Felix Steiner

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Felix Steiner
Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1973-138-14A, Felix Steiner.jpg
Born (1896-05-23)23 May 1896
Stallupönen, East Prussia
Died 12 May 1966(1966-05-12) (aged 69)
Munich, West Germany
Allegiance  German Empire (to 1918)
 Weimar Republic (to 1933)
 Nazi Germany
Service/branch Prussian standard.jpg Royal Prussian Army
Flag of the German Empire.svg German Free Corps
Flag of Weimar Republic (war).svg Reichswehr
SA-Logo.svg Sturmabteilung
Flag Schutzstaffel.svg Schutzstaffel
Flag Schutzstaffel.svg Waffen SS
Years of service 1914–45
Rank SS-Obergruppenführer Collar Rank.svg Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS
Commands held SS-Standarte Deutschland, SS-Division (mot.) Germania, 5th. SS-Panzer Division Wiking and III.(germanische) SS-Panzerkorps.
Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords

Felix Martin Julius Steiner (23 May 1896 – 12 May 1966) was a German officer, who became Obergruppenführer of the Schutzstaffel, General of the Waffen-SS, and a signed-up member of the Nazi Party of Nazi Germany. He served in both World War I and World War II and was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. He contributed significantly, together with Paul Hausser, to the development and transformation of the Waffen-SS, as an armed wing of the Nazi Party's Schutzstaffel, into a multi-ethnic and multinational military force of Nazi Germany.[1]

Steiner was chosen by Heinrich Himmler to oversee the creation of, and command an elite Panzer division, the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking. In 1943, he was promoted to the command of the III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps. On 28 January 1945, Steiner was placed in command of the 11th SS Panzer Army, which formed part of a new ad-hoc formation to protect Berlin from the Soviet armies advancing from the Vistula River.

On 21 April, during the Battle for Berlin, Steiner was placed in command of Army Detachment Steiner, while Adolf Hitler ordered Steiner to envelop the 1st Belorussian Front through a pincer movement, advancing from the North of the city.[2] However, as his worn out and exhausted unit was outnumbered by ten to one, Steiner made it clear that he did not have the capacity for a counter-attack.[2] It resulted in Hitler falling into a tearful rage on 22 April during the daily situation conference in the Führerbunker.[3]

After the capitulation of Germany, Steiner was imprisoned and indicted as part of the Nuremberg Trials. However, he was cleared of all charges of war crimes and released in 1948. He continued to live in Germany, wrote several books, and participated in organising support for former Waffen-SS members. He died on 12 May 1966.

Early life and World War I[edit]

Felix Martin Julius Steiner was born on 23 May 1896 in Stallupönen, East Prussia.

In 1914, on the eve of war, Steiner joined the Royal Prussian Army as a cadet in an infantry regiment. During the course of the war, he was severely wounded and was awarded the Iron Cross first and second class. At the end of the war he had attained the rank of Oberleutnant.

Career[edit]

In 1919, Steiner joined the Freikorps in the East Prussian city of Memel and was incorporated into the Reichswehr in 1921. In 1933, he left the Reichswehr having attained the rank of Major.

Steiner joined the Nazi Party (membership number: 4.264.295) and the Sturmabteilung where he began work developing new training techniques and tactics. In 1935, he joined the Schutzstaffel and took command of a Battalion of SS-Verfügungstruppen troops, and within a year had been promoted to SS-Standartenführer being in command of the SS-Deutschland Regiment.

At the outbreak of war Steiner was SS-Oberführer in charge of the Waffen-SS regiment SS-Deutschland. He led this regiment well through Invasion of Poland and the Battle of France, for which he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 15 August 1940.

Waffen SS[edit]

After the early war campaigns, Steiner was chosen by SS-Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler to oversee the creation of, and then command the new volunteer SS Division, SS-Division Wiking. The Wiking was made up of Non-German volunteers, and at the time of its creation consisted mostly of Dutch, Walloons, Finns and Scandinavians including the Danish regiment Frikorps Danmark.

In the Wiking Division, Steiner created a capable formation from disparate elements, and he commanded them competently through the many battles in the east from 1941 until his promotion to command of the III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps.

While there are several incidents documented by historians in which the division engaged in massacres, the Wiking's official combat record is clear of any specific War Crimes prosecutions. Steiner said of the Commissar Order "No rational unit commander could comply with such an Order". He felt that it was incompatible with soldierly conduct and would result in a breakdown in military discipline, and that it was incompatible with giving combat its moral worth. Even if it was on utilitarian grounds, Steiner reasoned that the Commissar Order was to be ignored, as detrimental to good order and discipline.

In April 1943, Steiner was placed in command of the newly formed III SS Panzer Corps. The unit participated in anti-partisan actions in Yugoslavia. In November/December 1943 his corps was transferred to the Eastern Front and positioned in the northern sector at Leningrad under Army Group North. Steiner's Panzer Corps played a leading role during the successful defensive battles at Narva. During the battle of the Tannenberg line his forces were able to withstand a superior Soviet force with only 7 tanks left. His unit then withdrew with the rest of Army Group North to the Courland Peninsula.

Army Group Vistula[edit]

In January 1945, Steiner along with the III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps was transferred by ship from the Courland Pocket to help with the defence of the German homeland.

The III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps was assigned to Army Group Vistula and put under the new Eleventh SS Panzer Army, although this army really only existed on paper. Once the Soviets reached the Oder river, Eleventh SS Panzer Army became inactive and the III SS Panzer Corps was reassigned to the German Third Panzer Army as a reserve during the Soviets' Berlin Offensive Operation. During the Battle of Halbe, the first major battle of the offensive, General Gotthard Heinrici, the commander of Army Group Vistula, transferred most of the III SS Panzer Corps' divisions to General Theodor Busse's German Ninth Army.

Steiner had always been one of Hitler's favourite commanders, who admired his 'get the job done' attitude and the fact that he owed his allegiance to the Waffen SS, not the Prussian Officer Corps. Joseph Goebbels also praised Steiner. "He is energetic and purposeful and is attacking his job with great verve," Goebbels wrote on 1 March 1945.

By 21 April, Soviet Marshal Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front had broken through the German lines on the Seelow Heights. Hitler, ignoring the facts, started to call the ragtag units that came under Steiner's command Army Detachment Steiner (Armeeabteilung Steiner). An army detachment was something more than a corps but less than an army.

Hitler ordered Steiner to attack the northern flank of the huge salient created by the 1st Belorussian Front's breakout. Steiner's attack was due to coincide with General Busse's Ninth Army, attacking from the south in a pincer attack. The Ninth Army had been pushed to south of the 1st Belorussian Front's salient. To facilitate this attack, Steiner was assigned the three divisions of the Ninth Army's CI Army Corps: the 4th SS Panzergrenadier Division Polizei, the 5th Jäger Division, and the 25th Panzergrenadier Division. All three divisions were north of the Finow Canal on the Northern flank of Zhukov's salient. Weidling's LVI Panzer Corps, which was still east of Berlin with its northern flank just below Werneuchen, was also to participate in the attack.[4][5]

The three divisions from CI Army Corps were to attack south from Eberswalde on the Finow Canal towards the LVI Panzer Corps. The three divisions from CI Army Corps were 24 kilometres (about 15 miles) east of Berlin and the attack to the south would cut the 1st Belorussian Front's salient in two.

Steiner called Heinrici and informed him that the plan could not be implemented because the 5th Jäger Division and the 25th Panzergrenadier Division were deployed defensively and could not be redeployed until the 2nd Naval Division arrived from the coast to relieve them. This left only two battalions of the 4th SS Panzergrenadier Division available and they had no combat weapons.

Based on Steiner's assessment, Heinrici called Hans Krebs, Chief of Staff of the German General Staff of the Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres or OKH), and told him that the plan could not be implemented. Heinrici asked to speak to Hitler, but was told Hitler was too busy to take his call.[4][5]

On 22 April 1945, at his afternoon conference, Hitler became aware that Steiner was not going to attack and he fell into a tearful rage. Hitler declared that the war was lost, he blamed the generals, and announced that he would stay on in Berlin until the end and then kill himself.[3]

On the same day, General Rudolf Holste was given what few mobile forces Steiner commanded so that he could participate in a new plan to relieve Berlin. Holste was to attack from the north while General Walther Wenck attacked from the west and General Theodor Busse attacked from the south. These attacks amounted to little and, on 25 April, the Soviet forces attacking to the north and to the south of Berlin linked up to the west of the city.

End of the war - peacetime[edit]

After the surrender, Steiner was incarcerated until 1948. He faced charges at the Nuremberg Trials, but they were all dropped and he was released. He dedicated the last decades of his life to writing his memoirs[6] and several books about the war. He died on 12 May 1966.

Promotions[edit]

Awards[edit]

This article incorporates information from the equivalent article on the German Wikipedia.

Wehrmachtbericht reference[edit]

Date Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording Direct English translation
1 August 1944 An der erfolgreichen Abwehr der sowjetischen Großangriffe der letzten Tage hat das III. Germanische SS-Panzerkorps unter Führung des SS-Obergruppenführers und Generals der Waffen-SS Steiner mit der Germanischen Freiwilligendivision SS-Nordland und SS-Nederland, der 20. Estnischen Freiwilligendivision, der 11. Ostpreußischen Infanterie-Division sowie an der Landfront eingesetzten Einheiten der Kriegsmarine, Heeresartillerie und Werfern hervorragenden Anteil.[13] In the successful defense of the Soviet large-scale attacks of recent days, the III. Germanic SS Panzer Corps under the command of SS-Obergruppenführer and General of the Waffen-SS Steiner with the Germanic Voluntary Division SS Nordland and SS Nederland, the 20th Estonian Volunteer Division, the 11th East Prussian Infantry Division and units of the Navy, army artillery and mortars which were deployed on the land front, played a prominent part.

Commands[edit]

  • Commander of the SS-Regiment "Deutschland" 1 June 1936 to 1 December 1940
  • 1 December 1940 to 1 January 1943 Commander of SS-Germania Division (mot),
  • On 31 December 1940 SS-Germania Division renamed SS-Wiking Division
  • On 9 November 1942 SS-Wiking redesignated 5.SS-Wiking Panzergrenadier Division (I),
  • 10 May 1943 to November 9, 1944 Commander of the III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps
  • 26 November 1944 to March 5, 1945 Commander of the XI SS Panzer Army
  • Command of the III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps a corps in the Third Panzer Army
  • On 21 April 1945 what remained of Steiner's command redesignated Army Detachment Steiner

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ According to Scherzer as commander of SS-Standarte "Deutschland".[10]

References[edit]

Citations
  1. ^ Bender, Roger James; Taylor, Hugh Page (1971). Uniforms, Organization, and History of the Waffen-SS, Volume 2. R. James Bender Publishing. p. 23. 
  2. ^ a b Beevor 2002, pp. 310–312.
  3. ^ a b Ziemke p. 89
  4. ^ a b Beevor pp. 267,268
  5. ^ a b Ziemke pp. 87,88
  6. ^ Steiner, Felix: Die Freiwilligen der Waffen-SS: Idee und Opfergang
  7. ^ a b c d Thomas 1998, p. 346.
  8. ^ Patzwall and Scherzer 2007, p. 457.
  9. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 409, 505.
  10. ^ a b c Scherzer 2007, p. 721.
  11. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 64.
  12. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 44.
  13. ^ Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 3, pp. 184–185.
Bibliography
  • Beevor, Antony (2002). Berlin: The Downfall 1945. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-670-88695-5. 
  • Berger, Florian (1999). Mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern. Die höchstdekorierten Soldaten des Zweiten Weltkrieges [With Oak Leaves and Swords. The Highest Decorated Soldiers of the Second World War] (in German). Vienna, Austria: Selbstverlag Florian Berger. ISBN 978-3-9501307-0-6. 
  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 – Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtsteile [The Bearers of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939–1945 — The Owners of the Highest Award of the Second World War of all Wehrmacht Branches] (in German). Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6. 
  • Krätschmer, Ernst-Günther (1999). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Waffen-SS [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the Waffen-SS]. Coburg, Germany: Nation Europa Verlag. ISBN 978-3-920677-43-9. 
  • Patzwall, Klaus D.; Scherzer, Veit (2001). Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941 – 1945 Geschichte und Inhaber Band II [The German Cross 1941 – 1945 History and Recipients Volume 2] (in German). Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall. ISBN 978-3-931533-45-8. 
  • Schaulen, Fritjof (2005). Eichenlaubträger 1940 – 1945 Zeitgeschichte in Farbe III Radusch – Zwernemann [Oak Leaves Bearers 1940 – 1945 Contemporary History in Color III Radusch – Zwernemann] (in German). Selent, Germany: Pour le Mérite. ISBN 978-3-932381-22-5. 
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 The Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 by Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Allied Forces with Germany According to the Documents of the Federal Archives] (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2. 
  • Thomas, Franz (1998). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 2: L–Z [The Oak Leaves Bearers 1939–1945 Volume 2: L–Z] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2300-9. 
  • Williamson, Gordon (March 1994). The SS: Hitler's Instrument of Terror: The Full Story From Street Fighters to the Waffen-SS - Motorbooks International. ISBN 0-87938-905-2, ISBN 978-0-87938-905-5.
  • Ziemke, Earl F (1969). Battle For Berlin: End Of The Third Reich, NY: Ballantine Books, London: Macdomald & Co.
  • Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 3, 1. Januar 1944 bis 9. Mai 1945 [The Wehrmacht Reports 1939–1945 Volume 3, 1 January 1944 to 9 May 1945] (in German). München, Germany: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG. 1985. ISBN 978-3-423-05944-2. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Trevor-Roper, Hugh (1978), Final Entries 1945 The Diaries of Joseph Goebbels, New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, ISBN 0-399-12116-1 .
Military offices
Preceded by
none
Commander of SS-Standarte "Deutschland"
June, 1936 – December 1, 1940
Succeeded by
none
Preceded by
none
Commander of 5. SS-Panzer-Division Wiking
December 1, 1940 – May 1, 1943
Succeeded by
SS-Obergruppenführer Herbert Otto Gille
Preceded by
none
Commander of III.(germanische) SS-Panzerkorps
May 1, 1943 – October, 1944
Succeeded by
SS-Obergruppenführer Georg Keppler
Preceded by
none
Commander of 11.SS-Panzerarmee
January 28, 1945 – March 5, 1945
Succeeded by
General der Infanterie Otto Hitzfeld
Preceded by
Generalleutnant Martin Unrein
Commander of III.(germanische) SS-Panzerkorps
March 5, 1945 – May 8, 1945
Succeeded by
none
Preceded by
none
Commander of Army Detachment Steiner
April 21, 1945 – May 8, 1945
Succeeded by
none