Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb
|Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb|
Field Marshal Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb
5 September 1876|
Landsberg am Lech, Bavaria, German Empire
|Died||29 April 1956
Füssen, West Germany
|Years of service||1895–1938; 1939–1942|
Wilhelm Josef Franz Ritter von Leeb (5 September 1876 – 29 April 1956) was a German field marshal of the Second World War, during which his younger brother, Emil Leeb, rose to the rank of General der Artillerie. In 1940, after the Fall of France, Leeb was promoted to field marshal during the 1940 Field Marshal Ceremony.
Born in Landsberg am Lech, Upper Bavaria, the young Wilhelm Josef Franz Leeb joined the Bavarian Army in 1895 as an officer cadet. After being commissioned as a lieutenant of artillery, Leeb served in China during the Boxer Rebellion. He later attended the Bavarian War Academy in Munich from 1907 to 1909, before two years' service on the General Staff in Berlin until 1911. Promoted to captain, Leeb served as a battery commander in the Bavarian 10th Field Artillery Regiment at Erlangen (1912–1913).
First World War and after
At the outbreak of the First World War, Leeb was on the General Staff of the Bavarian Army's I Corps, then joined the Bavarian 11th Infantry Division. In the summer of 1916, upon promotion to major, Leeb was transferred to the Eastern Front. The following year, he was appointed to the staff of Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria. On 29 May 1916, for his military achievements on 2 May 1915, Leeb received the Knight's Cross of the Military Order of Max Joseph. This was the Bavarian equivalent of the Prussian Pour le Mérite, and the decoration elevated Leeb to the ranks of the minor nobility: on 21 June 1916, he received a patent of nobility, which gave him the rank and title of "Ritter" ("knight") and the German nobiliary particle "von" ("of") before his surname.
After the war, Leeb remained in the Reichswehr, which was an army limited to 100,000 men as permitted to Germany under the Treaty of Versailles. In 1923, he was involved in putting down the Nazi Beer Hall Putsch in Munich. Then, before the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, Leeb commanded Wehrkreis VII ("Military District VII"), which covered Bavaria, as a major general.
Second World War
Hitler was not fond of Leeb, because of the general's anti-Nazi attitudes, and in 1938 he retired him from the army, after promoting him to the rank of colonel general. But in July of the same year Leeb was recalled to military duty and given command of the 12th Army, which took part in the seizure of the Sudetenland. Afterwards, he was pensioned off again.
In the summer of 1939, Leeb was yet again called back to active service and given command of Army Group C. Before the Battle of France, he was the only German general to oppose the offensive through the neutral Low Countries, especially Belgium, on moral grounds. He wrote: "The whole world will turn against Germany, which for the second time within 25 years assaults neutral Belgium! Germany, whose government solemnly vouched for and promised the preservation of and respect for this neutrality only a few weeks ago." During that battle, his troops broke through the Maginot Line. For his role in this victory, Leeb was promoted to the rank of Field Marshal during the 1940 Field Marshal Ceremony and was also awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.
Having gained Hitler's confidence, Leeb was given command of Army Group North and responsibility for the northern sector in Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. When the invasion began on 22 June 1941, Leeb's armies met with success against an overwhelmed Soviet force. By the end of September, his army had advanced 900 kilometers into the Soviet Union and surrounded Leningrad. He was ordered to halt his advance, and transfer 4th Panzer Group (with five panzer and two motorized divisions) and the VIII Air Corps to Army Group Center.
Relieved of command
Despite halting his advance under orders of Hitler, the Nazi leader impatiently commented, "Leeb is in a second childhood; he can't grasp and carry out my plan for the speedy capture of Leningrad. He fusses over his plan of assuming the defensive in the northwestern sector and wants a drive in the center on Moscow. He's obviously senile, he's lost his nerve, and like a true Catholic he wants to pray but not [to] fight."
An old-school German general, Leeb did not take well to having his command managed from afar by Hitler, whom he considered an "armchair general". In January 1942, Leeb asked Hitler to relieve him of his command, and Hitler complied. It was officially announced that Leeb had stepped down due to illness, not because of his defeat. Colonel-General Georg von Küchler assumed command of Army Group North, and Hitler never employed Leeb again.
Dates of rank
- Fahnenjunker – 1 December 1895
- Fähnrich – 18 January 1896
- Leutnant – 3 March 1897
- Oberleutnant – 13 May 1905
- Hauptmann – 7 March 1912
- Major – 19 May 1916
- Oberstleutnant – 28 December 1920
- Oberst – 1 February 1925
- Generalmajor – 1 February 1929
- Generalleutnant – 1 December 1929
- General der Artillerie – 1 January 1934
- Temporary Generaloberst – 28 February 1938
- Generaloberst – 1 November 1939
- Generalfeldmarschall – 19 July 1940
Awards and decorations
- Iron Cross of 1914, 1st and 2nd Class
- Knight's Cross of the House Order of Hohenzollern with Swords
- Military Merit Order, 3rd class with Swords (Bavaria)
- Knight's Cross of the Knight's Cross of the Military Order of Max Joseph (2 May 1915)
- Knight's Cross of the Order of the Crown with Swords (Württemberg)
- Hanseatic Crosses of Hamburg and Bremen
- Ottoman War Medal (Turkish: Harp Madalyası; better known as the "Gallipoli Star" or "Iron Crescent")
- Honour Cross of the World War 1914/1918
- Wehrmacht Long Service Award, 4th to 1st Class
- Sudetenland Medal with Prague Castle Bar
- Iron Cross of 1939
- 2nd Class
- 1st Class
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 24 June 1940 as Generaloberst and commander-in-chief of Heeresgruppe C
Relations with National Socialists
Leeb's attitude towards the Nazi regime was ambivalent; in spite of his open contempt for Hitler and the dictator's inner circle, he accepted a present of 250,000 Reichsmarks for his sixty-fifth birthday in 1941, and in 1944 Leeb allowed the Nazis to use his popularity for propaganda purposes, when he was presented with a great Bavarian estate worth 638,000 Reichsmarks. After the failed 20 July plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944, Leeb sent an affirmation of loyalty to Hitler, although ostensibly this was in order to save his own life and those of his family.
After the War
Leeb was tried by an American military tribunal in Nuremberg in the High Command Trial. He was found guilty on one of four charges and sentenced to three years imprisonment; but he was released after the judgment because he had already spent more than three years in custody. He spent his last years living quietly with his family. Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb died in Füssen on 29 April 1956, following a heart attack.
- Regarding personal names: Ritter was a title before 1919, but now is regarded as part of the surname. It is translated as Knight. Before the August 1919 abolition of nobility as a legal class, titles preceded the full name when given (Graf Helmuth James von Moltke). Since 1919, these titles, along with any nobiliary prefix (von, zu, etc.), can be used, but are regarded as a dependent part of the surname, and thus come after any given names (Helmuth James Graf von Moltke). Titles and all dependent parts of surnames are ignored in alphabetical sorting. There is no equivalent feminine form.
- William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1960. p.647
- Moll, Otto E. (1961): Die deutschen Generalfeldmarschälle 1935–1945. Rattstatt: Erich Pabel Verlag, p. 112
- David Glantz, "The Battle for Leningrad", 1941–1944, Lawrence, KS, 2002.
- Kemp, Anthony (1990 reprint). German Commanders of World War II (#124 Men-At-Arms series). Osprey Pub., London. ISBN 0-85045-433-6.
- Mitcham, Samuel (2003). Hitler's Commanders.
- Pavlov, Dmitri V. Leningrad 1941: The Blockade. Translated by John Clinton Adams. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1965.
General der Infanterie Adolf Ritter von Ruith
|Commander of 7. Division
1 February 1930 – 1 October 1933
Generalfeldmarschall Fedor von Bock
|Commander of Heeresgruppe Nord
20 June 1941 – 17 January 1942
Generalfeldmarschall Georg von Küchler