Another colossal strategic blunder that ultimately led to the German defeat in the Battle for the Atlantic and in the whole World War II, was committed on on November 25th, 1936.
On that day Foreign Minister of Germany Joachim von Ribbentrop (acting, obviously, on his Führer’s orders) and Japanese ambassador to Germany Kintomo Mushakoji signed the infamous Antikominternpact.
A year later, on November 6, 1937, Italy and Spain joined the pact, thereby forming the group that would later be known as the Axis Powers.
This pact was the result of one of the Führer’s increasingly more frequent and bizarre grand delusions (that would be his trademark during the war years).
Contrary to what he himself wrote in Mein Kampf (that Britain will never agree with the fusion of Soviet resources and German technologies into a global superpower that would dominate Europe), Hitler came to believe that this dramatic anti-Communist foreign policy gesture would bring about an Anglo-German anti-Soviet alliance.
Which, predictably, did not happen. Instead, Nazi Germany became viewed by the world in general (and Britain and the United States in particular) as an all-around ally of the Imperial Japan (which was not the case, but perceptions are the only reality).
Consequently, Nazi Germany became associated with Japanese military endeavors (and atrocities) in China – which made Anglo-German a much less (not more) likely possibility. And made a peace treaty between Great Britain and Nazi Germany after the outbreak of World War II much less likely that it could have been without the pact between Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
Without this pact, chances of the USA declaring war on Germany after Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor would have been exactly zero because in the minds of American policymakers and ordinary people Nazi Germany would have been in no way associated with the assault on the American territory.
Which could have prevented Adolf Hitler from committing another colossal (and ultimately fatal) blunder – declaring war on the United States on December 11th, 1941 (one of the key reasons behind this blunder was Hitler’s firm belief that American declaration of war on Germany was imminent – precisely because Germany was an official ally of Japan).
Unbelievably, about a year after signing the Anti-Comintern Pact, Adolf Hitler doubled down on the same blunder. On September 27th, 1940 Joachim von Ribbentrop, Galeazzo Ciano (Foreign Minister of Japan) and Saburo Kurusu (Japanese Ambassador to Germany) signed the Tripartite Pact – a military alliance between Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan.
Article 3 of the Pact explicitly stated:
“Japan, Germany, and Italy … undertake to assist one another with all political, economic and military means if one of the Contracting Powers is attacked by a Power at present not involved in the European War or in the Japanese-Chinese conflict”
There was only one such Power in the world – the United States of America. Hence this pact was squarely anti-American. Which predictably significantly increased the probability of the USA declaring war on Germany after being attacked by Japan (although did not make it a 100% certainty).
And thus increasing the incentive for Adolf Hitler to beat President Roosevelt to a punch by declaring war on the USA before the latter could declare war on the Third Reich.
The Anti-Comintern Pact was revised in 1941, after Germany’s assault on the Soviet Union that commenced with Operation Barbarossa and on November 25 its renewal for further five years was undertaken.
This time the signatories included also Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark (after being occupied by Germany in 1940), Hungary, Japanese puppet states in China, Romania, Slovakia, Turkey and (for some unknown reason), El Salvador. The Tripartite Pact was subsequently joined by Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.
Which did not help Germany much and had a negligible impact on the result of the Second World War.
Eventually, 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.
The 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.
Why did Adolf Hitler stick to the management style that obviously no longer worked? First, out of fear – the “eighth deadly sin”. Which turned out to be deadly indeed – for the Nazi Party, Nazi State and for Adolf Hitler himself.
This fear – fear of losing control over one’s enterprise – is probably the #1 reason why most business ventures fail. And not just commercial ventures – all kinds of enterprises.
The second reason was related closely to the first one. Adolf Hitler was a brilliant, outstanding, incredibly efficient political and government manager… but only when managing the system that was his cultural and ideological extension. In other words, the Nazi system.
True, he achieved genuinely miraculous successes with DAP – but only after transforming it into NSDAP – the Nazi Party. It is true as well, that he achieved very much miraculous results as a head of a German state – but only after transforming the Weimar Republic (that he had no clue how to run) into Führerstaat. The Nazi State.
He could not transform German Wehrmacht into Nazi Armed Forces – it was functionally and politically impossible. Hence, he had no idea how to work with culturally very different military professionals (who were Prussian nationalists, not Nazis). Work on a regular basis, of course – he knew how to do it during blitzkrieg – a short-term endeavor by definition.
His previous experience with his generals only made matters worse. Hitler did indeed distrust most of his generals – in part for good reason. He had to overcome a certain amount of timidity among his senior officers before the war – during the reoccupation of the Rhineland, for example – and his perception of them as over-cautious set the tone for his (quite uncomfortable) relations with them.
Certainly his operational decisions, especially early in the war, were sometimes as good as, or better than, those of his generals. He was, after all, one of the two men who first thought up the campaign plan that the Wehrmacht used against France with such stunning success in the summer of 1940, and he had to push hard before his General Staff would accept it.
As time went on, he came to believe that Germany’s victories were his alone and that most of his generals were narrow-minded, overly cautious and incapable. Which in reality was not the case at all.
Consequently, with each passing month he grew ever more distrustful and contemptuous of them as a group, despite the unflagging loyalty that most of them displayed right to the end. As early as 1938, he was heard to say that every one of his generals was either cowardly or stupid, and his opinion only worsened with time. Which was obviously not the case either.
But probably the most important reason was his perception of the war (and of the world in general) severely distorted and thus made grossly inaccurate by his Nazi ideology.
True, he was fighting a genuinely existential war – but the ideological and cultural war with the Bolshevist Soviet Union. And not with an abstract USSR but with very specific Soviet Communist Party – first and foremost with his leaders and with the “Red Tamerlane” – Joseph Stalin.
The “racial war” with the “Jewish race” (and all other “inferior races”) existed only in his imagination, which was severely damaged by the totally erroneous Nazi ideology.
Perceptions are the only reality and bipolar disorder is a lifetime condition even if treated properly (Hitler’s was not) so it is no surprise that Adolf Hitler got genuinely obsessed with “Jewish question”, “racial issues” and all other Nazi nonsense.
So obsessed that he could not consider even for a moment that his top generals were right and he was wrong; that these issues should be ignored and all efforts and resources had to be devoted to but one objective – winning the very real (and very much conventional) war with Bolshevism.
Worse, he did not realize that his real adversaries were a tiny group (compared to the overall population of the Soviet Union) of diehard “Communist Imperialists” and all other Soviet citizens were his natural allies. For a very simple reason – they were victims of Bolshevism.
As were the Jews, for whom Bolshevism was every bit an existential threat as it was for the German people and for other European nations.
Most likely, there was another very powerful reason for sticking to the management style that did not work – personal, emotional and medical. Adolf Hitler was manic depressive, and age, stress and especially an enormously powered emotional trauma delivered by the failure of blitzkrieg in Russia made things only worse.
It appears that he fell into such a deep, dark and painful depression pit that he desperately needed a powerful jolt of positive emotions to get out of there. And being a commander-in-chief of the Wehrmacht provided him with exactly such an anti-depressant.
His emotional state probably was even worse – he got so addicted to power that giving up this power was basically the same as for an addict to give up his favorite drug. Impossible.
Hitler wanted to be the Feldherr, the generalissimo, exercising direct control of the armies himself, in much the same sense that Wellington commanded at Waterloo, albeit at a distance.
Which was, obviously, another fundamental blunder – no military leader can hope to understand the realities of the situation on the ground from hundreds of miles away.
So instead of radically changing his management style (which probably would not have led to victory in the war but would have allowed to achieve an acceptable peace settlement), he continued to follow the old one that no longer worked at all.
Committing a blunder after blunder after blunder – until he was left with only one option: take his own life in the Führerbunker.
His 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.
Adolf Hitler did not wait long to commit his first strategic blunder (very probably the worst military error of the entire war). On 11 December 1941, four days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States declaration of war against the Japanese Empire, he declared war against the United States.
On December 8, Japanese Ambassador Oshima went to German Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop to request a formal declaration of war against America. Von Ribbentrop stalled for time; he knew that Germany was under no obligation to do this under the terms of the Tripartite Pact (a defensive military alliance between Germany, Italy and Japan signed on September 27th, 1940).
For a very simple reason – the abovementioned Pact (see Appendix) required Germany to provide Japan with military assistance only if Japan was attacked, but not if Japan was the aggressor (which now was the case). And even then did not explicitly require Germany to declare war on the attacking power, but only to provide “military assistance” – a deliberately highly vague term.
Von Ribbentrop (correctly) feared that the addition of another antagonist, the United States, would overwhelm the German war effort. But Hitler thought otherwise.
So On December 11, 1941, American Chargé d’Affaires Leland B. Morris, the highest ranking American diplomat in Germany, was summoned to Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop’s office where Ribbentrop read Morris the formal declaration of war (see Appendix).
Now why on Earth would Adolf Hitler commit such an enormous blunder – the blunder that very probably made a decisive contribution to his defeat in World War II and ultimately led to the demise of his party, his state and to his suicide in the Führerbunker?
The most important reason was Hitler’s sincere (and incorrect) belief that in a very short time (possibly in a matter of days) the USA would declare war on Germany anyway – and wanted to start the seemingly inevitable war on his own terms.
Indeed, the USA was already fighting the de-facto naval war with the USA – US destroyers escorting American supply vessels bound for the UK were already attacking German U-Boats.
On September 11, 1941, Roosevelt publicly declared that he had ordered the American Navy and Air Force to shoot on sight at any German war vessel. In his speech of October 27, 1941, he once more expressly affirmed that this order was in force – and was diligently carried out.
The Destroyers for Bases Agreement, Lend-Lease agreement (which in the fall of 1941 was extended to the Soviet Union), the Atlantic Charter, the hand-over of military control of Iceland from the United Kingdom to the United States, the extension of the Pan-American Security Zone, and many other results of the special relationship between the USA and Great Britain – all of that made the formed a “shadow belligerent” involved in the World War II on the British side (and thus a de-facto adversary of Nazi Germany).
Hitler believed that all that his U-boat captains needed to all but completely cut off British supply lines (and thus force His Majesty’s Government to sue for peace) was to give them the maximum operational freedom possible. And the official declaration of war on the United States, obviously, gave them that freedom.
His ignorance about military and industrial capability of the United States – as well as its determination and willpower to successfully fight the war on two fronts also played a part.
Apparently, he was never aware of the prophetic evaluation of the attack on Pearl Harbor by no other than Isoroku Yamamoto – Marshal Admiral of the Imperial Japanese Navy and the commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet (who planned and commanded this attack):
“All we did was to wake up a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve”
Unbelievably, neither Adolf Hitler nor other top Nazis ever considered American entry into the Great War the key reason for the defeat of Central Powers (and Germany). They were too much invested into the “stab-in-the-back” theory which severely clouded their judgement and led to completely wrong expectations and forecasts.
Finally, Hitler’s deeply-held racial prejudices made him see the US as a decadent bourgeois democracy filled with people of mixed race, a population heavily under the influence of Jews and “Negroes”, with no history of authoritarian discipline to control and direct them, interested only in luxury and living the “good life” while dancing, drinking and enjoying decadent and immoral music.
Such a country, in Hitler’s mind, would never be willing to make the economic and human sacrifices necessary to make a significant (let alone decisive) contribution to the Allied efforts on the battlefield.
He consistently underestimated the American power and overestimated the Japanese one. He perceived Japan as much stronger than it actually was and the United States as much weaker than they actually were.
And, finally, there was a powerful (probably, very powerful) emotional reason. Totally unexpected Soviet counteroffensive effectively put an end to German blitzkrieg and delivered the first and quite painful defeat (from both military and psychological perspectives) to German Wehrmacht and personally to Adolf Hitler.
Who still was manic depressive (bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition even if treated properly – and Hitler’s was not). Consequently, it immediately threw The Führer to the very bottom of a very deep, very dark and very painful depression pit. To get out of this pit, he desperately needed a very powerful emotional jolt.
Like declaring war on the United States.
Adolf Hitler was wrong in all his perceptions and predictions. During the Great War (the lessons of which Nazis apparently never learned), Americans proved to be courageous, dedicated and well-trained soldiers led by highly competent and able commanders.
Thus proving beyond the reasonable doubt that it was nature, not nurture; culture, not race and “software”, not “hardware” that counted. Americans of all races and nationalities demonstrated identical skills, courage, fighting spirit and competence thus powerfully repudiating scientifically wrong and genuinely insane “racial theory” of the Nazis.
This common (and superior) culture united the whole nation and focused all of its energy, intellect, enormous human and material resources, industrial and agricultural capacity, creativity – everything squarely on but one objective – winning the war. And thus defeating (and destroying) all their enemies – the Germans, the Japanese, the Italians, everyone.
Americans proved themselves to be not only brave, skillful and efficient soldiers, officers and generals but no less efficient, creative and dedicated entrepreneurs, workers and managers – both in business and in government.
In record time they designed, tested and deployed weapons and military equipment that was either superior to their German counterparts (bomber and fighter aircraft, automobiles, rifles, submachine guns, etc.) or good enough to do the job (Sherman tank, armored personnel carriers, etc.). In other words, to achieve victories on the battlefield – and ultimately in the whole war.
In a record time they transformed their economy into an extremely powerful military-industrial complex thus making it a genuine “arsenal of democracy” (i.e. of the Allies in the “anti-Hitler coalition”).
The United States produced weapons, ammunition, foodstuffs, clothing and military equipment (and merchant ships to transport them) in such quantities that even completely unopposed, German U-boats could sink only an insignificant portion of them.
But they were opposed. Ruthlessly and skillfully opposed. Escort ships (especially escort carriers) and long-range anti-submarine aircraft ultimately won the Battle of the Atlantic (highly overrated in its impact on World War II, but still a long and vicious sea war).
Destruction of German infrastructure by American strategic bombers (escorted by long-range fighters) was a major – and probably decisive – contribution to the Allied victory in World War II.
As were, obviously, American troops and weapons that played the dominant role in Operation Overlord and subsequent genuine liberation of Western Europe.
And all of the above would not have happened had Hitler not declared war on the United States. Contrary to his deep and sincere belief, the majority of the American were so firmly set against entering the war in Europe that even such a hawk as Roosevelt would not have been able to convince them otherwise.
For a very simple reason – in terms of loss of lives of American servicemen (which was always and still is a decisive factor for American public) was a far, far bloodier endeavor than the war in the Pacific.
John Kenneth Galbraith (then an economist in the federal government service and one of Roosevelt’s economic advisors) recalled:
“When Pearl Harbor happened, we were desperate. … We were all in agony. The mood of the American people was obvious – they were determined that the Japanese had to be punished. We could have been forced to concentrate all our efforts on the Pacific, unable from then on to give more than purely peripheral help to Britain. It was truly astounding when Hitler declared war on us three days later [and thus solved all our problems for us]. I cannot tell you our feelings of triumph. It was a totally irrational thing for him to do, and I think it saved Europe.”
And, finally, fighting German U-boats and sending lend-lease supplies (even in huge quantities) is very different in scope and impact than a full-scale involvement in the European war.
Hitler’s declaration of war came as a great relief to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who feared the possibility of two parallel but disconnected wars – the UK and Soviet Union versus Germany in Europe, and the US and the British Empire versus Japan in the Far East and the Pacific.
With Nazi Germany’s declaration against the United States in effect, American assistance for Britain in both theaters of war as a full ally was assured. It also radically simplified matters for the American government (as fighting the war de-jure is far more convenient than doing it only de-facto).
So yes, declaring war on the United States (made by Adolf Hitler, apparently offhand, almost without consultation with anyone) was a colossal strategic blunder. Not the first one and definitely not the last. More were to come. Much more.