The fact that Adolf Hitler was one of Guderian's earliest converts to mobile-armored tactics did not help to win the panzer leaders' friends in the army high command. Attending one of Guderian's first panzer maneuvers, Hitler stated emphatically, "That's what I need. That's what I want to have." The issue was as yet a bit more complicated than that, and the development of first-class German tanks took much longer than Guderian would have liked. But the führer's support was both of immense value to the development of armor and an irritant to many of Guderian's superiors.
Such was the state of the senior German officer corps that was assigned, in April 1939, the task of preparing for the invasion of Poland: reluctant, politically disdainful (and because of that, distanced from the overwhelming majority of the German people), and finally divided on the future development of weapons and tactics. Fortunately for the Germans, the actual job of planning Case White fell to a small group of officers whose insight allowed them to make use of all the resources and talented men at their disposal - whether "old school" or new - in preparing a plan that was at once quintessentially Prussian and daringly advanced.
Overall responsibility for design and coordination of the attack was left, as was customary, to the commander in chief of the army, General Brauchitsch, and to the director of operations of the general staff, General Halder. Their design of the assault could well have come out of the pages of nineteenth-century Prussian history. Accepting the risks involved in stripping their western border of trained combat troops, Brauchitsch and Halder concentrated forty-two divisions into two army groups along the lengthy border around Poland and Slovakia to Pomerania. Army Group North was to cut the Polish Corridor and then advance southeast; Army Group South would engage the main Polish forces-hopefully before they could retreat behind the Vistula River-and then move to link up with Army Group North. This massive pincer thrust from north to south was centered on Warsaw. To achieve it, the Germans accepted the further risk of leaving their own center exposed to possible counterattack.
In the Moltke tradition, General Halder did not exclude field commanders and their staffs from contributing to Case White. Suggestions for the actual deployment and composition of armies were accepted (some willingly, others less so) from army group, army, and corps headquarters.
Command of Army Group South was given to General Gerd von Rundstedt, one of Germany's best-loved soldiers. Already in his mid-sixties, Rundstedt was a true aristocrat but even in appearance had a penchant for idiosyncrasy. In the words of his chief of operations, General Günther von Blumentritt, he "did not wear a general's or a field marshal's uniform, but preferred the simple jacket of the commander of an infantry regiment, with a marshal's shoulder badges and the regimental number 18. It often happened that young officers thus mistook him for a colonel and did not know that it was the field marshal who was standing before them, which Runstedt always accepted good-humoredly." Rundstedt was primarily interested in the movement of troops in actual battle. Peacetime staff planning and details held little fascination for him. Such an attitude placed immense responsibility on both his chief of staff and his chief of operations.
These posts had been secured by two of the most intellectually gifted officers in the Wehrmacht. Rundstedt's chief of staff was Erich von Manstein. The son of a Prussian artillery general, Manstein had been adopted in his infancy by his aunt and uncle - the latter a Prussian infantry general of noble lineage. Thus by blood and upbringing, Manstein was steeped in the Prussian military code. Behind his thin, penetrating eyes and beaklike nose worked a prodigious mind, one that would later spawn the remarkable German plan for the invasion of France and contribute significantly to Germany's early successes in Russia.
Reprinted from No End Save Victory Edited by Robert Cowley by permission of G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2001 Edited by Robert Cowley. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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