Adolf Hitler, the Wehrmacht and military jointness

Wehrmacht jointness

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Adolf Hitler and Joint Warfare


Joel Hayward

Reprint edition. Copyright © 2018 by Joel Hayward. 

First published:

Wellington: Military Studies Institute, NZ Army, 2000

ISBN 0-478-11451-6


Joint operations involve the closely synchronised employment of two or more service branches under a unified command. Military theorists and commentators now believe that they prove more effective in most circumstances of modern warfare than operations involving only one service or involving two or more services but without systematic integration or unified command. Many consider the Wehrmacht, Nazi Germany's armed forces, pioneers of "jointness". They point out that Blitzkrieg, the war-fighting style that brought the Wehrmacht stunning victories between 1939 and 1941, depended upon the close integration of ground and air (and sometimes naval) forces and that, even after the Blitzkrieg campaigns gave way to a drawn-out war of attrition, the Wehrmacht routinely conducted operations in a fashion that would today be called "joint". That is, elements of two or more services participated in close cooperation with mutually agreed goals, relatively little inter-service rivalry, and a command structure that, at least at the "sharp end" of operations, promoted, rather than inhibited, a spirit of jointness. As a result, the scholars claim, the Wehrmacht enhanced its capabilities and improved its combat effectiveness.

This view of the Wehrmacht goes back a long way; back, in fact, to the war itself. For example, in 1941 the United States War Department, which, closely monitored events in Europe and North Africa, claimed in its Handbook of German Military Forces: "The outstanding characteristic of German military operations in the present war has been the remarkable coordination of the three sister services, Army, Navy and Air Force, into a unified command for definite tasks. These services do not [merely] cooperate in a campaign; rather their operations are coordinated by the High Command of the Armed Forces."

Without becoming anachronistic — after all, jointness as a defined concept is very recent ― this monograph attempts something long overdue: an analysis of Adolf Hitler's influence on the Wehrmacht's efforts to integrate the employment of its forces and thereby increase its effectiveness. The study demonstrates two main points: first, that Hitler certainly understood the value of integrating his land, sea and air forces and placing them under a unified command (first Field Marshal Blomberg's; later his own); and second, that he also saw the benefit of placing them under operational commanders who possessed at least a rudimentary understanding of the tactics, techniques, needs, capabilities and limitations of each of the services functioning in their combat zone. Hitler was thus innovative and several years ahead of his peers in the democracies, Italy and the Soviet Union. Yet this study concludes that, largely because of Hitler's unusual command style and difficulties with delegation, the Wehrmacht lacked elements that today's theorists consider essential to the attainment of truly productive jointness (a single joint commander or Joint Chief of Staff, a proper joint staff, a joint planning process, and an absence of inter-service rivalry) and that, as a result, it often suffered needless difficulties in combat.

For Wehrmacht joint operations, see also:

Joel Hayward, “Eine Fallstudie früher integrierter Kriegführung: Eine Analyse des Krimfeldzuges der Wehrmacht im Jahre 1942”, Vierteljahreshefte für Geschichtsforschung, 3. Jahrgangs. Heft 1 (März 1999), pp. 21-37. Read this article HERE.

Joel Hayward, "A Case Study in Early Joint Warfare: An Analysis of the Wehrmacht's Crimean Campaign of 1942", The Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 22, No. 4 (December 1999), pp. 103-130. Read this article HERE.

Joel Hayward, "A Case Study in Effective Command: An Analysis of Field Marshal Richthofen's Character and Career", New Zealand Army Journal, No. 18 (January 1998), pp. 7- 18.

Joel Hayward, "Von Richthofen's 'giant fire-magic': The Luftwaffe's Contribution to the Battle of Kerch, 1942", The Journal of Slavic Military Studies, Vol. 10, No. 2 (June 1997), pp. 97-124. Read this article HERE.

Joel Hayward, "The German Use of Airpower at Kharkov, May 1942", Air Power History, Vol. 44, No. 2 (Summer 1997), pp. 18-29.

Joel Hayward, "Stalingrad: An Examination of Hitler’s Decision to Airlift", Airpower Journal, Vol. 11, No. 1 (Spring 1997), pp. 21-37. Read this article HERE.  It can be read in Spanish HERE.