Wilhelm Klink was born in 1893, and raised in Düsseldorf, Germany. He claimed descent from a 500-year-old Junkers family of the Heidelberg aristocracy, as both his grandfather and father (and all of his male ancestors) being military men. [Although he was a Junker, the men of his branch of the family are not ennobled with the title "von".] He had a pompous coat of arms with the letter "K" on it which he would display in one of the rooms of his office building during his time at Stalag 13. A version of his coat of arms is a green lion facing right on a blue background. ("The Collector General.") His only known sibling is a brother named Wolfgang. His father appeared to be deceased at the time of the Second World War but his mother was still alive, as was his 90-year-old grandfather. He occasionally wrote to his mother and even took her on a canoeing trip before the war.
In 1901, Klink's family moved to Düsseldorf, where he worked at his father's store and attended the local gymnasium along with a boy named Mullendorf, who in his adulthood rose to the rank of general, invited Klink to be best man at his wedding, and became involved in a plot to kill the Führer. ("The Big Picture.") He had a brief romance with a young blond woman named Marlene Schneider, which he would later recall as the only serious love of his life. (She would later dump Klink and marry an SS Officer.) After failing the qualifying exams to study law, medicine, and bookkeeping, he accepted an appointment from the Kaiser to the military academy at Potsdam, which was attained for him by his uncle, who was the barber for the mayor of Düsseldorf. Among his classmates at Potsdam were Rudolf von Lintzer, Hans Stofle, and Hans Kronman.
One of his instructors, Colonel Schlesweig (later executed by Hitler, at an indeterminate time and for reasons never explained), coined a saying about authority that Klink would carry with him for the rest of his life: "Authority is a dangerous thing, in the hands of fools." ("Man in a Box.") Klink graduated from Potsdam 95th (last) in his class, and left there with a dueling scar somewhere on his body, which had been given to him by Stofle. He is the only member of his class not to have made General--although in the D-Day episode (D-Day at Stalag 13), Hogan tricked the German High Command into thinking Klink was the General to deal with the Normandy Invasion. Faced with the choice of either fighting on the beaches or holding the reserves back, Klink took the advice of General von Scheider to phone Hitler as only he could authorize the panzer reserves to be unleashed. After a long discussion on the phone regarding who he was, he finally found out Hitler was asleep and his aides would not wake him so Klink could only order...for more champagne!
Start of his Military Career
Klink served in the First World War, first in the Deutsches Heer (German Army) and later in the newly formed Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte (German Air force) despite a lifelong fear of flying. (See notes for an explanation on the name.) He reached the rank of Oberleutnant by 1919, and Hauptmann der Flieger in 1920. During his war service, he won the Iron Cross, although the how and why is never mentioned in the series. The only reference made to his service in the Great War is that he crashed a plane during a training flight, injuring his passenger, Petterdale von Richter, the famed Blue Baron, on August 4, 1917. After the war, he stayed in the size-restricted, post-war Reichswehr of Weimar Germany.
Post-Great War/Pre-World War II
He became a Hauptman in 1920, a Major on December 25, 1924, and finaly Oberstleutnant in 1929, a rank he would still hold when made Kommandant of Stalag 13, until he was promoted to full Oberst in 1942, after the pilot episode. This was due in part to him having an efficiency rating just a few points above miserable. Both before and after the Nazis came to power in Germany, Klink served in their Army as a bungling, self-serving, self-centered bureaucrat who always hoped to become a General, like the rest of his military class. When the German Air Force was reformed as the Luftwaffe, he rejoined it. Klink would be continuously chosen by the Luftwaffe to do its broadcasts because of his resonance, projection and "incredible" diction. He claims to have had the "honor" of meeting the Führer at a rally in Munich just before the start of World War II, but when the hostilities actually commenced, he was in Berlin; to be more specific, he was at his apartment at Grechterwüschnachem.
World War II
Klink was a member of the 401st Bomber Group and piloted a Heinkel He-111E bomber. He was nicknamed "the Iron Eagle" by his squadron mates; this would have been in 1940 and most of 1941. He was involved in both air and ground combat, the nature of which is never revealed in the series, but by his own admission was not serious enough to put his own life in danger. Apparently, it was meritorious enough for him to earn a ground combat badge and an eagle (spange) on his Iron Cross. He was involved in the Second Battle of Verdun, and it was there that he was briefly reunited with the Blue Baron, Generaloberst Petterdale von Richter (a spoof of the Red Baron). Not long after this, his eyesight apparently deteriorated in his left eye, most likely from engine trouble, to the extent of his requiring a monocle to correct its vision. That meant that he could never fly a Heinkel again. After being grounded, he worked for a short time as a tower dispatcher at an airfield near Stuttgart and Hemmelstadt. Not long after that, he was reassigned to Stalag 13 as its Kommandant on April 14, 1942.
After being made Kommandant of the camp, he turned it into the "toughest camp in all of Germany," with not one successful escape attempt. However, Klink had no idea that there were actually a series of tunnels under the camp that were being used by Colonel Robert E. Hogan, the camp's senior POW, and his "Heroes" who were an anti-Nazi organization operating in Stalag 13. This organization specialized in sabotage, spying and rescuing Allied airmen who are sent back to England. Klink was easily manipulated by Hogan and his men; so easy was it to manipulate him that several times the Heroes had to prevent Klink from ever being transferred elsewhere, especially not to the Russian Front as Burkhalter or Hochstetter often threatened to do to him, as that would eventually lead to the exposure of their operation.
Though Klink liked to describe himself as a tough but fair officer, his staff and POWs knew otherwise. He also was known to dip into the Red Cross supplies that were intended for his prisoners, as well as the camp funds, occasionally, to support his amorous affairs. He was also very parsimonious with his cigars which he kept locked in a cigar-box on his desk, which Klink is prone to tease Schultz with by offering him one only to slam the lid on his fingers, but Hogan always had a way of filching one under his very nose. Many of his own men had little or no respect for him, as demonstrated when he was going to be shot for treason and they all volunteered to be part of his firing squad--including two men who had deserted and had come back just for that one purpose! He complained about how four of the prison guard dogs tried to attack him. In turn, he often belittled and scorned his men, especially Schultz, whom he often threatened to send off to the Russian Front or used as someone to blame whenever things went wrong--even if it was his own fault. But Hogan always came to Schultz's rescue, as he needed the fat sergeant as an unwilling aide to his and his men's operation.
Although he sometimes acted as if he was still afraid of flying, Klink claimed to dream of once again flying Heinkels, although it is possible this statement was simply false bravado intended to impress either other officers or women. Klink both hated and feared the local Gestapo agent, Major (Sturmbannführer in SS terms) Wolfgang Hochstetter and he was something of an old friend of his commanding officer, Army General der Infanterie Albert "Hansi" Burkhalter. This was mainly because Klink desperately wanted to stay on the general's good side, but he was also disgusted by the thought of actually having to marry the general's miserable sister, Gertrude Linkmeyer. In fact, on several occasions, he threatened to have Hogan shot for even proposing such a fate, and assured him that no court-martial in the world would ever find him guilty for doing it. He would have much preferred a romance with either of his secretaries. However, neither secretary was willing to date him. He also tried romancing two of the local women, the one a waitress at the HoffBrau and the other a little red-haired manicurist. He failed both times.
Klink fancied himself a ladies' man, a self-styled military genius, a musician, and even an artist. His violin playing is the stuff of legend--and not the good kind; a running gag is that the only tune he can play is the US Army Air Force song "Into the Wild Blue Yonder," (In actual fact, Klink's portrayer, Werner Klemperer, was the son of a famous conductor, and a talented musician in his own right.) He once tried to flatter Schultz so that he could become a postwar bookkeeper at Schultz's toy company and tried to corner the cuckoo-clock market--and, as usual, failed. On one occasion, he was in danger of being shot--both by the Underground, because his was too low a rank to trade for a captured underground leader, and by the Gestapo, because they thought he was the super underground spy "Nimrod!" ("The Missing Klink.")
Two of Klink's favorite foods were pistachio ice cream and apple-crumb cake, made for him by Corporal LeBeau. ("How's the Weather?") He also loved his uniform and medals, and was often seen admiring himself in the mirror. He would even wear his monocle in bed. ("The Collector General.")
One of the show's running gags had Hogan getting into Klink's staff car; Schultz would drive off until Klink screamed, "Schultz!" Another gag was Klink getting hit with water or falling snow.
Given the time period and his command rank, it was unusual that Klink was not (and never became) a member of the Nazi Party! ("The Assassin.")
Klink's vanity often made him an easy mark for Hogan, who continually massaged the Kommandant's massive ego to manipulate his decisions in ways which would benefit both the prisoners and the Allies.
- On May 1st, 1910, the first aerial branch of the German Air Force was formed. It was called the Die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches (The aviation troops of the German Empire), although it was usually shortened to Die Fliegertruppe, or "The air force"). On October 8th, 1916, Die Fliegertruppe and other branches concerned with air matters such as anti-aircraft, home defence and air intelligence were unified in the Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte (usually shortened to Luftstreitkräfte). This is what the branch would have been called when Klink joined it during World War One. The Luftstreitkräfte disbanded on May 8th, 1920 as per the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and was later reformed as the Luftwaffe.
- According to the German language version of the series, in which the dialogue was often altered to make the characters even more exaggerated, Klink has an unseen cleaning lady called "Kalinke" who also doubles as his mistress, and whom he says often performs her cleaning duties in the nude!