Heinz Wilhelm Guderian (1888-1954) was a German General and military theorist who fought during World War II, commanding German Army’s armoured units. The Wehrmacht’s panzer forces were conceived and then fought according to his best-known work, “Achtung— Panzer!,” a book on military tactics based on the use of armored vehicles. Although he was promoted to the rank of full general, he never became field marshal. Guderian was one of the best generals of World War II, participating as commander of the XIX Corps in the Polish Campaign and the Battle of France, and as commander of Panzergruppe 2 in Operation Barbarossa.
Heinz Guderian was born on June 17, 1888, in Culm, West-Prussia, south of Danzig. He was educated in military schools and in the Military Academy of Berlin from 1901 to 1907. In 1907, as an ensign cadet, Guderian joined the JÃgger Battalion Nr. 10, which was commanded by his father. In 1908, he attended the War Academy at Metz; then he was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant. In 1911, Heinz wanted to marry Margarete Goerne, but, as his father thought he was too young for marriage, he was sent for special instruction to Telegraphen-Battalion Nr. 3 instead. Nevertheless, after finishing the course in 1913, Heinz married Margarete. They had two sons, who fought in World War II with the Panzertruppen.
During the Great War, Guderian served as a General Staff officer, which allowed him to get an overall view of battlefield conditions. Sometimes, he disagreed with his superiors and as a result he was transferred to the army intelligence department. After the war, he was appointed company commander of the 10th Jägger Battalion. Then he joined the ‘General Staff’-in-waiting, “in waiting” because the German General Staff was explicitly forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. In 1927 Guderian rose to the rank of major and was transferred to the Truppenamt group for Army transport and Overseer of motorized tactics based in Berlin. This appointment put him at the center of the development of what would later become known as the blitzkrieg.
Between 1936 and 1937, Heinz Guderian wrote “Achtung- Panzer!.” It was an explanation of Guderian’s theories on the role tanks and aircraft should play in modern warfare. It was a compilation of Guderian’s own theories and the ideas of other proponents of armored and combined-arms warfare within the general staff. The panzer force he devised would become the core of the German Army’s power in World War II and perform the fighting style known as blitzkrieg, lightning war.
When World War II broke out, Guderian first served as the XIX Army Corps commander during the invasion of Poland, leading the German forces during the Battle of Wizna and testing his theories for the first time in the reality of war. In May 1940, during the invasion of France, he personally led the attack that plowed through the Ardennes Forest, crossed the Meuse River and broke through the French lines at Sedan. Guderian commanded his panzer forces in quick blitzkrieg-style advances, earning the nickname “Schneller Heinz”, which means “Hurry-Up Heinz” among his troops. Guderian’s panzer group led the “race to the sea” which split the Allied armies in two and deprived the French armies and the British Expeditionary Force in Northern France and Belgium of their fuel, ammunition , and food. Guderian’s column was famously denied the chance to destroy the Allied beachhead at Dunkirk by Hitler’s orders.
In 1941, during Operation Barbarossa, Heinz Guderian commanded Panzergruppe 2 and received the 24th award of the Oak Leaves to his Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross on July 17. From October 5, 1941 he led the Second Panzer Army. His armored divisions spearheaded the capture of Smolensk in a remarkably short time and was poised to launch the final assault on Moscow when he was ordered to turn south instead towards Kiev. He protested against this decision and, as a result, lost the Führer’s confidence. He was relieved of his command on December 25, 1941, and transferred to the reserve pool of the army command. Thus, his chances of being promoted to field marshal, which depended on Hitler’s personal decision, had been ruined forever. After the German defeat at Stalingrad, Guderian was appointed Inspector-General of the Armored Troops on March 1, 1943. At this new post, his responsibilities were to determine armored strategy and to supervise tank design and production and the training of Germany’s panzer forces.
After the failure of the July 20 Plot in which he had no involvement, Heinz Guderian was appointed chief of staff of the army, replacing Kurt Zeitzler on July 21, 1944. During his tenure as chief of staff he had a long series of violent rows with Hitler over the way in which German Army should handle the war on both fronts. Guderian was finally dismissed on March, 28, 1945, after a shouting-match over the failed counterattack of General Theodor Busse’s 9th Army to break through to units encircled at Küstrin.
Heinz Guderian surrendered to American troops on May 10, 1945, and remained in U.S. custody as a prisoner of war until he was released on June 17, 1948. He was not charged with any war crimes during the Nuremberg Trials, for his actions and behavior were considered to be consistent with those of a professional soldier. After the war he was often invited to attend meetings of British veterans’ groups, where he analyzed and discussed past battles with his former foes.
Heinz Guderian died on May 14, 1954, at the age of 65, in Schwangau near Füssen and is buried at the cementery on Hildesheimer Street, in Goslar, Germany.