Führerprinzip How good was Hitler as a military commander? Was he, as his former subordinates claimed after World War Two ended, a meddlesome amateur who kept them from conducting the war properly? What were his strengths and weaknesses, his goals and methods? The answers to these questions reveal a man who was indeed responsible for Germany's downfall, though not entirely in the way that his generals claimed. 'Hitler was ... determined to command personally.' Hitler was, first and foremost, determined to command personally. According to his so-called Leader Principle (Führerprinzip), ultimate authority rested with him and extended downward. At each level, the superior was to give the orders, the subordinates to follow them to the letter. In practice the command relationships were more subtle and complex, especially at the lower levels, but Hitler did have the final say on any subject in which he took a direct interest, including the details of military operations, that is, the actual direction of armies in the field.
Moreover, as time went on he took over positions that gave him ever more direct control. From leader (Führer) of the German state in 1934, he went on to become commander-in-chief of the armed forces in 1938, then commander-in-chief of the army in 1941. Hitler wanted to be the Feldherr, the generalissimo, exercising direct control of the armies himself, in much the same sense that Wellington commanded at Waterloo, albeit at a distance. Headquarters Throughout World War Two Hitler worked from one of several field headquarters, in contrast to other heads of state, who remained in their capital cities. A small personal staff attended to him, and the army high command also kept its headquarters, with a much more substantial staff, nearby. He held briefings with his senior military advisors, often in the company of Party officials and other hangers-on, each afternoon and late each night. His staff would present him with information on the status and actions of all units down to division strength or lower, as well as on special subjects such as arms production or the technical specifications of new weapons.
'... Hitler had an incredible memory for detail and would become annoyed at any discrepancies.'
Every point had to be correct and consistent with previous briefings, for Hitler had an incredible memory for detail and would become annoyed at any discrepancies. He supplemented that information by consulting with his field commanders, on very rare occasions at the front, more often by telephone or by summoning them back to his headquarters. As the briefing went on he would state his instructions verbally for his staff to take down and then issue as written orders.
There were several broad sets of problems with Hitler's style of command. These revolved around his personality, the depth of his knowledge, and his military experience, and they exacerbated corresponding problems in the German command system. After the war, the picture emerged of Hitler as a megalomaniac who refused to listen to his military experts and who, as a consequence, lost the war for Germany. That picture emerged due largely to the efforts of his former generals, who had their own reputations to protect. The truth was more complicated, even if Hitler's failings remained at the heart of it. Hitler's distrust of his generals Hitler did indeed distrust most of his generals - in part for good reason. He had to overcome a certain amount of timidity among his senior officers before the war - during the reoccupation of the Rhineland, for example - and his perception of them as over cautious set the tone for his relations with them.…