Von Leiderhosen’s ‘Graduation Day’

22 Aug

How Manfred von Lederhosen’s
Wehrmacht Commissioning Ceremony
Went Wrong for the Third Reich

“Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates,

there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.” (Carl Jung)

Offizier Inbetriebnahme Zeremonie, Neues Schloss Oberstein, Deutschland (15. Juni, 1938)

The day Manfred von Lederhosen received his commission in the Wehrmacht Heer (land army) should have been the best day of his life. But when Manfred’s mother fell in tears of joy onto older brother Wulf’s shoulders at the post-ceremony reception, Manfred realized he would need to find his own glory elsewhere in the Reich.

Wulf had missed the swearing-in. Wulf was always missing important family moments. The reason was always the same – duty to the Reich. Wulf, four years Manfred’s senior, had graduated from university at Heidelberg, then enlisted in the newly-formed Kriegsmarine. Wulf’s brilliance became evident immediately. In January 1938, Oberleutnant Wulf von Lederhosen was assigned to Admiral Dönitz’ staff, with rumors of new promotions circulating amongst the senior officer staff at OKM, the Oberkommando der Marine or Naval High Command.

At the reception, Wulf burst in, tall, uniformed, fresh from his motorcycle. Tearing off his goggles, Wulf rushed to their mother, who had been standing next to Manfred, fussing over the new Leutnant’s bars on his new grey Wehrmacht uniform.

Hannah von Lederhosen turned away from her second son, squared her shoulders to face her eldest son full on, and looked up at him. “So, mein erste Sohn. What news have you brought your mother to make her happy?”

Wulf smiled broadly. “Mama, I have been posted to OKM, to work as special liaison between Admiral Dönitz and Gross-Admiral Raeder’s general staff!”

The young officers’ father, Kapitän Albrecht Phillip Karl Julius von Lederhosen, wearing his old Imperial German Navy dress uniform, put down his drink and clapped his hands. “Outstanding, my first son. Just outstanding.” Men of Kapitän von Lederhosen’s rank and age did not demonstrate their emotions outwardly.

Hannah von Lederhosen was more effusive. She fell onto Wulf’s epaulets, throwing her arms around him and kissing him hard on the cheek, right above the dueling scar Wulf had obtained fencing at Heidelberg. “My son, my son, my son. I am so proud! You have brought such honor onto the family. And to the Reich!” Wulf leaned forward, wiped his cheek, and grinned. “Ja, a beer, I must now drink a beer. From the road, you understand.”

Captain-at-Sea Albrecht von Lederhosen excused himself to converse with another retired World War I officer, as Wulf lunged off to find a stein of lager. Manfred stood stiffly there in the garden with his mother for a long moment.

“So, Manfred. Now you will join the ranks of the Wehrmacht, and bring honor to the family and to the Fatherland?

“Ja, Mother. Perhaps.”

The tension broke when a student cadet marched up to Manfred, saluted and announced “Heil Hitler!” Manfred snapped to attention, clicked heels, and said “Sieg Heil.” Only his mother, had she paid attention, would have noticed the sullen undertone.

Leutnant von Lederhosen, you are commanded to report to Oberst Himmelberger at once!”

Jawohl, Unteroffizier-Anwärte (Yes, officer-candidate).”

Von Lederhosen bent forward to give him mother an obligatory kiss on the cheek. Hannah von Lederhosen turned her cheek firmly toward her second son, accepted his kiss, and turned back toward her now-returned husband.

“Father, I will advise you if I am ordered beyond the borders of the Reich.”

Danke, Sohn. Now go to your duty.”

Von Lederhosen turned on his heel and left his parents standing next to the flowers, red roses set on white lace, over a black velvet drape. Centered, of course, under the wall-mounted red, white and black Nazi flag.

At the headmaster’s inner office, after von Lederhosen had heiled his way past the secretary, Oberst Himmelberger looked up briefly. Then Himmelberger returned his attention to the thick file in front of him. Von Lederhosen’s student file.

“Sit down, Leutnant.”

“Yes, Colonel.” Von Lederhosen sat down in the hard oak chair in front of Himmelberger’s desk.

“I see you have graduated today, despite your record. Your family was here?” Himmelberger did not wait for an answer. “Kapitän von Lederhosen is your father, correct?”

Jawohl. To both questions.”

Himmelberger looked up sharply, as if he had sensed a faint whiff of insubordination. Seeing too little to bother, Himmelberger leaned back in his chair and looked out the window.

“The Reich has seen fit to extend to you a special duty, Leutnant.”

Von Lederhosen said nothing.

“You are being sent overseas, on a very important posting. This is a great honor, Leutnant. You have been chosen to serve the Reich in the Dutch East Indies and in Singapore.”

“But, Oberst, I do not understand. I speak no indigenous language. I had anticipated a posting to the Signal Corps. Or to Panzers.”

“Yes, I know this is not what you expected. But you speak English, correct?”

“Yes. I have traveled extensive during summer vacations in England.”

“There has been a note in your file that you have shown a talent for, as the Americans say, ‘wheeling and dealing.’” The informal terms spoken in clear English.

Ja, Herr Oberst. I was disciplined in my second year for making beer in the dormitory, and selling it to other cadets. But the file must make that clear.”

Ja. And the file also makes clear that you are insubordinate, sullen, disinclined to your studies, and held in poor esteem by your prominent Prussian Junker family. Who were particularly embarrassed last year, when you smuggled prostitutes into the men’s dormitory. Your father was most disgusted. It was your father who made known to us his preference that you be posted overseas.”

Von Lederhosen, surprised and seething, leaned forward. “And what, sir, shall I be doing in Singapore?”

“You will be organizing a black market, to undermine the British colonial rule in Singapore. We feel the proximity of the Dutch petroleum holdings in the East Indies may someday become important to the Reich and its allies.”

“And if I refuse?”

Himmelberger said nothing. He brusquely signed a one-page order and thrust it at von Lederhosen.

And now Himmelberger looked the young officer straight in the eyes.

“Take this order to the pay officer. Draw expenses for a sea voyage to Singapore by commercial steamer. You will be traveling as a German merchant, in the textile trades. We prefer you use a British merchant steamship for your passage. Your passport and travel visas have been prepared and will be waiting with the cashier. You may take your uniforms, but we expect you will not have much reason to wear them.

“Think of it this way, Leutnant. You are free to set up a black market on such terms as you may wish. You will be a long way from your father, which seems wise. You will be a young man with access to capital, and orders to set up a lucrative business.

“The Reich will expect reports to OKW every Monday by radiotelegraph. You will be assigned a control officer there. We do not yet know who that will be. Of course, if the war we all think is coming approaches your operation, you will do everything you can to help the Fatherland.

“You are not to contact your family or friends before you leave. And you will be expected to be on a ship in the next 48 hours. “Do you understand?”

Jawohl, Kommandant.

“Now leave me to my duty.”

Von Lederhosen stood up, made his stiff-armed salute, and left Himmelberger’s office.

Thirty-four hours later, Manfred von Lederhosen, dressed in an English businessman’s suit, sat on the observation deck of HMS Soho Square. His Wehrmacht uniforms, luger, a few books and a codebook were stored in a locked trunk in his cabin. As von Lederhosen watched, the ship cast off from its moorings at Bremerhaven, bound for Singapore.

Von Lederhosen would never hear of the identity of his control officer at OKW. Despite this unresolved point, his Reichsbank credit line remained solidly intact, and paid for many drinks at the Raffles Bar in Singapore.


Created by Robin Enos


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