The world as we know it has seen the likes of the most feared and infamous dictators and military geniuses. Some of these people have even shaped the way the world is today and their influences are still felt. Among such dictators are Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler, leaders of France and Germany respectively at two different periods. Adolf Hitler’s reign of power begins in 1933 when he is appointed Chancellor of Germany and his reign ends with his suicidal death on April 30 1945. Napoleon Bonaparte’s reign of military power begins in 1783 until he resigns in 1814, yet he has a slight military rebirth after that but it only lasts for a very short time.
Both leaders’ careers are filled with massive successes yet they are also littered with massive defeats that truly change the way the world is today. Although these leaders can be considered geniuses, it does not mean they are perfect and not susceptible to the pull of human nature. Adolf Hitler and Napoleon Bonaparte are two of the foremost military strategists and totalitarian leaders yet both had lapses in their judgment, both exhibit episodes of cowardice and both fail in their battles with Russia, ultimately ending their reigns.
Adolf Hitler and Napoleon Bonaparte both have several lapses in judgment on the battlefield, and in the planning rooms, during their reigns. While these lapses in judgment immediately may not result in the defeat of an army, when they are added together the results can and often were disastrous. Though Hitler had a strong army that could fight well, the mismanagement of that army and the people around it eventually lead to his personal demise as well as his army’s demise. Napoleon too is responsible for making several irresponsible and debilitating decisions during his reign.
The Rhineland, a buffer zone between France and Germany that was formed at the end of World War I in the treaty of Versailles, is a very sensitive area that cannot be occupied by any German military forces. When Adolf Hitler announces to his political party and advisors that he wants to occupy this area, they are incredibly shocked and disappointed at their leader, as this would bring massive retaliations from the French and its allies. Amazingly enough, Hitler gambles on this decision and wins, as the French are initially shocked and eventually just let it go, giving Germany a front in
which to attack France from. This action is discussed by all of the leagues and officials at this time and it still is accepted and Germany receives no penalty for occupying the Rhineland. If there had been opposition stemming from this incident though, the Germans would surely have been destroyed, as their army is not even close to being prepared for a major battle.
The second decision that Hitler puts into effect is the occupation of Czechoslovakia, an occupation that sends to the rest of Europe the message that Hitler is hungry for land. Most states do not voice their opinion at this stage of Hitler’s reign though, and the one of the only areas that at least thinks about stopping Hitler is France. Hitler’s decisions continue to upset France and throw the balance of European power into a chaotic state. First the Rhineland is occupied by Germany, and now Czechoslovakia is taken by force; these tactics taken by Germany make France decide that the next detrimental decision made by Hitler should have a detrimental effect on his own forces, an effect that will be delivered personally by the French forces.
The third decision that Hitler executes improperly is the invasion of Poland at the precursor of World War Two. With Germany simply ignoring the previous alliance with Poland it makes it very hard for Hitler to convince other nations and people to trust him. He also makes it seem that he is only running military maneuvers in the area, which is another example of how other political leaders can distrust him. Because of these decisions, Italy will not fight on Germany’s side and Germany’s unwillingness to back from Poland prompts France and Britain to prematurely enter into direct conflict with Germany, a conflict that Hitler does not believe will take place. Although the Germans easily win the Polish War, it sets an ominous tone for the events to come.
Perhaps one of the biggest lapses in judgment that Hitler makes during World War II is the Battle of Britain. Operation Sea Lion definitely is not a success for Germany as they lose their battle as well as fully bring Britain into the war. The people of the beleaguered Great Britain, which is under constant attack at all times, are drawn together to fully strengthen the war cause. If there was ever any doubt about why Hitler and Germany should be stopped it is pushed away and full on hatred for Germany forms. Germany’s Luftwaffe loses quite heavily as its planes and equipment simply is not up to the English advances in technology, such as radar. The Battle of Britain is an unnecessary and disastrous venture for the Germans and they are faced with heavy losses and morale issues, as Berlin is counter attacked by British warplanes with relative success.
Another small defeats adding up to a huge failure in the long wrong include losing the campaign in North Africa, and leaving forces in the area for quite some time while the rest of the war continues. These supplies could have been used for other campaigns occurring at the time and the tanks that are being utilized in North Africa can also be used in the defence of Germany when Allied forces invade it.
Napoleon Bonaparte too is susceptible to making bad decisions. While his early military career is littered with amazing and wild successes, his first campaign in the East is a miserable failure. While the initial invasion is a success, the British forces catch most of France’s navy anchored and destroy it, thus leaving much of France’s army stranded in Egypt, Napoleon included. With plague and the constant destruction of French forces, Napoleon knows that the campaign is doomed to failure and leaves his men to die in Egypt while he makes his way towards France once again.
The way Napoleon and his soldiers conduct themselves in their occupied Spain is also quite disturbing. After taking over Spain there are continual attempts by the people to overtake their new French government. Napoleon does not take kindly to such actions and begins the slaughtering and torture of his enemies. Napoleon and his men before simply did not practice this type of warfare and now getting into this type of war is definitely the wrong thing to do. There is no definite winner or loser in Spain as Napoleon simply keeps it occupied with soldiers for five years.
The most incredible lapse of judgment of both Hitler and Napoleon occurs when they both decide that they want to conquer Russia. Hitler and Bonaparte both failed in Russia thus ending their full-fledged military advancement. The Russian campaign is considered a huge failure asked for by Hitler and Napoleon. Each leader’s decision for invading Russia is very different with Hitler invading for lebensraum (space for living) and Napoleon invading to somewhat defend France with Russian forces on France’s borders.
While both reasons can be seen as rational to a totalitarian leader, neither leader could decide just what to do while inside of the Red country. Although both campaigns lasted much longer than expected, with Hitler and his advisors expecting Operation Barbarossa (the German codename for the invasion) to be a success in eight to ten weeks and Napoleon prophesized his battles would be complete within twenty days. While both can be reasonable estimates while simply looking at the equipment, training, and manpower involved, the leaders of both campaigns do not factor in human resistance, weather, and simply sheer luck.
Both campaigns immediately take the same face from the get go, with both forces finding very slim lines of defence to stop them. While Hitler simply engages and destroys the forthcoming Russian defence, Napoleon is faced with a much more daunting situation as the Russian forces employ a strong scorched earth policy, leaving nothing behind for Napoleon’s forces to use for the remainder of the campaign. Because of this policy Napoleon and his forces dwindle on a massive scale, as soldiers fall out from exhaustion, sickness, and desertion at a staggering rate of five thousand per day. After two months, and before Napoleon’s forces could fight a single major battle, one hundred and fifty thousand soldiers are out of action.
One of the most disabling situations that occur in Germany’s quest for Russian supremacy is the continual confusion and debate occurring between Hitler and his cabinet, something that many believe cannot happen in a totalitarian regime. Hitler continually intervened on his advisor’s decisions and made all final decisions on his own, something that is very dangerous when you consider Hitler’s mental stability. In Russia he changes his mind several times before settling for Leningrad as the primary objective and Moscow as the secondary objective in Barbarossa, much to the chagrin of his advisors. In what could be one of the unlikely and unusual decisions of the campaign, Hitler decides to merely surround Leningrad instead of taking it by force, something that could be accomplished within weeks. Instead of actually taking Leningrad, Hitler then decides that Moscow is the primary objective after all and sends a bulk of his forces towards it. The first of Germany’s weather problems occurs in the taking of Moscow as heavy rainfall hinders the German offensive.
An additional major mistake that can be attributed to Napoleon’s downfall in Russia is the fact that great portions of his fighting forces are not even French. Due to this situation most of these soldiers simply left because they did not have a personal attachment to the cause. The fight was being fought simply for the fulfillment of their leaders’ alliance with Napoleon.
Hitler could not crush the Russian cities while he had the chance and Napoleon waited too long to retreat. This fact coupled with Russia’s troops fighting in a religious manner results in a downshift in Russian morale.
Although Napoleon successfully takes Moscow he accomplishes it in a ridiculous manner. He does not fight the strategic battle style that he is greatly known for and simply throws throngs of his soldiers at the inspired Russians and although his forces do win the battle it does not come with massive personnel and morale losses.
The scorched earth policy being employed by the Russian forces definitely takes a dramatic increase when the French forces take Moscow. When Napoleon and his forces enter Moscow they find it mainly abandoned and by the end of the night it begins to burn with fire, fire lit by the Russians themselves. French forces cannot stay in Moscow and use its shelter, food, and water resulting in a losing situation for France.
The scorched earth policy also takes a very crucial part in Russia’s victory in Operation Barbarossa as Stalin implores his soldiers and citizens to employ such a tactic that would deprive the oncoming Germans of important supplies. This can lead one to believe that the Russian campaign is won on the basis of nationalism and the idea of helping your fellow citizen the same that you help yourself, a very basic and fundamental communist belief.
While all of the other factors involved in taking Russia are very important and crucial, by far the most important of them is the Russian winters that decimated both offensive forces. The winter to Napoleon means the end of his campaign in Russia, and the end of his military supremacy. The Tsar of Russia uses the winter as a great defensive tool as he knows that the French forces cannot take a winter battle and he is definitely correct. The French forces disembark from Moscow in the fall and three weeks later the harsh Russian winter arrives. The temperatures quickly fell and so too did the number of soldiers. The French simply cannot survive with starvation, fatigue, and the extreme cold constantly hounding them. With few French soldiers behind him, Napoleon finally returns to the French capital faced with the daunting task of rationalizing his disgusting defeat.
The few Russian winters that Germany has to deal with are among the worst the world has ever seen. In the December 1941 to March 1942 portion of the campaign Germany suffers heavy losses and cannot take Moscow, Hitler’s prime directive and the German forces now have to halt their offensive. In the winter the German forces take a huge blow as the Russians accomplish counter offensive attacks.
These attacks are highly successful due to the failing equipment of the Germans coupled with the lack of personal equipment such as jackets and proper footwear coupled with Hitler forcing the soldiers to not retreat and make the soldiers fight as long as they can. The German military commander resigns during this time due to Hitler being overbearing and Hitler takes full command of the forces. Finally realizing his forces are being decimated on a massive scale, Hitler calls for full withdrawal in January, a task that is much easier said than done. Oddly enough, Hitler actually gains more support from his soldiers and the citizens at home because of his actions.
Again, though, Hitler begins the spring and summer offensive with relative success and then begins to lose it again. The Russian front is much too large for Germany and its now dwindling supply of soldiers and forces are being spread much too thin. The country is simply much too large to be taken for Germany and Hitler soon begins realizing this. Russia forces Germany into a war of attrition that is simply cannot compete with and Hitler must withdraw all offensive troops except ones stationed at Stalingrad and other very important points. Eventually, during the following winter the Germans are once again decimated by Russian forces and are forced to evacuate from Stalingrad after many requests to Hitler.
Although Hitler makes many plans and tries to implement them with relative success, the German withdrawal takes place between 1943-1944. The German forces are finally removed from the Russian territory with a resounding sense of success emanating from the allies. The defeat of Germany in Russia very greatly depletes the Germans of supplies and forces the Germans to now fight on many fronts while throwing the German military strategists into a state of confusion. Further bombing runs by England begin to eliminate most of the raw materials processing plants employed by the Germans. The invasion of Normandy is carried out by the Allied forces with success and the liberation of Germany begins, and all simply because the taking of Russia is not accomplished.
While both Hitler and Napoleon are widely considered military geniuses their lack of effective judgment, courage, and success in Russia equaled a long and tiring end to their military careers.