Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb
Wilhelm Josef Franz Ritter von Leeb (5 September 1876 – 29 April 1956) was a German
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 Field Marshal
Field Marshal or Generalfeldmarschall in German, was a rank in the armies of several German states and the Holy Roman Empire; in the Austrian Empire, the rank Feldmarschall was used...

 during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. (His younger brother, Emil Leeb
Emil Leeb
Emil Leeb was a German general who served during World War II. His older brother was Fieldmarshall Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb; W. Ritter was a “von Leeb”, he was not “noble born” but W. Ritter’s title of “von” derived from the patent of knighthood carried by the Bavarian order:...

, rose to the rank of General der Artillerie during WWII.)


Born in Landsberg am Lech, Upper Bavaria
Upper Bavaria
Upper Bavaria is one of the seven administrative regions of Bavaria, Germany.- Geography :Upper Bavaria is located in the southern portion of Bavaria, and is centered around the city of Munich. It is subdivided into four regions : Ingolstadt, Munich, Bayerisches Oberland , and Südostoberbayern...

 as Wilhelm Leeb, he joined the Bavarian Army
German Army (German Empire)
The German Army was the name given the combined land forces of the German Empire, also known as the National Army , Imperial Army or Imperial German Army. The term "Deutsches Heer" is also used for the modern German Army, the land component of the German Bundeswehr...

 in 1895 as an officer cadet. After being commissioned a lieutenant of artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

, Leeb served in China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 during the Boxer Rebellion
Boxer Rebellion
The Boxer Rebellion, also called the Boxer Uprising by some historians or the Righteous Harmony Society Movement in northern China, was a proto-nationalist movement by the "Righteous Harmony Society" , or "Righteous Fists of Harmony" or "Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists" , in China between...

. He later attended the Bavarian War Academy
War Academy (Kingdom of Bavaria)
The Kriegsakademie of the Bavarian Army was the military academy and staff college of the Kingdom of Bavaria, existing from 1867 to the beginning of World War I in 1914...

 in Munich
Munich The city's motto is "" . Before 2006, it was "Weltstadt mit Herz" . Its native name, , is derived from the Old High German Munichen, meaning "by the monks' place". The city's name derives from the monks of the Benedictine order who founded the city; hence the monk depicted on the city's coat...

 (1907–1909) and served on the General Staff in Berlin (1909–1911). Promoted to captain, Leeb served as a battery commander in the Bavarian 10th Field Artillery Regiment at Erlangen
Erlangen is a Middle Franconian city in Bavaria, Germany. It is located at the confluence of the river Regnitz and its large tributary, the Untere Schwabach.Erlangen has more than 100,000 inhabitants....


World War I and after

At the outbreak of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, Leeb was on the General Staff
General Staff
A military staff, often referred to as General Staff, Army Staff, Navy Staff or Air Staff within the individual services, is a group of officers and enlisted personnel that provides a bi-directional flow of information between a commanding officer and subordinate military units...

 of the Bavarian I Corps, then served with the Bavarian 11th Infantry Division. Upon promotion to major
Major is a rank of commissioned officer, with corresponding ranks existing in almost every military in the world.When used unhyphenated, in conjunction with no other indicator of rank, the term refers to the rank just senior to that of an Army captain and just below the rank of lieutenant colonel. ...

, Leeb was transferred to the Eastern Front
Eastern Front (World War I)
The Eastern Front was a theatre of war during World War I in Central and, primarily, Eastern Europe. The term is in contrast to the Western Front. Despite the geographical separation, the events in the two theatres strongly influenced each other...

 in the summer of 1916. The following year, he was appointed to the staff of Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria. On 29 May 1916, for his military achievements on May 2, 1915, Leeb received the Knight's Cross of the Military Order of Max Joseph
Military Order of Max Joseph
The Military Order of Max Joseph was the highest purely military order of the Kingdom of Bavaria. It was founded on 1 January 1806 by Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria, the first king of Bavaria...

. This was the Bavarian equivalent of the Prussian Pour le Mérite
Pour le Mérite
The Pour le Mérite, known informally as the Blue Max , was the Kingdom of Prussia's highest military order for German soldiers until the end of World War I....

, and its receipt elevated Leeb to the ranks of nobility: on 21 June 1916, he received a patent of nobility, which changed his name by adding the title "Ritter
Ritter is a designation used as a title of nobility in German-speaking areas. Traditionally it denotes the second lowest rank within the nobility, standing above "Edler" and below "Freiherr"...

" ("knight") and the German nobiliary particle "von" ("of").

After the war, Ritter von Leeb remained in the Reichswehr
The Reichswehr formed the military organisation of Germany from 1919 until 1935, when it was renamed the Wehrmacht ....

, the 100,000-man army permitted Germany under the Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles was one of the peace treaties at the end of World War I. It ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The other Central Powers on the German side of...

. In 1923, he was involved in putting down the Nazi Beer Hall Putsch
Beer Hall Putsch
The Beer Hall Putsch was a failed attempt at revolution that occurred between the evening of 8 November and the early afternoon of 9 November 1923, when Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler, Generalquartiermeister Erich Ludendorff, and other heads of the Kampfbund unsuccessfully tried to seize power...

. Then, before the rise of Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 and the Nazi Party, von Leeb commanded Wehrkreis VII ("Military District
Military district
Military districts are formations of a state's armed forces which are responsible for a certain area of territory. They are often more responsible for administrative than operational matters, and in countries with conscript forces, often handle parts of the conscription cycle.Navies have also used...

 VII", which covered Bavaria) as a major-general.

World War II

Hitler was not fond of von Leeb because of the general's anti-Nazi
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 attitudes , and retired von Leeb in 1938 after promoting him to the rank of colonel general
Colonel General
Colonel General is a senior rank of General. North Korea and Russia are two countries which have used the rank extensively throughout their histories...

. But von Leeb was recalled to duty in July of the same year and made commander of the Twelfth Army, which took part in the occupation of the Sudetenland
German occupation of Czechoslovakia
German occupation of Czechoslovakia began with the Nazi annexation of Czechoslovakia's northern and western border regions, known collectively as the Sudetenland, under terms outlined by the Munich Agreement. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's pretext for this effort was the alleged privations suffered by...

. Afterwards, he was pensioned off again.

In the summer of 1939, von Leeb was again called back into service and given command of Army Group C. Before the Battle of France
Battle of France
In the Second World War, the Battle of France was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, beginning on 10 May 1940, which ended the Phoney War. The battle consisted of two main operations. In the first, Fall Gelb , German armoured units pushed through the Ardennes, to cut off and...

, von Leeb was the only German general to oppose the offensive through the (neutral) low countries, especially Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

, on moral grounds. He wrote: "The whole world will turn against Germany, which for the second time within 25 years, assaults neutral Belgium! Germany, whose government solemnly vouched for and promised the preservation of and respect for this neutrality only a few weeks ago." During that battle, his troops broke through the Maginot Line
Maginot Line
The Maginot Line , named after the French Minister of War André Maginot, was a line of concrete fortifications, tank obstacles, artillery casemates, machine gun posts, and other defences, which France constructed along its borders with Germany and Italy, in light of its experience in World War I,...

. For his role in this victory, von Leeb was promoted to the rank of Field Marshal
Field Marshal
Field Marshal is a military rank. Traditionally, it is the highest military rank in an army.-Etymology:The origin of the rank of field marshal dates to the early Middle Ages, originally meaning the keeper of the king's horses , from the time of the early Frankish kings.-Usage and hierarchical...

Field Marshal or Generalfeldmarschall in German, was a rank in the armies of several German states and the Holy Roman Empire; in the Austrian Empire, the rank Feldmarschall was used...

) in July 1940 and awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was a grade of the 1939 version of the 1813 created Iron Cross . The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was the highest award of Germany to recognize extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership during World War II...


Now having Hitler's confidence, von Leeb was given command of Army Group North
Army Group North
Army Group North was a German strategic echelon formation commanding a grouping of Field Armies subordinated to the OKH during World War II. The army group coordinated the operations of attached separate army corps, reserve formations, rear services and logistics.- Formation :The Army Group North...

 and responsibility for the northern sector in Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...

, the invasion of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

. Von Leeb was to destroy the Soviet units
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...

 in the Baltic region
Baltic region
The terms Baltic region, Baltic Rim countries, and Baltic Rim refer to slightly different combinations of countries in the general area surrounding the Baltic Sea.- Etymology :...

 and capture all Soviet naval bases on the Baltic Sea
Baltic Sea
The Baltic Sea is a brackish mediterranean sea located in Northern Europe, from 53°N to 66°N latitude and from 20°E to 26°E longitude. It is bounded by the Scandinavian Peninsula, the mainland of Europe, and the Danish islands. It drains into the Kattegat by way of the Øresund, the Great Belt and...

. When the invasion began on June 22, 1941, von Leeb's armies met with outstanding success against an overwhelmed Soviet force. By the end of September, his army had advanced 900 kilometers into the Soviet Union and surrounded Leningrad, though he failed to capture the city.

The Defeat at Tikhvin

The turning point in the defeat of the German attempt to capture Leningrad was the battle of Tikhvin
Tikhvin is a town and the administrative center of Tikhvinsky District of Leningrad Oblast, Russia, located on both banks of the Tikhvinka River in the east of the oblast, east of St. Petersburg. Tikhvin is also an industrial and cultural center of the district, as well as its transportation...

 in October through December 1941. At Tikhvin the Red Army, for the first time in World War II, inflicted a large-scale defeat on the Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

 in ground warfare.

Encouraged by easy victories over the disorganized and poorly led Red Army at the beginning of the war and in hope of a quick capture of Leningrad, Ritter von Leeb had rushed his armies to Tikhvin, a key city on the road to Leningrad. A victory would allow the Germans to shift many of their troops from the north to Army Group Centre
Army Group Centre
Army Group Centre was the name of two distinct German strategic army groups that fought on the Eastern Front in World War II. The first Army Group Centre was created on 22 June 1941, as one of three German Army formations assigned to the invasion of the Soviet Union...

, to participate in a decisive attack on Moscow
Battle of Moscow
The Battle of Moscow is the name given by Soviet historians to two periods of strategically significant fighting on a sector of the Eastern Front during World War II. It took place between October 1941 and January 1942. The Soviet defensive effort frustrated Hitler's attack on Moscow, capital of...

. The Germans, having numerical superiority in tank
A tank is a tracked, armoured fighting vehicle designed for front-line combat which combines operational mobility, tactical offensive, and defensive capabilities...

s over the Russians, succeeded in occupying Tikhvin on November 8. But the newly-appointed commander of the Soviet 4th Army, Kirill Meretskov
Kirill Meretskov
Kirill Afanasievich Meretskov was a Soviet military commander. Having joined the Communist Party in 1917, he served in the Red Army from 1920. During the Winter War, he was responsible for penetrating the Mannerheim Line as commander of the 7th Army...

, slowed and then stopped the Germans by applying active defense and constant counterattacks. Meretskov then took the offensive and on December 10 recaptured Tikhvin.

In the midst of the battle, Stavka
Stavka was the term used to refer to a command element of the armed forces from the time of the Kievan Rus′, more formally during the history of Imperial Russia as administrative staff and General Headquarters during late 19th Century Imperial Russian armed forces and those of the Soviet Union...

 (the Soviet high command) ordered Meretskov to organize a new Volkhov Front
Volkhov Front
The Front was reformed on the 9 June 1942 from the Volkhov Operational Group of the Leningrad Front and served until 15 February 1944, participating in the relief of the Siege of Leningrad and taking part in other operations including:-Campaigns:...

. By December 30, he had forced von Leeb back to the positions from which the Germans had begun their Tikhvin offense. According to one of the leading historians of the Eastern Front, David Glantz, "the concept of blitzkrieg failed for the first time in the Second World War[,] . . . anticipating" the Soviet victory at Moscow.

Soviet victory in the battle at Tikhvin directly aided the Red Army in the battle of Moscow. Instead of being able to send units from Army Group North to Army Group Centre, the Germans were compelled to move reinforcements in the opposite direction. According to Glantz, "[d]uring this most critical period of the war, 32 percent of the Wehrmacht's forces[] operating north of the Pripiat Marshes, including almost two full panzer groups, were tied down in combat along or adjacent to Tikhvin". The Wehrmacht lost 45,000 troops in the battle.

When von Leeb failed to capture Leningrad quickly, Hitler impatiently commented, "Leeb is in a second childhood; he can't grasp and carry out my plan for the speedy capture of Leningrad. He fusses over his plan of assuming the defensive in the northwestern sector and wants a drive in the center on Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

. He's obviously senile, he's lost his nerve, and like a true Catholic
The word catholic comes from the Greek phrase , meaning "on the whole," "according to the whole" or "in general", and is a combination of the Greek words meaning "about" and meaning "whole"...

 he wants to pray but not [to] fight."

An old-school German general, von Leeb did not take well to having his command managed from afar by Hitler, whom he considered an armchair general. It is sometimes stated that Hitler fired Leeb, but this is incorrect: in January, 1942, von Leeb asked Hitler to relieve him of his command, and Hitler complied. It was officially announced that von Leeb had stepped down due to illness, not because of his defeat. Colonel-General Georg von Küchler
Georg von Küchler
Georg Karl Friedrich Wilhelm von Küchler was a German Field Marshal during the Second World War. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves...

 assumed command of Army Group North, and Hitler never employed von Leeb again.

Dates of Rank

  • Fahnenjunker - 1 December 1895
  • Fähnrich
    Fähnrich is a German and Austrian military rank in armed forces which translates as "Ensign" in English. The rank also exists in a few other European military organizations, often with historical ties to the German system. Examples are Sweden, Norway and Finland . The French Army has a similar...

     - 18 January 1896
  • Leutnant - 3 March 1897
  • Oberleutnant
    Oberleutnant is a junior officer rank in the militaries of Germany, Switzerland and Austria. In the German Army, it dates from the early 19th century. Translated as "Senior Lieutenant", the rank is typically bestowed upon commissioned officers after five to six years of active duty...

     - 13 May 1905
  • Hauptmann
    Hauptmann is a German word usually translated as captain when it is used as an officer's rank in the German, Austrian and Swiss armies. While "haupt" in contemporary German means "main", it also has the dated meaning of "head", i.e...

     - 7 March 1912
  • Major
    Major is a rank of commissioned officer, with corresponding ranks existing in almost every military in the world.When used unhyphenated, in conjunction with no other indicator of rank, the term refers to the rank just senior to that of an Army captain and just below the rank of lieutenant colonel. ...

     - 19 May 1916
  • Oberstleutnant
    Oberstleutnant is a German Army and Air Force rank equal to Lieutenant Colonel, above Major, and below Oberst.There are two paygrade associated to the rank of Oberstleutnant...

     - 28 December 1920
  • Oberst
    Oberst is a military rank in several German-speaking and Scandinavian countries, equivalent to Colonel. It is currently used by both the ground and air forces of Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and Norway. The Swedish rank överste is a direct translation, as are the Finnish rank eversti...

     - 1 February 1925
  • Generalmajor - 1 February 1929
  • Generalleutnant
    Lieutenant General
    Lieutenant General is a military rank used in many countries. The rank traces its origins to the Middle Ages where the title of Lieutenant General was held by the second in command on the battlefield, who was normally subordinate to a Captain General....

     - 1 December 1929
  • General der Artillerie - 1 January 1934
  • Temporary Generaloberst - 28 February 1938
  • Generaloberst - 1 November 1939
  • Generalfeldmarschall
    Field Marshal or Generalfeldmarschall in German, was a rank in the armies of several German states and the Holy Roman Empire; in the Austrian Empire, the rank Feldmarschall was used...

     - 19 July 1940

Relations with National Socialists

Von Leeb's attitude towards the Nazi regime was ambivalent: in spite of his open contempt for Hitler and the dictator's cronies, he did accept a present of 250,000 Reichsmarks for his sixty-fifth birthday in 1941. In 1944, von Leeb allowed the Nazis to use his popularity for propaganda purposes, when he was presented with a great Bavarian estate worth 638,000 Reichsmarks. After the failed July 20 plot
July 20 Plot
On 20 July 1944, an attempt was made to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Führer of the Third Reich, inside his Wolf's Lair field headquarters near Rastenburg, East Prussia. The plot was the culmination of the efforts of several groups in the German Resistance to overthrow the Nazi-led German government...

 to assassinate Hitler in 1944, von Leeb sent an affirmation of loyalty to the Führer, although ostensibly this was in order to save his own life and that of his family.
After the war, von Leeb was tried by an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 military tribunal
Subsequent Nuremberg Trials
The Subsequent Nuremberg Trials were a series of twelve U.S...

 in Nuremberg
Nuremberg[p] is a city in the German state of Bavaria, in the administrative region of Middle Franconia. Situated on the Pegnitz river and the Rhine–Main–Danube Canal, it is located about north of Munich and is Franconia's largest city. The population is 505,664...

 in the High Command Trial
High Command Trial
The High Command Trial was the last of the twelve trials for war crimes the U.S. authorities held in their occupation zone in Germany in Nuremberg after the end of World War II. These twelve trials were all held before U.S...

. Due to a confusion of documents, von Leeb was found guilty on one of four charges and sentenced to three years imprisonment; but he was released after the judgment because he had already spent more time in custody. He spent his last years living quietly with his family. Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb died in Füssen
Füssen is a town in Bavaria, Germany, in the district of Ostallgäu situated from the Austrian border. It is located on the banks of the Lech river. The River Lech flows into the Forggensee...

on 29 April 1956, following a heart attack.
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