Tuesday 29 August 2023

Stunning numbers - How successful were the Axis powers in World War II?

The Axis powers (Germany, Japan, Italy) were on the losing side at the end of World War II; but how successful were they at the height of their success? 

I came across a stunning statistic that at their maximum extent during the war, Japan ruled 20% of the world's population, and Germany ruled 13% (reference see this video, from 2:30 - Italy and its empire was not mentioned, but would need to be added). 

This means that - during the course of WWII, more than one third of the world's population was ruled by either Japan or Germany! 

I found this a very surprising, indeed stunning, statistic; which shows just how very successful the Axis powers were, before their defeat. 


Jay Karamales said...

It would be interesting to see what the corresponding percentage was for Britain and the Commonwealth/Empire, plus the population of the US and its territories.

And since those Axis numbers were "at their height," throw in our minor allies like Mexico and Brazil, and the African colonies under Free France.

(Throw in the USSR too, I suppose, but maybe with an asterisk since I consider the East Front a separate war from the other theaters.)

Thanks for that link.

a_probst said...

The Nazis appear to have been plotting a selective reduction in the numbers of the ruled had they been victorious.

Wade McKenzie said...

Prof. Charlton: Allow me first to say that I've recently spent a fair amount of time reading the archives of your blog, and been well-rewarded thereby. Your perspective is distinctly both interesting and worthwhile, and I thank you for sharing your thoughts.

As regards the above post, and granted that it transmits an intriguing factoid, I'm trying to discern just why you find it so interesting as to characterize it as "a very surprising, indeed stunning, statistic". Is it that regimes which are stigmatized in the present time as epitomes of evil had such sway "at the height of their success"? Or is it rather that, despite their apparent success, they suffered such calamitous falls?

According to this criterion of population ruled, wouldn't we be obliged to ascribe a similar (if not greater) degree of success to the old communist regimes that centered on the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China? And by this standard we could even say that the so-called liberal democracies of the present hour are relatively successful, and/or that China and India especially are the two most successful countries today.

On the other hand (or in addition), by analogy with the fall of the axis powers, perhaps we're enabled to discern the prospective demise of what seems to straddle the world so triumphantly...

Bruce Charlton said...

@WM - You should understand that I regard the USSR regime as - overall - the most evil, and dangerously influential, of the twentieth century; so I am probably not making the point you imagine.

The most stunning aspect of the statistic to me, is the extreme rapidity of the success of the Japanese (in particular) in conquering *so many* people; but in combination with Germany, it is quite remarkable that two such relatively small places and populations (small especially compared with the USA, USSR and British Empire, plus the French Empire - maybe the vastness of China was not then so significant) should win so much, against so much larger and (initially) more populous opposition.

Wade McKenzie said...

Okay, got it. Japan's achievement both before and during the Second World War was indeed singularly impressive. And by the same criterion--an extensive hegemony exercised by a relatively small country--England's achievement from the 1600s/1700s on was really breathtaking.

FrankNorman said...

Hi there
To understand why the Japanese could expand their empire so quickly, one has to look at what they were conquering.
Most of it (outside of Mainland China, which was where the greater part of their army was active) was a collection of territories ruled by distant colonial powers, with forces sufficient to keep the subject peoples from revolt, but to fight off a peer power. It was not as if the Malaysian or Indonesian peoples would have all rallied to arms to fight to stay under the rule of European masters rather than Japanese ones.

Bruce Charlton said...

@FN - Yes, of course that is how - and much the same could be said about most of the empires (British, French etc). But it is still a stunning statistic.

Howard Ramsey Sutherland said...

Admiral Yamamoto, who had lived in the United States and travelled in Britain, foresaw what was likely to happen if Japan should attack U.S. and British possessions:
“In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain, I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success.”
If the quote is accurate, and it seems well-attested, Yamamoto was more clear-eyed than Tojo and his fellow generals. But I think even Yamamoto was surprised by Japan's initial victories, which were on a truly vast scale. After Midway, however, reality reasserted itself in the form of vastly greater American manpower and materiel, primarily naval and air power, and Yamamoto's assessment came true in three years. And, for all Yamamoto's brilliance, Japan did not produce an admiral of the quality of Nimitz to direct her operations.
How different might history have been if the Axis powers had not over-reached and had each had realistic plans for what to do with their winnings? If Lord Halifax's views had prevailed over Churchill's in 1940, and Great Britain had negotiated a peace, or at least a cease-fire, with Germany? If Hitler had heeded the general staff who warned against invading the Soviet Union, and concentrated on consolidating German hegemony in Central and Western Europe? If Yamamoto's wariness had prevailed, and the Japanese limited themselves to invading French Indochina and the Dutch East Indies for access to oil? If Mussolini had not chased a fool's errand in Abyssinia, and concentrated in the Mediterranean?
The great missed opportunity of WWII, ultimately for both sides, is that the [if anything more evil even than the Nazis, who were vile enough] Soviet Communist regime was still in power when it was over. In addition to a brighter future for Russia and the rest of the nations captive within the USSR, as well as those that became Soviet satellites after 1945, would Communists have been able to take over China without Soviet help? It's impossible to tally the lives that would not have been lost in that hypothetical history as opposed to what actually happened, but surely it is tens of millions at least.
Other WWII questions:
What if the Allies had lost the Battle of the Atlantic?
Should the United States have atom-bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Bruce Charlton said...

@HRS - Good points.

I'm much less sure about what really happened in the World Wars than I used to be. For example; I am one of those who regards the German invasion of the USSR as probably preemptively defensive - and done as a desperate gamble (better than waiting to be invaded), rather than from expectation of winning.

As far as the USSR goes; it seems to me that Britain in particular did far too much to assist the USSR (even at the cost of significantly weakening ourselves) - and that this was done because of communist fifth columnists which were found in high places all through the ruling classes of that era - whose allegiance was *primarily* to the USSR.

The most striking evidence for this is that Britain declared war on Germany (supposedly) for invading and occupying 1/3 of Poland (some of which was ethnically/ historically German); but when the USSR did the same a few weeks later, and occupied 2/3 of the country... Crickets.

At any rate, they ended up far stronger, and we ended up far weaker, than when the war began.

Howard Ramsey Sutherland said...

A stronger Soviet Union and a weaker Great Britain is hardly an ideal result for the Allies, I should have thought! In addition to the Cambridge Five and other Communists - Stalinists, no less - working their evil in the British government, the Roosevelt administration was shot through with spies for the Soviets and agents of influence, even within Roosevelt's own Oval Office (Harry Dexter White and Alger Hiss certainly; very likely Harry Hopkins and Vice President Henry Wallace). Part of their Leftism was a strong strain of anti-imperialism - which Roosevelt, a Leftist himself, shared - which meant hostility to British (and French and Dutch) interests. The British and Americans were allies on the battlefield, but it's a mistake to think that the Roosevelt administration had British interests at heart. I think Roosevelt had far more concern for Stalin and the Soviets than he did for Churchill and the British, all those cozy phone calls between "former naval persons" notwithstanding.
Postwar British governments have followed suit, and allowed themselves to be far too under the U.S. government's thumb. Consequences for Britain have been almost entirely bad (exceptions such as support of the Falklands campaign noted), and never more than now given who and what controls the U.S. government. But with the current PM, it's even more naive than usual to suppose that HM Govt have British interests at heart either.