Crete was held by Greek and British troops until it was taken by a German airborne offense, May 20th until June 1st.
The political map of the Balkans was rearranged. Romania ceded Northern Transylvania to Hungary in 1940. Yugoslavia was split up; Italy occupied Montenegro, Western Slovenia and some Dalmatian coastal regions. Croatia (including Bosnia-Hercegovina) was established as a German vassal state. Macedonia was given to Bulgaria, Serbia was occupied by German forces.
The mountaineous Balkan peninsula was of minor importance; the main object of it's occupation was to negate Britain the opportunity to establish a bridgehead in continental Europe, and to protect Germany's flank when it would attack the USSR. The campaign resulted in a delay of the invasion, a delay which turned out to be crucial.
G.) Germany's Invasion of Russia
On June 22nd 1941, German forces crossed into the USSR, without a war being declared. The invasion came as a shock to Stalin. Although he had been given details about Germany's invasion plan from spy Richard Sorge, he did not believe in it, because spies observing a factory producing buttons for Germany's uniforms did not report a significant raise in the production of winter coat buttons. Stalin remained in a state of shock for weeks, which left the USSR whichout a commander. In the meantime, German panzer units quickly pushed forward, encircling Russian army units. Finland seized the opportunity to regain Eastern Karelia, also invaded the USSR and thus became a German ally.
The Soviet army took heavy losses, and by winter 1941 the German army stood in front of Leningrad and Moscow. However, the advance came to a halt, for a number of reasons. (1) the German army, despite Hitler's long-term-goal of acquiring Lebensraum im Osten, was not prepared for a winter war. German tanks were unfit to move under severe Russian winter conditions, and the soldiers were not even supplied with winter coats. (2) Meanwhile, Stalin had recovered from his shock, and Russia had reorganized it's defence, which inflicted the German army, in front of Moscow, it's first defeat.
H.) The Africa Campaign 1941
As in Greece, Italy proved unable to hold it's ground in Libya, against British Commonwealth forces. An Italian invasion from Libya into Egypt (Sept. 1940) had been repelled and in Dec. 1940 the British had begun their counteroffensive into Libya, quickly taking Cyrenaica. In January 1941, the German Afrika Corps was formed and dispatched to the front, under the command of Erwin Rommel. The British advance was halted.
I.) The US Enters the War
German diplomacy tried to get Japan attack the USSR from the East, lwhich as hoped to bring about a collapse of the USSR. However, Japan instead decided to attack the United States. On December 6th 1941, without a previous declaration of war, the Japanese navy and air force launched an attack at Pearl Harbour. Immediately afterwards, on Dec. 11th, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. Two regional wars had escalated into a world war. The declaration, in fact, was only a formality. For on August 14th 1941, Churchill and Roosevelt had signed the Atlantic Charter, an agreement on common policy regarding the political order in post-war Europe.
J.) The Russian Front in 1942
Spy Richard Sorge, working at the German embassy in Tokyo, had informed Stalin, ahead of Pearl Harbour, that Japan definitely would not attack the USSR. Stalin ordered his eastern army to move to Europe; Marshal Zhukov was placed in command. On Dec. 5th the Red Army launched a counteroffensive, which retook some ground.
In June 1942, the German army went on the offensive again, occupying the plains of Eastern Ukraine and Southern Russia. They entered the city of Stalingrad and reached the Caucasus Mountains. In December 1942, they had reached the furthest line German soldiers ever reached. The crucial oil fields of Baku were still beyond German control.
K.) North Africa, 1942
Early in 1942 Rommel went on the offensive against the British in Libya. By June he had expelled the British from Libya and crossed into Egypt. The advance was held et El Alamein because of lack of supplies (June 30th).
On November 8th 1942, US forces landed in Casablanca, Oran, Algiers, Bougie and Bone (North Africa). The local French forces went over to the allies, denouncing loyalty to Vichy. The Germans were reduced to Tunisia and Libya.

Domestic Policy . Fortress Europe - the accumulation of territories occupied by or allied with Germany, stretching in 1942 from the French Atlantic coast to the steppes of Ukraine - had a serious deficiency : it lacked a roof. Large areas were vulnerable to air raids - most of Italy from Malta, the west of Germany from airbases located in England. The Royal Air Force, later joined by the US Airforce, flew many raids against German cities and created serious damage. The raid on Dresden in Feb. 1945 utterly destroyed the city in an inferno few survived. In the later years of the war, Germany tried to respond by sending V-1 and V-2 missiles against targets in England. Both in Britain, Germany and elsewhere the population tried to cope with the permanent threat of an air attack. Alarm systems and bomb shelters were installed, the Dark Out ordered. Important facilities and cities were protected by Ack-Acks (Ger.: Flak). In certain cases, the non-essential population was evacuated.
The war had made all other options (for instance Madagaskar Plan) illusory; in January 1942 the Wannsee Conference decided on the organisation of the extermination of Europe's Jewish population. A network of concentration camps already existed, the concentration camps in occupied Poland (Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek, Sobibor) being the main sites where the policy was implemented; but the Holocaust also happened in hospitals all over Germany and beyond, in mass executions of Jews (occupied USSR) and elsewhere. Not only Jews, but also Gypsies, Homosexuals, political opponents of Nazi rule and others deemed 'unworthy to live' suffered the Holocaust.

The Economy : the Home Front . The war impacted every area of society, everywhere. The Axis powers found themselves under a sea blockade, though undeclared. Britain's import shipments from overseas were under permanent threat by German U-Boats. Early in the war all belligerents introduced a centrally managed war economy, with prices controlled to check inflation, with production oriented on the wartime demands, with coupons being handed out to ensure a fair distribution of scarce consumer goods. Industry had to cope with a severe shortage of labor, as most able-bodied men were drafted into the army. Skilled workers sometimes were classified as indispensable and exempted from military service. Women were asked to join the labor force in large numbers. The German administration of occupied countries required citizens of these countries to work in Germany (Forced Labour). The concentration camps also were called labour camps; the official policy was to work the inmates to death. Many German factories requested shipments of workers from the labour camps in order to keep up production.
The food supply situation was much better than in World War I, due to the usage of synthetic fertilizer.

Demography . Demographic data for 1939-1943 are to be treated with care. The annexation of Austria 1938, the Sudetenland 1938, core Czechia 1939, the Memelland 1939, Danzig and large parts of Poland in 1939, Eupen-Malmedy, Luxemburg and Alsace-Lorraine in 1940, parts of Slovenia in 1941 added millions to the population of Germany. The migration of refugees fleeing German takeover is difficult to quantify, as are wartime losses. Then there was the repatriation of ethnic Germans from the USSR.

Cultural History . In exile, German writers were busy publishing : Lion Feuchtwanger : Unholdes Frankreich (The Devil in France, 1941), Franz Werfel : The Song of Bernadette (1941), Bertolt Brecht : Der kaukasische Kreidekreis 1943, Schwejk im Zweiten Weltkrieg 1941-1943, Heinrich Mann : Lidice (1942).

Library of Congress Country Studies : Germany
Nationalsozialistische Europapläne (National Socialist Plans for Europe), by Daniel Spichtinger, in German
DOCUMENTS ----- note : some of the documents listed below are propagandistic and/or offensive. Discretion is advised -----

Documents relating to the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of Aug. 23rd 1938 , from metalab
World War II Documents, from the Avalon Project from Yale Law School
German Propaganda Posters, from Earth Station #1
A personal account of childhood years in Nazi Germany by Ursula Grosser-Dixon, from Ursula's History Web : From the Supreme Teachings of Nazi Ideology to the Ramifications of Unprecedented Betrayal, Living Through the Götterdämmerung of the Third Reich
Images from Chronik 2000 Bilddatenbank : Cologne, Air Raid Victims, May 1942; Bombs are dropped over a German town; Weisse Rose : Hans Scholl; Air Raid Alarm in Berlin, c.1943; Berlin Sportpalast, Feb. 18th 1943 : Goebbels' Total War Speech; Weisse Rose : Alexander Schmorell; Weisse Rose : Sophie Scholl; Weisse Rose : Hans Scholl; Weisse Rose : Christoph Probst
Archivalienkatalog des Deutschen Exilarchivs, at Univ. Regensburg

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First posted in 2000, last revised on November 5th 2007

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