Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte

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Dr. jur. Dr. rer. pol.
Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte
File:Bundesarchiv Bild 183-H26044, Friedrich August v. der Heydte.jpg
Born (1907-03-30)30 March 1907
Died 7 July 1994(1994-07-07) (aged 87)
Allegiance  Weimar Republic (to 1933)
 Nazi Germany (to 1945)
 West Germany
Service/branch Balkenkreuz.svg Luftwaffe
Years of service 1925–45, 1957–67
Rank Oberstleutnant (Wehrmacht)
Brigadegeneral (Bundeswehr)
Commands held Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 6
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves
German Cross in Gold
Iron Cross {1st & 2nd class}
Relations Claus von Stauffenberg (cousin)
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 of the Reserves.

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 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 Catholic school in Munich, achieving excellent grades. He was also a cousin of Claus von Stauffenberg.

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 the NSDAP on 1 May 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-camp (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.


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 Fallschirm-Lehrbataillon. This battalion was a part of Fallschirmjäger-Brigade Ramcke. 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 weary of a potential Italian defection to the Allies. To counter this event the 2. Fallschirmjäger division was transferred from France to Rome on 6 August. 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.[2] September 8th 1943 the Kingdom of Italy decided to break its alliance with Nazi Germany and join the Allies. This caused the Germans to 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 key positions in Rome. By September 11th the whole of Rome was under German control. The day after, von der Heydte was sent on an airborne mission. The aircraft crashed on the island of Elba and Von der Heydte suffered severe injuries.

France and Normandy

After his recovery, Von der Heydte was given command of the newly formed 6th Fallschirmjäger regiment of the 2. Fallschirmjäger division on January 15, 1944. The unit was formed from 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.[citation needed] 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 U.S. paratroopers dropped southwest of Carentan. Skirmishing between airborne troops of both sides went on throughout the night. The 1st battalion reached Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, 6 kilometers from strongpoint W5; but finding the town held by the elements of 101st Airborne Division, the battalion dug in among the hedgerows outside the town. On June 7, after fighting a combined assault of US paratroopers and tanks for the duration of the day, the battalion was destroyed near Carentan. About 300 men surrendered; 25 reached Carentan. The 2nd battalion found Sainte-Mère-Église held by the 507th Infantry Regiment (United States) and withdrew towards St. Come-du-Mont. 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, 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 fighting went from house to house. To illustrate the intensity: a U.S. 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.

A counter-attack on June 12 failed to retake the town. Von der Heydte's regiment was subsequently involved in the intense hedgerow fighting that was characteristic of the Normandy campaign.

On August 6, von der Heydte's regiment participated in Operation Lüttich, the Mortain counterattack aimed at cutting off the Allies' advance at the Avranches bridgehead. The German Seventh Army was subsequently encircled at Falaise Pocket, the final 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

Prior to the Ardennes Offensive, the Germans planned Operation Stößer to drop paratroopers behind the American lines 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) north of Malmédy and to seize a key crossroads leading to Antwerp. To conceal the plans from the Allies and preserve secrecy, von der Heydte wasn't allowed to use his own, experienced troops. Most of the new paratroops had little training.[3]

The Lutfwaffe somehow managed to assemble 112 Ju 52 transport planes, but the pilots were very inexperienced. It was the German paratroopers' only nighttime drop during World War II. While the aircraft took off with around 1,300 Fallschirmjäger, the pilots dropped some behind the German front lines, others over Bonn, and only a few hundred in widely scattered locations behind the American lines. Some aircraft landed with their troops still on board. Only a fraction of the force landed near the intended drop zone.[3]:161

The Kampfgruppe 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. The planes that were relatively close to the intended drop zone were buffeted by strong winds that deflected many paratroopers and made their landings far rougher. Since many of the German paratroopers were very inexperienced, some were crippled upon impact and died where they fell. Some of their bodies were found the following spring as the snow melted.[4]:218 Even von der Heydte broke his arm upon landing from his jump.

Initially, only 125 men made it to the correct landing zone, with no heavy weapons. By noon on 17 December, von der Heydte's unit had scouted the woods and rounded up a total of around 300 troops. With only enough ammunition for a single fight, the force was too small to take the crossroads on its own.[5]:89

But 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.[5]:88

Capturing the crossroads to delay American reinforcements was abandoned. Because all his radios had been destroyed or lost in the jump, von der Heydte didn't know the 12th SS Panzer Division was unable to defeat the Americans at the Battle of Elsenborn Ridge, and was unable to relieve his forces. 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.[6]

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 Institut 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's principles of justice.[7] 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 became one of the central figures in the Flick Affair. This was a serious party funding scandal where von der Heydte allegedly had, as the director of the Würzburg Institute of Political Science and Policy Association for many years, 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.[8]

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 the weekly magazine Der Spiegel in 1962 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 affair" 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.[9] 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."[10]

"What would you do in my place?"
—on June 10th, 1944, replying to a request of surrender by American paratroopers [1]

"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."[11] [2]


Wehrmachtbericht reference

Date Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording Direct English translation
11 June 1944 Bei den schweren Kämpfen im feindlichen Landekopf und bei der Vernichtung der im Hintergelände abgesetzten feindlichen Fallschirm- und Luftlandetruppen haben sich das rheinisch-westfälische Grenadierregiment 736 unter Führung von Oberst Grug, die 352. Infanteriedivision unter Führung von Generalleutnant Kraiß und das Fallschirmregiment 6 unter Führung von Major v. d. Heydte besonders ausgezeichnet.[18] In the heavy fighting in the enemy's bridgehead and in the destruction of enemy parachute and air landing troops which have been dropped in the rear area, the Rhenish-Westphalian Grenadier Regiment 736 under the leadership of Colonel Grug, the 352nd Infantry Division under the command of Lieutenant General Kraiß and the Parachute Regiment 6, under the leadership of Major v. d. Heydte have particularly excelled.


  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 legal class, titles preceded the full name when given (Graf Helmuth James von Moltke). Since 1919, these titles, along with any nobiliary prefix (von, zu, etc.), can be used, but are regarded as a dependent part of the surname, and thus come after any given names (Helmuth James Graf von Moltke). Titles and all dependent parts of surnames are ignored in alphabetical sorting. 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
  3. 3.0 3.1 Parker, Danny S. (Jun 21, 1998). To Win The Winter Sky. Da Capo Press. p. 532. ISBN 978-1-58097-006-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Orfalea, Gregory (May 1, 1999). Messengers of the Lost Battalion: The Heroic 551st and the Turning of the Tide at the Battle of the Bulge. Touchstone. p. 416. ISBN 978-0-684-87109-7. Retrieved August 25, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 Goldstein, Donald M. (December 1994). Nuts!: The Battle of the Bulge: The Story and Photographs. J. Michael Wenger, Katherine V. Dillon. Potomac Books. p. 191. ISBN 978-0-02-881069-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Thomas Parrish, Samuel Marshall: The Simon and Schuster encyclopedia of World War II. Simon % Schuster, Delaware 1978, ISBN 0-671-24277-6, S. 270.
  7. 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.
  8. 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. de:Theo Saevecke
  11. Baron Von Der Heydte's Daedalus Returned: Crete 1941
  12. 12.0 12.1 MacLean 2007, p. 170.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Thomas 1997, p. 278.
  14. Patzwall & Scherzer 2001, p. 184.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Scherzer 2007, p. 389.
  16. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 226.
  17. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 90.
  18. Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 3, p. 124.


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  • Thomas, Franz; Wegmann, Günter (1986). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Deutschen Wehrmacht 1939–1945 Teil II: Fallschirmjäger (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-1461-8. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help) <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Thomas, Franz (1997). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 1: A–K (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2299-6. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help) <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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