10th SS Panzer Division at the Arnhem Battles IV

SS-Standartenführer Heinz Harmel, Regimentskommandeur in der SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division “Das Reich” erhielt vom Führer als 296. Soldat der deutschen Wehrmacht das Eichenlaub zum Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes verliehen. (12.9.1943). SS-PK-Aufn.Kriegsber. Zschäckl-Atl. 13.9.1943 [Herausgabedatum]

On or about 21 September, SS-Hauptsturmführer Büthe relinquished the duties of the divisional 1st General Staff officer to SS-Sturmbannführer Hans Stolley, who came to the division from the II SS Panzer Corps and with ample experience. Born on 21 November 1914 in Kiel, Hans-Jochim Stolley first received a commission as an SS-Untersturmführer on 20 April 1937. Serving as a platoon commander in the 1st Battalion, SS Death’s Head Regiment “Oberbayern,” he participated in the French campaign and for heroism was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd and 1st Class simultaneously on 30 June 1940. Stolley served from 3 March 1941 until 1 June 1943 in the SS Leibstandarte Regiment “Adolf Hitler,” the SS Mountain Division “Nord,” as well as the 6th SS Mountain infantry Replacement Regiment. Having distinguished himself while holding the billets of company commander, regimental adjutant, the divisional 1st ordnance officer (OI), and the quartermaster officer (Ib) while assigned to the SS Division “Nord,” he received orders during the same period from 1 December 1942 to 1 June 1943 to attend the General Staff Academy. Graduating from the academy, he posted as the 1st General Staff officer (Ia) to the II SS Panzer Corps and was credited with refreshing the 3rd Panzer Division, overseeing the completion of the defenses surrounding Charkow, and working tirelessly during offensive and defensive operations in July 1943 between Bjelgorod and Obojan. In August 1943, after the corps relocated to northern Italy, Stolley was instrumental in foiling the Anglo-American landings along the coast after extensively reconnoitering and studying the terrain. Stolley made the greatest contributions in Russia as the aid to the commander of the General Staff, and planning for three major offensives in the areas of Göritz-Udine, Istrine and Fiume, and Slovenia, which brought about the capture of some 11,000 resistance fighters as well as weapons and supplies. Stolley also gained experience with the II SS Panzer Corps at Buczacz and around the end of July during the defensive battles in Normandy.

Meanwhile, the 21st SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment, consisting of approximately one and a half battalions, did not arrive east of Haalderen until the afternoon due to poor ferry service. In the face of mounting Allied strength and artillery effectiveness north of the Waal, and without the presence of the regiment, the corps could not achieve a decisive success. Nevertheless, numerous Allied attacks to the north were repulsed and the advance of Battalion Knaust at Elst prevented a speedy Allied breakthrough. In the evening on 21 September, the line from the southern fringe of Elst to the western fringe of Bemmel Altwasser south of Bemmel lay firmly secured in the hands of the 10th SS Panzer Division. The 3rd Battalion of the regimental artillery, under the command of SS-Sturmbannführer Fritz Haas, was credited with a significant contribution to the division’s success.

As an SS-Hauptsturmführer, Fritz Haas assumed command of the 1st Battalion, 10th SS Panzer Artillery Regiment on 3 February 1943. As an SS-Sturmbannführer he then took command of the 3rd Battalion on 10 March 1944. Haas gained combat experience in the West, in the Balkans, and on the Eastern Front. His decorations included the Iron Cross 2nd and 1st Class, the Panzer Assault Badge, the Eastern Medal, and the Wound Badge in Black. He commanded the 3rd Battalion, 3rd SS Death’s Head Artillery Regiment, until the end of 1943 when he transferred to the Training Group A of the 2nd Artillery School, at Beneschau, Bohemia. The commander of the Artillery School, SS-Sturmbannführer Karl Schlamelcher, considered Haas to be a well-read and widely knowledgeable commander, but criticized Haas as “later losing his way in the details that compromised the clear and continuous line of the officer training group.”

Based on the divisional commander’s experience gained at Normandy, Harmel ensured the artillery regiment was refreshed and resupplied very carefully. Harmel’s philosophy on artillery in the attack or defense was that enough artillery was never available. Panzer grenadier regiments supported the artillery as much as possible, which included providing the necessary vehicles to tow allocated artillery batteries. During the refreshing of the division, every effort was made to organize the artillery regiment in the following manner:

1st Battalion two batteries with 6 guns lFH Pz.III (Wespen) one battery with 6 guns sFH Pz.IV (Hummel) 2nd Battalion three batteries with 6 guns lFH 3rd Battalion three batteries with 6 guns sFH 4th Battalion three batteries with 6 guns 100mm cannon Total number of guns = 72

By September, the division had not achieved its desired goal. At Nijmegen, approximately thirty to forty guns were employed to support operations. To bolster support, the artillery was augmented by 320mm rocket launchers, of which six were attached to the outer hulls of the half-track (Sd. Kfz.251/1 Ausf.C), also known as Stuka zu Fuss or Walking Stuka. The 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion and 10th SS Panzer Pioneer Battalion were each equipped with one platoon of three halftracks for an additional thirty-six guns. In an emergency situation, the antiaircraft battalion could also employ their twelve 88mm guns.

Meanwhile, at the citadel in Nijmegen, Battalion Euling and the Parachute Group Ahlborn defended the last remaining building complex still in German hands, until the roof caved in over their heads. Apparently, the Allies assumed the Kampfgruppe had been destroyed. However, around 2300 hours on the same day, SS-Sturmbannführer Euling and the defenders managed to break through Allied lines and crossed the Waal River in boats, several kilometers northeast of the bridge, and re-established contact with the 10th SS Panzer Division at Haalderen.

Support for Kampfgruppe Brinkmann during the concentrated attack of the II SS Panzer Corps against the British 1st Airborne Division in the center and west of Oosterbeek included a battalion of the 21st SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment, King-Tigers of the 504th Heavy Tank Battalion, and 88mm antiaircraft guns. Around 1100 hours, Kampfgruppe Brinkmann captured the bitterly contested bunker on the northern approach to the bridge. The task force took possession of the bridge and opened a single path after clearing the burned wreckage of the 9th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion. Simultaneously, remaining Allied nests of resistance were neutralized in the vicinity of the bridge. At a minimum, Allied harassing fire against the bridge was brought to an end.

Battalion Knaust, reinforced by eight vehicles including Panther tanks and assault guns, marched across the Arnhem Bridge shortly after midday on orders to proceed quickly onto Elst. The 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion neutralized the remaining pocket of resistance near the bridge and gathered freely in the southern sector of the city of Arnhem. While Arnhem remained under continued Allied artillery fire and aerial attacks on 21 September, Field Marshal Model ordered the city cleared of civilians. Around the same time, the II SS Panzer Corps ordered the 10th SS Panzer Division to place all remaining elements of the 9th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion, located on the southern bank of the Lower Rhine around Elst, in march toward Elden.

Amidst the reorganization on 21 September, an unexpected message arrived in the early afternoon that Allied airborne troops had parachuted and landed near Driel. The airborne forces in question were identified as the Polish 1st Airborne Brigade. The reinforced Battalion Knaust, whose lead elements were scheduled to arrive in Elst around 1600 hours, received new orders from the Corps to deploy immediately against the new threat. However, the situation south of Elst did not allow for a change. Allied pressure moving north developed substantially throughout the course of the late morning. The Allied airborne landings at Driel served to strengthen Allied pressure. The reinforced Battalion Knaust moved through Elst in order to stop the attacking Allied spearheads. Shortly thereafter, troops of the 10th SS Panzer Division assumed a loose defense south of Elst.

Notwithstanding the presence of Battalion Knaust, the 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion, located in the southern portion of Arnhem, received orders from the II SS Panzer Corps, during the time of their attachment to Kampfgruppe Harzer (9th SS), to proceed forward over Elden and attack the new enemy around Driel.

The batteries of the antiaircraft Brigade Swoboda and 191st Artillery Regiment, operating in the vicinity of the 9th SS Panzer Division, received orders to provide support and moved into position around Elden. The terrain offered little to no cover, and poor driving conditions forced the 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion to move forward along a narrow path. Strung out over a considerable distance from north of Elst, the reconnaissance battalion moved into positions for an attack against Driel with unfavorable conditions. Kampfgruppe Harzer unexpectedly ran into flanking fire from forward elements of the British 43rd Division shortly before the Germans reached the village. However, under the cover of darkness, Kampfgruppe Harzer changed direction and headed southeast, and transitioned to the defense on 22 September along the railroad line Arnhem-Elst, as the southern flank lay north of Elst.

The 10th SS artillery regiment’s task of providing support across a front that exceeded 20 km was complicated further by additional fire support requirements for the neighboring weak Army 191st Artillery Regiment. To better cope and meet the requirements, the commander of the artillery regiment, SS-Obersturmbannführer Hans-Georg Sonnenstuhl, strung together a seamless chain of artillery-blocking fire segments between the areas west of Arnhem and the Waal River at Nijmegen. Each segment, numbered 1 to 75, represented the effective area of fire for a single battery. A woman’s name further identified each segment. Fire missions were easily called using field phones or radios, and based on the number or name of the segment. Indeed, the entire regiment could place fire very quickly on any designated segment. Each forward observer knew his segment number or name. Instead of calling coordinates, the forward observer simply identified the segments.

Sonnenstuhl’s successful counter-battery tactics were based on calculations taken from Allied artillery muzzle flashes at night. The results provided the artillery regiment an accurate layout and the locations of Allied batteries. The combined fire from various German guns, each consisting of several fire sets, brought to bear as many as 260 projectiles per mission, which effectively destroyed Allied gun positions. Each fire set per gun consisted of six projectiles for light howitzers and five projectiles per heavy howitzer.

Throughout the period from 18 to 21 September, SS-Sturmbannführer Leo Reinhold provided leadership for the three-day defense at the bridgehead at Nijmegen. Despite very high losses and the addition of unfamiliar ad hoc troop elements, Reinhold effectively rallied the defense against superior Allied armored forces and closed several critical gaps that developed during the fighting. Reinhold’s men accounted for the close-quarter destruction of twenty-four Allied tanks. On orders to recapture the bridgehead, Reinhold contained the wavering defense and personally led a counterattack to establish a blocking line along the northern bank of the Waal. Not only did Reinhold prevent an Allied breakthrough from the bridgehead at Nijmegen to Arnhem, but he also provided the necessary time for the destruction of the Allied airborne forces at Arnhem. For his achievements, SS-Sturmbannführer Reinhold was decorated on 16 October 1944 with the Knight’s Cross to the Iron Cross.

Meanwhile, Battery Godau received orders to withdraw to the east and crossed the Wessem-Nederweert-Kanl at Kelpen. During the crossing, Allied units were in such close pursuit that the battery employed two guns at point blank range. From 22 to 24 September, the battery assumed firing positions in Panningen.

Throughout 22 September, Allied resistance from remnants of the British 1st Airborne Division sprang up, here and there, in sectors of the city to the west of the Arnhem Bridge. Kampfgruppe Harzer ordered portions of a battalion from the 21st SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment and the 1st Company, 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion to mop up in the city sectors. However, Allied pockets of resistance were not eliminated or captured until the next day. Considering the outcome of the previous day, especially at Elst and Driel, the II SS Panzer Corps ordered the formation of a new boundary line between the 9th SS on the right and the 10th SS on the left; the mouth of the Jissel River in the Lower Rhine (2 km northeast of Huissen)-north Elst-south Valburg. Allied attacks in the sector of the 10th SS Panzer Division were thwarted throughout the day by German counterattacks south of Elst and west of Bemmel.

Throughout the day on 23 September, portions of the 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion and 21st SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment attached to the Kampfgruppe 9th SS and eliminated the last pockets of resistance in the southern sector of the city. In the process, communications were established with the left wing of the Kampfgruppe 9th SS. Heading west from the Arnhem Bridge, the 1st Company, 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion, was ordered to push forward along the northern bank to points south of Oosterbeek. Their mission was to guard portions of the river on either side of Driel and report immediately any Allied movement to the Kampfgruppe 9th SS.

The bulk of the 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion, supported by the Artillery Groupe Elden, defended the railroad line against repeated attacks by Polish paratroopers between Elst and Elden.

The II SS Panzer Corps ordered the 10th SS Panzer Division to occupy the defensive front south of Elst and west of Bemmel. To that end, the Corps provided artillery and antiaircraft reinforcements in the area of Huissen, and the Fortress Machine Gun Battalion 37 was attached to the 10th SS Battalion Euling of the 21st SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment, which had recently managed to free itself in Arnhem, and traveled over Elden-Huissen to bolster the defensive front. The northern wing of the 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion established contact with Kampfgruppe Gerhardt, of the 9th SS.

The consolidation of Allied bridging equipment west of Nijmegen indicated the reinforcement of Allied forces between the Waal and Lower Rhine. Sufficient stocks of ammunition allowed the artillery regiments to fire harassing fire missions from their 100mm cannon and, at times, the antiaircraft battalion. As a result, the 10th SS Panzer Division held the bridges of Nijmegen and ferry points west of the city.

In the night on 23 September, the forward-most elements of the British 43rd Division from Valburg bypassed Driel to the west and reached the southern banks of the Lower Rhine.

On the following day, the 10th SS Panzer Division and right-neighboring 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion managed to repel Allied attacks against the German defensive front. After the airborne landings by the Polish 1st Airborne Brigade at Driel, the 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion was reinforced. As of 24 September, the reconnaissance battalion numbered nearly 500 men and consisted of three reconnaissance companies, of which one remained attached to the 10th SS divisional Kampfgruppe Walther, tank elements of the 2nd Battalion, 10th SS Panzer Regiment (Pz.Kpfw. IV), the 102st SS Antiaircraft Battery, and the 37th Fortress Machine Gun Battalion. The numerical strength of the reinforced reconnaissance battalion included:

Weapons: 49 light MG 35 heavy MG 15 medium mortars 37mm 3 Antiaircraft Guns 20mm 8 Antiaircraft Guns 20mm 3 Tank Guns 20mm 3 Tank Guns 88mm (Tiger) 1 Antitank Gun 75mm

Between 22 and 24 September, forty-five King Tigers from the 506th Heavy Panzer Battalion traveled over Köln and Wesel to directly support the 1st Parachute Army. Near Oosterbeek and west of Arnhem, the King Tigers were attached to the 10th SS Panzer Division. One company of King Tigers detrained in Zevenaar and Elten, 5 km northwest and 8 km southeast of Pannerden. Attached to the Kampfgruppe 9th SS, the company prepared for operations in a forest 3 km north of Elten. According to Harmel, the heavy tank battalion served as a replacement for the 1st Battalion, 10th SS Panzer Regiment.

The King Tiger or Tiger II was manufactured by Henschel and weighed 68 tons. The vehicle crew numbered five and fired the awesome 88mm tank gun of 71 calibers. The main gun was sighted using the TZF9d telescopic sight, with a monocular magnification of 2.5 and a range of 3,000 meters for armor piercing and 5,000 meters for high explosive ammunition, and also fired two MG-34 machine guns. The muzzle velocity of the main gun, using armor-piercing ammunition, reached 1,130 meters per second and could penetrate 153mm of armor plate at a distance of 2,000 meters. The M4A3 Sherman tank, at its thickest point, had approximately 100mm of steel. The main guns of British Shermans, including the 76mm Firefly and 17-pounder MKs IV and VII, could penetrate 98mm and 111mm, respectively, at 2,000 meters. The King Tiger was least protected along the sides and rear with only 80mm of steel. Powered by the Maybach HL 230P30 engine, the Tiger ii had eight forward and four reverse gears that gave it a maximum speed of 35 km/h and a range of 170 kilometers.

Battalion Knaust suffered many losses on 23 September when it repelled an Allied armored attack at Lienden, west of Elst. Compounded by the lack of divisional reserves, the II SS Panzer Corps ordered the 10th SS Panzer Division on 25 September to evacuate the town of Elst. Throughout the day, the division provided security as Battalion Knaust withdrew into prepared positions south of Elden astride the two roads leading from Arnhem to Nijmegen. The Allies pursued the movement only cautiously.

While the remaining elements of the 10th SS Panzer Division held the defensive front on 25 September, strong Allied pressure continued to persist throughout the following day against the entire front of the II SS Panzer Corps, extending across a line from the railroad embankment 2 km west of Elden to approximately 1 km west and southwest of Rijkerswoerd-Vergert and to the western fringe of Bemmel-Ziegelei Groenendaal. On 26 September, the fighting of the II SS Panzer Corps against the British 1st Airborne Division was successfully brought to a close. During ten days of bitter fighting and numerous failed Allied attempts to rescue the encircled British airborne, a total of 6,450 prisoners were taken and many thousand reported dead. Thirty antitank guns, numerous weapons, and 250 vehicles were captured. Moreover, over 1,000 gliders were either destroyed or captured and over one hundred aircraft were shot down.

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