The Biggest “What Ifs” of World War II

Yesterday was the 70th Anniversary of D-Day. D-Day is an amazing accomplishment, something that makes me proud to be an American. However, most of history says that the Nazis were most of the way beaten by the time of the Normandy invasion, the defeat at Stalingrad being the mortal blow.

I’m reading a book about World War II, I watched all of History Channel’s shows about the two World Wars (thankfully they took a break from non stop Pawn Shop marathons) and I listened to Dan Carlin’s take on some things about both wars. History could have turned out much different if a just a few things would have gone a different direction.

What if Hitler listens to Rommel and his other generals and puts more troops and supplies at Normandy?

It’s not like the Germans were completely unaware or a potential invasion at Normandy. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had told the Fuhrer about the British engineers that had been killed scouting the location. Hitler just thought the strike was coming across at the Port of Calais at the narrowest point of the English Channel. Patton was camped at Dover with battalion of rubber tanks purposefully to trick the Germans.

If the Germans had put more defenses at Normandy, it would have at least slowed down the allied advance. The war would have taken a lot longer and more people would have died.

What if the Japanese don’t bomb Pearl Harbor?

The History Channel was adamant that the Japanese were going to do it sooner or later. The Japanese were convinced the U.S. was going to enter the war and if that was going to happen they might as well strike the first blow.

I would equate this to drinking a Jaeger Bomb. Sure it sounds like a good idea at the time, but you almost instantly regret it.

“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve,” Japanese general Isoroku Yamamoto said, although he probably never actually said it.

What if the Japanese attack years later? Does the U.S. wait to engage in Europe as well? Does the extra time give both Axis powers a chance to regroup?

What if Roosevelt doesn’t order much of the fleet to Midway?

According to the History Channel, the U.S. intercepted a message stating that the Japanese were headed to Midway. Roosevelt took a gamble in setting up an ambush.

At the time, U.S. forces were still recovering in the Pacific. The attack on Pearl Harbor was only about seven months old. There was considerable worry that we’d be fighting off a Japanese invasion on the west coast.

What if the Nazis never break the alliance with Russia?

Of all the stupid things Hitler did, and he had quite a few strategic errors, this is by far the dumbest.

Hitler and Stalin had agreed to not fight one another. Apparently, Hitler was so convinced of German military superiority that he didn’t care about fighting on two fronts or fighting in Russia during the winter – you know, the two biggest no-no’s about fighting the Russians.

Even still, if Hitler would have not fixated on Stalingrad and instead marched on Moscow they could have won there too. They were the better-equipped and trained army.

If the Germans weren’t massively weakened by enormous losses on the Eastern front, including the loss of resources, they probably could have repelled a U.S. attack.

How many more people are killed in concentration camps in that scenario? 20 million? More?

What if the Germans win World War I and win it quickly

This is cheating a little bit, but bear with me.

The Germans almost accomplished this and it took a lot of things going wrong to end up in a stalemate in 1914

  • They received resistance from the Belgians in their advance toward France.
  • The Russians mobilized and appeared on the eastern front much quicker than they anticipated.
  • The Austro-Hungarians could not hold back the Serbs.
  • Despite incredible casualties, the French took advantage of a few strategic weak spots in the German line.
  • The English honored their pact with France and shored up the northern end of the line.

If just two of those things don’t happen, maybe the Germans overwhelm the French, beat back the Russians and both France and Russia surrender.

Does World War II happen in that scenario? Hitler was a product of World War I and the shame thrust upon the Germans in defeat. How many people live as a result?

Is the Great Depression even as bad? Germany was a rising world economy before World War I. It would have been bolstered in victory. In this scenario, the U.S. probably battles Germany for Economic supremacy in the 20th Century instead of the Soviet Union. It would not be a given the U.S. would succeed.

Of all the what ifs listed, only if this last what if proved true would the world be a better place.

Well unless it breaks down another way. With swift victory in World War I, the Germans are even more convinced of their military superiority. They continue their advances in weapons and wait to launch a campaign of world domination until about 1950. At that point, their scientists have created several atomic bombs.

Without the German scientists that were available to the U.S. after VE-Day. The U.S. does not have nuclear capability. The Germans rage through Europe conquering one country after another.

The U.S. steps in to intervene and the Germans engage us like we did the Japanese. Through intense naval battles the Germans realize it is better to use an atomic bomb against us than keep fighting. They drop two bombs, one each on Boston and Philadelphia, and say they have two more they’re going to use on Washington D.C. and New York.

We surrender. All of Europe is united under German occupation.

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