Waffen-SS “Wiking” Division at Korsun

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Wiking Waffen SS Division breaks out Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket.

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Following Soviet attacks in the middle of December out of their bridgeheads south of Krementschug and at Tscherkassy, whereby the city of Tscherkassy also fell, they launched a large-scale offensive from out of the Kiev area during the last few days of December. They drove a wedge 300 kilometers wide between Heeresgruppe Süd and Heeresgruppe Mitte and advanced far to the west. By the middle of January 1944, Soviet forces that had pivoted south had reached a line running Berditschew-Bjelaja Zerkow.

The formations of the 2nd Ukrainian front, which were attacking from the east out of the Krementschug area, reached the city of Kirowograd on 9 January 1944, 100 kilometers south of Tscherkassy. On 28 January 1944, the lead Soviet spearheads of the gigantic pincers movement-heading from Bjelaja Zerkow in the north and from Kirowograd in the south-established contact at Swenigorodka, some 25 kilometers southwest of Tscherkassy on 28 January 1944. The divisions of the XI. Armee-Korps and the XXXXII. Armee- Korps, including the “Wiking” Division, were encircled.

THE TSCHERKASSY POCKET

In the 20 days that followed in the Tscherkassy Pocket, the 10 divisions proved their steadfastness in the face of deceptive enemy propaganda, proved their bravery against the suffocating superiority by the seven Soviet field armies participating in the encirclement and proved the exemplary leadership of the responsible officers.

For “Vikings” of long standing in the division, the names of the local villages-names such Taraschta, Boguslaw and Smela-conjured up memories of hard fighting two years previously. Back then it had also been a matter of standing fast in the face of powerful blows and pressure from enemy formations coming from the Tscherkassy area. The situation was the same; the roles had been reversed. The area of the German forces encircled to the west of the city was growing ever smaller. The relief efforts from the outside, those of the XXXXVII. Panzer-Korps and the III. Panzer-Korps, failed.

After being encircled for 10 days, the pocket was reduced in half from its original 60 kilometer diameter after the Dnjepr line was finally evacuated on 8 February. In addition to the weather conditions, the shallowness of the pocket made movements increasingly difficult. The enemy’s pressure grew accordingly.

Starting on 7 February, all of the measures taken in the pocket were conducted with an eye towards the intended breakout effort, which was to be accompanied by a relief effort from the outside.

Orders arrived at the command post of the tank battalion in Waljawskije at 0830 hours on 9 February to move all of its tanks and assault guns to Korsun. The tracked vehicles were there by 1400 hours; the wheeled vehicles arrived in the evening.

On the next day, feverish efforts were undertaken to prepare the vehicles operationally. In order to consolidate all excess personnel, all of the tank crews that no longer had any tanks were formed into an infantry company of four platoons, along with truck drivers and other men of the trains. The acting commander of the ad hoc unit was SS-Hauptsturmführer Wittmann.

The “infantry” company had a combat strength of four officers and 220 enlisted personnel. It was employed on 11 February against enemy forces at the Korsun train station. Each of the platoons had three machine guns above and beyond the small arms and hand grenades it had received. During the night of 11/12 February, the company closed a gap at Arbusino, about 1 kilometer east of Korsun. At the same time, it established contact with an Army unit.

Until the evening of 13 February, the “infantry” company of the battalion conducted defensive operations and launched immediate counterattacks against attacking company-sized enemy forces. The unit helped prevent the forward elements form being cut off. While that was happening, the operational tanks were sent to Jablonowka, about 4 kilometers west of Korsun, under the command of SS-Untersturmführer Schumacher.

The battle staff of the battalion had already been summoned to the command post of the XXXXII. Armee-Korps in Jablonowka the previous day.

An impressive indicator of the extraordinary difficulties was noted by von Manstein in his memoirs, when he described the effect of the dominant weather conditions of the time. For the forces in Tscherkassy, that was in addition to the difficulties of moving in the reduced pocket, which was also subjected to the strong pressure being exerted by the enemy. Von Manstein:

I attempted to get to the front lines of the assault groups on two occasions. I got hopelessly stuck each time in the snow or the mud. The weather changed daily between snowstorms and thaws.

In order to establish good jumping-off positions for breaking through the Soviet encirclement, the senior commander in the pocket, the Commanding General of the XI. Armee-Korps, General der Infanterie Stemmermann, attempted to push the southwestern tip of the pocket further in the direction of Schanderowka, since it was already pointing in that direction. From there, the lead elements of the assault detachments of the breakout forces would only have another 13 kilometers to advance to link up with the lead elements of the III. Panzer-Korps. The pressure to get to Schanderowka and the movements of the forces involved were expedited, since it could not be ruled out that the lead elements of the relief forces might be pushed back to the southwest themselves by the intensifying Soviet attacks.

During the night of 11-12 February, the tank battalion moved forward into the area around the Sawdski brickworks and then reached Nowo Buda, about 3 kilometers south of Schanderowka, around 0900 hours that morning. It established contact there with the local-area commander, Major Brese.

The lingering thaw made movements across the terrain, which could be observed by the enemy, very difficult. An assault gun was knocked out. The tanks screened towards the northwest from the Nowo Buda-Schanderowka road. They were refueled with captured fuel.

Enemy tanks that had penetrated through the German lines in the Nowo- Buda area lent an additional air of uncertainty. The enemy was also exerting pressure from the northwest.

On 13 February, SS-Untersturmführer Schumacher ejected the Soviets from the eastern portion of Nowo-Buda with two tanks. The enemy had succeeded in making several small penetrations there with two battalions.

On 14 February, the Soviets launched another attack, this time with 11 tanks. Schumacher advanced with two tanks into the southern portion of the village, which had been reoccupied by the enemy. One of his tanks was hit by an antitank gun and damaged.

Schumacher then proceeded to knock out seven enemy tanks with his own tank. He expended all of his armor-piercing rounds; with his remaining high-explosive rounds, he forced the crews of three more tanks to abandon their vehicles. When a second tank came to the aid of Schumacher, the three abandoned tanks were set ablaze. Then a fourth one was set alight, when it attempted to approach Schumacher from the rear.

On the same day, however, four friendly tanks, including the one of SS-Oberscharführer Fiebelkorn, were knocked out while screening. Another battle group under the command of SS-Oberscharführer Schweiss knocked out four enemy tanks in the Komarowka area, 3 kilometers west of Nowo-Buda.

Despite taking extraordinary losses, the Soviets continued their heavy attacks on Nowo-Buda the next day. At 1545 hours, they once again assaulted the southern portion of the village. Once again, Schumacher made a name for himself by knocking out two enemy tanks with his Panzer III.

The tanker “infantry” company of SS-Hauptsturmführer Wittmann, which had been defending in the area around Arbusino, pulled back as ordered during the night of 13-14 February to positions on the high ground west of Korsun. The pursuing enemy was pushed back in some areas by means of immediate counterattacks. At 2200 hours, Wittmann’s men pulled back again and reached Schanderowka on 15 February, in accordance with their orders.

On 16 February, the enemy renewed his attacks on Nowo-Buda with reinforced forces. The enemy attacks led to the loss of the southern portion of the village at first light. The 1st Battalion of the “Germania” Regiment, which was reinforced with two tanks, held its positions, however.

At 1500 hours, the liaison officer of the “Germania” Regiment brought the tank battalion the order to break out. It stated that the battalion was to disengage from the enemy at 1900 hours and move to Schanderowka. It would receive further orders from the division there.

After the battalion commander returned from the division headquarters- he had gone to Schanderowka at 1700 hours with his adjutant-he issued the following order:

The tank battalion immediately moves to the western portion of Schanderowka after the return of the battle group from Nowo-Buda and immediately prepares to break out from there.

All armored elements move out at 1920 hours, organized as follows: 1 Command Tank; 2 Panzer IV’s; 4 Panzer III’s; 6 assault guns; the wheeled elements immediately follow the armored elements.

The movements of the troop elements into the designated areas were made very difficult by the prevailing bad weather conditions, but they were made decisively difficult by the fact that some 50,000 encircled men had been pressed into an area roughly 7×8 kilometers.

At 2100 hours, the battalion arrived at the western edge of Schanderowka. The first tank in the march order, the command tank, broke through the bridge that led over the creek there. It took hours before the bridge was repaired enough that the individual tanks could cross, assisted by an 18-ton prime mover. The last tank crossed the bridge at 0145 hours on 17 February.

The tanker “infantry” company was given the mission of screening the flanks of the breakthrough group west of the village.

Half an hour remained after the successful occupation of the staging area and the scheduled start of the attack. Everyone was acutely aware of what was at stake. The hope that relief forces on the outside would move towards the breakout point helped encourage the soldiers. On that 13 February, the chief of staff of the 8. Armee, General Speidel, radioed the pocket commander, General Stemmermann: “Breith with forward-most elements at Lißjanka. Vormann advancing from the bridgehead at Jerki in the direction of Swenigorodka. What is the situation there? Best wishes for success!”

Two days before the planned breakout, on 15 February, the 8. Armee sent the following message: “Capabilities of the III. Panzer-Korps restricted. Gruppe Stemmermann must break through at Dshurshenzy and reach Hill 239 with its own forces. Establish contact there with the III. Panzer-Korps.”

At 1500 hours on 16 February, 11 hours before the start of the attack, von Manstein radioed Stemmermann: “Watch word: Freedom. Objective: Lißjanka.”

Approximately 13 kilometers separated the breakout group and the hills at Dshurshenzy, where the lead elements of the III. Panzer-Korps awaited it. The daily logs of the battalion portrayed the breakout attempt thusly:

At 0210 hours, the battalion moved out to conduct the ordered breakthrough. Route in very bad condition. Initial enemy resistance southwest of Chilki. The last remaining wheeled vehicles of the battalion were blown up there, since it was no longer possible for them to move any farther (deep depressions, mud). Enemy tanks moved out from Komarowka and attempted to prevent the breakthrough by means of heavy fire.

Untersturmführer Schumacher was committed south of Chilki with all of the available vehicles to eliminate the [enemy] tanks appeared there from Komarowka. Two tanks were eliminated. The command tank had to be blown up because of differential and track problems.

The commander and the adjutant switched over to Untersturmführer Schumacher’s tank. Untersturmführer Schumacher assumed command of the remaining tanks.

The commander and adjutant attempted to hold together the men of the battalion, which was not possible due to the over-all murky situation. The commander then mounted an 18-ton prime mover, since it was the only vehicle capable of moving forward in that terrain.

Enemy tanks arrived, moving from north to south, and engaged the tanks advancing southwest in the direction of Lißjanka, along with the other vehicles that had made it that far, with machine guns and main guns.

At the patch of woods east of Dshurshenzy, where the prime mover had to cross an open area, it was engaged by enemy tanks. The prime mover received a direct hit right behind the driver’s seat. The commander, Sturmbannführer Köller, met a soldier’s end.

Enemy tanks appeared once more at the western tip of the woods, approaching from Dshurshenzy. The high ground at the tip of the woods could not be crossed by the tanks. As a result, they had to be blown up.

The men of the battalion fought their way through individually. Towards evening, the majority of the battalion arrived in Lißjanka. The adjutant was wounded during the breakout attempt.

The sober language of the daily logs allow the reader to somewhat imagine the difficulty of what was experienced and also the scope of the tragedy that unfolded. The following first-hand accounts are well suited to allow even those unfamiliar with war to picture the events of that day.

The Tscherkassy Pocket never turned into another Stalingrad. The forces in the field and their leaders resisted the promises made by the Soviet leadership on flyers and bills and the German generals who had joined the Soviet side. They did not give up hope on the hill at Dshurshenzy, when they ran into the fires of Soviet tanks instead of the passage points of the III. Panzer- Korps, as the radio message from the Chief-of-Staff of the 8. Armee had led them to expect. The decisive event of 17 and 18 February was the breaking through of the inner and outer encirclements by decisive leadership in the pocket that was prepared to do anything and an extremely capable and brave force in the field. Of the approximately 56,000 soldiers, who had been encircled at the end of January, some 30,000 made the breakthrough to friendly lines. Some 3,000 wounded were flown out of the pocket.

ZHITOMIR-BERDICHEV OPERATION (1943-1944)

General Nikolai Vatutin followed his early success in the Second Battle of Ukraine in November 1943 with this operation intended to expand his bridgehead over the winter of 1943-1944. It formed part of what Soviet historians called the “winter strategic offensive.” As Vatutin moved, his 1st Ukrainian Front faced repeated Wehrmacht counterattacks. Vatutin coordinated an enveloping attack with General Ivan S. Konev’s 2nd Ukrainian Front to the southeast. Their pincers closed around two corps of German 8th Army, trapping the Nordic-volunteer Waffen-SS “Wiking” Division and five Wehrmacht divisions inside a kotel 15 miles beyond the Dnieper River, around Korsun. As he had done at Stalingrad, Field Marshal Erich von Manstein once more tried and failed to fight his way through winter blizzards and hard Red Army resistance to relieve a trapped German army. Unlike the experience at Stalingrad, 30,000 of the nearly 50,000 men inside the pocket were able to fight their way out. By the middle of February 1944 it was over. Konev was promoted to Marshal of the Soviet Union and given command of both Ukrainian Fronts. The next planned offensive aimed to cut off all of Army Group South, but Vatutin-whose 1st Ukrainian Front was ahead of the pace set by Konev-was mortally wounded by anti-Soviet Ukrainian partisans a short while later.

The Sylwester offensives

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The main Nordwind attack by the 17. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division in the Saar Valley went badly from the start. On January 5, 1945, a few of the monstrous Jagdtigers from schwere-Panzerjager-Abteilung 654, accompanied by a captured M4 medium tank, supported the attack near Rimling. An M36 90mm GMC from the 776th Tank Destroyer Battalion carefully moved into a flanking position and at a range of 900m, put a single armor-piercing round into the side of Jagdtiger number 134, causing an internal ammunition fire which destroyed the vehicle in a catastrophic explosion, blowing off the superstructure sides.

The failure of the Ardennes offensive convinced Hitler that some new tactic had to be employed when dealing with the Allies. Instead of a single large offensive, Hitler decided to launch a series of smaller, sequential offensives. As a result, some German commanders called the Alsace campaign the “Sylwester offensives” after the central-European name for the New Year’s Eve celebrations.

The departure of Dietrich’s Sixth Panzer Army – which was soon to be renamed the Sixth SS Panzer Army – did not mark the end of the participation of Waffen-SS panzer divisions against the Western Allies.

In tandem with his plan to strike into the Ardennes, Hitler had long dreamed of pushing into Alsace and retaking the border city of Strasbourg. Army Group G was to strike south in Operation North Wind, with the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division in the lead, in order to outflank the city. The division was rebuilt after being heavily battered around Metz in November 1944 and bolstered with the delivery of 57 StuG IIIs in early December. When the attack began on New Year’s Eve, the Waffen-SS division achieved the deepest penetration of the American lines until strong counter-attacks halted it. The main assault by Sturmgruppe 1, Simon’s 13. SS-AK with the 17. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division and the 36. Volksgrenadier-Division, ran into the deep defenses of the 44th and 100th Infantry Divisions in the Saar Valley. A narrow penetration was made towards Rimling and Achen, but in general, the attack in this sector was stopped dead in its tracks with heavy casualties. Sturmgruppe 1 had very little success in bringing up its armored support due to the poor road conditions and the weather. On the night of January 3 the offensive in this sector was halted.

Panzer support in Alsace was weak, since so many units had been shipped to the Ardennes sector. The only mechanized unit earmarked for the initial Nordwind attack was 17. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division “Gotz von Berlichingen,” a formation that had been in continual combat with the US Army since Normandy, and which had been burnt out and rebuilt on several occasions. The neighboring army commanders felt that its main problem was poor leadership, and it had lost several divisional commanders and numerous junior commanders during the autumn. The field army staff labeled the current commander as incompetent. Its main armored element, SS-Panzer-Abteilung 17 Bataillon was equipped mostly with assault guns instead of tanks, with 45 StuG III assault guns, three PzKpfw III command tanks, six Flakpanzer 38(t) vehicles, and four Flakpanzer IV Wirbelwinds on hand, of which 84 percent were operational. The SS-Panzerjager-Abteilung 17 Bataillon was similarly equipped with 31 StuG III assault guns, two Jagdpanzer IVs, one Marder III and eight towed 75mm PaK 40 anti-tank guns; only 67 percent of the vehicles were operational with many of the old StuG III assault guns being worn out or damaged in combat. Their strength was later increased by 57 assault guns that arrived after Christmas, but the reinforcements had been sitting out in the open for months and only a few could be rendered serviceable before the attack. The division’s two Panzer grenadier regiments were burned out and at less than half strength in the middle of December, but some additional troops were received in the last week before the offensive, mainly of “an inferior type” of German (ethnic Germans from eastern Europe). Senior officers at AOK 1 were so unimpressed by the poor performance of the 17. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division in the autumn fighting that they wanted to strip it of its assault guns to re-equip the 21. Panzer-Division, but Berlin refused.

Three days of heavy fighting followed in which the division’s commander, SS-Standartenführer Hans Linger, was captured when he took a wrong turn near the frontline as he drove in his command Volkswagen.

General der Panzertruppe Karl Decker’s 39. Panzer-Korps had been allocated the 10. SS-Panzer-Division to spearhead a breakout from the Gambsheim bridgehead, and the Panzers had begun their transfer over the river by ferry from the Freistatt area on January 15/16 after dark. The division set up headquarters in Offendorf and planned to begin their assault with a tank attack by I./SS-Panzer Abteilung 10, equipped with about 50 PzKpfw IVs and over 40 Panther tanks. The German tank attack collided with a two-pronged American attack. Combat Command B attempted to push into Herrlisheim again from the north, while at the same time, Combat Command A launched two attacks from the south. The attacks began in the pre-dawn hours of January 17 and did not go well for either side. In the early morning fog, the German tank column took heavy losses to US tank guns on the approach to Herrlisheim and withdrew to Offendorf. The American attacks against the northern corner of Herrlisheim and against the Steinwald failed with heavy losses. The 43rd Tank Battalion moved between Steinwald and Herrlisheim, taking anti-tank fire from both locations, but managed to fight its way into Herrlisheim from the south. The tanks and their supporting infantry and engineers came under unrelenting attack by German infantry armed with Panzerfaust rockets. The battalion commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Nicholas Novosel, radioed back that “Things are hot” but radio contact then went dead. The 23rd Tank Battalion was instructed to reorient its attack towards Drusenheim farther to the north, passing through Herrlisheim in the process, but was stopped cold on the outskirts of the town by heavy fire without linking up with the infantry.

Back at Offendorf, the 3./SS-Panzer-Abteilung 10 under the regimental adjutant Obersturmbannführer Erwin Bachmann, set off again for Herrlisheim with a Panther tank company. They knocked out or captured most of the remaining Sherman tanks still in Herrlisheim; Bachmann was later awarded the Knight’s Cross for his actions that day. By the end of the day the 12th Armored Division headquarters had no idea of the fate of the 43rd Tank Battalion; the 17th Armored Infantry Battalion positions in Herrlisheim were overrun in the pre-dawn hours of January 18 and the battalion commander captured. The following day, the 12th Armored Division sent a rescue party to find any survivors from the missing 43rd Tank Battalion or 17th Armored Infantry Battalion, but they were brusquely pushed back by heavy German fire. An artillery spotter plane discovered a field full of charred Shermans south of Herrlisheim so further attacks were called off. In February, when the area was retaken by the US Army, 28 destroyed Shermans of the 43rd Tank Battalion were found in and around the town. The 10. Panzer-Division had captured more than ten Shermans and these would later serve with the division when it was sent east to fight the Red Army in February.

The 10. SS-Panzer-Division had no more luck over the next few days, beaten bloody during attempts to push out towards Kilstett on January 18. Its Panzer regiment lost 8 PzKpfw IVs and 21 Panthers during the fighting between January 17-21. The fighting on January 19 was especially costly, accounting for 22 of the 29 Panzer losses, so that evening the attacks were halted.

In a final irony, the veteran Waffen-SS general, Paul Hausser, who had recovered from his injuries received in Normandy, was placed in command of Army Group Upper Rhine for what would be the final months of the war from 29 January.

Soon the needs of the Eastern Front also resulted in Hausser losing the Frundsberg Division. The 17th SS Division was the only Waffen-SS armoured unit to remain on the Western Front until the end of the war. By 25 March, it had been reduced to some 800 men who were desperately holding the last German bridgehead on the west bank of the Rhine. The Frundsberg managed to escape across the mighty river, but the Americans caught up with the division at Nuremberg, where it tried to mount a series of rearguard actions during early April. It then surrendered to the Americans.

The State of the German Forces Late 1944

The German Army suffered from a catastrophic shortage of replacements ever since it had gone to war in Russia, but particularly from 1944 onwards. 

That the army had come to this state was in part a response to the failed attempt on Hitler’s life in July 1944, but also due to the draining losses suffered on the Eastern Front.  Since the beginning of the campaign in 1941, to the autumn of 1944, the campaign had cost the Germans in excess of 1,400,000 killed with another million missing and five million more wounded. From a strength of 3.3 million men in June 1941, the Army had been bled white, fielding as few as 2.7 million just a year later.  This situation was not to improve despite the ruthless trawling of the country for replacements.  Following the assassination attempt on Hitler, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler had been appointed commander of the Replacement Army, replacing General Fromm who had been implicated in the plot.  Instead of ensuring the regular supply of replacements to the Army units in the field, Himmler’s chaotic command saw him concentrate his efforts on rebuilding burnt out infantry divisions as a new generation of Volksgrenadier Division.  These units were based around the remnants of old divisions which had already been shattered in the fighting on the Western or Eastern Fronts. Each rebuilt division comprised three, two-battalion regiments, a theoretical strength of around 10,000 men although few ever achieved anywhere near this. Their experienced cadres were fleshed out with a collection of Hitler Youth, Luftwaffe ground staff, middle-aged businessmen from reserved occupations, recovering invalids and naval cadets.  Training was brief at best, sometimes as little as six weeks but they did receive some of the newest infantry weapons and were lavishly equipped with both light and medium machine guns.  This ensured their morale was relatively high, and if they held together under combat conditions, they could pack a powerful defensive punch.  The Volksgrenadier divisions were intended for holding and defensive operations rather than offensive action and as such lacked the mobility of the Soviet units opposed to them.

Alongside this program, Himmler also massively expanded his Waffen SS, creating a plethora of new divisions.  With the demands on the limited German manpower pool being made by Martin Bormann, who was in charge of the Volkssturm, and Himmler for his Volksgrenadier Divisions and Waffen SS divisions, the Army struggled to secure enough replacements to make good the steady losses it suffered.  That it managed to maintain a defence at all was a testament to the strength of the men and officers of the German Army at that time, despite all of its setbacks. 

The Regular German Army units had been transformed after three years of fighting in the Soviet Union.  The divisions of 1941 which had begun the invasion, well equipped and with up to 17,000 men, were a thing of the past.  The increase in the number of divisions fielded in the succeeding years had been at the expense of their strength.  By 1944 many infantry divisions no longer comprised three battalion regiments as they had originally, but instead had been reduced to just two battalions in order to concentrate their strength and cut down on support services.  The strongest units would number just 12,000 men although like their Soviet opponents, many were often considerably lower than this and were starved of replacements.  Towards the end, divisions numbering in the hundreds of men rather than thousands were all too common.  One factor which had not changed was the mobility of the German infantry divisions.  Even from the earliest days of the war, the German infantry had relied heavily on horse drawn transport to move itself across the battlefield.  The image of the German Army as a highly mechanised force which motored across Europe is inherently false.  Motorisation was largely restricted to the few panzer and panzergrenadier divisions, the many infantry using their feet, as their forebears had before them.  This was one of the major factors which hindered the Germans in their cauldron battles during the early days of Operation Barbarossa.  Quite simply, the infantry simply could not keep up with the armour and as a result many Soviet troops were able to escape from encirclement.

The panzer divisions, the pride of the Wehrmacht, had suffered equally as badly as the infantry formations and by 1944 many comprised just a single panzer regiment with two panzer battalions, plus a panzergrenadier brigade of two regiments (each with two battalions), a force of 13,000 men with around 120 tanks when at full strength. 

The mainstay of the German panzer division was the reliable Panzer IV medium tank.  Originally armed with a short barrel 75mm gun, it had been upgraded a number of times.  By 1944 it sported a long barrelled 75mm gun, had been given additional armour plating on the hull and was protected by armoured skirts against shaped charge anti-tank rounds.  The Panzer IV was a popular tank, although it was only just a match for the T-34 rather than superior to it.  In an effort to overcome the scourge of the T-34 the Germans rushed into service in 1943 the Panzer V Panther. 

This vehicle turned out to be one of the finest tanks of the war, despite its initial teething troubles.  Armed with a long barrel 75mm gun and protected by sloped armour copied from the T-34, it could knock out the Soviet tanks at great ranges.  Unfortunately it was over-engineered and often struggled in the harsh conditions experienced on the Eastern Front.

In late 1942 the heavy Panzer VI Tiger I tank entered service with the Army.  This vehicle was armed with the formidable 88mm gun which had wrought great havoc as an anti-tank weapon.  The Tiger was an effective weapon and could knock out the T-34 at distances where the Soviet tanks could not fire effectively in return. In 1944 the Tiger II appeared, a truly formidable machine, although too slow and heavy, and in too few numbers to make a real difference to the course of the battles to come.

Despite their technical superiority, the Germans simply could not produce enough vehicles to take on the masses of Soviet tanks that opposed them.  In an effort to redress this balance they increased production of assault guns.  Assault guns, grouped into brigades, were crucial anti-tank formations supporting the hard pressed infantry.  Under the command of the artillery service rather than the panzer arm, they were equipped with turretless versions of the Panzer III and IV, and the formidable little Hetzer’s which were based on the reliable Panzer 38(t) chassis.  These vehicles were considerably cheaper and easier to produce than tanks, and offered an excellent defensive capability in the place of wheeled anti tank guns.  The assault gun brigades were used widely, supplementing the infantry’s lack of anti-tank weapons in many instances. 

Fighting a war on a number of fronts had a crippling impact on the German war effort.  The demands of the Western and Italian Fronts, together with the Allied bomber offensive against the industrial heartland of the Ruhr and other areas of western Germany, and in particular the terrible damage done to the supply of fuel, drew badly needed men and weapons away from the Eastern Front.  The Allied bombing of the oil refineries and fuel storage facilities across Nazi occupied Europe had a devastating effect on the armies in the field.  From late 1943, and particularly after the Normandy invasion in the summer of 1944, German fuel production collapsed.  The operations of the Luftwaffe were severely curtailed, the most insignificant use of fuel becoming heavily monitored.  For the men at the front, air support was often just a dim and distant memory.  The greater part of the Luftwaffe had been pulled back to protect the Homeland and what few units were left at the front were desperately short of fuel.  Army units suffered too, often finding they were left immobile, with perfectly usable tanks being lost to the enemy for want of a few drops of petrol.  To counter the threat of the Allied bomber fleets, thousands of the deadly 88mm anti-aircraft guns[18] were used in air defence rather than in their ground role again Soviet armour.

Hitler’s refusal to accept a policy of flexible defence, which would have taken advantage of the space available in the east, merely exacerbated the problems the Germans faced.  His stubborn refusal to allow any form of withdrawal had seen the Ostheer smashed in a number of encirclement operations, culminating in the catastrophic defeat in Belorussia in June and July of 1944.  Through sheer necessity a defence policy was adopted by the armies at the front, which proved successful only when sufficient forces and strong defensive positions were in place. In general outline the German defensive plan meant establishing forward, main and reserve defence positions.  The forward lines were lightly manned and designed to absorb the weight of a Soviet offensive, soaking up the bombardment.  As many troops as possible would be pulled back from this position to the main defensive position in the event of an enemy attack so that their barrage fell on empty positions and vacated artillery sites.  This would ensure that the main defence line remained largely intact.  Effectively, the Germans intended the Soviets to punch into thin air at the forward position, and then they would launch their own counter attacks from the main defensive position to disrupt further attacks and derail the Soviet timetable. The Soviet tendency to undertake reconnaissance attacks before an offensive began gave the German commanders ample warning that an attack was imminent.  It was then just merely a question of timing in pulling out of the forward defence position.  Many generals became adept at judging the correct moment to do so.  This policy provided a sensible defence but experience showed that when the Germans were pushed out of their entrenched positions, their lack of mobile forces, anti-tank and armour reserves generally meant that a collapse of the front would quickly follow. 

As the war had approached the Reich frontiers in late 1944, and with the huge manpower losses suffered both in the West and East, the Germans had been forced to consider the mass employment of civilians in defence of their Homeland.  Guderian, by now Chief of the Army General Staff, had suggested the formation of a Landsturm in the eastern provinces in a discussion with Hitler in early September 1944.  Guderian’s idea had been to establish formations made up of men from reserved occupations, probably from the ranks of those registered with the SA.  Hitler initially agreed with him but just a day later he changed his mind and gave responsibility for the raising of these troops to Martin Bormann and the Nazi Party.  The Volkssturm, as this civilian defence force was named, was officially created by the Führer Decree of October 18th 1944.  Rather than just being an organisation for the defence of the eastern provinces, the Volkssturm was now to be a national defence force, and Bormann envisioned it numbering in the millions.  All males between the ages of 16 and 60 who were capable of bearing arms were liable for conscription.  Volkssturm units were organised into battalions, a battalion generally numbering around 600 men and being commanded by the equivalent of a Major, although battalions of up to 1,000 men were not unknown.  Once part of a unit many men found themselves with just a Volkssturm armband for a uniform.  Sometimes even the Volkssturm armband was not available which meant they went into combat in civilian attire only, in contravention of the Geneva Convention.  Following the disaster at Stalingrad and the continual heavy losses on the Eastern Front there had been many trawls for reinforcements for the army.  Himmler’s tenure as commander of the Replacement Army made an already difficult situation even worse.  The result was that by October 1944, when the Volkssturm was raised, it comprised mainly young Hitler Youth and the elderly; those fit enough to fight having already been called upon.

The problem of arming the Volkssturm units was also considerable.  Stocks of captured weapons were issued widely but there was no central control over their distribution.  An even greater problem was the supply of ammunition.  Many Volkssturm members were handed a foreign or obsolete rifle with just a handful of rounds apiece.  Weapons from the Great War were brought back into service to try to flesh out the firepower of the Volkssturm battalions.  Perhaps the most deadly weapon the Volkssturm employed was the Panzerfaust, which cost the Soviets many hundreds of tanks destroyed throughout the final months of the war.  Quickly manufactured and relatively easy to use, the one shot Panzerfaust comprised a hollow charge warhead propelled by a small rocket, and proved extremely effective at knocking out tanks.  Unfortunately for the user, the effective killing range of the weapon was between thirty and one hundred metres, depending on the model employed.  This meant that once a hit had been achieved, a safe retreat from any accompanying infantry or other tanks was unlikely.  Training for the new recruits was often rushed and inadequate, many men and boys having to master the use of their weapons when they entered combat for the first time.  For the older members a familiarity with military life from the First World War was common, and younger members had grown up under a Nazi regime which had militarised most aspects of their lives.

With this mixture of forces the Germans waited for the next round of Soviet attacks, attacks which would push across the eastern frontiers of the Reich and bring the war to the German people.

Himmler als Feldherr

From 20 July Himmler was appointed the commander of the Ersatzheer in place of the arrested Fromm and henceforth he was to be responsible for the raising of all new army formations – mainly infantry divisions, these to be known as Volksgrenadier. The manning, discipline and administration of these divisions was to be controlled entirely by the SS, a special Abteilung 10 being set up in the Heerespersonalamt to provide ‘SS approved’ officer replacements for these divisions: thereafter the officers could not be posted elsewhere without SS permission. The Volksgrenadier divisions remained responsible to Himmler, as were the SS divisions, even when they took to the field. The word Volk added to the divisional titles was intended to emphasize the link between these later groupings and the people, and to give expression to the ‘National-Socialist spirit’ of these new troops, in contradistinction to the old style that was tainted by the reactionary officer corps.

On 26 August all army formations that recruited foreigners were transferred to the SS and, since the SS was now raising its own SS army headquarters (SS Armeeoberkommandos) and additional corps headquarters, army general staff officers were transferred to the SS against their will to occupy technical appointments that the SS were not qualified to fill. By January 1945 candidates for army commissions could be compulsorily directed into the SS. Himmler had no wish to absorb the German Army into the Waffen SS, but he wanted to use army personnel, when absolutely necessary, to fill out the SS; for he jealously safeguarded the Waffen SS identity and exclusiveness. His intention was to have the German Army subordinated to, and controlled in its entirety by, the Waffen SS with himself at its head. The V-2 development and production programme and the control of firings and operational units was taken over by the SS immediately after 20 July.

That Himmler had Feldherr pretensions there can be no doubt; in September he became the commander at the front of all troops in the Upper Rhine, taking under his command 19 Army, Wehrkreis V and 14 and 18 SS Corps. At the turn of the year he was to take over Army Group Vistula on the eastern front. According to Goebbels, the question had been mooted, and presumably put to Hitler in late 1944, as to whether Himmler should not also be appointed as the German Army Commander-in-Chief.

THE RHODESIAN SECURITY FORCES II

Rhodesian Army badges around chopper

Army

The cutting edge of the Rhodesian security forces was provided by the regular units of the army, and they assumed the status of a strategic reserve-cum-shock force in the late 1970s. All the regular units expanded considerably during the war and came to absorb portions of the periodic national service intakes of white youths. In time these national servicemen formed the reserve elements of the regular units and were called up for tours of duty with them.

The Rhodesian African Rifles (which received white national service officers, but no other ranks) expanded from a pre-UDI strength of one battalion to four. The second was formed in 1974, the third in 1977 and the fourth began recruiting in 1978. Only the second enjoyed anything like the training and respect that white officers accorded the first, veteran battalion. The fourth battalion never really functioned properly, and by the end of the war the RAR training establishment was simply churning out vast numbers of black soldiers to meet the insatiable demands of the armed forces for some sort of trained manpower to plug the gaps in the security forces’ disintegrating control of the countryside. Raw black troops were integrated with white reserve units, which were dwindling through emigration, to bolster their strength and assimilate combat experience as quickly as possible. At that time some officers envisaged a future Rhodesian army in which virtually every white soldier was an officer or an NCO commanding vast numbers of black rank-and-file, but this did not come about before the war’s end.

The Rhodesian Light Infantry finally reached full battalion strength in the early Seventies after years of inadequate recruitment. It was boosted by foreign enlistment and national service conscripts in its commando (company-sized units) structure. The RLI achieved notoriety as a sort of southern African Foreign Legion to which mercenaries flocked from all over the world. Estimates of the total numbers of foreigners who had served in the Rhodesian forces ranged up to 2,000, but a figure of 1,400 is more likely. A large proportion of them was concentrated in No. 3 Commando of the RLI. Although the guerrillas were able to make a great deal of propaganda out of foreign recruitment as a measure of the moral, political and military depravity of the Rhodesian government, these men were more ideological soldiers of fortune than true mercenaries. Most enlisted out of political and racial conviction or purely for high adventure, since their pay and conditions of service were the same as those of white recruits of Rhodesian origin.

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The Special Air Service also attracted foreigners, though its tough selection course kept the unit relatively small, with a high proportion of white Rhodesians in its ranks. Although Peter McAleese records that at one stage in the late 1970s, in ‘A’ Squadron, most of the 33 regulars were foreigners, this tally excluded the Rhodesians in the Territorial SAS. On external operations, the SAS often wore enemy uniforms, so that if an operator was killed, especially if he were a foreigner, he could officially be disowned by the authorities. The formation had languished after the dissolution of the Federation, its strength dropping to as low as 20, but by 1978 volunteers (including national servicemen) took it up to three-squadron strength. Rhodesia’s ‘C’ Squadron SAS had been formed to serve in Malaya alongside the British ‘A’and ‘B’Squadrons. (To this day, in the British SAS orbat, the ‘C’ Squadron remains vacant in honour of the lost Rhodesian element.) The Rhodesian SAS squadron later became 1 (Rhodesia) Special Air Service Regiment. A secret component was ‘D’ Squadron, made up of South African Special Forces Reconnaissance Commandos. Generally, the 40 South African operators preferred to work as a distinct unit, sometimes commanded by an SADF colonel, though they also fought alongside the Selous Scouts and Rhodesian SAS in external raids. They would sometimes fly to Salisbury on scheduled flights in civilian clothes, be met at the airport and then change into Rhodesian uniform. They were there to learn, as much as to help.

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Two new units to emerge during the war were the Selous Scouts, which adopted the name relinquished by the Armoured Car Regiment, and the Grey’s Scouts. The Selous Scouts took its name from the well-known nineteenth-century hunter, Frederick Courteney Selous; Henry Rider Haggard is said to have based the character of Allan Quatermain on the same adventurer. The Selous Scouts were originally formed as a small specialist tracking unit (called the Tracker Combat Unit) to provide support for other units on COIN operations. Initially there were two groups, under 2 Brigade, based at Kariba and Bindura. But the unit’s functions multiplied, as did its size, to three troops, then a full battalion of 1,000 officers and men, most of whom were black. Selous Scouts conducted clandestine operations both inside and outside Rhodesia’s borders. Individuals were attached to the Rhodesian intelligence service to gather information from as far afield as Tanzania and Angola. One Selous Scout became the most distinguished, and decorated, Rhodesian soldier. Captain Chris Schulenburg, a South African known as Schulie, usually with just one black Scout, performed feats of long-range ground reconnaissance unparalleled in modern counter-insurgency. (The full story of this modest officer was told in The Selous Scouts: Top Secret War.) The Scouts’ Support Troop acted as assault infantry in raids into neighbouring countries, though it was never as effective as the SAS. (Most of the blunders of the Rhodesians on raids into Zambia were attributable to this formation acting on its own initiative or with too much licence granted by General Walls himself.) The unit’s notoriety for treachery and brutality was only partly deserved, for the bulk of its members were engaged on routine military tasks. But the Selous Scouts did field ‘pseudo-gangs’ to deceive the guerrillas and their supporters, and to carry out punitive atrocities against villages which collaborated with the guerrillas. Selous Scout pseudo operators were paid a Rh$100 bounty for every guerrilla killed or captured along with their weapons. This rose to Rh$150 a head if there were more than ten guerrillas. The formation’s penchant for secrecy (despite the wide publicity given to its existence and to its stringent selection tests), and the bogus cloak-and-dagger attitude of some of its ranks, helped the guerrillas to paint a picture of the battalion as a latter-day Waffen-SS. The undoubted efficiency and bravery of the soldiers in the unit, many of whom were national servicemen or reservists, and the extreme conditions under which they often operated, contributed to the images of ruthless shock troops promoted by the mass media around the world.

The Grey’s Scouts were a mounted infantry unit formed to exploit the mobility of horses for COIN operations. The formation had mixed success, but they attracted high quality volunteers, again including many foreigners, and established a reputation for aggressiveness. At times they operated purely as foot-soldiers, depending on operational conditions.

Apart from the Grey’s Scouts and the third and fourth battalions of the RAR, the regular units were increasingly deployed as military fire brigades within the country, and on external operations after 1976. The trend was to hand over routine, ground-covering patrols to reserve forces. Fire Force duties were allocated to the RLI, the RAR, the Support Company of the Selous Scouts and, less frequently, the SAS. Formations served two- to three-week tours as Fire Forces before being allocated to other operations. In consequence, most of their ranks received parachute training.

External operations were carried out almost exclusively by these regular formations. The SAS spent most of its time across the border. The Squadrons were deployed for months at a time in Mozambique, Zambia or Botswana on regular operations to harass guerrilla camps and lines of communication and to gather intelligence. Full-scale assaults on guerrilla bases, some involving combat paradrops from as low as 300 feet, were also a part of the unit’s responsibilities. The RAR, RLI and Selous Scouts deployed detachments of up to company strength into neighbouring states, though most operations were on a smaller scale.

Other combat formations were the Independent Companies made up of national servicemen, the Artillery and the Armoured Car Regiment. The Independent Companies had specific areas of responsibility (for example, 2 Indep. Coy was based at Kariba, 3 Indep. Coy at Inyanga) in which they constantly operated. Occasionally they were deployed on Fire Force duties and on external raids. Their quality was never very high as they were the residue of national service intakes after officer training, the regular units, the specialized arms and police had taken their pick of conscripts. One such unit, 7 Indep. Coy, was a cover for a unit of French recruits into the Rhodesian forces. Some were veterans of the Foreign Legion, but they were not successful in Rhodesian conditions and were disbanded.

The service corps were largely staffed by regular troops, though their deficiencies were also made up by drafts of national servicemen and reservists. The corps divisions of responsibility were roughly similar to those of the British army: the Corps of Engineers, the Corps of Signals, Army Services Corps, Army Medical Corps, Military Police, Army Pay Corps, Army Educational Corps and the Corps of Chaplains. There were also miscellaneous departments such as the Psychological Action Group (Psyac) and Military Intelligence to co-ordinate field and external intelligence data. The Military Intelligence department performed poorly partly because of the small size of its staff, of whom nearly all were reservists. A big exception, however, was the signallers in Military Intelligence who operated the Radio Intercept Services. A great deal of vital information was gleaned from radio interception of guerrillas and regular troops based in Mozambique and Zambia. A Special Investigations Branch was created to ensure the internal security of the army and to root out subversion and dissidence among troops.

The army’s ‘tail’ was remarkably lean, and the usual imbalance between combat and support units in modern armies was not a severe problem for the Rhodesian forces. Many functions of the ‘tail’ were carried out by cheap black auxiliary labour, so that little white manpower was allocated to trivial, but necessary, support functions. The emigration of skilled artisans from the country had serious repercussions for the armed forces. Motor vehicle mechanics were in chronically short supply, especially when the number of landmine and traffic incidents escalated alarmingly from 1976. The gaps in the security forces’ maintenance capabilities were filled to a great extent by private contractors and by calling up skilled personnel to serve in security forces’ workshops.

Cossacks WWII

General Helmuth Pannwitz and his Cossack body guard regiment.


During the Second World War, ethnic Cossacks fought on both sides of the conflict. Cossacks who had emigrated to the USA and the UK served with their military forces. Many Cossacks joined the Resistance. Though some Cossacks joined German armed forces, they did so usually to defect either to the western allies or to the Resistance, to liberate their co-patriots and family members from Nazi work and concentration camps.
The vast majority of the ethnic Cossacks fought against the Nazis in the ranks of the Red Army and of the Red Navy on all war theaters. Their service was crucial on the Southern theater of the Eastern Front. They were used for frontal patrols and logistics on the open prairies (steppes), which they knew well. The first Cossacks units were formed as early as 1936; by 1942 there were 17 Cossack corps units in the Red Army (as opposed to two in the German forces). Later these corps units were increased in size and reduced to eight. Their distinction in battle eventually led all to be merited as Guards. Oka Gorodovikov formed 49 Cossack cavalry divisions during the war. Many ethnic Cossacks served in other divisions of the Red Army and in the Navy, including Boris Shaposhnikov, Markian Popov, Aksel Berg, Arseniy Golovko, Oka Gorodovikov, Lev Dovator, Pavel Belov, General Dmitry Karbyshev, Dmitry Lavrinenko, pilot Grigory Bakhchivandzhi and engineer Fedor Tokarev. A Cossack detachment of the 4th Guards Corps marched in Red Square during the Moscow Victory Parade of 1945.
A substantial number of Cossacks served with the Germans, in response to the harsh repressions and genocide that their families had suffered under the policies pursued by Joseph Stalin. Like other people of the Soviet Union who suffered persecution under Stalin, some Cossacks mistakenly greeted the advancing German army as “liberators” from Stalinism.
While some Cossacks in German service were former White Army refugees or related to them, many Soviet citizens, including rank-and-file Cossacks, defected from the Red Army to join the “Cossack units” of German armed forces. Native Cossacks usually served as officers. As early as 1941, the German leadership formed the first Cossack detachments from prisoners of war, defectors and volunteers. The Dubrovski Battalion formed of Don Cossacks in December 1941 was reorganised on July 30, 1942 into the Pavlov Regiment, numbering up to 350 men. The Germans used Cossacks for anti-partisan activity in the rear of the German army.
The Cossack National Movement of Liberation hoped to gain an independent Cossack state, to be called Cossackia, after the war. In 1943, after the 1st Cossack Division was formed under the command of General Helmuth von Pannwitz, Cossack émigrés such as Andrei Shkuro and Pyotr Krasnov took leading positions in the movement. The 2nd Cossack Division, under the command of Colonel Hans-Joachim von Schultz, formed in 1944, existed for a year. Both Cossack divisions were made part of the XV Cossack Cavalry Corps, totalling some 25,000 men. They wore regular Wehrmacht uniforms and not Waffen-SS ones, as has occasionally been incorrectly alleged. Although in 1944 General von Pannwitz accepted loose affiliation with the Waffen-SS in order to gain access to their supply of superior arms and equipment, together with control over Cossack units in France, no pagan SS features had ever been implemented to respect the Christianity of Cossacks and the Corps command, structure, uniforms, ranks, etc. remained firmly Wehrmacht.
The Corps contained regiments of different Cossack groups, who were Don, Kuban, Terek and Siberian Cossacks who had been fighting Tito’s guerrillas, the Ustashi and Domobranci in the former Yugoslavia. At the end of the war in 1945, they conducted a fighting retreat north-eastwards over the Karavanken Mountains into Carinthia, where they surrendered to the British Army in Allied-administered Austria. They hoped to join the British to fight Communism. At the time the Cossacks were seen as Nazi collaborators and they were reported to have committed atrocities against resistance fighters in Eastern Europe. As part of Operation Keelhaul, the British returned Cossack prisoners of war to Russia.
On 28 May 1945, told they would be resettled in Canada or Australia, the Cossacks were transferred to SMERSH custody at the Soviet demarcation line at Judenburg. Also included in the transfer were civilian members of the Kazachi Stan, consisting of old folk, women, and children, as well as about 850 German officers and non-commissioned officers of the Corps. At the end of the war, the British repatriated between 40 to 50 thousand Cossacks, including families of military, to the Soviet Union. Many of those were reported as never having been Soviet citizens. An unknown number were subsequently executed or imprisoned. This episode is widely known as the Betrayal of the Cossacks.

The SS-Wiking in Hungary

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Waffen SS “Wiking” Kampfgruppe “Darges” with the commander of the Hungarian forces at the entrance of the Mountain Castle 8th of January 1945.

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Fritz Vogt and Fritz Darges in Front of Hegykastely Castle, January 1945.

Officers from I.Abteilung/SS-Panzer-Regiment 5 “Wiking” and I.Bataillon/SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 23 “Norge” posed together for the camera in front of the doorway of Hegykastely Castle, Hungary. Front row, from left to right: SS-Untersturmführer Werner Liebald (Chef Maschinengewehr-Kompanie/I.Bataillon/SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 23 “Norge”); and SS-Sturmbannführer Fritz Vogt (Kommandeur I.Bataillon/SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 23 “Norge”/11.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Division Nordland). Back row, from left to right: SS-Obersturmführer Ernst Kiefer (Chef 4.Kompanie/SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 23 “Norge”); SS-Obersturmführer Helmut Bauer (Chef 3.Kompanie/SS-Panzer-regiment 5); SS-Obersturmführer der Reserve Willi Hein (Kommandeur I.Abteilung/SS-Panzer-Regiment 5); SS-Obersturmbannführer Fritz Darges (the “giant” standing in the middle, Kommandeur SS-Panzer-Regiment 5/5.SS-Panzer-Division “Wiking”); unidentified Panzerkommandant from II.Abteilung/SS-Panzer-Regiment 5; SS-Hauptsturmführer Karl-Heinz Lichte (wearing leather jacket with cigarette in the lips, Chef 5.Kompanie/SS-Panzer-Regiment 5); and SS-Obersturmführer Hans Weerts (Chef 4.Kompanie/SS-Panzer-Regiment 5). This picture was taken between 7-12 January 1945 where the I./SS-Pz.Rgt 5 and I./SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt 23 “Norge” was trapped together near the castle Hegykastely on the road between Many and Biscke in Hungary. I.Bataillon/SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 23 “Norge” was the Spitzenbataillon in IV. SS-Panzer-Korps push against Budapest during operation Konrad I and became the unit who came closest to the city. They tried a night attack to enter Biscke with elements of I.Abteilung/SS-Panzer-Regiment 5 “Wiking” who failed in 7 January 1945, then they fortified themselves within the castle Heggy on three sides fighting off the Russian onslaught.

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While the Resistance cut down the Far Right on the home front, the Red Army was completing the task against their Waffen-SS counterparts on the battlefront. November and December had seen Hungary invaded and Budapest surrounded. Some 95,000 German and Hungarian troops ended up trapped in the city, with the core of the defence based on the cavalrymen of the 8th SS-Cavalry Division Florian Geyer and the 22nd SS-Volunteer Cavalry Division Maria Theresia. Hitler was obsessed with holding the capital and the Hungarian oilfields, which were the Third Reich’s last major supplier of fuel. No matter that his entire ‘Fortress’ and ‘hold to the last man’ strategies had proved themselves to be utter failures and that the oilfields in question could not even provide Army Group South’s needs let alone anyone else’s. As ever, Hitler refused to accept reality and the Ostheer was ordered to expend its last strength in vain attempts to relieve Budapest and defeat the Soviets on the Magyar plains in a series of operations codenamed Konrad (there were to be three in the end). Involved from the start was the Wiking, which was dispatched south from Poland along with the Totenkopf, and sent straight into the attack from its transport trains on New Year’s Day.

Advancing from Komarno, the Germans main base in western Hungary, the two panzer divisions surprised the 4th Guards Army and threw it back some 20 miles. But the Russians swiftly got over their initial shock and poured fresh forces into the struggle. The offensive slowed and casualties mounted. Unwilling to concede defeat, Hitler pulled Gille’s Corps back and moved them near Szekesfehervar to try again. With Hans Dorr’s Germania in the lead, the Wiking attacked again. Scandinavian grenadiers fell to mines, artillery fire and even electrified wires as their ranks were further thinned. But somehow they carried on, the Wiking’s King Tigers (an armoured monster that weighed 68 tonnes and sported the superlative 88mm gun as its main armament), creating carnage among the Soviet tank ranks as the division advanced to within a mere 12 miles of the centre of Budapest. The garrison, desperately battling for their survival among the smoking ruins of the once-beautiful city, could hear the rumble of the guns as the Wiking edged forward – surely they would be saved. Then disaster struck.

Dorr called a briefing for his officers in a barn in the just-captured village of Sarosd. A lone Soviet anti-tank gun and its crew had been overlooked by the assaulting troops and had kept their heads down. Sensing an opportunity, the gun commander saw the SS officers gathering in the barn near the square and ordered his gunner to hit it. With the trademark retort that gave the Soviet 76mm gun its nickname among the Germans of the ratschbum, the high velocity shell shot across and slammed into the building’s roof showering the assembled commanders with red-hot shrapnel. At a stroke the Germania was beheaded. Dorr, a Knight’s Cross winner and Cherkassy survivor, was wounded for the sixteenth time in his brief career and would later die of his injuries. Several other men were killed instantly, and almost everyone else was wounded by the razor sharp steel fragments. The stuffing was knocked out of the Germania by the losses and the offensive ground to a shuddering halt as the Soviets threw ever-more reinforcements into a counter-attack. Within days, not only had the Germans been stopped but the Wiking itself had been surrounded.

The former Norge and Danmark 1st Battalions were heavily involved in the fighting, particularly around the town of Pettend. Fritz Vogt, now Erik Brörup’s battalion commander, personally destroyed six Soviet tanks with hand-held panzerfäuste during the fighting that claimed the lives of several Scandinavian volunteers, including the ex-DNL veteran Fritjof Røssnaes (his elder brother Knut was also in the division) and the surgeon Dr Tor Storm, allegedly burned alive with his wounded charges after trying to surrender. The two battalions did manage to break out from Pettend and rejoin the rest of the division, but the price was astronomically high. The Danmark was effectively annihilated and was never resurrected, while the Norge could muster just 36 officers and men by mid-February. The Westland’s commander, SS-Obersturmbannführer Franz Hack spoke of the ferocity of the combat:

The Soviets attacked us frontally during the day, supported by artillery and Stalin’s Organs [German nickname for the multi-barrelled Katyusha rocket launchers]. The battle raged in and around the little town of Seregelyes, and somehow we captured a complete Stalin Organ with tractor and ammunition. Our artillerymen and infantry gunners, under SS-Hauptsturmführer Peter Wollseifer, turned the multiple launcher around and soon the Soviets were getting a taste of their own medicine.

10th SS Panzer Division at the Arnhem Battles I

The high-level command decision provides evidence that the OKW did not anticipate any large-scale Allied airborne operations in Holland. Army Group B approved a request by the II SS Panzer Corps for Heinz Harmel to travel to Bad Saarow one day before the Allied airborne operation began. Harmel personally met with the chief of the main SS office in order to speed the refreshment of the 10th SS. Referring to the orders that his division received from the OB of the Army Group and II SS Panzer Corps, he discussed the need for additional speedy replacements of personnel and materiel. In particular, the commander emphasized the speedy allocation of the 1st Battalion, 10th SS Panzer Regiment, to the division. The main SS office concurred with the extensive request for support and ordered the immediate activation of 1,500 replacements to the division. In the afternoon on 17 September, a telegraph arrived with orders for Harmel to return to his unit. It should be noted that the Germans received information about the impending airborne operations from the Dutch double-agent Christian Lindemans, also known as “King Kong.”

Meanwhile, the 2nd Battery, 10th SS Panzer Artillery Regiment attached to the Kampfgruppe Walther. The 2nd Battery consisted of only fifty-two men (they were ninety-four at full strength), and four towed 105mm howitzers lFH 18 that were recovered earlier at the rail yard at Cambrai. The battery prime movers, former field kitchen vehicles, were brought out of the encirclement of Falaise. The cook, when necessary, served as a cannonier or telephone operator, depending on the situation. The battery communications equipment consisted of two field telephones, no radios, and only a few rolls of wire. Approximately eighty rounds of ammunition were available. Kampfgruppe Walther, comprised of a Fallschirmjäger Regiment, covered the area south of the line Valkenswaard-Achel-Hamont-Bree. The 2nd Battery assumed positions along the Dutch and Belgian border, east of the small village of Schaft and about 5 km south of Valkenswaard. The terrain consisted primarily of fields, mixed with high broom and juniper. The limber position was about 400 meters to the west, and the vehicles were concealed in the village of Schaft.

The battery attempted to establish contact with an infantry unit, located 2 km south of the battery position along the northern bank of a canal near a secondary village. No activity suggested the infantry unit was not in position, although their task was to cover the southern road leading to Valkeswaard.

On Sunday 17 September, after 1200 hours, men from the 2nd Battery prepared a birthday cake for the battery commander. As Godau marveled over the decorated cake, the sound of approaching aircraft engines broke up the party and forced them back to the battery positions. Overhead, dozens of Allied aircraft towed transport gliders to the north and low-altitude fighter aircraft fired into the village of Schaft. After two additional fighters flew over the battery without firing a shot, the commotion ended as fast as it began. However, after several minutes, activity on the road sprang to life. A Sherman tank appeared moving at high speed to the north. From the battery, a solitary cry gave coordinates: “Tank from the right! Eight hundred meters!”

The cannoniers lowered the barrels and traversed the guns, but only two batteries in the right-side platoon could engage. As additional tanks followed, Karl Godau withheld the order to open fire. Nine Sherman tanks had already passed by and none stopped to offer a good shot. With only two rounds of armor-piercing ammunition per gun, Godau counted a total of twenty-seven tanks moving in the direction of Valkenswaard. Godau reported the tanks to the battalion and received orders to fall back and change the position of the battery at the next best opportunity.

The battery rear guard, used to protect against pursuing Allied forces, recovered their vehicles. Allied aircraft managed to puncture several vehicle tires, but no losses to personnel were recorded. By 1600 hours, the battery had completed preparations and had begun movement toward the battalion area when darkness fell.

British paratroopers also surprised SS-Obersturmführer Gottlob Ellwanger. At his battery command post in front of a guesthouse in Ede, Ellwanger observed a massive armada of C-47 transport aircraft, some towing gliders, flying in the direction of Arnhem, as paratroopers descended from the sky. The antiaircraft battalion commander, SS-Sturmbannführer Rudolf Schrembs, was not present, so command of the battalion fell to Ellwanger.

In accordance with orders received from SS-Sturmbannführer Otto Paetsch, the temporary commander, the battery conducted reconnaissance during the evening to determine the location of the enemy. In the process, the 1st Platoon gun crew chief SS-Unterscharführer van Duellen and Walter Bunzel were killed in action. The platoon leader SS-Scharführer Behm received head wounds. SS-Obersturmführer Karl Ruedele immediately went into action, providing air defense along the lower Rhine with 20mm machine-gun batteries of the 5th Battery, and shot down seven transport aircraft towing glider transport aircraft.

Ellwanger subordinated Ruedele under his command. The 4th Battery, reinforced by the 20mm antiaircraft machine guns from the grenadier regiments, as well as the 37mm antiaircraft guns on the Pz.Kpfw.IV chassis from the tank regiment, assumed the responsibility of air defense for the ferry service across the Pannerdens Canal. Moreover, the battery was responsible for defending against landed airborne troops in the greater area around Pannerden-Loo-Angeren. In the process, three British aircraft were shot down. The supply section, 4th Battery, was in the school at Didam, while the battery command post was situated in Zevenaar.

The battalion adjutant, during the middle of September, was SS-Untersturmführer Otto Stolzenburg. When Stolzenburg transferred to the 3rd Battery, SS-Untersturmführer Karl Funk filled the billet as the battalion adjutant.

American and British airborne operations had begun over Holland. By mid-August, a new combined Allied airborne headquarters, the First Allied Airborne Army, planned for airborne operations deep behind enemy lines. The objective, by providing momentum to bring the Allies across the Rhine River, included avoiding potential logistical delays and denying the Germans time to fortify behind the Rhine. Field Marshal Montgomery’s Operation Market Garden combined two plans. Operation Market employed three and a half airborne divisions to drop in the vicinity of Grave, Nijmegen, and Arnhem to seize bridges over several canals and the Meuse, Waal (Rhine), and Neder Rijn Rivers. Their objective included opening a corridor more than 50 miles long leading from Eindhoven northward. An air portable division was to be flown in as reinforcement. Operation Garden, using ground troops of the Second British Army, would push from the Dutch-Belgian border to the IJsselmeer (Zuider Zee), a total distance of 99 miles. XXX Corps provided the main effort of the ground attack from a bridgehead across the Meuse-Escaut Canal a few miles south of Eindhoven on the Dutch-Belgian frontier. On either flank the VII and XII Corps were to launch supporting attacks.

The U.S. 101st Airborne Division landed in the area of Eindhoven-Veghel, the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division landed in the area of Grave-Nijmegen, and the British 1st Airborne Division landed at Arnhem. At approximately the same time, British armored forces attacked north from out of the bridgehead at Neerpelt. One of the greatest battles in history, around the area of Arnhem-Nijmegen, unfolded for the II SS Panzer Corps.

The story of Karl Schneider, who did not become a member of the division until 22 September 1944, is an excellent example of how the division acquired new personnel, in a less conventional manner. Karl Schneider was born on 19 July 1925 in Rhinebishofsheim. On 5 October 1942, at the age of seventeen, he entered the RAD. His basic army training was completed at the Lorette Barracks, in Karlsruhe, with the 4th Company, 111th Training and Replacement Grenadier Regiment. He received additional training in Rambervillers, France, before departing to the Eastern Front. After the middle of December 1943, Schneider joined the 4th Heavy Machine Gun Company, 1st Battalion, 111th infantry Regiment, 35th infantry Division, as part of Army Group Center. He held the rank of Private 1st Class.

Fragments from a hand grenade wounded his left leg and foot on 2 March 1944. Schneider arrived at the field hospital in Thorn, West Prussia, and later transferred to the Military Hospital in Brussels, Belgium. In the middle of June 1944, Schneider returned to duty with the Rehabilitation Company of the 111th Grenadier Replacement Battalion, stationed in Vlissingen, Walcheren. After the Allied landings at Normandy and breakout from the bridgehead into France, the Rehabilitation Company, commanded by 1st Lieutenant Gebauer, was called into action at the beginning of August with other Army units against British armored spearheads west of Antwerp. The Rehabilitation Company was almost completely annihilated during the fighting at Beveren and Antwerp. Wounded a second time by a fragment that stuck in his left knee, Schneider managed, with the help of his comrades, to fight his way to safety across the Schelde River. As a straggler crossing the Waal River aboard a ferry at Gorinchem, Holland, he was absorbed on 26 August 1944, along with others retreating out of France, into the 4th SS Police Training and Replacement Battalion. The Auffangskommando or Collections Detachment on the ferry wore the SS Police Division cuff bands. Schneider thought them to belong to the Feldgendarmerie. The battalion established a collection point in Gorinchem, and a command post in a nearby sugar factory.

An SS-Scharführer escorted Schneider and others from various service branches to the sugar factory to determine their unit origination. in the factory on 26 August 1944, the Waffen-SS absorbed Schneider into their ranks. He received a field gray uniform jacket with SS collar tabs and the rank of SS-Rottenführer. The entry in his service book read, “Collected on 26.08.1944 and issued to the 6th Company, 4th SS-Panzergrenadier Training and Replacement Battion (Police).” His Army rank as Private 1st Class was crossed out and replaced with SS-Rottenfuehrer. With the stroke of a pencil, he was made a member of the Waffen-SS. The tattoo commonly applied to all SS soldiers under the left arm, which indicated their blood type, was not administered to Schneider on that day since he was underway to Utrecht as the driver for the one-armed and oneeyed company commander, SS-Untersturmführer Puder. As a vehicle driver for the 4th SS Training and Replacement Battalion, Schneider was quartered at the sugar factory at Gorinchem.

Around noon on Sunday 17 September 1944, Karl Schneider observed Allied fighters protecting hundreds of transport aircraft flying in the direction of Germany and towing airborne gliders. Everyone knew that something big was underway. By 1400 hours, the alarm sounded with reports of Allied airborne landings at Arnhem and Nijmegen. British paratroopers were reported to have established a toehold west of Arnhem.

Orders arrived in Gorinchem for all combat-capable troops to close with the enemy immediately in motorized march. The 6th Company, under the command of Puder, deployed as part of elements from the 4th SS Training and Replacement Battalion, under the command of SS-Hauptsturmführer Mattusch. All available vehicles were fueled and loaded with weapons and ammunition. By 1600 hours, units began departing. Schneider drove a Ford V-8 truck, loaded with two groups of men. Despite several attacks by Allied fighter aircraft, the convoy arrived at 1800 hours in Wageningen, where all units were directed further onto Rekumer-Heide.

Upon arrival, Schneider could hear clearly the sound of combat in the landing zone of the British 1st Airborne Division. The handicapped company commander issued orders to attack, and they encountered the enemy a few minutes north of Heelsum. The exchange of fire continued throughout the night. Bitter individual close combat developed using pistols, submachine guns, and hand grenades. The front lines were everywhere where there was gunfire. Flares continuously lit up the night, but it was impossible to determine friend or foe.

Under the cover of darkness, during a moonless night, British airborne forces opposing the 4th SS Police Training and Replacement Battalion withdrew in the direction of Wolfheze, where they regrouped with other airborne forces.

The experience of Karl Schneider was very similar to that of Rudi Trapp and his comrades. Enjoying a bite to eat during a beautiful late summer afternoon, they observed an armada of aircraft passing overhead. Alarm!

Rudi Trapp was born on 27 July 1925 in Iserlohn. A member of the division since it organized in 1943, he was the Schütze 1 or first gunner, in the Machine Gun Platoon, 3rd Company, Half-track Battalion Laubscher, 1st Battalion, 21st SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment. SS-Obersturmführer Ernst Vogel, who left the battalion shortly after its organization in 1943, returned to command the battalion. Around the Dutch village of Deventer, the battalion assembled to reorganize with replacements that arrived from the 9th SS Panzer Division and the 10th SS Training and Replacement Battalion, from Brünn.

Trapp and his comrades Adolf Lochbrunner and Jupp Wagner, all of whom attended divisional combat school together, oversaw individual group combat training for the new replacements. Of the original 3rd Company, only twelve men survived along with few weapons, including several MG-42s.

From the staff quarters in Doetinchem, the ii SS Panzer Corps, after receiving the first reports of Allied airborne landings, alerted the 10th SS Panzer Division and remaining elements of the 9th SS Panzer Division. The commander of the 10th SS Panzer Division, located at the main SS office in Bad Saarow, was ordered by telegram to return to his troops. Around 1600 hours, the II SS Panzer Corps ordered the 10th SS Panzer Division to proceed immediately via Arnhem to Nijmegen, occupy both bridges over the Waal River, and establish and hold a bridgehead south of the city. All applicable German troops near Nijmegen were attached to the division.

The 9th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion, commanded by SS-Untersturmführer Viktor-Eberhard Gräbner, consisting of approximately thirty armored half-tracks and scouting vehicles, attached to the 10th SS Panzer Division to reconnoiter from Arnhem to Nijmegen. In exchange, the 10th SS Panzer Division released their reconnaissance battalion, commanded by Brinkmann, to the Kampfgruppe 9th SS Panzer Division.

Conflicting reports exist regarding the assignment of the 9th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion on 17 September. According to Bittrich, the 9th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion received orders to reconnoiter to the west over Arnhem to Nijmegen, and seize and hold open the bridges assigned to the 9th SS that lay closer to Allied drop zones. Later, when the 10th SS Panzer Division arrived at Nijmegen, the 10th SS was to attach itself to the reconnaissance battalion of the 9th SS already on location. On the other hand, Harmel maintained the 9th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion was attached to the 10th SS from the very beginning, which accounted for the detachment of the 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion.

Considering the circumstances and in order to save time, it was more practical to employ the 9th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion instead of the 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion, the latter of which was located 50 aerial kilometers from Nijmegen. The immediate subordination of the 9th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion to the 10th SS is not plausible in light of the fact it reconnoitered to the west of Arnhem as well. Bittrich’s version of events seems more credible. The fact that the 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion went into action at the Arnhem bridge, as part of the 9th SS, was not foreseen when orders were issued in the afternoon on 17 September.

At approximately 1800 hours, the 9th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion arrived at the city of Arnhem, broke through weak defenses at the bridge crossing the lower Rhine, and continued in the direction of Nijmegen.

The 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion reconnoitered toward Arnhem and continued over Emmerich against Nijmegen. Heading in the direction of Wesel, Allied airborne drops were reported. Around 1900, the 1st Scout Company made reconnaissance toward Arnhem and reported the bridge at Arnhem, and reinforcement thereof, to be in Allied hands. The acting divisional commander Paetsch was en route from Ruurlo to Velp with elements of the command staff. The Allies controlled antiaircraft bunkers next to the bridge and gained considerable strength. Soon thereafter, additional elements of the 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion arrived in Arnhem. Brinkmann, the commander of the reconnaissance battalion, received orders to attack with the attached Kampfgruppe 9th SS, commanded by SS-Obersturmbannführer Harzer, and destroy the enemy at the northern approach to the bridge with the objective to open the divisional route of advance on Nijmegen. In this respect, the section was placed under orders of Kampfgruppe Spindler, of the 9th SS Panzer Division.

The 5th Battalion, SS Artillery Training and Replacement Regiment, commanded by the former member of the SS Polizei Division, SS-Hauptsturmführer Oskar Schwappacher, situated the staff, Staff Battery, and the 21st Heavy Howitzers Battery east of Oosterhout. The forward observers were on the northern banks of the Waal southwest of Oosterhout and 1 km west of Neerbosch. The 19th Light Howitzer Battery relocated from Zaltbommel to join the staff throughout 19 and 20 September. To improve observation on the bridge at Arnhem and within the center of the city, Schwappacher placed the forward observers of the 21st Battery southwest of Oosterhout. Both batteries provided effective rifle and cannon fire from four 20mm antiaircraft guns of the 21st Battery against low-flying aircraft. The staff and 21st Battery succeeded in shooting down two planes.

By the evening on 17 September, Paetsch ordered the formation of Kampfgruppe Reinhold. Paetsch intended the task force to follow the 9th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion into Nijmegen. The very able and experienced SS-Sturmbannführer Leo Reinhold, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 10th SS Panzer Regiment, commanded Kampfgruppe Reinhold.

Leo Reinhold was born on 22 February 1906 in the East Prussian capital city of Königsberg. In 1928, Reinhold joined the police as a candidate and transferred to the Wehrmacht in 1935. As a first lieutenant in the Army protective police, he returned to the municipal police force in January 1939, only to return to active military duty one month later, as an antitank company commander in the 4th SS Polizei Division. in June 1940, during the campaign in the west, Reinhold earned the Iron Cross 2nd Class. In the east, in September 1941, he received the Iron Cross 1st Class and qualified to wear the wound badge in silver. On 10 March 1943, Reinhold transferred to the Frundsberg Division as a battalion commander in the 10th SS Panzer Regiment. On 17 September, Reinhold was awarded the German Cross in Gold for his exploits in the east at Buczacz and Pilwa, in the west at Hill 112, Esquay, and Hill 188.

The Kampfgruppe consisted of the SS-Panzergrenadier Battalion Euling, which was released several days earlier from the 9th SS, the 2nd Battalion, 10th SS Panzer Regiment, made up of sixteen to twenty Pz.Kpfw.IV, a light howitzer battalion of the 10th SS Panzer Artillery Regiment, and one company of the 10th SS Panzer Pioneer Battalion.

After Battalion Euling departed from Rheden in the late evening and arrived in the hard-fought section of the city, the armored scouting vehicles of the forward-most elements joined in the fight alongside the reconnaissance battalion. The bulk of Battalion Euling closed on Arnhem directly southeast of the city.

The 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion and forward elements of Battalion Euling engaged together in fierce street and house-to-house fighting against a determined and experienced opponent. The German attack was broken off after only nominal gains. From positions around Oosterbeek along the northern banks of the lower Rhine, the Allies reinforced the bridge at Arnhem with heavy and antitank weapons. By midnight it was apparent that clearing the bridge of Allied forces would require a planned advance and more time. Portions of the 10th SS Panzer Division following the Battalion Euling were intercepted and brought to rest east of Velp.

10th SS Panzer Division at the Arnhem Battles II

After the first reports of Allied airborne landings in the southern sector of the city, Colonel Henke of the 1st Parachute Training Staff, located at the Nebo Monastery south of the city, sounded the alarm for all ground units quartered in Nijmegen. With men from the homeland defense units, permanent personnel of the training staff, men from the railroad security guard, and stragglers from fragmented units, Henke secured the southern rim of the city and occupied a bridgehead across the Waal. His mission was to keep open both bridges along the northern riverbanks to the north of the city, with his left and right flank leaned against the rim of the village of Lent.

Allied parachute and airborne glider troops had already landed around Arnhem when orders arrived directing the 3rd Company, 1st Battalion, 21st SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment into action. The mission was to attack forward toward the Rhine and the bridge at Arnhem. Lacking vehicles, the men acquired bicycles from the general population. Trapp encountered several Army stragglers fleeing the city, many yelling, “Run away! The Tommies have landed!”

At the outskirts of the village, the men abandoned their bicycles and proceeded forward in a tactical column. Close to the front of the houses, the 3rd Company, 21st SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment, moved ever closer to the bridge. The civilian population was nowhere to be seen, and the homes seemed abandoned.

After crossing several streets, the machine-gun company approached individual British airborne supply canisters that littered the road. The search of nearby houses began immediately when small arms fire erupted from all sides. Lacking weapons, the Germans recovered weapons and ammunition from dead British soldiers. The process of ferreting out British paratroopers, hiding in the compartmentalized alleyways of the inner city, proved very difficult. House-to-house close combat became a necessity, and several entryways were found mined with improvised explosive devices. Slowly, the German perimeter around the paratroopers tightened. When German troops reached the Rhine River by the evening, the Arnhem Bridge was in view. British defensive fire intensified and the fighting continued throughout the night, from house to house. No soldier thought about sleep.

As the German troops pressed forward, Rudi Trapp emplaced his heavy machine gun tactically to provide covering fire at various street corners. British paratroopers tried evading the encirclement and ran from one house to another. Wounded British shared Trapp’s position. One British soldier had been hit in the testicle and was in severe pain. Trapp and other SS men evacuated wounded British from the front lines and brought them to the rear for medical attention. The Germans recovered Dutch civilians, also wounded during the fighting. Among the Dutch was a severely injured woman. Civilians hiding in the cellars were forced out into the open when many homes caught fire during the fighting.

Supplies arrived during the night for Trapp and his comrades. They received Panzerfausts, ammunition, and assault rifles. However, basic food provisions were not included. The men looted food stocks from nearby abandoned cellars, which primarily consisted of pickled fruit. A chocolate warehouse was located along the Rhine River road, but no trace of chocolate was found. A three-wheel bicycle found in a warehouse was impounded and used to carry weapons, ammunition, and heavy guns to and from the front lines.

Luftwaffe forward observers arrived amidst the rubble and sketched out the terrain where Trapp and his company were located. These sketches were given to Stuka divebomber squadrons to guide them in precision bombing sorties. In the end the Stukas never came. Actually, Trapp was very happy the Stukas did not come, considering he was the recipient of the botched close air support during the fighting at Buczacz.

Instead, ground support arrived in the form of an Army field howitzer. The gun provided direct fire support, from the Rhine road, for the attacks. The gun effectively placed preparatory assault fire on several houses, which were later overrun by Trapp and his company. Many of the British defenders were killed in their fighting holes from falling debris.

Kampfgruppe Henke was not equipped or trained well enough to engage in battle. The Kampfgruppe consisted of approximately 750 primarily older men, and a number of antiaircraft batteries to protect the bridge and provide antitank defenses. Kampfgruppe Henke was organized in the following manner:

HQ Henke Parachute Training Regiment

6 Replacement Battalions (consisting of 3 companies)

Herman Göring Company Runge

NCO School Company

Railway Guards/Police Reservists (consisting of 2 companies)

Antiaircraft Battery (88mm & 20mm guns, dispersed)

Nijmegen remained free of Allied forces until dark. However, during the night on 18 September, the Allies managed to push German security forces back into the inner city.

In the evening on 17 September, forward scouts of the 9th SS Reconnaissance Battalion reported back to the battalion that Nijmegen and both bridges were in German hands. Moreover, no Allied attacks against the bridges were reported. The battalion commander Gräbner foresaw a threat by Allied forces and ordered it to return to Arnhem, rather than scouting against Nijmegen. South of Elst, Gräbner permitted scouts to contact the Kampfgruppe at Nijmegen. Portions of the 9th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion returned to Arnhem during the night on 18 September. Heavy casualties were suffered on the Rhine Bridge. Burning armored half-tracks littered the entire width of the road. The residual elements remained on the southern banks and sealed off the bridge along a front, facing north, barring the Allies from advancing from the south. The small contingency prevented the Allies from capturing the southern approach to the bridge.

Around midnight, the 10th SS Panzer Division received superseding orders from the II SS Panzer Corps that diverted the division from their original route of march over Arnhem. Instead, they were directed to travel southeast of Arnhem over the lower Rhine and utilize a ferry service. From there, the division was to capture Nijmegen and establish a bridgehead on the southern bank of the Waal; both bridges were to be prepared for demolition.

Immediately, the division placed the Kampfgruppe Reinhold in march over Zevenaar and then on to Pannerden. The 1st Company of the 10th Pioneer Battalion assumed the lead at the point. The objective was to propel the 1st Company, 10th SS Panzer Pioneer Battalion, forward against Nijmegen, after crossing the lower Rhine (Pannerdian Canal) at the ferry cross-over points with rubber assault boats and other acquired boats. Together with the 9th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion, expected to arrive at any moment, the pioneer company was to be attached to the local unit and facilitate ejecting the Allies, who had infiltrated the city during the night. Moreover, the 1st Company, 10th SS Panzer Pioneer Battalion, was tasked with the preparation for the demolition of both Waal bridges. Army Group B reserved the right to rescind the order to blow up the bridges.

The decisive task around Nijmegen fell to the 10th SS Panzer Division: to prevent the American 82nd Airborne Division from making contact with the British 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem. Nonetheless, while the entire division knew of the objective, Kampfgruppe Reinhold was responsible for preventing a link before the bulk of the division arrived at the battlefield.

Considering the pioneer and antiaircraft battalions that were detached earlier but particularly needed at the crossing-points west of Pannerden, the bulk of the 10th SS Panzer Division redirected over Doesburg and Doetinchem.

During the first morning hours on 18 September, the Allies attempted to expand their bridgehead north of the Arnhem Bridge. Battalion Euling engaged the attackers and thwarted the Allied attempt. Around 0400 hours, Battalion Knaust, a training and replacement battalion, arrived with four weak companies, consisting of wounded or disabled soldiers, and ten older tanks along the northeastern fringe of Arnhem. Bittrich ordered the Battalion Knaust attached to the Kampfgruppe Brinkmann. The battalion replaced Battalion Euling, squad for squad, to allow the latter to resume its mission as part of Kampfgruppe Reinhold. However, the relief took longer than expected as individual groups from the battalion engaged in close combat.

Around the same time, the commander of the division Heinz Harmel returned from Bad Saarow and arrived at the forward divisional combat command post at Velp. After a short orientation by the 1st General Staff officer, Harmel made his way to the entrenched Kampfgruppe Brinkmann, located near the bridge along the outskirts of the city. Every house and every floor was bitterly contested. Harmel ordered the employment of a divisional light howitzer battery in the gardens along the road approaching the bridge; the houses on the opposite side were taken under direct fire. Shortly thereafter, Harmel reported to the commanding general of the II SS Panzer Corps (within the immediate vicinity) and assumed command of the battle around the Arnhem Bridge.

In terms of additional armored assistance, only a single company of old Army Tigers were available to support combat operations of the 10th SS on 19 September. The veteran Army captain Hans Hummel commanded the company of Tigers, which gained experience during the fighting in Sicily, at which time Hummel was wounded when he commanded the 2nd Company, 504th Heavy Panzer Battalion. The company organized as an alarm unit in early July 1944, for which Hummel gathered members of his former company from the Wehrkreiskommando Münster, the Wehrmacht District IV. The company, christened Heavy Panzer Company Hummel, was specifically organized to support the coup d’état against Hitler on 20 July.

The Heavy Panzer Company Hummel received the alarm and activated on 18 September at Sennelager. The company unloaded at the train station at Bocholt. From the station, they traveled 80 km, but only two Tigers, those belonging to Lieutenant Knack and Sergeant Barneki, reached Arnhem. The remaining tanks suffered from mechanical failures but arrived in Arnhem shortly thereafter.

Meanwhile, in accordance with the OKH directive of 15 August 1944, the 506th Heavy Panzer Battalion was refitted and freely organized in Ohrdruf with King Tigers or Tiger IIs. Under the new organization, the staff and tank companies reassigned the supply and service units into a supply company. The battalion staff and staff companies were amalgamated with the flak platoons. Under the command of Army Major Lange, forty-five King Tigers were allocated to the battalion between 20 August and 12 September. During the training that emphasized contending with aerial threats, several vehicles caught on fire. The fuel-line linkages on many tanks were not completely sealed and the fuel reservoir access ports were located too close to the very hot exhaust pipes. Despite inspections by members of the Heereswaffenamtes or Army Ordnance Department, the deficiencies were never adequately corrected.

Upon the arrival of two Tigers from the Heavy Tank Company Hummel, Kampfgruppe Brinkmann and all its elements returned under the control of the 10th SS Panzer Division. According to Harmel, Field Marshal Model ordered the 10th SS Panzer Division to fight to open a line of communication to Nijmegen, and ensure for the speedy resupply of all German units in that area.

The commander of the 10th SS Panzer Division personally led the attack against the bridge throughout the entire day and night of 19 September. The divisional combat command post was moved throughout 18 September from Velp to Pannerden.

Army Major Hans-Peter Knaust, commanding Battalion Bocholt, led by example and with a wooden prosthetic leg. The battalion displayed its worth during the attack against the bridge by ensnarling the enemy, from house to house, in close combat for hours. The defending soldiers of the British 1st Airborne Division fought courageously but at a great cost. According to Heinz Harmel, the fighting spirit and skill of the British airborne equaled his own division; Harmel considered them honorable and just in battle.

On Monday morning, 18 September, additional Allied paratroopers landed on the opposite side of the river. Trapp and his few remaining comrades were surrounded. Trapp mounted the heavy machine gun on a tripod, for better targeting. However, he was out of ammunition.

A half-track arrived in order to recover the men killed in action from between the opposing two lines of battle. Trapp manned the two vehicle machine guns and provided cover fire as the vehicle descended into the fight. One soldier was killed when hit in the heart after a projectile traveled through his Soldbuch or soldier’s pay book. He was barely nineteen years old.

The 3rd Machine Gun Company retained the half-track; it was the only vehicle in the sector between the church tower and the ramp to the river bridge. Using the half-track, Trapp and two other SS troopers were selected to establish contact with the adjacent Kampfgruppe, locked in combat beyond the ramp of the bridge. To achieve their objective, they had to pass under the ramp. The remaining company machine guns were to suppress the British antitank gun emplaced along the bridge, which had excellent observation across the roads along the riverbanks. Bernd Schulz, a farmer from Sendenhorst near Münster, was one of the last of the old fighters and was assigned as a driver. During the situation briefing, Schulz began to cry and had a bad feeling about the mission. Despite his misgivings, the men carefully stuffed their camouflage jacket pockets full of egg hand grenades and belts of ammunition for the MG-42.

No sooner had the half-track sped across the intersection when an antitank projectile hit the driverside of the vehicle. The half-track lurched to a stop; Schulz was killed instantly when the projectile hit him. The two remaining men exited the vehicle and darted into a demolished house, which was between two Allied defensive positions. In order to escape their predicament, Trapp provided suppressing machine-gun fire as his comrade ran across the street. As Trapp prepared to cross, several British soldiers suddenly surrounded Trapp. Using hand grenades to keep the British at bay, Trapp escaped across the street and jumped over a river wall and into the Rhine. After removing his wet clothing on the back of a half-sunken dredge, he swam toward friendly lines in his undergarments, armed only with a pistol. Shortly thereafter, Trapp reached his unit and received replacement clothing and equipment from fallen comrades. For Trapp, the fighting continued until he was wounded in Elst, when a bullet hit his knee. He was evacuated to the rear in a half-track, along with the commander of the Kampfgruppe Knaust. The major showed Trapp his wooden leg and commented, “Don’t worry. I was able to walk again.”

SS-Hauptsturmführer Schwappacher personally made several reconnaissance excursions into the area around Nijmegen earlier that morning to clarify the situation, which allowed him to place heavy artillery fire on Allied troop concentrations around Berg en Dal. Around 1000 hours Allied forces moving north toward the city were subjected to observed artillery, as well as on the main approaches east of the city. Around noon, Allied troops attacking northward that reached the road-triangle at the southern rim of the bridge were stopped by artillery fire from batteries of the 5th Company, SS Artillery Training and Replacement Regiment. Additional artillery fire allowed infantry from the Herman Göring Company Runge and the forward observers to relocate to the northeast along the railroad line. Schwappacher managed to gain considerable advantages with a single heavy artillery battery that gained fire control over the entire area of operations.

The 1st Company, 10th SS Panzer Pioneer Battalion, crossed the lower Rhine at Pannerden first and reached the bridge at Nijmegen, on 18 September, in vehicles and bicycles. However, the 9th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion had yet to arrive at their forward position at the Nijmegen Bridge. Both German and British forces engaged in costly street fighting in the center of the city. Members of the Dutch underground also participated in the fighting.

Around midday on 18 September, the commander of Kampfgruppe Reinhold arrived from Pannerden-Bemmel at the Waal River Bridge. Located south of Lent, Reinhold arrived with Battalion Euling, but missing those elements that could not be disengaged in time from the fighting at Arnhem. The timely arrival of Euling allowed nearby homeland defense units and the 2nd SS Pioneers to provide the additional energy needed to ward off several Allied attacks against the Waal bridges. Shortly thereafter, the half-track company and battalion staff of Battalion Euling rolled across the bridge at full speed. The bridge was under fire by Allied artillery. The remainder of the battalion arrived throughout the afternoon in trucks and on bicycles. However, due to the increase of artillery fire, only portions of the battalion managed to cross the bridge. Other portions of the battalion crossed the river upstream in rubber rafts. SS-Hauptsturmführer Euling established his combat command post in the city citadel, between the two bridges of Nijmegen. Local troops fighting under the command of Major Ahlborn were subordinated to Battalion Euling. The 9th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion reported the bulk of the battalion to be located at Elst and, according to rumor, designated as the division reserve. According to Harmel, the Kampfgruppe 9th SS Panzer Division requested the return of the 9th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion to the II SS Panzer Corps. Sensing a certain lack of dependability, Harmel ordered the battalion to secure their lines south of Elst, launch an attack to stop an Allied advance from Nijmegen to the north, and reconnoiter points of opportunity against new airborne landings south of Arnhem.