1882: Wilhelm Keitel – Commander of the Wehrmacht

1882: Wilhelm Keitel – Commander of the Wehrmacht
Photo Credit To Wikipedia Commons

Story Highlights

  • Historical event:
  • 22 September 1882
  • Keitel was the highest-ranking among Hitler's Field Marshals. Namely, he held the position of chief of the German Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (Supreme Command of the Armed Forces, abbr. OKW).

Wilhelm Keitel, one of Hitler’s highest-ranking military commanders, was born on this day in 1882.

He held the rank of Field Marshal in the armed forces of the Third Reich, and was also chief of the German Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW). This means that Keitel was the highest-ranking among Hitler’s Field Marshals. Namely, the OKH (Oberkommando des Heeres – the High Command of the German Army), OKM (Oberkommando der Marine – Naval High Command), and OKL (Oberkommando der Luftwaffe – Air Force High Command) were all subordinate to the OKW.

Field Marshal Keitel was born in the town of Bad Gandersheim, between Hannover and Göttingen, a mostly Protestant (Lutheran) region. Keitel received his education in Göttingen, a town known for its university, and later pursued a military career as an officer in the Imperial German military.

Keitel had already earned a position in the German Supreme HQ during the Great War (World War I). Imperial Germany had inherited the Prussian military tradition, according to which the Supreme HQ was an extremely important organ, not only within the frame of the armed forces, but for the state in general. During the Great War, the Supreme HQ had almost dictatorial powers even over the civilian sphere of German society.

Keitel only became General in 1934, around one year after Hitler came to power. He was 54 years old at the time. His military career took a sharp upturn during the so-called Blomberg-Fritsch Affair. Namely, Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg, who was at the time the Minister of War (Ge. Reichskriegsminister), lost favor with Hitler because he did not fully support the Führer’s aggressive military plans. Hitler therefore decided to remove Blomberg from his post and reform the entire military apparatus. He abolished the post of Minister of War and appointed Keitel (previously one of Blomberg’s subordinates) as head of the newly-created OKW. Thus, in a way, the OKW replaced the Ministry of War.

Keitel thus became the highest-ranking General in the Wehrmacht. In 1940, during World War II, he was promoted to Field Marshal. Many scholars consider that the key to Keitel’s success lay in his constant toadying and submission to Hitler. Keitel was captured at the end of World War II and hanged as a war criminal in 1946.

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