||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (February 2009)|
27 May 1908|
Hohenlimburg, Province of Westphalia, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire
|Died||14 June 1944
Venoix, Normandy, Occupied France
|Buried at||Cimetière militaire allemand de Champigny-St. André
Block 8—row 12—grave 1027
|Years of service||1933–1944|
|Rank||Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS|
|Commands held||12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves|
Fritz Witt (27 May 1908 – 14 June 1944) was a German Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS who served with the 1.SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler before taking command of the 12.SS-Panzer-Division Hitlerjugend. Witt was killed by an allied naval barrage in 1944.
Early life – Pre-war SS service
Fritz Witt was born on 27 May 1908 in Hohenlimburg, a suburb of the city of Hagen. Witt's family was middle class, his father being employed as a textiles salesman. After attending school Witt followed his father's trade, working as a textiles salesman from 1925 until 1931. During this period of time, he witnessed the rise of Adolf Hitler and the NSDAP, becoming a strong supporter. Witt saw the Nazis as the answer to the chaos and poverty of the Weimar Republic. On 1 December 1931, Witt applied to join both the NSDAP (Nr. 816.769) and the SS (Nr. 21.518). On 17 March 1933, Witt was admitted to the SS-Stabswache Berlin, an élite guard formation of only 117 men. On 1 October 1933, Witt received his commission as an SS-Untersturmführer.
In On 9 May 1934, Witt was promoted to SS-Obersturmführer, and soon after took command of the third company of SS-Standartenführer Felix Steiner's SS-Standarte Deutschland, one of the then-three Standarten which comprised the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT). The other Standarten were the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, SS-Standarte Germania and (from 1938) SS-Standarte Der Führer). In October 1938, the SS-VT was subordinated to Heer command, stepping closer to its future combat role.
While commanding the 3./SS-Standarte Deutschland, Witt was involved in the march into Austria as part of the Anschluß in 1938. After this, the Standarte was motorised. The Deutschland now took part in the occupation of the Sudetenland. In March 1939, Witt served with the Standarte during the bloodless annexation of Bohemia and Moravia. Hitler ordered the formation of an SS-Verfügungs-Division, comprising all three SS-VT Standarten (The Leibstandarte was to form its own unit). The Polish crisis put these plans on hold, and the SS-Standarten were deployed for action during the upcoming offensive, Fall Weiß. Witt's SS-Standarte (mot) Deutschland was subordinated to Panzer-Verband Kempf, based in East Prussia.
Early war campaigns
On 1 September 1939, the Invasion of Poland began, sparking the Second World War. Witt was still in command of the 3./SS-Standarte Deutschland, and although the Deutschland played a mostly supporting role to Kempf's panzers, Witt's company saw some heavy fighting and he served well during the campaign. For personal bravery in combat, Witt was awarded both the first and second classes of the Iron Cross within a ten-day period.
By October 1939, Witt had attained a rank of SS-Hauptsturmführer and was placed in command of I.Battalion of the Deutschland, redesignated SS-Infanterie-Regiment (mot) Deutschland. In the same month, the SS-Verfügungs-Division was formed and placed under the command of SS-Gruppenführer Paul Hausser.
Witt led his battalion through the Invasion of France, again showing bravery and skill commanding his unit. On 27 May 1940, 20 British Matilda tanks attacked Witt's battalion. Despite the fact that Witt's unit had no anti-tank weapons, Witt rallied his battalion and they held, destroying nine of the British tanks with grenades and other improvised methods. In Hausser's post battle report, he said of Witt's actions:
- The opinion of the Regimental commander, describing him as the soul of the resistance, must be stressed. Witt is the model of the young leader, never retreating in the face of anything
For his actions repulsing the armoured attack, Witt was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, which he received on 4 September 1940.
On 16 October, Witt was transferred to the Infanterie-Regiment (mot.) Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, where he took command of III. Battalion.
Balkans – Barbarossa
Witt, an SS-Sturmbannführer since late May 1940, was again transferred to command of the Leibstandarte's I.Battalion on 26 March 1941. The Leibstandarte was poised to take place in Operation Marita, the invasion of the Balkans and Greece. I.Battalion played a crucial role.
On 10 April, Witt's battalion was reinforced with artillery and a battery of 88mm Flak 18s and renamed Kampfgruppe Witt. The unit was given the task of clearing resistance from the Klidi Pass, just south of Vevi and opening the way to the heart of Greece. The pass was defended by a hastily-assembled Australian-British-New Zealand-Greek force, under an Australian, Maj. Gen. Iven Mackay. Witt's men were engaged in heavy fighting for three days before the pass fell. Witt's brother, Franz Witt, fell in the fighting. Witt's battalion had inflicted many casualties and captured over 520 prisoners for the loss of only 37 dead and 95 wounded.
After the conclusion of the Balkan campaign Witt remained in command of I.Battalion. The Leibstandarte, now upgraded to a division, was to take part in the advance into Russia as a part of Army Group South.
Witt's unit now moved south, to join the LIV.Armeekorps. On 17 September 1941, the Leibstandarte was involved in the launch of the offensive to clear the Crimean Peninsula. Witt's battalion took part in the fighting for the town of Perekop, and the later advance across the Perekop Isthmus and the assaults on the Soviet defensive positions near the Tarter Ditch.
In November, the Leibstandarte was transferred back to Panzergruppe 1 and took part in the heavy fighting for the city of Rostov on Don. After capturing the city, heavy Soviet counterattacks during the winter meant that the Germans had to fall back to defensive lines on the river Mius. Witt's battalion was engaged in several ferocious rearguard actions. Through the bitter winter battles, Witt led from the front, maintaining unit morale and showing care for his men. He was known as a sharp dresser, always seen in immaculate dress uniform resplendent with his many awards with his German Shepherd Bulli by his side. On 8 February 1942, Witt was awarded the German Cross in Gold for his bravery during the Rostov battles.
Paris – Kharkov
In the early months of 1942, Witt's battalion continued defensive actions along the Mius. In May 1942, the division went back on the offensive and Witt's battalion was again committed to action in the recapture of Rostov on Don. After over a month's heavy fighting, the city had fallen, and the exhausted division was ordered back to France to rest and refit. Witt had led his formation exceptionally over this period, and as a reflection, in the month of July 1942 he was awarded the Order of the Star of Romania, Officer Class with Swords on the Ribbon of Military Virtue, and the Bulgarian Military Order for Bravery in War 4th Class, 1st Grade.
The Leibstandarte was to be reformed as a Panzergrenadier division. For refitting and training, the division was ordered to the Normandy area in Northern France. Witt travelled the scenic countryside, unknowingly gaining information which would later prove invaluable. In August, he was promoted to SS-Standartenführer and given command of the Leibstandarte's 1st SS Panzergrenadier Regiment. Witt and the division spent the remainder of 1942 resting and refitting in France.
In January 1943, the reformed SS Panzergrenadier Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler was deemed ready for action, and together with the SS Panzergrenadier Division Das Reich and the SS Panzergrenadier Division Totenkopf was formed into the SS Panzer Corps. The SS Panzer Corps, commanded by Witt's old commander Paul Hausser, was sent east to Kharkov to join Erich von Manstein's Army Group Don which was attempting to halt the Soviet advance after the 6th Army's defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad.
Witt's 1st SS Panzergrenadier Regiment was stationed in the outskirts of Kharkov, and in early February saw heavy fighting against the forces of the Soviet Mobile Group Popov. At the town of Merefa, Witt's regiment, fighting alongside SS-Sturmbannführer Max Wünsche's 1st Battalion/1st SS Panzer Regiment, fought a bitter delaying action on 8–9 February. Although severely outnumbered, Witt and Wünsche halted the spearhead of Mobile Group Popov, inflicting heavy losses on the Soviets. Despite these actions, the Soviets were still advancing on the SS Panzer Corps' flanks. Fearing encirclement, Hausser disobeyed Hitler's orders and authorised a full withdrawal from Kharkov.
In early March, Witt's regiment now took part in the Third Battle of Kharkov. Witt's force was reinforced with tanks, artillery and assault guns, and was given the task of attacking from the North. The force, renamed Kampfgruppe Witt, was to form one of three pincers which would destroy Mobile Group Popov and recapture Kharkov.
The attack got underway on 2 March, and by 10 March KG Witt had reached the suburbs of Kharkov. After ferocious fighting near Dergatschi, Witt broke through and advanced into the city centre, fighting alongside Kurt Meyer's Kampfgruppe Meyer. Over the next few days, the Kampfgruppes of Witt and Meyers' saw intense fighting, and were cut off several times inside the city. Despite this, they held and Kampfgruppe Peiper under Joachim Peiper reached them and together the three Leibstandarte units annihilated the Soviet defenders.
By 16 March, the battle was over, with Kharkov retaken. In honour of the 4,500 casualties suffered by the Leibstandarte in the severe fighting, Kharkov's Red Square was renamed Platz der Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. The division was pulled back for much needed rest and refit. For his actions in leading his Kampfgruppe, Witt was awarded the Oakleaves to the Knight's Cross and promoted to the rank SS-Oberführer.
In February 1943, the SS had begun formation of a new Waffen-SS division composed primarily from Hitler Youth members born in 1926. The division was designated 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend. To provide officers for this new division, a number of veteran Leibstandarte officers and NCOs were transferred. Witt, along with Max Wünsche, Kurt Meyer, 'Gerd' Bremer, Wilhelm Mohnke, Hugo Kraas and Rudolf von Ribbentrop were among those transferred. On 1 July 1943, Witt was promoted to SS-Oberführer, and at the end of the month he was officially given command of the Hitlerjugend division. Witt took over the divisional command at Beverloo in occupied Belgium, and began the huge undertaking of overseeing the formation and training of a new SS Panzer Division. Witt, realising that the division had to be made ready for combat as quickly as possible, ignored many rules and regulations and instead focused on realistic combat scenarios and live-fire exercises. A result of this was that the morale of the HJ was exceptionally high, and the relationship between the officers and men was an informal one, based on mutual trust and respect.
In January 1944, Witt's new command was the subject of a major scandal. Early in the month, SS-Untersturmführer Wilifred Murr, a junior officer in SS-Sturmbannführer Erich Olboeter's 12th SS Reconnaissance Battalion had, in a drunken state, raped a 15 year old Belgian girl after threatening her parents with his pistol. Murr was the son of Wilhelm Murr, Gauleiter of Stuttgart. Olboeter heard of the incident, and along with SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Eberhard Denzel, the division's legal officer, visited Murr in his room and persuaded him that he should make use of his pistol to avoid embarrassing his family. As soon as the officers had left, Murr did so. Murr's father soon heard details of what had happened, and, enraged, wrote to Martin Bormann demanding an investigation.
In the resulting investigation, Olboeter was demoted and transferred to command of the 3rd Battalion of the 26th SS Panzergrenadier Regiment. He was replaced by SS-Hauptsturmführer Gerd Bremer and Dr. Denzel was demoted to SS-Schütze and sent to serve with the 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf's 6th SS Panzergrenadier Regiment.
Despite this, Witt managed to avoid any repercussions, and the formation of the division continued. In March 1944, in a high profile event, OB West, Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt and I SS Panzer Corps commander SS-Obergruppenführer Josef Dietrich visited the Division's training grounds. Witt escorted the OB West and Dietrich as they witnessed elements of the division engaged in training exercises. After witnessing this, both Rundstedt and Dietrich were convinced that the division would soon be combat ready, and ordered Witt to move his division to Normandy where it was to join Panzergruppe West, Rundstedt's armoured reserve.
On 20 April 1944, Witt was promoted to SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der SS. Witt continued training exercises for his division, allowing his troops to familiarise themselves with the terrain around Caen. This training would later prove vital. On 27 May 1944, Witt turned 36 and celebrated his birthday with a party. A few days later, on 2 June, he finally announced that the Hitlerjugend division was ready for combat.
On 6 June 1944, the Western Allies launched Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy. Witt's Division, along with the 21st Panzer Division, was the closest armoured unit to the landing beaches. Witt readied the division for immediate action, but was forced to wait for Hitler's personal authorisation releasing the panzer units. The unit did not move out until 14:30, early in the afternoon of D-Day on 6 June. The division's advance to the areas near Sword and Juno Beaches was severely hampered by incessant Allied fighter-bomber attacks. Forward elements of the division finally reached their assembly area near Evrecy at 2200 on 6 June, too late in the day to be committed to action.
Witt ordered his division to form up north of Caen, defending the city and the Carpiquet Aerodrome. On 7 June, SS-Standartenführer Kurt Meyer's 25th SS Panzergrenadier Regiment, along with the 2nd Battalion from SS-Obersturmbannführer Max Wünsche's 12th SS Panzer Regiment, attacked the advancing 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, destroying 28 Canadian tanks and annihilating a company of The North Nova Scotia Highlanders for the loss of only six tanks, according to Meyer's recollection of the battle after the war. Records from the 27th Canadian armored regiment rather suggest that at least 31 German tanks were destroyed, mainly Panzer IV's. Infantry casualties on both sides were heavy; the North Nova's lost 242 men, including 128 prisoners; German casualties are uncertain, but at least 50 German wounded were seen by Canadian prisoners at the nearby Ardenne Abbey. It is generally believed that the 12th SS lost around 80 killed and 150+ wounded. One thing is certain though: the 12th SS fell short of their objective, which was to push back the allies to the sea, but they did stop their advance north of Caen for weeks. Meyer's regiment was then deployed near the villages of Authie and Buron, in positions covering Carpiquet.
On 8 June, the 26th SS Panzergrenadier Regiment under command of SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Wilhelm Mohnke arrived and took up positions to the west of Meyer. Upon arrival, the regiment launched an attack towards Norrey-en-Bessin, capturing the vital village. The 12th SS Reconnaissance Battalion, under the command of SS-Sturmbannführer Gerd Bremer deployed to the west of Mohnke's regiment, and by the evening of 8 June the division was in position to halt the allied advance on Caen. Witt visited the front frequently, working hard to provide all the support he could to his subordinates. He set up his command post at the village of Venoix, close to the front lines.
Over the next week, Witt's division managed to hold the line above Caen despite incessant determined attacks and constant air, artillery and naval bombardments. The HJ inflicted devastating losses on the British and Canadian forces, the training which Witt had developed maintaining his unit's morale and fighting ability. However, Witt himself was not immune from the unrelenting Anglo-Canadian attacks.
On 14 June, a British naval barrage hit the divisional command post in Venoix. Witt was hit in the face by shrapnel and killed instantly. The division and his former 1st Panzer Division comrades mourned his loss. The 33 year old Kurt Meyer was ordered to take command of the division.
Summary of SS career
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Dates of rank
- SS-Obersturmführer: May 9, 1934
- SS-Hauptsturmführer: June 1, 1935
- SS-Sturmbannführer: May 25, 1940
- SS-Obersturmbannführer: November 27, 1941
- SS-Standartenführer: January 30, 1943
- SS-Oberführer: July 1, 1943
- SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS: April 20, 1944
- German Cross in Gold (1942)
- Eastern Front Medal (1942)
- Iron Cross Second (1939) and First (1939) Classes
- SS-Honour Ring (?)
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (1940)
- Oak Leaves (1943)
- Waffen-SS Long Service Award (1941)
- Steaua Romaniei (1943)
- Honour Chevron for the Old Guard (?) Joined the SS and NSAP in 1931
- Krätschmer, Ernst-Günther (1999). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Waffen-SS [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the Waffen-SS]. Coburg, Germany: Nation Europa Verlag. ISBN 978-3-920677-43-9.
- Lehmann, Rudolf – The Leibstandarte volumes I-III
- Meyer, Hubert – The History of the 12.SS-Panzerdivision "Hitlerjugend"
- Miller, Michael D., Schulz, Andreas – The SS-Brigadeführer, 1933–1945
- 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.
- Yerger, Mark C – Waffen SS commanders vol. 2
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Fritz Witt.|
- Knight's Cross Holders Database (German language)
- Axis History Factbook
- Feldgrau – The History of the German Armed Forces in WWII
- Axis Biographical Research at the Wayback Machine (archived October 27, 2009)
|Commander of 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend
June 24, 1943 – June 14, 1944
SS-Brigadeführer Kurt Meyer (Panzermeyer)