From the blitzkrieg conquest of Poland in 1939 to being Erwin Rommel's commanding officer during the Western Offensive of 1940, from the early victories against the Soviet Union in 1941-42 to the Battle of Kursk in 1943, Col. Gen. Hermann Hoth was one of Nazi Germany's best armored combat leaders, and yet paradoxically also one of its least known. Unlike Rommel, however, Hoth survived the war, but was branded by the victorious Allies as a convicted war criminal for his subordinates' actions.
Born the son of an Imperial German Army medical officer on Apr. 12, 1885 at Neuruppen near Berlin during the reign of Kaiser (Emperor) Wilhelm I, Hoth's future military career spanned both World Wars under Kaiser Wilhelm II and Fuhrer (Leader) Adolf Hitler. Had he not disappointed the latter in the fall of 1943, Hoth might well have been awarded the coveted red velvet-covered baton of a German Field Marshal like his former subordinate, Rommel---"The Desert Fox"---but, alas, such was not to be the case.
During the years 1935-38, Lt. Gen. Hoth was 15th on the Army's Seniority List and commanded the 18th Infantry Division at Liegnitz. Being promoted to full General of Infantry, Hoth took command of the newly-created 15th Motorized Corps on Nov. 10, 1938, following the peaceful German occupation of the Czech Sudetenland that was afforded by the signing of the four power Munich Pact the previous September.
When the Third Reich struck into southern Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, Hoth's corps was part of the 10th Army led by Gen. Walther von Reichenau, at that time perhaps the
Fuhrer's favorite ground commander. The by-now-designated 15th Panzer (Armored) Corps led by Hoth participated in the first German blitzkrieg---or "lightning war"---of the Second World War, and for his efforts he was awarded the Knight's Cross by Hitler on Oct. 27, 1939, a month after the successful conclusion of the campaign.
For the 1940 German offensive in the west, he received command of Panzer Group Hoth, which comprised the 5th Panzer Division of Gen. Joachim Lemselson and the 7th of Gen. Rommel, later called the "Ghost" or "Phantom" Division due to its rapid advances against the enemy. Overall, the Group was responsible for being part of the German invasion of France on May 10, 1940, driving through the Ardennes Forest to the English Channel, and then on into the French departments of Normandy and Brittany.
For his success in achieving the mission of his Group, commanding officer Hermann Hoth was promoted to the rank of Colonel General on July 19, 1940 by Chancellor Hitler during his victory speech that day from the dais of the German Reichstag (parliament) in the Kroll Opera House in Berlin.
The following Nov. 16th---in preparation for the coming invasion of the Soviet Union---Hoth's command was renamed Panzer Group 3, and it was with this that he was to reach the very pinnacle of his military success during World War II. It consisted of Gen. Rudolf Schmidt's 39th and Gen. Adolf Kuntzen's 57th Panzer Corps. Allied with the 9th Army of Gen. Adolf Strauss on the northern flank of Army Group Center, Hoth's forces effected the great strategic envelopments of the Soviet cities of Minsk and Vitebsk in the summer of 1941.
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