Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Otto Moritz Walter Model

Otto Moritz Walter Model


Branch: Heer
Born: 24 January 1891 in Genthin, Province of Saxony, German Empire
Died: 21 April 1945 in Duisburg, Ruhr, Germany

Generalfeldmarschall 1 March 1944
Generaloberst 1 February 1942
General der Panzertruppe 1 October 1941
Generalleutnant 1 April 1940
Generalmajor 1 March 1938
Oberst 1 October 1934
Oberstleutnant 1 November 1932
Major 1929
Hauptmann 18 November 1917
Oberleutnant 25 February 1915
Leutnant 27 August 1910

Iron Cross 1914
2nd Class 20 September 1914
Bavarian Military Merit Fourth Class with Swords on 29 March 1915
Iron Cross (1914), First Class on 19 October 1915
Knight's Cross of the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern with Swords 26 February 1917
Mecklenburg Military Merit Cross Second Class 22 November 1917
Austrian Military Merit III. Class with war decoration 22 November 1917
Turkish Iron Crescent 22 November 1917
Wound Badge 1918, 27 black August 1918
Spanish Cross 31 May 1939
Clasp to the Iron Cross Second Class 22 September 1939
Clasp to the Iron Cross First Class 2 October 1939
Panzer Badge in Silver 29 August 1941
Wound Badge 1939 in gold 25 May 1942
Medal Battle of the East 1941/42 on 15 July 1942
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds
Knight's Cross 9 July 1941
Oak Leaves 17 February 1942
Swords 2 April 1943
Diamonds 17 August 1944

3. Panzer-Division
Takes command on 13 November 1940
Ends command on 1 October 1941

XLI Panzerkorps
Takes command on 1 November 1941
Ends command on 10 July 1942

9. Armee
Takes command on 15 January 1942
Ends command on 3 November 1943

Heeresgruppe Nord
Takes command on 9 January 1944
Ends command on 31 March 1944

Heeresgruppe Nordukraine
Takes command on 16 August 1944
Ends command on 16 August 1944

Heeresgruppe Mitte
Takes command on 28 June 1944
Ends command on 16 August 1944

Heeresgruppe B
Takes command on 17 August 1944
Ends command on

Oberbefehlshaber West
Takes command on 16 August 1944
Ends command on 3 September 1944

Personal Information:

Otto Moritz Walter Model was born on 24 January 1891 and became a Generalfeldmarschall during World War II. Walter Model is noted for his defensive battles in the latter half of the war, mostly on the Eastern Front but also in the west, and for his close association with Adolf Hitler and National Socialism. Walter Model has been called the Wehrmacht's best defensive tactician. Although he was a hard driving, aggressive panzer commander early in the war, Walter Model became best known as a practitioner of defensive warfare. Walter Model success at the head of the 9. Armee (9th Army) in the defensive battles of 1941 to 1942 determined his future career path.

Walter Model first came to Adolf Hitler's attention before World War II, but their relationship did not become especially close until 1942. His tenacious style of fighting and aggressive personality won him plaudits from Adolf Hitler, who considered him one of his best field commanders and repeatedly tasked him with retrieving desperate situations. However, their relationship had broken down by the end of the war, after Walter Model was defeated at the Battle of the Bulge.

Walter Model was considered a thorough and competent leader but was known to demand too much, and that too quickly, accepting no excuses for failure from either his own men or those who outranked him. His troops were said to have suffered under his too-frequent absences and erratic, inconsistent demands, for he frequently lost sight of what was or was not practically possible. Yet his dislike of bureaucracy and his crude speech often made him well liked by many under his command.

Model's early life and career

Walter Model's decision to burn all his personal papers at the end of World War II means relatively little is known about his early years. Born to a music teacher in Genthin, Saxony, he belonged to a lower-middle class, non-military family. Walter Model entered the army officer cadet school (Kriegsschule) in Neisse (now Nysa, Poland) in 1908, where he was an unexceptional student, and was commissioned a Leutnant in the 52nd Infantry Regiment von Alvensleben in 1910. Walter Model made few friends among his fellow officers and soon became known for his ambition, drive, and blunt outspokenness. These were characteristics that would mark his entire career.

Model during the First World War

In World War I, the Infanterie 52 (52nd Infantry) formed part of the 5. Infanterie-Division (5th Infantry Division), fighting on the Western Front. Walter Model served as the adjutant of his regiment's 1st Battalion. In May, 1915, he was severely wounded near Arras, and in October he won the Iron Cross, First Class. Walter Model deeds brought him to the attention of his divisional commander, who despite misgivings about his uncomfortable subordinate recommended Walter Model for a posting on the German General Staff. Among other things, this meant that Walter Model took part in only the initial stages of the Battle of Verdun and escaped the carnage of the Battle of the Somme, to which his division was committed in his absence

Walter Model sailed through the abbreviated staff officers' course and returned to the 5. Infanterie-Division (5th Infantry Division) as adjutant of the 10. Infanterie-Brigade (10th Infantry Brigade), followed by postings as a company commander in both the 52. Infanterie-Division
(52nd Infantry Division) and the 8. Das Leben Grenadiere (8th Life Grenadiers). Walter Model was promoted to Hauptmann in November 1917, and in 1918 was assigned to the staff of the Garde-Division Ersatz (Guard Ersatz Division), which fought in the German Spring Offensive of that year. Walter Model ended the war with the 36. Reserve-Division (36th Reserve Division)

Model between wars

By the end of the war, Walter Model had gained a reputation as a capable officer with great potential. Early on in his military career, Walter Model had written a book on the Prussian general, Wilhelm Gneisenau. In addition, he was already known to Hans von Seeckt, head of the slimmed-down Reichswehr, from his staff postings during the war; and he was equipped with an excellent reference from Major-General Franz von Rantau, commander of the 36th Reserve Division. It was thus no surprise that he was one of the 4,000 officers retained in the Reichswehr. Walter Model generally kept away from politics in the chaotic period that marked the birth of the Weimar Republic, although as an army officer he was involved in the bloody suppression of the 1920 communist uprising in the Ruhr.

The next year he married Herta Huyssen; they would in time have three children, Christa, Hella, and Hansgeorg. Walter Model hated war stories and never discussed politics or the war with his wife.

In 1925, Walter Model was posted to the 3rd Infantry Division, an elite formation of the Reichswehr and one which was heavily involved in testing the technical innovations of that era. From 1928, he lectured in tactics and war studies for the basic General Staff training course, and in 1930 he was transferred to the Training Branch of the Truppenamt. Walter Model became known both for his enthusiastic support of military modernisation and for his complete lack of tact. In 1938, the year he became a Generalmajor, he led a testfiring of the Mörser 18 on mocked-up Czech fortifications which did not impress Adolf Hitler. As many army officers at the time, Walter Model was a supporter of the National Socialist government; his time in Berlin also brought him into contact with senior members of the National Socialists regime. Closer relationships with Joseph Goebbels and Albert Speer developed during the war.

Model during the Second World War

Walter Model spent the first year of World War II as a chief of staff, first of IV Corps during the invasion of Poland, and then of 16. Armee (16th Army) during the Battle of France. Walter Model was promoted to Generalleutnant in April 1940, and earned his first senior command posting in November that year, when he was assigned to lead the 3. Panzer-Division (3rd Panzer Division).Walter Model immediately proceeded to ignore all formalities of organisation and command, which endeared him to his men and exasperated his staff who often had to clean up the mess he left behind. Walter Model also instituted a combined arms training program where his men were thrown together in various ad-hoc groupings regardless of their parent unit: tankers would train with infantry, engineers with reconnaissance units, and so on. Walter Model thus anticipated by some months the regular German use of kampfgruppen in World War II, while this would become routine later on, it was still not a universal practice in the Wehrmacht in late 1940 and early 1941.

Model during the invasion of Soviet Russia

For Operation Barbarossa, the 3. Panzer-Division (3rd Panzer Division) was assigned to the XXIV. Panzerkorps (24th Panzer Corps), itself part of the Panzergruppe 2 (2nd Panzer Group), commanded by Heinz Guderian. The campaign opened on 22 June 1941, with Heinz Guderian urging his divisions forward at breakneck speed. This suited Walter Model just fine, and by 4 July, his advance elements leading the panzer group's charge had reached the Dnieper, an exploit that earned him the Knight's Cross. Crossing it in strength was another matter, however, as the Red Army was prepared to defend the river line. 3rd Panzer's vanguard was thrown back by the Soviet 21st Army, and it was not until 10 July that the Germans were in a position to force a crossing. For this operation, Walter Model, now reinforced with additional troops, reorganised his command into three groups: an infantry-heavy force that would cross the river and establish a bridgehead, a mobile armoured group that would pass through the bridgehead and continue the advance, and a fire support group containing nearly all his artillery. The plan worked so successfully that the river crossing cost scarcely any casualties. There followed two weeks of hard fighting to defend the panzer group's flank, during which he was assigned the 1st Cavalry Division in addition to 3rd Panzer as Gruppe Model, and then an attack to break up Soviet forces massing near Roslavl.

After the fall of Smolensk, Adolf Hitler ordered a change of direction, and Heinz Guderian's panzer group turned south into Ukraine. Its objective was to trap the Soviet forces defending Kiev, an unsupported advance of 275 km, and again 3. Panzer-Division (3rd Panzer Division) would form the spearhead. From 24 August to 14 September Walter Model conducted a lightning thrust into the rear of the Soviet southwestern Front, in which he impressed on his men that speed was everything. The manoeuver reached its conclusion when 3. Panzer-Division (3rd Panzer Division) made contact with the 16. Panzer-Division (16th Panzer Division) from Heeresgruppe Süd (Army Group South) at Lokhvitsa. While it would take several more days to eliminate all resistance, the trap around Kiev had been closed.

Throughout the opening stages of Barbarossa, Walter Model had driven his men hard, achieving the rapid pace of advance that Heinz Guderian called for. Walter Model had taken great risks at one point 3rd Panzer had only 10 panzers operational but his audacity and improvisational skills and the tactical ineptness of his foes had brought him rich rewards.

Model before Moscow

Shortly thereafter Walter Model was promoted to general of panzer troops and placed in command of XLI. Panzerkorps (XLI Panzer Corps), which was embroiled in Operation Typhoon, the assault on Moscow. The attack had begun on 2 October 1941, and Walter Model arrived at his new command on 14 November in the midst of the battle.

The corps, part of Georg-Hans Reinhardt's Panzergruppe 3 (3rd Panzer Group), was located at Kalinin, 160 km north-west of Moscow. It was worn out, at the end of a long and tenuous supply line Walter Model had been promoted on 28 October, and needed two weeks just to get to Kalinin, and the cold weather was starting to hamper the Germans. Nevertheless morale remained high, and the final push towards Moscow began shortly after his arrival. Walter Model was a whirlwind of energy, touring the front and exhorting his troops to greater efforts; he also ran roughshod over the niceties of protocol and chains of command, and in general left his staff trailing in his wake. By 5 December, XLI. Panzerkorps (XLI Panzer Corps)' 6. Panzer-Division (6th Panzer Division) had reached Iohnca, just 35 km from the Kremlin. There, the advance stopped, as the winter thus far comparatively mild by Russian standards took hold. Temperatures dropped to 20 to 40°C below zero, weapons and vehicles froze solid, and the Germans were forced to call a halt to offensive operations.

Just as the Germans had made that decision, the Soviet Kalinin, Western and southwestern Fronts launched a massive counteroffensive, aimed at driving Heeresgruppe Mitte (Army Group Centre) back from Moscow. The attacks were especially strong against Panzergruppe 3 (3rd Panzer Group), which had made some of the closest penetrations to the city. In three weeks of confused, savage fighting, Georg-Hans Reinhardt extricated his troops from potential encirclement and fell back to the Lama River line. Placed in charge of covering the retreat, Walter Model's harsh, almost brutal style of leadership now paid dividends as panic threatened to infect the German columns. On several occasions he restored order at a congested crossroads with a drawn pistol, but the retreat never became a rout.

During this period, Walter Model noticed that the Soviet attacks made en masse and with poor tactical coordination tended to be most successful when the Germans employed a strong point defence instead of a continuous line. Moreover, Soviet logistics were still inadequate to support a fast-moving battle; thus even if a gap was made, it did not automatically mean a crisis. Therefore he ordered his men to spread themselves out, which exploited his corps' advantage in artillery over the Soviets, while he created small mechanised kampfgruppen to deal with any breakthrough. His tactics were successful, if costly (by the end of 1941, 6. Panzer-Division (6th Panzer Division) mustered 1,000 men, including all front line, support and staff personnel). Walter Model would continue to advocate similar tactics throughout his career.


Walter Model's success in holding his front had not gone unnoticed, and in January 1942 he was placed in charge of the 9. Armee (9th Army) occupying the Rzhev salient, leapfrogging at least 15 more senior commanders in Heeresgruppe Mitte (Army Group Centre) alone. Ironically, although he felt great displeasure towards officers bearing the red trouser-stripe of the General Staff, the fact is that he had valuable experience as a division and corps commander and as chief of staff to both a corps and an army.

There is a popular anecdote concerning his arrival at army headquarters in Sychevka on 18 January. Walter Model swept into the operations room without ceremony, examined the situation map while polishing his monocle, and finally pronounced the army's predicament to be rather a mess. When informed by Lieutenant Colonel Blaurock that his current plans extended no further than pushing the Russians away from the rail line, he demanded a counterattack with the final goal of strike the Russian flank and catch them in a stranglehold When the astounded Blaurock inquired And what, Herr General, have you brought us for this operation?, Walter Model looked him severely and responded Myself! before bursting into laughter.

Just prior to his departure for the front, the new army commander had held lengthy consultations with both Adolf Hitler and Halder. They impressed upon Walter Model that great firmness would be necessary to save the army from destruction, and his vehemence in return had so impressed Adolf Hitler that upon the general's departure he remarked, Did you see that eye? I trust that man to do it, but I wouldn't want to serve under him. When Walter Model took over, his sector was in a shambles: the Kalinin Front had broken through the line and was threatening the Moscow-Smolensk railway, the main supply route for Heeresgruppe Mitte (Army Group Centre). Despite the danger, he realised the precarious position the attackers themselves were in and immediately counterattacked, cutting off the Soviet 39th Army. In the ferocious battles that followed, he repelled multiple Soviet attempts to relieve their trapped soldiers, the last being in February. Walter Model then squeezed out the pocket at his leisure, in a series of operations culminating in mid-July. For this, he was awarded the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross and promoted to Generaloberst.

Having restored 9. Armee (9th Army's) front, Walter Model set about holding it. His defensive doctrine, which combined conventional thinking with his own tactical innovations, was based on the following principles,

Up to date intelligence, based on front line sources and reconnaissance instead of relying on reports from rear-area analysts.
A continuous front line, no matter how thinly held. This was counter to standard German doctrine, which called for a screen of outposts and the main body held further back.
Tactical reserves to halt any imminent breakthrough. In practice, this meant dispersing his armour into individual platoons and companies along the front to support the infantry, instead of concentrating it into a sizeable striking force.
Centralised artillery command and control. Since the end of World War I, German divisions had had their artillery spread out amongst their component regiments, which made it difficult to bring the maximum weight of fire to bear on any one point. Walter Model reorganised his artillery into special battalions under the direct control of the divisional and corps commanders.
Multiple static lines of defence, to delay the enemy's advance. Adolf Hitler had in fact forbidden the construction of multiple lines, saying that soldiers would be tempted to abandon their current line in favour of falling back to the next; Walter Model simply ignored this inconvenient order.
Using these tactics, he would successfully defend his front throughout 1942 and into 1943, despite giving up troops and vehicles for the battles further south. In this time he fought off several major Soviet offensives; one of these, codenamed Operation Mars by the Soviets, has been described as Marshal Georgy Zhukov's worst defeat of the war. It all added to his reputation as a lion of defence.

9. Armee (9th Army) eventually evacuated the salient in Operation Buffalo (Büffel) in March 1943, as part of a general shortening of the line. Large-scale anti-partisan sweeps were carried out in the weeks before the operation (the army's sector was a hotbed for partisan activity), in which an estimated 3,000 Russians were killed, the great majority of whom were unarmed. The withdrawal itself took two weeks, with minimal casualties or disruption: no mean feat when the army numbered about 300,000 men including civilian hangers on, 100 tanks and 400 guns. In its wake, Walter Model personally ordered the deportation of all male civilians, wells to be poisoned, and at least two dozen villages razed. In the same month, he received the Swords to his Knight's Cross, and 9. Armee (9th Army) received orders to move into Orel.

Model at Kursk and Orel

On 5 July 1943 Walter Model led the northern assault on Kursk during Operation Citadel, a plan which had caused great controversy within the German high command. Günther von Kluge and Erich von Manstein, commanding Heeresgruppe Mitte and Heeresgruppe Süd respectively, had originally urged that the salient be attacked in May, before the Soviets could prepare their defences. Others, including Heinz Guderian, felt that attacking was unnecessary, and the Germans should instead wait for the Soviets to launch their own offensive before defeating it. Walter Model was also dubious about attacking, pointing out that Konstantin Rokossovsky's Central Front was strongly dug in and outnumbered him two to one in men, tanks and artillery. Rather than conclude that the offensive be called off, however, he said it should be postponed until he could receive further reinforcements, in particular the new Panther tanks and Ferdinand tank destroyers.

Walter Model's true opinion on the value of the offensive remains unclear. Erich von Manstein took his recommendation at face value, while Heinz Guderian said that he was categorically against attacking. It has similarly been suggested that Walter Model in fact hoped to scuttle the operation, by causing it to be delayed until the Soviets launched their own attack.

Walter Model's assault was a failure, as 9. Armee (9th Army) quickly became enmeshed in the elaborate Soviet fortifications. If he had hoped to gain an advantage by waiting for reinforcements, he had made a critical error: the Red Army's strength in the salient was in fact growing much faster than that of the attacking force. Nor did his tactical plan of attack meet with great success. Having less armour and more artillery than Erich von Manstein in the south, and fearing that the deep Soviet defences would stall an armour heavy attack (the hallmark of the German Blitzkrieg), he decided to use his infantry to breach Rokossovsky's line before unleashing his armour. It did not work. The Germans took heavy losses to advance less than 12 km in seven days, and were unable to break through to open ground. Walter Model threw his armour into the fray, but with little effect beyond incurring more casualties. As mitigating factors, the Soviets had concentrated more of their strength facing Walter Model in the north, and Rokossovsky had correctly anticipated where the attack would come, defending that sector heavily. Walter Model's use of infantry assaults also meant his losses in armour were lower than Erich von Manstein's.

Prior to Kursk, Walter Model had anticipated the possibility of a Soviet attack into the Orel salient, and had without OKH's knowledge constructed extensive defensive works to meet such an attack. Following the stalling of his advance, the Soviet counteroffensive, Operation Kutuzov, duly opened on 12 July. It involved not just Rokossovsky's Central Front, but also the Bryansk and Western Fronts, a greater concentration of forces than Walter Model had assaulted in Operation Citadel. For the battle, Günther von Kluge placed him in command of 2. Panzerarmee (2nd Panzer Army) in addition to 9. Armee (9th Army) again, a larger total force than he had commanded in Citadel. The Soviet preponderance of strength was such that Stavka expected it to take only 48 hours to reach Orel, splitting the German forces into three parts,instead, the battle ended three weeks later with Walter Model's orderly withdrawal from the salient. An idea of the scale of the fighting compared to Citadel can be gained from the combined casualty lists for 2. Panzerarmee (2nd Panzer Army) and 9. Armee (9th Army) from 1 to 10 July, the Germans took 21,000 casualties, and from 11 to 31 July, 62,000. Despite these losses he had inflicted similarly heavy casualties on the three Red Army Fronts, shortened the line, and avoided annihilation. His reputation thus survived the failure of Citadel.

After the loss of Orel, Walter Model withdrew to the Dnieper as the Soviets went on the offensive from Smolensk in the north to Rostov in the south. Walter Model was relieved of command of the 9. Armee (9th Army) at the end of September, and took the opportunity to go on three months' leave in Dresden with his family. It was the last Christmas he would spend at home.

Model in Estonia

Walter Model's relief was not a sign that he had lost Adolf Hitler's confidence, but rather that he had gained it: the Führer wanted him available should another emergency break out need his attention. Thus on 29 January 1944, he was urgently sent to command Heeresgruppe Nord (Army Group North), which two weeks earlier had seen its stranglehold on Leningrad broken by the Volkhov, Leningrad and 2nd Baltic Fronts. The situation was dire a circumstance that Walter Model would come to be familiar with, two of the three corps of the German 18. Armee (18th Army) had been shattered, and contact lost with the III. SS-Panzerkorps (3rd SS Panzer Corps) defending Narva.

The army group's previous commander, Georg von Küchler, had pleaded for permission to withdraw to the Panther Line in Estonia, which was still only half completed at that stage. Walter Model immediately cracked down on such talk, instituting a new policy he called Shield and Sword (Schild und Schwert). Under this doctrine, ground would only temporarily be ceded, to gather reserves for an immediate counterattack that would drive the Soviets back and relieve pressure on other areas of the front. These statements of aggressive intent won over Adolf Hitler and OKH, who had no substantial reserves to send him but were still unwilling to lose territory. Historians have since debated their significance, some claim that Shield and Sword was Adolf Hitler's invention, while others say they were a calculated ploy by Walter Model to disguise his true intent to pull back to the Panther Line.

Regardless, the temporary loss of ground usually became permanent, as Walter Model conducted a fighting withdrawal to the Panther Line. Walter Model delegated responsibility for the Narva front to Otto Sponheimer commanding Army Detachment Narva, while he concentrated on extricating 18. Armee (18th Army) from its predicament. Without OKH's notice or approval, he constructed a series of interim defensive lines to cover its retreat, slowing down and inflicting heavy losses on the Soviets in the process.

By March, the withdrawal was complete. His forces were mostly intact, but the fighting had been fierce, his Shield and Sword counterattacks alone had cost him some 10,000 to 12,000 men. These counterattacks usually failed to recover ground, but they kept the Soviets off-balance and won Walter Model time to pull his units back. They also allowed him to say to Adolf Hitler that he was pursuing an aggressive approach, even as the front moved steadily to the west.

On 1 March Walter Model was promoted to Generalfeldmarschall, the youngest in the Wehrmacht. His meteoric rise from colonel to field marshal had taken just six years.

Model in Ukraine and Poland

On 30 March Walter Model was placed in command of Heeresgruppe Nord (Army Group North) Ukraine in Galicia, which was withdrawing under heavy pressure from Zhukov's 1st Ukrainian Front. Walter Model replaced Erich von Manstein, who had fallen out of favour with Adolf Hitler, despite Erich von Manstein's previous victories, the Führer wanted someone who could be unyielding in defence, and Walter Model fit the bill. There, he came into conflict with Erich von Manstein's associates, in particular Hermann Balck and Friedrich von Mellenthin at the XXXXVIII. Panzerkorps (48th Panzer Corp). Like their previous commander, they favoured the concept of elastic defence, which called for a thinly held front line and strong armoured reserves to counterattack Soviet breakthroughs, they now refused to implement Walter Model's preferred tactics. Walter Model solved the problem by transferring XXXXVIII. Panzerkorps (48th Panzer Corps) tanks to Hermann Breith's III. Panzerkorps (3rd Panzer Corps), leaving Hermann Balck and Friedrich von Mellenthin in charge of four weak infantry divisions in the front line.

By the middle of April Zhukov's advance had come to a halt, before the argument over which defensive doctrine was superior could be decided. On 28 June Walter Model was sent to rescue Heeresgruppe Mitte (Army Group Centre), which had been torn apart by Operation Bagration, the Soviet offensive in Belorussia. The 9. Armee (9th Army) (Walter Model's old command) and 4. Armee (4th Army) were trapped, and the Soviets were about to liberate Minsk. Despite the catastrophic situation, Walter Model believed that he could still hold Minsk, but this would require 4. Armee (4th Army) to break out of its pocket, and reinforcements to counterattack the Soviet advance. The reinforcements in turn could only be obtained by pulling back, thus shortening the line and freeing up troops. The consensus is that the German position was doomed regardless of what Walter Model could have done, but Adolf Hitler refused to sanction either 4. Armee (4th Army) escape or a general withdrawal until it was too late.

Minsk was liberated by the Soviet 1st and 3rd Belorussian Fronts on 3 July, but Walter Model still hoped to re-establish the front to the west of the city, with the aid of divisions from Heeresgruppe Nord (Army Group North) and Heeresgruppe Nordukraine (Army Group North Ukraine). However, German strength was unequal to the task, and he had been driven out of Vilnius and Baranovichi by 12 July. At the same time, the 1st Ukrainian Front (now commanded by Ivan Konev) and the 1st Belorussian Front's left wing (which had been uncommitted thus far) opened up a fresh offensive against Heeresgruppe Nord (Army Group North) Ukraine. In this battle the 1. Panzerarmee (1st Panzer Army) managed to hold the line east of Lvov using Walter Model's defensive tactics, but was forced to retreat when the 4. Panzerarmee (4th Panzer Army) , weakened by the steady flow of units to Heeresgruppe Mitte (Army Group Centre), was unable to stem the Soviet penetrations of its front. Walter Model stopped the Red Army's advance just short of Warsaw, after Adolf Hitler finally consented to release four experienced and fresh panzer divisions to him 3. SS-Panzer-Division Totenkopf (3rd SS Panzer Division) , 3. SS-Panzer-Division Hermann Göring (3rd SS Panzer Division) and Grossdeutschland. Walter Model was assisted in this by the Soviets themselves, who paused their offensive to regroup and resupply, and allow the Germans to crush the non-communist Warsaw uprising.

At various times in 1944, Walter Model commanded each of the three major army groups on the Eastern Front, and for a short period in the middle of the year was commanding both Heeresgruppe Mitte (Army Groups Centre) and Heeresgruppe Nordukraine (Army Group North Ukraine) simultaneously. Walter Model therefore came closer than anyone else in the Wehrmacht to effective command of the entire theatre.

Model during the Normandy landings

On 17 August 1944, Walter Model received from a grateful Adolf Hitler the Diamonds to go with his Knight's Cross with Oakleaves and Swords, a reward for patching up the Eastern Front. Simultaneously, he was transferred to the west, replacing Günther von Kluge as commander-in-chief of Heeresgruppe B (Army Group B) and OB West. The front in Normandy had collapsed after nearly two months of severe fighting, the U.S. Third Army was driving for the Seine, and the army group was in danger of being completely annihilated in the Falaise pocket.

Walter Model's first order was that Falaise be defended, which did not impress his staff officers. However he quickly changed his mind, convincing Adolf Hitler to authorise the immediate escape of the German 7. Armee (7th Army) and Panzergruppe Eberbach (Panzer Group Eberbach) something that Günther von Kluge, with his limited political clout, had not been able to do. Walter Model was thus able to salvage a remarkable proportion of his units, albeit at the cost of nearly all his armour and heavy materiel. When Adolf Hitler demanded that Paris be held, Walter Model replied that he could do so, but only if given an extra 200,000 men and several panzer divisions an act that has been described as naivety by some, and canny bargaining by others. The reinforcements were not forthcoming, and the city's liberation took place on 25 August. Meanwhile, Walter Model fell back to the German border.

By early September, Walter Model was finding the task of juggling his responsibilities at Heeresgruppe B (Army Group B) and OB West increasingly difficult, in the face of Allied air superiority and his own predilection for roaming the front lines. Thus he was happy to relinquish OB West in that month to Gerd von Rundstedt. Walter Model retained command of Heeresgruppe B (Army Group B), a post he would keep until the army group's final dissolution in April 1945.

Model's retreat back to Germany

After the debacle of Normandy, Walter Model established his headquarters at Oosterbeek, near Arnhem in the Netherlands, where he set about the massive task of rebuilding Heeresgruppe B (Army Group B). In the middle of August 1944, Günther von Kluge committed suicide and Walter Model was given command of OB West for eighteen days before he was relieved of duty and Gerd von Rundstedt was once again placed in command in the west.

On 17 September, his lunch was rudely interrupted when the British 1st Airborne Division dropped into the town, Operation Market Garden, the Allied attempt to capture the bridges on the lower Rhine, Maas and Waal, was under way. Walter Model initially thought they were trying to capture him and his staff, but the size of the assault quickly disabused him of that notion.

When Walter Model perceived what the Allies' real objective was, he ordered the II. SS-Panzerkorps (2nd SS Panzer Corps) into action. The corps, containing the 9. SS-Panzer-Division Hohenstaufen (9th SS Panzer Division) and 10. SS-Panzer-Division Frundsberg (10th SS Panzer Division) refitting after Normandy, had been overlooked by Allied intelligence: while still seriously understrength, it was composed of veteran troops and a deadly threat to lightly equipped paratroopers. 9. SS-Panzer-Division Hohenstaufen (9th SS Panzer Division) took on the British at Arnhem, while the 10th moved south to defend the bridge at Nijmegen.

Walter Model believed that the situation represented not just a threat, but also an opportunity to counterattack and possibly clear the Allies out of the southern Netherlands. Towards this end, he forbade SS General Willi Bittrich and SS Lieutenant General Heinz Harmel, commanding II. SS-Panzerkorps (2nd SS Panzer Corps) and 10. SS-Panzer-Division Frundsberg (10th SS Panzer Division) respectively, from destroying the Nijmegen bridge. With the exception of this tactical error, Walter Model is considered to have fought an outstanding battle and handed the Allies a sharp defeat. The bridge at Arnhem was held and the 1st Airborne Division destroyed, dashing the Allies' hopes for a foothold over the Rhine before the end of the year.

Arnhem restored much of Walter Model's self-confidence, which had been shaken by the experience of Normandy. From September to December he fought another Allied thrust to a standstill, this time by Omar Bradley's U.S. 12th Army Group into the Hürtgen Forest and Aachen. While he interfered less in the day-to-day movements of his units than at Arnhem, he still kept himself fully informed on the situation, slowing the Allies' progress, inflicting heavy casualties and taking full advantage of the fortifications of the Westwall, known to the Allies as the Siegfried Line.

The Hürtgen Forest cost the U.S. First Army at least 33,000 killed and incapacitated, including both combat and non-combat losses; Germans casualties were between 12,000 and 16,000. Aachen eventually fell on 22 October, again at high cost to the U.S. 9. Armee (9th Army) . The 9. Armee (9th Army) 's push to the Roer River fared no better, and did not manage to cross the river or wrest control of its dams from the Germans. Hürtgen was so costly that it has been called an Allied defeat of the first magnitude, with specific credit being assigned to Walter Model.

Wacht am Rhein (Watch on the Rhine)

Following the end of Market Garden, Adolf Hitler decided that the Germans should launch an offensive in the west, which would catch the Western Allies by surprise. The objective he had in mind was to split the Allied front and capture Antwerp. This operation, codenamed Wacht am Rhein (Watch on the Rhine), would force the British and Americans to sue for peace, leaving Germany free to concentrate on fighting the Soviet Union.

Walter Model, along with all the other commanders involved, believed the idea was unachievable given the scarce resources available in 1944. At the same time, both he and Gerd von Rundstedt felt that a purely defensive posture as had been adopted since retreating from Normandy could only delay Germany's defeat, not prevent it. Thus he prepared Operation Herbstnebel, a less ambitious attack that did not attempt to cross the Meuse, but would still have inflicted a severe setback on the Allies. A similar plan had been developed by Gerd von Rundstedt at OB West, and the two field marshals combined their plans to present a joint small solution to Adolf Hitler. It was rejected, and the big solution of aiming for Antwerp went ahead.

For this operation, Walter Model had at his disposal 6. Panzerarmee (6th SS Panzer Army), 5. Panzerarmee (5th Panzer Army) and 7. Armee (7th Army), including a dozen panzer and Panzergrenadier divisions, representing the last strategic reserve of the Third Reich. Despite his misgivings, Walter Model threw himself into the task with his usual energy, cracking down on any defeatism he might find. A staff officer complained about shortages, causing him to snap: If you need anything, take it from the Americans. Walter Model remained acutely aware of both the operation's significance, and its most likely outcome. When Colonel Friedrich August von der Heydte, ordered to lead a parachute drop as part of the operation, said that the jump had no more than a 10 percent chance of success, he replied: Well, then it is necessary to make the attempt, since the entire offensive has no more than a 10 percent chance of success. It must be done, since this offensive is the last remaining chance to conclude the war favourably.

The operation was launched on 16 December 1944 and enjoyed initial success, but it lacked air cover and experienced infantry, and most critically, fuel. 6. Panzerarmee (6th SS Panzer Army) ran into stiff resistance, and while Fifth Panzer Army managed to make a deep thrust into Allied lines, Walter Model was unable to exploit the breakthrough. The Germans had failed to capture the vital road junction at Bastogne; combined with the poor weather and impassable terrain, this caused the German columns to bank up into huge traffic jams on the roads behind the front. Starved of fuel and ammunition, the attack had ground to a halt by 25 December, and was called off on 8 January.

Model's defeat at the Ruhr

The failure of Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein marked the end of Walter Model's special relationship with Adolf Hitler, who on 21 January 1945, issued an order that all the divisions of Heeresgruppe B (Army Group B) would thenceforth be personally responsible to him. Withdrawing to the Rhine was forbidden, and the army group was directed to conduct its defence without giving up an inch of ground.

By mid-March, Walter Model had been forced back to the Ruhr after his failure to destroy the bridge over the Rhine at Remagen. The explosives had been defused by two Polish engineers from Silesia, forced conscripts into the Wehrmacht. Sergeant Alexander A. Drabik, a Polish American, led the charge across the bridge under heavy gunfire, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

On 1 April, Heeresgruppe B (Army Group B) was encircled in the Ruhr by the U.S. First and Ninth Armies. Adolf Hitler's response was to declare the Ruhr a fortress, from which surrender or escape were denied (much like Stalingrad had been); he further ordered its industries to be destroyed to prevent them falling into Allied hands. Walter Model ignored these orders.

On 15 April, after the Allies had split the pocket in two, Major General Matthew Ridgway, commanding the U.S. XVIII Airborne Corps, urged Walter Model to surrender rather than throw the lives of his soldiers away. The reply was that Walter Model, still bound by his oath to Adolf Hitler and his sense of honour as a field marshal, considered surrender out of the question. Rather than continue fighting or surrendering, however, he ordered the army group dissolved. The oldest and youngest soldiers were discharged from military service, and the remainder were given the option of surrendering or attempting to break out on their own. In fact, he could do little else: the Fifth Panzer Army had already laid down its arms, and German command and communications in the pocket had all but disintegrated. On 20 April, Joseph Goebbels Propaganda Ministry denounced Heeresgruppe B (Army Group B) as traitors, marking the final break between Walter Model and the collapsing National Socialists regime.

Model commits suicide

Walter Model's decision ended the war for his men, but he himself had little desire to witness the aftermath of defeat. Walter Model said to his staff officers before dissolving his command, didn't Has everything been done to justify our actions in the light of history? What can there be left for a commander in defeat? In antiquity they took poison. His decision to commit suicide was sealed when he learned that the Soviets had indicted him for war crimes, specifically the deaths of 577,000 people in concentration camps in Latvia and the deportation of 175,000 others as slave labour. After his attempts to seek death on the front line came to nothing, he shot himself in the head in a wooded area on 21 April 1945. The location, between Duisburg and the village of Lintorf, is today part of the city of Ratingen.


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