Walther Fischer von Weikersthal

Walther Fischer von Weikersthal (15 September 1890 – 11 February 1953) was a German general in the German Army during World War II. A career officer who also served in the Army of Württemberg in World War I and the Weimar Republic's Reichswehr, Weikersthal was a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.[1]

Walther Fischer von Weikersthal
Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-298-1758-19, Frankreich, Rommel und Offiziere an Somme-Mündung.jpg
Weikersthal (left) in Northern France with Felix Schwalbe and Erwin Rommel
Born(1890-09-15)15 September 1890
Died11 February 1953(1953-02-11) (aged 62)
Allegiance German Empire
 Weimar Republic
 Nazi Germany
Service/branchArmy
Years of service1909–45
RankGeneral der Infanterie
Commands held35. Infanterie-Division
LIII. Armeekorps
LXVII. Armeekorps
Battles/warsWorld War I

World War II

AwardsKnight's Cross of the Iron Cross

During Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, and the Battle of Moscow, Weikersthal was implicated in war crimes, including approvals for the execution of hostages, the burning of villages, and public hangings of alleged partisans. He was dismissed from command in late December 1941, during the Soviet winter counter-offensive, for disobeying Hitler's "no-retreat" order.

Early life and World War IEdit

Weikersthal was born in 1890 to an aristocratic family, the son of a captain in the Army of Württemberg. He attended Gymnasium in Rottweil and Stuttgart, then entered the 1. Württembergisches Grenadier-Regiment in 1909.[2]

Weikersthal served on both fronts in World War I, including sixteen months on the Western Front and nine months on the Eastern Front (from December 1914 to September 1915). He was wounded in France in September 1914. Fighting in the 26th Infantry Division, he served in Poland before his division was transferred to Serbia. As general staff officer of XIII Army Corps, he assisted with secretive troop demobilizations in autumn 1918.[3]

World War IIEdit

Under the Nazi regime, Weikersthal supported Adolf Hitler's opposition to the Treaty of Versailles and his promises of military rearmament. His family later recounted that his first impressions of the Nazis were "very positive."[4] Shortly before the 1938 annexation of Austria, Weikersthal was promoted to the rank of general.[5]

In October 1940, Weikersthal was appointed commander of the 35th Infantry Division, which was earmarked for Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union.[6] Before the invasion, the German military's Supreme Command issued the Commissar Order on 6 June 1941, ordering the Wehrmacht to summarily execute captured Soviet political officers.[7] While Freiherr von Welck claims that Weikersthal "expressly forbade the passing of this order down to [his] troops", the division shot three commissars by the end of its first week of combat in Barbarossa.[8]

Weikersthal's 35th Division fought in the battles of Białystok–Minsk, Smolensk, and Vyazma, the three major battles of encirclement on the Eastern Front, in which German forces captured over 1.2 million Soviet prisoners. At Smolensk, Weikersthal was awarded the Knight's Cross. In intense fighting against determined Soviet troops, the German military became increasingly brutalized; a "no-prisoners mentality" became predominant among the 35th Division, which executed Red Army prisoners and shot Jews in reprisals.[9] David Wildermuth notes that Weikersthal's position on prisoner executions was one of "silent acquiescence," and his stance on the murder of Soviet Jews "[lay] between silent acquiescence and undocumented approval."[10]

At the same time, Weikersthal attempted to curb the forced requisitioning by his troops, concerned about maintaining the public image of the German military "as the representative of Anti-bolshevism."[11] Still, although he urged the "correct and respectful comportment" of his troops towards Soviet POWs and civilians, incidents of looting, rape, and violence against the populace were widespread in the Ninth Army by August.[12]

From August to September, the 35th Division was situated in the Wassiljewa region while it prepared for Operation Typhoon. Seeking to cultivate an ally in the Soviet populace against the partisans, Weikersthal forbade the plundering of the civilian population and provided sufficient food for them. When the Ninth Army on 10 September ordered the summary executions of partisans and hostage-taking, Weikersthal emphasized that "every hostile action toward the German army and its facilities will be punishable without exception with death," but also encouraged rewards for civilian collaborators.[13] Even still, the residents of Wassiljewa remained the targets of German requisitions, and Weikersthal approved the execution of hostages, the burning of Bielica, and the November public hanging of eight alleged partisans in Wolokolamsk.[14]

On 1 December Weikersthal was promoted to General der Infanterie.[15] Additionally, he was given command of LIII Corps, part of Heinz Guderian's Second Panzer Army under Army Group Center. By December, his units were exhausted from the severe cold and attrition. While Hitler urged his military to stand fast against Soviet counterattacks, Weikersthal was forced to pull his depleted units back, reserving the right to "act as my conscience dictates" and resign if necessary.[16] Retreating across the Oka River, Weikersthal ordered a scorched-earth policy of destroying "all structures that could be possibly used for shelter."[17]

When Guderian was dismissed on 26 December, after disobeying Hitler's no-retreat order,[18] Rudolf Schmidt was promoted to command Second Panzer Army. Schmidt soon ordered the retreat of Weikersthal's units from Kosjolsk, but the Second Panzer Army command soon insisted that "not one foot of ground should be surrendered."[19] Weikersthal attempted to improve morale and discipline by forming squads to punish deserters, but his control over the tactical situation was beginning to erode as Schmidt gained control over his forces. In January 1942, Weikersthal insisted to Schmidt that counterattacks to restore the German lines were unfeasible due to a lack of reinforcements, and that "abandoning... some present positions" might be necessary.[20] However, this led to a direct order from Hitler for LIII Corps to hold its positions "to the last moment."[21] When Weikersthal ordered some of his units under pressure to retreat, leading to another argument between LIII Corps and Second Panzer Army, he was relieved of command on 25 January and placed in the Führerreserve, under the guise of health problems.[22]

From the end of April 1942 to mid-June 1942, he was mentioned as commander of Höheres Kommando z.b.V. XXXIII in Central Norway. In September 1942, he was appointed commanding general of the LXVII Reserve Army Corps in Brussels. He led this general command, also after the renaming into LXVII Army Corps in January 1944, until the summer of 1944. Then he was again transferred to the Führer Reserve. In March 1945 he was reappointed, now as commanding general of the Higher Command Oberrhein.[23]

Weikersthal was released from American custody in 1947, and died in 1953.[14]

AwardsEdit

ReferencesEdit

CitationsEdit

  1. ^ Wildermuth 2012, pp. 307, 318.
  2. ^ Wildermuth 2012, pp. 307–308.
  3. ^ Wildermuth 2012, pp. 308–310.
  4. ^ Wildermuth 2012, pp. 309–310.
  5. ^ Wildermuth 2012, p. 309.
  6. ^ Wildermuth 2012, pp. 307, 310.
  7. ^ "COMMISSAR ORDER". Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  8. ^ Wildermuth 2012, pp. 310–311.
  9. ^ Wildermuth 2012, pp. 311–313.
  10. ^ Wildermuth 2012, pp. 312–313.
  11. ^ Wildermuth 2012, p. 314.
  12. ^ Wildermuth 2012, p. 315.
  13. ^ Wildermuth 2012, pp. 315–317.
  14. ^ a b Wildermuth 2012, p. 324.
  15. ^ Wildermuth 2012, p. 307.
  16. ^ Wildermuth 2012, pp. 315–320.
  17. ^ Wildermuth 2012, p. 320.
  18. ^ Beevor 2012, p. 258.
  19. ^ Wildermuth 2012, pp. 320–321.
  20. ^ Wildermuth 2012, pp. 321–322.
  21. ^ Wildermuth 2012, p. 322.
  22. ^ Wildermuth 2012, p. 307, 322.
  23. ^ Lexikon der Wehrmacht
  24. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 152.

BibliographyEdit

  • Beevor, Antony (2012). The Second World War. New York: Back Bay Books. ISBN 978-0-316-02375-7.
  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000) [1986]. Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 — Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtteile [The Bearers of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939–1945 — The Owners of the Highest Award of the Second World War of all Wehrmacht Branches] (in German). Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6.
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 The Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 by Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Allied Forces with Germany According to the Documents of the Federal Archives] (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Militaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.
  • Wildermuth, David W. (2012). "Widening the Circle: General Weikersthal and the War of Annihilation, 1941–42". Central European History. 45 (2): 306–324. doi:10.1017/S0008938912000064. S2CID 146250458.
Military offices
Preceded by
Generalleutnant Hans-Wolfgang Reinhard
Commander of 35. Infanterie-Division
25 November 1940 – 1 December 1941
Succeeded by
Preceded by
General der Infanterie Karl Weisenberger
Commander of LIII. Armeekorps
1 December 1941 – 15 January 1942
Succeeded by
General der Infanterie Heinrich Clößner
Preceded by
General der Kavallerie Georg Brandt
Commander of XXXIII. Armeekorps
30 April 1942 - 15 June 1942
Succeeded by
General der Artillerie Erwin Engelbrecht
Preceded by
None
Commander of LXVII. Armeekorps
25 September 1942 – 1 June 1944
Succeeded by
Generalleutnant Alfred Gause
Preceded by
Generalleutnant Alfred Gause
Commander of LXVII. Armeekorps
7 June 1944 – 24 July 1944
Succeeded by
Generalleutnant Carl Püchler