Botho Henning Elster

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Botho Henning Elster (left, saluting) formally surrenders with the remains of his combat group in 1944 to US General Robert C. Macon.

Botho Henning Elster (born May 17, 1894 in Steglitz , Teltow district , † June 24, 1952 in Böblingen ) was a German officer , most recently major general in World War II . In 1944 he ordered the largest surrender on the Western Front and thus saved many lives.

Youth and military service in the First World War

Botho Elster was the son of the former ducal officer and later journalist and writer Otto Elster (1852-1922) and his wife Louise (1861-1954). He first grew up in Berlin and Nachod in Bohemia , where his father temporarily worked as an archivist in the service of the Prince of Schaumburg-Lippe , and later attended high schools in Glatz and Lüneburg .

Since the finances of his home allowed him no study, Botho Elster came immediately after the High School in February 1913 as a cadet in the Infantry Regiment "from Voigt-Rhetz" (3 Hannoversches) no. 79 in Hannover one. In August 1913 he was assigned to the war school in Glogau , where he was promoted to ensign on October 13, 1913 . He returned to his regiment in May 1914 and was promoted to lieutenant shortly thereafter in June .

With the Reserve Infantry Regiment 77 he took part in the fighting on the Western Front after the beginning of the First World War , first as an officer of an MG company , then as leader of an infantry company. On September 12, 1914, he was wounded in a battle near Changigny near Reims by a shrapnel on the lower leg. After a stay in the hospital and convalescence, he was first transferred to the 259 Reserve Infantry Regiment on November 23, 1914. In the further course of the war he first took part in the winter battle in Masuria from February 4, 1915 and remained on the Eastern Front until the beginning of April 1917 . In May 1915 he had been appointed regimental adjutant .

In April 1917 Elster moved back to the Western Front, took part in the Battle of the Aisne and was later seriously wounded by a shrapnel in the head during the defensive battles around Verdun on October 12 of the same year. On October 18, 1917 Elster was promoted to first lieutenant . Due to his injuries, Elster was no longer fit for front duty, but was assigned to general staff training. In July 1918 he was first appointed adjutant of the 78th Reserve Infantry Brigade and on August 16, 1918 he was commanded as a brigade adjutant to the 213rd Infantry Division . After the ceasefire and the demobilization Elster joined early 1919 to its peacekeeping forces part, the Infantry Regiment. 79. He sought the inclusion in the Prussian police and was 30 June 1920 at his own request with the character of a captain from active Farewell to military service.

In the police force

As a police captain, Botho Elster was a member of the protection police in Hanover from 1920 to 1924 before he was transferred to Altona in 1924 and to Hildesheim in 1925 . In 1926 he was finally transferred to Wesermünde , where he worked as the leader of a police station until 1932. In the meantime, applications for a transfer to Berlin and a secondment as a trainer for the Chilean police were unsuccessful. After completing a course at the Higher Police School in Eiche , Elster was promoted to police major in March 1932 and sent to the League of Nations in Geneva as an expert on police matters.

Elster returned after the National Socialists came to power in 1933. He was initially at the Technical Police School in Berlin and was then assigned to the Ministry of the Interior as head of the "Foreign (i.e. non-Prussian) police force" department. In March 1935 Botho married the judge's daughter, Gisela Riehl, who was 13 years his junior and whom he had met at a carnival ball. A few months later, the state police were taken over by the Wehrmacht , and Elster became an army officer again.

Service in the armed forces

In autumn 1935 Botho Elster was appointed commander of the 3 anti-tank department in Frankfurt an der Oder , and a year later he was promoted to lieutenant colonel . In 1938 he and his department took part in the occupation of the Sudetenland before he was appointed commander of the 8th Panzer Regiment in the course of the annual increase in the army and was transferred to the Böblingen tank barracks , where his son Welf-Botho was born. Shortly before the start of the war, Elster was promoted to colonel in August 1939 .

Second World War

With the 8th Panzer Regiment of the 10th Panzer Division Elster took part in the attack on Poland in September 1939 as a reserve of Army Group North , where the commanding general of the XIX. Army Corps General of the Panzer Force Heinz Guderian expressed his appreciation for his contribution to the capture of the Brest-Litovsk fortress .

He also commanded his regiment during the western campaign in the spring of 1940. But when it became clear in early 1941 that the Panzer Regiment 8 as part of re-forming of the Afrika Korps to Libya should be laid asked Elster with reference to an evoked by his wounds in World War dental condition to his replacement and settled for tropical unfit explain . He was now in command of Panzer Brigade 101 , formed from French captured tanks , and later of Panzer Brigade 100 . Promoted to major general in March 1943 , he switched to a staff assignment and served for almost a year as field commander in Marseille , where in autumn he was involved in the disarming of the fallen Italian troops ( case axis ). From here Elster was also transferred as field commander to Mont-de-Marsan in Aquitaine , not far from the Spanish border in the Pyrenees , in April 1944 .

The surrender of Beaugency

The landing of Allied troops in Normandy on D-Day , June 6, 1944, fundamentally changed the situation on the Western Front. But only after the breakthrough of the American troops at Avranches and the landing of the Allies in southern France did Hitler give the German occupation forces on the Atlantic coast the order to withdraw.

At the end of August the German troops had to retreat from the Pyrenees through and out of all previously occupied France , mostly on foot . Elster, who had already refused the senseless destruction of buildings and power stations when marching off, brought up the rear with around 25,000 men . His unit was barely capable of fighting, but was constantly exposed to attacks by American fighter-bombers and members of the French Resistance . After two weeks of agonizing marching, contact with the other German troops in central France was lost; in addition, it had to be feared that it would no longer be possible to cross the Loire before the Americans arrived. In order to prevent further bloodshed, Elster decided to surrender his troops, which were at that time in the area between Issoudun and Châteauroux . Mediated by members of the Resistance, Elster contacted the Americans and negotiated the terms. Since Elster had great distrust of the Resistance, he was allowed to keep the armament until the final handover.

After a last march north of several days , Elster formally surrendered on September 16, 1944 with 18,850 soldiers and 754 officers on the Loire Bridge from Beaugency to US General Robert C. Macon of the 83rd Infantry Division . Shortly before the end of the war, on March 7, 1945, he was sentenced to death in the absence of the 1st Senate of the Reich Court Martial , headed by General Judge Erich Lattmann in Torgau, for “dangerous and misunderstood humanity”. As one of the few high-ranking German military personnel, Elster was considered unencumbered after his denazification process was over .

It was not until May 28, 1998 that the Bundestag passed the law to repeal wrongful National Socialist judgments in the administration of criminal justice . With this law, millions of judgments were overturned, which were "passed to enforce or maintain the National Socialist system of injustice for political, military, racial, religious or ideological reasons", including the one against Elster.

Captivity and last years of life

After a short stopover in England, Botho Elster was sent to the prisoner-of-war camp in Clinton ( Mississippi ) in October 1944 . There he was initially exposed to hostility from Nazi-minded officers because of his surrender, but after a few weeks he was acquitted of any dishonorable misconduct by a specially appointed "honorary council" chaired by General of the Infantry Erwin Vierow . In April 1945 Elster was transferred to the Dermott camp, Arkansas . From there he returned to Europe in March 1946, but was not finally released from captivity until February 1947 after further stays in Belgium and Munster .

Elster spent the last years of his life in his former commanders' villa in Böblingen , from where he tried to rehabilitate in the denazification process and made a living by translating classics from world literature. He declined an offer to help set up the newly formed Federal Border Guard . Elster died of a heart attack in Böblingen in 1952 at the age of 58.



The Hessischer Rundfunk and Arte produced a television documentary in 2003:

  • Barbara Dickenberger, Mike Conant (Germany 2003): A German Hero - The Surrender of Botho Henning Elster . It was broadcast on January 21, 2004, among others.


  • Dermot Bradley , Karl-Friedrich Hildebrand: The Generals of the Army 1921–1945 Volume 3 (Dahlmann-Fitzlaff) , Osnabrück 1994
  • Welf Botho Elster: The limits of obedience. The life of Major General Botho Henning Elster in letters and contemporary testimonies. Olms Georg AG, Hildesheim. 228 pages, 27 illustrations. 2005. ISBN 3-487-08457-0
  • Peter Lieb : Conventional war or Nazi ideological war ?: Warfare and fighting partisans in France 1944/43 . Sources and presentations on contemporary history, published by the Institute for Contemporary History, Volume 69. R. Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich 2007. Retreat of the marching groups , pp. 455–462.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Belated Justice, 2009 ( Memento of the original dated February 2, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  2. State Archives Ludwigsburg EL 902/4 Bu 2845th