Thursday, 10 January 2013

Hitler as Military Commander

As a military man Hitler won victories that many professionals considered to be impossible to achieve. He formulated plans that were bold to the point of rashness. He enthused his men with a confidence and morale that took them through defeats and reverses that would have broken other armies. The sheer scale of Hitler’s military achievement is breathtaking.

Yet Hitler led his superb armed forces to total and crushing defeat. Having seemingly got the world at his feet, Hitler threw it all away and ended his days as the demented commander of a few square yards of rubble in what had once been his capital city. Whatever qualities Hitler had for good or for bad, he had them in abundance. For Hitler there was rarely a middle way or a reason to compromise. That is what brought him his successes and what caused his downfall.

There are many attributes which are essential in a military commander. Napoleon, for instance, thought that luck was the most important asset in a general. Hitler had plenty of luck. But other qualities essential to a commander were entirely lacking. He had no real empathy with the men he commanded. Despite having served in the trenches of World War I, Hitler could without any remorse send an entire army to their deaths, as at Stalingrad. The sufferings of those he commanded were as nothing to him, and as a result he had no real idea of their morale and abilities. Nor did he have any real competence in the business of moving his forces and getting them into action. Supply lines and logistics were a closed book to Hitler. When he relied on his staff officers to work out these mundane practicalities, and listened to them when they said which moves were or were not possible, Hitler did well. But when he began to organise these matters for himself, his efforts were doomed to failure.

Yet there can be no doubting Hitler’s gifts. His grasp of strategy was, almost to the end, superb. He could correctly identify the essential objectives for his attacks and, very often, the best way to secure them. Even during his last days in Berlin, Hitler could foresee that the continent of Europe would soon be split between capitalist west and communist east, and that Germany would eventually rise again to hold the key balance between the two.

His ability to foresee the reactions of his opponents was also highly developed. He correctly predicted that the French would not oppose the remilitarisation of the Rhineland and that the Austrians would welcome the German troops when they marched over the border into Austria. Not until 1940 was he confounded. He expected the British to make peace once France was defeated, but these expectations were disappointed because Hitler had not forseen that Churchill would become prime minister.

Perhaps what Hitler had working for him most was the tremendous influence of his will power and personality on the performance of the German armed forces. He could fire devotion in the hardest of men and stir thoughts of victory in those facing abject defeat. More than once it was Hitler’s blind refusal to accept defeat that held the German army together. But then it was that same refusal to accept the inevitable that caused him to take Germany down to crushing destruction.

Hitler was in reality a better politician than military commander. It was when he was using military force to resolve political disputes that he was at his best and when attempting to use politics to solve military problems that he was at his most useless. And he was a better soldier than he was a commander. In the trenches of the Great War, Hitler excelled as a front line infantryman. His courage and skills were never in doubt, though it is telling that he was never put forward for promotion above the rank of corporal.

Nor can the true evil of the uses to which he put his military gifts be overlooked. Hitler did not use his gifts to save a peaceful nation from sudden danger nor to overcome some tyrant. He used his military abilities, and the superb fighting machine of the German Wehrmacht, to spread evil, death and destruction across Europe. Even if Hitler had been a far greater military figure than in truth he was, there could be no forgiving that.

For Hitler military power was merely a means of furthering his agenda of retribution, extermination and conquest. He was always a Nazi first and a commander second.

from "Hitler - Military Commander" by Rupert Matthews
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Product Description

As F├╝hrer of the Third Reich, Hitler was responsible for deciding the German war aims in 1939. As head of the Armed Forces from 4 February 1938 he was also responsible for the overall Wehrmacht strategy intended to achieve these aims.

Hitler: Military Commander examines Hitler’s key military decisions during the Second World War, and assesses how far these decisions were militarily justified in light of the intelligence available at the time.

Perhaps most importantly it tackles the larger questions of how a non-German former corporal, albeit the holder of the Iron Cross 1st Class, managed to take personal control of an army with the Prussian traditions of the German Army, appoint, sack and sentence to death its generals at will, to lead it into a World War it was not prepared for, and, ultimately, to destroy it.

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