Hitler as Military Commander (8)

Hitler_color_328Eventually, the Soviet Stalingrad offensive petered out, and the Wehrmacht was given breathing space to consolidate a new defensive line and restore their depleted forces.

If it was to have any chance of negotiating a favorable (or at least acceptable) peace, now was the time to fortify in depth, build mobile strike forces for counterattacks – such as Erich von Manstein’s successful counteroffensive at Kharkov in February-March 1943 – and husband their strength to meet the next Soviet offensive.

Instead, Hitler became fixated on a massive summer offensive aimed at an enormous bulge in the Soviet line around the city of Kursk. Ordering simultaneous thrusts from the north and south, he hoped to trap the Soviet forces within the bulge, or salient, and to tear a gap in their line, allowing the offensive to continue to the east.

Aware of the massive preparations the Russians were making around Kursk (which indicated that the Russians clearly knew he would attack them), many German generals were reluctant to attack; even Hitler had doubts, admitting that the thought of the attack made him feel ill. Despite his foreboding (that he should have heeded), Hitler eventually ordered the offensive to go forward, .

Which was, of course, a colossal strategic blunder – you do not throw strength against strength in war.  You throw strength against weakness for decisive breakthroughs.

Consequently, it was no surprise that Wehrmacht suffered a crushing defeat after which the Allied victory was only a matter of time.

The next strategic blunder was committed on D-Day (no surprise here either). By early 1944, it was apparent to the German general staff and even Hitler that the Allies would soon attempt a Channel crossing.

In one of his flashes of intuition, Hitler predicted that the invasion would come at Normandy. Unfortunately for him and his generals (and for the whole Wehrmacht), he did not have the courage of his convictions.

When the Allies actually landed at Normandy, Hitler suspected it was a deception and that their real target was northeast of there, in the Pas-de-Calais region. Hence 19 nearby German divisions, including six powerful panzer divisions, spent D-Day idle.

Their early commitment to Normandy would have made the Allied beaches a living hell, and might even have thrown the invasion back into the sea. Over the succeeding weeks, Hitler became ever more convinced that the Normandy invasion was a ruse, and thus it was not until the end of July that he finally approved the movement of a single division from Fifteenth Army, which was guarding the coast near Pas-de-Calais. Once again, it was too late. By the time reinforcing divisions arrived, Allies were well on their way to victory.

Which has been achieved to a significant extent due to breaking the Enigma code. Which German High Command (and Adolf Hitler personally) believe to be impossible to break. Ignoring a well-established fact: there is no such thing as an unbreakable code.

This was a major mistake that the Japanese also made in the Pacific war as the US did indeed decipher their codes.  The British (and thus all their allies) knew what the Germans were going to do next in all theatres (North Africa, the Mediterranean, and in Europe) – with devastating consequences for the latter.

The next blunder was related to a war crime – widespread use of slave labor in the German economy. Which was the almost inevitable consequence of a severe shortage of factory labor … because Hitler had decreed that German women were not to do factory work (as it violated the fundamental principles of Nazi ideology).

The German leaders frowned upon the idea of women working in the munitions and tank factories as that might lead German Frauen to be less feminine.  That was a very costly mistake in their thinking.

The German war industry suffered terrible manpower shortages during the war, while millions of German women sat at home. Thus ideology once again triumphed over common sense in the Third Reich – with devastating consequences for the millions.

Who were essentially kidnapped and taken from their countries by force radically strengthening the Resistance and thus causing substantial harm to German war effort.

The related blunder began right after the outbreak of World War II and was a direct result of Hitler’s total inability to set up even a semblance of risk management system (it appears that he was totally unaware of this concept).

He never even though about planning for very probable contingencies – such as failure of his blitzkrieg in the Eastern Front. In which case Germany would need to radically increase its armaments production to win the war (which would become a war of attrition).

Thus a greater commitment to arms production in late 1939 would have paid big dividends in the course of the first years of the war and may have led to a different outcome.  Their armaments factories ought to have been running 24/7.  They could rest after winning the war.

Another strategic blunder that stemmed from Hitler’s total ignorance of risk management and contingency planning was a critical two-year delay in commencing the Wunderwaffen program.

After the Fall of France in 1940 Hitler was so confident of victory that he cancelled most weapons research programs, being certain that the war would be won with the weapons they had.

It wasn’t. Instead, two years later they were facing an overwhelming superiority of the Red Army on land and in the year – with those of the Western Allies being well on its way.

Hence the conclusion that only development and mass deployment of genuinely revolutionary weapons (i.e., Wunderwaffen) would remedy the potentially fatal situation, was a no-brainer.

The weapons programs were all frantically restarted; however, two crucial years had been lost, and worse, many key engineers had died on the Russian front where they were sent by another idiotic decision.

Germany did manage to produce some truly revolutionary weapons (cruise and ballistic missiles, jet fighters and bombers, guided bombs and anti-ship missiles, assault rifles, helicopters, night vision devices) and a number of very impressive ones (Tiger and Panther tanks, Panzerfaust and Panzerschreck anti-tank rocket launchers), but unfortunately it was too little too late to make any impact on the course of war.

The next colossal strategic blunder was also a direct consequence of Nazi ideology (that created a highly distorted and grossly inaccurate perception of the world). It was the abject failure to enlist and make use of the aid that the many Soviet POWs and much of the civilian population (who had suffered terribly under Stalin) could have given the Germans.

If appropriately handled, organized, led and (what was the most important) motivated, they would not only root out the “partisans” who were wrecking so much havoc on German supply lines in the occupied territories of the Soviet Union but become a military force powerful enough to put an end to Bolshevism in Russia for good. And thus to do away with the existential threat to Germany, Europe and the whole Western civilization.

Unfortunately, Adolf Hitler and most (if not practically all) his associates were (for ideological reasons) adamantly opposed to Slavs being armed even if they were anti-communist and natural allies of the Germans.

Only in September 1944 did Hitler at the urging of no other than Heinrich Himmler (initially a virulent opponent of the idea) – finally permit Vlasov to set up his Russian Liberation Army. By that time it was obviously way too late.

It is rarely advisable for political leaders to take over and micro manage the activities of the nation’s armed forces in wartime.  Yet, this was exactly what Hitler did (blatantly violating his own Führerprinzip). With catastrophic results in the East in the war against Stalin’s Soviet Union. And in the war in general.

Worse, at crucial and decisive moments in the war Hitler lost his nerve so to speak.  When bold strikes were called for, he acted not decisively for victory but timidly (and very risk averse) as though he did not really want to win.

Throughout World War Two Hitler worked from one of several field headquarters, in contrast to other heads of state, who remained in their capital cities. A small personal staff attended to him, and the army high command also kept its headquarters, with a much more substantial staff, nearby.

He held briefings with his senior military advisors, often in the company of Party officials and other hangers-on, each afternoon and late each night. His staff would present him with information on the status and actions of all units down to division strength or lower, as well as on special subjects such as arms production or the technical specifications of new weapons.

Every point had to be correct and consistent with previous briefings, for Hitler had an incredible memory for detail and would become annoyed at any discrepancies. He supplemented that information by consulting with his field commanders, on very rare occasions at the front, more often by telephone or by summoning them back to his headquarters. As the briefing went on he would state his instructions verbally for his staff to take down and then issue as written orders.

Hitler shunned serious, comprehensive intellectual effort and was largely ignorant of military affairs and foreign cultures. He tended to reject any information that did not fit with his (often wildly inaccurate) preconceptions. Instead he relied on his ‘instinct’ (which often failed him) and a (grossly incorrect) belief that the will to win would overcome every obstacle in the end.

He was known for heavily critiquing those who reported to him and became angry and frustrated with mistakes. Hence his generals often did not tell him the whole truth when they could avoid doing so out of fear of being punished. Naturally, this led to even worse decisions from him than he might have otherwise made.

Without establishing a two-way relationship, Hitler could not, and would not, rely on the opinions of others, resorting to his instincts and opinions. As a leader, he did little to build a relationship with his followers, focusing on direct control rather than mutual communication.

Hitler could take credit for things that went well easily enough. Things that went badly? They were never his fault, and some underling usually had to pay for it. The Wehrmacht’s generals took a lot of heat from Hitler for failed operations that he himself had ordered.

Hitler largely viewed the failure of the German war effort as being the fault of the country he led as opposed to being the result of his own lousy decisions. Hence the infamous “Nero Decree” (see Appendix), where rather than let the country fall into anyone else’s hands (and partly to punish the failures who’d let the war get to this point), he ordered that everything had to burn.

Like Stalin, Hitler kept very weird hours. However, unlike it was with the Soviet leader, getting The Führer to make decisions was frequently a notoriously painful affair.

When he did come to a decision, he had a really nasty habit of reversing himself. And when he stuck to his ideas on what to prioritize, his decision was often terrible. In 1944, the Wehrmacht couldn’t afford to spend its resources razing occupied Warsaw to the ground – but Hitler ordered it all the same.

He had a very unpleasant propensity to approve multiple military projects in the same space when there were only resources for one project. The special weapons projects (e.g. the V-2s and the Nazi nuclear program) in particular saw this happen.

Meetings with Hitler were rarely direct and to the point. They often lacked an agenda, and even when they had one, he rarely stuck to it. Hitler often would expound at length on topics that didn’t matter at all – his “planned retirement,” for example, during war meetings.

Obviously, Hitler took the practice of personal command much too far. No military leader can hope to understand the realities of the situation on the ground from hundreds of miles away, and yet he came to believe that he could control all but the smallest units at the front. At the end of 1942, for example, during the battle of Stalingrad, he actually had a street map of the city spread out before him so that he could follow the fighting, block by block.

Similarly, near the end of the war he ordered that no unit could move without his express permission, and he demanded lengthy reports on every armored vehicle and position that his forces lost. Such methods guaranteed that opportunities and dangers alike would go unnoticed, that good commanders would be trapped in impossible situations and bad ones allowed to avoid responsibility.

Hitler also combined his insistence on personal control with a leadership style that often consisted of equal parts indecisiveness and stubbornness. He sometimes put off difficult decisions for weeks, especially as the military situation grew worse.

In 1943, for instance, his inability to make up his mind about an attack at Kursk eventually pushed the attack back from April to July, by which time the Soviets were well prepared. The offensive predictably failed thus dooming the Third Reich – and personally Adolf Hitler.

Arguments among his commanders and advisors did not help the situation. By late 1942 Hitler’s subordinates had split into cliques that competed for increasingly scarce resources, while he remained the final arbiter of all disputes. His senior knew that the last man to brief him often got what he wanted and so had to get very political.

At other times, though, Hitler would cling to a decision stubbornly, regardless of its merits. His decision to attack in the Ardennes in 1944 is one good example: his commanders tried, both directly and indirectly, to persuade him to adopt a more realistic plan, without success.

It was a genuine miracle that despite blunder after blunder, Germany resisted the combined might of the world’s greatest powers for almost half a decade. This is a testament to the operational capabilities of the German army, which demonstrated remarkable recuperative powers throughout the war.

Even as late as 1945, the battered Wehrmacht proved capable of lashing out viciously at its tormentors, inflicting more than two battle losses for every one sustained in the war’s final months. But it was all in vain. Prowess on the battlefield could not overcome incompetence at the top.

However, although Hitler lost World War II, he still won the existential war with the Soviet Union, because he prevented Joseph Stalin from taking over mot of Germany and most of Europe (and from destroying the parts occupied by the Red Army).

In the summer of 1941, a surprise attack on Europe would have been a guaranteed success. In the summer of 1945, it was a guaranteed suicide.

Being obsessed with the idea of world domination, Stalin, of course, could not stop. He consolidated his power over Eastern Europe (however, Yugoslavia, Albania and subsequently Romania largely escaped from his clutches), expanded into Asia establishing puppet regime in China (not for long) and North Korea followed decades later by Communist regimes in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

Stalin’s successors expanded the Soviet influence into Africa (Ethiopia, Angola, Mozambique, etc.) and Latin America (Cuba and Nicaragua not to mention Communist guerilla activities in Guatemala, El Salvador, etc.).

But he had to forget about conquering Western Europe (and thus about genuine world domination). For good. This defeat (and it was a defeat all right) was so devastating for the “Red Tamerlane” that he genuinely felt that he had lost the war.

And from the perspective of his original goal of conquering and transforming the world, he did. Which meant that Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany have fulfilled their Divine Mission – prevented the Bolshevist Soviet Union from conquering and destroying the Western civilization. It succeeded at an enormous (and mostly unnecessary) cost, but it succeeded.

It destroyed sufficient amount of the Soviet military-industrial complex and survived the war of attrition long enough to put an end to the existential Soviet threat to the Western civilization.

In the end, it was all that really mattered.

 

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