The German Generals who were summoned, in great secrecy, to Hitlers western command bunker, the Adlerhorst, or Eagle’s Eyrie, on December 12th, were shocked by his appearance. He looked sick and pallid, his left arm shook uncontrollably, and some thought him near collapse.
Yet he still had enough energy to launch in a violent attack on ‘world Jewry’ as he announced plans for a new offensive in the west
It was typical of Hitler’s speeches, a long rambling affair in which he surveyed history and compared himself to Frederik the Great. At its heart was a desire to go on the attack again.
Parts of his perspective could well be seen from the Allied point of view. It was perverse to claim that the Allies would run out of endurance – it was Germany that was exhausted, running out of fuel and munitions as well as men. It was deluded to claim of the Allies that their “broad masses … have already lost all hope” – he might more accurately have been talking about the German population. It was German living space that was being occupied or destroyed, not Allied territory.
The war is, of course, a test of endurance of all participants. The longer the war lasts, the more difficult will this test of endurance be. This endurance test will have to be suffered as long as there is some hope of success.
As soon as hope of a victory disappears, the test of endurance will not be accepted with the same willpower with which, for instance, a fortress fights as long as it still has hope for relief. It is, therefore, important to remove the enemy’s confidence in victory from time to time, by making clear to him from the beginning, through offensive actions, that the success of his plans is impossible.
This will never be as possible through a successful defensive as through a successful offensive operation. In the process of time we can, therefore, not hold on to the basic principle that a defensive action is the strongest component of a battle. It can favor the enemy.
One should never forget that the total amount of men employed on our side is still as large as that of our opponents. We should never forget that a part of the enemy is tied down in East Asia against japan, against a state which, even without China, has over a hundred million people and which represents a valuable factor in technical armament.
We still have to be clear about it, that overlong periods of exclusively defensive endurance will drag us down in the long run, and that they will have to be relieved by successful counter-blows. It was, therefore, my desire to make this war an offensive one, an active one, from the beginning, and not to let myself maneuver into a world war situation. If that happens anyway, then it is simply the result of the falling away of our allies which, of course, has operational consequences.
But the final decision in a war is brought about by the realisation of one or the other side that the war as such cannot be won. To persuade the enemy of this, therefore, is our most important task.
The quickest way to persuade him is by the destruction of his living space through occupation of his territory. If one is himself forced to the defensive then it becomes his vital mission to make it clear to the enemy by ruthless strikes that he has, nevertheless, gained nothing, and that the war will be indeterminately carried on.
It is just as important to enforce these psychological moments by not letting a moment go to waste, to make it clear to the enemy that whatever he does he will never be able to count on a capitulation, never, never, never! This is decisive.
Even the smallest sign of defeatism raises the enemy’s hopes for victory; his broad masses which have already lost all hope, will be filled with new hope and will gladly take upon themselves all sacrifices and all deprivations.
Whatever they may privately have thought of the prospects of success, the German commanders had to live in this deluded world. To voice criticisms was now increasingly seen as “defeatism” now equated with outright treachery. They would all dutifully follow the plan – and many would enthusiastically embrace it.