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Gerd von Rundstedt
12 December 1875(1875-12-12) – 24 February 1953 (aged 77)
Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1987-047-20, Gerd v. Rundstedt.jpg
Gerd von Rundstedt
Place of birth Aschersleben, German Empire
Place of death Hannover
Allegiance  German Empire (to 1918)
 Weimar Republic (to 1933)
 Nazi Germany
Years of service 1892 - 1938; 1939 - 1945
Rank Generalfeldmarschall
Awards Ritterkreuz mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern

Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt (December 12, 1875 - February 24, 1953) was a Generalfeldmarschall of the German Army during World War II. He held some of the highest field commands in all phases of the war. Some under his command nicknamed him "Black Knight".

Contents

Early life

Born in Aschersleben in the Province of Saxony into an aristocratic Prussian family, von Rundstedt joined the German Army in 1892, then entered Germany's elite military academy in 1902 – an institution that accepted only 160 new students annually and weeded out 75% of the students through exams. During World War I he rose in rank until 1918 when he was a major and was chief of staff of his division.

After the war, von Rundstedt rose steadily in the small 100,000-man army (the Reichswehr) and in 1932, was appointed commander of the 3rd Infantry Division. Later that year he threatened to resign when Franz von Papen declared martial law and ordered his troops to eject members of the Nazi Party from state government offices. In 1938 he was appointed commander of the 2nd Army that occupied the Sudetenland, but he retired after it was understood that Werner von Fritsch - Commander-in-Chief of the German Army (OKH) - was framed by the Gestapo in the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair. Upon his retirement he was given the honorary appointment of Colonel-in-Chief of the 18th Infantry regiment; von Rundstedt frequently wore an infantry colonel's uniform with his Field Marshal's tabs until the end of his career. On occasion, he was mistaken for a colonel, but he simply laughed at the notion.

World War II

In September 1939 World War II began, and von Rundstedt was recalled to active service to lead Army Group South during the successful invasion of Poland. Turning to the West, he supported Manstein's "armoured fist" approach to the invasion of France, and this was eventually selected as Fall Gelb. During the battle he was placed in command of seven panzer divisions, three motorized infantry divisions, and 35 regular infantry divisions.

By May 14, 1940, the armoured divisions led by Heinz Guderian had crossed the Meuse and had opened up a huge gap in the Allied front. General von Rundstedt had doubts about the survivability of these units without infantry support, and asked for a pause while the infantry caught up; the halt allowed the British to evacuate their forces to Dunkirk. Later Rundstedt forbade an attack on the Dunkirk beachhead, allowing the British to fully evacuate it. This turn of events has raised eyebrows over the years. Von Rundstedt and others subsequently argued that the decision was Hitler's and stemmed from his belief that Britain would more readily accept a peace treaty if he magnanimously spared what remained of her expeditionary force. However, this was no more than a face-saving rationalization. Rundstedt had wanted to preserve his motorized units for the final push to the south to conclude the campaign against the French while Göring had convinced Hitler the Luftwaffe could finish the job.[1]

Von Rundstedt was promoted to field marshal on July 19, 1940 and took part in the planning of Operation Sealion. When the invasion was called off, von Rundstedt took control of occupation forces and was given responsibility to develop the coastal defenses in the Netherlands, Belgium and France.

Operation Barbarossa

In June 1941, Rundstedt took part in Operation Barbarossa as commander of Army Group South, where he led 52 infantry divisions and five Panzer divisions into the Soviet Union. At first his progress was slow, but in September AG South captured Kiev in a double encirclement operation made possible by Stalin's unreasoning refusal to abandon the city, although the Dnieper had been crossed both north and south of it. The Germans claimed a fantastic haul of 665,000 Russian prisoners based on the encircled divisions' nominal, pre-combat strength as revealed by captured Soviet records. The Soviets reported that owing to previous losses -also exaggerated by the Germans, yet not subtracted by them from their tally of Soviet prisoners - the encircled divisions possessed merely 452,000 men and that, of those, 150,541 escaped the pocket before the German infantry divisions caught up with the armour and the ring of encirclement was consolidated. Thus "only" 300,000 men were permanently trapped, whether captured or killed. After this, von Rundstedt moved east to attack Kharkov and Rostov. He strongly opposed continuing the advance into the Soviet Union during the winter and advised Hitler to halt the offensive, but his views were rejected.

In November, 1941 von Rundstedt had a heart attack, but he refused to be hospitalized and continued the advance, reaching Rostov on November 21. A counter-attack forced the Germans back. When Rundstedt demanded to be allowed to withdraw, Hitler became furious and replaced him with General Walther von Reichenau.

Western battlefield

Gerd von Rundstedt with Erwin Rommel, Alfred Gause, and Bodo Zimmermann.

Hitler recalled von Rundstedt to duty in March 1942, placing him once again in command of the west. There he proved complacent, so much so that as late as the autumn of 1943, no fortifications worthy of mention existed along the entire Atlantic shore. It was only after Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's appointment as von Rundstedt's ostensible subordinate in November 1943 that fortification work began in earnest. During the debates preceding the landing, von Rundstedt insisted that the armoured reserves should be held in the operational rear so that they could all be rushed to whatever sector the Allies happened to land in. General Geyr von Schweppenburg, the armoured commander, supported him, but Rommel insisted that the armoured forces must be deployed very near the shoreline, just beyond the reach of the Allied naval bombardment. Badly affected by his experiences in Africa, Rommel believed that Allied air operations would prohibit movement during the day and even at night gravely inhibit movement. But von Rundstedt was convinced that a landing as far west as Normandy was out of the question and that very little armour should be committed there. Ultimately, the armoured divisions were dispersed and only two were spared to the Channel coast west of the Seine with one assigned to the Normandy sector, a deployment that would have disastrous consequences once the invasion began. After the D-Day landings in June 1944, von Rundstedt urged Hitler to negotiate a settlement with the Allies, his frustration culminating in his outburst, "Make peace, you idiots!" Hitler responded by replacing him with Field Marshal Günther von Kluge.

As a result of the July 20 Plot, which enraged von Rundstedt, he agreed to join OKW chief Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel and Guderian on the Army Court of Honour that expelled hundreds of officers suspected of being opposed to Hitler, often on the flimsiest of evidence. This judgement removed the suspected dissidents from the jurisdiction of the military and turned them over to the Volksgerichtshof and its presiding judge, Roland Freisler. Many of these men were executed after brief trials in what amounted to a kangaroo court.

In mid-August 1944, von Kluge committed suicide after being implicated in the July 20 Plot and Field Marshal Walter Model was given command of OB West; Model held the post for eighteen days before von Rundstedt was reappointed to command Germany's forces in the west. He rallied them in time to fight off Operation Market Garden, with Model's Army Group B at the center of the German defense. Although von Rundstedt was in command of the German forces on the Western front throughout Operation Wacht am Rhein (the Battle of the Bulge), he was opposed to that offensive from its inception, and essentially washed his hands of it. He was relieved of command for the last time in March 1945, after telling Keitel once again that Hitler should make peace with the Allies, rather than continue to fight a hopeless war.

After the war

Gerd von Rundstedt

Rundstedt was captured by the US 36th Infantry Division on May 1, 1945. During his captivity, he was reportedly asked by Soviet interrogators which battle he regarded as most decisive. They expected him to say "Stalingrad", but von Rundstedt replied "The Battle of Britain". Annoyed, the Soviets "put away their notebooks and left."[2] While being interrogated, he suffered another heart attack, and was taken to Britain, where he was held in a Prisoner-of-War Camp in Bridgend, South Wales, and at Redgrave, Suffolk. The British authorities charged him with war crimes. These concerned allegations of his involvement in mass murders in occupied Soviet territories. On October 10, 1941, his subordinate, Walther von Reichenau, the 6th Army's commander, had issued his infamous "Reichenau Order".[1], which von Rundstedt allegedly approved. Ultimately, he never faced trial, citing poor health reasons. He was released in July 1948, and lived in Hanover until his death.

Family

On January 22, 1902 von Rundstedt married Luise Bila von Götz (d. 1952) and they had one child Hans Gerd von Rundstedt (1903-1948).

Summary of the military career

Dates of Rank

Notable decorations

See also

References

Citations
  1. ^ Kershaw 2008, p. 27.
  2. ^ Bungay 2000, p. 386.
  3. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 368.
  4. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 85.
  5. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 47.
Bibliography
  • Bungay, Stephen (2000). The Most Dangerous Enemy: A History of the Battle of Britain. London: Aurum Press. ISBN 1-85410-721-6(hardcover), ISBN 1-85410-801-8(paperback 2002).
  • Blumentritt, Günther (1952). Von Rundstedt: The Man and the Soldier. London: Odhams Press
  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939-1945. Friedburg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 3-7909-0284-5.
  • Kershaw, Ian (2008). Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed the World, 1940-1941. London: Penguin Books.
  • Liddell Hart, B. H. (1948). The German Generals Talk, New York: William and Morrow. chap. 7
  • Messenger, Charles (1991). The Last Prussian: A Biography of Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, 1875-1953. London: Brassey's. ISBN 0-08-036707-0.
  • Schaulen, Fritjof (2005). Eichenlaubträger 1940 - 1945 Zeitgeschichte in Farbe III Radusch - Zwernemann (in German). Selent, Germany: Pour le Mérite. ISBN 3-932381-22-X.
  • 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.
  • Ziemke, Earl (1989). "Gerd Von Rundstedt" in Hitler's Generals, ed. Correlli Barnet, New York: Grove Weidenfeld.
Military offices
Preceded by
none
Oberbefehlshaber West
10 October 1940 – 1 April 1941
Succeeded by
Generalfeldmarschall Erwin von Witzleben
Preceded by
Generalfeldmarschall Erwin von Witzleben
Oberbefehlshaber West
15 March 1942 – 2 July 1944
Succeeded by
Generalfeldmarschall Günther von Kluge
Preceded by
Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model
Oberbefehlshaber West
3 September 1944 – 11 March 1945
Succeeded by
Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Jawaharlal Nehru
Cover of Time Magazine
31 August 1942
Succeeded by
Frank Knox
Preceded by
Sir Arthur Coningham
Cover of Time Magazine
21 August 1944
Succeeded by
Alexander Patch

Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The vast-ness of Russia devours us.

Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt (December 12, 1875February 24, 1953) was a Generalfeldmarschall of the German Army during World War II. He held some of the highest field commands in all phases of the war. Ultimately he never faced trial, allegedly because of his poor health. He was released in July 1948, and lived in Hanover until his death.

Contents

Sourced

  • The morale of the troops taking part was astonishingly high at the start of the offensive. They really believed victory was possible - unlike the higher commanders, who knew the facts.
    • Quoted in "World War II: Europe" - Page 44 - by Reg Grant, Various - 2004
  • We are in no position to withstand a prolonged static war. Wherever the allies concentrate their forces they will break through. For us there can be no question of military victory or of winning the war. Our only hope is to hold on long enough to allow some development on the political front to save Germany from complete collapse.
    • Quoted in "Hitler's last gamble: the Battle of the Bulge" - Page 61 - by Jacques Nobécourt - History - 1967
  • It is madness to attempt to hold. In the first place the troops cannot do it and in the second place if they do not retreat they will be destroyed. I repeat that this order be rescinded or that you find someone else.
    • November 30, 1941. Rundstedt sent this wire message that resulted in him being dismissed from office. Quoted in "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany" - Page 861 - by William Lawrence Shirer - Germany - 1990
  • The vast-ness of Russia devours us.
    • In the summer of 1942. Quoted in "Inside Hitler's Germany: Life Under the Third Reich" - Page 127 - by Matthew Hughes, Chris Mann - History - 2002
We should have known better after the first war.
  • We should have known better after the first war.
    • Quoted in "Crossroads of Modern Warfare" - by Drew Middleton - History - 1983
  • Just as the defending force has gathered valuable experience from...Dieppe, so has the assaulting force...He will not do it like this a second time.
    • August 1942. Quoted in "Dieppe 1942: The Jubilee Disaster" - Page 263 - by Ronald Atkin - History - 1980
  • I strongly object to the fact that this stupid operation in the Ardennes is sometimes called the 'Rundstedt Offensive'. This is a complete misnomer. I had nothing to do with it. It came to me as an order complete to the last detail. Hitler had even written on the plan in his own handwriting "not to be altered."
    • Quoted in "Churchill and Hitler: Essays on the Political-Military Direction of Total War" - Page 194 - by David Jablonsky - History - 1994
  • Make peace, you fools!
    • Message given to a staff officer after calling Hitler's headquarters. Quoted in "SS Steel Rain: Waffen-SS Panzer" - by Tim Ripley - History - 2002
  • It is a pity that this faithful youth is sacrificed in a hopeless situation.
    • Quoted in "The Second World War: A Complete History" - Page 585 - by Sir Martin Gilbert - History - 2004
  • Three factors defeated us in the West where I was in command. First, the unheard-of superiority of your air force, which made all movement in daytime impossible. Second, the lack of motor fuel - oil and gas - so that the Panzers and even the Luftwaffe were unable to move. Third, the systematic destruction of all railway communications so that it was impossible to bring one single railroad train across the Rhine.
    • Quoted in "The Battle of the Bulge: Hitler's Final Gamble" - by Patrick Delaforce - History - 2004
  • Nothing would have been changed for the German people, but my name would have gone down in history as that of the greatest traitor.
    • Quoted in "Trial of the Major War Criminals Before the International Military Tribunal - Page 87 - Nuremberg, Germany - 1947
  • If I had had my way the English would not have got off so lightly at Dunkirk. But my hands were tied by direct orders from Hitler himself. While the English were clambering into the ships off the beaches, I was kept uselessly outside the port unable to move. I recommended to the Supreme Command that my five Panzer divisions be immediately sent into the town and thereby completely destroy the retreating English. But I received definite orders from the Führer that under no circumstances was I to attack, and I was expressly forbidden to send any of my troops closer than ten kilometres from Dunkirk. At this distance I sat outside the town watching the English escape, while my tanks and infantry were prohibited from moving. This incredible blunder was due to Hitler's personal idea of generalship.
    • Quoted in "Hitler's Generals" - Page 191 - by Correlli Barnett - History - 2003
  • Long before winter came the chances had been diminished owing to the repeated delays in the advance that were caused by bad roads, and mud. The 'black earth' of the Ukraine could be turned into mud by ten minutes rain - stopping all movement until it dried. That was a heavy handicap in a race with time. It was, increased by a lack of railways in Russia - for bringing up supplies to our advancing troops. Another adverse factor was the way the Russians received continual reinforcements from their back areas, as they fell back. It seemed to us that as soon as one force was wiped out, the path was blocked by the arrival of a fresh force.
    • Quoted in "The Other Side of the Hill" - Page 184 - by Basil Henry Liddell Hart - 1948

Unsourced

  • It was now just a question of time - and lives.
  • This war with Russia is an absurd idea that will have a disastrous outcome for sure. But if for political reasons the conflict is unavoidable, then we must be convinced that we will not gain victory in one simple summary campaign. Thoughts on the distances to cover. We cannot absolutely defeat the enemy and occupy entire western Russia, from the Baltic Sea to the Black, in mere months. We would have to prepare ourselves for one long war and to proceed with shrewdness. First of all, a strong army group towards the North would have to conquer Leningrad and its surrounding territories. This would allow us to join the Finnish, in order to eliminate the red fleet from the Baltic Sea and to increase our infuence on Scandinavia. For the moment the armys of the center-south would have to only be left over until a line that connects Odessa-Kiev-Orsa-Lago Ilmen. Then, if sufficient time remains, the Armed North group could be left over for south-east from Leningrad towards Moscow, while the army group Center moves to the east. All the upcoming operations would have to be held back until 1942, when we would have to elaborate new plans based on the situation which will arise from that moment.
    • Speaking with General Blumentritt about the attack on Russia, May 1941.
It was now just a question of time - and lives.

About Rundstedt

  • Von Rundstedt was a soldier through and through, always keeping himself clear of politics.
    • Ken Ford
  • Von Rundstedt was a francophile, "extravagantly polite to women" and smoked too much. To those he disdained (and there were many) he was haughty, reserved and curt.
    • Danny S. Parker
  • Moreover, Gerd von Rundstedt was a gentleman to the core. His natural dignity and good manners inspired the respect even of those who differed widely from him in views.
    • Basil Henry Liddell Hart
  • Rundstedt was a brilliant military leader, quick to grasp the significance of any particular operation, to analyze the obstacles, and then in turn successfully and oftentimes brilliantly to overcome these barriers.
    • Robert Edward Merriam
  • In appearance, Rundstedt was a man of more than average height. His head was large and well formed; his nose was of the classic Prussian boldness, which gave him a distinguished look. His thinning hair was gray and cut close to his head. His aloof air gave the impression that he was impervious to ordinary matters, men or problems. He moved with a certain mechanical precision. A puritanical Prussian.
    • Mladin Zarubica

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