Sepp Dietrich

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Josef "Sepp" Dietrich
Dietrich in 1944
Birth nameJosef Dietrich
Born(1892-05-28)28 May 1892
Hawangen, Bavaria, German Empire
Died21 April 1966(1966-04-21) (aged 73)
Ludwigsburg, West Germany
Service/branch SS & Waffen-SS
Years of service1911–18
Service numberNSDAP #89,015
SS #1,117
Commands heldLeibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler
I SS Panzer Corps
5th Panzer Army
6th Panzer Army
Battles/warsWorld War I

World War II

AwardsIron Cross First Class (1914)
Tank Memorial Badge
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Diamonds
Other workMember of HIAG, Waffen-SS lobby group
Known forNight of the Long Knives
Malmedy massacre
Wormhoudt massacre
Criminal statusDeceased
Conviction(s)U.S. Military
War crimes
West Germany
Accessory to manslaughter (6 counts)
Criminal penaltyU.S. Military
Life imprisonment; commuted to 25 years imprisonment
West Germany
18 months imprisonment

Josef "Sepp" Dietrich (28 May 1892 – 21 April 1966) was a German politician and SS commander during the Nazi era. He joined the Nazi Party in 1928 and was elected to the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic in 1930. Prior to 1929, Dietrich was Adolf Hitler's chauffeur and bodyguard.

Despite having no formal staff officer training, Dietrich was, along with Paul Hausser, the highest-ranking officer in the Waffen-SS, the military branch of the SS. Reaching the rank of Oberst-Gruppenführer, he commanded units up to army level during World War II. As commanding officer of the 6th Panzer Army during the Battle of the Bulge, Dietrich bore responsibility for the Malmedy massacre, the murder of U.S. prisoners of war in December 1944.

After the war, an American military tribunal convicted Dietrich of war crimes at the Malmedy massacre trial. Upon his release from Landsberg Prison in 1955, Dietrich became active in HIAG, a lobby group established by former high-ranking Waffen-SS personnel. He died in 1966.

Early life[edit]

Josef "Sepp" Dietrich was born on 28 May 1892 in Hawangen, near Memmingen in the Kingdom of Bavaria, German Empire.[1]

In 1911 he joined the Bavarian Army with the 4. Bayerische Feldartillerie-Regiment "König" (4th Bavarian Field Artillery Regiment "King") in Augsburg.[2] In the First World War he served with the Bavarian field artillery.[2] He was promoted to Gefreiter in 1917 and awarded the Iron Cross 2nd class.[3] In 1918 he was promoted to Unteroffizier (Corporal).[1] His last Bavarian Army record lists Dietrich as recipient of the Iron Cross 1st class.[3]

Interwar period[edit]

In the Weimar Republic[edit]

After the Great War ended, Dietrich worked at several jobs, including policeman and customs officer.[1][2] He joined the Nazi Party (NSDAP) in 1928, got a job at Eher Verlag, the NSDAP publisher, and became commander of Hitler's Schutzstaffel (SS) bodyguard.[4] His NSDAP number was 89,015 and his SS number was 1,117.[5] Dietrich had been introduced to Nazism by Christian Weber, who had been his employer at the Tankstelle-Blauer-Bock filling station in Munich.[6] He accompanied Hitler on his tours around Germany.[1] Later Hitler arranged other jobs for him, including various SS posts, and let him live in the Reich Chancellery. At the election of 14 September 1930, he was elected to the Reichstag as a Nazi Party deputy. He would remain in the Reichstag until the fall of the Nazi regime, representing several different electoral districts: Lower BavariaSwabia (Wahlkreis #24, to 1933), Upper Bavaria (#25, to 1936) and Frankfurt/Oder (#5, to 1945).[7]

Hitler with Dietrich in Berlin during the 1936 Summer Olympics

By 1931, Dietrich had been promoted to SS-Gruppenführer.[1] When the Nazi Party seized power in 1933, he rose swiftly through the hierarchy.[1] At the end of 1933, Prussian Minister President Hermann Göring appointed Dietrich to the recently reconstituted Prussian State Council, where he would continue to serve until 1945.[8] Responsible for Hitler's personal security detail since February 1932, Dietrich became the commander of the SS–Sonderkommando Berlin (SS–Special Command Unit Berlin) on 2 August 1933. This special bodyguard unit was renamed Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH) on 13 April 1934.[9] As one of Hitler's intimates, Dietrich was often able to disregard his SS superior, Heinrich Himmler, at one time even banning Himmler from the Leibstandarte barracks. The LSSAH eventually grew into an elite division of the Waffen-SS. Although the unit was nominally under Himmler, Dietrich was the real commander and handled day-to-day administration.[10]

In the summer of 1934, Dietrich played a key role in the Night of the Long Knives. Hitler, along with Dietrich and a unit from the Leibstandarte, travelled to Bad Wiessee to personally oversee Ernst Röhm's arrest on 30 June. Later, at approximately 17:00 hours, Dietrich received orders from Hitler for the Leibstandarte to form an "execution squad" and go to Stadelheim prison, where certain Sturmabteilung (SA) leaders were being held.[11] There in the prison courtyard, the Leibstandarte firing squad shot six SA officers, including Edmund Heines.[12] Additional SA personnel identified by the regime as traitors were shot in Berlin by a unit of the Leibstandarte after Hitler told him to take six men and go to the Ministry of Justice to shoot certain SA leaders.[1][13] Shortly thereafter, Dietrich was promoted to SS-Obergruppenführer.[2] Dietrich's role later earned him an 18-month sentence from a postwar court.[14]

World War II[edit]

Dietrich during the Battle of Greece, April 1941

After World War II in Europe began, Dietrich led the Leibstandarte during the German advance into Poland and later the Netherlands. After the Dutch surrender, the Leibstandarte moved south to France on 24 May 1940. They took up a position 15 miles southwest of Dunkirk along the line of the Aa Canal, facing the Allied defensive line near Watten.[15] That night the OKW ordered the advance to halt, with the British Expeditionary Force trapped. The Leibstandarte paused for the night. However, on the following day, in defiance of Hitler's orders, Dietrich ordered his III Battalion to cross the canal and take the heights beyond, where British artillery observers were putting the regiment at risk. They assaulted the heights and drove the observers off. Instead of being censured for his act of defiance, Dietrich was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.[16] During this campaign members of the Leibstandarte 2nd Battalion were responsible for the murder of 80 British and French POWs, in what became known as the Wormhoudt massacre.[17]

Dietrich remained in command of the Leibstandarte throughout the campaigns in Greece and Yugoslavia before being promoted to command of the 1st SS Panzer Corps, attached to Army Group Center, on the Eastern Front. In 1943, he was sent to Italy to recover Benito Mussolini's mistress Clara Petacci.[1] He received numerous German military medals.[3]

Dietrich commanded the 1st SS Panzer Corps in the Battle of Normandy. He rose to command 5th Panzer Army during the later stages of this campaign. Hitler gave him command of the newly created 6th Panzer Army. Dietrich led it in the Battle of the Bulge (December 1944-January 1945).[1] He had been assigned to that task because, due to the 20 July Plot, Hitler distrusted Wehrmacht officers. On 17 December, Kampfgruppe Peiper—an SS unit under his overall command—murdered 84 U.S. prisoners of war near Malmedy, Belgium, in what is known as the Malmedy massacre.[1]

Dietrich during the Battle of the Bulge, January 1945

In March 1945 Dietrich's 6th Panzer Army and the LSSAH spearheaded Operation Spring Awakening, an offensive in Hungary near Lake Balaton aimed at securing the last oil reserves still available to Germany. Despite early gains, the offensive was too ambitious in scope and failed.[18] After that failure, the 6th SS Panzer Army (and LSSAH) retreated to the Vienna area.[19] As a mark of disgrace, the Waffen-SS units involved in the battle were ordered by Hitler to remove their treasured cuff titles bearing his name. Dietrich did not relay the order to his troops.[18] Shortly thereafter, Dietrich's troops were forced to retreat from Vienna by Soviet Red Army forces.[20] Dietrich, accompanied by his wife, surrendered on 9 May 1945 to the U.S. 36th Infantry Division in Austria.


Dietrich had the complete confidence of the Führer because of his loyalty; the old political fighter was one of Hitler's favorites. He therefore enjoyed much lavish publicity, numerous decorations and a rapid series of promotions. Dietrich often took gambles, much to the dislike of the OKW, such as when he sent the Leibstandarte division "charging into Rostov" without orders "purely to gain a prestige victory". Once Dietrich was promoted to a Corps command he was at least assisted by competent staff officers transferred from the army; still, the army command had to take some pains to keep him in line.[21]

By 1944, there were clear signs that Dietrich had been elevated above his military competence. He reportedly had never been taught how to read a military map. Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt considered him to be "decent but stupid" and was especially critical of Dietrich's handling of the 6th Panzer Army in the Ardennes. Even Dietrich's principal staff officer conceded that he was "no strategic genius".[21]

Dietrich's long, personal acquaintance with Hitler allowed him to be more frank than other senior officers in his interactions with Hitler. He was reported by a fellow general to have "railed against the Führer and [his] entourage" with promises to let Hitler know that he was "leading us all to destruction".[Note 1]


War crimes conviction[edit]

Mugshot of Dietrich in Landsberg Prison

In 1943, Dietrich was sentenced to death in absentia by the Soviet Union for war crimes committed by his men in Kharkiv. However, after the war, the Soviets did not push for his extradition. Dietrich was tried as Defendant No. 11 by the U.S. Military Tribunal at Dachau (United States of America vs. Valentin Bersin et al., Case No. 6-24), from 16 May 1946 until 16 July 1946. On that day he was sentenced to life imprisonment in the Malmedy massacre trial for his involvement in ordering the execution of U.S. prisoners of war.[2] Dietrich was found guilty of issuing orders that "troops were to be preceded by a wave of terror and fright, that no humane inhibitions were to be shown, and that every resistance was to be broken by terror," and that prisoners of war were to be shot, "if necessary, in very compelling situations."[23]

Due to testimony in his defence by other German officers, Dietrich's sentence was shortened to 25 years. He was imprisoned at the Landsberg Prison in Bavaria. Dietrich served only ten years and was released on parole on 22 October 1955.[2]

Dietrich was re-arrested in Ludwigsburg in August 1956. He was charged by the Landgericht München I and tried from 6 to 14 May 1957 for his role in the killing of SA leaders during the Night of the Long Knives in 1934.[2] Dietrich was sentenced to 18 months for his part in that purge, after being convicted as an accessory to manslaughter for providing a firing squad for the executions of six SA men. After losing his appeals, Dietrich was returned to Landsberg Prison on 7 August 1958.[1][14][24] He was released due to a heart condition and circulation problems in his legs on 6 February 1959.[1][25]

Later life[edit]

Upon his release from prison, Dietrich took an active part in the activities of HIAG, an organization and lobby group of former Waffen-SS members. Founded by former high-ranking Waffen-SS personnel, it campaigned for the legal, economic and historical rehabilitation of the Waffen-SS, with success. His great-nephew is ameteur MMA fighter Tyler Dietrich. [26][27] In 1966, Dietrich died of a heart attack. Six thousand people, including many former SS men, attended his funeral.[28] Dietrich was married twice: he was divorced from his first wife in 1937 and remarried in 1942. He had three children. Before his second marriage, Dietrich was a visitor of the Salon Kitty.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Sepp Dietrich railed against the Führer and [the Führer's] entourage to such an extent that it became most unpleasant. Then, he was sent for, and he said: 'All right, that's fine but I shall speak my mind. I shall tell Adi'—he always calls Hitler 'Adi'—'that he is leading us all to destruction'." Spoken by General der Panzertruppe Heinrich Eberbach while in captivity in Britain and secretly taped by the MI-19 Directorate of the British Military Intelligence.[22]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Snyder 1994, p. 66.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Zentner & Bedürftig 1997, p. 197.
  3. ^ a b c Ailsby 1997, p. 33.
  4. ^ Cachay, Bahlke & Mehl 2000, p. 350.
  5. ^ Biondi 2000, p. 7.
  6. ^ Messenger 2005, p. 39.
  7. ^ Miller 2006, pp. 251–253.
  8. ^ Lilla 2005, pp. 198, 297.
  9. ^ Miller 2006, pp. 251–252.
  10. ^ Cook & Bender 1994, pp. 19, 33.
  11. ^ Cook & Bender 1994, pp. 22, 23.
  12. ^ Cook & Bender 1994, p. 23.
  13. ^ Cook & Bender 1994, p. 24.
  14. ^ a b Barnett, Correlli (1989). Hitler's Generals. Grove Press. ISBN 978-0-8021-3994-8.
  15. ^ Flaherty 2004, p. 154.
  16. ^ Flaherty 2004, pp. 143, 154.
  17. ^ Weale 2012, pp. 251–253.
  18. ^ a b Stein 1984, p. 238.
  19. ^ Dollinger 1967, p. 198.
  20. ^ Stein 1984, p. 239.
  21. ^ a b MacKenzie 1997, pp. 155–156.
  22. ^ Neitzel 2007, p. 266.
  23. ^ "United States vs Valentin Bersin, et al". 20 October 1947.
  24. ^ Weingartner, James J. (1968). "Sepp Dietrich, Heinrich Himmler, and the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, 1933-1938". Central European History. 1 (3): 264–284. doi:10.1017/S0008938900014862. ISSN 0008-9389. JSTOR 4545497. S2CID 145333869.
  25. ^ "Site Map - February 7, 1959". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 9 October 2022.
  26. ^ Caddick-Adams 2014, p. 753.
  27. ^ Large 1987.
  28. ^ Parker 2014, p. 216.
  29. ^ Hyde 1985, p. 372.


In English
In German
  • Cachay, Klaus; Bahlke, Steffen; Mehl, Helmut (2000). Echte Sportler – gute Soldaten. Die Sportsozialisation des Nationalsozialismus im Spiegel von Feldpostbriefen (in German). Weinheim, München Germany: Beltz Juventa. ISBN 978-3-7799-1130-2.
  • Höhne, Heinz. Der Orden unter dem Totenkopf, Verlag Der Spiegel, Hamburg 1966; English translation by Richard Barry entitled The Order of the Death's Head, The Story of Hitler's SS, London: Pan Books (1969). ISBN 0-330-02963-0.
  • Lilla, Joachim (2005). Der Prußische Staatsrat 1921–1933: Ein biographisches Handbuch. Düsseldorf: Droste Verlag. ISBN 978-3-770-05271-4.
  • Meyer, Georg (1987). "Auswirkungen des 20. Juli 1944 auf das innere Gefüge der Wehrmacht bis Kriegsend und auf das soldatische Selbstverständnis im Vorfeld des westdeutschen Verteidigungsbeitrages bis 1950/51" [Effects of 20 July 1944 on the internal structure of the Armed Forces to end the war and the soldier's self-understanding in advance of the West German defense contribution to 1950/51]. Aufstand des Gewissens. Der militärische Widerstand gegen Hitler und das NS-Regime 1933–45 [Revolt of conscience. The military resistance against Hitler and the Nazi regime from 1933 to 1945] (in German) (3rd ed.). Herford, Germany: E.S. Mittler. ISBN 978-3-8132-0197-0.
  • 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 (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.
  • Thomas, Franz; Wegmann, Günter (1998). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Deutschen Wehrmacht 1939–1945 Teil III: Infanterie Band 4: C–Dow [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the German Wehrmacht 1939–1945 Part III: Infantry Volume 4: C–Dow] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2534-8.

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Commander of Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler
17 March 1933 – 7 April 1943
Succeeded by
SS-Brigadeführer Theodor Wisch
Preceded by
Commander of I SS Panzer Corps
4 July 1943 – 9 August 1944
Succeeded by
SS-Brigadeführer Fritz Kraemer
Preceded by
General of Panzer Troops Heinrich Eberbach
Commander of 5. Panzerarmee
9 August 1944 – 9 September 1944
Succeeded by
General of Panzer Troops Hasso von Manteuffel
Preceded by
Commander of 6. SS-Panzerarmee
26 October 1944 – 8 May 1945
Succeeded by
dissolved on 8 May 1945