Mistakes of World War 2
|The Three Leaders of the Allies: Joseph Stalin Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill|
This article is the fourth part in a series on the greatest mistakes of World War II. At this point in the war it is 1942 and America, Great Britain and the Soviet Union are united against Germany, Italy and Japan. Many of the great mistakes of the war had already been made, but there were still mistakes that the Axis made that shortened their life, even if they were already doomed to defeat. I will discuss three mistakes that were made in 1942 – the failure of the Germans to press the attack by the U-boats, the Japanese attacks in the Pacific, and Hitler’s refusal to retreat from Africa.
|Allied Merchant Ship is sunk|
The main chance that Germany had to keep the war going after they missed their chance to invade Britain, was to cripple the Allies with their U-boats. England does not have enough land to provide for itself, so much of their food must be imported. England spent a lot of time and money working to defeat the attacks of the German submarines, but when the United States joined the war it gave the Germans a much bigger target, and America was not prepared to meet the attack. Then Germany made the mistake of not sending enough of their submarines to the American coastal waters. Even though they had only 12 to 15 boats in those waters, that small amount sank so many merchant ships that they nearly crippled the Allied war effort. Hitler refused to send more U-boats because he was planning an attack on Norway. He said, “Norway is the zone of destiny in this war.”1 He was wrong, and therefore he missed his chance to destroy the Allied shipping. The German captains reported that ten times as many submarines could still find targets. Churchill said, “The U-boat attack was our worst evil. It would have been wise for the Germans to stake all upon it. ... 'In politics when you have got hold of a good thing, stick to it.' This is also a strategic principle of importance. Just as Goering repeatedly shifted his air targets in the Battle of Britain in 1940, so now the U-boat warfare was to some extent weakened for the sake of competing attractions.”2
|Japaneses Battleship burns|
War in the Pacific
By the end of March, 1943 Japan had had some amazing victories. They had crippled, though not destroyed, the American fleet at Pearl Harbor, and had captured Hong Kong, Siam, Malaya and the Dutch East Indies. This was the territory they had planned to capture before the war. But since their success had been so quick, they decided to continue their attacks to New Guinea and many smaller islands. This would give them bases from which to continue and attack Australia and Hawaii. If they were successful in this gamble, they would not have necessarily won the war, but they would have put off their defeat by many months. Churchill wrote:
They never comprehended the latent might of the United States. ... In the actual result they exchanged a fairly strong and gripped advantage for a wide and loose domain, which it was beyond their power to hold; and, being beaten in this outer area, they found themselves without the forces to make a coherent defense of their inner and vital zone.3
The Japanese and United States fleets met at the Coral Sea in May 1942, and the Japanese invasion force was turned back with losses on both sides. They met again at the Battle of Midway, and while the Japanese fighters were defending against the American torpedo bombers, the dive bombers came and sank four Japanese aircraft carriers. The Americans lost one carrier, but the Japanese fleet was crippled. This was the turning point of the War in the Pacific. Japan overextended herself, and from that point the Allies began to conquer the islands Japan held in the Pacific.
Battle in Africa
The third influential event of 1942 was the Allied victory in Africa. There had been fighting there for some time, and after some British victories Rommel led an attack that drove the British troops back to the border of Egypt. Commanders were changed, and they were able to drive back the enemy. At the same time there was Operation Torch, an attack by England and America on French North Africa. The French had been conquered by the Germans and were out of the war, but the Allies were afraid that the Germans would occupy the French-held territory in Northern Africa. The landings began November 9th, and the troops continued to press through Egypt overwhelming resistance until they were able to join the troops that had come from Egypt. One of Hitler’s main problems is he did not know when to retreat. He tried to hold onto Africa to the last, so he lost the entire army there. The Axis suffered around 300,000 casualties and over 200,000 prisoners. Churchill said,
No one could doubt the magnitude of the victory of Tunis. It held its own with Stalingrad. Nearly a quarter of a million prisoners were taken. Very heavy loss of life had been inflicted on the enemy. One-third of their supply ships had been sunk. Africa was clear of our foes. One continent had been redeemed.4Conclusion
These three mistakes of 1942 – Hitler’s failure to send more subs to the Atlantic, the Japanese expansion and defeat at Midway, and the failure of the Axis to retreat from Africa, doomed the Axis cause to defeat.
1. Churchill, Winston. The Second World War. (London: Cassell & Co. Ltd 1948) volume 4, p. 97
2. Ibid, p. 110
3. Ibid, p. 214
4. Ibid, p. 698