Under Hitler’s leadership, the tiny Reichswehr was transformed into a mighty Wehrmacht – undoubtedly the most powerful and fearsome military force in the world (purely naval operations are a different story entirely). The whole branches of armed forces – Luftwaffe, Panzerwaffe, paratroopers and the massive submarine fleet – were created from scratch.
However, it was a highly imperfect force as it could win only one kind of war – the proverbial blitzkrieg. A combined air and land all-out assault on its adversary that within a few weeks destroys enough of the opponent’s armed forces and occupies enough of his territory to force the latter to either unconditionally surrender or at least sue for peace, accepting the German terms.
Wehrmacht could find other kinds of war, of course – a sea & air war with Britain or a protracted land/sea/air campaign in North Africa, but it could not win them. For a very simple reason – Adolf Hitler and his generals had no clear vision of what exactly their victory should look like and how to achieve it.
Lack of clear vision of victory over the Great Britain led to another strategic blunder – the ill-fated Plan Z for the re-equipment and expansion of the Kriegsmarine ordered by Adolf Hitler in early 1939.
This blunder was actually quite strange because both the vision of victory over Great Britain and the path to it were pretty obvious (though apparently not to Adolf Hitler and his Oberkommando der Marine – Naval High Command).
Challenging the naval power of the United Kingdom (let alone the combined naval might of Great Britain and the USA – a very real possibility) was simply insane in an industrial and military sense as Germany simple had not nearly enough resources to build and deploy the Navy of quantity and quality needed to achieve this grandiose objective.
Still, Plan Z called for exactly that – which made it a colossal strategic blunder indeed.
The only way to force Great Britain to sue for peace and accept Hitler’s peace terms was to starve it of military hardware, ammunition and strategic materials. Which could only have been done by a mighty submarine fleet (Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz – commander of the German submarine fleet estimated that he needed 300 of the Type VII boats to achieve this objective).
Obviously, U-boat operations had to be closely coordinated with an air war over Britain which had to be very thoroughly planned and fought. I wasn’t – which was another major strategic blunder committed by Adolf Hitler (and Hermann Göring).
Consequently, Plan Z (that should have been developed in 1933, not 1939, replacing the ill-conceived Schiffbauersatzplan – “Replacement ship construction program”) should have stipulated only six weapons programs:
- Construction of 300+ Type VII U-boats required to set up a naval blockade of Britain sufficiently devastating to force the latter to sue for peace (actually, accept German peace terms)
- Design, production and deployment of long range reconnaissance and attack aircraft – FW 200, Junkers 290, etc. to support U-boats in attacking British convoys
- Design, production and deployment of guided weapons – guided bomb Fritz-X, anti-ship missile Henschel Hs 293, which will make these attacks especially deadly
- Radical improvement in quality of conventional torpedoes whose widespread malfunctions in 1939-40 contributed significantly to the defeat of Kriegsmarine in the Battle of the Atlantic
- Design, production and deployment of acoustic torpedoes which would have made U-boat attacks even more deadly
- Design, production and deployment of next-generation submarines (Type XXI) making the Allied anti-submarine warfare far more difficult
Obviously, construction of all large surface vessels stipulated by the Schiffbauersatzplan (Admiral Hipper-class cruisers, Bismarck-class battleships, Admiral Scheer and Admiral Graf Spee – should have been stopped).
And the security of the Enigma cipher machine should have been radically improved (i.e. five rotors from the set of seven) – as well as the procedures used to make breaking of the Enigma code virtually impossible for the 1940s technology.
Unfortunately, Adolf Hitler made a very different decisions which ultimately led to the defeat in the Battle for the Atlantic and very possibly in the whole World War II.