What if the Axis had won World War 2? – This is one of the most popular ‘What if’ scenarios frequently discussed among history enthusiasts and writers on forums and in works of fictions. It is no surprise after all since it relates to an event both historically recent and profoundly significant, being further popularized by works such as Man in the High Castle, Swastika Nights and Wolfenstein which vividly present us with a dystopian alternative world where the Axis powers reign dominant. However, many of these takes on this topic tend to engage in undue flattery and exaggeration of the power that the Axis nations wielded. As any informed historian will tell you, the Axis powers had very slim chances of victory, being out resourced, outmaneuvered and outgunned by the Allies.
If in an alternate timeline the Axis did somehow achieved victory, what would the world have looked like? Taking cues from real-world analogies and with an understanding of the geopolitical realities of the major powers, we try to paint as accurate as possible the image of a world where the Axis had won World War 2.
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How the Axis Could have Won?
We first need to build up our alternative timeline by first creating the setting for how the Axis could have won the war. For that to happen, the US has to keep itself neutral. The lopsided economic advantage the Allies enjoyed over the Axis thanks to the sheer industrial might of the US ensured the Axis would soon lose out one way or another.
In our alternative timeline, isolationist politics triumphs over the US and the country keeps its neutrality throughout the war. With oil, scrap metal and rubber from the Americas still being supplied to the Japanese, no event like Peral Harbor happens. Without constraints on supplies, factions in the military favoring an attack on the USSR gain momentum and Operation Kantokuen happens.
Meanwhile in Europe, like in our real timeline, Germany does not have the logistics nor the technical capabilities to launch a successful invasion of the British Isles but with no lend-lease and dwindling supplies, Great Britain is eventually forced into a negotiated surrender. Great Britain likely loses its holding in Northern Africa and the Middle-East. With the Western front secured and oil being supplied from the south, Germany concentrates on winning the war in the East while the Japanese forces have already launched their invasion of Siberia.
Even in this far more favored scenario for the Axis, victory isn’t guaranteed against the Soviets. Like in our timeline, the Soviet still have ample military divisions stationed in the East to potentially not only repulse a Japanese offensive but threaten the destruction of the Japanese industrial base since the country itself is in range of Soviet bombers. Despite more resources at hand, Germany still would not be able to capitulate the Soviet before the onset of General Winter. Nazi racial ideology and prosecutions ended up being the greatest asset to the Soviet cause as people who erstwhile may have been of immense help to the Germans in their war efforts such as the Ukrainians and Belarusians rose up in the fight against the Germans alongside the Russians due to Nazi atrocities.
But for the sake of setting our alternative timeline, Hitler acts sanely for once and is more pragmatic in his occupation policy, Stalin suffers a stroke for some reason in the middle of the war and the Soviet thus suffer from a leadership crisis and finally, due to Japanese aggression, the Red Army mobilizes more resources in the east, leaving not enough divisions in place to counter German advance when Hitler launches Operation Barbarossa. The Soviet capitulate and the Germans consolidate their gains west of the Urals while the Japanese do likewise in Siberia, leaving a rump state in between them to act as a buffer. With that, the improbable has been ensured – an Axis victory in WW2.
The World of Axis Hegemony
Now on to the main question at hand – how would have history played out in a world where the Axis have defeated the Allies?
Similar to the split between the USSR, Yugoslavia and China like in our timeline, due to ideological and geopolitical frictions, Germany, Italy and Japan don’t remain allies for long once the war is over. Due to the exclusionist nature of the Fascist doctrine, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan eventually develop a bitter rivalry. Italy, Portugal and Spain, being threatened by Germany try to maintain an official stance of neutrally, even developing closer ties with the U.S as well to counterbalance German influence.
In China, with the Japanese unable to penetrate the vast interior of China and the Chinese Nationalists likewise, unable to dislodge the Japanese from the coastal areas, eventually, after years of a bloody stalemate, sign an armistice. The Communists, without support from USSR like in our timeline, have been completely eradicated. Nationalist China likely falls under German influence while the Japanese install a puppet government in the Chinese occupied regions similar to how they did in Korea and Manchuria. The scenario likely plays out similar to the North/South Korean divide in our timeline, only on a far grander scale.
The Third World
In our real timeline, the British Empire was already on the decline even before the war started. After the war, Britain was too weak to keep hold of her empire and thus gave in to pressure from the various independence movements in her colonies as well as growing domestic support for them. In our alternative scenario, call for independence is accelerated as the news of Britain’s defeat spreads to her colonies but Britain’s defeat also breeds a domestic environment of chauvinism, leading to Britain delaying or forcefully suppressing independence of colonies it could hope to still keep as part of its empire.
In our timeline, it was the intervention of the Superpowers, USSR and USA that allowed independence movements to succeed against European powers opposed to independence such as France and Portugal. In this alternative timeline, with the US neutral and both Germany and Japan themselves imperialist, many colonies are unable to gain their independence.
However, countries like India and Egypt because of their size are still able to achieve their freedom without need of outside intervention. However, any hope of democratic rule in these newly independent countries quickly fades as the victory of Fascist power over Western democracies leads to greater appeal for non-democratic forms of rule.
Meanwhile, like in our timeline, the U.S emerges as the largest economy after the war, having been spared the destruction of war impacting the rest of the world. However, the relative size of the U.S economy compared to the rest of the world only continues to diverge further. In this timeline, the U.S economy isn’t burdened by trying to maintain the Bretton Woods system (which doesn’t exist) and its manufacturing industry doesn’t face competition from rising economies in Asia. The U.S retains a trade surplus and benefits immensely from immigration as skilled talent escape prosecutions in the Old World.
As the years pass, the divergence between the U.S and rest of the world grows dramatically as innovation in the U.S gains pace, benefitting from a higher pool of talents thanks to immigration, high social mobility and less exclusion. Meanwhile, the Fascist powers lag behind as a lot of their resources are spent on censorship and suppression while a majority of the population is excluded from advancing, thus the talent pool is much restricted.
Both Hitler’s mental and physical health was declining rapidly in the last years of his reign before he committed suicide in our own history. In this alternative scenario, while he doesn’t commit suicide, he still dies in a few years after. Either Göring or Goebbels is a likely successor. However, If Himmler succeeds in the ensuing interparty struggle, a coup by the military possibly takes place.
Drawing lessons from examples in our timeline of instances where the ideological leaders died in a dictatorship, we can interpret that the first thing his successor does after seizing power is to purge individuals from the regime that were closest to Hitler to consolidate his own rule. Secretly Hitler is denounced in secret party meetings while a positive image of him in public is kept maintained. This is what happened in many real-life dictatorships such as USSR after the death of Stalin and China after the death of Mao.
This new regime reverts many of the old ideologically motivated policies as its main interest is staying in power and enriching itself rather than any strict implementation of the founder’s ideology. However, tragedies such as the Holocaust still continue. In our timeline, even as the Nazis were on a losing war front and short of resources, they continued their elimination of the European Jews. The only way to prevent the near extinction of the European Jews in this alternative history would be if the German people themselves protested strongly against the crimes, giving the military a pretext to curtail the powers of the SS. However, in reality, given how apathetic or even supportive the common public was of Jewish persecutions, such a scenario is unlikely.
On the other hand, the systematic destruction of Slavic people would be an unrealistic scenario. The regime, being short of labor due to the war and realizing that people are less willing to resist you if you’re not trying to exterminate them, instead pursues a policy of implementing a racially divided society with ethnic Germans at the top. Despite the official surrender of Soviets in the war, communist-led guerilla warfare and underground movements in Europe and Asia continue to be a drain on the resources of Fascist powers.
In this far less free alternative history, an Apartheid like system eventually emerges and becomes the norm, instead of multiculturalism like in our timeline. This would be the arrangement between Germans and Slavs in Europe, Latins and Arabs in the Mediterranean and North Africa, Japan and Han Chinese in East Asia, Whites and non-whites in the Americas and Africa.
A New Cold War Begins
The U.S of this alternative timeline doesn’t remain isolationist for long as news of the Nazi atrocities reaches the American press and politicians began to realize the extent of threat Nazi Germany poses.
Nazi Germany is the first country to develop nuclear bombs but other Great Powers such as the US and even Japan are able to develop their own nuclear capabilities by the late 50s. A new three-way Cold War emerges between the three Superpowers of this alternative timeline. The world is divided into three blocs, a Nazi-led Europe and Africa (which is still under white minority rule), a U.S led Americas and a Japan led Asia-Pacific. Lesser powers such as Great Britain, Australia and India either align with any of the three blocs or choose to remain neutral.
The Middle-East becomes, like in our timeline, a ground for proxy warfare between the three powers. Somewhere in the 60s, with the development of medium-range missiles, a Cuban-missile like crisis likely occurs, most probably in Iceland from where German missiles could reach the US mainland. Just like in our timeline, the U.S becomes highly interventionist in Latin American politics. However, in this alternative history, America finances socialist coups against fascist governments rather than vice versa.
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In our timeline, the Japanese economy, benefitting from political stability, greater social freedoms and access to rich Western markets, grew exponentially in size after the war. In this alternative history, however, the Japanese economy starts to stagnate far sooner with the Asian states under its influence in the so-called Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere unable to provide a large enough market for its manufactured goods. The economy also suffers from a lack of incentives to shift to a capital-intensive mode of production due to the easy availability of cheap labor and resources from Asia.
As Japan lags behind, both Nazi Europe and the U.S try and fill in the power vacuum it generates. Feeling more threatened by Nazi Germany, Japan develops closer ties with the U.S. It isn’t an improbable scenario. In our own timeline, the U.S did garner strong ties with oppressive regimes which opposed the Soviet Union and still today maintains an alliance with countries such as Saudi Arabia. The US signs a mutual defense pact with Imperial Japan as a means of countering Nazi influence in the region. Following the death of Emperor Hirohito, his son Akihito, taking heavy influence from the US, makes a deliberate attempt at democratizing the nation.
Meanwhile, in Nazi Europe, the first few decades see rising prosperity as Europe recovers from the devastation of the war and the large continental market becomes increasingly integrated. However, with the majority of non-Germans excluded from the formal economy, a parallel black economy strings up, creating sources of revenue for the resistance movements to sustain themselves on in Nazi-occupied lands.
In terms of technology, Germany retains an edge in many fields as rocketry, armaments and mechanics over that of US in the initial decades. The Space race is far more protracted and intense, with Germany being the first to send a man to the moon. However, by the ending decades of 20th century, the larger and more innovative economy of America allows it to outcompete Nazi Germany, especially with the rise of the domestic IT revolution.
As the economic gap between Nazi Germany and the US continues to increase, the former finds it increasingly hard to sustain an arms race, further hampered by the continuous fighting against insurgency in Eastern Europe, made much worse by implicit American support. With stagnating standards of livings and never-ending war in the East, protests begin to erupt across Western Europe.
The Nazi regime tries to increasingly relax its suppressive policies as a means of staying in power. This is what many dictatorships in our own timeline did in the later decades of the century. However, with greater freedom comes greater awareness of the outside world and this leads to even greater demands for liberty. By the late 90s, occupation of Western Europe becomes increasingly difficult and the German military begins to withdraw. Western European countries finally are able to hold democratic elections after decades of oppressive rule.
In Eastern Europe, however, the situation is far more complicated due to the presence of a sizable German minority and a history of prosecution of the Slavic majority. While the German regime does grant independence to the colonies, instead of democracies, corrupt dictators take hold of power on a pretext of maintaining social peace. These regimes are given backing by the now weakened but still powerful Nazi Germany.
The economic liberalization of Nazi Germany results in a large-scale capital flight and a severe economic crisis, threatening to plunge the rest of the world into a recession. The American administration creates the Bush plan in response, a series of concessional loans and stimulation packages to stabilize western European economies and encourage growth.
Declassification of official documents makes the world finally aware of the extent of past Nazi atrocities. Facing international condemnation and an economic crisis, opportunistic factions within the regime take their chance to switch sides and join the growing opposition movement against the regime. Election are held but democratic rule occurs in name only as many leading members of the past regime are still able to keep office. However, over time, the country slowly manages to transition into a full liberal democracy.
The Present Day
It is 2019 and in this alternative history, Facebook, Apple and Burger king still exist but man have been to Mars and the world is going through an economic boon due to the opening up of markets in Europe and Asia. However, racism is far more prevalent and the institution of universal human rights less entrenched.
India, which is ruled under a technocratic dictatorship, has become the manufacturing hub of the global economy. China remains divided between an increasingly isolationist Nationalist dictatorship and a fast-growing coastal democracy. Decolonization has just started in Africa. In East Europe, Poland-Ukraine leads the way in the growing democratization movement across the region. However, tensions exist between the German minority enjoying a disproportionate presentation in many sectors of the country and the Slavic majority demanding repatriation and affirmative action for past injustices. The US is more liberal and Europe is more conservative than their counterparts in our timeline. Canada is still Canada but less polite.