Wilhelm Bittrich

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Wilhelm Bittrich
Bundesarchiv Bild Wilhelm Bittrich.jpg
Wilhelm Bittrich
Nickname(s) Willi
Born (1894-02-26)26 February 1894
Wernigerode, Saxony-Anhalt
Died 19 April 1979(1979-04-19) (aged 85)
Wolfratshausen, Bavaria
Allegiance German Empire German Empire
Germany Weimar Republic
Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
Service/branch Cross-Pattee-Heraldry.svg Luftstreitkräfte
Flag Schutzstaffel.svg Waffen SS
Years of service 1914-1945
Rank SS-Obergruppenführer Collar Rank.svg Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Ritterkreuz des Eisernes Kreuz mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern

Wilhelm Bittrich (26 February 1894 – 19 April 1979) was an SS-Obergruppenführer and Waffen-SS General during World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern).[a] The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves and Swords was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership.

Overview[edit]

Born in Wernigerode in the Harz mountains of Germany, Bittrich served as an army officer and fighter pilot during World War I and was also a member of the Freikorps.[1] He joined the SS-Verfügungstruppe in 1934 and the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler in 1939. He was in command of the Deutschland Regiment during the fighting in Poland (1939) and France (1940).

Later he assumed command over the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich and the II. SS-Panzerkorps (Hohenstaufen & Frundsberg Divisions). He is perhaps now best remembered for his contribution to the defeat of the failed allied airborne offensive Operation Market Garden which took place in the Netherlands in September 1944. Bittrich also commanded a corps in the German defense against the Vienna Offensive from 2 April to 13 April 1945. However, he also led the 8th SS Cavalry Division Florian Geyer, involved in war crimes in the USSR (August 1942 - 15 February 1943).[2]

Bittrich survived the War and died in a local hospital in Wolfratshausen, Bavaria on 19 April 1979.

Bittrich was a source for Cornelius Ryan in researching A Bridge Too Far. During the interview he is reported to have been most concerned with correcting inaccurate reports that he was a skilled concert pianist. He claimed these reports stemmed from confusion with his brother.

Postwar Prosecution[edit]

After his arrest on 8 May 1945 he was extradited to France on charges of having ordered the execution of 17 members of the Resistance in Nîmes. The trial revealed that Bittrich had not given such an order and had even opened procedures against the responsible officers. As the commander in charge of the culprits, he was held responsible for the misconduct of his subordinate troops and sentenced to five years in prison. The sentence was considered as served after a long pretrial detention. He was put on trial for a second time in 1953 and sentenced to five years in prison for countenancing hangings, pillage and arson,[3] but was acquitted by the French court in Bordeaux again and released in 1954[citation needed].

Opposition of the Nazi Party[edit]

Wilhelm Bittrich (far right) at the quarry at Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp during tour with Heinrich Himmler (center) and other SS officers, June 1941.

General Bittrich was among a circle of young Reichswehr officers who appreciated the SS's military doctrine and took the opportunity to form the new service. He always described himself as convinced of large parts of the Nazi ideology, but felt disdain for his "incompetent" leaders and thought the regime's crimes would violate an officer's sense of honour.

According to German historian Heinz Höhne, Bittrich vowed to support a plot against the Nazi regime on 15 July 1944 when he met Erwin Rommel and promised that he and his troops were at Rommel's disposal if the Field Marshal so requested, but like many he warned that Hitler had to be removed from power first. This condition was never met. Bittrich is also reported to have been the most sarcastic man in Germany. He was allegedly marked for death by Heinrich Himmler in 1945 as a result of the extremely unflattering comments he made about the Nazi leadership. In any case it is known that his superiors tried to replace him by force several times; during Operation Market Garden in 1944, Himmler had sent "Reichsarzt-SS" Karl Gebhardt to relieve Bittrich from his command and bring him back to Berlin.

Following operation Market-Garden in 1944, Albert Speer visited the frontlines and had an opportunity to meet General Bittrich. Speer later wrote:

Other visits (to the front) showed me that efforts were being made on the Western Front to arrange agreements with the enemy upon special problems. At Arnhem, I found General Bittrich of the Waffen-SS in a state of fury. The day before, his Second Tank Corps had virtually wiped out a British airborne division. During the fighting the general had made an arrangement permitting the enemy to run a field hospital behind the German lines. But party functionaries had taken it upon themselves to kill captured British and American pilots, and Bittrich looked like a liar. His violent denunciation of the party was all the more striking since it came from an SS general.[4]

After his unit had been tasked with the defense of Vienna in spring 1945, Bittrich immediately pulled his troops out of the city to save it from destruction despite the order to hold Vienna "to the last breath".

In media[edit]

Summary of his SS career[edit]

Ranks[edit]

Notable decorations[edit]

Notes[edit]

NSDAP #: 829 700 - He joined the NSDAP on 1 December 1932
SS #: 39 177 - He joined the SS on 1 July 1932

Footnotes[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Axis History Forum • View topic - SS-General Willhelm Bittrich - Awards
  2. ^ 8th SS Cavalry Division Florian Geyer
  3. ^ New York Times, June 24, 1953:6:6
  4. ^ Speer 1970, p. 399.
  5. ^ a b Thomas 1997, p. 47.
  6. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 134.
  7. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 87.
  8. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 48.
  9. ^ Patzwall and Scherzer 2001, p. 44.
  10. ^ Scherzer 2007, p. 121.

References[edit]

  • Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt der Bundeswehr (Hrsg.): Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg. 10 Bände. Stuttgart 1991-2005.
  • 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. 
  • Hohne, Heinz (1966): The Order of the Death's Head. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-139012-3
  • Kershaw, Robert J. (1994): It never snows in September. Ian Allen Ltd. ISBN 0-7818-0287-3.
  • 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. 
  • Mühleisen, Horst (2000). Wilhelm Bittrich. Paderborn: Ronald Smelser / Enrico Syring (Hrsg.): Die SS, Elite unter dem Totenkopf. ISBN 3-506-78562-1
  • 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. 
  • Ryan, Cornelius (1974): A Bridge too Far. Coronet Books/Hodder and Stoughton. ISBN 0-340-19941-5.
  • 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. 
  • Speer, Albert (1970): Inside the Third Reich. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston. Macmillan. Library of Congress #70-119132
  • 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. 
Military offices
Preceded by
SS-Oberstgruppenführer Paul Hausser
Commander of 2. SS-Panzer Division Das Reich
15 October 1941 - 31 December 1941
Succeeded by
SS-Obergruppenführer Matthias Kleinheisterkamp
Preceded by
SS-Gruppenführer Hermann Fegelein
Commander of 8. SS-Kavallerie-Division Florian Geyer
August 1942 - 15 February 1943
Succeeded by
SS-Brigadeführer Fritz Freitag
Preceded by
none
Commander of 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen
15 February 1943 - 29 June 1944
Succeeded by
SS-Standartenführer Thomas Müller
Preceded by
SS-Oberstgruppenführer Paul Hausser
Commander of II. SS-Panzer Corps
29 June 1944 - 8 May 1945
Succeeded by
dissolved on 8 May 1945