Heinz Guderian

Heinz Guderian

Infobox Military Person
name=Heinz Wilhelm Guderian
lived=17 June, 188814 May, 1954

placeofbirth=Kulm, West Prussia
placeofdeath=Schwangau, Allgäu
nickname="Schneller Heinz"
allegiance=flagicon|German Empire German Empire (to 1918)
flagicon|Germany Weimar Republic (to 1933)
flagicon|Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
commands= 2. Panzer Division, XVI. Army-Corps, XIX. Army-Corps, Panzergruppe "Guderian" and Panzergruppe 2
awards="Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub"
relations=Heinz Günther Guderian

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 Armoured 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 Generaloberst. He never became a field marshal, but he is recognized as one of the most prominent generals of the Second World War.

Early career

Guderian was born in Kulm (Chełmno-now Poland), 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, commanded at that point by his father. After attending the war academy in Metz he was made a "Leutnant" (full lieutenant) in 1908. 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, Heinz Günter (born 1914) and Kurt (born 1918) who would both become highly decorated Wehrmacht officers during World War II (and in the case of his older son, a Panzer general in the German Bundeswehr after the war).

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 and ended up being transferred to the army intelligence department where he remained until the end of the war. This second assignment, while removed from the 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 to 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, [ 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.] 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 to 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 to major-general, and on 4 February 1938 he was promoted to 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 of 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 would 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 titled "Guderian", directed by Anton Vassil, was aired on French television. It featured Heinz-Guenther Guderian (Guderian's surviving son, the other died in the Second World War) 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 Guderian'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 the moral responsibility of the German general staff under Hitler.

Guderian's Blitzkrieg

The concepts of blitzkrieg were not fully developed in other countries, although initially promoted and partially implemented by the British Army, but 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. Tukhachevsky, in Russia, can be said to have already grasped this potential, but the influence of his military philosophy in the ongoing development of the Red Army diminished after he was no longer able to personally advocate for it (he was executed by Stalin in 1937). Guderian probably was the first who fully developed and advocated the principle of Blitzkrieg and put into 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" ['P. 13] he wrote:

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 being 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 communication and special visual equipment with which the armored divisions in general, and tanks specifically, should be equipped.Guderian insisted in 1933, within the high command, that every tank in the German armored force must be equipped with radio and visual equipment in order to enable the tank commander to communicate and perform a decisive role in blitzkrieg. [Guderian, "Panzer Leader", p. 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. After the invasion he took property in the Warthegau area of occupied Poland, evicting the Polish estate owners. [James V. Koch, [http://www.ess.uwe.ac.uk/genocide/reviewstr74.htm review] of "Guderian: Panzer General" by Kenneth Macksey] In 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. During the French campaign, he led his panzer forces in rapid blitzkrieg-style advances and earned the nickname "Schneller Heinz" (Hurrying Heinz) among his troops. [Guderian, "Panzer Leader".] 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. Faced with orders from nervous superiors to halt on one occasion, he managed to continue his advance by stating he was performing a 'reconnaissance in force'. Guderian's column was famously denied the chance to destroy the Allied beachhead at Dunkirk by Hitler's personal order.

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. 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). German tanks lacked antifreeze or enough fuel to run all night. Russian tanks emerged from Moscow with air-cooled diesel engines, and the Germans quickly began design work on an air-cooled diesel engine of their own.

He protested against Hitler's decision and as a result lost the Führer's confidence.Fact|date=July 2007 He was relieved of his command on 25 December 1941 after Fieldmarshal Günther von Kluge, not noted for his ability to face up to Hitler,Fact|date=July 2007 claimed that Guderian had ordered a withdrawal in contradiction of Hitler's "standhaft" order. In Panzer Leader (da Capo Press), Guderian claims he told Hitler to his face that because Moscow had not been taken by Christmas 1941, the war would be lost. 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 deny that he ordered any kind of withdrawalFact|date=February 2007. Ironically this act of apparent insubordination is cited by his admirers as further proof of his independence of spirit when dealing with Hitler. Guderian's own view on the matter was that he had been victimised by von Kluge who was the commanding officer when 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 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 strategy and to oversee tank design and production and the training of Germany's panzer forces.

According to Guderian, Hitler was easily persuaded to field too many new tank designs, and this resulted in supply and logistical problems for German forces in Russia. [Panzer Leader] Guderian preferred large numbers of Panzer IIIs and IVs over smaller numbers of heavier tanks like the Tiger, which had limited range and could rarely go off-road without getting stuck in the Russian mud.

On 21 July, 1944, after the failure of the July 20 Plot in which Guderian had no involvement, [Guderian's opposition to the plotters and his actions to support further Nazification of the Wehrmacht are described in William L. Shirer (1990), "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" (1st Touchstone Edition reprinted with afterword) (New York: Simon & Schuster), ISBN 067172868, pp. 1080-1082.] Guderian was appointed chief of staff of the army (Chef des Generalstabs des Heeres) as a successor to Kurt Zeitzler, who had departed July 1 after 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 a shouting-match over the failed counterattack of General Theodor Busse's 9th Army to break through to units encircled at Küstrin; he stated to Guderian that "your physical health requires that you immediately take six weeks convalescent leave," ("Health problems" were commonly used as a facade in the Third Reich to remove executives who for some reason could not simply be sacked,Fact|date=July 2007 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.

Guderian's former enemies considered him a tough but clean adversary. After the war he was often invited to attend meetings of British veterans' groups, where he analyzed past battles with his old foes.

Guderian died on May 14 1954 at the age of 65, in Schwangau near Füssen (Southern Bavaria) and is buried at the "Friedhof Hildesheimer Strasse" 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 describes what he would do if he was in charge of German tank forces.
* 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).


Further reading

* Macksey, Kenneth, "Guderian: Panzer General" (1992, revision of "Guderian, Creator of the Blitzkrieg", 1976)
* Walde, Karl J., "Guderian" (1978)
* Kershaw, Ian, "Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis" (2001)

ee also

*Heinz Günther Guderian
*Tiger Tank

External links

* [http://www.mindef.gov.sg/imindef/publications/pointer/journals/2003/v29n3/personality_profile.html Personality Profile - General Heinz Guderian] by the "Journal of the Singapore Armed Forces"
* [http://www.achtungpanzer.com/gen2.htm Generaloberst Heinz Wilhelm Guderian] at "Achtung Panzer!"

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