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Thread: Why did Hitler declare war on the United States?

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    Senior Member [WDW]Megaraptor's Avatar
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    Default Why did Hitler declare war on the United States?

    I have often wondered why Hitler chose to follow Japan and declare war on the United States on December 11, 1941. Generally, I would consider this a greater blunder than invading the Soviet Union, as it ensured that Germany would fight a two-front war (I don't think the UK + Commonwealth could have pulled off the western European campaign on their own).

    The standard textbook explanation has generally been that Hitler felt "honor bound" to side with his allies in Japan, which sounds like a big bunch of hooey since Hitler had launched a surprise invasion of another one of his erstwhile "allies" just 5 months before and keeping his word wasn't really Hitler's style.

    So today I decided to look up the text of the German declaration of war and the speech Hitler gave on why he was declaring war:

    Declaration: http://fcit.usf.edu/holocaust/resour...ent/DECWAR.htm
    Speech: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/...lares_war.html

    The reasons he gave in public, at least, were very different:

    1. The United States was hurting Germany diplomatically and aiding German enemies, especially Britain, by supplying them with war material.
    2. The United States and the FDR administration were secretly run by Jews and therefore a threat.
    3. American ships had been ordered to attack German submarines on sight and had attacked several of them, and American warships had seized German merchant vessels on the high seas. According to the declaration, "The Government of the United States has thereby virtually created a state of war."
    4. FDR planned to attack Germany and Italy in 1943.

    Now obviously 2 and 4 are more propaganda than anything else, but I find the declared rationale in 1 and 3 interesting. Rather than talk about "honor between allies" and the need to come to the aid of the Japanese, Hitler gives a list of German grievances against the United States government:

    But now he is seized with fear that if peace is brought about in Europe, his squandering of billions of money or armaments will be looked upon (as plain fraud), since nobody will attack America-and he then himself must provoke this attack upon his country. On the 17th July, 1940, the American President orders the blocking of French assets with a view, as he puts it, to placing them beyond German reach, but really in order to transfer the French gold from Casablanca to America with the assistance of an American cruiser. In July 1940 he tries by enlisting American citizens in the British Air Force and by training British airmen in the U.S.A. to pave ever better the way to war. In August 1940, a military programme is jointly drawn up between the U.S.A. and Canada. To make the establishment of a Canadian-U.S. Defence Committee plausible-plausible at least to the biggest fools-he invents from time to time crises, by means of which he pretends that America is being threatened with aggression.

    This he wishes to impress upon the American people by suddenly returning on the 3rd April to Washington with all speed on account of the alleged danger of the situation. In September 1940 he draws still nearer to the war. He turns over to the British Fleet 50 destroyers of the American Navy in return for which, to be sure, he takes over several British bases in North and South America.

    From all these actions, it may be clearly seen how, with all his hatred for Socialist Germany, he forms the resolution of taking over, as safely and securely as possible, the British Empire in the moment of its downfall. Since England is no longer in the position to pay cash for all the American deliveries, he imposes the Lease-Lend Law on the American people. He thus receives powers to lend or lease support to countries, the defence of which may appear to him as vital in America's interests. Then in (indistinct) 1941, as Germany cannot be made to react to any of his gestures, he takes yet a further step. As far back as the 9th December 1939, American (?cruisers) in the security zone handed over the German ship Columbus to the British ships. In the circumstances she had to be sunk (note: i.e. scuttled). On the same day, U.S. forces co-operated to prevent the attempted escape of the German steamer Arauca. On the 27th January, 1940, the U.S. cruiser (named, but indistinct) in contravention of International Law advised enemy naval forces of the movements of the German steamers, Arauca, La Plata and Mangoni. On the 27th June, 1940, he ordered, in complete contravention of International Law, a restriction of the freedom of movements of foreign ships in U.S. harbours. In November, 1940, he ordered the German ships (?Reugeu), Niederwald and Rhein to be shadowed by American ships until these steamers were compelled to scuttle themselves so as not to fall into enemy hands. On 30th April, 1941, followed the opening up of the Red Sea to U.S. ships, so that they could carry supplies to the British armies in the Near East. Meanwhile, in March, all German ships were requisitioned by the American authorities. In the course of this German nationals were treated in a most inhuman manner, and in contravention of all notions of international law certain places of residence were assigned them, travelling restrictions imposed upon them, and so on. Two German officers who had escaped from Canadian captivity, were-again contrary to all the dictates of international law-handcuffed and handed over to the Canadian authorities. 24th March the same President who stands against every aggression, acclaimed Simovitch [Chief of Aviation, Yugoslavia] and his companions who (?gained their positions) by aggression and by removing the lawful government of the country. Roosevelt some months before sent Colonel Donavan, a completely unworthy creature, to the Balkans, to Sofia and Belgrade, to engineer a rising against Germany and Italy.

    In April, he promised help to Yugoslavia and Greece under the Lend-Lease Act. At the end of April, this man recognized the Yugoslav and Greek emigre governments, and once more against international law, blocked the Yugoslav and Greek assets. From the middle of April onwards, American watch over the Western Atlantic by U.S.A. patrols was extended, and reports were made to the British. On the 26th April, Roosevelt transferred to the British 20 motor-torpedo-boats and at the same time, British warships were being repaired in U.S. ports. On 5th May, the illegal arming and repairing of Norwegian ships for England took place. On 4th June American troop transports arrived in Greenland, to build airdromes. On 9th June, came the first British report that, on Roosevelt's orders, a U.S. warship had attacked a German U-boat with depth charges near Greenland. On 4th June, German assets in the U.S.A. were illegally blocked. On the 7th June Roosevelt demanded under mendacious pretexts, that German consuls should be withdrawn and German consulates closed. He also demanded the closing of the German Press Agency, Trans ocean, the German Information Library and the German Reichs bank Central Office. On 6th and 7th July, Iceland, which is within the German fighting zone, was occupied by American Forces or the orders of Roosevelt. He intended, first of all, to force Germany to make war and to make the German U-boat warfare as ineffective as it was in 1915-16. At the same time, he promised American help to the Soviet Union. On 10th June, the Navy Minister, Knox, suddenly announced an American order to shoot at Axis warships. On 4th September, the U.S. destroyer Greer obeying orders, operated with British aircraft against German U-boats in the Atlantic. Five days later, a German U-boat noticed the U.S. destroyer acting as escort in a British convoy. On 11th September Roosevelt finally made a speech in which he confirmed and repeated his order to fire on all Axis ships. On 29th September, U.S. escort-vessels attacked a German U-boat with depth charges east of Greenland. On 7th October, the U.S. destroyer Kearney acting as an escort vessel for Britain, again attacked German U-boat with depth-charges. Finally, on 6th November U.S. forces illegally seized the German steamer, Odenwald, and took it to an American port where the crew were taken prisoner.
    So, my two questions that this raises:

    1) Is there any evidence aside from public speeches as to why Hitler made this decision? Do they support the rationale given in the speeches and declarations, or not?

    2) If so, does this mean that Germany would have declared war on the United States in late 1941 or early 1942, even in the absence of war between the United States and Japan?

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    Senior Member commanding's Avatar
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    In short I don't know. With early military success, perhaps enboldened by that....also I have read that Hitler was a huge fan of a certain author whose belief was that you did not have to visit/travel to a country to understand everything about a country. You must admit, that in 1941 the US military was not exactly "war ready" and had a small military...whereas Germany at the same time was doing quite well in military hardware, training and organization.
    I suspect LD will have some good observations.

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    Is it possible that he didn't knew that Japanese have no intention on attacking SU?

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    Senior Member Connaught Ranger's Avatar
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    Japan was Allied to Germany, so when Japan went to war with the USA Germany was duty bound to follow?

    "Two German officers who had escaped from Canadian captivity, were-again contrary to all the dictates of international law-handcuffed and handed over to the Canadian authorities."
    R.A.F. personnel who escaped from the Republic of Ireland after being interned, and making their way to Northern Ireland were ordered back to the Republic, and duly handed over to the Republic of Ireland authorities on the border.

    I presume also the USA were a bit miffed with nazi u-boats sinking US ships inside the US territorial waters line early on in the war as well.

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    The US & Germany had an undeclared war for nearly two years by that point. The US effectively escorted all convoys up to Iceland.

    FDR couldn't get Congress to declare war due to public opinion.

    Hitler didn't want to open up the can of worms re fighting the full resources of the United States.

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    Member a.godumov's Avatar
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    Who knows what was going inside his and his advisors' minds. I doubt he took the decision alone. But perhaps at that time the USA wasn't considered to be a dangerous opponent. They were on the other side of the world and probably few could fully grasp the industrial might of the USA and the ability to project power which they eventually managed to gather in several years. It is always easy to make decisions when having the hindsight that history gives. We shouldn't forget that at the end of 1941 Germany was at the doorsteps of Moscow and had had a series of tremendous military successes - first by taking France out of the war, then by invading the USSR and reaching all the way to Moscow. Japan on the other side had just pulled of a series of successful attacks in the Pacific.

    In my opinion the best Hitler could do was to just stop after the Anschluss and the occupation of Czechoslovakia and try his best to restore his relations with France and the UK to an acceptable level and prove that his word could be counted on. If he had stopped there he would have been a very successful leader - he had practically restored the lost territories of the Second Reich and had united Germany with Austria.

    Given the benefit of historical hindsight i'd say that Germany was entangled in an unwinnable war since 1939 when after invading Poland the UK and France declared war on them. Even after they took out France (which seems to have been as much a surprise to the Germans as it was to the Allies), they could never hope to launch a successful invasion on the UK itself. So at best they could hope to achieve a drawback which could after several years deescalate to a Cold War-like state with the UK while fighting insurgents in France and the other conquered countries. And this is the best possible scenario which could happen with the UK engaged elsewhere not able to gather the necessary forces to launch an invasion in Europe and the other great powers (the USSR and the USA) not engaging in the war.

    Of course it is very easy to speculate if you know the historical outcome. Still i think that the German government should have been less confident with their capabilities and more realistic on the best possible scenarios. Given how Germany was treated after WW I they must have known what was at stake and what could happen if the engaged in a full scale war against the UK and France and lost. Indeed if the written memoirs of many are to be believed (for example) there were a lot of people in the country's military and political leadership who were afraid of the escalation of the conflict into a war with the UK and France and who wanted to avoid war.

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    Senior Member LineDoggie's Avatar
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    I loathe to say it, but Hitler might have wanted to Honor an agreement. He didn't want to get involved in North Africa or Greece but to be a Good Ally threw in to help Italy. Mussolini didn't want to fight in Russia but to honor an agreement sent troops there which had absolutely no chance of beating the Soviets, (Those same Italian forces sent to North Africa might have changed the course of the campaign) IMO he believed that by helping the Japanese they would re new fighting against the Soviets. He was grifted by the Japanese. One of the few times the Japanese staff blanched.


    Combine that with the fact he held the US people and thier will in Contempt and for some reason his staff dismissed US Manufacturing capability* (unlike Yamamoto who had no such fantasies). Surely OKW had liason attaches in the USA who must have seen the industrial capabilities

    And we the USA and Germany were in a shooting war months before Pearl Harbor



    * My god the capability was incredible. Not only did the US supply its Military and civilians but supplied the UK, France, Soviets, Brazil, Mexico, China, Most of Central and South America with everything from foodstuffs and bullets to Tooling machinery and Locomotives, rails, Bombers, Ships, rolling stock, and even sent management teams to Soviet Urals factories to increase production and efficency.
    [SIZE=2][/SIZE][*******#000000][FONT=verdana]AMO vehicles - Moscow plant - assistance through Brandt.[/FONT][/COLOR]
    [*******#000000][FONT=verdana]GAZ vehicles - Molotov Nr. 1, Gorky plant - assistance through Austin and Ford.[/FONT][/COLOR]
    [*******#000000][FONT=verdana]GAZ vehicles - Nizhni-Novgorod plant - assistance through Austin and Ford.[/FONT][/COLOR]
    [*******#000000][FONT=verdana]YAZ vehicles - Yaroslav plant - assistance through Hercules.[/FONT][/COLOR]
    [*******#000000][FONT=verdana]ZIS vehicles - Kuznetsk plant - assistance through Autocar and Brandt.[/FONT][/COLOR]

    [*******#000000][FONT=verdana]92% of the Rolling stock, Locomotives and Track used by the Soviets during the war was US and UK provided. Machine tools, specifically finishing tools accounted for upwards of 40% the USSR used.[/FONT][/COLOR][SIZE=2]
    [/SIZE][*******#000000][FONT=verdana][SIZE=2]
    http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/...dex.html#index
    [/SIZE]
    [/FONT][/COLOR]

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    Quote Originally Posted by Connaught Ranger View Post
    Japan was Allied to Germany, so when Japan went to war with the USA Germany was duty bound to follow?

    I presume also the USA were a bit miffed with nazi u-boats sinking US ships inside the US territorial waters line early on in the war as well.
    No, while the pact clearly was targeting USA it would only be invoked if someone declared war on one of the axis powers. Germany was not bound to declare war in this instance.

    As for the reasons, most points to Hitler wanting to encourage Japan as much as possible. The U.S. help to Britain also seems to have signaled eventual U.S. entry into the war in any case (to the Germans). But any explanation needs to view German plans in a long-term context, the war that was waged was about establishing a new world order at this point. Hitler seems to have reached the conclusion early on in his political career that an eventual confrontation with USA was inevitable. The attack on USSR must be viewed in this context and the German obsession with autarky and resources.

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    Senior Member [WDW]Megaraptor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Photographic View Post
    But any explanation needs to view German plans in a long-term context, the war that was waged was about establishing a new world order at this point. Hitler seems to have reached the conclusion early on in his political career that an eventual confrontation with USA was inevitable. The attack on USSR must be viewed in this context and the German obsession with autarky and resources.
    Correct me if I'm wrong but Hitler in the 1930s (in his unpublished second book) thought that war with the United States wouldn't come until after the coming war had concluded and that war wasn't even supposed to start until the mid to late 1940s when Germany would have had a proper navy and highly advanced armor and air force. So the eventual fight with the United States for world domination was still decades away. Of course, when the war started things got out of anyone's control rather quickly.

    I really don't buy the "honor between allies" thing. Hitler clearly had no problem stabbing his allies in the back when the situation called for it. Other countries were Germany's allies only so far as they were useful to the Reich. Hitler aided Mussolini because Mussolini getting his tail kicked all around the Mediterranean by the British was a threat to Germany's southern flank.

    I'm wondering, did Hitler just make a snap judgement on this one? It's December 1941. Britain's contained, Russia's on the ropes, hey, why not go ahead and take on the United States too while you're at it.

    Do we have any indication of how the German high command and military staff felt about this decision?

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    Miss Convicted 2009 SBL's Avatar
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    I think he just saw the writing on the wall. Knowing he was going to fight the US sooner or later, perhaps he chose sooner on ostensibly better terms.

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    Senior Member GB_FXST's Avatar
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    This is just one of a number of blunders. And, I have wondered about this particular folly too.

    It goes without saying but thankfully Hitler and his entourage of sycophants fell victim to their own hubris and idiocies. Just deserts for the ideologues of the master race ...

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    Senior Member johanness's Avatar
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    It was the winter 1941 on the eastern front.

    The Wehrmacht was stopped at the gates of Moscow and in the very harsh Winter the Soviet counter offensive with more and more and more fresh
    Sibiran Divisions were nearly to annihilate Army Group Middle.

    So Hitler wanted to Bluff Stalin that as Germany declared war to the USA, Japan would do the same to the USSR.
    Thatfor Stalin would need troops in Sibiria and could not send them to fight the Wehrmacht.

    He just wanted to buy time to beat the Russians.

    For USA he would take care later.

    He also underestimate how fast the USA could bring up her economical power,
    and he despised the quality of the American soldiers as a mix of different nationalities and races
    who would never fight and die for their nation, rather earn money.

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    Senior Member Mordoror's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GB_FXST View Post

    It goes without saying but thankfully Hitler and his entourage of sycophants fell victim to their own hubris and idiocies. Just deserts for the ideologues of the master race ...
    Probably this. They were still on the path of victory, not seeing that the path was already going down. We are talking about dec 1941, when Germany was just recently rolling like a knife through butter on soviet plains. In the head of Hitler, the war with soviets was closing to a quick end even after the Moscow failure. In fact he got more and more decisional power on the OKH and OKW after that failure (and the fact that he thought that it was his orders of not step back that saved the day.) After that there were not a lot who piped a word against him

    But you know, it's like a gambler. As long as you win bucks, you'll play until the last game takes your last penny, car, house and pants

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    Senior Member Astaran's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SBL View Post
    I think he just saw the writing on the wall. Knowing he was going to fight the US sooner or later, perhaps he chose sooner on ostensibly better terms.
    I don't think so.
    Which "better terms"? Beside sending submarines to sink US ships, there was nothing Germany could have done to actually harm the US, be it "sooner" or "later": There was no way to attack the US directly, no German airplanes or ships were capable of reaching the US and dealing significant damage or any damage at all.

    Quote Originally Posted by johanness View Post
    It was the winter 1941 on the eastern front.

    The Wehrmacht was stopped at the gates of Moscow and in the very harsh Winter the Soviet counter offensive with more and more and more fresh
    Sibiran Divisions were nearly to annihilate Army Group Middle.

    So Hitler wanted to Bluff Stalin that as Germany declared war to the USA, Japan would do the same to the USSR.
    Thatfor Stalin would need troops in Sibiria and could not send them to fight the Wehrmacht.

    He just wanted to buy time to beat the Russians.

    For USA he would take care later.

    He also underestimate how fast the USA could bring up her economical power,
    and he despised the quality of the American soldiers as a mix of different nationalities and races
    who would never fight and die for their nation, rather earn money.

    Sounds like the most logical explanation to me. If Japan had attack the Soviets from the East, Hitler might have seen a chance to hit the Soviets hard enough before reinforcements from Siberia could intervene on ther German-Russian frontline. If I remember correctly, these very Soviet troops (equipped and trained for winter war) were the ones who successfully started the counter-offensive at Moscow.

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    Bush Lawyer, that's me! TheKiwi's Avatar
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    There are a number of factors that as far as I can tell would have played into the decision.

    Firstly the US and Germany were already in an undeclared low level war in the Atlantic. US escorts and German submarines had clashed (and USN ships been sunk). This plus the occupation of Iceland showed that the US was at best a "very hostile neutral power".

    Secondly there appears to have been an under appreciation of US industrial power. At the time, the US had (if I remember correctly) something like 40% of the worlds industrial capacity. Germany - about 18%. Speer (whose recollections I always take with a large pinch of salt since he was always trying to show himself as the "Good Nazi") said that the industrial projections shown to Goering and Hitler were laughed at.

    Thirdly was the (largely correct) perception that the US Army was too small to be of any threat. Although expanding thanks to the 1940 act that instituted conscription, the US would still be hard pressed to have complete divisions in operation nearly a year after Pearl Harbor (see for example the initial stages of Operation Torch which were conducted with a mish-mash of US units).The idea was that the war in Europe (esp against the USSR) could be wrapped up long before the US became a land threat.

    Fourth was a realisation that had Germany remained at peace with the US, there would soon be large US flagged convoys crossing the Atlantic with "stores for the UK in their fight with Japan". Stores that equally could and would be used against Germany.

    And Fifth (and quite possibly the decider as far as I can tell) the Chicago Tribune - notorious for its hatred of FDR - had published on the 4th or 5th (can't remember which) of December details of the agreement for "Germany first" between the UK and the US. This was seen as proof that the US intended to go to war with Germany anyway.

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