Hitler's siege mentality

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historygeek2021
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Hitler's siege mentality

Post by historygeek2021 » 23 Feb 2022 04:19

RHS Stolfi in Hitler's Panzers East posits that Hitler's grand strategy for WW2 was to enable Germany to survive a long-term siege by the Allies. In contrast to the popular notion that Hitler wanted to wage a fast "blitzkrieg" war without stressing the economy, Stolfi states that nearly all of Hitler's military decisions were intended to expand the siege lines around Germany and give it access to the greatest amount of raw materials. Stolfi gives the following examples:

(1) The invasion of Norway, intended to ensure the continued flow of iron ore from Sweden.
(2) Early plans for an invasion of Belgium in the fall and winter of 1939-40, intended to create a buffer between the Allies and the Ruhr industrial area.
(3) The late attack on the Maginot Line in June 1940, intended to ensure German occupation of Lorraine iron ore.
(4) The invasion of Greece and Yugoslavia in March 1941, intended to protect the Ploesti oil fields from British bombers.
(5) Hitler's early obsession with taking Leningrad in Barbarossa, intended to protect the flow of Swedish iron through the Baltic, as well as nickel from Finland.
(6) Hitler's later obsession with taking Ukraine in Barbarossa, intended to secure the agricultural area and iron and manganese mines.
(7) Hitler's obsession with taking Crimea, to prevent Soviet bombers from reaching the Ploesti oil fields.
(8) Hitler's obsession with the Caucasus, which led to the disaster at Stalingrad.

Some other examples of a siege mentality from Hitler:

(9) His emphasis on raw material self-sufficiency in the 1930s, carried out by the Four Year Plan.
(10) The significant production of agricultural equipment to be sent to the Ukraine in 1942, described in USSBS.
(11) Karl-Heinz Frieser in The Blitzkrieg Legend, page 71, quotes Hitler as saying it was stupid to anticipate a quick war won with a surprise attack, but rather that Germany must prepare for a long war.
(12) Richard Overy quotes Hitler in May 1939 as saying, "the government must be prepared for a war of ten to fifteen years of duration" during which the needs of the army would be a "bottomless pit". https://www.jstor.org/stable/2595019?re ... b_contents

It seems that Stolfi is fundamentally correct in his analysis of Hitler's strategy for WW2. It's strange that few other authors have made this point. There are of course, isolated statements that can be found here and there suggesting Hitler hoped for a fast war (Tooze quotes Keitel telling Thomas early in 1940 that Hitler did not believe Germany could survive a long war), but his military decisions consistently emphasized the need to secure vital economic areas rather than to follow the purely militarily preferable course.

Hitler's siege strategy seems to be based on his experience in WWI. To Hitler, it appeared that the German army had stood undefeated in WWI but that morale in the home front had collapsed due to the British blockade and political subversives. Hitler believed that the German army could indefinitely hold out on siege lines like it did in the trenches of WWI as long as the home front was adequately provided for and any internal opposition was ruthlessly crushed.

This also explains Hitler's insistence on making U-boats long after they were defeated and his obsession with continuing to produce bombers to attack civilian targets in England late into the war. In the summer of 1943, Goering asked Hitler to authorize a shift in production from bombers to fighters, but Hitler insisted on making bombers to terror bomb England. In February 1944, Goering again asked Hitler to switch production to fighters. Hitler replied: "I want bombers, bombers, bombers. Your fighters are no damned good, anyway." Quoted in Goering: The Rise and Fall of the Notorious Nazi Leader by Roger Manvell and Heinrich Fraenkel, page 432.

Hitler wanted U-boats and bombers because he believed the war would be won by whichever side's population held out longer in a contest of wills. He was embarrassed and humiliated that Germany had lost its will to fight in 1918, and thought that Germany could break Britain's will this time in a decades long siege war. He was wrong.

gebhk
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Re: Hitler's siege mentality

Post by gebhk » 23 Feb 2022 09:00

I am no expert on economics so cannot argue the merits of individual examples in detail. However the concept put forward here makes no logical sense to me, I'm afraid. If the aims of Nazi Germany were to prosecute a siege why start a war of aggression in the first place? In 1939 and for the foreseable future, the only likely threat to Germany was the Soviet Union. Why then remove the buffer between it and Germany (Poland) and bring the Soviet Union closer to Germany's borders? Why attack it's potential allies against the Soviet Union, France and Britain? And later, why declare war on the USA? If all you wish to do is withstand a siege, you strengthen defences, avoid conflict, build up reserves of stores and cultivate allies. Hitler did the opposite. And, of course, you cannot win wars by withstanding sieges, you merely survive if successful. You can't conquer anything by withstanding sieges. Yet Hitler clearly commenced his war with the objective of conquering. By its nature a siege is primarily passive. I see nothing to suggest that Hitler's strategy was thus.

The examples you give, by and large, no more argue for a siege mantality than they do for the opposite. All they evidence is that Hitler was aware of (and, some would argue, perhaps oversnsitive to) the economic implications of waging a war. These (ie securing resources for one's own operations and denying them to the enemy) reamain the same whether a siege or attack is being carried out.

The argument about aircraft seem particularly counter-intuitive to me. How is an insistence on building bombers (an offensive weapon) instead of fighters (a defensive weapon) evidence of a 'siege mantality'? Sooner evidence of the opposite (ie the desire to take the fight to the enemy), I would have thought?

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Re: Hitler's siege mentality

Post by historygeek2021 » 23 Feb 2022 15:30

gebhk wrote:
23 Feb 2022 09:00
I am no expert on economics so cannot argue the merits of individual examples in detail. However the concept put forward here makes no logical sense to me, I'm afraid. If the aims of Nazi Germany were to prosecute a siege why start a war of aggression in the first place? In 1939 and for the foreseable future, the only likely threat to Germany was the Soviet Union. Why then remove the buffer between it and Germany (Poland) and bring the Soviet Union closer to Germany's borders? Why attack it's potential allies against the Soviet Union, France and Britain? And later, why declare war on the USA? If all you wish to do is withstand a siege, you strengthen defences, avoid conflict, build up reserves of stores and cultivate allies. Hitler did the opposite. And, of course, you cannot win wars by withstanding sieges, you merely survive if successful. You can't conquer anything by withstanding sieges. Yet Hitler clearly commenced his war with the objective of conquering. By its nature a siege is primarily passive. I see nothing to suggest that Hitler's strategy was thus.

The examples you give, by and large, no more argue for a siege mantality than they do for the opposite. All they evidence is that Hitler was aware of (and, some would argue, perhaps oversnsitive to) the economic implications of waging a war. These (ie securing resources for one's own operations and denying them to the enemy) reamain the same whether a siege or attack is being carried out.

The argument about aircraft seem particularly counter-intuitive to me. How is an insistence on building bombers (an offensive weapon) instead of fighters (a defensive weapon) evidence of a 'siege mantality'? Sooner evidence of the opposite (ie the desire to take the fight to the enemy), I would have thought?
There are three relevant issues:

(1) The anticipated length of the war,
(2) The corresponding management of the economy, and
(3) The corresponding battlefield decisions.

Some historians (the Alan Milward camp) have taken the view that Hitler anticipated a short war through blitzkrieg offensives and correspondingly allowed the economy to produce consumer goods so the people would not face hardship and revolt (like Hitler thought they did in WWI). Richard Overy and Adam Tooze have shown instead that Hitler prepared the economy for a long war through immense spending on autarky programs. Overy concludes that the autarky programs (rather than consumer spending) are what held back military production. Emile Despres made a similar point immediately after the war, but was largely ignored until a poster here found his article: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1925424?se ... b_contents

Stolfi is the only author I've seen make the connection between Hitler's long-war economic autarky program and his battlefield decisions. Hitler did not order lightning offensives to quickly destroy the enemy and bring about a quick end to the war. Rather, he consistently ordered the military to settle for limited or economic objectives. Fall Gelb was intended only to secure the Netherlands, Belgium and perhaps northeastern France. Hitler tried repeatedly to get the panzers to slow down, culminating in the May 17 and May 24 halt orders. Likewise, in Barbarossa, he persistently requested the panzers to slow down and settle for limited victories, culminating in the diversion of Army Group Center's panzer groups to Leningrad and the Ukraine rather than follow the unanimous advice of his generals to go for Moscow. In 1942, rather than focus on the destruction of the Red Army, Hitler chose to over-extend the OstHeer by going after economic objectives in the Caucasus.

Michael Kenny
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Re: Hitler's siege mentality

Post by Michael Kenny » 23 Feb 2022 17:03

Perhaps the error is in conflating a short offensive campaign to seize territory with the length of the defensive war needed to persuade the loser it was not going to reclaim its lands.

Art
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Re: Hitler's siege mentality

Post by Art » 23 Feb 2022 18:08

historygeek2021 wrote:
23 Feb 2022 04:19
(1) The invasion of Norway, intended to ensure the continued flow of iron ore from Sweden.
And also bases for naval war, which was an original impetus for planning
(2) Early plans for an invasion of Belgium in the fall and winter of 1939-40, intended to create a buffer between the Allies and the Ruhr industrial area.
And also bases for naval and air war against Britain

In general, there are some good points in this analysis and there are not so good.
- "Blitzkrieg" orientation of German military forces and military economy is mostly a myth indeed
- Only the war against neighbour states in the East (Poland and potentially Czechoslovakia) was planned as short lightning campaign
- Campaign in the West was beyong the planning horyzont before September 1939. After defeat of Poland Hitler intuitively understood that he needed a quick solution in the West but originally sought it with instruments of attritional strategy. Being a military amateur he didn't fully grasp the contradiction, but felt (again intuitively) a need for some more decisive solution and eventually found it in the Manstein's plan.
- operation "Barbarossa" was thought to be the short decisive campaign, there were no contradictions between Hitler and German military about that. There were only contradictions regarding the means. However, after this short campaign a long attritional war against Britain and (eventually) USA was expected. Hence a need for securing resources for this war.
- the campaign of 1942 was thought to be closer to attritional in nature than operation "Barbarossa". It's hard to see how "Hitler's obsession with the Caucasus... led to the disaster at Stalingrad".

historygeek2021
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Re: Hitler's siege mentality

Post by historygeek2021 » 23 Feb 2022 20:10

Art wrote:
23 Feb 2022 18:08
historygeek2021 wrote:
23 Feb 2022 04:19
(1) The invasion of Norway, intended to ensure the continued flow of iron ore from Sweden.
And also bases for naval war, which was an original impetus for planning
(2) Early plans for an invasion of Belgium in the fall and winter of 1939-40, intended to create a buffer between the Allies and the Ruhr industrial area.
And also bases for naval and air war against Britain

In general, there are some good points in this analysis and there are not so good.
- "Blitzkrieg" orientation of German military forces and military economy is mostly a myth indeed
- Only the war against neighbour states in the East (Poland and potentially Czechoslovakia) was planned as short lightning campaign
- Campaign in the West was beyong the planning horyzont before September 1939. After defeat of Poland Hitler intuitively understood that he needed a quick solution in the West but originally sought it with instruments of attritional strategy. Being a military amateur he didn't fully grasp the contradiction, but felt (again intuitively) a need for some more decisive solution and eventually found it in the Manstein's plan.
- operation "Barbarossa" was thought to be the short decisive campaign, there were no contradictions between Hitler and German military about that. There were only contradictions regarding the means. However, after this short campaign a long attritional war against Britain and (eventually) USA was expected. Hence a need for securing resources for this war.
- the campaign of 1942 was thought to be closer to attritional in nature than operation "Barbarossa". It's hard to see how "Hitler's obsession with the Caucasus... led to the disaster at Stalingrad".
I think these facts fall into line with Hitler's siege mentality if we think of it as both a defensive siege against Allied blockade and an offensive siege against Britain. Hitler's takeaway from WWI was that wars are won or lost not on the battlefield but on the home front. Germany had lost on the home front in WWI (from Hitler's perspective) and he wanted to try to do the same to Britain this time around. That required naval bases in Norway and air bases in Belgium and the Netherlands to bomb Britain into submission (the intended outcome of Fall Gelb).

The German generals expected the USSR to collapse within a few months but Hitler seems to have been less certain. The opening line of Führer Directive 21 states that the Soviet Unions is to be crushed in a quick campaign, but then Section I states "a line is then to be reached from which the Russian Air Force will no longer be able to attack the territory of the German Reich. The ultimate objective of the operation is to establish a cover against Asiatic Russia from the general line Volga-Archangel. Then, in case of necessity, the last industrial area left to Russia in the Urals can be eliminated by the Luftwaffe." This sounds an awful lot like a permanent state of war against Asiatic Russia is expected to endure after the initial campaign, and that a siege line is to be drawn from which the Soviet air force cannot attack Germany. Later the directive says it would be "surprising" if the USSR collapsed fast enough to allow a simultaneous advance on Leningrad and Moscow. Section III emphasizes the protection of Norway and the Petsamo mines.

https://ww2db.com/doc.php?q=168

And of course, Hitler's stated reason for Barbarossa was to free Japan to attack British colonies in the Pacific, weakening Britain's economy and contributing to Germany's long-term siege against Britain.

Hitler also expressed considerable anxiety in the leadup to Barbarossa:
Laboring under these fears of failure, “when Göring sought to flatter him before Barbarossa, asserting that his greatest triumph was at hand, Hitler sharply rebuked his marshal: ‘It will be our toughest struggle yet— by far the toughest. Why? Because for the first time we shall be fighting an ideological enemy, and an ideological enemy of fanatical persistence at that.’ At the Wolf’s Lair, Hitler’s headquarters in East Prussia built expressly for the invasion, he voiced unease to one of his secretaries about what lay ahead: ‘We know absolutely nothing about Russia. It might turn out to be a one big soap-bubble, or it might just as well turn out to be something quite different.’” 6 On June 20th he told his staff, “I feel as if I am pushing open the door to a dark room never seen before without knowing what lies behind the door.”
Ellman, James. Hitler's Great Gamble (p. 120). Stackpole Books. Kindle Edition.

This anxiety translated into his consistently cautious battlefield decisions of the same sort that had characterized his halt orders a year earlier in Fall Gelb. He constantly hounded his generals to slow the panzers and form tight encirclements. And then at the great moment of decision of whether to lunge for Moscow or secure Ukraine, Hitler opted for the safer course. I think a lot of these decisions were tactically correct, particularly the early insistence on shallow encirclements rather than deep panzer lunges, but they also reveal a leader with a long-term siege mentality rather than a risk-it-all on a fast lightning war gambler that has been popularly portrayed.

LAstry
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Re: Hitler's siege mentality

Post by LAstry » 24 Feb 2022 01:13

Yhis makes a lot of sense... :milwink: :thumbsup: :milwink: :milwink:

Peter89
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Re: Hitler's siege mentality

Post by Peter89 » 24 Feb 2022 08:19

Siege as it is was an inescapable trait of the war Germany was to fight, because Germany no longer had a serious navy, so they knew there would be a naval bockade.

There were three avenues out of this: 1. destroy the British threat, 2. destroy the effects of blockade, 3. achieve self sustainability.

The British threat could not be destroyed.

The effects of the blockade were greatly mitigated between mid-1940 and mid-1941, especially after the fall of the Balkans.

Autarchy was not consistent with increasing armament and battlefield demands.
“And while I am talking to you, mothers and fathers, I give you one more assurance. I have said this before, but I shall say it again, and again and again. Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars." - FDR, October 1940

gebhk
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Re: Hitler's siege mentality

Post by gebhk » 24 Feb 2022 12:16

Hi Historygeek
There are three relevant issues:
(1) The anticipated length of the war,
I am sorry but that is just plain not true. The length of time is irrelevant. Sieges can be long or short. Wars fought in the open can be long or short. No one, I think, would suggest Gustavus Adolfus and the other Swedish leaders involved in the 30 Years' War suffered from a siege mentality or pursued a siege strategy. Yet cildren born in Swedish army camps apparently sometimes lived long enough to join the colours and die for a Sweden they had never even seen such was the length of the war. A siege is a type of military operation where one side deliberately allows itself to be surrounded in a strong defensible position and predominantly responds defensively. I see no evidence that that was AH's plan when he started the war.

There is no such thing as an offensive siege. That's just new-speak. A siege is by definition a defensive mechanism. You can of course at some point break out of a siege and take the fight to the enemy but then, by definition, you are striving to or achieving not being under siege any longer.

You seem to be arguing that Hitler planned for a long war rather than a short one and that is a reasonable argument. However, even if you prove your case, that does not in any way demonstrate the he had a siege mentality.
(2) The corresponding management of the economy, and
(3) The corresponding battlefield decisions.
Yes indeed, but, as I pointed out, there is little or nothing to suggest that the military or economic decisions and priorities for the preparation of Germany for war were geared to withstanding a siege as the primary aim of that war. That is became so was the inevitable consequence of loosing the war and having no powerful allies to rescue them. A reasonable argument can be made that the strategies of countries such as Poland and Holland were in essence siege strategies, but not Germany.

In any event, a 'siege mentality' is a state of mind not a military strategy. And, ironically, In this respect, I would concur that Hitler's decision to go to war fundamentally stemmed from a 'siege mentality'. He believed that Germany and German culture were 'besieged' by various bogeymen - some real, many the figments of his imagination. It is the decision to go to war that was the point at which he broke with the siege mentality by deciding to actively seek to destroy those bogeymen. In short he was no longer going to remain 'under siege'.

Best wishes
K

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Re: Hitler's siege mentality

Post by Peter89 » 24 Feb 2022 15:14

By the way, I thought most of the nickel ore was transported via coastal shipping from northern finnish ports. I have seen many pictures of those. I didn't realize that the nickel was transported via the Baltic sea. Do we have any source on that?
“And while I am talking to you, mothers and fathers, I give you one more assurance. I have said this before, but I shall say it again, and again and again. Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars." - FDR, October 1940

historygeek2021
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Re: Hitler's siege mentality

Post by historygeek2021 » 24 Feb 2022 16:07

Peter89 wrote:
24 Feb 2022 15:14
By the way, I thought most of the nickel ore was transported via coastal shipping from northern finnish ports. I have seen many pictures of those. I didn't realize that the nickel was transported via the Baltic sea. Do we have any source on that?
I didn't mean to imply that nickel was shipped through the Baltic. I just wanted to be sure to mention Petsamo as another one of the vital economic areas that Hitler was obsessed with protecting.

historygeek2021
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Re: Hitler's siege mentality

Post by historygeek2021 » 24 Feb 2022 22:22

Another example of Hitler's siege mentality is in July 1942, when Hitler interpreted the weak resistance to Fall Blau as evidence that the USSR was too weak to oppose him. Instead of going for a killing blow against the Red Army or the Soviet state, Hitler instead thought he had a safe opportunity to divide his forces and immediately go after economic objectives in the Caucasus instead of continuing with the concentrated thrust toward Stalingrad that had originally been planned for Fall Blau in Führer Directive 41. The authors of Germany and the Second World War, Volume 6 state that this is the point at which Halder made up his mind to resign as chief of the general staff. Halder had wanted to continue with a concentrated thrust at Stalingrad but no longer believed the operation could be successful with a diversion of forces into the Caucasus.

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Re: Hitler's siege mentality

Post by Konig_pilsner » 25 Feb 2022 00:44

That is not the reason why the army split, and be careful in trusting to much in Halder. His words become more self serving the longer the war progressed.

historygeek2021
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Re: Hitler's siege mentality

Post by historygeek2021 » 25 Feb 2022 00:57

Konig_pilsner wrote:
25 Feb 2022 00:44
That is not the reason why the army split, and be careful in trusting to much in Halder. His words become more self serving the longer the war progressed.
According to the expert German military historians who wrote DRZW Volume VI, it is the reason.

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Re: Hitler's siege mentality

Post by Counter » 25 Feb 2022 14:24

Don´t forget the OKW memorandum of december 14, 1941 mentioned in pag 8 of this paper, about a "continental defensive block"


http://www.k-state.edu/history/institut ... 202002.pdf

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