The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hitler: Military Commander By Rupert Matthews, Arcturus, £ 9.99

Adolf Hitler was probably one of the most infamous men of the 20th century. A large number of biographies have been written on him, but historians still debate his conduct of one of the greatest carnages unleashed on humanity. Hitlerís contemporaries had varied opinions about his abilities. While some described him as the greatest field commander in history, some dismissed him as ďmerely a jumped up Bohemian corporalĒ. In this book, Rupert Matthews attempts a fresh evaluation of Hitler as a military commander.

Matthews begins by analyzing Hitlerís successes. Hitler was the first German civilian ruler to establish civilian supremacy over the Prussian Generalitat. He brought the generals under his control through constitutional and unconstitutional means ó threats, blackmail, bribes and surveillance by the Gestapo. Hitler, like Stalin, introduced political officers who worked as watchdogs vis-à-vis the field commanders. His immense popularity with the masses and his success in revitalizing the German economy between 1933-38 enabled him to push through the legal framework that subordinated the German war machine to the chancellorís office. .

Next, Hitler took steps to creatE a force structure to implement his aggressive designs. In the inter-war period, two lobbies jostled for supremacy within the German army. General Ludwig Beck led the larger group which demanded an infantry-artillery orientation for the future German army, while a relatively minor group of officers under Erick Manstein and Heinz Guderian argued that panzers and dive bombers would be the new war winners. Matthews credits Hitler for backing the right horse. Thus in 1939, the Wehrmacht was equipped with panzers and Stuka dive bombers for implementing the Blitzkrieg style of warfare, which changed the face of battle forever.

Matthews notes that at his best, Hitler was one of the best strategists of the 20th century. He deserves praise for accepting Mansteinís plan ó the panzer thrust through Ardennes enabled the Third Reich to destroy France in 1940. Hitlerís intuitive genius was also one of the principal factors behind the successful German invasion of Scandinavia.

But he also made mistakes, like the Unternehemen Barbarossa. He seriously underestimated Bolshevik Russiaís industrial capacity, a fact that he admitted just before his death. Matthews claims that the war in Russia was lost in the autumn of 1943 with the failure of the Kursk Offensive. The attack at Kursk could have succeeded if Hitler had accepted Mansteinís plan and allowed the offensive to roll in April 1943. But, Hitler decided to wait for new Tiger tanks. So the attack began in July by which time the Red Army had several defensive belts in position. After the Germans failed at Kursk, the road to Berlin lay open.

All in all, Matthews presents a balanced account. He concludes saying that Hitler was a total failure. But surely the rise to such a failure was a great achievement in itself.

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