The Controversy: Keitel vs. Halder
WHO WAS THE PLANNER of Germany’s initially successful
operations in the west? You would think this would
be common knowledge, but there is considerable controversy
BY WILHELM MANN & CAROLYN YEAGER
Reviewing his book History of the German General
Staff in the newspaper Die Welt of Jan. 27, 1971, Walter
Goerlltz says that Col. Gen. Franz Halder, chief of
the German general staff from 1938 to 1942, was the
author of the campaign in the west. Goerlitz’s review is titled
“The portrait of the chief of staff who planned the west offensive.”
Gen.Walter Warlimont also thinks he knows for sure who
the planner was. He calls the chief of the general staff the “original
planner of the successful operations”1 and means, by that,
Adolf Hitler first learned of Gen. Erich von Manstein’s parallel
plans on Feb. 17, 1940, when not only the strategy but also
the tactical details like strength, team line-up, weapons and time
schedule for the Eben-Emael commandos (see "The Battle of Fort Eben Emael") were already laid down.Warlimont’s report can only be seen as an effort
to falsify history. On another page, Warlimont contradicts
that by reflecting “. . . [O]ne was fully aware that the merits for
the great victory in France were the least of Hitler and his staff.The brain was Gen. von Manstein. . . .”2
The Manstein strategy, which the general defended parallel
to Hitler’s plan, was always ignored by Halder and never pierced
the filter at the OKH (Supreme Command Army) before Feb.
17, 1940. Gen. von Manstein confirmed that explicitly when he
wrote: “. . . Gen.Warlimont, deputy of Jodl, and the first General
Staff officer Gen. von Lossberg, told me at the same time that the OKH never approached Hitler with our ideas. For us, a rather disturbing situation. . . .”3 Later he wrote: “. . . Hitler declared to me, that he will never let me forget that I was the only one before the western campaign who said to him that by the
thrust through Sedan one could not only win a battle but could
and must accomplish the final decision in the west.”4
Contrary to Field Marshal Keitel, Halder wanted the occasion
to be seen as follows: “. . . [T]he fierce argument of different
opinions were decided by Hitler’s binding order that preparation
for the German attack had to be focused through the Belgian
provinces of Limburg and Brabant and had to be executed at the
earliest possible time. It was a poor copy of the Schlieffen plan,
whose weakness has been seen in World War I.
“The OKH was fighting that plan and prepared to shift the
center of the attack, within a short time, to the Ardennes, in accordance
with its own considerations. But Hitler also had no
confidence. Uncertain as he was, he gave his ear to the whisperings
of a person in the high command staff at the west front with
whom he had a personal relationship. [The OKH] correctly pointed
out that there existed a weak spot at the French border fortifications
north of Charleville.That command staff suggested to take
advantage of this weak spot, surround the Maginot line by an
attack in a southerly direction, and thus prevent an expected
threat. . . .”5
Against that, we have Keitel’s notes: “A few days later—it
must have been before October (1939)—Halder was called to
visit Hitler in order to present his Operation Plan West. Jodl and
I were present. Hitler interrupted his report with different questions
and held back his final reaction when Halder had to hand
over the plan and marked maps to him.
“Shortly after Halder left, Hitler said to us something like:
‘Hey, that’s the old Schlieffen Plan with the strong wing movement
toward the Atlantic Coast. One does not perform such operations
twice and go unpunished. I am of a quite different
opinion and will tell (you and Jodl) that in a few days, and will
discuss it with OKH.’
“I don’t want to deal here with operational questions deriving
from that. This much I’d like to say—that it was Hitler who personally
requested, as his solution, the thrust with panzer forces
over Sedan to the Atlantic Coast at Abbeville.
“I expressed my reservations that the brilliant operation
might fail if the French Panzer Army would not do us the favor
to immediately attack our north wing through Belgium, but
would hold back when they recognized Hitler’s plan of the
breakthrough. Jodl, as well as Hitler, did not agree with my fear.
“I’d also like to mention that Hitler told me at a later date,
with obvious joy, that he had a personal discussion with von
Manstein about this operational question—that he was the only
general of the army who arrived at the same solution. That satisfied
1. Walter Warlimont, Inside Hitler’s Headquarter 1939-1945, Frankfurt 1962, p 26.
2. Warlimont, p 116.
3. Erich von Manstein, Verlorene Siege (Lost Victories), Munich, 1976, p 110.
4. Manstein, p 615.
5. Franz Halder, Hitler als Feldherr (Hitler as Warlord), Munich, 1949, pp 28-9.
6. Generalfeldmarschall Keitel, Verbrecher oder Offizier (Field Marshal Keitel: criminal or officer?), Walter Goerlitz, Editor-Publisher, Goettigen, 1961, pp 226-7.