Franz Halder (30 June 1884 – 2 April 1972) was a German general and the chief of staff of the Army High Command (OKH) in Nazi Germany from 1938 until September 1942, when he was dismissed. Halder was responsible for the planning and implementation of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. Halder was instrumental in the implementation of war crimes during Operation Barbarossa. He had his staff draft both the Commissar Order and the Barbarossa Decree that allowed German soldiers to execute civilians without any fear of later being prosecuted for war crimes.
Halder in 1938
|Born||30 June 1884|
Würzburg, Kingdom of Bavaria, German Empire
|Died||2 April 1972 (aged 87)|
Aschau im Chiemgau, Bavaria, West Germany
|Allegiance|| German Empire|
|Years of service||1902–42|
|Commands held||Chief of General Staff, Army High Command|
|Battles/wars||World War I
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross|
|Other work||Consultant for U.S. Army Historical Division|
Halder was arrested after the 20 July Plot plot to assassinate Hitler. He was not involved; however, it came to light that the had been involved in an earlier plot and he was imprisoned. During his time as chief of OKH General Staff he wrote The Halder Diaries which have became a source of information about Adolf Hitler, World War II, and the Nazi Party.
After the war, Halder was tried by the German state and was found not guilty. However, the prosecution gained access to his personal diary that detailed his formulation of the Barbarossa Decree and Commissar Order. He was sent for retrial but the US refused to allow it because of his work for the US Army Historical Division. Halder oversaw the writing of over 2,500 historical documents by over 700 former Nazi officers. Halder coached the authors he oversaw to remove material detrimental to the German war effort and sought to exonerate the German army from its war crimes. The US Army was aware of the apologia he was disseminating but overlooked it because of Halder-directed military intelligence on the Soviet Union that was deemed important in the light of the Cold war.
Early life and World War IEdit
Halder was born in Würzburg, the son of General Max Halder. In 1902, he joined an artillery regiment in Munich. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1904, upon graduation from War School in Munich, then he attended Artillery School (1906–07) and the Bavarian War Academy (1911–1914), both in Munich.
In 1914, Halder served in the headquarters of the Bavarian 3rd Army Corps as an ordnance officer. In August 1915, he was promoted to Hauptmann (Captain) on the General Staff of the 6th Army (at that time commanded by Rupprecht, Crown Prince of Bavaria). During 1917 he served as a General Staff officer in the Headquarters of the 2nd Army, before being transferred to the 4th Army.
Between 1919 and 1920 Halder served with the Reichswehr War Ministry Training Branch. Between 1921 and 1923 he was a tactics instructor with the Wehrkreis VII in Munich. By 1926, Halder served as the Director of Operations (Oberquartiermeister of Operations: O.Qu.I.) on the General Staff of the Wehrkreis VII in Munich. In February 1929 he was promoted to Oberstleutnant (lieutenant colonel), and from October 1929 through late 1931 he served on the Training staff in the Reichswehr Ministry.
After being promoted to Oberst (colonel) in December 1931, Halder served as the Chief of Staff, Wehrkreis Kdo VI, in Münster (Westphalia) through early 1934. During the 1930s the German military staff thought that Poland might attack the detached German province of East Prussia and developed plans to defend East Prussia. After being promoted to Generalmajor in October 1934, Halder served as the Commander of the 7th Infantry Division in Munich.
In August 1936 Halder was promoted to Generalleutnant. He then became the director of the Manoeuvres Staff. Shortly thereafter, he became director of the Training Branch (Oberquartiermeister of Training, O.Qu.II), on the General Staff of the Army, in Berlin between October 1937 and February 1938. During this period he directed important training maneuvers, the largest held since the reintroduction of conscription in 1935.
On 1 February 1938, Halder was promoted to General of the Artillery. He was appointed as Chief of the General Staff of the Army High Command on 1 September 1938, succeeding General Ludwig Beck who had resigned on 18 August amid the Sudetenland crisis. Halder was approached by conservative nationalist officers about heading the envisaged coup d'état should Hitler start a war, but he declined. In any case, the war was averted by the conclusion of the Munich Agreement that ceded Sudetenland to Germany.
World War IIEdit
Invasions of Poland and Western EuropeEdit
Halder participated in the strategic planning for the Invasion of Poland. His plans authorised the SS to carry out security tasks on behalf of the army that included the imprisonment or execution of Poles, whether Jewish or gentile. On 1 September 1939, the German offensive began, resulting in declarations of war by France and the British Empire. On 19 September, Halder noted in his diary that he had received information from Reinhard Heydrich that the SS were beginning their campaign to "clean house" in Poland of Jews, intelligentsia, Catholic clergy, and the aristocracy. Halder was aware of The Holocaust but did not object to the murders. He dismissed the crimes as aberrations and refused one general's request to pursue the SS and police perpetrators.
At the end of 1939, Halder oversaw the development of the invasion plans of France, the Low Countries, and the Balkans. During a meeting with Hitler on 5 November Brauchitsch attempted to talk Hitler into putting off the invasion of France. Hitler refused and berated Brauchitsch for incompetence. As a consequence Halder and Brauchitsch discussed overthrowing Hitler because they feared the invasion was doomed. They decided against the idea. On 23 November 1939 Carl Friedrich Goerdeler met with Halder to ask him to reconsider his decision. He refused saying that Hitler was a great leader, and "one does not rebel when face to face with the enemy. General Erich von Manstein's bold plan for invading France through the Ardennes Forest proved successful, and ultimately led to the Fall of France. On 19 July 1940, Halder was promoted to Generaloberst and began to receive secret monthly extra legal payments from Hitler that effectively doubled his already large wage. The payments helped ensure his loyalty to Hitler and reduced his qualms over sending millions of men to their death.
In late 1939-early 1940, Halder was an opponent of Operation Weserübung, which he believed was doomed to failure, and made certain that the OKH had nothing to do with the planning for Weserübung, which was entirely the work of OKW and the OKM.
Invasion of the Soviet UnionEdit
In August 1940 he began planning Operation Barbarossa, the anticipated invasion of the Soviet Union. Shortly thereafter, to curtail Halder’s military-command power, Hitler limited his involvement in the war by restricting him to developing operational plans for only the Eastern Front. Halder's first major fault in the planning was that he did not prepare the German military leadership for the grave hazards of war in the East. Halder ignored the strengths of the Soviet state and gave no attention to its vast manpower reserves, the mobilisation of the wartime economy or the administration led by Stalin. His second major fault was that he accepted Hitler's plan for the attack without openly disagreeing with it or arguing for his own alternative. Nicolaus von Below who observed the meetings described Halder's alarm with the strategy but said he made no protest. Halder did not believe in Hitler's plan, he preferred his own, and thereafter he undermined and sabotaged it resulting in disjointed leadership from the very start of the campaign.
Halder attended the 30 March 1941 conference where Hilter described the planned invasion to about 200 senior Wehrmacht officers. Halder later wrote in his diary, summarising Hitler's remarks:
We must forget the concept of comradeship between soldiers. A Communist is no comrade before or after the battle. This is a war of extermination. (...) Commanders must make the sacrifice of overcoming their personal scruples.
Halder was instrumental in the subsequent preparation and implementation of war crimes during the invasion of the Soviet Union. Halder had his staff draft both the Commissar Order and the Barbarossa Decree without Hitler's instruction or interference. The author of the orders was Eugen Müller who reported his work directly to Halder. The commissar order required political commissars when captured to be immediately executed. Halder also insisted that a clause be added to the Barbarossa Decree giving officers the right to raze whole villages and execute the inhabitants. The decree freed soldiers from any form of prosecution for war crimes committed in the East. The decree had no specific target: Soviet citizens could be killed at any time and for any reason. Until this time only the SS could kill citizens without fear of later prosecution, these orders allowed officers throughout the army to execute citizens with no repercussions. Ulrich von Hassell discussing the orders given by Halder said the conquered population were being controlled by despotism and that Germans were being turned into a type of being that previously existed only in enemy propaganda. Omer Bartov described the orders as "the barbarisation of warfare".
The offensive began on June 22, 1941, and initially German forces met muted resistance, Halder brashly wrote in his diary on July 3 that the war was already won. Von Below reported that this confidence was shared at Fuhrer Headquarters in the month of July. Halder's confidence was popped with dramatic effect in early August with the arrival of new intelligence information from his Foreign Armies East. He wrote in his diary on August 11 that he had underestimated the "Russian colossus". At the start of the campaign, he had reckoned the enemy had 200 enemy divisions, but now 360 had been counted. He added that "we destroy a dozen of them, then the Russian's put another dozen in their place." In mid-August the German advance had stalled, and at the same time, effective long term defence was impossible so far from friendly territory. Halder wrote of the situation "everything that has so far been achieved is for nothing". During that summer Hitler and the Army Staff led by Halder had been engaged in a long and divisive dispute over strategy. By mid-September, it was clear that Operation Barbarossa had failed in its central objective to quickly overcome the Soviet Union.
Operation Typhoon, the German offensive at the Battle of Moscow, began on 2 October 1941. In early October, the German forces encircled the bulk of the Soviet armies defending the capital city in the Vyazma and Bryansk pocket. Halder determined the strategy for Typhoon and it was subsequently endorsed by Hitler. Typhoon had the same basic flaw as Barbarossa; officers on the front line were unable to change Halder's objectives even when those objectives were impossible.
The Barbarossa decree and Commissar order became a fundamental aspect of the battle for Moscow. By this time thousands of Soviet civilians and defenceless prisoners in already occupied Russia were being murdered every day. The killings were unprecedented in the modern era and radicalised the defence of Moscow. On December 5 Operation Typhoon was over, Halder wrote in his diary that there was no more strength and a withdrawal may be necessary. The withdrawal when it came was dictated by the Soviet army. The crisis on the battlefield prompted Hitler to remove von Brauchitsch and assume command of OKH himself.
Halder vehemently pushed for a Blitzkrieg assault on Moscow and believed if the capital could be taken the war would be won. However, he did not understand the fundamental underpinnings of Blitzkrieg and the impossibility of carrying out a "lightening war" in the vast expanse of the Soviet Union. If Moscow had fallen Stalin would have moved his base of operations further East and the war would have continued. David Stahel writes "The Soviet Union was nothing less than a militarised juggernaut and, while deeply wounded in Germany’s 1941 campaign, there is no evidence to suggest it was about to collapse either politically or militarily. The responsibility for the failure fell on Halder, Hitler and Fedor von Bock. The war in the Soviet Union and the winter that followed was one of the worst events in the history of the German army, there were over 1 million casualties.
In the spring of 1942, Halder, along with the German high command began planning a new ambitious offensive in the Soviet Union, despite the heavy losses the Wehrmacht had suffered in 1941. Under the code name "Case Blue", the plan envisaged an offensive against the southern sector of the front, with the aim of capturing the Soviet oil fields in the Caucasus. The directive for the offensive was issued by Hitler on 5 April 1942, envisaging a complex sequence of staggered operations. The offensive began on 28 June 1942 and at the outset appeared successful; Paulus cut through a defensive position with ease and Bock wrote "There was nothing left: The enemy has not succeeded in organizing a new defense anywhere." The Soviet army had adopted a new strategy known as the "elastic defence" that was highly uncharacteristic of prior engagements and left the German army closing in on an enemy that had left. Confusion ensued leading to the failure of the campaign. Bock was subsequently forced to resign and Halder was marginalised. The relationship between Hitler and Halder became strained. Halder's diary entries became increasingly sarcastic and Hitler mocked him. On one occasion Hitler said that he'd spent the whole of World War I in an office "sitting on that same swivel stool". In September Hitler removed Halder from command and retired him to the Fuhrer Reserve.
On 23 July 1944, following the failed 20 July assassination attempt on Hitler's life by German Army officers, Halder was arrested by the Gestapo. Although he was not involved in the 20 July plot, intense interrogations of the conspirators revealed that Halder had been involved in earlier conspiracies against Hitler. Halder was imprisoned at both the Flossenbürg and Dachau concentration camps. Halder's wife Gertrud chose to, and was allowed to, accompany her husband into imprisonment.
On 31 January 1945, Halder was officially dismissed from the army. In the last days of April 1945, together with some members of the families of those involved with the 20 July plot and other 'special' prisoners, he was transferred to the South Tyrol, where the entire group of nearly 140 prisoners was liberated from their SS guards by members of the Heer, and then turned over to US troops after the guards fled.
On May 5, 1945, Halder was arrested by the advancing American troops and was interned awaiting trial or release. He was relieved not to part of the Nuremberg Trials; instead, he was tried in a German court on charges of aiding the Nazi regime. Halder denied any knowledge of the regime's atrocities and claimed to be outside the decision making, he was found not guilty.
During the trial the prosecution attorney gained access to his personal diary which detailed his formulation of the Barbarossa decree and Commissar order so he was subsequently sent for retrial. Halder was working for the American "Historical Division" providing information on the Soviet Union and the Americans refused the retrial, in September 1950 the retrial was dropped.
Consultant for US Army Historical DivisionEdit
As the Cold war progressed the military intelligence provided by the German section of US Army Historical Division became increasingly important to the Americans. Halder oversaw the German section of the military research program which became known as the "Halder Group". His group produced over 2,500 major historical manuscripts from over 700 distinct German authors detailing World War II. Halder used the group to reinvent war-time history using truth, half-truth, distortion and lies. He set up a "Control group" of trusted former Nazi officers who vetted all of the manuscripts and required authors change content. Halder's aim was to exonerate German army personnel from the atrocities they had committed.
The Americans were aware that the manuscripts contained numerous apologia, however, they also contained intelligence that the Americans viewed as important in the event of a war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Halder had coached former Nazi officers on how to make incriminating evidence disappear. Many of the officers he coached such as Heinz Guderian went on to write best-selling biographies that broadened the appeal of the apologia. Halder succeeded in his aim of rehabilitating the German officer corps, first with the U.S. military, then widening circles of politics and finally millions of Americans. His work with the Historical Commission drew to a close at the end of the 1950s and Halder received praise from the Pentagon, during the 1960s he became akin to a historical icon. The praise which he received was in stark contrast to the reality of his actual military career - and in particular the atrocities on the Eastern Front.
Halder sought to distance himself and the German army from Hitler, Nazism and war crimes. He claimed to have been against the Russian campaign and that he had warned Hitler against his "adventure" in the East. Halder had laid the foundation for genocide in the Soviet Union and omitted any mention of the Barbarossa decree that he'd helped formulate or the Commissar order which he'd supported and disseminated. Halder also claimed implausibly that the invasion of the Soviet Union was a defensive measure. Halder wrote Hitler als Feldherr in German (1949) which was translated into English as Hitler as War Lord (1950).
The historians Ronald Smelser and Edward J. Davies in The Myth of the Eastern Front write that Halder played a key role in creating the Myth of the clean Wehrmacht. A false and mythic view of the Nazi-Soviet war in which the German army fought a "noble war" that denies the existence of, or disregards it's war crimes.
Though Halder's notes did not record any mention of Jews, the German historian Andreas Hillgruber argued that, because of Hitler's frequent statements at the same time about the coming war of annihilation against "Judeo-Bolshevism", his generals could not have misunderstood that Hitler's call for the total destruction of the Soviet Union also comprised a call for the total destruction of the Jewish population of the Soviet Union.
Halder died in 1972 in Aschau im Chiemgau, Bavaria.
- Iron Cross (1914) 1st Class (14 September 1914) & 2nd Class (22 December 1915)
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 27 October 1939 as General der Artillerie and Chief of the General-Staff of the German Army (Chef des Generalstabes des Heeres)
- U.S. Meritorious Civilian Service Award (1961)
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