Oskar Dirlewanger was born in the German city of Wurzburg in 1895, and like so many men of his generation, he fought in the First World War. In 1913, Dirlewanger joined the Prussian Army and fought in the mud and blood of the trenches on the notoriously brutal Western Front. In fact, he saw action in both Belgium and France.
During this time, Dirlewanger clearly served with courage and distinction. Indeed, the German was wounded six times and won the Iron Cross – both first and second class. And by the end of the war, he had been promoted to lieutenant in command of a machine gun company on the Eastern Front.
When the conflicted ceased, however, Dirlewanger received some unwanted orders: defeated German troops were to surrender into captivity in Romania. But that didn’t suit the lieutenant, and so he led some 600 soldiers on a march home to Germany. And this high-handed conduct offers a clue as to the sort of man he was.