Adolf Hitler – speech to the OKW
Flensburg, November 23, 1939
The purpose of this conference is to give you an idea of the thinking which governs my view of impending events, and to tell you my decisions. The building up of our armed forces was only possible in connection with the ideological education of the German people by the Party.
When I started my political task in 1919, my strong belief in the final success was based on a thorough observation of the events of the day and the study of the reasons for their occurrence. Therefore, in the midst of the setbacks which were not spared me during my period of struggle, I never lost my belief.
Providence had the last word and brought me success. On top of that, I had a clear recognition of the probable course of historical events and the firm will to make brutal decisions.
The first decision was in 1919, when after long internal conflict I became a politician and took up the struggle against my enemies. That was the hardest of all decisions. I had, moreover, the firm belief that I would arrive at my goal. First of all, I desired a new system of selection. I wanted to educate a minority which would take over the leadership. After 15 years I arrived at my goal, after strenuous struggles and many setbacks.
When I came to power in 1933, a period of the most difficult struggle lay behind me. Everything existing before that had collapsed. I had to reorganize everything beginning with the mass of the people and extending it to the armed forces. First internal reorganization, abolition of the appearances of decay and of the defeatist spirit, education to heroism.
While still engaged in internal reorganization, I undertook the second task-to release Germany from its international bonds. Two particular landmarks are to be pointed out in this connection-secession from the League of Nations and denunciation of the Disarmament Conference.
It was a hard decision. The number of prophets who predicted that it would lead to the occupation of the Rhineland was large; the number of believers was very small. I was supported by the nation which stood firmly behind me when I carried out my intentions.
After that the order for rearmament. Here again there were numerous prophets who predicted misfortunes, and only a few believers. In 1935 came the introduction of compulsory military service. After that, militarization of the Rhineland, again a step believed to be impossible at that time. The number of people who put trust in me was very small. Then the beginning of the fortification of the whole country, especially in the West.
One year later came Austria; this step also was considered doubtful. It brought about a considerable strengthening of the Reich. The next step was Bohemia, Moravia, and Poland. But this step could not be accomplished in one move. First of all, in the West the West Wall had to be finished. It was not possible to reach the goal in one effort.
It was clear to me from the first moment that I could not be satisfied with the Sudeten-German territory. That was only a partial solution. The decision to march into Bohemia was made. Then followed the establishment of the Protectorate and with that the basis for the conquest of Poland was laid, but I was not quite clear at that time whether I should start first against the East and then against the West or vice-versa.
Moltke often made the same calculations in his time. By the pressure of events it came first to the fight against Poland. It will be charged against me: Fight and fight again. In fighting I see the fate of all creatures. Nobody can avoid fighting if he does not want to go under. The increasing number of people requires larger Lebensraum. My goal was to create a rational relation between the number of people and the space for them to live in.
The fight must start here. No nation can evade the solution of this problem. Otherwise it must yield and gradually go down. That is taught by history. First migration of peoples to the southeast, then adaptation of the number of people to the smaller space by emigration. In later years, adaptation of the number of people to insufficient space by reducing the numbers of births. This would lead to death of the nation, to bleeding to death. If a nation chooses this course all its weaknesses are mobilized. One yields to force from the outside and uses this force against oneself by the killing of the child. This means the greatest cowardice, decimation in numbers, and degradation. I decided on a different way-adaptation of the Lebensraum to the number of people.
It is important to recognize one thing. The state has a meaning only if it supports the maintenance of its national substance. In our case 82 million people are concerned. That means the greatest responsibility. He who does not want to assume this responsibility is not worthy of belonging to the body of the people. That gave me the strength to fight. It is an eternal problem to bring the number of Germans to a proper relationship to the available space. Security of the needed space. No calculated cleverness is of any help here, solution only with the sword. A people unable to produce the strength to fight must withdraw.
Struggles are different from those of 100 years ago. Today we can speak of a racial struggle. Today we fight for oil fields, rubber, mineral wealth, etc. After the Peace of Westphalia, Germany disintegratd. Disintegration, impotence of the German Reich was determined by treaty. This German impotence was removed by the creation of the Reich when Prussia realized her task. Then the opposition to France and England began. Since 1870, England has been against us. Bismarck and Moltke were certain that there would have to be one more action. The danger at that time was of a two-front war. Moltke was, at times, in favor of a preventive war. To take advantage of the slow progress of the Russian mobilization. German armed might was not fully employed.
Insufficient hardness of the leading personalities. The basic thought of Moltke’s plans was the offensive. He never thought of the defense.
Many opportunities were missed after Moltke’s death. The solution was only possible by attacking a country at a favorable moment. Political and military leadership were to blame that the opportunities were lost. The military leadership always declared that it was not yet ready. In 1914, there came the war on several fronts. It did not bring the solution of the problem.
Today the second act of this drama is being written. For the first time in sixty-seven years, it must be made clear that we do not have a two-front war to wage. That which has been desired since 1870, and considered as impossible of achievement, has come to pass. For the first time in history, we have to fight on only one front; the other front is at presnt free. But no one can know how long that will remain so. I have doubted for a long time whether I should strike in the East and then in the West. Basically I did not organize the armed forces in order not to strike. The decision to strike was always in me. Earlier or later I wanted to solve the problem. Unde the pressure of events, it was decided that the East was to be attacked first.
If the Polish war was won so quickly, it was due to the superiority of our armed forces. The most glorious event in our history. Unexpectedly small losses of men and material. Now the eastern front is held by only a few divisions. It is a situation which we viewed previously as impossible of achievement. Now the situation is as follows: The opponent in the West lies behind his fortifications. There is no possibility of coming to grips with him.
The decisive question is-how long can we endure this situation? Russia is at present not dangerous. It is weakened by many internal conditions. Moreover, we have the Treaty with Russia. Treaties, however, are kept as long as they serve a purpose. Russia will only keep it as long as Russia herself considers it to be to her benefit. Bismarck also thought so. One recalls the Reinsurance Treaty. Now Russia still has far-reaching goals, above all the strengthenig of her position in the Baltic.
We can oppose Russia only when we are free in the West. Further, Russia is seeking to increase her influence in the Balkans and is driving toward the Persian Gulf. That is also the goal of our foreign policy. Russia will do that which she considers to her benefit. At the present moment internationalism has retired to the background. In case Russia renounces it, she will go over to Pan- Slavism. It is difficult to see into the future. It is a fact that at the present time the Russian Army is of little worth. For the next one or two years, the present situation will remain.
Much depends on Italy, above all on Mussolini, whose death can alter everything. Italy has great goals for the consolidation of her empire. Fascism and the Duce personally are exclusively the proponents of this idea. The Court is opposed to it. As long as the Duce lives, so long can it be calculated that Italy will seize every opportunity to reach her imperialistic goals. However, it is too much to ask of Italy that she should join in the battle before Germany has seized the offensive in the West; similarly Russia did not attack until we had marched into Poland. Otherwise, Italy will think that France concerns herself only with Italy since Germany is sitting behind her West Wall. Italy will not attack until Germany has taken the offensive against France. Just as the death of Stalin, so the death of the Duce can bring danger to us. How easily the death of a statesman can come about I myself have experienced recently. Time must be used to the full; otherwise one will suddenly find himself faced with a new situation. As long as Italy maintains this position then no danger from Yugoslavia is to be feared. Similarly the neutrality of Rumania is assured by the attitude of Russia. Scandinavia is hostile to us because of Marxist influences, but is neutral now. America is still not dangerous to us because of her neutrality laws. The strengthening of our opponents by America is still not important.
The position of Japan is still uncertain; it is not yet certain whether she will join against England.
Everything is determined by the fact that the moment is favorable now; in six months it might not be so any more.
As the last factor I must in all modesty describe my own person: Irreplaceable. Neither a military man nor a civilian could replace me. Attempts at assassination may be repeated. I am convinced of my powers of intellect and of decision. Wars are always ended only by the annihilation of the opponent.
Anyone who believes differently is irresponsible. Time is working for our adversaries. Now there is a relationship of forces which can never be more propitious for us. No compromises. Hardness toward ourselves. I shall strike and not capitulate.
The fate of the Reich depends only on me.
I shall act accordingly. Today we still have a superiority such as we have never had before. After 1914 our opponents disarmed themselves of their own accord. England neglected the expansion of her fleet. The fleet is no longer sufficiently large to safeguard the shipping lanes. Only two new modern ships-Rodney and Nelson. New construction activity only in the Washington class which were, however, an unsatisfactory type.
The new measures can become effective only in 1941. In the Abyssinian war, England did not have enough forces to occupy Lake Tana. At Malta, Gibraltar, and London, little anti-aircraft protection. Since 1937, rearmament has begun again. At present, however, only a small number of divisions, which must form the nucleus of new divisions. Material for the Army being gathered together from all over the world. Not before next summer is a positive action to be expected.
The British Army has only a symbolic meaning. Rearmament in the air is proceeding. The first phase will end in the spring of 1940. Anti-aircraft has only guns from the last war. A German flyer at 6,000 meters altitude is safe from English anti-aircraft fire. The Navy will not be fully rearmed for one to two years. I have the greatest experience in all armament questions, and I know the difficulties which must be overcome therein.
After 1914, France reduced the length of service. After 1914, decrease in military might. Only in some artillery branches are we inferior. Only the French Navy was modernized. In the time after the war the French Army deteriorated. There were no changes until Germany rearmed and announced her demands.
In summary: (1) The number of active units in Germany is at the highest, (2) superiority of the Luftwaffe, (3) anti-aircraft beyond all competition, (4) the tank corps, (5) large number of anti-tank guns, five times as many machine guns as in 1914, (6) German artillery has great superiority because of the 10.5 guns, and (7) there is no French superiority in howitzers and mortars.
Numerical superiority, but also the value of the troops is greater than with the others. I was most deeply pained when I heard the opinion that the German Army was not individually as capable as it should have been. The infantry in Poland did not accomplish what one might have expected from it. Lax discipline. I believe that troops must be judged on their relative value in comparison with the opponent.
There is no doubt that our armed forces are the best. The individual German infantryman is better than the French. No hurrah-enthusiasm, but tough determination. I am told that the troops will advance only if the officers lead the way. In 1914, that was also the case. I am told we were better trained then. In reality we were only better trained on the drill field, but not for the war.
I must pay the present leadership the compliment that it is better than it was in 1914. Mention of the collapse while storming Liege. There was nothing like this in the campaign in Poland.
Five million Germans have been called to the colors. Of what importance is it if a few of them disappoint. Daring in the Army, Navy, and Luftwaffe.
I cannot bear to hear people say the Army is not in good order. Everything lies in the hands of the military leader. I can do anything with the German soldier if he is well led. We have succeeded with our small Navy in clearing the North Sea of the British. Recognition of the small Navy, especially the Commander in Chief of the Navy. We have a Luftwaffe which has succeeded in safeguarding the entire German Lebensraum. The land Army achieved outstanding things in Poland. Even in the West it has not been shown that the German soldier is inferior to the French.
Revolution from within is impossible. We are even superior to the enemy numerically in the West. Behind the Army stands the strongest armament industry of the world.
I am disturbed by the stronger and stronger appearance of the British. The Englishman is a tough opponent. Above all on the defense. There is no doubt that England will be represented in France by large forces at the latest in six to eight months.
We have an Achilles heel-the Ruhr. The conduct of the war depends on possession of the Ruhr. If England and France push through Belgium and Holland into the Ruhr, we shall be in the greatest danger. That could lead to the paralyzing of the German power of resistance. Every hope of compromise is childish. Victory or defeat! The question is not the fate of a National Socialist Germany, but who is to dominate Europe in the future. This question is worthy of the greatest efforts. Certainly England and France will assume the offensive against Germany when they are fully armed. England and France have means of pressure to bring Belgium and Holland to request English and French help. In Belgium and Holland the sympathies are all for France and England. Mention of the incident at Venlo. The man who was shot was not an Englishman, but a Dutch general staff officer. This was kept silent in the press. The Netherlands’ Government asked that the body of the Dutch officer be given up. This is one of their greatest stupidities. The Dutch press does not mention the incident any more. At a suitable time I shall exploit all that and use it to motivate my action.
If the French Army marches into Belgium in order to attack us it will be too late for us. We must anticipate them. On one more thing. U-boats, mines, and Luftwaffe (also for mines) can strike England effectively, if we have a better starting point. Now a flight to England demands so much fuel that sufficient bomb loads cannot be carried. The invention of a new type of mine is of greatest importance for the Navy. Aircraft will be the chief mine layers now.
We shall sow the English coast with mines which cannot be cleared. This mine warfare with the Luftwaffe demands a different starting point. England cannot live without its imports. We can feed ourselves. The continuous sowing of mines on the English coasts will bring England to her knees. However, this can only occur if we have occupied Belgium and Holland. It is a difficult decision for me. No one has ever achieved what I have achieved. My life is of no importance in all this. I have led the German people to a great height, even if the world does hate us now. I am setting this work on a gamble. I have to choose between victory or annihilation. I choose victory. Greatest historical choice, to be compared with the decision of Frederick the Great before the first Silesian war. Prussia owes its rise to the heroism of one man. Even there the closest advisers were disposed to capitulation. Everything depended on Frederick the Great. Also the decisions of Bismarck in 1866 and 1870 were no less great.
My decision is unalterable. I shall attack France and England at the most favorable and earliest moment. Breach of the neutrality of Belgium and Holland is of no importance. No one will question that when we have won. We shall not justify the breach of neutrality as idiotically as in 1914. If we do not violate neutrality, then England and France will. Without attack, the war cannot be ended victoriously. I consider it possible to end the war only by means of an attack. The question as to whether the attack will be successful no one can answer. Everything depends upon a kind Providence. The military conditions are favorable. A prerequisite, however, is that the leadership must give from above an example of fanatical unity. There would not be any failures if the leaders of the people always had the courage a rifleman must have. If, as in 1914, the commanders suffer a collapse of nerves, what should one demand of the simple rifleman? The only possible conclusion: The enemy must be beaten by attack.
Chances are different today than during the offensive of 1918. Numerically, we have more than 100 divisions. With respect to men, reserves can be supplied.
The material situation is good. As for the rest, what does not happen today must happen tomorrow. The whole thing means the end of the World War, not just a single action. It is a matter of not just a single question but of the existence or nonexistence of the nation.
I ask you to pass on the spirit of determination to the lower echelons.
(1) The decision is irrevocable.
(2) There is only a prospect for success if the whole Wehrmacht is determined.
The spirit of the great men of our history must hearten us all. Fate does not demand from us any more than from the great men of German history. As long as I live, I shall think only of the victory of my people. I shall shrink from nothing and shall annihilate everyone who is opposed to me. I have decided to live my life so that I can stand unashamed when I have to die.
I want to annihilate the enemy. Behind me stands the German Volk, whose morale can only grow worse. Only he who struggles with destiny can have a kind Providence. Even in the present development I see the work of Providence.
If we come through this struggle victoriously-and we shall come through it-our time will go down in the history of our Volk. I shall stand or fall in this struggle. I shall never survive the defeat of my people. No capitulation to the outside, no revolution from within.