Heinz Guderian was the leading theorist
of armored warfare in Germany, and a great tactician as well. One might
not expect this from his service in World War One, for, unlike multiply-decorated
Rommel, Guderian had served in technical and staff, rather than combat
positions. However, this experience with unglamorous radios and trucks
gave him an insight into the new technology missed by many of his contemporaries.
After the war, as an officer in the reduced German Army under the Versailles
Treaty, he became part of the secret development of tanks, which the Treaty
had prohibited. After Hitler had repudiated the restrictions of the Treaty,
in 1937, Guderian published "Actung! Panzer" (Attention! Armor),
in which he advanced his ideas for tank warfare. In it, he proposed a
middle road in the debate then raging on role of armor. The tank could
NOT simply overrun all opponents, as its radical supporters assumed; nor
should it be just a tool to help the infantry. Instead, it should operate
as part of a "combined arms team" supported by large numbers
of motorized infantry, artillery and engineers.
This middle position was more upsetting than it might seem.
If either of the extreme views was correct, all the Army had to do in
peacetime was train a few isolated tank units; when war came, these would
simply be told which infantry unit to support, or be turned loose on the
helpless enemy (depending on which extreme was talking). Guderian, however,
was calling for large parts of the Army to be reorganized into divisions
built around armor, upsetting the routines of lot of people who were ordinarily
willing to ignore the question. This had doomed such proposals in other
countries; but Hitler, always enchanted by new ideas, liked the plan,
which gave Guderian the support he needed to form not one, but three of
the new "Panzer Divisions" and later, still more.
Guderian commanded XIX Panzer Corps in the Polish Campaign
and the Battle of France and led 2nd Panzer Group (Army) in BABAROSSA,
the German invasion of the Soviet Union, in 1941. In each case, his forces
were critical to the offensive and his theories were confirmed in victory.
These successes came to an end in December, when he was relieved of this
command, after disobeying the orders of General von Kluge! Guderian's
career resumed fourteen months later, in February 1943 when he was made
Inspector General of Panzer Troops. He reformed and rebuilt depleted units
and increased tank production, but did not command troops again. Hitler
named him Army Chief of Staff on 21 JULY 44, a post he filled until 28
MARCH 45, when he argued with Hitler once too often and was dismissed.
After the war, it was decided that as Guderian had neither
direct responsibility for, nor clear knowledge of war crimes, he would
not be tried by the Nuremburg Tribunal. He lived until 1953.