Blumentritt and his close friend Erich von Manstein served under Wilhelm Leeb during the 1930s. During the invasion of Poland in September 1939, he served as chief of operation under General Gerd von Rundstedt. He also took part in the invasion of France in May 1940 and the following year served under Gunther von Kluge as chief of staff in the 4th Army.
Blumentritt, who was associated with several of those members of the German Army involved in the July Plot against Adolf Hitler. In September 1944 he was sacked from office but Hitler refused to believe that Blumentritt was guilty and was eventually allowed to return to the front as commander of the 12th SS Corps.
After the Normandy landings Blumentritt and his troops were driven back by General Brian Horrocks and the 30th Corps. He was now sent to Holland and took command of the 25th Army until returning to Germany as head of the 1st Parachute Army in March 1945. Günther Blumentritt died in 1967.
In 1914-18, as a lieutenant, I fought for the first two years against the Russians, after a brief contact with the
French and Belgians at Namur in August, 1914. In our very first attack on the Russian front, we quickly realized that here we were meeting essentially different soldiers from the French and Belgian - hardly visible, entrenched with consummate skill, and resolute! We suffered considerable losses.
In those days it was the Russian Imperial Army. Hard, but good-natured on the whole, they had the habit of setting fire on military principle to towns and villages, in East Prussia when they were forced to withdraw, just as they always did thereafter in their own country. When the red glow from the burning villages lit up the horizon at evening, we knew that the Russians were leaving. Curiously, the population did not seem to complain. That was the Russian way, and had been so for centuries.
When I referred to the bulk of the Russian Army good-natured, I am speaking of their European troops. The much harder Asiatic troops, the Siberian corps, were cruel in their behaviour. So, also, were the Cossacks. Eastern Germany had plenty to suffer on this score in 1914.
Even in 1914-18 the greater hardness of war conditions in the East had its effect on our own troops. Men preferred to be sent to the Western rather than the Eastern front. In the West it was a war of material and mass artillery - Verdun, the Somme, and so on. These factors were paramount, and very gruelling to endure, but at least we were dealing with Western adversaries. In the East there was not so much shell-fire, but the fighting was more dogged, as the human type was much harder. Night fighting, hand-to-hand fighting, fighting in the forests, were particularly fostered by the Russians. In that war there was a saying current among German soldiers: 'In the East the gallant Army is fighting; in the West the Fire Brigade is standing by.'
The Red Army of 1941-45 was far harder than the Tsar's Army, for they were fighting fanatically for an idea. That increased their doggedness, and in turn made our own troops hard, for in the East the maxim held good -
'You or I'. Discipline in the Red Army was far more rigorous than in the Tsar's Army. These are examples of
the sort of order that we used to intercept - and they were blindly obeyed.
Wherever Russians have appeared in the history of war, the fight was hard, ruthless, and involved heavy losses. Where the Russian makes a stand or defends himself, he is hard to defeat, and it costs a lot of bloodshed. As a child of nature he works with the simplest expedients. As all have to obey blindly, and the Slav-Asiatic character only understands the absolute, disobedience is non-existent. The Russians commanders can make incredible demands on their men in every way and there is no murmuring, no complaint.
Hitler was in very good humour, he admitted that the course of the campaign had been 'a decided miracle', and gave us his opinion that the war would be - finished in six weeks. After that he wished to conclude a reasonable peace with France, and then the way would be free for an agreement with Britain.
He then astonished us by speaking with admiration of the British Empire, of the necessity for its existence, and of the civilization that Britain had brought into the world. He remarked, with a shrug of the shoulders, that the creation of its Empire had been achieved by means that were often harsh, but 'where there is planing, there are shavings flying'. He compared the British Empire with the Catholic Church - saying they were both essential elements of stability in the world. He said that all he wanted from Britain was that she should acknowledge Germany's position on the Continent. The return of Germany's lost colonies would be desirable but not essential, and he would even offer to support Britain with troops if she should be involved in any difficulties anywhere. He remarked that the colonies were primarily a matter of prestige, since they could not be held in war, and few Germans could settle in the tropics.
He concluded by saying that his aim was to make peace with Britain on a basis that she would regard as compatible with her honour to accept.
In the 1940 campaign the French fought bravely, but they were no longer the French of 1914-18 of Verdun and the Somme. The British fought much more stubbornly, as they did in 1914-18. The Belgians in part fought gallantly; the Dutch, only a few days. We had superiority in the air combined with more up-to-date tanks than the French. Above all, the German tank troops were more mobile, quicker and better at in-fighting, and able while in movement to turn wherever required by their leader. This, the French at that time were unable to do. They still thought and fought more in the tradition of the First World War. They were not up to date either in leadership or in wireless control. When they wanted to change direction on the move, they had to halt first, give fresh orders, and only then were they able to start again. Their tank tactics were out of date-but they were brave!
All three realized the difficulties presented by the nature of the country from their experiences in the 1914-18 war - above all, the difficulties of movement, reinforcement, and supply. Field-Marshal von Rundstedt asked Hitler bluntly: "Have you weighed up what you are undertaking in an attack on Russia?"
It was appallingly difficult country for tank movement - great virgin forests, widespread swamps, terrible roads, and bridges not strong enough to bear the weight of tanks. The resistance also became stiffer, and the Russians began to cover their front with minefields. It was easier for them to block the way because there were so few roads.
The great motor highway leading from the frontier to Moscow was unfinished - the one road a Westerner would call a 'road'. We were not prepared for what we found because our maps in no way corresponded to reality. On those maps all supposed main roads were marked in red, and there seemed to be many, but they often proved to be merely sandy tracks. The German intelligence service was fairly accurate about conditions in Russian-occupied Poland, but badly at fault about those beyond the original Russian frontier.
Such country was bad enough for the tanks, but worse still for the transport accompanying them - carrying their fuel, their supplies, and all the auxiliary troops they needed. Nearly all this transport consisted of wheeled vehicles, which could not move off the roads, nor move on if the sand turned into mud. An hour or two of rain reduced the panzer forces to stagnation. It was an extraordinary sight, with groups of them strung out over a hundred miles stretch, all stuck - until the sun came out and the ground dried. Hoth, who was advancing from the Orsha-Nevel sector, was delayed by swamps as well as bursts of rain. Guderian made a rapid advance to Smolensk, but then met similar trouble.
A number of the generals declared that a resumption of the offensive in 1942 was impossible, and that it was wiser to make sure of holding what had been gained. Halder was very dubious about the continuance of the offensive. Von Rundstedt was still more emphatic and even urged that me German Army should withdraw to their original front in Poland. Von Leeb agreed with him. While other generals did not go so far as this, most of them were very worried as to where the campaign would lead. With the departure of von Rundstedt as well as von Brauchitsch, the resistance to Hitler's pressure was weakening and that pressure was all for resuming the offensive.
There was a "battle of opinion" between Halder and him. The Intelligence had information that 600 to 700 tanks a month were coming out of the Russian factories, in the Ural Mountains and elsewhere. When Halder told him of this. Hitler slammed the table and said it was impossible. He would not believe what he did not want to believe.
Secondly, he did not know what else to do-as he would not listen to any idea of a withdrawal. He felt that he must do something and that something could only be offensive.
Thirdly, there was much pressure from economic authorities in Germany. They urged that it was essential to continue the advance, telling Hitler that they could not continue the war without oil from the Caucasus and wheat from the Ukraine.
I spent ten days in that sector and after returning made a written report to the effect that it would not be safe to hold such a long defensive flank during the winter. The railheads were as much as 200 kilometres behind the front, and the bare nature of the country meant that there was little timber available for constructing defences. Such German divisions as were available were holding frontages of 50 to 60 kilometres. There were no proper trenches or fixed positions.
General Halder endorsed this report and urged that our offensive should be halted, in view of the increasing resistance that it was meeting, and the increasing signs of danger to the long-stretched flank. But Hitler would not listen. During September the tension between the Fuhrer and Halder increased, and their arguments became sharper. To see the Fuhrer discussing plans with Halder was an illuminating experience. The Fuhrer used to move his hands in big sweeps over the map - 'Push here, push there'. It was all vague and regardless of practical difficulties. There was no doubt he would have liked to remove the whole General Staff, if he could, by a similar sweep. He felt that they were half-hearted about his ideas
Finally, General Halder made it clear that he refused to take the responsibility of continuing the advance with winter approaching. He was dismissed, at the end of September, and replaced by General Zeitzler - who was then Chief of Staff to Field-Marshal von Rundstedt in the West. I was sent to the West to take Zeitzler's place.
Up to 1943 there had been fifty to sixty divisions in France which were repeatedly being replaced by badly-damaged divisions from the Russian front. This continual interchange was detrimental to a proper system of defence on the coast. So permanent defence divisions were formed, with a specialized organization adapted to their particular sectors. This system had the advantage of ensuring that they were acquainted with the sector they had to guard, and it also enabled the most economic use of the limited equipment available in the West. But it had inevitable weaknesses.
The officers and men were mostly of the older classes, and their armament was on a lower scale than m the active
divisions. It included a large proportion of captured French, Polish, and Yugoslav weapons, which fired differing kinds of ammunition - so that supplies were more liable to run out, at awkward moments, than in the case of standard weapons. Most of these divisions had only two infantry regiments, with two field batteries comprising 24 pieces in all, and one medium battery of 12 pieces. As the artillery was horse-drawn it had little mobility.
Besides these coast-defence divisions there was the coastal artillery. But this, whether naval or military came under the Naval Command - which was always inclined to disagree with the Army Command.