Tag Archives: Third Reich

Hitler Triumphant: Alternate Histories of World War II edited by Peter G. Tsouras

I’ve always been a bit dubious about alternate histories. I’ve always thought of them as ‘what might of happened, but didn’t happen’. Therefore if it didn’t happen, why are we worrying about it? But then again, I guess thats like saying that just because something is in the past then it’s irrelevant, as its behind us. Just as understanding the past gives us a handle on the future, understanding how past events turned out how they did probably gives us a firmer grip on that handle. Confused? me too! Now that we’ve established that alternate histories and conspiracy theories are not the same thing, lets take a look at this thought provoking book.

One thing you can say about Hitler, is that perhaps no-one in history has shown such inconsistency when it comes to decision making – at times he had an impeccable intuition, and at other times managed to cock things up when it was far easier to get it right. It is, surely, a matter of conjecture to imagine a scenario in which Hitler might have won the war – the strength of the US and Soviet Union made it pretty unlikely in my mind. But, certainly, some aspects of the war might have turned out very differently.

Let’s consider some of the chapters. In ‘May Day’ by Nigel Jones, Lord Halifax becomes Premier instead of Churchill, who is made Minister for War. Churchill is killed flying over France in 1940, the Panzers do not pause before Dunkirk, the BEF is overwhelmed and Hallifax sues for peace. This set of circumstances were by no means impossible. Hallifax seemed to be everyones preferred candidate to succeed Chaimberlain. Churchill was lucky to escape harm during the war. And, above all, Hallifax did not have the gumption to keep up the fight when things got tough.

Operation Felix sees the Spanish colluding in the Axis, and supporting the capture of Gibraltar. Of course without such a strategic port the Mediterranean would have been closed to British shipping, Malta overwhelmed, North Africa seriously weakened and Italy strengthened. Again, if Spain had joined in the war on the Axis side, it is hard to see how Gibraltar could have outalsted a prolonged onslaught, although one suspects its defenders might have put up a serious fight. A couple of chapters consider how the war might have turned out if Mussolini and the Italians had performed better than they did, and although this is mere conjecture, a stronger Italy would have presented less of a millstone to the Third Reich.

One very interesting scenario is the co-opting of Nazi and Islamic interests in the conquest of the Middle East. It is well known that Hitler courted the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, an extremist islamic figure. An uprising in Palestine and Iraq would have seriously undermined British control of vital oil reserves, and the route to India. A further chapter sees the Caucasus – on the flank of the Middle East and an oil field itself – captured by Kurt Student‘s paratroopers, following on from Crete. As for the Eastern Front overall, successive chapters see Moscow captured by the Wehrmacht, and the beleagured Sixth Army at Stalingrad breaks out and joins up with the rest of the German Army, avoiding a serious strategic defeat that in the event turned the tide on the Eastern Front.

Going back to the Mediterranean, Malta was lost under prolonged bombardment, after supply convoys failed to get through. The loss of Malta would have removed a thorn in the side of the Axis supply routes to North Africa, removed a key staging post from the Royal Navy, and gave the Italiand and Germans a platform to control the Med. The loss of Malta was something that was a very real risk, I feel.

Finally, and perhaps most controversially, the last chapter considers what might have happened had the US Generals prevailed and an early invasion been launched in the Cotentin peninsula before 1944. In this scenario, a smaller, poorly trained and unprepared allied army is eventually thrown back into the sea, after landing in too small an beachead. Hitler is then free to concentrate on the Eastern Front, while US and British relations are irreparably damaged. Oddly, this scenario sees Patton and Monty becoming firm friends, reminding us that it is, after all, an alternative history!

I found this a very thought provoking read. Some of the scenarios were more likely in my opinion than others, but considering how various decisions were made and events transpired between 1939 and 1945, the war could have taken a lot longer and cost many more lives, had the allies made more errors and Hitler made less. It would have taken a coincidental set of events, but did not such a course of events derail Operation Market Garden?

Hitler Triumphant is published by Pen and Sword

1 Comment

Filed under Book of the Week, historiography, World War Two

Hitler: Dictator or Puppet? by Andrew Norman

Plenty of theories have been advanced about Adolf Hitler – his background, his inspirations and his mental state. But to my knowledge this book by Andrew Norman is one of the first to assert that he was suffering from Schizophrenia.

Norman begins by taking a detailed look at Hitler’s childhood, his family and his upbringing. One assertion is that Hitler knew plenty of Jews early in life and was certainly no anti-semite until later in life. Indeed, anti-semitism had existed in Europe long before 1933, and certainly long before Hitler. Add to this mix his attitudes to Marxism, the impact of World War One, the crisis in Germany between 1918 and 1933 and we have what we could describe as either a toxic mix of causes, or an extremely unfortunate set of circumstances coming together to create a monster.

One of the most striking things in this book is the examination of Hitler’s early influences. One is particularly distubring, namely Lanz van Liebenfels. Liebenfels was a former monk, no less, who edited and produced a rather cheap, base anti-semite magazine entitled Ostara. Hitler never seems to have acknowledged his sources, particularly once he hit the ‘big stage’. Perhaps, as Norman suggests, Hitler did not want to lessen his own image. One influence I was not aware of is that of Houston Stewart Chaimberlain. I’m even more surprised, given that Chaimberlain was born in Southsea in 1855! Chaimberlain left Britain at the age of 14 to undergo treatment for poor health, and while visiting health resorts in Germany was accompanied by a Prussian tutor. Chaimberlain was influenced towards German history and culture. Chaimberlain was later a great supporter of Hitler.

The conclusion is that Hitler was unhinged by his disfunctional family background, under the influence of some particularly nasty influences from an early age, and particularly susceptible given his possible schizophrenia. The former condition would certainly explain his undoubted delusions, be it his faith in astrology, or his ‘command delusions, which led him to follow the advice of a mysterious ‘voice’ rather than his generals sound reasoning. Clearly not a decision making policy that one would vote for in the next general election, thats for sure.

Anyone who has even flicked through Mein Kampf will be well aware that it is full of ranting and raving, and is a disparate collection of diatribes on various subjects, from Judaism, Bolshevism and even sexually transmitted diseases and poverty. It certainly adds to the feeling that Hitler was not a person capable of rational thought processes. I guess this is where the title of the book comes from – rather than being a Dictator in control, Hitler was in fact a puppet of his influences and his illness.

Hitler’s relationships with women also come under scrutiny. Namely, that he had an improper relationship with his young niece, who died in suspicious circumstances, and also that his relationship with Eva Braun was unusual to say the least. This all adds to a picture of a person who, clearly, was not quite right in the head in any sense. Even his own close family seem to have had very little time for him.

But does all of this really matter? Firstly, we can chew over the causes of Hitler’s behaviour all we like, but it doesn’t change the fact that he and his regime commited some of the most heinous crimes in history. Contrary to popular opinion, men such as Stalin may have killed more people, but it is the horrific, industrial and hateful manner of the Nazi regime that still shocks today. And surely understanding how such a person came into being, is crucial to recognising evil today. Thankfully, I doubt very much whether someone in Hitler’s condition would reach prominence in the modern world, and for that we must be very grateful.

Hitler: Dictator or Puppet? is published by Pen and Sword

23 Comments

Filed under Book of the Week, politics, Uncategorized, World War One, World War Two

The Third Reich 1919-1939: The Nazis Rise to Power by Andrew Rawson

At first glance the title of this book might appear to be a glaring mistake – didn’t Hitler and the Nazi party really come to power in 1933? So shouldn’t that be the true start of the Third Reich? What Andrew Rawson does here, however, is show that the Nazi Germany that went to war in 1939 was a product of developments in Germany since 1919.

Many military historians – myself included – often ignore broader social aspects. Does a battle really begin when the plan is first hatched, or when the first shot is fired? By limiting our analysis of any war to when it is declared, are we not completey ignoring years of developments that took us up to that point? The SS Panzer Divisions that fought at Arnhem in 1944 did not miraculously turn up on the battlefield from nowhere – the SS was founded in the 1920’s and its members were the product of years of Nazi youth organisations and indoctrination – no wonder they fought so fanatically.

Where this book is also useful is trying to get a handle on the numerous departments and organisations in the Third Reich. In terms of police alone, there were the Orpo, the Kripo, the Sipo, and the Gestapo – all with different functions! Confusing? Ever so slightly! It does seem that totalitarian regimes such as Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany bred incredibly complex state structures, particularly for the purpose of controlling the people.

The numerous short biographies also show how thin the line was between prospering and failing in Nazi Germany. Given that Hitler seems to have had a policy of playing rival subordinates off against each other, its not surprising that ambitious and scheming men such as Himmler and Goebels floated to the top of the pile.

The sheer number of departments, officials and conflicting intersts in the Government of Nazi Germany suggests not only how chaotic the party and the state were, but also, paradoxically, how ruthless the lower level administrators were at running the country. The more and more I read about Nazi Germany, the more of an impression I have that it was run on the whims of Hitler and a small number of leaders, backed up by a vast an remarkable administration machine.

I found this a very interesting read – full of facts and information, and well illustrated with some good photographs. It would be an ideal purchase for the military historian wanting to learn more about German Society and the development of the Nazi state, or indeed for any student studying Germany between the wars.

The Third Reich 1919-1939 is published by The History Press

10 Comments

Filed under Book of the Week, social history, World War Two