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|Nickname(s)||Blutiger Ferdinand (Bloody Ferdinand)|
12 June 1892|
Munich, Kingdom of Bavaria, German Empire
|Died||2 July 1973
Munich, Bavaria, West Germany
|Allegiance|| German Empire (to 1918)
Weimar Republic (to 1933)
|Years of service||1911–45|
|Commands held||Army Group South (March 1944)
Army Group North (July 1944)
Army Group Centre (January 1945)
Oberkommando des Heeres (30 April 1945)
|Awards||Pour le Mérite
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds
Ferdinand Schörner (12 June 1892 – 2 July 1973) was a General and later Field Marshal (Generalfeldmarschall) in the German Army (Wehrmacht Heer) during World War II. He was one of only 27 people to be awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, awarded for extreme battlefield bravery or outstanding military leadership.
Schörner was a convinced Nazi and became infamous for his brutality. By the end of World War II he was Hitler's favorite commander. Following the war he was convicted of war crimes by courts in the Soviet Union and West Germany and was imprisoned in the USSR, East Germany and West Germany.
Schörner was born on 12 June 1892 in Munich in the Kingdom of Bavaria, a federated state of the German Empire. A noted veteran of World War I, he was awarded the Pour le Mérite military order as a lieutenant when he took part in the Austro-Hungarian and German Caporetto Offensive, which shattered the Italian lines in the fall of 1917.
Schörner served as a staff officer and instructor between the two wars. In 1923 he was adjutant to General von Lossow, the Commander of Military District VII in Munich, and participated in the defeat of the Beer Hall Putsch. As an army instructor he was instrumental in turning the Waffen-SS from a paramilitary force into a corps of military stormtroopers able to fight alongside the Heer.
World War II
Schörner commanded the 98th Mountain Regiment in the Invasion of Poland in 1939. During the 1941 Balkans campaign, he commanded the German 6th Mountain Division and earned the Knight's Cross for his role in breaching the Metaxas Line. With this division, Schörner took part in Operation Barbarossa in June 1941. The 6th Gebirgs Division was assigned to the Arctic sectors in the Eastern Front. In 1942 as a General der Gebirgstruppe he took command of the XIX Mountain Corps, part of the German Army in Finland. With this command he participated in the failed attack on Murmansk and the stalemate war that resulted from it. Schörner's primary job was to keep the Pechenga Nickel Works in German hands. When the Soviets opened an offensive against the Arctic sector, the division took part in the fighting. In January 1942, Schörner was promoted to the rank of Generalleutnant, commanding the Mountain Corps Norway.
He later commanded the German XXXX Panzer Corps on the Eastern Front from November 1943 to January 1944. In March 1944 he was made commander of Army Group A, and in May commander of Army Group South Ukraine. After initially stating that the Crimean port of Sevastopol could be held for a long time even if Crimea fell, he changed his mind and, against Hitler's wishes, evacuated the Black Sea port. This retreat occurred too late, and the German/Romanian 17th Army that was holding Crimea suffered severe losses, with many men killed or captured while waiting on the piers to be evacuated. During the late spring of 1944, Schörner managed to stabilize the crumbling front in the south in a series of defensive battles on the Dniester River in Romania.
Schörner was promoted to the rank of Generaloberst in April 1944. In July he became commander of Army Group North, which was later renamed Army Group Courland, where he stayed until January 1945 when he was made commander of Army Group Centre, defending Czechoslovakia and the upper reaches of the River Oder. He became a favorite of high-level Nazi leaders such as Joseph Goebbels, whose diary entries from March and April 1945 have many words of praise for Schörner and his methods. Finally, on 4 April 1945, Schörner was promoted to field marshal and was named as the new Commander-in-Chief of the German Army (Oberbefehlshaber des Heeres) in Hitler's last testament. He nominally served in this post until the surrender of the Third Reich on 8 May 1945, but in reality, continued to command his army group, since no staff was available to him. He did not have any discernible influence in the final days of the Reich. He was one of only 27 people to be awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, awarded for extreme battlefield bravery or outstanding military leadership.
On 7 May, the day General Alfred Jodl, Chief-of-Staff of German Armed Forces High Command (German acroynym OKW), was negotiating the surrender of all German forces at SHAEF, the last the OKW had heard from Schörner was on 2 May. He had reported he intended to fight his way west and surrender his army group to the Americans. On 8 May, "OKW" Colonel Wilhelm Meyer-Detring was escorted through the American lines to contact Schörner. The colonel reported that Schörner had ordered his operational command to observe the surrender, but he could not guarantee that he would be obeyed everywhere.[a] In fact, Schörner ordered a continuation of fighting against Red Army and Czech insurgents. Later that day, Schörner deserted his command and flew to Austria, where he was arrested by the Americans on 18 May. Elements of Army Group Centre continued to resist the overwhelming force of the Red Army liberating Czechoslovakia during the final Prague Offensive. Units of Army Group Centre, the last major German units to surrender, capitulated on 11 May 1945.
Post-war trials convictions
Schörner was arrested in August 1951 by the Soviet authorities on charges of war crimes. In February 1952 the Military Board of the USSR Supreme Court sentenced him to 25 years' imprisonment. A decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet in April 1952 reduced this sentence to 12 and a half years. A decree of December 1954 allowed him to be handed over to authorities of the German Democratic Republic, who allowed him to leave for West Germany in 1958. There he was arrested and charged with the illegal executions of German Army soldiers accused of desertion. He was found guilty and sentenced to four and a half years' jail, which he served. He was released in 1963 and lived in obscurity in Munich until his death in 1973. In the late 1960s he gave a lengthy interview to Italian historian Mario Silvestri that centered on his role and actions during the Austro-German victory at the battle of Caporetto in World War I rather than on his World War II service.[b]
German veterans particularly criticized Schörner for a 1945 order that all soldiers found behind the front lines, who did not possess written orders to be in that particular area, were to be court-martialed on the spot and hanged if found guilty of desertion. This is mentioned in the writings of Siegfried Knappe, Hans von Luck, and Joseph Goebbels. "Deserters get no mercy from him," Goebbels wrote of Schörner on 11 March 1945. "They are hanged from the nearest tree with a placard round their necks saying: 'I am a deserter. I have declined to defend German women and children and therefore I have been hanged.'" The approving Goebbels continued with, "Naturally such methods are effective. Every man in Schörner's area knows that he may die at the front but will inevitably die in the rear." Gottlob H. Bidermann, a German infantry officer who served in Schörner's command in 1944-45, reported in his memoirs that the General was despised by officers and men alike.
Schörner was said to never have uttered a word of praise, and would demote or punitively transfer soldiers on the spot for the most minor infractions, even as the war was ending. Bidermann was especially bitter that while Schörner's men were marched off to die in Soviet POW camps at the cessation of hostilities, Schörner made certain that he personally avoided their fate. When captured by the Americans in their sector, Schörner is said to have been dressed as a Bavarian non-combatant, behavior for which he had only recently had his own soldiers executed.
Though despised by his men, Schörner was loved in Berlin. He was very devoted to Hitler, a view that is seen as confirmed by Hitler's appointment of Schörner as his replacement as Commander-in-Chief of the German Army on his suicide; (see Hitler's Last Will). Moreover, Schörner did not hesitate to second Hitler's daydreams in the last weeks of the war, agreeing that the Red Army's main objective would be Prague instead of Berlin (in itself a colossal strategic blunder), and so leading him to weaken the already critically thin defense lines in front of the German capital to counter this perceived threat. Historian Ian Kershaw described him in 2011 (BBC History Magazine) as "extraordinarily brutal".
In his book "The End" (p. 50), Kershaw describes Schörner as "a fanatical (Nazi) loyalist", an indication of this being that he had served for a brief spell in March 1944 as Chief of the NS Leadership Staff of the Army. The latter was responsible for coordinating relations between the military and the Nazi Party.
Dates of rank
- Major - 14 August 1934
- Oberstleutnant - 16 March 1937
- Temporary Oberst - 27 August 1939
- Oberst - 30 January 1940
- Generalmajor - 17 December 1941
- Generalleutnant - 28 February 1942
- General der Gebirgstruppe - 15 May 1942
- Generaloberst - 20 May 1944
- Generalfeldmarschall - 5 April 1945
Awards and decorations
- Iron Cross (1914)
- Pour le Mérite (5 December 1917)
- Military Merit Cross, 3rd class with War Decoration (Austria-Hungary, 20 April 1916)
- Military Merit Order, 4th class with Swords and Crown (Bavaria, 24 October 1917)
- Clasp to the Iron Cross (1939)
- Eastern Front Medal (20 August 1942)
- Golden Party Badge of the NSDAP (30 January 1943)
- Order of the Cross of Liberty 1st Class (Finland, 1 July 1942)
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds
- Knight's Cross on 20 April 1941 as Generalmajor and commander of 6. Gebirgs-Division
- 398th Oak Leaves on 17 February 1944 as General der Gebirgstruppe and commander of XXXX. Panzerkorps
- 93rd Swords on 28 August 1944 as Generaloberst and commander-in-chief of Heeresgruppe Nord
- 23rd Diamonds on 1 January 1945 as Generaloberst and commander-in-chief of Heeresgruppe Nord
- Mentioned 5 times in the Wehrmachtsbericht (18 February 1944, 30 November 1944, 1 January 1945, 5 April 1945, and 9 May 1945)
- Commander of the Order of the Crown of Italy (2 August 1938)
- Order of St Alexander, 2nd class with Swords (Bulgaria, 15 July 1941)
- Like many institutions in Nazi Germany, the control of the army was split between the German Armed Forces High Command (OKW) and the German Army High Command (OKH). By 1945 the OKW commanded all German forces in every theater apart from those on the Eastern Front, which were under OKH control and which, before his suicide, had reported directly to Hitler. So it was not clear if Schörner was under the command of OKW on 8 May or if President Karl Dönitz, or Chancellor von Krosigk, needed to order Schörner to surrender.
- The quoted material is translated from Soviet documents by the authors (Vinogradov 2005, p. 241)
- German Historical Institute, Soldiers into Citizens: Wehrmacht Officers in the Federal Republic of Germany (1945-1960) (PDF), London, p. 63, archived from the original (PDF) on 26 June 2006
- Pipes, Jason, "German Officer Biographies: Ferdinand Schorner", Feldgrau.com — research on the German armed forces 1918–1945
- Gilbert 1989, p. 522.
- Beevor 2002, p. 344.
- Ziemke 1969, p. 134.
- Knappe 1992, p. 448.
- Kershaw 2012, p. 305.
- Thomas 1998, p. 280.
- Thomas & Wegmann 1994, p. 322.
- Thomas & Wegmann 1994, p. 323.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 681.
- Beevor, Antony (2002). Berlin: The Downfall 1945. Viking-Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-670-03041-5.
- Gilbert, M. (1989). Second World War. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London.[full citation needed]
- Kershaw, Ian (2012). The End. Penguin.[full citation needed]
- Knappe, Siegfried (1992). Soldat: Reflections of a German Soldier, 1936-1949. Dell Publi. ISBN 0-440-21526-9.
- 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 (1994). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Deutschen Wehrmacht 1939–1945 Teil VI: Die Gebirgstruppe Band 2: L–Z [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the German Wehrmacht 1939–1945 Part VI: The Mountain Troops Volume 2: L–Z] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2430-3.
- 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.
- Vinogradov, V.K.; et al. (2005). Hitler's Death. Chaucer Press.[full citation needed]
- 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.
- Ferdinand Schörner in the German National Library catalogue
- Gießler, Klaus-Volker (2007), "Schörner, Johann Ferdinand", Neue Deutsche Biographie (NDB) (in German), 23, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, pp. 435–436; (full text online)
- "Ferdinand Schörner". Der Spiegel 48/1963. Retrieved 16 February 2013.
Generaloberst Johannes Frießner
|Commander of Heeresgruppe Nord
23 July 1944 – 27 January 1945
Generaloberst Dr. Lothar Rendulic