Nazi Germany and the Second World War – Causes and Course, 1933-1945

This information is for the 2013/14 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Sonke Neitzel E603


This course is available on the BA in History, BSc in Government and History and BSc in International Relations and History. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

This course is capped at 30 students.

Course content

The Second World War is the most pivotal event of the 20th century. It was the most global war in history and involved almost every country. Although a huge number of nations fought in Europe, Asia and Africa, Nazi Germany was the central actor in WW II. Germany’s radical war aims led to an unparalleled war of annihilation which included the Holocaust and the mass killing of millions Soviet POWs and civilians. The military success of Hitler’s army in 1940/41 was the precondition for Italy’s and also Japan’s entry into the war. This course will explore the role of Nazi Germany in WW II in an international context. Starting with an analysis of WW I and its legacy to the International system in general and to Germany in particular, the course will investigate how the three revision powers – Germany, Italy and Japan – destroyed the system of International relations founded in Paris 1919/20 and followed their aggressive foreign policy which finally led to WW II. We will then analyse the character of the war in Poland, in Western Europe and in the Soviet Union with an emphasis on the cultures of violence and the perceptions of the war/holocaust by ordinary Germans. New methodological approaches will be discussed which include the history of mentalities whilst we seek to define the specific character of WW II, also by a comparison of the European and Asian theatres of war. The Grand Strategy of the Allies, the role of economies, the controversial debates about Strategic Air War will lead us finally to the end of the Third Reich in 1944/45.


20 hours of seminars in the MT. 20 hours of seminars in the LT. 4 hours of seminars in the ST.

Formative coursework

Students will be required to write two conventional essays of 2000 words and one set of gobbet answers during MT and LT; and one timed mock exam in ST.

Indicative reading

P M H Bell, The Origins of The Second World War in Europe (London, 1986) D720.B43
R Chickering et al, eds., A World at Total War: Global Conflict and the Politics of Destruction, 1937-1947 (New York, 2005) D743 W92
I C B Dear, M. R. D. Foot, The Oxford Companion to the Second World War (Oxford, 1995)
*Germany and the Second World War. Ed. By the Research Institute for Military History, Vol. 1 - 9, Oxford 1990-2008 D743 G37
R J Evans, The coming of the Third Reich, London 2003 DD221 E91; The Third Reich at war, 1939-1945, London 2008 D757 E91
N H Gibbs et al., Grand Strategy (London, 1956-76), 6 vols D743.U51
K Hildebrand, The Foreign Policy of the Third Reich (London, 1973) DD256.5 H64
K Hildebrand, The Third Reich, Routledge 1991 DD256.5 H64
Akira Iriye, The Origins of the Second World War in Asia and the Pacific (London, 1987), pertinent sections D742.J3 I61
I Kershaw, Hitler 1889-1936, hubris, London 1999 DD247.H5 K41; Hitler 1937-1945, nemesis, London 2001 DD247.H5 K41
I Kershaw, Fateful choices: then decisions that changed the world in 1940/41, London 2007 D741 K41
A Millett, W Murray eds., Military Effectiveness, 3 vols (London, 1988) UA15.M64
R D Müller; G R Überschaer; Hitlers War in the East. A critical assessment, Oxford 1995. D764 M95
H Strachan, 'Total War: the Conduct of War, 1939-1945, in R Chickering et al, eds. A World at Total War (New York, 2005) D743 W92
H R Trevor-Roper, ed., Hitler's War Directives, 1939-1945 (London, 1964) D735 H67
G Weinberg, A World at Arms (Cambridge 1993) D743 W42 (available in paperback, and especially recommended as a general framework for the 1939-45 period).
G L Weinberg, Total War: the Global Dimensions of Conflict', in R Chickering et al, eds. A World at Total War (New York, 2005) D743 W92


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours) in the main exam period.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2012/13: Unavailable

Average class size 2012/13: Unavailable

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills