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OTD in Berlin History | 11 December 1941: Hitler declares war on the United States

11 December 1941: On this day in Berlin history, Nazi Germany declared war on the United States.

Hitler declares war on the United States
Hitler declares war on the United States. (Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1987-0703-507 / unbekannt / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de)

Four days previously, the Japanese Empire had launched a surprise aerial attack on the US naval and army base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, resulting in a retaliatory declaration of war from Washington on Tokyo.

Franklin Roosevelt signs a declaration of war against Germany
Franklin Roosevelt signs a declaration of war against Germany. (Source: Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information)

The regime in Berlin had not been informed in advance of the Pearl Harbor attack plans and, under the terms of the alliance between Germany and Japan, Germany was only obliged to declare war if Japan were attacked by a third country – not if Japan were the aggressor.

Nonetheless, following a meeting between Hitler and members of his inner circle in Berlin, he decided to declare war.

Historians have debated whether there was any logic to Hitler’s decision.

The German High Command perhaps saw the the United States entrance into the war as an inevitability, and hence sought to seize the initiative before the Americans were adequately prepared to defend themselves.

However, the move effectively guaranteed the industrial and military muscle of the United States being directed into the European theatre, meaning Germany would need to fight a war on two fronts that ultimately proved to be unwinnable.

Thus the historiographical consensus is that this decision lay somewhere on the spectrum between desperation – and lunacy.

This slice of On This Day in Berlin History was written by Berlin Guides Association member, Sam Wiszniewski.

It’s one of four noteworthy events he’s chosen to remember this November. Keep an eye on our blog to see what else made the cut.