Once America’s strength developed, and Russia survived to develop hers, the defeat of the Axis powers – Germany, Italy and Japan – became certain, as their combined military potential was so much smaller. The only uncertainties were – how long it would take, and how complete it would be. The most that the aggressors, turned defenders, could hope for was to obtain better terms of peace by spinning out time until the “giants” became weary or quarrelled. But the chances of such prolonged resistance depended on shortening fronts. None of the Axis leaders could bear to “lose face” by voluntary withdrawal, and so clung to every position until it collapsed. There was no real turning point in this third phase of the war, but only an incoming tide. The tide flowed more easily in Russia and in the Pacific, because in these areas an ever-growing superiority of force was combined with ample space for manoeuvre. In southern and western Europe the tide met more checks because space was more cramped.
The Anglo-American forces’ first bound back into Europe – in July 1943 – was eased by the way that Hitler and Mussolini poured troops across the sea into Tunisia in the hope of holding a bridgehead there to block the converging advance of the Allied armies from Egypt and Algeria. Tunisia turned into a trap, and the capture of the whole German-Italian army there left Sicily almost denuded of defence. But when the Allies pushed on from Sicily into Italy – in September 1943 – their advance up that narrow and mountainous peninsula became sticky and slow.
On 6 June 1944, the main Allied armies, which had been built up in England for a cross channel invasion, landed in Normandy. Here success was certain if they could firmly establish themselves ashore in a bridgehead big enough to build up their massed strength and swamp the Germans’ barricading line. For once they broke out, the whole width of France would be open for the manoeuvre of their armies, which were fully mechanised, whereas the bulk of the German forces were not.
The Germans’ defence was thus doomed to eventual collapse, unless they could throw the invaders back into the sea in the first few days. But in the event the move-up of their panzer reserves was fatally delayed by the paralysing interference of the Allied air forces, which had a 30:1 superiority over the Luftwaffe in this theatre.
Even if the invasion of Normandy had been repulsed on the beaches, the Allies’ now tremendous air superiority, applied direct against Germany, would have made her collapse certain. Until 1944, the strategic air offensive had fallen far short of the claims made for it, as an alternative to land invasion, and its effects had been greatly overestimated. The indiscriminate bombing of cities had not seriously diminished munitions production, while failing to break the will of the opposing peoples and compel them to surrender, as expected. For collectively they were too firmly under the grip of their tyrannical leaders, and individuals cannot surrender to bombers in the sky. But in 1944-45 air power was better directed – applied with ever increasing precision and crippling effects to the key centres of war production that were vital to the enemy’s power of resistance. In the Far East, too, the mastery of air power made the collapse of Japan certain, without any need for the atom bomb.
The main obstacle in the Allies’ path, once the tide had turned, was a self-raised barrier – their leader’s unwise and short-sighted demand for “unconditional surrender.” It was the greatest help to Hitler, in preserving his grip on the German people, and likewise to the War Party in Japan. If the Allied leaders had been wise enough to provide some assurance as to their peace terms, Hitler’s grip on the German people would have been loosened long before 1945. Three years earlier, envoys of the widespread anti-Nazi movement in Germany made known to Allied leaders their plans for overthrowing Hitler, and the names of the many leading soldiers who were prepared to join such a revolt, provided that they were given some assurance about the Allied peace terms. But then, and later, no indication or assurance was given them, so that it naturally became difficult for them to gain support for a “leap in the dark.”
Thus, “the unnecessary war” was unnecessarily prolonged, and millions more lives needlessly sacrificed, while the ultimate peace merely produced a fresh menace and the looming fear for another war. For the unnecessary prolongation of the Second World War in pursuit of the opponents’ “unconditional surrender,” proved of profit only to Stalin – by opening the way for Communist domination of Europe.