It was now becoming increasingly likely that Germany would be fighting on yet another front in 1944, already they faced the Allies in Italy. With the looming prospect of a two front war German Generals, or those that dared, were becoming more outspoken in their criticism of Hitler’s strategies on the Eastern Front.
Heinz Guderian had been one of the principal architects of mobile tank warfare that led to the ‘blitzkrieg’ strategies that had served Germany so well early in the war. He had fallen out with Hitler during the campaign for Moscow, after that he had been sidelines from operational roles.
In 1943 Guderian had been brought back into the High Command as Inspector General of Armoured Troops and promoted to the rank of Generaloberst. He continued to argue with Hitler however:
In January 1944 Hitler invited me to breakfast with the words: ‘Somebody’s sent me a teal. You know I’m vegetarian. Would you like to have breakfast with me and eat the teal?’ We were alone together at a small round table in a rather dark room, since the only light came from one window.
Only his sheepdog bitch, Blondi, was there. Hitler fed her from time to time with pieces of dry bread. Linge, the servant who waited on us, came and went silently. The rare occasion had arisen on which it would be possible to tackle and perhaps to solve thorny problems. After a few opening remarks the conversation turned on the military situation.
I brought up the matter of the Allied landings in the West which were to be expected for the coming spring, and remarked that our reserves at present available to meet them were insufficient. In order to free more forces it was essential that a stronger defence be established on the Eastern Front.
I expressed my astonishment that apparently no thought had been given to providing our front there with a backbone in the form of field fortications and a defensive zone in our rear.
Specifically it seemed to me that the reconstruction of the old German and Russian frontier fortications would offer us better defensive possibilities than did the system of declaring open towns as ‘strong points’- which declarations, incidentally, usually came at the last moment when it was too late to take measures which would justify the phrase. With these remarks I soon saw that I had stirred up a hornet’s nest.
‘Believe me! I am the greatest builder of fortications of all time. I built the West Wall; I built the Atlantic Wall. I have used so and so many tons of concrete. I know what the building of fortications involves.
On the Eastern Front we are short of labour, materials and transport. Even now the railways cannot carry enough supplies to satisfy the demands of the front. Therefore I cannot send trains to the East full of building materials.’
He had the figures at his finger-tips and, as usual, bluffed by reeling off exact statistics which his listener was not for the moment in a position to contradict.
All the same, I disagreed strongly. I knew that the railway bottle-neck only began beyond Brest-Litovsk and I tried to make clear to him that the building I had in mind would not affect transports travelling to the front, but only those going to the line of the Bug and the Niemen: that the railways were quite capable of shouldering this burden: that there could scarcely be a shortage of local building materials and local labour: and finally that it was only possible to wage war on two fronts with success if at least temporary inactivity could be assured on one front while the other was being stabilized. Since he had made such excellent preparations for the West there was no reason why he should not do likewise for the East.
Thus cornered, Hitler proceeded to bring out his much-repeated thesis, namely, that our generals in the East would think of nothing save withdrawal if he permitted the building of defensive positions or fortications in their rear. He had made up his mind on this point, and nothing could bring him to change it.