Hitler's Wehrmacht 1939-1945

By Bookbinder, Paul | The Historian, Summer 2018 | Go to article overview

Hitler's Wehrmacht 1939-1945


Bookbinder, Paul, The Historian


Hitler's Wehrmacht 1939-1945. By Rolf-Dieter Muller. Translated by Janice W. Ancker. (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 2016. Pp. 234. $40.00.)

Rolf-Dieter Muller provides the serious scholar with a detailed study of the creation of the army that Hitler would command during WWII. He describes the obstacles faced in preparing this army for war in a shorter time than his generals felt necessary and in keeping his army in the field against enemies with greater manpower and productive capacities. Muller highlights some of the impressive accomplishments of the Wehrmacht as well as its failures, both organizationally and logistically, and within its officer corps. He also presents the ways in which this often excellent fighting machine played a role in the racist-based genocidal policies of Hitler's Nazi regime.

One of the successes Muller assesses--preparing the Wehrmacht for war--had been achieved by 1939. "When we take into account the situation at the end of the 20s," he states, "when the Reichswehr was still limited to testing a few tractor models under great secrecy in Soviet Russia, the results achieved by the German army are remarkable" (52-53). He also praises the efficient system of personnel replacement supported by careful training that "was most apparent in the Wehrmacht's tactical and operational superiority over its enemies even in unfavorable conditions" (92). "It had attained a unique combination of discipline, cohesiveness and flexibility" (Muller & Volkmann, 344). (1) This highly efficient tactical training and operational thinking utilized concentration of force, surprise penetration, encirclement, and annihilation of the enemy in decisive battles. Muller identifies General Erich von Mannstein as an outstanding tactician who had refined these techniques utilizing initiative, speed, risk-taking, and mobility that were essential to victory in the west.

Though impressed by the Wehrmacht that Nazi Germany had produced by 1939, Muller sees the seeds of Germany's defeat in its early successes. He concludes that Hitler had overreached by taking on the Russians and the Americans and had miscalculated Germany's productive limits, which had been reached relatively early in the war. "Overall German vehicle manufacturing could not fulfill expectations," he notes. "By 1943 large parts of the army were forced to de-motorize and rely on traditional yoked horses, and on motor vehicles that had been converted to wood carburetion systems, and on bicycles" (54). Because of the lack of suitable combat vehicles, the Wehrmacht was overextended from the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. These limitations were compounded when army resources were diverted into the Balkans to bail out Germany's Italian allies. Most decisively for the Soviet campaign and the overall effort of the Wehrmacht, Hitler's assertive role in the prosecution of the war had disastrous effects on the army's performance. Muller judges that Hitler's "overblown conceit" became crucial when he took control of the army in 1941 "and culminated with his monitoring even the smallest tactical detail" (54).

The Germans also lost the war of the factories. The United States was the leader in production, and Britain stepped up production as well. Even the Russians surprised the Germans with their productive capabilities. As Muller indicates, the Germans were ahead in many areas of research but lacked sufficient factories. …

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