|Hans-Valentin Hube (for all pictures on this page, the photographer is unknown and copyright has expired in the US unless otherwise indicated).|
Let's learn a little more about this overlooked master tactician.
Hans Hube's Background
Hans Hube was born on 29 October 1890, at Naumburg an der Saale (on the Saale River), German Empire. This birth date placed Hans Hube squarely within the "sweet spot" for top German World War II generals, almost all of whom were born between 1875 (Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt) and 1891 (Erwin Rommel and Walter Model).
Naumburg was a garrison town not far from Leipzig. He followed the well-worn path of young men from his area and enlisted as an officer-cadet (Fahnenjunker) on 27 February 1909. He advanced quickly and soon was promoted to Leutnant (Lieutenant J.G.) in the 26 Infantry Regiment. World War I began a few years later, and the 26th took place in the First Battle of the Marne and subsequent trench warfare.
The end of the line for many World War I soldiers was the Battle of Verdun, and it almost was for Hans Hube, too. He was wounded in General Erich Georg Anton von Falkenhayn's "mincing machine" and had his arm amputated. Hube repeatedly requested reassignment despite his injury, and ultimately was promoted to captain during the war.
|Major Hyazinth von Strachwitz, Colonel Rudolf Sieckenius and General Hans Hube, left to right.|
|Hube with a subordinate.|
|A rare photo of Hube which indicates his missing arm.|
Hans Hube in Russia
Hans Hube led the 16th Panzer Division in the southern prong of the invasion of Russia. It became one of the first Wehrmacht units to breach the Stalin Line. The 16th completed the encirclement of Kiev on 14-15 September 1941, linking up with the 5th Panzer Division. Even before the 667,000 prisoners could be counted, the 16th continued heading east toward Rostov, participating in the capture of that city but also the unexpected withdrawal to the Mius River (which cost General von Rundstedt his command of Army Group South). Hube helped hold the line there even as the German forces to the north suffered one calamity after another during the Soviet counterattack.
|Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring with Hube, Italy, November 1943.|
|Hube awards Lieutenant-Colonel of the General Staff Bern von Baer with the Knight's Cross, February 1944.|
|Hans-Valentin Hube and Nikolaus von Vormann.|
Hans Hube in Sicily
Back in Germany, Hube and the aides with whom he had flown out rebuilt a new XIVth Panzer Corps. After a short stint in the Ukraine with his headquarters - which had few assigned troops, and basically just organized formations heading further east - Hube received new orders: head to Rome. There, his headquarters studied the terrain, visited Sicily briefly, and wound up near Naples in command of three divisions operating further south. Hube received orders from General Alfred Jodl, chief of operations at the military high command (OKW), as follows:
The vital factor is under no circumstances to incur the loss of your three divisions. At the very minimum, our valuable human material must be saved.This was a radical departure from the OKW attitude at Stalingrad, and the order puts Hube's next success in context.
On 10 July 1943, the Allies based in North Africa invaded Sicily. The Italians had heavy forces there, but they were poorly trained, not motivated, and some actually helped the Allied unload their equipment on the beaches. Some Italian units did fight hard - armored units at Gela Beach put a real scare into the Americans landing under General George S. Patton - but the only men really fighting hard were the three German units. Hube arrived in Sicily in mid-July as the Axis forces were being pushed back from the beaches. While official histories invariably state that Sicily was under the command of Italian General Vittorio Ambrosio throughout the campaign, in actual fact, from the moment that he arrived on the island, Hans Hube was in complete command.
|The tactical situation in Sicily. Mount Etna in the northeast divides the approaches to the critical port of Messina in two. This simple fact, along with the narrowing approach to Messina, formed the foundation of Hans Hube's strategy.|
|The Straits of Messina, toward the Italian mainland. While it does not appear very far across, much smaller bodies of water had led to ruin for German forces in the past (Courtesy Rome Alive Again).|
Hans Hube Back In Russia
Hans Hube now had two hugely successful commands under his belt - the brilliant advance on Stalingrad and the efficient defense of Sicily - under his belt, but he was far from through. After briefly commanding his rescued troops from Sicily around Salerno - another efficient delaying operation against Allied Operation Avalanche, the invasion of mainland Italy - Hube returned to Germany to take command of the Fuehrer Reserve OKH. This was simply a waiting room for Hube, however, and on 23 October 1943 he was named commander of the 1st Panzer Army (officially assuming command in February 1944). By this time, the Wehrmacht forces in the USSR were being forced back steadily, and this created numerous cauldrons. One of these pockets of trapped German troops, the so-called Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket, required desperate relief efforts. Hube managed to slice his III Panzerkorps close enough to the pocket against fantastic Soviet resistance for many of the trapped Germans to mistake (how many is hotly debated, but likely around 30,000 men escaped). It was another brilliant success.
However, saving the men in the Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket required Hube to keep his main forces further east than was prudent, given the waves of Soviet troops heading west. Some of the Soviet forces under Marshal Zhukov encircled Hube's own 1st Panzer Army near Kamenets-Podolsky. The stage was set for another Stalingrad, as Hitler wanted Hube to stay where he was until relieved by German troops coming east - something that Hube knew was impossible. He counseled heading south, while army group commander Field Marshal Erich von Manstein favored heading due west. Ultimately, Hitler gave in and authorized a breakout to the west.
This led to perhaps Hans Hube's greatest victory of all. He created a new type of formation - a "mobile pocket" - which concentrated its armor along the line of advance and strong infantry formations serving as a rear guard. Hube's men struggled through the mud of the Rasputitsa (the spring thaw) from 27 March until 15 April 1944, crossing several rivers. They reached the German lines intact. Hans Hube had saved an entire panzer army, without which the German defenses in the east certainly would have crumbled much sooner than they actually did. A defeat there, with the destruction or capture of one of the largest formations left to the Wehrmacht, would be much better known - but sometimes victories get less attention than the disasters.
Death of Hube
Hans Hube now had achieved outstanding successes in the initial invasion of Russia, the defense of and evacuation from Sicily, and during the withdrawal from the Ukraine. Very few soldiers in history have demonstrated such versatility. He had justified his position as a Hitler favorite - something not everyone in a similar position managed to pull off. Hitler decided to recognize Hube once again. On April 20, 1944, Hube left the front lines and flew to Berlin. He was there to receive the Diamonds to the Knight's Cross and to receive his promotion to Generaloberst. Significantly, this was Hitler's birthday, always a huge event in the Reich, and the fact that Hube was invited on that day was an indication of respect.
|Hitler personally awards Hube the Diamonds to the Knight's Cross. This was the reason for the flight that killed General Hube.|
At a minimum, I hope to have convinced you that the name Hans-Valentin Hube is worth knowing in the context of World War II. Everyone can argue about who was the top general of World War II (who I don't think was a German, but that's another story). However, hopefully you will acknowledge that Hans Hube was an extremely talented general who merits study and at least consideration for that accolade.
It is easy to dismiss all German generals as evil because they served the Third Reich and its well-known vicious ends. It is perfectly rational to do so about Hans Hube as well. Nobody expects you to honor one of Hitler's minions. However, consider that there is no evidence that Hube knew anything about slave labor or extermination camps or the many atrocities of the war - he was just a soldier. Not only was he a soldier, but he was one of the top generals of the entire conflict. Had he survived the war, Hube might be much better known today, but his record of military achievement remains untarnished for those who choose to understand it.