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duct of all operations outside of the Eastern Front. Hitler, however, had long since ceased to be influenced by his generals save in very minor matters. Nor is there any indication that Keitel or Jodl exercised any influence in turning the Fuehrer's attention to the west.


There is no simple or single explanation for Hitler's choice of the Western Front as the scene of the great German counterstroke. The problem was complex; so were Hitler's mental processes. Some part of his reasoning breaks through in his conferences, speeches, and orders, but much is left to be inferred.


As early as 1939 Hitler had gone on record as to the absolute necessity of protecting the Ruhr industrial area, the heart of the entire warmaking machine. In November 1943, on the heels of Eastern Front reverses and before the Western Allies had set foot in strength across the Channel, Hitler repeated his fears for the Ruhr, "... but now while the danger in the East remained it was outweighed by the threat from the West where enemy success would strike immediately at the heart of the German war economy .... [8] Even after the disastrous impact of the 1944 Soviet summer offensive he clung to the belief that the Ruhr factories were more important to Germany than the loss of territory in the east. He seems to have felt that the war production in Silesia was far out of Soviet reach: in any case Silesia produced less than the Ruhr. Then too, in the summer and early autumn of 1944 the Allied air attacks against the Ruhr had failed to deliver any succession of knockout blows, nor was the very real vulnerability of this area yet apparent.


Politically, if Hitler hoped to lead from strength and parlay a military victory into a diplomatic coup, the monolithic USSR was a less susceptible object than the coalition of powers in the west. Whereas Nazi propagandists breathed hatred of the Soviet, the tone toward England and the United States more often was that of contempt and derision, as befitted the "decadent democracies." Hitler seems to have partaken of this view, and in any case he believed that the Allies might easily split asunder if one of them was jolted hard enough. The inability of the western leaders to hold their people together in the face of defeat was an oft-expressed and cardinal axiom of the German Fuehrer, despite the example of the United Kingdom to the contrary.


From one point of view the decision for the west was the result of progressive elimination as to the other fronts. In no way could victory in Italy or Finland change the course of the war. Russia likewise offered no hope for any decisive victory with the forces which Germany might expect to gather in 1944. The campaigns in the east had finally convinced Hitler, or so it would appear, that the vast distances in the east and the seemingly inexhaustible flow of Soviet divisions created a military problem whose solution lay beyond the capabilities of the Third Reich as long as the latter was involved in a multifront war. To put it another way, what Germany now needed was a quick victory capable of bearing immediate diplomatic fruit. Between 22 June 1941 and


[8] The so-called Hitler Conferences from which Hitler's earlier thinking is derived are found in whole or in fragments in Felix Gilbert, ed., Hitler Directs His War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1950).