Felix Steiner, 1896-1966

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Felix Steiner (1896-1966) was an SS General best known for his role in the battle for Berlin in 1945, when he commanded a army that Hitler hoped would be able to lift the Russian siege of the city.

Steiner was born in Ebenrode on 23 May 1896. He served as an officer during the First World War, reaching the rank of Oberleutnant, and winning the Iron Cross First and Second Class. He left the army after the war, but rejoined in 1921. He served with Infanterie-Regiment 1 before being appointed to the General Staff from 1921-1927. In 1927 he was promoted to Hauptmann, and appointed Regimental Adjutant of Infanterie-Regiment 1, and in 1932 he was promoted to command a company in the same regiment.

In the mid 1930s Steiner's career developed unusually for an established officer. In 1933 he took part in the creation of the Kasernierte Polizei (Barracked Police), a paramilitary police force manned by members of the existing Landespolizei, and intended to act as a reserve for the regular army. In 1935 he went one step further, and volunteered to join the SS-Verfüngungstruppe (precursor to the Waffen SS). He was appointed command of III.Bataillon, SS-Standarte Deutschalnd, and in 1936 was promoted to command the entire regiment.

The regiment took part in the Anschluss with Austria, while during the invasion of Poland in 1939 it was attached to Panzer Division 'Kempf', as the Waffen-SS was still a tiny organisation. Steiner's men took part in the attack on Deplin on the Vistula, before helping to capture the fortress of Modlin on 28 September 1939. Steiner was awarded the Clasps to both of his Iron Crosses for his success at Modlin.

In the aftermath of the Polish campaign the Deutschland, Der Führer and Germania regiments of the Waffen-SS were brought together with a number of smaller units to form the SS's first divison - SS-Verfügungs-Division. In the first phase of the campaign in the west in 1940 this division advanced on the German right, and Steiner's men captured the islands of Seeland, Vlissingen and Beveland. In the second part of the campaign they were able to break through the Weygand Line, and advanced deep into France. Steiner was awarded the Knight's Cross on 15 August 1940 for his part in this success.

The Waffen-SS continued to expand, and on 1 December 1940 SS-Brigadeführer Steiner was appointed to command the new Wiking Division. This unit was mainly manned by non-German volunteers, mainly from Holland, Denmark and Sweden, motivated by a desire to fight the Bolsheviks. Steiner proved to be a skilful divisional commander, and was vey popular with his men. Steiner commanded this division during the first two years of the fighting in the Soviet Union, and was awarded the Oakleaves to the Knight's Cross on 23 December 1942.

At the start of 1944 Steiner was promoted to command the 3rd SS Panzer Corps, which was facing the Soviet 2nd Shock Army (Fedyuinsky) around Oranienbaum (on the Leningrad front). Steiner led his men in a desperate defensive battle that saw his corps reduced to only 200 effectives. On 10 August 1944 he was awarded the Swords to the Knight's Cross for his role in this battle.

At the start of 1945 Steiner was promoted again, this time to command the 11th Army, which was responsible for the defence of Pomerania. It was this role that temporarily brought Steiner into the limelight. On 21 April Hitler ordered him to launch a counterattack towards his south-east to join up with another army (Wenck) that was meant to be advancing north-east towards Potsdam. These two largely imaginary armies would then lift the Soviet siege of Berlin. Steiner only had 15,000 men under his command by this point, and lacked any heavy weapons. He refused to waste lives attacking the flanks of Zhukov's powerful armies, and instead retreated to the west. While Steiner was moving west, Hitler continued to move imaginary armies around before reality finally hit home and he committed suicide in the bunker.

Steiner surrendered to the British at Lueneburg on 3 May. He wrote memoirs, which were published as Armee der Geaechteten (Army of Outlaws), and died in retirement in Munich in 1966.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (28 October 2011), Felix Steiner, 1896-1966 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_steiner_felix.html

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