This work describes the turbulent existence of the German general staff from its resurrection by Hitler in 1935 to the end of World War II. It highlights the increasingly fractured relationship between general staff officers and Hitler during this period—a deteriorating situation that culminated in von Stauffenberg’s abortive attempt to assassinate the Führer in 1944. The failure of this plot and the unsuccessful efforts to initiate Operation Valkyrie, a plan to wrest control of Germany from the Nazis, ultimately sealed the fate of the general staff as both Hitler and Himmler exacted a series of savage reprisals in the final stages of the war.
Using a wealth of new research material, David Stone has produced a masterful account of this tumultuous period, which gives detailed insight into the actions and motivations of key figures in the German Army during their dealings with the Nazis at the highest level throughout the war. Beset by stronger enemies on all fronts, the German Army also had to grapple with an internal command structure that often inhibited the pragmatic application of military solutions.
The author traces the historical development of the general staff and subsequently examines the tensions and challenges it faced under the Third Reich. The crisis of conscience that many officers faced is also highlighted, as the articles of the Soldier’s Oath—a personal vow of loyalty to Hitler himself—seemed increasingly irreconcilable with the actions of an ideologically obsessed and dangerous leader.
The book dispels many prevalent myths that surround the general staff, such as its perceived infallibility, the belief that it unquestioningly supported Hitler’s policies, and the convention that it was primarily the general staff which persuaded Hitler to declare war in 1939. At the same time, it identifies failings of the general staff as a whole that meant serious errors of judgment were made in dealings with the Nazis both before and after the party’s rise to power. Yet the general staff was still able to prosecute the war effectively up to late 1941 and to prolong the conflict to 1945, despite overwhelming odds and diminished resources. Such feats did not satisfy the Führer, however, and ultimately the disaffected general staff’s links to the German resistance movement led to a catastrophic fall into ruin.
“…packed with maps, organizational charts and a glossary. The work is solid and delves into the heart of an extremely complex subject. David Stone should be congratulated on producing such an accessible and vivid description of how a proud institution can fall.”
"Stone has crafted a highly readable story that artfully blends the general staff's brief history with Germany's, from the late 19th century through the end of World War II."
MILITARY HISTORY, 2013-01-15