Executions of Commanders?

General WWII era German military discussion that doesn't fit someplace more specific.

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Executions of Commanders?

Postby PaulJ » Sat Feb 26, 2005 9:20 am

It seems to be a widely shared belief that the senior commanders in the Third Reich served in fear of their lives, and that those who disobeyed the Fuhrer's more disasterous orders (such as suicidal "stand-fast" commands) were subject to execution. In some versions of the stories, their families too. (To be fair, this belief is probably confined to those familiar only with myth and historical cliche.)

Was this in fact true? I certainly can think of no examples.

What does perhaps bear mentioning in this context are the "flying ribunals" at the very end of the war that executed all sorts at the very front as a draconian measure to keep the troops fighting, but that is not quite the same thing.

In this context, the example of Lt.Gen. Hans von Sponeck has been offered. He commanded of the 22nd Luftlande Division that failed to take The Hague by surprise in May 1940, was condemned to death because his division retreated in the Crimea in 1942 against explicit orders. However, upon closer examination it transpires that his sentance was commuted to life imprisonment and he was only executed in the wave of executions after the July 1944 bomb plot. So this does not really appear to be an example either.

Anyone?
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Postby Jake » Sun Feb 27, 2005 7:59 am

Hi PaulJ

As far as I know the only generals Hitler had killed were in the aftermath of the July 20th Plot, either for complicity in the plot itself (Rommel, Witzleben, Stulpnagel etc.) or just to settle old scores (Hoeppner, Sponeck etc.), much as he had with with generals Schleicher and Bredow during the Night of the Long Knives. Hitler made many threats but he only went the whole hog when generals appeared to threaten him directly, not for their percieved military failures. The collective family guilt thing (Sippenhaft) was mainly just another threat. There may have been a few temprary arrests of family members but no executions as far as I know.

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Postby TheFerret » Mon Feb 28, 2005 7:41 pm

Commanders were executed for acts of cowardice. I was reading one account, For the Homeland: The History of the 31st Waffen-SS Volunteer Grenadier Division by Rudolf Pencz. It states on a couple of occasions that commanders who withdrew their toops to avoid combat were put to death. It also states how on one defensive operation, orders were given to execute any soldier or commander who shows "cowardice in the face of battle" and knowing what we know about the seriousness of the situation, the Germans were unafraid to execute such a command.
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Postby Stefan » Tue Mar 01, 2005 4:08 pm

The following 18 Generals are listed as executed by German authorities in the currently available volumes of Deutschlands Admirale und Generale (Kriegsmarine complete, Luftwaffe complete, Heer A-L, Polizei and Waffen-SS A-G):

01.07.1934 Generalmajor Ferdinand von Bredow
20.07.1944 Generaloberst Ludwig Beck
08.08.1944 Generaloberst Erich Hoepner
08.08.1944 Generalleutnant Paul von Hase
04.09.1944 General der Nachrichtentruppe Erich Fellgiebel
09.09.1944 Generalmajor Otto Herfurth
14.09.1944 Generalmajor Heinrich Burggraf von Dohna-Schlobitten
22.09.1944 General der Artillerie Fritz Lindemann
02.02.1945 Generalleutnant Gustav Heistermann von Ziehlberg
06.02.1945 General der Flieger Bernhard Waber
06.02.1945 Generalleutnant Hermann Becker
12.03.1945 Generaloberst Friedrich Fromm
09.04.1945 Admiral Wilhelm Canaris
12.04.1945 SS-Brigadeführer Ernst Georg Altner
19.04.1945 Generalmajor Karl von Dewitz gen. von Krebs
22.04.1945 Generalmajor Reinhold Gothsche
26.04.1945 Generalmajor Otto Goldbach
29.04.1945 SS-Gruppenführer Otto Hermann Fegelein

Of course there are still many officers missing (e.g. Olbricht, Schleicher, Witzleben etc.) and those who comitted suicide in order to escape execution are also not included (e.g. Rommel, Tresckow). Some officers were sentenced to death in absentia (e.g. Seydlitz-Kurzbach).

In the same volumes, 34 generals are listed as executed by Allied authorities.
"Das Attentat muß erfolgen, Coute que Coute. Denn es kommt nicht mehr auf den praktischen Zweck an, sondern darauf, daß die deutsche Widerstandsbewegung vor der Welt und vor der Geschichte den entscheidenden Wurf gewagt hat."
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Postby PaulJ » Tue Mar 01, 2005 7:57 pm

Stefan wrote:The following 18 Generals are listed as executed by German authorities in the currently available volumes of Deutschlands Admirale und Generale (Kriegsmarine complete, Luftwaffe complete, Heer A-L, Polizei and Waffen-SS A-G)

Hmmm ... that sounds like it could be a good source, but when I look through it I don't see a single example of what I was refering to:

von Bredow was murdered by the Nazis in the pre-war power struggles.

Beck, Hoepner, Hase, Fellgiebel, Herfurth, Lindemann, von Ziehlberg, Fromm, and Canaris were all implicated in the July Bomb plot

SS-Brigadeführer Ernst Georg Altner - I don't know what he was executed for, but it doesn't seem likely to have been withdrawing as he was (by my research) an Allgemein-SS police officer, not a military commander.

Likewise, Generalmajor Otto Goldbach - I'm not sure, but could this mean "Major General" Walter Goldbach, commander of the Berlin Fire Police, who was shot resisting arrest for alleged treason, in that he was trying to save his firemen from being wasted in a fruitless last ditch stand as infantry?

SS-Gruppenführer Otto Hermann Fegelein - Executed: at the Reichskanzlei, Berlin (shot by an SS squad for alleged desertion)

What I was refering to was a commander at the front who either withdraws in defiance of a standfast order or some such thing, or failed to achieve some objective, and in punishment was sentanced to death.

I still don't see any genuine example of such a thing. Anyone else?
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Postby sid guttridge » Wed Mar 02, 2005 5:40 am

Hi PaulJ,

The period after the July Bomb Plot aside, as a matter of interest, where is it a widely shared belief that German commanders served in fear of their lives? Have you a print example of this proposition?

They certainly lived in fear of dismissal. Of the entire first batch of field marshalls created on 19 July 1940, all were dismissed at least once during the war, except Keitel, who was not actually a field commander.

It is worth noting that this discussion would be entirely redundant about British or American commanders in WWII and that English (with the biggest vocabulary of any language in the world) has no word for "Sippenhaft" (spelling?). Whether they feared for their lives or not, it appears that the wider pressures on German commanders were greater than those on their Allied equivalents.

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Postby Stefan » Sat Mar 05, 2005 3:45 am

In my opinion, a much more important question would be why the Mannschaften fought. Generals may start wars, but they don't fight them.
"Das Attentat muß erfolgen, Coute que Coute. Denn es kommt nicht mehr auf den praktischen Zweck an, sondern darauf, daß die deutsche Widerstandsbewegung vor der Welt und vor der Geschichte den entscheidenden Wurf gewagt hat."
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Postby sid guttridge » Sat Mar 05, 2005 5:16 am

Hi Stefan,

Perhaps you could start a new thread on this subject?

Cheers,

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Postby TheFerret » Sat Mar 05, 2005 4:43 pm

Just last night I happened to be watching "The Last Days of the War" on the History Channel. They brought up the capture of the bridge at Remagen by the US Army under Bradley. After this incident four commanders were tried and executed for allowing the capture. They included officers from the Army as well as the Waffen SS. This action was at the personal request of the furher. It seems like Hitler was really pissed and wanted to make an example.
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Postby Jan-Hendrik » Thu Jan 25, 2007 4:00 am

Does anyone knows the exact circumstances leading to the execution of GM Gohtsche ? Vol.4 of "Die Generale des Heeres" only states that on 22th April 45 sentenced to death and shot at Pressnitz/Böhmen ( because of "Wehrkraftzersetzung" ) . :?:

Any info on this ?

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When You Play With Fire

Postby The Panzer Oberst » Sat Feb 03, 2007 4:17 pm

All the Generals executed or who committed suicide got their fingers burned playing with fire. They were aware of Hitler. They knew who and what he was. They sold their souls for promotions, assignments and medals. Some tried to regain theirs and the German Armed Forces honor by resigning, being fired or involvement in the July 20th Plot. But all knew they were in bed with the devil. You live by the sword, you die by the sword!
"I no longer control events, they control me, and that is why I am sick of hearing about the Great German Army. I wish I were in the Mountains where the air is so cool."
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Postby Jacky » Sun Mar 18, 2007 12:49 pm

Hi

If I remember correctly Lasch's family were arrested after he surrendered Konigsberg, although he had been told to fight to the last man. He was in Russian hands and sentenced to death 'in absentia'.

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