Arno Giesen. Waffen SS Lieutenant in the 2nd SS Panzer Division “Das Reich.” One of the top ten tank aces in the world with 111 kills to his credit. Last German soldier out of Vienna. Awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. World War II German war hero. Immortalized in the 1986 Armor* professional journal article, Defense of the Vienna Bridgehead, and with his own action figure.
The real “Arno Giesen” was a grandiose narcissist and avid reader of military history who wrote himself into numerous historical accounts, while never having done any of what he related to others. He was an expert manipulator and con artist. He craved the limelight and was an accomplished, charismatic storyteller. He was also an accomplished liar. He was my father. I am not writing this out of any noble sense of historical truth, rather I have just reached the end of my tolerance for the lies and family members who continued to enable them.
*Armor magazine is the journal of the U.S. Army Armor and Cavalry branch, read and respected by tens of thousands of military professionals since its founding by U.S. Cavalry officers in 1888, when it was originally titled The Cavalry Journal. Armor has been a source of inspiration, fresh ideas, and historical information especially for junior officers and non-commissioned officers who form the backbone of the armored corps. The Giesen article influenced and inspired a generation of these up-and-coming leaders, who went on to fight and win the ground war during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Few of them knew the false background of the story.
The man who would later call himself Arno Giesen was born in January 1927 in the Weimar Republic, what is today Germany. This alone makes many of his claimed exploits impossible due to his age. He turned 18 just a few months prior to the end of World War II. He was the youngest of seven children, born to a local businessman and civic leader who was 50 when “Arno” was born. By sparse accounts available, and borne out by his adult behavior, he was a spoiled child whose six older siblings covered for his indiscretions and laziness. His two oldest brothers were petty smugglers and malcontents who served jail time and were often bordering on trouble with the law. He looked up to these two men as role models. He was a below average student, but (according to him) he was a star athlete. No corroborating evidence exists for his proclaimed athletic ability, nor did I ever see any evidence of it myself. With respect to his military history, these are the verifiable facts:
- He served in the Reich Labor Service (Reicharbeitsdienst) sometime in 1944 at the age of 17. The only photograph existing of him in uniform is from this time.
- His older sister verified that he completed Wehrmacht army basic training in November 1944, still age 17. When he visited her after graduating, he was wearing the uniform of a regular army private, not a Waffen SS officer or any other Waffen SS rank.
- His older sister also verified that he had never been in the Waffen SS, nor attended any Reich leadership programs or officer schools.
- He spent a year and a half in Soviet captivity after the war, corroborated by two Red Cross postcards sent from Soviet prison camps and his processing papers when he was released from captivity and entered the British sector via Helmstedt in 1946.
- No records of his military service are present in any of the German archives.
- Not one single member of the Waffen SS or German Army ever verified having served with him. On the contrary, several members refuted his tales and membership in their former Waffen SS unit
He was a very charming, charismatic and handsome man who could spin amazing tales that would have audiences on the edges of their seats. He started relatively small with the false tales but expanded upon them as his audience grew in both size and interest level. He employed several clever tactics to make his elaborate works of fiction more believable. Most notable among these were:
Injection of Historical Fact
Arno was an avid and voracious reader of World War II military history. He devoured a book on the topic almost every week. He had the historical facts down pat and could skillfully interweave his own fictitious presence into them middle of them. I remember reading military history books as a teenager and finding my father’s accounts written in them, which cemented in my mind that he had actually been there. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized it wasn’t the accounts in the books matching his accounts, rather the other way around.
Later, as his tales grew, so did the personal hubris of his fabricated role in the actual historical events. It then became more obvious that they were fictitious, and people began to call him on it – which leads to the tactic of Ridiculing the Critics farther below.
This involves creating credible corroboration where there is zero factual evidence. The perpetrator manipulates the target person into believing that something false is factual, and that they witnessed or experienced it. The target is usually somebody of high credibility who is then used to corroborate the false claims of the perpetrator. It is difficult to explain, so I will just give an example of how it worked.
My father managed to arrange an impromptu meeting with the commander of the German Air Defense Training School, Brigadier General von Lederhosen [not his real name], at Fort Bliss, Texas in the early 1970s. Of course, the discussion was quickly channeled to World War II topics. My father brought up that he fought in the war on the German side but offered no details. The general responded that he also served in the German military during World War II. Feigning admiration, my father asked him for details. One of these details involved the general, a lieutenant at the time, commanding a battery of 88mm guns on the banks of the Danube River in 1945, defending against Soviet tanks trying to break out of Vienna across the Floridsdorf Bridge. He commented on how some crazy Waffen SS officer charged across the bridge in a lone tank to reinforce the flagging German line, dodging both bomb craters and Soviet anti-tank fire. Said crazy tank commander then wreaked havoc upon the Russians on the other side, enabling German forces to safely evacuate. He was then the last tank out of Vienna, firing the signal flare to blow the bridge.
When the general completed his story, my father smiled with mock humility and shyness, quietly stating, “Yes, that was me.” The general was amazed, and they began a very animated dialog, my father carefully feeding him back small bits of what the general had already told him, combined with what he knew from his historical readings. Within 10 minutes it was a done deal. My father had created a very reputable “witness” for his work of fiction. “If you don’t believe me, just go ask General von Lederhosen. He was there.” Those who actually asked the general, did receive corroboration.
In later years, my father tried to create circular corroboration with both Otto Weidinger (former Waffen SS lieutenant colonel, commander of the “Der Führer” regiment of “Das Reich,” and winner of the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords) and Ernst Barkmann (former tank commander in the “Das Reich” tank regiment and winner of the Knight’s Cross). Both men were present at the Floridsdorf Bridge in Vienna in April 1945, the site of my father’s claimed exploits. Both circular corroboration attempts failed, as both men saw through his façade and and recognized him as a fraud. Both men were also too gentlemanly to confront him or expose him publicly. It is also possible that neither of them wanted to engage in the inevitable mud-slinging that would result, as my father did with Fritz Langanke (see below).
Building a Fan Base
My father found thousands of willing and eager ears for his tales in the United States. First it was just entertaining stories. He stuck to American circles who could not call him on discrepancies that the average German soldier would have spotted immediately. Much like the stolen valor posers regaling civilians in bars with their false combat tales. As it gained steam, he began giving lectures to small groups. When I entered the military academy, his circle of U.S. Army acquaintances grew exponentially through me. Soon he was lecturing at the cavalry units stationed at Fort Bliss, the U.S. Army Sergeant’s Major Academy, the University of Texas, and local reserve units. This grew even more after I became a lieutenant. It pains me to say that I arranged some of these opportunities and greased the skids for him, to the point that he was awarded the U.S. Armor community’s coveted Order of Saint George. He was on a first name basis with all the cavalry squadron commanders and even the regimental commander in the 1980s.
It was during the zenith of his fan base building effort that a brilliant young officer and historian who had been at the academy with me approached him with an idea for an article for the Armor professional journal. It goes without saying that my father enthusiastically accepted, and his “magnum fauxpus” was created.
Exposed, Or Not
The only people who ever called my father on his lies were a few veterans of the 2nd SS Panzer Division “Das Reich.” Foremost among them was Fritz Langanke, former lieutenant, tank company commander and Knight’s Cross recipient who served with distinction in the division’s tank regiment.
My father’s charade was exposed when he went too far depicting himself in the 1986 Armor professional journal article, Defense of the Vienna Bridgehead. He made several glaring errors that exposed him. It was not his usual detail work, nor his sometimes general vagueness that he could morph into anything. I think he was so exhilarated by the attention that he threw caution to the wind. The errors in the article included:
- Killing off tank commander and Knight’s Cross recipient Sergeant Ernst Barkmann, who survived the battle and was still alive as the mayor of Kisdorf Germany in the 1980s.
- Giving his tank a bogus turret number (1227) that would not have existed. German tank turret numbers were 3-digits, not four – company number, platoon number and tank number. When Fritz Langanke confronted him about it via letter, my father claimed the 1227 was a typo and that it really should have been 227. To which Langanke countered, “That would have been 2nd Company, which I commanded. We didn’t have a #7 tank in the 2nd platoon, anyone named Giesen, or anyone who even remotely did all that you claim to have done.”
- Repeatedly misspelling the last name of the regimental commander, Lieutenant Colonel Rudolf Enseling, as “Enselin”
- Stating that when he returned from the mission, the crew assembled with some others in Stammersdorf where Enselin (sic) removed his own Knight’s Cross and hung it around my father’s neck. Ironically, Ernst Barkmann was at that meeting in Stammersdorf, but it was not to welcome back the last tank. That tank, commanded by Captain Karl-Heinz Boska, was knocked out attempting to cross over to the bridghead, killing two of the crew and wounding Boska. Barkmann’s version was very different, but he was too polite to push it. (See Boska article.)
- My father declaring himself to be a Knight’s Cross recipient within the 2nd SS Panzer Regiment. Only 18 soldiers in that regiment won the Knight’s Cross during the entire six years of war. It was a tiny, tight-knit group. They spotted an imposter immediately.
- Claiming that he destroyed a JS-III tank, when no JS-III tanks saw action in World War II. Some history books claim that the JS-III indeed did see action. All of them trace the claim back to this article and my father’s fabrication.
- Claiming 111 tank kills, which placed him as the #7 highest tank ace of all time, putting him in the company of men like Michael Wittman and Kurt Knispel. This ultra-close scrutiny could not bear up over time and eventually his name was removed because nobody could find any corroborating evidence. (Not even General von Lederhosen.)
My father explained away most of these errors as simple typos, indistinct recollections, or petty jealousy by those sniping at him. He asserted that none had any bearing on the lessons of the actual events or historical value of the article. Boska authored an article in German about what really transpired in Vienna, but it never gained any traction in Germany or any visibility at all in the United States. However, my father used historical facts from it to further enhance his own fictitious tale.
Ridiculing the Critics
Langanke’s statements were the most damning however, particularly the turret number discrepancy that could not be explained away and its indication that my father never served in the unit. Moreover, he would not fade away like the rest of the critics. He refused to back down and demanded answers from the Armor journal editor. That is when my father kicked in with Rules for Radicals #5 (which he had never read, but instinctively knew) – “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” He scoured all of Langanke’s letters for any inconsistencies or flaws he could leverage to make him look like a fool. I helped him, hanging onto the shred of hope that my father was an honorable war hero instead of a fraud. I am not proud of having done this.
He found his lever in a small mistake Langanke made in an Army unit designation. Despite being accurate and correct about everything else, Langanke mistakenly referred to the German 6th Panzer Army as the 5th Panzer Army. That’s all it took. With grandiose flair and confidence, my father made the statement that nailed the coffin shut on Langanke’s criticism.
If Mr. Langanke cannot even get the Army number designation right … the big, huge Army that encapsulated all the combat in the region … then how can we have confidence that he is correct about something as small and insignificant as a tank turret number? Why are we even arguing about these trivial things? It only detracts from the historical lessons to be learned. Mr. Langanke clearly has some petty jealousy issues, and I will not stoop to his level.
It worked. The Armor journal editor bought it, the entire US Army Armor community bought it, everyone associated with my father in the United States bought it. He smeared an honorable man who was 100% in the right to protect his narcissistic façade of tank ace hero. I tried to contact Mr. Langanke in 2015 to apologize for my father’s actions, but he had died several years earlier. Perhaps it is for the best that we did not speak.
Arno Giessen never existed. The man claiming to be him was not a Waffen SS officer, or even in the Waffen SS. He was not a tank commander and probably never even set foot inside a tank during World War II. His claimed exploits in Vienna are false. His claim of being a Knight’s Cross recipient is false. His historical aggrandizements are false. He was a teenager drafted into the German army a few months before the war ended and, by accounts available, probably served in a maintenance recovery unit. He was rolled up by the Soviets during the mass surrenders at the end of the war, and then released within a year and a half because he was nobody of consequence. Any historical accounts or documents referencing any of his claims should also be considered false if there are no other credible corroborating sources.
Much of my father’s false history is still out there. He still appears as the #7 tank ace on some Google searches. Some historians still claim the JS-III actually saw action in World War II. The Arno Giesen action figure is still being sold. This is just a microcosm. If one insignificant narcissist can rewrite history like this, what do you think the powerful narcissists in our governments, academic institutions and media are doing? Google “Arno Giesen.” He’s still there over 25 years after his death. His narcissistic heart would be thrilled about that. As he stated dozens of times, almost daring to be called out, Americans are stupid. They can’t do the math. They will believe whatever I tell them.
I won’t name any of the authors who unknowingly propagated Arno Giesen’s fabrications. I believe they all acted on good faith and were simply misled by a very talented con artist who also misled thousands of others. They are easy to find on Google. Don’t bash or hound them. They are victims of my father’s narcissistic hubris and manipulation, as am I. But that’s another story. In the same vein, I have no desire to debate this topic with anyone, nor even discuss it. I spent decades of my life in a military career trying to live up to the bogus ideals of a complete fraud. I am done with it. I will not respond to any inquiries about it. I hope this sets straight the historical record.