Bock was born on December 3rd 1880. He joined the 5th Regiment of Prussian Foot Guards – considered one of the best in Germany – and served with distinction in World War One. As a junior officer, he was awarded the Pour le Mérite, Germany’s highest military decoration and one that was awarded usually to senior officers as opposed to juniors.
Bock stayed in the army after the end of the war. He spent his time training the truncated army in modern military tactics. Spurred on by memories of the horrors of trench warfare, Bock wanted the German Army, as small as it was, to make up for its deficiencies in numbers by embracing new weapons and new military strategy.
In 1932, Bock was appointed commander of the 2nd Infantry Division and one year later was given the command of the 3rd Gruppenkommando based in Dresden. At the outbreak of the war, Bock commanded the 1st Army Group.
Bock commanded Army Group North in the actual attack on Poland on September 1st 1939. He also commanded with distinction Army Group B in the attack on Western Europe. Hitler promoted Bock to field marshal in recognition of his command.
On April 1st 1941, Bock was given command of Army Group Centre for ‘Operation Barbarossa’ – the attack on Russia. The euphoria that greeted the initial successes of Barbarossa soon gave way to a more realistic assessment as the winter set in. Bock failed to take Moscow – his primary target as commander of Army Group Centre. After years of referring to the Russian military in the most derogatory of terms, this was an unacceptable situation for Hitler. Used to victories, the failure to capture the Russian capital was a slap in Hitler’s face. He held his generals accountable. On December 18th 1941, Bock was dismissed as commander of Army Group Centre.
From January 18th 1942 to July 15th 1942, Bock commanded Army Group South when he was placed on the retired list aged 61.
Bock lived quietly in retirement but was killed in an Allied air raid on Schleswig-Holstein on May 4th 1945, just days before the war ended.