26 February 1894|
Wernigerode, Province of Saxony, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire
|Died||19 April 1979
Wolfratshausen, Bavaria, West Germany
|Allegiance|| German Empire
|Years of service||1914–45|
|Rank||SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS|
|Service number||NSDAP #829,700
Freikorps "von Hülsen"
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords|
Wilhelm Bittrich (26 February 1894 – 19 April 1979) was a general in the Waffen-SS of Nazi Germany during World War II. Between August 1942 and February 1943, Bittrich commanded 8th SS Cavalry Division Florian Geyer, in anti-partisan operations (Bandenbekämpfung, bandit fighting) in the Soviet Union.
After his arrest in May 1945, Bittrich was extradited to France on charges of having ordered the execution of 17 members of the French Resistance. He was tried and as the commander in charge of the troops who committed the crimes, convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. Following his release from prison, Bittrich became active in HIAG, a revisionist organization and a lobby group of former Waffen-SS members and served as chairman during the 1970s.
World War I
Born in 1894 into a family of a clerk and later travelling salesman, Bittrich volunteered for military service after the outbreak of World War I. On 30 July 1914, Bittrich joined the Magdeburgisches Jäger-Battaillon Nr. 4 (4th Magdeburg Rifle Battalion) in Naumburg. From 10 September 1914, he served with Reserve-Jäger-Bataillon 19, Jäger-Battaillon 8 and Infanterie-Regiment 77. With these units he fought on the Western and Italian Front and was awarded both classes of the Iron Cross. On 15 October 1915, Bittrich was promoted to Leutnant (second lieutenant). In 1916, Bittrich transferred to the Luftstreitkräfte and was trained as a pilot. He served with Feldflieger-Abteilung 27, Flieger-Abteilung A 266 and Jagdstaffel 37 (Jasta 37—37th Fighter Squadron).
Between the wars
From 15 March to July 1919, Bittrich served in the Freikorps under the General Bernhard von Hülsen during the German Revolution of 1918–19. From March to June 1920, Bittrich served in the Schutz-Regiment "Groß-Berlin" (Protection Regiment of Greater Berlin). On 1 January 1923, Bittrich was accepted into the Reichswehr of the Weimar Republic as a Leutnant. There he served as a flight instructor at the Sportfliegerschule in Oberschleissheim. For five years, he then worked as an instructor at the Lipetsk fighter-pilot school in the Soviet Union, officially he was assigned to the Reichswehr-Bataillon "Berlin". From 1930 to 1932, Bittrich worked as a civil employee for the Reichswehr. Also during that time, Bittrich was a flight instructor at the Deutsche Verkehrsfliegerschule (DVS—German Air Transport School) at Schleißheim.
On 1 December 1931, Bittrich joined the Nazi Party (NSDAP) (Nr. 829,700).[Note 1] From March until June 1932, he served in the Sturmabteilung (SA). On 1 July 1932, Bittrich joined the Schutzstaffel (SS) (Nr. 39,177) and became an SS-Anwärter (candidate) with the SS-Fliegerstaffel Ost (Flying Squadron East). From 31 October 1932 to August 1933, Bittrich served as leader of SS-Fliegerstaffel Ost, then became leader of the SS-Fliegerstürme (assault flyers) and Fliegerreferent (head of flyers) with the SS-Oberabschnitt Ost "Berlin" (SS-Senior District). From 1 November 1933 to 31 January 1934, Bittrich transferred and became an instructor with the SS-Abschnitt XIII (71st SS-District). On 9 February 1934, Bittrich was appointed leader of the 71. SS-Standarte. In this function, Bittrich advanced in rank to SS-Obersturmführer on 12 April 1934 and to SS-Hauptsturmführer on 17 June 1934.
Bittrich was posted to the Politische Bereitschaft (Political Readiness Detachment) in Hamburg on 7 August 1934. On 17 August 1934, effective as of 25 August 1934, Bittrich took the leadership of the Politische Bereitschaft in Hamburg. This unit later became the I. Sturmbann of the SS-Standarte "Germania" within the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT). On 21 March 1935, Bittrich became a leader within the I. "Germania"/SS-Standarte taking charge of the 2./SS-Standarte "Germania". Bittrich was then made leader of the 2. Kompanie/SS "Deutschland" on 17 May 1935. Following two postings to the Truppenübungsplatz Königsbrück (22 September – 23 October 1935) and Truppenübungsplatz Grafenwöhr (22–29 January 1936), Bittrich was appointed leader of the II. Bataillon/SS-Standarte ""Deutschland"" on 1 October 1936.
On 1 October 1936, Bittrich was promoted to SS-Sturmbannführer. Bittrich was next promoted to the rank of SS-Obersturmbannführer on 30 January 1938. He was given command of the II. Bataillon/SS-Regiment "Deutschland", this unit later became I./SS-Standarte 3. With this unit he participated in the Anschluss, annexing of Austria into Nazi Germany in March 1938. In Vienna, Bittrich was commander of the SS-Standarte 3 as of 28 April 1938. On 1 May 1938, Bittrich became commander of I. Bataillon/SS-Regiment 3 of the SS-VT. This unit later was renamed to I. Bataillon/SS-Regiment "Der Führer". From 17 to 27 January 1939, Bittrich attended a training course for battalion commanders at Döberitz. Immediately following this assignment, Bittrich participated in an equestrian tournament (27 January – 5 February 1939) held in Berlin. On 30 May 1939, Bittrich was posted to the Stab (headquarters unit) of the "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler" (LSSAH) and was promoted to SS-Standartenführer on 1 June 1939. On 28 August 1939, Bittrich's official role within the LSSAH was Oberst beim Stabe (colonel with the staff).
World War II
He took part in the fighting in Poland (1939), assigned as LSSAH Chief of Staff to Sepp Dietrich. In January 1940 through October 1941, he was commander of the Deutschland Regiment and fought in the battle of France. From the summer of 1942 through February 1943, Bittrich commanded 8th SS Cavalry Division Florian Geyer, that was tasked with anti-partisan operations (Bandenbekämfung) in the Soviet Union. On 9 July 1942 Bittrich attended a conference called to convey the principles of the Bandenbekämfung to senior police and security leaders. Organized by Heinrich Himmler, the conference included Kurt Daluege, Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, Odilo Globocnik, Bruno Streckenbach and others. The policies included collective punishment against villages suspected of supporting partisans, automatic death penalty for immediate families of suspected partisans, deportation of women and children, and confiscation of property for the state.
He assumed temporary command of the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich from 14 October 1941 through 12 December 1941, after Paul Hausser had been wounded. He then was given command over the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen effective February 1943 until 1 July 1944. On 1 July 1944, he was appointed commander of the 2nd SS Panzer Corps. The 2nd Panzer Corps fought in Normandy, at Arnhem and later in Hungary.
Bittrich was listed as a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords by the Association of Knight's Cross Holders, although no record of the award could be found in the German archives due to the irregular nature of its presentation.
Conviction for war crimes
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 troops who committed the execution, he was held responsible for their misconduct 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, but was acquitted by the French court in Bordeaux again and released in 1954. He was never brought to trial for any actions and war crimes of the 8th SS Cavalry Division Florian Geyer in the Soviet Union.
Activities within HIAG
Summary of SS career
- Iron Cross of 1914, Second and First Class
- Honour Cross of the World War 1914/1918 (1934)
- Clasp to the Iron Cross (1939)
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
- Knight's Cross on 14 December 1941 as SS-Oberführer and commander of SS-Infanterie-Regiment "Deutschland" of the SS-Division "Reich" (in 1942 "Das Reich")
- 563rd Oak Leaves on 28 August 1944 as SS-Obergruppenführer and General of the Waffen-SS, and commanding general of the II. SS-Panzerkorps
- (153rd) Swords on 6 May 1945 as SS-Obergruppenführer and General of the Waffen-SS, and commanding general of the II. SS-Panzerkorps[Note 2]
- German Cross in Gold on 6 March 1943 as SS-Brigadeführer and Generalmajor of the Reserves in the 8. SS-Kavallerie-Division "Florian Geyer"
- Mentioning by name in the Wehrmachtbericht on 27 September 1944
|15 October 1915:||Leutnant (second lieutenant)|
|1 July 1932:||SS-Anwärter|
|15 July 1932:||SS-Mann|
|10 September 1932:||SS-Oberscharführer|
|31 October 1932:||SS-Sturmführer|
|12 April 1934:||SS-Obersturmführer|
|17 June 1934:||SS-Hauptsturmführer|
|1 October 1936:||SS-Sturmbannführer|
|30 January 1938:||SS-Obersturmbannführer|
|1 June 1939:||SS-Standartenführer|
|1 September 1940:||SS-Oberführer|
|19 October 1941:||SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS|
|1 May 1943:||SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS|
|1 August 1944:||SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS|
- According to Stockert, Bittrich joined the NSDAP in 1932. According to Westemeier, he joined in 1931.
- No evidence of the award can be found in the German Federal Archives. The award was unlawfully presented by SS-Oberstgruppenführer Sepp Dietrich. The date is taken from the announcement made by the 6. SS-Panzerarmee. The sequential number "153" was assigned by the Association of Knight's Cross Recipients (AKCR). Bittrich was member of the AKCR.
- Stockert 2012, p. 227.
- Thomas & Wegmann 1992, p. 85.
- Thomas & Wegmann 1992, p. 87.
- Miller 2006, p. 128.
- Westemeier 2013, p. 137.
- Miller 2006, p. 127.
- Miller 2006, p. 129.
- Miller 2006, p. 130.
- Blood 2006, p. 75.
- Miller 2006, pp. 130, 131.
- Miller 2006, p. 132.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 121.
- New York Times, June 24, 1953:6:6
- Chairoff 1977, p. 460.
- Miller 2006, p. 133.
- Thomas 1997, p. 47.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 224.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 87.
- Von Seemen 1976, p. 48.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 48.
- Von Seemen 1976, p. 20.
- Patzwall & Scherzer 2001, p. 44.
- Blood, Phillip W. (2006). Hitler's Bandit Hunters: The SS and the Nazi Occupation of Europe. Potomac Books. ISBN 978-1-59797-021-1.
- Chairoff, Patrice (1977). Dossier Néo-nazisme (in French). Ramsay. ISBN 978-2-85956-030-0.
- 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.
- Miller, Michael (2006). Leaders of the SS and German Police, Vol. 1. San Jose, CA: R. James Bender. ISBN 978-93-297-0037-2.
- 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 Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.
- Stockert, Peter (2012). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 6 [The Oak Leaves Bearers 1939–1945 Volume 6] (in German) (3rd ed.). Bad Friedrichshall, Germany: Friedrichshaller Rundblick. OCLC 76072662.
- Thomas, Franz; Wegmann, Günter (1992). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Deutschen Wehrmacht 1939–1945 Teil III: Infanterie Band 2: Bi–Bo [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the German Wehrmacht 1939–1945 Part III: Infantry Volume 2: Bi–Bo] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-1734-3.
- 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.
- Von Seemen, Gerhard (1976). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 : die Ritterkreuzträger sämtlicher Wehrmachtteile, Brillanten-, Schwerter- und Eichenlaubträger in der Reihenfolge der Verleihung : Anhang mit Verleihungsbestimmungen und weiteren Angaben [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 : The Knight's Cross Bearers of All the Armed Services, Diamonds, Swords and Oak Leaves Bearers in the Order of Presentation: Appendix with Further Information and Presentation Requirements] (in German). Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7909-0051-4.
- Westemeier, Jens (2013). Himmlers Krieger: Joachim Peiper und die Waffen-SS in Krieg und Nachkriegszeit [Himmler's Warriors: Joachim Peiper and the Waffen-SS during the War and Post-War Period]. Paderborn, Germany: Ferdinand Schöningh. ISBN 978-3-506-77241-1.
- 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.
- 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.
- Mühleisen, Horst (2000). Wilhelm Bittrich. Paderborn: Ronald Smelser / Enrico Syring (Hrsg.): Die SS, Elite unter dem Totenkopf. ISBN 3-506-78562-1
- Ryan, Cornelius (1974): A Bridge too Far. Coronet Books/Hodder and Stoughton. ISBN 0-340-19941-5.
- Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt der Bundeswehr (Hrsg.): Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg. 10 Bände. Stuttgart 1991-2005.
SS-Oberstgruppenführer Paul Hausser
|Commander of 2. SS-Panzer Division Das Reich
15 October 1941 – 31 December 1941
SS-Obergruppenführer Matthias Kleinheisterkamp
SS-Gruppenführer Hermann Fegelein
|Commander of 8. SS-Kavallerie-Division Florian Geyer
August 1942 – 15 February 1943
SS-Brigadeführer Fritz Freitag
|Commander of 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen
15 February 1943 – 29 June 1944
SS-Standartenführer Thomas Müller
SS-Oberstgruppenführer Paul Hausser
|Commander of II. SS-Panzer Corps
29 June 1944 – 8 May 1945
dissolved on 8 May 1945