Karl Hubert Lanz (22 May 1896 – 15 August 1982) was a German Army officer who rose to the rank of General der Gebirgstruppe ("General of Mountain Troops") during the Second World War, in which he led units in the Eastern Front and in the Balkans.
After the war, he was tried and convicted for several atrocities committed by units under his command in the Balkans. Released in 1951, he joined the liberal Free Democratic Party and served as its adviser on military and security issues. Lanz entered the Army on 20 June 1914, shortly before the outbreak of World War I, as an ensign in the 125th Infantry Regiment based at Stuttgart. He was severely wounded in combat on 9 September, and spent several months in hospital. Upon recovery he returned to the front.
He served in the Western Front throughout the war, and ended it with the rank of lieutenant (Oberleutnant). He was retained in the reduced post-war Reichswehr, being promoted to captain on 1 February 1928. In the period 1932–1934 he commanded a company in an infantry regiment at Gumbinnen, and was subsequently employed in staff duties, being promoted to lieutenant-colonel and Chief of Staff of IX Army Corps on 1 March 1937. After a period of command of the 100th Gebirgsjäger Regiment from November 1937 to August 1938, he assumed the position of Chief of Staff of the Wehrkreis V.
On 15 February 1940, he was posted as Chief of Staff for the XVIII Armeekorps. On 1 October, he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross for his performance in this position during the Battle of France. On 26 October, he assumed command of the 1. Gebirgs-Division, which was earmarked for Operation Felix, the assault on Gibraltar. With Felix cancelled, the division was transferred East, where it took part in the Invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941 as part of the 2nd Army. In June 1941, Lanz led his division in the invasion of the Soviet Union. On 30 June, his division conquered Lvov. There, the Germans discovered several thousand bodies of prisoners who had been executed by the NKVD, as they could not be evacuated. As the news spread, a large-scale anti-Jewish pogrom broke out, in which the town's Ukrainian population participated, stirred up in part by German and OUN posters and proclamations calling for revenge against the "Jewish Bolshevik murders".
Lanz continued to command the 1. Gebirgs-Division during its advance in the Soviet Union, participating in the breakthrough of the Stalin Line and the advance to the Dnjepr and the Mius River. In May 1942, Lanz's division fought in the Second Battle of Kharkov and then participated in the offensive through southern Russia and into the Caucasus (Operation Edelweiss). In a symbolic propaganda move, on 21 August, Lanz sent a detachment of his men to raise the German flag on Mount Elbrus. Although the feat was widely publicized by Goebbels, Hitler was furious at this.
Relieved of command on 17 December 1942, he was awarded the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross on the 23rd. Following the collapse of the German front after the Battle of Stalingrad, on 28 January 1943 Lanz was promoted to General der Gebirgstruppe and placed in command of the Army Detachment Lanz (Armeeabteilung Lanz), a formation made up of various German forces after the collapse of the Italian 8th Army, including the elite troops of the SS Panzer Corps under General Paul Hausser. Lanz was tasked by Hitler to hold the area of Kharkov, even though he was outnumbered by almost : 1. Following the loss of the city to the advancing Red Army, he was again dismissed on 20 February, although the decision to abandon the city without a fight had been taken by Hausser against Lanz's orders. On 25 June he was appointed provisional commander of XXXXIX Gebirgskorps in the Crimea, a post he retained for a month.
While Lanz was in command of the defence of Kharkov, he, along with his Chief of Staff Hans Speidel (later chief of staff to Erwin Rommel and involved in the 20 July plot) and Colonel von Strachwitz formulated a plan to arrest Hitler during his scheduled visit to Lanz's headquarters at Poltava. To accomplish this, the plotters planned to use von Strachwitz's Großdeutschland Panzer regiment to overpower Hitler's SS bodyguard. This "Plan Lanz" was known in certain military circles, including the leadership of Army Group B, and was even communicated to Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. However, on 17 February, when Hitler made his front visit, he chose Manstein's headquarters at Zaporozhye instead of Poltava. The plotters did not have the opportunity to carry their plan out, and Lanz was relieved of his command in the East soon after.
On 9 September 1943, Lanz assumed command of the newly formed (on 20 August) XXII Gebirgskorps in Epirus, Greece. The Germans feared an Allied landing in Greece, and were engaged in continuous anti-partisan sweeps, during which several hundred villages were evacuated and often torched. Collective punishment of entire localities for guerrilla attacks was common, with directives to execute 50 to 100 hostages for each German casualty; only four days before Lanz assumed command, men of the 98th Regiment of 1. Gebirgs-Division under Lieutenant-Colonel Josef Salminger, an ardent Nazi, had executed 317 civilians in the village of Kommeno.
Lanz himself was often at odds with his new subordinates. A conservative officer of the old school, and a devout Catholic, he had little in common with the energetic and fanatical young officers of the 1. Gebirgs-Division like Salminger. Lanz was certainly no Nazi, and his involvement with the circles of the 20 July plot was known; after its failure, he was said to sleep with a revolver under his pillow. Despite Lanz's personal misgivings and his clashes with his subordinate, General von Stettner, over the treatment of civilians, reprisals remained a standard tactic: following the death of Lieutenant-Colonel Salminger in a guerrilla ambush in late September, Lanz issued an order demanding "ruthless retaliatory action" in a 20 km area around the place of the ambush. As a result, at least 200 civilians were executed, including 87 in the village of Lingiades alone.
Although these large-scale operations proved to have little permanent effect on the guerrilla groups themselves, the reprisals instilled sufficient terror in the local population to deter cooperation with the guerrillas. Furthermore, in late 1943, pressed by both the Germans and rival leftist ELAS guerrillas, General Napoleon Zervas, the leader of EDES, the dominant guerrilla group in Epirus, reached a tacit agreement with Lanz and restricted his forces' operations against the Germans.
On 8 September, Italy surrendered to the Allies. This began a race to disarm and intern the Italian garrisons of the Balkans before the Allies could take advantage of it. Lanz was tasked with overcoming the Italian forces in Epirus and the Ionian Islands. In two cases, in Cephallonia and Corfu, the Italians offered resistance. Lanz himself was initially in favour of negotiating the Italian surrender, but in the end followed his orders and stormed these islands. In Cephallonia, the battle raged for a week before the Italians surrendered. After their surrender, and according to a directive from Hitler himself, more than 5,000 Italians were executed by the Germans. Lanz was present in Cephallonia both during the battle and the subsequent massacre. In Corfu, resistance lasted only for a day, but all 280 Italian officers on the island were shot and their bodies were disposed of in the sea, on Lanz's orders. Following the German retreat from Greece in October 1944, Lanz and his troops moved through the Balkans towards Hungary, where they participated in Operation Margarethe, and the Austrian Alps, where he surrendered to the US Army on 8 May 1945.
Lanz was brought to trial in 1947 in the so-called "Southeast Case" of the Nuremberg Trials, along with other Wehrmacht generals active in the Balkans. The trial was concerned with the atrocities carried out against civilians and POWs in the area. In Lanz's case, the biggest issue was the Cephallonia massacre. However, his defence team was able to cast doubt on the allegations concerning these events, and as the Italians did not present any evidence against him, Lanz was able to convince the court that he had in fact resisted Hitler's directives and that the massacre did not happen. He claimed that the report to Army Group E reporting the execution of 5,000 soldiers had been a ruse employed to deceive the Army command, in order to hide the fact that he had disobeyed the Führer’s orders. He added that fewer than a dozen officers were shot and the rest of the Acqui Division was transported to Piraeus through Patras. His defence also falsely claimed that the Italians were under no orders to fight from the War Office in Brindisi, and would therefore have to be regarded as mutineers or franc-tireurs who had no right to be treated as POWs under the Geneva conventions.
In the end, Lanz was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment, a comparatively light sentence compared with other commanders involved with operations in the Balkans, like Lothar Rendulic. However, after only three years, on 3 February 1951, he was released. To date, he is the only person to have served a prison sentence for the atrocities committed in Epirus or the Ionian islands. After his release, Lanz became active in the ranks of the FDP party and served as its adviser on military and security issues. In 1954, he published a book on the history of the 1. Gebirgs-Division. He died in Munich in 1982.
- Croix de fer (1914), 2e Classe, 1re Classe
- Médaille du Mérite Militaire (Württemberg) en Or le 30 août 1915
- Croix de chevalier de l'Ordre de Frédéric avec glaives
- Croix de chevalier de l'Ordre du Mérite Militaire de Württemberg
- Croix du Mérite militaire (Autriche) 3e Classe avec glaives
- Insigne des blessés (1914), en Noir
- Ordre de Vytantas le Grand 5e Classe (Ordre lithuanien) le 8 septembre 1933
- Agrafe de la Croix de fer (1939), 2e Classe (22 mai 1940), 1re Classe (8 juillet 1940)
- Croix de chevalier de la Croix de fer avec feuilles de chêne et glaives
- Croix de chevalier le 1er octobre 1940 en tant que Oberst d'état-major et Chef d'état-major du XVIII. Armeekorps
- 160e feuilles de chêne le 23 décembre 1942 en tant que Generalleutnant et commandant de la 1. Gebirgs-Division