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Walther von Brauchitsch
File:Bundesarchiv Bild 183-2004-0105-500, Walther v. Brauchitsch.jpg
Generalfeldmarschall Walther von Brauchitsch
Born (1881-10-04)4 October 1881
Died 18 October 1948(1948-10-18) (aged 67)
Place of birth Berlin, Germany
Place of death Hamburg, Germany
Allegiance German Empire German Empire (to 1918)
Germany Weimar Republic (to 1933)
Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
Years of service 1900–1941
Rank Generalfeldmarschall
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Order of Michael the Brave
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
Japanese Order of the Rising Sun, 1st Class[1]
Relations Manfred von Brauchitsch, Hans Bernd von Haeften and Werner von Haeften (all newphews)

Heinrich Alfred Hermann Walther von Brauchitsch (4 October 1881 – 18 October 1948[2][3]) was a German field marshal and the Oberbefehlshaber des Heeres (Commander-in-Chief of the Army) in the early years of World War II.

Early years[edit | edit source]

Brauchitsch was born in Berlin as the fifth son of a cavalry general. He attended the Französisches Gymnasium Berlin. Brauchitsch was commissioned in the Prussian Guard in 1900. By World War I, he was appointed to the General Staff. In 1910, he married Elizabeth von Karstedt, a wealthy heiress to 300,000 acres (1,200 km2) in Pomerania.

Wehrmacht[edit | edit source]

In 1933, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power and began to expand the military. Brauchitsch was named Chief of the East Prussian Military District. His specialty was artillery. In 1937, he became commander of the Fourth Army Group.

Brauchitsch disliked or opposed much of the Nazi system, but also welcomed the Nazi policy of rearmament and was dazzled by Hitler's personality. He became largely reliant on Hitler as political patron and even for financial help. In February 1938, in the middle of the Munich Crisis, Brauchitsch left his wife Elizabeth after 28 years. He wanted to marry Charlotte Rueffer (later married Schmidt), the daughter of a Silesian judge, and ardent admirer of the Nazis (Ulrich von Hassell—later part of the conspiracy against Hitler—described her as "a 200 percent rabid Nazi").[4] Hitler set aside his usual anti-divorce sentiments and encouraged Brauchitsch to divorce and remarry. Hitler even lent him 80,000 Reichsmarks, which he needed since the family wealth was all his wife's. In the same month, Brauchitsch was appointed Oberbefehlshaber des Heeres (Commander of the Heer) as a replacement for General Werner von Fritsch, who had been dismissed on false charges of homosexuality, due to a name mistake. The true homosexual officer had the name Werner von Fritz[4]

Brauchitsch resented the growing power of the SS, believing that they were attempting to replace the Wehrmacht as the official German armed forces. He had disagreements with Erich Koch, the Gauleiter of East Prussia, and Adolf Hitler had to resolve the dispute between the two.

Like General Ludwig Beck, Brauchitsch opposed Hitler's annexation of Austria (the Anschluss) and Czechoslovakia (see Fall Grün), although he did not resist Hitler's plans for war. He took no action when Beck asked him to persuade the whole General Staff to resign if Hitler proceeded in his invasion of Czechoslovakia.

In September 1938, a group of officers began plotting against Hitler and repeatedly tried to persuade Brauchitsch—as Commander of the Heer—to lead the anticipated coup, but the only assurance he gave them was: "I myself won't do anything, but I won't stop anyone else from acting." After the collapse of the 1938 coup attempt, Brauchitsch ignored all further appeals from Beck and the other plotters to use the army to overthrow Hitler before Germany was plunged into world war.

World War II[edit | edit source]

Von Brauchitsch with Hitler in Warsaw – October 1939

In early November 1939, Brauchitsch and Franz Halder started to consider overthrowing Hitler. Brauchitsch and Halder had decided to overthrow Hitler after the latter had fixed "X-day" for the invasion of France for November 12, 1939; an invasion that both officers believed to be doomed to fail.[5] On 5 November 1939, the Army General Staff prepared a memorandum purporting to recommend against launching an attack on the Western powers that autumn. Brauchitsch reluctantly agreed to read the document to Hitler. In the meeting with Hitler on November 5, Brauchitsch had attempted to talk Hitler into putting off "X-day" by saying that morale in the German Army was worse than what it was in 1918, a statement that enraged Hitler who harshly berated Brauchitsch for incompetence.[6] The document's specific recommendations did not convey the dissent in the ranks of the General Staff, who were uneasy at having their planning and conduct of the Polish Campaign interfered with down to a regimental level. More generally, the unease at the army's position as the chief martial arbiter in the German State having been encroached upon since Hitler's ascendance to power was prevalent in the closing days of the 1930s. It was left to Brauchitsch to voice these doubts, which he did, stating that the "OKH would be grateful for an understanding that it, and it alone, would be solely responsible for the conduct of any future campaign." The suggestion was received in "an icy silence", whereupon on an impulse Brauchitsch went on to complain that "the aggressive spirit of the German infantry was sadly below the standard of the First World War... [there had been] certain symptoms of insubordination similar to those of 1917–18". Hitler responded by flying into a tremendous rage, accusing both the General Staff and Brauchitsch personally of disloyalty, cowardice, sabotage and defeatism. The Chief of the Army General Staff—Franz Halder, who was the main propagator of the memorandum's preparation—wrote that the scene was "most ugly and disagreeable". He returned to the Headquarters at Zossen where "he arrived in such poor shape that at first he could only give a somewhat incoherent account of the proceedings."[7] After that meeting, both Halder and Brauchitsch told Carl Friedrich Goerdeler that overthrowing Hitler was simply something that they could not do, and he should find other officers if he that was what he really wanted to.[8] Hitler then called a meeting of the General Staff to declare that he would smash the West within a year. He also vowed to "destroy the spirit of Zossen" — a threat that panicked Halder to such an extent that he forced the conspirators to abort their second planned coup attempt.[8] Equally important, on November 7, 1939 following heavy snowstorms, Hitler put off "X-Day" until further notice, which removed the reason that had most motivated Brauchitsch and Halder to consider overthrowing Hitler.[9]

Brauchitsch was promoted to Generalfeldmarschall in 1940 and was key in Hitler's "blitzkrieg" war against the West, making modifications to the original plan to overrun France. After France was conquered, Operation Sea Lion—the invasion of Britain—was planned. Had it succeeded, Hitler intended to place Brauchitsch in charge of the new conquest.[10] However, the Luftwaffe could not gain the requisite air superiority, and the plan was abandoned. Brauchitsch agreed with harsh measures against the Polish population claiming they were inevitable for securing the German Lebensraum and ordered to his army and commanders that criticism of Nazism racist policy should cease as Nazi policy was needed for "forthcoming battle of destiny of the German people".[11] When Germany turned east and invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the Army's failure to take Moscow earned Hitler's enmity. Things went further downhill for Brauchitsch as he endured a serious heart attack, and Hitler relieved him on 10 December. He was transferred to the Officers Reserve (Führerreserve) where he remained without assignment until the end of the war. Brauchitsch spent the last three war years in the Tři Trubky hunting lodge in the Brdy mountains southwest of Prague. One of the few public comments he made after his retirement was a statement condemning the attempt on Hitler's life.

Death[edit | edit source]

After the war, Brauchitsch was arrested and charged with war crimes, but died in Hamburg in 1948 before he could be prosecuted.[12]

Brauchitsch was the uncle of Manfred von Brauchitsch, a 1930s Mercedes-Benz "Silver Arrow" Grand Prix driver, and Hans Bernd and Werner von Haeften, both members of the German resistance against Hitler.[13] Brauchitsch was a strong admirer of Feldmarschall Helmuth von Moltke and used to linger in his former office that was made into a museum at a later date.

Dates of rank[edit | edit source]

Decorations and awards[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. http://www.specialcamp11.co.uk/Generalfeldmarschall_Walther_von_Brauchitsch2.htm
  2. general editor, I. C. B. Dear; consultant editor, M. R. D. Foot.; I.C.B Dear, M.R.D. Foot (2005). Oxford Companion to the Second World War (paperback ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-280666-1. 
  3. "Britannica entry on Von Brauchitsch". http://deskreference.britannica.com/ebc/article-9357957. Retrieved 2007-01-07. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 William L Shierer, The Rise and Fall of the third Reich. Part II. Chapter "Road to war" (1937) and the Blomberg incident (1938)
  5. Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan 1967 pages 470–472
  6. Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan 1967 page 471.
  7. Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan 1967 page 472.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan 1967 pages 471–472.
  9. Wheeler-Bennett page 472.
  10. History Channel show Hitler's Britain
  11. The Origins of the Final Solution Christopher R. Browning, Jürgen Matthäus page 76 University of Nebraska Press, 2007
  12. "Island farm site". http://www.islandfarm.fsnet.co.uk/Generalfeldmarschall%20Walther%20von%20Brauchitsch.htm. Retrieved 2007-01-06. 
  13. Biography of Werner von Haften (German)
Bibliography
  • April 1, 1940, Life magazine
  • "Blitzkrieger". September 25, 1939. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,761969-3,00.html 
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007). 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 (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.



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