Although Hitler will always be remembered for the atrocities he caused during the Second World War, he did possess several strengths that are characteristic of a good military leader. Hitler had the uncanny ability to commit precise details to memory, particularly historical information, technical facts, economic statistics, and past personal experiences. “It enabled him to retain inessentials exactly and to store away everything he ever saw: his teachers and classmates; the figures in the Wild West stories of Karl May; the authors of books he had once read; even the brand name of the bicycle he had used as a courier in 1915. He also remembered the exact dates of events in his political career, the inns where he had stayed, and the streets on which he had been driven.” To compensate for Hitler’s lack of education in the technical field, he would read everything that was put in front of him. David Irving is unsure if Hitler had a secret method which enhanced his power of memory but does offer the following as an example of Hitler’s retentive ability:
When the Red Book of arms production reached him each month, he would take a scrap of paper and, using a colored pencil selected from the tray on his desk, scribble down a few random figures as he ran his eyes over the columns. Then he would throw away the paper—but the figures remained indelibly in his memory—column by column, year after year—to confound his bureaucratic but more fallible aides with the proof of their own shortcomings. One month he pounced on a printing error in the current Red Book: an “8” instead of a “3.” He had remembered the right figure from the previous month’s edition.
Hitler’s amazing memory also served him well in his ability to comprehend technical matters and problems with armaments. His knowledge of guns, tanks, ships and their capabilities as weapons of war benefited Germany’s war fighting machine. Hitler was credited with the idea of mounting 75-millimeter long-barrel guns in German tanks and pointing out the flaw in German warship design in which the forecastle was built so low that it would dive beneath the waves in heavy seas. He was well versed in the armament and speed of German and foreign warships as well as where demolition charges should be placed on canal bridges for the greatest effect, how thick the concrete should be in fortifications, and the type of guns that should be used on the Norwegian fjords. Hitler had a firm grasp on the capabilities of the gasoline engine and was always interested in other technical areas, specifically in the production of synthetic materials. He could instantly recall the effect of the enemy’s latest weapon systems and figures pertaining to German and enemy war production. He relied heavily on civilian professionals to run his armament program since he felt military technologists were lazy, bureaucratic, and backward. Hitler’s technical ability and direct contributions to the war effort are even more amazing due to the fact that he never received any formal education in technology and did not have a background in industry.
Hitler credited his military leadership to the experience he gained as a common soldier in the First World War where he received the coveted Iron Cross Second Class and also the Iron Cross First Class which was one of Germany’s highest decorations during that period. Hitler believed, based on his personal experience, that he could view the battle from a soldier’s perspective and understood how the common soldier felt when fighting on the front lines.
Field Marshal Erich von Manstein credits Hitler with a number of characteristics essential to military leadership such as a strong will, nerves of steel, and undeniable intelligence. However, Manstein does not agree with Hitler’s self-proclaimed sense of identification with or compassion for the common soldier.
Hitler was always harping on his ‘soldierly’ outlook and loved to recall that he had acquired his military experience as a front-line-soldier, his character had as little in common with the thoughts and emotions of soldiers as had his party with the Prussian virtues which it was so fond of invoking. Hitler was certainly quite clearly informed of conditions at the front through the reports he received from the army groups and armies. In addition, he frequently interviewed officers who had just returned from the front-line areas. Thus he was not only aware of the achievements of our troops, but also knew what continuous overstrain they had had to endure. Losses, as far as he was concerned, were merely figures which reduced fighting power. They were unlikely to have seriously disturbed him as a human being.
Hitler also possessed the ability to adjust his conversation to the mentality of his audience. He could discuss highly technical matters with industrialists, engage in political conversations with diplomats, or simplify complex problems to a level easily understood by the common working class. Hitler used this talent to build his self-confidence by not allowing himself to feel intimidated when surrounded by those of a higher educational or cultural background and could comfortably discuss such topics as art, music, or literature. Hitler also used this skill when he wanted to persuade someone to accept his point of view. He always knew why a person wanted to see him before they arrived and had his counter-arguments so well prepared that the individual would leave convinced that Hitler’s logic was sound and not unreasonable.