Hitler as Military Commander (7)

AH32The worst operational blunder (declaring war on the USA was a strategic, even a political one) was his disastrous “No Retreat” order. On all critical occasions he ordered his troops to never retreat under any circumstances. Thus ensuring their extermination by the enemy.

The most disastrous results of this genuinely insane (in a military sense) order was the destruction of Germany’s Army Group Center in summer of 1944 during the highly successful Operation Bagration of the Red Army.

Prior to the Soviet attack, Hitler’s generals advised him to pull back his troops – then trying to hold the city of Minsk (capital of Byelorussia) – to shorter and more defensible positions, so as to let the offensive hit empty space. Failing to persuade him of the necessity of moving out of the way of the Soviet juggernaut, they begged for permission to establish a defense in depth.

Instead, Hitler ordered most of his forces to hold in their forward positions and countenanced no requests for withdrawal, no matter how desperate the situation. The result was catastrophic. In one month’s fighting the RKKA obliterated Army Group Center, annihilating 20 divisions in the opening weeks of the offensive -almost as many as the Allies were fighting in Normandy.

Where he gave exactly the same disastrous order – had ordered the Normandy front held at all cost (instead of decimating Allied forces with murderous surprise attacks by mobile forces).

Thus ensuring the massacre of his best troops by the Allies who had the overwhelming air superiority – as well as seemingly inexhaustible supply of manpower, fuel and military hardware.

On the Eastern front, this order was doubly insane because it robbed Wehrmacht of the key advantage it had over the Red Army – mobility. It made far more sense to retreat when attacked and then counterattack after he Russians had advanced beyond their supply lines. One of the few German generals who had the courage to defy Hitler – Erich von Manstein – did this a number of times with devastating effect.

The “No Retreat” order was so fundamentally insane (suicidal even) that the only rational explanation for Hitler’s insistence on it being followed at all cost was medical.

Not only his bipolar disorder, but his overall health that after the failure of blitzkrieg on the Eastern Front was rapidly deteriorating. And, of course, drugs that he was taking on an everyday basis in quantities that could have poisoned a small country.

By that time his age (he was already 52 – not a vigorous young man any more), unhealthy lifestyle, diet, lack of exercise, and excessive stress, on top of likely congenital weaknesses (which probably accounted for his cardiac problem as well as the Parkinson’s Syndrome) began to take a heavy toll on his health and overall well-being. He suffered from chronic stomach pains and even got eczema on his legs.

Mentally, he was under enormous strain, which most likely caused the two abovementioned ailments and magnified his deeply embedded bipolar disorder. Which predictably caused violent outbursts of anger, phobias (even paranoia), hypochondria, and hysterical reactions.

The drug cocktail that Adolf Hitler consumed on a daily basis would have put to shame even the most solid and creative drug addict. His personal physician – Dr. Theodor Morell – was well known in Germany for his unconventional treatments. IMHO, ninety (!) medications that he prescribed to Adolf Hitler during the war years (28 pills and injections a day) definitely qualify as such.

An incomplete list of these drugs include such powerful substances as amphetamines, belladonna, atropine, caffeine, cocaine (via eye drops), E. coli, enzymes, Eukodol (Oxycodone), methamphetamine, morphine, Nux Vomica (a form of strychnine), Oxedrine Tartratem potassium bromide, prophenazone, sodium barbitone, sulphonamide and even testosterone.

Hence, to put it bluntly, by 1944 he was a total physical and emotional wreck filled to capacity with highly poisonous chemicals. Probably earlier than that because even much earlier he committed strategic blunders that were almost nearly as insane as those that stemmed from his “No Retreat” directive.

After the USA entered the war in Europe on Allied side (thanks to Hitler’s other strategic blunder) it was painfully obvious to any competent military analyst that the defeat of Axis powers in North Africa was only a matter of time.

But not for Hitler. Who for almost a year after acquiring another powerful enemy (as if he had a shortage of these) refused to send any meaningful reinforcements to Erwin Rommel. Forcing the latter to perform genuine miracles on the battlefield just to hold his ground (let alone win any battles).

Then all of a sudden (and right in the middle of a Battle of Stalingrad – far more important than any African adventures) he suddenly decided to massively reinforce Rommel’s army. Tens of thousands of German troops (desperately needed in Stalingrad) were flown by Ju-52 transport aircraft (ditto) and shipped into Tunisia in a futile attempt to keep a toehold in North Africa.

Hitler’s decision came long after all hope of victory had vanished, and had predictable results. Approximately 230,000 Axis troops surrendered at Tunis in May 1943, including most of Rommel’s legendary Afrika Korps.

Absence of these critically important army made all the difference in Stalingrad and very probably were the most decisive factor of the Soviet victory.

Actually, the whole Battle of Stalingrad was another enormous strategic blunder committed by Hitler. In summer of 1942 Hitler ordered his generals to seize the oil fields in the Caucasus (which made sense) and the city of Stalingrad (which didn’t), spreading his armies far too thin.

Thus violating the fundamental principle of a strategic offensive – to be successful, it must have but one objective.

Worse, right at the crucial moment of the Battle of Stalingrad he sent reinforcements to Caucasus taking them… from the streets of the former. It did not help Hitler capture the oil fields but obviously helped the Red Army deliver a devastating defeat to Wehrmacht in the Battle of Stalingrad.

The battle that Hitler waged ferociously, long after the city had lost any military value (which was not much to begin with). Division after division was fed into the Stalingrad maelstrom, where whole battalions were virtually obliterated 24 hours after their entry into the battle.

Insanely focused on capturing the city named for his mortal enemy (according to some witnesses, he sincerely believed that it would bring him victory on the Eastern Front), Hitler failed to notice (or pay attention to) the buildup of Soviet reserves on Sixth Army’s weak flanks. Which were held by Italian and Romanian troops far inferior in their military capability to Wehrmacht and thus no match for the Red Army troops.

When the Soviets launched an attack to encircle Sixth Army, they quickly (and predictably) shattered first the Romanian and later the Italian and Hungarian armies flanking the city. Two days later, Soviet pincers met at the nearby town of Kalach, entrapping the Sixth Army.

For several months the doomed army slowly starved (a “No Retreat” order prevented them from breaking out), before finally surrendering on February 2nd, 1943. Which was actually stupid – 90% of the 90,000 who surrendered in Stalingrad died in the POW camps in the Soviet Union.

Hitler’s maniacal (literally) insistence on seizing and holding Stalingrad had cost over 750,000 causalities, and the loss of an irreplaceable field army. It was, up to that point, the greatest single disaster the German army endured.

 

 

Disaster at Stalingrad made sure that Hitler will never win the war. The next one – the Battle of Kursk – guaranteed that he will lose it.

 

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