And the last chapter.
Taken together, the data relating to various characteristics selected in this study offer a revealing profile of German corps commanders. This summary will form the "baseline" for comparison of the commanders serving on the Eastern Front and those on the Western / Italian Fronts. Although there is no single benchmark characteristic on which to base degrees of command success, several in combination give new insight to the thesis question. Factors considered in this evaluation include the commander's career pattern (career service, recalled from retirement, transferred from police, etc.), branch affiliation, General Staff service, previous command and staff assignments, decorations, and later promotion to higher rank and higher command.1
The commander's background is a significant factor of command success. Career commanders (individuals with uninterrupted service in the army from WWI to WWII) composed 80.7% of the total in command, while those incorporated from the Austrian Army after the Anschluss, 3.3% of the total, should also fall into this category. According to Blumentritt's assertion, therefore, 84% of all corps commanders would possess the most current professional competence, versus the 16% who transferred from the police or returned from retirement.
A review of branch affiliation reveals that three major branches held the lion's share of corps command positions: infantry with 51.5%, artillery with 18.9%, and panzer with 16.2%. Available data indicates that panzer generals overall may have fared better in awards and promotions, but it is outside the scope of this thesis to examine this point fully. Additionally, it would be incorrect to state that panzer officers were more proficient than other branch officers. However, the relationship between these three percentages on each front is significant in examining the application of traditional tactics of the infantry, mobility tactics of the panzer, and firepower application of the artillery.
General Staff service was viewed highly by senior military leadership who made the selections of corps commanders. Although Hitler disliked the General Staff and implemented several policies to limit its importance, this study has found no evidence that he became deliberately involved in selection of commanders at corps level. Further research must be done as sources indicating General Staff officers are not complete and complete figures may be ultimately higher than the 50% found belonging to this group. Numerous examples of successful command at this and higher levels by non-General Staff officers exist. However, with the German High Command's own special selection, training, and education processes, it is evident that General Staff service was considered a mark of success. Therefore it also will be considered in the final comparison.
Previous command and staff experience are additional factors that will be considered for comparison. Almost 90% of all corps commanders had commanded at the division level, with 15.3% previous panzer division commanders. Concerning prior staff service, 9% had served as division operations officers, 20% as corps chiefs of staff, and 11% army chiefs of staff. These three staff positions are closely related to General Staff service as during both the Reichswehr, albeit secretly, and the Wehrmacht they were coded for General Staff officers.
Overall the corps commanders were highly decorated with various military decorations of their nation. Considering the emphasis that all segments of government and society placed on these decorations it would appear that they were indicative at that time of military success. Individual examples of commanders not receiving a specific award due to conflicts with Hitler exist but do not disprove overall results. Combining all grades of the Knight's Cross, 83.4% of all corps commanders were winners of this award. Concerning the bestowal of awards for achievement as corps commanders, 3.3% received the Knight's Cross with Oakleaves and Swords, while 13.6% received the Knight's Cross with Oakleaves.
Later promotion to higher rank and higher command is a significant indicator all armies use to reward success and indicate potential. The German Army was no different with respect to corps coninand. Eleven former corps commanders (3.3%) attained the rank of Generalfeldmarschall while twenty-eight former commanders (8.4%) achieved the rank of Generaloberst. Above the corps level were the armies and army groups. Eighty-five corps commanders (25.6%) were elevated to army command while twenty-five (7.5%) ultimately assumed army group command. Selection for either was a significant indicator of past success and are crucial to the thesis.
The results that will be used for the analysis can also be displayed in table format to facilitate comparison:
Table 38 - Corps Commander Baseline Characteristics
Career Officer 84
General Staff Membership 49.7
Previous Division Command:
Infantry & Panzer 3.3
Previous Staff Experience:
Division Operations Officer 9.0
Corps Chiefs of Staff 19.8
Army Chiefs of Staff 11.4
All Grades of Knight's Cross 83.4
Swords as Commander 3.3
Oakleaves as Commander 13.6
To Generalfeldmarschall 3.3
To Generaloberst 8.4
To Army Commander 25.6
To Army Group Commander 7.5
Before inferences can be drawn based on the above data, one point must be addressed. There is some built-in inequity in the comparison due to the duration of the war on each front. The German military effort on the Eastern Front lasted from June 1941 to May 1945, a period of almost four years. The Italian Front lasted from July 1943, with the invasion of Sicily, to May 1945, some twenty-two months. The Western Front was in operation for an even shorter duration, from June 1944 to May 1945, only eleven months. Corps commanders on the Eastern Front had more time to be promoted as more higher commands became available in four years than in two. However, prior background factors still existed for all; and the awards system continued to the very end of the war.
With these factors in mind the following Front comparisons can be made:
Table 39 - Corps Commanders by Front Comparison
Category Overall % - Eastern front - Western front - Italian front
Career Officer 84.0 85.8 84.8 100
Infantry 51.5 53.8 58.7 16.6
Artillery 18.9 15.6 21.7 25.0
Panzer 16.2 19.1 8.7 33.3
General Staff Membership 49.7 49.8 32.6 41.6
Prior Division Command:
Infantry 74.1 75.1 82.6 66.6
Panzer 12.3 12.0 8.7 16.6
Infantry & Panzer 3.3 4.4 2.2 16.6
Prior Staff Experience:
Division Ia 9.0 5.3 4.3 8.3
Corps Chief of Staff 19.8 23.1 17.3 25.0
Army Chief of Staff 11.4 13.3 10.9 8.3
Knight's Cross 83.4 93.3 80.4 91.7
Swords as Commander 3.3 4.0 4.3 8.3
Oakleaves as Coriander 13.6 18.7 6.5 8.3
To GFM 3.3 1.3 0.0 0.0
To GO 8.4 8.9 0.0 0.0
Army Commander 25.6 27.6 8.7 8.3
Army Group Commander 7.5 8.4 2.2 8.3
It is evident, according to these criteria, that no front was "stacked" with more competent corps commanders to the disadvantage of the others. Career officer representation for the Eastern and Western Fronts closely paralled the overall trend, with the Italian Front showing somewhat greater representation of this category. Corps commanders on static fronts, such as France from 1941 to before the Normandy invasion, were generally older, less decorated, and less likely to be promoted or be given army/army group command. Upwardly mobile corps commanders with more complete credentials were given command in active combat sectors, regardless of front.
Branch affiliation is also well represented by the three major branches on all three fronts. It is interesting to note, however, the relatively high proportion of panzer officers in Italy, where a more traditional, position- oriented campaign was fought, rather than a fluid battle that such a representation of panzer commanders might suggest. Panzer officers did receive a higher proportion of awards and promotions than a strict branch allocation would indicate. Twelve of eighteen panzer corps fought exclusively in Russia, one solely on the Western Front, one exclusively in Italy, one only in Africa. The other three rotated between the Eastern Western/Italian Fronts. With this ratio, it is obvious that many more panzer corps commanders served in Russia than on other fronts. The extremely low percentage (8.7%) of corps commanders of the panzer branch on the Western Front was partially offset by the presence of Waffen SS panzer corps and panzer commanders during the battles of Normandy and the Ardennes.
The two traditional branches, artillery and infantry, provided the highest overall percentage of commanders. The preponderance of panzer officers in the East apparently cut directly into the numbers of artillery commanders on this front. In reviewing army command, representation by branch was highest for infantry (43%), followed by panzer (26%), and artillery (16%). As more panzer commanders served on the Eastern Front, it is clear that these individuals would constitute much of the panzer representation for army commanders. The same is true for army group command where 44% were infantry, 24% panzer, and 16% artillery.
General Staff membership declined as the war progressed and is reflected in the reduced General Staff representation among corps commanders on the Western Front from 1944-1945. Again more work must be done in this area. The rank lists from 1920-1938, the primary sources for this criterion, are not complete as by the Versailles Treaty Germany was prohibited from having a General Staff. Many individuals could be identified as members of the General Staff by examining duty positions traditionally held by General Staff Corps officers, but no Reichswehr list would actually delineate membership. Other officers, who did not hold these traditional positions may have been General Staff officers also.
Most corps commanders on all three fronts had been division commanders. It is again interesting to note that a full third of the corps commanders in Italy had commanded panzer divisions, double the percentage of those in Russia, and three times that of commanders on the Western front. Although many infantry and panzer division commanders later commanded corps, no reserve division commanders did. Thixty-five corps commanders did not command at division level. Most, however, commanded corps at the start of the war. Their opportunity for division command, therefore, would have been during the Reichswehr, when the German Army was extremely small. After 1940 almost all corps commanders had served as division commanders. At the other end of the spectrum, eleven corps commanders had commanded both infantry and panzer divisions. Some of these combinations occurred when infantry divisions converted to panzer status at the beginning of the war, although the division headquarters remained unchanged. Repeated division command could occur, but certainly was not a prerequisite for elevation to corps command
The results concerning prior staff experience are well-balanced for all three fronts. The slightly higher results for army level chiefs of staff for the Eastern Front most accurately reflect the longer duration of this campaign. Again, commanders in Italy are well represented in Division Operations Officers and Corps Chiefs of Staff. These numbers are probably more accurate than overall General Staff representation as the Reichswehr rank lists included specific assignments for all officers.
Overall award recipients slightly favor those on the Eastern Front, especially in winning the Knight's Cross with Oakleaves as a corps commander. Part of this is due to the duration of the campaign, and also the offensive nature of this front from 1941 to 1943. The other two fronts, with some exceptions such as the 1944 Ardennes Offensive, were predominantly defensive in nature. In looking at any awards system discrepancies do exist. Undoubtedly, some general officers deserved to win one of the higher grades of award, but did not. Some may have received awards when their performance did not truly merit the award. There is scant evidence of dissatisfaction with the awards system. If widespread inequities existed, they surely would have been noted in postwar memoirs. Therefore, overall results are probably valid, keeping in mind that any such system is imperfect.
Promotion to both generaloberst and generalfeldmarschal can only be seen on the Eastern Front. Later command at army and army group level is not so one- sided, but still is clearly represented more by commanders in Russia. Again many of these promotions and assignments went to individuals who commanded at the corps level in 1941 and 1942. Late war commands do not appear to be by default. More than 2400 men reached general officer command. About 350 became fatalities. Assuming another 500 were too old or ill to take on the rigors of corps command, the German High Command still had well over 1000 eligible officers, from which to select. Qualified alternates did exist. Temporary corps commanders were often selected from more readily available officers, but could be replaced by permanent commanders within a few days.
Ideally, immediate postwar interviews with High Command personnel officers on the relative merits of each commander would establish exact criteria for promotion. The USAREUR Historical Division undertook a wide ranging interview program, but did not include subject matter of this nature. Without such sources this thesis must turn to traditional military leadership theory to validate the criteria used for the study. The Reichswehr was highly competitive and demanding in the respect of officer advancement. The High Command leaders, above corps level, were products of this system. Despite the presence of several "political" generals in the Army Personnel Office, these leaders had great input to the selection of corps commanders. The most likely response would have been to select junior individuals "in their own image." That image included same representation by the nobility, an excellent educational background evidenced by selection for the General Staff, demonstrated excellence in staff and command assignments, the potential for higher service, and like-minded thinking.
To deviate sharply from these principals would have opened the possibility of an unfavorable change in the entire officer caste system. To be sure, some radically different individuals, perhaps more closely aligned with prevailing political conditions, were elevated to corps command. But it was not in the best interest of all the higher military leadership for this to occur too often. As this thesis has shown, men of high quality were distributed throughout all major theaters of the war.
In summary, the corps commanders on the Eastern Front were not conspicuously more competent than those on the Western or Italian Fronts. The German High Command distributed talent well in all three areas, and continued to select quality individuals for this level of responsibility for the duration of the war. Using the evaluation system employed here, it does not appear that corps commanders gravitated to any specific front to get a "ticket punched". Quality individuals were selected to command in active combat fronts, where dedicated courageous leadership was needed.
1 - Concerning age, 49.5% of the commanders were between 51 and 55 and 31.8% between 45 and 50 upon assuming command. Only 1.8%. were younger than 45 and 3.3% older than 60. Other aspects of relative command success cannot be directly related to age, so this criterion will not be used in comparing various front commanders.
Representation of the nobility remained constant throughout the war at approximately 22.6% of all corps commanders. This percentage dramatically increased to 73% of all corps commanders promoted to the rank of Generalfeldmarschall, the characteristic of nobility itself is not a valid benchmark of relative success and will also not be used in the comparison.
Nazi. Party membership and influence will not be used for comparison. More concrete research must be done in this area to adequately document the extent of the relationship between Army leaders and the Nazi. Party. This thesis however, will not use unsubstantiated post-war inuendo to categorize certain officers as Nazis.
Twenty-seven corps commanders (8.1%) were killed while in command. Twenty-two were killed in action, three were suicides, and two were killed in accidents. While this information shows that corps command was hazardous, it does not reveal any conclusion concerning proficiency of these individuals. Additionally, membership in the National Committee for a Free Germany was solely an Eastern Front phenomenon, with the question of resulting honor versus disloyalty left to other dissertations.
Source: The Unknown Generals - Germans Corps Commanders in WW II. French Maclean - Maj USA - 1974.
When you're in command..... command!