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Heinrich Alfred Hermann Walther von Brauchitsch (October 4, 1881 - October 18, 1948) was an aristocratic German General and the Commander-in-Chief of the Heer (German Army) in the early years of World War II.
Von Brauchitsch was born in Berlin as the fifth son of his cavalry general father. He attended Berlin's best school, the Franzosisches Gymnasium. Von Brauchitsch was commissioned in the Prussian Guard in 1900. By World War I, he was an officer on the General Staff.
When Adolf Hitler came to power and began to expand the military, von Brauchitsch was named Chief of the East Prussian Military District. His specialty was artillery. In 1937, he became commander of the Fourth Army Group. Even though he was personally opposed to Nazism in many ways, he became largely reliant on Hitler, and was forced to borrow 80,000 Reichmarks from him in order to divorce and re-marry. In February, 1938, in the middle of the Munich Crisis, he divorced his fabulously wealthy first wife of 28 years, Elizabeth von Karstedt, who owned 300,000 Pomeranian acres to marry Charlotte Schmidt, the beautiful young daughter of a Silesian judge. Charlotte was an avid admirer of the Nazis and Hitler set aside his usual anti-divorce sentiments and encouraged the marriage. Von Brauchitsch replaced General Werner von Fritsch as Commander-in-Chief of the German Army after the latter's dismissal on false charges of homosexuality in 1938.
Von Brauchitsch resented the growing power of the SS, believing that they were attempting to replace the Wehrmacht as the official German armed forces. He had disagreements with Erich Koch, the Gauleiter of East Prussia, and Adolf Hitler had to resolve the dispute between the two.
Like General Ludwig Beck, von Brauchitsch opposed Hitler's annexation of Austria (the Anschluss) and Czechoslovakia (see Fall Grün), although he did not resist Hitler's plans for war and took no action when Beck asked him to persuade the whole General Staff to resign, if Hitler proceeded in his invasion of Czechoslovakia.
In September 1938, a group of officers began plotting against Hitler and repeatedly tried to persuade von Brauchitsch, as Commander-in-Chief of the Army, to lead the anticipated coup, but the only assurance he gave them was: "I myself won't do anything, but I won't stop anyone else from acting." After the collapse of the 1938 coup attempt, von Brauchitsch ignored all further appeals from Beck and the other plotters to use the army to overthrow Hitler before Germany was plunged into world war.
In November 1939, prodded by Chief of the Army General Staff Franz Halder and the conspirators, von Brauchitsch sought an audience with Hitler to persuade him that Germany could never win a protracted general European war and to beseech him to abandon his plans for conquest. Hitler flew into a rage and submitted the Commander-in-Chief to a tirade of insults and abuse. Halder was horrified to see von Brauchitsch emerge from the meeting "chalk white with fear." Hitler then called a meeting of the General Staff to declare that he would smash the West within a year. He also vowed to "destroy the spirit of Zossen" - a threat that panicked Halder to such an extent that he forced the conspirators to abort their second planned coup attempt.
Second World War
Von Brauchitsch was made a field marshal in 1940 and was key in Hitler's "blitzkrieg" war against the West, making modifications to the original plan to overrun France. He failed, however, to take Moscow in the war against the Soviet Union, earning Hitler's enmity. Things went further downhill for von Brauchitsch as he endured a serious heart attack, and Hitler relieved him on December 19, 1941. Hitler's most recent biographer, Ian Kershaw, described von Brauchitsch as "gutless" and "spineless."
After the war, von Brauchitsch was arrested and charged with war crimes, but died in Hamburg in 1948 before he could be prosecuted.
Von Brauchitsch was the uncle of the 1930s Mercedes-Benz "Silver Arrow" Grand Prix driver Manfred von Brauchitsch. Von Brauchitsch was a strong admirer of Field Marshal von Moltke and used to linger in his former office that was made into a museum at a later date.
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