Book Review: Inside Hitler’s High Command


by Geoffrey P. Megargee

Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000. PP. xxi, 327. Index, bibliography, illus., charts. $34.95. ISBN:0-7006-1015-4

Inside Hitler’s High Command is a study of the German High Command. But it differs markedly from many other such studies, which often focus on Hitler and one or two other major personalities. Instead, Megargee casts his net much more broadly, covering a much wider set of personalities and just as importantly, the processes by which Hitler, the Armed Forces High Command (OKW) and the Army High Command (OKH) conducted the war on a day-to-day basis. The results are most impressive. Megargee traces the history of the German High Command during the tenure of the Nazi regime. One of the critical junctures here is Hitler’s creation of an Armed Forces Command Staff in 1935, which became OKW in the spring of 1938. Although smaller than OKH, its existence and position with Hitler served to dilute the power previously held by the Army General Staff. Megargee shows Hitler to be a very shrewd political operator here in that these changes, while major in nature, went almost unnoticed by those who would be effected the most. As time went on, the command system would be dominated by the struggle between OKH and OKW, with OKH fighting a losing battle against the steadily expanding OKW. Even then, Germany never developed an institution that could conduct joint planning. Instead, after 1941 OKH was confined to the eastern front, while OKW was concerned with the other theaters.

The book has lively and penetrating descriptions of the leading personalities in both OKW and OKH. Not only does Megargee deal with the standard subjects, such as Keitel, Jodl and Halder, but also lesser known but important individuals such as Rudolf Schmundt, Adolf Heusinger and Kurt Zeitzler. Equally important, Megargee delves into the personal relationships between these men and their individual dealings with Hitler. Finally, Megargee provides a careful and detailed discussion of how information was collected, processed and channeled through and between both headquarters. From all of this, Megargee comes to several broad conclusions. The first is that the disagreements between Hitler and his generals were more over matters of form than substance. All agreed with the Führer’s goals to varying degrees. Even Ludwig Beck, long held up as a courageous resister to Hitler, disagreed with Hitler not over Germany’s rearmament, only its pace. Likewise Beck’s disagreement with Hitler over Czechoslovakia, which led to his resignation, was more about the timing of the planned attack as opposed to Hitler’s stated goals. Megargee’s second conclusion is also of interest. While fairly critical of Hitler as a strategist, Megargee argues that the Führer had plenty of company in his lack of strategic acumen. Not one of Germany’s military leaders in either OKW or OKH emerged with even a decent grasp of strategy. Here the author lays the blame on the German system of professional military education, with its overly narrow, almost exclusively operational focus, and on the German General Staff’s traditional outlook on war fighting going back to the 19th century.

Megargee’s final major conclusion will be of interest more to professional military officers and observers of contemporary military affairs. A long time criticism of American military practice is that American staffs are too big and cumbersome, and this often makes them unwieldy and inefficient instruments for executing a commander’s wishes. Megargee argues that the German staffs were too small. There were simply too few officers to shoulder an ever-increasing work load, and this contributed to breakdowns in command, especially during periods of crisis.

Like all books, this one does have its flaws. In his discussion of the logistical preparations for Barbarossa, for example, Megargee concentrates on matters such as rail space, motor vehicles and fuel. Almost nowhere mentioned is the matter of<

Reviewer: R.L. DiNardo, USMC C&SC    

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