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Hitler’s fatal mistakes during WWII

Later this week, in 1945, Adolph Hitler will kill himself in a bunker in Berlin, ending his six years of terror in Europe and beyond.

It could have ended differently. He might have won except for some terrible military misjudgments that were of his own doing, often while his skilled generals begged him to reconsider.

For the past six years I have been avidly following a Twitter feed by British scholar Alwyn Colinson on @RealTimeWWII. Daily his 360,400 global followers have received a succinct report about what happened on that day as World War II progressed from 1939 through 1945.

My phone dings nearly every afternoon as the dose of messages and pictures arrive.

For us readers, the war is quickly coming to a close in Europe.

The misery, slaughter and inhumanity — even through the filter of 70 years and a 125-character limit on the message — have been shocking.

I’m no historian, but I have noted several events that could have altered the outcome:

1. Dunkirk. The German army had pushed the entire British army to the water’s edge in France in May, 1940, and the slaughter or capture of nearly 225,000 British soldiers seemed unavoidable. To his generals’ dismay, Hitler ordered them to pause for three days at the edge of Dunkirk. The pause allowed the British to assemble a ragtag flotilla of boats — even tiny fishing vessels — to ferry 330,000 British and French troops across the English Channel to safety. Had Britain lost a quarter million fighting men, the war might have ended then.

2. The Russian misadventure. The Germans underestimated the Soviet army by a million men, but the Third Reich’s eastward push, Operation Barbarossa, was wildly successful … at first. Delayed for critical weeks by fighting elsewhere, the dreaded Russian winter caught up with the Germans before the shell-shocked Red Army could recover. Stalin had gone on a two-week drunk after the surprise invasion by his “ally.” The Germans were on the edge of an evacuated Moscow with nothing to stop them … but Hitler. He ordered the army to turn to the Ukraine for oil. Instead of cutting off the head of the snake, Hitler left Moscow intact.

3. Stalingrad, 1943. The city had little strategic value, but Hitler postponed the push to the Ukraine long enough to claim the city bearing the name of his adversary. The Germans had been wildly successful everywhere so far. Not here. Nearly 2 million personnel on both sides were killed in the bloodiest warfare in history. The five month urban battle allowed the Soviet army to regain its will to fight. For the Germans, it severely depleted the ranks of highly-skilled and seasoned fighters. The German push into Russia never recovered.

4. The Japanese alliance. Germany and Japan had signed a mutual defense pact, but it proved no benefit to Germany. Japan didn’t threaten the Soviets, and the Red Army was able to divert all its troops to the German front. The United States had managed to avoid direct involvement in the war until Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Honoring the treaty, Hitler declared war on America comforting himself with the opinion that Americans were poor fighters.

At the end, Hitler was paranoid, sickly and heavily drugged by his physicians. Old men and boys were pressed into service when the armies had been depleted. Germans would experience the same starvation, rapes and torture they had inflicted on the rest of Europe.

Rejecting a chance to escape Berlin, Hitler killed himself with cyanide capsules and a handgun on April 30. Satan’s right hand was dead.

From the Twitter lessons, I have learned that our modern Hitler comparisons are woefully off-base. There is nobody remotely close to deserving that label.

My respect has also grown for the political giant who endured Hitler’s bombs and rallied his people to victory: Winston Churchill.

— Dwight Sparks