German Officers in Color
Of all the armies of World War II, the Wehrmacht had the most famous officers. Even before the United States entered the war, the most popular U.S. news magazines would feature German officers on their covers. Joseph Goebbels' Ministry of Propaganda made certain officers celebrities. Many of these celebrity officers indeed were extremely talented officers, such as Erwin Rommel, while others were just cronies of the Third Reich elite. Here, we provide color photos of top German officers along with brief biographies.
The goal here is to show both celebrity officers and some who aren't famous at all. Thus, whether you are only casually interested in World War II or have read all the war histories, you may find something of interest here.
All of these images have been colorized. While some purists view colorized photos as somehow improper, they are popular with viewers. Most of these photos are from official portraits taken when the subject received a promotion or an award. We have all seen so many black and white photos from World War II that it can be fun to see the same photos in color. You also can notice some details in color photos that you are easy to miss in the original photos because the colors blend together when they are just shades of grey.
Joachim Peiper is one of the more controversial figures of World War II, and also one of the most deadly. He was fanatical and uncompromising, which some people today find refreshing and admirable but ultimately was found to be simply criminal. Those tendencies led Peiper to commit war crimes that earned him a death sentence after the war. In his most notorious operation, leading Battle Group Peiper in during the Ardennes Offensive, Peiper's men murdered dozens of U.S. prisoners and also many civilians. His men also committed many other murders and atrocities both during that operation and while serving on the Eastern Front. Peiper passed away in July 1976 when French vigilantes shot him in the head and burned down his house with him in it.
Otto Skorzeny was one of the more controversial figures of the Third Reich, but also one of the most fascinating. Born in Austria, like Hitler, Skorzeny was a top-rated fencer who suffered a dueling scar on his cheek before the war - such scars were considered quite fashionable. After joining the SA in 1931, Skorzeny began World War II as a civil engineer. In preparation for the invasion of England, Skorzeny developed a method for embarking troops and armor on landing craft that earned him some renown. He later joined Hitler's bodyguard regiment, the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH) as an officer cadet, then transferred to the SS Division Das Reich.
Skorzeny was considered a technical expert and was given the task of seizing important facilities in Moscow once the city was captured. However, that never happened, and in December 1942, Skorzeny was badly injured with a head wound. Afterward, while on staff duties in Berlin, Skorzeny developed unorthodox ideas for commando warfare. These included such methods as wearing the enemy's uniform in order to infiltrate their positions. Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the new head of the RSHA, heard about Skorzeny and his ideas and forwarded his name to Walter Schellenberg, head of the SS foreign intelligence service. Skorzeny was authorized to form a new unit, SS Jagdverband 502, to engage in commando warfare.
In mid-1943, Skorzeny sent operatives to Iran to make contact with dissidents in the mountains. The plan was to sabotage the supply routes through Iran to the Soviet Union via the Trans-Iranian Railway. This project led nowhere, but it was a start. Skorzeny tried the same technique in the Soviet Union during June and July 1944, with a little more success. These forces operated a sort of counter-partisan operation against the Soviets.
Skorzeny's most famous and successful operation was the liberation of Mussolini on 12 September 1943. Skorzeny personally flew a reconnaissance plane to the mountain where Mussolini was being held. After Fallschirmjäger (paratroopers) landed and secured the mountaintop hotel, Skorzeny landed, picked up Mussolini, and flew off again. It was a brilliant operation that justified all of the investment in Skorzeny's operations, as Mussolini then organized a fascist government in northern Italy that greatly aided the German defense of the country.
However, Skorzeny was not done yet. After several other operations, he organized the infamous Operation Greif. This was the use of English-speaking German troops to infiltrate the U.S. lines and sow confusion and chaos. While the Ardennes Offensive that it accompanied failed, Skorzeny succeeded in his mission of causing the Allies problems all the way back to Paris. For this success, Hitler personally awarded Skorzeny the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross.
After the war, Skorzeny was imprisoned. However, he escaped from the Darmstadt camp with the aid of three former SS officers dressed as U.S. Military Police. He was never recaptured. Skorzeny spent the next few decades engaged in very murky activities which remain debated to the present day. There is a lot of evidence that Skorzeny aided Israeli intelligence, Mossad, for instance. He openly lived in Ireland at times between 1958 and 1963 and set up a headquarters near Alicante, Spain. There are many, many rumors of supposed operations conducted by Skorzeny around the world.
Otto Skorzeny was diagnosed with cancer of the spine in 1970. He survived this following surgery but ultimately passed away from lung cancer in Madrid. His burial was attended by numerous former World War II comrades who used the occasion as a reunion of sorts.
Heinz Guderian is one of the more famous generals of World War II, largely because he led armored troops to great victories and losses. Guderian was an early student of tank warfare and developed many armored warfare doctrines during the 1930s that he published in his seminal book, "Achtung, Panzer!" (1937). These strategies came in handy just a couple of years later.
Guderian led XIX Corps during the invasion of Poland, then in France. He commanded Panzer Group 2 during Operation Barbarossa with great distinction until fired by Hitler on 26 December 1941 for insubordination. A very opinionated man, Guderian alienated Guenther von Kluge, his army commander. Unfortunately for Guderian, von Kluge later was appointed to replace Field Marshal von Bock in command of the entire Army Group, and that sealed Guderian's fate. However, Hitler still valued Guderian's expertise at armored warfare and called Guderian back to serve as Inspector of Armored Troops on 1 March 1943. In this newly created position, Guderian oversaw the regeneration of the panzer army that had been shattered in the late 1941 defeats. This he did successfully, including the development of the revolutionary Tiger and Panther tanks.
Guderian showed good tactical judgment at times. For instance, he opposed the Kursk counteroffensive, Operation Citadel, but Hitler ignored him. After the failed attempt to kill him on 20 July 1944, Hitler appointed Guderian Chief of Staff of the Army, succeeding Kurt Zeitzler. Guderian then was faced with a hopeless task, and after numerous arguments with Hitler, he was dismissed once again in late March 1945.
After the war, Guderian was in custody from 10 May 1945 to 17 June 1948. He was not charged with any war crimes. He helped to create the Bundeswehr in the early 1950s. Heinz Guderian passed away on 14 May 1954 at his estate in Schwangau near Füssen in (Southern Bavaria), not far from the famous Neuschwanstein castle.
|Erwin von Witzleben.|
Job Wilhelm Georg Erdmann Erwin von Witzleben was a German Field Marshal and a leader in the anti-Hitler resistance within the Third Reich. During World War I, von Witzleben was a battalion commander at Verdun and other very difficult battles, and he earned the Iron Cross First and Second Class. Remaining in the army between the wars, von Witzleben began World War II as a Generaloberst in command of 1st Army. His army was part of Army Group C during the Battle of France, and it succeeded in breaking through the Maginot Line and forcing several French divisions to surrender. Promoted to field marshal, von Witzleben became Commander-in-Chief OB West with his headquarters in Paris.
Leaving that position in 1942 under murky circumstances, von Witzleben joined the anti-Hitler conspiracy that led to the Stauffenberg bombing of Hitler's headquarters on 20 July 1944. This botched operation was capped by von Witzleben's tardy arrival at coup headquarters in Berlin, where he only stayed briefly before returning to his estate near Zossen and waiting to be arrested. This happened the next day, and von Witzleben was tried and convicted by the "People's Court." Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels filmed von Witzleben's show trial for Hitler's amusement and the weekly newsreel, but Goebbels later changed his mind about releasing the material because of its uncertain reception by the public. On 8 August 1942, the Germans executed von Witzleben by using a thin hemp rope hung from a meat hook. The execution was filmed, but the film has been lost.
Wilhelm Bodewin Johann Gustav Keitel was a field marshal who served as Chief of the Armed Forces High Command (German: Oberkommando der Wehrmacht or OKW) throughout World War II. He was chosen by Hitler because he had been quite efficient at running General Ludwig Beck's office. Basically, what Hitler wanted was a glorified personal assistant, and that is exactly what he got in Wilhelm Keitel. Keitel's biggest talent was sitting through Hitler's rants and then transcribing and issuing orders that matched as best as possible what he assumed to be Hitler's intent. Almost all of the other generals despised Keitel and made savage comments about him behind his back. For all that, Keitel did wield influence and at times showed good military judgment. For instance, he advised Hitler against attacking the Soviet Union - which advice he came to regret when the opening stages of Operation Barbarossa were successful. He also opposed the firing of Field Marshal Wilhelm List in late 1942, but Hitler ignored Keitel and fired List anyway. Keitel then stopped challenging any of Hitler's orders.
Keitel's tendency to simply transmit whatever Hitler wanted, however, led to his ultimate downfall. He issued numerous patently illegal military orders because Hitler wanted them. These included the infamous 6 June 1941 Commissar Order, which openly stated that certain prisoners were to be shot on sight. After that, Keitel's fate was set should Germany lose the war.
Well, Germany did lose the war. On 8 May 1945, it was Keitel who signed the unconditional surrender in Berlin for the Soviets (General Jodl already had signed the surrender terms to the Western Allies at Reims, France). The Allies tried Keitel for war crimes, and Keitel openly admitted that he knew that many of Hitler's orders were illegal. He called the infamous "Night and Fog" decrees "the worst of all" - but that had not stopped Keitel from issuing and enforcing them. Convicted at Nuremberg, the Allies refused Keitel's request to be shot rather than hanged. The execution was carried out in Nuremberg on 16 October 1946.
|Erich von Manstein.|
Erich von Manstein widely is considered one of the best tacticians of World War II and regularly tops the lists of "Best Generals." A captain at the end of World War I, Manstein remained in the army and at the outbreak of World War II, he was chief of staff of Gerd von Rundstedt's Army Group South. After that successful campaign, Manstein caught Hitler's ear and suggested an unorthodox plan of attack against France which would involve a secret armored advance through the Ardennes. Hitler liked the plan, and afterward the idea was later credited to von Manstein, though many others also sought credit for it. After the brilliant success of that operation, von Manstein became a Hitler favorite. Von Manstein led the LVI Panzer Corps into the Baltic States on a direct path toward Leningrad. The advance was largely successful, though it took longer than the Germans had anticipated, and von Manstein's divisions executed a brilliant encirclement of five Soviet divisions of 34th Army.
In September 1941, von Manstein took command of 11th Army after its commander, Eugen Ritter von Schobert, perished in a plane crash. The army invaded the Crimea, eliminating the final Soviet resistance in June 1942. Once again, this was a brilliant victory, but it took far longer than the Germans had planned and was of little long-term value. Manstein then was sent to Leningrad to try to capture it, Leningrad being seen as similar to Sevastopol in the Crimea, but only achieved defensive victories there. In November 1942, Hitler appointed von Manstein commander of Army Group Don in order to save the trapped Sixth Army at Stalingrad. While von Manstein preferred an evacuation rather than a relief, he refused to order the Sixth Army to break out without Hitler's approval - a fatal decision for the trapped army. A relief operation, Operation Winter Storm, was begun in December, but it only contained three divisions and was stopped well short of Stalingrad.
Now a field marshal, von Manstein was given command of the newly reconstituted Army Group South in early February 1943. He succeeded in launching a brilliant counter-offensive at Kharkov that stabilized the crumbling front and brought renewed hope that the Wehrmacht could still win the war despite the catastrophe at Stalingrad. This success led to Operation Citadel, the German summer offensive at Kursk, which made some initial progress but then failed utterly. After this, Manstein controlled the army group's retrograde movements with great skill. Finally, however, Hitler became tired of retreating and dismissed von Manstein on 30 March 1944. Hitler did not re-employ von Manstein, and Hitler refused to see von Manstein during the Reich's final days.
After the capitulation, the Allies tried von Manstein for war crimes. He was found guilty on nine charges and sentenced to eighteen years in prison. The sentence was reduced to 12 years in February 1950, and finally, von Manstein was released on 7 May 1953 due to political pressure from, among others, Winston Churchill.
After his release, von Manstein published his memoirs - "Lost Victories" - and perished from a stroke on 9 June 1973 at the age of 85. He was buried with full military honors, a rarity for former Third Reich generals, and with his reputation essentially intact.
|Walther von Brauchitsch|
Walther Heinrich Alfred Hermann von Brauchitsch was a German field marshal and the Commander-in-Chief of the German Army. A veteran of two of the most vicious battles of World War I, Verdun and the Battle of the Argonne Forest, von Brauchitsch was known for his steely demeanor. He became a general in 1931, two years before Hitler came to power, and became the first commanding general of 1st Army Corps on 21 June 1935. When the Army Commander-in-Chief, Werner von Fritsch, was framed by the SS as a supposed homosexual, Hitler sacked him and replaced him with von Brauchitsch. While von Brauchitsch opposed Hitler's policies of military expansion, he never did anything to oppose them. On 5 November 1938, Brauchitsch had a famous meeting at Zossen where he expressed the army's opposition to such policies, which angered Hitler and which he never forgot. While von Brauchitsch remained in office thereafter, over time he increasingly became a figurehead as Hitler took on more and more of the operational control of the army. Eventually, everyone realized that von Brauchitsch had no control and some began to refer to him as nothing more than a message-bearer from Hitler. When the Soviets counterattacked at Moscow in December 1941, Hitler used it as an opportunity to finally sack von Brauchitsch and seize "this little matter of operational control" in his own hands entirely. The Allies arrested von Brauchitsch at his estate in August 1945 and charged with war crimes, but Walther von Brauchitsch passed away in a British military hospital in Hamburg on 18 October 1948 before he could be prosecuted.
|Smilo Freiherr von Lüttwitz.|
Smilo Freiherr von Lüttwitz commanded divisions and army corps on both the Eastern Front and the Western Front during World War II. After serving with the 15th Motorized Corps in Poland, Lüttwitz served with distinction during Operation Barbarossa and rose to the command of the 23rd Infantry Division in July 1942. He later commanded the 26th Armored Division at Taranto, then retreated north to the Monte Cassino line. Lüttwitz helped to establish the "Winter Line" there that held the Allies in check for a full six months. In 1944, Lüttwitz commanded the 46th Armored Corps at Warsaw, then commanded a division on the Western Front. Lüttwitz was arrested in Czechoslovakia on 7 May 1945 and was not charged with any war crimes. He joined the post-war Bundeswehr on 1 June 1957 and retired on 31 December 1960. Smilo Freiherr von Lüttwitz passed away on 19 May 1975 in Koblenz, Germany.
Hans-Valentin Hube was one of the top German generals of World War II. He had the "lucky touch," and repeatedly avoided capture and defeat while achieving underappreciated results. As commander of the 16th Panzer Division, Hube helped capture Kiev and his division closed the trap on the Soviets at Kharkov in May 1942. Hube later was given command of XIV Panzer Corps on the northern perimeter of Stalingrad, where he became famous for his good rapport with his men. There is a famous incident in the German archives where Hitler reviews a letter from a soldier there evaluating their own commanders, all of whom "should be shot" - except Hube, who the soldier calls "The Man." Hube was ordered out of the Stalingrad pocket on personal orders of Hitler, and when he refused, Hitler sent a special plane and he was taken out by SS troops at gunpoint. Hube later led the defense of Sicily, which was a successful delaying action that resulted in the evacuation of all of his troops, and then was appointed the commander of First Panzer Army in the Soviet Union. After the army was surrounded, Hube successfully led it out of its pocket intact, creating the first mobile pocket in military history. After returning to Berlin on Hitler's birthday for promotion to Generaloberst, with the promise from Hitler of a later promotion to command of an army group, Hube perished on the flight back to the front on 21 April 1944 when his transport plane crashed. Hans Hube's funeral was one of the last great state funerals in Berlin and was even attended by Hitler, a rarity by that point in the war.
Ernst-Günther Baade was one of the more colorful characters in the Wehrmacht, an outfit not especially noted for individuality. He was renowned for going into battle wearing a Scottish kilt and swinging a broadsword. This tendency did not endear him to his superiors, but General Erwin Rommel admired his fighting spirit. Baade was placed in charge of the evacuation from Sicily in August 1943, Operation Lehrgang, which was a huge success and succeeded in saving virtually of the German troops on Sicily, including their equipment. Baade did not stay behind the lines, but was at the front of the charge and was credited with a Tank Destruction Badge for singlehandedly destroying an enemy tank as an infantry soldier - an almost unheard of feat for a senior officer (Jochen Peiper also earned one). Baade rose through the ranks during World War II and rose from command of the 115th Rifle Regiment on 15 April 1942 to command of the 90th Infantry Division at the Battle of Monte Cassino. Baade was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords on 16 November 1944 as a Generalleutnant. Ernst-Günther Baade perished on 8 May 1945 in Holstein from wounds received when an RAF fighter strafed his car on 24 April 1945 - one of the final casualties during the war.
|Kurt von der Chevallerie.|
Kurt Wilhelm Gustav Erdmann von der Chevallerie was an army commander during World War II. His most famous command was of Group von der Chevallerie, a very weak command which held the line against the Soviet counterattack at Moscow in December 1941 and early 1942. General of Infantry Von der Chevallerie later became commander of German 1st Army in France from 4 June 1944 to 5 September 1944, when he was replaced by General of Panzers Otto von Knobelsdorff following the Allied breakout from Normandy. Von der Chevallerie retired from the military on 31 January 1945, then disappeared completely and was reported dead on 18 April 1945 near Kolberg.
|Wend von Wietersheim.|
Wend von Wietersheim was a talented commander of armored forces who served on both the Eastern and Western Fronts. After beginning the war as an adjutant in the 3rd Panzer Division, von Wietersheim took command of a motorcycle infantry battalion of the 1st Panzer Division and led it during the Battle of France. Von Wietersheim rose quickly through the ranks during Operation Barbarossa and commanded XIV Panzer Corps during the assault on Stalingrad. XIV Corps broke through and were the first Germans to reach the Volga north of Stalingrad. They then held on against furious Soviet counterattacks and established a secure perimeter for Sixth Army to capture the city.
Von Wietersheim handled his forces in Stalingrad well, but after he was a little too clear with his superiors about how tenuous the German grasp on Stalingrad was, he was replaced by one of his divisional commanders, Hans Hube. Von Wietersheim was later given command of the 11th Panzer division - Hermann Balck's old division - in the south of France. He earned the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. Von Wietersheim skillfully led the Division back to Germany after the Allied invasion of Southern France in August 1944 and continued to lead it until surrendering to the U.S. 90th Infantry Division in May 1945 in Czechoslovakia. Never accused of any war crimes, Wend von Wietersheim passed away on 19 September 1975 in Bad Honnef-Aegidienberg.
Hermann Balck was one of the most talented, but least recognized talents, among the German generals of World War II. He was a true tactical genius, and some of his attacks in Russia are legendary. After serving with valor during World War I, including operations behind Russian lines, Balck stayed in the army. He was unique in twice turning down staff positions on the German General Staff, even though it was considered a plum assignment. The reason? He preferred to be in the field. Between the wars, Balck became familiar with the new panzer forces and in October 1939 was named commander of a regiment within 1st Panzer Division, part of General Guderian's Panzer Corps. Balck continued to lead his regiment in France in Greece, and after a period on the OKH staff, he assumed command of the 11th Panzer Division in Army Group South during May 1942. This gave Balck a chance to display his talent at mobile warfare, and his division became the unit that was sent to "clean up" trouble spots. Balck's division was instrumental in stabilizing the front after the Soviet breakthrough at Stalingrad, for which he was awarded the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds.
Balck was given command of XLVIII Panzer Corps, then in quick succession rose to command 4th Panzer Army and then of Army Group G. After the U.S. Third Army stopped the Germans during the Ardennes Offensive, Balck was sacked, but then given a hopeless assignment in command of 6th Army in Hungary. After the war, Balck was imprisoned until 1947, then found work as a depot worker, but then was accused of a war crime for having a subordinate officer who was drunk on duty shot. He was sentenced to twenty years, served three, and was then released. He also was found guilty of other crimes by a French court and sentenced to 20 years, but was never extradited and never served any time for that. Balck cooperated with NATO leaders at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania during the 1970s before passing away in Asperg, West Germany on 29 November 1982.
Hermann Hoth was an army commander during World War II who specialized in armored forces. After becoming commander of the XV Motorised Corps in 1938, Hoth led it with distinction in Poland and France, working closely with General Guderian, another armor expert. He was known for his friendly relations with his troops, who called him "Papa." During Operation Barbarossa, Hoth commanded 3rd Panzer Group in Army Group Center, again working beside General Guderian, the commander of 2nd Panzer Group. Due to the weakening of Army Group Center by Hitler, who did not see the value of taking Moscow before other places, Hoth's pace slowed, and in October he was transferred to the command of 17th Army in Ukraine, where he participated in the defense of Kharkov in May. In preparation for Case Blue, the attack toward Stalingrad, Hoth was given command of 4th Panzer Army.
Hoth led 4th Panzer Army with distinction, helping to capture Voronezh, but Hitler then sent 4th Panzer Army south and split it, with part heading into the Caucasus and part attacking Stalingrad from the south. Hoth succeeded in taking most of southern Stalingrad, but tanks proved ineffective within the city itself. After the Soviet counteroffensive on 19 November 1942, Hoth led Operation Winter Storm (Wintergewitter), the relief operation. He came within 35 miles or so of the Stalingrad pocket but then was turned back on Christmas Day. Hoth continued to lead his army, achieving success at Kurk before being driven back, until November 1943, when he was blamed for the loss of Kiev and sacked. Hitler, referring to Hoth's rather well known birdlike appearance, called him a "bird of ill omen" when firing him. After the war, Hoth was convicted of war crimes, sentenced to 15 years in prison, and was released in 1954. Hermann Hoth passed away quietly in Germany on 25 January 1971.
Emil Leeb was a German general during World War II who never saw military action. Emil was the younger brother of Field Marshal Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb, the commander until December 1941 of Army Group North. Emil was not a "von" like his brother because Wilhelm earned his "von" through conferment by the Bavarian Military Order of Max Joseph. Emil served in a variety of staff jobs before being promoted to Generalmajor on 1 July 1935. During World War II, Emil Leeb became Chief of the Waffenamt (Army Ordnance Weapons Depot) at the War Ministry in Berlin on 15 April 1940. It was a secure position that did not involve any fighting, so Emil was able to keep it until 1 January 1945 - a marvelous feat considering that the Germany supply situation was so chaotic that it had led to the suicide of his immediate predecessor, Karl Becker. An army, Napoleon noted, runs on its stomach, and it needs officers like Emil Leeb just as much as the more dashing officers on the battlefield. Leeb remained in other staff positions until he voluntarily retired on 1 May 1945. Emil Leeb passed away of old age on 8 September 1969.
|Georg von Küchler.|
Georg von Küchler was an army commander and Field Marshal during World War II. He was a fervent anti-Communist and, after serving in staff jobs during World War I, joined a Freikorps unit to fight the Soviets in the Baltics. He rose up through the ranks and became the Inspector of Army Schools in October 1934. Küchler was one of many generals who supported Adolf Hitler when he sacked Werner von Blomberg and Werner von Fritsch from their leading roles in the Wehrmacht in January 1938 due to scandals. He led the troops that occupied Memel (Klaipėda) in March 1939, and also the ones that took Danzig after war broke out. After leading 18th Army in Army Group North, von Küchler replaced Field Marshal Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb when the latter took the blame for the failure to capture Leningrad in December 1941. He was promoted to Field Marshal on 30 June 1942. When the Soviets finally relieved Leningrad in January 1944, von Küchler took the blame and was sacked himself. Though invited, von Küchler refused to join the Stauffenberg conspiracy against Hitler. After the war, the Allies convicted von Küchler of mistreating Soviet POWs, leading to their deaths. After serving about ten years of an original sentence of 20 years, von Küchler was released in February 1955 and retired with his wife to a quiet area near Garmisch. Georg von Küchler passed away from old age on 25 May 1968.
|Werner Von Blomberg.|
Werner Eduard Fritz von Blomberg was one of the more tragic figures within the hierarchy of the Third Reich. He was Minister of War and Commander-in-Chief of the German Armed Forces until January 1938, when he married his secretary who turned out to be a woman of, shall we say, questionable morals (at the very least, she had posed in the buff, but there were rumors of much more). His colleagues took to calling him "Rubber Lion." After being forced to resign, von Blomberg took his wife on an around-the-world trip (which abruptly ended on the island of Capri because von Blomberg lost interest), but quickly regretted the whole affair and pleaded for his job back. Hitler, however, was happy to get rid of him and never gave him any more important assignments. In fact, Admiral Raeder dispatched an officer to Capri to try to convince von Blomberg to commit suicide. After spending the war with nothing to do, von Blomberg was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. His young wife decided to leave him, and she had all sorts of reasons to do that. Depressed and wasting away from cancer, von Blomberg stopped taking food passed away in Nuremberg on 14 March 1946.
|Ewald von Kleist.|
Ewald von Kleist is often treated somewhat dismissively in post-war histories. However, von Kleist was a very competent Field Marshal who was in command of some of the most significant operations of World War II. After serving as commander of 1st Panzer Group during Operation Barbarossa, von Kleist rose to command of Army Group A when Field Marshal von Bock was dismissed from command of Army Group South in July 1942. While von Kleist performed well in that command, he was at the mercy of Army Group B in Stalingrad. When that city was surrounded, von Kleist had great difficulty restoring a front in the Caucasus. He did manage to do form a line and thereby enabled the Wehrmacht to retain a position there until September 1943. When Hitler decided to relieve Field Marshal von Manstein in March 1944, he also relieved von Kleist, who had been challenging Hitler's orders. After being captured by the Soviets, von Kleist became the only German Field Marshal to die in captivity at the Vladimir Central Prison on 13 Novembre 1954. Very curiously, the thing the Soviets were most upset about with von Kleist was that he was one of the main proponents in the Wehrmacht for establishing better relations with Soviet civilians - which the Soviet government rightly saw as a tremendous threat to its power.
Generalleutnant Maximilian Felzmann was a General of Artillery who served as commander of the 251st Infantry Division and later served as commander of Korpsabteilung E. He received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves on 3 November 1944. After serving as a POW until 1947, General Felzman moved to Zurich, Switzerland after the war and passed away there on 8 June 1962.
Gustav Hoehne was a General of the Infantry during World War II. He spent the war commanding divisions and corps, never attaining much celebrity. As the Allies closed in on Germany from the west, Hoehne took his corps defended the Moselle from Koblenz to a point 25 miles upstream near Cochem. However, this proved impossible, and Hoehne retreated back across the Rhine in good order after taking heavy casualties. General Hoehne survived the war and passed away on 1 July 1951.
|Fedor von Bock.|
Moritz Albrecht Franz Friedrich Fedor von Bock was a World War I winner of the Pour le Mérite who remained in the German military during the interwar years. After commanding Army Group B during the invasion of France, von Bock was promoted to Field Marshal and given command of Army Group Center. Despite Hitler's insistence on other objectives in the north and south, von Bock managed to fight to the outskirts of Moscow. After the Soviets counterattacked during the winter, von Bock was dismissed and then reappointed to command Army Group South. He led it in its successful breakout in June 1942 but was soon dismissed again for repeatedly questioning Hitler's very questionable orders. Hitler developed a very negative attitude about von Bock and never reappointed him to any important commands. After surviving almost the entire war, von Bock perished when RAF fighters strafed his car on 4 May 1945.
Kurt Student was one of the innovators of World War II. He created the Third Reich's paratrooper forces, or Fallschirmjäger, and served as commander of those forces throughout the war. Almost all of Student's operations were successful to one extent or another, but they also were quite costly. One of the reasons for this was that the British were reading the German codes and knew where Student's men were about to landing, something that the Germans did not know and which crippled the effectiveness of airborne landings. Despite this, Student conceived and executed Operation Mercury, the successful invasion of Crete, his greatest achievement. General Student was badly injured in 1940 during the invasion of Belgium and was never quite the same again. However, Student was widely respected within the Wehrmacht and remained in command. Convicted of war crimes committed on Crete in May 1941, Student was imprisoned for five years. Kurt Student served his time and passed away in Lemgo, West Germany on 1 July 1978.
Karl Dönitz is most famous for being Adolf Hitler's appointed successor in May 1945. However, before 1945 he was a very skilfull Admiral of the Kriegsmarine who earned a reputation for strategy and comradery with his men. Doenitz would personally greet returning U-boats at St. Lorient and worked closely with them in developing tactics and strategy. Among many other things, Doenitz helped plan out Günther Prien's attack in 1939 that sank Royal Navy battleship HMS Royal Oak. Admiral Doenitz's only real decision as leader of the Third Reich was to surrender. Sentenced to ten years in Spandau for, among other things, using slave labor and waging unrestricted submarine warfare, Doenitz served his time and passed away of a heart attack on 24 December 1980. Karl Dönitz was the last man to hold the rank of Großadmiral (grand admiral) and was unrepentant about his wartime service. Doenitz's funeral on 6 January 1981 was a well-attended reunion for many former officers of the Third Reich.
Pretty much everyone knows who Erwin Rommel was. Rommel was one of the Third Reich's top propaganda heroes after serving in World War I with distinction (and publishing a book about his exploits). Hitler bought a copy of Rommel's book and began giving him important assignments, including his own escort battalion in October 1938. After commanding the 7th Panzer "Ghost" Division in France, Rommel embarked on a series of legendary commands which most famously included leadership of the Afrika Korps (leading to his promotion to Field Marshal). The German Ministry of Propaganda made Rommel into such a hero that the British became obsessed with him, leading Field Marshal Montgomery to eventually comment sourly, "We speak too much of our friend Rommel." Rommel's great talent was leading from a command car while advancing with his troops into a battle, but after he was kept behind the lines running entire armies, he was not as ineffective. He also benefited in France and North Africa by operating on his own without communicating with headquarters - this independence and dash, sometimes directly contrary to radioed orders from above, prevented the Allies from using their code-reading skills based on the Enigma machine to foil his plans as they did with other German generals. After being involved with the anti-Hitler conspiracies in mid-1944, Rommel was forced to commit suicide on 14 October 1944.
General der Panzertruppe Walther Wenck became famous long after the war after details of Hitler's last days became widely publicized. Wenck commanded 12th Army, which was defending west of Berlin when the Soviets attacked across the Oder on 16 April 1945. Hitler ordered Wenck's forces to relieve Berlin and deal the Soviets a massive defeat. Wenck's men did advance toward Berlin, but the balance of forces was simply too great for Wenck to get closer than Spandau. However, while he could not get to Hitler, Wenck's army did manage to extract tens of thousands of troops and civilians from the Soviet encirclement and give them an escape route to the West. Wenck himself was one of the last to cross the Elbe and reach safety in U.S. custody. Walther Wenck perished in a car crash in Austria on 1 May 1982.
Walter Model became famous during World War II as the "Fuhrer's Fireman." As a Hitler favorite, Model was called in to replace army commanders when the Soviets mounted successful offensive operations. As a general, Model developed the "Sword and Shield" doctrine by which Wehrmacht formations would retreat into positions which would enable later ripostes. A very stern commander, Model also earned the trust of his men at a time when morale within the Wehrmacht was deteriorating rapidly. Promoted to Field Marshal on 1 March 1944, Model advanced from the rank of colonel in just six years, something possible only during a very tough war. After the failure of his Army Group B to keep the Allies out of Germany, Model committed suicide on 24 April 1945.
|Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig Hoßbach.|
Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig Hoßbach was Adolf Hitler's military adjutant before World War II. He served in a variety of staff positions and is most famous for drafting the Hossbach Memorandum. This was a summary of a meeting held on 5 November 1937 in which Hitler basically planned out his war strategy. He also took notes at other meetings that were valuable - he was an excellent note-taker. Hossbach, quietly opposed to Hitler and his strategy, rose to the command of 4th Army on the Eastern Front. However, Hossbach was dismissed on 30 January 1945 after two days in that position because he retreated against Hitler's orders. When U.S. soldiers came to his house in Göttingen after the war, he mistook them for Gestapo agents and fought them off with his pistol. Hossbach survived this incident and passed away peacefully at home on 10 September 1980.
Werner Baumbach flew Luftwaffe bombers during World War II. This was not the path to celebrity, but his skills were recognized within the Luftwaffe. Baumbach commanded KG 200, a formation equipped with cutting-edge equipment, and was credited with sinking over 300,000 tons of Allied shipping. Since cargo ships at that time averaged under 5000 tons each, that was a lot of ships. Baumbach wound up the war as chief of staff for the General der Kampfflieger, then was incarcerated for three years in a prisoner of war camp. Baumbach then moved to Argentina and served as a test pilot. Walter Baumbach perished there on 20 October 1953 while testing a British Lancaster bomber.
Max-Hellmuth Ostermann was a top German ace who wound up the war with 102 victories in over 300 combat missions. Ostermann was very short, so short in fact that he needed special wooden blocks attached to the pedals of his planes so that he could reach them. Recognized as a top ace, Ostermann received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern). Ostermann perished on 9 August 1942 when Soviet pilots flying U.S. Curtiss P-40s shot him down east of Lake Ilmen.
Werner Mölders is one of the few men who rightfully has some claim on the title of best Luftwaffe fighter pilot. Mölders was the victory leader throughout the Battle of Britain, always staying one step ahead of Adolf Galland, and became the first pilot in history to be credited with 100 aerial victories. After achieving this feat, the Luftwaffe withdrew Mölders from combat operations in mid-July 1941. Appointed Inspector of Fighters, Mölders was in the Crimea when he had to return to Berlin for the funeral of Ernst Udet. The plane, which Mölders was not piloting, crashed, killing Werner Mölders on 22 November 1941. He was replaced by Galland, who had 99 victories at the time.
Wilhelm Schmalz, as an Oberstleutnant, served as Commander of the 11th Panzer Grenadier Regiment from 31 October 1940 to 31 October 1942. He was a key part of the German defense of Sicily and then Italy. Schmalz was accused of war crimes in Italy, but an Italian court found him not guilty in 1950. Schmalz then lived quietly in West Germany for the remained of his life with his wife Luise Henrietta, a former princess. Schmalz passed away at Weilmünster, Laimbach on 14 March 1983 of old age.
Helmut Fickel was not one of the Third Reich's celebrity officers. In fact, even if you are extremely knowledgeable about World War II, you may not recognize the name. However, Helmut Fickel was a top Stuka (dive bomber) pilot who did solid work at the Battle of Kursk in July 1943. Fickel flew 800 missions, a staggering number, and earned the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 9 June 1944 as Leutnant and Staffelführer of the Stabsstaffel of the III./Schlachtgeschwader 2 "Immelmann." For a long time, Fickel flew as the wingman of Hans-Ulrich Rudel. In fact, Rudel saved Fickel from almost certain death when Rudel landed and picked up Fickel and his radio operator behind enemy lines after Fickel was shot down. Fickel passed away on 6 April 2005 in Düsseldorf, Germany.
Adolf Joseph Ferdinand Galland was one of the few top Third Reich officers who came out of the war with his reputation not only intact but enhanced by his wartime activities. He wound up with 104 aerial victories, all on the difficult Western Front, including five as one of the first jet aces. He cheated death several times, including an incident during the Battle of Britain when a fellow pilot mistook him for an enemy plane and almost shot him down during a training mission. Galland's victory total is more impressive when you learn that he was forbidden from flying missions for all of 1942, 1943, and 1944. Galland was shot down while flying a Me 262 on 26 April 1945 and spent the war's last days in the hospital. After leading a colorful life in the post-war years, acclaimed by friends and many foes alike as one of the top fighter pilots of all time, Adolf Galland passed away on 9 February 1996 of old age.
|Generalobert Alfred Jodl with Albert Speer and Heinz Guderian.|
Alfred Josef Ferdinand Jodl rose to the rank of Generaloberst (Colonel General) on 1 February 1944. He was Chief of Operation of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), which more or less ran the war everywhere but on the Eastern Front (the OKH fought bitterly for control there and eventually won). Jodl rose from a divisional command on the eve of the war due to his association with General Ludwig Beck. Jodl's influence diminished as Hitler took more and more control over operations, and Hitler thought often of dismissing him for arguing with him about strategy. However, Jodl remained in his position to the end and is perhaps most famous for signing the surrender documents at Reims. Jodl was found guilty of war crimes (he signed both the 6 June 1941 Commissar Order and the 28 October 1942 Commando Order). Alfred Jodl was hanged along with other top war criminals on 16 October 1946 at Nuremberg.
|Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt (colorized by Pearse).|
Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt was one of the few top German officers that Adolf Hitler respected throughout the war. Hitler generally saw his general officers as worthless and weak and talked often of replacing all of them with younger, more fanatical men. However, while Rundstedt went in and out of favor with Hitler throughout the war, he remained on Hitler's short list for appointments to lead major operations such as the December 1944 Ardennes Offensive. Von Rundstedt remarked later that he never had as much operational freedom as he needed because Hitler would interfere in everything. As to his command of the Ardennes Offensive, von Rundstedt sourly commented that his only control was over the officers that stood outside his headquarters. After the war, von Rundstedt was considered for prosecution for war crimes but ultimately was released at least partly for political reasons. However, he retained a classification as Class 1 War Criminal despite this. Gerd von Rundstedt passed away of a heart attack on 24 February 1953 in Hannover.