Hitler’s Most Fundamental Blunder

AH1His most fundamental blunder (which became the root cause for all others) was his failure (more likely, refusal) to understand and accept that the failure of his blitzkrieg on the Eastern front forced him out of his area of competence. And, unlike in two previous cases – British and North African campaigns – for good.

Adolf Hitler was a highly successful military commander. Outstanding. Brilliant. One of the most accomplished one in the history of warfare. But, alas, he knew how to fight – and win – only one kind of war.

Blitzkrieg. A daring combined land and air assault that had one clear objective – destroy enough of opposing armed forces and capture enough of the enemy territory to force the latter to sign peace treaty on Hitler’s terms or unconditionally surrender.

The reasons for this ultimately crippling and even devastating (literally) limitations were plain and simple. First, Adolf Hitler had no military education, training and experience needed to competently command troops in different types of engagements.

Being a genius of genuinely superhuman powers he overcame this limitation by figuring out how to fight and win one type of war (and do it often better than very educated and very experienced generals). But figuring out how to fight other types of engagements was too much even for the genius of his caliber.

Second, he was fundamentally culturally different from commanders of his troops. He once declared:

I have a National Socialist Luftwaffe, a Prussian Army and a Christian Navy’.

Navy did not matter (after Hitler declared war on the USA even daring and heroic actions of U-boot commanders and sailors could not make any meaningful impact on the course of war) and Luftwaffe was only a supporting force for the Army.

Which had a mentality (corporate culture, actually) very different from National-Socialism. And being a very efficient fighting machine (the best in the world, actually) could not and should not be reengineered into a National-Socialist force.

Hitler tried to remedy this situation (which for The Führer) was totally unacceptable by giving a green light to Heinrich Himmler to create a “parallel army” – Waffen-SS. Thus violating a solemn promise he made to German Army leaders after the Night of the Long Knives: that there will be no “parallel army” in Nazi Germany. Parallel to Wehrmacht, that is.

In all of his previous successful campaigns this fundamental cultural difference did not matter much because Hitler commanded essentially a task force that existed (and fought) only a relatively short engagement that lasted for several weeks (a few months at the most – like it was in the Soviet Union). In a war of attrition it very much did.

Could Adolf Hitler remedied this unfortunate situation and fixed this fundamental problem? Sure – by doing what every successful entrepreneur of any kind ultimately does: transferring control (i.e. management of his campaign) to professionals. In his case by creatively applying his Führerprinzip.

He should have chosen the most capable Army general – and endowed him with absolute authority in fighting the war on both fronts. In other words, make him commander-in-chief of German armed forces. In other words, of the whole Wehrmacht.

He had at least half a dozen of very competent, accomplished and able generals to choose from: Erich von Manstein, Heinz Guderian, Erwin Rommel, Walter Model, Fedor von Bock, Gerd von Rundstedt.

Making Albert Kesselring commander-in-chief of Luftwaffe and Karl Dönitz – of Kriegsmarine. And making both of them – in full compliance to his omnipresent Führerprinzip (and with the realities of the war) – subordinates of commander-in-chief of Wehrmacht.

However, to have a genuinely comprehensive authority (i.e. full power to fight the war), Wehrmacht commander-in-chief needed three more immediate subordinates.

Head of the armaments industry (Albert Speer), military governor-general of all occupied territories – with complete authority of all German officials, including the SS and head of the German equivalent of DARPA – Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that had to be created (at that time it did not exist).

The best candidate for the position of the military governor-general of all occupied territories would have been Otto von Stülpnagel – General of the Infantry and a military commander of occupied France.

He was the best man for this job for two key reasons. First, he had an extensive experience of very successfully managing a large occupied territory (which provided the best paradigm for the Eastern campaign).

Second, he had exactly the right vision of managing occupied territories. Get the most out of French resources (material, human, industrial, financial) to support the overall Nazi war effort and suppress all activities that did not help (let alone hindered) the latter.

Which automatically would have meant no Holocaust, no murder of civilians, a very different treatment of POWs (a highly valuable source of labor) – in short, no war crimes whatsoever (it was obvious to any sane individual that these crimes were highly detrimental to German war effort).

Choosing the head of the German equivalent of DARPA (Organisation für Forschungsprojekte der Verteidigung – OFPV) is a much more difficult undertaking.

I would have voted probably for SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS Dr.-Ing Hans Kammler who in reality was employed in almost exactly the same capacity in 1944-45.

He was not only a brilliant engineer and manager of construction and manufacturing projects but also directly supervised several project bureaus and had direct contact with some of the best engineers of the Reich.

He was intelligent, a pure workaholic, completely dedicated to his work, with a fanatic rhythm and demanding the same from everyone else. Besides, by that time the phrase “if you want to get the job done, give it to the SS” was already quite common in Germany. And very true.

And, finally, making an SS general a member of the “war management team” would have pleased Heinrich Himmler – SS Reichsführer and one of the most powerful individuals in Germany.

After assembling this team and transferring to it all authority for actually fighting the war, Adolf Hitler should have relegating itself to motivating and inspiring the team (there is no such thing as too much of inspiration or motivation).

And to coordinating its efforts with the civilian/domestic realm (with most of the day-to-day work in the latter delegated to Martin Bormann – a highly capable government manager).

Unfortunately for him and for the Third Reich (and very probably for the rest of the world), Adolf Hitler did not do what every successful entrepreneur does. Instead, he did what many (if not most) failed ones do – stuck to the management style that no longer worked.

 

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