The Hossbach Memorandum: Hitler’s Blueprint for World War II?

 In E3, Space, Germany

Key Point: Hitler told his lis­ten­ers that Germany needed living space.

On June 24, 1937, German Minister of War Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg issued a direc­tive marked Top Secret with only four copies to be made, the first for him­self and the other three for the heads of the armed forces of the Third Reich.

Stated the min­is­ter and Wehrmacht com­man­der in chief, “The gen­er­al polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion jus­ti­fies that Germany need not con­sid­er an attack from any side. Nevertheless, the polit­i­cal­ly fluid world sit­u­a­tion — which does not pre­clude sur­pris­ing inci­dents — demands con­stant pre­pared­ness for war on the part of the German Armed Forces … to make pos­si­ble the mil­i­tary exploita­tion of polit­i­cal­ly favor­able oppor­tu­ni­ties should they occur. Preparations of the Armed Forces for a pos­si­ble war in the mobi­liza­tion period 1937 – 38 must be made with this in mind.”

The field mar­shal added that he fore­saw two pos­si­bil­i­ties of war, how­ev­er dis­tant they might be: “(1) War on two fronts with the main strug­gle in the west (Strategic Concentration Red), and (2) War on two fronts with the main strug­gle in the south­east (SC Green).” The first might be a sur­prise attack from Republican France, alarmed at the rapid pace of German rear­ma­ment, and the second was a Nazi sur­prise attack against Czechoslovakia, the poly­glot state cre­at­ed after World War I by the Allied-dic­tat­ed Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

Finally, there were a trio of addi­tion­al cases in which “spe­cial prepa­ra­tions” were to be made: “(1) Armed inter­ven­tion against Austria (Special Case Otto), (2) Warlike com­pli­ca­tions with Red Spain (SC Richard), (3) England, Poland, Lithuania take part in a war against us (Extension of Red and Green).”

The Hossbach Memorandum: Minutes of a Secret Meeting

Behind the scenes, there was a severe short­age of iron and steel in the German prewar econ­o­my, with a per­son­al strug­gle also going on between two of the Third Reich’s most pow­er­ful men, Reichs Bank President Dr. Hjalmar Schacht and the head of the Four-Year Economic Plan to pre­pare Nazi Germany for war, Prime Minister of Prussia and German Aviation Minister Colonel General Hermann Göring, who was also com­man­der in chief of the new German Luftwaffe.

According to Lt. Col. Verner R. Carlson, U.S. Army (Ret.) in his paper, The Hossbach Memorandum, “Early in 1937, when the three ser­vices — the Army, Navy, and Luftwaffe — were ordered to cut back their arms bud­gets, the order was met by a storm of protests. Göring exploit­ed his posi­tion with Hitler and ran roughshod over the other ser­vices by ‘steal­ing’ crit­i­cal mate­ri­als for build­ing the Luftwaffe.”

These, then, were the cir­cum­stances at the time of the con­fer­ence called by von Blomberg at the Old German Reich Chancellery in Berlin on the after­noon of November 5, 1937, for what Colonel Verner calls “an unprece­dent­ed secret meet­ing…. It was not a cab­i­net meet­ing. The sub­ject was con­sid­ered ‘far too impor­tant.’”

The meet­ing began at 4:15 pm and ended more than four hours later, accord­ing to the man who was there and took down the min­utes, writ­ing his report five days later. His name was Colonel Friedrich Hossbach, who on August 3, 1934, had become the per­son­al Army adju­tant of the Führer, while at the same time being divi­sion chief in the Army Personnel Office.

The doc­u­ment that he pro­duced has become known, there­fore, as the Hossbach Memorandum, and the meet­ing that it cov­ered has come down in the his­to­ry of World War II as the Hossbach Conference. The meet­ing and its doc­u­ment were later to be at the core of the con­spir­a­cy charges against the Nazi High Command at the sub­se­quent Allied International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg fol­low­ing the end of World War II.

According to the late Brig. Gen. Telford Taylor, an author and former U.S. pros­e­cu­tor at Nuremberg, “Hossbach’s life as Hitler’s aide was con­stant­ly trou­bled by the ten­sions among Blomberg, [Army com­man­der in chief Colonel General Werner von] Fritsch, and Göring.”

But now, on the cold, dark after­noon of November 5, the 43-year-old Colonel Hossbach found him­self in the cat­bird seat at an extreme­ly impor­tant his­tor­i­cal moment. Each of the ser­vice com­man­ders and the war min­is­ter him­self had brought their per­son­al aides, as well as von Blomberg’s dozen eco­nom­ics and muni­tions experts, to the meet­ing. Hitler exclud­ed them all, as well as his own five adju­tants, and thus they spent the entire con­fer­ence cool­ing their heels in adjoin­ing rooms.

As noted five days later by Hossbach, the con­fer­ees present were the Führer; War Minister von Blomberg; von Fritsch; Göring; Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, com­man­der in chief of the Navy; and the Reich’s for­eign min­is­ter, Baron Konstantin von Neurath, who had no idea why he had been sum­moned; and Colonel Hossbach.

In his own 1960 mem­oirs, Admiral Raeder recalled, “Just before the con­fer­ence, Göring had told me that the real object of the speech Hitler was going to make was to spur the Army to greater speed in rearm­ing, and after the speech I was con­vinced that this was so.”

If Foreign Minister Neurath was mys­ti­fied by his own pres­ence at the meet­ing, even more mys­te­ri­ous was the absence of the one man who should have been there, Dr. Schacht. However, only four days before the meet­ing Schacht had refused to appear at his office any longer because of the ongo­ing dis­putes with Göring, lead­ing Reich Chancellery State Secretary Dr. Hans Heinrich Lammers to com­plain on November 1, “It is always dif­fi­cult for the Führer to arrive at deci­sions in per­son­nel mat­ters. He always hoped that the prob­lems would solve them­selves. A set­tle­ment [regard­ing Schacht] had there­fore not yet occurred, because the Führer will not yet agree to the appoint­ment of only a State Secretary, but would, rather, like to name a Minister….”

In other words, the Führer had decid­ed, in prin­ci­ple, to fire Dr. Schacht, but had not yet deter­mined who his replace­ment would be. Ultimately, the post would go to Dr. Walther Funk, a pro­tege of Nazi Propaganda Minister Dr. Josef Goebbels.

Assessing German Autarchy: The Nazi Metric of Success

Basically, as agreed by all accounts, the meet­ing of November 5, 1937, began with a two-hour recita­tion by Hitler on what he saw as the sit­u­a­tion in Nazi Germany after the end of his first four and a half years in office as Reich Chancellor fol­lowed by his pro­pos­als for what he planned to do on the for­eign scene in the next few years. Again, as all accounts agree, the ser­vice chiefs except for Göring and the shocked for­eign min­is­ter opposed these stated goals for the rest of the meet­ing.

Following the stan­dard “Party nar­ra­tive” that pre­ced­ed all of his prewar and wartime speech­es detail­ing what both he as Führer, and the Nazi Part in gen­er­al, had accom­plished for Germany thus far, Hitler launched into the eco­nom­ic seg­ment of his talk, the sup­posed reason for the call­ing of the meet­ing in the first place. He start­ed with the topic of eco­nom­ic autarchy, or inde­pen­dence, to offset the expect­ed British naval block­ade of the next war like the one that had so con­strict­ed Imperial Germany in World War I.

To quote the actual Hossbach Memorandum: “In the field of raw mate­ri­als only lim­it­ed, not total, autarchy. In regard to coal, so far as it could be con­sid­ered as a source of raw mate­ri­als, autarchy was pos­si­ble, but even as regards ores, the posi­tion was much more dif­fi­cult. Iron require­ments can be met from home resources, and sim­i­lar­ly with light metals, but with other raw mate­ri­als — copper, tin — this was not the case. Synthetic tex­tile require­ments can be met from home resources to the limit of timber sup­plies. A per­ma­nent solu­tion impos­si­ble. Edible fats — pos­si­ble.”

Hitler con­tin­ued, “In the field of food, the ques­tion of autarchy was to be answered by a flat ‘no.’”

Over the years, almost all writ­ers have crit­i­cized Hitler’s abil­i­ties as a mil­i­tary leader with­out giving due weight to the spheres of polit­i­cal lead­er­ship and the eco­nom­ic con­cerns of a modern state as shown in the pre­ced­ing speech. Then, for him, there was the explo­sive issue of the Reich’s pop­u­la­tion growth and the lim­it­ed ter­ri­to­r­i­al space in which to put it during the decades of the 1940s and 1950s.

“The pos­si­bil­i­ty of a dis­as­ter grew in pro­por­tion to the increas­es in bread con­sump­tion, since a child was a greater bread con­sumer than an adult,” one observ­er rea­soned.

Expanding Germany’s Lebensraum Through Force

In sum­ma­tion, Hitler told his lis­ten­ers that Germany needed living space (or Lebensraum) to absorb this prewar “baby boom,” and the ques­tion was where to find it? He quick­ly answered his own ques­tion: since Great Britain had effec­tive­ly reject­ed a con­ti­nen­tal alliance with the Reich against the Soviet Union and also had refused her colo­nial demands, the req­ui­site ter­ri­to­ry would have to be found in the East, the lands of the Soviet Union, as he had writ­ten in his 1925 book, Mein Kampf.

He told the assem­bly that he needed to pre­pare the way for the great war of con­quest with the Soviet Union through a series of “small wars,” if need be, with Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. As for the latter, he had offered the late Polish First Marshal Josef Pilsudski a mil­i­tary alliance in 1934 to joint­ly invade Joseph Stalin’s domains, only to be reject­ed gruffly by the old mar­shal. In 1939, there­fore, Hitler invad­ed Poland first instead.

National Interest source|articles

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