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OK, so it's a "WWII What If" question, I have searched on here and cannot find an example of this being asked before, which I find surprising. Maybe my searching abilities aren't very good.

Anyhow, it's an interesting question that bears some thorough investigation, so humour me.

There are dozens of reasons why the Axis lost the war, but what if the planning and execution and just plain luck had been different?

For example:

Hitler had assumed Chamberlain would have been in charge of Great Britain and would have surrendered once France fell. Because of this he hadn't bothered to equip the Kriegsmarine with any landing craft. This meant that Operation Sealion was never a feasible option. What if he had foreseen this situation and prepared his forces accordingly?

Germany spent a lot of resources building naval forces that were never effectively used, several battleships, aircraft carriers (although none were completed two keels were laid down). What if this resource had been spent on more submarines so the Germans had twice as many in operation early in the war.

From what information I've read, Germany scaled back a lot of research and development around 1940/1941 as the war was going so well. For example their jet fighter programme on the ME262 was almost stopped for over a year, they had a prototype of this flying before the war started. Had they not been so over-confident and continued their R&D would this have affected the outcome of the war? Specifically regards the ME262 they could have had these flying in large numbers in 1943 while air-superiority over Europe was still in the balance and before the Allies could have seriously damaged their oil production facilities.

The Germans were so arrogant that they thought the ENIGMA machine could not be cracked, what if they'd been a little more humble and kept producing new encryption devices?

What if Hitler had allowed his generals to be generals rather than interfering all the time with his "no retreat" orders etc.

What if Hitler had ordered his forces to concentrate on capturing Moscow right from the start and launched Barbarossa a few weeks earlier rather than wasting time helping the Italians in the Balkans?

Hitler could have used his influence with Franco to allow German forces to transit Spain and then capture Gibraltar.

The German arms industry organised in such a way that while the competition amongst itself was healthy, it led to a situation where the German weapons, especially tanks were very over-engineered. On paper the Tiger was better than the Russian T32 in a one-on-one fight but the Russians could produce far more tanks than the Germans partly due to the way their arms industry was organised and also due to their over-engineered solutions.

What if Germany and Japan had been more coordinated, with R&D and actual combat - Japanese second front against Russia, or at least a reasonable threat of it.

What if the attacks on Pearl Harbour had been a few days earlier/later when the US carriers were in port?

Are there any WIDELY DISCUSSED theories about how the Axis might have won World War II?

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-1 and voted to close: See meta discussion. –  Sardathrion Mar 19 '12 at 10:50
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T32 ? What the heck is a T32 ? –  DVK Mar 20 '12 at 11:15
    
Those are the russian tanks, the T34 was the best. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T-34 –  Hermann Ingjaldsson Mar 20 '12 at 11:51
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Why not play Hearts of Iron 3 and find out for yourself? –  Sardathrion Mar 20 '12 at 12:30
    
T32 = T34, sorry, I get these imaginative tank names mixed up ;) –  davidjwest Mar 20 '12 at 13:22
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5 Answers

They didn't stand a chance.

"Hitler had assumed Chamberlain would have been in charge of Great Britain and would have surrendered once France fell. Because of this he hadn't bothered to equip the Kriegsmarine with any landing craft."

He didn't have any, nor did anyone else in 1939. It took the Western Allies until 1944 to develop amphibious landing techniques advanced enough for crossing the English channel (OK, maybe the Americans developed something earlier in the Pacific, but not in 1940/41).

Even with the landing craft, the Royal Navy was far too strong for Sealion to succeed. Kriegsmarine knew this all the time, and consequently they weren't enthusiastic about the operation.

"Germany spent a lot of resources building naval forces that were never effectively used, several battleships, aircraft carriers (although none were completed two keels were laid down). What if this resource had been spent on more submarines so the Germans had twice as many in operation early in the war."

Submarines need stuff like heavy metals for batteries, which Germany had problems getting access to. Also, submarines alone were not enough to win the war. Certainly not to invade the UK.

"What if Hitler had ordered his forces to concentrate on capturing Moscow right from the start"

So what if they captured Moscow? The Russians relocated their industry to the East.

"and launched Barbarossa a few weeks earlier"

Not possible. Soviet Russia had bad roads. In spring, they were muddy and the passage would have been too difficult for the mostly horse-drawn German army. Germans had to wait until June for the ground to become dry.

"The Germans were so arrogant that they thought the ENIGMA machine could not be cracked, what if they'd been a little more humble and kept producing new encryption devices?"

They did, but the Allies were too good at cracking them.

"Hitler could have used his influence with Franco to allow German forces to transit Spain and then capture Gibraltar."

That would mean war between UK and Spain. Franco didn't want this at all.

"On paper the Tiger was better than the Russian T32 in a one-on-one fight"

But much less reliable. A lot of Tigers broke down in the field and the Germans were not able (didn't think about it?) to organize a reliable supply of spare parts. Some parts had to be custom-made in the factory for each tank. German arms industry was much too reliant on small manufacturing companies and was unable to mass-produce tanks.

"What if Germany and Japan had been more coordinated, with R&D and actual combat - Japanese second front against Russia, or at least a reasonable threat of it."

The Germans had enough problems coordinating different branches of their own military. And Japan had its hands full fighting the Americans.

"What if the attacks on Pearl Harbour had been a few days earlier/later when the US carriers were in port?"

A lot of ships "sunk" in Pearl Harbour were later raised and brought back to service.

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Thanks, good answer. I think had Moscow fallen it would have caused Russia problems as it's such an important hub for communications. This would have hampered their efforts to launch counter-offensives and perhaps ultimately they would have been forced to surrender, but I suspect you'll disagree with me. Thanks for an interesting answer, I pretty much agree with everyone else you've said. –  davidjwest Mar 17 '12 at 16:05
    
I'll vote this up when I get enough rep, thanks again. –  davidjwest Mar 17 '12 at 16:05
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I disagree based on historical precedent: Napoleon did capture Moscow. Didn't help him a lot. –  quant_dev Mar 17 '12 at 16:23
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"Germans were not able (didn't think about it?) to organize a reliable supply of spare parts" - don't forget about the length supply lines. Germans were fighting more than 1000 km away from their factories. Supply issues were inevitable. –  Wladimir Palant Mar 19 '12 at 9:49
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Americans were fighting thousands of kilometres from their factories, but they were able to solve these issues, because their tanks were truly mass-produced. –  quant_dev Mar 19 '12 at 10:06
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I agree with quant_dev - the Axis powers didn't stand a chance. However, my argumentation is somewhat different.

It is very unlikely but not entirely impossible that Germany would have captured Britain under different circumstances. E.g. Britain is stupid enough to leave its army fighting in Europe where it is captured by Germans leaving Britain defenseless, all that while Germans bombers neutralize British airports - so the German invasion of Britain succeeds (a hard feat even under these circumstances). Britain capitulates. And now what? I can see three hypothetical developments (which are themselves not very realistic for various reasons). Each of them would prolong the war compared to what really happened but none would allow the Axis powers to prevail.

Option 1: The Axis powers attack US while Soviet Union is happy about the imperialists destroying each other and abstains. However, defeating the US is impossible - it would require transporting several million soldiers to a different continent within a very short time. Meaning that the Axis attempt a sea blockade against the US while the US which is economically more powerful increases the size of its navy (as really happened on a more limited scale after the attack on Pearl Harbor). In the end the outcome is inevitably the one we know, it might merely take longer: US Navy controls the sea, Japan loses ground until its final defeat. Germany is unlikely to be defeated directly (without Britain there is no platform for an Allied invasion) but it still essentially loses - it is locked in Europe. See Option 3 for further development.

Option 2: The Axis powers attack Soviet Union while the US leans back to watch Communism finally being defeated. With most of the Soviet army busy on the Western front, the Japanese troops quickly occupy Mongolia and eastern parts of the Soviet Union - Chita, Ulan-Ude. Their advance slows down soon however, the supply lines are simply far too long in addition to a complete lack of usable roads. Somewhere around Irkutsk they get stopped then. But it still weakens the Russian Western front and allows the German troops to advance further - the Russian counterattack fails and Germans take Moscow. But they don't get much further than that before winter, that's technically impossible given the bad roads and huge distances. So the Soviet government and industry relocate, the Soviet forces get a chance to consolidate. And then the inevitable happens: Blitzkrieg doesn't work if there are no roads, any German advance will come at a high price. The front line gets longer which doesn't help either. And once the Soviet Army doesn't attempt to hold territory by any means possible the German troops have lost - occupying territory doesn't help because the Soviet Army can still retreat and strike back. Compared to Germany or Japan the Soviet Union has almost unlimited manpower - so the tide turns and the German and Japanese troops have to retreat. While Soviet Union might be too weak to invade Japan after that, they will most definitely occupy Germany even without US help. Hitler counted on the Soviet regime being unstable and collapsing soon after his invasion - but he was proven wrong by the historical events and I see no reason to believe that Stalin would have given up on his power if the course of the war were different.

Option 3: Germany decides to stop the war at this point and focuses on stabilizing its empire instead. However, the war didn't come cheap and Germany had severe financial difficulties even before the war. So Germany attempts to bleed out occupied territories to ensure the necessary degree of wealth in Germany and Austria. This severely damages the economy of the occupied territories, the population suffers. This leads to an inner instability and Germany has to devote an increasing number of troops to policing (which again stresses its economy). Eventually the Soviet Union decides that the time is right and "liberates" Europe. The German economy can no longer support a lengthy war by then and Germany collapses quickly.

To sum up: I don't see how the Axis could have won the war against either Soviet Union or US, even if they only had to fight one of them. And I am pretty sure that Germany couldn't survive for long without a war. So the defeat of the Axis powers was indeed inevitable, the question was merely "how and when?".

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"E.g. Britain is stupid enough to leave its army fighting in Europe where it is captured by Germans leaving Britain defenseless" As long as Royal Navy was afloat, Britain was not defenceless. "all that while Germans bombers neutralize British airports" Half of Britain was outside Luftwaffe's range in 1940. –  quant_dev Mar 19 '12 at 10:07
    
Also: in 1945, the US has nuclear weapons, making the defeat of both Japan and Germany virtually certain. –  quant_dev Mar 19 '12 at 10:10
    
@quant_dev: This is all extremely hypothetical, as I said. But you are overstating the significance of nuclear weapons - while they did have a demoralizing effect, they didn't change the course of the war. There were just too few of them, the mass-production didn't start until several years after the war. –  Wladimir Palant Mar 19 '12 at 10:23
    
@WladimirPalant: You seem to be assuming that Japanese knew the US didn't have more nuclear weapons. I think you also are undervaluing the impact the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had on the Japanese psyche. While they didn't produce a different outcome, they certainly hastened it. Had the US dropped an atomic bomb on Munich, it's entirely conceivable that the Germans would have reacted in similar fashion. –  Erik Schmidt Mar 19 '12 at 22:43
    
@ErikSchmidt: I don't think that I am assuming anything. Yes, at the end of the war the atomic bombs played their role. But I have doubts that they would achieve the same effect against an enemy that isn't weakened (e.g. Britain in 1939). You should also consider the fact that efficient delivery systems didn't exist - so air superiority was essential to deliver the bombs. Altogether, my point is simply that there isn't a single weapon that would allow to "magically" win the war. –  Wladimir Palant Mar 20 '12 at 7:53
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If you drop the assumption that WWII had to be a total war ending in complete Axis surrender, things get a bit more interesting.

Imagine if Germany had taken Poland and Czechoslovakia but left France alone, then worked a peace deal with Britain, France, and the USSR.

What if Japan had focused on well and truly taking over all of East Asia, rather than knocking out the US war machine? Without Pearl Harbor as a galvanizing event, America potentially becomes a paper tiger with regard to events in Europe.

Combine both of those alternate scenarios, and Germany walks away having scooped up Poland and Czechoslovakia. Japan takes East Asia. Would a later war between Germany and the USSR have been likely? Yes. Would a war between Japan and the United States been likely? Not necessarily.

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My answer is rather close to Tom's, but I'm coming at it from a bit different angle. If we assume that German and Japanese ambitions weren't quite so grandiose, we can come up with all kinds of potential scenarios in which they win significant victories without incurring the full wrath of the Allies. –  Erik Schmidt Mar 19 '12 at 22:45
    
Theoretically - yes, Germany could have stopped. But if you look at the development of the German national debt in the years leading up to the war, you have to wonder whether they had any other chance but to continue. Also, a peace treaty with France was simply unrealistic - and Hitler's followers would have never accepted it, taking revenge on France was one of the main ideas of the German Nazi movement. –  Wladimir Palant Mar 20 '12 at 7:34
    
Most people don't know this, but Germany was always trying to negotiate peace with Britain and France. –  Hermann Ingjaldsson Mar 20 '12 at 13:14
    
"Theoretically - yes, Germany could have stopped." This entire discussion is theoretical, no? As to your point about Hitler's followers not accepting a treaty with France, we'll never really know, but they proved remarkably compliant with his wishes, even when they knew he'd lost the plot. –  Erik Schmidt Mar 20 '12 at 15:32
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They would have won.
And there are a number of ways in which they could have achieved that.

1. If they would have realised the importance of and gone straight for, the atomic bomb in 1939.

2. In october 1940 the Germans really were wearing the British out. The US had not yet entered the war fully and had Germany continued to send fighters over the channel the British would in a few months time stop being able to take them on and aerial superiority would have fallen to Germany. With aerial superiority a land based invasion would become quite easy at that point. What happened was that all that the German leadership actually saw was their own significant losses, had they realised the panic that was happening across the channel and the damage they were inflicting, they probably would have gotten a morale boost and continued on their strategy of sending mostly only fighter aircraft over, and focusing only on Britain.

3. Had Germany just not invaded the Soviet Union and put all of their efforts on Britain, it is very likely the British would have had to either surrender or accept the peace they had always been offered.

4. Had Germany realised the significancee of the ME262, a near-supersonic fighter aircraft, they could have gotten it into action and mass production in less than a year in 1940. Making who has aerial superiority a no brainer. The ME262 massively outperformed anything the allies had, even in 1944. And the only way for the allies to shoot them down was to shoot it while landing. Which would not be an option in 1940 or 1941.
Me262 source

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Battle of Britain had ended in a stalemate. The Royal Navy was still afloat. Britain's then and former colonies were also part of the war effort. Even if Britain had been invaded, it was highly unlikely that Germany would have won. I don't think it's a forgone conclusion that in Britain vs Germany with Germany focussing on Britain, it could have forced a defeat or a truce with Britain. –  Sid Mar 20 '12 at 2:03
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Your assumptions seem to be all wrong. 1. Nobody could develop nuclear weapons in 1939, it took years of research and even then the numbers were only sufficient to demoralize the enemy, not to defeat him. Germans tried demoralizing with V2, didn't work. 2./3. The Germans realized that they didn't have any chance to defeat Britain - that's why the invasion of Soviet Union was necessary in the first place. 4. Even if ME262 could be created sooner (which is doubtful), it was far too expensive and not meant for mass-production - producing significant counts to change something was impossible. –  Wladimir Palant Mar 20 '12 at 7:21
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1. I'm saying that if the Germans had put all their effort into the atomic bomb, starting in 1939, the would have won. 2. Japan surrendered just a few days after the Americans dropped the bomb, that's not being demoralising, that's forcing surrender. 3.That doesn't make any sense, if you can't invade one does not mean you have to invade another. 4. The generals in the German army decided to halt the development of the me262 in 1939(ouch) source:en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… –  Hermann Ingjaldsson Mar 20 '12 at 8:26
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Certainly Germany was ahead of the US in the race to develop the Atom bomb in 1939. Also they scaled back research into the ME262 for over a year, had they not done so then arguably they would have arrived in large numbers before air-superiority was already lost. –  davidjwest Mar 20 '12 at 13:21
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@Hermann: It took the world's absolute best scientific minds of the time 4 years to come up with the Atomic Bomb. None of those people would have been willing to work for the Nazis on the bomb unless forced to and all of them had immigrated by then. Even if Germany had focused on the bomb, I doubt they could have beaten the US. A lot of scientific talent had left/been forced out of Germany by that time. Not to mention that Germany really didn't have the amount of resources the US had. –  Sid Mar 21 '12 at 22:22
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I know of at least one widely contemplated scenario whereby the Axis could have won in 1941 or 1942.

In 1941, the German attack on Russia as set back for several weeks because of a revolt in the Balkans. One possibility is that instead of attacking Russia, they should have continued south east, through Turkey, also reinforcing Rommel in Egypt via Cyprus. They could have been in Persia by fall, 1941, and British India by winter 1942, thereby linking up with the Japanese, who actually ended up on in the Indian border in April, 1942.

The other initiative came from the Japanese in 1942. They should have refrained from bombing Pearl Harbor and attacking U.S. possessions in the Philippines, while overrunning Indochina and the East Indies (Indonesia) as they actually did. When the were halted on the Indian border, Admiral Yamamoto planned to seize Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka) and outfk the British with an amphibious landing (Inchon Korea style), before he was halted by American intervention. The Japanese might have occupied India in the summer of 1942, and Persia in the fall. If Hitler had put all of Army Group South's might behind the push through the Caucasus (instead of diverting Army Group B to Stalingrad), the Germans could have linked up with the Japanese in Persia, also cutting off the Soviet Union's oil supplies.

http://seekingalpha.com/instablog/399221-graham-and-dodd-investor/83925-how-japan-tried-to-win-world-war-ii

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Berlin to Tehran is 3000 miles! to Delhi it's almost 5000 miles! I highly highly doubt that Germany could have conquered that much area in just a year and sustained such a massively long supply chain. Also going through Iran would have involved going through Afghanistan. The geography of Afghanistan is horrendous! There's simply no way that within 1-2 years Germany could have done that much. Also it would have greatly weakened the defense in the West (as the Soviet invasion also did). Such a weakening of the European force would also be an open invitation to the USSR to attack. –  Sid Mar 20 '12 at 2:10
    
I meant "going through Iran to India", not "going through Iran" –  Sid Mar 20 '12 at 2:17
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The distance that the Japanese troops would have to travel in this scenario isn't exactly small either. Occupying India in one summer? That's about as realistic as occupying the Soviet Union in one summer. And why do you think that the Soviet Union would stand by and watch Germany occupy Iran? –  Wladimir Palant Mar 20 '12 at 7:44
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'Also going through Iran would have involved going through Afghanistan'- Afganistan has never been propertly conquered, either. –  nicodemus13 Jun 14 '12 at 16:28
    
@Sid: Turkey, Iraq, and Iran together represent 1.0-1.1 million square miles. Germany conquered two-thirds of that in the Soviet Union in six months of 1941. They (probably) could have conquered an equivalent "two thirds," of these countries ending on the (west) border of modern Pakistan by January 1942. Japan was on the Indian (east) border by April 1942. Japan and Germany could have met in somewhere in "India" (bypassing Afghanistan) sometime in 1942. –  Tom Au Apr 27 '13 at 0:44
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