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Theodor Tolsdorff
File:Theodor Tolsdroff.jpg
Theodor Tolsdorff
Nickname Lion of Vilna, also Tolsdorff the Mad
Born (1909-11-03)3 November 1909
Died 25 May 1978(1978-05-25) (aged 68)
Place of birth Lehnarten / East Prussia
Place of death Dortmund
Allegiance Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
Service/branch Balkenkreuz.svg Heer
Years of service 1934 – 1945
Rank Generalleutnant (Lieutenant General)
Unit 1. Infantry Division
Füssilier-Regiments 22
340. 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 Lieutenant General in the German Army and one of 27 recipients of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds (German language: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillanten) in the Second World War. The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade the Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. He was wounded fourteen times during the war.

Early life

Tolsdorf went to school in Königsberg and later became a farmer. He continued his education to become an administrator of an estate in Lehnharten. Later on, in 1934, at the age of 25, he joined as a volunteer the 1st Infantry Regiment in Insterburg. On 1 June 1934 Tolsdorff was promoted from the ranks to Lieutenant.

World War II

Polish Campaign

During the Polish Campaign Tolsdorff led the 14th (anti-tank-gun) Company in the 22. Fusilier Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division. He was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class for actions against the Kamienna Góra bunker line. Soon afterwards he earned the Iron Cross 1st Class when he prohibited the enemy to break out when he attacked from close range. He was wounded in the shoulder at the end of the Polish Campaign.

French Campaign

Tolsdorff's unit was then transferred to the Rhineland as part of the army reserve. He participated in the French Campaign as his unit fought in Belgium and drove to the Flanders pocket, then south past Paris to the Saumur area.

Eastern Front

During the beginning of Russian Campaign Tolsdorff again was in charge of the 14th Company. Passing through Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania he assumed command of the battalion and again was severely wounded. While in the hospital he was promoted to Hauptmann (Captain) and awarded with the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 4 December 1941 . 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 the 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 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 Dr. med. dent. Walter Lange, Major Theodor Tolsdorff, Oberst Günther Pape, Major Dr. 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 the Soviet attack for fourteen days and participating in counterattacks in the neighbouring sector and restoring the situation, Tolsdorff was awarded the 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 now made 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. Tolsdorff was promoted to Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant Colonel) in the Lublin hospital. After recovering from his wounds Tolsdorff was ordered to attend the officer cadet school at Metz.

Back to the front in June 1944 Tolsdorff received the order to defend the city of Vilna. Tolsdorff held out long enough to evacuate the thousands of wounded from the city until relieve arrived from Hyazinth Graf Strachwitz von Gross-Zauche und Camminetz. This action resulted in his promotion to Oberst and the awarding of the Oak Leaves with Swords on 18 July 1944.

In early August, when Tolsdorff received the Oak Leaves with Swords, Hitler personally ordered him to go to Hirschbergdisambiguation needed for division commanders training. 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.

On 18 March 1945, Major General Tolsdorff received the Diamonds for personal bravery and his division's outstanding accomplishments. Tolsdorff received the Diamonds in Berlin, was promoted to Lieutenant General and ordered 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 thirty-one 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 TV series Band of Brothers in which a German general played by Wolf Kahler surrenders to Lipton played by Donnie Wahlberg.

After the war

On 9 May 1947 Tolsdorff was released from American captivity. He took on various jobs like truck driver and construction worker until on 7 December 1952 he was put under arrest. He faced charges for the execution of Hauptmann Franz Xaver Holzhey, an army captain and First World War veteran, on 3 May 1945. Initially he was sentenced to two and a half years. A federal court overturned the decision and ordered a retrial. On 24 June 1960 Tolsdorff was declared not guilty. The same year, Tolsdorff was hired by the German Asphalt AG and held a position of manager until 1969 when he took over the branch office in Dortmund. Tolsdorff retired on 31 December 1974. Following a serious accident in which Tolsdorff suffered a double skull fracture,[Notes 1] he died on 25 May 1978 in Dortmund.[Notes 2][Notes 3]


Wehrmachtbericht reference

Date Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording Direct English translation
15 July 1944 Die tapfere Besatzung der alten litauischen Hauptstadt Wilna unter Führung ihres Kommandanten Stahel, durchbrach nach fünftägigem Widerstand gegen überlegene feindliche Kräfte befehlsgemäß den sowjetischen Einschließungsring und kämpfte sich zu den westlich unter Oberst Tolsdorf bereitstehenden deutschen Truppen durch. Pflichterfüllung und Standhaftigkeit dieser beiden Kampftruppen verdienen höchste Anerkennung. Bei den Kämpfen um die Stadt hat sich auch eine Flakabteilung der Luftwaffe unter Hauptmann Müller hervorragend bewährt.[6] The brave garrison of the old Lithuanian capital Vilnius, led by their commander Stahel under orders broke through the Soviet encirclement after five days of resistance against superior enemy forces and fought through to the in the west waiting German troops under the command of Colonel Tolsdorf (sic). Duty and steadfastness of these combat troops deserve the highest recognition. In this battle for the city a Luftwaffe flak unit under command of Captain Müller has also distinguished itself.


  1. According to Fraschka the skull fracture occurred a few years before 1976 and is not directly linked to his death
  2. According to Fraschka place of death is Dortmund and date of death is 25 May 1978.[1]
  3. According to Williamson place of death is Wuppertal and date of death is 1 June 1978.[2]


  1. Fraschka 1994, p. 299.
  2. Williamson 2006, p. 57.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Thomas 1998, p. 385.
  4. Patzwall and Scherzer 2001, p. 478.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Scherzer 2007, p. 747.
  6. Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 3, p. 162.
  • Berger, Florian (1999) (in German). Mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern. Die höchstdekorierten Soldaten des Zweiten Weltkrieges [With Oak Leaves and Swords. The Highest Decorated Soldiers of the Second World War]. Vienna, Austria: Selbstverlag Florian Berger. ISBN 978-3-9501307-0-6. 
  • 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. 
  • Fraschka, Günther (1994). Knights of the Reich. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Military/Aviation History. ISBN 978-0-88740-580-8. 
  • Patzwall, Klaus D. and Scherzer, Veit (2001). Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941 – 1945 Geschichte und Inhaber Band II (in German). Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall. ISBN 3-931533-45-X.
  • 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. 
  • Searle, Alaric (2003). Wehrmacht Generals, West German Society, and the Debate on Rearmament, 1949-1959, Praeger Pub.
  • Thomas, Franz (1998) (in German). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 2: L–Z [The Oak Leaves Bearers 1939–1945 Volume 2: L–Z]. Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2300-9. 
  • Williamson, Gordon (2006). Knight's Cross with Diamonds Recipients 1941–45. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84176-644-7. 
  • (in German) Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 3, 1. Januar 1944 bis 9. Mai 1945 [The Wehrmacht Reports 1939–1945 Volume 3, 1 January 1944 to 9 May 1945]. München, Germany: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG. 1985. ISBN 978-3-423-05944-2. 

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