Balthasar “Bobby” Woll was born on September 1, 1922 in Wemmetsweiler, Kreis Ottweiler, Saarland.
After an apprenticeship as an electrician, he reported on 15 August 1941 as a volunteer for the Waffen SS. He was posted as a machine gunner to the 3rd Company, 1st SS Totenkopf Infantry Regiment. He was wounded during the fighting at the Demyansk Pocket and sent to hospital in Germany. While recovering from his wounds he was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd class and the Wound Badge in black, in July 1942.
After his recovery he retrained as a tank gunner and at the end of 1942 posted to the 13th Heavy Tank Company, SS Panzer Regiment 1, 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler where he met his tank commander Michael Wittmann.
Woll received the Ritterkreuz as SS-Rottenfuhrer with 13th (heavy) Co., 1st SS-Pz Rgt., 1st SS-Pz. Div. “LSSAH”, Russian Front. He would finish the war with the rank of Oberscharfuhrer, which is equivalent to Sgt. 1st Class (or Tech Sgt. as it’s sometimes called) Woll was the only NCO tank gunner to receive the Knights Cross.
Balthasar “Bobby” Woll was sent on medical leave on August 2, 1944, due to injuries received during July due to an Allied bombing raid in Normandy by Wittmann. He did not return. Wittmann was killed on August 8, 1944.
Bobby Woll, had been in Eckardtsheim for some time already. Problems arising from his old head wound had sent him from Normandy to a hospital and then to Germany. He did not return to France after his recovery. His former unit, the 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf, belatedly awarded him the Demyansk Shield for his actions in the Demyansk Pocket in 1942.
On 1 October 1944 Woll was promoted to SS-Oberscharführer. He had to drive home on 26 October as his parent’s home in Wemmetsweiler had been badly damaged by bombs. SS-Untersturmführer Helmut Dollinger, the former battalion signals officer, led the 2nd Company in the interim. In addition to tank training, the men received instruction in the use of the Panzerfaust anti-tank weapon. In the second week of October the battalion’s designation was changed; it was now called the 501st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion. The designations of all corps units of the Waffen-SS now began with the number 5. The battalion received its first six new King Tigers on 17 and 18 October.
On 21 October 1944, the 1st Company held a social evening in the town hotel in Oerlinghausen. The maintenance echelon provided a storage battery to ensure adequate electrical power. It was a sumptuous party and its carefree gaiety allowed the men to forget their cares. To mark the occasion the 1st Company had a humorous rag magazine printed, in which the officers and men of the unit were lampooned. The “overly refined” Knight’s Cross wearer Franz Staudegger was of course drastically caricatured, as the following extract from the sarcastic remarks made about him reveals:
“. . . But he is at war, he has no thoughts of women and also never misbehaves. His goal now is to smash the enemy, indeed, we really can’t complain about that. Where you lead us, there we will follow and if things become difficult, we will stand by you. If others flee and you stand fast, you are not alone, the future will see. In the struggle against fraud and falsehood, we will always stand behind you, your Second Platoon.” In October 1944 SS-Standartenoberjunker Heinz Buchner ran across the battalion by chance and decided to stay; he subsequently received an official transfer. Buchner had served as a gunner in the 13th Tiger Company in 1942.
On 27 July 1943, at which time he held the rank of SS-Panzerschütze, he received both Iron Crosses for his efforts in Operation Zitadelle. Buchner was Staudegger’s gunner the day his actions won him the Knight’s Cross. On 30 January 1944, Buchner became an SS-Unterscharführer and in May 1944 arrived at the SS-Junkerschule Klagenfurt, where he was promoted to SS-Standartenjunker on 1 June 1944. This was followed by the tank course in Fallingbostel and on 1 July he was promoted to SS-Standartenoberjunker. He then came to the 501st SS Panzer Battalion by fortunate circumstances via the SS Panzer Training and Replacement Regiment Riga and Paderborn. On 20 October 1944, he was promoted to SS-Untersturmführer as a member of the battalion.
The platoon commanders in Wessel’s 1st Company were SS-Untersturmführer Henniges, SS-Standartenjunker Staudegger and SS-Hauptscharführer Lötzsch. The “Panzer General” had been decorated with the Iron Cross, First Class in Normandy and transferred from the 2nd Company. The men of the company gave the appearance of a cheerful pack of rascals who maintained good relations with the population. The same applied to the other companies. One appropriately self-ironic advertisement in a humorous rag magazine read: “Seeking large tent, as we plan to appear publicly with our circus soon. Offers to 1./s.SS-Pz.Abt. 501.”
On 9 November 1944 decorations were awarded for outstanding feats in Normandy and promotions were announced. Because of the distance between quarters the presentations were made by company commanders and there was no parade involving the entire battalion. SS-Untersturmführer Dollinger of the 2nd Company was promoted to SS-Obersturmführer. The commander of the 4th Company, SS-Obersturmführer Spitz, was promoted to the rank of SS-Hauptsturmführer. In the Workshop Company, SS-Untersturmführer Glaeser, the commander of the Workshop Platoon, was promoted to SS-Obersturmführer, as was the commander of the Recovery Platoon, Reinhold Wichert. Wichert had distinguished himself on several occasions in Normandy as a tank recovery specialist and had been decorated with the Iron Cross, Second Class and the War Merit Cross First Class with Swords.
On 14 November 1944 SS-Hauptscharführer Dr. Wolf Rabe was awarded the German Cross in Gold for his performance as battalion medical officer and acting battalion commander in Normandy. He had been put up for the decoration by SS-Oberstgruppenführer Sepp Dietrich on 17 August 1944. In addition to his main function of caring for the wounded, Rabe on many occasions accompanied the fighting troops in his Kfz. 81, so as to be close at hand in the event of casualties. In doing so he frequently took part in combat operations himself, briefing tank crews and deploying them against the enemy. For this the almost two-meter-tall doctor from Vienna became the first member of the Tiger battalion to receive this prestigious award.
On 20 November SS-Hauptscharführer Hans Höllinger and SS-Unterscharführer Sepp Franzl were decorated with the Iron Cross, First Class. Among the personnel of the Workshop Company, the Iron Cross, Second Class was received by SS-Rottenführer Ludwig Schulz, Karl-Heinz Fetz, Rudolf Walter and Josef Hammerl, and SS-Sturmmänner Erich Kleinschmidt, Heinrich Hoidn, Walter Raddatz, Hans Eggensberger, Rudolf Altmann, Ulrich Beilfuß and Oskar Ganz.
On the following day SS-Obersturmbannführer Heinz von Westernhagen returned to the battalion again and was received by the men with great joy. Even after his four months of convalescent leave his state of health had not improved as much as he imagined. The effects of the head wound hampered him severely, even though his soldiers saw little evidence of it. “For this reason I am also forgetful like an old man, but I will try . . .” The commander lived in a villa in front of the castle, which was also the site of the battalion orderly office. SS-Untersturmführer Eduard Kalinowsky continued to serve as adjutant. On 14 November 1944 SS-Untersturmführer Heinz Belbe returned to the battalion after his convalescence and joined the battalion staff as special duties officer. SS-Oberscharführer Sernetz, who had been assigned to battalion headquarters, was employed as operations officer. SS-Rottenführer Herbert Debusmann, former special duties officer, had become the command post clerk. Under his tutelage the battalion war diary, which had previously been written out longhand, was now typed up entirely by machine. His predecessor, SS-Unterscharführer Hartwig, had been removed for disciplinary reasons, because he could not be found during the stop in Meschede when a night alert was called. SS-Oberscharführer Kolle remained the battalion clerk and was also responsible for death notifications.
As of November 1944 the battalion staff was provided with a senior NCO, who was to take under his wing the approximately thirty enlisted men—consisting of the messenger echelon as well as drivers, radio operators and clerks. The battalion commander listened at length to the men who had fought in Normandy as they filled him in on his battalion’s fate following his departure on 13 July 1944. The descriptions of the battles that had decimated the battalion visibly made a deep impression on him.
On 22 November von Westernhagen submitted a recommendation for the award of the German Cross in Gold to SS-Untersturmführer Thomas Amselgruber of the 3rd Company. He had known Amselgruber since 1942 when he had served with the assault gun battalion of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler; in all the battles in which he took part he proved to be a very brave tank commander. Sepp Dietrich confirmed von Westernhagen’s view in his comments: “I heartily endorse this recommendation. Amselgruber has proved to be a highly capable fighter in all situations.”
Relations with the residents of the villages were excellent. Walter Bingert, Willi Otterbein, Meixner, Hermann and Georg Przybilla all got married. They were followed on 10 November by SS-Obersturmführer Wessel, their company commander, who married a female officer of the Reich Labor Service. The wedding took place beneath the mighty oaks in the castle grounds. There was subsequently a party in the town hotel in Oerlinghausen. In November 1944 the companies of the Tiger Battalion received a visit from SS-Obersturmbannführer Jochen Peiper, commanding officer of the Leibstandarte Panzer Regiment. On 19 November the 2nd Company threw its company party.
Several SS-Standartenoberjunker had joined the battalion in recent weeks but assumed no corresponding command positions. Among their number were Oberjunker Lenz and Kirschbaum. The latter had served with the 4th Company as a Rottenführer and was now placed in charge of the company headquarters squad. SS-Standartenoberjunker Hubert Hartmann, who had previously headed the workshop company’s weapons workshop, became the new Technical Officer Ordnance (TFW).
Hartmann was born in Breslau on 17 December 1921 and belonged, as did some other members of the battalion, to the cadre of the Leibstandarte’s assault gun battery. It was there that his career in ordnance engineering and mechanics began and he was employed accordingly. In 1942 Hartmann was decorated with the General Assault Badge, War Merit Cross Second Class with Swords, the Iron Cross, Second Class and the Eastern Front Medal, and on the 1st of September that year was promoted to the rank of SS-Unterscharführer. After further service with the assault gun battalion, at the end of 1943 he was transferred to the Ordnance Engineering and Mechanics Training Institute. After the course was over, on 20 May 1944 he was promoted to the rank of SS-Standartenoberjunker and subsequently transferred to the 101st SS Panzer Battalion.
Following the return of battalion commander von Westernhagen there were a number of personnel changes in the course of reorganization. SS-Hauptsturmführer Möbius did not take over the 1st Company, but was instead transferred to the 2nd Company as company commander. He took several highly-qualified men with him, among them SS-Hauptscharführer Lötzsch, who had previously belonged to the 1st Company for a short time. Also transferred to the 2nd Company was SS-Untersturmführer Walter Hahn. Möbius selected as his platoon commanders Dollinger—the former signals officer—, Hantusch and Hahn.
SS-Obersturmführer Jürgen Wessel had been transferred from the 2nd Company to command the 1st Company on 12 September 1944. The Ist Platoon was commanded by SS-Untersturmführer Rolf Henniges, who had joined 2nd Company during the fighting in Normandy, while SS-Untersturmführer Heinz Buchner led the IInd Platoon. Another transferee from the 2nd Company, SS-Oberscharführer “Captain” Brandt, commander of the IIIrd Platoon. Interestingly, the twenty-year-old SS-Untersturmführer Buchner had as section leader in his platoon SS-Standartenjunker Staudegger. Buchner had been a member of Staudegger’s crew during Operation Zitadelle in 1943 while a Panzerschütze and now he was an Untersturmführer and Staudegger’s platoon commander. Twenty more Tigers were delivered between 26th November and 3rd December, raising the battalion’s complement to thirty-four Tiger IIs (eight Tigers arrived on 11th November).
The battalion’s first Tank Battle Badges with action numbers were issued on 1 December. SS-Oberscharführer Brandt, SS-Unterscharführer Warmbrunn, SS-Rottenführer Paul Bender and SS-Untersturmführer Hahn are all known to have received the Tank Battle Badge, Level Two for twenty-five days in action. The same day von Westernhagen recommended veteran panzer soldier “Captain” Brandt for the German Cross in Gold; Brandt was credited with forty-six enemy tanks destroyed. Training continued unabated and restored the battalion to full strength. One disadvantage was that there was not a single opportunity to conduct live firing exercises. In November 1944 an order was issued for the 4th Company to form another flak platoon. Together with the platoon commander, SS-Oberscharführer Fickert, that month the men of the new platoon were sent from Wilhelmsdorf to Schwabhausen in Thuringia to take part in an armored flak course.
In September 1944 SS-Hauptscharführer Appelt took over the Armored Reconnaissance Platoon in place of SS-Hauptscharführer Poetschlak, who had fallen sick. Martin Appelt was born in Lugau, Schwiebus District in the Mark Brandenburg, on 4 September 1911. In the years before the war he served with the Leibstandarte and later the Führer Escort Detachment. Appelt went on to become a tank commander and served in the 6th Company of the SS Panzer Regiment Leibstandarte. He was decorated with the Iron Cross, Second Class on 20 March 1943 after the capture of Karkov, and after Operation Zitadelle, on 16 September 1943, with the Iron Cross, First Class. Wounded and hospitalized, Appelt received the Wound Badge in Silver and was subsequently sent back to the Tiger battalion.
SS-Untersturmführer Walter Brauer continued to lead the Pioneer Platoon. The Scout Platoon was disbanded; some of the men were retrained as gunners and transferred to the panzer companies, like SS-Unterscharführer Mankewitz and Heidemann. SS-Unterscharführer Warnecke of the 3rd Company was sent to the Armored Forces School in Königsbrück for officer training, taking part in the SS Panzerjunker Special Course.
The last days of November passed in feverish haste, the order to march had arrived. The battalion was going back into action again! The headquarters and the headquarters company entrained at Schloss Holte at 06.00 hours. The 1st Company entrained in Asemissen and the 3rd Company in Brackwede.
The companies spent the 1st-3rd December travelling by rail into the Weilerswist area, southwest of Cologne. The 2nd Company entrained in Sennelager on 30 November and reached Cologne during the night of 1 December 1944. It rolled through Duisburg on 2 December and reached its destination area on the 3rd. Some members of the battalion remained behind in Schloss Holte, among them SS-Hauptscharführer Höflinger, SS-Oberscharführer Woll and SS-Unterscharführer Warmbrunn.
Support Base Schloss Holte, as it was officially designated, stayed in existence until the end of the war. Support base commander was SS-Obersturmführer Schönborn. The tank soldiers left there trained recruits, gunners, commanders, loaders and drivers. SS-Oberscharführer Bobby Woll was still unable to take part in active service on account of his still incompletely-healed head wound.
hile the units of the 501st SS Panzer Battalion experienced some of the effects of the Allied bombing attacks in their quartering areas, entraining began in January 1945. The Tiger battalion was complete, apart from the 1st Company.
In the final days of December 1944 the 1st Company had handed its tanks to the other companies in the Ardennes and subsequently left the battalion. On 30 December 1944 it set out in its few vehicles to return to Oerlinghausen. The company was harried by fighter-bombers as it drove back to German territory on the autobahn. The men arrived in Oerlinghausen on 31 December, the place they had left one month earlier. Those who had stayed behind prepared an enthusiastic welcome in the town hotel. Since only a brief stay was planned, the NCOs and men were installed in the foyer of the hotel; the officers were also quartered in the hotel. The men of the battalion spent New Year’s Eve there. What would the new year have in store for them?
There were few duties in the following days. The men recovered from their recent trials, wrote letters to relatives—some of who were already fleeing the eastern regions of the Reich which lay in the path of the Soviets—, put their uniforms back in order, and waited for new orders. For amusement tobogganing outings were arranged on the Tönsberg; the snow transformed the men into children and in fact many of them were not long out of childhood. On 6 January 1944 SS-Obersturmführer Wessel led a group of 1st Company personnel to Sennelager, where they took charge of six Tiger IIs. The party included tank commanders SS-Oberscharführer Zahner, Steinwender, Salamon, Bode and Franzl and SS-Unterscharführer Otterbein. The party also included SS-Hauptscharführer Michaelis and SS-Unterscharführer Hartwig, Ahrens and Poerner (gunners), SS-Unterscharführer Belbe (radio operator) and SS-Unterscharführer Bingert (driver) and Dannleitner, as well as other NCOs and men of the combat echelon.
The Senior NCO, SS-Hauptscharführer Lüth, SS-Oberscharführer Quenzer (technical sergeant radio), and SS-Unterscharführer Wölfel (maintenance echelon), Mollenhauer (clerk) and Cosyns (kitchen) also went to Sennelager. This part of the company also took charge of the vehicles that had survived the Ardennes campaign. From that day the 1st Company was divided and henceforth existed in two widely-separated locations. Those of the 1st Company who remained behind in the Oerlinghausen town hotel were tank commanders SS-Untersturmführer Buchner and Henniges, SS-Oberscharführer Fritzsche and Wendt and SS-Standartenjunker Staudegger, as well as SS-Unterscharführer Heß, Przibylla and Hermann (gunners), SS-Unterscharführer Beutel, SS-Rottenführer Koch (driver), SS-Unterscharführer Beuer (weapons and equipment) and SS-Unterscharführer Streubel (uniforms). All the remaining enlisted men of the combat echelon were likewise still with the company. Two days later that part of the company, together with the rest of the men left behind since December 1944, moved to Schloss Holte. Among the latter group were SS-Oberscharführer Bobby Woll and SS-Unterscharführer Bobby Warmbrunn. The 1st Company was now led by SS-Untersturmführer Rolf Henniges, SS-Unterscharführer Kurt Rath became Senior NCO. Now, however, we will turn to the part of the 1st Company which received new tanks in Sennelager.
On 17 January 1945 the understrength company with its six Tigers and other vehicles entrained and was transported to Brilon-Wald, where the train stopped for several days. Fighter-bomber attacks were not long in coming but they inflicted no damage. The train resumed its journey several days later and the company reached Breslau. There it appeared that a request had been made for the unit as reinforcement for Fortress Breslau, for the train sat idle for several days. Afterward, however, the company was sent onward to Hungary. The 2nd Company began entraining in Brüggen, near Cologne, on 24 January 1945; the tanks of the 3rd Company travelled singly to the entraining station in Brühl by way of Euskirchen. The Headquarters and Supply Company assembled in Badorf near Brühl and entrained in Brühl. The two flak platoons of the 4th Company also entrained in Brüggen. The difficult task of loading the Tigers and the numerous vehicles took time and demanded heightened vigilance on the part of the drivers. The entraining took place at night so as not to invite the danger of American air attack. The battalion had no idea where it was being sent; for reasons of secrecy the long transport trains rolled through Central Germany, Saxony, Bohemia and Moravia into the area around Raab in Hungary. The Leibstandarte’s transport movements lasted barely three weeks and the deception of the enemy appeared to have been a complete success. The 501st SS Panzer Battalion remained incorporated into the Leibstandarte Panzer Regiment as its IInd Battalion, and Panzergruppe Peiper retained the form with which it had fought in the Ardennes. The platoons detrained in Raab (Györ) and the units drove into their quartering areas on the great sheltering island, the area between the old and new river beds of the Danube. The Leibstandarte was stationed in the area Vének-Enese—railway line to Raab—northern part of Raab. The destination was now known. What situation awaited the Leibstandarte in Hungary?
A remnant of the battalion remained behind in Schloss Holte in December 1944, from then on forming “Support Base Schloß Holte.” On 6 January 1945 the 1st Company with the crews and supply elements took charge of six Tiger. Its and transferred to Hungary; two days later the remaining part of the battalion moved from Oerlinghausen to Schloß Holte. The ranking NCO of that part of the 1st Company not sent to Hungary was SS-Unterscharführer Kurt Rath. The remaining men of the 1st Company and personnel of the other companies who had been left behind, which included Knight’s Cross wearer SS-Oberscharführer Woll and SS-Standartenjunker Staudegger, among others, formed a training platoon in which gunners and tank commanders were trained. Training was carried out on a single King Tiger, the tank which SS-Unterscharführer Salamon had brought back from France in September 1944, the only 1st Company Tiger to return.
The following tank commanders were in Schloß Holte in February 1945: SS-Untersturmführer Rolf Henniges and Heinz Buchner, SS-Hauptscharführer Benno Poetschlak and Hans Höflinger, SS-Oberscharführer Bobby Woll, Heinz Mengele and Werner Wendt, SS-Standartenjunker Franz Staudegger and SS-Unterscharführer Bobby Warmbrunn. Also there was driver SS-Unterscharführer Franz Elmer. On 3 February 1945 there was a unit party in the Hölle Inn at the railway station in Oerlinghausen and another rag newspaper was put out for the occasion. On 8 February 1945 another officer, SS-Untersturmführer Hahneberg, joined the company. SS-Hauptsturmführer Dr. Rabe, who was actually the battalion medical officer, combined all the battalion personnel in Schloß Holte into a new 1st Company. It was organized into three platoons commanded by SS-Untersturmführer Buchner, Henniges and Hahneberg. Suddenly things began moving very quickly; the company received fourteen new Tiger IIs in Sennelager on 10 February 1945 and once again found itself at full strength. The Tigers entrained in pouring rain in Sennelager on 9 and 10 March and were then sent to Dresden. Due to the maelstrom of fast-happening events and the catastrophic war situation the shipment never reached the battalion in Hungary and was instead sent back to Sennelager. Worst of all, however, the company arrived there without tanks!
In the beginning it was supposed to be assigned to the 506th Army Panzer Battalion in Höhr-Grenzhausen, but then it was found that this only applied to the Tigers. On 30 March 1945 the 506th Panzer Battalion took charge of thirteen Tiger IIs. The 1st Company was once again without tanks. SS-Hauptsturmführer Dr. Rabe, SS-Standartenjunker Staudegger, SS-Hauptscharführer Höflinger, SS-Standartenjunker Fiedler and others made their way to Hungary and there took part in the battalion’s final battles. The men were back in Schloß Holte on 12 March; two days later a part moved to Oerlinghausen. The Americans were not far away in the last days of March. On 30 March the men of the battalion gathered in Schloß Holte. Warmbrunn was instructed to guard the town with a tank-killing squad. He and his men, who were armed with Panzerfaust anti-tank weapons, took up position near Senne II in anticipation of the enemy’s arrival. On 31 March Warmbrunn alerted the company that the enemy was approaching and withdrew to the Senne-Ebinghausen crossroads. On the morning of 1 April the company was placed on alert, for American tanks had been reported approaching Bielefeld. At first the men couldn’t believe the news. Orders were issued for the formation of a combat unit in order to oppose the Americans.
A crew was chosen for the lone Tiger, which was placed under the command of SS-Untersturmführer Rolf Henniges. Others were to escort the tank, some sitting on the tank others following the Tiger on bicycles, many were armed with Panzerfaust weapons. And that’s how the 1st Company went into action—Tiger commanders on bicycles. The group neared Senne II. Near the Krack Station, a few meters from the Kaufmann property, a Panzerfaust round struck the turret of the Tiger. The entire crew was killed: SS-Rottenführer Lorenz Mähner, SS-Panzerschützen Walter Moor, Gerhard Kröber and Swietek, and SS-Untersturmführer Rolf Henniges. There was great bitterness among the men over their deaths. Rolf Henniges’ wife, who was in the advanced stages of pregnancy, was not told of her husband’s tragic death until later.
The fatal shot was fired by a lone army soldier, Walter Barking, who in his nervousness must have mistaken the Tiger for an American tank. Members of the company took Barking to see the dead in front of the Freitag house. Later Barking was to lose his own life. Once the Tiger had been made drivable again SS-Untersturmführer Buchner assumed command and set out with the entire outfit. Five-hundred meters from the fork in the road east of the Elbrecht farm the Tiger was hit by American tanks which were on the autobahn and began to burn. Buchner was the only one to escape the blazing tank. There were several more exchanges of fire with the Americans, during which SS-Oberscharführer Wendt destroyed a US tank with a Panzerfaust. SS-Rottenführer Ewald Pelludat and Emil Layer of the 1st Company, together with SS-Panzerschutzen Heinz van Rossum and Albert Habenicht of the Headquarters Company, were reported missing in action. The company personnel were subsequently taken away in trucks and then travelled by train via Magdeburg to Austria, where they reached the 501st SS Panzer Battalion.
With few exceptions the men of the 501st SS Panzer Battalion were taken prisoner by the Americans and ended up in the large camps in Austria.
Balthasar “Bobby” Woll survived both the war and the upheaval of the immediate postwar period, and became an electrician, passing away in 1996 at the age of seventy-three.