World War II is no doubt the most well-known war of all time. Leaders made some pertinent successful strategic decisions, as well as some of the top military mistakes. During WWII, many battles took place on many different fronts using a variety of armor – on the ground combat, strategic bombing, tank battles and battles at sea to name a few.
A top list of any kind is always left open for debate unless it is based on specific facts. This particular list is based on a basic overview and outcome of various conflicts. While it may not be the list agreed upon by all readers, it certainly has merit.
11. The Liberation of the Philippines – 1944
General Douglas MacArthur returned to the Philippines in 1944. He had been evicted two years earlier and had since maintained a strong desire to return. MacArthur was eventually able to convince Roosevelt to send him in an effort liberate the island chain. However, Japanese presence (air and naval) on the island had greatly diminished since the island was too far away for it to be of any real practical use for Japan. However, General MacArthur usually got what he wanted. In this case, both the time spent to secure the islands and the resources needed to commit to the liberation, meant the far more pertinent invasion of Okinawa would be delayed. Some felt WWII could have possibly ended several months earlier had it not been for MacArthur’s actions.
10. Kursk, Russia – 1943
In 1943, despite suffering a significant defeat earlier in Stalingrad, Hitler chose to once again launch a huge offensive against the Soviet defenders. His decision came at a time when those defenders, located in Kursk, were quite large and well entrenched. The battle that ensued would become one of the biggest land battles of military history. Though it was a definite challenge for the Soviet, their lines did not break. As a result the Germans lost vital parts of their army and air force. They had a long, arduous trip back to Berlin after their defeat.
9. Anzio – 1944
Many people are not aware of the opportunity the US had in Italy in 1944. Their surprise landing at Anzio (in Italy) had the ability to finish off the Germans. The Germans were taken off guard, which allowed a few US military men to actually travel to Rome in jeeps with little resistance. Though the city was relatively close to Anzio, their safe arrival proved the path to be safe for additional allied forces. Allied Major General John Lucas, who was commander of the operation, held off though so he could consolidate his troops prior to pushing on to Rome. His decision, however, allowed the Germans the necessary time to position their forces in a way that would detain the Americans for the next few months. This decision cost Lucas his job.
8. Italy Invades Greece and Egypt – 1940 – 41
During the summer of 1940, Mussolini mistakenly decided to unleash his large, but relatively inept army onto Albania and Greece. In addition, he decided to use his colony in Libya to push into Egypt. They were no match for the British-Greek forces (in the Balkans) and the British-Allies forces (in Egypt). As a result, Hitler had to send his own troops to save his ally – Mussolini. The choice came with a high price tag as many of Hitler’s valuable resources throughout other fronts were taken, delaying his ability to make a move against the Soviet Union. Some speculate that if Mussolini had gone into Spain (like Franco) and left Italy has neutral, Germany may have just come out on top at the end of the war.
7. The Maginot Line and the Fall of France – 1940
The French seemed destined to repeat their same failures from WWI when they went about setting up forces (fixed defenses) on its border with Germany. They called this the Maginot line. The strength of line was indisputable; however, they failed to take it all the way to the coast. This error left a 100 mile gap which permitted the Germans to cross over easily. In the spring of 1940, they took advantage of the gap and were able to encircle the British and the French Armies in Belgium, handing a huge defeat to the French.
Speculation continues as to the outcome of this scenario had the French taken the line all the way to the coast. Most feel eventually the Germans would have penetrated at some point with the same result.
6. Philippines Defense – 1942
In the spring of 1942, General MacArthur came up with an idea of defending the entire Philippine Island chain from the Japanese. His scheme was doomed from the beginning. He began with dispersing supplies throughout the island chain in an effort to defend every piece of it. What ensued was disastrous for him and his men and he was forced into abandoning the plan and moving all the supplies and men back to the Bataan Peninsula. Within a few months, after futile resistance, more than 75,000 troops – both American and Filipino – were close to starvation and forced to surrender. This is the single greatest military defeat in American history.
5. London Blitz – 1940
France fell in June, 1940, leaving England standing alone now against the Germans. An invasion by sea was anticipated. Britain’s RAF, though undersized, was the only thing keeping the German’s from seizing control via air. Germany began by attacking various British airfields. Britain responded with a bombing raid on Berlin. This small-scale attack did little damage but greatly infuriated der Fuhrer. The Luftwaffe Air Marshal Goering decided to move the raids from the airfields to London. However, this allowed enough time for the British to regroup and rearm themselves. Eventually, it also meant the Luftwaffe’s defeat. Within a few months, plans to invade England were cancelled.
4. The Invasion of the Soviet Union – 1941 – 45
Hitler had devised a rather ambitious plan against the Soviet Union. He wanted to knock out Communism from his own doorstep in a single, yet bold, move. It almost worked. However, the plan forced Hitler to not only fight a two-front war, but against two different enemies – Soviet Union and the United States. These two countries had far greater manpower and industrial resources. At this point, Germany was on the defensive and defeat was almost inevitable. They had depended on some new miraculous weapon that never emerged.
Many speculate that if Hitler had started with England and secured the western front, and then take on the Soviets, he would have managed to stay out of war with the United States and history may very well have been written differently.
3. Pearl Harbor – 1941
“December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy” President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Though an incredible victory for Japan, this well thought out and executed plan also began the planting of a seed that would eventually contribute to their defeat. The Japanese attack focused mainly on obsolete battleships. And when the Japanese pilots failed to knock out the islands main infrastructure(s) such as oil farms, repair shops and munitions storage facilities, the United States was able to continue to operate from Pearl Harbor using it as their forward base of operations throughout the war. Had the infrastructures been destroyed, the US would have had to operate from the west coast, making it more difficult for operations in the Pacific. Feasibly, this could have extended World War II another year or more.
Another error on the part of the Japanese was failure to sink the US aircraft carriers. Though these were their primary targets, the carriers were out at sea. The Japanese success at Pearl Harbor was a short-term victory which resulted in a long-term defeat.
2. Dunkirk – 1940
In June of 1940, the German forces had managed to successfully encircle the Anglo-French army in the north of France and Belgium. Ready to deliver defeating blows to the allies, Hitler – without explanation – ordered them to halt the advance. They were but miles short of what was an assured victory. Hitler was said to have done this to make a point. He wanted his generals to know he was the ‘hero of the day’, not them. Hitler’s decision permitted enough time for more than 300,000 French and British soldiers to evacuate to England. Without the successful evacuation, it is doubtful they would have been able to stand up to the Germans and Italians the following year in North Africa. This most likely would have resulted in the axis taking Egypt as well as the oil fields in the Middle East. This would have most certainly meant a very different outcome for the war.
1. Stalingrad – 1942
Undoubtedly, the battle at Stalingrad cost the Germans the war. In the summer of 1942, Hitler had an ambitious plan to take control of the oil-rich Caucasus region of the Soviet Union. Months of brutal fighting ensued leaving hundreds of thousands of lives lost on both sides and the city of Stalingrad destroyed. The following February, Field Marshal Von Paulus was forced to surrender over 250,000 men when his army became surrounded. Had the troops been withdrawn just a few months earlier when all hope of victory had dissipated, it is possible the Germans defeat would have been held off by at least a few months, if not years.
No one knows what the outcome of World War II would have been had any of the above scenarios played out differently. No doubt choices made throughout the war, and not just within the battles noted here, had huge consequences and greatly influenced the outcome of the war.