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Was Adolf Hitler a master strategist or a lucky improviser?

Hitler was a not a master strategist. He squandered the lives of millions of soldiers in the campaign against the Soviet Union. Nor was Hitler a lucky improvisor. Rather, his early successes were more the work of his generals and staff more than Hitler's commands. Hitler was lucky in the sense that he had successful generals and admirals who were willing to integrate mechanized warfare into their operations.

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One cannot call Hitler a master strategist. He lost an entire army at Stalingrad because his pride would not let the Nazis leave the city even though his blitzkrieg tactics were not designed for house-to-house fighting. As a result of the failed Soviet campaign, Hitler lost millions of men and squandered resources that could have been better used to consolidate his holdings in Western Europe and Africa. Hitler also listened to Herman Goering when he claimed that the German Luftwaffe could put Britain out of the war; as a result, the Luftwaffe lost valuable pilots and the will of the British only increased during the Blitz. Hitler also let the Allied army escape at the Battle of Dunkirk; if he had pushed the Allied army into the English Channel in 1940, the war could have had a very different result. Hitler did not pursue his U-boat efforts strongly enough during the Battle of the Atlantic—more U-boats would have strangled Britain and hindered American supplies and men from entering the European conflict.

Hitler was lucky in the sense that he was surrounded by many successful military leaders, though that doesn't make him a "lucky improviser." Erwin Rommel was able to push the British army to the brink in North Africa. Karl Doenitz pushed for an attack against American shipping in American coastal waters in early 1942. German special forces were able to breach the Maginot Line. German commanders were trained to take advantage of conditions in the field rather than wait for the high command to give explicit orders.

Hitler was also lucky in that his foes were not prepared to fight on his terms. Many of Stalin's best generals were liquidated during the purges of the 1930s. France put too much faith into static defenses such as the Maginot Line—ironically, part of Hitler's downfall would be his faith in the coastal defenses at Normandy. Neville Chamberlain was willing to let Hitler annex Czechoslovakia and Austria if it meant keeping peace in Europe. Poland lacked the resources to take on a militarized Germany—Poland also had to contend with a Soviet invasion from the east in 1939. Hitler was lucky, but this luck was not due to his ability to improvise; rather, it stemmed from his underlings and the state of European military preparedness in late 1939–1942.

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