Wilhelm List

Wilhelm List : Nazi Germany

Wilhelm List, the son of a doctor, was born in Germany on 14th May 1880. He joined the German Army and served throughout the First World War. After the war List joined the right-wing Freikorps terrorist group.

He remained in the army where he became a tank specialist and eventually became chief of the Army Organization Department. He made gradually progress in the new German Army and in 1930 he was promoted to major general and was appointed head of the Dresden Infantry School.

List had now developed more moderate political opinions and in 1931 he upset Adolf Hitler by disciplining young officers who were supporters of the Nazi Party.

In 1935 List was appointed by General Fedor von Bock as commander of the 4th Army Corps. Although List was still privately critical of Hitler he was unwilling to take any actions that would damage his army career. As a result he did not protest against the treatment of Werner von Blomberg and Werner von Fitsch in 1938.

After the Anschluss List was sent to Vienna as head of the Army Group in Austria. The following year he took part in the invasion of Czechoslovakia.

In September 1939, List served under General Gerd von Rundstedt in Poland. While visiting the country Wilhelm Canaris was shocked to discover that List had given permission for the mass executions of Jews by SS Units.

During the Western Offensive he led the 12th Army. He made good speed and his infantry reached the Meuse only a day after General Paul von Kleist and his panzer units. List intervened in the dispute between Kleist and Heinz Guderian that threatened to damage the success of the invasion of France. As a result Guderian came under List's command for the rest of the campaign.

Adolf Hitler was pleased with the role that List had played in the opening year of the war and on 10th May 1940 he was promoted to field marshal. He was then given the task of planning the invasions of Greece and Yugoslavia. He remained in the Balkans until being dismissed in October 1941.

List was recalled in July 1942 to command the Army Group in southern area of the Soviet Union. List led his troops into the Caucasus to capture the valuable oil fields. Hitler was disappointed by List's performance in the Caucasus. Despite the protests of Franz Halder and Alfred Jodl , Hitler dismissed List on 9th September, 1942 and he spent the rest of the war at his home in Garmish-Partenkirchen.

After the war List was charged with war crimes and in February 1948 he was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was released in December 1952 on the grounds of ill health. Wilhelm List died on 17th August 1971.

Primary Sources

(1) William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1959)

German troops of the Sixth Army had reached the Volga just north of Stalingrad on August 23. Two days before, the

swastika had been hoisted on Mount Elbrus, the highest peak (18,481 feet) in the Caucasus Mountains. The Maikop oil fields, producing annually two and a half million tons of oil, had been captured on August 8, though the Germans found them almost completely destroyed, and by the twenty-fifth Kleist's tanks had arrived at Mozdok, only fifty miles from the main Soviet oil centre around Grozny and a bare hundred miles from the Caspian Sea. On the thirty-first Hitler was urging Field-Marshal List, commander of the armies in the Caucasus, to scrape up all available forces for the final push to Grozny so that he 'could get his hands on the oil fields'.

(2) Guenther Blumentritt was interviewed by Basil Liddell Hart about Operation Barbarossa in his book The Other Side of the Hill (1948)

The failure of Field-Marshal List in the Low Caucasus not only led to his dismissal, but to a serious personal crisis in Hitler's headquarters late in September, 1942. Sometime earlier List had received the order to push on over the Low Caucasus towards the Black Sea, using all suitable routes. When he did not succeed in reaching his goal. Hitler once more became utterly impatient and sent Jodi to List's headquarters. On his return Jodi reported to Hitler that List had acted exactly in conformity to Hitler's orders, but that the Russian resistance was equally strong everywhere, supported by a most difficult terrain. Hitler, however, kept on reproaching List with having split up his forces instead of breaking through with concentrated power, while Jodi pointed to the fact that Hitler by his own orders had induced List to advance on a widely stretched front.

This argument of Jodl's was followed by an unusual outburst of Hitler's. He was so taken aback by the recital of his own previous orders - which he now denied - that Jodi, and Keitel with him, fell in disgrace for a long time to come. Further consequences were that Hitler completely changed his daily customs. From that time on he stayed away from the common meals which he had taken twice a day with his entourage. Henceforth he hardly left his hut in daytime, not even for the daily reports on the military situation, which from now on had to be delivered to him in his own hut in the presence of a narrowly restricted circle. He refused ostentatiously to shake hands with any general of the O.K.W., and gave orders that Jodi was to be replaced by another officer.