Hans Graf von Sponeck

Hans Graf von Sponeck or Hans Emil Otto Graf Sponeck ( Düsseldorf , February 12, 1888 – Germersheim , July 23, 1944) was a German lieutenant general during World War II who was imprisoned for disobeying orders and subsequently executed. He was the father of Hans Christof von Sponeck , German diplomat to the United Nations .

Early years

Hans Emil Otto was the youngest and the only male of the four children of Emil August Joseph Anton Graf Sponeck and Maria Courtin. He was born in Düsseldorf on 12 February 1888, a few months before his father died at the young age of 38. 1 2 Hans spent his early childhood with his mother in Freiburg , near population that had given his family name, “Burg Sponeck.”

In 1898, Sponeck entered the cadet corps of Karlsruhe , 1 and reached the rank of cadet chief at 17. He was a gymnast and soccer player . The 19 of March of 1908 obtained his first destiny like lieutenant . 1 In that same year he was promoted to captain . He married on September 29, 1910 and had two children. 1

World War I

During World War I , Sponeck served as an officer in the front line, was assistant battalion and was wounded three times. In 1916 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel . Later, it was decorated with first and second class Iron Cross sections .

Interwar period

Between 1924 and 1934 he served in the headquarters of the General Staff . Later, as colonel , he had under his command an infantry regiment in Neustrelitz . In 1925 he was knighted as honorary of the Order of San Juan . 3

Until the end of 1937 Sponeck directed the Infantry Regiment no. 48 in Döberitz . From that date it was transferred to the Luftwaffe to operate units paratroopers .

During the so – called Blomberg-Fritsch scandal, Sponeck’s contemporaries recalled how he had suggested his willingness to guide his troops in support of Army Chief Werner von Fritsch if he had been ordered to do so. 4

On February 1, 1938, Sponeck was promoted to Major General . 1 2 During the trial of General von Fritsch, Sponeck was called as a witness, but was abruptly belittled by Göring , who acted as chairman. Although he did not hide his political discrepancies with the Nazi leaders, he was given the leadership of the 22nd Infantry Division and was in charge of the training of the airborne infantry ( Fallschirmjäger ).

World War II

On February 1, 1940, von Sponeck was promoted to lieutenant general. 2 The German airborne attack on the Netherlands began on May 10, 1940 with General Kurt Student and Hans Graf von Sponeck leading his troops in the failed Battle of The Hague . Sponeck was about to be captured, but eventually the Rotterdam bombing of May 14 changed the sign of war and led to Dutch capitulation. As a result of the wounds received, Adolf Hitler decorated him with the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross .

East Campaign

The offensive against the Soviet Union began in the early hours of June 22, 1941. Hans Sponeck was part of the 11th Army attacking south towards the Crimea . Following his return from a sick leave, Erich von Manstein gave him command of the 42nd Army Corps , to which belonged the 46th Infantry Division that had taken the Kerch peninsula .

On December 26, 1941, the Russians launched the invasion of Crimea. His plan was to land troops at Kerch and Mount Opuk which would later be supported by 42,000 troops from Theodosia . On December 28, the battle was bending in favor of the Germans by having eliminated one of the two beachheads that the Soviets had taken around Kerch. Sponeck requested permission to retire and regroup before the possibility of being isolated and being captured, but he was denied three times. On December 29, the Russians landed additional forces at Theodosia, and Sponeck arranged for only thirty minutes to decide what to do next. On his own initiative, he gave the order to withdraw his 10 000 soldiers. With temperatures of minus 30 degrees, beaten by a tremendous snowstorm and icy winds, the battalions of the 46th Infantry Division marched westward for forty-six hours with few breaks. Many men suffered frostbite and most of the horses died of starvation . The division’s heavy equipment, including its artillery, was abandoned.

On December 31, Sponeck’s division reached the Strait of Parpach and established its defensive line there. The next day, the Russians attacked again and were forced to withdraw by the Germans. With the help of German artillery sent by rail was the elimination of sixteen T-26 tanks . Sponeck’s soldiers resisted enough to allow reinforcements to arrive.

Arrest and Trial

On 23 January 1942 the trial of Lieutenant General Hans Graf Sponeck began in a court presided over by Hermann Göring . He was convicted of disobeying a senior officer. In his defense he had argued that if he did not fulfill the orders he received, he was to avoid the destruction of his division, a behavior commensurate with the military teachings he had received. He was sentenced to death , although Hitler commuted it to six years in prison . Hans Sponeck was to serve as an example for those who dared to counter Hitler’s recent military policy of not withdrawing at all. Sponeck was imprisoned in the fortress of Germersheim . From time to time he was allowed to visit the city and his wife could visit him for a week in prison. She used to be accompanied by her five-year-old son Hans Christof von Sponeck , future German diplomat and adviser to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan .

Attack of the 20 of July of 1944

On July 20, 1944, Sponeck heard the news on the radio about the attack on Hitler . A Heinrich Himmler was conferred the position of Safety Officer Reich and Sponeck was the first of its list of suspects. Himmler ordered Sponeck to be shot immediately, which took place at seven o’clock and thirteen minutes on July 23, 1944 in Germersheim. 2 5 Before being executed he was given the Eucharist . In a letter addressed to his wife, he wrote: I am dying firmly believing in my Redeemer . The priest who was present at that time recounted that Sponeck, defending the legality of his behavior on the Kerch peninsula, boldly went to the firing squad and asked that his eyes not be blindfolded or his hands tied. His last words in front of his executioners were: For forty years I have served Germany with all my heart, as a soldier and as an officer. If I have to die today, I trust it will be for a better Germany! . He was buried in Germersheim and no speeches or speeches were allowed at his funeral; Only the prayer of our Father . After the war, its remains were exhumed and transferred to the military cemetery of Dahn , in the forest of the Palatinate .

Last Requiem

On July 23, 1999, on the 55th anniversary of his death, Hans Christof von Sponeck , son of his second marriage, who was only six years old when his father was executed, celebrated the last requiem at the tomb of his father.

About the word Graf

Graf was, historically, a German noble title equivalent in Spanish to count . Today, in Germany , the word Graf is legally considered part of a person’s name and does not imply any attribute of nobility.


  1. ↑ Jump to:a b c d e «Generalleutnant Graf Hans Emil Otto von Sponeck» . Historic.de . Retrieved on February 22, 2012 .
  2. ↑ Jump to:a b c d Pipes, Jason. “Hans Graf von Sponeck” . Feldgrau.com . Archived from the original on August 25, 2007 . Retrieved on February 22, 2012 .
  3. Back to top↑ Robert M. Clark, Jr., The Evangelical Knights of Saint John ; Dallas, Texas: 2003; P. 46.
  4. Back to top↑ Deutsch, Harold. Hitler and His Generals: The Hidden Crisis, January – June 1938 . Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1974. p 248.
  5. Back to top^ WW2 Military Cemetaries . Retrieved on February 26, 2012 .