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Walther Wenck (September 18, 1900 – May 1, 1982) was the youngest general in the German Army during World War II. At the end of the war, he commanded the German Twelfth Army. Wenck ordered his army to surrender to forces of the United Statesmarker in order to avoid capture by the Sovietsmarker. Before surrendering, Wenck was to play an important, if unsuccessful, part in the Battle of Berlin. He was known during the war as "The Boy General".

Early life

Wenck was born in Wittenbergmarker, Germanymarker. Prior to joining the Army (Reichswehr) of the Weimar Republicmarker in 1920, he was a member of the Free Corps (Freikorps) in 1919.

World War II

From 1939 to 1942, Wenck was Chief of Operations for the First Panzer Division. In 1942, he was an instructor for the War Academy, Chief of Staff for the LVII Corps, and Chief of Staff for the Third Romanian Army on the Eastern Front.

Wenck stayed on the Eastern Front and, from 1942 to 1943, he was Chief of Staff of "Army Detachment Hollidt" which was subordinated to the Third Romanian Army. In 1943, he was Chief of Staff of the Sixth Army. From 1943 to 1944, Wenck was Chief of Staff of the First Panzer Army. In 1944, he was Chief of Staff of Army Group South Ukraine.

From 1944 to 1945, Wenck was Quartermaster General I.

From 15 February 1945, due to the insistence of General Heinz Guderian, Wenck commanded the German forces involved in Operation Solstice (Unternehmen Sonnenwende) on the Eastern Front. With General Felix Steiner commanding the 11th SS Panzer Army, this was one of the last major German tank offensives of the war. Approximately 1200 German tanks attacked Soviet positions in Pomerania. The operation was poorly planned and poorly supported, and ended in Soviet victory on 18 February.

Western Front

On 10 April 1945, as General of Panzer Troops, Wenck was made the commander of the German Twelfth Army located to the west of Berlin. The Twelfth Army was positioned to defend against the advancing American and Britishmarker forces on the Western Front. But, as both the Western Front moved eastwards and the Eastern Front moved westwards, the German armies making up both fronts backed towards each other. As a result, the area of control of Wenck's army to his rear and east of the Elbe River had become a vast refugee camp for German civilians fleeing the path of the approaching Soviet forces. Wenck took great pains to provide food and lodging for these refugees. At one stage, the Twelfth Army was estimated to be feeding more than a quarter million people every day.

Berlin's Last Hope

On 21 April, Adolf Hitler ordered SS-General Felix Steiner to attack the forces of Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front. Zhukov's forces were encircling Berlin from the north. The forces of Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev's 1st Ukrainian Front were encircling Berlin from the south. Steiner was to attack Zhukov with his Army Detachment Steiner. With few operational tanks and roughly a division's worth of infantry, Steiner declined to attack. Instead, he requested that his "army" be allowed to retreat to avoid its own encirclement and annihilation.

On 22 April, as Steiner and Army Detachment Steiner retreated, Wenck's Twelfth Army became Hitler's last hope to save Berlin. Wenck was ordered to disengage the Americans to his west and, attacking to the east, link up with the Ninth Army of Colonel General (Generaloberst) Theodor Busse. Together, they would attack the Soviets encircling Berlin from the west and from the south. Meanwhile, the XLI Panzer Corps under General Rudolf Holste would attack the Soviets from the north. Unfortunately for the Germans in Berlin, much of Holste's forces consisted of transfers from Steiner's depleted units.

Wenck's army, only recently formed, did make a sudden turn around and, in the general confusion, surprised the Russians surrounding the German capital with an unexpected attack. Wenck's forces attacked towards Berlin in good morale and made some initial progress, but they were halted outside of Potsdam by strong Soviet resistance.

Neither Busse or Holste made much progress towards Berlin. By the end of the day on 27 April, the Soviet forces encircling Berlin linked up and the forces inside Berlin were completely cut off from the rest of Germany.

On 28 April, German General and Chief of Staff Hans Krebs, made his last telephone call from the Führerbunkermarker. He called General Wilhelm Keitel at the new Supreme Command Headquarters in Fuerstenberg. Krebs told Keitel that, if relief did not arrive within 48 hours, all would be lost. Keitel promised to exert the utmost pressure on Generals Wenck and Busse.

During the night of 28 April, Wenck reported to the German Supreme Army Command in Fuerstenberg that his Twelfth Army had been forced back along the entire front. This was particularly true of XX Corps which had been able to establish temporary contact with the Potsdammarker garrison. According to Wenck, no attack on Berlin was now possible. This was even more so as support from Busse's Ninth Army could no longer be expected.

Late in the evening of 29 April, Krebs contacted General Alfred Jodl (Supreme Army Command) by radio: "Request immediate report. Firstly of the whereabouts of Wenck's spearheads. Secondly of time intended to attack. Thirdly of the location of the Ninth Army. Fourthly of the precise place in which the Ninth Army will break through. Fifthly of the whereabouts of General Rudolf Holste's spearhead."

In the early morning of 30 April, Jodl replied to Krebs: "Firstly, Wenck's spearhead bogged down south of Schwielow Lake. Secondly, Twelfth Army therefore unable to continue attack on Berlin. Thirdly, bulk of Ninth Army surrounded. Fourthly, Holste's Corps on the defensive."

As his attempt to reach Berlin started to look impossible, Wenck developed a plan to move his army towards the Forest of Halbemarker. There he planned to link up with the remnants of the Ninth Army, Hellmuth Reymann's "Army Group Spree," and the Potsdammarker garrison. Wenck also wanted to provide an escape route for as many citizens of Berlin as possible.

Arriving at the furthest point of his attack, Wenck radioed the message: "Hurry up, we are waiting for you." Despite the attacks on his escape path, Wenck brought his own army, remnants of the Ninth Army, and many civilian refugees safely across the Elbe and into territory occupied by the U.S. Army. Estimates vary, but it is likely the corridor his forces opened enabled up to 250,000 refugees, including up to 25,000 men of the Ninth Army, to escape towards the west just ahead of the advancing Soviets.

Escape route

According to Antony Beevor Wenck's eastward attack toward Berlin was aimed specifically at providing the population and garrison of Berlin with an escape route to areas occupied by United States armed forces:

Captive, prisoner, and death

Wenck was captured and put in a prisoner of war camp. He was released in 1947. In 1982, Wenck died in a car accident in Bad Rothenfeldemarker.

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