Digital Survivors

Buchanan is Wrong on Germany's 1939 Strength

Scott Manning
July 6, 2008

In Churchill, Hitler, and "The Unnecessary War", Patrick J. Buchanan argues that Hitler did not want to conquer France, Great Britain, or the world, because he did not have the troop strength for a "total war" in 1939. Buchanan aims to debunk this contention to prove his larger point which is World War II was an unnecessary war.

To close out his world conquest argument, Buchanan quotes a report from 1948 which states that Germany's military capacity in 1939 showed that it was not ready for a long war.

If Hitler was out to conquer the world, the proof cannot be found in the armed forces with which he began the war. As U.S. Maj. Gen. C. F. Robinson wrote in a 1947 report he produced for the U.S. War Department,
Germany was not prepared in 1939 - contrary to democratic assumption - for a long war or for total war; her economic and industrial effort was by no means fully harnessed: her factories were not producing war materiel at anything like full capacity.

(Buchanan, p. 336)

U.S. Maj. Gen. C. F. Robinson did not actually write these words.

Buchanan's source is Francis Neilson's The Churchill Legend. Neilson's source is a 1948 New York Times article written by Hanson W. Baldwin. The text quoted by Buchanan is the New York Times reporter's assessment of the report; it's not part of the actual report. Buchanan quotes the text as though it came directly from the report, because his source, The Churchill Legend, does the same thing (Neilson, p. 284).

Reading the Full Article Does Not Help Buchanan's Point
The New York Times article gives numbers that contrast Churchill's concerns throughout the 1930's concerning Germany's rearmament. The majority of the article states that fears concerning the size of Germany's military were exaggerated. Nazi Germany wasn't producing to it's full capacity until 1942.

However, the author goes on to state these numbers do not invalidate Churchill's efforts leading up to World War II.

This revealing study - while it stands in sharp comparison to some of Mr. Churchill's estimates and to other estimates - does not invalidate the Churchillian contention that Britain should have started to prepare long before she did, and that Munich cost the Allies Czech divisions, strategical position and other assets more important than the time gained.

But it also shows that military strength is considerably more than production figures; in fact Germany won her initial great victories with a production output smaller than the combined production output of her opponents. Organization for war, concepts of war, sound strategy and tactics, good training and administrations are all import ingredients of military strength and Germany had developed these. Germany was, on the whole, quite well prepared in 1939 for Blitzkrieg war against individual opponents, but certainly not for total war against a great coalition, which is the kind of war she got. (Baldwin, 1948)

Buchanan contends that Hitler's military strength in 1939 shows that Hitler was not out to conquer the world. The truth is that Hitler's army was the right size for what he was planning - quick, one-month campaigns against single countries.

The problem was Hitler never planned on being confronted by a group of countries.

Baldwin, Hanson W. "Hitler's Power in 1939: U. S. Army's Study of His Military Production Conflicts With Churchill's." New York Times, May 9, 1948.

Buchanan, Patrick J. Churchill, Hitler, and "The Unnecessary War". New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2008.

Neilson, Francis. The Churchill Legend. Appleton, WI: C. C. Nelson Publishing Company, 1954.

More on the "Unnecessary War"
The commentary on Patrick J. Buchanan's book doesn't stop here. We've discovered more questionable historical analysis, hacked quotes, copied maps, and flat-out mistakes in the book. Read more here.