Rommel and Meindl in Normandy 1944.
Eugen Meindl was born on 16 July 1892 at Donauschingen in Saxony. He joined the Army as a 20-year-old officer candidate in the artillery, and was commissioned as a Leutnant in February 1914. He served with that branch of service throughout World War I, spending most of it with the Lower Saxon Feldartillerie Regiment Nr 67; he won the Iron Cross Second Class in July 1915 and the First Class in January 1916. He was promoted to Oberleutnant in April 1917; subsequently he was decorated with the Knight’s Cross of the Saxon Albert Order, and the Knight’s Cross of the Baden Order of the Zahringer Lion.
Meindl’s distinguished war record earned him a place among the 100,000 men retained in the Reichswehr of the post-war Weimar Republic. He served initially as a battery officer with Artillerie Regimente 13 and 5, being promoted to Hauptmann in August 1924 and joining the staff of Wehrkreis V (Military District 5) in Stuttgart. Thereafter Meindl served briefly with 5.Division before being posted to the War Ministry; over the next few years he held a number of staff posts, being promoted to Major in April 1934. In October 1935 he was appointed commander of I Bataillon/Artillerie Regiment 5, and was promoted to Oberstleutnant in August 1936. In November 1938, Meindl transferred to the Gebirgstruppe as commander of Gebirgsartillerie Regiment 112, part of 3.Gebirgs Division, and was promoted to Oberst in April 1939.
On the outbreak of war Meindl saw action during the Polish campaign. In April 1940, GenMaj Dietl, commander of 3.Gebirgs Division, took Gebirgsjāger Regiment 139 by sea to seize the Norwegian port of Narvik. Meindl’s artillery regiment did not take part in this operation; but later, when things began to look desperate for Dietl’s force surrounded outside Narvik, Meindl immediately offered to jump by parachute with a relief force – despite having no jump training. After Dietl retook Narvik on 8 June, Meindl was decorated with the 1939 bar to the 1914 Iron Cross First Class, and the Narvik campaign shield. On the successful conclusion of the Norwegian campaign he was placed on reserve, allocated to Wehrkreis XVIII in Salzburg, Austria. However, after a detachment to the Air Force to complete regulation parachute training, on 1 November 1940 he formally transferred from the Army to the Luftwaffe, and was promoted to Generalmajor on 1 January 1941.
At the head of the Luftlande Sturmregiment (Air-Landing Assault Regt) , GenMaj Meindl took part in the airborne invasion of Crete on May 1941; landing near the hotly contested Maleme airfield, he was soon badly wounded, and had to pass control of the regiment to Oberst Ramcke. In recognition of his regiment’s success on Crete, Meindl was awarded the Knight’s Cross.
On recovering from his wounds, in January 1942 Meindl was sent to Russia to command scratch ground units formed from disparate Luftwaffe personnel to try to stem the Soviet winter counter-offensive. At the beleaguered town and airfield of Yukhonov the so-called Luftwaffe Kampfverband (mot.) Meindl later retitled Division Meindl – at first comprised the HQ company from his old air-landing assault regiment led by Maj Walter Koch, a veteran of Eben Emael and Crete, with various other newly arrived paratroopers from 7.Flieger Division, and a motley group of Luftwaffe field units, including a ski battalion; to these were added several straggling Army and Waffen-SS units. Meindl breathed new spirit into the defence, launching attacks to clear the airfield, from which his chief medical officer, the remarkable Dr Heinrich Neumann (who had won the Knight’s Cross in infantry combat on Crete) organized the evacuation of many neglected wounded. In March a Soviet breakthrough saw Meindl’s men fighting north of Yukhonov; thereafter – though suffering from typhoid fever – he moved to Staraya-Russa to take control of newly arrived Luftwaffe field regiments, transported piecemeal from East Prussia to serve under Heeresgruppe ord. Some of these fought to break the encirclements of German forces at Demjansk and Kholm. By June 1942, Division Meindl – with four Luftwaffe field regiments but virtually no artillery – was holding a 50-mile front between Demjansk and Kholm, in close contact with Soviet forces and harassed by strong partisan bands in almost impassable swamps.
In October 1942, Meindl’s division (later redesignated 21.Lw Feld Div) and SS-Division ‘Totenkopf’ carried out a successful attack towards the Lovat River. That same month Meindl was appointed to command XIII Fliegerkorps based in Germany, and tasked with the raising and training of no less than 22 new Luftwaffe field divisions. He was promoted to Generalleutnant in this post, which he held until June 1943; after a brief spell at the Air Ministry, in July 1943 he was appointed Inspector of Luftwaffe Field Units.
Meindl returned to the Fallschirmtruppe in November 1943 when he took command of the newly formed II Fallschirmkorps, based in occupied France under the Oberbefehlshaber West; the corps comprised 3. and 5. Fallschirmjāger Divisions. Meindl was promoted to the rank of General der Fallschirmtruppe in April 1944. After the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944 his 3.Fallschirmjāger Division fought alongside the 17.SS-Panzergrenadier Division ‘Gotz von Berlichingen’ against US forces in the area around St Lo. After two months of bitter fighting against both US and British troops the corps was pushed eastward into the Falaise Pocket, and almost annihilated. Meindl was awarded the Oakleaves to his Knight’s Cross on 31 August 1944. After refitting and reinforcement, Meindl’s corps was back in the front line in the Netherlands in September, fighting against the Allied Operation ‘Market Garden’ as part of 1.Fallschirmarmee commanded by Gen Student. Meindl’s corps fought dispersed during the Ardennes offensive, 3.FallschirjāgerDivision under 15.Armee and 5.FJ Division under 7.Armee. These divisions were forced to surrender in April and March 1945 respectively, in the Ruhr and near Nūrburgring; but Meindl was decorated with the Swords on 8 May 1945 – the last day of the European war. After the German surrender he was taken prisoner by the British and held in captivity until September 1947.
Eugen Meindl died in retirement in Munich on 24 January 1951 at the age of 58.