|Guderian||Generaloberst Heinz Guderian 1888-1954|
|Son of a Prussian General, Guderian was commissioned into the Tenth
Hanoverian Jäger Battalion in 1908 after attending the War School
at Metz, but spent WO I as a signal and then a staff officer. After the
war he was taken into the Reichswehr, shrinked to 100.000 men because
of the Versailles Treaty, and specialized in military mechanical transport
and helped to develop Germany's first tanks at a time when they were still
forbidden under the Versailles Treaty. He tried to gain every material
available about motorized warfare and translated the works of Captain B.H.
Liddel Hart and Major-General J.F.C. Fuller. In Britain these theorists
had only limited success in seeing their ideas realised. Guderian also
read a short book by a French officer, Charles de Gaulle. He contributed
articles of his own to the Militär-Wochenblatt which were generally
well received. 'Since nobody else busied himself with this material,' he
commented, 'I was soon by way of being an expert!'
In 1929 Guderian encountered real tanks for the first time. On a trip to Sweden he was given hospitality by a Swedish tank battalion which permitted him to learn to drive one of their M21 tanks. Having gained some 'hands on' experience must have boosted his confidence about tank operations. In 1930 he took command of the 3rd Prussian Motor Transport Battalion, which was equipped with some real armored cars, dummy tanks and anti-tank guns. One area in which Guderian's influence proved to be of considerable importance was communications; the key to command and control. By the outbreak of the war every German tank had at least a radio receiver and every command tank had a transmitter, which gave the German armored formations an extremely high degree of tactical flexibility.
Many senior officers, often artillerymen, were not prepared to accept
Guderian's ideas without the necessary proof, and reminded him that he
was not a Kriegsakademie man; he was a technician with inadequate understanding
of the higher strategic thought process. However, one of the panzer arm's
most enthusiastic proponent was none other than Adolf Hitler, Germany's
new Chancellor, who had exclaimed, on witnessing one of Guderian's demonstrations
involving a motor-cycle platoon, two armored car platoons, a platoon of
experimental PzKpfw Is and an anti-tank platoon: 'That is what I need!
That is what I'm going to have!'
Guderian played a decisive part in the victory over France in 1940, although he was forced by an overcautious High Command into making unnecessary stops. First at the bridgehead at Sedan on 15 May, again at the river Oise on 17 May (the next day he was permitted to do "reconnaissance in strength" only towards the coast), and finally just outside Dunkirk on 24 May. Although Dunkirk was the Allies' last possible exit for evacuation of French and English troops from Belgium, Hitler suddenly ordered a halt to Guderians panzers, allowing the Allies to evacuate the British Expeditionary Force back to England from 28 May until 4 June.
Top: As Inspekteur (inspector-general) of the Panzer troops, Guderian always wanted to understand everything in detail. Here he listens to the experiences gained with the new Tiger tank.
Right: Guderian meets two officers captured in France. His panzers succeeded to win the battle of France, something the complete German Army had not been able to achieve after four years fighting during the First World War.
|In Russia in 1941 Guderian's Panzer group II (Second Panzer Army) led
the drive on Moscow. Together with Panzer Group III under Hoth, he was
able to create major pockets containing huge amounts of soldiers and tanks
of the Russian army, which were sealed off as the German infantry arrived.
Despite being delayed by tank losses, supply problems, partisan groups
and new Russian tank designs, it was still believed to capture Moscow before
the winter. However, Hitler decided to switch the main effort from Moscow
towards conquering the Ukraine, leading to protests by senior officers
and Guderian in an insubordinate dispute with Hitler. Hitler claimed that
his generals had no understanding of the economic or political aspects
of war, while only the capture of moscow could guarantee a German victory.
The final drive on Moscow continued in October under the code-name Typhoon, when suddenly the winter rains set in, resulting in Guderian's panzer stuck in the mud, and making supply of ammunition, fuel and food almost impossible. By 14 November Guderian's panzer group, having crossed the frontier in June with 600 tanks, possessed only 50 operational machines. Rain was followed by winter, the worst in living memory, with blizzards from innermost asia end deep cold.When Guderian was finally halted by a combination of the Russian winter, exhaustion and enemy's counter-attacks, he had reached Moscow's suburbs, but was unable to hold his ground.
Hitler turned his wrath against Guderian and other professionals, the
very men who for two years had won him outstanding victories, and dismissed
many commanders, including Rundstedt, Leeb and Guderian. Shaken by the
Stalingrad debacle and the events in Africa, Hitler recalled Guderian to
duty on 1 March 1943 as Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen, again
responsible for modernizing of the armored troops. Responsibilities included
the equipment, organization and the training of the Panzerwaffe in the
broadest possible sense. This brought not only the Army's panzer and panzergrenadier
divisions within his orbit but also the armored troops of the Waffen SS,
the Luftwaffe and even the armored trains. The only exception was the Assault
Artillery, since at the tactical level the assault Artillery performed
their tasks so efficiently as not to justify outside interference.
After the traumatic experiences of the past year, Guderian had the task of setting the Panzerwaffe as a whole back on its feet. He advised Hitler that the Panther was not ready before August 1943, so the up-gunned PzKpfw IV remained the mainstay of the tank battalions, and required the new type of equipment, including second generation tank-destroyers to replace the Marder and half-tracks for the panzergrenadiers. Guderian also designed humorous booklets to replace the usual stodgy manuals for tank crews, which were written in everyday soldier's slang and covered every aspect of maintenance and life aboard a tank, cartoons and multiple 'do's and don'ts' for each crew member. He retained the post, through constantly at odds with Hitler, until 21 March 1945, when he was finally dismissed. Although he was interrogated about war crimes no serious evidence was found against him and he was released without being indicted.