Heinz Guderian, the son of an army officer, was born in Kulm, Germany, on 17th June, 1888. He joined the German Army and was commissioned in the Jaegers in 1908 where he became a communications specialist. He fought in the First World War and afterwards was a member of the right-wing Freikorps group.
In 1922 Guderian became Inspector of Motorized Troops. He began to study the experience of tanks during the war and was greatly influenced by the ideas of British military writers such as Basil Liddell Hart and John Fuller. As a result of his studies he was employed as a teacher of tank tactics.
Guderian was appointed commander of a motorized battalion in 1930. While in this post he developed one of companies as a tank scout company, one as a tank company and one as an anti-tank company. Guderian also developed a radio-communication system that enabled communication between tank officers.
In 1934 Guderian was appointed chief of staff of the Motorized Troops Command and the following year he took over the 2nd Panzer Division. The other two panzer divisions were commanded by generals whereas Guderian was only a colonel.
In Feburary 1938, Guderian was promoted to lieutenant general and the following month was involved in the occupation of Austria. Later that year Adolf Hitler appointed Guderian to the new post of Chief of Mobile Troops. However Guderian had difficulty persuading his senior officers about the importance of tank warfare in any future conflict. Franz Halder, the Chief of General Staff told Guderian that the infantry would always play the most important role in any future war.
Guderian led the attack on Poland in September 1939 and his rapid success created shockwaves throughout the world. Despite this easy victory Guderian objected to the planned Western Offensive. When Hitler ordered the plan to go ahead, Guderian, who served under General Paul von Kliest, attacked at great speed and crossing the crossed the Meuse near Sedan on 14th May.
Kleist now ordered Guderian to halt until the arrival of General Siegmund List and his 12th Army. Guderian disagreed with Kleist's view that the panzers needed the support of the infantry. After a heated argument with Kleist, who had the support of his superiors, Gerd von Rundstedt and Heinrich von Brauchitsch, on 17th May 1940, Guderian threatened to resign. Kleist responded by sacking Guderian.
Adolf Hitler was unwilling to lose this brilliant commander and General Siegmund List was ordered to intervene and managed to persuade Kleist that Guderian should return to duty. Guderian got his way and Kleist's troops rushed ahead and reached the English Channel at Abbeville on 21st May 1940.
Boulogne was taken on 23rd May but later that day Hitler called a halt arguing that the rapid advance was jeopardizing the whole campaign. Kleist supported Hitler's decision but Guderian was furious who rightly argued that this stopped the German Army cutting off the escape of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from Dunkirk.
Promoted to general for his achievements in France, Guderian led the 2nd Panzer Group during Operation Barbarossa. Working closely with Herman Hoth, Guderian's troops took Minsk and Smolensk. In July 1941 he moved into the Ukraine where he captured Kiev before moving on Moscow.
Guderian was shocked by the stout resistance of the Red Army and as the severe Russian winter set in he made a limited withdrawal to better defensive ground. Guderian then returned to Germany where he argued with Adolf Hitler about the tactics being employed. After further disagreements with General Fedor von Bock and General Gunther von Kluge, On 25th December 1941 Guderian was dismissed from office.
After the defeats at El Alamein and Stalingrad, Hitler decided to recall Guderian and on 1st March 1943 he become commander of Germany's Armoured Troops. Guderian was unable to repeat earlier successes and in July 1943 lost one of the largest tank battles in history at Kursk.
On 21st July 1944, Guderian replaced General Kurt Zeitzler as commander of the General Staff. As a result of the July Plot Guderian demanded the resignation of any officer who did not fully support the ideals of the Nazi Party. Over the next few months Guderian sat with Gerd von Rundstedt and Wilhelm Keitel on the Army Court of Honour that expelled hundreds of officers suspected of being opposed to the policies of Adolf Hitler. This removed them from court martial jurisdiction and turned them over to Roland Freisler and his People Court.
Guderian was captured by the US Army on 10th May 1945. Despite claims in the Soviet Union and Poland that Guderian was a war criminal, he was released from captivity on 17th June 1948. Heinz Guderian died on 17th May 1954.