Theodor Tolsdorff

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Theodor Tolsdorff
Theodor Tolsdroff.jpg
Theodor Tolsdorff
Nickname(s) Lion of Vilna, also Tolsdorff the Great (Tolle Tolsdorff)
Born (1909-11-03)3 November 1909
Lehnarten / East Prussia
Died 25 May 1978(1978-05-25) (aged 68)
Dortmund
Buried at Cemetery Heckinghauser Strasse, Wuppertal
Section 8 — Grave 201/204
Allegiance  Nazi Germany
Service/branch Heer
Years of service 1934–45
Rank Generalleutnant (Lieutenant General)
Unit

1. Infantry Division

  • Füssilier-Regiments 22
Commands held 340. Volksgrenadier-Division
LXXXII Panzer Corps
Battles/wars

World War II

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.

Early life[edit]

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. Tolsdorff was the 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.[1]

Estate Lehnarten (Treuburg) which belonged to the Tolsdorff family until 1945.[2]

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 estate in Lehnharten.[1]

In 1934, at the age of 25, he joined the 1st Infantry Regiment (Infanterie-Regiment 1) of the 1st Infantry Division as a volunteer in Insterburg.[1] 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.

World War II[edit]

Polish Campaign[edit]

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.[3]

French Campaign[edit]

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.[3]

Eastern Front[edit]

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.

Oak Leaves ceremony, from left to right: Adolf Hitler, Paul Schultz (hidden), Oberst Dr. med. dent. Walter Lange, Major Theodor Tolsdorff, Oberst Günther Pape, Major Dr. Franz Bäke

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.

Western Front[edit]

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.[4]

After the war[edit]

Ernst von Salomon worked Holzhey's story into his 1951 book Der Fragebogen (The Questionnaire or Answers to the 131 Questions of the Allied Military Government "Fragebogen").

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.[5][6]

On 9 May 1947, Tolsdorff was released from American captivity.[7] 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.[5]

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.[8] 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.[9]

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.[5]

Following a serious accident in which Tolsdorff suffered a double skull fracture,[Notes 1] he died on 25 May 1978 in Dortmund.[Notes 2][Notes 3]

Awards[edit]

Wehrmachtbericht reference[edit]

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.[22] 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.

Promotions[edit]

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)

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ According to Fraschka the skull fracture occurred a few years before 1976 and is not directly linked to his death
  2. ^ According to Fraschka place of death is Dortmund and date of death is 25 May 1978.[5]
  3. ^ According to Williamson place of death is Wuppertal and date of death is 1 June 1978.[10]

References[edit]

Citations
  1. ^ a b c Fraschka 2002, p. 293.
  2. ^ "Pałac w Białej Oleckiej". Wirtualny Przewodnik po krainie EGO (in Polish). Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  3. ^ a b Fraschka 2002, p. 294.
  4. ^ Band of Brothers at the Internet Movie Database
  5. ^ a b c d Fraschka 2002, p. 299.
  6. ^ "Team". HNO Honnef (in German). Retrieved 25 June 2014. 
  7. ^ Fraschka 2002, p. 298.
  8. ^ Osterloh and Vollnhals 2012, pp. 65–66.
  9. ^ Eichmüller 2012, p. 205.
  10. ^ Williamson 2006, p. 57.
  11. ^ a b Thomas 1998, p. 385.
  12. ^ Patzwall and Scherzer 2001, p. 478.
  13. ^ a b c d Scherzer 2007, p. 747.
  14. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 424.
  15. ^ Von Seemen 1976, p. 341.
  16. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 72.
  17. ^ Von Seemen 1976, p. 37.
  18. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 44.
  19. ^ Von Seemen 1976, p. 17.
  20. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 38.
  21. ^ Von Seemen 1976, p. 13.
  22. ^ Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 3, p. 162.
Bibliography
  • 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. 
  • Eichmüller, Andreas (2012). Keine Generalamnestie: Die Strafverfolgung von NS-Verbrechen in der frühen Bundesrepublik [No General Amnesty: The Prosecution of Nazi Crimes in the early Federal Republic] (in German). Munich, Germany: Oldenbourg Verlag. ISBN 978-3-486-70412-9. Retrieved 27 June 2014. 
  • 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. 
  • Fraschka, Günther (2002) [1977]. Mit Schwertern und Brillanten—Die Träger der höchsten deutschen Tapferkeitsauszeichnung [With Swords and Diamonds—The Bearers of the Highest German Award for Bravery] (in German) (11 ed.). Munich, Germany: Universitas. ISBN 978-3-8004-1435-2. 
  • Osterloh, Jörg; Vollnhals, Clemens (2012). NS-Prozesse und deutsche Öffentlichkeit: Besatzungszeit, frühe Bundesrepublik und DDR [Nazi Trials and German Public: Occupation, early Federal Republic and the GDR] (in German). Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. ISBN 978-3-647-36921-1. 
  • Patzwall, Klaus D.; Scherzer, Veit (2001). Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941 – 1945 Geschichte und Inhaber Band II [The German Cross 1941 – 1945 History and Recipients Volume 2] (in German). Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall. ISBN 978-3-931533-45-8. 
  • 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. 
  • Searle, Alaric (2003). Wehrmacht Generals, West German Society, and the Debate on Rearmament, 1949–1959. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-275-97968-3. 
  • Von Seemen, Gerhard (1976). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 : die Ritterkreuzträger sämtlicher Wehrmachtteile, Brillanten-, Schwerter- und Eichenlaubträger in der Reihenfolge der Verleihung : Anhang mit Verleihungsbestimmungen und weiteren Angaben [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 : The Knight's Cross Bearers of All the Armed Services, Diamonds, Swords and Oak Leaves Bearers in the Order of Presentation: Appendix with Further Information and Presentation Requirements] (in German). Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7909-0051-4. 
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External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
General der Infanterie Walther Hahm
Commander of the LXXXII. Armeekorps
1 April 1945 – 15 April 1945
Succeeded by
General der Infanterie Walter Lucht
Preceded by
General der Infanterie Walter Lucht
Commander of the LXXXII. Armeekorps
15 April 1945 – German capitulation
Succeeded by
disbanded