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.
|Born||26 February 1894|
Wernigerode, German Empire
|Died||19 April 1979 85) (aged|
Wolfratshausen, West Germany
|Years of service||1914–45|
|Service number||NSDAP #829,700|
|Commands held||SS Cavalry Division Florian Geyer|
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords|
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.
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. He served on the Western and Italian Front and was awarded both classes of the Iron Cross. In 1916, Bittrich transferred to the Luftstreitkräfte and trained as a pilot. He served with several units, including the 37th Fighter Squadron.
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. In December 1931 or early 1932, Bittrich joined the Nazi Party (NSDAP) (Nr. 829,700). 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.
From August 1934, Bittrich was a commander of the Politische Bereitschaft (Political Readiness Detachment) in Hamburg. This unit later became part of the SS-Standarte "Germania" in the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT). By January 1938, Bittrich was promoted to Obersturmbannführer. He was given command of a battalion in the SS-Regiment "Deutschland". With this unit he participated in the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in March 1938. 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.
World War II
He took part in the invasion of Poland (1939), assigned as LSSAH Chief of Staff to Sepp Dietrich. In January 1940 through October 1941, he was commander of the Regiment "Deutschland" and fought in the battle of France. From the summer of 1942 through February 1943, Bittrich commanded SS Cavalry Division Florian Geyer, 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.
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 the commander of the 2nd SS Panzer Corps. The 2nd Panzer Corps fought in Normandy. Early September of 1944, the 2nd Panzer Corps was relocated to the Arnhem area in the Netherlands, in order to rest its units. On September 17, 1944, the Allies launched Operation Market Garden, British paratroopers of the 1st Airborne Division landed in Arnhem, some distance from its objectives and was quickly hampered by unexpected resistance from Bittrich's corps. 2nd Panzer Corps managed to encircle the 1st Airborne, inflicting heavy casualties. At the request of the British Divisional Medical Officer, Bittrich authorized a three-hour cease-fire on September 24, 1944, to evacuate more than 2,000 wounded British from the encirclement, and place them in the infirmary of his divisions. Bittrich later saw action at 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
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. Bittrich died in Wolfratshausen, Bavaria on 19 April 1979.
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) 2nd Class (25 September 1939) & 1st Class (7 June 1940)
- 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")
- Oak Leaves on 28 August 1944 as SS-Obergruppenführer and General of the Waffen-SS, and commanding general of the II. SS-Panzerkorps
- Swords on 6 May 1945 as SS-Obergruppenführer and General of the Waffen-SS, and commanding general of the II. SS-Panzerkorps
- German Cross in Gold on 6 March 1943 as SS-Brigadeführer and Generalmajor of the Reserves in the 8. SS-Kavallerie-Division "Florian Geyer"
|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|
- 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.
- Miller 2006, p. 128.
- Thomas & Wegmann 1992, p. 85.
- Westemeier 2013, p. 137.
- Thomas & Wegmann 1992, p. 87.
- Miller 2006, p. 127.
- Miller 2006, p. 129.
- Miller 2006, p. 130.
- Blood 2006, p. 75.
- Miller 2006, pp. 130, 131.
- Ryan 1966.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Ryan, Cornelius. A Bridge Too Far. New York City: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-8171676361.
- 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.
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