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

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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 VI

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General of the Woldenberg Division

Commandant of Fortress Landsberg

Those who missed reading the earlier posts on my uncle Gerhard Kegler can look them up by clicking on the following links: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V.

On January 20, 1945, while still on sick leave, Gerhard Kegler received a call from army HQ with the order to take over the command of a division. A few days later  he was assigned to the post of battle commandant at the city of Thorn (Torun). On January 26, while his family had to flee without his help from the advancing Red Army, he was heading to his assigned post. However, he was unable to reach his destination, since the enemy had already captured the city of Thorn. So instead he was given the command over the newly formed Woldenberg division. He arrived at Friedeberg (Strzelce Krajeńskie) on January 28, where the division was located.

Today's Thorn (Torun) - Photo Credit: tripadviser.com

Today’s Thorn (Torun) – Photo Credit: tripadviser.com

On the very same the Soviets attacked with about 40 or 50 tanks. The town was taken and the division was broken into fragments, most of which managed to withdraw to the city of Landsberg (Gorzów Wielkopolski) at the river Warta.

Landsberg_gross

In those chaotic days, when the entire Eastern Front was at the point of collapse, Hitler in his fortress-like command center in Berlin was moving on military maps tiles, which represented in his mind fully equipped and battle experienced divisions, but in reality were nothing but units that only existed on paper. One of these phantom army units was the so-called Woldenberg division consisting mostly of inexperienced, inadequately trained and equipped soldiers and a lot of useless non-army personnel, with which Major-General Kegler was supposed to defend the Fortress of Landsberg against the impending assault on the city.

Landsberg - Photo Credit:t wodenber-neumark.eu

Landsberg 1943 – Photo Credit: woldenberg-neumark.eu

To be continued …

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

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In and Out of the Generals’ Reserve List 1944/45

(Chart II a – II)

Before I took a break from writing at the end of June, I described in several posts my uncle’s military career in the German army and the events leading up to the disintegration to the Woldenberg Division. By clicking on the Kegler family page, you will find the combined posts in chronological order.

For the newcomers I will give a summary of the dramatic story of my uncle’s last two weeks before he was arrested and charged for failing to defend the city of Landsberg (Gorzów Wielkopolski) on the Warta river.

Landsberg before WWII

Landsberg before WWII

What follows is partly translation partly adaptation of a report I found in the German army encyclopedia: Lexicon der Wehrmacht. On January 14, 1945 Gerhard Kegler was put on the generals’ reserve list, which was no surprise considering the fact that so many entire German divisions were wiped out during the closing weeks and months of WWII. During that time he took a six-week medical leave at my parents’ place at Gutfelde (Zlotniki) near the town of Dietfurt (Znin), where I was born in 1942.

Bild Gutfelde 29

Uncle Gerhard in the Middle, his Wife, Aunt Margot, on the Left, my Mother with me on her Arm, and Aunt Johanna, Uncle Bruno’s Wife to the Right of the General

He believed he would best recuperate in the presence of his wife and children, who had found refuge in Gutfelde from the bombing raids in Central Germany. Perhaps, if he had gone to an official health spa instead, to which he had been entitled, he might have avoided all the troubles that lay in wait for him.

To be continued …

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

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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 and 22.

Lieutenant Rudolf Schröter, whom we last encountered west of Landsberg on the morning of 31 January, was completely unaware that he and his 400 recruits were part of the ‘Woldenberg’ Division,’ as he related:

Field Commanders discussing a Desperate Situation - Photo Credit: softairmania.it

Field Commanders discussing a Desperate Situation – Photo Credit: softairmania.it

On the morning of the 31st January my unit rejoined the Königstiger SS-sergeant-maior about 4 kilometres west of Landsberg in the Wepritz area. As we were still without a super­ior command or orders, I had us retreat westwards.

Beyond Dühringshof I was met by a car with a general, who received my report, did not introduce himself nor did he name his formation. He ordered me to deploy left of the road to Diedersdorf. My left-hand neighbor would be Second- Lieutenant Clemens’s unit.

When we stopped a Russian armored reconnaissance vehicle with infantry fire, the soldiers jumped over the sides with a blanket that was supposed to protect them from our fire. That night the first Russian attack occurred with more on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd February. Small enemy breaches were driven back with counterattacks by the exemplary fighting recruits.

On the 3rd February I was summoned to a conference by the divisional staff in Vietz town hall. Here for the first time I discovered that my unit belonged to the ‘Woldenberg’ Division. The divisional commander, Major-General Kegler, described the situation.

The division was surrounded by Russian troops. Vietz station on the south-eastern edge of the town was in enemy hands. Blumberg was also occupied by the Russians. Two enemy infantry regiments were at Gross Cammin. Communication with Küstrin was severed. Re-supply was only possible by air. His decision was to leave.

The orders handed out by the divisional chief of staff for my unit and that of Second-Lieutenant Clemens were not possible of execution or would entail heavy losses. I therefore rose to protest and suggested that we should first disengage ourselves from the attacking enemy so that the immovable heavy weapons and especially our infantry could get out of the diffi­cult terrain and deep snow.

As the general declared to the chief of staff that this was also his opinion, the following radio message arrived from headquar­ters 9th Army: ‘Report situation and intentions. Hold Vietz.’ Major-General Kegler promptly rescinded his orders for the division’s withdrawal.

My Uncles Günther and Gerhard Kegler at the Grave of their Brother in 1940

My Uncles Günther and Gerhard Kegler at the Grave of their Brother in 1940

Back in my position and after speaking to my left-hand neigh­bor, both of us fearful of having pointless high casualties among our recruits, I decided to convince the divisional commander that he should stick to his plan to withdraw, and that in any case I would decide according to my conscience. I returned to Vietz.

 To be continued …

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

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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

The ineptness of Heinrich Himmler’s appointment as commander of Army Group ‘Weichsel’ is clearly demonstrated in his handling of the so-called ‘Woldenberg’ Division, a random assembly of troops taken from convalescent and training units stationed on the north bank of the Warthe, with which he expected to block the Soviet advance. Major-General Gerhard Kegler later wrote of this:

On the 30th January 1945 I received orders from Himmler to take command of the ‘Woldenberg’ Division without being given any orientation on the subject, nor the division’s task.

I had to find the division. I found the division’s command post east of Friedeberg. It had no signals unit and there were no communications with a superior headquarters. I took over command at about midday as I found this recently established ‘division’ in the course of disintegration as it retreated to Landsberg. While I was busy in Landsberg on the morning of the 31st January with the organization and deployment of the available units, I discovered that the ‘division’ had no anti-tank weapons, no ammunition or food supply arrangements and no signals unit. Neither was there a divisional medical officer. The artillery consisted of two horse-drawn batteries. The ‘division’ was not a ‘strong battle group’ nor were the troops battle­-worthy.

The population of 45,000 inhabitants were still in the town and no preparations had been made for evacuation.

I received Himmler’s orders from the commander-in-chief of the 9th Army to defend Landsberg as a fortress over the tele­phone. Russian tanks were already north of the Warthe-Netze sector. I had the Warthe Bridge demolished. After some consci­entious consideration, I decided to disobey this order [to defend Landsberg], which I considered senseless and whose compliance would serve no purpose other than great loss in human life.

Generalmajor Gerhard Kegler

Generalmajor Gerhard Kegler

Landsberg was abandoned by the ‘Woldenberg’ Division that same night. Major-General Kegler had set the withdrawal for February 1st, as the Soviet spearheads had already reached Küstrin some 40 kilometres to his rear, but his demoralized soldiers would not wait and abandoned their positions in the dark. The headquarters staff were only able to stop these demoralized units with difficulty some 3 kilometres west of the town.

'Fortress' Landsberg, Warthe - Photo Credit:  prussianpoland.com

‘Fortress’ Landsberg, Warthe – Photo Credit: prussianpoland.com

Kegler reported by telephone to the 9th Army commander, General Busse, who had meanwhile established his headquarters in the Oderbruch village of Golzow. Busse demanded that Landsberg be retaken and defended, threatening Kegler with court-martial in accordance with Himmler’s orders. Nevertheless, Kegler stuck to his decision to withdraw to Küstrin by stages over the following nights. Even this, in view of the state of his troops and his open flank, was risky, and depended to a large extent upon their not being attacked as they withdrew along the northern edge of the Warthebruch on Reichsstrasse 1.

To be continued …

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