Helmuth Weidling

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Helmuth Otto Ludwig Weidling
Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1983-028-05, Helmuth Weidling.jpg
Helmuth Weidling in 1943
Born 2 November 1891
Halberstadt, Province of Saxony, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire
Died 17 November 1955(1955-11-17) (aged 64)
Vladimir, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Allegiance  German Empire (to 1918)
 Weimar Republic (to 1933)
 Nazi Germany
Service/branch Heer
Years of service 1911–45
Rank General der Artillerie
Commands held XL Panzer Corps
XLI Panzer Corps
LVI Panzer Corps
Berlin Defense Area
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
German Cross
Iron Cross 1st Class
Iron Cross 2nd Class

Helmuth Otto Ludwig Weidling (2 November 1891 – 17 November 1955) was a general in the German Army (Heer) before and during the Second World War. Weidling was the last commander of the Berlin Defence Area during the Battle of Berlin, and led the defence of the city against Soviet forces, finally surrendering just before the end of the Second World War in Europe.

During his military career, he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords.

Early life[edit]

Weidling was born on 2 November 1891 in Halberstadt, Province of Saxony. He entered the military in 1911 initially serving in a field artillery regiment in Breslau. His next assignment was to a balloon battalion in the Tegel district of Berlin and whilst in Berlin he was promoted to second lieutenant on 10 August 1912. As a lieutenant in the First World War, he served as an army airship commander, commanding the airships LZ 97 (LZ hull number 67) and LZ 113 (LZ 83). He ended the war as an officer commanding an artillery battery.

He remained in the reduced army of the Weimar Republic after the war, and was promoted on 1 June 1922 to captain in the 4th Artillery Regiment. He was promoted to major on 1 June 1932 and to lieutenant-colonel on 1 September 1935.

Poland, France and the Soviet Union[edit]

In November 1938, Weidling became a colonel (Oberst) of the 56th Artillery Regiment. He fought with this regiment in the Polish Campaign of 1939. In April 1940, Weidling was appointed Artillery Commander of the XL Panzer Corps. He commanded this corps during the Battle of France and during the early stages of Operation Barbarossa.

On 1 January 1942, still on the Eastern Front, Weidling was appointed to command the 86th Infantry Division. One month later, he was promoted to the rank of major-general (Generalmajor). On 1 January 1943, Weidling was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general (Generalleutnant).

XLI Panzer corps[edit]

On 15 October 1943, Weidling became the Commanding General of the XLI Panzer Corps. He was given command of the XLI Panzer Corps after the unit took part in the Battle of Kursk from 4 to 20 July 1943. Two months later Weidling was promoted to artillery general (General der Artillerie).

Weidling commanded the XLI Panzer Corps until 10 April 1945. There was a short break in his command from 19 June 1944 to 1 July 1944. During this break, Lieutenant-General (Generalleutnant) Edmund Hoffmeister took over for the first stages of Operation Bagration. Hoffmeister was in command when most of General Hans Jordan's German 9th Army, along with the XLI Panzer Corps, was encircled by the enemy during the Soviet Bobruysk Offensive. Weidling regained command before this disastrous operation came to an end, but the XLI Panzer Corps was virtually destroyed.

The XLI Panzer Corps was rebuilt as part of the German 4th Army. The 4th Army, under the command of General Friedrich Hoßbach, was given the task of holding the borders of East Prussia. On 10 April 1945, three days before the Soviets launched the East Prussian Offensive, Weidling was relieved of his command and transferred to the Officer Reserve (Führerreserve).

The Officer Reserve was part of the Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres or OKH). Two days after his transfer, he was appointed as commander of the LVI Panzer Corps.[citation needed] The LVI Panzer Corps was part of Gotthard Heinrici's Army Group Vistula (Heeresgruppe Weichsel). As commander of this corps, Weidling began his involvement with the Battle of Berlin.

LVI Panzer corps[edit]

On 16 April 1945, Weidling prepared to take part in the Battle of the Seelow Heights, which was part of the broader Battle of the Oder-Neisse. Weidling's LVI Panzer Corps was in the centre, flanked by the CI Army Corps to his left and the XI SS Panzer Corps to his right. All three corps were part of General Theodor Busse's 9th Army, which was defending the heights above the River Oder. While all three corps were in generally good defensive positions, they were conspicuously short of tanks. Weidling's commander, Heinrici, recognised the shortage earlier in the day, as Hitler had ordered the transfer of three panzer divisions from Army Group Vistula to the command of recently promoted Field Marshal (Generalfeldmarschall) Ferdinand Schörner.[1]

Colonel (Oberst) Theodor von Dufving was Weidling's Chief-of-Staff and Colonel (Oberst) Hans-Oscar Wöhlermann was his Artillery Officer during the time that Weidling commanded the LVI Panzer Corps.

By 19 April, Schörner's Army Group Centre was collapsing, and the position of Army Group Vistula was becoming untenable. Heinrici was forced to pull back what was left of his forces, including Weidling's LVI Panzer Corps. The defensive line on the Seelow Heights was the last major defensive line outside of Berlin. With the loss of this position, the road to Berlin lay wide open to the Soviet advance. To escape envelopment and total annihilation, Weidling pulled his corps back with the rest of Army Group Vistula.

Commander of the Berlin Defence Area[edit]

On 22 April, Hitler ordered that Weidling be executed by firing squad on receiving a report that he had fled in the face of advancing Soviet forces, which was in defiance of standing orders to the contrary. As such, Weidling's actions required a death sentence. Weidling had not fled, and the sentence was called off when he dramatically appeared at the Führerbunker to clear up the misunderstanding.

On 23 April, Hitler appointed Weidling as the commander of the Berlin Defence Area.[2] Weidling replaced Lieutenant General (Generalleutnant) Helmuth Reymann, Colonel (Oberst) Ernst Kaether, and Hitler himself. Reymann had held the position only since 6 March. Starting 22 April, Kaether had held the position for less than one day. For a short period of time, Hitler took personal control of Berlin's defences, with Major General Erich Bärenfänger as his deputy. Weidling was ordered by Hitler to defend the city of Berlin. Specifically, he was ordered not to surrender, but to fight to the last man.

The defenders[edit]

The forces available to Weidling for the city's defence included roughly 45,000 soldiers in several severely depleted German Army and Waffen-SS divisions.[3] These depleted divisions were supplemented by the Berlin police force, boys in the Hitler Youth, and about 40,000 elderly men of the Home Guard (Volkssturm). The commander of the central government district was SS General Wilhelm Mohnke. Mohnke had been appointed to his position by Hitler and had over 2,000 men under his direct command. The core group of his fighting men were the 800 of the Leibstandarte (LSSAH) SS Guard Battalion (assigned to guard the Führer).[4] The Soviets later estimated the number of defenders in Berlin at 180,000, but this was based on the number of German prisoners they captured. The prisoners included many unarmed men in uniform, such as railway officials and members of the Reich Labour Service (Reichsarbeitsdienst).[3]

Weidling organised the defences into eight sectors designated "A" through to "H". Each sector was commanded by a colonel or a general, but most of the colonels and generals had no combat experience.[3] To the west of the city was the 20th Panzergrenadier Division. To the north was the 9th Fallschirmjäger Division, to the north-east the Panzer Division Müncheberg.[5] To the south-east of the city and to the east of Tempelhof Airport was the SS-Nordland Panzergrenadier Division composed mainly of foreign volunteers.[6] Weidling's reserve, the 18th Panzergrenadier Division was in Berlin's central district.[7]

On 25 April, Weidling ordered Major-General of the Reserve Werner Mummert, commander of Müncheberg, to take command of the German LVI Army Corps; command of Müncheberg was handed over to Colonel Hans-Oscar Wöhlermann, the artillery commander for the city.

On 26 April, Weidling ordered Müncheberg and Nordland to attack towards Tempelhof Airport and Neukölln. At first, with its last ten tanks, Müncheberg made good progress against a surprised Soviet foe. However, the surprise was replaced with fierce defensive fire and several local counter-attacks. These soon halted the German panzer division's advance.

Bendlerblock headquarters[edit]

Sometime around 26 April, Weidling chose as his base of operations the old army headquarters on the Bendlerstrasse, the "Bendlerblock." This location had well-equipped air-raid shelters and was close to the Reich Chancellery. In the depths of the Bendlerblock, Weidling's staff did not know whether it was day or night.[8]

Around noon on 26 April, Weidling relieved Wöhlermann of command, and Mummert was reinstated as commander of the Müncheberg Panzer Division. Later that evening, Weidling presented Hitler with a detailed proposal for a breakout from Berlin. When Weidling finished, Hitler shook his head and said: "Your proposal is perfectly all right. But what is the point of it all? I have no intentions of wandering around in the woods. I am staying here and I will fall at the head of my troops. You, for your part, will carry on with your defence."[8]

Encirclement[edit]

By the end of the day on 27 April, Weidling and the forces under his command in Berlin found themselves completely cut off from the rest of Germany. As "Müncheberg" was engaged in desperate fighting in Wilmersdorf, the encirclement of Berlin was completed and the remnants of the city's defenders were trapped. The Soviet Information Bureau announced that Soviet troops of the 1st Belorussian Front had broken through strong German defences around Berlin and, approaching from the east and from the south, had linked up in Berlin and northwest of Potsdam. These link-ups cut Berlin off from the outside world. The Soviet Information Bureau went on to announce that troops of the 1st Belorussian Front took Gartenstadt, Siemenstadt and the Goerlitzer Railway Station in eastern Berlin.[9]

When Weidling discovered that a major part of the last line of the German defences in Berlin were "manned" by Hitler Youth, he ordered German Youth Leader (Reichsjugendführer) Artur Axmann to disband the Hitler Youth combat formations in the city. But, in the confusion, his order was never carried out. In the end, many German youths did die defending Berlin.[10]

Relentless advance[edit]

On 29 April, the Soviet Information Bureau announced that troops of the 1st Belorussian Front continued to clear the streets of Berlin, occupied the northwest sector of Charlottenburg as far as Bismarck Street, the west half of Moabit, and the east part of Schoeneberg. Russian troops of the 1st Ukrainian Front occupied Friedenau and Grunewald in northwest Berlin.[11]

During the evening of 29 April, Weidling's headquarters in the Bendlerblock was now within metres of the front line. Weidling discussed with his divisional commanders the possibility of breaking out to the southwest to link up with Walther Wenck's Army. Wenck's spearhead had reached the village of Ferch on the banks of the Schwielowsee near Potsdam. The breakout was planned to start the next night at 22:00.[12]

On 30 April, the Soviet Information Bureau announced that Soviet troops of the 1st Belorussian Front had captured Moabit, Anhalter Railway Station, Joachimsthal to the north of Berlin, and Neukölln, Marienwerder and Liebenwalde. Troops of the 1st Ukrainian Front occupied the southern part of Wilmersdorf, Hohenzollerndamm and Halensee Railway Station.[11]

The Führerbunker[edit]

Late in the morning of 30 April, with the Soviets less than 500 metres from the bunker, Hitler had a meeting with Weidling, who informed him that the Berlin garrison would probably run out of ammunition that night. Weidling asked Hitler for permission to break out, a request he had made unsuccessfully before. Hitler did not answer at first, and Weidling went back to his headquarters in the Bendlerblock, where at about 13:00, he received Hitler's permission to try a breakout that night.[13]

After Hitler and Braun's suicides, Weidling reached the Führerbunker and was met by Goebbels, Bormann and Krebs. They took him to Hitler's room, where the couple had committed suicide. They told him that their bodies had been burned and buried in a shell crater in the Reich Chancellery garden above.[14] Weidling was forced to swear that he would not repeat this news to anybody. The only person in the outside world who was to be informed was Joseph Stalin. An attempt would be made that night to arrange an armistice, and General Krebs would inform the Soviet commander so that he could inform the Kremlin.[15]

A rather dazed Weidling rang Colonel Hans Refior, his civil Chief-of-Staff, in the Bendlerblock headquarters soon afterward. Weidling said that he could not tell him what had happened, but he needed various members of his staff to join him immediately, including Colonel Theodor von Dufving, his military Chief-of-Staff.[15]

The meeting on 1 May between Krebs, who had been sent by Goebbels, and Soviet general Vasily Chuikov ended with no agreement.[16] According to Hitler's personal secretary Traudl Junge, Krebs returned to the bunker complex looking "worn out, exhausted". The surrender of Berlin was thus delayed until Goebbels committed suicide,[16] after which it was left up to Weidling to negotiate with the Soviets.

Surrender to Chuikov[edit]

Memorial plaque commemorating the capitulation in Berlin, Schulenburgring 2, Berlin-Tempelhof, Germany

On 2 May, General Weidling had his Chief-of-Staff, von Dufving, arrange a meeting with General Chuikov. Weidling told the Soviets about the suicides of Hitler and Goebbels, and Chuikov demanded complete capitulation.[17]

Per Chuikov and Sokolovsky's direction, Weidling put his surrender order in writing. The document written by Weidling read as follows:

On 30 April 1945, the Führer committed suicide, and thus abandoned those who had sworn loyalty to him. According to the Führer's order, you German soldiers would have had to go on fighting for Berlin despite the fact that our ammunition has run out and despite the general situation which makes our further resistance meaningless. I order the immediate cessation of resistance. WEIDLING, General of Artillery, former District Commandant in the defence of Berlin"[17]

The meeting between Weidling and Chuikov ended at 8:23 am on 2 May 1945. Later that same day, loudspeakers announced Weidling's surrender order and copies of it were distributed to the remaining defenders.

Aftermath[edit]

The Soviet forces took Weidling into custody as a prisoner of war and flew him to the Soviet Union. On 27 February 1952, a Soviet military tribunal in Moscow sentenced him to 25 years of imprisonment for not surrendering Berlin sooner.[citation needed] Weidling died on 17 November 1955, apparently in the custody of the KGB in Vladimir. KGB records listed the cause of death as "arterial and cardiac sclerosis along with circulatory collapse."

Portrayal in the media[edit]

Helmuth Weidling has been portrayed by the following actors in film and television productions.

Awards[edit]

Wehrmachtbericht reference[edit]

Date Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording English translation
9 February 1944 Bei den schweren Abwehrkämpfen zwischen Pripjet und Beresina haben sich die unter Führung des Generals der Artillerie Weidling kämpfende 36, und 134. Infanteriedivision unter den Eichenlaubträgern Oberst Conrady und Generalleutnant Schlemmer hervorragend bewährt.[24] In the heavy defensive battles between Pripyat and Berezina, the divisions fighting under the command of General of Artillery Weidling's 36th, and 134th Infantry Division, under the Oak Leaves bearers Colonel Conrady and Lieutenant General Schlemmer, have proved to be excellent.

Footnotes[edit]

References[edit]

Citations
  1. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 225.
  2. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 286.
  3. ^ a b c Beevor 2002, p. 287.
  4. ^ Fischer 2008, pp. 42–43.
  5. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 223.
  6. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 243.
  7. ^ Ziemke 1969, p. 93.
  8. ^ a b Beevor 2002, p. 320.
  9. ^ Dollinger 1997, p. 233.
  10. ^ Dollinger 1997, Helmuth Weidling
  11. ^ a b Dollinger 1997, p. 238.
  12. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 352.
  13. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 358.
  14. ^ Kershaw 2008, p. 956.
  15. ^ a b Beevor 2002, p. 364.
  16. ^ a b Dollinger 1997, p. 239.
  17. ^ a b Dollinger 1997, p. 240.
  18. ^ "Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1973)". IMDb.com. Retrieved May 8, 2008. 
  19. ^ "Untergang, Der (2004)". IMDb.com. Retrieved May 8, 2008. 
  20. ^ a b c Scherzer 2007, p. 773.
  21. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 439.
  22. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 79.
  23. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 46.
  24. ^ Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 3, p. 30.
Bibliography
  • Beevor, Antony (2002). Berlin: The Downfall 1945. Viking-Penguin Books. ISBN 0-670-03041-4. 
  • 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. 
  • Dollinger, Hans (1997). The Decline and Fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 67-27047. ISBN 9780753700099.
  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 – Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtteile [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). Friedburg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6. 
  • Fischer, Thomas (2008). Soldiers of the Leibstandarte. J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing, Inc. ISBN 978-0921991915. 
  • Kershaw, Ian (2008). Hitler: A Biography. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-06757-6. 
  • 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. 
  • Ziemke, Earl F. (1969), Battle for Berlin End of the Third Reich Ballantine's Illustrated History of World War II (Battle Book #6), Ballantine Books 
  • 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. 
Military offices
Preceded by
Generaloberst Josef Harpe
Commander of XXXXI Panzerkorps
15 October 1943 – 19 June 1944
Succeeded by
Generalleutnant Edmund Hoffmeister
Preceded by
Generalleutnant Edmund Hoffmeister
Commander of XXXXI Panzerkorps
1 July 1944 – 10 April 1945
Succeeded by
Generalleutnant Wend von Wietersheim
Preceded by
General der Kavallerie Rudolf Koch-Erpach
Commander of LVI Panzer Corps
10 April – 2 May 1945
Germany defeated
Preceded by
Erich Bärenfänger
Commander of the Berlin Defense Area
22 April – 2 May 1945
Berlin captured by Soviet forces