Helmuth von Pannwitz
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|Helmuth von Pannwitz|
Helmuth von Pannwitz in 1941
|Nickname(s)||The Last Knight of Europe|
14 October 1898|
Botzanowitz, Province of Silesia, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire now Bodzanowice, Opole Voivodeship, Poland
|Died||16 January 1947
Moscow, Russian SSR, Soviet Union
|Years of service||1914–45|
|Commands held||XV SS Cossack Cavalry Corps|
Helmuth von Pannwitz (14 October 1898 – 16 January 1947) was a German general who was a cavalry officer during the First and the Second World Wars. Later he became Lieutenant General of the Wehrmacht and Supreme Ataman of the XV SS Cossack Cavalry Corps. He was executed in Moscow for war crimes in 1947, rehabilitated by a military prosecutor in Moscow in April 1996, and in June 2001, however, the reversal of the conviction of Pannwitz was overturned and his conviction was reinstated.
Pannwitz was born into a family of Prussian nobility on his father's estate Botzanowitz (today Bodzanowice), Silesia, near Rosenberg (today Olesno), now part of Poland but directly on the German-Russian border of that time. His family was originally from the village of Pannwitz in Lusatia. From the 14th to 16th century the family held the office of Burggraf of Glatz.
Aged twelve, he entered the Prussian cadet school in Wahlstatt, near Liegnitz in Silesia, and later the main cadet school at Lichterfelde. Even before outbreak of World War I he was attracted by exhibitions of Cossack units that were organized in the neighboring towns of the Russian Empire.
As an officer cadet, Pannwitz upon the outbreak of the First World War joined the Imperial German Army as a volunteer (1st Regiment of Lancers, based at Militsch), in the course of which he was at the age of sixteen promoted to the rank of Leutnant (second lieutenant/cornet) and decorated with the Iron Cross Second Class in the same year (and, a year later, the First Class) for bravery in action. Immediately after the war he fought in the ranks of the Volunteer Corps (Freikorps) against Polish separatists in Silesia and participated in the Kapp Putsch. Wanted as a suspect in the murder of a Social-Democrat, Bernhard Schottländer, in Breslau, he fled to Poland. Under an assumed name, Pannwitz became a leader in the Black Reichswehr in 1923 where he was involved in a number of Feme murders. In the aftermath of the failed Küstrin Putsch, Pannwitz fled again to Poland. After spending a year in Hungary, Pannwitz went to Poland in 1926, where he lived and worked as an administrator of farms, at the last in charge of the estates of Princess Radziwill[which?] in Młochów, near Warsaw.
When an amnesty was granted in 1931, Pannwitz returned to Germany where in 1935 he rejoined the German Army as a Rittmeister (captain) and cavalry squadron commander in the 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Angerburg, East Prussia. In 1938, following the Anchluss when Austria became part of Germany, he was transferred to Austria and became detachment commander with the 11th Cavalry Regiment at Stockerau near Vienna, being promoted to the rank of Major at the same time. World War II found him as the commander of the reconnaissance detachment of the 45th Infantry Division in Poland and France.
World War II
On active service again in World War II, Pannwitz was awarded "bars" to his previous decorations and in August 1941 was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. He received the Oak Leaves as an Oberst (colonel) a year later for successful military leadership, when he was in command of a battle group covering the southern flank in the battle of Stalingrad.
Pannwitz was instrumental in establishing a Cossack force, Cossack Cavalry Brigade, which was formed on 21 April 1943. The unit conducted anti-partisan operations in Ukraine and Belarus, and was then moved to fight against Yugoslav partisans. During punitive operations in Serbia and Croatia, the Cossack regiments under Pannwitz's command committed a number of atrocities against the civilian population including several mass rapes and routine summary executions. Even for von Pannwitz these atrocities exceeded what he perceived as normal. Moreover, in his eyes they threatened discipline and military success. Therefor he issued an order dated October 20, 1943, according to which crimes of that kind would result in the death penalty.
At the award ceremony in Berlin when Pannwitz received the "Oak Leaves" for his Knight's Cross on January 15, 1943, he told Hitler that the official Nazi policies which caused Slavs to be regarded as subhumans (Untermenschen) for strategical reasons were totally wrong.
During the summer of 1944 the two brigades were upgraded to become the 1st Cossack Division and 2nd Cossack Cavalry Division. On February 25, 1945, these divisions were combined to become XV SS Cossack Cavalry Corps.
Because of the respect he showed for his troops and his tendency to attend Russian Orthodox services with them, Pannwitz was very popular with his Cossack troops. Before the end of the war, he was elected Feldataman (German rendering of Supreme Ataman, the highest rank in the Cossack hierarchy and one that was traditionally reserved for the Tsar alone.)
By the end of the war, the SS took control of all foreign units within the German forces. The Himmler file in the Imperial War Museum contains a record of a conversation which occurred on August 26, 1944, between Himmler, General von Pannwitz, and his Chief of Staff, Colonel H.-J. von Schultz. An agreement was reached that the Cossack divisions, soon to be the Cossack Corps, would only be placed under SS administration in terms of replacements and supplies. However, by February 1, 1945 the corps was transferred to the Waffen-SS. Despite the refusal of General von Pannwitz to enter the SS, the corps was placed under SS administration and all Cossacks became formally part of the Waffen-SS.
Pannwitz surrendered on May 11, 1945, to British forces (8th Army`s 5th Corps) near Völkermarkt in Carinthia, Austria, and tried to ensure that his men would remain in the custody of the Western Allies. By mid-May, however, it was obvious that the Cossacks would be handed over to the Soviet Union.
Pannwitz was a German national, and under the provisions of the Yalta Conference not subject to repatriation to the Soviet Union. But on May 26, he was deprived of his command and placed under arrest while the forcible loading of the Cossacks into trucks began and continued through the following days. Although many escaped from their camps following these actions, General v. Pannwitz and many of his German officers shared the uncertain fate of the Cossacks, so these Germans surrendered with the Cossacks to Soviet authorities at Judenburg.
Almost fifty years later, on April 23, 1996, during the Russian presidency of Boris Yeltsin, members of the Pannwitz family petitioned for a posthumous reversal of the 1946 conviction. The Military High Prosecutor in Moscow subsequently determined that Pannwitz was eligible for rehabilitation as a victim of Stalin-era repression. On June 28, 2001, however, rehabilitation was reversed in a ruling that disputed jurisdiction of the 1996 proceedings, and Pannwitz's conviction for military crimes was reinstated.
Awards and decorations
- Iron Cross (1914)
- Wound Badge (1914)
- in Black
- Cross of Honor (20 December 1934)
- Clasp to the Iron Cross (1939)
- General Assault Badge (18 July 1941)
- Eastern Front Medal
- Order of Michael the Brave
- 3rd Class (7 May 1943)
- Order of the Crown of King Zvonimir with Stars and Swords
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves
- Menges, Franz (2001). "Hellmuth von Pannwitz". Neue Deutsche Biographie (in German). pp. 34–35.
- Tomasevich 2001, p. 306.
- War diary 1st Cossack Division, National Archives Microcopy No T-315, Roll 2281, Washington 1965
- Newland 1991, p. 108.
- Tomasevich 2001, p. 305.
- Newland 1991, p. 164.
- Newland 1991, p. 145.
- Müller, Klaus-Dieter; Schaarschmidt, Thomas; Schmeitzner, Mike; Weigelt, Andreas (2015). Todesurteile sowjetischer Militärtribunale gegen Deutsche (1944 - 1947) : eine historisch-biographische Studie. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. p. 280. ISBN 9783525369685.
- Thomas 1998, p. 141.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 582.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 333.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 64.
- Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000) . 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.
- Newland, Samuel J. (1991). Cossacks in the German Wehrmacht, 1941-1945. London, England: Frank Cass. ISBN 0-7146-3351-8.
- 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 (1998). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 2: L–Z [The Oak Leaves Bearers 1939–1945 Volume 2: L–Z] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2300-9.
- Tomasevich, Jozo (2001). War and Revolution in Yugoslavia: 1941 – 1945, Occupation and Collaboration. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0-8047-3615-2.
- Mitchell, Ian (1997). The cost of a reputation : Aldington versus Tolstoy : the causes, course and consequences of the notorious libel case. Lagavulin, Isle of Islay: Tropical Books. ISBN 0953158101.
- Tolstoy, Nikolai (2013). Victims of Yalta. New York, NY: Open Road Integrated Media. ISBN 9781453249369.