In “Generals of the North“, I will introduce the Generals of Army Group North (Heeresgruppe Nord). Not a lot has been written about them and outside germany most people will not even have heard of them. Everybody has heard of Rommel, Guderian and Manstein, but names like Küchler, Lindemann, von Bock, Frießner, Schörner and von Leeb have largely been forgotten.
I will begin this series with a short biography of Georg Lindemann (1884-1963)
Georg Lindemann was born on the 8th of March 1884 in Osterburg. On the 26th of February 1903, after finishing grammar school he joined the “Magdeburgische Dragoner-Regiment Nr. 6” (Dragoons) as an ensign. After being promoted to the rank of Leutnant he joined “Jäger Regiment zu Pferde Nr. 13” in Saarlouis on the 1st of October 1913. His stay there was a short one as on the 1st of April 1914 he was transfered again, this time joining the the “Grosser Generalstab” (generals staff) in Berlin. This was unusual as Lindemann never visited the war academy. During his staff service he made the acquaintance of his future superior Georg von Küchler. In the years prior to the Great War he had married Annemarie von der Osten the mother of his three children (Ernst, Rosemarie and Erika). The outbreak of the war in 1914 brought an end to his staff training. When his regiment mobilized he returned to it and got the promotion to the rank of Rittmeister shortly afterwards (November 1914). During World War One he served in the generals staffs of “Korps Posen” (6th of December), “Garde-Reserve-Korps” (February 1915), “Armeeoberkommando 12” on the Eastern Front (June 1915), “Armeeoberkommando 11” on the Balkans (October 1915), “VII. Reserve-Korps” (March 1916) and “Armeeoberkommando 1” on the western front (Juli 1916).
On the 12th of January he was made chief of staff of “220. Infanterie-Division” a position he continued to hold for more than a year before being posted to “Heeresgruppe Kronprinz Rupprecht von Bayern” as a liaison officer (Offizier von der Armee).
During World War One he was awarded with the Iron Cross 2nd Class (September 1914), the Iron Cross 1st Class (July 1915) and the Knights Cross of the House of Hohenzollern with Swords (May 1917).
The year 1919 brought drastic changes for Lindemann. He wrote:
“The fall of irrevocable things like national pride and honor, duty and law, tradition and decency destroyed our conception of the world.”
Believing that “Saving the Reich, any kind of Reich, from the fall” should be his first and foremost goal, he joined the Freikorps and took part in suppressing communist risings in Munich, Halle, the area of the Ruhr and Hamburg.
On the 10th of March 1919 he joined “Grenadier-Regiment zu Pferde Nr. 3”. Only 13 days later he was transfered to the staff of “Garde-Kavallerie-Schützen-Division” which was part of the “Freiwilligen Division von Lettow-Vorbeck”. With this unit he took part in the suppression of the Munich Räterepublik (council republic) and the so-called “Sülze Unruhen” (“Aspic” risings) in Hamburg (1st of July 1919). Soon afterwards Lindemann left the Freikorps. In August 1919 he got transferred to the Garrison of Hamburg, Altona and Wandsbek as a staff officer before being posted to the Infantry-School Munich as an instructor in November 1919.
When Lindemann was taken over into the Reichswehr in 1921 he stayed in his old position as infantry instructor. On the 15th of September 1922 he took command of the 2nd squadron of “Reiter-Regiment 7” in Breslau. Three years later, in 1925 he was transferred to the staff of 2. Kavallerie-Division and was promoted to the rank of Major, Lindemanns first promotion after 12 years of continuous service!
After being promoted to the rank of Oberstleutnant on 1st of February 1931 he took command of Reiter-Regiment 13. In 1933 he was promoted again and in the rank of “Oberst” was posted to command the war academy in Hannover. On the 20th of April 1936 Lindemann was promoted to Generalmajor and got command of the new 36. Infanterie-Division in Kaiserslautern. On 1st of April 1938 he was promoted to the rank of Generalleutnant.
In these years Lindemann engaged in literary pursuits and in 1936 his first article was published in the “Militärwissenschaftliche Runschau” (Journal of military science). It was titled: “The state-conserving power of german military tradition“. In it he argued that only steadfastness and ethos of its officers could save a country from certain disintegration in times of crisis, drawing examples for his thesis from the Seven Years War (1756-1763) and the prussian defeat of 1806/1807. He wrote that the german officer class had tried to do the same in the years from 1918 to 1923, but that their sacrifices had been in vain and went without appreciation.
He quoted from Hitlers “Mein Kampf” and looking back at the “November Revolution” he wrote about the “menacing ghost of Bolshevism and its immeasurable consequences for our culture“.
In another article he advocated the concept of mobile warfare. He argued that on the modern field of battle, motorized units would be met by the motorized units of the enemy and because of that would bring no innovation to operative warfare. With the advancement of armour-piercing weapons, tanks would not be able to operate independently. He pleaded in favour of using tanks in the support of the infantry and to use them on a tactical level only as he could not envisage them working in large formations on an operative basis. This attitude was met with emphatic refusal by Generalmajor Heinz Guderian, commander of 2. Panzerdivision and “Father of the german tank force” and the same year Guderian wrote an answer to Lindemanns article (“Der Panzerangriff in Bewegung und Feuer”), which was published in the “Zeitschrift des Reichsverbandes Deutscher Offiziere” in 1937.
With the outbreak of World War Two 36. Infanterie-Division was mobilized, put under command of 1. Armee under Generaloberst Erwin von Witzleben and moved to the western border (near Mörsbach). It was the period of the “Sitzkrieg” (play on the word “Blitzkrieg“) known in England as the “Phoney War“.
When the Campaign in the West started in the 10th of May 1940, Lindemanns Division was subordinated to VII. Armeekorps (General Eugen von Schobert), which in turn was subordinated to Armeeoberkommando 16 (Generaloberst Ernst Busch). Schobert and Busch had the same seniority and were both slightly younger than Lindemann. The historian Johannes Hürter wrote that “Georg Lindemann was still only commanding a division and still junior to his younger comrades Busch and Reichenau“.
On the 14th of June 1940 Lindemanns Division took part in the break through the Maginot-Line. For his leadership Lindemann was awarded the Knights-Cross on the 5th of August 1940. On the 1st of October 1940 Lindemann was made General of the newly formed L. Armeekorps and a month later was promoted to the rank of General der Kavallerie (General of Cavalry). L. Armeekorps was transfered to Bulgaria in Spring 1941 and took part in the Campaign on the Balkans from the 6th to 23rd of April. Lindemanns Korps was kept as Army reserve and did not see any action. Following the campaign Lindemanns command was shifted to Eastern Prussia into the controll of Heeresgruppe Nord (Army Group North) under Generalfeldmarschall Ritter von Leeb, to take part in the attack on Soviet Russia. Lindemann had not been involved into the immediate preperations for the attack and only learned about it a couple of days before the 22nd of June 1941.
L. Armeekorps was again put under command of 16. Armee, pressing forward on the Army Groups southern flank into the direction Welikije Luki. On the 28th of July 1941 Lindemanns Korps was subordinated to 9. Armee of Heeresgruppe Mitte (Army Group Centre) for a short period of time. On the 2nd of August, during heavy fighting south-west of Welikije Luki and after running out of ammunition, 251. Infanterie-Division (of L. Armeekorps) suffered massive losses and had to be taken back behind the river Lowat.
Lindemann blamed Generalleutnant Hans Kratzert, the Divisions commanding officer, who was at once relieved of his command. A later investigation acquitted Kratzert and he was reinstated as artillery commander of 18. Armee. The chief of staff of 251. Infanterie-Division and later director of the Military History Research Institute of the Federal Republic of Germany Major Hans Meier-Welcker wrote mentioning Lindemanns style of command. “We are subordinated to a command structure of unfavourable composition. This is spoiling a lot”
Under command of Panzergruppen-Kommando 4 Lindemanns Armeekorps took part in the push on Leningrad in September 1941. When Panzergruppe 4 was pulled out to take part in the planned offensive against Moscow in the second half of September, Lindemanns Korps was left behind to uphold the blockade of Leningrad in the area south of Pushkino.
It was subordinated to 18. Armee under Generaloberst Georg von Küchler who knew Lindemann since 1914.
In the Winter 1941/42, during the defensive battles at the Volkhov and south of the Ilmen Lake (Pocket of Demjansk) Heeresgruppe Nord experienced a crisis of leadership. On the 17th of January 1942 Generalfeldmarschall Ritter von Leeb applied for a discharge. On his behalf Generaloberst Küchler took command of the Army Group. As commander for 18. Armee Küchler chose Lindemann.
Under Lindemanns command 18. Armee managed to encircle the 2nd Soviet Assault Army on the Volkhov and to destroy it by the end of June 1942. For this feat Lindemann was promoted to Generaloberst on the 5th of July 1942. In the following weeks parts of 11. Armee under Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein were moved into the area controlled by Lindemanns troops. When the Soviets started their first offensive to liberate the city of Leningrad at the end of August 1942, Hitler ordered Manstein to organise and command the defences in the area of 18. Armee.
Manstein was embarrassed by the affront to Lindemann who he called “an old acquaintance from the Great War”. In Autumn 1942 AOK11 was pulled out again reinstating Lindemanns command in the blockade of Leningrad.
In January 1943 Lindemann could not hold against the next soviet offensive to relieve Leningrad. The soviet Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts managed to break the ring around the city on the 18th of January 1943. When they tried to enlarge the small corridor they had gained in the fighting they were repelled by Lindemanns troops in Summer 1943 (Third Battle of Lake Ladoga). For this success he was awarded the Oakleaves to the Knights Cross on the 21st of August 1943.
In the following months Generalfeldmarschall von Küchler asked for permission to fall back into new defensive positions further west. When Hitler asked for Lindemanns opinion he was certain that he would be able to repel yet another soviet offensive of the Red Army. Maybe he was motivated by the award he just had received, but as a result of Lindemanns statement the Army Group was commanded to hold its old positions.
In January 1944 18. Armee had no means to counter the next soviet offensive (Operation Leningrad-Novgorod). After his Army had been flanked it received the permission to fall back to the river Luga. When Generaloberst Walter Model took command of Heeresgruppe Nord on the 28th of January 1944 he managed to talk Hitler into another fighting retreat. This time the Army Group fell back into the so-called “Panther Stellung” (Panther Defences).
On the 1st of March 1944 the soldiers of Heeresgruppe Nord “made front” there. The destruction of the Heeresgruppe had only just been avoided.
When Model was put in command of Heeresgruppe Nordukraine, Lindemann took command of Heeresgruppe Nord.
The situation was alarming. Lindemanns command was down to 30 Infantry-Divisions consisting of only 110.248 men, 30 tanks and 206 assault-guns. The superiority of the enemy was overwhelming (8:1). When the expected soviet summer offensive began the connection of Heeresgruppe Mitte (Army Group Centre) was broken. A corridor 40 kilometers wide was now separating both formations. Through it soviet units now pushed towards the Baltic Sea.
Only the so-called “Fester Platz” (Fortress) of Polozk was still held. Lindemann pleaded to be allowed to leave the town to the enemy and to fall back on the River Düna. By giving the Baltic to the enemy the frontline would have been shortened freeing reserves for a counter offensive.
Hitler turned him down. But not only that, he ordered Lindemann to hold Polozk at all costs and to organise an offensive. Lindemann now asked to be discharged, which was rejected aswell. For his “offensive” Lindeman had two Divisions with only eight (!) full batallions and 44 assault-guns. With this force he was supposed to break through two full strength soviet armies up to a depth of 60 kilometers.
When the offensive started on
the 2nd of July it met with no success and at the same time the soviet 4th Army managed to achieve a breakthrough south of Polozk. Lindemann was about to be encircled and now ordered a general retreat on his own authority, which was granted by Hitler soon afterwards. Shortly afterwards Lindemann was relieved of his command. His action had saved the Army Group from certain destruction. On the 4th of July 1944 General Johaness Friessner took command of Heeresgruppe Nord.
Lindemann was now part of the leadership reserves. On the 27th of January 1945 he was put in command of the Wehrmacht forces in Denmark (“Wehrmachtsbefehlshaber Dänemark“), where he was tasked to mobilise resources needed for the “Endkampf” (Final Battle). The largest part of german troops in Denmark had already been transferred to the Eastern Front so that in a case of emergency not even a city like Copenhagen could have been defended with success.
Because of this Lindemann concentrated on erecting blocking-positions on the Great and Little Belt. When the end of the war loomed on the horizon, Lindemann telegraphed a message to Hitlers successor Großadmiral Karl Dönitz, in which he highlighted the hopelessness of a defence of Denmark.
On the 4th of May 1945 german forces in Denmark capitulated. The civilian administrator of Denmark, Werner Best, had put himself under the protection of the Danish Liberty movement. Lindemann himself though wanted to continue the fight. He reported to Dönitz that he had 230.000 men at his disposal and that he would have Best executed as a traitor.
Dönitz ordered Lindemann to take Best prisoner and to cooperate with the British forces.
Field Marshall Montgomery demanded the retreat of all german troops in Denmark. Only fugitives, the wounded and sick and foreign volunteers were allowed to stay.
All german formations were grouped into the so-called “Armeegruppe Lindemann” and put under command of the “Oberbefehlshaber Nordwest” Generaloberst Ernst Busch. The return of the german troops was organized and coordinated by Lindemann and the british General Richard Dewing.
After the repatriation of his units Lindemann stayed free until being arrested by US Troops on the 4th of June 1945. He was released from captivity in 1947. During this time he acted as witness during the Nuremberg trials. On the 26th of September he was again arrested and extradited to Denmark to be put on trial there. The trial never came and he was released on the 15th of May 1948. He moved to Freudenstadt where he lived a quiet life up until his death in 1963.
According to his own testimony he refrained from passing on the so-called “Kommisarbefehl” (Commissary Order) to the troops under his command. In Nuremberg he claimed that “An order is an order, but we older commanders took the liberty to choose which order was to be obeyed and which was to be ignored”.
He had a similar attitude to the “Kriegsgerichtsbarkeitserlass” of the 13th of May 1941. This order removed Wehrmacht soldiers from the prosecution of the law when they committed a crime against the civilian population. As commander of 18. Armee he confirmed death penalities against german soldiers. In one case an army clerk had killed a russian girl. In another case a german soldier had killed a russian man because he tried to keep the soldier from dating his sister.
The historian Charles Whiting describes Lindemann as a “fervent Nazi”. Personally I think he his wrong. In Summer 1942 Lindemann had a personal conflict with the “Reichssicherheitshauptamt” of the SS, because he complained against the shootings of prisoners by the 2. SS-Infanterie-Brigade.
In 1948 Lindemann claimed that he quite often told leading members of the NSDAP to keep out of his business. “I don’t mess with the political concerns of the party, so keep out of my military business. Otherwise I will turn hostile.”
His statements are strengthened by a report of the former General of the Luftwaffe Herbert Riekhoff who wrote in 1945 that “when during the war you were guest at Lindemanns table, you could have classed every word said as high treason.”
Further reading and sources
- Richard Brett-Smith: Hitler’s Generals. Osprey Publishing, London 1976, ISBN 0-850-45073-X.
- Various war diaries (Heeresgruppe Nord, 18. Armee, 1. Infanterie-Division)
- Karl-Heinz Frieser (Hrsg.): Die Ostfront 1943/44 – Der Krieg im Osten und an den Nebenfronten. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, München 2007, ISBN 978-3-421-06235-2, S. 278–339 (= Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg. Bd. 8).
- Johannes Hürter: Hitlers Heerführer – Die deutschen Oberbefehlshaber im Krieg gegen die Sowjetunion 1941/42. 2. Auflage. R. Oldenbourg Verlag, München 2006, ISBN 978-3-486-58341-0 (=Quellen und Darstellungen zur Zeitgeschichte. Bd. 66).
- Georg Lindemann: Die staatserhaltende Kraft des deutschen Soldatentums. In: Militärwissenschaftliche Rundschau. Nr. 1, 1936, S. 291–308.
- Georg Lindemann: Feuer und Bewegung im Landkrieg der Gegenwart. In: Militärwissenschaftliche Rundschau. Nr. 2, 1937, S. 362–377.
- Samuel W. Mitcham, Gene Mueller: Hitler’s Commanders. Scarborough House, London 1992, ISBN 0-812-84014-3.
- John Zimmermann: Die deutsche militärische Kriegführung im Westen 1944/45. In: Rolf-Dieter Müller (Hrsg.): Der Zusammenbruch des Deutschen Reiches 1945 und die Folgen des Zweiten Weltkrieges. München 2008, ISBN 3-421-06237-4, S. 277-489 (= Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg. Bd. 10/1).