All work and no play

The third man from the right in the photo, standing slightly higher than the others, is Generalarbeitsführer Hans Baumann. The rather cumbersome title translates as “general work leader”, the equivalent of an Army Generalmajor. He’s an officer of the Reichsarbeitsdienst, the National Labor Service. The other uniformed people in the photo are a gaggle of RAD officers, as well as a black-uniformed Allgemeine-SS lieutenant and a portly Nazi Party official. The photo is probably from around 1937 or 1938, as evidenced by the “Deutsche Wehrmacht” armband worn by the RAD Arbeitsführer (major) and the black SS uniform. The location is probably München (Munich).

Hans Baumann was born in 1875 and joined the Bavarian army in 1894 after the completion of his studies. He rose in the ranks, and served as a battalion commander in Bavarian reserve infantry regiments during World War 1. Baumann was a member of the paramilitary Freikorps Epp during the unrest after the war. In 1919 he joined a small party on the extreme right, the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (German Workers’ Party). Another war veteran who joined the party was a certain A. Hitler, who quickly emerged as a prominent orator. The DAP soon became the NSDAP, and the march towards the pinnacles of power began. History had taken a dark turn.

Hans Baumann had been discharged from the army, which was to be severely reduced in accordance with the Versailles Treaty. He worked as a farmer, but he had a second career as a politician and regional leader in the Freiwilligen Arbeitsdienst, the forerunner to the RAD. He became a member of the Reichstag (parliament) in 1933, a position he held until 1945. Baumann was promoted to Obergeneralarbeitsführer in 1940, making him one of the 20 or so highest ranking officers of the RAD in the Third Reich. While being one of the old guard, it appears like he wasn’t prosecuted after the war, and seems to have faded into obscurity. He died in 1951, aged 76, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was an unrepentant Nazi to the very end. Today he is all but forgotten.


The Dynamic General Duo

Whenever I buy a bunch of photos, I sort them in keepers and those I will sell. One thing I look for are photos of generals; knowledge of German uniforms has made me pretty adept at spotting collar tabs and other telltale insignia. My latest purchase numbered more than 1,300 photos, and among them were a few photos with some damage from moisture (?), but with not one, but two generals in them. My go to site for help with identifying generals is the Axis History Forum, which is a great resource. It’s apolitical, and several military history authors are members. I posted a scan of one of the photos, and got an answer within a few hours. It turned out that the generals were among the most well-known German generals of WW2: Generaloberst (later Generalfeldmarschall) Fedor von Bock and Generalleutnant (later Generaloberst) Hans von Salmuth. The photo is probably from August or September 1939, judging by von Salmuth’s rank and the absence of von Bock’s Knight’s Cross. By this time, von Bock was the commander of the 2. Army and von Salmuth the chief of the general staff of the 2. Army.


von Bock and von Salmuth enjoying a smoke after some coffee.

Fedor von Bock was born in 1880 into a Prussian military family in Küstrin (now Kostrzyn in Poland). He was sent to a military academy in Berlin when he was eight years old, predestined for a military career. Prior to World War 1, he trained for the General Staff. In 1905, he married Mally von Reichenbach, with whom he had a daughter. His wife died in 1910, 23 years old. He was promoted to captain in 1912, and commanded a battalion in WW1. von Bock was awarded the Pour le Mérite, the highest military award in the German Empire, in 1918. He continued to serve in the severely reduced Reichswehr after the war, but was also a member of a secret group of officers that tried to circumvent the restrictions laid down in the Treaty of Versailles. The group cooperated with the so-called “Black Reichswehr”, a paramilitary group disguised as labor groups. The “Black Reichswehr” carried out murders of Germans suspected of being informers for the Allied Control Commission. von Bock and his colleagues denied any connection, and when the “Black Reichswehr” tried to stage a coup in 1923, he ordered them to stand down. With no support from the Army, the coup failed.

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, von Bock, a monarchist, declared himself neutral. This didn’t stop his military career, and he was promoted to General in 1935. He remarried in 1936, his new wife Wilhelmine von Boddin bringing a daughter and a son from a previous marriage. von Bock was appointed commander of Army Group North for the attack on Poland in 1939, and then Army Group B in the invasion of France in 1940. He was promoted to Generalfeldmarschall after the successful conclusion of the campaign. von Bock didn’t get much time to rest on his laurels, as he was made commander of Army Group Center prior to the invasion of the Soviet Union. The initial success of the attack made von Bock argue for a direct drive on Moscow, instead of losing momentum by encircling and destroying Red Army forces with mobile units needed for the advance. Hitler thought otherwise, and the campaign might’ve ended differently if von Bock’s view had won. When the offensive stalled and failed outside of Moscow, von Bock was relieved of his command.

With the death of the commander of Army Group South, Walther von Reichenau, von Bock got a new assignment. While the renewed campaign in 1942 was successful, he had new disagreements with Hitler and was relieved of his command yet again. He retired to Bavaria, and when the assassination attempt against Hitler failed, he declared it a crime. Fedor von Bock met his ultimate fate on 3 May, 1945, when he was travelling by car to Flensburg to see the new leader of the collapsing Third Reich, Groβadmiral Karl Dönitz. A British fighter-bomber attacked the car, killing his wife, teenage stepdaughter, and the driver. von Bock was seriously wounded, and died the next day. It is possible that he would’ve faced the court in Nürnberg and been declared a war criminal, but instead his legacy became that of a highly competent, hard-driving commander who served his country loyally while in opposition to Hitler. He was one of the generals who made Hitler’s war such an initial success, and in so doing also caused the ultimate downfall of the army and country he loved.

What about the other general in the photos, then? Hans von Salmuth was born in Metz in 1888. Like von Bock’s family, his was military, too, but not as illustrious. He joined the Army as a cadet in 1907, and served in WW1 mainly as a staff officer. von Salmuth remained in the Reichswehr after the war, serving as a staff officer or unit commander over the years, rising in the ranks and finally promoted to Generalmajor in 1937. He became the chief of the general staff of the 2. Army in 1939, serving under von Bock. In 1940, he was awarded the Knight’s Cross, as well as promoted to General der Infanterie. He parted ways with von Bock in May 1941 when he was posted to the Balkans as commander of XXX. Army Corps, and participated in Operation Barbarossa and the Battle of Sevastopol.

As the war progressed, he commanded different armies on the Eastern Front before being assigned to command the 15. Army in the Pas-de-Calais area in August 1943. As the German forces in the West crumbled following the Allied invasion in June 1944, he was relieved of command and didn’t hold a commanding position for the rest of the war. von Salmuth was taken prisoner by the Americans by the end of the war, and was tried for war crimes in 1948. He got a 20 year sentence (only one other general got 20 years, and just two got life sentences), which was served in the Landsberg military prison. Cold War politics made the West German government pressure the American authorities for the release of the generals. Hans von Salmuth was released in 1953, and died on New Year’s Day in 1958.

Thanks to Axis History Forum member Frech for identifying the generals.

Generally unremarkable

The man in the center of the photo is Generalmajor Hans von Sommerfeld. It’s “Tag der Wehrmacht” (“Armed Forces Day”), 17 March 1940 in Rheine, Germany. You may be excused if you haven’t heard of him. There were hundreds of generals in the German Army, and his career, which looked promising at first, hit an invisible wall for some reason. His father and grandfather were Prussian officers, and it seemed like a natural choice for him to enter a military career. He was born on 7 January 1888 in Magdeburg, and joined Infanterie-Regiment 27 as a Fähnrich (ensign) in 1906. It was the same regiment as his father and grandfather had served in. He was promoted to 2nd lieutenant the following year. During WW1, von Sommerfeld served with distinction, and was promoted to captain. He was wounded in combat twice, became a battalion commander, and received both the Iron Cross (first and second class) and the Knight’s Cross of the Royal Order of Hohenzollern, as well as other awards.

After the war, he managed to stay on in the severely reduced army. Hans married Ernestine Clara Zuckschwerdt in 1923, fathering two daughters and a son. He served in the Reich Ministry of Defense between 1928 and 1932, where he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel. With the expansion of the Wehrmacht beginning in 1935, von Sommerfeld got to command Infanterie-Regiment 33 in Dessau. After commanding the 526. Infanterie-Division (a border protection unit), he moved on to command the 306. Infanterie-Division in November 1939. It is here that something strange happens. While he gets promoted to Lieutenant General in September 1941, his long service and distinguished combat record in WW1 don’t give him a combat command. When the division is sent to the Eastern Front in November 1942, he was given the 462. Division instead, which appears to have been more or less a training unit until turned into a Volks-Grenadier-Division in October 1944 and put under the command of another general. Generalleutnant von Sommerfeld served the rest of the war as Rheinkommandeur II, which appears to have been some sort of border security/administrative posting. He became a US prisoner of war in 1945, and was released in 1947. The rest of his years until his death in Mönchengladbach in 1961 (three days after his 73rd birthday) appears to have been quiet. What you’ve read here is pretty much what one can find about him on the Internet.

So why was he relegated to secondary, behind-the-front commands? A disagreeable personality? Nerves? Hard on the bottle? Seen as a good administrator, better used behind the front? There are no hints. Anyway, he looks pretty happy in the photo, 52 years old and with a solid if largely unremarkable career. If you don’t remember his name tomorrow, I won’t blame you.

General competence

The man in the center of the photo is Generalleutnant Friedrich Kirchner (1885-1960), somewhere in France, probably early May 1940. He commanded the 1. Panzerdivision during the invasion of France, and was awarded the Knight’s Cross on 20 May, 1940.

Kirchner’s military career began as a 14 years old recruit in 1899 when he joined the Royal Saxon Army. He became an officer in 1907, and served in the First World War on both fronts. After the Armistice and reduction of the German armed forces, he managed to stay on as a career officer, and was promoted to Generalmajor in 1938.  He led an infantry brigade when Germany attacked Poland in 1939, and became the commander of the 1. Panzerdivision in November 1939.

After leading his division in the invasion of the USSR in 1941, he was promoted to commander of the LVII Armeekorps (later LVII Panzerkorps) in November 1941, a position he held for the remainder of the war. Kirchner was promoted to General der Panzertruppen in 1942. The LVII Panzerkorps saw heavy action south of Stalingrad, in the battle of Budapest during the winter of 1944-45, and finally in Silesia. Friedrich Kirchner ended up in Western Allied captivity in 1945, and was released in 1947. He didn’t rejoin the Army, and lived out the rest of his life in retirement until he died on 6 April 1960, 1½ weeks after his 75th birthday.

So, who was he as a person? I haven’t found anything about that. Kirchner was one of the many competent, “non-political” generals who wasn’t involved in war crimes, but who still facilitated the Nazi assault on Europe. He did his duty, apparently never questioning the morals of the government he served.

General Respect

General der Infanterie Viktor von Schwedeler, commander of the IV. Armeekorps, honoring Prussian soldiers killed in the Battle of Waterloo (1815) at the monument at La Belle Alliance, Belgium, June 1940. The photo was taken by an officer in Infanterie-Regiment 503, 290. Infanterie-Division.

He was born in St. Goarshausen in western Germany on 18 January 1885, and became a career officer from his teenage years, serving in various general staffs during WW1. He remained a staff officer during the lean years before the Nazi acquisition of power, and headed the Army Personnel Office 1933-38, eventually becoming a full general in 1938. Schwedeler was made commanding general of the IV. Army Corps following the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair of 1938, and remained with it during the campaigns in Poland, France, and the Soviet Union (Army Group South). He received the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross on 29 June 1940.

He was transferred to the Führerreserve in October 1942. On 1 March 1943 he was appointed commanding general of the 4th Military District in Dresden, a position he held until 31 January 1945. Nevertheless, he was still responsible for the measures after the bombing of Dresden on 13 February and 15 February 1945. He held no command during the last months of the war, and died in Freiburg on 30 October 1954.


I don’t know about you, but to me he sounds to have been a bit boring. Certainly not like the stereotypical German generals of American and British movies, like in this sketch by British comedians Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones:


“Der eiserne Keller”

Generaloberst Alfred Keller stands together with new recipients of the Iron Cross, second class, probably in 1941. Alfred Keller (19 September 1882 – 11 February 1974) was a Luftwaffe general during WW2, and went on to become one of the most decorated generals of the Luftwaffe. His military career began in the Imperial German Armed Forces in 1897.  Initially a junior infantry officer, Keller became attracted to that newfangled invention: aircraft. He made his first flight at the school at Metz, becoming an observer in 1912. In the following year, Keller finished his training as a pilot and gained his pilot’s wings.

He served first in the reconnaisance, then the bomber arm of the Imperial German Air Force, where he was promoted to wing commander. Keller’s unit became the first German bombers to operate night missions, which was noted for the missions against Dunkirk and the British forces concentrated there. His sudden delivery of 100 tons of bombs on the port in the silence of the night in September 1917 caused considerable damage and forced a British retreat to Calais. For planning, organization and leadership in this attack and others he was awarded the prestigious order Pour le Mérite. It was during World War 1 that he got his nickname der eiserne Keller – “Iron Keller”.

In the years after WW1, Keller left the army and built a career in civilian aviation, offering air mail service in 1923 for the first time in Germany. During 1925 Keller operated an air traffic control school in Berlin, but in 1928 moved it to Braunschweig. Here he began, as a means of resistance to Allied conditions of Armistice the secret training of new military pilots, and he became one of the first men called by Hermann Göring to help in the construction of the Luftwaffe, as soon as the Nazis had assumed power in 1933.


A nice photo of Keller I got in a lot of photos obtained after this post was written.

In September 1939, when WW2 began, the then General Alfred Keller commanded the IV. Fliegerkorps during the invasion of Poland. The following campaigns against Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and the Battle of France, he commanded Luftflotte 2. Keller was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross on 24 June 1940, and shortly afterwards, on 19 July 1940, he was promoted Generaloberst. It is sometime after this the photo is taken, as he wears the collar tabs of that rank. On 19 August 1940, during the Battle of Britain, Alfred Keller was appointed as the commander of Luftflotte 1 and Air Force commander – East. Keller led this formation very energetically during the Balkans Campaign and later during the Operation Barbarossa, where he predominantly supported Army Group North. Keller remained with Luftflotte 1 until 12 June 1943, when he retired from active service at the age of 61.

However, he continued to perform important functions in NSFK (Nationalsozialistische Fliegerkorps – National Socialist Flying Corps), a paramilitary unit that he organised to form a civilian reserve of pilots). He was Korpsführer of the NSFK until the German surrender on May 8, 1945. Towards the end of the war, Keller was also responsible for the antitank weapons department of the Luftwaffe.

With the German capitulation on 8 May 1945, Keller became a British prisoner of war, being kept until 1947. He wasn’t charged with any war crimes. In the 1950s he became one of the first presidents of the Association of Knight’s Cross Recipients. Keller passed away in Berlin, aged 91 years.

Rare movie of Keller visiting the front.


Thanks to Axis History Forum member ttvon for identifying Keller.

General embarrassment

Generaloberst Werner von Blomberg in happier days, sometime between the summer of 1934 and the autumn of 1937. Born in 1878 in Stargard, Pomerania, he joined the Army at an early age and served in WW1 with distinction, where he was awarded the Pour le Mérite, the highest award for extraordinary achievement in battle. After the war, he served in the Reichswehr in different capacities, like Chief of the Troop Office. With the rise of Nazism as a political power, von Blomberg began to support it, as his belief was that only a dictatorship (like that in the Soviet Union) could make Germany a great military power.

In 1933, von Blomberg rose to national prominence when he was appointed Minister of Defense in Hitler’s government. He became one of Hitler’s most devoted followers, and worked hard to expand the Army. In 1934, von Blomberg had all of the Jews serving in the Reichswehr given an automatic and immediate dishonorable discharge. He got a reputation as something of a lackey to Adolf Hitler. As such, he was nicknamed “the Rubber Lion” by some of his critics in the Army. In the same year, after President Paul von Hindenburg’s death, von Blomberg ordered all soldiers in the Army to pledge the Reichswehreid (oath of allegiance) not to Folk and Fatherland, but to the new Führer.

In 1935, the Ministry of Defense was renamed the Ministry of War. Generaloberst von Blomberg also took the title of Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. In 1936, the loyal von Blomberg was the first Generalfeldmarschall appointed by Adolf Hitler. His growing power roused the jealousy of Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler, who conspired to oust him from his position. Göring had ambitions of becoming Commander-in-Chief himself.

In late 1937, Hitler announced to his top military-foreign policy leadership that it was time for war in order to expand Germany’s Lebensraum eastwards and to grab the initiative before Britian and France grew too strong. While none of those present had any moral objections to the plans, von Blomberg was one of the few opposed to going to war before 1942, as he didn’t think Germany was prepared for war and that there was a considerable risk that France and Britain might declare war on Germany. This didn’t sit well with Hitler, and this gave Göring and Himmler an opportunity to strike.

Werner von Blomberg had been a widower for some years, but in January 1938, at the age of 59, he married the 26 years old secretary Erna Gruhn. A police officer discovered that Gruhn in 1932 had posed for pornographic photos (taken by a Jew with whom she was living at the time) and reported this to the Gestapo and Hermann Göring (who had served as best man at the wedding). Göring chose to misrepresent Frau von Blomberg’s criminal record as being for prostitution as a way of smearing her husband. He then informed Hitler, who ordered von Blomberg to annul the marriage in order to avoid a scandal. Werner von Blomberg refused, and consequently resigned from all of his posts when Göring threatened to make his wife’s past public knowledge.

Werner von Blomberg’s career ended badly when he flew too close to the sun, but he was right on at least one count: Germany wasn’t prepared for war, and that she would get more enemies than she could handle. The couple were exiled for a year to the isle of Capri in the Mediterranean. Spending WW2 in obscurity, von Blomberg was captured by the Allies in 1945. He later gave evidence at the Nuremberg Trials, earning the scorn of his erstwhile colleagues. While in detention in Nürnberg, Werner von Blomberg died of cancer in 1946, and was buried without ceremony in an unmarked grave. Later, his remains were interred in his residence in Bad Wiessee in Bavaria.


Thanks to member “graveland” on Axis History Forum for identifying von Blomberg.