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Ernst Ulrich Hans von Leyser
Ernst von Leyser as Generalmajor in 1941
Born (1889-11-18)18 November 1889
Died 23 September 1962(1962-09-23) (aged 72)
Place of birth Steglitz, Berlin
Place of death Garstedt, Lower Saxony
Allegiance  German Empire (to 1918)
 Weimar Republic (to 1933)
 Nazi Germany (to 1945)
Service/branch War Ensign of Germany (1903–1919).svg Reichsheer
War Ensign of Germany (1921–1933).svg Reichswehr
Balkenkreuz.svg Wehrmacht Heer
Years of service 1909-1945
Rank General der Infanterie
Commands held 269. Infanterie-Division
XXVI. Armeekorps
XV. Gebirgs-Armeekorps
XXI. Gebirgs-Armeekorps

World War I World War II

Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross

Ernst Ulrich Hans von Leyser (German pronunciation: [ˈeʁnst ˈuːlʁiːx ˈxans fon ˈlaɪsa]) (known as Ernst von Leyser) was a German General der Infanterie during World War II who commanded various Army Corps and recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. The Knight's Cross was Nazi Germany's highest award for military gallantry and was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. After the war, in 1947, von Leyser was tried for war crimes committed in the Balkans and sentenced to ten years of imprisonment during the Hostages Trial, but was pardoned and released in 1951.

Military career[edit | edit source]

Early years, World War I and Interwar period[edit | edit source]

Ernst von Leyser was born in 1889 in Steglitz. He entered military service by joining the Kaiserliche Armee on 24 March 1909, at the age of 20 with the rank of Leutnant. He was initially assigned to the 5th Foot Guards but upon the outbreak of World War I in 1914 he was transferred to the 1st Guards Reserve Regiment. He served in various positions in his regiment and eventually reached the rank of Hauptmann during the summer of 1918, a few months before the end of the war.

After the capitulation of the German Empire and the drastical downsizing of the German Army (renamed to Reichswehr) he remained in army service in the 115th Infantry Regiment until 31 December 1920, when he was transferred to the Polizei. There, he rose to the rank of Major in 1922. Upon Adolf Hitler's rise to power in 1933, Nazi Germany's armed forces (the Wehrmacht) started a massive rearmament, ignoring the Versailles treaty. Subsequently, von Leyser was called back to the Wehrmacht on 15 March 1935 and was promoted to Oberstleutnant. He went on to command the 77th Infantry Regiment and the Panzerabwehr-Abteilung 2 (2nd Anti-tank Battalion) in his hometown. He reached the rank of Oberst in 1937 and he was appointed commander of the Panzerabwehrtruppe XIV in Magdeburg. Shortly before the German invasion of Poland in 1939 he was commander of the Infanterie-Ersatz-Regiment 6 (6th Infantry Reserve Regiment).

World War II[edit | edit source]

Von Leyser did not participate in the invasion of Poland, as he commanded a reserve formation. Following the favorable outcome of the campaign, he was transferred to the Infanterie-Regiment 169, with which he took part in the invasion of France. On 1 February 1941 he was promoted to Generalmajor and two months later he was appointed commander of the 269. Infanterie-Division. As part of the Army Group North, the division fought in northern Soviet Union after the launching of Operation Barbarossa. On 18 September 1941 he was awarded the renowned Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and was promoted to Generalleutnant on 1 October 1942, while simultaneously given command of the XXVI. Armeekorps in Leningrad.

Ernst von Leyser (fourth from right) during the Hostages Trial

On 1 December 1942 von Leyser received his final promotion to General der Infanterie and assumed command of the XXVI. Armeekorps. Almost a year later, he was assigned to lead the XV. Gebirgs.-Armeekorps, which was fighting against Yugoslav partisans in Croatia. On 20 July 1944 (coincidentally, the day of the failed assassination of Adolf Hitler) he switched command with General der Panzertruppe Gustav Fehn, commander of the XXI. Gebirgs.-Armeekorps in the Balkans.

On 29 April 1945, a few days before the unconditional surrender of Germany to the Allied Forces, he was relieved from his command and was captured by United States forces on 8 May, the day of the unconditional surrender of the German forces to the Western Allies. He was proved to be somehow lucky, as both Fehn and his successor, Generalleutnant Hartwig von Ludwiger, were executed by the Yugoslavians, with only the latter standing trial.

Trial, imprisonment and later life[edit | edit source]

Von Leyser was tried, as subordinate to Generaloberst Dr. Lothar Rendulic, along with 12 other high-ranking German officers in the so-called Hostages Trial, from 13 May 1947 to 19 February 1948. He was indicted and found guilty of mistreatment of POWs and partisans, as well as harassment and excessive reprisals against civilians (especially for those committed in Croatia) and was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment in December 1947.[1][2] However, on 31 January 1951 John J. McCloy, the US High Commissioner in Germany and General Thomas T. Handy, Commander in Chief of United States European Command, pardoned 89 German officers convicted of war crimes, among them von Leyser, who was subsequently released four days later, on 3 February 1951.[3]

Ernst von Leyser died in Garstedt on 23 September 1962, at the age of 73.

Dates of rank[edit | edit source]

24 March 1909 Leutnant (effective as of 15 June 1909)
18 June 1915 Oberleutnant
5 July 1918 Hauptmann
spring of 1935 Oberstleutnant
1 March 1937 Oberst
1 February 1941 Generalmajor
1 October 1942 Generalleutnant
1 December 1942 General der Infanterie

Awards[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. McDonald, Gabrielle Kirk: "Substantive and Procedural Aspects of International Criminal Law", p. 2000
  2. Meyer (vol. 1), p. 603
  3. Meyer (vol. 1), p. 602
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Visible in the image
  5. Scherzer 2007, p. 504.
  6. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 290.

Sources[edit | edit source]

  • General der Infanterie Ernst von Leyser at Lexicon der Wehrmacht
  • Ernst von Leyser at Axis Biographical Research
  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000) (in German). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 – Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtsteile [The Bearers of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939–1945 — The Owners of the Highest Award of the Second World War of all Wehrmacht Branches]. Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6. 
  • Meyer, Hermann Frank (2009) (in Greek). Blutiges Edelweiß: Die 1. Gebirgs-division im zweiten Weltkrieg (vol. 1). Athens, Greece: Estia's Bookstore. ISBN 978-960-05-1423-0. 
  • Meyer, Hermann Frank (2009) (in Greek). Blutiges Edelweiß: Die 1. Gebirgs-division im zweiten Weltkrieg (vol. 2). Athens, Greece: Estia's Bookstore. ISBN 978-960-05-1425-4. 
  • Patzwall, Klaus D.; Scherzer, Veit (2001) (in German). Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941 – 1945 Geschichte und Inhaber Band II [The German Cross 1941 – 1945 History and Recipients Volume 2]. Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall. ISBN 978-3-931533-45-8. 
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007) (in German). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 The Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 by Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Allied Forces with Germany According to the Documents of the Federal Archives]. Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2. 

External links[edit | edit source]

Military offices
Preceded by
Commander of Infanterie-Regiment 77
1 April 1936 – 14 July 1936
Succeeded by
Oberst Helge Auleb
Preceded by
Commander of Infanterie-Regiment 169
25 October 1939 – 31 March 1941
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Generalleutnant Wolfgang
Edler Herr und Freiherr von Plotho
Commander of 269. Infanterie-Division
1 April 1941 – 31 August 1942
Succeeded by
Generalleutnant Curt Badinski
Preceded by
General der Artillerie Albert Wodrig
Commander of XXVI. Armeekorps
1 October 1942 – 1 July 1943
Succeeded by
General der Panzertruppe Gustav Fehn
Preceded by
General der Panzertruppe Gustav Fehn
Commander of XXVI. Armeekorps
19 August 1943 – 31 October 1943
Succeeded by
General der Infanterie Carl Hilpert
Preceded by
General der Infanterie Rudolf Lüters
Commander of XV. Gebirgs.-Armeekorps
1 November 1943 – 31 July 1944
Succeeded by
General der Panzertruppe Gustav Fehn
Preceded by
General der Panzertruppe Gustav Fehn
Commander of XXI. Gebirgs.-Armeekorps
20 July 1944 – 11 October 1944
Succeeded by
Generalleutnant Albrecht Baier
Preceded by
Generalleutnant Albrecht Baier
Commander of XXI. Gebirgs.-Armeekorps
25 October 1944 – 29 April 1945
Succeeded by
Generalleutnant Hartwig von Ludwiger

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