The Devil's General

The Life of Hyazinth von Strachwitz - "The Panzer Graf"

Raymond Bagdonas

Publication date:
February 2014
Publisher :
Illustration :
16 pages of illustrations
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ISBN : 9781612002224
ISBN : 9781612004327
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• A fantastically detailed account of the life of the most highly decorated German regimental commander of World War II

This is the story of the most highly decorated German regimental commander of World War II, known as the "Panzer Graf” (Armoured Count). An aristocratic Silesian, whose ancestors had faced the Mongols at Leignitz, Strachwitz first won the Iron Cross in the Great War. After fighting with the Freikorps and in between the wars, he was serving with the 1st Panzer Division when the Polish campaign inaugurated World War II.

Leading from the front, his exploits as commander of a panzer battalion earned him further decorations during the French campaign. Transferred to the newly formed 16th Panzer Division, he participated in the invasion of Yugoslavia and then Operation Barbarossa where he earned the Knight's Cross. The following year, during the advance on Stalingrad, he won the Oak Leaves for destroying 270 Soviet tanks at Kalach. Now commander of a regiment, he reached the Volga and fought ferociously on the northern rim of Sixth Army's perimeter. Severely wounded during the battles, he was flown out of the Stalingrad pocket.

Upon recuperation, he was named commander of the Grossdeutschland Division's panzer regiment, and won the Swords to the Knight's Cross during Manstein's counteroffensive at Kharkov. After fighting through Kursk and the ensuing defensive battles, he was transferred the next year to Army Group North where he won the Diamonds to the Knight's Cross at Narva.

For the rest of the war, sandwiched around a stay in hospital, he commanded ad hoc battlegroups, and pioneered the formation of"tank hunter brigades,” consisting of deep-penetration infantry armed with panzerfausts and other demolitions who would ambush Soviet tanks. Wounded 12 times during the war, and barely surviving a lethal car crash, he was finally able to surrender to the Americans in May 1945.

Australian author/researcher Raymond Bagdonas, though impaired by the disappearance of 16th Panzer Division's official records at Stalingrad, and the fact that many of the Panzer Graf's later battlegroups never kept them, has nevertheless written an intensely detailed account of this combat leader's life, as well as ferocious armoured warfare in World War II.


It is often said that a picture is worth a
thousand words so my first idea was to
send the editor a picture ofme setti ng
fire to the book . However, th at would
only tell you th at I did not like it but
now why. Fear not , all will be revealed.
Or not , for that is the mai n problem with
The Devil's General.The autho r states in
the intro duction that th ere is no credi ble
biography, no memoirs, no diary, etc.
and th at most of the official paperwork
was lost when Stalingrad fell, making
it incredibly difficult to write a bo ok
about a very capable and hon ourable man
forced to serve an evil cause.
T hat last bi t set of a few warning
bells; did I have one of th ose "Hur rah
for th e Herrenvolk" bo oks in my hands?
Not quite, as th e author doesn't avoid
or excuse th e war crimes committe d by
German forces, but he makes up for th at
with unrelenting hero wo rship.
It starts reasonab ly innocuously with
a description of his education and daring
expl oits in the GreatWar. During the turb ulen t years after th e war, he j oins th e
Freikorps to fight th e Communists. His
uni t is directly involved in the murder of
R osa Luxemb ourg and Karl Leibkn echt.
"What wo uld von Strachwitz have
th ou ght of this?" asks the author. A good question, but the author can show no evide nce that the coun t disapproved. In 1932, th e count joins th e Nazi party (at a tim e when th e autho r himself declares th at only th e really dedicated joine d) and the SS. Is he then a Nazi? Absolutely no t, he only joined because it was th e only way to save his beloved Silesia and he joined th e SS because he really wanted to ride a hor se again and th ey had th e best faciliti es. And so it goes on. Von Strachwitz can do no wro ng and every thing he does is as close to perfection as humanly possible. Superior office rs are praised for their wisdom in letting th e count do what he wan ts. O ppo nents are written off as thugs or incompetents.

Given the paucity of source material, th e author is forced to use acco unts by other peopl e (often far away from where von Strachwitz ope rate d) or to come up with his own int er pretation of how a fight may have looked. Let me just qui ckly summarize von Strachwitz's battle scenes: "Calmly, th e count gave his men th eir targets and as th e horde of vodka-fuelle d Soviets, driven forwa rd by commissars wielding th eir nic kelplated pistols, came in range, he gave th e order to fire. T heir guns did great exec ution amo ng them until th e surv ivors ret reated , pursued by angry machine gun fire" . Only near the end are th ere actual eyewitness accounts, mos t no tably Kursk and Narva, and they are noti ceably better than the earlier chapters. But here too, von Strachwitz is never wrong and others are responsible for any mishaps. The book ends with a look at von Strachwitz's involvem ent in th e plot against Hitler. I'm sure that it will come as no sur pri se that even tho ugh the Gestapo could find little credible evidence to condemn him, the author quickly uses it to declare him a willing participant. Not since my school days have I struggled so much to finish a book, and I haven 't even mentioned the recurrent sniping at Canaris (even though he never has any business with von Strachwitz) or claims that the fall of Stalingrad was actually a blessing in disguise. Now, where did I leave those matches?

Miniature Wargames with Battlegames

the book may serve future generations as an example of an individual who responded to the call of his nation twice and served in an honourable and selfless way throughout. As a leader, commander and officer, von Strachwitz was an individual to emulate. " -- Chris Buckham, Sabretache Magazine
Sabretache Magazine