Hyazinth Graf Strachwitz von Gross-Zauche und Camminetz or Hyazinth von Strachwitz
Hyazinth Graf Strachwitz Gross-Zauche und Camminetz or, in other words, Hyazinth von Strachwitz was born on July 30, 1893 in Upper Silesia in Gross Stein Castle. According to his family of Silesian old nobility members and its more than 700-year-old traditions, he, as the firstborn boy in his family, received the title Graf (Count) after the Silesian 12th century saint Saint Hyazinth. The family's chapel was also dedicated to this saint. His family had a very long military history, which reached until the time of Mongols invasion of Europe and until the Battle of Legnica on April 15, 1241. Ten of his family members died in the battles against Mongol hordes in the 13th century. Following his family's famous tradition, von Strachwitz went to Berlin to get a proper Prussian military training. After a few years of intense training and studying, he was accepted in the elite cuirassiers mounted regiment of Garde du Corps. This elite unit was formed in 1740 by the Prussian king, Frederick the Great, to protect the emperor. To be a member of this unit was considered to be the most honorary in the German army. The patron of this unit was Emperor Wilhelm II. The same time von Strachwitz began studying in the Lichterfelde Military Academy. Von Strachwitz showed himself in the academy as a very good athlete, getting remarkable results in shooting, horse riding, fencing and track and field. Thanks to his outstanding results, he was considered to be a candidate of the German team for the Olympic Games in 1916. Von Strachwitz's ability to learn fast, his intelligence and good people skills made him one of the leaders of his course. In the academy, von Strachwitz made good friends with one other future military legend, Manfred von Richtofen, who was later known as the Red Baron. Von Strachwitz graduated from the academy as one of the best of his course.
The beginning of the First World War did not let von Strachwitz to fulfill his Olympic dreams. He went to the Western Front as the mounted troops lieutenant and performed dangerous reconnaissance missions behind the French home front while leading small mounted groups. During these missions one trait of von Strachwitz particularly came out – recklessness, which was mixed with original thinking. According to his contemporaries, even the tricks of Dumas' musketeers grew pale next to von Strachwitz's escapades. Leading small mounted units, von Strachwitz gathered important reconnaissance information and organized acts of sabotage. His raids often reached the suburbs of Paris. A few months after the war began, von Strachwitz was already awarded with Iron Cross 2nd and 1st class. Since von Strachwitz often managed to cross the frontline quite closely during his raids, it was only a matter of time until the Last Horseman, as he was called then, would run out of luck.
At the end of 1914, during one of their operations, von Strachwitz's whole unit was soaking wet. While they were running away from the French, the Graf ordered his men to dress in civilian clothes so that they would not catch a cold. However, the stop that von Strachwitz had made thinking of his men's health, had been too long and the whole unit was captured. Von Strachwitz was sentenced to death as a spy because he had worn civilian clothes while performing military duties. Yet this decision was changed and he was sent to the war prisoners' camp. He tried to escape from the camp once, but was seriously injured. Nevertheless he managed to get out of the camp thanks to pretending to be a lunatic.
After the war von Strachwitz returned to Germany and remained in the lines of Reichswehr as the mounted troops officer in the German 7th Cavalry Regiment. As a principled nationalist and an anticommunist he joined the head of the Upper Silesian Freikorps. The red Spartakusbund supporters and communist Poles promoted anarchy and violence everywhere near their homes. Von Strachwitz participated in several street fights with these bloodsuckers who tried to obtain his family lands too. After the battles ended successfully, he started to maintain his home manor. However, the life of a farmer did not offer him satisfaction.
In summer 1934 von Strachwitz participated as a reserve officer in the military manoeuvres near Breslau and was fascinated by a new unit in the newly formed German army – the tank army. Without thinking too much he wrote an application to join the new unit. In 1935 he was sent to Eisenach where the 2nd Panzer Regiment was being formed, later this became the core of the German 1st Panzer Division. Soon he received the rank of a Major.
As the battalion commander during the Poland's Campaign of 1939, von Strachwitz showed that he had not forgotten any old tricks. He gained fame once again with his daredevil raids behind the enemy's lines, having only a small number of tanks with him.
Von Strachwitz had the ability to keep a clear head even if it seemed that all circumstances were against him and the situation seemed hopeless. During the French Campaign of 1940, in one of his reconnaissance trips, von Strachwitz found himself near a small French town. The French garrison that was in the town discovered von Strachwitz's tank and pointed its cannons on him. As he realized that he had come too far and that when he retreats his tank will be blown to pieces, he was not scared. He stopped the tank, came out and walked with cold nerve alone into the town. He demanded to see the garrison's leader to whom he announced in flawless French that if the French will not surrender at once, a tank regiment that is hiding in a forest near this town will start shooting. After a small pause, the French garrison handed in its guns and surrendered!!!
At the beginning of Operation Barbarossa Oberst von Strachwitz led the 18th Panzer Division's 18th Panzer Regiment's 1st battalion. On June 22, 1941, von Strachwitz received an order to secure the bridgehead on the other side of Bug river which was under fierce attack. Von Strachwitz fulfilled the task with his common precision, but as before, he did not stop with that. The German units followed him to attack, broke through the enemy's defence lines, caused chaos and destruction. It was there, on the Eastern Front, where von Strachwitz received the nickname der Panzergraf.
After moving onwards fast for six days, the Russians tried to counterattack to cut the 1st Panzer Group off from the main unit and to destroy it. The battle which broke out under Dubno is considered to be the biggest one during the Second World War before the Battle of Prokhorovka. Largely thanks to von Strachwitz's tanks the Russians had to accept the devastating loss. For this, Hyazinth von Strachwitz was awarded the Knight's Cross on August 25, 1941.
Von Strachwitz's unit continued to crush the Russian troops. The hatred that he had felt for communists from the end of the First World War, encouraged him. However, von Strachwitz explained to his inferiors that this hatred must not be broadened against locals, it should only be used against communists. At the end of 1941 von Strachwitz received another high award – the German Cross in Gold.
In 1942 von Strachwitz was promoted to Colonel Lieutenant and as the 18th Panzer Regiment's Commander he moved with General Paulus' 6th Army towards Stalingrad. Von Strachwitz's tanks were the first ones to reach the Don River in August 1942 and two weeks later the Volga River, crushing the Stalingrad airport with an unexpected blow and destroying 158 aircrafts.
At the end of 1942 the Graf and the 6th Army was surrounded in Stalingrad. Again von Strachwitz showed himself as an undefeatable tank commander, playing a crucial role in holding back the enemy. During one of his raids in North of Stalingrad pocket he organized a successful ambush in the enemy's home front. Von Strachwitz's regiment destroyed 105 (!) Russian tanks within one hour, without losing any of its own. For this phenomenal courage and demonstration of battle skills von Strachwitz was awarded the Oak Leaves for Knight's Cross on November 13, 1942. Soon after this von Strachwitz got seriously injured (13 times during the war) and was brought out of the pocket with a plane. His unit remained in the pocket and was destroyed!
In January 1943 von Strachwitz was appointed to the elite Panzer-Grenadier-Division Grossdeutschland to become the Commander of the newly formed tank regiment Grossdeutschland. The regiment comprised of Tiger-type tanks, which was highly unusual for Wehrmacht. In the lines of Grossdeutschland, von Strachwitz participated in difficult battles under Kharkov. One night, while he was visiting one of his observing points, he discovered a huge colon of Russian T-34 tanks heading in his unit's direction. When the Russian tanks stopped because of the darkness, von Strachwitz began his attack. He placed his Tigers on ambush positions and disguised them. When the first beams of sunlight started to appear, the Russians began moving again. Von Strachwitz's Tigers waited. Waiting can be one of the hardest things in a war, but the Graf's men were disciplined and waited for an order to open fire. When it finally came, the windows of hell broke loose. In less than 10 minutes more than 20 Russian tanks were destroyed. The ones that were still working started to retreat. But the Panzergraf did not let them get away that easily and started to follow those tanks. By the end of the day the whole colon was destroyed. Only one of von Strachwitz's Tigers was seriously damaged, but it was repaired and the whole regiment returned without any losses. For this, von Strachwitz received the Swords for Knight's Cross on March 28, 1943, being the 27th Wehrmacht officer to receive such honor.
After this von Strachwitz participated in the battles at the Arc of Kursk in summer 1943. The same time he started to have arguments with Grossdeutschland's commander, General Walter "Papa" Hörnlein, whose leading methods von Strachwitz did not approve. This was followed by the German troops loss and retreating. During those days von Strachwitz proved that he is not only an undefeatable attacker, but also a good soldier in defence battles. He quickly learned the action manners of Russian commanders and organized quick counterattacks for enemy's wings and home front. Despite all, von Strachwitz left the Grossdeutschland division in November 1943, saying that the reason for this was his bad health, although it can be guessed that the real reason for his leaving was bad relations with the division commander.
After a month long vacation von Strachwitz returned to the front and for a short time was the commander of the 1st Panzer Division. On April 1 von Strachwitz was promoted to General-Major, being the first Wehrmacht reserve officer to receive this rank. By that time the Panzergraf had become a legend. Von Strachwitz remained an aristocrat with his manners on the Eastern Front. His appearance was always impeccable, he slept in pajamas, he always had a fine selection of the best French cognac and he preferred to be addressed not by his military rank, but by his Graf title. The same time he left Wehrmacht and joined Waffen-SS, where he got the ranks of SS-Brigadeführer and General der SS.
Soon after this von Strachwitz's unit was sent to operate under the army group Nord. As the leader of the army group Nord's tank units, von Strachwitz stood out in March and April 1944 in the battles under Narva, leading two successful counterattacks against the Red Army's bridgeheads. On April 15, 1944 von Strachwitz received the highest German award for his successful battles – Oak Leaves with Swords and Diamonds for the Knight's Cross. This award was given only to 29 people. Von Strachwitz's services were so highly awarded not only for his personal courageousness, but also because his successful battles in Narva had proved the Finns that Germany was capable of protecting Estonia and therefore the Finns stopped their peace negotiations with Stalin.
After this von Strachwitz's unit was sent under Riga to restore the connection between army groups Mitte and Nord. Von Strachwitz and 10 Tigers organized a surprise attack in Tukums for T-34 battalion and destroyed it. From there the Graf stormed towards Riga without stopping and conquered the town from the Red Army. During this operation von Strachwitz's fighting group took 18,000 (!) people in prison and got a lot of machines and weapons.
By that time the circumstances for the Germans had become catastrophic in Southeastern Estonia. The Red Army had broken through their defence lines and, despite the Estonian troops' persistent resistance in the hills of Sinimäed, had managed to reach the river Emajõgi. Therefore von Strachwitz's "firebrigadeunit" was quickly brought under Elva so that they could strike back unexpectedly and this way the Germans hoped to save Tartu. The fighting group named Strachwitz comprised of about 30 tanks, which were supported by cannon division and one pioneers' company. But then happened an accident. On the night of August 23 von Strachwitz's landrover, which was heading towards Elva, drove off the road near Sangaste Manor at high speed. Von Strachwitz and his tank unit's operative department leader were seriously injured. The Graf's injuries were so serious that no one believed he would ever rise from the hospital bed. Like this wasn't enough, Nord's management received a message that the air ace Rudel's famous dive bombers Stukas were transported away. This way the planned attack under Elva was ruined. Despite that they decided to attack, although two important components were missing – von Strachwitz and the necessary air support for the tanks. A disaster followed. In the Tamsa battle, which began on August 24, 1944, almost the whole von Strachwitz's unit was destroyed – only about a hundred men survived and 3 tanks were working. Losing the Tamsa battle decided the destiny of Tartu and the city was taken over on August 26.
Despite the skull fracture and other serious injuries, von Strachwitz was back in action after a few months. At the beginning of 1945 he started to lead the armor group formed in Bad Kudowa, moving still with crutches. The Panzergraf had his last battles with this unit in his place of birth, Upper Silesia, trying to stop the Red Army from moving onwards. Although his unit's resources were limited and men did not have a lot of training, he managed to destroy hundreds of the enemy's tanks and a lot of other war machinery. In April 1945 von Strachwitz's unit broke out of the pocket in Czechoslovakia and reached Bavaria where von Strachwitz surrendered to Americans. Von Strachwitz lost one of his sons in the war and his wife died while he was in the war prisoners' camp and his lands in Silesia were occupied by the Red Army. After his release the Syrian government offered him job as an adviser, so that he would help to rebuild the Syrian agriculture and army, but he had to leave this job soon because of coup. He started a new life in Western Germany, in Chiemsee, Bayer. Von Strachwitz remarried and had children. The Graf lived away from the public eye in his countryhouse until his death on April 25, 1968. His funeral was organized by Bundeswehr with an honor watch, showing this way their respect for the famous soldier. Graf Hyazinth von Strachwitz was buried in the village of Grabenstätt in Bavaria.
This was a short summary of this brave soldier's life. Unfortunately there are a lot less facts about his life as you would imagine for a man with such caliber. The reason for this is that von Strachwitz did not keep a diary or wrote an autobiography. The data about his military career is also filled with gaps because the 16th Panzer Division's papers were destroyed under Stalingrad. But one thing's for sure – Hyazinth Graf von Strachwitz's name is written in German army's history with golden letters.