Night Fighting – Stadensen, April 1945

Night Fighting – Stadensen, Germany, 14-15 April 1945

Stadensen/Uelzen on the night of 14/15th April 1945.

Here it is as described in the history of 15th Division published in 1945:

“Farther south, throughout 14th April, the 46th Brigade continued its approach to Uelzen. mopping up astride the Divisional main axis. On the right of the road the Glasgow Highlanders and a troop of the Reconnaissance Regiment surprised a column of a couple of hundred Germans in the act of withdrawing. After killing a few, they took the rest prisoners.

That night the Glasgow Highlanders halted in the village of Stadensen. six miles south-east of Holdenstedt. Realising that his battalion was out on its own and that there might be enemy battle- groups in the offing, Lieutenant-Colonel Baker-Baker wisely decided to form a perimeter camp, with his rifle companies at the four corners and with his tanks, artillery, mortars, machine-guns, and transport parked in the centre. The squadron of the Reconnaissance Regiment which had been covering his front went into harbour at Netteikamp about a mile to the north-east. Shortly before midnight the Glasgow Highlanders heard sounds of firing coming from the direction of Nettelkamp….

At I2-30 A. M. on 15th April the H. L. I, resumed their advance into Veerssen, on the southern outskirts of Uelzen. From the start they met savage opposition. The enemy counter-attacked and broke up the H. L. I’s right forward company, which ceased for a time to be an entity, though its several parts continued to fight on stoutly The enemy had plenty of machine-guns and S. P. guns admirably sited to command every approach. These formed the framework of a defence winch was completed by squads of determined infantry- men armed with bazookas or machine carbines. In these conditions the Scots Guards Churchill’s could not advance. The close-packed battle resolved itself into a house-to-house struggle, at point-blank range. Lieutenant-Colonel Bramwell Davis was wounded and was replaced by Major Noble. By daylight the H. L. I, had won a foothold in Veerssen,, but no more.

Meanwhile the Gordons on the right attacked up the road on a one-company front into the houses and gardens on the southern outskirts of Uelzen itself. There they fared no better than the H LI and their forward company was soon held up by more S. P. s. supported by spandau and bazooka teams, before it had advanced far beyond the level-crossing. Both H. L. I, and Gordons spent 15th April with their forward troops pinned by fire and unable to make progress. They had taken about two hundred prisoners.

We must now return to the Glasgow Highlanders, whom we left in laager at Stadensen at midnight on 14th-15th April. The sounds of firing in the direction of Nettelkamp soon died away. In fact as afterwards became known, the squadron of the Reconnaissance Regiment in harbour at Nettelkamp had been overrun In their battalion group that night the Glasgow Highlanders had a lot of 3-ton lorries attached to them, besides their own transport-not to mention the squadron of Coldstream. an S. P. 17-pounder troop of the 91st Anti-tank Regiment, the Headquarters of the 190th Field Regiment and the 529th and 530th Field Batteries, and a platoon of Engineers. All this mass of vehicles was parked hugger-mugger in the streets and alleys of Stadensen. It was not till about 4 A. M. that the fighting at Stadensen itself began, when both companies at the eastern side of the perimeter reported simultaneously that they were under fire and that they could hear the noise of track vehicles’-“off ” Immediately after, enemy infantry riding on armoured half-tracks and supported by S. P. guns overran the forward platoons of both companies and came crashing into the village. A wild and terrible melee followed, in which the enemy S. P. s set most of the houses of Stadensen alight-and these in turn set fire to the Glasgow Highlanders- transport. Lieutenant-Colonel Baker-Baker hurried round his companies and gave them the encouragement which was all they needed to make them fight it out where they stood. On his return to battalion headquarters he found that an enemy S. P. which had penetrated into the courtyard, was in the act of blowing away his signal-office at point-blank range.

To the smoke and flames of the houses was soon added the blast of explosives as piles of German ammunition went up, followed by several ammunition trucks. In this confusion the crews of tank’s and guns had a frantic struggle to hold the flames at bay till they could extricate themselves and get into action. Here Major J H M Stephenson of the 530th Field Battery showed leadership of the finest order. First he shot a German officer with his revolver – next he knocked out two German half-tracks with a P. I. A. T. – and finally he manned a 25-pounder with success in an anti-tank role. He was to get a Military Cross for his night’s work. Guns and tanks at last succeeded in taking up positions to cover the main road-junctions, and the Glasgow Highlanders, fighting back stubbornly, managed to stop further infiltration. The dreadful ordeal continued, however, till after dawn, when the enemy began to withdraw. Now it was our turn. The two field batteries were in action south-west of Stadensen, with an OP, manned. These two batteries, the S. P. troop of the 91st Anti-Tank Regiment, the Churchills. and the Glasgow Highlanders’ 6–pounders all took their toll. The enemy left behind him twelve S. P. guns and ten armoured half-tracks destroyed, besides very many killed and prisoners.

From these last and from marked maps captured it was learnt that the battle-group which had carried out this attack belonged to the Panzer Division Clausewitz, a newly created formation which had orders to break through southward and join up with the German forces encircled in the Harz Mountains. The battlegroup had approached Stadensen not by the roads-which, according to the book, the Glasgow Highlanders were covering-but across country.

To this fact the enemy’s initial success was largely due.

For their part the Glasgow Highlanders had lost seven killed and forty-seven wounded and missing. Fire had played havoc among their transport, their losses in vehicles amounting to twenty-two carriers, ten half-tracks, and thirty-one miscellaneous vehicles, besides two 17-pounder guns. Stadensen itself was a ruin, and casualties among the villagers had been very heavy. But for the unshakable resolution of all concerned when the attack came, the enemy would certainly have overrun the battalion-group.

The Glasgow Highlanders spent the day reorganising in Stadensen. The Cameronians moved up to Nettelkamp, which they occupied without resistance, taking eighty prisoners. On the left the Seaforth were still in contact with the enemy west of the main axis. That evening the 6th Air Landing Brigade of the 6th Airborne Division relieved the 46th Brigade, which was now to take over from the 227th Brigade outside Uelzen. The Glasgow Highlanders were extremely short of equipment and transport, but Ordnance performed miracles of replacement”

This is the story from the history of 6th Guards Tank Brigade from 1948:

the tank crews… soon discovered that the village was already swarming with German SPs and half-tracks manned by Panzer Grenadiers… the Germans had managed to hoodwink the men of the outpost company into thinking that they were British armour and had completely overrun them.” It appears that the Coldstream tanks, guns, transport etc were crammed nose to tail in the village. After the fierce battle, 12 out of 13 German SPs were knocked out and 7 half-tracks were deserted. At least 150 German dead and 150 prisoners taken. The Coldstreams lost 2 tanks, one petrol three tonner, 2 M10s; the Glasgow highlanders lost most of their carriers, their command vehicle and practically all their transport with 30 dead and 30 missing. The platoon of sappers suffered heavily and their transport was wiped out.

Now though softskin/transport losses were severe the key fact for our purpose is that only 2 Churchills and 2 M10’s were lost. It appears this attack resulted in the award of 3 KC’s for the destruction of 22 tanks.

“2. Leutnant Friederich Anding-18 kills Friederich received his KC for the destruction of 6 tanks and 5 armored vehicles (so says his Verleihungsvorschlag zum Ritterkreuz), as adjutant of the Pz. Jg. Abt. Großdeutschland (commander of the battalion was Maj. Walle) on 8 May 1945. This action took place in northern Germany (more specifically in Stadensen) on 14-15 April. The battalion was attacked by a large number of enemy tanks and armored vehicles. Major Walle (9 destroyed tanks), Leutnant Anding and Obergefreiter Stützle (7 destroyed tanks) received KCs for their actions”

The action at Stadensen is covered in the German book “Krieg in der Heimat – Das bittere Ende zwischen Weser und Elbe” by Ulrich Saft, page 248-258. Those 10 pages are mostly based on the accounts of German survivours of that battle.

Panzer-Division Clausewitz and Infanterie-Division Schill, were two of the last divisions of the German Army formed in World War II. Both of these divisions were scratch formations thrown together in April 1945 as last-ditch attempts to field combat worthy units from stragglers, training units, and remnants of other shattered frontline formations. Both divisions were summarily attached to the General Wenck’s 12. Armee, the formation given the distinction of being ordered by Hitler to free Berlin from Soviet encirclement in late April. Panzer-Division Clausewitz was engaged mostly in the West, battling the advancing British and American forces, while Schill operated mostly in the East, defending against Soviet incursions near Potsdam and Brandenburg.

According to the book, the elements of “Clausewitz” involved were:

-Elements of Panzer-Ausbildungsverband “Feldherrenhalle” with an unknown number of Halftracks, led by Hauptmann Peter

-Panzerjāger-Abteilung “Großdeutschland” with some 20 Sturmgeschütze, commanded by Hauptmann Gustav Walle

According to the new released book “Letzte Divisionen 1945 – Panzerdivision Clausewitz – Infanteriedivision Schill” the Pz.Div. Clausewitz had at the date of 10.4.45 following units:

– II./SPW Bataillon of Pz.Gr.Rgt. Feldherrenhalle (80 SPW, full organic of men and materials)

– Pz.Abt. 106 Feldherrenhalle, with 1 Pz.Kp. (10 Panther and 10 Jagdpanzer IV L/70)

– Pz.Jg.Abt. Großdeutschland (full organic, 31 Stug. III)

– 1 Kp. of Pz.Jg.Abt. 661 (10 Hetzers)

Until 16th of April 1945 the division received following units too:

-12 Panther and 2 Tiger from the Pz.Abt. “Putlos” with Stab, StabKp and V-Kp.

– part of a Pi.Kp.

– 5 new Jagdpanther direct from the factory

– 1 gem.Pz.Kp. with 6 Pz. IV, 10 Panther and 1 Pz.FlakZug (3 2,0 cm and 4 3,7 cm on Pz.III chassis, even if probably the authors mean PZ IV chassis))

Until 18th of April came following units:

– 1 Kp. with 7 Pz. IV, 2 Jagdpanzer IV (L/48?), 4 Jagdpanzer IV L/70 and one Stug. of unknown type from Pz.Abt. “Putlos”

– 1 Pi.Kp. on SPW

– 1 Kp. from Pz.AUfkl.Abt. from Wānsdorf

Later on came 4 Schützenbataillone from different units and the sole artillery unit of the division, 1 gem FHBatterie, and 1 FlakZug with 2,0 cm Vierlings and Flak 8,8 cm.

The action was a surprise attack by the ‘Clausewitz’ Division that caught the 15th Scottish Division vehicles lined up in Stadensen. You can read about it in Delaforce’s book ‘Monty’s Northern Legions’ (page 200) A Squadron of Churchills from the Coldstreams were said to be there and they were not part of The Guards Armoured Division but part of Guards 6th Tank Brigade.

Leutnant Friederich Anding received a Knights Cross for the destruction of 6 tanks and 5 armored vehicles , as adjutant of the Pz.Jg.Abt. Großdeutschland (commander of the battalion was Maj. Walle) in 1945. This action took place in northern Germany (more specifically in Stadensen) on 14-15 April. The battalion was attacked by a large number of enemy tanks and armored vehicles. Major Walle (9 destroyed tanks), Leutnant Anding and Obergefreiter Stützle (7 destroyed tanks) received KCs for their actions.

Andreas Düfel lived near the town Stadensen, where this action took place and talked to several witnesses and stated this about this particular incident:

The town was almost completely destroyed by the tank battle. It’s interesting to note that the town residents doubt whether there were really 18-22 British tanks destroyed. The wrecks were predominantly armoured vehicles (not tanks) and quite a few of them were German. The confusion of War in those last days could quite likely have led to a false evaluation of the actually number of tanks destroyed..

The claims about IR Panthers are everywhere and there are many German accounts that mention differing numbers of vehicles and losses. Delaforce gives 63 vehicle losses and says it was mostly Bren/Universal carriers. One sample of the claims: By the end of the attack the British force had lost 22 Bren carrier’s, 10 half-tracks, 2 AFV’s and 31 other vehicles It was also reported that 30 Churchill tanks were destroyed or immobilized during an attack near Stadensen. German losses were small, possibly as little as 21 dead and four AFV destroyed

Also an interesting point from Manfred Dörr (the author of the book Die Träger der Nahkampfspange in Gold): (Close Combat Clasp in Gold) is……..

You mustn’t forget that when two soldiers attack and destroy the same tank, both of them can claim they were the one’s who destroyed it. That’s why it’s theoretically possible that Walle, Anding and Stützle together destroyed 6 tanks and all received 6 stripes (A Tank destruction badge in Silver) each.

There is a claim that IR Panthers destroyed a ‘whole Platoon’ of Comet tanks in April and I believe this action forms the basis for the claim. Though many people believe there was widespread use of German IR technology there is not a single example where its use has been proved. The best case scenario is the POSSIBLE use of 4 (that is 2+2) Panthers on the whole Western Front in 1945. There is no evidence any IR sights were used other than unsourced claims for the 4 Panthers. There are lots of claims that X number of IR Panthers destroyed 10, 20 or 30 times their own number of Allied tanks in ambushes but it simply not true.

The British were well aware of German IR technology and had their own IR Detectors in store ready for the first use by Germany. If they did use their IR lights they would have been spotted straight away and reduced to scrap. The best analogy would be that it would be like going out sniping at night-but using a torch to find your target! Allied IR Technology was in many areas ahead of Germany and though they tried to mount IR sights on Panthers it simply did not work. Nice idea but impractical given the state of the optics at the time.

The Clausewitz Division is widely stated (in German sources) as having used IR Panthers in April 1945. It is claimed the made the Americans ‘flee in panic’ on the night of 21/22nd April and on an unspecified date in April ‘destroyed a whole Platoon of Comet tanks’. There are a number of books and dozens of sites that parrot these claims as fact when they are nothing of the sort.

My aim, as it always is in these cases, is to check the Allied side of the story.

The claim for US Troops is:

One action took place on the 21st of April 1945. The last ten tanks of “Clausewitz”, followed by a Puma 20 mm (Sd.Kfz.234/1) recce vehicle, approached a US antitank-gun position (76 mm AT gun M2) at the Weser/Elbe Canal. This first attack took place at 2 o’clock in the morning. The Americans were alert and fired illumination rounds. The leading Panther was then hit and slipped into a ditch, the attack halted. Then the IR Panthers moved into cover and after a short time located the guns and fired some twenty rounds. The entire position was destroyed, the crews and the accompanying infantry company escaping in somewhat of a panic. The IR Panthers followed up, destroying some lorries and further support vehicles. This attack was a success, revealing the enormous possibilities of the IR technology. It is not known whether the IR Panthers of “Clausewitz” were used a second time.

Now the US version can be found in this document

After Action April 1945

Extract:

On 21 April, the Division attacked north from a line of departure DAHRE – SALZWEDEL with CCA on the left and CCR on the right. Just prior to the attack, CCA was counter-attacked by elements of Division “Clausewitz”. Artillery fire was placed on the attacking forces and they broke and dispersed into the woods to the north.

CCA attacked against a determined enemy who had set up makeshift defenses in the woods along the combat command’s routes of advance. An increase in the use of anti-tank mines was observed, and fire from nebelwerfers and artillery pieces slowed the advance to some extent. At 2100, the 46th Amrd Inf Bn (married) was assembling for the night in the vicinity of GADDAU. The married “C” companies (46th Armd Inf Bn and 34th Tank Bn) went into position with the CCA CP near KLENZE and the 34th Tank Bn (married) assembled in the vicinity of BERGEN.

CCR was held up in its attack until 1500. The reason for this was that the resistance in front of CCA was such that the two combat commands could not parallel each other’s advance, and thus a threat existed to the flank of either, if one was held up and the other moved too rapidly forward. After CCA had cracked the resistance in its sector, CCR attacked with the 47th Armd Inf Bn advancing north on the SALZWEDEL – LUCHOW road and the 10th Tank Bn (married) attacking on the left to clear the pockets in the woods near BOMBECK. The 47th met a good deal of resistance along its route, and mines were found strewn on the road with a minefield near SAASSE. Roadblocks defended by AT guns, nebelwerfers, mortars, and infantry, were encountered all along the route and at 2000, heavy fire from LUCHOW, and vicinity, prompted the force to abandon its further advance that night. The battalion went into a security position near SAASSE. In the meantime, the 10th Tank Bn was attacking in the BOMBECK area. The woods in this vicinity had been reported to be a strong-point of enemy armor and infantry. The positions had been sealed off on the north and east by CCA’s attack in the early part of the day. The attack was made with one married tank-infantry company moving south from SEEBEN to the railroad and holding there while the balance of the 10th attacked north from the south edge of the woods.

A quantity of enemy personnel was trapped and captured and material loss for the enemy was large. Three (3) tanks were known to have escaped the trap and these moved northwest into the CCA sector. The 10th Tank Bn secured for the night near GR GERSTEDT.

CCB, with the 85th Cav Rcn Sq Mecz attached, continued its clearing at the KLOTZE FORST. Many burned out enemy vehicles were found along with others which apparently had been abandoned. The combat command also maintained its roadblocks on the western boundary of the sector in the WITTINGEN – ZASENBECK RADENBECK area, and kept contact with the 29th Inf Div to the north. An advance Division CP was established at SALZWEDEL and Division operations were directed from there.

(NOTE: Div Arty accomplished its usual efficient mission in a supporting role, and the disorganization and dispersal of enemy units attested to the accuracy of the artillery fire.)

Enemy losses were reported as follows:

personnel, PW’s six hundred fifty (650), killed, one hundred fifty nine (159),

material captured or destroyed,

fourteen (14) tanks,

four (4) armored cars,

nine (9) half-tracks,

two (2) SP guns (1-75mm, 1-105mm),

two (2) 88mm AT/AA.guns,

four (4) 105mm guns,

two (2) 20mm flak guns,

seventy-two (72) miscellaneous cycles,

one (1) fuel-lubricant dump containing one hundred fifty (150) 50 gal drums of fuel.

The US AAR does not bear out the German claims

#

The British drubbing is given as:

Some reports tell of a last action of thus equipped IR Panthers when they met a British armored division. A British platoon equipped with Comet tanks was engaged in April 1945 (at night) by some Solution B IR Panthers. In a short, one-sided and fierce firelight the entire platoon was annihilated.

This Comet claim was demolished over a decade ago. No British loss of Comets so destroyed and only single figure losses in British reports.

#

What I want to do is sort out the German claim that up to 30 Churchills were hit on the night of 14/4/45.

According to the Forbes book [1] it was number 3 Squadron of the Coldstreams (4th Battalion) who were involved in the battle with Panzer division Clausewitz at Stadensen 14/15th April 1945.

Forbes reports “the tank crews…soon discovered that the village was already swarming with German SPs and half-tracks manned by Panzer Grenadiers… the Germans had managed to hoodwink the men of the outpost company into thinking that they were British armour and had completely overrun them.”

It appears that the Coldstream tanks, guns, transport etc were crammed nose to tail in the village. After the fierce battle, 12 out of 13 German SPs were knocked out and 7 half-tracks were deserted. At least 150 German dead and 150 prisoners taken.

The Coldstreams lost 2 tanks, one petrol three tonner, 2 M10s; the Glasgow highlanders lost most of their carriers, their command vehicle and practically all their transport with 30 dead and 30 missing. The platoon of sappers suffered heavily, and their transport was wiped out. 17 pdr. = 102th Anti-Tank Regiment (NH) M10 = 63rd Anti Tank Regiment. Both Units have one troop in Stadensen with the Highlanders.

[1] Forbes, Patrick.  6th Guards Tank Brigade: The Story of Guardsmen in Churchill Tanks.  Sampson Low, Marston & Co Ltd London.  1949.

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