Wilhelm Bittrich was born February 26, 1894 in Wernigerode in the Harz in the federal state of Saxony-Anhalt.
At the outbreak of World War One, Wilhelm Bittrich reported as a volunteer and was posted to Infanterie-Regiment 77. In 1944 he was gravely wounded. In October 1915, he was promoted to Leutnant der Reserve and in 1916, he made the transition to the Fliegertruppe, scoring three aerial victories in Jagdstaffel 37 (fighter squadron). Bittrich was awarded the Iron Cross 2 and 1 for his achievements in World War One.
After World War One he joined the Freikorps Hülsen and found employment as a sports instructor and with a real estate agency for a short while. On December 29, 1922, he married actress and director Käte Sonntag-Blume. Between 1924 and 190 he was a flight instructor in the Stettiner Sportclub GmbH in Stettin-Krekow and at the German school for commercial pilots in Schliessheim near Munich. On April 1, 1932 he was commissioned in the Reichswehr as a civilian. Here he resumed his job as flight instructor and was sent to Lipezk in the Soviet Union where future Luftwaffe personnel was being trained in secret at the time.
In 1932, one promotion followed the other: Bittrich was a member of the SA from March to June. July 1 he joined the SS (Nr. 39177) as SS-Anwärter (apprentice) in SS-Fliegerstaffel Ost and his promotion to SS-Mann followed on July 15. He was promoted to SS-Oberscharführer on September 10, and subsequently to SS-Sturmführer on October 31, and appointed Führer of his Fliegerstaffel. He joined the N.S.D.A.P. on December 1, 1932 (Nr. 829 700).
Wilhelm Bittrich joined the SS-Verfügungstruppe in 1934 and was promoted to SS-Obersturmführer on April 21. He was charged with the establishment of 1. Batallion/SS-Standarte Germania and on June 17, 1934 he was promoted to SS-Hauptsturmführer. A promotion to SS-Sturmbannführer followed on October 1, 1936 and subsequently he was appointed Kommandeur II. Batallion/SS Regiment Deutschland. He was promoted again on January 30, 1938, this time to SS-Obersturmbannführer. June 1, 1939, he was appointed Führer, Stab Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler and June 6, 1939, saw his promotion to SS-Standartenführer. During the invasion of Poland, he served as Oberst des Stabes SS-Infanterie-Regiment (mot.) Leibstandarte SS-Adolf Hitler. As per February 1, 1940, Bittrich was attached to the SS-Führungshauptamt charged with formulating of regulations. He was promoted to SS-Oberführer on September 1, 1940. From December 1, 1940 onwards he was given a front command again as Kommandeur SS-Standarte Deutschland, taking part in the fighting in the Soviet Union until October 1941.
Between October 15 and December 31, 1941 he was in command of 2. SS-Panzer-Division Das Reich, replacing Paul Hauser who had been injured. October 19, 1941 he was promoted to SS-Brigadeführer and Generalmajor der Waffen-SS. On May 1, 1942, Bittrich was ordered to transform the SS-Kavalerie-Brigade to an SS-Kavalerie-Division which would ultimately become the 8. SS-Kavalerie-Division Florian Geyer. During the invasion of the Soviet Union, Bittrich was in command of this division from August 1942 until February, 1943 and subsequently he was appointed commander of the 9. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Hohenstaufen. He was promoted to SS-Gruppenführer and Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS. During the deployment of this Panzergrenadier-Division in Belgium and France, it was transformed to 9. SS-Panzer-Division in October 1943, taking part in the battles of II. SS-Panzerkorps near Tarnopol in the Soviet Union from March 1944 onwards. June 19, 1944 he was replaced as commander of Hohenstaufen by SS-Standartenführer Thomas Müller.
July 31, 1944, Bittrich was appointed Führer of II. SS-Panzerkorps. In command of 9. SS-Panzer-Division Hohenstaufen, 3. Fallschirmjäger-Division and units of 21. Panzer-Division, he blocked the Allied advance towards Caen in Normandy. Bittrich was also instrumental in the escape of units of 7. Armee and 5. Panzerarmee from the Falaise pocket on August 20 and 21.
In order to have his troops rest and reorganize, Bittrich and his II. Panzerkorps were sent to the area around Arnhem. During the battle for Arnhem, he was co-responsible for the encirclement of the British 1st Airborne Division in Arnhem. From December 16, 1944 onwards, II. Panzerkorps was subordinate to 6. Panzerarmee commanded by Sepp Dietrich (Bio Dietrich) and took part in the Ardennes offensive. During this operation, Bittrich was in command of his old 9. SS-Panzer-Division Hohenstaufen, the 2. SS-Panzer-Division Das Reich and the Führer-Begleit-Brigade. In February 1945, his theatre of operations was shifted to Hungary. At the end of the Second World War, he and his Korps conducted the defense of Vienna between April 2 and 13. At the end of this battle, Bittrich and the remainder of his troops retreated westwards and he was made a prisoner-of-war by the Americans on May 8, 1945.
Bittrich was awarded the following decorations for his achievements during World War Two: the clasps to the Iron Cross 2 and 1 (September 25, 1939 and June 7, 1940 respectively), the Ritterkreuz (Knight’s Cross), December 14, 1941, Eichenlaub (Oak Leaves) August 28, 1944, Eichenlaub und Schwertern (Swords) May 6, 1945 and the Deutsches Kreuz in Gold (German Cross in Gold) in 1943 among others.
In January 1948, Bittrich had himself extradited to France at his own request because of his alleged order to execute 17 resistance fighters in Nimes. During the proceedings, it transpired he had never given such an order and had even taken disciplinary measures against the officers responsible for the executions. As commander he was held accountable for the actions of his subordinates though and sentenced to 5 years imprisonment but released soon after because of his lengthy detention pending trial. On June 16, 1953 he was tried a second time and sentenced to 5 years for executions but the French court of appeal in Bordeaux acquitted him and he was released in 1954. He settled down near Lake Starnberg in southern Bavaria and was unfit for work due to illness.
He passed away on April 19, 1979 in Wolfartshausen in Bavaria.
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