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After 70 Years of World War II, We Assess Hitler as a Military Commander

Updated on November 25, 2019
emge profile image

MG is a senior air warrior who is an alumnus of the Staff College and a voracious writer on military history

Background

Adolf Hitler was born in 1889 and committed suicide in 1945. There was no way out at that stage as he had burned all his bridges. His life is interesting as he started life as a painter and then joined the German army as an enlisted soldier. He was a corporal and took part in the battle on the Western front.

The fact that Hitler was a Corporal during the first World War has colored the thinking of his military assessment. When he later became chief of the German General Staff people depreciated his military knowledge and acumen and many felt that as he had only been a corporal, he had no strategic vision. This belief was fostered by the German generals after the war was lost and all blame pinned on him.

It is an accepted fact that Hitler had no formal training as an officer and was only a common soldier. He had a sharp mind and could grasp the nuts and bolts of a situation in very little time. Many people do not know that Hitler had studied the campaigns and writings of Fredrick, Moltke, Schiffilin, and Clausewitz. Thus he had more than a rudimentary knowledge of tactics and campaigns. His study of the classical writers of war, more than made up for his lack of formal training as an officer.

Hitler as a Planner


An assessment of a great general and leader is on his ability to plan and execute a campaign. We can judge Hitler's ability in this field by studying his approach to the campaigns of the Wehrmacht. In some of the campaigns we must give some credit to Hitler. In particular his plan to invade Norway when the Royal Navy had complete command of the North Sea is a standout. He planned and carried out the landings along the Norwegian coast at 5 places and overran Norway in a classic campaign. In this, he was aided by elements of the Norwegian Nazi party led by Quisling.

Norway was defended by the Royal Navy which had complete command of the North Sea. In the face of overwhelming naval superiority, Hitler formulated an audacious plan, taking the Royal Navy completely by surprise. He went against the opinion of the GKW and after studying the Norwegian coast and topography launched a para assault by air at five places. Norway was overrun in no time.

Again his practical application of the Schiffilin Plan for a two-front war deserves mention. He neutralized Russia with the Non-aggression pact and at the same time attacked France through the low countries and sounded the death knell of the French Army in 6 weeks as per the Schiffilin plan.

The plan was put into practice under the supervision of Hitler and within 40 days the French were defeated. Here he committed the first of his tactical mistakes when out of misplaced zeal he allowed the BEP to escape from Dunkirk. His use of speed and concentration of force during the battle of France is a classic example of a successful military operation.

Hitler also planned the operation against Russia at his GKW headquarters. His thrust that took in 1200 miles into Russia vindicated his planning initially but he failed to make allowances for vagaries of weather and the resultant mud and slush that halted his army. This is a negative point against him.

Hitler as a Commander


There is no doubt that Hitler had an iron will and that stood him in good stead as the eastern front was stiffened by his resolve and the Germans made the Russians fight for every inch of land with heavy losses.

His approval of the Para invasion of Crete was an audacious campaign which was again executed in the teeth of the superiority of the Royal Navy. These campaigns along with the Ardennes offensive of Dec1944 show that Hitler certainly had some knowledge of the Principles of war. The Lightening thrust into Russia and the collapse of the Russian armies were worked out under his direction.

But as a commander one of the principles of war is flexibility. He was inflexible believing flexibility to be a weakness. This was his undoing and the German army had to pay a heavy price for it.
Had he showed some flexibility at Stalingrad and ordered a retreat and counterattack later as advised by Von Manstein,. he could have saved over 100,000 soldiers of the Reich.

Final Assessment

Where do we place Hitler in the hall of great soldiers? No doubt he won some lightning victories. But he had little concept of Air Power, in particular, the concept of Interdiction and strategic bombardment. This is unpardonable in a great commander. Another of his fallacies was his inability to regroup in the time of reverses. His one plan to hold the front line at all cost was a disaster. He thus sacrificed the basic Principle of war flexibility.

Hitler had little knowledge of the role of surface ships and aircraft carriers as well as strategic bombardment. He studied the great military thinkers but did not study Douhet and others who propagated dominance and victory by air power.

We can conclude that Hitler was a more than an average planner and executor, but when it came to the crunch, the acid test while retreating and making contingency plans he was found wanting. If he had shown flexibility Stalingrad would have been averted. He faltered and that will go against him. His failure to grasp the importance of strategic bombing led to his defeat. Hitler though an average plus commander failed at the altar of a great commander in the line of great soldiers of the world.


Comments

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    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      6 months ago from Singapore

      Dear Liz, very true. Hitler was just below a genius- an evil one though. Had he succeeded the world would have been a different but then he was not God.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      6 months ago from UK

      Fortunately for us all, Hitler made some mistakes in his planning. Failing to invade the UK, overstretching himself to invade Russia and underestimating the chances of Normandy landings by the Allies. Otherwise world history might have suffered a much more tragic twist.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      6 months ago from Singapore

      Thank you Ken for commenting and your view

    • Ken Burgess profile image

      Ken Burgess 

      6 months ago from Florida

      MG Singh that is a good point, I often forget that a primary driving factor in his decision making was race related.

      My thought process is more orientated toward the tactical.

      He allowed hundreds of thousands of Brits to escape the beaches of France, and then as you stated, he did not invade when he had the opportunity and England was ill prepared to stop it.

      That was a major mistake, followed by one even worse, invading Russia, which sealed the end results of the war.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      6 months ago from Singapore

      Thank you Ken for your comment. Yes, I agree Stalin was a tyrant but he was a little more shrewd than Hitler who allowed his racial theories supersede common sense. Had Hitler launched the invasion of England in 1940 öperation Sea Lion" he would have been master of the world. But he allowed his racial theories of looking for land in the East and Slav as inferior people proved his undoing. All said and done he was a fascinating character who could have aspired for greatness but ended in the dungeon.

    • Ken Burgess profile image

      Ken Burgess 

      6 months ago from Florida

      The tragedy is that we allowed Stalin to remain after removing Hitler, Stalin was no better, tens of millions of innocent people suffered and died under his reign.

      The turn on Russia was the doom of Hitler and Germany, if Hitler had honored his treaty with Stalin, and if he had not given reprieve to England, the outcome might have been very different.

      Hitler wanted an alliance with England, or at least an armistice, it was why he made the decisions he made. And he wanted to invade Russia, despite having an alliance of sorts with them.

      This inability to deal with what was, the obsession he had over past wrongs done in WWI, is the root cause of Germany's demise.

      Had he allied with Stalin and found a way to trade for their oil resources and worked to improve their infrastructure for the purpose of getting those resources, it would have taken dropping a few A-bombs on Germany to win the war.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      6 months ago from Singapore

      Your spiritual horizon is vast and your comment shows it.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      6 months ago from london

      Brave to write about Hitler but you do it well.

      Mystic info is that spiritual masters of the highest order, interfered in that war. So sometimes we also need to look at Divine forces, as in the Mahabharata, and know what God wants in a particular period. Good work.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      6 months ago from Singapore

      Dear Pamela, Yes I agree. One shudders if he had been a military genius. Thank you for commenting

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      6 months ago from Sunny Florida

      Thank goodness Hitler has some lack of knowledge as he was surely an evil man. I appreciate all the details of this part of history in your excellent article.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      6 months ago from Singapore

      Readmikenow, Yes its a frightening thought and I have been wondering about it. What if he had been flexible? What would have happened? Thank you for commenting.

    • Readmikenow profile image

      Readmikenow 

      6 months ago

      It's sort of frightening that if he had more knowledge he may have been able to take over all of Europe. Like all dictators his flaws in character defeated him.

      This was very well written. I enjoyed reading it.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      6 months ago from Singapore

      Thanks Rob

    • profile image

      Robin Singh 

      6 months ago

      Very interssting!

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