With each new round stories taking into account the current situation in the world, the need to comprehend the events of the Second World War again and again arises. It is in her - the roots of many phenomena observed in the modern world. And today it is interesting why the numerous military-political and operational mistakes that Hitler himself admitted in most cases caused a strong negative reaction from the main military specialists who saw their destructiveness. But despite this, Hitler was able to enforce his decisions and activities.
There are many very deep psychological and historical reasons for this. At the head of all the armed forces of Germany stood the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The only exception was at first the SS troops. However, when Hitler himself became commander-in-chief after the resignation of Field Marshal von Blomberg in February 1938, this inconvenience was eliminated.
The fact is that the officer corps of the German armed forces was divided into several large groups: the ground army, the navy, the air force and the SS troops, headed by their commanders in chief and who were independent and equal parts of the German armed forces.
Taking into account all the features, it is necessary to consider them as a whole, despite the fact that they treated Hitler differently. To this it should be added that within the officer corps of certain types of armed forces there were sharp disagreements that arose as early as the years of their construction and intensified in the first years of the war.
The traditions of the Prussian military school that previously existed among the old German generals, the officer corps, were apparently completely undermined in 1918.
Hitler for 12-year domination awarded the rank of Field Marshal to 25 senior officers (19 army and 6 aviation) 23 of them were awarded this title after the surrender of France in June 1940. Field marshals, the German elite, having behind them the centuries-old traditions of the Prussian military school, inspired respect, respect and fear. After the victory over Poland and France, an aura of invincibility was created around them and the German army as a whole. After the defeat at Stalingrad and the capture of Field Marshal Paulus, Hitler pledged not to assign the Field Marshal title to anyone else. But nevertheless, by the end of the war, he was forced by several generals to appropriate these higher military ranks. Of the 19 field marshals, by the end of the war only two remained in active service. Several people died, three committed suicide, others were executed for attempted assassination of Hitler or died in prison (four), when trials of war criminals began after the war. Of the Wehrmacht field marshals who started the war, essentially no one was left by the end of the war. Hitler dared all those who were objectionable.
In addition, the German armed forces numbered more than 1500 generals and admirals. During the war, casualties among German generals and admirals, including non-combatants, amounted to 963 people, of which 223 generals died in battle. 553 generals were captured. 64 generals committed suicide. At the same time, 20 generals were killed in battles in the German Air Force, navy - 18 admirals.
Despite this “elitism”, German field marshals and generals did not find the strength or the means to finally and definitively stop Hitler, who was on the path of military and political mistakes. With his mistakes, Hitler helped the German General Staff to make mistakes; he often prevented the General Staff from making more thoughtful, more correct decisions. In the 1941 year, after the defeat of the Germans near Moscow, he removed field marshal Brauchitsch and Boc from posts, and 30 generals and senior officers, and he himself led the German ground forces. After that, both the German General Staff and the German army group commanders were linked to a much greater extent than before. Their initiative was constrained. Outgoing from Hitler as commander-in-chief of directives, ground forces became indisputable to a greater extent than was required in the interests of the cause.
It should be noted that in the period of the Reichswehr, along with officers who were taking a conservative position based on the traditions of the old Prussian officers, people came to the fore who sought to use the army to achieve their narrow party goals, which were contradictory to all its essence. Driven by ambition, underscored by expressly democratic views, they managed to occupy important posts in the army and disrupt the unity that existed among the top military commanders. But to exert a decisive influence on the position of the bulk of the officer corps, these people, among whom were many excellent experts in their field, failed to start the war. By their actions, they only achieved undermining the authority of the military leadership.
PRINCIPLE OF DIVISION OF RESPONSIBILITY
The thesis of sharing responsibility that Hitler used, and the desire that none of his assistants should concentrate too much power in their hands, increasingly undermined the efficiency of the central military authorities.
The commanders-in-chief of the branches of the armed forces, who were directly subordinate to Hitler, often used their personal relations with him in order to satisfy their mercenary demands, regardless of what problems the war as a whole put forward. Due to the fact that between Hitler and the commander in chief of the air force Goering, and in the second half of the war, to some extent, the commander in chief of the Navy, Dönitz, had the closest relations, respectively, less friction and disagreement. But this was also explained by the fact that Hitler understood nothing about the maritime strategy and was very restrained with the sailors, thus giving almost no reasons for the emergence of opposition on business matters. On the contrary, the army commanders, deprived by Hitler of any freedom in dealing with operational and even tactical issues, who considered themselves expert in these matters, were constantly drawn into endless disputes and conflicts, which not only quickly undermined the atmosphere of trust in Hitler, but sometimes caused a negative reaction in German officers.
Even from this it becomes clear that the top military leadership of the Germans, if it decided on extreme measures (and only it was able to change the situation by force or good), could count on the obedience of the entire officer corps as little as on unity of action. leading generals and admirals. Even less could have been expected of this obedience from non-commissioned officers and soldiers. Considering the past events today, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the majority of the German people and the overwhelming majority of military personnel almost until the end of 1944 were completely devoted to Hitler and not inclined to take on faith the slogans of military leadership and follow them.
The assassination of Hitler 20 July 1944 of the year caused only a very slight reaction among the active forces. Obviously, the same thing would have happened if the attempt had been successful. These events leave no doubt that not only the SS troops, but also the connections of the air force and the navy, guided only by their “great” duty to the fatherland, on the evening of July 20 1944, for the most part, were ready weapons suppress any anti-government appearances. Presumably, most of the troops of the land army would not have followed the calls of the insurgent officers.
The German soldier, in his traditions and in his upbringing, was never a revolutionary. He always opposed the responsibility for questions that were not included in the circle of tasks assigned to him. He did not want to fight for the implementation of such tasks, as he considered them as the lot of political leaders. Even from a psychological point of view, he was not prepared for such a struggle. This was the great strength of the army, which was a wordless tool in the hands of the government. But as soon as the German government took the path that led to the defeat of the Hitler regime, and as soon as the political leadership began to lose its control over the army, this non-political nature of the army turned into its weakness.
On the participants of the conspiracy 20 July 1944, you can think how you want. One thing is clear that the German soldier could not understand those representatives of the resistance movement who, by changing their homeland, even for the most compelling reasons, put the lives of hundreds of thousands of colleagues at risk. Only a personal struggle for their operational-tactical, strategic and political views, based on the traditions of the German army, could be the most effective form of resistance. But for this, the German military leaders had to draw the most decisive conclusions for themselves.
If the disagreements that existed among the German officers did not prevent us from acting as a united front against Hitler at a time when the German people had not yet fought for their existence, then such united actions would probably have the desired results. If the generals vigorously used the facts that Hitler was deeply insulting the honor of the German officer corps, as was the case, for example, during the reprisal of officers involved in Rem’s conspiracy or in Fritch, then Hitler could probably still be stopped. If, then, everyone spoke together, relying on the still strong position of the armed forces in the state, then Hitler and his dictatorial manners would be curbed.
But this unity was not. The ground army, namely, it should be the first to speak about it, lacked a man who would be able to oppose Hitler and lead the generals, the troops and the young officer corps. But the attempt made by certain generals to put Hitler in a certain framework could not fail to turn into ineffectual isolated statements, which Hitler was able to easily suppress. Even before the war, it became clear that it was impossible to rally representatives of the German generals and lead them against the dictator. This was largely hampered by those external and domestic political successes, which were welcomed by all the people. Therefore, those persons who, against the background of these successes, tried to counteract the new regime, were eliminated without any difficulty.
Thus, if before the war, the prospects for changing the form of government, or at least the methods of government by attracting armies to their side, were extremely insignificant, by the beginning of the war they completely disappeared. In the early years of the war, the development of events on the fronts completely excluded any possibility of opposing Hitler’s policies and the methods of his leadership.
STRUGGLE AGAINST INACOMABILITY IN THE MEDIUM OF GENERALS
Milch, Brauchitsch, Raeder and Weichs at the parade in Nuremberg. September 1938 of the year. Photo from Wilhelm Keitel’s book “Reflections before execution”. M., 2012
The subsequent attempts by individual military leaders to change anything in the existing system led these generals either to resign or to arrest. Military education and soldiers' traditions, combined with the lack of the ability of the top military leaders to maintain close contact with each other due to the large length of the fronts, made such a general statement completely impracticable. And besides, it is difficult to say what action it would have had on Hitler.
All of the above, however, does not mean that all Hitler’s plans and decisions were taken by his closest collaborators, army commanders, army groups without objections. In extremely heated disputes, which often crossed at certain points the boundaries permitted by the head of state, the chief of the German general staff and the chief of the general staff of the armed forces, as well as representatives of the air force and fleet, who were often supported by the commanders of the army groups, air forces, and especially from the front, the generals and officers fought a sharp, sometimes sarcastic tendency to fight Hitler over his decisions of operational, organizational, military-economic and supply on the character. At the same time, they, without any embellishment, informed Hitler about the actual situation in the rear and at the fronts. He listened to this information, as a rule, very willingly, but, to everyone’s disappointment, it never led to a change in his decision. True, Hitler tried to eliminate some of the revealed shortcomings, but the conclusions that he drew from these discussions focused mainly on more personal questions than on the merits.
The control mechanism created by Hitler was a means for eliminating any dissent, and on the other hand, was the method of generation and selection of personally dedicated personnel nurtured in an atmosphere of propaganda. Every boss or commander who caused Hitler to doubt his ability to enforce his decisions disappeared, and instead of him was appointed a man to whom Hitler had more confidence.
Thus, the generation of senior military leaders — Fritsch, Beck, Brauchitsch, Halder, Vitsleben, Bock, Liszt, Leeb — grew up and gained combat experience in World War I and in the years preceding World War II, was gradually supplanted by a generation of new warlords, about which Hitler thought that they would carry out his operational plans with unshakable firmness and in the most unfavorable conditions, often in flagrant contradiction with all sorts of operational principles.
People like Model, Rommel, Schörner, more and more pushed to the fore. These were, of course, tried-and-true general military leaders, but they were only outstanding commanders, not commanders. In order to support the crumbling building of the fronts, they were driven from one site to another, to the place where the most dangerous situation took shape, until many of them finally broke down, unable to withstand any concerns physically or morally placed on their shoulders.
FROM IDEAL MANAGEMENT TO CHAOS - ONE STEP
I would especially like to mention the closest adviser to Hitler from the first to the last day during the entire period of rapidly evolving events. He was the chief of the headquarters of the armed forces, Colonel-General Jodl. He was undoubtedly the most sincere admirer of Hitler and highly appreciated his efficiency, energy, wealth of ideas and talent of the organizer. How deeply he understood Hitler will obviously remain a mystery. Yodel was a born generalist. His operational views were always distinguished by great clarity and clarity. But, being in captivity of ideas that bore a distinctly continental character, he was deprived of that versatility and breadth in understanding strategic issues that are always essential for a person holding such a post. Jodl understood this limitation of his abilities well and therefore he devoted himself to the development of purely operational questions, which in themselves were quite voluminous.
He more and more fenced off from other issues of leadership and soon almost completely transferred to the jurisdiction of Field Marshal Keitel all matters relating to cooperation with the allies and the military administration in the occupied areas. This one-sided interest in operational and even tactical problems was the reason that Jodl not only himself became involved in the particular issues of leading military operations at the front, but also supported Hitler’s disastrous desire to interfere in the affairs of lower and middle command. Personally interfering in the military leadership, Hitler is so bogged down with trivialities of a purely tactical order that he lost the ability for the head of state to allocate the main things and found no more peace or time to deal with the problems of internal government. The military leadership itself, of course, suffered from this method, as the specific operational issues caused by each specific change in the situation more and more obscured the prospects for overall strategic leadership.
To this was added the abnormal position that every authoritative administration in Germany began and ended with Hitler. In the work of subordinates and institutions, he instigated such a practice, when, as a result of an unclear delineation of responsibilities, the same tasks were often performed by the most diverse institutions. He expected that the resulting rivalry would force people to work with maximum exertion. But instead, a lot of energy, as a rule, was spent on a useless struggle that went on between the authorities responsible for a particular task, and often did a lot of empty and irresponsible work, as several authorities, without even informing each other, planned to use people and technology to achieve the same goal.
The consequence of this organizational chaos, the presence of Hitler’s dislike for experts and the chaos in troop management was that almost all the important issues that, with a clear organization without any difficulty could be resolved by the relevant ministers, had to be reported to be solved by Hitler himself. As a result, Hitler was again over-loaded with a solution to problems of secondary importance, but with this he wanted to prove to his employees that he alone was able to control the mechanism of the state apparatus. And finally, only the so-called "order of the Führer" could be seriously considered and executed by the appropriate authorities.
Concentration of all issues of state leadership in the hands of one person eventually led to the fact that in the military leadership, as in other important areas, he began to prevail over a way of thinking that was increasingly moving away from the real strategic and operational environment. Hitler did not pay attention to all the proposals of his responsible advisers and believed that he could follow his unreasonable plans and dreams without taking into account the actual development of the situation. He was increasingly abandoned by a sense of proportion that forces even the strongest will to obey the facts.
DIFFERENCES WITH THE GENERAL STAFF
Jodl indirectly contributed to the fact that Hitler, who had resolved issues that could not be understood at all, being at the rate of the Supreme High Command, began to give absolutely impossible orders for the front and leading to defeat orders. Jodl with striking sharpness and firmness sometimes defended his views before Hitler and sought to carry out his decisions. So, the first major disagreement arose in the summer of 1941. The reason was that the campaign to seize the USSR did not develop as planned, and it was necessary to urgently coordinate its progress. Hitler believed that Leningrad and the southern regions should have been captured first, and for this, he ordered to transfer part of the troops of the “Center” group to the north and south. Yodel insisted on seizing Moscow in the first place.
The following major discrepancies between General Jodl and Hitler came in the summer of 1942. The general suggested that instead of an offensive in the Caucasus, take Leningrad by storm. But Hitler demanded to continue the attack on the Caucasus. Hitler even wanted to replace Jodl Paulus, but the defeat of the Germans near Stalingrad did not allow this replacement. Jodl continued to serve in Hitler's headquarters.
Despite some successes, which some military leaders sometimes managed to achieve, there can be no doubt that, in general, the directives on the conduct of the operation, and in part even on tactical questions, were determined only by Hitler. Up until the very last moment, Hitler succeeded (this was largely due to the separation of powers in all areas of leadership) to prevent any serious opposition from arising. 20 July 1944 of the year proved that any resistance movement that goes beyond the traditional principles of action of the military opposition (regardless of whether the attempt on Hitler was successful or unsuccessful) has no chance of success, since the entire system of state governance and existing conditions not only excluded the possibility of concentration of significant military forces anywhere in the rear, but also made it impossible to use any means necessary to influence the masses and to prepare the public Nia.
The events of 20 July 1944 of the year showed that the attempt to carry out a coup d'etat undertaken even by the smartest, tried and tested by all the military, could not be supported either by the German people or by the majority of the troops of the active army. They simply would not have the strength to isolate the main leaders for at least a few hours or to protect themselves. Thus, this attempt inevitably should have led to the death of the most valuable people. It was again proved that, without having a people and a large part of the armed forces, it is impossible to overthrow the skillfully guarded authoritarian regime even in the most unfavorable military situation. No opposition, guided by even the most advanced views, will be able to gain the upper hand if the head of state can split it by means of skillful propaganda, in word and deed to keep the masses on its side. Numerous management crises in Eastern European and other theaters of war and their outcome convincingly prove this statement.
There was, however, another opportunity to influence at least some of Hitler’s operational decisions. But this possibility from a military point of view was not completely flawless and contained a certain risk for command. It consisted in the close cooperation of the lower levels of command, that is, in the cooperation of the chiefs of staff, officers of the general staff, the headquarters of the active troops with the corresponding officials of the highest operational headquarters. Formulating operational and intelligence reports in a certain way and drawing up operational maps on this basis, they could present the general situation in such a way that the supreme commander would have no choice but to make the only possible decision under these conditions, which was exactly what the local command needed. This path was used in the interests of the most expedient conduct of hostilities and in some cases led to success.
Proceeding from an incorrect assessment of morale, human resources, and also the material base of the Red Army, Hitler set tasks for his armed forces that they could not cope with and could not cope with. And even when Hitler realized his military, political and operational mistakes, he refused to recognize them and draw the necessary conclusions from this.
Rem Ernst, being the Reich minister and chief of staff of the security service, was plotting against Hitler. 30 July 1934, the day on which the conspirators' speeches were appointed, was arrested and executed without trial on the personal instructions of Hitler.
Werner Fritsch from 1935, was the commander in chief of the Wehrmacht land forces. 4 February 1938 was denounced from office, arrested and handed over to the military tribunal, which during the trial was forced, despite Hitler's order, to acquit him.