Dietrich von Saucken

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Dietrich von Saucken
Dietrich von Saucken.jpg
Dietrich von Saucken
Born (1892-05-16)16 May 1892
Fischhausen, East Prussia, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire now Primorsk, Kaliningrad Oblast, Russian Federation
Died 27 September 1980(1980-09-27) (aged 88)
Pullach, Bavaria, West Germany
Buried at Waldfriedhof Solln, Munich
Plot 17—Row 1—Grave 12
Allegiance  German Empire (to 1918)
 Weimar Republic (to 1933)
 Nazi Germany
Service/branch Deutsches Heer
Wehrmacht Heer
Years of service 1910–45
Rank General der Panzertruppe
Commands held 4th Panzer Division
XXXIX Panzer Corps
Panzerkorps Großdeutschland
Second Army
AOK Ostpreußen

World War I

World War II

Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds

Friedrich Wilhelm Eduard Kasimir Dietrich von Saucken (16 May 1892 – 27 September 1980) was a general in the German army, the Heer, during World War II. He was the last of just 27 men to be awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillanten). Germany awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade, that with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, during World War II to recognise extreme bravery or successful leadership on the battlefield.

Early Life, World War I and Interwar period[edit]

Born in Fischhausen, East Prussia, on 16 May 1892 Saucken joined the German Army as a Fahnenjunker (Cadet) in the Grenadier-Regiment König Friedrich William I (2. Ostpreußisches) Nr. 3 in 1910. He was promoted to Fähnrich (Ensign) in 1911 and was finally commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant on 19 June 1912. When World War I started in 1914 von Saucken quickly was assigned as Company Commander. In 1916 he was assigned as Battalion Adjutant and in 1917, with a promotion to 1st Lieutenant, assigned as Regimental Adjutant. When the war ended von Saucken was Brigade Adjutant, had survived 7 wounds (which got him the Wound Badge in Gold), earned both classes of the Iron Cross, the Knight's Cross of the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern and the Austrian Military Merit Cross.

After the First World War he served in the Volunteer Border Protection Unit East {aka "Grenzschutz Ost" of the Freikorps} and the Provisional National Army. When in 1921 the Reichswehr was officially constituted von Saucken was posted in the 1st (Prussian) Infantry Regiment, but in the same year changed to the 8th (Prussian) Cavalry Regiment. He transferred to the 2nd (Prussian) Cavalry Regiment in 1923, the same year he married. In 1925 he was promoted to Rittmeister, and from 1927 on he was on special assignment in the Soviet Union, where he also learned to speak Russian. In 1934 he was promoted to Major, and on 1 May he was assigned as Instructor of Tactics at the War School Hannover. Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1936 he was assigned to command the 2nd Cavalry Regiment in 1937, and was promoted to Oberst (Colonel) on 1 June 1939.

World War II[edit]

Von Saucken led his regiment into the Invasion of Poland, which earned him the clasps to his two iron crosses. After fighting in the Battle of France he was assigned command of the 4. Schützen-Brigade (4th Motorized Infantry Brigade), the main infantry component of the 4th Panzer Division. With the brigade he fought in the Balkan Campaign and in the early phase of the Eastern Front in Operation Barbarossa. Appointed to command the division in December he was promoted to Generalmajor on 1 January 1942, while they were right in the Battle of Moscow. Being wounded just a day after his promotion he had to recover several months. Being awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on January 6 he was transferred to the School for Mobile Troops (Schule für Schnelle Truppen), where he was assigned commandant. On 1 April 1943 he was promoted to Generalleutnant; and two months later he was reassigned to his 4th Panzer Division.

Commanding his division till 20 May 1944 he fought i.a. at the Battle of Kursk before becoming acting commander of the III. Panzer Corps in late June 1944. His oldest son, Leutnant Hans-Erich von Saucken (born on 29 May 1924), was killed in action on 30 May 1944 in Romania. During his 2nd tenure with the 4th Panzer Division he was mentioned in the Wehrmachtbericht (which was considered a high military honour and held in high esteem) for his service in the Gomel Sector and received both the Oak Leaves and the Swords to his Knight's Cross when he saved the Ninth Army and the Second Army from destruction.

In June and July Saucken formed the Kampfgruppe von Saucken (Battlegroup von Saucken) and ad hoc unit from the remnants of several units that had been smashed in the Soviet assault on Army Group Centre. This grouping, mainly composed of the 5th Panzer Division, 170th Infantry Division and the 505th Heavy Panzer Battalion was later designated the XXXIX Panzer Corps. It attempted to defend the occupied city of Minsk and temporarily maintained an escape route across the Berezina River for retreating German soldiers in the face of overwhelmingly superior Soviet forces (outnumbered 10:1). For his conspicuous services during the late campaign von Saucken was mentioned in the Wehrmachtsbericht again, and on 1 August 1944 von Saucken was promoted to General der Panzertruppe (General of Armored Troops).

Saucken left the XXXIX Panzer Corps in late September 1944, when he took over command of the forming Panzerkorps Großdeutschland. Made up of elite units like the Panzer-Grenadier-Division Großdeutschland and the Panzer-Grenadier-Division Brandenburg, and planned to receive enlarged and strengthened corps troops, the corps was expected to be a strong army reserve. However the still incomplete corps was split when half of it, including von Saucken, was ordered eastward to stop the Vistula–Oder Offensive. He led the corps till February 1945 when he was stripped of his position and placed in the Führerreserve by Generaloberst Heinz Guderian, the Chief of Staff of the Army at the OKH, because of an argument between them about the senselessness of continuing the war.

Guderian nonetheless had a high opinion of von Sauken, whose abilities he thought outstanding. He records, in his book Panzer Leader, that in Eastern Germany in 1945 "Generals Nehring and von Sauken performed tasks of military virtuosity during those days that only the pen of a new Xenophon could adequately describe."[1]

A month later Saucken led the Second Army in its defence of Prussia and lent logistical support to the Evacuation of East Prussia. Saucken ordered his army, renamed to Army East Prussia in April, to surrender; one day after the unconditional surrender of all German forces on 8 May 1945. On 8 May von Saucken also received notice that he had been awarded the Knight's Cross with Oakleaves, Swords, and Diamonds on this day, making him the last officer to receive this award. Though an airplane stood by to evacuate him he refused to leave his troops.

Oryol Prison

Later life[edit]

After surrendering on the Hel Peninsula, Saucken went into Soviet captivity. Initially he was imprisoned in the Lubyanka Building and the Oryol Prison before being transferred to the Siberian Tayshet Gulag in 1949. Kept in solitary confinement, ordered to hard labor and maltreated by Soviet interrogators after refusing to sign false confessions Saucken was confined to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Released from Soviet captivity in 1955 he settled in Pullach near Munich and took up painting. He died there in 1980.

Character traits[edit]

A cavalry officer who regularly wore both a sword and a monocle, Saucken personified the archetypal aristocratic Prussian conservative who despised the braune Bande ("brown mob") of Nazis. When he was ordered to take command of the Second Army on 12 March 1945, he came to Hitler's headquarters with his left hand resting casually on his cavalry sabre, his monocle in his eye, . . . [and then] saluted and gave a slight bow. This was three 'outrages' at once. He had not given the Nazi salute with raised arm and the words 'Heil Hitler', as had been regulation since 20 July 1944, he had not surrendered his weapon on entering....and had kept his monocle in his eye when saluting Hitler.

When Hitler told him that he must take his orders from Albert Forster, the Gauleiter (Nazi governor, or "District Leader") of Danzig, Saucken returned Hitler's gaze....and striking the marble slab of the map table with the flat of his hand, he replied 'I have no intention, Herr Hitler, of placing myself under the orders of a Gauleiter'. In doing this he had bluntly contradicted Hitler and not addressed him as Mein Führer.

To the surprise of everyone who was present, Hitler capitulated and replied "All right, Saucken, keep the command yourself." Hitler dismissed the General without shaking his hand and Saucken left the room with only the merest hint of a bow.[2][3]


Wehrmachtbericht references[edit]

Date Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording Direct English translation
3 December 1943 Im Mittelabschnitt war der Druck des Feindes gegen unsere Stellungen im Raum von Gomel schwächer. In den zähen und erbitterten Abwehrkämpfen der vergangenen Tage haben hier die main-frankische 4. Panzerdivision unter Generalleutnant von Saucken und die bayerische 296. Infanteriedivision unter Generalleutnant Kullmer bei schwierigen Kampfverhältnissen alle Durchbruchsversuche der Sowjets vereitelt.[6] In the middle sector, the pressure of the enemy against our positions in area of Gomel was weaker. In the tough and fierce defensive battles of the past few days here have the Main-Frankish 4th Panzer Division under Lieutenant-General Von Saucken and the Bavarian 296th Infantry Division under Lieutenant General Kullmer, thwarted all Soviet break through attempts in difficult combat circumstances.
5 July 1944 Südlich Minsk kämpfen sich unsere Verbände weiter zurück. Nordwestlich der Stadt wurden heftige Angriffe der Bolschewisten abgewiesen. Hier schoß eine Panzerkampfgruppe unter Führung des Generalleutnants von Saucken in beweglicher Kampfführung in der Zeit vom 27. Juni bis 3. Juli 232 feindliche Panzer ab.[7] In retreat, our units keep fighting back south of Minsk. Northwest of the city the violent attacks of the Bolsheviks were repulsed. Here is an armoured battle group, under the leadership of Lieutenant General Von Saucken, destroyed in mobile warfare in the period from 27 June to 3 July 232 enemy tanks.
9 May 1945 Dem Oberbefehlshaber, General der Panzertruppe von Saucken, wurden als Anerkennung für die vorbildliche Haltung seiner Soldaten die Brillanten zum Eichenlaub mit Schwertern zum Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes verliehen.[8] The commander-in-chief, General of Panzer Troops Von Saucken was awarded the Diamonds to the Oak Leaves with Swords to the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross in recognition of the exemplary attitude of his soldiers.

Dates of ranks[edit]


  1. ^ Guderian, Heinz (2009) [1952]. Panzer Leader. Penguin UK. p. 417. ISBN 0-1419-5739-5. 
  2. ^ Beevor 2002, pp. 80-82.
  3. ^ as written by Rittmeister Gerhard Boldt in his book Hitler's Last Days: An Eye-Witness Account
  4. ^ a b c d Thomas 1998, p. 240.
  5. ^ a b c d Scherzer 2007, p. 651.
  6. ^ Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 2, p. 619.
  7. ^ Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 3, p. 150.
  8. ^ Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 3, pp. 568–569.
  • Beevor, Antony (2002). Berlin the Downfall 1945. London ; New York: Viking. ISBN 0-670-88695-5.
  • Berger, Florian (1999). Mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern. Die höchstdekorierten Soldaten des Zweiten Weltkrieges [With Oak Leaves and Swords. The Highest Decorated Soldiers of the Second World War] (in German). Vienna, Austria: Selbstverlag Florian Berger. ISBN 978-3-9501307-0-6. 
  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 – Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtteile [The Bearers of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939–1945 — The Owners of the Highest Award of the Second World War of all Wehrmacht Branches] (in German). Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6. 
  • Williamson, Gordon (2006). Knight's Cross with Diamonds Recipients 1941-45. Oxford, England: Osprey Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 978-1-8417-6644-7. 
  • Fraschka, Günther (1994). Knights of the Reich. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Military/Aviation History. ISBN 978-0-88740-580-8. 
  • Samuel W. Mitcham, Jr (2001). Crumbling Empire, the German Defeat in the East, 1944. Westport, Praeger. ISBN 0-275-96856-1.
  • Schaulen, Fritjof (2005). Eichenlaubträger 1940 – 1945 Zeitgeschichte in Farbe III Radusch – Zwernemann [Oak Leaves Bearers 1940 – 1945 Contemporary History in Color III Radusch – Zwernemann] (in German). Selent, Germany: Pour le Mérite. ISBN 978-3-932381-22-5. 
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 The Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 by Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Allied Forces with Germany According to the Documents of the Federal Archives] (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2. 
  • Thomas, Franz (1998). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 2: L–Z [The Oak Leaves Bearers 1939–1945 Volume 2: L–Z] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2300-9. 
  • Williamson, Gordon (2006). Knight's Cross with Diamonds Recipients 1941–45. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84176-644-7. 
  • Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 2, 1. Januar 1942 bis 31. Dezember 1943 [The Wehrmacht Reports 1939–1945 Volume 2, 1 January 1942 to 31 December 1943] (in German). München, Germany: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG. 1985. ISBN 978-3-423-05944-2. 
  • Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 3, 1. Januar 1944 bis 9. Mai 1945 [The Wehrmacht Reports 1939–1945 Volume 3, 1 January 1944 to 9 May 1945] (in German). München, Germany: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG. 1985. ISBN 978-3-423-05944-2. 

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
General der Panzertruppen Willibald Freiherr von Langermann und Erlencamp
Commander of 4. Panzer-Division
27 December 1941 – 2 January 1942
Succeeded by
General der Panzertruppen Willibald Freiherr von Langermann und Erlencamp
Preceded by
Generalleutnant Erich Schneider
Commander of 4. Panzer-Division
31 May 1943 – January 1944
Succeeded by
Generalleutnant Hans Junck
Preceded by
Generalleutnant Hans Junck
Commander of 4. Panzer-Division
February 1944 – 1 May 1944
Succeeded by
Generalleutnant Clemens Betzel
Preceded by
General der Panzertruppen Hermann Breith
Commander of III. Armeekorps
31 May 1944 – 29 June 1944
Succeeded by
General der Panzertruppen Hermann Breith
Preceded by
Generalleutnant Otto Schünemann
Commander of XXXIX.Panzerkorps
29 June 1944 – 15 October 1944
Succeeded by
General der Panzertruppen Karl Decker
Preceded by
Commander of Panzerkorps Großdeutschland
28 September 1944 – 11 February 1945
Succeeded by
Generalleutnant Georg Jauer
Preceded by
General Walter Weiß
Commander of 2. Armee
10 March 1945 – 7 April 1945
Succeeded by
AOK Ostpreußen
Preceded by
2. Armee
Commander of AOK Ostpreußen
7 April 1945 – 9 May 1945
Succeeded by
German surrender