Walther von Brauchitsch
|Walther von Brauchitsch|
Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch
|Birth name||Heinrich Alfred Hermann Walther von Brauchitsch|
4 October 1881|
Berlin, German Empire
|Died||18 October 1948
Hamburg, Allied-occupied Germany
|Allegiance|| German Empire (to 1918)
Weimar Republic (to 1933)
Nazi Germany (to 1945)
|Years of service||1900–41|
|Battles/wars||World War I
World War II
|Spouse(s)||Elizabeth von Karstedt (m. 1910; div. 1938)
Charlotte Rueffer (m. 1938–48)
Born in 1881 into an aristocratic and notable military family, Brauchitsch joined the 3rd Guards Field Artillery Regiment in 1901. He was in the thick of World War I, serving with the XVI Corps and the German General Staff, before taking part in no fewer than 26 notable clashes on the Western Front, including the Battle of Verdun, the Battle of Armentières, the Battle at the Aisne, and the Battle of the Lys.
After Hitler's rise to power in 1933, Brauchitsch was put in charge of the East Prussian Military District, and became a very popular officer because of his kindness to civilian Prussian population. Although he personally disliked Nazism, he borrowed immense sums of money from Hitler and became dependent on his financial help.
During World War II, Brauchitsch primarily served as Commander-in-Chief of the German Army. He played a key role in the Battle of France and for his part was promoted to field marshal. He was dismissed by Hitler in 1941 following the failed Moscow offensive, and spent the rest of the war in enforced retirement.
After World War II, Brauchitsch was arrested on charges of war crimes, but died of a heart attack in 1948 before he could be prosecuted. He is known for telling Hitler, in the presence of others, that the days were over when a lance corporal could assume the role of Napoleon.
Brauchitsch was born in October 1881 as the fifth son of Bernhard Eduard von Brauchitsch, a cavalry general, and his wife Charlotte Bertha von Gordon, a housekeeper. The von Brauchitsch family, which originally came from Silesia, had a long tradition of military service, and like his forefathers, Brauchitsch was raised in the tradition of the Prussian officer corps. His family moved in the leading social circles of Berlin's high society, and his family name and father's military rank put him on equal footing with any officer or official. In his teens, Brauchitsch was interested in liberal and moderately conservative politics, and was fascinated by the fine art pieces that were sculptured in Berlin in the late 1880s. This unusual set of interests influenced his father to enrol him at Berlin's Französisches Gymnasium rather than a military academy. During his school years, he became an excellent student of world affairs.
Brauchwitsch was transferred from the "Selekta" (top class for gifted students) of the Hauptkadettenanstalt Groß Lichterfelde (Prussian main military academy in Lichterfelde) to the 9th Company of the Königin-Elisabeth-Garde-Grenadier-Regiment Nr. 3 in Berlin-Charlottenburg as second lieutenant on 22 March 1900. He was commissioned into the 3rd Guards Field Artillery Regiment in 1901. While serving as an adjutant and later staff officer of his regiment, he noticed his fellow officers and superiors showed no particular interest or enthusiasm for artillery tactics and work. As he considered artillery to be his specialty, he instead joined the General staff office in Berlin, where he was promoted to first lieutenant.
By the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, Brauchitsch had reached the rank of captain, and was appointed staff officer to the XVI Army Corps stationed near Metz. He would be in the very thick of The Great War from start to finish. Between 1914 and 1916, he was based near Othain, Véry, and Varennes, where he took part in the Battle of Verdun and Battle of the Argonne Forest. In the remaining two years of the conflict, Brauchitsch saw more than twice as much action, and took part in notable engagements like the third Battle of the Aisne, the Battle of Aisne-Marne, the second Battle of the Aisne, the Battle of Armentières, and the Battle of Flanders. His contributions to the war effort did not go unnoticed: Brauchitsch was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class and ended the war with the rank of major.
The German military underwent a forced reduction in 1919 to comply with the Treaty of Versailles, but Brauchitsch managed to avoid sanction. He remained with the General Staff, now disguised as the "Troop Office" ("Truppenamt"), and was appointed chief of the 11th Army District in Stettin. To his irritation, he was assigned normal staff work, where he had no opportunity to use his knowledge of artillery. Eventually, in 1920, he was permitted to transfer to the staff office of the 2nd Artillery Regiment, and a year later, he was made chief of the regiment's battery section. The following year, he worked in the Ministry of the Reichswehr, in the Artillery Department.
Brauchitsch's assignment in the Artillery Department was to reorganize artillery formations and implement lessons learned in the closing months of the war. He also added ideas of his own, including modifying the classification system for light, medium, and heavy artillery. Heavy artillery, formerly known as "corps artillery", now became "reinforcement artillery". He also added more emphasis on the combination and co-operation between artillery and infantry.
After three years in the Artillery Department, during which he was promoted to lieutenant colonel (in 1925), Brauchitsch returned to Berlin, where he resumed normal general staff work. In 1927, he was promoted to Chief of Staff of the 6th Infantry Division in Munster, Westphalia, one of the strongest garrisons in Western Germany. In the last years of the Weimar Republic, he took over the department for army education.
In 1933, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party came to power and began to expand the military, in order to realize Hitler's military ambitions. Brauchitsch was named Chief of the East Prussian Military District and Chief of the 1st Division in Konigsberg. In 1937.
Although Brauchitsch felt at home in Prussia, he had a clash with Erich Koch, the local Gauleiter (party head and de facto head of civil administration of the province). Koch was known as somewhat of a dubious gangster who greatly enjoyed the power he possessed, and who would meet his enemies with violence. As Koch had a criminal record that would compromise his political career, and Brauchitsch did not want to lose his job in the region, the two attempted to keep their feud unofficial. As a result, Berlin hardly learned of their dispute.
A more dangerous dispute emerged a few years later, when Brauchitsch learned that Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, the SS chief, planned to replace the army guards in East Prussia with SS men, with the purpose of persecuting Jews and Protestant and Catholic Churches in the district. Even though Brauchitsch managed to prevent the SS replacement of the army troops in the region, Himmler categorized him as "a junker", and informed Hitler of the disagreement. Brauchitsch claimed he had done his duty, saying laconically, "Civilians are not allowed to enter that area." In the end, the event faded in importance, but Brauchitsch began to suspect that Himmler was attempting to have the SS replace the Wehrmacht as the official German Armed Forces.
In spite of his disagreement with Himmler, Brauchitsch managed to gain a reputation as an honorable commander who did not intervene in politics. So, when the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, Werner von Fritsch, was accused of homosexuality, Hitler appointed Brauchitsch the new army chief, on the recommendation of the Army High Command. The homosexual allegations were in reality a trap set by Hitler as an excuse to dismiss one of the aristocratic senior officers within the Army High Command. Fritsch's removal was a severe test of the stability of the German internal administration of that time.
While Brauchitsch disliked or opposed much of the Nazi system, he welcomed the Nazi policy of rearmament. The relationship between Hitler and Brauchitsch improved during Brauchitsch's confusion about whether to leave his wife for his mistress, in the middle of the Munich Crisis; Hitler set aside his usual anti-divorce sentiments and encouraged Brauchitsch to divorce and remarry. Hitler even lent him 80,000 Reichsmarks so he could afford the divorce. Over time, Brauchitsch became largely reliant on Hitler for financial help.
Like Colonel General Ludwig Beck, Brauchitsch opposed Hitler's annexation of Austria and Czechoslovakia, although he did not resist Hitler's plans for war, again preferring refraining from politics.
In the final months before World War II, Brauchitsch focused on Italy's potential to aid the Nazi military cause. This turned out not be an easy task, as Italian leader Benito Mussolini expected economic support from the Reich in return for his military collaboration. Fritsch had already told Brauchitsch that the Italian military was in extremely poor fighting shape. Joachim von Ribbentrop, Germany's Foreign Minister and the main architect of the Axis alliance, constantly interfered with Brauchitsch's efforts, as he wanted to see his work consolidated at all costs.
World War II
By early November 1939, Brauchitsch and Chief of the General Staff Franz Halder started to consider overthrowing Hitler as another major European war had started. They decided to do so after Hitler had fixed "X-day", the invasion of France, as 12 November 1939. Both officers believed the invasion was doomed to fail. On 5 November 1939, the Army General Staff prepared a special memorandum purporting to recommend against launching an attack on the Western powers that year. Brauchitsch reluctantly agreed to read the document to Hitler, and did so in a meeting on 5 November. Brauchitsch attempted to talk Hitler into putting off X-day by saying that morale in the German Army was worse than in 1918, a statement that enraged Hitler. He harshly berated Brauchitsch for incompetence. Brauchitsch went on to complain:
The aggressive spirit of the German infantry is sadly below the standard of the First World War ... [there has been] certain symptoms of insubordination similar to those of 1917–18."
— Walther von Brauchitsch
Hitler responded by flying into a rage, accusing the General Staff and Brauchitsch personally of disloyalty, cowardice, sabotage, and defeatism. He returned to the army headquarters at Zossen, where he "arrived in such poor shape that at first he could only give a somewhat incoherent account of the proceedings." After that meeting, both Brauchitsch and Halder told Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, a key leader of the anti-Nazi movement, that overthrowing Hitler was simply something that they could not do, and he should find other officers to take part in the plot. Hitler called a meeting of the General Staff, where he declared 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. On 7 November, following heavy snowstorms, Hitler put off X-Day until further notice, which removed Brauchitsch and Halder's primary motivation for the overthrow plot.
Even though Brauchitsch was in charge on operational affairs during the Polish and French campaigns, he had a very little say, as a whole, in how the war was going. During the invasion of Poland, he oversaw most plans. The operation, based on the theories of Blitzkrieg, went extremely well, with panzers, heavily supported by air strikes and followed by infantry, quickly destroyed the 500,000-strong Polish army. The 600-strong Polish air force was virtually destroyed in the first hours of the operation. Initially an artillery and staff officer, he now proved to be an excellent commander of armored warfare.
While preparations were underway for the Battle of France, an arrogant German planner and strategist named Erich von Manstein, then serving as chief of staff of Army Group A, presented his famous Sichelschnitt ("sickle cut") plan. Brauchitsch and Halder, however, did not see the genius of the plan. When Manstein insisted on the plan being accepted, Halder suggest transferring Manstein far away to the East, so as to reduce his influence in the planning process. Brauchitsch agreed, and transferred him to Silesia. But, by sheer chance, Hitler invited a group of officers to lunch, and Manstein was among them. There he managed to present his plan directly to Hitler. The very next day, Hitler ordered Brauchitsch to accept Manstein's plan, which the Führer presented as his own idea. Despite his original scepticism, he eventually saw the plan's potential, and felt that the army had a real chance of success in France.
After the surprisingly swift fall of France, Brauchitsch was promoted to field marshal in July 1940, during the 1940 Field Marshal Ceremony. After France had been occupied and divided, he, as well as the rest of the high command, was looking forward to an also easy and swift campaign against Great Britain, now seriously weakened by the French campaign. He was confident that Britain would be easily defeated, declaring:
We consider the victory already won. England remains secure, but only so long as we choose.
— Walther von Brauchitsch
Had Operation Sea Lion (the invasion of England) succeeded, Hitler intended to place Brauchitsch in charge of the new conquest. However, as the Luftwaffe could not gain the requisite air superiority, the Battle of Britain was lost, and the plan was shelved and eventually cancelled.
Brauchitsch agreed with harsh measures against the Polish population, claiming they were inevitable for securing German Lebensraum ("living space"). He ordered his army and commanders that criticism of Nazi racist policy should cease, as harsh measures were needed for the "forthcoming battle of destiny of the German people". When Germany turned East and invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, he again played a key part, making modifications to the original plan. Like his friend and colleague, Wilhelm Keitel, Brauchitsch did not protest when Hitler gave the German army the same killing-permissions as the SS in the occupied territory, but later issued a series of decrees that ordered that Commissars were only to be shot if their anti-German sentiments were "especially recognizable". As the Battle of Moscow got underway, his health was starting to fail. Even so, he continued his work; determined to take Moscow before the start of the severe Russian winter. The army's failure to take Moscow earned Hitler's enmity, and things went further downhill for Brauchitsch as he endured a serious heart attack in November. He was also informed that he had a malignant cardiac disease, most likely incurable. Like other generals in the aftermath of the failure at Moscow, Brauchitsch was made a scapegoat. He was dismissed as Commander-in-Chief of the German Army on 19 December. He was transferred to the Führerreserve (officers reserve), 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 his few public comments after retirement was a statement condemning the 20 July plot against Hitler, where he denounced several former colleagues. Later, he explained to Halder that he had been forced to do so to save a relative's life.
After the war, Brauchitsch was arrested in August 1945 at his estate and charged with war crimes. He died on 18 October 1948 of a heart attack in a British military hospital, aged 67, before he could be prosecuted. He was buried at Salzgitter cemetery, Lower Saxony, Germany.
In 1910, Brauchitsch married his first wife, 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 go on to serve in World War II as Luftwaffe adjutant to Hermann Göring. They were divorced in 1938, after 28 years of marriage.
In 1925, Brauchitsch met Charlotte Rueffer, the 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, who drowned in his bath during a visit to Berlin. When Brauchitsch returned from East Prussia in 1937, the pair resumed their affair. They married immediately after Brauchitsch had divorced Karstedt.
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.
Brauchitsch is known for being 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 role of Napoleon.
Historian William E. Hart, biographer of Nazi Germany's generals, describes him as "lithe, wiry, upright, quick and direct in speech and action. The severity of a Napoleonic nose and firmly set lips were softened by expressive brown eyes."
Historian Ian Kershaw, recognized as one of the world's leading biographers of Hitler and the Nazi Era, believes Brauchitsch was "a spineless individual, who was frightened by Hitler. He was no person to lead any type of front or revolt."
- Iron Cross (1914)
- Friedrich Order with Swords (7 May 1915)
- Knight's Cross of the House Order of Hohenzollern with Swords (15 May 1917)
- Saxe-Ernestine House Order for merit in war (2 January 1918)
- Service award for 25 service years (17 April 1920)
- The Honour Cross of the World War 1914/1918 (18 December 1934)
- Wehrmacht Long Service Award 1st Class (2 October 1936)
- Anschluss Medal (21 November 1938)
- Grand Cross of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus (3 January 1939)
- Grand Cross of the Order of the White Rose of Finland (10 March 1939)
- Order of the Yugoslav Crown 1st Class (1 June 1939)
- Sudetenland Medal with Clasp (7 June 1939)
- Memel Medal (30 November 1939)
- Spanish Military Merit Cross 1st Class (1939)
- Clasp to the Iron Cross (1939)
- Knights Cross of the Iron Cross on 30 September 1939 as Colonel General and Commander-in-Chief of the Army
- Bulgarian Grand Cross Order of St Alexander with Swords (15 May 1941)
- Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary (31 May 1941)
- Romanian Order of Michael the Brave (11 October 1941)
- Czechoslovak War Cross 1st Class (20 October 1941)
- Finnish Grand Cross of the Order of the Cross of Liberty (19 July 1942)
- Japanese Order of the Rising Sun 1st Class (26 September 1942)
Dates of rank
- Leutnant (Second Lieutenant) – 22 March 1900
- Oberleutnant (First Lieutenant) – 18 October 1909
- Hauptmann (Captain) – 18 December 1913
- Major (Major) – 15 July 1918
- Oberstleutnant (lieutenant Colonel) – 1 April 1925
- Oberst (Colonel) – 1 April 1928
- Generalmajor (Major General) – 1 October 1931
- Generalleutnant (Lieutenant General) – 1 October 1933
- General der Artillerie (General of Artillery) – 20 April 1936
- Generaloberst (Colonel General) – 4 February 1938
- Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshal) – 19 July 1940
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