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Werner Freiherr von Fritsch
4 August 1880(1880-08-04) ‚Äď 22 September 1939 (aged 59)
Werner Freiherr von Fritsch
Place of birth Benrath, German Empire
Place of death Warsaw, Poland
Allegiance German Empire German Empire (to 1918)
Germany Weimar Republic (to 1933)
Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
Years of service 1898 ‚Äď1939
Rank Generaloberst
Awards Pour le Mérite

Werner Freiherr von Fritsch (4 August 1880 ‚Äď 22 September 1939) was a prominent Wehrmacht officer, member of the German High Command, and the second German general to be killed in the Second World War.


Early life

Von Fritsch was born in Benrath in the Rhine Province of the German Empire. He entered the Imperial German Army (Reichsheer) at the age of 18, and won the attention of the German General Staff with his superior military qualities. In 1901, at the age of 21, he transferred to the Prussian Military Academy (Preußische Kriegsakademie). As a First Lieutenant (Oberleutnant) in 1911, he was appointed to the General Staff. Between 1914 and 1918, during World War I, he gradually increased in importance and received, among other awards, the Iron Cross First Class and a black wound badge for a head wound he received while visiting the front lines.

Interwar period

During the interwar period, von Fritsch served in the Weimar Republic's Armed Forces (Reichswehr). He was promoted to Lieutenant-General (Generalleutnant) in 1932. After the Nazis came to power in 1933, von Fritsch was appalled by their lawlessness and suppression of civil liberties. Unlike most of his brother generals, von Fritsch made no effort to hide his hostility to the Nazis, especially the SS. In his book, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William Shirer recalled hearing von Fritsch make sarcastic remarks about the SS at a parade in Saarbr√ľcken. He was also worried that Adolf Hitler would cause a war with the Soviet Union; like most of his fellow officers, he had supported the Weimar liaison with Moscow.

Despite his hostility to the Nazis, von Fritsch was promoted to the Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres, or OKH), in 1934. He was named Commander-in-Chief of the Army the next year. He, alongside Werner von Blomberg, set about rearming Germany. In 1936, when von Blomberg was promoted to field marshal, General von Fritsch received promotion to von Blomberg's vacated rank of Colonel General (Generaloberst). Von Fritsch was among the officers present at the Hossbach Conference in 1937 where Hitler announced that he wanted to go to war as early as 1938. He was very critical of this demand, as he knew the army was not ready.

The Blomberg-Fritsch Affair

Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Göring, inspired by the resignation of Werner von Blomberg, accused the unmarried Fritsch, who had never been a womaniser and had preferred to concentrate on his army career, of engaging in homosexual activity. He was forced to resign on 4 February 1938, and was replaced by Walther von Brauchitsch, whom von Fritsch himself recommended for the post. Also, Hitler took advantage of the situation by replacing several generals and ministers with people even more loyal to him, taking control of the German Armed Forces (Wehrmacht). Soon, it became known that the charges were false, and an honour court of officers examined the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair, although it was presided over by Göring himself. The successful annexation of Austria into Greater Germany (Anschluss) of March 12 silenced all critics of Hitler, Göring and Himmler. Fritsch was acquitted on March 18, but the damage to his name had been done.

World War II

Commemorative stone placed by Germans in the spot where Werner Freiherr von Fritsch died.

Just before the outbreak of World War II, Fritsch was recalled, and chose to personally inspect the front lines as the "Honorary Colonel of the 12th Artillery Regiment"[1] during the Invasion of Poland, a very unusual activity for someone of his rank. On 22 September 1939, in Praga during the Siege of Warsaw, a Polish bullet (either a machine gun or a sharpshooter) tore an artery in his leg [2]. Leutnant Rosenhagen, adjutant of von Fritsch and an eyewitness to his death, wrote in his original, official protocol:

"[...] In this moment the Herr Generaloberst received a gunshot in his left thigh, a bullet tore an artery. Immediately he fell down. Before I took off his braces, the Herr Generaloberst said: "please leave it", lost consciousness and died. Only one minute passed between receiving gunshot and death."[2]

Werner von Fritsch was the second German general to be killed in combat in World War II ‚Äď the first being Generalmajor der Ordnungspolizei and SS Brigadef√ľhrer Wilhelm Fritz von Roettig (KIA on 10 September 1939 (around 14:15) near Opoczno, Poland). Since von Fritsch was the second general killed in action, the event was closely examined. It is believed that he deliberately sought death. Von Fritsch received a ceremonial state funeral four days later in Berlin.


Freiherr von Fritsch Kaserne in Darmstadt was named after von Fritsch after his death. It was later combined with the adjoining Cambrai Kaserne. The facilities were combined when the United States Army occupied Darmstadt in 1945. Cambrai-Fritsch Kaserne was scheduled to be turned over to the German government on or about March 2009.[3]


Regarding personal names: Freiherr is a title, translated as Baron, not a first or middle name. The female forms are Freifrau and Freiin.


  1. ^ Barnett, Hitler's Generals, p. 40
  2. ^ a b DER SPIEGEL 34/1948 - 21.08.1948, page 18 - original official protocol written by Leutnant Rosenhagen, his adjutant and eyewitness
  3. ^ DoD announces more Germany closings (from the Army Times website)


  • Barnett, Correlli, Ed. Hitler's Generals Grove Weidenfeld, New York, NY, 1989.
  • Read, Anthony The Devil's Disciples: The Lives and Times of Hitler's Inner Circle Pimlico, London, 2003, 2004.
  • Wheeler-Bennett, Sir John The Nemesis of Power : The German Army in Politics 1918-1945 Palgrave Macmillan, London, 1953, 1964, 2005.

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