Heinz Wilhelm Guderian (German: [ɡuˈdeʀi̯an]; 17 June 1888 – 14 May 1954) was a German general during World War II. He was a pioneer in the development of armoured warfare, and was the leading proponent of tanks and mechanization in the Wehrmacht (German Armed Forces). Germany's panzer (armoured) forces were raised and organized under his direction as Chief of Mobile Forces. During the war, he was a highly successful commander of panzer forces in several campaigns. He had major conflicts with Adolf Hitler over Hitler's interference in the management of the campaigns. This culminated in the German defeat before Moscow. He was placed in reserve until significant losses in the panzerwaffe made it imperative that he be brought back to rebuild it. A special position was created for him, and in February 1943 he became Inspector General of Armoured Troops and promoted to the rank of Generaloberst. His efforts at rebuilding met with considerable resistance from Hitler himself. He was ultimately promoted to the highest rank in the army, Chief of the Oberkommando des Heeres, or Chief of the General Staff of the Army. By this point, however, Hitler had undermined the authority of the position, and Guderian was compelled to play the part of a figurehead for the last year of the war.
Early life and EducationEdit
Guderian was born in Kulm, West Prussia (now Chełmno, Poland). 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, Friedrich Guderian. After attending the war academy in Metz he was made a Leutnant (full Lieutenant) in 1908. In 1911 Guderian joined the 3rd Telegraphen-Battalion of the Prussian Army Signal Corps. On 1 October 1913 he married Margarete Georgen with whom he had two sons, Heinz-Günter (2 August 1914 – 2004) and Kurt (17 September 1918 – 1984). Both sons became highly decorated Wehrmacht officers during World War II; Heinz-Günter became a Panzer general in the Bundeswehr after the war.
First World WarEdit
At the outset of World War I Guderian served as a Signals Officer in the 5th Cavalry Division. After completing a practical war course, on 28 February 1918 Guderian was appointed to the General Staff Corps, which he described as 'the proudest moment of my life'. This allowed him to get an overall view of battlefield conditions. He often disagreed with his superior officers. He was transferred to the intelligence department of the army, where he remained until the end of the war. Like many Germans, he disagreed with Germany signing the armistice in 1918, believing the German Empire should have continued the fight.
Early in 1919, Guderian was selected as one of the four thousand officers to continue on in military service for the reduced size German army, the Reichswehr. He was assigned to serve on the staff of the central command of the Eastern Frontier Guard Service. This Guard Service was intended to control and coordinate the independent Freikorps units in the defense of Germany's eastern frontiers against Polish and Soviet forces engaged in the Russian Civil War. In June 1919, Guderian joined the Iron Brigade (later known as the Iron Division) as its second General Staff officer. The commanders of the regular German army had intended that this move would allow the army to reassert its control over the Iron Division; however, their hopes were disappointed. Rather than restrain the Freikorps, Guderian's anti-communism caused him to empathize with the Iron Division's efforts to defend Prussia against the Soviet threat. The Iron Division waged a ruthless campaign in Lithuania and pushed into Latvia; however, traditional German anti-Slavic attitudes prevented the division's full cooperation with the White Russian and Baltic forces opposing the Bolsheviks. German motorized forces on maneuvers in Russia, 1935Guderian was assigned as a company commander for the 10th Jäger-Battalion. Later he joined the Truppenamt ("Troop Office"), which was a clandestine form of the Army's General Staff which had been officially forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. In 1927 Guderian was promoted to major and transferred to the command of Army transport and motorized tactics in Berlin. This placed Guderian at the center of German development of armoured forces. Guderian, who was fluent in both English and French, studied the works of British maneuver warfare theorists J. F. C. Fuller, Giffard Martel and B.H. Liddell Hart. In 1931, he was promoted to Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant-Colonel) and became chief of staff to the Inspectorate of Motorized Troops under Oswald Lutz. In 1933 he was promoted to Oberst or Colonel.
Guderian wrote many papers on mechanized warfare during this period. These papers were based on extensive study of the lessons of the First World War, research on foreign literature on the use of armour, and wargaming done with dummy tanks and later with early armoured vehicles. Some of these trial maneuveres were conducted in Soviet Russia. Britain at this time was experimenting with tanks under General Hobart, and Guderian kept abreast of Hobart's writings using, at his own expense, someone to translate all the articles being published in Britain.
In October 1935 he was made commander of the newly created 2nd Panzer Division (one of three). On 1 August 1936 he was promoted to Generalmajor, and on 4 February 1938 he was promoted to Generalleutnant and given command of the XVI Army Corps.
In 1936 General Lutz asked Guderian to write a book on the developing panzer arm and the theories that had been developed on its use in war. The book produced, Achtung - Panzer!, was his most important work. It reviewed the state of armoured development in the European nations and Soviet Russia, and presented Guderian's theories on the effective use of armoured formations and combined-arms warfare ideas of other general staff officers. The book included the importance of airpower in support of the panzer units for future ground combat.
Germany's panzer forces were created largely along the lines laid down by Guderian in Achtung - Panzer!
Heinz Guderian with an Enigma machine in a Sd.Kfz. 251 half-track being used as a mobile command center during the Battle of FranceToward the end of World War I, the German army had developed the idea of breaking through a defensive front by infiltration of special combat teams or sturmtruppen, who would bypass strong points and get behind the enemy position to cause it to collapse. These methods were used in its 1918 Spring Offensive, but the breakthroughs achieved could not be capitalized upon because the forces lacked the mobility to exploit the move and create a deep penetration of the enemy defenses. Ultimately they failed to gain decisive results as they were unable to sustain the impetus of the initial attack.
Motorized infantry was the key to sustaining a breakthrough, and until the 1920s the extent of motorization necessary was not possible. Soviet marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky pursued the idea, but he was executed in 1937 as a part of Stalin's "Great Purge" of his military's leadership.
Guderian developed and advocated the strategy of concentrating armoured formations at the point of attack (Schwerpunkt) and deep penetration. In "Achtung Panzer" he described what he believed were essential elements for a successful panzer attack. Three elements were listed: surprise, deployment in mass, and suitable terrain. He proposed and created armoured divisions whose motorized infantry and artillery supported the armoured units to achieve a decisive success. In his book Panzer Leader 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 the primary role, the other weapons being subordinated to the requirements of the armour. It would be wrong to include tanks in infantry divisions: what were needed were armoured divisions which would include all the supporting arms needed to fight with full effect. Guderian believed that among those things needed for success was the ability of commanders to communicate with their mobile units. Guderian insisted in 1933 that the tanks in the German armoured force be equipped with radio- and visual equipment in order to enable each tank commander to communicate with his crew and with the tanks in his platoon and company. Inside the individual tanks, the German tank crews worked as a team, and the tank commander had the means to communicate with each of his crew members. Moreover, the German tanks worked collectively as a team, working together for mutual protection and increased firepower. Said Hermann Balck: "The decisive breakthrough into modern military thinking came with Guderian, and it came not only in armour, but in communication. "Of those things Guderian contributed, Balck considered some of the most important were the five man tank crew, with a dedicated radio operator in the hull of the tank, and the operation of the signal organization in the division to allow the commander to direct the division from any unit. This allowed forward control of the division, which was critical to mobile warfare. The German victories from 1939 through 1941 were not due to superior equipment, but to superior tactics in the use of that equipment, and superior command and control which allowed the German panzer forces to operate at a much higher pace.
Second World WarEdit
Guderian (in command vehicle) guides armoured force in PolandGuderian led the XIX Corps during the invasion of Poland. This corps comprised a panzer division and two motorized infantry divisions. Guderian led his corps in the Battle of Wizna and the Battle of Kobryn. In each of these his theories of rapid maneuver in combat proved highly successful. Guderian discusses instructions with an officer, France 1940Following the completion of the campaign in Poland the armoured forces were transferred to the west to prepare for the next set of operations. The four light divisions had proved to have inadequate firepower, and they were brought up to strength to full panzer divisions, one of which was given to Erwin Rommel. With this change the total number of panzer divisions in the Heer stood at ten. Guderian continued to work in development of the panzer arm. Said Hans von Luck of the 7th Panzer Division in his memoir: "In the middle of February we were transferred to Dernau on the Ahr, hence practically in to the western front. Rommel visited every unit. He told us that he was proud to be permitted to lead a panzer division. Guderian too came to inspect and talk to us. 'You are the cavalry' he told us. 'Your job is to break through and keep going.'"
In the planning for the Invasion of France, Guderian supported the change in the attack plan from a massive headlong invasion through the low countries to the Manstein Plan shifting the weight of the armoured formations to the Ardennes. Guderian's corps spearheaded the drive and were through the Ardennes and over the Meuse in three days. He led the attack that broke the French lines at Sedan, resulting in a general collapse of the French defenses. His guidance of the panzer formations earned him the nickname "Der schnelle Heinz" (Fast Heinz). 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 forces trapped in the pocket at Dunkirk by an order coming from high command.
In 1941 he commanded Panzergruppe 2, also known as Panzergruppe Guderian (redesignated on 5 October as Second Panzer Army), in Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union; becoming the 24th recipient of the Oak Leaves to his previously-awarded Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 17 July of that year. His armoured spearhead captured Smolensk in a remarkably short time and was poised to launch the final assault on Moscow when he was ordered to turn his army south in an effort to encircle the Soviet forces to his south in the Battle of Kiev. He protested the decision.
Following the delay Guderian was ordered to make a drive for Moscow in mid-September 1941. With winter fast approaching, the effort seemed fraught with the risk of over-extending and leaving his command subject to counter-attack. He was ordered to proceed anyway. The offensive weakened and though several units under Guderian's command made it to the outskirts of Moscow, the city remained in Soviet control. The Soviets then launched a counterattack that sent the German forces reeling and threatened a general collapse. The Russian T-34 and KV-1 tanks' armor could not be penetrated by the German tanks' guns. Guderian was not allowed to pull his forces back, but instead was ordered to "stand fast" in their current positions. He disputed the order, going personally to Adolf Hitler's headquarters. The order was not changed. After returning to his command, he carried out a series of withdrawals anyway, in direct contradiction of his orders. A heated series of disputes with Feldmarschall Günther von Kluge, the commander of Army Group Centre, then followed. After a final clash with von Kluge, Guderian asked to be relieved of his command. On 26 December 1941 Guderian was relieved, along with 40 other generals. He was transferred to the reserve pool. Guderian's held hard feelings on the matter against von Kluge, whom he felt failed to support him.
In September 1942, when Erwin Rommel was recuperating in Germany from health problems, he suggested Guderian to OKW as the only man suitable to replace him in Africa. The response from OKH came in the same night: "Guderian is not accepted".
Inspector General of Armoured TroopsEdit
After the German defeat at Stalingrad Hitler realized he was in need of Guderian's expertise. He personally requested Guderian to take a new position as "Inspector General of Armoured Troops". Guderian made a number of stipulations to ensure that he would have the requisite authority to perform his duties. Hitler agreed to these conditions, and on 1 March 1943 he was appointed to the newly created position. His responsibilities were to oversee the rebuilding of the greatly weakened panzer arm, to oversee tank design and production, and the training of Germany's panzer forces, and he was to advise Hitler on their use. His new position allowed him to bypass much of the Nazi bureaucracy and report to Hitler directly.
Guderian was opposed by a number of officers in the Wehrmacht who did not want to see the scope of their own power and influence curtailed. Said Hermann Balck, who had worked with Guderian at the Inspectorate of Mobile Troops "Guderian was always in conflict with everybody else. He was very hard to get along with, and it's a tribute to the German Army, as well as to Guderian's own remarkable abilities, that he was able to rise as high as he did within the German Army." The primary area of resistance to Guderian came from the artillery branch. In an effort to curtail Guderian's influence an adjective was added to his areas of oversight, changing the term "assault guns", which was becoming an increasingly important area of firepower for the panzer divisions, to "heavy assault guns" which was far more limited. The addition of the qualifier "heavy" removed the Stug III, Wespe and Hummel from Guderian's responsibility, meaning that 90% of assault gun production, training and use would be outside of Guderian's influence. Operation Citadel, the last major German offensive operation in the east, was an attempt by the German army to regain the initiative. Unfortunately for German planners, their designs were known by the Soviet defenders, who spent months building up a defense in depth to sap the strength of the attacking panzer units. The operation violated two of the three tenets for successful tank operations that Guderian had laid out in Achtung – Panzer!, namely that terrain for the operation had to be chosen that was open, and not built up with heavy defenses. Secondly, and more importantly, the strike had to be delivered in a manner that took the defenders by surprise. In light of the obvious heavy defenses, the Soviets had been preparing for the attack; the operation was a clear misuse of the panzerwaffe. The result would be a significant weakening of the panzer forces, forces that Guderian had been trying to rebuild. In a conversation with Hitler on 14 May 1943 Guderian pointed out the futility of the operation, asking: "My Fuhrer, why do you want to attack in the East at all this year?" To which Hitler responded: "You are quite right. Whenever I think of this attack my stomach turns over." Guderian concluded, "In that case your reaction to the problem is the correct one. Leave it alone."
When the head of the OKW General Wilhelm Keitel explained the political importance of the offensive, Guderian remarked "How many people do you think even know where Kursk is? It's a matter of profound indifference to the world whether we hold Kursk or not..."
The attack, originally planned for May, was not launched until July. It went on for a week before Soviet pressures on the Orel salient to the north and the necessity to respond to the allied invasion of Sicily resulted in the operation being halted. The Soviets then seized the initiative, which they held for the remainder of the war.
In his role as Inspector General of Armoured Troops, Guderian observed that Hitler was prone to experiment with too many designs, rather than finding an effective design and produce it in large numbers. He believed this resulted in supply-, logistical-, and repair problems for German forces in Russia. Guderian would have preferred the production of larger numbers of Panzer IVs and Panthers, and less energy and engineering effort spent on such projects as the Jagdtiger, the super tank Panzer VIII Maus, and the 800 mm railway gun the Schwerer Gustav.
Chief of Staff of the ArmyEdit
On 21 July 1944, after the failure of the 20 July Plot to assassinate Hitler, in which Guderian had no direct involvement, Guderian was appointed Chief of Staff of the Army (Chef des Generalstabs des Heeres) succeeding Kurt Zeitzler who had departed on 1 July after multiple conflicts with Adolf Hitler.
Later Life and DeathEdit
Guderian and his staff surrendered to U.S. forces on 10 May 1945. He remained as a prisoner of war in U.S. custody until his release on 17 June 1948. His conduct was investigated and no charges were brought. After the war he was often invited to attend meetings of British veterans' groups, where he analyzed past battles with his old foes. During the early 1950s he advised on the reestablishment of military forces in West Germany. The reformed military was called the Bundeswehr.
Notes written by Erwin Rommel while convalescing from injuries suffered in Normandy offered the following perspective into the development of armoured warfare in Germany: In Germany the elements of modern armoured warfare had already crystallized into a doctrine before the war - thanks mainly to the work of General Guderian - and had found practical expression in the organization and training of armoured formations. A documentary about his life aired on French television in 2000. Titled Guderian, it was directed by Anton Vassil and featured Guderian's son Heinz-Günther, Field Marshal Lord Carver and historians Kenneth Macksey and Heinz Wilhelm.
Disputes with HitlerEdit
Guderian was one of the few generals to openly challenge Hitler over the way in which Germany was prosecuting the war. A number of conflicts arose. Following the German victory in the Battle of France Hitler ordered an increase in the number of panzer divisions from ten to twenty. This was accomplished by splitting up their panzer regiments. More formations were created but their strength was diluted. This decreased their power, while doubling the need for support equipment and personnel. Guderian opposed the weakening of the panzer formations. Later, in his efforts to rebuild the panzer forces, Guderian argued for the removal of the panzer crews from Africa in early 1943, as their skill and experience were difficult to replace and their tanks had been lost in the conflict, but Hitler refused to take them off the continent. In addition, over the course of the war, as material and replacement crews became available, Hitler ordered the creation of new panzer formations. Guderian wanted the men and material to be used to bring the existing formations up to strength. Hitler believed the creation of new formations gave him a political advantage, in that it gave the appearance that Germany was still strong. However, these formations and their inexperienced crews were not nearly as effective as the veteran formations, and the result was many unnecessary losses. Most importantly, Hitler was unwilling to give up any ground that his soldiers had taken. This resulted in a rigid defense that did not allow his forces the opportunity to maneuver to better counter the moves of their enemy, or to withdraw to shorten their frontage. Positions were held onto until it was no longer possible for them to withdraw. The result was that a great number of German formations were surrounded and destroyed unnecessarily. Guderian was outspoken in his opposition to these policies which placed so little value on the lives of the German soldiers.
Guderian was dismissed twice, first on 26 December 1941 and again on 28 March 1945. The last dismissal followed a shouting-match over the loss of the German forces encircled at Küstrin. The forces trapped there were not allowed to break out, and General Theodor Busse's 9th Army was unable to fight their way through the Soviets to reach them. Guderian was informed that "your physical health requires that you immediately take six weeks convalescent leave". He was replaced by General Hans Krebs.
Appropriation of estateEdit
After the invasion of Poland a large number of estates were seized by the German government. Hitler attempted to engender loyalty in key commanders by offering them financial gifts. Following his success in Poland Guderian was given 2,000 acres (810 ha) at Deipenhof (now Głębokie) in the Warthegau area of occupied Poland. The occupants were evicted. Guderian told Erich von Manstein that he was given a list of Polish estates that he studied for a few days before deciding which to claim for his own. After the war Guderian allegedly changed the dates and circumstances of the situation in his memoirs to present the takeover of the estate as a legitimate retirement gift.
Following their disagreement over the defeat before Moscow, von Kluge challenged Guderian to a duel in 1943. Von Kluge requested Hitler to act as his second. Duels were illegal in Germany at this time, and Hitler forbade it.
Many years later in 1997 Israeli military theorist Shimon Naveh cast aspersions on Guderian, stating he was complicit in supporting a false claim by B.H. Liddell Hart. This was part of Naveh's efforts to undermine Liddell Hart's influence over the Israeli military, and on closer inspection his accusations proved to be groundless (see the Naveh controversy).
Awards and DecorationsEdit