|Birth Day:||June 17, 1888|
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In 1908, after attending a military training school in Metz, France, he earned the rank of lieutenant.
Guderian was born in Kulm, West Prussia (now Poland), on 17 June 1888, the son of Friedrich and Clara (née Kirchhoff). His father and grandfathers were Prussian officers and he grew up in garrison towns surrounded by the military. In 1903, he left home and enrolled at a military cadet school. He was a capable student, although he performed poorly in his final exam. He entered the army as an officer cadet in February 1907 with the 10th Hanoverian Light Infantry Battalion, under his father's command. He became a second lieutenant in January 1908. On 1 October 1913, he married Margarete Goerne with whom he had two sons, Heinz Günther (2 August 1914 – 2004) and Kurt (17 September 1918 – 1984).
At the outbreak of World War I Guderian served as a communications officer and the commander of a radio station. In November 1914, he was promoted to first lieutenant. Between May 1915 and January 1916, Guderian was in charge of signals intelligence for the 4th Army. He fought at the Battle of Verdun during this period and was promoted to captain on 15 November 1915. He was then sent to the 4th Infantry Division before becoming commander of the Second Battalion of Infantry Regiment 14. On 28 February 1918, Guderian was appointed to the General Staff Corps. Guderian finished the war as an operations officer in occupied Italy. He disagreed with Germany signing the armistice in 1918, believing that the German Empire should have continued the fight.
Early in 1919, Guderian was selected as one of the four thousand officers allowed by the Versailles Treaty in the reduced-size German army, the Reichswehr. He was assigned to serve on the staff of the central command of the Eastern Frontier Guard Service which was intended to control and coordinate the independent freikorps units in the defense of Germany's eastern frontiers against Polish and Soviet forces engaged in the Russian Civil War. In June 1919, Guderian joined the Iron Brigade (later known as the Iron Division) as its second General Staff officer.
In the 1920s Guderian was introduced to armored warfare tactics by Ernst Volckheim, a World War I tank commander and a prolific writer on the subject. He studied the leading European literature on armored warfare and between 1922 and 1928 wrote five papers for Military Weekly, an armed forces journal. While the topics covered were mundane, Guderian related them to why Germany had lost World War I, a controversial subject at the time, and thus raised his profile in the military. There were some trial maneuvers conducted in the Soviet Union and Guderian academically evaluated the results. Britain was experimenting with armoured units under General Percy Hobart, and Guderian kept abreast of Hobart's writings. In 1924, he was appointed as an instructor and military historian at Stettin. As a lecturer he was polarizing, some of his pupils enjoyed his wit, but he alienated others with his biting sarcasm.
In 1927, Guderian was promoted to major and in October he was posted to the transport section of the Truppenamt, a clandestine form of the army's General Staff, which had been forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. By the autumn of 1928, he was a leading speaker on tanks; however, he did not set foot in one until the summer of 1929 when he briefly drove a Swedish Stridsvagn m/21-29. In October 1928, he was transferred to the Motor Transport Instruction Staff to teach. In 1931, he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel and became chief of staff to the Inspectorate of Motorized Troops under Oswald Lutz. This placed Guderian at the center of Germany's development of mobile warfare and armored forces.
During the autumn of 1936, Lutz asked Guderian to write Achtung – Panzer! He requested a polemical tone that promoted the Mobile Troops Command and strategic mechanized warfare. In the resulting work Guderian mixed academic lectures, a review of military history and armored warfare theory that partly relied on a 1934 book on the subject by Ludwig von Eimannsberger [de]. While limited, the book was in many respects a success. It contained two important questions which would require answering if the army was to be mechanized. How will the army be supplied with fuel, spares and replacement vehicles? And how to move large mechanized forces, especially those that are road-bound? He answered his own questions in discussions of three broad areas: refueling; spares parts; and access to roads.
In Guderian's 1937 book Achtung — Panzer! he wrote that "the time has passed when the Russians had no instinct for technology" and that Germany would have to reckon "with the Eastern Question in a form more serious than ever before in history". However, during the planning for Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, he had become optimistic about the supposed superiority of German arms. By May 1941 Guderian had accepted Hitler's official position that Operation Barbarossa was a preemptive strike. He had accepted some core elements of National Socialism: the Lebensraum concept of territorial expansion and the destruction of the supposed Judeo-Bolshevik threat.
In 1938, Hitler purged the army of personnel who were unsympathetic to the Nazi regime. Lutz was dismissed and replaced by Guderian. In the spring of that year Guderian had his first experience of commanding a panzer force during the annexation of Austria. The mobilization was chaotic, tanks ran out of fuel or broke down, and the combat value of the formation was non-existent. Had there been any real fighting Guderian would certainly have lost. He stood beside the Führer in Linz as Hitler addressed Germany and Austria in celebration. Afterwards, he set about remedying the problems that the panzer force had encountered. In the last year before the outbreak of World War II Guderian fostered a closer relationship with Hitler. He attended opera with the Führer and received invitations to dinner. When Neville Chamberlain, in his policy of appeasement, gave Hitler the Sudetenland, it was occupied by Guderian's XVI Motorized Corps.
During August 1939 Guderian took command of the newly formed XIX Army Corps. At short notice he was ordered to spearhead the northern element of the invasion of Poland which began on 1 September. Under his corps command was one of Germany's six panzer divisions; Guderian's corps controlled 14.5 per cent of Germany's armoured fighting vehicles. His task was to advance through the former West Prussian territory (which included his birthplace of Kulm), then travel through East Prussia before heading south towards Warsaw. Guderian used the German concept of "leading forward", which required commanders to move to the battle-front and assess the situation. He made use of modern communication systems by travelling in a radio-equipped command vehicle with which he kept himself in contact with corps command.
Guderian's 2nd Panzer Group began its offensive on 22 June by crossing the Bug River and advancing towards the Dnieper. The combined forces of 2nd and 3rd Panzer Groups closed the Minsk pocket, taking 300,000 prisoners before attacking towards Smolensk. Guderian was awarded a Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves on 17 July 1941. Following the conclusion of the Battle of Smolensk, which ended with the encirclement and destruction of the Soviet 16th, 19th and 20th Armies, General Franz Halder, Chief-of-staff of the OKH, argued in favor of the all-out drive toward Moscow. Halder had Guderian fly in to Führer's Headquarters to argue the Army's case for continuing the assault against Moscow. Guderian, who had just recently been vehemently opposed to Hitler's plan for the drive to the south, unexpectedly sided with the dictator. This abrupt change of heart angered both Halder and Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, commander of Army Group Centre, and turned Guderian into somewhat of a pariah amid Army leaders.
On 1 March 1943, after the German defeat in the Battle of Stalingrad, Hitler appointed Guderian to the newly created position of Inspector General of Armoured Troops. The latter had successfully lobbied to be reinstated, resulting in the new posting. Guderian's responsibilities were to oversee the panzer arm and the training of Germany's panzer forces. He established a collaborative relationship with Albert Speer regarding the manufacture and development of armored fighting vehicles. The military failures of 1943 prevented Guderian from restoring combat power to the armored forces to any significant degree. He had limited success with improved tank destroyers and fixing flaws in the third generation of tanks, the Panther and the Tiger.
Guderian completed the total Nazification of the army general staff with a 29 July order that demanded all officers join the party. He also made the Nazi salute obligatory throughout the armed forces. He supported the politicization of the military, but failed to see why other officers perceived him as a Nazi. As chief-of-staff of the OKH, Guderian did not object to the orders that Hitler and Himmler issued during the brutal suppression of the Warsaw Uprising nor the atrocities being perpetrated against the civilian population of the city. At a Volkssturm rally in November 1944, Guderian said that there were "95 million National Socialists who stand behind Adolf Hitler".
Guderian cultivated close personal relationships with the most powerful people in the regime. He had an exclusive dinner with Himmler on Christmas Day 1944. On 6 March 1945, shortly before the end of the war, Guderian participated in a propaganda film that denied the Holocaust; the Red Army in its advance had just liberated several extermination camps. Despite the general's later claims of being anti-Nazi, Hitler most likely found Guderian's values to be closely aligned with Nazi ideology. Hitler brought him out of retirement in 1943 and especially appreciated the orders he issued in the aftermath of the failed plot.
Guderian and his staff surrendered to US forces on 10 May 1945. He avoided being convicted as a war criminal at the Nuremberg Trials because there was no substantial documentary evidence against him at that time. He answered questions from the Allied forces and denied being an ardent supporter of Nazism. He joined the US Army Historical Division in 1945 and the US refused requests from the Soviet Union to have him extradited. Even after the war, Guderian retained an affinity with Hitler and National Socialism. While interned by the Americans, his conversations were secretly taped. In one such recording, while conversing with former Field Marshal Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb and former General Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg, Guderian opined: "The fundamental principles [of Nazism] were fine".
Guderian was released from captivity without trial in 1948. Many of his peers were not so lucky. Von Manstein was sentenced to 18 years and Albert Kesselring was given a life sentence. He had informed on his ex-colleagues and co-operated with the Allies, which had helped him evade prosecution. He retired to Schwangau near Füssen in Southern Bavaria and began writing. His most successful book was Panzer Leader. He remained an ardent German nationalist for the rest of his life. Guderian died on 14 May 1954 at the age of 65 and is buried at the Friedhof Hildesheimer Straße in Goslar.
Guderian's post-war autobiography Panzer Leader was a success with the reading public. He cast himself as an innovator and the "father" of the German panzer arm, both before the war and during the blitzkrieg years. This allowed him to re-imagine himself as the master of the blitzkrieg between 1939 and 1941; however, this was an exaggeration. Guderian's German memoirs were first published in 1950. At that time they were the only source on the development of panzer forces, German military records having been misplaced or lost. Consequently, historians based their interpretation of historical events upon Guderian's self-centred autobiography. Subsequent biographers supported the myth and embellished it. In 1952 Guderian's memoirs were reprinted in English. British journalist and military theorist B. H. Liddell Hart, having gained access to a group of German Wehrmacht generals imprisoned in the No. 1 POW camp in Grizedale Hall in the north of England from 9 August 1945 as a Political Intelligence Department lecturer taking part in the Re-education programme, in an effort to use that to re-establish his reputation as a military theorist and commentator, asked Guderian to say that he had based his military theories on Liddell Hart's; Guderian obliged. Liddell Hart, in turn, became an advocate for the West German rearmament.
In 1950, Guderian published a pamphlet entitled Can Europe Be Defended?, where he lamented that the Western powers had picked the wrong side to ally themselves with during the war, even as Germany "was fighting for its naked existence", as a "defender of Europe" against the supposed Bolshevik menace. Guderian issued apologetics for Hitler, writing: "For one may judge Hitler's acts as one will, in retrospect his struggle was about Europe, even if he made dreadful mistakes and errors". He claimed that only the Nazi civilian administration (not the Wehrmacht) was responsible for atrocities against Soviet civilians and scapegoated Hitler and the Russian winter for the Wehrmacht's military reverses, as he later did in Panzer Leader; in addition, he wrote that six million Germans died during their expulsion from the Eastern territories by the Soviet Union and its allies, while also writing that the defendants executed at the Nuremberg trials (for war crimes such as the Holocaust) were "defenders of Europe".
Guderian's memoirs remain popular. The favourable descriptions started with the British journalist and military theorist Liddell Hart, who described Guderian as one of the "Great Captains of History", in a book published by the mass-market Ballantine Books in 1957. As late as 2002, for the 55th anniversary of the first publication of the book, The New York Times, Newsweek, The New Yorker and other outlets published positive reviews, reinforcing the tenets of the myth of the clean Wehrmacht. The reviews stressed the separation between the professional soldiers and the Nazi regime, while The New York Times Book Review described the book as one of the best written by former German generals. Kenneth Macksey in his biography eulogized Guderian, inflating his true accomplishments.
In 1976, the leading wargaming magazine, Strategy and Tactics, spotlighted Guderian in a featured game of the month called Panzergruppe Guderian. The magazine cover included a photo of Guderian in military dress, with his Knight's Cross and a pair of binoculars, suggesting a commanding role. The magazine featured a glowing profile of Guderian where he was identified as the originator of blitzkrieg and lauded for his military achievements. Adhering to the post-war myths, the profile posited that a commander like this could "function in any political climate and be unaffected by it". Guderian thus came across as a consummate professional who stood apart from the crimes of the Nazi regime.
Currently, Heinz Guderian is 133 years, 4 months and 9 days old. Heinz Guderian will celebrate 134th birthday on a Friday 17th of June 2022.
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