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Helmuth von Pannwitz
14 October 1898(1898-10-14) – 16 January 1947 (aged 48)
Place of birth Botzanowitz, Silesia
Place of death Moscow
Allegiance Germany
Years of service 1914 - 1945
Rank Lieutenant General/Feldataman
Commands held XVth SS Cossack Cavalry Corps
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit dem Eichenlaub
Iron Cross 2nd and 1st Class

Helmuth von Pannwitz (14 October 1898 – 16 January 1947) was a German general who distinguished himself as a cavalry officer during the First and the Second World Wars, Supreme Ataman of the Wehrmacht and SS Cossacks.


Early life

Pannwitz was born into a family of Prussian nobility in Botzanowitz (today Bodzanowice), Silesia, near Rosenberg (today Olesno), now part of Poland. As a 16-year-old officer cadet, he joined the Imperial German Army at the outbreak of the First World War, in the course of which he was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd and 1st Class.

World War II

On active service again in World War II, he was awarded "bars" to his previous decorations and in August 1941 was invested with the Knight's Cross and received the Oakleaves as Colonel a year later. Pannwitz was instrumental from 1942 onwards in establishing Cossack volunteer forces, the XV. Kosaken-Kavallerie-Korps within the German Wehrmacht, which he then commanded on anti-partisan duty in Yugoslavia. During the punitive operations in Serbia and Croatia the Cossack regiments under Pannwitz's command committed a number of atrocities against the civilian population, including several mass rapes, and routine summary executions.

Due to the respect and understanding he always showed for his troops and his tendency to attend Russian Orthodox services with them, Pannwitz was very popular among his Cossack volunteers. Before the end of the war, he was elected Feldataman, the highest rank in the Cossack hierarchy and one that was traditionally reserved to the Tsar alone).

From February 1945, the Corps was transferred to the Waffen-SS.[1]


Pannwitz surrendered on 11 May 1945 to British forces. His troops were subsequently handed over to Soviet forces, which is often referred to as The Betrayal of Cossacks at Lienz. They were executed, sent to GULAG prison camps, or committed suicide to avoid being repatriated. As Pannwitz was a German national, he was told by the British Army that he was not subject to repatriation to the SMERSH. Nonetheless, Pannwitz insisted on sharing the fate of his men and voluntarily surrendered to Soviet prosecution.


Pannwitz was executed in Moscow on 16 January 1947, having been convicted by a Soviet court for war crimes in Yugoslavia.


Almost fifty years later on 23 April 1996 during the presidency of Boris Yeltsin, members of the Pannwitz family petitioned for a posthumous verdict of acquittal of the 1946 conviction. The Military High Prosecutor in Moscow subsequently determined that von Pannwitz was eligible for rehabilitation as a victim of the Stalin era repressions. On 28 June 2001, however, rehabilitation was reversed in a ruling that disputed jurisdiction of the 1996 proceedings and his conviction for military crimes still stood.

See also


  1. ^ Rolf Michaelis: Die Waffen-SS. Mythos und Wirklichkeit. Michaelis-Verlag, Berlin 2001, p. 36

Further reading

  • Cossacks in the German Army, Samuel J. Newland, U.S. Army College, 1991 Frank Cass & Co.Ltd. London, ISBN 0714633518.
  • Die Verratenen von Yalta, Nikolai Tolstoi, 1977 Langen Müller, ISBN 3-7844-1719-1.
  • Erich Kern: General von Pannwitz und seine Kosaken, 1971 Verlag K.W. Schütz;
  • The Minister and the Massacres, Nikolai Tolstoy, 1986 Century Hutchinson Ltd. London, ISBN 0-09-164010-5.
  • The cost of a reputation, Ian Mitchel, 1997 Topical Books Lagavulin, ISBN 0953158101.
  • Die Illusion, Jürgen Thorwald, 1974 Droemer Knaur Verlag, ISBN 3-85886-029-8


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