Top German Generals Of World War 2

 

 

 

 

The German Generals were Masters of Mechanized Warfare Using Tanks And Mobility

German generals in World War 2 were responsible for many victories and, also, their share of German defeats.  Germany was fortunate in World War II to have a number of   competent generals who understood fast-moving warfare strategy and tactics Germany was equally unfortunate that Hitler, after the initial successes in France and Poland, etc., chose to do much of military planning and often would not pay much attention to his generals.  Still, both Hitler and the German generals are considered about equally responsible for the loss of World War 2.

 

 

 

 

 

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Web Sites for Germany's Generals of World War 2

 

1.  Germany Against The World in World War 2.   Causes of World War 2, the German leaders, German generals,  German battles, and German strategy.

 

Although this site is focused on the expertise of German generals of  the Second World War ,  the German generals  had to face a number of excellent American, British, and Russian generals.

 

2. President Roosevelt - World War 2.   President Roosevelt Led the U.S. to Victory in World War 2.

 

3. World War 2 Battlefield Tours.  The visitor to Europe needs to tour the World War 2 battlefields of Europe: D-Day, The Battle of Britain, Battle of the Bulge, and Dunkirk. The battlefield tours could also include the World War 2 battlefields of Italy, Sicily, North Africa, and Russia.

 

4. German Fuel Shortage.The German fuel shortage was a serious problem for Germany in World War 2. 

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Hitler and His Generals

At some point in time, Hitler had a falling out with virtually all his top generals over strategy and tactics. Occasionally, he would retire them or move them to the sidelines.  However, usually the discarded generals were allowed to return to action although often in a lesser role.  Hitler didn't hold the grudge forever in these instances particularly if the officer was a loyal Nazi.

However,some of the generals opposed Hitler to the point of forming a conspiracy against Hitler to remove him from office or to assassinate him.  When the conspiracies failed as they all did, Hitler was merciless in his revenge.  The guilty generals went before the firing squad, were hanged, or were forced to commit suicide.  Some were tortured.

Many of the better know generals - Rommel, Guderian, Von Manstein - were brilliant military leaders who had earned their positions.  Others such as Keitel,  Jodl, and Dietrich owed their lofty positions to their close association with and allegiance to Hitler.

The Top ElevenGerman generals  in World War 2 were:

 

 

 Wilhelm Keitel, the Number 1 German General 

General Field Marshal. Hitler's chief military advisor throughout World War Two and a man who was completely loyal to Hitler.  He had been wounded in World War I as had been many other Nazi leaders.  He moved into a high position in the army in 1938 when scandals forced two top generals from their posts.  In his one known instance of rebelling against Hitler, he threatened to resign if Russia were invaded.  Hitler ignored him as he usually did in important matters.  After the war, he was tried and convicted at Nuremberg.  He was hanged on October 16, 1946. 

 

 Alfred Jodl, the Number 2 General

Colonel General and Chief of the Operations Staff during the war.  Hitler's first adviser on strategic and operations matters.  Hitler was his hero and Jodl never opposed him. Jodl helped plan the invasion of Russia.  He also represented Admiral Doenitz at the unconditional surrender ceremony at the end of the war.  Convicted at Nuremberg, Jodl was hanged.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heinz Guderian, the Brilliant but Egotistic General -  Was Guderian The Greatest German General?

Colonel General.  Regarded as one of the leading  pioneers of modern mechanized warfare.    Guderian's panzer divisions played a major role in the Blitzkrieg victories over Poland and France. He was very audacious in battle, always operating at the very limit of his authority and eventually, in Russia, operating almost independently. He had studied Liddell Hart's 'indirect' strategic concept and was a master of it.  He never assaulted his opponent head-on but always at a soft spot or along the flanks. They never knew what hit them even though he had previously written books describing his strategy and tactics.  

Guderian opposed the attack on Russia but played a major role in the early attack in 1941. One of the great tactical generals of all time, Guderian never lost a battle anywhere but may have cost the Germans the war on the Eastern Front, when, as preparations  for the attack on Moscow were beginning, he, operating virtually independently with blessings from an admiring Hitler,  took his army far from Moscow to destroy multiple Russian  armies to the south while his immediate superior, General Halder, fumed.  Guderian had accomplished an impressive feat, but he was more needed before Moscow to prepare for probably the decisive battle of the war.  After the attack on Moscow stalled, Hitler had had it with his favorite general and demoted Guderian into near-oblivion.  The conspirators in the plot to kill Hitler tried to enlist Guderian to their side but were unable to and, after the plot failed, Guderian (probably unwillingly) played a role in the harsh justice meted out to the conspirators.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Erich von Manstein, Mastermind of the Blitzkrieg

General Field Marshal.  Along with General Guderian (above), one of the two top military minds of World War 2.   The mastermind of the Blitzkrieg against France and the low land countries in 1940 (although Hitler tried to take credit).  He then was a major player in the assault on Russia.  He joined the conspiracy against Hitler in 1942 but withdrew after Stalingrad.  He was tried before a British court in Germany after the war and sentenced to 17 years for war crimes.  After his sentence was reduced and he was released in 1953, he became a consultant to the West Germany government.

 

 

 

 

 

 Franz Halder, the General who Opposed Hitler

Chief of the General Staff until 1942.  Halder served in World War I and stayed in the army after the war.  In the Russian campaign of 1941, his subordinate, General Guderian, the colorful panzer master, almost drove Halder into a nervous breakdown with his insubordination which was allowed because of Hitler's strong support for his favorite general, Guderian.   Halder was generally opposed to the war and his continuous opposition to Hitler's strategy got him fired in 1942.  He worked  with the conspirators against Hitler for some time but was not an active participant in the assassination attempt.  Nevertheless, he was arrested and placed in a concentration camp where he stayed for the rest of the war.  He was a fortunate conspirator to have survived the war.

 

Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox 

General Field Marshal.   Served in World War I and stayed in the army after the war.  During World War II, he was probably Germany's most famous general (although Guderian, Rommel's soul brother, was probably the most accomplished General).  He became commander of the Afrika Korps in 1941 and there followed a series of battles with the British in Libya in which one side and then the other would have the advantage.  Rommel's forces had the early advantage and by the end of 1942, had pushed the British back to El Alamein in Egypt.  While Rommel was in Germany for medical treatment, the Germans lost the battle of El Alamein and began a long retreat to Tunisia just as Rommel returned.  He was then recalled from Africa and sent to Italy where he commanded an army group in the northern part of the country.  Shortly after, he was transferred to northern France to command an army group there. 

Rommel and General Von Rundstedt met with Hitler several times and tried to persuade Hitler to stop the war.  Hitler became livid with rage over this.  Later, Rommel was badly wounded during a strafing by a British plane in July 1944 and was sent home to heal.  Rommel, by this time had become disillusioned by the Hitler regime.  He opposed assassination but thought Hitler should be put on trial and began to express himself on the subject.  He never took an active part in the July 1944 plot against Hitler but when, under torture, one of the active plot members implicated him, Rommel was given the choice of suicide or trial.  He chose suicide by poison and was given a hero's funeral. 

Some military experts have stated that Rommel was a military genius in the Blitzkrieg attack on France where he commanded relatively small forces and in the early victories in North Africa, but that he became less effective as he was given more and more responsibility and commanded larger forces.  His efficiency was also allegedly affected as he became disillusioned with Hitler and German war prospects. 

 

  Gerd von Rundstedt, the General Twice Sacked by Hitler

General Field Marshal.  One of the natural leaders of the German generals. Purged from the army in 1938 when General Von Fritsch who opposed Hitler was fired, he was recalled in 1939 as war broke out.  In 1940, he was commander in chief  of German forces attacking France. When the attack on Russia started in 1941, Von Rundstedt led the attack on southern Russia but came under attack from Hitler and was relieved. 

In 1942, Von Rundstedt was appointed commander in chief of German forces on the western front but was again relieved when he failed to stop the allied invasion force in France.  After the failure of General Field Marshals Von Kluge and Walther Model (see Kluge and Model, below) in this position, he was reinstated and remained there. 

Von Rundstedt and Rommel made several attempts to get Hitler to end World War 2 in Europe with no success.  Von Rundstedt knew of the plot against Hitler but played no role in it other than to encourage Rommel to participate.  Later, when the assassination plot failed, Von Rundstedt presided over the military court of honor that sent the rebellious generals to the people's court and almost certain death.  Could he have performed this last terrible duty because of fear generated by his advice to Rommel?

Other Leading German Generals

  Model, Walther.  General Field Marshal.  An enthusiastic Nazi who was rewarded by Hitler with rapid promotions.  After the Falaise gap retreat, Model took over for Von Kluge.  Soon his forces were surrounded and forced to surrender.  Model shot himself so that he would not be captured.

 

  Milch, Erhard.  General Field Marshal of the Luftwaffe.  Goering's deputy and a loyal Nazi.  Served as an airman in World War I.  Milch suffered through the 30's with the knowledge that his apparent legal father was Jewish, however,  Goering got him cleared for high office making the statement that "I will determine who is Jewish and who is not."  It was finally disclosed to Milch about this time that his mother was in a sexual relationship with her uncle and that the uncle, a non-Jew was his real father.   (Or did Goering fabricate this tale to remove the Jewish shadow from Milch's name?  Goering, who wrote the letter, at Hitler's order, that initiated the "final solution," nevertheless, was never too concerned about the Jewish "problem").

After World War I, Milch had created the Lufthansa (German civil air transportation company).  Within this company, Milch built up a small military air force in violation of the Treaty of Versailles.  Goering then had him appointed State Secretary in the Air Ministry.  From there Milch and Goering created the Luftwaffe (German Air Force)  Although a very disagreeable and ruthless individual,  Milch was an efficient manager and worked closely with Albert Speer in Speer's later successful efforts to increase air plane production. Earlier, he tried to alert Goering to the dangers posed by the massive U.S. production of aircraft so that counter action could be taken but was unsuccessful. 

After the war, Milch served seven years in prison for war crimes. 

  Kesselring, Albert.  General Field Marshal of the Luftwaffe.  Served in the army in World War I.  During the early years of World War 2, Kesselring had major roles in the Luftwaffe in Poland, France, and the Battle of Britain.  In late 1941, he was made Commander-in-Chief of the German forces in North Africa and Italy.  In the last few months of the war, he became Commander -in-Chief of German forces on the collapsing western Germany front.  After the war, he was convicted of war crimes and sentenced to death.  This was commuted to life imprisonment.  In 1952, he was pardoned.

 

  Paulus, Friedrich. General Field Marshal.  General Paulus led the German Sixth Army in its assault on Stalingrad in 1942.  Trapped by a powerful Russian maneuver, Paulus asked Hitler for permission to retreat.  Hitler refused.  Later, attempts to rescue the trapped army failed.  Goering had promised that his Luftwaffe could keep the Sixth Army supplied.  It could not and the trapped army began to run out of supplies.  As the end approached, Hitler promoted Paulus hoping to keep the General from surrendering.  Eventually, Paulus had no choice but to surrender the straggling remains of his army.  Hitler fumed.  Paulus remained in a Russian prison until 1953.  He returned to Germany where he died in 1957.

 

  Dietrich,  Josef "Sepp."   One of the most  colorful, aggressive, and rowdy of German generals.  A Nazi bully boy.  After serving in World War I, Dietrich worked as a farm laborer, policeman, gas station attendant, and other lowly jobs.  He joined the Nazi party in the twenties and somehow Hitler heard of him and promoted him to commander of Hitler's body guard.  During the night of the long knives of July 30, 1934, Hitler ordered Dietrich to select a firing squad and execute the list of condemned men.  Dietrich did this although he knew many of the men well.  One spoke out to him for mercy: "Sepp, old friend, what is happening?  We are completely innocent."  But "old friend" Sepp carried out his orders even though he later said he had to leave the scene before all victims had been shot.  He couldn't take seeing more of his friends die. 

 Dietrich commanded a tank corps in the Battle of France and later commanded an SS Army in Russia.  Hitler trusted him so, in 1944, he was brought back to the western front and led the Sixth Panzer army in the Battle of the Bulge. 

In 1945, Dietrich returned to Russia and was involved in an  incident that became well know as he finally turned on Hitler.  His army was involved in a losing battle and an infuriated Hitler ordered the men stripped of their armbands.  Dietrich retaliated by gathering the armbands of many of the men along with their medals, placed them in a chamber pot and tied it with a ribbon which signifies in German culture that "You can kiss my backside" and sent the chamber pot to Hitler.  

No, Sepp Dietrich did not have an aristocratic bearing, nor was he anywhere near the greatest German general, but he did have a good street fighter mentality. 

After World War 2 ended, Dietrich was convicted of the murder of American prisoners of war and spent 10 years in jail for the crime.  He also spent a year and a half in jail for his role as executioner during the "night of the long knives".  

  Beck, Ludwig.  General Beck was Chief of Staff of the German armed forces in the mid-thirties.  As the crisis with Czechoslovakia began, Beck protested claiming that the armed forces were not ready, and, further, it was immoral to engage in such a war.  He was unable to mount an effective resistance to Hitler who had made up his mind to go to war in Czechoslovakia if necessary.  General Beck then resigned his post as Chief of Staff.

 

Beck began to take an active role in the plot to assassinate Hitler.  When the July 1944 plot failed, Beck was told to commit suicide and when his two efforts failed, a German soldier finished him off

 

 

 

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  U.S., British & Russian Generals Whom The German Generals Faced:

Although this site is focused on the expertise of German generals of  the Second World War ,  the German generals  had to face a number of excellent American, British, and Russian generals.

 

American (Eisenhower, Patton & Bradley) along with British & Russian Generals of World War 2 are discussed in American Generals World War 2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion: Top German Generals of World War 2

German generals of World War 2, particularly Generals Guderian,  Rommel, & and von Manstein, were very competent but  having to deal with Hitler sometimes slowed their efforts.  However, the generals were not always correct in their arguments with Hitler since Hitler, despite his war-time military rank as a lowly corporal, often displayed more of a flair for brilliant and decisive military strategy than did the German Generals.                               

 

           

 

 

Last Updated:       03/05/14