Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse
by Richard L. DiNardo, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, 2006, $34.95
World War II was a coalition war that pitted the Axis powers against what Winston Churchill labeled the “Grand Alliance.” The postwar collapse of this Grand Alliance and advent of the Cold War tended to mask how important and effective the wartime coalition had actually been, as did the tendency within each victorious nation to emphasize its own critical role in victory while downplaying the contributions of its allies.
In the past few decades, however, scholars have explored in detail the Grand Alliance and emphasized its many wartime successes rather than its postwar failures. Indeed, some historians have argued that the ability of its members to compromise and cooperate in military operations, despite manifold and fundamental differences in goals and methods, constitutes an extraordinary achievement—among the most notable in the entire history of coalition warfare as well as one of the key reasons the Allies won the war.
Similarly, the utter failure of the Axis in this regard constitutes one of the most notable failures of coalition warfare and one of the most important reasons for Axis defeat. Although Germany, Italy and Japan possessed a common fascistic ideology and desire to overthrow the international status quo by force in order to conquer extensive empires, they never coordinated their military plans and operations. Had they done so, they might very well have been able to defeat their adversaries—or at the very least achieve a favorable negotiated settlement.
Previous scholarly works have explored the many reasons for this Axis failure, but usually in the “macro” sphere of grand strategy. In Germany and the Axis Powers, a new volume in the University Press of Kansas’ “Modern War Studies” series, Richard DiNardo explores the failure on the “micro” level of specific military operations that Germany conducted with its European Axis allies. This highly detailed military history provides extensive specific evidence to support previous generalizations regarding German incompetence in the realm of coalition warfare. Focusing on combined military operations with Italy, Finland, Hungary and Romania between 1940 and 1943 (Hitler tellingly did not even have plans for combined operations with Japan), DiNardo details a record of abject failure (with Italo-German operations in North Africa under Erwin Rommel as the major exception) and eventual disaster.
A professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Marine Corps Staff and Command College, DiNardo has written extensively on the WWII German army and its efforts at coalition warfare. His prodigious research focuses on German military records and includes extensive archival and published material in German and English. His analysis covers and compares specific combined operations by the armies, navies and air forces of Germany and its allies.
DiNardo finds Nazi Germany’s coalition failures in WWII have deep roots in Prussian and imperial German history. Particularly noteworthy was the lack of emphasis on coalition warfare in German officer training and, during World War I, the cultural contempt German officers held for their Austrian ally and the poor coordination between their own army and navy, a problem that augured ill for coordination with other nations’ military forces. Nazi racial ideology and Hitler’s personality only intensified these problems. Consequently, and in stark contrast to the Allies, the Germans never held a multilateral summit with their allies during the war to discuss combined strategy, never created a Combined Chiefs of Staff to plan global coalition war, and never developed a Lend-Lease type program to provide their allies with equipment and related resources. Indeed, they never developed any mechanism for combined operations and seldom practiced anything approaching unity of command. Instead they followed a policy of bilateral arrangements and “parallel war” that was anything but parallel in reality. Indeed, such policies led to unnecessary confusion and complexity as well as allies working at cross-purposes. These problems were compounded by inadequate and arrogant German liaison officers, consistent German refusal to meet their bilateral supply agreements, and even theft of supplies from allies by German troops. By early 1943, defeats at Stalingrad and in North Africa resulted in the virtual destruction of the Axis as a military alliance and the ensuing collapse of Germany’s European allies.
As DiNardo readily admits, his detailed work “proceeds from the assumption that the reader knows a good deal about the Second World War.” Those readers will find this an exceptionally informative and valuable exploration of one of the major reasons for German defeat—and one of the most striking contrasts between the Allied and Axis war efforts.
Originally published in the April 2007 issue of World War II Magazine. To subscribe, click here.