The Götterdämmerung of Europe – Legacy of the German Military


In the end, the German military, by its skilled resistance, managed to wreck most of the Reich and Europe as well, a horrific accomplishment.

To the end, the Germans fought with fanaticism. Their crimes in Poland and the Soviet Union, as well as those the Soviets unleashed against German civilians in reply, provide a partial explanation for the tenacity of the defense in the east. But the Germans were hardly less tenacious in the west. A fuller explanation lies in the ideological commitment throughout the Wehrmacht. That commitment, that belief in Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich, remained strong to the final days of the war.

American commanders had shown considerable improvement in the conduct of military operations in 1945. The drive to the Rhine displayed a willingness to exploit every advantage the enemy provided. Montgomery’s refusal to allow Simpson’s Ninth Army to cross the Rhine merely confirmed his inability to understand the conduct of operations beyond the set piece battle. By contrast, U.S. commanders in this campaign, and not just Patton, displayed a superior understanding of exploitation and maneuver warfare that led to the greatest American victory of the war: encirclement of the Ruhr by First and Ninth U.S. Armies.

But the Soviets displayed the greatest abilities at the operational level of war. From Bagration, which took out virtually all of Army Group Center in summer 1944, to the operations that destroyed German forces in East Prussia and Poland in winter 1945, Soviet commanders exhibited outstanding capabilities in deception, planning, and the conduct of operations. Their victories were far superior to anything the Germans had achieved early in the war. And yet the casualties Soviet forces suffered, while completely within the perceptions of Stalin’s ideology, carried political and social consequences that were to burden the Soviet Union to its demise.

On the other side of the hill, the German generals waged their war with total disregard for the long-range prospects of their people. A major theme in the postwar memoirs of some German generals followed the line, “If the Führer had only listened to me”; they clearly implied that if he had, the Wehrmacht would have fought more successfully and for longer. In reality, if Hitler had listened to his generals more often, and if the war had stretched into summer 1945, the Americans would have dropped the first atomic bomb on Germany, a fact the generals were still incapable of seeing decades after the war. In the end, the German military, by its skilled resistance, managed to wreck most of the Reich and Europe as well, a horrific accomplishment.


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