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The life of
Lothar Gittermann

When World War II broke out, the mobilized officer corps of Panzerregiment 1 consisted of 59 officers, 17 of whom were reserve officers. The rate of almost 30% was significantly lower than, for example, infantry or artillery units, but these leaders also played an important role within the panzer regiments. Unfortunately, little has survived in the archives concerning these men, there are practically no files. As an example, the records of later Major der Reserve Lothar Gittermann will be examined in more detail here.

Lothar Gittermann was born on January 18, 1893, in Alexisbad (Harzgerode) and grew up in Bad Nauheim in Hesse. After graduating from school in Friedberg, he joined Feld-Artillerie-Regiment Nr.71 Großkomtur in Graudenz (West Prussia) as a Fahnenjunker in 1912.  He underwent officer training and was promoted to Leutnant on May 20, 1914 (with a seniority dated May 24, 1912) shortly before the outbreak of the First World War. With this regiment, which belonged to the 35. Division, he experienced the fighting on the Eastern Front in 1914/15, including the battles at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes. In 1915 he served as a Leutnant and adjutant in the I. Abteilung.

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Officers of the Feld-Artillerieregiment 71. Leutnant Gittermann, seated in the center, marked with the cross.

On December 29, 1915, Leutnant Gittermann was transferred to the Gebirgskanonen-Batterie 1 und 2 in Strasbourg at his own request. Shortly thereafter, he was on a train heading to an assignment with the German military mission in Turkey. After the war he wrote the following about his service in the Dardanelles:

 

“A few years before the war, as is well known, several staff officers from the German army were sent to Constantinople as a military mission for Turkey under the leadership of the German Generalleutnant Liman von Sanders. The position of this military mission turned out to be very difficult up to the beginning of the war, since a French and a British mission were active alongside it and Russian contradictions had to be overcome, which made it impossible to give Liman von Sanders the position that had been intended. At the beginning of the war, the commissions of the Entente disappeared, while on the other hand, with the entry of the two German ships "Goeben" and "Breslau", Turkey was drawn into the world war on our side and a naval commando joined the military commission. After German officers and individual commandos, mostly in civilian clothes and traveling via Romania, had been sent to support the Turkish ally during the fighting on the Gallipoli peninsula in 1915, a larger number of German officers pulled out of the front, which, however, only came to service in Turkey as a result of the fighting being called off by the British evacuation at the end of the summer of 1916.

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Otto Liman von Sanders (Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R02991)

The journey already offered interesting pictures, as the Balkan train, which established the connection twice a week, crossed just conquered Serbia on the 2nd day and on the 3rd, day reached Constantinople via the old battlefields of the Bulgarian-Turkish war of 1912. The city, known for its division into the old Turkish quarter of Istanbul, the European quarter of Pera, both separated by the Golden Horn spanned by two bridges, and Scutari on the Asian side of the Bosporus, gave a not entirely accurate picture of the Turkish conditions, especially since the population was very mixed. A transfer to the area of responsibility first to the region of Smyrna (today Izmir) made it possible to become acquainted with this large city, picturesquely situated in front of the wide bay of the Gulf, whose inhabitants were for the most part Greeks. In Aidin, a villa town south of Smyrna with about 35,000 inhabitants, the Turkish soldiers were trained on the modern German mountain guns, which led to a considerable strain on the material, since the Turks were only used to using old guns still without recoil mechanisms. After completing training of about two months, the battery was deployed against the island of Meys (or Italian Castellorizo) on the southern coast of Asia Minor. Together with a heavy field howitzer battery deployed under the leadership of a German Hauptmann, on January 16, an English aircraft mother ship was destroyed by artillery fire from the mainland in the port of this island, about 5 km away. What was interesting in these battles was the involvement of Turkish units, which were put together from former deserters under the leadership of a German officer. The return journey gave the opportunity to get to know the original warm hospitality of the Anatolian farmer. A four-week stay in Smyrna, on the other hand, conveys interesting impressions in that all foreign colonies, including those of the enemy states, England, France, and Italy, lived at liberty and mostly in a very friendly manner with the few existing German officers. Since towards the end of February 1917 renewed attacks against Gallipoli, which was heavily stripped of troops, were feared, I was assigned to the staff of the Artillery Commanders at Army Group Tscharnak. Although it had been more than a year since the fighting at Gallipoli, the battlefield offered a striking picture of the severity of the fighting, which had begun in March 1915 with the major attack by the allied fleet on the fortifications of the Dardanelles. At the end of April 1915, the French made their first attempt to land against the Asian side of the Dardanelles at Kumkale, while the English acted against the European side at Seddülbahr and Ariburnu, which ended with the French being thrown back but holding the strip of land that had been occupied by the English. The complete lack of modern artillery on the Turkish side made the fighting extraordinarily difficult for them, especially since the English landing troops were supported by the heavy artillery of their battleships. Relief came when, at the end of May 1915, a German U-boat under Kapitänleutnant Otto Hersing sank two battleships and a transport. A critical situation arose when, in August 1915, the English made new landings and extended the Aribumu Front eastward beyond Suvla Bay. The indecisiveness of the English troops, who landed first, prevented the loss of dominant points in the terrain, which the rushing Turkish divisions, mostly under German command, were able to retake and hold in a bayonet attack. When an Austrian 24 cm motorized mortar battery was deployed in November, the enemy saw that their situation was untenable and prepared to evacuate, which was then carried out in an extremely skillful manner under the protection of the fleet at the beginning of 1916. The credit for holding the Dardanelles front, which was extremely important for the Central Powers, belongs solely to the German commander-in-chief, Marshal Liman von Sanders, who, supported by around 500 German officers and non-commissioned officers, including only one closed naval command, used his full energy. Nevertheless, the Dardanelles front always remained an object of concern, since the English naval units stationed on the opposite Imbros constantly represented a certain threat and their intelligence service, as could be clearly observed, functioned excellently. Also in the fighting, Liman von Sanders had to be resorted to again, as the only man who was sufficiently familiar with Turkish conditions to be able to assert himself.”

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Gittermann´s service in the Ottoman Empire 1916–1918

At the end of the First World War, Gittermann was a Oberleutnant, decorated with both Iron Crosses. Like most of his comrades, he was forced to start a new, civilian life. He completed a bank apprenticeship in 1919/20 and worked at the Dresdner Bank in Berlin until 1927. In 1927 he became head of the Dresdner Bank in Erfurt. He retained this position until the outbreak of war in 1939. It is not known when he joined in the reserve officer corps of Panzerregiment 1, but it is likely that it was immediately after the formation in 1936 or 1937. It is surprising that he chose the Panzertruppe and not an artillery unit, which were closer to him because of his service in World War I and which also existed in Erfurt in the form of the Artillerieregiment 74 (until 1936) and 29 (from 1937).

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Lothar Gittermann as a reserve officer in Panzerregiment 1

The Dresdner Bank Erfurt, Anger 58, today a pharmacy

On October 29, 1937, he applied for membership in the NSDAP, which was rejected by the Sicherheitsdienst due to political unreliability. The reason for this judgment is his membership in the Rotary Club Erfurt. After its dissolution, the application was subsequently approved on November 8, 1938.

 

When the Second World War broke out, Lothar Gittermann, meanwhile a Hauptmann der Reserve, was drafted into Panzerersatzabteilung 1. In March 1940 he became commander of the 2nd company in Erfurt and shortly thereafter transferred as a supply officer to the field regiment, which was preparing for the Western Campaign on the Moselle River. On May 9, 1940, the day with the attack was ordered for the following day, the commander of the I. Abteilung, Oberstleutnant Koppenburg, was absent, so that Hauptmann der Reserve Gittermann had to lead the Abteilung into the campaign. He retained this command until the morning of May 12, 1940. But already on the evening of May 14, 1940, he had to take over the leadership of the II. Abteilung when the actual commander, Oberstleutnant Dittmann, had to take over the Panzerregiment 1 on behalf of the regiment commander. He retained this command until the end of the campaign.

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Lothar Gittermann as commander
II./ Panzerregiment 1 in 1940

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Gittermann in his command vehicle “II01” is observing the advance of his Abteilung during the second part of the Campaign at Chalons sur Marne in June 1940

After the end of the Western Campaign, Gittermann left Panzerregiment 1 and was entrusted with setting up Panzer-Instandsetzungs-Abteilung 543 at the beginning of 1941. With this unit he experienced the beginning of the Russian campaign in the section of Army Group Center. He then served again in Panzerersatzabteilung in Erfurt and at the end of 1944 as a Major der Reserve in the so-called Panzerstützpunkt Mitte at the General der Panzertruppen West. At the end of the war, he was taken prisoner by the Americans near Bad Kreuznach but was released in autumn 1945. Like most of the surviving officers of Panzerregiment 1, he did not return to Erfurt, which was in the Soviet-occupied zone, but built a new life in West Germany.

He settled in Trier on the Moselle and managed a branch of his old employer, the Dresdner Bank, from 1948 until his retirement in 1958. He became the founding initiator of the Rotary Club Trier and later its president. He also joined the veteran’s association of the 1. Panzerdivision, which was founded a few years after the end of the war and took part in the regular meetings in Bad Hersfeld.

Lothar Gittermann died in Trier on March 12, 1975.

 

Compiled with the support of Klaus Breitbach, Trier.

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