Published: 1 March 2009
Air & Space Power Journal - Spring 2009
Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse by Richard L. DiNardo. University Press of Kansas (http://www.kansaspress.ku.edu), 2502 Westbrooke Circle, Lawrence, Kansas 66045-4444, 2005, 320 pages, $34.95 (hardcover).
In this excellent book, Dr. Richard DiNardo, a professor of national security affairs at the US Marine Corps Command and Staff College, examines at the strategic and operational levels Germany’s conduct of World War II as a coalition war. Even the most successful coalitions, such as the Allied coalition in that same war, experience problems and must work to overcome differences between national objectives and those of the coalition. DiNardo concludes that Nazi Germany’s coalition of European Axis partners—truly an alliance and coalition in name only—was dysfunctional and doomed from the start. He masterfully illustrates this in a clear, readable style backed by meticulous research and incisive analysis.
Germany and the Axis Powers is primarily a military history, though in addressing coalition warfare at the strategic level, DiNardo examines Axis diplomacy, such as it was, where appropriate. At the outset, the author notes that he does not consider at any great length either Germany’s relationship with Japan or its dealings with the minor players and puppet states within its orbit. Instead, he focuses on Germany’s military relationship with Italy, Finland, Hungary, and Romania—fully independent countries that contributed materially to the Axis war effort, particularly against the Soviet Union. In so doing, DiNardo examines the uneven and unequal relationship between Adolph Hitler and his counterparts in Rome, Helsinki, Budapest, and Bucharest. Axis leadership held no wartime conferences equivalent in substance to those the Allies held at Casablanca, Tehran, or Yalta. This lack of coalition cohesion at the strategic level had a deleterious effect at the operational level as well. The Axis powers did not form an effective combined military command, and, with the exception of a brief period in North Africa, the combined Axis military command structures that did exist were cumbersome and generally ineffective.
DiNardo clearly lays at Germany’s doorstep the bulk of the blame for the ultimate failure of the Axis to function successfully as a true coalition. Considering the tremendous difference in wealth and power between Berlin and the other European Axis countries, DiNardo correctly points out that Germany failed in the role of senior partner. He notes Germany’s reluctance to share technology and its failure to fulfill the promised delivery of even modest amounts of modern equipment that might have enhanced the performance of its allies’ armed forces. As is well known, the Germans not only failed to make the most of their own economic potential but also squandered the opportunity to leverage the not inconsiderable industrial resources of their allies. Germany offered patents and manufacturing licenses only reluctantly, and often at exorbitant costs. The marriage of Italian airframes and German engines produced some of the war’s best fighters for Italy’s Regia Aeronautica and served as an example of what might have been accomplished within a properly functioning coalition. As with all of Italy’s best weapons, however, the relative handful of such aircraft produced proved too little, too late. Considering how Italian failures in the Balkans and North Africa negatively affected Germany’s own conduct of the war, an approach that sought to strengthen its allies’ military capabilities would have brought Berlin a sizeable return on its investment.
Still, DiNardo does not resort to the facile argument that “it was all Hitler’s fault.” He notes that Germany’s military leadership failed to appreciate the painful lessons regarding coalition warfare that emerged from World War I. Moreover, the author amply demonstrates that Germany’s partners share some of the blame for the failure of the Axis coalition. While it is certainly true that member states of the anti-Hitler Allied coalition pursued national goals and ambitions during the war, they did not do so in a fashion that undermined their combined struggle against the Axis. As DiNardo points out, however, the same could not be said for the Axis. Italy’s ill-advised “parallel war” in the Mediterranean forced the diversion of limited German air and armored assets to that theater. DiNardo also levels well-deserved criticism against Benito Mussolini and his decision to send a large Italian army to fight alongside the Germans in Russia. Although lavishly equipped by Italian standards, this huge force was nevertheless ill suited for the brutal conditions it faced in the Soviet Union. At the same time, DiNardo argues, a fraction of that same force, together with its equipment, might have made a real difference in the fighting in North Africa. This was but one result of the lack of shared goals and a coherent coalition strategy among the Axis nations.
DiNardo’s work, like that of a growing number of historians, does not resort to trite stereotypes when describing the war efforts of Germany’s allies. For example, the reader can appreciate the exertion and sacrifice of the large numbers of Romanian troops committed on the Eastern Front. Likewise, he credits the Italians with fighting on in the face of the enormous handicaps imposed upon them by poor strategic leadership and a dearth of modern equipment. Considering the large and powerfully equipped armies they faced, the armed forces of Germany’s European allies performed heroically in the service of a cause many of their soldiers and civilians did not understand or support.
Germany and the Axis Powers is superbly written and richly researched. Those specializing in military and diplomatic history as well as serving officers will find much of interest and value in this volume. DiNardo’s study highlights the challenges US military officers will continue to confront during coalition operations. Coalition warfare is never easy; each member of a coalition faces different domestic, political, and technological limitations. Still, the United States and its partners have proven that they can successfully operate in the face of these limitations. This excellent book will be a valuable addition to the reading list of all military professionals seeking to better understand the challenges of coalition warfare.
Dr. Mark J. Conversino
Maxwell AFB, Alabama
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.