Franz Mattenklott

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Franz Mattenklott
Franz Mattenklott.jpg
General der Infanterie Franz Mattenklott
Born (1884-11-19)19 November 1884
Grünberg in Schlesien, Province of Silesia, German Empire
(present–day Zielona Góra, Poland)
Died 28 June 1954(1954-06-28) (aged 69)[1]
Braunlage im Harz, Lower Saxony, West Germany[2]
Allegiance  German Empire (to 1918)
 Weimar Republic (to 1933)
 Nazi Germany (to 1945)
Service/branch War Ensign of Germany 1903-1918.svg Reichsheer
Flag of Weimar Republic (war).svg Reichswehr
Balkenkreuz.svg Wehrmacht
Years of service 1903–45
Rank General der Infanterie
Commands held 72. Infanterie Division, XXXXII. Armeekorps, Stellvertretendes Generalkommando VI. Armeekorps
Battles/wars

World War I
World War II

Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
German Cross in Gold

Franz Mattenklott (19 November 1884 – 28 June 1954)[1] was a German General der Infanterie during World War II and recipient of the renowned Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. The Knight's Cross was Nazi Germany's highest award for military gallantry and was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership.

Born in Silesia, Mattenklott became a military officer in 1903 and fought in World War I. He remained in the downsized army of the Weimar Republic after the war, and by the start of World War II he was already a Generalmajor (Major General). He saw only limited involvement in the Battle of France in 1940, but his units played a decisive role during the German invasion of Greece in 1941 and, later the same year, during the Siege of Sevastopol and other operations in the Crimea. He was appointed as military district commander in mid–1944, and faced the Western allies during the final battles of the war in the spring of 1945.

Although implicated in war crimes in both the Eastern and Western Fronts during World War II, Mattenklott was never convicted of any wrongdoing, dying a free man in the summer of 1954.

Early years and World War I[edit]

Franz Mattenklott was born on 19 November 1884 in Grünberg, a city in the Prussian Province of Silesia (Provinz Schlesien) (since 1945 the city is named Zielona Góra and belongs to Poland) to Dietrich Mattenklott and his wife Elfriede, née Duttenhöfer.[3][2] His father was director of a sugar factory, the Zuckerfabrik Fraustadt in Ober Pritsche near Fraustadt in Silesia, estate owner (Rittergutsbesitzer) and Hauptmann a. D. (retired Captain) of the Prussian Army.[4][5] Mattenklott's family was thus wealthy and of high social standing, a prerequisite for aspiring future Prussian officers.

After completing his high–school studies, Franz Mattenklott applied to enter the 67th Infantry Regiment (4th Magdeburgian) (4. Magdeburgisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 67) in Metz, Alsace-Loraine, then part of the German Empire. His application was approved by vote of the regimental officers, as was the standard procedure, and after successfully taking a written examination, Mattenklott entered service in the Prussian Army as a Fahnenjunker (a rank roughly equivalent to an officer candidate) on 28 December 1903, shortly after his 19th birthday.[2][6] After a few month's service and another written examination (the Fähnrichsprüfung, literally "Cadet Sergeant Examination"), he became Fähnrich (Cadet Sergeant). He finally received his commission to Leutnant on 18 May 1905, backdated (Patent) to 22 April 1905.[2] By 1912 he had advanced to the position of Adjutant of the regiment's 1st Battalion.[7]

Mattenklott served during World War I with his regiment, from June 1915 as Hauptmann (Captain).[8]

Interwar period[edit]

After the capitulation of the German Empire on 11 November 1918, Mattenklott remained in the new German Army, the Reichsheer, which, according to the Versailles treaty, was to be limited to 100,000 men, among them 1,000 officers. Initially, he was transferred to the Befehlsstelle VI (6th Command Post) in Breslau, Lower Silesia. The following years, he led a company in the 7th Infantry Regiment (7. Infanterie–Regiment) and by 1924 he was a member in the staff of the 6th Division of the Reichswehr in Münster, Westphalia.[9] Afterwards, he served in the staff of the Artillery Leader VI (Artillerieführer VI) in Münster.[8] He continued to rise in the ranks of the Reichswehr, being promoted to Major in 1928. His next position was that of an instructor at the Infantry School in Dresden (Infanterieschule Dresden). In 1932, he rose to the rank of Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant Colonel).[2][9]

In the meanwhile, he political situation in Germany had changed dramatically. Adolf Hitler's rise to power in 1933 marked the end of the Weimar Republic. The following years, disregarding the confining Versailles Treaty, the Nazi regime intensified the German re-armament (Aufrüstung) and increased the size of the military. As part of this process, Mattenklott received the command of the newly–formed Infantry Regiment Stargard (Infanterie Regiment Stargard) on 1 October 1934 and he was promoted to Oberst (Colonel) on the same day.[2] He retained his position after the regiment was reorganized as 25th Infantry Regiment (Infanterie–Regiment 25) in 1935 and commanded this unit for another year.[9]

Mattenklott finally entered the general officers' ranks at the age of 53, with his promotion to Generalmajor (Major General) on 1 March 1938. His new position was at the west part of the Third Reich: on 1 July 1938, he was appointed commander of the Border Command Trier (Grenz–Kommandantur Trier).[1] He was still in this post when Nazi Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, marking the start of World War II in Europe.

World War II[edit]

France[edit]

Upon the war's outbreak, most of the German army forces were fighting in Poland, but since the Western Allies had declared war on Nazi Germany, its western borders were vulnerable. Part of the critical task of border guarding was given to Mattenklott, who had three regiments — two infantry and one artillery — at his disposal to defend the border with Luxembourg and the adjacent part with France's.[10]

A few weeks later, on 19 September 1939, the units under his command were reorganized as the 72nd Infantry Division, with headquarters at Koblenz. Given its primary assignment, it is understandable that the division was not considered first priority, and as a consequence, it consisted of units of rather inferior fighting value. The following months, it remained on duty on the Western Front during the Phoney War. It didn't face the dreaded attack from the Western Allies, apart from some minor, light engagements.[11] A few months before the German attack on France, in February 1939, Mattenklott was promoted to Generalleutnant (Lieutenant General).

A view of anti–tank defenses (dragon's teeth) in Metaxas Line

Mattenklott's units had a limited participation in the Battle of France in May–June 1940. One of the division's veterans claimed after the war that his unit was ordere to attack French positions in a forest, allegedly manned by inferior units. Mattenklott supposedly forbade air support, resulting in operational failure, prompting the veteran to bluntly call Mattenklott "an idiot".[12] It is generally accepted that Mattenklott's division performed mediocrely, even though it faced only light resistance. By June 1940, France capitulated, and the 72nd Infantry Division was posted in France as an occupational unit, while Mattenklott was named commander of Metz, Alsace-Lorraine, in July of that year.[2][11]

Balkan campaign[edit]

After a brief period of refitting in France, the 72nd Infantry Division was deployed to Bulgaria, then a member of the Axis powers, in the spring of 1941, in order to take part in the planned invasion of Greece, or "Operation Marita" (Unternehmen Marita). The division was placed under XVIII Mountain Corps (XVIII. Gebirgskorps) of Generalleutnant Franz Boehme, part of Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshal) Wilhelm List's 12th Army (Wehrmacht).[13] All in all, Boehme's Corps consisted of four infantry divisions and a reinforced infantry regiment; this formidable force faced three Greek Divisions and the heavily fortified Metaxas Line along the mountainous region of the Greek–Bulgarian border.[14]

Mattenklott's division was given the objective of breaking through the defenses southwest of Nevrokop, proceeding further to the southwest until Serres and then turn to the north and attack Fort Roupel from behind, in order to capture the vital national road crossing the narrow valley known as the Rupel Pass.[15] The invasion began on 6 April, and until the night, Mattenklott's troops had failed to punch through the Metaxas Line, suffering heavy casualties. However, during the following day, a breakthrough was achieved, but the advance towards Serres was retarded by the mountainous terrain.[16] Most of the Greek forts continued to resist until 9 April, but as the main forces were isolated by the German advance to the west, they finally capitulated on the same day. Suming up his experiences from the battle, Mattenklott praised the Greek Army for its firm resistance and bravery.[17] Following these developments, the XVIII Mountain Corps advanced until Thessaly. Other units captured the rest of the country, which came under total occupation with the capture of Crete in June.[18]

Soviet Union[edit]

The next major campaign for Nazi Germany, Operation Barbarossa, was launched on 22 June 1941 against the Soviet Union. At the time of the attack, Mattenklott's division was still in Romania, but was placed under 11th Army of Army Group South (Heeresgruppe Süd) as a reserve formation. It fought initially near Nikolayev in Ukraine and managed to cross the Dnieper River, a vital point which allowed the advance towards Crimea. Mattenklott led his units with distinction during the Crimean Campaign, which managed to reach Sevastopol in late autumn.[19] On 1 October 1941, he was promoted to General der Infanterie (General of the Infantry).[2]

The destroyed port of Sevastopol after the city's capture by the Wehrmacht (July 1942)

For his leadership of the division during the siege of Sevastopol in the first half of November 1941, Mattenklott was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, one of Nazi Germany's highest decorations for military gallantry on 23 November 1941, along with two other officers of his division.[20] He had been placed in the Führerreserve (Leader's Reserve) on 6 November 1941.[9] During that time, Mattenklott was confronted with the extermination of Jews by special units, the Einsatzgruppen. When 400 Jewish men and 10 women were shot, ostensibly for acts of sabotage, Mattenklott "expressed his recognition and gratitude" to the responsible Einsatzgruppe D for the executions.[21]

During the following months, the 11th Army, under the command of Generaloberst (Colonel General) Erich von Manstein, continued to lay siege on encircled Sevastopol. A crisis ensued in late December 1941, when the Soviets launched an amphibious attack on the Kerch Straits and Feodosiya to retake Kerch and its peninsula, threatening to cut off Generalleutnant Hans von Sponeck's XLII Army Corps (XLII. or XXXXII. Armeekorps). Although Manstein had given explicit orders to Sponeck to hold his positions, while units from Sevastopol could arrive, Sponeck ordered his corps to retreat.[21] Furious at this insubordination, Manstein relieved him of his command and replaced him with Mattenklott, who had just been given the command of XXX Army Corps.[22] Mattenklott's units, along with XXX Army Corps, spent the next months in bitter fighting over eastern Crimea, managing to repulse Soviet attacks, suffering and inflicting heavy casualties.[23]

In May 1942, Mattenklott led his corps throughout Operation Trappenjagd, an attempt to crush the soviet bridgeheads in Kerch peninsula. The Germans managed to encirlce and destroy several Red Army units, killing or capturing about 175,000 soldiers to fewer than 3,500 casualties for XXX and XLII Army Corps.[24]

After the ultimate capture of Crimea in July 1942, XLII Corps remained on duty on the peninsula, and Mattenklott was named commander of Crimea (Befehlshaber Krim) on 24 August 1942.[25] Almost immediately, he became confronted with the problem of the nutrition of the population, as the callous policy of Manstein was to confiscate all raw materials to sustain the German troops. Mattenklott worried about the impact on the relations between the army and the civilians and wrote to the Army Group South in September, expressing the opinion that the German troops should not give promises to the population for ameliorating the situation if they were unable to keep them.[26] Measures were not undertaken, however, and Crimea suffered food shortages and famines throughout 1942 and 1943.[27] Under Mattenklott's command, hundreds of civilians were executed, including those accused, often wrongfully, as partisans, communists, invalids and the homeless, as well as numerous other groups labeled as "undesirable elements" by the Nazi world view.[28] Among the perpetrators of these atrocities were also police units, with which Mattenklott reported to have "an excellent cooperation".[29] Mattenklott was commander of Crimea until April 1943.[2]

Mattenklott took a one-month leave of absence from 22 June 1943 to July 1943.[9] He commanded the XLII corps during the battle of Kursk in July 1943, but his unit played only a marginal role in the Wehrmacht's last major offensive against the Red Army.[30] In January 1944, Mattenklott temporarily ceded command of the Corps to the commander of 112. Infanterie-Division, Generalleutnant Theo-Helmut (Theobald) Lieb.[31] The same month, the Red Army tried to encircle and destroy the XLII and XI. Army Corps, together with Corps Detachment B (Korpsabteilung B), during the battle of the Korsun–Cherkassy Pocket. During the ensuing battles, the head of the anti-Nazi National Committee for a Free Germany, General der Artillerie Walther von Seydlitz-Kurzbach, unaware of his absence, appealed with letter to Matteklott and other commanders, urging them to surrender so he could halt the impending destruction. This proposal, however, fell on deaf ears.[32] After weeks of hard fighting, the Germans achieved a breakout, and Mattenklott was summoned back to oversee the refitting of the corps and the transfer of the units in occupied Poland, away from the frontline. He was also commissioned with the drafting of an after-action report (Abschlussmeldung) and estimating the casualties.[33]

During the following months, the aging Mattenklott (by then 59 years of age) did not play any important military role, save for his role during the battles in Kovel in north-western Ukraine, where he aided German units to break free after they were encircled by the Soviets. For his contribution, he was honorably mentioned in the Wehrmachtbericht, the daily armed forces record, on 6 April 1944.[34]

Late war[edit]

When General der Infanterie Gerhard Glokke, Commander of Military District VI (Wehrkreis VI) in Münster, Westphalia, died in office of a heart attack in early June 1944, Mattenklott was chosen to succeed him, with effect from 15 June 1944.[2] In many respects, he was extremely lucky to have been transferred away from the Eastern Front. Exactly one week later, on 22 June 1944, the Soviet launched a large-scale offensive, Operation Bagration, which shattered the Wehrmacht units and paved the way for the drive into Germany.

Unbeknownst to Mattenklott, who apparently did not harbour any kind of anti-Nazi sentiments, some of his officers in the Wehrkreis VI were involved in the military resistance against Hitler. On 20 July 1944, after Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg detonated a bomb in Hitler's headquarters, the Wolf's Lair in East Prussia, the attempt to overthrow the Nazi regime (known as the 20th July plot) came in motion. Oberstleutnant Martin Bärtels, a conspirator in Mattenklott's staff, urged his superior to leave his headquarters and go on an inspection tour. However, the plot failed from the beginning in Münster. Soon thereafter, the commands from the conspirators' center in Berlin for the immediate arrest of the members of the Nazi apparatus in the Wehrkreis were signed from the retired Field Marshal (Generalfeldmarschall) Erwin von Witzleben. Still unsure of the situation, Matteknlott passively waited until information on the failure on Hitler's life and the coup reached him.[35]

To what extent the failure of the plot and the brutal response against those involved in it affected Mattenklott's stance towards the evergrowing denialism showed by Hitler in view of Germany's impending defeat is not known. But as the Western Allies made their push in western Germany in the spring of 1945, Mattenklott followed the unrealistic orders of his superiors. By then, Mattenklott was leading the Wehrkreis units in a desperate defence of the area around Paderborn in North Rhine-Westphalia. On 1 April 1945 he reported to his superior, the Supreme Commander West (Oberbefehlshaber West), Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring, that Paderborn was lost to the enemy after "it was defended to the last man"; he was committed in holding the Teutoburg Forest, but warned he was not able to deploy any significant forces.[36]

A few days later, Mattenklott allegedly ordered the execution of Wilhelm Gräfer, the mayor of Lemgo, for treason, as he had tried to surrender the city to the US Army, in order to spare it from further destruction.[37] Mattenklott himself surrendered to the Allies after some weeks.

Post–war[edit]

During his captivity, Mattenklott wrote several historical manuscripts for the US Army, including a report on the battle of Kursk.[30] During the post-war years, Mattenklott successfully avoided persecution and conviction for the war crimes he was involved in.

As a subordinate of Generaloberst Hans von Salmuth, he testified in the High Command Trial in 1948 as a defense witness for his former superior. His signature was found on an order dated 28 November 1941, considering "Antipartisan warfare" in occupied territories. Among others, the order suggested establishment of various concentration camps where hostages

[...] are to be shot and hanged [...], if attacks by partisans occur in the area concerned.

and, additionally, issued that civilians or "dispersed soldiers" would be shot on sight if they were caught armed.

A modern view of Braunlage im Harz

During his interrogation on 19 May 1947, Mattenklott claimed that such measures were "necessary and justified", but explained that he considered them to be of deterrentive nature, as he stated that an execution of an armed civilian never came to his attention. He also told his interrogators that he had no knowledge of the systematic killing of Jews, Communists and other "undesirable elements" in the East, and categorically denied any involvement. Especially, he stressed that he knew "absolutely nothing" about the Holocaust.[38] Only in the decades that followed did it became known that Mattenklott was fully aware of the Nazi policy of destruction and genocide in the Soviet Union, the activities of the Einsatzgruppen and that he often praised the "excellent cooperation" his units had with the perpetrators of these crimes.

Another possibility for Mattenklott's persecution came in the following years. The above-mentioned execution of mayor Gräfer in Lemgo had sparked enormous outrage, and the public demanded the punishment of those responsible. One of them, the Generalmajor a. D. (retired) Paul Goerbig, president of the court-martial that convicted Gräfer, was arrested in Hamburg in April 1949 and brought to Paderborn. There he claimed that Mattenklott was aware that Gräfer's execution could lead to a conviction, but told Goerbig that this case was "totally under control". Mattenklott admitted that he had sent the execution order to one of his divisional commanders, Generalmajor a. D. Karl Becher, who, in turn, ordered Goerbig to proceed. Although, in his own words, Mattenklott took responsibility for the order, he attempted to place all the blame on Becher, who was responsible for the establishment of the court martial. According to Goerbig, Becher denied that he had drafted any such order. Mattenklott's and Goerbig's accusations agains Becher were deemed satisfying, but the case proceeded extremely slowly. The prosecutor never summoned Becher to testify, and in 1959, two years after Becher's death, all proceedings were halted.[37]

By that time, however, Mattenklott was not alive. He spent his final years in Braunlage, an air spa and health resort in the Harz Mountains in Lower Saxony, only a few hundred meters from the border with the German Democratic Republic. He died there on 28 June 1954 at the age of 69.[1][2]

Decorations and awards[edit]

Wehrmachtbericht reference[edit]

Date Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording Direct English translation
6 April 1944 Verbände des Heeres und der Waffen-SS haben unter dem Oberbefehl des Generalobersten Weiß und unter der Führung der Generale der Infanterie Hoßbach und Mattenklott nach tagelangen harten Angriffskämpfen durch die Pripjetsümpfe bei ungewöhnlichen Geländeschwierigkeiten den feindlichen Ring um Kowel gesprengt und damit ihre Kameraden aus der Umklammerung befreit.[34] After days of harsh fighting through the Pripyat Marshes at rough terrain, units of the Army and the Waffen–SS under the High Command of Generaloberst Weiß and under the leadership of Generals of the Infantry Hoßbach and Mattenklott have broken the enemy ring at Kowel, thus freeing their comrades from encirclement.

References[edit]

Citations
  1. ^ a b c d Wegner 1990, p. 845.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Keilig 1956, p. 212.
  3. ^ von Preradovich 1978, p. 101.
  4. ^ Jahrbuch der Berliner Börse: Ein Nachschlagebuch fur Bankiers und Kapitalisten. Berlin 1895, p. 572.
  5. ^ Grabowski 1998, p. 79.
  6. ^ Robinson & Robinson 2000, p. 180.
  7. ^ Rangliste der Königlich Preussischen Armee und des XIII. (Königlich Württembergischen) Armeekorps für 1912, p. 226.
  8. ^ a b c Reichswehr Ministry 1927, p. 16.
  9. ^ a b c d e Altenburger, Andreas. "General der Infanterie Franz Mattenklott" (in German). Lexikon der Wehrmacht. Retrieved 30 November 2014. 
  10. ^ Hoffmann 1985, p. 56.
  11. ^ a b Mitcham 2007, p. 72nd Infantry Division.
  12. ^ Tekampe 1989, p. 121.
  13. ^ Blau 1986, p. 81.
  14. ^ Blau 1986, p. 79.
  15. ^ Stockings & Hancock 2013, p. 132.
  16. ^ Stockings & Hancock 2013, p. 156 and 167–68.
  17. ^ Stockings & Hancock 2013, p. 193.
  18. ^ Blau 1986, p. 102.
  19. ^ Haupt 1992, p. 61.
  20. ^ Neumann 1998, p. 1115.
  21. ^ a b Stein 2007, p. 348.
  22. ^ Lemay 2010, p. 223.
  23. ^ Forczyk 2008, p. 14.
  24. ^ Forczyk 2008, p. 36.
  25. ^ Kunz 2005, p. 77.
  26. ^ Oldenburg 2004, p. 96.
  27. ^ Kunz 2005, p. 142.
  28. ^ Oldenburg 2004, p. 134–37.
  29. ^ Kunz 2005, p. 84.
  30. ^ a b Newton 2002, p. 32–33.
  31. ^ Nash 2002, p. 23.
  32. ^ Stein 2007, p. 136.
  33. ^ Nash 2002, p. 358 and 366.
  34. ^ a b Wehrmachtberichte, p. 74.
  35. ^ Hoffmann 1996, p. 447.
  36. ^ Hohmann 1980, p. 391–392.
  37. ^ a b Kriegsverbrechen/Lemgo. An einem Baum. In: Der Spiegel Nr. 9/1970, p. 56–57.
  38. ^ Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals Under Control Council Law No. 10, Nuernberg October 1946–April 1949, Volume XI. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1950
  39. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 304.
  40. ^ Scherzer 2007, p. 530.
  41. ^ Patzwall & Scherzer 2001, p. 297.
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  • Prussian Army Ministry (ed.): Rangliste der Königlich Preussischen Armee und des XIII. (Königlich Württembergischen) Armeekorps für 1912 (in German). Berlin: E. S. Mittler & Sohn, 1912.
  • Reichswehr Ministry, ed. (1927). Rangliste des Deutschen Reichsheeres: Nach dem Stande vom 1. Mai 1927 [Rank List of the German Reichsheer: According to the state of 1 May 1927] (in German). Berlin, Germany: E. S. Mittler. 
  • Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals Under Control Council Law No. 10, Nuernberg October 1946–April 1949, Volume XI. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1950. Retrieved on 28 November 2014.
  • Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 3, 1. Januar 1944 bis 9. Mai 1945 [The Wehrmacht Reports 1939–1945 Volume 3, 1 January 1944 to 9 May 1945] (in German). München, Germany: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG. 1985. ISBN 978-3-423-05944-2. 
Military offices
Preceded by
none
Commander of 72. Infanterie Division
1 September 1939 — 25 July 1940
Succeeded by
General der Infanterie Helge Auleb
Preceded by
none
Commander of Festung Metz
25 July 1940 — 4 September 1940
Succeeded by
Generalleutnant Fritz Rossum
Preceded by
General der Infanterie Helge Auleb
Commander of 72. Infanterie Division
5 September 1940 — 6 November 1940
Succeeded by
Generalleutnant Philipp Müller-Gebhard
Preceded by
none
Befehlshaber Krim
19 August 1942 — April 1943
Succeeded by
General der Infanterie Helge Auleb
Preceded by
Generalleutnant Hans Graf von Sponeck
Commander of XXXXII. Armeekorps
1 January 1942 — 22 June 1943
Succeeded by
General der Infanterie Anton Dostler
Preceded by
General der Infanterie Anton Dostler
Commander of XXXXII. Armeekorps
July 1943 — 14 June 1944
Succeeded by
General der Infanterie Hermann Recknagel
Preceded by
none
Commander of Armeeabteilung Mattenklott
14 November 1943 — 24 November 1943
Succeeded by
none
merged into XXXXII. Armeekorps
Preceded by
General der Infanterie Gerhard Glokke
Stellvertretendes Generalkommando VI. Armeekorps
14 June 1944 — April 1944
Succeeded by
dissolved