Heinz Wilhelm Guderian b. 1888 / d. 1954
Heinz Guderian was the driving force behind Nazi Germany’s famed Panzer tank units. Serving briefly in WWI, Guderian was accepted into the restricted military corps of 100,000 allowed by the Treaty of Versailles, and posted to staff college in Berlin. During the interwar period, he became fascinated with the development of motorized units, and studied British theorists such as J.F.C. Fuller and B.H. Liddell-Hart avidly, translating them into German. He traveled abroad to Sweden and Russia, observing tank development, tactics and training.
Upon promotion to Major, in 1927, Guderian was assigned command of various small motorized units which, at the time, had only trucks and motorcycles (due to the treaty) and were used for supply duties. He drove his men to learn armor tactics, going so far as to fit trucks with improvised turrets for practice purposes. He contributed a never-ending stream of articles to German staff publications concerning tanks, and helped restart production of armored vehicles in Germany.
Hitler, newly installed, chanced to see some of Guderian’s units practicing armor tactics and was very enthusiastic. As part of the first secret remobilization of Germany, he authorized Guderian to build and lead three tank divisions.
Eventually, Guderian (along with fellow General Erwin Rommel of eventual North Africa fame) became the proponent of the thrust through the Ardennes Forest which began the blitzkrieg against France. He succeeded by ruthlessly driving his forces ahead, abandoning broken vehicles and consolidating fuel and ammunition when necessary in order to drive deep into the French rear area. Once through the front area, his forces began to move sideways in order to pin the French troops against atttacking German forces; their primary tactic was to destroy and disrupt supply and communications lines. Many French command staff were captured while still believing that Guderian’s panzers had not made it across the river Meuse, only to find their cannon poking into French command posts. This advance earned him the nickname HeinzBrausewetter (Hurricane Heinz).
Guderian continued his rise throughout the war, despite frequent setbacks for disobedience (usually involving refusing orders to slow, halt or retreat). He was made the youngest member of the Wermacht General Staff, and led armored troops on both Western and Eastern fronts. Eventually, he was appointed Chief of Staff of the Wermacht, a mostly-puppet position under Hitler; after a strong argument with der Fuhrer he was relieved, and surrendered to the Allies at the end of the war. The Russians wanted to prosecute him for war crimes (connected with the horrific battles fought on the Eastern front) but the West refused; he served two years in prison after the war before being released to write his memoirs and live quietly in Germany. He passed away in 1954.