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Fhrerprinzip How good was Hitler as a military commander?

Was he, as his former subordinates claimed after World War Two ended, a meddlesome amateur who kept them from conducting the war properly? What were his strengths and weaknesses, his goals and methods? The answers to these questions reveal a man who was indeed responsible for Germany's downfall, though not entirely in the way that his generals claimed. Hitler was ... determined to command personally. Hitler was, first and foremost, determined to command personally. According to his so-called Leader Principle (Fhrerprinzip), ultimate authority rested with him and extended downward. At each level, the superior was to give the orders, the subordinates to follow them to the letter. In practice the command relationships were more subtle and complex, especially at the lower levels, but Hitler did have the final say on any subject in which he took a direct interest, including the details of military operations, that is, the actual direction of armies in the field. Moreover, as time went on he took over positions that gave him ever more direct control. From leader (Fhrer) of the German state in 1934, he went on to become commander-in-chief of the armed forces in 1938, then commander-in-chief of the army in 1941. Hitler wanted to be the Feldherr, the generalissimo, exercising direct control of the armies himself, in much the same sense that Wellington commanded at Waterloo, albeit at a distance. Top Headquarters

Adolf Hitler with Field Marshal General Wilhelm Keitel and General of the Artillery Alfred Jodl, in the Fhrer's headquarters, 1941 Throughout World War Two Hitler worked from one of several field headquarters, in contrast to other heads of state, who remained in their capital cities. A small

personal staff attended to him, and the army high command also kept its headquarters, with a much more substantial staff, nearby. He held briefings with his senior military advisors, often in the company of Party officials and other hangers-on, each afternoon and late each night. His staff would present him with information on the status and actions of all units down to division strength or lower, as well as on special subjects such as arms production or the technical specifications of new weapons. ... Hitler had an incredible memory for detail and would become annoyed at any discrepancies. Every point had to be correct and consistent with previous briefings, for Hitler had an incredible memory for detail and would become annoyed at any discrepancies. He supplemented that information by consulting with his field commanders, on very rare occasions at the front, more often by telephone or by summoning them back to his headquarters. As the briefing went on he would state his instructions verbally for his staff to take down and then issue as written orders. There were several broad sets of problems with Hitler's style of command. These revolved around his personality, the depth of his knowledge, and his military experience, and they exacerbated corresponding problems in the German command system. After the war, the picture emerged of Hitler as a megalomaniac who refused to listen to his military experts and who, as a consequence, lost the war for Germany. That picture emerged due largely to the efforts of his former generals, who had their own reputations to protect. The truth was more complicated, even if Hitler's failings remained at the heart of it. Top Hitler's distrust of his generals

Hitler with his generals Keitel and Reichenau in 1939 Hitler did indeed distrust most of his generals - in part for good reason. He had to overcome a certain amount of timidity among his senior officers before the war -

during the reoccupation of the Rhineland, for example - and his perception of them as over cautious set the tone for his relations with them. Certainly his operational decisions, especially early in the war, were sometimes as good as, or better than, those of his generals. He was, after all, one of the two men who first thought up the campaign plan that the Wehrmacht (the German army) used against France with such stunning success in 1940, and he had to push hard before the General Staff would accept it. As time went on he came to believe that Germany's victories were his alone and that most of his generals were narrowminded, overly cautious and incapable. ... the generals expressed admiration for Hitler's political skills and goals. For their part, the generals expressed admiration for Hitler's political skills and goals. His defence minister from 1933 to 1938, General Werner von Blomberg, said that Hitler's rise to power represented 'a broad national desire, and the realisation of that towards which many of the best have been striving for years'. Their attitude toward his military leadership, on the other hand, ran hot and cold. They often recognised his talents - far more than they later wanted to admit. At other times they tried to resist him - though less often, less effectively, and sometimes less justifiably than they later claimed. In any case, he grew ever more distrustful and contemptuous of them as a group, despite the unflagging loyalty that most of them displayed right to the end. As early as 1938 he was heard to say that every general was either cowardly or stupid, and his opinion only worsened with time. Top Reliance on instinct Whatever the problems with his generals, however, there is no doubt that Hitler lacked many of the qualities he needed to control military affairs with consistent success. There have been examples - Churchill was one - of political leaders who successfully interceded in the details of military strategy and operations, but Hitler had neither the experience nor the personality for such a role. He shunned serious, comprehensive intellectual effort and was largely ignorant of military affairs and foreign cultures. He tended to reject any information that did not fit with his (often wildly inaccurate) preconceptions. Instead he relied on his 'instinct' and a belief that the will to win would overcome every obstacle in the end.

No military leader can hope to understand the realities of the situation on the ground from hundreds of miles away ... His talents - or lack thereof - aside, Hitler took the practice of personal command much too far. No military leader can hope to understand the realities of the situation on the ground from hundreds of miles away, and yet he came to believe that he could control all but the smallest units at the front. At the end of 1942, for example, during the battle of Stalingrad, he actually had a street map of the city spread out before him so that he could follow the fighting, block by block. Similarly, near the end of the war he ordered that no unit could move without his express permission, and he demanded lengthy reports on every armoured vehicle and position that his forces lost. Such methods guaranteed that opportunities and dangers alike would go unnoticed, that good commanders would be trapped in impossible situations and bad ones allowed to avoid responsibility. Hitler also combined his insistence on personal control with a leadership style that often consisted of equal parts indecisiveness and stubbornness. He sometimes put off difficult decisions for weeks, especially as the military situation grew worse. In 1943, for instance, his inability to make up his mind about an attack at Kursk eventually pushed the attack back from April to July - by which time the Soviets were well prepared. Arguments among his commanders and advisors did not help the situation. By late 1942 Hitler's subordinates had split into cliques that competed for increasingly scarce resources, while he remained the final arbiter of all disputes. His senior commanders felt free to contact him directly; they knew that the last man to brief him often got what he wanted. At other times, though, Hitler would cling to a decision stubbornly, regardless of its merits. His decision to attack in the Ardennes in 1944 is one good example: his commanders tried, both directly and indirectly, to persuade him to adopt a more realistic plan, without success. Top Strategy The image of Hitler as a meddler in military operations is powerful and persistent. One should bear in mind, however, that his desire to control his armies' movements was not the most important factor in Germany's defeat. Hitler's truly critical decisions concerned strategy, that is, the war's timing, targets and goals. His was

the only voice that counted at that level, and it was his strategy that led inevitably to Germany's eventual defeat. He began by accepting war against the British Empire without any clear conception of how to win it. When his initial attempts to solve that problem failed, he reacted by turning against the Soviet Union - his preferred target in any case, for ideological as well as strategic reasons. There again he assumed an easy victory and had no back-up plan when success eluded him. ... only a miracle could have staved off defeat ... Then, even as the failure of his eastern offensive was becoming obvious, he took on the United States, with whom he considered war to be inevitable in any case. At that point, with Germany fighting simultaneously against the world's three greatest powers, only a miracle could have staved off defeat, and none was forthcoming. From 1942 on, Germany could only hang on and try to exhaust its enemies, but their superior resources and increasingly skilled armies made the outcome first predictable and then inevitable. This was a situation that Hitler created. Where the Allies had a clear strategic concept, he had none. Ultimately he believed that war was his only tool, that his armies would win the war simply by winning battles, and that they would win battles in large part because of their racial and ideological superiority. He never balanced ends and means at the national level, and no matter how many battles he won, there always seemed to be another one to fight. In the end, his was the nation that exhausted itself. Top Sharing the blame A final judgement on Hitler's role is one that calls for some balance. No commander works in isolation, no matter how absolute his power might appear. Germany's senior military leaders bear a large measure of responsibility for the onset, character and outcome of World War Two. No commander works in isolation, no matter how absolute his power might appear. They shared Hitler's weaknesses as strategists - in fact they were arguably even less talented than he was - and their political attitudes and expansionist ambitions put most of them squarely in the Nazi camp. They supported Hitler's goals but

could not help realise them at the strategic level. There was no Alanbrooke or Marshall in the group, nor even an Eisenhower. And for all their supposed professionalism, their operational abilities were not so great as their memoirs make them appear. The fact remains, however, that Hitler was the driving force behind the war. It was Hitler that provided its ideological basis and its strategic direction; his generals merely went along, however willingly. Hitler also had a hand in nearly all the major operational decisions concerning Germany's running of the war, and his was the leadership that took Germany and Europe into the greatest catastrophe of modern times.

Adolf Hitler and Charismatic Leadership When Hitler came to power in 1933 it was not by a majority vote. In spite of this his strength as a leader lay in the German nation's ecstatic belief in the Fuehrer. On 1st August 1934 the offices of Reich President and Reich Chancellor were merged to form the unique office of 'Fuehrer and Reich Chancellor' which was later shortened to 'Fuehrer'. According to its official Nazi conception Fuehrer power was 'free and independent, exclusive and unlimited'. This is in direct accordance with Weber's definition of charismatic leadership in that it rejected 'all ties to any external order in favour of the exclusive glorification of the genuine mentality of the prophet and the hero'. Hitler as a Visionary Hitler gained this 'charismatic status' partially because of his political skill and magnetism. He had experienced considerable success in cutting the unemployment figures and this was essential. However, it was somewhat overshadowed by his unshakeable conviction in his own historical role. Hitler often spoke of a 'mission' and claimed 'I go with the certainty of a sleepwalker along the path laid out for me by Providence'. It was this 'mission' achievable only for Hitler, that allowed him to transcend bureaucratic processess and become 'charismatic'.

Hitler's Style of Leadership This is certainly in keeping with the way in which he clumsily handled legislative procedures. Edward Peterson has asserted that Hitler 'was bored by paper work which meant he usually signed papers on administrative and personnel matters without reading them'. Hitler was a visionary, not a natural head of state and this is how he perceived his role. Ads by Google Leadership Transformational The ultimate leadership experience Develop your authentic leadership Restructuring-Leadership Leadership in Restructuring and Crises Situations. Success fees. Hitler's Restrictions as a Charismatic Leader Despite Hitler's notionally limitless power as Fuehrer, he was in fact acutely aware of how his power could be circumscribed. In order for him to maintain his prophetic status Hitler required the support of the Party and more importantly the German nation. Peterson has stated that Hitler 'never ran counter to the opinion of his Gauleiter, his district commissioners. Each of these men was in his power, but together they held him in theirs'. Similarly, Hitler was aware of his reliance on the German people and this affected the way in which he defined his role. He boldly declared 'I am not a dictator and never will be a dictator... as a dictator any clown can govern'. As such he conceived of his role in accordance with his unshakeable conviction of his mission; he did not dictate, he was Germany's guide. Unsurprisingly then, he did not believe in the existence of 'unlimited power'. However, he knew his weakness lay in his followers and this explains why in defeat he blamed Germany for his own military errors. Summary Hitler conceived of his role in terms of a duty to restore Germany to a great power, and this belief in the importance of his historic mission, shared by the German nation, enabled him to take on the characteristics of Weber's 'charismatic leader'. Hitler's own perception was a romantic notion of an artist with a vision, rather than

a politician with an aptitude for running a state machine. As such he could transcend official bureaucratic procedures in governing the country and he relied on German support to do so.

Read more at Suite101: Adolf Hitler and Charismatic Leadership: Hitler's Conception of his Role as Fuehrer |