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Turning point of WW2

LAURENCE REES: Barbarossa is clearly one major turning point in the war, isn't it?

RICHARD EVANS: Yes I think it is actually. Though of course Stalingrad is the obvious point because that is when the Germans have a huge defeat inflicted on them, actually I think just as important is Moscow in December 1941/ January 1942. That’s the first time the Germans are actually stopped in their tracks and they don’t know what to do. The generals only know how to fight offences, they only know how to advance. The Prussian Army has only ever taught them how to do that, meaning they’re completely clueless. Hitler steps in and in a sense sort of says ‘you’ve got to stand firm’, they all agree, but a number of them have serious heart attacks and they can’t stand the strain. The troops are freezing to death, they’re ill prepared and have sustained serious losses so they have to retreat. So, I think I would put Moscow in 1941 as the first major turning point and Stalingrad as the second major turning point. The retreat begins, as it were, because the advance is resumed again in 1942, but there’s nothing but retreat from 1943 onwards.

LAURENCE REES: And the most mistaken decision?

RICHARD EVANS: That’s a sort of a non-question to ask about the mistaken decision, because its assuming that the Nazis were rational and that they were fighting a war for rational purposes and therefore they make decisions in order to facilitate rational goals. You could say that the invasion of the Soviet Union was the most disastrous decision but it was the purpose of the war from the first place, so you can’t say they wouldn’t have made it. They shouldn’t have made it but that’s what they wanted to do.

LAURENCE REES: By that logic could you then say that in the end - from Hitler’s point of view - the war, even though it ended in defeat, hadn't necessarily been in vain for Germany because he had managed to launch the Holocaust?

RICHARD EVANS: Well no I don’t think that’s the case because obviously Germany was completely destroyed at the end of the war and that’s not really what Hitler wanted. Although he began to say towards the end that the German people that failed him and that they didn’t deserve to survive. But essentially he wanted Germany to be great and Germany at the end of the war was not great.

LAURENCE REES: So certainly as far as the Nazis were concerned you can’t talk about a mistaken decision, because they’re not, in your view, in a rational decision making process?

RICHARD EVANS: No, I mean it’s often said that Hitler should not have declared war on the United States, but it didn’t actually make all that much difference - the United States - as they were providing so much support to Britain anyway by that stage anyway. Hitler’s calculation was that since Japan had bombed the fleet at Pearl Harbor, the Americans will be all preoccupied with fighting Japan and so Germany has a last chance to defeat them. So he says let's clear the decks and enable ourselves to attack them properly from December 1941,  and in a way given the circumstances, that’s quite a rational decision. You see invading the Soviet Union is not a rational decision since it’s based on a whole series of false premises that the whole Soviet Union will fall apart, that Russian Armies can be completely destroyed, that Russian industry is not going to stand up to the pressure and so on, but it's one of the major war aims from the very beginning.