PAUL HAUSSER Part II

The Battle of Normandy was the most difficult and exacting of General Hausser’s career. Badly outnumbered, he faced an enemy with devastating air and naval supremacy, which made it difficult for him to either move or resupply his troops. Hausser nevertheless held his positions despite heavy casualties on both sides.

Meanwhile, the left half of the German front in Normandy, which was the responsibility of Colonel General Friedrich Dollmann’s 7th Army, was in serious trouble. At the end of June, shortly after the fall of Cherbourg, the hard-pressed general dropped dead of a heart attack. He was replaced by Paul Hausser, who shortly thereafter was promoted to SS-Oberstgruppenfuehrer und Generaloberst der Waffen-SS-the equivalent of an American four-star general. He was the first SS man to be assigned to the command of an army on a permanent basis.

Hausser’s army, which included the LXXXIV Corps and II Parachute Corps, was much weaker than its sister army, the 5th Panzer, on its right. It had only 50 medium and 26 Panther tanks, for example, against 5th Panzer’s 250 medium and 150 heavy tanks, and it had only about one-third of the artillery and anti-aircraft guns as the 5th Panzer. It did, however, have the advantage of excellent defensive terrain, and Hausser’s men took full advantage of that situation. They were gradually pushed back, however, and Hausser’s divisions were slowly ground to bits. By July 11, for example, his elite 2nd Parachute Division was down to 35 percent of its authorized manpower, and most of his other divisions were also down to Kampfgruppe (regimental) strength. By mid-July Hausser was restoring to tactical patchwork to establish any kind of reserve at all.

The decisive breakthrough of the Normandy campaign occurred in Hausser’s sector of July 25, 1944. That day, in Operation Cobra, 2,500 Allied airplanes-1,800 of which were heavy bombers-dropped approximately 5,000 tons of high explosives, jellied gasoline (napalm), and white phosphorus on a six-square-mile block, mostly in the zone of the Panzer Lehr Division. Panzer Lehr’s forward units were virtually annihilated. By the end of the day, it had only about a dozen tanks and assault guns left, and a parachute regiment attached to it had vanished under the bombs.

There is little doubt that Hausser mishandled the entire Operation Cobra. Several days before the bombs fell, Field Marshal Guenther von Kluge (who had replaced a critically wounded Rommel a week before) had suggested that Hausser replace the Panzer Lehr with the 275th Infantry Division, which Hausser then held in army reserve. Meanwhile, on the far left flank, LXXXIV Corps had managed to pull the 353rd Infantry Division out of the line. Kluge suggested than Hausser use it to replace the 2nd SS Panzer Division “Das Reich” at the front, thus establishing an army reserve of two armored divisions. The SS general, however, ignored both of his former classmates’ suggestions. “Hausser did little more than clamor for battlefields replacements, additional artillery, and supplies, and the sight of air cover,” according to the American official history records.

When the American ground forces began to advance at 11 a. m. on July 25, Hausser reacted slowly because he did not initially appreciate the magnitude of the disaster that had overtaken his army. By late afternoon, however, he realized that his front had been penetrated in seven places in the Lessay-St. Lo sector, and without an armored reserve, he could do little to seal the gaps. He therefore requested permission to conduct a general withdrawal to Coutances. Kluge, however, also misread the situation and would approve only a limited withdrawal. As a result, LXXXIV Corps was soon cut off on the west coast of the Cotentin peninsula and only broke out (on Hausser’s orders) with heavy losses. Meanwhile, the Americans were in the rear of the 7th Army; SS Oberfuehrer Christian Tychesen, the commander of Hausser’s old Das Reich Division, was killed near his command post by an American patrol; and Hausser himself only narrowly escaped death from an American armored car that fired on him near Gavray. There was little he could do but withdraw the remnants of his disintegrating command to the east, while the rapidly advancing Americans captured Avranches (at the base of the Cotentin peninsula) and broke out into the interior of France. In doing so they unknowingly came within a few hundred yards of the 7th Army’s forward command post, which was located 3.5 miles north of Avranches. Cut off, Hausser and many of his key staff officers had to escape on foot by infiltrating through the regularly spaced intervals between American troop convoys. There was, of course, nothing Hausser could do to influence the course of the battle, which was totally out of hand.

When he finally learned of the extent of the 7th Army’s disaster, Kluge’s dissatisfaction with the 7th Army’s leadership reached a head. On July 30, he inspected Hausser’s headquarters and found it “farcical, a complete mess,” and concluded that “the whole army [is] putting up a poor show.” Lacking the authority to relieve the SS general (or perhaps not daring to do so, given his own previous association with the conspirators who had tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler a few days before), Kluge sacked Hausser’s chief of staff and the commander of the LXXXIV Corps-who was less responsible for the disaster than Kluge himself-and replaced them with his own men. Kluge also took active charge of the left flank himself. It was too late by then, however; the battle was already lost.

Paul Hausser had little influence on the campaign in Normandy after July 28. As General George S. Patton’s U.S. 3rd Army advanced south and east of Mortain and threatened to encircle the 5th Panzer and 7th armies south of Caen, Hausser joined Kluge in objecting to Hitler’s unrealistic plan to concentrate nine depleted panzer divisions in the western edge of the salient, with the objective of thrusting west to the coast, to cut off Patton. Instead, Kluge and Hausser wanted to fall back behind the Seine while there still might be time to do so. Kluge was overruled, however, and it is significant that, on the orders of Adolf Hitler, the final effort to reach the west coast was directed by an ad hoc panzer group under Army General Heinrich Eberbach, the former commander of the 5th Panzer Army, and not by Hausser. In any event it was defeated, and the bulk of Army Group B was surrounded in the Falaise Pocket on August 17. Hausser, still with his men inside the pocket, ordered all units capable of action to break out in individual combat groups on the night of August 19-20.

Hausser’s actions saved about one-third of his army, which was on the far side of the encirclement. (A considerably larger portion of the 5th Panzer Army was saved because it did not have as far to go to reach friendly lines.) The general himself joined the 1st SS Panzer Division Liebstandarte Adolf Hitler and, on August 20, was marching on foot with a machine pistol draped around his neck when an Allied artillery shell landed in front of him, and a piece of shrapnel hit him right in the face. Some soldiers from the Leibstandarte placed him on the stern of a tank and eventually succeeded in getting the seriously wounded commander back to German lines, after a number of narrow escapes. He was taken to the Luftwaffe hospital at Greifswald, where he slowly began to recover.

Six days after he was wounded, Hausser was awarded the Swords to his Knight’s Cross; however, he was unable to return to active duty until January 23, 1945, when he became acting commander of Army Group Oberrhein (Upper Rhine), replacing Heinrich Himmler. Six days later this headquarters was dissolved, and Hausser was given command of Army Group G, controlling the 1st and 19th armies and later 7th Army as well. He was given the task of defending southern Germany. The war, however, was already lost, and Hausser could do little but fight a delaying action through the Saar and Palatinate. By now thoroughly disillusioned with the Nazi leadership, Hausser became increasingly frustrated by Hitler’s constant interference in the details of operations of his forces and especially with his hold-at-all-costs orders-one of which cost Hausser much of his command, which had not been allowed to retreat across the Rhine in time. The personal relationship between the two men, which had begun to deteriorate during the Second Battle of Kharkov, had reached a new low in early 1945, due to a heated argument they had over tactical matters. On March 30, 1945, Hitler remarked to Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the minister of propaganda, that neither Sepp Dietrich nor Hausser had any real operational talent and that “no high-class commander has emerged from the SS.” Three days later a dispatch from Hausser arrived, suggesting that a gap between the 1st and 7th armies be closed by another retreat into southern Germany. Furious, Hitler immediately relieved Hausser of his command and replaced him with General of Infantry Friedrich Schulz. Unemployed for the rest of the war, Hausser surrendered to the Americans in May. At Nuremberg he was the most important defense witness for the Waffen-SS, stating that his men were soldiers like any other. Nevertheless the entire SS, including the Waffen-SS, was condemned as a criminal organization. Hausser himself was not subjected to a long imprisonment, however.

As a general, Paul Hausser proved to be an above-average divisional commander and a gifted-and sometimes brilliant-corps commander, although his conduct of the Third Battle of Kharkov is hardly above criticism. As a trainer, he had few equals anywhere. He was largely responsible for establishing the Waffen-SS as a potent combat force, and it bore his influence throughout its existence. As the commander of the 7th Army in Normandy, however, his performance left a great deal to be desired. It is not possible to objectively evaluate his direction of Army Group G, except to say that it would have been more effective had he been left to his own devices, rather than receiving “help” from Adolf Hitler. It would probably have been better for Nazi Germany if he had been left in command of an SS panzer corps-or as director of training for the Waffen-SS-from 1943 on.

In the postwar years, Paul Hausser was an active member of the Mutual Aid Society of the Waffen-SS (Hilfsorganization auf Gegenseitigkeit der Waffen-SS, or HIAG), the Waffen-SS veterans organization, and wrote numerous articles for its magazine, Wiking Ruf (Viking Call), now Dei Freiwillige-The Volunteer. In 1953 he wrote his first book, Waffen-SS im Einsatz (The Waffen-SS in Operation), which he expanded in 1966 and subtitled Soldaten wie Andere Auch (Soldiers like Any Other). He died on December 28, 1972, at the age of 92. His funeral was attended by thousands of his former soldiers.

 

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