Adolf Hitler rose to political prominence by quickly identifying his opponents' weaknesses and turning them to his advantage. As a military leader, however, he rarely exercised the same talent for exploiting weak spots. Instead, he threw the bulk of his armies against his enemies' strongest positions, sacrificing much-needed forces at Stalingrad and Tobruk, among other places.
Had he done otherwise, writes Bevin Alexander, Hitler might well have carried the day. His strategy until mid-1940 had been flawless, Alexander argues: "He isolated and absorbed state after state in Europe, gained the Soviet Union as a willing ally, destroyed France's military power, threw the British off the Continent, and was left with only weak and vulnerable obstacles to an empire covering most of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East." After 1940, however, Hitler committed a legion of failures. Ignoring his field commanders' urging, he refused to commit armored divisions to seize the Suez Canal, which would have secured most of the Mediterranean and given the Third Reich easy access to oil. He diverted resources from the navy, allowing the Allies to gain control of the Atlantic Ocean and maintain nearly unbroken supply lines between the United States and Britain. And he weakened Germany's abilities to wage war by turning his armies' energies to carrying out the Final Solution. These and other miscalculations, Alexander suggests, cost the Reich many hard-won strategic advantages, and eventually any chance of victory.
Second-guessing history is an endeavor fraught with peril, and in any event, many historians have discounted the possibility that the Nazi regime could have emerged from global war undefeated. But Alexander's arguable exercise in counterfactuals soon gives way to a thoughtful, generally uncontroversial survey of the war in Europe, one that is of use to students of military history and tactics. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
Hitler's skills at spotting an opponent's weaknesses brought him an uninterrupted string of victories from the fall of Weimar in 1933 to the fall of France in 1940. Afterwards, argues Alexander (Robert E. Lee's Civil War), he began believing his own press clippings. Invading Russia became a recipe for defeat when Hitler insisted on simultaneously persecuting a population he could have won over and pursuing offensives without regard for the operational situation. Above all, Alexander continues, Hitler failed to see that Germany's way to victory led not through Moscow but through Cairo. Even a fraction of the resources squandered in Russia would have enabled Germany to create a Middle Eastern empire that would have forced the U.S.S.R. to remain neutral, marginalized Britain and kept the U.S. from projecting enough power across the Atlantic to invade the continent against an intact Wehrmacht. This is an often-rehashed, often refuted position. German scholars like Andreas Hillgruber and Gerhard Schreiber have successfully and painstakingly demonstrated that the Mediterranean was a strategic dead end, despite its seeming operational possibilities. As a counterpoint to Hitler's shortcomings as a war leader, Alexander offers the usual Wehrmacht heroesDRommel, Manstein, Guderian. In praising their operational achievements, however, he omits discussion of the generals' consistent collaboration with their f hrer in military matters, or about the absence of significant dissent throughout the war. Instead, Alexander accepts the generals' long-discredited argument that had Hitler been willing to listen to those who understood the craft of war, things might have been different. This one-sided perspective significantly limits the book's value to both specialists and general readers. (Dec. 5)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.