New Turning Point
More than 100 readers responded to our article “What Was the Turning Point of World War II?” [http://historynet.wpengine.com/what-was-the-turning-point-of-world-war-ii.htm] (July/August) by Laurence Rees, submitting their own turning points by mail and joining the debate at WorldWarII.com. Some pointed to small errors that had big consequences, like the inadvertent bombing of London that launched the Battle of Britain. Others chose catastrophes like Kursk and Pearl Harbor. More than a few said the Axis lost the conflict before it began, due to Hitler’s incompetence and the United States’ “Germany ?rst” strategy. See how the responses break down at left and click on each segment for a selection of reader comments:
The Third Reich could never have ruled Europe for its predicted thousand years without conquering England. The Royal Air Force victory in the Battle of Britain postponed indefinitely Germany’s Operation Sea Lion invasion of England, and led directly to the end of World War II. This British victory allowed American, Canadian, and British forces to gather and organize unmolested on British soil, preparing for Operation Overlord, their June 1944 D-Day invasion of Europe. This was the Second Front which forced Germany to fight on her east and west, and spelled her doom.??The Royal Air Force began Germany’s defeat. From 1941 to the end of the war the allies finished Germany’s defeat
The turning point of the war was the Battle of Britian. It kept the geographical British Isles free for the use of the Allies as a forward base of operations against Nazi occupied Europe. A free Britain was able to rouse its Empire into resistance which essentially spanned the globe. A free Britian offered occupied mainland Europe a rallying point for those who could escape to fight on and hope for those who could not. A free Britian offered the world the powerful voice of Winston Churchill, a leader who was not in exile and could beat Hitler at his own charismatic game. A free Britian had the powerful Royal Navy based within striking range of Nazi Europe and able to facilitate convoys with vital goods and equipment to aid, amongst others, Soviet Russia. A free Britian provided the base to intercept and decode Enigma.
It was the first time the Nazis had been stopped in their tracks at campaign level and showed the rest of the free world that the Nazis could be beaten and that there were those who were still prepared to fight on. Those who fought in the battle as part of the RAF would essentially become symbolic for their nationalities as they represented many of the nations that would later combine to form the Allied power that would eventually prevail.
South Yorkshire, United Kingdom
It all depends on what you mean by "turning point." Do you mean ‘the point at which Allied failures turned into consistent successes’ (Stalingrad and the almost simultaneous El Alamein)? Do you mean ‘when the ultimate result became inevitable’ (the entry of the US into the war)? Or do you mean ‘when an enemy failure left the Allies the means to win’?
That would be my choic,e and of course it was the Battle of Britain and the German failure to invade. That gave Churchill his ‘unsinkable aircraft carrier’ from which the RAF and USAAF would dominate German air space and from which we would launch the invasion of Europe. Consider what would have happened if Britain had fallen in 1940.
Old Suffolk, WorldWarII.com
I have to agree with those who point to Germany’s failure to try to take out Britain before the U.S. was fully involved made the overall war almost impossible to win. They let the reeling foe regroup, and struck out at the Soviets, allowing American industry to come to the aid of both. Had Germany been able to defeat Britain, the U.S. would not have been in a position to intervene in Europe.
I Believe that the turning point actually occured in May 1941 in which the German pause at Dunkirk enable the British to continue. The continued threat of attacks in the West and South played key role in the war. Hitler and Germany had to maintain force over such a large area when the forces were needed in the East.
Without a question the turning point was the decision to stop bombing the RAF airfield during the Battle of Britain. History shows that the RAF was within days of complete collapse and the decision to switch to targeting cities was a colossal blunder. One more week of pounding those airfields and the entire world would look different.
One musn’t forget all the equipment that was left at Dunkirk and left abandoned in France. The British would have had very little defense against Rommel’s panzers rolling through the English countryside at will. The Germans had crack paratroops that could have easily seized airfields or any target at will in the UK regardless of Churchill and his speeches. The Irish wanting their own country for many decades would have switched allegiance to the Germans. There would have been no two front war, no place to store all the equipment for D-Day, U-boats could roam the seas at will sinking anything everywhere going to the Russians.
Without a doubt, this was the turning point. It showed the world the Germans could be turned back and stopped and it happened in 1940.
At first I was shocked by the Prof. Tooze’s choice of May 1940 and the early, unexpected victory in France. However, it also started me thinking about its unintended consequences.
One way Germany might have won the war at that point might have been to close the Straights of Gibraltar to British sea traffic, thus severely weakening USSR logistical support later, in 1942. Suez would have been closed. There would have been no need for an extensive North African campaign. India might even have broken away from the Empire, becoming neutral, changing the situation in the East. I have read that this was the basis of a German naval–based strategy proposed in 1941.
In this regard, I think the well known failure of the meeting between Franco and Hitler in Oct. 1940 might well have been a turning point. When Hitler declined to agree to Franco’s demands including post war possession of Gibraltar, and thereby forfeited Spain’s active military alliance in this regard, it eventually allowed sufficient materiel to reach Russia to keep it fighting, and allowed contesting first North Africa, then Sicily, and finally Italy.
I believe the turning point of the war took place even before the war started and before Germany attacked Poland. I am a Christian and in the Bible God tells us that those who persecute His people Israel will be cursed by Him. So because Hitler chose to persecute them he was defeated before the first shot was fired. If Hitler had been smart he would have used the scientific brainpower of the Jewish scientists. Our country did.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
My opinion is when Germany (Hitler) declared war on the United States. With all of the isolationism and anti-war agitation among the U.S. Congress, the U.S. may have never entered into a war against Germany. FDR’s hands were tied by anti-war legislation so he could only assist Britain secretly at the risk of impeachment. Hitler’s unilateral declaration changed all that.? ?Ed Szupel?Newport News, Virginia
I think the turning point of the war was the overall German failure to concentrate their advanced technology on the main chance instead of spreading it all over creation. The Me-262 if placed into mass production as a fighter as soon as possible would have given the Germans air superiority and bought them the time to bring advanced u boats into the North Atlantic earlier. Spending scarce resources on the V-1, V-2, etc produced little toward turning the tide of battle. It was largely Hitler’s fault for micro managing. Speer did miracles for German war production right up until the end, properly focused, that production could have turned the tide for the German military. As for Stalingrad, Moscow, etc., the Romans suffered endless huge defeats but always came back stronger. But they always learned from their mistakes and rapidly changed leaders and tactics, Hitler was problematic for the Germans.
I would say the year 1933 is pivotal. That is the year Hitler was appointed chancellor and transformed the Weimar Republic into the Third Reich. Since Hitler micromanaged the military and did not give his subordinate generals the autonomy to make decisions and strategy on their own, Germany was doomed from the start. Albeit, notwithstanding success early on, Germany was going to be defeated as long as Hitler remained in power. History has proved that point given the multitude of mistakes he made in dictating such strategy. When President Roosevelt died, Hitler and Goebbels thought that good fortune would smile on them, based upon a collapse of the United States Army in Europe, for they believed that Roosevelt was "calling the shots," so to speak. Little did they realize, Roosevelt was not telling the likes of Eisenhower, Bradley, Patton, Hodges, etc., when and where to attack, unlike Hitler with his generals. Imagine if someone else where the chancellor of Germany and left military strategy up to those who know best, his generals, what then would be the outcome?
NO doubt in this mind; THE turning point in WWII was when the German attitude toward the Soviet peoples when they invaded Russia, and the Germans did not make absolute national policy to treat the Soviet peoples as comrades, equals, and present themselves all of the time, in every way, as noble, honorable liberators rather than behave as ruthless savage conquerors and the indigenous population as "sub-humans."
For military success, the supreme commander and his Generals must see eye to eye on the way to conduct the strategies. Hitler became too blinded by arrogance and his maneuvers through Russia were the start of strategic blunders. Therefore the beginning of the Nazi downfall and the turning point of the war.
Konrad Raether, WorldWarII.com
I really enjoyed the article, but I noticed that no criteria were given as to what a turning point was. Naturally enough, each historian had his own opinion was to what a turning point was and then chose an event that met those criteria. I also noted that nearly all the turning points were justified using game theory. While abstract ideas such as morale and what I call "victory disease" are certainly important in war (it is doubtful the US would have fought much longer after Peleliu had revenge not been a factor), so are the concrete factors. If morale was all that was needed to win a war, then the world would be speaking Japanese today.? ?I would like to define a decisive point as the time when, regardless of how well led and organized, a side no longer has a reasonable chance for victory. The chances for victory should account for all relevant factors, abstract and material. A turning point would then be a decisive point when the initially stronger side loses the chance for victory.? ?Using this criteria, which does allow for stalemates, I would say that May of 1940 had two turning points. The first would be the failure of the allies to continue counter-attacking after the battle at Stonne. It was a tactical draw, but Germans could not afford tactical draws. This gave the Germans the few days (in some cases, hours) to regroup for the final battles. Even with the poor leadership and planning, the massive material advantage the allies still had suggested a different outcome prior to 15 May.?
The second turning point came only days later during the Miracle of Dunkirk. By allowing the British Army to escape to fight again, the only path to victory for Germany lay winning the Battle of the Atlantic. Any other outcome would have resulted in a stalemate at best for Germany.? ?If one disregards stalemates as an acceptable outcome for a turning point (a fair argument, given the temperaments of the heads of state of all remaining major powers after May 1940), then I place Kursk as the turning point of World War II. The Germans lost any reasonable chance of conquering the Soviet Union after Stalingrad, but they still had the ability to fight the Soviets to a standstill. After Kursk it was only a matter of time before the Third Reich fell.? ?Now for some important battles that did not meet my criteria. I did not include the Battle of the Atlantic as a turning point because, even after losing it, Germany still had a likely ability to fight the allies to a standstill. Nor did I include any Mediterranean or Pacific events for the same reason: the Germans at that point still could have held on to most of Europe. Operation Barbarossa, even if successful, would not have changed Britain’s ability to survive as long as the sea routes remained open. I also ignore D-Day because Kursk had already taken place. Instead, I view them as events that sped up the inevitable.? ?Raymond J. Mulholland III ?Sumter, SC?
Turning point must mean the point at which the Germans were incapable of winning. To win they must win in Russia. If they win in Russia, an Allied victory would be impossible. German resources sent to Japan would also have made a victory against Japan more difficult (but still likely).
I think that most historians would agree that if a few more things had gone their way, the Germans could still have won in 1942. Stalingrad ended this possibility, thus it must be "the" turning point.
IMHO… the decision to take Stalingrad, not the battle itself, instead of bypassing the city and going for the oil fields.
While the Battle of Britain was a major accomplishment, it was more about saving England than defeating Germany. It definitely provided an Achilles heel that came back to haunt Germany later on.
I would say that the decision to postpone Barbarossa by five weeks to help bail out the Italians was as crucial as any other single event. The Red Army was hanging on by its fingernails when the infamous Russian weather took a turn for the worse. More than a few historians have claimed that it was the weather more than anything else that helped defeat the German army in Russia. What might they have done with another five weeks of good weather?
In the final analysis I feel that the ultimate turning point of WWII was Operation Barbarossa in June 1941. Up until this point, Hitler ran unchecked over most of continental Europe and it is difficult for me to envision the Allies defeating the Axis powers on land without the role the Soviets played from 1941 through 1945.
Once Barbarossa commenced, the size of the task was beyond the German’s ability to wage war on that vast a scale. The distances were too great, the supply lines were too long, the weather was too severe, and the number of soldiers that the Soviet Union could employ was too massive. Even if the Germans had taken Moscow, beaten the Russians in Stalingrad, and seized Kursk, does anyone see the Germans being able to wage a war east of the Urals for years on end?
As much as I want to believe that the U.S. would have beaten Germany "No matter what," victory would not have been possible without the success on D-Day. If the Germans didn’t waste all of those men and supplies at Stalingrad, I doubt that Operation Fortitude and Operation Overlord would have been a success…Then you might say, "Well, that means that your choice of the turning point should be Operation Barbarossa because if Hitler doesn’t invade Russia to begin with, then the rapid decline of German forces never happens." That may be true, but remember at this time many people believed that Russia had no chance to defeat Germany. Even if Operation Barbarossa was lost, Germany could still withdraw in time before the slaughter began at Stalingrad.
Stalingrad made it impossible for the Germans to ever recover. The estimated 841,000 casualties and 900 aircraft lost there could have made the difference in prolonging the war. With more time, the Germans would have continued to mass produce Tiger II’s, jet fighters, new weapons, and other things that just might have made it too tough for the Americans to ever advance through France. Without U.S. air superiority in Europe, the Germans would have continued to mass produce, without having to constantly worry about their factories being bombed.
Ultimately, you can say that Hitler’s blunders cost the Axis powers the war, but Stalingrad really points to the significant turning point of the war.
Aaron Piedmonte, WorldWarII.com
The Balkans and Africa
Mussolini advanced on 10/28/40 and was routed in one week. In short, Hitler had to put off Operation Barbarossa from May 1941 to June 22, 1941. The Russian winter, which had defeated Napoleon, set in and stopped the German advance. This delay was fatal.
Had it not been for the Greeks that endangered Germany’s position in the Balkans, Europe and the Soviet Union might have been speaking German today.
The Germans lost at Stalingrad and El Alamein at about the same time. Rommel retreated west to Tunis and the Americans landed in NW Africa. THEN the Germans poured another army into North Africa. What if instead the Germans had not reinforced North Africa more than to hold open the ports in Tunisia and allow the Afrika Korps to pull out of Africa into Sicily. That would have saved the Germans almost 500,000 men, prevented the U.S. Army from getting the experience it needed, and provided the Germans with a second operational reserve. They would throw one away at Kursk but they threw away two Tiger Battalions (minus one company in Sicily) in North Africa as well as three Panzer Divisions. Hold Sicily with the Luftwaffe operating from there keeping the sea lanes open to allow a withdrawal from North Africa, incidentally keep Italy in the war, vastly increase the defenses in Sicily and Italy and have the resources to reinforce Russia. Would the U.S. Army have insisted that a cross-Channel invasion take place in 1943 if the Germans had pulled out of North Africa instead of fighting there. Would the addition of the divisions lost in Tunis at Kursk allowed the German southern pincer to succeed? Don’t know, but it certainly could have been a decisive turning point in NW Europe and the Russian Front.
Mike Reese, WorldWarII.com
I am surprised that all 17 historians ignored the story you ran a couple of years back about the Russian spy who was a mole in the German embassy staff in Japan. The mole assured Stalin that the Japanese would not attack Russia until the Pacific war was well in hand. This information allowed Stalin to withdraw troops from the Japanese front and commit them to fighting Germany. This single bit of information, given to Stalin, was the turning point. It allowed the U.S. to defeat and occupy Japan without Russian involvement (consider post war repercussions) and allowed Stalin to save Russia from Hitler.? ?James A. Inman?Lodi, CA 95240
The decision by Japan to not attack Russia. Two turning points stem from this decision: One – Russia can move massive amounts of reserves to Stalingrad to start an offensive, which crippled Germany. Two – Japan turned its focus on the U.S. and brought the U.S. into the war, which ultimately developed multiple fronts in the pacific and European Theaters…
What I think really changed the war was the Japs never landed troops in Pearl Harbor and they never attacked Russia from the east, like they were supposed to. That freed up good Russian men to push west to fight the Germans. If the Japs had captured the island, then the priority for the USA could have been the Japs not the Germans. You could make an argument that the Japs helped defeat the Germans indirectly. England and Russia could never have defeated the Germans without the Americans.
Midway of course was the turning point in the Pacific war, without question and if we had lost the battle would, in my thoughts had worldwide consequences. Midway would have been occupied which may have forced the U.S. Pacific Fleet to retreat back to the west coast and caused more troops to be sent to Hawaii and the west coast in case of Hawaii falling and a big threat to the west coast. This could have put off the November 1942 Operation Torch in North Africa because of resources sent to the Pacific thus possibly allowing the Africa Corps to regroup and eventually push the British out of Egypt, thus opening up the oilfields of the middle east. Could have also caused the Russians to redirect troops toward the Middle Eeast, changing the Battle of Stalingrad.
Stan Cohen?Missoula, Mont.
I clearly remember my older brother yelling to me from the house – "We beat the Japs at Midway." All the news up to then had been bad, save for the theatrical Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, and this news was electrifying! Everybody in this country felt a lot better after the battle of Midway and as far as the PTO it was certainly a turning point. Wars can have many.
All good points and not one of them are arguable; however, what if the U.S. would have lost all three carriers at Midway? Guadalcanal wouldn’t have happened; forces destined for Europe would have been diverted west possibly Hawaii. This would have postponed North Africa and eventually overlord; consequently, this would have given the Germans time to develop their weapons previously mentioned. Moreover, the Japanese would have developed the air base on Guadalcanal and Australia would have been attacked. Battle of Britain is a very good point, Stalingrad very good also; but without Midway I doubt there would have been another front for the Germans to worry about thus throwing more forces at the Russians. My vote is Midway.
I have believed that Pearl Harbor was the turning point in WW2 for years. The article in the July/August issue of World War II magazine addressing that issue has nearly convinced me that Moscow was really the turning point. To be fully convinced I need to ask a question: Did U.S. shipments of war material to the USSR after Pearl Harbor have a significant impact on the Soviet’s ability to beat the Germans? If the USSR might have lost to Germany without U. S. material support I’ll stick to Pearl Harbor as the turning point.? ?Who was the real winner at Pearl Harbor? I think that Japan committed unintentional suicide by sinking battleships in shallow water in the middle of a huge shipyard without destroying the repair facilities, dry docks, etc. Five of those "sunken" battleships destroyed the Japanese at Surigao Straight and bombarded Japanese land forces as "McArthur’s Navy." I also believe that the Japanese had a real knack for turning victory into defeat. If the Japanese navy had drawn the fleet out of port to fight at sea they may well have sunk all our ships including Halsey’s carriers in deep water..? ?If the British – American bombing of Dresden killed 25,000 or 250,000 is of no importance. What is important is the reason we bombed a harmless and helpless college town. I believe we intended to tell the Soviet’s: "See what we can do. Stay out of Western Europe or we’ll do it to you." I don’t think we coulda stopped the Soviets short of the English Channel without using the bomb anyway.? ?Robert A. Schmidt
Sun Tzu noted: “No prince prospers by long war.” Clauswitz observed that war is strategy, tactics and logistics. The logistics turning point occurred sometime in 1940 when FDR relented and allowed Lend-Lease and the initial mobilization of the US toward a war footing. The logistic turning point in WW I was similarly, the entry of US arms manufactures into the Allied arsenals. The super weapons of the world wars were US (USSR) farms, factories and energy sources. The side with strategic logistics advantage, which is based on resources and manpower, endures less pain.
With all the discussion and opinions about the Germans versus the Russians, I haven’t heard one word about the Russian Lend-Lease from America—guns, tanks, air power, ammunition. Without it, I don’t believe Russia would have defeated the Germans. We must not forget all the Victory Ships and American Merchant Marine men who sacrificed their lives to deliver this much needed weapons, etc., used to defeat the Germans.
JAMES GODFREY SR, WorldWarII.com? ?In my opinion the Axis, and especially Germany, were defeated before 1941. While RAINBOW 5 was not officially implemented until Dec. 1941, the decision "the judgment that Germany must be defeated first" was formulated much earlier. In opposition to the emotional storm created by the attack upon Pearl Harbor, strategically committing to RAINBOW 5 destined Germany to defeat, albeit a distant ways off.? ?As you said, "…I don’t necessarily expect you to agree."
Michael Lopez?Summerfield, NC
No Single Point
Mr. Rees asks, "What was the Turning Point of the War?" I feel that there were many and the following is my list; reading the Enigma and Purple Codes, Coral Sea, Guadalcanal, El Alamein, Ledo Road, Rapido River, Kursk, breaking the Boscage trap and Patton’s 90 degree turn to the north on Dec 21, 1944. To try to find a single turning point presupposes a single enemy and a circumscribed geography. ?? ?William H. Bacharach ?Pequea, PA
With 2 major theaters of warfare involving different (Axis) opponents, there really can’t be a single turning point. Each theater of operations had its own, separate, turning point.
In Europe, I agree with the majority that it was Stalingrad. Up to that point, the Nazis advanced steadily, although not on all fronts (Moscow, Leningrad). The loss of the ENTIRE Sixth Army group spelled their doom, and the Nazis retreated steadily thereafter. From forward motion to backward motion: what better example of a TURNING point could there be?
In the Pacific, it’s just as obviously Midway, for the same reasons. While Imperial Japan’s fate was sealed by their failure to destroy our carrier fleet at Pearl Harbor (the primary objective of the raid), their advance across the Pacific continued. It was finally halted at the Coral Sea, but only after losing nearly all of their own carriers at Midway did the retreat begin (albeit slowly).
The Forester, WorldWarII.com
There are three turning points depending on the theater. On the Eastern Front, Stalingrad; in the Pacific, Battle of Midway – the entire course of the Pacific war turned in five minutes time. But for the Western Front, the Second Battle of El Alamein. This started the rollback of German forces – first out of Africa – and laying the groundwork for the invasion of Sicily and Italy, and the near simultaneous invasions through southern France and the Normandy invasion.
colin harding, WorldWarII.com
I think it is important to distinguish between turning points and pivotal points—point at which the tide and momentum turned from one of possible Axis victory to probable Axis defeat. I agree with those who mention Stalingrad, El Alamein (the defensive battles, before Lightfoot and Supercharge), and Midway, assuming that definition.
Pivotal points, to me, are other decisions, battles, or operations which have substantial short-term effect on the tide and momentum, but cannot be further defined as turning points. Like turning points, they are also among the interesting "what if" counterfactuals of history.
By baldknobber, WorldWarII.com
I think that there were turning points in each theater and in the air war as well as the Naval war. I also believe that there were multiple turning points. The Nazis losing the momentum was a turning point, and the gaining of the momentum by the Allies was another one. There is no such thing as a single turning point.
By Mr. Whipple, WorldWarII.com