10th SS Panzer Division at the Arnhem Battles III

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10th SS Panzer Division at the Arnhem Battles III

Around 2000 hours on 18 September, stray Allied machine-gun fire damaged the radio belonging to SS-Cannonier Albrecht, 21st Battery, 5th Company, SS Artillery Training and Replacement Regiment. Participating in an infantry counterattack, Albrecht managed to climb onto a Sherman tank and knocked out the vehicle by dropping a hand grenade into the open turret.

Late in the morning on 19 September, Battery Godau, of the Blocking Unit Heinke, relocated from their positions west of Budel. The battery relocated south of Weert. Moreover, the bridge across the Zuid-Willemsvaart was prepared for demolition.

Despite the lack of a German unit command structure west of Arnhem, the Allied landing zones at Oosterbeek were contained and Allied movement was constricted as Kampfgruppe Brinkmann slowly managed to gain ground. The road leading to the bridge lay only several hundred meters before the Kampfgruppe. The Allies formed a formidable and tough defensive group around the city church. The German center of gravity shifted for the attack to gain access to the defenders.

At Pannerden, the 10th SS Panzer Pioneer Battalion built a 70-ton pontoon ferry that enabled tanks from the 2nd Battalion, 10th SS Panzer Regiment to reinforce Kampfgruppe Reinhold. Wary of Allied aerial reconnaissance, the first tanks did not cross until after nightfall.

During the afternoon on 19 September, the Allies launched a concerted attack at Nijmegen and employed heavy tanks for the first time. This provided evidence that the Allied armored forces, the British Guards Armoured Division of XXX Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General B. G. Horrocks, which attacked on 17 September to the north out of the bridgehead at Neerpelt, had linked with the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division. Moreover, heavy artillery fire supported and preceded the attack. At the onset, heavy Allied flanking machine-gun fire was placed on the Waal bridges from the west that threatened German communications and resupply traffic. However, the Allied attack against the bridgehead was thwarted with the help of the timely arrival of elements of the 10th SS. Bitter street fighting caused fires to break out in the northern sectors of the city. The poor weather that had dominated the last several days prevented any additional airborne landings.

Between 17 and 19 September, and in response to the Allied airborne operations, K. Mahler drove a small detachment of men from the 6th Company, 10th SS Panzer Regiment, into action at Arnhem. The majority of the 6th Company was either in Germany undergoing training or looking for tanks.

Late in the morning on 19 September the main line of battle remained relatively quiet; however, the 5th Company, SS Artillery Training and Replacement Regiment, combated Allied assembly points at the southern rim of Nijmegen and tank concentrations along the road leading from Nijmegen to the southwest. SS-Scharführer Hotop of the 21st Battery placed well-observed fire against troops on the road and disabled two Sherman tanks operating near the railroad line. A second Allied attack against the bridge around 1400 hours also received well-observed artillery fire from the 21st Battery, called by the commander of the main forward observation post, SS-Hauptsturmführer Horst Krüger. One Allied tank was knocked out by an antitank gun, and projectiles from the 21st Battery landed 300 meters south of the bridge, forcing the remaining Allied tanks to break off the attack. Moreover, SS-Scharführer Hotop succeeded that evening in disrupting two tank assembly areas west of the railroad and, through the application of short combat fire sets, beat off a closed tank assault.

After heavy night fighting at the Arnhem Bridge, Kampfgruppe Brinkmann, reinforced by the 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion and Battalion Knaust, began operations on 20 September, in close combat with flamethrowers and Panzerfausts, to eliminate individual nests of resistance. A portion of the group of houses that lay near the church caught on fire, whereby plumes of smoke reduced Allied observation. As a result, the Kampfgruppe managed to shorten the distance to the bridge. In the process, a number of severely wounded Allied soldiers were taken prisoner. In the afternoon, an Allied prisoner divulged the fact that the Allied fighting spirit had wavered and the situation had become hopeless. Consequently, the Allied commander of the defensive bridgehead was asked to surrender. He did not concede and the fight for the bridge continued, without result, throughout the entire night.

West of Arnhem, Kampfgruppe Harzer of the 9th SS further compressed the Allies and eliminated any possibilities of relief or reinforcement in Arnhem.

On the same day in Nijmegen, the Allies renewed their attacks from the east against the northern sector of the city after additional forces, consisting of tanks, artillery, and engineers, were brought forward. Battalion Euling, reinforced by the 1st Company, 10th SS Panzer Pioneer Battalion, and other local ground units, mounted a bitter defense. Batteries from the 5th Company, SS Artillery Training and Replacement Regiment, placed well-observed artillery fire directed by SS-Hauptsturmführer Krüger onto the road, which slowed their advance. The German bridgehead reached 1 km in width but only 300 meters in depth. The right boundary ended along the railroad line whereas the left boundary ran approximately 100 meters east of the bridge road. German artillery repeatedly beat off Allied attempts to attack the position. Krüger’s forward observation post brought artillery fire to bear against the Allies within 100 meters of the German position.

Allied Typhoons bombed and strafed the northern banks of the Waal while British preparatory artillery and tank fire, along with heavy white phosphorus smoke, allowed the first of two battalions from the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment of Brigadier General James M. Gavin’s “All American” 82nd Airborne Division to conduct a diversionary assault across the Waal, west of the city, and secure a foothold on the northern bank.

The 21st Heavy Howitzer Battery of the 5th Company, SS Artillery Training and Replacement Regiment, fired against tank and troop assemblies without respite from its location in Nijmegen, but also provided effective blocking fire on the main roads. All available guns fired onto a main artery. The 19th Light Howitzer Battery fired against Allied landings on the northern and southern banks of the Waal. The 5th Company, SS Artillery Training and Replacement Regiment, provided observation and fire direction for the 19th Battery that subjected American troops crossing the Waal to 250 rounds of sustained destructive fire, as well as thirty minutes of slow harassing fire that hit several landing boats and caused high numbers of casualties. The Alarm Platoon, led by SS-Untersturmführer Friedrich Brandsch, dispatched to the area around Valburg to combat Allied paratroopers. However, Schwappacher recalled the Alarm Platoon in order to provide patrols and secure the area of operations of the 5th Battalion. SS-Untersturmführer Alfons Büttner received orders to defend against advancing Allied troops moving north and northwest. His mission was to hold the Damn Road south of Oosterhout. With vehicle drivers and members of the staff, they fought Allied troops with rifle and machine-gun fire. During the most critical period shortly after 1500 hours, many of the men that held the defensive line along the Damn Road, including Fallschirmjägers, members of the RAD, as well as antiaircraft batteries, suddenly withdrew in order to obtain ammunition. Schwappacher, who went to great effort to establish a defensive line during the night 19–20 September, was left only with fifteen men, including drivers and the battalion staff that held the line. Schwappacher ordered forming a defensive hedgehog position with the 21st and Staff Batteries.

Around 1700 hours, following the decoy crossing further upstream, Allied armored forces attacked both bridges at Nijmegen after artillery fire and smoke landed on both banks of the Waal River, northeast of Lent. Portions of the 1st Company, 10th SS Panzer Pioneer Battalion, which were engaged at the southern approaches to the bridge, immobilized several Allied tanks with close-quarter weapons. Nevertheless, large numbers of additional tanks at high speeds, supported by armored halftracks, could not be prevented from crossing the bridge. While the Army Group B remained in control of the bridge, approval to blow up the bridge could not be obtained soon enough before the Allies rolled across and as far as Lent.

One hour later the 5th Company, SS Artillery Training and Replacement Regiment formed a hedgehog position and continuously sent scouting patrols that maintained contact with the enemy with small arms fire. The small contingency of men holding the Damn Road were withdrawn to the northwestern portion of Oosterhout, after Schwappacher personally led a diversionary counterattack around 1900 hours with two assault groups against the road, south of Oosterhout. While the assault groups managed to take control of the center and southern exits of Oosterhout, they were unable to capture the Damn Road entirely. The cost of the counterattack included one dead and two wounded.

Heinz Harmel was in Lent when he received the news of the Allied crossing and ordered the bridge blown up. However, the demolition failed. Apparently, shrapnel or small arms fire had damaged the detonation cable.

After a brief respite from Allied preparatory fire along the southern outskirts of Lent, Allied tanks infiltrated the village and broke the resistance of the poorly armed and trained Home Defense units and elements of the 1st Company, 10th SS Panzer Pioneer Battalion. The Allies pushed through Lent and north, but slowed and moved forward cautiously after sustaining losses from the effects of their own smoke. Harmel drove back from Lent to Bremmel to the combat command post of Kampfgruppe Reinhold, where he ordered portions of the 2nd Battalion, 10th SS Panzer Regiment, and one battalion of the 22nd SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment arriving from Pannerden, to counterattack immediately. Bringing forward the expected arriving elements of the 9th SS Reconnaissance Battalion, south of Elst, was stymied when only scouting teams of the battalion were available. Moreover, the counterattack lacked the necessary fire support. Kampfgruppe Reinhold lacked heavy weapons as a result of the limited ferry traffic, and the light field howitzer battalion had only a single battery that was moving into position east of Flieren.

On 20 September, the railroad bridge at Nijmegen fell into Allied hands. Despite being completely cut off and surrounded, SS-Hauptsturmführer Euling, with approximately sixty men from his battalion and Major Ahlborn, commanding a group of Fallschirmjäger from the 1st Fallschirmjäger Training Staff, continued to hold the citadel of the city. The stubborn defense of Kampfgruppe Euling and 1st Fallschirmjäger Training Staff accounted for one Sherman tank destroyed and approximately thirty British killed or wounded. The artillery battery firing positions of Blocking unit Heinke, renamed to Blocking unit Roestel, were positioned in the south near Weert, Heelen Meijel, and Helden.

At dusk, approximately 1 km north of Lent, a small contingent of Horrocks’ Guards tanks were stopped and they withdrew to the south. Kampfgruppe Reinhold occupied and secured a new defensive line during the counterattack. The renewed commitment of the Landesschützen or Local Security Forces of Kampfgruppe Hartung bolstered the new line developed on the morning of 21 September that ran from the crossroads 1.8 km west-southwest of Ressen (south of village) and passing south of Bemmel. When Allied tanks managed to cross the bridge at Lent around 1900 hours, contact between the 5th Company, SS Artillery Training and Replacement Regiment and Nijmegen was lost. until 1930 hours, SS-Hauptsturmführer Krüger directed fire for the 21st Battery using signal flares. SS-Scharführer Meckler assumed fire direction from the intermediate post when SS Senior NCO Nowak received orders from SS-Sturmbannführer Reinhold to form a defensive line along the northern banks of the Waal, west of the bridge. The defensive line consisted of fragmented infantry and a construction company that inflicted casualties on the advancing Allies. SS-Oberscharführer Riese assumed command of the defensive line. When the radio of the forward observation post became inoperable from a direct hit, SS-Unterscharführer Hotop and his men joined in the hard fighting with Company Runge in southwest Lent. Krüger and the main observation post remained completely cut off when it was overrun and they engaged in close combat with the enemy. According to the eyewitness accounts of two members of Krüger’s main observation post, SS-Rottenführer Köhler and Private Burgstaller, SS-Hauptsturmführer Krüger personally rallied fragmented members from all service branches amidst the chaos to hold the defensive line:

The trenches held in close combat until the last cartridge around 2030 hours. Previously wounded around 1800 hours, Krüger continued to direct fire for the batteries when he was wounded a second time in the back by three submachine gun rounds. He was evacuated to the first aid bunker only after being wounded a third time, when a tank projectile hit his thigh. Once the defenders in the trenches depleted their ammunition, the Allies fired smoke and phosphor projectiles into the trenches that forced roughly twelve surviving men out of the trenches.

When SS-Rottenführer Köhler and SS-Mann Burgstaller exited the trenches, they were immediately captured by American troops under the command of an American officer. However, they managed to escape and made their way to Battalion Euling. As they fled, SS-Mann Burgstaller witnessed the shooting of SS-Unterscharführers Lindenthaler and Beissmann, as well as an unknown Fallschirmjäger. SS-Hauptsturmführer Krüger, together with several severely wounded German soldiers, and two medical orderlies, were also captured in the first aid bunker.

Southwest of Lent, around 1930 hours SS-Cannonier Albrecht and Army Staff Sergeant Piebeck knocked out a Sherman tank with a Panzerfaust. Shortly thereafter, Albrecht and an SS-Unterscharführer undertook a special scouting patrol into Nijmegen to rescue and extract Army Captain Runge. The two-man team made it across the Waal in a boat but the senior corporal was killed by rifle fire. Albrecht, joined by a Fallschirmjäger, made it to the command post of Company Runge, where they met Army Lieutenant Schulz, who guided them to the northern banks of the Waal. At the bridge, Albrecht and Schulz examined Germans who appeared to have been wounded earlier but were mutilated, displaying signs of stabbing wounds to the head, neck, and heart. A full report was filed with the nearest higher command post.

Around 2200 hours Schwappacher personally relocated the Staff and 21st Battery in the hedgehog position at Oosterhout into a defensive island that repulsed advancing Allied scouts. Around 2230 hours, an Army battery, commanded by First Lieutenant Bock, which operated some 400 meters north of the hedgehog position, relocated with a prime mover and the remainder of a RAD battalion into the hedgehog position. At midnight, General of infantry Hans von Tettau, chief of the Command and Training Staff Netherlands, received a radio message that the position at Oosterhout would hold until the last man. At the same time, Army Captain Krüger, commanding an antiaircraft battalion, promised Schwappacher additional infantry reinforcements to Oosterhout. As the situation became more acute and the hedgehog position ran out of illumination flares to protect against attacks, five houses near the town exit were set on fire.

Around 0400 hours, von Tettau radioed a message to withdraw to Elst. Schwappacher immediately dispatched a staff officer to reconnoiter positions at Elst. At 0500 hours Schwappacher directed the heavy artillery and prime mover to exit Oosterhout. The individual security groups—positioned in the south, southwest, and southeast—repeatedly parried Allied mortar-supported infantry attacks when Kampfgruppe Knaust arrived. Schwappacher quickly oriented Knaust and provided fire support for Knaust from the 21st Heavy Howitzer Battery, located in Huis Reed, some 2.5 km south of Elst. The continued fire direction for the battery was then provided by the forward observer SS-Untersturmführer Haase, from an armored scout car. For the combat achievements of the 5th Company, SS Training and Replacement Regiment, Schwappacher received the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross.

In the early morning on 21 September and in anticipation of a general Allied advance in the direction of Elst, the commanding general of the II SS Panzer Corps ordered the 10th SS Panzer Division to concentrate its strength, moving forward from Pannerden, and attack the southern flank of the Allied spearhead, thereby throwing the Allies back across the Waal. When the combat command post of the 10th SS, located in Pannerden, received heavy Allied artillery fire in the night on 21 September, it relocated to Didam. However, the forward command post remained in Doornenburg. The following units remained available for the attack on 21 September 1944:

22nd SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment (approx. 1-1/2 Btl.),

Kampfgruppe Hartung (Landesschützen),

2nd Battalion, 10th SS Panzer Regiment (approx. 16 Pz.Kpfw.IV),

1st Company, 10th SS Panzer Pioneer Battalion,

2nd Battalion, 10th SS Panzer Artillery Regiment in position east of Flieren, and two supporting battalions of the 10th SS Panzer Artillery Regiment (positioned on the east bank of the Pannerden’schen canal).

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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