Reichenau, Walther Karl Ernst August von, born 08-10-1884 in Karlsruhe, the son of a Prussian General. His marriage to a noble Silesian, Countess von Maltzan of Militsch strengthened his ties with Silesia. He joined the German Army when he was eighteen and, in 1904, became an officer in the 1st Guards Field Artillery Regiment. In May 1914, he entered the War Academy in Berlin where he underwent General Staff training. On the outbreak of the First World War he was sent to the Western Front . During the conflict he won the Iron Cross and, by 1918, promoted the rank of captain. After the war, von Reichenau was a General Staff officer with the Wehrkries VI before serving as commander of the 8th Machine Gun Company. He was promoted to major in 1923 and joined the Wehrkries III in Berlin. This was followed by a period as commander of the 5th Signal Battalion at Stuttgart, 1927-29 and Chief of Staff to the Inspector of Signals at the Reichswehr Ministry, 1929-31. In February 1931, von Reichenau was named Chief of Staff of Wehrkries I in East Prussia, where he served under General Werner von Blomberg. Von Reichenau’s uncle, Friedrich von Reichenau, was an ardent supporter of the Nazi Party and, in 1932, he introduced his nephew to Adolf Hitler. von Reichenau was immediately converted and soon afterwards he arranged for Blomberg to meet Hitler. When Hitler gained power in January 1933, Werner von Blomberg became Minister of War and von Reichenau was appointed head of the Ministerial Office of the Reichswehr Ministry. Reichenau now became chief liaison officer between the German Army and the Nazi Party. Von Reichenau and Blomberg worked together to force Kurt Hammerstein-Equord a committed anti-Nazi, to retire as Commander-in-Chief of the Army. Generaloberst Hammerstein-Equord died, age 64, of cancer in Berlin on 25-04-1943, buried in Steinhorst. Blomberg persuaded Adolf Hitler to appoint von Reichenau to the post but after a group of senior army officers complained, President Paul von Hindenburg vetoed the selection and General Werner von Fritsch
was chosen instead. In 1933, von Blomberg and von Reichenau became increasingly concerned about the growing power of the Sturm Abteilung (SA). Its leader, Ernst Julius Röhm
, was given a seat on the National Defence Council and began to demand more say over military matters. On 02-10-1933, Röhm sent a letter to von Reichenau that said: “I regard the Reichswehr now only as a training school for the German people. The conduct of war, and therefore of mobilization as well, in the future is the task of the SA. Senior officers in the German Army were angry about the growth in power of the SA and von Reichenau began to fear the possibility of a military coup against Hitler.
If this happened Reichenau’s career would be over. He therefore conspired with Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler against Röhm and the SA. Himmler asked Reinhard Heydrich to assemble a dossier on Röhm. Heydrich, who also feared him, manufactured evidence that suggested that Röhm had been paid 12 million marks by the French to overthrow Hitler. Hitler liked Röhm and initially refused to believe the dossier provided by Heydrich. Röhm had been one of his first supporters and, without his ability to obtain army funds in the early days of the movement, it is unlikely that the Nazis would have ever become established. The SA under Röhm’s leadership had also played a vital role in destroying the opposition during the elections of 1932 and 1933. However, Adolf Hitler had his own reasons for wanting Röhm removed. Industrialists, who had provided the funds for the Nazi victory, were unhappy with Röhm’s socialistic views on the economy and his claims that the real revolution had still to take place. Many people in the party also disapproved of the fact that Röhm and many other leaders of the SA were homosexuals. On 29-06-1934. Hitler, accompanied by the Schutz Staffel, SS, arrived at Bad Wiessee, where he personally arrested Ernst Röhm. During the next 24 hours, 200 other senior SA officers were arrested on the way to Bad Wiessee. Many were shot as soon as they were captured but Hitler decided to pardon Röhm because of his past services to the movement. However, after much pressure from Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler, Hitler agreed that Röhm should die. At first Hitler insisted that Röhm should be allowed to commit suicide but, when he refused, he was killed by SS men, SS Obergruppenführer Theodore Eicke, SS Obergruppenführer Ernst-Heinrich Schmauser, he was missed in action on 10-05-1945 near Altenrode/ Breslau and SS-Obersturmbannführer, Michael Lippert, Lippert, here under with SS Heinrich “Gestapo Müller” Müller died age 72, on 01-09-1969 in Wuppertal
The purge of the SA was kept secret until it was announced by Hitler on July 13. It was during this speech that Hitler gave the purge its name: Night of the Long Knives, a phrase from a popular Nazi song. Hitler claimed that 61 had been executed while 13 had been shot resisting arrest, and three had committed suicide. Others have argued that as many as 400 people were killed during the purge. In his speech Hitler explained why he had not relied on the courts to deal with the conspirators: “In this hour I was responsible for the fate of the German people, and thereby I become the supreme judge of the German people. I gave the order to shoot the ringleaders in this treason.” In August 1935, von Reichenau was promoted to Generalleutnant and was appointed commander of Wehrkries VII in Munich. The following year he was appointed General of Artillery and, in 1938, Adolf Hitler wanted to appoint him as Commander-in-Chief of the Army. Leading figures in the German Army complained and Gerd von Rundstedt, Franz Halder and Ludwig Beck all refused to serve under him. Hitler was forced to change his mind and, on 04-02-1938, General Walter von Brauchitsch was appointed instead. Von Reichenau now replaced Brauchitsch as Commander-in-Chief of Army Corps 4 . In September 1939, von Reichenau commanded the 10th Army for the invasion of Poland. The following year he led the 6th Army during the Western Offensive in Belgium and France. On 19-07-1940, Hitler promoted him to Field Marshal. Von Reichenau, a strong opponent of an invasion of the Soviet Union, also took part in Operation Barbarossa during the summer of 1941. Leading the 6th Army Group with General Friedrich Paulus his troops managed to capture Kiev, Belgorod, Kharkov and Kursk. Von Reichenau a politically was an anti-Semite who equated Jewry with Bolshevism and the perceived Asian threat to Europe. The infamous October 1941 “Reichenau Order” paved the way for mass murder by instructing the officers thus: “In this eastern theatre, the soldier is not only a man fighting in accordance with the rules of the art of war…For this reason the soldier must learn fully to appreciate the necessity for the severe but just retribution that must be meted out to the subhuman species of Jewry…”. He encouraged his soldiers to commit atrocities against the Jews in the territory under his control. On one occasion he told his men: “We have to exact a harsh but just retribution on the Jewish subhumans.” In September 1941, von Reichenau wrote to Adolf Hitler suggested that they should start recruiting Ukrainians and White Russians to fight against the Red Army. Hitler rejected the idea and told Reichenau to stop interfering in political strategy. Later that month von Reichenau wrote to Hitler again on this subject warning of the dangers of large-scale partisan warfare in the Soviet Union. In November 1941, Hitler decided to replace Field Marshal Walter von Brauchitsch as Commander-in-Chief of the Army. Von Reichenau’s name was suggested but Hitler rejected the idea saying that he was “too political”. The campaign in the Soviet Union came to a halt during the winter of 1941
. Field Marshal Rundstedt, commander of Army Group South, asked permission to retreat to the Mius River. When Hitler rejected the idea, Rundstedt resigned. On November 30, Hitler replaced Rundstedt with von Reichenau. The following day von Reichenau ordered a withdrawal to the Mius River and then sent a note telling Hitler what he had done. In an attempt to keep fit, von Reichenau used to go on a daily cross-country run. On 12-01-1942, he ran several miles in temperatures well below minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
Death and burial ground of Reichenau, Walther Karl Ernst August von.
When he returned, he complained of feeling unwell and, later that day, he had a severe heart attack. After being unconscious for five days, it was decided to fly him from Poltava to a hospital in Leipzig, Germany. He is often said to have been killed in a plane crash in Russia, although Görlitz writes that the plane merely made an emergency landing in a field and that Reichenau actually died of a heart attack. His death coincided with a propaganda offensive conducted by the Polish underground, Operation Reichenau, the goal of which was to discredit von Reichenau, in the eyes of the German leadership, as a man who had allegedly been plotting to overthrow the Nazi regime, thus sowing distrust between the Nazi political leadership and its military command and punishing one of the German Generals responsible for war crimes in Poland. The coincidence of such propaganda with von Reichenau’s death became a fertile ground for conspiracy theories, which allege that von Reichenau might actually have been killed by the Nazi secret services. Von Reichenau died on 17-01-1942, age 52, and he with a state funeral
attended by Hermann Goering and Gerd von Rundstedt, Wilhelm “Willi” Frick, Phillip Bouhler, Joseph Goebbels, Erich Raeder and Erhard Milch was buried on the Invaliden Cemetery in Berlin on Field F, near Gestapo Chief Reinhard Heydrich, and von Reichenau’s gravestone is meanwhile disappeared but his remains stayed. Wolfgang Linke von Frankfurt am Main, kindly sent me the grave photo’s.