Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Mellenthin, Friedrich Wilhelm von (1904–1997)

German army general serving with the Fifth Panzer Army as chief of staff in 1945. Born in the garrison town of Breslau, Germany, on 30 August 1904, Friedrich Wilhelm von Mellenthin grew up in a military family. His father was an artillery officer who was killed in action on the Western Front in June 1918. Mellenthin joined the Reichswehr in 1924. He received his commission in the cavalry and was a master horseman. Between 1935 and 1937, he attended the War Academy and qualified as a General Staff officer. Virtually all of his subsequent assignments were in General Staff positions, where he specialized first in intelligence and then in operations.

Mellenthin served for 15 months on General Erwin Rommel's staff in North Africa. After he was medically evacuated back to Germany for amoebic dysentery, he was posted to the Eastern Front. As the chief of staff of XLVIII Panzer Corps, Mellenthin worked for the first time with Generalmajor (U.S. equiv. brigadier general) Hermann Balck, who was the commander of the subordinate 11th Panzer Division. Balck later assumed command of the corps, and the Balck-Mellenthin partnership lasted for almost the rest of the war. In August 1944, Balck and Mellenthin moved to the Fourth Panzer Army, which halted the Soviet Offensive at the great bend in the Vistula. Just four weeks later, Mellenthin and Balck transferred to the Western Front to take charge of Army Group G in Lorraine.

In November 1944, Mellenthin had a run-in with the German army's High Command, which led to his recall and eventual assignment to the front as a regimental commander. Balck himself was relieved of his command a few weeks later after a confrontation with the Schutzstaffel (SS) chief, Heinrich Himmler. Nonetheless, by March 1945, Mellenthin was a Generalleutnant (U.S. equiv. major general) and was once again given a chief of staff posting, this time with Fifth Panzer Army. Following the German defeat in the Ruhr pocket, he and other staff officers tried to escape but were captured on 3 May.

Released from U.S. captivity in 1947, Mellenthin became a businessman in the airline industry and emigrated to South Africa in 1950. In the late 1970s and early 1980, both Balck and his old chief of staff participated in a series of interview and seminar programs for the U.S. Army War College. Their views and opinions were sought eagerly by U.S. military leaders, who were then developing the new AirLand Battle Doctrine, which itself was deeply rooted in World War II German tactical doctrine. Mellenthin also wrote two significant books after the war, including the highly regarded Panzer Battles. He died in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 28 June 1997.

David T. Zabecki


Further Reading
Carlson, Verner R. "Portrait of a German General Staff Officer." Military Review 7, no. 8 (April 1990): 69–81.; Mellenthin, Friedrich Wilhelm von. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Trans. H. Betzler. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1956.; Mellenthin, Friedrich Wilhelm von. German Generals of World War II as I Saw Them. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1977.
 

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