Haig’s Enemy: Crown Prince Rupprecht and Germany’s War on the Western Front
By Jonathan Boff
Oxford University Press, 2018, 400 pp.
The First Soldier: Hitler as Military Leader
By Stephen G. Fritz
Yale University Press, 2018, 480 pp.
Military history tends to be seen through the eyes of the victors, but these two books show the two world wars from the perspective of the defeated Germans. Archival research on German military decision-making during World War I has been hampered by the destruction of the bulk of the records in World War II. Boff has managed to fill some of the gaps by supplementing standard sources with the detailed diaries of Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria. Rupprecht, who ended the war as a field marshal in the German army, was a constant presence on the western front, from the failure to achieve the planned gains in the original German offensive of 1914 to General Erich Ludendorff’s final push in 1918. This led to the Allied offensive that ended with Germany’s capitulation. Recent historians have argued that the Allies adapted well to the demands of this attritional warfare. Boff picks up on this theme by demonstrating that, despite their assumed operational superiority, the Germans adapted poorly.
Adolf Hitler’s role as an active military leader clearly added to the stress of being a German commander in World War II. But Hitler left no memoir of his own, and those of his generals were self-serving. So a narrative has emerged that Germany’s professional soldiers struggled to cope with the Führer’s manic interference. Yet Fritz’s original and compelling account of Hitler’s military strategy demonstrates that, as often as not, his judgment was as good as those of his senior commanders. He could be well informed and imaginative and had flashes of real strategic insight. By avoiding caricature, Fritz shines a new light on Hitler’s arguments with his generals, from the early preparations for war to his determination to fight to the bitter end. Early on, he could be realistic about the obstacles and, at times, cautious. But he refused to abandon his expansive ambitions and fought on in Russia when all hope of victory had gone. He was prepared for the Third Reich to go down in flames, regretting only that he would not die fighting.