Gunter Kießling: General whose dismissal following a sex scandal caused a political storm in West Germany

The dismissal of General Günter Kießling at the end of 1983 sent shock waves through Nato and the German military and political establishments. The German officer was accused, in secret, of homosexuality, which in his position was regarded as a security risk. Despite his denials, he was dismissed.

The Militärischer Abschirmdienst (MAD, the military counterespionage service) had compiled the report on him, claiming that he had been identified as a frequent customer in two gay bars in Cologne. The fact that he was unmarried also added fuel to the suspicions. Kießling strenuously denied homosexuality or that he had visited gay bars. Once the press got hold of the story the sacking caused widespread controversy. The 58-year-old had been one of two deputies to the US general Bernard W Rogers, Nato's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, 1979-1987.

The "Kießling affair" was one of a number of scandals which had blighted the Bundeswehr, the German armed forces, since their establishment in 1955. Chancellor Helmut Kohl had been in office for less than a year and the case threatened his government and, in particular, the defence minister Manfred Wörner. Kohl defended Wörner, but also saw to it that the general was reinstated four weeks after being dismissed. Kießling left the armed forces a little later with full military honours. The commander of MAD was replaced and later reforms were introduced.

Kießling was born the son of a First World War soldier who became a factory foreman. He grew up in Berlin where he attended an elementary school (Volksschule). On leaving, he was successful in his application to join a military NCO's school in Dresden. He was 14, and the war was about to start. During the Second World War Kießling advanced to infantry lieutenant and was awarded the Iron Cross First Class for bravery "in the face of the enemy". When peace came in 1945 he worked on building sites during the day and studied in the evenings to gain his university entrance certificate (Abitur), succeeding in 1947. He joined the newly formed Bundesgrenzschutz (Federal Frontier Force) in 1951. During his free time he studied economics at Hamburg University, gaining a doctorate in economics from Bonn University.

Like many of his colleagues in the Frontier Force, he took the opportunity to transfer to the Bundeswehr when the armed forces were established in 1955-56. Serving as an Oberleutnant [first lieutenant], he advanced to general in 1971, becoming, aged 46, the youngest general in the armed forces, responsible for army education and training. He was then sent to the Royal College of Defence Studies in London, and from there put in charge of the 10th armoured division at Sigmaringen. His next appointment was as deputy head of the personnel department of the MoD. Two years later he moved to take over as commander of allied land forces, Schleswig-Holstein and Jutland. Finally, on 1 April 1982, he moved to Nato-HQ (SHAPE), at Casteau in Belgium. At the same time he was promoted to a four-star general. However, he did not get on with his new boss, General Rodgers, and did not fit into Nato social life. Rodgers was soon signalling Bonn to look for a replacement.

Inevitably, Kießling made enemies on the way up. Perhaps one of them was Colonel Joachim Krase, who had made a similar journey serving as a wartime lieutenant and joining the Bundeswehr in 1956. He rose to become a colonel and deputy head of the MAD. Retiring in 1985, Krase was exposed as an East German spy after his death in 1988. Even if Krase was not to blame in this case, many believe that the East German intelligence service had a hand in the affair. Kießling himself believed that the East Germans got in on the act once the accusations against him had been made.

Kießling again achieved public prominence in 1997 when he spoke at the funeral of Joseph W. Rettemeier, a highly decorated Second World War officer and one of the few soldiers to be awarded the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves.

In commenting on Kießling's death, the defence minister Franz Josef Jung hailed him as one of the leading officers of the Bundeswehr, in retirement a valued adviser, and an outstanding soldier who made a lasting contribution to Germany.

David Childs

Günter Kießling, German general: born Frankfurt (Oder) 25 October 1925; died Rendsburg, Schleswig-Holstein 28 August 2009

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