He hoped, he told his thoroughly bewildered listeners, Nazi Germany could acquire Austria and Czechoslovakia by diplomacy, but if not, he was prepared to go to war against both Britain and France if they intervened against him.
Noted Colonel Verner in his summation of the Memorandum, “The salient question for Germany was: where and how could it ‘achieve the greatest gain at lowest cost?’” Germany’s current arms would be obsolete by 1943-1945, and therefore she must strike prior to that time or lose the war.
Objections to Hitler’s War Plans
Hitler’s listeners were aghast. They did not raise moral arguments, however, to invading neutral countries in peacetime, but questioned instead Germany’s strength to wage a second war on two fronts. The two-front strategy had contributed to the German defeat in World War I, and all those assembled were veterans of that great conflict.
Göring, who knew Hitler’s thoughts well enough on the subject, only suggested that, perhaps, in light of the Führer’s statements, Nazi Germany should wind down her clandestine involvement in aiding Nationalist General Francisco Franco’s forces in the Spanish Civil War, to which Hitler replied that this was not yet necessary.
Since the timetable for war hardly affected his navy, Admiral Raeder said little in response. It was the two soldiers present, von Blomberg and von Fritsch, who objected to the coming program of aggression most vehemently. In their view, Germany was simply not ready for a general war with either France or England, and behind them the far-flung, mighty British Empire and eventually the United States. Then there was the vastness of Stalin’s Russia, which von Blomberg had seen firsthand in the 1920s while training the clandestine German Army on Russian soil with Red Army help.
The foreign minister, too, was astounded at the prospect of his thus-far peaceful policy with the rest of Europe being torn to shreds in favor of “small wars” of aggression that he was convinced, rightly as it turned out, would lead to a far greater one.
The two soldiers made their criticisms of Göring, not Hitler, but in this way nonetheless got their jointly held viewpoint across. Privately, the Führer was seething with rage. He had not rebuilt the German armed forces from scratch starting in 1933 without the intent to use them in opportune moments. Ironically, Göring agreed in secret with the two Army generals, who were his rivals for power, but kept his views to himself since he wanted to retain his position in the Nazi state. Göring realized he could only maintain that position at the Führer’s side, not opposed to him.
Later, Hossbach would write in his postwar memoirs, “I do remember exactly that the sharpness of the opposition both in content and form did not fail to make its impression on Hitler, as I could see from his changing expression. Every detail of the conduct of Blomberg and Fritsch must have made plain to Hitler that his policies had met with cold, impersonal contradiction, instead of applause and agreement.”
The meeting broke up on this note. As Raeder later recalled, “On the way out of the room, von Blomberg assured me once more that the whole thing was not meant seriously. Anyway, I did not feel at all that our foreign policy was to be changed.”
They were both wrong, as von Neurath, who suffered a series of heart attacks, knew. He submitted his resignation as foreign minister, which was not accepted until the following February, when Hitler also accepted the forced resignations of both his war minister and Army commander in chief. Both von Blomberg and von Fritsch were the victims of trumped-up sex scandal charges.
The Hossbach Memorandum Plans Come to Fruition
Following those events, Hitler took over von Blomberg’s post himself and named Göring as the Reich’s sole field marshal. The German ambassador to London, former champagne salesman Joachim von Ribbentrop, succeeded von Neurath as foreign minister.
Thereafter, the near bloodless conquests of both Austria and Czechoslovakia took place, roughly as outlined in the Hossbach Memorandum, leading the American prosecution team at Nuremberg to claim that it was the key document in its assertion that there had been a grand Nazi conspiracy to launch World War II dating from November 5, 1937.
Both General Taylor and Dean Acheson of the U.S. State Department were involved in this effort, and yet it evolved that the original Hossbach Memorandum could not be found, only a microfilmed copy. Historian Bradley F.
Smith noted in 1975, “It is unfortunate that the original Hossbach record has not yet come to the surface; it may well still lie in the U.S. National Archives, quietly entombed by the security restrictions that apply to Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) records.”
A major question immediately arises. Was, then, the basic premise of the International Military Tribunal prosecution at Nuremberg that a conspiracy to commit aggression among the defendants on trial grounded on a false, doctored, or even missing document? Smith denied this; during their defense at Nuremberg both Göring and Raeder testified against the notion that the Hossbach Conference was a grand blueprint for an eventual war as the prosecution alleged, but was only Hitler’s stratagem to force von Fritsch to move quicker on rearmament.
In any event, both of these formerly high-ranking Nazis considered the trial nothing more than “victors’ justice” and knew they would be convicted. Indeed, as Göring told one of his two U.S. Army psychiatrists at Nuremberg before the verdict had even been handed down, “I know I shall hang; you know I shall hang.”
Was the Hossbach Conference and its subsequent Memorandum in fact Hitler’s blueprint for the eventual war that he actually waged? Certainly the Allied prosecutors may have been justified in thinking so.
This article first appeared on the Warfare History Network.
Image: Wikimedia Commons