Wilhelm Leeb

Wilhelm Leeb : Nazi Germany

Wilhelm von Leeb was born in Landsberg, Germany, on 5th September, 1872. He joined the Imperial Army in 1895 as an officer cadet and after being commissioned in the artillery served in China (1901-02). He attended the Bavarian War Academy in Munich (1907-09) and on the General Staff in Berlin (1909-11). Promoted to captain he did a tour of duty as a battery commander in the Bavarian 10th Field Artillery Regiment at Erlangen (1912-13).

On the outbreak of the First World War Leeb was on the General Staff of the Bavarian Army Corps. He was sent to the Western Front were he served with the Bavarian 11th Infantry Division. Promoted to major he was transferred to the Eastern Front in the summer of 1916. The following year he was appointed to the staff of Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria.

After the war Leeb remained in the German Army and in 1919 was appointed chief of department in the Reich Defence Ministry. In 1920 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and the following year became chief of staff of Wehrkreis II. In February 1922 he returned to Munich as chief of staff of Wehrkreis VII and in 1923 he was involved in putting down the Beer Hall Putsch.

Leeb was appointed commander of the 2nd Mountain Artillery Battalion of the 7th Artillery Regiment in 1924. Considered an authority on defensive warfare Leeb became the head of Wehrkries VII in 1930.

A devout Roman Catholic, Leeb was opposed to the policies of the Nazi Party. After hearing Adolf Hitler make a speech to Germany's senior army officers on 23rd January, 1933, Leeb commented: "A businessman whose wares are good does not need to boost them in the loudest tones of a market crier."

Although the Gestapo were told to keep Leeb under surveillance, it did not stop him being promoted to General of the Artillery and in 1934 was given command of Army Group 2. In 1937 Leeb published Die Abweht where he argued that Germany could not defeat the Soviet Union in a two-front war.

In 1938 Hitler decided to purge the German Army of anti-Nazis and Leeb was forced into retirement. However, he was recalled just before the outbreak of the Second World War. Despite his objections he took part in the invasion of Poland and commanded Army Group C during the Western Offensive. He was rewarded by being promoted to field marshal on 19th July 1940.

During Operation Barbarossa he commanded Army Group North. He took part in the siege of Leningrad but on 13th January 1942 he asked to retire from active service and was replaced by General George von Kuechler. Wilhelm von Leeb died on 29th April 1956.

Primary Sources

(1) Ernst Hanfstaengel first met Anton Drexler in 1922.

Anton Drexler, the original founder of the Party, was there most evenings, but by this time he was only its honorary president and had been pushed more or less to one side. A blacksmith by trade, he had a trade union background and although it was he who had thought up the original idea of appealing to the workers with a patriotic programme, he disapproved strongly of the street fighting and violence which was slowly becoming a factor in the Party's activities and wanted to build up as a working-class movement in an orderly fashion.