Heinz Guderian

Heinz Guderian

(1888-1954)

Little is known of the early years of Germany’s foremost advocate of blitzkrieg warfare. Heinz Guderian was born in Kulm, Germany (present-day Chelmno, Poland). He was commissioned into a Hanoverian rifle battalion in 1908 and then transferred to become a communications officer. He com¬ manded a radio station during World War I.

After the war ended, Guderian became deeply involved in the rebuilding of the German military. Convinced that motorized vehicles would bring about great changes in warfare, he called for changes in tactics. Guderian especially believed that the static trench warfare of World War I would soon be obsolete.

In 1931, Guderian was given command of a motorized battalion. When three German panzer (tank) divisions were created in 1935, Guderian was named to command one. He also found time to write a book, Achtung! Panzer!, during 1936 and 1937. Guderian became chief of all mobile German troops in 1938.

At the start of World War II, most European planners anticipated a long, drawn- out war. Instead, the lightning speed of the German armored units stunned the Poles, and Germany conquered Poland in only six weeks. This success proved Guderian’s military phi¬ losophy, and he was given the task of plan¬ ning the coming campaign against France. It also confirmed his key motto: “Klotzern, nicht kleckern” (“Smash, don’t tap”).

Guderian himself led an army corps into France in the spring of 1940. The stunning German successes there were even greater than he had hoped for, and his nervous supe¬ riors back in Berlin became anxious that he might exceed his directives. Hitler himself called a halt to the offensive a short distance from Dunkirk, where they might have destroyed the British army before it was evac-uated from the continent. By this time, Guderian was called “Father of the Panzer Divisions.”

In 1941, Guderian commanded the Second Panzerarmee (tank army) in its thrust into Russia; he gained immense victories by isolating and enveloping Russian forces. However, he had reached his high-water mark; Hitler replaced him in December 1941 for withdrawing without confirmation of his intentions from Berlin.

Guderian passed an uneventful two-and-a- half years before he was summoned to serve as chief of the army general staff (July 1944—March 1945). In the melee that fol¬ lowed the breakdown of the German eastern front, Guderian was again summarily replaced by Hitler.

Although he was complicit in the arrest and shooting of many Soviet Red Army pris¬ oners, contrary to the Geneva agreements, Guderian was never brought to trial. He died near Fussen, Bavaria.