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Hermann Balck, 1943
7 December 1897|
Danzig-Langfuhr, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire now Wrzeszcz borough, Gdańsk, Pomeranian Voivodeship, Poland
|Died||29 November 1982
Asperg, Baden-Württemberg, West Germany
|Allegiance|| German Empire (to 1918)
Weimar Republic (to 1933)
|Years of service||1913–45|
|Rank||General der Panzertruppe|
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds|
|Relations||William Balck (father)|
Hermann Balck (7 December 1897 – 29 November 1982) was an officer of the German army who served in both World War I and World War II, rising to the rank of General der Panzertruppe. He was highly decorated, receiving the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillanten), an award created to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or outstanding military leadership. At the time of its presentation to Balck it was Germany's highest military decoration.[Note 1] His father, William Balck, was a Generalleutnant in the German army and prominent writer on tactics before and immediately after the First World War. He was a recipient of the Knight of the Order Pour le Mérite, which he was awarded while commanding an infantry division.
Balck was born in Danzig - Langfuhr, present-day Wrzeszcz in Poland. He was the son of William Balck and his wife Mathilde, née Jensen. Balck was from a family with a long military tradition. His great-grandfather served Britain under the Duke of Wellington in the King's German Legion, and his grandfather was an officer in the British Army's Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Balck's father, William Balck, was one of the German army's foremost tactical writers in the years prior to World War I, and as a division commander in that war won the Pour le Mérite, Germany's highest military order. He reached the rank of Lieutenant General.
On 10 April 1913 Balck entered the Hanoverian Rifle Battalion 10 in Goslar as a cadet. From 12 February 1914 he attended the Hanovarian Military College, where he remained until called up with the outbreak of the First World War in August.
First World War
Balck served as a mountain infantry officer, and his unit played a key role in the Schlieffen Plan, leading the crossing at Sedan. He ended up fighting on the western, eastern, Italian and Balkan fronts. He served three years as a company commander, and ending the war in command of a machine-gun company. At one point he led an extended patrol that operated independently behind Russian lines for several weeks. Over the course of the war he was wounded seven times and awarded the Iron Cross First Class. Balck was nominated for Prussia's highest honor, the Pour le Mérite, in October 1918, but the war ended before his citation completed processing.
During the interwar period Balck was selected as one of the 4,000 officers to continue on in the military serving in the Reichswehr. He transferred to the 18th Cavalry Regiment in 1922, and remained with that unit for 12 years. Balck twice turned down a post in the Truppenamt or General Staff, the normal path for advancing to high rank in the German army, preferring instead to remain a line officer. In 1938 he was transferred to Colonel Heinz Guderian's Inspectorate of Motorized Troops.
Second World War
At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Balck was serving as a staff officer in the Inspectorate of Motorized Troops. His responsibilities lay in refitting and reorganizing the growing panzer forces. In October he was placed in command of one of the panzergrenadier regiments of the 1st Panzer Division (Schützenregiment 1 or Motorized Infantry Regiment 1). During the spring the troops underwent special training in river crossings and bridgehead formation. A common shout was made by the officers to the men "Joyriding in canoes is verboten!", admonishing them to take the training seriously. In May Balck served with distinction during the Battle of France. The 1st Panzer Division made up a part of Guderian's panzer corps. Balck's regiment spearheaded a crossing over the Meuse, and established a bridgehead on the far side. Guderian arrived shortly thereafter and came across in an assault boat. Waiting on the far bank was Balck, who cheerfully shouted out to the General: "Joyriding in canoes on the Meuse is forbidden!".
During the winter of 1940 through the spring of 1941 he commanded Panzerregiment 3, and led this unit during the Battle of Greece. He later commanded the 2nd Panzerbrigade of the same division. He returned to staff duties in the Inspectorate of Armoured Forces in the OKH in July 1941. In May 1942, Balck went to the Eastern Front in command of the 11th Panzer Division in Ukraine and southern Russia. Following the encirclement of the 6th Army at Stalingrad the German southern front faced a generalized collapse. Balck's division was located some 400 miles to the north when he was instructed to move south to stabilize the crumbling front. As the Soviet's threatened a breakthrough across the Dnieper the Russian 5th Tank Army was confronted with the lead units of Balck's 11th Panzer Division. The Soviets commanded a local superiority of 7:1 in tanks, 11:1 in infantry, and 20:1 in artillery. Leading from the front, Balck was able to quickly react to each enemy thrust. He repeatedly parried, surprised, and wiped out superior Soviet detachments. His by word was "Night marches save blood." Through a series of encounters his ability to make use of maneuver allowed his single panzer division to destroy piecemeal the much larger Soviet forces. Over the next few months his division would garner an astonishing one thousand enemy tank kills. For this and other achievements Balck was made one of only twenty-seven officers in the entire war who received the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds.
Followng this action he was moved into officer reserve, but immediately thereafter was given command of the Heer's elite unit, Panzergrenadierdivision Grossdeutschland which he led in the defense against and the counterattack at Zhitomir in 1943. After a brief spell in Italy in which he commanded the XIV Panzer Corps, he returned to command the XLVIII Panzer Corps in the eastern front in December 1943, as well as the defense against the Soviet winter/spring offensive in western Ukraine in 1944. In July 1944 Balck commanded the 48th Panzerkorps during the initial phase of the Soviet Lvov-Sandomierz Offensive. Balck was closely involved in the failed defense, and the unsuccessful attempt to relieve the encircled XIII Army Corps at Brody which was destroyed. In August 1944 he assumed command of the 4th Panzer Army.
In September 1944 he was transferred from 4th Panzer Army in Poland to the Western Front to command Army Group G in relief of Generaloberst Johannes Blaskowitz in the Alsace region of France. Balck was unable to stop the Allied advance under General George S. Patton, and in late December he was relieved of command of Army Group G and placed in the officer reserve pool. Army Group G returned to General Johannes Blaskowitz. By the intervention of General Heinz Guderian he was transferred to command the reconstituted 6th Army in Hungary, which also had operational control of two Hungarian armies.
Balck was a POW and remained in captivity until 1947. He declined to participate in the US Army Historical Division's study on the war. After the war Balck found employment as a depot worker. In 1948 he was arrested for murder for the execution of artillery commander Lieutenant-Colonel Johann Schottke. The incident in question occurred while Balck served as commander of Army Group G on the western front. On 28 November 1944 near Saarbrücken Schottke's unit had failed to provide its supportive artillery fire upon its target area. When searched for he was found drunk on duty. Balck held a summary judgement, and Schottke was executed by firing squad. The sentence and execution were conducted without the ordained military tribunal. Balck was found guilty and sentenced to three years. He served half of this sentence before being granted early release.
In the late 1970s and 1980s Balck teamed with Friedrich von Mellenthin to participate in a number of seminars and panel discussions with senior NATO leaders at the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Balck was considered a gifted commander of armored troops, exemplified by his handling of 11th Panzer Division and XLVIII Panzer Corps during 1942-43. Some of the battles Balck participated in are described in Panzer Battles, the memoir of Generalmajor Friedrich von Mellenthin, whom he met when Balck's 11th Panzer Division came under the command of the XLVIII Panzer Corps. At the time von Mellenthin was serving as Chief of Staff of the XLVIII Panzer Corps. Von Mellenthin was still serving as Chief of Staff when Balck became commander of XLVIII Panzer Corps, and shifted with him as his Ia when Balck took command of Army Group G.
Balck started the war as an Oberstleutnant (lieutenant-colonel) in 1939 and ended it as a General der Panzertruppe (lieutenant-general of armored troops). Balck was one of only twenty-seven officers in the Wehrmacht to receive the Kight's Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds. His career during the war was marked by his marked capability in maneuver warfare, resulting in his rapid rise through the ranks. In this regard his career has similarities with that of Erwin Rommel and Hasso von Manteuffel. In reviewing Balck's command of the 11th Panzer Division during the Chir River crisis of December 1942, U.S. General William DePuy estimated Balck to have been "perhaps the best division commander in the German Army."
- Iron Cross (1914)
- Knight of the House Order of Hohenzollern with Swords (3 December 1917)
- Military Merit Order, 4th class with Swords (Bavaria; 15 November 1914)
- Military Merit Cross 3rd Class (Austria-Hungary; 28 February 1916)
- Order of Bravery, 3rd class, 1st stage with Swords (Bulgaria; 2 December 1941)
- Wound Badge (1918) in Gold (10 May 1918)
- Panzer Badge in Silver (14 October 1940)
- Clasp to the Iron Cross (1939)
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds
- Knight's Cross on 3 June 1940 as Oberstleutnant and commander of Schützen-Regiment 1
- 155th Oak Leaves on 20 December 1942 as Generalmajor and commander of the 11. Panzer-Division
- 25th Swords on 4 March 1943 as Generalleutnant and commander of the 11. Panzer-Division
- 19th Diamonds on 31 August 1944 as General der Panzertruppe and acting commander of the 4. Panzerarmee
- Mentioned three times in the Wehrmachtbericht
|Date||Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording||Direct English translation|
|Friday, 17 May 1940||In den Kämpfen südostwärts Sedan errang der Kommandeur eines motorisierten Schützenregiments Oberstleutnant Balck durch rücksichtslosen persönlichen Einsatz besondere Erfolge mit seiner Truppe.||In the battles southeast of Sedan commander of a motorized rifle regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Balck achieved by ruthless personal commitment particular success with his troops.|
|Sunday, 20 December 1942||In den Kämpfen im großen Don-Bogen zeichnete sich die 11. Panzerdivision unter Führung des Generalmajors Balck besonders aus.||In the battles at the great Don-bend especially distinguished itself the 11th Panzer Division under the leadership of Major General Balck.|
|9 September 1944 (addendum)||Im Weichselbrückenkopf, westlich Baranow, haben die unter dem Oberbefehl des Generals der Panzertruppen Balck, und dem Befehl der Generale der Panzertruppen Breith und Gräser sowie des Generals der Infanterie Recknagel stehenden Truppen im vergangenen Monat den Durchbruch massierter sowjetischer Kräfte vereitelt und den feindlichen Brückenkopf durch erfolgreiche Gegenangriffe eingeengt.||In the Vistula bridgehead west of Baranów, troops under the command in chief of General of Panzer Troops Balck, and commanded by the Generals of Panzer Troops Breith and Gräser as well as the General of the Infantry Recknagel prevented the break out last month of massed Soviet forces and narrowed the enemy bridgehead by counterattacks successfully.|
Dates of rank
|20 September 1916:||Leutnant (Second Lieutenant)|
|1 May 1924:||Oberleutnant (First Lieutenant)|
|1 February 1929:||Rittmeister (Captain of Cavalry)|
|1 June 1935:||Major (Major)|
|23 January 1938:||Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant Colonel)|
|1 Oberst 1940:||Oberst (Colonel)|
|15 July 1942:||Generalmajor (US Equivalent - Brigadier General)|
|21 January 1943:||Generalleutnant (Major General)|
|12 November 1943:||General der Panzertruppe (Lieutenant General of Armoured Troops)|
- Balck, Hermann (1981). Ordnung im Chaos / Erinnerungen 1893 - 1948. Biblio, Osnabrück. ISBN 3-7648-1176-5.
- Balck, Hermann (2015). "Order in Chaos: The Memoirs of General of Panzer Troops Hermann Balck" Ed. and Trans. Major General David T. Zabecki, USA (Ret.) and Lieutenant Colonel Dieter J. Biedekarken, USA (Ret.). UP Kentucky, Lexington. ISBN 0-8131-6126-6.
- In 1944, the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds was second only to the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross (Großkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes), which was awarded only to senior commanders for winning a major battle or campaign, in the military order of the Third Reich. The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds as the highest military order was surpassed on 29 December 1944 by the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Goldenem Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillanten).
- Zabecki, David T. "The Greatest German General No One Has Ever Heard Of". World War II Magazine. Retrieved 12 May 2008.
- von Mellenthin p. 13
- Zabecki, David T. (12 May 2008). "The Greatest German General No One Has Ever Heard Of". World War II Magazine.
- Thomas 1997, p. 20.
- Thomas & Wegmann 1987, p. 204.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 200.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 121.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 62.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 40.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 37.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 1, p. 155.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 2, p. 402.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 3, p. 237.
- Balck, Hermann General Hermann Balck: an interview 12 January 1979. Merriam Press, Bennington, Vermont, 2000. OCLC 229456887
- 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.
- Federl, Christian (2000). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Deutschen Panzerdivisionen 1939–1945 Die Panzertruppe [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the German Panzer Divisions 1939–1945 The Panzer Force] (in German). Zweibrücken, Germany: VDM Heinz Nickel. ISBN 978-3-925480-43-0.
- 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). Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6.
- Fraschka, Günther (1994). Knights of the Reich. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Military/Aviation History. ISBN 978-0-88740-580-8.
- Guderian, Heinz Panzer Leader New York Da Capo Press, 1952. (Reissue edition, 2001).
- von Mellenthin, Friedrich-Wilhelm Panzer Battles. Old Saybrook, CT: Konecky & Konecky, 1956. ISBN 1-56852-578-8
- Schaulen, Fritjof (2003). Eichenlaubträger 1940 – 1945 Zeitgeschichte in Farbe I Abraham – Huppertz [Oak Leaves Bearers 1940 – 1945 Contemporary History in Color I Abraham – Huppertz] (in German). Selent, Germany: Pour le Mérite. ISBN 978-3-932381-20-1.
- 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; Wegmann, Günter (1987). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Deutschen Wehrmacht 1939–1945 Teil III: Infanterie Band 1: A–Be [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the German Wehrmacht 1939–1945 Part III: Infantry Volume 1: A–Be] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-1153-2.
- Thomas, Franz (1997). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 1: A–K [The Oak Leaves Bearers 1939–1945 Volume 1: A–K] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2299-6.
- Williamson, Gordon (2006). Knight's Cross with Diamonds Recipients 1941–45. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84176-644-7.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 1, 1. September 1939 bis 31. Dezember 1941 [The Wehrmacht Reports 1939–1945 Volume 1, 1 September 1939 to 31 December 1941] (in German). München, Germany: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG. 1985. ISBN 978-3-423-05944-2.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 2, 1. Januar 1942 bis 31. Dezember 1943 [The Wehrmacht Reports 1939–1945 Volume 2, 1 January 1942 to 31 December 1943] (in German). München, Germany: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG. 1985. ISBN 978-3-423-05944-2.
- 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.
- Hermann Balck in the German National Library catalogue
- Additional information on General der Panzertruppe Hermann Balck appears at Mike Miller / Axis Biographical Research at the Wayback Machine (archived October 29, 2009)
Generalleutnant Walter Scheller
|Commander of 11. Panzer Division
16 May 1942 – 4 March 1943
General der Infanterie Dietrich von Choltitz
General der Panzertruppen Heinrich Eberbach
|Commander of XLVIII Panzer Corps
15 November 1943 – 19 August 1944
General der Panzertruppen Walther Nehring
General der Panzertruppen Walther Nehring
|Commander of 4. Panzer-Armee
5 August 1944 – 21 September 1944
General der Panzertruppen Fritz-Hubert Gräser
General Johannes Blaskowitz
|Commander of Heeresgruppe G
21 September 1944 – 23 December 1944
General Johannes Blaskowitz
General Maximilian Fretter-Pico
|Commander of 6. Armee
23 December 1944 – 8 May 1945