Gerhard von Schwerin
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|Gerhard von Schwerin|
Gerhard von Schwerin
23 June 1899|
|Died||29 October 1980
|Allegiance|| German Empire
|Years of service||1914–20, 1923–45.|
|Rank||General der Panzertruppe|
World War II
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords|
|Other work||Political advisor|
Gerhard von Schwerin (23 June 1899 – 29 October 1980) was a German general during World War II.
World War I
Gerhard von Schwerin was born to a Prussian aristocratic family 1899; his father was a civil official in the Prussian State Government. At the age of 15 entering the military cadet school at Koslin. Joining the Prussian Army's 2nd Foot Guards Regiment as a Fahnrich (commissioned officer cadet), he subsequently transferred to the 2nd (1st Pomeranian) Grenadier Regiment.
Schwerin saw action with the infantry on both the Eastern and Western fronts in 1918 whilst still a teenager, serving as a company commander and battalion adjutant. He was wounded in action on 26 September 1918, and hospitalized until the war's end in November 1918. In 1918 he was awarded the Iron Cross for gallantry in action, both 2nd Class and 1st Class.
Schwerin was discharged from the army in 1920. He spent the following two years engaged in a managerial business apprenticeship with a coffee import firm in Bremen, and a petroleum company in Berlin. In 1922 he rejoined the Reichswehr as a professional soldier, being commissioned with the rank of lieutenant into the Prussian Army's Infantry Regiment No.1. In 1931 he joined Infantry Regiment No.18 in Paderborn. He was promoted to captain in May 1933. From 1933 to 1935 he attended the General Staff course at the Prussian Military Academy in Berlin. Whilst Schwerin was at the Academy the German Chancellor Adolf Hitler seized autocratic governing power in a paramilitary political revolution in Berlin, abolished the Weimar Republic state with the passing into law of the Enabling Act of 1933, and declared an ideological militarist dictatorship titled the III Reich, fundamentally altering the post-World War 1 political order in Europe. In October 1938 Schwerin was promoted to the rank of major. At the end of the 1930s he was a staff-officer with Oberkommando des Heeres (Supreme High Command on the German Army).
In January 1939, whilst Schwerin was working in the British/U.S.A. intelligence section of the German War Ministry at the German Embassy in London, he made a clandestine personal approach to the British Government, suggesting that if it abandoned its policy of appeasement towards the III Reich, and instead moved to a stance of open military opposition towards its escalating aggression in central Europe, this would provide a rallying point and catalyst for elements in the German military who were at that time considering launching a coup d'etat against the National Socialist governing regime of Adolf Hitler. At a dinner party in Marylebone hosted by Admiral Sir Aubrey Smith, Schwerin met James Stuart, representing the British Government, Admiral John Godfrey, head of naval intelligence, and General Sir James Marshall-Cornwall, Director-General of air and coastal defence, to warn them of Hitler's intention to attack Poland. Along with the suggestion that Great Britain's and Germany's best interests would be served by Neville Chamberlain being replaced as Prime Minister by Winston Churchill, Schwerin advocated that pressure for an internal military coup by anti-Nazi elements of the Wehrmacht that he was aware of back in Germany could be induced by the deployment of a squadron of Royal Navy battleships taking up a hostile position off Germany's Northern shore in the Baltic Sea, and the Royal Air Force moving elements of its Bomber Command to a pre-battle theatre station in French airfields, as a means of indicating the British Empire's ultimate willingness for a confrontation with the Nazi regime. This politico-military strategy was communicated to Chamberlain, but was rejected as being too aggressive at that point as a way of dealing with the gathering menace of the Third Reich, although Schwerin's representation to the British Government may have contributed to its collective assessments which were on-going at that time as to how to deal with Adolf Hitler, and the decision to make a stand on the Polish border eight months later rather than somewhere else. Frank Roberts, an official in the Foreign Office's German Department who also dealt with the issue, lightly-heartedly - in spite of the risk that Schwerin had taken in making such a move on the eve of war, which would constitute high treason and a capital crime in the Third Reich's jurisdiction if it was discovered - dismissed the subject-matter of Schwerin's approaches as being an internal matter for the German generals. In April 1939 Schwerin was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
World War II
On return to Germany, as the war was declared a few months later in September 1939, which his manoeuvring in London had failed to avert, Schwerin assumed duties as a frontline German military officer, and what followed was an extensive campaign career which took him from fighting in the Low Countries and France to North Africa, Russia to Germany and Italy.
He received command of the 1st Battalion Motorized Infantry Regiment of the Grossdeutschland Division on the war's outbreak, and took part of the invasion and defeat of France in 1940 (elements of troops under his command in this unit committed two massacres of disarmed French Imperial African Senegalese Tirailleurs whom they had captured as prisoners of war during the invasion). He also commanded up to 1941 the Rifle Regiment No.86, and the Grossdeutschland Regiment.
Whilst with the Afrika Korps on 7 April 1941, commanding the Special Purposes Regiment No. 200, Schwerin led a long-range joint German and Italian commando force deep into the British Empire's lines in Libya to capture the Mechili oasis, heralding the Afrika Korps' entry into operations in North Africa under the leadership of Erwin Rommel, which resulted in almost 3000 British Imperial prisoners of war being rounded-up, 3 generals in their number.
In late 1941 he returned to Europe to take part in Operation Barbarossa, commanding Infantry Regiment No. 76 in the charge Eastwards into the Soviet Union, for which he received the Knight's Cross in January 1942. From April to May 1942 he briefly commanded the 254th Infantry Brigade, before being appointed to the command of the 8th Jaeger Division in mid-1942 on the Eastern Front. In October 1942 he was promoted to the rank of major-general. From November 1942 he commanded the 16th Panzer Grenadier Division on the Eastern Front (being promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general in June 1943), being involved in the fighting around Stalingrad, and subsequently being awarded the Oak Leaves and also the Swords of the Iron Cross (personally presented by Adolf Hitler at a ceremony in the Berghof on Schwerin's arrival back in Germany) for his handling of the Division during the retreat from Russia whilst harried continually by overwhelming pursuing Soviet forces.
The 16th Panzer Grenadier Division was transferred to France in March 1944, the unit being militarily upgraded to become the 116th Panzer Division. During the fighting with the American and British Empire forces that had entered France in 1944, Schwerin was temporarily removed from the command of 116th Division after a difference of opinion with a superior, but was re-appointed to the post shortly afterwards.
Battle of Aachen
As the American Army's advance crossed the Belgian border into Germany, it found the town of Aachen in its path on 13 September 1944, which Schwerin's 116th Panzer-Division was within. By this time, 116th "Division" had been reduced to 600 men, twelve seviceable tanks and was bereft of artillery guns. Coming to the conclusion that his force didn't possess the strength to deny the town to the Allies, and an attempt to do so would be a tactically futile loss of life and endangerment of the town's civilians, several thousand of whom had not been evacuated from what was now about to become the fighting line, and also to try to protect the city's historical architecture and relics from being destroyed - Aachen being the ancient capital and crowning site of the kings of the Holy Roman Empire - Schwerin unilaterally decided to withdraw from Aachen and declare it an open town without seeking approval from superior command, in a manner similar to what General Dietrich von Choltitz had done in Paris two weeks earlier. Schwerin wrote a communique for the approaching American commander notifying him of this decision and requesting that he treat the remaining German civilian population humanely, which he left at the town's post office. As he was preparing to abandon the town, Schwerin received intelligence from senior command headquarters informing him that the American advance appeared to have halted to re-group, a large scale attack upon Aachen in consequence was not imminent, and notifying him that reinforcements were en route to him for the town's defense.
At this moment, an American reconnaissance force appeared in the South-West suburb of Aachen, which Schwerin received orders to counter-attack and bar from entering the town, which he complied with, ordering the 116th Division's grenadiers to engage it and force it back out. Given the rapidly changing situation, he dispatched an officer to retrieve the 'open town' communique that he had left at the post office, but by this time it had fallen into the hands of roaming Schutzstaffel security police operating in Aachen under the personal authority of Adolf Hitler, who had been sent in to stiffen resistance against any signs of wavering in the line by the German Army's officer corps. On reading the communique's content, they ordered Schwerin be immediately relieved of command and placed under close-arrest, and organized General Gerhard Wilck being sent in to replace him at the head of the 116th Division.
Italian Front and surrender
With the aid of Field Marshals Gerd von Rundstedt and Walter Model Schwerin received only a severe reprimand for his actions at Aachen. He was then ordered to the Italian front to take over the command of the LXXVI Panzerkorps in December 1944. At the beginning of April 1945 he was promoted to the rank of General of Panzer Troops. On 26 April 1945 he was taken prisoner of war on the Italian front by the British Army. He was released from post-war Allied military custody in late 1947.
In May 1950 Schwerin was appointed to the post of chief advisor on military issues and security policy to the Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, and head of the covert government agency Dienststelle Schwerin (with the code name "Zentrale für Heimatdienst"), responsible for the reconstruction of West Germany's military whilst under American occupation during the Cold War. However, after he talked to the press about his work he was replaced by Theodor Blank in October 1950. Schwerin subsequently was active as an advisor on military policy for the parliamentary group of the Free Democratic Party of Germany.
Schwerin sought to augment his Prussian Officer anti-Nazi credentials in West Germany's post-war political environment on the basis of his initial decision to withdraw from Aachen by styling himself as the "Saviour of Aachen" (although substantial fighting and destruction had occurred in the town in the Battle of Aachen after his arrest and removal from the scene). This narrative found some acceptance, with his being granted the honour by the town of having a street 'Graf Schwerin Strasse' (Count Schwerin's Street) named after him and being given civic awards at ceremonies held there in the 1950s and 1970s. The honour of the street name was withdrawn in 2008 after local political opposition in the town, upon the basis that while Schwerin was briefly Aachen's military commandant, two teenage boys had been summarily executed for looting. The name of the street was in consequence changed to the 'Kornelimunsterweg'.
Schwerin was married three times. The first marriage was with Herta Kannengiesser; the second was with Julia Zulich, two children resulting: Gabrielle (b. August 1932) and Christian (b. January 1939), two grandsons Alex von Rutenberg and Maximilian zu Sayn Wittgenstein. The last marriage was with Esther Klippel. Schwerin died in 1980.
- Clasp to the Iron Cross (1939) 2nd Class (11 May 1940) & 1st Class (19 May 1940)
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
- 'Geneall' website detailing the family history of the Von Schwerins. http://geneall.net/en/name/1845027/anna-karoline-emilie-eugenie-von-puttkamer/
- 'The Siegfried Line: The German Defence of the West Wall, September to December 1944' by S.W. Mitcham (Pub. Stackpole Books, 2009)
- 'The Siegfried Line: The German Defence of the West Wall, September to December 1944', S. Mitcham (2009)
- 'Tourists of the Revolution', (1997) television documentary by 'First Circle Films', England.
- Interview with Sir Frank Roberts, 'Tourists of the Revolution' television documentary, 'First Circle Films', England (1997).
- Day 2015, pp. 92-93.
- Marshall-Cornwall 1984, p. 125.
- 'The Siegfried Line, the German Defence of the West Wall, September to December 1944' (2009), S. Mitcham
- 'Bloody Aachen', by C. Whiting, Spellmount (2000).
- 'Bloody Aachen' by C. Whiting, Spellmount (2000).
- 'Bloody Aachen' C. Whiting, Spellmount (2000).
- 'German Order of Battle', Vol. 3, Panzer, Panzer Grenadier& Waffen S.S. Divisions in WWII, by S. Mitcham (Pub. Stackpole, 2007).
- 'The Siegfried Line:The German Defence of the West Wall. September to December 1944', by S. Mitcham (2009).
- 'Aachener Nachrichten' 10 March 2009, 'Graf Schwerin hat noch seine Strasse' https://www.aachener-nachrichten.de/lokales/aachen/graf-schwerin-hat-noch-seine-strasse-1.308061
- 'Historian Peter Quadflieg dispels the myth of Count Schwerin', Aachener Zeitung, 15 October 2014. http://www.aachener-zeitung.de/lokales/region/historker-peter-quadflieg-raeumt-mit-dem-mythos-graf-schwerin-auf-1.936919
- 'Geneall' website detailing the family history of the von Schwerins. http://geneall.net/en/name/1845046/gerhard-helmuth-detloff-count-of-schwerin/
- Thomas 1998, p. 310.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 697.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 41.
- Day, Peter (2015). The Bedbug: Klop Ustinov: Britain's most Ingenious Spy. London, UK: Biteback Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84954-946-2.
- Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000) . Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 — Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtteile [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.
- Marshall-Cornwall, James (1984). Wars and Rumours of Wars. London: Secker & Warburg. ISBN 978-0-436-27322-3.
- Quadflieg, Peter M. (2014). Gerhard Graf von Schwerin (1899-1980). Karrierepfade eines Generals zwischen Kaiserreich und Bundesrepublik, Dissertation RWTH Aachen University (in German, 640 p.).
- Quadflieg, Peter M. (2015). Gerhard Graf von Schwerin. Wehrmachtgeneral Kanzlerberater Lobbyist (in German). Paderborn, Germany: Ferdinand Schöningh. ISBN 978-3-506782-29-8.
- Rass, Christoph; Rohrkamp, René; Quadflieg, Peter M. (2007). General Graf von Schwerin und das Kriegsende in Aachen. Ereignis, Mythos, Analyse (in German). Aachen: Shaker. ISBN 978-3-8322-6623-3.
- 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 Militaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.
- Searle, Alaric (2003). Wehrmacht Generals, West German Society, and the Debate on Rearmament, 1949–1959. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers. ISBN 978-0-275-97968-3.
- 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.
- Barth, Alexander (15 October 2014). "Historiker Peter Quadflieg räumt mit dem Mythos Graf Schwerin auf". Aachener Zeitung. Retrieved 3 March 2016.
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