Heinrich von Prittwitz und Gaffron

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Heinrich von Prittwitz und Gaffron
Born 4 September 1889
Sitzmannsdorf, Germany
Died 10 April 1941(1941-04-10) (aged 51) 
Tobruk, Libya
Allegiance  German Empire (to 1918)
 Weimar Republic (to 1933)
Service/branch Army
Years of service 1908–41
Rank generalleutnant (posthumous)
Commands held 2nd Panzer Regiment
2nd Panzer Brigade
14th Panzer Division
15th Panzer Division
Battles/wars World War I

World War II

Heinrich von Prittwitz und Gaffron (4 September 1889 – 10 April 1941) was a general officer in the Heer (Army) branch of the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany during World War II. He was commander of the 14th and 15th Panzer Divisions and was killed in action in the early stages of the Siege of Tobruk.


Born in Sitzmannsdorf, Prittwitz joined the Imperial German Army in 1908 as a Fahnenjunker (officer cadet) and was commissioned into the 3rd Uhlan (Lancer) Regiment the following year and later served on the general staff of the Imperial German Army. He fought in World War I and after the end of hostilities, was retained in the postwar Reichswehr (Imperial Defence). By 1933 he was a major and despite his cavalry background, was developing an interest in a career in armoured warfare. Two years later, he was given command of the 2nd Panzer Regiment, 1st Panzer Division. He participated in the Anschluss of Austria and the occupation of Sudetenland. Now in the rank of oberst (colonel), in 1938 he was appointed commander of the 2nd Panzer Brigade, which was part of the 2nd Panzer Division.[1]

On the outbreak of World War II, Prittwitz led the brigade in the invasion of Poland during which it was heavily engaged. He was promoted to generalmajor at the conclusion of the fighting in Poland.[2][Note 1] Along with the rest of the division, Prittwitz's brigade was then transferred to the west and attached to Generalleutnant Heinz Guderian's XIX Motorised Corps.[Note 2] When the Germans invaded France and the Low Countries, the brigade performed well at Sedan and then advanced to the coast and reached Dunkirk. It was later used in the final stages of the campaign in France, rounding up French soldiers along the Maginot Line.[2]

When the Panzerwaffe branch of the Heer (Army) expanded, Prittwitz was selected to lead the 14th Panzer Division on 1 October 1940.[2] His new command was originally an infantry division which had only converted to armour two months previous.[4] Based at Dresden, Prittwitz supervised the training and development of the division and in March 1941, he was given command of the 15th Panzer Division which was preparing for the campaign in North Africa.[2]

The bulk of the 15th Panzer Division had yet to arrive in Libya but Prittwitz, accompanied by some light units of the division, arrived in the country in early April. He was immediately ordered by Generalleutnant Erwin Rommel, commander of the Afrika Korps, to take command of German forces operating near Tobruk, held by a combined force of Australian and British soldiers. On 10 April, ordered by Rommel to probe the south-east defences of Tobruk, Prittwitz's group came under fire from Australian-manned field guns.[5] During this action, Prittwitz was killed; buried at the military cemetery at Derna, he was posthumously promoted to generalleutnant with effect from 1 April 1941.[2][6]



  1. ^ In the Wehrmacht, the rank of generalmajor was equivalent to a brigadier general in the United States Army.[3]
  2. ^ A generalleutnant was equivalent to the rank of major general in the United States Army.[3]


  1. ^ Mitcham 2008, p. 29.
  2. ^ a b c d e Mitcham 2008, p. 30.
  3. ^ a b Mitcham 2007, p. 257.
  4. ^ Mitcham 2007, p. 119.
  5. ^ Maughan 1966, pp. 123–124.
  6. ^ Maughan 1966, p. 128.


  • Maughan, B. (1966). Tobruk and El Alamein. Australia in the War of 1939–1945 Series 1 (Army). III. Canberra: Australian War Memorial. OCLC 954993.
  • Mitcham, Samuel W., Jr. (2008). Rommel's Desert Commanders: The Men Who Served the Desert Fox, North Africa, 1941–42. Mechanicsburg, PA, United States: Stackpole Books. ISBN 978-0-8117-3510-0.
  • Mitcham, Samuel W., Jr. (2007). Panzer Legions: A Guide to the German Army Tank Divisions of WWII and Their Commanders. Mechanicsburg, PA, United States: Stackpole Books. ISBN 978-0-8117-3353-3.
Military offices
Preceded by
Generalleutnant Erick-Oskar Hansen
Commander of 14th Panzer Division
1 October 1940 – 22 March 1941
Succeeded by
Generalmajor Friedrich Kühn
Preceded by
Generalmajor Friedrich Kühn
Commander of 15th Panzer Division
23 March 1941 – 10 April 1941
Succeeded by
Oberst Maximilian von Herff
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