Fegelein attended Munich University for two terms but left to start working for the government in 1925. For the next two years, he served in the Reiter-Regiment 17 (Cavalry Regiment 17). He enlisted in the Bavarian State Police in Munich on April 20, 1927, as an officer cadet.
In 1929, he left the service. While according to the official records, he quit for “family reasons”, in reality, he was apprehended for trying to steal examination solutions from the office belonging to a superior.
In 1926, his father had opened Reitinstitut Fegelein (Riding Institute Fegelein), which, after Fegelein became active in the National Socialism movement, was used as a meeting place by the SS. In 1930, he became a member of the Nazi party and the SA, and later, on April 10, 1933, was transferred to the SS. At the beginning of his tenure, he was the instructor at the Reitinstitut Fegelein as well as the leader of SS-Reitersturm, the equestrian division of SS.
In the mid-1930s, Fegelein had replaced his father as the administrator of the institution. During this period, he was promoted rapidly, first to the Allgemeine-SS rank of SS-Untersturmführer, then to SS-Obersturmführer on April 20, 1934, and to SS-Hauptsturmführer on November 9, 1934. Besides organising the courses and facilities for the equestrian events of the Berlin Olympic Games, he tried out unsuccessfully for the German equestrian team but lost to eventual winners, the Kavallerieschule Hannover. On January 30, 1936, he assumed the rank of an SS-Sturmbannführer.
Actions During the World War II & Involvement in the Holocaust
In September 1939, Fegelein was sent to Poland as the commander of the SS Totenkopf Reiterstandarte (Death's-Head Horse Regiment). They worked under the supervision of the Ordnungspolizei (order police), providing support to the police throughout the Poznan district.
Soon, Himmler decided to expand the regiment from four to thirteen squadrons and rechristened it as ‘1. SS-Totenkopf-Reiterstandarte’ (1st Death's Head Cavalry Regiment). As a result, local ethnic Germans who resided in the General Government and further afield were recruited.
Fegelein and most of the other officers never went to officers’ training school. So the training they were able to provide to these new recruits was rudimentary at best. However, it was exacting, effective, and helped nourish a strong camaraderie among the men.
Under the direct order from Hitler, Fegenlein’s unit and the Orpo killed thousands of Polish intellectuals, aristocrats, and clergies to realise the Germanization of the occupied Polish territory before the eventual annexation to the German Reich. Nazis called it Intelligenzaktion.
In December 1939, Fegelein commanded one of the two regiments of the unit, the ‘1. Standarte’. They were suffering from a severe shortage of food, weapons, and uniforms. Morality peaked and the health of the men rapidly deteriorated. Corruption and theft became rampant.
Continue Reading Below
This was the first time Himmler saved his protégé from imminent court-martial after he was charged with stealing money and luxury goods, having an illegal relationship with a Polish woman who got pregnant (Fegelein forced her to have an abortion), and for ordering arrests and executions in the Gestapo prison in Warsaw.
His unit saw combat in March and April 1940, against about 100 former Polish soldiers in the area of Kammienna–Konsky–Kielce. They managed to kill half of the soldiers before the others escaped. On 8 April, his unit was involved in killing 250 Polish villagers. In his report, Fegelein dubbed the actions of his men as “clean and decent” but there were plenty of cases of murder and looting without the explicit orders for them to do so.
On March 1, 1940, he was promoted as the SS-Obersturmbannführer of the Reserves in the Waffen-SS. As part of the SS-Verfügungstruppe, he took part in the Battle of Belgium in France. In March 1941, his unit was renamed 1st SS Cavalry Regiment.
Operation Barbarossa or the German Invasion of the Soviet Union was launched on June 22, 1941. Assigned on the 87th Infantry Division, Fegelein fought to cover a gap in the lines of the 9th Army near Białystok. The Second World War proved beyond doubt the ineffectiveness of cavalry in modern warfare. The first units had the order to cross the Narew river near Wizna and engage the Red Army regiments stationed there, but they were unable to do so and were eventually pulled back.
Fegelein’s cavalry were designated to do a reconnaissance mission after the fall of Osowiec Fortress in late June. He overstated the accomplishments of his unit in his report and boasted that they were battle ready. Twelve of his subordinates received the Iron Cross 2nd Class and he himself was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class.
In July 1941, his unit began to operate under HSSPF Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski. Their task was to systematically cleanse the Pripyat Swamps of any Jewish, partisan, and civilian presence. Himmler, who had initially attached the unit to this operation, gave general instructions to exterminate partisans and Jewish collaborators whereas Jewish women and children were to be sent away.
Fegelein instructed his men to capture enemy combatants in uniforms and shoot those who weren’t wearing one and shoot all Jewish males, save for doctors and leather workers. He divided his men into two groups who made their way from east to west while filing daily reports of their performances.
On 1 August, Himmler wrote to Fegelein expressing his displeasure at what he thought as low death count, and four days later, he promoted Fegelein as the leader of the brigade. In accordance with Himmler’s regimental order no. 42, all males Jews over the age of 14 were shot. The order further instructed that all Jewish women and children were to be taken to the swamps and drowned, but as the water in the swamp wasn’t deep enough, they were shot as well. These Jewish communities were among the first victims of Holocaust.
In early October, Himmler stopped yet another court hearing against Fegelein. His unit first arrived at Toropets and was subsequently sent to Rogachev where they engaged in guerrilla warfare against the partisans. Fegelein’s report stated that more than three thousand Red Army soldiers were killed but most historians dispute this claim, concluding that many among the dead were unarmed civilians.
Continue Reading Below
In January 1942, the brigade successfully fought off an assault on the rearward area of the 206th Infantry Division in the Battles of Rzhev. After being promoted to SS-Standartenführer in February, he led his brigade in various battles around Chertolino. After the disbandment of the SS Cavalry Brigade in March 1942, he briefly commanded Kampfgruppe "Fegelein", based in the great bend of the Don, where he was wounded by a Soviet sniper. He was made the commander of the SS Cavalry Division on April 20, 1943.
Himmler chose him as his associate and the SS representative to Hitler’s headquarters in January 1944. He was present during the assassination attempt on Hitler on July 20, 1944, suffering a superficial wound on his left thigh from the bomb blast.
Hermann Fegelein joined Hitler in the Führerbunker in Berlin on January 16, 1945. The German infrastructure was in total collapse and the Red Army was quickly advancing on Berlin. Fegelein had concluded that he did not want to be involved in the suicide pact and left his post in the Führerbunker. When he was eventually found and arrested by an RSD squad, he was deeply intoxicated.
On the night of 28 April, Hitler learned via a BBC broadcast of a Reuters report that Himmler had reached out to the United States and England through Count Bernadotte with a proposal of surrender. For Hitler, this was an act of treason. Furthermore, he believed that Fegelein’s disappearance and Himmler’s betrayal were related. He ordered Fegelein to be stripped of all his ranks and initially wanted to send him to Kampfgruppe "Mohnke".
Otto Günsche and Bormann dissuaded him, voicing their fear that Fegelein might run away again. Instead, he was sent for court-martial. There are contradictory accounts on what happened next. According to SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke, who had presided over the court-martial, Fegelein was still intoxicated when he was brought before the court. He couldn’t stand properly and even urinated on the floor. As a result, Mohnke stopped the proceeding. He did not see Fegelein after that.
However, the 1948/49 Soviet NKVD dossier of Hitler prepared for Joseph Stain narrate that the court ordered Fegelein’s execution which was carried out on that very night. At the time of his death, Braun was pregnant with their child. Their daughter Eva Barbara Fegelein was born on May 5, 1945.
Awards & Decorations
The first military honour Fegelein received was the Olympic Games Decoration (1st Class) in the mid-1930s.
He was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class on December 15, 1939 and 1st Class on June 28, 1941.
As the SS-Brigadeführer and Generalmajor of the Waffen-SS in the SS-Kavallerie-Division, he was honored with the German Cross in Gold on November 1, 1943.
Fegelein won the Knight’s Cross as the SS-Standartenführer and commander of the SS-Kavallerie-Brigade on March 2, 1942. The Oak Leaves were added on December 22, 1942, during his service as the SS-Oberführer and commander of a Kampfgruppe and the swords were added on July 30, 1944, during his service as SS-Gruppenführer and Generalleutnant of the Waffen-SS and commander of the 8. SS-Freiwilligen-Kavallerie-Division Florian Geyer.
The 28 April 1945 death sentence rendered all his military achievements null and void.