Günther von Kluge
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|Günther von Kluge|
Kluge as Field Marshal in 1939
30 October 1882|
Posen, Province of Posen, Prussia, German Empire
19 August 1944 (aged 61)|
Metz, Nazi Germany
|Years of service||1901–44|
Army Group Centre
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords|
|Relations||Wolfgang von Kluge (brother)|
Günther von Kluge (30 October 1882 – 19 August 1944) was a German field marshal during World War II. Kluge held commands on both the Eastern and Western Fronts. He commanded the 4th Army of the Wehrmacht during Operation Barbarossa and the Battle for Moscow, going on to command Army Group Centre until 1944. Although Kluge was not an active conspirator in the 20 July plot, he committed suicide on 19 August 1944, after having been recalled to Berlin for a meeting with Hitler in the aftermath of the failed coup. He was replaced by Field Marshal Walter Model.
Early life and career
Günther Hans von Kluge was born on 30 October 1882 in Posen, Prussia. Kluge's father Max von Kluge was from an aristocratic Prussian military family. A distinguished commander, Max was a Lieutenant General in the Prussian Army who served in the First World War; he married Elise Kühn-Schuhmann in 1881. Kluge was one of two children, having a younger brother named Wolfgang von Kluge (born 1892).
In 1901, Kluge was commissioned in the Prussian Army's 46th Field Artillery Regiment. He served on the General Staff between 1910 and 1918, reaching the rank of Captain on the Western Front during the First World War; he remained in the Reichswehr following the conflict. On 1 April 1934, Kluge–promoted to Lieutenant General–took command of the 6th Division in Münster. Adolf Hitler's proclamation of the Wehrmacht in 1935 precipitated Kluge's appointment to the 6th Corps and then the 6th Army Group, which subsequently became the 4th Army.
Like several Wehrmacht commanders, Kluge believed Hitler's "crude militarism" would lead Germany into disaster. During the crisis in the Sudetenland, Kluge was a member of a secret anti-war faction lead by Ludwig Beck and Ernst von Weizsäcker, hoping to avoid armed conflict over the disputed territory. The crisis was averted by the Munich Agreement on 30 September 1938. As much as he derided Nazism, Kluge believed in the principle of Lebensraum and took pride in the rearmament of the Wehrmacht.
World War II
Invasion of Poland and Battle of France
Hitler approved of the German High Command's outline for invading Poland with two army groups during a military briefing on 26-27 April 1939. Kluge's 4th Army was assigned to Army Group North under Fedor von Bock. The Poland Campaign commenced on 1 September, taking advantage of the country's long border with Germany. The 4th Army was to advance eastward toward the Corridor from West Pomerania to link with the 3rd Army; the port city of Danzig fell within the first day.
By the following day, apprehensions of a strong Polish defensive line along the Brda River never materialized, and the 4th Army crossed the river, sealing the Polish 9th Infantry Division, 27th Infantry Division, and the Pomeranian Cavalry Brigade in the Corridor. Kluge sent the 10th Panzer Division from his army across the Vistula River, meeting with the 3rd Army on 3 September.
The 4th Army's XIX Panzer Corps (Heinz Guderian) captured the city of Brześć on 17 September after three days of heavy fighting. Army Group North was informed of the Red Army's invasion of Eastern Poland the same day and was directed to remain west of the Bug River. Brześć was turned over to the Soviets on 22 September. For his conduct in the early stages of the invasion, Kluge earned Hitler's praise as one of his most brilliant commanders.
Though he opposed the initial German plan to attack westwards into France, he led the Fourth Army in its attack through the Ardennes that culminated in the fall of France. Kluge was promoted to field marshal in July 1940.
Invasion of the Soviet Union
Kluge commanded the 4th Army at the opening of Operation Barbarossa, where he developed a strained relationship with Heinz Guderian, commander of the 2nd Panzer Group, over tactical issues in the advance, accusing Guderian of frequent disobedience of his orders.
On 29 June, Kluge ordered that, "Women in uniform are to be shot".
Battle of Moscow
During Operation Typhoon, the German advance on Moscow, Kluge had the 4th Panzer Group, under the command of Erich Hoepner, subordinated to the 4th Army. In early October, the 4th Panzer Group group completed the encirclement at Vyazma.
Kluge instructed Hoepner to pause the advance, much to the latter's displeasure, as his units were needed to prevent break-outs of Soviet forces. Hoepner was confident that the clearing of the pocket and the advance on Moscow could be undertaken at the same time and viewed Kluge's actions as interference, leading to friction and "clashes" with his superior, as he wrote in a letter home on 6 October.
Hoepner did not seem to appreciate that his units were very short on fuel; the 11th Panzer Division, reported having no fuel at all. Only the 20th Panzer Division was advancing towards Moscow amid deteriorating road conditions.
On 17 November the 4th Panzer Group attacked again towards Moscow alongside the V Army Corps of the 4th Army, as part of the continuation of Operation Typhoon by Army Group Centre. The panzer group and the army corps represented Kluge’s best forces, most ready for a continued offensive. In two weeks' fighting, the German forces advanced 60 km (37 mi) (4 km (2.5 mi) per day).
Facing pressure from the German High Command, Kluge finally committed his weaker south flank to the attack on 1 December. In the aftermath of the battle, Hoepner and Guderian blamed Kluge's slow commitment of the south flank of the 4th Army to the attack for the German failure to reach Moscow. Historian David Stahel wrote that this assessment grossly overestimated the capabilities of Kluge’s remaining forces. It also failed to appreciate the reality that Moscow was a metropolis that German forces lacked the numbers to encircle.
With the outer defensive belt completed by 25 November, Moscow was a fortified position which the Wehrmacht lacked the strength to take in a frontal assault either. Further attacks were called off on 5 December; the Red Army launched its winter counter-offensive on the same day.
Army Group Centre
After Fedor von Bock was relieved of his command of Army Group Center in late 1941, Kluge was promoted and led that army group until he was injured in October 1943. Kluge frequently rode in an airplane to inspect the divisions under his command and sometimes relieved his boredom during the flights by shooting foxes from the air — a decidedly non-traditional method.
On 30 October 1942, Kluge was the beneficiary of a letter of good wishes from Hitler together with a huge cheque made out to him from the German treasury and a promise that the costs of improving his estate could be billed to the German treasury. Kluge initially accepted the money, but after severe criticism from his Chief of Staff, Henning von Tresckow, who upbraided him for corruption, he agreed to meet Carl Friedrich Goerdeler in November 1942.
Kluge promised Goerdeler that he would arrest Hitler the next time he came to the Eastern Front, but then after receiving another "gift" from Hitler he changed his mind and decided to stay loyal. Hitler, who seems to have heard that Kluge was dissatisfied with his leadership, regarded his "gifts" as entitling him to Kluge's total loyalty.
On 27 October 1943, Kluge was badly injured when his car overturned on the Minsk–Smolensk road. He was unable to return to duty until July 1944. After his recovery he became commander of the German forces in the West (Oberbefehlshaber West) as Gerd von Rundstedt’s replacement.
Between June and July 1944, during the invasion of Normandy by Allied forces, Erwin Rommel commanded Army Group B under Field Marshal von Rundstedt. Rommel was charged with planning German counterattacks intended to drive the Allied forces back to the beaches. On 5 July, Kluge replaced Rundstedt, because Rundstedt was advocating negotiation with the Allies. Two weeks later, Rommel was wounded and Kluge took over as commander of Army Group B as well, where Kluge's forces around the town of Falaise were encircled by combined U.S., Canadian, British, and Polish armies. In August, after the failed coup attempt by Claus von Stauffenberg, Kluge was recalled to Berlin and replaced by Model.
Kluge and 20 July plot
A leading figure of the German military resistance, Henning von Tresckow, served as his Chief of Staff of Army Group Centre. Kluge may have been aware of the military resistance. He knew of Tresckow’s plan to shoot Hitler during a visit to Army Group Centre, having been informed by his former subordinate, Georg von Boeselager, who was now serving under Tresckow. At the last moment, Kluge aborted Tresckow's plan.[according to whom?]
Boeselager later speculated that because Heinrich Himmler had decided not to accompany Hitler, Kluge feared that without eliminating Himmler too, it could lead to a civil war between the SS and the Wehrmacht.
When Stauffenberg attempted to assassinate Hitler on 20 July, Kluge was Oberbefehlshaber West ("Supreme Field Commander West") with his headquarters in La Roche-Guyon. The commander of the occupation troops of France, General Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel, and his colleague Colonel Cäsar von Hofacker – a cousin of Stauffenberg – came to visit Kluge. Stülpnagel had just ordered the arrest of the SS units in Paris. Kluge had already learned that Hitler had survived the assassination attempt and refused to provide any support. "Ja – wenn das Schwein tot wäre!" ("Yes – if the pig were dead!") he said.
On 17 August, he was replaced by Walter Model and recalled to Berlin for a meeting with Hitler after the coup failed; thinking that Hitler would punish him as a conspirator, he committed suicide by taking cyanide near Metz two days later on 19 August. He left Hitler a letter in which he advised him to make peace, and to show "the greatness that will be needed to put an end to a hopeless struggle". Hitler reportedly handed the letter to Alfred Jodl and commented that "There are strong reasons to suspect that had not Kluge committed suicide he would have been arrested anyway."
- Iron Cross (1914) 2nd and 1st class
- Clasp to the Iron Cross (1939) 2nd class (5 September 1939) & 1st class 
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
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| Commander of 4th Army
1 December 1938 – 19 December 1941
General der Gebirgstruppe Ludwig Kübler
Field Marshal Fedor von Bock
| Commander of Army Group Centre
19 December 1941 – 12 October 1943
Field Marshal Ernst Busch
Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt
| Commander of Army Group D
2 July 1944 – 15 August 1944
Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt
Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt
| OB West
2 July 1944 – 16 August 1944
Field Marshal Walter Model
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel
| Commander of Army Group B
19 July 1944 – 17 August 1944
Field Marshal Walter Model