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Wilhelm Bittrich (February 26, 1894 – April 19, 1979) was an SS-Obergruppenführer (rank equivalent to Lt General) and Waffen-SS General during World War II.

Overview

Born in the town of Wernigerodemarker in the Harz mountainsmarker of Germany, Bittrich served as an army officer and as a fighter pilot during World War I and was also a member of the Freikorps . He joined the SS-Verfügungstruppe in 1934, where he served until 1939, whereupon he joined the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler. He was in command of the Deutschland Regiment during the fighting in Poland (1939) and France (1940).

He later commanded the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich and the II. SS-Panzerkorps (Hohenstaufen & Frundsberg Divisions). He is perhaps now best remembered for his contribution to the defeat of the failed allied airborne offensive Operation Market Garden which took place in the Netherlandsmarker in September 1944. Bittrich also commanded a corps in the German defense against the Vienna Offensive from April 2 to April 13, 1945. Bittrich survived the War and died in a local hospital in Wolfratshausenmarker, Bavariamarker on April 19, 1979.

Postwar Prosecution

Although Bittrich claimed to have conducted himself with honor throughout his career, after his capture on May 8, 1945, by American troops, he was extradited to France on charges of having given the order to summarily execute 17 members of the Resistance in Nimesmarker. However, Bittrich is said to have not been aware of the massacre beforehand and to have acted against the Feldgendarmerie officer who authorized the killings.A French military tribunal at Marseilles found him guilty as the responsible officer of his unit and sentenced him to five years imprisonment on June 23, 1953. He was put on trial for a second time later in 1953, for war crimes, but was acquitted by the French court in Bordeaux and released in 1954.

Opposition of the Nazi Party

Following operation Market-Garden in 1944, Albert Speer visited the front and had an opportunity to observe General Bittrich. Speer later wrote:
Other visits (to the front) showed me that efforts were being made on the Western Front to arrive at understandings with the enemy on special problems.
At Arnhem, I found General Bittrich of the Waffen-SS in a state of fury.
The day before, his Second Tank Corps had virtually wiped out a British airborne division.
During the fighting the general had made an arrangement permitting the enemy to run a field hospital situated behind the German lines.
But party functionaries had taken it upon themselves to kill British and American pilots, and Bittrich was cast in the role of a liar.
His violent denunciation of the party was all the more striking since it came from an SS general.
Gruppenführer Bittrich in 1944
to Höhne, Bittrich pledged his support to at least one plot to topple the Nazi regime when he promised Field Marshal Erwin Rommel on July 15 that he and his subordinate officers were at his command if requested so, but like many he warned that Hitler would have to be disposed of first. This condition was never met.Bittrich is also recorded to have been known as the most sarcastic man in Germany. He is reported (unverifiable) to have been marked for death by Heinrich Himmler in 1945 as a result of extremely unflattering comments he made about this superior. Though it is known that his superiors several times tried to replace him by force; During Operation Market Garden in 1944, Himmler had sent "Reichsarzt-SS" Karl Gebhardt to divest him of his command and bring him back to Berlin.

After his unit had been tasked with the defense of Vienna in spring 1945, Bittrich immediately pulled his troops out of the city to avert unnecessary destruction in it despite the order to hold Vienna "to the last breath".

Bittrich was a source for Cornelius Ryan in researching A Bridge Too Far. During the interview he is reported to have been most concerned with correcting inaccurate reports that he was a skilled concert pianist. He claimed these reports stemmed from confusion with his brother.

In media



Summary of his SS career

Dates of rank



Notable decorations



Notes

NSDAP #: 829 700 - He joined the NSDAP on December 1, 1932

SSmarker #: 39 177 - He joined the SS on July 1, 1932

Footnotes



Citations

  1. Axis History Forum • View topic - SS-General Willhelm Bittrich - Awards
  2. New York Times, may 24 1953:6:6
  3. Speer 1970, p. 399.
  4. Scherzer 2007, p. 121.


References

  • Berger, Florian (1999). Mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern. Die höchstdekorierten Soldaten des Zweiten Weltkrieges (in German). Selbstverlag Florian Berger. ISBN 3-9501307-0-5.
  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939-1945 (in German). Friedburg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas, 2000. ISBN 3-7909-0284-5.
  • 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
  • Patzwall, Klaus D. and Scherzer, Veit (2001). Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941 - 1945 Geschichte und Inhaber Band II (in German). Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall. ISBN 3-931533-45-X.
  • Ryan, Cornelius (1974): A Bridge too Far. Coronet Books/Hodder and Stoughton. ISBN 0-340-19941-5.
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007). 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 (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.
  • Speer, Albert (1970): Inside the Third Reich. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston. Macmillan. Library of Congress #70-119132



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