Waffen SS “Wiking” Kampfgruppe “Darges” with the commander of the Hungarian forces at the entrance of the Mountain Castle 8th of January 1945.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Around 2000 hours on 18 September, stray Allied machine-gun fire damaged the radio belonging to SS-Cannonier Albrecht, 21st Battery, 5th Company, SS Artillery Training and Replacement Regiment. Participating in an infantry counterattack, Albrecht managed to climb onto a Sherman tank and knocked out the vehicle by dropping a hand grenade into the open turret.
Late in the morning on 19 September, Battery Godau, of the Blocking Unit Heinke, relocated from their positions west of Budel. The battery relocated south of Weert. Moreover, the bridge across the Zuid-Willemsvaart was prepared for demolition.
Despite the lack of a German unit command structure west of Arnhem, the Allied landing zones at Oosterbeek were contained and Allied movement was constricted as Kampfgruppe Brinkmann slowly managed to gain ground. The road leading to the bridge lay only several hundred meters before the Kampfgruppe. The Allies formed a formidable and tough defensive group around the city church. The German center of gravity shifted for the attack to gain access to the defenders.
At Pannerden, the 10th SS Panzer Pioneer Battalion built a 70-ton pontoon ferry that enabled tanks from the 2nd Battalion, 10th SS Panzer Regiment to reinforce Kampfgruppe Reinhold. Wary of Allied aerial reconnaissance, the first tanks did not cross until after nightfall.
During the afternoon on 19 September, the Allies launched a concerted attack at Nijmegen and employed heavy tanks for the first time. This provided evidence that the Allied armored forces, the British Guards Armoured Division of XXX Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General B. G. Horrocks, which attacked on 17 September to the north out of the bridgehead at Neerpelt, had linked with the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division. Moreover, heavy artillery fire supported and preceded the attack. At the onset, heavy Allied flanking machine-gun fire was placed on the Waal bridges from the west that threatened German communications and resupply traffic. However, the Allied attack against the bridgehead was thwarted with the help of the timely arrival of elements of the 10th SS. Bitter street fighting caused fires to break out in the northern sectors of the city. The poor weather that had dominated the last several days prevented any additional airborne landings.
Between 17 and 19 September, and in response to the Allied airborne operations, K. Mahler drove a small detachment of men from the 6th Company, 10th SS Panzer Regiment, into action at Arnhem. The majority of the 6th Company was either in Germany undergoing training or looking for tanks.
Late in the morning on 19 September the main line of battle remained relatively quiet; however, the 5th Company, SS Artillery Training and Replacement Regiment, combated Allied assembly points at the southern rim of Nijmegen and tank concentrations along the road leading from Nijmegen to the southwest. SS-Scharführer Hotop of the 21st Battery placed well-observed fire against troops on the road and disabled two Sherman tanks operating near the railroad line. A second Allied attack against the bridge around 1400 hours also received well-observed artillery fire from the 21st Battery, called by the commander of the main forward observation post, SS-Hauptsturmführer Horst Krüger. One Allied tank was knocked out by an antitank gun, and projectiles from the 21st Battery landed 300 meters south of the bridge, forcing the remaining Allied tanks to break off the attack. Moreover, SS-Scharführer Hotop succeeded that evening in disrupting two tank assembly areas west of the railroad and, through the application of short combat fire sets, beat off a closed tank assault.
After heavy night fighting at the Arnhem Bridge, Kampfgruppe Brinkmann, reinforced by the 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion and Battalion Knaust, began operations on 20 September, in close combat with flamethrowers and Panzerfausts, to eliminate individual nests of resistance. A portion of the group of houses that lay near the church caught on fire, whereby plumes of smoke reduced Allied observation. As a result, the Kampfgruppe managed to shorten the distance to the bridge. In the process, a number of severely wounded Allied soldiers were taken prisoner. In the afternoon, an Allied prisoner divulged the fact that the Allied fighting spirit had wavered and the situation had become hopeless. Consequently, the Allied commander of the defensive bridgehead was asked to surrender. He did not concede and the fight for the bridge continued, without result, throughout the entire night.
West of Arnhem, Kampfgruppe Harzer of the 9th SS further compressed the Allies and eliminated any possibilities of relief or reinforcement in Arnhem.
On the same day in Nijmegen, the Allies renewed their attacks from the east against the northern sector of the city after additional forces, consisting of tanks, artillery, and engineers, were brought forward. Battalion Euling, reinforced by the 1st Company, 10th SS Panzer Pioneer Battalion, and other local ground units, mounted a bitter defense. Batteries from the 5th Company, SS Artillery Training and Replacement Regiment, placed well-observed artillery fire directed by SS-Hauptsturmführer Krüger onto the road, which slowed their advance. The German bridgehead reached 1 km in width but only 300 meters in depth. The right boundary ended along the railroad line whereas the left boundary ran approximately 100 meters east of the bridge road. German artillery repeatedly beat off Allied attempts to attack the position. Krüger’s forward observation post brought artillery fire to bear against the Allies within 100 meters of the German position.
Allied Typhoons bombed and strafed the northern banks of the Waal while British preparatory artillery and tank fire, along with heavy white phosphorus smoke, allowed the first of two battalions from the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment of Brigadier General James M. Gavin’s “All American” 82nd Airborne Division to conduct a diversionary assault across the Waal, west of the city, and secure a foothold on the northern bank.
The 21st Heavy Howitzer Battery of the 5th Company, SS Artillery Training and Replacement Regiment, fired against tank and troop assemblies without respite from its location in Nijmegen, but also provided effective blocking fire on the main roads. All available guns fired onto a main artery. The 19th Light Howitzer Battery fired against Allied landings on the northern and southern banks of the Waal. The 5th Company, SS Artillery Training and Replacement Regiment, provided observation and fire direction for the 19th Battery that subjected American troops crossing the Waal to 250 rounds of sustained destructive fire, as well as thirty minutes of slow harassing fire that hit several landing boats and caused high numbers of casualties. The Alarm Platoon, led by SS-Untersturmführer Friedrich Brandsch, dispatched to the area around Valburg to combat Allied paratroopers. However, Schwappacher recalled the Alarm Platoon in order to provide patrols and secure the area of operations of the 5th Battalion. SS-Untersturmführer Alfons Büttner received orders to defend against advancing Allied troops moving north and northwest. His mission was to hold the Damn Road south of Oosterhout. With vehicle drivers and members of the staff, they fought Allied troops with rifle and machine-gun fire. During the most critical period shortly after 1500 hours, many of the men that held the defensive line along the Damn Road, including Fallschirmjägers, members of the RAD, as well as antiaircraft batteries, suddenly withdrew in order to obtain ammunition. Schwappacher, who went to great effort to establish a defensive line during the night 19–20 September, was left only with fifteen men, including drivers and the battalion staff that held the line. Schwappacher ordered forming a defensive hedgehog position with the 21st and Staff Batteries.
Around 1700 hours, following the decoy crossing further upstream, Allied armored forces attacked both bridges at Nijmegen after artillery fire and smoke landed on both banks of the Waal River, northeast of Lent. Portions of the 1st Company, 10th SS Panzer Pioneer Battalion, which were engaged at the southern approaches to the bridge, immobilized several Allied tanks with close-quarter weapons. Nevertheless, large numbers of additional tanks at high speeds, supported by armored halftracks, could not be prevented from crossing the bridge. While the Army Group B remained in control of the bridge, approval to blow up the bridge could not be obtained soon enough before the Allies rolled across and as far as Lent.
One hour later the 5th Company, SS Artillery Training and Replacement Regiment formed a hedgehog position and continuously sent scouting patrols that maintained contact with the enemy with small arms fire. The small contingency of men holding the Damn Road were withdrawn to the northwestern portion of Oosterhout, after Schwappacher personally led a diversionary counterattack around 1900 hours with two assault groups against the road, south of Oosterhout. While the assault groups managed to take control of the center and southern exits of Oosterhout, they were unable to capture the Damn Road entirely. The cost of the counterattack included one dead and two wounded.
Heinz Harmel was in Lent when he received the news of the Allied crossing and ordered the bridge blown up. However, the demolition failed. Apparently, shrapnel or small arms fire had damaged the detonation cable.
After a brief respite from Allied preparatory fire along the southern outskirts of Lent, Allied tanks infiltrated the village and broke the resistance of the poorly armed and trained Home Defense units and elements of the 1st Company, 10th SS Panzer Pioneer Battalion. The Allies pushed through Lent and north, but slowed and moved forward cautiously after sustaining losses from the effects of their own smoke. Harmel drove back from Lent to Bremmel to the combat command post of Kampfgruppe Reinhold, where he ordered portions of the 2nd Battalion, 10th SS Panzer Regiment, and one battalion of the 22nd SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment arriving from Pannerden, to counterattack immediately. Bringing forward the expected arriving elements of the 9th SS Reconnaissance Battalion, south of Elst, was stymied when only scouting teams of the battalion were available. Moreover, the counterattack lacked the necessary fire support. Kampfgruppe Reinhold lacked heavy weapons as a result of the limited ferry traffic, and the light field howitzer battalion had only a single battery that was moving into position east of Flieren.
On 20 September, the railroad bridge at Nijmegen fell into Allied hands. Despite being completely cut off and surrounded, SS-Hauptsturmführer Euling, with approximately sixty men from his battalion and Major Ahlborn, commanding a group of Fallschirmjäger from the 1st Fallschirmjäger Training Staff, continued to hold the citadel of the city. The stubborn defense of Kampfgruppe Euling and 1st Fallschirmjäger Training Staff accounted for one Sherman tank destroyed and approximately thirty British killed or wounded. The artillery battery firing positions of Blocking unit Heinke, renamed to Blocking unit Roestel, were positioned in the south near Weert, Heelen Meijel, and Helden.
At dusk, approximately 1 km north of Lent, a small contingent of Horrocks’ Guards tanks were stopped and they withdrew to the south. Kampfgruppe Reinhold occupied and secured a new defensive line during the counterattack. The renewed commitment of the Landesschützen or Local Security Forces of Kampfgruppe Hartung bolstered the new line developed on the morning of 21 September that ran from the crossroads 1.8 km west-southwest of Ressen (south of village) and passing south of Bemmel. When Allied tanks managed to cross the bridge at Lent around 1900 hours, contact between the 5th Company, SS Artillery Training and Replacement Regiment and Nijmegen was lost. until 1930 hours, SS-Hauptsturmführer Krüger directed fire for the 21st Battery using signal flares. SS-Scharführer Meckler assumed fire direction from the intermediate post when SS Senior NCO Nowak received orders from SS-Sturmbannführer Reinhold to form a defensive line along the northern banks of the Waal, west of the bridge. The defensive line consisted of fragmented infantry and a construction company that inflicted casualties on the advancing Allies. SS-Oberscharführer Riese assumed command of the defensive line. When the radio of the forward observation post became inoperable from a direct hit, SS-Unterscharführer Hotop and his men joined in the hard fighting with Company Runge in southwest Lent. Krüger and the main observation post remained completely cut off when it was overrun and they engaged in close combat with the enemy. According to the eyewitness accounts of two members of Krüger’s main observation post, SS-Rottenführer Köhler and Private Burgstaller, SS-Hauptsturmführer Krüger personally rallied fragmented members from all service branches amidst the chaos to hold the defensive line:
The trenches held in close combat until the last cartridge around 2030 hours. Previously wounded around 1800 hours, Krüger continued to direct fire for the batteries when he was wounded a second time in the back by three submachine gun rounds. He was evacuated to the first aid bunker only after being wounded a third time, when a tank projectile hit his thigh. Once the defenders in the trenches depleted their ammunition, the Allies fired smoke and phosphor projectiles into the trenches that forced roughly twelve surviving men out of the trenches.
When SS-Rottenführer Köhler and SS-Mann Burgstaller exited the trenches, they were immediately captured by American troops under the command of an American officer. However, they managed to escape and made their way to Battalion Euling. As they fled, SS-Mann Burgstaller witnessed the shooting of SS-Unterscharführers Lindenthaler and Beissmann, as well as an unknown Fallschirmjäger. SS-Hauptsturmführer Krüger, together with several severely wounded German soldiers, and two medical orderlies, were also captured in the first aid bunker.
Southwest of Lent, around 1930 hours SS-Cannonier Albrecht and Army Staff Sergeant Piebeck knocked out a Sherman tank with a Panzerfaust. Shortly thereafter, Albrecht and an SS-Unterscharführer undertook a special scouting patrol into Nijmegen to rescue and extract Army Captain Runge. The two-man team made it across the Waal in a boat but the senior corporal was killed by rifle fire. Albrecht, joined by a Fallschirmjäger, made it to the command post of Company Runge, where they met Army Lieutenant Schulz, who guided them to the northern banks of the Waal. At the bridge, Albrecht and Schulz examined Germans who appeared to have been wounded earlier but were mutilated, displaying signs of stabbing wounds to the head, neck, and heart. A full report was filed with the nearest higher command post.
Around 2200 hours Schwappacher personally relocated the Staff and 21st Battery in the hedgehog position at Oosterhout into a defensive island that repulsed advancing Allied scouts. Around 2230 hours, an Army battery, commanded by First Lieutenant Bock, which operated some 400 meters north of the hedgehog position, relocated with a prime mover and the remainder of a RAD battalion into the hedgehog position. At midnight, General of infantry Hans von Tettau, chief of the Command and Training Staff Netherlands, received a radio message that the position at Oosterhout would hold until the last man. At the same time, Army Captain Krüger, commanding an antiaircraft battalion, promised Schwappacher additional infantry reinforcements to Oosterhout. As the situation became more acute and the hedgehog position ran out of illumination flares to protect against attacks, five houses near the town exit were set on fire.
Around 0400 hours, von Tettau radioed a message to withdraw to Elst. Schwappacher immediately dispatched a staff officer to reconnoiter positions at Elst. At 0500 hours Schwappacher directed the heavy artillery and prime mover to exit Oosterhout. The individual security groups—positioned in the south, southwest, and southeast—repeatedly parried Allied mortar-supported infantry attacks when Kampfgruppe Knaust arrived. Schwappacher quickly oriented Knaust and provided fire support for Knaust from the 21st Heavy Howitzer Battery, located in Huis Reed, some 2.5 km south of Elst. The continued fire direction for the battery was then provided by the forward observer SS-Untersturmführer Haase, from an armored scout car. For the combat achievements of the 5th Company, SS Training and Replacement Regiment, Schwappacher received the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross.
In the early morning on 21 September and in anticipation of a general Allied advance in the direction of Elst, the commanding general of the II SS Panzer Corps ordered the 10th SS Panzer Division to concentrate its strength, moving forward from Pannerden, and attack the southern flank of the Allied spearhead, thereby throwing the Allies back across the Waal. When the combat command post of the 10th SS, located in Pannerden, received heavy Allied artillery fire in the night on 21 September, it relocated to Didam. However, the forward command post remained in Doornenburg. The following units remained available for the attack on 21 September 1944:
22nd SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment (approx. 1-1/2 Btl.),
Kampfgruppe Hartung (Landesschützen),
2nd Battalion, 10th SS Panzer Regiment (approx. 16 Pz.Kpfw.IV),
1st Company, 10th SS Panzer Pioneer Battalion,
2nd Battalion, 10th SS Panzer Artillery Regiment in position east of Flieren, and two supporting battalions of the 10th SS Panzer Artillery Regiment (positioned on the east bank of the Pannerden’schen canal).
On or about 21 September, SS-Hauptsturmführer Büthe relinquished the duties of the divisional 1st General Staff officer to SS-Sturmbannführer Hans Stolley, who came to the division from the II SS Panzer Corps and with ample experience. Born on 21 November 1914 in Kiel, Hans-Jochim Stolley first received a commission as an SS-Untersturmführer on 20 April 1937. Serving as a platoon commander in the 1st Battalion, SS Death’s Head Regiment “Oberbayern,” he participated in the French campaign and for heroism was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd and 1st Class simultaneously on 30 June 1940. Stolley served from 3 March 1941 until 1 June 1943 in the SS Leibstandarte Regiment “Adolf Hitler,” the SS Mountain Division “Nord,” as well as the 6th SS Mountain infantry Replacement Regiment. Having distinguished himself while holding the billets of company commander, regimental adjutant, the divisional 1st ordnance officer (OI), and the quartermaster officer (Ib) while assigned to the SS Division “Nord,” he received orders during the same period from 1 December 1942 to 1 June 1943 to attend the General Staff Academy. Graduating from the academy, he posted as the 1st General Staff officer (Ia) to the II SS Panzer Corps and was credited with refreshing the 3rd Panzer Division, overseeing the completion of the defenses surrounding Charkow, and working tirelessly during offensive and defensive operations in July 1943 between Bjelgorod and Obojan. In August 1943, after the corps relocated to northern Italy, Stolley was instrumental in foiling the Anglo-American landings along the coast after extensively reconnoitering and studying the terrain. Stolley made the greatest contributions in Russia as the aid to the commander of the General Staff, and planning for three major offensives in the areas of Göritz-Udine, Istrine and Fiume, and Slovenia, which brought about the capture of some 11,000 resistance fighters as well as weapons and supplies. Stolley also gained experience with the II SS Panzer Corps at Buczacz and around the end of July during the defensive battles in Normandy.
Meanwhile, the 21st SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment, consisting of approximately one and a half battalions, did not arrive east of Haalderen until the afternoon due to poor ferry service. In the face of mounting Allied strength and artillery effectiveness north of the Waal, and without the presence of the regiment, the corps could not achieve a decisive success. Nevertheless, numerous Allied attacks to the north were repulsed and the advance of Battalion Knaust at Elst prevented a speedy Allied breakthrough. In the evening on 21 September, the line from the southern fringe of Elst to the western fringe of Bemmel Altwasser south of Bemmel lay firmly secured in the hands of the 10th SS Panzer Division. The 3rd Battalion of the regimental artillery, under the command of SS-Sturmbannführer Fritz Haas, was credited with a significant contribution to the division’s success.
As an SS-Hauptsturmführer, Fritz Haas assumed command of the 1st Battalion, 10th SS Panzer Artillery Regiment on 3 February 1943. As an SS-Sturmbannführer he then took command of the 3rd Battalion on 10 March 1944. Haas gained combat experience in the West, in the Balkans, and on the Eastern Front. His decorations included the Iron Cross 2nd and 1st Class, the Panzer Assault Badge, the Eastern Medal, and the Wound Badge in Black. He commanded the 3rd Battalion, 3rd SS Death’s Head Artillery Regiment, until the end of 1943 when he transferred to the Training Group A of the 2nd Artillery School, at Beneschau, Bohemia. The commander of the Artillery School, SS-Sturmbannführer Karl Schlamelcher, considered Haas to be a well-read and widely knowledgeable commander, but criticized Haas as “later losing his way in the details that compromised the clear and continuous line of the officer training group.”
Based on the divisional commander’s experience gained at Normandy, Harmel ensured the artillery regiment was refreshed and resupplied very carefully. Harmel’s philosophy on artillery in the attack or defense was that enough artillery was never available. Panzer grenadier regiments supported the artillery as much as possible, which included providing the necessary vehicles to tow allocated artillery batteries. During the refreshing of the division, every effort was made to organize the artillery regiment in the following manner:
1st Battalion two batteries with 6 guns lFH Pz.III (Wespen) one battery with 6 guns sFH Pz.IV (Hummel) 2nd Battalion three batteries with 6 guns lFH 3rd Battalion three batteries with 6 guns sFH 4th Battalion three batteries with 6 guns 100mm cannon Total number of guns = 72
By September, the division had not achieved its desired goal. At Nijmegen, approximately thirty to forty guns were employed to support operations. To bolster support, the artillery was augmented by 320mm rocket launchers, of which six were attached to the outer hulls of the half-track (Sd. Kfz.251/1 Ausf.C), also known as Stuka zu Fuss or Walking Stuka. The 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion and 10th SS Panzer Pioneer Battalion were each equipped with one platoon of three halftracks for an additional thirty-six guns. In an emergency situation, the antiaircraft battalion could also employ their twelve 88mm guns.
Meanwhile, at the citadel in Nijmegen, Battalion Euling and the Parachute Group Ahlborn defended the last remaining building complex still in German hands, until the roof caved in over their heads. Apparently, the Allies assumed the Kampfgruppe had been destroyed. However, around 2300 hours on the same day, SS-Sturmbannführer Euling and the defenders managed to break through Allied lines and crossed the Waal River in boats, several kilometers northeast of the bridge, and re-established contact with the 10th SS Panzer Division at Haalderen.
Support for Kampfgruppe Brinkmann during the concentrated attack of the II SS Panzer Corps against the British 1st Airborne Division in the center and west of Oosterbeek included a battalion of the 21st SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment, King-Tigers of the 504th Heavy Tank Battalion, and 88mm antiaircraft guns. Around 1100 hours, Kampfgruppe Brinkmann captured the bitterly contested bunker on the northern approach to the bridge. The task force took possession of the bridge and opened a single path after clearing the burned wreckage of the 9th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion. Simultaneously, remaining Allied nests of resistance were neutralized in the vicinity of the bridge. At a minimum, Allied harassing fire against the bridge was brought to an end.
Battalion Knaust, reinforced by eight vehicles including Panther tanks and assault guns, marched across the Arnhem Bridge shortly after midday on orders to proceed quickly onto Elst. The 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion neutralized the remaining pocket of resistance near the bridge and gathered freely in the southern sector of the city of Arnhem. While Arnhem remained under continued Allied artillery fire and aerial attacks on 21 September, Field Marshal Model ordered the city cleared of civilians. Around the same time, the II SS Panzer Corps ordered the 10th SS Panzer Division to place all remaining elements of the 9th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion, located on the southern bank of the Lower Rhine around Elst, in march toward Elden.
Amidst the reorganization on 21 September, an unexpected message arrived in the early afternoon that Allied airborne troops had parachuted and landed near Driel. The airborne forces in question were identified as the Polish 1st Airborne Brigade. The reinforced Battalion Knaust, whose lead elements were scheduled to arrive in Elst around 1600 hours, received new orders from the Corps to deploy immediately against the new threat. However, the situation south of Elst did not allow for a change. Allied pressure moving north developed substantially throughout the course of the late morning. The Allied airborne landings at Driel served to strengthen Allied pressure. The reinforced Battalion Knaust moved through Elst in order to stop the attacking Allied spearheads. Shortly thereafter, troops of the 10th SS Panzer Division assumed a loose defense south of Elst.
Notwithstanding the presence of Battalion Knaust, the 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion, located in the southern portion of Arnhem, received orders from the II SS Panzer Corps, during the time of their attachment to Kampfgruppe Harzer (9th SS), to proceed forward over Elden and attack the new enemy around Driel.
The batteries of the antiaircraft Brigade Swoboda and 191st Artillery Regiment, operating in the vicinity of the 9th SS Panzer Division, received orders to provide support and moved into position around Elden. The terrain offered little to no cover, and poor driving conditions forced the 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion to move forward along a narrow path. Strung out over a considerable distance from north of Elst, the reconnaissance battalion moved into positions for an attack against Driel with unfavorable conditions. Kampfgruppe Harzer unexpectedly ran into flanking fire from forward elements of the British 43rd Division shortly before the Germans reached the village. However, under the cover of darkness, Kampfgruppe Harzer changed direction and headed southeast, and transitioned to the defense on 22 September along the railroad line Arnhem-Elst, as the southern flank lay north of Elst.
The 10th SS artillery regiment’s task of providing support across a front that exceeded 20 km was complicated further by additional fire support requirements for the neighboring weak Army 191st Artillery Regiment. To better cope and meet the requirements, the commander of the artillery regiment, SS-Obersturmbannführer Hans-Georg Sonnenstuhl, strung together a seamless chain of artillery-blocking fire segments between the areas west of Arnhem and the Waal River at Nijmegen. Each segment, numbered 1 to 75, represented the effective area of fire for a single battery. A woman’s name further identified each segment. Fire missions were easily called using field phones or radios, and based on the number or name of the segment. Indeed, the entire regiment could place fire very quickly on any designated segment. Each forward observer knew his segment number or name. Instead of calling coordinates, the forward observer simply identified the segments.
Sonnenstuhl’s successful counter-battery tactics were based on calculations taken from Allied artillery muzzle flashes at night. The results provided the artillery regiment an accurate layout and the locations of Allied batteries. The combined fire from various German guns, each consisting of several fire sets, brought to bear as many as 260 projectiles per mission, which effectively destroyed Allied gun positions. Each fire set per gun consisted of six projectiles for light howitzers and five projectiles per heavy howitzer.
Throughout the period from 18 to 21 September, SS-Sturmbannführer Leo Reinhold provided leadership for the three-day defense at the bridgehead at Nijmegen. Despite very high losses and the addition of unfamiliar ad hoc troop elements, Reinhold effectively rallied the defense against superior Allied armored forces and closed several critical gaps that developed during the fighting. Reinhold’s men accounted for the close-quarter destruction of twenty-four Allied tanks. On orders to recapture the bridgehead, Reinhold contained the wavering defense and personally led a counterattack to establish a blocking line along the northern bank of the Waal. Not only did Reinhold prevent an Allied breakthrough from the bridgehead at Nijmegen to Arnhem, but he also provided the necessary time for the destruction of the Allied airborne forces at Arnhem. For his achievements, SS-Sturmbannführer Reinhold was decorated on 16 October 1944 with the Knight’s Cross to the Iron Cross.
Meanwhile, Battery Godau received orders to withdraw to the east and crossed the Wessem-Nederweert-Kanl at Kelpen. During the crossing, Allied units were in such close pursuit that the battery employed two guns at point blank range. From 22 to 24 September, the battery assumed firing positions in Panningen.
Throughout 22 September, Allied resistance from remnants of the British 1st Airborne Division sprang up, here and there, in sectors of the city to the west of the Arnhem Bridge. Kampfgruppe Harzer ordered portions of a battalion from the 21st SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment and the 1st Company, 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion to mop up in the city sectors. However, Allied pockets of resistance were not eliminated or captured until the next day. Considering the outcome of the previous day, especially at Elst and Driel, the II SS Panzer Corps ordered the formation of a new boundary line between the 9th SS on the right and the 10th SS on the left; the mouth of the Jissel River in the Lower Rhine (2 km northeast of Huissen)-north Elst-south Valburg. Allied attacks in the sector of the 10th SS Panzer Division were thwarted throughout the day by German counterattacks south of Elst and west of Bemmel.
Throughout the day on 23 September, portions of the 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion and 21st SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment attached to the Kampfgruppe 9th SS and eliminated the last pockets of resistance in the southern sector of the city. In the process, communications were established with the left wing of the Kampfgruppe 9th SS. Heading west from the Arnhem Bridge, the 1st Company, 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion, was ordered to push forward along the northern bank to points south of Oosterbeek. Their mission was to guard portions of the river on either side of Driel and report immediately any Allied movement to the Kampfgruppe 9th SS.
The bulk of the 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion, supported by the Artillery Groupe Elden, defended the railroad line against repeated attacks by Polish paratroopers between Elst and Elden.
The II SS Panzer Corps ordered the 10th SS Panzer Division to occupy the defensive front south of Elst and west of Bemmel. To that end, the Corps provided artillery and antiaircraft reinforcements in the area of Huissen, and the Fortress Machine Gun Battalion 37 was attached to the 10th SS Battalion Euling of the 21st SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment, which had recently managed to free itself in Arnhem, and traveled over Elden-Huissen to bolster the defensive front. The northern wing of the 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion established contact with Kampfgruppe Gerhardt, of the 9th SS.
The consolidation of Allied bridging equipment west of Nijmegen indicated the reinforcement of Allied forces between the Waal and Lower Rhine. Sufficient stocks of ammunition allowed the artillery regiments to fire harassing fire missions from their 100mm cannon and, at times, the antiaircraft battalion. As a result, the 10th SS Panzer Division held the bridges of Nijmegen and ferry points west of the city.
In the night on 23 September, the forward-most elements of the British 43rd Division from Valburg bypassed Driel to the west and reached the southern banks of the Lower Rhine.
On the following day, the 10th SS Panzer Division and right-neighboring 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion managed to repel Allied attacks against the German defensive front. After the airborne landings by the Polish 1st Airborne Brigade at Driel, the 10th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion was reinforced. As of 24 September, the reconnaissance battalion numbered nearly 500 men and consisted of three reconnaissance companies, of which one remained attached to the 10th SS divisional Kampfgruppe Walther, tank elements of the 2nd Battalion, 10th SS Panzer Regiment (Pz.Kpfw. IV), the 102st SS Antiaircraft Battery, and the 37th Fortress Machine Gun Battalion. The numerical strength of the reinforced reconnaissance battalion included:
Weapons: 49 light MG 35 heavy MG 15 medium mortars 37mm 3 Antiaircraft Guns 20mm 8 Antiaircraft Guns 20mm 3 Tank Guns 20mm 3 Tank Guns 88mm (Tiger) 1 Antitank Gun 75mm
Between 22 and 24 September, forty-five King Tigers from the 506th Heavy Panzer Battalion traveled over Köln and Wesel to directly support the 1st Parachute Army. Near Oosterbeek and west of Arnhem, the King Tigers were attached to the 10th SS Panzer Division. One company of King Tigers detrained in Zevenaar and Elten, 5 km northwest and 8 km southeast of Pannerden. Attached to the Kampfgruppe 9th SS, the company prepared for operations in a forest 3 km north of Elten. According to Harmel, the heavy tank battalion served as a replacement for the 1st Battalion, 10th SS Panzer Regiment.
The King Tiger or Tiger II was manufactured by Henschel and weighed 68 tons. The vehicle crew numbered five and fired the awesome 88mm tank gun of 71 calibers. The main gun was sighted using the TZF9d telescopic sight, with a monocular magnification of 2.5 and a range of 3,000 meters for armor piercing and 5,000 meters for high explosive ammunition, and also fired two MG-34 machine guns. The muzzle velocity of the main gun, using armor-piercing ammunition, reached 1,130 meters per second and could penetrate 153mm of armor plate at a distance of 2,000 meters. The M4A3 Sherman tank, at its thickest point, had approximately 100mm of steel. The main guns of British Shermans, including the 76mm Firefly and 17-pounder MKs IV and VII, could penetrate 98mm and 111mm, respectively, at 2,000 meters. The King Tiger was least protected along the sides and rear with only 80mm of steel. Powered by the Maybach HL 230P30 engine, the Tiger ii had eight forward and four reverse gears that gave it a maximum speed of 35 km/h and a range of 170 kilometers.
Battalion Knaust suffered many losses on 23 September when it repelled an Allied armored attack at Lienden, west of Elst. Compounded by the lack of divisional reserves, the II SS Panzer Corps ordered the 10th SS Panzer Division on 25 September to evacuate the town of Elst. Throughout the day, the division provided security as Battalion Knaust withdrew into prepared positions south of Elden astride the two roads leading from Arnhem to Nijmegen. The Allies pursued the movement only cautiously.
While the remaining elements of the 10th SS Panzer Division held the defensive front on 25 September, strong Allied pressure continued to persist throughout the following day against the entire front of the II SS Panzer Corps, extending across a line from the railroad embankment 2 km west of Elden to approximately 1 km west and southwest of Rijkerswoerd-Vergert and to the western fringe of Bemmel-Ziegelei Groenendaal. On 26 September, the fighting of the II SS Panzer Corps against the British 1st Airborne Division was successfully brought to a close. During ten days of bitter fighting and numerous failed Allied attempts to rescue the encircled British airborne, a total of 6,450 prisoners were taken and many thousand reported dead. Thirty antitank guns, numerous weapons, and 250 vehicles were captured. Moreover, over 1,000 gliders were either destroyed or captured and over one hundred aircraft were shot down.
The SS also recruited thousands of Muslims into its ranks. In fact, Himmler shared Hitler’s favorable attitude toward Muslim soldiers. On 2 March 1943, after a meeting with the Reichsführer-SS, General Edmund Glaise von Horstenau wrote about Himmler’s enthusiasm for the foundation of the Muslim SS division in Bosnia:
Himmler certainly approved of my timidly voiced opinion that in the Bosnian Division the conventional SS cultural policy would be well complemented by the addition of field muftis. Christianity he dismissed simply on account of its softness. The hope for the paradise of Mohammed had at any cost to be fostered with the Bosnians since this guaranteed heroic performance.… Himmler regretted the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian military border and again and again spoke about the grand Bosnians and their fez.
In the following months Himmler would argue repeatedly in the same vein. As late as March 1945 he would praise “the dauntless Mohammedans” of the Waffen-SS. Like the Wehrmacht officers, he and his subordinates in the SS Head Office also frequently considered the global propagandistic impact of Muslim soldiers in German uniform. Imagining pan-Islamic unity, Gottlob Berger once explained the employment of Muslim units in southeastern Europe as an attempt “to reach out to the Mohammedans of the whole world, since these are 350 million people who are decisive in the struggle with the British Empire.” Similarly, an internal SS report emphasized that the division was to show the “entire Mohammedan world” that the Third Reich was ready to confront the “common enemies of National Socialism and Islam.”
SS recruiters first began to target Muslims in the Balkans, where, in early 1943, the partisan war threatened to divert more and more troops from the German army, already heavily weakened by defeats in the East and in North Africa. The largest Muslim SS unit of the region was formed in Bosnia. From February 1943 on, Himmler recruited thousands of Muslims into the 13th SS Waffen Mountain Division (13. Waffen-Gebirgs-Division der SS), which later was renamed “Handžar” (Handschar). The formation was enthusiastically supported by the leading Muslim autonomists, who, in their memorandum of 1 November 1942, had already suggested the establishment of a volunteer unit under German command. Handžar’s deployment took place under the auspices of the Croatian ethnic German SS-Division “Prinz Eugen” and its choleric commander, SS-Gruppenführer Artur Phleps. A considerable part of the division comprised members of the feared Muslim militia of Major Muhamed Hadžiefendić, which had been created by the Ustaša government in northeastern Bosnia in 1941. In the field, the leading German recruiter of Handžar became Karl von Krempler, who had grown up in Serbia and Turkey and was fluent in Bosnian. Although the majority of the Muslim population appeared to approve of the establishment of this division, fewer of them initially volunteered than had been anticipated. In time, though, recruiters enlisted around 20,000 volunteers. Praised by German propaganda in Croatia as “warriors against Bolshevism and Judaism,” they were to become both a political and a military force in the region.
The Ustaša regime followed these events with the utmost suspicion. Its initial attempts to control the project failed. The SS gave short shrift to Zagreb’s requests to include the word “Ustaša” in the name of the division. In the end, the Germans assured Pavelić that around 15 percent of Handžar would be made up of Catholics and that his regime would be involved in the recruitment process. In reality, Bosnians perceived the division as a “Mohammedan issue,” as Winkler put it. Pavelić’s representative and liaison officer, Alija Šuljak, a Muslim who was notorious for his aggressive Ustaša propaganda, was quickly sidelined by German recruitment officers around Krempler. Many Muslims even deserted the Croatian army to join the new SS formation. Although Pavelić saw his hands tied, his regime missed no opportunity to hinder the establishment of the Muslim division. In April, Phleps complained to Berlin that the Croatian government “uses all possible means to obstruct or at least to delay the formation considerably.” The head of the SS Reich Security Head Office, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, reported similar complaints. In some cases, the Croats came at night for Muslim volunteers who had already been enlisted in the ranks of the SS, forced them out of their beds, and sent them to Croatian army barracks. Furious, Himmler ordered his police commissioner on the spot to clamp down on this practice and to search both Croatian barracks and the concentration camps Nova Gradiška and Jasenovac, declaring that he had “definitive and very precise reports” about young men who had been “transported to concentration camps simply because they have enlisted with us.” The perpetrators, he suggested, should themselves be taken to concentration camps or be executed.
Eager to avoid further Croatian sabotage, the SS moved Handžar to southern France, where the division was trained under the command of First World War veteran SS-Oberführer Karl-Gustav Sauberzweig. The German officials in the Balkans, most notably Horstenau, expressed concern about the transfer at this critical point of the war. Himmler, however, coolly rebuffed any such objections. But before long the concerns of the officers on the ground proved to be well founded. In the summer of 1943, when Tito initiated a major offensive in Bosnia, the relatives of Muslim volunteers were targeted first by the partisans. In France, their sons and husbands soon got wind of the developments at home. They knew that their families were left completely vulnerable and without any viable defense. Shocked by these events, especially since the Germans had promised them employment in their own country to protect their homes, many of the Bosnian volunteers became disillusioned. Discontent rose. In the night of 16–17 September, a group of soldiers rebelled and shot an officer. Although caught off guard, the Germans quickly put down the revolt, with fifteen soldiers killed. Numerous rebels were arrested and publicly executed by firing squads. Berger blamed not the Muslims but the (around 2,800) Catholics of the formation. A bit later Hitler expressed the same opinion, stressing that only the Muslims of the division had been proven trustworthy. Soon Handžar was moved to the Silesian training ground at Neuhammer, where Himmler visited twice and gave his motivational speech. Al-Husayni, too, was sent there. Publishing a photo series of his visit to Neuhammer, the Wiener Illustrierte explained to its readers that the Muslims were to fight in the SS ranks with “fanatic faith in their heart,” knowing “that only on the side of Germany can they sustain their freedom of faith and freedom of life.” Finally, in late February 1944, the Muslims were sent back to the Balkans. “Our Führer, Adolf Hitler, has kept his promise. A new era is dawning. We are coming!,” announced a propaganda leaflet distributed throughout Bosnia. Another one declared, “Now we are here!” to fight “every enemy of the homeland.” Hitler and Himmler had personally approved these pamphlets. Handžar was mostly used for antipartisan operations in northeastern Bosnia and acquired a grim reputation for its brutality and violent excesses. A British liaison officer with Tito’s partisans reported on the division’s atrocities: “It behaves well in Moslem territory, but in Serb populated areas massacres all civil population without mercy or regard for age or sex.” After the war, an officer of Handžar gave a graphic report of crimes committed by members of the division: “One woman was killed and her heart taken out, carried around and then thrown into a ditch.” Hermann Fegelein, Himmler’s liaison officer at Hitler’s headquarters, reported to Hitler on the atrocities of Handžar during a military briefing on 6 April 1944, describing how the Muslim division had spread fear across the Balkans: “They kill them with only the knife. There was a man who was wounded. He had his arm tied up and with the left hand still finished off 17 enemies. There are also cases where they cut out their enemy’s heart.” Hitler was not interested. “I couldn’t care less” (Das ist Wurst), he replied, and carried on with the meeting’s agenda. A few months later, an internal Wehrmacht report noted: “Muslims have done very well, and so they must be extensively supported and strengthened by military and civil agencies.” Berger, too, was impressed, declaring that “fighting against Tito and the Communists thus becomes for the Moslems a holy war.” When Kersten asked him about Handžar’s military performance, he replied: “First class, they are as tough as the best German divisions were at the beginning of the war. They regard their weapons as sacred.… The Moslems cling to their flag with the same passionate courage, the Prophet’s ancient green flag with a white half-moon, stained with the blood of ancient battles, its staff splintered with bullets.”
Soon, however, it became clear that more local help was needed in the Balkans. Desperate for manpower, German recruiters began to target Albanian Muslims. In early 1944 Hitler endorsed the formation of a Muslim division of Albanians, the 21st SS Waffen Mountain Division (21. Waffen-Gebirgsdivision der SS), called “Skanderbeg.” Skanderbeg, which was deployed in Kosovo, in the area between Peć, Priština, and Prizren, was to operate in northern Albania and the borderlands of Montenegro. It consisted of recruits from the local civilian population, prisoners of war, and Albanian soldiers from Handžar. Enlistment of civilians was, as documents in the Albanian Central State Archive show, organized in close cooperation with the institutions of the Albanian puppet state, most importantly the Ministry of Defense. Keitel ordered the release of Albanian prisoners of war of the “Muslim faith” to swell the ranks of the unit. The basis of the new division, however, was formed by the Albanian contingent of Handžar. Himmler expected “great usefulness” from the unit since the Albanians who fought in Handžar had proved to be highly motivated and disciplined. In practice, though, the division suffered from a shortage of equipment and armaments and a lack of German staff to train new recruits. Over the summer and autumn of 1944, only a single battalion had been readied for combat and employed to fight partisans. “Day-in, day-out and night-in, night-out, Skanderbeg units advanced into the mountains to cover the flanks of the retreating troops,” observed a German soldier in Prizren. “They were the horror of the partisans.” Ultimately, the battalion became directly involved in Nazi crimes. In July 1944 the commander of Skanderbeg, August Schmidhuber, reported that his men had taken measures to crack down on “Jews, Communists and intellectual supporters of the Communists.” Between 28 May and 5 July the Albanians had captured “a sum total of 510 Jews, Communists, and supporters of gangs and political suspects.” Skanderbeg was also involved in retributive hangings following acts of sabotage. With the numbers of deaths and desertions rising, the division was shrinking steadily. Equally problematic was the formation of a third Muslim division of the Waffen-SS in the Balkans, the Bosnian 23rd SS Waffen Mountain Division (23. Waffen-Gebirgsdivision der SS), known as “Kama.” Established in June 1944, Kama comprised both Muslim civilians and several units from Handžar. After a series of desertions, the SS was compelled to disband the unit in late October 1944, only five months after its founding.
In the East, the SS was initially cautious. The Security Police and the Security Service of the SS in the Crimea were first to recruit Muslims systematically, using them as auxiliaries. Based on an agreement with the 11th Army, in early 1942 Otto Ohlendorf employed some of the recruited Crimean Muslims in his Einsatzgruppe D. Soon 1,632 Muslim volunteers were fighting in fourteen so-called Tatar self-defense units (Tatarenselbstschutzkompanien) of Einsatzgruppe D, scattered across the Crimean peninsula. An SS report about the volunteers praised the Tatars for being “explicitly opposed to Bolshevism, Jews, and Gypsies.” Ohlendorf’s right-hand man, Willi Seibert, noted that they had “proved their supreme worth” in combat against partisans. Eventually, SS officers developed the idea of founding another Muslim division in the East. Walter Schellenberg, head of the foreign intelligence of the SD, had discussed the deployment of a formation of Turkic and Tatar volunteers as early as 1941 in the Reich Security Head Office but had given up on these plans due to a lack of personnel and resources. In autumn 1943 the idea was revived and discussed by Schellenberg and Berger. On 14 October 1943, Schellenberg sent Berger a memorandum on the formation of a “Mohammedan Legion of the Waffen-SS” composed of Muslims from the Soviet Union. The “political-ideological basis” of this unit was to be “Islam alone,” it stated. Convinced that the division would have a political and military impact throughout the Islamic world, Schellenberg summarized his ultimate “aim” in one sentence: “Formation of Mohammedan units for the increasing revolutionization and winning over of the entire Islamic world.” Thrilled, Berger recommended the plan to Himmler. The deployment of an Eastern Muslim division was a “political matter of the highest significance and importance,” he stressed, by which “another part of the Mohammedan world would be won” for Germany’s war. Its formation would demonstrate “that we are serious about friendship with the Mohammedan world.”
The following month, Himmler began recruiting among Soviet Muslims for an Eastern Muslim SS Division (Ostmuselmanisches SS-Division), the name emphasizing the religious character of the formation. The Wehrmacht agreed to transfer its Turkic battalions 450 and I/94 to the SS, where they were to become the basis of the new division. Andreas Mayer-Mader, who was still in charge of his Muslim unit, now called Turk Battalion 450, and part of the Turkestani Legion, was recruited by the SS to become commander of the new formation. He seemed particularly suitable, as he claimed to be an expert in the Muslim faith and on the verge of converting to Islam. The Eastern Muslim SS Division was never fully employed, however. Mayer-Mader’s command remained limited to the division’s so-called 1st Eastern Muslim SS Regiment (1. Ostmuselmanisches SS-Regiment), which derived from the two Wehrmacht battalions. In early 1944 it contained only 800 men. In spring 1944 Fritz Sauckel, Hitler’s general plenipotentiary for labor deployment, released all of those Turkic and Tatar workers from the Labor Service who were willing to fight in the new Muslim unit. SS enlisters also recruited Muslims from prisoner of war camps. With the help of Josef Terboven, Reich commissar for Norway, the SS even screened the prisoner of war camps across Norway for a few hundred detained Muslims. The High Command of the Wehrmacht, though, was increasingly resistant to SS attempts to recruit from its Muslim legions, seeing the SS more and more as a rival in the East. Mayer-Mader, who faced resistance within his unit, was soon discharged, and later killed in mysterious circumstances. He was succeeded by several officers, among them the sadistic Hauptmann Heinz Billig (March–April) and the Nazi careerist SS-Hauptsturmführer Emil Hermann (April–July).100 The 1st Eastern Muslim SS Regiment first fought partisans in the area around Minsk before being sent to Poland to join the infamous Dirlewanger Regiment in the suppression of the Warsaw uprising—as was a regiment of the Azerbaijani Legion of the Wehrmacht.
Meanwhile, the SS continued to pursue the plan of the Eastern Muslim SS Division—now called the Eastern Turkic SS Corps (Osttürkische Waffenverband der SS). Responsibility for the recruitment of the Eastern Turkic Muslims now fell to Reiner Olzscha of the volunteer section of the SS Head Office. First, the SS needed a new commander, one who was familiar with the Muslim world. A German officer who had served in the Ottoman army during the First World War and a former colonial officer from the Dutch army were suggested. In the early summer of 1944, Berger finally found a suitable man—an officer familiar with “the Eastern Turkic-Islamic world.” Himmler’s new commander of the Eastern Turkic SS Corps was fifty-nine-year-old Wilhelm Hintersatz, better known as Harun al-Rashid Bey, an army officer from Brandenburg who had converted to Islam during the First World War and who had worked with Enver Pasha on the Ottoman general staff. During that time he had also met Otto Liman von Sanders, for whom he felt a deep admiration. The campaign for Islamic mobilization in the Great War had strongly influenced Hintersatz, as it had so many others. After 1918 he had become involved with the former Muslim prisoners of war from the Wünsdorf Camp and had served in Italian intelligence in Abyssinia in the 1930s, claiming in his curriculum vitae that the “trust of the native Mohammedans” had been his best “instrument” there. “The Mohammedans saw in me a fellow believer, who prayed with them without timidity in their mosque,” he boasted. He had “always been ready” to cut the “Achilles’ heel” of Germany’s “most dangerous enemy,” England, which, in his view, was Islam. Married with two children, the qualified engineer was not the archetypical adventurer. He had become involved with Islam and Islamic politics by chance. Playing up his “Islamic connections” and describing his “affiliation with Islam” and the trust he enjoyed among Muslims as his “essential instrument,” he had impressed SS officers. Before his appointment, al-Rashid had worked as a liaison officer of the Reich Security Head Office with the mufti of Jerusalem. Olzscha contacted al-Rashid in May: “I wish to make you a very concrete proposition, which also first and foremost considers the position which distinguishes you as a Mohammedan and former officer.” Indeed, within the SS Head Office, al-Rashid’s appointment was explained with reference to his “close relationships to the Islamic world” and the SS propaganda for the “Turkic-Islamic world.”
The Eastern Turkic SS Corps under Harun al-Rashid was to become a reservoir of all Eastern Muslim volunteers. Its base became the 1st Eastern Muslim SS Regiment, although it was restructured into three, and later four, battalions (Crimea, Turkestan, Idel-Ural, and finally Azerbaijan). Al-Rashid’s most prominent volunteer was Prince Mansur Daoud, a distant cousin of King Faruq of Egypt, whose recruitment strengthened the unit’s pan-Islamic character. Impressed by his performance, al-Rashid reported that Daoud had proven to be a “substantial political factor” and that he, “in the closest cooperation with the chief mullah,” conducted “effective propaganda.” By December 1944 around 3,000 Muslims had been enlisted in the Eastern Turkic SS Corps; in early 1945 it had grown to 8,500. Ultimately, the formation of the complete corps failed, but the SS managed to mobilize significantly more Muslims than had fought in the 1st Eastern Muslim SS Regiment. In the end, the SS began enlisting every Eastern Muslim within its reach. In the summer of 1944, for instance, 800 former soldiers of the Tatar units, which had been evacuated from the Crimea to Romania, were recruited into the Tatar SS Waffen Mountain Brigade (Tatarische Waffen-Gebirgs-Brigade der SS) and fought, armed only with carbines, in Hungary before being integrated into al-Rashid’s corps. SS recruiters would even screen the Reich Commissariat Ostland for Muslim cannon fodder. In March 1944 the head of Vienna’s Islamic community, Salih Hadzicalić, was consulted by the SS Head Office about the Muslims of Vilnius, prompting the SS to contact Mufti Szynkiewicz about Muslims there. As late as November 1944, the SS command in Danzig reported to the SS Head Office on the “transfer of Muslim members of the police to the Waffen-SS,” specifically two Muslim soldiers who had been recruited in the Ostland. In late 1944 Himmler decided to organize some of the Eastern Muslims into two regiments of a newly founded Caucasian SS Corps (Kaukasischer Waffenverband der SS). Varying in size between 1,000 and 2,000 men, the corps was split into four regiments, of which two were to be Muslim or dominated by Muslims: Northern Caucasian and Azerbaijani (the non-Muslim regiments were Armenian and Georgian). The Azerbaijanis of the Eastern Turkic SS Corps, however, successfully petitioned not to be mixed with Christian Armenians and Georgians in this new corps but to remain in al-Rashid’s purely Islamic formation. As the war was nearing its end, the recruiting process became more and more chaotic. The morale of the troops suffered. In late December 1944 some of the men of the Turkestani regiment, led by their commander, Ghulam Alimov, revolted in the Hungarian-Slovakian border area. Along with 400 to 500 of his men, Alimov arrested all German officers and even executed some of them before escaping into the woods to join the Slovak partisans. In January 1945, however, many of the deserters returned, while only 250 to 300 stayed with the partisans. In the last months of the war, the corps fought in northern Italy, where it finally surrendered to the US Army.
From the beginning, officers in the SS Head Office understood the massive mobilization of Eastern Muslims as part of a general campaign that aimed to revolutionize all Muslims of the Soviet Union against Moscow. A particularly eager proponent of this policy was Emil Hermann. A veteran officer of the SS, Hermann had been responsible for the military and political organization of the Eastern Muslim SS troops before briefly taking over command of the 1st Eastern Muslim Regiment. Olzscha explained after the war that Hermann had hoped to advance his career through the Islamic question and in fact aspired to run an office for Islamic affairs, planned in the SS Head Office. As early as 14 December 1943, Hermann referred to the endeavor to “set Islam in motion” (den Islam in Bewegung bringen werden) in a general memorandum about the foundation of the Eastern SS formation. Although the paper spoke in general terms about the “registration of the currently available Muslim peoples with the aim of employing them in the fight against the enemy powers,” it was mainly concerned with the Muslims of the Soviet Union. Compared to the Arabs, their hatred of foreign rule, which was based on their religiosity, was even more powerful, Hermann wrote. Their “great love of freedom” and the “teaching of Islam” generated a “tremendous pride,” which the SS had to consider in order not to make the same mistakes as the Wehrmacht. Berger reacted to the memorandum with one of his simple notes in the margins: “Yes, agreed!” Five days earlier, when meeting Gerd Schulte, an officer of the SS Head Office who was assigned to oversee the establishment of the Muslim division, Mayer-Mader suggested that the SS should become the protector of the Eastern Turks. Schulte corrected him, emphasizing that one would have to speak about the “patron of all Muslims.” Mayer-Mader understood. In a special report, he outlined his idea for a unit that was organized strictly along Islamic lines and would accommodate Muslims from all parts of the Soviet Union. He also pointed to the division’s effects on the wider Islamic world and discussed its employment in terms of Germany’s general policy on Islam. “Our enemies well know that the interests of Islam and Germany run parallel,” he claimed, describing Muslims and Germans as “the most natural allies.” Almost the entire Muslim world was colonized by the Soviets, British, and French. But even though many Muslims saw “the only hope for Islam in an alliance with Germany,” more had to be done. Apart from propaganda, practical measures were needed “to show the common man that Germany sees in Islam an equal friend and ally.” The most efficient measure was the formation of the division of Eastern Turkic Muslims, which would soon influence all Muslims of the Soviet Union. On 4 January 1944, Mayer-Mader, joined by Heinz Billig, who at that time still led the staff of the new division in Berlin, met Schulte again and established the future goals of the new division. The “short-term objective” was to function as a “task force against Bolshevism.” The “long-term objective,” the SS men decided, would be not only the “liberation of Turkestan” but also the broader “activation of the Muslims” (Aktivierung der Moslems) of the Soviet Union. It was this misconception, the notion that Islam was a bloc that could be “activated,” which dominated the views of German SS officers toward the end of the war.
This idea came even more to the fore in the summer of 1944, when the plans for the Eastern Muslim SS formation were reorganized. Reiner Olzscha wrote a whole series of reports on this matter, all roughly based on his general memorandum of 24 April 1944 about the involvement of the SS in Eastern Muslim affairs. In a report dated 7 June 1944, he discussed the Eastern formation in terms of a wider aim to mobilize Eastern Muslims against the Soviet Union. Stressing that the Muslims were the strongest non-Slavic and non-Christian minority of the Soviet Union, that their religion was a genuine bulwark against Moscow, and that their history of uprisings had proven their anti-Russian and anti-Bolshevist stance, Olzscha argued that the “struggle for freedom of the Mohammedan Turk people” provided an ideal basis for an alliance with Germany, an alliance that would be welcomed in wider parts of the Islamic world. Similar notes followed. In one of them, Olzscha argued that “hundreds of thousands of Turkic Muslims” would form the “strongest subversive minority of the Soviet Union” and should be “exploited” by the SS. In another, he described the new Eastern Muslim SS formation as a “platform for political fanaticization of the Eastern Turks in the fight against Bolshevist Russia.” Berger agreed. Not only the political-national motives but also the “Mohammedan worldview” of the Eastern Muslims were to be used “as an effective bulwark against Bolshevism,” he wrote to Himmler. In some further instructions Berger specified that Himmler’s order for the formation of the “Eastern Turkic Corps” aimed to concentrate all “Turkic Mohammedan anti-Bolshevist forces” for the purpose of “the inner fragmentation of the Soviet Union.” Berger’s plans for the Eastern Muslim Corps and the splintering of the Soviet Union, however, clashed with the realities of the war. In practice its units were not employed on Soviet territory. Nevertheless, officers at the SS Head Office were convinced by the plan. In a report to Berger, SS-Hauptsturmführer Ulrich, an official at the SS Head Office, urged the pursuit of the “desired ultimate goal,” which, he summarized, was the “revolutionalization of the anti-Bolshevik forces in Russia through Islam, as a detonator within the state.” “If this impact, through the 30 million Muslims in the Soviet Union, is to be effected, nevertheless, the deployment of the Eastern Turkic Corps cannot be relinquished.” The SS Head Office would follow these plans until the downfall of the Third Reich in 1945.
A vigorous promoter of Islamic mobilization in the last months of the war was the new commander of the Eastern Muslim formation, Harun al-Rashid, who, like Olzscha and Berger, described the corps as a “platform for the fanaticization” of the Muslims in the Soviet Union. He had “guaranteed” Olzscha a “loyal, combat-ready and soldierly valuable Mohammedan military force” (mohamedanische Waffenkraft). Underlining the importance of employing purely Muslim units, he also pleaded for stronger “Islamic-religious influence.” To guarantee this, he suggested, in June 1944, the deployment and training of the new corps in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where they could join the Muslim SS units already there. In the Balkans it would be possible, he stressed, to direct “our people” into the mosques and to bring them under the influence of the Bosnian ‘ulama. Al-Rashid went as far as to suggest that, in case the Germans never conquered the Soviet Union, the Eastern Muslims could settle among the “very pro-German Mohammedan population of the Balkans.”
The efforts by the SS to mobilize Muslims were increasingly opposed by the Wehrmacht and the East Ministry. The Wehrmacht feared the disintegration of its Muslim legions. Indeed, Harun al-Rashid internally suggested transferring “all Mohammedan formations” to the Waffen-SS. More forceful opposition to the SS policy of Islamic mobilization of the Eastern Muslims came from Mende and officers of the East Ministry. When the SS began organizing its first Eastern Muslim units in late 1943, Mende’s protégé, the Turkic exile Veli Kajum, concerned about losing influence, protested that “the SS pursued ‘pan-Islamic’ aims.” The SS swiftly confronted Kajum. In February 1944 Mende himself stepped in, writing a lengthy report about the new SS line for Berger, who had by then also seized control of the political department of the East Ministry. Mende acknowledged the central role Islam played in the deployment of Muslim units in the Balkans: “The Western Muslim SS-Division of the Bosniaks can be successful under the unifying idea of Islam because the Bosniaks, who speak Croatian, distinguish themselves from the linguistically undifferentiated Croatian and Serbian environment only through Islam and the particular habits deriving from it. For them Islam is therefore the embodiment of their difference and the bond to the greater Islamic world.” However, he vehemently protested against expanding this policy to the East: “The situation among the Mohammedans in the Soviet Union is very different.” The Wehrmacht had divided Muslims into the four legions according to their ethnicity. “The unification of the Mohammedans of the Soviet Union in the Eastern Muslim SS Division requires a change from the hitherto political-propagandistic treatment,” Mende cautioned. Basing policy toward the Eastern Muslims on “the unifying power of Islam” would inevitably lead to a pan-Turanian movement that could not be controlled. Somewhat inconsistently, he claimed that, in any case, Islam played no decisive role in the East. Only 5 percent of Eastern Muslims were still attached to Islam, and only an additional 20 percent would possibly be receptive to a religious campaign. It was the “national question,” Mende asserted, that played the “decisive role.” Moreover, he warned that “the strong emphasis on unifying Islam” would make the smaller non-Muslim peoples of the Eastern territories, Georgians and Armenians, feel “subordinated,” which would make them turn to Moscow. Still, even Mende acknowledged that the SS policy would have “positive effects on Turkey and probably on the entire Mohammedan world.” He suggested a compromise. The volunteer formations should remain structured along ethnic lines, but this policy could be “complemented by a strong emphasis on the general principles of Islam and through the support of the fraternal bond between the greater Turkic-speaking units.” The SS could not have cared less. A few months later, in the summer of 1944, Mende turned again to Berger to repeat his concerns—once more without success. Finally, on 13 September 1944, representatives of the SS Head Office, including Olzscha and Ulrich, met to consult with Mende. Mende once more complained about the pan-policies of the SS. The SS remained firm. Mende’s position conflicted not only with that of the SS Head Office but also with that of his colleague Johannes Benzing, who supported the SS line. The interwar academic debates about the impact of Islam in the Soviet Union had turned into a conflict over policy making.
The SS policy toward the Muslims of the Eastern territories had a larger dimension. In the final months of the war, Muslim mobilization in the East became part of a full-scale pan-Islamic campaign launched by the SS. “Mobilization of Islam” was, indeed, the title of a memorandum written by the ambitious Emil Hermann in late February 1944. It suggested nothing less than an operation aimed at ensuring “that the whole Islamic world is set in motion” (dass der gesamte Islam in Bewegung gerät). Hermann outlined a gigantic pan-Islamic mobilization project targeting all countries within reach of the SS:
It is proposed to effect a Führer order via the Reichsführer-SS, which summons all capable Muslims within reach in Europe to come to a specific staging point. It must include both Mohammedan civil workers as well as O.T.-laborers [workers of the Organization Todt], prisoners of war, etc. The assemblage of the Mohammedans in Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, and Croatia would have to be carried out in cooperation with the Foreign Office and the foreign governments.… This campaign of orchestration would have to be preceded by a promotion exercise by the grand mufti via broadcast, press and pamphlet propaganda. The 13th Bosnian Waffen Mountain Division as well as the Eastern Muslim and Albanian [divisions], which are currently being deployed, would serve as a substantial propaganda instrument.… With regard to the Crimean Tatars, it is proposed to assemble the mullahs (Odessa or the Crimea itself) and to let the grand mufti speak to them in person. The Mohammedans of the countries of Spain, France, Italy, and Greece can be considered for the Arab Legion. There are only a few Mohammedans in Romania, so a separate formation would be unrealistic. With the Mohammedans of the Bulgarian region, a legion of Pomak Muslims could be employed. Circa 450,000 Pomak Muslims live in Bulgaria, who are suppressed by the Bulgarian government. During the deployment of new Mohammedan formations it must be considered that the officer posts are given to Mohammedans or Germans.
The plan never materialized, although, in the last year of the war, the SS made considerable (and mostly unsuccessful) attempts to mobilize, or “activate” as Berger and other SS officers had put it, Muslims wherever possible—not just from the Soviet Union and the Baltic but also from Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East. In the autumn of 1943 Himmler asked Berger to assess the issue of including Indian Muslims in Handžar. Berger answered that his “in-depth investigation” had shown that their integration into the Bosnian unit was not possible, as Indian Muslims would feel first Indian, not Muslim. He also advised against the employment of an Indian Muslim Formation (Indischer Moslemverband) on the Eastern Front, as he feared desertion to India. The plan was never pursued. Shortly afterward, Berger came up with another idea. In December 1943, after having consulted the mufti, he suggested to Himmler that they recruit Muslims from eastern Africa who were imprisoned in France: “These Mohammedans would like to fight against the English and Americans in Italy.” Berger expressed his wish to discuss the issue with Otto Abetz, the German ambassador to Paris. This never happened, either. Ultimately, SS recruitment of Arabs was largely unsuccessful, as it had been in the Wehrmacht. In France, under the auspices of the SD, the Brigade Nord-Africaine, a contingent of around 180 Algerians, which operated under the infamous Parisian Gestapo officer Henri Lafont and the Algerian nationalist Muhammad al-Mahdi, known as “SS Muhammad,” was created in early 1944. The unit fought the French resistance in central France but, as the military situation in France deteriorated, disintegrated within months. The plan to establish an “Arab-Islamic army” (Arabisch-Islamische Armee) for the Waffen-SS, as suggested by al-Husayni in the summer of 1944, proved to be entirely unrealistic. The SS reported that only 300 Arabs were available for the establishment of such an army, although Berger was still convinced that more Arab volunteers might be recruited in the future. Once again, the idea never materialized. Even plans for a smaller Arab infantry regiment proved unfeasible.
As the SS tried more and more desperately to enlist every Muslim within reach, eventually even concentration camps were screened for potential recruits. In the spring of 1944 Himmler ordered Berger to contact Oswald Pohl, head of the SS Economic and Administrative Head Office (SS-Wirtschafts- und Verwaltungshauptamt) and in charge of the general organization of the concentration camps, to discuss the recruitment of Muslim prisoners for the Waffen-SS. Himmler’s personal administrative officer, Rudolf Brandt, even sent Berger a detailed list of Muslim concentration camp detainees, which had been compiled by Pohl’s bureaucrats. Titled “Account of the Inmates of the Islamic Faith” (Aufstellung über die Häftlinge islamitischen Glaubens), it listed all male and female Muslim prisoners in the camps Auschwitz (I–III), Buchenwald, Dachau, Flossenbürg, Groß-Rosen, Mauthausen, Natzweiler, Neuengamme, Ravensbrück, Sachsenhausen, Stutthof, and Bergen-Belsen. Altogether, 1,130 Muslim men and nineteen Muslim women were recorded. Most of them were from eastern and southeastern Europe and had presumably been interned as political prisoners. Still, the list was incomplete, as some groups, most notably Muslim prisoners from Arab countries, were not included. The SS Head Office reacted swiftly, prompting a bureaucratic process that lasted half a year and involved the SS Reich Security Head Office, the SS Economic and Administrative Head Office, and Himmler’s staff. Finally, on 16 November 1944, Olzscha reported to Berger that the SS Reich Security Head Office had, despite repeated requests, not yet determined whether some of the Muslims in the concentration camps were suitable for recruitment. Berger informed Himmler of these problems and suggested calling a halt to the process. A part of the Bosnian Muslims had, at the request of the Ustaša government, already been released in the meantime, and the remaining Muslims, who were interned “because of various offenses,” would surely not make good soldiers, the chief of the SS Head Office wrote. Himmler did not pursue the issue further.
Overall, a closer look at the non-German formations of both the Wehrmacht and the SS reveals that Muslims played a significant role within them. While the Wehrmacht was the first to begin recruiting Muslims and mobilized far more overall than Himmler, the SS became the strongest force in the military mobilization of Muslims near the end of the war. Both Wehrmacht and SS authorities considered the soldiers’ religious identity to be important when forming Muslim units. Leading German officials, most notably Hitler, Himmler, and Berger, repeatedly used religious rather than national or ethnic categories when speaking and writing about these formations. As in other cases of non-German mobilization by the Wehrmacht and SS, the recruitment of Muslims was launched primarily to balance the shortage of manpower. Yet, in the Muslims’ case, considerations of general war propaganda as well as notions of the Muslims’ trustworthiness and soldierly quality played an exceptional role. Consequently, the Wehrmacht and the SS recruited a vast number of Muslims and decided to provide them with special religious care and propaganda.