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Was the grand alliance of the Allies inherently more stable than that of the Axis powers, and how important was this to final victory?



Great wars always put large power groups against each other. In the 20th century this was seen in WWI with the Entente against the Central Empires and it was repeated in WWII with the Allies against the Axis. In order to check both groups stability and performance during the war and how this related to the final outcome each belligerent group will be examined separately. The social and political mechanics at the time of their formation will be examined along with the relations between its members in order to explain the group’s performance during the war.

Britain. Soviet Union.

The Axis approach to the conflict

The end of WWI radically altered the map of world (Europe with e creation of new states mostly) and imposed harsh terms on the defeated Germany. Germany was a revisionist country and wanted to release her self form the limitations of the Versailles Treaty. The heavy reparations and the economic crisis of the 30s brought in to power the extremist National-socialist Party headed by Adolph Hitler who claimed that the rejection of the post WWI status quo would be the solution for Germany’s problems.

In the Far East, Japan dissatisfied with its gain after WWI started expanding at the expense of China from 1931. In Italy the Fascist Party under Benito Mussolini dreamed of reviving the Roman Empire[1].

The rapprochement of these three nations was not easy and not without problems. Hitler had set his eyes on Austria from 1934 in order to incorporate her in the Greater German Reich. This did not sit well with Mussolini who prevented the first Anschluss attempt in 1934 with a military demonstration[2].

Mussolini of course expected British support in his adventure in Ethiopia as a reward[3]. When he did not get what he wanted from London and Paris, his attitude towards Hitler changed. Mussolini invaded Ethiopia ignoring Anglo-French objections and by 1937 withdrew from the League of Nations who after all had done nothing to stop him.

By exploiting too, the Anglo-French hesitations Hitler re-militarized Rhineland in 1936 but there is no evidence that he did it in consultation with Mussolini. On the contrary the Italian dictator was critical of this German action. Despite that Hitler smoothed the situation and in the same year formed an alliance with Italy. The very same year Hitler signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Imperial Japan.[4]

Mussolini in a speech on 1st November 1936 describing the pact as an “axis” gave the name that from then on the Italo-German alliance would be known. In 1937 he also joined the Anti-Comintern Pact.

The first effects of this agreement were shown in the joint effort of Rome and Berlin to assist Franco during the Spanish Civil War. Japan who worries about Chinese –Soviet rapprochement stepped up military pressure on China. Hitler found the opportunity to annex Austria early in 1938. Next on Hitler’s hit list was Sudetenland. Czechoslovakia threatened with war and with no support from England and France, the small country gave in to his demands.


From this point came the first problems for the Axis Powers. Hitler viewed the Munich Agreements as a stepping-stone to his invasion of Poland and gave no information of his plans to his partners. According to Ciano, while being in Munich Hitler and Mussolini never made serious organized efforts in regards to the “Polish Question”, any combined anti-Soviet strategy or any other joint action[5]. So Mussolini invaded Albania without notifying the Germans in retaliation for Hitler not informing him about the whole annexation of Czechoslovakia.

Hitler continued in the same “lone wolf” pattern. Without the knowledge of any one, he surprised the whole world with the German-Soviet Non aggression Pact in 1939. While with this diplomatic coop Hitler managed to throw the communists and their sympathizers in complete political disarray his Japanese partners thought of it as a reversal of their diplomatic arrangements with him and so Japan withdrew from the Anti-Comintern Pact.

Hitler’s attack in Poland set him against the British and French Empires giving the war a global status. but Italy was apprehensive and Japan appeared to pursue a more moderate policy towards the Soviet Union and the United states. The Japanese administration became even ready to take a more “moderate” stance against China because they considered the Soviets as a bigger threat[6].

The critical year for the Axis in Europe was 1940. The Werhmacht overrun Norway, the Low Countries and France with the application of what seemed at the time a novel type of warfare through the extensive usage of motorized assault columns with aerial support. It was then that Mussolini signed the “Pact of Steel” that made the Italo-German Axis more solid but Italian war preparations were inadequate and the Germans did not really evaluated the ability of their ally[7]. The poor performance of the Italian armed forces against France did not deter Mussolini from attacking the British in Africa and the Greeks from Albania. Both operations ended in catastrophic disasters for the Italians both materially and morally.

That explains why Franco despite receiving aid from the Axis proved to be more far seeing than his fellow dictators and prudently kept Spain (which was recovering from its civil war) away from further military adventures except for sending a division of Spanish volunteers in the Eastern Front. Franco’s prudence killed all serious Axis efforts to isolate Britain from the major sea root of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern oil thus allowing her to keep fighting[8].

After the fall of France Japan decided to reproach the Germans and signed the “Tripartite Pact”. The aims of the too countries were different though and no real attempt for formulating a plan to combine their efforts was made. Both side were talking with hints and no real commitment. The Germans wanted the Japanese to attack Soviet Union to ease their effort to achieve vital space (lebensraum) in the East. The Japanese from their part wanted to consolidate their gains in China and wanted the Germans to attack the United States that were obstructing the Japanese hegemony in the Pacific area.

When Hitler attacked Stalin in 1941 the Japanese maintained their neutrality and leaving the Germans, the Italians and minor allies to fight the bitter struggle of the Eastern Front on their own. As if this was not enough the Japanese attacked not only the United States but also the British Empire and the Dutch colonies in the Pacific, thus pitting the American industrial might in the service of the Allied war effort. Hoping to still induce Tokyo for aid against the Soviet, Hitler attacked the United States too. The war became truly global.[9] The Japanese kept maintaining their neutrality towards Soviet Union and the chance to knock out the Soviets was lost. Japanese ambassador Matsuoka also admitted to Hitler (almost in undiplomatic way and by the end of the war) that the Japanese had allied themselves to Germany for purely opportunistic reasons[10]. It might have come as a shock to the Fuhrer but the Japanese would regret it when the Soviets “rewarded” their adherence to the Soviet-Japanese non-aggression pacts with a sweeping attack in Manchuria and Korea in August 1945, thus crashing any hopes for a peace settlement with their enemies under the trucks of the T-34 tanks.

Axis minor allies fared no better with Hitler who simply treated them as vassals and was giving orders to their leaders like any subordinate. Mussolini fell into this category too after his armies fumbled in Africa and Greece. Romanians and Bulgarians were enemies and nothing demonstrated their martial weakness more clearly than their Navies failure to hinder the Soviets at the battle around Odessa in 1941[11]. The Bulgarians also moved behind the Germans to grab territory conquered through the efforts of the Werhmacht and no real desire for serious fight[12].

In 1943 the fortunes of the Axis Powers were deteriorating sharply. The minor Axis countries were seeing that the demands for the Eastern Front campaign were eating their poor resources voraciously. Both Romania and Hungary suggested to Hitler that he would better start finding ways to make peace.

The Fuhrer paid no attention to them and so they tried to take Mussolini to their side but failed. It was obvious that the Axis was cracking and Italy collapsed and surrendered to the Allies. When the next year the Axis minors tried to make separate peace with the Allies Hitler imposed pro German administrations and dragged them with him to the final ruin of all of them.[13].

The Allied approach to the conflict.

Despite the alarming growing of extremist political formations like the Communists and the Far Right in many countries during the 30s the Major Powers of the time (the victors of the Great War in particular) felt no urge to settle matters dynamically and there were also of differing opinion on how to handle the volatile situation developing in Europe. The difference of the British and French approach had started from the 1920 onwards[14].

The British who had suffered not real damage on their own homeland could afford to think more coolly, while the French politicians (some have served in the front also) being faced not only with the bereaved but also those that the war had ruined, so they were more in favor of the negative attitude towards Germany. And all things considered Germany was a neighboring country bordering France and not the British isles. During the 30s the British were more worried about how the Japanese attacks on China affected the colony of Hong Kong and their commercial interests in the Far East. They thought they had contained the Germans in the London Naval conference[15] so the issue for them was how to control their former allies in WWI, the Japanese. In their mind economic restriction would be enough to protect their interests[16]. And if this was not enough the Spanish Civil war caused security issues to Gibraltar. That was something that a maritime power like Britain could not overlook. It is hardly surprising that Chamberlain was not keen to fight against the Germans[17].

While the British and the French came closer by 1936 they did nothing to hinder Axis support for Spanish Nationalists thus allowing Franco to win. As mentioned above their opposition to Mussolini’s adventure in Ethiopia (territory bordering their colonies) in effect let Hitler have his way in Austria.

When Hitler raised the Sudetenland issue both British and French thought that Czechoslovakia that was surrounded by unfriendly neighbors who at best would remain neutral was “too far away” and they submitted to Hitler’s demands[18]. Letting the excellent Czech arms industry in the hands of the Germans was a bad idea. It also made them look weak towards smaller European states, which felt more inclined to cooperate with the Germans. To counter Hitler the British and the French guaranteed the integrity of Poland. Hitler ignored this and overrun this small country while there was no serious Anglo-French military effort in his western front[19].


This time period became known as the “Phoney War”. The combined Anglo-French attempts to deny Hitler the Swedish iron ore were thwarted by the German capture of Norway. In June 1940 France was knocked out of the war and Britain was left alone facing the Germans. The British actions to prevent the French fleet falling in German hands made the French viewing them as back stabbing enemies[20].

Mussolini’s overestimation of Italian strength and his badly managed adventures in Greece and Africa gave the British a brief respite but their only hope was American intervention. The fact that USA and Britain shared a common language and certain cultural traits helped them a lot. They saw themselves as the leaders of the Anglophone world who protected the values of civilization that were threatened by the Axis and (in the initial phases of the conflict) by the Soviets[21].

During the initial stages of Hitler’s attack against the Soviet Union the British were apprehensive. The British at that stage were puzzled about the real intentions of Stalin[22]. But Churchill admitted that he was ready to sacrifice the Baltic States to the Soviets in order to gain their support[23]. The Allies made a great step when they managed to overcome theirs fears that if Stalin did not intent to compromise with Hitler in 1942 after the repetitions of Soviet defeats as in 1941, then some other communist fraction might depose him and make a separate peace with the Germans[24]. The nightmares of 1917, 1918 when Lenin made separate peace were overcome- even with some difficulty.

The Americans perhaps because for them the war was not on their soil, understood that US posterity depended on the post war economic rehabilitation of Europe (including Germany) and they did not fought to get vengeance on the vanquished like the French did after WWI[25]. The US was the key player because it was out of the clutch of Luftwaffe’s talons and they could produce for the war effort unhindered. Also the American way of life was better suited to co exist with the western democracies and not with totalitarian states so Roosevelt’s first war aim was to tackle the traditional isolationist feeling of in his own home front and convince his people to fight. One can cynically say that the Japanese got him out of his predicament by attacking Pearl Harbor26.

The US supporting British survival through the domination of the Atlantic was crucial to the Allied effort because England was the only “friendly base” upon which the western Allies could launch a second front and the prioritization of targets greatly helped coordination[26]. If they could not immediately make the second front” at least they managed to coordinate their bombing campaign[27] and put effort in securing control of the sea lifeline for the British and also the Soviets[28].

The British who were reluctant to commit on the “second front” due to their dwindling resources[29] took the biter pill of the minor partner and while worrying about their colonies in the Far East[30] they subordinated their effort against Japan to that of the Americans and did not try to force upon them their different views for a post war world[31] 

The real surprise was the secretive and paranoid Stalin who actually cooperated with his allies!Stalin (and probably any one in his shoes) wanted to break the international isolation of the Soviet Union. According to Suvorov he expected to pick up the ruins after Britain and Germany had been exhausted but Hitler got him first. Seeing the Americans in the conflict and because of the extended “lent lease” he modified his plans. He got half of Europe where Russia always had interests; so at the expense of his people’s blood he benefited quite well for one who was an international pariah before the war.

One drawback in the Allied war effort that probably prolonged the war, was that when the Italians “wanted out of the mess” the Allies were not flexible in the negotiations, because they initially thought the Balkans as a preferable operational theater than Italy[32] and the Germans had time to respond and secure their Southern flank during 1943.


One thing that can be said is that the Allies truly made efforts to combine their efforts to combine their actions against the Axis Powers. (even if their efforts were mainly directed in the European Front) The Axis powers despite showing their leaders in nice cordial photographs they did not really operated in a “combined high leadership level”. But the Axis leaders cared little about diplomacy and exercised violence without scruples[33], something that made the Neutrals very cautious and seriously hampered the administration of conquered territories. The communications between Berlin, Rome and Tokyo were haphazard and this was an obstacle in Axis war effort making their strategy against the Allies ineffective[34].

Hitler’s approach to strategy was to decide alone and sometimes asking more for information rather than the opinion of a small circle of people who enjoyed his confidence[35]. That circle tended to change regularly with all the ill effects that sudden changes bring during difficult circumstances like war.[36]. But the very geopolitics of Germany on the globe forced him to give the direction that “the Army must take and hold positions on territories that were absolutely necessary for the Navy and Air Force to carry out their missions[37].

Except his efforts to come to an understanding with the Soviet Union despite his anti-communism in order to clear the Western Front and attack his “Eastern partner” later[38] he didn’t formulate any plan what to do with the western Allies except his conviction that the British would come to terms with him.

His chief obsession because of his prejudices was to attack the Soviets[39] and the minor East European states became his allies from fear of the “Red Bear” rather than from a plan to gain from the   “New Order”.[40] After all he viewed not as partners but as subordinates who were expected to carry out his orders.

The Allies started with different strategies but they came to recognize the value of cooperation and joined action. They set out a clear goal: “Axis total unconditional surrender” and coordinated their resources towards it. They also put it in writing by signing the Atlantic Charter. The United States were determined to make it work and they did not limit it to only the major powers but all the “United nations”[41]. The “Grand Alliance” as Churchill had called it included at least the major powers, even those who had suffered defeats like France and China[42] in their planning of operations.

Based on all the above it can be said that the Allies by preserving a great degree of frankness between them and relying on diplomatic approach had a more stable relations that led them to victory.




  1. Rostow, Anglo-French Relations 1934-36 Mac Millan Press, London, 1984
  2. McNeese, World War II: 1930s to 1945 Milliken Publishing Company, Dayton 2000
  3. Mallett Mussolini in Ethiopia, 1919–1935 Cambridge University Press, 2015
  4. T. Zabecki World War II in Europe: Routledge, An Encyclopedia London 2015
  5. Stilwell The Second World War: A World in Flames Osprey Publishing, London 2004

W.Churchill The second world war: Cassell London, 1964

J P W Ehrman History of the Second World War Grand strategy Vol. V London H.M.S.O., 1956

Suvorov, Viktor. The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2008.

J.B. Crowley A Reconsideration of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3 (May, 1963), pp. 277-291

«The Myths of Reparations» pages 231–255 from Central European History, Volume 11, Issue # 3, September 1978 pages 239–240

Kosmas Tsokhas ‘Trouble Must Follow’: Australia’s Ban on Iron Ore Exports to Japan in 1938 Modern Asian Studies Vol. 29, No. 4 (Oct., 1995), pp. 871-892


Papers presented under the auspices of the International Committee for the History of the Second World War, San Francisco, August 26, 1975 Military affairs/Aerospace historian Publishers, 1976


Websites:   (as seen on 28-4-2016)

History of the FBI World War II Period: Late 1930’s – 1945 from the Agency Website



Text of Tripartite Act from the Yale University Law School website



Text of Anti-Comintern Pact from the Yale University Law School website http://avalon.law.yale.edu/wwii/tri1.asp


British National archives on Chamberlain and Hitler



US State Department website about the London Naval Conferance


[1]           T. McNeese, World War II p15

[2]           N. Rostow, Anglo-French Relations 1934-36 p149

[3]           R. Mallett Mussolini in Ethiopia, 1919–1935

[4]           T. McNeese, World War II p16

[5]           H. J. Langer World War II: An Encyclopedia of Quotations Greenwood 1999 p180

[6]           J.B. Crowley A Reconsideration of the Marco Polo Bridge pp 280,281

[7]           A. Stilwell The Second World War: p67

[8]           D. T. Zabecki World War II in Europe p53

[9]           ibid p53

[10]          H. J. Langer World War II: An Encyclopedia of Quotations Greenwood 1999 183

[11]          D. T. Zabecki World War II in Europe p708

[12]          ibid p611

[13]          ibid p53

[14]          «The Myths of Reparations» pages 231–255 from Central European History, Volume 11, Issue # 3, September 1978 pages 239–240

[15]          https://history.state.gov/milestones/1921-1936/london-naval-conf

[16]          Kosmas Tsokhas ‘Trouble Must Follow’: Australia’s Ban on Iron Ore Exports to Japan in 1938 Modern Asian Studies Vol. 29, No. 4 (Oct., 1995), pp. 871-892

[17]          htp://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/chamberlain-and-hitler/

[18]          A. Stilwell The Second World War p51

[19]          ibid p53

[20]          D. T. Zabecki World War II in Europe p76

[21]          H. J. Langer World War II: An Encyclopedia of Quotations page 183

[22]          W.Churchill The second world war: Cassell London, 1964 vol I page 320

[23]          Ibid. page 324

[24]          H. J. Langer World War II: An Encyclopedia of Quotations Greenwood 1999 page 182


[26]          J P W Ehrman History of the Second World War Grand strategy Vol. V London H.M.S.O., 1956 pp 1,2

[27]          ibid p 6

[28]          ibid p 7


[30]          ibid p72

[31]          ibid p36

[32]          J P W Ehrman History of the Second World War Grand strategy Vol. II London H.M.S.O., 1956pp 62-65

[33]          Bell Philip Michael Hett: The origins of the second world war in Europe transl by L. Hassiotis Patakis pub;. Athens 2002 pages 297-298

[34]          Ibid   page 301

[35]          J P W Ehrman History of the Second World War Grand strategy Vol. II London H.M.S.O., 1956 p 38

[36]          Ibid p 52

[37]          Ibid p 53

[38]          Ibid pp 53, 54

[39]          ibid pp 535 – 537

[40]          Ibid p 538

[41]          R. J. Overy «Times» Atlas of the 20th Century Times Books1996 p103

[42]          W.Churchill The second world war: Cassell London, 1964 vol VIII page 335



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