- Historic Sites
The Man Who Planned The Victory
An Interview With Gen. Albert C. Wedemeyer
October/november 1983 | Volume 34, Issue 6
I told Marshall the German army was determined never again to get bogged down in trench warfare.
In those early years you had tours of duty in the Philippines and in Washington, D.C., and finally you sailed for China to join the 15th U.S. Infantry in Tientsin.
Yes, in 1929. China was in turmoil at that time, as it had been—and would remain—for many years. For us Westerners, however, life could hardly have been more pleasant. Mrs. Wedemeyer and I lived in a comfortable house in the British Concession with our two small sons. Excellent help was available at prices even lieutenants could afford. My wife and I tried at this time to learn some Mandarin, although I had turned down an earlier opportunity to specialize in the language. We made it a point to meet some of our Chinese neighbors and local notables. Among these were the philosopher Lin Yutang and the scholar Wellington Koo.
You returned home in 1934 to attend the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth. Then you went off to the German War College in Berlin for two years. How did that come about?
The commandant at Leavenworth recommended me on the basis of my work there. Also, my record indicated that I had a smattering of high school German. Under terms of an intergovernmental reciprocal agreement, one American officer was admitted to the Kriegsakademie each year, and a German officer was accorded the privilege of attending one of our service schools.
How did you get along with your high school German?
I had to struggle during the early months in Berlin, because I lacked confidence in speaking and understanding the language. I could read German pretty well. There were times when I considered asking the War Department to replace me with someone more fluent. But by Christmastime my problem with the language eased considerably.
When you arrived in Germany in the fall of 1936, the Nazis had been in power for some years. Their rearmament program was already well advanced, and Hitler already had reoccupied the Rhineland. What was the atmosphere like at the Kriegsakademie?
A spirit of urgency prevailed. The schedule was strenuous. The courses were well organized and well taught. The pedagogy, I thought, was better than that at Leavenworth. I was impressed with the practicality and thoroughness of the purely military work, as well as with the intellectual breadth of the curriculum.
How were you received as an American?
The Germans—faculty and students alike—accepted the foreign officers as military professionals. There were only a few lectures from which foreigners were excluded on grounds of security.
Were domestic German politics or current international tensions discussed?
Sensitive issues, including politics, certainly were not discussed, so far as I was aware, either in the classroom or informally between the Germans and the foreign students. My German classmates, some of whom became good friends, understandably refrained from criticizing their government or raising political issues in private conversations.
One could not fail, however, to sense the strained relations that existed between the German military and the Nazis’ quasi-military units. Of course, no German in the military service was permitted to join the Nazi party. You may recall that these tensions erupted in the 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler and accomplish the overthrow of his government. The conspiracy was widespread throughout the Army and Navy. It included many senior officers, some (such as one-time Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ludwig Beck) in key positions. Two of my War College classmates—Capt. Claus von Stauffenberg and Capt. Wessel Freitag von Loringhoven—played important roles. The assassination attempt was unsuccessful. Both these officers—along with members of their families and scores of others—were arrested. Many were tortured and executed by the Nazis.
What were the most important lessons you brought back from the Kriegsakademie?
General Marshall asked me almost that same question when I came home in 1938. He was then head of the War Plans Division of the War Department General Staff. I told him that the German army was determined never again to get bogged down in trench warfare in the manner of 1914–18. Their emphasis definitely was on mobility and aggressiveness. Their organization, doctrine, equipment, and training were all aimed at revolutionizing the tempo of the battlefield. They envisioned not simply envelopments in the traditional sense but deep turning movements aimed at objectives far behind enemy lines. Concentrated armored forces were to serve as “nutcrackers.” These would be closely followed by large units of mechanized infantry. The new Stuka dive bombers were now to deliver much of the heavy fire support traditionally provided by long-range artillery. These principles of Blitzkrieg were put to dramatic use throughout World War II, and with particular success in the early campaigns against Poland, Russia, and Western Europe.
Were there any other lessons you learned?