How the Allies Could have Prevented the Rise of Hitler and the Jewish Holocaust Part 2

This is Part 2 of a 4 series. Part 1 can be accessed here.

Honor the results of plebiscites for territories the Allies sought to separate from Germany

One of Wilson’s Fourteen Points was the principle of self-determination for all of the people of Europe. However, this was one of a number of the Fourteen Points, which the victorious Allies refused to honor. There were a total of ten territories forcibly separated from Germany by the Allies following its defeat, however, the Allies only permitted plebiscites in four of them. Of the four plebiscites conducted by the Allies between 1919-1921, all but one resulted in the residents of these territories voting overwhelmingly to remain with Germany. Most of the remaining six would have likely voted to remain German as well had they been permitted to vote on the question. A plebiscite should have been held in German-speaking Alsace-Lorraine as it is unclear whether they would have voted to remain with Germany or not, but the residents of this territory were never given the option to do so. However, peace with France was critical to Germany’s chances of avoiding a Second World War with the Western powers and German leaders were resigned to losing it from the time they requested an armistice. Also, the residents of northern Schleswig voted to join Denmark so that annexation should have been allowed as well. However, Belgium should not have annexed the Eupen-Malmedy district without a plebiscite, which Germany likely would have won. Furthermore, Czechoslovakia should not have annexed the Hultschiner Region in 1920, which surveys at the time showed wished to remain German.

A just treaty would have permitted Poland to annex some of the same territories she annexed from Germany in actual history. However, any peace should have mandated plebiscites in Posen and West Prussia (which united East Prussia with the rest of Germany) and honor the one in Upper Silesia to let them decide whether to remain German or not, which the Allies didn’t in actual history. This was likely due to the fact that in all three plebiscites that they did allow (two in East Prussia and one in Upper Silesia), the residents of the territories polled voted overwhelmingly to remain part of Germany and they likely feared Posen and West Prussia, which were seized by Polish forces in the months after the war, would likely vote to remain German as well. Given that West Prussia would have been assured to vote to remain with Germany and the outcome of a plebiscite in Posen was uncertain, a more reasonable border adjustment might have allowed for Germany to retain all of West Prussia and Upper Silesia while ceding the majority of Posen province, including all of the areas which had an ethnic Polish majority to Poland which is exactly what the German delegation to Versailles proposed. In the Locarno treaties of 1925 between Germany and the Allied powers, Germany gave up all claims to lost western territories, most notably Alsace-Lorraine. However, the Allies deliberately left open the possibility that Germany would be permitted an adjustment to its borders with Poland and Czechoslovakia, seeming to acknowledge the injustice of forcing Germans to live under foreign rule and perhaps more importantly the importance of returning the Polish Corridor to Germany to avoid another potential world war. A Germany that only lost most of Posen (and Memel) to the Poles in a fair plebiscite would have almost assuredly never have felt the need to fight a war to take them back.

In actual history, Polish annexation of so many German territories against the will of their inhabitants caused some German leaders to begin considering allying with Soviet Russia against Poland as early as 1920 in order to regain their lost territories, sowing the seeds of future conflict. However, if the new German eastern frontier with Poland had been resolved based on the results of plebiscites rather than by Polish military conquest, the chances of good relations between the two countries following World War I would have been increased significantly.

Relocate ‘the Polish Corridor’ to the Baltic Sea so it didn’t divide Germany

One of Wilson’s ‘Fourteen Points’ was guaranteed Polish access to the Baltic Sea. Rather than dividing Germany in two with the Polish Corridor and thus all but ensuring the outbreak of a Second World War fought to reunite Germany with East Prussia, a more just alternative should have been employed which respected Germany’s territorial integrity. The German delegation at Versailles offered to grant Poland free and secure access to the Baltic Sea by making Danzig, Konigsberg and Memel free ports open to all traders where Polish goods would be exempt from taxes and customs duties while offering an agreement regulating the navigation of the Vistula River as well as special railway accommodations for the Poles. This proposal was the most just solution available and should have been accepted by the Allies.

Alternatively, a negotiated peace agreement might have mandated that the German port city of Memel would become an independent city (similar to Danzig in actual history) jointly administered by Poland and Lithuania with a rail corridor to Poland, if necessary. The territory north of Memel would be annexed by Lithuania while the territory south of Memel would remain German. Poland would conclude a customs union with Lithuania permanently guaranteeing the Poles access to the sea via Memel forgoing the need for the Polish Corridor which divided Germany and which was the principal if not only reason for the outbreak of World War II between Germany and the Western Powers. In actual history, Marshal Josef Pilsudski, the first head of the newly reconstituted Polish state, was keen to recreate the historic Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and a mandatory customs union guaranteeing Poland access to Lithuanian ports along the Baltic Sea is something he likely would have appreciated as a meaningful first step towards that objective. If Lithuania had refused, which it would not likely have done, then the next step would have been the restoration of some kind of Polish-Lithuanian Confederation, which Lithuania, fearful of potential Polish dominance over it, would try to avert.

Yet another acceptable alternative, proposed in a Foreign Affairs article, entitled, “A New Polish Corridor”, dated October 1933, soon after Hitler was appointed Reichskanzler of Germany, would have been for Germany to have ceded a twenty-five kilometer wide corridor to the Baltic Sea along the border of East Prussia with Lithuania, requiring the construction of a new Baltic port in exchange for the return of the northern half of West Prussia. Even if the Allies had merely allowed Germany to retain the small stretch of territory from the Baltic Sea to the Konitz-Neuenburg line, Germany would have remained united with East Prussia and World War II between Germany on one side and Britain, France and Poland on the other, would have likely been entirely averted even if Hitler had come to power.

Compensate Germany for its Territorial Losses with the Anschluss

Under the Treaty of Versailles, Germany lost 13.5% of its territory and 12.5% of its population. However, the sting of these territorial losses in capitol regions such as Prussia could have been much lessoned if not overcome entirely had the Allies been willing to compensate Germany with the German state of Austria and what was then known as Austrian Bohemia and which later became known as the Sudetenland. It is a little known fact that the ethically German state of “German Austria” voted for an Anschluss with its larger German neighbor in November 1918 shortly after Austria-Hungary’s surrender to the Allies. Under the principle of self-determination which was one of Wilson’s ‘Fourteen Points,’ both Austria and what was then known as German Bohemia, that later came to be known as the Sudetenland, should have been allowed to join in some kind of political and economic union with Germany since that represented the desire of the vast majority of their citizens.

What many people do not realize is that many of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler’s initial territorial claims were viewed as legitimate by a number of British and French leaders due to the fact that the Allies had violated President Woodrow Wilson’s commitment to self-determination and placed several million ethnic Germans under Polish and Czech rule against their will. This of course is why both British and French leaders were willing to ‘appease’ Hitler with German-populated territories in Austria and the Sudetenland in the Munich Pact of 1938 since the German citizens of those territories were extremely supportive of uniting with Germany.

That said, the Allies were in such a vengeful mood after the First World War that any proposal to allow self-determination for the Austrian Germans would have been guaranteed to be rejected by the Allies even as part of a negotiated peace settlement and would likely have to be revisited many years later as in actual history. In addition, as previously noted, only Germany’s retention of the Polish Corridor would have been necessary to avert a Second World War between Germany and the Western Allies.

Restrict the Size of the German Army to a More Reasonable Size

The Treaty of Versailles limited the size of the German Army to a ridiculously low level of 100,000 active-duty volunteers and banned them from possessing tanks, armored cars, combat aircraft, airships, heavy artillery, anti-tank and anti-aircraft artillery (which are entirely defensive weapons) and chemical weapons. The Versailles treaty limitations banning them from doing so were unprecedented in modern history and were never forced upon any other defeated power including most notably Napoleonic France which had terrorized Europe for nearly a quarter century of continuous warfare but at the Treaty of Paris lost no territory and was even allowed to keep some of its ill-gotten territorial gains during the conflict.

A negotiated peace treaty might have limited the size of the German Army to its 1871 level of 500,000 active-duty soldiers (not including naval or air forces). Instead of foolishly attempting the total and permanent disarmament of Germany, a negotiated agreement might have only partially disarmed them banning Germany from building or possessing airships, armored cars (other than for internal policing purposes), artillery over 155 mm in diameter, poison gas and tanks with a weight of over 35 tons Interestingly, Hitler himself proposed an international ban on these last three items in a speech he gave on March 31, 1936 and subsequently as well. This would still allow the Germans to field light and medium tanks, combat aircraft, light and medium artillery, anti-tank guns and anti-aircraft artillery. Banning Germany from building tanks over 35 tons would have effectively precluded them from building the 45-ton Panther tank and heavier Tiger and King Tiger tanks which have been universally recognized as their best tanks of World War Two.

In order to satisfy French desires to limit the size of the German army further, the Allies could have forced Germany to ban conscription which would have likely kept Germany’s military forces even smaller with perhaps as few as 300,000 volunteers in 15 divisions. By comparison the German Army fielded 315 divisions in World War II. Effectively limiting the size of the German Army would have likely caused the Germans to focus on developing a more mobile army with more modern equipment to compensate for their quantitative disadvantage. They might have modernized their smaller army into one which was fully motorized and perhaps even mostly mechanized (consisting of tracked vehicles) including better armed and armored tanks above 20 tons than actual history with up to a third of their army consisting of Panzer and Panzer Grenadier divisions.

It would have been highly unlikely that Germany would have maintained an army of anywhere close to 500,000 volunteers in the several years following the end of the war as in actual history their army melted away as Germany was wracked with mutinies and Communist revolutions after the November 11, 2018 armistice. The meltdown of the once mighty Imperial German Army, which had defeated the mighty Russian Empire and held the Allies at bay at the Western front for over four years, was so pronounced that it could not even defend its own core Prussian territories against the fledgling Polish forces in the east. The newly organized Polish Army managed to single-handedly conquer West Prussia and Posen in the seven and a half months between when the Armistice was concluded and the Versailles Treaty was signed on June 28, 1919 long before the restrictions of the Treaty on the size of the German Army had been made known.

In actual history, the Allies demanded the Germans surrender 30,000 machine guns and 30,000 artillery pieces right after the Armistice is signed while it was forced to surrender or destroy all of its aircraft, airships, anti-aircraft artillery and anti-tank guns, heavy artillery and what few tanks it had in its possession, consisting of mostly captured Allied models. Rather than mandate the surrender of the vast majority of its machine guns and artillery, a negotiated peace agreement might have merely mandated Germany to surrender all heavy artillery and siege guns to the Allies. Unlike machine guns and field artillery which are primarily defensive in nature, heavy artillery and siege guns (defined as all artillery and mortars with calibers larger than 155mm) were viewed as offensive weapons designed to create gaps in enemy frontlines, which could then be exploited by advancing infantry.

A further potential benefit to the Allies of allowing Germany to keep most of its World War One arsenal would be that in any future conflict, many if not most of its weapons would likely be obsolescent as was the case of the French Army in 1940 in actual history as they would not have felt the need to build many new ones. The exception might have been tanks, of which they essentially had none due to the foolish decisions of Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff in discounting their value, viewing them as overly vulnerable to artillery fire.

Limit the Size of the German Navy to 35% of the Royal Navy

Much like its limitations on the size of the German Army, the Treaty of Versailles limited the German Navy to a ridiculous extent. Only six pre-dreadnaught battleships (which had already been rendered obsolete and retired from service before the war’s end), six light cruisers of no more than 10,000 ton displacement, twelve destroyers and twelve torpedo boats were permitted for the new Reichsmarine. In addition, the Germans were banned from building any warships with main guns larger than six inches in diameter, effectively banning them from building any battleships, battlecruisers or heavy cruisers in addition to banning them from building any aircraft carriers or submarines. The Allies even forced Germany to surrender her entire merchant fleet, which had no military value whatsoever and which was absolutely critical to her near-term economic recovery particularly from the Allies’ five year starvation blockade. In actual history, the British ordered sixteen of the Imperial Germany Navy’s twenty-four battleships and battlecruisers to sail to the Royal Navy Home Fleet naval base of Scapa Flow in November 1918 where the Germans proceeded to scuttle all sixteen in June 1919 rather than allow them to end up in enemy hands. Germany’s eight remaining dreadnaughts, which did not end up being scuttled, were then seized as war prizes and largely used for target practice as in the case of the SMS Ostfriesland which was sunk by U.S. Army Brigadier General Jimmy Mitchell in 1921 in the first case of a bomber sinking a capitol ship in history.

As Great Britain herself ended up conceding beginning with the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, only comparative tonnage on dreadnaught-class battleships and aircraft carriers was of real significance. Therefore, a negotiated peace settlement might have left the German Navy in possession of its eight oldest dreadnaught battleships which the British deemed no threat, which would have equated to a nearly 75% reduction in the size of the German dreadnaught fleet, leaving it with a total tonnage equivalent to about one-sixth of that of the Royal Navy whose order of battle then included thirty-two ‘dreadnaught’ and ‘super-dreadnaught’ battleships, twelve battlecruisers and one aircraft carrier. It also could have banned Germany from building new battleships or cruisers with main guns larger than 8 inches in diameter or 10,000 tons in displacement with no other restrictions on retaining or building new aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers or submarines. Obtaining an interim 6-1 advantage over the German Navy, banning her from building new battleships and depriving Germany of all of her overseas colonies, should have entirely allayed British concerns that Germany would ever again seek to challenge the naval supremacy of the Royal Navy.

The Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935 would have been a just basis to limit the size of any future rebuilt German Navy to 35% of that of the total tonnage of the British in terms of dreadnaught battleships and aircraft carriers—which would have amounted to about 247,000 tons as of 1935 when the Royal Navy was at its smallest during the interwar period. The ban on new battleship construction would have forced the Germans to scrap their two additional Bayern class superdreadnoughts and three Mackensen battlecruisers. It would also have ensured British battleship superiority over the Germans not only quantitatively but qualitatively as well given that some Royal Navy naval experts believed the German Bayern class superdreadnoughts as superior to any Royal Navy battleship in existence at the time. Additionally, given the sorry state of the German economy particularly during the envisioned reparations payment period from 1919-1923 and during the Great Depression from 1929-1933, there would likely have been precious little funding or political will to rebuild her naval forces for many years at least.

Of course, the effect of banning Germany from building any new battleships or battlecruisers is that they likely would have focused on building a few to several light and fleet aircraft carriers and Treaty compliant heavy cruisers during the 1920’s and 1930’s while retiring their increasingly obsolescent pre-World War I-era battleships over time to stay within the total capital ship tonnage limits of the Treaty. Thus by 1939, Germany might have possessed a fleet of three to four aircraft carriers, which history proved of greater importance, to serve alongside up to half a dozen of their aging pre-WWI-era battleships.

Given these more reasonable terms it would have been highly likely that the terms would have been honored by the Germans at least until they were called upon to fight a defensive war and even then they likely would have abided by the terms limiting the size of their navy indefinitely in order to remain in Britain’s good graces. Such a compromise peace would have likely satisfied all of the victorious Allies but the French who would have loudly protested the failure of the treaty to fully disarm Germany while the Czechs and the Poles would have been less satisfied with their failure to annex additional ethnically German territories, which they annexed in actual history. However, banning the Germans from utilizing conscription to train a large force of reserves capable of being mobilized in two-weeks’ notice in the event of war might have satisfied French concerns that the German armed forces would remain smaller and ensure French quantitative superiority over them at the outset of any potential future war while incentivizing the Germans to focus on economic, rather than military, pursuits. France could likely have allayed such fears by concluding some sort of mutual defense agreement with both the Poles and with the Soviets as in actual history. However, as in actual history any mutual defense agreement the French concluded with the Soviets would have likely proven hollow particularly if the Soviet Union, which joined Germany in starting World War Two when they both invaded Poland in September 1939, was the only nation engaged in invading neighboring countries in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

So now that we have outlined a just peace with a defeated Germany to replace the unjust Treaty of Versailles, how exactly would this more just alternate history timeline have played out?

That is the subject of Part 3 of this essay.

© David T. Pyne 2019

David T. Pyne, Esq. is a former U.S. Army combat arms and H.Q. staff officer with a M.A. in National Security Studies from Georgetown University. He currently serves as a Vice President of the Association of the United States Army’s Utah Chapter and as Utah Director of the EMP Caucus on National and Homeland Security. He can be reached at [email protected]

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