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Felix Steiner
23 May 1896(1896-05-23) – 12 May 1966 (aged 69)
Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1973-138-14A, Felix Steiner.jpg

Place of birth Stallupönen, East Prussia
Place of death Munich, Germany
Allegiance  German Empire (to 1918)
 Weimar Republic (to 1933)
 Nazi Germany
Service/branch Flag Schutzstaffel.svg Waffen SS
Years of service 1914 - 1945
Rank Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS
Commands held SS-Standarte Deutschland, SS-Division (mot.) Germania, 5th. SS-Panzer Division Wiking and III.(germanische) SS-Panzerkorps.
Awards Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern

Felix Martin Julius Steiner (23 May 1896–12 May 1966) was a German Reichswehr and Waffen-SS officer who served in both World War I and World War II.

Steiner ranks as one of the most innovative commanders of the Waffen-SS. He skillfully commanded the SS-Deutschland Regiment through the invasions of Poland, France and the Low Countries. He was then chosen by Himmler to oversee the creation of, and then command the volunteer SS Division, SS-Division Wiking. In 1943, he was promoted to the command of III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps.

On 28 January 1945, Steiner was placed in command of the 11th SS Panzer-Army. His army was part of Army Group Vistula.

On 21 April, during the Battle for Berlin, Steiner was placed in command of Army Detachment Steiner. On 22 April, his sensible refusal to attack the Russians advancing on Berlin resulted in one of Hitler's most infamous outbursts. The Russians outnumbered Steiner's worn out and exhausted unit by no less than ten to one.

Imprisoned until 1948, he was cleared of all charges of War Crimes and after writing several books, died on May 12, 1966.

Contents

Career

Felix Martin Julius Steiner was born on May 23, 1896 in Stallupönen, East Prussia.

In 1914, on the eve of war, Steiner joined the Prussian Officer Corps as a cadet. During the course of the war, he earned the Iron Cross first and second class and finished the war as an Oberleutnant.

After the war, Steiner led a unit of Freikorps in the East Prussian city of Memel. He rejoined the army in 1922 and by 1933 had attained the rank of Major.

After the NSDAP takeover, Steiner joined the Reichswehr staff and began work developing new training techniques and tactics.

During this time he was exposed to the training and doctrines of the Schutzstaffel and Sturmabteilung. He was intrigued by the training techniques of the SS-Verfügungstruppen (SS-VT; The precursors of the Waffen-SS), which placed emphasis on unit cohesion and trust, with an informal relationship between the enlisted and commissioned ranks. In 1935, Steiner took command of a Battalion of SS-VT troops, and within a year had been promoted to SS-Standartenführer and was in command of the SS-Deutschland Regiment.

The outbreak of war saw Steiner as an SS-Oberführer and still in charge of the SS-Deutschland. He led his regiment well through Invasion of Poland and the Battle of France, earning the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 15 August 1940.

Wiking Division

After the early war campaigns, Steiner was chosen by SS-Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler to oversee the creation of, and then command the new volunteer SS Division, SS-Division Wiking. The Wiking was made up of Non-German volunteers, and at the time of its creation consisted mostly of Dutch, Walloons, and Scandinavians including the Danish regiment Frikorps Danmark.

In the Wiking Division, Steiner created a capable formation from disparate elements, and he commanded them competently through the many battles in the east from 1941 until his promotion to command of the III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps.

While there are several incidents documented by historians in which the division engaged in massacres, the Wiking's official combat record is clear of any specific War Crimes prosecutions. Steiner said of the Commissar Order "No rational unit commander could comply with such an Order". He felt that it was incompatible with soldierly conduct and would result in a breakdown in military discipline, and that it was incompatible with giving combat its moral worth. Even if it was on utilitarian grounds, Steiner felt that the Commissar Order was to be ignored, as detrimental to good order and discipline.

Army Group Vistula

In January 1945, Steiner along with the III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps was transferred from the Courland Pocket to help with the defence of the German homeland.

The III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps was assigned to Army Group Vistula and put under the new Eleventh SS Panzer Army, although this army really only existed on paper. Once the Soviets reached the Oder, Eleventh SS Panzer Army became inactive and the III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps was re-assigned to the German Third Panzer Army as a reserve during the Soviets' Berlin Offensive Operation. During the Battle of Halbe, the first major battle of the offensive, General Gotthard Heinrici, the commander of Army Group Vistula, transferred most of the III SS Panzer Corps's divisions to corps in General Theodor Busse's German Ninth Army.

Steiner had always been one of Hitler's favourite commanders, who admired his 'get the job done' attitude and the fact that he owed his allegiance to the Waffen SS, not the Prussian Officer Corps. Joseph Goebbels also praised Steiner. "He is energetic and purposeful and is attacking his job with great verve," Goebbels wrote on March 1, 1945.

By 21 April, Soviet Marshal Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front had broken through the German lines on the Seelow Heights. Adolf Hitler, ignoring the facts, started to call the ragtag units that came under Steiner's command Army Detachment Steiner (Armeeabteilung Steiner). An army detachment was something more than a corps but less than an army.

Hitler ordered Steiner to attack the northern flank of the huge salient created by the 1st Belorussian Front's breakout. In conjunction with Steiner's attack, the Ninth Army under General Theodor Busse, was to attack from the south in a pincer attack. The Ninth Army had been pushed to south of the 1st Belorussian Front's salient. To facilitate this attack, Steiner was assigned the three divisions of the Ninth Army's CI Army Corps: the 4th SS Polizei Division, the 5th Jäger Division, and the 25th Panzer Grenadier Division. All three divisions were north of the Finow Canal on the Northern flank of Zhukov's salient. Weidling's LVI Panzer Corps, which was still east of Berlin with its northern flank just below Werneuchen, was also to participate in the attack.[1][2]

The three divisions from CI Army Corps were to attack south from Eberswalde on the Finow Canal towards the LVI Panzer Corps. The three divisions from CI Army Corps were 24 kilometres (about fifteen miles) east of Berlin and the attack to the south would cut the 1st Belorussian Front's salient in two.

Steiner called Heinrici and informed him that the plan could not be implemented because the 5th Jäger Division and the 25th Panzer Grenadier Division were deployed defensively and could not be redeployed until the II Naval Division arrived from the coast to relieve them. This left only two battalions of the 4th SS Police Division available and they had no combat weapons.

Based on Steiner's assessment, Heinrici called Hans Krebs, Chief of Staff of the German General Staff of the Supreme Army Command (Oberkommando des Heeres, or OKH), and told him that the plan could not be implemented. Heinrici asked to speak to Hitler, but was told Hitler was too busy to take his call.[1][2]

On 22 April 1945, at his afternoon conference, Hitler became aware that Steiner was not going to attack and he fell into a tearful rage. Hitler declared that the war was lost, he blamed the generals, and announced that he would stay on in Berlin until the end and then kill himself.[3]

"Steiner wird nicht angreifen? Steiner missachtet eine direkte Ordnung von Ihrem Führer, Ihrem Kanzler, und Ihrem Parteikopf? Ich nehme an, dass solche Beleidigungen für meine Person zu ihm durch andere unter dieser oberen Klasse, snobistischer, grober und idiotischer Gruppe von preußischen Generälen und Prinzen unterrichtet wurden! Wegen dessen wird das Reich gefallen! Wegen der Angst eines Mannes vor dem Ruhm sollen wir diesen Krieg verlieren? Nein, ich werde Berlin nicht verlassen. Ich werde hier bleiben, bis die Kommunisten unten die Tür zum Bunker ruinieren, und dann ich mich, Herren töten werde. (Steiner will not attack? Steiner is disobeying a direct order from your Führer, your chancellor, and your party head? I suppose that such insults to my person were taught to him by others among this upper class, snobbish, rude, and idiotic group of Prussian Generals and Princes! Because of them, the Empire is fallen! Because of one man's fear of glory, we are to lose this war? No, I shall not leave Berlin. I shall stay here until the Communists bust down the door to the bunker, and then I shall kill myself, gentlemen.)" - Adolf Hitler, April 22, 1945

On the same day, General Rudolf Holste was given what few mobile forces Steiner commanded so that he could participate in a new plan to relieve Berlin. Holste was to attack from the north while General Walther Wenck attacked from the west and General Theodor Busse attacked from the south. These attacks amounted to little and, on 27 April, the Soviet forces attacking to the north and to the south of Berlin linked up to the west of the city.

End of the war - peacetime

After the surrender, Steiner was incarcerated until 1948. He faced charges at the Nuremberg Trials, but they were all dropped and he was released. He dedicated the last decades of his life to writing his memoirs[4] and several books about the war. He died on 12 May 1966.

Promotions

Commands

  • Commander of the SS-Regiment "Deutschland" 1 June 1936 to 1 December 1940
  • 1 December 1940 to 1 January 1943 Commander of SS-Germania Division (mot),
  • On 31 December 1940 SS-Germania Division renamed SS-Wiking Division
  • On 9 November 1942 SS-Wiking redesignated 5.SS-Wiking Panzergrenadier Division (I),
  • 10 May 1943 to November 9, 1944 Commander of the III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps
  • 26 November 1944 to March 5, 1945 Commander of the XI SS Panzer Army
  • Command of the III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps a corps in the Third Panzer Army
  • On 21 April 1945 what remained of Steiner's command redesignated Army Detachment Steiner

See also

References

  • Gordon Williamson - The SS: Hitler's Instrument of Terror: The Full Story From Street Fighters to the Waffen-SS - Motorbooks International, (March 1994), ISBN 0879389052, ISBN 978-0879389055.
  • Beevor, Antony. Berlin: The Downfall 1945, Penguin Books, 2002, ISBN 0-670-88695-5
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007). 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 (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.
  • Ziemke, Earl F. Battle For Berlin: End Of The Third Reich, NY: Ballantine Books, London: Macdomald & Co, 1969.

Further reading

  • Trevor-Roper, Hugh (1978), Final Entries 1945 The Diaries of Joseph Goebbels, New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, ISBN 0399121161 .

Footnotes

  1. ^ a b Beevor pp. 267,268
  2. ^ a b Ziemke pp. 87,88
  3. ^ Ziemke p. 89
  4. ^ Steiner, Felix: Die Freiwilligen der Waffen-SS: Idee und Opfergang
Military offices
Preceded by
none
Commander of SS-Standarte "Deutschland"
June, 1936 – December 1, 1940
Succeeded by
none
Preceded by
none
Commander of 5. SS-Panzer-Division Wiking
December 1, 1940 – May 1, 1943
Succeeded by
SS-Obergruppenführer Herbert Otto Gille
Preceded by
none
Commander of III.(germanische) SS-Panzerkorps
May 1, 1943 – October, 1944
Succeeded by
SS-Obergruppenführer Georg Keppler
Preceded by
none
Commander of 11.SS-Panzerarmee
January 28, 1945 – May 8, 1945
Succeeded by
dissolved on May 08, 1945







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