Hitler, Germany's Worst General
By Robert C. Daniels
Whether Germany could have won the Second World War is a topic that even today
still generates debates among the professional and lay historian alike. It is
commonly said that it is the generals who make the least amount of mistakes
that win the wars. However, this can also be said about the leaders of the
belligerent nations as well, especially when they assume a strong, sometimes
overbearing role in the military leadership and planning of wars. Germany's
Adolf Hitler fits this later category during World War II.
As the strong, overbearing dictator of Germany during World War II, Hitler made
many mistakes in waging the war. Two of the more prominent of these mistakes,
both with wide and sweeping results, were the June 22, 1941 invasion of the
USSR—Operation Barbarossa—and the December 11, 1941 unprovoked and unwarranted
declaration of war on the United States—against the advice of Hitler's Foreign
Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop. It is commonly argued that these two
mistakes combined eventually resulted in Germany's ultimate downfall. However,
even with the enormity of these two mistakes, one other mistake outweighs
both the launching of Operation Barbarossa and the declaration of war on the
United States in terms of possibly altering the outcome of the war. Had Hitler
chosen to listen to his generals and bring England to her knees prior to the
invasion of the USSR and the declaration of war on the United States by
concentrating Germany's overwhelming forces in defeating the British in North
Africa and the Middle East in 1941, Germany could very well have won the war.
By the end of May 1941, Germany, under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler, had
conquered or, with the support of her allies and puppet rulers, gained the
effective control over nearly all of Western Europe and was in possession of
most of North Africa. Stalin, although not viewing Hitler as particularly
trustworthy, had signed a non-aggression pact with Germany and was not
anticipating an invasion from, nor planning an attack against Germany. The
United States, although actively supporting England through the Lend-Lease law
enacted in February 1941, and from the beginning of April of that same year was
"operating a Neutrality Patrol which effectively excluded U-boats from the
Atlantic west of Bermuda," was still clinging to the isolationist theory,
and not readily eager nor willing to enter the war. This left Great Britain as
Hitler's only remaining military threat, and Great Britain was in dire straits.
The British army, having had already taken a beating in Norway and France,
leaving a substantial amount of her war equipment on the beaches of Dunkirk,
was fighting a desperate struggle to hold onto its last remaining foothold of
Up to this point in the war, Hitler's forces seemed invincible. In March of
1938 Hitler effectively annexed Austria, 6 months later he did the same to the
Sudetenland, and in March of 1939 annexed Czechoslovakia. The August 22, 1939
signing of the non-aggression pact between Germany and the USSR, privately
stipulating that the Baltic States would go to the USSR and Poland would be
partitioned between the USSR and Germany, left Hitler's army free to invade
Poland. Less than two months later Poland had been invaded and was in Nazi
hands causing Great Britain and France to declare war with Germany.
By the summer of 1940, Denmark and Norway had also fallen to Germany.
May 10 to June 22, 1940, a timeframe covering just over a month, saw the German
forces overrun, with relative ease, the Western European states of the
Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and even France in the well thought out and
planned Operation Sichelschnitt, "Sickle Stroke." The Sichelschnitt plan,
along with the use of the Blitzkrieg, "lightning war," proved to be a novel,
if not a stroke of genius, way of overcoming and overwhelming an enemy,
especially an enemy that is as surprised and ill equipped as was those of the
Allied armies of 1940.
In three years Hitler had gained effective control over nearly all of
Western Europe, North Africa, and the Mediterranean Ocean with only Great
Britain left standing in her way, and England's only hold was in Egypt and the
Middle East. It was clearly the time to eliminate this threat, and clearly the
logical next step in Hitler's goal of eliminating all threatening continental
powers in Europe, fulfilling Hitler's own political statement for Germany:
Never suffer the rise of two continental powers in Europe. Regard any attempt
to organize a second military power on the German frontiers, even if only in
the form of creating a state capable of military strength, as an attack on
Germany, and in it see not only the right, but also the duty, to employ all
means up to armed force to prevent rise of such a state, or, if one has already
arisen, to smash it again.
However, as history has shown, going against the advice of many of his general
officers, Hitler ordered the implementation of Operation Barbarossa, the
invasion of the USSR, to begin on June 22, 1941, effectively creating a two
front war and beginning the downfall of the German Third Reich. Hitler's
personal need to strike at Russia was long ingrained into his psyche. In the
mid-1920's, while serving time in Germany's Landsberg Prison, Hitler wrote his
famous Mein Kampf, where he outlined his world plan for Germany. In
Hitler laid out his plan for Germany's lebensraum,
or living room. He wanted "to secure for the German people the land and soil
which they are entitled on this earth." Referring once again to his
political statement for Germany, Hitler wrote:
See to it that the strength of our nation is founded, not on colonies, but on
the soil of our European homeland. Never regard the Reich as secure unless for
centuries to come it can give every scion of our people his own parcel of soil.
Never forget that the most sacred right on this earth is a man's right to have
earth to till with his own hands, and the most sacred sacrifice the blood that
a man sheds for his earth.
Stating, "We stop the endless German movement to the south and west, and turn
our gaze toward the land in the east," Hitler saw the lands of Germany's
eastern neighbors as the best for his lebensraum. Since he was
already in possession of Czechoslovakia and Poland, Russia, with its vast
fertile western lands, was next in line. It was clear to anyone who took the
time to read Hitler's Mein Kampf that the invasion of Russia was
imminent as long as Hitler was the Fuhrer; and Mein Kampf was widely
read throughout Germany in the 1930s and early 1940s.
On June 22, 1941, Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, invading the USSR. The
Russian army was taken off guard. With their army in relatively exposed
locations in Poland far away from the Stalin Line—the fortified border between
Russia and Poland—and not anticipating an attack, the Russians were quickly
overwhelmed. According to historian John Keegan, Stalin, who had become
self-delusioned in the months prior to Operation Barbarossa, was so stunned
that he "underwent something like a nervous breakdown." The Germans were
able to advance to within twenty miles of the Kremlin in Moscow in just over
five months. With a large and formidable army poised just outside, Moscow
seemed ripe for the German taking. However, Hitler, once again going against
the advice of his General Staff, called off the Moscow attack on December 5,
Had Hitler listened to his General Staff and attacked Moscow in force, Moscow
most likely would have fallen before the onslaught of the Russian winter. It
was as much, if not to a more extent, the Russian winter that defeated the
Germans on the Eastern Front than the efforts of the Russian military, at least
in the early stages of the war. Had Hitler attacked Moscow at the earliest
possible time before the snows arrived, the Germans might have been able to
fortify Moscow and many could have spent the first winter of the war in
relative warmth and comfort. Instead, Hitler began, in the words of General
Franz Halder, "playing warlord," and more and more stopped listening to his
generals. Before Barbarossa, Hitler had for the most part, allowed his generals
to make decisions and run the campaigns. Now, in the Russian campaign, Hitler
was "becoming a regular nuisance" in interfering in the day to day running of
Halder believed that driving headlong at Moscow was the way to overcome the
Russian army's fighting power. Hitler, on the other hand, was all for seizing
as much Russian territory and economic resources as possible, and as soon as
possible—after all, Hitler wanted his lebensraum. To this end, the
drive on Moscow was put off until the fighting around Smolensk and the Pripet
Marshes were completed, and the drives on Leningrad and Kiev bore fruit. To
accomplish these, the Army Group Center's—the group heading for Moscow—two
Panzer groups were pulled away from the German Moscow force.
As a result, the Germans did not take Moscow. By the first week of December
1941, without proper provisions for winter maneuvers, the Germans were at a
standstill, though practically within sight of Moscow. Had the Germans properly
equipped their troops for the frigid Russian winter, the German Army still
could have probably taken Moscow that winter. Stalin had only approximately
800,000 men, 770 tanks, and 364 aircraft split up amongst ninety divisions
along his entire European Russian front to oppose the Germans, figures that
were vastly outnumbered by the Germans. But instead, the Germans were
forced into a standstill, attempting to keep warm, because General "Jodl
had refused to allow the collection or supply of winter clothing, lest its
appearance cast doubt on his assurances that Russia would collapse before the
coming of the snows." In addition, Hitler refused an organized withdrawal
to save his troops from freezing. In doing so, he went as far as seeing to it
that those officers who attempted or even hinted at withdrawing their troops
were relieved on the spot. Even on a few occasions, Hitler personally directed
the offending officer's relief in his own presence.
This refusal to allow retreats was not limited only to Moscow. Hitler also
refused to allow Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's Africa corps to be evacuated from
a hopeless situation in North Africa stating, "No other path lies open to your
troops except victory or death." Hitler even went so far as promoting
General von Paulus to the rank of field marshal on January 30, 1943, in hopes
that von Paulus would fight to the death after refusing to allow the
general to attempt a breakout from the besieged Stalingrad. However,
von Paulus, instinctively disapproving of suicide, defied Hitler's wishes
stating to General Pfeffer, one of von Paulus' generals, "I have no intention
of shooting myself for this Bohemian corporal," and surrendered the next
Hitler's adamant attitude against any kind of retreat cost Germany many a good
soldier, significantly contributing to loosing the war, at least against the
Russians. It can be argued that had the Germans been allowed to retreat,
conducting a form of elastic defense with mobile counterattacks on the Eastern
Front, many German soldiers and their valuable war equipment would have been
able to regroup and fight again. These retreated soldiers and equipment could
have developed a stalwart defensive line that might have been impregnable to
Russian assaults, or even actually re-attacked the Russians in a strong,
concerted effort. Either of these could very well have turned the tide to a
German-Russian stalemate in the East, if not an eventual victory for the
Not only launching Operation Barbarossa in the first place, but not allowing
his troops to fall back when it was needed were grave mistakes made by Hitler.
These, however, were not his only major mistakes of the war.
Arguably, one of, if not "the" major, mistakes made by Hitler throughout the
war was the declaration of war against the United States on December 11, 1941,
four days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Privately, Joachim von
Ribbentrop, Germany's Foreign Minister, who rightly saw this act as a grave
mistake, upon hearing Hitler's declaration of war against the United States,
warned the Fuhrer that Germany had now
just one year to cut Russia off from her military supplies arriving via
Murmansk and the Persian Gulf…If we don't succeed and the munitions potential
of the United States joins up with the manpower potential of the Russians, the
war will enter a phase in which we shall only be able to win it with
Once the United States was officially in the war, Germany's, as Japan's,
chances for decisive victory was drastically reduced to near zero. The United
States' vast potential for production of war material alone, even without the
contribution of military forces, was staggering. Before the United States
entered the war, England, for all practical purposes, stood alone on Germany's
west. England, although showing signs of renewed strength through the
lend-lease material sent by the United States, was still, however, not a major
threat to Germany, and was still teetering on defeat. All of this changed when
Hitler declared war on the United States. Now, a two-front war for Germany,
something that was from the beginning a real concern for the German High
Command, was a reality that Germany could hardly afford. With the United States
in the war on England's side, especially at the same time Germany was waging
war with the Russians in the east, Germany had little hope of anything other
than a stalemate.
The fact that Hitler had made a major, if not fatal mistake by declaring war on
the United States before ending his struggle with Russia is almost a given. It
was now just a matter of time before Germany would eventually succumb to
overwhelming industrial might and military manpower. However, prior to Hitler's
declaration of war against the United States, Germany could have arguably won
Instead of venturing into Russia when he did, Hitler could have conducted an
all out war against Great Britain, forcing the British to capitulate. Although
a concerted military effort against the British in Egypt would have nearly
undoubtedly caused the capitulation of the English forces in North Africa, it
still may have required the invasion of the British Isles to force a British
surrender. A successful invasion of Great Britain by Germany, if properly
planned and executed, was feasible. The alternative to a bloody invasion,
however, would have been to overrun and take control of the Middle Eastern oil
fields—depleting the English of fuel—enlarge and update the Luftwaffe arm and
U-boat fleet, and lay siege to the British Isles, forcing the British to sue
In May of 1941, just twenty months after invading Poland, Germany was very
close to wrestling England's hold on North Africa. At England's other front,
the British Isles themselves, she was struggling against both German
bombers—although by this time the English air forces were getting the upper
hand—and the constant U-boat fleet attacking England's much needed freight and
supply shipping. It is argued by many, including German Field Marshal Erich von
Manstein, that the war could have been won by Germany as early as the winter of
1941/42 had Hitler ordered a concerted effort against the British at this
point. The ousting of the British from North Africa, the continuation of
Germany's Luftwaffe and U-boat strangle-hold on the British Isles, and if
necessary, the eventual all out invasion of the British Isles, could very
possibly have brought Great Britain to her knees. This plan, according to
Manstein, was actually advocated by the German Supreme Command.
Once the British were defeated in North Africa, German troops could have been
sent east to the relatively lightly defended oil fields of the Middle East. The
fall of these strategic oil fields would have deprived the English of valuable
fuel, fuel that was crucial to fighting a modern war. England, without this
crucial source of fuel, would not have been able to launch an aggressive attack
against the Germans, and would even have been taxed in defending her own sky's
and shores from German attacks.
Stalin had signed the non-aggression pact, and, according to Keegan, in effect
was closely collaborating with Hitler in these years of Germany's triumphs.
According to Keegan, Stalin trusted Hitler so much, or at least was so
self-delusioned by Hitler, that Stalin actually "made acceptance of Hitler's
friendly intentions a sort of loyalty test among his intimates and in the high
command." Certainly the British could not count on help from the Russians
in fighting off the Germans.
Britain's only real hope would have to come from across the Atlantic in the
form of the United States. The summer of 1941, however, saw many in the United
States leery about entering the war, or for that matter, even continuing
sending aid to the Allies in fear of the aid accelerating into a declaration of
war. Norman Thomas, the American Socialist Party's presidential candidate and a
member of the America First Committee, in a May 4, 1941 radio broadcast on the
Forum of the Air
program, argued against the United States' current
policy of deploying armed U.S. Navy destroyers as escorts protecting British
convoys across the Atlantic. Thomas argued that the best results of a war with
Germany would be one of three: (1) a German victory; (2) an Allied victory only
"after a long and costly struggle;" (3) a degree of stalemate with Russia
coming out as the overall victor.
Many other Americans, however, were all for the United States entering the war
on the side of the British to defeat the Germans. For example, men such as the
writer and lecturer Stanley High, and the president of Harvard University,
James B. Conant, spoke out directly in favor of an all out military commitment
to the overthrow of Germany—Conant as early as November 1940.
Although a potentially powerful country, and as early as September of 1940 —
through President Roosevelt's controversial peacetime draft—the United States
had begun gearing up for the possibility of war, the United States was, for the
most part, in May 1941, ‘sitting on the fence' and almost wholly unprepared for
Without adequate military support from allies, which at the time was not a
reality for the British, it would seem that defeat of the English, both in
Egypt and the British homeland itself, lay at Hitler's doorstep for the taking.
For von Manstein, the capitulation of Great Britain was the key to both ending
and winning the war. Never trustful of Stalin, von Manstein stated that it was
Reich's most pressing task…to end the war with Britain at the earliest possible
date. Only then could one hope that Stalin had finally missed his chance to
exploit the discord of the European peoples for this own expansionist ends.
Stalin, although having signed the 1939 non-aggression pact, was still seen by
the German High Command as a threat, especially when German forces were engaged
in the West. The High Command's position was that Russia would be a threat as
long as Great Britain had not fallen, either through outright capitulation or a
peaceful settlement under terms favorable to Germany.
Hitler's Grand Admiral, Erich Raeder, referring to Operation Barbarossa, "urged
that no new enterprises should be undertaken until Britain was beaten." In
alternative to Operation Barbarossa, Raeder had produced and proposed Operation
Felix, a "plan to hamstring Britain in the Mediterranean by capturing
Gibraltar." He also proposed "initiatives in the Balkans and towards Turkey,
which would put pressure on Britain at the Mediterranean's eastern end."
Hermann Goering, the commander of the German Luftwaffe, also shared Raeder's
"strategic outlook." Raeder also wanted to take the Atlantic Island chains of
the Canaries, the Azores, and Cape Verde Islands.
Taking Gibraltar would have meant invading General Francisco Franco's Spain.
Franco, in a meeting with Hitler on October 23, 1940 at Hendaye on the
Spanish-French boarder, which Hitler had hoped to "coax on to the Axis
side—thus giving Germany free use of the British Rock of Gibraltar," had
infuriated Hitler by "stonewalling throughout the hours of negotiation"
resulting in Hitler "not advanc[ing] and inch towards co-belligerency with
Franco." However, in light of what Germany forces had accomplished to date,
Spain, in reality, was not much of a challenge for Nazi Germany. And the taking
of Gibraltar might well have been worth the struggle. The German occupation of
Gibraltar would have allowed Germany to successfully seal off the Mediterranean
to the British, forcing England to re-route its military re-supplies to her
forces in Egypt and the Middle East from the Mediterranean to the long journey
around the Horn of Africa. Arguably, however, the taking of Gibraltar by the
Germans could very well have greatly antagonized the United States, if United
States flagged ships were also refused entry into the Mediterranean. It should
be remembered that the United States has had a long history of waging war to
protect her right to the freedom of the seas.
As an alternative to taking Gibraltar and closing the Mediterranean, the taking
of Island of Malta, situated between Sicily and Tripoli, could very well have
crippled the British Mediterranean supply lines and protected the Axis' North
African supply lines. Malta, as a British held island with a strong British
naval and air presence, was a major thorn in the Axis' side. Not only were
England's Mediterranean re-supply lines for her Egyptian based forces escorted
and protected by the naval and air arms based at Malta, these same naval and
air forces conducted countless sorties against the Axis ships and airplanes
re-supplying Hitler's and Mussolini's forces in North Africa, with devastating
results. In early 1941, in referring to Hitler's closest military advisers when
asked to advise Hitler whether Malta or Crete was of a more important objective
in the Mediterranean, German General Walter Warlimont recalled, "‘All officers
of the Section, whether from the Army, Navy, or Air Force, voted unanimously
for the capture of Malta, since this seemed to be the only way to secure
permanently the sea route to North Africa.'" However, General Kurt Student,
the commander of the XI Air Corps, an elite German parachute unit, was able to
convince Hermann Goering that Crete was a much easier target, and Malta was
With additional troops and equipment, a strong, concerted German thrust in
North Africa would almost certainly have caused the British troops to
capitulate in Egypt. A follow-on German thrust to the sparsely defended Middle
Eastern oil fields, depriving England of her crucial supply of fuel, would have
most certainly curtailed the effectiveness of the British air forces over Great
Britain, if not completely grounded the air arm altogether. With the proven
effectiveness of the German forces, the fall of Egypt and the Middle Eastern
oil fields could very well have happened within a few months with a concerted
effort by Hitler's forces.
Without her air arm, or at least a severely curtailed air arm, the British
would have been almost helpless against both the German Luftwaffe and U-boat
menaces. Faced with the possible, if not imminent, invasion at the hands of the
Germans, with little or no air cover and the arrival of outside supplies in
question, Great Britain may very well have been forced to sue for peace as
early as the winter of 1941/42.
The fall of Great Britain could have given Germany not only the needed time to
regroup and rearm with more advanced submarines, tanks, and airplanes, but
would have put Germany in a superb political position. With the holding of
nearly all of Europe, North Africa, and possibly the Middle Eastern oil fields,
either directly or through puppet regimes such as Marshal Philippe Pétain's
Vichy French and allies such as Benito Mussolini, Germany would hold great sway
over the remaining world powers.
Even the United States, who by December of 1941 would have been beginning her
long war with Japan after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, would more than
likely have had to think twice about entering a war on two fronts. Without the
help of the British forces and their island nation close to the European
Continent, with its use as a staging point for troop landings and air fields
for bombing raids, the Atlantic front would have had to be fought similar to
that of the Pacific, primarily as a naval war.
However, in the Atlantic islands do not exist in anywhere near the same
proportions as do islands in the Pacific. This would mean that island hopping
would not have been a realistic strategy as it was in the Pacific Theater of
the war. The result would be the need for vast fleets of ships to ferry troops,
supplies, and aircraft directly to the European landing areas. In 1941 and 1942
the United States did not have these vast fleets. And even with the massive
ship build-up program that was soon to begin after the Japanese attack on Pearl
Harbor, it would take the United States quite some time to be able to support
two vast ocean fleets—time that Germany would be able to use to consolidate,
refurbish, and refit her own naval, air and land forces, even while fighting
The question that now comes into place is whether Great Britain would have
buckled under the pressure and sued for peace? Von Manstein states that
It may be that the British national character, so impressively incorporated in
the person of Winston Churchill, prevented Britain from entertaining any
serious thought of a rational settlement at that or indeed any later stage of
This may be true. Winston Churchill was a "fighter," who backed the British
policy of traditionally striving for a "European balance of power, the
restoration of which had been Britain's ultimate motive for entering the
Only the ousting of Winston Churchill as British Prime Minister for a less
stalwart prime minister would more than likely have kept Great Britain from
continuing the war as the war was currently being played out. However, this was
not out of the question at the time—Churchill was not yet the hero he is seen
as today, still having his World War I reputation to overcome. With a
continuation and even acceleration of the attacks by the U-boats on the needed
British supply lines and the Luftwaffe on the English homeland, the British
Parliament may have eventually been forced to act on a peace settlement. German
invasion of the British home islands would probably have seen an even quicker
action by the Parliament. It must be remembered that Great Britain also relied
heavily on the hopes of the "ability of the American President eventually to
bring the United States into the war on Britain's side," and as Manstein
stated, the American public were disinclined to do so at that stage. And as
has been already pointed out, the United States wasn't yet ready for war.
Additionally, had Goering, with Hitler's approval, not given the order to
change bombing targets away from the British airfields, the Battle of Britain
would likely have been won by the Germans, easing the possible siege of Great
Britain by lessening, if not eliminating the British bomber arm that proved so
deadly to the German U-boats.
It is argued that with the use of Ultra, England's Bletchley Park Code and
Cipher School's top secret deciphering of Germany's Enigma coding machine, the
British knew most of Germany's moves before hand. This can also be said,
however, of the German navy's "Observation Service (Beobachtungs—or B-Dienst),"
which deciphered the British Royal Navy's convoy radio message traffic enabling
German U-boats to home in on the convoys supplying Great Britain with vital war
and food supplies. Both Ultra and B-Dienst played major parts in
intercepting and decoding, sometimes in real time (as fast as the originator's
forces could encode their own messages) their opposing forces' coded military
messages. Although it is true that Ultra played influencing roles in the
favorable outcomes of several major battles, and B-Dienst was instrumental in
the high U-boat success against Allied convoys, it is difficult to say that
either was actually instrumental in shortening the war as is sometimes
suggested. In relating to Ultra's ultimate influence on the outcome of the war,
. . . as Clausewitz's famous and accurate observation on combat reminds us,
on the battlefield "friction" always intervenes between the intentions and
achievements of even the best-informed general: accident, misunderstanding,
delay, disobedience inevitably distort and enemy's plans so that, whatever
advance knowledge his opponent may have of them, he can never so predisposition
his troops and responses as to be sure of frustrating the enemy's actions; nor
because of "frictions" working against him, can he count on smoothly carrying
out his own counter-measures. Ultra reduced friction for the Allied generals;
but it did not abolish it.
Of all the difficulties the Germans faced in waging World War II, the greatest
lay in having their own Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, as their supreme commander—their
worst general. Hitler had been allowed to gain too much control, even over the
military commanders. To foresee Hitler's ultimate national goals, one had only
needed to read Hitler's Mein Kampf, which was widely published and
read during the late 1930s and early 1940s in Germany. Undoubtedly, many of the
high ranking General Staff were among the many readers, yet still allowed
themselves to be overtaken by the circumstances. The circumstances surrounding
Hitler's ability to be allowed to gain such overwhelming control and power over
not only the country, but also the professional military soldier alike is
beyond the scope of this writing. However, once Hitler did gain this exalted
position, the military's options became vastly limited.
With their worst general leading the military, almost certainly, the first and
most important step for the German military to take in order to win the war
would have been to oust the Fuhrer. This, however, could only have been done
through a coup. Von Manstein best summed this feeling up when he stated,
Admittedly, the military leaders had ultimately allowed Hitler to
[outmanoeuvre] them, just as it may be said that they accepted the pre-eminence
of politics—even politics they did not agree with, but could have prevented
only by a coup détente.
It must be stated here that such coup attempts did occur, although
unsuccessful. The most famous such attempt almost worked on July 20, 1944.
Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, acting in conjunction with other high ranking
military officers, planted a bomb in Hitler's Rastenburg headquarters. The
bomb, however, failed to kill Hitler, and subsequently Stauffenberg and others,
including Field Marshal Rommel, were either executed or forced to commit
All rulers and their generals make mistakes in wars, some with very costly
results. Hitler, in this fashion, was no different than his contemporaries. He
made mistakes; some that had very drastic results.
Invading Russia, at least too soon and declaring war on the United States are
truly, as argued by many, two combined reasons that Germany failed to win the
war. However, not listening to his military—the professional soldier, the
generals—and not allowing them to wage the war, outweighs even Hitler's blunders
of invading Russia when he did and declaring war on the United States. Even
with the advent of having to go up against the strength of the American
fighting machine, had Hitler allowed the war to be fought by his professional
military, as proud, dedicated, and experienced as they were, they may very well
have found a way to at least fought, even the combined forces of the Allies—the
Americans included—to a stalemate. Yes, the German generals also made mistakes,
but they certainly would not have left their armies to freeze in the Russian
winter or be captured by the Russian and Allied armies in the mass proportions
that Hitler had.
Had Hitler listened to his General Staff and allowed them to wage full war on
Great Britain in the Summer of 1941 instead of invading Russia—as the General
Staff advised—and consulted, and heeded the advise of, this same General Staff
before foolishly declaring war on the United States, the British could
certainly have been forced to capitulate. An all out struggle in the summer of
1941 against England in North Africa and the Middle East and even, if
necessary, invading the British home islands before invading Russia and before
the United States could or would fully support the British could have forced
England to her knees. Waiting until England was out of the war before attacking
Russia, allowing retreats, and better supplying the German troops for winter
combat conditions could very well have seen a German triumph over the Russians,
or, at the very least, a stalemate. Defeating Great Britain before declaring
war on the United States would have forced the Americans, without the help of
the British forces and the use of their island nation from which to launch
military sorties, into the prospect of fighting both the Atlantic and Pacific
Theaters on the open seas. This prospect could possibly have giving the United
States second thoughts about entering the war, but certainly would have made
the war much longer and harder for the Americans to win, and given the Germans
time to rearm and better consolidate.
The key to Germany's winning the war, at least in 1941/42, was defeating the
British. The key to defeating the British was the professional German soldier's
know how. Germany's greatest enemy was her worst general—her Fuhrer, Adolf
Hitler. Had Hitler been able to listen to his generals, or had the generals
been able to oust Hitler, Germany may very well have won World War II in
. Von Ribbentrop argued in vain that the Tripartite Pact between Germany,
Italy, and Japan stipulated that Germany only needed to go to Japan's aid if
Japan were attached, not if Japan attacked another country, which Japan did in
attacking the United States military installations at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on
December 7, 1941. John Keegan, The Second World War, (New York:
Penguin Books, 1990), 240.
. Ibid., 112.
. Ibid., 43.
. Ibid., 58.
. Blitzkrieg: tactics of tanks advancing rapidly ahead of storm troops, all
preceded and supported by Luftwaffe aircraft.
. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, trans. Ralph Manheim, (Boston: The
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1971), 664.
. German for "My Struggle."
. Hitler, 652.
. Ibid., 664.
. Ibid., 654.
. Keegan, The Battle for History, (New York: Vantage Books, 1995),
. "History 495: Topics in History; Timeline,"
http://web.odu.edu/weboot/classes/hist495.nsf/pages/tl1941, (25 November 2000).
. Keegan, The Second World War, 193.
. Ibid., 193.
. Ibid., 200.
. General Alfried Jodl was chief of the Wehrmacht command staff.
. Ibid., 302.
. Ibid., 196-208.
. Paul Carell, Foxes of the Desert, the Story of the Afrika Korps
(Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1994), 294
. Keegan, The Second World War, 236.
. Antony Beevor, Stalingrad, The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 (New
York: Viking Penguin, 1998), 381-383.
. Keegan, The Second World War, 236.
. Erich von Manstein, Lost Victories (Novato, CA: Presidio Press,
. John Keegan, The Battle for History, 15-16.
. Norman Thomas, remarks on "American Forum of the Air" radio broadcast,
May 4, 1941. In William Dudley, ed., World War II, Opposing Viewpoints
(San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 1997), 75-78.
. William Dudley, 71-74.
. Manstein, 154.
. Ibid., 154.
. Keegan, The Second World War, 139.
. Ibid., 131.
. Ibid., 161.
. Ibid., 155.
. Ibid., 156.
. Ibid., 498.
. Karl von Clausewitz, 18th and 19th century Prussian Army Officer and
renowned military philosopher.
. Keegan, The Second World War, 501-02.
. Manstein, 148-149.
. Keegan, The Second World War, 394-395.
Beevor, Antony. Stalingrad, The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943. New York:
Viking Penguin, 1998.
Carrell, Paul. Foxes of the Desert: The Story of the Afrika Korps. Atglen,
PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1994.
Dudley, William. ed. World War II, Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego:
Greenhaven Press, Inc., 1997.
hist495.nsf/pages/tl1941, (25 November 2000).
Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf. Translated by Ralph Manheim. Boston: The
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1971.
Keegan, John. The Battle for History. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.
________ The Second World War. New York: Penguin Books, 1990.
Manstein, Erich von. Lost Victories. Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1982.
Written by Robert C. Daniels. If you have questions or comments on this article,
please contact Robert Daniels at:
About the author:
Robert C. Daniels, a retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer, holds a BA in History from Old Dominion University (ODU), Norfolk, VA, and a MA in Military Studies, Land Warfare from the American Military University (AMU), Manassas Park, VA.
He has written and published two books telling the exploits of both WWII era veterans and civilians: 1220 Days and World War II in Mid-America and several military history articles published on http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com.
He currently is writing a book about the Black Hawk War, and teaches U.S. History, World Civilization History, and Western Civilization History at Tidewater Community College in Virginia Beach, VA, as an adjunct professor.
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