Model, Walter

Walter Model was born January 24th, 1891 in Genthin in the vicinity of Magdeburg. After graduating from officers’ school in 1910, he joined the infantry in the rank of lieutenant. When the First World War broke out, he had risen to commander of an infantry regiment, fighting on the western front in the early stages of the war. In 1915 he had already been awarded two important decorations, the EK 2 and 1 (Eisernes Kreuz, Iron Cross).

When World War One had ended he took various officer’s courses and served in many different staff functions in the starkly depleted new German army, the Reichswehr. Model was promoted to major in 1929 and to colonel in 1934. After Hitler (Bio Hitler) had seized power in Germany, the army was enlarged. Model joined the staff of the German high command and worked with people such as Von Manstein (Bio Von Manstein). Model rose to the rank of General major. Three years later, he joined the staff of 7. Armee.

When war broke out in 1939 he was chief of staff, subordinate to Busch, commander of 16. Armee. This meant a promotion to Lieutenant general. He remained in this function during the attack on France and the Low Countries in May 1940. 16. Armee was involved in the advance through Luxemburg and the battle and break through near Sedan in France. After the battles of encirclement at Epinal and Nancy, 16. Armee struck towards the Swiss border. Hereafter, Model was involved in the preparations for the attack on Great Britain. This plan of attack, code named Operation Seelöwe (sea lion) was not put in action since the R.A.F. could not be defeated during the Battle of Britain.

For services rendered as Chief of Staff he was given command of a division for the first time, namely 3. Panzerdivision, taking part in Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. 3. Panzerdivision, part of Heeresgruppe Mitte (Army Group Center), was involved in the heavy fighting near Brest-Litovsk in the first days of Operation Barbarossa. The division also participated in the massive battles of encirclement at Biyalistok and Minsk where the Soviet 3rd and 4th armies were annihilated. The encirclement was followed by the great break out eastwards where 3. Panzerdivision waged fierce battles near Lutsk and other places. Reaching the banks of the River Berezina with 3. Panzerdivision he established a bridgehead. Hereafter, Model was awarded the Ritterkreuz (Knight’s Cross) for his excellent achievements as commander.

Hitler then decided to direct a number of tanks (i.e. 2. Panzergruppe, commanded by Heinz Guderian (Bio Guderian) of Heeresgruppe Mitte to the south in order to capture the Ukraine. 3. Panzerdivision formed the spearhead of this advance, aimed at encircling the Soviet forces at Kiev. After having made contact with 16. Panzergruppe, the ring was closed and a large number of prisoners was taken. For his excellent services, Model was given command of a corps, XXXXI Panzerkorps. Moreover, he was promoted to General der Panzertruppen.

Next the advance on Moscow, Operation Typhoon was launched but it failed after a Soviet counter attack. It became clear then what Model’s real capabilities were. By superb improvisation, he managed to prevent a massive Soviet break through near Rzjev in a formidable way and stabilized the front. For this action, Model was put in command of 9. Armee and was awarded the Eichenlaub (Oak Leaves) to his Ritterkreuz. In May 1942 Model, meanwhile promoted to Colonel general, was injured by a bullet from a Soviet sniper. His left lung was pierced and only emergency surgery saved his life.

After a few months to recuperate in Germany, Model returned to the eastern front to resume command of 9. Armee (Heeresgruppe Mitte). His unit suffered fierce counter attacks, in particular at the end of November and the beginning of December. In extremely trying conditions, Model resisted the Soviet counter attacks (Operation Mars) on the salient near Rzjev. Because of the fierce attacks, the Wehrmacht was unable to transfer troops from the central sector of the front to the southern sector near Stalingrad where a military catastrophe was unfolding. After the encirclement of 6. Armee in Stalingrad, the Red Army had taken over the strategic offensive and had liberated large areas. The Germans managed to stabilize the front though. In the summer of 1943, the Germans attempted to turn the tide on the eastern front by launching Operation Zitadelle to squeeze out the salient near Kursk.

Colonel-general Walter Model was in command of the northern pincer of the big offensive. He had 14 infantry and 4 armored divisions under his command. The attack was crushed by the Red Army and Operation Zitadelle ended in disaster. After the failed attack, the Germans launched a massive counter offensive. Model again proved himself an expert in defensive warfare and once more saved the day for the Germans.

At the end of January 1944, Hitler named Model commander of Heeresgruppe Nord. Again he succeeded in preventing a Soviet break through and with his army group, he skillfully retreated to the southeast. As Walter Model was directed by German military command to another front each time there was the threat of a break through, it earned him the nickname "Hitler’s firefighter." Walter Model also was a dedicated Nazi and he evolved into one of Hitler’s most favored commanders. This also earned him a promotion to Feldmarschall in March 1944; at 53 one of the youngest field marshals in German history. Model had little time though to enjoy his promotion. The Soviets had launched a massive summer offensive. Once again, Walter Model succeeded in halting the Russians on the East-Prussian border.

Following the assassination attempt on Hitler, July 20th, 1944, Model was the first to renew his oath of alliance to Hitler. Despite Model being an eastern front specialist, he was transferred to the western front after Von Kluge’s suicide (Bio Von Kluge). He was temporary commander of the western front until the appointment of Gerd van Rundstedt (Bio Von Rundstedt). At the time of the Allied Operation Market Garden, Model commanded the army group that was fighting in the Netherlands. He succeeded in defeating the Allies, preventing them from ending the war before Christmas 1944.

In December 1944, Model, commander of Heeresgruppe B, was in over all command of the Ardennes offensive. After initial successes, the offensive turned into a complete failure. In 1945, the German forces were pushed back onto German soil and Model and his unit found themselves trapped in the Ruhr pocket. He had no intention to emulate Friedrich Paulus (Bio Paulus) who had surrendered in Stalingrad. He once said: "A Feldmarschall does not surrender." As he saw no way out of the encirclement, he committed suicide on April 21st, 1945.


Ardennes offensive
Battle of the Bulge, “Von Rundstedt offensive“ or “die Wacht am Rhein“. Final large German offensive in the west from December 1944 through January 1945.
German unit. Mostly consisted of three to six army corps and other subordinate or independent units. An Armee was subject to a Heeresgruppe or Armeegruppe and had in theory 60,000-100,000 men.
Military unit, usually consisting of one upto four regiments and usually making up a corps. In theory a division consists of 10,000 to 20,000 men.
Eisernes Kreuz
Iron Cross. German military decoration.
Largest Soviet ground formation. It was attached to a certain area which gave its name to the units involved. For instance the Voronezh front.
The largest German ground formation and was directly subordinate to the OKH. Mainly consisting of a number of “Armeen” with few directly subordinate other units. A Heeresgruppe operated in a large area and could number several 100,000 men.
Foot soldiers of a given army.
Armed incursion.
Iron Cross
English translation of the German decoration Eisernes Kreuz.
Abbreviation of a national socialist.
Attack on a smaller or larger scale.
Red Army
Army of the Soviet Union.
Part of a division. A division divided into a number of regiments. In the army traditionally the name of the major organised unit of one type of weapon.
German army during the Weimar republic.
Military sniper who can eliminate individual targets at long distances (up to about 800 meters).
Soviet Union
Soviet Russia, alternative name for the USSR.
German armed military forces, divided in ground forces, air force and navy.


Walter Model, 1941
Walter Model, 1943
Walter Model during the Ardennes offensive, December 1944


Translated by:
Arnold Palthe
Article by:
Tom Notten
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- De Duitse Generale Staf, Barry Leach, 1979, Standaard Uitgeverij Antwerpen, Oorspronkelijke Titel: German General Staff, Vertaald uit het Engels door: S.D. Nemo, ISBN: 0304358401
- Geschiedenis van de Tweede Wereldoorlog, Samengesteld door Sir Basill Lidell Hart
- Axis Biographical Research