What did the German 'man in the street' see as evidence of Hitler's amazing military genius?

Even in the last days of WWII, as Allied troops and tanks flooded into das Reich from all sides, and even as Berlin itself lay in flaming ruins, many Germans continued to support Hitler - to believe in him. Or so I’ve read. They believed that he would find a way not just to avoid surrender, but to lead Germany to victory. He was, after all, a military genius who had repeatedly demonstrated that he knew how to wage war better than any of his generals.

So, as Soviet artillery wished Hitler a happy birthday on April 20, 1945 with a 21 (hundred) gun salute in Berlin, ordinary Germans (i.e. not just Nazi higher-ups or military personnel) were said to have exhorted their countrymen not to give up hope; that victory was around the corner: ‘The Fuhrer will find a way. He always has and he will do so yet again at this critical hour. He will lead us to victory again’.

What were they referring to? What great victories did they believe Hitler had won on account of his ‘military genius’? I can think of, maybe, the invasion of France in the spring of 1940 when German forces captured the country in only six weeks with far fewer casualties than expected (but, to be clear, although the German people probably didn’t appreciate it, even that military success may be better attributed to the skill and daring of his commanders and their seizing the opportunity to advance much further than initial plans called for, rather than anything Hitler did).

On the other hand, German ‘difficulties’ im Osten were hardly secret and likewise there was no suppressing the truth about what happened to their forces in North Africa and Italy, let alone the devastation wrought on essentially every German city by Allied airpower.

So what were the German people thinking of when they viewed Hitler as an uncanny military genius who would use his supreme strategic talents to lead them to victory in late April 1945? What battles did they think he had actually won?

I don’t know if it qualifies as military genius but being able to force at least 2 countries to unite with you, giving you virtual control of everything (including what to do with the newly annexed Jewish population) can make you whistle.

The reality doesn’t matter. Hitler was seen as the one who turned Germany around and conquered most of Europe. Some of this was luck instead of great strategic thinking, but up until they started retreating from Russia, it certainly looked like Adolph was living up to his billing. And once things looked bad, the Germans most likely believed he had an ace up his sleeve that would turn everything around.

Cult of personality + overwhelming propaganda machine + initial territorial conquests went a long way toward creating the delusion that Hitler and Germany would somehow win (what percentage of Germans was still fooled by 1945 is another matter).

Plus a healthy dose of denial.

There were two other things that I can think of immediately:

  1. The concept of “Ten Minutes to Midnight”. IIRC, some statesman, MacDonald, perhaps?? who told Hitler something along the lines of “Your problem in WWI was that you stopped fighting at 10 minutes to midnight”; point being, if Germany had never surrendered, Germany would not have lost. Hitler was on record as responding, “Next time, we shall fight until 15 minutes after midnight.” True or false, who knows? At any rate, with this in mind, one can see why Hitler was such a jerk about keeping his generals fighting, and not surrendering. Paulus asked Hitler several times about surrendering, before being captured.
    (Could be wrong about the characters in the above conversation, or, if it even happened, but, IIRC, the German people did believe it.)

2.One of the greater problems which crippled the last days of Germany for the First War, also, was general strikes. The unions had all been outlawed, so, there was less of a chance of renegade strikes to end the war.

  1. Hitler had also worked magic in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Austria. He had turned Germany around. He wasn’t a punk, for sure. Much of it was a gamble, and if Hitler seemed like he was overmatched, he always had, heretofore, managed to change the situation to Germany’s advantage.

  2. That time period was also phenomenal in technological advances, and, Goebbels was always telling the people about the mysterious secret weapons just right around the corner. Witness the V1 and V2 bombs. One could not be faulted for thinking that a miracle was at hand. The people at Stalingrad had had one-why not Germany?

German public opinion meant nothing, as Germany was a police state. In the later years of the war, you could get shot for having a “defeatists attitude”. I have always wondered about the times after 192-Germany was taking millions of casualties in Russia, and the death notices to parents and relatives were coming every day…that could not be ignored.

Call me a cynic, but I think blaming Hitler; is some good old fashioned white washing by surviving Germanic Generalship. I think Little Nemo pointed out once that people like Von Manstein survived till the 1970’s and were happy to write that “Hitler took credit for our suceesses, (done all by us) and blamed us for our defeats (which were all of course due to his ideas”). What better way to pass the buck then blame the dead guy…the very monstrously evil dead guy.

Because from what I have read about the time; the Germans did not assign military sucess to Hitler; he was praised generally as the Commander-in-Chief, but specific successes were due to the generals.

In short; Hitler was praised for amazing political genius (which I have to say with a sick feeling, he did have); but not military.

Hitler did in six weeks what the Kaiser could not do in four years, conquer France, and with 40 times fewer casualties. By the time the full disaster was apparent, they were just clinging to any kind of hope they had.

The problem that I have (being the history detective in training that I am!) is that it’s hard to nail down what the ‘man in the street’ actually felt during the war.

The war ended badly for all Germans. So it’s hard to be hungry and homeless in 1945, 46 and 47 and proclaim “it hasn’t turned out so well but I was all in” in the beginning.

The war guilt only adds to this.

I’ve read books from “They thought they were free” to “Hitler’s willing executioners” and much in between and I have a hard time getting an accurate feel for what the “average German” thought. That and in any country with tens of millions of people, there are very diverse opinions.

Most of the “Hitler was incompetent” stuff was whitewashing by German generals after the war. They were trying to distance themselves from the atrocities and sell themselves as useful resources against the Soviet threat, and blaming all of the bad stuff on Hitler while taking credit for successes themselves helped that. AK84, a lot of the stuff that Manstein wrote that was believed at the time has been directly contradicted by the documents he wrote and/or signed during the war - you’re not just being a cynic.

A recent thread on German mentality near the end of WWII might be informative.

One example that’s pertinent to this thread is Hitler kept promising wonder weapons that would turn the tide of the war “any day now”. Based on their early experience in the war and continuing propaganda, many believed these promises.


For a time and in certain circumstances. But you’d have thought plenty might have raised an eyebrow, if only in private, at his managing to end up at war, out of his own volition, with both Russia and the USA simultaneously, even while the UK had proved unwilling to respond to the political genius of his attempts to buy it off.

Manstein was one of the very few individuals who wasn’t intimidated by Hitler. There is film footage (I believe it was shown on the German newsreel) of Hitler, Manstein and other high ranking military officials at a briefing. Hitler is leaning over a large map and Manstein is explaining something. What I found stunning is Manstein’s body language: He isn’t looking at Hitler, but straight ahead, as if to say (without actually saying it): “You know, this stuff is way over your head and I don’t know why I even bother talking to you”.

I’m sure this scene is available somewhere on Youtube.

He is a military professional explaining things to his political leaders. Political leaders usually don’t have much of a grasp of military matters and are not expected to. Its unlikely that Roosevelt understood much specifics of what Marshall told him or Churchill of what Alan Brooke did (actually we know that, Brooke complained of that enough in his diaries).

In fact, reading about German memoirs, even from the self serving ones, the amount of things that German generals could say to Hitler to his face is staggering, a British or American general would have gotten cashiered for saying a third as much.

Huh. Fascinating. Absolutely against all – and I’m sure I’m not alone here – common images of Hitler|Authority, in any social environment, let alone military-political.

I would love to see examples/discussion re the astounding comparison with US forces, however.

Hitler, very much unlike Roosevelt, did consider himself the ultimate, military super-brain and he did micromanage many aspects of the war (much to the chagrin of his generals). Many senior German officers were total suck-ups, for instance Wilhelm Keitel (whose nickname was Lakeitel, “Lakeytel”). Another general who wasn’t intimidated by Hitler was Guderian, but I don’t think there were many more.

From what I’ve read I’d say Lincoln understood warfare a lot better then most of the generals he was stuck with. He didn’t start off that way but he studied it and the man had an amazing mind.

I am not sure how widespread knowledge this would be among the man in the street. But all great German successes of earlier in the war were strongly opposed by the wehrmacht high command, they did not think the kind of swift victory that occurred in Western Europe in 1940 was possible. Likewise for the invasion of Russia, though ultimately there they were proved right, of course.