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Wilhelm Mohnke (born 15 March 1911; died 6 August 2001) was one of the original 120 members of the SS-Staff Guard (Stabswache) "Berlin" formed in March 1933. From those ranks, Mohnke was to rise to become one of German dictator Adolf Hitler's last remaining generals.
Mohnke saw action while serving with the Infantry Regiment Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler in Poland and the Balkans. After several failed attempts to introduce a Panzer arm to the Leibstandarte, he was transferred to a replacement battalion until he was given command of a regiment in the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend. It was with this regiment that he fought in the Battle for Caen. For his superior conduct in battle, he received the Knight's Cross on 11 July 1944. After participating in most of the French campaign, he was given command of his original division, the Leibstandarte, for Operation Wacht Am Rhein, which commenced on 16 December 1944. He served until the very last day of the war in Europe; during the Battle of Berlin, he commanded Kampfgruppe Mohnke and was charged with defending the Berlin government district, including the Reichstag (nicknamed Die Zitadelle (The Citadel)).
Wilhelm Mohnke was born in Lübeck, Imperial Germany, in 1911. His father, who shared his name with his son, was a cabinetmaker. After his father's death, he went to work for a glass and porcelain manufacturer, eventually reaching a management position. Mohnke joined the Nazi Party on 1 September 1931 and the SS two months later.
Mohnke led 5th company of the 2nd Battalion Infantry Regiment Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler at the outset of the Battle of France in 1940, taking over command of 2nd Battalion on 28 March after the Battalion commander was wounded. It was around this time that Mohnke was allegedly involved in the murder of 80 British prisoners of war (POWs) of the 48th Division near Wormhoudt. Mohnke was never brought to trial for these allegations, and when the case was reopened in 1988, a German prosecutor came to the conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to bring charges.
Four years later, Mohnke's name was again mentioned in connection with war crimes, this time as the commander of 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH), where units under his command were charged with the Malmedy massacre. It is also alleged that Mohnke was responsible for the murder of 35 Canadian POWs while with the Hitlerjugend division at Fountenay le Pesnel.
He commanded the 2nd Battalion during the Balkan campaign, where he lost a foot in a Yugoslavian air attack on 6 April 1941, the first day of the campaign. It was the decision of the medics that his leg would need to be amputated, but Mohnke overrode that decision. His wound was so grievous that they were still forced to remove his foot. While recuperating he was awarded the German Cross in Gold due to the severity of his injury.
It was Mohnke who planted the seed for the formation of the LSSAH Panzerabteilung early in 1942 after returning to active service. He appointed Ralf Tiemann as his adjutant, whose first official task was finding recruits. Tiemann than proceeded to compile a list, eventually with enough names to fill two companies. While the newly wed Sepp Dietrich presented his new wife to his officers on 14 January, Mohnke presented divisional commander Sepp Dietrich with his personnel list, which had in the mean time turned into transfer orders. Dietrich, who was caught unaware, finally relented to Mohnke's pressure and signed the paper. So was born the Panzerwaffe of the Leibstandarte "Adolf Hitler". It was not to be though, and Mohnke was relieved of his command and transferred to the replacement battalion on 16 March 1942.
With the Hitlerjugend
On 1 September 1943 16,000 new recruits of the Hitlerjugend born in 1926 took part of the formation of the 12th SS-Panzerdivision Hitler Jugend. Obersturmbannführer Mohnke was given command of the SS-Pz. Gren. Rgt 26, which was the second regiment formed in the 12th SS Hitlerjugend.
The structure of the SS-Pz. Gren. Rgt 26 was a bit unconventional. Although as a whole the regiment was labeled as Panzer Grenadiers, III.Battaillon was the only battalion in the regiment that was actually armored. It did however have an additional company, designated the 15.Aufklärungskompanie which was outfitted with armored cars. This Aufklärungskompanie helped make the SS-Panzergrenadierregiment 26 a unique fighting force.
Even though when the 12th SS was fighting to keep the Falaise pocket open, in which the division suffered an estimated 40%-50% casualties, Mohnke pulled his Kampfgruppe east of the river Dives. As the situation in France worsened daily for Germany and the front was pushed back to the Seine, Mohnke was one of the few to lead organized resistance on the western bank of the Seine in order to protect the crossings there. He led this Kampfgruppe until 31 August, when he replaced the injured Theodor Wisch. This promotion is the subject of much speculation as to why Mohnke was given command of the LSSAH when SS-Standartenführer Joachim Peiper had much more combat experience. Peiper, the youngest regimental commander in the Waffen SS, was perhaps considered much too junior to command a division.
Wacht am Rhein
Operation Wacht am Rhein was the final major offensive and last gamble Hitler was to make. Mohnke, now in command of his home division the Infantry Regiment Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, was to lead his division as the spearhead of the entire operation in the Ardennes. Attached to the I SS Panzer Corps the LSSAH, once one of the most elite and highly trained units in the entire German military, was now just a shadow of its former self. The large numbers of casualties sustained by the LSSAH meant that it had been reinforced with extremely young soldiers who had hardly been trained before they were sent to the front. To top it off, the dire fuel crisis in the Reich meant that the LSSAH had dangerously low amounts of fuel for the vehicles that they depended on to make the division a viable fighting force. There was one major factor that enabled Mohnke to lead his dwindling division into one of the most famous battles of all time - the officer corps under Mohnke consisted of battle-hardened and experienced veterans. On 16 December 19
44 the operation began, Mohnke designating his best colonel, Standartenführer Joachim Peiper, and his regiment to lead the push to Antwerp.
By 0700 on the 17th, Peiper's regiment had seized the American fuel dump at Büllingen. At 1230 that same day at a crossroads near Malmedy, Peiper's men shot and killed at least 86 US POWs. The Malmedy massacre, as it was to become known to the world, is one of the most infamous killings of the war. Since Kampfgruppe Peiper, the perpetrators of the massacre, were under Mohnke's command there have been several accusations that he was personally responsible, yet he was never found guilty of the crime. By the evening of the 17th, the leading element of the LSSAH was engaged with the 99th US Division at Stavelot. Mohnke's division was behind their deadline by at least 36 hours by the end of the second day. Progress was further delayed by the retreating troops blowing up important bridges and fuel dumps that Mohnke had counted on taking intact.
With each passing day, enemy resistance stiffened and the advance was eventually halted on all fronts. Desperate to keep the assault going, the German High Command ordered that a renewed attack begin on 1 January 1945. Yet this time, the Allies had regrouped their forces and were ready to repulse any attacks launched by the Germans. The operation formally ended on 27 January 1945, and three days later Mohnke was promoted to SS-Brigadeführer. A short while later LSSAH and the 'I SS Panzer Korps' were transferred to bolster the crumbling situation in Hungary, where Brigadeführer Mohnke was injured in an air raid where he suffered, among other things, ear damage. He was removed from front-line service and put on the Fûhrer reserve.
After recovery from his wounds, Mohnke was personally appointed by Hitler as the commander (kommandant) of the Reichs Chancellery defense. He formed Kampfgruppe Mohnke out of 9 SS Battalions, including the remnants of LSSAH Wach Regiment, LSSAH Ausbildungs-und Ersatz Battalion from Spreenhagenm, and the Führer-Begleit-Kompanie and the Reichsführer SS Begleit Battalion. Although Hitler had appointed General Helmuth Weidling as defense commandant of Berlin, Mohnke remained free of Weidling's command to maintain his defense objectives of the Reich Chancellery and the Führerbunker.
Since his fighting force was located at the nerve center of the German Third Reich it fell under the heaviest artillery bombardment of the war which began as a birthday present to Hitler on 20 April 1945 and lasted to the end of the war on 8 May 1945. Under the pressure of the most intense shelling of the war, Mohnke led his SS troops to put up an extremely stiff resistance against impossible odds. The combined total of his SS Kampfgruppe and General Weidling's 56th Panzer Corps totaled 250,000 men and 700 AFV against the 2.5 million men of three Russian army groups.
The Russian race to take the control of the Reich Chancellery condemned Mohnke's men to bitter and bloody street to street fighting. Completely encircled and cut off from reinforcements, without hope of relief or withdrawal, his Kampfgruppe fought off the Russian advances, inflicting heavy and costly casualties.
While the Battle of Berlin was raging around them, Hitler ordered Mohnke to set up a military tribunal for Hermann Fegelein, adjutant to Heinrich Himmler, in order to try the man for desertion. Mohnke, deciding that the Obergruppenführer deserved a fair trial by other high ranking officers, put together a tribunal consisting of Generals Hans Krebs, Wilhelm Burgdorf, Johann Rattenhuber, and himself. Following a failed attempt to try Fegelein, and finding him completely flagrant and belligerent and not in a right state of mind to stand trial, Mohnke dismissed the case and released him to General Rattenhuber.
With the news of Hitler's death, many of his remaining top officials, including Mohnke, planned to escape out of Berlin to the Allies waiting on the west side of the Elbe. These "survivors" split up into three groups with Mohnke leading the first group. Mohnke's group left the Fuhrerbunker on 1 May and included Hitler's personal pilot, Hans Baur, the chief of his bodyguard, Hans Rattenhuber, secretary Traudl Junge, secretary Gerda Christian, secretary Else Krüger, Hitler's dietician, Constanze Manziarly, Dr. Ernst-Günther Schenck, and various others. Mohnke planned to break out towards the German army that was positioned in Prinzenallee. The group was captured hiding in a cellar by the Soviets on the morning of 2 May.
Later on 2 May 1945, General Weidling ordered the complete surrender of all resisting German forces still remaining in Berlin. However Mohnke's SS personnel kept up pockets of resistance throughout the city. Some pockets resisted until the formal surrender of Nazi Germany on 8 May 1945.
Mohnke was captured by the Soviets while leading his group of survivors in the attempt to break out from the Führerbunker. He was imprisoned in solitary confinement until 1949, then transferred to the Generals' Prison in Woikowo. He remained in captivity until 10 October 1955. Following his release, he worked as a dealer in small trucks and trailers, living in Barsbüttel, Germany.
Despite a campaign, led by the British Member of Parliament Jeff Rooker, to prosecute him for his alleged involvement in war crimes during the early part of the war, Wilhelm Mohnke was able to live out his last few years in peace. He died in the coastal village of Damp, near Eckenförde in Schleswig-Holstein in August 2001, at the age of 90.
Mohnke is portrayed relatively sympathetically as a professional soldier by André Hennicke in the film Der Untergang (Downfall).
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