Hitler and Revenge

You’ve probably heard the saying “revenge is a dish best served cold” (often attributed to the Klingons). Apparently, it’s something Adolf Hitler missed, and today I’m going to make the wild assertion that Hitler lost WWII because he went for revenge too soon.

The first example is the Battle of Britain, in the late summer and fall of 1940. The Luftwaffe outnumbered the Royal Air Force dramatically, so the British had to fight smarter. And for a while it worked, in large part because of radar (which Germany didn’t have yet) and the RAF’s sector stations that relayed the latest radar information to their fighters, allowing them to attack where they’d be most effective. But eventually the Luftwaffe figured out that all the chatter they were hearing over the airwaves was working against them, and they attacked, causing significant damage to six of the seven sectors in southern England. The RAF pilots were outnumbered, overworked, and were suddenly without their secret weapon. The tide of battle started to turn against them.

Then a group of German bombers, out to bomb aircraft factories and oil stores, got lost. They bombed downtown London instead. The British assumed it was deliberate, that Germany had purposely bombed civilians. So they retaliated and bombed Berlin. The raid didn’t cause much damage, but it weakened the German people’s faith in Hitler and Air Marshall Goering, who had promised Berlin couldn’t be bombed. Hitler was furious. So rather than finishing off the RAF by attacking airfields, radar and section stations, and aircraft factories, Hitler focused on English cities. The civilian causalities were awful, but British public opinion stiffened against Germany and the Royal Air Force lived to fight another day. Germany never achieved complete air superiority over Great Britain, and the planned invasion of England never occurred.

The second example occurred the next spring. German diplomats battered the government of Yugoslavia into signing an alliance. When the Yugoslav diplomats returned home, they were quickly overthrown by the Yugoslav military, backed by popular support. The new Yugoslav regime revoked the treaty, but offered to sign a nonaggression pact. That wasn’t enough for Hitler. His military was gearing up for a massive invasion of the Soviet Union, but he postponed it so the German army could punish the Yugoslavs for being so uncooperative.

Germany subdued Yugoslavia in the month of April, 1941. It was a successful military venture, but it delayed the attack on the Soviet Union by at least four weeks. When interviewed after the war, most members of the German military with insight into the Barbarossa attack estimated that they’d only needed an extra three to four weeks to finish off the Red Army before the cold of winter halted their Eastern progress. In essence, Hitler lost Russia because he was busy taking out his revenge on Yugoslavia.

Hitler could have finished off the RAF and then bombed England as much as he wanted. He probably could have invaded (and won). And Yugoslavia could have been humbled after the Red Army was defeated. But in some ways it’s a good thing Hitler was so quick to anger. Can you imagine how the war would have played out if Britain had been invaded and the Soviet Union defeated? I have a hard time believing that a D-day type invasion launched from Iceland could have been successful.

Aren’t we glad Hitler didn’t watch Star Trek?