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Hitler as military leader

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Adolf Hitler, the dictator of Germany during the Second World War, beginning in approximately 1938, involved himself increasingly in acting as a military leader, often to a level that professional military officers considered micromanaging. He served as an enlisted courier in World War One, and never had formal training in strategy, operational art, tactics, logistics or military weapons engineering. Unquestionably, he was an intelligent man, but had strengths at the level of international relations, where he would do the unexpected. Some of his military decisions, especially with a political component and early in the war, were effective, but most experts tend to regard their efficiency as becoming worse as the war progressed.

While never used to his face, during the war, he was called "Grofaz": "Größter Feldherr aller Zeiten", or "Greatest General of All Time." It was not a compliment.

Transformation of the military

Germany has a [long military tradition, in which German military forces had much prestige and autonomy. As the Nazis grew, they formed alliances with the military, eventually sacrificing Ernst Roehm and his plans for a "revolutionary army" in which the SA would replace the Reichswehr. Eventually, however, Hitler established his own controls over the orthodox military, with a very different way of thinking.

Since he had never been trained in a profession, he tended not to think in complex terms. He had a "surprise-oriented, offensive stamp" that would manifest by his becoming involved in tactical minutiae such as Eben Emael or the rescue of Mussolini. Things became more difficult at higher levels of command. The Manstein Plan for the Battle of France was a good deal more complex, and disliked by most higher commanders because they wanted to judge Allied reaction. Manstein, however, wanted to use surprise to outflank the Belgian forces from the south. His thinking often started with the emotional and went to the rational, while most generals and diplomats prided themselves on being rational actors. [1] As Speer put it, "Like many self-taught people, he had no idea what real specialized knowledge meant....the victories of the early years of the war can literally be attributed to Hitler's ignorance of the rules of the game and his layman's delight in decision making...But as soon as setback occurred, he suffered shipwreck, like most untrained people." Wild decisions were now his downfall. [2]

When it came to the large-scale Russian campaign, however, he badly underestimated logistics and Soviet resilience. He had an inordinate faith in "secret weapons" to overcome Western industrial dominance. In discussion, however, he often could overpower the actual experts. Hitler had an excellent memory, and, according to Speer, had a catalogue, kept up to date by staff, of the details of weapons and ammunition. When a general would make a strategic argument, Hitler would attack his credibility by showing a small point to be incorrect. Speer observed that true experts do not burden themselves with often-changing details that they can look up, or obtain from a specialist assistant.

First steps for control

A near-irrevocable step took place when he changed the officer oath from the country to him personally. Beginning on 20 August 1934, military and government officials swore:
I swear I shall be faithful and obedient, to the Fuehrer of the German Reich and the People, Adolf Hitler; I swear to obey the laws and fulfill my duties conscientiously, so help me God.
An even stronger oath was sworn by the SS and his personal security force:
I swear to you, Adolf Hitler, as Fuehrer and Chancellor of the German Reich, loyalty and bravery. I vow to you and my superiors designated you obedience unto death. So help me God. [3]

While the SA had been broken as a threat to the Army, the relationship of the SS was much more complex. Hitler, until 1942, still saw it more for internal security than for combat. Battle pressures, however, called for an expansion of the Waffen SS, and continuing emphasis on loyalty to Hitler by all troops. Since it was considered more pure ideologically, the Waffen SS received all non-German but ethnically approved volunteers

Tactics, technology and micromanagement

He was extremely offensively oriented and long insisted that military systems not be purely defensive. Nevertheless, he was not always clear on the distinction between tactics and technology, or the limits of a technology. Dive bombers were quite successful in Poland and France, but against unsophisticated air defenses. While the assault teams at the fortress of Eben Emael, in 1940, did use then-new shaped charge demolitions, the attack succeeded more through surprise and speed.

According to Speer, his technical horizon was also limited by his First World War experience, with his interests focused on the traditional weapons of the Army and Navy, especially the former. Especially in the beginning of the war, he sometimes even had good insights in these areas, but they became worse with time. For example, both for warships and tanks, there is a constant series of design tradeoffs among firepower, speed, and protection. Hitler would always insist on increasing protection and firepower over speed. Even in his specialities, he would make mistakes — while lengthening a gun barrel does increase the projectile velocity, tank design also includes weight and balance. When the Russian T-34 appeared, with the long barrel he had advocated, he simply did not understand the objection that the Panzer IV tank could not its gun barrel lengthened, because the added weight of the barrel would affect the frontal stability of the tank. [4] Speer observed that Hitler never understood less traditional military systems, such as radar, jet fighter, and guided missiles. A particularly major deficiency is that he never appreciated the need to keep armies supplied with spare parts; he would insist on manufacturing new tanks rather than giving the forces in combat enough supplies to quickly repair what they already had.

Hermann Goering insisted, with Hitler's support, that all German bombers had to be capable of dive bombing, based on the success of the Ju-87 Stuka in Poland and France. Stukas were quickly withdrawn from the Battle of Britain; to fly the slow Stuka against the extremely competent British fighter force was nearly a suicide mission. The quite capable Ju-88 medium bomber, had its weight double to add dive bombing, yet it was never a good dive bomber. [5] If it was hard to make a medium bomber capable of dive bombing, part of the reason the Nazis never developed a heavy strategic bomber was that this technique was even more difficult with a four-engined aircraft. Hitler had very little concept of long-range bombing, as when he recommended capturing the Azores in order to bomb the United States, forgetting the minor detail that no German aircraft had the range to hit the United States from the Azores.

Often, he believed the bigger the weapon, the more effective it would be, which resulted in immensely powerful Tiger tanks that took a great deal of manufacturing resources and time, and were too large and heavy even for Western Europe, and even more for Russia. In contrast, the U.S. M4 Sherman tank was technically inferior but could be built in large numbers, and the Soviet T-34 could both be mass-produced, and, while crude in many respects, was the best all-around medium tank of the war. The Tiger was not even enough; he worked with Ferdinand Porsche on prototypes of an ironically named "Mouse" (Maus) heavy tank, with 140 and 188 ton versions. In the design stage were superheavy tanks of 1500 tons, with no clear military purpose other than conceivably in frontal assaults against fortifications. Hitler finally cancelled giant tank work in April 1944. [6]

His subordinates, especially Party rather than military, would present information more in the form that they believed he wanted to hear, rather than what professional military opinion advised. For example, the Me-262 was introduced to him as a light bomber, even though, at the time, it had no bomb-carrying equipment and was purely a defensive interceptor, although a very good one. [7] It could have devastated Allied bomber streams. Nevertheless, he ordered it delayed until it could drop bombs, something it never did well.

As the war progressed, his focus on minutiae became even worse. A military maxim is that commanders direct units that report to them, and, on their maps, keep track of units one level below. Hitler, late in the war, took direct command of the Army, in principle issuing direct orders to army groups — yet he would become concerned with the number of artillery pieces assigned to battalions, five levels below army groups.

German resistance

For more information, see: German Resistance.

In this context, German Resistance refers not to factional resistance to Hitler's policies such as socialism in National Socialism, but resistance to his international and military grand strategy. While there certainly had been dissatisfaction with him in the military, a key milestone came when Gen. Ludwig Beck, while Chief of the Army in 1938, actively considered a coup over Czechoslovakia. He was dismissed, and then, with others, began to warn other governments.

Wartime command

Hitler exercised control over the German armed forces through the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, a relatively small staff group, under Feldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel, which issued orders to the larger service staffs and the field commands. Hitler considered himself a master at all aspects of war, but really understood only the political. He made serious mistakes in strategy, technology, and operational art.

As mentioned, he had a poor grasp of supply and logistics. He believed the mere introduction of a new weapon would reverse the situation, regardless of how it was introduced. Heavy Tiger tanks could be devastating in the right circumstances, such as the terrain of France. He insisted, however, in first deploying them in marshy Russian areas, where they would quickly quickly become stuck in swamps and easy to destroy. The Tiger took more resources to build than the T-34 and M4, which were manufactured in great quantities. A lament on the Western front, when pitting the superior Tiger against the industrial production of M4s, was "we ran out of antitank shells before you ran out of tanks."

He did not let the competent OKW chief of operations, Jodl, coordinated the theater-level actions. As Hitler did in many circumstances, he created overlapping command, so that the OKH army staff and OKW overall staff would come into conflict, and only Hitler could arbitrate. Unfortunately, the OKH staff was also competent, but competent people, not coordinating their efforts, may come up with different conclusions. Even worse, Hitler would not infrequently bypass the professional staffs, and use OKW only as a communications center so he could send direct orders to fighting forces. The orders, unfortunately, were often at an inspirational or political level, rather than anything practical, such as directions not to give up one inch of ground — even if it was part of a short-term tactical maneuver.

On occasion, his fascination with large operations would lead him to forget which forces he commanded. Speer commented that he increasingly would talk about what the Allies should do with their major forces, but neither what they were likely to do or what the German forces should do. When he first learned of the sea movements for Operation Torch, he decided they should land in central Italy and force a coup, rather than, as they did, to pour ashore in North Africa. [8]

War in 1939-1940

Still, his forces did well in 1939 and 1940, until they fought the Battle of Britain, which failed to gain air superiority for the Operation Sea Lion invasion.

Polish campaign

This is a sad day for all of us, and to none is it sadder than to me. Everything that I have worked for, everything that I have believed in during my public life, has crashed into ruins. There is only one thing left for me to do: That is, to devote what strength and powers I have to forwarding the victory of the cause for which we have to sacrifice so much... I trust I may live to see the day when Hitlerism has been destroyed and a liberated Europe has been re-established. — Neville Chamberlain, 3 September 1939

Hitler had the SS create a fake invasion, by Polish troops, of Germany, and used this to justify sending his waiting force into Poland. The operation, led by Alfred Naujocks, faked an attack on the Gleiwitz radio station, and left the bodies of concentration camp inmates killed for the purpose, and wearing Polish uniforms. In reality, the Polish campaign was a part of the broad Eastern strategy, and had been in planning since July.

The army forces were accompanied by Einsatzgruppen that primarily arrested and deported, but were not dedicated to killing.

With a secret supplemental protocol to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, he split Poland into spheres of influence with Russia. It was signed a week before the invasion of Poland.[9]

War in the West, 1940-1941

Hitler disliked the original General Staff plan for an attack on the West, eventually adopting a radical proposal by Gen. Eric von Manstein.

The attacks on France and the Low Countries were a tactical, and possibly strategic, surprise, even though there was substantial data in the hands of Western intelligence. Oster committed to subvert the Nazis on 7 November 1939, when he gave the German plans for the invasion of the West to a Dutch military attache. "There is no going back after what I have done. It is much easier to take a pistol and kill somebody; it is easier to run into a burst of machine gun fire than it is to do what I have done." While the information he gave was correct, Dutch intelligence did not take the warning seriously; Hitler changed the invasion date twenty-nine times. [10]

Battle of France

The British Expeditionary Force was pushed into a pocket at Dunkirk. Hitler stopped the German armored forces that should have been able to crush it. The reasons for this halt remain unclear. One oft-mentioned reason is that Goering promised the Luftwaffe could stop the evacuation.

Another, however, is that Hitler regarded it as a gesture towards Britain, allowing them, although with greater success than expected, to evacuate their troops. While he would not deal with Winston Churchill, he may still have hoped to form a modus vivendi with Britain, leaving Germany as the continental power and Britain as the ruler of the seas.

Commerce raiding

Hitler had little sense of war at sea. The "pocket battleship" DKM Graf Spee had conducted, in late 1939, effective commerce raiding in the South Atlantic, but was eventually trapped by British ships and forced to scuttle herself after the Battle of the River Plate. Concealed raiders had been more effective for lower cost than the purpose-built warships, and the drive for major warships did not reassure Hitler.

Grand Admiral Erich Raeder ordered DKM Bismarck and DKM Prinz Eugen to sortie as commerce raiders in Operation RHINE of May 1941, following the successful Operation Berlin cruise by DKM Scharnhorst and DKM Gneisenau. [11]

After the loss of Bismarck, admittedly requiring much of the Royal Navy in Atlantic waters, Hitler became enraged at the uselessness of large warships, turning to the generally more effective submarines. The Battle of the Atlantic, which nearly strangled Britain, was already underway, and was principally a submarine campaign headed by Admiral Karl Doenitz. Doenitz replaced Erich Raeder as head of the Kriegsmarine in January 1943; Hitler told the Gauleiters, on 8 May, that the U-boat (i.e., submarine) was only beginning to show its full potential.

Although Hitler agreed to Doenitz's request for more submarine construction, Allied anti-submarine warfare had its greatest success in May, and the U-boat fleet would never again reach the may total. [12]

Operation Sea Lion

Operation Sea Lion was the German plan for an amphibious landing in the British Isles. For it to have any chance of success, the Germans needed both local air supremacy, and sufficient air and naval forces to stop Royal Navy ships from interfering. In general, the German Army and Navy were dubious about their capability to carry off the invasion.

Battle of Britain and Hitler's response

For more information, see: Battle of Britain.

In 1940, the Battle of Britain took place when Germany attempted, and failed, to gain air superiority in advance of their proposed invasion of Britain, Operation Sea Lion.[13] At the time, Germany did not fully grasp that Britain had built an integrated air defense system (IADS). Indeed, the Germans did not even fully recognize British radar, because it was technically inferior to theirs and not what they expected to find. Without this fundamental understanding, the Luftwaffe did not know the serious vulnerabilities of the IADS, and how to counter it.

Hitler had reserved to himself the authority to bomb cities, but n 24 August, a small group of night bombers, probably having navigational errors and possibly lightening the load after suffering damage, flew over the edge of London, and at least one aircraft released its bombs. Given that Londoners were under strict orders not to show lights after dark — the "blackout" — it is even possible the bomber did not know it was over London. It is unclear when Britain started jamming the German radio navigation system; the bombers might have made their error due to electronic countermeasures.[14]

Churchill responded with a "retaliatory raid" against Berlin, doing relatively light physical damage but having an immense psychological effect, as did the subsequent U.S. Doolittle raid against Japan . Hermann Goering, commanding the Luftwaffe, which included the anti-aircraft artillery, had made public boasts that "if one British bomb falls on Berlin, you can call me Meyer [a common and somewhat derogatory German name]."

Even after this, Hitler still did not immediately order attacks against British cities. German intelligence was also extremely poor; German human-source intelligence was nonexistent to actively misleading, as a result of the offensive counterintelligence of the Double-Cross system. As far as known, the Germans did not realize that by early September, the air defense system was largely exhausted. With hindsight, had the Germans continued to concentrate on airfields and radar, they were close to defeating the British IADS. Above all, had they recognized the importance of the command and control stations and destroyed them, British fighters would have been far less effective.

Churchill knew this risk, and there are a number of reports that he sent two more missions over Berlin, on 28 August and 3 September, with a psychological goal: provoke the Germans into retaliating against cities, and give the IADS time to recover,

The raids on Germany greatly diminished Goering's stature, and indirectly Hitler's. Shirer. in Berlin, wrote,
The Berliners are stunned. They did not think it could ever happen. When this war began, Goering assured them it couldn't...they believed him. Their disillusionment today therefore is all the greater...You have to see their faces to measure it...[the British dropped leaflets saying] "the war which Hitler started will go on, and it will last as long as Hitler does. This was good propaganda, but the thud of exploding bombs was better."[15]

British raids continued, and, for the first time, killed Germans in Berlin. Goebbels claimed a "cowardly British attack", ignoring that it was retaliatory. A week of bombing did little physical, but much psychological damage.

Hitler, on 4 September, took what he considered a propaganda offensive. Shirer said he rarely heard Hitler, usually a humorless man, be so sarcastic or use so much German-style humor. Hitler turned away from Goebbels' claims of unjustified attacks, and said "Just now...Mr. Churchill is demonstrating his new brain child, the night air raid. Mr Churchill is carrying out these raids not because they promise to be highly effective, but because his Air Force cannot fly over Germany in daylight." Hitler's claims that German aircraft flew in daylight over Britain was false in a fair comparison; German bombers struck at urban and industrial targets at night, while the day combat was between fighters or against the IADS. He continued, "When the British Air Force drops two or three or four thousand kilograms of bombs, then we will in one night drop 150-, 230-, 300- or 400,000 kilograms." It was highly questionable, however, if the Luftwaffe of the time could even lift that payload.

Hitler rarely visited bombed Germans, while Churchill regularly was seen supporting survivors. Goebbels, as Gauleiter of Berlin, was highly visible.

The first major German daylight raid took place on 15 September. A first wave of 200 bombers, escorted by 600 fighters, was intercepted before reaching London, and dispersed. 56 German aircraft, 34 being bombers, were shot down, contrasted to 26 British fighters. Many of the British pilots survived to fight again.

Major daylight air operations, as well as the Sea Lion invasion, were cancelled on 17 September. Night bombing continued until 7 November. During the attacks, although the British aircraft industry was a major target, they still outproduced their German counterparts, for 9924 aircraft in 1940 compared with 8070 built by the Germans. Hitler had been unable to conceive that a major campaign could be settled in theair.[16] He and Goering lost considerable credibility, and the major Allied air offensive against Germany was yet to begin.

The War Changes in 1941

After losing the Battle of Britain and cancelling Operation Sea Lion, he took on new enemies: the Soviets deliberately, and the U.S., to some extent due to Japanese action, but also as an intensification of the existing Battle of the Atlantic. In 1941, the Battle of the Atlantic was still very real and having the potential to strangle Britain.

The flight of Rudolf Hess

Rudolf Hess, while still Deputy Fuehrer, had become increasingly marginalized. While the motivations for his next act was still argued, it appears he genuinely respected the British, wanted to avert war with the Soviets, and restore his influence. He had been having foreign policy discussions with Professor Karl Haushofer and his son, Albrecht Haushofer.

He obtained an Me-110 with long-range auxiliary fuel tanks and, on 10 May, flew, alone, to Britain, parachuting to the residence of the Duke of Hamilton, a friend of Albrecht Haushofer, and asking for an audience with Churchill. When Hitler received a letter telling him "when you receive this, I shall be in England", he became enraged, ordering the arrest of Hess' staff and Albrecht Haushofer. Hitler's first public announcement suggested Hess had had a mental breakdown.

War with Soviet Union, 1941

For more information, see: Operation Barbarossa.

Hitler decided to invade Russia in early 1941, but was delayed by the need to take control of the Balkans. Hitler was also unaware of the details of the Japanese decision for war in 1941.

Europe was not big enough for both Hitler and Stalin, and Hitler realized the sooner he moved the less risk of American involvement. While planning between Germany and Japan was vague, the Japanese were also under time pressure to invade.

Stalin thought he had a long-term partnership and rejected information coming from all directions that Germany was about to invade in June 1941. As a result, the Russians were poorly prepared and suffered huge losses, being pushed back to Moscow by December before holding the line. Hitler imagined that the Soviet Union was a hollow shell that would easily collapse, like France. He therefore had not prepared for a long war, and did not have sufficient winter clothing and gear for his soldiers.

Hitler and Mussolini met on 2 June. The two talked for two hours before being joined by their Foreign Ministers, Ribbentrop and Ciano. Mussolini noted that Hitler had wept over Hess' actions. After the ministers joined them, Hitler reviewed international issues, describing Britain as closer to political collapse, ruling out the invasion of Cyprus that Mussolini wanted, and again mentioned the Madagascar Plan with respect to ridding Europe of Jews. He did not, however, give any indication he was planning action, in the near term, against Russia.

He issued the Commissar Order on 6 June, protested by Walther von Brauchitsch, until Hitler said, "I cannot demand that my general should understand my order, but I do demand they follow them."[17]

More specific information was given to the Japanese Ambassador, a hint that Germany would act soon against the Soviets. On 12 June, however, he gave the broad plan to Romanian dictator Ion Antonescu, from whom he needed troops for the Russian front. Ionescu gave full support, and would call it a "Holy War" on the 22nd. [18]

The invasion was delayed, but analysts believe it could have been won without Hitler's overriding his general staff. In August, the approaches to Moscow and Kiev were both in reach. From the military standpoint, Moscow, the capital, was the center of gravity of the Soviet Union; the staff urged an all-out effort to take it. [19] Hitler, however, believed the center of gravity was the Ukraine and the oil fields in the Caucasus. He decided that by moving the Moscow attack force south, he could deny oil to the Soviets, and then strike north after the oilfields were taken.

He did not, however, plan for the Soviet defense, and, above all, for having to fight in the Russian winter.

Ukrainian territory was vital to the resolution of the problem of German Lebensraum. In accord with Hitler's conception, the Ukraine was to be fully controlled and exploited for the benefit of Germany. Under the Generalplan Ost, Hitler's projections for the Ukraine were well underway by 1942.[20]

Tensions grow with the U.S.

Lukacs argues that Hitler felt that Roosevelt was behind Churchill and that the Jews were behind Roosevelt. By the end of July 1940, Hitler's moves were often in response to those of Roosevelt. Hitler ordered the navy not to provoke the U.S. in an effort to prevent Roosevelt from getting popular support for entrance into the war. At the same time, Hitler was certainly thinking of eventual war with the U.S. On 22 May 1941, Admiral Raeder told Hitler the Kriegsmarine simply did not have the strength to occupy the Azores, which "the Fuehrer is still in favor of occupying the Azores in order to operate long-range bombers from there against the U.S.A. The occasion for this may arise by autumn." Not mentioned, and apparently not even occurring to Hitler, is that Germany had no bombers with the range to hit the U.S. from the Azores.[21]

USS Reuben James (DD-245), still afloat after fatal torpedoing

Incidents did happen, and indeed Roosevelt exaggerated them in building up support for his interventionist policies against the opposition of isolationists. [ Roosevelt's determination to support the British in 1940 led to Hitler's ultimate defeat. An isolationist president, Lukacs concludes, would have made decisions leading to different outcomes for the war.[22]Roosevelt gained more and more public support inside the U.S. and American involvement intensified in 1941 as the "Arsenal of Democracy" sent munitions to Britain and Russia.

USS Reuben James (DD-245) was an 1920-vintage Clemson-class destroyer, which was the first U.S. destroyer sunk as a result of German action. She was on a "neutrality patrol", escorting Lend-Lease convoy HX-156 to Britain, when she was sunk, on 31 October 1941 by the German submarine U-552. In November, Senator Tom Connally (D-Texas) claimed that Hitler's accusation that the U.S. ship was the aggressor was merely a pretext for Germany to encourage a Japanese attack. [23] Subsequent researchers, however, have found no evidence of detailed German-Japanese planning for the Battle of Pearl Harbor.

War in 1942

1942 can be a confusing year, partially due to Soviet propaganda demands that the Western open a "Second Front" to relieve the Russian Front. This was usually posed as a direct strike into Western Europe. While the U.S. actually did prepare plans, resisted by the British, for a 1942 invasion if there was a German reverse, and otherwise in 1943,a series of contingency and serious proposals preceded it: a preparation phase, Operation BOLERO, a 1942 contingency invasion, Operation SLEDGEHAMMER, and a proposed 1943 invasion, Operation ROUNDUP.[24] a Second Front did open in 1942: North Africa.

Not much happened in Western Europe. A small U.S. detachment, essentially observers, accompanied the disastrous Dieppe Raid (Operation JUBILEE) in July 1942. While Dieppe was a tactical defeat, it taught incredibly important lessons for the eventual cross-Channel invasion. Allied planners concluded that the invasion could not be a frontal assault on a port; the Germans still assumed that it was likely to do so. Instead, the Normandy invasion would use innovative technology to create a temporary port where there had only been beaches.

U.S. bombers, principally to develop techniques, attacked targets in France beginning in August, but had no major direct effect until mid-1943. [25] Hitler, however, failed to recognize that many Allied operations were part of a slow, steady process, often of deliberate experimentation to decide on the decisive force structure and techniques. Operation Torch, in November 1942, did open large-scale combat on a Second Front, with major American participation, but in North Africa rather than Western Europe.

Military implications of The Holocaust

Genocidal operations had a high logistical priority and competed with the combat troops. Further, there was a conflict between interests that wanted slave labor for military production (e.g., the SS WVHA), and those principally interested in what they perceived as an existential racial threat (e.g., the SS RSHA. Still, by early 1944, Hitler had authorized the use of Jewish camp inmates for critical war production in the Reich. [26]

Germany moved from deportation to killing, each step requiring Historians increasingly argue that it was a far less planned and directed process than had been thought closer to he war. Hitler certainly set the framework, and had there been no Hitler, there would have been no Holocaust. The earliest documentary evidence of Hitler in a central role, and Himmler being aware of a proposal is in an 18 December 1941 appointment book entry, declassified in 1999 by the Russians. His notes say that he met with Hitler and discussed the answer to "the Jewish question" was to "exterminate them as partisans." Bauer reminds us that Hitler tended not to make formal decisions, but to express his wishes.[27]

Nevertheless, the previous conventional wisdom that Hitler gave an oral order to Himmler and Goering is increasingly in doubt, centered on the work of Christian Streit and Alfred Streim. [28] It is the view of intentionalist historians that Hitler always intended the Holocaust. The functionalists, also called structuralists, however, suggest it was more the result of defeats in the East.

Himmler did direct Heydrich to begin detailed planning. Even with the Himmler-Heydrich communications, it is insufficient to focus only on the SS role. The ministerial bureaucracy and military, for whom labor was often more important than killing, must be considered. In late 1941, General Georg Thomas, head of the War Economy and Armaments office, sent plans for economic exploitation of the conquered territories to Goering, who sent it to Hitler on 26 February 1942. Thomas, with Hitler's consent, was made Goering's coordinator for economic policy on Soviet territory. [29]

The killing, over time, improved, with mobile Einsatzgruppen in 1941 and with extermination camps in 1942.

North African campaign

Hitler had sent a relatively small force, the Afrika Corps, to reinforce the Italians in North Africa. Mussolini also promised him troops for the Russian Front. Rommel had, with his three-division corps,and eight Italian divisions, moved out and captured Tobruk on 21 June 1942. Shirer, observing that Hitler never understood global warfare, did not realize that by reinforcing Rommel, the forces there could move through Egypt, capture the oil fields of the Middle East, and eventually link up with German armies in the Caucasus. Instead of giving him reinforcements, he promoted him to field marshal.

Due to the tenacious defense of Malta, Rommel's supply line by sea was threatened. Admiral Raeder initially convinced Hitler to support Rommel's western push, as well as a paratroop attack on Malta, Operation Hercules. General Kurt Student, commanding the German airborne forces, told Hitler he could take Malta, but not hold it. [30] Hitler changed his mind, saying nothing could be spared from the Russian Front. [31]

Fighting in the North African desert had gone back and forth, with Erwin Rommel unable to overcome the defenses at El Alamein in August 1942. The British had received two new commanders, Bernard Montgomery for the operational Eighth Army and Harold Alexander commanding the theater. Montgomery, supported by Alexander, had created a German disaster at El Alamein, to which Rommel, who had been on sick leave, returned. Hitler, however, refused, on 2 November, to let him make a tactical retreat.
I and the German people are watching the heroic defensive battle waged in Egypt with faithful trust in your powers of leadership and in the bravery of the German-Italian troops under your command. In the situation in which you now find yourself, there can be no other consideration save that of holding fast, of not retreating one step, of throwing every gun and every man into the battle...You can show your troops no other way than that which leads to victory or death.[32]

Hitler finally authorized Rommel to retreat on 5 November, which he was already doing. Germany had received warning of large British naval movement, but, on 7 November, twelve hours before U.S. and British troops were to land in Operation Torch, he asked the Luftwaffe to reinforce, and told they could not. He then gave von Rundstedt the code word to occupy Vichy France.

Strategic Air Operations

Not only had Germany lost the operational Battle of Britain, even if it continued in the Battle of the Beams, its air operations against the West were principally an annoyance. Hitler had contributed by the problem by preventing the development of appropriate long-range aircraft; the few modified airliners did do reconnaissance for submarines, land-based anti-shipping aircraft, and surface warships.

Germany began developing its IADS, the Kammhuber Line, in the summer of 1940.

Allied air operations against Germany, however, steadily grew in intensity. Goering had boasted that "If a British bomb falls on Berlin, you can call me Meyer", and regretted it. Nevertheless, the Allies had to develop their technology and tactics.

Nevertheless, they were serious enough for Goebbels to point out that large numbers of letters to the Propaganda Ministry raised the questions, "why the Fuehrer never visits the areas which have suffered from air raids, why Goering never shows himself, but especially why the Fuehrer does not even speak to the German people to explain the current situation." [33] It should be noted, however, that while bombing caused much misery in Britain and Germany, it never broke civilian morale.

Russian Front

Hitler, in the late fall of 1942, said the Russians were near the ends because they were sending their officer cadets into battle. He learned, however, on 19 November, of the great Russian winter objective, which he initially dismissed, saying the German generals overestimated Russian strength and competence. Stalingrad was soon surrounded. While Hitler reinforced from other areas, he provided for no operational reserves, over Zeitzler's protests.

Zeitler counterproposed that the Sixth Army, encircled in Stalingrad, must break out, returning operational flexibility while saving them. Hitler dismissed the argument, saying the counterattack he had ordered from the south would relieve Stalingrad, and finally, said "Stalingrad must be held. It must be; it is a key position. By breaking traffic on the Volga at that spot, we cause the Russians the greatest difficulties. How are they going to transport their grain from southern Russia to the north?"

As the encirclement grew tighter the next day, Hitler asked about supplying by air, which Goering, over Zeitzler's protests, promptly promised. Goering's promise, however, caused Hitler to insist that Stalingrad could be held and no breakout was necessary.[34]

Attempt to change the command structure

Hitler, of course, was never noted for his disciplined management. Nevertheless, there was an attempt, by the heads of the three essentially administrative bodies surrounding him, to control the documents that would reach him for signature. Those three officials were:

Bormann also had established an additional control, on people rather than papers. He was in charge of Hitler's civilian appointments calendar, and thus which members of the government could see him. In many cases, Bormann would present the civilian decision issue fairly efficiently, and get a gruff "Agreed" from Hitler.

Hitler's military adjutants still controlled war-related appointments, into which Speer's industrial responsibilities fell. [35]

In the shifting internal alliances of the Third Reich, Goebbels and Speer began to cooperate in using propaganda to mobilize war production. When the two approached Hitler about implementing civilian austerity measures, Bormann and Lammers tried to block them. When Eva Braun heard of a ban on hair-waving solutions, as one minor but unnecessary item produced by the chemical industry, she immediately made an effective complaint to Hitler, who told Speer simply to stop production of beauty care materials, rather than a provocative ban.

War in 1943

The Soviet victory at Stalingrad marked the beginning of the end, as Germany was unable to cope with the superior manpower and industrial resources of the Allies. North Africa, Sicily, and southern Italy fell in 1943. Hitler rescued Mussolini, who became a mere puppet.

Oberst Wilhelm Adam after surrender negotiations at Stalingrad

As a result of the fall of Stalingrad, Goebbels, on 18 February 1943, gave a speech declaring "total war", and had expected that Hitler would vest him with control of directing the home front. If mobilizing for total war was indeed principally a matter of motivation, Goebbels was indeed well qualified. In the internal power struggles of the Reich, Speer and the military saw the most important need as getting more manpower for the front and the armaments industry. That speech, according to Speer, also was an attempt to put public pressure on Lammers, Bormann, and other administrators surrounding Hitler.

During the battle, Zeitzler would reduce himself to the rations available to the troops; Hitler ordered him to go back to a normal diet because it exhausted him. It was his symbolic commitment to total war.

Goering and Hitler, however, were reluctant to impose more sacrifices on the home front, remembering the collapse of morale in the First World War. [36] Even Goebbels hesitated on the beauty products, which he thought might be relatively cheap adjuncts to morale. He did, however, close many of Berlin's better restaurants and places of amusement. Any threat to Goering's favorite restaurant, Horcher's, created even greater enmity between Goebbels and Goering. Hitler finally told Goebbels to stop making foreign policy comments in his speeches, as part of his campaign to displace von Ribbentrop in Hitler's favor, and possibly become Foreign Minister.[37]

It must never be forgotten that Hitler allowed the style of a medieval court rather than an efficient government.

Russian front

In mid-March, Manstein managed a much-needed success in retaking Kharkov and driving to the Donets, inflicting an estimated 50,000 Soviet soldiers killed in action. Hitler interpreted this as meaning Stalin's resources must be coming to an end, and it was time for a new offensive. Manstein, however, had little success in getting Hitler to give up direct command of the Army, or, at least, name a theater commander for the Russian Front. Manstein was the obvious candidate, but Hitler did not want a commander that would argue with his desires. He preferred the complacency of Keitel.

Even Keitel's OKW planners, however, wanted to go on the temporary defensive in order to build superiority for a major blow. OKH staff, however, wanted to go onto a limited offensive, to stabilize the line. Kurt Zeitzler, head of the Army, had planned an offensive to trap five Soviet armies, in an area known as Kursk.

It was no surprise that Hitler picked the offensive choices and ordered Operation Citadel (Zitadelle), which would use Manstein's army group from the south and von Kluge's from the north. Hitler's approval came on 15 April, but, as had been typical of German operations, the planned beginning (mid-May) was delayed. One problem was competing demands from North Africa, but another was having more tanks available. Guderian and Speer questioned the offensive both to build reserves for the western front, and correct known deficiencies of the Panther tank.[38]

The Battle of Kursk would be, in number of troops and vehicles, the largest tank battle in history. Soviet defensive techniques had developed considerably since the last major campaign. While today's conventional wisdom was that it was a German disaster in the making, that was not obvious at the time. The Soviets had good warning of the attack, and, for the first time, expected to stop a German blitzkrieg before before it could achieve significant results. When the Germans launched on 5 July, they found that the Soviet defenses they once had brushed aside could be penetrated only with great effort. Hitler, unusually, finally cancelled the operation on 12 July, as the exhausted German forces were about to be struck by the Soviet Operational Maneuver Group.[39] Kursk would be the last major German initiative of the Eastern Front. Zeitzler was dismissed, forbidden to wear the uniform, and replaced by Guderian.

Italian developments

In 1943, with the defeat of Axis forces in North Africa, Italy itself was the next logical target for the Allied forces in the Mediterranean. Mussolini had been urging Hitler to make peace with Stalin, so Germany could join in defending fascist Italy. Mussolini's government was increasingly unstable, and Germany suspected that Italy, through Count Ciano as Ambassador to the Vatican, was trying to negotiate a separate peace. Hitler met with Mussolini on 7 April, at Salzburg, to encourage him. Goebbels recorded that Hitler told him that when Mussolini "got out of the train on his arrival, he...looked like a broken old man,; when he left, he was in fine fettle, ready for any deed."

They met again on 19 July, but Mussolini was under greater stress. Italian plots against him were growing, and, on 25 July, he was summoned by the King and dismissed from office. Hitler ordered the passes between Italy and Germany, and Italy and France, secured, while starting to plan a rescue of Mussolini. The eight-division border force was established as a new army group under Rommel.[40]

War in 1944

Hitler still hesitated in doing what total mobilization demanded. While he named Goebbels the Plenipotentiary for Total War Deployment on 20 July 1944, Goebbels had limited authority. Hitler still allowed his senior leaders to fight for authority, including Goering, Speer, Robert Ley and Fritz Sauckel in the labor supply (as well as concentration camp labor through Himmler and Oswald Pohl of the WVHA), and Bormann. [41]

Since 1942, Hitler had showed increasing trembling, strongly suggestive of Parkinson's disease. His health declined significantly in September 1944. His regular doctor, Theodor Morell, was of questionable competence, but still ordered an electrocardiogram on 24 September, which suggested coronary artery disease. He also became jaundiced in late September. [42]

The Russians pushed forward relentlessly in the East, while the Allies in the west launched a major bombing campaign in 1944-45 that burned out the major German cities, ruined transportation, and signaled to Germans how hopeless was their cause. France was invaded in June 1944 as the Russians launched another attack on the east. Both attacks were successful and by the end of 1944, the end was in sight.

Normandy Invasion

Kershaw writes that Hitler had "astonishing optimism" during the first half of 1944, but "the self-deception involved was colossal." Hitler was consumed with the detailed prosecution of the war, but often at a level of micromanagement. [43]

While he micromanaged, he also failed in serious decision making. When the Normandy invasion came in June 1944, its way had been prepared by a large strategic deception operation by the London Controlling Section. Hitler was convinced that the main attack was not Normandy, but the Pas de Calais. Even worse, the armored divisions needed for counterattacking the beachhead required Hitler's personal approval to be released by OKW. [44] His immediate staff refused to awaken him, fearing his anger, so the only units that might have waged an effective counterattack were not released until 16:00 — when Allied amphibious forces had been landing since dawn, and airborne troops had been dropping through the previous night. When he finally released them, it was with unwise bravado: "The news couldn't be better...Now we have them where we can destroy them." Due to Allied air supremacy over the beachhead, however, the Panzer divisions could not survive daylight movement. Had they been released with the first airborne drops, they might have gotten somewhat closer, but the likelihood is that release after the landings began might have made no difference. Nevertheless, the event was indicative of his decision making.

He also insisted, as in Russia, of never retreating, even for tactical reasons, and allowed large units to be trapped and captured. Rommel, in operational command of Army Group B, met with Hitler, and theater commander von Rundstedt, on 17 June, but Hitler was immune to their proposals of conducting a deliberate, fighting retreat. [45] While the Allies had used a novel approach, MULBERRY, to create a temporary port at the beachhead, serious supply efforts would need a real harbor and logistical facilities. Cherbourg was the closest such port, and the Germans thoroughly destroyed its facilities. Hitler, however, told the field marshals that "Fortress Cherbourg" must not be evacuated and any such proposals were defeatism.

Instead, Hitler said that the fortresses would pin down Allied troops, and promised that the "secret weapons" of guided missiles and jet fighters would soon turn the tide. It was eventually estimated that the Germans lost 200,000 soldiers who were cut off in Cherbourg and the other Western fortresses. Both von Rundstedt and Rommel recommended Hitler make political moves to end the war, and, when Rommel went even further and said the war should be ended, Hitler told him to worry about his front and leave the politics to the Fuehrer. [46]

Adding to the precarious situation, Rommel was seriously wounded, by Allied fighter-bombers, on 16 July, and was hospitalized at the time of the 20th of July Plot, never to return to duty. Gunther von Kluge replaced him in command.

The assassination attempt led to wide internal purges, badly damaging the military leadership. Rommel was forced to commit suicide. Von Kluge came under suspicion, was recalled in August, and committed suicide.


Two major Allied operations, Operation COBRA under Bradley, and Operation GOODWOOD and TOTALIZE, broke out of the beachhead. Two new field armies optimized for exploitation were activated, Third United States Army under George Patton and First Canadian Army under H.D.G. Crerar. Hitler regarded Patton as the Allies' ablest general, and the Allies used it; he had been the show commander of the fictious First U.S. Army Group (FUSAG) used to threaten the Pas de Calais. Hitler consistently focused on wherever he thought Patton would be.

Liberation of Paris

After the breakout from the Normandy beachhead, Hitler ordered the destruction of Paris, but its commander, Dietrich von Choltitz, refused. The general had already concluded that Hitler was mad, although he was not part of the German Resistance. [47] In his memoirs, von Choltitz wrote, "Did I have the right to plunge a metropolis into misfortune by setting up a defense in its center that would not have been able to change a whit in the overall campaign? I thought about the future relationship of two great neighboring peoples."[48] Paris surrendered on 25 August; this ended Operation OVERLORD and the Battle of Normandy.

Allied land consolidation

In May, forces in Italy broke through German defense lines, and, on 6 June, captured Rome. On 15 August, the Allies made the Operation DRAGOON landings, by the Sixth Army Group, in southern France. Simultaneously, the Allies in Normandy attacked against the Falaise Gap, potentially trapping 200,000 troops. Hitler did order withdrawals, but called it "The worst day of my life."

Three major ground forces, therefore, were moving toward Germany: the two army groups from Normandy, the DRAGOON forces, and the troops of the Italian theater.

Allied strategic air operations

The Allied bombing campaign had reached significant effectiveness. Hitler would still micromanage. When the head of the German fighter force, Gen. Adolf Galland, planned a massive fighter attack against bombers, planned for 12 November 1944, [49] Hitler reserved the final authority to launch. When it was less than successful, he then reallocated the last effort of the Luftwaffe, not against the strategic bomber attack but to the Battle of the Bulge counteroffensive.

German guided missiles

While German guided missile development was crude by modern standards, they were still impressive by the time. Impressive, however, did not always mean useful. Hitler, always emphasizing offense, committed a major production effort to the V-2, a medium range ballistic missile. Each V-2 weighed thirteen tons; he wanted 900 produced each month. Each missile delivered about one ton of explosive. With 30 per day, they would have delivered approximately the same payload of twelve Allied heavy bombers attacking Germany — sometimes in thousand-plane raids. While most of the bombers were not terribly accurate — U.S. bombers could hit a large factory and British night bombers a city — V-2's had even worse accuracy. A one-ton warhead with an accuracy of a mile is a serious concern if it has a nuclear warhead, but, while terrifying and lethal if you were in the target area, they were simply not militarily effective, and an immense diversion of resources. In a perverse way, they were lifesaving for some slave laborers, who were saved from gassing at Auschwitz to be used in the terrible underground working conditions at the Dora-Mittelbau Concentration Camp factory. Since the workers needed significant training, Speer writes that he complained to the SS to get better treatment of, and thus better productivity from, the worker.

Speer agreed with Hitler, and considered it one of his worst mistakes. He would have built guided missiles, but very different ones: the Waterfall or Typhoon surface-to-air missiles. Thousands of these smaller weapons, which were ready for initial production, could have been produced by January 1945, and might have had a devastating effect on Allied bomber forces. The effect would have been even greater had the Me-262 fighter been available in quantity;[50] bombers defend differently against missiles and fighters.

Holocaust collapse

By the summer of 1944, Soviet troops began to threaten the easternmost camps, and the Germans began forced marches to evacuate them. Much more significant were Soviet advances in the first three months of 1945, when the major Polish camps were evacuated and partially demolished. [51]

In an unprecedented Hitler agreement, of April 1944, to defer killing, Jews in the Auschwitz and Stutthof Concentration Camps were sent first to the Dachau aircraft production subcamps, and then to the underground facilities at Dora-Mittelbau Concentration Camp, where missiles were built. When the Dachau commander planned to send exhausted workers back to Auschwitz for gassing, Himmler, in early 1945, began to search for opportunities to offer small groups of Jews to the Allies, for future considerations of goodwill.[52]

Beginning of the End

Hitler did launch a surprise attack at the Bulge in December, 1944; it was his last major initiative and it failed, as Allied armor rolled into Germany. Disregarding his generals, Hitler rejected withdrawals and retreats, counting more and more on nonexistent armies. He committed suicide in his underground bunker in Berlin as his last soldiers were overwhelmed by Soviet armies in intensely bloody battles overhead.

As the Allies took Germany from the east and west, Hitler withdrew to his final command post. There was a strong rumor, taken seriously by the Allies, that the Germans would make their last stand in the rugged mountains around Berchtesdaden, called the Southern Redoubt. Hitler, however, never wavered from his concept of historic destiny, in which he would live or die in Berlin. He took up residence in the bunker complex in January, although he was to journey outside it until April.

It had been agreed, among the Allies, that the Soviets would take Berlin, although Western forces were moving east. German refugees were desperately trying to reach the Western Allies; Walther Wenck's Twelfth Army was trying to fight to them so it could avoid surrendering to the Russians.

Defense in the West

The Allies began to cross the Rhine into Germany, first when the Ludendorff Railroad Bridge at Remagen, between Koblenz and Bonn, was captured intact by troops of the U.S. 9th Armored Division on 7 March 1945. [53] This was not part of the plan for deliberate Rhine crossings in March, but the Allies would hardly give it back. Hitler was enraged, calling for the executions of the German officers who had failed to demolish it before capture,[54] and ordering secret weapons to attack the bridgehead.

Guderian visited Hitler on 28 March to gain flexibility or even local surrenders, especially concerned with the 200,000 German soldiers of the Courland Army, trapped behind Russian lines. Hitler said "never" to a request to evacuate them, and then said "General Guderian, the state of your health requires you immediately take six weeks' sick leaves." [55]

On April 2, all resistance in the Ruhr collapsed, but Hitler was to say to Bormann,
The laws of both history and geography will compel these two powers to a trial of strength, either military or in the field of economics and ideology. These same laws make it inevitable that both poers should become enemies of Europe. And it is equally certain that both powers will sooner or later find it desirable to seek the support of the sole surviving nation in Europe, the German people. I say with all the emphasis at my command that the Germans must at all costs avoid playing the role of pawn in either camp.[56]

Defense in the East

He visited a castle near the Oder in mid-March, driven there by Kempka in a less conspicuous Volkswagen, to encourage the Ninth Army to slow the Russians advancing on Berlin. Hitler assured them new "secret weapons" were coming soon, although he had told the Gauleiters the truth not long before: no technical solutions were coming in the near term, although he still had dreams of convincing the Western Allies to join him against the Bolsheviks. [57]

Last events of the Holocaust

Soviet forces liberated Auschwitz on 29 January; the SS had largely evacuated, and indeed destroyed some facilities. It is unclear, however, how much of the details of the camp system coverup reached Hitler, although Himmler had issued a January 1945 order that "The Fuehrer holds you personally responsible for...making sure not a single prisoner from the concentration camps falls alive into the hands of the enemy."[58]

The End

While Hitler still would hope for miracle weapons, or sudden changes such as the alliance between the Soviets and the West breaking up with the death of Roosevelt, by April, even he was recognizing many of the realities. He had been calling for scorched-earth tactics as the Allies drove the Germans back, and, in mid-March, Speer sent him a memorandum opposing it. Hitler, telling him he would also receive a written response, told him
If the war is lost, the people will be lost also. It is not necessary to worry about what the German people will need for elemental survival. On the contrary, it is best for us to destroy even these things. For the nation has proven to be the weaker, and the future belongs solely to the stronger easter nation. In an case, only those who are inferior will remain after this struggle, for the good have already been killed.[59]


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