General der Panzertruppe Walter K. Nehring



The three founders of the German Panzer Army (as indicated)

Nehring came from an old West Prussian family, which had had its origins in the Netherlands. Following the reformation, it emigrated through Wesel to Brandenburg. His ancestors were farmers and estate owners. The family name of Nehring was mentioned for the first time in 1430 in the city of Danzig’s citizenry register.

He was born on 15 August 1892 on the Stretzin estate in the district of Schlochau. He attended school in Zoppot and Danzig. He received his college preparatory degree from the St. Johann Gymnasium in the spring of 1911.

While attending school in Danzig, he developed a special fondness for the city. During his holidays, he often traveled to Groß Bendomin in the Berent district, which was the site of his mother’s family’s estate. It was there that he developed an interest in nature, hunting and agriculture. In 1913, he obtained his first hunting license.

Nehring entered military service as an officer candidate in 1911, being assigned to the Deutsches-Ordens-Infanterie-Regiment 152 in Marienburg. In 1913, he was commissioned, with his rank backdated to 1911. Along with millions of his countrymen, the young Leutnant went to war on 8 August 1914. He fought in the Battle of Tannenberg. At the Masurian Lakes he was wounded for the first time on 11 September 1914. In the assault on the Beynuhnen palace in northeastern Prussia, he was hit in the throat and head by a rifle bullet. His bravery was rewarded with the presentation of the Iron Cross, Second Class.

On 2 November 1914, just released from the hospital, Nehring was assigned to Mobiles Ersatz-Bataillon 148, where he became the adjutant. The replacement battalion served a hastily assembled division that was entrusted with the security of the borders of eastern Prussia. He participated in fighting in the Kutno area, in Lithuania and Kurland. On 6 June 1915, he was promoted to Oberleutnant.

Two days after his promotion, he was reassigned to Armeeflugpark 84 in Schaulen. He wanted to become an aviator, but on 21 June he was on board an aircraft as an observer when it crashed. Badly wounded, he spent the next few months in a hospital.

After he had convalesced, Nehring was reassigned to the western theater of war. He took command of a machine-gun company in Infanterie-Regiment 22. He fought with the company at Artois, in Flanders and the Siegfried Position. He was eventually awarded the Iron Cross, First Class.

During the spring offensive of 1918, Nehring was given acting command of the regiment’s 3rd Battalion for several weeks. On 1 July 1918, he was shot in the stomach while fighting on Kemmel Mountain. That signaled the end of his front-line service in the First World War.

At the end of November 1918, Nehring was assigned as the adjutant to the senior officer for machine-gun forces in the XX. Armee-Korps in Allenstein. He was retained in the postwar army and, after 12 years of active-duty service, promoted to Hauptmann on 1 March 1923.

That was followed by three years of intensive training as a General Staff officer candidate in Military District I and then attendance at the General Staff officer course sponsored by the Ministry of Defense. He was accepted into the General Staff on 1 October 1926, where he performed duties in the operations directorate. It was there that he began to appreciate the terrific advantage of mobile, fast-moving forces which, because they were motorized, had to be armored and heavily armed. As part of his periodic troop duty, he was assigned to Kraftfahr-Abteilung 6 in Münster on 1 March 1929.

It was there that he received the mission of transforming a motorized company into the first motorized combat force of the German Army. It was an experiment that worked and provided valuable lessons for the future motorization of the army. Nehring retained his interest in motorized forces and thus began his future close association with the Panzertruppe.

On 1 January 1932, he was transferred back to the Ministry of Defense, where he was assigned as the operations officer for the Directorate of Motorized Forces, whose chief-of-staff was Oberstleutnant i. G. Guderian. One month later, Nehring was promoted to Major i. G. That was followed by promotion to Oberstleutnant i. G. in September 1934. On 1 October, he became the operations officer for the Motorization Command in Berlin. Once again, Guderian was the chief-of-staff and, later, Oberst i. G. Paulus of Stalingrad fame.

In 1936 and 1937, as part of his continuing education and training as a General Staff officer, Nehring was detailed to numerous army formations, as well as to the Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine. On 1 October 1937, he assumed command of Panzer-Regiment 5 in Wünsdorf (Berlin), after having been promoted to Oberst i. G. the previous March. It was his chance to transform many of the tactical principles he had espoused and written about in the years from 1934 to 1937 into practice.

By then, Guderian had become the head of mobile forces. In that capacity, he saw to it that Nehring was transferred to Vienna on 1 July 1939 to become the chief-of-staff of the newly forming XIX. Armee-Korps (mot.), which Guderian was earmarked to command. It was in that capacity that Nehring participated in the campaign in Poland. During that campaign, he received clasps to his First World War Iron Crosses, indicating he had been awarded the same decorations in the current conflict as well.

During the campaign in the West, Nehring’s job was to transform the decisions of his commanding general far out in front into corresponding corps orders. Following the first phase of the campaign, Guderian was directed to form a Panzergruppe, a formation larger than a corps but smaller than a field army. Nehring stayed on to be the chief-of-staff, while the operations officer was Major Fritz Bayerlein. Both men would work closely together in various headquarters for the remainder of the war. 5

On 1 August 1940, Nehring was promoted to Generalmajor. Guderian had recommended him for the Knight’s Cross for his performance in France, but the recommendation was turned down, since the Knight’s Cross was not yet awarded for superior performance in headquarters activities.

On 28 October 1940, he assumed command of the 18. Panzer-Division, which was in the process of being formed in Chemnitz. In later years, he always thanked his operations officer at the time, Fritz Ester, for his assistance in transforming the many disparate elements into a combat-ready formation in such a short period of time.

Between France and Barbarossa, Nehring was one of the few panzer generals to support the doubling of number of panzer divisions by halving the number of panzers in each: he believed in their original size, the divisions were too large and unwieldy. For Barbarossa Nehring received command of one of those new divisions, 18th Panzer, under Guderian as before.

Nehring stayed with Second Panzer Army through the battles of Minsk, Smolensk all the way to Moscow. After some defensive fighting near Sukhinichi in the winter, Nehring transferred to North Africa in March 1942. He took command of the Africa Corps (15th and 21st Panzer Divisions and the 90th Light Division) under Rommel’s Panzer Army Africa. There he helped win the magnificent cauldron battle at Gazala and contributed to the capture of Tobruk. He was wounded during an Allied air attack that August while driving towards Alam Halfa and medically evacuated back to Germany. Nehring returned to Africa in November, and commanded the ad hoc XC Corps defending Tunis. Believing the Germans could not defend Tunisia, he soon fell foul of both his political and military masters (Goebbels’ representative and Kesselring, respectively). He remained in North Africa less than one month.

Nehring was back on the Eastern Front by February 1943, to take command of the XXIV Panzer Corps under Hoth’s Fourth Panzer Army. His corps was designated as a reserve of Operation Citadel’s southern pincer. It later participated in the defense of the Ukraine, including the critical battle against the Soviet bridgehead over the Dnepr at Burkin and Kanev in September. The XXIV Panzer played key roles in the defensive battles of both First and Fourth Panzer Armies during the winter of 1943-44. He evidently returned to the good graces of his superiors, receiving the Oak Leaves in February 1944. A month later, Nehring’s XXIV Panzer was part of the First Panzer’s pocket that `wandered’ from Cherkassy-Korsun to relative freedom. During the summer of that year, Nehring served a month-long tour of duty as acting commander of the Fourth Panzer Army.

Back at XXIV Panzer in late summer, Nehring guided that formation westward through Poland as part of Army Group Vistula. By early 1945, his corps drifted toward Silesia, where it avoided destruction and joined up with Panzer Corps Grossdeutschland. Nehring ended the war commanding the First Panzer Army near Prague for six weeks. One would have to judge Nehring as a good tactical-level panzer general, but whose main claim to fame was his career-long association with Guderian. He died in 1983.

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