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Gerd von Rundstedt

(1875 - 1953)

Gerd von Rundstedt, the son of a military officer, was born in Aschersleben, Germany, on December 12, 1875. He joined the German Army and served throughout the First World War. By 1918 he had reached the rank of major and was chief of staff of his division.

After the war, Rundstedt rose steadily in the small 100,000 man army and, in 1932, was appointed commander of the 3rd Infantry Division. Later that year he threatened to resign when Franz von Papen declared martial law and ordered his troops to eject members of the Social Democratic Party from state government offices. However, Rundstedt eventually agreed to carry out the task.

In February 1934, Rundstedt joined with General Wilhelm Leeb to block the pro-Nazi Walther von Reichenau who General Werner von Blomberg wanted to succeed Kurt Hammerstein-Equord as head of the German Army. He also tried to protect General Werner von Fitsch when he was ousted after false claims were made about his sexuality.

Rundstedt was unhappy with the growing power of Adolf Hitler over the army and resigned from office on October 31, 1938. Although 64 years old, Rundstedt was recalled to the army with the outbreak of the Second World War and, in September 1939, led Army Group South into Poland.

In 1940, Rundstedt was quick to see the merits of the plan devised by Erich von Manstein to invade France. With his support, the Manstein Plan was eventually used as part of the Western Offensive. Rundstedt led seven panzer divisions, three motorized divisions, and 35 infantry divisions during the invasion of France.

By May 14, 1940, the German tanks led by General Heinz Guderian had crossed the Meuse and had opened up a a fifty-mile gap in the Allied front. Rundstedt had doubts about the aggressive tactics of Guderian and argued that his tanks should halt and wait until infantry divisions could catch up. Rundsteadt did not fully understand Blitzkrieg tactics and wanted a conventional assault on the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). Adolf Hitler agreed and this decision stopped Guderian cutting off the escape of the British and French troops from Dunkirk.

Rundstedt was promoted to field marshal on July 19, 1940 and took part in the planning of Operation Sealion. When the invasion of Britain was called off Rundstedt took control of occupation forces and was given responsibility to develop the coastal defences in Holland, Belgium and France.

In June 1941, Rundstedt took part in Operation Barbarossa when as commander of Army Group South he led 52 infantry divisions and five panzer divisions into the Soviet Union. Unlike those forces led by General Wilhelm Leeb and General Fedor von Bock, Rundstedt made slow progress during the first few weeks of the campaign.

In September 1941, Rundstedt took part in the capture of Kiev where 665,000 Russian prisoners were taken. After this he moved east to attack Kharkov and Rostov.

Rundstedt strongly opposed continuing the advance into the Soviet Union during the winter. He advised Adolf Hitler to call a halt but his views were rejected.

At the beginning of November 1941, Rundstedt had a heart-attack. However, he refused to be hospilized and continued the advance and reached Rostov on 21st November, but a Red Army counter-attack forced the Germans back. Hitler was furious and blamed Rundstedt for the defeat. When Rundstedt demanded he should be allowed to withdraw, he was sacked and replaced by General Walther von Reichenau.

Adolf Hitler recalled Rundstedt to duty in March 1942 and was sent to France where he was given reponsibility of defending the Atlantic coast. Known as the Atlantic Wall, Rundstedt organized the building of permanent fortifications with huge naval guns along 1,700 miles of coastline.

After the Normandy landings, Rundstedt urged Hitler to negotiate a peace settlement with the Allies. Hitler responded by replacing Rundstedt with General Gunther von Kluge.

As a result of the July Plot, Rundstedt agreed to join Heinz Guderian and Wilhelm Keitel on the Army Court of Honour that expelled hundreds of officers suspected of being opposed to the policies of Adolf Hitler. This removed them from court martial jurisdiction and turned them over to Roland Freisler and his People's Court.

Rundstedt was captured by the U.S. 36th Infantry Division on May 1, 1945. While being interogated, he suffered another heart-attack. He was taken to Britain where he was held in captivity. During this period, he was interviewed by several military historians including Basil Liddell Hart and Brian Horrocks .

Gerd von Rundstedt was released in July 1948, and lived in Hanover until his death on February 24, 1953.

Sources: Spartacus Educational