Revered in German martial history during 1914–18, Karl Ludwig Wilhelm Hermann Litzmann (1850–1936) later joined the Nazi pantheon of Great War heroes as well.
Born on January 22, 1850 at Neuglobsow, Stechlin, in the ancient Mark of Brandenburg, Litzmann was awarded the Blue Max by the Kaiser on November 29, 1914, followed by the second award of the coveted Oak Leaves the following August 18, 1915.
A general of infantry from December 24, 1914, his army service career spanned 1867–1918, winning the Iron Cross 2nd Class during his 1870–71 combat tour against the French.
Litzmann held numerous troop commands, among them being the 49th (6th Pomeranian) Infantry, the 74th Infantry Brigade, 39th Division, and his most famous combat unit, the 3rd Guards Division, with which he won its part of the overall Battle of Łódź against the Russians.
The Battle of Łódź, November 11 to December 6, 1914
The Battle of Łódź¸ in which Gen. Litzmann emerged as one of its main heroes, took place in bitter wintry Poland during November–December 1914, pitting the German 9th Army against a trio of combined Russian armies—the 1st, 2nd, and 5th—in twenty-six days of fierce combat overall.
Hindenburg, Ludendorff, and von Mackensen were the overall German commanders, opposed again by Rennenkampf and a trio of lesser Russian Army generals. Again, the Germans were outnumbered, this time by two to one, with 500,000 Russians versus 250,000 German soldiers.
The strategic situation was that the Russians had beaten the Austro-Hungarians in the Battle of Galicia, with the latter retreating from their surrounded Fortress Przemyśl, then under siege by the enemy’s own 8th Army.
The Germans themselves had lost the Battle of the Vistula River, their incursion thereby being ejected from Russian Poland. To rectify this, the Kaiser had named Hindenburg as the commanding officer of two combined German armies on the embattled Eastern Front, one—the 8th—still defending East Prussia from a possible renewed enemy invasion.
The duo’s new 9th Army was commanded by von Mackensen, deployed on the Polish–Silesian frontier, shadowing whatever Russian move might come next. This was revealed once more by an intercepted enemy wireless message asserting that Silesia would be invaded by the Russians on November 14, 1914.
The duo decided to forestall this by attacking the Russian right flank via moving 9th Army north by rail over ten days on eighty trains daily. This gambit took the stunned Russians completely by surprise on November 11, 1914 as the Battle of Łódź opened, with Mackensen’s 9th Army assaulting Rennenkampf’s 1st Army’s 5th Siberian Corps.
Badly routed, the shocked Siberians left 12,000 POWs behind in their wake. Later, it was the Germans themselves who were almost taken in a pocket at Łódź, but Mackensen correctly assured Hindenburg that such would not occur.
When the duo learned from yet another intercepted wireless message that the Russians were going to evacuate Łódź, they ordered it occupied on December 6, 1914, thus taking an industrial city of more than 500,000 in population.
The resulting German victory saw but 35,000 Reich casualties to double that for the Russians, with seventy-nine guns taken and 25,000 POWs going into the Aryan bag. It was this stellar win that convinced the eastern duo more than ever that, with enough reinforcements, they could knock the Russians completely out of the war.
This was a goal reached not by them, Mackensen, or von François, however, but instead by Hoffmann, via negotiation, and not by more inconclusive ground victories such as theirs had been.
Gen. Litzmann’s Later Career Path
During December 24, 1914 through August 6, 1918, Gen. Litzmann was commanding officer of the 49th Reserve Corps; he retired for health reasons, being succeeded by Lt Gen. Paul Grünert.
Born the son of a wealthy estate owner in Mark Brandenburg, Litzmann began his career at the age of seventeen, seeing his first combat action as a lieutenant during the Franco-Prussian War in the Guards Pioneer/Engineer Battalion, but he was mainly an infantryman throughout his long career.
In 1883, he became a teacher at the Metz War School, and during 1902–05, he served as head of Prussia’s prestigious War Academy at Berlin, when he established the German Defense Union. This was followed in 1911 by his foundation of the Young Germany League as well.
At the age of fifty-five, and already a lieutenant general, Litzmann was placed on inactive reserve status, but recalled to the colors in 1914 on the Eastern Front for renewed active combat duty at sixty-four years old.
According to Ludendorff’s Own Story, Gen. Litzmann was reactivated to head the Line of Communications Inspectorate at Gen. Max von Hausen’s 3rd Army Headquarters at Dresden, but then he was transferred to succeed Gen. Max von Gallwitz as commanding officer of the elite 3rd Guards Division, with the latter then becoming his corps command superior.
Fighting in support of Gen. Reinhard von Scheffer-Boyadel during the Battle of Łódź in November 1914, Litzmann’s divisional troops were such a key factor in the German victory.
During the 1915 campaign season, Litzmann led his corps into the Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes, which included the taking of Fortress Kovno, and supposedly rejected an offer from Kaiser Wilhelm II to elevate him to the “von” nobility status, accepted before him by Mackensen.
Continuing his advance along the Nieme River, Litzmann led his corps to success again with the taking of Vilnius from the Russians in September 1915. The following July 1916, he led his command southward to Ukraine’s Volhynia, in which it achieved a successful frontal defense against superior forces near Korytnica-Szelvov.
Fighting the Russians again in the rugged Apuseni area in the Carpathian Mountains in Hungary, the following August 1917, the doughty commander led Group Stanislav in Eastern Galicia also. His corps was transferred to the Western Front in January 1918 as part of Group Souchez to support the German 6th Army. Having retired due to ill health, Gen. Litzmann declined the Kaiser’s command that he take charge of Berlin’s security forces in the closing days of the war, there being a dearth of the necessary forces to command in action.
The venerable general published his two-volume war memoirs during 1926–28, and in 1929, he joined Hitler’s Nazis after having become an SA member. He declined to serve as an elected N.S. Deputy to the Reichstag in 1932 due to already having such duties in the Prussian State Parliament as its most senior member, known as Alterspräsident (“Father of the House”).
After 1933, Litzmann became the most prominent former member of the Kaiser’s Army—after von Mackensen—to back Hitler’s new regime publicly, being paraded by the Nazis as often as possible.
Named an honorary Reichstag president under Goering during 1932–36, Gen. Litzmann held this title until his death at the age of eighty-six on May 28, 1936, when both Goering and Hitler attended his state funeral.
According to his New York Times obituary of May 29, 1936:
Gen. Karl Litzmann—a Nazi general since 1929—his devotion to Hitler brought him into conflict with President von Hindenburg, and in January 1933, just before the Nazis came into power, the German Retired Officers Association issued a declaration condemning him for his attacks on the Reich President.…
Hitler made him the gift of a new [Mercedes-Benz] car on his 85th birthday as a token of his gratitude for the service Litzmann rendered the Nazi cause.… In his speech opening the newly elected Reichstag on 6 December 1932, Gen. Litzmann rebuked Hindenburg for having denied Hitler [being appointed Reich Chancellor already].
“Millions of Germans revere Hitler as the outstanding German of his day, and as the man who—after 14 years of study—alone knows how Germany can be saved!”…
Gen. Litzmann further contended that his infantry brigade had carried the day in the Battle of Łódź, and that Hindenburg admitted owing his marshal’s baton to the valor of the Litzmann troops.
Named an honorary citizen of Neuruppin, this was withdrawn in 2007, however. Passau, Germany, named a street after him also. On April 11, 1940, the Nazis officially renamed Łódź in Poland after him, as Litzmannstadt and later Brzeziny as Löwenstadt, but with the German loss of the war in 1945, they both reverted back to their original Polish names.