A lot of people treat Adolf Hitler as if he was a military genius who was only done in by his own visions of unattainable excess. This is incorrect. He was actually a complete idiot who was done in by his own visions of unattainable excess. Why? Well:
10. He Cancelled the Worlds’ First Assault Rifle
When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, a new weapon was needed to help soldiers deal with the vast expanses of the Russian tundra and the millions of enemy soldiers inhabiting it – a weapon that could take the accuracy, range, and penetrating power of a rifle, and combine it with the high rate of fire, quick reload time, and maneuverability of a sub-machine gun. Developers went off to create such a weapon and the MbK 42, the world’s first assault rifle, was born.
And the initial results were astounding. Units outfitted with these new weapons held a gigantic advantage over the hapless Russian defenders, and used them to cut deep into Soviet lines. And then – during a political fight in Berlin, Hitler threw a hissy fit and decided to scrap the whole project. He just threw it right out the window, along with all of its massive potential. German commanders renamed it “MP43” (maschinenpistol 43) and continued to produce it behind Hitler’s back for a time but, when the Fuhrer found out about it, he cancelled it again.
By the time he listened to reason and finally brought it back, it was mid-1943 and the Russians were smashing the Germans back all along the front. Too little, too late.
9. He Cancelled the Me-262 Fighter Jets
Aviation in WWII was still dominated by propeller-driven aircraft. But guess what? That didn’t have to be the case. The Germans invented the first jet-powered aircraft, called the Me-262, and could have had it flying by mid-1943. However, in its early stages, the plane was designed as an interceptor – a fast-moving fighter. And that made sense, seeing as the main advantage it had over less modern aircraft was its tremendous speed.
But Hitler didn’t want interceptors; they weren’t explode-y enough. No, he wanted fighter-bombers. And thus, the whole project was, you guessed it, tabled. At least until he could get his fighter-bombers.
Few things here. First of all, there’s no reason Hitler couldn’t have allowed the Luftwaffe to make these jets instead of whatever propeller-driven crap the Allies were smacking out of the sky with ease, even while they developed his fighter-bombers. After all, the current models had been proven to be remarkably superior to whatever the Allies were flying. But Hitler wanted it done his way and, by the time these beasts saw the light of day in spring 1945, they were outnumbered ten thousand to one, and the skies were blackened by the omnipresent swarms of American and British bombers. Once again, too little, too late.
8. Never Allowed Retreat
Hitler was not a military strategist, which probably explains why he so fanatically enforced his absurd “no retreat, fight to the last man” policy to ridiculous ends. Then again, you don’t have to be a military strategist to realize that sheer willpower won’t do much good when stacked up against a freaking howitzer, so maybe he was just insane.
And we’re only half-kidding about that – Hitler was living in a fantasy world. He truly believed that the battlefield was a sappy Lifetime movie, where the honor and determination of his soldiers would see them through to victory, even if the enemy was every bit as determined and had a lot more men and firepower to back it up with. He was boasting this propagandic nonsense, even as the Russians were smashing Germany to pieces.
He first made the call at Stalingrad, when he denied Frederich Paulus permission to fight his way out of a Soviet encirclement while the Russian lines were still relatively weak. Instead, he told him to stay put and, as a result, the entire 6th Panzer Army was lost, as well as all hope of a German victory.
But even that didn’t teach Hitler didn’t a lesson. He denied permission to his troops who wanted to fall back to and fortify the eastern bank of the Rhine River in 1945, blow the bridges, and dare the western Allies to cross. This was clearly the smart choice, but Hitler sent them that same old message – “no retreat.” The Allies gleefully seized this opportunity, and neatly mopped up a huge chunk of the remaining resistance in the west, making their job that much easier. The Nazis that did finally retreat had no actual strategy in mind, aside from running as fast as possible and avoiding becoming worm food.
And not too much later, at Berlin itself, Hitler screwed himself over directly, by forcing his men to hold a helpless line against the Russians along the Oder River, rather than pulling them back to tighten up the inner defenses of the city itself. When the Russians reached the city mere days later, there were only about 80,000 Germans left to defend it, half of which were civilians. And that kind of sucked for Hitler, because there were 1.6 million Russians outside, and they were not in a good mood.
7. The German Army Was Unprepared for Winter War. In Russia.
When you hear the word “Russia”, snow should be one of the first things to come to mind. Well, that and potato vodka, but snow first and foremost. And that makes sense, since the Russian winter is notoriously violent and lasts much longer than the American one. So needless to say, if you’re planning on invading the place, at least bring a jacket, or some long johns, or something.
Hitler could have used this information in June 1941, when the invasion of Russia began. However, he didn’t feel like his mighty Wehrmacht needed winter gear, what with all their being unstoppable Aryan supermen and all that. He felt that all he needed to do was “kick in the front door and watch the whole rotten structure come crumbling down.” He literally thought he could bring down the Russians in as little as a month or two, and that everyone would be sipping tea back in Berlin by September. Did we mention Hitler was insane?
Six months later, the Germans had made some incredible gains, but had by no means beaten the Red Army. But they were so close – the German was at the outskirts of Moscow, and some forward positions even reported seeing the towers of the Kremlin from their field glasses. If Moscow fell, Russia would follow. And if Russia fell, the rest of the Allies would follow. The fate of the world hung in the balance.
But then, the advance stopped. Why? Old Man Winter. The Germans were inexcusably unprepared for the harsh cold of the Russian north – tanks froze in their tracks, men froze in their sleep, supply lines bogged down, and the whole mess came screeching to a four-month halt. Meanwhile, while it was by no means easy for them either, the Russians’ supply lines were much shorter, and they were fighting on their homeland, meaning the Russians used the lull in the fighting to recover as much as possible.
By Spring 1942, when the Germans renewed their offensive, it was too late – the Russians had recovered just enough during the winter to hold them over for year, after which the tide turned and the Germans would never again regain the initiative in the east. All because the winter stopped them outside Moscow.
6. He Misused the V1 and V2 Rockets
The German army in WW2 was responsible for a whole pantheon of revolutionary breakthroughs like the assault rifle, jet aircraft, and yes, even ballistic missiles. All of these inventions, seeing as how we’re still using variations of them 70 years later, would have been invaluable to the German war effort in the 1940’s, had they been placed in the right hands.
Unfortunately, they were placed in Hitler’s. We’ve already covered how this genius undermined the mammoth potential of both the MP43 assault rifle and the Me-262 jet fighter. But how could he take something as incredible as ballistic missile tech, and piss it away? How can you not take advantage of the ability to rain unholy Hellfire down upon your enemies from a control tower a hundred miles to the east?
Well, for starters, you could not use them against enemy troop formations or supply lines or other military targets, and instead use them against civilian populations far enough away to render the machines’ primitive targeting mechanisms moot. Which is exactly what Hitler did. Rather than striking at the Russian or the American soldiers massing along Germany’s borders, Hitler thought it would be a good idea to send them over to London, where they were either shot down with ease by the RAF, or just exploded on someone’s roof and inconvenienced the fire brigade for an afternoon. Oh, the sad, wasted potential.
5. Never Listened To His Generals
Not listening to your generals is such a waste. Why do you even have them if you don’t trust them to lead the troops on their own? Maybe, just maybe, they know a little better about strategics than you do since, you know, they put in years of hard work, and had the necessary talent and intelligence, to become a freaking general in the first place!
And the thing is – Hitler did listen to his generals early on. France, for example, fell when Field Marshall Rundstedt brilliantly tore through the Ardennes forest and circled around the Maginot line. A lot of people attribute that move to Hitler, when in fact, it was his commanders. And that worked brilliantly – France fell without much of a fight at all, and set themselves up for who-knows-how-many decades of “coward” jokes.
But as the war drew on, and Hitler grew less and less confident in Germany’s ability to win, he began controlling every little aspect of every little front. Keep in mind that he was not a military strategist, so his micromanaging helped exactly no one.
But not only did he micromanage – he didn’t listen to his generals when they begged him for permission to do things only an insane person wouldn’t do. Such as protecting Normandy – General Erwin Rommel suggested that the Allies would strike at Normandy and not Calais and, when it happened, he wanted to move his troops north to counter the attack. Hitler refused, because he moronically thought the real attack was still coming, even though hundreds of thousands of Allied troops were pouring ashore. By the time he finally listened to the generals that he hired, it was too late. France was lost.
4. Gave Control of the Luftwaffe to Goering
Most of you know about the Battle of Britain – when the RAF miraculously beat back the mighty German Luftwaffe over England, and saved the Allied cause. Well, it wasn’t just because the RAF were phenomenal pilots, or even because whenever a plane went down in battle, it was on their turf, meaning they could repair it and send it back into the fight, an advantage the Germans didn’t have. These factors were monumental, but the real reason England didn’t get bombed into oblivion is because Hitler let Reich President Hermann Goering take command of the Air Force.
Goering, like Hitler, had exactly zero commanding experience. So, when the time came and Hitler ordered him to bring England to its knees from the skies, Goering royally screwed up literally every chance they had. He switched targets too frequently, rather than concentrating on a single village or radar station until it was destroyed. This allowed the British to repair nearly all the damage the Luftwaffe did manage to do, before it become catastrophic.
Even as the casualty list mounted, and even as the British began outnumbering the Germans (due to the aforementioned ability to repair downed planes on both sides and send them to fight for the RAF), Hitler never stripped Goering of his command and hired a capable strategist. As a result, England beat the tar out of the Germans, and stayed in the war. And that brings us to the next point…
3. He Blundered Germany Into A Two-Front War. Again.
One of the things that did Germany in in the first World War was it being a two-front war, which was a scenario Hitler intended to avoid at all costs. Unfortunately, he wanted to invade Russia a whole lot more.
We just talked about the Battle of Britain, which was a fight Hitler started in an attempt to bring England (the last of the Western Allies) to its knees so he could concentrate on his primary goal – Russia. But then England actually won the battle. What Hitler should have done was to learn from the mistakes that were made, press the attack under improved leadership, and maybe even do what he hated and train the Luftwaffe to attack the RAF so he could get a land invasion going. He should have persevered until England was out of the fight completely. But instead, he said, “meh,” and decided to invade Russia anyway. England might have won that one little battle, but that didn’t mean they were a serious threat to Germany on mainland Europe or anything. He’d just deal with them later.
Of course, this didn’t work out – Russia didn’t fall, and England got stronger. In other words – Hitler had a legitimate two-front war, and it did Germany in.
2. He Declared War on the United States
When Japan attacked the United States in December 1941, Hitler followed through on his Tripartite agreement, and declared war on America as well. This was an idiotic move. For one thing, he didn’t have much of a reputation to uphold – he regularly signed contracts with countries and then stabbed them in the back. So honoring a commitment he made to Japan didn’t help anyone.
But of course, Hitler didn’t know that America could turn its weak army into a colossal military juggernaut the likes of which the planet had never seen, did he? So you can’t really blame him for taking that “oh, they’re not much of a threat” approach to America, the same way he did to England and to Russia.
Actually, you kind of can. America wasn’t exactly a third-world nation, even in the midst of the Great Depression. It still had tremendous industrial strength, and a gigantic resource pool to fuel it. Yes, their military was as small as it had ever been up to that point, but it still shouldn’t have surprised an economic and political genius like Hitler (this is true; we just said he was a military moron) that the US turned on the war machine, combined it with master political marketing and propaganda, and came out with a huge military advantage. Hitler, above all others, should have seen it coming when the Americans entered the war, and soon drowned their enemies in a sea of seemingly endless men and materials.
1. Obsession with Stalingrad
In October 1942, Hitler slightly changed the objectives for Army Group South in Russia. Their original destination was the Caucasus oil fields to the south of mainland Russia. If captured, the gigantic oil reserves would turn Germany’s already-formidable economy into an empire. However, the city of Stalingrad (now Volgograd), the last bastion of Russian troops on the eastern front, still stood not too far out of Army Group South’s way. Hitler decided to knock two birds out with one stone: divert a large chunk of Army Group South to capture Stalingrad, and have everyone home by Christmas.
Unfortunately, and this seems to be a theme with Hitler, his target did not give in to defeat as quickly or as easily as he thought it would. The Russian 69th army took tremendous casualties in the battle, but they held their ground and would not surrender the city. But rather than pulling his men back to capture the far more important Caucasus region, with plans to return to the city once they were re-strengthened, Hitler actually stripped troops already in the Caucasus away from their positions and sent them to Stalingrad. It didn’t help – the Germans simply could not break the Russian army in and around the city. Still, Hitler’s obsession with the fight cost him the Caucusus, which was the entire reason he invaded Russia in the first place.
What a maroon.
Written By David Clark