Ewald von Kleist
Kleist in 1940
|Born||8 August 1881|
Braunfels, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire
|Died||13 November 1954 (aged 73)|
Vladimir Central Prison, Vladimir, Soviet Union
|Allegiance|| German Empire
|Years of service||1900–38; 1939–44|
|Commands held||1st Panzer Group|
Army Group A
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords|
Paul Ludwig Ewald von Kleist (8 August 1881 – 13 November 1954) was a German field marshal during World War II. Kleist successfully led the 1st Panzer Group during the Battle of France, the Battle of Belgium, the Balkans Campaign and the initial stages of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. He was the commander of Army Group A during the latter part of Case Blue, the 1942 summer offensive in southern Russia. Following the war, Kleist was extradited to the Soviet Union where he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for war crimes; he died in prison.
Ewald von Kleist was born into the noble family Kleist, an old Pomeranian family with a long history of military service. His ancestor was the Prussian field marshal Henning Alexander von Kleist and his great-grandfather was the Prussian general Karl Wilhelm Heinrich von Kleist. At a young age, Kleist joined the Prussian field artillery regiment, "General Feldzeugmeister" No. 3 on 9 March 1900 as a fahnenjunker. He was commissioned as a lieutenant on 18 August 1901. On March 22, 1914, he was promoted to Captain and joined the Leib-Husaren-Regiment No. 1.
After the First World War ended, Kleist joined the Freikorps and participated in the Latvian and Estonian Wars of Independence as a member of the Iron Division. In June of 1919, he led an attack group during the Battle of Cēsis.
Kleist joined the Reichswehr in 1920. From 1924 to 1928 he was assigned as a tactics instructor at the Hannover Cavalry School. In 1928 he was served as the chief of staff of the 2nd Cavalry Division in Breslau, from 1929 to 1931 he held the same position in the 3rd Division in Berlin. Kleist was promoted to Colonel in 1931 and was given command of the 9th (Prussian) Infantry Regiment in Potsdam. At the beginning of 1932, he was given command of the 2nd Cavalry Division. In October of 1932, he was promoted to Major General.
After the Nazis seized power the Reichswehr was united with the newly formed Wehrmacht. On December 1, 1933, he was promoted to lieutenant general. In October 1934 he was given command of the "Breslau Army", which was later reorganized into the VIII. Army Corps. In 1935 he was given command of the newly formed military district VIII responsible for Silesia while simultaneously serving as the commanding general of the VIII. Army Corps. On August 1, 1936, he was promoted to General of the Cavalry.
After the outbreak of the Second World War Kleist was recalled to active duty and led the XXII Motorised Corps in the Invasion of Poland, during which his corps broke through the southern wing of the Polish army. In May 1940 Panzer Group Kleist was formed, the first operational formation of several Panzer corps in the Wehrmacht. Panzer Group Kleist played an important role in the Invasion of Belgium and the Invasion of France. It spearheaded the German breakthrough in the Ardennes and reached the sea, forming a huge pocket containing several Belgian, British, and French armies. Kleist was promoted to Colonel-General on 19 July 1940 and received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. In April 1941 Panzer Group Kleist was renamed into 1st Panzer Group and spearheaded the invasions of Yugoslavia and Greece.
In June of 1941, he led 1st Panzer Group in Operation Barbarossa as part of Army Group South. The 1st Panzer Group was responsible for the breakthrough of the Stalin Line. It later defeated the Red Army in the Battle of Brody, one of the largest tank engagements of the war, which involved over 3400 Soviet tanks and 750 German tanks. By 26 September 1941, 1st Panzer Group together with 2nd Panzer Group led by Colonel-General Heinz Guderian had captured over 800 Soviet tanks and took about 650,000 prisoners of war in the tank battles of Uman and Kiev. In recognition of their achievements, the Kleist and Guderian tank groups were converted into panzer armies at the beginning of October 1941, which made their commands equivalent to other army commanders. After operations at Kiev concluded, Kleist's 1st Panzer Army advanced east to capture the industrial Donbass region. On 26 September, the Battle of the Sea of Azov began as the Southern Front launched an attack on the northern shores of the Sea of Azov against the German 11th Army, which was advancing into the Crimea. On 1 October the 1st Panzer Army swept south and encircled the two attacking Soviet 9th and 18th armies, by 11 October both Soviet armies had been destroyed. The Soviet forces suffered extremely heavy losses with over 100,000 men captured as well as 760 artillery pieces and 200 tanks destroyed or captured in the pocket alone. By the end of October, the 1st Panzer Army had taken the Donbass region. On 17 November, after the German forces crossed the Mius river and captured 10,000 Soviet troops, the Battle of Rostov began. On 19 November 1941 the 1st Panzer Army reached Rostov and the following day, they seized the bridge over the river Don, the last barrier before the Caucasus. On 21 November the Germans took Rostov, but on 27 November the Southern Front led by General Yakov Cherevichenko as part of the Rostov Strategic Offensive Operation, counter-attacked the 1st Panzer Army's over-extended spearhead from the north, forcing them to pull out of the city. By 2 December 1941, the Soviet forces had retaken Rostov and the 1st Panzer Army was forced to withdraw back to the Mius River, near Taganrog. This was the first major German withdrawal of the war.
During the Second Battle of Kharkov on 17 May 1942 as part of Operation Fredericus, Kleist's 1st Panzer Army attacked the Barvenkovo bridgehead from the South, advancing up to ten kilometres in the first day of the attack. On 19 May, the German 6th Army led by General Friedrich Paulus launched an offensive north of the bridgehead, encircling the Soviet 6th Army and 57th Army. After six days of encirclement, both armies were destroyed. By 28 May Kleist and Paulus's armies had captured 240,000 prisoners and destroyed or captured over 1250 Soviet tanks and 2000 artillery pieces.
On February 18, 1942, Kleist was awarded the Oak Leaves to his Knight's Cross. In November of 1942, he took over as commander of Army Group A replacing Field Marshal Wilhelm List and led it in the latter part of Case Blue, the German offensive in southern Russia which aimed to capture important oil wells in the Caucasus. On 1 February 1943 he was promoted to Field Marshal.
Kleist was dismissed in March 1944 following repeated disagreements with Hitler and was replaced by Colonel-General Ferdinand Schörner. After the 20 July plot, he was implicated and arrested by the Gestapo, but unlike his relative Ewald von Kleist-Schmenzin, who was involved in the Oster conspiracy, he was later released.
Kleist was arrested in late April 1945 in Bavaria by US soldiers and handed over to the British army. In September 1946 he was extradited to Yugoslavia and was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for war crimes, then in 1948 he was extradited to the Soviet Union and sentenced to 25 years in prison for war crimes. On 13 November 1954, he died of heart failure in Vladimir Central Prison. He was the highest ranking among the German prisoners who died in Soviet captivity.