Walther von Brauchitsch

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Walther von Brauchitsch
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-2004-0105-500, Walther v. Brauchitsch.jpg
Generalfeldmarschall Walther von Brauchitsch
Birth name Heinrich Alfred Hermann Walther von Brauchitsch
Born (1881-10-04)4 October 1881
Berlin, Germany
Died 18 October 1948(1948-10-18) (aged 67)
Hamburg, Germany
Allegiance German Empire German Empire (to 1918)
Germany Weimar Republic (to 1933)
Nazi Germany Nazi Germany (to 1945)
Years of service 1900–1941
Rank Generalfeldmarschall
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Order of Michael the Brave
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
Japanese Order of the Rising Sun, 1st Class
Spouse(s)

Elizabeth von Karstedt (m. 1910; div. 1938)

Charlotte Rueffer (m. 1938–48)
Relations Bernd von Brauchitsch, Adolf von Brauchitsch, Manfred von Brauchitsch, Hans Bernd von Haeften and Werner von Haeften

Heinrich Alfred Hermann Walther von Brauchitsch (4 October 1881 – 18 October 1948) was an aristocratic field marshal and the Commander-in-Chief of the German Army in the early years of World War II. He was described as "a man of culture, charm, and professional integrity".

Early years[edit]

Brauchitsch was born in Berlin as the fifth son of the cavalry general Bernhard Eduard von Brauchitsch (1833 – 1910) and Charlotte Bertha von Gordon (1844 – 1906). He was raised in and around the Imperial Court. The family of von Brauchitsch, which originally came from Silesia, moved in the leading social circles of Berlin, and the father's military rank put him on equal footing with any general commanding the guards or the Imperial Life Bodyguard. Belonging to the rare minority of his caste who have earned themselves the attribute of enlightened, which meant that he had on occasions broken out of the social and professional conventions which usually hedged in families like his.[1][2]

He was greatly interested in the political movements that pursued liberal and moderately conservative aims and was interested in the fine arts and could be seen at every exhibition of painting and sculpture in Berlin during the late eighties. It was this rather unusual breadth of mind that influenced Bernhard von Brauchitsch to send his son Walther to the Berlin grammar school, Französisches Gymnasium Berlin, and not immediately to cadet school. During his school days, he became an excellent student of world affairs.[3][4]

His military career began when he was commissioned into the Prussian Guard Corps in March 1900. By World War I, he was appointed to the General Staff. In 1914 he proceeded as a General Staff officer to the staff of the XVI Army Corps at Metz. Here he saw the heavy fighting that developed west of Metz against the French Third Army. After fighting through Luxembourg and against Longwy, the XVI German Army Corps was the first to take up positions against the French in the sector of Verdun.[5]

Wehrmacht[edit]

In 1933, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power and began to expand the military. Brauchitsch was named Chief of the East Prussian Military District. His specialty was artillery. In 1937, he became commander of the Fourth Army Group.[6]

When he was Chief of the East Prussian Military District, he would be one of the first on the spot when country villages were devastated by fires, talking to the people, promising them help from the army, inquiring into their immediate needs, all with an ease and grace that left no question of his sincerity or evoked the all too common suggestion, when a commanding general showed sympathy with the civilian public.[7]

Brauchitsch disliked or opposed much of the Nazi system, but also welcomed the Nazi policy of rearmament and was dazzled by Hitler's personality.[8] He became largely reliant on Hitler as political patron and even for financial help. In February 1938, in the middle of the Munich Crisis, Brauchitsch wanted to divorce his wife. Hitler set aside his usual anti-divorce sentiments and encouraged Brauchitsch to divorce and remarry. Hitler even lent him 80,000 Reichsmarks, which he needed since the family wealth was all his wife's. In the same month, his close friend and colleague, Wilhelm Keitel, insured he was appointed Oberbefehlshaber des Heeres (Commander-in-Chief of the Army) as a replacement for General Werner von Fritsch, who had also recommended Brauchitsch as his replacement. Fritsch had been dismissed on false charges of homosexuality, due to a name mistake. The true homosexual officer had the name Werner von Fritz.[9][10]

Brauchitsch resented the growing power of the SS, believing that they were attempting to replace the Wehrmacht as the official German armed forces.

He had disagreements with Erich Koch, the Gauleiter of East Prussia, and Hitler had to resolve the dispute between the two.

Like general Ludwig Beck, Brauchitsch opposed Hitler's annexation of Austria (the Anschluss) and Czechoslovakia (see Fall Grün (Czechoslovakia)), although he did not resist Hitler's plans for war. He took no action when Beck asked him to persuade the whole General Staff to resign if Hitler proceeded in his invasion of Czechoslovakia.[11][12]

In September 1938, a group of officers began plotting against Hitler and repeatedly tried to persuade Brauchitsch—as Commander-in-Chief of the Army—to lead the anticipated coup, but the only assurance he gave them was:

"I myself won't do anything, but I won't stop anyone else from acting."[13]

After the collapse of the 1938 coup attempt, Brauchitsch ignored all further appeals from Beck and the other plotters to use the army to overthrow Hitler before Germany was plunged into world war.[14][15]

World War II[edit]

Brauchitsch with Hitler in Warsaw, October 1939

In early November 1939, Brauchitsch and Franz Halder started to consider overthrowing Hitler. They decided to do so after Hitler had fixed "X-day" for the invasion of France for 12 November 1939; an invasion that both officers believed to be doomed to fail.[16] On 5 November 1939, the Army General Staff prepared a memorandum purporting to recommend against launching an attack on the Western powers that autumn. Brauchitsch reluctantly agreed to read the document to Hitler. In the meeting with Hitler on 5 November, Brauchitsch had attempted to talk Hitler into putting off "X-day" by saying that morale in the German Army was worse than what it was in 1918, a statement that enraged Hitler who harshly berated Brauchitsch for incompetence.[17] The document's specific recommendations did not convey the dissent in the ranks of the General Staff, who were uneasy at having their planning and conduct of the Polish Campaign interfered with down to a regimental level. More generally, the unease at the army's position as the chief martial arbiter in the German State having been encroached upon since Hitler's ascendance to power was prevalent in the closing days of the 1930s. It was left to Brauchitsch to voice these doubts, which he did, stating that:

"The OKH would be grateful for an understanding that it, and it alone, would be solely responsible for the conduct of any future campaign."[18]

The suggestion was received in "an icy silence", whereupon on an impulse Brauchitsch went on to complain:

"The aggressive spirit of the German infantry is sadly below the standard of the First World War... [there had been] certain symptoms of insubordination similar to those of 1917–18."[19]

Hitler responded by flying into a tremendous rage, accusing both the General Staff and Brauchitsch personally of disloyalty, cowardice, sabotage and defeatism. The Chief of the Army General Staff—Franz Halder—was the main propagator of the memorandum's preparation and wrote that the scene was "most ugly and disagreeable". He returned to the Headquarters at Zossen where "he arrived in such poor shape that at first he could only give a somewhat incoherent account of the proceedings."[20] After that meeting, both Halder and Brauchitsch told Carl Friedrich Goerdeler that overthrowing Hitler was simply something that they could not do, and he should find other officers if he that was what he really wanted to.[16] Hitler then called a meeting of the General Staff to declare that he would smash the West within a year. He also vowed to "destroy the spirit of Zossen", a threat that panicked Halder to such an extent that he forced the conspirators to abort their second planned coup attempt.[16] Equally important, on 7 November, 1939 following heavy snowstorms, Hitler put off "X-Day" until further notice, which removed the reason that had most motivated Brauchitsch and Halder to consider overthrowing Hitler. Brauchitsch was the only German general who has ever been able to tell Hitler in the presence of others, that the days were over, when a lance corporal could assume the position of Napoleon.[20]

Brauchitsch was promoted to Generalfeldmarschall in 1940 during the 1940 Field Marshal Ceremony and was a key figure in Hitler's Blitzkrieg war against the West, making modifications to the original plan to overrun France.[21][22][23] After France was conquered, Brauchitsch was confident that Britain would be easily defeated, he said:

"We consider the victory already won. England remains secure, but only so long as we choose".[24]

Had Operation Sea Lion—the invasion of Britain—succeeded, Hitler intended to place Brauchitsch in charge of the new conquest.[25] However, the Luftwaffe could not gain the requisite air superiority, "lost" the Battle of Britain, and the plan was abandoned.[26]

Brauchitsch agreed with harsh measures against the Polish population claiming they were inevitable for securing the German Lebensraum and ordered to his army and commanders that criticism of Nazism racist policy should cease as Nazi policy was needed for "forthcoming battle of destiny of the German people".[27] When Germany turned east and invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the army's failure to take Moscow earned Hitler's enmity. Things went further downhill for Brauchitsch as he endured a serious heart attack in November, and was informed he had a malignant cardiac disease, most likely incurable.[28]

After defeat outside Moscow in December 1941, Brauchitsch, like so many other generals had to act as a scapegoat, and was dismissed on 19 December as Commander-in-Chief of the German Army. He was transferred to the officers reserve (Führerreserve) where he remained without assignment until the end of the war. Brauchitsch spent the last three war years in the Tři Trubky hunting lodge in the Brdy mountains southwest of Prague. One of the few public comments he made after his retirement was a statement condemning the attempt on Hitler's life, where he denounces several former colleagues. He later excused himself to Halder, claiming he had been forced to do so to save a relative's life.[29]

Personal life[edit]

In 1910, Brauchitsch married Elizabeth von Karstedt a wealthy heiress to 300,000 acres (1,200 km2) in Pomerania. In 1911, they produced a son, Bernd von Brauchitsch, who would serve in World War II as Luftwaffe adjutant to Hermann Göring. They were divorced in 1938, after 28 years of marriage. According to General Curt Siewert, she "lacked both warmth and femininity" and was described as "unattractive".

In 1925, Brauchitsch met Charlotte Rueffer, the beautiful young daughter of a Silesian judge, he wanted a divorce then, but his wife refused. Rueffer went on to marry a bank director named Schmidt, but he had drowned in his bath during a visit to Berlin, so when Brauchitsch returned from East Prussia in 1937, the pair resumed their affair. They married in 1938.

Brauchitsch was the uncle of Manfred von Brauchitsch, a 1930s Mercedes-Benz "Silver Arrow" Grand Prix driver, Hans Bernd and Werner von Haeften, both members of the German resistance against Hitler.[30]

Brauchitsch was a strong admirer of field marshal Helmuth von Moltke and used to linger in his former office that was made into a museum at a later date.

Death[edit]

After the war in August 1945, Brauchitsch was arrested at his estate and charged with war crimes, but died on 18 October 1948 of a heart attack in a British military hospital, before he could be prosecuted. He was buried at Salzgitter cemetery, Lower Saxony, Germany.[31]

Film portrayals[edit]

Walther von Brauchitsch has been portrayed by the following actors in film and television productions:

Dates of rank[edit]

Decorations and awards[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ W. E. Hart (1944). Hitler's Generals. The Cresset Press Ltd, London.
  2. ^ General Editor, I. C. B. Dear; consultant editor, M. R. D. Foot.; I.C.B Dear, M.R.D. Foot (2005). Oxford Companion to the Second World War (paperback ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-280666-1. 
  3. ^ "Walther von Brauchitsch". Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  4. ^ W. E. Hart (1944) Hitler's Generals. The Cresset Press Ltd, London.
  5. ^ W. E. Hart (1944) Hitler's Generals. The Cresset Press Ltd, london.
  6. ^ Halperin 1965, pp. 477–479.
  7. ^ W. E. Hart (1944). Hitler's Generals. The Cresset Press Ltd, London.
  8. ^ Weinberg, Gerhard The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany Starting World War II, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980 page 396
  9. ^ William L Shierer, The Rise and Fall of the third Reich. Part II. Chapter "Road to war" (1937) and the Blomberg incident (1938)
  10. ^ Gilbert, Martin & Gott, Richard 1967, p. 178.
  11. ^ May 2000, p. 35.
  12. ^ May 2000, p. 34.
  13. ^ W. E. Hart(1944). Hitler's Generals. The Cresset Press Ltd, London.
  14. ^ Frieser 1995, p. 25
  15. ^ Atkin, Ronald (1990). Pillar of Fire: Dunkirk 1940. Edinburgh: Birlinn Limited. ISBN 1 84158 078 3. 
  16. ^ a b c Wheeler-Bennett, John, The Nemesis of Power (London: Macmillan, 1967), pp. 470–472
  17. ^ Wheeler-Bennett (1967), p. 471
  18. ^ W. E. Hart (1944). Hitler's Generals. The Cresset Press Ltd, London.
  19. ^ W. E. Hart (1944). Hitler's Generals. The Cresset Press Ltd, London.
  20. ^ a b Wheeler-Bennett (1967), p. 472
  21. ^ Battlefield (1994). "The Battle of France". Retrieved 04-04-2014.
  22. ^ Snyder 1994, p. 112.
  23. ^ Messenger, chapter 6 & 7.
  24. ^ W. E. Hart (1944). Hitler's Generals. The Cresset Press Ltd, London.
  25. ^ History Channel show Hitler's Britain
  26. ^ David Shears, "Hitler’s D-Day", MHQ, vol. 6 Number 4 (Summer 1994)
  27. ^ The Origins of the Final Solution Christopher R. Browning, Jürgen Matthäus page 76 University of Nebraska Press, 2007
  28. ^ W. E. Hart (1944). Hitler's Generals. The Cresset Press Ltd, London.
  29. ^ W. E. Hart. (1944) Hitler's Generals. The Cresset Press Ltd, London.
  30. ^ Biography of Werner von Haften (German)
  31. ^ "Island farm site". Retrieved 2007-01-06. 
Bibliography
  • April 1, 1940, Life
  • "Blitzkrieger". Time. September 25, 1939. 
  • 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.