Sponeck, Hans Emil Otto Graf von, born 12-02-1888, the youngest of four children, and only son, of Emil August Joseph Anton Graf Sponeck and Maria, born Courtin. He was born in Düsseldorf, Rhine Province, just months before his father’s death at age 38. Hans spent his early years with his mother in Freiburg, Breisgau. This was near the “Burg Sponeck” which had given his family its title name. Von Sponeck entered the cadet corps in Karlsruhe at 10, and became a “head cadet” at 17, in 1905. He received his commission in 1908 at age 20 with rank of Lieutenant. He was also a gymnast and a soccer player. He was promoted to Captain in 1908. He married in 1910 and had two sons by this marriage. Von Sponeck was a front line officer and battalion adjutant during World War I, and was wounded three times . In 1916 he was promoted to the rank of Oberst. Afterwards he was awarded both orders of the Iron Cross with Leaves. Between 1924 and 1934 he served on the General Staff HQ and later as full colonel, commanded Infantry Regiment at Neustrelitz. In 1925, Graf von Sponeck was admitted to the Order of Saint John as a Knight of Honor in the Commander of Brandenburg. In 1937, he entered the German Air Service under Hermann Goering to establish the new Air Commando Units. On 01-03-1938 Sponeck was promoted to Major General. During the Generaloberst der Infanterie, Werner von Fritsch affair sponeck was called a a character witness but was roughly put down by Goering as Court President. Sponeck became commander of the 22nd Infantry Division with 42nd Army Corps training as airborne infantry divisions as paratrooper regiments. His son Hans Christof Graf von Sponeck was born 1939 in Bremen, he studied history, demography and physical anthropology and is a member of the World Future Council. The German airborne assault on the Low countries, (see About) began on 10-05-1940 with General der Flieger, Kommandeur der 1st Fallschirmjäger Regiment, Kurt Student
and Hans von Sponeck. Von Sponeck led the German troops in the failed Battle for Den Hague and von Sponeck was almost captured, only to be saved by occurrence of the strategic, highly contested action, bombardment of Rotterdam on the 14th of Mai 1940, that led the Dutch capitulation. He was wounded and on his return to Germany was further awarded with Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross and promoted to Generalleutnant by Adolf Hitler. Before dawn on 22 -06-1941, the offensive against the Soviet Union was launched. Hans von Sponeck was part of the 11th Army in the south attacking in the direction of the Crimea Peninsula. On Sponeck’s return from injury leave, Generalfieldmarshal der Infanterie, Erich von Manstein gave him command of 46th Infantry Division which had taken the Kerch Peninsula on the extreme east tip of the peninsula. On 26-12-1941, the Russians launched an invasion of Crimea. Their plan was to land seaborne troops at Kerch and Mount Opuk, supported by later landings at Theodosia with 42.000 troops. On December 28 the battle in eastern Crimea had developed in favour of the Germans with them having eliminated one of the two Soviet beachheads around the town of Kerch. Sponeck requested permission to retreat to avoid being cut off and captured and so to regroup, but was denied three times. On 29 December the Russians landed additional forces on the southern coast at Theodosia and Sponeck had only thirty minutes to decide on his actions. On his own initiative, as a trained Prussian officer, he gave order for his 10.000 men to retreat. In temperatures of minus 30 degrees Celsius, in a howling snowstorm and icy winds, the battalions of the 46th Infantry Division marched west. The soldiers marched for 46 hours with only the occasional rest for coffee, to warm up. Many suffered frostbite, and most of the horses starved. Much of the Divisions heavy equipment, including its artillery, remained behind on the frozen road. A charge of failure to comply with the order in the field, General von Sponeck must stand for long seven hours before the Tribunal, without being invited witnesses who would cleanse his name.
Death and burial ground of Sponeck, Hans Emil Otto Graf von.
After the assassination of Adolf Hitler, von Sponeck was also blacklisted as a suspected contacts with the opposition in the Wehrmacht and after a short consultation followed a death sentence. Von Sponeck is transferred to a prison fortress in Germersheim and executed 24-07-1944, age 56. This was carried out at 7:13 am in Germersheim. Von Sponeck was allowed Holy Communion before his execution. In a letter to his wife he wrote “I die with firm faith in my Redeemer”. Pleading the innocence of his actions in the Kerch peninsula, he went to the firing squad boldly, as witnessed by the priest present, and requested not to be bound or to be blindfolded. His last words are: “Forty years I have served the country that I love with all my heart, as a soldier and officer. Today, when I lay my life, dying in the hope of a better Germany.”
Von Sponeck was buried on a Memorial Military Cemetery in Dahn and while no citations or speeches were permitted at his grave, they did allow the Lord’s Prayer to be said. After the war, Sponeck has been commemorated in Germany, with an Air Force base in Germersheim, streets and monuments named after him. However, in 2015, following the publication of an article by Erik Grimmer-Solem published in 2014 in the journal Militärgeschichtliche Zeitschrift, which investigate Sponeck’s role in “numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity in the southern Ukraine and Crimea in 1941,” despite civil protests in Germersheim, the German Federal Airforce, in accordance with the German Government’s and the Bundestag’s decisions, renamed the Sponeck Airbase (“General-Hans-Graf-Sponeck-Kaserne”) “Südpfalz-Kaserne.”
On 23-07-1999, the 55th anniversary of the execution, Von Sponeck’s son by his second marriage, who was just six years old when his father was executed, held a requiem at his father’s grave.