World War II was the greates military struggle in human history. Millions of people from every importnt county were involved in the struggle. HBC has prepared several biographies of some of the main political and military figures involved in the War. The biographies here just scratch the suyrface as t the important individuals involved in the struggle. We plan to add additional biographies and encourafe readers to submit biogrphies of individuals they believe to have played important roles.
Many of these biographies, however, are just at the beginning phase. As the focus of HBC is on childhood, we will give some attention to their childhood in addition to providing information on their adult lives as well for the historical background.
Erhard Raus (1889–1956) was an Austrian-born Generaloberst (Colonel General) in the German Wehrmacht. Generaloberst is the second highest general officer rank, comparable to four-star generals in the U.S. Army. He was one of the many hard-chargeing German commanders. There were so many highly competent German commanders that many are not well known. Huge attention is given to Rommel, but in fact his standardard of command was widespread in the Wehermacht in contrast to the French and British armies at the onset of the war. He commanded the 6th Panzer Division during Barbarossa. He played a major role in Army Group North in the Baltics. He subsequently was involved in most of the major battles in the East as an Army and Army Group commander. Like many German commanders, after the War, he complained of Hitler's constant interference in military tactics. Raus was one of three Austrians who rose to the rank of Colonel General within the German Wehrmacht. The other two were Alexander Löhr and Lothar Rendulic. He was not charged with war crimes after the War.
Hanna Reitsch was one of the two best known women in NAZI Germany. She stands out today because of her military role as a daring test pilot. Iroically the best known woman today, Hitler's mistress Eva Braun, was unknown to the German people. The other well-known woman was film maker Leni Riefenstahl. That was not that unusual as there were many women involved in theatricals. Military matters was a very different thing. The limited role of women of course was not just a NAZI cultural characteristic. Where the NAZIs differed from the rest of the world, is that they adopted polices, such as limiting female university admissions, designed to reverse the progress that German women had made. She was born into an upper-middle-class family in Hirschberg, Silesia (1912). She no doubt was a challenge to her conservative father. And from an early age not yet understanding the societal roles expected of girls, she became enamored with flying. As a girl her intense, determined personality was apparent. At age 4 years she attempted to jump off the balcony of her home to experience flying. She explained in her autobiography, "The longing grew in me, grew with every bird I saw go flying across the azure summer sky, with every cloud that sailed past me on the wind, till it turned to a deep, insistent homesickness, a yearning that went with me everywhere and could never be stilled." [Reitsch] She was also a fervent German patriot. She virtually worshiped Hitler and was a strong devotee of NAZI ideology. She became a famous stunt pilot before Hitler and the NAZIs seized power. Reitsch was similar in many ways to American female aviator Amelia Erhart, at least until Reitsch got involved with politics. And as a result she became a Luftwaffe test pilot--as far as we know the only World War II test pilot from any country. She was the only German woman to win the Iron Cross (first and second class). She made a spectacular flight into Berlin at the end of the war, just before Hitler committed suiside. She spent 3 days in the Führerbunker with him. She flew out the last Luftwaffe commandr just appointed by Hitler, Gen. Robert Ritter von Greim. A new commander was needed after Hitler charged Göring with trason and ordered him arrested. Hitler gave Greim the absurd order of launching a major bombing offensive against the Red Army.
Joachim von Ribbentrop was a successful businessman. Friends intifuced him to Hitler as a businessman with foreign connections who 'gets the same price for German champagne as others get for French champagne' (1928). Ribbentrop was a well-travelled businessman with some knowledge of foreign countries, at least more than most senior NAZIs. He and his wife joined the Party (1932). He presented himself as an authority on world affairs. Ribbentrop offered his home for the secret meetings that resulted in Hitler's appointment as Chancellor (1933). He became a close confidant of the Führer, largely because he accepted Hitler's views rather than offering any insightful advise. He was not popular with other top NAZIS who saw him as superficial and lacking any real competence. Hitler, however, liked him which is what was important. Hitler appointed him to the key diplomatic post--Ambassador to the Court of St James's meaning Britain (1936).
Ribbentrop was an umittigated disaster, totaly failing to understand British society. In fairness, even a competent diplomat, given Hitler's policies, could not have suceeded in London. But Ribbentrop was not compent. His only real qualification was that he was a loyal NAZI. He gave the NAZI salute to King George V at a royal receotion. He was lampooned by the Bitish press. For his part he developed an intense dislike for the Btitish. Hitler seems to have approved of his performance in Britain and appointed him Fireign Minister (1938), replacing seasoned diplomat, but not ardent NAZI Konstantin von Neurath. As in many other instances, that was what was important to Hitler. Ribbentrop as foreign minister played key roles in negotiating the Pact of Steel with Italy (1939), the NAZI-Soviet Non-Agression Pact (1939), and Japan adheence to the Axis (1940). Once the War began, Ribbentrop lost influence. Hitler no longer needed diplomats. The future would be settled in the battlefield. His war time role is, however, interesting. Having spent time in America, he insisted that he was an expert on the United Sttes and assured Hitler that America was not a serious military threat. He argued against attacking the Soviet Union. He encouraged Japan to attack the United States. Hitler found Ribbentrop increasingly tiresome and avoided him, in part because he had been right about Russia and failed to get Japan to attack the Soviets. Ribben trop who was not an anti-Semmite (bsed on his pre-NAZI behvior, participated in the Holocaust, applying pressure on Gernan allies to deport Jews to NAZI death camps.
Erwin Rommel's father was a school principal. Erwin was interested in Zephlins. He insisted that Erwin attend a cadet school to prepare for the military. Rommel hada love affair as a young officer and a dughter was born. Rommel refused to marry her because of the impact on his career. During World War I there were many promotions and decorations. He preformed galantly in Italy and was awatded the "Pour de merit", the Blue Max, the highest Germany military decoration. After the War, Rommel managed to stay in the Army which was severly limited by the Versailles Treaty. Military officers were not allowed to paticipate in politics, but were generally very conservative. After Hitler seized power, enormous resources were directed to the military. Many like Rommel felt that it now meant something to be a German officer. Hitler courted the Army. After the SA was suppressed by the SS with Army assistance in the Night of the Long Knves, German soldiers, includng Rommel, were required to take a personal oath to support Hitler (1934). Rommel was impressed by the apparent NAZI success in revitalizing Germany in the 1930s and the massive remilitarization effort. Rommel like many Germans looked on the anti-Semetic campaign as a negative thing, but thougt it was outweighed by the positive accomplishments of the regime. Officers like Rommel were enthused with the resources and new weapons. Rommel became a lecturer in tactical warfare. He wrote a best-selling book. He was appointed commander of the military academy. Rommel was made commander of Hitler's military headquarters (1939). He clearly had no insight into Hitler's thinking at this time. He told his wife, "As long as my generation who experienced the World War, you can be sure there will not be another war." [S. Rommel] Rommel was responsibe for Hitler's security during the invasion of Poland. He was impressed with Hitler and described his "clarity in his treatment of problems". He seems to have revered Hitler and Hitler for his part admired Rommel. Although an infantry officer, Rommel was given a tank division in the Western offensive (1940). His became known as the Ghost Division because it moved so rapidly west. After the fall of France, Italy launched an attack on Egypt from their Libyan colony (September 1940). The Italians force which had no heavy tanks bogged down 60 miles into Egypt. The British launched a counter-offensive (December 1940) and in 8 weeks had decimated the Italians. Hitler chooses Rommel to lead a small force to assist the Italians. He described Rommel as the most daring tank general in the Wehrmacht. Rommel drspacted from occupied France. Hitler's focus was on the coming Russian canpaign. Rommel's orders were only to stop the British. Rommel's competance and NAZI propaganda made him a legend. The Desert War sea-sawed back and forth until Rommel was finally stopped at El Alemain (July 1942). Now it became a matter of logisics. North Africa had always been a secondary theater, but much of the tanks, fuel, and supplies were sunk by thge British. British code breakers by 1942 were receiving details on the German-Italian convoys wgich were devestated by British submaries and air patrols. Vast quantiies of supplies from america, however, were reaching the 8th Army. Montgomery's offensive at El Alemain was protracted, but the German and Italian forces were gradually worn down (October 1942). Hitler refused to allow Rommel to withdraw. Rommel hesitated, but unlike Field Marshall Paulis at Stalingrad, Rommel ignored the orders and did withdraw, saving the Africa Corps. The German position in Africa became untenable when the Americans and British as part of Operation Torch landed in Morocco and Algeria (November 1942).
Franklin married a distant cousin, a shy young woman, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, on March 17 1905. Eleanor had had a trying childhood. Her mother, a beautiful socialite who gave her little affection, died when Eleanor was eight. Her father, Theodore Roosevelt's brother, was spirited and charming. But he was unstable and alcoholic, and he died when Eleanor was 10 years old. Orphaned, she lived with her maternal grandmother and entered her teens feeling rejected, ugly, and ill at ease in society. When Franklin, a dashing Harvard man two years her senior, paid her attention, she was flattered and receptive. Franklin was clearly serious in 1903 when he brought her to Campabello, his special space, to spend time with his mother. Elenor was the niece of President Theodore Roosevelt. They mairred in 1905. Her uncle President Theodore Roosevelt gave her away. That shy young lady was to become the greatest First Lady in American history. Without her support it is doubtful if Franklin could have even become president. Once president, it was Eleanor who traveled from one end of the country, serving as her husband's eyes and ears, championing the cause of the seak and dispossed--a towering figure in American history.
The 30th president is generally considered to be the most important American statesman of the 20th century. He led America through the two most serious crises of the century, the Great Depression and World War II. He inspired confidence and despite his patrician origins came to be loved by the least favored Americans. Thus when other countries turned to totalitarianism and dictatorship, American democractic society grew stronger.
His policies helped to give voice of the American worker through trade unions. The resulting prosperity of the American worker created the basis for the success of the American economy in the second half of the 20th Century. He was born into a wealthy family with an elderly father. He had a charmed childhood at his father's Hyde Park, New York estate. He was a cousin of President Theodore Roosevelt, whose niece he mairred in 1905. FDR saw the dangers from Hitler and the NAZIs from an eraly point, but was limited by the isolationist attitudes of many Americans. His efforts to increase defense spending and to support Britain even before America entered the War was critical in Britain's survival after the fall of France in 1940.
Dr. Ludwig Roselius was a wealthy coffee merchant who figure out to decafinate coffee. He took an interest in aviation and became a share holder and chairman in Folk Wolfe. He was an early supporter of Hitler, but had time getting into the Party because of all things his artisuc tastes. And if that was not bad enough, he came up with a theory that there was an lower Aryan race based in Germany as opposed to the Nordics. He had heated arguments with Hitler on the subject. This all is significant because although Folk-Wolfe developed the iconic FW-190 and saved Germany's hide for a time because Messerschmidt who had a good relatonship with Hitler failed to come up with a sucessful replacenent to the aging Me-109. Roselius married a young bombshell academic, Barbara Goette, who helped wean him away from NAZIism. They were involved in an attempt to kill Hitler aboad the Führer's personalized FW-200 Condor. One account has it that Hitler personally straggled him, but we can not yet confirm that.
Hans-Ulrich Rudel was the son of a Lutheren minister. He was not much of a student as a boy, but he was a keen sportsman. He became Germany's the ace Stuka dive-bomber pilot, tge king of close air support. He was the most decorated pilot of the War. An historian writing about World War II aces tells us " ... Rudel was the only recipient of th Knights Cross of the Iron Cross with Goldren Oak leves, swords and Dianonds. Flying Stukas and Folke-Wulf 190s, Rudl survived an astonishinh 2,530 missiins while destroying 519 tanks. , four trains, a battleship, to cruisers and a destroyer. He accounted for 800 miscelaneous vehicles and over 150 artillery pices. During all this he was shot dowb, or forced down, on over 39 missiins and wounded five times. [Hampton] Given the vulnervility of the Stuka, it was amazing tht he survived the War. But the Stukwas a deadly wapon as long a the Germans had air superiority.
Ernst Sauckel was born Hassfurt, Germany (October 27, 1894). Sauckel served as a seaman during World War I. His ship was captured by the British and he spent the remainder of the War as a prisoner in France. After the War he was an early recruit to the Nazi Party (1923). He became leading figure in Lower Franconia. Hitler appointed him gauleiter of Thuringia (1927). After the NAZIs seized power (1933), he served as minister of the interior (police) and commissioner of Thiuringia. The Red Army Winter offensive before Moscow (Decembr 1941) did terrible damage to the Luftwaffe wih loses of men and material. To pursue the War, the Germans has to concerip more German workers for front-line service. To keep the factories going, Germany had to turn to foreign labor. Hitler appointed Sauckel Chief Commissioner for the Utilization of Manpower. He recruitd foreign labor, but also set in motion massive forced/slave labor prigrams (1942-45). He would work closely with Armaments Minister Albert Speer. He traveled extenively throughout NAZI-occupied Europe obtain slave labor bfor the NAZI war economy. He ruthlessly exploited the population of occupied countries. After the War he was arrested anc brought to trial at Nürnberg before the International Military Tribunal along with other major Nazi leaders. He was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and was sentenced to death. Sauckel was described as being in charge of a program involving the deportation for slave labour of some5 million people under cruel, inhumane conditions.
Max Schmeling was one of the best known boxers of the 1930s. Max was born in Klein-Luckow , a small town in the norther German state of Brandenburg (1905). His father with the same name was a helmsman (boat pilot). His mother was Amanda (nee Fuchs). The couple moved to Hamburg, Germany's principal port. Max as a teenager after World War I became interested in boxing after seeing a movie. He began training as a boxer. He won both amateur and professional light-heavyweight boxing titles (1924). He became a sensation in Germany and moved to Berlin (1926). As he developed and gaimed weight he began fighting in heavier divisions. He won the German heavyweight division (1928). He is best known today for his two matches with famed American boxer Joe Louis (1936 and 38). The fights in America were billed as a fight between America and the NAZIs. Goebbels propaganda machine played up both the national and racial aspects of the fights. Important NAZIs were often pictured with because of his popularity in Germany. Boxing also fit in with the NAZI mindset. Boxing was strongly promoted in the Hitler Youth. Actually, Schmeling was not a NAZI and refused to join the Party. The NAZIs dropped him after he lost the rematch with Louis. Schmeling showed bravery both in and outside the ring. He protected Jews during Kristallnacht (1938). He was drafted during World War and served in a combat unit.
Otto Skorzeny led a small German paratrooop unit used gliders to free Mussolini from the Gran Sasso mountain top in the Abruzzi Mountains during the Badoglio putsch in 1943. It was a daring operation conducted by SS Major General worthwhile to make a Hollywood movie about it, inconceivable of course, because that would glorify the NAZIs. He did it with 90
soldiers who used gliders. The Italian garison of 250 men, who were guarding Mussolini, were taken by surprise and surrendered within minutes. One year later Skorzeny was ordered to kidnap the Hungarian Regent Admiral Horthy who was planning to negotiate an armistice with the Russians. This was to doom the Hungarian Jews. He also brought this to a successful conclusion for Hitler. In 1944-45, during the Ardennes offensive, he commanded a special brigade of 2000 English-speaking Germans disguised as American soldiers to cause chaos behind the Allied lines. Skorzeny died in Madrid in 1975. He was one of those fanatic Austrian NAZIs of Czech or Hungarian descent, like SS Obergruppenfuehrer Odilo Globocnik who was largely in charge of the extermination of Polish Jews, and SS Major Dieter Wisliceny , the man responsible for the mass deportation and murder of Jews from Slovakia, Hungary and Greece. Skorzeny was tried as a war criminal after his capture by American forces (May 15 1945). An American tribunal acquitted him on Sept.9 1947 of
illegal practices during the Ardennes offensive, after a British officer testified that he had done nothing which his Allied counterparts had not themselves planned or attempted to carry out. After his release Skorzeny was
re-arrested by German authorities, but he escaped from an internment camp in 1948 and then founded a clandestine organization, called Odessa, to help ex-SS members to flee to Argentina and Spain. In 1951 Skorzeny opened a business agency in Madrid under the protection of the Franco regime and was involved in promoting business between German companies and the Spanish government. He organized escape routes for wanted Nazi criminals and was able to buy valid Spanish passports in bulk , arrange for funds, set up travel plans and provide cover stories. In the 60s he bought a farm in Ireland where he bred horses and spent the summer months. [Wistrich]
Albert Speer joined the National Socialist party (1931). Hitler considered himself as both an artist and architect. He chose Albert Speer (1905-81), at the time an unknown young architect, to design a monumental stage setting for the Party Rallies. Speer worked with Ludwig Ruff. Hitler was pleased with what they produced. As a result, of this initial colaboration, Speer went on to become one of the most inflential of the top NAZIs. Hitler as the War began to go against Germany made Speer Minister of Armaments (1942) and then authority to rationalize the German war economy (1943). Having taken on the Soviet Union and America while still at war with Britain, there was no way that Germany could match the material output of its adversaries. Speer did make needed changes that allowed Germany to increase production and maintain it untill late-1944 despite battlefield defeats and the massuve Allied strategic bombing campaign. By this time of the War, German production was increasingly dependent of forced and slave-labor. This mean that Speer became personally involved with slave labor, something he managed to hide after the War at the Nuremberg Trials. The Nuremberg Tribunal sentenced him to 20 years in Spandau prison by the Nuremberg tribunal. After serving his sentence, he published the autobiographical Inside the Third Reich (1970) and Spandau: The Secret Diaries (1976).
Achille Starace was a prominent Italian Fascist leader, primarily before World War II. He was born in Sannicola, the son of a wine and oil merchant. He earned a degree in accounting. He enlisted in the Regio Esercito (Italian Royal Army) (1909), becoming a Sottotenente (Second Lieutenant) of the Bersaglieriélite (sharpshooters), an elte unit (1912). From an eraly point, he was a strong believer in war and made a name for himself when he alone attacked pacifist demonstrators in Milan protesting the ourbreak of World War I (1914). He served in the war and was highly decorated. Starace after the War moved to Trento and soon became involved in the growing Fascist movement. He was attracted by the ultra nationalism of Fascism. He joined the Fascist movement (1920) and quickly became the local Party secretary. He soon came to the attention of Benito Mussolini, who appointed Starace in charge of the Fascist organization in Venezia Tridentina, begining his rise to prominance in the Party. Mussolini qyuickly made him Vice-Secretary of the Partito Nazionale Fascista (National Fascist Party--PNF). Starace participated in the (Marcia su Roma (March on Rome) at the head of a (squadristisquadron) of Blackshirts at the time was essentilly an unorganized uniformed mob. The March was a key step in Mussolini's rise to power. Starace from the beginning ideolized Mussolini and was an unquestioning devote. Mussolini then made Starce a member of the PNF Executive Committee. Next after Starace after resigning as PNF Vice-Secretary, Mussolini gave him command of the Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale (National Security Volunteer Militia--MVSN) in Trieste. This was an effort to organize the Blackshirts, the PNF's part militi, anagous to the subsequent NAZI Brown Shirts or Stormtoopers (SA). Starace as a Fascist candidate was elected to the Italian Chamber of Deputies (1924) and made National Party Inspector. He was appointed PNF Vice-Secretary for the second time (1926) and then Secretary of the important PNF Milan branch. Finally Mussoli chose him as PNF Party Secretary 1931). Here Mussolini was not impressed with Starace's competence, describing Starace as "Un cretino, si, ma un cretino obeddente" (a jerk indeed but an obedient one). He served as PNF Secretary for most of the decade, except for a brief sint with the army in Ethiopia (1935). As Party Secretary he came to lapooned as a bafoon. There are numerous stories such as showing up late for a prestios medical symposium to deliver the key note address and explainin he was busy horse back riding. When the doctors involved criticized him, he told them to drop their books and do more gymnsstics. Starace successfully in increased PNF membership. His forte was pagentry. Starace staged huge parades and marches to homor Mussolini, proposed Anti-Semitic measires, and attempted to build Mussolini's cult of personality. Apparently all this plwased Mussolini until the spectaculr rize of the NAZIs in Germany. Eventually Mussolini began to see him as a failure. He failed to make the Opera Nazionale Balilla (Italian Fascist Youth Organization) any where near the success of the NAZI Hitler Youth movement. Nor did he genrate a national enthusiasm for Fascism remotely similar to whay Hiler achieved for the NAZIs in Germany. Mussoline finally dimissed him as PNF Secretary in favor of the popular Ettore Muti. Missolini made him Chief of Staff of the Blackshirts, but then dismissed him for incompetence (1941). After the Allied invasion, he was arrested by both the Badoglio Governent and his former Fascist colleagues who concluded that his incompetence had hurt the Party. He tried to join Mussolini's puppet Italian Social Republic of Salò, but Mussolini would have him. Finally Partisans in Milan spotted him while he was jogging. They dragged him to Piazzale Loreto where they had strug up his idol. They shot him and strig him up by Mussolini. Orbace was a special sort of raw wool cloth made in Sardegna that Starace had made compulsory for fascist party official's uniforms,as part of the fascist autarky policy, and is said to have been very itchy. Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini's son in law and foreign affairs minister (later shot after the infamous Verona kangaroo court trial) wrote in his diary: "The Italians are people that may pardon anybody who treated them wrong...but they won't pardon somebody who has been breaking their...boxes (polite substitute for... balls)". >
Joseph Stalin is undeniably one of the most important figures of the 20th century. His impact on the devolopment of the Soviet state and society and the international Communist movement was immense. After the death of Lenin in 1924, Stalin moved to seize abosolute control of the Soviet state which he accomploshed by 1929. He then created apolice state which he ruled absolutely with terror and a bast metwork of slave labor camps. His policies included coloetivization and an enginered famine in the Okraine resulting in the deaths of milliobs. He had to face the rise of Fascism in Europe. At first he oppsed the Fasists, but in 1939 he decided to make common purpose with them. He approved a Non-Agression Pact in 1939 that allowed him to seize terrotory from neighboring sates, incliding the Baltic Republis in their entirity. This policy ended with the invasion by NAZI Germany in 1941. He joined in a miliatary alliance with Britain and America to fight Germany. After the War, a Cold War resulted from his decission to install Connuist police states in the countriesliberated by the Red Army. Stalin is also one of the most evil figures in world history and was directly and indirectly responsible for the deaths of millions in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, a death toll even exceeding that of Adolf Hitler. Even so, the Russian people are deeply conflicted about his legacy.
Admiral Harold 'Betty' Stark was appointed Chief of Naval Opperations (August 1, 1939), one month before Hitler and Stalin launched World War I by invading Poland. The American Joint Planning Committee which would become the Joint Chiefs of Staff, devised a series of contingency plans. This process took on greater urgency with the agressions of the Japanese militarists and the NAZI seizure of power in Germany. The most elaborate was War Plan Orange which was the U.S. Navy Plan to defeat the Imprial Japanese Fleet. This was the U.S. Navy's principal concern throughout the 1930s. The starteling events which began with the NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact (August 1939) forced the United States, including the U.S. Navy to fundamentally reorient its thinking. The German conquest of Poland and then Western Europe (September 1939-June 1940). The U.S. Navy and military general, altthoufg America was still neutral, realized that America was going to have to fight a global two-front war. War Plan Orange was revised and the five 'Rainbow' plans were developed. The Rainbow plans envisioned for the first time the likely possibility that America would have to fight multiple enemies across the globe. The fundamental American war planning document was Plan Dog, a memorandum authored by Adm. Stark (1940). He set out several war options and suggested fighting a defensive war in the Pacific and concentrating on the defeat of Germany--tge Germany First Plan. It is knownn as Plan Dog because it was the fourth or 'd' option. President Roosevelt adopted it as the basic American World War strategy. The British after Pearl Harbor assumed thsat the Americans wiould focus on the Japanese and were surprised thsat that their new ally continued to be committed to Germany First. The Americans did use diversion to the Pacific as a way of presuring the British in the various war planning conferences. The American war effort did not entirely devlop this way, primsrily until D-Day, there was no way to engage the main body of the Wehrmacht in force. Admiral Stark was replsced by Adm. Ernest King as Chief of Naval Operations (1942). Admiral Strark continued to play an important role in the War. Adm. Stark was assigned to England to become Commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Europe. Admiral Stark from London directed the naval part of the great buildup in Britasin and U.S. naval operations and training activities on the European side of the Atlantic. He was also given command of Twelfth Fleet (October 1943). He oversae U.S. Naval participation in the D-Day landings (June 1944). This ended his major prticipatioin in the War. He was criticised in Comgressional investigatiins of Pearl Harbor for not adequately infoirming Adm. Kimmel, Pacific Fleet Commander, of the Japanese threat.
Claus von Stauffenberg was born in Jettingen (1907). He had a twin and an older brother. He was an excellent student. He decided on a military career and at age 19 became a cadet. The Germany Army, the Reichswehr was extremely limited because of the Versailles Peace Treaty. He went on to attended the War Academy in Berlin. He was appointed to the General Staff (1938). Germany invaded Poland, launnching World war II (September 1939). Stauffenberg was assigned to the staff of the the staff of 6th Panzer Division. Germany Generals and Hitler gave considerable effort to tanks (panzers), emphasizing speed and mobility. Poland was the world's introduction to what they could do. The turning point of the War, was Hitler's decesion to invade the Soviet Union--Operation Barbarossa (June 1941). During Barbarossa Stauffenberg was horrified by the atrocities committed by Germans, especially the Schutzstaffeinel (SS). He met other officers that shared his revulsion of SS attrocities. Especially important were Henning von Tresckow and Fabin Schlabrendorff).
He was promoted to the rank of major. He was severly wounded when his staff car ran into a mine field and was strafed by aircraft. Stauffenberg's injuries were extensive. He lost his left eye, two fingers on the left hand and his right forearm. While recovering, Stauffenberg decided to kill Adolf Hitler and overthrow the Nazi government and began conspiring with like-minded officers. The result was the July Bomb Plot (1944). He was assigned a key role.
Hyazinth Graf von Strachwitz was known as the Panzer Graf or Tank Count. He would become the most highly decorated regimental commander of the war, meaning his waards were battlefield not staff decorations. Some consider him the Whermacht's most effective Panzer commander. Only 27 men wee awarded the Knight's Cross with ol leaves, swords, and diaminds. And Von Strachwitz was the inly one to receive grades of that decoration for both bravery and command leadeship. He fought in almost all of the major campaigns from Poland (1939).at the onset of the War to Silesia at the end of the War (1945). He was involved in France, the Balkans, Babarossa, Kiev, Stalingrad, Kharkov, Kursk, and the Balkans. He served in the First Pazer Divisuon (Poland and France) and the 16th Pazer Divisionb(Barbarossa). He was credited for destroying 270 tanks at Kalach with the onset of Barbarossa. After fighting in the East for several years, he managed to get from Silesia to the West so he could surrender to the Americans (May 1945).
Lieutenant General Pavel Anatolyevich Sudoplatov (Пáвел Aнатóльевич Cудоплáтов) was born in 1907 and ws only a boy when the Revolution occurred. He was a high ranking NKVD officer and close associte of Beria. He was involved in several impttant actions, including the assassination of Leon Trotsky and the Soviet espionage program which obtained extensive information about the American Manhattan Project producing the atom bomb. He was also involvd in Operation Scherhorn, a Soviet deception operation against the Germans (1944). He was also involvd in ome of stalin's atroicities. He was almost executed with Beria after Stalin's deth. . His autobiography, Special Tasks brought him to the attention of the West. It is perhps the best and most detailed look at Soviet intelligence and Soviet internal politics during his years of aithority. He was arrested ans spent several years in Soviet prisons after Stalin's death.
Harry Truman was the 32nd President of the United States. World War II and the cold war posed challenges unprecedented in U.S. history. Truman was severly criticised by the Republicans and much underestimated by the press. In fact he is now regarded as one of the more important American presidents. He made the difficult decision to end the World War II by dropping the atomic bombs. He initiated the American effort to spread the expansion of Soviet imperialism. The immediate result was to save democratic governments in Western Europe, but this policy, followed by suceeding presidents eventually led to the collapse of Soviet communism. Truman was the first president to adopt Frederal policies to undo racial segregation in America with steps like desegregating the military--in opposition to important military leaders like General
Eisenhower. Truman's civil rights efforts are some of the most corageous of any
American president. Once among the least popular presidents, he is now classified by most historians among the greatest of the American chief execultives.
Alan Turing is regarded as one of the 100 most important induviduals of the 20th centyry. He is best known as a pioneering computer scientist and cryotologist. He was an enormously creative individual. He was a mathematician, logician, philosopher, and mathematical biologist. In addition he was a top-level and marathon and ultra distance runner. He played an important role in the development of computer science, conceiving the concepts of "algorithm" and 'computation' with what is now known as the Turing machine--basically the first model of a general purpose computer.He is widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. In addition to his academic theoretical work, Turing played a criticl role in the Ultra effort--the World War II cracking of the German military's Enigma machines. Turing worked for the Government Code and Cypher School (GCCS) at Bletchley Park, Britain's code breaking establishment. He devised techniques for breaking German ciphers, including improvements to the Polish bombe method, an electromechanical machine that could detect Enigma settinhgs. Turing oversaw the all-imprtant Hut 8, the section responsible for German naval cryptanalysis. It was the German Naval Enigma that presented the mot difficult chllenge. Turing's pivotal role in cracking Enigma saved countless lives. Ultra shortened the war, saving countless lives. Cracking the Naval Enigma not only helpe dfeat the NAZIS, but made sure the Anglo-American armies could liberate Western Europe and restrict the Soviet Red Army to Eastern and Central Europe.
Col Masanobu Tsuji ( 辻 政信 ) was born in 1901 and became extreme xenephobic Army officer in an Army known for its fanatical nationalism. During World War II he became an important tactical planner, but was never promoted to be a general officer, in part because even the Japanese military saw him as irrational. He was a leading proponent of the gekokujō (leading from below/loyal insubordination). This mean that political and military superiors that were not suffiently aggressive should be removed, often asasinated. Tsuji aggresive spirit did have one great success. He was on the staff of General Tomoyuki Yamashita and developed the succesful plans for defearting the superior British force on Malaya and Singapore (1942). In Sinapore he planned the Sook Ching, the systematic murder of ethnic Chinese. He was then transferred to the staff of General Homma in the Philippines. Other than than the Malaya campaign, his aggressive tactics led to major failures. His first failure was the offensive against the Soviets on the Manchurian-Mongolian border (1939). After that he came up with the brilliant udea of launching a war with America. After that disaster, argued against furher attacks on the Soviets and supported a new strategy of attacking America and Britain, concluding that they were soft and would not fight a long bloody war. His other major failures were Guadalcanal (1942). an unlike the rest of the Pacific War, here the Japanese held the advantage. Teo other failures were New Guinea--Kokooda Trail (1942) and Burma (1944-45). Few Japanese soldiers survived these blunders. In addition to an aggressive military spirit, Tsuji was deeply unvolved in some of the Japanese atrocities during the War, including the Batan Death March in the Philippines. He wanted to kill American prisoners and his known to have done exactly this. He not only killed some, but ate their body parts which he personally roasted. He incoraged other officers to do the same. (He was not the only Japanese offcer to do so.) After the 1945 Burma dissater he elluded trial as a war criminal by disappearing in Thialand which had been a Japanese ally. He resurfaced in Japan and suppoted hyper-nationlistic ideals and the need for remilitarization. He was elected to the Diet (1949). There is even a statue honoring his war service in Japan. He disappeared in Laos (1961).
Cpt. Frederic John 'Johnnie' Walker is one of the great naval personages of World War II. He by 1939 have goven gave up his dream of being a captain and was ready to be retired when the war broke out. Of course when the War began, the Navy needed him. He then made a name for hinself dirst at at Dunkirk (Operation Dynamo) and sinking U-boats during escort duries, at a time when there were very few such kills. He was an advocate of hunter-killer groups and developed innovative tactics. When he got a new ship and a hunter-killer command, he rang up an impressive list of U-boat kills, as far as we know, more than any other singlr commander. He was prone to playing 'A Hunting we will go' over the loud speakers. Finally he played a major role in Operation Cork, preventing the U-boats in the French Atlantic ports from getting into the Channel to attack D-Day transports.
Queen Wilhemina at the end of World War I agreed to grant sanctuary to Kaiser Wilhelm II after the War when he showed up at the Dutch border. While she kept her distance from Wilhelm, she refused demands from the Allies to extridite him. Perhaps out of loyalty to a fellow soverign, she did not want to see the former Kaiser put on trial. Despite its strict neutrality-policy, the NAZIs invaded the Netherlands (May 1940). The Dutch were surprised and quickly occupied. Queen Wilhelmina escaped to Great Britain from where she headed the Dutch Government in exile and encouraged the resistance-movements. During the brutal NAZI occupation, the Queen was a great inspiration to the Dutch people. She made inspirational radio broadcasts which the Dutch people listened to despite severe penalties imposed by the German occupaion forces. Churchill fmously described her as the 'only man among among the crowned heads of Europe." The Dutch Navy and Merchgant Marine would play a role in the War after the Duch syrrender. After the Allies drove out the Germans, Queen Wilhelmina and her children returned to a devestated country as a beloved war hero.
Karl Friedrich Otto Wolff (1900 – 84) was a high-ranking SS commander and one of Himmler's most intimate associates. He was born in Darmstadt (1984). His father was a respected district court judge, who called him 'Karele' as a boy. He had a comfortable, conventionl upbrining. The family was not religious in a largely Catholic society. Karele was educated at a Catholic school in Darmstadt. He earned the Iron Cross on the Western Front during World War I. He wanted to make the Army a career, but because of the Versailles Treaty limitations, Wolff like many oihers was decommissioned after the War. He went into business, working as a banker and launched his own buisness. He was attracted to he NAZIs by Hitler's highly nationalistic program. We see photographs of him with NAZI iluminaries and in Eva Braun's films at the Berhof.
He became Chief of Personal Staff to the Reichsführer and SS Liaison Officer to Hitler. Wolff and Heydrich at the time were the number two and three men in the SS. We see the three SS commanders being invited to the Berhof to socialize with Hitler and other top NAZIs. We note Wolff in the Ukraine with Himmler inspecting an unidentified boy for the Lenbensborn program (summer 1941). Himmler later had a falling out with Wolff, made him a Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS and shipped him off to Italy (1943). He would meet with Allen Dulles in Switzerland near the end of the War. Wolff was the top Grman commander surrendering to the Allies in Italy, reflecting the decline of the Wehrmacht (May 1945). He was a key witness as to the alleged plot to kidnap Pope Pius XII. Wolff would largely escape justice after the War as his role in the Holocaut was not fully understood, largely due to the fact that Himmler had shipped him off to Italy.
There were voices both within and without the Administration who argued against aid to the Allies, especially to Britain after the fall of France (June 1940). Few Americans fully understood what fighting the War would be like without the British. Even General Marshall opposed arms shipments and made this plain to the President. His priority was equipping the U.S. Army. He did not, however, make his objections public. The Isolationists were primarily Republicans, but there were Democrats as well. Secretary of War Harry Woodring strenuosly opposed the shipments and did made his opposition public. Woodring had served as a second lieutenant in the Tank Corps during World War I (1917-18). He entered politics and was elected Kansas governor (1931), a notable achievement in a largely Republican state. The President appointed Woodring Assistant Secretary of War (1933). He focused on procurement matters which is one reason he opposed shipping military equipment still in short supply overseas. The President turned to him to be the Secretary of War (1936). He coninued the policies of his predecessor to increase the size of the Regular Army, National Guard, and Reserve Corps. He oversaw a revision of mobilization plans to bring personnel and procurement into balance and stressed the need to perfect the initial (peacetime) protective force. He was, however, a non-interventionist. Isolationism and non-interventionist feeling was especially pronounced in the Mid-West. The President was determined to aid Britain and asked Woodring to resign (1940). Disagreeing with the Presidentwas not the issue, it was doing so publicly. Woodring provided valuable fodder to the Isolationists at a very critical point. The Isolationists after Dunkirk were spreading rumors that Britain was planning to sue for peace just like France. The President's detractors charged that if the arms crossed the Atlantic they would soon fall into the hands of the Nazis.
Japan's foremost naval commander, Isoroku Yamamoto, was an exponent of naval aviation at a time in which the Imperial Navy like the U.S. Navy was dominated by the gun club wedded to the battle ship. While still a cadet, Yamaoto had participated in the Battle of Tsuhima (1905) which decided the Russo-Japanese War. He had lost two fingers when a gun on his battleship had exploded. The battle had convinced most Japanese commanders that war were won by climatic fleet engagements and that Japan as the smaller force would have to suprise the ememy. He supported the Washington Nacal Accords which infuriated much of the Naval officer corps. He had been a naval attache in Washington, at a time that Billy Mitchell had been promoting air power. This launched his interest in air power which led to his promotion of naval aviation. But it also put him at odds with many of his colleagues that believed in big-gun battleships. Guven these two positions, it is surprising that he rose to command the Combind Fleet. While personally believing that war was a collosal error, he insisted that the first strike should be to cripple the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. The Naval High Commend wanted to just strike at the British and Dutch. He only gothis way by threatening to resign. He planned the strike that crippled the U.S. Pacific Fleet and at Pearl Harbor, launching the Pacific War. He succeeded in crippling the U.S. battleship force, but by luck the three precious carriers of the Pacific fleet were not at Pearl when the Japanese strike force arrived. He also personally prepared the Midway battle plan which most miitary historians sharply criticize.
Georgi Konstantinovich Zhukov (Zukov) was a Soviet military commander during World war II. He was arguavbly the fiest Soviet field commander of the War. He might be described as the most successful army commanders of World War II, in part because of the overall imprtance of the Eastern Front and the key operations tht vhe commanded.
Zukov was born into a peasant family in Strelkovka, Kaluga Province. He was apprenticed to work in Moscow. During World war I he was conscripted into a dragoon regiment as a private (1915). He was a decoirated soldier, awarded the St.George Cross twice and promoted to the rank of non-commissioned officer for bravery in battle. He joined the Communist Party after the October Revolution (1917). In Tsarist Russia his peasant bavkground ws a detriment. In Soviet Russia it was an assett. He contracted typhus. After recovering he fought in the civil war (1918-1920). He was awarded the Order of the Battle Red Banner for subduing a peasant revolt. He rose steadily in thec Red Army, avoiding Stalin's purges (1930s). He was an early advocate of tank warfare, alough his concept of tactics was at first weak. He was best known for detailed planning and tough discipline. He oversaw some of the most important battles of the War: Lenningrad (1941), Moscow (1941), and Stalingrad (1941-42). He was given the honor of taking Berlin. a feat accomplished at enormous cost (1945). After the War, Stalin resented his enormous popularity and basically exiled him.
Hadler, Generaloberst. Kriegstagebuch ed. Hans-Adolf Jacobsen, 3 vol (Stuttgart, 1962).
Harris, Brayton. Admiral Nimitz: The Commander of the Pacific Ocean Theater (2011), 256p.
Hampton, Dan. Lords of the Sky: How Fighter Pilots Changed War forever om tge RedBron to the F-16 (2014), 608p.
Hughes, Thomas Alexander. Over Lord: General Pete Quesada and the Triumph of Tactical Air Power in World War II(The Free Press: New York, 1995), 380p.
Murray, Williamson and Allan R. Millet. A War to be Won: Fighting the Second World War (Belknap: Cambridge, Massaschusetts, 2009), 656p
Parker, Danny S. Hitler's Warrior: The Life and Wars SS ColonelJochn Piper (2015), 480p.
Picker, Henry, ed. Percy Ernst Schramm. Hitlers Tischgespäche im Führerhauptquartier, 1941-42 (Stuttgart, 1963).
Reitsch, Hanna. The Sky My Kingdom (1955).
Rickard, John Nelson. Advance and Destry: Pattonas Commander in the Bulge.
Schramm, Percy Ernst., ed. Kriegstagebuch des OKW iv: 1944-45 (Frankfurt-on Main, 1961), pt. 2.
Thomas, Evan. Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign, 1941-1945 (Simon & Schuster: New York, 2006), 414p.
Wistrich, Robert. Who's who in Nazi Germany (Macmillan Publ., New York, 1982).
Navigate the CIH World War II Section:
[Return to Main World War II biography page]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]