Gustav Anton von Wietersheim

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Gustav Anton von Wietersheim
Born 11 February 1884
Breslau
Died 25 April 1974 (1974-04-26) (aged 90)
Wallersberg bei Bonn
Allegiance German Empire German Empire (to 1918)
Germany Weimar Republic (to 1933)
Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
Service/branch Heer
Years of service 1902-1942
Rank General der Infanterie
Commands held 29th Infantry Division (Motorized), 1936-1938; XIV Panzer Corps ("Panzercorps Wietersheim"), 1938-1942; Chief of Staff, Second Army Group, 1939
Battles/wars World War I, World War II, Invasion of Poland, Battle of France, Invasion of Yugoslavia, Operation Barbarossa, Case Blue, Stalingrad
Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
Knight's Cross of the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern with Swords

Gustav Anton von Wietersheim (11 February 1884 – 25 April 1974) was an officer in the German Army from 1902 to 1942, and a General in the Wehrmacht Heer during World War II. He led the XIV Motorized Corps (after June 21, 1942, XIV Panzer Corps) from its creation on April 1, 1938 until September 14, 1942 during the Battle of Stalingrad.[1]

Early history, World War I, and Reichswehr[edit]

Little is known about Wietersheim's early life; most of it must be derived from the nature of his military training, assignments, and known activities. He was born in Breslau in 1884, at that time part of the German Empire, now present-day Wrocław, in Polish Silesia, attended a Kadettenanstalt (an institute for military cadets), and began his military career as soon as he came of age, receiving his commission (patent) as a Leutnant (second lieutenant) in June 1902, shortly after his 18th birthday. After serving for a year with the rank of Fähnrich, or ensign, conceivably while continuing his officer training, Wietersheim received his commissioned rank in November 1903 and was assigned to the 4th Guards Grenadiers. This unit was one of five regiments designated grenadiers in the Prussian Guards. The Guards were the most prestigious formation in the Imperial German Army. Of course, those officers with influential connections, especially via the links of the Prussian nobility, could gain a place in the Guards regiments much more readily than an officer who was merely qualified in a technical sense. Wietersheim in all likelihood held such connections, evidenced not only because of the "von" in his name, signifying his status as a Junker, or landed aristocrat of Prussian lineage (of which German Silesian Breslau was a part),[2] but by the basic requirements the army had of its officers in the issue of their placement. That is, the realistic possibility of a non-Prussian, non-noble officer being given a guards position as their first assignment was very low, if not impossible, in the Imperial German Army, although this is complicated by the fact that the second half of the 19th century saw an obsession among the industrial class to "aristocratize" themselves by obtaining for their sons these very kind of positions traditionally limited to the Prussian nobility.[3] Yet whether Wietersheim's family was "new" or "old" aristocracy, he must have shown a high degree of personal skill to have been assigned to one of the elite grenadier units, as over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries the German General Staff increasingly emphasized individual skill in the assignment of position in the military hierarchy—as long as one had the requisite pedigree.[4]

From 1903 until the end the First World War Wietersheim served in the Guards, as his service records do not denote a change in assignment until after the war had ended. It is not clear in what exact capacity Wietersheim served in the 4th Guards Grenadiers, nor what his specific accomplishments were, but he was given the Ehrenkreuz für Frontkämpfer, or Honor Cross for (World War I) Combatants, which was awarded by President and Field Marshal, Paul von Hindenburg, for those who, at least in theory, had some kind of front line assignment. In reality, it was mainly intended as a commemorative medal for Great War veterans, so Wietersheim may or may not have actually seen combat and still have received a medal. He was however awarded the Iron Cross, both 1st and 2nd Class, during World War I as well, so he must have continued to impress his superiors regardless of the duties he was assigned. Given that the majority of his overall career was spent as a staff officer, it is most likely that Wietersheim served as an officer of the General Staff attached to his Garde du Corps unit. Indeed, after the war, as one of the 4,000 officers Germany was allowed to maintain in its army, Wietersheim had two simultaneous General Staff assignments,[5] as a Hauptmann (captain) in the staff of the 3rd Division, and also the general staff of the XXV Reserve Corps.[6]

During the 1920s, Wietersheim continued to climb slowly up the ladder of ranks in the Reichswehr (the very selective 100,000-man army Germany was allowed by the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles), as even experienced officers still had to compete with the other, as mentioned, 4,000 highly qualified officers serving in the army's few, abridged units. The exact dates of promotion after his 1903 assignment as a second lieutenant are not available until he was made an Oberstleutnant (lieutenant colonel) in February 1930, although he entered the Reichswehr as a captain and remained so for quite some time; Telford Taylor lists him as still at this rank in April 1924.[7] Eventually, though, he was promoted to Major and was made an Abteilungsleiter, or department manager, at the Reich Defense Ministry (Reichswehrministerium), the governmental organ that determined the overarching policy of the Reichswehr in relation to the Weimar Republic.[8]

During the early 1930s, Wietersheim served as the Chief of Staff of the 3rd Division and continued his work with the Defense Ministry. He was promoted to Oberst (colonel) in November 1932 and to Generalmajor (major general) in July 1934. When the Defense Ministry was reorganized as the War Ministry (Reichskriegministerium) under Adolf Hitler, chancellor of Germany and dictator since 1933, in 1935 to match Hitler's simultaneous dissolution of the Reichswehr and creation of the greatly expanded, war-oriented Wehrmacht, Wietersheim was made the Oberquartiermeister I (O. Qu. I) of the General Staff. This position, "immediately subordinated to the Chief of the General Staff," entailed the control of several departments of General Staff, "carrying command of the operations, transport and supply sections."[9] As the General Staff was put on a war footing, this high-level logistics command was a "key position," and von Wietersheim, "a brilliant Generalmajor," held this role from March 1935 until later-Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, at that time junior to von Wietersheim, took over for him in October 1936.[10] During this time Wietersheim had been promoted to Generalleutnant, in April 1936, and, after handing over his post as O. Qu. I to Manstein, he took over command of the 29th Division— his first real position outside the internal command structure of the General Staff.

Pre-war conflict with Hitler[edit]

Von Wietersheim was an officer in the category of the "old school," i.e. he had attained rank and influence as a staff officer and department head in the Reichswehr during the Weimar period prior to Hitler's rise to power. During the rise of Nazism in the 1930s, his place in the military hierarchy also preceded political change. Von Wietersheim reached the grade of Oberst, the highest field rank (equivalent to a full colonel), by 1932, the year before Adolf Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany. Two years later, he was promoted to Generalmajor, a year before to the 1935 announcement of the Wehrmacht and subsequent large-scale German rearmament. As a result, though the development of Germany's new "war machine" certainly led to von Wietersheim's later (mostly successful) career as a combat commander, he owed less of his overall professional success in the inter-war military establishment directly to the political success of the Nazi Party and Hitler himself. In consequence, von Wietersheim's relationship with Hitler was not based primarily on personal indebtedness as was the case with many of Hitler's generals, especially after the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair in early 1938. This lack of personal commitment to the Party system and, in addition, his pre-World War II experience in the predominantly defense-oriented Reichswehr, meant that von Wietersheim and Hitler were often in open disagreement over the latter's characteristically incautious military strategy (and later, at Stalingrad, tactics as well).

On two occasions prior to the war von Wietersheim criticized Hitler's plans of action during meetings with the Supreme Commander, first in August 1938, between the Anschluss of Germany and Austria and the Invasion of Czechoslovakia, and second in August 1939, just prior to the Invasion of Poland.

In the first case, on August 10, 1938 von Wietersheim had been called to the Berghof, Hitler's Bavarian retreat, along with a group of other high-ranking Wehrmacht chiefs of staff in order that Hitler could attempt to persuade them that invading Czechoslovakia was a good plan of action. Most of the generals were not convinced by Hitler's arguments, but Generals Jodl and Manstein later commented that von Wietersheim, who was the highest-ranking officer in attendance (and the Chief of Staff of General Wilhelm Adam's Second Army Group, which was in charge of any potential Western front[11]), was the only one present to argue with Hitler directly about the faults in his plan, namely that an invasion of Czechoslovakia would leave the West Wall along the German-French border weak and in risk of being overrun within a few weeks should a French force decide to attack.[12] Jodl reported in his diary that Hitler "became furious" and yelled at von Wietersheim: "I say to you Herr General...[the West Wall] will be held not only for three weeks but for three years!"[13] Although, from a certain point of view, this comment proved to be correct, it ultimately exhibited to more cautious, experienced German commanders like von Wietersheim that Hitler's military philosophy was not only misguided, but potentially ruinous if he were allowed to continue driving military policy.

Although the 1938 West Wall confrontation is well documented, based on remarks by witnesses and other contemporaries (and several secondary sources[14]), the second time von Wietersheim and Hitler fought openly can only be discerned from a paragraph in OKW chief Wilhelm Keitel's memoirs,[15] who reports that he was there when von Wietersheim again disapproved of Hitler's war plans, this time for the much more drastic goal of attacking Poland:

Early in August 1939 [Hitler] conceived the idea of addressing his ideas to the various army chiefs of staff by themselves, in other words without their Commander-in-Chief, at the Berghof. From the shadows I was probably in the best position to study its effect and I realised that he had failed to achieve his object: for while General von Wietersheim [chief of staff of the Second Army Group] was the only one to find his tongue enough to show by his questions how little he agreed with what Hitler had outlined, this in itself probably crystallised in Hitler's mind the suspicion that he was confronted with an iron phalanx of men who inwardly refused to be swayed by any speech they thought was just a propaganda speech.[16]

Keitel believed that Hitler's "pronounced distaste for the General Staff" and "its 'caste' arrogance", which would become something of an obsession of his later, was in part a result of this meeting and Wietersheim's comments.[17] Hitler no doubt considered Wietersheim's disagreements with him as a kind of treason: in 1946 Manstein told the Nuremberg tribunal that after the August 1938 incident Hitler no longer allowed the military to directly question any of his decisions.[18]

World War II[edit]

Poland, France, and Russia[edit]

Stalingrad[edit]

Early in the battle, von Wietersheim used his tanks to protect the advance from the Don River to the Volga, which was criticized for being an inappropriate use of an armored formation.[4] Soon after, having encountered exceptionally strong resistance from Red Army troops, he suggested a partial withdrawal to the Don, due to high casualties among his troops in the salient north of Stalingrad, just to the west of the Volga. Deemed acts of incompetence and defeatism, he was relieved of command by the head of the German Sixth Army, Friedrich Paulus, and subsequently dismissed by Hitler. Historian Alan Clark reported that von Wietersheim returned to Germany after his dismissal, only reappearing in any military context in 1945 as a private in a Pomeranian Volkssturm unit.[19] There is a reference that Wietersheim was the Chief of the Military Transport Division in 1942, perhaps as an immediate replacement to his command of the XIV Panzer Corps, but it is clear that whether a 61 year-old private or military functionary, his career was over.[20]

Post-war[edit]

Von Wietersheim, like most high-ranking German generals, gave his testimony to the post-war Nuremberg Military Tribunals, held from 1946 to 1949. The Telford Taylor Papers, held at the Diamond Law Library at Columbia University Law School, list von Wietersheim as having been interrogated on February 13, 1948.[21] He does not appear to have been considered for trial or received any punishment as a result of his testimony. He died in 1974 in Bonn, the capital of West Germany.

Dates of rank[edit]

Awards and decorations[edit]

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

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Notes on dates related to XIV Motorized/Panzer Corps from Samuel W. Mitcham, The Panzer Legions: A Guide to the German Army Tank Divisions of World War II and Their Commanders (Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000), 263.
  2. ^ Also, John Wingate and Leo Kessler, on p. 69 of their book, Betrayal at Venlo: The Secret Story of Appeasement and Treachery, 1939-1945 (London: L. Cooper, 1991), refer to Wietersheim as an "aristocratic Prussian officer."
  3. ^ Han-Ulrich Wehler, The German Empire, 1871-1918, trans. Kim Traynor (Oxford: Berg Publishers, 1985), 45.
  4. ^ See Trevor Nevitt Dupuy, A Genius for War: The German Army and General Staff, 1807-1945 (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1977).
  5. ^ Although the General Staff was officially outlawed by the Treaty of Versailles, the Germany army effectively set up the same system of general staff activity through the Truppenamt, the Troop Office.
  6. ^ See Wietersheim's bio, from Wolf Keiling's Die Generale des Heeres (1983), p. 370 (in German): [1]
  7. ^ Telford Taylor, Sword and Swastika: Generals and Nazis in the Third Reich (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1952), 402-403.
  8. ^ Wietershiem's bio from Die Generale des Heeres says, "Anschließend diente er als Major und Abteilungsleiter im Reichs-Kriegsministerium [Subsequently, von Wietersheim served as a major and department manager in the Reichs-Kriegsministerium]," which is a misleading comment, as this body was not called the Reichskriegsministerium until it was reorganized out of the Weimar's/Reichswehr's Reichwehrministerium upon the formation of the Wehrmacht in 1935; further, Wietersheim's rank of major only lasted until 1930. He did however continue to serve in the ministry until 1936, after the transition and his promotion to lieutenant colonel in 1930.
  9. ^ Taylor, 101.
  10. ^ Ibid.
  11. ^ James P. Duffy, Vincent L. Ricci, Target Hitler: The Plots to Kill Adolf Hitler (Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1992), 52-53.
  12. ^ William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1960), 369-370.
  13. ^ Qtd. in Shirer, 370.
  14. ^ In addition to Shirer's reference in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Shirer also mentions it in his book, The Collapse of the Third Republic; An Inquiry in the Fall of France in 1940 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1969), 353; it is also referenced in Keith Eubank, Munich (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963), 120; also, Taylor, 200.
  15. ^ Keitel also does not mention the 1938 incident in his memoirs.
  16. ^ Wilhelm Keitel, The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Keitel, ed. Walter Gorlitz, trans. David Irving (London: William Kimber, 1965), 87.
  17. ^ Ibid.
  18. ^ Shirer, 370; for a transcript of this interview, from which Shirer derived this information, see [2]
  19. ^ Alan Clark, Barbarossa: The Russian German Conflict, 1941-1945 (New York: W. Morrow), 233.
  20. ^ Europa Publications' The International Who's Who (London: Europa Publications Limited, 1943-1944) listed in its 1943-1944 edition that Wietersheim held the position of "Chief, Military Transport Div.", with the date of "1942-"—the subsequent 1944-1945 and 1945-1946 editions also list this position, but the date is amended to read simply "1942."
  21. ^ Telford Taylor Papers, Diamond Law Library, ref: NMT-OCCWC: Evidence Division, Interrogation Branch - Interrogation Summary - Wietersheim, Gustav Anton von (Feb. 13, 1948), Box 4, Folder 57. [3]