A Biography of Field Marshal Gerd von Runstedt by Charles Messenger

Old soldiers never die, they only fade away. In this timely re-issue, Charles Messenger recounts the life of a man who was first and foremost a soldier of the old school; an officer and a gentleman. Gerd von Runstedt appears in so many episodes of the collective dramas which make up World War II. But there was so much more to the man: His lineage, his career in the Great War, his stature as a staff officer and as a cavalry leader. He oozed tradition and was the embodiment of the Junker spirit. There is so much to admire.

Runstedt as the WW2 Feldmarschall is the ultra-professional, hard nosed commander we have come to know. If Rommel was sexy and von Manstein was a genius, then Runstedt was the rope that bound them all together.  He neither suffered fools nor involved himself in anything outside the remit of an honourable soldier. For this he has been criticised for not taking part in the plot to oust Hitler, who he despised. Like his fellow officers, Runstedt had taken an oath of loyalty he was duty bound never to break. Duty was the basis of his life and whether he was wrong of not, this was his chosen path. At any rate, by 1944 he was an old and tired man, too reliant on nicotine and alcohol for his own good and all too aware that the mess he had got himself into had to be played out to the finale.

For me, the account of Runstedt’s capture and imprisonment is so well documented it becomes compelling. That the post war British were muddled and quite ill at ease with their undignified plans to offload him and other field marshals for others to try as war criminals is something to take no pride in. Britain was as worn out as the generals it locked up and the new era was kind to none of them.

Any German general, however gallant and honourable he may be, who willingly took part in a brutal war of conquest and destruction of his neighbours deserved the full force of the justice the victors chose to dispose. This grand old man released the sort of orders that were meat and drink for his accusers in the post war poo-storm that rained down on his ilk and he was fortunate not to have fallen into the hands of the Soviets or vengeful Poles for his proximity to the horrors of the Einsatztruppen. But in the end he died sad, lonely and destitute in a tiny flat. It was no way for such a man to go.

I’ve had the pleasure of attending some of the author’s lectures and can attest that he has a solid no nonsense approach to his business as a speaker and a writer. There is no gloss, just a well directed stream of facts and analysis. He is good value. This is an excellent book which will fill in a lot of the blanks you may have in your knowledge of the one field marshal whose name always crops up in major events.

Mark Barnes

ISBN 978 1 84884 662 3

Published by Pen & Sword

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Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.