Otto Moritz Walther Model. ( 1891- 1945 )
Model was the Field Marshal that Hitler always sent for when the going was really tough, his contemporaries in the Army are usually associated with a particular campaign, e.g., Rommel with North Africa, and Paulus with Stalingrad, but Walther Model was used in areas that were critical to the regime. He earned the nickname of " Hitler's Fireman. "
Birth, and early life. Walther Model was born on January 24th. 1891 in Gethin which is close to Magdeburg, his Father a music teacher. Joining the Imperial Army on February 27th. 1909 as a Cadet with the 52nd. Infantry Regiment, he gained his commission as a Second Lieutenant in August of 1910. The advent of WW1 found him serving on the Western Front, he was wounded on several occasions, and was awarded the Iron Cross 1st. Class for bravery.
Towards the end of the war he went off to the Greater General Staff in Berlin, an unusual appointment as he had not attended the War Academy.
Post WW1, he was selected for the Reichwehr in 1919, joining the 2nd. Infantry Regiment in East Prussia.
Book on Field Marshal August Gneisenau.
In the period between WW1 and WW2, he visited the Soviet Union to study all the technical requirements associated with their rearmament programme.
Model was a strong Nazi, and later to become even more devoted to the regime. In 1938 he was made a major general and designated to be Chief of Staff of the army lined up to invade Czechoslovakia, but that campaign became unneccesary.
He held chief of staff posts in both the Polish and French invasions, then as a Lieutenant General from May 1940 took the 3rd. Panzer Division into Russia on June 22nd. 1941.
He did well in the Russian campaign, spearheading the panzers at Kiev, when joining up with the 9th. Panzer Group on the Volga he closed the ring on the largest encirclement of WW2. Now Model was given command of the XLI Panzer Corps of the 3rd. Panzer in October 1941, and was part of the final drive to the Soviet capital of Moscow, and was rewarded by promotion to General of Panzer troops.
Model replaces Colonel General Adolf Strauss.
When Model took command, it seemed that the 9th. Army was destined to conduct a rather hopeless defence around Rzhev, but not so, XXIII Corps was cut off west of Rzhev, Model counter attacked on January 22nd. to rescue it, and surround the Soviet 39th. Army, which had broken through to the south. The Russians tried to relieve their encircled forces, throwing in the 22nd. 29th. 30th. and 31st. armies, plus the 1st. Strike Army, the weather incredibly cold, minus 76 degrees Fahrenheit. The trapped 39th. Army trying to break out making suicidal counterattacks.
It was during this battle that Model had his first run in with Hitler, the general wanted a corps brought up at once to give him support, although Hitler agreed, there was a difference of opinion just where it might be employed, and it amounted to a 100 mile difference. It is reported that Model looked rather coldly through his monocle at his boss, and asked " Who commands the 9th. Army, my Fuehrer ----- you or I?"
Hitler wavered and Model got his way, the Russians attacked where Model predicted, and he defeated them. In the Russian 39th. Army were 32,000 men but a mere 5,000 surrendered. Model was awarded The Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves and made Colonel General, in three years he had been promoted 4 steps up the Army ladder.
Although Stalin had launched four offensives by October 1942, Model stopped them all in their tracks, and after Stalingrad fell there was little need to hold Rzhev, and over March 1st./21st in 1943, although faced against ten Soviet armies he managed to withdraw 21 divisions back some 100 miles, thereby shrinking his front line from 330 back to 125 miles, providing Hitler with an army for his next move eastwards.
Here Model wanted to delay its onset until all was ready, plus he wanted the promised new Ferdinand tanks, the start date went from May 3rd. to May 5th. then to mid June, again delayed to July 3rd, and the final start date was July 5th.
Perhaps the fact that Model wanted just everything to be so right before he ordered GO! might be likened to Field Marshal Montgomery and his careful build up for the Battle of El Amien, but unfortunately Model did not achieve victory as did Montgomery.
The much vaunted Ferdinands did not perform well, by the third day, XLVII Panzer was a short 12 miles from their start line, here the total 9th. Army was stopped, 20,000 men lost, with little to show for those losses.
On the 12th. Model was set to resume the offensive, but the Russian Zhukov launched a huge attack against the 2nd. Panzer Army on Model's north only the day before, the Soviets broke through near Orel, and Operation Citadel was lost.
The Russians mounted some 108 divisions, the majority infantry ones, and only by his superior rear guard tactics was Model able to contain the break through, retreating slowly to the Hagen position, adopting a scorched earth policy. He burned crops ready to harvest, and drove 250,000 Russian civilians westward, no doubt he treated them harshly.
Model sent on leave by Hitler.
Finally Model directed the 9th's retreat behind the Dneiper River, then over December 21/26 he controlled an attack to shut the gap by the end of 1943.
Model once again the trouble shooter.
This army had been badly mauled when theRussians broke the siege of Leningrad earlier in that month. Model introduced his Sword and Shield policy, retreats were acceptable but only if they led to a counter offensive later. Previously Hitler had sacked commanders for merely suggesting a retreat, now we have Hitler accepting Model and his policy, an amazing turn about from the Fuehrer.
Model tried to hold the Russian forces at the Luga River, east of the Panther Line, at the same time demanding more divisions from Hitler.
But he was forced on February 17th. to begin a pull back to the Panther Line off to the west, occupying it on March 1st. 1944, on this day Hitler promoted Model to Field Marshal.
Although the Russians struck in strength, all their efforts were in vain, Model had brought stability to the northern segment of the Eastern Front.
There is little doubt that Model looked after himself, an example, on March 28th. in writing his situation report, he suggested that Army Group North might spare two Divisions for Army Group South which was under severe attack. Then the Chief of the Army's Personnel Office called to tell Model in a few days time he was to replace Manstein as C-in-C of Army Group South.
Now Model rewrote his report to indicate that Army Group north could give up to five divisions, plus a Corps HQ, immediately, the next day he upped it to six divisions.
He now ordered Lieutenant General Eberhard Kinzel to start the transfer at once, but the Chief of the Army General Staff General Zeitzler, stopped that transfer from happening.
Army Group South renamed Army Group North Ukraine.
Now the Soviet summer offensive fell upon Army Group Centre on June 22nd. within a week, 28 of the German 37 divisions were either destroyed or surounded. Hitler now sacked Busch, and urged Model to try and minimize the debacle, adding Army Group Centre to his other command.
Manstein had continually lobbied Hitler to appoint a C -in C of the Eastern Front, wanting that position for himself, this latest move by Hitler was the closest he ever came to doing just that.
Model was now in control of 43 divisions in his two Army Groups.
The Model plan was to save the remnants of Army Group Centre by giving up territory quickly, he believed the Soviets would get far ahead of their supply train and their air cover, he was also waiting for reinforcements on their way from Germany.
By August 1st. Russian forces had advanced to Kalvariya, but 15 miles from the East Prussian border, but they now ran out of steam, fulfilling Model's belief, they had simply advanced beyond both their supplies and air cover, the German Field Marshal also received some extra Panzer divisions plus infantry units. He was ready to strike back, and retook Praga, hammered the Soviet 2nd. Tank Army and regained 30 miles to the east.
He had stopped the might of 143 infantry divisions, 12 cavalry divisions, and about 2,000 tanks covering a 400 mile front, and all achieved with but 45 somewhat depleted German divisions. Since June 1st. the Germans had lost 916,860 men, a horrific number.
However even though the Eastern Front was again stabilised, the Russians had pushed the invaders back 400 miles to be just 350 miles short of Berlin.
Hitler referred to Model as " The saviour of the Eastern Front. "
Throughout the Army he became known as " The Fuehrer's Fireman."
Called to the Western Front.
The next day he fronted at Kluge's HQ, relieved him, and ordered the evacuation of the Falaise pocket ( ironically an order that Kluge could not get Hitler to approve. ) Before the Allies closed the door on the pocket, Model got half the 5th. Panzer and 7th. Armies out to fight on.
But he still had some awful problems to face, Patton with his 3rd. Army to the south of Paris, rushing eastwards. US 6th. Army having landed on the French Mediterranean was cutting up the German 1st. Army under General Kurt von der Chevallerie, and was also threatening to isolate General Georg von Soderstern's 19th. Army on the Atlantic coast.
He needed to get his mauled forces back behind the Seine, whilst the British and Americans were on his tail.
Paris taken by Allies.
Across the Seine.
The Allies had German forces on the run, in good tank country, Model had only infantry to try and counter the advance, by August 26, the Brits were across the Seine in force, and Patton led his army over the Marne on August 28. In the south, Marseilles and Toulon fell.
Now two days later both Nice and Amiens fell, before Model could man up on the Somme River line, it was breached by the Allies, and the German 7th. Army HQ was overrun, and General Eberbach was taken prisoner.
Brussels was liberated on September 3rd, and at long last the very important port of Antwerp was taken by British tank forces the next day.
Model loses command of OB West.
The destruction of the French rail system by Allied aircraft meant that whilst the Allies now had control over the railways, they were virtually useless.
The Fiasco of Market Garden at Arnhem.
The key to success was the Rhine River Bridge at Arnhem.
Much to Patton's chagrin, Eisenhower gave the OK to Montgomery and also for supply priority.
As the first paratroopers floated down from the sky on September 17th., FM Model was having his lunch, he quickly left for Arnhem to organise the local defenses, and get up reinforcements.
The British 2nd. Parachute Battalion grabbed the northern end of the bridge, but the Germans hung on grimly to the southern end, and repulsed several British attempts to dislodge them. By evening the 9th. SS Panzer had isolated the 600 paratroops on the bridge from the rest of the division.
To stop the Allies rescuing their beleagured paratroops, Model attacked the Arnhem road with all the forces he could muster, and although the 2nd. Parachute Battalion put up a monumental fight, by the 20th. they had run out of ammunition and were forced to surrender.
All attempts to rescue the trapped paratroopers failed, the combined strength of 4 battalions was cut down to 400 men by the mobile SS troops.
Montgomery's plan turned into disaster, of the 10,000 men of the British 1st. Airborne, only 2,587 were evacuated, and another 240, mostly aided by the Dutch escaped.
Losses on the German side were relatively light.
Model must be accorded the credit for the German victory at Arnhem, of the 10,000 paratroops dropped over Arnhem, but 600 ever reached the bridge.
After this battle, the 1st. Airborne were disbanded.
Arnhem bought time for Hitler to build up his forces for the Ardennes Offensive.
It should be noted that Arnhem proved to be Walter Model's last major victory in the field.
The Battle of the Bulge.
At 1730 ( 5.30 AM ) on December 16th. 1944, Model attacked, he had 20 divisions forward, and 5 more in reserve, something like 300,000 troops, 1,900 guns and 970 tanks and assault guns.
The US 106th. Infantry Division was surrounded and destroyed, the US 28th. Infantry, and the 7th. Armored Division were hammered, whilst at Bastogne the 101st. Airborne were surrounded.
The battle peaked on December 23rd. and at last the Americans reacted, poor flying conditions favourable to the German cause, lifted on December 22nd. and many of Model's forces were hit by fighter-bombers.
Patton's 3rd. Army changed direction with speed, broke through the southern end of the bulge, and by December 26th. had relieved Bastogne.
By January 8th. 1945, the last German escape route was sealed off, and Hitler told Model to abandon the area west of the town.
Thus the last major offensive planned by Hitler had failed.
Although Model had caused 76,000 casualties to the Americans, he lost about 103,000 men, plus some 600 tanks and assault guns, but above all, the morale of his command was smashed.
Within a month US troops were over the Roer with little resistance, US casualties but 100 over four Divisions.
Model ordered to hold theRuhr at all costs.
But now even Model did not appear to have any stomach for fighting, perhaps he believed the cause was already lost.
He did not conduct the Battle for the Ruhr with his usual zeal, he placed his HQ on the edge of the right wing, so far away from the left wing, where the attack came from, that he was totally unable to direct his forces.
In the past Model had ignored Hitler's orders to STAND FAST, but not so this time, he asked Kesselring, C-in-C OB West, to withdraw the stand fast order, instead of going straight to Hitler, but Kesselring did not have the power to revoke the order, so Army Group B stayed put.
Without a doubt the Battle of the Ruhr Pocket was Model's worst operation.
He countered attacked at both the wrong place and time, by 1300 ( 1 PM ) on April 1st. the Ruhr pocket was encircled, the fighting went on another 3 weeks with Model ignoring Hitler's order to destroy the Ruhr factories, and also American surrender proposals were ignored.
He ordered his older men and young boys home, and by April 17th. when all medical supplies had run out, he disbanded his Army Group.
He said " A Field Marshal does not become a prisoner. Such a thing is not possible."
On the morning of April 21st. he told his intelligence officer " My hour has come."
The Americans were only a mile or two away, the two officers walked into the woods near Duisburg, and Model asked his aide to shoot him, but the Major refused.
Model now pulled out his pistol, " Anything is better than falling into Russian hands." He said, " You will bury me here." He then shot himself in the head.
He lay secretly buried there for years in an unmarked grave, near Duisberg until the Federal Republic of Germany came into being, then as his staff feared the victors would scatter Model's ashes to the winds as had happened to the convicted war criminals hanged at Nuremberg.
His son Major Hansgeorg Model had his father's body reintered in a Soldier's Cemetery in the Huertgen Forest, close to the final burial place of General George S. Patton.
Model now lays buried amongst the soldiers he commanded.
He stood up to Hitler far more than any of his contemporaries.
The Field Marshal lost his appetite for waging war in the end, no doubt he saw that it was all over and rather futile to keep on wasting lives.
A sad end by taking his own life to end a brilliant career.