Were the Germans bad with military strategy in the world wars?

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
5,767
#1
Obviously, Hitler and the Kaiser made huge mistakes. There diplomacy and intelligence were also weak. But when people say they were good with tactics and bad with strategy, were they bad with military strategy of the generals or just higher level political decisions and Hitler's interference in military strategy?
 
Aug 2013
56
Ohio
#2
I think it's a little bit of both, at least in WW2. Tactically, as you mention, they were typically superb. But strategy design seemed to elude them at times. Barbarossa is a great example. The opening phases were designed and executed to near perfection; however, their strategy hinged on the Red Army collapsing very quickly. They really didn't have a very good contingency plan, and struggled strategically for the remainder of the campaign. For instance: in late summer-fall of 1941, they stalled Army Group Centre's advance on Moscow by diverting troops deal with strong resitance in Leningrad and a large pocket in Kiev. This may or may not have been the right move, but either way it seems like they had no overall direction and were simply responding to their current situation. Hitler's impatience and meddling also hurt them strategically in some cases, but I think this was less common than is commonly claimed.

However, there were times when their strategies worked well. A much bigger issue over the course of the war, I think, was a combination of poor logistics, poor intelligence, and an economy that couldn't really handle the demands of all out war. These were the factors that contributed most to their defeat.
 
Jun 2013
808
West Palm Beach, Fl
#3
The problem was that Hitler and his Nazi leadership were totally insane such as declaring war on the British Empire, the US and Russia. Of course they had bad military strategy because they were mad.
 
Jul 2007
9,098
Canada
#4
A much bigger issue over the course of the war, I think, was a combination of poor logistics, poor intelligence, and an economy that couldn't really handle the demands of all out war. These were the factors that contributed most to their defeat.
Good management of logistics, intelligence, and economy is the essence of good strategic operation (that, and interfering with the same factors for the enemy). The Germans did poorly both at managing their own strategic assets, and at crippling enemy strategic assets.
 
Aug 2012
1,733
Colorado
#5
Yes, because their war leadership overestimated themselves.

For example, the Schlieffen Plan of WWI. The Germans had calculated that they could swiftly defeat France and German forces forces could then turn to fight the mobilizing Russian forces. The German defeat at the Battle of the Marne in 1914 meant that this plan for the war was shattered. Germany now faced a long war on two fronts. In the words of the invading German army's general Von Moltke: "Your Majesty, we have lost the war".

In WWII Germany declared war on the Soviet Union and the US, while already being at war with the British Empire. Even with the spectacular success of the first few months of the invasion of the USSR, the Germans had assigned themselves a task that was too great. There was no chance of the Germans taking on the USSR, US, and the British Empire at the same time. Only a madman would believe this....(Oh, wait)!
 
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pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
8,318
#6
The Kaiser installed Moltke the younger on the basis of his name and his was a good drinking companion, he was promoted over the heads of a lot of more eligible men. His nerve failed from the start and for most of the opening phase of the war he barely communicated with his Generals but left them to run these own independent war. The Decision to invade Belgium was never really discussed in terms of strategy and politics. The German 1918 offensives while tactically impressive, were in the main strategically lacking objectives, they were launched were it was easy to attack, and did not threaten strategic objectives.

Hitler and the Nazis installed a bunch of mediocre yes man into the General Staff.
 

Belloc

Ad Honorem
Mar 2010
5,418
USA
#7
There is a distinction between strategic and operational levels of warfare. The Germans were generally good the tactical and even operational levels, but yes were rather weak in the strategic level. There was no real grand strategy for the Germans as there was for the Allies(well in WWII at least). Clausewitz wasn't even really taught much in German military academies up to WWI for example.
 

Sam-Nary

Ad Honorem
Jun 2012
6,759
At present SD, USA
#8
Obviously, Hitler and the Kaiser made huge mistakes. There diplomacy and intelligence were also weak. But when people say they were good with tactics and bad with strategy, were they bad with military strategy of the generals or just higher level political decisions and Hitler's interference in military strategy?
On some levels, it was with the Kaiser and with Hitler, but Germany's generals were just as much to blame as their heads of state were.

The German plan to win WWI in 1914, the Schlieffen Plan was not put together by the Kaiser, but carried a great many strategic problems...

1) It wrote the British off completely. Britain was tied to Belgium where the German army was to invade. Any violation of Belgian neutrality would bring the British in. And while the Germans expected a fight with Britain, the British were so easily written off that British actions at Mons, the Marne, and in the Battle of Langemark in 1914 would come as a nasty shock to the Germans...

2) It was dependent on the French surrendering in the West within a given timeframe to allow the Germans to then rush troops east to face the Russian steamroller. If the French didn't abide by the German timetable, the whole plan was shot... or at least at risk. And in the end it failed on the Marne...

3) And pushed German units the point of exhaustion. While the Germans might be able to manage it, the plan was still asking a lot from them.

And it must also be remembered that Moltke the Younger altered the Schlieffen Plan to correct perceived flaws in it, and made the biggest weaknesses in it (Britain's involvement, French "compliance" with the German plan, and the physical ability of the German army) even BIGGER weaknesses...

And in that sense, one could make the argument that Germany lost World War One on the Marne in 1914 when they were forced into a long war... but the strategic blunders do not end there.

The German army in WWI executed French and Belgian civilians as "terrorists" for standing against the German army. Now, while killing the man who shot at you or killed comrades is one thing, but to execute additional civilians and "hostages" is another that tends to turn public opinion against you.

Later in World War I, Hindenburg and Ludendorff had taken over the command of the German military, and controlled most of the major decisions. This included the starting, stopping, and restarting of unrestricted submarine warfare, which ultimately brought the US into World War I in 1917. Schlieffen and Moltke the Younger brought Britain in in 1914... Hindenburg and Ludendorff brought America in in 1917, further expanding the war, and bringing in fresh troops that could carry out major offensives against the Germans.

Then in 1918, with Germany facing certain defeat, Ludendorff wasted the German army in his Spring Offensive with little attention to strategic objectives. While the stated aim was to defeat the BEF, there was very little with regard to how this was to be done beyond advancing. And much of the Spring Offensive was devoted to allowing the German army to advance, and then fell apart when Foch refused to move French reserves from Amiens, despite additional attacks further north or in the general area of Paris.

Between the wars, Hans von Seeckt did an in-depth study of Germany's involvement in WWI, but his study was focused almost entirely on the tactical aspects of the war. While his research would ultimately lead to German victories from 1939 to 1941, he did not cover the overall strategic failures of WWI... (creating more enemies and turning public opinion against Germany) and as such, many in Germany, including the German army too easily bought the "stab in the back theory" after the immediate sting of WWI had faded and that all they needed was a strong leader to unite Germany. As such, Hitler was welcomed in 1933.

But Germany had not learned the major strategic lessons. When World War II started, Germany once again found itself at war with Britain and lacking the principle element needed for joint operations, a strong navy. There had been plans to build a big surface navy, but Germany went to war with the naval program running behind schedule and still having five years still to run in accordance with that schedule. Even with that failure, the Germans had a great problem in perceiving that they had a problem. Wilhelm Keitel supposedly compared crossing the English Channel to crossing a river.

And while Barbarossa was Hitler's idea, there was very little real opposition to it, and many of Germany's military leaders were actually excited about it. As such, they wouldn't listen to the advice from those who understood logistics that warned OKW that the invasion of Russia would outrun their supply lines. It also made it too easy to ignore the moral consequences of things like the Commissar Order which demanded the execution of Soviet political officers and any Jews captured in the Soviet territories.

And when they went into Russia, it is clear that the Soviets were underestimated as Halder would at one point note:

"The whole situation shows more and more clearly that we have underestimated the colossus of Russia... We have already identified 360 [Soviet divisions]. The divisions are admittedly not armed and equipped in our sense, and tactically they are badly led. But there they are, and when we destroy a dozen, the Russians simply establish another dozen."

And even with that... the German military seemed to be rather supportive of the idea of bringing in America into World War II. So, while Hitler didn't consult his generals, the declaration of war four days after Pearl Harbor may not have been opposed. In fact, the German navy had been pushing for a declaration of war against the United States since the summer of 1941. And to make the German general staff even smarter... they could not find Pearl Harbor on a map when Hitler inquired about it...

Some German generals did have some understanding of strategy with regards to the direct military aspects, most famously Manstien, but even Rommel could be counted among them (despite making some massive strategic blunders in the African campaign that essentially doomed him to defeat) for recognizing that if the Allies got ashore at Normandy in 1944, the battle was lost for Germany... but even with them, the issue remains that because of the overall problems, all they would have done is bought time for the Manhattan Project to be completed and the first city hit with an Atomic Bomb would be German rather than Japanese.

Military History's 5th issue of its 26 volume contains an article that goes into much greater depth on this than I could.
 

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
5,767
#9
I agree that in WWI, it was a disaster having the 3 biggest powers Britain, France, and Russia allied against them. All they had was Austria and Turkey. Then Italy and the US join the Entente. That is clearly where they lost the war.

Then in WWII they make the same mistake, but worse.

I was wondering whether the strategic mistakes were only at the political level, but also at the military level, and I guess that has been answered.
 
Sep 2013
108
UK
#10
Too fair we also have to remember that their positions on the map makes war strategy very difficult (2 Great power on both sides), unlike UK, France and Soviet Union. Means they have a disadvantage from the get go.
 

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