Wilhelm Mohnke

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Wilhelm Mohnke : biography

15 March 1911 – 6 August 2001

Since Mohnke’s fighting force was located at the nerve center of the German Third Reich it fell under the heaviest artillery bombardment of the war, which began on Hitler’s birthday of 20 April 1945. The shelling lasted to the end of hostilities on 8 May 1945. Under pressure from the most intense shelling, Mohnke and his SS troops put up stiff resistance against overwhelming odds. The Red Army race to take the Reichstag and Reich Chancellery condemned the troops to bitter and bloody street fighting. Completely encircled and cut off from any reinforcements, his Kampfgruppe fought off the Soviet advances.

While the Battle in Berlin was raging around them, Hitler ordered Mohnke to set up a military tribunal for Hermann Fegelein, adjutant to Heinrich Himmler, in order to try the man for desertion. Mohnke, deciding that the Gruppenführer deserved a fair trial by other high-ranking officers, put together a tribunal consisting of Generals Hans Krebs, Wilhelm Burgdorf, Johann Rattenhuber, and himself. Years later, Mohnke told author O’Donnell the following: "I was to preside over it myself…I decided the accused man [Fegelein] deserved trial by high-ranking officers…We set up the court-martial in a room next to my command post…We military judges took our seats at the table with the standard German Army Manual of Courts-Martial before us. No sooner were we seated than defendant Fegelein began acting up in such an outrageous manner that the trial could not even commence.

Roaring drunk, with wild, rolling eyes, Fegelein first brazenly challenged the competence of the court. He kept blubbering that he was responsible to Himmler and Himmler alone, not Hitler…He refused to defend himself. The man was in wretched shape – bawling, whining, vomiting, shaking like an aspen leaf…

I was now faced with an impossible situation. On the one hand, based on all available evidence, including his own earlier statements, this miserable excuse for an officer was guilty of flagrant desertion… Yet the German Army Manual states clearly that no German soldier can be tried unless he is clearly of sound mind and body, in a condition to hear the evidence against him. I looked up the passage again, to make sure, and consulted with my fellow judges…In my opinion and that of my fellow officers, Hermann Fegelein was in no condition to stand trial, or for that matter to even stand. I closed the proceedings…So I turned Fegelein over to [SS] General Rattenhuber and his security squad. I never saw the man again."O’Donnell, James. The Bunker, pp. 182, 183.

On 30 April, after receiving news of Hitler’s suicide, orders were issued that those who could do so were to break out. The plan was to escape from Berlin to the Allies on the western side of the Elbe or to the German Army to the North. Prior to the breakout, Mohnke briefed all commanders (who could be reached) within the Zitadelle sector about the events as to Hitler’s death and the planned break out. They split up into ten main groups.Fischer, Thomas. Soldiers of the Leibstandarte, p. 49. It was a "fateful moment" for SS-Brigadeführer Mohnke as he made his way out of the Reich Chancellery on 1 May. He had been the first duty officer of the LSSAH at the building and now was leaving as the last battle commander there.Tiemann, Ralf. The Leibstandarte – IV/2, p. 343. Mohnke’s group included: secretary Traudl Junge, secretary Gerda Christian, secretary Else Krüger, Hitler’s dietician, Constanze Manziarly, Dr. Ernst-Günther Schenck, Walther Hewel and various others.O’Donnell, James. The Bunker, pp. 271-276. Mohnke planned to break out towards the German Army which was positioned in Prinzenallee. The group headed along the subway but their route was blocked so they went aboveground and later joined hundreds of other Germans civilians and military personnel who had sought refuge at the "Schultheiss-Patzenhofer Brewery" on Prinzenallee. On 2 May 1945, General Weidling issued an order calling for the complete surrender of all German forces still in Berlin. Knowing they could not get through the Soviet rings, Mohnke decided to surrender to the Red Army. However, several of Mohnke’s group (including some of the SS personnel) opted to commit suicide.Fischer, Thomas. Soldiers of the Leibstandarte, pp. 49-50. Some groups kept up pockets of resistance throughout the city and did not surrender until 8 May 1945.