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Josef Dietrich

Discussion in 'Who Was Who Of Germany In WWII' started by Jim, Jan 13, 2008.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Josef 'Sepp' Dietrich was born on 28 May 1892 in Hawangen, Bavaria. He spent some time as a trainee hotelier before joining the Bavarian Army as an enlisted man in 1911. He was invalided out of the Army again only weeks after joining Feldartillerie Regiment Nr 4, due to an injury sustained when falling from a horse. Following the outbreak of war in 1914 he applied to enlist once again, and was accepted into the Bavarian artillery. He was wounded in action several times, thereafter bearing the scars from an enemy lance thrust above his left eye and a shell splinter on the right side of his head. After attending the Artillery School and qualifying as a senior NCO, he joined the Sturmtruppe (Assault Troops).
    This new concept was an attempt to break the deadlock of static trench warfare by introducing self-sufficient spearhead units of men trained in fast-moving assault tactics; as well as small arms and grenades, these Sturmabteilungen had integral trench mortar, machine gun, flame thrower and light infantry gun teams. These picked units displayed high morale, and within them relationships between officers and men were less rigidly formal than was normal in the Imperial Army. The ethos of the Sturmtruppe would later be consciously revived by the future Waffen-SS.
    Dietrich won the Iron Cross in both classes; and he subsequently joined yet another small and elite band of soldiers - those selected for Germany's first tank units. As a member of the Bavarian Sturmpanzerkraftwagen Abteilung 13, he served in both the German A7V and captured British tanks. He was awarded the Bavarian Militar Verdienstkreuz for his exploits as a tank NCO, and would later proudly wear the Imperial Tank Badge on his SS uniform. Dietrich reached the rank of Vize-Wachtmeister by the end of hostilities.
    After the war he joined the Bavarian Landespolizei, and became involved with the Freikorps movement -volunteer units of ex-servicemen who fought against Communist revolutionaries, and also in border campaigns against Poland, and Baltic Bolsheviks.1 Dietrich served with Freikorps Oberland, a unit that saw combat against the 'Bavarian Red Army' in Munich in May 1919, and against the Poles in Upper Silesia in spring 1921. On leaving the police, Dietrich took a job in a petrol filling station; its owner was a Nazi supporter, who introduced him to the NSDAP. In May 1928, Dietrich joined the party and became one of the earliest members of the SS, formed just two years before and at that point a genuine 'bodyguard' unit consisting of a small number of hand-picked men. Dietrich was given command of the SS-Standarte in Munich, a post which brought him into regular contact with Hitler. In 1929 Dietrich was elevated to command SS-Brigade 'Bayern' with the rank of SS-Oberfuhrer. Hitler came to value Dietrich's fearlessness and unquestioning loyalty highly, and selected him to represent the Party in the Reichstag; he was duly elected in 1930, although he was never a particularly active parliamentarian.
    In 1932 the SS-Begleit Kommando was formed to provide personal protection to Hitler; this evolved into the SS-Stabswache Berlin, the forerunner of the premier combat unit of the future Waffen-SS, the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH). In 1931 Dietrich was promoted to the rank of SS-Gruppenfuhrer, roughly equivalent to lieutenant-general in the Army (although the size of the unit under his command was minute compared with the army corps conventionally led by officers of that rank). Dietrich and his 'Leibstandarte' provided the execution squad which eliminated many of the SA leaders, including SA Stabschef Ernst Rohm, on the so-called 'Night of the Long Knives' on 30 June 1934.

    Dietrich is shown here in a fleece-lined winter cap and coat, and wearing the Oakleaves to the Knight's Cross, awarded on 31st December 1941 for the good showing of his 'Leibstandarte' regimental group during the hard fighting of winter 1941/42 against the first Soviet counter-offensive.

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    On the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, Dietrich commanded the 'Leibstandarte' regimental group during the campaign in Poland; the unit performed reasonably well under fire, though not spectacularly. Promoted in March 1940 to SS-Obergruppenfuhrer, Dietrich saw field command once again in the May-June campaign in the West, where the 'Leibstandarte' performed better. He was almost killed when his car was shot up while he was travelling between two of his battalions, and he and Max Wunsche (qv) were forced to take cover in a culvert until rescued. Dietrich was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 5 July 1940 in recognition of the performance of his regiment.
    The 'LSSAH' was enlarged to brigade status in July 1941. It did well during the Balkan campaign and the opening phases of Operation 'Barbarossa' in Russia, and on 31 December 1941 Dietrich was decorated with the Oakleaves to his Knight's Cross. His brigade played an important part in the capture of Rostov in January 1942, and its unquestionably impressive performance in the grim winter campaign led a delighted Hitler to agree to its expansion to (lavishly equipped) divisional status in July 1942. As the 'Leibstandarte' matured into a powerful and effective combat formation, Dietrich's stature grew with it, despite his limited military talents; he was a determined and popular leader, but he displayed no great imagination or initiative. Following the recapture of Kharkov in March 1943, Dietrich was decorated with the Swords. At this point he was obliged to give up command of his division when he was promoted to command the planned I SS-Panzerkorps, though as the 'LSSAH' formed part of this corps his interest in and influence over 'his boys' remained strong.
    Dietrich commanded I SS-Panzerkorps during the very costly and unsuccessful defensive campaign in Normandy in summer 1944. By this time, however, his loyalties lay more with his men than with Hitler; even though GFM von Rundstedt judged him to be 'decent, but stupid', he could see the writing on the wall, and it is now known that he expressed willingness to support Rommel had the latter refused to carry out Hitler's increasingly irrational orders.
    Dietrich was promoted to SS-Oberstgruppenfuhrer on 1 August 1944, and five days later was decorated with the Diamonds. Although he had lost faith in Hitler due to the Fuhrer's erratic interference in the conduct of operations, the latter clearly retained his faith in Dietrich. Dietrich was elevated to command 6.Panzerarmee in the Ardennes offensive in December 1944, and in the last great effort in the East, around Lake Balaton in Hungary in March 1945. Dietrich and his men pulled out westwards as Vienna fell to the Soviets in May, and surrendered to units of the US 3rd Army.
    Tried for complicity in the murder of US prisoners by SS troops at Malmedy during the Ardennes offensive, Dietrich was sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment. In 1955 he was released on the grounds of ill-health, only to be re-arrested and convicted by the Germans for his part in the murders of SA men during the 'Night of the Long Knives'. He served a further brief term in jail, being released in 1958.
    Dietrich was perhaps a more interesting character than is often assumed. He was no great intellect, and his promotion to senior general rank was far beyond his military talents or training; yet his physical bravery in World War I was matched by tactical courage in senior command. Often dismissed as a mere thug, he was a popular commander who took a strong protective interest in his troops, even though he did not hesitate to risk high casualties in order to achieve objectives. He held his nominal superior, Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler, in complete contempt; and although perfectly willing to take part in the execution of Hitler's political rivals, he is known to have expressed opposition to the genocide of Europe's Jews.
    After his release Dietrich lived quietly in retirement until his death in 1966 at the age of 74.


    Original: Gordon Williamson
     
  2. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    SS-Oberstgruppenfuhrer und Generaloberst der Waffen-SS Josef Dietrich; France, August 1944.

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    Waffen-SS general officers used this style to indicate both their rank in the SS political organization, and their military rank. Dietrich is illustrated following his award of the Diamonds to his Knight's Cross, Oakleaves and Swords on 6 August, when he was commander of 1 SS-Panzerkorps in France. His Waffen-SS general officer's uniform, of field-grey tunic and 'new-grey' breeches, bears collar rank insignia in the sequence adopted in 1942. General officer's shoulder straps of gold and silver interwoven cord, with appropriate numbers of silver 'pips' or stars for the exact rank, were mounted on general's dove-grey underlay. Note that SS generals did not wear Lampassen stripes and piping on the breeches. Dietrich affected a few personal embellishments to regulation uniform: unique Army general's gold piping, cords and national emblem on his cap (though this is fitted with the regulation SS black velvet band and silver death's-head), a gold SS national insignia (eagle and swastika) on the left sleeve, and a gold-lettered 'Adolf Hitler' cuff title of the 'Leibstandarte' - all of which should have been silver. His Knight's Cross array is worn at the throat; the ribbon of the Eastern Front Winter 1941/42 Medal is worn in a buttonhole, and the Crimea campaign shield on his left sleeve; on his left breast are the Gold Party Badge, the 1914 Iron Cross First Class with silver 1939 bar, and his World War I tank service badge. He also sports the Pilot/Observer's Badge in Gold with Diamonds, a purely complimentary presentation from Goring.
     

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