Lieutenant-General Dr. Hans Speidel in 1944
28 October 1897|
|Died||28 November 1984
Bad Honnef, Germany
|Allegiance|| German Empire (to 1918)
Weimar Republic (to 1933)
Nazi Germany (to 1944)
|Service/branch|| Imperial German Army
|Years of service||1914–45
World War II
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
|Other work||Commander-in-Chief of the Allied ground forces in Central Europe from April 1957 to September 1963|
Hans Speidel (28 October 1897 – 28 November 1984) was a German general during World War II and the Cold War. The former chief of staff to Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, Speidel was an ardent German nationalist and agreed with Hitler's plans to establish a Greater Germany, but strongly disagreed with his racial policies. This led him to participate in the July 20 Plot to assassinate Hitler, after which he was jailed by the Gestapo. Post-war, he served as Supreme Commander of the NATO ground forces in Central Europe from 1957 to 1963, as the first German NATO commander during the Cold War, and with headquarters at the Palace of Fontainebleau in Paris. He was also a military historian.
Speidel was born in Metzingen. He joined the German Army in 1914 at the outbreak of World War I and was quickly promoted to second lieutenant. During the war he was a company commander at the Battle of the Somme and an adjutant. He stayed in the German Army during the interwar period and also studied history and economics at different universities. In 1926 he received his Ph.D. degree magna cum laude.
World War II
Speidel was promoted to lieutenant-colonel on the eve of World War II. He served in the French campaign of 1940 and in August became Chief of Staff of the military commander in France. In 1942 Speidel was sent to the Eastern Front where he served as Chief of Staff of the 5th Army Corps, and as Chief of Staff of 8th Army in 1943, by which time he had been promoted to major-general. A further promotion to lieutenant general followed on 1 January 1944. In April 1944, Speidel was appointed Chief of Staff to Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the Commander-in-Chief of Army Group B, responsible for the defense of the French Atlantic coast. When Rommel was wounded in an air attack on his staff car, Speidel continued as Chief of Staff for the new commander of Army Group B, Field Marshal Günther von Kluge.
On August 26, 1944, Speidel answered the phone when Alfred Jodl, the Fuhrer's chief of staff, called Field Marshal Model, commander in chief of the western front, with Hitler's order to start bombing Paris immediately with V1 and V2 rockets. Model was not in. Speidel never did pass on the order to his superior.
The July 20 Plot
Speidel, a professional soldier and German nationalist, agreed with those aspects of Hitler's policy that returned Germany to its place as a world power, but disagreed with the Nazis' racial policies. He was involved in the July 20 Plot to kill Adolf Hitler, and was one of the inner circle of conspirators. He had been delegated by anti-Hitler forces to recruit Rommel for the conspiracy, which he had cautiously begun to do prior to Rommel's injury in a Canadian strafing attack on 17 July 1944. Following the attempt the Gestapo rounded up, tortured and executed some five thousand Germans, including many high-ranking officers. Speidel's involvement was suspected by the Gestapo, and he was arrested on 7 September 1944.
Rommel, in his final letter to Hitler of 1 October 1944, appealed for Speidel's release, but received no answer. Under interrogation Speidel admitted nothing and betrayed no one. Speidel appeared before an Army Court of honour, but Gerd von Rundstedt, Heinz Guderian and Wilhelm Keitel refused to expel him from the German Army. Thus he was not compelled to appear before Roland Freisler's People's Court, which would have been a death sentence. He was jailed for seven months by the Gestapo.
As Allied forces approached the location where he was held, he slipped from his captors and went into hiding. He was freed by French troops on 29 April 1945.
According to an article in Der Spiegel, which cited documents released by the Bundesnachrichtendienst in 2014, Speidel may have been part of the Schnez-Truppe, a secret illegal army that veterans of the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS established up from 1949 in Germany.
After the war Speidel served for some time as professor of modern history at Tübingen and in 1950 published his book Invasion 1944: Rommel and the Normandy Campaign before being involved in both the development and creation of the new German Army (Bundeswehr) which he joined, reaching the NATO rank of full general. He was subsequently appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied NATO ground forces in Central Europe in April 1957, a command that he held until retirement in September 1963. His headquarters were at the Palace of Fontainebleau in Paris.
In 1960, Speidel took legal action against an East German film studio which portrayed him as having been privy to the assassinations of King Alexander I of Yugoslavia and French Foreign Minister Louis Barthou in 1934, as well as having betrayed Field Marshal Erwin Rommel to the Nazis after the 20 July Plot in 1944. He successfully claimed damages for libel; see Plato Films Ltd v Speidel  AC 1090.
- Lieutenant (November 1915)
- First Lieutenant (1 April 1925)
- Captain (1 February 1932)
- Colonel (1 February 1941)
- Lieutenant-General (1 January 1944)
- General (four-star rank) (14 June 1957)
- German Cross in Gold on 8 October 1942 as Oberst im Generstab in the general staff V. Armeekorps
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 1 April 1944 as Generalleutnant and chief of the general staff of the 8. Armee
- Iron Cross, first class, 1914 (see photo)
- Iron Cross, first class, 1939
- Lapierre, Dominique, A Thousand Suns,Warner Books, 1997, p.129
- Wiegrefe, Klaus, "Files Uncovered: Nazi veterans Created Illegal Army", Spiegel Online, 14 May 2014
- Patzwall & Scherzer 2001, p. 450.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 404.
- 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.
- Patzwall, Klaus D.; Scherzer, Veit (2001). Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941 – 1945 Geschichte und Inhaber Band II [The German Cross 1941 – 1945 History and Recipients Volume 2] (in German). Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall. ISBN 978-3-931533-45-8.
- 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.
- Searle, Alaric. Wehrmacht Generals, West German Society, and the Debate on Rearmament, 1949-1959, Praeger Pub., 2003.
- Speidel, Hans (1950). Invasion 1944: Rommel and the Normandy Campaign. Chicago: Henry Regnery.