Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte

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Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-H26044, Friedrich August v. der Heydte.jpg
Born (1907-03-30)30 March 1907
Died 7 July 1994(1994-07-07) (aged 87)
Allegiance  Weimar Republic (to 1933)
 Nazi Germany (to 1945)
 West Germany
Service/branch Balkenkreuz (Iron Cross) Luftwaffe
Years of service 1925–45, 1957–67
Rank Oberstleutnant (Wehrmacht)
Brigadegeneral (Bundeswehr)
Commands held Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 6
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves
Relations Claus von Stauffenberg (cousin)
Other work Bundeswehr

Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte (30 March 1907 – 7 July 1994) was a German Luftwaffe officer who served with the Fallschirmjäger during World War II, reaching the rank of Oberstleutnant.

Following the war, Heydte pursued academic, political and military career in the new Federal republic of West Germany, as a Catholic-conservative professor of political science. He served in the Bundeswehr, reaching the rank of Brigadegeneral of the Reserves. In 1962, Heydte was involved in the Spiegel scandal.

Early life[edit]

Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte was born to a noble Roman Catholic family in Munich, Bavaria. His father served in the Bavarian Army during World War I. Heydte joined the Reichswehr in April 1925. In 1927, he was released from military service to attend Innsbruck University, receiving a degree in economics.

In 1927, Heydte was awarded his degree in law at Graz University, and traveled to Berlin to continue his studies. Late in the year, he secured a posting to a diplomatic school in Vienna. During his college years, Heydte developed decidedly liberal views.[citation needed] He joined the NSDAP on 1 May 1933, obtaining membership number 2.134.193. He entered the SA the same year.[1]

In early 1935 Heydte re-joined the Reichswehr and was promoted to Lieutenant within the Wehrmacht. He secured a temporary release from the military for study,. After studying for over two years in The Hague, he returned to the military, where he attended a General Staff Officer's course over the winter of 1938–39. In August 1939, he was recalled to his company in preparation for the planned invasion of Poland, Fall Weiß.

World War II[edit]

Crete and North Africa[edit]

During the spring offensive against France in 1940, Heydte served with the 246th Infantry Division. In mid May 1940, he was promoted captain and transferred to Luftwaffe's parachute arm, where he joined the 3rd Fallschirmjäger Regiment. Heydte commanded a battalion of the 3rd Fallschirmjäger regiment during the Battle of Crete in May 1941. His battalion was the first to enter Canea, for which he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.

In July 1942 Heydte was sent to Libya as commander of the Fallschirm-Lehrbataillon, part of the Ramcke Parachute Brigade. Heydte was an officer in the Ramcke Brigade in North Africa until February 1943 when he and several other officers were transferred to France to form the nucleus of the new 2nd Fallschirmjäger Division under command of major-general H.B. Ramcke. He was posted as an operations officer in the divisional HQ.

Italy and France[edit]

After the fall of Sicily during the summer of 1943, the Germans grew weary of a potential Italian defection to the Allies. To counter this event the 2nd Fallschirmjäger Division was transferred from France to Rome on 6 August. Heydte gained audience with Pope Pius XII and befriended the Pope's "Throne Assistant", the Theologian Alois Hudal, who would later become a key person in helping Nazi war criminals evade the courts of justice during the post-war war-crime trials.[2] On September 8th 1943 the Kingdom of Italy decided to break its alliance with Nazi Germany and join the Allies. This caused the Germans to execute "Fall Achse" to disarm Italian forces. The division participated in taking Rome under German control.

Heydte was given command of the 6th Fallschirmjäger Regiment of the 2nd Fallschirmjäger Division in January 1944. By the time of Operation Overlord, the 6th Fallschirmjäger Regiment had been detached to the 91st Luftlande Infantry Division and deployed in the Carentan area of the Cotentin Peninsula to provide flank security. On D-Day, about 500 U.S. paratroopers dropped southwest of Carentan, resulting in night-time skirmishing on both sides. Heydte was ordered by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel to defend Carentan, the critical junction between Utah Beach and Omaha Beach. Starting on June 10, U.S. troops the town, and by morning of June 11 fighting went from house to house in the Battle of Carentan. By dusk on June 11, Heydte withdrew his unit; a counter-attack on June 12 failed to retake the town. Heydte's regiment was subsequently involved in the intense hedgerow fighting that was characteristic of the Normandy campaign.

On August 6, Heydte's regiment participated in Operation Lüttich, a counterattack aimed at cutting off the Allies' advance at the Avranches bridgehead. The German 7th Army was subsequently encircled at Falaise Pocket, the final battle of the Normandy campaign. In September 1944 his regiment was involved in defending the German lines in North Brabant (The Netherlands) against the Allied forces attacking in Operation Market Garden.

Operation Stösser[edit]

Main article: Operation Stösser

Prior to the Ardennes Offensive, the Germans planned Operation Stösser to drop paratroopers behind the American lines 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) north of Malmédy and to seize a key crossroads leading to Antwerp. To conceal the plans from the Allies and preserve secrecy, Heydte wasn't allowed to use his own, experienced troops. Most of the new paratroops had little training.[3]

The Lutfwaffe assembled 112 Ju 52 transport planes; they were manned by inexperienced pilots. It was the German paratroopers' only nighttime drop during World War II. While the aircraft took off with around 1,300 paratroops, the pilots dropped some behind the German front lines, others over Bonn, and only a few hundred in widely scattered locations behind the American lines. Some aircraft landed with their troops still on board. Only a fraction of the force landed near the intended drop zone.[3]:161

The Kampfgruppe was tasked with dropping at night onto a strategic road junction 11 kilometers north of Malmédy and to hold it for approximately twenty-four hours until relieved by the 12th SS Panzer Division, with the aim of hampering the flow of Allied reinforcements and supplies. The planes that were relatively close to the intended drop zone were buffeted by strong winds that deflected many paratroopers and made their landings far rougher. Since many of the German paratroopers were very inexperienced, some were crippled upon impact and died where they fell. Some of their bodies were found the following spring as the snow melted.[4]:218 Heydte broke his arm upon landing from his jump.

Initially, only 125 men made it to the correct landing zone, with no heavy weapons. By noon on 17 December, Heydte's unit had scouted the woods and rounded up a total of around 300 troops. With only enough ammunition for a single fight, the force was too small to take the crossroads on its own.[5]:89 But because of the dispersal of the drop, German paratroops were reported all over the Ardennes, and the Allies believed a division-sized jump had taken place. This caused much confusion and convinced them to allocate men to secure the rear instead of facing the main German thrust at the front.[5]:88

Because all his radios had been destroyed or lost in the jump, Heydte didn't know the 12th SS Panzer Division failed to defeat the Americans at the Battle of Elsenborn Ridge, and was unable to relieve his forces. Cut off, without supplies and pursued by the U.S. forces, Heydte ordered his men to break through Allied lines and reach the German lines. Heydte arrived in Monschau on December 21st and surrendered on December 23. He was held as a prisoner of war in England until July 1947.

Heydte was a cousin of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who tried to kill Hitler with a bomb on 20 July 1944, and he was loosely connected to the ring of officers who tried to organize the resistance against Hitler.[6][need quotation to verify]

Post-war career[edit]

After his release as a POW, Heydte returned to his academic career, completing his dissertation in 1950. In 1951, he became professor of constitutional and international law at the University of Mainz. From 1954 he served as Professor of International Law, General Administrative Law, German and Bavarian State Law and Political Science at the University of Würzburg. He also headed the Institute for Military Law at University of Würzburg. From 1956 to 1971 he was a member of the Institut de Droit International. From from 1961 to 1965 he served as a member of the board of the German Society for International Law. Parallel to his academic occupation, Heydte pursued a military career in the Bundeswehr; in 1962 he was promoted to Brigadier General in the Reserves of the Bundeswehr.

In 1947 Heydte joined the Christian Social Union (CSU), where he was chairman of the Christian Democratic Higher Education Association. From 1966 to 1970 he was a member of the constituency for Lower Franconia at the Bavarian Parliament. He was also a member of the Committee on Cultural Policy issues and in 1967, he joined the Bavarian State Office for Political Education and the State Compensation Office.

He was a supporter of the theological ideas of natural law and as a conservative Christian he supported the Catholic Church's principles of justice.[7] He was involved in the Catholic Academic Association from 1948 to 1958 and was a member of the Central Committee of German Catholics. He was succeed Franz Prince of Salm-Dyck Reifferscheidt as governor of the German Lieutenancy of the Equestrian Order of the Holy grave in Jerusalem between 1958 and 1965.


The Flick Affair[edit]

In 1958, Heydte became one of the central figures in the Flick Affair. This was a serious party funding scandal where Heydte allegedly had, as the director of the Würzburg Institute of Political Science and Policy Association for many years, helped with laundering money for political donations to the CDU/CSU and FDP. He had to appear before the Federal Constitutional Court on the issue of party funding through tax-deferred contributions.[8]

The Spiegel Affair[edit]

Main article: Spiegel scandal

As head of the Institute for Military Law at University of Würzburg, Heydte challenged the weekly magazine Der Spiegel in 1962 when it wrote an article about the scandalous state of affairs within the Bundeswehr. He accused the editors of high treason because they had revealed the military weaknesses of the newly formed Bundeswehr to the public (and thereby to the Soviets). Because of this accusation and Heydte's position as an expert in Military Law, the issue was brought to a federal court, triggering what was to be known as the "Spiegel affair" with numerous arrests of journalists and others connected to that publication.

The police raid on Der Spiegel was forcefully led by Theo Saevecke, the Kriminalrat at Sicherungsgruppe Bonn. It soon emerged that Saevecke was a not only a former SS-Hauptsturmführer with the SS-Sicherheitsdienst in Libya and Tunisia 1942-43 but also a member of SS-Einsatzgruppe IV in Poland 1939-40 and the head of the Gestapo and the Italian fascist police in Milano between 1943–45 and as such a potential war criminal. Heydte's and Saevecke's conduct in what became known as the Spiegel Affair caused a public outcry followed by demonstrations and public debates. The Spiegel Affair was the first sign of a change in the popular beliefs in West Germany and the progenitor of all the protest later in that decade against all former Nazi German officials still in office. Heydte was heavily criticised for his actions by several prominent West-German politicians and in 1965 a court cleared the editors of Der Spiegel on all charges.

Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte died in Aham, Landshut, in 1994 after a long illness.

Works and quotes[edit]

  • Daedalus Returned (Hutchinson, 1958) - An account of the Battle of Crete.
  • Der moderne Kleinkrieg als wehrpolitisches und militärisches Phänomen (Modern Irregular Warfare.) Executive Intelligence Review, Nachrichtenagentur GmbH, Wiesbaden, Neuausgabe 1986 ISBN 3-925725-03-2 (Erstausgabe: Holzner-Verlag, Würzburg 1972)

Regarding the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, Heydte said, "Half a million people have been put to death there for certain. I know that all the Jews from Bavaria were taken there. Yet the camp never became over-crowded. They gassed mental defectives, too."[9]

"The battle for Crete was to prove the overture to the great tragedy which reached its climax at El Alamein and Stalingrad. For the first time there had stood against us a brave and relentless opponent on a battleground which favoured him."[10]





  1. ^ Das Personenlexikon zum Dritten Reich. Wer war was vor und nach 1945. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Zweite aktualisierte Auflage, Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 978-3-596-16048-8
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b Parker, Danny S. (Jun 21, 1998). To Win The Winter Sky. Da Capo Press. p. 532. ISBN 978-1-58097-006-8. 
  4. ^ Orfalea, Gregory (May 1, 1999). Messengers of the Lost Battalion: The Heroic 551st and the Turning of the Tide at the Battle of the Bulge. Touchstone. p. 416. ISBN 978-0-684-87109-7. Retrieved August 25, 2010. 
  5. ^ a b Goldstein, Donald M. (December 1994). Nuts!: The Battle of the Bulge: The Story and Photographs. J. Michael Wenger, Katherine V. Dillon. Potomac Books. p. 191. ISBN 978-0-02-881069-0. 
  6. ^ Thomas Parrish, Samuel Marshall: The Simon and Schuster encyclopedia of World War II. Simon & Schuster, Delaware 1978, ISBN 0-671-24277-6, S. 270.
  7. ^ Vanessa Conze: Das Europa der Deutschen. Ideen von Europa in Deutschland zwischen Reichstradition und Westorientierung (1920-1970). R. Oldenbourg-Verlag, München 2005, ISBN 978-3-486-57757-0, S. 67.
  8. ^ Daniel Herbe: Hermann Weinkauff (1894–1981). Der erste Präsident des Bundesgerichtshofs. Mohr Siebeck Verlag, München 2008, ISBN 978-3-16-149461-1, S. 97. Die drehen heute genüßlich die Daumen, in: Der Spiegel vom 26. Juni 1989 Affären. Absturz nach dem Melken, Spiegel Nr.54/1984.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Baron Von Der Heydte's Daedalus Returned: Crete 1941; The Germans count the cost of Crete
  11. ^ a b MacLean 2007, p. 170.
  12. ^ a b Thomas 1997, p. 278.
  13. ^ Patzwall & Scherzer 2001, p. 184.
  14. ^ a b Scherzer 2007, p. 389.
  15. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 226.
  16. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 90.


  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000) [1986]. Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 — Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtteile [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. 
  • Leigh–Fermor, Patrick. "A Time Of Gifts" ISBN 978-0-06-011224-0 Chapter 7 – Vienna
  • Lucas, James. "Hitler's Enforcers (Leaders of the German War Machine 1939–1945)" ISBN 80-206-0547-9 Chapter Paratrooper with a prayer beads – Arms and Armour Press, London
  • Heydte, Friedrich August von der, Modern Irregular Warfare[1], ISBN 0-933488-49-1 Biographical notes
  • MacLean, French L (2007). Luftwaffe Efficiency & Promotion Reports: For the Knight's Cross Winners. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Military History. ISBN 978-0-7643-2657-8. 
  • 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 Militaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2. 
  • Thomas, Franz; Wegmann, Günter (1986). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Deutschen Wehrmacht 1939–1945 Teil II: Fallschirmjäger [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the German Wehrmacht 1939–1945 Part II: Paratroopers] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-1461-8. 
  • 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. 
  • 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. 

External links[edit]