Günther von Kluge

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Hans Günther von Kluge
Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1973-139-14, Günther v. Kluge.jpg
Kluge as Field Marshal in 1939
Born(1882-10-30)30 October 1882
Posen, Province of Posen, Prussia, German Empire
Died19 August 1944(1944-08-19) (aged 61)
Metz, Nazi Germany
Allegiance Nazi Germany
Service/branchArmy (Wehrmacht)
Years of service1901–44
RankGeneralfeldmarschall
Commands held4th Army
Army Group Centre
Battles/warsWorld War I

World War II

AwardsKnight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
RelationsWolfgang von Kluge (brother)

Hans Günther von Kluge (Born Günther Adolf Ferdinand Kluge; 30 October 1882 – 19 August 1944) was a German field marshal during World War II. Kluge held commands on both the Eastern and Western Fronts. He commanded the 4th Army of the Wehrmacht during Operation Barbarossa and the Battle for Moscow, going on to command Army Group Centre until 1944. Although Kluge was not an active conspirator in the 20 July plot, he either committed suicide, or declined an invitation to kill himself and was subsequently murdered by a frustrated Jürgen Stroop, on 19 August 1944 after having been recalled to Berlin for a meeting with Hitler in the aftermath of the failed coup. He was replaced by Field Marshal Walter Model.

Early life and career[edit]

Hans Günther von Kluge was born on 30 October 1882 in Posen, Prussia.[1] Kluge's father Max von Kluge was from an aristocratic Prussian military family. A distinguished commander, Max was a Lieutenant General in the Prussian Army who served in the First World War; he married Elise Kühn-Schuhmann in 1881.[1] Kluge was one of two children, having a younger brother named Wolfgang von Kluge (born 1892).[1]

In 1901, Kluge was commissioned in the Prussian Army's 46th Field Artillery Regiment.[1] He served on the General Staff between 1910 and 1918, reaching the rank of Captain on the Western Front during the First World War; he remained in the Reichswehr following the conflict.[1] On 1 April 1934, Kluge–promoted to Lieutenant General–took command of the 6th Division in Münster.[1] Adolf Hitler's proclamation of the Wehrmacht in 1935 precipitated Kluge's appointment to the 6th Corps and then the 6th Army Group, which subsequently became the 4th Army.[1]

Like several Wehrmacht commanders, Kluge believed Hitler's "crude militarism" would lead Germany into disaster.[1] During the crisis in the Sudetenland, Kluge was a member of a secret anti-war faction lead by Ludwig Beck and Ernst von Weizsäcker, hoping to avoid armed conflict over the disputed territory. The crisis was averted by the Munich Agreement on 30 September 1938. As much as he derided Nazism, Kluge believed in the principle of Lebensraum and took pride in the rearmament of the Wehrmacht.[2]

World War II[edit]

Invasion of Poland[edit]

Hitler approved of the German High Command's outline for invading Poland with two army groups during a military briefing on 26-27 April 1939.[3] Kluge's 4th Army was assigned to Army Group North under Fedor von Bock.[4] The Poland Campaign commenced on 1 September, taking advantage of the country's long border with Germany. The 4th Army was to advance eastward toward the Corridor from West Pomerania to link with the 3rd Army; the port city of Danzig fell within the first day.[5]

By the following day, apprehensions of a strong Polish defensive line along the Brda River never materialized, and the 4th Army crossed the river, sealing the Polish 9th Infantry Division, 27th Infantry Division, and the Pomeranian Cavalry Brigade in the Corridor. Kluge sent the 10th Panzer Division from his army across the Vistula River, meeting with the 3rd Army on 3 September.[6] The 4th Army's XIX Panzer Corps (Heinz Guderian) captured the city of Brześć on 17 September after three days of heavy fighting.[7] Army Group North was informed of the Red Army's invasion of Eastern Poland the same day and was directed to remain west of the Bug River.[7] Brześć was turned over to the Soviets on 22 September.[8] For his conduct in the early stages of the invasion, Kluge earned Hitler's praise as one of his most brilliant commanders.[9]

Battle of France[edit]

In preparation for Fall Gelb (“Case Yellow”)—the invasion of France—Kluge and the 4th Army were transferred to Army Group A under the command of Gerd von Rundstedt.[10] Hitler, still looking for an aggressive alternative to the original plan, approved Erich von Manstein’s ideas—known as the Manstein Plan—following a meeting with him on 17 February 1940.[10] The plan outlined that the 4th Army would contribute to an attack through the rugged Ardennes terrain of southern Belgium and Luxembourg to the Meuse River; Kluge entrusted the XV Army Corps, encompassing the 5th and 7th Panzer Divisions, to provide flank cover for Georg-Hans Reinhardt’s corps by crossing the Meuse at Dinant.[11]

Launched on 10 May, Case Yellow began successfully. Kluge’s corps advanced rapidly, reaching the Meuse in two days.[12] A river crossing—spearheaded by 7th Panzer commander Erwin Rommel—established a bridgehead on the west bank of the Meuse on 13 May and forced the French 9th Army into retreat.[13] Kluge’s forces—particularly the 7th Panzer Division—achieved a rapid breakthrough from their bridgehead in the following days; between 16–17 May Rommel captured 10,000 prisoners and 100 tanks, and wiped out the remainder of the French 9th Army at the expense of only 35 casualties.[14] Overextended and well ahead of the army group, the 5th and 7th Panzer Divisions fended off a joint British-French counterattack near the town of Arras on 21 May.[15]

After a conference with Hitler and Rundstedt, Kluge issued an order to halt on 24 May to his Panzers, 10 miles from Dunkirk—by then the possible escape route for the British Expeditionary Force.[15] The two-day respite allowed for the Allies to consolidate their manpower around Dunkirk and prepare for an evacuation.[15] At the commencement of Fall Rot (“Case Red”)—the second phase of the invasion plan— on 5 June Kluge’s 4th Army helped achieve the first breakthrough at Amiens and reached the Seine River on 10 June.[16][17] Kluge’s command and Rommel’s generalship throughout the invasion led to his promotion to Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshal) on 19 July.[16]

Invasion of the Soviet Union[edit]

Kluge commanded the 4th Army at the opening of Operation Barbarossa, where he developed a strained relationship with Heinz Guderian, commander of the 2nd Panzer Group, over tactical issues in the advance, accusing Guderian of frequent disobedience of his orders.[citation needed]

On 29 June, Kluge ordered that women in uniform are to be shot, which was later taken back. The attitude towards russian women going to war was not welcomed on either the German or Russian side.[18]

Battle of Moscow[edit]

Kluge reviews Vichy French forces during the Battle of Moscow, November 1941.

During Operation Typhoon, the German advance on Moscow, Kluge had the 4th Panzer Group, under the command of Erich Hoepner, subordinated to the 4th Army. In early October, the 4th Panzer Group group completed the encirclement at Vyazma.

Kluge instructed Hoepner to pause the advance, much to the latter's displeasure, as his units were needed to prevent break-outs of Soviet forces. Hoepner was confident that the clearing of the pocket and the advance on Moscow could be undertaken at the same time and viewed Kluge's actions as interference, leading to friction and "clashes" with his superior, as he wrote in a letter home on 6 October.[19]

Hoepner did not seem to appreciate that his units were very short on fuel; the 11th Panzer Division, reported having no fuel at all. Only the 20th Panzer Division was advancing towards Moscow amid deteriorating road conditions.[20]

On 17 November, the 4th Panzer Group attacked again towards Moscow alongside the V Army Corps of the 4th Army, as part of the continuation of Operation Typhoon by Army Group Centre. The panzer group and the army corps represented Kluge’s best forces, most ready for a continued offensive. In two weeks' fighting, the German forces advanced 60 km (37 mi) (4 km (2.5 mi) per day).[21]

A lack of tanks, insufficient motor transport and a precarious supply situation, along with tenacious Red Army resistance and the air superiority achieved by Soviet fighters hampered the attack.[22]

Facing pressure from the German High Command, Kluge finally committed his weaker south flank to the attack on 1 December. In the aftermath of the battle, Hoepner and Guderian blamed Kluge's slow commitment of the south flank of the 4th Army to the attack for the German failure to reach Moscow. Historian David Stahel wrote that this assessment grossly overestimated the capabilities of Kluge’s remaining forces.[23] It also failed to appreciate the reality that Moscow was a metropolis that German forces lacked the numbers to encircle.[citation needed]

With the outer defensive belt completed by 25 November, Moscow was a fortified position which the Wehrmacht lacked the strength to take in a frontal assault.[24] Further attacks were called off on 5 December; the Red Army launched its winter counter-offensive on the same day.[25]

Army Group Centre[edit]

After Fedor von Bock was relieved of his command of Army Group Center in late 1941, Kluge was promoted and led that army group until he was injured in October 1943. Kluge frequently rode in an airplane to inspect the divisions under his command and sometimes relieved his boredom during the flights by shooting foxes from the air[26] — a decidedly non-traditional method.

On 30 October 1942, Kluge was the beneficiary of a letter of good wishes from Hitler together with a huge cheque made out to him from the German treasury and a promise that the costs of improving his estate could be billed to the German treasury.[27] Kluge initially accepted the money, but after severe criticism from his Chief of Staff, Henning von Tresckow, who upbraided him for corruption, he agreed to meet Carl Friedrich Goerdeler in November 1942.[28]

Kluge promised Goerdeler that he would arrest Hitler the next time he came to the Eastern Front, but then after receiving another "gift" from Hitler he changed his mind and decided to stay loyal.[29] Hitler, who seems to have heard that Kluge was dissatisfied with his leadership, regarded his "gifts" as entitling him to Kluge's total loyalty.[29]

On 27 October 1943, Kluge was badly injured when his car overturned on the MinskSmolensk road. He was unable to return to duty until July 1944. After his recovery he became commander of the German forces in the West (Oberbefehlshaber West) as Gerd von Rundstedt’s replacement.[citation needed]

Western Front[edit]

Between June and July 1944, during the invasion of Normandy by Allied forces, Erwin Rommel commanded Army Group B under Field Marshal von Rundstedt. Rommel was charged with planning German counterattacks intended to drive the Allied forces back to the beaches. On 5 July, Kluge replaced Rundstedt, because Rundstedt was advocating negotiation with the Allies. Two weeks later, Rommel was wounded and Kluge took over as commander of Army Group B as well, where Kluge's forces around the town of Falaise were encircled by combined U.S., Canadian, British, and Polish armies. In August, after the failed coup attempt by Claus von Stauffenberg, Kluge was recalled to Berlin and replaced by Model.

Kluge and 20 July plot[edit]

Kluge on the Western Front

A leading figure of the German military resistance, Henning von Tresckow, served as his Chief of Staff of Army Group Centre. Kluge may have been aware of the military resistance. He knew of Tresckow’s plan to shoot Hitler during a visit to Army Group Centre, having been informed by his former subordinate, Georg von Boeselager, who was now serving under Tresckow. At the last moment, Kluge aborted Tresckow's plan.[according to whom?]

Boeselager later speculated that because Heinrich Himmler had decided not to accompany Hitler, Kluge feared that without eliminating Himmler too, it could lead to a civil war between the SS and the Wehrmacht.[30]

When Stauffenberg attempted to assassinate Hitler on 20 July, Kluge was Oberbefehlshaber West ("Supreme Field Commander West") with his headquarters in La Roche-Guyon. The commander of the occupation troops of France, General Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel, and his colleague Colonel Cäsar von Hofacker – a cousin of Stauffenberg – came to visit Kluge. Stülpnagel had just ordered the arrest of the SS units in Paris. Kluge had already learned that Hitler had survived the assassination attempt and refused to provide any support. "Ja – wenn das Schwein tot wäre!" ("Yes – if the pig were dead!") he said.[31]

Death[edit]

On 17 August 1944, he was replaced by Walter Model and recalled to Berlin.[32] Hitler later reported to party and military officials that Kluge—anticipating punishment as a co-conspirator in the assassination attempt—committed suicide by taking potassium cyanide near Metz on 19 August.[32] He left Hitler a frank letter in which he advised him to make peace, and to show "the greatness that will be needed to put an end to a hopeless struggle". Hitler reportedly handed the letter to Alfred Jodl and commented that "There are strong reasons to suspect that had not Kluge committed suicide he would have been arrested anyway."[33]

According to Polish journalist Kazimierz Moczarski,(who was persecuted by the polish Communist Goverment and was inprisoned in the some prison cell as Stroop) SS Commander and convicted war criminal Jürgen Stroop claimed to have summarily executed Kluge for his role in the July 20 plot.[34] Stroop said that he offered Kluge a choice between suicide and a show trial, and that Kluge—much to Stroop's outrage—demanded a trial, so he shot Kluge in the head. Afterward, Himmler announced that the field marshal had committed suicide, like his colleague Erwin Rommel.[34]


Awards[edit]

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Barnett 1989, pp. 395-396.
  2. ^ Barnett 1989, pp. 396-398.
  3. ^ Kennedy 2015, p. 71.
  4. ^ Barrett, 1989 & 396-397.
  5. ^ Barnett 2015, pp. 79-80.
  6. ^ Kennedy 2015, p. 82.
  7. ^ a b Kennedy 2015, p. 98.
  8. ^ Kennedy 2015, p. 117.
  9. ^ Barnett 1989, pp. 396-397.
  10. ^ a b Horne 1969, pp. 204–207.
  11. ^ Horne 1969, p. 208.
  12. ^ Barnett 1989, pp. 397–398.
  13. ^ Horne 1969, pp. 324–326; 329–331.
  14. ^ Horne 1969, pp. 472–479.
  15. ^ a b c Barnett 1989, pp. 399–400.
  16. ^ a b Barnett 1989, pp. 401–402.
  17. ^ Horne 1969, pp. 641–643.
  18. ^ Siegen helfen, Das Schreckbild der sowjetischen "Flintenweiber", Die Zeit, 2011-05-24.
  19. ^ Stahel 2013, pp. 74–75, 95.
  20. ^ Stahel 2013, p. 95.
  21. ^ Stahel 2015, p. 228.
  22. ^ Stahel 2015, pp. 240–244.
  23. ^ Stahel 2015, pp. 229–230.
  24. ^ Stahel 2015, pp. 235–237, 250.
  25. ^ Stahel 2015, pp. 306–307.
  26. ^ Hoffmann 1977, p. 276.
  27. ^ Wheeler-Bennett 1953, p. 529.
  28. ^ Wheeler-Bennett 1953, pp. 529–530.
  29. ^ a b Wheeler-Bennett 1953, p. 530.
  30. ^ Knopp 2007, p. 226.
  31. ^ Knopp 2007, p. 251.
  32. ^ a b Blumenson, Martin (2014-08-15). United States Army in WWII - Europe - Breakout and Pursuit: [Illustrated Edition]. Pickle Partners Publishing. ISBN 9781782894148.
  33. ^ Shirer 1990, pp. 1076–77.
  34. ^ a b Moczarski, Kazimierz; Stroop, Jürgen (1981). Conversations with an Executioner. Prentice-Hall. ISBN 9780131719187.
  35. ^ Thomas 1997, p. 378.
  36. ^ a b c Scherzer 2007, p. 451.

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
none
Commander of 4th Army
1 December 1938 – 19 December 1941
Succeeded by
General der Gebirgstruppe Ludwig Kübler
Preceded by
Field Marshal Fedor von Bock
Commander of Army Group Centre
19 December 1941 – 12 October 1943
Succeeded by
Field Marshal Ernst Busch
Preceded by
Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt
Commander of Army Group D
2 July 1944 – 15 August 1944
Succeeded by
Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt
Preceded by
Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt
OB West
2 July 1944 – 16 August 1944
Succeeded by
Field Marshal Walter Model
Preceded by
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel
Commander of Army Group B
19 July 1944 – 17 August 1944
Succeeded by
Field Marshal Walter Model