Field Marshal Günther Hans von Kluge was a senior officer in the German Army during World War Two. Kluge was known to his colleagues as “Clever Hans”, Kluge gained a reputation for being a brilliant staff officer. Kluge was never a Nazi and he obeyed Hitler’s orders simply because all army personnel had sworn an oath of loyalty to Hitler as commander-in-chief. However, Kluge cannot be described as being anti-Nazi – he was more a patriotic German who did his job to the best of his abilities.
Kluge was born on October 30th 1882. He joined the German Army as an artillery officer and it was in this capacity that he served in World War One. Kluge also learned to fly during World War One and it was this area that he wished to develop once the war had finished. Kluge stayed in the Germany Army after the war and by October 1935, he held the rank of lieutenant general and commanded the VI Corps. In 1936, VI Corps was expanded to include an extra infantry division and Kluge was promoted to general.
However, in 1937, he lost his command as a result of the purges in the army that came with the removal of the army’s most senior general – Fritsch. Fritsch was an old-style military leader and one, in the mind of Hitler, who held old style military ideas. Fritsch was dismissed as a result of trumped up charges of homosexuality. Anyone associated with him – including Kluge – was also dismissed.
However, as European politics became more and more dangerous and war became an expectation, Hitler realised that he needed as many competent military commanders as was possible. As a result, Kluge was recalled to the army and in January 1939 given command of the 6th Army Group.
During the invasions of Poland and Western Europe, Kluge commanded the 4th Army and his success was recognised when he was promoted by Hitler to field marshal on July 19th 1940.
During ‘Operation Barbarossa’ Kluge once again led the 4th Army and he was very much involved in the Battle for Moscow.
In 1942, Kluge was given the command of Army Group Centre. The defensive lines he created within his command area stood firm against most Russian attacks until 1944. On July 7th 1944, Kluge was given the task of Commander-in-Chief West – a position previously held by Field Marshal Rundstedt. Just about one month into the D-Day landings it was apparent that there was not going to be a German attack that would push the Allies back into the Channel. Rundstedt had resigned over the constant interference by Hitler on command decisions – even to the extent over the movement of troops. Kluge had an ominous start to his command as Hitler ordered him that there could be no retreat of any German forces in the West. This effectively tied Kluge’s hands as Hitler interpreted a tactical withdrawal as a retreat. Hence right from the start of his command, Kluge had little if any flexibility to command his forces as he might wish to. With no chance of developing his own strategy to defeat the advancing Allies, Kluge found that he could not stem the Allied advance. Just five weeks into his appointment, Hitler dismissed Kluge on August 17th who appointed Field Marshal Walther Model to succeed him. On August 18th, Kluge committed suicide by taking poison. He had been implicated in the July Bomb Plot but nothing was proved against his name.