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German Generals Talkby B H Liddell Hart
Synopses & Reviews
Chapter One: The Suicidal Schism
Everything in war looks different at the time from what it looks in the clearer light that comes after the war. Nothing looks so different as the form of the leaders. The public picture of them at the time is not only an unreal one, but changes with the tide of success.
Before the war, and still more during the conquest of the West, Hitler came to appear a gigantic figure, combining the strategy of a Napoleon with the cunning of a Machiavelli and the fanatical fervour of a Mahomet. After his first check in Russia, his figure began to shrink, and towards the end he was regarded as a blundering amateur in the military field, whose crazy orders and crass ignorance had been the Allies! greatest asset All the disasters of the German Army were attributed to Hitler; all its successes were credited to the German General Staff.
That picture is not true, though there is some truth in it. Hitler was far from being a stupid strategist. Rather, he was too brilliant - and suffered from the natural faults that tend to accompany such brilliance.
He had a deeply subtle sense of surprise, and was a master of the psychological side of strategy, which he raised to a new pitch. Long before the war he had described to his associates how the daring coup that captured Norway might be carried out, and how the French could be manoeuvred out of the Maginot Line. He had also seen, better than any general, how the bloodless conquests that preceded the war might be achieved by undermining resistance beforehand. No strategist in history has been more clever in playing on the minds of his opponents - which is the supreme art of strategy.
It was the very fact that hehad so often proved right, con. trary to the opinion of his professional advisers, which helped him to gain influence at their expense. nose results weakened their arguments in later Situations Which they gauged more correctly. For in the Russian campaign his defects became more Potent than his gifts, and the debit balance accumulated to the point of bankruptcy. Even so, it has to be remembered that Napoleon, who was a professional strategist, had been just as badly dazzled by his own success, and made the same fatal mistakes in the same place.
Hitler's worst fault here was' the way he refused to "cut his loss" and insisted on pressing the attack when the chances of success were fading. But that was the very fault which had been most conspicuous in Foch and Haig, the Allied commanders of the last war, as well as in Hindenburg and Luden- dorff, who then held the German Supreme Command. All these had been Professional soldiers. Hitler also did much to produce the German armies I collapse in France by his reluc- tance to sanction any timely withdrawal. But, here again, his attitude was exactly the same as that of Foch. The vital differ. ence was that in x918 the commanders on the spot did not obey FOch more than they deemed wise, whereas in 944_45 the German generals were afraid to disobey Hitler's orders.
It is the cause of that fear, and the internal conflict in the High Command, that we have to probe in order to find the real explanation why the German plans miscarried. Hitler's strategic intuition and the General Staff's strategic calculation might have been an all-conquering combination. Instead, they produced a suicidal schism that became the salvation of their opponents.
The older school of generals, products of the General Staff system, had been the chief executants of German strategy throughout the war, but in the days of success their part had not received full recognition. After the tide turned, they filled an increasing part in the public picture, and came to be regarded by the Allied peoples as the really formidable element on the opposing side. During the last year the spotlight was largely focused on Rundstedt, their leading representative. The constant question became, not what Hitler would do, but what Rundstedt would do-both in the military field and in a political coup to wrest power from the Nazis.
The German generals have been regarded as such a closelyknit body, and so much of one mind, as to be capable of wielding tremendous political power. That impression accounts for the persistent expectation, on the Allies' side, that the generals would overthrow Hitler-an expectation that was never fulfilled. It also accounts for the popular conviction that they were as great a menace as he was, and shared the responsibility for Germany's aggressions. That picture was true of the last war, but was now out of date. The German generals had little effect on the start of the Second World War - except as an ineffectual brake.
Once the war had started, their executive efficiency contributed a lot to Hitler's success, but their achievement was overshadowed by his triumph. When they came into more prominence in the eyes of the outside world, as Hitler's star waned, they had become more impotent inside their own country.
That was due to a combination of factors. They stood for a conservative order and tradition which had little appeal to ageneration brought up in the revolutionary spirit and fanatical faith of National Socialism. They could not count on the loyalty of their own troops in any move against the regime - and especially its faith-inspiring Fuhrer. They were handicapped by the way they had isolated themselves from public affair., and by the way Hider cunningly isolataed them from source of knowledge. Another factor was their ingrained discipline and profound sense of the importance of the oath of loyalty which they had sworn to the Head of the State. Ludicrous as this may seem in regard to one who was himself so outstanding as a promise-breaker, it was a genuine feeling on their part, and the most honourable of the factors which hampered them. But along with it often ran a sense of personal interest which undercut their loyalty to their fellows, and their coun- best interests, in face of a common threat. The play of individual ambitions and the cleavage of personal interests constituted a fatal weakness in their prolonged struggle to maintain their professional claim in the military field, and to preserve it from outside interference. This struggle went on throughout the twelve years from Hider's rise to Germany's fall.
The German Generals who survived Hitler's Reich talk over World War II with Capt. Liddell Hart, noted British miltary strategist and writer. They speak as professional soldiers to a man they know and respect. For the first time, answers are revealed to many questions raised during the war. Was Hitler the genius of strategy he seemed to be at first? Why did his Generals never overthrow him? Why did Hitler allow the Dunkirk evacuation?
Current interest, of course, focuses on the German Generals' opinion of the Red Army as a fighting force. What did the Russians look like from the German side? How did we look? And what are the advantages and disadvantages under which dictator-controlled armies fight?
In vivid, non-technical language, Capt. Liddell Hart reports these interviews and evaluates the vital military lessons of World War II.
About the Author
Captain B.H. Liddell Hart is not only a popular writer who has made military history and theory interesting and understandable to the non-professional reader, he is "the most stimulating and thoughtful military writer, by far, that we have." Field Marshal Viscount Wavell. He has been military writer for several London newspapers and Military Editor of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica. His books have been translated into 19 languages.
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History and Social Science » Europe » Germany » Nazi Germany