MILITÄRBEFEHLSHABER BELGIEN - NORDFRANKREICH
1. Organisation in June 1944
For almost the entire occupation Belgium, together with the two French departements Nord and Pas-de-Calais, were controlled by a military government with headquarters in Brussels (Kolonialministerium, Place Royale). In June 1944 the commander was the Militärbefehlshaber Belgien und Nordfrankreich General der Infanterie Alexander von Falkenhausen and his command consisted of an extensive non-military part, the Verwaltungsstab commanded by his subordinate, the Militärverwaltungschef Eggert Reeder, who also held the rank of Gruppenführer in the SS. In addition, there was also a smaller military command, the so-called Kommandostab, commanded by Generalmajor Wilhelm Heider, who was also Chef des Generalstabes.
The Kommandostab controlled a limited number of troops, including the Landesschützenbataillone (later called Sicherungsbataillone) charged with static security duties and the military police units of the Feldgendarmerie and the Geheime Feldpolizei (the field force of the Abwehr or German military counterespionage).
The Verwaltungsstab consisted of 3 Abteilungen: Verwaltung, Wirtschaft and Arbeit. These were further subdivided as follows:
2. The Militärbefehlshaber after June 1944 and the Zivilverwaltung
In June 1944 the generals in the West were getting more and more worried about the military situation and the role Hitler was playing. Falkenhausen invited several high-level commanders to Brussels to discuss the situation. According to von Falkenhausen, generals such as von Schweppenburg and von Salmuth shared his idea that Hitler was not making the right choices but admitted they were not in a position to do much about it. On 1 June 1944 von Falkenhausen visited Rommel in the latter’s headquarters at La Roche-Guyon. During their conversation the field marshal openly spoke out against Hitler. Falkenhausen also visited von Rundstedt in St-Germain. The latter judged the situation to be critical but was not planning on doing much. In contrast, however, von Stülpnagel, the military governor of Paris, who was in permanent contact with the conjurors in Berlin, expressed his resolution to stop Hitler.
On 2 July 1944 von Rundstedt was relieved of his function, as he had dared to suggest starting peace negotiations with the allies, and was succeeded by von Kluge. The latter, wanting to make sure the rear areas were covered, visited von Salmuth in Tourcoing on 9 July 1944. Also present at this meeting was von Falkenhausen. During a walk in the park the 3 officers were agreed that the situation was critical, but Falkenhausen failed to convince von Kluge to oppose himself to Hitler, von Kluge claiming that he was too new in his position to be able to make up his mind. It could be argued that the fate of the 20 July attack was sealed here.
On 14 July 1944 a telegram from Berlin arrived on the desk of von Falkenhausen. It was the long-expected recall as well as the nomination of the Gauleiter of Cologne Grohé as Reichskommissar and of General Grase as Wehrmachtsbefehlshaber. Belgium was finally given its own Zivilverwaltung. It is interesting to ask the question who eventually managed to topple the general that Hitler had had confidence in for so long. It would seem this person was Kommissar Sauckel, from 1942 Generalbevolmächtigter für den Arbeitseinsatz. Having arrived in Brussels in May 1944, he demanded that Falkenhausen called up the class of 1925 for forced labour in Germany. Falkenhausen, with his responsibility for keeping peace and order in the rear areas, instinctively knew how unpopular such a measure would be, possibly leading to insurrection. Consequently, he flatly refused Sauckel’s request, sending a copy of his refusal to Keitel and von Rundstedt. At the meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin on 10 July 1944, Sauckel spoke out sharply against von Falkenhausen and gained the support of Hitler. The actual decision to remove von Falkenhausen was taken on 12 July 1944 by Hitler. On 1 August 1944 General Richard Jungclaus was duly appointed Höherer SS und Polizeiführer and on 14 August 1944 General Grase as Wehrmachtsbefehlshaber.
On 18 July 1944 Falkenhausen transferred his duties to Grohé and Grase. On the morning of 19 July 1944 he left Brussels for Seneffe with his secretary Frau Dazur, his Ordonnanzoffizier von der Schulenburg and his dogs. His plan was to take care of his remaining affairs, to meet for a final time all the personalities that still wanted to meet him and to pay his respects to field marshal von Kluge and Oberquartiermeister Wagner in Paris. Since von Kluge could only see him on 26 July, he had a week’s time to do this.
On the evening of 20 July 1944 Falkenhausen was entertaining the former officers of his staff, when his press secretary informed him of the failed coup in Berlin. At almost the same time, the telephone rang. At the other end was supposedly General Fromm, one of the conspirators calling from Berlin to inform him that Hitler was dead and that all other rumours were false. Surprised, von Falkenhausen told Fromm that he had just heard the contrary. Then the line went dead. Von Falkenhausen immediately called General Heider, the chief of staff in Brussels and Field Marshal von Kluge at La Roche-Guyon. Both confirmed that the coup had failed. It was only later that von Falkenhausen learned he had been talking on the phone to General Beck, rather than Fromm. On 21 July 1944 Oberstleutnant Hartog, Falkenhausen’s representative in Paris arrived at Seneffe informing him about events there.
On 26 July 1944 Falkenhausen went to meet von Kluge at La Roche-Guyon. He found the field marshal in an extremely nervous state. He said that with Rommel he had drafted a report to be presented to Hitler in which both advised Hitler to seek peace in the West, in order to fight the Russians in the East. If Hitler didn’t want peace in the West, von Kluge would resign. However, with Rommel out of action at this point and the coup of 20 July having failed, von Kluge felt he could neither present the report to Hitler on his own nor let the Russians invade the Reich. Von Kluge had become utterly indecisive. Falkenhausen attempted to persuade von Kluge to act before it was too late. Kluge answered that he wanted to consult his field generals. He would do this on 12 August 1944, risking his life on a number of occasions. However, after having ordered the German retreat from Avranches, he was replaced by Walter Model on 15 August and recalled to Berlin. On 18 August von Kluge committed suicide on his way to Berlin, following von Stülpnagel’s example of 21 July.
Falkenhausen arrived back at Seneffe in the evening of 27 July 1944. The next day he received several visitors. Then, at around 3 pm on 29 July 1944 a staff car drove up towards the castle. In it was SS-Standartenführer und Oberst der Polizei Constantin Canaris, head of the SIPO-SD in Belgium and Northern France. Canaris had received orders from SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Polizei Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the head of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt in Berlin, to arrest the general and to escort him to Berlin. After some protest by Canaris, an arrest was no longer deemed necessary and von Falkenhausen was only informed that Kaltenbrunner wanted to talk to him in Berlin on an urgent matter. Falkenhausen left Seneffe and headed for Berlin in his own car, accompanied by an SD agent. At 10 am on 30 July 1944 he arrived at the Reichssicherheitshauptamt but did not get to see Kaltenbrunner. However, it now became clear that he was a prisoner and in this capacity he spent 9 months in prisons in Drögen, Tegel, Regensburg and Dachau. Having been liberated by the Allies, the general was again interned successively in Capri, Paris, Wiesbaden, Beaconsfield (UK), Oberursel and finally Nuremburg. In all, his entire time in captivity was almost as long as his command had been. While the German reproached him his softness, the Allies found fault with his harshness.
The remaining weeks of the occupation in Belgium, under Grohé and Jungclaus, were spent in total chaos. While the resistance killed suspected collaborators, German-backed paramilitary organizations killed their presumed enemies (many of whom were actually innocent victims), the latter’s actions totally covered by Jungclaus. On 30 August 1944 the main members of the Zivilverwaltung packed up and left Brussels. Grohé left for Cologne, while Jungclaus and Canaris headed for Hasselt. With them 17,000 Flemish people and 15, 000 Walloons left Belgium altogether.
In this period a strange incident also took place. In Bad Tolz in Germany, a number of Flemish volunteers were following courses in the SS Fahhenjunkerschule. When asked to express their views on the situation in Belgium, they accuse the Germans of not having taken measures either to defend Belgian territory or to evacuate their families. Their opinion was duly passed in writing to Jungclaus, who replied that every measure has been taken. One of the young Flemish students, Vierendeels, claimed this to be a blatant lie. Having thus offended an SS-general, Vierendeels was sent to Berlin to explain himself. However, as soon as Himmler heard heard of this incident, he became enraged and sent his personal physician and trustee SS-Gruppenführer Dr Gebhardt to Hasselt with full powers to take charge of the situation. After having arrived in Hasselt on 3 or 4 September 1944 Gebhardt now accused Jungclaus and Canaris of having deserted their headquarters in Brussels without being ordered to do so and Jungclaus specifically of having done nothing to counter defeatism in the armed forces. Some days later, Jungclaus and Canaris transferred their offices to Nijmegen. Here, they were visited by Himmler himself, who was hysterical. Jungclaus was demoted to the rank of SS-Hauptsturmführer and sent to fight with the 7 SS-Freiwilligen Gebirgsdivision in the east. Here, Jungclaus was killed fighting partisans in Slovakia. Canaris was initially ordered to carry on with his business and to keep sending reports to Berlin. Soon, however, the Reichssicherheitshauptamt informed him that they could without his pessimistic reports and he was finally transferred to Zagreb.
3. General der Infanterie Alexander von Falkenhausen: a short biography
Von Falkenhausen was born as the son of a Silesian land owner. He was
the nephew of General Baron Ludwig von Falkenhausen, who in 1917-1918
was the military governor of occupied Belgium. Educated at the
at Oldenburg, he served as military attaché in Tokyo from 1912 to 1914.
During the war in
Flanders he first
commanded a company, then held a staff function. As such he was detached
to the Turkish General Staff, where he worked with generals
Djemal-Pacha, Inonü and Kemal Ataturk. This experience enabled von
Falkenhausen to acquire a considerable knowledge of the Middle East and
its peoples. Consequently, when a commander officer had to be appointed
for the Afrikakorps in 1940, the first candidate was Falkenhausen, not
Rommel. However, the general preferred to continue his work in Belgium .
After World War I, von Falkenhausen was appointed as CO of the Infantry School in Dresden, as a result of which he knew most future German generals in WWII personally and he was deeply respected by them. He got married in 1904 with Paula von Wedderkop, the daughter of a chamberlain of the Grand Duke of Oldenburg.
When in 1934 General von Seeckt, military adviser to General Tchiang-Kaï-Chek, fell ill in China, Falkenhausen, with his intimate knowledge of oriental matters, was appointed to succeed him. The general worked in China between 1934 and 1938 and became a close friend of the Chinese dictator. It was during his mission in China that he was informed of the death of his younger brother, Hans, ADC of Ernst Röhm, assassinated by the SS in the purge of 30 June 1934. Even though he never talked about this event, it left a deep mark on him. He was recalled from China because Nazi Germany had decided to freeze relations with China and, instead, to develop close relations with Japan.
Falkenhausen, now aged 60, retired from active service and went on to live in Dresden. However, on 25 August 1939 he was recalled to active service and appointed as commander of the Dresden military district. It was because of his capacities, strong character and morals that he was that he was elevated to the position of military governor of Belgium.
As soon as he had arrived in Brussels, he exerted great authority and was immediately respected. Thus, when towards the end of May 1940 a German corps commander wanted to shell the city of Aalst, von Falkenhausen intervened and made his former student change his attack plan, thus preventing the destruction of the city.
Von Falkenhausen passionately went about his work. Highly intelligent and with a sense for flexibility, he adhered to the moral principles of Emperor Wilhelm I: Christian ethics, a modest lifestyle, constant attention for his subordinates, a sense of justice, self-control, and not in search of rewards. Falkenhausen had a great work ethic and an exceptional memory.
4. Falkenhausen and the SS and Nazi party: a troubled relationship
Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsführer SS never lost his objective out of view: the creation in Brussels of a Höherer SS und Polizeiführer. From 1st April 1942 onwards, his permanent representative noted down every shortcoming of the general. Himmler, too, kept a record of all the reproaches uttered towards von Falkenhausen. He was well aware that Keitel accused Falkenhausen of being too soft on the Belgians, particularly in the case of attacks or sabotage. He knew that Goering was dissatisfied with the General’s many obstructions to his Four-Year Plan. And he knew that Sauckel was complaining about the general’s lack of cooperation in the requisitioning of Belgian labour for the German war effort.
Falkenhausen was also accused of having too many ties with the high-class Belgian establishment. Indeed, In his offices in Brussels von Falkenhausen was only too happy to receive high-level Belgians, which he judged to be representing their country. On the other hand, he avoided contact with the leaders of the Belgian collaboration.
Von Falkenhausen would spend his weekends at the chateau of Seneffe, where he and the Italian princess Ruspoli, with whom he was also rumoured to have an affair, received personalities from the Italian community, as well as fellow generals, such as von Rundstedt, von Stülpnagel and Reeder. These relationships were held against him by Kaltenbrunner at the Reichsicherheitshauptamt and within the Nazi party, who accused him of upholding relations with the high-class Belgian establishment against German interests. Interestingly, according to Reeder, these accusations were not totally unjustified, as Falkenhausen would on a regular basis inform some of his acquaintances beforehand of measures he was going to take, especially when these were of an economic nature, so that they could prepare themselves for these measures.
Another major problem, over which Falkenhausen, apparently had or wanted to have little control was black market activity. To combat this activity Kaltenbrunner detached Oberst Naujocks to Reeder’s staff to track down German officers organizing black market activities. It was soon found out, for example, that whole trainloads of black market goods were being shipped off to Germany, with the transport documents duly signed by high-ranking German officers and that trains could be set in motion by the latter for 12,000 marks. Similar wrongdoings were discovered to be going on within the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine, with the latter for example buying products in Brussels from Paris and having them transported to Paris. Interestingly, Goering, no doubt in an attempt to exercise full control over black market activities, designated Oberst Veltjens Sonderbevollmächtigter des Reichsmarschalls and sent him off to Brussels to put an end to the problems caused by all the purchasing staffs, including those of other services, and to coordinate an organized form of pillaging.
However, it would seem that Naujocks was also on a mission of a more secret nature. When, in August 1943, a fascist group of Italians invaded the Italian embassy in Brussels and threatened the ambassador, who after the fall of Mussolini was now taking orders from Badoglio, much to the dislike of Hitler, von Falkenhausen sent the Geheime Feldpolizei to counter the invasion. When taking the names of the invaders, one of these was found to be Naujocks. While the latter was immediately released, he was given a good dressing down by colonel von Harbou. Enraged, Naujocks swore to get back at von Falkenhausen and von Harbou. A little later, Falkenhausen noticed that his phone was being tapped by the SD and that his close relations were under close scrutiny.
When the SD searched the offices of Vicomte Davignon they found a letter from Reeder addressed to Keitel. At the beginning of November 1943, Keitel himself came to visit Falkenhausen, prompting the latter to think he was finally going to be sacked from his position. However, Keitel had not come to sack him, even more Keitel did not come with any message at all. Von Falkenhausen used the opportunity to inform Keitel of his worries and fears. Keitel then said that, even though Hitler might one day decide to replace him with a younger general, Falkenhausen had to carry on as before. A friendly visit it was then? Not at all, it would seem, for some days later Princess Ruspoli was arrested by the SD as she was travelling to Paris on suspicion of money smuggling. Von Falkenhausen pleaded with Keitel to have her released, but to no avail and the princess would be sent to Ravensbrück until the end of the war. Then, on 11 December 1943, Oberst von Harbou was informed by telegram by Keitel that he had been relieved of his position. Why? Money smuggling. On enquiry, von Falkenhausen learned that the initiative to relieve him had been taken by Kaltenbrunner, after a complaint from Naujocks. Falkenhausen now asked for a meeting with Keitel. This meeting took place in Berlin on 15 December 1943. Falkenhausen asked for the release of the princess and expressed his desire to know the motive for sacking von Harbou. Keitel answered that the princess had been arrested at the request of Mussolini and that Harbou had been recalled to Berlin to explain himself. Dissatisfied with these answers, von Falkenhausen offered his resignation, but Keitel answered he was not in a position to accept or refuse it, only Hitler could. Keitel then minimized the two cases and withdrew. Then, on Christmas eve, von Falkenhausen learned that von Harbou had died in Berlin on 22 December. Forced suicide? Death by torture? Until this very day, the mystery has never been solved.
Consequently, at the end of 1943, von Falkenhausen
was utterly isolated. His last request to
Kaltenbrunner, the recalling of Naujocks to Berlin, was flatly ignored.
The German army had really become impotent in the face of Himmler and
In the beginning of 1944 Berlin again maneuvered to curtail von Falkenhausen even more. Three officers of the operations staff (Ia), Oberst Koethe, Major von Bismarck, Major von Humann and one officer in the intelligence section (Ic) Major du Moulin were removed. In addition, the Oberfeldkommandant of Brussels, General von Hammerstein and of Mons, Oberst von Walther, were also recalled. There were also plans to relieve his Ordonnanzoffizier von der Schulenburg. The principal officers of the Brussels Kommandantur, friends of the general, were also recalled.
The Abwehr, represented in Brussels by Dr Dischler, was also reformed. After Admiral Canaris, the chief of the service had been compromised by the arrest of certain members of his staff, Himmler seized his opportunity and on 18 February 1944, managed to unify, under his command, all intelligence services. Consequently, also the Brussels Abwehr officers, Oberst Servaes and Major Schlenker were forced to leave Brussels. Likewise, ambassador von Bargen was transferred to Paris and replaced by Mayr-Falkenberg. Also in February 1944, Constantin Canaris returned to Brussels on the orders of Kaltenbrunner to head the new headquarters of the SIPO-SD, 347 avenue Louise.
On 29 February 1944 Himmler, who was finding his power grow every day, ordered Canaris to inform Reeder that the latter had to accept the nomination of Jungclaus as HSSPF and the subordination of his services and departments. Reeder was not surprised when he heard this news but refused to surrender his administration to Jungclaus until he was given a direct order. However, Canaris and Kaltenbrunner, who were not in favour of the nomination of a HSSPF in Brussels managed to delay things. Thus, as had been the case with Falkenhausen, Reeder remained in position for the time being, but equally in total isolation.For further information on the organisation of the Militärbefehlshaber Belgien-Nordfranreich before June 1944 see our page on the history of this unit.