Friday, September 19, 2014

Heinz Guderian and Walther Wenck

Generaloberst Heinz Guderian (Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen) and Generalleutnant Walther Wenck (Chef des Generalstabes 1. Panzerarmee) planning the next operation (possibly Unternehmen Zitadelle/Kursk), spring 1943. Wenck (last rank General der Panzertruppe) wearing the Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes which he received on 28 December 1942. He was a talented general, and enjoyed (if that is the word) a distinguished career on the Eastern Front, serving a considerable period in command of German forces operating in conjunction with Romanian forces (he was highly decorated by Romania), and in key staff posts. He is best remembered, however, for his actions as commander of the 12. Armee in April 1945. This recently-formed Army, which had been fighting the Americans, responded to orders to turn about and attack towards Berlin with the object of relieving the city. It is a tribute to the skills of Wenck and his officers in the staff area that they accomplished the turn-around, and launched an attack on the Soviets that acheived a surprise breakthrough. However, Wenck was neither a Nazi nor a madman; he limited his breakthrough to one with more-or-less sustainable flanks, rather than pressing through (suicidally) to Berlin, and invited German military formations and civilians within reach to use it as an escape corridor to the West. The number of "kettled" German soldiers and Berliners who escaped through this corridor is uncertain - but it was probably not less than 300,000. There is some dispute as to how one should interpret Wenck's actions. It did after all constitute disobedience of orders. But more likely a sign of a realistic officer who served not the Nazis in the end, but Germany


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