The Fatal Decisions

Title: The Fatal Decisions - First hand accounts by Hitler’s Generals
Author: Part 1 – General of the Air Force Werner Kreipe
Part 2 – General Günther Blumentritt
Part 3 – Lieutenant General Fritz Bayerlein
Part 4 – Colonel-General Kurt Zeitzler
Part 5 – Lieutenant General Bodo Zimmermann
Part 6 – General Hasso von Manteuffel
Editor: Pen & Sword Books
Published: July 2012, first published in 1956
Pages: 288
ISBN: 9781848848764

“The Fatal Decisions” is a very rare report by the abovementioned authors, who have put their vision on paper about a number of decisive moments, reasonably short after the ending of the conflict which is known under the name The Second World War.

The German Generals write from their own experiences, both on the battle field as well as from the headquarters of the Führer , who as is well-known, acted more and more as the self-appointed strategic talent and de facto was the Commander in Chief and as such provided his armies with orders. The various parts of the book treat, in chronological order, the German advance through the north of France and the low countries, the siege of Moscow, the battles for El Alamein and Stalingrad, the allied invasion of Normandy and lastly the Battle of the Bulge.

One of the most intriguing matters has been put forward in the Introduction by Cyril Falls, Sometime Chichele, Professor of the History of War, Oxford. Namely, who was finally responsible for the decision that allowed the British Expeditionary Forces that had been surrounded at Dunkirk to escape and be evacuated to the UK. This decision to not let the German Armored units attack the defenseless surrounded British troops came from Gerd von Rundstedt. In his introduction Falls demonstrates that the decision to let this considerable army escape, did not come from Hitler but from his Colonel-General Rundstedt who, with Hitler’s agreement though, countered the orders of Commander in Chief Walter von Brauchitsch.

Whilst everybody is familiar with the ending of The Battle of Britain, it is of interest to learn how a German Air Force General, Werner Kreipe, analyses how Hermann Göring as chief of the air force hardly ever shows up in western France and stays in his headquarters in Berlin. Göring provides general orders but was soon distracted from the attacks on Britain by the preparation of the plans to conquer Gibraltar and later on by the preparations of the attack on the Soviet Union . When the weather deteriorated and the invasion of the United Kingdom could not be considered anymore (for the time being) the Battle of Britain is being abandoned.

Siegfried Westfahl connects the six accounts served as Operations Officer under General Erwin Rommel in North Africa, as Chief of Staff under General Albrecht Kesselring in Italy and Chief of Staff to General Gerd von Rundstedt in 1944 - 1945.

The desert war in North Africa has been characterized by General Fritz Bayerlein by a gross lack of competent personnel (the Italians), a brilliant General (Erwin Rommel) and the deterioration of the supply lines through the Mediterranean. Also here Russia with its shear inexhaustible sources of raw materials seems to have been the distracting factor for Hitler.

General Günther Blumentritt writes how Operation Barbarossa is being prepared by the chiefs of staff of the army and therefore use the war diaries of the campaign by Napoleon in Russia as their most important guidelines. The belated start of the operation as well as a total ignorance of the wintery climatic conditions in that vast area turned this German campaign soon into a disaster. It is almost unimaginable how the German army succeeded to survive without proper preparations and equipment. Finally the advances concentrated on three fronts of which Leningrad and Stalingrad are obviously the most well-known.

The Battle for Stalingrad is being described by the Chief of Staff General Kurt Zeitzler who provides a remarkable eyewitness account about his collaboration and later on of his confrontations with the Führer. Hitler used Stalingrad as his personal public relations instrument which caused him to continuously order his troops to hold on and not to surrender. He was supported in this view by Göring who, as head of the air force, assured him to be able to continue the supply lines to be successful. Zeitzler was witness of the treachery by Göring with falsified reports and made-up figures which made Hitler sustain an earlier formed disastrous point of view.

The book ends with the description from a German perspective of the allied invasion of Normandy which was for a long time to be foreseen according to Bodo Zimmerman both as far as timing as well as far as the location was concerned. The German withdrawal from France was strongly enhanced by the lesser known allied invasion in the south of France. This invasion threatened to lock an enormous German force away from a withdrawal behind their west wall line (the Siegfried Line). This report has been followed by the German views of General Hasso von Manteuffel on the Battle of the Bulge in which finally the courage of the allies is praised.

Generally spoken it is interesting to have a look ‘from the other side of the hill’ at the pivotal points that finally lead to the allied victory over Germany. It sounds through in the accounts that the Germans, in spite of an enormous material disadvantage, have provided the allies with a strong opposition by military tactics and perseverance.

The book has been translated from German and has a somewhat stiff grammar. The military geographical maps, six in total, are unfortunately of poor quality. The middle part of the book contains a number of photographs of good quality of the main persons of the book and of some battle grounds.

A remarkable set of accounts from a rather unique point of view and therefore of historical value.

Rating: Good


Article by:
Fred Bolle
Article by:
Fred Bolle
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