To glorify Hitler as an infallible genius, whose gigantic designs were frustrated by treachery, or to condemn him as the greatest criminal of all time, would be equally irresponsible and superficial, von Mellenthin (Panzer Battles) says:
It is an undeniable fact that Hitler was an incredibly clever man, with a memory far beyond the average. He had terrific will power and was utterly ruthless; he was an orator of outstanding quality, able to exercise an hypnotic influence on those in his immediate surroundings. In politics and diplomacy he had an extraordinary flair for sensing the weakness of his adversaries, and for exploiting their failings to the full. He used to be a healthy man, a vegetarian who neither smoked nor drank, but he undermined his constitution by taking sleeping powders and pep pills, chiefly during the later years of the war. Although his health deteriorated, his mind remained amazingly alert an active until the very end. It is beyond the scope of this book to discuss the reasons for his political triumphs in the prewar period; his success was made possible by the misguided and wrongful policy adopted by the Allies after World War I; they committed every possible blunder from the Versailles Treaty and the occupation of the Ruhr to the incomprehensible weakness and lack of foresight in the Munich period. Extraordinary political victories completely upset Hitler’s balance and judgment; he never remembered Bismarck’s maxim: “History teaches how far one may safely go.”
In 1939 Hitler decided on war with Poland because he was convinced that the conflict could be localized. The guarantee given by Great Britain to Polands was underestimated; indeed it was never taken seriously. Dr. Paul Schmidt has described Hitler’s reaction to the British declaration of war: “Hiterl was petrified and utterly disconcerted. After a while he turned to Ribbentrop and asked ‘What now?’” Before the declaration of war there were no serious conversations with our one and only ally. Dr. Schmidt quotes a letter from Mussolini to Hitler written on 25 August 1939, in which the Duce pointed out that Italy was not ready for war. The Italian Air Force only had fuel for three months.
Thus the war was started, conceived, and born by the decision of a moment; Hitler had been dazzled by earlier successes and was given a misleading picture of the external situation by his amateur diplomatists. From every point of view — military, naval and economic — Germany was far from ready for total war.