Gerhard Kegler, the general, who dared to disobey Himmler – Part VII

Kegler’s Death Sentence and His Life put on ‘Probation’

If you have not read the previous posts on Major-General Kegler, you can look them up by clicking on I, II, III, IV, V and VI.

Parts V and VI are a digression from the report extracted from the book: The Siege of Küstrin – Gateway to Berlin 1945. But they provided some valuable insight into Kegler’s personal life before he was called away from Gutfelde to become commander of the newly established Woldenberg Division and also commandant of Landsberg/Warthe, which was declared a fortress by Himmler.

 “At dawn on February 4, the remains of the ‘Woldenberg’ Division began crossing the anti-tank ditch that blocked the Landsberger Chaussee at the eastern end of Küstrin. They had already come to within 10 kilometres of the town the previous day but had waited for darkness to get through the area occupied by Soviet forces.

General Busse had sent a young liaison officer to meet them, but without any instructions for Major-General Kegler. When the latter arrived in Küstrin he was promptly given orders to report to the standing court-martial in Torgau, thus becoming one of the last to leave Küstrin by the normal road. As the witnesses to the events leading up to Kegler’s court martial were now trapped in Küstrin, evidence had to be obtained from them by telephone.” Thus, one reads in the book ‘The Siege of Küstrin: Gateway to Berlin 1945’.

Court martial proceedings against Major-General Gerhard promptly began on February 11, 1945  and ended on the following day with the pronouncement of his death sentence for not having defended the city of Landsberg against the enemy.

The Death Sentence of Major-General Gerhard Kegler

The Death Sentence of Major-General Gerhard Kegler

The bottom line of this document written ‘In the Name of the German People’ reads: The accused Major-General Kegler due to his breach of duty on the battle field is condemned to death, to loss of his eligibility for military service and to perpetual loss of his civil rights.

The Two Kegler Brothers, Günther on the left and Gerhard without his right Arm

Von Scheele, the president of Nazi-Germany’s Court Martial Justice System, brought about a suspension of the death sentence and postponed its execution to the end of the war.Demoted to the rank of a private, he was to die a heroic death or to prove himself worthy to be pardoned. As a soldier in the battle field he was severely injured losing his right arm and in the closing weeks of the war became a prisoner of war of the British, who promptly promoted him back to the rank of a ‘Nazi-General’.

The Kegler Family with Gerhard and his daughter Helga on the left

The Kegler Family with Gerhard and daughter Helga on the left (1964)

When in 1952 he applied for a pension as a former general of the armed forces, the official in charge declared, “You have been condemned to death by Himmler!” and turned down my uncle’s application. What followed is hard to believe. Gerhard Kegler had to apply to have his death sentence annulled in order to be eligible for his pension. However, the provincial court of Hesse in Giessen rejected his application on the ground that he had missed the deadline regarding compensation for injustices suffered under the Nazi regime. The West-German press heard about this case and spread the news about the condemned general with headlines like ‘Does Himmler still rule from his Grave?’. The news created such a public outcry that in the end Theodore Heuss, the first President of the Federal Republic of Germany, stepped in and officially rescinded the death sentence. Thus, my uncle finally regained his status as general in retirement and was able to draw his pension.

Theodor Heuss, First President of the Federal Republic of Geramny - Photo Credit: germany.info

Theodor Heuss, First President of the Federal Republic of Germany – Photo Credit: germany.info

To be concluded on next week’s post

Gerhard Kegler, the general, who dared to disobey Himmler – Part IV

The Woldenberg Division and Himmler’s Order to Defend Landsberg

Excerpt Taken from the book ‘The Siege of Küstrin: Gateway to Berlin 1945’ by Tony Le Tissier, Publishers: Pen and Sword Books

If you missed reading the related posts, go back to May 13 May 22, and June 5.
Eastern Front 1945: Worn-out and Ill-equipped German Soldiers - Photo Credit:: taringa.net

Eastern Front 1945: Worn-out and Ill-equipped German Soldiers – Photo Credit: taringa.net

Lieutenant Rudolf Schröter continues his report:

I had to overcome the resistance of the staff officers to get through to the general. Major-General Kegler was astounded but open to my arguments:

  1. Once an order had been given it must be adhered to in order to keep up the morale of the troops.
  2. The Army Headquarters’ radio message ‘Report situation and intentions’ unusually left open the decision. If this was not so, the message would have read: ‘Report situation. Hold Vietz.’ While it was expected that the Army would correctly use tactical language and especially stressed ‘Report situation’, it meant that it was holding open the opportunity for us to decide for ourselves in this special situation, and our decision was ‘Withdraw’.
  3. There had also been instances in this war in which troops had withdrawn against orders in recognition of their hopeless situation, had upheld the morale of their troops and the officers had received high decorations.
  1. The decisive argument, General, is in accordance with one’s own conscience. The responsible officer must, if common sense is to prevail, understand that slavish obedience in a hopeless situation only condemns him to a senseless bloodbath, which he should spare his men.

These arguments, especially the last, visibly moved Major-General Kegler. He then went briefly into an adjoining room. When he returned, he was white in the face. He asked me where I had lost my right arm, praised the discipline and commitment of my youngsters and also my objections at the conference a few hours ago. Finally the following dialogue ensued:

‘Do you think that you can withdraw the division in good order in this situation?’

‘Yes, if I have your support in doing so.’

‘Then I hereby beg you to undertake it on my staff.’

I immediately sent all the staff officers to the units, where they with the sector commanders were to stop the units and individ­uals retreating and incorporate them into the local defense.

Then I prepared to retake Vietz station with a platoon of my infantry and a Königstiger and while doing so a runner brought me a letter from the general. It read: ‘I have given up command of the division. Kegler, Major-General.’

I then asked a colonel to take over command of the division as a matter of seniority, which he accepted under the condition that I assumed tactical control.

The withdrawal of the division was made ready and all sector commanders summoned to an order group in Vietz at 1500 hours.

After stabilizing the situation in the town I made a recon­naissance in the amphibious jeep with the SS-sergeant-major and one of my recruits, using Major-General Kegler’s map. I discovered that:

  1. The road to Küstrin was not blocked by the Russians.
  2. There were no Russians in Gross Cammin, the nearest enemy movement being in the northerly neighbouring village of Batzlow.

I stuck to the original plan. A radio message was sent to Küstrin fortress about the division’s withdrawal. The order to withdraw was given at 1500 hours and went without problems. When I later went into Vietz with the amphibious jeep to check the enemy situation, the first enemy scouts were already feeling their way forward.

At dawn on February 4, the remains of the ‘Woldenberg’ Division began crossing the anti-tank ditch that blocked the Landsberger Chaussee at the eastern end of Küstrin. They had already come to within 10 kilometres of the town the previous day but had waited for darkness to get through the area occupied by Soviet forces.

General Busse had sent a young liaison officer to meet them, but without any instructions for Major-General Kegler. When the latter arrived in Küstrin he was promptly given orders to report to the standing court-martial in Torgau, thus becoming one of the last to leave Küstrin by the normal road. As the witnesses to the events leading up to Kegler’s court martial were now trapped in Küstrin, evidence had to be obtained from them by telephone.

Soviet Advance across Poland - Photo Credit: historyimages.blogspot.com

Soviet Advance across Poland – Photo Credit: historyimages.blogspot.com

To be continued with a translation of the court-martial report and verdict on my next post.