12/19 – OKH Under Hitler

Hitler (R) with Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini (L). Mussolini’s “hands on” approach to military leadership – which Hitler emulated – ended up handicapping both Axis armies. (Wikipedia)

On this day in 1941, Nazi German leader Adolf Hitler appointed himself leader of the Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH), or High Command of the German Army. The OKH was formed in 1935 to oversee Germany’s rearmament prior to WWII. Till 1941, it had been an independent unit subordinate to the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), the High Command of the German Armed Forces. Hitler, who led the OKW, wanted some pretense of independence for the various wings of his armed forces but following a massive German defeat at the Battle of Moscow, the German Führer took direct control of the OKH, insisting that he – a former Corporal who had served as a stretcher-carrier in WWI – was better qualified to lead the Nazi war effort than any number of career generals.

Hitler’s seizure of the OKH marked a distinct turning point in WWI. It followed on the tails of some of the very first Axis defeats, and resulted in increasingly poor tactical decisions based largely on Hitler’s gut feelings and the whisperings of his incompetent political allies. Naturally, Hitler’s insistence on approving all offensive actions personally (defensive actions were forbidden, because the Wehrmacht was simply too good to fail) meant that commanders in the field were issued orders too late – or not at all. Massive German military disasters like the surrender of the 6th Army at Stalingrad can be largely attributed to the new, inept OKH power structure after 1941.

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