Document created: 2 September 03
Air University Review, May-June 1975
the Fueher and his generals
Dr. Donald S. Detwiler
The career of Adolf Hitler was an unparalleled demonstration of the acquisition, use, and abuse of power. How was he able to develop totalitarian control of his adopted homeland and then, with the help of his generals, extend his sway from the Pyrenees to the Crimea? What role did the traditionally conservative Prussian military professionals play under the revolutionary Austrian dilettante to whom they had sworn personal allegiance in 1934? What did the leaders of the caste-conscious military hierarchy really think about their supreme commander? How was he able to bring them to accept his ever more rigid control over their once all but autonomous state within the state? Just what manner of man was he, finally, and what sort of military leader? The three books under consideration here deal with several aspects of these central questions.
In Hitler's Generals, the British writer Richard Humble has briefly reviewed the course of the Second World War in Europe and North Africa from the perspective of the German military leadership.* His book is not free of factual error, nor does it offer the specialist new information or insight. But it is not addressed to the specialist in the first place. Intended rather for the general public, it is a fast-paced series of brief essays on the major campaigns of the war, introducing the various field commanders in turn. By compressing his 25 reasonably well-informed and objective sketches into a readable narrative of some 150 pages, Mr. Humble has produced a concise introduction to the more prominent of Hitler's generals, who they were and what they did. It is a useful book, though certainly not, as proclaimed by the publisher on the flyleaf, "an in-depth study of Hitler's relationship with the high command."
*Richard Humble, Hitler's Generals (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1974, $5.95), viii and 167 pages.
**Harold C. Deutsch, Hitler and His Generals: The Hidden Crisis, January-June 1938 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, and London: Oxford University Press, 1974, $15.00), xxv and 452 pages.
That description does apply, however, to the work of Harold C. Deutsch.** A professor emeritus of history from the University of Minnesota and now at the Army War College, Dr. Deutsch served as Chief of the Research and Analysis Branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Paris and then in Germany in 1944-45 and also as a member of the U.S. State Department Special Interrogation Mission in 1945. The broader significance of his contribution to our knowledge of the Third Reich, particularly of Hitler's relationship to his generals, becomes apparent only in the context of the German dictator's systematic extension of his institutional base of power from 1933 to 1938.
Hitler's appointment to the chancellorship on 30 January 1933 was retrospectively transformed by National Socialist propaganda into a full-blown seizure of power (Machtergreifung). That was a legend. No one knew better than Hitler himself that the chancellorship was just the first step. Even before he was sworn into office, he had set to work on the second: electing a new national parliament (Reichstag) that would assure his minority coalition sweeping powers. In the election of 5 March 1933, he and his conservative partners barely won 52 percent, but that narrow margin gave Hitler the leverage he needed: on the 23d of the same month, the representatives of the German people, by a vote of 441 to 94, formally abdicated by transferring to the Hitler government their constitutional legislative authority, By the end of the year all the political parties in Germany had been either dissolved or outlawed except the National Socialist, which by the law of 1 December 1933 was "insolubly tied" to the state. But it was not absorbed into it. Quite the contrary, the party was accorded the status of a public corporation under its leader (Fuehrer), who alone determined its statutes; its disciplinary courts were recognized as having special jurisdiction; and cabinet rank was bestowed on Hitler's party deputy, Rudolf Hess, and on Ernst Roehm, chief of staff of the SA (Sturmabteilungen), the party militia of brownshirted paramilitary storm troopers. The sanction of law was thereby given to a German party-state dualism analogous to the dualism in Russia of the Communist party and the Soviet state.
*Richard Humble, Hitler's Generals (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1974, $5.95), viii and 167 pages.
**Harold C. Deutsch, Hitler and His Generals: The Hidden Crisis, January-June 1938 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, and London: Oxford University Press, 1974, $15.00), XXV and 452 pages.
The implications of this were keenly appreciated by the leaders of the German armed forces (the Reichswehr), for they were the custodians of the German tradition of a very different sort of dualism: a dualism approaching parity between the civilian and military authorities, permitting the latter to remain aloof from party politics and maintain the military establishment on a semi-independent basis. Their privileged status had hardly been challenged by the twenty fragile coalitions of the Weimar Republic from 1918 to 1933, especially not after the election to the presidency of Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg in 1925. But close Russo-German military ties during the twenties had made the leaders of the Reichswehr quite familiar with what it meant for a professional officer corps to be subjected to the authority of a totalitarian party and its secret police--such as the Cheka. Concern about the danger of such a system's arising in Germany had been an important factor in Hitler's rise to power. He was militantly anti-Communist. Whatever shortcomings he might otherwise have had, the military-industrial-landowning establishment generally felt he could be depended upon to stop Bolshevism and, presumably, the threats it implied.
The elevation on 1 December 1933 of SA Chief of Staff Roehm to cabinet rank on a par with the war minister, General Werner von Blomberg, came as a shock. It did not challenge the privileged position of the Reichswehr in the same way establishment of a cabinet-level secret police authority would. But it was serious, nonetheless, because of the danger that the professional military establishment might be engulfed by the plebeian horde of party storm troopers. In February 1934, Reichsminister Roehm proposed to the cabinet that the SA be used as the basis for swift expansion of the army and that this expansion program be carried out under the aegis of a single minister (obviously himself), who would be in charge of the regular armed forces as well as the paramilitary and veterans organizations.
Limited by the Treaty of Versailles to 100,000 men, including a maximum of 4000 officers, the German army was a professional elite force that would have lost its character, identity, and effectiveness in an amalgamation with Roehm's militia of millions. The SA proposal was immediately sidetracked, not only because of an emphatic Reichswehr protest directly to Hindenburg, the supreme commander, but also because Hitler himself fully grasped its implications. Roehm's brownshirts had been indispensable during the years he was storming the gates, but now he had no need for brutal street fighters. His future plans called for as sophisticated a striking force as the professional competence of the general staff, modern military technology, and the economic and human resources of the nation could provide. While Roehm continued to agitate for the "Second Revolution" on into the spring and summer of 1934, Hitler became increasingly sensitive to the mounting concern of the German military hierarchy, whose failing 86-year-old protector, President Hindenburg, could not be expected to live more than a few months. Hider intended to succeed him as head of state and supreme commander of the Reichswehr, but he knew this would not be possible without at least the acquiescence of the tightly knit military hierarchy. With his uncanny instinct for power, Hitler well knew the difference between tides of office and real control--and also understood the peril of underestimating this difference.
Machiavelli once observed that one does not maintain power with the same following used to gain it. A month before Hindenburg's death, Hitler gave a ruthless demonstration of this axiom by ordering Roehm and scores of his associates shot in a series of actions retroactively proclaimed, by a special law, to have been "legal as acts of self-defense by the state."
Allegedly Roehm and his "accomplices" had been caught red-handed in the process of staging a coup díétat. This was untrue. While Roehm and many of his supporters were dissatisfied with the government, they were not trying to overthrow it but rather to gain greater influence within it. Scores of others who obviously had nothing to do with the fictional "Roehm revolt" were simultaneously murdered in a nationwide settling of old accounts that took perhaps two hundred lives, possibly many more. Among the victims were Father Bernhard Stempfle, a former editorial reader of Hitler's Mein Kampf, Undersecretary of Transportation Erich Klausener, the head of Catholic Action, and Hitler's predecessor as chancellor, General Kurt von Schleicher, together with his wife, as well as one of his close associates, General Kurt von Bredow.
Not Roehm but Hitler was guilty of a coup d'etat in the summer of 1934. The Roehm purge was the first step in a triple coup by which Hitler made himself Germany's highest judge, head of state, and supreme commander of the armed forces on an extraordinary basis.
The dictator's usurpation of ultimate judicial authority was already implicit in the law by which the cabinet on 3 July 1934 retroactively condemned to death as traitors the victims of the purge. But in his Reichstag speech ten days later, Hitler went on to proclaim explicitly that he had acted as "the supreme judge of the German people." The legislative branch had forfeited its authority by passing the Enabling Act sixteen months earlier; now Hitler placed himself above the judiciary as well. (This was not just a matter of exercising the power of pardon, a traditional and constitutional prerogative of the head of state, an office Hitler in any case did not yet hold. What he claimed, after having blatantly exercised it) was unbridled authority to order executions without due process of law or even the most peremptory of formal convictions.)
On the death of President Hindenburg at the beginning of August 1934, Hitler succeeded him as head of state and supreme commander. Despite the explicit inviolability of the presidency under the Enabling Act, that office was combined with the chancellorship in Adolf Hitler as Fuehrer and Reich Chancellor by a law decreed by the cabinet on 1 August and endorsed by some 85 percent of the voters in the plebiscite of 19 August. On the 2d, meanwhile, War Minister Blomberg had ordered a sacred oath of personal obedience administered to all members of the armed forces. Earlier forms of the Reichswehr oath, previously required only of new personnel, had been solemn avowals of loyalty and obedience to the constitution and the fatherland, but the new oath, sprung without warning on all, was a commitment, under God, ". . . to render unconditional obedience to the Fuehrer of the German Reich and people, Adolf HitlerÖ".
Unsanctioned by law or precedent, this vow subordinated those who took it to the status of personal subjects if not vassals of Hitler. Yet it was accepted, despite strong misgivings on the part of many, because Hitler, for his part, had freed the Reichswehr of the threat of the SA with one stunning blow and had categorically pledged, in his Reichstag speech of 13 July, that just as the National Socialist party would be the sole bearer of the political will of the nation, the Reichswehr would be the sole bearer of arms.
The apparent triumph of the professional military establishment over the party militia was a Pyrrhic victory. The killings had largely been carried out by Heinrich Himmler's SS (Schutzstaffeln, defense echelons) and Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei, secret state police). On 20 July 1934, exactly one week after his unequivocal pledge to the Reichswehr, Hitler rewarded the SS for its "great services in connection with the "Roehm revolt" by severing its affiliation with the SA, of which it had been a subdivision initially charged with the personal protection of the Fuehrer. Henceforth reporting directly to him, Reichsfuehrer-SS and Gestapo Chief Himmler would be in a position to develop a combined palace guard and secret police incomparably more dangerous to the army and other established interests in Germany than Roehmís SA could ever have become. This did not happen without early warning. One could hardly have contrived a more resounding challenge to the castelike solidarity and rigid code of honor of the officer corps, particularly unyielding among the army generals, than the coldblooded murder of Bredow and the Schleichers. The commander in chief of the army, Baron Werner von Fritsch, did turn to Hermann Goering, asking him as a fellow general to arrange with Hitler for a thorough investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the murders. But Fritsch did not follow through, while Hitler, for his part, assuaged the consciences of the more scrupulous by passing the word down through the grapevine that he had been shocked by the murder of the two generals and had seen to it that those responsible were summarily shot. This lie served its purpose. For the time being, the military leadership corps was prepared to accept the leadership of War Minister von Blomberg, who observed that the Prussian officer's honor had consisted in being stringently proper but that from now on the German officer's honor had to consist in being cunning.
For over three years Blomberg's approach seemed to pay off. The German military establishment prospered, as never before in its history, under leadership of the war minister, one of very few senior members of the officer corps who had become a dedicated National Socialist. In 1935 Hitler introduced universal military training, achieved British recognition of German rearmament in the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, and reorganized the Reichswehr of the Weimar Republic, consisting of the army and navy, into the Wehrmacht of the Third Reich, which now included an independent third service branch, the air force (Luftwaffe) under Goering. In 1936 Blomberg was promoted to field marshal. By late 1937 serious problems had begun to arise in the allocation of raw materials. Shortages had been brought about by the precipitate rearmament program. Goering ruthlessly exploited his position as General Plenipotentiary for the Four Year Plan (for economic mobilization) to the advantage of the air force at the expense of the other service branches. After postponing a showdown as long as he could, Blomberg asked Hitler for a joint conference with himself and the three service chiefs, not seriously hoping to bridle Goering but possibly to establish more equitable guidelines he could be expected to honor. Hitler consented to the meeting, setting it up for the afternoon of 5 November 1937. To Blomberg's surprise, Hitler summoned the Foreign Minister, Baron Konstantin von Neurath, in addition to Goering, Fritsch, and the head of the navy, Admiral Erich Raeder. To the war minister's greater surprise, Hitler used the topic of raw materials merely as a launching pad for an extended explanation of his plans for increasing Germany's living space (Lebensraum). First Austria and Czechoslovakia would be taken; then, with the flanks of the Reich secured, France could be dealt with as the major enemy. Goering already had an idea of what was coming and was in tune with Hitler to begin with. Admiral Raeder was reserved, not only because of his habitual reticence regarding matters outside his immediate area of professional responsibility, sea warfare, but also because he tended to underestimate the seriousnessof what he regarded as mere rhetorical excursions on Hitler's part. Blomberg, Fritsch, and Neurath were astounded but far from speechless; they challenged Hitler's judgment on the spot, and the latter two followed up with subsequent individual conferences. Hitler refused to reconsider his plans, and all three of the dissenters were removed from office. Three months later to the day on 5 February 1938, it was announced that Joachim von Ribbentrop had been named foreign minister and General Walther von Brauchitsch commander in chief of the army. The ministry of war had been abolished, Field Marshal von Blomberg relieved, and General Wilhelm Keitel named chief of a newly established supreme staff directly under Hitler.
Blomberg had no direct successor because the functions of his office, much like those of the presidency in 1934, were taken over by Hitler himself. He did this by converting the ministry of war into the "High Command of the Armed Forces" (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht or OKW). Through the OKW, which took precedence over the general staff organizations of the individual service branches, Hitler personally pre-empted the direct command previously exercised by the war minister. General Keitel, whom the dictator inherited as administrator of his new supreme staff, had been virtually assured the post by Blomberg's remark to Hitler that Keitel had merely served as his "chef de bureau" (office manager) in the war ministry.
The general background of the events leading to the fall of Blomberg and Fritsch has long been familiar. As a sixty-year-old widower, Field Marshal Werner von Blomnberg blundered into a mésalliance with a former prostitute and nude model with a police record, including at least one conviction. When this became known, his position was absolutely untenable--not only because of the embarrassment to Hitler, who had joined Goering as a witness at the wedding, but even more because of the rigid code of honor of the officer corps, which could never have tolerated such a breach of caste ethics on the part of a general officer, least of all the first soldier of the Reich.
Meanwhile Fritsch was falsely charged with homosexuality, and although he was proven innocent in the end, the allegations served as a pretext to remove him simultaneously with Blomberg. Hitler thereupon reorganized the war ministry as the high command of the Wehrmacht under Keitel, Blomberg's former deputy, and replaced Fritsch with Brauchitsch. "With one blow, without a jot of opposition, Hitler had thus eliminated the last power factor of any significance," wrote Joachim C. Fest in his recent biography of Hitler. "He had put across, as it were, a 'bloodless June 30.' Contemptuously, he declared that all generals were cowardly." (Hitler, New York, 1974, p.543)
There is some truth in Fest's observation, for the blow that fell on the army in the Blomberg-Fritsch crisis can be compared to that suffered by the SA in the Roehm purge; in each case intractable organizational leadership, undermining Hitler's totalitarian control and thwarting his plans, was ruthlessly supplanted by compliant instruments of his will. But in writing that Hitler broke the hierarchy of the army in 1938 "without a jot of opposition," Fest uncritically accepted the totalitarian dissimulator's denigration of the "cowardly" senior officers of the army and his trivialization of what was in fact a watershed crisis of the National Socialist regime. Hitler had good reason to trivialize it. It was essential to conceal at home and abroad how narrow had been the margin by which he succeeded in the last major coup díétat of that long series that finally brought him unchecked power and freed his hands for the mad career of conquest that ultimately led to the destruction of the German Reich and his own suicide in the bunker beneath the ruins of his Berlin chancellory.
Hitler may have thought, or at least hoped, that he had achieved full power over the armed forces with the oath of unconditional personal obedience in August 1934. If so, he realized the contrary after the historic November conference in 1937 at which his authority was categorically challenged by none other than the war minister, who had ordered administration of that oath, and the commander in chief of the army, who had dissuaded his chief of staff, General Ludwig Beck, from resigning in protest against it.
The point of stressing Fest's failure to appreciate the gravity of the 1938 Wehrmacht crisis, to which he devotes only three of his book's 850 pages, is not to suggest incompetence. Despite specialists' reservations regarding his treatment of this and several other matters, this biography of Hitler is widely considered the best now available.
The Fest flaw serves to dramatize, by contrast, the research and synthesis reported by Harold C. Deutsch in Hitler and His Generals: The Hidden Crisis, January-June 1938. In his 475-page volume, Professor Deutsch has come remarkably close to reconstructing as bizarre and improbable, yet meticulously documented a day-by-day, hour-by-hour account of the Blomberg-Fritsch crisis as tapes and testimony made possible in the Watergate affair. Much of the tale has long been known--in part as a result of Deutsch's own postwar interrogations of General Alfred Jodl, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, and others. But by years of tireless investigation, correspondence, and conversation he has gone on to develop the most intimate professional rapport with previously often unidentified principals, witnesses, and their widows. By tracking down the most deviously concealed connections, he has unearthed an intricate labyrinth beneath the shabby construction that so long passed for all there was to the Blomberg-Fritsch affair. In his historical tunneling, moreover, he has also thoroughly explored the passage that leads directly from the military opposition during the 1938 Wehrmacht crisis--the opposition of which Fest was unaware--to outright conspiracy.
As Deutsch explained in a previously published work, The Conspiracy against Hitler in the Twilight War (Minneapolis, 1968, p. 6), there were four rounds in the military conspiracy against Hitler. The first, centering in the high command of the army, culminated in preparations for a coup against Hitler in September 1938 as soon as he would give the order for war against Czechoslovakia over the Sudetenland. Though well apprised of these preparations, the British and French opted for appeasement, not only forestalling Hitler's overthrow but vindicating his aggressive policy. Round II, from September 1939 to May 1940, centering in the intelligence division of the high command of the armed forces, sought to prevent the continuation of the war after the fall of Poland. The third round took place in 1942 and 1943; operating from the Eastern front, its protagonists proved unable to kill Hitler, once merely because of the failure of a detonator. Round IV, operating from the staff of the reserve army command in Berlin, climaxed in the detonation of a bomb in Hitler's headquarters on 20 July 1944; but although several persons close to Hitler were killed, he was only slightly injured. A number of works, such as Eberhard Zeller's The Flame of Freedom: The German Struggle against Hitler (University of Miami, 1969), have recounted the story of the German resistance with particular emphasis on the third and fourth rounds. In his 1968 book Professor Deutsch reconstructed the story of the second round, including the role of the Vatican, which had not previously been elucidated. His present book, Hitler and His Generals, clearly shows how it was that--to cite the subtitle--"The Hidden Crisis, January-June 1938" so shocked and outraged the military leadership corps that, by its end, they were ready to make the plans to deal with Hitler that will be fully described in Deutsch's forthcoming volume covering the period from June 1938 to the beginning of the war.
The removal of Blomberg and Fritsch as such did not provoke shock and outrage. As supreme commander, Hitler had the prerogative of asking for their resignations at any time. Had he wished to do so, he might have found it more difficult to keep Blomberg than to let him go, for the indignation concerning the field marshal's mésalliance among the strait-laced military hierarchs was so intense that, after his fall, with the blessing of Admiral Raeder and travel funds provided by Hitler's personal adjutant, he was followed to Rome by his former naval adjutant, Baron von Wangenheim, who gave him what was probably the most complete account he had yet heard of his wife's past and urged him, as a matter of honor, to seek an annulment. When Blomberg indignantly refused, Wangenheim slammed down on the table a pistol for the disgraced officer to use in taking his own life, which he even more indignantly refused to do.
Once Blomberg had married the former Eva Gruhn (who had never been his secretary, as stated by Richard Humble), his fate was sealed. Once he fell, his almost inevitable successor as war minister would have been the highly esteemed commander in chief of the senior service branch, Baron Werner von Fritsch. But the commander in chief of the air force, Hermann Goering, wanted to become war minister and thereby gain control of the Wehrmacht himself. To that end, not only had he encouraged Blomberg, who naively confided in him, to marry Eva Gruhn; he had even, on the distraught war minister's appeal, arranged for an inconvenient rival to be given a lucrative position in Argentina. Before accepting this by no means optional turn of fortune, Blomberg's departing rival had the decency to call on Goering with a message, to be conveyed as tactfully as possible to Blomberg, that in view of the lady's lurid history he might be well advised to reconsider his marital intentions. Far from warning Blomberg of his peril, Goering had turned forthwith to Himmler, and after early December 1937 not only Blomberg's future wife but also Fritsch, his most likely successor, were under secret Gestapo surveillance.
The dossier on the future wife of the war minister was easily enough put together, but assembling the kind of charges Goering required to discredit Fritsch was another matter, for the conservative, reticent bachelor was personally no less than professionally above reproach. There being no legitimate case against Fritsch, Himmler's minions built one around perjured allegations of homosexuality by a confessed extortionist and police informer. Fritsch was proved innocent before the court-martial when his defense demonstrated that the false witness had never blackmailed him but rather a retired cavalry captain with a similar name, Fritsch.
Professor Deutsch, through two-thirds of his gripping book, traces the Byzantine scenario in all its complex mendacity, beginning on 25 January 1938 with Hitler's revelation to his Wehrmacht adjutant of the double-barreled charges aimed at the two highest officers of the army and ending with Fritsch's complete exoneration by the court-martial almost eight weeks later. Goering was behind the army's agony, assiduously helping Blomberg into his marital trap rather than warning him, while shamelessly conspiring with Himmler to discredit Fritsch, in order to gain control of the Wehrmacht. He lost this prize, for it was snatched, through Keitel, by Hitler, who meanwhile agreed to the demand of the army's outraged senior officers for a full investigation and court-martial. In exchange, however, he not only extracted their acquiescence in his establishment of the new Wehrmacht high command with the professionally acceptable but personally weak Keitel as his staff chief but also elicited their agreement to the immediate appointment of a new commander in chief of the army. The leaders of the embattled military hierarchy went along with this in part because they were able to prevail upon Hitler to name Walther von Brauchitsch to the post rather than his professed favorite, General Walther von Reichenau, earlier and more strongly National Socialist than even Blomberg had been.
Little did they dream that, by the time Hitler appointed the man of their choice, he had been gravely compromised by Hitler's support in his divorce settlement. Deeply enamored of a paramour of earlier years, he had long been separated from his wife, but she refused to release him in a private settlement except on the basis of a lump sum payment (in lieu of alimony) that was entirely beyond his means. As he saw no alternative but to accept the scandal of divorce for adultery in public court proceedings, which would immediately end his career, he considered himself completely unsuitable for the position and explained this to Hitler. Instantly the dictator knew he finally had found his man. For understandable ideological reasons, he told Brauchitsch, he personally preferred Reichenau, just as he would have preferred him as war minister back in 1933, but the army leaders were no less against him now than then. So, as supreme commander of the Wehrmacht, he now turned to Brauchitsch, knowing that the army leaders and the German people could depend upon him not to shrink before the tasks that lay ahead. The perplexed soldier did indeed shrink at first, but after several days of negotiations with Goering and Keitel as well as Hitler, he became convinced that his personal circumstances must not be permitted to stand in the way of national interest or the good of the service. To solve his delicate marital problem, Hitler promised that whatever would be necessary to effect the private lump sum settlement would be provided from his own personal funds. (These funds would have been adequate to buy off a harem, in view of his income from such sources as tax-free book royalties--Mein Kampf was "required reading" everywhere--and payments from the postal service for the use of his picture on German stamps, "a type of emolument," Deutsch observes, "that certainly would never have occurred to previous German beads of state.") The capital sum required in the end, 80,000 marks, was not actually provided until after months of legal negotiations and proceedings leading to the divorce, critical months during which Brauchitsch was on tenterhooks.
But even after consummation of the sad transaction, he remained personally so beholden to Hitler that he was probably more compliant than the strong-willed Reichenau would have been. Hitler's ultimate concern was neither ideological orthodoxy nor critical loyalty (the only true kind), but the power to impose his will. This he achieved by the army's consent to the spineless Keitel and the vulnerable Brauchitsch.
With their appointments, Hitler had all but won his game. Yet he was not in a position to rewrite the rules and declare that it had ended with his final victory, for the verdict on the Fritsch case was still outstanding. The conclusive demonstration of Fritsch's innocence would have meant a severe setback for the Hitler regime, particularly for the emerging SS-Gestapo state within the state, which had compromised itself by the seizure and torture of the key defense witness and by a thinly veiled threat to the life of Fritsch himself. However, the fiasco of this sordid affair was completely overshadowed by an event that interrupted the court-martial proceedings for a full week: the annexation of Austria, a German triumph unequaled since the Franco-Prussian war.
The Fritsch investigation and court-martial, unique in the annals of military justice, resulted in far more than the exoneration of the viciously defamed general. It had also been a trial of the officer corps. Many of its members failed to perceive this. Others succumbed to the blandishments or threats of the regime. But some of them drew together, united in the realization that in a land where even loyal opposition was prosecuted as crime, those seriously opposing a criminal regime had no alternative but conspiracy.
In Hitler and His Generals, Harold C. Deutsch has shown precisely how, in the Wehrmacht crisis of January through June 1938, Hitler succeeded in wresting institutional control of the German armed forces from the tightly knit German military leadership corps--but how, in so doing, he forced a number of its most discerning members, including several of his close associates, into an extensive conspiracy involving influential representatives of "the decent Germany" from all walks of life. This book, its forthcoming sequel, and Professor Deutsch's already published third volume, The Conspiracy against Hitler in the Twilight War, together will represent the first adequate historical recognition of one of the most tragic chapters in German history.
Richard Humbleís survey and Deutsch's masterpiece repeatedly raise questions that are directly addressed from a unique perspective in the third book under consideration here, Percy Ernst Schramm's Hitler: The Man and the Military Leader.* Assigned to German supreme headquarters at the beginning of 1943, Schramm, the late Goettingen historian, kept the official war diary of the high command of the Wehrmacht until the end of the war. In the 1960s he published it in four massive volumes, which he introduced with an essay .On Hitler as a warlord. He appended to it a study he had prepared in 1945 for U.S. Army historians on Hitler's bitter conflict with his generals over the Battle of the Bulge, together with a remarkable memorandum on Hitler's military leadership dictated at Nuremberg by General Alfred Jodl, former chief of Wehrmacht operations. The present volume couples these three pieces with the detailed analysis of Hitler's personality, cultural background, ideology, philosophy of life, and physical condition that Schramm had published as an introduction to his definitive edition of Hitler's table conversations. Consequently Hitler: The Man and the Military Leader (which, as a former Goettingen student of Schramm's, this reviewer translated, edited, and annotated in consultation with him before his death in 1970) is not the English edition of a book that appeared in Germany but is an original presentation of the interpretation of Hitler by the man internationally recognized as the Nestor of German World War II historians.
* Percy E. Schramm, Hitler: The Man and the Military Leader, translated and edited with an introduction by Donald S. Detwiler (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1971; London: Allen Lane, Penguin Press, 1972; New York: Franklin Watts, New Viewpoints, 1973, cloth, $10.00; paper, $2.95), x and 214 pages.
Scion of a patrician Hamburg family (his father was mayor), a brilliant medievalist (elected corresponding member of the Medieval Academy of America), and chancellor of the Order Pour le Mérite for the Sciences and Arts (the only German order of knighthood to have served both World Wars), Schramm probed the records of secret conversations and conferences for clues to help account for the man who "for twelve years determined the fate of Germany, and for five brought the world to tremble." Schramm did not claim to have given final answers to the questions posed by "the most devious and baleful man in German history," but the sensitivity and authority with which he perceived and defined them make his work invaluable for readers seriously interested in the history of Germany, the Second World War, or military leadership in an age of ideological warfare.
Southern Illinois University
Dr. Donald S. Detwiler (B.A., George Washington University; Dr. Phil., Goettingen University, Germany) is a member of the History Department, Southern Illinois University and of the American Committee on the History of the Second World War. Commissioned in the Air Force Reserve from ROTC in 1954, he attended Intelligence School, Sheppard AFB, Texas, and served in Germany as a language intelligence officer until 1957. His publications on the Third Reich include Hitler, Franco and Gibraltar (Wieshaden, 1962) and two earlier articles in Air University Review Hitlerís diplomatic and economic preparations for the war.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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