General Hermann Balck (1893-1982) was one of the best German field commanders of the Second World War, serving with Guderian in France in 1940, on the Eastern Front, and briefly in Alsace in 1944.
Balck was born into a military family - his father had been awarded the Port le Mérite, and was the author of a book on tactics. Balck entered the Hanover Military College in February 1914. He served throughout the First World War and by 1918 he had rise to command a company. During the interwar years he was a supporter of mechanization, and a friend of Heinz Guderian. Balck served at OKH (the Army Headquarters) during the invasion of Poland, before in October 1939 moving to command a motorized infantry regiment.
In May 1940 Balck commanded the 1st Rifle Regiment, 1st Panzer Division, and was part of the force that Guderian led through the Ardennes to break the Allied lines. Balck was awarded the Knight's Cross for capturing a key bridge north of Sedan on 13-14 May, and fought against some of the best French units later in the campaign.
In the spring of 1941 Balck's regiment was based in Austria. In March it was allocated to the force that invaded Greece. By this point he was commanding the 3rd Panzer Regiment, 2nd Panzer Division. His regiment helped turn the Metaxis Line, the main Greek defensive position, and captured Salonika on 9 April 1942. He then helped outflank the Allied defensive line around Mount Olympus.
A period of staff work at the OKH followed, before on 16 May 1942 he was appointed to command the 11th Panzer Division, then serving on the Eastern Front. During his first two months in command his division claimed the destruction of 500 Soviet tanks, and on 1 August he was promoted to Generalmajor. Late in 1942 Balck's division played a part in holding open an escape route for the 1st and 4th Panzer Armies, which were almost trapped in the Caucasus by the collapse of the German lines around Stalingrad. On 20 December Balck was awarded the Oakleaves to the Knight's Cross for this achievement. In the spring he played a part in the destruction of the Soviet 5th Shock Army (M.M. Popov), and on 4 March 1943 he was awarded the Swords to the Knight's Cross. On the same day he was replaced as commander of the 11th Panzer Division. He was allocated to command the 14th Panzer Corps in Italy, but was badly injured in an air crash and placed on the reserve until he recovered.
Balck returned to command late in 1943, first as commander of the 40th Panzer Corps (12-14 November 1943) and then as commander of the 48th Panzer Corps (15 November 1943-August 1944). He was then promoted to command the 4th Panzer Army (5 August-September 1944). This placed him in front of the massive Soviet offensive that destroyed Army Group Centre. The Russians established two bridgeheads over the Vistula and threatened to break into Poland. Balck was able to eliminate one bridgehead and shrink the size of the second, and on 31 August 1944 he was awarded the Diamonds to the Knight's Cross.
In September Balck was appointed to command Army Group G, in Alsace. He won one victory around Metz, but was pushed back by Patton. He fell from Hitler's favour (partly because of hostility from Himmler), and was removed from command on 24 December 1944.
Balck's last appointment was as commander of the 6th Army in Hungary. He was unable to relieve the besieged garrison of Budapest (2 January-7 February 1945), and retreated into Austria, where on 8 May he surrendered to the Americans.
Balck was relased in 1947, but in 1948 was charged with ordering the execution of an artillery officer in 1944, and was sentenced to three years imprisonment. He served eighteen months, and survived until 1982, dying at the age of 89. During his retirement Balck was interviewed by US Army Historians, but didn't produce memoirs.
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