Hitlers Panzers East: World War II Reinterpreted

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The first weeks of Barbarossa, however, instead of showing German underestimation of the Soviets, demonstrates that the Schwerpunkt. Army Group Center had advanced toward the Moscow-Gorki space and inflicted striking casualties and damage to the defending Soviet field armies, great enough to equate with impending defeat of the Soviet Union. Hitler's Fundamental Underestimation of the Offensive Capabilities of the German Army A revisionist comment about Hitler and Barbarossa is that in the planning and in the execution of the invasion, the more important decisions he made reflect a fundamental underestimation of the offensive capabilities of the German army and a concomitant overestimation of Soviet armed forces.

This generalization is juxtaposed against the main weight of the opinion that the Germans underestimated the Soviets, and, largely for that reason, a campaign they planned to last six to ten weeks dragged on for almost four years and ended in German defeat. Besides this general view, the more detailed conventional interpretations offer supporting evidence that Hitler underestimated the Soviets, marshalling his words in conferences, conversations, and written directives. The evidence is a mixed bag to be handled with care in considering the possibilities of Barbarossa to end the war in Europe in the summer of Discussions and directives show Hitler organizing part of European Russia for occupation and ordering reductions in armaments in anticipation of a successful conclusion to the campaign.

Historians offer such evidence to support the view that the Germans were out of touch with reality in planning and executing the invasion. Many writers comment that the Germans failed to provide winter clothing for their field armies and offer this as evidence of underestimation of Soviet resistance. The logic is strained, however, because the Germans are accused of underestimation when they planned in advance for occupation of the Soviet Union and underestimation when they did not plan in advance.

The most effective analysis of this situation probably shows Hitler inefficiently and overoptimistically dissipating the German effort in Barbarossa instead of concentrating on achieving a quick victory. Regarding winter clothing, neither Hitler nor the Army General Staff can be criticized fairly for not having ready stocks of.

Hitler's panzers east : World War II reinterpreted

In planning for Barbarossa it would have been reasoning from false and irrelevant premises to stock special clothing for a winter campaign. Beyond the initial six to ten weeks of battle, and by the autumn offensive in early October , the Germans can be criticized for failing to gather clothing for winter field operations but not for underestimating the rigors of a campaign in Russia.

By October , Barbarossa had miscarried because of Hitler's fear and uncertainty earlier in the campaign. By then, the Germans can be criticized only for not adjusting to the actual circumstances. Even in October, however, and concerned with a factor categorized under "weather," the Germans might have been better served by concentrating on a special effort to get through the autumn rains en route to Moscow rather than tying up transportation and personnel to get winter clothing.

Operation Typhoon of October was a late, finely tuned effort to push into the MoscowGorki space and destroy the Soviet forces defending it. Gathering a mass of agricultural and engineer-style tractors might well have pulled the Germans through the mud of October. When he should have been concerned with the defeat of the Soviet armies defending Moscow and the seizure of the capital and communications center of the Soviet Union, he was assigning unrealistic territorial targets divorced from the strategic reality of October although, interestingly, not from the earlier reality of July.

Hitler set targets for the field armies in several cases that were so outlandish that one must suspect that he based them on some combination of wishful thinking and sublimation of his own doubts on the capabilities of the army to reach the "assigned" territorial objectives. The stated objectives nevertheless stand as a kind of monument to Hitler's underestimation of the rigors of the campaign by October, that is, when under the Halder Plan it probably would have been completed successfully.

It can be referred to as the Halder plan. For an undertaking as vast as the land invasion of the Soviet Union, the Halder plan was monumentally simple. As such, it contained no inherent flaws such as overcomplexity or misdirection and was within the capabilities and style of the German army to accomplish in the necessarily short time required to prevent the recovery of the Soviets from the initial trauma and head off the development of a lengthy two-front war. Under the Halder plan. German Army Group Center was to advance quickly and directly into the Moscow-Gorki spacejust as simple as that.

The arrival of Army Group Center at and beyond Moscow on roughly 28 August in the communications center of European Russia would have disintegrated the resulting isolated Leningrad and Ukrainian fronts. The Germans would have interrupted rail communications there and forced the Soviet armies to fight with reversed fronts while simultaneously pressed on their original fronts by Army Groups North and South. With a stroke of the pen, on 17 December , Hitler modified the Halder plan by halting Army Group Center after it had broken the Soviet armies in White Russia and turning its mobile forces north to annihilate the Soviet forces in the Baltic area.

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Halder never varied from his position before or after this time that "major operations should have been directed exclusively toward Moscow,"17 but he failed to enforce his view on Hitler. Hitler's planning decision to halt the Schwerpunkt army group to assure the progress of Army Group Northa side showforce from the viewpoint of the defeat of the Soviet Unionwas the planning decision of the war. This assertion is made in the face of the great Allied planning decisions made later in the war that led eventually to coalition victory. Those decisions, in effect, were made possible by the earlier unforced error of Hitler in the planning of Barbarossa and, after some reversals and tortuous gyrations, in the execution of the campaign.

How is it possible that a man of Hitler's daring and aggressiveness politically could apparently have been so indecisive and confused within the framework of the planning and execution of the accompanying military campaigns? One purpose of this.

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Chapter Three Hitler and the Opening Battles of Three Great Blitz Campaigns: Comparing the Strategic Picture in Barbarossa with that in France and the Balkans The German army's virtuosity in winning the battles of has masked the eccentric pattern of Hitler's concern with local crisis and immediate detail at the expense of the grand concepts of the early campaigns.

Except for a few high points, such as the Dunkirk decision, Hitler's apprehensive intrusion in the war's direction from onward in the losing stages is better known than his earlier interference with success. The earlier meddling was characterized by a fatuous pattern of dissipating the main effort in campaigns in extraneous excursions and mistaken alarms. The earlier meddling also had far more important consequences than the later. It resulted in the turning pointthe loss of the war for the Germans in August and his anticlimactic but better-known half-measures from onward.

Hitler's Indecisive Objectives in the West, Setting the Pattern for Russia At the highest level, perhaps the best pre-Barbarossa example of Hitler's fear of grand military concepts in continental war was his initial move into serious military strategyhis unrealistic directive of 9 October to launch an attack in the west by 12 November Not only did Hitler order an attack with bad timing that gave little chance of success, but he also approved a plan of military operations whose truncated aim was to achieve, roughly,. The OKH operation order issued on 19 October in conformance with Hitler's earlier directive contains the following indecisive German aim for an offensive in the west: ''To defeat the largest possible elements of the French and Allied Armies and simultaneously to gain as much territory as possible in Holland, Belgium, and Northern France as a basis for successful air and sea operations against Britain and as a broad protective zone for the Ruhr.

Few writers have addressed the ramifications of a German offensive in the west conducted according to the aim highlighted aboveto seize roughly forty miles of Belgian seacoast so that the most powerful land power in Europe could conduct more efficient sea and air operations against Britain. Although that aim was extended by an amendment of 29 October , the amended OKH operations order contained no hint of fighting a French campaign to victory. The amended operations order was the basis for a German offensive in the west from the end of October to the last half of February , a period of four months.

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that had the German army executed the operations order of 29 October and achieved its stated aim, the result would have been stalemate in the west. At second glance, then, Hitler and OKH, but especially Halder as army chief of staff, are still indicted as less than competent in planning the quick victory in the west required to prevent German defeat through blockade and attrition. But how could Hitler, with his penchant for the dramatically decisive political move, and Halder, with his expressed emphasis on grand operational concepts, have been parties to the October operations order?

Regarding Hitler, who seems more complex and remains hidden farther from view, the answer is clear. He fearfully perceived early in October that the French would occupy Belgium during the onset of winter fog and, apparently on that dread perception, decided to launch an offensive to forestall it.

From the beginning of the war it is clear that he ignored a principal aim of military strategy, the destruction of the enemy armed forces, and instead chased less important objectives. If any important question remains unanswered in the war from to , it is probably: How could the Germans win anything from September to October with Hitler's nervous instability, British possession of Ultra, and the incapability of the Italians to conduct their part of the war? The answer lies partly in the need to reevaluate upward the quality of Germany's trumps.

Hitler's decisiveness in the great political moves of the period must be seen as even more important in explaining the German victories than suspected. The battle-winning capabilities of the German army also must be seen as extraordinary because the army had to overcome first-class opposing armies and the unique combination of factors noted above.

Hitler proved a frail reed in his capacity as military commander by his inability to back the vital line of operations in the "lightning" campaigns of Halder, in contrast, must be represented as capable of seeing the vital line of operations in any military campaign. Yet, reacting to Hitler's directive of 9 October to attack in the west immediately, he was largely responsible for producing the ineffectual OKH operations order of 19 October Halder, whose competence can scarcely be doubted, produced an operations order that was a classic half-measure.

The combination of Halder and halfmeasure is an unlikely one, demanding an explanation, which, in turn. In October , Brauchitsch and Halder commander and chief of staff, German army, respectively found themselves directed by the supreme political authority of the state to carry out an almost immediate attack in the west.

Neither man showed great confidence in the attack prepared in October , but neither left any comprehensive comments on what he felt was wrong with it. Army after the Second World War. He gave an incomplete picture in which he makes clear that the army required more time to recover from the Polish campaign than a November attack date would allow. The army also needed better weather for offensive operations. With all his operational skills, he does not comment on the circumscribed, utterly indecisive aim set for the offensive in the west.

It is not clear, therefore, whether Halder lacked confidence in the attack directed by Hitler because of the unrealistic timing and season or because the Hitler-directed attack was an impossible half-measure and could not defeat the French even if its aim were accomplished.


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In an argument that casts a favorable light on Hitler, Halder may have been the prisoner of his historical condition in the German army of , one that involved enormous respect for the French army 7 and reflected no room for strategic maneuver against a France shielded by the Maginot line and alerted to a German attack through Belgium. As prisoner of that condition, and faced with the strained and premature concerns of Hitler to prevent a French coup in Belgium. Halder must have lacked confidence in the success of the half-measure forced on the German army.

In fighting for better timing and season for the offensive, and probably for an indefinite postponement of any attack in the hope of a negotiated political settlement, Halder can be seen as pessimistic about the war and unwilling to examine the possibilities of another decisive Schlieffen plan. Hitler can be shown, for example, more willing than the commander and chief of staff of the army to combat the French.

It appears that Hitler, as usual, displayed unerring instincts in his aggressive will to attack France but erred in almost every detail of the battle against the French army. Brauchitsch and Halder showed neither confidence in a battle in Belgium and northern France nor willingness to fight it. They get high marks for humanitarian instincts in seeking a peacefully negotiated political settlement and lower marks for their warfighting energy.

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Fundamentally disagreeing with an attack in the west, Brauchitsch and. The soldiers did not clarify that the attack ordered was unsatisfactory for three overriding military reasons.


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First, it had unacceptable chances of succeeding because of faulty timing; second with more important ramifications , it stood no chance of defeating the French because of its own indecisive objectives; and third, it entailed a commitment of forces and the possibilities of losses out of balance with desired gains. Under contemporary circumstances, Brauchitsch and Halder can be excused philosophically for their devious ploys to delay and discourage an attack in the west.

Under historical scrutiny they stand characterless and at the borderline of incompetence in failing to insist on the necessity for a decisive attack in the west in the event that Hitler persisted in the political decision to continue the war. They also stand indicted for not modifying the order to achieve the complete defeat of Allied forces on the continent of Europe. Too close to Hitler in the chain of command, and subject to immediate pressures, Brauchitsch and Halder were incapable of translating Hitler's call for an offensive into a winning military plan.

The vagaries of chance and the battle-winning talents of the German army helped Hitler and OKH transform the impotent amended order of 29 October into the ultradecisive order associated with the ideas of Generalmajor Erich von Manstein and the battlefield energy of General der Panzertruppe Heinz Guderian.

Bad weather forced numerous postponements of the October order, and the capture of the order by the Belgians on 10 January gave the Germans both opportunity and reason for change. On 18 February , the plan for the attack in the west was changed by Hitler, who issued a new directive for the attack, Number The planning for the French campaign repeats a pattern in the.

In the planning and execution of the French campaign, Hitler displayed epic determination to launch a surprise offensive against a major world power within an ongoing war.

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