The high-level command decision provides evidence that the OKW did not anticipate any large-scale Allied airborne operations in Holland. Army Group B approved a request by the II SS Panzer Corps for Heinz Harmel to travel to Bad Saarow one day before the Allied airborne operation began. Harmel personally met with the chief of the main SS office in order to speed the refreshment of the 10th SS. Referring to the orders that his division received from the OB of the Army Group and II SS Panzer Corps, he discussed the need for additional speedy replacements of personnel and materiel. In particular, the commander emphasized the speedy allocation of the 1st Battalion, 10th SS Panzer Regiment, to the division. The main SS office concurred with the extensive request for support and ordered the immediate activation of 1,500 replacements to the division. In the afternoon on 17 September, a telegraph arrived with orders for Harmel to return to his unit. It should be noted that the Germans received information about the impending airborne operations from the Dutch double-agent Christian Lindemans, also known as “King Kong.”
Meanwhile, the 2nd Battery, 10th SS Panzer Artillery Regiment attached to the Kampfgruppe Walther. The 2nd Battery consisted of only fifty-two men (they were ninety-four at full strength), and four towed 105mm howitzers lFH 18 that were recovered earlier at the rail yard at Cambrai. The battery prime movers, former field kitchen vehicles, were brought out of the encirclement of Falaise. The cook, when necessary, served as a cannonier or telephone operator, depending on the situation. The battery communications equipment consisted of two field telephones, no radios, and only a few rolls of wire. Approximately eighty rounds of ammunition were available. Kampfgruppe Walther, comprised of a Fallschirmjäger Regiment, covered the area south of the line Valkenswaard-Achel-Hamont-Bree. The 2nd Battery assumed positions along the Dutch and Belgian border, east of the small village of Schaft and about 5 km south of Valkenswaard. The terrain consisted primarily of fields, mixed with high broom and juniper. The limber position was about 400 meters to the west, and the vehicles were concealed in the village of Schaft.
The battery attempted to establish contact with an infantry unit, located 2 km south of the battery position along the northern bank of a canal near a secondary village. No activity suggested the infantry unit was not in position, although their task was to cover the southern road leading to Valkeswaard.
On Sunday 17 September, after 1200 hours, men from the 2nd Battery prepared a birthday cake for the battery commander. As Godau marveled over the decorated cake, the sound of approaching aircraft engines broke up the party and forced them back to the battery positions. Overhead, dozens of Allied aircraft towed transport gliders to the north and low-altitude fighter aircraft fired into the village of Schaft. After two additional fighters flew over the battery without firing a shot, the commotion ended as fast as it began. However, after several minutes, activity on the road sprang to life. A Sherman tank appeared moving at high speed to the north. From the battery, a solitary cry gave coordinates: “Tank from the right! Eight hundred meters!”
The cannoniers lowered the barrels and traversed the guns, but only two batteries in the right-side platoon could engage. As additional tanks followed, Karl Godau withheld the order to open fire. Nine Sherman tanks had already passed by and none stopped to offer a good shot. With only two rounds of armor-piercing ammunition per gun, Godau counted a total of twenty-seven tanks moving in the direction of Valkenswaard. Godau reported the tanks to the battalion and received orders to fall back and change the position of the battery at the next best opportunity.
The battery rear guard, used to protect against pursuing Allied forces, recovered their vehicles. Allied aircraft managed to puncture several vehicle tires, but no losses to personnel were recorded. By 1600 hours, the battery had completed preparations and had begun movement toward the battalion area when darkness fell.
British paratroopers also surprised SS-Obersturmführer Gottlob Ellwanger. At his battery command post in front of a guesthouse in Ede, Ellwanger observed a massive armada of C-47 transport aircraft, some towing gliders, flying in the direction of Arnhem, as paratroopers descended from the sky. The antiaircraft battalion commander, SS-Sturmbannführer Rudolf Schrembs, was not present, so command of the battalion fell to Ellwanger.
In accordance with orders received from SS-Sturmbannführer Otto Paetsch, the temporary commander, the battery conducted reconnaissance during the evening to determine the location of the enemy. In the process, the 1st Platoon gun crew chief SS-Unterscharführer van Duellen and Walter Bunzel were killed in action. The platoon leader SS-Scharführer Behm received head wounds. SS-Obersturmführer Karl Ruedele immediately went into action, providing air defense along the lower Rhine with 20mm machine-gun batteries of the 5th Battery, and shot down seven transport aircraft towing glider transport aircraft.
Ellwanger subordinated Ruedele under his command. The 4th Battery, reinforced by the 20mm antiaircraft machine guns from the grenadier regiments, as well as the 37mm antiaircraft guns on the Pz.Kpfw.IV chassis from the tank regiment, assumed the responsibility of air defense for the ferry service across the Pannerdens Canal. Moreover, the battery was responsible for defending against landed airborne troops in the greater area around Pannerden-Loo-Angeren. In the process, three British aircraft were shot down. The supply section, 4th Battery, was in the school at Didam, while the battery command post was situated in Zevenaar.
The battalion adjutant, during the middle of September, was SS-Untersturmführer Otto Stolzenburg. When Stolzenburg transferred to the 3rd Battery, SS-Untersturmführer Karl Funk filled the billet as the battalion adjutant.
American and British airborne operations had begun over Holland. By mid-August, a new combined Allied airborne headquarters, the First Allied Airborne Army, planned for airborne operations deep behind enemy lines. The objective, by providing momentum to bring the Allies across the Rhine River, included avoiding potential logistical delays and denying the Germans time to fortify behind the Rhine. Field Marshal Montgomery’s Operation Market Garden combined two plans. Operation Market employed three and a half airborne divisions to drop in the vicinity of Grave, Nijmegen, and Arnhem to seize bridges over several canals and the Meuse, Waal (Rhine), and Neder Rijn Rivers. Their objective included opening a corridor more than 50 miles long leading from Eindhoven northward. An air portable division was to be flown in as reinforcement. Operation Garden, using ground troops of the Second British Army, would push from the Dutch-Belgian border to the IJsselmeer (Zuider Zee), a total distance of 99 miles. XXX Corps provided the main effort of the ground attack from a bridgehead across the Meuse-Escaut Canal a few miles south of Eindhoven on the Dutch-Belgian frontier. On either flank the VII and XII Corps were to launch supporting attacks.
The U.S. 101st Airborne Division landed in the area of Eindhoven-Veghel, the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division landed in the area of Grave-Nijmegen, and the British 1st Airborne Division landed at Arnhem. At approximately the same time, British armored forces attacked north from out of the bridgehead at Neerpelt. One of the greatest battles in history, around the area of Arnhem-Nijmegen, unfolded for the II SS Panzer Corps.
The story of Karl Schneider, who did not become a member of the division until 22 September 1944, is an excellent example of how the division acquired new personnel, in a less conventional manner. Karl Schneider was born on 19 July 1925 in Rhinebishofsheim. On 5 October 1942, at the age of seventeen, he entered the RAD. His basic army training was completed at the Lorette Barracks, in Karlsruhe, with the 4th Company, 111th Training and Replacement Grenadier Regiment. He received additional training in Rambervillers, France, before departing to the Eastern Front. After the middle of December 1943, Schneider joined the 4th Heavy Machine Gun Company, 1st Battalion, 111th infantry Regiment, 35th infantry Division, as part of Army Group Center. He held the rank of Private 1st Class.
Fragments from a hand grenade wounded his left leg and foot on 2 March 1944. Schneider arrived at the field hospital in Thorn, West Prussia, and later transferred to the Military Hospital in Brussels, Belgium. In the middle of June 1944, Schneider returned to duty with the Rehabilitation Company of the 111th Grenadier Replacement Battalion, stationed in Vlissingen, Walcheren. After the Allied landings at Normandy and breakout from the bridgehead into France, the Rehabilitation Company, commanded by 1st Lieutenant Gebauer, was called into action at the beginning of August with other Army units against British armored spearheads west of Antwerp. The Rehabilitation Company was almost completely annihilated during the fighting at Beveren and Antwerp. Wounded a second time by a fragment that stuck in his left knee, Schneider managed, with the help of his comrades, to fight his way to safety across the Schelde River. As a straggler crossing the Waal River aboard a ferry at Gorinchem, Holland, he was absorbed on 26 August 1944, along with others retreating out of France, into the 4th SS Police Training and Replacement Battalion. The Auffangskommando or Collections Detachment on the ferry wore the SS Police Division cuff bands. Schneider thought them to belong to the Feldgendarmerie. The battalion established a collection point in Gorinchem, and a command post in a nearby sugar factory.
An SS-Scharführer escorted Schneider and others from various service branches to the sugar factory to determine their unit origination. in the factory on 26 August 1944, the Waffen-SS absorbed Schneider into their ranks. He received a field gray uniform jacket with SS collar tabs and the rank of SS-Rottenführer. The entry in his service book read, “Collected on 26.08.1944 and issued to the 6th Company, 4th SS-Panzergrenadier Training and Replacement Battion (Police).” His Army rank as Private 1st Class was crossed out and replaced with SS-Rottenfuehrer. With the stroke of a pencil, he was made a member of the Waffen-SS. The tattoo commonly applied to all SS soldiers under the left arm, which indicated their blood type, was not administered to Schneider on that day since he was underway to Utrecht as the driver for the one-armed and oneeyed company commander, SS-Untersturmführer Puder. As a vehicle driver for the 4th SS Training and Replacement Battalion, Schneider was quartered at the sugar factory at Gorinchem.
Around noon on Sunday 17 September 1944, Karl Schneider observed Allied fighters protecting hundreds of transport aircraft flying in the direction of Germany and towing airborne gliders. Everyone knew that something big was underway. By 1400 hours, the alarm sounded with reports of Allied airborne landings at Arnhem and Nijmegen. British paratroopers were reported to have established a toehold west of Arnhem.
Orders arrived in Gorinchem for all combat-capable troops to close with the enemy immediately in motorized march. The 6th Company, under the command of Puder, deployed as part of elements from the 4th SS Training and Replacement Battalion, under the command of SS-Hauptsturmführer Mattusch. All available vehicles were fueled and loaded with weapons and ammunition. By 1600 hours, units began departing. Schneider drove a Ford V-8 truck, loaded with two groups of men. Despite several attacks by Allied fighter aircraft, the convoy arrived at 1800 hours in Wageningen, where all units were directed further onto Rekumer-Heide.
Upon arrival, Schneider could hear clearly the sound of combat in the landing zone of the British 1st Airborne Division. The handicapped company commander issued orders to attack, and they encountered the enemy a few minutes north of Heelsum. The exchange of fire continued throughout the night. Bitter individual close combat developed using pistols, submachine guns, and hand grenades. The front lines were everywhere where there was gunfire. Flares continuously lit up the night, but it was impossible to determine friend or foe.
Under the cover of darkness, during a moonless night, British airborne forces opposing the 4th SS Police Training and Replacement Battalion withdrew in the direction of Wolfheze, where they regrouped with other airborne forces.
The experience of Karl Schneider was very similar to that of Rudi Trapp and his comrades. Enjoying a bite to eat during a beautiful late summer afternoon, they observed an armada of aircraft passing overhead. Alarm!
Rudi Trapp was born on 27 July 1925 in Iserlohn. A member of the division since it organized in 1943, he was the Schütze 1 or first gunner, in the Machine Gun Platoon, 3rd Company, Half-track Battalion Laubscher, 1st Battalion, 21st SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment. SS-Obersturmführer Ernst Vogel, who left the battalion shortly after its organization in 1943, returned to command the battalion. Around the Dutch village of Deventer, the battalion assembled to reorganize with replacements that arrived from the 9th SS Panzer Division and the 10th SS Training and Replacement Battalion, from Brünn.
Trapp and his comrades Adolf Lochbrunner and Jupp Wagner, all of whom attended divisional combat school together, oversaw individual group combat training for the new replacements. Of the original 3rd Company, only twelve men survived along with few weapons, including several MG-42s.
From the staff quarters in Doetinchem, the ii SS Panzer Corps, after receiving the first reports of Allied airborne landings, alerted the 10th SS Panzer Division and remaining elements of the 9th SS Panzer Division. The commander of the 10th SS Panzer Division, located at the main SS office in Bad Saarow, was ordered by telegram to return to his troops. Around 1600 hours, the II SS Panzer Corps ordered the 10th SS Panzer Division to proceed immediately via Arnhem to Nijmegen, occupy both bridges over the Waal River, and establish and hold a bridgehead south of the city. All applicable German troops near Nijmegen were attached to the division.
The 9th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion, commanded by SS-Untersturmführer Viktor-Eberhard Gräbner, consisting of approximately thirty armored half-tracks and scouting vehicles, attached to the 10th SS Panzer Division to reconnoiter from Arnhem to Nijmegen. In exchange, the 10th SS Panzer Division released their reconnaissance battalion, commanded by Brinkmann, to the Kampfgruppe 9th SS Panzer Division.
Conflicting reports exist regarding the assignment of the 9th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion on 17 September. According to Bittrich, the 9th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion received orders to reconnoiter to the west over Arnhem to Nijmegen, and seize and hold open the bridges assigned to the 9th SS that lay closer to Allied drop zones. Later, when the 10th SS Panzer Division arrived at Nijmegen, the 10th SS was to attach itself to the reconnaissance battalion of the 9th SS already on location. On the other hand, Harmel maintained the 9th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion was attached to the 10th SS from the very beginning, which accounted for the detachment of the 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion.
Considering the circumstances and in order to save time, it was more practical to employ the 9th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion instead of the 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion, the latter of which was located 50 aerial kilometers from Nijmegen. The immediate subordination of the 9th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion to the 10th SS is not plausible in light of the fact it reconnoitered to the west of Arnhem as well. Bittrich’s version of events seems more credible. The fact that the 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion went into action at the Arnhem bridge, as part of the 9th SS, was not foreseen when orders were issued in the afternoon on 17 September.
At approximately 1800 hours, the 9th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion arrived at the city of Arnhem, broke through weak defenses at the bridge crossing the lower Rhine, and continued in the direction of Nijmegen.
The 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion reconnoitered toward Arnhem and continued over Emmerich against Nijmegen. Heading in the direction of Wesel, Allied airborne drops were reported. Around 1900, the 1st Scout Company made reconnaissance toward Arnhem and reported the bridge at Arnhem, and reinforcement thereof, to be in Allied hands. The acting divisional commander Paetsch was en route from Ruurlo to Velp with elements of the command staff. The Allies controlled antiaircraft bunkers next to the bridge and gained considerable strength. Soon thereafter, additional elements of the 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion arrived in Arnhem. Brinkmann, the commander of the reconnaissance battalion, received orders to attack with the attached Kampfgruppe 9th SS, commanded by SS-Obersturmbannführer Harzer, and destroy the enemy at the northern approach to the bridge with the objective to open the divisional route of advance on Nijmegen. In this respect, the section was placed under orders of Kampfgruppe Spindler, of the 9th SS Panzer Division.
The 5th Battalion, SS Artillery Training and Replacement Regiment, commanded by the former member of the SS Polizei Division, SS-Hauptsturmführer Oskar Schwappacher, situated the staff, Staff Battery, and the 21st Heavy Howitzers Battery east of Oosterhout. The forward observers were on the northern banks of the Waal southwest of Oosterhout and 1 km west of Neerbosch. The 19th Light Howitzer Battery relocated from Zaltbommel to join the staff throughout 19 and 20 September. To improve observation on the bridge at Arnhem and within the center of the city, Schwappacher placed the forward observers of the 21st Battery southwest of Oosterhout. Both batteries provided effective rifle and cannon fire from four 20mm antiaircraft guns of the 21st Battery against low-flying aircraft. The staff and 21st Battery succeeded in shooting down two planes.
By the evening on 17 September, Paetsch ordered the formation of Kampfgruppe Reinhold. Paetsch intended the task force to follow the 9th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion into Nijmegen. The very able and experienced SS-Sturmbannführer Leo Reinhold, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 10th SS Panzer Regiment, commanded Kampfgruppe Reinhold.
Leo Reinhold was born on 22 February 1906 in the East Prussian capital city of Königsberg. In 1928, Reinhold joined the police as a candidate and transferred to the Wehrmacht in 1935. As a first lieutenant in the Army protective police, he returned to the municipal police force in January 1939, only to return to active military duty one month later, as an antitank company commander in the 4th SS Polizei Division. in June 1940, during the campaign in the west, Reinhold earned the Iron Cross 2nd Class. In the east, in September 1941, he received the Iron Cross 1st Class and qualified to wear the wound badge in silver. On 10 March 1943, Reinhold transferred to the Frundsberg Division as a battalion commander in the 10th SS Panzer Regiment. On 17 September, Reinhold was awarded the German Cross in Gold for his exploits in the east at Buczacz and Pilwa, in the west at Hill 112, Esquay, and Hill 188.
The Kampfgruppe consisted of the SS-Panzergrenadier Battalion Euling, which was released several days earlier from the 9th SS, the 2nd Battalion, 10th SS Panzer Regiment, made up of sixteen to twenty Pz.Kpfw.IV, a light howitzer battalion of the 10th SS Panzer Artillery Regiment, and one company of the 10th SS Panzer Pioneer Battalion.
After Battalion Euling departed from Rheden in the late evening and arrived in the hard-fought section of the city, the armored scouting vehicles of the forward-most elements joined in the fight alongside the reconnaissance battalion. The bulk of Battalion Euling closed on Arnhem directly southeast of the city.
The 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion and forward elements of Battalion Euling engaged together in fierce street and house-to-house fighting against a determined and experienced opponent. The German attack was broken off after only nominal gains. From positions around Oosterbeek along the northern banks of the lower Rhine, the Allies reinforced the bridge at Arnhem with heavy and antitank weapons. By midnight it was apparent that clearing the bridge of Allied forces would require a planned advance and more time. Portions of the 10th SS Panzer Division following the Battalion Euling were intercepted and brought to rest east of Velp.