Thursday, July 14, 2016

Hitler's Generals - Corelli Barnett

Barnett wrote The Desert Generals, a book I very much enjoyed when I read it two and a half years ago. Which is why my dad bought this one, except Barnett is the editor, not the author. The book is a compilation of essays by different writers on various Nazi generals. Most writers are limited to one general, although a few write about two or even three. In most cases, they simply write two separate essays and combine them into one chapter, but Klaus-Juergen Mueller, who wrote about Witzleben, Stuelpnagel, and Speidel, tried to work chronologically, moving between each man's career as was prudent.

As with an collection of writings from various authors, it's a mixed bag. A few of the essays veer into hagiography, Carver's on Manstein and Blumenson on Rommel most notably. One of the more interesting aspects is to compare what the person writing the essay on a general says about him, versus how he's depicted in the other essays, where he can be either an ally or antagonist to the subject. So Carlo D'Este mentions that many of the other general regarded Model as a true believer Nazi, while Este thinks Model was simply an wise opportunist. Then I read Richard Lamb's essay on Kluge, who was replaced on the Western Front by Model, who Lamb describes as a 'fanatical Nazi'. Este also argues that Model was able to argue successfully with Hitler because he also approached things from a military, rather than political, perspective. But I think Robert O'Neill had detailed General Beck's attempts early in the war to do the same thing, without success, so I'm not sure Este is on the mark there.

It's probably not a bad resource to pick and choose from, depending on who you were interested in. Reading all of them back to back got repetitive fairly quickly. There's only so many battles for them to command in, so many opportunities for them to stand up to Hitler or not, or to have a chance to be brought into the plots to kill Hitler or not. It's a real mixed bag on that score, between the ones who were true believers, the ones who were always ready to remove Hitler, the opportunists, who swayed with the fortunes of the campaign, or the ones who didn't like Hitler, but felt a soldier was not supposed to meddle in politics.

Which did raise the question of when a military should defy its country's elected leader. You don't really want to start a trend of armies overthrowing their governments, because some of them aren't going to relinquish control for another round of elections. But this certainly seems like a case where it could hardly have made things worse.

'Perhaps Engel remembered his first meeting with Halder back in 1938. Then, too, he had found the General isolated and threatened. Since then he had trodden a long and hard path. Deluded by hopes of greatness both for himself and for the General Staff, Halder has abandoned his promise to oppose Hitler and followed a course of service without  loyalty and duty without honour that had resulted in the defeat of Germany's armies and the division and humiliation of the General Staff.'

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