Oberleutnant Rudolf Witzig Witzig was born in Rohlinghausen on 14 August 1916. His military career began as an officer cadet with the Army's Pionier-Battailon 16 in 1935, and in 1937 he was commissioned as a Leutnant. He remained with the engineers for just ten more months before volunteering to transfer to the paratroops. In August 1938 he joined the Fallschirm-Infanterie-Bataillon and by October was a fully qualified paratrooper, entitled to wear the Army Paratrooper Badge. Two months later Witzig and all his comrades in the Fallschirm-Infanterie-Bataillon found themselves transferred to the Luftwaffe, where Witzig continued as a combat engineer. In July 1939 he was promoted to Oberleutnant and shorty after the outbreak of war was given command of the Pionierezug of Fallschirm-Sturm-Abteilung Koch. By April 1940, Witzig was commander of 17.Kompanie, Fallschirmjager-Regiment 1. During the attack on France and the Low Countries it had been decided to drop paratroops ahead of the main invasion force to seize key targets such as bridges and defensive installations. One such target was the Eben Emael fortress, on the Belgian border. This massive structure protected the Albert Canal, with its 6ft-thick concrete walls and its two 120mm and sixteen 75mm guns. It constituted a serious threat to the German advance, and needed to be neutralised. A plan for an attack on the fortress was produced by General Kurt Student in which Fallschirmjager would seize the fort, as well as bridges at Veldvezelt, Vroenhoven and Canne, in a surprise attack. Rudolf Witzig on the day of the award of the Knight's Cross. Note that although the formal blue service tunic with white shirt and tie are worn, the paratrooper's smock and camouflaged steel helmet accompany them. Paratroopers were extremely proud of the special clothing and equipment that identified their elite status. Note that the Iron Cross Second Class is actually worn in the buttonhole. This only happened on the day of the award, thereafter only the ribbon generally being worn. In Witzig's case the Second Class, First Class and Knight's Cross were all bestowed on the same day. Oberleutnant Witzig, with the Pionier-Kompanie of II/Fallschirmjager Regiment 1, would form assault group 'Granite' and have the daunting task of neutralising the fortress. On 10 May 1940, the Fallschirmpioniere landed on the roof of the fortress by glider, but without their commander, who had been forced to abort his own flight due to problems with his glider and had returned to base to pick up new transport. Meanwhile his troops had stormed the fortress using flame-throwers and specially prepared powerful demolition charges. Within minutes a significant number of enemy guns had been put out of action by dropping explosive charges down the barrels, and the exit doors to the fortress blown open. When Witzig finally arrived three hours later, his troops had forced their way into the fortress exit but had made little further progress. By now the defenders had rallied and were putting up a stout defence of their positions: they had in fact called down their own artillery fire upon the fortress, hoping to wipe out the enemy. The Germans were forced to spend the night in the gun casemates they had captured. At daybreak reinforcements arrived and Witzig, determined to force the issue, led his men in an all-out assault. The ferocity of the renewed German attack was enough to dishearten the defenders, who hoisted a white flag and offered their surrender. Witzig, with a mere 85 men, had captured one of the world's most powerful and modern fortresses, together with its garrison of over 1,200 men for the loss of just six killed and twenty wounded. Witzig was immediately recommended for the award of the Knight's Cross, and Hitler swiftly approved. The only problem was that Witzig did not yet hold the Iron Cross Second or First Class, prerequisites for the award of the Knight's Cross. The solution was simple: Witzig was also awarded the two lower grades, thereby satisfying the award criteria. Every soldier involved in the attack was also advanced by one rank, resulting in Witzig being promoted to Hauptmann. Witzig subsequently saw action in the airborne assault on Crete, in North Africa and on the Eastern Front where, on 25 November 1944, by then a Major, he was decorated with the Oak-Leaves addition to his Knight's Cross as commander of I/Fallschirm-Pionier-Regiment 21. He ended the war on the Western Front, being decorated also with the Roll of Honour Clasp of the Luftwaffe in May 1945. After the war, Witzig returned to military life once again with the West German Bundeswehr, reaching the rank of Oberst and serving on the staff of the Pionierschule. When he finally retired in 1974, he had given 28 years of his life to the service of his country.