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Who was Gerd von Rundstedt?

Updated on December 2, 2016
Photograph: E. Bieber
Photograph: E. Bieber

Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt, German army officer: b. Aschersleben, Prussia, December 12, 1875; died Hannover, Feb. 24, 1953. A member of an aristocratic Brandenburg family and the son of a general, he was groomed for a military career almost from infancy. He was educated at the military academy and the general staff college, and on the outbreak of World War I in 1914, with the rank of major, he commanded the 171st infantry regiment. Winning distinction during the campaign in Alsace, he was made chief of staff of corps on both the east and west fronts, and by the time the war ended in 1918 he was serving with the Turkish general staff. During the succeeding years of the Weimar Republic he remained on the active list, with the rank of lieutenant colonel commanding the third military district of Germany. During this period he was chiefly responsible for development of the Einheit system of battlefield operations under which each German infantry command was composed of a small number of self-sufficient units.

After Hitler's rise to power von Rundstedt continued his military career as head of the First Army group until 1938, when he reached the age for retirement. Recalled to duty the next year on the eve of World War II, in the sweep across Poland he commanded the group of armies which invaded the country from the southward. He took Krakow, Lodz, and Przemysl, and drove the Poles from the San and Vistula rivers, executing an almost flawless operation that led to the fall of Warsaw. In May 1940 he led Army Group A, the center group of armies which struck at France through the Ardennes, flanked the Maginot Line, and thrust through to the sea; he displayed such masterful strategy in this brief campaign that, on July 19, he was created a marshal of the Reich. When the Germans invaded Russia in the summer of 1941 he commanded the armies in the south, driving through the Ukraine, destroying Marshal Semypn Budyonny's army group, and capturing Kiev. After his defeat at Rostov in 1942 by the Russians under Marshal Semyon Konstantinovich Timoshenko, von Rundstedt was removed from his command and transferred to France. In April he was given charge of all defenses from Bayonne as far north as Norway, and following the scuttling of the French Navy at Toulon on November 27, 1942, he became military ruler of all France. He showed remarkable ability in maintaining Pierre Laval in power without giving him any military strength, and was extremely successful in his dealings with Marshal Henri Philippe Petain.

Field Marshal von Rundstedt was German supreme commander in western Europe when the Allies landed on the Normandy coast on June 6, 1944. Failing to repel the invasion, he ordered a general withdrawal to the line of the Seine, and because of this he was removed on July 6 and replaced by Field Marshal Gunther von Kluge. His successor proving equally unsuccessful in stemming the Allied advance, von Rundstedt was reinstated in supreme command, in September, as the United States and British armies were moving up to the Siegfried Line. Late in 1944 he launched the Battle of the Bulge, in the Ardennes, which temporarily disrupted the Allied sweep into Germany by a counterdrive for the Meuse River. When this attack failed von Rundstedt's prestige in the Nazi hierarchy declined rapidly, and on March 13, 1945, with Germany now confronted with imminent defeat, he retired. The United States 141'st Regiment, of the 36th Infantry Division, captured von Rundstedt on May 1 at Bad Tolz, 23 miles south of Munich. Regarded as one of the leading Nazi commanders, he was held in British custody for trial before a war crimes tribunal. Because of ill health he was never brought to trial, and on May 26, 1949, he was released from a British military hospital at Hamburg.

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