Field Marshal Walter von Brauchitsch. ( 1881-1948 )

Field Marshal Walter von BrauchitschWalter von Brauchitsch was born in the German capital of Berlin on the 4th. of October 1881, the son of a Prussian Cavalry General, from that background presumably he was predestined for an Army career. In his youth he became a member of the Corps of Pages, and did serve as personal page to the Empress Augusta Victoria.

Commissioned as a Second Lieutenant.At 18, on the 22nd. of March 1900 Walter was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the top flight 3rd. Foot Guards Regiment, but the next year found him transferred to the 3rd. Guards Field Artillery Regiment.

For the rest of his Army career he was to be associated with the artillery branch. He played a big role in the development of the 88mm gun, used both as an anti tank and anti aircraft gun, this gun went on to be mounted on the Tiger and Panther class tank, and was considered by many who came up against this weapon, to be the finest tank gun in WW2.

Promotion and Marriage.
Promoted to First Lieutenant in September 1909, he married Elizabeth von Karstedt on the 29th. of December 1910, she was reported as both unattractive and emotionally cool, but she hailed from a noble family, and perhaps Walter saw this union as one which might advance his Army career.

After a spell at the War Academy he graduated in 1912 and became a General Staff Officer, and a Captain in 1913.

von Brauchitsch spent the entire war as a General Staff Officer on the Western Front, finishing as a Major and accepted into Germany's post war Army, severely limited by the Treaty of Versailles to 100,000.

Post WW1.
He had various staff jobs, a time as Commander of a Field Artillery Battery over 1921- 1922, back to a staff position, then over 1925-1927, Commander 11 Batallion, 6th, Artillery Regiment. The years of 1927-1930 found Walter as Chief of Staff of Wehrkreis V1 at Muenster, thence to return to Berlin, as Director of Army Training for 2 years, and Inspector of Artillery over 1932-1933.

As Hitler became German Chancellor, von Brauchitsch took up a new position at Koenigsberg, Commander of Wehrkreis 1.

He had advanced in regular steps up the Army ladder, 1925, Lieutenant Colonel, 1928, Colonel, 1930, Major General, and to Lieutenant General in 1933.

Political leanings.
To this point in his Army career, Walter von Brauchitsch was certainly not a Nazi sympathiser, he was cool, to being hostile to the regime. He had been classed by his fellow Generals as " a distinguished representative of the Prussian aristocratic tradition." as quoted by the author Harold C. Deutsch.Now in 1937, he was given command by the C-in-C, General Werner von Fritsch of Army Group 4, this appointment gave him control over the Reich's entire panzer, mechanised, and motorised Divisions, in fact the countries total mobile strike force.

But all was not well with our Lieutenant General, why? basically because of two women in his life.

Women trouble.
The wife of von Brauchitsch was reportedly a " governess type. " and according to General Curt Siewert lacked both " warmth and femininity." They had lived apart for five years, but the general had one affair whilst they had been together, this liaision was with a divorcee, Charlotte Rueffer, whom Walter had first met back about 1925, he wanted a divorce then, but his wife refused.

Charlotte went on to marry a bank director named Schmidt, but he had drowned in his bath during a visit to Berlin, so when Walter returned from East Prussia in 1937, the pair resumed their affair.

By 1938 the general was again pestering his wife for a divorce, but she demanded a large lump sum cash settlement to give him his freedom. A divorce was bad enough in the the Prussian Officer Corps, without a cash inducement, his wife threatened to contest the annulment, disaster threatened.

A new Minister of War required.
We have previously seen the retirement of Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg as Minister of War, because of his lack of checking out the woman he married, and then having to face Hitler after he was told that she was a former prostitute.

The C-in-C of the Army, Colonel General Baron Werner Thomas Ludwig Fritsch was touted as a likely candidate, but he was a known anti Nazi, and disliked by Hitler. Goering also had his eye on this plum job, but needed to shunt Fritsch, so teaming up with Himmler, and the head of the Security Service Reinhard Heydrich, they conspired to frame Fritsch on homosexual activity charges.

He denied the false charges to Hitler, but a former ex convict testified that Fritsch had paid him blackmail money to keep quiet about it all, Himmler produced Schmidt who identified Fritsch as the man he had caught in a homosexual act. The C-inC was relieved of his command and sent on indefinite leave, another troublesome officer out of the way.

Reinhard Heydrich head of Security Services, coinspired with Goering to frame Colonel General Fritsch
Reinhard Heydrich head of Security Services,
coinspired with Goering to frame Colonel General Fritsch

Hitler becomes Minister of War.
On the 28th. of January 1938 Hitler assumed the role of Minister of War.

Goering steps in.
By the 1st. of February, Goering was looking at the qualifications of Brauchitsch for C-in-C, he no doubt found out about his passion for Charlotte, who was a fanatical Nazi, who could of course have great influence over the general. He realised how to put Brauchitsch firmly into Hitler's pocket, as well as making him beholden to himself, he thus recommended to Hitler that they pay off Frau von Brauchitsch and appoint him the new C-in-C of the Army, a master stroke indeed.

Brauchitsch sells out to Hitler.
By ridding himself of his wife when the Reich paid her off, he was free to marry his love and passion Charlotte, and also reach the peak of his Army career. But he had to dance to Hitler's tune, and many army officers were sacrificed, those opposed to the Nazi regime. Sixteen senior Army generals were forced to retire, replaced by pro Nazi ones. Another forty four were transferred to other duties.

It was Telford Taylor who summed it all up well: " To achieve his new position, Brauchitsch stooped to the meanest concessions and put himself under permament obligation to Goering, and Keitel, as well as Hitler. For his dismal surrender of principle, for position, the Officer Corps paid soon and dear."

Austria and Czechoslovakia fall to Germany.
Austria was incorporated into the Third Reich on the 12th. of March 1938, a bloodless affair, Hitler's bluff was rewarded, now Czechoslovakia was next in his sights. Through the long hated Treaty of Versailles at the end of WW1, some 3 million Germans were isolated on the wrong side of the present border of Germany.

Brauchitsch was against an invasion of Czech teritory, afraid of her Allies, Britain, and France, and their might, Generals Beck and Halder wanted their boss to front Hitler and forcibly put the Army view that it was strongly against Hitler and his plan.

Given the way the C-in-C gained his job and the ability to divorce his wife etc he was never going to face Hitler and argue the Army line. Beck began to work against Hitler but Brauchitsch warned him about Beck and his memorandum which he showed to Hitler.

Beck was getting nowhere in his campaign, and being told that Hitler demanded obedience from all his commanding generals, wrote out his resignation which was gratefully accepted, another troublesome general out of the way.

Divorce and Marriage.
On the 4th. of August 1938, Brauchitsch's divorce was finalised and he married Charlotte the next month on the 28th. of September. Whenever Halder and others wanted their C-in-C to stand up to Hitler, his very pro Nazi wife trotted out " How much we owe Hitler." and he always buckled.

Munich Agreement.
The major powers France, Britain, and Italy, sold out Czechoslovakia by signing the Munich Agreement with Germany on the 30th. of September 1938, ceding them the Sudetenland. Totally weakened, by losing her frontier fortications, the old Czech President surrendered Bohemia and Moravia, to become a Reich Protectorate.

His country no longer existed.

Once again Hitler achieved his ends by bluff, politics and diplomacy, he obviously now considered himself invincible and virtually unstoppable. Poland beckoned.

Invasion of Poland.
There is no doubt that Poland and its invasion was Brauchitsch's one great campaign. He certainly believed that both the Free city of Danzig and the Polish Corridor given to Warsaw by Versailles, rightfully were German territory.

German bombers during seige of Warsaw 1st. September -1st. October 1939
German bombers during seige of Warsaw 1st. September -1st. October 1939

The Army C-in-C had 1,516,000 men under his control with Army Group North commanded by Field Martial Bock, and Rundstedt leading Army Group South. It was all over in 36 days with 694,000 Poles taken prisoner. It was the only campaign that Hitler gave his Army Commander a free hand, and did not interfere.

Polish Infantry
Polish Infantry

German Eyes Turn to the West.
Now planing for an invasion against the Western Allies was put in train, but Hitler was not happy with either Brauchitsch's plans or comments, and as previously discussed in Bock's story, the Manstein Plan was adopted.

It was a spectacular victory, and by the 21st. of June 1940, France had capitulated, Hiter's forces stood on the Channel in the West, and on Russia's border in the East, and the Fuhrer was at the peak of his militay success. But he was about to make a big mistake by planning and executing an invasion of the land of the Bear, Russia.

By the 5th. of August 1940, the Marcks Plan to attack Russia was set before Hitler, in essence, the Army was to seize all land west of a line, Rostov-Gorki-Archangel, with the main aim to take Moscow. Army Group North had 68 divisions, Army Group South 35 divisions, with another 44 divisions held in reserve.

Not once did Brauchitsch query Hitler on the need or advisability of attacking Russia, or warn him of the danger of operating on two fronts, a task any prudent C-in-C would be expected to undertake.

22nd. of June 1941.
On the 22nd. of June in 1941, three German Armies moved eastwards into Russia, one army towards Leningrad, one to Moscow in the centre, and one towards Sevastopol and Rostov in the south.Unlike the Polish campaign, Hitler continually looked over the shoulder of his C-in-C and interfered.

On the 10th. of November, Brauchitsch had a heart attack, and was informed he had a maligent cardiac disease, most likely incurable, but he went back to work, his aim to take Moscow.

Poised on the outskirts of Moscow, the Russian winter and Stalin's counter attack stopped the German Army in its tracks.

Fed up with constant arguments with Hitler, Brauchitsch wrote out his resignation on the 6th. of December, but the Fuhrer thought it not a good time to change Commanders.

On the 16th. of December, Hitler was informed that notwithstanding his orders that the German Army stand fast, his C-in-C had secretly discussed a limited withdrawal plan. Hitler cancelled these plans, he was finally fed up with Brauchitsch, and on the 19th. of December dismissed him, making him the scapegoat for his failure to capture Moscow, and assumed command of the Army himself.

Final Days.
Walter von Brauchitsch was arrested by the British at his estate in Schleswig-Holstein early in May 1945, and was sent to England, then returned to Gemany and be imprisioned in Muenster.

His general health was poor, he was almost blind, spent time imprisoned at Nuremberg and then Hamburg, due to go on trial as a war criminal in front of a British Military Court in 1949, heart failure took his life on the 18th. of October 1948.

The German Army was his life, but he allowed personal advancement and his love of Charlotte to sell out his principles, and his fellow officers to Hitler to achieve his own ends.

Despite conducting a brilliant campaign in Poland, he never stood up to Hitler, and failed to take Moscow, and was accordingly made the scapegoat. Dismissed as C-in-C, he died as a rather tragic POW.

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