HQ Army Group B – 1944

Pas de Calais, Rommel, Lang, Speidel, Sinnhuber

German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel with General Hans Sinnhuber, Lieutenant General Hans Speidel, and Captain Lang at Pas de Calais, France, 18 Apr 1944.

The detailed organisation of Rommel’s Head-quarters, i.e., the Offizierstellenbesetzung des Oberkommandos der Heeresgruppe B. Here are details of the list of the members of the Headquarters, prepared by the HQ adjutant on 15 May 1944. There were changes after that date, one of the most major alterations being the dissolution of the Quartermaster Division (Oberquartiermeister Abteilung) under Colonel Heckel at the end of May 1944, just a few days before the invasion. But probably the most important happening among the staff was the arrival of General Hans Speidel, to take over from Alfred Gause as Chief of Staff on 15 April 1944. As has already been mentioned this was basically because of domestic problems which had occurred between Lucie Rommel and Gause and his wife who had been staying with her after their own house had been bombed. Matters came to a head when Gause gave the faithful old Captain Hermann Aldinger a dressing-down for arriving late for work in the garden – Rommel had given his adjutant the task of directing the landscaping of the new gar-den – while Frau Gause had got more and more on Frau Rommel’s nerves. Eventually she could stand it no longer and wrote to Rommel demanding that he replace Gause. Uncharacteristically Rommel, to quote historian David Irving, who says in Trail of the Fox that he ‘ … meekly complied, writing to her on 17 March: “Let’s draw a line underneath it all… I am going to … Of course, it’s a tough decision for me to have to change my chief at a time like this.”‘

 

Chief of Staff. The new Chief of Staff was in fact the perfect man for the job. A bespectacled academic, his aesthetic, almost professorial, exterior belied his undoubted ability as a fighting soldier of some experience, although, as we shall see, this was not a view held by everyone. General Dr Hans Speidel was born on 28 October 1897 in Metzingen, Württemberg, so he was a Swabian like Rommel which gave them an instant rapport. He had joined the army on 30 November 1914, seen active service during the Great War in the same brigade as Rommel and had been accepted into the Reichsheer post-war. In 1932 he had taken ‘leave of absence’ from soldiering to become a Doctor of Philosophy and then a teacher and professor at Göttingen University. In 1933 he was Assistant Military Attaché in Paris. In September 1939 he had been the la of 33rd Infantry Division, then la of IX Army Corps. He then served on von Küchler’s staff in Eighteenth Army during the invasion of the Low Countries. He became COS to Otto von Stülpnagel in Paris 1940-1, then served on Fifth Army’s Staff in 1942 and was COS of Eighth Army in Russia in 1943 as a Major-General. It was while he was serving in Russia during Eighth Army’s difficult and heroic withdrawal, that Hitler had personally presented him with the Knight’s Cross. He became Rommel’s Chief of Staff in April 1944 and the two men quickly established a harmonious working relationship – despite the fact that Jodl (at OKW) had warned Speidel prior to his joining Army Group B to beware of Rommel’s pessimism which he described as his ‘African sickness’ (Afrikanische Krankheit)\ Speidel was also one of the most hard-working German officers as far as trying to arrange an armistice with the West. He knew of, and was in touch with, many of the leaders of the conspiracy to over-throw Hitler, but was not actually involved in any of the murder plots. He also involved Rommel in a very minor way in the subterfuge. Arrested on 7 September 1944, after refusing to destroy Paris, and accused of being implicated in the plot against Hitler, he was brought before a Court of Honour on 4 October, but managed to baffle even the most searching Gestapo questioning despite the fact that he had actually been involved. Speidel not only successfully protested his innocence, but also managed not to betray anyone, so despite everything – including Keitel’s saying that Hitler believed Speidel to be guilty – he was declared innocent and released after some seven months in custody. So after the war he was able to tell the Allies exactly what happened. Also a holder of the German Cross in Gold, Speidel was made a Lieutenant-General in the Bundeswehr in 1955 and promoted to full General two years later to become C-in-C NATO Ground Forces.

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Rommel’s Staff

Aides. At the start of this period of Rommel’s career, he had a new young personal aide, one Lieutenant Hammermann – David Irving describes him as being ‘much-decorated and one-eyed’, but he was soon replaced by Captain Helmuth Lang on Colonel Rudolf Schmundt’s advice. Schmundt, who was Hitler’s senior Wehrmacht Adjutant, is reported to have said that Rommel needed an ADC who was a major, a highly decorated panzer officer and a Swabian. Elderly, mild and bespectacled, Lang was all these (except that he was only a captain), having won a Knight’s Cross on the Eastern Front as a tank commander. He would remain with Rommel to the bitter end, keeping the Field Marshal’s personal diary in which Rommel entered his private thoughts, as well as the official record (Tagesberichte des Oberbefelshabers), which concerned not only Rommel’s activities, but also the day to day work of the Headquarters, details of visitors, etc. Unlike Rommel’s headquarters in North Africa or France 1940, there was no Nazi liaison officer at HQ Army Group B.

Staff Officers. The la was Colonel Hans-Georg von Tempelhoff, suave, handsome, fair-haired, with an English wife. In his mid-thirties, a veteran of the Eastern Front, he had known Rommel since before the war and was a trusted friend from their days in Italy, when he had often talked about peace. Von Tempelhoff usually accompanied the Field Marshal on his tours and was with him immediately before and after his visits to the Führer. In Knight’s Cross David Fraser explains how von Tempelhoff witnessed Rommel’s ‘… alternations of ebullience and depressed return to reality after his meetings with Hitler’, and even the nationality of von Tempelhoff’s wife (she was English) would count against Rommel in Hitler’s suspicious mind. His deputy was Major Winrich ‘Teddy’ Behr, whom Ruge describes as being: ‘an excellent type of younger officer of the general staff’. He had served in both Russia and North Africa, winning the Knight’s Cross whilst commanding the 3rd Company of 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion of the DAK, on 15 May 1941. His company knocked out the very first enemy armoured car to be destroyed by German forces in North Africa. Later, von Tempelhoff would have both Major Eberhardt Wolfram and Major Neuhaus on his staff. Wolfram would accompany Rommel on some of his last car journeys, but it would be Neuhaus who would be with Rommel and the faithful Lang, on 17 July 1944, when their car was strafed. In addition, as far as personnel work was concerned, von Tempelhoff was assisted by a Colonel Freyberg.

The Ic was Colonel Anton Staubwasser, who had been serving in the ‘Foreign Armies West’ in OKH before joining Army Group B, being so assigned because he was an expert on the British forces. He had been a student of Rommel’s at Dresden and David Irving describes him as being ‘honest and mild-mannered’. He laboured under difficulties because, apart from a few clerks and two interpreters, he had to rely on OKH for data, who were of course being fed the ‘Fortitude’ deception plan. He often accompanied Rommel on his walks with his dogs in the woods around La Roche-Guyon. Artillery. Colonel Hans Lattmann was another old family friend who had the greatest admiration for the ‘Desert Fox’. Rommel would do his best to help him when his family later got into serious trouble with the Nazi authorities – his brother, Major-General Martin Lattmann, holder of the German Cross in Gold, had deserted to the Russians at Stalingrad. This family skeleton in the cupboard was also going to be held as another black mark against Rommel by the ever-suspicious Gestapo.

Engineer. ‘Bushy-browed’ Lieutenant-General Dr Wilhelm Meise, holder of the German Cross in Silver, was an extremely able engineer, who had a great admiration for Rommel’s own abilities in the field of engineering. David Fraser describes him as being ‘indefatigable’. Meise wrote about Rommel later saying that in his opinion Rommel was ‘… the greatest engineer of the Second World War. There was nothing I could teach him. He was my mas-ter.’ He also often went hunting with Rommel.

Signals. Chief Signals Officer was 54-year-old Lieutenant-General Ernst Gerke who had also served in North Africa as Chief Signals Officer of Panzerarmee Afrika in early 1943.

Air. Just as the Kriegsmarine was represented by Vice-Admiral Ruge, so there was a Luftwaffe Liaison Officer at La Roche-Guyon – Lieutenant-Colonel Wolfgang Queisner. Although Rommel often had harsh words for the Luftwaffe (reflecting his dislike of Goring), he approved of Queisner who fitted in well with the army officers.

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Rommel’s staff car. The Field Marshal spent a great deal of time in his staff car, touring his Army Group area. The car was normally the powerful Horch and it was while travelling in it that he was strafed. It was being driven by his personal driver Oberfeldwebel Daniel, with Feldwebel Holke as air sentry (known as the ‘Observer’), riding in the back. Ruge comments that Rommel often drove the car himself and then Ruge’s own driver (Leading Seaman Hatzinger) had trouble keeping up with him on the flat, straight roads and only managed to catch up on the hills!

Rommel’s dogs. Rommel had always had a fondness for dogs – not just for hunting with, although he normally chose terriers – but also as companions. While in France he was given a year-old terrier named Ajax, by the Todt Organisation, which he then took home to Herrlingen as it was a good watchdog and barked loudly. Sadly it was run over in May 1944. He also had another terrier called Elbo, which he kept at the château.