KG 100 IN ACTION

He.111H-3
Unit: 2./KG 100
Serial: 6N+CK
Spring 1941. Took part in night raids to Britain.

He.111H-3x
Unit: 1./KG 100
Serial: 6N+BN
Vannes airfield, France, July 1940. Aircraft in standard RLM70/71 painting. White identification letter ‘B’ repeated on vertical stabilizer, leading edges and top of the wing (? it is not clearly why ‘B’ is white. As I see on the tail ‘B’ is Red, under the wing ‘B’ is Black). The unit emblem was located under the crew cabin.

Early in 1934 the Secretary of Aviation, Erhard Milch, ordered Dr Plendl to begin the development of a secret navigation system called X-Verfahren (the ‘X-system’). As a radio-beam navigation aid, this would allow German bomber crews to locate distant targets by day or night, irrespective of the weather. The research work was carried out by a department of the Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt or DVL (the German Aviation Experimental Institute), which worked with the Erprobungsstelle der Luftwaffe (Luftwaffe Test Establishment) based at Rechlin on Lake Müritz. By December 1935 it was possible to navigate over distances of some 550 km flying at an altitude of 6000 m. First trials were carried out with a Ju 52/3m (D-ADEH) whose crew succeeded in bombing an area of 90,000m2 in central Germany. From 1 May 1935 all experimental work on the X-beam system was taken over by the E-Stelle at Rechlin. An experimental unit was established, comprising Ju 52/3m aircraft fitted with the new system. From 1935 to 1940 some thirty X-Sendestationen (X-beam transmitting stations) were installed all over Germany to allow further operations over eastern and western Europe.

By 1 November 1937 the Luftnachrichtenschule und Versuchsregiment (Air Signals Training and Experimental Regiment) was established at Kothen but was not part of the Heeres Nachrichtenschule (Army Signals School). All units belonging to the regiment, commanded by Oberstleutnant Heinrich Aschenbrenner, became operational by early December. On 1 January 1938 the experimental unit of the regiment, 7/LnSchule und Versuchsregiment, led by Oberleutnant Hermann Schmidt, was equipped with twelve Ju 52s. The crews carried out several long-range missions to the Canary Islands and to Tripoli in North Africa.

During summer 1938 the Luftwaffe established a Flugfunkerschule und Versuchskommando (Radio Operators’ Training and Experimental Command), renamed the Luftnachrichtenabteilung 100, or LnAbt 100, (Air Signals Detachment 100) on 26 August that year. In the autumn it received its first Do 17U Führungsmaschinen (literally ‘leader-machines’, or ‘pathfinders’) but due to its narrow fuselage it was impossible to install the X-beam system in the Dornier. After a training phase the LnAbt 100 took part in the Poland campaign. The first operational mission was carried out on the night of 3/4 September to a target near the small town of Palmiry. On 18 November 1939, following the occupation of Poland the unit was renamed Kampfgruppe 100 (KGr 100) ‘Wiking’. As an independent unit, ‘Wiking’ was known solely by the abbreviation ‘KGr’ 100, whereas most Kampfgruppen names simply took the form of Roman numeral prefixes which preceded the parent Kampfgeschwader (KG) number. KGr 100 was not initially a subdivision of any of the existing Geschwader, though it was later to form part of a new parent unit (see below). After its formation, KGr 100 left the Luftnachrichtentruppe (Air Signals Branch) and became a real combat unit. An unarmed X-beam mission, ordered by the Führer, was carried out on 20 December 1939 under the command of Oberleutnant Schmidt whose crew was sent to the British capital to check the security of the X-beam system over large distances. Early in January 1940 only one Do 17 and one He 111 belonged to the Stab (staff) of KGr 100. Both of KGr 100’s Staffeln were equipped with He lllHs. Of twenty-four bombers only thirteen were ready for action over Western Europe in early 1940.

The unit operated against enemy vessels on the North Sea between January 1940 and the early summer, and took part in the Norwegian campaign of that year. Under the command of Luftflottenkommando 5 (led by Generaloberst Milch) KGr 100 was sent out to destroy Norwegian anti-aircraft positions and coastal batteries. The unit was also used for anti-submarine and anti-shipping missions near the Norwegian coast.

During summer 1940 the first new He 111H-3 fitted with X-beam equipment (X-Gerät) arrived at Lüneburg. From there the Gruppe was transferred to Vannes in Brittany where more than five X-beam radio stations had been installed in order to intensify the air war over Britain. The first pathfinder missions over Britain took place during August 1940. Twenty aircraft of Kampfgruppe 100 targeted the Nuffield factory in Birmingham with the help of the X-beam. The unit was subsequently used to lead bombing raids on targets all over the British Isles. Long-range missions to Liverpool and Glasgow were carried out between December 1940 and April 1941. Crews of KGr 100 took part in the last heavy attack on London on the night of 11/12 May 1941. Some crews belonging to the Kampfgruppe were engaged in raids on shipping targets and on ports along the southern coast Britain. Armed reconnaissance missions were carried out in June and July 1941.

After the German attempt to besiege the British Isles with the Luftwaffe and minor forces of the Kriegsmarine failed, Kampfgruppe 100 was transferred to Terespol behind the Eastern Front where the unit was used to assist the Luftwaffe to attack the Russian capital. Together with KG 28 and parts of KG 4 and KG 26, KGr 100 successfully bombed industrial targets in the Moscow area. In 1942 KGr 100 operated over the southern part of the Eastern Front where it was engaged in several costly missions up to 1943.

On 29 November 1941, Kampfgeschwader 100 (KG 100) ‘Wiking’ was established from KGr 100 and other units. It took the form of a well-equipped He 111 unit divided into a Geschwaderstab with four flying Kampfgruppen. One of the Gruppen under the command of the newly created KG 100 was the former Ergänzungsstaffel (replacement squadron) of KGr 100. It was designated as IV/KG 100 ‘Wiking’ and retained its original role of Ergänzungsstaffel until 20 August 1944.

On 15 December 1941 the old KGr 100 became I Kampfgruppe of KG 100 ‘Wiking’. The unit had by now flown pathfinder missions during the Battle of Britain and had operated over the Russian Front using the Y-navigation system. Because most attack units of the Luftwaffe were used against Russian targets, only a few Staffeln could be sent to continue the air raids against British towns, harbours and industrial targets. Among them was 2 Staffel of KG 100. It was the nucleus for the operational testing of new tactical navigation methods over the British Isles from March 1942. The unit was called Eprobungs– und Lehrkommando 100 (Trials and Evaluation Command 100), later renamed Erprobungs– und Lehrkommando XY.

On 12 January 1942 I Gruppe landed at Focsani in Romania followed by its ground echelon two days later. A few days later the crews carried out attacks on heavy cruisers in the Straits of Kerch, the Black Sea and the harbour at Sevastopol. Although many hits on Russian vessels were reported by the Luftwaffe, the enemy’s anti-aircraft units were responsible for the loss of several He lllHs. Besides bombing attacks made on ships, the crews of I/KG 100 tried to sink enemy vessels with air-dropped mines in the shipping routes along the Black Sea coast. Because there were not enough German fighters available to protect their bomber forces, the KG 100 lost many men to fighters of the Red Air Force.

The former 4 Staffel of KG 26 was incorporated into I/KG 100 on 31 May 1942 in order to increase the number of missions flown over Russia. Between July 1942 and February 1943 I/KG 100 attacked targets over large distances. Besides Sukhumi and Grozny in the Caucasus, shipping targets near the mouth of the Volga were bombed during several raids. In summer 1942 I/KG 100 hit targets in the Stalingrad area. Railway lines and stations had become important targets and were bombed to prevent the enemy bringing up reinforcements and equipment.

The complete I/KG 100 was renamed I Gruppe of Kampfgeschwader 4 on 10 October 1943, though it simultaneously served under the command of KG 100 ‘Wiking’. This Gruppe then became III Gruppe of Kampfgeschwader 1 ‘Hindenburg’ on 31 May 1944. Throughout much of this time the Gruppe was engaged in costly missions under the command of Luftflottenkommando 4 (led by Generaloberst von Richthofen). The Soviets threatened the German forces in the Caucasus and moved steadily towards the Crimea. After the German 6th Army was besieged by the Red Army at Stalingrad, the He 111 crews of I/KG 100 were ordered to assist the encircled German divisions by delivering ammunition, food and equipment by airdrop to enable the encircled troops to continue fighting. The Soviet encirclement was not broken and Stalingrad was lost. After the loss of the city and the 6th Army, I/KG 100 was withdrawn from operational service and re-equipped with He lllH-lls and H-16s. On 18 April 1943 the Gruppe mounted a series of air raids after being transferred to Stalino airfield. Mines were airdropped over the Volga. Early in May 1943 the ‘Molotov’ tank factories were hit by a composite group of the Staffeln of I/KG 100. In July the unit was needed for Operation ‘Zitadelle’, the last great German offensive in the east, launched in July 1943. But the German forces were on the retreat, moving steadily westward.

The II Gruppe of KG 100, which formerly served as III/KG 26, joined KG 100 on 15 December 1941. The II Gruppe operated from airfields positioned behind the central sector of the Eastern Front. Early in February 1942 II/KG 100 was sent to northern France. Their He lllHs were handed over to I/KG 28. New He 111H-6S were delivered to II/KG 100 at Poix but before the handover could be completed the unit was engaged in an air raid on Hull, losing two of its existing He lllHs. A few weeks later II/KG 100 flew to Kalamaki near Athens to operate in the Mediterranean. On 28 April 1942 fifteenHe Ills of II/KG 100 together with twenty-five Ju 88s of Lehrgeschwader 1 carried out a night attack on targets in the region of Alexandria. Among the key targets were the harbour at Alexandria and the Suez Canal.

In June 1942 several Allied airfields in North Africa were bombed by He lllH-6s of II/KG 100. The following month saw further action over the Mediterranean Sea. At night the well-trained flyers of the ‘Wiking’ Geschwader tried to interdict the lines of communication of the British forces and destroy targets in the heart of the battle zone at El Alamein. Later in the year, II/KG 100 was sent to Catania on Sicily to prevent Allied forces invading the southern part of the Axis-controlled region. Desperate missions were carried out to support German ground forces in Tunisia. By the end of 1942, only four out of the seventeen remaining crews of II/KG 100 were completely operational. In April 1944 after many more missions the operational strength of the II Gruppe was lower than ever. The unit was withdrawn from active operations and sent to Graz on Usedom Island in the Baltic Sea.

One Einsatzstaffel (operational squadron) of KG 100, consisting of twelve crews with seventeen He 111H-6S, remained in Greece. This unit came under the command of Luftflottenkommando 2 (under Generalfeldmarschall Kesselring) and was needed to attack British forces all over the Greek islands. After one particular British raid on the Eleusis airfield the Einsatzstaffel lost its last aircraft and was disbanded on 10 November 1943.

The Erprobungs– und Lehrkommando 15 was raised on 20 April 1943 from parts of the II/KG 100 to test and introduce new air-to-ground weapons. At the end of April 1943 parts of II/KG 100 were used to form Erprobungsstaffel (test squadron) KG 100 which ended its career on 10 November 1944.

The remaining Staffeln of II Gruppe saw action until 31 May 1944. At that time 6/KG 100 was substituted with 8/KG 100. During the following month II/KG 100 operated all over Western Europe. The Gruppe was finally disbanded on 2 February 1945 because there was no opportunity to continue offensive operations due to lack of fuel and to the overwhelming air superiority of the Allies.

The III Gruppe of KG 100 ‘Wiking’ was built up from units formerly belonging to Aufklärungsgruppe (See) 126 (Martime Reconnaissance Wing 126) on 20 September 1942. In October the Gruppe flew one Bv 138 (a three-engined flying boat) and eighteen Ar 196s (single-engined floatplanes) and some fifteen He Ills. It was planned to introduce thirty-six He lllH-14/trops (’tropicalised’). Parts of III/KG 100 operated over the Mediterranean Sea and carried out attacks in North Africa. The Gruppe was based at Salamis near Athens and was commanded by Major Schulz. In February 1943 it reverted to Aufklärungsgruppe (See) 126 and left the Geschwader. On 20 April 1943 KGrzbV 21 (which had formerly flown transport missions to Stanlingrad) became the new III Gruppe of KG 100 and served in the ‘Wiking’ Geschwader until 7 September 1944 when Oberkommandoluftwaffe (OKL) ordered the Gruppenstab and all three Staffeln belonging to III/KG 100 to disband.

Later in 1943 the II and III Gruppen of KG 100 were re-established with new crews and an entirely new kind of naval weapon: guided glider bombs. Instead of He Ills both units were equipped with Do 217E-5s and K-2s in early summer 1943. Both types could be used to carry the glider bombs for anti-shipping raids. The Gruppen were transferred to southern France in readiness for operations. In July 1943 some smaller units operated from southern Italy. Early in September 1943, III/KG 100 carried out fourteen missions against the Italian navy which was preparing to surrender to the Western Allies. The Italian battleship Roma was sunk by two FX 1400 Fritz-X glider bombs. The crews were then concentrated at Istres to attack the Allied landings at Salerno. Allied convoys were also attacked but with only minor success. The end of 1943 saw glider bombs hit a few merchant ships before Allied forces landed at Anzio. Night by night III Gruppe was engaged in defensive missions but could not prevent the Allied forces enlarging their beachhead.

The II and III Gruppen of the ‘Wiking’ Geschwader, which were equipped with Do 217Es and Ks, were also trained to fly the heavy bomber He 177A in order to carry out attacks against enemy vessels in the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic Ocean because the Heinkel had a longer operational range than the Dornier.

In late 1943 OKL decided to launch an operation against targets in the British Isles: Operation ‘Steinbock’ (‘Ibex’), which became known as the ‘baby blitz’. The operation was to be carried out with the bombers of KG 6, KG 30, KG 51, KG 54, KG 76 and KG 100, which were concentrated in northern Germany and parts of the occupied territories to the west. On 21 January 1944 the operational order arrived to attack industrial targets in London. With the He 177A-3s of 3/KG 100, a total of 227 bombers headed for their target. Due to the British air defences, which included night-fighters and anti-aircraft batteries, twenty-five German crews were shot down, while eighteen more failed to return due to technical difficulties. Three He 177s were shot down or severely damaged that day. The raids continued on the following nights. Again, on 4 February 1944, 240 German bombers launched attacks on British targets marked by pathfinders of I Gruppe of KG 66. The IX Fliegerkorps tried to operate as many bombers as possible to destroy all the designated targets. Due to many casualties and raids on the German airfields the number of available bombers was reduced. Only 125 of them carried out the last attack on London on the night of 25/26 April 1944. A few raids on Hull and Portsmouth followed.

Early in May 1945 the He 177s belonging to 2/KG 100 and 3/KG 100 were withdrawn from Rheine and Chateudun and flown to Fassberg. At the end of May 1944 I/KG 100 was re-established as I/KG 1 to see action over the Eastern Front. After severe losses the Kampfgruppe was disbanded.

A fourth Gruppe of Geschwader ‘Wiking’ was responsible for training new crews. IV/KG 100 which had been part of the Geschwader since November 1941, received a fourth Staffel (13/KG 100) on 20 April 1943. The unit was renamed Erprobungs– und Lehrkommando 36 on 31 July 1943. On 20 July 1944 another Staffel belonging to the ‘Wiking’ Geschwader, 12/KG 100, was reestablished as 3 Ergänzungs–Kampfgruppe 111 (Replacement Bomber Wing 177). The IV Gruppe was disbanded on 20 August 1944 after there was no longer any need to train new crews for offensive raids with KG 100. The Geschwader stab set up in late in 1941 was also disbanded on 20 August 1944. Thus, only two Gruppen of the ‘Wiking’ Geschwader – the II/KG 100 and III/KG 100 – were available for further operations. While the Allies landed on the shores of Normandy the remaining KG 100 crews suffered many more losses which finally caused the units to be declared ineffective and were disbanded.

Only the He 177s formerly used by II/KG 100 and based at Aalborg in Denmark remained operational until early 1945. Later the aircraft were scrapped after the engines had been dismantled. The operational life of KG 100 ‘Wiking’ was over. Several members of the aircrews and ground crews were taken over by Luftwaffe paratroop units and saw the war’s end fighting as infantry.

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The Freikorps

Following the dissolution of the German army after the armistice in November 1918, some hundred and twenty Freikorps (free corps) came into being, numbering altogether about two hundred and fifty thousand men. They varied in their status, size, function and political orientation. Some were more or less legal, that is, recognized both by the Allies and the German government of the day, others were semilegal, being recognized only by the German government, while yet others were altogether illegal. Some went on fighting, with short interruptions, for several years, others existed for a few days only. Some had the strength of several divisions, whereas the Freikorps Gross Thüringen consisted of one lieutenant and thirty-two soldiers. The strength of the average free corps was that of a battalion or a brigade, and they were frequently called after their commander (Ehrhardt, Rossbach, von Loewenfeld). A very few were republican in orientation, but the great majority were right wing, or even semi-Fascist; the Baltikum Freikorps was the first to display the swastika on its helmets. The Social Democratic government tolerated some of the Freikorps because it needed military units both against external enemies who had penetrated German territory — the Poles in the east — and against the Spartacists who tried to overthrow the Social Democratic government. The government would have preferred a fighting force of reliable republicans, but there had been few, if any, republican officers in the imperial army, and if the Bolsheviks had a few months to forge a new one, the German Social Democrats had only a few days.

Some Freikorps joined forces with the White armies against the Bolsheviks, others provided cover for the retreating German armies from the east, others again served as border police, or fought against Communist paramilitary units inside Germany. Many free corps had official recruitment offices in the major towns, this leading to frequent abuses, such as new recruits enlisting in several units at one and the same time. The general atmosphere reminded observers of Wallenstein and the age of the Thirty Years’ War. The activities described so far would have been those normal to regular army units, the police or border guards. But in addition, there were operations of traditional guerrilla character — in Upper Silesia against Polish units, in Carinthia against the Yugoslavs, in the Ruhr in 1923 against the French occupiers, and in the Rhineland against the local separatists.

The fighting in Upper Silesia was the heaviest and in many ways the most confused because it was carried out by partisan units on both sides; on the German side the Bavarian “Oberland” Freikorps was prominently involved, while the Poles were led by Adalbert Wojciech Korfanty, a former member of the German Beichstag, a gifted and very ambitious politician and propagandist, who later became deputy prime minister in Poland. The Allied statesmen had left the fate of Upper Silesia wide open and Korfanty, with the discreet help of the Polish government, tried to maneuver as many faits accomplis as possible before a plebiscite took place. He had earlier successfully engineered an insurrection in Poznan, but he found the going in Silesia much rougher. The Poles were a minority except in some mining and rural districts; besides, not all Polish-speaking Silesians supported the Polish cause. The German irregulars, while badly equipped, were more numerous, and to make matters still worse for him, coordination between Korfanty and his officers was deficient. Both sides committed acts of senseless terror. The Germans assassinated a senior French officer, the Poles killed some forty Italian soldiers who were to supervise the plebiscite. But whereas the French supported the Poles anyway, the Italians and the British, who had been neutral in the dispute, were incensed by the Polish attacks. Since the Polish government very much depended on Allied goodwill, it had to dissociate itself eventually from Korfanty. Meanwhile, in May 1921, a major battle took place at Annaberg in which the Poles were routed. Some Polish officers wanted to fight on, but Korfanty accepted an armistice and later a political decision which gave Poland the more important part of the Upper Silesian coal mines. Altogether, some sixty thousand Poles and thirty thousand Germans were involved in the fighting in Upper Silesia. It was to a large extent war by proxy; Germany still had a regular army but it could not be used for fear of French intervention, For different reasons, Poland could not employ its new armed forces. Thus, military operations in Upper Silesia on both sides turned into partisan warfare, with the local population the principal victim.

In Carinthia, operations were on a more restricted scale. German-speaking peasants organized themselves into small units but the conflict was no less bitter, because it was waged between neighbors, dividing little villages and even hamlets into two armed camps. The struggle against the French occupation of the Ruhr had the support of all German political parties. It took for the most part the form of passive resistance, which still did not inhibit the occasional terrorist act, such as the mining of the railway line between Duisburg and Düsseldorf, This sabotage was organized by Albert Leo Schlageter, an early member of the Nazi party who had fought with the Freikorps in Upper Silesia. Apprehended by the French, he was executed in May 1923, thus becoming the earliest martyr of Hitler’s Third Reich, a “fighter for national liberation who had paid the supreme penalty for his patriotic idealism.”

The free corps consisted chiefly of former officers and soldiers of the Imperial army (some Freikorps consisted entirely of young officers), but students who had been too young to fight in the Great War also volunteered. The veterans were quite familiar with the tactics of fighting in the open country, but they were not accustomed to street battles and they learned only by trial and error the technique of crowd control. The great majority of the soldiers of the Freikorps were right-wing activists, many of them becoming even more radical in their opposition to the Weimar Republic as the fighting continued. But traditional labels are of only limited help in explaining the Freikorps phenomenon. Bitterly opposed though they were to Communism, they hated the Poles and the French even more; not a few of them were enthusiastic advocates of a German-Soviet military alliance against Poland and the West. The spirit of Tauroggen, the anti-Napoleonic convention of 1813, was again conjured up. There are many illustrations of the antibourgeois and anticapitalist spirit prevailing in these units. They despised the “fat, cowardly bourgeois’ and all he stood for; and they made it known, time and time again, that they had not the slightest wish to fight for the preservation of this social order. They had far more respect for their enemies, the Communists, and the Communists tried hard to attract members of the free corps to their ranks. Karl Radek devoted a friendly essay to the memory of Schlageter. Schlageter and his comrades were, so he wrote, men of goodwill, confused or misguided nationalists, who could be swayed either way. They were uprooted men, radicals who shared with the Communists the militancy, the desire to overthrow the political system. “I cannot go home and start the old life,” one of them wrote later, “my Germany is where the Verey lights illuminate the sky, where the time of day is estimated according to the strength of the artillery barrage. It ends where the train for Cologne departs.”

The radicalism of the Freikorps also found expression in their way of life. Former colonels served under the command of lieutenants, and there was equal pay for all, from general to the youngest recruit. There was little marauding in these campaigns in comparison with other guerrilla wars. Individual banditry was not in the Prussian tradition, it was detrimental to discipline; the state, the collective, was entitled to maraud on a grand scale, but not the individual. Many members of the free corps joined the Reichswehr in later years. Many became supporters of the Nazi party, but only a few rose to its top leadership. There was a tendency in the Third Reich to play down, not so much the historical role of the Freikorps in general, but that of those who had taken a leading part in them. Some former Freikorps men were killed in the Nazi purge of June 1934, others deviated from the Nazi cause in time and were imprisoned or executed. The volunteers of the Freikorps fared a little better under Hitler than the Old Bolsheviks under Stalin, but not by very much.

SCHWERE PANZER-ABTEILUNG 501

PzKpfw Tiger ausf E. 2.Kompanie, schwere Panzer-Abteilung 501. Byelorussia. Winter 1943-44. Photographed during the battles along the Dnieper in the Orscha region of what is today Belarus, this tank is probably one of the mid production models the battalion received in November 1943. This unit used the official three-digit numbering system to identify its tanks, the numbers rendered as a black outline only with the whitewash camouflage carefully painted around the edges. Note that the number on the rear stowage box appears to have been painted over the whitewash and this seems to have been common, if not universal. Also note the barbed wire fixed to the exhaust covers. Almost all the tanks of this battalion had their hulls covered with wire to some degree, most far more extensively than shown here, presumably to deter or impede tank-hunting Russian infanytrmen.

PzKpfw Tiger ausf E. 3.Kompanie, schwere Panzer-Abteilung 501. Byelorussia. Summer 1944. This mid production model was built between August 1943, when the single headlight at the hull front was introduced into production, and some time before October when the pistol port on the turret side was discontinued. The turret number, as can be seen from our photograph, is a decidedly darker shade than the base coat of Dunkelgelb confirming that not all the tanks of this battalion had their numbers rendered as a black outline only. Although it is impossible to determine the colour with any certainty it is rendered here as Olivgrün, which is at least possible. Several photographs of this tank exist and the image shown at right is probably the earliest, made during April or May 1944 when the battalion received a large store of spare parts and was able to repair all its damaged tanks. This would explain the apparently fresh camouflage scheme and the dark coloured replacement gun barrel, almost certainly painted in RAL 7021 Schwartzgrau. In what we can safely assume to be the last photograph made of this Tiger, abandoned by the roadside while German prisoners are marched past, little has changed with the exception of the kill rings on the barrel. Damage is limited to the mudguards and fenders and the engine access door has been left open. In his account of the battalion’s history Wolfgang Schneider lists the number of tanks lost in June and July stating that all were completely destroyed either by enemy action or by their own crews with the exception of one Tiger which was abandoned on 4 July 1944, some 20 kilometres east of Minsk after breaking down. Although we can never be certain it is tempting to speculate that this may be the same tank.

Panzerbefehlswagen Tiger ausf B. Stab, schwere Panzer-Abteilung 501. Poland. Autumn 1944. Photographed in the village of Ogledow, some 25 kilometres west of Sandomierz, this command version of the Tiger II was captured intact on 13 August 1944, together with Tiger 102 and Tiger 234, and today resides at the Kubinka Museum outside Moscow. The three tanks of the battalion staff were numbered 001, 002 and 003 and for some inexplicable reason the Soviets changed this vehicle’s original number of 002 to that shown here, almost certainly before the tank was moved. Note that when this tank was captured, and therefore when it was in combat, all three radio antennae were in place including the distinctive Sternantenne Don the hull rear deck for the FuG8 radio and the two metre antenna for the FuG5 radio on the turret roof, the latter not depicted in our illustration.

The army’s first heavy tank battalion was formed on 10 May 1942 from schwere Panzer-Kompanien 501 and 502, which were later renamed as the battalion’s first and second companies. Further personnel were drawn from Panzer-Ersatz-Abteilung 1, a replacement and training unit stationed at Erfurt in Germany and from Panzerschiess-Schule Putlos, a tank gunnery school near Holstein.

It was originally intended that this battalion would be equipped with the Tiger (P) which was then being developed by Porsche and a number of drivers were sent to the Nibelungenwerke at St.Valentin in Austria to be trained on the new tanks. The decision to drop the Porsche design in favour of Henschel’s proposal in July delayed the battalion’s training and formation and the first two Tigers did not arrive until 30 August 1942. The battalion’s first and second companies were sent to North Africa, the latter via France, with the first tanks arriving on 23 November 1942. So precarious was the supply route from Italy to the African coast that the last Tigers did not reach Tunisia until late January 1943 and the battalion’s 3.Kompanie, which was not fully formed until 6 March, remained in Europe and was eventually attached to Panzer-Regiment Grossdeutschland as a tenth company. On 12 May 1943 the remnants of the battalion, which had been combined with elements of the newly arrived schwere Panzer-Abteilung 504, surrendered to the British near El Alia in Tunisia. Beginning on 9 September 1943, and employing some 150 veterans of the original formation, the battalion was rebuilt under the command of Major Erich Löwe, an experienced tank officer who had been awarded the Knight’s Cross as a company commander during the 1940 French Campaign. The battalion spent the following months in training and on Sunday, 5 December 1943 began moving to the Eastern Front. From 19 December until the end of the year the battalion was involved in the fierce fighting between Losovka and Vitebsk and it was here, on 23 December, that the battalion commander was killed.

In January and February 1944 the battalion was operating in the area around Vitebsk, north-east of Minsk in modern day Belarus, in support of Panzergrenadier-Division Feldherrnhalle and 14. Infanterie-Division. Despite the heavy fighting just one Tiger was lost at this time when an artillery shell landed directly on the turret roof of Leutnant Schröder’s tank. In early March 1944, with just seventeen serviceable tanks, the battalion took part in Operation Hubertus, a limited offensive to retake the village of Osipenki west of Vitebsk near the current Belarus frontier, with the assault guns of Sturmgeschütz-Brigade 281 and the grenadiers of 256.Infanterie-Division. In early June nine Tigers were handed over to schwere Panzer-Abteilung 509 leaving just twenty tanks in total. On 23 June 1944, the day after the commencement of the Soviet Operation Bagration, the battalion was rushed to the area north-east of Orscha, an important rail and road junction on the Dnieper river, and immediately faced strong Russian armoured units including a number of JS-2 heavy tanks. The fighting here was extremely confused and the tanks of the battalion were widely dispersed. During the withdrawal across the Dnieper the tank of the first platoon commander crashed through the bridge and could not be recovered. In addition several other tanks were abandoned due to lack of fuel. The battalion continued to withdraw to the west and on 2 July 1944 the six remaining operational Tigers were ferried across the Berezina river.

EQUIPMENT ALLOCATIONS AND LOSSES, SCHWERE PANZER-ABTEILUNG 501,1944

Over the next few days a number of tanks were delivered from depot workshops and thrown into the defence of Minsk but most were abandoned after they ran out of fuel and two simply went missing and were never seen again. All surviving crews were withdrawn to Germany where, on 17 July 1944, the battalion was reformed. Equipped with a full complement of tanks the second and third companies returned to the front and on 11 August and were attached to 16. Panzer-Division and immediately thrown into an attack between Chmielnik and Szydlow in central Poland in an effort to reduce the so called Sandomierz Bulge. At the same time, 1.Kompanie was leaving Ohrdruf in Germany and within a week, in a dramatic turn of events, the battalion commander, Oberstleutnant von Legat, was removed from his post over suspicions of his involvement in the July plot to assassinate Hitler. In September the battalion was attached to XXXVIII.Panzerkorps and took part in the defensive battles near Kielce and Ostrowiec on the western bank of the Vistula. At this time a number of Tiger I tanks were handed over from schwere Panzer-Abteilung 509, which was returning to Germany, and by the end of September the battalion reported that fifty-three tanks in total were on hand, with thirty-six of those being combat ready. On 1 December 1944 the battalion was able to field fifty-one operational Tigers and on 21 December was renamed schwere Panzer-Abteilung 424 to avoid confusion with schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 501. On the last day of 1944 the battalion reported that seventeen Tigers were fully operational.

Konrad I: A Hasty Surprise Part I

The early start date of the offensive was prompted by the Germans’ selection of a risky plan for the operation, but it forced the launching of the operation before the forces for it had fully assembled. By the start of the offensive, only 32% (28 of 87 trains) of the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking had arrived; 66% (51 of 77 trains) of the 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf; and 40% (20 of 46 trains) of the 96th Infantry Division. The 711th Infantry Division hadn’t even started unloading in the designated area. The assembly of all these divisions wasn’t completed until 8 January 1945.

Going over to the offensive before completing the assembly of forces worsened the already less than lustrous condition of the SS formations. Despite the exertions of the Third Reich’s military industry that was tottering on the edge of collapse, Wiking and Totenkopf were experiencing a shortage of the most necessary combat equipment. There was a problem even with machine guns: Of the 1,191 light machine guns according to TO&E [table of organization and equipment], Totenkopf had only 536. Of the authorized 1,011 tracked vehicles, Wiking had 442, and only 658 of the 921 ordinary trucks. This made the panzer grenadier regiments of the divisions more like motorized regiments. According to the system of assessing mobility in the Wehrmacht, as expressed in percentages, Wiking had a relatively low indicator of less than 50%. On its part, Totenkopf had extremely few armored halftracks – much fewer than it had possessed at Kursk.

The preparation of Operation Konrad within a compressed period of time led to the fact that the German panzer forces already present in Hungary were only minimally involved in the first relief attack. In addition to the freshly arriving units of the IV SS Panzer Corps, only Kampfgruppe von Pape, which had been defending in the area within the bend in the Danube, went on the attack. At that moment, its roster included the bulk of the 271st Volksgrenadier Division, the elements of Panzerkorps Feldherrnhalle that remained outside of the Budapest pocket, the 208th Panzer Battalion (31 Pz. IV and 17 JgPz IV/70(A)), which had been sent from the Supreme Command Reserve, and two of the three kampfgruppen (from the 6th and 8th Panzer Divisions) that were available in December. The German kampfgruppen consisted of a panzer battalion, a motorized infantry battalion equipped with halftracks, and the self-propelled howitzers (the Hummel 150mm and Wespe 105mm) of the artillery regiment. They were less vulnerable against artillery blocking fire than soft-skinned vehicles or dismounted infantry, and as a result of this were able to penetrate deeply into the enemy’s defenses.

The bulk of the German panzer divisions already in Hungary had become widely scattered on both sides of the Danube River and were thus unable to be used quickly as a unified force for the relief attack. The main forces of the 3rd and 6th Panzer Divisions were still on the north side of the Danube River, while the 1st and 23rd Panzer Divisions were defending at Székesfehérvár and at Mór.

The haste in putting together the counteroffensive was not simply an idle whim of the German high command, since every hour was working to the favor of the Soviet defenders of the outer ring of encirclement. On the eve of the New Year of 1945, feverish preparations for the next round of battle were being made by both sides. The defensive battle at Balaton was fundamentally different from that at Kursk in the summer of 1943. The Soviet troops literally had only several days for improving their positions on the outer ring of Budapest’s encirclement.

At 19.00 on 30 December 1944, the commander of the Soviet 4th Guards Army G.F. Zakharov gave his subordinate troops both defensive and offensive tasks. A German-held salient had formed in the center of the 4th Guards Army’s front lines at Mór, out of which the Germans might be able to develop an offensive into the rear of the defending Soviet units north and south of that town. General Zakharov issued an order for an attack in the first days of 1945 to pinch off this salient at its base. However, the primary assignment of the Army’s rifle corps was defensive. Before 1 January 1945, the 4th Guards Army went on the defensive on a sector of 160 kilometers (including the bank of Lake Balaton). The 31st Guards Rifle Corps was given a sector of 48 kilometers, the 68th Rifle Corps – 18 kilometers, the 20th Guards Rifle Corps – 24 kilometers, the 135th Rifle Corps – 16 kilometers, and the 21st Guards Rifle Corps – 20 kilometers, as well as approximately 35 kilometers of the southern shoreline of Lake Balaton. The average numerical strength of a rifle division of the 4th Guards Army was 5,386 men. Of the 4th Guards Army’s 14 rifle divisions, 11 had a numerical strength of between 5,000 and 6,000 men, which was barely half of their table strength. Such a situation was typical for the Red Army in 1945. The struggle against the remnants of the defeated German and Hungarian units in the forests of the Vértes Hills was absorbing additional troops and equipment. The Axis remnants were attacking Soviet rear echelon units and even headquarters. This also made the situation in Hungary substantially different from that at Kursk in 1943.

However, the January fighting at Balaton also unquestionably had aspects that made it similar to other Soviet defensive battles of the war. An inability to surmise the enemy’s plans was common for many Soviet defensive operations. The January fighting in Hungary was no exception. The 4th Guards Army was deployed with a greater density of force closer to its left flank, in the area of Székesfehérvár. It was here that the reserve 41st Guards Rifle Division and 7th Mechanized Corps (77 tanks and 25 self-propelled guns) were deployed, together with other reinforcements. The 4th Guards Army’s headquarters was also in Székesfehérvár. Given the terrain, this is unsurprising – a German counterattack in the area of Székesfehérvár appeared more logical. The 31st Guards Rifle Corps was defending on the right flank of the 4th Guards Army. As a consequence of the fact that the forces of the neighboring 2nd Ukrainian Front on the right were somewhat lagging behind the 3rd Ukrainian Front, part of this rifle corps had to be detached in order to defend the banks of the Danube. A regiment of the 4th Guards Rifle Division was positioned here with its front oriented to the north. The 34th and 80th Guards Rifle Divisions were holding the rest of the Corps’ sector with their fronts facing the west. The 80th Guards Rifle Division, which was positioned on the axis of the IV SS Panzer Corps’ main attack, had gone over to the defensive only at 20.00 30 December 1944. The division’s units were unable to dig even one continuous trench line in the rocky soil.

The objective factors, related to the weakness of the Soviet defenders’ positions, were made worse by subjective factors. Afterward, in Order No. 11 of 14 January 1945, the commander of the 4th Guards Army pointed to serious shortcomings in the preparation of the 80th Guards Rifle Division’s defensive set-up: “The Tavares – Agostyán highway, which was thought to have been mined, was in fact not mined; the mines were lying non-emplaced on the roadside, and subsequently they were found and disarmed by the enemy without difficulty.”1 Most likely, the lack of defensive preparations was simply due to the fact that no one believed the enemy would attack and everyone looked upon defensive measures with indifference. Moreover, the Vértes Hills gave natural benefits to any defender.

The presence of the 18th Tank Corps, which had been pulled back into the reserve and which was directly subordinate to Front headquarters, somewhat offset the dangerous situation on the right flank of the 4th Guards Army. This Corps had suffered relatively light losses in the course of the December offensive and had retained its strike capabilities. On 31 December 1944 it numbered 110 T-34 tanks, as well as 18 ISU-122 and 15 SU-85 self-propelled guns. The 18th Tank Corps was in readiness to counter both attempts by the Budapest garrison to break out and any possible German counterattack against the outer encirclement ring. One of its brigades (the 170th Tank Brigade) was still at the front near Dunaalmási at the start of Operation Konrad. It had been left there with the aim of supporting the infantry in the storming of that town.

The 18th Tank Corps was not the only mobile formation at the call of the 3rd Ukrainian Front’s command. General I.N. Russianov’s 1st Guards Mechanized Corps had been sent to Hungary from the Stavka Reserve. This corps started its history as the 100th Rifle Division, which had distinguished itself in the first days of the war in the combat for Minsk and for this reason became the 1st Guards Rifle Division. In 1942 it was re-formed into a mechanized corps. In 1943, the 1st Guards Mechanized Corps took part in the battles for the Donbass, Zaporozh’e and Kirovograd. After this it was withdrawn to Poltava into the Stavka Reserve, where it spent the next 13 months refitting. On 8 December 1944, at a directive from the Red Army’s General Staff the corps began loading aboard trains, which departed for the front one after another. Situated in reserve, the 1st Guards Mechanized Corps was fully staffed with officers and men. By December 1944, this mechanized corps could have been boldly called “Siberian” – 70% of its personnel were Siberians, who had managed to receive excellent tactical training as infantry. In contrast, its tanks had arrived not long before the departure to the front, and there hadn’t been time to conduct joint training with them. The tanks that reached Russianov’s formation were not standard-issue – the corps was equipped with American Sherman tanks that had been received through Lend-Lease. This at first caused certain problems for the 1st Guards Mechanized Corps’ repair teams, which had been trained on T-34 tanks. Russianov’s corps also had three self-propelled artillery regiments equipped with the latest SU-100 tank destroyers. The 1st Guards Mechanized Corps began unloading from the trains on 24 December 1944, the very same day that Hitler ordered the IV SS Panzer Corps to be sent to Budapest. The arrival of the 1st Guards Mechanized Corps and the three SU-100 regiments can be considered as a reaction of the Soviet high command to the German commitment of several panzer divisions into the fighting in Hungary in November – December 1944.

The 46th Army became one more actor in the pending drama, though it was still lurking offstage. The main forces of General Shlemin’s army were besieging Buda; however, a number of its formations had been pulled out of the front line and in the process they effectively became a reserve for the defense of the outer ring of encirclement. Its 86th Guards Rifle Division was in a defensive posture south of Esztergom [called Gran by the Germans] with its front facing the east. In the event of a breakout by the Germans and Hungarians from Budapest, it was to block their path. In addition, the 46th Army’s 2nd Guards Mechanized Corps (31 tanks and 13 self-propelled guns) was also now in reserve. It had also received the assignment to block any breakout from Budapest, if such an event took place. Finally, the 49th Guards Rifle Division was engaged in mopping up the forests lying to the west of the encircled Hungarian capital. These three formations hadn’t been drawn into the assault on Budapest, which meant it wasn’t necessary to lose time to disengage them from combat.

By the second half of the war, a so-called “air army”, which included fighters, ground attack aircraft, reconnaissance aircraft, artillery observation airplanes and bombers that operated in support of one or another front, had become standard in the Red Army. Accordingly, in addition to the all-arms armies, an air army was subordinate to each front’s headquarters, but its precise composition varied according to the importance and nature of the tasks facing the ground troops. The composition of the 3rd Ukrainian Front’s 17th Air Army as of 1 January 1945 was characterized by the following numbers (the figure to the left of the slash shows operational aircraft, while the number to the right of it shows aircraft under repair at the time):

La-5 fighters: 79/15

Iak-3 and Iak-9 fighters: 202/13

Il-2 ground attack aircraft: 345/27

B-3 (A-20 Boston) bombers: 98/13

Po-2 night bombers: 94/3

Pe-2 reconnaissance aircraft: 12/2

Iak-9 reconnaissance aircraft: 2/6

Il-2 artillery spotters: 17/4

Iak-9 artillery spotters: 12/0

Thus, the 17th Air Army as of 1 January 1945 had a total of 861 operational aircraft.

According to both its numbers and composition, the 17th Air Army could be characterized as an air army designated for operations on a secondary axis. Air armies on key directions had two or three times the number of aircraft. In addition, the 17th Air Army had no Pe-2 dive bombers at all, not to mention any of the powerful Tu-2 twin-engine bombers, which were comparable to the German Ju-88. Domestically-produced bombers were partially replaced by Lend-Lease Bostons. These weren’t bad aircraft, but they were unable to dive bomb.

The comparatively small 17th Air Army becomes even more lackluster when compared to the enemy’s air force. Despite the attention that Hitler had focused on Hungary, the German Luftflotte [Air Fleet] 4 that was operational on the German southern flank was not the largest. On 10 January 1945, of the four Luftwaffe air fleets in the east (1, 4, 5 and 6), the numerically largest was Luftlotte 6, which was operating in Poland and East Prussia. It numbered 822 combat aircraft. However, according to the data for 10 January 1945, Luftflotte 4 in Hungary stood in a respectable second place with 588 combat aircraft (78 single-engine fighters, 56 bombers, 199 ground attack aircraft, 101 night attack aircraft, 38 long-range reconnaissance aircraft, 67 short-range reconnaissance aircraft, and 49 transport aircraft). In addition to the 3rd Ukrainian Front’s 17th Air Army, Luftflotte 4 also faced the 2nd Ukrainian Front’s 5th Air Army, which had 642 operational combat aircraft on 1 January 1945, also with A-20 Bostons in place of Pe-2s. However, all the same the correlation of forces in the air here was worse for the Soviet side than on other directions of advance in this period.

In view of the swift regrouping of Gille’s IV SS Panzer Corps from the Warsaw area to Hungary, Soviet intelligence didn’t manage to acquire reliable evidence of the arrival of fresh enemy formations before the start of Konrad. In its intelligence summary produced at 22.00 1 January 1945, that is, just several hours before the launching of the enemy offensive, the headquarters of the 4th Guards Army came to the following conclusion: “The enemy is striving to hold its present positions with all its forces; on separate sectors of the front, the adversary is undertaking attacks for reconnaissance purposes and with the aim of improving local positions.” At that moment, it had relatively solid intelligence about the arrival of Wiking at the front from prisoners. Yet it simply had no information at all about Totenkopf. It isn’t surprising, given such attitudes, that the anti-tank mines had been stacked on the side of the roads instead of being emplaced.

Konrad I: A Hasty Surprise Part II

Repulse of the German Counteroffensives Konrad I and II, 1-11 January 1945.

Soviet forces were the first to go on the attack in the new 1945 year. At 11.00 1 January, five rifle divisions in the center of the 4th Guards Army went on the offensive with the aim of seizing Mór. The attackers were met by heavy fire and had no success. Heavy snow began falling that afternoon. Despite the exceptionally poor flying weather, the German Luftwaffe became active. In groups of several aircraft, they bombed targets close behind the Soviet front line in the sector targeted by Operation Konrad. These small groups of 3 to 10 aircraft each became the harbingers of the German offensive. But times had changed, and instead of large swarms of Stukas, now the Germans were operating in small groups of fighter-bombers.

At 22.00 1 January 1945, small groups of German tanks and infantry began to probe the Soviet defenses, but at 2.30 2 January, the main forces of the IV SS Panzer Corps entered the fighting. The defensive positions of the 80th Guards Rifle Division were broken by a powerful blow on a narrow front, and the Germans emerged in the rear of the defending regiments and attacked the division’s headquarters in Agostyán. Command and control over the division’s units became disrupted. Simultaneously, in the time period between 1.00 and 5.00 2 January, a landing party from the 96th Infantry Division crossed the Danube and managed to drive the units of the 4th Guards Rifle Division out of a number of villages on the Danube’s right bank. Soon, the infantry of the river crossing linked up with panzers that were attacking from the west. Part of the 80th Guards Rifle Division and the 18th Tank Corps’ 170th Tank Brigade (27 tanks) became encircled. From the very start of the operation, two directions of enemy attack became clear: along the Danube and through Agostyán. On the former axis of advance, the IV SS Panzer Corps was operating, while Kampfgruppe von Pape was attacking on the latter axis. For a certain amount of time, General Gorba managed to keep the Germans out of Agostyán by holding a narrow pass in the hills. However, the blocking force in the pass, which had held up all day against German tank attacks on 2 January, was outflanked by enemy infantry on the following morning.

The 31st Guards Rifle Corps’ defensive front was swiftly crumbling, and in essence it was necessary to create a new one. The 41st Guards Rifle Division, which was located in Zakharov’s reserve, was 60 kilometers away from the point of the German breakthrough, and it would require no less than a day and a half or even two days before it could move out. In addition, at the start of the German offensive, it still wasn’t clear whether the German attack toward Agostyán was the main attack or just a pinning attack. The 3rd Ukrainian Front commander F.I. Tolbukhin decided to split up the attack grouping that was targeting Mór. The 93rd Rifle Division, which had been attacking on a narrow front, was pulled out of the front line and received an order to make a forced march to Tarján. This would require the division to conduct a march of approximately 45 kilometers. At Tarján, it would block the path of the German advance out of the wooded, hilly area through Bicske onto the plain.

The dismantling of the 4th Guards Army’s attack grouping didn’t stop with the removal of the 93rd Rifle Division. Tolbukhin also pulled the 40th and 62nd Rifle Divisions out of the front line and into the reserve. In addition, General Gorshkov’s 5th Guards Cavalry Corps was taken out of the fighting near Mór. On the evening of 1 January, it had joined the attack on that town, but it had also had no success. Already on the morning of 2 January, it received a fresh order to march to a new area of assembly.

However, it was no longer possible to resurrect a line of defense and extend its right flank to the Danube River with just the forces of the 4th Guards Army alone. This could only be accomplished with additional forces of the 3rd Ukrainian Front. Front commander Tolbukhin decided to create a new line of defense 16-20 kilometers behind the 4th Guards Army’s already ruptured positions as quickly as possible, while delaying the German advance with screening forces. The German axis of advance along the bank of the Danube had been identified as the most dangerous one at the time. Soviet mobile divisions could reach the new line of defense most quickly, so the 18th Tank Corps (minus its 170th Tank Brigade) received an order to move to a blocking position in the path of the German penetration. The 86th Guards Rifle Division and the 46th Army’s 2nd Guards Mechanized Corps moved out toward the same place. Just like the Russian fairy tale, the rifle division and mechanized corps pivoted, with their backside now to the forest (Budapest) and their front facing Ivan Tsarevich (the IV SS Panzer Corps). The orientation of the front of the two formations had flipped 180 degrees, blocking the enemy’s path to Budapest along the bank of the Danube.

Tolbukhin was an artilleryman, and this left a definite imprint on his style of conducting a defensive operation. He ordered Zakharov to move up Katiusha rocket launchers, artillery (including anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery) and mortars, which had passed to his control from the roster of the 18th Tank Corps and the 5th Guards Cavalry Corps, to the new line of defense. It should be noted that the Germans also used this tactic. In the course of defensive battles, they would create combat groups of anti-tank guns and artillery, which had greater mobility than did the infantry, and deploy them on the axis of the enemy advance.

On 3 January, the firmness of the new line of defense was tested by attacks by German panzer formations. The reserves that had moved up at Tolbukhin’s and Zakharov’s orders entered the fighting. Units of the IV SS Panzer Corps that were attacking along the right bank of the Danube collided with the defenses of the 86th Guards Rifle Division and the 18th Tank Corps, which had been reinforced with anti-tank artillery. Fierce tank battles developed for control of the Bajna road hub. Hours literally decided everything. The 110th Tank Brigade and the 363rd Self-propelled Artillery Regiment equipped with ISU-122s entered Bajna at 5.30 on 3 January and immediately ran into the leading units of the 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf. They managed to drive back the Germans and keep possession of this important road junction. That afternoon, the SS troops launched furious but unsuccessful attacks on Bajna from the north, and then from the west and east. The outflanking maneuvers of the Germans were anticipated and parried.

The activity of the Luftwaffe, according to the standards of 1945, was rather high on the day of 3 January. Altogether, the Germans conducted approximately 350 individual combat sorties. Groups of 15-20 fighter-bombers almost continuously hung in the air above the combat positions of elements of the 18th Tank Corps in Bajna. In the course of the day, 6 T-34 tanks and 2 ISU-122 self-propelled guns of the 110th Tank Brigade were left burned out after their attacks. The 181st Tank Brigade lost 5 more T-34 tanks and had an additional 3 rendered immobile.

The actions of the Soviet reserves that had hurried up to confront Kampfgruppe von Pape and the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking were less successful. The successful advance of the attackers created a salient in the Soviet line, the perimeter of which was longer than the initial front of the defense, thereby requiring additional Soviet units to hold it. In the process, the attacker had the possibility to choose the next axis of attack with the creation of a local superiority of force at the selected point of the attack.

On the second day of the operation, the German units that had been moving through Agostyán from the west to the east altered their axis of attack. Now their path of advance ran almost directly from north to south through Tarján toward Bicske, toward an exit from the hilly, wooded terrain. Forward units of the 93rd Rifle Division managed to reach Tarján on 3 January, but lacked the time to build a continuous line of defense. In the middle of the day, they were enveloped from both flanks and compelled to retreat.

Both sides made changes in their plans due to the results of the fighting on 3 January. The strong blocking force across the road to Budapest, created by the units of the 46th Army and the 18th Tank Corps that had been moved from that city, forced the Germans to search for reserves in order to strengthen the attack grouping. For this purpose, the main forces of the 6th Panzer Division returned from the northern bank of the Danube. Now it was to rejoin its armored grouping (that was part of Kampfgruppe von Pape).

On its part the Soviet command, recognizing the shakiness of the newly created line of defense, strove to reinforce it as much as possible. The 7th Mechanized Corps was still sitting in reserve in Székesfehérvár. However, an unusual combat group under the leadership of the deputy commander of the 4th Guards Army Major General Filippovsky was detached from it and sent to repel the enemy attack. It consisted of the 16th Mechanized Brigade, the 78th Guards Heavy Tank Regiment, and the 1289th Self-propelled Artillery Regiment (a total of 16 T-34, 12 IS-2, 4 SU-85, 7 SU-76, 8 armored halftracks, and 20 85mm guns). Filippovsky was also given control of the 41st Guards Rifle Division and the 152nd Howitzer, the 222nd and 127th Cannon Artillery Regiments, as well as the 205th Mortar Regiment. In addition to Group Filippovsky, a significant amount of rocket artillery was moved up to the approaches to Bicske. Already by the morning of 4 January, 13 M-13 rocket artillery battalions and 1 M-31 battalion were positioned here – which represented a large portion of the 3rd Ukrainian Front’s Katiusha rocket launchers. The so-called “Guards mortars” mounted on trucks were always one of the Soviet command’s most maneuverable reserves. The Katiusha rocket launchers could be assembled on a selected axis much more quickly than regular artillery, especially heavy artillery.

The German counteroffensive also compelled an urgent crossing of the freshly arrived 1st Guards Mechanized Corps to the western bank of the Danube. According to plan, it was to cross using a 60-ton pontoon bridge. However, the bridge had been swept away by drifting ice (a large amount of floating ice was moving down the Danube at the time), and as a result the crossing was organized by two ferry boats towing armored launches. Naturally, this significantly slowed the pace of the river crossing. By 6.00 4 January, only the combat elements, without their rear services and a majority of the vehicles, had crossed the Danube. The motorized riflemen moved up to the front line on foot. A group of 59 SU-100 from three self-propelled artillery regiments under the command of the deputy artillery commander of the 1st Guards Mechanized Corps Colonel Sveshnikov had been moved out in advance of the infantry. By 8.00 4 January, it had already assembled in the Bicske area.

The events of 4 January demonstrated the correctness of the decisions that had been made by Tolbukhin and Zakharov. It was Group Filippovsky, which had been created at their order that prevented the Germans from reaching operational space on this day. Having bypassed the 93rd Rifle Division in Tarján and driven the 12th Guards Cavalry Division from its positions, Wiking’s tanks had lunged on to the south toward Bicske, and penetrated to the village of Mány, which lay just 4.5 kilometers to the north of Bicske. From there, it would take only one more bound in order to break out of the hilly and wooded area onto the plain west of Budapest. However, on the afternoon of 4 January, the mobile units of Group Filippovsky that had come hurrying up struck the southward attacking German units in the flank. Threatened with encirclement, the German units that had been advancing at a heady pace that morning were compelled to recoil in retreat. By evening, Group Filippovsky’s rifle units had moved into position, and the defenses on the approaches to Bicske became sufficiently solid to withstand an enemy panzer attack.

In the northern sector of the offensive on 4 January, the Germans again used the method of crossing the Danube, which allowed them to outflank the 86th Guards Rifle Division and shove it back to the east. Here, the two infantry divisions of Gille’s IV SS Panzer Corps were continuing the offensive along the course of the Danube River. However, the Soviet defenses had in the interim been bolstered by the 2nd Guards Mechanized Corps, which stopped the enemy advance.

In the meantime, Totenkopf was stubbornly assaulting Bajna. On the night of 3 January, the village had been attacked by German panzer grenadiers equipped with panzerfausts. Bajna increasingly took on the semblance of a mousetrap, as Wiking’s advance had pushed far beyond the defenders’ left flank. On the morning of 4 January, the 110th Tank Brigade and the regiment of ISU-122s were pulled out of Bajna to the south of the village, where they took up concealed positions on hilltops behind a stream. However, here the Soviet tanks and self-propelled guns that were deployed in ambush were pounced upon by German fighter-bombers. According to the list of the 18th Tank Corps’ irrecoverable losses for the day 4 January, 5 (!!!) heavy ISU-122 self-propelled guns were knocked out or destroyed by German bombs in the vicinity of the village of Bajna. In addition to these losses, on 3-4 January 15 T-34 tanks had been destroyed by German artillery fire in the Bajna area. However, the outcome of the fighting for Bajna was decided by Wiking’s attack west of Bajna, which penetrated to the village of Mány. Although this breakthrough couldn’t be exploited by the Germans, the units of the 18th Tank Corps in the Bajna area were now in danger of being encircled. By the morning of 5 January, they had been withdrawn to the line Mány – Zsámbék, where they tied in with the defenses of Bicske. By this time, the 110th Tank Brigade and the 363rd Self-propelled Artillery Regiment had been reduced to 15 T-34 tanks and 8 ISU-122 self-propelled guns (of the 37 T-34 and 19 ISU-122 they had possessed on 1 January).

Since the defensive battle was being prolonged, it no longer made sense to leave the “breakwaters” of encircled units in the enemy rear. On the night of 3 January, the 80th Guards Rifle Division and the 170th Tank Brigade at the order of the commander of the 4th Guards Army broke out of their encirclement along the hilly, forested roads. Approximately 100 vehicles, as well as 11 T-34s and 11 SU-85s managed to return to friendly lines. The tankers even managed to bring out their wounded.

While the divisions that had received the initial enemy attack were bringing themselves back to order, the newly constructed defensive line was subjected to the next series of panzer attacks by Kampfgruppe von Pape and Wiking. However, with the arrival of the 40th and 41st Guards Rifle Divisions on the approaches to Bicske, the defensive front stiffened to the necessary degree. Even the main forces of the 6th Panzer Division which were added to the German attack grouping on 6 January didn’t alter the situation. All of the German attacks on Bicske were repulsed. For the role he played in the several days of defensive fighting, Colonel M.F. Malyshev, the commander of the 16th Mechanized Brigade that had most distinguished itself in the combat, was awarded the Order of the Red Banner.

Having pulled alongside the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, the 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf was also unable to overcome the 18th Tank Corps’ defenses on the approaches to Zsámbék. The Soviet tank corps’ combat ranks had been fleshed out with the arrival of the 49th Guards Rifle Division from Budapest. This axis was also reinforced with the three self-propelled SU-100 artillery regiments from the 1st Guards Mechanized Corps. They had been shifted from the Bicske area and placed under the operational control of the commander of the 18th Tank Corps. Since it wasn’t clear where the Germans would strike next, the group of three SU-100 regiments had to extend their front significantly. It was at Számbék where the latest Soviet self-propelled tank destroyers had their first baptism by fire.

On the morning of 7 January, the Germans went on the attack toward Számbék. Blocking their path was the 382nd Guards Self-propelled Artillery Regiment of SU-100s. Under the enemy onslaught, the infantry of the 49th Guards Rifle Division fell back and left the SU-100 tank destroyers alone to face the attacking German units. The Germans threw infantry against the self-propelled guns. In the course of it they employed anti-tank grenades and Molotov cocktails, while the crews of the self-propelled guns, which lacked machine guns, fought back with whatever infantry weapons they had at hand. Over the day of combat the regiment lost half of its strength – 9 self-propelled guns were left burning, and 2 were knocked out. However, there was no German breakthrough on this axis. By 8 January 1945, the first German offensive with the aim of freeing Budapest, now known as Operation Konrad I, had been stopped.

Scharnhorst and Gneisenau 1914

SMS Scharnhorst at sea.

Admiral von Spee’s squadron in line ahead off Chile in late November 1914: SMS Scharnhorst (the most distant ship), SMS Gneisenau, SMS Leipzig, SMS Nürnberg and SMS Dresden (in the foreground)

German armoured cruiser class, built 1904- 08. Two large cruisers, D and C, were authorized in 1904; they were launched respectively as Scharnhorst by Blohm und Voss on March 22, 1906, and Gneisenau by AG Weser on June 14 the same year. They were the last classic armoured cruisers built for the German navy.

In every respect they were a great improvement over previous German cruisers ¬and compared well with foreign contemporaries. However, the British ‘Dreadnought’ armoured cruisers of the Invincible Class rendered them obsolete by the time they were completed.

Upon completion, both ships were sent to the German colony of Tsingtau in China. In 1914 the Scharnhorst served as flagship for Commander of the East Asiatic Squadron Vice Admiral Maximilian Reichsgraf von Spee. Charged with protecting German territory in the Pacific, the squadron was regarded as the most efficient and effective in the Imperial German Navy, with long-service officers and sailors. When war began in August 1914, Spee sailed with his command from Ponape Island to avoid certain destruction by superior British and Japanese forces. He attacked Allied shipping while sailing eastward toward South America, determined to return the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau to Germany by way of Cape Horn.

On 1 November 1914, Spee’s squadron encountered an inferior British squadron under Rear Admiral Christopher Cradock off the Chilean port of Coronel. The Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau quickly sank two armored cruisers in a stunning embarrassment for the Royal Navy. London dispatched additional ships to intercept Spee, including the new battle cruisers Invincible and Inflexible. On 8 December 1914, this force under Vice Admiral Doveton Sturdee pursued Spee’s squadron off the Falkland Islands and sank both Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in a four-hour battle.

Battle of Coronel, (1 November 1914)

Key early World War I naval battle between the Royal Navy and the German East Asia Squadron. With the outbreak of war in August 1914, German Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee moved his East Asia Squadron of the armored cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the light cruisers Nürnberg, Dresden, and Leipzig from Tsingtao to Easter Island. There he learned that British Vice Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock’s flagship Good Hope, another armored cruiser, the Monmouth, and the light cruiser Glasgow were nearby.

The Royal Navy was aware of Spee’s presence in the area. Cradock feared that the Germans would attack the Falkland Islands, the English Bank, and the Abrolhos coaling bases, and he telegraphed London requesting that strong Royal Navy units be positioned on both coasts of South America.

The Admiralty denied the request. Instead, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill ordered out the old battleship Canopus, armed with 4 × 12-inch guns, despite Cradock’s protest that she would slow his squadron’s speed to only 12 knots. It was unclear how Cradock would be able to engage and defeat Spee’s squadron, which was capable of 20 knots. Besides, the battleship’s guns were of an early type that could not outrange Spee’s smaller guns, and her gun crews were reservists who had not had an opportunity to practice firing. The Canopus arrived at the Falklands on 22 October and underwent maintenance there to improve her speed.

Cradock, meanwhile, left the Canopus at Port Stanley and began a search for what he assumed to be a single German ship, the Leipzig. At the same time, the Germans were hunting the Glasgow, which Cradock had detached to Coronel on 27 October under orders that she rendezvous with the rest of the squadron on 1 November. This situation, where each side was searching for a single enemy ship, brought the two enemy squadrons together off the west coast of South America, near Coronel.

At 4:40 p.m. on November 1 during his northward search for the Leipzig, Cradock’s ships sighted the German cruiser squadron. Although the two squadrons were approximately equal in total firepower, the Germans held a clear advantage. The Good Hope had 2 × 9.2-inch guns at bow and stern, and 16 × 6-inch guns; it was the only ship in the squadron with guns of that size. None of the other ships in Cradock’s squadron had guns larger than 6 inches; without the Canopus, Cradock was at a grave disadvantage.

The German force, on the other hand, had more long-range guns. The Scharnhorst and Gneisenau each mounted 8 × 8.2-inch guns with a maximum range of 13,500 meters. These were the weapons that would decide the outcome of the battle. At 6:34 p.m. the Germans opened the action at 12,300 meters, barely within the 12,500-meter range of Cradock’s largest guns. Within minutes the Otranto sheered out of action; at 6:50 the Monmouth fell out of line, damaged and helpless, and 33 minutes later the Germans hit the Good Hope, which exploded. At 7:26 the German cruisers ceased fire. The Good Hope sank at about 10:00 p.m., with her total complement of 900 aboard, including Cradock.

Of the three ships in the British squadron, the Monmouth drifted until about 12:00, when the Nürnberg located and sank her in the darkness. Her total complement of 675 men was lost. Only the Glasgow and Otranto were able to escape into the night.

The Battle of Coronel was a demoralizing setback for the Admiralty and the entire British nation. The loss of two elderly cruisers could hardly affect the naval balance, but the news shocked Britain, as the public had not expected a defeat of this magnitude. German losses were trifling. More serious was the expenditure of 42 percent of the squadron’s 8.2-inch ammunition, which could not be replaced from Germany.

There was some fear in London that Spee would steam around Cape Horn and attack the vulnerable British naval installations. A month later, however, Vice Admiral F. D. Sturdee’s battle cruisers caught and defeated Spee’s squadron in the Battle of the Falkland Islands.

Battle of the Falklands, (8 December 1914)

World War I naval battle. Following his victory in the Battle of Coronel on 1 November 1914, Vice Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee, commanding the German East Asia Squadron, decided to leave the southeast Pacific Ocean. Spee planned to move his squadron—consisting of the armored cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and light cruisers Dresden, Leipzig, and Nürnberg—into the southwest Atlantic Ocean to meet a supply ship. After arriving in the Strait of Magellan, Spee decided to attack the Falkland Islands, burn coal stored there, and destroy the wireless station.

Meanwhile, in response to the humiliating loss at Coronel, the British Admiralty sent out additional naval assets to Port Stanley in the Falklands. Vice Admiral Sir Frederick Doveton Sturdee’s force arrived at Port Stanley on 7 December 1914. He had the modern battle cruisers Invincible and Inflexible, along with the cruisers Carnarvon, Bristol, Kent, Glasgow, and Cornwall, and the auxiliary cruiser Macedonia. The old battleship Canopus was positioned on a mud flat near the harbor’s entrance to serve as a stationary fortress.

As his ships approached the Falkland Islands early on 8 December, Spee detached the Gneisenau and Nürnberg to conduct the raid. His remaining ships would search for British warships. At about 8:30 a.m. Sturdee received word of the German approach.

At Port Stanley some of the cruisers were undergoing repairs, and others were coaling. The smoke from ships trying to raise steam caught the attention of the captain of the Gneisenau as the German raiders neared the harbor mouth. Frantically, the German ships turned away as salvoes from the Canopus splashed near them. Sturdee set out in pursuit at 9:45 a.m., leaving the Kent and the Macedonia behind.

The Invincible and Inflexible were faster than the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and soon overtook them. Reversing the circumstances of Coronel, the British had the advantage in heavier, longer range guns (12-inch on the battle cruisers versus 8.2-inch on the German armored cruisers). Sturdee used this to his advantage, fighting a long-range battle that the Germans could not win.

Sturdee opened fire on the trailing German cruisers just before 1:00 p.m., whereupon Spee ordered his light cruisers to disperse and attempt to escape. Sturdee sent his own cruisers in pursuit of them, while his battle cruisers chased down the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. The Scharnhorst was first to sink; the Gneisenau, crippled, was scuttled.

In the battle between the German light cruisers and the heavier British cruisers, only the Dresden escaped. She remained at large for over three months before being scuttled off Chile on 14 March 1915. Sturdee’s force suffered only 6 killed and 15 wounded. Only 157 Germans survived from the ships that had been sunk; some 2,000 were lost.

The Battle of the Falklands ended the one major surface threat to the Royal Navy that was outside the North Sea.

Specifications

Displacement: 11,616 tons (normal), 12985 tons (full load)

Length: 144.6 m (474 ft 5 in) oa

Beam: 21.6 m (70 ft 11 in)

Draught: 8.37 m (27 ft 6 in) max

Machinery: 3-shaft reciprocating steam, 26000 ihp=22.5 knots

Armament: 8 21-cm (8.2- in) L/40 (2×2, 4×1); 6 15-cm (5.9-in) L/40 (6×1); 18 8.8-cm (3.46-in) L/35 (18×1); 4 45-cm (17.7- in) torpedo tubes (submerged; 1 bow, 1 stern, 2 beam)

Crew: 764 (840 as flagship)

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The II SS Panzer Corps at Arnhem

The formation that played the critical role in defeating the Allies in Market Garden was II SS Panzer Corps, consisting of the 9th Waffen-SS Division Hohenstaufen and the 10th Waffen-SS Division Frundsberg. These two elite divisions had played a leading part in freeing the First Panzer Army from encirclement by the Russians in April. They then took part in the Normandy battles from the beginning of July onward. By early September, the corps had been reduced to about 6,500–7,000, of whom a small majority were Frundsberg men. Both divisions were officially down to Kampfgruppe (Battle Group) strength, but their fighting quality was high and their leadership exemplary.

The corps commander was SS-Lt. General Wilhelm Bittrich, whom Roy Urquhart described as a leader of “tremendous professional ability.” The acting head of Hohenstaufen was SS-Colonel Walter Harzer, who was young, articulate, able and ambitious. Both Bittrich and Harzer were Anglophiles, which accounts in part for the healthy respect which both sides held for each other. The commander of Frundsberg was SS-Maj. General Heinz Harmel, whom the historian of the Waffen-SS, Col. General of the SS Paul Hausser, referred to as a leader of “proven ability.” He was known to the troops with warmth as Der alte Frundsberg (Old Frundsberg Himself).

During the retreat of II SS Panzer Corps from the Falaise pocket on 21 August, command and control of Army Group B broke down completely. Model rarely knew where his units were or what shape they were in, receiving information that was either out of date or otherwise unreliable. Hausser, the commander of II SS Panzer Corps before he was promoted to head Seventh Army, was carried out of the Falaise Pocket, badly wounded, on the hull of one of the last remaining tanks from 1st SS Panzer Division.

During this chaotic period, Bittrich, who had taken over from Hausser, still found time to demand 111 new tanks on 26 August. On 3 September, Model had ordered all SS armored divisions to refit north of Namur in Belgium; this order was apparently never received by Bittrich. By 4 September, Bittrich had been out of touch with Army Group B for three days. He made his way on foot to Model’s HQ near Liege and received verbal orders to disengage and move north into Holland for rest and refitting. Both the 9th and 10th SS divisions began withdrawing on 5–6 September, advanced units of the former reaching the Arnhem area by the evening of the 6th.

Bittrich then discovered to his chagrin that in refitting his two divisions they were to be split up; Frundsberg remaining in the Arnhem area and Hohenstaufen entraining for Siegen in the Reich, just east of the Ruhrindustriegebiet. Hohenstaufen was ordered to hand over its remaining armor and vehicles to Frundsberg, but these were still with the division on D-Day, when only technical and administrative units had left for Germany. Despite the corps order, both divisions were prepared for imminent action.

Hohenstaufen was divided into nineteen Alarmheiten, each of about company strength, comprising about 2,500 men in total. Most of these “alarm companies” were stationed 10–15 km northeast of Arnhem so that they could be brought to bear against any landing west of the city as well as north and east. Particularly crucial was the location of the 9th SS Reconnaissance Battalion at Beekbergen. In defiance of the order to hand over their vehicles to Frundsberg, the Hohenstaufen men disabled them in various, reversible ways such as having the tracks removed. While most of the vehicles were already loaded onto flatcars ready to move to Siegen, the battalion was otherwise poised to descend on Arnhem and points south.

Most of the corps had been thoroughly trained in anti-paratroop operations in France in 1943. Where the corps was deficient was in transport; the alarm units having to travel, for the most part, on foot or by bicycle. Communications with Harzer’s HQ at Beekbergen outside Apeldoorn and between the companies were also so poor that the resulting siege of Frost’s battalion at the Arnhem bridge was achieved as much by luck as by design.

Frundsberg’s Harmel, with more men and heavy weapons than Hohenstaufen’s Harzer, also reorganized his division so that by 17 September he could call upon three battalions of Panzergrenadiere motorized infantry, a tank group of Panzerkampfwagen (Panzer) IVs in Vorden, and a flak (anti-aircraft) regiment in Dieren. Panzergrenadier Regiment 21, with a complement of 12 anti-tank guns, was stationed at Deventer.

The dispositions of Frundsberg are essential to an understanding of the German reaction on D-Day. The division’s reconnaissance battalion under SS-Major Brinkmann was at Borculo and Eibergen, east of Harmel’s HQ at Ruurlo, and the furthest of all the Panzer Corps units from Arnhem. The units at Vorden, Dieren and Deventer were also further from Arnhem than those of Hohenstaufen. The only units close to Arnhem were Battalion Euling at Rheden and the battery of artillery at Dieren commanded by SS-Lt. Colonel Ludwig Spindler. The reason they were there was that they had been transferred to Frundsberg from Hohenstaufen; after the airborne landings, Spindler took charge of all Hohenstaufen units that were put into the fight against the First Parachute Brigade.

Frundsberg, most of it further away from Arnhem than Hohenstaufen, was directed on to Nijmegen, including Euling’s battalion. There, Frundsberg barred the way to Arnhem, which was even more important than the success of Hohenstaufen and SS Training Battalion Krafft in checking the British at Arnhem-Oosterbeek. The actions of Frundsberg were the death-knell of Market Garden.

On 17 September, Frundsberg was without its commander. During the Normandy battles, there had been rumblings of dissent among the Waffen-SS leadership. Discontent with the military direction of the war had reached such a pitch that Rommel, the commander of Army Group B, hatched a plan to end the war on the Western Front. He sounded out several of his commanders, including those of the Waffen-SS. Hausser, Bittrich, even Sepp Dietrich, an old Nazi and the longest-serving of the senior SS commanders, all expressed support.

The plan was that Hitler would be arrested but not killed and Rommel would direct an orderly withdrawal to the Siegfried Line and invite the Western Allies to occupy France. But then Rommel was wounded in an air attack on 17 July and Army Group B was without a commander until Model took over on 17 August. The attempt on Hitler’s life on 20 July caught these western conspirators by surprise and Rommel later killed himself, not because his plot had been discovered but because his name was on a list of senior figures designated by the 20 July conspirators to take over from Hitler.

Bittrich’s diatribes against the military leadership during the Battle of Normandy had reached the ears of the Reichsfuehrer SS, Heinrich Himmler. The last straw came when Bittrich heard that Col. General Erich Hoeppner, his former commander on the Eastern Front, had been condemned to death by hanging. Bittrich exploded in fury, saying that such a disgraceful fate meant the end of the German Army. Himmler dismissed Bittrich although his senior officer, General Hans Eberbach of the Fifth Panzer Army, refused to let him go. Himmler tried again during the Arnhem battle but Model again refused to release Bittrich, quite possibly saving his life.

Unfortunately, Bittrich still needed to plead the case for more heavy weapons and equipment from the SS-Fuehrungshauptampt (Operational Department). Since Frundsberg was in the most immediate need of heavy weapons, it was Harmel who was sent to Berlin, unbeknownst to Model. The fact that he left his division shows that Bittrich had no inkling at all of the massive attack that was to fall on the Germans from Eindhoven to Arnhem. Harmel left Ruurlo by car on the evening of 16 September and met with SS-Obergruppenfuehrer Hans Juettner, the head of one of the two vast military bureaucracies governing the Waffen-SS, and Himmler’s military Chief of Staff. Juettner promised 1,500 recruits but was noncommittal about heavy weapons. Negotiations were overtaken by events and Harmel was summoned by teletype back to Arnhem on the afternoon of the 17th.

ANTICIPATING ATTACK

The Germans certainly anticipated Allied paratroop landings in offensive actions to follow up their retreat. In general, they expected the landings to be larger than those in Market and much deeper behind the German lines. The only inkling that the Allies had of the Germans anticipating Market Garden were Ultra decrypts of 14 and 15 September, showing the Germans expected large-scale air landings in Holland and a thrust by ground forces on both sides of Eindhoven to Arnhem.

The decrypt of 15 September is particularly revealing. The message was decoded at a time when, apart from the military situation at Brest, most of the decrypted messages concerned the Aegean, the Adriatic and the Mediterranean. The Germans correctly identified XXX Corps and speculated that a further corps would be brought up to the front line. They also projected that 800 to 900 tanks would be available, which was an overestimate. However, the Germans were correct in their speculation that a ground offensive would take place, moving up on both sides of Eindhoven to Arnhem, with the aim of cutting off German forces in the western Netherlands. These projections were not passed on to the lower commands. A warning by a German agent in neutral Sweden that something quite close to this scenario was about to take place reached Berlin only on D-Day.

Lower down the chain of command, the greatest likelihood was thought to be a ground offensive from Neerpelt in support of the Americans to the south. Model’s staff speculated that the Allies would advance from the Neerpelt bridgehead, concentrate between the Maas and the Waal, then move east toward that part of the Ruhrindustriegebiet east of the Rhine. Any parachute landings would be in the Ruhr area.

When the blow fell, both Bittrich and the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) thought that the aim was to prevent reinforcement at the northern end of the West Wall by Fifteenth Army in an Allied attempt to open the way to Muenster. Hitler refused to allow reinforcements from Fifteenth Army toward Eindhoven that would weaken the approaches to the Scheldt. His grasp of military reality at this point was greater than that of subsequent military historians.

At the time of Market Garden, Hitler was already planning what became the Ardennes offensive in December. He received the news of the landings with great calm, possibly because of his confidence in Model and the preparations he had made. Hitler’s military situation conference, of which only parts of the record have survived, began at midday and continued until 0207 hours the next morning. The conference was typical in that it was rambling and unstructured, switching back and forth from one general topic to the other, without systematic reports from the Army Groups or theaters. The flow was interrupted by reports on the military situation in the Netherlands, which started at around 1700 and continued until the small hours.

Hitler linked the paratroop landings with a coastal invasion. He also expected further landings on the following day and mused that the capture of his headquarters was worth the risk of two parachute divisions. He later “used strong language” about the folly of allowing bridges to fall intact into the hands of the enemy.

One officer at the conference speculated with great prescience that the offensive was aimed at the Zuyder Zee, more accurately at the IJsselmeer to the south. The officer was Lieutenant Colonel Waizenegger, adjutant to General Jodl, chief of the operations staff of the OKW. Waizenegger connected the ground assault from the Neerpelt bridgehead with the airborne operation. Though the picture was incomplete, Hitler’s HQ got a fair indication of the forces that could be brought to bear, including the 107th Panzer Brigade to the east of the Corridor, Poppe’s 59th Division from Fifteenth Army, and the 406th Division from Wehrkreis VI, the German military district on the Dutch border. There was much uncertainty and discussion about the strength and deployment of the First Parachute Army. II SS Panzer Corps was not mentioned, except for the battalion already detached to counter any advance from Neerpelt.

Bittrich’s reaction was both rapid and pertinent. He ordered Hohenstaufen, the closest to Arnhem of his two divisions, to secure the Arnhem bridge and destroy the British formations that had landed at Oosterbeek to the west. A top priority was to keep the British away from the bridge.

Equally important was Nijmegen. He ordered Frundsberg to proceed immediately south to defend the Nijmegen bridge from the south bank of the Waal, seeing that Second Army would move through Nijmegen to Arnhem. At the same time, he ordered a reconnaissance in the direction of Emmerich and Wesel; the Allies learned from an Ultra decrypt early on D+2 that the Germans thought there had been paratroop landings in the vicinity of Emmerich as well as Nijmegen and Arnhem.

Bittrich also ordered a reconnaissance toward Nijmegen, to precede the move south by Frundsberg. Since the Hohenstaufen reconnaissance battalion at Beekbergen was far closer to Arnhem than that of Frundsberg, he transferred it to the command of Frundsberg and sent it south, over the Arnhem road bridge. The Frundsberg reconnaissance battalion was later ordered to secure the Arnhem bridge for the division’s move south.

Model’s reaction was different from that of Hitler. Early on, he ordered the bridges not to be blown, as they would be needed for a counterattack. This instinct for a counterattack while fighting a major defensive battle was typical of Model. His personal reaction was less typical: the sight of parachutists caused the hurried evacuation of his HQ and departure with unseemly haste to Bittrich’s HQ at Doetinchem, east of Arnhem. By the time of Model’s arrival, Bittrich had already issued orders to his corps; Model, known for meddling in the lower orders of command, could only confirm what Bittrich had already undertaken. He later received a description of the entire battle plan, taken from a downed American glider which had crashed near Student’s HQ at Vaught on the outskirts of ’s-Hertogenbosch.

Student sent the plans by radio to Model, who had received them before the end of D-Day. Model was sceptical about the plan but it indicated no action different from what was already under way. Even the next day, Model considered that the aim of the Allied operation was to capture him and his headquarters; he marveled repeatedly at his own escape. He was no doubt influenced by the warnings of landings near his headquarters that he had received previously from his SS and Luftwaffe colleagues.

Model’s handling of the battle was perhaps his best military moment. He took II SS Panzer Corps under direct command and confirmed the order that Bittrich sent to his troops at 1730 hours. Beyond that, Model divided the defense into three sectors. The First Parachute Army was to halt the British ground offensive and eliminate the 101st Airborne Division on the Son-Veghel road. Kampfgruppe Chill was already in place to oppose the ground offensive, the 59th Infantry Division in transit west of Tilburg was to engage the 101st, and the 107th Panzer Brigade was diverted from its move to the Aachen sector to oppose the 101st from the east. Second, Wehrkreis VI was ordered to nuetralize Allied paratroopers on the Groesbeek Heights, to defend or retake the road and rail bridges over the Waal, and to prepare for offensive operations toward the south. Lastly, the Netherlands Command was called on to undertake operations against the British in ArnhemOosterbeek, under Christiansen’s operations and training officer, Major General Baron Hans von Tettau. These orders were in place before midnight on D-Day.

A premise of Allied strategic thinking for Market Garden was that it would take many weeks for a limited number of German divisions, between six and twelve, to arrive by train from Denmark and the Reich. The SHAEF Intelligence Summary of 13 September said that the German “CiC West can expect no more than a dozen divisions within the next two months to come from outside sources to the rescue.” Instead, the Germans pulled together, with astonishing speed and efficiency, a large number of disparate units already in the vicinity, though the myth that the German cupboard was bare persisted long after the war’s end.