On March 22, 1900, after his military training, Brauchitsch was appointed as a lieutenant in the ‘Königin Elisabeth Garde Grenadier Regiment’ of the Prussian army. In December 1900, he was appointed to the ‘3rd Garde-Feldartillerie-Regiment.’
During 1903, Brauchitsch worked temporarily as an instructor in the ‘Artillery Instruction School.’ He then had a temporary posting at the ‘Spandau Gun Factory.’ On February 5, 1906, he was appointed as an adjutant to the ‘II Battalion 3 Garde-Feldartillerie-Regiment.’
After serving in the ‘General Staff’ office in Berlin, Brauchitsch was made a first lieutenant in 1909. He was promoted to the position of “Oberleutnant” on October 18, 1909. He was enlisted by the ‘Great General Staff’ in Berlin on April 1, 1912, and was promoted to the position of “Hauptmann” (captain) on December 18, 1913.
During WWI, Brauchitsch served as part of the ‘General Staff’ of the ‘XVI Army Corps.’ From October 17, 1915, he was part of the ‘General Staff’ of the ‘34th Infantry Division.’ He later served in the ‘Guards Reserve Corps.’ He was part of many major battles, including the Battle of Verdun, the Battle of Argonne Forest, the Second and Third Battles of Aisne, and the Battle of Flanders. He earned an ‘Iron Cross, First Class,’ and was made a major of ‘the Guards Reserve Corps’ by the end of WWI.
The ‘German Army’ was reduced in size following the ‘Treaty of Versailles.’ However, Brauchitsch continued serving, mainly in the artillery department. He was recruited in the ‘Reichswehr’ in 1921, where he served as both the commander and a staff officer. In April 1928, he became the “Oberst” (colonel) of the army training department. In 1929, he was made the head of the ‘Department of War.’
Brauchitsch became a general-major on October 1, 1931. Following this, he was sent to the Soviet Union, where he helped improve the collaboration between the Soviet and the German armies.
When Adolf Hitler and the ‘Nazi Party’ came to power in 1933, Brauchitsch was appointed as the chief of the ‘East Prussian Military District,’ the commander of the ‘Group Command 4’ in Leipzig, and the chief of the ‘1st Division’ in Königsberg. On June 21, 1935, he became the first commanding general of the ‘1st Army Corps.’ Soon after the ‘Treaty of Versailles,’ Germany had started re-armament secretly and in a small way, but when the ‘Nazi Party’ came to power in 1933, re-armament was carried out massively, yet surreptitiously.
On April 20, 1936, Brauchitsch was made the “General der Artillerie.” Army Commander-in-Chief Werner von Fritsch was (falsely) accused of being a homosexual and was forced to resign. In his place, Brauchitsch was made the colonel general and the commander-in-chief of the army on February 4, 1938.
Hitler, as a rule, was opposed to divorce. However, when Brauchitsch was unsure whether to divorce his first wife to marry his mistress, Hitler financially supported him by lending 80,000 Reichsmarks, so that Brauchitsch could get a divorce and remarry. His second wife, Charlotte Rüeffer, admired Hitler and was a supporter of the ‘Nazi Party.’ Later, Brauchitsch became increasingly dependent on Hitler’s monetary help.
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The chief of ‘General- Staff,’ Ludwig Beck, was against Hitler’s plans to attack Austria and Czechoslovakia. Brauchitsch agreed with him but did not comment on any political decision. He also did not support Beck’s opposition to Hitler.
In September 1939, Germany invaded Poland (thus starting WWII). Brauchitsch was the commander of the campaign, and it witnessed the Polish being treated severely. The prisoners were all sentenced to death, and Brauchitsch was part of this brutality.
When Brauchitsch was appointed as the chief of the army, he came to know about the plans being made to overthrow Hitler. Ludwig Beck, the general-colonel of artillery, and Franz Halder, the chief of army (‘General Staff’), were involved in the plan. Though Brauchitsch was against many of Hitler’s plans, he refused to be drawn into the conspiracy.
On November 5, 1939, Brauchitsch tried to talk to Hitler to cancel or postpone the planned attack on France. However, Hitler flew into a rage, accusing him of incompetence and cowardice. Hitler threatened to “destroy the spirit of Zossen” (the army headquarters). This prompted the conspirators and Halder to withdraw their plan of the coup.
Later, France was swiftly taken over. On July 19, 1940, Brauchitsch was promoted to the position of field marshal in a ceremony at the ‘Kroll Opera House,’ Berlin. Though the Battle of Britain, planned with the help Germany’s air force, the ‘Luftwaffe,’ failed due to the strong defense put up by the ‘RAF,’ the following campaigns (April 1941) of Yugoslavia and Greece were successful. These operations involved huge forces and heavy artillery.
Operation Barbarossa, Dismissal, and Death
In June 1941, Brauchitsch led the German army against the Soviet Union. During the Battle of Moscow, Hitler asked him to co-sign his ‘Commissar Order,’ which made allowances for the continuation of the mass extermination of Soviet civilians and prisoners of war. As Hitler diverted his army toward Leningrad and Caucasus, Brauchitsch tried to explain that they were deviating from their goal, Moscow. When the campaign failed, Hitler blamed Brauchitsch.
Brauchitsch’s health had started deteriorating during the campaign. He had a heart attack on November 10, 1041. On December 19, 1941, he was dismissed as the commander-in-chief, and Hitler took over the command of the army. Brauchitsch went to live in the Brdy Mountains near Prague. When a conspiracy against Hitler failed on July 20, 1944, he wrote an article condemning the act and some of his former colleagues. Later, he explained to Halder that he had done it to save a relative’s life.
Brauchitsch was arrested on May 8, 1945. Later, he was asked to appear as a witness before the ‘International Military Tribunal’ in Nuremberg. He was also indicted for conspiracy with Hitler and for crimes against humanity. He was kept in a prison camp in Southern Wales. However, Brauchitsch died of pneumonia on October 18, 1948, in a Hamburg hospital, before his prosecution (while in British confinement).