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Heinz Wilhelm Guderian
17 June 1888(1888-06-17) – 14 May 1954 (aged 65)

Nickname Schneller Heinz
Place of birth Kulm, West Prussia
Place of death Schwangau, Allgäu
Allegiance  German Empire (to 1918)
 Weimar Republic (to 1933)
 Nazi Germany
Years of service 1907 – 1945
Rank general chief of staff
Commands held 2. Panzer Division, XVI. Army-Corps, XIX. Army-Corps, Panzergruppe Guderian and Panzergruppe 2
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub
Relations Heinz Günther Guderian

Heinz Wilhelm Guderian (17 June 1888 – 14 May 1954) was a military theorist and innovative General of the German Army during the Second World War. Germany's panzer forces were raised and fought according to his works, best-known among them Achtung - Panzer!. He held posts as Panzer Corps commander, Panzer Army commander, Inspector-General of Armoured Troops, and Chief of Staff of the Army (Chef des Generalstabs des Heeres). He rose to the rank of full general (General der Panzertruppe) in July 1940 and was later promoted to Generaloberst. He later also became general chief of staff.


Early career

Guderian was born in Kulm (now in Poland), East Prussia[1]. From 1901 to 1907 Guderian attended various military schools. He entered the Army in 1907 as an ensign-cadet in the (Hanoverian) Jäger Bataillon No. 10, commanded at that point by his father, Friedrich Guderian. After attending the war academy in Metz he was made a Leutnant (full Lieutenant) in 1908. In 1911 Guderian joined the 3rd Telegraphen-Battalion (Wireless-Battalion), Prussian Army Signal Corps. In October 1913 he married Margarete Goerne with whom he had two sons, Heinz Günter (1914-2004) and Kurt (born 1918) who would both become highly decorated Wehrmacht officers during World War II (and in the case of his older son, a Panzer general in the German Bundeswehr after the war).

During the First World War he served as a Signals and General Staff officer. This allowed him to get an overall view of battlefield conditions. He often disagreed with his superiors and ended up being transferred to the army intelligence department where he remained until the end of the war. This second assignment, while removed from the battlefield, sharpened his strategic skills.

After the war, Guderian stayed in the reduced 100,000-man German Army (Reichswehr), where he was made company commander of the 10th Jäger-Battalion after which he joined the 'General Staff'-in-waiting, the Truppenamt (a German General Staff being explicitly forbidden by the Versailles Treaty). In 1927 Guderian was promoted to major and transferred to the Truppenamt group for Army transport and Overseer of motorized tactics based in Berlin. This key role put him at the centre of the development of the resources that would later come to dominate what became known as blitzkrieg. Fluent in both English and French, he gathered ideas by the British maneuver warfare theorists J.F.C. Fuller and, debatably,[2] B.H. Liddell Hart, as well as the writings, interestingly enough, of the then-unknown Charles de Gaulle. Their works were translated into German by Guderian. In 1931 he was promoted to Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant-Colonel) and became chief of staff to the Inspectorate of Motorized Troops under Generalleutnant (Major-General) Oswald Lutz and in 1933 promoted to Oberst (Colonel). In this time he had written many papers on motorised warfare which were seen as authoritative and moving the development of this area significantly. These papers were based on extensive wargaming without troops, with paper tanks and finally with armoured vehicles. In October 1935 he was posted to the newly created 2nd Panzer Division (one of three) as commander. On 1 August 1936 he was promoted to Generalleutnant, and on 4 February 1938 he was promoted to General and given command of the XVI Army Corps.

Achtung - Panzer! was written in 1936-37 as an explanation of Guderian's theories on the role of tanks and aircraft in modern warfare. It was actually a compilation of not only Guderian's own theories but also the ideas of other proponents of armored and combined-arms warfare within the general staff, though the bulk of the credit rightly is Guderian's. The panzer force he created would become the core of the German Army's power during the Second World War and would deliver the core of the fighting style known as blitzkrieg. To this day, his contributions to combined arms tactics are studied throughout military schools.

Guderian's Blitzkrieg

Heinz Guderian in the Battle of France with the 'Enigma' machine

Although initially promoted and partially implemented by the British Army, the concepts of "blitzkrieg" were not fully developed. The German army of the First World War had worked out the complexities of breaking through a front with highly concentrated resources. This technique, however, failed the Germans in their offensives of March 1918, largely because the breakthrough elements were on foot and could not sustain the impetus of the initial attack. Motorized infantry was the key to sustaining a breakthrough, and this would have to wait until the 1930s to have a chance at being realized. Tukhachevsky, in Russia, can be said to have already grasped this potential, but the influence of his military philosophy in the ongoing development of the Red Army diminished after he was no longer able to advocate for it personally (he was executed by Stalin in 1937). Guderian was the first who fully developed and advocated the strategy of blitzkrieg and put it into its final shape. He summarized the tactics of blitzkrieg as the way to get the mobile and motorized armored divisions to work together and support each other in order to achieve decisive success. In his book Panzer Leader he wrote:

In this year (1929) I became convinced that tanks working on their own or in conjunction with infantry could never achieve decisive importance. My historical studies; the exercises carried out in England and our own experience with mock-ups had persuaded me that the tanks would never be able to produce their full effect until weapons on whose support they must inevitably rely were brought up to their standard of speed and of cross-country performance. In such formation of all arms, the tanks must play primary role, the other weapons being subordinated to the requirements of the armor. It would be wrong to include tanks in infantry divisions: what was needed were armored divisions which would include all the supporting arms needed to fight with full effect.[3]

Guderian believed that certain developments in technology needed to take place in conjunction with blitzkrieg in order to support the entire theory, especially in communication and special visual equipment with which the armored divisions in general, and tanks specifically, should be equipped. Guderian insisted in 1933, within the high command, that every tank in the German armored force must be equipped with radio and visual equipment in order to enable the tank commander to communicate and perform a decisive role in blitzkrieg.[4]

World War II

Guderian (center) and Semyon Krivoshein (right) at the joint German–Soviet parade in Brest on September 22, 1939.

In the Second World War, Guderian first served as the commander of the XIX Corps in the invasion of Poland. He personally led the German forces during the Battle of Wizna and Battle of Kobryn testing his theory against the reality of war for the first time. After the invasion he took property in the Warthegau area of occupied Poland, evicting the Polish estate owners.[5] In the Invasion of France, he personally led the attack that traversed the Ardennes Forest, crossed the Meuse River and broke through the French lines at Sedan. During the French campaign, he led his panzer forces in rapid blitzkrieg-style advances and earned the nickname "Schneller Heinz" (Hurrying Heinz) among his troops.[6] Guderian's panzer group led the "race to the sea" that split the Allied armies in two, depriving the French armies and the BEF in Northern France and Belgium of their fuel, food, spare parts and ammunition. Faced with orders from nervous superiors to halt on one occasion, he managed to continue his advance by stating he was performing a 'reconnaissance in force'. Guderian's column was famously denied the chance to destroy the Allied beachhead at Dunkirk by Hitler's personal order.

In 1941 he commanded Panzergruppe 2, better known as Panzergruppe Guderian, in Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, receiving the 24th award of the Oak Leaves to his Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 17 July of that year. From 5 October 1941 he led the redesignated Second Panzer Army. His armored spearhead captured Smolensk in a remarkably short time and was poised to launch the final assault on Moscow when he was ordered to turn south towards Kiev (see Lötzen decision).

He protested against Hitler's decision and as a result lost the Führer's confidence. He was relieved of his command on 25 December 1941 after Fieldmarshal Günther von Kluge, not noted for his ability to face up to Hitler, claimed that Guderian had ordered a withdrawal in contradiction of Hitler's "stand fast" order. Guderian was transferred to the Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH) reserve pool, his chances of being promoted to fieldmarshal, which depended on Hitler's personal decision, possibly ruined forever. Guderian would deny that he ordered any kind of withdrawal. Ironically this act of apparent insubordination is cited by his admirers as further proof of his independence of spirit when dealing with Hitler. Guderian's own view on the matter was that he had been victimized by von Kluge who was the commanding officer when German troops came to a standstill at the Moscow front in late autumn/winter 1941. At some point he so provoked von Kluge with accusations related to his dismissal that the field marshal challenged him to a duel, which Hitler forbade.

After his dismissal Guderian and his wife retired to a 2000 acre sequestered country estate at Deipenhof in the Reichsgau Wartheland.[7]

In September 1942, when Erwin Rommel was recuperating in Germany from health problems, he suggested Guderian to OKW as the only one who could replace him temporarily in Africa, the response came in the same night: "Guderian is not accepted".[8] Only after the German defeat at Stalingrad was Guderian given a new position. On 1 March 1943 he was appointed Inspector-General of the Armoured Troops. Here his responsibilities were to determine armoured strategy and to oversee tank design and production and the training of Germany's panzer forces. He reported to Hitler directly. In Panzer Leader, he conceded that he was fully aware of the brutal occupation policies of the German administration of Ukraine, claiming that this was wholly the responsibility of civilians, about whom he could do nothing.

According to Guderian, Hitler was easily persuaded to field too many new tank designs, and this resulted in supply, logistical, and repair problems for German forces in Russia.[9] Guderian preferred large numbers of Panzer IIIs and IVs over smaller numbers of heavier tanks like the Tiger, which had limited range and could rarely go off-road without getting stuck in the Russian mud.

On 21 July 1944, after the failure of the July 20 Plot in which Guderian had no involvement,[10] Guderian was appointed chief of staff of the army (Chef des Generalstabs des Heeres) as a successor to Kurt Zeitzler, who had departed July 1 after a nervous breakdown. During his tenure as chief of staff, he let it be known that any General Staff officer who wasn't prepared to be "a National Socialist officer" wasn't welcome on that body. He also served on the "Court of Military Honour," a drumhead court-martial that expelled many of the officers involved in the July 20 Plot from the Army before handing them over to the People's Court.

However, he had a long series of violent rows with Hitler over the way in which Germany should handle the war on both fronts. Hitler finally dismissed Guderian on 28 March 1945 after a shouting-match over the failed counterattack of General Theodor Busse's 9th Army to break through to units encircled at Küstrin; he stated to Guderian that "your physical health requires that you immediately take six weeks convalescent leave," ("Health problems" were commonly used as a facade in the Third Reich to remove executives who for some reason could not simply be sacked, but from episodes Guderian describes in his memoirs it is evident that he actually did suffer from congestive heart failure.) He was replaced by General Hans Krebs.

Life after the war

Together with his Panzer staff, Guderian surrendered to American troops on 10 May 1945 and remained in U.S. custody as a prisoner of war until his release on 17 June 1948. Despite Soviet and Polish government protests, he was not charged with any war crimes during the Nuremberg Trials, as his actions and behavior were ruled to be consistent with those of a professional soldier.

After the war he was often invited to attend meetings of British veterans' groups, where he analyzed past battles with his old foes. During the early 1950s he was active in advising on the redevelopment of the German army: Bundeswehr (see Searle's Wehrmacht Generals).

Guderian died on 14 May 1954 at the age of 65, in Schwangau near Füssen (Southern Bavaria) and is buried at the Friedhof Hildesheimer Strasse in Goslar.

Guderian's son, Heinz Günther Guderian, became a prominent General in the post-war German Bundeswehr and NATO.

In 2000, a documentary titled Guderian, directed by Anton Vassil, was aired on French television. It featured Heinz-Guenther Guderian (Guderian's surviving son, the other died in the Second World War) along with other notables such as Field Marshal Lord Carver (129th British Field Marshal), expert historians Kenneth Macksey and Heinz Wilhelm. Using rarely seen photographs from Guderian's private collection, the documentary provides an inside view into the life and career of Guderian and draws a profile of Guderian's character and the moral responsibility of the German general staff under Hitler.

See also

Books by Heinz Guderian

  • Guderian, Heinz (1937). Achtung - Panzer! (reissue ed.). Sterling Press. ISBN 0-304-35285-3.   Guderian describes what he would do if he were in charge of German tank forces.
  • Guderian, Heinz (1942). Mit Den Panzern in Ost und West. Volk & Reich Verlag.  
  • Guderian, Heinz (1952). Panzer Leader. Da Capo Press Reissue edition, 2001. New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-81101-4.   Guderian describes what he did when he was in charge of German tank forces. It was originally published with the German title Erinnerungen eines Soldaten (Memories of a Soldier) (Kurt Vowinckel Verlag, Heidelberg 1950; 10th edition 1977).


  1. ^ Heinz Guderian Achtung Panzer! (Cassel Military paperbacks 1999)pg7
  2. ^ Panzer Leader, Heinz Guderian, 1996, p. 7 where the p. 20 credit is ascribed to dogged suggestion at the time of the first English Publication with Liddell Hart's forward. The credit is of course therefore not present in the other language versions.
  3. ^ p. 13
  4. ^ Guderian, Panzer Leader, p. 20.
  5. ^ James V. Koch, review of Guderian: Panzer General by Kenneth Macksey
  6. ^ Guderian, Panzer Leader.
  7. ^ Antony Beevor, "Berlin: The Downfall"(2002), page.13.
  8. ^ the Rommel Papers,Arabic version,translated by Fathi Abdallah An Nimr,Maktabat Al-Anglo-Masriya,Cairo,1966,p.467
  9. ^ Panzer Leader
  10. ^ Guderian's opposition to the plotters and his actions to support further Nazification of the Wehrmacht are described in William L. Shirer (1990), The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1st Touchstone Edition reprinted with afterword) (New York: Simon & Schuster), ISBN 067172868, pp. 1080-1082.
  • Alman, Karl (2008). Panzer vor - Die dramtische Geschichte der deutschen Panzerwaffe und ihre tapferen Soldaten. Würzburg, Germany: Flechsig Verlag. ISBN 978-3-88189-638-2.
  • Schaulen, Fritjof (2003). Eichenlaubträger 1940 - 1945 Zeitgeschichte in Farbe I Abraham - Huppertz (in German). Selent, Germany: Pour le Mérite. ISBN 3-932381-20-3.
  • Williamson, Gordon and Bujeiro, Ramiro (2004). Knight's Cross and Oak Leaves Recipients 1939-40. Osprey Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-84176-641-0.
  • Helden der Wehrmacht - Unsterbliche deutsche Soldaten (in German). München, Germany: FZ-Verlag GmbH, 2004. ISBN 3-924309-53-1.

Further reading

  • Corum, James, The Roots of Bltzkrieg (1992)
  • Macksey, Kenneth, Guderian: Panzer General (1992, revision of Guderian, Creator of the Blitzkrieg, 1976)
  • Kershaw, Ian, Hitler 1936–1945: Nemesis (2001)
  • Searle, Alaric, Wehrmacht Generals, West German Society, and the Debate on Rearmament, 1949-1959, Praeger Pub., (2003).
  • Walde, Karl J., Guderian (1978)
  • Antony Beevor, "Berlin: The Downfall"(2002)

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
Kurt Zeitzler
Chief of Staff of the OKH
July 1944 – March 1945
Succeeded by
Hans Krebs
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Alexander Novikov
Cover of Time Magazine
7 August 1944
Succeeded by
Sir Arthur Coningham


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

At the center Major General Heinz Guderian and Brigadier Semyon Krivoshein to the right.

Heinz Guderian (June 17, 1888May 14, 1954) was a German WWII general and tank commander, theorist of tank combat and one of the founders of blitzkrieg strategy. He was not charged with any war crimes during the Nuremberg Trials since his actions and behavior were ruled to be consistent with those of a professional soldier. Heinz Guderian died on May 14, 1954 at the age of 65, in Schwangau near Füssen (Southern Bavaria) and is buried at the Friedhof Hildesheimerstrasse in Goslar.



  • Klotzen, nicht Kleckern! (Boot'em, don't spatter'em!)
    • This is Guderian's most famous quote, which has become a stock phrase. It is said that Adolf Hitler was so impressed by the quote that he often used it. It roughly means "Don't do things by half." Quoted in "How Great Generals Win" - Page 227 - by Bevin Alexander - History - 1993
  • Es gibt keine verzweifelten Lagen, es gibt nur verzweifelte Menschen. (There are no desperate situations, there are only desperate people.)
    • Quoted in "Die Deutschen gepanzerten Truppen bis 1945" by Oskar Munzel - Tanks (Military science) - 1965
The engine of the Panzer is a weapon just as the main-gun.
  • Der Motor des Panzers ist ebenso seine Waffe wie die Kanone. (The engine of the Panzer is a weapon just as the main-gun.)
    • Quoted in "Die Deutschen gepanzerten Truppen bis 1945" - Page 159 - by Oskar Munzel - Tanks (Military science) - 1965
  • Fahrkarte bis zur Endstation. (Ticket to the last station.)
    • Shouting to his Panzertroops when they were roaring past him, meaning that they should go as far as they could. Quoted in "Panzerkrieg: The Rise and Fall of Hitler's Tank Divisions" - Page 83 - by Peter McCarthy, Mike Syron - Technology - 2003
  • We have severely underestimated the Russians, the extent of the country and the treachery of the climate. This is the revenge of reality.
    • Quoted in "Images of Kursk: History's Greatest Tank Battle, July 1943" - Page 7 - by Nikolas Cornish - History - 2002
  • If the tanks succeed, then victory follows.
    • Quoted in "Panzerkrieg: The Rise and Fall of Hitler's Tank Divisions" - Page 33 - by Peter McCarthy, Mike Syron - Technology - 2003
  • Logistics is the ball and chain of armored warfare.
    • Quoted in "Sword Point" - Page 141 - by Harold Coyle - 1988
  • It's simply our duty to save these people, and we still have time to remove them! But it's useless to sacrifice men in this senseless way. It's high time! We must evacuate those soldiers at once!
    • To Adolf Hitler, about the German army being cut off in Courland. Quoted in "Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs" - Page 534 - by Albert Speer - National socialists - 1971
  • Man schlägt jemanden mit der Faust und nicht mit gespreizten Fingern. (You hit somebody with your fist and not with your fingers spread.)
    • Meaning that you should concentrate your Panzers for one mighty push in one direction and not distribute them over a large area. Quoted in "Die Deutschen gepanzerten Truppen bis 1945" - Page 209 - by Oskar Munzel - Tanks (Military science) - 1965


You hit somebody with your fist and not with your fingers spread.
  • Der Kampf gegen die eigenen Oberen macht manchmal mehr Arbeit als gegen die Franzosen. (It is sometimes tougher to fight my superiors than the French.)
  • Whenever in future wars the battle is fought, armored troops will play the decisive role...
  • It is decisive to completely destroy Warsaw.

About Guderian

  • If Guderian was not always successful in carrying out his theories everywhere during the war, it was due to the struggle against the mistrust of so many elderly officers who knew nothing, or little, about tanks. He was the creator and master-teacher of our Armoured Forces - and I lay particular stress on the word 'master'.
    • Hasso Manteuffel
  • Sixty per cent of what the German Panzer Forces became was due to him. Ambitious, brave, a heart for his soldiers, who liked and trusted him; rash as a man, quick in decisions, strict with officers, real personality, therefore many enemies. Blunt, even to Hitler. As a trainer - good; thorough; progressive. If you suggest revolutionary ideas, he will say in 95 per cent of cases, 'Yes', at once.
    • General Freiherr von Geyr

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