Aubreville | Alumni | 30 Jan 1915

Another quiet day. Time for Part 2 of “What did you do in the Great War?” This time we’re looking at senior Nazi officials and generals. First…


The Germans dig in and repel yet more French counter-attacks. They’ll eventually have to concede that a major offensive will be needed to shift their opponents. By the end of the day, the Germans will begin the process of registering their mortars and short-range guns on the final railway line running into Verdun. Within a week, it will be effectively closed.

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"I saw a man fall into a crater full of mud and spend ten minutes drowning.  We tried to pull him out but we weren't strong enough."
“I saw a man fall into a crater full of mud and spend ten minutes drowning. We tried to pull him out but we weren’t strong enough.”


Part 2 in an occasional series about what Second World War alumni did in this war covers the adventures of various prominent Germans. (Many of them were of course too young to serve.)

von Brauchitsch, Walther

Commissioned as an artillery officer in 1900 and had joined the staff by 1914. He had a quiet opening to the war until Verdun happened, and then saw rather more action, particularly during the campaigns of 1918, and won an Iron Cross. He was Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht until being removed at the end of 1941.

von Bock, Fedor

von Bock was an infantry officer with the Prussian Guards, and after a while as a battalion commander he made his way onto the staff, becoming a protege of Crown Prince Rupprecht. He would later command army groups in Poland and France, and was in charge of the unsuccessful drive towards Moscow.

Bormann, Martin

Conscripted in the summer of 1918 and became a gunner, but only ever did garrison duty in Germany and did not see action. Joined the Nazis in 1927 and rose to become Hitler’s private secretary.

Donitz, Karl

Joined the navy in 1910, and served on both Goeben and Breslau during their time in the Black Sea. He transferred to the U-boat service in October 1916, commanding two different vessels. On October 4 1918 his boat was sunk. He escaped and was imprisoned on Malta. He remained in the navy, and by 1939 was commander of the U-boat arm. He then became commander-in-chief in 1943 and briefly succeded Hitler in 1945.

Goebbels, Josef

Declared unfit for service because of osteomyelitis in his right leg, he spent most of the war in education, studying literature and philosophy. Later became Nazi propagandist-in-chief.

Goering, Hermann

Joined the army as an infantry officer in 1912, and when war broke out he served a year mostly doing garrison duties around Mulhouse. After a bout of rheumatism, he transferred to the air force in 1916 and eventually became one of their top aces despite spending another year recovering from a serious hip wound. In July 1918 he became commander of the famous Flying Circus air unit and remained there until the end of the war. He was head of the Luftwaffe from its creation, and later Hitler’s deputy.

Guderian, Heinz

Guderian was commissioned in 1908 and became a signals officer. For four years he was attached to a cavalry division that spent most of its time on the Eastern Front, and when the division was dissolved in early 1918 he then took a staff officer’s course and finished up in intelligence. He took careful note of British Empire tactics at the Battle of Amiens in 1918, and is usually credited the primary thinker behind Blitzkrieg. His tanks achieved wild success in Poland in 1939, in France in 1940 and in Russia in 1941.

Himmler, Heinrich

Became an officer cadet in 1915, and his family used connections to accelerate his commissioning process. He then joined a Bavarian training battalion in December 1917, but did not leave before the end of the war. He was head of the SS and played a crucial role in the Holocaust.

Jodl, Alfred

Joined the army in 1910 as an artillery officer and spent two years all over the Western Front, being wounded twice. In 1917 he spent four months with the Austro-Hungarian artillery, and then percolated safely onto the staff, where he remained for the rest of the war. A senior general by 1939, he was strongly associated with operations in Scandinavia in 1940.

Keitel, Wilhelm

Keitel served extensively as an artillery officer and was seriously wounded at First Ypres. He also saw action at Verdun and at Passchendale, and won two Iron Crosses. He rose to become a senior general, responsible for much of the grand planning of the Wehrmacht’s major campaigns.

Kesselring, Albert

Became a Bavarian artillery officer cadet in 1905, and a trained balloon observer in 1912. His artillery fire at the Battle of Arras in mid-1917 is sometimes credited with being a major factor in impeding the British Empire advance. Two Iron Crosses before joining the staff in 1917 and serving on both fronts.

von Manstein, Erich

von Manstein was a Prussian Guard officer who had been training at the War Academy in 1914. A month later he was marching victoriously into Namur. He was then sent to Prussia and took part in the Battle of the Masurian Lakes, and was seriously wounded about six weeks later. After six months’ recovery he joined the staff and was in a junior staff role during the German successes in Russia in 1915, and then at Verdun. He’s credited with devising the “sickle-stroke” tactic for invading France in 1940, and was also a commander at Kursk.

Messerschmitt, Willy

Conscripted in 1917, but soon receieved a medical discharge and took up work at an aviation school. He later founded an aircraft company, which would become a major supplier of the Luftwaffe.

Model, Walter

Commissioned as an infantry officer in 1910, and by 1914 he was a battalion adjutant. In May 1915 he was seriously wounded at Arras, and won the Iron Cross. As he prepared for the opening stages of Verdun he was sent on a staff training course. His battalion was rocked at Verdun and then almost wiped out on the Somme while he was away. He later was involved in the Spring Offensive. An informal commander, his later service saw him gain a reputation as a defensive expert.

von Papen, Franz

Was part of the diplomatic service in 1914, stationed in the USA. He quickly became involved in espionage efforts and was expelled in December 1915. He was then heavily involved with efforts to support the Irish Volunteers and Hindu nationalists in India. He also spent time in the Middle East, some of it with the Ottoman army. He was then a prominent Weimar politician and bears much responsibility for Hitler becoming Chancellor of Germany; by 1934 he was pushed aside.

von Reichenau, Walther

Joined the Prussian Army in 1903 and rose quickly from adjutant of an artillery battalion to become a staff officer. By 1939 he was an army commander and led armies into Poland, France and the Soviet Union.

von Ribbentrop, Joachim

Was in Canada during the July Crisis, and returned via the USA to join the cavalry. He served on both Eastern and Western fronts for two years and won the Iron Cross before being seriously wounded and becoming a staff officer. Served as the Third Reich’s foreign minister.

Rohm, Ernst

Became an infantry officer in 1908, serving extensively on the Western Front. He obtained his facial scars during the Battle of Lorraine in 1914, then suffered a serious chest wound at Verdun and became a staff officer after recovering. In October 1918 he contracted the Spanish flu and nearly died. He then threw himself into militia-based politics and eventually became head of the SA until being purged.

Rommel, Erwin

Commissioned into an infantry regiment in 1914, Rommel was soon moved into the elite Alpenkorps mountain infantry, which took him to the Vosges, to Romania, and finally to Italy, where he played an important role in the Battle of Caporetto. His name is synonymous with German tanks in France and in North Africa.

von Runstedt, Gerd

Commissioned as an infantry officer in 1893 and by 1914 was a well-respected staff officer who spent much of the war in military administration, in the governments of Antwerp and Warsaw. Most of his staff service was on the Eastern Front; his units were involved in the fighting in Poland and the Carpathians. He commanded an army group in France in 1940 and is best known for the biggest encirclement in history at Kyiv in 1941.

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