Witzleben, Erwin von

Prior to World War One


Job Wilhelm Georg Erwin Erdmann von Witzleben was born December 4, 1881 in Breslau – at the time the capital of the Prussian province of Silesia, today Wroclaw in southwestern Poland – child of ancient Polish nobility. His father fought in the Franco-German war as Hauptmann in the Imperial army and following his discharge in 1876, he bought Ober-Poppschütz, a small estate in Upper-Silesia. Erwin von Witzleben spent his childhood years in Breslau and later on in Ober-Poppschütz. Here he was brought up by his father and his mother Theresa in strict religious fashion. It was a Prussian tradition to follow in one’s father’s footsteps so Erwin was predestined to join the army. On March 22, 1901 he was commissioned as an officer with average results. Von Witzleben subsequently started his career in the Grenadier regiment König Wilhelm I (2. West Preußisches) nr. 7 in Liegnitz. This was a regiment with a long term tradition regarding the King of Prussia so Erwin von Witzleben was allocated an important position in the army. He began as driver of 12. Kompanie and in later years served in other companies of the Regiment as well. Von Witzleben was promoted to Oberleutnant on June 26, 1910.

On May 21, 1907, Von Witzleben married Else Kleeberg and on May 8, 1908 their daughter Eva Maria Edelgarde Charlotte Amalie was born, A little later, July 3, 1909 the second child of the Von Witzleben couple was born, a son named Job Wilhelm Georg Richard Erwin.

World War One

When war broke out, Erwin was sent to the western front on August 11, 1914. He decided to keep a diary for his children for he assumed it would become a memorable event. On August 20, 1914, Von Witzleben crossed the border near Luxemburg in the rank of Adjutant of the 19. Reserve-Infanterie-Brigade. After his brigade had seen action in the first weeks, Von Witzleben was awarded the Eisernes Kreuz 2. Klasse (EK 2 or Iron Cross) on September 14, 1914. A month later, October 13, he was promoted to Hauptmann. Early November 1914, the 19. Reserve-Infanterie-Brigade was transferred to the Belgian sector of the front. There it participated in one of the many large offensives, each claiming many lives. Von Witzleben complained in his diary about the poor medical care and it made him sad so many lives were lost. The war raged on and Von Witzleben’s brigade was transferred again, this time to the region around Verdun.

Early February 1915, Von Witzleben was appointed commander of 2. Kompanie des Reserve-Infanterie-Regiments (IR) 6. His company was deployed in the region around Verdun in a location from where he could observe the enemy positions very well. There he ignored an order for the first time as he had been ordered to set up two forward positions in view of the enemy positions but he anticipated it would result in many casualties and therefore he refused to follow the order. Unfortunately he was forced to carry out the order a few days later and to his great relief, it all happened without casualties. On March 22, 1915, he was put in charge of another company in the same regiment, the 14. Kompanie.

A year later, on March 8, 1916 Von Witzleben and his company took part in the battle at Verdun where they were to capture a fortress. It failed because of the full moon which in combination with the snow betrayed the company positions. Nonetheless, Von Witzleben was awarded the EK 1 on March 11, 1916. Shortly after, on March 25, 1916, Von Witzleben was put in command of 6. Kompanie of the same regiment. He had been in function for hardly two weeks when he was injured in an artillery barrage. He had to recuperate and was sent on sick leave and from mid-August 1916 he held various commands within the 9. Reserve-Infanterie-Division. On May 2, 1917, he was posted to the front once more, this time as commander of II. Batallion der Reserve-Infanterie-Regimentes Nr 6. In that capacity he took part in the battle for Arras. On May 12, 1917, he was appointed Ritter des Hamburgisches Hanseatenkreuzes (Hamburg Hanze Cross) in recognition of his services.

On July 1917, Von Witzleben was given a new posting on the General Staff of the 4. Bayerische Infanterie-Division and was awarded the Königliche Preußische Hausorden Von Hohenzollern. Near the close of 1917, Von Witzleben took the General Staff course in Sedan as he wished to become an officer of the General Staff. At the end of December of that year he made the qualification for staff duty and waited for his first posting as officer of the General Staff. January 13, 1918 was the day and Von Witzleben could start as 4. Generalstabsoffizier des XI Armeekorps. He was awarded the Königliche Bayerische Militär-Verdienstorden (Bavarian Military Order of Merit) 4. Klasse mit Schwertern (with Swords). In this capacity he experienced the final massive offensive the German army leadership, Generalfeldmarschall Paul von Hindenburg and General der Infanterie Erich von Ludendorff, had launched hoping the defeat the western opponents. On April 21, 1918, he was authorized to wear the uniform of the Generalstab der Armee, making him a member of the Prussian Generalstab.

On August 2, 1918, Von Witzleben was promoted to Erster Generalstabsoffizier (Ia) in the 108. Jäger-Division. He took part in the battle of the Somme. Towards the end of the war (November 9, 1918) he was transferred to the 9. Infanterie-Division zur besonderen Verwendung (special tasks) and following the armistice, he was charged, (as Erster Generalstabsoffixzier) with overseeing the withdrawal of the 121. Infanterie-Division.


Part of a regiment composed of several companies. In theory a batallion consists of 500-1,000 men.
Consisted mostly of two or more regiments. Could operate independently or as part of a division. Sometimes they were part of a corps instead of a division. In theory a brigade consisted of 5,000 to 7,000 men.
Military unit, usually consisting of one upto four regiments and usually making up a corps. In theory a division consists of 10,000 to 20,000 men.
Eisernes Kreuz
Iron Cross. German military decoration.
Largest Soviet ground formation. It was attached to a certain area which gave its name to the units involved. For instance the Voronezh front.
Iron Cross
English translation of the German decoration Eisernes Kreuz.
Also called fighter plane. Fighter planes can be used for air defence (armed with guns and/or carrying guided missiles) or for tactical purposes (armed with nuclear or conventional bombs or rockets). The aircraft used for tactical purposes are also called fighter- bombers because they are bombers with the speed and manoeuvrability of a fighter. Tactical fighters, equipped with photographic equipment are also used as reconnaissance plane.
Military intelligence service.
Attack on a smaller or larger scale.
Part of a division. A division divided into a number of regiments. In the army traditionally the name of the major organised unit of one type of weapon.

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Generalfeldmarschall Erwin von Witzleben, January 1, 1940.
(Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1978-043-13 / CC-BY-SA 3.0)


Translated by:
Arnold Palthe
Article by:
Matthias Ouwejan
Published on:
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