Hitler's military mistakes

tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
13,385
#1
In many threads on WW2 there are a multitude of posts about Hitler's "mistakes" and how Germany could have performed better, perhaps even "won" if it were not for him

So we can be more efficient by discussing them in one thread (this one).

Since Adolf conveniently died a few days before the end of WW2 it was tempting for german generals to make him the ultimate scapegoat... he was already a bad guy anyways, so there was no problem in assigning blame for anything and everything to him...and the allies were happy to play along consciously or not. So let's try to look at this topic objectively.

In order to qualify as a mistake, a decision / order must:

1. Have been a mistake based on information available at the time the decision was taken / order was given (no hindsight)
2. Have been taken/given despite better alternatives being available at the time, said alternatives being supported by a large number of proponents (a better alternative supported only by the alternative's author does not carry much weight)

In order to qualify as "Hitler's" mistake the decision/order must have originated from him (as opposed to having originated from a general or staff with Hitler merely not disapproving of it and signing it off)
 
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tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
13,385
#3
I submit that contrary to what is often claimed, the invasion of the USSR was NOT a mistake. In the context of the time:

- in WW1 Russia had given up the fight in 1917 whilst France fought on to victory... Conversely in 1940 France collapsed in just a few weeks, and its army was considered one of the best (or perhaps THE best), and certainly better than that of the USSR.... whose army had performed poorly in both Finland and Poland

- Germany had no second front to speak of in 1941 and could concentrate its forces plus those of its allies on Barbarossa

- Germany had greater power than in WW1 and more allies.... It controlled almost all of continental Europe ... Those countries that it did not control were either favorable to it (Spain), actively trading with it (Sweden , Switzerland) or not hostile (Portugal). Compared to the WW1 situation, Germany had Rumania , Finland and Italy as additional allies and it controlled most of Poland... Yugoslavia was due to join the axis, when a coup changed the picture and prompted a german invasion.
Conversely the USSR as compared to Tsarist Russia, had lost Finland and Poland
On the other side of the word, Japan was a potential german ally, and it had fought the soviets in 38 and 39... German battlefield victories might just provide an incentive for Japan to join in the fray...
The only ally Germany was missing was Turkey, but Turkey's performance in WW1 was not one to be missed.

- The USSR's only ally up to June 1941 was..... Mongolia.. .Churchill had made no secret of his contempt for the soviet system, the allies even contemplated bombing Baku during the finnish war (and the germans must have had access to the relevant plans when they took over France), so it was a distinct possibility that no one would come to the aid of the USSR...

- One would be hard pressed to find a german general of note who disapproved of the attack on the USSR

Given those and other factors (as known at the time), a quick victory seemed realistic (in fact even the UK and the US immediately after the start of Barbarossa were expecting it) enough.....

So although in hindsight it was a major mistake , in December 1940 (when the Fuhrer Barbarossa directive was created) and in the days leading up to June 1941 it would have seemed a very safe bet...
 
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Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,936
Dispargum
#4
I suspect it will be very difficult to distinguish between ideas that originated with Hitler and ideas that were proposed to him that he approved or disapproved.
 
Likes: Niobe

tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
13,385
#5
I suspect it will be very difficult to distinguish between ideas that originated with Hitler and ideas that were proposed to him that he approved or disapproved.
Perhaps... But I think the attack on Poland and the attack on the USSR originated with him... I'd also say there is a difference betwen being an active proponent of an idea (even if was originally proposed by someone else) and merely signing off on a plan proposed by the staff ... in the later case its pure administrative formality , same as signing off on promotions, or on the latest purchase of scented toilet paper for the fuehrer's bunker.... Given the huge number of decisions that are presented for approval/signature, mere indiference should not qualify as a "mistake" but should be put down to the fact that humans can only process so much information and can only focus on a very limited number of topics.

In the case of Manstein's plan for the invasion of France, the idea did not originate with Hitler but he was an active proponent of it... Had it failed, we might be discussing it as one of his mistakes... It might seem strange since it succeeded beyond all expectations, but perhaps it can still qualify as mistake.. Notably because it forced Germany to invade both Holland (which had remained neutral in WW1 and would probably have been more useful to Germany and perhaps to Japan as a neutral in WW2 notably because of its oil in Indonesia) and Belgium
 
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tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
13,385
#6
Which naturally brings up the next potential mistake: the invasion of Holland.....

I am on the fence on this one, and willing to be convinced either way
 
Jul 2016
9,351
USA
#7
Attributing every political decision starting a war gets too vague. Especially in hindsight, every decision Hitler made can be listed as a mistake since Germany lost the war.
 

tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
13,385
#8
and then in the same logic, Norway....

While Denmark I think had to be taken to secure Germany's position (and it was more of a police operation than an invasion), Norway was another story....

  1. Very difficult terrain
  2. Very long coastline effectively impossible to defend against an opponent who controls the seas
  3. Large civilian fleet that would join the allies (as it did) in case of german invasion
  4. No land route from Germany
The often quoted reason for the invasion of Norway , is the need to secure the port of Narvik through which Swedish iron transited especially when the Baltic was frozen. However against an opponent with sea supremacy, the sea route from Narvik to Germany is long and dangerous.
I do not have the stats so would be grateful if anyone has the numbers of how much swedish iron to Germany actually transited through Narvik both before and after the german invasion

So I submit the invasion of Norway is a mistake though I am not clear what role Adolf had in the decision, since the Kriegsmarine (specifically Raeder) seemed to be very excited at the prospect of having access to more naval bases from which to annoy the british

 

tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
13,385
#9
Attributing every political decision starting a war gets too vague. Especially in hindsight, every decision Hitler made can be listed as a mistake since Germany lost the war.

Which is why: no hindsight

Typically going to war with a country would be the fuehrer's decision and important enough that there would be focus on such a decision and debates
 
Mar 2016
1,116
Australia
#10
Attacking Poland was a mistake - not with hindsight that shows us it would ultimately end in German defeat six years later - but because the UK and France had made it clear they would act against Germany if they invaded Poland. The difference between this and the situations with the Rhineland and Czechoslovakia was that the UK and France had essentially issued 'strongly worded letters' rather than a direct ultimatum or threat, unlike in the case with Poland. Although it has been argued that Hitler was encouraged by the lack of action taken against him between 36-8, he should have predicted that this time the Allies were serious and had been given enough time to rearm and prepare for war (more or less). The difference between disapproval and threat is very significant, and Hitler should have realised this.
 
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