Teachers and Readers Guide for Why Germany Nearly Won: A New History of the Second World War in Europe
Why Germany Nearly Won has been written not only with the reading public, military operator, veteran, and professional historian in mind; but also for college students. As such, the book is easily adaptable for inclusion in a course reading list.
For instance each of the chapter sub-headings can be assigned along with readings from other materials as entirely reasonable stand-alone assignments. What’s more this can be done in conjunction with a variety of course schedules; including MWF or TTH weekly course schedules in courses from eight weeks duration and up (thus accommodating spring semesters in addition to fall/winter semesters). This book also serves as a companion/contrasting work to older studies such as those done by Richard Overy, Gerhard Weinberg, Williamson Murray & Allan R. Millet, and others.
The following guide provides further details as to what each part of Why Germany Nearly Won’s three parts cover, with each part including sample discussion questions germane to its topics, followed by the part’s chapters, sample semester weeks for selected readings, the actual chapter title, and the actual sub-headings from each chapter. These discussion questions are not meant to be all-encompassing - as the book’s topics open themselves up to countless other possible points of discussion and debate.
SAMPLE DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:
- Mercatante contends that the re-establishment of the traditional German art of war, updated to accommodate new weapons systems, paved the way for Germany to forge a considerable military edge over its much larger potential rivals. What evidence does he cite to back this theory?
- The first chapter discusses the impact produced by the internal combustion engine on military planners during the years between the world wars. As part of this discussion Mercatante argues that is was the combined arms panzer division that served as one key element bolstering the German army’s renaissance, rather than the tank itself. Do you agree with this idea? Explain why or why not? What evidence do you cite for your position?
- How did the German military establishment (Wehrmacht) build its formidable strength in such a short period of time following Hitler’s rise to power?
- How did the German economy and Wehrmacht prepare for war? Were these preparations matched up well with Hitler’s most important stated strategic goal; achieving Lebensraum in Eastern Europe?
- The Luftwaffe is often described as overwhelmingly a tactically oriented air force. Nevertheless, Mercatante takes the position that the Luftwaffe actually began as a well-balanced organization. Do you find his arguments persuasive? Why or why not?
- Mercatante argues that the German way of war offered a strong chance for an otherwise outnumbered German state to find future success on the battlefields of Europe. Nonetheless, Mercatante also contends this method of war fighting also created and exacerbated internal contradictions that undermined the same war machine; and left it vulnerable to enemies with the capacity to adapt and build upon equally potent military traditions of their own. What are some of these internal contradictions and weaknesses within the Wehrmacht that he cites?
- How do the contents of chapters one and two of Why Germany Nearly Won advance the qualitative vs. quantitative analysis underpinning this work’s thesis – including the contention that Germany’s best route to securing the European continent was entirely through seizing economic resources found notably within the southern Soviet Union?
- In chapter two Mercatante argues that the battle for Poland had real consequences for the timing and ability of Germany to successfully invade Western Europe? Do you agree with his findings? Why or why not?
- The successful 1940 German invasion of Western Europe is often attributed to hordes of German tanks and aircraft overwhelming the badly outgunned Allied armies. Were the Allies inferior to the Wehrmacht in terms of numbers and firepower in May of 1940? How does Why Germany Nearly Won’s chapter two address the respective qualitative and quantitative attributes of the opposing armies in the spring of 1940?
- In chapter two Mercatante argues that following French defeat Germany could not have successfully invaded England. What evidence does he present to back this argument, and do you agree with his position?
- What evidence does Mercatante present in chapter two to support his contention that the war in the Mediterranean represented a strategic dead end for Germany?
PART I CHAPTERS AND SUB-HEADINGS:
CHAPTER 1/WEEK 1-2: THE GERMAN WAR MACHINE ON THE EVE OF WAR: MYTH VS. REALITY
- The Framework For Nazi Germany’s Military Machine: Strategy, Tradition, Doctrine, Training, And Organization
- The German War Machine’s Doctrinal Base
- Turning Tradition And Doctrine Into Practice and Organization
- The German Army Rebuilds: How And Why Germany Chose To Integrate The Tank Into Its Army
- Questioning the Airplane’s Role As A Weapons System: How Germany Addressed This Debate
- The World’s Most Potent Asymmetric Weapon
- How Prepared Was The Nazi Economy for War?
- Was The Wehrmacht Ready for War?
CHAPTER 2/WEEK 3: THE THIRD REICH ASCENDANT: THE REASONS WHY
- Evaluating The German Military Performance In Poland
- Germany Looks West: The Critical Strategic And Economic Decisions Impacting German Military Power In 1940-41
- Comparing The Opposing Armies and Plans On The Eve Of War
- The French Campaign
- Evaluating Germany’s Options After The Fall of France
SAMPLE DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:
- Compare and contrast the Red Army’s organization, operating doctrines, and equipment to that of the Wehrmacht. Were there similarities? What were the notable differences between the two?
- This book offers a new interpretation of Operation Barbarossa, usually seen as the great German blunder of the war by those subscribing to brute force theories of explaining Second World War outcomes, as, in fact, Germany’s last and best hope actually to win the war. What evidence does Mercatante offer in support of this thesis? Compare it to what you know of the war and your other readings. Is there merit in his position?
- Mercatante contends that the Third Reich’s attempt to conquer the Soviet Union was not only inevitable, but also ranked among Hitler’s more logical decisions. Nevertheless, Germany’s 1941 campaign failed. Begging the question why? What reasons does Mercatante advance for Barbarossa’s failure?
- How does Part II of the book discuss the Holocaust and GeneralPlan Ost in relation to military operations on Germany’s Eastern Front during 1941-43?
- Was Barbarossa a flawed plan – what reasons does Mercatante offer for its weaknesses and its strengths?
- Did the Wehrmacht’s struggles during Barbarossa result from brute force efforts made by the quantitatively superior Red Army, or were there other more important factors driving events on Eastern Europe’s bloody battlefields in 1941-42? Cite to your readings in support of your arguments.
- What impact did the Red Army have on Barbarossa’s failure? Explain by citing to your readings to bolster your arguments.
- In the debates between Hitler and his General Staff regarding the overarching strategic goals for Barbarossa Mercatante contends that two positions were repeatedly taken both during the planning process and during Barbarossa itself? What were these two positions? Who advocated for what? Which argument advanced at that time by the actual individuals involved in planning and executing Barbarossa would have most likely given Germany the opportunity to cement its hegemony over Europe given what we know now about the Red Army’s battlefield performance during the final six months of 1941?
- How does Why Germany Nearly Won approach the initial months of Barbarossa? How does this approach differ from many past accounts of this period in the war?
- Mercatante focuses on the Moscow/Kiev debate of the summer of 1941 as a microcosm of the larger debate between Hitler and his military leadership? How does Mercatante’s exploration of this debate help support his position that attacking the Soviet Union in 1941 actually made sense?
- Many accounts of the war offer far greater praise for the decisions made by Hitler’s senior generals over his own – yet how did the Wehrmacht’s leadership (OKH/OKW) undermine the German war effort in Eastern Europe? Or, do you agree with the historical conventional wisdom that Hitler played the greater role in undermining German battlefield success? Explain, citing to your readings for support.
- According to Mercatante Germany did not need to take Moscow in 1941 to win the War? Do you agree? Compare Mercatante’s arguments to those found in your other readings? Whose position do you find more compelling? Explain why.
- What does Mercatante mean when in chapter five he states how Germany wrapped up its 1941 campaign would matter far more to the Third Reich’s chances for securing its hegemony over Europe then whether or not Moscow fell?
- How does this part of the book present wartime changes to the German panzer arm? How does this attention to the motorized and mechanized component of the German army serve as a metaphor for the larger story behind the Wehrmacht’s qualitative rise and fall? What does it add to our understanding of the internal reasons for the Third Reich’s military and economic failures?
- Many historians point to the inherent weakness stemming from Germany’s 1943-1944 economic position as being insurmountable – with the Allies out producing Germany in key armaments indices at rates of greater than three or four or even five to one. Yet, were these rates of production different than those faced by Germany in 1940 against the Anglo-French alliance or in 1941-42 against the Anglo-Soviet alliance that arose once Hitler launched Barbarossa? If not, what do you think caused the different outcomes produced by these separate periods of the war in Europe?
- In addition to its focus on the Wehrmacht this book also spends quite a bit of time focusing on how the Red Army made substantive organizational changes to its force structure during the war. What were these changes and why did the Red Army struggle to make deep operations work in 1941-43? What impact did Lend-Lease aid have on the Red Army’s ability to execute deep operations? Alternatively, was Lend-Lease a relatively minor factor in the Soviet economy and Red Army’s staying power during the war? Explain your reasoning.
- What is Mercatante’s take on Operation Blau (or Blue)? How do the German army’s plans for its summer 1942 offensive tie in with Mercatante’s contention that attacking the Soviet Union offered Germany its best chance to secure hegemony over Europe? What could Germany have gained if Blue met its objective? Conversely, what impact would this have had on the Soviet Union in terms of prosecuting the war?
- Explain why Operation Blue, as planned and executed, failed. What impact did the Red Army have on its failure? What impact did German decision-making have on its failure? Were logistical issues as important in undermining Blue as they had been during Barbarossa?
- Mercatante contends that the battle for Stalingrad was a classic example of qualitative measures trumping quantitative? How so? Compare Paulus’ generalship to Chuikov’s – who was more effective and why?
- Was Stalingrad a turning point in the war? Why? Or, were other cumulative points during the summer and fall of 1942 that in the aggregate stood more important to the war’s outcome?
- Compare and contrast Soviet operations Mars and Uranus. Explain why each operation, though carefully planned and well supported, produced very different outcomes.
- What was the overall result of the Soviet winter offensives on Germany’s Eastern Front during the winter of 1942-43?
- Who held the initiative on Germany’s Eastern Front at the beginning of the spring of 1943? Explain your reasoning for your answer.
- The first part of chapter eight focuses on the Battle for the Atlantic. What reasons does Why Germany Nearly Won provide for the outcome of this struggle? How does this narrative fit in with the larger themes driving this work?
- The second part of chapter eight argues that the war in the Mediterranean was far from Germany’s best chance to win the war, and that it represented a crucial drain on the German war machine. What evidence is presented in chapter eight to support this contention?
- Compare and contrast Germany’s approach to coalitional warfare, in both the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe, against the Allied effort. Mercatante contends these differences were significant to the war’s outcome? Nevertheless, those holding to brute force reasons for explaining the war’s outcome would likely disagree given the preponderant economic strength of the Allied alliance even over a unified and far more coherently integrated Axis alliance – who do you think has the stronger argument? Why?
- How did the opposing sides approach the summer campaign season in Eastern Europe? Explain the pros and cons of each within the context of the data being considered by each army’s leaders at that time.
- Why Germany Nearly Won presents Germany’s 1943 decisions in equipping its panzer divisions as indicative of a larger ongoing shift in Germany’s traditional approach to waging war? What does Mercatante state in regards to the impact this had on the Wehrmacht? Do you agree with him?
- What elements does Mercatante present as most determinative in the outcome of the fighting near Kursk during July 1943? Could the German army have met its secondary goal of smashing the Red Army’s strategic reserves? Explain why or why not – citing to your readings to support your positions.
- Why does Mercatante focus on the summer and fall of 1943 in Eastern Europe as the time in the war when Germany irrevocably lost the initiative versus the Red Army – and not the outcome of Operation Citadel specifically?
- How does Why Germany Nearly Won present and explain the outcome of the 1943-1944 Battle for the Ukraine? Do you think this part of the Second World War deserves the focus given to it by Mercatante? If not, then what other period of the war in Europe do you think has been overlooked in terms of its impact on the war’s outcome?
PART II CHAPTERS AND SUB-HEADINGS:
CHAPTER 3/WEEK 4: COMPARING THE WORLD’S FIRST MILITARY SUPERPOWERS ON THE EVE OF WAR
- Creating A Budding Superpower: Soviet Military And Industrial Reforms
- The Red Army On The Eve Of War
- Barbarossa and Generalplan Ost: Germany Prepares A War Of Extermination
- The German Military Machine in 1941: Powerful but Flawed
CHAPTER 4/WEEK 5-6: HISTORY’S BLOODIEST CONFLICT BEGINS
- Army Group South In The Ukraine
- Army Group Center On The Road To Moscow
- Army Group North’s Initial Month Of Campaigning
- The German Army’s Achilles Heel And Hitler’s Strategic Dilemma
- The Red Army Reloads
- Leningrad And Kiev: The German Army On The Flanks
- Operation Typhoon
CHAPTER 5/WEEK 7: AN INCONVENIENT DECISION CONFRONTS GERMANY’S MASTERS OF WAR
- Did Germany Need To Take Moscow In 1941 To Win The War?
- Barbarossa’s Defeat
- Stalin Overreaches
CHAPTER 6/WEEK 8: ANOTHER ROLL OF THE DICE
- Resetting The German War Economy
- The Soviet Union Rearms
- Dueling Plans For The Summer Campaign Season
- A Bloody Prelude To The Summer And Fall Of 1942
- Germany’s Second Great Summer Offensive: Straying From the Playbook
- Stalingrad: An Epic Battle Begins
- Stalingrad: A Lesson In Firepower’s Limits
CHAPTER 7/WEEK 9: STALINGRAD IN CONTEXT
- The Red Army On the March: Operations Uranus and Mars
- Uranus And The Sixth Army’s Sacrifice: A Turning Point In The War?
- Operation Mars: Zhukov’s Worst Defeat Puts Stalingrad in Context
- Manstein’s Counterstrokes
CHAPTER 8/WEEK 10-11: THE EUROPEAN WAR’S PERIPHERY
- A Case Study In Asymmetric Warfare: The Battle Of The Atlantic
- Winning The Battle For The Atlantic: Allied Ingenuity, Teamwork and Technology
- Germany And Italy: A Coalition Of The Failing
- Mediterranean Endgame
CHAPTER 9/WEEK 11-12: SEIZING THE INITIATIVE: THE SWORD VS. THE SHIELD
- The State of Germany’s Eastern Army In The Spring of 1943
- The Red Army Accelerates Its Transformation
- Kursk: Revisiting One Of History’s Most Controversial Battles
- The Summer And Fall of 1943 In Eastern Europe: How Germany Irrevocably Lost the Initiative
- The Winter Of 1943-44 And The Final Battles For The Ukraine
SAMPLE DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:
- Part III of Why Germany Nearly Won includes discussions of the air war over Germany, Overlord and events in Normandy following D-Day, re-examining the meaning these events had for the War from the perspective provided by this book’s overall comparison of qualitative vs. quantitative determinants in deciding the war. After reading these final chapters of the book do you think they helped advance Mercatante’s thesis, or do you think that these events lend themselves to a different interpretation of the historical record? Explain, using examples from your readings.
- This book compares the German victory over the Red Army during the spring of 1944 and along the Romanian border to the Red Army’s epic victory during Bagration. No other work currently available contrasts these campaigns, or their outcomes, to explain why events on the German eastern front unfolded as they did during 1944. Is Mercatante correct to make this comparison as one that is illustrative of the reasons why and when the Wehrmacht either found success or failed on its Eastern Front during the last year of the war?
- How important was D-Day and events in Normandy to Bagration’s success and vice versa? Very, somewhat, or not at all?
- Mercatante compares the Soviet and Allied operational art circa 1944. What are his findings? What elements does he single out as important in speeding along the US Army’s overall efforts toward shaping a doctrine that would stand up in practice?
- What elements does Mercatante point to as crucial in addressing how Germany hung on against all conceivable reasons as the world’s most powerful nations worked in concert to engineer German defeat during the summer and fall of 1944? Recent scholarship addresses the paradox presented by German military resilience in the face of overwhelming power by pointing to the Red Army’s transformation into a master of the operational art of war at the same time the conscript citizen armies of Britain and America painfully learned how to fight. Are these historians correct? On the other hand, does the conventional wisdom holding forth brute force as the reason for Germany’s final collapse during the War’s last year still hold its central place in the War’s historiography? Alternatively, is there something worth probing in a position arguing Germany defeated itself, or is this just another myth similar to those created by defeated German nationalists seeking to explain Imperial Germany’s defeat in the First World War?
- What reasons does Mercatante advance as being crucial in explaining why the Allies during the fall and winter of 1944-45 could not fully exploit the successes in Northwest Europe from August to early September 1944 and produce a quicker end to the war?
- Evaluate Mercatante’s contention the Battle of the Bulge had a significant impact on the war’s duration and outcome, particularly in regards to events in Eastern Europe?
- There is no question that the Allies had dominating advantages at sea and in the skies over France on D-Day, can you explain how this influenced the outcome of the combat in Normandy?
- Few aspects of the history of armored warfare are more controversial than those surrounding the events that took place in Normandy during the summer of 1944. What is Why Germany Nearly Won’s take on the relative strengths and weaknesses of Allied versus German armor during this campaign – explain taking into account differing doctrine, deployment, training, organization, and, finally, the technical differences between the opposing forces.
- Soviet offensives against German Army Group’s Center and North Ukraine from June into July of 1944 produced Hitler’s greatest defeats. However, the Wehrmacht was able to stabilize its front in Poland from late July into the fall of 1944, in spite of strenuous Soviet efforts to defeat German forces, particularly those fighting near Warsaw. How does this book analyze these very different outcomes in such a short period of time? Do you agree with Mercatante’s conclusions? Why or why not – using evidence from your readings to support your own findings?
PART III CHAPTERS AND SUB-HEADINGS:
CHAPTER 10/WEEK 13: A NEW PERSPECTIVE FOR EXPLAINING D-DAY’S OUTCOME
- The Allied Strategic Bombing Campaign’s Impact On The War
- The Wehrmacht Versus The Allies: Who Really Held The Pre-D-Day Advantage
- D-Day: Revisiting One Of History’s Great Military Triumphs: Did Overwhelming Strength Carry The Day?
CHAPTER 11/WEEK 14: HITLER’S GREATEST DEFEAT
- The Red Army’s Romanian Misadventure
- Deep Operations In 1944: Why The Numbers Game Fails to Explain the Red Army’s Success
- Bagration: Hitler’s Greatest Defeat
- Army Group North Ukraine Pays A Steep Price For Bagration’s Success
- Fighting On The Periphery: The Red Army In The Balkans And At East Prussia’s Borders
CHAPTER 12/WEEK 15: HOW THE THIRD REICH STAVED OFF TOTAL DEFEAT DURING THE SUMMER OF ‘44
- War In The Bocage
- Tank Versus Tank: Why German Armor Dominated Allied Armor In Normandy
- St. Lo and Operation Goodwood: Channeling Gallipoli?
- An Analysis of the Allied Operational Art: The Breakout From Normandy And The Race Across France
- Measuring Progress in Yards: The 1944 Allied Fall Offensive and the Battlefield Reasons for Failure
CHAPTER 13/WEEK 16: END GAME
- The Role German Defeat In The Ardennes Played In The Third Reich’s Final Destruction
- Gotterdammerung in the East
- End Game