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Italy Volume I: The Sangro to Cassino

Appendix IV — German Commanders in Italy

page 362

Appendix IV
German Commanders in Italy

The following brief biographies of the chief German commanders in Italy have been compiled mainly from personal files held by the German Military Documents Section of the United States War Department, Washington:

Lieutenant-General Ernst Baade was an old enemy of 2 NZ Division from North Africa, where he commanded a regiment in 1942. He was one of the outstanding German divisional commanders in Italy – a dashing, independent soldier, one of the ‘bad boys’ of the German Army, who had ideas of his own and often acted with little regard for orders and regulations. He commanded a corps in 1945, and was awarded the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross for the defensive victory at Cassino on 18 February 1944.

Lieutenant-General Richard Heidrich was a machine-gun company commander in the First World War. He fought against the New Zealand Division on Crete as commander of 3 Parachute Regiment. Awarded the Oak Leaves with Swords for the defence of Cassino. He commanded 1 Parachute Corps in late 1944. A very keen, ambitious, strict soldier, and a most aggressive commander in action.

General Traugott Herr was an outstanding commander of formations of all sizes, from a company to an army; he always earned the highest praise for his steadiness, ability and energy, despite being permanently handicapped by the effects of a head wound. Described as ‘a fine man and an exemplary soldier, full of character’.

Field-Marshal Albert Kesselring had a continuous record of service since 1904. He served mainly in artillery field commands and General Staff positions until 1936, when he transferred to the Luftwaffe. Commanded an air fleet in Poland, in the Low Countries, in the Battle of Britain, and in Russia in 1941, and was in charge of all German Army formations in Italy in 1943. An orthodox, sound strategist, but not brilliant – General Alexander thought him much better than the more impetuous Rommel. A master of battlefield tactics and very tenacious. One of the last high-ranking officers to keep on fighting in May 1945. He was sentenced to death (later commuted to life imprisonment) for being a party to the shooting of over 300 Italian civilian hostages in the Ardeatine catacombs near Rome. He was released from prison in October 1952 after an operation, ‘as an act of clemency’.

General Joachim Lemelsen began his career as an artillery officer before the First World War, transferred to the General Staff in 1918, and served later in artillery, infantry and panzer formations, gaining a wide knowledge of all arms. Commanded a panzer division in 1940, a corps until 1943, then an army. He gained high praise for his leadership of the Fourteenth Army in 1944.

General Smilo Freiherr von Luettwitz was a cavalryman who transferred to the panzer troops. He was one of the best divisional commanders in Italy until July 1944, then was promoted quickly through a corps to an army command, but failed as an army commander and was relegated to a corps again in 1945. He always had a reputation for leading from in front.

General der Panzertruppen F. von Senger und Etterlin was born in Baden in 1892 and was at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar shortly before the page 363 First World War, in which he fought as a junior artillery officer. After the war he became a regular officer, transferring to the cavalry, and in 1940 commanded a motorised brigade which took Le Havre and Cherbourg. After service on the Italo-French Armistice Commission in 1940–42, he commanded a panzer division in Russia, but returned west to command the German troops in Sicily during the Allied invasion and then in Corsica. He fought the battles of Cassino with 14 Panzer Corps and took part in the retreat through Italy. In April–May 1945 he led the German commission which negotiated the surrender of the German forces in Italy at Fifth Army Headquarters.

General Siegfried Westphal joined the German Army at the end of the First World War and spent much of his career as a staff officer. Before the Second World War he was in the Operations Section of the Army General Staff and in the early months of the war served as First General Officer of a division in the West. On the fall of France he was made a member of the Franco-German Armistice Commission, but in mid-1941 he went to Africa, where he became Chief of Staff to Field-Marshal Rommel. In 1943 and 1944 he was successively Chief of the Operations Section and Chief of Staff to Kesselring in Italy. His war service ended on the western front as Chief of Staff to the Commanders-in-Chief West (first Field-Marshal Rundstedt and later Kesselring).1 Kesselring thought highly of his abilities, writing (in his Memoirs, p. 260): ‘I could not have wished for a better Chief of Staff…. He knew my idiosyncrasies as I knew his’.

Colonel-General Heinrich-Gottfried von Vietinghoff fought on the eastern and western fronts in the First World War and commanded a panzer division in Poland and a corps in France in 1940. He served in Russia in 1941–42, commanding Ninth Army ‘well and confidently … in very critical defensive battles’. He won praise from Kesselring for his conduct of the defence in Italy while in command of Tenth Army. As Commander-in-Chief South-West he negotiated the surrender of the German forces in Italy in May 1945.

Lieutenant-General Gustav Heisterman von Ziehlberg held a General Staff position at GHQ for several years prior to 1943, when he was transferred to a field command. He commanded 65 Division from its formation. He was described as an ‘upright, friendly, warm-hearted man with plenty of guts and optimism’. He lost an arm as a result of his wound at the Sangro, but five months later was back commanding a division in Russia. Suspected of implication in the anti-Hitler plot of July 1944, he was tried and shot in January 1945.

1 Source: General Siegfried Westphal: The German Army in the West, pp. v and 211.