This Day In History: Hitler Orders Halder Not To Retreat (1941)

On this day,  Hitler issues an order forbidding German troops to retreat. Hitler had just made himself commander-in-chief as he believed that his generals were not fully committed to the war and were not loyal National Socialists. Hitler informed Halder the new German commander on the Moscow front that he and his army could not retreat. Hitler believed that will and a desire for victory was all that was needed to ensure that the Germans were victorious. General Halder was told he could keep his job on condition that he strictly enforced Hitler’s order not to retreat and accept the Fuhrer’s strategies without questioning. Halder accept the terms but was not happy with them. He had never been sympathetic to Hitler and had privately mocked his abilities as a leader and had derided his strategic capabilities. Halder had been made a member of the chief of staff in 1938 and he had even been part of a plot t o assassinate Hitler during the height of the Sudetenland crisis. Hitler was able to secure concessions from the British and the French and this prevented Halder and others from implementing their plan to kill the Nazi leader.  Halder claimed that he only accepted Hitler’s demands in December 1941 because he wanted to limit the damage that the Nazi leader would inflict on the army. The German general believed that he had to stay on to ensure that the army outside Moscow was not annihilated by the Soviets.

Soviet Soldiers on their way to the Moscow Front (1941)

The Germans were suffering heavy casualties before Moscow at this date. The Soviet General Georgi Zhukov was directing a massive counter-attack against the Germans and was pushing them back. General Zhukov made brilliant use of ski troops and  T-34 tanks. That winter was especially severe even by Russian standards. The German army was not prepared for the winter weather and many soldiers froze to death and the petrol froze in the engines of its tanks and lorries. The German front line was broken and Zhukov was able to encircle thousands of German soldiers. Halder was able to make sure that his men were able to retreat and he conducted a skillfully strategic withdrawal, despite his orders from Hitler. In doing so he saved thousands of German soldiers and possibly prevented a total collapse on the German front line. Hitler was privately furious but he could not sack Halder because he was always wary of antagonizing his generals. Halder remained in charge until the Battle of Stalingrad, when he was dismissed by Hitler.