Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The SS - The Wolff That Got Away

Before the SS

Born in Darmstadt on 13th May 1900, Karl Freidrich Otto Wolff was almost five months older than the man he was to serve so faithfully, Heinrich Himmler. His father was a district court judge and Wolff was raised as a Catholic, the two men sharing a similar background.
Freikorps recruitment poster
But in one respect Wolff was able to outshine his boss; in April 1917, having taken his arbitur, Wolff signed up to fight for his country. He underwent four months of training and on 5th September 1917 volunteered to fight for Germany. Wolff served in the exclusive Life Guards Regiment of the Grand Duke of Hesse, winning the Iron Cross second class[i]. He ended the war a lieutenant and afterwards Wolff joined the Freikorps[ii].
Demobilised in May 1920 Karl trained as a banker, undergoing a two year apprenticeship with the Bethmann family bank in Frankfurt; the job found for him by influential friends and relatives. Typically Wolff attached great importance to living in a well-to-do neighbourhood, if possible renting from a noble landlord. He later claimed that during this period of his life;

‘It was a constant battle to avoid moving downward socially.’[iii]
Wolff got engaged to Frieda von Römheld[iv] in July 1922 just as Wolff was finishing his training. They both liked and were good at dancing, winning a number of competitions. The couple married in August 1923. Wolff then moved to work for the Deutsche Bank[v] in Munich after a brief period working for a company his father-in-law had dealings with. But the hyperinflation of the 1920’s resulted in the loss of his job at the end of June 1924.

Eventually Wolff found himself a job in advertising working for Ad-Expedition Walther von Danckelmann because he offered to work for the same amount he received from benefit until he had proved his worth. Within a few months, having assimilated sufficient of the finer points of advertising, Wolff was appointed manager of one of the company’s branches.
On 1st July 1925 Wolff left to set up his own company, using his wife’s name in the company title; Ad-Expedition Karl Wolff - von Römheld. The agency was dissolved in 1931; Karl and Frieda Wolff were living in Bogenhausen, an upper-class Munich neighborhood, which doubled as the family home and as the offices for company.

A New Life
On 7th October 1931 at the Braunhaus[vi] Wolff joined the Nazi party as member number 695131 and the SS as member 14,325. Within three weeks Wolff went from being a raw recruit to the lowest SS rank – SS-Schütze. On the 18th February 1932 he was promoted to SS-Sturmfuhrer. At the time Wolff was attending an SS leadership course; among the speakers were Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich[vii] and Franz Xaver Schwarz[viii] Later Wolff was to rhapsodise about this first contact with Himmler;

‘The worldly seeds that were then sown in our believing, open hearts later blossomed in a wonderful way and bore fruit.’[ix]
He had learned that the effusive the better for his Reichsfuhrer. After the end of course party, for participants and their wives, Himmler insisted on giving the Wolffs and Standartenfuhrer[x] Hoeflich[xi] a lift home.

In Power
Ritter von Epp
On the day the Nazis came to power, 30th January 1933, Wolff was promoted to the rank of Hauptsturmfuhrer[xii]. The Nazis did not have control of all the Lander and in Bavaria Wolff and his men were used to create incidents which presaged the takeover on 9th March. Wilhelm Frick, the Nazi Minister of the Interior[xiii], installed a Commissioner in Bavaria. The new Commissioner, Ritter von Epp dismissed the police chiefs who were replaced by Nazis.
Himmler was given the post of Police President in Munich; not content with this sop Himmler and his sidekick Heydrich schemed over the period March 1933 to spring 1934 patiently collecting the various political police of the Lander under his control[xiv].

Ludwig Siebert
From 9th March 1933 Wolff worked as a personal adjutant for von Epp until mid-June[xv], when von Epp was replaced by Ludwig Siebert. Von Epp offered Wolff another army posting, but as this meant returning to his rank of Lieutenant Wolff accepted Himmler’s offer of a job on his staff. He started on 15th June 1933, becoming a full-time member of the SS. It was not until September that Wolff became one of Himmler’s adjutants.
Moving On, Moving Up
At this time Himmler’s chief of staff was Gruppenfuhrer[xvi] Seidel-Dittmarsch, who was attempting to build his own power base; an attempt that ended with his premature death in February 1934. Meanwhile Wolff was careering up the promotion ladder; on 20th April 1934 he was given the rank of Standartenfuhrer. The previous Christmas Himmler had given Wolff a photograph of himself with a ‘very sincerely’ handwritten dedication.

Gestapo HQ on Prinz Albrecht Strasse
Wolff had no direct responsibility in the Night of the Long Knives, when Himmler’s boss Ernst. Rohm, head of the Sturmabteilung or SA, was killed. As part of a quid pro quo in April 1934 Himmler was made deputy head of the Prussian Gestapo[xvii] founded by Hermann Göring and Heydrich was placed in charge.
Wolff was Himmler’s liaison with Göring, and while staying at the palace that was Göring’s workplace he must have heard the endless streams of orders to kill Hitler’s enemies emanating from the Reichsfuhrer and Heydrich as well as Göring.

Wolff certainly benefitted from the resultant batch of promotions; he was made Oberfuhrer[xviii] on 4th July 1934. By now he was first adjutant to Himmler. Hitler explained away his actions during the atrocity by saying;
‘If a mutiny broke out on board a ship, the captain was not only entitled to but also obliged to crush the mutiny right away.’[xix]
Himmler’s reward for the involvement of his SS as the killing machine putting down the mutiny, was the removal of the SS from hierarchy of the SA; Himmler now reported directly to Hitler.

Wolff met Countess Ingeborg Maria von Bernstorff after the Night of the Long Knives. The Countess came to ask for Himmler’s support for a charity. Wolff, with his fascination for the nobility, flirted with the Countess[xx]. Her husband died the following year and at some point the beautiful widow became Wolff’s mistress. Like Himmler, Wolff had moved his family from Berlin to live at their home on the Tegernsee.
Party Rallies

1934 Party Rally
At the September party rally at Nuremberg Wolff played host to the members of the Freundeskreis der Reichsfuhrer SS[xxi] staying at the Grand Hotel. Representatives of the Deutsche Bank, the Dresdner Bank, the Commerzbank, Flick Steel and Siemens were among the companies that gave financial support to the SS. The 1934 rally, stage managed by Albert Speer, was attended by a quarter of a million people.
By the end of the year Wolff was persuading Himmler to see a healer to deal with his headaches and stomach cramps[xxii]. Himmler spent much of the summer of 1935 touring Germany, visiting the SS offices and speaking to his SS men. He drove around in an open touring Maybach, usually accompanied by Wolff and often by the wives of the two men. The two couples became close, indulging in impromptu picnics and socialising together.

Title page of proclamation of Nuremberg racial laws
At the 1935 party rally Wolff was again hosting the members of the Freundeskreis RFSS as he was to do at all subsequent rallies. It was at the 1935 rally that the infamous Nuremberg racial laws were unveiled; aimed directly at the Jews. Hitler claimed that this was a result of
‘Vehement complaints are coming in from innumerable places about the provocative behaviour of individual members of this people.’[xxiii]
Wolff and Heydrich both visited the Himmlers at their home in Gmund on the occasion of Himmler’s 35th birthday in October. Heydrich’s car broke down as the families attempted to leave the party and Himmler was one of those who push-started the car. The rivalry between Heydrich and Wolff was to grow over the years; each jealous of the other’s influence over the Reichsfuhrer.

In November 1935 Wolff was made Chief Adjutant to Himmler and the following November Himmler expanded his adjutants office into the Personalstab der RFSS; Wolf was made Chief of Staff.

The Third Reich in Power – Richard J Evans, Penguin 2006
The Order of the Death’s Head – Heinz Hohne, Penguin 2000

The Black Corps – Robert Lewis Koehl, University of Wisconsin Press 1983
Top Nazi – Jochen von Lang, Enigma Books 2005

Heinrich Himmler – Peter Longerich, Oxford University Press 2012
Allgemeine-SS – Mark C Yerger, Schiffer Military History 1997

[i] He later was given the Iron Cross First Class
[ii] The Hessian Independence Corps
[iii] Top Nazi - Lang
[iv] Frieda’s father had been Chef de Cabinet to the last Grand Duke of Hesse
[v] Whose record of association with the Nazi party and the SS was convoluted at best
[vi] The Nazi party headquarters in Munich
[vii] Heydrich, in charge of the Sicherheinstdeist of the SS, had himself only joined in June 1931
[viii] Nazi Party Treasurer
[ix] Top Nazi - Lang
[x] Equivalent of a colonel
[xi] Commander of 1st SS-Standarte; Wolff was head of Sturm 2 of the Second Sturmbann of the Standarte
[xii] Equivalent to captain
[xiii] In charge of security
[xiv] In June 1936 Himmler was made Chief of the German Police giving him control of the security apparatus of the state; a job that was to bring him immense power
[xv] Himmler gave anyone of any importance, whether belonging to the SS or not (von Epp did not) SS aides to increase the scope of his intelligence apparatus
[xvi] Equivalent in rank to a Major General
[xvii] The Prussian political police
[xviii] A rank that has no army equivalent, but placed between Colonel and Brigadier General
[xix] The Third Reich in Power - Evans
[xx] The daughter of a businessman.
[xxi] Originating as a group to fund Hitler’s projects, this group now did the same for Himmler. The group included senior officials from German banks and industrial complexes
[xxii] These stomach cramps would debilitate Himmler throughout the rest of his life
[xxiii] The Third Reich in Power - Evans

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Peter the Great - What Peter Did Next VIII

After the Battle

Czarevich Alexis
Two days after the battle Peter entered Poltava and celebrated his name day at the Spasskaya church with the commander of the garrison at his side.
Following his return from receiving the mass surrender of the Swedes Menshikov was promoted to Field Marshall; all the Russian generals received promotions or estates. Peter allowed himself to be promoted to Lieutenant General and became a Rear Admiral in the navy. Moscow was en fête and Czarevich Alexis hosted a banquet for the foreign ambassadors at Preobrazhenskoe.

At a council of war, held between 14th and 16th July 1709, it was decided that Sheremetev would attack Riga and Menshikov would move into Poland to attack King Stanislaus and the Swedish army there.
Peter’s victory at Poltava meant that the courts of Europe were now eager to ally with Russia. Louis XIV proposed to guarantee Russian conquests in the Baltic to injure English and Dutch trade; Hanover and Prussia indicated their desire to increase their ties with Russia. Denmark proposed a new anti Swedish alliance with Russia and following the agreement invaded southern Sweden.

Augustus of Saxony repudiated the Treaty of Altranstadt[i] and invaded with an army of 14,000, calling on his former subjects to renew their allegiance. The Polish nobles welcomed Augustus’s return and Stanislaus fled, finally joining Charles in the Ottoman Empire. Peter and Augustus signed a new treaty of alliance on 9th October 1709 at Thorn[ii].

Peter promised to help Augustus regain the throne of Poland and by the end of the month Menshikov had secured the greater part of the country without a fight, as the Swedish army retreated to Swedish Pomerania.
From Thorn Peter travelled to Marienwerder to meet Frederick ! of Prussia; a treaty of defence was signed by the two countries and a marriage between Peter’s niece and the Duke of Courland[iii] was arranged.

Annexing the Baltic States
On 9th November Peter arrived at Riga, joining Sheremetev and his troops encircling the city. On the 13th Peter fired the first shots of the bombardment of the city. The city resisted fiercely and Peter ordered the troops into winter quarters, leaving the city blockaded.
In the spring of 1710 Peter’s troops swept through the Baltic provinces. While Sheremetev besieged Riga; Apraxin and 18,000 men attacked Vyborg, a strategic town at the head of the Karelian isthmus. They were backed by the Russian Baltic fleet. Peter travelled with the fleet, bringing supplies and reinforcements.
After approving the siege plans Peter returned to St Petersburg, where once again he fell ill; he wrote to Apraxin at the beginning of June;

‘I hear you intend making the assault today. If this has already been ordered, God aid you. But if it is not fixed for today put it off until Sunday or Monday when I can get there, for this is the last day that I take medicine and tomorrow I shall be free.’[iv]
On the 13th Vyborg fell; Peter was there to witness the surrender;

‘And thus through the taking of this town, final safety has been gained for St. Petersburg.’[v]
On July 10th Riga surrendered to Sheremetev[vi] and three months later Reval capitulated; Peter was overjoyed

‘The last town has surrendered and Livonia and Estonia are entirely cleared of the enemy. In a word, the enemy does not now possess a single town on the left side of the Baltic, not even an inch of land. It is now incumbent upon us to pray the Lord God for a good peace.’[vii]
Peter agreed that the churches could remain Lutheran, that German would remain the language of the local administration and allowed the nobles and merchants to keep all their former privileges, customs, possessions and immunities.

Charles and the Ottomans
Ahmed III
Having sought sanctuary with the Ottomans, Charles was treated as an honoured guest; Sultan Ahmed III ordered a wagon train of supplies. Ahmed suggested that his guests moved to Bender on the Dniester, 150 miles to the south-west[viii].
‘’The Basha Ismael having brought the King to his Seraglio at Bender, gave him his own apartment, where he was served in state, but not without a guard of Janisaries at the chamber door.’[ix]
Charles hoped to return to Poland as soon as his heel was healed, and take command of the Swedish armies left there to keep Stanislaus on the throne. He also believed that it would be possible to rejoin his troops left behind in the Ukraine. Charles sent orders to the governing council in Stockholm requiring the raising of new regiments to be sent across the Baltic.

Charles’s wound took a long time to heel and while he was waiting the news of the death of his elder sister[x] arrived; Charles was grief stricken and for days refused to see anyone. Then another disaster struck; Mazeppa died on 22nd September. And the news of Lewenhaupt’s surrender was followed by news of the events in Poland and the rest of northern Europe.
Charles’s best option would have been to return to Sweden; Louis XIV, eager to have Sweden create mayhem in eastern Europe, several times proffered the use of a ship to ferry him home[xi]. Instead Charles hoped to persuade the Sultan to join him in an attack on Russia. He thought that one successful campaign would regain the losses of the previous year’s campaign.

Charles’s agents were working to overturn the Russian-Turkish agreement, while there were many of the Sultan’s advisers who wanted their master to accept Peter’s demand that Charles be expelled from the empire.
‘The King of Sweden has fallen like a heavy weight on the shoulders of the Sublime Porte.’[xii]
For Charles to have any real influence in the empire he needed a Swedish army ready to influence events in Europe and beyond. His demands for fresh regiments abroad caused consternation in Stockholm, already trying to fight off the Danes in the south. Charles was informed that no troops could be spared to further his ambitions.

The Ottoman Turks Go to War

The Valide Sultan Emetullah
There was a pro-war faction in Constantinople; one of the foremost was Devlet Gerey, Khan of the Crimea. He and the Sultan’s mother Emetullah had been persuaded by Charles’s envoys to look kindly on the idea of crushing Russia. Peter’s continued demands for Charles’s expulsion played into the hands of the war party and on 21st November 1710 the Ottomans declared war on Russia. But when the troops marched to war Charles was unable to play an active part in the campaign.
Selimye Mosque at Adrianople
Peter had decided that his troops would march through Bulgaria and threaten the second city of the Ottoman Turks, Adrianople. The army of 54,000 would be dwarfed by the armies that the Turks could put into the field. But Peter planned to call on the Christians in the Balkan provinces of Wallachia and Moldavia to rise up and join his army. It was estimated that up to 40,000 might be expected to fight against their Muslim overlords.
Peter’s proclamation called upon the Sultan’s vassals to ensure that

‘The descendents of the heathen Mohammed were driven out into their old homeland, the sands and steppes of Arabia.’[xiii]
Pruth campaign
But Peter’s call did not have the ultimate success he might have hoped for. His bold move was far from his normal defensive policy and eventually in October 1713, after four declarations of war by the Turks and a disastrous defeat at Pruth in July 1711 for the Russians, a treaty was signed between the two nations; the terms were in the victor’s favour and the Ukraine passed back into Turkish hands; the forts at Taganrog and Azov were destroyed.
‘The Lord God drove me out of this place, like Adam out of Paradise’[xiv]
Peter wrote of the loss of these vital possessions and there would be no Russian Black Sea fleet in Peter’s lifetime. But for him his border in the west was vital for the future of his country and St Petersburg and the Baltic were more important than Azov and the Black Sea.

Cathedral at Bender
Peter’s envoys continued to press for Charles to be expelled from Turkish territories. Throughout his stay in the Ottoman Empire Charles resided in Bender. He was paid an allowance by the Sultan, but in July 1711 Charles fell out with the Grand Vizier, putting paid to Charles’s attempts to lead an army against the Russians[xv]. His allowance was cut off, his mail was intercepted and merchants were forbidden to sell goods to the Swedes.
In retaliation Charles complained to Ahmed of his vizier’s behaviour and his agents in Constantinople spread rumours that the vizier had allowed Peter and his army to escape after Pruth, because he had been bribed to do so. Charles helped incite the three further short wars the Ottomans declared on the Russians but his chance to regain his losses slipped away after the first campaign.
On 15th June 1713 the Russians and the Turks signed a treaty at Adrianople, pledging peace for twenty-five years. Charles was now invited to leave Turkish territory. He decided to travel incognito and travel light, leaving his entourage to bring the gifts from Sultan Ahmed;

‘The presents they brought him from the Grand Signor were, a large tent of scarlet embroidered with gold, a sabre set with jewels, eight beautiful Arabian horses with fine salles and stirrups of massive silver.’[xvi]

Charles’s departure was delayed until September 1714 and he made the journey to Stralsund[xvii] in two weeks, travelling by coach and on horseback. It had been fifteen years since he had last set foot on the territories he ruled and it was not until the following summer, after the fall of Stralsund to a joint Prussian-Danish-Saxon enemy, that Charles finally returned to his native land.

Natasha’s Dance – Orlando Figes, Penguin Books Ltd 2002
Russia and the Russians – Geoffrey Hosking, The Penguin Press 2001

Peter the Great – Robert K Massie, Abacus 1992
The History of Charles XII of Sweden – Mr de Voltaire, C Davis & A Lyon 1732

[i] Whereby he had been forced to give up the Polish crown
[ii] His trip had been delayed by yet another bout of ill-health
[iii] Frederick’s nephew
[iv] Peter the Great - Massie
[v] Ibid
[vi] Originally the city had been allocated to Augustus, but as it had been gained with Russian troops and Peter claimed that the city and province were gained as the result of the Russian victory at Poltava, he decided it would be Russian, not Polish
[vii] Peter the Great - Massie
[viii] Now called Bessarabia
[ix] The History of Charles XII of Sweden – Voltaire
[x] The widowed Duchess of Holstein
[xi] Charles’s refusal was part in concern that he might be captured by pirates and that accepting the offer would mean choosing sides in the War of the Spanish Succession
[xii] Peter the Great - Massie
[xiii] Ibid
[xiv] Ibid
[xv] The Vizier informs Charles that an unbeliever could not lead Ottoman troops
[xvi] The History of Charles XII of Sweden – Voltaire
[xvii] A Swedish territory