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Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte
Born (1907-03-30)30 March 1907
Died 7 July 1994(1994-07-07) (aged 87)
Place of birth Munich
Place of death Landshut
Allegiance Germany Weimar Republic (to 1933)
Nazi Germany Nazi Germany (to 1945)
West Germany West Germany
Service/branch Balkenkreuz.svg Luftwaffe
Years of service 1925–1945, 1957–1967
Rank Oberstleutnant (Wehrmacht)
Brigadegeneral (Bundeswehr)
Commands held Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 6
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves
German Cross in Gold
Iron Cross {1st & 2nd class}
Other work Bundeswehr

Dr. jur. Dr. rer. pol. Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte[Notes 1] (30 March 1907 – 7 July 1994) was a German Luftwaffe officer who served with the Fallschirmjäger during World War II, reaching the rank of Oberstleutnant. After the war, he served in the Bundeswehr, reaching the rank of Brigadegeneral der Reserve.

Early life

Von der Heydte was born to a noble family in Munich, Bavaria. His father, a Freiherr (roughly equivalent to a baron) had enjoyed a successful career with the Royal Bavarian Army, serving with distinction during World War I. His mother immigrated from France. The Von der Heydtes were stout Roman Catholics, and Friedrich attended a Munich Catholic school, achieving excellent grades. He was also a wartime associate of Claus von Stauffenberg, although not directly related.

After completion of his schooling, Friedrich followed his father's path and joined the Reichswehr. After an unsuccessful application to join the cavalry, Friedrich was posted to Infanterie-Regiment Nr.19 on 1 April 1925. He did not give up on his goal of joining the cavalry, and soon secured a posting as an officer cadet in Kavallerie-Regiment Nr.18.

In 1927, Von der Heydte was released from military service to attend Innsbruck University, studying Law and Economics. During this time, he became a private tutor to pay his university fees, as despite their noble status, his family was in dire financial troubles. He received a degree in Economics at Innsbruck University. In 1927, Von der Heydte was awarded his degree in law at Graz University, and traveled to Berlin to continue his studies. Late in the year, he secured a posting to a diplomatic school in Vienna. During his college years, the young Von der Heydte developed decidedly liberal views. This however did not hinder him from joining NSDAP May 1st 1933, obtaining membership number 2.134.193. He also entered the SA the same year.[1]

By 1934, Von der Heydte obtained Austrian citizenship while also maintaining German/Bavarian citizenship. During this period he received a stipend from the Carnegie Institute for Peace. In early 1935 he re-joined the Reichswehr, and was transferred to Kavallerie-Regiment Nr.15 in Paderborn and promoted to Lieutenant within the Wehrmacht. He again secured his temporary release from the military for study, and traveled to the Netherlands where he furthered his education at The Hague.

Late in 1935, Von der Heydte's company of the regiment was transformed from a cavalry unit to an anti-tank company belonging to Panzerabwehr-Abteilung 6 in Herford. After studying for over two years in The Hague, he returned to the military, where he attended a General Staff Officer's course over the winter of 1938-39. In August 1939, he was recalled to his company in preparation for the planned Invasion of Poland, Fall Weiß.

War career


During the spring offensive against France in 1940, von der Heydte served as an aide-de-champ (Ordonnanzoffizier) in the divisional HQ of the 246th Infantry Division. In mid May 1940, he was promoted Captain and at the same time transferred to Luftwaffe and its parachute arm. Here he joined the 3rd Fallschirmjäger Regiment as one of its company commanders.[2]


Von der Heydte commanded the 1st battalion of the 3rd Fallschirmjäger Regiment during the Battle of Crete in May 1941. His battalion was the first to enter Canea, for which he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.

North Africa

In July 1942 Von der Heydte, now promoted Major, was sent from his posting in Russia to Libya as commander of the elite Fallschirm-Lehrbataillon. This battalion was an integral part of Fallschirmjäger-Brigade Ramcke, that became famous for its daring escape from the German disaster at El Alamein in captured British trucks. In his memoirs he stated that he watched an Italian tank division be destroyed while the Germans withdrew after the Second Battle of El Alamein. Von der Heydte kept his position as an officer in the "Ramcke" Brigade in North Africa until February 1943 when he and several other Fallschirmjäger-officers were transferred to France to form the nucleus of the newly raised 2. Fallschirmjäger Division under command of Major-general H.B. Ramcke. Here, he was posted as "1a" (senior operations officer) in the divisional HQ.


After the fall of Sicily during the summer of 1943, the Germans grew more and more suspicious of an Italian defection to the Allies. To counter this event the 2. Fallschirmjäger Division was August 6th transferred from France to Rome. Here, von der Heydte gained audience with Pope Pius XII. As a devout Catholic, von der Heydte had visited Rome before the war. Here he had also befriended the Pope's "Throne Assistant", the Theologian Alois Hudal, who would later become a key person in helping Nazi war criminals evade the courts of justice during the post-war war-crime trials.[3] September 8th 1943 the Kingdom of Italy decided to break its alliance with Nazi-Germany and join the Allies. This caused the Germans to rapidly execute "Fall Achse" with the purpose of disarming and disbanding all units of the Royal Italian Army, Navy and Air force. The 2. Fallschirmjäger Division was given orders to capture all key positions in Rome. By September 11th the whole of Rome was under German control. The day after, Von der Heydte was sent on a mission that required him to use an aircraft. Unfortunately the aircraft crashed on the island of Elba and Von der Heydte suffered some severe injuries.

France and Normandy

After his recovery, Von der Heydte was January 15th 1944 given command of the newly formed 6th Fallschirmjäger Regiment of the 2. Fallschirmjäger Division. The unit was formed from veteran paratroopers and Luftwaffe ground personnel in early 1944 at Köln-Wahn. The Regiment had an average age of 17½, with a combined strength of 3457 men as of May 19, and around 4500 men by June 6, 1944.

By the time of Operation Overlord, the 6th Fallschirmjäger Regiment had been detached as a third regiment to the newly reformed 91. Luftlande Infanterie Division and deployed in the Carentan area of the Cotentin Peninsula.[4] The dispositions of its three battalions on June 6th, 1944 were as follows: 1st battalion advancing towards Sainte-Marie-du-Mont to relieve the strongpoint W5 and reinforce the defense of Utah Beach; 2nd battalion advancing towards Sainte-Mère-Église and attempt to make contact with 795 Ost battalion (Georgian); 3rd battalion remaining southwest of Carentan to provide flank security.

On D-Day, about 500 US paratroopers dropped southwest of Carentan. Skirmishing between airborne troops of both sides went on throughout the night. The 1st battalion managed to reach Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, only 6 kilometers from strongpoint W5; but finding the town held by the elements of 101st Airborne, the battalion dug in among the hedgerows outside the town. On June 7, after fighting a combined assault of US paratroopers and tanks most of the day, the battalion was destroyed in a fighting withdrawal towards Carentan. About 300 men surrendered. Only 25 reached Carentan. The 2nd battalion found Sainte-Mère-Église held by the 507th Infantry Regiment (United States), fought until its ammunition ran low and withdrew towards St. Come-du-Mont. From the town's church tower (and artillery observation post) Von der Heydte saw the vast Allied invasion armada 11 kilometers away. After heavy fighting on June 7, the 2nd and 3rd battalions were withdrawn into Carentan.

Von der Heydte was ordered by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel to defend Carentan to the last man, since it was the critical junction between Utah Beach and Omaha Beach

Starting around the night of June 10, US troops entered the outskirts of Carentan, and by morning of June 11 fierce fighting went from house to house. To illustrate the intensity: a US battalion (3rd of 502nd PIR) had 700 men entering Carentan and after two days' fighting only 132 men were left. By dusk on June 11, Von der Heydte withdrew what remained of his men out of Carentan to avoid encirclement. The commander of the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division was furious and wanted to arrest Von der Heydte, only intervention from Von der Heydte's higher ranking brethren saved the situation.

A counter-attack on June 12 failed to retake the town. For their battle at Carentan, the German paratroopers earned the nickname "Lions of Carentan" from the US paratroopers. Von der Heydte's regiment was subsequently involved in the intense hedgerow fighting (also known as the battle of the Bocage) defending every inch of ground that was characteristic of the Normandy campaign.

On July 22, Von der Heydte's 6th Fallschirmjäger Regiment was mentioned in a Wehrmacht communique when 32 of his men made a daring raid at St. Germain-sur-Seves on an entire American battalion (the 1st battalion of 358th Regiment, US 90th Infantry Division), capturing 265 men, including 11 officers. St. Germain-sur-Seves is located between Carentan and Perier. Oberfeldwebel Alexander Uhlig leading the raid was awarded the Knight's Cross.

On August 6, Von der Heydte's regiment participated in Operation Lüttich, the disastrous Mortain counterattack attempting to cut off the Allies' advance at the Avranches bridgehead. The German Seventh Army was subsequently encircled at Falaise Pocket, the final and epic battle of the Normandy campaign.

In September 1944 his regiment was involved in defending the German lines in North Brabant (The Netherlands) against the Allied Forces attacking in the Operation Market Garden.

Operation Stößer

On December 16, 1944, during the Ardennes Offensive Von der Heydte led his unit of 1200 men, Kampfgruppe Von der Heydte in the last large-scale German airborne drop of the war, Operation Stößer. The unit was tasked with dropping at night onto a strategic road junction 11 kilometers north of Malmédy and to hold it for approximately twenty-four hours until relieved by the 12th SS Panzer Division, with the aim of hampering the flow of Allied reinforcements and supplies.

However, due to a combination of factors, including lack of reconnaissance of the drop zone and the Luftwaffe pilots' lack of training in dropping paratroopers at night, the Fallschirmjäger were widely dispersed - some landing behind the German frontlines. Initially, only 125 men made it to the correct landing zone, with no heavy weapons. Eventually, 300 men were gathered from the surrounding woods, but without sufficient forces, the task of capturing the crossroads to delay the American re-enforcements was abandoned. In any case, the 12th SS Panzer Division was unable to defeat the Americans at Elsenborn Ridge, and so failed to relieve the Fallschirmjäger.

However, because of the dispersal of the drop, Fallschirmjäger were reported all over the Ardennes, and the Allies believed a division-sized jump had taken place. This caused much confusion and convinced them to allocate men to secure the rear instead of facing the main German thrust at the front.

Cut off, without supplies and hunted by forces including a regiment of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division and a combat command of the U.S. 3rd Armored Division, Von der Heydte ordered his men to break through Allied lines and reach the German front.

Von der Heydte arrived in Monschau on the evening of December 21st, with a broken arm. On December 23, he had a school teacher's son send a surrender note to the Allies. He was held as a prisoner of war in England until July 12, 1947.

Operation Walküre

Von der Heydte was a cousin of Colonel Claus Schenk Count von Stauffenberg, who tried to kill Hitler with a bomb July 20th 1944, and he was loosely connected to the ring of officers who tried to organize the resistance against Hitler.[5]

Post-war career

After his release as a POW, Von der Heydte returned to his academic career. From 1947 to 1950, Von der Heydte developed his inaugural dissertation, entitled "Die Geburtsstunde des souveränen Staates" (The birth of the Sovereign State.") His work began to critically examine the ratified constitution. He became in 1951 professor of constitutional and international law at the University of Mainz. He was also a judge at the Administrative Court of Rhineland-Palatinate. From 1953 to 1954 he was a visiting professor at the University of Saarland. From 1954 he served as Professor of International Law, General Administrative Law, German and Bavarian State Law and Political Science at the University of Würzburg. He also headed the Institute for Military Law at University of Würzburg. From 1956 to 1971 he was an associate and a later regular member of the Institute de Droit International. He also served from 1961 to 1965 as a member of the board of the German Society for International Law.

Parallel to his academic career, Von der Heydte also continued with a post-war military career with the Bundeswehr at the rank of Colonel. In 1962, he was promoted to Brigadier General in the Reserves of the Bundeswehr, one of only two to receive that rank.

Post-war religious and political commitments

In 1947 Von der Heydte joined the Christian Social Union (CSU), where he was chairman of the Christian Democratic Higher Education Association. Between November 20th 1966 and November 22nd 1970 he was one of 20 CSU Members of the constituency for Lower Franconia at the Bavarian Parliament. He was also a member of the Committee on Cultural Policy issues and in 1967, he joined the Bavarian State Office for Political Education and the State Compensation Office.

As a lawyer he was a supporter of the theological ideas of natural law and as a conservative Christian he supported the Catholic church' principles of justice.[6] He was involved in the Catholic Academic Association from 1948 to 1958 and was a member of the Central Committee of German Catholics. He was succeed Franz Prince of Salm-Dyck Reifferscheidt as governor of the German Lieutenancy of the Equestrian Order of the Holy grave in Jerusalem between 1958 and 1965.

Von der Heydte was a member and later board member of conservative-clerical Western Academy. The organization urged Christian values, Western civilization unity and federalism.

The Flick Affair

In 1958 Von der Heydte Heydte became one of the central figures in the Flick Affair. This was serious party-funding scandal where Von der Heydte allegedly had, as the director for many years of the Würzburg Institute of Political Science and Policy Association, helped with laundering money for political donations to the CDU / CSU and FDP. He had to appear before the Federal Constitutional Court on the issue of party funding through tax-deferred contributions.[7]

The "Spiegel" Affair

Both as head of the Institute for Military Law at University of Würzburg and as a Colonel in the Reserve, von der Heydte challenged in 1962 the weekly magazine Der Spiegel when it wrote an article about the scandalous state of affairs within the Bundeswehr. He accused the editors of high treason because they had revealed the military weaknesses of the newly formed Bundeswehr to the public (and thereby to the Soviets). Because of this accusation and von der Heydte's position as an expert in Military Law, the issue was brought to a federal court, triggering what was to be known as the Spiegel-Affäre with numerous arrests of journalists and others connected to that publication. The police raid on Der Spiegel was forcefully led by Theo Saevecke, the Kriminalrat at Sicherungsgruppe Bonn. It soon emerged that Saevecke was a not only a former SS-Hauptsturmführer with the SS-Sicherheitsdienst in Libya and Tunisia 1942-43 but also a member of SS-Einsatzgruppe IV in Poland 1939-40 and the head of the Gestapo and the Italian fascist police in Milano between 1943–45 and as such a potential war criminal.[8] Von der Heydte's and Saevecke's conduct in the Spiegel-Affäre caused a public outcry followed by demonstrations and public debates. The Spiegel Affair can be said to be the first sign of a change in the popular beliefs in West Germany - and the progenitor of all the protest later in that decade against all former Nazi German officials still in office. Von der Heydte was heavily criticised for his actions by several prominent West-German politicians and in 1965 a court cleared the editors of Der Spiegel on all charges.

Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte died in Aham, Landshut, in 1994 after a long illness.


  • Daedalus Returned (Hutchinson, 1958) - An account of the Battle of Crete.
  • Der moderne Kleinkrieg als wehrpolitisches und militärisches Phänomen (Modern Irregular Warfare.) Executive Intelligence Review, Nachrichtenagentur GmbH, Wiesbaden, Neuausgabe 1986 ISBN 3-925725-03-2 (Erstausgabe: Holzner-Verlag, Würzburg 1972)


Regarding the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, Von der Heydte said, "Half a million people have been put to death there for certain. I know that all the Jews from Bavaria were taken there. Yet the camp never became over-crowded. They gassed mental defectives, too."[1]

"What would you do in my place?" ---on June 10th, 1944, replying to a request of surrender by American paratroopers [2]

"The battle for Crete was to prove the overture to the great tragedy which reached its climax at El Alamein and Stalingrad. For the first time there had stood against us a brave and relentless opponent on a battleground which favoured him." [9] [3]



  1. In German a Doctor of Law is abbreviated as Dr. iur. (Doctor iuris) or Dr. jur. (Doctor juris) and a Doctorate of Economics is abbreviated as Dr. rer. pol. (Doctor rerum politicarum). Regarding personal names: Freiherr was a title, before 1919, but now is regarded as part of the surname. It is translated as Baron. Before the August 1919 abolition of nobility as a separate estate, titles preceded the full name when given (Prinz Otto von Bismarck). After 1919, these titles, along with any nobiliary prefix (von, zu, etc.), could be used, but were regarded as part of the surname, and thus came after a first name (Otto Prinz von Bismarck). The feminine forms are Freifrau and Freiin.


  1. Das Personenlexikon zum Dritten Reich. Wer war was vor und nach 1945. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Zweite aktualisierte Auflage, Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 978-3-596-16048-8
  5. Thomas Parrish, Samuel Marshall: The Simon and Schuster encyclopedia of World War II. Simon % Schuster, Delaware 1978, ISBN 0-671-24277-6, S. 270.
  6. Vanessa Conze: Das Europa der Deutschen. Ideen von Europa in Deutschland zwischen Reichstradition und Westorientierung (1920-1970). R. Oldenbourg-Verlag, München 2005, ISBN 978-3-486-57757-0, S. 67.
  7. Daniel Herbe: Hermann Weinkauff (1894–1981). Der erste Präsident des Bundesgerichtshofs. Mohr Siebeck Verlag, München 2008, ISBN 978-3-16-149461-1, S. 97. Die drehen heute genüßlich die Daumen, in: Der Spiegel vom 26. Juni 1989 Affären. Absturz nach dem Melken, Spiegel Nr.54/1984.
  9. Baron Von Der Heydte's Daedalus Returned: Crete 1941
  10. 10.0 10.1 MacLean 2007, p. 170.
  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000) (in German). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 – Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtsteile [The Bearers of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939–1945 — The Owners of the Highest Award of the Second World War of all Wehrmacht Branches]. Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6. 
  • Kurowski, Franz (1995). Knights of the Wehrmacht Knight's Cross Holders of the Fallschirmjäger. Atglen, PA: Schiffer. ISBN 978-0-88740-749-9. 
  • Leigh–Fermor, Patrick. "A Time Of Gifts" ISBN 978-0-06-011224-0 Chapter 7 – Vienna
  • Lucas, James. "Hitler's Enforcers (Leaders of the German War Machine 1939–1945)" ISBN 80-206-0547-9 Chapter Paratrooper with a prayer beads – Arms and Armour Press, London
  • Von der Heydte, Friedrich August, Modern Irregular Warfare[4], ISBN 0-933488-49-1 Biographical notes
  • MacLean, French L (2007). Luftwaffe Efficiency & Promotion Reports: For the Knight's Cross Winners. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Military History. ISBN 978-0-7643-2657-8. 
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007) (in German). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 The Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 by Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Allied Forces with Germany According to the Documents of the Federal Archives]. Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2. 
  • Thomas, Franz; Wegmann, Günter (1986) (in German). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Deutschen Wehrmacht 1939–1945 Teil II: Fallschirmjäger [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the German Wehrmacht 1939–1945 Part II: Paratroopers]. Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-1461-8. 

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