The Panzer Count's Ostfront

Researched and written by Charlie Meconis.

Note: this brief biography of Hyazinth Graf Strachwitz von Gross-Zauche und Camminetz will focus primarily on his combat leadership on the Eastern Front during World War II. Those interested in broader aspects of his amazing life can refer to the annotated list of sources at the end of this piece.

The “Panzer Count”. Born on 30 July 1893 into a line of Silesian nobility over 700 years old.

The “Last Cavalryman”. Graduate of the Lichterfelde Cadet Institute, member of the elite Prussian Garde du Corps. Famous for his long-range patrol to the outskirts of Paris at the outset of World War I.

“Conte'”. As a Lieutenant in the Reserve transferred in 1934 to the 2 nd Panzer Regiment, descended from the oldest Prussian cavalry regiment.

“The Armored Cavalryman”. Led his Panzer battalion in the 16 th Panzer Division to stunning victories at Belgrade in April 1941, and throughout Operation Barbarossa from Dubno to the Uman Pocket, winning the Knight's Cross.

The “Panzer Lion”. Victor at the May 1942 Kharkov pocket. First panzer commander to reach the Don at Kalach in August '42 and the Volga two weeks later, winning the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross.

The “Panzer Count”. Commanding the Panzer Regiment of the elite Großdeutschland Division, at the tip of von Manstein's counteroffensive west of Kharkov in March 1943. 27 th member of the Wehrmacht to win the Swords to the Knight's Cross.

“The Devil's General”. Commander of Army Group North's panzer forces in 1944, defender of the Narva line in Estonia, commander of Panzerverbände Strachwitz when it broke the Soviet pocket ring at Riga. 11 th member of the Wehrmacht to be awarded the Diamonds to the Knight's Cross with Oakleaves and Swords.

And finally, once again, simply Hyazinth Graf Strachwitz defending his beloved Silesian homeland with a volunteer anti-tank brigade in 1945 before finally surrendering to the Americans at the end of the war.

Even a thumbnail sketch of this amazing man—and his many names--is impressive. And yet to a surprising degree he remains a man of mystery. This is due mostly to the fact that he apparently did not keep a diary or write a major piece about himself and his career, and that the usually thorough list of German records of his career was broken by the fact that his first unit, the 16 th Panzer Division, was destroyed in the Stalingrad pocket after he was badly wounded and flown out at the insistence of his commander General Hans-Valentin Hube, and that after one year with the Großdeutschland division he left under controversial circumstances and thereafter served with a number of different units. The only biography was not written until 1962 and was not highly regarded for its accuracy by his family and friends. So the paper trail is thinner than usual for a man of his caliber.

Nevertheless, the main elements of Graf Strachwitz's career and character are clear enough, especially for the limited purposes of background for this gaming experience.

“Herr Graf”

Strachwitz inherited a proud noble tradition—and insisted that he be called and treated as such. He apparently represented the best of that tradition: as the master of the family estate at Großstein in Silesia he was genuinely concerned for and fair to those beneath his status and usually won their undying loyalty. These traits continued in his military service and those who served under him trusted him as a superb military mind and loved him as a caring commander. At the same time he did not suffer fools gladly—especially when they held a higher military rank and ordered him to do something stupid.

This latter characteristic is thought by some to have led to his departure from the Großdeutschland Division in November of 1943. The Division's commander, General “Papa” Hornlein was loved by the troops but reputedly no military genius. A very serious confrontation broke out at the beginning of Operation Citadel when the Panzer Count was not given over all command of Großdeutschland's panzer forces but was subordinated to those in charge of the new Panther Brigade attached to the division. See our briefings to the Kursk battle in this series for more information.

“The Spirit of the Long-Range Patrol” and “The Last Cavalryman”

Graf Strachwitz's great cavalry raid behind French lines early in World War I apparently marked him deeply. Although he was eventually captured and spent the rest of the war in a French POW camp, the havoc he created was etched in his mind.

He reportedly had a maxim: One can achieve great successes with only a few men—if they are good.” Several of his Ostfront exploits demonstrated this maxim. Audacity was a hallmark of his operations. Courage goes hand in hand with such an approach.

Anti-Bolshevism and German Silesian Nationalism

As a devout Catholic and member of the landed nobility Strachwitz was deeply opposed to the atheism and socialism of the Communist cause. In the chaos of post World War I Berlin he took part in street battles against the red Spartakist revolutionaries. These beliefs and experiences stayed with him throughout his long Ostfront years to the bitter end as he eventually lost a son and his beloved Großstein to the war. But Strachwitz made it clear to his troops that he had no hatred for the people of the Soviet Union—just their leadership. The resource-rich region of Silesia was coveted by several nations in the early part of the 20 th century and in the 1920s Strachwitz fought with the Freikorps against Polish partisan striving annex the land of his ancestors.

A superb athlete

Graf Strachwitz was an excellent athlete in his youth—horseman, fencer, and candidate for the 1916 German Olympic team. By the beginning of World War II he was 46 years old and called a “Reserve Uncle” by the younger officers in the supply unit to which he had been relegated. Although it was primarily his military expertise and courage that vaulted him back into a combat command, his still superb physique enabled him to endure the rigors of battlefield leadership—and to survive being wounded about 13 times. If you never lose the Panzer Count in action in our re-creations, you aren't being realistic.

The student of Guderian and Rommel.

Although he longed for a combat command in 1940, Strachwitz's time with the 1 st Panzer Division's supply unit during the invasion of France enabled him to observe directly the operational methods employed by Guderian and Rommel in implementing the Blitzkrieg. To his grasp of cavalry tactics he added their maxims: tanks must be led from the front, tanks should never stand still, strike with a fist, not an open hand. Even as the war turned against Germany he was best employed in offensive situations. We have focused on those in the battles we chose for this series, and have omitted the Panzer Count's defensive achievements at the Mius river in 1941, the Northern Defense Barrier at Stalingrad in 1942, and the long retreat to the Dnepr in 1943. One could do another series on those!

Member of the German anti-Hitler Resistance

The Panzer Count's participation in the resistance movement may seem to be a political matter outside the scope of this biography of him as a combat leader .But one cannot understand the full depth of his Ostfront career without it. Moreover, it highlights a deep dilemma which today faces some of the soldiers of the nations of both authors of this series: what to do when a military officer comes to believe that his nation's leadership remains embarked on a war that is leading to disaster?

In February 1947 Strachwitz submitted a deposition to the U.S. Army's European Command while he was still a POW. This was supported by German Generals Speidel, Loehning, Faekenstedt and Freiherr von Gersdorff. Graf. Strachwitz claims that his devotion to Germany and opposition to Bolshevism made him slow to realize the evil of the Nazi regime. But it became clear to him by October of 1942 after Hitler ordered General Paulus to sack General von Weitersheim, commander of the 14 th Panzer Corps outside Stalingrad. Weitersheim (among others) had called for a temporary strategic retreat from Stalingrad due to the impending threat of a Soviet counterattack against the salient's flanks.

Strachwitz revealed his shock and dismay to his division commander, General Hube. Shortly thereafter the trap closed on the 6 th Army. Strachwitz was wounded and over his objections was flown out of the Stalingrad pocket under Hube's orders. “On this day,” wrote Strachwitz, “the day I left my comrades behind in a hopeless situation . . . I took a firm resolve to seek a way of freeing our military leaders from the thralldom of Hitler and restoring freedom of action to German politics.” Eventually Strachwitz took part in a plot to arrest Hitler during a visit to the front at Poltava in the Ukraine in March of 1943, but at the last minute Hitler diverted to Zaparozhe instead. His constant duties at the front and yet another wound prevented Strachwitz from playing any role in the final attempt on Hitler's life in July 20—which probably saved him from the Gestapo, who had learned of his name but apparently had no solid evidence.

After the failed attempts at overthrowing Hitler, the Panzer Count, like many other German officers, remained steadfast in his duties on the Ostfront out of dread at the impending Soviet invasion of his homeland and loyalty to his troops—not to the Nazi regime. Bear this in mind during the last 4 battles in our series.

Conclusion

Hyazinth Graf Strachwitz was a brilliant and courageous military leader and a man of great personal integrity. We hope you find “The Panzer Count's Ostfront” challenging.

The Grave of Hyazinth Graf  Strachwitz Photo by Kevin G. Masson

Download this biography as a PDF.

About The Scenarios

In this series we will try to present a cross-section of his Ostfront battles from 1941 to 1945. We have chosen those battles which, in our opinion, best characterize his military genius while offering interesting and reasonably balanced challenges.

Strachwitz at Dubno: On the 28 th June 1941 the panzer kampfgruppe from 16 th Panzer Division under Major Hyazinth Graf (Count) Strachwitz clashes with a specially formed “Mobile Group” under Brigade Commissar N. K. Popel from 8 th Mechanized Corps near the town of Dubno during the opening stages of ‘Barbarossa'.

Strachwitz at Kalach 8/42: Kampfgruppe Strachwitz leads the summer drive on Stalingrad and fights a classic tank battle as it tries to seize a crossing over the Don river at Kalach. The Panzer Count won the Oakleaves to the Knight's Cross.

Strachwitz at Kharkov '43: Panzer regiment Strachwitz spearheads von Manstein's counteroffensive west of Kharkov against two Guards Tank Corps. The Panzer Count was awarded the Swords to the Knight's Cross. [NOTE this is really vague because we need to decide which of the 4 major battles would make the best game]

Operation Strachwitz with Carius at Narva '44: The Panzer Count and the Tiger ace combine to defeat a Red Army attempt to outflank the Narva defense line in Estonia. the Panzer Count won the Diamonds

Strachwitz's Last Blitzkreig : Panzerverbände Strachwitz breaks through to the encircled Army Group North at Tukkum near Riga

Götterdämerung in Silesia fictional but plausible. The Panzer Count's tank-hunters attempt to delay General Rybalko's 3rd Guards Tank Army at Schloss Großstein, near the Oder river town of Krappitz in Silesia.

Sources for Strachwitz Biography:

Books

“Ein Betrag zur Geschicte des deutschen Widerstandes gegen das nationalsozialistische Regime” by Hyazinth Graf Strachwitz, 17 February 1947, Headquarters European Command, copy in the author's possession, obtained from U.S. National Archives.

Appendix 1 in The History of Panzerregiment “Grossdeutschland” by Hans-Joachim Jung (J.J. Fedorowicz, 2000)

Mit Eichenlaub und Schwerin by Florian Berger (selbstverlag 1999)

Der Panzergraf by Günter Fraschka (Erich Pabel Verlag, 1962)

The History of the Panzerkorps Großdeutschland Vol. 2, by Helmuth Spaeter (J.J. Fedoriwicz, 1995)

Tigers in the Mud by Otto Carius, (J.J. Fedorowicz, 1994)

Geschicte der 16. Panzer-Division by Wolfgang Werthen (Podzun-Verlag, 1958)

Tragedy of the Faithful by Wilhelm Tieke (J.J. Fedorowicz, 2001)

Stalingrad by Antony Beevor, (Penguin Books, 1999)

Online sources

“Oberst Hyazinth Graf Strachwitz von Gross-Zauche und Camminetz” http://www.strachwitz.net/content/view/159/42/

“Generalleutnant der Reserve Hyazinth Graf Strachwitz von Gross-Zauche und Camminetz“ http://www.waffenhq.de/biographen/biographien/strachwitz.html

“The Tiger I – In Action! Von Strachwitz Strikes!” by Wild Bill Wilder and Fabio Prado http://www.fprado.com/armorsite/tiger1_in_action.htm

“Count Hyazinth Strachwitz von Gross-Zauche und Camminetz: Der Panzergraf“ http://www.achtungpanzer.com.gen11.htm

“Hyazinth Graf Strachwitz von Gross-Zxaucher und Camminetz“ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyazinth_Graf_Strachwitz_von_Gross-Zauche_und_Camminetz.htm

“Oberst Hyazinth Graf Strachwitz von Gross-Zauche und Camminetz“ http://members.shaw.ca/grossdeutschland/strach.htm

Charlie Meconis 2007 www.blowtorchscenarios.com