Smilo, Freiherr von Luettwitz, 1895-1975

Smilo Freiherr von Luettwitz (1895-1975) was a German general who served in Poland, France, Italy and on the Eastern Front, before being sacked and threatened with a court martial for defeatism early in 1945. He also served in the post-war Bundeswehr, retiring as a Generalleutnant in 1960.

Luettwitz joined the German army on 3 August 1914, enrolling as an officer cadet with Leib-Dragonerregiment No.24 at Darmstadt. He served on the Eastern and Western front during the First World War. He began on the Eastern Front, and was promoted to Leutnant on 16 June 1915. In 1916 his brother was killed in action, and Luettwitz was moved to a staff post, at first at corps level and later with Army Group Crown Prince. In 1918 he became an adjutant with the Darmstäder Dragoons, and won the Iron Cross First and Second Class, as well as the Wound Badge in Silver.

After the war Luettwitz remained in the army, reaching Oberleutnant in 1925, Captain in 1930 and Major by 1935. In 1930 he served as adjutant to the Kommando der Kraftfahrkampftruppen, the illicit precursor to the Panzerwaffe. In 1935 he was given command of PzAufkl Abt 5, in 1938 he became a staff officer with Army Group 4 and by 1940 he was serving with the 15th Corps, having served as a staff officer during the invasion of Poland.

In the spring of 1940 Luettwitz was given command of the 12th Schuetzenregiment, 4th Panzer Division (a motorized light infantry regiment, and the precursor of the Panzer Grenadiers). This unit took part in the invasion of Holland, clashed with the British around Lille and took part in the battles against the French on the Somme, Aisne and Loire. Luettwitz was promoted to colonel after the end of the fighting, and his regiment formed part of the occupation force in France.

In 1941 the regiment formed part of Panzergruppe 2 (Guderian), in Army Group Centre, and took part in the advance on Moscow. Luettwitz led his regiment across the Beresina, Dnieper and Desna Rivers and into the battle to capture Tula, south of Moscow. He then led them during the bitter defensive battles in the winter of 1941-42, and on1 4 January 1942 was awarded the Knight's Cross for his efforts.

In the spring of 1942 the 23rd Potsdamer Infantry Division was being turned into the 26th Panzer Division, around Mons in Belgium. On 1 April Luettwitz was appointed as temporary commander of the new division, with orders to carry out the transformation, and on 1 September 1942 he was promoted to Generalmajor and confirmed as the division's commander. In October the division was moved to France, where it split its time between training and coastal defence duties.

In September 1943 the Allies landed at Salerno on the Italian mainland. At the same time the Italian government announced an armistice, and the Germans were forced to flood troops into the country to prevent the Allies from occupying it. Leuttwitz's division was one of the units chosen to go to Italy. As a panzer division it wasn't well suited to fighting in the mountains, but Leuttwitz perrofmed well, and the division took part in the fighting around Salerno, the defence of Cassino and the attempts to crush the Anzio beachhead.

In February 1944 Leuttwitz suffered a serious eye injury in an Allied bombing raid, and had to leave his division for urgent surgery.  On 16 March 1944, while away from the front, he was awarded the Oak-Leaves to the Knight's Cross for his role in preventing an Allied breakthrough.

Leuttwitz was fit to return to duty in July 1944, and he was promoted to command the 46th Panzer Corps on the Eastern Front. In the same month he was awarded the Swords to the Knight's Cross. Leuttwitz only commanded this corps for one month, but it was a dramatic month - it was almost cut off near Lemberg during the Soviet offensive that destroyed Army Group Centre, and Leuttwitz had to lead it in a fighting retreat to the Vistula.

In September Leuttwitz was promoted to General de Panzertruppe and given command of the 9th Army around Warsaw. In January 1945 this army was crushed by yet another great Soviet offensive. By this point Leuttwitz believed that the situation was hopeless, and his views were well known to his superiors, including Hitler. He was removed from his command, and possible given command of a second line corps while preparations were made for a court martial. During this period his son was killed in the Courland pocket.

The war ended before the court martial could be held. Leuttwitz had maintained an honourable reputation during the war, and in the post-war period he served in the Bundeswehr, with the rank of Generalleutnant. He retired in 1960, having been awarded the US Legion of Merit! Leuttwitz died in 1975 and had the rare distinction of being buried with full military honours. 

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (27 October 2011), Smilo, Freiherr von Luettwitz, 1895-1975 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_luettwitz_smilo.html

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