It was a central part of the Nazi belief system that the “power of the will” could overcome otherwise impossible circumstances. The ‘supermen’ of the Germans Reich could achieve more than any other race, not just because they were inherently superior but because they had stronger will power.
The situation facing Germany was becoming ever more calamitous, and many Germans could see it. However, to voice anything but confidence in ‘ultimate victory’ was a perilous business, any hint of defeatism could end in a concentration camp. Now Hitler sought to extend the same paranoia to the armed forces, with the following Fuhrer Order.
Even if a unit was surrounded a commander was now expected to see if there were dedicated Nazis within the ranks willing to carry on the fight. The order complemented Hitler’s preference for declaring towns ands citys to be “fortresses”, that were expected to hold out to the last man.
Whether because of this order, or because German commanders were aware of implicit threats to their families in Germany, there would be many examples of German forces fanatically carrying on the fight in hopeless situations:
Fuhrer Order On The Exercise Of Command In Units Which Are Left To Their Own Resources
The Chief Of The High Command Of The Armed Forces.
The Fuhrer’s Headquarters, 28th November, 1944.
Subject: Exercise Of Command In Units Which Have Been Isolated.
The following Fuhrer’s Order on the exercise of command in units which are left to their own resources will be made known to troops forthwith.
It will be ensured forthwith that the contents of this Order become the common property of every individual soldier.
Operation Orders providing a summary of the hitherto published Orders concerning fortifications, fortified areas, local strongpoints, and so on, will follow.
The war will decide whether the German Folk shall continue to exist or perish. It demands selfless exertion from every individual. Situations which have seemed hopeless have been redeemed by the courage of soldiers contemptuous of death, by the steadfast perseverance of all ranks, and by inflexible, exalted leadership.
A Commander is only fit to lead German troops if he daily shares, with all the powers of his mind, body, and soul, the demands which he must make upon his men. Energy, willingness to take decisions, firmness of character, unshakeable faith, and hard, unconditional readiness for service, are the indispensable requirements for the struggle. He who does not possess them, or who no longer possesses them, cannot be a Leader, and he must resign.
Therefore I order:
Should a Commander, left to his own resources, think that he must give up the struggle, he will first ask his Officers, then his Noncommissioned Officers, and finally his troops, if one of them is ready to carry on the task and continue the fight. If one of them will, he will hand over command to that man – regardless of his rank – and himself fall in. The new Leader will then assume the command, with all its rights and duties.