Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma
Wilhelm Josef Ritter von Thoma (11 September 1891 – 30 April 1948) was a German officer who served in World War I, in the Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil WarAlso known as The Crusade among Nationalists, the Fourth Carlist War among Carlists, and The Rebellion or Uprising among Republicans. was a major conflict fought in Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939...

, and as a General der Panzertruppe in World War II.

Early life

Von Thoma was born in Dachau
Dachau is a town in Upper Bavaria, in the southern part of Germany. It is a major district town—a Große Kreisstadt—of the administrative region of Upper Bavaria, about 20 km north-west of Munich. It is now a popular residential area for people working in Munich with roughly 40,000 inhabitants...

 in 1891. From 1903 he attended the humanist
The humanities are academic disciplines that study the human condition, using methods that are primarily analytical, critical, or speculative, as distinguished from the mainly empirical approaches of the natural sciences....

 Ludwigs-Gymnasium (secondary school
Gymnasium (school)
A gymnasium is a type of school providing secondary education in some parts of Europe, comparable to English grammar schools or sixth form colleges and U.S. college preparatory high schools. The word γυμνάσιον was used in Ancient Greece, meaning a locality for both physical and intellectual...

) in Munich
Munich The city's motto is "" . Before 2006, it was "Weltstadt mit Herz" . Its native name, , is derived from the Old High German Munichen, meaning "by the monks' place". The city's name derives from the monks of the Benedictine order who founded the city; hence the monk depicted on the city's coat...

 and attained his certificate of graduation in 1912. He began his military career when he joined the Royal Bavarian Army
Bavarian army
The Bavarian Army was the army of the Electorate and then Kingdom of Bavaria. It existed from 1682 as the standing army of Bavaria until the merger of the military sovereignty of Bavaria into that of the German State in 1919...

 on 23 September 1912, as a Fahnenjunker (cadet)
A cadet is a trainee to become an officer in the military, often a person who is a junior trainee. The term comes from the term "cadet" for younger sons of a noble family.- Military context :...

 with the Bavarian 3. Infanterie-Regiment (3rd Infantry Regiment) "Prinz Karl von Bayern." He attended the War School in Munich from 1 October 1913 to 1 August 1914.

First World War

At the outbreak of the First World War on 2 August 1914, von Thoma took to the field with the Bavaria
Bavaria, formally the Free State of Bavaria is a state of Germany, located in the southeast of Germany. With an area of , it is the largest state by area, forming almost 20% of the total land area of Germany...

n 3rd Infantry Regiment. On 25 September 1914 he was grazed by a shot to the head during a battle on the Somme
Somme is a department of France, located in the north of the country and named after the Somme river. It is part of the Picardy region of France....

 in France. He was treated at the front and remained with the troops. On 28 September he was ordered to command his regiment's 11th Company. On 2 October he was wounded again, hit by shrapnel in the right elbow.

On 24 January 1915 he was made regimental adjutant
Adjutant is a military rank or appointment. In some armies, including most English-speaking ones, it is an officer who assists a more senior officer, while in other armies, especially Francophone ones, it is an NCO , normally corresponding roughly to a Staff Sergeant or Warrant Officer.An Adjutant...

 of the Bavarian 3rd Infantry Regiment, which was transferred east to the Russian front
Eastern Front (World War I)
The Eastern Front was a theatre of war during World War I in Central and, primarily, Eastern Europe. The term is in contrast to the Western Front. Despite the geographical separation, the events in the two theatres strongly influenced each other...

, being based initially in Galicia, Austria-Hungary
Austria-Hungary , more formally known as the Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council and the Lands of the Holy Hungarian Crown of Saint Stephen, was a constitutional monarchic union between the crowns of the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary in...

. Here von Thoma participated in many actions, including the taking of Brest Litovsk. In October 1915, he was sent to the Serbian front
Serbian Campaign (World War I)
The Serbian Campaign was fought from late July 1914, when Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia at the outset of the First World War, until late 1915, when the Macedonian Front was formed...

 to assist Austro-Hungarian forces in their offensive against Serbia. On 12 October 1915, von Thoma was wounded by a gunshot to the chest and spent five days in hospital.

Von Thoma was sent back to France in early 1916 and fought from 28 February to 17 May in the Battle of Verdun
Battle of Verdun
The Battle of Verdun was one of the major battles during the First World War on the Western Front. It was fought between the German and French armies, from 21 February – 18 December 1916, on hilly terrain north of the city of Verdun-sur-Meuse in north-eastern France...

—often described as one of the most brutal battles of modern times. In June, Thoma was sent east again, to fight in the German conquest of Romania
Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea...

. On 4 June 1916, the Russians unleashed the Brusilov Offensive
Brusilov Offensive
The Brusilov Offensive , also known as the June Advance, was the Russian Empire's greatest feat of arms during World War I, and among the most lethal battles in world history. Prof. Graydon A. Tunstall of the University of South Florida called the Brusilov Offensive of 1916 the worst crisis of...

 against the Austro-Hungarian and German forces on the Eastern Front
Eastern Front (World War I)
The Eastern Front was a theatre of war during World War I in Central and, primarily, Eastern Europe. The term is in contrast to the Western Front. Despite the geographical separation, the events in the two theatres strongly influenced each other...

. It was during this offensive, leading a rearguard action on 5 July 1916, that Leutnant von Thoma performed the deed that garnered him the Knight's Cross of the Bavarian Military Max Joseph Order
Military Order of Max Joseph
The Military Order of Max Joseph was the highest purely military order of the Kingdom of Bavaria. It was founded on 1 January 1806 by Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria, the first king of Bavaria...

, the highest purely military decoration that could be bestowed on Bavarian officers for bravery in war. The appointment was announced on 11 November 1916.

Returning to the Western Front
Western Front (World War I)
Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by first invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne...

, von Thoma was withdrawn for a time from front-line service to undertake various training courses in preparation for the great German offensive in the west of spring 1918. From 4 to 8 April 1917, he was attached to a training course with Field Airship Detachment 14, Colmar. From 4 to 9 February 1918, he was attached to the 62nd Course at the Army Gas School in Berlin, and from 23 to 27 March 1918, he attended the 6th Leader Course in Wörth
Wörth may refer to:*places in Germany:**Wörth am Main, Miltenberg district, Bavaria**Wörth am Rhein, Germersheim district, Rhineland-Palatinate**Wörth an der Donau, Regensburg district, Bavaria**Wörth an der Isar, Landshut district, Bavaria...


Returning to the front on 25 April 1918, von Thoma was wounded by a grenade fragment in the right wrist during the Battle of Kemmel, Belgium. On 2 May 1918 he was appointed leader of the 3rd Machine Gun Company of the Bavarian 3rd Infantry Regiment, and on 14 May was put in command of his regiment's I Battalion. After the failure of the fifth and last of the German Ludendorff Offensives
Spring Offensive
The 1918 Spring Offensive or Kaiserschlacht , also known as the Ludendorff Offensive, was a series of German attacks along the Western Front during World War I, beginning on 21 March 1918, which marked the deepest advances by either side since 1914...

 in July 1918, the French and Americans, backed by heavy French tank support, launched the first phase of the Aisne-Marne Counteroffensive
Third Battle of the Aisne
The Third Battle of the Aisne was a battle of the German Spring Offensive during World War I that focused on capturing the Chemin des Dames Ridge before the American Expeditionary Force could arrive completely in France. It was one of a series of desperate offensives, known as the Kaiserschlacht,...

 against the German lines southwest of Soissons
Soissons is a commune in the Aisne department in Picardy in northern France, located on the Aisne River, about northeast of Paris. It is one of the most ancient towns of France, and is probably the ancient capital of the Suessiones...

 on 18 July. On this date, von Thoma was captured by American troops, probably Major General Charles P. Summerall's
Charles Pelot Summerall
Charles Pelot Summerall was a U.S. general. He fought in World War I, and was Army Chief of Staff between 1926 and 1930. He was also the President of The Citadel between 1931 and 1953.-Early life and career:...

 U.S. 1st Infantry Division
U.S. 1st Infantry Division
The 1st Infantry Division of the United States Army is the oldest division in the United States Army. It has seen continuous service since its organization in 1917...

, while leading the I Battalion in a bitter defence of his division's right flank. He remained in French/American captivity until 27 October 1919.

Weimar Republic

After the war, von Thoma remained in the German Army. From 28 October 1919 to 9 February 1920, he was placed on leave following release from captivity. On 10 February 1920 he was transferred to Reichswehr-Schützen (Rifle) Regiment 42 of Reichswehr
The Reichswehr formed the military organisation of Germany from 1919 until 1935, when it was renamed the Wehrmacht ....

 Brigade 21 commanded by Oberst
Oberst is a military rank in several German-speaking and Scandinavian countries, equivalent to Colonel. It is currently used by both the ground and air forces of Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and Norway. The Swedish rank överste is a direct translation, as are the Finnish rank eversti...

 Franz Ritter von Epp. From 11 February to 1 April 1920 he acted as leader of the Recruiting Post Office of Reichswehr-Brigade 21 (listed as Brigade "Epp" in von Thoma's service record). From 17 to 25 May 1920 he was deputy battalion adjutant, and from 29 May to 10 June he was deputy captain on the staff of Regiment 42. On 1 January 1921 he was transferred to Infantry Regiment 19 upon the formation of the new Übergangsheer (Transitional Army) set up under the restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles was one of the peace treaties at the end of World War I. It ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The other Central Powers on the German side of...


On 15 May 1921 von Thoma was put in command of the 6th Company of Infantry Regiment 19. On 1 July 1922 he was transferred to the 7th (Bavarian) Motorized Battalion as battalion adjutant. Von Thoma took part in the suppression of the Nazi uprising (Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

's Beer Hall Putsch
Beer Hall Putsch
The Beer Hall Putsch was a failed attempt at revolution that occurred between the evening of 8 November and the early afternoon of 9 November 1923, when Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler, Generalquartiermeister Erich Ludendorff, and other heads of the Kampfbund unsuccessfully tried to seize power...

) in Munich on 8 to 23 November 1923. On 27 November 1923, he was made company officer in the 2nd Company of the 7th (Bavarian) Motorized Battalion. Over the following ten years, he participated in many training courses on mechanized warfare
Mechanized Warfare
Mechanized Warfare is the sixth studio album released by American power metal band Jag Panzer, released in 2001. This album is more progressive than the band's previous work...

, prefiguring his later role as a tank commander. In 1924 he attended a course for the leading and use of armoured motor vehicle platoons and was made leader of a motorcycle platoon to the exercises of Reiter (Mounted)-Regiment 18 at Grafenwöhr
Grafenwöhr is a town in the district Neustadt , in the region of the Upper Palatinate in eastern Bavaria, Germany. It is widely known for the United States Army military installation and training area, called Grafenwöhr Training Area, located directly south and west of the town.- Early History:The...

. On 1 April 1925 he was named chief of the 2nd Company of the 7th (Bavarian) Motorized Battalion and in October 1929 he was transferred to Group Command 2 and attached to the Motorized Training Command of the 3rd (Prussian) Motorized Battalion. In December 1930 he was detached to a Gas Protection Course in Berlin. On 1 February 1931 he was transferred to the 7th (Bavarian) Motorized Battalion and attached to the staff of the 7th Infantry Division as staff officer for motor transport. Later he was moved again to the 7th (Bavarian) Medical Battalion and attached to the staff of the 7th Division as staff officer for motor transport. From 6 to 31 October 1931, he was detached to the Motorized Demonstration Staff in Berlin for participation in a course for the training and testing of military motor vehicle driving experts. In November 1931 he participated in an examination of the assembly process of the Krupp
The Krupp family , a prominent 400-year-old German dynasty from Essen, have become famous for their steel production and for their manufacture of ammunition and armaments. The family business, known as Friedrich Krupp AG Hoesch-Krupp, was the largest company in Europe at the beginning of the 20th...

-Daimler 100 hp chassis at Daimler-Benz
Daimler-Benz AG was a German manufacturer of automobiles, motor vehicles, and internal combustion engines; founded in 1926. An Agreement of Mutual Interest - which was valid until year 2000 - was signed on 1 May 1924 between Karl Benz's Benz & Cie., and Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft, which had...

 in Berlin.

Panzer Commander

After the Nazi Party gained power in 1933, the German government greatly expanded and heavily invested in the military, and armour was given particular emphasis during this period of rearmament. With his extensive experience in mechanised military formations, von Thoma was a logical choice to head one of the world's first completely mechanised units. On 1 August 1934, he was transferred to the Motorized Demonstration Command Ohrdruf. This unit was formed in 1934 at Ohrdruf
Ohrdruf is a small town in the German federal state of Thuringia. It lies some 30 km southwest of Erfurt.-Medieval settling:Ohrdruf was founded in 724–726 by Saint Boniface, as the site of the first monastery in Thuringia, dedicated to Saint Michael. It was the first of several religious...

, the Kraftfahr-Lehrkommando (Motorized Demonstration Group) and was Germany's first dedicated tank unit and—in von Thoma's own words, the "grandmother of all the others." Initially composed of one battalion, the unit later gained a second battalion and was equipped with Germany's first new tank, the small two-man Panzer I
Panzer I
The Panzer I was a light tank produced in Germany in the 1930s. The name is short for the German ' , abbreviated . The tank's official German ordnance inventory designation was SdKfz 101 .Design of the Panzer I began in 1932 and mass production in 1934...

 light tank armed with two machine guns. A second Motorized Demonstration Group was later established at Zossen
Zossen is a German town in the district of Teltow-Fläming in Brandenburg, south of Berlin, and next to the B96 highway. Zossen consists of several smaller municipalities, which were grouped together in 2003 to form the city.-Geography:...

. These two groups provided the nucleus from which several panzer regiments were born.

Von Thoma's promotion within the new armoured formations was rapid. On 15 October 1935, he was appointed commander of the II Battalion, Panzer Regiment 4, 2nd Panzer Division
German 2nd Panzer Division
The 2nd Panzer Division was created in 1935, and stationed in Austria after the Anschluss. It participated in the campaigns in Poland and France , and then returned to Poland for occupation duties . It took part in the Balkans campaign and then transferred to the Russian Front in September 1941...

. This date marked the official formation of Germany's first three armoured divisions. The 1st Panzer Division
German 1st Panzer Division
The German 1st Panzer Division was an elite armoured division in the German Army during World War II. Its divisional insignia was a white oakleaf emblem.-History:...

 commanded by General der Kavallerie Maximilian Freiherr von und zu Weichs an der Glon
Maximilian von Weichs
Maximilian Maria Joseph Karl Gabriel Lamoral Reichsfreiherr von Weichs zu Glon was a German Generalfeldmarschall during World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves...

 at Weimar
Weimar is a city in Germany famous for its cultural heritage. It is located in the federal state of Thuringia , north of the Thüringer Wald, east of Erfurt, and southwest of Halle and Leipzig. Its current population is approximately 65,000. The oldest record of the city dates from the year 899...

; the 2nd Panzer Division commanded by Oberst
Oberst is a military rank in several German-speaking and Scandinavian countries, equivalent to Colonel. It is currently used by both the ground and air forces of Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and Norway. The Swedish rank överste is a direct translation, as are the Finnish rank eversti...

 (later Generalmajor
General (Germany)
General is presently the highest rank of the German Army and Luftwaffe . It is the equivalent to the rank of Admiral in the German Navy .-Early history:...

) Heinz Guderian
Heinz Guderian
Heinz Wilhelm Guderian was a German general during World War II. He was a pioneer in the development of armored warfare, and was the leading proponent of tanks and mechanization in the Wehrmacht . Germany's panzer forces were raised and organized under his direction as Chief of Mobile Forces...

 at Würzburg
Würzburg is a city in the region of Franconia which lies in the northern tip of Bavaria, Germany. Located at the Main River, it is the capital of the Regierungsbezirk Lower Franconia. The regional dialect is Franconian....

; and the 3rd Panzer Division
German 3rd Panzer Division
The German 3rd Panzer Division was established in 1935 under the command of Generalleutnant Ernst Feßmann. It later participated in the 1939 invasion of Poland , the 1940 invasion of France, and the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union...

 commanded by Generalleutnant Ernst Feßmann
Ernst Feßmann
General Ernst Feßmann was a Cavalry General in the German army who was notable for commanding one of the first Panzer Divisions....

 at Berlin. From 9 to 14 December 1935, von Thoma was detached to the Army and Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956....

 Signals Course at the Halle/Salle Signals School—presumably to learn how to coordinate the movements of air and armoured units.

Spanish Civil War

The Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil WarAlso known as The Crusade among Nationalists, the Fourth Carlist War among Carlists, and The Rebellion or Uprising among Republicans. was a major conflict fought in Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939...

 broke out in July 1936 with an uprising by rightist generals against the leftist Popular Front
Popular Front (Spain)
The Popular Front in Spain's Second Republic was an electoral coalition and pact signed in January 1936 by various left-wing political organisations, instigated by Manuel Azaña for the purpose of contesting that year's election....

 government. Hitler intervened on the side of the Nationalists led by Francisco Franco
Francisco Franco
Francisco Franco y Bahamonde was a Spanish general, dictator and head of state of Spain from October 1936 , and de facto regent of the nominally restored Kingdom of Spain from 1947 until his death in November, 1975...

 and used the war as an opportunity to test his new air and armoured units in action. From 23 September 1936 to 8 June 1939, von Thoma was sent by the Army High Command to Spain as Commander of Group "Imker" (Beekeeper), the ground contingent of the German Condor Legion
Condor Legion
The Condor Legion was a unit composed of volunteers from the German Air Force and from the German Army which served with the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War of July 1936 to March 1939. The Condor Legion developed methods of terror bombing which were used widely in the Second World War...

. Arriving in Spain in early October 1936, the personnel of Group "Imker" were originally volunteers from Panzer Regiment 6 "Neuruppin" of the 3rd Panzer Division. Tasked with training Franco's Spanish Nationalist officers and men in tanks, infantry tactics, and artillery and signals employment, Group "Imker" maintained two, then three panzer training companies equipped with Panzer I light tanks (panzer units were codenamed Group "Drohne" [drones]).

After completing their training, the Spanish troops took custody of the tanks, at which time a new shipment of Panzer Is arrived from Germany. Additionally, Group "Drohne" made use of large numbers of the superior Russian tanks captured from Republican forces (the T-26
The T-26 tank was a Soviet light infantry tank used during many conflicts of the 1930s as well as during World War II. It was a development of the British Vickers 6-Ton tank and is widely considered one of the most successful tank designs of the 1930s....

 tank was particularly prized). While ostensibly in Spain in a training capacity, the German Army instructors also rotated to the front to provide further technical advice to the Spanish and to engage in direct combat operations. Von Thoma was a frequent visitor to the combat zones; for instance leading an armoured assault on Madrid
Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain. The population of the city is roughly 3.3 million and the entire population of the Madrid metropolitan area is calculated to be 6.271 million. It is the third largest city in the European Union, after London and Berlin, and its metropolitan...

 personally during the Battle of Madrid in November 1936. He later claimed to have taken part in 192 tank actions in Spain.

After the war ended, on 8 June 1939, von Thoma was assigned to Berlin as a staff officer. From 1 August to 18 September 1939, he was transferred to the staff of Panzer Regiment 3 of the 2nd Panzer Division and was then assigned the leadership of the regiment.


The Second World War began with the invasion of Poland
Invasion of Poland (1939)
The Invasion of Poland, also known as the September Campaign or 1939 Defensive War in Poland and the Poland Campaign in Germany, was an invasion of Poland by Germany, the Soviet Union, and a small Slovak contingent that marked the start of World War II in Europe...

 in September 1939. The 2nd Panzer Division commanded by Generalleutnant Rudolf Veiel
Rudolf Veiel
Rudolf Veiel was a German General of the Panzertruppe during World War II.Veiel's first army service was noted as a Fahnenjunker in the Ulanen-Regiment 19 in April 1904. On 18 August 1905, he became a leutnant.At the beginning of World War I, Veiel was a commander of the Squadron in the...

 took part in the invasion as a component of General der Kavallerie Ewald von Kleist
Paul Ludwig Ewald von Kleist
Paul Ludwig Ewald von Kleist was a leading German field marshal during World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords...

's XXII Army Corps (Motorized). Attacking from its staging area in the Orava
Orava (region)
Orava is the traditional name of a region situated in northern Slovakia and partially also in southern Poland . It encompasses the territory of the former Árva county.-History:...

 Valley in Slovakia
The Slovak Republic is a landlocked state in Central Europe. It has a population of over five million and an area of about . Slovakia is bordered by the Czech Republic and Austria to the west, Poland to the north, Ukraine to the east and Hungary to the south...

, von Kleist's corps advanced to south of Kraków
Kraków also Krakow, or Cracow , is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Situated on the Vistula River in the Lesser Poland region, the city dates back to the 7th century. Kraków has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, cultural, and artistic life...

 and took river crossings on the Dunajec River
Dunajec River
The Dunajec is a river running through southern Poland. It is the right tributary of the Vistula River. It begins in Nowy Targ at the junction of two short mountain rivers, Czarny Dunajec and Biały Dunajec...

 at Tarnów
Tarnów is a city in southeastern Poland with 115,341 inhabitants as of June 2009. The city has been situated in the Lesser Poland Voivodeship since 1999, but from 1975 to 1998 it was the capital of the Tarnów Voivodeship. It is a major rail junction, located on the strategic east-west connection...

. Continuing its advance from Rzeszów
Rzeszów is a city in southeastern Poland with a population of 179,455 in 2010. It is located on both sides of the Wisłok River, in the heartland of the Sandomierska Valley...

, the corps then seized a bridgehead on the San River
San River
The San is a river in southeastern Poland and western Ukraine, a tributary of the Vistula River, with a length of 433 km and a basin area of 16,861 km2...

 at Jarosław whence the 2nd Panzer Division advanced northeast to Zamošč. The 2nd Panzer Division then engaged Polish forces at Rawa Ruska, Kulikow, Zolkiew, Tomaszów
Tomaszów may refer to the following places in Poland:* Tomaszów Lubelski, a town in Lublin Voivodeship* Tomaszów Mazowiecki, a town in Łódź Voivodeship*Tomaszów, Lublin Voivodeship *Tomaszów, Opoczno County in Łódź Voivodeship...

, and Krasnobród
Krasnobród is a small town in Lublin Voivodeship, Poland. It is located at around , near the Roztocze National Park and Krasnobród Landscape Park. Wieprz River flows through the town...

 before ending its advance and retiring behind the San River that served as the German–Soviet demarcation line in that sector. Von Thoma received the 1939 Bars to both of his First World War Iron Cross
Iron Cross
The Iron Cross is a cross symbol typically in black with a white or silver outline that originated after 1219 when the Kingdom of Jerusalem granted the Teutonic Order the right to combine the Teutonic Black Cross placed above a silver Cross of Jerusalem....

es for his performance during the campaign.

From 19 September 1939 to 5 March 1940, he acted as commander of Panzer Regiment 3 in the 2nd Panzer Division in the rank of Colonel (Oberst
Oberst is a military rank in several German-speaking and Scandinavian countries, equivalent to Colonel. It is currently used by both the ground and air forces of Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and Norway. The Swedish rank överste is a direct translation, as are the Finnish rank eversti...

). On 17 July 1941 he was assigned the leadership of the 17th Panzer Division
German 17th Panzer Division
The 17th Panzer Division was a formation of the German Army in World War II. It was formed on November 1940 from 27th Infantry Division. It took part in Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, and in the winter of 1941–42 participated in the abortive German attack...

 on the Eastern Front
Eastern Front (World War II)
The Eastern Front of World War II was a theatre of World War II between the European Axis powers and co-belligerent Finland against the Soviet Union, Poland, and some other Allies which encompassed Northern, Southern and Eastern Europe from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 1945...

 in the rank of Generalmajor (Brigadier).

Operation Barbarossa

Commanded by Generalmajor and Doctor of Engineering Karl Ritter von Weber (acting commander in place of Generalleutnant Hans-Jürgen von Arnim
Hans-Jürgen von Arnim
Hans-Jürgen Bernhard Theodor von Arnim was a German Generaloberst who served during World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross...

 who had been wounded on 26 June 1941, near Stolpce), the 17th Panzer Division was engaged in the invasion of the Soviet Union as a component of Army Group Centre. On 17 July 1941 von Thoma assumed temporary command of the division after Generalmajor von Weber—a fellow holder of the Knight's Cross of the Bavarian Military Max Joseph Order—was severely wounded near Krassnyj, south of Smolensk
Smolensk is a city and the administrative center of Smolensk Oblast, Russia, located on the Dnieper River. Situated west-southwest of Moscow, this walled city was destroyed several times throughout its long history since it was on the invasion routes of both Napoleon and Hitler. Today, Smolensk...

 (he died two days later). Generaloberst Heinz Guderian, the Commander of Panzer Group 2
German Second Panzer Group
Panzergruppe 2 was a German army of World War II, formed in November 1940 from the Panzergruppe Guderian. In October 1941 it was renamed the 2nd Panzer Army...

, remarked on von Thoma's appointment to the 17th Panzer Division in his memoirs, Panzer Leader: "He was one of our most senior and experienced panzer officers; he had been famous for his icy calm and exceptional bravery both in the First World War and in Spain, and was now to prove his ability once again." Von Thoma led the division until 15 September, when Generalleutnant Hans-Jürgen von Arnim, since recovered from his wounds, resumed command.

On 15 September 1941 von Thoma was made Army High Command Leader Reserve, his duties being determined by the Commander of Wehrkreis (Military District) III, Berlin. On 14 October 1941 he was made Commander of the 20th Panzer Division
German 20th Panzer Division
The 20th Panzer Division was formed on 15 October, 1940 in Erfurt, Germany. As part of Adolf Hitler's plans to double the number of Panzer Divisions, the 19th Infantry Division and a number of other units were cannibalized for men and material, and then restructured into the 20th Panzer Division....

 on the Eastern Front. Succeeding Generalmajor Horst Stumpff as divisional commander, von Thoma led his new command on the drive on Moscow that began on 15 November 1941. Despite the onset of a brutal winter, the Germans doggedly advanced on Moscow from the north and the south in an attempt to close pincers around the Russian capital. However, the increasing cold, fierce local counter attacks, and lack of reserves slowed the advance. On 6 December, the Russians launched the first of a series of major counter offensives that forced the Germans back from Moscow. By the end of the month, von Thoma had received the coveted Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was a grade of the 1939 version of the 1813 created Iron Cross . The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was the highest award of Germany to recognize extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership during World War II...

 for organizing and holding a new defensive position on the Ruza River
Ruza River
Ruza River is a river in the Moscow Oblast in Russia, left tributary of the Moscow River. The length of the river is 145 km. The area of its basin is 1,990 km². It usually freezes in November and stays under the ice until April....

 despite being closely pursued by strong Soviet forces. On 15 January 1942, Hitler finally bowed to the inevitable and authorized his freezing and exhausted armies to slowly pull back in measured stages to the Rzhev
Rzhev is a town in Tver Oblast, Russia, southwest of Staritsa and from Tver, on the highway and railway connecting Moscow and Riga. It is the uppermost town situated on the Volga River. Population:...

Oryol or Orel is a city and the administrative center of Oryol Oblast, Russia, located on the Oka River, approximately south-southwest of Moscow...

Kursk is a city and the administrative center of Kursk Oblast, Russia, located at the confluence of the Kur, Tuskar, and Seym Rivers. The area around Kursk was site of a turning point in the Russian-German struggle during World War II and the site of the largest tank battle in history...

 Königsberg Line. After continuing to serve on the Moscow front, von Thoma relinquished command of the 20th Panzer Division to Generalmajor Walther Düvert.

North Africa

Having been promoted to generalleutnant (Major-general) in August 1942, on 1 September von Thoma was transferred to North Africa and given leadership of the German Afrika Korps
Afrika Korps
The German Africa Corps , or the Afrika Korps as it was popularly called, was the German expeditionary force in Libya and Tunisia during the North African Campaign of World War II...

 for the duration of the absence of the commanding general, General der Panzertruppe Walther Nehring. In the early morning hours of 31 August 1942, Nehring had been wounded when a British aircraft bombed his command vehicle during the Battle of Alam el Halfa. Temporary command of the corps passed briefly to Nehring's chief of staff, Oberst Fritz Bayerlein
Fritz Bayerlein
Fritz Bayerlein was a German panzer general during the Second World War.Fritz Bayerlein was born in Würzburg, Franconia, Germany. During the First World War, Bayerlein was drafted into the 9th Bavarian Infantry in 1917 and fought on the Western front. He was wounded and received an Iron Cross when...

, until later in the morning when Generalmajor Gustav von Vaerst relinquished command of the 15th Panzer Division to assume leadership of the Afrika Korps. Although formally appointed to command on 1 September 1942, various sources indicate that von Thoma did not actually arrive in North Africa to assume command until 17 September.

On 23 October 1942, the decisive Battle of El Alamein
Second Battle of El Alamein
The Second Battle of El Alamein marked a major turning point in the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War. The battle took place over 20 days from 23 October – 11 November 1942. The First Battle of El Alamein had stalled the Axis advance. Thereafter, Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery...

 commenced when Lieutenant General Bernard Law Montgomery's British Eighth Army began its offensive against the German-Italian Panzer Army in Egypt. Von Thoma briefly took command of the combined Axis army after its commander, General der Kavallerie Georg Stumme
Georg Stumme
Georg Stumme was a World War II German general most notable for his brief command of the Axis forces at the beginning of the Second Battle of El Alamein.-Biography:...

, suffered a fatal heart attack during the heavy British bombardments at the start of the battle. At the time, Generalfeldmarschall
Field Marshal or Generalfeldmarschall in German, was a rank in the armies of several German states and the Holy Roman Empire; in the Austrian Empire, the rank Feldmarschall was used...

 Erwin Rommel
Erwin Rommel
Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel , popularly known as the Desert Fox , was a German Field Marshal of World War II. He won the respect of both his own troops and the enemies he fought....

 was en route from Germany where he had been on sick leave. Rommel arrived on 25 October and resumed command of Panzer Army Afrika. von Thoma was promoted to General der Panzertruppe
General der Panzertruppe
General der Panzertruppe was a rank of German Army General introduced by the Wehrmacht in 1935. As the commander of a Panzer Corp this rank corresponds to a US Army Lieutenant-General...

 (lieutenant-general) on 1 November.

In the face of rapidly mounting losses and dangerous penetrations into his lines, Rommel prepared to withdraw his army to Libya
Libya is an African country in the Maghreb region of North Africa bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad and Niger to the south, and Algeria and Tunisia to the west....

. However, Hitler intervened and, on 3 November, issued the astonishing order for Panzer Army Afrika to remain and fight where it was. Ominously, Hitler concluded his order with these sober words to Rommel: "As to your troops, you can show them no other way than that to victory or death." Appalled at this controversial order, von Thoma declared it "madness" and, with his German Afrika Korps grinding itself to pieces in desperate counter attacks and virtually bereft of tanks, he mounted one of the tanks of his headquarters guard unit and drove to the apex of the battle.

On 4 November 1942, von Thoma was captured by the British at the hill of Tel el Mampsra, west of El Alamein
El Alamein
El Alamein is a town in the northern Matrouh Governorate of Egypt. Located on the Mediterranean Sea, it lies west of Alexandria and northwest of Cairo. As of 2007, it has a local population of 7,397 inhabitants.- Climate :...

, Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

. With his tank hit several times and on fire, von Thoma dismounted and stood quietly amongst a sea of burning tanks and the German dead scattered around the small hill where he was taken prisoner by Captain Allen Grant Singer of the 10th Royal Hussars (Prince of Wales's Own)
10th Royal Hussars (Prince of Wales's Own)
The 10th Royal Hussars was a cavalry regiment of the British Army from 1715 to 1969.-Early history:In response to the Jacobite Rebellion, the regiment was raised in 1715 as Humphrey Gore's Regiment of Dragoons...

. Rommel later opined that von Thoma was probably seeking his death in battle while other staff officers quietly speculated that he went to the front to deliberately surrender. That evening, von Thoma dined with General Montgomery at his headquarters to discuss the battle. B.H. Liddell Hart
Basil Liddell Hart
Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart , usually known before his knighthood as Captain B. H. Liddell Hart, was an English soldier, military historian and leading inter-war theorist.-Life and career:...

 later recorded Thoma's reaction to Montgomery's revelations over dinner: "I was staggered at the exactness of his knowledge… He seemed to know as much about our position as I did myself."


For the remainder of the war von Thoma was a prisoner of war
Prisoner of war
A prisoner of war or enemy prisoner of war is a person, whether civilian or combatant, who is held in custody by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict...

 in British captivity. Over the next several years, von Thoma was held in several senior officer prisoner of war camps in Great Britain, including Trent Park
Trent Park
Trent Park is a country park, formerly the grounds of a mansion house which currently forms the Trent Park campus of Middlesex University in the north of London, United Kingdom...

High Barnet or Chipping Barnet is a place in the London Borough of Barnet, North London, England. It is a suburban development built around a twelfth-century settlement and is located north north-west of Charing Cross. Its name is often abbreviated to Barnet, which is also the name of the London...

, Middlesex
Middlesex is one of the historic counties of England and the second smallest by area. The low-lying county contained the wealthy and politically independent City of London on its southern boundary and was dominated by it from a very early time...

), Wilton Park (Beaconsfield
Beaconsfield is a market town and civil parish operating as a town council within the South Bucks district in Buckinghamshire, England. It lies northwest of Charing Cross in Central London, and south-east of the county town of Aylesbury...

, Buckinghamshire
Buckinghamshire is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan home county in South East England. The county town is Aylesbury, the largest town in the ceremonial county is Milton Keynes and largest town in the non-metropolitan county is High Wycombe....

), Grizedall Hall (Hawkshead
Hawkshead is a village and civil parish in the Cumbria, England. It is one of the main tourist honeypots in the South Lakeland area, and is dependent on the local tourist trade...

, Lancashire
Lancashire is a non-metropolitan county of historic origin in the North West of England. It takes its name from the city of Lancaster, and is sometimes known as the County of Lancaster. Although Lancaster is still considered to be the county town, Lancashire County Council is based in Preston...

) and Island Farm
Island Farm
Island Farm was a Prisoner of War Camp on the outskirts of the town of Bridgend, South Wales. It hosted a number of Axis prisoners, mainly German, and was the scene of the largest escape attempt by German POWs in Britain during World War II. Near the end of the war it became known as Special Camp XI...

Bridgend is a town in the Bridgend County Borough in Wales, west of the capital, Cardiff. The river crossed by the original bridge, which gave the town its name, is the River Ogmore but the River Ewenny also passes to the south of the town...

, Glamorgan
Glamorgan or Glamorganshire is one of the thirteen historic counties and a former administrative county of Wales. It was originally an early medieval kingdom of varying boundaries known as Glywysing until taken over by the Normans as a lordship. Glamorgan is latterly represented by the three...

). Von Thoma was subject to surveillance by the Secret Intelligence Service
Secret Intelligence Service
The Secret Intelligence Service is responsible for supplying the British Government with foreign intelligence. Alongside the internal Security Service , the Government Communications Headquarters and the Defence Intelligence , it operates under the formal direction of the Joint Intelligence...

 and while speaking to another general officer, he was recorded discussing rockets that were being tested at Kummersdorf
Kummersdorf is the name of an estate near Luckenwalde at , around 25km south of Berlin, in the Brandenburg region of Germany. Until 1945 Kummersdorf hosted the weapon office of the German Army which ran a development centre for future weapons as well as an artillery range.In 1929 the Army Weapons...

 West while in the company of Generalfeldmarschall Walther von Brauchitsch
Walther von Brauchitsch
Heinrich Alfred Hermann Walther von Brauchitsch was a German field marshal and the Oberbefehlshaber des Heeres in the early years of World War II.-Biography:...

, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, and other technical program details. Following his indiscretion, further British reconnaissance flights over Peenemünde in May and June 1943 brought back unmistakable images of rockets at the facility which was the developing guided missiles and long-range ballistic missiles better known as the V-1 flying bomb
V-1 flying bomb
The V-1 flying bomb, also known as the Buzz Bomb or Doodlebug, was an early pulse-jet-powered predecessor of the cruise missile....

 and the V-2.

In late 1945, SS-Brigadeführer
SS-Brigadeführer was an SS rank that was used in Nazi Germany between the years of 1932 and 1945. Brigadeführer was also an SA rank....

 Kurt Meyer
Kurt Meyer (Panzermeyer)
Kurt Meyer, nicknamed "Panzermeyer", served as an officer in the Waffen-SS during the Second World War. He saw action in many major battles, including the Invasion of France, Operation Barbarossa, and the Battle of Normandy.Meyer was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and...

, captured in Belgium in September 1944 while commanding the 12th SS-Panzer Division "Hitler Jugend"
12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend
The 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend was a German Waffen SS armoured division during World War II. The Hitlerjugend was unique because the majority of its junior enlisted men were drawn from members of the Hitler Youth, while the senior NCOs and officers were generally veterans of the Eastern...

, arrived at Trent Park and noted that von Thoma, the German camp leader, was "…highly thought of by the English. Relations between him and the guards is excellent." Churchill's high regard for von Thoma is evident from his many later quotations of von Thoma's opinions on strategic matters, especially in his book about the war. After Montgomery invited von Thoma to dine with him in his private trailer, Churchill remarked: "I sympathize with General von Thoma: Defeated, in captivity and... (long pause for dramatic effect) dinner with Montgomery."

In 1945, von Thoma had one of his legs amputated at Wilton Park and was fitted with an artificial limb in Cardiff
Cardiff is the capital, largest city and most populous county of Wales and the 10th largest city in the United Kingdom. The city is Wales' chief commercial centre, the base for most national cultural and sporting institutions, the Welsh national media, and the seat of the National Assembly for...


His record in captivity was as follows:
  • 20 November 1942: Transferred to Trent Park Camp 11 sorting camp
  • 21 July 1946: Transferred to Camp 160 Military Hospital from Camp 300
  • 20 July 1946: Held on strength of Island Farm Special Camp 11 from this date (UM/M/1879/PW1)
  • 23 September 1947: Transferred to Island Farm Special Camp 11 from Camp 99
  • 25 November 1947: Repatriated.

Only a few months after repatriation von Thoma died of a heart attack in 1948 in Söcking, Germany.


"I am actually ashamed to be an officer"—regarding his witnessing of German atrocities in Russia.


  • Fahnenjunker: 23 September 1912
  • Fahnenjunker-Unteroffizier: 25 January 1913
  • Fähnrich
    Fähnrich is a German and Austrian military rank in armed forces which translates as "Ensign" in English. The rank also exists in a few other European military organizations, often with historical ties to the German system. Examples are Sweden, Norway and Finland . The French Army has a similar...

    : 20 May 1913
  • Leutnant: 1 August 1914
  • Oberleutnant
    Oberleutnant is a junior officer rank in the militaries of Germany, Switzerland and Austria. In the German Army, it dates from the early 19th century. Translated as "Senior Lieutenant", the rank is typically bestowed upon commissioned officers after five to six years of active duty...

    : 14 December 1917
  • Hauptmann
    Hauptmann is a German word usually translated as captain when it is used as an officer's rank in the German, Austrian and Swiss armies. While "haupt" in contemporary German means "main", it also has the dated meaning of "head", i.e...

    : 1 February 1925
  • Major
    Major is a rank of commissioned officer, with corresponding ranks existing in almost every military in the world.When used unhyphenated, in conjunction with no other indicator of rank, the term refers to the rank just senior to that of an Army captain and just below the rank of lieutenant colonel. ...

    : 1 April 1934
  • Oberstleutnant
    Oberstleutnant is a German Army and Air Force rank equal to Lieutenant Colonel, above Major, and below Oberst.There are two paygrade associated to the rank of Oberstleutnant...

    : 1 August 1936
  • Oberst
    Oberst is a military rank in several German-speaking and Scandinavian countries, equivalent to Colonel. It is currently used by both the ground and air forces of Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and Norway. The Swedish rank överste is a direct translation, as are the Finnish rank eversti...

    : 1 April 1938
  • Generalmajor: 1 August 1940
  • Generalleutnant: 1 August 1942
  • General der Panzertruppe
    General (Germany)
    General is presently the highest rank of the German Army and Luftwaffe . It is the equivalent to the rank of Admiral in the German Navy .-Early history:...

    : 1 November 1942

Decorations & Awards

  • Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
    Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
    The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was a grade of the 1939 version of the 1813 created Iron Cross . The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was the highest award of Germany to recognize extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership during World War II...

    : 31 December 1941, Generalmajor, Commander of the 20th Panzer Division
  • Bavarian Military Order of Max Joseph
    Military Order of Max Joseph
    The Military Order of Max Joseph was the highest purely military order of the Kingdom of Bavaria. It was founded on 1 January 1806 by Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria, the first king of Bavaria...

    , Knight's Cross: 5 July 1916, Leutnant, adjutant of the Royal Bavarian 3. Infanterie-Regiment "Prinz Karl von Bayern"
  • Prussian Iron Cross, 1st Class (1914)
    Iron Cross
    The Iron Cross is a cross symbol typically in black with a white or silver outline that originated after 1219 when the Kingdom of Jerusalem granted the Teutonic Order the right to combine the Teutonic Black Cross placed above a silver Cross of Jerusalem....

    : 3 June 1915
  • Prussian Iron Cross, 2nd Class (1914)
    Iron Cross
    The Iron Cross is a cross symbol typically in black with a white or silver outline that originated after 1219 when the Kingdom of Jerusalem granted the Teutonic Order the right to combine the Teutonic Black Cross placed above a silver Cross of Jerusalem....

    : 17 October 1914
  • 1939 Bar to the Prussian Iron Cross, 1st Class: 1939
  • 1939 Bar to the Prussian Iron Cross, 2nd Class: 1939
  • Medal for the Winter Campaign in Russia 1941/1942 ("East Medal")
    Eastern Front Medal
    The Eastern Front Medal, , more commonly known as the Ostmedaille was instituted on May 26, 1942 to mark service on the German Eastern Front during the period November 15, 1941 to April 15, 1942...

     — It is unknown whether von Thoma actually received this medal before his capture, but his service on the Eastern Front during the winter of 1941–1942 fit the award criteria.
  • Bavarian Military Merit Order
    Military Merit Order (Bavaria)
    The Bavarian Military Merit Order was established on July 19, 1866 by King Ludwig II of Bavaria. It was the kingdom's main decoration for bravery and military merit for officers and higher-ranking officials. Civilians acting in support of the army were also made eligible for the decoration...

    , 4th Class with Swords: 16 November 1914
  • Cross of Honor for Combatants 1914-1918
    Cross of Honor
    The Cross of Honor, also known as the Honor Cross or, popularly, the Hindenburg Cross, was a commemorative medal inaugurated on July 13, 1934 by Reichspräsident Paul von Hindenburg for those soldiers of Imperial Germany who fought in World War I...

    : 1935
  • Armed Forces Long Service Award, 1st Class (25-year Service Cross)
  • Armed Forces Long Service Award, 3rd Class (12-year Service Medal)
  • Austrian Military Merit Cross
    Military Merit Cross (Austria-Hungary)
    The Military Merit Cross was a decoration of the Empire of Austria and, after the establishment of the Dual Monarchy in 1867, the Empire of Austria-Hungary. It was first established on October 22, 1849 and underwent several revisions to its design and award criteria over the years of its existence...

    , 3rd Class with War Decoration: 5 April 1916
  • German Spanish Cross in Gold with Swords and Diamonds
    Spanish Cross
    The Spanish Cross was an award of Germany given to Germans who participated in the Spanish Civil War, fighting for Franco.- History :With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Germany sent the Condor Legion to give military aid to Francisco Franco's nationalist forces.On April 14, 1939, Germany...

  • Spanish Military Medal
    Medalla Militar
    The Military Medal is a high military award of Spain to recognise battlefield bravery.The medal was established in 1918. Since then it is awarded to members of the Spanish military service independent of rank.-Spanish Civil War:* Emilio Mola...

     with Diamonds
  • Spanish Campaign Medal
    Spanish Campaign Medal
    The Spanish Campaign Medal was a military award of the United States Armed Forces which recognized those members of the U.S. military who had served in the Spanish-American War. Although a single decoration, there were two versions of the Spanish Campaign Medal, one for members of the United...

  • Condor Legion Panzer Badge in Gold — This unique version of the standard silver badge was presented to von Thoma by the men of his command at the Nationalist Victory Day Parade in Madrid, Spain, on 19 May 1939.
  • Wound Badge
    Wound Badge
    Wound Badge was a German military award for wounded or frost-bitten soldiers of Imperial German Army in World War I, the Reichswehr between the wars, and the Wehrmacht, SS and the auxiliary service organizations during the Second World War. After March 1943, due to the increasing number of Allied...

     in Silver — World War I award: 22 November 1916 (von Thoma was wounded four times in World War I.)

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.