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Kurt Zeitzler
Born (1895-06-09)9 June 1895
Died 25 September 1963(1963-09-25) (aged 68)
Place of birth Goßmar, German Empire
Place of death Hohenaschau, West Germany
Allegiance
Service/branch Army
Years of service 1914–1945
Rank Generaloberst
Battles/wars
Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross

Kurt Zeitzler (June 9, 1895 – September 25, 1963) was an energetic and efficient staff officer noted for his ability in managing the movement of large mobile formations.[1] He was chosen at a young age by Adolf Hitler to the highest office in the German army, the Chief of the Army General Staff. In assuming this position he replaced Franz Halder, who had argued with Hitler over the wisdom of extending German forces deep into southern Russia. Ultimately Zeitzler had similar disagreements with Hitler, and asked on several occasions to be allowed to resign. These requests were denied. He finally relinquished his duties in July 1944, complaining of illness. He was replaced by Heinz Guderian.

World War I[edit | edit source]

Born in Goßmar in the Province of Brandenburg, Zeitzler came from a family of pastors. At the age of 18 he joined the 4th Thuringian Infantry Regiment of the German Army on March 23, 1914. Five months later Germany was at war. Zeitzler was promoted to Lieutenant in December, 1914, and commanded various units, including a pioneer detachment. At the end of the war he was a regimental adjutant.

Interwar period[edit | edit source]

Zeitzler was chosen as one of the 4,000 officers selected to serve in the Reichswehr, the small German army stipulated under the limits of the Treaty of Versailles. He was promoted to captain in January, 1928. In 1929 he began three years of service as a staff officer of the 3rd Division. In February, 1934 he was transferred to the Reichswehrministerium (Defense Ministry of the Weimar Republic) and was there promoted to Major. In 1937 he began working as a staff officer in the operations office for the Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH), the General Staff of the army. In April 1939 he took command of Infantry Regiment 60, and was promoted to full Colonel in June. When mobilization came for the Poland campaign in August, he was made Chief of Staff to the newly formed XXII (Motorized) Corps.

Second World War[edit | edit source]

With the invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 Zeitzler functioned as Chief of Staff for General Siegmund List, who commanded the XXII Corps of the 14th Army.

Chief of Staff, 1st Panzer Army[edit | edit source]

In March 1940 he became the Chief of Staff for General von Kleist, who at that time was in command of Panzergruppe A. He served in support of Kleist during the Invasion of France. Zeitzler's staff work was indispensable in organizing and maintaining the panzer drive through the Ardennes.[2] He continued in this post through operations in Yugoslavia and Greece, but his greatest success came in 1941 during the invasion of the Soviet Union. Assigned to Army Group South, the 1st Panzer Army was called upon to move southward to the Black Sea to cut off the retreat of Semyon Budyonny's army group at the Battle of Uman. It was then required to turn north to link up with Guderian in an encirclement of Soviet forces around Kiev. Then the panzer army was shifted south again to support the bridgehead over the Dneiper, creating a collapse in the Russian position. It was then sent further south to cut off Russian forces near the sea of Azov.[3] In appreciation of Zeitzler, Kliest commented "The biggest problem in throwing about armies in this way was that of maintaining supplies."[4] On May 18, 1941 Zeitzler was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.

In January, Zeitzler was made Chief of Staff to General Gerd von Rundstedt, the Commander in Chief West. He plaid an important role in responding to the British raid on Dieppe of August 19, 1942.

Chief of Staff, OKH[edit | edit source]

After a short tour as Chief of Staff of Army Group D under General von Rundstedt he was promoted to General of the Infantry and simultaneously appointed Chief of Staff of the Army General Staff on September 24, 1942 as a replacement for Franz Halder. Hitler had been impressed by his optimistic and vigorous reports. Zeitzler was chosen though he was far from the top of the General Staff's list. It is probable that Hitler believed Zeitzler would be a more pliable and optimistic OKH chief than his immediate predecessor, Franz Halder. He was also thought to be a master of logistics, with solid organizational skills. Zeitzler was never considered a brilliant commander, though his performance at the head of the General Staff was very respectable. His drive and initiative was eventually paralyzed by Hitler's constant and increasingly unreasonable demands.

Zeitzler advocated the immediate breakout and withdrawal of General Paulus' Sixth Army after it had been surrounded in Stalingrad. Zeitzler stated that as soon as he saw what was developing he urged Hitler to permit the Sixth Army to withdraw from Stalingrad to the Don bend, where the broken front could be restored. The mere suggestion threw the Fuehrer into a tantrum. 'I won't leave the Volga! I won't go back from the Volga!' he shouted.[5] The Fuehrer personally ordered the Sixth Army to stand fast around Stalingrad: "Stalingrad simply must be held. It must be; it is a key position. By breaking traffic on the Volga at that spot, we cause the Russians the greatest difficulties."[6]

Zeitzler was urged by his military colleagues to give the breakout order himself, but refused to act in an insubordinate manner to the Commander-in-Chief. In a gesture of solidarity with the starved troops in Stalingrad, Zeitzler reduced his own rations to their level. Hitler was informed of these actions by Martin Bormann. After two weeks and the loss of some 26 pounds, Hitler ordered Zeitzler to stop the diet and return to normal rations. Hitler's refusal to even consider withdrawing the Sixth Army from Stalingrad resulted in its total loss.

After the loss of the Sixth army at Stalingrad Zeitzler was increasingly confrontational with Hitler. He planned the movement of troops and general outline for Operation Citadel, the final German offensive in the east. This battle ended in a loss for the Germans, and a series of defensive battles ensued. Throughout the war Hitler was unwilling to withdraw forces from exposed and over-extended positions. Five times Zeitzler offered his resignation over Hitler's refusal to allow troops to withdraw, but was refused at each request.[7] At the end of his tether after a number of sharp confrontations with Hitler, he abruptly left the Berghof on July 1, 1944. He reported he could no longer serve due to health problems. Hitler never spoke to him again, and later had him dismissed from the Army in January 1945, refusing him the right to wear a uniform.

Postwar life[edit | edit source]

At the end of World War II Zeitzler was taken into custody as a British POW. He remained so until his release at the end of February, 1947. He appeared as a witness for the defense during the Nuremberg trials, and worked with the Operational History Section (German) of the Historical Division of the U. S. Army.

Zeitzler died in 1963 in Hohenaschau in Upper Bavaria.

Positions in World War II[edit | edit source]

1939 Commanding Officer 60th Regiment
1939–1940 Chief of Staff XXII Corps, Poland
1940–1941 Chief of Staff Panzer Group von Kleist, France
1941 Chief of Staff 1st Panzer Group, Yugoslavia and the Eastern Front
1941–1942 Chief of Staff 1st Panzer Army, Eastern Front
1942 Chief of Staff Army Group D, France
1942–1944 Chief of Staff of the OKH
1944–1945 In reserve

Awards and decorations[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Citations
  1. Liddell Hart p. 58
  2. Liddell Hart p. 57
  3. Liddell Hart p. 58
  4. Liddell Hart p. 58
  5. Shirer p.
  6. Speer p.
  7. Guderian 1952, p. 341.
Bibliography
  • Beevor, Antony Stalingrad New York, NY: Viking, 1998.
  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000) (in German). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 – Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtsteile [The Bearers of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939–1945 — The Owners of the Highest Award of the Second World War of all Wehrmacht Branches]. Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6. 
  • Liddell Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. New York, NY: Morrow, 1948.
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007) (in German). 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]. Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2. 
  • Shirer, William L. The rise and fall of the Third Reich; a history of Nazi Germany New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1960.

External links[edit | edit source]

Military offices
Preceded by
Franz Halder
Chief of Staff of the OKH
September 1942 - July 1944
Succeeded by
Heinz Guderian



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