The German Generals Talk (1948) by B.H. Liddell Hart is a fascinating book that describes Hart’s conversations with as many of the senior WWII German generals as he could find. Hart looks at the reasons why the Germans were able to beat the French and British so quickly in the West, then advance so deeply against the Russians but then lost the war.
Hart looks at Hitler’s rise and the changes in the Wehrmacht as he took control. Hart points out that the generals did not like Hitler greatly and contemplated a military coup against him. In discussing Hitler’s contribution to the war Hart makes the point that Hitler’s boldness and selection of the plan the led to the astonishing collapse of France was not supported by many of the generals. He also says that Hitler’s strategic understanding wasn’t that great and this lack of the education caused problems. The general staff officers thought him to be a problem later in the war. Their fear of him is also investigated.
The book looks at how mobility and the tanks were so skillfully used by the German generals from the beginning of the war in contrast to the way in which the Allies took years and the German example to understand how to use tanks properly. Hart is building his own reputation here as it was he and J.C. Fuller who were two of the most important theorists of tank warfare between the wars. The British military establishment failed to use tanks in the way the Germans did for quite some time however. Hart also fairly points out that part of the reason for this was that the Germans rebuilt their army from a small force from 1933 onwards due to the Versailles Treaty.
The discussion of what the generals thought of their own troops in WWI & WWII and their opposition is also very interesting. Hart is also honest and thorough enough to include statements by the generals that disagree with each other.
The book has a chapter on the plot to kill Hitler, its failure and the suicides of Rommel and others who had taken part. It’s an interesting section where Hart’s access to people who knew what had happened provides quite an insight. The fear of the generals of Hitler and their attitude that at that time surrender was a wise course is very interesting.
Hart clearly respects the German generals deeply. The final paragraph of the book starts with the sentence: “The German generals of the war were the best-finished product of their profession-anywhere.” This adds to the book. Hart is able to recognise and credit the remarkable skill with which the Germans prosecuted the war between 1939 and 1942. He is also able to point out Hitler’s remarkable and initially successful strategic insight and his later failings in the war. The book is definitely worth reading for anyone with an interest in how the Wehrmacht operated in WWII. It is a pity that more of Hart’s conversations are not included as well as his summary but never the less it’s a great read.