- Gotthard Heinrici
Infobox Military Person
lived=birth date|1886|12|25|df=y — death date and age|1971|12|13|1886|12|25|df=y
Gumbinnen(Gusev), East Prussia
nickname="Unser Giftzwerg", literally "our poison dwarf", meaning "our tough little bastard"
German Empire(to 1918)
Weimar Republic(to 1933)
serviceyears=1905 - 1945
Army Group Vistula
World War I World War II
Battle of the Seelow Heights
awards=Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
Iron CrossFirst Class Iron CrossSecond Class
Gotthardt Heinrici (
December 25, 1886– December 13, 1971) was a generalin the German Armyduring World War II.
Heinrici was born in Gumbinnen (now Gusev),
East Prussia, on Christmas Day, 1886. Few details are known about Heinrici's personal life. He was a cousin of General Gerd von Rundstedtand was married to Gertrude Heinrici, a half-Jew. The family received a German Blood Certificatedirectly from German dictator Adolf Hitler. The Heinricis had two children: a girl and a boy.
The son of a Lutheran minister, Heinrici was a religious man who attended church regularly. His religiosity made him unpopular among the Nazi hierarchy and he was on unfavourable terms with
Reichsmarschall Hermann Göringand Hitler. This was probably due to his refusal to join the Nazi Party.
Early army career
The Heinrici family had been soldiers since the 12th century. Gotthard Heinrici continued the family tradition by joining the 95th Infantry Regiment on
8 March, 1905. He was 19 years old. Heinrici saw action on both the Eastern and Western fronts in the First World War and won numerous awards. His awards included the Black Wound Badge for being wounded in battle. Heinrici also received both the Second Class and First Class Iron Crosses in 1914 and 1915, respectively. He participated in the Battle of Tannenberg. Heinrici was a victim of poison gas in World War I.
econd World War
Heinrici served throughout
World War II. As in World War I, he served on both fronts. Heinrici built up a reputation as Germany's best defensive tactician in the Wehrmachtand was renowned for his tenacity. For this reason, his officers and men nicknamed him "Unser Giftzwerg", literally "our poison dwarf", meaning "our tough little bastard" in recognition of his character and lack of physical stature.
Blitzkrieginto France, Heinrici commanded the 12th Corps and succeeded in breaking through the Maginot Lineon 14 June, 1940.
In 1941, during
Operation Barbarossa, Heinrici served in the Second Panzer Army under Heinz Guderianand, as the commanding general of the 43rd Army Corps, received the Knight's Cross.
26 January, 1942, Heinrici was given command of the German Fourth Army. This unit was crucial to the rapidly crumbling German line directly facing Moscow. The Fourth Army under Heinrici held out against the Soviet onslaught for ten weeks. Heinrici managed this even though his forces were sometimes out-numbered 12 to 1. During this time, Heinrici developed one of his most famous tactics: when he sensed a Soviet attack was imminent, Heinrici would pull his troops back from the line prior to the preliminary artillery barrage. Then, immediately afterwards, he would return them unharmed back to their lines to face the attacking Soviet troops.
In late 1943, Göring had Heinrici placed in a convalescent home in
Karlsbadon the pretext of "ill health". This was actually punishment for refusing to set fire to Smolenskin accordance with the Nazi " scorched earth" policy. However, it should be noted that Heinrici went on a two-month leave of absencetwice during World War II. He took leave from 6 Juneto 13 July, 1942. About one year later, Heinrici took leave from 1 Juneto 31 July, 1943. One of these leaves was believed to be due to his contracting hepatitis.
In the summer of 1944, after eight months of enforced retirement, Heinrici was sent to
Hungaryand placed in command of the German First Panzer Armyand the Hungarian First Armywhich was attached to it. He was able to keep the First Panzer Army relatively intact as he retreated into Slovakia. Heinrici fought so tenaciously that he was awarded the Swords to the Oak Leaves of his Knight's Cross on 3 March, 1945.
Retreat from the Oder
20 March, 1945, Heinz Guderianreplaced Heinrich Himmlerwith Heinrici as Commander-in-Chief of Army Group Vistulaon the Eastern Front. Indicating that he was ill, Himmler had abandoned his post on 13 Marchand retired to a sanatorium at Hohenlychen. At this time, Army Group Vistula's front was less than 50 miles from Berlin.
As Commander-in-Chief of Army Group Vistula, Heinrici commanded two armies: the Third Panzer Army led by General
Hasso von Manteuffeland the Ninth Army led by General Theodor Busse. Heinrici was tasked with preventing a Soviet attack across the Oder River. But he faced shortages of manpower and material and Hitler's conviction that the Red Army would not attack Berlin.
Led by Marshals
Georgi Zhukov( 1st Byelorussian Front) and Ivan Konev( 1st Ukrainian Front), the Soviets had advanced rapidly west from the USSRand had been stalled east of the Oder for months. As Anglo-American armies approached Berlin from the West, however, Stalinbecame convinced that they intended to take Berlin for themselves and ordered Zhukovand Konevto seize the city without further delays.
15 April, Heinrici met with architect Albert Speerand Lieutenant General (Generalleutnant) Helmuth Reymannto discuss the scorched earthpolicy (see Nero Decree) that Speer and Heinrici were against. At that time, Reymann was the commander of the BerlinDefense Area. Although Reymann refused to side with Speer, he did promise to confer with Heinrici before destroying vital city infrastructure.
16 April, the first stage of the Battle of Berlin, the Battle of the Oder-Neisse, began. Combined, the Soviets attacked with over 1,500,000 men for what they called the "Berlin Offensive Operation". In the early morning of 18 April, Zhukov's front crossed the Oder and assaulted Heinrici's positions on the western bank. Simultaneously, Konev's front attacked Field Marshal Ferdinand Schörner's Army Group Centerfurther south. By 19 April, the Soviets had broken through and the Battle of the Oder-Neissewas over. Now began the second stage of the Battle of Berlin, the battle for the city itself.
21 April, Hitler learned of a proposed retreat of Army Group Vistula only after a puzzling request by General Heinrici. Heinrici requested permission from Hitler to transfer the headquarters of his army group to a new site. Hitler was only able to find Heinrici's proposed headquarters after much searching on the map. Hitler then saw to his dismay that the site was to the west of Berlin and, thus, further from the Soviets than Hitler's own headquarters in the Führerbunker. Hitler was furious.
By late April, Heinrici realized that
Army Group Vistulacould not halt the advance of the Soviets. After days of intense fighting, he ordered the retreat of his army group from Wollin. He ordered his men to fall back across the Oder River. Heinrici ordered this despite Hitler's orders that no retreat could be authorized without his personal approval.
Clash with Keitel and Dismissal
28 April, German Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitelwas riding along the roads north of Berlin when he noticed to his amazement that troops of the 7th Panzer Division and of the 25th Panzergrenadier Division were marching north away from Berlin. These troops were part of General Hasso von Manteuffel's 3rd Panzer Army. The 3rd Panzer Army was one of two armies which made up Heinrici's Army Group Vistulaand were supposed to be on their way to Berlin. Instead, they were being moved northward in an attempt to halt the Soviet break-through at Neubrandenburg."The Decline and Fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan", Hans Dollinger, Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 67-27047, p. 171]
Heinrici had defied the strictest orders of Keitel and his deputy, General
Alfred Jodl. Furious, Keitel went in search of Heinrici and found him on a road near Neubrandenburg. Heinrici was close to the front and accompanied by von Manteuffel. Processions of wounded and disarmed soldiers and endless treks of refugees were moving past. .Keitel, his face purple, called Heinrici to account and spoke of insubordination, treason, cowardice, and sabotage. Keitel accused Heinrici of weakness and shouted that if Heinrici had only taken General Lothar Rendulicin Austria as an example and shot a few thousand deserters or strung them up on the nearest tree, his armies would not now be on the retreat.
Heinrici's movements were intended to bring his army group, and as many civilians as possible, to the west. Heinrici intended to get them into the area between the northern reaches of the
ElbeRiver and the Baltic Sea. Heinrici told his superior officer, "Marshal Keitel, if you want these men to be shot, will you please begin!"
Keitel then relieved Heinrici of his command. Heinrici's command was offered to von Manteuffel, but von Manteuffel not only declined the promotion, he protested the treatment of Heinrici.
Kurt von Tippelskirchwas named as Heinrici's interim replacement until General Kurt Studentcould arrive and assume control of Army Group Vistula. But Student was captured by the British before he could take command.
After losing his command, Heinrici retired to
Plön, where he surrendered to British forces on 28 May, 1945.
After the war
After his capture, Heinrici was held at
Island Farmwhere he remained, except for a three-week transfer to a camp in the United States in October 1947, until his eventual release on 19 May, 1948.
Throughout the war, Heinrici was opposed to Hitler's scorched earth policy, whereby everything of use had been ordered destroyed so as not to fall into the hands of the advancing enemy. He refused to lay waste to Smolensk as Göring had ordered, and late in the war he supported Minister of Armaments
Albert Speerwho worked to save Berlin from total destruction. When he was briefly put in charge of the defense of Berlin itself, Heinrici's first command was that nothing be purposely destroyed.
After the war, Heinrici's diary entries and letters were collected into a book entitled "Morals and behaviour here are like those in the Thirty Years’ War". "The First Year of the German-Soviet War as Shown in the Papers of Gnl. Gotthard Heinrici". He was also featured prominently in Cornelius Ryan's book, "The Last Battle."
Fahnenjunker-Unteroffizier(19 Jul 1905)
Fähnrich(19 Dec 1905)
Leutnant(18 Aug 1906)
Oberleutnant(17 Feb 1914)
Hauptmann(18 Jun 1915)
Major(01 Feb 1926)
Oberstleutnant(01 Aug 1930)
Oberst(01 Mar 1933)
Generalmajor(01 Jan 1936)
Generalleutnant(01 Mar 1938)
General der Infanterie(01 Jun 1940)
Generaloberst(30 Jan 1943)
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross: 18 September 1941, General der Infanterie, Commanding General of XXXXIII Army Corps on the Eastern Front.
Oakleaves(No. 333): 24 November 1943, Generaloberst, Commander-in-Chief of the 4th Army on the Eastern Front.
* Swords (No. 136): 3 March 1945, Generaloberst, Commander-in-Chief of the 1st Panzer Army on the Eastern Front.
* Prussian Royal House Order of Hohenzollern, Knight's Cross with Swords: 9 August 1918.
Iron Cross1st Class (1914): 24 July 1915.
Iron Cross2nd Class (1914): 27 September 1914.
* 1939 Bar to the Prussian Iron Cross 1st Class (1914): 16 May 1940.
* 1939 Bar to the Prussian Iron Cross 2nd Class (1914): 13 May 1940.
* Saxe-Coburg and Gotha: Carl Eduard War Cross
* Saxe-Coburg and Gotha: Duke Carl Eduard Medal, 2nd Class with Swords and Date
* Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach: House Order of Vigilance or the White Falcon, Knight 2nd Class with Swords
* Sxon Duchies: Ducal Saxe-Ernestine House Order, Knight 2nd Class with Swords
* Reuß: Princely Reuß Honor Cross, 3rd Class with Swords
* Schwarzburg: Princely Schwarzburg Honor Cross, 3rd Class with Swords
* Hamburg: Hanseatic Cross
* Cross of Honor for Combatants 1914-1918
* Armed Forces Long Service Award, 1st Class (25-year Service Cross)
* Armed Forces Long Service Award, 3rd Class (12-year Service Medal)
* Austria: Military Merit Cross, 3rd Class with War Decoration
* Medal for the Winter Campaign in Russia 1941/1942
Battle of France- 1940
Operation Barbarossa- 1941
Battle for Berlin- 1945
Hans Krebs, Chief of Staff
Helmuth Weidling, Commander of the Berlin Defense Area
Felix Steiner, Commander of the Eleventh SS Panzer Army
Theodor Busse, Commander of the German 9th Army
* Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer. "Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939-1945". Friedburg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas, 2000. ISBN 3-7909-0284-5.
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