Hitler as Military Commander
John Strawson

This book was first published in 1971, and was reprinted by Pen & Sword Military Classics in 2003. The author served as a British officer in the Middle East and Italy during WW2. The literature on Hitler and his way of leading the war is quite volumious, so is there a reason to read a book that was published almost 40 years ago? Well, if it is good, there’s enough reason.

The first two chapters deal with the rise of Hitler and the revival of the Reichswehr/Wehrmacht. Most of it is well-known ground for anyone familiar with the history of the 1920’s and 30’s, but it explains why Hitler managed to gain such control over the officer corps. The next three chapters cover the early Blitzkrieg years, when the relatively easy victories made both the Germans and the rest of the world think that Hitler couldn’t be stopped. The author describes how Hitler, through a combination of bluff, deception, surprise and luck, managed to stun the European powers. Strawson, who thus far has given Hitler grudging admiration for his achievements, devotes a chapter on the major sin of any commander: the dissipation of his military assets. In the early summer of 1941, there were several things that had to be done, but there were not enough forces to do it properly. Hitler, in a classic example of imperial overstretch, tried anyway, with the fatal attack on the Soviet Union sealing his fate. The rest of the book deals with Hitler’s failure to recognize the problems, and how his decisions became increasingly erratic. Given that it was written in the heyday of the Cold War, it is somewhat surprising that the author gives the Soviets their due; all too many authors still see D-Day as the decisive event in the fall of the Third Reich.

There are 33 b/w photos, most of them rather indifferent and not really adding to the book. Some of the photos are really poor, and I cannot understand why they were included in the first place. Seven maps show different stages of the war, and give a general idea of the operations at the time in question. While several operations get covered in some detail, the occupation of Denmark and Norway gets short shrift, and it is never clear what a gamble it was. Apart from that oversight, I got the impression that the diverse operations receive the attention they deserve.

“Hitler as Military Commander” is a very readable and concise book, and serves to remind us that despite the school of thought that individuals don’t have that great an impact on the flow of history, Hitler’s is a case that cannot be dismissed. The popular view of Hitler as an amateur dabbling in grand strategy is challenged, and Strawson points out that Hitler’s often unorthodox thinking was instrumental to the early successes. Readers who want to concentrate on Hitler’s role as military commander should give this book a closer look.

(Reviewed by B. Hellqvist)

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