Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
Despite his success as a World War II panzer commander and membership in the German officer corps’ aristocratic elite, Generalfeldmarschall Ewald von Kleist is virtually unstudied. While most general officer biographies concentrate on high-level wartime leadership, the dual goals of this work are to identify the key elements in Ewald von Kleist’s formative years and to provide a better understanding of the Wilhelmine Army officer corps.This work maintains that the formative and foundational period, the first ten to fifteen years of an officer’s career is of key importance. During this period an officer receives the bulk of his military training and education and forms his foundational understanding of officership. This too is when a person’s “officer character,” his sense of duty, understanding of honor, commitment to service, and concept of loyalty, are forged and hardened. Therefore, the study of these formative years is critically important for not only understanding the individual in his varied officer roles, but for framing and comprehending the entirety of the individual’s career and the army in which he served.This study’s primary interrogative is; what were the key elements during these formative years that served to construct Kleist’s personal and officer foundation? Investigation identified several influential elements. Membership in a prominent Prussian noble military clan opened doors for Kleist. Attending war school, military riding institute, and the Kriegsakademie added knowledge and skill but also shaped attitudes and outlook. Mentorship by several officers spurred Kleist’s officer professional development impelling further promotion. These and other influences combined to shape Ewald von Kleist’s deep, firm, and undergirding foundation that supported him as a son and soldier for the rest of his life.To achieve the second goal, a better understanding the Wilhelmine Army officer corps, the narrative maintains the contextual connections between von Kleist and the environment in which he found himself. Interwoven throughout the biographical account is information of significance and influence concerning social, organizational, economic, religious, and military elements as encountered by Kleist in the course of his early life and first decades of his career.