Felix Steiner

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Felix Steiner
Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1973-138-14A, Felix Steiner.jpg
Steiner in 1942 as SS-Gruppenführer
Birth nameFelix Martin Julius Steiner
Born(1896-05-23)23 May 1896
Stallupönen, German Empire
(now Nesterov, Russia)
Died12 May 1966(1966-05-12) (aged 69)
Munich, West Germany
AllegianceFlag of the German Empire.svg  German Empire
Flag of Germany (3-2 aspect ratio).svg  Weimar Republic
Service/branchWar Ensign of Prussia (1816).svg  Prussian Army
War Ensign of Germany (1921-1933).svg  Reichsheer
Years of service1914-18
1921-33
Rank Major
Unit41st Infantry Regiment
Battles/wars World War I
Other workFounding member of HIAG, Waffen-SS lobby group
Freikorps and SS career
AllegianceFlag of Germany (3-2 aspect ratio).svg  Weimar Republic
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg  Nazi Germany
Service/branch Freikorps
SA, SS, Waffen-SS
Years of service1919-20
1933-45
Rank SS-Obergruppenführer
Service number NSDAP #4,264,295
SS #253,351
Commands held SS Division Das Reich
SS Division Wiking
III SS Panzer Corps
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords

Felix Martin Julius Steiner (23 May 1896 – 12 May 1966) was a German SS commander during the Nazi era. During World War II, he served in the Waffen-SS, the combat branch of the SS, and commanded several SS divisions and corps. He was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. Together with Paul Hausser, he contributed significantly to the development and transformation of the Waffen-SS into a combat force made up of volunteers and conscripts from both occupied and un-occupied lands. [1] [2]

World War II 1939–1945, between Axis and Allies

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from more than 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 70 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Waffen-SS Military branch of the Nazi SS

The Waffen-SS was the military branch of the Nazi Party's SS organisation. Its formations included men from Nazi Germany, along with volunteers and conscripts from both occupied and unoccupied lands.

Paul Hausser German SS commander

Paul Hausser was a German general and then a high-ranking commander in the Waffen-SS who played a key role in the post-war efforts by former members of the Waffen-SS to achieve historical and legal rehabilitation.

Contents

Steiner was chosen by Heinrich Himmler to oversee the creation of and then command the SS Division Wiking. In 1943, he was promoted to the command of the III SS Panzer Corps. On 28 January 1945, Steiner was placed in command of the 11th SS Panzer Army, which formed part of a new Army Group Vistula, an ad-hoc formation to defend Berlin from the Soviet armies advancing from the Vistula River.

Heinrich Himmler High Nazi Germany official, head of the SS

Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was Reichsführer of the Schutzstaffel, and a leading member of the Nazi Party (NSDAP) of Germany. Himmler was one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany and a main architect of the Holocaust.

The III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps was a German Waffen-SS armoured corps which saw action on the Eastern Front during World War II. The (germanische) part of its designation was granted as it was composed primarily of foreign volunteer formations.

The 11th SS Panzer Army was not much more than a paper army formed in February 1945 by Heinrich Himmler while he was commander of Army Group Vistula.

On 21 April, during the Battle for Berlin, Steiner was placed in command of Army Detachment Steiner, while Adolf Hitler ordered Steiner to envelop the 1st Belorussian Front through a pincer movement, advancing from the north of the city. [3] However, as his unit was outnumbered by ten to one, Steiner made it clear that he did not have the capacity for a counter-attack on 22 April during the daily situation conference in the Führerbunker . [3] [4]

Army Detachment Steiner was a temporary military unit, something more than a corps but less than an army, created on paper by German dictator Adolf Hitler on 21 April 1945 during the Battle of Berlin, and placed under the command of SS-Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner.

Adolf Hitler Leader of Germany from 1934 to 1945

Adolf Hitler was a German politician and leader of the Nazi Party. He rose to power as Chancellor of Germany in 1933, and as Führer in 1934. During his dictatorship from 1933 to 1945, he initiated World War II in Europe by invading Poland on 1 September 1939. He was closely involved in military operations throughout the war and was central to the perpetration of the Holocaust. Hitler's actions and ideology are almost universally regarded as evil. According to historian Ian Kershaw, "never in history has such ruination—physical and moral—been associated with the name of one man."

1st Belorussian Front

The 1st Belorussian Front was a major formation of the Soviet Army during World War II, being equivalent to a Western army group.

After the capitulation of Germany, Steiner was imprisoned and investigated for war crimes. He faced charges at the Nuremberg Trials, but they were dropped and he was released in 1948. Along with other former high-ranking Waffen-SS personnel, Steiner was a founding member of HIAG, a lobby group of negationistic apologists formed in 1951 to campaign for the legal, economic and historical rehabilitation of the Waffen-SS. He died in 1966.

End of World War II in Europe

The final battles of the European Theatre of World War II as well as the German surrender to the Allies took place in late April and early May 1945.

HIAG 20th-century pro-Waffen-SS lobbying group in West Germany

HIAG was a lobby group and a denialist veterans' organisation founded by former high-ranking Waffen-SS personnel in West Germany in 1951. Its main objective was to achieve legal, economic and historical rehabilitation of the Waffen-SS.

Advocacy groups, also known as special interest groups, use various forms of advocacy in order to influence public opinion and ultimately policy. They play an important role in the development of political and social systems.

World War I

Born in 1896, Felix Steiner joined the Royal Prussian Army as an infantry cadet. During World War I, he was awarded the Iron Cross 1st and 2nd class. [5] In 1919, Steiner joined the paramilitary Freikorps in the East Prussian city of Memel and was incorporated into the Reichswehr in 1921. In 1933, he left the army having attained the rank of major.

Iron Cross Military decoration in the Kingdom of Prussia, and later in the German Empire (1870–1918) and Nazi Germany

The Iron Cross is a former military decoration in the Kingdom of Prussia, and later in the German Empire (1871–1918) and Nazi Germany (1933–1945). It was established by King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia on 17 March 1813 during the Napoleonic Wars. The award was backdated to the birthday of his late wife Queen Louise. Louise was the first person to receive this decoration (posthumously). The recommissioned Iron Cross was also awarded during the Franco-Prussian War, World War I, and World War II. The Iron Cross that was awarded during World War II has a swastika in the center. The Iron Cross was normally a military decoration only, though there were instances of it being awarded to civilians for performing military functions. Two examples of this were civilian test pilots Hanna Reitsch who was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class and 1st Class and Melitta Schenk Gräfin von Stauffenberg, who was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class, for their actions as pilots during World War II.

<i>Freikorps</i> German volunteer military units

Freikorps were irregular German military volunteer units that existed from the 18th to the early 20th centuries, which effectively fought as mercenary or private armies, regardless of their own nationality. In German-speaking countries, the first so-called Freikorps were formed in the 18th century from native volunteers, enemy renegades and deserters. These sometimes exotically equipped units served as infantry and cavalry, sometimes in just company strength, sometimes in formations up to several thousand strong; there were also various mixed formations or legions. The Prussian von Kleist Freikorps included infantry, jäger, dragoons and hussars. The French Volontaires de Saxe combined uhlans and dragoons.

Klaipėda City in Lithuania Minor, Lithuania

Klaipėda is a city in Lithuania on the Baltic Sea coast. It is the third largest city in Lithuania and the capital of Klaipėda County.

SS career

Steiner first joined the Nazi Party (NSDAP) (membership number: 4,264,295) and the Sturmabteilung (SA). In 1935 he enlisted in the SS. He took command of a battalion of SS-Verfügungstruppen (SS-VT) troops, and within a year had been promoted to SS-Standartenführer; and later was put in command of the SS-Deutschland Regiment.

Nazi Party a far-right political party in Germany that was active between 1920 and 1945

The National Socialist German Workers' Party, commonly referred to in English as the Nazi Party, was a far-right political party in Germany that was active between 1920 and 1945, that created and supported the ideology of National Socialism. Its precursor, the German Workers' Party, existed from 1919 to 1920.

<i lang="de" title="German language text">Sturmabteilung</i> original Nazi paramilitary

The Sturmabteilung, literally Storm Detachment, was the Nazi Party's original paramilitary. It played a significant role in Adolf Hitler's rise to power in the 1920s and 1930s. Its primary purposes were providing protection for Nazi rallies and assemblies, disrupting the meetings of opposing parties, fighting against the paramilitary units of the opposing parties, especially the Red Front Fighters League of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), and intimidating Romani, trade unionists, and, especially, Jews – for instance, during the 1933 Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses.

<i>Schutzstaffel</i> Major paramilitary organization of Nazi Germany

The Schutzstaffel was a major paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party (NSDAP) in Nazi Germany, and later throughout German-occupied Europe during World War II. It began with a small guard unit known as the Saal-Schutz made up of NSDAP volunteers to provide security for party meetings in Munich. In 1925, Heinrich Himmler joined the unit, which had by then been reformed and given its final name. Under his direction (1929–45) it grew from a small paramilitary formation to one of the most powerful organizations in Nazi Germany. From 1929 until the regime's collapse in 1945, the SS was the foremost agency of security, surveillance, and terror within Germany and German-occupied Europe.

At the outbreak of World War II, he was SS-Oberführer (Senior leader) in charge of the Waffen-SS regiment SS-Deutschland. He led this regiment through the Invasion of Poland and the Battle of France, for which he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 15 August 1940. Steiner was introduced to Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, to oversee the creation of, and then command the new SS Division Wiking. At the time of its creation, it consisted mostly of non-German volunteers (Dutch, Flemish, Finns and Scandinavians), including the Danish regiment Frikorps Danmark. Steiner was an outstanding soldier, an aggressive commander, of considerable personal courage, a born leader with a shrewd knowledge of panzer warfare: "Gruppenfuhrer Steiner moved quickly and fearlessly behind the tanks, in his light-coloured dust jacket and with his small battle staff. His command post was up front. Decisions and orders were adjusted to the progress of the fighting - rapidly with no time lapse. The artillery went into position; the forward observers registered and corrected the guns." [6]

In April 1943, he was placed in command of a newly formed III SS Panzer Corps. The unit participated in anti-partisan actions in Yugoslavia. In November/December 1943 his corps was transferred to the Eastern Front and positioned in the northern sector at Leningrad under Army Group North. Steiner's Panzer Corps played a leading role during the Battle of Narva and the Battle of Tannenberg Line. His unit then withdrew with the rest of Army Group North to the Courland Peninsula.

Battle of Berlin

In January 1945, Steiner along with the III SS Panzer Corps was transferred by ship from the Courland Pocket to help with the defence of the German homeland. The corps was assigned to Army Group Vistula under the new Eleventh SS Panzer Army, although this army really only existed on paper. Once the Soviet Army reached the Oder river, the Eleventh SS Panzer Army became inactive and the III SS Panzer Corps was reassigned to the German Third Panzer Army as a reserve during the Soviets' Berlin Offensive Operation. During the Battle of Seelow Heights, the first major battle of the offensive, General Gotthard Heinrici, the commander of Army Group Vistula, transferred most of the III SS Panzer Corps' divisions to General Theodor Busse's Ninth Army.

By 21 April, Soviet Marshal Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front had broken through the German lines on the Seelow Heights. Hitler, ignoring the facts, started to call the ragtag units that came under Steiner's command Army Detachment Steiner (Armeeabteilung Steiner). An army detachment was something more than a corps but less than an army.

Hitler ordered Steiner to attack the northern flank of the huge salient created by the 1st Belorussian Front's breakout. Steiner's attack was due to coincide with General Busse's Ninth Army, attacking from the south in a pincer attack. The Ninth Army had been pushed to south of the 1st Belorussian Front's salient. To facilitate this attack, Steiner was assigned the three divisions of the Ninth Army's CI Army Corps: the 4th SS Panzergrenadier Division Polizei, the 5th Jäger Division, and the 25th Panzergrenadier Division. All three divisions were north of the Finow Canal on the Northern flank of Zhukov's salient. Weidling's LVI Panzer Corps, which was still east of Berlin with its northern flank just below Werneuchen, was also ordered to participate in the attack. [7] [8] The three divisions from CI Army Corps planned to attack south from Eberswalde on the Finow Canal towards the LVI Panzer Corps. The three divisions from CI Army Corps were 24 kilometres (about 15 miles) east of Berlin and the attack to the south would cut the 1st Belorussian Front's salient in two. Steiner called Heinrici and informed him that the plan could not be implemented because the 5th Jäger Division and the 25th Panzergrenadier Division were deployed defensively and could not be redeployed until the 2nd Naval Division arrived from the coast to relieve them. This left only two battalions of the 4th SS Panzergrenadier Division available and they had no combat weapons.

Based on Steiner's assessment, Heinrici called Hans Krebs, Chief of Staff of the German General Staff of the Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres or OKH), and told him that the plan could not be implemented. Heinrici asked to speak to Hitler, but was told Hitler was too busy to take his call. [7] [8] On 22 April 1945, at his afternoon conference, Hitler became aware that Steiner was not going to attack and he fell into a tearful rage. Hitler declared the war was lost, he blamed the generals and announced that he would stay on in Berlin until the end, then kill himself. [4] On the same day, General Rudolf Holste was given what few mobile forces Steiner commanded so that he could participate in a new plan to relieve Berlin. Holste was to attack from the north while General Walther Wenck attacked from the west and General Theodor Busse attacked from the south. These attacks amounted to little and, on 25 April, the Soviet forces attacking to the north and to the south of Berlin linked up to the west of the city.

Post-war

After the surrender, Steiner was incarcerated until 1948. He faced charges at the Nuremberg Trials, but they were dropped for lack of solid evidence and he was released. Alongside with Paul Hausser, Herbert Gille and Otto Kumm, Steiner became a founding member of HIAG, the lobby group founded by former high-ranking Waffen-SS officers in West Germany in 1951. [9] [10]

From his home in West Germany he published Die Freiwilligen der Waffen-SS: Idee und Opfergang; English: "The Volunteers of Waffen-SS: Idea and Sacrifice" in 1958. Steiner's books and memoirs have been characterised by historian Charles Sydnor as one of the "most important works of apologist literature," together with warfare analyses Grenadiere by Kurt Meyer and Waffen-SS in Action by Paul Hausser. These works demanded rehabilitation of the military branch of the NSDAP, with Steiner's works being important in stressing the theme of the purely military Waffen-SS. [11]

A second book was published in 1963 under the title Die Armee der Geächteten (English: "The Army of the Outlaws") and was equally tendentiously received. [12]

Steiner died on 12 May 1966, 11 days before his 70th birthday. He never married. [5]

Summary of SS career

Promotions
Awards
Commands

See also

Related Research Articles

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Karl Ullrich SS Officer

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Heinz Heuer Recipient of the Knights Cross

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References

Citations

  1. Bender & Taylor 1971, p. 23.
  2. Stein 1984, pp. xxiv, xxv, 150, 153.
  3. 1 2 Beevor 2002 , pp. 310–312
  4. 1 2 Ziemke 1968, p. 89.
  5. 1 2 Hillblad, Thorolf (May 28, 2009). Twilight of the Gods: A Swedish Volunteer in the 11th SS Panzergrenadier Division "Nordland" on the Eastern Front. Stackpole Books. p. 132. ISBN   9781461752035.
  6. E. Klapdor, Viking Panzers, p.30.
  7. 1 2 Beevor 2002, pp. 267–268.
  8. 1 2 Ziemke 1968, pp. 87–88.
  9. Schön, Bosse (Nov 2, 2015). Svenskarna som stred för Hitler:. Bokförlaget Forum.
  10. Bale, Jeffrey M. (Sep 4, 2017). The Darkest Sides of Politics, I: Postwar Fascism, Covert Operations, and Terrorism. Routledge. ISBN   9781317659464.
  11. Sydnor 1990, p. 319.
  12. Sydnor 1990, p. 145.
  13. 1 2 Thomas 1998, p. 346.
  14. Rangliste des Deutschen Reichsheeres, p. 146.
  15. Patzwall & Scherzer 2001, p. 457.
  16. 1 2 3 Scherzer 2007, p. 721.

Bibliography

  • Beevor, Antony (2002). Berlin: The Downfall 1945 . London: Viking-Penguin Books. ISBN   978-0-670-03041-5.
  • Bender, Roger James; Taylor, Hugh Page (1971). Uniforms, Organization, and History of the Waffen-SS, Volume 2. London: G.K. Scott. OCLC   60069997.
  • Carrard, Philippe (2010). The French Who Fought for Hitler: Memories from the Outcasts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN   9780521198226.
  • Patzwall, Klaus D.; Scherzer, Veit (2001). Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941 – 1945 Geschichte und Inhaber Band II[The German Cross 1941 – 1945 History and Recipients Volume 2] (in German). Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall. ISBN   978-3-931533-45-8.
  • Reichswehrministerium, ed. (1930). Rangliste des Deutschen Reichsheeres (in German). Berlin, Germany: Mittler & Sohn Verlag. OCLC   10573418.
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives[The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 The Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 by Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Allied Forces with Germany According to the Documents of the Federal Archives] (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Militaer-Verlag. ISBN   978-3-938845-17-2.
  • Stein, George (1984) [1966]. The Waffen-SS: Hitler's Elite Guard at War 1939–1945. Cornell University Press. ISBN   0-8014-9275-0.
  • Sydnor, Charles W. (1990) [1977]. Soldiers of destruction: the SS Death's Head Division, 1933–1945. Princeton University Press. ISBN   978-0691008530.
  • Tauber, Kurt (1967). Beyond Eagle and Swastika: German Nationalism Since 1945, Volume I. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press.
  • Tauber, Kurt (1967). Beyond Eagle and Swastika: German Nationalism Since 1945, Volume II. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press.
  • Thomas, Franz (1998). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 2: L–Z[The Oak Leaves Bearers 1939–1945 Volume 2: L–Z] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN   978-3-7648-2300-9.
  • Ziemke, Earl F. (1968). Battle For Berlin: End Of The Third Reich. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN   978-0-356-02960-3.

Further reading

Military offices
Preceded by
none
Commander of SS-Standarte "Deutschland"
June 1936 – 1 December 1940
Succeeded by
none
Preceded by
none
Commander of 5. SS-Panzer-Division Wiking
1 December 1940 – 1 May 1943
Succeeded by
SS-Obergruppenführer Herbert Otto Gille
Preceded by
none
Commander of III.(germanische) SS-Panzerkorps
1 May 1943 – October 1944
Succeeded by
SS-Obergruppenführer Georg Keppler
Preceded by
none
Commander of 11.SS-Panzerarmee
28 January 1945 – 5 March 1945
Succeeded by
General der Infanterie Otto Hitzfeld
Preceded by
Generalleutnant Martin Unrein
Commander of III.(germanische) SS-Panzerkorps
5 March 1945 – 8 May 1945
Succeeded by
none
Preceded by
none
Commander of Army Detachment Steiner
21 April 1945 – 8 May 1945
Succeeded by
none