Franz Halder

Last updated

Franz Halder
Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1970-052-08, Franz Halder.jpg
Halder in 1938
Born30 June 1884
Würzburg, Kingdom of Bavaria, German Empire
Died2 April 1972 (aged 87)
Aschau im Chiemgau, Bavaria, West Germany
AllegianceFlag of the German Empire.svg  German Empire
Flag of Germany (3-2 aspect ratio).svg  Weimar Republic
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg  Nazi Germany
Years of service1902–1942
Rank Generaloberst (Colonel-General)
Commands heldChief of General Staff, Army High Command
Battles/wars World War I

World War II

Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
Other workConsultant for US Army Historical Division
Signature Halder Unterschrift.svg

Franz Halder (30 June 1884 – 2 April 1972) was a German general and the chief of staff of the Army High Command (OKH) in Nazi Germany from 1938 until September 1942 who, after World War II, had a decisive role in the development of the myth of the clean Wehrmacht. He directed the planning and implementation of Operation Barbarossa, the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. Halder became instrumental in the radicalisation of warfare on the Eastern Front. He had his staff draft both the Commissar Order (issued on 6 June 1941) and the Barbarossa Decree (signed on 13 May 1941) that allowed German soldiers to execute Soviet citizens for any reason without fear of later prosecution, leading to numerous war crimes and atrocities during the campaign.

The title chief of staff identifies the leader of a complex organization, institution, or body of persons and it also may identify a principal staff officer (PSO), who is the coordinator of the supporting staff or a primary aide-de-camp to an important individual, such as a president, or a senior military officer, or leader of a large organization.

<i>Oberkommando des Heeres</i> Supreme High Command of the German Army during World War II

The Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH) was the High Command of the German Army during the Era of Nazi Germany. It was founded in 1935 as a part of Adolf Hitler's re-militarisation of Germany. From 1938 OKH was, together with OKL and OKM, formally subordinated to the OKW, with the exception of the Waffen-SS. During the war, OKH had the responsibility of strategic planning of Armies and Army Groups, while the General Staff of the OKH managed operational matters. Each German Army also had an Armeeoberkommando, Army Command, or AOK. Until the German defeat at Moscow in December 1941, OKH and its staff was de facto the most important unit within the German war planning. OKW then took over this function for theatres other than the German-Soviet front. OKH commander held the title Oberbefehlshaber des Heeres. Following the Battle of Moscow, after OKH commander Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch was excused, Hitler appointed himself as Commander-in-Chief of the Army.

Nazi Germany The German state from 1933 to 1945, under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler

Nazi Germany is the common English name for Germany between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party (NSDAP) controlled the country through a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a totalitarian state where nearly all aspects of life were controlled by the government. The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich until 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich from 1943 to 1945. Nazi Germany is also known as the Third Reich, meaning "Third Realm" or "Third Empire", the first two being the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806) and the German Empire (1871–1918). The Nazi regime ended after the Allies defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.


Halder joined the Imperial German Army in a unit under the command of his father and served in World War I (1914–1918). In 1937 he met and became a loyal supporter of Adolf Hitler. Halder participated in the strategic planning for the 1939 German invasion of Poland. The plans authorised the SS to carry out security tasks on behalf of the army that included the imprisonment or execution of Poles. [1] At the end of 1939, Halder oversaw the development of the invasion plans of France, the Low Countries, and the Balkans. In August 1940 he began planning for the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, Operation Barbarossa, which began on 22 June 1941. That summer Halder engaged in a long-running and divisive dispute with Hitler over strategy.

World War I 1914–1918 global war starting in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the resulting 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

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 later 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.

Invasion of Poland Invasion of Poland by Germany, the Soviet Union, and a small Slovak contingent

The invasion of Poland by Germany, known in Poland as the September campaign or the 1939 defensive war, and in Germany as the Poland campaign (Polenfeldzug), marked the beginning of World War II. The German invasion began on 1 September 1939, one week after the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union. The Soviets invaded Poland on 17 September. The campaign ended on 6 October with Germany and the Soviet Union dividing and annexing the whole of Poland under the terms of the German–Soviet Frontier Treaty.

The Barbarossa Decree and Commissar Order became fundamental during the Battle for Moscow in the winter of 1941–1942. By this time thousands of Soviet civilians and prisoners-of-war in the already-occupied areas of the Soviet Union were being murdered every day. Halder's strategy failed, leading to unprecedented Wehrmacht losses. Hitler removed Halder from command and retired him in September 1942. The Gestapo arrested Halder in 1944 after the 20 July plot to assassinate Hitler. He was not involved; however, it came to light that he had been involved in an earlier plot, leading to his imprisonment. As chief of OKH General Staff, he had kept extensive notes which were later published as The Halder Diaries .

Wehrmacht unified armed forces of Germany from 1935 to 1945

The Wehrmacht was the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer (army), the Kriegsmarine (navy) and the Luftwaffe. The designation "Wehrmacht" replaced the previously used term Reichswehr, and was the manifestation of the Nazi regime's efforts to rearm Germany to a greater extent than the Treaty of Versailles permitted.

Gestapo official secret police of Nazi Germany

The Geheime Staatspolizei, abbreviated Gestapo, was the official secret police of Nazi Germany and German-occupied Europe.

20 July plot Plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler

On 20 July 1944, Claus von Stauffenberg and other conspirators attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Führer of Nazi Germany, inside his Wolf's Lair field headquarters near Rastenburg, East Prussia. The name Operation Valkyrie—originally referring to part of the conspiracy—has become associated with the entire event.

After the war, Halder served as a lead consultant for the US Army Historical Division. He oversaw the writing of over 2,500 historical documents by over 700 former Nazi officers, whom he instructed to remove material detrimental to the image of the German armed forces. Halder used his influence to foster a false history of the German-Soviet war in which the German army fought a "noble war" and which denied its war crimes. The US Army overlooked Halder's apologia because Halder's group was providing military intelligence on the Soviet Union that it deemed important in the light of the Cold War. Halder succeeded in his aim of exonerating the German Army: first with the US military, then amongst widening circles of politicians and eventually in the American popular culture. In 1961, he was awarded the Meritorious Civilian Service Award, becoming the only German ever to be decorated both by Hitler and by an American president. The praise which he received starkly contrasted with the reality of his military career and the atrocities on the Eastern Front.

An apologia is a formal defense of an opinion, position or action. The term's current use, often in the context of religion, theology and philosophy, derives from John Henry Newman's Apologia pro Vita Sua of 1864, which presented a formal defense of the history of his Christian life, leading to his acceptance by the Catholic Church in 1845. In modern usage, apologia describes a formal defense and should not be confused with the sense of the word 'apology' as an expression of regret; however, apology may mean apologia, depending on the context of use.

Military intelligence is a military discipline that uses information collection and analysis approaches to provide guidance and direction to assist commanders in their decisions. This aim is achieved by providing an assessment of data from a range of sources, directed towards the commanders' mission requirements or responding to questions as part of operational or campaign planning. To provide an analysis, the commander's information requirements are first identified, which are then incorporated into intelligence collection, analysis, and dissemination.

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a Marxist-Leninist sovereign state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centers were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Tashkent, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometers (6,200 mi) east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometers (4,500 mi) north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.

Early life and military career

Halder was born in Würzburg, the son of an officer. In 1902, he joined an artillery regiment under the command of his father. Halder was educated at the Bavarian War Academy, graduating in 1914. During World War I, he served in a variety of staff roles and was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class. In 1919, he was transferred to the Reichswehr , where he served in staff and training roles, including under Walther von Brauchitsch in the army training department. In 1931, he was appointed as chief of staff of a military district. After being promoted to generalmajor (general-major) in October 1934, Halder served as the commander of the 7th Infantry Division in Munich. [2]

Würzburg Place in Bavaria, Germany

Würzburg is a city in the region of Franconia, northern Bavaria, Germany. Located on the Main River, it is the capital of the Regierungsbezirk of Lower Franconia. The regional dialect is East Franconian.

War Academy (Kingdom of Bavaria)

The Bavarian War College, also Bavarian Staff College was the highest military facility to educate, instruct, train, and develop general staff officers.

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.

In the Wehrmacht

In August 1936, Halder was promoted to generalleutnant (lieutenant-general). He then became the director of the Manoeuvres Staff of the Wehrmacht . Between October 1937 and February 1938, Halder served as director of the Training Branch, on the General Staff of the Army, in Berlin. During the 1937 Wehrmacht manoeuvres, Halder met Adolf Hitler and became a loyal supporter. This personal contact also enabled him to progress through the ranks quickly. [2]

Generalleutnant, short GenLt, is the second highest general officer rank in the German Army (Heer) and the German Air Force (Luftwaffe).

On 1 February 1938, Halder was promoted to general of the Artillery. [2] He was appointed chief of the General Staff of the Army High Command on 1 September. He succeeded General Ludwig Beck who had resigned on 18 August amid the Sudetenland crisis. [3] Halder was approached by conservative nationalist officers about heading the envisaged coup d'état should Hitler start a war, but he declined. In any case, the war was averted by the conclusion of the Munich Agreement that ceded Sudetenland to Germany. [3]

World War II

Invasions of Poland and Western Europe

Halder with Walther von Brauchitsch during the invasion of Poland in 1939 Bundesarchiv Bild 183-H27722, Franz Halder und Walther v. Brauchitsch.jpg
Halder with Walther von Brauchitsch during the invasion of Poland in 1939
Halder (far right) alongside Hitler, 1940 Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1971-070-61, Hitler mit Generalen bei Lagebesprechung.jpg
Halder (far right) alongside Hitler, 1940

Halder participated in the strategic planning for the Invasion of Poland. His plans authorised the SS to carry out security tasks on behalf of the army that included the imprisonment or execution of Polish citizens, whether Jewish or gentile. [4] On 1 September 1939, the German offensive began, resulting in declarations of war by France and the British Empire. On 19 September, Halder noted in his diary that he had received information from Reinhard Heydrich. The SS were beginning their campaign to "clean house" in Poland of Jews, intelligentsia, Catholic clergy, and the aristocracy. Halder was aware of The Holocaust but did not object to the murders. [5] He dismissed the crimes as aberrations and refused one general's request to pursue the SS and police perpetrators. [6]

At the end of 1939, Halder oversaw the development of the invasion plans of France, the Low Countries and the Balkans. During a meeting with Hitler on 5 November Walther von Brauchitsch, the Army commander-in-chief, attempted to talk Hitler into putting off the invasion of France. Hitler refused and berated Brauchitsch for incompetence. [7] As a consequence, Halder and Brauchitsch discussed overthrowing Hitler because they feared the invasion was doomed. [8] They decided against the idea. [9] On 23 November 1939 Carl Friedrich Goerdeler met with Halder to ask him to reconsider his decision. [10] He refused, saying that Hitler was a great leader, and "one does not rebel when face to face with the enemy". [10] Halder's contemplation of resistance to Hitler owed more to political turf battles than it did to disagreement over the regime's racism and antisemitism. [6]

General Erich von Manstein's bold plan for invading France through the Ardennes Forest proved successful, and ultimately led to the fall of France. On 19 July 1940, Halder was promoted to generaloberst (colonel-general) and began to receive undisclosed monthly extralegal payments from Hitler that effectively doubled his already large wage. The payments helped ensure his loyalty to Hitler and reduced his qualms over sending millions of men to their deaths. [11]

Invasion of the Soviet Union

In August 1940 Halder began planning Operation Barbarossa, the anticipated invasion of the Soviet Union. Shortly thereafter, to curtail Halder's military command power, Hitler limited his involvement in the war by restricting him to developing operational plans only for the Eastern Front. [12] Halder's first major fault in the planning was that he did not prepare the German military leadership for the grave hazards of war in the East. [13] He ignored the strengths of the Soviet state and paid no attention to its vast manpower reserves, the mobilisation of the wartime economy or the administration led by Joseph Stalin. [14] His second major fault was that he accepted Hitler's plan for the attack without openly disagreeing with it or arguing for his own alternative. [15] Nicolaus von Below, who observed the meetings, described Halder's alarm with the strategy but said he made no protest. [15] Halder did not believe in Hitler's plan; he preferred his own. Thereafter he undermined and sabotaged it resulting in disjointed leadership from the very start of the campaign. [13]

On 30 March 1941 Halder attended the conference where Hitler described the planned invasion to about 200 senior Wehrmacht officers. He later wrote in his diary, summarising Hitler's remarks: [16]

We must forget the concept of comradeship between soldiers. A Communist is no comrade before or after the battle. This is a war of extermination. (...) Commanders must make the sacrifice of overcoming their personal scruples. [16]

Halder was instrumental in the subsequent preparation and implementation of war crimes during the invasion of the Soviet Union. [17] He had his staff draft both the Commissar Order and the Barbarossa Decree without Hitler's instruction or interference. [18] The author of the orders was Eugen Müller who reported on his work directly to Halder. [19] The Commissar Order required political commissars to be executed immediately when captured. [20] Halder also insisted that a clause be added to the Barbarossa Decree giving officers the right to raze whole villages and execute the inhabitants. [17] The decree freed soldiers from any form of prosecution for war crimes committed in the East. [20] The decree had no specific target: Soviet citizens could be killed at any time and for any reason. [21] Until this time only the SS could kill citizens without fear of later prosecution. These orders allowed officers throughout the army to execute citizens with no repercussions. [22] Ulrich von Hassell, discussing the orders given by Halder, said the conquered population were being controlled by despotism. He added that Germans were being turned into a type of being that previously existed only in enemy propaganda. [23] Omer Bartov described the orders as "the barbarisation of warfare". [23]

The offensive began on 22 June 1941. German forces initially met muted resistance. Halder brashly wrote in his diary on 3 July that the war was already won. [24] Nicolaus von Below reported that this confidence was shared at Fuhrer Headquarters in the month of July. [25] Halder's confidence was dashed with dramatic effect in early August with the arrival of new intelligence information from his Foreign Armies East. [26] He wrote in his diary on 11 August that he had underestimated the "Russian colossus". [27] At the start of the campaign, he had reckoned the enemy had 200 enemy divisions, but now 360 had been counted. He added: "we destroy a dozen of them, then the Russian's put another dozen in their place." [27] In mid-August, the German advance had stalled, and at the same time, effective long-term defence was impossible so far from friendly territory. Halder wrote of the situation "everything that has so far been achieved is for nothing". [28] During that summer, Hitler and the Army General Staff led by Halder had been engaged in a long and divisive dispute over strategy. [29] By mid-September, it was clear Operation Barbarossa had failed in its central objective to quickly overcome the Soviet Union. [29]

Operation Typhoon

Operation Typhoon, the German offensive at the Battle of Moscow, began on 2 October 1941. [20] In early October, the German forces encircled the bulk of the Soviet armies defending the capital city in the Vyazma and Bryansk pocket. [30] Halder determined the strategy for Typhoon, and it was subsequently endorsed by Hitler. [31] Typhoon had the same basic flaw as Barbarossa; officers on the front line were unable to change Halder's objectives even when those objectives were impossible. [31]

The Barbarossa Decree and Commissar Order became a fundamental aspect of the battle for Moscow. [32] By this time, thousands of Soviet civilians and defenceless prisoners in already occupied Russia were being murdered every day. [32] The killings were unprecedented in the modern era and radicalised the defence of Moscow. [32] On 5 December Operation Typhoon was over. Halder wrote in his diary there was no more strength and a withdrawal may be necessary. [33] The withdrawal, when it came, was dictated by the Soviet army. [34] The crisis on the battlefield prompted Hitler to remove von Brauchitsch and assume command of OKH himself. [35]

Halder vehemently pushed for a blitzkrieg assault on Moscow and believed if the capital could be taken the war would be won. However, he did not understand the fundamental underpinnings of blitzkrieg and the impossibility of carrying out a lightening war in the vast expanse of the Soviet Union. [36] Even if Moscow had fallen, Stalin would have moved his base of operations farther east and the war would have continued. [37]

David Stahel writes: "The Soviet Union was nothing less than a militarised juggernaut and, while deeply wounded in Germany’s 1941 campaign, there is no evidence to suggest it was about to collapse either politically or militarily." [38] The responsibility for the failure fell on Halder, Hitler and Fedor von Bock. [39] The war in the Soviet Union and the winter that followed was one of the worst events in the history of the German army—there were over one million casualties. [40]

Case Blue

In the spring of 1942, Halder, along with the German high command, began planning a new ambitious offensive in the Soviet Union. This was despite the heavy losses the Wehrmacht had suffered in 1941. Under the code name "Case Blue", the plan envisaged an offensive against the southern sector of the front. The aim was to capture the Soviet oil fields in the Caucasus. [41] The directive for the offensive was issued by Hitler on 5 April 1942, envisaging a complex sequence of staggered operations. [42] The offensive began on 28 June 1942 and at the outset appeared successful; Friedrich Paulus cut through a defensive position with ease and Bock wrote: "There was nothing left: The enemy has not succeeded in organizing a new defense anywhere." [43]

The Soviet army had adopted a new strategy known as the "elastic defence" that was highly uncharacteristic of prior engagements and left the German army closing in on an enemy that had already left. [44] Confusion ensued leading to the failure of the campaign. Bock was subsequently forced to resign, and Halder was marginalised. [45] The relationship between Hitler and Halder became strained. Halder's diary entries became increasingly sarcastic, and Hitler mocked him. On one occasion Hitler said Halder had spent World War I in an office "sitting on that same swivel stool". [46] In September Hitler removed Halder from command and retired him to the Fuhrer Reserve. [47]


On 23 July 1944, after the failed 20 July assassination attempt on Hitler's life by German Army officers, the Gestapo arrested Halder. Although he was not involved in the 20 July plot, intense interrogations of the conspirators revealed that Halder had been involved in earlier conspiracies against Hitler. Halder was imprisoned at both the Flossenbürg and Dachau concentration camps. Halder's wife Gertrud chose, and was allowed, to accompany her husband into imprisonment. He had no complaints about the quarters or provisions and was not treated poorly. He was in VIP company that included former French premier Leon Blum and former Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg. [48] On 31 January 1945, Halder was officially dismissed from the army. In the last days of April 1945, together with other special prisoners, he was transferred to the South Tyrol where he was liberated by US troops. [49]


Before the invasion of the Soviet Union, three million soldiers destined for the front received a key order. It was titled "Guidelines for the Conduct of the Troops in Russia". The language was determined by Halder. It described Bolshevism as the "mortal enemy of the National Socialist German people" and urged German forces to "crack down hard" and "eliminate all resistance". Jews were mentioned in the order and intended to be part of the elimination. [50] In April 1941 Halder drafted an order for the security police and Security Service during Operation Marita. The order defined the enemy as saboteurs, terrorists, communists and Jews. [51] The "criminal orders" drafted by Halder document his solidarity with Hitler's antisemitic and racist policies. The commanders under Halder including Erich Hoepner, Erich von Manstein and Walter von Reichenau gave antisemitic speeches and orders. [52]


Criminal investigation

On 5 May 1945 Halder was arrested by the advancing American troops and was interned awaiting trial or release. [53] He was relieved not to be part of the Nuremberg Trials; instead, he was tried in a German court on charges of aiding the Nazi regime. Halder denied any knowledge of the regime's atrocities and claimed to be outside the decision-making process; he was found not guilty. [54]

During the trial the prosecuting attorney gained access to Halder's personal diary which detailed his formulation of the Barbarossa Decree and Commissar Order so he was subsequently sent for retrial. [54] Halder was working for the American Historical Division providing information on the Soviet Union, and the Americans refused to allow the retrial. It was dropped in September 1950. [55]

Myth of the clean Wehrmacht

Halder as a witness at the High Command Trial, 1948 Franz-Halder.jpg
Halder as a witness at the High Command Trial, 1948

Halder played a key role in creating the myth of the clean Wehrmacht. It was a false, mythic view of the Nazi-Soviet war in which the German army fought a "noble war". It denies the existence of, or disregards German war crimes. [56] The genesis for the myth was the "Generals' Memorandum" created in November 1945 and submitted to the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg. The memorandum was titled "The German Army from 1920 to 1945". It was co-authored by Halder and former field marshals Walter von Brauchitsch and Erich von Manstein, and other senior military figures. It aimed to portray the German armed forces as apolitical and largely innocent of the crimes committed by the Nazi regime. [57] [58] The strategy outlined in the memorandum was later adopted by Hans Laternser, the lead counsel for the defence at the High Command Trial of senior Wehrmacht commanders. [57] The document was written at the suggestion of American General William J. Donovan, who later founded the CIA, and viewed the Soviet Union as a global threat to world peace. Donovan served as a deputy prosecutor at the International Military Tribunal; he and some other US representatives did not believe the trials should proceed. He believed America should do everything it could to secure Germany as a military ally against the Soviet Union in the growing Cold War. [58]

As the Cold war progressed, the military intelligence provided by the German section of US Army Historical Division became increasingly important to the Americans. [59] Halder oversaw the German section of the research program which became known as the "Halder Group". [60] His group produced over 2,500 major historical manuscripts from over 700 distinct German authors detailing World War II. [55] Halder used the group to reinvent war-time history using truth, half-truth, distortion and lies. [56] He set up a "control group" of trusted former Nazi officers who vetted all the manuscripts and, if necessary, required authors to change their content. [61] Halder's deputy in the group was Adolf Heusinger who was also working for the Gehlen Organization, the United States military intelligence organisation in Germany. [62] Halder expected to be addressed as "General" by the writing teams and behaved as their commanding officer while dealing with their manuscripts. [63] His aim was to exonerate German army personnel from the atrocities they had committed. [64]

Halder laid down a version of history that all the writers had to abide by. This version stated that the army was the victim of Hitler, and they had opposed him at every opportunity. The writers had to emphasise the "decent" form of war conducted by the army and blame the SS for the criminal operations. [63] He enjoyed a privileged position, as the few historians working on World War II history in the 1950s had to obtain historical information from Halder and his group. His influence extended to newspaper editors and authors. [65] Halder's instructions were sent down the chain of command and were recorded by former field marshal Georg von Küchler. They said, "It is German deeds, seen from the German standpoint, that are to be recorded; this will constitute a memorial to our troops", "no criticism of measures ordered by the leadership" is allowed and no one is to be "incriminated in any way," instead the achievements of the Wehrmacht were to be emphasised. [66] The military historian Bernd Wegner, examining Halder's work, wrote: "The writing of German history on the Second World War, and in particular on the Russian front, was for over two decades, and in part up to the present day—and to a far greater extent than most people realize—the work of the defeated." [67] Wolfram Wette wrote, "In the work of the Historical Division the traces of the war of annihilation for which the Wehrmacht leadership was responsible were covered up". [65]

Halder sought to distance himself and the German army from Hitler, Nazism and war crimes. He claimed to have been against the Russian campaign and that he had warned Hitler against his "adventure" in the East. [68] Halder had laid the foundation for genocide in the Soviet Union. He omitted any mention of the Barbarossa Decree that he had helped formulate or the Commissar Order which he had supported and disseminated. [68] Halder also claimed implausibly that the invasion of the Soviet Union was a defensive measure. [69]

The Americans were aware the manuscripts contained numerous apologia. However, they also contained intelligence that the Americans viewed as important in the event of a war between the US and the Soviet Union. [64] Halder had coached former Nazi officers on how to make incriminating evidence disappear. [70] Many of the officers he coached such as Heinz Guderian went on to write best-selling biographies that broadened the appeal of the apologia. [61] Halder succeeded in his aim of rehabilitating the German officer corps, first with the US military, then widening circles of politics and finally millions of Americans. [71]

In 1949 Halder wrote Hitler als Feldherr which was translated into English as Hitler as Commander and published in 1950. The work contains the central ideas behind the myth of the clean Wehrmacht that were subsequently reproduced in countless histories and memoirs. The book describes an idealised commander who is then compared to Hitler. The commander is noble, wise, against the war in the East and free of any guilt. Hitler alone is responsible for the evil committed; his complete immorality is contrasted with the moral behaviour of the commander who has done no wrong. [72]

Halder's myth-making was not concentrated solely on absolving himself and the German army from war crimes; he also created two strategic and operational myths. The first is that Hitler alone was responsible for the military blunders during the invasion of the Soviet Union. Hitler demonstrated on numerous occasions he was too susceptible to the psychological pressure applied by self-centred individuals like Halder, Hermann Göring and Heinz Guderian. They were more interested in furthering their own interests than that of the war effort. The second myth is that the blitzkrieg campaign he so strongly advocated would have resulted in the capture of Moscow and won the war for Germany. He had misunderstood the limitations of blitzkrieg inside cities, German tanks would have been quickly neutralised by Soviet close-quarter anti-tank weapons had they entered Moscow without infantry support. Infantry, however, had to walk hundreds of miles to the front line. Guderian remarked that "street fighting was outside the operational capabilities of tanks". [73]

Ronald Smelser and Edward J. Davies writing in The Myth of the Eastern Front said "Franz Halder embodies better than any other high German officer the dramatic difference between myth and reality as it emerged after World War II". [53]


Halder's work with the Historical Commission drew to a close at the end of the 1950s, and he received praise from The Pentagon. Rear Admiral Walter Ansel who had had worked with Halder while researching Operation Sealion, the planned Invasion of England, recommended he become an associate of the US Naval Institute. In 1961 he was awarded the "Meritorious Civilian Service Award" for this work. Halder became the only German to be decorated by both Adolf Hitler and an American President. [74] During the 1960s, he became akin to a historical icon. [75] Halder died in 1972 in Aschau im Chiemgau, Bavaria. The praise he received was in stark contrast to the reality of his actual military career—in particular, the atrocities on the Eastern Front. [53]


Related Research Articles

Operation Barbarossa 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union during the Second World War

Operation Barbarossa was the code name for the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, which started on Sunday, 22 June 1941, during World War II. The operation stemmed from Nazi Germany's ideological aim of conquering the western Soviet Union so that it could be repopulated by Germans, and to also use some Slavs as a slave labour force for the Axis war effort and to annihilate the rest according to Generalplan Ost, and to acquire the oil reserves of the Caucasus and the agricultural resources of Soviet territories.

Wilhelm Keitel German Field Marshal and chief of the Wehrmacht high command

Wilhelm Bodewin Johann Gustav Keitel was a German field marshal who served as Chief of the Armed Forces High Command in Nazi Germany during World War II. Keitel was well known and reviled as Hitler’s dependable sycophant and habitual "yes-man" among his military colleagues.

Erich von Manstein Field Marshal of Nazi Germany

Fritz Erich Georg Eduard von Manstein was a German commander of the Wehrmacht, Nazi Germany's armed forces during the Second World War. He attained the rank of field marshal.

Heinz Guderian WW2 German general favoring blizkrieg

Heinz Wilhelm Guderian was a German general during World War II. An early pioneer and advocate of the "Blitzkrieg" doctrine, he became chief of staff to the Inspectorate of Motorized Troops under Oswald Lutz in 1931.

Hermann Hoth German military commander

Hermann Hoth was a German army commander and war criminal during World War II. He fought in the Battle of France and as a panzer commander on the Eastern Front. Hoth commanded the 3rd Panzer Group during Operation Barbarossa in 1941, and the 4th Panzer Army during the Wehrmacht's 1942 summer offensive.

Georg von Küchler German military officer

Georg Carl Wilhelm Friedrich von Küchler was a German Field Marshal and war criminal during World War II. He commanded the 18th Army and Army Group North during the Soviet-German war of 1941–1945.

Commissar Order German order instructing frontline troops to murder Soviet political commissars

The Commissar Order was an order issued by the German High Command (OKW) on 6 June 1941 before Operation Barbarossa. Its official name was Guidelines for the Treatment of Political Commissars. It instructed the Wehrmacht that any Soviet political commissar identified among captured troops be summarily executed as a purported enforcer of the "Judeo-Bolshevism" ideology in military forces. It is one of a series of criminal orders issued by the leadership.

Günther von Kluge German general

Günther Adolf Ferdinand von Kluge, also known as Hans Günther von Kluge, was a German field marshal during World War II who held commands on both the Eastern and Western Fronts. He commanded the 4th Army of the Wehrmacht during the invasion of Poland in 1939 and the Battle of France in 1940, earning a promotion to Generalfeldmarschall. Kluge went on to command the 4th Army in Operation Barbarossa and the Battle for Moscow in 1941.

Friedrich von Mellenthin German general

Friedrich von Mellenthin was a German general during World War II. A participant in most of the major campaigns of the war, he became known afterwards for his memoirs Panzer Battles, first published in 1956 and reprinted several times since then.

Erich Hoepner German general

Erich Hoepner was a German general during World War II. An early proponent of mechanisation and armoured warfare, he was a Wehrmacht army corps commander at the beginning of the war, leading his troops during the invasion of Poland and the Battle of France.

<i>Panzer Battles</i> book by Friedrich von Mellenthin

Panzer Battles is the English language title of Friedrich von Mellenthin's memoirs of his service as a staff officer in the Panzerwaffe of the German Army during World War II. Panzer Battles was part of the exculpatory memoirs genre that fed the post-war revisionist narrative, put forth by Wehrmacht generals. The book was instrumental in forming the misconceptions of the U.S. view of Eastern Front military operations up to the mid-to-late 1990s, when Soviet archival sources became available to Western and Russian historians.

The 4th Panzer Army was a German panzer formation during World War II. As a key armoured component of the Wehrmacht, the army took part in the crucial battles of the German-Soviet war of 1941–45, including Operation Barbarossa, the Battle of Moscow, the Battle of Stalingrad, the Battle of Kursk, and the 1943 Battle of Kiev.

War crimes of the Wehrmacht crimes carried out by the German armed forces during World War II

During World War II, the Germans' combined armed forces committed systematic war crimes, including massacres, mass rape, looting, the exploitation of forced labor, the murder of three million Soviet prisoners of war, and participated in the extermination of Jews. While the Nazi Party's own SS forces of Nazi Germany was the organization most responsible for the genocidal killing of the Holocaust, the regular armed forces represented by the Wehrmacht committed war crimes of their own, particularly on the Eastern Front in the war against the Soviet Union.

Paul Carell was a German propagandist who was the chief press spokesman for Joachim von Ribbentrop's Foreign Ministry during the Nazi era. In this capacity during World War II, he maintained close ties with the Wehrmacht, while he served in the Allgemeine-SS. One of his specialities was the "Jewish question". After the war, Carell became a successful author, although critics claim that his books romanticized and whitewashed the Wehrmacht.

<i>Lost Victories</i>

Verlorene Siege is the personal narrative of Erich von Manstein, a German field marshal during World War II. The book was first published in West Germany in 1955, then in Spain in 1956. Its English translation was published in 1958 for distribution in the UK and the US.

Myth of the clean Wehrmacht post World War II myth

The myth of the clean Wehrmacht is the false notion that the German armed forces were not involved in The Holocaust or other war crimes during World War II. The myth denies the culpability of the German military command in the planning and preparation of war crimes. Even where the perpetration of war crimes and the waging of a war of extermination, particularly in the Soviet Union—where the Nazis viewed the population as "subhumans" ruled by "Jewish Bolshevik" conspirators—has been acknowledged, they are ascribed to the "Party soldiers", the Schutzstaffel (SS), and not the regular German military.

<i>The Myth of the Eastern Front</i> book by Ronald Smelser

The Myth of the Eastern Front: The Nazi-Soviet War in American Popular Culture is a 2008 book by the American historians Ronald Smelser and Edward J. Davies of the University of Utah. It discusses perceptions of the Eastern Front of World War II in the United States in the context of historical revisionism. The book traces the foundation of the post-war myth of the clean Wehrmacht, its support by U.S. military officials, and the impact of Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS mythology on American popular culture, up to the time of its publication.

Ernst Klink was a German military historian who specialised in Nazi Germany and World War II. He was a long-term employee at the Military History Research Office (MGFA). As a contributor to the seminal work Germany and the Second World War from MGFA, Klink was the first to identify the independent planning by the German Army High Command for Operation Barbarossa.

Felix Römer is a German historian who specialises in the history of World War II. He has conducted pioneering research into the implementation of the Commissar Order by combat formations of the Wehrmacht and the attitudes of German soldiers based on the surreptitiously recorded conversations of prisoners of war held in Fort Hunt, Virginia, United States.

The 285th Security Division was a rear-security division in the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany. The unit was deployed in German-occupied areas of the Soviet Union, in the Army Group North Rear Area.


  1. Megargee, Geoffrey P. (2007) [2006]. "The Roots of the War of Annihilation". War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front, 1941. Total War: New Perspectives on World War II. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 13. ISBN   9780742544826 . Retrieved 9 September 2019. [...] many Polish troops and armed civilians were certain to wind up behind the German front lines. [...] The Germans' approach to solving this problem, to which the idea of total war lent a kind of intellectual justification, was to counter any resistance with the utmost brutality, in the belief that they could cow the population into passivity and even, perhaps, collaboration. In line with that approach, on July 24, 1939, General Wagner, now the army's quartermaster general, issued a set of special regulations that authorized German troops to take and execute hostages in the event of attacks by snipers or irregulars. In some regions German forces were also to detain all Polish males - Jewish and gentile - between the ages of seventeen and forty-five as prisoners of war, whether found armed or not. And because front-line combat troops were in high demand, the army's leaders quickly decided to use SS and police units to augment their own forces for security tasks. Halder informed his subordinates on the general staff of such plans as early as April [1939], and the SS began putting together its preparations in early May.
  2. 1 2 3 4 LeMo 2019.
  3. 1 2 Müller 2015, p. 96.
  4. Megargee 2006, p. 13.
  5. Rossino 2003, pp. 22,116,176.
  6. 1 2 Smelser & Davies 2008, p. 58.
  7. Wheeler-Bennett 1967, p. 471.
  8. Wheeler-Bennett 1967, pp. 470–472.
  9. Wheeler-Bennett 1967, pp. 471–472.
  10. 1 2 Wheeler-Bennett 1967, p. 474.
  11. Smelser & Davies 2008, p. 62.
  12. Lemay 2011, p. 221..
  13. 1 2 Stahel 2009, p. 147.
  14. Stahel 2009, p. 144.
  15. 1 2 Stahel 2009, p. 146.
  16. 1 2 Bellamy 2007, p. 27.
  17. 1 2 Stahel 2009, p. 101.
  18. Smelser & Davies 2008, pp. 60–61.
  19. Smelser & Davies 2008, p. 60.
  20. 1 2 3 Stahel 2015, p. 25.
  21. Stahel 2015, p. 28.
  22. Stahel 2015, pp. 25–26.
  23. 1 2 Stahel 2009, p. 102.
  24. Stahel 2009, p. 196.
  25. Stahel 2009, p. 197.
  26. Stahel 2009, p. 387.
  27. 1 2 Stahel 2009, p. 388.
  28. Stahel 2009, p. 396.
  29. 1 2 Stahel 2015, p. 17.
  30. Stahel 2015, p. 21.
  31. 1 2 Stahel 2015, p. 117.
  32. 1 2 3 Stahel 2015, p. 24.
  33. Stahel 2015, p. 308.
  34. Stahel 2015, p. 309.
  35. Wheeler-Bennett 1967, p. 525.
  36. Stahel 2009, p. 446.
  37. Fugate 1984, p. 315.
  38. Stahel 2009, p. 448.
  39. Stahel 2015, p. 20.
  40. Citino 2007, p. 9.
  41. Citino 2007, pp. 9–11, 86.
  42. Citino 2007, pp. 156–157.
  43. Citino 2007, p. 172.
  44. Citino 2007, p. 173.
  45. Citino 2007, pp. 176,180.
  46. Citino 2007, p. 238.
  47. Stahel 2013, p. 306.
  48. Smelser & Davies 2008, pp. 62–63.
  49. Hartmann 2009.
  50. Wette 2006, p. 94.
  51. Wette 2006, p. 103.
  52. Wette 2006, pp. 95–96.
  53. 1 2 3 Smelser & Davies 2008, p. 63.
  54. 1 2 Smelser & Davies 2008, p. 64–65.
  55. 1 2 Smelser & Davies 2008, p. 65.
  56. 1 2 Smelser & Davies 2008, p. 56.
  57. 1 2 Hebert 2010, p. 99–101.
  58. 1 2 Wette 2006, pp. 206–207.
  59. Smelser & Davies 2008, p. 64.
  60. Smelser & Davies 2008, p. 56,65.
  61. 1 2 Smelser & Davies 2008, p. 67.
  62. Wette 2006, p. 230.
  63. 1 2 Wette 2006, p. 231.
  64. 1 2 Smelser & Davies 2008, p. 66.
  65. 1 2 Wette 2006, p. 232.
  66. Wette 2006, pp. 232–233.
  67. Wette 2006, p. 229.
  68. 1 2 Smelser & Davies 2008, p. 57.
  69. Smelser & Davies 2008, p. 59.
  70. Smelser & Davies 2008, p. 66–67.
  71. Smelser & Davies 2008, p. 71.
  72. Smelser & Davies 2008, pp. 56–57.
  73. Fugate 1984, pp. 310–312.
  74. 1 2 Smelser & Davies 2008, p. 72.
  75. Smelser & Davies 2008, p. 73.
  76. Scherzer 2007, p. 362.


Further reading