|Nickname(s)||Lion of Vilna, also Tolsdorff the Great (Tolle Tolsdorff)|
3 November 1909|
Lehnarten / East Prussia
|Died||25 May 1978
|Buried at||Cemetery Heckinghauser Strasse, Wuppertal
Section 8 — Grave 201/204
|Years of service||1934–45|
|Rank||Generalleutnant (Lieutenant General)|
|Commands held||340. Volksgrenadier-Division
LXXXII Panzer Corps
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds|
Theodor Tolsdorff (3 November 1909 – 25 May 1978) was a lieutenant general in the German Army and one of only 27 recipients of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillanten) in the Second World War. The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade, the Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, were awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. He was wounded fourteen times during the war.
Tolsdorf was born on 3 November 1909 in the family estate in Lehnarten in the Province of East Prussia, a state of the German Empire. Today it is Lenarty in the administrative district of Gmina Olecko, within Olecko County, Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship, in northern Poland. He was the youngest of four children and only son of Theodor Tolsdorff, who had served in the military during World War I as a Hauptmann in the artillery.
Tolsdorff was five years old in 1914 when his mother briefly evacuated the estate following the invasion of East Prussia by the Russian First Army, led by Paul von Rennenkampf. He attended the Gymnasium (advanced secondary school) in Königsberg, present-day Kaliningrad, and following the death of his father on 19 October 1919 took over the family estate and became a farmer. He continued his education to become an administrator of his 695 hectares (1,720 acres) sized estate in Lehnharten.
On 1 October 1934, at the age of 24, he joined the 1st Infantry Regiment (Infanterie-Regiment 1) of the 1st Infantry Division as a volunteer in Insterburg. Tolsdorff was promoted to Feldwebel (sergeant) on 1 February 1936. On 1 June 1936, Tolsdorff was promoted from the ranks to Leutnant (second lieutenant) and to Oberleutnant (first lieutenant) on 1 October 1938. He was given command of 14th anti tank company (14.(Panzerjäger-)Kompanie) of the newly formed 22nd Infantry Regiment (Infanterie-Regiment 22) in the 1st Infantry Division on 1 April 1939.
World War II
The German invasion of Poland began on 1 September 1939, and marked the beginning of World War II in Europe. Tolsdorff led the 14th (anti-tank-gun) Company in the 22. Fusilier Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division in this campaign. He was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class for actions on 2 September against the Kamienna Góra bunker line. He deployed his 3.7 cm Pak 36 against the bunkers until the Polish forces surrendered. Soon afterwards, he earned the Iron Cross 1st Class for preventing an enemy breakout when he attacked from close range. He was wounded in the shoulder at the end of the campaign.
Tolsdorff's unit was then transferred to the Rhineland as part of the army reserve. He participated in the Battle of France. His unit fought in Belgium and drove to the Flanders pocket, then south past Paris to the Saumur area. His injury sustained in Polish campaign forced him to seek further medical attention in August 1940. He was transferred to a hospital in Wuppertal and was released in October.
At the beginning of Russian Campaign, Tolsdorff again was in charge of the 14th Company. Passing through Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, he assumed command of the battalion and again was severely wounded. While in the hospital, he was promoted to Hauptmann (captain) and awarded with the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 4 December 1941. He returned to the front in April 1942 and participated in the heavy fighting for Schlüsselburg. After the heavy fighting at Leningrad and Lake Ladoga, Tolsdorff lost half of his right foot due to deep splinter injuries. For outstanding success in closing the Volkhov pocket in June 1942, Tolsdorff received the German Cross in gold. On the closing days of the Volkhov battle, he again was injured, this time in the head by a bullet. Tolsdorff was forced to remain in the hospital until 20 September 1942. On 1 January 1943, Tolsdorff was promoted to major and made commander of the 1st Battalion.
Tolsdorff returned to his unit during the defensive battles at Lake Ladoga. In July 1943, the third and most difficult battle at Lake Ladoga began. After successfully fighting off a Soviet attack for fourteen days and participating in counterattacks in the neighbouring sector and restoring the situation, Tolsdorff was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves on 15 September 1943.
On New Year's Eve 1943, the 1st Infantry Division transferred to the southern sector in the Vinnitsa-Odessa area. Tolsdorff was placed in charge of the 1st Infantry Division's 22nd Infantry Regiment after its commanding officer, Oberst (Colonel) Ulrich Iffland, had been killed.
Again severely wounded, by a shot in the stomach from close range, Tolsdorff managed to return to active duty within a few weeks. He was promoted to Oberstleutnant (lieutenant colonel) while in the Lublin hospital. After recovering from his wounds, Tolsdorff was ordered to attend the officer cadet school at Metz.
Back at the front in June 1944, Tolsdorff received orders to defend the city of Vilna. He held out long enough to evacuate the thousands of wounded from the city until relief arrived from Hyacinth Graf Strachwitz von Groß-Zauche und Camminetz. This action resulted in his promotion to Oberst and the awarding of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords on 18 July 1944.
In early August, when Tolsdorff received the Oak Leaves with Swords, Hitler personally ordered him to go to Hirschberg im Riesengebirge, present-day Jelenia Góra in south-western Poland, for division commanders training. At the beginning of September, after completion of the course, Tolsdorff received orders from the Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH) to go to Thorn (East Prussia), to oversee the formation of the 340th Volksgrenadier Division.
In mid-November, the unit transferred to the Aachen-Jülich area on the west to defend against US forces trying to cross the Rhine. In December, the unit was withdrawn to make preparations for the Ardennes offensive. The division fought as part of the 5th Panzer Army under command of Hasso von Manteuffel.
On 18 March 1945, Generalmajor (Major General) Tolsdorff received in Berlin the Diamonds for personal bravery and his division's outstanding accomplishments. He was promoted to Generalleutnant (lieutenant general) and ordered to take command of the LXXXII Panzer Corps, which was stationed in the Amberg area in Bavaria.
On 8 May, he surrendered in Austria to Lt. Carwood Lipton and Robert F. Sink of the 101st Airborne Division. Tolsdorff's convoy of 31 vehicles drove down from the mountains loaded with his personal baggage, liquor, cigars, cigarettes and his girlfriends. Private Edward Heffron took Tolsdorff's Luger pistol and a briefcase containing Iron Cross medals and a stash of pornographic pictures. The surrender of Tolsdorff is dramatized in the HBO television series Band of Brothers, in which a German general played by Wolf Kahler surrenders to Lipton, played by Donnie Wahlberg.
After the war
Tolsdorff was married to Eleonore, née van der Berk (6 September 1921 – 15 April 1996). The marriage produced two sons. His youngest son Jürgen (21 September 1944 – 19 March 1957) died in 1957 when he fell off a wall. His older son, Peter, became a Otolaryngology doctor and settled in Bad Honnef.
On 9 May 1947, Tolsdorff was released from American captivity. He took various jobs, such as truck driver in the firm belonging to his father in law, bus driver on the route Diepholz to Hanover and construction worker. He was arrested on 7 December 1952.
In 1954 he faced charges for the execution of Hauptmann Franz Xaver Holzhey, an army captain and First World War veteran, on 3 May 1945. Holzhey, without orders, had put up a red cross sign near the command post. The Landgericht (court) in Traunstein had initially sentenced Tolsdorff to three and a half years. The Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice of Germany) overturned the decision in 1959 and ordered a retrial. On 24 June 1960, Tolsdorff was declared not guilty and cleared of all charges.
The same year, Tolsdorff was hired by the German Asphalt AG, presently owned by the Strabag, and held a position of manager until 1969, when he took over the branch office in Dortmund. Tolsdorff retired on 31 December 1974.
- Iron Cross (1939)
- Infantry Assault Badge (silver)
- Wound Badge (gold)
- Tank Destruction Badge
- German Cross in Gold on 23 August 1942 as Hauptmann in the I./Infanterie-Regiment 22
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds
- Knight's Cross on 4 December 1941 as Oberleutnant and chief of the 14./Infanterie-Regiment 22
- 302nd Oak Leaves on 15 September 1943 as Major and commander of the I./Füsilier-Regiment 22
- 80th Swords on 18 July 1944 as Oberstleutnant and commander of Grenadier-Regiment 1067 and leader of the Kampfgruppe Tolsdorff
- 25th Diamonds on 18 March 1945 as Generalmajor and commander of the 340. Volksgrenadier-Division
- Mentioned in the Wehrmachtbericht (14 July 1944)
|Date||Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording||Direct English translation|
|15 July 1944||Die tapfere Besatzung der alten litauischen Hauptstadt Wilna unter Führung ihres Kommandanten Stahel, durchbrach nach fünftägigem Widerstand gegen überlegene feindliche Kräfte befehlsgemäß den sowjetischen Einschließungsring und kämpfte sich zu den westlich unter Oberst Tolsdorf bereitstehenden deutschen Truppen durch. Pflichterfüllung und Standhaftigkeit dieser beiden Kampftruppen verdienen höchste Anerkennung. Bei den Kämpfen um die Stadt hat sich auch eine Flakabteilung der Luftwaffe unter Hauptmann Müller hervorragend bewährt.||The brave garrison of the old Lithuanian capital Vilnius, led by their commander Stahel under orders broke through the Soviet encirclement after five days of resistance against superior enemy forces and fought through to the in the west waiting German troops under the command of Colonel Tolsdorf (sic). Duty and steadfastness of these combat troops deserve the highest recognition. In this battle for the city a Luftwaffe flak unit under command of Captain Müller has also distinguished itself.|
|1 October 1935:||Unteroffizier (Cadet)|
|1 February 1936:||Feldwebel (Sergeant)|
|1 June 1936:||Leutnant (Second Lieutenant)|
|1 October 1938:||Oberleutnant (First Lieutenant)|
|1 December 1941:||Hauptmann (Captain)|
|1 January 1943:||Major (Major)|
|1 March 1944:||Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant Colonel)|
|1 August 1944:||Oberst (Colonel)|
|30 January 1945:||Generalmajor (Major General)|
|1 April 1945:||Generalleutnant (Lieutenant General)|
- Fraschka 2002, p. 293.
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- Stockert 2010, p. 170.
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- Band of Brothers at the Internet Movie Database
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- "Team". HNO Honnef (in German). Retrieved 25 June 2014.
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- Media related to Theodor Tolsdorff at Wikimedia Commons
- "Theodor Tolsdorff". Lexikon der Wehrmacht (in German). Retrieved 22 March 2013.
- "Ernst von Salomon". Der Spiegel (in German) 9. 1953. Retrieved 22 March 2013.
- "Der Spiegel berichtete ...". Der Spiegel (in German) 25. 1960. Retrieved 24 June 2014.
General der Infanterie Walther Hahm
|Commander of the LXXXII. Armeekorps
1 April 1945 – 15 April 1945
General der Infanterie Walter Lucht
General der Infanterie Walter Lucht
|Commander of the LXXXII. Armeekorps
15 April 1945 – German capitulation