|Josef "Sepp" Dietrich|
Dietrich as an SS-Oberst-Gruppenführer
28 May 1892|
Hawangen, Bavaria, German Empire
|Died||21 April 1966
Ludwigsburg, West Germany
|Years of service||1911–19
Generaloberst of the Waffen-SS
|Service number||NSDAP #89,015
|Commands held||5th Panzer Army
6th Panzer Army
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds|
Josef "Sepp" Dietrich (28 May 1892 – 21 April 1966) was a Waffen-SS general in Nazi Germany who commanded units up to Army level during World War II. Prior to 1929, he was Adolf Hitler's chauffeur and bodyguard but received rapid promotion after his participation in the murder of Hitler's political opponents during the Night of the Long Knives. After the war, he was imprisoned by the United States for war crimes and later by Germany for murder.
Early life and career
Sepp Dietrich was born on 28 May 1892 in Hawangen, near Memmingen in the Kingdom of Bavaria, German Empire. He was the illegitimate son of Kreszentia Dietrich, who later married Pelagius Milz, a coachman, who became Dietrich's stepfather. Before the war Dietrich worked as hotel boy, servant and coachman.
In 1911 he voluntarily joined the Bavarian Army with the 4. Bayerische Feldartillerie-Regiment "König" (4th Bavarian Field Artillery Regiment) in Augsburg, but shortly after had to leave for health reasons. In the First World War, he served with the Bavarian Field artillery, as Fahrer vom Bock (driver, horse). He was promoted Gefreiter in 1917 and awarded the Iron Cross 2nd class. In 1918 he was promoted Unteroffizier and member of Bavarian Sturmpanzerwagenabteilung 13, one of the first German tank units. Last Bavarian army record lists Dietrich as recipient of Iron Cross 1st class and Bavarian Military Merit Order IIIrd class with swords.
In the Weimar Republic
After the war, Dietrich allegedly served briefly in a Freikorps Oberland against the Bavarian Soviet Republic, May 1919. Thereafter, he migrated from one job to another, including waiter, policeman, foreman, farm labourer, petrol station attendant and customs officer. He joined the Nazi Party (NSDAP) in 1928, got a job at Eher Verlag, the NSDAP publisher, and became commander of Hitler's Schutzstaffel (SS) bodyguard.
His NSDAP number was 89,015 and his SS number was 1,117. Dietrich had been introduced to Nazism by Christian Weber, who was his employer at the Tankstelle-Blau-Bock filling station in Munich. He accompanied Hitler on his tours around Germany. Later Hitler arranged other jobs, including various SS posts, and let him live in the Reich Chancellery. On 5 January 1930, Dietrich was elected to the Reichstag as a delegate for Lower Bavaria.
By 1931, he had become SS-Gruppenführer. When the Nazi Party took over in 1933 ("Machtergreifung"), Dietrich rose swiftly through the hierarchy. He became the commander of Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, a general of the Waffen-SS and member of the Prussian state council. As one of Hitler's intimates, Dietrich was often able to disregard his SS superior, Heinrich Himmler, at one time even banning Himmler from the Leibstandarte barracks.
In summer 1934, Dietrich played an active role in the Night of the Long Knives. Hitler told him to take six men and go to the Ministry of Justice to kill a number of Sturmabteilung (SA) leaders. Shortly thereafter, he was promoted to SS-Obergruppenführer. Dietrich's role later earned him a nineteen-month sentence from a postwar court.
World War II
When World War II began, Dietrich led the Leibstandarte in attacks on Paris and Dunkirk during the Westfeldzug (May/June 1940). Dietrich remained in command of the Leibstandarte throughout the campaigns in Greece and Yugoslavia before being promoted to command of the 1st SS Panzer Corps, attached to Army Group Center, on the Eastern Front. In 1943, he was sent to Italy to recover Benito Mussolini's mistress Clara Petacci. He received numerous German military medals.
Dietrich commanded the 1st SS Panzer Corps in the Battle of Normandy. He rose to command 5th Panzer Army during the later stages of this campaign. Because of his success, Hitler gave him the command of the newly created 6th Panzer Army. Dietrich commanded it in the Battle of the Bulge (December 1944 – January 1945). He had been assigned to that task because, due to the 20 July Plot, Hitler distrusted Wehrmacht officers. On 17 December, Kampfgruppe Peiper, (an SS unit) under his overall command killed between 77 and 82 U.S. prisoners of war near Malmedy, Belgium, in what is known as the Malmedy massacre. Interestingly, Dietrich was already becoming disillusioned with Hitler's war leadership and is said to have told Field Marshal Erwin Rommel that if he sought a separate peace on the Western Front, he (Dietrich) would support him.[Note 1][Note 2]
At this point, Dietrich began openly to protest Hitler's unwillingness to let officers act upon their own initiative. His long, personal acquaintance with Hitler allowed him to do this openly and also to be more frank than other officers in his reports to the Führer.[Note 3]
In March 1945, Hitler planned Spring Awakening Offensive. Dietrich's 6th Panzer Army and the LSSAH (the 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler) spearheaded the offensive. The Germans launched attacks in Hungary near the Lake Balaton area. This area included some of the last oil reserves still available to the Germans. Despite early gains, the offensive was too ambitious in scope and failed. After the failure of the operation the 6th SS Panzer Army (and LSSAH) retreated to the Vienna area. A frustrated Hitler ordered Dietrich to tell members of the LSSAH to give up their cuff titles. Dietrich was "disgusted" by Hitler's order. Dietrich told SS-Obersturmbannführer Maier that the armbands "...would stay on." Moreover, the telegram was not to be passed on to the troops. A myth arose that Dietrich ripped off his own cuff titles and those along with a pile of medals were returned in a chamber pot to Hitler; in the same manner as found in the Goethe play Götz von Berlichingen.
The 6th SS Panzer Army desperately prepared defensive positions in Vienna, Austria. The Germans wanted to hold the city against the fast approaching Soviet Red Army in what become known as the Soviets' Vienna Offensive. The fighting began on 2 April, when he famously quoted, " We call ourselves the 6th Panzer Army because we have just six panzers left ". Vienna finally fell when the last defenders in the city surrendered on 13 April 1945. Thereafter, Dietrich, accompanied by his wife, surrendered on 9 May 1945 to Master-Sergeant Herbert Kraus of the U.S. 36th Infantry Division at Krems an der Donau north of St. Pölten in Austria.
Dietrich's formal military education was sparse and many critics have said command of an army was beyond his competence. Many of the German army generals looked down upon him in this regard, especially members of the General Staff. However, Dietrich was an acknowledged expert small-unit tactician and no one questioned his personal bravery since he was a lead-from-the-front type of commander. The troops that he led appreciated his rough humor and identification with the soldiers on the front lines. Dietrich was also smart enough to appoint highly capable officers to his staff to handle the technical aspects of higher command, leaving him free to exercise overall command.
Dietrich was tried as Defendant No. 11 by U.S. Military Tribunal at Dachau ("United States of America vs. Valentin Bersin et al.", Case No. 6-24), from 16 May 1946 until 16 July 1946. On 16 July 1946, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in the Malmedy massacre trial for ordering the execution of U.S. prisoners of war in Malmedy. Due to testimony in his defence by other German officers, his sentence was shortened to 25 years. He was imprisoned at the U.S. War Criminals Prison No. 1 at Landsberg am Lech in Bavaria. Dietrich served only ten years and was released on parole on 22 October 1955. However, he was rearrested in Ludwigsburg in August 1956. He was charged by the Landgericht München I and tried from 6 May 1957 until 14 May 1957 for his role in the killing of SA leaders (aka Night of the Long Knives") in 1934. On 14 May 1957, he was sentenced to nineteen months for his part in the purge and returned to the U.S. military prison at Landsberg. He was released due to a heart condition and circulation problems in his legs on 2 February 1958. By then he had already served almost his entire 19-month sentence.
The post-war West German government denied Dietrich any form of a military pension. When his former soldiers learned of his straitened financial circumstances, thousands of them contributed to a fund which provided their former commander with a comfortable pension.
In 1966, Dietrich died of a heart attack in Ludwigsburg at age 73. Seven thousand of his wartime comrades came to his funeral. He was eulogized by former SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS Wilhelm Bittrich.
Dietrich was married twice. His first wife was Barbra "Betti" Seidl (b. 24 April 1896). They were married on 17 February 1921 and were divorced in April 1937. On 19 January 1942, Dietrich married Ursula Moninger-Brenner (born 26 March 1915 and died in 1983), a former spouse of SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Polizei Karl-Heinrich Brenner. Dietrich and Mrs. Moninger-Brenner had a son, Wolf-Dieter Dietrich, who was born out of wedlock in Karlsruhe in 1939, before Brenner’s divorce was finalized. The two SS generals nonetheless remained friends. A second son, Lutz, was born in Karlsruhe on 20 March 1943, with Heinrich Himmler as the boy's godfather. Dietrich's third son, Götz-Hubertus, was born in Karlsruhe on 23 November 1944; Himmler was again the godfather.
Summary of SS career
Dates of rank
- SS-Sturmführer: 1 June 1928
- SS-Sturmbannführer: 1 August 1928
- SS-Standartenführer: 18 September 1929
- SS-Oberführer: 10 October 1930
- SS-Gruppenführer: 18 December 1931
- SS-Obergruppenführer: 1 July 1934 und General der Waffen-SS: 19 November 1940
- SS-Oberst-Gruppenführer und Panzer-Generaloberst der Waffen-SS: 20 April 1942
- Iron Cross (1914), Second (1917) and First (1918) Classes
- Clasp to the Iron Cross (1939)
- Blood Order-(Nr. 10) (1933)
- Golden Party Badge (1933)
- Eastern Front Medal (1942)
- Pilot/Observer Badge in Gold with Diamonds (1943)
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds
- Knight's Cross on 4 July 1940 as SS-Obergruppenführer and general of the Waffen-SS and commander of SS-Infanterie-Regiment (mot.) "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler"
- 41st Oak Leaves on 31 December 1941 as SS-Obergruppenführer and general of the Waffen-SS and commander of SS-Division "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler" (mot.)
- 26th Swords on 14 March 1943 as SS-Obergruppenführer and general of the Waffen-SS and commander of SS-Panzergrenadier-Division "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler"
- 16th Diamonds on 6 August 1944 as SS-Oberst-Gruppenführer and Panzer-Generaloberst of the Waffen-SS and commanding general of the I. SS-Panzerkorps "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler"
- Sword of honour of the Reichsführer-SS
- SS Honour Ring ("Totenkopfring") 
- Panzer Badge in Silver
- Honour Chevron for the Old Guard
- Sudetenland Medal (?) with Prague Castle bar (?)
- Anschluss Medal (?)
- Wound Badge (1939) in Silver
- Honour Cross of the World War 1914/1918 (1934)
- Bavarian Military Merit Cross 3rd Class with Swords and Crown (?)
- Bravery Medal in Bronze (Austria-Hungary)
- Silesian Eagle, 1st and 2nd class (1934)
- NSDAP Long Service Award in Silver (?)
- Italian Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus, Grand Officer (?)
- Order of the Crown of Italy, Grand Cross (?)
- Italian Military Order of Savoy, Grand Officer (?)
- Order of the Crown of Romania, Grand Officer (?)
- Crimea Shield
- According to Manfred Rommel, his father was convinced that Dietrich would follow him if there was an armistice in the West.
- Dietrich is alleged to have said to Erwin Rommel, "You are my superior officer, and therefore I will obey all your order".
- "Sepp Dietrich railed against the Führer and [the Führer's] entourage to such an extent that it became most unpleasant. Then, he was sent for, and he said: 'All right, that's fine but I shall speak my mind. I shall tell Adi' -he always calls Hitler 'Adi'- 'that he is leading us all to destruction'." Spoken by General der Panzertruppe Heinrich Eberbach while in captivity in Britain and secretly taped by the MI-19 Directorate of the British Military Intelligence.
- Klaus Cachay, Steffen Bahlke, Helmut Mehl: Echte Sportler – gute Soldaten. Die Sportsozialisation des Nationalsozialismus im Spiegel von Feldpostbriefen. Beltz Juventa, Weinheim, München, 2000, S. 350.
- Biondi, Robert, ed., SS Officers List: SS-Standartenführer to SS-Oberstgruppenführer (As of 30 January 1942), Schiffer Military History Publishing, 2000, p. 7
- Messenger, Charles, Hitler's Gladiator: The Life and Wars of Panzer Army Commander Sepp Dietrich, Conway, 2005, p. 39
- Fraser , David. Knights' Cross. A Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, Harper Perennial, London, 1994, ISBN 978-0060925970.
- Source: Meyer, Georg. Chapter "Auswirkungen des 20. Juli 1944 auf das innere Gefüge der Wehrmacht bis Kriegsend und auf das soldatische Selbstverständnis im Vorfeld des westdeutschen Verteidigungsbeitrages bis 1950/51" ("Effects of 20 July 1944 on the internal structure of the Armed Forces to end the war and the soldier's self-understanding in advance of the West German defense contribution to 1950/51,"), in Aufstand des Gewissens. Der militärische Widerstand gegen Hitler und das NS-Regime 1933–45 (Revolt of conscience. The military resistance against Hitler and the Nazi regime from 1933 to 1945), 3rd edition, Herford, Germany, 1987, pp. 465–500 (in German)
- Tapping Hitler's Generals: Transcripts of Secret Conversations, 1942–45, edited by Sönke Neitzel, Frontline Books, 2007, ISBN 978-1-84415-705-1, p. 266
- Dollinger, Hans. The Decline and Fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, Crown, 1968, p 199.
- Tiemann 1998, p. 265.
- Dienstaltersliste der Waffen-SS, 1 July 1944, #1
- Ailsby 1997, p. 33.
- Thomas 1997, p. 120.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 161.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 56.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 40.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 37.
There are two biographies about Sepp Dietrich: one by Charles Messenger (of which there are two versions [see below]) and another by the French historian, Jean Mabire. Additional information about Dietrich has to be pieced together from separate sources, which are mostly in English and in German. The following are among the more relevant and accessible sources:
- In English:
- Messenger, Charles (2005). Hitler's Gladiator: The Life and Wars of Panzer Army Commander Sepp Dietrich, London. ISBN 1-84486-022-1 & ISBN 978-1-84486-022-7.
- Messenger, Charles (1988). Hitler's Gladiator: The Life and Times of Oberstgruppenfuhrer and Panzergeneral-Oberst Der Waffen-SS Sepp Dietrich, London. ASIN: B000OFQ62W.
- Ailsby, Christopher (1997). SS: Roll of Infamy. Motorbooks Intl. ISBN 0-7603-0409-2.
- Speer, Albert (1970). Inside the Third Reich: Memories by Albert Speer. New York: Macmillan. ASIN: B000H7Q6U4.
- Tiemann, Ralf (1998). The Leibstandarte – IV/2. Winnipeg: J.J. Fedorowicz. ISBN 0-921991-40-1.
- Höhne, Heinz. Der Orden unter dem Totenkopf, Verlag Der Spiegel, Hamburg 1966; English translation by Richard Barry entitled The Order of the Death's Head, The Story of Hitler's SS, London: Pan Books (1969). ISBN 0-330-02963-0.
- In German:
- 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.
- 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.
- Schaulen, Fritjof (2003). Eichenlaubträger 1940 – 1945 Zeitgeschichte in Farbe I Abraham – Huppertz [Oak Leaves Bearers 1940 – 1945 Contemporary History in Color I Abraham – Huppertz] (in German). Selent, Germany: Pour le Mérite. ISBN 978-3-932381-20-1.
- 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 (1997). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 1: A–K [The Oak Leaves Bearers 1939–1945 Volume 1: A–K] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2299-6.
- Thomas, Franz; Wegmann, Günter (1998). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Deutschen Wehrmacht 1939–1945 Teil III: Infanterie Band 4: C–Dow [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the German Wehrmacht 1939–1945 Part III: Infantry Volume 4: C–Dow] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2534-8.
- Media related to Sepp Dietrich at Wikimedia Commons
- Quotations related to Josef Dietrich at Wikiquote
- "Sepp Dietrich". Lexikon der Wehrmacht (in German). Retrieved 26 April 2013.
- "16. Brillantenträger Josef Dietrich". Ritterkreuzträger 1939–45 (in German). Retrieved 26 April 2013.
- "Josef "Sepp" Dietrich". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 26 April 2013.
|Commander of Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler
15 August 1938 – 7 April 1943
SS-Brigadeführer Theodor Wisch
|Commander of I SS Panzer Corps
4 July 1943 – 9 August 1944
SS-Brigadeführer Fritz Kraemer
General of Panzer Troops Heinrich Eberbach
|Commander of 5. Panzerarmee
9 August 1944 – 9 September 1944
General of Panzer Troops Hasso von Manteuffel
|Commander of 6. SS-Panzerarmee
26 October 1944 – 8 May 1945
dissolved on 8 May 1945