Men of the Leibstandarte stand guard before their Fuhrer's office at the Berlin Chancellery (note the initials A H above the door). An identical duty was carried out at the Chancellor's residence in the Wilhelmstrasse.
Paul Hausser, commander of the I S.S Panzer Corps
Tanks and Sch端tzenpanzerwagen Das Reich
Blitzkrieg Preface BLITZKRIEG" or lightning war is not a German term for just any kind of quickly waged and violent war. It is a name for a special kind of quickly waged and violent war which has a technique of its own. The ideas which lie back of this technique began taking shape in Germany in the period after the failure of either the Allies or the Germans to break through on the Western Front during 1915 and 1916, and they matured after the outbreak of the civil war in Spain. While some of the guiding conceptions of the Blitzkrieg were tried out in Ethiopia, the results were not considered conclusive. The Ethiopians were a semi-savage people, and they lacked the modern armament and equipment necessary to offer the Italian invaders the kind of resistance essential if Blitzkrieg were to receive a real and complete battlefield test. But Spain furnished a fine proving ground. Then Albania was a dress rehearsal. And in Poland the system was put to the final proof. The technique of Blitzkrieg is based on the principle of surprise as opposed to an effort to crush an enemy by bringing an overwhelming superiority in numbers and armament to bear against him. It can be likened to the swift and deadly thrust of a rapier as opposed to the crushing blow of a battle-axe or a war club. The objective is not the enemy civilian population but the enemy armed forces, both ground and air. From the days of earliest military history, surprise has played a prominent part in winning victory. When coupled with better tactics -- that is, superior methods of combat on the battlefield -- surprise has always given victory against an enemy that relies on superior numbers and courage. The Christians talked of "Mongol hordes" in an effort to explain their own quick and bloody defeats at Mongol hands. There were no military Mongol hordes in superior numbers. Probably the Christians outnumbered the Mongols in all the battles fought. But the Mongols used their ability to make long, hard marches on their tough Asiatic horses to take by surprise the slow-moving, ponderous masses of knights, men-at-arms and foot soldiers composing the Christian armies. In battle the Mongols had a definite tactical scheme. First their mounted archers, keeping out of reach of the Christians, shot holes in their ranks. When in consequence a certain amount of confusion had been created, then -- and only then -- did they charge. The Christians had no tactics in the proper sense of the word. They simply moved 8/205
forward en masse, trusting to courage and numbers. The war of 1914-1918 offered a parallel, so far as fundamentals are concerned. The Allies, conscious of their superior potential resources, leaned strongly towards the idea of crushing Germany and AustriaHungary by sheer weight of numbers and metal. Too many of the Allied conferences held during the early years of the war resulted in nothing but an agreement for all the Allies -- West, East and South -to make a simultaneous general attack. The Allies adopted the usury idea of wearing the enemy down by killing and wounding large numbers of his troops. This method seemed particularly attractive because the enemy was distinctly inferior in man power. But it produced the really terrible Allied casualty lists. Nor did it result in any military advantage sufficient to compensate for even a fraction of the losses. The artillery preparations for the large-scale Allied and German attacks were kept up for days at a time. Enormous quantities of shells were "dumped" on enemy positions. Yet again and again when the infantry went forward they found enough enemy machine guns still in action to cause enormous losses. What was worse, while ground would be captured, the expected crumbling of the enemy and the opening of a path for a break-through to decisive victory did not materialize. The Allied attacks on the Somme, the German ones on Verdun, are the best examples of the fallacy of the idea of crushing an enemy by usury methods. As a consequence of these failures, leaders began seeking more and more for methods based on superior tactical skill and on surprise. Von Mackensen's break through the Russian line on the Dunajec River in 1915 was an example of superior tactics. He used the artillery rolling barrage to protect his advancing infantry -- the first time such a barrage had been used on a large scale. The successful British attack with tanks at Cambrai was a surprise. It was successful because of the use of a new instrument of war; the tank surprised the Germans. The successful German attack on the Russian Riga line was a surprise attack without a warning artillery preparation. The artillery gave close support to the infantry during its forward advance. In this advance there was no rigid timetable, with the infantry advancing at a given rate per minute back of an artillery barrage which moved forward according to a precise schedule. Instead, the artillery concentrated its fire on the localities in the enemy line which were the strongest and could offer the greatest resistance to the attacking infantry. While this was going on, the attacking infantry pushed in around the flanks of those positions and cut them off. If 9/205
they did not surrender, infantry was left to watch them while the main force went on. This happened regardless of whether or not troops on the right or left kept up. A considerable number of heavy trench mortars and light artillery kept up with the infantry to smash opposition where they could, and, where they could not, to smother it with a concentration of fire, while the infantry broke through the weaker spots and outflanked and cut off the stronger ones. The attack was like a tide coming in, rushing around the rocks which it cannot roll forward as it does the pebbles and shells. But the tide nevertheless finishes by submerging the rocks. The success of the Riga experiment led to the use of the method on a large scale against the British in March and April 1918, and against the French in May. These surprise attacks, employing new artillery and infantry tactics, were so successful that in each case they just missed achieving a complete break-through. Victory for Germany would probably have been the result had a break-through occurred. Fortunately, the Germans lacked the reserve necessary to keep the attacks going; while the Allies possessed reserves enough finally to stop them. The Germans were exhausted just as a break-through seemed imminent. The attack of July 15 and 16, 1918, from Ch창teau-Thierry on the Marne to Rheims, and thence across the Champagne to the Argonne Forest, was the last occasion when the Germans made this sort of an attack on a large scale. From just east of Ch창teau-Thierry to Rheims the attack penetrated deeply and threatened a break-through. However, in the Champagne new defensive tactics were used. Only a few men were left in the front line and the artillery and infantry were echeloned in depth. They barely succeeded in stopping the Germans.1 Once again, the probabilities are that the Germans would have broken through had they possessed the reserves to continue the attack. Then came the Franco-American counterattack from Ch창teauThierry to Soissons, begun on July 18. It drove deep into the western flank of the German salient which had been made by the May attack and enlarged by the successes on July 15 and 16 between Ch창teauThierry and Rheims. The continuation of this attack, and the tremendous increase in the Allied reserves due to the continuous arrival in France of the American troops by the hundreds of thousands, robbed Germany of the initiative and put her on the defensive until the Armistice ended the fighting. However, neither the events themselves nor the ensuing German defeat were evidence that the new method of attack was wrong. On the contrary, the more the record of the fighting was studied the clearer it 10/205
seemed that the method of surprise attack was correct. Such was the origin of the idea of the Blitzkrieg, which gradually developed in German minds. It offered a technique of successful surprise and of the exploitation of it by tactics which could rapidly be adjusted to meet successfully each local situation, rather than a plan of formal tactics based on artillery and infantry timetables rigidly laid down before the battle. However, the children of the gas engine -- the tank, the armored car and the airplane -- played only a limited part in the German attacks which I have described above. The Germans had but few tanks. Their airplanes did a limited amount of bombing and machine gunning of troops on the ground; but the technique had not yet been evolved for enabling airplanes to give full and continuous support in an attack. The British and French, however, had developed the tank and had been devoting considerable effort to a study of its best tactical uses. From the beginning their views diverged into two separate conceptions. The French considered the tank as an accompanying weapon to help the infantry overcome enemy machine guns and move forward. They therefore distributed it along the line of the attacking infantry. The British used this type of tank tactics also. But more and more a school developed in England which wanted the tanks utilized in groups, to smash a hole entirely through the enemy line; the tanks would use their own speed and fire power and would not be held down to the pace of the accompanying infantry. In general, the partisans of this plan wished to revive something like the crushing charge of the armored knight against the unarmored foot soldier. On August 8, 1918, such an attack was made. It was a great success. The lack of morale shown by the German foot soldier on this occasion caused Ludendorff to call August 8 the black day of the war. Believers in the tank as a weapon in itself, as opposed to the conception that it was merely a weapon to support the infantry, were jubilant. The leader of this school of thought was General Fuller, who, I believe, possesses one of the most brilliant military minds so far produced in this century. Since 1918 he has had more to do than any other soldier with developing the uses of the tank, armored car and other motor vehicles for land combat. In planning the Blitzkrieg, the Germans adopted many of his ideas. Another officer whose brilliant military mind has helped shape the Blitzkrieg technique is an Italian, General Giulio Douhet. Soldiers have long studied the problems involved in breaking through a relatively short front when there is a dense population in the rear trained and ready to come to arms within a few days. Some believers 11/205
in the growing power of aviation argued that the airplane provided the answer. Airplanes would bomb the civilian population and so shatter their morale that whether or not the nation had been trained in universal military service it would sue for peace even before its army had been beaten in battle. General Giulio Douhet's name has been erroneously attached to this idea. What he advocated was the preparation in time of peace of a large aviation force which, when war comes, will be ready to take off into enemy country without delay. Its objective would not be the civilian population, but the things used by a country first to mobilize and then to concentrate its war strength. "Mobilization" is calling to the colors the civilians who form the trained reserve. This takes time. "Concentration" is moving the units of the army, after they have been raised to war strength, from the places of local assembly -- by rail, ship, bus and on foot -- to the localities where they are to commence fighting. This also takes time. Thus the essential in each of the two processes needed to bring even the most modern, up-to-date army to the point where it can become effective is time. But a large aviation, prepared in advance, needs no time in order to become effective. It already is mobilized and concentrated. It can start immediately for its goal. From this fact there followed a logical deduction. Why not use an air force against those means which an enemy uses, first to mobilize his troops and then to concentrate them? The means in question consists of barracks, stables, gun sheds, arsenals, railways, railway stations, bridges, ships, docks, electric light plants and power plants of all kinds. As Douhet conceived it, aviation would be used to make a surprise attack; but the surprise would not be in respect to the places attacked but in respect to the moment of the attack. Up to the start of the Italian campaign in Ethiopia those military experts who were trying to decide what new equipment science and industry had placed in the locker of Mars, in order to make more effective use of the age-old principles of surprise, had reached three main conclusions: 1, despite the development of trench systems, surprise based on adequate artillery and infantry tactics was still feasible; 2, under certain circumstances, an attack of a large number of tanks can produce an effect which is decisive locally if not for the whole front; and 3, the essential factor is time. Even nations with conscript armies need a period of about ten days to complete mobilization, and a further period for concentration. Now no nation can afford to mobilize and concentrate its full body of troops in peacetime as a merely precautionary measure, still less can it remain in that condition indefi12/205
nitely. Therefore, the period required by a potential enemy for mobilization and concentration provides an opportunity for effective surprise; and this is a type of attack for which the machine children of the gas engine are especially fitted. It was to prevent a German surprise attack of this sort that the Maginot Line was conceived and built. Knowing that partially garrisoned fortifications can be captured by surprise, the French created a special corps of troops to garrison it permanently. Ethiopia provided new experience and new ideas. I shall not go into details. Suffice it to say that the Italians found that while aviation alone could seriously damage the enemy by bombing points of military importance out of artillery reach, such bombings did not produce decisive results. Only when the aviation acted in direct support of troops operating on the ground were decisive victories gained. They also found that tanks operating alone not only failed to produce decisive results but frequently were in great danger, and sometimes were lost, when surrounded by enemy infantry. They found, further, that tanks operating in conjunction with infantry, artillery, cavalry and aviation as well produced excellent results. In other words, the conclusion reached in Ethiopia was that tanks and aviation, far from replacing ground troops in any way, simply added two more essentials to an up-to-date army. Furthermore, despite Italian achievements in road building, the Italians found as they advanced that mechanized transport was not a substitute for animals if their troops were to be able to fight and were to be supplied anywhere and everywhere. In Ethiopia, the Italians used many thousands of horses, mules, donkeys and camels. In other words, neither in combat nor on the march had the gas engine and its progeny replaced the known tools of war. They had simply added to their number. However, due to the speed of the new mechanical instruments, the possibility of surprise attack had, under certain conditions, been tremendously increased. In cases where mechanized and motorized troops 2 supported by airplanes could act, a surprise blow could be struck in a way never before possible. However, the conclusions drawn from the Italian campaign in Ethiopia were tentative. They could not be considered conclusive because the Ethiopians were deficient in artillery of all types, and had practically no tanks or aviation at all. But new opportunities for experimentation soon were provided in Spain. Until the battle of Teruel in the winter of 1937-38 the civil conflict in Spain did not assume the character of what could be defined as war (grand warfare); it consisted merely of isolated operations (minor warfare). Beginning with the 13/205
battle of Teruel, however, and continuing through the final campaign in Catalonia, the number of troops, guns, tanks and planes engaged was sufficiently large to permit one to draw some definite conclusions. 3 The operations in the final period of warfare in Spain fall into two categories -- hard-fought, knockdown and drag-out battles; and pursuits. Teruel, Alfambra, Sarri贸n, Ebro and Segre belong in the first class. The separate operations leading up to the advance on and capture of Castell贸n-de-la-Plana consisted of a series of stubborn small battles fought along a wide front. The operations after Alfambra, terminated only when Franco reached the Segre and Ebro Rivers and the Mediterranean at Vinaroz, were a large-scale pursuit. The operations in Catalonia after the crossing of the Segre and Ebro Rivers and the capture of the main positions beyond were another large-scale pursuit. It terminated only when the remnants of the governmental armies were driven across the French frontier. The results showed that weapons and tactics essential in one of the two categories of fighting were frequently of little use in the other. In a hard-fought battle the ability to give and take hard blows was proved to be absolutely necessary. Speed at the sacrifice of this ability introduced dangers which frequently led to defeat. Therefore artillery with first-class fire power, heavily armed infantry, armored tanks with cannon and huge quantities of ammunition were required or else defeat was certain. Similarly, the ability of such troops and their supplies to move fast was entirely subordinate to their ability to march and fight regardless of the difficulties of terrain. Therefore, while motor transport and mechanized heavy artillery and tanks were used wherever the ground permitted, the troops as a whole depended upon horses, mules and donkeys. For pursuit, on the other hand, the primary requisite was speed, in combination with enough combat power to overcome whatever minor resistance rear guards and the braver elements of defeated troops might put up. The elements that produced the best results were light speedy tanks armed with machine guns, armored cars and motorcycle infantry where the terrain permitted their use; on other terrains, horse cavalry was needed. All this had to be backed up by infantry and by artillery carried in motor trucks where that was possible; in other cases infantry had to march. As the pursuit continued, the infantry would be more and more outdistanced until it was as much as several days in the rear. The light tanks were shown to be useless in heavy battle because where they were not destroyed by artillery fire they were burnt or cap14/205
tured by the enemy infantry. Even the armored tanks that carried cannon failed when they attacked enemy infantry alone. 4 They proved useful only when they attacked with, and were backed up by, their own infantry, preceded first by a heavy artillery bombardment and then by a heavy aviation bombardment of the enemy position. Thus for hard-fought combat the French theory of tanks as infantry support weapons proved to be correct; while for pursuit General Fuller's theory of mechanized vehicles acting independently was shown to be correct. In Spain aviation played a r么le which few had foreseen in advance. Such reliable evidence as exists shows that bombing of civilian populations did not produce results worth the risk to planes and pilots, particularly where modern anti-aircraft fire had to be faced. Bombing of important military objectives far in the rear, in accordance with Douhet's theory, while producing considerable damage, was never decisive. This was due to the fact that since airplanes are unable to capture (i.e. occupy) and hold territory, they could not prevent the enemy from renewing activity in the localities which had been bombed as soon as the bombing ceased. Also, due to lack of accuracy in bombing and an inability to keep up the bombing incessantly, the destruction accomplished was never total. However, in battle and pursuit, the r么le played by the Spanish, Italian and German aviation was so important that we are safe in saying that in battle where two sides are equal in everything but aviation, the side which possesses it and uses it as it was used in Spain will win. In heavy combat, as the preparatory artillery fire ceased, heavy bombing planes bombed and re-bombed the enemy positions from one end to the other. This was followed, during the advance of the attacking infantry and tanks, by continuous diving attacks and light bombing and machine gunning of the enemy positions by the assault aviation. For pursuit, airplanes bombed and machine gunned retreating enemy elements far to the rear. Their bombs and heavy machine guns also furnished the light mechanized and horse cavalry with the high-explosive and heavy machine gun fire which their artillery and heavy machine guns frequently could not provide because they were unable to keep up. In other words, this support from the aviation prevented the artillery and heavy machine guns of the enemy's rear guard from holding up the light mechanized forces and horse cavalry, which would have given the main enemy forces a chance to retreat in order or to organize a new defensive position. Thus in the one real test, that of battle, the Spanish war proved: 1, that the children of the gas engine could not accomplish decisive re15/205
sults alone; 2, that in heavy combat, while their support is essential, they are subordinate to the infantry and artillery, as their speed cannot compensate for their inability (unlike the infantry and artillery) to take and give heavy blows; and 3, that for pursuit, or against an enemy lacking the artillery of various types and the tanks and aviation necessary for successful defense, light and mechanized forces supported by aviation can strike surprise blows which may prove decisive. With the acceptance by the German and Italian High Commands and General Staffs of the accuracy of this third conclusion, and following the reorganization and rearmament of their armed forces accordingly, the long evolution of the theory of Blitzkrieg was over. It was ready for use as a well-rounded conception of military strategy. It is important to note the difference between the third and the second conclusions just recorded. The third lies at the basis of the idea of Blitzkrieg; the second indicates conditions under which it could not work and therefore should not be tried. Thus Blitzkrieg would not be tried against the Maginot Line. Nor, probably, would it be tried against an enemy with a strong air force and numerous large-caliber anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns -- in other words, an enemy prepared not only to engage in hard combat against infantry and artillery but also against tanks, armored cars and aviation. The seizure of Albania gave the Italians the opportunity to indulge in a dress rehearsal of Blitzkrieg. They knew just what force the Albanians could mobilize and how long mobilization would require. They knew that while the Albanians, once they were mobilized, could put a respectable force of infantry and field artillery into the field, they lacked aviation, armored tanks with cannon, and large-caliber antiaircraft and anti-tank guns. In other words, the period needed by the Albanians for mobilization provided the time needed to execute a successful surprise attack. Lack of matĂŠriel for heavy combat meant that the Albanian power of resistance against aviation and light troop attacks was so slight that the Italians need not send across the Adriatic the troops and matĂŠriel necessary for heavy combat. Actually they sent only 23,000 light troops, backed up by armored motorized divisions and supported by aviation. The reports that these troops had to make numerous assaults before they succeeded in landing are not supported 5 by reliable evidence. Inside of a few days the light armored cars and motorcycle troops, backed by more heavily armored and armed mechanized troops, and supported by aviation, had occupied all of Albania. Twelve hundred Grenadier Guard Infantry, fully 16/205
equipped and armed, were flown over the Adriatic and landed near the capital just as the advance elements of the light troops entered the city. If the light troops had met with any resistance from King Zog's troops, the Grenadiers were there to reinforce them. It was all over before the average Albanian knew what was happening. The Albanian dress rehearsal showed that the technique of Blitzkrieg had been properly developed. The suppression of the Polish Republic proved that a brave, wellarmed, well-equipped and well-trained army, according to ordinary standards, is incapable of resisting a Blitzkrieg attack. True, the Poles made strategic errors in trying to defend all of Poland, instead of accepting the invasion of the western part of their territory as a necessary evil and concentrating their army where it could have made the most effective resistance. But even if they had adopted this correct strategical procedure they would have been beaten. The reason for this statement is that the Poles lacked the aviation, the well-armored tanks with cannon, and the large-caliber anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns which would be needed to stop and defeat a Blitzkrieg force. And I might say in passing that the Regular Army and National Guard of the United States would fare no better today, and for exactly the same reason. The Blitzkrieg technique, as exemplified so successfully in Poland, follows certain well-defined successive steps: 1. An airplane attack is made on all enemy aviation and aĂŤrodromes. 2. An airplane attack is made on all railway junctions and stations, barracks, depots, bridges, and motor convoys on roads -- that is, everything used by an army for mobilization and concentration. (If the aviation is large enough it carries out 1 and 2 simultaneously.) 3. While this is going on, the artillery of all calibers which already is in place near the border heavily shells all the enemy batteries, trenches and other works, while the regular infantry assaults and takes them. Heavy bombing and light diving bombing and machine gunning by airplanes assist this preparation. These operations by the troops armed and trained for hard combat open the way for the Blitzkrieg troops. Of course, if there are no minor fortifications or organized resistance of any kind at the frontier, this step is not necessary. In those circumstances the Blitzkrieg troops start their invasion directly after steps 1 and 2 have been executed. 4. The light divisions made up of motorcycle infantry and machine guns, armored cars, light tanks (carried in trucks), horse cavalry, and sometimes horse artillery (light) and artillery carried in trucks, lead the way. 17/205
5. After the light divisions come the armored divisions, each composed of about 400 tanks (generally medium-sized), motorized infantry, artillery, anti-tank and anti-aircraft artillery, and engineers. The light and armored divisions are closely supported by aviation, which is ready at all times with heavy bombing planes and diving light bombing and machine gun planes to help overcome any enemy resistance. 6. Next come infantry and artillery in motor trucks. Italy also has arrangements to pick up infantry units and fly them wherever needed. Reliable reports indicate that Germany has at least four regularly organized air regiments, each consisting of a fully equipped and armed regiment of infantry, with the transport planes necessary to fly them all at one and the same time. The purpose of these is to reinforce quickly the light and armored divisions should they meet with more resistance than they can overcome with their aviation support. The troops would not be landed by parachute in the rear of the enemy, a procedure few military men would care to sanction; troops so landed would probably be a present to the enemy. Instead, the airplanes land just out of enemy artillery range, in the rear of their own troops. The Blitzkrieg troops do not attempt to engage in knockdown, dragout combat with enemy troops prepared for this type of fighting. Instead, they go around the flanks, leaving the other job to the regular divisions which come plodding along in the rear. No nation in Central Europe or the Balkans is armed and equipped, any more than was Poland, to withstand a Blitzkrieg attack. Nor is Turkey. The possibility therefore is that in the not distant future either Germany or Italy, or both, will use their special light and armored divisions and aviation to enforce their will in these regions should any of the countries involved dare to be intractable either economically or militarily. Common interpretation The classic interpretation of blitzkrieg is that of German tactical and operational methodology in the first half of the Second World War that was often hailed as a new method of warfare. The word, meaning "lightning war", in its strategic means is associated with a series of quick and decisive short battles to deliver a knockout blow to an enemy state before it could fully mobilize. The tactical meaning of blitzkrieg involves a coordinated military effort by tanks, mobilized infantry, artillery and aircraft, to create an overwhelming local superiority in combat power, to overwhelm an enemy and break through its lines. Blitzkrieg as used by Germany had considerable psychological, 18/205
or as some writers call, "terror" elements, such as the noise-making sirens on the Junkers Ju 87 dive-bombers to affect the morale of enemy forces. The devices were largely removed when the enemy became used to the noise, after the Battle of France in 1940, bombs sometimes having whistles attached instead. It is also common for writers to include psychological tactics behind the line, using Fifth columnists to spread rumours and untruths among the civil population in the theatre of operations. The origins of the term blitzkrieg are obscure. It was never used in the title of a military doctrine or handbook of the German army or air force. It seems rarely to have been used in the German military press before 1939. Recent research conducted at the German military historical institute at Freiburg has found only two military articles from the 1930s in which it is employed. Neither article advocates any radically new military doctrine or approach to war. Both use the term simply to mean a swift strategic knockout. The first, published in 1935, deals primarily with food (and to a lesser extent with raw material) supplies in wartime. The term blitzkrieg is here employed with reference to Germanyâ€™s efforts to win a quick victory in the First World War and is not associated with the use of armoured or mechanised forces or with airpower. The argument is that Germany must develop self-sufficiency in food supplies because it might again prove impossible to deal a swift knockout to her enemies and a protracted total war might prove unavoidable. The second article, published in 1938, states that launching a swift strategic knockout has great attractions for Germany but appears to accept that such a knockout will be very difficult to achieve by land attack under modern conditions (especially in view of the existence of systems of fortification like the Maginot Line) unless an exceptionally high degree of surprise is achieved. The author vaguely suggests that a massive strategic air attack might hold out better prospects, but that topic is not explored in any detail. Another relatively early use of the term in a German-language work was in a book by Fritz Sternberg, a Jewish Marxist political economist who was a refugee from the Third Reich. Entitled Die Deutsche KriegsstĂ¤rke (German War Strength), it was published in Paris in 1939. It had been preceded by an English-language edition of 1938 called Germany and a Lightning War. The German edition uses the term blitzkrieg. The bookâ€™s argument is that Germany is not prepared economically for a long war but might win a lightning war. It does not treat in any detail operational and tactical matters, and does not suggest that the German armed forces have evolved a radically new op19/205
erational method. It offers scant clues as to how German lightning victories might be won. Battle of Prokhorovka The Battle of Prokhorovka (12 July 1943) was fought on the Eastern Front during the Second World War as part of the Battle of Kursk in the Soviet Union (450 kilometers / 280 miles south of Moscow). Principally, the German Wehrmacht's Fourth Panzer Army clashed with the Soviet Red Army's 5th Guards Tank Army. It is the largest tank battle in military history. On 5 July 1943 the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht launched Operation Citadel. The aim of the German High Command was to destroy the considerable Soviet forces in the Kursk salient. Destroying the Red Army in the field would recover the strategic initiative for the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front. The operation was to be achieved by five German field armies, which were to strike in a pincer movement on either side of the Kursk Bulge. The Soviet Supreme Command, the Stavka, foresaw the German attack and prepared a defence in depth along the lines of the military deep operations theory. Soviet marshal Georgy Zhukov convinced Joseph Stalin that the Red Army should remain defensive and wear down the German Army. When the German forces had been worn down sufficiently by the Red Army defence, the Soviets would release their operational reserve in a counter-offensive to destroy the weakened German spearhead. In the ensuing Battle of Kursk, German forces were halted on the northern Orel sector. However, in the south the formations of Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS achieved a deeper penetration, approaching Prokhorovka. The Red Army was forced to commit its operational reserves sooner than it would have wished. The resulting clash of armour occurred on 12 July 1943 and became known as one of the largest tank battles in history. This was the pivotal battle of the German offensive to encircle Soviet forces in the Kursk salient. Its culmination and outcome are a matter of contention. The German assault failed to achieve its objective. The Soviets succeeded in winning a series of defensive engagements and prevented the German formations breaking through their lines, but Soviet attacks against German positions were repulsed. By the end of the battle both sides had suffered heavy losses. The Soviet losses were much higher, but larger operational and strategic manpower and materiel reserves enabled the Red Army to retain the strategic and operational initiative. 20/205
Background In the winter of 1942–1943 the German Sixth Army had been lost during the Battle of Stalingrad. The subsequent Soviet operations— Operation Uranus, Operation Winter Storm, and Operation Little Saturn—threatened the position of Army Group South. The Soviet operations, if successful, may have destroyed the entire Army Group. These operations led to the liberation of most of the Caucasus from German occupation at a cost of only 70,000 casualties. Keen for more success, Stalin had ordered the Red Army to encircle German Army Group South by thrusting through to Rostov-on-Don. The Red Army advanced but became overstretched. Erich von Manstein recognised this and organised an improvised counter-offensive which resulted in the Third Battle of Kharkov. In a repeat of the Second Battle of Kharkov, mobile German forces pinched off the flanks of the Soviet spearhead and destroyed them. The German victory had enabled the Wehrmacht and SS forces to recapture Kharkov on 14 March 1943 and drove the Red Army back over the northern Don River. In the process they punched a bulge into the Soviet lines to create a salient some 150 miles from north to south. The Germans took some 9,000 prisoners and counted 23,000 Soviet dead. Soviet figures counted 45,000 killed and captured. German forces also recaptured Belgorod to the south of Kursk, but the Soviets held Kursk. The German advance beyond Kharkov was soon slowed to a halt as Soviet resistance grew stronger. Neither had the strength to continue offensive operations and the Kursk salient was formed. Adolf Hitler and the German High Command selected the relatively narrow Kursk sector for their next major offensive in an attempt to crush Soviet operational and strategic reserves. This was to restore equilibrium to the Eastern Front and win back the strategic initiative. Soviet intelligence recognised the Kursk bulge would be the focus of a major German offensive in the summer. The Soviet strategic defence of Kursk, unlike Moscow in 1941, would not occur along the entire front. This enabled the Soviets to prepare a strong defence in depth of up to 100 kilometres deep. The Soviets committed 10 Soviet Army Fronts, containing 40 combined armies and five tank armies operating on a 2000 kilometre front to a depth of 600–700 kilometres. The Stavka authorised a defensive strategy aimed at wearing down the German spearhead by forcing them to breakthrough multiple lines of heavily fortified positions, defended by Soviet units with combined arms capabilities. When the German offensive withered, the Soviet operational armour reserves would be released to counterattack and destroy the weakened enemy 21/205
The Forces German The German forces involved were primarily from three Waffen-SS divisions, all of which had already suffered losses during the preceding days. The 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich, and 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf had begun the offensive with 456 tanks and 137 assault guns, including only 35 Tiger I tanks. A further brigade may have been involved in the fighting; the 10th Panzer Brigade had been created on 23 June 1943 and had 45 Tiger tanks on strength. It is possible that this unit joined the 2nd SS Panzer Division, which would have bolstered its strength to 70 Tigers. The total number of tanks and assault guns available on 11 July was about 400, including 70 Tigers. Soviet sources claim that the Germans possessed 500–700 tanks. German sources are not complete for tank strength returns of 12 July. According to available German sources, 294 German tanks were available on 11 July between the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd SS Panzergrenadier Divisions (77, 95, and 122 tanks respectively). The following day, 12 July, the figures for the 1st SS Panzergrenadier Division are unknown, but the strength returns for the remaining two divisions were 103 and 121. On 13 July, returns indicate 70, 107, and 74 tanks available. By 14 July the returns were 78, 115, and 73 tanks. On 15 July, a decrease to 85, 99, and 77 was recorded. The last record, for 16 July, recorded 96, 103, and 96 tanks operational for the three divisions. The II SS Panzer Corps began the Battle of Kursk with 494 tanks; by 12 July its strength had dropped by exactly 200. German air power amounted to one Luftwaffe Korps, VIII Fliegerkorps. It had 966 aircraft on its order of battle on 5 July 1943. Attrition had been low over the previous week. Between 5–8 July, the Generalquartiermeister der Luftwaffe reported the loss of only 41 aircraft. Losses for the period 8–11 July are not clear, although it is known that around 220 aircraft were lost altogether on the southern face of the Kursk bulge between 5–31 July. Soviet On the Soviet side the main formation involved was the 5th Guards Tank Army. The total tank strength of the army stood at ca. 800–850 tanks. Many of these, however, were the light T-70 tanks. The 5th Guards Tank Army had some 409 T-34, 188 T-70, 31 Churchill infantry tanks, 48 self-propelled guns of the SU-122 and SU-76 type, and a small but unknown number of heavy KV-1 tanks. Contrary to claims 22/205
in some accounts of the battle, no SU-152 or SU-85 assault guns were fielded. According to Soviet sources these figures do not include the 2nd Tank Corps, 2nd Guards Tank Corps, or the 1529th Self-propelled gun Regiment. The Red Army fielded the Soviet 2nd Guards Tank Corps and Soviet 29th Tank Corps, Soviet 18th Tank Corps in the first echelon. The Soviet 5th mechanised Corps and the already weakened Soviet 2nd Tank Corps were kept in reserve. The 18th Tank Corps fielded 144 tanks on the afternoon of 11 July, while the 29th Tank Corps fielded 212 tanks and self-propelled guns. Together with the formations committed during the day, the total number of Soviet tanks in the battle probably reached 500. The Soviet 1st Tank Army also attacked elements of the German XLVIII Panzer Corps, but this was not directly related to the tank battle of Prokhorovka. Research reveals that 294 German and 616 Soviet armoured fighting vehicles (AFV), up to a maximum of 429 German and 870 Soviet AFV took part in the battle of Prokhorovka. Soviet aviation amounted to a weak concentration of forces. The Red Air Force's 2nd Air Army, despite bitter losses in the past week, could muster 472 operational aircraft. Of this fleet, 266 were fighter aircraft, 160 Russian bombers and 90 Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmoviks. The 17th Air Army was also committed. It had also suffered a high attrition rate but could field some 300 operational aircraft. Air power was thus even, making it imperative that it be used wisely
Order of Battle German Army Army Group Centre (G端nther von Kluge)
Army Group South Erich von Manstein
Soviet Army Western Front Vasili Sokolovsky
Bryansk Front (Markian Popov)
Central Front Konstantin Rokossovsky
Voronezh Front Nikolai Vatutin
Steppe Front Ivan Konev
German advance before Prokhorovka After several delays in waiting for the new equipment to reach the front, the German offensive was launched on 5 July 1943. Generaloberst Hermann Hoth's 4th Panzer Army, spearheaded by the II SS Panzer Corps, had fought through 10â€“15 miles of Soviet defenses consisting of high-density minefields, entrenched infantry, and anti-tank guns arranged in elaborate pakfront anti-tank zones. The attack penetrated into the third defensive to a depth of 35 kilometers but was stopped by the 1st Guards Tank Army on the third day of the offensive. II SS Panzer Corps managed to defeat the 1st and 2nd defense belt on its first and second day of the offensive. The attack was slowed down by contant Soviet armoured counterattacks and many infantry divisions brought up from the Reserve on the 3rd and next 7 days. Between 5 and 11 July, the II SS Panzer Corps came close to driving a wedge between the 1st Guards Tank Army and Soviet 69th Army. The battles had been difficult, but the Fourth Panzer Army had managed to break through the main Soviet defence zones. The Germans claimed 1,000 Soviet tanks destroyed since 5 July. The 48th Panzer Corps alone claimed to have eliminated 1,300 Soviet soldiers and to have taken 7,000 Soviet prisoners. The 48th claimed to have destroyed or captured 170 Soviet tanks and 180 heavy mortars along with large amounts of Russian anti-tank and artillery guns.
The II SS Panzer Corps broke through the third line of Soviet defences at Prokhorovka. The Germans wrongly believed they had made a breakthrough and they prepared to exploit the opportunity the following day. They thought they had defeated the last of the Soviet reserve units, but unknown to the Germans, the Steppe Front under Ivan Konev stood ready as a reserve to conduct a counter-offensive. Following the German success up to 11 July, and against Konev's protests, Zhukov allowed the Stavka to release two Russian made armies, the 5th Guards Tank Army under General Pavel Rotmistrov and the 5th Guards Army from Steppe Front to meet the German threat. The 42nd Guards Rifle Division was committed immediately. After forced road marches, the Soviet forces reached Prokhorovka on the night of 11 July. The Soviet Fronts were now ready to launch their counter offensive. German offensive plans The German plan at Prokhorovka was to press on with the general campaign plan for Citadel by forcing the Soviet defences open in the south and link up with the northern pincer at Kursk. The attack coincided with an effort by the 48th Panzer Corps to thrust against the Psyol River to the south west. The station of Prokhorovka was the 31/205
prime tactical target. The capture of the station, it was hoped, would enable a breakthrough by the Fourth Panzer Army in this sector. This would allow the Wehrmacht to break into the operational and strategic depths of the Soviet rear and to complete the encirclement of the Soviet forces in and around Kursk. Soviet counter offensive plans The Kursk battle had reached its critical point on 11 and 12 July. The penetration by II SS Panzer Corps succeeded in reaching the Prokhorovka station and threatened to encircle the Soviet 1st Tank Army. The station lay in the heart of the Voronezh Front defences. On 11 July, Marshal Zhukov ordered a counter offensive of five Soviet armies, including two from the Steppe Front against the spearhead to begin on 12 July. The Soviet armies, together with the 1st Tank Army under Major-General Mikhail Katukov, were supposed to attack the German forces and cut off the penetration from the Russian river in Prochorovka, trapping and then destroying the advanced German forces. The attack by 5th Guards Tank Army was aimed at the II SS Panzer Corps, while the other three armies were attacking XLVIII Panzer Corps and LII Army Corps. The attack plan for 5th Guards Tank Army had major shortcomings, in that it neglected a proper artillery preparation, ordered the Soviet tankers to use high speed to overcome the shortcomings in armour and weaponry of their tanks, and put the main attack into a sector in which an anti-tank ditch dug by Soviet troops protected the German forces to some degree. Moreover, most of the Soviet aviation was concentrated on the northern flank of the southern sector, leaving the Luftwaffe in complete control of the skies over Prokhorovka. To complicate matters further, the Soviet air-to-ground communication system failed resulting in German aviation delivering heavy losses against the Russians in the opening hours. The battle The morning battles At 06:50 hours on 12 July, the II SS Panzer Corps began their attack. Simultaneously, the Soviets initiated their opening offensive moves. Aircraft from both sides arrived over their respective support points and a huge aerial battle developed. The II SS reported "very strong enemy air activity [...] at 07:10Âť.For the first time during the Kursk battle, the Soviet Air Armies had flown more sorties than the Luftwaffe over the southern sector. The 17 and 2 Air Armies flew 893 sor32/205
ties while the VIII Fliegerkorps flew some 654 missions. The Luftwaffe units were ordered by the commander of VIII. Fliegerkorps Hans Seidemann to concentrate on covering the advance of the II SS. The attack by the 48th Panzer Corps further north was to be given only sporadic support by Jagdgeschwader 3 and Jagdgeschwader 52. The air battle became critical to the success of the respective attacks of Soviet and German ground forces. Without proper defensive air support, and in the face of Soviet aerial assaults, the 48th Panzer Corps was forced onto the defensive. The 11th Panzer Division noted, "there was some German air activity but more Soviet, including some dive-bomber attacks". To increase the pressure, the 48th Panzer Corps was engaged by the Soviet 10th Tank Corps and the Soviet 1st Tank Army. However, the Luftwaffe also struck back with ground attack missions. Heinkel He 111s inflicted heavy losses on Soviet 69th Army and the 5th Guards Tank Army. Such was the weakness of both sides' fighter forces that no losses in this sector were reported on 12 July. One result of the inactivity of the Luftwaffe over the 48th Panzer Corps was that the Panzerkorps halted its offensive action. Without any supporting diversion attacks, the II SS launched its assault against the 5th Guards Tanks Army. Both the 5th Guards and the II SS had launched their offensives simultaneously. The German plan was for Totenkopf to launch an assault north of the Psel to extend the bridgehead that had been gained there. The Das Reich and Leibstandarte SS divisions were not involved in the assault, and had a defensive mission until Totenkopf reported a success. The Soviet attack started at 09:15. General-Leytenant Rotmistrov committed around 430 tanks and assault guns in a frontal attack, with another 70 following in a second wave. The attack was a disaster. The Luftwaffe responded quickly to air support requests and large formations of Junkers Ju 87 Stukas, bomb-carrying Focke-Wulf Fw 190s and Henschel Hs 129 tank busters equipped with BK 37 37 mm Bordkanone appeared over the Soviet armoured formations. The Soviet tanks were caught out in the open. Supported by German artillery and German tank fire, the attack was defeated. The battlefield was covered in thick smoke from exploding Soviet tanks, making it difficult for either side to see. Normally the 37 mm was not enough to destroy a Soviet tank. But the Soviets, expecting light resistance at first, had left their metal fuel containers on their rear engine blocks. The Soviet 31st Tank brigade attached to the 29th Tank Corps reported, "We suffer heavy losses in tanks through enemy artillery and 33/205
aircraft. At 10:30 hours our tanks reached the Komsomolets state farm, but due to continuous air attacks, they were unable to advance any further and shifted to the defence". In total the 5th Guards Tank Army, Soviet 18th Tank Corps, and the 29th Tank Corps lost some 400 of their 800 tanks in the morning attack. One reason for the failure was the lack on the part of the Soviets of an efficient air-to-ground system. The Soviet air assault units could not react quickly enough to sudden enemy movements. Moreover, the 2nd and 17th Air Armies were concentrated over the 48th Panzer Corps giving the Luftwaffe unhindered access to the exposed Soviet armour. The Soviet 31st Tank Corps commander reported, "Our own air cover was fully absent until 13:00 hours". The 5th Guards Tank Army complained, "the enemy's aircraft literally hung above our combat formations throughout the entire battle, while our own aircraft, and particularly the fighter aviation, was totally insufficient". Afternoon battles The reserves of 5th Guards Tank Army had to be sent south, to defend against a German attack by III Panzer Corps. With the loss of these reserves, any hope that may have been left of dealing a major defeat through offensive action to the II SS Panzer Corps ended. But German advances also failed. Despite appalling losses, the Soviet Tank Armies held the line and prevented the II SS from making a breakthrough. Most of the tank battles were fought in fairly close quarters as the Soviets learned from their defeat in the morning action. The losses in men were roughly 5,500 on the Soviet side and 850 on the German. Tank losses are disputed, but around 300 Soviet and 70 to 80 German AFV were lost in the German offensive actions. The outcome While the exact losses on each side cannot be established precisely, the outcome is clearer. Neither the Fifth Guards Tank Army nor the II SS Panzer Corps accomplished their objectives that day. The sudden and violent attack by strong Soviet reserves and the need to break off the assault by the German 9th Army on the northern shoulder of the Kursk salient due to Operation Kutuzov contributed to the decision of Adolf Hitler to discontinue the attack, the implications of which made him 'sick to his stomach' when he considered it. A parallel attack by the Red Army against the new 6th Army on the Mius river south of Kharkov necessitated the withdrawal of reserve forces held to exploit any success on the southern shoulder of Kursk, and the OKW also had to draw on some German troops from the 34/205
Eastern Front to bolster the Mediterranean theater following the Anglo-American invasion of Sicily on the night of 9â€“10 July 1943. Regardless of the tactical outcome, the Battle of Prokhorovka was turned into a critical propaganda and operational victory for the Red Army. The Germans had first thought they were almost through the defenses and were expecting nothing more than a few anti-tank guns; instead, they met over 800 tanks. Clearly the Soviets were not beaten, and this had a significant impact upon German decision making.
The German advantage in quality of officers and men was now eroding and the self-confident Soviets were ready to begin launching larger offensives and driving the German forces back towards Germany. From this point forward, the strategic initiative would remain with the Red Army. The end of Zitadelle in the south While the German offensive had been stopped in the north by 10 July, in the south the overall situation still hung in the balance, even after 12 July. German forces on the southern wing, exhausted and heavily depleted, had breached the first two defensive belts and believed that they were about to break through the last belt. In fact at least five more defensive zones awaited them, although they were not 35/205
as strong as the initial belts, and some of them did not have troops deployed. Red Army defenders had been weakened, and major parts of their reserve forces had been committed. Still, the available uncommitted Red Army reserves were far larger than the few available German reserves. On 16 July, German forces withdrew to their start line. Severely depleted, the Germans then had to face Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev, an offensive launched to smash the German forces in the Belgorod–Kharkov area which was launched on 3 August. Belgorod fell on 5 August, and on 23 August, Kharkov fell, despite fierce resistance from German forces. With the capture of Kharkov, the Soviets considered the Battle of Kursk over. Southern analysis The German forces made steady progress, but, as in the north, attack frontage width and penetration depth tended to drop as the attack proceeded. The trend was not as marked as in the north, however. A 30-kilometer-wide (19 mi) attack frontage on 5 July became 20 km wide by 7 July and 15 km by 9 July. Likewise, the depth of penetration dropped from 9 km on 5 July to 5 km on 8 July and 2–3 km each day thereafter until the attack was cancelled. Red Army minefields and artillery were successful in delaying the German attack and inflicting losses. The ability of dug-in Red Army units to delay the Germans allowed their own reserves to be brought up into threatened sectors. Over 90,000 additional mines were laid during the operations by small mobile groups of engineers, generally working at night immediately in front of the expected German attack areas. There were no large-scale captures of prisoners nor any great loss of artillery, indicating that Soviet units were giving ground in good order. German losses can be seen in the example of the Großdeutschland Division, which began the operation with 118 tanks. On 10 July, after five days of fighting, the division reported it had 3 Tigers, 6 Panthers, and 11 Pzkw-III and Pzkw-IV tanks operational. XLVIII Panzer Corps reported, overall, 38 Panthers operational with 131 awaiting repair, out of the 200 it started with on 5 July. Hitler cancels the operation On the night of 9–10 July, the Western Allies mounted an amphibious invasion of Sicily. Three days later, Hitler summoned Günther von Kluge and Erich von Manstein to his Wolfsschanze headquarters in East Prussia and declared his intention to "temporarily" call off Operation Zitadelle. Von Manstein attempted to dissuade him, argu36/205
ing that Zitadelle was on the brink of victory: "on no account should we let go of the enemy until the mobile reserves which he had committed were decisively beaten". In an unusual reversal of their roles, Hitler gave von Manstein a few more days to continue the offensive, but on 16 July, he ordered a withdrawal and canceled the operation. He then ordered the entire SS Panzer Corps to be transferred to Italy. Hitler's decision to call off the operation at the height of the tactical battle has since been strongly criticized by German generals in their memoirs, and by some historians. For example, it has been pointed out that the SS Panzer Corps would have taken three months to be transferred to Sicily, and thus could not possibly have affected the outcome there, while its contribution to the Kursk operation was vital. Only one German division, the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, departed for Italy, without their equipment. The remainder stayed to face the Red Army counteroffensive launched in the wake of the failed German offensive. GroĂ&#x;deutschland Tigers after "Zitadelle" 1. Introduction: After Operation "Zitadelle" (the Battle of Kursk) failed to achieve its objectives, the Russians launched a major offensive against the weakened Germans forces in both Heeresgruppe Mitte and SĂźd. The Panzertruppen were forced onto the defense and with rare exceptions had no choice but to continuously react to their opponents moves. The Panzer forces, which had already become very proficient in the counterattack tactics, now had to fight against overwhelming odds. No new tactics are revealed in the following reports, just the realization by most of the Tiger-Abteilungen commanders that in order to survive, Tigers had to fight in the same way of the other, lighter Panzers. In many cases the commanders of the units to which the Tiger-Abteilungen were attached did not even grasped the most fundamental concepts of the Tiger's capabilities or the basic principles of tank tactics. Not only did the Tiger-Abteilungen have to fight against overwhelming odds, they were frequently handicapped by the incompetence of their own higher commanders.
Fig The Tiger tactical number B01 of th 10th company of the III Abteilung of the "Großdeutschland" Division passes in front of some divisional vehicles. Additional units with Tigers sent to the East Front in the latter half of 1943 included the 3.Kompanie/schwere Panzer-Abteilung 505, the Stab.2, and 3.Kompanie/schwere Panzer Abteilung 502, the Stab.10 and 11.Kompanien/III.(Tiger) Abteilung/Panzer-Regiment Großdeutschland, schwere PanzerAbteilung 506, schwere Panzer-Abteilung 509, the 1. and 2.Kompanien/schwere Panzer Abteilung 101/SS-PanzerGrenadier Division "LSSAH" and schwere Panzer-Abteilung 501 . of the 11th company of the III Abteilung of the Großdeutschland Panzer Grenadier Division during August and September 1943 in the region of Achtyrka-Kharkov-Poltava. Großdeutschland Tigers covered the German retreat towards the new lines for the defense on the Dniepr. This Tiger is completely camouflaged and with spare track links on the front plate. 2. Großdeutschland Tigers In Action: After "Zitadelle". The third (heavy) Abteilung of the Panzer-Regiment Großdeutschland was formed on 1 July 1943. Tigers from the 3.Kompanie/schwere Panzer Abteilung 501 (10 Tigers), and from 3./schwere Panzer Abteilung 504 (11 Tigers) were transferred, to form the new schwere Abteilung.
Fig Above: Tiger I (tactical number B12) In mid-August, the Stab, 10. and 11.Kompanie of the III.(Tiger) Abteilung /Panzer-Regiment GroĂ&#x;deutschland joined the division at the front. On 31 August 1943, Major Gomille, commander of the III.(Tiger) Abteilung/Panzer-Regiment GroĂ&#x;deutschland , wrote the following report on how they were greatly hampered by not having their Werkstatt-Kompanie and other necessary services: 14 August 1943 - Abteilung command post in the forest 2 kilometers southeast of Jassenowole. About midday, the columns from the last transport arrived at the command post. The trains were unloaded at Nisch.Ssirowatka, causing a road march of 110 kilometers. The general condition of the Abteilung was: Stab : 3 Tiger-Befehlswagen 7 S.P.W. of the Aufklaerungs-Zug without weapons 10.Kp. : Complete (except for one Tiger still in Germany) 11.Kp. : 4 Tigers and most of the equipment for the maintenance group burned out during transport. 9.Kp. : Not a single operational Tiger (this was formerly the 13.Kp/Pz.Rgt.G.D. ). Missing: The entire Stabs-Kompanie and Werkstatt-Kompanie (minus one Zug ), and all the vehicles for the Stab . Three Tiger-Befehlswagen and 13 Tigers from the 10. and 11.Kompanien were operational on the evening of 14 August 1943. Ten Tigers had fallen out due to major and minor mechanical prob39/205
lems during the march from Nisch Ssirowatka to the Abteilung command post. The first major effects were already appearing that were caused by the Abteilung having to go into action without any supply, repair services, Bergezug (recovery platoon) and repair parts. The lack of any services necessary for maintaining a Panzer unit became increasing critical during the following days in action. Orders came in from the Regiment at 12:00 hours for the Abteilung to be prepared for action by 03:00 hours the next day. They were to go into action toward Belsk (30 kilometers southwest of Akhtyrka), where the Russians had already crossed the Vorskla with their forces. It was thought that the enemy would reinforce this bridgehead with stronger forces and advance toward the north in order to envelop our own bridgehead at Akhtyrka from the west. Leutnant Jantzke (leader of the Abteilung Aufklaerungs-Zug ) was sent out on a scouting patrol to determine the condition of the roads and bridges as well as the terrain in the entire sector up to Belsk. About 18:30 hours, the Abteilung moved out of the assembly area toward the southwest with an assignment that Grun was to be held, no matter what. However, the enemy had already taken Grun and had sent out his reconnaissance patrols further to war the north. By nightfall, the Abteilung had arrived at Persche Trawnja (5 kilometers northwest of Grun), where the Abteilung and other elements of the division prepared to attack the next day. 15 August 1943 - At 04:00 hours, commander conference at the southwest exit from Jassennowoje. The operations officer of the division, Oberst von Natzmer, commanded a Kampfgruppe consisting of Panzer-Regiment GroĂ&#x;deutschland ( Tiger Abteilung, I.Abteilung, and a Panther-Kompanie ), Aufklaerungs-Abteilung (mot) , and II.Sf./Artillerie-Regiment GroĂ&#x;deutschland , which was ordered to advance through Grun and Budy to Belsk and destroy the enemy that had broken through the front. At 06:30 hours, the Kampfgruppe set off in the following formation: Tiger-Abteilung in the lead, followed by the I.Abteilung and Panther-Kompanie , which were to provide flank protection for the leading Tiger-Abteilung . The Panzer-Regiment was escorted by the Sf.Artillerie- Abteilung . The Abteilung advanced toward Grun along both sides of the road. About 1 kilometer north of Grun, the Abteilung came under heavy anti-tank gunfire from the ridge line east of the north edge of the village, the first Tiger ran onto mines which caused only light damage. The Abteilung t hen received an order to attack along the edge of the village of Grun. The Abteilung turned to the left and gained the 40/205
ridge line. From here two deep ravines, very difficult to negotiate and running across the direction of attack, had to be crossed. For this purpose, the main body of the 10.Kompanie was assigned to provide covering fire while the 11.Kompanie immediately continued to attack. When crossing both ravines, the Abteilung was subjected to raging fire out of the right flank from the edge of the village from numerous, excellently camouflaged heavy anti-tank guns and several assault guns on T-34 chassis. This enemy force wasn't completely silenced until after a lengthily firefight. Hauptmann von Villebois, commander of the 10.Kompanie , was severely wounded during this action. His Tiger was hit eight times by 12.2 cm shells from the assault guns on T-34 chassis. One hit penetrated the hull side. the turret was hit six times, three of which caused only small dents, while two hits caused fractures and small pieces to break off. The sixth hit broke out a large piece (about two hand widths) from the turret armor that flew into the fighting compartment. The entire electrical firing circuit for the main gun was knocked out by the hits and several vision blocks were destroyed or broke out of the weak holders. The weld seam on the hull was sprung open for about 50 cm from the location of the penetration, so that it wasn't possible for the Werkstatt to repair it.
Fig Tiger tactical number A02, 9th company, III Abteilung, Panzer-Grenadier Division GroĂ&#x;deutschland, 1943. After reaching the cemetery, the Abteilung turned toward the right and entered the village, destroyed two assault guns on T-34 chassis in a short fight, and advanced up to the south edge of Grun without encountering any enemy resistance worth mentioning. Now the Abteilung still had six operational Tigers, of which two were Befehlswagen . Five Tigers had fallen out due to damage caused by hits, one Tiger from mines, and the rest from mechanical 41/205
failure. Driving in the lead, the Abteilung continued the attack toward the southwest, turned at the road from Grun to Budy, and continued to advance with the right wing along the road. The north edge of Budy was stubbornly defended by Russian antitank and anti- aircraft guns. The enemy was destroyed without a single loss. After filling up with ammunition and fuel, about 19:00 hours the Abteilung started off again toward Belsk, driving in the lead with the last three Tigers that were still combat operational. The middle of Belsk was reached at about 01:00 hours after, additional antitank guns were destroyed and a mine barrier cleared without any further losses. The Panzer attacks had been excellently supported by the II.(Sf.)/Artillerie-Regiment Großdeutschland . Personnel Losses: One man killed, one officer severely wounded, and three officers and three men lightly wounded. Equipment Losses: Six Tigers damaged by enemy action (five by hits and one by mines). Seven Tigers fell out due to mechanical failures (engine, transmission, and gun). Results: 21 anti-tank guns, anti-aircraft guns and artillery pieces; eight tanks and assault guns; and one armored car destroyer. 16 August 1943 - March from Belsk through Grun to the forest 2 kilometers southwest of Akhtyrka. Five operational Tigers. 17 August 1943 - 10 operational Tigers. 18 August 1943 - The division was supposed to advance from Akhtyrka toward the southwest through Kaplunowka and Parchomokowa in order to gain contact with the SS units advancing south of the Merla. Elements of the 10.Panzer-Grenadier-Division on the right and elements of the 7.Panzer-Division o n the left provided flank protection for Großdeutschland . On the previous day, the Abteilung commander had previously scouted the assembly area and the terrain over which the attack was to occur. The terrain was very suitable for a Panzer attack due to very rolling hills. FKL-Kompanie 311 , attached to the Abteilung , was sent by the division to another location to provide security. Mines were not expected in the first sector to be attacked, because on the previous days the enemy had continuously pulled in new forces and had attacked with tanks and infantry almost without interruption. For this attack, the I.(SPW) Battalion/Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment Großdeutschland and the II.(Sf.)/Artillerie-Regiment Großdeutschland were attached to the Panzer-Regiment (Tiger-Abteilung, I.Abteilung, 2.Panther-Kompanie ). The Tiger-Abteilung had orders to drive in the front on a wide front along the right side of the road from Akthyrka to Michailowka to break 42/205
through the first Russian position and gain the important heights by Point 171.1 (3 kilometers northeast of Michailowka) as quickly as possible. The I.Abteilung was assigned the task of screening the right and left flanks of the Tiger-Abteilung , while the Panthers had orders to provide covering fire for the Tigers from favorable firing positions overlooking the rolling terrain. In order to deceive the enemy about our intentions, about 08:00 hours, after a short barrage from the artillery, the Fuesillier-Regiment GroĂ&#x;deutschland attacked the enemy-occupied village of Boich-Osero. About 08:30 hours, the Panzer-Regiment started their own attack. After leaving the city of Akthyrka, the Abteilung received anti-tank fire from the west and southwest edge of BoichOsero. While going into firing positions, eight Tigers hit mines simultaneously. These were all German wooden box mines under which the enemy had sometimes laid one or two heavy shells (apparently 21 cm) to increase the explosive effect. The minefield was so thick that most of the Panzers hit three or four mines at the same time. While the simple wooden box mines caused only superficial damage, the mines coupled with shells resulted in heavy damage. Five Tigers were lightly damaged, while three Tigers were immobilized with major damage to the tracks and suspension. The Abteilung did not get into further action on this day because of the mine damage. Personnel Losses: One man wounded (bomb fragment). Equipment Losses: Eight Tigers on mines. Results: Five anti-tank guns destroyed. Four Tigers were operational in the evening. 19 August 1943 - The four operational Tigers of the Abteilung , under the command of Oberleutnant Arnold, joined up with the Regiment . These four Tigers were employed at the left front of the formation during the attack on Parchornowka. In this battle against a strong Russian anti-tank front, one Tiger was knocked out by a hit from an assault gun on a T-34 chassis. The round clearly penetrated the left side of the superstructure by the driver. After this strong antitank gun position was destroyed, the attack advanced toward Parchornowka, where the enemy quite stubbornly defended the edge of the village with anti-tank guns and T-34 and KV-1 tanks. Personnel Losses: Three men dead, one wounded. Equipment Losses: One Tiger heavily damaged (superstructure side penetrated), the guns on two Tigers damaged. Results: 12 tanks, 12 heavy anti-tank guns, and six light anti-tank guns destroyed. Five Tigers were operational in the evening. 43/205
20 August 1943 - During late afternoon, the unit moved south and gained contact with SS-Division Totenkopf . Five enemy tanks were knocked out by the two remaining operational Tigers. Three Tigers had suffered mechanical breakdowns; two of them had problems with their transmissions and electrical generators. 22 August 1943 - During a localized counterattack, directly Northwest of Parchornowka, one Tiger was sent in and destroyed six heavy anti-tank guns and numerous anti-tank rifles. 23 August 1943 - On this day, the Abteilung commander took over the Panzergruppe (two Tigers, nine Panthers, three PzKpfw IV lang, three PzKpfw IV kurz, three PzKpfw III lang, three Flammpanzer, and one PzBefWg.). In the sector of the Grenadier Regiment , east and northeast of Michailowka (12 kilometers of Southwest of Akthyrka). This was almost all of the operational Panzers in the Regiment . Operations were restricted to repulsing several enemy tank attacks. Equipment Losses: One Tiger hit on the gun. Results: 25 tanks and 7 guns destroyed. 24 August 1943 - During the night of 24/25 August, the division moved to to the west and southwest and prepared to defend an area in the general line about 2 to 3 kilometers west of the Parchornowka to Bugrowatij road. At the same time, all the operational Panzers from the Regiment arrived under the command of Major Gomille. While one group of Panzers was positioned in an especially threatened sector of the Fuesilier and Grenadier-Regiments , the Abteilung commander held back all of the rest of the Panzers near his command post, ready to attack at any time. During the afternoon, on orders from the division, any Panzers that were not fully operational had to be sent to Kotelwa in order to ensure that all Panzers could be pulled back behind the new main defense line during the maneuvers planned for that evening to break off contact with the enemy. Only two Tigers and five Panthers were left with the Abteilung commander. About 17:00 hours, the enemy started to attack our weak lines with several tanks and very strong infantry. While the enemy penetration into the Grenadier-Regiment was brought to a halt by an immediate counter attack in which four enemy tanks were knocked out, the enemy broke through the 7.Panzer-Division to the left of GroĂ&#x;deutschland . However, no enemy tanks were located there when our own Panzers attacked to relieve the left-hand neighbor. About 23:00 hours, the maneuvers to break contact were initiated. Only two Tigers were still operational, the rest having fallen out from 44/205
hits or mechanical breakdown. With the aid of these two Tigers, after intensive effort lasting until dawn, the other damaged Panzers were able to be towed behind the new main defense line by Kotelwa. 26 August 1943 - After giving up the five Panthers, the Abteilung commander on the morning of 26 August remained in possession of only two conditionally operational Tigers, which had arrived in the new bivouac area for the Regiment at Budischtscha at about 11:00 hours. About 1300 hours, both of these Tigers had to be sent farther toward Kotelwa because the enemy had broken through directly east of Kotelwa with tanks and infantry. One of the Tigers broke down from engine and transmission failure in Kotelwa. After knocking out two T-34 tanks, the other Tiger was hit in the suspension, sight, and gun by 7.62 cm rounds so that it was no longer combat operational. Both Tigers were recovered. 9 September 1943 - 2 Tigers are lost in action. 27 September 1943 - Withdrawal across the Dniepr near Kremenchug. 29 September 1943 - 4 Tigers are lost in action. 9 October 1943 - 5 Tigers are lost in action. 18 October 1943 - 13 Tigers are lost, and 10 Tigers (ex-Pz.Lehr) that were to be delivered to III.Abt.Pz.Rgt.GroĂ&#x;deutschland are captured by the Russians while being transported by train. 20 October 1943 - 7 Tigers are lost in action, 23 Tigers on hand, taking part on the action near Krivoi Rog. 23 October 1943 - 6 Tigers are lost in action. 8 - 15 November 1943 - 3 Tigers are lost in action. 16 November 1943 - 1 Tiger is lost in action, 13 operational. 21 December 1943 - 7 Tigers operational, combat in the vicinity of Kirovograd. 6 March 1944 - 6 Tigers delivered, 19 operational. 8 March 1944 - 1 Tiger lost in action. 10 March 1944 - 3 Tigers destroyed by crew, to avoid falling into enemy's hands. 21 March 1944 - 1 more Tiger is lost, destroyed by crew, as above. By the end of March 1944 - Transferred to Chisinau area. 20 April 1944 - 6 Tigers delivered, 20 operational. 6 May 44 - 8 Tigers delivered, 4 transferred to 3.SS.Panzerdivision Totenkopf, 24 operational. 18 May 1944 - 6 Tigers delivered, 2 transferred to 3.SS.Panzerdivision Totenkopf, 28 operational. 1 June 1944 - 2 Tigers are lost in action - aerial attack - 6 Tigers delivered, 19 out of 34 operational. 45/205
10 June-26 July 1944 - Rest and Refit near Bacau. 5 August 1944 - Arrival in Gumbinnen area. Immediately sent to combat. 6 August 1944 - 4 Tigers put out of action by JS-2 Stalin heavy tanks. 9 - 23 August 1944 - 6 Tigers lost in action, 12 Tigers delivered. September 1944 - 7 Tigers are lost in action. 1 October 1944 - 11 out of 33 Tigers operational. 9 October 1944 - 8 Tigers are lost in action, 7 either destroyed by crew or by aerial attacks. Late October 1944 - 10 Tigers written off, either lost in action or destroyed by crew. 1 November 1944 - 8 of 15 Tigers operational, unit refitting during November-December 1944. 13 December 1944 - The unit is designated as schwere PanzerAbteilung GroĂ&#x;deutschland. 16 December 1944 - 4 Tigers delivered, 2 transferred to s.Pz.Abt. 502. Operational: 17 Tigers. January 1945 - 6 Tigers lost in action. 1 February 1945 - 4 out of 11 Tigers operational. Incorporated into the division's Kampfgruppe. 19 March 1945 - The remaining Tigers of schwere Panzer-Abteilung GroĂ&#x;deutschland make their last stand, defending the Balga pocket in East Prussia. Tiger I, sPzAbt.505, Russia, February, 1944. In addition to sending new units to the East Front, both the schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503 and 506 were issued new Tiger I and refurbished in rest areas behind the front in early 1944. Schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503 , decimated in March and April, was sent back to Germany and then employed on the invasion Front. The schwere Panzer-Abteilung 507 in March and schwere Panzer-Abteilung 510 in July were the two last units to be completely outfitted with the Tiger I and sent to the East Front.
Fig PzKpfw VI Tiger I E versus JS-2 "Stalin" Heavy Russian Tank The September 1944 issue of the Nachrichtenblatt der Panzertruppen included a report from a Tiger-Kompanie that had knocked out numerous Josef Stalin tanks in a short period: The Tiger Kompanie was ordered to throw out the enemy who penetrated into a wood, and then continue to advance. About 12:15 hours, together with an Infanterie-Batallion the Tiger Kompanie started to attack. The thick forest caused extremely poor visibility (50 meters), and a narrow trail forced the Tiger-Kompanie to advance in a single row. The Russian infantry fled their positions as soon as the Tigers appeared. The anti-tank guns, which were pulled forward into position by the enemy within three-quarters of an hour after entering the woods, were quickly destroyed in spite of the difficulty of seeing the targets. Some of the anti-tank guns were destroyed by hits and some were rolled over. Numerous undamaged anti-tank guns fell into our hands. After the lead Zug of the Tiger Kompanie advanced 2 kilometers through the forest, the Zug leader suddenly noticed knocked-down trees and saw a large muzzle-break (Josef Stalin) directly in front of him. He immediately gave the fire command: " Panzergranate! Cupola sight! Fire!" At the same time he was hit twice by 4.5 cm antitank gun shells that robbed him of his sight. In the interim, a second Tiger of the Zug driving through the woods pulled up on line with the Zug leader's Tiger. In spite of poor visibility, the Zug leader started the firefight at a range of 35 meters. In response, the Josef Stalin tank pulled back behind a small hill. In the meantime, the second Tiger had taken the lead and fired three shot at the enemy tank. When the round was fired, the Tiger itself was hit by a 12.2 cm shell on the front 47/205
below the radio operator's section. Apparently this armor-piercing shell didn't penetrate through because the Tiger was standing at an angle from the target. The enemy tank was knocked out of action by a shot which penetrated the gun. A second Josef Stalin tank attempted to cover the first as it pulled back. During a short firefight, one of these two Tigers hit the second tank under the gun. This round penetrated, immediately setting the enemy tank on fire. The rate of fire of the Josef Stalin tanks was comparatively slow.
Fig The Josef Stalin 2 heavy tank - heavy inclined armor plus a 122 mm D-25T gun. The Kompanie commander made the following observations that were derived from their experience in fighting Josef Stalin tanks: When a Tiger appears, most Josef Stalin tanks turn away and attempt to 1. avoid a firefight. 2. In many cases, the Josef Stalin tanks let themselves engage in a firefight only at long range (over 2000 meters) and also only when they themselves are in favorable positions on the edge of of a wood, village, or ridgeline. The enemy crews lean toward evacuating their tank immediately after the first shot 3. is fired at them. In all cases the Russian strived to prevent a Josef Stalin tank from falling into our hands and with all means available attempted to tow the tank away or to blow it up. 4. The Josef Stalin can also be knocked out, even if a penetration of the frontal armor can't be achieved at long range. (A different TigerAbteilung reported that the front of a Josef Stalin tank can be penetrated by a Tiger only at ranges less than 500 meters.) 5. An attempt should be made to gain the flank or the rear of the Josef Stalin tank and destroy it with concentrated fire. 6. In addition, a firefight with Josef Stalin tanks should not be undertaken in less than Zug strength. Employment of single Tigers means their loss. 48/205
7. It has been proven to be useful, after the first hits are registered, to blind the Josef Stalin by firing Sprenggranaten (high explosive shells). 8. Remarks by the Generalinpekteur der Panzertruppen: 1. These experiences are in accordance with those of other Tiger units and are correct. In regard to point 4 - It would be desirable for the opponent to have observed the same attempt by all of our Tiger crews. " An undestroyed Tiger may never fall into enemy hands!" This principle must be achieved by every crew member by exemplary operational readiness. 2. With regard to points 5 and 6 - At a time when there are 12.2 cm tank guns and 5.7 cm anti-tank guns on the Eastern Front, just like 9.2 anti-tank/anti-aircraft guns on the Western Front and in Italy, the Tiger can no longer disregard the tactical principles that apply to the other types of Panzers. Also, just like other Panzers, a few Tigers can't drive up on a ridgeline to observe the terrain. In just such a situation, three Tigers received direct hits and were destroyed by 12.2 cm shells, resulting in all but two of the crew members being killed. The principles of Panzer tactics - that Panzers should only cross a ridgeline together, rapidly (leaf-frogging by bounds) and under covering fire, or else the Panzers must drive around the height - were definitely not unknown in this Tiger-Abteilung . Statements like "thick fur", "impregnable", and the "security" of the crews of the Tigers, which have become established phrases by other units and also partially within the Panzertruppe , must be wiped out and debunked. Instead, it is especially important for Tiger units to pay direct attention to the general combat principles applicable for tank-versus-tank combat. 3. In regard to Point 7 - This statement is correct; however, three Tigers should not flee from five Josef Stalin tanks only because they can't start the firefight at full Zug strength. Cases will also occur which an entire Zug isn't always available. Many times tank-versustank combat will be decided, not by the number of tanks, but much more by superior tactics. 4. In regard to Point 8 - In connection with this it may be stated that the Josef Stalin tanks not only can be penetrated from the flanks and rear by Tigers and Panthers but also by the Pz.Kpfw.IV and the Sturmgesch端tze . 5. For those interested in knowing the Russian side of the Tiger I versus JS-2 controversy, pay a visit to the Russian Battlefield website, and search for the IS-2 in Comparison with Its German 49/205
Counterparts page. The Waffen S.S at the Battle of Kursk Prior to beginning a study of the Waffen SS, and its impact at the Battle of Kursk, it is necessary to have an understanding of what the Waffen SS really was. Of all the German organizations during WWII, the SS is by far the most infamous, and the least understood amongst average historians. The SS was in fact not a monolithic "Black Corps" ofgoose stepping Gestapo men, as is often depicted in popular media and in many third rate historical works. The SS was in reality a complex political and military organization made up of three separate and distinct branches, all related but equally unique in their functions and goals. The Allgemeine SS (General SS) was the main branch of this overwhelmingly complex organization, and it served a political and administrative role. The SS-Totenkopfverbande (SS Deaths Head Organization) and later, the Waffen SS (Armed SS), were the other two branches that made up the structure of the SS. The Waffen SS, formed in 1940, was the true military formation ofthe larger SS, and as such, it is the main focus ofthis paper. Formed from the SS-Verfungstruppe after the Campaign in France in 1940, the Waffen SS would become an elite military formation of nearly 900,000 men by the time World War II was over. Its units would spearhead some ofthe most crucial battles ofthe war, while its men would shoulder some ofthe most difficult and daunting combat operations ofall ofthe units in the German military. The Waffen SS is sometimes thought of as the fourth branch ofthe German Wehrmacht (Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine) as in the field it came under the direct tactical control of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW, or High Command), although this notion is technically incorrect as strategic control remained within the hands of the SS. To this day the actions ofthe Waffen SS and its former members are vilified for ultimately being a part ofthe larger structure ofthe political Allgemeine SS, regardless ofthe fact that the Waffen SS was a front line combat organization. The Waffen SS itself was something unusually special. It had started out as a small-sized personal bodyguard for Adolf Hitler, but gradually expanded into a full-scale military force under the guidance ofa number of disgruntled former Army officers who saw the Waffen SS as a chance to break out from the conservative mold that the German Army had become mired in. The Waffen SS was designed from the start to be a highly mobile assault force whose soldiers were well versed in the art ofhandling modem, close-combat weapons. The 50/205
training regimen therefore resembled that given to special commandos in other countries, but it pre-dated u.s. and British commando training by nearly a decade. Waffen SS recruitment standards went through several stages during the course of the war. Designed at first to be an elite formation of Germans, it grew to be so large through attrition, and the demands for replacements, that it inevitably abandoned all but its most basic requirements, and opened its ranks to anyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, or nationality. In the beginning, recruitment standards for Waffen SS soldiers were very stringent. Potential recruits were expected to be between the ages ofseventeen and twenty-two, and a minimum ofsixty-nine inches tall. They also could not have a criminal record of any kind. Enlisted men were required to have a pure "Aryan" genealogy dating back to the year 1800; an officer's genealogy had to be pur.e dating back to the year 1750. The requirements were in fact so stringent that only fifteen out-of every one hundred applicants were accepted. It is also worth stressing that the stringent selection process that was maintained in the elite divisions during the early part of the war meant that men who could have served as NCOs and junior officers in other units, served as Privates in the best SS units. The young men who joined the SS were trained like no other army in the world. Military and academic instruction was intensive, but it was the physical training that was the most rigorous. They excelled at sports, and each ofthem would have performed with distinction at the Olympic Games. The extraordinary physical endurance ofthe SS on the Russian front was due to this intensive training. It was on the front lines that the results ofthe SS physical training could really be noticed. An SS officer or NCO had the same rigorous training as the soldiers. The officers, NCOs, and privates competed in the same sports events, and only the best man won, regardless ofrank, creating an atmosphere that sponsored team work, mutual respect, and reliance. This created a real brotherhood which literally energized the entire Waffen SS. In one field, that ofinternal personnel organization, the Waffen-SS has yet to be imitated much less surpassed. The Waffen-SS was probably the most "democratic" armed force in modem times. Rigid formality and class structure between officers and other ranks was strictly forbidden. An officer held down his position only because he had proven himself a better soldier than his men, not because ofany rank in society, family connections or superior academic education. There was also the ideological training. They were taught why they were fighting, and saw the kind of Germany 51/205
that was being resurrected before their very eyes. They were shown how Germany was being morally united through class reconciliation and physically united through the return oflost German homelands. They were made aware oftheir kinship with all ofthe other Germans living in foreign lands, such as Poland, Russia, the Sudentenland, and other parts of Europe. They were taught that all Germans represented an ethnic unity. Young SS men were educated in two military academies, one in Bad Tolz, the other in Braunschweig. These academies were totally different from the grim barracks of the past. Combining aesthetics with the latest technology, they were located in the middle of hundreds of acres of beautiful country. The SS had proved themselves in action. They were not empty talking politicians, but they gave their lives, the first to go and fight in an extraordinary spurt of comradeship. This comradeship was one ofthe most distinctive characteristics ofthe SS: the SS leader was the comrade ofthe others. The relationship ofequality and mutual respect between soldiers, NCOs, and officers was always present. SS officers and NCOs always led their troops into battle, and were the first to meet the enemy. Halfofall ofthe SS divisional commanders were killed in action. There is not another army in the world where this happened. SS soldiers were not sent to slaughter by behind-the-line leaders, they followed their leaders with passionate loyalty. Every SS commander knew and taught all his men, and could expect the loyalty oftheir men by their example. The life expectancy of an SS officer at the front was three months; an NCO was only expected to survive 9 weeks. Waffen SS basic training lasted three weeks. The focus, aside from the physical training already mentioned, was character training, and weapons training. From the outset the system promoted combat training and maneuvers at the expense oftraditional drill. The focus was on battlefield tactics and independently thinking officers and NCOs. An SS recruit might be told to dig himself into the ground knowing that within a prescribed time, tanks would drive over his head, whether the hole was completed or not. A new fonn of soldiering emerged. Waffen SS troops could cover three kilometers in full field dress in twenty minutes; such a thing was unheard ofin the Anny. The Waffen SS believed in stressing aggressiveness, initiative, and self-reliance. These were achieved by realistic live firing exercises, rigid discipline, and obedience. As a result, the premier Waffen SS Divisions had superior marksmanship skills, and was very proficient at night maneuvers and camouflage techniques. The Waffen SS was always open to new ideas and innovations in tenns oftraining; the Panzer crews ofthe 12th SS Panzer Divi52/205
sion were required as part oftheir training to spend a week working on the assembly line at the MAN tank factory in Nuremburg. As the war progressed, lessons learned on the field of battle were quickly adopted in the training establishments. This was often to teach the problems encountered in various terrains and climates, and techniques to overcome these obstacles, and ultimately saved many lives. The SS soldiers were held to higher standards and were subjected to the strictest discipline. Sentences handed down by SS courts were more severe than sentences passed by other courts for the same offense. There also was a camaraderie fostered by infonnal relationships between the officers, NCOs, and men, in contrast to the stiff discipline prevalent in the regular Gennan anny and the Allied forces. Officers and men addressed each other as "Kamerad" when off duty. An example ofdiscipline in the Waffen SS was the standing rule that locks were forbidden on lockers; such was the emphasis on trust and loyalty. Obedience was unconditional. This helps explain the remarkable ability of the Liebstandarte (LSSAH) and Hitlerjugend (HJ) divisions to quickly incorporate and indoctrinate raw replacements. It did not take long for the initial resentment ofthe Waffen SS by the Anny to grow to admiration, and from late 1941, the Anny often became dependent on them. The Waffen SS came to be known as the "Fuhrer's Fire Brigade", always being sent into difficult and even impossible situations to bolster or rescue regular Anny units, often at great costs in both men and equipment to them. The Waffen SS were often kept at the front for prolonged periods oftime without rest or refit because their qualities were so often needed and depended upon it was feared that whole fronts might collapse. As General Eberhard von Mackensen wrote: " Every division wishes it had the Leibstandarte as its neighbor, as much during the attack as the defense. Its inner discipline, its cool dare deviltry, its cheerful enterprise, its unshakeable firmness in a crisis ... its exemplary toughness, its camaraderie (which deserves special praise), all these are outstanding and cannot be surpassed". In July 1941 the LSSAH took part in the invasion ofRussia and it was during this campaign that the Waffen SS, and in particular the LSSAH earned their reputation for their ferocity during battle. The eagerness ofthe Waffen SS for combat coupled with their fanaticism bordered on the reckless and during the opening stages of World War II, many ofthem were killed in action. The weapon used by the Waffen SS at the Battle ofKursk that I will focus on in this paper is the Panzerkampfwagen VI, or "Tiger". It is probably the most famous and feared Gennan tank ofthe war, and rightfully so. The Tiger was manned by a crew of five, three ofwhom 53/205
manned the turret and main gun. The first ofthese was the Commander, typically an NCO, the most important member ofthe crew. His central role involved the sighting oftargets, and directing other members ofthe crew from his rotating cupola situated at the left rear ofthe turret. The commander's role called for high levels of concentration and coordination, attributes that were especially critical during close-quarter combat. The second crewman, located inside the cramped turret below, and in front ofthe commander was the gunner. His primary tasks were traversal ofthe turret, the sighting oftargets, and the firing ofthe 88mm Ll56 Kwk main gun. The third member ofthe crew, located on the right hand side ofthe turret was the loader, who was responsible for the loading ofthe appropriate type ofammunition as specified by the gunner into the breech ofthe main gun. The fourth position was that ofthe driver, who was seated in the front ofthe hull on the left hand side. It was the driver's sole responsibility to maneuver the vehicle safely and coordinate effectively with the commander. In more experienced crews, the driver more often than not assisted the gunner in locking onto targets by turning towards the enemy, a technique which compensated for the slow rate ofturret traverse in the Tiger. The fifth and final crewmember was the bow machine gunner/radio operator, who was seated at the front of the hull to the right ofthe driver. As the title suggests, this man was responsible for maintaining radio contact with other tanks in the platoon, and for manning the MG34 machine gun mounted in the front plate ofthe hull. The battlefield strengths ofthe Tiger were essentially defined by the vehicles two major characteristics. First, was its exceptionally thick armor plating, particularly in the front hull and turret, which was in some places 100mm thick. Second, was its powerful 88mm Ll56 KwK main gun. During the battle ofKursk, the standard opponent faced by Tiger crews was the Russian T-34. Although a formidable tank for it's time, the T-34 would have to close in to suicidal distances to even have a chance against a Tiger. Conversely, the powerful gun mounted on the Tiger could destroy opponents at massive distances. On the wide expanses ofthe Russian front, these capabilities more than made up for the Tiger's inherent weaknesses, which included its slow rate ofturret traverse, lack ofmobility, and vulnerable rear and hull top armor plate. The 88mm Ll56 K wK main gun was an adaptation ofthe successful anti-tank version ofthe famous "eightyeight" Flak gun, and was capable ofpenetrating 112mm of armor at a distance of 1400M. It was capable of firing armor piercing, high explosive, or high explosive, anti-tank rounds. Each Tiger carried 92 rounds of main gun am54/205
munition, and was also equipped with two 7.92mm, MG34 machine guns for use against infantry personnel, and light vehicles. The Battle ofKursk was a significant battle on the Eastern Front ofWorld War II. It remains the largest armored engagement of all time, and included the most costly single day ofaerial warfare in history. Initiated as a German offensive, the Soviet defense managed to stop their ambitions and launch a successful counteroffensive. The German Army relied on armored forces to push through enemy lines at highspeed, the famous Blitzkrieg tactic. This meant they were only able to assume the offense during the summer when the Russian summer had dried out the ground enough for the tanks to be highly mobile. The Eastern Front had thus developed into a series of German advances in the summer, followed by Soviet counterattacks in the winter. In the winter of 1942 the Soviets won conclusively during the Battle of Stalingrad. One complete German army had been lost, along with about 300,000 men, seriously depleting German strength in the east. With an Allied invasion of Europe clearly looming, Hitler realized that an outright defeat ofthe Soviets before the western Allies arrived was unlikely, and decided to force the Soviets to a draw. In February and March 1943 Erich von Manstein had completed an offensive during the Second Battle ofKharkov, leaving the front line running roughly from Leningrad in the north to Rostov in the south. In the middle was a large 200 km wide and 150 km deep salient (bulge) in the lines between German forward positions near Orel in the north, and Manstein's recently captured Kharkov in the south. Manstein pressed for a new offensive based on the same successful lines he had just pursued at Kharkov, when he cut off an overextended Soviet offensive. He suggested tricking the Soviets into attacking in the south against the desperately re-forming 6th Army, leading them into the Donets Basin in the eastern Ukraine. He would then turn south from Kharkov on the eastern side ofthe Donets River towards Rostov and trap the entire southern wing ofthe Red Army against the Sea of Azov. OKW did not approve the plan, and instead turned their attention to the obvious bulge in the lines between Orel and Kharkov. There were three complete armies in and around the salient, and pinching it offwould trap almost a fifth ofthe Red Army's manpower. It would also result in a much straighter and shorter line, and capture the strategically useful railway town ofKursk located on the main north-south railway line running from Rostov to Moscow. In March the plans were settled. Walther Model's 9th Army would at55/205
tack south from Orel while Hoth's 4th Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf under the overall command ofManstein would attack north from Kharkov. They were to meet near Kursk, but ifthe offensive went well they were allowed to continue forward on their own initiative, with a general plan to create a new line on the Don River far to the east. Unlike recent efforts, Hitler gave the General Staff considerable control over the planning ofthe battle. Over the next few weeks they continued to increase the scope ofthe forces attached to the front, stripping the entire German line ofpractically anything remotely useful in the upcoming battle. The battle was first set for May 4, but then delayed until June 12, and finally July 4 in order to allow more time for new weapons to arrive from Germany, especially the new Tiger tanks. It is worth discussing this plan in terms ofthe traditional, and successful, blitzkrieg tactic used up to this point. Blitzkrieg depended on massing all available troops at a single point on the enemy line, breaking through, and then running as fast as possible to cut offthe front line troops from supply and information. Direct combat was to be avoided at all costs; there is no point in attacking a strongpoint ifthe same ends can be had by instead attacking the trucks supplying them. The best place for Blitzkrieg was the least expected, which is why they had attacked through the Ardennes in 1940, and towards Stalingrad in 1942. OKW's Operation Citadel was the antithesis ofthis concept. The point of attack was painfully obvious to anyone with a map, and reflected World War I thinking more than the Blitzkrieg. A number ofGerman commanders questioned the idea, notably Heinz Guderian. The German delay in launching their offensive gave the Soviets four months in which to prepare, and with every passing day they turned the salient into one ofthe most heavily defended points on earth. The Red Army laid over 400,000 landmines and dug about 5,000 kilometers oftrenches, with positions as far back as 175km. In addition, they massed a huge army oftheir own, including some 1,300,000 men, 3,600 tanks, 20,000 artillery pieces and 2,400 aircraft. It was still unclear whether or not it would help; in the past the Germans had overrun their lines with seeming ease. In the four months before the Germans felt ready, they had collected 200 ofthe new Panther tanks, 90 Elefant tank destroyers, every flyable Henschel Hs 129 ground attack aircraft, as well as a host ofTiger Is and late model Panzer IV s. In total they assembled some 2,700 tanks and assault guns, 1,800 aircraft and 900,000 men. It was the greatest concentration of German fighting power ever put together. Even so, Hitler expressed doubts about its adequacy. 56/205
Preliminary fighting started on the 4th of July. In the afternoon Junkers Ju 87 Stukas bombed a two mile wide gap in the front lines on the north in a short period of 10 minutes, and then turned for home while the German artillery opened up to continue the pounding. Hoth's armored spearhead, the 3rd Panzer Corps then advanced on the Soviet positions around Savidovka. At the same time the Grossdeutschland Panzer Grenadier Regiment attacked Butovo in torrential rain, and the high ground around Butovo was taken by 11th Panzer Division. To the west of Butovo the going proved tougher for Grossdeutschland and 3rd Panzer Division who met stiff Soviet resistance and did not secure their objectives until midnight. In the south the 2nd SS Panzer Corps were launching their preliminary attacks to secure observation posts, and again were met with stiff resistance until assault troops equipped with flame-throwers cleared the bunkers and outposts. At 2230 the Soviets hit back with an artillery bombardment which, aided by the torrential rain, slowed the German advance. By this time Zhukov had been briefed on the information about the start ofthe offensive gained by the German prisoners and decided to launch a pre-emptive artillery bombardment on the German positions. The real battle opened on 5 July 1943. The Soviets, now aware even ofthe exact time, commenced a massive artillery bombardment ofthe German lines 10 minutes prior. This was soon followed by a massive attack by the VVS on the Luftwaffe airbases in the area, in an attempt to reverse the tables on the old German "trick" ofwiping out local air support within the first hour ofbattle. The next few hours turned into what is likely the largest air battle to ever be fought. The Luftwaffe defended itself successfully and lost very little ofits fighting power, but from now on it was challenged by the Soviets. The 9th Panzer Army in the north found itself almost unable to move. Within only minutes of starting forward they were trapped in the huge defensive minefields, and needed engineering units to come up and clear them under artillery fire. Model's army had fewer tanks than Manstein had in the south. He also used a different tactic, using only some units at a time thus saving the others for later use, whereas the Germans usually would attack with everything they had got to maximize the effect. This was something they were able to do because oftheir superior training oflow-ranking officers and individual soldiers. For some reason Model did not use this tactic, though. After a week they had moved only 10km into the lines, and on the 12th the Soviets launched their northern arm against the 2nd Army at Orel. The 9th had to be withdrawn and their part in the offensive was 57/205
over. Their casualty rate versus the Red Army was about 5:3 in their favor. This was however far worse than usual, and very far from where it needed to be in order to keep up with the steady influx ofnew soldiers and materiel for the Red Army. In the south things went somewhat better for the Germans. The armored spearhead ofthe Hoth's 4th Panzer Army forced their way forward, and by the 6th were some 30km behind the lines at the small town Prokhorovka. Considering that they had attacked without the element of surprise against a dug-in and numerically superior enemy, this was quite an achievement. The Red Army was forced to deploy troops originally planned to be used in the counteroffensive. The German flank, however, was unprotected as Kempfs divisions were stalled by 7th Guards Army, and by heavy rain, after crossing the River Donets. The 5th Guards Tank Army was situated to the east ofProkhorovka and was preparing a counterattack oftheir own when II SS Panzer Corps arrived and an intense struggle ensued. The Soviets managed to halt the SS -but only just. There was now little to stop the 4th Panzer Army, and it looked like a breakout was a very real possibility. The Soviets decided to deploy the rest of the 5th Guards. On 12 July the Luftwaffe and artillery units bombed the Soviet positions as the SS divisions formed up. The German advance started and they were astonished to see masses of Soviet armor advancing towards them. What followed was the largest tank engagement ever, with over 1,500 tanks in close contact. The air forces ofboth countries flew overhead, but they were unable to see anything through the dust and smoke pouring out from destroyed tanks. On the ground, commanders were unable to keep track of developments and the battle rapidly degenerated into an immense number ofconfused and bitter small-unit actions, often at close quarters. The fighting raged on all day, and by evening the last shots were being fired as the two sides disengaged. It was a Soviet victory only in one sense, the German attack was halted. Most Soviet tanks were destroyed by the Germans at long range, and relatively few were involved in short range exchanges offire. German losses were actually relatively few and for most of the day they were fighting in good order. The Soviet losses were 322 tanks, of which more than half beyond repair, more than 1000 dead and an additional 2500 missing or wounded. German losses were less than 20% ofthat. The Germans had however planned to be on the offensive that day, and because ofthe Red Army attack their advance had been halted. 58/205
The overall battle ofKursk still hung in the balance. German forces on the southern wing were exhausted and heavily atritted, but at the same time faced equally weak defenses and were in excellent position, clear ofthe defensive works and with no forces between them and Kursk. On 11 July in the midst ofCitadel, US and British forces landed on Sicily. Hitler called von Kluge and Manstein to his Wolfsschanze headquarters in East Prussia and declared that he was calling Citadel off. Manstein was furious, and argued that one final effort and the battle could be won. Hitler would have none ofit, particularly as the Soviets had launched their counteroffensive in the north. Some German units were immediately sent off to Italy, and only limited attacks continued in the south, to get rid ofa Soviet force squeezed between two German armies. On the 22nd both forces were utterly exhausted and fighting (officially) drew to a close. The battle was not a clear-cut victory for the Soviets who had suffered much higher casualties than the Germans. The Germans however had for the first time lost substantial territories during summer and had not been able to achieve their goals. A new front had opened in Italy diverting their attention. Both sides had their losses, but only the Soviets had the manpower and the industrial production to recover fully. The Germans never regained the initiative after Kursk. The Germans lost approximately 56,000 men killed. The Soviet casualty figures were not released until the end of the communist regime, and comprised 250,000 killed and 600,000 wounded. They also lost 50% of their tank strength during the Kursk offensive. The fighting qualities of the Germanic Waffen SS divisions were established in the early stages ofthe war, and grew in intensity and did not cease until the end of hostilities in 1945. This was particularly evident on the Eastern Front where the fighting was the most brutal. The Waffen SS won a unique reputation for daring elan and unfailing professionalism in combat. Yet if their courage was unquestioned, so too was the fear and loathing which they elicited; even eventually amongst their own people, and in the regular soldiers alongside whom they fought. The Waffen SS played a conspicuous role in most ofthe important German triumphs, far disproportionate to their numbers. In the long period ofdecline and retreat, the Germans were steadily pushed back from the east and west. Despite sustaining horrendous casualties, their discipline remained unbroken, and their fighting ardor unimpaired, almost to the very end.
1° S.S Panzer Division Leibstandarte The deep severity of the winter of 1941-42 had inevitably slowed down widespread military activity on the Russian front. A Soviet offensive and local breakthrough near Dnepropetrovsk, south-east of Kharkov, brought III Corps out to seal the breach; the Leibstandarte held the line while the German operation was executed. It was not until the thaw and the mud had cleared, and the vehicles were able to move, that Army Group South could fulfil the order to destroy the enemy in front of the Don with the eventual aim of seizing the oil-producing centres of die Caucasus. Hitler now had a fresh preoccupation. Along with another period of refitting and reinforcement, Leibstandarte was plucked from the command of Army Group South in June and sent to the coast of France, here the Führer believed an Allied invasion was posible. Meanwhile, the Nazi leader had recognised that v.e progress of his war was dictating the need for increased manpower and a tighter, more cohesive rommand centre. The Leibstandarte’s panzer battalion was enlarged into a regiment of two tank battalions. Added muscle was provided by an early appearance of the new 60ton tank leviathans, the Tigers. Infantry was beefed with two panzer grenadier regiments, while artillery now had four battalions. During the closing months of 1942, the Leibstandarte was designated SS Panzer Grenadier Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. The result of all these changes was increased recruitment, but any head count was misleading since some 75 per cent of the men was deficient in training. Dire outlook The re-emergence of the Leibstandarte on the Eastern Front at the end of December 1942 coincided with an increasingly dire outlook for the Wehrmacht, which was faced with nothing less than the collapse of the entire Southern Front. East of Kharkov, Hungarian and Italian satellite armies were in disarray. On 12 January 1943, there was a massive Soviet attack from Orel to Rostov. Then came the death ride of 6th Army at Stalingrad, with the loss of more than 200,000 men. It was a sad irony for those who, back in October 1941, had heard Hitler address the German people and proclaim: I declare today, and I declare it without any reservation, that the enemy in the east has been struck down and will never rise again ... Behind our troops there already lies a territory twice the size of the German Reich when I came to power in 1933.' SS Panzer Corps, commanded by General of Mountain Troops Hubert Lanz, had been as60/205
signed the task of defending Kharkov by General (later Field Marshal) Erich von Manstein, an order backed by Hitler, who had declared that at all costs the city must be held. At deployment, the Leibstandarte took up a defensive position along the Donetz, with Das Reich holding outposts east of the river. The troops were thinly spread along a front stretching some 110km (70 miles) at Chegevayev, which was on the Donetz itself. They were under the temporary command of Fritz Witt, who was standing in for an absent Dietrich, the latter having been called to conference with Hitler. Lanz's men were forced back in a swirl of snowstorms which failed to hinder the Russian advance. Total annihilation faced 320th Infantry Division, fighting its way back to the Donetz line and saddled with 1500 wounded whose comrades were not prepared to surrender to the Russians. Once again, enter the Leibstandarte in a 'fire brigade' role. This time, the initiative belonged to SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Jochen Peiper, who led the 3rd Battalion of 2nd SS Panzer Division. It penetrated deep into enemy territory, forming a protective screen to release the wounded and pull back to the Donetz. Unfortunately, the ice on the river was too thin to bear Peiper's armoured vehicles. He was faced with the intimidating prospect of turning back into enemy territory and finding an area where the river could safely be forded. Kharkov All attention was now on Kharkov, however, which was virtually surrounded and where Hitler refused to countenance withdrawal. The packs of Soviet tanks had penetrated to the edge of the city, rendering northern, northwestern and southeastern defences useless. SS-Obergruppenjuhrer Paul Hausser made a cool survey of the situation. The corps diary entry 138/43 of 14 February 1943 read in part: 'Inside Kharkov mob firing at troops and vehicles. No forces available for mopping up since everything in front line. City, including railway, stores and ammunition dumps, effectively dynamited at Army orders. Gift burning. Systematic withdrawal increasingly improbable each day ... Request renewed Fiihrer decision.' The reply was predictable: 'Panzer Corps will hold to the last man.' General Lanz saw himself as his master's voice and stood firm. Hausser was an experienced general staff officer of the old Imperial army who had retired from the Reichswehr with the rank of lieutenant general and who, conscious of the need for self-preservation, had later enlisted with the Waffen-SS. Even so, he was prepared to chal61/205
lenge Hitler and pressed his case, but Lanz still refused to allow withdrawal. During the night 14/15 February, the Russians had broken into the northwestern and southwestern parts of the city. Conscious that he was putting his entire career on the line, Hausser ignored both his F端hrer's order and the obduracy of Lanz. He mounted a break-out to the south-west between the encircling Russian armies, regrouping around Krasnograd. The news of the withdrawal was greeted by an ecstatic Stalin: 'The mass expulsion from the Soviet Union has begun.' The newly self-proclaimed Marshal of the Soviet Union was premature in his celebration, but the abandonment of Kharkov, however temporary, was an indication of how Germany's fortunes in the east were changing. In a fine fury, Hitler took an aircraft to von Manstein's headquarters, demanding Hausser's dismissal, but was persuaded that no alternative to the yielding of Kharkov had been possible. Mollified, Hitler reprieved Hausser and sacked Lanz instead. Still, the F端hrer managed to signify his disapproval by postponing Hausser's Oak Leaves to his Knight's Cross. Von Manstein's plan, to be implemented by Hausser, was to stand firm at Krasnograd, thus luring the pursuing Russians into a trap. Strength was improved by the arrival of the Totenkopf 'division, which had earlier linked up with the three panzer divisions of 48th Panzer Corps. The too armoured corps, one Army and one SS, as the components of 4th Panzer Army, went on to launch a concerted attack with effective air support northwards towards Pavlograd and Losuvaya. On 25 February, 4th Panzer Army wiped out a Soviet army group led by General M.M. Popov. This undoubtedly boosted morale, as did the trapping of Soviet forces between the defensive lines of 1st SS Panzer Grenadier Division and the two attacking divisions of the SS Panzer Corps. By 3 March, the Soviet forces had been encircled west of Bereka, which lay north of Krasnograd on a direct line to Kharkov. Three days later, the Corps had reached Valki, which lay to the north-west of the city. The aim was to thrust the Russians back across the Donetz. With that objective achieved by the advanced guard of the Leibstandarte, the assault on Kharkov was under way. The order came from Colonel General Hermann Hoth, as commander of 4th Panzer Army, 'to seal off Kharkov tightly from west to north. Conditions inside the city are to be reconnoitred. Opportunities to seize the city by a coup are to be utilised.' The northern role was assigned to the Leibstandarte and Totenkopf, with Das Reich attacking from the west and south. Resistance was light; Hausser felt sufficiently confident to take Kharkov by direct as62/205
sault. On 11 March, one battalion from Totenkopf joined Leibstandarte and Das Reich. SS-Brigadefuhrer Fritz Witt of Leibstandarte put in a two-pronged assault with 3rd SS Battalion in the van, cutting the Kharkov-Byelgorod road. The Leibstandarte went in, together with the 22nd SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment. Late on the afternoon of 15 March, four days after 'Panzer' Meyer's battalion had gained the eastern edge of town amid bitter, house-to-house fighting, the last of the Soviet resistance crumbled. Kharkov once again belonged to the Third Reich. With his characteristic opportunism, Goebbels geared his Propaganda Ministry to declaim: In Poland and in France, in Greece and above all in the endless expanses of the east, the Leibstandarte has stood in battle, and the same men have committed themselves with arms for the National Socialist Greater Germany, who, even before 1933, strove in the black Schutzstaffel for the victory of the National Socialist movement. 'That their Obergruppenfuhrer, their soldier of the First World War, the fighter of November 1923, the loyal companion of the Ftihrer, the old SS leader and present general of the Wqffen-SS, who exactly ten years ago set up the Leibstandarte and commanded it as a Regiment and now as a Division in the field, was today decorated with Oak Leaves with Swords, is their greatestjoy and greatest pride.' Calm period After Kharkov, a period of relative calm ensued. It was then time to contemplate renewed offensive operations in the summer of 1943. The reconquest of Kharkov was rightly regarded as a considerable triumph, but the cost had been 11,000 dead for the SS Panzer Corps and 4500 for the Leibstandarte. The Wehrmacht, still tinder the shadow of defeat at Stalingrad, argued for a period of defensive warfare, with emphasis on lightning local attacks designed to wear down the Soviet army. But Hitler had been brooding long hours over his maps, extolling at his daily conferences the need for the grand flourish which once and for all would annihilate the enemy. If this were not done, the Fiihrer declared, Soviet troops could well achieve a clear route to the Ukraine and thence to be able to sweep the Germans out of the Crimea. There were other considerations beyond Europe. Defeat for Germany was looking probable, not least in the Navy (Kriegsmarine) where, in May alone, a total of 43 U-boats were lost against a monthly launching rate of 15. In North Africa, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's Army Group Africa was facing a critical supply situation. Hitler, shuttling between his military compound Wolfsschanze (Wolf's Lair) in the gloomy Gorlitz forest, and the Berghof, 63/205
his mountain retreat in southern Bavaria, searched for the source of the victory he so badly needed. As he pored over his maps, his attention fastened on a vast section of the Eastern Front fighting line. This was an area which extended north from Belgorod, lying north-west of Kharkov, to the distant area of Orel. In the centre was the Kursk salient, or bulge. Kursk itself was an industrial city with valuable coalmining, engineering and manufacturing centres. Kursk Intelligence sources had alerted Hitler to enormous offensive Soviet strength at this point, with a sterling input of field forces. In the words of von Manstein: 'The whole salient was just begging to be sliced off.' As the German planners saw it, there were two options. The first was a pre-emptive strike designed to hit the Soviets before they attacked. Alternatively, they could wait for them to move and launch a counterattack. The latter emerged as the most feasible. There would be a wait for the Soviet attack in the face of which ground would be given. The fallback would be to the River Dniepr, followed by a massive strike from around Kharkov, which would take the Soviet advance in its flank. Then would come cut-off and encirclement. There was only one flaw. To Hitler, the merest hint of giving ground, even as the preface to a counterattack, was heresy. His refusal to have anything to do with such a proposal revealed the overall strategic defects of this corporal-turned-supreme commander. While he possessed the scintillating talent for conceiving the grand flourish, there was also an inbuilt petulance of character, which expressed itself in fury at the mere suggestion that the detested Russian hordes be allowed any gains whatsoever at the expense of his forces. This weakness was next compounded by doubt and dithering. Hitler confessed to Guderian: 'Whenever I think of this attack my stomach turns over.' Guderian was blunt: 'Leave it alone!' Finally, however, Hitler was not to be dissuaded, even when it was pointed out to him that, if there were an Allied landing in Europe and the Kursk campaign went ahead, there would be no available forces to fill the gap. D-Day, first proposed for 1 May, was altered to a succession of other dates before being fixed irrevocably for 5 July 1942; it was codenamed Citadel (Zitadelle). By then, there was a fresh threat to Hitler. A high-level encrypted intelligence report, compiled by a group of senior Wehrmacht officers on 2 July, had reached Lieutenant General M. E. Katukov, the commander of 1st Tank Army. It contained nothing less than full details of the anticipated German attack, including 64/205
its date. The Soviets were indebted to ULTR\, the intelligence source in Britain derived from the interception and decryption of German I coded signal traffic. In addition, valuable material had reached a German emigre and anti-fascist named Rudolph Rossler, codenamed 'Lucy', who worked out of Lucerne and had contacts at the highest level within Stavka, the Soviet Supreme High Command. This advantage, as well as the delay in launching Citadel, enabled the Russians to set about constructing a deeply armed system of fortifications and minefields. Recruitment, too, was up; the strength of the Red Army was bolstered by the delivery of 6000 armoured fighting vehicles. The weeks leading up to Citadel were significant for the Leibstandarte; Sepp Dietrich, his men learnt, would not himself be taking part in the Kursk offensive. On 4 June, he handed over command to SS-Brigadeführer Theodor Wisch, an SS highflier still in his early thirties. From Berlin, Sepp Dietrich set about activating a new command, I SS Panzer Corps. Its creation had sprung from Himmler's desire to bolster his power and his influence by arguing for still further expansion of the Waffen-SS. The Reichsführer-SS insisted that new blood should be drawn from the Hitler Jugend; discussions were soon in progress between Reichjugendführer Artur Axmann and the SS leadership. It emerged that elements of the Leibstandarte and the SS Panzer Grenadier Division Hitler Jugend (later 12th SS Panzer Division Hitler Jugend) would constitute I SS Panzer Corps, with Hausser's corps being demoted to II SS Panzer Corps. The Leibstandarte would supply the officers and senior non-commissioned officers. Dietrich promoted As for Dietrich, an entirely new rank was created specifically for him. He became SS-Obergruppenführer und Panzergeneral der WaffenSS. It was a promotion that came in the midst of a personal crisis. Dietrich - and he was not alone in this - was thinking the unthinkable: given the sheer numerical superiority in men and material possessed by the Soviets, he was edging towards the view that a decisive victory by Germany in the east was no longer possible. As he was not a man to muffle his opinions, Dietrich's reservations reached Himmler. Such was the extent of Dietrich's prestige, however, that the Reichsführer-SS felt he could only issue the following written rebuke: 'Whatever you think about the war in the east, I know best ... We are sure the Russians can and will be defeated.' As for Citadel, Hitler's plan was a classic pincer operation, moving from the north and south, both jaws heading to meet at a point east 65/205
of Kursk. The thrust against the northern flank of the salient was to be carried out by General Walter Model's 9th Army -seven infantry and eight panzer and panzer grenadier divisions - while the southern flank belonged to General Hermann Hoth's 4th Panzer Army. As far as armament was concerned, the Germans threw in everything they had, greatly exceeding their resources at the start of the Russian campaign. The battle plan of Marshal Georgi Zhukov was sizing up to be an aggressive defence. This involved forcing his enemy to make the first move. When the Germans were worn down, counteroffensives would follow. No less than 40 per cent of the Red Army's entire infantry and armoured divisions was to implement the plan. An extra 50,000 men were kept in reserve. General Konstantin Rokossovsky's Central Front would defend Kursk's northern side, while the Voronezh Front of General Nikolai Vatutin would be responsible for the south. As the date for Citadel grew ever closer, the Germans massed their forces: 50 divisions, a total of 900,000 men, with a further 20 divisions in reserve, plus 2700 tanks, including Tigers and Panthers. In its advance to the salient, the SS Panzer Corps, as part of 4th Panzer Army with a tank strength of 343, was to penetrate the first defensive belt via Beresov village and Sadeynoye. At Beresov, flame-throwing units were to head the panzer grenadiers, fighting their way in. Beyond lay the second belt between Lutchki and Jakovlevo. For the operation to the north-east, 167th Infantry Division, as part of SS Corps, had the task of guarding the left flank. The corps was a coiled spring. Waiting to begin One Leibstandarte man wrote: 'For reasons of security we have not been allowed to move about during the daytime and you can understand how hard this is, but now the waiting is over ... It is cold black outside :he Command bunker. Black clouds cover the sky and the rain is streaming down ... The barrage has just begun. I can feel its force even down here deep in the earth.' During the Russian summer, dawn speedily sees off the night, so at 0330 hours on 5 July 1943, Operation Citadel began. It was destined to last for six hours. Another Leibstandarte man recorded in his journals: T saw our leading Tiger sections roar away and vanish almost completely in the peculiar silver/grey tall grass which is a feature of the area ... Our mine lifting teams mark the position of Ivan's mines by lying down alongside them, thus using their bodies to mark a gap in the field. There are thousands of mines all over the area.' The rapid advance of the Leibstandarte was exhilarating, with the first defen66/205
sive positions falling easily and the tank squadrons encircling and wiping out the enemy. This did not last. All too soon there was the full force of the massed heavy artillery of the Russians and their tight network of exploding mines to be faced. The day belonged equally to tank men and foot soldiers. Of the former, 55-Obersturmfuhrer Michael Wittmann, in the turret of his Tiger with its five-man crew, knocked out a clutch of T34s with his platoon. An indication of the extent of the Leibstandarte s, collective adrenalin to say nothing of its early arrogance - was afforded when Wisch made a sudden appearance near the Tigers and was greeted by one of his commanders with the words: 'Lunch in Kursk!' By the end of the day, Wittmann had claimed eight enemy tanks and seven anti-tank guns had been knocked out. It was not his only achievement. Wittmann's success Barely an hour later, as his Tiger engaged anti-tank guns, Wittmann's crackling radio was telling him that the company's Wendorff platoon was in deep trouble. All at once, his Tigers were plunging through the nearby copse, only to come up against the rear of another Soviet antitank strongpoint. Wendorffs plight was to be surrounded by a clutch of T-34s, which had put paid to one of the platoon's Tigers. Wittmann, spirits riding high, sped to the aid of Wendorff. Three T-34s were knocked out. The bag for the day was eight enemy tanks and seven anti-tank guns destroyed.
Fig A Leibstandarte Sturmgeschutz (assault gun) III or StuG III By no means all the SS men felt the same relish. SS-Sturmann Gunther Borchers of the Leibstandarte recorded in his diary: T am in a flame-throwing team, and we are to lead the Company attack. This is a real suicide mission. We have to get within 30 metres [90ft] of the Russians before we open fire. It's time to write out the last will and testament.' The foot soldiers fought their way across the minefields and troughs to the first Soviet trench lines, where there were belts of trenches protected by barbed wire and minefields. There was hand-to-hand fighting with grenades, machine pistols, rifles, bayonets and occasionally trenching tools, employed to cleave the skulls of the enemy. As for the minefields, their density was such that a German corps could find itself lifting as many as 40,000 mines in a single day. 6 The second day of Citadel saw postponement of the Leibstandarte thrust until the afternoon because of bad weather. The dug-in tanks of the 1st Red Tank Army then came up against flame-throwers and constant counterattacks. The High Command War Diary of 6 July was scarcely cheerful; the element of surprise had not been achieved 68/205
and there had been no decisive breakthrough. This meant that both flanks of the SS Corps were now open to Soviet counterblows. True, the War Diary was claiming, on 8 July, that 400 Russian tanks had been destroyed, but another entry revealed that the SS Corps had only 400 Panthers still operational out of the original 200. Many members of the tank crews, facing their first battle, fled their machines in terror to take refuge in the trenches from a fire which would barbecue them. A fundamental fault lay in the panzer arm itself. The Tigers, despite their considerable power and 88mm (3.46in) guns, were lumbering leviathans with a cross-country speed of barely 19kmph (12mph) and an operation range of 96km (60 miles). The Ferdinands, heavy tankdestroyer Tigers with a vast thickness of armour, suffered from weak suspensions which frequently immobilised them, while the remotecontrol demolition Goliaths were not up to the job. It was the Soviet T-34, however, which had provided the Germans with their greatest shock.-The German tank crews reported its agility in comparison with the Tiger and, along with other Soviet tanks, its speed in climbing slopes and swamps. A big advantage enjoyed by the Soviets was that the T-34 was in mass production; heavy losses were therefore of less consequence than they were to the Germans. This was to be particularly so during the battle of Kursk, where the High Command War Diary was to record the destruction of 663 Soviet tanks, a figure greater than the loss to the Germans. While Russian losses were replaceable, however, the losses of the Germans were irrevocable. Attack by Leibstandarte in a northeasterly direction along the Teterevino-Prokhorovka road, south-east of the River Psel, had been marked by some impressive achievements. Obersturmfuhrer Rudolf von Ribbentrop, commander of No. 6 Company of 1st SS Panzer Regiment and son of the German Foreign Minister, had faced 154 T-34s and a Soviet infantry battalion advancing between Prokorovka and Teterevino. The troop had lost three machines out of seven, with fighting taking place at less than 180m (200yds). It succeeded in clearing a path through the Soviet area on the route to Oboyan, which lay some 60km (37 miles) from Kursk. But the capture of P/okhorovka, to the south-east of Kursk, proved an impossibility, both because of strong enemy resistance and the seas of mud created by the driving rain. Just to the south, the Soviet 5th Guards tank army mounted its furious assault. Hope centred on 3rd Panzer Corps of Army Detachment Kempf, which had a vital role in protecting Hausser's right flank; however, it failed to appear. On 10 July, the Soviet Voronezh Front, with a force of 10 corps, went over to the coun-teroffensive. On 69/205
the plain to Kursk's southeast, two mighty tank armies deployed for what, up to that time, was the greatest tank battle in history. Lieutenant General Pavel Rotmistrov, of the Soviet 5th Tank Army, clashed with the Leibstandarte at 0400 hours two days later. A regiment of T-34s was annihilated. The main clash came just outside Prokhorovka, where Rotmistrov viewed the battlefield from a nearby hill. He later wrote: 'The tanks were moving across the steppe in small packs, under cover of patches of woodland and hedges. The bursts of gunfire merged into one continuous, mighty roar. The Soviet tanks thrust into the German advanced formations at full speed and penetrated the German tank screen. The T-34s were knocking out Tigers at extremely close range, since their powerful guns and massive armour no longer gave them an advantage in close combat... Frequently when a tank was hit, its ammunition and fuel blew up, and torn-off turrets were flung through the air over dozens of yards ... Soon the whole sky was shrouded by the thick smoke of the burning wrecks. On the black, scorched earth, the gutted tanks burnt like torches.' Rotmistrov could have added that the tanks which thundered into the fray across the open steps were both Soviet and German, since each side charged at they knew not what, guns spitting furiously, even destroying their own side. Theorists of tank warfare said one of the prime tactical rules was that the panzers should exploit enemy weakness, not pitch tank against tank. The rule book was blown into oblivion. Along with it went the concept of Blitzkrieg as a long, continuous sweep capable of bypassing even the strongest defences. Blitzkrieg was dead, along with Citadel itself. German losses were put at 70,000 killed or wounded, 3000 tanks, 1000 guns and much other warmateriel. Soviet losses were not revealed. In Moscow, impatient queues formed for newspapers and the headlines were exultant. Among the most memorable was 'THE TIGERS ARE BURNING'. After the war, Guderian reflected: 'The armoured formations, reformed and re-equipped with much effort, had lost heavily in both men and equipment, and would now be unemployable for a long time to come. It was problematical whether they could be rehabilitated in time to defend the Eastern Front; as for being able to use them in defence of the Western Front against the Allied landings that threatened the next spring, this was even more questionable. Needless to say, the Russians exploited their victory to the full.' There were to be no more periods of quiet on the Eastern Front; now the enemy undisputably held the initiative. In the east, the Germans 70/205
had ceased to be the hammer and had become the anvil. Kursk The spring 'rasputitsa' halted offensive operations, giving the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler time to rest and refit. By early June 1943, the division had been fully refitted and was now under the command of SS-Brigadef端hrer, Theodor Wisch. Its armour strength was 12 Tiger Is, 72 Panzer IVs, 16 Panzer III and Panzer IIs, and 31 StuGs. In late June 1943, the formation of I SS Panzer Corps meant that Hausser's SS Panzer Corps was renamed II SS Panzer Corps. The II SS Panzer Corps was moved north to Belgorod in preparation for the upcoming summer offensive; Zittadelle. The LSSAH, along with the Totenkopf and Das Reich, was to form the spearhead of Generaloberst Hermann Hoth's 4th Panzer Army, tasked with breaching the southern flank of the Kursk salient. Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model's 9th Army was to breach the northern flank, and the two forces were to meet near the city of Kursk, to the east, thereby encircling a large Soviet force. The II SS Panzer Corps reached its assembly areas on 28 June and began preparing for the assault. The attack was set for 5 July, and on the 4th, the II SS Panzer Corps, as well as the XLVIII Panzer Corps on its left and the III Panzer Corps on the right, began minor attacks to secure observation posts. Fighting lasted throughout the day, with the LSSAH's Pioneer Battalion seeing heavy action clearing out the entrenched Soviets. 7
The LSSAH's panzers, advancing in Panzerkeils 8(wedges), soon ran into the Soviet Pakfronts. The elaborate system of Soviet defences slowed the attack, but unlike in Model's sector, the 4th Panzer Army, spearheaded by the II SS Panzer Corps and the LSSAH, was not halted, and eventually broke through. By 9 July, the II SS Panzer Corps had advanced 30 miles (48 km) north, and were nearing the small town of Prokhorovka. The LSSAH again took the lead, by now its armour strength was reduced to just 77 armoured vehicles. The 2nd SS Panzergrenadier Regiment, supported by several tanks, advanced straight up the road to Prokhorovka against heavy resistance. By midday, the grenadiers had cleared the Komsomolets State Farm and begun the attack on Hill 241.6, which they secured shortly after nightfall on 10 July. The next day the advance resumed, with the division capturing Oktiabr'skii State Farm and Hill 252.2 in heavy fighting against Soviet Paratroops of the 9th Guards Airborne Division. On 12 July, the Soviets threw the 5th Guards Tank Army into a counterattack near Prokhorovka. Two tank corps faced the LSSAH, hitting the advancing Germans around Oktiabr'skii State Farm and Hill 252.2. In the ensuing fighting, the outnumbered Germans inflicted heavy casualties on the Soviets, knocking out many tanks. In the process, the LSSAH also suffered relatively light casualties; however the Soviet counterattack
had stalled the German advance, and the division was forced to fall back to Oktiabr'skii. The Soviet 5th Guards Tank Army lost 300 tanks destroyed and further 300 damaged on 12 July. Fighting continued the next day, but the focus of the Soviet attack had then shifted to the Totenkopf, on the left of the LSSAH. With the Battle of Prokhorovka still in the balance, a massive Soviet counteroffensive near Orel caused Hitler to order the cessation of Citadel. The II SS Panzer Corps was pulled back. The LSSAH was ordered out of the line; having suffered 2,753 casualties including 474 killed. 11 tanks were also lost during Operation Citadel. The division was then sent to Italy to help stabilise the situation there caused by the deposal of Benito Mussolini by the Badoglio government and the Allied invasion of Sicily on 10 July. The division left behind its armour and equipment, which was given to Das Reich and Totenkopf. Order of Battle On 5/1/43 the LSSAH Panzer Regiment was ordered to reorganize. Personnel from the 1/LSSAH were sent back to Germany. Of these men, 328 were then sent to form the 12th Panzer Regiment of the 12th SS Panzer Division "Hitler Jugend." The remainder were used to form a new 1/LSSAH Panzer Regiment that was to be equipped with Panzer MkV (Panther) Tanks. This new 1/LSSAH Panzer Regiment was then organized with a staff company with eight Panzer Mk V tanks, and four companies with 22 Panzer MkV tanks each. It was not fully equipped until mid-July and did not participate in Operation Citadel. The remaining 2/LSSAH Panzer Regiment was raised to four companies, each of which had 22 Mk IV tanks. The Tiger Company of the division was authorized to have 15 Tiger Tanks, including one command tank. On 5/15/43 the 1st and 2nd Panzergrenadier Regiment finally formed the 19th (Reconnaissance) Company and the 20th (Pioneer) Company using the pioneer platoons of the heavy companies. On 5/16/43 the heavy mortar platoons were detached from the machine-gun companies and reattached to the battalions' heavy companies. Shortly before the battle of Kursk, on 7/1/43, the division's panzer forces were organized and equipped as follows: 2/1st SS Panzer Regiment 1 Regimental Staff Signals Platoon 1 Regimental Staff Light Panzer Platoon Each Battalion had: 1 Panzer Staff Company 4 Medium Panzer Companies 73/205
13th Heavy Panzer Company
Records show that on 7/4/43 it also had 18 (motZ) PAK 75mm, 21 75mm self-propelled anti-tank guns, and 34 sturmgeschiitz. Documents indicate that the Tiger tanks were assigned to the 13th Company of the LSSAH Panzer Regiment. After Kursk the division was withdrawn from the front and sent into Austria where it was rebuilt and refitted. The I/Panzer Regiment LSSAH rejoined the division and was now equipped with Panzer MkV (Panthers) Tanks. On 9/7/43 the division had 23 Panzer Mk VI and four under repair, 65 Panzer MkV and six more under repair, 51 Panzer Mk IV and three under repair, and 8 command tanks with two more under repair. In August 1943 the former Observation Battery was reorganized as a Nebelwerfer Battery and added to the artillery regiment as the 11th (Werfer) Battery. On 10/7/43 an armored flak platoon was organized in the 3/2nd Panzergrenadier Regiment. 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler On 10/22/43 the 1st SS Panzergrenadier Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler was renamed as the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. Its assigned units were: 1/,2/,3/1st SS Panzergrenadier Regiment LSSAH 1/,2/,3/2nd SS Panzergrenadier Regiment LSSAH 1st SS Reconnaissance Battalion LSSAH (6 companies) 1/,2/lst SS Panzer Regiment LSSAH (13 companies) 1st SS Panzerjager (Battalion LSSAH (3 companies) 1st SS Sturmgeschutz Battalion LSSAH (3 batteries) 1/,2/,3/,4/1st SS Artillery Regiment LSSAH included a survey battery 1st SS Flak Battalion LSSAH (5 batteries) 1st SS Pioneer Battalion LSSAH (4 companies) 1st SS Armored Signal Battalion LSSAH (2 companies) 1st SS Projector (Werfer) LSSAH (raised 9/44) 74/205
1st SS Replacement (Ersatz) Battalion LSSAH (raised 10/44) 1st SS Divisional (Einheiten) Support Units On 10/22/43 the panzerjager battalion was renamed the S.S Panzerjagerabteilung 1/LSSAH. This formation suffered heavy casualties and in early 1944 only one company, with 17 percent of authorized strength . It was then transferred to the 12th SS Panzer Division "Hitler Jugend." In addition, the sturmgeschiitz battalion on was renamed the SS-Sturmgeschutzabteilung 1. In early November 1943 the 1st SS Panzer Regiment had been brought back to nearly full strength and was organized as follows: 1/,2/1st SS Panzer Regiment 1 Regimental Staff Panzer Company Each Battalion had: 1 Panzer Staff Company 4 Medium Companies 1 Heavy Panzer Company Mk VI 27
The bulk of the division was withdrawn from combat on 12/4/43 and a kampfgruppe was organized that remained in combat. The 1st SS Panzer Regiment was reduced to a battalion of three companies, one each of Mk PV, MkV and MkVI tanks. On 4/11/44 the kampfgruppe was withdrawn from combat and transferred to OB West where it was reincorporated into the reforming division and rebuilt. The 1/1 st SS Panzer Regiment was subsequently rebuilt with four companies, each with 17 Panther tanks.The 2/lst SS Panzer Regiment was rebuilt with four companies, each with 22 Mk IV tanks. On the same date the reconnaissance battalion was renamed the SSPanzer-Aufkl채rungsabteilung 1/LSSAH. On the same date flak battalion was renamed the SS-Panzer-Flakabteilung 1/LSSAH. In November the 6th Flak Battery was detached to the corps staff of the I SS Panzer Corps as a flak company. An interesting chart inT-78, Roll 417 shows that eight Mk VI Tiger Tanks were dispatched from the factory in December 1943 to the division, despite no organizational charts indicating the assignment of a Tiger tank detachment. On 4/28/44 the division was organized as follows: Division Division Staff 75/205
Divisional Escort Company Motorcycle Platoon (6 LMGs) Self Propelled Flak Platoon (4 20mm guns) Self Propelled Anti-Tank Platoon (3 LMGs & 3 75mm PAK 40) Infantry Gun Platoon (2 75mm leIG) Mixed Panzergrenadier Platoon (4 HMGs, 6 LMGs, & 2 80mm mortars) 1st SS Panzer Regiment Regimental Staff Self Propelled Flak Platoon (6 20mm guns) 1st Panzer Battalion (1-4th Companies) (MkV Panthers) Panzer Maintenance Platoon 2nd Panzer Battalion (5-8th Companies) (Mk IV Panzers) 1 Halftrack Pioneer Company (40 LMGs & 6 flamethrowers) 1 Panzer Maintenance Company 1 (mot) Panzer Supply Column 1st SS Panzergrenadier Regiment Regimental Staff 1st Battalion 1-3rd Companies (4 HMGs, 18 LMGs, 2 80mm mortars & 2 flamethrowers) 4th Company (12 HMGs & 6 80mm mortars) 5th Company 1 Pioneer Platoon (3 LMGs) 1 Panzerjager Platoon (3 50mm PAK 38) 1 Infantry Gun Section (2 75mm leIG) 2nd Battalion (6-10th Companies) (same as 1st Battalion) 3rd Battalion (11-15th Companies) (same as 1st Battalion) 16th (self-propelled flak) Company (12 20mm & 4 LMGs) 17th (self-propelled infantry gun) Company (6 150mmsIG&7LMGs) 18th (self-propelled panzerj채ger) Company (9 75mm PAK 40 & 9 LMGs) 2nd SS Panzergrenadier Regiment same as 1st SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 1st SS Reconnaissance Battalion Battalion Staff 1 Armored Car Company (18 20mm & 24 LMGs) 1 Armored Car Company (16 20mm & 25LMGs) 2 (halftrack) Companies (4 HMGs, 56 LMGs, 2 80mm mortars & 3 37mm PAK 36) 1 (halftrack) Company 1 Pioneer Platoon (13 LMGs & 1 75mm gun) 1 Panzerjager Platoon (9 LMGs & 3 75mm PAK 40) 76/205
1 Infantry Gun Section (2 75mm leIG & 4 LMGs) 1 Gun Section (8 LMGs & 6 75mm guns) 1 (mot) Reconnaissance Supply Column (3 LMGs) 1st SS Panzerjager Battalion Battalion Staff 2 Self Propelled Panzerjager Companies (6 75mm PAK 40 & 10 LMGs ea) 1 Self Propelled Panzerjager Company (6 88mm & 10 LMGs ea) 1st SS Sturmgesch端tz Battalion Staff 1-3rd Sturmgeschutz Batteries (11 StuG & 2 LMGs ea) 1st SS Panzer Artillery Regiment 1st (Self Propelled) Battalion: Staff & (self-propelled) Staff Battery (6 LMGs) 2 Self Propelled leFH Batteries (6 SdKfz 124 Wespe with 105mm leFH ea) 1 Self Propelled sFH Battery (6 SdKfz 165 Hummel with 150mm sFH) 2nd Battalion Staff & Staff Battery (2 LMGs) 4th, 5th & 6th (motZ) Batteries (4 105mm leFH & 2 LMGs ea) 3rd Battalion Staff & (mot) Staff Battery (6 LMGs) 7th, 8th, & 9th (motZ) Batteries (4 150mm sFH & 2 LMGs ea) Attached 1 (motZ) Battery (4 100mm K18 & 2 LMGs) 1 (motZ) Nebelwerfer Battery (6 150/210mm launchers) 1st SS Flak Battalion Staff & Staff Battery 3 (motZ) Heavy Flak Batteries (4 88mm, 3 20mm & 2 LMGs ea) 2 Self Propelled Medium Flak Batteries (9 37mm & 4 LMGs ea) 1 (motZ) Searchlight Platoon (3 600mm searchlights) 1st SS Panzer Pioneer Battalion Staff (2 LMGs) 1 (halftrack) Pioneer Reconnaissance Platoon (2 LMGs) 1 (halftrack) Pioneer Company (43 LMGs, 3 heavy anti-tank rifles, 2 80mm mortars & 6 flamethrowers) 2 (mot) Pioneer Companies (2 HMGs, 18 LMGs, 2 80mm mortars & 6 flamethrowers) 1 (mot) Heavy Panzer Bridging Train (4 LMGs) 1 (mot) Pioneer Supply Column (1 LMG) 1st SS Panzer Signals Battalion 1 (mot) Telephone Company (5 LMGs) 77/205
1 Panzer Radio Company (35 LMGs) 1 (mot) Signals Supply Column (4 LMGs) 1st SS Supply Troop 1/,2/,3/,4/lstSS (mot) 120 ton Transportation Companies (8 LMGs ea) 5/1st SS (mot) Heavy Supply Column (4 LMGs) 7,8/,9/,10/1st SS (mot) heavy Fuel Columns (4 LMGs ea) 1st SS (mot) Workshop Company (4 LMGs) 1st SS (mot) Supply Company (8 LMGs) 1st SS Truck Park 1/,2/,3/1st SS (mot) Maintenance Companies (4 LMGs) 1st SS (mot) 75 ton Heavy Maintenance Supply Column Medical 1/,2/1st SS (mot) Medical Companies (2 LMGs ea) 1/,2/,3/lst SS Ambulances Administration 1st SS (mot) Bakery Company (6 LMGs) 1st SS (mot) Butcher Company (6 LMGs) 1st SS (mot) Divisional Administration Platoon (2 LMGs) 1st SS (mot) Field Post Office (2 LMGs) 2째 S.S Das Reich Panzer Division By late 1942, the tide of World War II began to turn against the Third Reich. In North Africa, German forces under the command of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel suffered a decisive defeat at El Alamein. On the Eastern Front, the Red Army dealt a more serious blow to the Nazi war effort when the Soviets launched a winter offensive that smashed several Romanian, Italian and Hungarian divisions, forcing Axis troops in the area to fall back to the River Dnieper. At Stalingrad, the Russians encircled the German 6th Army and repulsed all attempts to relieve the beleaguered garrison. By February 1943, the city and the surviving remnants of the German Army had fallen into Russian hands. Three months later, Allied forces swept their Axis adversaries completely out of North Africa. To help blunt the Soviet assault against German positions on the Eastern Front, Adolf Hitler dispatched the recently organized I SS Panzer Corps into the area. After performing this mission, the SS troops were to initiate an aggressive counter-offensive, aimed at retaking the territory that had been lost to the Russians. Led by SSObergruppenf체hrer Paul Hausser, the corps included three of the best divisions in the German armed forces: Leibstandarie, Totenkopf, and Das Reich, which was now under the command of SS-Grup78/205
penf端hrer Georg Keppler. All three of these divisions had been reorganized as panzergrenadier formations. Top priority move In January 1943, the SS corps went to the southern sector of the front to repel an attack that had been launched by the Soviet 3rd Guards Tank Army. Because their presence in the region was so desperately needed, the SS divisions received top priority in the use of road and rail transportation. After assembling at an area near the city of Kharkov, Hausser's forces were to maintain a bridgehead situated between Volokomovka and Kupiansk on the River Oskol. Although the SS corps was supposed to operate as a unified organization, the exigencies of war forced Army Group South to disperse its elements into different areas. Das Reich was the first SS division to reach the front. Arriving in the middle of January, the Der F端hrer Regiment was in the area before the other elements of the division and immediately went to work against the Soviet war machine. West of the River Oskol, the soldiers of the Red Army seemed as if they were about to achieve a breakthrough at Voroshilovgrad. To prevent such a disaster for the Germans, Army Group South formed a battle group that was comprised of Der Fuhrer's 1st Battalion, two field artillery batteries, one Flak battery, and two companies from other parts of the regiment. Attached to the 6th Panzer Division, this battle group was to aid in the defence of the town. On 22 January, the SS troops marched 205km (127 miles) to their battle zone and remained there until early March. By the end of the month, the main part of I SS Panzer Corps had arrived and was arrayed at its assigned position on the River Oskol. While 2nd Battalion, DerFuhrer Regiment occupied a sector close to the river, the Deutschland Regiment covered a piece of woodland south-west of Kamenka, as well as areas west of Borki, Kosinka and Olovatka. As the SS troops moved into their positions, they encountered the surviving remnants of the decimated Italian 8th Army retreating past the front lines and into safer areas. In addition, several depleted German units filed past the SS formations, including the 320th D'ivision. Hausser's troops quickly learned from the demoralized state of these withdrawing forces that they would face formidable adversaries in the southern sector of the Eastern Front. Shortly after taking up their positions along the River Oskol, the commanding officers in the SS corps learned that the Red Army had ripped large holes in the German defence line and recaptured a considerable amount of territory, including the important city of Kursk. The Russians were also in close pursuit of the rearguard ele79/205
ments of the Italian and Romanian armies that they had mauled. Moreover, intelligence sources soon revealed that the Soviets intended to push the Germans back to the River Dnieper and thus retake the city of Kharkov. As a result, Army Group South had to utilize the SS corps as a defensive group, despite the fact that Hitler had envisioned this new formation as an offensive weapon. Fortunately for the soldiers in Das Reich and the other SS divisions, the Red Army winter offensive was just starting to lose its momentum by the time Hausser arrived. By late January, the Soviets had strained their logistical lines and lacked ammunition for their infantry, artillery and armoured units. Although the Red Army still had plenty of troops to hurl at the Germans, its dwindling firepower enabled the SS units to hold their ground more effectively and perhaps maintain enough strength to mount a punishing counter-offensive. Massed attacks As soon as the regiments and battalions of the Das Reich Division settled into their assigned positions, they had to beat back attacks being launched by division-size Soviet forces. By utilizing their overwhelming numerical superiority, the Red Army units gradually pushed back 2nd Battalion, Der Fuhrer Regiment and forced it to withdraw from its bridgehead on the River Oskol in early February. As the Soviets approached the River Donetz and came closer to Kharkov, they created a salient that separated the main part of the Das Reich Division from its Reconnaissance Battalion. On 7 February, the Red Army launched a new offensive that was aimed at taking Kharkov. To achieve this objective, Stavka (the High Command of the Soviet Armed Forces) developed a plan that called for a pincer movement that would force I SS Panzer Corps either to evacuate the city or remain entrapped in a pocket. The southern arm of this two-pronged assault covered a wide area located between the right flank of the Leibstandarte and the left flank of the 320th Division. The northern arm was less imposing and was situated northeast of Belgorod. Although they were aware that this offensive would probably result in the encirclement of Kharkov, the Germans attempted to relocate to defensive positions on the western bank of the Donets which they hoped would be adequate enough to hold the city without being surrounded. Thus, the Das Reich Division pulled back from its area along the Oskol on 9 February during a heavy blizzard. Obscured by the weather conditions, Soviet snipers harassed the retreating Germans, who were forced to march across ground that was covered with 80/205
deep snow. Not surprisingly, many vehicles got stuck during this retreat. On the other side of the Donets, the SS soldiers were dismayed to find out that the Russians had already reached the area. As a result, the Das Reich Division pulled back even further and set up new positions much closer to Kharkov. To thwart the Soviet pincer action that threatened to entrap in the city, Hausser ordered a bold counter-attack against the southern arm of the Red Army advance. His plan called for a battle group to sweep southward and sever this appendage from the main part of the Soviet juggernaut. To ensure that his battle group had enough men to accomplish this task, Hausser had to pull some of his troops from the front lines. He also moved his divisions further to the west to give the task force more time to perform its mission. This unit consisted of the Der Fuhrer Regiment and the Motorcycle Battalion from the Das Reich Division, along with two units from the LeibstandarteDivision. On 10 February, the battle group assembled at the town of Merefa to start its operation. The following day, the SS units sprang into action. While the two Das Reich formations constituted the centre of the counter-attack, the other two SS units occupied the flanks. Although confronted with punishing snowstorms, the battle group travelled quickly until its armoured vehicles approached enemy rear echelon units 50km (31 miles) behind the Russian lines. While the SS took their opponents by surprise, Stuka dive-bombers hammered Red Army positions from the sky. Within a short period of time, the Germans amputated the southern pincer of the Soviet attack and obliterated the 7th Guard Cavalry Corps. After performing this feat, the SS battle group continued moving south until it made contact with soldiers from the 320th Division. With this mission complete, Hausser broke apart the group and returned its units to their respective divisions. Although these units had suffered heavy losses during the counter-attack, their men were in high spirits and gratified by the result of the operation. By this time, Keppler had to step down as commander of the Das Reich Division because of a brain haemorrhage, and was replaced by Herbert Ernst Vahl. Undeterred by this setback, the Red Army renewed its offensive on Kharkov. Although the SS divisions held their ground at Rogan and Ternovoya, the Soviets had more success to the south, and seized the suburb of Smiyev. Fortunately for the SS corps, overextended supply lines prevented enemy infantrymen from receiving adequate artillery 81/205
support. As a result, they suffered terrible losses in wave after wave of assaults against positions that were protected by MG 42 machine guns. A new weapon in the German arsenal, the MG 42 had a rapid rate of fire and a deafening noise. The Soviets referred to it as 'Hitler's Saw'. German panzer and artillery units also wreaked havoc upon the Red Army attack. Despite these high casualty rates, the Soviets used their seemingly limitless supply of manpower to push the SS divisions back closer to Kharkov. Vastly outnumbered and severely depleted, the Germans relied upon their discipline, training, dedication and courage to keep the Red Army from collapsing their lines and sending them into a panicked rout. Although he had been ordered by Hitler to hold the city at all costs, Hausser found this task increasingly difficult when the Soviets seized Belgorod and were now moving north-west of the SS corps: the Germans were threatened with another possible encirclement. To the north-east, the Russians were punching holes in the perimeter around Kharkov. By the evening of the 14th February, they had pushed into the suburbs and were penetrating rear echelon areas of the SS Panzer Corps. To buy more time, a group of battle tanks from the Das Reich Division launched a punishing counter-attack in the north-western part of the city. Although this action brought a temporary halt to the Soviet offensive on Kharkov, it seemed as if Hausser's troops were slipping into another pincer. Suggested withdrawal Determined to see his division survive this ordeal. Hausser advised his superior officers in Army Group South to allow him to pull his corps out of Kharkov. To dramatize the futility of remaining in the city, he predicted that the Soviets would take it within two or three days, even if he sacrificed every man in his command. In response to this plea, the Wehrmacht strategists merely reiterated to Hausser that the order to hold Kharkov had come from Hitler himself. Thus, in order to save his command from annihilation, Hausser had to defy his Fuhrer and, on 15 February, order an evacuation. With Soviet troops closing in on Kharkov, the withdrawal from the city became a harrowing experience. Although Das Reich panzer units had repulsed an enemy attack north-west of the city, Russian armoured groups managed to seize part of Rogan and thus tighten the gauntlet that seemed to be ensnaring the SS divisions. With the SS corps now confined to a narrow 1.6km(1 mile) wide corridor run82/205
ning from the centre of Kharkov to the German lines, the Russians were able to pour a rain of artillery shells into the city while the Germans evacuated. As the Red Army tightened its grip, Hausser received two more orders to remain in Kharkov, even as his corps was preparing to retreat. Not surprisingly, he paid little attention to these messages. While the SS corps pulled out, Hitler personally visited the headquarters of Army Group South at Zaporozhye. Incensed that his order to hold Kharkov at all costs had been disobeyed, he ordered the group commander, Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, to place Hausser's troops at the front of a counter-attack which would be aimed at retaking the city. Late in the afternoon, the Soviets pushed through the south-eastern suburbs. By this time, Hausser was leading his divisions south of die city until they re-grouped at an area on the opposite bank of the River Udy. The Russians were now able to capture Kharkov, but dieir success placed them in a salient that rendered them vulnerable to a punishing offensive. This might produce a result similar to the one they had achieved against I SS Panzer Corps. Presented with such a promising opportunity, Manstein wasted no time planning a counter-attack. In his battle plan, the SS corps was to serve as the upper arm in a pincer movement around the city, while the rest of the 4th Panzer Army constituted the lower arm. Reorganization During the preparation for this counter-attack, some elements of I SS Panzer Corps underwent reorganization to adjust for the severe losses suffered during the defence of Kharkov. Within the Das Reich Division, the surviving members of the Panzer Regiment were assembled into a single battalion. With more than half of its vehicles destroyed or disabled, the tank unit was incapable of functioning as a full-size regiment. Other depleted regiments within the corps experienced similar amalgamation. While the SS corps underwent these changes, Hausser congratulated his men for their willingness to work together under extremely adverse conditions. He was particular:' pleased with the ability of diverse units that had never worked together to cooperate and coordinate their offensive and defensive actions. In late February, the Red Army was still pressing the German lines, but with much less speed or force. South of Kharkov, the Voronezh Front was heading due west. Meanwhile, the South-West and South Fronts moved south-west to establish bridgeheads on the Dnieper and seize the city of Dniepropetrovsk. Before he could re-take Kharkov, Manstein had to destroy these enemy forces that were advancing 83/205
on Dniepropetrovsk. At the time, his Army Group South occupied an area between Rostov and Krasnograd. From 19 February to 4 March, the Germans thus waged an aggressive counter-attack in an area between the Donets and Dnieper rivers. At the start of the operation, fog, snowfall and dampness bedevilled soldiers on both sides. Charged with the task of seizing Peretschepino and destroying all enemy forces west and south-west of Krasnograd, the Das Reich Division marched into battle with companies that had an average size of only 60 men. To get to their objective, the SS soldiers had to negotiate their way through a minefield. Because the batteries in their mine detectors were dead, the men of the Deutschland Regiment were forced to locate the concealed explosives by sticking their bayonets into the snow. After they cleared a path for the division, 3rd Battalion, Der F端hrer Regiment rushed through and spearheaded the drive to Peretschepino. Supported by SP and tank units, the battalion ripped into the enemy flank and blocked a main road that the Red Army was using to reach the Dnieper. After repulsing several assaults on this position, the SS troops settled into the area for the night. During the course of the day, they had advanced roughly 90km (56 miles). When they received a letter of encouragement from Hitler, they were even more motivated to continue their mission. The following day, the division received an order to proceed another 60km (37 miles) and seize a different objective, the town of Pavlograd. By this time, weather conditions had improved. During their advance to this new objective, the SS units noticed a Soviet force - comprising a regiment with five tanks approaching the Dnieper. While the Deutschland Regiment prepared an ambush, a squadron of Stukas descended from the sky and knocked out four tanks. The SS regiment then destroyed the fifth, as well as two artillery pieces. After sweeping aside the surviving remnants of the Russian regiment, the division seized the town on 24 February. At nearby sectors, other German divisions experienced similar success. As a result, Manstein's forces were able to blunt the Red Army's thrust to the Dnieper and push the Soviets out of areas south of Kharkov. With this task accomplished, the Das Reich Division headed north-east to capture the city. Determined to hold Kharkov at all costs, Stavka sent fresh reinforcements against the Germans. In addition, the Soviet High Command dispatched the 1st Guards Army and six tank formations into the region to launch another attack on Dniepropetrovsk. Before the Russian Army could attempt this feat, it had to defend the 84/205
important railway centre of Losovaya, which was being attacked by the Das Reich and Totenkopf divisions. After a three-day battle, the SS divisions routed the Red Army and captured the town. By the end of the month, the SS corps and other formations within the 4th Panzer Army had created a salient that was 100km (62 miles) wide and extended 120km (75 miles) east into Soviet-held territory. New opportunity The next objective for the Das Reich Division was the seizure of the heights surrounding Yefremovka. In the late night of 1 March, the division began this operation amid a heavy downpour that turned roads into muddy creeks. During this sluggish move towards the objective, the Russian 3rd Tank Army moved into an area near Bereka so that it was now positioned between the Das Reich and Leibstandarte divisions. When notified of this, Hausser immediately recognized an opportunity to entrap the enemy force, and ordered the two SS divisions to swing around and cut off any retreat to the east. In an ensuing battle that lasted for three days, the SS divisions had difficulty receiving adequate amounts of equipment. Foul weather and poor road conditions were preventing supply trucks from reaching combat units. Heinz Macher, a company commander in the Das Reich Pioneer Battalion, noted the problem created by the ensuing ammunition shortages during the fighting at Yefremovka. Tn a bomb crater only five metres from us two Russian soldiers were defending themselves bravely,' he recalled, 'fighting for their lives.' Because Macher and his battalion commander had no hand-grenades left, 'we each picked up pieces of ice and rock and threw them at the enemy. They naturally thought we were throwing hand-grenades and ducked. We leapt up, rushed forward and in a short charge had soon overpowered and disarmed them'. Despite the problems created by chronic shortages of ammunition and supplies, the Germans relentlessly hammered the 3rd Tank Army. During the course of the battle, they obliterated three infantry divisions, three tank brigades, and a cavalry corps. Since the start of Manstein's counter-offensive, the actions carried out by the divisions of Army Group South had led to the death or capture of roughly 100,000 Soviet soldiers. Kharkov regained At Hitler's insistence, Manstein assigned to the SS Panzer Corps a major role in the recapture of the cit)/. This task became somewhat easier when Red Army forces west and north-west of Kharkov with85/205
drew to the east. In early March, the SS divisions moved towards their objective. During the advance, the Der F端hrer Regiment guarded the eastern flank of the corps. As he approached Kharkov, Hausser assembled a battle group consisting of 3rd Battalion, Deutschland Regiment and a panzer battalion from the Totenkopf Division. With little effort, this battle group seized a suburban area west of the city and prepared for the German attack that was to begin on the morning of the 11th March. The attack on Kharkov began as scheduled, and a savage battle for possession of the city quickly ensued. By mid-afternoon, SS troops had taken the Salyutine railway station and were beating back the Soviet attempts to retake the facility. Fighting within the southern section of the city, the Der F端hrer Regiment pushed through well defended enemy positions and blocked the Udy-Merefa Road. In the northern part of Kharkov, the Deutschland Regiment encountered more stubborn resistance until its 3rd Battalion outflanked the Russians and forced them to retreat. Later in the day, the commander of the 4th Panzer Army ordered the Das Reich Division to spearhead an assault into the centre of Kharkov and entrap an enemy garrison occupying the industrial district, which was located in the south-eastern part of the city. To accomplish this task, the Deutschland Regiment's 16th (Pioneer) Company had to capture an anti-tank ditch and establish a bridgehead that would enable the division's heavy vehicles to reach the objective. Led by SS-Untersturmf端hrer Heinz Macher, the pioneer company was to deal with the enemy troops which were now occupying houses located behind the ditch. The Russians had the advantage of a good view from which they were able to shoot at the Germans. In the early morning of 13 March, Macher led his troops to the ditch under a covering barrage from an artillery battery. Despite this aid, the pioneers drew fire from several directions as they crossed the obstacle. Undeterred, the SS unit fought its way past mortar- and machine-gun fire and seized a group of houses adjacent to the anti-tank trench. With their bridgehead secure, the rest of the regiment moved across and pressed on to the city centre. To enable the SPs to move forward, the pioneers broke down the walls of the ditch. Eventually, the Der F端hrer Totenkopf panzer battle group arrived to join the drive deep into the city. By this time, enemy resistance had begun to waver. Although the Russians within Kharkov still had superior numbers and firepower, they were becoming disorganized, demoralized and worn down from the continuous fighting. As the SS divisions drove further into the city, 86/205
their troops fought and decimated the 1st and 2nd Tank Guard Corps, as well as four infantry divisions. On 15 March, the Germans destroyed the last remnants of the Red Army garrison at a tractor factory located 6km (3.7 miles) east of the city. With this feat accomplished. Kharkov once again fell into Manstein's hands. Without spending much time savouring his achievement, the Field Marshal resolved to press his advantage. Sensing the potential to do yet more damage to the Soviet war machine, he planned further attacks that were aimed at re-taking more of the territory that the Germans had lost to the Red Army winter offensive of 1942-43. Ultimately, he and other senior strategists in Army Group South hoped to destroy Soviet forces occupying a large salient around Kursk, and then recapture the city. On 19 March, the Germans seized the town of Belgorod, thus securing uncontested control over all land situated between the Dnieper and Donets Rivers. By this time, the spring thaw had swept across the Ukrainian landscape, melting the snow and covering the ground with large amounts of mud. Motorized transportation was hindered by the weather and as a result, the attack on Kursk had to wait. Further changes During this break in the fighting, the Das Reich Division underwent more reorganization and re-supply to adjust for the losses suffered during the fight for Kharkov. Most notably, many artillery batteries traded in their static field pieces for SP guns. In addition, Hausser's organization acquired a new name and would now be known as II SS Panzer Corps. The Das Reich Division also experienced changes in leadership. Its commander, Herbert Ernst Vahl, had been severely wounded in action and was temporarily replaced by SS-Oberf端hrer Kurt Brasack. Finally, the commander of the Der F端hrer Regiment, Otto Kumm, received the Oak Leaves Medal and a promotion that transferred him out of the division. Eventually, he went to Yugoslavia and became the commander of 7th SS Freiwilligen-Gebirgs Division Prinz Eugen. Meanwhile, most of the soldiers of Das Reich and other divisions stationed in the area did their best to coexist peacefully with the local population. To facilitate cordial relations, some German units provided the malnourished residents of Kharkov and nearby areas with bread and soup. Soldiers from Das Reich who were quartered in Soviet houses generally treated their hosts with respect. The Germans also employed cobblers and skilled artisans who were able to make decent money mending boots and other useful equipment. 87/205
Indoctrination ignored In many instances, the SS soldiers ignored their Nazi racial indoctrination and openly fraternized with the Slavic 'subhumans'. Before the attack on Kursk, the Germans and their Ukrainian hosts even staged dances and feasts to pass the time. Despite its origin as an armed branch of the NSDAP, the Waffen-SS was becoming less political and developing an affinity with the Wehrmacht. Like their Army counterparts, many SS soldiers were more interested in waging a successful war against a Bolshevik regime than in imposing an oppressive racial order upon Eastern Europe. The Aryan 'supermen' of the Waffen-SS were all too willing to accept anti-communist Russians, Ukrainians and other Slavic groups into its ranks. Ironically, the most noticeable tension to emerge during this brief pause in the fighting took place between the frontline soldiers and the Nazi officials returning to restore order to the area. When these bureaucrats found SS and Army troops occupying facilities that had belonged to the bureaucrats before the Soviet winter offensive, fighting often broke out. Not surprisingly, the combat veterans usually prevailed in these brawls. Kursk the objective By the summer of 1943, both sides knew that Kursk would be the next target for the German armed forces in the Eastern Front. Because Hitler and OKH anticipated that an invasion somewhere in Western Europe would be launched by British and American forces, they sought to score a decisive victory in the Soviet Union. If the Germans succeeded in collapsing the Russian salient around Kursk, they could shorten their front line by about 500km (311 miles). With less territory to cover, OKH could send more divisions to France, Italy and other possible sites of an Allied landing. Moreover, such an achievement might inflict severe damage and even destroy the Red Army, thus enabling the Axis powers to deal with this threat to the west more effectively. Like earlier offensives in the region, Operation 'Citadel' was to be a pincer action against Soviet forces at Kursk. North of the city, Field Marshal Walther Model was to lead his 9th Army into the upper wall of the salient with three panzer corps. On the other side of the salient, General Hermann Hoth and the three panzer corps within his 4th Panzer Army were to strike from the south. Hausser's SS divisions were attached to this latter organization. Essentially, the objective of the operation was similar to that which had been accomplished at Kiev. The two armies were to drive inwards until they linked up, thus pinching off the salient and turning it into an isolated pocket filled 88/205
with trapped Soviet forces. When Communist agents confirmed that the next German offensive would take place at Kursk, the Red Army prepared an elaborate network of defences around the salient. Its troops excavated several layers of trenches and laid minefields at important locations. Soviet commanders also positioned anti-tank units throughout the salient to blunt the panzer formations. Stavka hoped that if the Germans suffered a decisive defeat in Operation 'Citadel', then the Red Army might be able to launch a punishing counter-offensive and break the back of the Nazi war machine. Soviet attack To deprive the Germans of much-needed manpower for the offensive, the Red Army launched an attack against the 2nd Panzer Army, which was situated north of the 9th Army. By performing this manoeuvre, Stavka intended to expose the left flank of the 9th Army, thus forcing Model to divert some of his forces from the Kursk attack. Although this action seemed to be a sensible tactic, it was based upon an erroneous assumption. The Soviets thought that the main part of the German offensive would be at the northern wall of the salient, when the larger concentration of forces was actually in the south. On 28 June, Hoth and his staff received an intelligence report indicating that the Red Army had four infantry divisions arrayed across the first line of trenches in the sector facing his army, as well as two more divisions on the second line. The senior commanders of the 4th Panzer Army also suspected that the Soviets had at least two armoured corps in the area. Aware that a penetration of these lines of defence would bring a swift counter-attack upon both of their flanks, Hoth and his strategists issued instructions to their divisions. First, the three corps under Hoth's command were to break through the first two lines of defence at an area near Belgorod. On the left, XLVIII Panzer Corps was to head towards the town of Syrtzevo, while an armoured formation known as Operational Group Kempf drove across an area east of Belgorod. Between these two organizations, II SS Panzer Corps was to play the most important role in the southern pincer of the offensive. Hausser's divisions were to head toward the towns of Pokrovka and Yakovlevo, then turn north-east and capture strategic high ground near Prokhorovka. The 4th Panzer Army identified the seizure of this piece of land as a crucial step to ensure the closure of the Kursk pocket. During this action, the Kempf group was supposed to protect the eastern flank of the SS divisions. If the advance into enemy territory went as planned, the SS corps and the 89/205
Kempf group would effectively create a pincer formation that could destroy the Soviet troops within its grasp. After accomplishing this feat, the two formations were to unite at Prokhorovka and charge into Kursk. At their starting positions, the SS divisions covered a sector that was 20km (12 miles) wide. The Totenkopf occupied the left flank of the advance, while the Leibstandarte was in the centre and Das Reich held the right. Several hours before the attack was to begin on the morning of 5 July, 3rd Battalion and a group of pioneers armed with flame-throwers from the Deutschland Regiment infiltrated enemy lines. After striking Russian outposts from behind, the battle group swung around and attacked the main line positions in front of them. These actions softened up the Red Army defences in front of the SS corps and helped its divisions over-run, the first line of trenches. When the main attack began, Deutschland's 2nd and 3rd Battalions constituted the spearhead of the SS advance. Because of an intense downpour that had turned the countryside into a gigantic quagmire of mud and swampland, tank and SP units were unable to provide adequate support for the infantrymen, who soon became involved in brutal, hand-to-hand combat. Hans Huber, a member of a flamethrowing unit attached to 3rd Battalion, described his role in the assault: T fired a burst of flame as we approached every zig-zag in the trench and at every strong point. It was a strange feeling to serve this destructive weapon and it was terrifying to see the flames eat their way forward and envelop the Russian defenders.' While utilizing his flame-thrower, Huber recalled, 'soon I was coloured black from head to foot from the fuel oil and my face was burnt from the flames which bounced back off the trench walls or which were blown back at us by the strong wind. I could hardly see'. However, he conceded that the weapon was an effective instrument in ensuring the success of the German attack, noting that 'the enemy could not fight against flame-throwers and so we made good progress, taking many prisoners'. . Exhaustion Eventually, Stuka dive-bombers appeared on the scene and hammered enemy positions relentlessly, enabling 3rd Battalion to capture Beresov. The battalion was also supposed to seize a ridge known as Point 233, which was situated north of the town. However, the SS men were too exhausted and depleted from high casualty rates. To complete the mission, 1st Battalion leapfrogged past them and pushed the Russians off the ridge. By mid-afternoon, the Das Reich 90/205
Division had met all of its objectives for the day but still pressed forward in an effort to over-run the second line of trenches in the Kursk salient. Although the division made considerable progress, its troops could not dislodge the Soviet forces occupying the defences because poor road conditions and minefields had prevented SS tank and SP units from reaching the area and providing necessary coverage for the grenadiers. Thus, the division waited until the next morning before continuing with its advance. During the course of the night, SS units carried out small-scale attacks against enemy outposts. On the second day of Operation Citadel, the Der Fuhrer Regiment replaced Deutschland as the spearhead of the SS offensive. In an attack upon another piece of high ground that had been designated Point 243, the regiment had difficulty ascending the muddy slopes of the objective. Enemy artillery and machine-gun fire ripped into its battalions. Later in the morning, the division pounded the Russians with artillery shells, enabling the Der Fuhrer Regiment to seize the heights. This piece of territory provided the SS corps with access to a road that ran to Lutschki. By this time, Stavka was aware that the main thrust of the German offensive was in the south, rather than the north, and so shifted its defences to deal more effectively with II SS Panzer Corps and other nearby German formations. As a result, the 5th Guards Tank Army and other reserve units in the Red Army headed towards Prokhorovka to blunt the Nazi advance. Stavka also planned to launch punishing counterattacks at the German divisions in order to bleed them white. Meanwhile, the Das Reich Division initiated another assault in order to capture an elevated area containing several villages situated north of Prokhorovka, as well as a railway line at Belenichino. Spearheaded by 3rd Battalion, Der Fuhrer Regiment, the assault began badly. Soviet warplanes and artillery batteries tore into the SS troops. In a battle report, a battalion commander described the heroic leadership exhibited by a junior officer named Kruger serving in his command. During the attack, the battalion commander recalled, 'a rifle bullet struck his pocket and ignited an incendiary grenade he was carrying. Untersturmfilhrer Kruger tore off his trousers and continued to fight completely naked. He fought at the head of the Company until the objective was gained.' A week later, Kruger died in combat. Regained momentum When the rest of the regiment joined the fight, the attack gained more momentum and the Germans managed to open a substantial 91/205
gap in the enemy lines. On 8 July, the Red Army threw more armoured units at the advancing SS divisions. By this time, the focus of the battle for Kursk had clearly shifted to the southern sector. When it seemed as if the SS corps and the Kempf group were going to surround the Soviet garrison at Prokhorovka, the Red Army responded with a savage counter-attack. At Teterevino, 3rd Battalion, Der Fuhrer Regiment held its ground against an armoured assault until even" unit in the Das Reich Division reached the area to participate in the fight for this and other villages and the ridges upon which they sat. With the help of Stukas fitted with anti-tank cannons, attacks upon the SS divisions were kept off for a brief period. But before Hausser's troops could resume offensive actions, the Red Army hurled more infantry and armoured units at them. Most notably, a formation of 60 Russian battle tanks threatened SS supply lines by trying to block the main road running from Belgorod to Oboyan. However, this threat soon abated when several Luftwaffe warplanes arrived, knocked out about 50 tanks, and killed several foot soldiers. At the same time, Das Reich and the other SS divisions repelled a series of armoured assaults at Teterevino, destroying almost 300 enemy armoured vehicles during the course of the day. On 9July, the three SS divisions concentrated their forces in order to renew their offensive against the Red Army. To prevent this action, several corps from the Russian 1st Tank Army attacked the Germans from three directions. In the ensuing battle, the SS divisions took many heavy blows, but they held their ground against extreme Russian pressure. Although Hausser's forces were in danger of being encircled, they received orders from 4th Panzer Army headquarters to push forward and attack Soviet troops north-east of Beregovoy. During this operation, Das Reich guarded the eastern flank of the other two SS divisions. En route to its objective, II SS Panzer Corps became involved in a massive tank battle in the hills around Prokhorovka on 12 July. This engagement would be the climax of Operation 'Citadel'. While the Leibstandarte and the Totenkopf divisions went on the offensive, Das Reich remained on the defensive, repelling several infantry and armoured attacks. Oil the second day of the battle, Hausser put the Das Reich Division into action and it fought a duel with II Guards Tank Corps. After several hours of combat, the battle reached a:: indecisive conclusion. By nightfall, the two belligerents retired in a state of exhaustion. Although both sides had lost several hundred tanks and thousands of troops, the Red Army was able either to repair or replace its losses, while the SS divisions were becoming worn down. Meanwhile, the en92/205
tire offensive against Kursk seemed to be falling apart. On the northern wall of the salient, the 9th Army was unable to make much progress; Field Marshal Model had to deal with a Russian counter-offensive that had been launched above the Kursk area. Moreover, the Allied landings on Sicily forced Hitler and OKW to contemplate the possibility of diverting much-needed troops from the Eastern Front down to Italy. Despite this bleak situation, the SS divisions continued to fight like wildcats. On 14 July, Das Reich launched another attack on Belenichino. In a battle that raged from house to house, the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the Der Fuhrer Regiment destroyed 12 tanks while Stuka squadrons bombed and strafed enemy forces in and near the village. By the end of the day, Belenichino was in German hands. While the Der Fuhrer Regiment consolidated its control over the area, Das Reich's Panzer Regiment repelled an armoured assault that was aimed at re-taking the village. Unfortunately for the Third Reich, the victory at Belenichino turned out to be the last hurrah of Operation 'Citadel'. Although the 4th Panzer Army had taken a considerable amount of territory, it was still 130km (81 miles) south of the 9th Army. Thus, the Red Army still controlled a large piece of territory that connected the city of Kursk to the rest of the Soviet battle lines. After several days of fighting, the two German armies had barely dented the salient and were in no condition to launch more assaults against it. Not surprisingly, both sides had sustained heavy losses. The Germans had suffered about 100,000 casualties, while the Soviets lost 250,000 men killed and 600,000 wounded. The Red Army had also sacrificed roughly 50 per cent of its armoured vehicles. Although Hitler had not officially ended Operation 'Citadel', the campaign would soon come to an end for II SS Panzer Corps. Removed from the area, the Das Reich Division was to participate in a series of battles against a counter-offensive that the Red Army had launched along the River Mius. By this time, the Leibstandarte Division had departed for Italy. When it left the Eastern Front, it turned over its armoured fighting vehicles to Das Reich. Its departure also led to the dissolution of II SS Panzer Corps. In place of this formation, Army Group South assembled a new corps that consisted of Das Reich, the Totenkopf, and the 3rd Army Panzer Division. At the end of the month, this new organization reached the Mius and engaged enemy forces that were moving into the area. As usual, the Das Reich troops distinguished themselves with their bravery. At the town of Stepanovka, Heinz Macher noted that 'a small piece of shrap93/205
nel from a 17.2 shell hit me in the left forearm and our platoon stretcher-bearer put on a field dressing. For a scratch like that one did not abandon one's mates'. A few minutes later, another shell fragment 'severed the nerve in my upper left arm. End of the Act'. Soviet attack blunted At another location along the Mius, Held Ruhl and a comrade relaxed briefly after repelling a Soviet armoured unit: ' Oberscharfiihrer Topfer, an infantry platoon commander, stopped with me and we both lit cigarettes. He died in my arms,' Ruhl recalled, 'but no shot had been fired. The doctor found that the cause of death was a hand-grenade splinter which had struck and penetrated his temple. He had been wounded on the previous day but had refused to go back. He was determined to stay with the attack until it was finished.' After three days of combat, the SS units blunted the Red Army drive, pushing the Russians back across the river. In mid-August, the Das Reich Division returned to Kharkov when Stavka launched another attack on the city. While the Soviet 53rd rushed the city from the north, the 57th Army assailed its objective from the south. At first, the Red Army offensive stalled in the face of well-prepared defences established by Army Group South. In the first two days of battle, the Russians lost 184 battle tanks. However, on 22 August Manstein had to evacuate his forces - once again in defiance of Hitler's order - when the Soviets seemed as if they were about to encircle Kharkov yet again. Now recaptured by the Russians, the city had changed hands for the last time in the war. Tank victories By this time, the Das Reich Division had already been pulled out of the area in order to intercept enemy forces that were driving towards the River Dnieper. On the same day of the Kharkov evacuation, a company of Panther tanks destroyed 53 enemy vehicles during a three-hour battle with a large Soviet armoured formation. This engagement inaugurated a series of similar victories for the SS division that lasted until the end of the month, when its commanders received an order to withdraw to the western bank of the Dnieper. During the month of September, the Das Reich Division pulled back to the river, fighting Soviet troops along the way on many occasions. On 12 September, the Reconnaissance Battalion and an armoured unit consisting of 14 Panther tanks ambushed a Red Army armoured formation that had overrun the division's positions. In the ensuing battle, the SS Panzer and Reconnaissance troops destroyed a total of 94/205
78 T-34 battle tanks. A week later, the division reached the Dnieper at an area near Kremechug, only to find that the Russians had already successfully crossed the river. At the end of September, in an effort to prevent large numbers of enemy forces from consolidating control of areas west of the Dnieper, the Das Reich division attacked the village of Grebeni, where the Red Army had established several small bridgeheads. With a great deal of help from two flame-throwing armoured vehicles, the Der Fuhrer Regiment seized the town. By this time, the regiment had only 500 surviving soldiers in its ranks. Fighting for these bridgeheads continued until early October. Soviet pressure Despite these successes, the overwhelming power of the Soviet armed forces continued to push the Germans westward. In early November, Army Group South had to abandon Kiev. South-west of the city, the Das Reich Division and other German formations did what they could to keep the Red Army from inarching across the western Ukraine. In this region, the division fought several inconclusive battles that depleted its regiments and battalions even further. By December, DasReichvfas no longer able to function as a full-size division and had to be re-formed into a smaller organization that would be known as the Panzer Battle Group Das Reich. The new panzer battle group contained 500( troops and included an infantry regiment comprised of 1st Battalion, Deutschland Regiment and 2nd Battalion, Der Fuhrer Regiment. It also contained an armoured battalion that included two tank companies, as well as the Reconnaissance Battalion, two SP companies, a pioneer company, and various heaw weapons units. While this group remained in the Eastern Front as a component of XLII Corps, the other surviving elements of the Das Reich Division returned to Germany after roughly 10 months of almost continuous service in the batdefield. On Christmas Eve, the Red Army launched another offensive and quickly created two salients in the German lines, forcing Army Group, South to pull back its forces to new positions east of Zhitomir. Near Studenizza, a Das Reich SP unit kept several T-34 tanks at bay while the rest of the division retreated. After beating back the Soviet forces in this area, an SP crewman named Hans Woltersdorf peered into the first vehicle that his group had knocked out, noting that 'the interior was sickening.
Fig T-34 soviet tank preparing for offensive A headless torso, bleedine flesh and guts splattered the walls'. Outside the T-34, the Soviet tank driver died in SS captivity. The back of his head had been smashed, exposing his bloodied brains. There was froth on his lips,' Woltersdorf recalled, 'typical of this type of wound where the brain is dead but the lungs are still working.' Rearguard action To reach its new line of defence, Battle Group Das Reich had to cross the River Tetrev. While the unit's infantrymen and SP units carried out a holding action that kept the Soviets at bay, the pioneers hastily constructed a temporary bridge that enabled the SS vehicles to cross the river. When the last of the Germans reached the other bank, the pioneers detonated the bridge, preventing the Russians from continuing the attack, at least for a short time. For the rest of the winter, the SS battle group saw more action as the Red Army continued to push the Germans westward and out of the Ukraine. By-January 1944, the unit had lost more than 1000 of its 5000 troops. In March, these survivors had to fight their way through enemy forces out of a pocket before reaching the relative safety of the 4th Panzer Army at Buszacz. On 8 April, the soldiers of Das Reich at last departed the front lines and marched 80km (49 miles) across Galicia to climb on board a train that would take them back to Germany. After 13 hard months of service in the Eastern Front, at the end of April, the 800 survivors from Panzer Battle Group Das Reich reached Toulouse in south-west France and rejoined the rest of their division. 96/205
3rd S.S Panzer Division Totenkopf The SS Division Totenkopf ("Death's Head"), also known as 3. SSPanzergrenadier-Division Totenkopf and 3. SS-Panzer-Division Totenkopf, was one of the 38 divisions fielded by the Waffen-SS during World War II. Prior to achieving division status, the formation was known as Kampfgruppe Eicke. The division is infamous due to its insignia and the fact that most of the initial enlisted soldiers were SSTotenkopfverbände (SS concentration camp guards). The Totenkopf division was numbered with the "Germanic" divisions of the WaffenSS. These included also the SS-Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, SS-Panzer Division Das Reich, and SS-Panzer Division Wiking. Formation and Fall Gelb The SS Division Totenkopf was formed in October 1939. The Totenkopf was initially formed from concentration camp guards of the 1st (Oberbayern), 2nd (Brandenburg) and 3rd (Thüringen) Standarten (regiments) of the SS-Totenkopfverbände, and soldiers from the SSHeimwehr Danzig. The division had officers from the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT), of whom many had seen action in Poland. The division was commanded by SS-Obergruppenführer Theodor Eicke. Through the Battle of France the division was generally equipped with ex-Czech weapons. Having missed the Polish campaign, Totenkopf was initially held in reserve during the assault into France and the Low Countries in May 1940. They were committed on 16 May to the Front in Belgium. The Totenkopf soldiers fought fanatically, suffering heavy losses. Within a week of this initial commitment the division's first war crime had already been committed. At Le Paradis 4th Kompanie, I Abteilung, commanded by SS-Obersturmführer Fritz Knöchlein, machine-gunned 97 out of 99 British officers and members of the Royal Norfolk Regiment after they had surrendered to them; two survived. After the war, Knöchlein was tried by a British Court and convicted for war crimes in 1948. He was sentenced to death and hanged. Totenkopf saw action a number of times during the French campaign. To the north-east of Cambrai the division took 16,000 French prisoners. Whilst subsequently trying to drive through to the coast they encountered a major Anglo-French force which they had a great deal of difficulty stopping and came perilously close to panic. Totenkopf had to resort to firing artillery pieces in an anti-tank role, and were saved only by the intervention of Luftwaffe dive-bombers. It then suffered heavy losses during the taking of the La Bassée Canal. Further stiff re97/205
sistance was then encountered at both Béthune and Le Paradis. The French surrender found the division located near the Spanish border, where it was to stay, resting and refitting, until April 1941. Totenkopf had suffered heavy losses during the campaign, including over 300 officers. Replacement personnel were supplied, this time via regular Waffen-SS recruitment as opposed to coming from the camps. Flak and artillery battalions were added to its strength. Local vehicles were also commandeered from the French, many of the divisions soft-skinned transports during Barbarossa were of French origin. Barbarossa-Demjansk Pocket In April 1941, the division was ordered East to join Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb's Army Group North. Leeb's Army Group was tasked with advancing on Leningrad and formed the northern wing of Operation Barbarossa. Totenkopf saw action in Lithuania and Latvia, and by July had breached the vaunted Stalin Line. The division then advanced by Demjansk to Leningrad where it was involved in heavy fighting from 31 July to 25 August. During Autumn and Winter of 1941, the Soviets launched a number of operations against the German lines in the Northern sector of the Front. During one of these operations, the Division was encircled for several months near Demjansk in what would come to be known as the Demjansk Pocket. During these kessel battles, Totenkopf suffered so greatly that, due to its reduced size, it was re-designated Kampfgruppe Eicke. The division was involved in ferocious fighting to hold the pocket. SS-Hauptsturmführer Erwin Meierdress of the Sturmgeschütze-Batterie (Assault Gun) Totenkopf formed a Kampfgruppe of about 120 soldiers and held the strategic town of Bjakowo despite repeated determined enemy attempts to capture the town. During these battles, Meierdress personally destroyed several enemy tanks in his StuG III. He was awarded the Iron Cross for his actions during this period. In April 1942, the division broke out of the pocket and managed to reach friendly lines. At Demjansk, about 80% of its soldiers were killed, wounded or missing in action. The remnants of the Division were pulled out of action in late October, 1942 and sent to France to be refitted. While in France, the Division took part in Case Anton, the takeover of Vichy France in November 1942. For this operation, the division was supplied with a Panzer battalion and redesignated 3.SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Totenkopf. The division remained in France until February, 1943, when their old commander, Theodor Eicke, resumed control.
Kharkov â€“ Kursk In Early February 1943 Totenkopf was transferred back to the Eastern Front as part of Erich von Manstein's Army Group South. The division, as a part of SS-ObergruppenfĂźhrer Paul Hausser's SS Panzer Corps, took part in the Third Battle of Kharkov, blunting the Soviet offensive. During this campaign, Theodor Eicke was killed when his Fieseler Storch spotter aircraft was shot down while on final approach to a front line unit. The division mounted an assault to secure the crash site and recover their commander's body, and thereafter Eicke's body was buried with full military honours. Hermann Priess succeeded Eicke as commander. The SS Panzer Corps, including Totenkopf, was then shifted north to take part in Operation Citadel, the great offensive to reduce the Kursk salient. It was during February 1943 that the 3rd SS Panzer Regiment received a company of Tiger I heavy tanks (9th Company/3rd SS Panzer Regiment). This company was near full strength by the time Citadel commenced having honed their tank-killing skills during the German counterstroke to recapture the cities of Kharkov and Belgorod during the spring of 1943. The attack was launched on 5 July 1943, after a massive Soviet artillery barrage fell on the German assembly areas. The II SS Panzer Corps (renamed after the formation of the I SS Panzer Corps one month earlier) was to attack the southern flank of the salient as the spearhead for Generaloberst Hermann Hoth's 4th Panzer Army. The Totenkopf covered the advance on the II SS Panzer Corps left flank, with the Leibstandarte forming the spearhead. 3rd SS Panzer Regiment advanced in a panzerkeil across the hot and dusty steppe. Despite encountering stiff Soviet resistance and several pakfronts, the Totenkopf's panzers continued the advance, albeit at a slower pace than had been planned. Hausser ordered his II SS Panzer Corps to split in two, with the Totenkopf crossing the Psel river northwards and then continuing on towards the town of Prokhorovka. In the early morning of 9 July, 6th SS Panzergrenadier Regiment Theodor Eicke attacked northwards, crossing the Psel and attempted to seize the strategic Hill 226.6, located to the east of the fortified village of Kliuchi. The attack was rebuffed by the defending Soviets. The failure to capture the hill meant that the drive along the north bank of the Psel was temporarily halted, forcing Hausser to also delay the Southern advance. In the afternoon, regiment Eicke managed to redeem itself by capturing the hill, but the northern advance slowed and the majority of the division was still south of the Psel, where elements of SS-Pan99/205
zergrenadier-Regiment 5 Thule continued to advance towards Prokhorovka and cover the flank of the Leibstandarte. By 11 July, SS-Hauptsturmführer Erwin Meierdress had led his 1st Company/3rd SS Panzer Regiment across the Psel on hastily constructed pontoon bridges, reinforcing the tenuous position. The forces in the bridgehead were subjected to several furious Soviet attacks, but with the support of Meierdress' panzers they held their ground and slowly expanded the bridgehead, securing the village of Kliuchi. Strong Soviet opposition had severely slowed the division's advance along the north bank. In the afternoon of 12 July, near the village of Andre'evka on the south bank of the Psel, the Soviets launched a major counterattack against Regiment Thule and the division's StuG battalion. SS-Brigadeführer Hermann Priess, the Totenkopf's commander, ordered Meierdress' abteilung to advance and support the beleaguered forces. The PzKpfw IIIs and PzKpfw IVs of Meierdress' unit were supported by the Totenkopf's Tiger I company, 9th Company/3rd SS Panzer Regiment. In ferocious combat with the lead units of the 5th Guards Tank Army, Meierdress managed to halt the Soviet assault, destroying many Soviet T-34s, but at the cost of the majority of the division's remaining operational panzers. While the II SS Panzer Corps had halted the Soviet counteroffensive and inflicted heavy casualties, it had exhausted itself and was no longer capable of offensive action. Manstein attempted to commit his reserve, the XXIV Panzer Corps, but Hitler refused to authorize this. On 14 July, Hitler called off the operation. Battles on the Mius Front – Retreat to the Dniepr Along with Das Reich, the division was reassigned to General der Infanterie Karl-Adolf Hollidt's reformed 6th Army in the Southern Ukraine. The 6th Army was tasked with eliminating the Soviet bridgehead over the Mius River. Totenkopf was involved in heavy fighting over the next several weeks. During the July–August battles for Hill 213 and the town of Stepanowka, the division suffered heavy losses, and over the course of the campaign on the Mius-Front it suffered more casualties than it had during Operation Citadel. By the time the Soviet bridgehead was eliminated, the division had lost 1500 soldiers and the Panzer regiment was reduced to 20 tanks. The Totenkopf was then moved north, back to Kharkov. Along with Das Reich, Totenkopf, took part in the battles to halt Operation Rumyantsev and to prevent the Soviet capture of the city. Although the 100/205
two divisions managed to halt the offensive, inflicting heavy casualties and destroying over 800 tanks, the Soviets outflanked the defenders, forcing them to abandon the city on 23 August. By early September, the Totenkopf reached the Dniepr. Elements of the Soviet 5th Guards Tank Army had forced a crossing at Kremenchug and were soon threatening to break through the Dniepr line. Totenkopf was thrown into action against the bridgehead. In October 1943, the division was reformed as 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf. The Panzer abteilung (battalion) was officially upgraded to a regiment, and the two Panzergrenadier regiments were given the honorary titles Theodor Eicke and Totenkopf. After holding the Kremenchug bridgehead for several months, the Soviets finally broke out, pushing Totenkopf and the other axis divisions involved back towards the Romanian border. By November, Totenkopf was engaged fighting intense defensive actions against Soviet attacks over the vital town of Krivoi Rog to the west of the Dniepr.
Map Battle of Kursk 4 July - 1 August 1943
Order of Battle Formed on 11/9/42 in South France by the 1st Army as the "SS Panzergrenadier Division "Totenkopf" from the SS Totenkopf (mot) Division. When organized it consisted of: 1/,2/,3/1st SS Panzergrenadier Regiment "Totenkopf" 1/, 2/, 3/3rd SS Panzergrenadier Regiment "Totenkopf" 1/,2/3rd SS Panzer Regiment "Totenkopf" (from the battalion formed in the Summer of 1943). S.S Totenkopf Reconnaissance Battalion (4 companies) 1/,2/,3/,4/SS Totenkopf Artillery Regiment SS Totenkopf Panzerj채ger Battalion (3 companies) S.S Totenkopf Flak Battalion (4 batteries) SS Totenkopf Sturmgesch체tz Battalion (4 batteries) S.S Totenkopf Pioneer Battalion (3 companies) SSTotenkopf Signals Battalion (2 companies) The Thule Sch체tzen Regiment was absorbed into the 1st SS Panzergrenadier Regiment "Totenkopf." The two panzer grenadier regiments were named the 1 st SS Panzergrenadier Regiment "Thule" and the 3rd SS Panzergrenadier Regiment "Theodor Eicke." In February 1943 the 3rd SS Panzer Regiment was organized and equipped as follows: 1/,2/3rd SS Panzer Regiment 1 Regimental Staff Signals Platoon 1 Regimental Staff Light Panzer Platoon Each Battalion had: 1 Panzer Staff Company 1 Medium Panzer Company 2 Light Panzer Companies 4th Heavy Panzer Company
On 5/1/43 the 3rd SS Panzer Regiment was reorganized such that its battalions each had two medium and one light panzer company. In the summer of 1943 the reconnaissance battalion was reinforced to six companies and the panzer regiment was reinforced to eight companies. For the battle of Kursk the division had 114 tanks and 28 assault guns. Included was a company of 11 Tiger tanks. On 7/1/43 the 103/205
panzer inventory and organization of the 3rd SS Panzer Regiment was as follows: 1/,2/3rd SS Panzer Regiment 1 Regimental Staff Signals Platoon 1 Regimental Staff Light Panzer Platoon Each Battalion had 1 Panzer Staff Company 2 Medium Panzer Companies 1 Light Panzer Company 9th Heavy Panzer Company
On 10/21/43 the division was reorganized by the order of the Fuhrer as a Panzer Division. On 10/22/43 the division was given the number 3 and the panzer grenadier regiments were renumbered the 5th SS Panzergrenadier Regiment "Thule" and the 6th SS Panzer-grenadier Regiment "Theodor Eicke." All other portions of the division were numbered "3rd." In December 1943 the Panzerjager Battalion was disbanded and the Sturmgeschutz battalion was rebuilt. Panzer-Grenadier-Division Großdeutschland The Großdeutschland Division was an elite Heer combat unit of the Wehrmacht. The Großdeutschland was considered to be the premier unit of the German Army and as such it was one of best-equipped unit of the German Armed Forces, receiving equipment before all other units. The roots of the unit go back to 1921 when the guard units of the city of Berlin (Wachregiment Berlin) was created. It became later Infantry Regiment Großdeutschland9. The Regiment GD saw action in France in 1940. It was attached to Panzer Group 2 in the opening phases of Barbarossa, being nearly annihilated in the vicious fighting outside of Moscow in late 1941. On the last day of February 1942, Rifle Battalion GD (all that was left of the original Regiment) was disbanded and two battalions formed a new GD Regiment out of rein104/205
forcements arriving from Neuruppin. The Regiment moved to Orel after a period in the front line, and on 1 Apr 1942, arising out of the need for new motorized formations for the summer offensives of 1942, an announcement was made at a regimental parade at Rjetschiza: "Effective immediately the former Infantry Regiment Großdeutschland is expanded to the Infantry Division Großdeutschland.» Infantry Division Großdeutschland 1942 While resting and refitting near Orel, the Infantry Regiment Großdeutschland reorganized and expanded to become Infanterie-Division Großdeutschland (mot). The existing Regiment became Infanterie-Regiment Großdeutschland 1, and was joined by the newly formed Infanterie-Regiment Großdeutschland 2. Supporting units in the form of a Panzer battalion, an assault gun battalion and increased flak, artillery and engineers were added with the upgrade to divisional status. After the reorganization, the Großdeutschland Division was assigned to XLVIII. Panzerkorps during the opening phases of Fall Blau, the assault on Stalingrad. The division took part in the successful attacks to cross the upper Don river and to capture Voronezh. In August, the division was pulled back to the north bank of the Donets and held as a mobile reserve and fire-brigade counterattack force. During the combined Soviet winter offensives Operation Uranus and Operation Mars, the Division was involved in heavy winter fighting near Rzhev. The Division sustained heavy losses in the Rzhev salient, effectively making the division combat ineffective. It was pulled out of the lines and refitted. Kharkov In January–February 1943, Großdeutschland and XLVIII.Panzerkorps, along with the II SS Panzer Corps took part in the Third Battle of Kharkov. The division fought alongside the 1.SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, 2.SS Division Das Reich and 3.SS Division Totenkopf during these battles. After the fall of Kharkov, the Großdeutschland was again pulled back and refitted. At this time, the division was equipped with a company of Tigers, an unusual addition making GD the only Panzergrenadier division to have its own heavy tanks, and the only non-Waffen SS division at that time to have its own Tigers (they were normally deployed in independent heavy tank battalions).
Panzergrenadier Division Großdeutschland In June 1943, with the addition of armoured personnel carriers and Tigers the division was redesignated Panzergrenadier-Division Großdeutschland, though in reality it now had more armoured vehicles than most full scale panzer divisions. Kursk The newly re-equipped division was attached to the German Fourth Panzer Army of Generaloberst Hermann Hoth, and was to take a major role (again paired with the SS-Panzerkorps) in Operation Citadel, the battles to sever the Kursk salient. During the buildup period, a brigade of two battalions of new Panther Ausf. D tanks came under the operational control of Großdeutschland. After the launch of Citadel, the division was heavily engaged in the fight to penetrate the southern flank of the salient. The new Panthers were plagued by technical problems, suffering from engine fires and mechanical breakdowns, many before reaching the battle. Contrary to popular belief, GD did not take part in the epic tank battle of Prokhovrovkha, and the Panther tanks were not engaged as most were broken down by the time the battle started. However they witnessed the battle as they were held in reserve. The division fought on until it was pulled back to Tomarovka on 18 July 1943. Defensive battles After the canceled Kursk offensive, the division was transferred back to Heeresgruppe Mitte, and resumed its role as mobile reserve. The Tiger tank company was expanded to an entire battalion, becoming the III. Battalion of the Panzer Regiment. GD saw heavy fighting around Karachev before being transferred back to XLVIII Panzerkorps in late August. For the rest of 1943, Großdeutschland was engaged in the fighting withdrawal from the eastern Ukraine, taking part in battles around Kharkov, Belgorod, and finally on the Dnieper, ending the year fighting strong enemy forces near Michurin-Rog, east of Krivoi-Rog. It was during this period that the division earned the nickname "die Feuerwehr" (The Fire Brigade). Generalleutnant der Reserve Hyazinth Graf Von GrossZauche Und Camminetz Those who have even a cursory knowledge of the use of armor in World War II immediately recognize the name of Michael Wittmann. He, with his daring solo attack on units of the British 7th Armored Division at Villers Bocage on June 12th, 1944, would go down in history 106/205
as one of the best "tank aces" of the war. There were, however, numerous other tank commanders that, though largely unknown, performed almost miraculous service in the Panzerwaffe. Such a man was Generalleutnant Hyazinth Graf Strachwitz von Gross-Zauche und Comminetz. His service to Germany was mostly on the East Front against the Russians. That in itself could account for the fact that so many westerners have not heard the name. He would eventually become known as simply "der Panzergraf". This name came primarily as a result of his aristocratic and military heritage. Born on 30 July 1893 to a wealthy family in Upper Silesia, Graf (Count) Strachwitz (whose Christian name, by tradition in his family, was given to first born sons for over 700 years in homage to Saint Hyazinth) attended military school in Berlin and in 1912 joined the Regiment Garde du Corps as a commissioned officer. The unit was a very socially exclusive one, being the most senior regiment of the Prussian Army. Graf Strachwitz distinguished himself in sports before the First World War, and saw action as a junior officer, being captured during a patrol early in the war and spending long years in captivity after a death sentence (for wearing civilian clothes on the patrol) was commuted. Nonetheless, he had time enough to win both the Iron Cross II Class and I Class. Another of the Panzer Graf's character traits was an almost inordinate boldness. He had no hesitation in doing the most unconventional if the situation demanded it. When the First World War did break out, Strachwitz was one of the first to offer himself for service. He specifically requested long-range patrol work behind French lines. His performance, though brief, was spectacular. It read like a novel. He was able to secure and pass on valuable intelligence on the enemy and also performed various acts of sabotage against the French. He had a number of close calls, barely escaping capture. On one occasion he and his men found themselves soaked to the skin in one of their operations. They stripped to dry themselves and their uniforms when they came under attack by French colonial forces searching for them. The Count was able to procure civilian clothes for himself and his men (he spoke fluent French), but was captured shortly after. Having been taken prisoner in civilian attire, Strachwitz was put on trial as a spy, but was acquitted. He was, nevertheless sent to a penal colony instead of a prisoner of war facility. His health deteriorated rapidly. When moved to a POW camp, he attempted to escape but suffered serious injuries. Finally he feigned madness in such a way as to be 107/205
committed to an asylum where he spent the remainder of the war. Between the wars, Graf Strachwitz helped in the defense of Silesia against Polish incursions, in the turmoil that was post-war Germany, and after a time he left the military to run the family estate (Grossstein). As a reserve officer, he attended exercises of Reiter (Cavalry) Regiment 7 and Panzer Regiment 2 during the 1930s. He served with the latter regiment in Poland, France and the Balkans. During this time Strachwitz had retained his commission as a reserve officer in the Reichsheer's Cavalry Regiment. In 1934 he attended some Army maneuvers of the newly forming German Army. He was captured with the idea of armored forces, their mobility and potential. This type of action fit the Count's personality well. It only took a moment for him to decide that this would be the branch of the military in which he would serve. His application was accepted and he joined a large number of young Germans who would form the beginnings of Germany's first "Panzer" division. He became a lower ranking officer in the 2nd Panzer Regiment. The Count served with that unit in battles in Poland, France and the Balkans. He performed well as a tank commander and his boldness knew no bounds. Early on he established a premise that he maintained throughout the war. "Tanks must not be allowed to stand still. They must be permanently on the move and always led from the front". This dictum ruled his life as a tank commander throughout his career. Though always courteous and respectful, Strachwitz was a fighter. He showed the enemy no mercy. He never let fear or adverse circumstances control his efforts. During the campaign in France, Strachwitz, in his command tank, found himself cut off from their own forces and in a well-garrisoned French town. Knowing if he turned to flee, he would be cut down by a hundred French guns now trained on him. So he dismounted from his tank, strode forward with confidence toward the sentries posted at the entrance to the town and demanded to speak to the French commander. Again in faultless French he announced to the French officer that unless he surrendered the garrison to him at once, his panzer regiment, hidden nearby would open fire. After a moment's hesitation, the officer capitulated and had his men lay down their arms. By the beginning of Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia, Strachwitz had been promoted to Colonel and was leading a battalion of tanks across the Bug River. His divisional commander, Gen. Walther Nehring, had hitched a ride with him. Once on the opposite shore, the 108/205
Count took his commander to a rendezvous point with the rest of the divisional command and was off immediately. He and a number of his tanks quickly shattered some initial Soviet defenses and entered the rear area of the enemy's lines, creating havoc. It was estimated that with a platoon of PzKpfw. III tanks Strachwitz would account for over 300 trucks and other pieces of Russian equipment. With German tanks running amok in their rear, the soldiers panicked and headed east at top speed. After six days of fast advances, the leading German tank columns of the 1st Panzer Group came under attack from a sporadic and poorly executed counterattack by four Russian Mechanized Corps, orchestrated by General Mikhail Kirponos, commander of the Southwest Front. It would be the largest single battle of tanks in history until the battle of Kursk two years later. The Germans were hit hard repeatedly from both the north and the south in the Dubno area as the Soviets sought to cut off the leading German columns and annihilate them. The Russian tanks, though more numerous and at times more powerful than the German ones, were poorly led and fed piece-meal into the fight. By the afternoon of the 29th, it was apparent that the major effort by the Russians had failed. The Germans had been stopped, that was true, but it turned out to be only a temporary delay. It seemed that the Russians had gotten their fill of battle and were ready to back off, but not so, the "Panzer Graf". As the enemy tanks and infantry began withdrawing under the cover of night, they were followed closely by tanks of Strachwitz's battalion. Even though the last two days had been filled with fighting, burning tanks and fiery explosions, the Count, seemingly impervious to weariness and fatigue, led his men to hiding places near the Russian bivouac. At first light, when the Russian's forces began stirring, Strachwitz launched yet another attack, crushing the enemy and penetrating to the enemy artillery positions. It had been the Soviet artillery that had been one of the more serious problems in the earlier fighting and the Count was going to make sure that these guns would not be used against his brothers in arms again. Again the enemy suffered heavy casualties from the iron hand of Strachwitz. Graf Strachwitz (holding the rank of Major) commanded the first battalion of Panzer Regiment 2, being awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 25 August 1941. Before the end of the year, Strachwitz would be the recipient of another rarely given German medal, the German Cross in Gold. It had been instituted in September 1941. It had a two-fold purpose. It was to be awarded in cases of bravery that went above the reach of 109/205
the Iron Cross 1st Class but not quite to the level of the Knight's Cross. Strachwitz and a few others were awarded this medal after having already received the Knight's Cross in recognition of their continued valor and service to their country. By 1942, the Count was known to all as "der Panzergraf". He seemed to lead a charmed life and was always in the van of the advance. His tank would be the first piece of German armor to enter the city of Stalingrad in the fall of 1942. On that occasion his tank and those of his men made a deep penetration to the Russian airfield. There he wrought more havoc with estimates as high as 150 aircraft destroyed during the battle. The Count was also present when the German Sixth Army found itself suddenly cut off and in danger of extermination. As the winter slammed into the fearful, half-frozen Germans within the Russian trap, Strachwitz and his panzers became a big part of the defenses. His tanks and men seemed to be always supplied. That was because the Count made one and another foray into and beyond Russian front lines to get the supplies he needed. During this period he would be given the Oakleaves to add to his Iron Cross when he set up the perfect ambush for encroaching Soviet tanks. As was his custom, he had his men hide and make their tanks blend in with the countryside. As one after another of the enemy's armor appeared and approached, Strachwitz held his tanks in check, not allowing them to fire until the right moment. When it came, it was a disaster for the Russians. In a series of brilliant maneuvers the tanks of the Count accounted for over 100 enemy tanks without losing a single one of their own. It was a phenomenal exhibition of courage and cunning in the most adverse of circumstances. In the long run, however, the enemy would overpower the German Sixth Army. Even the skills of the Count could not keep his crews invulnerable. Sheer weight of numbers began depleting Strachwitz's tanks and men. There seemed to be no end to them. A few days later Strachwitz was seriously wounded and evacuated by air. He would not be at Stalingrad when the rest of the German forces surrendered to the Soviets. After fighting in the Stalingrad area, von Strachwitz commanded as an Oberst the Panzer Regiment of the elite Panzer Grenadier Division GroĂ&#x;deutschland. Having only a handful of tanks, the GroĂ&#x;deutschland division needed capable men like von Strachwitz to lead their tanks against a numerically superior Russian Army. On one occasion, he laid an ambush with four of his panzers deep inside Soviet lines. The Russian tanks never expected the enemy so deep in their own rear, and the German group destroyed 105 Russian tanks in less than 110/205
an hour, without the loss of a single panzer. Once Strachwitz had been nursed back to health, he was given the command of one of the newly forming schwere Panzer Abteilungen (heavy tank battalions), equipped with the new monster, the Panzerkampfwagen VI E, "Tiger" tank. He was soon back in the thick of battle, this time with the top-notch Gross Deutschland Division, this time in the boiling "kessel" known as Kharkov. Being the key to movement to the east or west, Kharkov became one of the most contested cities in military history. It would swap hands four times during the German-Russian conflict. It was early 1943 and General von Manstein, against the Fuhrer's directive, skillfully evacuated Kharkov and let the enemy overextend himself. He would then take the city back for himself. Late one evening Strachwitz was visiting one of his advanced observation posts and saw for himself the sudden appearance of dozens of Russian tanks as they crested the hill and descended into the valley. They were headed right toward him and his forces. The Count ordered his tanks to hold their positions. When the Soviet armor finally stopped, waiting for the dawn, Strachwitz got his forces in order. When the first rays of daylight began to change and pierced the blackness, the Russian tanks cranked their engines and began to move. The Tigers of the GroĂ&#x;deutshland Heavy Battalion still had not been detected. Once more the audacious master of deception had fooled the enemy. Waiting can be perhaps the most trying element of war, but the Count's men were well disciplined and waited for the order to fire. When it came, the gates of hell seemed to open up before the Russian tank crews. As the German 88's cracked sharply in the early morning, they cut a path of death through the Soviet tanks. Within minutes over 18 enemy tanks were destroyed. The tank crews still alive immediately began to withdraw their vehicles. As was his custom, however, the Count would not allow this. He continued to pursue the Russians as they sought to leave the battlefield and before the day had ended, the entire Soviet tank force had been destroyed. Only one of the Tigers suffered any significant damage, but it was repaired by German mechanics brought forward by Strachwitz before darkness came. On 13 November 1942, he became the 144th soldier to be awarded the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. By January 1943, "der Panzergraf" (The Armored Count, as he was by then known) was an Oberst and given command of Panzer Regiment GroĂ&#x;deutschland. Not long after followed the award of the Swords to the Knight's Cross 111/205
of the Iron Cross, on 28 March 1943, for his part in the counterattack at Kharkov. In 1943, the Generals Hubert Lanz and Hans Speidel and colonel Hyazinth Graf von Strachwitz decided with the headquarters of the group of armies B in Walki in Russia, to stop Hitler at the aerodrome of Poltawa with a quota carefully selected of the division armored under the command of von Strachwitz, and to cut down it in the event of resistance, which it was obviously necessary to take into account. The Field-marshal Rommel was also informed of these plans, but he was then in Africa. But Hitler landed against any waiting in Saporoshe and not with Poltawa. In November 1943, Strachwitz left the GroĂ&#x;deutschland on what were termed grounds of ill health in the official record. Off the record, tension existed between Graf Strachwitz and GD's divisional commander, Generalleutnant "Papa" Hoernlein. Some veterans feel that the true reason for his leaving lied there. Graf Strachwitz has been described as a good tactician at the battalion and regimental level, but also as being inflexible, not open to compromise. Being recalled to active duty after extended sick leave in January 1944, and with promotion to Generalmajor d.R. (der Reserve), Graf Strachwitz went on to become the 11th soldier of the German Armed Forces to be awarded the Diamonds to the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, on 15 April 1944. He briefly commanded the 1st Panzer Division during this time.Once again his tactical brilliance came to the fore. Scraping together whatever he could to form "Fire Brigades", Strachwitz continued to shore up the crumbling German defenses. Again and again he was able to accomplish the impossible. In Army Group North a new saying arose, "Strachwitz is here - he'll sort it out!" This was the cry of more than one battlefield commander when the Panzer Graf came to the rescue. In late 1944 the Count, still conducting himself as a warrior instead of a military paper-pusher, executed victories far out of proportion to his resource. George Forty details a series of actions with Strachwitz in his Tiger for which he would receive the rarely awarded "Diamonds" addition to his Iron Cross. Only a handful of German soldiers and tankers would be awarded this highly distinguished medal during the war. In an effort to recapture the Latvian port near Riga, Strachwitz took a small force of ten Tiger tanks and fifteen half-tracks full of Panzergrenadiers in a large loop around Tuccum. Surprising an entire battalion of T-34s in the town, all lined up neatly, he availed himself of the gunnery officer of the battleship Lutzow and had the big 11" guns destroy 112/205
many of the Russian tanks. Strachwitz and his men finished off the rest, used the captured enemy fuel and supplies from a Russian supply area. From there he took a small force, headed north surprised a Soviet armored Corps by getting behind it. He positioned his four Tiger tanks well and watched as the Russian tanks rolled onward. This was a favorite tactic of the Tiger tank commanders. When the time was right, the Panzer Graf had his tanks open fire. It created havoc among the Russian tanks. They thought they were being fired on from the front and did not realize the shells were coming from their flanks. Soon dozens of Russian tanks were left twisted smoking hulks. The Russian commander, with more Germans at the front of his column, thought he was surrounded by a much larger force and surrendered his entire corps. Leaving some infantry and halftracks to control the situation, Strachwitz continued on his war odyssey, reaching Riga, entering the town and capturing it. A group of high ranking German officers later entered the city, noticed the Panzer Graf sitting atop the turret of his Tiger and shouted, "Nice going, Lieutenant!" Strachwitz wore no rank badges in combat. Laughing, Strachwitz answered them, "You're not talking to a lieutenant. I'm only a general". Colonel Count Strachwitz von Gross Zauche und Camminetz was the most decorated regimental officer of the German panzer army in WWII. He was awarded all the grades of the Iron Cross, including the Knight's Cross on August 1941 and Oakleaves on 13 November 1942, the Swords on 28 March 1943, and Diamonds on 15 April 1944 when commanding a battle group in the sector of Army Group North. Originally a cavalryman, Strachwitz belonged to an old military family with estates in Silesia. He served during WWI and with the Freikorps, and fought during the campaigns in Poland and France. However, he made his reputation on the Eastern Front, exploiting with small battle groups to fight Russian armor. When isolated from friendly units he also showed courage outside his vehicle, fighting hand-to-hand against Russian infantry until his crew had repaired the tank. He became famous for his rapid advances, breaking through enemy lines and disrupting enemy headquarters and supply units. On one occasion he was the first to cross a river bridge, attacking a column of hundreds of Russian trucks and guns. As a result of this action, Strachwitz and his small Kampfgruppe would take 18,000 Soviet prisoners, 28 batteries of artillery and dozens of vehicles, including tanks, SP guns and many trucks. Such actions seem impossible to many westerners who fail to grasp the enormity of the war in the east. After forming one of the first Tiger battalions, his disciplined crews 113/205
were able to destroy many Russian tanks during the fighting for Kharkov. Von Strachwitz commanded the 1st Panzer Division and later as armor commander he was sent to Army Group North. Here he took part in the first offensive to reestablish contact with Army Group North which had just been encircled for the first time. From September 1944 the various elements of Gruppe Strachwitz were used to cover the retreat of Army Group North into the Courland Sector. Very late in the war, while being driven to the headquarters of one of the divisions under his command, he was badly hurt in an automobile accident. In spite of the severity of his injuries, including many broken bones and a fractured skull, the good count was not about to succumb to an untimely death outside of combat. His determination brought him back into the action just before the end of the war. Still on crutches, he formed a new command of anti-tank fighters at Bad Kudova. He eventually surrendered to the western Allies by traveling to Bavaria. Although von Strachwitz was a wonderful tactician at the battalion and regimental level, he was inflexible at times and unwilling to compromise. These qualities limited his success with larger units, and he was never used as a real divison commander. But in a situation where a battlegroup could operate independently, and when Strachwitz did not have to deal with equal or superior ranked officers, he was a great armor commander. Wounded no fewer than fourteen times during the war, he survived the front. Having lost two sons during the war, he would go on to lose his wife while in captivity. His Silesian estate was taken by the Russians, and Strachwitz remained in West Germany upon his release from US custody. After a brief journey to Syria to help organize the military there (and his subsequent flight from Syria after the ruling power was overthrown), he settled on an estate in Bavaria in 1951, where he lived until 1968, and officers of the Bundeswehr held a watch at his coffin as a sign of recognition for his outstanding military career. He lies today in Grabenst채tt, Germany.
Annexes Citadel 1943
After suffering two disastrous winters in the east, a revitalized panzer force enjoying new weapons and equipment - Tigers, Panthers and Ferdinands - is assembled on sectors north and south of a huge and strongly defended Red Army salient centred on Kursk. Operation 'Citadel' involving Army Croups Centre and South will strike concentrically to eliminate the salient. Hoth Fourth Pz-Army 5 July 1943 responsible to Army Group South will carry the main weight of the offensive; SS PzKorps (Hausser) providing the cutting edge; Army Abteilung (AA) Kempf in support. Model Ninth Army responsible to Army Group Centre will co-operate in attacks from the north. But 'Citadel' is not a success. Losing more than half its armoured strength, 'Citadel' fails to break the deeply echeloned Russian defence and after seven days' fighting 115/205
when the offensive coincides with 'Husky', the Allied invasion of Sicily, Hitler calls it off. (Panzer Action in Italy, page 201.) Critically drained of resources, the German Army will never recover the strategic initiative. Fourth Pz-Army, failing to reach Kursk and link up with Ninth Army, is shattered in the attempt; the decimated panzer divisions lose their power and German domination of European Russia is permanently broken. Twenty panzer/panzer grenadier divisions (including OKH reserve) plus infantry and Army troops assemble for 'Citadel' led by Hoth and Kempf (Army Group South) and Model (Army Group Centre). Hoth (1) Fourth Pz-Army, II SS PzK Hausser: 1st SS PzDiv, 2nd SS PzDiv, 3 SS PzDiv: XXXXVIII PzK von Knobelsdorff; 3rd, llth PzDivs, Gross Deutschland, 167th Inf Div, 10 Pz (Panther) Bde Decker, III AK Ott, two Inf divs. Kempf (2) Army Abteilung, 111 PzK Breith: 6th, 7th, 19th PzDivs, 168 Inf Div, 503 (Tiger) Bn; XI AK Raus, three Inf divs: XXXXII AK three Inf divs. Model (3) Ninth Army, XXXXVII PzK Lemelsen: 2nd, 4th, 9th, 20th PzDivs, 505 Hvy (Tiger) PzBn, 6th Inf Div, XXXXI PzK Harpe: 18th PzDiv, 10th PzGrDiv, 653, 654 Pzjaeger (Ferdinand) Bns; XXXXVI PzK Zorn: Five infantry divisions and Gruppe von Manteuffel: XX and XXIII AK with seven infantry divs. A Gr South Reserve (uncommitted) XXIV PzK Nehring: 5th SS 'Wiking', 17th PzDiv. OKH/A Gr Centre Reserve 5th PzDiv (OKH) switched to Second Pz-Army, 12th PzDiv, 36th I.D. Mot. A Gr Centre Von Kluge; 21 divs inc 6 PzDivs, 2 Pzgr, 700-800 tanks (45 Tigers), 350 assault guns. A Gr South Von Manstein; 22 divs inc 11 PzDivs, 1 Pz bde, 1,300 tanks (101 Tigers), 250 assault guns. (Total 2,700 tanks/assault guns, inc. 146 Tigers). Luftwaffe (1) (2) Dessloch, 4th Air Fleet, Seidemann VIII Air Corps - 1st, 4th Air Divs. 1,100 airc. ÂŠ Greim, 6th Air Fleet, Deichmann 1 Air Corps - 700 aircraft (Total 1,800 aircraft). Red Army/Air Force Rokossovsky Central Fr; Vatutin Voronezh Fr; Konev Steppe Fr (from 18 July). 100 divs inc five tank armies, 3,306 tanks and assault guns, 2,650 aircraft. Last Proclamation Adolf Hitler: Soldiers Of The German Eastern Front! 15th April 1945 The Leader's Order. 116/205
Order Of The Day. 15th April, 1945. For the last time our deadly enemies the Jewish Bolsheviks have launched their massive forces to the attack. Their aim is to reduce Germany to ruins and to exterminate our Folk. Many of you soldiers in the east already know the fate which threatens, above all, German women, girls, and children. While the old men and children will be murdered, the women and girls will be reduced to barrackroom whores. The remainder will be marched off to Siberia. We have foreseen this thrust, and since last January have done everything possible to construct a strong Front. The enemy will be greeted by massive artillery fire. Gaps in our infantry have been made good by countless new units. Our Front is being strengthened by emergency units, newly raised units, and by the Germanic Folk Militia. This time the Bolshevik will meet the ancient fate of Asia -- he must and shall bleed to death before the capital of the German Reich. Whoever fails in his duty at this moment behaves as a traitor to our Folk. The Regiment or Division which abandons its position acts so disgracefully that it must be ashamed before the women and children who are withstanding the terror of bombing in our cities. Above all, be on your guard against the few treacherous Officers and soldiers who, in order to preserve their pitiful lives, fight against us in Russian pay, perhaps even wearing German uniform. Anyone ordering you to retreat will, unless you know him well personally, be immediately arrested and, if necessary, killed on the spot, no matter what rank he may hold. If every soldier on the Eastern Front does his duty in the days and weeks which lie ahead, the last assault of Asia will crumple, just as the invasion by our enemies in the west will finally fail, in spite of everything. Berlin remains German, Vienna will be German again, and Europe will never be Russian. Form yourselves into a sworn brotherhood, to defend, not the empty conception of a Fatherland, but your homes, your wives, your children, and, with them, our future. In these hours, the whole German Folk looks to you, my fighters in the east, and only hopes that, thanks to your resolution and fanaticism, thanks to your weapons, and under your leadership, the Bolshevik assault will be choked in a bath of blood. At this moment, when Fate has removed from the Earth the greatest war criminal of all time, the turning point of this war will be decided. Adolf Hitler.
Origins of the Schutz Staffel or SS Origins The origins of the SS lie right back at the genesis of the Nazi movement in Germany in 1923. These were turbulent times, and few then would have been willing to bet on the outcome of the struggle for domination of Germany between the Nazis and the Communists. The two sides often battled violently in the streets, and injuries and deaths were far from uncommon. It was clear that some form of bodyguard element was required to protect those who spoke at Nazi outdoor meetings. The SA Stormtroopers, the Sturmabteilung, or "Brownshirts', were little more than an unruly rabble, most of them unemployed :hugs with no real loyalty to Hitler, but useful for meeting the opposing Communists head on in countless violent street fights while, in the main, being by no means trustworthy or disciplined enough to provide reliable bodyguards for the Party leadership. Hitler, however, had been impressed by the performance of at least some of his 'minders', and in March 1923 he decided to form an elite, dedicated bodyguard unit from a number of such dependable comrades. The task of forming this trusted band was delegated to his faithful chauffeur, Julius Schreck, and another trusted follower, Josef Berchtold. To begin with, this group was simply a small detachment within the SA, and was known as the Stabswache, or Headquarter Guard. Within a few weeks it had been expanded and took on the name Stosstrupp Adolf Hitler. This so-called 'Shock Troop' took part in the abortive Munich Putsch of 9 November 1923, providing personal protection for Hitler. On Hitler's release from Landsberg Prison following the abortive Putsch, he decided to reform his bodyguard, and once again turned to Julius Schreck to create this new unit. Initially, it consisted of just eight chosen men, and thanks to Hermann Goring was given the title of Schutz Staffel, or 'Protection Squad'. This was a reference to Goring's highly successful career as a fighter pilot during the First World War, when this title was used for aircraft allocated to flying escort duties. It was intended that the Schutz Staffel, which rapidly became known by its abbreviated form 'SS', would not exceed ten men plus one officer in each district, the exception to this being the Reich's capital city, Berlin, where the SS detachment was to be double the normal size. The elite status of the SS was enhanced by the extremely high standards of physical fitness and general appearance of those recruited to its ranks, but most importantly, by the fact that its owed its alle118/205
giance, not to the Party, but to the person of Adolf Hitler himself. In April 1926, Schreck relinquished command of the SS to another of Hitler's most loyal followers, Josef Berchtold, who had by this time recovered from wounds he had received marching by Hitler's side during the Munich Putsch. The general ranks of the brownshirt army, the SA, were highly suspicious and resentful of this new elite unit which appeared in their midst, the SS still at this time being subordinate to the SA. This resentment grew when Hitler entrusted the care of the so-called 'Blutfahne', a Nazi flag splattered with the blood of those marchers killed or wounded during the Putsch, and which had, to the Nazis, acquired the status almost of a holy relic, to the SS. The SA had previously cared for the Blutfahne. The situation was far from ideal, with the SA's resentment matched by the SS's rancour by reason of its subordination to the SA. SS units in any area were eventually restricted to a maximum of 10 per cent of the size of the SA contingent, and this only when the SA unit to which it was subordinated actually reached its full, allocated strength. The SA therefore found it easy to manipulate the size of SS units over which it had control, many SA units also taking great delight in allocating the most menial task to their SS contingents. Resentful of the restrictions placed on the development of the SS, Berchtold resigned, command passing to his deputy, Erhardt Heiden. Heiden, unfortunately, had no more success than Berchtold in circumventing the spiteful machinations of the SA, and he too lasted for only a short time as commander of the SS before he resigned. The SA no doubt took great pleasure in this, and anticipated just as easily manipulating his successor. In this they were to be greatly mistaken. Heiden's successor was another veteran of the Munich Putsch, one Heinrich Himmler. Though his appearance was far from impressive, with his pincenez spectacles and rather weedy turnout, Himmler was a superb organiser and was fired with enthusiasm for, and dedication to, the success of the SS. In 1928 he was appointed Reichsf端hrer-SS.
By 1929 Himmler had persuaded Hitler to approve a recruitment plan for the SS, 10 and within a year it had grown in strength to around one thousand men, although still subordinated to the SA. In 1931 there occurred an incident which was to greatly enhance the status of the SS in the eyes of Hitler. The Berlin SA had been growing resentful of what it saw as Hitler's favouritism towards the Bavarian SA, based in Munich, which was of course the 'spiritual home' of Nazism. On 1 April, the SS in Berlin alerted Hitler to the fact that the SA leader, Oberf端hrer Walther Stennes, had revolted and occupied the premises of the Nazi newspaper Der Angriff, published by the Gauleiter of Berlin, Josef Goebbels, and had evicted the Nazi propaganda chief. In the event, however, the revolt quickly fizzled out through 120/205
lack of support, and the rebel SA members were quickly purged. Hitler was greatly appreciative that the SS had remained loyal during this potentially dangerous episode and publicly congratulated them. Himmler's reward was to be appointed as Head of Party Security. From this position of power, Himmler set about expanding his nascent SS empire, so that by the end of 1932 it had grown in strength to some 50.000 men. By this time, life in Germany had deteriorated into a situation of near total anarchy, with armed Nazis and Communists battling in the streets. Hitler's promises of full employment and a return of law and order swung the votes in the 1933 elections in his favour, and on 30 January Reichsprasident von Hindenburg appointed Hitler to the office of Chancellor. Within a month, the Reichstag building was gutted in an arson attack, for which the Communists were "lamed, and Hitler lost no time in issuing a proclamation granting police powers to the SA and the SS. This resulted in over 15.000 SS men being sworn in as police 'auxiliaries', and the round-up of political opponents began. The original SS was required to provide security for the Party hierarchy in general, but at this point Hitler decided to form a special armed bodyguard unit from within the ranks of the SS whose purpose would be to provide him personally with a protective escort. The task of raising this 'elite within an elite' was given to one of his most trusted friends, the Bavarian SS-Gruppenf端hrer, Josef 'Sepp' Dietrich. Dietrich, a decorated combat veteran of the First World War, set to work immediately, and by March 1933 had established a guard unit of some 120 hand-picked men which was to become known as the SS-Stabswache Berlin. In late April, this guard unit moved into the old Officer Cadet Institute at Berlin-Lichterfelde.Within just two months it was undergoing expansion, and the enlarged unit was renamed as the SS-Sonderkommando Zossen. A further special guard element known as SS-Sonderkommando J端terbog was formed in May, interestingly, with a number of attached Army officers to assist with training, and in September both were brought together to form the Adolf Hitler Standarte, each member of the unit being issued with a cuffband bearing Hitler's name. From July to October of 1933, these elite SS guards provided security at Hitler's retreat at the Obersalzberg, near Berchtesgaden in Bavaria. On 9 November 1933, on the tenth anniversary of the Munich Putsch, this regiment took a personal oath of fealty to Adolf Hitler and had its name amended to Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, once again emphasising its unique elite status. (The Leib-Hussaren, Leib-Standarte, of 121/205
Imperial Germany were the direct equivalent of the 'Life Guards' in other nations such as Great Britain, traditionally entrusted with the safety of the monarch or head of State.) The wording of the oath was as follows: I swear to you, Adolf Hitler, as leader and Chancellor of the German nation, loyalty and courage. I vow to you and to the superiors appointed to you, obedience unto death, so help me God. The similarities between the Praetorian Guard of Roman times and Hitler's new SS Elite Guard are too obvious to be coincidental. The recruitment criteria for this unit \vere extremely selective. Applicants had to be between seventeen and twenty-two years of age. a minimum of 5 ft 11 in tall, later raised to 6 ft Min, and in perfect physical health. Shortly thereafter, the unit terminology of the Allgemeine-SS, the Schar, Sturm and Sturmbann began to be replaced by the equivalent military terms, such as Zug (Platoon), Kompanie (Company) and Bataillon (Battalion) as used in the Wehrmacht, further enhancing the military status of the armed SS. Around this time, a number of other small, armed detachments were being created at SS-Abschnitt level throughout Germany. Limited to a size of 100 men (the police also raised several such quasimilitary units, known as 'Hundertschaften') and in critical areas, these units were brought together to form the so-called Politische Bereitschaften. On 24 September 1934, Hitler decreed that the Politische Bereitschaften be brought together to form a new armed SS force to be known as the SS-Verf端gungstruppe. In March 1933, Himmler had been appointed Police President of Munich and founded the first concentration camp ai Dachau. This was rapidly joined by others ai Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen. These though thoroughly unpleasant places, were worlds apart from the death campf established later during the Holocaust. Ii was intended that potential enemies of the State who were considered dangerous bui who had not been found guilty in court ol any specific crime would be detained ir these camps for 're-education'. Indeed though treatment was often brutal, man) were subsequently released when no longei considered a threat, a luxury of course noi available to later inmates. It was around this time that the first of the Wachverbdnde, 01 Guard Units, were formed to staff these camps under the command of SS-Oberf端hrer Theodor Eicke. By 1935, five full battalions, or Wachsturmbanne, of these troops had been formed - Oberbayern (at Dachau), Elbe (at Lichtenburg), Sachsen (at Sachsenburg), Ostfriesland (at Esterwegen) and Brandenburg (at Oranienburg). 122/205
In 1937, further reorganisation saw these battalions formed into three full deathshead regiments: SS-Totenkopfstandarten Oberbayern (at Dachau), Brandenburg (at Sachsenhausen) and Thuringen (at Buchenwald). These units would become officially designated as the SS-Totenkopfverbände in 1936. Post-Anschluss, a fourth regiment, SS-Totenkopfstandarte Ostmark, was established at the concentration camp at Mauthausen in Austria, and in 1939, a fifth, SSTotenkopfstandarte Dietrich Eckardt, was also formed. From a beginning as little more than brutal thugs guarding hapless concentration camp inmates, the SS-Totenkopvërbande (SS-TV) would become a well-trained military force, though no less brutal in its methods, which would in turn provide the Waffen-SS with the unit that would become the formidable 3 SS-Panzer Division Totenkopf. Meanwhile the SA continued its expansion, and the Army grew ever more concerned at rumours that the brownshirts considered themselves as a revolutionary force which would replace the regular Army. Hitler too was becoming concerned that the SA was slipping beyond his control, seeing its allegiance being owed to its own commanderin-chief, SA-Stabschef Ernst Rohm, and Rohm's enemies lost no time in feeding Hitler's mistrust of his once-valued comrade. Eventually, Rohm demanded the formation of a people's army to replace the regular Army, which he would personally command. This was the final straw for both Hitler and the generals of the regular Army. There was now a real danger of civil war, and Hitler was determined to eliminate this threat from within his own movement. . To execute his plan, Hitler called up his most trusted men, the SS. He called a meeting of SA leaders for 30 June 1934, at which the unsuspecting SA leaders were quickly arrested by SS troops and those determined as the ringleaders executed. The SS of course also took the opportunity of settling some of its own old scores, and eventually over 300 were executed in what was to become known as the 'Night of the Long Knives'. A new 'puppet' leader, Viktor Lütze, was appointed to command the SA, with Hitler confident that this weak and colourless individual would prove no threat. He was correct. The SA was reduced to a mere quarter of its former size and at the same time was disarmed. It would no longer pose a threat to Hitler or be a serious obstacle to the development of the SS. Once again, the SS had proved itself loyal, prepared to act outside the law, and even commit murder when its Führer so wished. In reward, Hitler declared the SS to now be a fully independent branch of the Party, no longer subordinate to the disgraced and humiliated SA. 123/205
During this period of struggle, the SS had mushroomed to some 200,000 strong. Recruitment criteria had been relaxed due to the need for rapid expansion to allow the SS to better withstand the pressure placed upon it by the resentful brownshirts. With the threat of the SA removed, however, Himmler immediately set about restoring its elite status. Many members were no longer considered appropriate for the new, reborn, elite SS. and over 60.000 men were dropped from its ranks. In October 1934. an SS officer cadet training school (SS-Junkerschule) was opened at Bad Tolz in Bavaria, and was joined in 1935 bv a further establishment in Brunswick (SS-Junkerschule Braunschweig). Several highly experienced former Army officers were recruited to provide the SS trainees with high-quality military training. The first full regiment of SS-Verfügungstruppe was created around a core of former members of the Politische Bereitschaften when three Sturmbanne were amalgamated under the title SS-Standarte I Deutschlandm Munich. A further regiment, SS-Standarte 2 Germania, was formed in Hamburg, and following the 1938 Anschluss with Austria, a third regiment was formed in Vienna under the title SS-Standarte 3 Der Führer. With the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, the SS-Verfügungstruppe and the SS-Totenkopfverbände at his disposal, Himmler now had the requisite raw material to provide the nucleus for the creation of his own SS army. The Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH) was Adolf Hitler's personal bodyguard. Initially the size of a regiment (brigade), the LSSAH eventually grew into an elite division-sized unit. The term Leibstandarte was derived partly from Leibgarde – a somewhat archaic German translation of "Garde du Corps" or personal bodyguard of a military leader ("Leib" = lit. "body, torso") – and Standarte: the Schutzstaffel (SS) or Sturmabteilung (SA) term for a regiment-sized unit. The LSSAH independently participated in combat during the invasion of Poland, and was amalgamated into the Waffen-SS together with the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT) and the combat units of the SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV) prior to Operation Barbarossa in 1941. By the end of World War II it had been increased in size from a regiment to a Panzer division. The Leibstandarte division's symbol was a skeleton key, in honour of its first commander, Josef "Sepp" Dietrich 11 (Dietrich is German for skeleton key or lock pick); it was retained and modified to later serve as the symbol for I SS Panzer Corps. The elite division, a component of the Waffen-SS, was found guilty of war crimes in the Nuremberg 124/205
Trials. Members of the LSSAH participated in numerous atrocities. They murdered at least an estimated 5.000 prisoners of war in the period 1940â€“1945, mostly on the Eastern Front. Newsreel propaganda films produced in Nazi Germany during the life of the Third Reich featured footage of elite members of Heinrich Himmler's Schutzslaffel (SS Protection Squad), immaculate in their black and silver uniforms, standing like robots before the Berlin Reich Chancellery. These were the troops of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, responsible for the safety of their Fiihrer, a bodyguard contingent destined to rise under the clash of arms to become the premier panzer division of the Wafen-SS. Those who served in the Leibstandarte and in the armed SS as a whole enjoyed a special status and glamour, the remnants of which, even amid the ashes of defeat, the dwindling number of veterans are keen to preserve. There is some justification for this. The armed echelons of the Schutzstaffel, with their double-S runic sleeve flash and belt buckles inscribed with the motto Meine Ehre heisst Treue ('My Honour Is Loyalty') fought with considerable bravery on the front line during World War II. What this does not take into account, however, and what apologists to this day conveniently ignore, are the many crimes of brutality which can be laid directly at the door of the Leibstandarte.
To reach the truth means taking a look beyond the popular image of 125/205
the immaculate uniforms and marching bands of these SS paragons. The origins lie deep in a Germany still in the shadow of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year 1918. Kaiser Wilhelm II, who had vainly intended to abdicate only as German Emperor, but still retain his rights as King of Prussia, had finally taken his withered arm and shattered imperial ambitions into exile. For the .army, rich in the traditions of battle triumphs stretching back to the days of Frederick the Great, there was a legacy of shame and submission at its enforced emasculation by the victors, following the Treaty of Versailles 12. But for many whose husbands, brothers and son's had perished on the battlefields of France and Flanders, there was weary resignation and a longing to be rid of militarism. There was little sympathy for those that found the Allied terms unacceptable and even less for the notion that, in the words of Philipp Scheidemann, first Chancellor of the Weimar 13 Republic, the 'hand should wither' before any shameful demands - 'intolerable for any nation' - were agreed by signature. 14 Other voices of resentment and fury, however, drowned all calls for moderation. Mass meetings were held throughout the country which were ripe with sullen threat to national order. Aggression soon followed. Cities became minor battlefields - convenient areas of violence for a variety of terrorist groups such as the Spartacists, forerunner of the German Communist Party, and groups of ex-servicemen formed as the Stahlhelm and the Freikorps, who clashed with the manpower of the Reichswehr, the standing army acting as the Chancellor's Guard. In Bavaria, a Soviet-style regime assumed power with an optimistic programme of land reform, workers' control and participation in government. Although such heresies were defeated with consummate savagery, the legacy of Bavarian socialism was to be the birth of a new movement. Adolf Hitler, its chief architect, was fuelled by two hatreds: the teachings of Karl Marx and, above all, a loathing of Jews, whom he saw as 'rats, parasites and bloodsuckers'. During World War I, Hitler had served as a Lance Corporal (Gefreiter) in the 16th Bavarian Infantry (List Regiment). Before his discharge, he had attended one of the soldiers' indoctrination classes with which the Reichswehr supplemented its armed combat of leftwing subversion. As a Bildungsoffizier (Instruction Officer), he received orders to investigate - in fact, spy on - a collection of nationalist veterans and beer-willing nationalists, as well as general misfits, who made up the all but bankrupt Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (German Workers' Party). The group certainly had some resonance for Hitler, especially where the-fifth of its 25 Points was concerned: 'None but members of the nation may be citizens of the state. None but those of 126/205
German blood, whatever their creed, may be members of the nation. No Jew, therefore, may be a member of the nation.' The future Ftihrer joined as Party Member No. 555 and, by January 1920, had emerged as its leader. During the next month, in an impassioned speech held in a Munich beer hall, he demanded the adoption of all 25 points. He was already thinking ahead, however, and planning a far more radical programme, paramount to which was the demand that all Jews be denied office and citizenship. The name of the party was changed that April to National-sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (the NSDAP, or National Socialist Party).15 Foundation Before long came the call for a campaign of hate and subversion where blood would literally spill onto the streets of German towns and cities. In such dangerous times, none was exempt from the threat of violence, party leaders and would-be dictators least of all. Hence, in 1923, came the emergence of the Stabswache (Headquarters Guard), a pretentious name for the activities of its two leading strongmen, Joseph Berchtold, a stationer, and Julius Schreck, a chauffeur, both of whom were assigned a crude bodyguard role by Hitler. This pair were joined by several adherents who were, for the most part, labourers from the lower middle or working classes of Munich, the likes of Ulrich Graf, butcher by trade and ama-:eur boxer by night; Emil Maurice, a watchmaker with a criminal record; and Christian Weber, a penniless former groom. The Stosstrupp (Shock Troop) Adolf Hitler, which incorporated the Stabswache, at first consisted of some 30 thugs much addicted to punch-ups with opponents and the copious use of boots, knives, blackjacks and rubber truncheons. These toughs, many of them recruited from the Freikorps, in time became members of the infinitely more powerful Sturmabteilung (SA, or Storm Troopers). This was the creation of Freikorps leader Ernst Rohm, who built up a 2000-strong private army, boosted by Freikorps volunteers who became SA storm troopers. The original Stabswache, nevertheless, does deserve at least a footnote in the history of pre-war Germany, laying as it did the foundations for a force responsible solely to Hitler with the task of protecting him from all enemies, by whatever method and, if necessary, with individuals' lives. The Leibstandarte of the future was to exist essentially for the same purpose. On 9 November 1923, a crucial event took place, although few foresaw its repercussions at the time. In Munich, a 600-strong group of SA, led by Hitler, made an ill-judged bid to snatch power from the na127/205
tionalist and rigidly independent leaders of Bavaria and proclaim a new government, in the so-called Beer Hall Putsch. This intended political coup was an embarrassing failure which degenerated into semi-farce, at a cost of around a dozen Stosstrupp lives, SA casualties and short-term imprisonment for Hitler. While Hitler languished in Landsberg jail, the various factions became even more fragmented and uncontrollable. On release, Hitler made up his mind. He had need for a single, cohesive protection force. 16
In April 1925, eight men came together to create a new Stabswache. Within two weeks, it had become the SS, destined to be controlled by the myopic Reichsf端hrer-SS Heinrich Himmler, the one-time industrial chemist who was dedicated to the pursuit of homeopathy, herbal cures and, most of all, dreams of a racially pure Germany. Even within the tight embrace of the SS, however, Hitler wanted the services of men who would be loyal to him exclusively, as he made clear in one of his countless dissertations: i 'Being convinced that there are always circumstances in which elite troops are called for, I created in 1922-23 "the Adolf Hitler Shock Troops". They were made up of men who were ready for revolution and knew that some things would come to hard knocks. When I came out of Landsberg everything was broken up and scattered in sometimes rival bands. I told myself then that I needed a bodyguard, even a very restricted one, but made up of men who would be enlisted without conditions, even to march against their own brothers, only 20 men to a city (on condition that one counts on them absolutely) rather than a,dubious mass ... But it was with Himmler that the SS became an extraordinary body of men, devoted to an ideal, loyal to death.' 17 128/205
SEEP DIETRICH Hitler had no intention of being saddled with a 'dubious mass'. Less than two months after coming to power as Chancellor of the Reich in January 1933, he turned to an old party comrade and former bodyguard, Josef (familiarly known as 'Sepp') Dietrich, a strong-jawed, thick-accented Bavarian, and former artilleryman. That same year, in May, Dietrich was able to report to Hitler that he had formed a headquarters guard of loyal SS men titled the SS-Stabswache Berlin, conveniently quartered near the Reich Chancellery. Then came two more Stabswache incarnations, with two more successive changes of title. First, there was the SS-Sonderkommando Zossen (Special Commando), a designation which signified something of the guard's elite character. Secondly, as a result of its merger with Sonderkommando Juterbog, it received first the title Adolf-Hitler-Standarte. Then, at the behest of Hitler himself, this was changed to Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, (SS Bodyguard Regiment Adolf Hitler), a name chosen deliberately to prompt memories of the old Bavarian Life Guards. The announcement of the name change was made on the last day of the Nazi Party rally held in the Luitpoldhalle at Nuremberg in September 1935, nine months after Hitler came to power. The ceremonial event, staged with all the elaborate spectacle that Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels could muster, carried the self-confident title 'Congress of Victory'. Here, the towers of Kleig lights shone on 60.000 Hitler Youth, parading with the slogans of 'Blood and Honour' and 'Germany Awake'. At the rear of the stage was the German 129/205
eagle, its talons enclosing the golden laurel-wreathed swastika, and beneath which stood 60 stalwarts of the SS in their uniforms of black and silver, their dress swords drawn and shouldered. Once Hitler had arrived precisely at 17>00 hours, flanked by Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Reich Central Security Office, he took his place on his podium. The spectators were then treated to a lengthy, bombastic speech lasting over an hour, the overall theme of which was 'the reward of virtue' (Turgenheld). Deserving of such rewards, Hitler made clear, were those who had kept the faith, not only with him personally, lull also lo ilic ideals of Germany and National Socialism. Keeping that faith had meant conducting a ceaseless, ruthles campaign against treachery, wherever it was manifest. Special tribute was paid to Heinrich Himmler 'my Ignatius Loyola' - and to (hose who served will) him, Hitler's faithful guards, his Stabswache. It was to be their reward to have a special name crealcd Tor them, 'a name indelibly associated with that of their Fuhrer A sardonic presence at Nuremberg that day was a correspondent from the Nan York Times newspaper, who found Hitler's revelation 'singularly uninteresting after all the guff that had preceded it... All we got for our pains was the knowledge that henceforth his Stabswache would be officially known as Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler.' At the time, no one could guess, of course, how significant for Germany that change of name was going to be. One man who showed more than a proprietary interest was, naturally enough, Himmler. And therein lay the seeds of conflict. From the very start, it was obvious that Hitler intended this new organisation to be an elite, responsible and answerable to him. This was underlined graphically by yet another spectacular event. On 9 November 1933, 11 months after Hitler became Reich Chancellor at the Munich Feldherrnhalle War Memorial in the Odeonplatz, some 830 men were mustered, facing the Theatinerkirche. The streetlights were extinguished and the square lit solely by torches. In a Wagnerian touch, at midnight, after the last strike of the bell from the Theatinerkirche, Hitler arrived, accompanied by Himmler; General Werner von Blomberg, the Minister of Defence; and Gruppenf端hrer Sepp Dietrich, who presented his life guard for swearing in. Swearing the oath First came a paraphrase of the SS oath, spoken by Heinrich Himmler: 'We swear to you, Adolf Hitler, loyalty and bravery. We promise this 130/205
to you and will be obedient until death.' Then, from the SS men came recital of the full oath: 'I swear to you, Adolf Hitler, as F端hrer and Reich Chancellor, loyalty and bravery. I vow to you, and those you have named to command me, obedience unto death. So help me God.' To at least one SS observer, Emil Helfferich, it was a moment of ecstasy. Helfferich referred to 'splendid young men, serious of face, exemplary in bearing and turnout. An elite. Tears came to my eyes when, by the light of torches, thousands of voices repeated the oath in chorus. It was like a prayer.' From that year on, newly enrolled members of the Leibstandarte who had yet to take their oath were sent to Munich for the annual ceremony held in front 18 of the Feldherrnhalle. Himmler remained insatiable for as much power as possible. He constantly pointed out that Hitler's own guard was, from the moment of its inception, firmly wedded to the SS, and was fond of quoting the Party's Organisation Book. 'The original and most important duty of the SS is to serve as the protector of the Fuhrer ... By decree, its sphere of duties has been enlarged to include the internal security of the Reich.' This declaration, Himmler assumed, entitled him to regard the Leibstandarte as his own territory, as, in theory at least, he ultimately commanded it. The reality was somewhat different. It was Sepp Dietrich who had the direct ear of the Fiihrer and from whom Himmler took his orders. This inevitably led to conflict between Dietrich and Himmler. In the words of an indignant Himmler, the Leibstandarte was, 'a complete law unto itself. It does and allows anything it likes without taking the slightest notice of orders from above.' Dietrich's opinion of the other man was made abundantly clear to his American interrogators after the war: 'This guy tried to imitate the F端hrer. His appetite for power could not be satisfied. On top of this he was a great hand at hoarding and scrounging. He received money from everywhere and everybody ... I had quite a number of rows with Himmler.' This was an understatement. Himmler, with his icy stare behind granny spectacles, could reduce many SS subordinates to quaking jelly. By contrast, Dietrich, contemptuous of social niceties and frequently foul-mouthed into the bargain, had no such respect. On one occasion, during the course of a discussion between the two men, Dietrich exploded: 'My position as guard commander will no more allow your interference on security matters than it will upon the morality of my men. They are mine and we are Hitler's. Now go back to your office and let us get back on with the job.'
The responsibilities of the Leibstandarte grew. The highest profile remained that 24-hour guard duty outside the Chancellery and, particularly, the F端hrer's residence in Berlin's Wilhelmstrasse. This last 132/205
presence especially struck visitors to Nazi Germany in the early years of Hitler's power. 19 Among them was the British MP Henry ('Chips') Channon, who wrote in his diary: 'No one is allowed to walk immediately in front of it, and sentries motion one to cross to the other side of the street.' It was not long before the black-uniformed SS had taken over inside the Chancellery. Visitors were obliged to pass through three rings of SS guards before it was possible to get anywhere near Hitler. Guests at the Fuhrer's table were served by bright, young waiters in neat, white jackets, Leibstandarte men. When Hitler ventured out, he was ensconced within a posse of open, black limousines filled with the SS in their full dress uniforms. From Leibstandarte members had also sprung the F端hrerbegleitkommando (FBK, or Escort Commando), a handpicked detachment of some 40 men, 10 officers and 30 enlisted men. Their role was not only one of routine guard duty, but also to act as orderlies, valets and couriers. They were also required to serve as soldiers at short notice. Although those who were not considered of battle material were ruthlessly weeded out, many Leibstandarte men later attested that Hitler had taken a personal, even paternal, interest in their wellbeing. Dismissals were infrequent. Here the Fiihrer exhibited a calculated selfinterest; those dismissed from the 'family' were prone to be potential security risks. The SA Hitler, meanwhile, had other preoccupations, not least of which was the threat posed by Ernst Rohm, who had remained one of the most dedicated of his early followers. As chief of staff of the SA, Rohm had under his control two and a half million storm troopers, together with a seat in the Cabinet. Rohm had his own ambitions, however, and a Cabinet post was not enough to keep him quiet. The crunch came in February 1934, when the SA leader presented to the Cabinet a proposal to set up an entirely new Ministry of Defence, embracing a People's Army, the SS, the SA and all veteran groups. Such an idea was plainly insupportable, particularly in light of this belligerent statement by Rohm: 'Anyone who thinks that the task of the SA has been accomplished will have to get used to the idea that we are here and that we intend to stay here, come what may.' Hitler acted. In June 1934, Dietrich secured the transport necessary to lift the Leibstandarte to southern Germany, together with a supply of arms. Two companies of the Leibstandarte were sent from Berlin to Kaufering, outside Munich. 20 133/205
Orders given to Sepp Dietrich were direct and brutal: he was handed the names of six prominent SA men and told to organise squad and go to the Stadelheim prison in Munich, where the prisoners - former friends and colleagues, incidentally â€” were held and shoot them. Dietrich arrived with 'six good shots to ensure that nothing messy happened'. After some delay, the executions, amateurish and messy, went ahead. Figures as to just how many perished in what ultimately became known as The Night of the Long Knives' are confusing, although many sources have quoted 150 victims of I he firing squads. Ernst Rohm was among them. Those who survived, in the words of Gerald Reitlinger in his The SS: Alibi of a Nation, 'found themselves members of an organisation as innocuous as the Women's Institute movement'. Apart from Dietrich's role in the blood purge of the SA dissidents, the Leibstandarte was also active elsewhere. Members of mobile squads, designated Einsatzkommandos (Action Commandos), were let loose with the remit to snatch anyone with even the remotest connection with dissidents. The addiction of these mobile squads of the Leibstandarte to patent gangsterism - which could be compared to the activities of the likes of Al Capone in the United States -is graphically illustrated by the manner of the killing of Erich Klausener, a director in the Transport Ministry and President of the Catholic Action. SSHauptsturmfĂźhrer Kurt Gildisch, who described himself as 'an en134/205
thusiastic National Socialist', entered Klausener's office building and encountered his victim on the way to the washroom. Gildisch, seemingly in no hurry, escorted Klausener back to his office and told him he was under arrest. Klausener then turned his back on Gildisch, searching in a cupboard for his jacket. The SS killer drew his weapon and fired. In a bid to make the killing look like suicide, Gildisch then placed his Mauser near the body's right hand and, before leaving, put a double guard on the door. His eventual reward was promotion to Sturmbannf端hrer. The SS formations In the wake of the purge of the SA, all who dared to oppose the regime lived under the shadow of the enhanced power of the SS, the supreme arbiter of terror in Hitler's Germany, which emerged with three militarised formations. These were the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, the SS-Verfugungstruppe (SS-VT, or Special Purpose Troops, designated the Waffen-SS in 1940) and the SS-Totenkopfverbande (Death's Head detachments). The SS-VT had its origins in the early development of Germany as a police state, where the slightest hint of civic disobedience and unrest was not tolerated. Conveniently, the SS-VT emerged from an organisation already to hand. This was the SS-Politische Bereitschaften (Political Readiness Squads), consisting of full-time armed units of company strength. Eventually, the squads were absorbed into the SS-VT, but it was from these squads that the Leibstandarte received its early training. In the course of a secret order, dated 2 February 1935, Hitler set out his vision of the SS-VT, which was to consist of three Standarten or regiments, together with an engineer and signals battalion. In the event of war, the SS-VT was to be 'incorporated into the Army. They are then subordinated to military law which also apply to matters of recruitment. The Army also maintained some control over the SS-VT, notably in the fields of military training and the right of inspection. Hitler felt keenly the need to proclaim to the German people the virtues of National Socialism, the SS-VT and, in particular, the Leibstandarte. An opportunity to do so was afforded by the holding of a plebiscite in the Saarland on 12 January 1935, which resulted in its inhabitants voting overwhelmingly - 477.000 to 48.000 - to return the coalrich territory to the Reich. Hitler, anxious to visit the Saarland, entrusted some of the escort duties to the Leibstandarte, which would provide an excellent showcase for the emerging power of National Socialism. The Army had been slow in coming forwards for the escort 135/205
role and was put firmly in its place. The Fuhrer proclaimed: 'If the army is reluctant to lead the way, a suitable spearhead will be provided by the Leibstandarte.' 21 At the end of February, around 16.000 men — Dietrich's motorcycle company, two line companies of the 1st Battalion, two companies from the 2nd Battalion and one from the 3rd - arrived in Saarbrucken. The reception accorded the Leibstandarte was ecstatic, as reflected in this hyperbole from one newspaper: 'Hitler's men - they are as Gods come to show the way for the new Germany.' . Sepp Dietrich's star was already high. The former baker's boy, farm labourer, waiter and chauffeur who, by the end of World War I, had reached the rank of Oberfeldwebel (sergeant major) had, in 1929, been elevated to the rank of SS-Standartenfuhrer (colonel) for his work in organising the SS in southern Bavaria. Dietrich rose to Oberführer rank less than a year later, taking command of SS Abschnitt Sud (SS Section South). From then on, there was a straight career progression from SS-Gruppenführer in 1931 to SS-Obergruppenführer in July 1934, and ever upwards. The prestige of the SS-VT - and with it the Leibstandarte - ran in parallel with Dietrich's own rapid promotions. By May 1935, membership of the SS-VT was regarded as military service with the armed forces and, in the following year, the SS-VT had acquired its own general staff, with an SS-VT inspectorate commanded by ex-Reichswehr Lieutenant General Paul Hausser 22. Lest any section of the SS-VT entertain lofty ideas, Hitler was ever present with stern reminders such as the injunction that the SS-VT 'forms no part of the Wehrrnacht nor of the police. It is a permanent armed force at my disposal.' Hitler went further. Matters of recruiting and training in ideological and political matters were to be in the care of the Reichsführer-SS. He emphasised, however, that Himmler's role would be 'in accordance with directives issued by me'. The message was clear: in Army matters, the Commander in Chief was to be the sole authority. Conflict between the SS-VT and the Army was inevitable. The Wehrmacht, with no small degree of snobbery, considered the SS-VT to be beyond the pale socially, as well as being political upstarts. There were frequent complaints that members of the SS refused to salute Army officers; there were instances of unseemly brawls. One man who helped to bridge the gap and formed an immediate rapport with Dietrich was General Heinz Guderian, revered as Germany's leading exponent of armoured warfare and commander of XVI Panzer Corps. Dietrich learned that he would be under Guderian's command for 136/205
what, in March 1938, Hitler was terming the 'liberation' of his native Austria, his self-proclaimed mission to return that country to Germany. One incident illustrated the extent to which Dietrich had the ear of the Fiihrer. In his memoirs, Panzer Leader, Guderian wrote: 'It seemed to me that the Anschluss [union] should be completed without any fighting. I felt that for both countries it was an occasion for rejoicing. It therefore occurred to me that as a sign of our friendly feelings the tanks might well be beflagged and decked with greenery. I asked Sepp Dietrich to enquire if Hitler would give his approval to this, and half an hour later I was informed that he did.' Everywhere, the reception was joyful. World War I veterans with decorations pinned to their chests lined the streets. Flowers and food were pressed on the contingents of the Leibstandarte who joined Guderian's panzer units after their long drive from Berlin. Hitler, who had set off for Vienna, received a tumultuous welcome, while the detachment from Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, charged with his safety, strove to keep up with their Fiihrer's breakneck progress, flanking his car. The Leibstandarte's members could be forgiven for reflecting with some satisfaction that it had shown up well in comparison with the Army. The much-vaunted panzer units had experienced mechanical trouble on the road from Salzburg, and had been left stranded. An angry Guderian brushed this aside, defending his troops by saying that the breakdowns were trivial. Whatever the truth, the men of the Leibstandarte had covered no less than 965km (600 miles) in some 48 hours. Cooperation with the Army had been total. The 2nd Panzer Division remained in the area of Vienna until the autumn, when it was replaced by Austrians. The Leibstandarte and the staff of XVI Army Corps returned to Berlin in April. Hitler next turned his attention to Czechoslovakia, issuing on 20 May his directive for Operation Green (Case Grun), the occupation of the Sudetenland with its German minority. Once again, the Leibstandarte took part in the invasion under the command of Guderian's XVI Panzer Corps and, again, the tanks were draped in greenery. For Hitler's entry, a guard of honour was made up of three companies, one each from 1st Panzer Regiment, 1st Rifle Regiment and the Leibstandarte. This incursion was followed six months later by occupation of Bohemia and Moravia.
Origins The pre-SS formations: Stabswache (SA Control), 1923 Stosstrupp Adolf Hitler (SA Control), 1923 The formation of the SS: Stabswache, 1925 Schutzstaffel, 1925 The Leibstandarte units: Stabswache (SA controlled) – 1923 Stoßtrupp Adolf Hitler (SA controlled) – 1923 Stabswache (not under SA control) – March 1933 SS-Stabswache Berlin – 1933 SS-Sonderkommando Zossen – 1933 SS-Sonderkommando Jüterbog – 1933 SS-Sonderkommando Berlin – September 1933 Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler – November 1933 Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler – April 1934 Infanterie-Regiment (mot.) Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler – 1939 SS-Division (mot.) Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler – 1941 SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler – 1943 1. SS-Panzer-Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler – 1943 Years (1923–1933) In the earliest days of the NSDAP, leaders realized that bodyguard units composed of trustworthy and loyal men would be a wise development. Ernst Röhm formed a guard formation from the 19.Granatwerfer-Kompanie; from this formation the Sturmabteilung 23 (SA) soon evolved. Adolf Hitler, realizing the potential threat the SA presented, ordered the formation of a bodyguard for himself in early 1923. Originally the unit was composed of only eight men, commanded by Julius Schreck and Joseph Berchtold. It was designated the Stabswache (Staff Guard). The Stabswache were issued unique badges, but at this point the Stabswache was still was under overall SA control. Schreck resurrected the use of the Totenkopf (death's head) as the unit's insignia, a symbol various elite forces had used throughout the Prussian kingdom and the later German Empire. 24
Soon after its formation, the unit was renamed Stoßtrupp (Shock Troop) 'Adolf Hitler'. On 9 November 1923 the Stoßtrupp, along with the SA and several other NSDAP paramilitary units, took part in the abortive Beer Hall Putsch in Munich. In the aftermath of the putsch, Hitler was imprisoned and the NSDAP and all associated formations, including the Stoßtrupp, were officially disbanded. Shortly after his release from prison in April 1925, Hitler ordered the formation of a new bodyguard unit, the Schutzkommando (Protection Command). The unit was renamed the Sturmstaffel (Assault Squadron) shortly thereafter, and in November was renamed the Schutzstaffel, abbreviated to SS. By March 1933 the SS had grown from a tiny personal bodyguard unit to a formation of over 50.000 men. The decision was made to form a new bodyguard unit, again called the Stabswache, using capable and trustworthy SS men, mostly from the 1st SS Standarte operating out of Munich to form its cadre. By 1933 this unit was under the command of Josef "Sepp" Dietrich who selected 117 men for the SSStabswache Berlin. Out of these initial 117, three eventually became divisional commanders, at least eight would become regimental commanders, fifteen became battalion commanders, and over thirty became company commanders, all within the Waffen-SS. Eleven men 139/205
from the first company of 117 went on to win the Knights Cross, and forty of them were awarded the German Cross in gold for bravery. Later in 1933, two further training units were formed: SS-Sonderkommando Zossen, and a second unit, designated SS-Sonderkommando Jüterbog. In September 1933 the two Sonderkommando 25 merged into the SSSonderkommando Berlin. In November 1933, on the 10th anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch, the Sonderkommando took part in the rally and memorial service at the Feldherrnhalle, erected in the place where many NSDAP members had fallen during the putsch. All members of the Sonderkommando swore personal allegiance to Hitler. To conclude this ceremony, the Sonderkommando received a new title, "Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler" (LAH). On 13 April 1934, Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsführer-SS, ordered the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler (LAH) to be renamed "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler" (LSSAH). Himmler inserted the SS initials into the name to make it clear that the unit was independent from the SA or army. In late June, the LSSAH was called into action for the first time. Stabschef-SA Ernst Röhm 26 began to push for greater influence for his already powerful SA. Hitler decided that the SA had to be put in its place, and ordered Himmler and Hermann Göring to prepare their elite units, Himmler's Leibstandarte and Göring's Landespolizeigruppe General Göring, for immediate action. The LSSAH formed two companies under the control of Jürgen Wagner and Otto Reich, these formations were moved to Munich on 30 June. Hitler ordered all SA leaders to attend a meeting at the Hanselbauer Hotel in Bad Wiessee, near Munich. Hitler joined Sepp Dietrich and a unit from the Leibstandarte and travelled to Bad Wiessee to personally oversee Röhm's arrest on 30 June. On 1 July Hitler finally agreed with Göring and Himmler that Röhm should be executed. In what the Nazis called the Röhm Putsch, but otherwise came to be known as the Night of the Long Knives,27 companies of the LSSAH, together with the Gestapo and Göring's Landespolizeigruppe, performed Death Squad actions. At least 177 people were executed without trial over the next few days. This action succeeded in effectively decapitating the SA and removing Röhm's threat to Hitler's leadership. In recognition of their actions, both the LSSAH and the Landespolizeigruppe General Göring were expanded to regimental size and motorized. In addition, the SS became an independent organization, no longer part of the SA. As the SS swelled with new recruits, the LSSAH represented the pinnacle of Hitler's Aryan ideal. Strict recruitment regulations meant 140/205
that only those deemed sufficiently Aryan—as well as being physically fit and National Socialists—would be admitted. The LSSAH provided the honour guard at many of the Nuremberg Rallies, and in 1935 took part in the reoccupation of the Saarland. The Leibstandarte was in the vanguard of the march into Austria as part of the Anschluss, and in 1938 the unit took part in the occupation of the Sudetenland. By 1939, the LSSAH was a full infantry regiment with three infantry battalions, an artillery battalion, and antitank, reconnaissance and engineer subunits. Soon after its involvement in the annexation of Bohemia and Moravia, the LSSAH was redesignated "Infanterie-Regiment Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (mot.)". When Hitler ordered the formation of an SS division in mid1939, the Leibstandarte was designated to form its own unit, unlike the other Standarten of the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT) (SSStandarte Deutschland, SS-Standarte Germania, and SS-Standarte Der Führer). The Polish crisis of August 1939 put these plans on hold, and the LSSAH was ordered to join XIII. Armeekorps, a part of Army Group South, which was preparing for the attack on Poland. During the initial stages of the Invasion of Poland, the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler was attached to the 17. Infanterie-Division and tasked with providing flank protection for the southern pincer. The regiment was involved in several battles against Polish cavalry brigades attempting to hit the flanks of the German advance. At Pabianice, a town near Łódź, the LSSAH fought off elements of the Polish 28th Infantry Division and the Wołyńska Cavalry Brigade in close combat. Throughout the campaign, the unit was notorious for burning villages. After the success at Pabianice, the LSSAH was sent to the area near Warsaw and attached to the 4.Panzer-Division under Generaloberst Georg-Hans Reinhardt. The unit saw action preventing encircled Polish units from escaping, and repelling several desperate attempts by other Polish troops to break through. The LSSAH had proved itself an effective fighting formation during the campaign, although several Heer (army) Generals had reservations about the high casualties which the LSSAH and the SS-VT units had sustained in combat. On 18–19 September at Błonie near Warsaw, around 50 Jews were murdered by soldiers from the division. Invasion of France In early 1940 the LSSAH was expanded into a full independent motorized infantry regiment and a Sturmgeschütz (Assault Gun) battery was added to their establishment. The regiment was shifted to the 141/205
Dutch border for the launch of Fall Gelb. It was to form the vanguard of the ground advance into the Netherlands, tasked with capturing a vital bridge over the IJssel, attacking the main line of defence at the Grebbeberg (the Grebbeline), and linking up with the Fallschirmjäger of Generaloberst Kurt Student's airborne forces, the 7.Flieger-Division and the 22.Luftlande-Infanterie-Division. 28
Fall Gelb—the invasion of France and the Low Countries—was launched on 10 May 1940. On that day, the LSSAH crossed the Dutch border, covered over 75 kilometres (47 mi), and secured a crossing over the IJssel near Zutphen after discovering that their target bridge had been destroyed. Over the next four days, the LSSAH covered over 215 kilometres (134 mi), and earned itself dubious fame by accidentally shooting at and seriously wounding Generaloberst Student at Rotterdam. After the surrender of the Netherlands on 15 May, the regiment formed part of the reserve for Army Group B. After the British armoured counterattack at Arras, the LSSAH, along with the SS-Verfügungs-Division, was moved to the front to hold the perimeter around Dunkirk and reduce the size of the pocket containing the encircled British Expeditionary Force and French forces. Near Wormhoudt, the LSSAH ignored Hitler's orders for the advance to halt and continued the attack, suppressing the British artillery positions on the Wattenberg Heights. During this battle the regiment suffered heavy casualties. After the attack, soldiers of LSSAH's II.Batallion, under the com142/205
mand of SS-Hauptsturmf체hrer Wilhelm Mohnke, were mistakenly informed that their divisional commander, Sepp Dietrich, had been killed in the fighting. In what is known as the Wormhoudt massacre, about 80 British POWs of 2nd Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment were murdered in retaliation for the supposed death of Dietrich. Although it is unarguable that the massacre occurred, Mohnke's level of involvement is impossible to know, he was never brought to trial. Campaign in the Balkans After the conclusion of the Western campaign on 22 June 1940, the LSSAH spent six months in Metz (Moselle). It was expanded to brigade size (6.500 soldiers). Despite this, it retained the designation 'regiment'. A 'Flak battalion' and a StuG Batterie were among the units added to the LSSAH. A new flag was presented by Heinrich Himmler in September 1940. During the later months of 1940, the regiment trained in amphibious assaults on the Moselle River in preparation for Operation Sealion, the invasion of England. After the Luftwaffe's failure in the Battle of Britain and the cancellation of the planned invasion, the LSSAH was shifted to Bulgaria in February 1941 in preparation for Operation Marita, part of the planned invasion of Greece and Yugoslavia. The operation was launched on 6 April 1941. The LSSAH was to follow the route of the 9.Panzer-Division, part of General der Panzertruppen Georg Stumme's XL Panzer Corps. The regiment crossed the border near Prilep and was soon deep in Greek territory. The LSSAH captured Vevi on 10 April. SS-Sturmbannf체hrer Kurt Meyer's reinforced Aufkl채rungs-Abteilung (reconnaissance unit), LSSAH was tasked with clearing resistance from the Kleisoura Pass south-west of Vevi and driving through to the Kastoria area to cut off retreating Greek and British Commonwealth forces. Resistance from the Greek 20th Division was fierce. According to some accounts, the SS were inspired to capture the Kleisoura Pass only after Meyer threw a live grenade at the feet of some of his soldiers. 29
SS-SturmbannfĂźhrer Fritz Witt's I.Batallion was tasked with clearing the Klidi Pass just south of Vevi, which was strongly defended by Australian, British and New Zealand troops. Witt's battalion was reinforced and renamed Kampfgruppe "Witt". An Australian officer wrote of the Germans' "insolence" in driving "trucks down the main road â€” to within 3,000 yards (2,700 m) of our infantry" and there unloading the SS troops. The Germans were forced off the road and faced fierce resistance for more than two days. On the morning of 12 April the Germans launched a frontal assault, and by late afternoon the pass was cleared. With the fall of the two passes the main line of resistance of the Greek First Army was broken, and the campaign became a battle to prevent the escape of the enemy. On 20 April, following a pitched battle in the 5,000-foot (1,500 m)-high Metsovon Pass in the Pindus Mountains, the commander of the Greek First Army surrendered the entire Hellenic Army to Dietrich. British Commonwealth troops were now the only Allied forces remaining in Greece, and they were falling back across the Corinth Canal to the Peloponnesos. By 26 April the LSSAH had reached the Gulf of Patras, and in an effort to cut off the retreating British Commonwealth forces, Dietrich ordered that his regiment cross the Gulf and secure the town of Patras in the Peloponnesos. 30
Since no transport vessels were available, the LSSAH commandeered fishing boats and successfully completed the crossing, but were forced to leave much of their heavy equipment behind. By 30 April the last British Commonwealth troops had either been captured or escaped. The LSSAH occupied a position of honour in the victory parade through Athens. After Operation Marita, the LSSAH was ordered north to join the forces of Army Group South massing for the launch of Operation Barbarossa.
Operation Barbarossa Following Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler's outstanding performance during Marita, Himmler ordered that it should be upgraded to divisional status. The regiment, already the size of a reinforced brigade, was redesignated "SS-Division (mot.) Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler". There was no time to refit it to full divisional status before the launch of Operation Barbarossaâ€”the invasion of the Soviet Unionâ€”and so the new "division" remained the size of a reinforced brigade. The LSSAH was attached to the LIV Army Corps and held in reserve during the opening stages of the attack. In August 1941 it was transferred to III Panzer Corps, part of Generalfeldmarschall Ewald von Kleist's 1st Panzer Group. During this time, the LSSAH was involved in the Battle of Uman and the subsequent capture of Kiev. The division was involved in heavy fighting, with Meyer's Abteilung particularly distinguishing itself. According to a postwar account of a Waffen-SS journalist, after finding the mutilated bodies of six dead divisional members who had been previously captured and executed in Taganrog, the division murdered 4.000 Soviet prisoners in reprisal. For want of reliable evidence, the allegations remained unproven. 31
In early September, the division returned to LIV Army Corps, which was preparing to launch an offensive to clear the Crimean peninsula. 146/205
The operation was launched on 17 September 1941. The LSSAH was involved in heavy fighting for the town of Perekop before advancing across the Perekop Isthmus to assault the Soviet defensive positions near the Tartar Ditch. In November the LSSAH was transferred back to 1st Panzer Group and took part in the heavy fighting for the city of Rostov-on-Don, which was captured in late November. During Operation Barbarossa, the division had penetrated 960 kilometres (600 mi) into Soviet territory. Heavy Soviet counterattacks during the winter meant that Army Group South had to fall back from Rostov to defensive lines on the river Mius. The LSSAH spent the winter fighting ferocious defensive battles in temperatures of down to −40 °C (−40 °F), with minimal winter clothing and only 150 grams of rations per man per day. Despite this, the division held. After the spring rasputitsa (seasonal mud) had cleared, the exhausted division joined in Fall Blau, participating in the fighting to retake Rostov-on-Don, which was recaptured in late July 1942. Severely understrength and completely exhausted, the LSSAH was pulled out of the line. The division was ordered to the Normandy region of occupied France to join the newly-formed SS Panzer Corps and to be reformed as a Panzergrenadier division. Kharkov The Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler spent the remainder of 1942 refitting as a panzergrenadier division. Thanks to the efforts of Heinrich Himmler (Reichsführer-SS), along with SS-Obergruppenführer Paul Hausser, the SS Panzer Corps commander, the three SS Panzergrenadier divisions (LSSAH), Das Reich and Totenkopf were to be formed with a full regiment of tanks rather than only a Battalion. This meant that the SS Panzergrenadier divisions were full-strength Panzer divisions in all but name. The division also received nine Tiger 1 tanks, and these were formed into the 13th (schwere) Company/1st SS Panzer Regiment. The collapse of the front around Stalingrad and the encirclement of the German Sixth Army meant that the entire eastern front was close to collapse. General Feldmarschall Erich von Manstein, commander of Army Group Don, requested reinforcements to halt the Soviet attack near Kharkov. The SS Panzer Corps was ordered east to join Manstein's forces. Arriving at the front in late January 1943, the LSSAH was thrown into the line defending Kharkov itself as a part of Hausser's SS Panzer Corps.Facing them were the hundreds of T-34 tanks of Mobile Group 147/205
Popov, a Soviet armoured Army sized formation which formed the spearhead of the Soviet advance. On 8–9 February 1943, the LSSAH's 1st SS Panzergrenadier Regiment under SS-Sturmbannführer Fritz Witt, fighting alongside SS-Sturmbannführer Max Wünsche's I/1st SS Panzer Regiment, fought a bitter delaying action near the town of Merefa, halting a major Soviet attack. The division fought in many desperate defensive battles over the next few weeks, gradually being pushed back into the city of Kharkov itself. Despite inflicting heavy losses on the Soviets, and repelling all enemy attacks, the Soviets succeeded in outflanking the corps. On 15 February, Hausser disregardred Hitler's orders to hold the city at all costs and ordered the SS Panzer Corps to abandon the city and withdraw towards Krasnograd. Over the next week, the SS Panzer Corps annihilated Mobile Group Popov in a series of hard fought battles. The LSSAH was a major participant in these battles, destroying several Soviet divisions and inflicting heavy losses. Hausser now ordered that Kharkov be recaptured. The LSSAH, Das Reich and Totenkopf were to form the spearhead of the attack. It got underway on 7 March. The LSSAH was formed into three Kampfgruppen (battlegroups) which would attack towards and capture Kharkov. Over nine days, the LSSAH would take part in the battles to take the city. Kampfgruppe "Meyer", under Meyer's command, penetrated as far as Red Square before being cut off. Kampfgruppe "Witt" saw heavy fighting against a Soviet blocking force near Dergatschi before it also broke through into the city. Both Kampfgruppen were repeatedly cut off during the confused fighting, and it was not until Kampfgruppe "Peiper", under Joachim Peiper, broke through that the defenders were finally overwhelmed. By 17 March, the battle was over and Kharkov was back in German hands, with Peiper's Kampfgruppe having penetrated as far as Belgorod. After recapturing Kharkov, soldiers of the LSSAH engaged in the murder of wounded Soviet soldiers that were located in the city's military hospital; several hundred perished. Additionally, per the Commissar Order, captured Soviet officers and commissars were routinely executed. In honour of the 4.500 casualties suffered by the Leibstandarte in the fighting, Kharkov's Red Square was renamed Platz der Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler by the Germans. The division was pulled back for much needed rest and refit. One major change in the LSSAH now occurred; their commander Sepp Dietrich after ten years in command was promoted to form a new Corps, the 1st SS Panzer Corps Leib148/205
standarte and the LSSAH was to supply all the senior officers for the new headquarters. At the same time a new SS division would be formed from members of the Hitler Youth and the LSSAH would supply all of the Regimental, Battalion and most of the Company commanders. In time this new division would become the 12th SS Panzer Division (Hitlerjugend). 3rd S.S Panzer Division Totenkopf The SS Division Totenkopf ("Death's Head"), also known as 3. SSPanzergrenadier-Division Totenkopf and 3. SS-Panzer-Division Totenkopf, was one of the 38 divisions fielded by the Waffen-SS during World War II. Prior to achieving division status, the formation was known as Kampfgruppe Eicke. The division is infamous due to its insignia and the fact that most of the initial enlisted soldiers were SSTotenkopfverb채nde (SS concentration camp guards). The Totenkopf division was numbered with the "Germanic" divisions of the WaffenSS. These included also the SS-Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, SS-Panzer Division Das Reich, and SS-Panzer Division Wiking.
Fig No 1 Tactical insignia Formation and Fall Gelb The SS Division Totenkopf was formed in October 1939. The Totenkopf was initially formed from concentration camp guards of the 1st (Oberbayern), 2nd (Brandenburg) and 3rd (Th체ringen) Standarten (regiments) of the SS-Totenkopfverb채nde, and soldiers from the SSHeimwehr Danzig. The division had officers from the SS-Verf체gungstruppe (SS-VT), of whom many had seen action in Poland. The divi149/205
sion was commanded by SS-Obergruppenführer Theodor Eicke. Through the Battle of France the division was generally equipped with ex-Czech weapons. Having missed the Polish campaign, Totenkopf was initially held in reserve during the assault into France and the Low Countries in May 1940. They were committed on 16 May to the Front in Belgium. The Totenkopf soldiers fought fanatically, suffering heavy losses. Within a week of this initial commitment the division's first war crime had already been committed. At Le Paradis 4th Kompanie, I Abteilung, commanded by SS-Obersturmführer Fritz Knöchlein, machine-gunned 97 out of 99 British officers and members of the Royal Norfolk Regiment after they had surrendered to them; two survived. After the war, Knöchlein was tried by a British Court and convicted for war crimes in 1948. He was sentenced to death and hanged.
Fig Motorcyclists (German: Kradschützen) from the SS Division "Totenkopf" during the invasion of Russia in September 1941 Totenkopf saw action a number of times during the French campaign. To the north-east of Cambrai the division took 16,000 French prisoners. Whilst subsequently trying to drive through to the coast they encountered a major Anglo-French force which they had a great deal of difficulty stopping and came perilously close to panic. Totenkopf had to resort to firing artillery pieces in an anti-tank role, and were saved only by the intervention of Luftwaffe dive-bombers. It then suffered heavy losses during the taking of the La Bassée Canal. Further stiff resistance was then encountered at both Béthune and Le Paradis. The French surrender found the division located near the Spanish border, where it was to stay, resting and refitting, until April 1941. Totenkopf had suffered heavy losses during the campaign, including over 300 officers. Replacement personnel were supplied, this time via regular Waffen-SS recruitment as opposed to coming from the camps. Flak and artillery battalions were added to its strength. Local vehicles were also commandeered from the French, many of the divisions soft-skinned transports during Barbarossa were of French origin. Barbarossa-Demjansk Pocket In April 1941, the division was ordered East to join Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb's Army Group North. Leeb's Army Group was tasked with advancing on Leningrad and formed the northern wing of Operation Barbarossa. Totenkopf saw action in Lithuania and Latvia, and by July had breached the vaunted Stalin Line. The division then advanced by Demjansk to Leningrad where it was involved in heavy fighting from 31 July to 25 August. During Autumn and Winter of 1941, the Soviets launched a number of operations against the German lines in the Northern sector of the Front. During one of these operations, the Division was encircled for several months near Demjansk in what would come to be known as the Demjansk Pocket. During these kessel battles, Totenkopf suffered so greatly that, due to its reduced size, it was re-designated Kampfgruppe Eicke. The division was involved in ferocious fighting to hold the pocket. SS-Hauptsturmführer Erwin Meierdress of the Sturmgeschütze-Batterie (Assault Gun) Totenkopf formed a Kampfgruppe of about 120 soldiers and held the strategic town of Bjakowo despite repeated determined enemy attempts to capture the town. During these battles, Meierdress personally destroyed several enemy tanks in his StuG III. He was awarded the Iron Cross for his actions during this period. In April 1942, the division broke out of the pocket and 151/205
managed to reach friendly lines. At Demjansk, about 80% of its soldiers were killed, wounded or missing in action. The remnants of the Division were pulled out of action in late October, 1942 and sent to France to be refitted. While in France, the Division took part in Case Anton, the takeover of Vichy France in November 1942. For this operation, the division was supplied with a Panzer battalion and redesignated 3.SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Totenkopf. The division remained in France until February, 1943, when their old commander, Theodor Eicke, resumed control.
Fig Tanks and Schützenpanzerwagen 3° S.S Panzer Division Totenkopf Kharkov – Kursk In Early February 1943 Totenkopf was transferred back to the Eastern Front as part of Erich von Manstein's Army Group South. The division, as a part of SS-Obergruppenführer Paul Hausser's SS Panzer Corps, took part in the Third Battle of Kharkov, blunting the Soviet offensive. During this campaign, Theodor Eicke was killed when his Fieseler Storch spotter aircraft was shot down while on final approach to a front line unit. The division mounted an assault to secure the crash site and recover their commander's body, and thereafter Eicke's body was buried with full military honours. Hermann Priess succeeded Eicke as commander. The SS Panzer Corps, including Totenkopf, was then shifted north to take part in Operation Citadel, the great offensive to reduce the Kursk salient. It was during February 1943 that the 3rd SS Panzer Regiment received a company of Tiger I heavy tanks (9th Company/3rd SS Panzer Regiment). This company was near full strength by the time Citadel commenced having honed their tank-killing skills during the German counterstroke to recapture the cities of Kharkov and Belgorod during the spring of 1943. The attack was launched on 5 July 1943, after a massive Soviet artillery barrage fell on the German assembly areas. The II SS Panzer Corps (renamed after the formation of the I SS Panzer Corps one month earlier) was to attack the southern flank of the salient as the spearhead for Generaloberst Hermann Hoth's 4th Panzer Army. The Totenkopf covered the advance on the II SS Panzer Corps left flank, with the Leibstandarte forming the spearhead. 3rd SS Panzer Regiment advanced in a panzerkeil across the hot and dusty steppe. Despite encountering stiff Soviet resistance and several pakfronts, the Totenkopf's panzers continued the advance, albeit at a slower pace than had been planned. Hausser ordered his II SS Panzer Corps to split in two, with the Totenkopf crossing the Psel river northwards and then continuing on towards the town of Prokhorovka. In the early morning of 9 July, 6th SS Panzergrenadier Regiment Theodor Eicke attacked northwards, crossing the Psel and attempted to seize the strategic Hill 226.6, located to the east of the fortified village of Kliuchi. The attack was rebuffed by the defending Soviets. The failure to capture the hill meant that the drive along the north bank of the Psel was temporarily halted, forcing Hausser to also delay the Southern ad154/205
vance. In the afternoon, regiment Eicke managed to redeem itself by capturing the hill, but the northern advance slowed and the majority of the division was still south of the Psel, where elements of SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 5 Thule continued to advance towards Prokhorovka and cover the flank of the Leibstandarte. By 11 July, SS-Hauptsturmführer Erwin Meierdress had led his 1st Company/3rd SS Panzer Regiment across the Psel on hastily constructed pontoon bridges, reinforcing the tenuous position. The forces in the bridgehead were subjected to several furious Soviet attacks, but with the support of Meierdress' panzers they held their ground and slowly expanded the bridgehead, securing the village of Kliuchi. Strong Soviet opposition had severely slowed the division's advance along the north bank. In the afternoon of 12 July, near the village of Andre'evka on the south bank of the Psel, the Soviets launched a major counterattack against Regiment Thule and the division's StuG battalion. SS-Brigadeführer Hermann Priess, the Totenkopf's commander, ordered Meierdress' abteilung to advance and support the beleaguered forces. The PzKpfw IIIs and PzKpfw IVs of Meierdress' unit were supported by the Totenkopf's Tiger I company, 9th Company/3rd SS Panzer Regiment. In ferocious combat with the lead units of the 5th Guards Tank Army, Meierdress managed to halt the Soviet assault, destroying many Soviet T-34s, but at the cost of the majority of the division's remaining operational panzers. While the II SS Panzer Corps had halted the Soviet counteroffensive and inflicted heavy casualties, it had exhausted itself and was no longer capable of offensive action. Manstein attempted to commit his reserve, the XXIV Panzer Corps, but Hitler refused to authorize this. On 14 July, Hitler called off the operation. Battles on the Mius Front – Retreat to the Dniepr Along with Das Reich, the division was reassigned to General der Infanterie Karl-Adolf Hollidt's reformed 6th Army in the Southern Ukraine. The 6th Army was tasked with eliminating the Soviet bridgehead over the Mius River. Totenkopf was involved in heavy fighting over the next several weeks. During the July–August battles for Hill 213 and the town of Stepanowka, the division suffered heavy losses, and over the course of the campaign on the Mius-Front it suffered more casualties than it had during Operation Citadel. By the time the Soviet bridgehead was eliminated, the division had lost 1500 soldiers and the Panzer regiment was reduced to 20 tanks. 155/205
The Totenkopf was then moved north, back to Kharkov. Along with Das Reich, Totenkopf, took part in the battles to halt Operation Rumyantsev and to prevent the Soviet capture of the city. Although the two divisions managed to halt the offensive, inflicting heavy casualties and destroying over 800 tanks, the Soviets outflanked the defenders, forcing them to abandon the city on 23 August. By early September, the Totenkopf reached the Dniepr. Elements of the Soviet 5th Guards Tank Army had forced a crossing at Kremenchug and were soon threatening to break through the Dniepr line. Totenkopf was thrown into action against the bridgehead. In October 1943, the division was reformed as 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf. The Panzer abteilung (battalion) was officially upgraded to a regiment, and the two Panzergrenadier regiments were given the honorary titles Theodor Eicke and Totenkopf. After holding the Kremenchug bridgehead for several months, the Soviets finally broke out, pushing Totenkopf and the other axis divisions involved back towards the Romanian border. By November, Totenkopf was engaged fighting intense defensive actions against Soviet attacks over the vital town of Krivoi Rog to the west of the Dniepr. Warsaw In January 1944, Totenkopf was still engaged in heavy defensive fighting east of the Dniepr near Krivoi Rog, where a breakthrough nevertheless evaded the Soviets, due in great part to the actions of the Totenkopf and the Heer's Panzergrenadier-Division "Großdeutschland". In February 1944, 56,000 German troops were trapped in the Korsun Pocket. Totenkopf was sent towards Cherkassy to assist in the relief attempts. The division attacked towards the city of Korsun, attempting to secure a crossing over the Gniloy-Tilkich river. The 1st Panzer Division, fighting alongside the Totenkopf, achieved a linkup with the encircled forces. In the second week of March, after a fierce battle near Kirovograd, the Totenkopf fell back behind the Bug River. Totenkopf immediately began taking up new defensive positions. After two weeks of heavy fighting, again alongside the Panzergrenadier-Division "Großdeutschland" west of Ivanovka, the Axis forces again fell back, withdrawing to the Dniestr on the Romanian border near Iaşi. In the first week of April, Totenkopf gained a moment's respite as it rested in the area near Târgu Frumos in Romania. The division received replacements and new equipment, it's panzer regiment taking 156/205
charge of a consignment of Panther tanks to replace some of the outdated PzKpfw IVs. In the second week of April, heavy Soviet attacks towards Târgul Frumos meant that Totenkopf was back in action, playing a role in the decisive defensive victory. By 7 May, the front had quietened and the Totenkopf went back to the business of reorganizing. In a battle near Iaşi, elements of the division, together with elements of the Panzer-Grenadier-Division Großdeutschland, managed to halt an armoured assault by the Red Army. The assault, which in many aspects bore similarities to those of the later British Operation Goodwood, was carried out by approximately 500 tanks. In early July, the division was ordered to the area near Grodno in Poland, where it would form a part of SS-Obergruppenführer Herbert Gille's IV SS Panzer Corps, covering the approaches to Warsaw near Modlin. After The Soviet Operation Bagration and the destruction of Army Group Centre the German lines had been pushed back over 300 miles, to the outskirts of the Polish capital. The Totenkopf arrived at the Warsaw front in late July 1944. After the launch of Operation Bagration and the collapse of Army Group Centre, the centralEastern front was a mess; the IV. SS-Panzerkorps was one of the few formations standing in the way of the Soviet advance. On 1 August 1944, the Armia Krajowa (the Polish Home Army), rose up in Warsaw itself. A column of Totenkopf Tigers was caught up in the fighting, and several were lost. The Totenkopf itself was not involved in the suppression of the revolt, instead guarding the front lines, and fighting off several Soviet probing attacks into the city's eastern suburbs. In several furious battles near the town of Modlin in mid August, the Totenkopf, fighting alongside the 5th SS Panzer Division "Wiking" and the Hermann Göring Panzer Division virtually annihilated the Soviet 3rd Tank Corps, which had contained a division of communist Poles. The terrain around Modlin is excellent for armour, and Totenkopf's panzers exploited this to their advantage, engaging Soviet tanks from a range where the superiority of the German optics and the 75 mm high-velocity gun gave the Panthers an edge over the T34s. Budapest Relief Attempts The efforts of the Totenkopf, Wiking and Hermann Göring divisions allowed the Germans to hold the Vistula line and establish Army Group Vistula. In December 1944, the IX SS Mountain Corps (Alpine Corps-Croatia) was encircled in Budapest. Hitler ordered the IV SS 157/205
Panzer Corps to redeploy south to relieve the 95,000 Germans and Hungarians trapped in the city. The corps arrived just before New Year's Eve, and was immediately thrown into action. The relief attempts were to be codenamed Operation Konrad. The first attack was Konrad I. The plan was for a joint attack by the Wiking and Totenkopf from the town of Tata attacking along the BicskeBudapest line. The attack was launched on New Year's Day, 1945. Despite initial gains, Konrad I ran into heavy Soviet opposition near Bicske, during the battle the 1st Battalion, 3rd SS Panzer Regiment's commander, SS-Sturmbannf端hrer Erwin Meierdress was killed. After the failure of the first operation, Totenkopf and Wiking launched an assault aimed at reaching the city centre. Named Operation Konrad II, the attack was launched on 7 January from just south of Esztergom. It reached as far as Budapest's northern suburbs, by 12 January panzergrenadiers of the "Wiking" division spotted the church spires and turrets of the Hungarian capital's skyline. However, despite its success, Gille's corps was overextended and vulnerable, so it was ordered to fall back as part of a ruse to encircle Soviet units north of the city.
Fig Panzerkampfwagen V Ausf A S.S panzer Rgiment Totenkopf Operation Konrad III got underway on 20 January 1945. Attacking from the south of Budapest, it aimed at encircling ten Red Army divisions. However, the relief forces could not achieve their goal, despite tearing a 15-mile hole in the Soviets' line and destroying the 135th Rifle Corps. Although they had been on the verge of rescuing the IX SS Mountain Corps, the encircled troops could not be reached and so therefore capitulated in mid-February. The division was pulled back to the west, executing a fighting withdrawal from Budapest to the area near Lake Balaton, where the 6th SS Panzer Army under SSOberstgruppenf端hrer Josef Dietrich was massing for the upcoming Operation Fr端hlingserwachen (Operation Spring Awakening). 158/205
Gille's corps was too depleted to take part in the assault, instead it provided flank support to assaulting divisions during the beginning of the operation. Totenkopf, together with Wiking, performed a holding action on the left flank of the offensive, in the area between Velenczesee-Stuhlweissenberg. As Fr端hlingserwachen progressed, the division was heavily engaged, preventing Soviet efforts from outflanking the advancing German forces. As the offensive stalled, the Soviets launched a major attack, the Vienna Offensive, on 16 March. Attacking the border between the Totenkopf and the Hungarian 2nd Armoured Division, contact was soon lost between the two formations. Acting quickly, the 6th Army commander, Generaloberst Hermann Balck, recommended moving the I SS Panzer Corps north to plug the gap and prevent the encirclement of the IV SS Panzer Corps. Despite this quick thinking, a F端hrer Order authorising this move was slow in coming, and when the divisions finally began moving, it was too late. On 22 March, the Red Army encirclement of the Totenkopf and Wiking was almost complete. Desperate, Balck threw the veteran 9th SS Panzer Division "Hohenstaufen", into the area to hold open a route which could be used to withdraw - the Berhida Corridor. In the battle to hold it open, the "Hohenstaufen" bled itself white, but Gille's corps managed to escape.
Fig Soldiers of the 3rd SS Division Totenkopf break for a meal beside the wreck of a Soviet T-34 somewhere in Romania, 1944 On 24 March, another Soviet attack threw the exhausted IV SS Panzer Corps back towards Vienna, and all contact was lost with the neighbouring I SS Panzer Corps. This destroyed any resemblance of an organised line of defence. The remnants of the Totenkopf executed a fighting withdrawal into Czechoslovakia. By early-May, they were within reach of the American forces, to whom the division officially 160/205
surrendered on 9 May. The Americans promptly handed Totenkopf back to the Soviets, and many Totenkopf soldiers died in Soviet Gulags. War crimes The division was involved in several war crimes, most notably a massacre of British soldiers during the Battle of France. Poland Theodor Eicke, who was the commandant of the Dachau concentration camp, inspector of the camps and murderer of Ernst Röhm, later became the commander of the 3 SS Totenkopf Division. With the invasion of Poland, the Totenkopfverbände troops were called on to carry out "police and security measures" in rear areas. What these measures involved is demonstrated by the record of SS Totenkopf Standarte "Brandenburg". It arrived in Włocławek on 22 September 1939 and embarked on a four day "Jewish action" that included the burning of synagogues and the execution en-masse of the leaders of the Jewish community. On 29 September the Standarte travelled to Bydgoszcz to conduct an "intelligentsia action". Approximately 800 Polish civilians and what the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) termed "potential resistance leaders" were killed. The Totenkopfverbände was to become one of the elite SS divisions, but from the start they were among the first executors of a policy of systematic extermination. Le Paradis Massacre The Le Paradis massacre was a war crime committed by members of the 14th Company, SS Division Totenkopf, under the command of Hauptsturmführer Fritz Knöchlein. It took place on 27 May 1940, during the Battle of France, at a time when the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was attempting to retreat through the Pas-de-Calais region during the Battle of Dunkirk. Soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, the Royal Norfolk Regiment, had become isolated from their regiment. They occupied and defended a farmhouse against an attack by Waffen-SS forces in the village of Le Paradis. After running out of ammunition, the defenders surrendered to the German troops. The Germans led them across the road to a wall, and machine-gunned them. Ninety-seven British troops died. Two survived, with injuries, and hid until they were captured by German forces several days later. After the war, Knöchlein was located, tried and convicted by a war crimes court, the two survivors acted as witnesses against him. For 161/205
his part in the massacre, Knรถchlein was executed in 1949. Order of Battle SS Totenkopf Division (SS-TK) Formed on 10/16/39 in Dachau, it contained: 1st SS Totenkopf (mot) Infantry Regiment 1st Battalion (1-4th Companies) 2nd Battalion (5-8th Companies) 3rd Battalion (9-12th Companies) 13th-14th Companies 2nd SS Totenkopf (mot) Infantry Regiment 1st Battalion (1-4th Companies) 2nd Battalion (5-8th Companies) 3rd Battalion (9-12th Companies) 13th-14th Companies 3rd SS Totenkopf (mot) Infantry Regiment 1st Battalion (1-4th Companies) 2nd Battalion (5-8th Companies) 3rd Battalion (9-12th Companies) 13th-14th Companies SS Totenkopf Reconnaissance Battalion (2 motorcycle companies & 1 armored car platoon) SS Totenkopf Panzerabwehr (Anti-Tank) Battalion (3 companies) 1/,2/,3/SS Totenkopf Artillery Regiment (3 batteries per battalion) SS Totenkopf Pioneer Battalion (3 companies) SS Totenkopf Signals Battalion (2 companies) During the winter the division added the 4/SS Totenkopf Artillery Regiment, which was a heavy battalion. Among the other things added were a panzerjager company and a flak company to each of the infantry regiments. There are also indications that a motorcycle reconnaissance company was added. In 1942 it added the SS Totenkopf Feldersatz Battalion and the SS Totenkopf Flak Battalion. On 5/10/40 the SSTotenkopf (mot) Division was organized and equipped as follows: Division Staff 1 Divisional Staff (2 HMGs) 1 (mot) SS Divisional Mapping Detachment 3 (mot) Infantry Regiments, each with Regimental Staff Company, with 1 (mot) Signals Platoon 1 (mot) Engineer Platoon (3 LMGs) 162/205
1 (mot) Motorcycle Platoon (4 LMGs) 3 (mot) Battalions, each with 3 (mot) Infantry Companies (12 LMGs & 3 50mm mortars ea) 1 (mot) Machine Gun Company, with (12 HMGs & 6 80mm mortars) 1 (mot) Infantry Support Gun Company (2 150mm sIG & 6 75mm leIG) 1 (mot) Panzerjager Company (12 37mm PAK 36 & 6 LMGs) 1 Light (mot) Supply Column (later eliminated) SSTotenkopf Panzerjager Battalion 1 (mot) Signals Platoon 3 (mot) Panzerj채ger Companies (9 37mm PAK 36,2 50mm PAK 38 & 6 LMGs) 3rd Panzerj채ger Company later equipped with (3 50mm PAK 38, 8 37mm PAK 36 & 6 LMGs) SS Totenkopf Reconnaissance Battalion 1 (mot) Signals Platoon 2 Motorcycle Companies (3 50mm mortars, 2 HMGs, & 18 LMGs ea) 1 (mot) Support Company, with 1 Light Armored Car Platoon (1 HMG & 3 LMGs) 1 Panzerj채ger Platoon (3 37mm PAK 36 & 1 LMG) 1 Mortar Platoon (6 80mm mortars) 1 Infantry Support Gun Section (2 75mm leIG guns) 1 Engineer Platoon (3 LMGs) SS Totenkopf Artillery Regiment 1 (mot) Signals Platoon 2 (mot) Weather Detachments 3 (mot) Battalions, each with 1 (mot) Signals Platoon 1 (mot) Calibration Detachment 3 (motZ) Batteries (4 105mm leFH 18 & 2 LMGs) 1 (mot) Battalion 1 (mot) Signals Platoon 1 (mot) Calibration Detachment 3 (motZ) Batteries (4 150mm sFH 18 & 2 LMGs) SS Totenkopf Signals Battalion 1 (mot) Radio Company 1 (mot) Telephone Company 1 Light (mot) Signals Supply Column S.S Totenkopf Feldersatz Battalion 3 Companies S.S Totenkopf Pioneer Battalion 3 (mot) Pioneer Companies (9 LMGs ea) 1 (mot) "B" Bridging Train 163/205
1 Light (mot) Engineering Supply Column Supply Train 1st-5th Light (mot) Supply Columns 6th-7th Heavy (mot) Supply Columns 13th-15th Light (mot) Supply Columns (added later) 10th-12th Heavy (mot) POL Supply Columns 1st, 2nd, & 3rd (mot) Maintenance Companies SST (mot) Supply Company Commissary Service SST (mot) Bakery Platoon (later Company) SST (mot) Butcher Platoon (later Company) SST (mot) Division Administration Medical Service 1st-3rd SST Ambulance Columns SST (mot) Field Hospital 1st & 2nd SST Medical Companies Other SST (mot) Military Police Platoon SST (mot) Field Post Office On 22 April 1941 the division contained: 1st SS Infantry 1st-3rd Battalions 13th Company 14th Company 15th Company 16th Company 2nd SS Infantry 1st-3rd Battalions 13th Company 14th Company 15th Company Regiment Reconnaissance Battalion Artillery Regiment 1st (light) Battalion 2nd (light) Battalion 3rd (light) Battalion 4th (heavy) Battalion Regiment Sturmgesch체tz Battery Panzerj채ger Battalion Flak Battalion Pioneer Battalion Signals 3rd SS Infantry Regiment lst-3rd Battalions 13th Company 164/205
14th Company 15th Company 16th Company Supply Troop Divisional Administration Medical Service Intendant Service Military Police Detachment Field Post Office On 5/16/41 a new organization was issued for the division that remained in effect until 10/15/42. That organization was as follows: Divisional Staff 1 Divisional Staff (4 HMGs) 1 (mot) Mapping Platoon 2 (mot) Infantry Regiments, each with 1 (mot) Regimental Staff Company, with 1 Signals Platoon 1 Motorcycle Platoon (6 LMGs) 1 Panzerjager Platoon (3 50mm PAK 38 & 2 LMGs) 3 (mot) Battalions, each with 3 Infantry Companies, each with (18 LMGs, 4 HMGs, 2 80mm mortars & 2 flamethrowers) 1 Support Company with 1 Engineer Platoon (4 LMGs) 1 Panzerj채ger Section (3 50mm PAK 38 guns) 1 Infantry Support Gun Platoon (4 75mm leIG & 3 28mm sPzBu 41 guns) 1 (mot) Infantry Support Company (4 75mm leIG) SS Totenkopf Armored Troop, with 1 Armored Staff Company 1 Medium Armored Company 2 Light Armored Companies 1 Armored Maintenance Platoon SS Totenkopf Motorcycle (Volkswagen) Regiment 1 (mot) Staff & Staff Company, with 1 Signals Platoon 1 Motorcycle Platoon (6 LMGs) 1 Panzerj채ger Platoon (3 50mm PAK 38 & 2 LMGs) 2 (mot) Battalions, each with 1 (mot) Staff Platoon 3 (mot) Infantry Companies (18 LMGs, 4 HMGs, 2 50mm mortars ea) 165/205
1 (mot) Heavy Machine Gun Company (12 HMGs & 6 80mm mortars) 1 (mot) Support Company, with 1 Engineer Platoon (4 LMGs) 1 Panzerj채ger Section (3 50mm PAK 38 guns & 2 LMGs) 1 Infantry Support Gun Section (2 75mm leIG) SS Totenkopf Artillery Regiment Regimental Staff 1 (mot) Staff Battery 1 (mot) Observation Battery 1st-3rd (mot) Artillery Battalions, each with 1 (mot) Battalion Staff Battery 3 (motZ) Batteries (3 105mm leFH 18 & 2 LMGs ea) 4th (mot) Artillery Battalion 1 (mot) Battalion Staff Battery 2 (motZ) Batteries (3 150mm sFH 18 & 2 LMGs ea) 1 (motZ) Battery (3 100mm K18 guns & 2 LMGs) 5th (mot) Flak Battalion 1 (mot) Battalion Staff Battery 1 Self Propelled Flak Battery (8 20mm & 2 quad 20mm AA) 1 Self Propelled Flak Battery (9 37mm guns) 1 (motZ) Flak Battery (4 88mm guns & 3 20mm guns) 1 Light (mot) Supply Column SS Totenkopf Reconnaissance Battalion 1 Armored Car Company (18 50mm PAK 38 & 24 LMGs) 1 Motorcycle Company (2 80mm mortars, 4 HMGs, & 18 LMGs) 1 (mot) Company, with 1 Engineer Platoon (4 LMGs) 1 Self Propelled Section (3 50mm PAK 38 guns) 1 Infantry Support Gun Platoon (2 75mm leIG) 1 (mot) Light Reconnaissance Supply Column SS Totenkopf Panzerjager Battalion 1 Self Propelled Panzerjager Company (9 75mm PAK 40 & 6 LMGs) 2 (motZ) Panzerjager Companies (9 75mm & 6 LMGs) SS Totenkopf Signals Battalion 1 (mot) Radio Company (4 LMGs) 1 (mot) Telephone Company (4 LMGs) 1 (mot) Light Signals Supply Column (2 LMGs) SS Totenkopf Pioneer Battalion 3 (mot) Pioneer Companies (18 LMGs & 2 flamethrowers ea) 1 (mot) Light "B" Bridging Train (2 LMGs) 1 (mot) Light Supply Column 166/205
Commissary 1 (mot) Division Administration (2 LMGs) 1 (mot) Butcher Company (2 LMGs) 1 (mot) Bakery Company (2 LMGs) Supply Train 12 (mot) Light Supply Columns (2 LMGs ea) 3 (mot) Light Fuel Supply Columns (2 LMGs ea) 3 (mot) Maintenance Companies (2 LMGs ea) 1 (mot) Light Supply Company (2 LMGs) Medical 2 (mot) Medical Companies (2 LMGs ea) 1 (mot) Field Hospital (2 LMGs) 3 Ambulance Companies (2 LMGs ea) Other 1 (mot) Military Police Company 1 (mot) Field Post 1 (mot) SS "KB" Platoon
Fig Mittlerer Komandopanzerwagen Ausf B Apparently during the combat in Russia it was very heavily committed early in the campaign. On 6/28/41 one of the two infantry regiments was so heavily damaged in combat around the Diinaburg bridgehead that it was temporarily disbanded. On 3/6/42 it was organized like the SS Das Reich Division, the 3rd SS Tank Regiment was formed, as was the SSTotenkopf Motorcycle Battalion. The motorcycle battalion was formed from the 3/9th SS Infantry Regiment. On 24 April 1942 the division was organized and equipped as follows: Divisional Staff 1 Divisional Staff (4 HMGs) 167/205
1 (mot) Mapping Platoon 2 (mot) Infantry Regiments, each with 1 Signals Platoon 1 Motorcycle Platoon (6 LMGs) 1 Panzerj채ger Platoon (3 75mm PAK 40 & 2 LMGs) 3 (mot) Battalions, each with 3 Infantry Companies, each with (18 LMGs, 4 HMGs, 2 80mm mortars & 2 flamethrowers) 1 Support Company with 1 Engineer Platoon (4 LMGs) 1 Panzerj채ger Section (3 75mm PAK 40 guns) 1 Panzerjager Section (3 28mm PzB 41 guns) 1 Infantry Support Gun Platoon (4 75mm leIG) 1 (mot) Infantry Support Company (4 105mm sIG) SS Totenkopf Armored Troop, with 1 Armored Staff Company 1 Medium Armored Company 2 Light Armored Companies 1 Armored Maintenance Platoon SS Totenkopf Motorcycle Battalion 1 (mot) Staff 3 (mot) Reconnaissance Companies (2 80mm mortars, 4 HMGs, & 18 LMGs) 1 (mot) Machine Gun Company (6 80mm Mortars & HMGs) 1 (mot) Reconnaissance Company 1 Infantry Gun Platoon (2 75mm leIG) 1 Panzerjager Platoon (3 75mm PAK 40 & 2 LMGs) 1 Pioneer Platoon (3 LMGs) SSTotenkopf Artillery Regiment Regimental Staff 1 (mot) Staff Battery 1 (mot) Observation Battery 1st-3rd (mot) Artillery Battalions, each with 1 (mot) Battalion Staff Battery 3 (motZ) Batteries (3 105mm leFH 18 & 2 LMGs ea) 4th (mot) Artillery Battalion 1 (mot) Battalion Staff Battery 2 (motZ) Batteries (3 150mm sFH 18 & 2 LMGs ea) 1 (motZ) Battery (3 100mm K18 guns & 2 LMGs) SS Totenkopf (mot) Flak Battalion 1 (mot) Battalion Staff Battery 1 Self Propelled Flak Battery (8 20mm & 2 quad 20mm AA) 168/205
1 Self Propelled Flak Battery (9 37mm guns) 1 (motZ) Flak Battery (4 88mm guns & 3 self-propelled 20mm guns) 1 (mot) Light Flak Supply Column SS Totenkopf Reconnaissance Battalion 1 (mot) Signals Platoon 1 Armored Car Company (18 50mm PAK 38 & 24 LMGs) 1 Motorcycle Company (2 80mm mortars, 4 HMGs, & 18 LMGs) 1 (mot) Company, with 1 Engineer Platoon (4 LMGs) 1 Panzerj채ger Section (3 75mm PAK 40 guns) 1 Infantry Gun Platoon (2 75mm leIG) 1 (mot) Light Reconnaissance Supply Column SS Totenkopf Panzerjager Battalion 1 Self Propelled Panzerjager Company (9 75mm PAK 40 & 6 LMGs) 2 (motZ) Panzerjager Companies (9 75mm & 6 LMGs) SSTotenkopf Signals Battalion 1 (mot) Radio Company (4 LMGs) 1 (mot) Telephone Company (4 LMGs) 1 (mot) Light Signals Supply Column (2 LMGs) SSTotenkopf Pioneer Battalion 3 (mot) Pioneer Companies (18 LMGs & 2 flamethrowers ea) 1 (mot) Light "B" Bridging Train (2 LMGs) 1 (mot) Light Supply Column (2 LMGs) Commissary 1 (mot) Division Administration (2 LMGs) 1 (mot) Butcher Company (2 LMGs) 1 (mot) Bakery Company (2 LMGs) Supply Train 12 (mot) Light Supply Columns (2 LMGs ea) 3 (mot) Light Fuel Supply Columns (2 LMGs ea) 3 (mot) Maintenance Companies (2 LMGs ea) 1 (mot) Light Supply Company (2 LMGs) Medical 2 (mot) Medical Companies (2 LMGs ea) 1 (mot) Field Hospital (2 LMGs) 3 Ambulance Companies (2 LMGs ea) Other 1 (mot) Military Police Company 1 (mot) Field Post 1 (mot) SS "KB" Platoon On 8/1/42 it added the Thule Sch체tzen Regiment as a fast regiment. After heavy losses in Russia, it was moved to France for refitting. On 169/205
11/9/42 it was reorganized into the SS Totenkopf Panzergrenadier Division. 3rd SS Panzer Division "Totenkopf" Formed on 11/9/42 in South France by the 1st Army as the "SS Panzergrenadier Division "Totenkopf" from the SS Totenkopf (mot) Division. When organized it consisted of: 1/,2/,3/1st SS Panzergrenadier Regiment "Totenkopf" 1/, 2/, 3/3rd SS Panzergrenadier Regiment "Totenkopf" 1/,2/3rd SS Panzer Regiment "Totenkopf" (from the battalion formed in the Summer of 1943). S.S Totenkopf Reconnaissance Battalion (4 companies) 1/,2/,3/,4/SS Totenkopf Artillery Regiment SS Totenkopf Panzerj채ger Battalion (3 companies) S.S Totenkopf Flak Battalion (4 batteries) SS Totenkopf Sturmgesch체tz Battalion (4 batteries) S.S Totenkopf Pioneer Battalion (3 companies) SSTotenkopf Signals Battalion (2 companies) The Thule Sch체tzen Regiment was absorbed into the 1st SS Panzergrenadier Regiment "Totenkopf." The two panzer grenadier regiments were named the 1 st SS Panzergrenadier Regiment "Thule" and the 3rd SS Panzergrenadier Regiment "Theodor Eicke." In February 1943 the 3rd SS Panzer Regiment was organized and equipped as follows: 1/,2/3rd SS Panzer Regiment 1 Regimental Staff Signals Platoon 1 Regimental Staff Light Panzer Platoon Each Battalion had: 1 Panzer Staff Company 1 Medium Panzer Company 2 Light Panzer Companies 4th Heavy Panzer Company PzKpfw III (lg) 71 PzKpfw III (75)
PzKpfw IV (lg)
PzKpfw VI 9 On 5/1/43 the 3rd SS Panzer Regiment was reorganized such that its battalions each had two medium and one light panzer company. In the summer of 1943 the reconnaissance battalion was reinforced to six companies and the panzer regiment was reinforced to eight companies. For the battle of Kursk the division had 114 tanks and 28 as170/205
sault guns. Included was a company of 11 Tiger tanks. On 7/1/43 the panzer inventory and organization of the 3rd SS Panzer Regiment was as follows: 1/,2/3rd SS Panzer Regiment 1 Regimental Staff Signals Platoon 1 Regimental Staff Light Panzer Platoon Each Battalion had 1 Panzer Staff Company 2 Medium Panzer Companies 1 Light Panzer Company 9th Heavy Panzer Company PzKpfw III (lg) 63 PzKpfw III (75)
PzKpfw IV (lg)
Command 9 On 10/21/43 the division was reorganized by the order of the Fuhrer as a Panzer Division. On 10/22/43 the division was given the number 3 and the panzer grenadier regiments were renumbered the 5th SS Panzergrenadier Regiment "Thule" and the 6th SS Panzer-grenadier Regiment "Theodor Eicke." All other portions of the division were numbered "3rd." In December 1943 the Panzerjager Battalion was disbanded and the Sturmgeschutz battalion was rebuilt.
5th SS Panzergrenadier Regiment "Thule" 1st Battalion (1-4th Companies) 2nd Battalion (5-8th Companies) 3rd Battalion (9-12th Companies) 13th Company 14th Company 16th Company 6th SS Panzergrenadier Regiment "Theodor Eicke" same as 5th SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 3rd Panzer Regiment 1st Battalion (1-4th Companies) 2nd Battalion (5-8th Companies) 172/205
Heavy Company Pioneer Company 3rd Artillery Regiment 1st (self-propelled) Battalion (1-3rd Companies) 2nd Battalion (4-6th Companies) 3rd Battalion (7-9th Companies) 4th Battalion (10-12th Companies) 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion (5 companies) 3rd Sturmgesch端tz Battalion (4 batteries) 3rd SS Flak Battalion (4 batteries & observation battery) 3rd Pioneer Battalion (3 companies) 3rd Signals Battalion (2 companies) In July 1944 the division was organized and equipped as follows: Division Staff 1 Divisional Staff (2 LMGs) 1 Divisional Band 1 (mot) Mapping Detachment (mot) Military Police Detachment (15 LMGs) 1 (mot) Escort Company 1 Self Propelled Flak Battery (4 20mm flak, 4 HMGs & 6 LMGs) 1 Motorcycle Platoon (6 LMGs) Totenkopf SS Panzer Regiment 1 Regimental Staff & (mot) Staff Company 1 Panzer Signals Platoon 1 Panzer Platoon 1 Panzer Flak Battery (8 37mm flak guns) 1 Panzer Maintenance Company (4 LMGs) 1st Panzer Battalion 1 Battalion Staff (1 LMG) 1 Battalion Staff Company (11 LMGs) 4 Panzer Companies (22 MkV Panther Tanks ea) 1 (mot) Supply Company (4 LMGs) 2nd Panzer Battalion 1 Battalion Staff (1 LMG) 1 Battalion Staff Company (11 LMGs) 4 Panzer Companies (22 Mk IV Tanks ea) 1 (mot) Supply Company (4 LMGs) 1st Totenkopf SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 1 Regimental Staff & (mot) Staff Company 1 Staff Platoon (1 LMG) 1 Signals Platoon (7 LMGs) 1 Motorcycle Platoon (4 LMGs) 173/205
1st (halftraS|) Battalion 1 Battalion Staff (6 LMGs) 1 (mot) Supply Company (4 LMGs) 3 (halftrack) Panzergrenadier Companies (4 HMGs, 29 LMGs, 2 80mm mortars, 6 20mm & 2 75mm leIG) 1 (halftrack) Heavy Panzergrenadier Company 1 Mortar Platoon (2 LMGs & 4 120mm mortars) 1 Gun Platoon (6 75mm & 4 LMGs) 2nd Battalion 1 Battalion Staff 1 (mot) Supply Company (4 LMGs) 3 (mot) Panzergrenadier Companies (4 HMGs, 18 LMGs & 2 80mm mortars) 1 (mot) Heavy Panzergrenadier Company 1 Mortar Platoon (2 LMGs & 4 120mm mortars) 1 Gun Platoon (6 75mm & 4 LMGs) 3rd Battalion same as 2nd Battalion 1 Self Propelled Heavy Infantry Gun Company (6150mmsIG) 1 Self Propelled Flak Company (12 20mm & 2 LMGs) 1 (mot) Pioneer Company 1 (mot) Pioneer Staff Platoon (1 LMG) 1 (halftrack) Pioneer Platoon (12 LMGs, 1 20mm & 6 flamethrowers) 1 (mot) Pioneer Platoon (8 LMGs & 12 flamethrowers) 1 (mot) Pioneer Platoon (2 HMGs & 2 80mm mortars) 1 (halftrack) Pioneer Platoon (6 LMGs & 6 flamethrowers) 2nd Totenkopf SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 1 Regimental Staff & (mot) Staff Company 1 Staff Platoon (1 LMG) 1 Signals Platoon (7 LMGs) 1 Motorcycle Platoon (4 LMGs) 1st (mot) Battalion 1 Battalion Staff 1 (mot) Supply Company (4 LMGs) 3 (mot) Panzergrenadier Companies (4 HMGs, 18 LMGs & 2 80mm mortars) 1 (mot) Heavy Panzergrenadier Company 1 Mortar Platoon (2 LMGs & 4 120mm mortars) 1 Gun Platoon (6 75mm & 4 LMGs) 2nd & 3rd (mot) Battalions same as 1st Battalion 1 Self Propelled Heavy Infantry Gun Company (6150mmsIG) 174/205
1 Self Propelled Flak Company (12 20mm & 2 LMGs) 1 (mot) Pioneer Company (2 HMGs, 12 LMGS, 2 80mm mortars & 18 flamethrowers) Totenkopf SS Panzerjager Battalion 1 Battalion Staff & Staff Platoon (1 LMG & 1 jagdpanzer IV) 2 Jagdpanzer Companies (14 Jagdpanzer IV) 1 (motZ) Panzerjager Company (12 75mm PAK & 12LMGs) 1 (mot) Supply Company (3 LMGs) Totenkopf SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion 1 Battalion Staff (3 LMGs) 1 Battalion Staff Company 1 Armored Car Platoon (3 75mm, 13 20mm & 16 LMGs) 1 (mot) Signals Platoon (7 LMGs) 1 Armored Car Company (16 20mm & 25 LMGs) 1 (halftrack) Reconnaissance Company (2 75mm, 2 80mm mortars, & 44 LMGs) 1 (halftrack) Reconnaissance Company (4 HMGs, 29 LMGs, 2 80mm mortars, 6 20mm & 2 75mm guns) 1 (halftrack) Reconnaissance Company 1 Staff Platoon (2 LMGs) 1 Panzerjager Platoon (6 75mm, 2 LMGs) 1 Platoon (2 LMGs & 6 80mm mortars) 1 Pioneer Platoon (13 LMGs) 1 Supply Company (4 LMGs) Totenkopf SS Artillery Regiment 1 Regimental Staff & (mot) Staff Battery (2 LMGs) 1 Self Propelled Flak Battery (4 quad 20mm guns) 1st Self Propelled Battalion 1 Battalion Staff & Staff Battery (2 LMGs) 2 Self Propelled Batteries (6 150mm sFH SdKfz 165 Hummel) 1 Self Propelled Battery (6 105mm leFH SdKfz 124Wespe ea) 2nd & 3rd Battalions, each with 1 Battalion Staff & Staff Battery (2 LMGs) 2 (motZ) Batteries (6 105mm leFH & 6 LMGs ea) 4th Battalion 1 Battalion Staff & Staff Battery (2 LMGs) 2 (motZ) Batteries (6 150mm sFH & 6 LMGs ea) 1 (motZ) Battery (6 105mm K & 6 LMGs ea) Totenkopf SS Flak Battalion 1 Battalion Staff & Staff Battery (1 LMG) 3 (motZ) Heavy Batteries (4 88mm, 3 20mm & 4 LMGs) 1 (motZ) Medium Battery (9 37mm & 4 LMGs) 175/205
1 (mot) Searchlight Battery (4 600mm searchlights) Totenkopf SS Pioneer Battalion 1 Battalion Staff (2 LMGs) 1 (mot) Battalion Staff Company (6 LMGs) 1 (halftrack) Reconnaissance Platoon (8 LMGs) 1 (halftrack) Pioneer Company (2 HMGs, 46 LMGs, 6 flamethrowers, & 2 80mm mortars) 2 (mot) Pioneer Companies (2 HMGs, 18 LMGs, 6 flamethrowers, & 2 80mm mortars ea) 1 (mot) Light Panzer Bridging Train (3 LMGs) Totenkopf SS Signals Battalion 1 Panzer Telephone Company (14 LMGs) 1 Panzer Radio Company (20 LMGs) 1 (mot) Supply Column (1 LMG) Feldersatz Battalion 2-5th Companies Supply Troop 1 (tmot) Supply Battalion Staff (2 LMGs) 6 (mot) 120 ton Transportation Companies (8 LMGs ea) 1 (mot) Supply Company (8 LMGs) 1 (mot) Ordnance Company (4 LMGs) 2 (mot) Maintenance Companies (5 LMGs ea) 1 (mot) Maintenance Company (4 LMGs) 1 (mot) Maintenance Supply Column (4 LMGs) Other 1 (mot) Bakery Company (5 LMGs) 1 (mot) Butcher Company (4 LMGs) 1 (mot) Divisional Administration Platoon (2 LMGs) 2 (mot) Medical Companies (4 LMGs ea) 1 (mot) Decontamination Company 3 Ambulances (1 LMG ea) 1 (mot) Field Post Office (2 LMGs) The division capitulated to the Americans by Linz in 1945. Ranks in German Army Fahnenjunker A cadet is a trainee. The term is frequently used to refer those training to become an officer in the military, often a person who is a junior trainee. Its meaning may vary between countries. The term is also used in civilian contexts and as a general attributive, for example in its original sense of a branch of a ruling house which is not currently 176/205
in the direct line of succession. Fähnrich Fähnrich is an officer candidate rank in the Austrian Bundesheer and German Bundeswehr. However, Fähnrich ranks are often incorrectly compared with the rank of ensign, which shares a similar etymology but is a full-fledged (albeit junior) commissioned officer rank. The word Fähnrich comes from an older German military title, Fahnenträger (flag bearer), and first became a distinct military rank in Germany 1 January 1899. Lieutenant A lieutenant (abbreviated Lt., LT., Lieut. and LEUT.) is a junior commissioned officer in many nations' armed forces. The meaning of lieutenant differs in different military formations (see comparative military ranks), but is often subdivided into senior (first lieutenant) and junior (second lieutenant) ranks. In navies it is often equivalent to the army rank of captain; it may also indicate a particular post rather than a rank. The rank is also used in fire services, emergency medical services, security services and police forces. Lieutenant may also appear as part of a title used in various other organizations with a codified command structure. It often designates someone who is "second-in-command," and as such, may precede the name of the rank directly above it. For example, a "lieutenant master" is likely to be second-in-command to the "master" in an organization using both ranks. Notable uses include lieutenant governor in various governments, and Quebec lieutenant in Canadian politics. Oberleutnant Oberleutnant is a junior officer rank in the militaries of Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Switzerland and Austria. In the German Army, it dates from the early 19th century. Translated as "senior lieutenant", the rank is typically bestowed upon commissioned officers after five to six years of active duty service. Oberleutnant is used by both the German Army and the German Air Force. In the NATO military comparison system, a German Oberleutnant is the equivalent of a first lieutenant in the Army/Air Forces of Allied nations. Other uses The equivalent naval rank is Oberleutnant zur See. In Nazi Germany, within the SS, SA and Waffen-SS, the rank of Obersturmführer was considered the equivalent of an Oberleutnant in the 177/205
German Army. Hauptmann Hauptmann is a German word usually translated as captain when it is used as an officer's rank in the German, Austrian and Swiss armies. While "haupt" in contemporary German means "main", it also has the dated meaning of "head", i.e. Hauptmann literally translates to "head man", which is also the etymological root of "captain" (from Latin caput head). It equates to Captain in the British and US Armies, and is rated OF-2 in NATO. More generally, it can be used to denote the head of any hierarchically structured group of people, often as a compound word. For example, a Feuerwehrhauptmann is the captain of a fire brigade, while the word RĂ¤uberhauptmann refers to the leader of a gang of robbers. Official Austrian titles incorporating the word include Landeshauptmann, Bezirkshauptmann, Burghauptmann and Berghauptmann. In Saxony during the Weimar Republic, the titles of Kreishauptmann and Amtshauptmann were held by senior civil servants. It might cognates with the Swedish word HĂśvitsman that have the same root meaning "Head man" or "the man at the head" and that are closely related to the word "hĂśvding" meaning Chieftain. Both titles are since medieval times used for titles within the administration of the state rather then within the military. Major Major is a rank of commissioned officer, with corresponding ranks existing in many military forces. When used unhyphenated, in conjunction with no other indicator of rank, the term refers to the rank just senior to that of an army captain and just below the rank of lieutenant colonel. It is considered the most junior of the field ranks. In some militaries, notably France and Ireland, the rank is referred to as commandant, while in others it is known as captain-major. It is also used in some police forces and other paramilitary rank structures, such as the New York State Police, New Jersey State Police and several others. As a police rank, Major roughly corresponds to the UK rank of Superintendent. When used in hyphenated or combined fashion, the term can also imply seniority at other levels of rank, including general-major or major general, denoting a mid-level general officer, and sergeant major, denoting the most senior NCO of a military unit. It can also be used with a hyphen to denote the leader of a military band such as in pipe-major or drum-major. 178/205
Oberstleutnant Oberstleutnant is a German Army and German Air Force rank equal to Lieutenant Colonel, above Major, and below Oberst. There are two paygrade associated to the rank of Oberstleutnant. Paygrade A14 is the standard level paygrade whereas A15 is assigned to senior Oberstleutnant personnel. Oberstleutnant of the General Staff or Reserve have the words "im Generalstabsdienst" (i.G.), "der Reserve" (d.R.) after their rank— thus: "OTL i.G.", "OTL d.R." Oberstleutnant who are definitely retired are described as "außer Dienst" (a.D.) During World War II, the SS maintained an equivalent rank known as Obersturmbannführer Oberst Oberst is a military rank in several German-speaking and Scandinavian countries, equivalent to Colonel. It is currently used by both the ground and air forces of Austria, Germany, Switzerland DDenmark aand Norway. The Swedish rank överste is a direct translation, as are the Finnish rank eversti and the Icelandic rank ofursti. In the Netherlands the rank overste is used as a synonym for a lieutenant colonel. Generalmajor The German rank of general most likely saw its first use within the religious orders of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, albeit in modified forms and usage from the current understanding of general. By the 16th century, with the rise of standing armies, the German states had begun to appoint generals from the nobility to lead armies in battle. A standard rank system was developed during the Thirty Years War, with the highest rank of General usually reserved for the ruling sovereign (e.g. the Kaiser or Elector) and the actual field commander holding the rank of Generalleutnant. Feldmarschall was a lower rank at that time, as was Generalwachtmeister. By the 17th and 18th centuries, the rank of general was present in all the militaries of the German states, and saw its greatest usage by the militaries of Bavaria and Prussia. It was these two militaries that created the concept of the “general staff”, which was often manned entirely by members of the nobility. To be a general implied membership in the noble class as a count or Graf, baron or Freiherr (this also accounts for most German generals of this era having the prefix “von” before their names) 179/205
Generalleutnant Lieutenant General is a military rank used in many countries. The rank traces its origins to the Middle Ages where the title of lieutenant general was held by the second in command on the battlefield, who was normally subordinate to a captain general. In modern armies, lieutenant general normally ranks immediately below general and above major general; it is equivalent to the navy rank of vice admiral, and in air forces with a separate rank structure, it is equivalent to air marshal. A lieutenant general commands an army corps, made up of typically three army divisions, and consisting of around 60,000 soldiers. The term major general is a shortened version of the previous term sergeant major general, which was also subordinate to lieutenant general. This is why a lieutenant general outranks a major general, whereas a major is senior to a lieutenant. In many countries, the rank of corps general has replaced the earlier rank of lieutenant general (e.g. France, Italy). (The ranks of corps general and lieutenant colonel general are intended to solve the apparent lieutenant general / major general anomaly). However, for convenience, this is often translated into English as lieutenant general. In a number of states, the rank of lieutenant general is the highest army rank in use. In Lithuania and Latvia, the chief of defence is a lieutenant general, and in the Irish Defence Forces and Israeli forces the Chief of Staff holds this rank. General der Artillery General of the artillery may mean: 1. a rank of general in the Imperial Army, Reichswehr or Wehrmacht - the second-highest regular rank below Generaloberst. Cavalry officers of equivalent rank were called general of the cavalry, and infantry officers of equivalent rank general of the infantry. The Wehrmacht also had General der Panzertruppen (tank troops), General der Gebirgstruppen (mountain troops), General der Pioniere (engineers), General der Fallschirmtruppen (parachute troops), General der Nachrichtentruppen (communications troops). Today in the Bundeswehr, the rank of lieutenant general corresponds to the traditional rank of general of the artillery. There was no equivalent rank in the army of East Germany, where it was merged into that of Generaloberst. 2. in the Bundeswehr, the position of an artillery officer responsible for certain questions of troop training and equipment, usually with the rank of Brigadegenerals. The position of general of the artillery 180/205
is connected with that of commander of the artillery school. Corresponding service positions also exist for other branches of the army. Since in this usage it refers to a position not a rank, an Oberst is sometimes "General of" his respective type of troops. The form of address is usually Herr General and/or Herr Oberst ; the form of address Herr General der Artillerie is unorthodox, since it does not refer to a rank. Generaloberst A supreme general or senior general (Generaloberst, sometimes mistranslated "colonel-general" by analogy to Oberst, "colonel") was the second highest general officer rank—below field marshal (Generalfeldmarschall)—in the Prussian army as well as in the Deutsches Heer of Imperial Germany (1871-1919), the Reichswehr of the Weimar Republic (1921-1933), and the Wehrmacht (which included the Luftwaffe, established in 1935) of Nazi Germany (1933-1945). The rank was created originally for Emperor William I—then Prince of Prussia—because traditionally members of the royal family were not promoted to the rank of a field marshal. Since the rank of Generalfeldmarschall was also reserved for wartime promotions, the additional rank of a "supreme general in the capacity of a field marshal" — the Generaloberst im Range eines Generalfeldmarschalls — was created for promotions during peace. Such generals were entitled to wear four pips on their shoulder boards, compared to the normal three. The equivalent ranks of a colonel general were in the: Kriegsmarine - Generaladmiral ("general admiral") Schutzstaffel (SS) - SS-Oberst-Gruppenführer Sturmabteilung (SA) - no equivalent Ordnungspolizei (Orpo) - Generaloberst der Polizei ("colonel general of police") Generalfelsmarschall Generalfeldmarschall in German (usually translated simply as General Field Marshal), was the highest military rank in the armies of several German states including the Austrian Empire and Kingdom o PPrussia (later the German Empire). Originally used in the Holy Roman Empire, the rank of Generalfeldmarschall became the highest military rank in the Habsburg Monarchy equivalent to that of Marshall in France or Field Marshall in England. Following the fall of the Holy Roman Empire, it was kept in the armies of the Austrian Empire (1804-1867) then in these of the 181/205
Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867-1919). The Prussian army also used it as the army equivalent to a navy Grand Admiral (German: Großadmiral) and was later used as a rank on the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe of Germany during WWII. In Germany In the German-Prussian Army and later in the Wehrmacht, the rank had several privileges, such as elevation to nobility, equal rank with ministers of the royal cabinet, right of direct report to the monarch, and a constant escort/protection. In 1854, the rank of Colonel-General (German: Generaloberst) was created in order to promote then Prussian prince William (William I, German Emperor) to senior rank without breaking the rule that only wartime field commanders could receive the rank of field marshal for a victory in a decisive battle or the capture of a fortification or major town. In 1870 Prince Friedrich Karl of Prussia and Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm—who had commanded armies during the Franco-Prussian War—became the first Prussian princes appointed field marshals. Ranks in Waffen S.S Rank in- Shoulder strap Sleeve signia (parka) collar badge
Rank of the Waf- Equivalent to the Wehrfen-SS macht (Heer)
SS-Oberst-grup- Generalopenführer und berst Generaloberst (OF-9) der Waffen-SS (SS-Supreme group leader and colonel general of the Waffen-SS) SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS (SS-Senior group leader and general of the WaffenSS)
General der Infanterie (etc.) (OF-8)
SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS
(SS-Group leader and lieutenant general of the Waffen-SS) SS-Brigadeführer Generalmaund Generalma- jor jor der Waffen-SS (OF-6) (SS-Brigade leader and major general of the Waffen-SS) SS-Oberführer (SS-Senior leader of the Waffen-SS) No equivalent. SS-Standartenführer (SS-Regiment leader)
SS-ObersturmOberstleutnbannführer ant (SS-Senior as(OF-4) sault unit leader) SS-Sturmbannführer (SS-Assault unit leader)
SS-HauptHauptsturmführer mann/Ritt(SS-Chief assault meister leader) (OF-2) SS-Obersturmführer (SS-Senior assault leader)
SS-Untersturmführer (SS-Junior assault leader)
SS-Sturmscharführer (SS-Assault squad leader)
SS-Sturmscharführer, German nickname "Spiess" is a specific appointment, comparable to the "company sergeant major". Appointment insignia: so-called "double piston rings" on both cuffs (of sleeves) on the uniform jacket and the overcoat. The position is committed to experienced senor NCO already promoted to SS-Hauptscharführers (OR-7 or SSScharführer (OR-6), seldom SSScharführer (OR-5).
SS-Stabsscharführer "Spiess" (senor NCO, e.g. Hauptscharführer or Oberscharführer, seldom Scharführer)
Hauptfeldwebel "Spiess" (senior NCO e.g., Oberfeldwebel or Feldwebel, seldom Unterfeldwebel)
SS-Hauptscharführer (SS-Chief squad leader) (SS-Standartenoberjunker / Offiziersanwärter)
Oberfeldwebel (OR-7) (Oberfähnrich / Offiziersanwärter)
SS-Oberscharführer (SS-Senior squad leader)
Feldwebel (OR-6) (Fähnrich / Offiziersanwärter)
(SS-Standartenjunker / Offiziersanwärter) SS-Scharführer Unterfeldwe(SS-Squad lead- bel (OR-5) er) (SS-Oberjunker / Offiziersanwärter) SS-Unterscharführer (SS-Junior squad leader) (SS-Junker / Offiziersanwärter) No equivalent
Unteroffizier (OR-4) (Fahnenjunker / Offiziersanwärter) Stabsgefreiter (OR4)
SS-Rottenführer Oberge(SS-Section lead- freiter (ORer) 4)
SS-Sturmmann Gefreiter (SS-Storm troop- (OR-3) er)
SS-Oberschütze (SS-Senior rifleman)
Soldat, Schütze, Grenadier (OR-1)
Volunteer to the service of the Waffen-SS
Conscript or military volunteer who enlists and may become an NCO or Officer of the Wehrmacht
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Blitzkrieg...............................................................................................8 Preface ..............................................................................................8 Common interpretation ................................................................. 18 Battle of Prokhorovka.........................................................................20 Background .................................................................................... 21 The Forces ...................................................................................... 22 German ...................................................................................... 22 Soviet.......................................................................................... 22 Order of Battle................................................................................ 24 German Army ............................................................................ 24 Army Group Centre (Günther von Kluge) ................................. 24 Soviet Army................................................................................ 26 Voronezh Front.......................................................................... 29 Steppe Front ..............................................................................30 German advance before Prokhorovka ...........................................30 German offensive plans ................................................................. 31 Soviet counter offensive plans ....................................................... 32 The battle........................................................................................ 32 The morning battles................................................................... 32 Afternoon battles ....................................................................... 34 The outcome .............................................................................. 34 The end of Zitadelle in the south ............................................... 35 Southern analysis....................................................................... 36 Hitler cancels the operation........................................................... 36 Großdeutschland Tigers after "Zitadelle" ...................................... 37 Fig The Tiger tactical number B01 of th 10th company of the III Abteilung of the "Großdeutschland" Division passes in front of some divisional vehicles. ...........................................................38 Fig Above: Tiger I (tactical number B12) .................................. 39 Fig Tiger tactical number A02, 9th company, III Abteilung, Panzer-Grenadier Division Großdeutschland, 1943........................ 41 Fig PzKpfw VI Tiger I E versus JS-2 "Stalin" Heavy Russian Tank ........................................................................................... 47 Fig The Josef Stalin 2 heavy tank - heavy inclined armor plus a 122 mm D-25T gun. ...................................................................48 The Waffen S.S at the Battle of Kursk ................................................50 1° S.S Panzer Division Leibstandarte .................................................60 Kharkov .......................................................................................... 61 Calm period .................................................................................... 63 Kursk .............................................................................................. 64 Dietrich promoted.......................................................................... 65 Waiting to begin ............................................................................. 66 194/205
Wittmann's success ........................................................................ 67 Fig A Leibstandarte Sturmgeschutz (assault gun) III or StuG III 68 Kursk ...............................................................................................71 Order of Battle ........................................................................... 73 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler............... 74 2° S.S Das Reich Panzer Division....................................................... 78 Top priority move........................................................................... 79 Massed attacks ...............................................................................80 Suggested withdrawal ....................................................................82 Reorganization ...............................................................................83 New opportunity ............................................................................ 85 Kharkov regained ........................................................................... 85 Further changes ............................................................................. 87 Indoctrination ignored...................................................................88 Kursk the objective.........................................................................88 Soviet attack ...................................................................................89 Exhaustion .....................................................................................90 Regained momentum..................................................................... 91 Soviet attack blunted...................................................................... 94 Tank victories ................................................................................. 94 Soviet pressure ............................................................................... 95 Fig T-34 soviet tank preparing for offensive ............................. 96 Rearguard action............................................................................ 96 3rd S.S Panzer Division Totenkopf .................................................... 97 Formation and Fall Gelb ................................................................ 97 Barbarossa-Demjansk Pocket ........................................................98 Kharkov – Kursk ............................................................................ 99 Battles on the Mius Front – Retreat to the Dniepr...................... 100 Map Battle of Kursk 4 July - 1 August 1943 ..................................... 102 Order of Battle ......................................................................... 103 Panzer-Grenadier-Division Großdeutschland ................................. 104 Infantry Division Großdeutschland 1942 .................................... 105 Kharkov ........................................................................................ 105 Panzergrenadier Division Großdeutschland ............................... 106 Kursk........................................................................................ 106 Defensive battles...................................................................... 106 Generalleutnant der Reserve Hyazinth Graf Von Gross-Zauche Und Camminetz ........................................................................... 106 Annexes ............................................................................................. 115 Citadel 1943 ....................................................................................... 115 Last Proclamation Adolf Hitler: Soldiers Of The German Eastern 195/205
Front! .................................................................................................116 Origins of the Schutz Staffel or SS ....................................................118 Origins ...........................................................................................118 Foundation ....................................................................................127 Seep Dietrich ................................................................................ 129 Swearing the oath ............................................................................. 130 The SA .......................................................................................... 133 The SS formations ........................................................................ 135 Origins .......................................................................................... 138 Years (1923–1933) ....................................................................... 138 Invasion of France.........................................................................141 Campaign in the Balkans ............................................................. 143 Operation Barbarossa .................................................................. 146 Kharkov .........................................................................................147 3rd S.S Panzer Division Totenkopf .................................................. 149 Fig No 1 Tactical insignia ................................................................. 149 Formation and Fall Gelb .............................................................. 149 Fig Motorcyclists (German: Kradschützen) from the SS Division "Totenkopf" during the invasion of Russia in September 1941 .............. 151 Barbarossa-Demjansk Pocket ....................................................... 151 Fig Tanks and Schützenpanzerwagen 3° S.S Panzer Division Totenkopf ................................................................................................... 154 Kharkov – Kursk .......................................................................... 154 Battles on the Mius Front – Retreat to the Dniepr.......................155 Warsaw......................................................................................... 156 Budapest Relief Attempts .............................................................157 Fig Panzerkampfwagen V Ausf A S.S panzer Rgiment Totenkopf... 158 Fig Soldiers of the 3rd SS Division Totenkopf break for a meal beside the wreck of a Soviet T-34 somewhere in Romania, 1944 ............... 160 War crimes ....................................................................................161 Poland............................................................................................161 Le Paradis Massacre......................................................................161 Order of Battle .................................................................................. 162 Fig Mittlerer Komandopanzerwagen Ausf B.....................................167 3rd SS Panzer Division "Totenkopf" ............................................ 170 Ranks in German Army .....................................................................176 Fahnenjunker ................................................................................176 Fähnrich ........................................................................................177 Lieutenant .....................................................................................177 Oberleutnant .................................................................................177 Hauptmann .................................................................................. 178 Major ............................................................................................ 178 196/205
Oberstleutnant ..............................................................................179 Oberst ............................................................................................179 Generalmajor ................................................................................179 Generalleutnant ........................................................................... 180 General der Artillery .................................................................... 180 Generaloberst ................................................................................181 Generalfelsmarschall ....................................................................181 In Germany .............................................................................. 182 Annexe VIII Ranks in Waffen S.S .................................................... 182 Bibliography ..................................................................................... 185 Index ................................................................................................. 193 Notes................................................................................................. 196 Notes The author was in the line near Suippes during this attack and was an eyewitness of how narrow was the margin of victory for the French and Americans. 2 Mechanized troops are infantry, cavalry and artillery which use motorized matĂŠriel in battle. Motorized troops are infantry, artillery and cavalry which use motor transport to get them to the battlefield but which, once there, fight as in the days before the advent of the gas engine. 3 In the Catalonian offensive Franco assaulted with 352,000 troops, 16,300 of them Italians. In the Seros sector alone 448 guns fired 120,000 rounds for the jump-off of 5 infantry divisions on a front of 10 kilometers. These 5 divisions totalled around 80,000 men. 4 In the battle of Fuente de Ebro seven companies of Franco's infantry, unsupported by artillery, decisively defeated from 90 to 100 tanks attacking alone. 5 In fact, such evidence as I could accumulate on the spot was to the contrary. I talked shortly after the invasion with all the eyewitnesses I could find. The marks of shell fire, etc., indicated no resistance of any consequence. 6 A Leibstandarte Sturmgeschutz (assault gun) III or StuG III seen at Kharkov in the spring of 1943. The StuG III was used in both a support and an anti-tank role, the latter increasingly important as Soviet tank numbers grew. 7 The Panzerkeil - Offensive Tactics Diagram 1
The Panzerkeil (Armoured Wedge) was an offensive armoured tactic developed by German forces on the Eastern Front during World War II. The panzerkeil was developed in response to the Soviet employment of the pakfront defence. 8
The panzerkeil was an offensive formation used by armoured vehicles, most commonly tanks. The tanks would form into a wedge-shaped formation, with the most heavily armed and armoured vehicles forming the tip. At the battle of Kursk, Tiger Is (Panzer VIE) would form the tip, Panthers (Panzer V) the base (where available), with the Panzer IVs and Panzer IIIs forming the wings. The advantage of the panzerkeil was that the anti-tank gunners of the opposing pakfront would be forced to constantly adjust their ranges due to the depth of the formation. Also, the heavily armoured Tigers and Panthers would bear the brunt of the anti-tank fire, leaving the more vulnerable tanks safe from enemy fire. The panzerkeil achieved mixed results. During Operation Citadel, the panzerkeil enabled the spearheads of Generaloberst Hermann Hoth's 4th Panzer Army to break through the elaborate Soviet defences. Meanwhile, in Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model's 9th Army sector, tank units using the panzerkeil tactic failed to achieve a breakthrough, and suffered heavy losses due to anti-tank fire. 9 The Infantry Regiment Großdeutschland (German: Infanterie-Regiment "Großdeutschland"; "Greater Germany" Infantry Regiment) was an élite German Heer ceremonial and combat unit which saw action during World War II. The regiment served in the campaigns in France and the Low Countries in 1940. It then served exclusively on the Eastern Front until the end of the war. It was annihilated near Pillau in May 1945. Großdeutschland is sometimes mistakenly perceived to be part of the Waffen-SS, whereas it was actually a unit of the regular German Army (Heer). In 1942 it was expanded to become the Großdeutschland Division, the best-equipped division in the Wehrmacht, which received equipment before all other units (including some Waffen-SS units). 10 An S.S of the S.S Totenkopf Standarte Oberbayern 11 Josef "Sepp" Dietrich (28 May 1892 – 21 April 1966) was a German Waffen-SS General and a member of the Nazi Party of Nazi Germany. He was one of Nazi Germany's most decorated soldiers and commanded formations up to Army level during World War II. Prior to 1929, he was Adolf Hitler's chauffeur and bodyguard but received rapid promotion after his participation in the murder of Hitler's political opponents during the Night of the Long Knives. After the war, he was imprisoned by the United States for war crimes and later by Germany for murder.
The Treaty of Versailles (French: Traité de Versailles) was one of the peace treaties at the end of World War I. It ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The other Central Powers on the German side of World War I were dealt with in separate treaties. Although the armistice, signed on 11 November 1918, ended the actual fighting, it took six months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference to conclude the peace treaty. The treaty was registered by the Secretariat of the League of Nations on 21 October 1919, and was printed in The League of Nations Treaty Series. Of the many provisions in the treaty, one of the most important and controversial required "Germany [to] accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage" during the war (the other members of the Central Powers signed treaties containing similar articles). This article, Article 231, later became known as the War Guilt clause. The treaty forced Germany to disarm, make substantial territorial concessions, and pay reparations to certain countries that had formed the Entente powers. In 1921 the total cost of these reparations was assessed at 132 billion Marks (then $31.4 billion or £6.6 billion, roughly equivalent to US $442 billion or UK £284 billion in 2013). At the time economists, notably John Maynard Keynes predicted that the treaty was too harsh—a "Carthaginian peace", and said the figure was excessive and counterproductive. However, many historians have judged the reparation figure to be lenient, a sum that was designed to look imposing but was in fact not, that had little impact on the German economy and analyzed the treaty as a whole to be quite restrained and not as harsh as it could have been. The result of these competing and sometimes conflicting goals among the victors was a compromise that left none contented: Germany was not pacified or conciliated, nor permanently weakened. The problems that arose from the treaty would lead to the Locarno Treaties, which improved relations between Germany and the other European Powers, and the renegotiation of the reparation system resulting in the Dawes Plan, the Young Plan, and finally the postponement of reparations at the Lausanne Conference of 1932. The reparations were finally paid off by Germany after World War II. 12
The Weimar Republic (German: Weimarer Republik) is the name given by historians to the federal republic and parliamentary representative democracy established in 1919 in Germany to replace the imperial form of government. It was named after Weimar, the city where the constitutional assembly took place. Following World War I, the republic emerged from the German Revolution in November 1918. In 1919, a national assembly was convened in Weimar, where a new constitution for the German Reich was written, then adopted on 11 August of that same year. In its fourteen years, the Weimar Republic faced numerous problems, including hyperinflation, political extremists (with paramilitaries â€“ both left and right wing), and continuing contentious relationships with the victors of World War I. However, it did eliminate most of the requirements of the Treaty of Versailles, in that Germany never completely met the disarmament requirements, and eventually only paid a small portion of the total reparations required by the treaty, which were reduced twice by restructuring Germany's debt through the Dawes Plan and the Young Plan, (with the last payment finally being made on 3 October 2010), reformed the currency, and unified tax policies and the railway system. The ensuing period of liberal democracy lapsed by 1930, when President Hindenburg assumed dictatorial emergency powers to back the administrations of Chancellors BrĂźning, Papen, Schleicher and finally Hitler. Between 1930 and 1933 the Great Depression, even worsened by BrĂźning's policy of deflation, led to a surge in unemployment. It lead to the ascent of the nascent Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler in 1933. The legal measures taken by the new Nazi government in February and March 1933, commonly known as the Machtergreifung (seizure of power) meant that the government could legislate contrary to the constitution. The republic nominally continued to exist until 1945, as the constitution was never formally repealed, but the measures taken by the Nazis in the early part of their rule rendered the constitution irrelevant. Thus, 1933 is usually seen as the end of the Weimar Republic and the beginning of Hitler's Third Reich. 14 Members of the Freikorps dismount lorries in post-war Berlin. 13
The National Socialist German Workers' Party (German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei abbreviated NSDAP), commonly known in English as the Nazi Party, was a political party in Germany between 1920 and 1945. Its predecessor, the German Workers' Party (DAP), existed from 1919 to 1920. The term Nazi is German and stems from Nationalsozialist, due to the pronunciation of Latin -tion- as -tsion- in German (rather than -shon- as it is in English), with German Z being pronounced as 'ts'. The party was founded out of the German nationalist extremists, racist, populist movement anti-communist Freikorps paramilitary culture that fought against the uprisings of communist revolutionaries in post-World War I Germany. However far from all Freikorps were involved in the founding of the DAP/NSDAP-party. Advocacy of a form of socialism by right-wing figures and movements in Germany became common during and after World War I, influencing Nazism. Arthur Moeller van den Bruck of the Conservative Revolutionary movement coined the term "Third Reich", and advocated an ideology combining the nationalism of the right and the socialism of the left. Prominent Conservative Revolutionary member Oswald Spengler's conception of a "Prussian Socialism" influenced the Nazis. The party was created as a means to draw workers away from communism and into vรถlkisch nationalism. Initially, Nazi political strategy focused on anti-big business, anti-bourgeois, and anti-capitalist rhetoric, although such aspects were later downplayed in order to gain the support of industrial entities, and in 1930s the party's focus shifted to antisemitic and anti-Marxist themes. To maintain the supposed purity and strength of a postulated 'Aryan race', the Nazis sought to exterminate or impose exclusionary segregation upon "degenerate" and "asocial" groups that included: Jews, homosexuals, Romani, blacks, the physically and mentally handicapped, Jehovah's Witnesses and political opponents. The persecution reached its climax when the party controlled German state organized the systematic murder of approximately six million Jews and five million people from the other targeted groups, in what has become known as the Holocaust. The party's leader Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany by President Paul von Hindenburg in 1933. Hitler rapidly established a totalitarian regime known as the Third Reich. Following the defeat of the Third Reich at the conclusion of World War II in Europe, the party was "completely and finally abolished and declared to be illegal" by the Allied occupying powers. 16 Parteiadler der Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei 17 Hitler in Berlin in May 1927, surrounded by early adherents of the fledgling Nazi movement. He is followed by Julius Schreck (in peaked cap), one of his original bodyguards, who also acted as Hitler's chauffeur. 15
The Feldherrnhalle (sometimes also written Feldherrenhalle, "Field Marshals' Hall") is a monumental loggia in Munich, Germany. It was built between 1841 and 1844 at the southern end of Munich's Ludwigstrasse next to the Palais Preysing and east of the Hofgarten. Previously the Gothic Schwabinger Tor (gate) occupied that place. Friedrich von Gärtner built the Feldherrnhalle at the behest of King Ludwig I of Bavaria after the example of the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence. The Feldherrnhalle was a symbol of the honours of the Bavarian Army. It contains statues of military leaders Johann Tilly and Karl Philipp von Wrede. The central sculptural group was added in 1882, after the Franco-Prussian War. On Friday morning, 9 November 1923, the Feldherrnhalle was the scene of a confrontation between the Bavarian State Police and an illegally organized march by the followers of Adolf Hitler. When ordered to stop the marchers continued; the State Police felt threatened and opened fire. Four policemen and sixteen marchers were killed and a number were wounded, including Hermann Göring. As a result, Hitler was arrested and sentenced to a prison term. This was one of the efforts by the Nazis to take over the Bavarian State, commonly referred to as the Beer Hall Putsch. On 25 April 1995 Reinhold Elstner a World War II veteran committed self-immolation in front of Feldhernhalle to protest against "the ongoing official slander and demonization of the German people and German soldiers". A relief picture of the Feldherrnhalle also appears on the Blood Order medal of the Nazi party. 19 Hitler acknowledges the crowd from a window in the Chancellery after the Night of the Long Knives in 1934 20 On 30 January 1937, during celebrations for the fourth anniversary of the Nazi's ascension to power in Germany, Hitler greets Leibstandarte commander Sepp Dietrich (in helmet). 21 Men of the Leibstandarte stand guard before their Fuhrer's office at the Berlin Chancellery (note the initials A H above the door). An identical duty was carried out at the Chancellor's residence in the Wilhelmstrasse. 22 Paul "Papa" Hausser (October 7, 1880 – December 21, 1972) was an officer in the German Army, achieving the high rank of lieutenant-general in the inter-war Reichswehr. After retirement from the regular Army he became the "father" (thus the nickname “Papa”) of the Waffen-SS and one of its most eminent leaders. Battling in both the Eastern and Western fronts of World War II, he was seriously wounded twice, losing an eye in the first incident. After the war he became a member of the HIAG which sought to rehabilitate the reputation and legal status of the Waffen-SS. 18
The Sturmabteilung (SA); Storm Detachment or Assault Division, or Brownshirts) functioned as the original paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party. It played a key role in Adolf Hitler's rise to power in the 1920s and 1930s. Their main assignments were providing protection for Nazi rallies and assemblies, disrupting the meetings of the opposing parties, fighting against the paramilitary units of the opposing parties (esp. the Rotfrontk채mpferbund) and intimidating Jewish citizens (e.g. the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses(. The SA was the first Nazi paramilitary group to develop pseudomilitary titles for bestowal upon its members. The SA ranks were adopted by several other Nazi Party groups, chief amongst them the SS, itself originally a branch of the SA. SA men were often called "brownshirts" for the colour of their uniforms (similar to Benito Mussolini's blackshirts). Brown-coloured shirts were chosen as the SA uniform because a large batch of them were cheaply available after World War I, having originally been ordered during the war for colonial troops posted to Germany's former African colonies. The SA became disempowered after Adolf Hitler ordered the "Blood purge" of 1934. This event became known as the Night of the Long Knives. The SA was effectively superseded by the SS, although it was not formally dissolved and banned until after the Third Reich's final capitulation to the Allied powers in 1945. 24 Unit insignia of 1. SS-Panzer-Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler 25 Sonderkommandos were work units of Nazi death camp prisoners, composed almost entirely of Jews, who were forced, on threat of their own deaths, to aid with the disposal of gas chamber victims during The Holocaust. The death-camp Sonderkommando, who were always inmates, should not be confused with the SS-Sonderkommandos which were ad hoc units formed from various SS offices between 1938 through 1945. The term itself in German means "special unit", and was part of the vague and euphemistic language which the Nazis used to refer to aspects of the Final Solution (cf. Einsatzgruppen). 23
Ernst Julius Günther Röhm (28 November 1887 – 2 July 1934) was a German officer in the Bavarian Army and later an early Nazi leader. He was a co-founder of the Sturmabteilung ("Storm Battalion"; SA), the Nazi Party militia, and later was its commander. In 1934, as part of the Night of the Long Knives, he was executed on Adolf Hitler's orders as a potential rival. Ernst Röhm was born in Munich, the youngest of three children (older sister and brother). His father, a railway official, was described as "a harsh man". Although the family had no military tradition, Röhm entered the Royal Bavarian 10th Infantry Regiment Prinz Ludwig at Ingolstadt as a cadet on 23 July 1906 and was commissioned on 12 March 1908. At the outbreak of war in August 1914, he was adjutant of the 1st Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment König. The following month, he was seriously wounded in the face at Chanot Wood in Lorraine and carried the scars for the rest of his life. He was promoted to first lieutenant (Oberleutnant) in April 1915. During an attack on the fortification at Thiaumont, Verdun, on 23 June 1916, he sustained a serious chest wound and spent the remainder of the war in France and Romania as a staff officer. He had been awarded the Iron Cross First Class on 20 June 1916, three days before being wounded at Verdun, and was promoted to captain (Hauptmann) in April 1917. In October 1918, while serving on the Staff of the Gardekorps, he contracted the deadly Spanish influenza and was not expected to live, but survived and recovered after a lengthy convalescence. Following the armistice on 11 November 1918 that ended the war, Röhm continued his military career as an adjutant in the Reichswehr. He was one of the senior members in Colonel von Epp's Bayerisches Freikorps für den Grenzschutz Ost (Freikorps Epp), formed at Ohrdruf in April 1919, which finally overturned the Munich Soviet Republic by force of arms on 3 May 1919. In 1919 he joined the German Workers' Party (DAP), which soon became the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). Röhm's resignation from the Reichswehr was accepted in November 1923 during his time as a prisoner at Stadelheim prison. Following the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 9 November 1923, Röhm, Hitler, General Erich Ludendorff, Lt-Colonel Kriebel and six others were tried in February 1924 for high treason. Röhm was found guilty and sentenced to a year and three months in prison, but the sentence was suspended and he was granted a conditional discharge. 26
The Night of the Long Knives (German: Nacht der langen Messer (help·info)), sometimes called Operation Hummingbird or, in Germany, the Röhm-Putsch, was a purge that took place in Nazi Germany between June 30 and July 2, 1934, when the Nazi regime carried out a series of political murders. Leading figures of the left-wing Strasserist faction of the Nazi Party, along with its figurehead, Gregor Strasser, were murdered, as were prominent conservative anti-Nazis (such as former Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher and Gustav Ritter von Kahr, who had suppressed Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch in 1923). Many of those killed were leaders of the Sturmabteilung (SA), the paramilitary brownshirts. Adolf Hitler moved against the SA and its leader, Ernst Röhm, because he saw the independence of the SA and the penchant of its members for street violence as a direct threat to his newly gained political power. Hitler also wanted to conciliate leaders of the Reichswehr, the official German military who feared and despised the SA— in particular Röhm's ambition to absorb the Reichswehr into the SA under Röhm's leadership. Additionally, Hitler was uncomfortable with Röhm's outspoken support for a "second revolution" to redistribute wealth. (In Röhm's view Hitler's election had accomplished the "nationalistic" revolution but had left unfulfilled the "socialistic" motive in National Socialism.) Finally, Hitler used the purge to attack or eliminate critics of his new regime, especially those loyal to Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen, as well as to settle scores with old enemies. At least 85 people died during the purge, although the final death toll may have been in the hundreds, and more than a thousand perceived opponents were arrested. Most of the killings were carried out by the Schutzstaffel (SS) and the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei), the regime's secret police. The purge strengthened and consolidated the support of the Reichswehr for Hitler. It also provided a legal grounding for the Nazi regime, as the German courts and cabinet quickly swept aside centuries of legal prohibition against extra-judicial killings to demonstrate their loyalty to the regime. The Night of the Long Knives was a turning point for the German government. It established Hitler as "the supreme judge of the German people", as he put it in his July 13, 1934 speech to the Reichstag 28 Heinrich Himmler inspecting a tank of the 1st SS Division, Metz, September 1940 29 Panzerspähwagen (Fu) 8-rad Aufklärungs Abteilung LSSAH 30 A Panzerjäger (tank destroyer) Marder III, Kharkov, February 1943 31 Fritz Witt, Kharkov March 1943 27
Published on Nov 27, 2014
The Battle of Prokhorovka (12 July 1943) was fought on the Eastern Front during the Second World War as part of the Battle of Kursk in the S...