The Hitler Mistakes
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A lot of serious historians dodge counter-factual history (basically what-if situations) but one that is hard to ignore is how would the world look if Hitler had triumphed. This brings about the question: how could Hitler have won? To be honest though, I do not like this sort of question because I'm very happy he lost. Nazism is the political equivalent of the Black Plague. Hitler and his cronies brought about a war few wanted and every reasonable man regretted. War in the Pacific was probably inevitable, but Hitler is the author of the war in Europe; without him it might not have happened and never would taken such awful directions. What I think is more interesting is not how he could have won but how did Hitler, despite having a first class army, a small but elite navy, and a strong airforce go from master of Europe to total defeat.

The most easy answer to the question of Nazi defeat is to blame Hitler, since he ran the war and strategic defeats must rest at the commander-in-chief's door. Yet Hitler did have many positive qualities as a commander. He had a strong mastery of the technical aspects of war and like many great generals he was a gambler who did not shy away from innovate tactics or technology. However, as the war dragged on his mind rotted and fell into insanity. Many of the psychological reasons for this rot are evident in his youth. Even when living as a vagrant in Vienna he was arrogant, confident without reason, delusional, and could not admit when he had failed. These qualities feed off each other and by war's end Hitler was incapable of forming a reasonable strategy.

However, to solely blame Hitler would be wrong, for he had a lot of help in defeat. As David Irving noted in his controversial work Hitler's War many generals, in an effort to distance themselves from Nazism and defeat, said Hitler ignored all of their brilliant suggestions and they had no idea of the horrific atrocities being committed. Over the years evidence as come against this rosy and one sided view of German military leadership during the war. Any historian worth his salt will not support the claims of von Manstein, von Runstedt, Guderian, and others who said they were not Nazis and if only Hitler had listened... Well as A War to be Won points out if Germany had done better then the atomic bomb would have been used on the fatherland. This seems to have escaped the attention of the generals who survived. As it is we'll never know what Rommel, Model, von Kluge, and von Bock thought or how they would have defended themselves.

The effort of this list is to open a discussion about Hitler's mistakes. Which were crucial, which were mostly his fault, which are more to be blamed on others, and more importantly to show how he was not alone in his blundering. It is an effort to understand why Nazi Germany lost a war in spite of her own strengths and the amazing victories she gained in the early war period. The list is not a reflection of what I see as Hitler's big mistakes, but rather the ones I have run across in my reading with my commentary added. While I've read many books on the war A War to be Won, June 1944, Russia's War, The War of the World, Inside the Third Reich, The American Way of War, and Hitler's War have particularly affected my thinking on this topic. I also read some of Guderian and Donitz's memoirs and even some personal thinking on the ideas of Clausewitz, Napoleon, and Sun Tzu have helped me form my opinions.

I am knowledgeable about World War II, but no expert and I invite any comments about mistakes I have made. Please notify me via comment if you think I missed one and I'll add it if I agree with you.
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1. Board Game: Poland '39: The Nightmare Begins [Average Rating:6.23 Overall Rank:6584]
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The Invasion of Poland

The Mistake: Hitler, by invading Poland, thrust Germany in an unwanted war with Britain and France, a war he was not fully prepared for.


My Thoughts: The invasion of Poland represents a grand diplomatic blunder brought about by Hitler's poor diplomatic skills, impatience, and his pitiful excuse for a foreign service. Hitler could not avoid a war with the western Allies if he pursued his course against Poland, yet he doubted the will of the British and French, both upset and insulted over Czechoslovakia, to fight him. Now Hitler found himself in a war he was not fully prepared for. While the German army was unarguably the best in the world, and the Luftwaffe (airforce) was powerful, the navy was nowhere near ready to fight two of the world's largest fleets. Raeder, head of the German navy, was shocked to find out that his fleet would have to fight the British and said all his sailors could do was die with honor. Hitler had a military edge on land, but without a fleet to challenge the British the war would be prolonged. Also Hitler's army was built for quick campaigns, not a prolonged struggle as German logistics were not up to the task. In the early quick victories this was not a major issue, but it would become one as the war dragged on.


The Nazi Victory Parade in Warsaw:
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2. Board Game: Invasion: Norway [Average Rating:6.77 Overall Rank:4815]
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The Invasion of Norway

The Mistake: Hitler authorized an unneeded invasion that damaged the navy and further stretched out his resources.


My Thoughts: Norway was a bold risk, and it paid off in spite of the German navy taking heavy losses. In the strategic long run I think the Germans broke even. The naval losses hurt the already slim chances of invading Britain in 1940, while the naval bases gained were not superb. Norway would drain away troops from other theaters, while operations in Lapland during the invasion of Russia were unsuccessful. Yet it secured iron ore for Germany, increased German leverage in relation to Sweden and Finland, and effectively complicated British naval strategy by giving the Germans a way to flank the British.


German Prisoners Taken by the Polish Brigade at Narvik:
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3. Board Game: Dynamo: Dunkirk, 1940 [Average Rating:6.95 Overall Rank:5938]
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Dunkirk

The Mistake: Hitler stopped his panzers short of destroying the British and French forces at Dunkirk, who then escaped capture.


My Thoughts: I don't think this was a huge blunder. Hitler was advised by the venerable Gerd von Runstedt to halt before attacking Dunkirk because of the terrain and the poor condition of the exhausted panzer divisions. Given the stout defense put up by the French forces when the Germans attacked Dunkirk, it is doubtful in my mind that the Germans could have captured all the men who escaped at Dunkirk. Herman Goring then stepped in and insisted his Luftwaffe could do the job, and given the dominance of that force in 1940, this was not an unreasonable expectation. The value of Dunkirk to the British was more psychological because it buoyed British spirits; in a military sense the British units saved were without heavy equipment and their morale had been shattered making them incapable of heavy combat for many months. Also the 100,000 French who were rescued were sent back to France, where they were in turn captured by Hitler's legions. Regardless Dunkirk kept Britain in the fight and as it is Churchill explained the situation best: "Wars are not won by evacuations but Dunkirk was certainly a kind of salvation."


French and British Troops Taken Prisoner Before They Could Be Evacuated:
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4. Board Game: Blitz: The Air Raid Game [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
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The Bombing of London

The Mistake: Hitler, on the brink of destroying the RAF, shifted the Luftwaffe's focus to bombing London, which cost him the Battle of Britain.


My Thoughts: Like Dunkirk, I think the greatest value of the Battle of Britain was psychological. The RAF stood up bravely and gave the Germans their first defeat and the Luftwaffe received a bloody nose. Yet even if the Nazis had wiped out the RAF could they have invaded Britain? I think not because the Royal Navy was too powerful and the Luftwaffe had generally poor anti-ship weapons and tactics in 1940. In addition the German surface fleet had already taken hard losses in the invasion of Norway. So even if German troops landed their supplies would be in danger. Also, the German plan, which called for a broad landing, lacked focus and imagination. All of this might be a moot point since the Luftwaffe failed in its initial objectives. The RAF was resilient, keeping reserves to meet any German air attacks and thus surviving. The bombing of London, sometimes noted as a turning point in that it distracted Hitler from destroying the RAF, was not a turning point because Germany had slim chances of winning the air battle or crossing the Channel.

In closing, although there is a lot of debate on whether or not the Germans could have achieved air superiority, I do not doubt that the Royal Navy would have thrown everything into the battle and come out victorious if their had been a landing. Even Churchill admitted in private that British victories elsewhere were of greater material importance.


Citizens Take Refuge in the London Underground:
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5. Board Game: Battle of the Atlantic [Average Rating:6.73 Unranked]
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The Battle of the Atlantic

The Mistake: Hitler did not put enough resources into strangling Britain's supply lines.


My Thoughts: The Battle of the Atlantic was among the most important battles of the war because Britain relied upon her shipping lanes to survive and the u-boats did grave damage to these lanes. That being said Hitler's greatest mistake was in not mediating between Admiral Karl Donitz and Goring over the Luftwaffe's part in attacking British shipping. This is representative of the bureaucratic mess and bickering that crippled the German high command. Simply put Hitler was more interested in the upcoming invasion of Russia, and the patient time consuming nature of the Atlantic struggle did not fit his temperament. Hitler failed to see what a full attack on Britain's supply lines, along with a strike at her exposed colonies, would have yielded. To his credit Hitler did increase u-boat production after 1940, but then failed to curtail u-boat production when it became obvious that the battle had been lost. Raeder, while shrewd in using his surface ships as raiders, failed to fully back Donitz in the opening years, while Donitz kept demanding more resources even after his u-boats had become ineffective.


U-boat under fire:
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6. Board Game: MedFront [Average Rating:6.29 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.29 Unranked]
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The Mediterranean Option

The Mistake: Hitler did not concentrate on the Mediterranean Theater, as Raeder proposed, and instead decided to attack Russia.


My Thoughts: Raeder, both then and now, is a misunderstood man who had a solid strategic mind. He viewed the war with Russia for what it was: a quagmire against the wrong enemy. Instead Raeder saw Britain's colonies, full of discontent and weakly garrisoned, as ripe for the picking. Hitler failed to see the possibilities of attacking Britain's colonies, seizing Gibraltar, and striking at the shipping lanes simultaneously. Instead he was obsessed with Russia, and the German army, seeing greater opportunity for glory and sucess in a grand land war in the USSR, did nothing to support Raeder. The Mediterranean remained a backwater front, that by 1943 had become a grave liability. That Hitler did not seek this option, must be weighted as a great military blunder, while at the same time as a boon for all humanity.


Gibraltar 1940:
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7. Board Game: Proud Monster: The Barbarossa Campaign [Average Rating:7.25 Overall Rank:3087]
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The Invasion of Russia

The Mistake: Hitler invaded Russia, a nation he had lucrative trade agreements with, in order to fulfill his great dream of a German land empire. He thus brought his army into a massive land war that they were not fully prepared for.


My Thoughts: The invasion of Russia was both at the time and in the judgment of history a controversial decision. I think Hitler could have won and almost did in spite of the logistical nightmare it presented. What is silly about the invasion is the extent to which the German high command doubted Russian resolve and capabilities, while not preparing their own logistics or deciding on whether Moscow or the Ukraine should be the main objective. What was worse was the racial dimension of the invasion. It was to be a war waged on inferiors and the atrocities were so terrible that many Russians, who greeted the Germans as liberators from Stalinist tyranny, turned on the Nazis. This was a great strategic blunder, and it showed just how much the German generals had fallen in with Nazism. In the end Hitler would have been smarter to have concentrated on Britain, but in his defense Russia came close to falling and the early victories over the Soviet army convinced most that the USSR was through. Yet Russia was a grand risk for even Hitler knew that if he failed the path to final defeat would be laid out. Nazi Germany gained all or lost all by taking on the Russian bear.


Soviet Anti-aircraft Gun Defending Leningrad:
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8. Board Game: Typhoon! [Average Rating:7.30 Overall Rank:3595]
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Operation Typhoon

The Mistake: Hitler, instead of pausing his armies to regroup and rearm, pressed on to Moscow where his forces were stopped in the frigid winter and left exhausted and stranded in a barren landscape.


My Thoughts: Operation Typhoon was a major German defeat, and one which is not fully Hitler's fault. He preferred to concentrate on destroying Russian field armies and securing the Ukraine, recalling that Napoleon failed because he did not destroy the Russian army before entering Moscow. Hitler in the end relented to his generals after the fall of Keiv and opted to push on to Moscow although logistically the Germans were in dire straits. As an example the Germans had made winter coats, but these could not reach the front because Typhoon made food, ammunition, and fuel the top supply priorities. The operation failed and Hitler now doubted his generals and proceeded to fire many of them while making himself head of the army. The fatal split between Hitler and the generals had opened up.


Russians Preparing for the Defense of Moscow:
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9. Board Game: A World at War [Average Rating:7.68 Overall Rank:1911]
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Declaration of War Against America

The Mistake: Hitler declared war on the sleeping economic giant of America, whose entry assured an Allied victory if the war became prolonged.


My Thoughts: I cannot recall where I read this, but Hitler is said to have admitted that his declaration against America was a mistake. Hitler, who had ignored Raeder's sound Mediterranean plan, now agreed with Raeder's terrible advice and saw war with America as inevitable and winnable on the high seas. Regardless Hitler once again underestimated his foe, as he did in sizing up Britain and Russia. As it stands this was Hitler's gravest error, because without a declaration of war I don't see America jumping into the war all that soon because American anger and attention would be rightfully concentrated on Japan. Eventually some sort of incident would have brought America into the European War, but Hitler's actions brought in America much sooner and gained him nothing except some remarkable but short term u-boat victories along the American coast. By 1943 American material aid and military formations would be making their presence felt in Europe.


The Alliance that Now Faced Hitler:
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10. Board Game: Case Blue [Average Rating:8.27 Overall Rank:1505]
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Operation Blue

The Mistake: Rather than pausing to regroup or targeting Moscow, Hitler decided to launch an ambitious Southern offensive designed to seize the resource rich Caucasus in order to aid Germany's strained logistics.


My Thoughts: Like Barbarossa, Blue would be marred by an unresolved debate as to the ultimate objective of the operation. Hitler's generals, now discredited in his eyes, attempted to move the offensive in their own direction, by concentrating on the Caucasus, while Hitler wanted to also press on to the Don River. Considering the long distances, rough terrain, and logistical situation the operation was another great risk. The Germans did well, but the Soviets avoided the epic disasters that had befallen them in 1941. As it is Hitler asked for too much, and even David Irving, a notorious Hitler apologist, admits that he was stretching his forces to the breaking point.


Herman Hoth, Commander of Operation Blue's Armored Spearhead:
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11. Board Game: Streets of Stalingrad (third edition) [Average Rating:7.45 Overall Rank:2769]
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Stalingrad

The Mistake: Hitler plunged his already extended forces into an attack on Stalingrad, resulting in a long battle that drained his forces and gave the Soviets a chance to launch a powerful counterattack that ended in disaster.


My Thoughts: Stalingrad, after chewing up German resources in a grand urban Verdun, was then surrounded. The Soviet offensive came as a shock to many. German intelligence, which was consistently poor during the war, failed to predict the location and strength of the Russian offensive. Hitler was right to order the defenders to stand and fight, while trying to supply them through air and gathering reserves under von Manstein for a counterattack. However, once an avenue was open to escape, Hitler ordered 6th Army to stand firm, even as the ability to maintain his summer conquests evaporated. Hitler had decided to sacrifice his men to pin down Russians delegated to reducing the pocket, but also due to his hatred of retreating. As it is veteran troops were lost, and for the first time the German soldier was the victim of Hitler's disregard for human life. It was a dark kind of poetic justice.


Factory Workers Join in the Harsh Street Fighting:
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12. Board Game: El Alamein [Average Rating:6.04 Overall Rank:8193]
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El Alamein

The Mistake: Hitler, rather than seizing Malta, agreed to support Rommel's drive into Egypt. When the offensive failed, Hitler would not allow Rommel to withdraw from Egypt.


My Thoughts: The seizure of Malta would have complicated British supplies going to 8th Army in Egypt, but the Torch landings ultimately would have forced the Germans to commit more troops and somewhat negated the importance of Malta. Hitler opted for Rommel's risky plan, which would bring either disaster or a sweeping victory. Hitler listened to his gambler's side then as usual would not order a retreat when Rommel could see he was in trouble. The ensuing Battle of El Alamein was the most important British victory of the war and started the rise of Bernard Law Montgomery, a controversial but ultimately successful British general.


Bernard Law Montgomery:
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13. Board Game: Tunisia [Average Rating:7.74 Overall Rank:1280]
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Tunisia

The Mistake: Hitler poured troops into Tunisia, but did not settle the command tension that overcame the North African forces and then left his troops to hold Tunisia rather than evacuate them.


My Thoughts: That Hitler could react to a collapsing situation with speed and purpose is evident in the Tunisian campaign, where the Axis troops managed to tie up the Allies for months. Tunisia, however, showed Hitler's unwillingness to clean up crippling command controversies and his hatred of the strategic withdrawal even when it was practical. Tunisia was not a great blunder, but the mass surrender at Tunis was a taste of things to come.


US Troops in Tunisia:
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14. Board Game: Zitadelle: Duel for Kursk [Average Rating:6.38 Overall Rank:6758]
Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Kursk

The Mistake: Hitler and the generals delayed their unimaginative attack on Kursk until it was too late.


My Thoughts: Kursk represents the last time Hitler held the initiative on the Eastern Front. Stalingrad created some doubt in Hitler, but von Manstein's victory at Kharkov buoyed hopes and gave Hitler new faith in his generals. The chief of staff of the army, Kurt Zeitzler, was given control over most of the planning perhaps in recognition of his achievements during the Stalingrad crisis. Zeitzler bungled the operation by stripping most of the Eastern Front to reinforce the attack, agreeing to delay the attack in order to use new Tiger and Panther tanks, but worst of all by attacking an exposed but reinforced Russian position in the hopes of reliving Cannae with tanks. The only hope of victory was surprise, but Zeitzler opted for meticulous preparation that would have made even Montgomery scream. The Russians were ready and effectively the battle was lost before it was fought. Hitler no longer trusted his generals save the throughly Nazified commanders like Model and Schorner.


Soviet Officers Look at a Tiger Tank Captured at Kursk:
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15. Board Game: D-Day [Average Rating:5.69 Overall Rank:7844]
Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Normandy

The Mistake: Hitler did not settle on a way to react to the Normandy landings, and ultimately the Germans lost France, Belgium, and Luxembourg in a matter of months.


My Thoughts: Normandy represents a complete failure of the entire German command. German intelligence was as usual inept, the Luftwaffe could provide no support, and Rommel and von Runstedt failed to agree on how to react to the landings. To make matters worse Hitler held control over the precious panzer reserves, and while their quick release probably would not have brought victory due to Allied air superiority, it did the Germans few favors in the opening days. In the end the gravest mistake was not properly reinforcing 7th Army, which held Normandy against great odds. Instead Hitler and his staff, fooled by Allied ruses and misinformation, clung to the idea that the real landing would come a Calais. It was a failure of analysis.


Supplies being Landed at Normandy:
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16. Board Game: Destruction of Army Group Center [Average Rating:5.61 Overall Rank:8513]
Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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The Destruction of Army Group Center

The Mistake: The German high command failed to prevent the destruction of Army Group Center.


My Thoughts: Like Normandy, the destruction of Army Group Center was a total failure that included bad intelligence, the incompetence of army group commander Ernst Busch, the impotence of the Luftwaffe, and some poor analysis by Hitler and his staff. It led to the greatest feat of Russian arms and one of the most lopsided battles in history, for in spite of some fierce fighting, the Soviet offensive cut like a hot knife through butter. Of all of Hitler's failures, this is one where the blame must be equally shared by the generals. They failed to appreciate the size and location of the Soviet offensive and instead hoped that Army Group Center, which had a reputation for winning defensive battles, could survive any attack in spite of Busch's lackluster leadership. The result was the battle that ended any German hopes for victory.


Prisoners From Army Group Center Paraded Through Moscow:
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17. Board Game: Panzerschlacht Blood and Armor in Hungary October 1944 [Average Rating:4.31 Unranked]
Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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The Balkan Offensive

The Mistake: The Germans failed to properly respond to the Soviet offensive in the Balkans, leading to the loss of Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and parts of Yugoslavia and Hungary.


My Thoughts: In keeping with Normandy and Army Group Center German intelligence failed to perceive the threat and army group commander Johannes Frießner proved to be out of his depth and overly optimistic about Romanian capabilities and willpower. Furthermore Hitler delayed making key withdrawals. The results, while not as disastrous as other defeats, robbed Hitler of more land and precious troops, including 6th Army which was destroyed for a second time. Only as the Soviets pressed into Hungary did the Germans gain some sucess, as the Soviet offensive was slowed down while German troops escaped capture in Greece. As David Irving noted though, these were the last victories for the Third Reich. Hitler, wanting to hang onto Hungarian oilfields, now fed many divisions into the Hungarian front which became an obsession.


A Hungarian Tank:
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18. Board Game: Iron Tide: Panzers in the Ardennes [Average Rating:7.86 Overall Rank:2946]
Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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The Ardennes Counteroffensive

The Mistake: Hitler ordered a foolish counterattack through the Ardennes Forrest in an attempt to gain the same sucess that had been won in 1940.


My Thoughts: As Earl F. Ziemke noted any rational government would have sought peace after the disasters of June 1944, but Hitler's government was far from rational. In a way Hitler's last mistakes are the worst because victory was impossible. Yet the failure of the attempt on his life increased his confidence and made professional criticisms of Der Fuhrer look like treason.

In theory the Ardennes attacked looked like a shrewd move. The Germans did a great job of hiding their intentions and if an offensive was to have any sucess then it would have to come in the west. Yet the fine details were lacking. Logistics were wholly inadequate, and there was no secondary offensive to fool the Allies has there was in 1940. In addition the Americans had more units in the Ardennes then the Allies did in 1940 and they were of a better quality than the French and Belgians who had been pushed aside in 1940. The result was a battle Hitler could not win, and one that he must share most of the blame for; Runstedt and Model opposed the attack but by this time in the war Hitler had stopped taking advice from even the generals he trusted.


A Destroyed Mark IV:
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19. Board Game: The SS Abyss: Hungary 1945 [Average Rating:7.25 Unranked]
Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Budapest

The Mistake: Hitler ordered his last reserves into a series of foolish attacks designed to regain Budapest.


My Thoughts: As noted above, victory was now impossible and no matter where Hitler struck he would have encountered defeat on other fronts. All things considered it isn't that Hitler attacked Budapest that was so silly; if anything it was a better target for an offensive than most. What is silly is that Josef Dietrich and his 6th SS Panzer Army were not detailed to defend Berlin and allow more Germans to escape the atrocities soon to be visited upon them by the Soviets. But by this time Hitler was showing his inability to take responsibility. He was now blaming the German people for not being great enough to fulfill his dream. Just writing that makes me sick.


Josef Dietrich:
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20. Board Game: Berlin: Red Victory [Average Rating:7.89 Overall Rank:3827]
Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Erin go Bragh! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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The Battle of Berlin

The Mistake: Rather than carry on the fighting from a better position Hitler stayed in Berlin to meet his doom while more Germans died for nothing.


My Thoughts: The above mistake I listed might sound morally twisted, but it is from a book I read but whose name I cannot recall. In it the author stated that Hitler could have continued the fight elsewhere, or at least allowed more Germans to escape west while the army fought on. Instead he took the Gotterdammerung (the last Opera of Wagner's Ring Cycle which was played on the radio as the Reich fell) approach. No surrender, fight to the death. As a measure of his delusional powers he spent his final days on drugs, dreaming of empire and ordering his men to hold out until May 5th so he could perish on the 124th anniversary of Napoleon's death. Only when the Soviets encircled Berlin did he at last admit defeat. By this time the German generals and soldiers were fighting more to allow others to escape west. That most did not carry out Hitler's Nero Decree, which would have destroyed the entire German infrastructure, or waste lives in attacking Berlin was a last moment of morality by an armed forces that had went along with Hitler's insane plans.


Hitler Presents Medals to the Young Defenders of Berlin:
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