Wilhelm Bittrich

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Wilhelm Bittrich
Bundesarchiv Bild Wilhelm Bittrich.jpg
Born(1894-02-26)26 February 1894
Wernigerode, German Empire
Died19 April 1979(1979-04-19) (aged 85)
Wolfratshausen, West Germany
AllegianceFlag of the German Empire.svg  German Empire
Flag of Germany (3-2 aspect ratio).svg  Weimar Republic
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg  Nazi Germany
Service/branch
Years of service1914–45
Rank SS-Obergruppenführer
Service number NSDAP #829,700
SS #39,177
Commands held SS Cavalry Division Florian Geyer
Battles/wars
Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords

Wilhelm Bittrich (26 February 1894 – 19 April 1979) was a high-ranking Waffen-SS commander of Nazi Germany. Between August 1942 and February 1943, Bittrich commanded the SS Cavalry Division Florian Geyer, in rear security operations ( Bandenbekämpfung , literally: "bandit fighting") in the Soviet Union. From July 1944 until the end of the war Bittrich commanded the 2nd SS Panzer Corps in Normandy, during Market Garden and in Hungary.

<i>Waffen-SS</i> armed wing of the Nazi Partys Schutzstaffel

The Waffen-SS was the armed wing of the Nazi Party's SS organisation. Its formations included men from Nazi Germany, along with volunteers and conscripts from both occupied and un-occupied lands.

Nazi Germany The German state from 1933 to 1945, under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler

Nazi Germany is the common English name for Germany between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party (NSDAP) controlled the country through a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a totalitarian state that controlled nearly all aspects of life via the Gleichschaltung legal process. The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich until 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich from 1943 to 1945. Nazi Germany is also known as the Third Reich, meaning "Third Realm" or "Third Empire", the first two being the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806) and the German Empire (1871–1918). The Nazi regime ended after the Allies defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.

Bandenbekämpfung

Bandenbekämpfung is a German-language term that means "bandit fighting" or "combating of bandits". In the context of German military history, Bandenbekämpfung was an operational doctrine that was part of countering resistance or insurrection in the rear area during wars. Another more common understanding of Bandenbekämpfung is anti-partisan warfare. The doctrine of "bandit-fighting" provided a rationale to target and murder any number of groups, from armed guerrillas to the civilian population, as "bandits" or "members of gangs". As applied by the German Empire and then Nazi Germany, it became instrumental in the genocidal programs implemented by the two regimes, including the Holocaust.

Contents

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, 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.

French Resistance collection of French resistance movements that fought against the Nazi German occupation of France and against the collaborationist Vichy régime

The French Resistance was the collection of French movements that fought against the Nazi German occupation of France and the collaborationist Vichy régime during the Second World War. Resistance cells were small groups of armed men and women, who, in addition to their guerrilla warfare activities, were also publishers of underground newspapers, providers of first-hand intelligence information, and maintainers of escape networks that helped Allied soldiers and airmen trapped behind enemy lines. The men and women of the Resistance came from all economic levels and political leanings of French society, including émigrés, academics, students, aristocrats, conservative Roman Catholics, and also citizens from the ranks of liberals, anarchists and communists.

HIAG 20th-century pro-Waffen-SS lobbying group in West Germany

HIAG was a lobby group and a denialist veterans' organisation founded by former high-ranking Waffen-SS personnel in West Germany in 1951. Its main objective was to achieve legal, economic and historical rehabilitation of the Waffen-SS.

Advocacy groups use various forms of advocacy in order to influence public opinion and/or policy. They have played and continue to play an important part in the development of political and social systems.

World War I and inter-war career

Born in 1894 into a family of a traveling salesmen, Bittrich volunteered for military service after the outbreak of World War I. [1] He served on the Western and Italian Front and was awarded both classes of the Iron Cross. [1] In 1916, Bittrich transferred to the Luftstreitkräfte and trained as a pilot. [2] He served with several units, including the 37th Fighter Squadron. [3]

World War I 1914–1918 global war originating in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

Western Front (World War I) main theatre of war during the First World War

The Western Front was the main theatre of war during the First World War. Following the outbreak of war in August 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne. Following the Race to the Sea, both sides dug in along a meandering line of fortified trenches, stretching from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier with France, which changed little except during early 1917 and in 1918.

Italian Front (World War I) military campaign, part of World War I

The Italian Front or Alpine Front was a series of battles at the border between Austria-Hungary and Italy, fought between 1915 and 1918 in World War I. Following the secret promises made by the Allies in the Treaty of London, Italy entered the war in order to annex the Austrian Littoral and northern Dalmatia, and the territories of present-day Trentino and South Tyrol. Although Italy had hoped to gain the territories with a surprise offensive, the front soon bogged down into trench warfare, similar to the Western Front fought in France, but at high altitudes and with very cold winters. Fighting along the front displaced much of the civilian population, of which several thousand died from malnutrition and illness in Italian and Austrian refugee camps. The Allied victory at Vittorio Veneto, the disintegration of Austria-Hungary and the Italian capture of Trento, Bolzano and Trieste ended the military operations.

From March to July 1919, Bittrich was a member in the paramilitary Freikorps under the General Bernhard von Hülsen during the German Revolution of 1918–19. In 1923, Bittrich was accepted into the Reichswehr of the Weimar Republic. [2] In December 1931 or early 1932, Bittrich joined the Nazi Party (NSDAP) (Nr. 829,700). [4] From March until June 1932, he served in the Sturmabteilung (SA). On 1 July 1932, Bittrich joined the SS (Nr. 39,177) and served in various SS units in leadership positions, reaching the rank of Hauptsturmführer by June 1934. [5]

<i>Freikorps</i> German volunteer military or anti-communist paramilitary units

Freikorps were German military volunteer units that existed from the 18th to the early 20th centuries, which effectively fought as mercenary or private armies, regardless of their own nationality. In German-speaking countries, the first so-called Freikorps were formed in the 18th century from native volunteers, enemy renegades and deserters. These sometimes exotically equipped units served as infantry and cavalry, sometimes in just company strength, sometimes in formations up to several thousand strong; there were also various mixed formations or legions. The Prussian von Kleist Freikorps included infantry, jäger, dragoons and hussars. The French Volontaires de Saxe combined uhlans and dragoons.

Bernhard von Hülsen German general

Bernhard Franz Karl Adolf von Hülsen was a German general.

German Revolution of 1918–19 Revolution in 1918–1919 in Germany

The German Revolution or November Revolution was a civil conflict in the German Empire at the end of the First World War that resulted in the replacement of the German federal constitutional monarchy with a democratic parliamentary republic that later became known as the Weimar Republic. The revolutionary period lasted from November 1918 until the adoption in August 1919 of the Weimar Constitution.

From August 1934, Bittrich was a commander of the Politische Bereitschaft (Political Readiness Detachment) in Hamburg. [2] This unit later became part of the SS-Standarte "Germania" in the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT). [1] By January 1938, Bittrich was promoted to Obersturmbannführer . [6] He was given command of a battalion in the SS-Regiment "Deutschland". [3] With this unit he participated in the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in March 1938. [1] In May 1939, Bittrich was posted to the headquarters unit of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH) and was promoted to Standartenführer in June 1939. [3]

Hamburg City in Germany

Hamburg is the second-largest city in Germany with a population of over 1.8 million.

The SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT) was formed in 1934 as combat troops for the Nazi Party (NSDAP). On 17 August 1938 Adolf Hitler decreed that the SS-VT was neither a part of the police nor the German Wehrmacht, but military-trained men at the disposal of the Führer. At the time of war, the SS-VT were to be placed at the disposal of the army.

<i>Obersturmbannführer</i> Nazi party paramilitary rank

Obersturmbannführer was a paramilitary German Nazi Party (NSDAP) rank used by both the SA and the SS. It was created in May 1933 to fill the need for an additional rank above Sturmbannführer as the SA expanded. It became an SS rank at the same time. Translated as "senior assault unit leader", Obersturmbannführer was junior to Standartenführer and was the equivalent to Oberstleutnant in the German Army. The insignia for Obersturmbannführer was four silver pips and a stripe, centered on the left collar of an SS/SA uniform. The rank also displayed the shoulder boards of an Oberstleutnant and was the highest SS/SA rank to display unit insignia on the opposite collar.

World War II

Bittrich (far right) at the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp during tour with Heinrich Himmler (center), June 1941. Bundesarchiv Bild 192-014, KZ Mauthausen, Besuch Heinrich Himmler.jpg
Bittrich (far right) at the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp during tour with Heinrich Himmler (center), June 1941.

He took part in the invasion of Poland (1939), assigned as LSSAH Chief of Staff to Sepp Dietrich. [7] In January 1940 through October 1941, he was commander of the Regiment "Deutschland" and fought in the battle of France. [7] From the summer of 1942 through February 1943, Bittrich commanded SS Cavalry Division Florian Geyer, [8] that was tasked with rear-security operations (Bandenbekämpfung, literally "bandit-fighting") in the Soviet Union. On 9 July 1942 Bittrich attended a conference called to convey the principles of the Bandenbekämpfung 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 (to labor and death camps) of women and children, and confiscation of property for the state. [9]

Invasion of Poland invasion of Poland by Germany, the Soviet Union, and a small Slovak contingent

The Invasion of Poland, known in Poland as the September Campaign or the 1939 Defensive War, and in Germany as the Poland Campaign (Polenfeldzug), was an invasion of Poland by Germany that marked the beginning of World War II. The German invasion began on 1 September 1939, one week after the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union. The Soviets invaded Poland on 17 September following the Molotov–Tōgō agreement that terminated the Soviet and Japanese Battles of Khalkhin Gol in the east on 16 September. The campaign ended on 6 October with Germany and the Soviet Union dividing and annexing the whole of Poland under the terms of the German–Soviet Frontier Treaty.

Sepp Dietrich German SS commander

Josef Dietrich 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. He received rapid promotions in the SS after his participation in the extrajudicial executions of political opponents during the 1934 purge known as the Night of the Long Knives.

Heinrich Himmler High Nazi Germany official, head of the SS

Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was Reichsführer of the Schutzstaffel, and a leading member of the Nazi Party (NSDAP) of Germany. Himmler was one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany and among those most directly responsible for the Holocaust.

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. [10] 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. [11] 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. [12]

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, [13] but was acquitted by the French court in Bordeaux again and released in 1954. [11] 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

Following his release from prison, Bittrich became active in HIAG, a revisionist organization of former Waffen-SS members. In the 1970s, he served as the organization's chairman. [14] Bittrich died in Wolfratshausen, Bavaria on 19 April 1979. [6]

Summary of SS career

Decorations
Promotions
19 October 1941:SS- Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS [5]
1 May 1943:SS- Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS [5]
1 August 1944:SS- Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS [5]

Notes

  1. No evidence of the award can be found in the German Federal Archives. The award was unlawfully presented by SS- Oberstgruppenführer Sepp Dietrich. [15] 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. [12]

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References

Citations

  1. 1 2 3 4 Stockert 2012, p. 227.
  2. 1 2 3 Miller 2006, p. 128.
  3. 1 2 3 Thomas & Wegmann 1992, p. 85.
  4. Westemeier 2013, p. 137.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Thomas & Wegmann 1992, p. 87.
  6. 1 2 Miller 2006, p. 127.
  7. 1 2 Miller 2006, p. 129.
  8. Miller 2006, p. 130.
  9. Blood 2006, p. 75.
  10. Miller 2006, pp. 130, 131.
  11. 1 2 Miller 2006, p. 132.
  12. 1 2 Scherzer 2007, p. 121.
  13. New York Times, June 24, 1953:6:6
  14. Chairoff 1977, p. 460.
  15. 1 2 Miller 2006, p. 133.
  16. Thomas 1997, p. 47.
  17. 1 2 Scherzer 2007, p. 224.
  18. Patzwall & Scherzer 2001, p. 44.

Bibliography

  • 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.
  • 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 Militaer-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.
  • 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.

Further reading

Military offices
Preceded by
SS-Oberstgruppenführer Paul Hausser
Commander of 2. SS-Panzer Division Das Reich
15 October 1941 – 31 December 1941
Succeeded by
SS-Obergruppenführer Matthias Kleinheisterkamp
Preceded by
SS-Gruppenführer Hermann Fegelein
Commander of 8. SS-Kavallerie-Division Florian Geyer
August 1942 – 15 February 1943
Succeeded by
SS-Brigadeführer Fritz Freitag
Preceded by
none
Commander of 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen
15 February 1943 – 29 June 1944
Succeeded by
SS-Standartenführer Thomas Müller
Preceded by
SS-Oberstgruppenführer Paul Hausser
Commander of II. SS-Panzer Corps
29 June 1944 – 8 May 1945
Succeeded by
dissolved on 8 May 1945