Military Wiki
Erich Hoepner
Nickname The Old Cavalryman
Born (1886-09-14)14 September 1886
Died 8 August 1944(1944-08-08) (aged 57)
Place of birth Frankfurt an der Oder, Brandenburg
Place of death Plötzensee Prison, Berlin, Germany
Allegiance  German Empire (to 1918)
 Weimar Republic (to 1933)
 Nazi Germany
Service/branch Army
Years of service 1905 – 1942
Rank Generaloberst
Commands held Fourth Panzer Group
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross

Erich Hoepner (14 September 1886 – 8 August 1944) was a German general in World War II. A successful panzer leader, Hoepner was executed after the failed 20 July Plot in 1944.


Memorial plaque for Erich Hoepner and Henning von Tresckow in the Bundeshaus, Berlin.

Hoepner was born in Frankfurt an der Oder, Brandenburg. He joined the German Army as an officer cadet in 1905, was commissioned as a Lieutenant in 1906 and served as a cavalry officer during World War I, reaching the rank of Rittmeister.

He remained in the Reichswehr in the Weimar Republic and reached the rank of General in 1936. Hoepner was an early advocate of armoured warfare and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general and given command of the XVI Panzer Corps in 1938.

Hoepner, often called "Der Alte Reiter" (the old cavalryman), led forces in the invasions of Poland (1939) and France (1940), receiving the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. He was promoted to the rank of colonel-general in 1941 and given command of the Fourth Panzer Group for the invasion of the Soviet Union.

Hoepner pulled back his forces in the face of the massive Russian counteroffensive at Moscow in January 1942 and was relieved of his command by Hitler, dismissed from the Wehrmacht and stripped of his decorations and pension rights. He then launched a successful legal action against the government for the restoration of his pension.

While Hoepner was opposed to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, he was also an early opponent of Adolf Hitler's rise to power, and he participated in several conspiracies to overthrow Hitler. In the September 1938, attempt, at the time of the Munich Conference, Hoepner's forces were assigned the task of suppressing the SS following the planned capture and intended shooting of Hitler in the act of "resisting arrest"; the plot collapsed, due to the capitulation by Chamberlain (which completely undercut the basis for the coup), and Hoepner's role went undiscovered.

Hoepner played an active part in the earliest conspiracies against Hitler. Like other conservative resisters, Hoepner thought Hitler's strategic decisions would lead to the ruin of Germany, which was the motivation in the September 1938 plot, in which Hoepner was supposed to use his armored division to impose the surrendering of Hitler's personal guard, the SS Leibstandarte, and another in October–November 1939, after war had already begun - both involving the very top levels of the Abwehr and the High Command, the Oberkommando des Heeres, or OKH. Following the Fall of France, the fears that Hitler's expansionist policies would bring ruin upon Germany appeared to have been wrong, and Hoepner, like most opposition generals, even on the OKH, became less critical of Hitler. After Operation Barbarossa had stalled at the gates of Moscow Hoepner became active again. During his command on the Eastern Front, Hoepner pursued a policy of scorched earth, demanding "ruthless and complete destruction of the enemy" from his soldiers.[1] As a commander of the Fourth Panzer Army, he wrote on May 2, 1941: The war against the Soviet Union is the old struggle of the Germans against the Slavs, the warding off of the Jewish Bolshevism. No mercy should be shown towards the carriers of the present Russian Bolshevist system[2]

The commander of the Einsatzgruppe A, Dr. Franz Walter Stahlecker, spoke highly of Hoepner and described his relations with him as very close, yes, almost cordial. Hoepner also wrote that Operation Barbarossa represented the defense of European culture against Moscovite-Asiatic inundation, and the repulse of Jewish Bolshevism, adding that destruction of Russia must be conducted with unprecedented severity.[3]

Hoepner at the Volksgerichtshof

On 5 December 1941 Hoepner ordered a retreat of his over-extended forces, refusing to comply with Hitler's rigid categorical 'Halt Order'. A month later in January 1942, Hoepner was dismissed from the service with the loss of all his pension rights. Subsequently Hoepner instituted a lawsuit against the Reich over his pension rights. His lawsuit was successful.[4]

Hoepner was a participant in the 20 July Plot in 1944 and was present at the Bendlerblock (Headquarters of the Army) with General Friedrich Olbricht, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, Colonel Albrecht Mertz von Quirnheim and Lieutenant Werner von Haeften. Following the failure of their coup attempt, he had a private conversation with General Friedrich Fromm and was not shot by firing squad with the others in the courtyard.

Having already been dismissed from the Wehrmacht in 1942, he was arrested that night and then tortured by the Gestapo, given a summary trial by the Volksgerichtshof and sentenced to death. Like other defendants including Erwin von Witzleben, Hoepner was made to wear ill fitting clothes and was not allowed to have his false teeth as a humiliation in his trial. Although judge Roland Freisler continued to brutally verbally attack Hoepner, even Freisler objected to Hoepner being made to dress in such a way.[5] Hoepner was hanged on 8 August, in Berlin's Plötzensee Prison.

After the war, a school in Berlin was named after him, but after his actions in occupied Soviet Union came to light, its name was changed.


Portrayal in the media

In the 2004 German production, Stauffenberg, Hoepner is portrayed by actor Ronald Nitschke.


  1. Erich Hoepner was deprived of all honors, ranks and orders and dishonorably discharged from the Heer on 8 January 1942. He was sentenced to death by the Volksgerichtshof and executed on 8 August 1944 in connection with the 20 July plot, a failed attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler.[7]


  1. Dubious Role Models:Study Reveals Many German Schools Still Named After Nazis Jan Friedmann 02/04/2009 Spiegel Online
  2. The Holocaust in the Soviet Union Yitzhak Arad page 54 University of Nebraska Press 2009
  3. The rise of the Wehrmacht: the German armed forces and World War II, Volume 1 Samuel W. Mitcham page 537 Praeger 2008
  4. Kershaw, Ian. "Hitler". pp. 837, 899. ISBN 978-0-14-103588-8. 
  5. Anton Gill (1994), p.256
  6. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 230.
  7. Scherzer 2007, p. 141.
  • Brown, Anthony Cave (1975). Bodyguard of Lies. Harper & Row.
  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000) (in German). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 – Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtsteile [The Bearers of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939–1945 — The Owners of the Highest Award of the Second World War of all Wehrmacht Branches]. Friedburg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6. 
  • Gill, Anton (1994). An Honourable Defeat, The Fight Against National Socialism in Germany 1933-1945. Mandarin. ISBN 0-7493-1457-5.
  • Patzwall, Klaus D.; Scherzer, Veit (2001) (in German). Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941 – 1945 Geschichte und Inhaber Band II [The German Cross 1941 – 1945 History and Recipients Volume 2]. Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall. ISBN 978-3-931533-45-8. 
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007) (in German). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 The Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 by Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Allied Forces with Germany According to the Documents of the Federal Archives]. Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2. 

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
Commander of Panzergruppe 4
15 February 1941 – 7 January 1942
Succeeded by
Generaloberst Richard Ruoff

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