Born: 22 September 1882 in Helmscherode, Brunswick, German Empire.
Died: 16 October 1946 in Nuremberg, Allied-occupied Germany.
Generalfeldmarschall 19 July 1940
Generaloberst 1 November 1938
General der Artillerie 1 August 1937
Generalleutnant 1 January 1936
Generalmajor 1 April 1934
Oberst 1 October 1931
Oberstleutnant 1 February 1929
Major 1 June 1923
Hauptmann 8 August 1914
Oberleutnant 18 August 1910
Leutnant 18 August 1902
Fähnrich 14 October 1901
Prussian Iron Cross, 1st Class (1914) with 1939 Bar
Prussian Iron Cross, 2nd Class (1914) with 1939 Bar
Prussian Royal Hohenzollern House Order, Knight's Cross with Swords
Brunswick War Merit Cross, 1st Class
Brunswick War Merit Cross, 2nd Class with Bewährung (Reliability) Clasp
Saxe-Ernestine Ducal House Order, Knight 2nd Class with Swords
Hesse General Honor Decoration, for Bravery
Oldenburg Friedrich August Cross, 1st Class
Oldenburg Friedrich August Cross, 2nd Class with Vor Dem Feinde (In the Face of the Enemy) Clasp
Hamburg Hanseatic Cross
Bremen Hanseatic Cross
Cross of Honor for Combatants 1914-1918
Brunswick Ducal Order of Henry the Lion, 4th Class
Armed Forces Long Service Award, 1st Class (25-year Service Cross)
Armed Forces Long Service Award, 3rd Class (12-year Service Medal)
Austrian Military Merit Cross, 3rd Class with War Decoration
Commemorative Medal of 13 March 1938
Commemorative Medal of 1 October 1938 with Castle Prague Bar
Commemorative Medal for the Return of the Memel District
Wilhelm Bodewin Gustav Wilhelm Keitel Was born on 22 September 1882 in Helmscherode, Brunswick, German Empire and became a German field marshal (Generalfeldmarschall). As head of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (Supreme Command of the Armed Forces) and de facto war minister under Adolf Hitler, he was one of Germany's most senior military leaders during World War II. At the Allied court at Nuremberg he was tried, sentenced to death and hanged as a war criminal.
Wilhelm Keitel was born in Bad Gandersheim, Duchy of Brunswick, German Empire, the son of Carl Keitel, a middle class landowner and his wife Apollonia Vissering. After completing his education in Göttingen, he embarked on a military career in 1901, becoming a Fahnenjunker (Cadet Officer), joining the 6th Lower-Saxon Field Artillery Regiment. He married Lisa Fontaine, a wealthy landowner's daughter, in 1909. Together they had six children, one of whom died in infancy. His eldest son, Karl-Heinz Keitel went on to serve as a divisional commander in the Waffen-SS. During World War I Wilhelm Keitel served on the Western Front with the Field Artillery Regiment No. 46. In September 1914, during the fighting in Flanders, he was severely wounded in his right forearm by a shell fragment.
Wilhelm Keitel recovered, and thereafter was posted to the German General Staff in early 1915. After World War I ended, he stayed in the newly created Reichswehr, and played a part in organising Freikorps frontier guard units on the Polish border. Wilhelm Keitel also served as a divisional general staff officer, and later taught at the Hanover Cavalry School for two years.
In late 1924, Wilhelm Keitel was transferred to the Ministry of Defence (Reichswehrministerium), serving with the Troop Office (Truppenamt), the post-Versailles disguised General Staff. He was soon promoted to the head of the organisational department, a post he retained after the Nazi seizure of power in 1933. He suffered a heart attack and double pneumonia in the autumn of 1932. In 1935, based on a recommendation by Werner von Fritsch, Wilhelm Keitel was promoted to Lieutenant-General and appointed as the departmental head of the Wehrmachtsamt (Armed Forces Office) which had the responsibility over all three branches of the armed forces
In 1937, Wilhelm Keitel received a promotion to General. In the following year, after the Werner von Blomberg-Werner von Fritsch Affair, the Ministry of War (Reichskriegsministerium) was replaced by the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht or OKW), and Wilhelm Keitel was appointed as its chief. This effectively made Wilhelm Keitel Germany's war minister, and accordingly he was appointed to the Cabinet. Soon after his appointment at OKW, he convinced Adolf Hitler to appoint his close friend, Walter von Brauchitsch, Commander-in-Chief of the Army.
For a brief period in October 1938, Wilhelm Keitel was Military Governor of the Sudetenland. In February 1939 Wilhelm Keitel again became Chief of OKW. Wilhelm Keitel remained the Chief of OKW until the end of the war.
During World War II, Wilhelm Keitel was one of the primary planners of the Wehrmacht campaigns and operations on the western and the eastern fronts. He advised Adolf Hitler against invading France and opposed Operation Barbarossa. Both times he backed down in the face of Adolf Hitler and tendered his resignation, which Adolf Hitler refused to accept.
In 1940, after the French campaign, he was promoted to Field Marshal along with several other generals. Unusual for a non-field commander, Wilhelm Keitel was awarded the Knight's Cross for arranging the armistice with France.
He had advised Adolf Hitler not to attack Russia in 1941 as he was convinced that Operation Barbarossa would be a failure. The overwhelming success of Barbarossa in its initial phase did a great deal to undermine Wilhelm Keitel's authority in the face of Adolf Hitler.
In 1942, he confronted Adolf Hitler in defence of Field Marshal Wilhelm von List, whose Heeresgruppe A (Army Group A) was stalled in the Battle of the Caucasus. Adolf Hitler spurned Wilhelm Keitel's pleading and fired Wilhelm von List. Wilhelm Keitel's defence of Wilhelm von List was his last act of defiance to Adolf Hitler he never again challenged one of Adolf Hitler's orders. For example, during a strategy briefing late in the war, Luftwaffe intelligence discovered vast numbers of Soviet fighter aircraft ready to be deployed to the front. Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe, told Adolf Hitler that they were simply dummies the Red Air Force could not possibly have that many aircraft. Wilhelm Keitel then slammed his fist onto the table, and, although he knew the exact opposite was true, said Mein Führer, the Reichsmarschall is correct. His sycophancy was well known in the army, and he acquired the nickname 'La Wilhelm Keitel', a pun on his name (in German, the word 'Lakai' means 'lackey').
Wilhelm Keitel unquestionably allowed Heinrich Himmler a free hand with his racial controls and ensuing terror in occupied Eastern European territory. He also signed numerous orders of dubious legality under the laws of war. The most infamous were the Commissar Order (which stipulated that Soviet political commissars were to be shot on sight) and the Night and Fog Decree (which called for the forced disappearance of resistance fighters and other political prisoners in Germany's occupied territories). Another was the order that French pilots of the Normandie-Niemen squadron be executed rather than be made prisoners of war.
Wilhelm Keitel accepted Adolf Hitler's directive for Operation Citadel in 1943, despite strong opposition from several field officers who argued that neither the troops nor the new tanks on which Adolf Hitler staked his hopes for victory were ready.
Nevertheless, rationalisations and copious conjectures will continue to muddy or inspire historical perspectives, even the mere suggestion, that the decisive and pivotal event of WWII was the military defeat of the Third Reich, at the peak ?of its most powerful assembly of military might, by the opposing Red Army forces during an intense ?summer(not winter) 8 week period, ending late in August 1943, contesting the territory along a ??400 km front line, from Bryansk, Orel, Kursk, Belgorod down to Kharkov. The primary records of ?Field Marshal W. Wilhelm Keitel like other commanders from this period, need scrutiny by critically aware ?readers to avoid simplistic expert accounts, such as passing off the Third Reich's military defeat ?on the battle field of summer 1943, as merely Adolf Hitler's fault.?
Wilhelm Keitel played an important role in foiling the July 20 plot in 1944. Wilhelm Keitel then sat on the Army Court of honour that handed over many officers who were involved, including Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben, to Roland Freisler's notorious People's Court.
In April and May 1945, during the Battle of Berlin, Wilhelm Keitel called for counterattacks to drive back the Soviet forces and relieve Berlin. However, there were insufficient German forces to carry out such attacks.
After Adolf Hitler's suicide on 30 April, Wilhelm Keitel stayed on as a member of the short-lived Flensburg government under Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz.
On 8 May 1945, Dönitz authorised Wilhelm Keitel to sign an unconditional surrender in Berlin. Although Germany had surrendered to the Allies a day earlier, Stalin had insisted on a second surrender ceremony in Berlin.
As a military officer, Wilhelm Keitel was prohibited by law from joining the NSDAP (National Socialist Party). However, after the Wehrmacht's rapid early successes on the Russian Front, he was given a Golden (Honorary) NSDAP membership badge by Adolf Hitler, who was seeking to link military successes to political successes. In 1944, German laws were changed and military officers were encouraged to seek NSDAP membership. Wilhelm Keitel claimed he did so as a formality at the Nuremberg Trials, but never received formal party membership. He was one of only two people to receive honorary party membership status.
Before his execution, Wilhelm Keitel published Mein Leben: Pflichterfüllung bis zum Untergang: Adolf Hitler's Feldmarschall und Chef des Oberkommandos der Wehrmacht in Selbstzeugnissen, otherwise known in English as In the Service of the Reich, and was later re-edited as The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Wilhelm Keitel by Walter Görlitz from a translation by David Irving as the author in 1965. Another work by Wilhelm Keitel later published in English was Questionnaire on the Ardennes offensive
Four days after the surrender, Wilhelm Keitel was arrested along with the rest of the Flensburg government. He soon faced the International Military Tribunal (IMT), which charged him with a number of offences:
Conspiracy to commit crimes against peace
Planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression
War crimes and,
Crimes against humanity.
Wilhelm Keitel testified that he knew many of Adolf Hitler's orders were illegal (for instance, he described the Night and Fog Decree as the worst of all the orders he'd been given) but claimed he was merely following orders in conformity to the leader principle (Führerprinzip). The IMT rejected this defence and convicted him on all charges. Because of his signature on orders which called for soldiers and political prisoners to be killed or disappeared, he was sentenced to death. To underscore the criminal rather than military nature of Wilhelm Keitel's acts, the Allies denied his request to be shot by firing squad. Instead, he was executed by hanging. Wilhelm Keitel's last words were:
I call upon the Almighty to have mercy on the German people. More than two million German soldiers went to their deaths for the fatherland before me. I now follow my sons. Everything for Germany!
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