Hyacinth Graf Strachwitz von Groß-Zauche und Camminetz
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|Hyacinth Graf Strachwitz von Groß-Zauche und Camminetz|
as Oberst and commander of Panzer-Regiment "Großdeutschland", June 1943
|Nickname||Conté, Der Panzergraf|
30 July 1893|
Groß Stein, Province of Silesia, German Empire
|Died||25 April 1968
Trostberg, Upper Bavaria, Germany
|Buried at||Cemetery in Grabenstätt|
|Allegiance|| German Empire (to 1918)
Weimar Republic (to 1933)
|Years of service||1912–1945|
|Rank||Generalleutnant of the Reserves|
|Unit||Guards Cavalry Division
Freikorps "von Hülsen"
|Commands held||Panzer-Regiment Großdeutschland
1. Panzer Division
|Awards||Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillanten|
Hyacinth Graf Strachwitz von Groß-Zauche und Camminetz[Note 1] (30 July 1893 – 25 April 1968) was a German Army officer of aristocratic descent. Strachwitz saw action in World War I, but rose to fame for his command of armored forces in World War II. For these services he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillanten). The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with its higher grade, the Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or outstanding military leadership.
Strachwitz was born in 1893 on his family estate in Silesia. He was educated at various Prussian military academies and served with distinction as a cavalry officer in the opening weeks of World War I, winning both classes of the Iron Cross (Eisernes Kreuz) before being captured by the French in October 1914. As he had been wearing civilian clothes on a patrol the French initially sentenced him to death, but this was reduced to forced labor. After an odyssey through various French prisons and several escape attempts he returned to Germany after the war in 1918. Post-war, Strachwitz fought with the Freikorps in the Spartacist uprising of the German Revolution in Berlin, and in the Silesian Uprisings against the Poles and Polish Silesians of Upper Silesia who were trying to break away from Germany to join the Second Polish Republic. For these services he received the Silesian Eagle (Schlesischer Adler) medal second and first class. In the mid-1920s he took over the family estate Groß Stein from his father and became a member of the NSDAP in 1932 and Allgemeine SS a year later. As an officer of the military reserve force, he participated in various military exercises with Reiter-Regiment 7 (7th Cavalry Regiment) and Panzer-Regiment 2 (2nd Armored Regiment) during the 1930s.
At the outbreak of World War II, Strachwitz was appointed ordnance officer of the 1st Panzer Division. He participated in the Invasion of Poland and the Battle of France, where he led the I. Abteilung (1st Battalion) of the 2nd Panzer-Regiment. Following these actions, he was awarded both classes of the Clasp to the Iron Cross (Spange zum Eisernen Kreuz) and was transferred to the 16th Panzer Division. With this unit he fought in the Invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941 and Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, which started on 22 June 1941. He received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 25 August 1941. Little over a year later, as the commander of Panzer-Regiment 2, he became the 144th soldier to be awarded the Oak Leaves to his Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 13 November 1942 for the destruction of more than 270 Soviet tanks and artillery pieces within 48 hours in the tank battle of Kalach. He was severely wounded and evacuated before the Stalingrad pocket collapsed. In January 1943, after his convalescence, he was given command of Panzer-Regiment "Großdeutschland". Following this he received the Swords to his Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves on 28 March 1943, for his contribution in the counterattack at Kharkov. He then fought in the battle of Kursk and the German retreat to the Dnieper. In November 1943 he was relieved of his command, officially on the grounds of ill health but perhaps for differences with his divisional commander, Walter Hörnlein. He was recalled to active service in ealy 1944 and received the Diamonds to his Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves with Swords on 15 April 1944, while commanding a battle group on the Narva front.
He was wounded 12 times during the war, and was also injured in an automobile accident. He surrendered to US forces in 1945. On his release from US custody, his youngest son had been killed in action, his wife had been killed in a road accident, and his Silesian estate had been confiscated by the Soviet Union. He remained in West Germany, married again and briefly worked for the Syrian Armed Forces as a military consultant. From 1951 he lived on an estate in Bavaria, until his death from lung cancer on 25 April 1968. Strachwitz was buried with military honors in Grabenstätt, Bavaria.
Childhood, education and early career
Strachwitz was born on 30 July 1893 in Groß Stein, in the district of Groß Strehlitz in Silesia, a province in the then Kingdom of Prussia. Today it is Kamień Śląski, in Gogolin, Opole Voivodeship, Poland. Strachwitz was the second child of Hyacinth Graf Strachwitz (1864–1942) and his wife Aloysia (1872–1940),[Note 2] née Gräfin von Matuschka Freiin von Toppolczan und Spaetgen.[Note 3] He had an older sister, Aloysia (1892–1972), followed by his younger brother Johannes (1896–1917) nicknamed "Ceslaus", his sister Elisabeth (1897–1992), his brother Manfred (1899–1972), his brother Mariano (1902–1922), and his youngest sister Margarethe (1905–1989). His family were members of the old Silesian nobility (Uradel), and held large estates in Upper Silesia, including the family Schloss (Palace) at Groß Stein. Following family tradition, as the first-born son and heir to the title Graf Strachwitz he was christened Hyacinth, after the 12th century Saint Hyacinth, whose clothes remained in the family's possession until 1945.
Strachwitz attended the Volksschule (primary school) and the Gymnasium (advanced secondary school) in Oppeln—present-day Opole. He received further schooling and paramilitary training at the Königlich Preußischen Kadettenkorps (Royal Prussian cadet corps) in Wahlstatt—present-day Legnickie Pole—before he transferred to the Hauptkadettenanstalt (Main Military Academy) in Berlin-Lichterfelde. Among his closest friends at the cadet academy were his fellow Silesian Manfred von Richthofen, the World War I flying ace, and Hans von Aulock, brother of the World War II colonel Andreas von Aulock. In August 1912, the cadet Strachwitz was admitted to the élite Gardes du Corps cavalry regiment in Potsdam as a Fähnrich (Ensign). The Gardes had been established by Prussian King Frederick the Great in 1740, and were considered the most prestigious posting in the Imperial German Army. The patron was Emperor Wilhelm II, who nominally commanded them. He was sent to an officer training course at the Kriegsschule (War School) in Hanover in late 1912. Here he excelled in various sports competitions. Strachwitz was commissioned as Leutnant (Second Lieutenant) on 17 February 1914. At this early stage of his career in Potsdam, Strachwitz was already insisting on being addressed as "Herr Graf" rather than "Herr Leutnant", even from higher-ranking officers, a quirk that he maintained for his entire military career. He always felt more proud of his aristocratical descent than of his military rank. His close friends called him Conté (Count).
Upon his return from Hanover to the Prussian Main Military Academy, Strachwitz was appointed sports-officer for the Gardes du Corps, where he introduced the soldiers to daily gymnastics and weekly endurance running. The sports team of the Gardes du Corps was selected to participate in the 1916 Olympic Games, which further encouraged his ambition. He emphasized many sporting activities, particularly equestrian, fencing and track and field athletics, which became the focus of his interest. Strachwitz continued to excel as a sportsman, and with his friend Prince Friedrich Karl of Prussia, was among the best athletes to train for the Olympic Games.
The outbreak of World War I destroyed this opportunity, as Strachwitz, along with the rest of the German Army, was mobilized and sent west. Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg were assassinated on 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo, and Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on 28 July 1914. The Russian Empire ordered a partial mobilization one day later and the German Empire mobilized on 30 July 1914. Strachwitz received his mobilization order during vacation in Silesia. He immediately packed his bags and returned to his unit in Berlin. His regiment was subordinated to the Guards Cavalry Division and immediately scheduled for deployment in the west.
World War I
Shortly after the mobilization his Gardes du Corps arrived close to the Belgian border. Strachwitz and his entire platoon volunteered for a mounted long distance reconnaissance patrol, to operate far behind enemy lines. His orders were to gather intelligence information of enemy rail and communications connections and potentially disturb them, as well as report on the war preparations being made by the enemy. If the situation allowed, he was to destroy railway and telephone connections and to derail trains, causing as much havoc as possible. His patrol ran into many obstacles and they were constantly on the verge of being detected by either British or French forces. Their objective was the train track Paris–Limoges–Bordeaux. Strachwitz ordered a messenger with the collected information to break through to the German lines and make a report, which the messenger achieved. The patrol then blew up the signal box at the Fontainebleau railway station. The patrol then tried to make contact with presumed German troops at the Marne near Châlons, however the French forces were too strong and they were unable to break through. After six weeks behind enemy lines their rations were depleted and they had to live by either stealing or begging. Strachwitz then intended to head for Switzerland, hoping that the French-Swiss border was not as heavily protected. Living under the open skies for so many weeks also deteriorated their uniforms. After a brief skirmish with French forces, one of Strachwitz's men was severely wounded. This forced them to seek medical attention. Strachwitz took the opportunity to buy new clothes for his men. Now, slowed down by a wounded comrade and wearing civilian clothes, they were caught by French forces.
Strachwitz and his men were questioned by a French captain and accused of being spies and saboteurs. They were taken to the prison at Châlons the next day where they were separated. Strachwitz, as an officer, was put in solitary confinement. One early morning they were all lined up for the firing squad. A French captain arrived just in time to stop the execution. Strachwitz and his men were then tried before a French military court on 14 October 1914. The court sentenced them all to five years of forced labor on the prison island Cayenne. At the same time they were deprived of rank, thus losing the status of prisoners of war. He was then taken to the prisons at Lyon and Montpellier, and then to the Île de Ré. From here the prison ship would leave en route to the penal colony of Cayenne. It is unclear what circumstances prevented his departure to Cayenne, but he was taken to the prison at Riom and Avignon instead. At Avignon prison he was physically and mentally tortured by both the guards and other prison inmates. The torture included being chained naked to a wall, deprival of food and severe beatings. After one year at Avignon he was put in a German uniform and taken to Fort Barraux.
At Barraux he learned that the war in the west had turned into a war of attrition and that only on the Eastern Front German troops still reported successes. His physical condition improved rapidly and Strachwitz started making escape plans. Together with other German soldiers he started digging an escape tunnel, which was detected, and Strachwitz was again put in solitary confinement. Because he was now classified as "determined to escape" he was put in the cargo hold of a ship which commuted from Marseilles or Toulon to Thessaloniki, Greece. Putting German prisoners of war on a ship was a deterrence against German U-boat attacks. Deprived of food and reduced to a skeleton, he returned to Barraux after four trips. During further solitary confinement he recovered again and made further escape plans. Together with a fellow soldier, he climbed over the prison walls, with the plan to head for neutral Switzerland. However, Strachwitz injured his foot when he fell into barbed wire, and the injury caused blood poisoning. In the search for help, they were picked up by the French police and turned over to a military court. He was then sent to the prisoner of war prison for officers at Carcassonne. His request for medical attention was ignored. The injury was severe and he fell into a state of delirium. A medical inspection by the Swiss medical commission from the International Red Cross ordered him transferred to a hospital in Switzerland. After days of unconsciousness he woke up in a hospital bed in Geneva, Switzerland.
Strachwitz recovered quickly in Geneva. During his convalescence he was visited by the Queen of Greece and sister of the German Emperor, Sophia of Prussia, the Duke of Mecklenburg Frederick Francis IV and the Duke of Hesse Ernest Louis. The Archbishop of Munich Michael von Faulhaber, who was on his way to the Vatican, also stopped by to pay his respects. The doctors told Strachwitz that the French government had requested his extradition back to France once he had fully recovered, to serve his full term of five years of forced labor. Strachwitz then moved into a villa in Luzern where he was visited by his mother and sister. His fear of returning to France was immense and together they came up with the plan to "sit out the war" in a mental asylum in Switzerland in order to avoid his extradition back to France. The plan worked, though Strachwitz was on the verge of going genuinely mad in the process. The war ended and Strachwitz was released to Germany. For his services during the war while imprisoned by the French he was awarded the Iron Cross (Eisernes Kreuz) second and first class.
In the Weimar Republic
After the Armistice with Germany in November 1918, Strachwitz was repatriated and returned to a Germany in civil turmoil. He returned to Berlin via Konstanz, at the Swiss-German border, and Munich. On his journey he saw many former German soldiers whose military discipline had broken down. Unable to tolerate this situation and fearing a Communist revolution, he travelled on to Berlin, arriving at the Berlin Anhalter Bahnhof where he was met by a friend. Strachwitz had called ahead asking his friend to bring him his Gardes du Corps uniform, which he put on immediately. Berlin was in a state of revolution. The newly established provisional government under the leadership of Chancellor Friedrich Ebert was threatened by the Spartacist uprising of the German Revolution, whose ambition was a Soviet-style proletarian dictatorship. Ebert ordered the former soldiers, organized in Freikorps (paramilitary organizations) among them Strachwitz, to attack the workers and put down the uprising.
In early 1919, following these events in Berlin, Strachwitz returned to his home estate. Here he found his family palace taken by French officers. Upper Silesia was occupied by British, French, and Italian forces, and an Interallied Committee headed by a French general, Henri Le Rond. The Versailles Treaty at the end of World War I had placed formerly German territory in neighboring countries, some of which had not existed at the beginning of the war. In the case of the new Second Polish Republic, the Treaty of Versailles detached some 54,000 square kilometers (21,000 sq mi) of territory which had formerly been part of the German Empire in order to revive the state of Poland which had disappeared as a result of the Third Partition of Poland in 1795. His father urged him to prepare and educate himself inorder to take over the family estate and business. He was put under the guidance of his father's most senior Oberinspektor (Chief Inspector). In parallel, Strachwitz fearing that Silesia was "handed over to the Poles", as he viewed the actions of the Interallied Committee, joined the Oberschlesische Selbstschutz (Upper Silesian Self Protection). Starchwitz collected weapons and recruited volunteers, which was prohibited. He was caught four times and put in prison in Oppeln by the French. Also his father had to go to prison. His distrust, rooted in his experience as a prisoner of war during World War I, for the French was immense. He believed that only the Italians played an honest and neutral role in the situation. On 25 July 1919, he married Alexandrine Freiin Saurma-Jeltsch and their first child, a son, was born on 4 May 1920.
During the Silesian Uprisings when in 1921 Poland tried to separate Upper Silesia from the Weimar Republic, Strachwitz was among those that served under the command of the Generals Bernhard von Hülsen and Karl Höfer in self-defence. The conflicted pinnacled when the Poles dug in on the Annaberg, a hill near the village of Annaberg—present-day Góra Świętej Anny. The German Freikorps launched the assault in what would become the Battle of Annaberg, which was fought between 21 May and 26 May 1921. Strachwitz and his two battalions outflanked the Polish positions and overran part of them in hand-to-hand combat around midnight on 21 May. Strachwitz was the first German to reach the summit. They captured six artillery guns, numerous machine guns and rifles, and ammunitions. On 4 June the Freikorps attacked Polish positions at Kandrzin—present-day Kędzierzyn—and Slawentzitz—present-day Sławięcice. In this battle Strachwitz and his men captured a Polish artillery battery which they turned against the Poles. For these services he received the Silesian Eagle (Schlesischer Adler) medal second and first class with Oak Leaves and Swords. His younger brother Manfred had also fought for Silesia and was severly wounded leading his men at Krizova. Two months later his wife gave birth to their second child, a daughter named Alexandrine Aloysia born on 30 July 1921. The Reichswehrministerium (Ministry of the Reichswehr) informed him in 1921 that he had been promoted to Oberleutnant (First Lieutenant). The promotion was backdated and made effective as of 1916. The Strachwitz family grew further when on 22 March 1925 a third child, a son named Hubertus Arthur was born on their manor at Schedlitz, later renamed Alt Siedel—present-day Siedlec—was born
Strachwitz and his family moved from their palace in Groß Stein to their manor in Alt Siedel, because of personnel discrepancies with his father who remained in Groß Stein, in 1925. Between 1924 and 1933 Strachwitz founded two dairy cooperatives which many local farmers joined. In parallel he studied a few semesters of forestry. He used his knowledge to influence the Silesian forest owners to sell their wood to the paper mills. He continued to use his influence in Upper Silesia to modernize forestry and farming. His ambitions were aided by his presidency of the Forstausschuss (Forestry Committee) of Upper Silesia and his membership in the Landwirtschaftskammer (Chamber of Agriculture). Strachwitz completely took over his father's estate in 1929, at first as a General Manager and then as the owner with full responsibility. This made Strachwitz one of the most wealthy land and forest owners in Silesia. Along with the palace in Groß Stein he owned a lime kiln and quarry in Klein Stein—present-day Kamionek—and Groß Stein, a distillery in Groß Stein with a 92,894 liters (24,540 US gal) output and Alt Siedel with 116,386 liters (30,746 US gal) output. Of his 4,109 hectares (10,150 acres) property, 1,182.6 hectares (2,922 acres) were farmland, 69.9 hectares (173 acres) meadows, 26.3 hectares (65 acres) pastures, 6.1 hectares (15 acres) water, 2,737.3 hectares (6,764 acres) forest, 10 hectares (25 acres) parks, and 6.6 hectares (16 acres) gardens, 35 hectares (86 acres) wasteland and 19.4 hectares (48 acres) buildings and farms, as well as 16 roads. His agricultural production included forest seeds, rye, barley, corn, potatoes, lupins and malt. In animal husbandry he had feral, cattle, foal, Deutsches Edelschwein (German pig), merinos and fish.
Strachwitz also owned the manor in Alt Siedel with a property size of 583 hectares (1,440 acres), 278 hectares (690 acres) were farmland, 13.5 hectares (33 acres) pastures, 3.5 hectares (8.6 acres) gardens, 279 hectares (690 acres) forest, 1.5 hectares (3.7 acres) water, and 5 hectares (12 acres) buildings. The manor in Einsiedel, in Freudenthal—present-day Bruntál in the Czech Republic—Upper Silesia, with its oak forests and farmland belonged to him as well.
In National Socialism
In the belief that he could better politically represent his Upper Silesian agricultural and forestry interests, he applied for membership in the Nazi Party (NSDAP—National Socialist German Workers' Party) with the Reichsleitung (Reich Leadership) of the NSDAP in Munich in 1931. He was accepted and in 1932 joined the Ortsgruppe (Local Group) of the NSDAP in Breslau with a membership number 1.405.562. On 17 April 1933 he became a member of the Allgemeine SS with the SS membership number 82.857. This decision started a series of quick promotions within the SS. He had progressed to SS-Obersturmführer by the end of 1934 and SS-Sturmbannführer in 1936. In parallel to his SS-career, his military rank in the military reserve force also advanced, he attained the rank of Hauptmann (Captain) of the Reserves in 1934 and a year later became a Rittmeister (Cavalry master) of the Reserves.
On 30 January 1933, the Nazi Party, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, came to power in Germany, ushering in a period of rearmament. The Heer (Germany Army) was increased and modernized with a strong focus on the Panzer (tank) force. The personnel was recruited from the cavalery. In October 1935 Panzer-Regiment 2 was created and was subordinated to the 1st Panzer Division, at the time under command of General Maximilian von Weichs. The soldiers of the I. Abteilung (1st Battalion) came from Sachsony and Thuringia, the II. Abteilung (2nd Battalion) was made up from soldiers from Silesia. Strachwitz who had served as an officer of the reserves in Reiter-Regiment 7 (7th Cavalry Regiment) in Breslau had asked to be transferred to the Panzer force and participated in his first maneuver in May 1936 on the training ground at Ohrdruf, followed by an exercise of life shooting on the gunnery training ground at Putlos—present-day in the adminstrative district of Oldenburg-Land—near the Baltic Sea. A year later, from July to August 1937, he participated in a second reserve training exercise on the Silesian training grounds at Neuhammer—present-day Świętoszów.
Following a brief vacation back home in Silesia, Strachwitz was back with the 1st Panzer Division at the training grounds at Königsbrück near Dresden. During the preparations for the fall maneuvers the General der Kavallerie (General of the Cavalry) von Weichs was dismissed. On 18 September Panzer-Regiment 2 was relocated from Königsbrück to Fürstenberg and then to Neustrelitz. Here, under the watchful eyes of Benito Mussolini and Hitler from the Schmooksberg near Laage, the 1st and 3rd Panzer-Brigade, supported by Kampfgeschwader (Bomber Wings), practiced a large scale tank attack. The regiment returned to Eisenach on 30 September. Strachwitz returned home to his estate but was called back shortly before the Anschluß, the annexation of Austria into Germany, in March 1938.
Strachwitz and his Panzer-Regiment 2 were on standby alert from 21 September – 2 October 1938 at the training grounds in Grafenwöhr during the so called Sudeten Crisis, the German annexation of Czechoslovakia's northern and western border regions, known collectively as the Sudetenland. On 3 October the regiment headed for Karlsbad, via Gossengrün and Chodau, where they arrived on 5 October. The regiment was stationed at Saatz and Kaaden in the Sudentenland until 15 October before it returned to Eisenach on 16 October 1938. He was again put on standby alert in March 1939, when the remaining Czech territories became the German satellite Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Following this alert, he along with Panzer-Regiment 2 were sent to Berlin in April 1939 to participate in the Wehrmacht parade held on behalf of Hitler's 50th birthday on 20 April 1939. In the prelude of World War II in July and August 1939, Panzer-Regiment 2 participated in the summer maneuvers in Jüterbog and Putlos, followed by exercises on the training grounds at Altengrabow. The 1st Panzer Division left their training grounds in Thuringia and Hesse on 21 August 1939 and were transported by train to Silesia between Rosenberg—present day Olesno—and Oppeln, where they arrived on the night 24/25 August 1939. Strachwitz arrived at his regiment on 26 August where he, as oldest officer of the reserve force, was assigned the critical role of organizing the military logistics of resupplying the troops on the battlefield.
World War II – der Panzergraf
The Panzer Regiment 2, under the command of Oberst (Colonel) Karl Keltsch, as part of the 1st Panzer Division, consisted of four light companies and two middle companies totaling 54 Panzer I, 62 Panzer II, 6 Panzer III, 28 Panzer IV and 6 command Panzer. The regiment located further east in a forest near Klein-Lassowitz on the eve of 28 August 1939. Fall Weiß (Case White), Hitler's directive for the invasion of Poland, became effective and forces of the Wehrmacht invaded Poland without a former declaration of war on 1 September 1939. His regiment also crossed the border that day at Grunsruh and reached the river Lisswarthe at noon. They took Klobutzko that evening without much resistance. On 2 September they proceeded on towards Jala, were they suffered the first casualties of the war. They then crossed the Warthe at Gidle and Plauno heading for Radomsko. Suffering further losses, they concurred Petrikau on 5 September. The regiment reached Góra Kalwaria at the Vistula via Wolbórz and Zawada on 8 September. Here the regiment was allowed to rest until 10 September. On this day, Keltsch informed him that Starchwitz had been nominated for the Clasp to the Iron Cross (Spange zum Eisernen Kreuz) 2nd Class for his organizational achievemements, which he received on 5 October 1939. Keltsch also announced that the Panzer-Brigade 1 (1st Panzer Brigade) had requested his transfer. Generalmajor (Major General) Ferdinand Schaal, commander of Panzer-Brigade 1 at the time, welcomed him and made him responsible for organizing the replenishment of the entire brigade. Already shortly before the victory over Poland—although Poland never formally surrendered—on 6 October 1939 the 1st Panzer Division was ordered back their home bases in Germany on 3 October 1939, where they arrived on 12 October 1939. Here the equipment underwent intensive maintenance. Strachwitz had went home for a lengthy vacation to the manor at Alt Siedel. The palace in Groß Stein had been made available to the Wehrmacht and was used as a field hospital. When Strachwitz returned to his division in late 1939, the 1st Panzer Divsion had been relocated to the greater Dortmund area with the Stab (head quarter unit) located in Düsseldorf.
At the End February 1940 the commanding general of the 1st Panzer Divsion Generalleutnant (Lieutenant General) Rudolf Schmidt was replaced by Generalmajor Friedrich Kirchner. Strachwitz at the time was out sick with meningitis and in a hospital from 1 March to 9 March 1940. While on sick leave, the division was relocated to the South Eifel on 3 March. The Stab established the headquarter in the hotel "Union" in Cochem. The division, along with 2nd and 10th Panzer Division, were subordinated to XIX Armeekorps under the command of Heinz Guderian.
Strachwitz next fought during Operation Marita, the campaign in the Balkans. During this campaign, Strachwitz took part in the advance on Belgrade, fighting alongside the Infanterie-Regiment Großdeutschland. In the early war campaigns, Strachwitz fought well and by May 1941 he had been promoted to the rank of Oberst der Reserve.
War against the Soviet Union
When several new armoured divisions were formed for the launch of Operation Barbarossa, Strachwitz was transferred with the 2nd Panzer Regiment and given command of the 1st Battalion, now part of the German 16th Panzer Division. On 22 June 1941, the German invasion of the Soviet Union was launched.
The 16th Panzer Division was ordered to reinforce a bridgehead over the Bug River held by the division's motorcycle battalion, then under heavy counter-attack. Strachwitz's battalion had been equipped with submersible tanks, designed for the abandoned invasion of England. At 0430 on 22 June, the tanks of Strachwitz's battalion, under fire from the opposite bank, drove into the river. After completely submerging, the tanks emerged on the far bank, and began engaging the enemy, soon clearing the area and consolidating the bridgehead. Strachwitz, charging his Panzer III ahead of his troops, engaged a Soviet supply convoy, destroying over three hundred soft-skinned vehicles and several Russian artillery batteries. Strachwitz was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross for his part in this action. The presentation was made by Hans-Valentin Hube in the field.
Through this campaign, Strachwitz showed such a talent for commanding panzers that his troops nicknamed him der Panzergraf (the Armored Count). The 16th Panzer Division next formed a part of Friedrich Paulus' German Sixth Army, which was encircled near Stalingrad in late 1942. By now, Strachwitz had been promoted to command the entire 2nd Panzer Regiment. During one engagement on the northern flank of the Kessel, his unit destroyed 105 T-34s. Soon after this, Strachwitz was severely wounded and flown out of the encirclement. For his actions, he was awarded the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross.
Großdeutschland Panzer Regiment – promotion to General
In January 1943, Strachwitz was given command of Panzerregiment Großdeutschland of the Panzergrenadier Division Großdeutschland. He led the regiment when it took part in the Third Battle of Kharkov, fighting alongside SS-Gruppenführer Paul Hausser's II SS Panzer Corps. For his actions during these battles, Strachwitz was awarded the Swords to the Knight's Cross. In November 1943, Strachwitz left the Großdeutschland on grounds of ill-health, although tension between him and the division's commander Walter Papa Hörnlein is thought by many veterans to be the true reason for Strachwitz's departure.[Note 4]
After a month's sick leave, Strachwitz was recalled to active duty and promoted to Generalmajor der Reserve, and was placed in command of the 1st Panzer Division, though for a short period only.
During a visit to a division command post on 24 August 1944 Strachwitz was badly injured in automobile accident. The vehicle rolled over and his survival was in doubt, those with him were killed, while he sustained a fractured skull and broken ribs, legs, arms and hands. He was immediately taken to a field hospital before he was transferred to a hospital at Riga. He was then flown to Breslau in Junkers Ju 52 for further treatment, where he was visited by his son Harti. The doctors informed him that it would take eight month to fully recover. Not accepting his fate, showing a tremndous will power, he worked out his own therapy to recover as quickly as possible:
- day: practice sitting up and sitting down until he could do it unassisted
- day: hang legs over side of bed
- day: walk on crutches to wash basin
- day: take a bath with assistance
- day: walk to door on crutches
- day: extended walkin
- day: Leave hospital
Strachwitz released himself from the hospital, officially having himself transferred to the hospital at Oppeln. On the drive back he lost consciousness in almost every turn, arriving at his manor in Alt Siedel on 28 November 1944. Here he spend his convalescence vacation until 23 December 1944.
He was promoted to Generalleutnant der Reserve in January 1945, and ordered to organise the formation of a Panzerjäger Brigade based at Bad Kudova, in Kłodzko Land. The Brigade, designated Panzerjäger-Brigade Oberschlesien was an ad-hoc formation of different units, and was, for the most part, poorly trained and equipped. As its designation suggested, the Brigade was tasked with defending Upper Silesia (Oberschlesien). Strachwitz commanded this formation in numerous desperate engagements, which destroyed hundreds of enemy tanks and vehicles. In April 1945, Strachwitz led his men in a successful breakout from Russian encirclement in Czechoslovakia to the U.S.-held region of Bavaria, where all surrendered to U.S. Army forces.
Strachwitz was released as a prisoner of war in June 1947. He had lost his wife, his youngest son and his estate during the war. He quickly married again and followed the call of Husni al-Za'im, who had asked him to come to Syria as an agricultural and military advisor to the Syrian Armed Forces. The influential man behind Husni al-Za'im was Adib Shishakli, who wanted a Pan-Aarabian revolution and tried running the state from the background. His goal was to turn Syria into an Prussian Arabia and saw himself as the Otto von Bismarck of the Arabian people. He owned a Mercedes car which had once belonged to Adolf Hitler once. Under his leadership, Syria brought over 30 advisors to Syria. Strachwitz, bragging about his military success in Russia, had a very difficult time with the Syrian officers, his agricultural suggestions were ignored as well. When Adib Shishakli seized power, Strachwitz and his wife left Syria. In the meantime they had received a visa for Argentina, where they hoped to find another advisory occupation. Via Lebanon they arrived in Livorno, Italy, where they changed their plans and ran a winery. They returned to Germany in 1951 with a Red Cross passport. He settled on an estate in Winkl near Grabenstätt in Bavaria, where he lived quietly his final years. Strachwitz died on 25 April 1968 of lung cancer in the hospital of Trostberg. The Bundeswehr provided an honour guard for his coffin, as a mark of respect. Der Panzergraf was laid to rest in the village cemetery of Grabenstätt, next to his first wife. Heinz-Georg Lemm held the eulogy.
Strachwitz married Alexandrine Freiin Saurma-Jeltsch, nicknamed "Alda", on 25 July 1919. Their first child, a son, was born on 4 May 1920. Following family tradition, he was named Hyacinth. The marriage also produced a daughter, Alexandrine Aloysia Maria Elisabeth Therese, born 30 July 1921, nicknamed "Lisalex", followed by a second son, Hubertus Arthur, nicknamed "Harti", born 11 March 1925. Alda was killed in a traffic accident on 6 January 1946 in Velden an der Vils, run over by a US military truck. Strachwitz, at the time a US prisoner of war in camp Allendorf near Marburg, was denied permission to attend the funeral. Harti was killed in action shortly berfore the end of the war on 25 March 1945. Strachwitz married again on 30 July 1947 in Holzhausen. With his new wife Nora, née von Stumm (1916–2000), he had four children, two daughters and two sons, born between 1951 and 1960.
A member of the German resistance and "Plan Lanz"?
Peter Hoffmann, a Canadian historian of German descent, published a book in 1969 with the titled "Widerstand, Staatsstreich, Attentat — Der Kampf der Opposition gegen Hitler [Resistance, Coup d'etat, Assassination — The Battle of the Opposition against Hitler]". This work lists Strachwitz among the members of the German military resistance to Nazism, along with Generals Hubert Lanz, Hans Speidel and Paul Loehning in conjunction with the "Plan Lanz". The only person to have testified that a "Plan Lanz" ever existed was General der Gebirgstruppe Hubert Lanz. According to Lanz, the plan was to arrest or kill Hitler in early February 1943 during a scheduled Hitler visit to Armeeabteilung Lanz. In his account, the role of Strachwitz was to surround Hitler and his escorts shortly after Hitler's arrival with his tanks. Lanz stated, that he would have then arrested Hitler, and in the event of opposition, Strachwitz tanks would have shot and killed the entire delegation. Hitler cancelled the visit and the plan was dropped. Author Röll casts doubt on this account. Strachwitz cousin, Rudolf Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff, who had attempted to assassinate Hitler, stated that Strachwitz, in multiple conversations with him, felt that killing Hitler would have constituted as murder. Röll concludes that Strachwitz was too much a Prussian officer to consider murdering Hitler.
Summary of career
- Iron Cross (1914)
- Silesian Eagle 2nd and 1st Class with Oak Leaves and Swords (1921)
- Clasp to the Iron Cross (1939)
- Deutsches Reichssportabzeichen (1941)
- Panzer Badge
- Eastern Front Medal (August 1942)
- Wound Badge (1939)
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds
- Knight's Cross on 25 August 1941 as Major of the Reserves and commander of the I./Panzer-Regiment 2
- 144th Oak Leaves on 13 November 1942 as Oberstleutnant of the Reserves and commander of the I./Panzer-Regiment 2
- 27th Swords on 28 March 1943 as Oberst of the Reserves and commander of the Panzer-Regiment "Großdeutschland"
- 11th Diamonds on 15 April 1944 as Oberst of the Reserves and commander of a Panzer-Gruppe with the Heeresgruppe Nord
- Units under his command have been mentioned numerous times in the Wehrmachtbericht
Strachwitz is often credited with the German Cross in Gold awarded on 29 May 1943, this however was awarded to his son, also named Hyacinth, who received this award as Oberleutnant in the 4./Panzer Regiment 15.
|17 February 1914:||Leutnant (Second Lieutenant)|
|1921:||Oberleutnant (First Lieutenant), effective as 1916|
|9 August 1933:||SS-Mann|
|15 September 1933:||SS-Scharführer|
|19 December 1933:||SS-Truppführer (Troop Leader)|
|10 March 1934:||SS-Obertruppführer|
|28 April 1934:||SS-Untersturmführer|
|9 November 1934:||SS-Obersturmführer|
|1934:||Hauptmann (Captain) of the Reserves|
|15 September 1935:||SS-Hauptsturmführer|
|1935:||Rittmeister (Cavalry Master) of the Reserves|
|13 September 1936:||SS-Sturmbannführer|
|30 January 1939:||SS-Obersturmbannführer|
|1940:||Major (Major) of the Reserves|
|1 January 1942:||Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant Colonel) of the Reserves|
|1 January 1943:||Oberst (Colonel) of the Reserves|
|3 November 1943:||SS-Standartenführer, effective as 1 September 1943|
|1 April 1944:||Generalmajor (Major General) of the Reserves|
|30 January 1945:||Generalleutnant (Lieutenant General) of the Reserves|
- According to Röll his first name is spelled "Hyacinth". Groß-Zauche, in German, is spelled with a "sharp S"; see ß. Regarding personal names: Graf was a title, translated as Count, not a first or middle name. Before 1919 preceding the first name, former titles are with people alive after 1919 dependent parts of the surname, thus preceding the main surname and not to be translated. The female form is Gräfin.
- Full name is Maria Aloysia Hedwig Friederike Therese Oktavie, Gräfin von Matuschka, Freiin von Toppolczan und Spaetgen
- Regarding personal names: Freiin was a title, translated as Baroness, not a first or middle name. Before 1919 preceding the first name, former titles are with people alive after 1919 dependent parts of the surname, thus preceding the main surname and not to be translated. The title is for the unmarried daughters of a Freiherr.
- History of the Panzerregiment Grossdeutschland refers to this in detail (J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing).
- Von Ehrenkrook 2000, p. 497.
- Röll 2011, pp. 13, 16.
- Röll 2011, p. 13.
- Röll 2011, p. 188.
- Röll 2011, p. 19.
- Berger 2000, p. 348.
- Röll 2011, p. 14.
- Röll 2011, pp. 20–22.
- Röll 2011, pp. 23–24.
- Röll 2011, pp. 24–25.
- Röll 2011, pp. 26–27.
- Röll 2011, p. 30.
- Röll 2011, p. 31.
- Röll 2011, pp. 31–32.
- Röll 2011, p. 32.
- Röll 2011, p. 43.
- Röll 2011, p. 43.
- Röll 2011, p. 44.
- Röll 2011, p. 48.
- Röll 2011, p. 49.
- Röll 2011, pp. 50, 187.
- Röll 2011, pp. 51, 189.
- Röll 2011, p. 51.
- Fraschka 1994, p. 141.
- Röll 2011, p. 147.
- Röll 2011, p. 176.
- Hartmann 2000, p. 160.
- Röll 2011, p. 181.
- Röll 2011, p. 175.
- Röll 2011, pp. 182–183.
- Röll 2011, pp. 184–186.
- Röll 2011, p. 189.
- Thomas 1998, p. 356.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 728.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 413.
- Von Seemen 1976, p. 331.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 63.
- Von Seemen 1976, p. 31.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 41.
- Von Seemen 1976, p. 15.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 37.
- Von Seemen 1976, p. 12.
- Patzwall and Scherzer 2001, p. 463.
- Berger, Florian (1999) (in German). Mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern. Die höchstdekorierten Soldaten des Zweiten Weltkrieges [With Oak Leaves and Swords. The Highest Decorated Soldiers of the Second World War]. Vienna, Austria: Selbstverlag Florian Berger. ISBN 3-9501307-0-5.
- Von Ehrenkrook, Hans Friedrich (2000). Genealogisches Handbuch des Adels, Gräfliche Häuser Band XVI. Band 123 der Gesamtreiche. (in German). Limburg (Lahn), Germany: C. A. Starke Verlag. ISBN 3-7980-0823-X.
- Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000) (in German). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 – Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtsteile [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]. Friedburg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 3-7909-0284-5.
- Fraschka, Günther (1994). Knights of the Reich. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Military/Aviation History. ISBN 0-88740-580-0.
- Hartmann, Wolfgang (2000) (in German). Breslauer Passion 1945–1947: Festschrift zum 70. Geburtstag des schlesischen Heimatforschers Horst G.W. Gleiss am 26. August 2000. Natura et Patria Verlag. ISBN 9783921060063.
- Hoffmann, Peter (1985) (in German). Widerstand – Staatsstreich – Attentat. Der Kampf der Opposition gegen Hitler [Resistance, Coup d'etat, Assassination — The Battle of the Opposition against Hitler]. München, Germany: Piper. ISBN 3-492-00718-X.
- Meyer, Hermann Frank (2008) (in German). Blutiges Edelweiß: Die 1. Gebirgs-Division im Zweiten Weltkrieg [Bloody Edelweiss: The 1st Mountain Division in World War II]. Berlin, Germany: Ch. Links Verlag. ISBN 978-3-86153-447-1. http://books.google.de/books?id=_Hpr-PK39UkC&pg=PA260&lpg=PA260&dq=blutiges+edelwei%C3%9F+strachwitz&source=bl&ots=v1ZtlVyr28&sig=8jF5HE2Fb9rZ8JvJIBwSEPr6HMg&hl=de#v=onepage&q=blutiges%20edelwei%C3%9F%20strachwitz&f=false.
- Patzwall, Klaus D.; Scherzer, Veit (2001) (in German). Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941 – 1945 Geschichte und Inhaber Band II [The German Cross 1941 – 1945 History and Recipients Volume 2]. Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall. ISBN 3-931533-45-X.
- Röll, Hans-Joachim (2011) (in German). Generalleutnant der Reserve Hyacinth Graf Strachwitz von Groß-Zauche und Camminetz: Vom Kavallerieoffizier zum Führer gepanzerter Verbände [Lieutenant General of the Reserve Hyacinth Graf Strachwitz von Groß-Zauche und Camminetz: From a Cavalry Officer to a Leader of Armored Units]. Würzburg, Germany: Flechsig. ISBN 978-3-8035-0015-1.
- Schaulen, Fritjof (2005) (in German). Eichenlaubträger 1940 – 1945 Zeitgeschichte in Farbe III Radusch – Zwernemann. Selent, Germany: Pour le Mérite. ISBN 3-932381-22-X.
- Scherzer, Veit (2007) (in German). 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]. Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.
- Von Seemen, Gerhard (1976) (in German). 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]. Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Verlag. ISBN 3-7909-0051-6.
- Thomas, Franz (1998) (in German). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 2: L–Z [The Oak Leaves Bearers 1939–1945 Volume 2: L–Z]. Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 3-7648-2300-3.
- Williamson, Gordon (2006). Knight's Cross with Diamonds Recipients 1941–45. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84176-644-5.
- Media related to Hyazinth Graf Strachwitz at Wikimedia Commons
- Hyacinth Graf Strachwitz von Groß-Zauche und Camminetz in the German National Library catalogue
- "Strachwitz, Hyazinth Graf von Groß-Zauche und Camminetz" (in German). Lexikon der Wehrmacht. http://www.lexikon-der-wehrmacht.de/Personenregister/Strachwitz.htm. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
- "Count Hyazinth Strachwitz von Gross-Zauche und Camminetz". Achtung Panzer.com. http://www.achtungpanzer.com/gen11.htm. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
- "Hyazinth Graf Strachwitz". Der Spiegel 8/1949. http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print/d-44435520.html. Retrieved 10 February 2013.