Wilhelm Keitel, the son of a landowner, was born in Helmscherode on 22nd September 1882. He joined the German Army and in 1902 became a second lieutenant in the 46th Field Artillery.
Keitel had reached the rank of captain by the outbreak of the First World War. In September 1914 Keitel was seriously wounded by a shell splinter. After returning to duty he became a battery commander before being appointed to the General Staff in March 1915. He also served as an officer with XIX Reserve Corps (1916-17) and the 199th Infantry Division (1917) before returning to the General Staff in Berlin in December 1917.
After the war Keitel was a member of the right-wing terrorist Freikorps group and served on the frontier with Poland in 1919. He remained in the army and spent three years as an instructor at the School of Cavalry at Hanover (1920-23). This was followed by a spell with the 6th Artillery Regiment.
Assigned to the Troop Office he was promoted to lieutenant colonel in February 1929. Later that year he became head of the Organizations Department. In this role he was involved in secret preparations to triple the size of the German Army.
In January 1933, Adolf Hitler gained power and immediately Keitel's old friend, Werner von Blomberg, was appointed Minister of Defence. Soon afterwards Blomberg introduced him to Hitler. Keitel was impressed and became a devoted supporter of the new leader.
In February 1938 Keitel became Commander-in-Chief of the High Command of the Armed Forces (OKW). He now arranged to have his friend, Heinrich von Brauchitsch, appointed as Commander-in-Chief of the Army.
During the Second World War Keitel, Alfred Jodl and Walther Warlimont were the most important figures in the OKW. He was a loyal supporter of Hitler's policies and after the invasion of Poland he issued orders to the Schutz Staffeinel (SS) and the Gestapo to exterminate the country's Jews.
Keitel advised against the Western Offensive and Operation Barbarossa but quickly backed down when Hitler responded aggressively. Both times he tried to resign but Hitler refused him permission to go.
In May 1941 Keitel signed the Commissar Order which instructed German field commanders to execute Communist Party officials immediately they were captured. In July 1941 he signed another order giving Heinrich Himmler the power to implement his racial program in the Soviet Union.
In September 1942 Keitel and Alfred Jodl defended Field Marshal Siegmund List against the criticisms of Adolf Hitler. This resulted in Jodl being sacked and for many months afterwards Hitler refused to shake hands with Keitel. This was the last time that Keitel was to challenge Hitler's military decisions. He was now referred to by other officers as "Lakaitel" (the nodding ass).
Over the next two years Keitel issued orders for the execution of striking workers, the extermination of Jews and the killing of captured partisans. He also suggested that German civilians should be encouraged to lynch captured Allied airman.
After the war Keitel was arrested and tried at Nuremberg as a major war criminal. In court his main defence was that he was merely obeying orders claiming that he was "never permitted to make decisions". Found guilty he was executed on 16th October, 1946. His autobiography, In Service of the Reich, was published after his death.