5 November 1905|
|Allegiance||Nazi Germany (1933–1945)|
|Unit||SS-Begleitkommando des Führers, 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division Reichsführer-SS|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
SS-Obersturmbannführer** Bruno Gesche (5 November 1905 – 1980) was a Lieutenant Colonel of the SS in Nazi Germany, a member of Adolf Hitler's entourage, and the commander of Adolf Hitler's personal bodyguard (SS-Begleitkommando des Führers) for the periods June 1934 – April 1942 and December 1942 – December 1944.
Gesche's aspirations for a career in the German military were effectively dashed by the limitations imposed by the Treaty of Versailles on the post-World War I national defense force, the Reichswehr. Though thwarted at realizing his dream of a life of soldiering via the traditional path, Gesche channeled his enthusiasm toward opportunities created by what was then a fringe political opposition movement, the NSDAP, and specifically, its paramilitary wing, the Sturmabteilung, both of which he joined in 1922. Although Gesche's association with the Nazi movement during its early years, including partaking in the thuggish ways employed by the SA brownshirts cost him his day job on more than one occasion, his status within the Nazi party as an Alte Kämpfer (NSDAP Member No. 8592) proved to be a tremendous asset to him during the better part of the subsequent two and a half decades.
In 1927 Gesche left the SA to join what was then its subordinate outfit, the Schutzstaffel (SS Member No. 1093). Gesche decided to join the SS after viewing a procession of its men at a Nazi party rally earlier that same year. Like the relative handful before him, and the hundreds of thousands that followed, the distinctive black uniforms of the SS, apparent discipline, and commitment to Nazi racial ideology, left an indelible mark on the young German during the tumult that was Weimar Germany. The SS, as in its earlier incarnations, the Stabswache and Stoßtrupp Adolf Hitler, functioned as the future Führer's bodyguard.
SS-Begleitkommando des Führers
On February 29, 1932, with the advice of Reichsführer-SS, Heinrich Himmler, Hitler chose eight of a prospective twelve men from amongst the body of the SS membership, to serve as his exclusive personal bodyguard, the SS-Begleitkommando des Führers. One of the eight men handpicked by Hitler for the elite unit was Bruno Gesche. Not long after the unit's creation, Gesche managed to draw the ire of Reichsführer Himmler. To Himmler's consternation, Hitler's fondness for Gesche stemming from their days as old guard comrades would define Gesche's fate for practically the duration of the Third Reich's existence.
Conflicts with Himmler
The first of many incidents between Gesche and Himmler arose as a result of criticism that the former levied against the security detail provided by another SS unit during a Hitler campaign speech in Selb on October 14, 1932. Himmler regarded this as an affront to him personally. Although Himmler requested that Gesche be immediately demoted and removed from the SS-Begleitkommando, Hitler ordered that Gesche receive no more than a reprimand.
What Himmler failed to achieve with Gesche in 1932, he succeeded at with Gesche's immediate superior, third commander of the SS-Begleitkommando, Kurt Gildisch. Gildisch was dismissed from his role as commander of the SS-Begleitkommando in 1934, and eventually the SS entirely, as well as the Nazi party, in 1936, for repeated instances of drunkenness. Gesche was selected by Hitler to succeed Gildisch as commander of the SS-Begleitkommando in June, 1934.
On another occasion, in 1935, as part of his attempts at consolidating his authority over the various security apparatuses of the early Nazi state, Himmler ordered that salaries due to men of Hitler's personal bodyguard detail be withheld. Gesche responded by enlisting the help of the commander of Hitler's personal bodyguard regiment, Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, Sepp Dietrich, who quickly managed to have Himmler's order reversed.
Seizing on Gesche's frequent bouts of intoxication, Himmler enforced an SS requirement that had been established in 1937, forbidding SS men from consuming alcohol in excess of the limits as set forth in the mandate. After accumulating evidence that Gesche was in violation, Himmler had Gesche sign a statement on September 26, 1938, promising to abstain from alcohol consumption of any kind for three years or else face expulsion from the SS. After a few months Himmler lifted the ban. Hitler's fondness for Gesche had again forced Himmler's hand.
Gesche once again opened the door for Himmler, when in early 1942, after another session of heavy-drinking, he pulled his pistol and threatened a fellow SS officer. Although no shots were fired, after Himmler was informed of the events, even Gesche's close relationship with Hitler could not save him from the wrath of the Reichsführer-SS. Gesche was swiftly dismissed from his command of the SS-Begleitkommando, was again required to abstain from drinking for three years, and most importantly, at the age of 37 and with no prior combat experience, was ordered to the Eastern Front to join the Waffen-SS unit, 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, in which he served with 1./SS-Panzer-Jäger-Abteilung 5. The 5th SS, from the moment Gesche arrived in the summer of 1942, engaged in bitter battles with Soviet forces for control of the oil-rich Caucasus. Before the collapse of the German 6th Army at Stalingrad, and the resulting retreat through the Caucasus by the remnants that had not surrendered, including his 5th SS Wiking Division, Gesche had been evacuated from the front in early October 1942 after being wounded in combat. Hitler was pleased with Gesche's performance, and ordered that upon recuperating, he return to command the SS-Begleitkommando. The fortuitous circumstances of Gesche's Caucasus experience led Hitler to decree that no man who had served in a bodyguard unit should be sent to the Eastern Front, for fear of capture by the Soviets.
In December 1944 Gesche once again, and for the final time, tempted fate. In his strongly worded rebuke, soon after an incident that featured a drunken Gesche firing shots at a comrade, Himmler wrote:
— You are known to me as a notorious drunk from the year 1938, as well as from reports in recent years and months. Since I cannot tolerate drunks in the Führerkorps, I demote you. Only based on your long association will I allow you to remain in the SS. I will give you the opportunity to serve in the Dirlewanger Brigade and by proving yourself before the enemy, it might be possible to wipe out the shame you have brought on yourself and the entire SS. I expect you to abstain from alcohol for the rest of your life, without any exceptions. Should your will power be already damaged by alcohol to the extent that you cannot keep this pledge, then I expect you to hand in your resignation.
Gesche was reduced by nine grades, from a SS-Obersturmbannführer to SS-Unterscharführer. Assignment to the notorious SS penal unit, Dirlewanger, at that stage of the war, was for all practical purposes a death sentence. Although Hitler did not personally intervene on Gesche's behalf, other powerful allies in the SS did. SS-Gruppenführer Hermann Fegelein and SS-Obergruppenführer Maximilian von Herff successfully argued that assignment to the Dirlewanger Brigade, which was currently operating on the Eastern Front, would be in contravention to the Hitler order forbidding such deployments. Although Gesche was spared certain death with the Dirlewanger, he never again rejoined the Begleitkommando. His days protecting Hitler were over. He was assigned to the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division Reichsführer-SS, 5./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 35, where he is said to have again fought well, ultimately surrendering to the Americans in Italy in 1945. According to records housed at the Deutsche Dienststelle (WASt), Bruno Gesche's last known date of internment by the Western Allies was March 22, 1947.
Promotions, demotions and decorations
- Promotions and demotion
- 20.7.31 – SS-Untersturmführer (2nd Lieutenant)
- 9.11.33 – SS-Obersturmführer (1st Lieutenant)
- 1.7.34 – SS-Hauptsturmführer (Captain)
- 20.4.35 – SS-Sturmbannführer (Major)
- 9.11.44 – SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant Colonel)
- 20.12.44 – SS-Unterscharführer (Sergeant) (demoted by Himmler)**
- Decorations and awards
- Peter Hoffmann Hitler's Personal Security: Protecting the Führer 1921–1945
- Axis History SS-Begleitkommando des Führers
- * Rochus Misch: Der letzte Zeuge. Ich war Hitlers Telefonist, Kurier und Leibwächter. With forward by Ralph Giordano, Piper München Zürich 2008, ISBN 978-3-492-25735-0
- Berlin Document Center/SS Officers' Service Records files on Gesche