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Series: The Wehrmacht

 

The Turning Point

   2007    History
The German army launched Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the East, with supreme confidence in its own superiority. High Command was sure that victory would come as quickly and as easily as in France. At the onset, the troops advanced rapidly and the Panzer forces under General Guderian were unbeatable. There were, however, far more casualties and more wear-and-tear on equipment than anticipated. The invading force got bogged down short of Moscow and the withdrawal from there was a severe psychological blow to the men. When an extremely severe winter set in, morale sank further. The soldiers were not equipped for such low temperatures and their guns and machinery could not cope. Hitler ordered his troops to stand firm.

The Crimes

   2007    History
Soldiers and officers continually came into conflict with their consciences. How much freedom did individuals have? Were they executing Hitler's criminal plans, or was it the Wehrmacht's war? There were crimes against humanity, against civilians, prisoners of war, and there was the Holocaust itself. The Trent Park records discovered and analysed by historian Sönke Neitzel, author of Tapping Hitler's Generals, show that the 84 German generals who were interned at Trent Park were aware of the severity of the war crimes they had been involved in and that some discussed them almost compulsively. They included the Commissar Order, to kill any Soviet commissar, and Rathenau's order to kill the Jews, including children.

Resistance

   2007    History
Among the ranks of the Wehrmacht there was limited opposition to Hitler. Most officers initially felt enthusiastic about the prospect of war and were grateful to Hitler whose war-mongering had furthered their personal careers. Furthermore all soldiers had to make an oath of allegiance to the Führer and, up until the very end, there were many who felt unable to break this pledge. There were, however, some officers who opposed Hitler. For some it was on moral grounds and for others because they thought that his military tactics would lose them the war. There were plots against Hitler and attempted coups, the best known being the July bomb plot led by Claus von Stauffenberg. Some soldiers refused to bear arms and were shot, others deserted, others still carried out quiet acts of sabotage and subversion. By and large, however, the Wehrmacht carried out the orders Hitler issued, even if it involved perpetrating acts of atrocity.

To the Bitter End

   2007    History
The determination of the German forces to keep on fighting in the face of defeat had disastrous consequences. After the Allied landings in the summer of 1944, the Wehrmacht was on the defensive on all fronts. It was clear to the German generals interned at Trent Park that Germany would soon lose the war. In mid-1944, Gerhard Graf von Schwerin chose to use common sense instead of blindly obeying Hitler's orders. He decided to surrender the city of Aachen to the US army to avoid bloodshed. Other commanders such as Field Marshal Ferdinand Schorner kept on pushing their soldiers to give their all. Despite being outnumbered by the Soviet forces, Schorner forced his soldiers to hold out in Sworbe, a 200 square kilometre peninsula on the coast of Estonia. Thousands of soldiers died. Yet Schorner's attitude and the urging by Hitler and Goebbels to hold out were accepted by a large number of young soldiers. By April 1944, the Ruhr pocket was completely surrounded, yet Field Marshal Model refused to surrender, so that 1.2 million German soldiers and a large number of Allied soldiers died between January and May 1945.
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