Walther Wenck

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Walther Wenck
Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-237-1051-15A, Walter Wenck.jpg
Walther Wenck
Nickname(s) Boy General
Born (1900-09-18)18 September 1900
Wittenberg, Province of Saxony, German Empire
Died 1 May 1982(1982-05-01) (aged 81)
near Ried im Innkreis, Upper Austria
Allegiance  Weimar Republic
 Nazi Germany
Service/branch Army
Years of service 1920–45
Rank General der Panzertruppe
Commands held 12th Army
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
Other work Arms Manufacturing

Walther Wenck (18 September 1900 – 1 May 1982) was the youngest General of the branch[1] (General der Truppengattung) in the German Army and a staff officer during World War II. At the end of the war, he commanded the German Twelfth Army that took part in the Battle of Berlin.[2]

Historians consider Wenck a capable commander and a brilliant improviser, although incapable of the impossible task he was given of saving Berlin in 1945.[3][4][5]

Career[edit]

Born in 1900, Wenck joined a paramilitary group (Freikorps) in 1919 and then the Army (Reichswehr) of the Weimar Republic in 1920. From 1939 to 1942, Wenck was Chief of Operations for the 1st Panzer Division. In 1942, he was an instructor at the War Academy, chief of staff for the LVII Corps, and then the Third Romanian Army on the Eastern Front.

From 1942 to 1943, he was chief of staff of "Army Detachment Hollidt", named after Karl-Adolf Hollidt, which was subordinated to the Third Romanian Army. In 1943, he was Chief of Staff of the ill-fated Sixth Army. From 1943 to 1944, Wenck served in the same capacity in the 1st Panzer Army. In 1944, he was chief of staff of Army Group South Ukraine. There he first attracted Adolf Hitler's attention with his report about conditions on the Eastern Front, saying, "As you see My Führer, the Eastern Front is like Swiss cheese, full of holes." Even though he was reprimanded for using informal language, Hitler commended the "liveliness" of his report.[6]

On about 22 July 1944, Wenck was appointed Chief of Operations at OKH by Guderian, who had just been appointed as OKH Chief of Staff by Hitler.[7] He was soon advanced to Chief of Command Staff (Chief of the Fuehrungsstabs) an office that replaced Quartermaster General I.[8]

On 13 February 1945, after a long argument, Guderian persuaded Hitler to make Wenck chief of staff of Army Group Vistula (with the power to launch an attack) under Himmler.[9] Wenck's attack was initially successful, but Hitler requested him to attend daily Fuehrer briefings which forced him to make a daily round trip of 200 miles. On February 14, 1945, an extremely tired Wenck took the driving wheel from his driver Dorn who had collapsed. Wenck then fell asleep at the wheel and crashed his car off the road. Saved by Dorn, he ended up in the hospital with a fractured skull and five broken ribs. Meanwhile, the attack failed.[10]

On 10 April 1945, Wenck was appointed commander of the German Twelfth Army located to the west of Berlin to guard against the advancing American and British forces. But, as the Western Front moved eastwards and the Eastern Front moved westwards, the German armies making up both fronts backed towards each other. As a result, the area of control of Wenck's army to his rear and east of the Elbe River had become a vast refugee camp for German civilians fleeing from approaching Soviet forces. Wenck took great pains to provide food and lodging for these refugees. At one stage, the Twelfth Army was estimated to be feeding more than a quarter million people every day.[11]

Battle of Berlin[edit]

On 21 April, Adolf Hitler ordered SS-General Felix Steiner to attack the forces of Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front. Zhukov's forces were encircling Berlin from the north. The forces of Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev's 1st Ukrainian Front were encircling Berlin from the south. Steiner was to attack Zhukov with his Army Detachment Steiner. With few operational tanks and roughly a division's worth of infantry, Steiner requested that his "army" be allowed to retreat instead of attacking.

On 22 April, as Steiner retreated, Wenck's Twelfth Army became Hitler's last hope to save Berlin. Wenck was ordered to disengage the Americans to his west and, attacking to the east, link up with the Ninth Army of General der Infanterie Theodor Busse. Together, they would attack the Soviets encircling Berlin from the west and from the south. Meanwhile, the XLI Panzer Corps under General Rudolf Holste would attack the Soviets from the north.

Wenck's forces attacked towards Berlin, but they were halted outside of Potsdam by strong Soviet resistance. Neither Busse nor Holste made much progress towards Berlin. By the end of the day on 27 April, the Soviet forces encircling Berlin linked up and the forces inside the city were cut off.

During the night of 28 April, Wenck reported to the German Supreme Army Command in Fuerstenberg that his Twelfth Army had been forced back along the entire front. According to Wenck, no attack on Berlin was possible as support from Busse's Ninth Army could no longer be expected. Instead, Wenck moved his army towards the Forest of Halbe and linked up with the remnants of the Ninth Army, Hellmuth Reymann's "Army Group Spree," and the Potsdam garrison. Wenck brought his army, remnants of the Ninth Army, and many civilian refugees across the Elbe and into territory occupied by the U.S. Army.

According to Antony Beevor, Wenck's eastward attack toward Berlin was aimed specifically at providing the population and garrison of Berlin with an escape route to areas occupied by U.S. forces: "Comrades, you've got to go in once more," Wenck said. "It's not about Berlin any more, it's not about the Reich any more." Their task was to save people from the fighting and the Russians. [...] Wenck's leadership struck a powerful chord, even if the reactions varied between those who believed in a humanitarian operation and those keener to surrender to the Western allies instead of the Russians.[12] According to Randall Hansen, Wenck's actions, with the help of luck and U.S. General William Simpson, successfully evacuated a large number of troops and civilians (variously estimated from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands), with Wenck himself being one of the last who crossed the river.[13][14][15]

Later life[edit]

Wenck was taken prisoner by the U.S. Army. He was released in 1947, and Wenck then began a second career as an industrialist. During the 1950s, Wenck worked as the managing director of Dr. C. Otto & Comp., a producer of industrial ovens, and in the 1960s as the director of the Diehl Group, an arms manufacturer.[16]

He was invited to become Inspector General of the Bundeswehr, but refused after being informed that his requirements (turning the office into that of Commander-in-chief, etc.) could not be met.[17][18] On 1 May 1982, Wenck died while on a trip to Austria, when his car crashed against a tree. He was buried in his hometown of Bad Rothenfelde in Lower Saxony a few days later.[19]

Awards[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ O'Reilly, Bill; Dugard, Martin (2014). Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II's Most Audacious General. Pan Macmillan. ISBN 9781447286158. 
  2. ^ O'Reilly & Dugard 2014.
  3. ^ Mitcham 2012, p. 167.
  4. ^ Mcateer, Sean M. (2009). 500 Days: The War in Eastern Europe, 1944-1945. Dorrance Publishing. p. 338. ISBN 9781434961594. 
  5. ^ O'Reilly 2014, p. 248.
  6. ^ Bradley, Dermot (1982). Walther Wenck, General der Panzertruppe. Biblio Verlag. p. 307. ISBN 9783764812836. 
  7. ^ Guderian, Heinz (1974). Panzer Leader. Futura Publications. p. 343. 
  8. ^ Görlitz, Walter (1953). The German General Staff: its history and structure 1657-1945. Hollis & Carter. pp. 478, 492. 
  9. ^ Tully, Andrew (1963). Berlin: The Story of a Battle. eNet Press. pp. 67–68. ISBN 9781618867285. 
  10. ^ Mitcham Jr., Samuel W.; Mueller, Gene (2012). Hitler's Commanders: Officers of the Wehrmacht, the Luftwaffe, the Kriegsmarine, and the Waffen-SS. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 169. ISBN 9781442211544. 
  11. ^ Ryan 1966: p. 443
  12. ^ Beevor 2002: p. 286
  13. ^ Hansen, Randall. Disobeying Hitler: German Resistance After Valkyrie. pp. 320–323. ISBN 9780199927920. 
  14. ^ Le Tissier, Tony (Mar 8, 2012). Slaughter at Halbe: The Destruction of Hitler's 9th Army. The History Press. ISBN 9780752495347. 
  15. ^ Zumbro, Derek (2006). Battle for the Ruhr: The German Army's Final Defeat in the West. University Press of Kansas. p. 410. ISBN 9780700614905. 
  16. ^ DER SPIEGEL 19/1982 - GESTORBEN - Walter Wenck
  17. ^ Bradley, Dermot (1985). Walther Wenck, General der Panzertruppe. Biblio. p. 399. ISBN 9783764814595. 
  18. ^ "GESTORBEN Walter Wenck" (DER SPIEGEL 19/1982). 10 May 1982. 
  19. ^ "Crash kills retired Gen. Wenck, who defied Hitler's suicidal order". Chicago Tribune. 8 May 1982. p. 10. Retrieved 4 March 2017. 
  20. ^ Scherzer 2007, p. 777.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Beevor, Antony (2002). Berlin, The Downfall 1945. Viking. 
  • O'Reilly, Bill; Dugard, Martin (2014). Killing Patton: the strange death of World War II's most audacious general. Henry Holt and Company, New York. ISBN 978-0-8050-9668-2. OCLC 881469212. 
  • 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. 
  • Ryan, Cornelius (1966). Last Battle. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 443. 
  • 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. 

External links[edit]

  • "Walter Wenck". Der Spiegel (in German). 19. 1982. Retrieved 18 November 2015. 
Military offices
Preceded by
Generaloberst Alexander Löhr
reformed
Commander of 12. Armee
10 April 1945 – 7 May 1945
Succeeded by
disbanded