SOME OF THE PRISONERS
SPECIAL CAMP 11
This profile is based on a copy of Ritter von Thoma’s microfilmed service record housed at the United States National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C. Supplementary sources are listed below.
DATE: 4 November 1942PERSONAL
title of nobility “Ritter von Thoma” upon award of the Knight’s Cross
of the Bavarian Military Max Joseph Order on 5 July 1916.)
PLACE OF BIRTH: Dachau/Oberbayern/Bayern
DATE OF DEATH: 30 April 1948
PLACE OF DEATH: Dachau/Bayern
OCCUPATION: Regular Soldier
NEXT OF KIN:
Eduard and Sabine (née Klein) Thoma, died 21 November 1899 in Dachau and
4 May 1921 in München respectively.
Wife: None (Bachelor).
A tough but likeable type, he is obviously a born enthusiast who lives in a world of tanks, loves fighting for the zest of it, but would fight without ill-feeling, respecting any opponent. In the Middle Ages he would have been perfectly happy as a knight-errant, challenging all comers at any crossroad for the honour of crossing spears with them. The advent of the tank in warfare was a godsend to such a man, giving him a chance to re-live the part of the mail-clad knight.
– B.H. Liddell Hart, The German Generals Talk (1948)
Commands & Assignments:
After hard fighting during the combat between the Styr and Stokhod Rivers and despite the exhaustion of the troops, the Bavarian 11th Infantry Division was again assigned to the area of Ugli-Gruziatyn on 5 July 1916 since the Austrians were withdrawing. Leutnant Thoma and his regimental commander arrived for a situation briefing at the Austrian command post straight in the path of a new Russian attack. The Austrians flooded to the rear, the command post was vacated. Despite close combat, Thoma voluntarily held out alone and sent important messages to regiment and brigade. When the Russians approached the command post, Thoma, on his own initiative, rapidly gathered together a weak Austrian battalion, which, spurred on by his coolness and absolutely fearless bravery, drove the enemy back. He likewise beat back a second and third Russian attack preventing a Russian breakthrough and, by his courageous stand, gave the high command the time and opportunity to send appropriate reinforcements.
Notes on Decorations: A certain amount of conjecture exists regarding
the award of the German Spanish Cross in Gold with Swords and Diamonds and the
Spanish Military Medal with Diamonds to Ritter von Thoma. While he definitely
received the medals in question, the debate centers on whether or not
they were embellished with Diamonds. The Diamond embellishments are mentioned
in at least one reference book: Virtuti
Pro Patria: Der königlich bayerische Militär-Max-Joseph-Orden.
During World War I, Ritter von Thoma saw extensive combat service on the Western, Eastern and Serbian Fronts while assigned to the Bavarian 3. Infanterie-Regiment Prinz Karl von Bayern of the Bavarian 11th Infantry Division commanded by Generalleutnant Paul Ritter von Knueßl.
Although the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) had learned in 1939 that a German experimental station existed at Peenemünde on the Baltic coast, its true function was not known. By the end of 1942, the SIS had received many fragmented and conflicting reports that the Germans were developing a long-range rocket program with probable launching sites in France. Additionally, aerial reconnaissance photographs taken in early 1943 revealed the Germans had recently built new structures and a power station at Peenemünde. Shortly thereafter, the SIS received a valuable tip from a most unusual source. On 22 March 1943, Generals der Panzertruppe Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma and Ludwig Crüwell, both captured by the British in North Africa, were heard discussing Germany’s rocket program while being held in London.* With a microphone planted in the room, the SIS listened as Ritter von Thoma discussed a rocket test he had witnessed at Kummersdorf West while in the company of Generalfeldmarschall Walther von Brauchitsch, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, and other technical program details **. Spurred on by this plausible information, further British reconnaissance flights over Peenemünde in May-June 1943 brought back unmistakable images of rockets at the facility. The Allies were on target: Peenemünde was the German center for research and testing of the pilotless, guided missiles and long-range ballistic missiles better known as the V-1 “Buzz Bomb” or “Doodlebug” and the V-2 respectively. (See profile of Generalmajor Dr. Ing. h.c. Walter Robert Dornberger who was also held as a prisoner of war at Special Camp 11, Bridgend.)
* On 29 May 1942, General der Panzertruppe Ludwig Crüwell, the Commanding General of the German Afrika Korps, was shot down and captured by the British while on a reconnaissance flight during the Battle of Gazala. After being held as a prisoner in England, General Crüwell (PW No. 20772) was later transferred to the United States where he was imprisoned at Camp Clinton near Jackson, Mississippi. This camp housed the majority of all German generals held as prisoners of war in the United States.
General der Panzertruppe Ludwig Crüwell
** The Kummersdorf West Research Station, located south of Berlin, was the site of Germany’s first military experimental rocket testing facility. Although the facility began transferring to Peenemünde in 1937, Kummersdorf West was still used as a rocket research and development site for some time thereafter.