Gone with the Wehraboo – 10 Reasons WhyNazi Germany was Full of Crap Fighting WW2: (4) Their Victory Over France was Overrated

But what do you expect of a nation whose symbol is the chicken? Well, rooster, but still




Yeah – I can’t back that up, not fully anyway. Nazi Germany’s victory over France in 1940 is correctly rated as its greatest military victory, the pivot of its success in the Second World War – “few campaigns in history have been so swift and conclusive as the German spring offensive of 1940, and in the course of the Second World War only the Japanese campaign in south-east Asia between December 1941 and April 1942 stands comparison in terms of speed of execution, comprehensiveness and a finality that went with the ultimate defeat of the victor”. Of course that’s an important caveat at the end there and we’ll come back to it, but for now it was indeed one of Nazi Germany’s finest demonstrations in the art of war, in which it combined effective strategy with its tactical proficiency to achieve victory, albeit also with good luck and timing.


What’s even more impressive is that it was achieved without numerical superiority – and certainly not the numerical superiority usually associated with overcoming the defence.  It is one of the “best known facts in history” (but perhaps less so in popular culture) that the Allies – Britain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands (I think we can safely discount Luxembourg) – actually held a margin of superiority in overall numbers of men, tanks and artillery, while the number of divisions was the same as that for Germany.


And yet, Germany did have some important advantages that contributed to its victory. Germany had a clear material superiority in airpower – and thus combined with overwhelming superiority in anti-aircraft guns, could secure “general command of the air, operate effectively against Allied positions and lines of communication and, critically, deny the Allies a significant reconnaissance capability’, particularly over the Ardennes, the area for the surprise main thrust of the German offensive. The Allied numerical strength was reduced in combat effectiveness as it was divided between the four nations, two of them clinging to their neutrality – “with the consequent lack of standardization of equipment and doctrine, the absence of a common command structure, and of critical importance, the failure of the four democracies to align themselves together and coordinate their policies before the start of the campaign”. And what combat effectiveness they did have was further reduced by its qualitative inferiority, particularly in operational doctrine (in so far as the French had any operational doctrine) and dissipation of its armored units (none of which were more than four months old).


The fall of France as portrayed by contemporary British cartoonist Illingsworth


Ultimately, France was also a smaller, weaker neighbour curb stomped by Germany in terms of population and economic base, although it had masked this by its victory in the First World War and mobilization for the Second – the costs of both of which ironically reinforced its demoralization and defeatism. Like Poland before it, France was defeated before the fighting began, albeit for different reasons – “France, in military terms, was beaten in the first four days of this campaign, but her defeat was as much political and psychological as it was military”. France lacked the resources, space, time and will to recover from what was essentially one armored thrust (through the Ardennes). The French – pfft! In the words of gonzo author John Birmingham, the only decent resistance in France was Patton.


Which brings us back to that caveat and the ultimate irony of Germany’s victory over France – that France was, uniquely, the only major adversary that Germany could actually defeat. It lacked the airpower and seapower to defeat Britain, whereas the Soviet Union was simply too big for blitzkrieg – unlike France, it did have the resources, space, time and will to survive a blitzkrieg attack, indeed several blitzkrieg attacks. The United States, of course, combined the worst features of both for Germany. Which is why German strategy floundered after its victory, at worst combining incoherence and wishful thinking – that Britain would conveniently surrender and the Soviet Union would conveniently collapse. It’s as if they had invested all their planning into achieving the victory over France that eluded them in the First World War, without any thought for anything else after that.



The Art of War: 5 Ways of Winning Without Fighting (As Proved by The USA)





Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is the cult classic of military strategy. And yet Sun Tzu often comes across as a pinko pacifist pussy, quoting poetry to hide that when he’s not being obvious, he’s being obtuse. I mean, come on – “The onset of troops is like the rush of a torrent which will even roll stones along in its course” and “The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon”. What?! Of course, part of this is because The Art of War is thoroughly imbued with Taoist philosophy, including my personal favorite principle of ‘wu wei’ or the art of doing nothing effectively. Nowhere is this more evident than in its defining principle that the true art of war lies in winning without fighting. Well obviously, but how? It brings to mind Bart Simpson’s response when his karate teacher gives him a copy for his first lesson – “Um, I already know how not to hit a guy”.


In fairness, Sun Tzu does explain how to win without fighting, when you cut away all the poetry. However, as usual, history shows it much more bluntly, as proved by the United States of America. Of course, it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that this superpower excelled at the art of war (at least until recently)  – as opposed to, say, Germany, which despite (or perhaps because of) its reputed military professionalism, proved that it was very good at fighting but not very good at war. (All it achieved in two world wars was encirclement and attrition by enemies with superior resources). So how does history show the art of war in winning without fighting? Let me count the ways…






Now this one should be a no-brainer, as it is Sun Tzu’s apparent eagerness to avoid war that makes him seem such a pacifistic pussy. Wars are costly and destructive, especially big or long wars of attrition, and even when you win, you often lose. So, the best strategy lies in avoiding wars in the first place, if possible – and the worst place to be in war is at the front line. The best place to be in war is sitting it out at the sidelines, ideally playing the balance of power and making money through financing or supplying your favored side – and only entering, if at all, to tilt the balance of power in your direction. This pretty much defines the historical foreign policy of Britain towards continental Europe – they coined the phrase ‘splendid isolationism’ and it served them pretty well, until you know, they fought two world wars too many.


To - ah - just forget about it

To – ah – just forget about it




The Brits might have coined the phrase, but the United States historically defined itself by isolationism. George Washington declared it in his Farewell Address in 1796 and Thomas Jefferson similarly announced in his Inaugural Address in 1801 the policy of “entangling alliances with none”. Isolationism suited the United States pretty well, generally avoiding war with European powers until, you know, it was big enough to win – and the above strategy of sitting it out on the sidelines also essentially defines American foreign policy in the world wars. After the Second World War, it was a different story, as isolationism got a bit of bad press, although critics of American foreign policy on both left and right would argue that the United States has not been isolationist enough. It is even arguable that the United States fought the First World War to “make the world safe for democracy”, only to make it safe for fascism – then fought the Second World War against fascism only to make it safe for communism.


Of course, like most things in life and history, there’s a catch to isolationism – the luck of geography. No doubt Belgium would have loved splendid isolationism, but the geography of being wedged between France and Germany was against it. The isolationist ideal is to effectively have a continent to yourself, like the United States – or better yet, to actually have a continent to yourself:


Guarded by its navy of sharks and crocodiles

Guarded by its navy of sharks and crocodiles


Islands are the next best thing, particularly as historically you could get by with a strong navy instead of a standing army. We’ve already mentioned Britain, but another example was Japan (to the point that it closed itself off from the world from 1641 to 1853), which did pretty well until, you know, it fell victim to the most famous of classic blunders by getting involved in land wars in Asia. Of course, you can’t just sit around in your isolationism like some shut-in crazy cat lady, you have to do things so as to win without fighting. What to do? Well…







The hippies were right! Well, half right – as it should be make babies, not war. War isn’t purely a population numbers game, but it’s hard to beat a big population (and ideally the land area to go with it) – just look at China or Russia. At the very least, you have reserves. Also, there’s nothing quite like a population change in your favor (both between nations and between groups within nations) to tilt the balance of power your way without firing a shot. Historians will probably always debate the causes for the fall of the Roman Empire (or even when and if it fell), but at least one factor was its declining population, particularly as opposed to the increasing population of German tribes. And so the Roman Empire slowly became…German (or more precisely the western Roman Empire slowly became a number of German kingdoms). History never repeats but sometimes it rhymes, and in the modern era, France was eclipsed as the predominant power in Europe when the more populous Germany was united under Prussia (and even more so with France’s declining birthrate and demographic demoralisation between the world wars).


Population growth can basically be your baby BOOM!




Again, war is not purely a population numbers game, so it’s hard to be definitive about it, but it is no coincidence that the rise of the United States to superpower was linked to its rise to the most populous Western nation, fuelled by massive immigration. Even in its origin, one hypothetical example might be whether the United States could have effectively won the American Revolution without firing a shot by just waiting until its population outgrew that of Britain – or indeed, if it had secured parliamentary representation instead of revolution whether it would have ended up running Britain and the British Empire.


Giving rise to the Britannian Empire in Code Geass - where everyone is FABULOUS!

Giving rise to the Britannian Empire in Code Geass – where everyone is FABULOUS!


However, there is one cold, hard example that has recurred throughout history whenever hunter-gatherers have come up against agricultural societies, which can feed more mouths (and have more diseases) – the Indian Wars. The United States basically steamrollered its manifest destiny from coast to coast over the native American tribes as a function of population growth – while most of its population barely noticed. (The United States population that is – the native American population noticed a lot).


So population helps, but there is another set of numbers that usually counts for even more…






There is a military adage “Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics” – and ultimately logistics are a matter of money, so nations with money are hard to beat. Sun Tzu bemoaned the daily cost of keeping an army in the field (“a thousand ounces of silver a day”) – and that was when armies could forage and loot much of their supplies. Wars are costly and expensive, especially with modern industrial technology. As we’ve seen, the best place to be in war is sitting on the sidelines – making money from trade and financing or supplying your side of choice (and entering, if at all, to win it so they can pay you back), or effectively fighting with money by subsidizing other nations. Even better, money is a means to become powerful without fighting at all – through trade, finance, investment and influence. Germany dominates Europe today and Japan rose to power through money more effectively than they ever did by war, while China has risen to superpower through making money more than it ever did through its military and nuclear bluster under Mao.





Need we say more? Money has been the fundamental American art of war. Who says money can’t buy superpower? Just ask Batman…and the United States has been the goddamn Batman of the world – crimefighting with cash, gadgets and firepower. For starters, the United States simply bought large parts of its territory, most notably the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1804 and Alaska from Russia in 1867.


I'll take the green part to go - and could you throw Alaska in a doggy bag?

I’ll take the green part to go – and could you throw Alaska in a doggy bag?


When it has come to wars, the United States has relied on its economic, financial and industrial strength – from the victory of the North over the South in the Civil War to victory in the world wars. As Stalin is reputed to have said of the victory in the Second World War (and if he didn’t, he should have) – England provided the time, Russia provided the blood and America provided the money. That’s how you win without fighting and that’s what Germany got for trying to be a Nietzschean Superman, trying to fight its way to victory (“he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterward looks for victory”), rather than being Batman like the United States. (It also goes to show who would really win between Batman and Superman. Even in the comics Batman could just pay Wonder Woman to beat up Superman or cut a deal with Lex Luthor, all while getting rich from shares in kryptonite). And for the ultimate money shot of winning without fighting, there’s the Cold War, where the United States won when the Soviets essentially ran out of money.


Of course, historically speaking, sooner or later in your rise to power through becoming populous and rich (indeed often as obstacles during it), you will face wars with adversaries or rivals. So, how do you win them without fighting?







It’s simple – you should pick battles that are so ridiculously one-sided in your favor that they have their own trope, like stomping someone into the curb. Monty Python demonstrates the basic principle:



Empires are generally built by big or powerful nations stomping on small or weak ones. Picking curb stomp battles or “winning with ease” is the essence of Sun Tzu’s strategist – “hence his victories bring him neither reputation for wisdom nor credit for courage”. Typically, this is a matter of numerical superiority, as Sun Tzu himself emphasized – “though an obstinate fight may be made by a small force, in the end it must be captured by the larger force”. However, it is very often a matter of qualitative superiority (from what in military lingo is termed force multipliers) – such as superior training or technique but most demonstrably superior technology, the historical equivalent of beating opponents who bring knives to gunfights. This is how the Europeans curb stomped their colonial empires – as Hillaire Belloc wrote, “whatever happens, we have got. The Maxim gun and they have not”. The Anglo-Zanzibar War lasted the whole of 38 minutes on 27 August 1896, as British ships used the Zanzibari sultan’s palace for target practice from 9.02 am to 9.40 am. (Part of the terms of peace was that the Zanzabaris had to repay the cost of the shells).





O land of the free and home of the brave – but one has to admit, this is kind of how the United States won its smaller wars. H. L. Mencken typically mocked this in his essay “The Anglo-Saxon”, but as we’ve seen, it is the essence of clever strategy and all nations like to do it if they can, even Mencken’s beloved Prussian Germany, which lost when it took on opponents bigger than itself – the world in general and the Soviet Union in particular. Sure, the United States started off big, as the potential stompee against the British Empire in the American Revolution (and its sequel, the war of 1812), but after that it curb stomped its manifest destiny across the continent. We’ve already talked about the Indian Wars, but there was also the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848, which Ulysses S. Grant – no pinko pacifist pussy – called “one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger on a weaker nation” (and added about half of Mexico to the United States).


What?! They weren't using it anyway!

What?! They weren’t using it anyway!


The debut of the United States into the international scene with a war against a European power was equally as sordid, as it pounced upon an enfeebled Spain in 1898 and snatched the last decent remnants of the declining Spanish empire (like the Philippines and Cuba), leaving Spain with such gems as the Spanish Sahara and Fernando Poo. (No, really – Fernando Poo). The Mexican-American War and Spanish-American War typified many American wars south of the border and across the waters, from the so-called Banana Wars through Panama and Grenada to the first Iraqi War.


And for that matter, even the bigger wars of the United States have something of this character. Such was the economic strength and resources of the United States in the world wars, that they were really a foregone conclusion after its entry, especially when you throw in the other allies – and as the United States swarmed Japan with its ships and planes in the Second World War, it did indeed have some actual curb stomp battles, such as the ‘Great Marianas Turkey Shoot’ in June 1944, labelled by American naval aviators for the ease with which they shot down the remnants of Japanese carrier aviation (prompting Japan to resort to kamikazes). Also, although the American Civil War – a war that the Pacific War oddly resembled in many ways – was hardly a curb stomp battle, the North had such advantages in population and resources over the South that its victory was virtually a foregone conclusion as well.


Of course, sooner or later, you will face adversaries or rivals with which you are more evenly matched and which would involve wars of attrition, which Sun Tzu labelled the worst possible wars. How do you win without fighting?







Again, it’s simple – sit back while others do the fighting for you. This essentially comes in two versions. There’s the adversarial version, in which you sit back while your adversaries or rivals destroy or exhaust themselves fighting each other, although that’s often as much a matter of good luck as good strategy. One reason for the Islamic conquest of the remaining eastern Roman or Byzantine empire and the Persian empire is that they were exhausted from decades (or centuries) slugging it out against each other like glazed-eyed punch-drunk boxers. Alternatively, there’s the allied version, which is much the same except you sit back while your allies bear the brunt of the fighting, although typically you’ll have to finance or supply them or at least do some cheerleading.






Again, one has to admit that, through good luck or good strategy, this is kind of how the United States has won its bigger wars. Perhaps its biggest war, at least in terms of the disparity with its adversary, was the American Revolution, so it was just as well France fought it for them – not just France but Spain and the Netherlands as well, in what was essentially a world war against Britain. The sequel War of 1812 was somewhat similar, as the United States was mostly a distraction from Britain’s main concern with, in the words of H. L. Mencken, “an enterprising Corsican gentleman, Bonaparte by name”. The world wars were even more of the same. The United States entered the First World War at the tail end of it, when every other combatant was exhausted by years of fighting, with far fewer casualties as a result. In the Second World War, it came in about halfway, but it was the Soviet Union that did most of the fighting against Nazi Germany, as well as most of the dying – at least 20-30 MILLION dead (albeit mostly as civilians or captured prisoners) as opposed to about 420,000 dead for the United States.


So yeah, it was more like saving Private Ivan

So yeah, it was more like saving Private Ivan


The biggest exception to the rule was the war it fought against itself, the American Civil War, which is why it involved the most casualties of any American war.


Again, like most things, there’s a catch. The adversarial version needs good judgment – in correctly judging that your adversaries will destroy each other, rather than one defeating the other and becoming stronger or more dangerous to you as a result. The allied version on the other hand has a problem all of its own – namely that your uppity allies, having done the fighting, might think that they should do the winning as well. Once again, the United States has excelled at putting an end to this crap. France went broke from its spending in the American Revolution and had a revolution of its own, while Spain had similar problems and lost its American colonies. Virtually everyone was exhausted, broke and owed money to the United States or swallowed up by revolution or civil war at the end of the First World War. The biggest exception was the Second World War, with the Soviet Union claiming its spoils of victory. It just took a bit longer – and the United States winning the Cold War by making money – for them to be exhausted and broke as well. Although there was also something Sun Tzu didn’t see coming, which luckily turned into one last way of winning without fighting (and hopefully has helped the world turn away from fighting), because fighting would mean everyone losing…




Gone with the Wehraboo – 10 Reasons Nazi Germany was Full of Crap Fighting WW2: (2) They Picked Curb Stomp Battles – Poland




Fans of the Wehrmacht often present its conquests in 1939-1942 as evidence of its military excellence. However, these victories were essentially achieved through the same time-honored means of great powers seeking victory through the art of war or winning without fighting – picking curb stomp battles or defeating smaller, weaker opponents. That was the preference of Germany as well, which began to lose when it took on opponents bigger than itself – the world in general and the Soviet Union in particular.


As the most populous, industrialized and powerful nation in continental Europe – a fact unchanged by the First World War – Nazi Germany achieved its initial victories mostly by curb stomping its smaller, weaker neighbors. Willmott observes that “German success between 1939 and 1942 owed as much to the German armed forces’ better understanding of the balance between offensive and defensive firepower as it then existed to any material consideration” and that “it was opposed by a number of enemies of limited military resources and inferior doctrine…lacking adequate anti-tank and anti-aircraft defences and – crucially – the space and time in which to absorb the shock of Blitzkrieg attack”.


Indeed, Nazi Germany launched the war by picking a curb stomp battle at the outset, its invasion of Poland.  Nazi Germany had overwhelming numerical superiority over its opponent. On paper, Willmott notes approximately 59 German divisions “in the east” to 40 Polish divisions. The reality was worse than that, however, as “probably only 40% of the Polish Army” was mobilized at the start of hostilities. Even worse, in terms of combat effectiveness in firepower, communications, logistics and mobility, each Polish division was about half a German one, despite a rough numerical equality of men and rifles. Worse yet, Nazi Germany had overwhelming material superiority in tanks, guns and aircraft – as for most of the inter-war period, Poland defence planning had focused on a war with the Soviet Union in Poland’s eastern wetlands (hence the large cavalry component of the Polish Army) and it lacked the time and resources to provide armored or mechanized forces when blindsided by the German threat. Of course, it might have been different if France had coordinated an offensive strategy with a Polish defensive strategy, but there wasn’t much realistic prospect of that because, you know, the French. Sigh.


Poland: “Um, are any of those arrows ours? No?”


On top of its overwhelming numerical and material superiority, Nazi Germany also had the advantage conferred by geographical position – with East Prussia and its occupation of Czechoslovakia, its forces surrounded Poland on three sides (forcing Poland to deploy its forces along virtually the entire length of its 930 mile border with Germany, while Germany could concentrate on selected axes of advance). This became even worse when the Soviet Union invaded, as part of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact – or more accurately, their aggression pact against Poland – changing Poland’s situation from mostly hopeless to completely hopeless (although the main military effect was that Poland could not prolong resistance to Nazi Germany in its eastern half).


In short, Poland was curb stomped, such that it was effectively defeated before the first shot was even fired – although incredibly Poland continued to resist throughout the war, both underground in Poland and through its armies in exile.



Gone with the Wehraboo – 10 Reasons Nazi Germany was Full of Crap Fighting WW2: (1) They Sucked at Strategy

Pictured – rare footage of Nazi Germany’s military planning for the invasion of the biggest nation in the world




In more formal terms, tactical proficiency does not compensate for consistent strategic deficiency. Of course, that’s mostly just a fancier way of saying that Germany was very good at fighting but not very good at war.


In The Great Crusade, Willmott applies this to the claims of tactical proficiency that Wehraboo fanboys tend to flaunt, particularly in defence on the Eastern Front, which they, following the memoirs of the German generals, tend to present as a narrative of German technical proficiency swamped by brute Soviet force  (‘Asiatic hordes’ in the phrase of Nazi propagandists) – “claims of tactical competence count for little against the fact that German armies were consistently outfought at the strategic and operational levels”.


Ultimately, it might be applied to the war itself. Even in its victories, Nazi Germany had strategic deficiencies – or long term strategic consequences to its detriment, often the seeds of ultimate defeat.


Of course, some of those strategic deficiencies can be attributed to the political leadership of Hitler and his Nazi regime – Nazi Germany’s declaration of war on the United States on 11 December 1941 might count as the single greatest act of idiocy in this or any other war. However, the military leadership of the Wehrmacht was jointly deficient with the political leadership, as when both planned the invasion of the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa on 22 June 1941, demonstrating strategic deficiency bordering on incoherence and wishful thinking – or as Nazi propagandists called the latter, triumph of the will.


The Nazi military leadership “had more time to prepare for Operation Barbarossa than any other offensive of the war and it was given twice as long to perfect its plan of campaign than it allowed for the campaign itself” (10 months as opposed to 5 months).


And yet their final plan of campaign was incoherent – “by any standard…the selection of three objectives on divergent axes of advance at distances between 500 and 900 miles from start lines, followed then by a chronic inability to decide between them, constitutes a cardinal weakness of Operation Barbarossa”. Worse, it was wishful thinking – that the Soviet Union would conveniently collapse in a few weeks. From the start, “staff planning showed that Germany lacked the means to conduct a campaign of five months in a theatre 900 miles in depth and 800 miles across its front”. Incredibly, this somehow became an assumption that six weeks would suffice for the destruction of the Soviet Union. “The amazing inconsistency inherent in this view – what could not be achieved, even in five months, could therefore be done in six weeks” can of course be explained by the systematic strategic deficiencies of Nazi Germany, not least its belief in the ‘the triumph of the will’. Essentially, a realization that they would be in serious trouble if the campaign went beyond six weeks, became an assumption that they would therefore win it in six weeks.


Pictured – rare footage of Nazi Germany’s military planners six weeks after their invasion of the biggest nation in the world

That same wishful thinking – “the belief in will as the decisive factor in the conduct of war, and the inability to contemplate effective resistance and anything other than total, easy victory” – characterized Nazi Germany’s strategic deficiency for the war itself. As I said before, it’s a pity that someone in Nazi Germany’s political or military leadership didn’t query that their basic plan was to fight the same war they had lost twenty years previously. But then, Nazi Germany’s strategic deficiency essentially led to its failure to understand the limits of military force in war, and of national power within the world. The former manifested itself in Nazi Germany’s persistent failures in anything that WASN’T the use of military force in war – diplomacy and co-ordinating with allies, intelligence and correctly estimating adversaries, logistics and economic production. The latter manifested itself in what was ultimately its evil Nazi ghost dance – romping around Europe curb stomping its smaller, weaker neighbours until the true world powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, became involved and crushed it like a bug. There’s a word for those who believe in the triumph of the will in war – losers.



Gone with the Wehraboo – 10 Reasons Why Nazi Germany was Full of Crap Fighting WW2




If I have one pet hate in history (and indeed I have many), it is the myth of German military proficiency in the Second World War. All too often in popular history and culture, or the dankest recesses of the internet, there is a virtual fetishization of the Nazi German military in the Second World War – a fetishization best captured (in one of my favorite sub-reddits) by the derogatory term ‘wehraboo’, a conflation of the internet slang term ‘weeaboo’ for excessive anime fandom (or of Japanese culture generally), and Wehrmacht, the title for the military forces of Nazi Germany.  Wehraboos tend to present Nazi Germany as the equivalent of the bar fighter who takes on all comers and beats them – until they all pile up on him in the end.



Of course some might see such ‘wehraboo’ fetishism as harmless, except to good history, but all too often it tends to be aligned with a broader fetishization of the Nazi regime – including by those in the so-called alt-right or Alt-Reich and outright neo-Nazis. Fortunately, I came across the antidote to such fetishism in my formative years – The Great Crusade by H.P. Willmott, still my favorite single-volume history of the Second World War. As Willmott stated in his preface: “If any single aspect of the Second World War can be said to form the thread of this history, then I must admit to a contempt for that popularly accepted but pernicious myth of German military excellence”. Paraphrasing Oscar Wilde – to lose one world war may be regarded as misfortune, to lose both looks like carelessness. Of course, that’s even more so for Nazi Germany in the Second World War – it’s a pity that someone didn’t query more forcefully that their basic plan was to re-fight the same war Germany lost twenty years previously.


Willmott’s recurring theme is that Germany was very good at fighting, but not very good at war (the converse of the art of war, at least according to Sun Tzu – and the United States of America). One might add that all Germany’s military and political leadership achieved in both world wars was their encirclement and attrition by enemies with superior resources – again, even more so in the second.  In terms of actually waging war, Nazi Germany was hopelessly outclassed by the Allies, matched only by the similar hopelessness of their ally Imperial Japan, but surpassing it in that this was the second time Germany had pulled this crap. Germany’s defeat (in both wars) was a result of its inability to understand war – to understand the limits of military force within war and of German national power within the world. (Willmott observes that’s in contradiction to the one German leader who had understood both – Bismarck. One might add that whenever Germany – or the core Bismarckian state that survived the wars of his idiotic successors – has succeeded, it has done so by essentially following a Bismarckian strategy, but that’s the subject for another rant).


But let’s not overstate Germany’s skill at fighting the Second World War either – here’s ten reasons why.



Stark Ravings – The Art of War





For my stark ravings on the art of war, I continue to recline in my comfortable armchair of hindsight and ruminate about how all history is the art of war or the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.


We’ve looked at how the United States has proved the art of war as winning without fighting (as opposed to Germany, which showed itself to be very good at fighting but not very good at war – that’s what you get for trying to be a Nietzschean Superman, rather than being Batman), as well as how reputed military leaders like Hannibal or Napoleon were actually losers.


As for upcoming features, we’ll look at the art of war in the Second World War, rating Allies and Axis by their eight biggest mistakes in the art of war, as well as a closer look at the American art of war, rating the wars of the United States. We’ll also have a closer look at the lack of German art of war – and just how idiotic Hitler was in the Second World War. You know, apart from all the death and destruction. (When you get right down to it, Hitler and his Nazi regime were two-time losers, hopelessly trying to re-fight the war Germany had lost twenty years previously, except worse – which of course makes neo-Nazis three-time losers, hopelessly trying to re-fight the Second World War on the internet).


And there’s all my favorite oddities of empires (from the safe distance of not actually being in them) – franchise zombie empires, the crappiest European empires for bling and booty (because they were full of crap otherwise), and all the times Europe narrowly escaped being part of someone else’s empire. And overlapping with my top tens of everything, there’s my top ten wars, empires and evil empires in history.



5 More Great Military Leaders Who Were Actually Losers: (5) Isoroku Yamamoto





Isoroku Yamamoto, Marshal Admiral and commander-in-chief of the Imperial Japanese Combined Fleet in the Pacific War, is one of the more ironic military losers in our list, as he had all the right strategic instincts for the art of war. He opposed the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, war with China in 1937 and the alliance with Nazi Germany. Above all, he opposed war with the United States – he had travelled extensively there and was fluent in English, so he well knew the overwhelming superiority of resources the United States could bring to bear against Japan. Of the prospects for such a war, he stated that he would “run wild” for the first six months to a year, but had utterly no confidence after that (which proved to be stunningly accurate). Japan would have done well to follow his instincts. However, it did not and this is where the irony kicks in – when Yamamoto had to wage war against his instincts, he seemed to abandon his strategic sense altogether (and proved his own prophecy).




It was Yamamoto who, upon threat of resignation, insisted upon the attack on Pearl Harbor, envisaging it as part of the decisive battle to destroy the American fleet and more importantly their resolve for war. Of course, it was an impressive tactical success, although it was not as effective as might have been in inflicting more critical damage. By American good fortune, its aircraft carriers were not there for the attack, but the attack also did not target the submarines – forcing the United States to rely on its carriers and its submarines, which proved to be its most effective weapons in the Pacific War. The attack also did not target the naval repair yards and fuel depots, which would have deprived the United States of the logistical means to support its fleet (perhaps even sending it all the way back to the West Coast). However, it was the strategic sense of the attack that was truly disastrous, as Yamamoto should have considered whether to attack the United States at all. Japan could have just attacked the British and Dutch empires in Asia – Japan would have then had access to the oil it so desperately needed in the Dutch East Indies or Indonesia, and it is highly questionable whether the United States would have been able to muster the political resolve to actually go to war to defend the European empires in Asia. Instead, Yamamoto handed war to the United States on a plate.





Yamamoto then compounded his strategic failure in yet another attempt at decisive battle to destroy the American carrier fleet at Midway. Of course, he had substantial misfortune to be fighting an American naval force that had cracked the Japanese codes and was led by two of its best admirals, Chester Nimitz and Raymond Spruance. Yet Yamamoto also frittered away Japanese numerical superiority by an overly complex plan, dispersing his forces too widely (including naval support of an invasion of the Aleutian islands in Alaska) and aborting reconnaissance – allowing the American carrier aircraft to ambush the Japanese carriers and sink four of them, turning the tide in the Pacific War only six months after Pearl Harbor. Yamamoto himself suffered much the same fate, when he was shot down by American planes when his flight plans were revealed through broken codes.










5 More Great Military Leaders Who Were Actually Losers: (4) Winston Churchill





Winston Churchill – man of Britain’s finest hour in the Second World War, it is hard to imagine another political figure who could have led or mobilized Britain as he did to fight on against Nazi Germany (or in the words of John F Kennedy, to have mobilized the English language and sent it off to war). And for that alone, he earns his place as a great wartime leader and heroic figure. He even visually embodied British bulldog determination. Yet aside from that finest hour, most of his career was one long losing streak…




His most notorious loss was the Gallipoli campaign, his grand plan as First Lord of the Admiralty (the typically British title for the commander of the navy) in the First World War to take out Germany’s ally Turkey, an ill-conceived naval attack and landing in the narrow straits directed towards Turkey’s capital – both of which failed (despite the legendary Australian soldiers in the latter, immortalized as the Anzacs), resulting in Churchill’s dismissal from the Admiralty. However, thereafter Churchill would remain prone to recurring bouts of Gallipoli disease (Gallipolio? Gallipolitis? Gallipolepsy?), indeed typically in the same Mediterranean location, almost as if to redeem his lost strategic vision of victory against Germany’s “soft underbelly” – quixotic military adventures away from the main enemy front, typically raids or landings, half-assed and half-baked in concept or execution with over-romanticized consequences of victory. (He would also remain prone to screwing over Australia, such as his resistance to Australia recalling its troops to fight off Japanese invasion in the Pacific War – and even then he tried to divert them to defend the British Raj in India).



He was again appointed to the First Lord of the Admiralty at the commencement of the Second World War. Ironically, he was involved in another Gallipoli-style fiasco – the campaign (and defeat) in Norway – which this time saw him replace Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister. Yet despite the finest hour in the Battle of Britain (and the less romanticized but more sustained Battle of the Atlantic), Churchill presided over Britain’s long losing streak for the first years of war. There was of course the defeat in France in 1940, although Churchill had little responsibility for that. However, he did bear a large responsibility for defeat in the Mediterranean in 1941. The British had rebounded with a stunning victory over the Italians, Germany’s comic sidekicks, in North Africa. Just as the British were about to wind it up, Churchill succumbed to another fit of Gallipoli fever – pulling out troops to send to Greece, so that the remaining troops in North Africa were then defeated by the German Afrika Korps under Rommel AND the troops sent to Greece were not enough to stop invasion and defeat by the Germans there. 1942 saw yet more defeats in the war against Germany, as well as the worst defeats in British military history by the Japanese.



From 1942, the tide turned to British victories, as the weight of the Americans and the Russians was also brought to bear against Germany. Yet even then, Churchill would remain prone to Gallipoli fever with proposals for military adventures going nowhere, particularly in the Mediterranean – contrary to the American focus on the cross-Channel invasion of France, which would actually be decisive. In 1945, Churchill returned to his losing streak – having won the war in Europe, he then lost the election as the British voted him out of office. However, that was not before his last and biggest Gallipoli fever dream, although in fairness one that even he recognized as a dream – plans for war against the Soviet Union and the Red Army that had primarily defeated Germany, or Operation Unthinkable, presumably because Operation Raving Insanity was already taken…










5 More Great Military Leaders Who Were Actually Losers: (3) Robert E. Lee



Robert E Lee, iconic general and hero of the Confederacy in the American Civil War, was immortalised as a car in The Dukes of Hazzard (second only to a pair of shorts) as a tribute to his military reputation – as demonstrated by his tactical proficiency in winning most of his battles, outfighting superior Union armies. However, like many other great military leaders who were actually losers, his strategic judgement was more flawed. While he demonstrated his tactical skill in defence, his two major offensives into Union territory resulted in two failures that were turning points in the war.


The first was the Battle of Antietam. This failure was not so overt, as the battle was tactically inconclusive and Lee was able to withdraw back into Virginia despite facing larger Union forces – but it was a strategic defeat because it ended Lee’s invasion of Union territory (and gave President Lincoln the opportunity for the Emancipation Proclamation). The second was that little thing known as the Battle of Gettysburg, where Lee’s failure was much more evident – the Confederate forces were defeated and beaten back, the end of the their offensive capacity and the start of their long retreat that ended with defeat.


In this, Lee was symbolic of the South itself, which sought to compensate for strategic inferiority in industry, population and resources with allegedly superior martial qualities and Southern ‘honour’ , paying the price in total defeat. The South might not enjoy the comparison, but historian H.P.Willmott draws the parallel with the Pacific War 80 years later, where the United States defeated an opponent with similar strategic inferiority and delusions in the same duration of about 4 years in much the same way. Unfortunately, Lee has also been adopted as a symbol for advocates of the so-called Lost Cause of the South and neo-Confederates, who seek to romanticise the South in the Civil War, typically by forgetting about the slavery part. I’m not sure that Lee would have stood for that, but surely the South can commemorate its history and those who paid the price for it, while acknowledging that they were on the wrong side of that war in more ways than one.







5 More Great Military Leaders Who Were Actually Losers: (2) Richard the Lionheart





King Richard I of England had his reputation as a great military leader in his very epithet – Richard Coeur de Leon (because English kings then were as much French as English) or Richard the Lionheart. He won his historical reputation as one of the leading Christian commanders of the Third Crusade, so much so that it is typically portrayed almost as a duel between him and the Muslim commander, Saladin – and became so legendary that later writers linked him into the legend of Robin Hood. Because…why not?


And why not make him an actual lion while you're at it?

And why not make him an actual lion while you’re at it?


However, when you look closely, he was something of a loser, although perhaps not the biggest loser in this list. As a king of England, he was the stereotypical absentee monarch, who said he was just popping out for a quick crusade but never came back. Of his ten year reign 1189-1199 AD, he spent as little as six months in England, leaving his brother John to succeed him. I always seem to remember Prince John as a villain in Robin Hood, squeezing the kingdom for money – but it was Richard who primarily saw his kingdom as the expense account for his military adventures, extorting it for revenue and declaring that he would have sold London if he could have found a buyer.




As for the Third Crusade itself, it was reasonably successful in reviving the so-called ‘Latin’ kingdoms or crusader states in the Holy Land, but did not succeed in its primary objective in recapturing Jerusalem – Richard had to settle for a truce with Saladin that left it in the latter’s hands, because his rivals (his brother John and King Phillip II of France) were plotting against him back in England and France. En route back home through Central Europe, he was captured by the Duke of Vienna (who held a personal grudge from the Crusades) and then famously held for ransom by the Holy Roman Emperor in Germany. After his release, he forgave his brother John and spent his remaining reigning years as an English monarch should – waging war in France (against King Phillip II).


Okay, maybe we're getting a little less historical now

Okay, maybe we’re getting a little less historical now


Not as outright a loser as others on these lists, Richard the Lionheart earns his place here as representative of the Crusades and Crusaders in general. I’m not so much talking about the morality of them – say what you will but it certainly made religion more badass.





Rather, I’m talking about their pointlessness and diminishing returns. The Crusades were initially declared with the intention of helping the dwindling Byzantine or eastern Roman Empire against Turkish invaders and reclaim the Holy Land, particularly Jerusalem, for Christianity. The First Crusade fortunately coincided with divisions amongst the Muslim ranks to establish the military crusader states. Ultimately however, the continued success of the crusader states depended on the regular influx of crusaders and their unity, so that they were doomed in the long run as both waned. The real destruction of Muslim power in the Middle East came not from the west, but the east – the Mongols (although even they had their first defeat there). But let’s not be too judgmental, the Crusaders did succeed in mortally wounding one power in the Middle East – the Christian Byzantine or eastern Roman Empire, when the Fourth Crusaders decided that Jerusalem was so last crusade and sacked the Byzantine capital instead. Although the empire eventually evicted the crusaders, it never recovered before falling to a new set of Turkish invaders, the Ottoman Turks, who then swept over Christian Europe, even besieging Vienna – twice – before being beaten back. Nice job breaking it, crusaders…