Book Review: Shattered Genius: The Decline and Fall of the German General Staff in World War II


by David Stone

Philadelphia: Casemate, 2012. Pp. 424. Illus., maps, glossary, appends., notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 1612000983

The Curious Brilliance of the German General Staff.

British military historian Stone takes a fresh look at the German General Staff during the Second World War.  He opens with an overview of the history of the general staff from its triumph over France in 1870 through the disaster of 1918, during which it demonstrated both its skill at planning and conducting war on a grand scale, but failed to deliver victory

But Stone also documents the General Staff’s blind spots, notably its failure to grasp the diplomatic, political, and economic aspects of warfare between the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, which ultimately led to defeat in 1918.  This short-sightedness manifests itself through the balance of the book.  Stone carries the story of the general staff through the post-World War I years of military reform under Seeckt and Hindenburg, seeking to revive German military might, to the rise of Hitler. 

The bulk of the book, of course, deals with the general staff's relationship with Hitler and the Nazi regime.  Some officers were unsure of the some of the actions of the regime, but on the whole the general staff served Hitler well , delivering the spectacular victories of 1939, 1940, and 1941 .  Although in postwar writings senior German officers often blamed Hitler for errors and reverses, in fact despite its “perceived infallibi lity ,” as Stone puts it, Hitler often made better decisions than those urged by the general staff, a matter that did not figure in the memoirs.  Nevertheless, it was the skill of the general staff that enabled Germany to hold out as long as it did .  But it’s also worth keeping in mind that despite its enormous skill, the German General Staff never won a war after 1870, due to its inability to fully understand the nature of modern warfare

Shattered Genius is an important read for anyone interested in World War II in Europe.

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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