Colonel-General Erich Hoepner was born on September 14th 1886. Hoepner joined the German Army and fought in World War One. During this war Hoepner served in a number of staff posts and he remained in the army after the war ended.
Hoepner had been dismayed by the futile tactics used in the war when millions of men had been slaughtered on the alter of trench warfare. Hoepner developed a keen interest in mobile warfare and in particular the use of tanks. By 1938, he had been promoted to major general and was the commander of the 1st Light Division. Even before World War Two started, Hoepner got involved in anti-Hitler plots. Hitler was held in low regard by many senior army generals and they wanted to use Hoepner’s command to stop any movement by the SS once the army had arrested Hitler in a coup led by General Ludwig Beck. Beck’s plot came to nothing and the Nazis suspected nothing.
In 1939 Hoepner was promoted to lieutenant general and given the command of XVI Corps. This unit was used in the occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 and in the attack on Poland in September 1939. By the time of the attack on France in 1940, XVI Corps had become XVI Panzer Corps.
During ‘Operation Barbarossa’, Hoepner was given command of the 4th Panzergruppe. This unit played a major part in the initial successes of the German attack, which led to the German Army getting to within 20 miles of the centre of Moscow.
When the Germans failed to capture Moscow, Hoepner wanted to start a tactical withdrawal of his men who were clearly suffering from the onset of the Russian winter. Once they had recuperated, Hoepner believed that they would have been in a far better position to attack Moscow once again. Hitler could not begin to contemplate such a move especially as he had stated to his generals that Moscow was “merely a geographical concept”. Hitler dishonourably discharged Hoepner from the army.
Freed from his command, Hoepner continued with his work against Hitler. He was involved in the July Bomb Plot. The Gestapo discovered his part and Hoepner was arrested. He was tried, found guilty and sentenced to death.
Erich Hoepner was hanged on August 8th 1944.