Hermann Balck

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For the 13th century Teutonic Knight, see Hermann Balk.
Hermann Balck
Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-732-0118-03, Hermann Balck.jpg
Hermann Balck, 1943
Born (1893-12-07)7 December 1893
Danzig-Langfuhr, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire now Wrzeszcz borough, Gdańsk, Pomeranian Voivodeship, Poland
Died 29 November 1982(1982-11-29) (aged 88)
Asperg, Baden-Württemberg, West Germany
Allegiance  German Empire (to 1918)
 Weimar Republic (to 1933)
 Nazi Germany
Years of service 1913–45
Rank General der Panzertruppe
Battles/wars

World War I


World War II

Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds
Relations William Balck (father)

Hermann Balck (7 December 1893 – 29 November 1982) was a highly decorated officer of the German Army who served in both World War I and World War II, rising to the rank of General der Panzertruppe. His father, William Balck, was a Generalleutnant in the German Army and a writer on tactics before and immediately after the First World War.

Early career[edit]

Balck was born in Danzig - Langfuhr, present-day Wrzeszcz in Poland. He was the son of William Balck and his wife Mathilde, née Jensen. Balck was from a family with a long military tradition.[1] His great-grandfather served in the 7th Battalion King's German Legion, his grandfather George served in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel[2] whilst his father was a Lieutenant General[3]

On 10 April 1913 Balck entered the Hanoverian Rifle Battalion 10 in Goslar as a cadet. From 12 February 1914 he attended the Hanovarian Military College, where he remained until called up with the outbreak of the First World War in August.

Balck served as a mountain infantry officer, and his unit played a key role in the Schlieffen Plan, leading the crossing at Sedan. He fought on the western, eastern, Italian and Balkan fronts. He served three years as a company commander, ending the war in command of a machine-gun company. At one point he led an extended patrol that operated independently behind Russian lines for several weeks. Over the course of the war he was wounded seven times and awarded the Iron Cross First Class. Balck was nominated for Prussia's highest honor, the Pour le Mérite, in October 1918, but the war ended before his citation completed processing.[1]

During the interwar period Balck was selected as one of the 4,000 officers to continue on in the military serving in the Reichswehr. He transferred to the 18th Cavalry Regiment in 1922, and remained with that unit for 12 years. Balck twice turned down a post in the German General Staff, the normal path for advancing to high rank in the German army, preferring instead to remain a line officer.

World War II[edit]

1st Panzer Division crossing a pontoon bridge on the Meuse near Sedan, 1940.
Balck in command vehicle in Greece, April 1941

At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Balck was serving as a staff officer in the Inspectorate of Motorized Troops, which was in charge of refitting and reorganizing the growing panzer forces. In October he was placed in command of one of the mechanised regiments of the 1st Panzer Division, with which he served during the Battle of France.[4] The 1st Panzer Division made up a part of Guderian's panzer corps. Balck's regiment spearheaded a crossing over the Meuse, and established a bridgehead on the far side.

During the winter of 1940 through the spring of 1941 he commanded a panzer regiment, and led this unit during the Battle of Greece. He later commanded a panzer brigade in the same division. He returned to staff duties in the Inspectorate of Armoured Forces in the OKH in July 1941. In May 1942, Balck went to the Eastern Front in command of the 11th Panzer Division in Ukraine and southern Russia.[5] Following the encirclement of the 6th Army at Stalingrad in the Soviet Operation Uranus, the German southern front faced a generalized collapse. Balck's division took part in the efforts to stop the Soviet advance. For this and other achievements Balck was made one of only twenty-seven officers in the entire war who received the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds.[6]

Balck was then given command of the Heer's elite unit, Großdeutschland Division which he led at Zhitomir in 1943. After a brief posting to Italy in which he commanded the XIV Panzer Corps, he returned to command the XLVIII Panzer Corps on the Eastern Front in December 1943, as well as the operations against the Soviet winter/spring offensive in western Ukraine in 1944. In July 1944 Balck commanded the Corps during the initial phase of the Soviet Lvov-Sandomierz Offensive. Balck was closely involved in the failed relief attempted of the encircled XIII Army Corps in the Brody pocket, where it was destroyed. In August 1944 he assumed command of the 4th Panzer Army.

In September 1944 he was transferred from 4th Panzer Army in Poland to the Western Front to command Army Group G in relief of General Johannes Blaskowitz in the Alsace region of France. Balck was unable to stop the Allied advance under General George S. Patton, and in late December he was relieved of command of Army Group G and placed in the officer reserve pool. By the intervention of General Heinz Guderian he was transferred to command the reconstituted 6th Army in Hungary,[7] which also had operational control of two Hungarian armies. Balck's unit surrendered to the U.S. XX Corps in Austria on 8 May 1945.

Postwar life[edit]

Balck was a POW and remained in captivity until 1947. He declined to participate in the US Army Historical Division's study on the war. After the war Balck found employment as a depot worker. In 1948 he was arrested for murder for the execution of artillery commander Lieutenant-Colonel Johann Schottke. The incident in question occurred while Balck served as commander of Army Group G on the western front. On 28 November 1944 near Saarbrücken, Schottke's unit had failed to provide its supportive artillery fire upon its target area. When searched for he was found drunk on duty. Balck held a summary judgment, and Schottke was executed by firing squad. The sentence and execution were conducted without the ordained military tribunal. Balck was found guilty and sentenced to three years. He served half of this sentence before being granted early release.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s Balck teamed with Friedrich von Mellenthin to participate in a number of seminars and panel discussions with senior NATO leaders at the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Career assessment[edit]

Balck was considered a gifted commander of armored troops,[8] exemplified by his handling of 11th Panzer Division and XLVIII Panzer Corps during 1942-43. In reviewing Balck's command of the division during the Chir River crisis of December 1942, U.S. General William DePuy estimated Balck to have been "perhaps the best division commander in the German Army." A number of the battles Balck directed are described in Panzer Battles, the memoir of the former general Friedrich von Mellenthin, whom he met when Balck's 11th Panzer Division came under the command of the XLVIII Panzer Corps. At the time Mellenthin was serving as Chief of Staff of the XLVIII Panzer Corps.[1]

Balck started the war as an Oberstleutnant (lieutenant-colonel) in 1939 and ended it as a General der Panzertruppe (lieutenant-general of armored troops). Balck was one of only twenty-seven officers in the Wehrmacht to receive the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds.[1] His career was detailed in contrast to that of Alfred Jodl in Weapons and Hope by Freeman Dyson. Balck's own autobiography is entitled Ordnung im Chaos: Erinnerungen, 1893-1948.

Awards[edit]

Promotions in the Wehrmacht
1 June 1935: Major (major)[10]
1 February 1938: Oberstleutnant (lieutenant colonel)[10]
1 Oberst 1940: Oberst (colonel)[10]
1 August 1942: Generalmajor[10]
21 January 1943: Generalleutnant (major general)[12]
12 November 1943: General der Panzertruppe (Lieutenant General of Armoured Troops)[12]

Works[edit]

  • Balck, Hermann (1981). Ordnung im Chaos / Erinnerungen 1893 - 1948. Biblio, Osnabrück. ISBN 3-7648-1176-5.
  • Balck, Hermann (2015). "Order in Chaos: The Memoirs of General of Panzer Troops Hermann Balck" Ed. and Trans. Major General David T. Zabecki, USA (Ret.) and Lieutenant Colonel Dieter J. Biedekarken, USA (Ret.). UP Kentucky, Lexington. ISBN 0-8131-6126-6.[13]

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Zabecki, David T. "The Greatest German General No One Has Ever Heard Of". World War II Magazine. Retrieved 12 May 2008. 
  2. ^ pp. 3-4 Balck, Hermann Order in Chaos: The Memoirs of General of Panzer Troops Hermann Balck University Press of Kentucky, 15 May 2015
  3. ^ p. 735 Caddick-Adams, Peter Snow & Steel: The Battle of the Bulge, 1944-45 Oxford University Press, 2015
  4. ^ Mellenthin p. 13
  5. ^ Glantz & House 2009, p. 27.
  6. ^ Zabecki, David T. (12 May 2008). "The Greatest German General No One Has Ever Heard Of". World War II Magazine. 
  7. ^ Ziemke 2002, p. 385.
  8. ^ http://www.historynet.com/the-greatest-german-general-no-one-ever-heard-of.htm
  9. ^ a b c d Thomas 1997, p. 20.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i Thomas & Wegmann 1987, p. 204.
  11. ^ a b c d Scherzer 2007, p. 200.
  12. ^ a b Thomas & Wegmann 1987, p. 205.
  13. ^ http://kentuckypress.com/live/title_detail.php?titleid=3628

Bibliography[edit]

  • Glantz, David M.; House, Jonathan (2009). To the Gates of Stalingrad: Soviet-German Combat Operations, April-August 1942. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0-7006-1630-5. 
  • Mellenthin, Friedrich-Wilhelm von Panzer Battles. Old Saybrook, CT: Konecky & Konecky, 1956. ISBN 1-56852-578-8
  • 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. 
  • Thomas, Franz; Wegmann, Günter (1987). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Deutschen Wehrmacht 1939–1945 Teil III: Infanterie Band 1: A–Be [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the German Wehrmacht 1939–1945 Part III: Infantry Volume 1: A–Be] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-1153-2. 
  • Thomas, Franz (1997). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 1: A–K [The Oak Leaves Bearers 1939–1945 Volume 1: A–K] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2299-6. 
  • Ziemke, Earl F. (2002). Stalingrad to Berlin: The German Defeat in the East. Washington D.C.: Center of Military History, US Army. ISBN 9781780392875. 
Military offices
Preceded by
Generalleutnant Walter Scheller
Commander of 11. Panzer Division
16 May 1942 – 4 March 1943
Succeeded by
General der Infanterie Dietrich von Choltitz
Preceded by
General der Panzertruppe Heinrich Eberbach
Commander of XLVIII Panzer Corps
15 November 1943 – 19 August 1944
Succeeded by
General der Panzertruppe Walther Nehring
Preceded by
General der Panzertruppe Walther Nehring
Commander of 4. Panzer-Armee
5 August 1944 – 21 September 1944
Succeeded by
General der Panzertruppe Fritz-Hubert Gräser
Preceded by
General Johannes Blaskowitz
Commander of Heeresgruppe G
21 September 1944 – 23 December 1944
Succeeded by
General Johannes Blaskowitz
Preceded by
General Maximilian Fretter-Pico
Commander of 6. Armee
23 December 1944 – 8 May 1945
Succeeded by
none