Biography of Heinz Guderian

Heinz Guderian was the leading theorist of armored warfare in Germany, and a great tactician as well. One might not expect this from his service in World War One, for, unlike multiply-decorated Rommel, Guderian had served in technical and staff, rather than combat positions. However, this experience with unglamorous radios and trucks gave him an insight into the new technology missed by many of his contemporaries. After the war, as an officer in the reduced German Army under the Versailles Treaty, he became part of the secret development of tanks, which the Treaty had prohibited. After Hitler had repudiated the restrictions of the Treaty, in 1937, Guderian published "Actung! Panzer" (Attention! Armor), in which he advanced his ideas for tank warfare. In it, he proposed a middle road in the debate then raging on role of armor. The tank could NOT simply overrun all opponents, as its radical supporters assumed; nor should it be just a tool to help the infantry. Instead, it should operate as part of a "combined arms team" supported by large numbers of motorized infantry, artillery and engineers.

This middle position was more upsetting than it might seem. If either of the extreme views was correct, all the Army had to do in peacetime was train a few isolated tank units; when war came, these would simply be told which infantry unit to support, or be turned loose on the helpless enemy (depending on which extreme was talking). Guderian, however, was calling for large parts of the Army to be reorganized into divisions built around armor, upsetting the routines of lot of people who were ordinarily willing to ignore the question. This had doomed such proposals in other countries; but Hitler, always enchanted by new ideas, liked the plan, which gave Guderian the support he needed to form not one, but three of the new "Panzer Divisions" and later, still more.

Guderian commanded XIX Panzer Corps in the Polish Campaign and the Battle of France and led 2nd Panzer Group (Army) in BABAROSSA, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, in 1941. In each case, his forces were critical to the offensive and his theories were confirmed in victory. These successes came to an end in December, when he was relieved of this command, after disobeying the orders of General von Kluge! Guderian's career resumed fourteen months later, in February 1943 when he was made Inspector General of Panzer Troops. He reformed and rebuilt depleted units and increased tank production, but did not command troops again. Hitler named him Army Chief of Staff on 21 JULY 44, a post he filled until 28 MARCH 45, when he argued with Hitler once too often and was dismissed.

After the war, it was decided that as Guderian had neither direct responsibility for, nor clear knowledge of war crimes, he would not be tried by the Nuremburg Tribunal. He lived until 1953.