“The Dysfunctional Coalition: The Axis Powers and the Eastern Front in World War Two” by R. L. DiNardo. Published in The Journal of Military History October 1996, 60 Research Library pp. 711-730
The question of the German dominated European Axis alliance in the Second World War is one of the more neglected subjects of World War Two and has application to today’s multi-national campaign in Afghanistan. In most accounts of World War Two the relationship of the Germans to their coalition partners is minimal. This includes the standard works on the subject of B.H. Liddell-Hart, Williamson Murray, Chester Wilmot and David M Glantz, Of Germany’s Allies Italy usually receives some attention in the context of the campaign in North Africa and Mediterranean. Its efforts on the Eastern Front are usually neglected except for how the Italian 8th Army was shattered during the Stalingrad campaign. The efforts of Hungary, Rumania and Finland receive scant attention from anyone. Popular German memoirs provide little substantive help as most German commanders looked down on their military capabilities. Kesselring’s memoirs and Rommel’s papers give some views, mostly negative of the Italians and Manstein some mention on the Italians, Hungarians and Rumanians in the Stalingrad campaign.
In this badly needed essay Robert DiNardo examines the relationship of Germany to her allies on the Eastern Front where they came closest to fighting coalition warfare. This is a subject that he would expand on in his book “Germany and the Axis Powers: from Coalition to Collapse” (University of Kansas Press, 2005). DiNardo believes that it is important to learn from the failure of Germany and its coalition just as we do from the success of the Allies. This perhaps is his greatest contribution in an age where the United States must work with coalitions whose members have significant military weaknesses. The situation in some ways places he United States in a similar position to Germany in the current wars on terror and campaigns in Iraq and especially Afghanistan.
DiNardo asserts “the way in which Germany conducted coalition warfare was reflective of the manner in which Hitler and the German military looked at the world, as well as the war in general” was a key factor in her defeat. German arrogance and hubris frequently kept them from gaining any advantage from their coalition partners. DiNardo believes that it was “a significant factor that contributed to the ultimate defeat of Nazi Germany.” (p.712) He then notes the few successes of the coalition, particularly the German work with Rumanian air defense around the Ploesti oil refineries and the German-Finnish Winter Warfare School. Apart from these he characterizes Axis coalition warfare on the eastern front as “poor” with “failures at every level.” (p.713)
DiNardo analyzes language barriers, the wide disparity between the modernity of the armies and the levels of technology and training of her coalition partners. He also deals with Germany’s failure to become the “arsenal of Fascism” as well as the lack of understanding of all the partners of the “relationship between national objectives, strategy and the morale of soldiers of officers and soldiers alike.” (p.713) He provides a good description of the German liaison detachments allotted to the coalition armies, dealing with language, tactical communications weaknesses and the generally haughty attitude that the Germans displayed to their partners. He provides an excellent illustration of this in analyzing with the failure of XLVIII Panzer Corps at Stalingrad when the German Liaison to the Rumanian 1st Panzer Division was wounded and the division was destroyed for lack of German support. So bad was the German attitudes toward their Allies at higher levels that DiNardo describes the German policies and attitudes as “imperialist.” (p.718)
DiNardo also looks at the wide gap in transportation capabilities of the various armies and the failure of the Germans to better provide for the needs of their partners in contrast to the United States assistance to her allies. In his analysis he notes how the Germans provided obsolete captured Czech and French weapons and vehicles to the allies instead of providing them with the plans to build German designs in Rumanian and Hungarian industrial concerns capable of their manufacture. (pp.718-719) The lack of modern equipment among the German allies impacted operations against the Red Army and was a factor the eventual defeat of the Germans the hands of the Red Army.
While even elite German formations often had significant equipment shortages and sometimes substandard equipment he does not note that the principle reason for this was that German did not go to a “total war” industrial production until Albert Speer took over as Armaments Minister. This is perhaps the one weakness in the essay. The final part of the essay deals with the strategic goals and conflicts among the Axis coalition which were never worked out. In this discussion he again goes to the relationships of the Germans at every level to their partners and how the Germans had a general distain for their allies’ capabilities. He discusses how various partners refused to cooperate with the Germans in different ways and times.
These problems impacted German efforts in significant way. The Finns never signed a formal alliance with Germany and pursued their own war goals, the underlying tensions between Hungary and Rumania over their own territory disputes meant that the Germans could not count on these key partners to work together in the campaign in Russia. He finishes his essay by detailing the morale problems in the Hungarian, Italian and Rumanian armies as they fought on the Eastern front.
He sources this article well using histories, archival sources, operational orders and analysis by the various armies as well as interviews. Of particular note is that he goes to sources of the coalition partners and not just German sources. This allows him to be far more nuanced and detailed in his discussion as opposed to others who simply ignore the contributions of the Axis partners. His footnotes provide added detail and provide and lend support to his arguments.
The importance of this essay is twofold; first it provides a look at the relationship of German to her coalition partners on the Eastern Front. This is important from a historic standpoint simply because it is such a neglected topic in most histories of the period and gives added depth to the reasons for Germany’s defeat. One has to ask the “what if questions” in regard to had the Germans better treated, equipped and recognized their allies’ contributions to the war effort.
The second point of interest pertains to how history can inform the leaders of the United States and NATO in the Afghanistan campaign. The lessons provided to any nation which has to engage in coalition warfare are important, especially of one of the partners enjoys significant military advantages over its allies. This is the case in Afghanistan and the War on Terror where United States has found itself as the senior and vastly superior partner in a war which has multiple coalition partners in several theaters of operations. Each coalition partner has certain military weaknesses in relationship to the United States as well as their own national interests, geo-political and economic relationships with competitors to the United States and internal political realities which impact their cooperation in the war. As such the United States cannot allow itself to be cast in the role of a haughty imperialistic senior partner as did Germany and it must cultivate an attitude of assistance, respect and trust among its partners to assure their full cooperation and assistance in relation to U.S. goals in the war. Failure to head the German lesson will ensure failure in the current campaigns.