Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Beck, Ludwig (1880–1944)

German army general who was involved in attempts to overthrow Adolf Hitler. Born in Biebrich, Germany, on 29 June 1880, Ludwig Beck joined the army in 1898 and as a lieutenant attended the Kriegsakademie (War Academy) in Berlin from 1908 to 1911. Promoted to captain in 1913, he qualified as a General Staff officer the same year and served in a variety of staff and command positions during World War I on the Western Front.

Beck continued in the postwar Reichswehr, rising to command of the 1st Cavalry Division. Promoted to Generalmajor (U.S. equiv. brigadier general) in February 1931 and Generalleutnant (U.S. equiv. major general) in December 1932, he was appointed, in October 1933, chief of the Truppenamt (Troop Office), the thinly disguised covert General Staff prohibited to the Germans under the Versailles Treaty. In 1933, Beck was the primary author of Truppenfuehrung (Unit Command), which remained the principal war-fighting manual of the German army until 1945. The body of doctrine in that manual profoundly influenced the conduct of combined-arms warfare for the remainder of the twentieth century.

In March 1935, the Truppenamt was redesignated General Staff of the Army, and in May, Beck was promoted to General der Artillery (U.S. equiv. lieutenant general). He presided over the expansion of the revived General Staff and the development of war plans based on a defensive strategy. His peers considered him a master military planner. He clearly understood that any future war would necessarily become a multifront conflict, which Germany could not win. As late as 1935, however, Beck continued to believe the officer corps of the German army could keep the National Socialists under control. But as Adolf Hitler continued the push to invade Czechoslovakia in 1938, Beck opposed him openly, writing a series of memoranda describing the inherent dangers in the policy of aggression.

He attempted to mobilize other generals to oppose Hitler's policies, but he failed to gain the support of the army commander in chief, General Walther von Brauchitsch. In August 1938, Beck retired from the army and was promoted to Generaloberst (U.S. equiv. full general). He then organized a covert opposition group of active and retired officers and other conservatives, maintaining contact with other democratic opposition movements. Beck also contacted London in an attempt to secure British and French support for a coup against Hitler. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declined to support such a move. Shortly before the 1940 invasion of the west, Beck's group tried to warn Belgium.

By 1943, Beck had become convinced that the only way to save Germany was to assassinate Hitler. His group tried several times, culminating in Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg's bomb attempt on 20 July 1944. If Stauffenberg had succeeded, the conspirators planned to use the Home Army to establish martial law, seize the radio stations, and arrest the key Nazi and Schutzstaffel (SS) leaders. As the head of the planned interim government pending free elections, however, Beck refused to agree to the systematic summary execution of party and SS leaders to secure success.

When the conspirators learned that Stauffenberg had failed, Beck nonetheless insisted on continuing the putsch, called Operation valkyrie, saying that Germany deserved the attempt. The attempt was unsuccessful. Arrested in the Bendlerstrasse in Berlin, Beck was offered the privilege of shooting himself. When two tries only rendered him unconscious, a sergeant shot Beck in the neck, ending his life on the night of 20–21 July 1944.

Despite being unfairly and inaccurately painted by Heinz Guderian as a rigid and unimaginative opponent of armored warfare, Beck helped rebuild the German military into an efficient war-fighting machine. In his early opposition as a general to Hitler's policy of aggression and in his later active opposition as a private citizen, Ludwig Beck proved that during the Third Reich, true German patriotism was incompatible with Nazism.

David T. Zabecki


Further Reading
Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff, 1637–1945. Trans. Brian Battershaw. New York: Praeger, 1953.; Hoffmann, Peter. The History of the German Resistance, 1933–1945. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1977.; O'Neill, Robert. "Fritsch, Beck and the Führer." In Corelli Barnett, ed., Hitler's Generals, 19–41. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1989.; Zabecki, David T., and Bruce Condell. On the German Art of War: "Truppenfuehrung." Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2001.
 

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