Heinz Guderian



Heinz Wilhelm Guderian
17 June, 188814 May, 1954
Nickname Schneller Heinz
Place of birthKulm, West Prussia
Place of deathSchwangau, Allgäu
AllegianceGermany
Years of service1907–1945
RankGeneraloberst
Commands2. Panzer Division, XVI. Army-Corps, XIX. Army-Corps, Panzergruppe Guderian and Panzergruppe 2
AwardsRitterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub
Heinz Wilhelm Guderian (17 June, 188814 May, 1954) was a military theorist and innovative General of the German Army during the Second World War. Germany's panzer forces were raised and fought according to his works, best-known among them Achtung— Panzer! He held posts as Panzer Corps commander, Panzer Army commander, Inspector-General of Armored Troops, and Chief of Staff of the Army (Chef des Generalstabs des Heeres). He rose to the rank of full general (General der Panzertruppe) in July 1940 and was later promoted to Colonel General. He never became a field marshal, but is recognized as one of the most prominent generals of Second World War.

Early career

Guderian was born in Kulm (Chełmno), West Prussia. From 1901 to 1907 Guderian attended various military schools. He entered the Army in 1907 as an ensign-cadet in the (Hanoverian) Jäger Bataillon No. 10. His father was the battalion's commander then. In 1911 Guderian joined the 3rd Telegraphen-Battalion (Wireless-Battalion), Prussian Army Signal Corps. In October of 1913 he married Margarete Goerne with whom he had two sons.

During the First World War he served as a Signals and General Staff officer. This allowed him to get an overall view of battlefield conditions. He often disagreed with his superiors. As a result, to protect both him and his superiors, he was transferred to the army intelligence department where he remained until the end of the war. This second assignment, while removed from battlefield, sharpened his strategic skills.

After the war, Guderian stayed in the reduced 100,000-man German Army (Reichswehr), where he was made company commander of the 10th Jäger-Bataillon after which he joined the 'General Staff'-in-waiting, the Truppenamt (a German General Staff being explicitly forbidden by the Versailles Treaty). In 1927 Guderian was promoted major and transferred to the Truppenamt group for Army transport and Overseer of motorised tactics based in Berlin. This key role put him at the centre of the development of the resources that would later come to dominate what became known as blitzkrieg. Fluent in both English and French, he gathered ideas by the British maneuver warfare theorists J.F.C. Fuller and, debatably [1], B.H. Liddell Hart, as well as the writings, interestingly enough, of the then-unknown Charles de Gaulle. Their works were translated into German by Guderian. In 1931 he was promoted lieutenant-colonel and became chief of staff to the Inspectorate of Motorised troops and in 1933 to full colonel. In this time he had written many papers on motorised warfare which were seen as authoritative and moving the development of this area significantly. These papers were based on extensive wargaming without troops, with paper tanks and finally with armoured vehicles. In October 1935 he was posted to the newly created 2nd Panzer Division (one of three) as commander. On 1 August 1936 he was promoted major-general and on 4 February 1938 he was again promoted lieutenant-general and given command of the XVI Army Corps.

Achtung - Panzer!, was written in 1936-37 as an explanation of Guderian's theories on the role of tanks and aircraft in modern warfare. It was actually a compilation not only of Guderian's own theories, but also the ideas of other proponents of armored and combined-arms warfare within the general staff, though the bulk of the credit rightly is Guderian's. The panzer force he created would become the core of the German Army's power during the Second World War, and deliver the core of the fighting style known as blitzkrieg. To this day, his contributions to combined arms tactics are studied throughout military schools.

In 2000, a documentary entitled "GUDERIAN", directed by Anton Vassil, aired on French television. It featured Heinz-Guenther Guderian (Guderian's son) along with other notables such as Field Marshal Lord Carver (Last British Field Marshal), expert historians Kenneth Macksey and Heinz Wilhelm. Using rarely seen photographs from Guderians's private collection, the documentary provides an inside view into the life and career of Guderian and draws a profile of Guderian's character and his moral responsibility of the German general staff under Hitler.

Guderian's Blitzkrieg

The idea of blitzkrieg was not fully developed in other countries but initially promoted and some of it was implemented in England. Though it must be said that the German army of the First World War had worked out the complexities of breaking through a front with highly concentrated resources. This technique failed the Germans in their Michael offensives of March 1918, largely because the breakthrough elements were on foot and could not sustain the impetus of the initial attack. Motorized infantry was the key to sustaining a breakthrough and this would have to wait until the 1930s to have a chance at being realized. Tuchachevsky, in Russia, can be said to have already grasped this potential, but his influence diminished after he was executed by Stalin. Guderian probably was the first who fully developed and advocated the principle of Blitzkrieg and put it in the final shape. He summarized the tactics of blitzkrieg as the way to get the mobile and motorized armored divisions to work together and support each other in order to achieve decisive success. In his book Panzer Leader Page 13 he said: "In this year (1929) I became convinced that tanks working on their own or in conjunction with infantry could never achieve decisive importance. My historical studies; the exercises carried out in England and our own experience with mock-ups had persuaded me that the tanks would never be able to produce their full effect until weapons on whose support they must inevitably rely were brought up to their standard of speed and of cross country performance. In such formation of all arms, the tanks must play primary role, the other weapons beings subordinated to the requirements of the armor. It would be wrong to include tanks in infantry divisions: what was needed were armored divisions which would include all the supporting arms needed to fight with full effect".



Guderian believed that certain developments in technology needed to take place in conjunction with blitzkrieg in order to support the entire theory, especially in communications and special visual equipment with which the armored divisions in general, and tanks specifically, should be equipped. Guderian insisted in 1933 to the high command that every tank in German armored force must be equipped with radio and visual equipment in order to enable them to communicate and perform a decisive role in blitzkrieg - Panzer Leader page 20.

World War II

In the Second World War, Guderian first served as the commander of the XIX Army Corps in the invasion of Poland and the Invasion of France. He personally led the attack that traversed the Ardennes Forest, crossed the Meuse River and broke through the French lines at Sedan. Guderian's panzer group led the "race to the sea" that split the Allied armies in two, depriving the French armies and the BEF in Northern France and Belgium of their fuel, food, spare parts and ammunition.

In 1941 he commanded Panzergruppe 2, better known as Panzergruppe Guderian, in Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, receiving the 24th award of the Oak Leaves to his Knight's Cross on July 17 of that year. From October 5 1941 he led the redesignated Second Panzer Army. During the Barbarossa campaign he led his panzer forces in rapid blitzkrieg-style advances and earned the nickname "Schneller Heinz" (Fast Heinz) among his troops. His armored spearhead captured Smolensk in a remarkably short time and was poised to launch the final assault on Moscow when he was ordered to turn south towards Kiev (see Lötzen decision).

He protested against Hitler's decision and the Fuehrer started to hold him in contempt. He was relieved of his command on 25 December 1941 after Fieldmarshal Günther von Kluge, a man who was not too courageous when it came to facing Hitler, claimed that he had ordered a withdrawal in contradiction of Hitler's "stand fast" order. Guderian was transferred to the Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH) reserve pool, his chances of being promoted to fieldmarshal, which depended on Hitler's personal decision, possibly ruined forever. Guderian would always deny that he ordered anything like a withdrawal and it seems that, indeed, he did not. Ironically this apparently mythical insubordination is still cited by his admirers as an additional proof of his many times proved independence of spirit before Hitler. Guderian's own view on the matter was that he had been victimised by von Kluge who was the commanding officer in charge when the German troops came to a standstill at the Moscow front in late autumn/ winter 1941. At some point he so provoked von Kluge with accusations related to his dismissal that the fieldmarshal challenged him to a duel, which Hitler naturally forbade.

Only after the German defeat at Stalingrad was Guderian given a new position. On 1 March, 1943 he was appointed Inspector-General of the Armoured Troops. Here his responsibilities were to determine armoured doctrine and to oversee tank design and production and the training of Germany's panzer forces.

On 21 July, 1944, after the failure of the July 20 Plot, Guderian was appointed chief of staff of the army (Chef des Generalstabs des Heeres) as a successor to Kurt Zeitzler, who had departed July 1st with a nervous breakdown. During his tenure as chief of staff he had a long series of violent rows with Hitler over the way in which Germany should handle the war on both fronts. Hitler finally dismissed Guderian on 28 March, 1945 after an argument over the failed counterattack of General Theodor Busse at Küstrin; he ordered Guderian to "take 6 weeks of convalescent leave because of his health problems." ("Health problems" were commonly used as a facade in the Third Reich to remove executives who for some reason could not simply be sacked, but from episodes Guderian describes in his memoirs it is evident that he actually suffered from congestive heart failure.) He was replaced by General Hans Krebs.

Life after the war

Together with his Panzer staff, Guderian surrendered to American troops on May 10, 1945, and remained in U.S. custody as a prisoner of war until his release on June 17, 1948. Despite Soviet and Polish government protests, he was not charged with any war crimes during the Nuremberg Trials, as his actions and behavior were ruled to be consistent with those of a professional soldier.

Poland argued that at the Battle of Wizna, Guderian had threatened the Polish commander Władysław Raginis with shooting prisoners of war if he did not order the remaining Polish forces to surrender. Some military historians view this as a masterful bluff; however Poles generally do not regard it as such. Guderian also accepted an estate in the Warthegau region in German territory annexed from Poland after the invasion. The previous Polish owners of the estate were evicted. Guderian also received and accepted a state gift of money from Hitler in 1942.[1]

Heinz Guderian died on May 14, 1954 at the age of 65, in Southern Bavaria and is buried at the Friedhof Hildesheimerstrasse in Goslar.

Guderian's son, Heinz Günther Guderian, became a prominent General in the post-war German Bundeswehr and NATO.

Books by Heinz Guderian

  • Guderian, Heinz (1937). Achtung—Panzer, reissue, Sterling Press. ISBN 0-304-35285-3.1937&rft.edition=reissue&rft.pub=Sterling%20Press">  Guderian describes what he would do if he was in charge of German tank forces.
  • Guderian, Heinz (1952). Panzer Leader. Da Capo Press Reissue edition, 2001. New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-81101-4.1952&rft.pub=Da%20Capo%20Press%20Reissue%20edition,%202001.%20New%20York%3A%20Da%20Capo%20Press">  Guderian describes what he did when he was in charge of German tank forces. It was originally published with the German title "Erinnerungen eines Soldaten" (Memories of a Soldier).

References

1. ^ Panzer Leader, Heinz Guderian, 1996, p 7 where the p 20 credit is ascribed to dogged suggestion at the time of the first English Publication with Liddell Hart's forward. The credit is of course therefore not present in the other language versions.

Further reading

External links

Heinz Günther Guderian (August 23 1914 – September 25 2004) was a German officer in the Wehrmacht and later a Major General and Inspector of Panzer Troops in the West German Bundeswehr and NATO. He was the son of the famous World War II General Heinz Guderian.
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