Walther Wenck

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Walther Wenck
Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-237-1051-15A, Walter Wenck.jpg
Walther Wenck
Born (1900-09-18)18 September 1900
Wittenberg
Died 1 May 1982(1982-05-01) (aged 81)
Bad Rothenfelde
Allegiance  Weimar Republic (to 1933)
 Nazi Germany
Service/branch Heer
Years of service 1920–1945
Rank General der Panzertruppe
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross

Walther Wenck (18 September 1900 – 1 May 1982) was the youngest general in the German Army during World War II. At the end of the war, he commanded the German Twelfth Army. Wenck ordered his army to surrender to forces of the United States in order to avoid capture by the Soviets. Before surrendering, Wenck played an important, if unsuccessful, part in the Battle of Berlin, and through his efforts aided thousands of German refugees in escaping the Red Army. He was known during the war as "The Boy General".[citation needed]

Early life[edit]

Wenck was born in Wittenberg, Germany. Prior to joining the Army (Reichswehr) of the Weimar Republic in 1920, he was a member of the Free Corps (Freikorps) in 1919.

World War II[edit]

From 1939 to 1942, Wenck was Chief of Operations for the 1st Panzer Division. In 1942, he was an instructor for the War Academy, Chief of Staff for the LVII Corps, and Chief of Staff for the Third Romanian Army on the Eastern Front.

Wenck stayed on the Eastern Front and, from 1942 to 1943, he was Chief of Staff of "Army Detachment Hollidt" which was subordinated to the Third Romanian Army. In 1943, he was Chief of Staff of the Sixth Army. From 1943 to 1944, Wenck was Chief of Staff of the First Panzer Army. In 1944, he was Chief of Staff of Army Group South Ukraine.

From 1944 to 1945, Wenck was Quartermaster General I.

From 15 February 1945, at the insistence of General Heinz Guderian, Wenck commanded the German forces involved in Operation Solstice (Unternehmen Sonnenwende) on the Eastern Front. This lasted only two days, as General Wenck was seriously injured in a car accident on 17 February.

Western Front[edit]

On 10 April 1945, as General of Panzer Troops, Wenck was made the commander of the German Twelfth Army located to the west of Berlin. The Twelfth Army was positioned to defend against the advancing American and British forces on the Western Front. But, as both the Western Front moved eastwards and the Eastern Front moved westwards, the German armies making up both fronts backed towards each other. As a result, the area of control of Wenck's army to his rear and east of the Elbe River had become a vast refugee camp for German civilians fleeing the path of the approaching Soviet forces. Wenck took great pains to provide food and lodging for these refugees. At one stage, the Twelfth Army was estimated to be feeding more than a quarter million people every day.[1]

Berlin's last hope[edit]

On 21 April, Adolf Hitler ordered SS-General Felix Steiner to attack the forces of Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front. Zhukov's forces were encircling Berlin from the north. The forces of Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev's 1st Ukrainian Front were encircling Berlin from the south. Steiner was to attack Zhukov with his Army Detachment Steiner. With few operational tanks and roughly a division's worth of infantry, Steiner declined to attack. Instead, he requested that his "army" be allowed to retreat to avoid its own encirclement and annihilation.

On 22 April, as Steiner and Army Detachment Steiner retreated, Wenck's Twelfth Army became Hitler's last hope to save Berlin. Wenck was ordered to disengage the Americans to his west and, attacking to the east, link up with the Ninth Army of Colonel General (Generaloberst) Theodor Busse. Together, they would attack the Soviets encircling Berlin from the west and from the south. Meanwhile, the XLI Panzer Corps under General Rudolf Holste would attack the Soviets from the north. Unfortunately for the Germans in Berlin, much of Holste's forces consisted of transfers from Steiner's depleted units.

Wenck's army, only recently formed, did make a sudden turn around and, in the general confusion, surprised the Russians surrounding the German capital with an unexpected attack. Wenck's forces attacked towards Berlin in good form and made some initial progress, but they were halted outside of Potsdam by strong Soviet resistance.

Neither Busse or Holste made much progress towards Berlin. By the end of the day on 27 April, the Soviet forces encircling Berlin linked up and the forces inside Berlin were completely cut off from the rest of Germany.

On 28 April, German General and Chief of Staff Hans Krebs, made his last telephone call from the Führerbunker. He called Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel at the new Supreme Command Headquarters in Fürstenberg. Krebs told Keitel that, if relief did not arrive within 48 hours, all would be lost. Keitel promised to exert the utmost pressure on Generals Wenck and Busse.

During the night of 28 April, Wenck reported to the German Supreme Army Command in Fuerstenberg that his Twelfth Army had been forced back along the entire front. This was particularly true of XX Corps which had been able to establish temporary contact with the Potsdam garrison. According to Wenck, no attack on Berlin was now possible. This was even more so as support from Busse's Ninth Army could no longer be expected.

Late in the evening of 29 April, Krebs contacted General Alfred Jodl (Supreme Army Command) by radio: "Request immediate report. Firstly of the whereabouts of Wenck's spearheads. Secondly of time intended to attack. Thirdly of the location of the Ninth Army. Fourthly of the precise place in which the Ninth Army will break through. Fifthly of the whereabouts of General Rudolf Holste's spearhead."

In the early morning of 30 April, Jodl replied to Krebs: "Firstly, Wenck's spearhead bogged down south of Schwielow Lake. Secondly, Twelfth Army therefore unable to continue attack on Berlin. Thirdly, bulk of Ninth Army surrounded. Fourthly, Holste's Corps on the defensive."

As his attempt to reach Berlin started to look impossible, Wenck developed a plan to move his army towards the Forest of Halbe. There he planned to link up with the remnants of the Ninth Army, Hellmuth Reymann's "Army Group Spree," and the Potsdam garrison. Wenck also wanted to provide an escape route for as many citizens of Berlin as possible.

Arriving at the furthest point of his attack, Wenck radioed the message: "Hurry up, we are waiting for you." Despite the attacks on his escape path, Wenck brought his own army, remnants of the Ninth Army, and many civilian refugees safely across the Elbe and into territory occupied by the U.S. Army. Estimates vary, but it is likely the corridor his forces opened enabled up to 250,000 refugees, including up to 25,000 men of the Ninth Army, to escape towards the west just ahead of the advancing Soviets.

Escape route[edit]

According to Antony Beevor, Wenck's eastward attack toward Berlin was aimed specifically at providing the population and garrison of Berlin with an escape route to areas occupied by United States armed forces:

Comrades, you've got to go in once more," Wenck said. "It's not about Berlin any more, it's not about the Reich any more." Their task was to save people from the fighting and the Russians. Hans-Dietrich Genscher, then a young sapper with the Twelfth Army, described their emotions as a "feeling of loyalty, a sense of responsibility and comradeship." Wenck's leadership struck a powerful chord, even if the reactions varied between those who believed in a humanitarian operation and those keener to surrender to the Western allies instead of the Russians.

—Antony Beevor[2]

Captive, prisoner and death[edit]

Wenck was captured and put in a prisoner of war camp. He was released in 1947. In 1982, Wenck died in a car accident in Bad Rothenfelde.

Awards and decorations[edit]

Legacy[edit]

  • The Swedish band Sabaton included a song on their 2014 Heroes album, Hearts of Iron, that covered his rescue of the surviving elements of the Ninth Army, and 250,000 German refugees during the Battle of Berlin.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Citations
  1. ^ Ryan 1966: p. 443
  2. ^ Beevor 2002: p. 286
  3. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 442.
Bibliography
  • Beevor, Antony (2002). Berlin, The Downfall 1945. Viking. 
  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • Ryan, Cornelius (1966). Last Battle. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 443. 
  • 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. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Bradley, Dermot (1981). Walther Wenck, General der Panzertruppe [Walther Wenck, Tank General] (in German). Biblio Verlag. ISBN 3-7648-1177-3. 

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Generaloberst Alexander Löhr
reformed
Commander of 12. Armee
10 April 1945 – 7 May 1945
Succeeded by
disbanded