John Wheeler Wheeler-Bennett, GCVO, MCG, OBE, FRSL, FBA, was a conservative British historian of German and diplomatic history.
Wheeler-Bennett was born in Keston, Kent, the son of
a wealthy importer on 13 October,
1902. He was educated at a school in Westgate on Sea and Malvern College.
He did not regard his youth as a happy one.
1920s, Wheeler-Bennett worked as an aide to General Sir Neil Malcolm, whom Wheeler-Bennett worked with
in the Middle East and Berlin.
leaving Malcom's employ, Wheeler-Bennett served in the publicity
department of the League of
Nations in 1923-1924 in
Geneva. Afterwards, Wheeler-Bennett worked as the
director of the Royal Institute of International
Affairs's information department.
Wheeler-Bennett worked as the editor of the Bulletin of
in Germany between
1927-1934 and witnessed
first-hand the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazi
Throughout his life, Wheeler-Bennett was to
have a love-hate relationship with the Germans. During his time living
in Berlin, he enjoyed
some success as a horse-breeder.
this period, he became an unofficial agent and advisor to London on
His biography of Paul von
created his reputation as a historian
. Another great success was The
, a study of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
. In the
pre-1939 period, Wheeler-Bennett befriended or was at least on
speaking terms with a number of well-known people all over
Some of the people he knew included Heinrich Brüning
, Basil Liddell Hart
, Franz von Papen
, John Buchan
, Carl Friedrich Goerdeler
, Max Hoffmann
, Lewis Bernstein Namier
, Benito Mussolini
, Bruce Lockhart
, Sir Robert Gilbert
, Kurt von
, Sir Isaiah Berlin
, Engelbert Dollfuss
, the former Kaiser
, Adam von Trott zu Solz
, Louis Barthou
, Lord Lothian
, Winston Churchill
, and Dr. Edvard Beneš
Later, Wheeler-Bennett was to become a critic of Appeasement
and wrote a book Munich :
Prologue To Tragedy
condemning the Munich Agreement
that became an early
classic of anti-appeasement literature. In 1939, he went to
States to serve as a lecturer on international relations
at the University
Wheeler-Bennett was strongly pro-American
and always considered
the American South to be his favorite part of the American
onwards, he worked with the British Information Service in New York City, an agency charged with trying to persuade the
United States to enter the war on the Allied side.
in 1942, Wheeler-Bennett worked in the
Political Warfare department of the British government in London.
was promoted to the Assistant Director General of Political
Intelligence Department before going on to serve in the Political
Adviser's Department in SHAEF
. In 1945-1946, Wheeler-Bennett assisted
the British Prosecution at the Nuremberg Trials.
Afterwards, he was the British editor-in-chief of the German
Foreign Ministry's archives and oversaw the early publications of
the German Documents on Foreign Affairs
. From 1948
, he served as the
Historical Adviser to the Foreign Office Project for publishing the
German Foreign Ministry Archives.
Wheeler-Bennett married an American woman named Ruth Risher and
settled after the war in a country house at Garsington, United
Kingdom. Despite his lack of university education and
his status as a self-proclaimed amateur historian, Wheeler-Bennett
was hired to teach International
Relations at St. Antony's College and at New College at
University after World War Two
A devout Anglican
, he enjoyed his life in
the English countryside. From 1959
death, he worked as the Historical Adviser for the Royal Archives.
He became founding chairman of the Ditchley Foundation
, the Anglo-American
conference group, in 1958. In 1972, he was elected to the British Academy
An intelligent, shy man who talked with a strong stammer,
Wheeler-Bennett was a mixture of the romantic and the practical,
which was very much reflected in his historical writings. He was a
follower of the Great Man school of
and his writings usually explained historical events in
terms of the leading personalities of the period under study. This
view of history together with his own right-wing outlook led him to
make Churchill the principal hero of his writings.
Wheeler-Bennett was best known for The Nemesis of Power
which documented the German Army
disastrous efforts at playing politics. His thesis was that
under von Seeckt's leadership during the Weimar period, the
Reichswehr formed a "State within the
State" that largely preserved its autonomy from the politicians in
Berlin, but that it did not, however, play an active role
in day-to-day politics.
After Seeckt's downfall in 1926
, which had been
engineered by Schleicher, the Reichswehr
increasingly engaged in political intrigues. In Wheeler-Bennett's
view, Schleicher was the "Gravedigger of the Weimar Republic" who
succeeded in undermining democracy, but failed completely to build
any sort of stable structure in its place. Thus by a mixture of
cunning, intrigue and inept maneuvers, Schleicher inadvertently
paved the way for Adolf Hitler
In the revised 1964
edition of The Nemesis
, Wheeler-Bennett continued his story right up to the
July 20 Plot
. He contended that under the leadership of
Werner von Blomberg
and Werner von Fritsch
, the German Army chose
to acquiesce in the Nazi regime as the kind of government best able
to achieve what the Army wanted; namely a militarized society that
would ensure in the next war that there would be no repeat of the
“stab in the back”.
By agreeing to support the Nazi dictatorship, the Army tolerated a
regime that quietly and gradually dismantled the “State within the
state”. After Blomberg's and Fritsch's fall in 1938
, the Army increasing became just a tool of the
Nazi regime rather than the independent actor that it had been
before. Though Wheeler-Bennett played tribute to the courage of men
such as Claus von
, overall he concluded that the conservative
opposition within the Wehrmacht
had done too little, too late to
overthrow the Nazis.
Wheeler-Bennett died of cancer in London on 9 December, 1975, aged
He was very well known in his lifetime and his interpretation of
the role of the German Army influenced numerous historians, though
he is largely forgotten today.
- Cull, Nicholas Selling War : The British Propaganda Against
American "Neutrality" In World War II, New York : Oxford
University Press, 1995.
- Roberts, Frank (editor) Obituaries From The Times
1971-1975, Meckler Books, 1978.
- Information On The Reduction Of Armaments, with an
introduction by Major-General Sir Neil L. Malcolm, 1925.
- Information On The Renunciation Of War, 1927-1928 with
an introduction by Philip H. Kerr, 1928.
- The Wreck Of Reparations, Being The Political Background Of
The Lausanne Agreement, 1932, 1932.
- Disarmament And Security Since Locarno 1925-1931; Being The
Political And Technical Background Of The General Diarmament
Conference, 1932, 1933.
- Hindenburg: The Wooden Titan, 1936.
- Brest-Litovsk : The Forgotten Peace, March 1918,
- Munich : Prologue To Tragedy, 1948.
- The Nemesis Of Power : The German Army In Politics,
1918-1945, 1953, revised edition 1964.
- King George VI, His Life And Reign, 1958.
- John Anderson, Viscount Waverley, 1962.
- A Wreath To Clio: Studies In British, American and German
- Action This Day; Working With Churchill. Memoirs
by Lord Norman Brook (And Others), edited with an introduction
by Sir John Wheeler-Bennett, 1968.
- The Pipe Dream Of Peace; The Story Of The Collapse Of
- The Semblance Of Peace : The Political Settlement After The
Second World War, co-written by J. Wheeler-Bennett and Anthony
- The History Makers; Leaders And Statesmen Of The 20th
century, edited by Lord Longford & Sir John
Wheeler-Bennett, Chronologies and editorial assistance by Christine
- Knaves, Fools And Heroes In Europe Between The Wars,
- Special Relationships : America In Peace And War,
- Friends, Enemies, And Sovereigns, 1976