Field Marshal Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb played a major part in the initial campaigns of World War Two but paid the price for his failure to take Leningrad. As a result of this failure, Hitler placed Leeb on the retirement list.

Panzers outside Moscow, late 1941.
Panzers outside Moscow, late 1941.


Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb was born on September 5th 1876. In 1897 he joined the 4th Field Artillery Regiment and during World War One he served as an artillery officer.


Leeb stayed in the army after the end of the war. By 1929, he was a major general. In 1934, Leeb was appointed commander of the 2nd Gruppenkommando (Army Group Headquarters). However, shortly after this appointment, Leeb resigned his commission in protest at the influence of Nazi rules and regulations that had been imposed on the army.


When war started in September 1939, Leeb was recalled and given command of Army Group C. This army group was tasked with defending Nazi Germany’s from a French invasion while much of her military might was directed against Poland.


When the attack on France came in May 1940, Leeb’s army group played a major part in defeating the defenders who were based in the Maginot Line. For his part in the invasion of France, Leeb was promoted to field marshal on July 19th 1940.


As part of ‘Operation Barbarossa’, Leeb was given the command of Army Group North. His primary task, after capturing the Baltic States, was Leningrad. Leeb’s failure to capture the Soviet Union’s second city proved to be his downfall. Hitler believed that the Red Army was torn with incompetence and that its defeat was simply taken as read. Hitler also believed that the Russian people would be unable to cope with the might of the German Army. Therefore, he was furious when Army Group North failed to capture Leningrad and he removed Leeb from his command. Leeb was placed on the retired list on January 18th 1942