The Propagander ™ FAQ

Was Hitler a 'War Hero' in WW1?

Hitler attempted to join the German Army the day after war was declared but had to wait a few days for his application to be approved. The problem was that he was not a German citizen, but a German speaking Austrian. In the event, he was quickly trained and then sent into the battlefields of France. He eventually achieved the equivalent rank of Lance Corporal as a dispatch runner.

Back before there were radio communications on the battlefield, runners were used to send orders to the front and send messages back to HQ. Hitler was awarded medals for bravery--including the coveted Iron Cross First Class--multiple times. However, he never fired his sidearm--the only firearm dispatch runners carried--and never killed an enemy soldier. He served throughout the four years of the war and tried to stay in the army after the war was over. By all accounts, Hitler enjoyed his time in the German army.

Hitler received these honors for his WW1 service: The Cross of Military Merit, 3rd class with swords, a Regimental Diploma, a Medal of Military Service, third class, and a second class and then a first class Iron Cross. It is often remarked that few Iron Cross first classes were given to soldiers of Hitler's low rank. This is true. Though over 5 million Iron Crosses were awarded to German soldiers during WW1, only about a quarter of a million were 1st class.

Major General Engelhardt:

As commander of the 16th Regiment of Bavarian Infantry at the Battle of Ypres in the period from November 10 to November 17 1914, I came to know Adolf Hitler as an exceedingly brave, effective and conscientious soldier. I must emphasize the following: As our men were storming the wedge-shaped forest, I stepped out of the woods near Wytschaete to get a better view of developments. Hitler and the volunteer Bachman, another battle orderly belonging to the 16th regiment, stood before me to protect me with their bodies from the machine gun fire to which I was exposed.-Thus, Hitler earned his Iron Cross second class. The somewhat vague origins of Hitler's 1st Class Cross are due to obfuscation by Hitler himself. He was recommended for the award by a First Lieutenant Hugo Gutmann.

Here is how Robert Payne, in The Life And Death of Adolf Hitler, described it:

Gutmann ... had ordered him to carry urgent dispatches to the rear commanding the artillerymen to stop shelling the forward German trenches. There had been a breakdown in communications, the artillerymen did not know that there had been a slight German advance, and many German soldiers had already been killed by German shells. The patch of ground between LT Gutmann's dugout and the base artillery was under heavy English machine gun fire, and the dispatch runner who crossed that patch of ground would have to be a very courageous man indeed. LT Gutmann promised Hitler the Iron Cross First Class if he succeeded. Hitler accomplished his almost suicidal mission, and LT Gutmann kept his promise. The citation, dated July 31, 1918, was signed by Baron von Godin, the regimental commander, and read as follows:

"As a dispatch runner, he has shown cold-blooded courage and exemplary boldness both in positional warfare and in the war of movement, and he has always volunteered to carry messages in the most difficult situations and at risk of his life. Under conditions of great peril, when all the communications lines were cut, the untiring and fearless activity of Hitler made it possible for important messages to go through."

The Iron Cross first class was well deserved. Four days later the medal was pinned on his jacket. When Hitler came to power all the circumstances leading to the award were discreetly veiled as though some dark mystery were attached to it. The mystery was very simple. First Lieutenant Hugo Gutmann was a Jew, and Hitler preferred not to let it be known that he owed his Iron Cross first class to the recommendation of a Jewish officer in the German army.

Conclusion: Hitler's wartime decorations were well earned and his bravery under fire well documented.
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