Josef Bischoff

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Josef Maximilian Johann Bonaventura Bischoff (b. 14 July 1872 in Langenbrück,[1] Silesia; d. 12 December 1948 in Berlin-Charlottenburg) was a German officer of the Prussian Army, the Schutztruppe, the Imperial German Army and the Freikorps. He became famous for his deeds on the Western Front and his leadership of the Iron Divison (Eiserne Division) and it's Baltic warriors (Baltikumkämpfer) against the Bolshevik terror in the east.


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Josef Bischoff is one of the brightest figures in the history of German Freikorps, but he neither received a proper historical acknowledgment, nor got a romantic biography (like Albert Leo Schlageter). Major Bischoff’s career is a perfect example of the transformation path that Prussian officers of the last Kaiser’s generation took trying to surpass hierarchy, seniority and garrison boredom. Specific combination of personal qualities let him keep his head even through the critical first months of the revolution. He managed to unite detached Baltic volunteers into the literally Iron Division, cut short the panic and reconstruct the anti-Bolshevik front. As a talented field commander (Feldherr) he could neither accept that the capital was back to controlling power, nor give up the Baltic Freikorps’ ideals for a position at the Reichswehr of 100,000 members.

He was smart enough to understand that the old elite would prevent his career there and nevertheless was Prussian enough not to join any far-right group. His moment of glory was brief: in August 1919 he took the responsibility of calling German soldiers to refuse the evacuation order from Berlin and keep on fighting in Baltic region against everyone, if needed. He was subjected to the same suffering that committed to him soldiers and survived the grave withdrawal of the Bermontians. In 1935 he published “Die letzte Front” and could compete with Ernst Jünger for fame, but in the forming official version of history got the tiniest possible role. He survived the Second World War and was to see the new and even graver crush of German army and state.


  • March 1890 Abitur at the Gymnasium
  • 1890 Studies at the Schlesisches Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Breslau
    • He became active on 27 September 1890 as the third member of his family in the Corps Lusatia Breslau (Korporierter)
  • 26 March 1891 He was recipiert, this is the ceremonial acceptance of a fox (Fuchs) as a member with full rights and full responsibility in a student corps.
  • 15 January 1892 Released ohne Band, for he had finished his studies prematurely, with the assurance of getting the ribbon back after passing the exam.
    • On 22 December 1893, he finally received the Lusatian band or ribbon (Lausitzerband) back
  • 19 January 1892 Three-year volunteer (Dreijährig-Freiwilliger) in the Infanterie-Regiment „Keith“ (1. Oberschlesisches) Nr. 22 in Gleiwitz
  • 18 August 1892 Portepeefähnrich
  • 16 March 1893 Sekondeleutnant (Second Lieutenant)
  • 1 October 1897 to early March 1898 Bischoff took a leave of absence to attend the seminar for Oriental languages (Seminar für Orientalische Sprachen) ​​in Berlin.
  • April 1898 He then stepped over to the Schutztruppe for German East Africa. Bischoff was involved in separate military punitive expeditions against individual villages in East Africa.
  • June 1901 He returned to Germany in and served in the 1. Unter-Elsässisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 132.
  • 22 March 1902 Oberleutnant (First Lieutenant) in the 4th Company
  • 22 March 1904 stepped over to the Schutztruppe of German South Africa
    • As adjutant to Major Hermann Heinrich Sigismund von der Heyde (1857–1942), who was promoted to Generalleutnant am 22 March 1918, Bischoff was involved in the Hottentot War (Hottentottenkrieg) at the Battle of Waterberg and the pursuit of the Herero in the Omaheke. He was wounded at Omatupa on 15 August 1904.
  • 23 June 1907 Hauptmann (Captain)
    • in 1910/11, he received a new Patent with effect from 23 June 1904
  • 31 January 1909 Retired from the Schutztruppe in German South-West Africa (Deutsch-Südwestafrika)
  • 1 February 1909 Reentry in the Prussian Army
    • Commander (Chef) of the 8th Company/4. Badisches Infanterie-Regiment „Prinz Wilhelm“ Nr. 112 in Mühlhausen (Reichsland Elsaß-Lothringen)
    • 1911 Commander (Chef) of the 4th Company/Infanterie-Regiment „Hessen-Homburg“ Nr. 166 in Bitsch
  • 1 October 1913 Major
    • in the Staff of the Infanterie-Regiment „Hessen-Homburg“ Nr. 166
  • 1914 to 1918 WWI
    • With the outbreak of World War I, he was appointed commander of the 3rd battalion in the Reserve Infantry Regiment No. 60, with which he fought in the Vosges. In March 1916, Bischoff became regimental commander of the 1st Turkish Camel Regiment (1. Türkisches Kamelreiter-Regiment) of the Ottoman Army (Deutsche Militärmissionen im Osmanischen Reich), which fought against the Arabs in Syria and the Sinai Peninsula. Bischoff kept in touch with the Turks and Atatürk even after the war.
    • Returning to Germany at the end of October 1916, he was briefly assigned to the 60th Reserve Infantry Regiment, as commander of the replacement battalion, and was appointed commander of the newly formed 461st Infantry Regiment on 2 January 1917.
    • After the armistice treaty was concluded in the east,[2] his regiment was transferred to the Argonne in February 1918. He distinguished himself through his personal commitment and was proposed by the division commander for Pour le Mérite:
      • In the current offensive on June 1, he stormed the heights north of the Clignon creek, crossed the creek section on June 2, took the village of Belleau by storm and in the night of 2/3. June carried out the attack against the forest of Belleau. Although the forest was occupied by stronger forces and dominated by numerous machine guns, the attack was entirely successful. Not only was the forest of Belleau the focal point of the struggle, but its possession secured the basis for further action. From June 3rd to 11th, Major Bischoff fended off repeated attacks by the American 2nd Division against the forest, with the enemy suffering the heaviest casualties. He was constantly in the forest under the strongest artillery fire and personally directed the defense and counterattacks. It is only thanks to his bravery and his understanding intervention that the forest was able to hold its own against a far superior opponent with the weak remnants of the regiment. He led his regiment in an exemplary manner and solved the most difficult tasks.
  • March 1920 Since Bischoff was accused of taking part in the Kapp Putsch, he had to avoid Germany. That is why he lived in Baden near Vienna for many years from 1920 onwards. Expelled from the Corporate State by Engelbert Dollfuss in 1933/34, he moved to Berlin-Charlottenburg.
  • 27 August 1939, Tannenbergtag, he received the Charakter (brevet) as honorary Oberstleutnant of the Wehrmacht
  • 1944/45 Some sources state, he served with the Volkssturm, at last during the Battle of Berlin, but this cannot be confirmed.


When the German Army was disbanded after the Compiègne Armistice and the November Revolution, the Supreme Army Command entrusted Bischoff, as Colonel Friedrich Kumme's successor, with the command of a Freikorps formed from the remnants of the 8th Army and volunteers. It was first called the Iron Brigade (Eiserne Brigade or Totenkopf-Brigade), then the Iron Division (Eiserne Division) and was used in the Baltic states.

This was perhaps the best-known of the German Freikorps, which, despite defeat in the war, wanted to maintain German influence in the Baltic States. The Freikorps suffered from discipline problems, which Bischoff took harsh action against. Looters and marauders were executed after shortened and therefore often arbitrary court-martial proceedings, which, however, called for arbitrariness.

His Freikorps was partly recruited from Baltic Germans (Baltendeutsche) and from fighters from the core of the Reich, liberated Riga (together with the Baltische Landeswehr), waged a bitter war against the communists, including as part of the anti-Bolshevik West Russian Liberation Army (Westrussische Befreiungsarmee) under Pawel Michailowitsch Bermondt-Awaloff, de facto under Rüdiger von der Goltz, and resisted all orders to retreat to German territory to the end.

After the Iron Division was returned to East Prussia in December 1919, the criminal prosecution of Bischoff and other Freikorps leaders was lifted on 17 December 1919 by the Reich government. The members of the Iron Division were mainly housed in East Prussia and Pomerania on the estates of large landowners as farm workers' communities. Under the direction of a lieutenant von Borries, the Iron Division also operated an office in Berlin. Through Borries, Bischoff maintained contact with Captain Waldemar Pabst and the National Association, as well as with Hermann Ehrhardt.

Many from the Iron Division joined the Marine-Brigade Ehrhardt. After the beginning of the Kapp–Lüttwitz Putsch in March 1920, Bischoff published a call for the re-establishment of the "Iron Division" in the Ostpreussische Zeitung (DNVP). He apparently spent the last days of the putsch at the headquarters of the Roßbach regiment.

Awards and decorations


  • Die letzte Front 1919, Buch- und Tiefdruck Gesellschaft MbH, Schützen-Verlag, Berlin 1935 (2nd edition 1936)

Further reading


  1. Langenbrück lies approximately 14 kilometres (9 mi) west of Habelschwerdt, 24 kilometres (15 mi) south-west of Glatz, and 104 kilometres (65 mi) south-west of the regional capital Breslau.
  2. On 15 December 1917, an armistice was signed between the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic on the one side and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Kingdom of Bulgaria, the German Empire and the Ottoman Empire—the Central Powers—on the other. The armistice took effect two days later, on 17 December. By this agreement Russia de facto exited World War I, although fighting would briefly resume before the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed on 3 March 1918, and Russia made peace.
  3. Kolonial-Denkmünze, award list