Heinz Guderian was born in Chulm, West Prussia in 1888. He joined the army in 1907, and was made a Leutnant in 1908 after graduating from war academy in Metz. In 1911 he joined the Prussian Army Signal Corps. In 1913 he married his wife, Margarete Goerne, with whom he would have two sons. During World War I he was a Signal and General Officer, but was transferred to army intelligence following several disagreements with superiors, and remained there until the end of the war. As such, he was able to accumulate both battle experience and strategic skills. After the war he remained in the army, which had been greatly reduced by the Treaty of Versailles. He served as a company commander, and was promoted to major in 1927. He was involved at the development of armored forces, and studied (and translated, as he was fluent in English and French) the works of various military theorists on topics such as maneuver warfare. he wrote his own book Achtung - Panzer!
on tank warfare between 1936 and 1937.
In 1931 he was promoted to Oberstleutnant and made chief of staff to the Inspectorate of Motorized Troops, and then Oberst in 1933. In 1935 he was given command of the 2nd Panzer Division, then in 1936 he was promoted to Generalleutnant and in 1938 he was promoted to General, with command of the XVI Army Corps. Guderian fully developed the concept of blitzkrieg, which had started as a half-formed idea in the British military
. Though he called himself "Father of the Blitzkrieg", it's probable that his contribution was less than his boasting would lead one to believe.
Guderian commanded the XIV Corps in the invasion of Poland
, personally leading troops at the Battle of Wizna and the Battle of Kobryn. These early commands gave him a chance to test his theories in the field, and they saw success. During the invasion of France
he led the troops through the Ardennes forest, and was given the nickname "Hurrying Heinz" for the speed of his blitzkrieg attacks. He led the race to the sea that deprived the French and Belgians
of necessary supplies. Though he wanted to destroy the beachhead at Dunkirk in 1940, he was forbidden to attack by Adolf Hitler
, in what has been agreed as one of the biggest military blunders of the war. In 1941 he was one of the leaders in Operation Barbarossa, the attack on Russia
, when he commanded Panzergruppe 2. He captured Smolensk and was moving on Moscow
when ordered to turn to Kiev. He disagreed with Hitler's orders in this regard, and was removed from his post soon after, in December 1941, after being accused of violating Hitler's "victory or die" order. He was placed in Oberkommander des Heeres, a reserve force, despite denying that he had ordered a retreat. He retired to Deipenhof with his wife. In 1942 Erwin Rommel
, who was ill and unable to command in Africa
, recommended Guderian as his replacement, but was rebuffed. When Germany
was defeated at Stalingrad, however, Guderian was allowed back into a command position; in March 1943 he was appointed Inspector-General of the Armored Troops, overseeing tank design and strategy as well as training panzer units. In this job, he was accountable directly to Hitler.
After the failed 20 July plot
in 1944, Guderian became chief of staff of the army. While in this position, he would not allow any officer not fully committed to National Socialism to serve in the General Staff. He also served on the Court of Military Honour, which expelled a number of officers involved in the 20 July plot before sending them for their punishment to the People's Court. Guderian's disagreements with Hitler continued and grew more heated until, finally, Hitler dismissed him in March of 1945. He surrendered along with his Panzer staff to the US Army on May 10th, 1945. He was kept by them as a prisoner of war until June of 1948. He was never charged or tried at the Nuremburg Trials, as it was determined that he had acted in the normal course of professional soldiering and so could not be held accountable for the crimes of the Third Reich
. This was strongly opposed by Soviet
forces as well as Polish civilians, who had been on the receiving end of much of Guderian's military advances. He attended British veteran's meetings, and was helping to rebuild the German peacetime army, Bundeswehr, in the early 1950s. He died on May 14th, 1954.
In Other Media
A documentary film about Guderian, called Guderian
, was aired in France in 2000. It featured his remaining son, Heinz Guenther Guderian (his other son died in the war), Field Marshal Lord Carver and two prominent historians, Kenneth Macksey and Heinz Wilhelm.