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In these hard days, we must not lose our nerves or become cowardly. Any attempt to find your own way back to the homeland is a dishonorable betrayal of your comrades and your people, and will be punished.
~ Schörner to subordiates.

Ferdinand Schörner (June 12th, 1892 – July 2nd, 1973) was a German army officer and Nazi war criminal. He was a general and later Field Marshal in the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany during World War II. He commanded several army groups and was the last Commander-in-chief of the German Army.

Schörner is commonly represented in historical literature as a simple disciplinarian and a slavish devotee of Hitler's defensive orders, after Germany lost the initiative in second half of World War II 1942/43. More recent research by American historian Howard Davis Grier and German historian Karl-Heinz Frieser depicts Schörner as a talented commander with "astonishing" organizational ability in managing an army group of 500,000 men during the fighting in late 1944 on the Eastern Front. He was harsh against superiors as well as subordinates and carried out operations on his own authority against Hitler's orders when he considered it necessary, such as the evacuation of the Sõrve Peninsula.

Schörner was a convinced Nazi and became well known for his brutality. By the end of World War II he was Hitler's favorite commander. Following the war he was convicted of war crimes by courts in the Soviet Union and West Germany and was imprisoned in the USSR, East Germany and West Germany. At his death in 1973 he was the last living German Field Marshal.

Biography

Schörner was born on June 12th, 1892 in Munich, Kingdom of Bavaria, German Empire. A Bavarian Army veteran of World War I, he was awarded the Pour le Mérite military order as a lieutenant when he took part in the Battle of Caporetto, which shattered the Italian lines in autumn 1917. Schörner served as a staff officer and instructor between the two wars. In 1923 he was adjutant to General Otto von Lossow, the commander of Wehrkreis VII (military district) in Munich and participated in the defeat of the Beer Hall Putsch.

Schörner commanded the 98th Mountain Regiment in the invasion of Poland in 1939. During the 1941 Balkans campaign, he commanded the German 6th Mountain Division and earned the Knight's Cross for his role in breaching the Metaxas Line. With this division, Schörner took part in Operation Barbarossa in June 1941. The 6th Gebirgs Division was assigned to the Arctic sectors in the Eastern Front. In 1942 as a General der Gebirgstruppe he took command of the XIX Mountain Corps, part of the German Army in Finland. With this command he participated in the failed attack on Murmansk and the stalemate war that followed. Schörner's task was to keep the Pechenga Nickel Works in German hands. When the Soviets opened an offensive against the Arctic sector, the division took part in the fighting. In January 1942, Schörner was promoted to the rank of Generalleutnant, commanding the Mountain Corps Norway.

He later commanded the XXXX Panzer Corps on the Eastern Front from November 1943 to January 1944. In March 1944 he was made commander of Army Group A, and in May commander of Army Group South Ukraine. After stating that the Crimean port of Sevastopol could be held for a long time even if Crimea fell, he changed his mind and against Hitler's wishes, evacuated the Black Sea port. This retreat occurred too late and the German–Romanian 17th Army that was holding Crimea suffered severe losses, with many men killed or captured while waiting on the piers to be evacuated. During the late spring of 1944, Schörner oversaw the retreat from the Dniester River in Romania.

Schörner was promoted to the rank of Generaloberst in April 1944. In July he became commander of Army Group North, which was later renamed Army Group Courland, where he stayed until January 1945 when he was made commander of Army Group Centre, defending Czechoslovakia and the upper reaches of the River Oder. He became a favorite of high-level Nazi leaders such as Joseph Goebbels, whose diary entries from March and April 1945 have many words of praise for Schörner and his methods. On April 4th, 1945, Schörner was promoted to field marshal and was named as the new Commander-in-Chief of the German Army High Command (OKH) in Hitler's last testament. He nominally served in this post until the surrender of the Third Reich on 8 May 1945 but continued to command his army group, since no staff was available to him. He did not have any discernible influence in the final days of the Reich.

On 7 May, the day General Alfred Jodl, Chief-of-Staff of OKW (Armed Forces High Command) was negotiating the surrender of all German forces at SHAEF, the last the OKW had heard from Schörner was on May 2nd. He had reported he intended to fight his way west and surrender his army group to the Americans. On May 8th, "OKW" Colonel Wilhelm Meyer-Detring was escorted through the American lines to contact Schörner. The colonel reported that Schörner had ordered his operational command to observe the surrender but he could not guarantee that he would be obeyed everywhere. Schörner ordered a continuation of fighting against Red Army and the Czech insurgents of the Prague uprising. Later that day, Schörner deserted and flew to Austria, where he was arrested by the Americans on 18 May. Elements of Army Group Centre continued to resist the overwhelming force of the Red Army liberating Czechoslovakia during the final Prague Offensive. Units of Army Group Centre, the last big German units to surrender, capitulated on May 11th, 1945.

Schörner was arrested in August 1951 by the Soviet authorities on charges of war crimes. In February 1952 the Military Board of the USSR Supreme Court sentenced him to 25 years of imprisonment. A decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet in April 1952 reduced this sentence to 12 and a half years. A decree of December 1954 allowed him to be handed over to authorities of the German Democratic Republic, which allowed him to leave for West Germany in 1958. There he was arrested and charged with executions of German Army soldiers accused of desertion, found guilty and sentenced to four and a half years' jail, which he served. Because his Pour le Mérite had not been rescinded he was able to collect a pension of DM 25 per month. He was released in 1963 and lived in obscurity in Munich until his death in 1973. In the late 1960s he gave a lengthy interview to Italian historian Mario Silvestri on his role and actions during the Austro-German victory at the Battle of Caporetto in World War I rather than on his World War II service.

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