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Hitler's Military Strategy & Goals in World War II Video

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  • 0:01 Hitler's Military Strategy
  • 0:44 Motivations
  • 1:58 Early Strategy
  • 3:33 Failures
  • 5:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the motives of Adolph Hitler, Germany's fascist dictator of the 1930s, and the military strategies he employed that led to early victories but culminated in total defeat.

Hitler's Military Strategy

Most games require a strategy. Perhaps you're playing basketball, and you want your best shooter to get open as much as possible, or perhaps you're playing Monopoly, and you plan to buy up an entire corner of the board. No matter what you are doing, there is usually some forward thinking and planning required if you really want to win.

Far more grave than any playground or board game, war also requires well-thought-out, incisive strategy to both beat the enemy and preserve as many men as possible. Though it ultimately (and thankfully!) failed, Adolf Hitler's military strategy during WWII was initially devastatingly effective. In this lesson, we'll review the strategy and tactics employed by Adolf Hitler's Germany during WWII.

Motivations

By the end of the 1930s, Hitler had consolidated nearly all the power in the German government in himself. German policy was essentially his policy, and the dictator was keenly involved in all military decisions once the war got under way. Two policies justified German expansionism in Hitler's eyes. The first was Hitler's belief that all ethnically German and German-speaking people should belong to his self-styled German Third Reich. This was Hitler's justification for the annexation of Austria and later, the Sudetenland. Furthermore, its seemingly reasonable premise is what led countries like Great Britain and France - two countries who wanted to avoid another continental war at all costs - to acquiesce to the annexations.

Secondly, and far more privately, Hitler believed this new German Empire required lebensraum, or living space. According to this policy, Hitler felt it was his Germany's right to expand outside its normal borders into Europe and elsewhere, accumulating colonies like the Western European powers of previous centuries. These new land acquisitions would provide area for German colonists to expand and populate, while the conquered people would be swept aside, either subordinated to German power or worse - wiped out entirely.

Early Strategy

In order to both begin accumulating this land and destroy the Western powers who would surely oppose German expansionism, Hitler believed he needed war. After failing to gain the acquiescence of Poland on its eastern border, Hitler resolved to eliminate any trouble Poland might present during his assault on Western Europe by invading Poland and entering into a non-aggression treaty with Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union. The two nations essentially split Poland between themselves, and Poland was wiped off the map in a matter of weeks. Hitler then turned his eyes west, annexing Norway in April 1940 and invading France in May. The British and French forces provided little resistance, and Hitler assumed total control of France by June of that year.

The invasion of both Poland and France were completed so quickly because of Hitler's innovative blitzkrieg attack, a German word that literally means 'lightning war.' The German blitzkrieg eschewed the infantry-heavy assaults that had caused WWI to become a bogged-down quagmire, in favor of speed and devastating power. The Germans used the tank, a relatively new technology, as the thrust of its attack rather than as supporting artillery. German tanks raced across the countryside, destroying key defensive installations and simply driving around heavily fortified defensive positions and penetrating deep behind enemy lines. The German tanks could advance in hours the same distance that it would take foot soldiers days to cover. Then German infantry followed behind the lines of tanks, sweeping up whatever remained. The style was entirely new and incredibly effective.

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