Hans von Kluge

Hans von Kluge : Nazi Germany

Hans von Kluge was born in Poznan, Germany, on 30th October, 1882. He joined the German Army and served in the field artillery during the First World War.

Kluge remained in the army and by 1933 had reached the rank major general. The following year he was placed in charge of Wehrkreis VI in Westphalia.

In 1938 Kluge objected to the aggressive foreign policy adopted by Adolf Hitler and as a result was dismissed from office. However, on the outbreak of the Second World War Kludge was recalled and placed in charge of the 4th Army that invaded Poland.

In the summer of 1940 Kluge led the 4th Army that invaded France. He was rewarded on 19th July, 1940, when he was promoted to the rank of field marshal.

Kluge also took part in Operation Barbarossa. His 4th Army took Smolensk in July, 1941, before being sent into the Ukraine. Three months later he was ordered to attack Moscow. However, following a counter-attack by the Red Army, the operation came to a halt in December, 1941.

Kluge replaced Fedor von Bock as head of AG Centre at the beginning of 1942. He immediately clashed with Heinz Guderian and with the support of Adolf Hitler removed him as the leader of the Second Panzer Army.

On 27th October, 1943, Kluge was badly injured when his car overturned on the Minsk-Smolensk. He was unable to return to duty until July 1944. Kluge soon discovered that many of the leading generals were arguing for peace negotiations with the Allies. Kluge shared these views but Adolf Hitler was unwilling to accept that he was on the verge of defeat.

Kluge was now approached by Henning von Tresckow to join in the plot to overthrow Hitler. He refused but was kept informed about the conspiracy. After the failed July Plot the Gestapo informed Hitler of their suspicions that Kluge was now unreliable.

On 16th August, 1944, Hitler sent a letter to Kludge in France suggesting that he came back to Germany for a rest. Hans von Kluge refused and on 19th August committed suicide by swallowing cyanide.

Primary Sources

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

The Chief of Staff of Army Group South, von Sodentem, expressed a most emphatic opinion against any further advance. So did the Chief of Staff of Army Group North. The Chief of Staff of Army Group Centre, von

Greiffenberg, took a more indefinite line, pointing out the risks but not expressing opposition to an advance. He was in a difficult position. Field-Marshal von Bock was a very capable soldier, but ambitious, and his eyes were focused on Moscow, which seemed so near.

General Halder then spoke, explaining the Führer's views and his desire to attack again. He said that there was reason to believe that Russian resistance was on the verge of collapse. He went on to tell us that the Führer's

plan was to by-pass Moscow and capture the railway junctions beyond it as O.K.H. had reports that large Russian reserves, amounting in strength to a fresh army, were on their way from Siberia.

Shortly after this conference we received the fateful order to take Moscow. The plan itself, however, was modified. For Field-Marshal von Kluge had protested that the attempt to penetrate so deep, to reach the railway junctions behind Moscow, was a 'fantasy' at that time of the year. Instead, there was to be a more direct attack, with the aim of occupying Moscow - because of its great importance as a 'symbol' of Russian resistance. The order said that the Kremlin was to be blown up, to signalize the overthrow of Bolshevism.

(2) Guenther Blumentritt was with Hans von Kluge when he heard about the assassination attempt Adolf Hitler.

Field-Marshal von Kluge had just returned there. When I went into his room I saw that he had in front of him an extract from the German Radio to the effect that an attempt had been made on the life of the Fuhrer, but

that it had failed. Von Kluge told me that he had previously had two telephone messages from Germany, but without any indication of the sender's identity, which said: "The Fuhrer is dead and you must make a decision."

Kluge went on to say that, about a year before, Witzleben, Beck and others had come to his home to sound him about an approach to the Führer and how it should be conducted. He also said that he had made notes of these discussions.

While we were talking a telephone message from St. Germain was brought in. It said that an anonymous telegram had arrived there stating that Hitler was dead. Kluge was puzzled as to which of the statements were

true, and wondered whether the Radio was merely putting out a false report. After some further discussion I put

a telephone call in to General Warlimont, Jodl's deputy, at O.K.W. It was a long time before the call came through. Then the reply was merely that Warlimont was not available, as he was engaged with Keitel.

So von Kluge and I put our heads together, and discussed whom we could try next. We telephoned the Chief

of the S.S. in Paris. He replied that he did not know anything beyond the radio announcement. We then telephoned General Stieff - the Chief of the Organization Department - at O.K.H. I knew Stieff well, but had no

idea that he was in the inner circle of the conspiracy, as later emerged. Stieff at once asked: "Where did you get the news that the Führer was dead?" He added: The Führer is quite well, and in good spirits" - and then rang off. We felt very uneasy about this telephone call afterwards, realizing how suspicious it must have appeared in the circumstances.

Stieff's answer and manner were so curious as to suggest a likely explanation, and I remarked to von Kluge:

"This is an attempt that failed." Von Kluge then said to me that, if it had succeeded, his first step would have been to order the discharge of the V I's against England to be stopped, and that his second step would have been to get in touch with the Allied Commanders.

(3) Guenther Blumentritt wrote that after the failed assassination attempt Adolf Hitler became convinced that Hans von Kluge was involved in the July Plot.

Field-Marshal von Kluge was at the front that day and I was not able to get into touch with him until the evening. By that time he had already had the messages about the attempt-first that it had succeeded, and then that Hitler was still alive. The Field-Marshal told me that, more than a year before, some of the leading officers who were in the plot had approached him, and that he had received them twice, but at the second meeting he had told them that he did not want to be mixed up with the plot. He knew, however, that it was continuing. The Field Marshal had not said anything to me about it before, and I had not been aware of the plot.

When the Gestapo investigated the conspiracy, in the days that followed, they found documents in which Field-

Marshal von Kluge's name was mentioned, so he came under grave suspicion. Then another incident made things look worse. Shortly after General Patton's break-out from Normandy, while the decisive battle at Avranches was in progress, Field-Marshal von Kluge was out of touch with his headquarters for more than twelve hours. The reason was that he had gone up to the front, and there - been trapped in a heavy artillery bombardment. At the same time his wireless tender was destroyed by bombing so that he could not communicate. He himself had to stay under cover for several hours before he could get out and start on the long drive back to his headquarters.

Meantime, we had been suffering 'bombardment' from the rear. For the Field-Marshal's prolonged 'absence' excited Hitler's suspicion immediately, in view of the documents that had been found. A telegram came from Hitler peremptorily stating 'Field-Marshal von Kluge is at once to extricate himself from the battle area around

Avranches and conduct the battle of Normandy from the tactical headquarters of the 5th Panzer Army'.

The reason for this order, as I heard subsequently, was that Hitler suspected that the Field-Marshal's purpose

in going right up to the front was to get in touch with the Allies and negotiate a surrender. The Field-Marshal's eventual return did not calm Hitler. From this date onward the orders which Hitler sent him were worded in a brusque and even insulting language. The Field-Marshal became very worried. He feared that he would be arrested at any moment - and at the same time realized more and more that he could not prove his loyalty by any battlefield success.

All this had a very bad effect on any chance that remained of preventing the Allies from breaking out. In the days of crisis Field-Marshal von Kluge gave only part of his attention to what was happening at the front. He was looking back over his shoulder anxiously - towards Hitler's headquarters.

He was not the only general who was in that state of worry for conspiracy in the plot against Hitler. Fear permeated and paralyzed the higher commands in the weeks and months that followed. The influence on the generals of July 20th is a subject that would form a book in itself.

Field-Marshal von Kluge left for home on 18th August. On the evening of the day after his departure I had a telephone call from Metz to say that he had had a heart attack, and had died. Two days later came a medical report stating that his death was due to a cerebral hemorrhage. Then came word that he was to have a State Funeral, and that Field-Marshal von Rundstedt had been instructed by the Führer to represent him in laying a wreath and delivering the Funeral Oration. Then came a sudden order that there was to be no State Funeral. I then heard that Field-Marshal von Khuge had taken poison, and that this had been confirmed by a post-mortem. Like other generals who had been on the Eastern front, he had carried poison capsules in case of being captured by the Russians - though many did not take them even when they were captured. He had swallowed one of these capsules in the car and was dead before he arrived in Metz. My opinion is that he committed suicide, not because of his dismissal, but because be believed he would be arrested by the Gestapo as soon as he arrived home.

(4) Gunther von Kluge, suicide letter to Adolf Hitler (19th August, 1944)

When you receive these lines I shall be no more. I cannot bear the reproach that I have sealed the fate of the West through faulty measures, and I have no means of defending myself. I draw a conclusion from that and am dispatching myself where already thousands of my comrades are. I have never feared death. Life has no more meaning for me, and I also figure on the list of war criminals who are to be delivered up.

Our applications were not dictated by pessimism but by sober knowledge of the facts. I do not know if Field-Marshal Model, who has been proved in every sphere, will still master the situation. From my heart I hope so. Should it not be so, however, and your cherished new weapons not succeed, then, my Fuhrer, make up your mind to end the war. The German people have borne such untold suffering that it is time to put an end to this fnghtfulness. There must be ways to attain this end, and above all to prevent the Reich from falling under the Bolshevist heel.