The Propagander ™ FAQ


Was Adolf Hitler a 'Great' Military Leader?

One cannot generalize an answer to this question to a simple yes or no. In many of the post-war memoirs by those of Hitler's generals that managed to survive him, the tendency was to blame all of the mistakes made in the war on Hitler. "If only the Fuehrer had listened to me," they whined. Since Hitler was not around to give his side, they were often able to get away with propagating their versions. However, a close examination of specific decisions reveals that Hitler was right as often as he was wrong, especially early on.

September 29, 1938 München Konferenz: The Munich Conference concludes.

From
Wilhelm Keitel's IMT testimony:

We (Hitler's generals) were extraordinarily happy that it had not come to a military operation, because throughout the time of preparation we had always been of the opinion that our means of attack against the frontier fortifications of Czechoslovakia were insufficient. From a purely military point of view we lacked the means for an attack which involved the piercing of the frontier fortifications. Consequently we were extremely satisfied that a peaceful political solution had been reached . . . .

I believe I may say that as a result this greatly increased Hitler's prestige among the generals. We recognized that on the one hand military means and military preparations had hot been neglected and on the other hand a solution had been found which we had not expected and for which we were extremely thankful.

As time went by, Hitler came to believe that his own judgement was intrinsically superior to that of his generals.

From The Devil's Disciples by Anthony Read:

Hitler abolished the War Ministry and in its place created a unified High Command of the Armed Forces, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), with himself as Supreme Commander and the three services reduced to subsidiary arms. He chose Keitel as its Chief of Staff because he knew he was a pliable yes-man, who would do what he was told and tell him what he wanted to hear. Blomberg had dismissed Keitel as 'nothing more than the man who runs my office' when Hitler, who did not know him, asked about him as a possible replacement. 'That's exactly the man I am looking for,' Hitler had replied.

An example where Hitler did follow the advise of his generals to good effect: Hitler's initial plan to invade France was nothing more than a reworked version of the same plan that failed in WW1. Erich von Manstein proposed an alternate plan which Hitler accepted, and France fell with relative ease as a result.

From
Alfred Jodl's IMT testimony:

Hitler was a leader to an exceptional degree. His knowledge and his intellect, his rhetoric, and his will power triumphed in the end in every spiritual conflict over everyone. He combined to an unusual extent logic and clarity of thought, skepticism and excess of imagination, which very frequently foresaw what would happen, but also very often went astray. I really marveled at him when, in the winter of 1941-42, by his faith and his energy, he established the wavering Eastern Front; for at that time, as in 1812, a catastrophe was imminent. His life in the Fuehrer headquarters was nothing but duty and work. The modesty in his mode of life was impressive.

However, in many instances Hitler's ideas proved superior to those of his generals. When the initial German thrusts into Russia petered out before Moscow and the Russian winter set in early, Hitler's generals insisted that the armies retreat. Hitler instead made them stand their ground, thus saving the situation from what would have been a disastrous retreat. It was after a number of these situations, where Hitler's instincts proved superior to the advise of his generals, that Hitler began more and more to ignore their ideas.

This became worse as the war progressed, until relations between Hitler and his generals became openly hostile.

From The Desert Fox in Normandy by Samuel W. Mitcham Jr:

In February 1943, after an epic siege, the 6th Army surrendered at Stalingrad, and Germany lost 230,000 of her best soldiers. Field Marshal Erich von Manstein temporarily restored the situation in the following months. Despite odds of 5 to 1 he counterattacked, retook Kharkov on March 14, and brought the Russian winter offensive to a halt. Unfortunately, Hitler did not leave the direction of the Eastern Front to Manstein or any other commander. In July 1943 the Nazi dictator launched a major offensive at Kursk, despite the objections of Jodl, Manstein, Guderian, and others. It was a disaster. Germany lost more Panzers in this single battle than she was ever able to commit on the Western Front at any single time. Hitler had exhausted his capabilities and resources in the East, and the initiative passed forever to the Soviets. Defeat after defeat followed.

In the 
Last Days, Hitler micromanaged every single decision:

January 21, 1945: Hitler orders that all commanding generals down to divisional level must inform him in advance of any operational movements by the units under their command.

They must ensure that I have time to intervene in their direction if I think fit, and that my counter-orders can reach the front-line troops in time.

By the end, there was no reasoning with Hitler:

March 28, 1945: Keitel, preparing to leave for the front, is called back to the Fuehrer Bunker for the afternoon conference. The long-running conflict between Hitler and his generals comes to a head as, in a scene reminiscent of a Mad-Hatter's Tea Party, Hitler dismisses General Heinz Guderian. Note: At this point in the war it hardly matters; the military situation is beyond hopeless, and, even though there are some Panzer's available for action, there is little fuel for them. (Clark)

From Barbarossa by Alan Clark:

To avoid interruption from air attack, it had been customary for some time for these afternoon 'briefings,' as they were called, to be held in the corridor of Hitler's personal underground bunker, and into this confined space there crowded, at 2 PM on 28th March, Guderian and Busse, Keitel, Jodl, Burgdorf, Hitler, Bormann, and sundry adjutants, staff officers, stenographers, and men of the SS bodyguard. Soon the conference took on the character, which was to be a recurrent feature of the 'bunker period,' of a hysterical multipartite shouting match. Busse had barely started on his report when Hitler began to interrupt him with the same accusations of negligence, if not cowardice, which Guderian had protested against the previous day. Guderian then began to interrupt, using unusually strong and dissenting language, drawing in turn murmurs of reproof from Keitel and Burgdorf.

Finally Hitler brought the company to order by dismissing everyone except Guderian and Keitel, and turning to Guderian he said, 'Colonel-General, your physical health requires that you immediately take six weeks' convalescent leave.' With the dismissal of Guderian the last rational and independent influence was removed from the direction of military affairs in Germany. Only the 'Nazi soldiers' remained, all of them now in timid conformity with Brauchitch's 'office boy' image and tied to the execution of the Fuehrer's wayward policies. It was one more paradox of the Russian campaign that at the end, when Hitler had mastered the General Staff and finally extinguished the evasions and insubordination’s which had persisted among them (albeit in diminishing strength) since 1941, he began to take on all the characteristics which the generals had so long ascribed to him, and which they had used to excuse their own intermittent disobedience.

Conclusion: While Hitler had some innate talent and showed moments of brilliance as a warlord, his many mistakes and miscalculations, and his unbalanced temperament, which tended to make decisions based on emotional considerations, preclude a positive assessment of his overall ability as a commander in chief.
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