Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt (December 12, 1875 -
February 24, 1953) was a Field Marshal of the German Army
during World War II. He remains known as one of Germany's
best generals, as well as for being apolitical throughout
Born into an aristocratic Prussian family, von Rundstedt
joined the Army in 1893, then entered Germany's elite
military academy in 1902 an institution that
accepted only 160 new students annually and weeded out
75% of the students through exams. During World War I he
rose in rank until 1918 when he was a major and was chief
of staff of his division.
After the war Rundstedt rose steadily in the small
100,000 man army and in 1932 was appointed commander of
the 3rd Infantry Division. Later that year he threatened
to resign when Franz von Papen declared martial law and
ordered his troops to eject members of the Nazi party
from state government offices. He was likewise just as
upset by the growing power of the Nazis, and eventually
resigned in October 1938.
In September 1939 World War II began, and von Rundstedt
was recalled to lead Army Group South during the
successful invasion of Poland. Turning to the west, he
supported Manstein's "armored fist" approach to
the invasion of France, and this was eventually selected
as Fall Gelb. During the battle he was placed in command
of seven panzer divisions, three motorized infantry
divisions, and 35 regular infantry divisions.
By May 14, 1940, the armored divisions led by Heinz
Guderian had crossed the Meuse and had opened up a huge
gap in the Allied front. von Rundstedt had doubts about
the survivability of these units without infantry
support, and asked for a pause while they caught up.
Hitler agreed, and the short delay was enough for the
British and French troops to escape at Dunkirk.
von Rundstedt was promoted to Field Marshal on July 19,
1940 and took part in the planning of Operation Sealion.
When the invasion was called off, von Rundstedt took
control of occupation forces and was given responsibility
to develop the coastal defences in the Netherlands,
Belgium and France.
In June 1941 von Rundstedt took part in Operation
Barbarossa as commander of Army Group South, where he led
52 infantry divisions and five panzer divisions into the
Soviet Union. At first his progress was slow, but in
September they captured Kiev, along with 665,000 Russian
prisoners. After this he moved east to attack Kharkov and
Rostov. He strongly opposed continuing the advance into
the Soviet Union during the winter and advised Hitler to
call a halt, but his views were rejected.
In November Rundstedt had a heart attack, but he refused
to be hospitalized and continued the advance, reaching
Rostov on November 21. A counter-attack forced the
Germans back. When Rundstedt demanded he should be
allowed to withdraw, Hitler became furious and replaced
him with General Walther von Reichenau.
Hitler recalled von Rundstedt to duty in March 1942,
placing him once again in command of the west. There he
formed the defensive system known as the Atlantic Wall,
permanent fortifications along 1,700 miles of coastline.
After the D-Day landings in June 1944, von Rundstedt
urged Hitler to negotiate a peace settlement with the
Allies. Hitler responded by replacing him with General
Gunther von Kluge.
As a result of the July 20 Plot, which outraged
Rundstedt, he agreed to join Guderian and Wilhelm Keitel
on the Army Court of Honour that expelled hundreds of
officers suspected of being opposed to Hitler. This
removed them from court martial and turned them over to
Roland Freisler. Many were executed.
In September von Kluge's front collapsed, and von
Rundstedt was once again placed in command in the west.
He quickly rallied the troops just in time to fight
Operation Market Garden, winning the battle. He was later
given a force and ordered to re-take Antwerp, but failed
against hopeless odds in what would be known as the
Battle of the Bulge. He was relieved of command again in
Rundstedt was captured by the US 36th Infantry Division
on May 1, 1945. While being interogated he suffered
another heart attack, and was taken to Britain where he
was held in captivity. He was released in July 1948, and
lived in Hanover until his death.
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