WORLD WAR II was initiated by Powers whose aggregate economic potential for war was decisively inferior to that of their ultimate adversaries. There were periods when the plans of the aggressors gave promise of realization, particularly in the west. Yet everywhere those hopes proved illusory. The war dragged on until the economic potential of the victims of attack had been converted into a volume of war material sufficient to place a clear preponderance at the disposal of their commanders in the field. In both east and west the fighting ended in unmitigated disaster for the aggressors. In both theaters of war the economic base which had maintained the armies of the Axis Powers was destroyed before those armies surrendered.
Plans which came so close to success cannot be dismissed as irrational even though they culminated in disaster. They possessed a logic and rationale of their own. In an objective weighing of relative risks and probabilities, they were probably less irrational -- or at least no more so -- than certain crucial Allied decisions that are now revealed as turning points in the advance to final victory: for example, the British decision to go on with the war after Dunkirk.
The fact of disparity in economic potential, however, was all pervasive. It conditioned the plans of the aggressors for short, limited, blitzkrieg victories that would leave no opportunity for the massing of power against them, or indeed for the conversion of industrial potential into munitions of war. It conditioned the size of the armed forces that were mobilized and maintained in the field, and the rôle that was assigned to various types of weapons. It conditioned the strategy of offensive and defensive operations. Above all, it imposed indeterminate but nevertheless inexorable time limits on the planning of the aggressors. Starting with more matériel on hand, but grossly inferior in economic potential, the Axis had to make speed in the achievement of victory a consideration of primary importance.
A good general
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