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December 20

Hitler to Halder: No retreat!

In one of his first acts as the new commander in chief of the German army, Adolf Hitler informs General Franz Halder that there will be no retreating from the Russian front near Moscow. “The will to hold out must be brought home to every unit!”

Halder was also informed that he could stay on as chief of the general army staff if he so chose, but only with the understanding that Hitler alone was in charge of the army’s movements and strategies.

Halder accepted the terms, but it was another blow to their already tense relationship. Halder had been at odds with the Fuhrer from the earliest days of the Nazi regime, when he spoke disparagingly of Hitler’s leadership ability and feared that “this madman” would plunge Germany into war. Promoted to chief of staff in September 1938, Halder began concocting an assassination scheme shortly thereafter along with other military officers who feared another European war over the Sudetenland crisis, when Hitler demanded the German-speaking population of Czechoslovakia—and the territory in which they resided—be made part of a greater Germany. Only a “peaceful” resolution to the crisis—the forced diplomatic capitulation of Czechoslovakia—killed the conspiracy. With Hitler’s popularity among the German people growing, and the timidity of the then-commander in chief of the army, General Walter von Brauchitsch, Halder learned to live with the “madman” in power.

But Halder would continue to butt heads with Hitler, urging that military strategy be left to the general staff when Hitler wanted to impose his imperious will on the army. But as the offensive against Moscow collapsed, an offensive which Halder had supported, and for which he began to agonize over, given the number of German dead, Halder could only concede to Hitler’s seizing of power, if just to retain his position on the general staff. By staying on, Halder hoped to be able to protect the remaining German troops on the Eastern front from the consequences of Hitler’s obsession over defeating the Soviets. Unfortunately, Hitler dismissed Halder during another disastrous Russian offensive, this one against Stalingrad in 1942.

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