Thoma, Wilhelm Josef Ritter von, born 11-09-1891 in Dachau, attended the humanist Ludwigs-Gymnasium in Munich from 1903 and attained his certificate of graduation in 1912. He began his military career when he joined the Royal Bavarian Army on 23-09-1912, as a Fahnenjunker with the Bavarian 3rd Infanterie-Regiment “Prinz Karl von Bayern.” under Oberleutnant Hans Heberlein later Generalleutnant der Wehrmacht, he died age 74 on 07-09-1962 in Nuremburg. Von Thoma attended the War School in Munich from 01-10-1913 to 01-08-1914. At the outbreak of the First World War on 02-08-1914, von Thoma took to the field with the Bavarian 3rd Infantry Regiment. On 25-09-1914 he was grazed by a shot to the head during a battle on the Somme in France. He was treated at the front and remained with the troops. On 28 September he was ordered to command his regiment’s 11th Company. On 2 October he was wounded again, hit by shrapnel in the right elbow. On 24-01-1915 he was made regimental adjutant of the Bavarian 3rd Infantry Regiment, which was transferred east to the Russian front, being based initially in Galicia, Austria-Hungary. Here von Thoma participated in many actions, including the taking of Brest Litovsk. In October 1915, he was sent to the Serbian front to assist Austro-Hungarian forces in their offensive against Serbia. On 12-10-1915, von Thoma was wounded by a gun shot to the chest and spent five days in hospital. Von Thoma was sent back to France in early 1916 and fought from 28 February to 17 May in the Battle of Verdun. He was also involved in the battle for Cambrai, the first big tank battle in history, on 05-06-1916 and was awarded with the Knight Cross of the Militär-Max-Joseph-Orden , which him allowed to wear the title ” Ritter von”. On 18-04-1919, promoted to Oberleutnant, he landed in American captivity until his release in September 1918. After the war, von Thoma remained in the German Army, the Reichwehr . From 28-10-1919 to 09-02-1920, he was placed on leave following release from captivity. On 10-02-1920 he was transferred to Reichswehr-Schützen Regiment 42 of Reichswehr Brigade 21 commanded by Oberst Franz Ritter von Epp. During World War II von Thoma’s promotion within the new armored formations was rapid. On 15-10-1935, he was appointed commander of the II Battalion, Panzer Regiment 4,of the 2nd Panzer Division . This date marked the official formation of Germany’s first three armored divisions. Von Thoma, a Major now, led commanded the ground element of the Condor Legion in Spain. The Condor Legion was a unit composed of volunteers from the German Air Force and from the German Army which served with the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War of July 1936 to March 1939. The Condor Legion developed methods of terror bombing which were used widely in the World War II shortly afterwards. The bombing of Guernica was the most infamous operation carried out by the Condor Legion. Generalfeldmarschall der Flieger, Hugo Sperrle commanded the unit’s aircraft formations. The 1st Panzer Division commanded by General der Kavallerie, Maximillian Freiherr von zu Weichs
at Weimar; the 2nd Panzer Division commanded by Oberst Heinz Guderian at Würzburg. He received the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, on 31-12-1941, Generalmajor, Commander of the 20th Panzer Division . Having been promoted to Generalmajor in August 1942, on 1 September von Thoma was transferred to North Africa, under Generalfeldmarschall der Panzertruppe, Erwin Rommel and given leadership of the German Afrika Korps for the duration of the absence of the Commanding General, General der Panzertruppe, Walter Nehring. In the early morning hours of 31-08-1942, Nehring had been wounded when a British aircraft bombed his command vehicle during the Battle of Alam el Halfa. On 04-11-1942, von Thoma was captured by the British at the hill of Tel el Mampsra, west of El Alamein, Egypt. With his tank hit several times and on fire, von Thoma dismounted and stood quietly amongst a sea of burning tanks and the German dead scattered around the small hill where he was taken prisoner by Captain Allen Grant Singer
of the 10th Royal Hussars, nickname ” Bakers Light Bobs” . Captain Singer, born in 1915, was killed in action on 05-11-1942 at El Alamein, Egypt. Captain Richard Keane who‟s gunner knocked out Von Thoma‟s Tank. Keane later served with Special Forces. As he approached the German tank its commander who had got out of the burning vehicle started walking towards Singer with his hands raised, grabbing a Thompson sub-machine gun, Singer dismounted from his Daimler and took the German prisoner. This was no ordinary prisoner though; this was the acting Commander of the German Afrika Korps , General Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma. Von Thoma had decided to go forward to see for himself to what extent the allies had broken through so that he could convince Rommel that the German and Italian forces were in dire trouble. Instead he had met the 10RH, had his tank knocked out and been captured. Rommel later opined that von Thoma was probably seeking his death in battle while other staff officers quietly speculated that he went to the front to deliberately surrender. General von Thoma here climbs out of Captain Grant Singer‟s Scout car at General Montgomery‟s Headquarters. That evening, von Thoma dined with General Bernard “Monty” Montgomery at his headquarters to discuss the battle.
B.H. Liddell Hart later recorded von Thoma’s reaction to Montgomery’s revelations over dinner: “I was staggered at the exactness of his knowledge… He seemed to know as much about our position as I did myself.” During the desert war in Africa from 13-09-1940 until Mai 1943, the Allied lost more then 250.000 men, death, wounded and prisoners. The As casualties were 620.000 men, included 250.000 men in captivity. For the remainder of the war von Thoma was a prisoner of war in British captivity. There he told that he never liked the figure Hitler and that he was ashamed about the many German war crimes in Russia. In 1945, von Thoma had one of his legs amputated at Wilton Park and was fitted with an artificial limb in Cardiff. In late 1945, SS-Brigadeführer, Kommandeur 12 SS LSSAH, “Hitlerjugend, Kurt Meyer, captured in Belgium in September 1944 while commanding the 12th SS-Panzer Division “Hitler Jugend,” arrived at Trent Park and noted Ritter von Thoma, the German camp leader, was “…highly thought of by the English. Relations between him and the guards is excellent. The 12th SS-Panzer Division, on 08-05-1945 had 10.000 survivors of the division surrendered to Major General Stanley Eric Reinhart , commander of the 65th Infantry Division, nicknamed ‘Battle Axe” near Enns. Stanley Reinhart died age 81 on 04-06-1975. The 65th Infantry Division had the next casualties during their European campaign. Total battle casualties: 1.230, killed in action: 233, wounded in action: 927, missing in action: 3 and prisoner of war: 67.
Death and burial ground of Thoma, Wilhelm Josef Ritter von.
Living in his hometown Dachau, von Thoma, who married shortly before his death, 15-03-1948, Maria-Elisabeth Gräfin von Kielmansegg, died of a heart attack, already having kidney problems, age 56, on 30-04-1948 and is buried on the Stadtfriedhof of Dachau, but his gravestone was removed in October 2002. Charles E Mac Kay from Scotland, kindly sent me information and pictures.