Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte

Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte

Infobox Military Person
name=Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte
born=birth date|1907|3|30|df=y

caption=Oberstleutnant von der Heydte, 1943
allegiance=flagicon|Germany Weimar Republic (to 1933)
flagicon|Nazi Germany Nazi Germany (to 1945)
flagicon|West Germany West Germany
serviceyears=1925-1945, 1957-1967
rank=Oberstleutnant (Wehrmacht)
Brigadegeneral (Bundeswehr)
commands=FschJägRgt 6
battles=World War II
awards=Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves
German Cross in Gold
Iron Cross {1st & 2nd class}

Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte [German title|Freiherr] (March 30 1907 – July 7 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 into the nobility 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 the First World War. His mother immigrated from France. The von der Heydtes were stout Roman Catholics, and Friedrich attended a Munich Catholic school, achieving excellent grades. He is 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 travelled 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, and on his return to Germany, found himself at odds with popular opinion.

By 1934, von der Heydte obtained Austrian citizenship while also maintaining German/Bavarian citizenship. He had become involved in several brawls with pro-Nazi students, and only evaded the Gestapo by rejoining his old cavalry regiment. During this period he received a stipend from the Carnegie Institute for Peace. In 1934 he re-joined the Reichswehr, and it 1935 he was transferred to "Kavallerie-Regiment Nr.15" and promoted to leutnant within the Wehrmacht. He again secured his temporary release from the military for study, and travelled 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 to an anti-tank company. 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


Von der Heydte commanded the 1st battalion of the 3rd Fallschirmjaeger Regiment in 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.


Von der Heydte fought in Russia and North Africa. 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 was commander of the 6th Fallschirmjäger Regiment. The unit was formed from veteran paratroopers and Luftwaffe ground personnel in early 1944 at Köln-Wahn. The Regiment had an average age of 17 1/2, with a combined strength of 3457 men as of May 19, and around 4500 men by June 6, 1944.

The dispositions of three battalions on June 6th, 1944 were as follow:1st battalion advancing towards Sainte-Marie-du-Mont to relieve the strongpoint W5 and reinforce the defense of Utah Beach2nd 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 US 507 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 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 counterattack 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.

End of the war

The war ended for von der Heydte when he was taken prisoner in 1944 during the Ardennes Offensive. He led the last large-scale German airborne drop of the war, Operation Stösser. On December 16, 1944, his unit of 1200 men, Kampfgruppe Von der Heydte, was to drop on the main road junction 11 kilometers north of Malmédy. It was the German paratroopers' first and only nighttime drop in WWII; there also was no prior reconnaissance or aerial photographs. By a combination of Allied flak and low visibility, the transport aircraft greatly dispersed the paratroopers. Some landed 50 miles behind the German frontlines. Others landed as far away as Holland. The German paratrooper dispersal confounded the Allies as much as the US/British paratrooper dispersal on D-Day confounded the Germans. However, aside from that, Kampfgruppe Von der Heydte did not result in much tactical value. Only 125 men made it to the actual landing zone, with no heavy weapons. Cut off and without supplies, Von der Heydte had his men try to break through Allied lines and reach the German front. He himself had a broken arm. On December 24, he had a farmer's son send a surrender note to the Allies. He was held as a prisoner of war in England until July 12, 1947.

Post-war career

In 1950, von der Heydte submitted his inaugural dissertation, entitled "Die Entstehung des modernen Staates" (The Emergence of the Modern State.") In 1951, he attained the Professor's chair at the University of Mainz for Civil and International Law.

In 1962 von der Heydte was promoted to Brigadier General in the Reserves of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany,) one of only two to receive that rank.

From 1966 to 1970, von der Heydte served as a member of the Bavarian State Parliament as a member of the Christian Democratic Union.


* "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." []

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


* Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer. "Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939-1945". Friedburg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas, 2000. ISBN 3-7909-0284-5.
* Kurowski, Franz. "Knights of the Wehrmacht Knight's Cross Holders of the Fallschirmjäger". Schiffer Military. ISBN 0-88740-749-8.
* Leigh–Fermor, Patrick. "A Time Of Gifts" ISBN 9780060112240 Chapter 7 – Vienna
* Lucas, James. "Hitler's Enforces (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" [] , ISBN 0933488491 Biographical notes

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