Study Guide

Other Military Leaders in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

By William L. Shirer

Other Military Leaders

General Freiherr Werner von Fritsch

Fritsch deserves a mention here, because, like General Werner von Blomberg, he was one of the German Army generals who was dismissed in disgrace in 1938 after being framed for homosexual acts, which were considered criminal under German law.

Actually, Fritsch would have deserved a mention even if he didn't have a chapter named after his "strange, fateful fall." In 1934, when Hitler expected that the aging President Paul von Hindenburg would soon die, he began to bargain with the German Army and Navy for their support in his plan to take the presidency himself. Fritsch was Commander in Chief of the Army at the time, and along with General Werner von Blomberg and Admiral Erich Raeder (who was the current Commander in Chief of the Navy), he decided to support Hitler's plan to succeed President Hindenburg.

In Shirer's words: "For the Army this political decision was to prove of historic significance. By voluntarily offering to put itself in the unrestrained hands of a megalomaniacal dictator it was sealing its own fate" (2.7.130).

Fritsch's own fate was sealed in 1938, when Heinrich Himmler and his crony Reinhard Heydrich framed him for homosexual acts, considered criminal under German law, and succeeded in convincing Hitler to ask for his resignation. Fritsch gave it. Although he was later exonerated of all charges, he wasn't returned to his command. Other than Shirer's occasional references to the frame-up, Fritsch exits The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich after the trial.

Shirer makes a point of noting that after Hitler announced his intentions, in the autumn of 1937, to wage war against Austria and Czechoslovakia in the near future, Fritsch was one of the few who "dared to speak up and question the Fuehrer's pronouncement" (3.10.160). They all lost their positions. In his analysis, it was Fritsch's clear "hostility to the Nazi Party and especially to the S.S." that provoked Himmler to get him out of the way (3.11.25).

General Alfred Jodl

Jodl was a colonel who had recently been named head of the Home Defense Department when Hitler staged his military occupation of the demilitarized Rhineland.

Throughout The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Shirer often draws on Jodl's diary entries, and later his testimony from the Nuremburg trials, as he pieces together analyses of the German Army's actions during the Second World War.

Shirer's descriptions of Jodl are of a brilliant young officer who fell totally under Hitler's spell. By the time that Germany conquered France in the summer of 1940, Jodl was "the Number Two officer at OKW" (4.21.148), which ranked him just below General Wilhelm Keitel, who was himself directly subordinate to Hitler. Jodl remained active throughout the remainder of the war, and was one of the few German Army officers who managed not to be dismissed, forced to retire, or executed for some error or offense.

In the "Brief Epilogue," we learn that Jodl was sentenced to death at Nuremberg and hanged.

Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel

Keitel was chairman of the Working Committee of the Reich Defense Council. By 1933, he was contributing to Germany's secret rearmament in blatant disregard for the Treaty of Versailles. By 1940 he had been named a field marshal.

In February 1938, Hitler made some big changes to the management of Germany's armed forces that proved lucky for Keitel. After Hitler abolished the War Ministry and made himself head of the newly created OKW, the role of second-in-command went to Keitel, who now bore the title Chief of the High Command of the Armed Forces. That was a very big deal.

Shirer describes Keitel as "an arrogant and ambitious man […] of feeble mind and moral character." Keitel was executed at Nuremberg in 1946.

General Erich Ludendorff

Ludendorff had been second-in-command to Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg during the First World War, but as Shirer argues, he "had been the virtual dictator of Germany for the last two years of the war" (1.2.22).

After the end of the war in 1918, Ludendorff disguised himself and fled to Sweden. He later returned and settled in Munich, which in 1920 "became a magnet for all those forces in Germany which were determined to overthrow the Republic, set up an authoritarian regime and repudiate the Diktat of Versailles" (1.2.22).

By the early 1920s, as Hitler began to work to consolidate anti-republican groups in Bavaria, Ludendorff began to figure in the young would-be Fuehrer's plans. As Shirer argues, Hitler could see perfectly that Ludendorff's status among the officer corps and conservative groups in Germany could be a big help to the largely unknown Hitler.

Shirer traces Ludendorff's early involvement with the Nazi Party, up to his participation in the infamous Beer Hall Putsch. After that, we don't hear much about him. He died in 1937.

Admiral Erich Raeder

Raeder makes his first appearance in one of Shirer's many "flash-forwards" to the Nuremberg trials and throughout the rest of the book he makes regular appearances as the Commander in Chief of the German Navy.

Unlike a number of the other men of the German officer corps, Raeder seems to have had few misgivings about his fanatical Fuehrer's desire to take Germany to war. At one point, Shirer even characterizes him as being "completely under the Fuehrer's spell" (3.10.31).

Like Blomberg and Fritsch, Raeder lent Hitler crucial support in 1934 when the young would-be Fuehrer decided to name himself President of the German Reich after the death of President Hindenburg. "It is believed that Hitler […] held out to Fritsch and Raeder the prospect of an immense expansion of the Army and Navy, if they were prepared to go along with him," writes Shirer, before adding: "With the fawning Raeder there was no question but that he would" (2.7.128).

More so than Hitler, Raeder seems to have had a solid grasp of the strengths and limitations of the German Navy, and on more than one occasion he tried to advise Hitler on the strategies that would be needed if Germany was going to win the war.

Although he remained loyal to Hitler until the end, Raeder was dismissed from his post in January 1943 after Hitler threw a hissy fit about the Navy's losses in the Arctic ocean (5.28.33).

Raeder lived to survive the war, and at the Nuremberg trials, he was sentenced to life imprisonment (Epilogue.8).

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel

Rommel, aka the "Desert Fox," became one of the German Army's most famous officers during the course of the Second World War. He won impressive victories for Germany in North Africa before the Allies finally drove his troops back. In 1944, he was so popular among the German people that when Hitler decided to execute him for treason, he hushed up the real reason for the field marshal's death and gave him a fancy state funeral.

Although Rommel had been in contact with the anti-Nazi conspirators who hatched the July Plot, he hadn't participated actively in the plot himself. In fact, the conspirators didn't trust him. They thought he was an opportunist who only agreed to talk with them because he thought the war was going to be lost. Like many of the men who later claimed at Nuremberg to have wanted to overthrow Hitler, Rommel seemed hesitant to commit himself fully to the conspiracy.

In the bloody fallout of the failed assassination attempt and coup, Rommel was implicated in the conspiracy. Hitler was determined to do away with him, but went about it carefully: he gave Rommel the opportunity to kill himself. If he did, he was told, "he would be given a state funeral with full military honors and his family would not be molested" (5.29.347).

Rommel took the deal, and swallowed poison in October 1944. Rather than tell the German people that their "idol" had participated in treasonous activity, the Nazis announced that he had died of a cerebral embolism which had been caused by previous injuries that he'd sustained in battle.

General Kurt von Schleicher

If you take a look at Kurt von Schleicher's photo on the Encyclopedia Britannica's website, you'll notice he's a dead ringer for Daddy Warbucks. We don't think they're the same guy, but then we've never seen them together, either, so…

Schleicher served briefly as the Chancellor of the German Reich and was one of the first German Army generals who paved the way for Hitler's rise to power and helped him get the position as Chancellor. Getting appointed as Chancellor gave Hitler the "in" he needed to realize his dream of becoming the all-powerful Fuehrer of the Third Reich. By helping him, Schleicher not only helped to hammer the last nails in the coffin of the Weimar Republic, but helped to bring about the birth of Nazi Germany as well.