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8th Army (German Empire)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

8. Armee
8th Army
Stab eines Armeeoberkommandos.svg
Flag of the Staff of an Armee Oberkommando (1871–1918)
Active2 August 1914 – 29 September 1915
30 December 1915 – 21 January 1919
Country German Empire
EngagementsWorld War I

The 8th Army (German: 8. Armee / Armeeoberkommando 8 / A.O.K. 8) was an army level command of the German Army in World War I. It was formed on mobilization in August 1914 from the I Army Inspectorate.[1] The army was dissolved on 29 September 1915, but reformed on 30 December 1915.[2] It was finally disbanded in 1919 during demobilization after the war.

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The beginning of the end. After the Allied landings in the summer of 1944, the Wehrmacht is on the defensive on all fronts. The fight is now hopeless, yet it is pursued with increased intensity. But most German soldiers do not recognise the hopelessness of Germany's situation until after they have been captured. VIP prisoners arrive at camp. Since the middle of 1943, captured German generals have been held at the English country estate of Trent Park, near London. They still talk about the war and the Wehrmacht even though the front line seems very distant in these comfortable surroundings. Stripped of their power, among friends, the generals express themselves freely. They have no idea that their conversations are being secretly recorded providing a unique record of what they were really thinking at the time. <i>It's time to make peace. What are they still fighting for?</i> <i>I can answer that...</i> <i>the Party.</i> <i>There can't be peace because they know only too well</i> <i>- that they will be hanged. - That's right.</i> Nobody wants to discuss peace with them. Even if our government resigns, it still wouldn't be over. And then the Allies will come to us to negotiate. Because they can't get any farther. I don't think we are going to agree about that. Either we die, or they fall apart. The Americans don't know what they are fighting for any more. They've suffered too many casualties. They will ask, "What in hell are we doing here?" No, no. It will be all over by spring. The breakthrough by spring at the latest. And then it's all over. Come along Wildermuth! After all... at the end of the day we are still German officers. What does it take to be a good German soldier? Does your honour force you to hold out in a hopeless situation? Every frontline soldier, whatever his rank, his character or his posting, will struggle with this question in the final year of the war. The answers will be as varied as the men themselves. Commanders, like Field Marshall Ferdinand Schörner, who pushes his men in every way to give their all. Ordinary soldiers, like private Kurt Vetter, only a bullet can save his life. Or a senior officer, like Gerhard Graf von Schwerin, torn as the war progresses between his duty to obey and his common sense. The 45-year-old Lieutenant General is known to be wilful, but he doesn't usually question orders. In mid 1944, under the overall command of Field Marshal Walther Model, Schwerin leads his panzers into battle against the advancing Allies in the West. His division is always sent where the action is hottest, to put out the flames. But through that summer, crushing Allied superiority forces them back, closer and closer to the German frontier. With this in mind, Schwerin unveils a new plan to his officers at his temporary HQ at a medieval Belgian manor, near Aachen. Or at least that's the story he tells after the war. For this border town, steeped in history, is to be held as a fortress at any cost. Hitler has given strict orders. <i>If the enemy should enter Aachen, every house will be defended.</i> <i>There will be no retreat.</i> When they reach Aachen, the Wehrmacht are greeted by chaos, city and Nazi Party officials have long since left the city after issuing a vague order to evacuate. In the meantime, Schwerin makes arrangements for the peaceful surrender of Aachen. Apart from a few advanced guards, he keeps his division outside the city, he wants to avoid pointless street fighting. Looking for a way to communicate with the enemy, he goes to the city's telegraph office. Here he dares to break a military taboo, he leaves a message for the Americans whose arrival he expects imminently. He writes in English, <i>I stopped the stupid evacuation of civil population and ask you to give her relief.</i> <i>I'm the last commanding officer here, Gerhard Graf von Schwerin.</i> Has this Wehrmacht officer distinguished himself with this act from the ranks of obedient servants of the regime to become the saviour of Aachen, as he likes to be called after the war? But he failed. Schwerin's plan did not work. For US Forces do not enter Aachen. After a gruelling chase, they've stopped to catch their breath. The protector of the city now has a serious problem, his deliberate defiance of an order will be exposed. Aachen does become a battle ground, with everything that means for the inhabitants. In order to maintain discipline in the fortress city, the Division now sets up a summary court-martial. It sentences two suspected looters to death. They have been caught on the streets, they're only 14 years old. On the authority of an order issued by Schwerin from his HQ. <i>Looters will be subject to summary execution by the Wehrmacht.</i> Later, he would attempt to justify this directive. The day after the event, things looked a bit different, in Schwerin's report to his superiors. <i>I ordered looters to be tried. Two looters were executed.</i> <i>Signed, Schwerin.</i> Now Schwerin's priority is to save his own skin. His letter to the enemy could be a death sentence. He tries to get it back, but it's too late. Party officials have long been informed. Schwerin's superior, Field Marshal Model, opens proceedings against his insubordinate divisional commander... for high treason. But Schwerin has influential supporters. Instead of being punished he is transferred to the Italian front. And later even promoted to full general. Schwerin was Aachen's Hamlet. He wanted to save the city, but he wasn't prepared to face the consequences. Schwerin's original plan had failed miserably. Aachen was the first German city to become a battlefield, and then a field of rubble. Obeying orders, Schwerin's successor, Gerhard Wilck let the destruction continue until the bitter end. Later, he too tried to justify his actions. But these insights only occurred to the colonel after his capture, from the perspective of a British prisoner-of-war camp. The fighting in Aachen became utterly pointless, but retreat was turned down flat. "Hold out!", they said, to complete de slogan, "until your last cartridge." In fact we did hold out for 4 or 5 days and then it was all over. However, the civilians behaved like swine. Wherever German soldiers were holding their positions or were hiding, civilians rushed out to tell the Americans where they were. Really? But why, Wilck? To bring things to an end. The people are so tired of war, they want it to come to an end. No matter the cost. I'm afraid this sense of hopelessness will spread through the whole of Germany. <i>It's even affecting him.</i> By the fall of 1944, the Allies have reached the borders of Germany, both in the East and the West. Now the Wehrmacht has to hold out at any price. In Courland, in the Baltic, for instance, an entire German Army is cut off. By October, forced back by vastly superior Soviet armies, the only place left to go is Sworbe, a 200-square kilometre peninsula on the coast of Estonia. Holding this insignificant piece of moorland becomes a matter of life and death. None of the 10,000 soldiers has a hope of leaving the battlefield in one piece. The Red Army continually replenishes its forces with fresh troops. It continues its advance. The German troops defending the peninsula cut off from supplies and reinforcements, have little left to offer but their lives. Men like private Kurt Vetter. On October the 30th, 1944, Corporal August Müller writes home, <i>My dear wife and daughter,</i> <i>no one believes we're ever going to give up this little piece of island.</i> <i>The ground is soaked with a huge amount of blood.</i> <i>The Russians are loosing many, many, many men here.</i> <i>There are only three men left from our original signals unit.</i> <i>Everyone else is dead or wounded.</i> <i>The war makes tough demands on us.</i> But deaths of thousands of soldiers become the material for a heroic epic. In mid November, General Ferdinand Schörner, the Army Group Commander, personally visits Sworbe to encourage the soldiers to hold out. In November, August Müller writes... <i>If only this war could end...</i> <i>But we're going to have to wait a long time for that.</i> <i>I've been laying in a foxhole all day.</i> <i>They've made this place into a fortress.</i> <i>I expect we're going to die here like dogs.</i> Only the wounded have a chance to get out. After six weeks of bitter fighting, 4,000 German soldiers are dead or missing. <i>Greetings and kisses to both of you.</i> <i>Your papa, your dear husband.</i> Corporal August Müller wrote these last words on November the 17th, 1944. He never left the island. The defenders are at last given permission to withdraw. One man will get the credit for their sacrifice. The Commander-in-Chief of Army Group Centre, Ferdinand Schörner. Even now, Schörner orders the last able- bodied soldiers to defend the remaining areas. Regardless of losses and under massive pressure from the enemy and their own side. The idea is that fear for their lives will boost their fighting spirit. An estimated 30,000 death sentences were passed by the military courts of the Wehrmacht. Roughly 20,000 were carried out, most of them in the last year of the war. Mostly on the Eastern front. This gung ho general represents Hitler's ideal National Socialist warrior. His attitude and his fanaticism count for more than military tradition. After his early years in the elite mountain troops of the old Reichswehr, Schörner rose particularly fast in the Third Reich, and conformed to the new way of thinking. Hitler appreciates the fact that he carries out ideologically inspired orders without a second thought. The political soldier is the perfect embodiment of Nazi ideology. Since 1944, Wehrmacht soldiers have received more and more political education. Schörner has been especially entrusted with the task of educating his troops politically. The younger soldiers especially remain under the Führer's spell until the end. For most of them, holding out to the very end is a matter of honour. They're obeying orders but they also feel a broader allegiance to Hitler and the Reich, and the need to save it from destruction. And when they can no longer believe in victory, the soldiers search for other reasons to fight on. Field Marshal Schörner finds other reasons too, after the war is over. And the propaganda machine certainly gives the impression that the evacuation of Germans from the Eastern territories is the Wehrmacht's top priority. At the beginning of 1945, Schörner is recalled from Courland, the king of the last stand is urgently needed at other crisis points. The huge Soviet offensive in the spring of 1945 stretches all the way to Silesia. Outnumbering the Germans by up to 15 to 1, they drive the shattered Wehrmacht units before them. The soldiers form a defensive belt along a broad front with some success. The propaganda machine works overtime to build confidence. Newsreels from fantasy land, not surprisingly they were never shown. Every effort is futile. In order to disguise that fact, any tiny counter-offensive becomes a turning point in the war. As soon as Schörner's troops have taken Lauban, the town receives a visit from Josef Goebbels, here to spread the word that victory is imminent. With Hitler in hiding, his Propaganda Minister is the Reich's only mouthpiece. On the market square, Goebbels lavishly praises Schörner's methods for raising morale. He's particularly impressed that the Field Marshal simply hangs deserters from the nearest tree. Wishful thinking aside, German troops are retreating on every front. In the West the Allies have crossed the Rhine. They're advancing towards the industrial centre of the Ruhr valley. By the beginning of April, they've surrounded the Reich's arms manufacturing centres on the Rhine and Ruhr. To mount the defence of the Ruhr pocket Hitler can call on a loyal Army Group Commander. Someone to whom he can trust the toughest missions. Field Marshal Model is respected by his soldiers as well. Model would defend his point of view with great confidence, even at Hitler's HQ. No other general criticised Hitler so openly and so often, but only on military matters. "I believe that man can do it." Hitler once said. "But I wouldn't like to serve under him." Model issues fiery calls to combat from inside the Ruhr pocket without the slightest political insight. <i>A man who no longer believes in victory cannot fight with the necessary toughness</i> <i>and contempt for death.</i> But by now, his forces in the Ruhr valley are a motley mix of home guard, veterans and raw recruits. Lothar Ester is a 19-year-old officer cadet. All this sacrifice is in vain. US Forces keep tightening the noose. They don't even have to try very hard any more, the defenders are cut off from their supplies. Model sends his adjutant on an important mission. Model sends his messenger to Berlin so that Hitler will be in no doubt exactly how bad the situation has become in the Ruhr pocket. Thus the conscientious general has already been written off without even knowing it. Nevertheless, he sticks to his task. <i>Fight to the last, and die with a weapon in our hand!</i> <i>I invite each of you to follow me!</i> Model still refuses to consider surrendering. His soldiers are left without leadership. Shortly after, Ester wrote in his diary. <i>Right into the Americans' arms.</i> <i>Only one of us was missing, Jupp Kreitmann.</i> <i>Later, we heard he was shot by a military policeman because he wanted to surrender.</i> Shot by his own side, for an act of common sense. Above all, the youngest soldiers, who've never known another world, still want to hold out. As the enemy advance on German soil continues, every member of the Wehrmacht now faces the same dilemma. In the ancient city of Gotha, in Eastern Germany, so far untouched by the war, Josef Ritter von Gadolla is summoned from his command post in Castle Friedenstein. He's ordered to prepare the defence of the town. By the beginning of April, the Americans are a few kilometres from Gotha. In his command bunker, it's time for Gadolla, Austrian by birth, to show his true colours. Gadolla persuades other representatives of the city to back his plan. He intends to do something unprecedented for a Wehrmacht officer. He will drive in person from the Castle to the American lines, to offer them the peaceful surrender of the city. But on the way, an anti-aircraft unit stops him. He's declared a traitor and reduced to the ranks. He's then transported to Weimar. The next day, a summary court-martial sentences him to death by firing squad. Within hours, the sentence is carried out. Gadolla is one of very few officers who put conscience before duty, and yet even today, he remains largely unknown. And he achieved his aim. Gotha remained unscathed. On the day of his death, the US Army entered the city without firing a single shot. Gadolla had ordered the Wehrmacht to pull out and to hang out white flags. The Americans could advance unopposed. Most German generals can't appreciate the good sense of Gadolla's actions until they themselves have nothing more to loose. Like the generals in Trent Park, in England, where they are held as POWs, in the spring of 1945. I always used to think it was wrong to surrender, that would cause a rift in the nation that would have disastrous consequences. But now... now it has to end. Simply madness. We will not fall. Any nation can loose a war because it was stupidly led; put in an impossible position by the politicians. But it cannot loose a war if it fights properly to the end. It's suicide. It's the collective suicide of a nation. Something history has never before seen. At his last HQ, an estate near Düsseldorf, out of touch with the reality of the situation in the Ruhr pocket, Model rejects every call for surrender. He lets his soldiers decide for themselves if they want to continue fighting. In mid April, he resigns his post and hides with a few of his most loyal followers in a forest, near Duisburg. The next day, tortured by the idea that he's served a false god, the now powerless general, accepts the consequences and escapes his responsibilities. Especially on the Eastern front. At his command post, a Czech resort hotel near Königgrätz, Field Marshal Schörner celebrates the Führer's birthday in his own way. True to his words, Schörner's men fight on even after Hitler's death. When soldiers elsewhere gradually started to come to their senses. At the end of the war, this commander who drove his people to hold out to the very last moment, turned out to be remarkably adaptable. Hoping to land in American captivity, Schörner heads West on May the 9th. Abandoning his army to an uncertain fate. But he has miscalculated. The Americans sent him back to the Soviets as a prisoner. He returns home in 1955. In West Germany he is prosecuted for his wartime record. But he is unrepentant. Ferdinand Schörner was prosecuted and convicted for the death sentences he'd passed. After three years he was released. He died in 1973. Gerhard Graf von Schwerin became an advisor for the creation of the new West German Army. And he is celebrated in the golden book of the city of Aachen. Kurt Vetter returned from the war in 1945. He worked as a lecturer in business studies. He died at the beginning of 2007. On his return from a French POW camp, Lothar Ester became a teacher. Between January and May 1945, 1.2 million German soldiers have died. The enemy's losses also run into millions. The Wehrmacht had proved to be the deadliest tool any dictator had ever had at his disposal. Until its own destruction. The death, destruction and misery that this army brought on the world, finally rebounded on it. The wounds still hurt today.



On mobilisation in August 1914, the 8th Army Headquarters was formed in Posen to command troops stationed in East Prussia to defend against the expected Russian attack, Plan XIX. Initially, the Army commanded the following formations:[3]

Concerned by the defeat at Gumbinnen and the continued advance of the Russian Second Army from the south, Prittwitz ordered a retreat to the Vistula, effectively abandoning East Prussia. When he heard of this, Helmuth von Moltke, the German Army Chief of Staff, recalled Prittwitz and his deputy to Berlin. They were replaced by Paul von Hindenburg, called out of retirement, with Erich Ludendorff as his chief of staff. Under its new command, the Army was responsible for the victories at the Battles of Tannenberg and Masurian Lakes.

Dissolved and reformed

The Army of the Niemen was formed on 26 May 1915 to control the troops in Courland.[5] The commander of the 8th Army, General der Infanterie Otto von Below, along with his Chief of Staff, Generalmajor von Böckmann, assumed command. In the meantime, the 8th Army got a deputy commander, General der Artillerie Friedrich von Scholtz, who was simultaneously commander of XX Corps. 8th Army was dissolved on 29 September 1915.[6] On 30 December 1915 the Army of the Niemen was renamed as the 8th Army with von Below still in command.[7]


The original 8th Army had the following commanders from mobilisation until it was dissolved 29 September 1915.[8]

8th Army
From Commander Previously Subsequently,
2 August 1914 Generaloberst Maximilian von Prittwitz I Army Inspectorate (I. Armee-Inspektion) Retired
23 August 1914 Generaloberst Paul von Hindenburg Brought out of retirement 9th Army
18 September 1914 General der Artillerie Richard von Schubert XIV Reserve Corps XXVII Reserve Corps
from 27 October 1914
9 October 1914 General der Infanterie Hermann von François I Corps XXXXI Reserve Corps
from 24 December 1914
7 November 1914 General der Infanterie Otto von Below I Reserve Corps Army of the Niemen
26 May 1915 General der Artillerie Friedrich von Scholtz Simultaneously commander of XX Corps XX Corps

A "new" 8th Army was formed by renaming the Army of the Niemen on 30 December 1915. It was dissolved after the end of the war on 21 January 1919.

"New" 8th Army
From Commander Previously Subsequently,
30 December 1915 General der Infanterie Otto von Below Army of the Niemen Heeresgruppe Below
5 October 1916 General der Infanterie Max von Fabeck 12th Army Died 16 December 1916
22 October 1916 General der Infanterie Bruno von Mudra XVI Corps Armee-Abteilung A
2 January 1917 General der Artillerie Friedrich von Scholtz Armee-Abteilung Scholtz Heeresgruppe Scholtz
22 April 1917 General der Infanterie Oskar von Hutier Armee-Abteilung D 18th Army
from 27 December 1917
12 December 1917 General der Infanterie Günther Graf von Kirchbach Armee-Abteilung D Heeresgruppe Kiev
27 January 1918 Generaloberst Günther Graf von Kirchbach
31 July 1918 General der Infanterie Hugo von Kathen XXIII Reserve Corps Commander of German troops in Lithuania and Estonia


  • Armee-Abteilung or Army Detachment in the sense of "something detached from an Army". It is not under the command of an Army so is in itself a small Army.[9]
  • Armee-Gruppe or Army Group in the sense of a group within an Army and under its command, generally formed as a temporary measure for a specific task.
  • Heeresgruppe or Army Group in the sense of a number of armies under a single commander.

See also


  1. ^ Cron 2002, p. 395
  2. ^ Cron 2002, p. 80
  3. ^ Cron 2002, pp. 322–326
  4. ^ Cron 2002, p. 52 Detached in Silesia. On 4 September 1914 came under the command of 1st Austro-Hungarian Army. Joined 9th Army on 24 September 1914.
  5. ^ Cron 2002, pp. 82–83
  6. ^ Cron 2002, p. 80
  7. ^ Cron 2002, pp. 395–396
  8. ^ Cron 2002, p. 395
  9. ^ Cron 2002, p. 84


  • Cron, Hermann (2002). Imperial German Army 1914–18: Organisation, Structure, Orders-of-Battle [first published: 1937]. Helion & Co. ISBN 1-874622-70-1.
This page was last edited on 21 November 2018, at 13:23
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