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World War Ii

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In his prison cell at Nuremberg, Hitler's foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, wrote a brief memoir in the course of which he explored the reasons for Germany's defeat. He picked out three factors that he thought were critical: the unexpected 'power of resistance' of the Red Army; the vast supply of American armaments; and the success of Allied air power.

This last was Hitler's explanation too. When Ribbentrop spoke with him a week before the suicide in the bunker, Hitler told him that, 'the real military cause of defeat' was the failure of the German Air Force.

'For the Allies in World War Two, the defeat of Germany was their priority.'

For all his many failings Ribbentrop was closer to the truth than he might have realised. For the Allies in World War Two, the defeat of Germany was their priority. Italy and Japan never posed the same kind of threat as the European superpower they fought alongside. Their defeat, costly though it was, became irresistible. The key to ending the world crisis was the defeat of Hitler's Germany.

This outcome was not pre-ordained, as is so often suggested, once the British Empire was joined by the USSR and the USA in 1941. The Allies had to mobilise and utilise their large resources effectively on the battlefield and in the air. This outcome could not be taken for granted.

British forces were close to defeat everywhere in 1942. The American economy was a peacetime economy, apparently unprepared for the colossal demands of total war. The Soviet system was all but shattered in 1941, two-thirds of its heavy industrial capacity captured and its vast air and tank armies destroyed. This was a war, Ribbentrop ruefully concluded, that 'Germany could have won'.

Soviet resistance was in some ways the most surprising outcome. The German attackers believed



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