Germany / Biography

Wilhelm Keitel


Wilhelm Keitel served as chief of the Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht from 1938 to 1945. He loyally supported Hitler’s policies and shared responsibility for the war of annihilation in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. On 8 May 1945 he signed the unconditional surrender of the German armed forces in Berlin. In November 1945 he stood trial in Nuremberg.

Wilhelm Keitel was born as the son of an estate owner in 1882. His father pushed him into a military career. In 1901 he joined the 46th Artillery Regiment in Wolfenbüttel and was appointed regimental adjutant in 1908. His rise through the ranks continued during and after the First World War. After the Nazis took power in January 1933 Keitel participated in the expansion of the Reich Defence Ministry. In 1938, when its tasks were turned over to the newly founded Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht (OKW), General Keitel was appointed chief of the OKW. He held a rank equivalent to that of a Reich minister, but had no command authority in his own right. During the Second World War Keitel was involved in all aspects of military planning and proved unswervingly loyal to Hitler. In June 1940 he signed the armistice with France and shortly thereafter was promoted to the rank of field marshal. Although Keitel initially opposed the invasion of the Soviet Union, he ensured the smooth implementation of orders that violated international law and shared responsibility for the war of annihilation in the East. After Hitler’s suicide Keitel followed Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, who formed an acting Reich government at his headquarters near Flensburg on 5 May 1945. On 8 May the German delegation with Keitel was flown from Flensburg to Berlin, where they signed the total surrender of the German armed forces at Soviet headquarters. In November 1945 Keitel stood trial before the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg and was sentenced to death for war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was executed on 16 October 1946.