The actions, attitudes and experiences of German society between 1939 and 1945 played a crucial role in ensuring that the Second World War was not only ‘the most immense and costly ever fought’ but also a conflict which uniquely resembled the ideal type of a ‘total war’. The Nazi regime mobilised German society on an unprecedented scale: over 18 million men served in the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS, and compulsory Volkssturm duty, initiated as Allied forces approached Germany's borders in September 1944, embraced further millions of the young and middle-aged. The German war effort, above all in occupied Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, claimed the lives of millions of Jewish and gentile civilians and served explicitly genocidal ends. In this most ‘total’ of conflicts, the sheer scale of the Third Reich's ultimate defeat stands out, even in comparison with that of Imperial Japan, which surrendered to the Allies prior to an invasion of its Home Islands. When the war in Europe ended on 8 May 1945 Allied forces had occupied almost all of Germany, with its state and economic structures lying in ruins. Some 4.8 million German soldiers and 300,000 Waffen SS troops lost their lives during the Second World War, including 40 per cent of German men born in 1920. According to recent estimates Allied bombing claimed approximately 350,000 to 380,000 victims and inflicted untold damage on the urban fabric of towns and cities across the Reich. As Nicholas Stargardt notes, this was truly ‘a German war like no other’.
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