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Post The Wehrmacht and "Clean hands"; Heinz Guderian
Created by John Eipper on 01/31/13 8:00 AM

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The Wehrmacht and "Clean hands"; Heinz Guderian (Timothy Ashby, -Spain, 01/31/13 8:00 am)

I have found the WAIS discussion of the Wehrmacht and "Clean Hands" fascinating, due to a family connection with "Panzer General" Heinz Guderian, a pioneer in the development of Blitzkrieg armored warfare. My maternal grandfather's grandmother, Rosalie Guderian, was the great-aunt of Schneller Heinz. My mother has a photo of her father with Heinz taken at a family gathering in Germany in the early 1920s. The two cousins were contemporary in age and looked remarkably alike.

In addition to his fame as one of the most successful tank commanders in history, Generaloberst Guderian was known for his reckless independence and insubordination of Hitler and Field Marshal von Kluge (who challenged Guderian to a duel that required Hitler's intervention). Throughout the war, Guderian had a series of violent rows with Hitler over what he considered mismanagement of the war on both fronts. Although Guderian was appointed Army Chief of Staff after von Stauffenberg's failed coup in July 1944, Hitler finally dismissed him in March 1945 following a shouting match in which both men were described as "purple with rage," to the extent that the shocked officers present thought they would "come to blows." Guderian literally had to be dragged away by other officers. Why Hitler tolerated such seemingly suicidal behavior is a historical mystery, which I offer a fictional explanation for in my forthcoming novel, In Shadowland.

After the war, Guderian was not charged with crimes during the Nuremberg Trials, as his actions and behavior were "thought to be consistent with those of a professional soldier." In his memoirs, Guderian admitted 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. Considered politically shrewd, he paid lip service to Nazi ideology but carefully avoided involvement with the regime's crimes.

For WAISers interested in a firsthand account of Guderian's famous final shouting match with Hitler, here is an excerpt from the memoir of Nicolaus von Below, who served as the Fuhrer's Luftwaffe adjutant:

In the last months of the war, Hitler's explosive temper had become even more evident and Herr Colonel-General Heinz Guderian, as Chief of the Army General Staff, had a series of intense arguments with Hitler which often left Hitler cursing and yelling at Guderian and all the generals of the German Army whom Hitler constantly accused of being incompetent. On 28 March 1945, Hitler interrupted a situation briefing being given by Guderian on a failed attack earlier in the day. The Führer shouted and raved directing a stream of invective against the general staff and the army. Guderian could not hold his temper, and there occurred a shouting match between Hitler and Guderian which paralyzed the other officers in the room and was without question something never seen before. Both men were shouting at the tops of their voices, Hitler's spit flying around the room.

"Why did the attack fail? Because of incompetence! Because of negligence!" Hitler yelled.

"Explanations! Excuses! That's all you give me. Who let us down, the troops or Busse?" (The General commanding the attack). At that moment Guderian's self-control snapped. "Nonsense! This is nonsense! ... to say that the troops are to blame--look at the casualties! Look at the losses! The troops did their duty. Their self-sacrifice proves it!"

"They failed! They failed!" Hitler screamed.

"I must ask you not to level any further accusations against ... the troops!!!"

The row continued, both men purple with rage, yelling at each other, pounding the table. Not one of the other officers could even move, they were so shocked. Nor did any of them remember exactly what was said or how long the argument went on. The Führer and Guderian almost came to blows. Finally, one of the other generals dragged Guderian to the other side of the room and Guderian's ADC ran from the conference room, phoned the next ranking general on the staff and told him what was happening. They agreed on this strategy which they implemented immediately: Guderian's ADC dashed back to the conference room, said an emergency required Guderian to speak to General Krebs, the next ranking general officer on the staff, immediately, and he pulled Guderian out of the room and put him on the phone with Krebs.

Incredibly, during the fifteen-minute phone call Guderian regained his composure as did Hitler, who summoned Guderian into the conference room, dismissed everyone except that lickspittle, Field Marshall Keitel, and calmly told Guderian that Guderian's health required the general to take six weeks of convalescent leave beginning that evening.

--Nicolaus von Below, At Hitler's Side: The Memoirs of Hitler's Luftwaffe Adjutant, p. 82 (Frontline Books, 2010)

JE comments: Tim Ashby has the most illustrious relatives! (WAISers will remember that one of Tim's ancestors was on General Washington's staff.) A most interesting story; General Guderian is one of the Wehrmacht officers whose reputation for competence and military integrity knew few rivals (Rommel comes to mind).

Tim told me in a separate e-mail that he doesn't presently have a copy of the photo depicting his grandfather with Cousin Heinz. (Tim: if you locate it later I'll post it to the Forum.)

I also hope Tim will give us notice when In Shadowland becomes available for purchase.  I'm a big fan of Tim's historical fiction.


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