THE FIRST SOLDIER by Stephen G. Fritz


Hitler as Military Leader
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Not a biography but a readable scholarly overview of how Hitler managed Germany’s armed forces.

Fritz (History/East Tennessee State Univ.; Ostkrieg: Hitler’s War of Extermination in the East, 2011, etc.) begins in 1933 when Hitler met with military leaders and assured them that he would return Germany’s armed forces to the respect they enjoyed before 1918. Everyone understood that this would require going to war. Except for preferring more time to prepare, none objected, and few had problems with the cruelty with which he wanted to wage it. Most complained about his interference. None of this is controversial, but readers will take notice when the author writes that the image of a “fanatical, incompetent, amateurish, and irrational Hitler who at every turn frustrated or undermined the professional judgments of his generals” originated from the generals themselves in successful postwar efforts to shift the blame for their failures. Fritz maintains that Hitler was a self-educated military buff with solid technical knowledge, adding that he rejected invading France following the 1914 Schlieffen Plan and pushed through the dazzlingly successful attack in the Ardennes forest. There was probably no strategy that would defeat Russia, but his plan for a focused two-pronged assault made more sense than the generalized advance that occurred in June 1941. The author’s villain is the dysfunctional high command itself, especially Franz Halder, chief of the general staff, a “crafty and devious bureaucratic infighter” but a mediocre strategist who fed Hitler misleading intelligence or withheld it entirely. Although he did not hesitate to bully generals, Hitler usually defended his decisions with arguments or elaborate memos and paid attention to opposing views. Fritz adds that he was an imaginative strategist, although his aggressiveness served him poorly once the Allies got their act together in 1942, and he ultimately lost touch with reality.

An expert account of Nazi war strategy that concludes that Hitler was not without military talent.

Pub Date: Nov. 13th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-300-20598-5
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2018


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