Mohnke as a SS-Standartenführer in 1944
|Born||15 March 1911
Lübeck, Free City of Lübeck, German Empire
|Died||6 August 2001
Damp, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany
|Years of service||1931–45|
|Rank||SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS|
|Commands held|| 26th SS Panzergrenadier Regiment
1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler
|Battles/wars||World War II|
|Awards||Brunswick Rally Badge
Iron Cross 1st Class
Iron Cross 2nd Class
Wound Badge (Black)
Infantry Assault Badge
War Merit Cross with Swords
Wound Badge (Silver)
German Cross (Gold)
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke (15 March 1911 – 6 August 2001) was one of the original 120 members of the SS-Staff Guard (Stabswache) "Berlin" formed in March 1933. From those ranks, Mohnke rose to become one of Adolf Hitler's last remaining generals. He joined the Nazi Party in September 1931.
Mohnke saw action with the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler in France, Poland and the Balkans. After several failed attempts to introduce a Panzer arm to the Leibstandarte, he was transferred to the replacement battalion until he was given command of a regiment in the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend. It was with this regiment that he fought in the Battle for Caen. For his superior conduct in battle, he received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 11 July 1944. After participating in most of the French campaign, he was given command of his original division, the Leibstandarte, during the Battle of the Bulge, which commenced on 16 December 1944. He served until the very last day of the war in Europe; during the Battle of Berlin, he commanded the Kampfgruppe Mohnke and was charged with defending the Berlin government district, including the Reich Chancellery and Reichstag (nicknamed Die Zitadelle or "The Citadel"). He was investigated after the war for war crimes, including allegations that he was responsible for the murder of prisoners in France in 1940, Normandy in June 1944 and Belgium in December 1944.
Mohnke was born in Lübeck on 15 March 1911. His father, who shared his name with his son, was a cabinetmaker. After his father's death, he went to work for a glass and porcelain manufacturer, eventually reaching a management position. Mohnke joined the Nazi Party with number 649,684 on 1 September 1931. Shortly thereafter, he joined the SS with number 15,541. Mohnke began with the rank of SS-Mann (Private). After Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in January 1933, SS Headquarters in Berlin requested that all SS regiments submit three names of their best soldiers for transfer to a personal guard unit for Hitler. Mohnke was selected for the unit in March 1933. He was assigned to SS-Stabswache Berlin, which established its first guard at the original Reich Chancellery on 8 May 1933. In September, the unit became known as the SS-Sonderkommando Berlin.
World War II service
Mohnke took part in the Polish Campaign in September, 1939. He was wounded on 7 September 1939 and recovered in the hospital in Prague. For this, Mohnke received the Wound Badge in Black. He was one of the first to receive the Iron Cross, Second Class on 29 September 1939. He won the Iron Cross, First Class on 8 November 1939.
Mohnke led the 5th company of the 2nd Battalion of the Infanterie-Regiment Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (mot.), at the outset of the Battle of France in 1940. He took command of the 2nd Battalion on 28 May after the battalion commander was wounded. It was around this time that Mohnke was allegedly involved in the murder of 80 British prisoners of war (POWs) of the 48th Division near Wormhoudt. Mohnke was never brought to trial over these allegations, and when the case was reopened in 1988, a German prosecutor came to the conclusion there was insufficient evidence to bring charges. The case briefly resurfaced once again in late 1993 when it became evident that the British government had not revealed some pertinent files from its archives during the earlier investigation. However, nothing substantial came from this either.
He commanded the 2nd Battalion during the Balkans campaign, where he suffered a severe leg wound in a Yugoslavian air attack on 6 April 1941, the first day of the campaign. It was the decision of the medics that his leg would need to be amputated, but Mohnke overrode them. His wound was so grievous that they were still forced to remove part of his foot. On 26 December 1941, during the eight months he spent recuperating (due to the severity of his injury), Mohnke was awarded the German Cross in Gold.
It was Mohnke who planted the seed for the formation of the Leibstandarte Panzer Battalion early in 1942, after returning to active service. He appointed Ralf Tiemann as his adjutant, whose first official task was finding recruits. Tiemann proceeded to compile a list, eventually with enough names to fill two companies. While the newly married Sepp Dietrich presented his new wife to his officers on 14 January, Mohnke presented the divisional commander (Dietrich) with his personnel list, which had in the meantime turned into transfer orders. Dietrich, who was caught unawares, finally gave in to Mohnke's pressure and signed the paper. So was born the Panzerwaffe der Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler. It was not to be though, and Mohnke was relieved of his command and transferred to the replacement battalion on 16 March 1942.
With the Hitlerjugend
On 1 September 1943, 16,000 new recruits of the Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) born in 1926 took part in the formation of the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend, while the senior NCOs and officers were generally veterans of the Eastern Front. SS-Obersturmbannführer Mohnke was given command of the 26th SS Panzergrenadier Regiment, which was the second regiment formed in the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend.
Mohnke was implicated in the killing of 35 Canadian prisoners at Fontenay-le-Pesnel, though he never faced a trial, owing to lack of conclusive proof of his involvement. Mohnke told historian Fischer that, at times, he had to take strong painkillers, such as morphine, due to the severe pain in his shortened right leg (from his combat injuries in April 1941) but whether these things affected his decision making process is not known. What is known is that his physical health affected his deployment. Mohnke was commander of the Leibstandarte's replacement battalion from March 1942 till May 1943. Then being "free enough from pain", SS-Obersturmbannführer Kurt Meyer "cajoled" him into taking a command with the 12th SS Panzer Division. This led to commanding the 26th SS Pz-Gren Rgt on 15 September 1943.
The structure of the 26th SS Panzergrenadier Regiment was somewhat unconventional. Although as a whole the regiment was labeled as Panzergrenadiers, the III Battalion was the only battalion in the regiment that was actually armored. It did, however, have an additional company, designated the 15th Reconnaissance Company, which was outfitted with armored cars. This company helped make the 26th SS Panzergrenadier Regiment a unique fighting force.
While the 12th SS Panzer Division was fighting to keep the Falaise pocket open, in which the division suffered an estimated 40%-50% casualties, Mohnke withdrew his Kampfgruppe (Battle Group) east of the river Dives. As the situation in Normandy deteriorated for Germany and the front was pushed back to the Seine, Mohnke was one of the few to lead organized resistance on the western bank in order to protect the river crossings there. After hard fighting, Mohnke was awarded the Knight's Cross on 11 July 1944. He led this Kampfgruppe until 31 August, when he replaced the badly wounded Theodor Wisch as commander of the Leibstandarte (LSSAH). This promotion is the subject of speculation as to why Mohnke was given command of the LSSAH when then SS-Obersturmbannführer Joachim Peiper had more combat experience. Peiper, the youngest regimental commander in the Waffen-SS, was perhaps considered too junior to command a division.
Wacht am Rhein
Operation Wacht am Rhein, followed by Operation Nordwind were the final major offensives and last gambles Hitler made on the Western Front. Mohnke, now in command of his home division, led his formation as the spearhead of the entire operation in the Ardennes. Attached to the I SS Panzer Corps, the LSSAH was one of the most elite and highly trained units in the entire German military. The crisis in the Reich meant that the LSSAH had dangerously low amounts of fuel for the vehicles that they depended on to make the division a viable fighting force. On 16 December 1944 the operation began, with Mohnke designating his best colonel, SS-Obersturmbannführer Joachim Peiper, and his Kampfgruppe to lead the push to Antwerp.
By 0700 on 17 December 1944, Peiper's Kampfgruppe had seized the American fuel dump at Büllingen. At 1330 that same day, at a crossroads near Malmedy, men from Peiper's combat formation shot and killed at least 68 United States POWs. The Malmedy massacre, as it was to become known, is one of the most infamous killings of the war. Since Kampfgruppe Peiper, the perpetrators of the massacre, were under Mohnke's overall command, there were several accusations that he should be held personally responsible, yet he was never found guilty of the crime. By the evening of 17 December, the leading element of the LSSAH was engaged with the 99th US Division at Stavelot. Mohnke's division was behind their deadline by at least 36 hours by the end of the second day. Progress was further delayed by the retreating troops blowing up important bridges and fuel dumps that Mohnke and Peiper had counted on taking intact.
With each passing day, enemy resistance stiffened and the advance was eventually halted on all fronts. Desperate to keep the assault going, the German High Command ordered that a renewed attack begin on 1 January 1945. Yet this time, the Allies had regrouped their forces and were ready to repulse any attacks launched by the Germans. The operation formally ended on 27 January 1945, and three days later Mohnke was promoted to SS-Brigadeführer. A short while later the LSSAH and 'I SS Panzer Korps' were transferred to Hungary to bolster the crumbling situation there. Mohnke was injured in an air raid where he suffered, among other things, ear damage. He was removed from front-line service and put on the Führer reserve.
After recovering from his wounds, Mohnke was personally appointed by Hitler as the Kommandant (Battle Commander) for the defense of the centre government district (Zitadelle sector) which included the Reich Chancellery and Führerbunker. Mohnke's command post was under the Reich Chancellery in the bunkers therein. He formed Kampfgruppe Mohnke (Battle Group Mohnke) and it was divided into two weak regiments. It was made up of the LSSAH Flak Company, replacements from LSSAH Ausbildungs-und Ersatz Battalion from Spreenhagen under SS-Standartenführer Anhalt, 600 men from the Begleit-Bataillon Reichsführer-SS, the Führer-Begleit-Kompanie and the core group being the 800 men of the Leibstandarte (LSSAH) SS Guard Battalion (that was assigned to guard the Führer).
Although Hitler had appointed General Helmuth Weidling as defense commandant of Berlin, Mohnke remained free of Weidling's command to maintain his defense objectives of the Reich Chancellery and the Führerbunker. The combined total (for the city's defense) of Mohnke's SS Kampfgruppe, General Weidling's LVI Panzer Corps (and the other few units) totaled roughly 45,000 soldiers and 40,000 Volkssturm. They faced a superior number of Soviet soldiers. There were approximately 1.5 million Soviet troops allocated for the investment and assault on the Berlin Defence Area.
Since Mohnke's fighting force was located at the nerve center of the German Third Reich it fell under the heaviest artillery bombardment of the war, which began on Hitler's birthday of 20 April 1945. The shelling lasted to the end of hostilities on 8 May 1945. Under pressure from the most intense shelling, Mohnke and his SS troops put up stiff resistance against overwhelming odds. The Red Army race to take the Reichstag and Reich Chancellery condemned the troops to bitter and bloody street fighting. Completely encircled and cut off from any reinforcements, his Kampfgruppe fought off the Soviet advances.
While the Battle in Berlin was raging around them, Hitler ordered Mohnke to set up a military tribunal for Hermann Fegelein, adjutant to Heinrich Himmler, in order to try the man for desertion. The tribunal consisted of Generals Hans Krebs, Wilhelm Burgdorf, Johann Rattenhuber, and himself. Years later, Mohnke told author O'Donnell the following:
"I was to preside over it myself...I decided the accused man [Fegelein] deserved trial by high-ranking officers...We set up the court-martial in a room next to my command post...We military judges took our seats at the table with the standard German Army Manual of Courts-Martial before us. No sooner were we seated than defendant Fegelein began acting up in such an outrageous manner that the trial could not even commence.
Roaring drunk..., Fegelein first brazenly challenged the competence of the court. He kept blubbering that he was responsible to Himmler and Himmler alone, not Hitler...He refused to defend himself. The man was in wretched shape - bawling, whining, vomiting, shaking like an aspen leaf...I was now faced with an impossible situation. On the one hand, based on all available evidence, including his own earlier statements, this miserable excuse for an officer was guilty of flagrant desertion... Yet the German Army Manual states clearly that no German soldier can be tried unless he is clearly of sound mind and body, in a condition to hear the evidence against him. I looked up the passage again, to make sure, and consulted with my fellow judges...In my opinion and that of my fellow officers, Hermann Fegelein was in no condition to stand trial, or for that matter to even stand. I closed the proceedings...So I turned Fegelein over to [SS] General Rattenhuber and his security squad. I never saw the man again."
On 30 April, after receiving news of Hitler's suicide, orders were issued that those who could do so were to break out. The plan was to escape from Berlin to the Allies on the western side of the Elbe or to the German Army to the North. Prior to the breakout, Mohnke briefed all commanders (who could be reached) within the Zitadelle sector about the events as to Hitler's death and the planned break out. They split up into ten main groups. It was a "fateful moment" for SS-Brigadeführer Mohnke as he made his way out of the Reich Chancellery on the night of 1 May. He had been the first duty officer of the LSSAH at the building and now was leaving as the last battle commander there. Mohnke's group included: secretary Traudl Junge, secretary Gerda Christian, secretary Else Krüger, Hitler's dietician, Constanze Manziarly, Ernst-Günther Schenck, Walther Hewel and various others. Mohnke planned to break out towards the German Army which was positioned in Prinzenallee. The group headed along the subway but their route was blocked so they went aboveground and later joined hundreds of other Germans civilians and military personnel who had sought refuge at the Schultheiss-Patzenhofer Brewery on Prinzenallee. On 2 May 1945, General Weidling issued an order calling for the complete surrender of all German forces still in Berlin. Knowing they could not get through the Soviet rings, Mohnke decided to surrender to the Red Army. However, several of Mohnke's group (including some of the SS personnel) opted to commit suicide. Some groups kept up pockets of resistance throughout the city and did not surrender until 8 May 1945.
Following their surrender Mohnke and other senior German officers were treated to a banquet by the Chief of Staff of the 8th Guards Army. He was then handed over to the NKVD. On 9 May 1945, he was flown to Moscow for interrogation and kept in solitary confinement for six years, after being transferred to Lubjanka Prison. Thereafter, Mohnke was transferred again to the Generals' Prison in Woikowo. He remained in captivity until 10 October 1955. Following his release, he worked as a dealer in small trucks and trailers, living in Barsbüttel, West Germany.
War crimes accusations
Mohnke's battalion was involved in the infamous murder of Canadian prisoners of war in Normandy. Mohnke himself was investigated by Canadian authorities, but never charged. There was also a campaign by British Member of Parliament Jeff Rooker to prosecute him for his alleged involvement in war crimes during the early part of the war. Mohnke strongly denied the accusations, telling historian Thomas Fischer, "I issued no orders not to take English prisoners or to execute prisoners."
|28 June 1933||Commissioned|
|1 October 1933||SS-Hauptsturmführer|
|1 September 1940||SS-Sturmbannführer|
|21 June 1943||SS-Obersturmbannführer|
|21 June 1944||SS-Standartenführer|
|4 November 1944||SS-Oberführer|
|30 January 1945||SS-Brigadeführer|
|21 September 1939||Iron Cross Second Class|
|8 November 1939||Iron Cross First Class|
|10 February 1940||Wound Badge (Black)|
|3 October 1940||Infantry Assault Badge (General)|
|War Merit Cross with Swords|
|15 September 1941||Wound Badge (Silver)|
|26 December 1941||German Cross in Gold as SS-Sturmbannführer in the II./"Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler"|
|11 July 1944||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross as SS-Obersturmbannführer and commander of SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 26 "Hitlerjugend"[Note 2]|
Portrayal in the media
Wilhelm Mohnke has been portrayed by the following actors in film and television productions:
- Michael Culver in the 1981 United States television production The Bunker. Depicting Mohnke during the last days of Hitler in the Führerbunker; Berlin.
- Ralph Michael in the 1981 British T.V. mini-series Selling Hitler.
- André Hennicke in the 2004 German film Downfall (Der Untergang). Depicting Mohnke during the Battle of Berlin and the last days of Hitler in the Führerbunker.
The portrayal of Mohnke in "Downfall" was controversial. Professors of history at Royal Holloway, University of London opined in The Guardian that the portrayal of Mohnke as a humanitarian concerned for the welfare of civilians was at odds with the historical record.
- Battle of Berlin
- Glossary of German World War II military terms
- Glossary of Nazi Germany
- List of Nazi Party leaders and officials
- Wormhoudt massacre
- Fischer 2008, pp. 42–43.
- Fischer 2008, p. 1.
- Fischer 2008, p. 22.
- Fischer 2008, pp. 24–25.
- Lehrer 2006, p. 108.
- Ward, Stephan: Files released on Nazi accused over massacre: SS general linked to POW deaths. The Independent, Dec. 8, 1993. Archived
- Fischer 2008, p. 32.
- Fischer 2008, p. 32–43.
- Latimer, Jon (2001). "World War II: 12th SS Hitlerjugend Panzer Division Fought in Normandy". World War II (July). Retrieved 2009-02-16.
- Fischer 2008, p. 40.
- Fischer 2008, p. 33.
- Fischer 2008, pp. 33, 38.
- Lehrer 2006, p. 121.
- Lumsden 2002, p. 149.
- Beevor 2002, p. 287.
- O'Donnell 2001, pp. 182, 183.
- Fischer 2008, p. 49.
- Tiemann 1998, p. 343.
- O'Donnell 2001, pp. 271–276.
- Fischer 2008, pp. 49–50.
- Fischer 2008, p. 51.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 549.
- Margolian 1998, p. 185.
- Fischer 2008, p. 26.
- Patzwall & Scherzer 2001, p. 313.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 314.
- "Wilhelm Mohnke (Character)". IMDb.com. Retrieved 8 May 2008.
- "The Massaging of History", 7 Apr 2005, cited at canadiansoldiers.com page
- Beevor, Antony (2002). Berlin: The Downfall 1945. Viking-Penguin Books. ISBN 0-670-03041-4.
- Botting, Douglas & Sayer, Ian. Hitler's Last General: The Case Against Wilhelm Mohnke. Bantam Books, 1989. ISBN 0-593-01709-9
- 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.
- Fischer, Thomas (2008). Soldiers of the Leibstandarte. J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing, Inc. ISBN 978-0-921991-91-5.
- Lehrer, Steven (2006). The Reich Chancellery and Führerbunker Complex: An Illustrated History of the Seat of the Nazi Regime. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-2393-5.
- Lehrer, Steven (2002). Hitler Sites: A City-by-City Guidebook (Austria, Germany, France, United States). Jefferson, NC: McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-1045-0.
- Lumsden, Robin (2002). A Collector's Guide To: The Allgemeine – SS. Ian Allan Publishing, Inc. ISBN 0-7110-2905-9.
- Margolian, Howard (1998). Conduct Unbecoming: Conduct Unbecoming: The Story of the Murder of Canadian Prisoners of War in Normandy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-0802083609.
- O'Donnell, James P. (2001) . The Bunker. New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-80958-3.
- 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.
- Tiemann, Ralf (1998). The Leibstandarte–IV/2. Winnipeg: J.J. Fedorowicz. ISBN 0-921991-40-1.
- Yerger, Mark C. Waffen-SS Commanders: The Army, Corps and Divisional Leaders of a Legend, Krüger to Zimmerman. Vol. II, Atglen, PA. Schiffer Publishing, 1999.
SS-Brigadeführer Theodor Wisch
|Commander of 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler
20 August 1944 – 6 February 1945
SS-Brigadeführer Otto Kumm