The NSKK-Motorgruppe Luftwaffe
After the success of Operation Barbarossa, the Luftwaffe now needed drivers and mechanics to cover the losses it had suffered and to make sure that all lines of communication were working effectively, especially as they had now been stretched even further. In late July 1942, the first units of the Luftwaffe NSKK [a logistics corps of the Luftwaffe] were formed, which included French volunteers. Its main task was to ensure that supplies of food, fuel and ammunition reached the German Air Force in the occupied territories and especially immediately behind the frontlines
The first 150 volunteers left Paris on 21 July 1942 and headed for the Vilvoorde barracks (a Brussels suburb), in Belgium, where the distribution centre for the NSKK was based. They were assigned to the 4th Regiment NSKK (which also included Dutch and Walloons) and began five months of basic training. Their instructors were former members of the German Army who were retired or released from service. With the arrival of fifty to sixty new volunteers each week, two transport companies were established in December 1942 and the 1st and 2nd companies of the 6th Battalion were stationed at the Schaffen Airfield and in Diest, respectively. First Company left for Stalino [Donetsk], Russia, in January 1943 and were assigned to the Rostov-on-Don region, close to the front. Second Company left for Kharkov in late February/early March 1943. Of the 124 trucks that set off, only 70 arrived in Kharkov, the rest having been left on the side of the road by order of the company commander and chief engineer. They wanted to return to Brussels and a peaceful life as quickly as possible, and so thought that the fewer vehicles they arrived with, the sooner they could head back. At the beginning of April, both companies, around 600 men in total, were back in Diest. The head of 2nd Company, keen to protect his own neck, wrote a report to the General Staff in Berlin accusing the French of incompetence, mismanagement and sabotage, and blamed them for the high number of abandoned vehicles. More than half of the workforce refused to sign a new contract of employment and were discharged soon after. Thirty French deserters from the NSKK presented themselves to the Waffen SS Ersatzkommando in Antwerp. They wanted to take a more active role in the fighting and to see more of their fellow compatriots incorporated into the Waffen SS. In the mean time, two other companies were formed in order to provide transportation for V1 rocket parts in northern France and to control the traffic around the launch sites.
With the last volunteers enrolled, the companies were consolidated and renamed, whilst 4th, 5th and 6th were integrated into the 2nd Battalion, 4th Regiment. These three companies were sent to a small Belgian town called Grammont to complete their basic military training, under the command of NSKK-Staffelführer, Josef Seigel, who would lead them until the end of the war. In late November the Wehrmacht sent the three companies to Brescia, Italy. The companies separated and left Brescia in early 1944, equipped with French and Italian vehicles of various sizes that they had been given when they arrived. From now on they were divided into a ‘column’, and each would live in its own quarters and work under its own administration. The ‘columns’ were scattered amongst the Italian civilian population, which for the most part accepted the volunteers, often allowing them to stay in their own homes. In return, as road signs and other infrastructure were disrupted and the railway stations bombed, the volunteers would sometimes take civilians in their trucks to other towns, in spite of the surveillance from the Feldgendarmerie. For two months they supplied the airports around Cassino with oil and gas, then carried bombs the 15km to Monte Cassino before heading to Florence and then down to Rome. These ammunition transports were carried out at night and had to be done without the use of headlights. Rules regarding safety were strict in terms of distances travelled, camouflage, routes taken and of course the schedules. The cabs of the large lorries became their home, where they would eat and sleep, and the drivers often lost their nerve as they were so tired from trying to escape from the attacking American aircraft. Contacts were established and relationships formed, but some did desert. The companies did not carry out these missions on behalf of the NSKK, but for the Luftwaffe. They also had to go out and look for trucks that had broken down on the roads so they could tow them back and repair them, as well as supply the batteries on Sardinia, which depended on the Luftwaffe. In August, whilst the Front in Bologna stabilised, there was an attempt to reconstruct the companies. However, supplies and equipment made it impossible; in one company, out of 300 men and 120 trucks at the beginning, there were now only 100 men and just 3 trucks.
In December 1944, after having handed in their trucks, they left Italy and were transferred to Denmark. They were to provide security to the airfield at Alesøe, where Messerschmitt planes had been grounded due to lack of fuel. They also worked in the shipyards at Odense and studied new anti-tank weapons. The companies were disbanded and the men and NCOs were each divided into groups of 400 men, plus staff. In January, the Staffelführer informed the assembled Battalion that a large French unit was being created within the Waffen SS, but no transfers were made. In late February/early March 1945, the first group was sent to the Hungarian Front, on the northern shore of Lake Balaton, where it saw a great deal of fighting due to the rapid advance of the Red Army. The second group left Denmark for Lake Balaton on 31 March, but withdrew when it reached Austria. The men were demobilised by NSKK-Hauptsturmführer, Hans Ströhle, on 29 April. Some decided to return to Italy, and a minority returned to their ‘former landlords’, where they had been happily housed, the year before.
This chapter ends with one final word on the Speer Legion, a subsection of non-Germans who served in the NSKK-Transportbrigade, but were not eligible for NSKK membership. Attached to the OT-Einsatzgruppe West in September 1943, it operated in five countries, each with a driving school and a mechanic. The West Speer Legion in Paris included Estonians, Ukrainians, French, Latvians, Lithuanians and Russians. Initial training took place near Paris, at Enghien-les-Bains, and included weapons handling, theoretical instruction on engines and car mechanics, before it moved to Nikolassee (in Berlin), at the Legion’s education centre for motorised vehicles. The men wore a black uniform with an army belt, along with a police cap with an NSKK cockade on it, but were not allowed to carry weapons. They were employed by the Germans as drivers along the Atlantic coast, as well as being tasked to move vehicles between Germany, the General Government and various regions in the USSR, including anywhere from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
The Todt Organisation
Headed by Oberbaudirecktor Karl Weis, chief engineer with the Militärbefehlshaber West, the Todt Organisation Einsatzgruppe West had been stationed in Lorient, Brittany, since May 1940. As agreed with the military services and the central Todt Organisation in Berlin, its main priority was the building of the Atlantic Wall in 1942, before heading south to build the coastal defences along the Mediterranean. On the construction sites, French workers were required to mix with their compatriots who had been forced to remain in the country playing the black market and other lucrative deals and thus avoiding compulsory work service in a factory in Germany. They were completely dependent on the Französische Frontführung [French Front Guide], a French department based in Paris and led by Haupttruppführer Camille Sinniger, a former member of the LVF, who had been given the highest military rank granted to a foreigner. In addition to the many forced labourers there were around 5,000 Frenchmen in uniform, who volunteered for the service. This led to the subsequent departure of many members of the Todt Organisation (TO), who wished to join units that were more active in combat.
There were militarised workers (Frontarbeiter) present in all of the Wehrmacht’s theatres of operation. They built bridges, modified fortifications, built roads, and oversaw the delivery of fuel and supplies. Until November 1942, members of the TO were regarded as Wehrmachtsgefolge [Wehrmacht followers], and remained independent of the army they were accompanying. This status was shown on their identity tags and pay books in order to avoid possible sanctions should they be arrested as snipers. After November 1942 they were issued with an army booklet labelled WH Festungsbau [Wehrmacht Heer Festungsbau – German Army Fortress Builder], and were included in the regular armed forces. They wore a swastika armband on their left sleeve and sometimes carried a weapon, depending on their location and availability in Europe or Russia, to counter possible attacks from partisans that sometimes resulted in injury or death. As a result, the TO decided to carry weapons in order to defend itself in various locations and set up its own protection units.
These armed detachments were drawn from the workers themselves and were called Schutzkommandos. They had their own ranks, which were gradually filled with volunteers of various nationalities, including French. They were equipped with a variety of small arms with the objective of maintaining order in the free workers’ camps on the construction sites, as well as guarding strategic buildings and facilities. After an internship that would normally last for one month, or longer if necessary, the French groups were assigned to various ports along the English Channel and the Atlantic coast. Over time it is possible to see where the German Army was present (Latvia, Norway etc.). In the summer of 1943, all existing TO Schutzkommandos composing of up to ten battalions were distributed according to the Army Groups. Those of the Einsatzgruppe West became the 11th Battalion and were divided into ten sections and groups. It withdrew to Germany in August 1944.
Ahead of the increase in the number of workers on its sites, the TO was concerned about the well-being of its employees. In November 1942 it created a team of ‘social inspectors’, whose recruitment was entrusted to Camille Sinniger. He primarily chose former members of the reformed LVF, who still wanted to serve according to the original ideals they had had when they first volunteered. In the TO camps throughout France, their presence made them a buffer between the Germans and the workers who might not have had the same mentality, or the same discipline. They were responsible for the welfare of the civilians and acted as advisers and liaison between the workers, the building companies, the German authorities and the French services, for everything related to social issues and the basic material requirements for life. Their training took place at a school in Brittany, under the direction of French teachers and instructors. For a period of around three weeks their schedule was devoted to physical exercises, courses in hygiene and how to solve social problems that might arise regularly in a camp, as well as how to combat hostile propaganda.
There were also transmission teams and telephone operators who were trained in France and at the Barten camp in East Prussia. The latter closed in November 1943 and training continued in France from the beginning of 1944, with training programmes of two months at Camp Beauregard, which also housed the Schutzkommandos. The paid training was designed to help the volunteers work with experienced engineers fitting telephone lines. One team was en route to Russia when Pietro Badoglio, the head of the Italian Government, announced the armistice between the Italians and the Allies. As the Italians abandoned the fighting, the team was sent to Yugoslavia to relieve them. Here the French were constantly beaten by the armies of Tito in the defensive positions assigned to them, and because the difficult conditions were not suited for combat.
There was also a unit called NSKK Transportgruppe Todt, whose staff were under the control of the NSKK. The French in their khaki uniforms with short jackets, like those of the German Army, served as military vehicle drivers on behalf of the TO, but were different from those of the NSKK Motorgruppe Luftwaffe, who wore a grey-blue uniform and worked for the German Air Force, distinguishing themselves on the Russian and Italian Fronts. Finally, the TO also employed women in different French camps. In addition to those who worked as typists and interpreters, there were also several hundred who served in uniform, mainly as nurses. As in most German organisations that accepted foreign nationals, these French auxiliary women wore a badge on their national uniform.
In 1941 Germany had conquered many nations bound by seas and oceans. Countless ports were fortified and put into operation to help with the fighting, as well as for use for the submarine service. The French worked as engineers, technicians and civilian workers in the national ports where the Germans now had bases. The time had not yet come for compulsory military service.
It wasn’t until nearly three years after the hostilities began on the Eastern Front, on 17 March 1944, that legislation was enacted in France. The government finally allowed its countrymen to serve in the German Navy (Kriegsmarine) and gave them the same benefits under the laws and regulations of the LVF. Nevertheless, for a long time those who lived by the sea (in Normandy and Brittany) had already worked in the local offices (or in Germany with the free workers). Around 2000 French worked for the Kriegsmarine, but only on an individual basis.
There are two main factors that explain the delay in the recruitment process: from a prestige point of view, it was hard for the Germans to believe that a foreign volunteer might appear on the decks of one of its warships. They were only there to supplement personnel, not as an incorporated unit. Furthermore, there was a lengthy discussion between Dönitz and Himmler regarding European volunteers, resulting in a great deal of time lost for formal recruitment. The Reichsführer finally agreed, and assigned those individuals who possessed knowledge of the sea, or whose businesses were linked to the sea, on the condition that they received political training by the SS at the Sennheim training camp in Alsace.
In 1943 the 28th Naval Depot was also used by the Waffen SS (28. Schiffsstammabteilung). This depot was specifically responsible for the basic training of foreign volunteers and received recruits from Belgium, the Netherlands, Latvia, Ukraine, Spain, France and Denmark. Due to a shortage of officials, the German training staff changed over the months and officers became increasingly rare on smaller vessels and submarines. Upon their arrival, the French were sorted and grouped by section or company, with numbers varying from 250 to 450 men for a total of 11 companies. Some were made up exclusively of French, whilst others were mixed. After they were assigned they were handed their German uniform: navy blue, field grey and a general blue one for all occasions. The latter uniform was distributed and worn after they had sworn their oath, marking the end of their initial training, which usually lasted between six and eight weeks. They were then transferred to specialist schools in Germany, notably Mannheim, Duisburg or Varel. Then followed rifle training at ‘soldier school’, and training at ‘sailor school’ (manoeuvring a canoe on a river or lake) for about three months. They were then assigned to a naval unit, usually on smaller vessels (minesweepers, patrol boats etc.) and mainly on the Baltic, at Kiel. They were rarely sent to the Mediterranean or the North Sea, and only the very first Frenchmen who signed up in the four initial companies actually set sail and engaged in fighting at sea. After the attempted assassination of Hitler on 20 July 1944, Himmler changed his mind about French sailors. Whilst some remained at their posts with the support of their superiors, many of them unwittingly ended up joining the Waffen SS, after having been trained by them in the first place. The majority of them found themselves integrated into the newly formed SS Charlemagne Brigade, including two sailors who would later be awarded the Ritterkreuz (Knight’s Cross) in 1945.
There were also compatriots who belonged to the Kriegsmarinwerftpolizei (Shipyard Police), a unit created in early 1943 on the initiative of the Kriegsmarine services based at La Pallice, on the Atlantic Coast. Within this Franco-German paramilitary group, the French consisted mostly of LVF veterans, who protected and monitored the German shipyards and submarine bases, armed with guns. These men are not to be confused with the Kriegsmarine-Wehrftmänner (Naval Shipyard Guards), another unit created in late 1941, with the similar aim of protecting the naval arsenals in Brittany, but who wore a different coloured uniform.
The Franzosische-SS-Freiwilligen-Sturmbrigade No.8
On 30 January 1943 Hitler signed the order for the creation of a French unit in the Waffen SS. The order was immediately relayed by Himmler’s representative in France, SS-Brigadeführer Karl Oberg, the senior SS commander whose departments could now begin to make contact with those in the collaborationist circles, as well as those at the German Embassy in Paris. Although nearly 300 of their compatriots had already taken the plunge and were already serving in divisions such as the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking and the 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf, which included Walloons and Flemings born in northern France (which was then under German military administration), the majority of the French were waiting for the green light from Marshal Pétain’s government.
A decree issued on 22 July 1943 declared that the French state authorised its citizens to join the Waffen SS, giving them the same benefits as those members of the LVF, which was seen as a serious rival to recruitment. A recruitment office (Ersatzkommando Frankreich der Waffen SS) was opened in Paris, although it was also possible to sign up at German police stations and at regional prefecture headquarters. Prisoners of War were allowed to join, as well as forced labourers working in Germany. Lodged in Paris, the new recruits were then sent to the Sennheim training camp in Alsace to begin their military training. To comply with this government legislation published in July, a new contract had to be signed by those who had joined up before this date. The average age of the French volunteers was very young, and just like others who had enlisted before them, they wanted to prove to their superiors that despite coming from a country that had been defeated in June 1940, they deserved their place in the Waffen SS. Future officers and leaders were chosen from the individuals who stood out. Those with NCO potential were sent to the SS Unterführerschule at Posen-Treskau, whilst officer candidates went to the SS Junkerschule at Bad Tölz. Other recruits went to different schools, depending on what they were to specialise in. Some were transferred to the specialist SS commando school at Hildesheim or were sent to recruit other civilian workers or PoWs. The French would also act as SS war correspondents and in other general units where their rank was deemed sufficient enough for an assignment.
In 1944 the majority of troops were sent to the Beneshau camp in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, in order to form an artillery regiment. Due to a lack of qualified French officers, the brigade was transformed into a Sturmbrigade (Assault Brigade) of two battalions and was officially hereafter called the Franzosische-SS-Freiwilligen-Sturmbrigade Nr.8. (Franz. Nr.1) and was commanded by SS-Sturmbannführer Paul-Marie Gamory-Dubourdeau.
After a trip to Networschitz, three infantry companies, one heavy equipment company and one Pak company were formed. The unit was cleansed of all those with criminal records and of those who had failed to report cases incompatible with the SS code of honour. These men were immediately kicked out and sent to concentration camps. The conditions at Networschitz were not conducive to training and the brigade moved once more, to Neweklau, near Prague. Training there was mainly centred around anti-tank combat, with the arrival of the Panzerfaüste and Panzerschreck weapons. Despite the difficulty of conducting both day and night exercises, which inevitably resulted in casualties, enthusiasm was high amongst the men, who believed that their departure to the Front was close. In late July, whilst 2nd Battalion continued its training in the former Polish corridor from Danzig to Schwarnegast, 1st Battalion was now combat ready and awaiting its departure orders.
A total of 980 men under the command of SS-Hauptsturmführer Pierre Cance landed in Galicia, Turkey, on 5 August, on what was then the Eastern Front. They were attached to the 18th SS-Freiwilligen-Panzer-Grenadier-Division Horst Wessel and their mission was to reduce the salient and align the frontline along the railway line from Sanok to Krakow. Their first actions were carried out under the admiring eyes of Wehrmacht officers, with Horst Wessel mentioning the unit in his divisional dispatches. Holed up in the abandoned Russian positions, the French underwent several bombing raids up until Tuesday, 15 August. This was the last stage of the counter-offensive and after much fierce fighting and numerous fatalities, the French finally achieved their goal. As the Wehrmacht soldiers relived their positions, the Sturmbrigade fell back to Wolica, where officers estimated that they had around 130 dead or wounded.
After 24 hours, the revised units joined another sector of the frontline, where there were cracks everywhere. In Dębrica, Poland, they were spread over a 15km front along the Wisłoka River. On the morning of 20 August the Soviet artillery bombarded their positions and the battalion collapsed within hours. Scattered along their new defensive lines, on 22 August the French battalion, already depleted by the loss of so many soldiers and officers, attempted to defend the village of Mokré. Its commander, Cance, was wounded for a third time and the decision was taken to evacuate westwards. From those who had landed at the front in August, the rough casualty list shows that more than 100 men had died, 40 were prisoners or missing and more than 660 were wounded. Of the 15 officers, 7 were dead and 8 were missing. The units were reorganised around the survivors, commanded by SS-Obersturmführer Jean Croisile. Three companies were established, each with between forty and sixty men, including those who were hospitalised with minor injuries. On 24 August, 1st Battalion was cited in Horst Wessel’s divisional order before it left Tarnów station, heading for Bruss in the Polish Corridor.
Before the establishment of a more heterogeneous command unit, Reichsführer Himmler at first created German liaison officers from former members of the LVF who were transferred to the SS. They lived at Leisten and the German officers were required to observe and make reports on the French volunteers, who were far from home and whose families were worried about them. At the head of this inspection of the French SS was Gustav Krukenberg, who had been promoted for the role to the rank of SS-Brigadeführer and Waffen SS Major General on 23 September. Wearing the tricolour badge on his left sleeve, he is seen here in conversation with Waffen-Oberführer Edgard Puaud, who in turn has his back to the head of the Wallonien Division, Léon Degrelle. They are seen here attending the oath swearing ceremony on 12 November 1944. Degrelle, who was surprised to see that the French sang and obeyed their orders in German, was looking for men to join his project of forming a ‘Western’ Corps made up of French and Walloons, which he would command. SS-Obergruppenführer Gotlob Berger was against the idea and wrote to Himmler about the matter on 16 December, but the idea came to nothing.
The 33rd Waffen-Grenadier-Division of the SS Charlemagne (French No.1)
In the spring of 1944 a command was issued from the OKW to transfer all foreigners serving in the German Army to the Waffen SS. The attack against Hitler on 20 July accelerated this movement, particularly concerning the French. German high command decided to regroup the volunteers into a new SS French brigade, under the command of Colonel Edgard Puaud. The SS-Hauptamt [the administrative office of the SS] decided to bring the 638 French infantry regiment back from Russia. It was disbanded on 10 August 1944 and its members transferred to the Waffen SS. The LVF headquarters at Greifenberg now became the new brigade’s headquarters as well as the Französische SS-Grenadier Ausbildungs und Ersatz-Bataillon (French SS Grenadier training and reserve Battalion), commanded by SS-Obersturmbannführer Heinrich Hersche who had arrived from Sennheim. The Sturmbrigade, whose 1st Battalion had proved itself so valiantly in Galicia, arrived on 5 September and joined 2nd Battalion for training at the ‘West-Prussian’ SS-Trüppenbüngsplatz. Alongside them, 2,000-2,100 political soldiers were finishing their basic training there, under the command of SS-Oberstumbannführer Paul Gamory-Dubourdeau. In addition there were also men from the SS-Französische Flakbaterrie, who had not joined the Sturmbrigade in the fighting in Poland, 1,000-1,200 sailors from the Kriegsmarine and Kriegsmarinewerftpolizei who had landed at Greifenberg in mid-September, and around 2,000 men who were involved in the Schutzcommando and Todt Organisation, the NSKK, the Speer Legion and the Technische Nothilfe, which was part of the German Police. There were also other general German paramilitary units, although some had remained at their original training grounds with the permission of their leaders.
Two regiments were formed, with two battalions each comprised of four companies. The 57th Regiment was predominantly composed of former members of the Sturmbrigade, on the orders of Paul Gamory-Dubourdeau. The 58th Regiment was headed by Commander Eugéne Bridoux and contained the ex-Legionnaires. Either for religious reasons (the perceived paganism of the SS), years of combat fatigue, or because they felt the war was definitively lost, a few dozen men categorically refused to be transferred. Taking advantage of this opportunity to start on a clean slate, a purge took place removing 180 of these ‘undesirables’. In order to learn the fighting methods of the SS, a number of LVF officers and soldiers were sent on training courses. During their absence, the brigade left its quarters and headed for the SS-Truppenübungsplatz at Wildflecken. On 5 November, part of the French state militia had to withdraw from Germany and found itself also being incorporated into the brigade. During the winter of 1944-45, the Waffen-Grenadier (no longer the SS-Grenadier as those of the Sturmbrigade had been called) had to endure particularly harsh training as a result of the snow, the freezing temperatures, lack of equipment and clothes and poor diet. Desertions among the prestigious SS units, such as the Walloon or the Wiking divisions were very common, because their members wanted to join the fighting as soon as possible.
Given the title of ‘Division’, despite its reduced capacity (more than 7,300 men), the orders to depart for the East by train arrived on 16 February. Integrated with the 11th Army, the first men arrived on 22 February at Hammerstein in Pomerania and gathered in a nearby camp. Sent to the frontlines without any armoured support, heavy weaponry or radio equipment, and with all their assault rifles having been hijacked by another unit, the division’s casualties began to pile up. Different companies broke off to fight in isolated groups, with no communication with the rear lines as they were pushed backwards. The survivors retreated to Szczecinek and after this initial engagement, the division had lost around one third of its troops, most of whom were either wounded or evacuated. Five hundred were dead. After regrouping at Białogard, the units were merged together to form a frontline regiment with the freshest and most experienced soldiers, and a reserve regiment with a reduced combat role, due to the fatigue amongst the men. They were sent to protect the retreat of the German troops at the port of Kolberg. Once more the French faced fierce fighting trying to defend the city, forcing them to consider pulling back towards Białogard, which was still held by the Germans. Trapped on a plain south-west of the city, the 3,000 men of the reserve regiment were massacred by Soviet tanks. A few survivors were captured, while others took refuge in the nearby woods. Surrounded for days, the exhausted soldiers now had to finish their war as prisoners, having failed to cross the River Oder. Arriving in Międzyrzecz, in western Poland after a long and painful march, the men of 1st Battalion, who were the only ones left unscathed, managed to succeed in breaking the encirclement of Pomerania. The French regrouped on the outskirts of Anklam and waited for other survivors of the Division.
Stationed at Carpin, the combat units were once more reorganised and resumed their training. On 24 April SS-Brigadeführer Krukenberg, who was now in charge of the French, received a telegram from Hitler’s bunker announcing that he was to take up a new position in Berlin and must get there with a French assault battalion as quickly as possible. Having lost three vehicles en route, a French detachment arrived in Berlin, which by now was virtually surrounded by the Red Army. They were attached to the SS Nordland Division, commanded by Waffen-Haupsturmführer Henri Fenet. This division had distinguished itself in urban combat, repulsing many large-scale armoured vehicle attacks using the Panzerfaüst [German anti-tank weapon]. The very experienced French soldiers managed to officially take out sixty-two tanks as they gradually retreated to the ever-decreasing German-held zones. On the morning of 2 May, Fenet and his men finally reached Hitler’s bunker. They were hoping to find the last kernel of resistance, but instead realised that the battle was all but over. More fighting now commenced in order to avoid being taken prisoner, but one by one the men were arrested by the victorious Soviets, before resistance finally ceased at 3pm.
The remaining men who were still at the barracks at Greifenberg left and joined those at Wildflecken. Here they were divided into various units and separately retreated westwards, where some were subordinated into the 38th SS-Grenadier-Division Nibelungen. In the end, four members of the division were awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross.