Theodor Tolsdorff

Theodor Tolsdorff

Theodor Tolsdorff
Born (1909-11-03)3 November 1909
Lehnarten, Province of East Prussia, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire
Died 25 May 1978(1978-05-25) (aged 68)
Dortmund, West Germany
Buried at Cemetery Heckinghauser Strasse, Wuppertal
Allegiance  Nazi Germany
Service/branch Heer
Years of service 1934–45
Rank Generalleutnant (Major General)
Unit 1st Infantry Division
Commands held 340th Volksgrenadier Division
LXXXII Panzer Corps

World War II

Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds

Theodor Tolsdorff (3 November 1909 – 25 May 1978) was a German general in the German Army and one of only 27 recipients of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds in the Second World War, awarded by Nazi Germany for extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership.

Early life

Tolsdorf was born on 3 November 1909 in the family estate in Lehnarten in the Province of East Prussia, a state of the German Empire. Today it is Lenarty in the administrative district of Gmina Olecko, within Olecko County, Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship, in northern Poland. He was the youngest of four children and only son of Theodor Tolsdorff, who had served in the military during World War I as a Hauptmann (captain) in the artillery.[1]

Estate Lehnarten (Treuburg) which belonged to the Tolsdorff family until 1945.[2]

Tolsdorff was five years old in 1914 when his mother briefly evacuated the estate following the invasion of East Prussia by the Russian First Army, led by Paul von Rennenkampf. He attended the Gymnasium (advanced secondary school) in Königsberg, present-day Kaliningrad, and following the death of his father on 19 October 1919 took over the family estate and became a farmer. He continued his education to become an administrator of his 695 hectares (1,720 acres), including 95 ha (230 acres) of forest, sized estate in Lehnharten.[1][3][4]

On 1 October 1934, at the age of 24, he joined the 1st Infantry Regiment (Infanterie-Regiment 1) of the 1st Infantry Division as a volunteer in Insterburg.[1] Tolsdorff was promoted to Feldwebel (sergeant) on 1 February 1936. On 1 June 1936, Tolsdorff was promoted from the ranks to Leutnant (second lieutenant) and to Oberleutnant (first lieutenant) on 1 October 1938. He was given command of 14th anti tank company (14.(Panzerjäger-)Kompanie) of the newly formed 22nd Infantry Regiment (Infanterie-Regiment 22) in the 1st Infantry Division on 1 April 1939.[3]

World War II

Invasions of Poland and France

The German invasion of Poland began on 1 September 1939, and marked the beginning of World War II in Europe. Tolsdorff led the 14th (anti-tank-gun) Company in the 22. Fusilier Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division in this campaign. He was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class for actions on 2 September against the Kamienna Góra bunker line. He deployed his 3.7 cm Pak 36 against the bunkers until the Polish forces surrendered. Soon afterwards, he earned the Iron Cross 1st Class for preventing an enemy breakout when he attacked from close range. He was wounded in the shoulder at the end of the campaign.[5]

Tolsdorff's unit was then transferred to the Rhineland as part of the army reserve. He participated in the Battle of France. His unit fought in Belgium and drove to the Flanders pocket, then south past Paris to the Saumur area. His injury sustained in Polish campaign forced him to seek further medical attention in August 1940. He was transferred to a hospital in Wuppertal and was released in October.[5]

Eastern Front

Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union began on 22 June 1941. Tolsdorff was again in charge of the 14th Company. Passing through Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, he assumed command of I. battalion on 16 August 1941. On 21 November 1941, Tollsdorf personally led a counterattack against the Soviet bridgehead on southern bank of the Neva River. Although he was wounded three times during the counterattack he remained with his soldiers until 300 Soviet soldiers had been defeated.[3] While in the hospital, he was promoted to Hauptmann (captain) on 1 December 1941, and awarded with the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 4 December 1941. The presentation was made by his regimental commander Oberst (Colonel) Martin Grase.[6] He returned to the front in April 1942 and participated in the heavy fighting for Schlüsselburg. After the heavy fighting at Leningrad and Lake Ladoga, Tolsdorff lost half of his right foot due to deep splinter injuries. For outstanding success in closing the Volkhov pocket in June 1942, Tolsdorff received the German Cross in gold. On the closing days of the Volkhov battle, he again was injured, this time in the head by a bullet. Tolsdorff was forced to remain in the hospital until 20 September 1942. On 1 January 1943, Tolsdorff was promoted to major and made commander of the 1st Battalion.

Oak Leaves ceremony, from left to right: Adolf Hitler, Paul Schultz (hidden), Oberst Walter Lange, Major Theodor Tolsdorff, Oberst Günther Pape, Major Franz Bäke

Tolsdorff returned to his unit during the defensive battles at Lake Ladoga. In July 1943, the third and most difficult battle at Lake Ladoga began. After successfully fighting off a Soviet attack for fourteen days and participating in counterattacks in the neighbouring sector and restoring the situation, Tolsdorff was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves on 15 September 1943.

On New Year's Eve 1943, the 1st Infantry Division transferred to the southern sector in the Vinnitsa-Odessa area. Tolsdorff was placed in charge of the 1st Infantry Division's 22nd Infantry Regiment after its commanding officer, Oberst (Colonel) Ulrich Iffland, had been killed. Again severely wounded, by a shot in the stomach from close range, Tolsdorff managed to return to active duty within a few weeks. He was promoted to Oberstleutnant (lieutenant colonel) while in the Lublin hospital. After recovering from his wounds, Tolsdorff was assigned as instructor of tactics to the officer cadet school at Metz.

Back at the front in June 1944, Tolsdorff received orders to defend the city of Vilna against the Soviet Vilnius Offensive. He held out long enough to evacuate the thousands of wounded from the city until the relief forces under the command of Hyacinth Graf Strachwitz arrived. This action resulted in his promotion to Oberst and the awarding of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords on 18 July 1944.[7]

In early August, when Tolsdorff received the Oak Leaves with Swords, Hitler personally ordered him to go to Hirschberg im Riesengebirge, present-day Jelenia Góra in south-western Poland, for division commanders training. The 13th division commanders training course was held from 25 July to 31 August 1944. At the beginning of September, after completion of the course, Tolsdorff received orders from the Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH) to go to Thorn (East Prussia), to oversee the formation of the 340th Volksgrenadier Division.

Western Front

In mid-November, the unit transferred to the Aachen-Jülich area on the west to defend against US forces trying to cross the Rhine. In December, the unit was withdrawn to make preparations for the Ardennes offensive. The division fought as part of the 5th Panzer Army under command of Hasso von Manteuffel.[8] On 18 March 1945, Tolsdorff received in Berlin the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds for personal bravery and his division's outstanding accomplishments. He was promoted to Generalleutnant (major general) and appointed to take command of the LXXXII Panzer Corps, which was stationed in the Amberg area in Bavaria.

On 8 May, he surrendered in Austria to Lt. Carwood Lipton and Robert F. Sink of the 101st Airborne Division. Tolsdorff's convoy of 31 vehicles drove down from the mountains loaded with his personal baggage, liquor, cigars, cigarettes and his girlfriends. Private Edward Heffron took Tolsdorff's Luger pistol and a briefcase containing Iron Cross medals and a stash of pornographic pictures. The surrender of Tolsdorff is dramatized in the HBO television series Band of Brothers, in which a German general played by Wolf Kahler surrenders to Lipton, played by Donnie Wahlberg.[9]

After the war

Ernst von Salomon worked Holzhey's story into his 1951 novel The Questionnaire.

Tolsdorff was married to Eleonore, née van der Berk (6 September 1921 – 15 April 1996). The marriage produced two sons. His youngest son Jürgen died in 1957 in an accident. His older son, Peter, became a doctor and settled in Bad Honnef.[10][11]

On 9 May 1947, Tolsdorff was released from American captivity.[12] He took various jobs, such as truck driver in the firm belonging to his father-in-law, bus driver on the route Diepholz to Hanover and construction worker. He was arrested on 7 December 1952.[13]

In 1954, he faced charges for the execution of Hauptmann Franz Xaver Holzhey, an army captain and First World War veteran, on 3 May 1945. Holzhey, without orders, had put up a red cross sign near the command post. The Landgericht (court) in Traunstein had initially sentenced Tolsdorff to three and a half years.[14] The Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice of Germany) overturned the decision in 1959 and ordered a retrial. On 24 June 1960, Tolsdorff was declared not guilty and cleared of all charges.[15]

The same year, Tolsdorff was hired by the German Asphalt AG, presently owned by the Strabag, and held a position of manager until 1969, when he took over the branch office in Dortmund. Tolsdorff retired on 31 December 1974.[13] Following a serious accident, he died on 25 May 1978 in Dortmund.[13]


1 October 1935: Unteroffizier (cadet)
1 February 1936: Feldwebel (sergeant)
1 June 1936: Leutnant (second lieutenant)[3]
1 October 1938: Oberleutnant (first lieutenant)[3]
1 December 1941: Hauptmann (captain)[6]
1 January 1943: Major (major)[6]
1 March 1944: Oberstleutnant (lieutenant colonel)[6]
1 August 1944: Oberst (colonel)
30 January 1945: Generalmajor (major general)[7]
1 April 1945: Generalleutnant (lieutenant general)



  1. 1 2 3 Fraschka 2002, p. 293.
  2. "Pałac w Białej Oleckiej". Wirtualny Przewodnik po krainie EGO (in Polish). Retrieved 24 June 2014.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Stockert 2010, p. 170.
  4. Stockert 1998, p. 4.
  5. 1 2 Fraschka 2002, p. 294.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Stockert 2010, p. 172.
  7. 1 2 Stockert 2010, p. 174.
  8. Stockert 1998, p. 10.
  9. Band of Brothers at the Internet Movie Database
  10. Fraschka 2002, p. 299.
  11. "Team". HNO Honnef (in German). Retrieved 25 June 2014.
  12. Fraschka 2002, p. 298.
  13. 1 2 3 Stockert 2010, p. 299.
  14. Osterloh & Vollnhals 2012, pp. 65–66.
  15. Eichmüller 2012, p. 205.
  16. 1 2 Thomas 1998, p. 385.
  17. 1 2 3 Berger 1999, p. 358.
  18. Patzwall & Scherzer 2001, p. 478.
  19. 1 2 3 4 Scherzer 2007, p. 747.


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Military offices
Preceded by
General der Infanterie Walther Hahm
Commander of the LXXXII. Armeekorps
1 April 1945 – 15 April 1945
Succeeded by
General der Infanterie Walter Lucht
Preceded by
General der Infanterie Walter Lucht
Commander of the LXXXII. Armeekorps
15 April 1945 – German capitulation
Succeeded by
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