Moritz Albrecht Franz Friedrich Fedor von Bock (3 December 1880 – 4 May 1945) was a German field marshal who served in the German army during the Second World War. As a leader who lectured his soldiers about the honor of dying for the German Fatherland, he was nicknamed “Der Sterber” (literally, ambiguously, and ironically: “The Dier”).
Bock served as the commander of Army Group North during the Invasion of Poland in 1939, commander of Army Group B during the Invasion of France in 1940, and later as the commander of Army Group Center during the attack on the Soviet Union in 1941; his final command was that of Army Group South in 1942.
Bock is best known for commanding Operation Typhoon, the ultimately failed attempt to capture Moscow during the winter of 1941. The Wehrmacht offensive was slowed by stiff Soviet resistance around Mozhaisk, and also by the Rasputitsa, the season of rain and mud in Russia.
Once the full fury of the Russian winter struck, which was the coldest in over 50 years, the German armies quickly became unable to fight, with more casualties occurring due to the cold weather than battle. The Soviet counteroffensive soon drove the German army into retreat, and Bock — who recommended an earlier withdrawal — was subsequently relieved of command by Adolf Hitler.
A lifelong officer in the German military, Bock was considered to be a very “by the book” general. He also had a reputation for being a fiery lecturer, earning him the nickname “Holy Fire of Küstrin”.
Bock was not considered to be a brilliant theoretician, but possessed a strong sense of determination, feeling that the greatest glory that could come to a German soldier was to die on the battlefield for the Fatherland.
A monarchist, Bock personally despised Nazism, and was not heavily involved in politics. However, he also did not sympathize with plots to overthrow Adolf Hitler, and never filed official protests over the treatment of civilians by the Schutzstaffel (SS).
Bock was also uncommonly outspoken, a privilege Hitler extended to him only because he had been successful in battle. Bock — along with his second wife and his stepdaughter — were killed by a strafing British fighter-bomber on 4 May 1945 as they traveled by car toward Hamburg.
Fedor von Bock was born in Küstrin (today Kostrzyn in Poland), a fortress city on the banks of the Oder River in the Province of Brandenburg. His parents named him Moritz Albrecht Franz Friedrich Fedor.
He was born into a Prussian Protestant aristocratic family which had given the Hohenzollerns military service for generations. His father — Karl Moritz von Bock — commanded a division in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, and was decorated for bravery at the Battle of Sedan.
His great-grandfather served in the armies of Frederick the Great in the 18th century, and his grandfather was an officer in the Prussian Army at Jena in 1806. His mother — Olga Helene Fransziska Freifrau von Falkenhayn von Bock — was of both German and Russian aristocratic heritage. The Prussian general Erich von Falkenhayn, the Chief of the General Staff during the first two years of World War I, was his maternal uncle.
At the age of eight, Bock went to Berlin to study at the Potsdam and Lichterfelde Military Academy. The education emphasized Prussian militarism, and he quickly became adept in academic subjects such as modern languages, mathematics, and history. He spoke fluent French, and to a fair degree English and Russian.
At an early age, and largely due to his father, Bock developed an unquestioning loyalty to the state and dedication to the military profession. This upbringing would greatly influence his actions and decisions when he commanded armed forces during the Second World War. At the age of 17, Bock became an officer cadet in the Imperial Foot Guards Regiment at Potsdam; he received an officer’s commission a year later. He entered service with the rank of Sekondeleutnant.
The tall, thin, narrow-shouldered Bock had a dry and cynical sense of humor; he seldom smiled. His manner was described[by whom?] as arrogant, ambitious, and opinionated; he approached military bearing with an unbending demeanor.
While not a brilliant theoretician, Bock was a highly determined officer. As one of the highest-ranking officers in the Reichswehr, he often addressed graduating cadets at his alma mater, which closed in 1920. His theme was always that the greatest glory that could come to a German soldier was to die for the Fatherland. He quickly earned the nickname “Holy Fire of Küstrin”.
In 1905, Bock married Mally von Reichenbach, a young Prussian noblewoman, whom he had originally met in Berlin. They were married in a traditional military wedding at the Potsdam garrison. They had a daughter, born two years after the marriage. A year later, Bock attended the War Academy in Berlin, and after a year’s study he joined the ranks of the General Staff.
He soon joined the patriotic Army League (Deutscher Wehrverein) and become a close associate of other young German officers such as Walther von Brauchitsch, Franz Halder, and Gerd von Rundstedt. In 1908 he won promotion to the rank of Oberleutnant.
When Bock asked for permission to withdraw his exhausted troops in December 1941, he was dismissed from his post as Commander of Army Group Center, to be reassigned to lead Army Group South in January 1942, when Generalfeldmarshall Walter von Reichenau died of a heart attack.
On 28 June 1942, Bock’s offensive split the Russian front into fragments on either side of Kursk. Three armies (Weich’s 2nd Army, Hoth’s 4th Panzer, and Paulus’ 6th Army) — along with 11 Panzer Divisions — fanned out toward Voronezh and the Don River. Paulus’ Panzer Divisions reached the Don on either side of Voronezh on 5 July.
The Russians created a “Voronezh Front” under Vatutin, who reported directly to Moscow. Bock wanted to eliminate Vatutin’s forces before extending his own flank too deeply into the yawning void created by the strength and speed of the German offensive.
Hitler was not pleased with Bock’s plan to delay the push toward Stalingrad. On 15 July, Hitler would blame him for the failure of “Operation Braunschweig”, the second part of the German offensive in Russia, and retire him indefinitely. The command of Army Group South was given to Maximilian von Weichs.
While privately opposing the atrocities being committed against Soviet civilians, Bock never protested directly to Hitler, although at one time, he had a subordinate file a formal complaint (“Meine Herren, ich stelle fest: Der Feldmarschall von Bock hat protestiert!” — “gentlemen, I state: The field marshal von Bock has protested”).
His nephew, Henning von Tresckow, tried in vain to win him for the military resistance against the Hitler regime. When his staff officers planned the assassination of Hitler during a visit to his Army Group, Bock intervened. On the other hand, he did not report the conspirators either.
One of the reasons for Bock’s dismissal is believed[who?] to have been his expressed interest in supporting the Russian Liberation Movement, which Hitler was categorically against.
As an involuntarily retired Field Marshal, Bock felt he was made a scapegoat for the problems of Stalingrad. He was approached to join a coup against Hitler, but he believed any such move not supported by Heinrich Himmler — who controlled the Waffen-SS — was bound to fail; he refused to move against the Führer.
With the Soviets closing in on Berlin in 1945, Bock was informed by Erich von Manstein that Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz was forming a new government in Hamburg.
Bock started off for that city immediately, perhaps hoping for a new command. On 4 May 1945, only a week before the war’s end in Europe, Bock’s car was strafed on the road to Kiel by a British fighter plane. He was killed along with his second wife and his stepdaughter.
At age 64, Fedor von Bock became the only one of Adolf Hitler’s field marshals to die from enemy fire.