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"Did Hitler Understand Strategy Better Than Roosevelt?" Topic

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04 Mar 2019 6:41 p.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

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World War Two on the Land

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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian31 Jul 2018 8:10 p.m. PST

Historian John Lukacs observed that Hitler recognized that motorization had changed land warfare, while Roosevelt was still rooted in a belief in the supremacy of naval warfare. Armies could now move faster overland that by sea.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP31 Jul 2018 8:31 p.m. PST

Hitler lost, so, no.

That's the short answer.

The long answer is that tanks couldn't cross an ocean unless ships carried them. So while motorization changed land warfare, that meant squat without the naval power to get the motorized armies to where they needed to be (or prevent the US from getting their motorized armies where they needed to be). Air power would eventually become a potential change in that mix, but the aircraft range just wasn't there at the start of WW2.
So even if Roosevelt misjudged the nature of motorized land warfare (and I'm not conceding that he did), he was right in knowing that an effective navy was vitally important.

Daithi the Black31 Jul 2018 8:33 p.m. PST

Two different outlooks. Roisevelt by necessity needed naval supremacy, because even if armies could move faster overland, there was no overlabd to get them where they needed to go. If Hitler had planned an invasion of the USA, he would have run into the same problem.

Hitler's strategy of attacking Russia showed a lack of sense, which he would have realized had he studied even a little about Napoleon.

Battle Phlox31 Jul 2018 8:39 p.m. PST

If you want to be a super power you also need to be a maritime power. The reason is simple: You need natural resources such as rubber and oil that may not be available in your nation. Also sea transport was still cheaper and easier the motor transport.

sjpatejak31 Jul 2018 8:50 p.m. PST

FDR did not end up taking on most of the world with worthless allies.

saltflats192931 Jul 2018 9:25 p.m. PST

Unless FDR wanted to fight Canada or Mexico, the US needed to be a naval power first.

Fred Cartwright31 Jul 2018 10:54 p.m. PST

Hitler lost, so, no.

That suggests the reason Hitler lost was solely down to Roosevelt's strategic vision, which I think many would dispute! The fact that Hitler lost proves nothing about Roosevelt as a lot of descions by a lot of other people contributed to that fact.

advocate31 Jul 2018 11:49 p.m. PST

Hitler made the strategic decision to invade the Soviet Union. FDR made the strategic decision to defeat Germany first.

Winston Smith01 Aug 2018 12:03 a.m. PST

What percentage of Hitler's army was horse drawn?

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP01 Aug 2018 1:53 a.m. PST

You could compare it to the competition between the United Provinces and England in the 17th century.

Both were naval powers, but Britain could focus exclusively on its fleet, while the Netherlands had to add a continental element to their strategy, sandwiched between France and the Holy Roman Empire it was vulnerable without a large army and investments in border defenses.

Hitler seems to have recognized that it needed to change its own strategic position in Europe. It could do several things to fix this. Mechanize the army so that it would be able to react more quickly against an enemy threat and follow up much faster as well as give it greater mobility when attacking an enemy nation. They could also try to change the geopolitical situation and to Hitler the USSR looked like a big juicy target with plenty of opportunities and advantages. It would remove a major border threat and provide the resources Germany needed to remain a major power.

Germany lagged behind when it came to the automobile, it was at the tail end when it came to production and ownership. Ambitious plans for a "people's car" and massive highways tried to offset this. They only serve to highlight an inherent problem that will hamper mechanisation down the line.

Roosevelt was tied to the geography of the US, without significant threats from its neighbors it had to rely on shipping for most of its international dealings and took over from the British Empire as their maritime power declined.

There was no real need to heed the army other than keep it somewhat up to date and strong enough to defend the usual economic interests. The Great War was considered an anomaly to US international politics and many hoped that a repeat could be avoided.

When the US did go to war, it delivered a fully mechanized army anyway, which no matter how you look at it had to be shipped overseas so keeping the lanes open was a huge priority no matter what, given that history has shown us again and again that the "bomber option" doesn't win wars.

Hitler required a mechanized army, but structurally couldn't build one or sustain it in the long run. They were doomed to fight short campaigns and try to knock out the enemy into surrendering before the German elan was lost. Their stunning victories in 1941 against the USSR failed to destroy the Red Army and the Soviets in turn (with some generous help from Lend-Lease) were able to mechanize their forces and beat the Germans.

So Germany failed to win the naval aspect, failed to build the army it dreamed of and failed to conquer the enemy in the land of plenty. The US were a major naval power, delivered a powerful army that helped to liberate Western Europe and the Pacific and was tailor made to be shipped and operate efficiently overseas in terrain that varied from arctic to tropical jungles.

It doesn't matter if the US lagged behind or had the wrong strategy, it had the means and brains to overcome this very quickly. Germany had no such luxury, once committed there was no turning back on the choices made. The strategy looked solid, but the problems were simply too big to overcome, even with a good strategy.

All or nothing in war can yield fantastic opportunities, but has doomed many more than it made famous historic figures.

Dynaman878901 Aug 2018 3:57 a.m. PST

Roosevelt left fighting the war up to his Generals and Admirals for the most part. Hitler tried to run it down to the most minute detail.

As for the land vs sea bit. That is so irrelevant as to make no sense at all.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP In the TMP Dawghouse01 Aug 2018 4:27 a.m. PST

Wait Hitler realized that motorized warfare was paramount, yet the German army was the least motorized army in Europe?

I'm not saying it was Roosevelt's doing but the American armed forces had both the most motorized army and naval superiority, so how can anyone think Hitler understood strategy better when he lost on both counts?

Fred Cartwright01 Aug 2018 4:38 a.m. PST

Roosevelt left fighting the war up to his Generals and Admirals for the most part.

Yes and no. A lot of key strategic decisions were driven by Roosevelt, the unconditional surrender clause for example.

Hitler tried to run it down to the most minute detail.

Well that was the accepted post war narrative, but I think now has been shown to untrue to a large extent.

23rdFusilier Supporting Member of TMP01 Aug 2018 4:52 a.m. PST

This said it all….

YouTube link

Lee49401 Aug 2018 6:41 a.m. PST


Dynaman878901 Aug 2018 6:57 a.m. PST

> Yes and no. A lot of key strategic decisions were driven by Roosevelt, the unconditional surrender clause for example.

HOW the armies got to that point was largely hands off however. Not saying he did not intervene and choose since he did but he did it a lot less than Hitler.

I've never heard anywhere that Hitler did't overly meddle in strategy.

Personal logo 28mm Fanatik Supporting Member of TMP01 Aug 2018 7:30 a.m. PST

No. Both viewed strategy through the prisms of their own past experiences, namely Hitler's service in the Kaiser's army during WWI and FDR's stint as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy at around the same time.

I don't view FDR as a military strategist at all, at least operationally speaking. Hitler liked to play (armchair) general and pored over maps for endless hours, much to the dismay of his generals.

Hitler understood the utility of mobility in warfare thanks to visionaries like Heinz Guderian and Erwin Rommel, but Germany lacked the resources to fully motorize and realize the strategy's full potential. Hence, infantry mostly lagged well behind tanks in German offensives. There was the will but not the means.

paulgenna01 Aug 2018 8:17 a.m. PST

FDR's background was as a naval officer and he understood that aspect of warfare. Without the ships and getting control of the Atlantic we could never have done the Normandy invasion. My fault on the ground was not rolling out a heavier MBT that could go toe to toe with the German Panther and Tiger.

coopman01 Aug 2018 9:54 a.m. PST

And Hitler meddled enough in the business of his generals to sabotage Germany's war efforts time and time again. Not that I'm complaining…

Fred Cartwright01 Aug 2018 10:40 a.m. PST

And Hitler meddled enough in the business of his generals to sabotage Germany's war efforts time and time again. Not that I'm complaining…

Again that is the accepted wisdom, largely formed by post war memoirs from German generals, but when you look into it in more depth, it seems a lot of mistakes were made by the generals themselves. Now there are things which are solely down to Hitler, like the Ardennes offensive, but others like Citadel, for example, which was Zeitzler's plan and heavily pushed by him and a clique of the German high command against Hitler's misgivings. A lot of the things laid at his door are simply not true, like delaying the introduction of the 262 by insisting it should be able to carry bombs. It was problems with the engines that delayed squadron service of the 262 not the fighter bomber conversion. Willy Messerschmitt must bear some of the blame for the debacle of the FB version as there was a certain amount of hubris on his part when asked by Hitler if it could carry bombs and Willy told him it could, he must have known it would make an indifferent fighter bomber. Yes he made some stupid decisions, but so did Stalin, Churchill, Yamamoto etc and certainly not as many as the German generals post war mantra, of we were great it was just Hitler that screwed it all up for us, would have you believe.

Dynaman878901 Aug 2018 10:55 a.m. PST

The rest of the Nazi crew deserve more blame then they got but Hitler still meddled more then he should have meddled. The others also meddling doesn't change the fact. Stalin was lucky – his meddling almost cost him the war but he got over it (easier to do when your side starts winning). The others, best left to say yes they did make mistakes but that theirs did not cost their side the war. Except possibly Yamamoto but he gets credit for thinking it was a bad idea to begin with, and loses points for over complicated plans after that.

Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian01 Aug 2018 11:14 a.m. PST

FDR's background was as a naval officer…

He was Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson during World War I.

Mark 101 Aug 2018 12:37 p.m. PST

Hitler recognized that motorization had changed land warfare, while Roosevelt was still rooted in a belief in the supremacy of naval warfare.

If the question John Lukacs (mentioned in the OP) is seeking to address is which leader understood strategy better, then this comparison is an entirely deficient core premise (in my view).

If you want to go fast, you don't ask whether it's more important to focus on the gas peddle or the steering wheel. You focus on getting a fast car, and then on driving the car. You address the higher levels first.

If you want to examine which national leader in WW2 understood strategy better, you have to examine the highest levels of strategy, not compare dissimilar tiers.

Motorization was not a war-winning strategic paradigm. It was a subordinate issue -- it could be a useful component to a war-winning strategy, but without a war-winning strategy, how useful could it be?

Let's try it another way:

Hitler recognized that motorization had changed land warfare. Roosevelt recognized that industrialization had changed the way nations waged war.

Who had the more important strategic perspective?

What kind of thinking is core to "strategy"? To be "strategic", you must first decide what are the highest level questions, and then your highest level strategists should address those issues first. A head of state in 1940 focusing on motorization as a strategy to win the war, was a strategic failure of monumental proportions.

What good is a recognition that motorization changes land warfare, when you don't understand that the battle of the factories, and the battle for resources, are the battles that determines WHO gets to motorize?

To quote the more current jingoism: It's the economy, stupid.

Hitler had hardly a clue.

(aka: Mk 1)

Blutarski01 Aug 2018 1:04 p.m. PST

Leaving aside any speculation as to exactly what considerations so strenuously drove Roosevelt to get the US involved in the war, it is hard to argue with the fact that he did his math correctly in terms of accurately weighing the strategic balance. On the other hand, considerable postwar commentary by senior German military officers was directed towards Hitler's failure to accept the huge industrial potential of the US and its consequent degree of potential strategic influence.

One cannot help but speculate that the supine conduct of the European powers in surrendering Czechoslovakia in the pre-war period and the rapid collapses of Poland, France, Netherlands, Denmark and Norway may well have colored Hitler's thinking about prevailing sensibilities within the global geo-political sphere.

Unquestionably a (literally) fatal error on Adolf's part.



Fred Cartwright01 Aug 2018 3:16 p.m. PST

Stalin was lucky his meddling almost cost him the war but he got over it (easier to do when your side starts winning). The others, best left to say yes they did make mistakes but that theirs did not cost their side the war.

Probably more through luck though than anything else. Both Britain and Russia had advantages in the form of the English Channel and a vast hinterland that meant any mistakes were not fatal. No English Channel in 1940 would have meant the UK falling along with France and the Low Countries. There was a thread on another forum discussing what Germany's best move would have been in 1940 after the fall of France and it is very difficult to construct a scenario where the Germans win. Their lack of natural resources is an Achilles heel. Even doing nothing doesn't work out well. With no one to trade with they end in economic stagnation and decline. Their opponents getting stronger while they get weaker. To pull off a win by 1942 and stand a chance of the US accepting a fait acompli they have to do better than make fewer mistakes they have to make none. The Germans gambled on a quick war and being able to wipe out their opponents before the fundamental problems of the German lack of resources came home to roost. Once that didn't happen it didn't really matter if they made lots or few mistakes their fate was already sealed.

Winston Smith01 Aug 2018 5:17 p.m. PST

To have a better understanding of strategy than someone else implies that your strategy succeeded.
Demonstrably, Hitler's did not.
There are no style points in war. You win or you do not.

RudyNelson01 Aug 2018 5:38 p.m. PST

No, FDR had been Sec of the Navy iirc. Hitler was only an em.

Legion 402 Aug 2018 8:15 a.m. PST

Kind of Apples & Oranges … err.. Apples and "Schnitzel" … wink

advocate03 Aug 2018 2:25 a.m. PST

"There are no style points in war"
Germans – best looking uniforms
French – best armour camouflage
Italians – best cooking
The Americans and British might compete for prettiest aircraft.
The Russians? Well, arguably they won…

Fred Cartwright03 Aug 2018 4:01 a.m. PST

The Americans and British might compete for prettiest aircraft.

No contest. The British win that hands down. The Spitfire IS the prettiest aircraft! :-)

Old Glory Sponsoring Member of TMP03 Aug 2018 3:05 p.m. PST

I understand strategy better then both of them ever did --- wait a minute?? Never mind, no I don't !!!

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