Birthday: December 12, 1875
Died At Age: 77
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Also Known As: Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt
Born Country: Germany
Born in: Aschersleben, Province of Saxony, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire
Famous as: Military Officer
Height: 5'7" (170 cm), 5'7" Males
Spouse/Ex-: Luise von Goetz (m. 1902)
father: Gerd Arnold Konrad von Rundstedt
mother: Adelheid Fischer
children: Eberhard Günther Hans-Gerd von Rundstedt
Died on: February 24, 1953
place of death: Hanover, Lower Saxony, West Germany
Cause of Death: Heart Attack
awards: Third Class Military Merit Cross
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
Order of Michael the Brave
Who was Gerd von Rundstedt?
Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt was a German field marshal in the ‘Wehrmacht,’ the unified armed forces of ‘Nazi’ Germany, at the time of the Second World War. Widely considered one of the most-skilled German generals of the Second World War, Rundstedt’s military career spanned over half a century. He served mainly as a staff officer during the First World War. Following the war, he continued to serve the army and remained active in the secret rearmament of Germany. He eventually became colonel general (Generaloberst) and retired in 1938. At the outbreak of the Second World War, during the invasion of Poland, Rundstedt was recalled as the commander of ‘Army Group South.’ The Battle of France saw him commanding ‘Army Group A.’ During the Battle of Dunkirk, he made the ‘Halt Order’ request. In 1940, he was elevated to the position of field marshal. He was in command of ‘Army Group South’ during the invasion of the Soviet Union that witnessed the largest encirclement in warfare history during the Battle of Kiev. He was dismissed after the German defeat in Normandy in July 1944. However, he was recalled as the commander-in-chief in the West in September and held the post until his final dismissal by Adolf Hitler in March 1945. Although he knew about the anti-Hitler plots within Germany, he never participated in them.
Childhood & Early Life
Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt was born on December 12, 1875, in Aschersleben, Province of Saxony, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire. He was eldest of the four sons of Gerd Arnold Konrad von Rundstedt and Adelheid Fischer. Rundstedt hailed from an old Junker family with military background since the rule of Frederick the Great. His father was a cavalry officer and had served during the Franco-Prussian War. His mother was of Huguenot (French Protestant) descent.
He attended the junior cadet college in Diez and then joined the military academy in Lichterfelde in Berlin. In March 1892, he became a cadet officer (Portepee Fähnrich) in the ‘83rd Infantry Regiment.’ In June 1893, he was appointed as a lieutenant after he took training at the Hannover military college (Kriegsschule).
He became a regimental adjutant in 1896. In 1903, he enrolled in a 3-year staff officer training course at the reputed ‘War Academy’ (Kriegsakademie) in Berlin. From April 1907 to July 1914, he served the ‘General Staff’ of the ‘German Army,’ before being made the chief of operations of the ‘22nd Reserve Infantry Division’ of the ‘XI Corps,’ which was under the ‘First Army’ of General Alexander von Kluck.
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The First World War & Inter-War Years
The German invasion of Belgium that began in August 1914 saw Rundstedt serving as the chief of staff of the ‘22nd Division,’ which was however held in reserve. Following this, he served as the chief of staff of several divisions during the war. These included the ‘86th Infantry Division,’ which was serving General Max von Gallwitz on the Eastern Front; the ‘XXV Reserve Corps,’ which fought in the Carpathians; the ‘LIII Corps,’ which was stationed in northern Poland; and the ‘XV Corps’ in Alsace, where he was put under General Felix Graf von Bothmer. He served in Alsace until the war ended in November 1918. He received the military decoration of ‘Iron Cross 1st Class’ (Eisernes Kreuz 1. Klasse, or EKI) and was also recommended for the ‘Pour le Mérite.’ However, he was not awarded the latter.
Following the First World War, Rundstedt continued his military career and gradually moved up the career rung. He was made the commander of ‘Wehrkreis III’ in January 1932 and also the commander of the ‘3rd Infantry Division.’
Amidst the Great Depression and the rise of Adolf Hitler’s ‘Nazi Party,’ Chancellor Franz von Papen made plans to overthrow Prussia’s ‘Social Democrat’ government and dismissed the Prussian government using his emergency powers. Rundstedt became the martial law plenipotentiary, and martial law was declared in Berlin. Rundstedt, however, made his objection to this clear to Papen and also threatened to resign. A few days later, the martial law was lifted. Rundstedt was elevated to the position of full general in October 1932 and was given command of ‘Gruppenkommando 1,’ which covered the entire East Germany.
Hitler became the chancellor in January 1933 and emerged as a dictator a few months later. Rundstedt was a senior officer of the ‘German Army’ by 1935, second only to the defense minister, General Werner von Blomberg. In January 1936, during the funeral of King George V, Hitler appointed him as a representative of Germany.
Rundstedt retired from the army in November 1938, ranked as a colonel-general (Generaloberst), second to the rank of field marshal, and agreed to return to active service in case of a war. He was made the honorary colonel of his old regiment after he retired.
The Second World War
Rundstedt was recalled in 1939, during the outbreak of the Second World War, when Hitler resolved to confront Poland over the Polish Corridor. Rundstedt was made the commander of ‘Army Group South’ during the invasion of Poland that resulted in the German–Soviet victory.
During the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, better known as the Battle of France, which lasted from May 10, 1940, to June 25 that year, Rundstedt commanded ‘Army Group A.’ During the Battle of Dunkirk, Rundstedt, along with Generaloberst Günther von Kluge, proposed that the forces of Germany around the Dunkirk pocket should refrain from moving toward the port and consolidate, so as to avoid any breakout of the ‘Allied’ forces. Accordingly, the ‘Halt Order’ was sanctioned by Hitler (and backed by Oberkommando der Wehrmacht) on May 24, 1940. It remained one of the most debatable decisions of the war. On July 19 the same year, Rundstedt was promoted to the position of field marshal.
He commanded ‘Army Group South’ during the ‘Axis’ invasion of the Soviet Union, codenamed “Operation Barbarossa.” As part of the operation, ‘Army Group South,’ under Rundstedt, remained responsible for a large encirclement of Soviet troops in the vicinity of Kiev. This is also known as the First Battle of Kiev and is regarded as the largest encirclement in warfare history. However, “Operation Barbarossa” resulted in an ‘Axis’ failure amidst a counter-attack by the ‘Red Army.’ Hitler was furious after the defeat. He dismissed Rundstedt on December 1, 1941.
Rundstedt was recalled by Hitler in March 1942. He was appointed the commander-in-chief in the West and delegated to defend the Atlantic coast. On June 6, 1944, the Normandy landings launched the Battle of Normandy, codenamed “Operation Overlord.” Although, following the Normandy landings, Rundstedt tried to convince Hitler for a peace settlement, the German defeat in Normandy in July 1944 led Hitler to dismiss Rundstedt again. In September 1944, he was re-appointed as the commander-in-chief in the West. He remained in the same post till he was finally dismissed by Hitler in March 1945.
Although Rundstedt did not like the ‘Nazi’ regime and had a difference of opinion with Hitler, he never took part in the several anti-Hitler plots that had cropped up within the ‘German Army’ since 1938. However, he did not report such developments to Hitler. After the plot made to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944, failed, the latter ordered to convene a ‘Court of Honour’ (Ehrenhof) to expel all who were accused of involvement in the plot and inducted Rundstedt to head it.
On May 1, 1945, Rundstedt was made a prisoner of war by the ‘36th Infantry Division’ of the U.S. He faced different war crime charges and was interrogated. He suffered a heart attack during the interrogation. He was later sent to Britain and held in captivity. While there, he was interviewed by many military historians, such as Brian Horrocks and Basil Liddell Hart. Rundstedt, however, did not face any trial because of his age and ill health. He was released in 1949.
Family & Personal Life
On January 22, 1902, Rundstedt married Luise “Bila” von Goetz. The couple had their only child, Eberhard Günther Hans-Gerd von Rundstedt, in January the following year.
The West German government granted Rundstedt a military pension in 1951. On February 24, 1953, Rundstedt died in Hanover, Lower Saxony, West Germany. He was 77 years old at the time of his death. He was interred in the ‘Stöckener Cemetery.’