24 January 1889|
|Died||4 July 1968
|Allegiance|| German Empire (to 1918)
Weimar Republic (to 1933)
|Service/branch|| Kaiserliche Marine 1905–1919
|Years of service||1905–1945|
|Rank||General der Fallschirmtruppe|
SMS Prinz Adalbert
|Commands held||Fallschirmjäger-Brigade Ramcke, 2nd Fallschirmjäger Division|
|Awards||Golden Military Merit Cross
Knights Cross of the Iron Cross with Swords, Oak Leaves, and Diamonds
Hermann-Bernhard "Gerhard" Ramcke (24 January 1889 – 4 July 1968) was a German general. He was a recipient of the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross with Swords, Oak Leaves, and Diamonds, one of only 27 people in the German military so decorated. Ramcke's career was unusual in that he served in all three branches of the German armed forces.
Early life and World War I
Ramcke was born in Schleswig to a family of farmers. He joined the German Imperial Navy in 1905 as ship's boy. During the First World War he served aboard the armored cruiser Prinz Adalbert in the Baltic and North Sea. When the Adalbert suffered extensive damage in 1915, fearing that the war might end before the ship returned to service, Ramcke transferred to the marines. The Adalbert returned to service months later and was lost with 672 of her crew, as Ramcke would learn from a short telegram received at the front.
Ramcke fought in the West with the German Marine-Infanterie, mainly in the area of Flanders. In 1916 he was decorated with the Iron Cross second class and later the Iron Cross first class. After a defensive action against three British attacks he was decorated with the Prussian Golden Merit Cross, the highest decoration for non-commissioned officers in the German Imperial Forces, and became a deputy-commissioned officer.
In 1918 he attained the rank of leutnant der marine-infanterie. By the time the Armistice was signed, he had risen to the rank of oberleutnant. He had been wounded 5 times in combat and spent 18 months in hospital.
In 1919 he then fought against the Bolsheviks in the Baltic as a member of the so-called "Russian Army of the West" (composed mostly of German veterans) and was wounded once in the shoulder. Ramcke stayed in the Reichswehr during the Weimar Republic period. He continued to serve in the new Wehrmacht during the Third Reich, climbing through the ranks until he attained the rank of oberstleutnant in 1937.
World War II
On 19 July 1940, Ramcke was transferred to the 7th Fliegerdivision under the command of General Kurt Student and was promoted to oberst. At the age of 51 he successfully completed the parachute qualification course. In May 1941 working with the division Stab he helped plan and also took part in Operation Merkur, the airborne attack on Crete. Ramcke led the Fallschirmjäger-Sturm-Regiment 1, and also led Kampfgruppe West.
After the successful, but costly, victory in Crete, remainders of several Fallschirmjäger units were formed into an ad hoc brigade, and command was given to Ramcke. He was also promoted to generalmajor on 22 July 1941.
In 1942 Fallschirmjäger-Brigade Afrika was sent to North Africa to join Rommel's Afrikakorps. The brigade was renamed Fallschirmjäger-Brigade Ramcke in July and supported the offensive towards the Suez Canal, but when the offensive got bogged down they entered the line at El Alamein.
The British attack at the Second Battle of El Alamein did not directly strike the unit but they soon became involved in heavy fighting. During the withdrawal of the Afrikakorps, the Brigade was surrounded and written off as lost by the high command since it had no organic transport. Rather than surrender, Ramcke led his troops out of the British trap and headed west, losing about 450 men in the process. They soon captured a British supply column which provided not only trucks but food, tobacco and other luxuries. About 600 of the paras later rejoined the Afrikakorps in late November 1942. Ramcke was sent back to Germany, where he was awarded the Oak Leaves to the Knights Cross personally by Adolf Hitler.
In 1943 Ramcke, now a generalleutnant, took command of 2nd Fallschirmjäger-Division. The division was deployed to Italy, to help bolster the German forces there to ensure that Italy did not join the Allies. When Italy signed the armistice with the Allies on 8 September 1943, the division, along with other German units, took part in Operation Achse to take control of the country. Ramcke led his division in an assault on Rome, and secured the city two days later. The division continued serving in Italy for a while, during which time Ramcke was wounded after his car was forced off the road by an Allied fighter-bomber.
Ramcke returned to command the division in early 1944. By this time 2nd FJ was fighting on the Eastern Front, during the withdrawal from the Bug River area. Ramcke fell ill during this time and was sent back to Germany for recuperation. He assumed command again in May 1944 to oversee the rebuilding of the 2nd FJ-Division, which was based near Cologne.
Following the Allied D-Day landings on 6 June, 2nd Fallschirmjäger-Division was sent to the Brittany region of France, and took up the defence of Brest. Following Operation Cobra, the allied breakout from Normandy, Major-General Troy H. Middleton's U.S. VIII Corps hooked left from Normandy and attacked the Brittany region. The German defenders in the region fell back on Brest, and Ramcke assumed command of the garrison, now known as Festung Brest. Brest was largely surrounded and infiltrated by partisan guerillas who succeeded in killing one of Ramcke's junior officers in the seat next to him as they drove through an ambush. Commanding about 35,000 German troops Ramcke led the defense of Brest from 11 August until 19 September. Ramcke refused early requests to surrender and followed orders to hold out as long as possible. On the final day of battle, it was only after escaping a strafing attack during a personal reconnoiter of the area, and the entry of American forces into the bunker, that General der Fallschirmtruppe Hermann-Bernhard Ramcke surrendered, on the same day as he was awarded the Swords (99th Recipient) & Diamonds (20th recipient) to the Knights Cross.
Ramcke was shipped to the United States as a prisoner of war and later to England and France. While a POW at Camp Clinton, Mississippi, he wrote a letter to Byron Price. Arguing in the letter that the treatment of Germany following World War I had led to National Socialism and World War II, he protested the Morgenthau Plan as another attempt to enforce harsh treatment upon Germany. Citing General Middleton's remarks as verification, Ramcke detailed his efforts to protect American POWs and otherwise uphold the laws of war and stated he was "convinced that all other German commanders have acted in the same way". To keep the letter out of his guards' hands he slipped out of the camp, mailed the letter in a nearby town, and returned to camp, after meals and a brief pause in a hotel lobby to smoke a cigar and observe the holiday mood of Americans now free from fears of war, without being caught.
In 1951 Ramcke was charged with war crimes in France, but he managed to escape from captivity to Germany. He returned voluntarily and was sentenced to five years imprisonment by a French court in March 1951, but was released on 24 June 1951. Testifying in his defense was American General Troy Middleton, to whose forces Ramcke had surrendered in the autumn of 1944.
After the war, Ramcke and Middleton maintained a correspondence for about fifteen years.
Following his release from nearly 7 years captivity, Ramcke, through his public actions, became seen as a dedicated nationalist[Notes 1] by his fellow generals and supported extreme right-wing movements such as the Naumann-Kreis in Germany. On 26 October 1952, he told a group of former SS-men they should be proud of being blacklisted, while pointing out that in the future their blacklist would instead be seen as a "list of honor". Ramcke's remarks caused a furor in Germany; even the former SS General Felix Steiner distanced himself from them. Konrad Adenauer was so furious with Ramcke's remarks that he directed Thomas Dehler, the German federal Minister of Justice, to investigate the possibility of prosecuting Ramcke. Adenauer publicly decried Ramcke's remarks as "irresponsible" and his associated behavior as "foolishness"—a reaction probably prompted because Adenauer's government had made a significant effort to obtain early release for Ramcke from French imprisonment.
Ramcke's intent, as stated by himself and his supporters, in his actions following the war was to again seek to protect his men, both in their reputations and their future, such as in cautioning against their being used as "cannon fodder" in the speech to ex-paratroopers during the rearmament debate. This was consistent with his behavior throughout his career during which his superiors found him to be a demanding subordinate in his advocacy for the needs of his men.
Ramcke published two books, both autobiographies, one during the war and the other in 1951. He did not join the new Bundeswehr, but pursued a career in the concrete industry instead in the years following.
General of the Paratroopers Hermann-Bernhard Ramcke died after battling cancer at Kappeln on July 4, 1968.
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds
- Knight's Cross on 21 August 1941 as Oberst and commander of the Fallschirmjäger-Sturm-Regiment[Notes 2]
- 145th Oak Leaves on 13 November 1942 as Generalmajor and commander of Fallschirmjäger-Brigade "Ramcke"
- 99th Swords on 19 September 1944 as General der Fallschirmtruppe and commander of fortress Brest
- 20th Diamonds on 19 September 1944 as General der Fallschirmtruppe and commander of fortress Brest
- Ground Assault Badge of the Luftwaffe
- Italian Army Silver Medal for Bravery in 1942
- Prussian Iron Cross 1939 Bar, 1st Class on 23 May 1941
- Luftwaffe Paratrooper Badge on 1 August 1940
- Balkan cross
- Prussian Iron Cross 1939 Bar, 2nd Class on 1 October 1939
- Length of Service Awards, 3rd & 1st Class on 2 October 1936
- World War I Cross of Honor on 26 January 1935
- Gold Badge for Wounds Sustained in Combat on 3 November 1919
- Prussian Golden Military Merit Cross on 24 April 1918
- Prussian Iron Cross, 1st Class on 21 January 1917
- Prussian Iron Cross, 2nd Class on 17 April 1916
- Mentioned in the Wehrmachtbericht on 9 June 1941, 9 November 1942, 10 September 1942, 10 September 1944 and 21 September 1944
- Vom Ritterkreuzträger zum Angeklagten. Nation-Europa-Verlag, Coburg 2001. ISBN 3-920677-57-9.
- Fallschirmjäger. Schütz, Preußisch Oldendorf 1973.
- Fallschirmjäger, damals und danach. Lorch, Frankfurt am Main 1951.
- Vom Schiffsjungen zum Fallschirmjäger-General. Verlag Die Wehrmacht, Berlin 1943.
- Nationalist is a term to be treated with caution. Included in one Orders of the Day for Ramcke's command in September 1944 was The US Army was the “instrument of the international Jewish clique which is based in Wall Street, New York, and from there wants to subjugate the entire world in co-operation with Russian Bolshevism... The people of the United States of America are no single, united race. They are made up of all the world’s races, the good and the inferior. Among the inferior, the blacks and mixed races stand out" -- comments which reflect the peculiarly racist outlook of the Third Reich.. Mitcham points out that Ramcke's second in command,Hans Kroh, who assumed command of Ramcke's 2ndFJD at Brest, is believed to have had strong Nazi party connections and reasonably may have functioned in the political officer role in preparing orders
- According to Scherzer as Generalmajor and commander of the Ergänzenden Einheiten und Schulen des XI. Fliegerkorps (auxiliary units and schools of the 11th Air Corps) and leader of the Luftlande-Sturm-Regiment 1.
- Williamson, German Commanders, p. 48
- City of Kiel Cemetery website http://www.kiel.de/Aemter_61_bis_92/67/Friedhoefe/Friedhoefe/Nordfriedhof/marine/prinzadalbert.htm retrieved 1/26/2011
- From Ship's Boy to Paratrooper General, Herman Bernhard Ramcke, German Army Press, 1943
- Williamson, Gordon, Knights Cross with Diamonds Recipients, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK, 2006, P.49
- Quarrie, Bruce, German Airborn Divisions: Mediterranean Theater 1942-45, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK, 2005, P.13
- Mitcham, Samuel W., Defenders of Fortress Europe, Potomac Books, Washington DC, PP182-184
- Ramcke, H.B., Paratrooper then and always, Lorch (publishers), Frankfurt am Main, 1951
- Fellgiebel, Walther-peer, Elite of the Third Reich, Helion & Co, West Midlands, UK, 2004, P.34
- Gen.H.B. Ramcke, Letter of 25 December 1945 to Byron Price
- Price, p. 201
- Ottawa Citizen article
- Sarasota Herald-Tribune
- Frei, p. 383.
- Google books reproduction of Frei, p. 383
- Searle, Aleric, Wehrmacht Generals, West German Society, and the Debate on Rearmament, 1949-1959, Praeger Publishers, Greenwood, CT 2003, P.164
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 349.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 612.
- German Federal Archive, photo library, H.B. Ramcke
- 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 Wehrmachtsteile [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.
- Fraschka, Günther (1994). Knights of the Reich. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Military/Aviation History. ISBN 978-0-88740-580-8.
- Frei, Norbert (2002). Adenauer's Germany and the Nazi past: the politics of amnesty and integration. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-11882-1.
- Huß, Jürgen; Viohl, Armin (2003). Die Ritterkreuzträger des Eisernen Kreuzes der preußischen Provinz Schleswig-Holstein und der Freien und Hansestadt Lübeck 1939–1945 [The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross Bearers of the Prussian Province of Schleswig-Holstein and the Free and Hanseatic City of Lübeck 1939–1945] (in German). Zweibrücken, Germany: VDM Heinz Nickel. ISBN 978-3-925480-79-9.
- Kurowski, Franz (1995). Knights of the Wehrmacht Knight's Cross Holders of the Fallschirmjäger. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military. ISBN 978-0-88740-749-9.
- Price, Frank J. (1974). Troy H. Middleton: A Biography. Clinton: The Colonial Press, Inc. ISBN 0-8071-2467-2.
- 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; Wegmann, Günter (1986). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Deutschen Wehrmacht 1939–1945 Teil II: Fallschirmjäger [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the German Wehrmacht 1939–1945 Part II: Paratroopers] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-1461-8.
- Williamson, Gordon (2006). German Commanders of World War II (2). Oxford: Osprey. ISBN 1-84176-597-X.
- Williamson, Gordon (2006). Knight's Cross with Diamonds Recipients 1941–45. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84176-644-7.
- Media related to Hermann-Bernhard Ramcke at Wikimedia Commons
- Hermann-Bernhard Ramcke in the German National Library catalogue
- Biography of his military career
- Ramcke's letter to Byron Price
|Commander of Fallschirmjäger-Brigade Ramcke
1 April 1942 – 30 November 1942
Oberst Hans Kroh
|Commander of 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division
2 February 1943 – 13 September 1943
Generalmajor Walter Barenthin
Generalleutnant Hans Kroh
|Commander of 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division
1 June 1944 – 11 August 1944
Generalleutnant Hans Kroh