10th SS Panzer Division at the Arnhem Battles III

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).

10th SS Panzer Division at the Arnhem Battles IV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Muslims in the SS I


Commander of the 13th SS Division, SS-Standartenführer Desiderius Hampel confers with a Chetnik commander in the summer of 1944.

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.”

Muslims in the SS II

Der Großmufti von Jerusalem [Amin al Husseini] bei den bosnischen Freiwilligen der Waffen-SS. Der Großmufti ist auf dem Truppenübungsplatz ein[getroffen] und schreitet die Front der angetretenen Freiwilligen mit erhobenem Arm ab.

Amin al-Husayni, alongside SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen SS Karl-Gustav Sauberzweig, greeting Bosnian SS volunteers in November 1943.

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.

“Das Reich”








The SS-Verfügungstruppe, combat support force, or SS-VT was created in 1934 from the merger of various Nazi and right-wing paramilitary formations. Two regiments were formed, in northern Germany the SS-Standarte “Germania”, and in southern Germany SS-Standarte “Deutschland”.

In Berlin-Brandenburg they were incorporated into the SS-Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler. SS-Verfügungstruppe was considered an armed wing of the General-SS and as a part of the Nazi party, not of the Wehrmacht.

In 1940, after the invasion of France, V-Division was given the name “Reich”, at the same time, “Reich” and other SS-VT units, were subordinated to the new Kommandoamt der Waffen-SS and from then on called the Waffen-SS.

It was not until after the start of the Russian campaign, “Operation Barbarossa”, that the Division got its final name, “Das Reich”.

“Das Reich” SS Panzer Grenadier Division at Kursk

Of the three SS divisions in the battle, Das Reich was sort of in the middle between the other two when it came to the transition process to a full panzer division.

Das Reich 2nd SS Panzer Regiment: Like with LAH, Das Reich’s 1st Battalion was back in Germany undergoing training in the new Panther tanks. When it left in the late spring of 1943, it left all of its tanks with the regiment, thus allowing the 2nd Battalion to be at full strength. The 2nd Battalion was organized into four companies, each with four platoons. However, there were too many tanks for the 2nd Battalion to contain in its organization so an unusual procedure was implemented to alleviate this overage of tanks. The Das Reich SS Motorized Anti-Tank Battalion was stripped of all of its Marders and the command personnel and the organization were used to create a temporary panzer battalion for the leftover tanks. The 2nd Battalion had about 18 Pz IVF/2, 24 Pz IIIJ, and 5 command tanks operational at the time of the battle. The Heavy Tank Company started the day with one operational Tiger tank but during the morning a second Tiger tank returned from the field repair shops so there were two of them when battle was joined. Of these one was knocked out in the day’s combat (it was hit 83 times!).

Das Reich 2nd SS Panzer Jager Battalion: This was the proper name of the division’s motorized anti-tank battalion. The Marder II companies that were part of the battalion were parceled out to other units in the division. One company went to the assault gun battalion where it became the 4th Company in that unit. The other two went to the panzer grenadier regiments, one to each, to become part of their 14th Companies. The battalion, as a tank unit, was organized into three companies of three platoons each. This battalion was equipped with captured T-34c tanks. It is not clear whether there were two companies of T-34’s and one company of Pz IIIJ’s or one company of T-34’s and two companies of Pz IIIJ’s. Different sources list both types. The 2nd Panzer Jager Battalion had about 15 T-34c, 10 Pz IIIJ, and 2 command tanks at the time of the battle.

Das Reich SS Artillery Regiment: The artillery regiment had four battalions. The 1st and 2nd Battalions were standard 105mm howitzer battalions of two batteries each. The 4th Battalion was a mixed battalion of two batteries of 150mm howitzers and one battery of 105mm guns. The regiment used six gun batteries instead of the usual four gun batteries of other divisions, thus every two batteries. The 3rd Battalion was the self-propelled battalion with three 105mm batteries. The self-propelled artillery pieces were actually experimental ones utilizing captured French tank chassis. These vehicles were hand-me-downs from the regular Army panzer divisions which had received their Wespe and Hummel vehicles.

Last Actions

Division Das Reich had a combat strength of 1498 men and 11 Panzers on 7th April, on 10th it reported 15 Panthers, 11 Panzer IVs, 4 Jagdpanzers IVs, 1 Jagdpanther and 8 Flakpanzer IVs (probably both operational and under repair). Other two divisions that formed the II.SS-Pz.Korps: -3.SS-Pz.Div. (1004 men and 6 Panzers) -6.Pz.Div. (1235 men and 8 Panzers) Gumpoldskirchen and Baden were captured (by Russians) on 4th April. Hstuf. Franz-Josef Dreike (Kdr.SS-Flak.Abt.2) and Stubaf. Hans Hauser (KG Hauser) received KCs for their actions at Laaer Berg and Münchendorf.

The last combat actions of the Division as a whole were around the 13th April 1945 near to the Floridsdorfer Bridge in Vienna.


One of the last Pzkw. IV tanks of Panzerdivision “Das Reich” guards the Vienna side of the Floridsdorfer Bridge.


To buy time for the scattered remnants of the 2nd SS Panzer Division to escape north of the Danube, a small rearguard was left to protect the south end of the bridge and engage any Russian forces attempting to cross the Danube. Lt. Arno Giessen was in command, with 97 confirmed tank kills he was considered the best man for the job. With his small force, his prospects for slowing the Russian Juggernaut seemed small.

Superb leadership overcame superior numbers once again. Each time a Russian tank came into view the Germans would zero in on it and destroy it before the Russian infantry could intervene. When his Panther ran out of fuel, Lt. Giessen went stalking Russian tanks on foot with Panzerfausts. Before dawn on the 13th of April Lt. Giessen added 14 kills to his record. Lt. Giessen’s actions allowed the majority of the division to escape across the Danube. He surveyed his destroyed tanks as his remaining men crossed the bridge. Lt. Giessen crossed the bridge and engineers sent it tumbling into the Danube. Lt. Giessen was the last man out.

By early May 1945 the Division had ceased to exist as a cohesive unit, the Der Fuehrer Pz. Gren. Regt were sent to Prague, the Deutschland Pz. Gren. Regt were fighting in Austria and the Div HQ and other Div units including the Panzer Regt were in action near Dresden.




Soviet Armor in Berlin 1945

The so-called “Battle of Berlin” was the last major land battle in the European theater during World War II. It was also more of a campaign to occupy central and eastern Germany than a fight over or inside the poorly defended, sprawling, smoldering wreck of the German metropolis. On one side was the assembled might of the Red Army, driving toward ultimate victory against the once-feared but now only hated and despised Wehrmacht. The defenders arrayed around the capital were made up of broken Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS units. Inside the city Hitler and his commanders assembled about 45,000 Wehrmacht and foreign Waffen SS: Baltic, French, Dutch and other fascist volunteers, fanatics, and opportunists of the “New Order” with no place left to run. They were joined in the frontline by raw boys from the city’s Hitlerjugend, some as young as 12, each armed with a singleshot anti-tank weapon. Another 40,000 Volkssturm were herded to the line, mainly old men of the home guard who fought for the Kaiser in the last war, or invalided soldiers dragged back into the new one for Hitler. Nazi Party officials and other fanatics formed roving death squads to round up any suspected deserter. Any man or boy caught in mufti or behind the lines who could not explain his presence was treated without mercy and summarily hanged for treason: Berlin’s lampposts were adorned with corpses. The approaching Soviet formations had massive superiority in everything, in most cases by a ratio of 10:1 or greater: more air power, artillery, and armor and better trained and more experienced troops.

As the marshals and generals of the Red Army prepared to encircle Berlin, which they and their men called “berlog” or “beast,” the field marshals and generals of the Wehrmacht sank into the worst extremes and criminal excesses of the “catastrophic nationalism” that long engulfed their Führer and themselves. No one in the High Command contradicted Hitler’s final rants or sheer military fantasies about phantom relief armies driving on the city, or his promises of war-winning Wunderwaffen soon-to-arrive and change the course of the war in Germany’s favor. They knew all that to be false, the ravings of a delusional madman who had conquered all of Europe then lost it again inside six years. The men in feldgrau uniforms with red stripes running down their trouser legs instead allowed the protracted and wanton total destruction of Germany, the decimation of its citizens and their own men. Some senior officers ran for cover in the end. Others made vulgar suicide plans; a few carried these out. Most merely waited with fatalistic stoicism for the end of their world and lives, superficially dutiful at their posts but as morally insensible at the end of Hitler’s serial wars of genocidal aggression as they were at the start.

The Red Army paid a bloody price for the honor of delivering Hitler’s capital to Stalin, who ordered the attack accelerated when he met with his Front commanders on April 3. The reason for the shift in gear was almost certainly the Kremlin master’s concern over the rapid progress being made by the Western Allies, as resistance collapsed into small unit action and a few holdout pockets in western Germany. Two huge Fronts launched the final attack on “berlog” on April 16. Konev’s 1st Ukrainian Front attacked from the south out of Silesia with over half a million men. Zhukov’s massive 1st Belorussian Front struck westward from the Neisse and Oder with over 900,000 men and thousands of tanks and attack aircraft. Rokossovsky’s 2nd Belorussian Front at 480,000 men attacked along the Baltic coast starting on April 18. Rokossovsky tore across Brandenburg and smashed right through immobile 3rd Panzerarmee, which was trying to flee west to surrender to the Anglo-Americans but lacked transport even for that. The three Fronts that closed the ring around Berlin brought to the fight over 6,200 tanks, 7,500 combat aircraft, and 41,000 artillery tubes. Together, they comprised 171 divisions and 21 more mobile corps. Attacking on all sides of the city simultaneously, these vast armies overwhelmed and crushed the last defenders in the outer ring around Berlin. Tactics were crude, frontal, and blunt, especially in Zhukov’s opening assault on the Seelow Heights. Heavy Soviet casualties resulted as the attack initially failed against a layered and effective German defense. The main force defending the city was fragments of Army Group Center—not the original force that invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, but a renamed hodgepodge of units cobbled together and led in futile resistance by a fanatic Nazi. General Ferdinand Schörner was one of Hitler’s’ vaunted “men of will.” He tried to hold the line of the River Neisse, but failed against unstoppable brute force and more skilled Soviet commanders and troops. German 9th Army also fought hard to pull itself westward from the Oder, inflicting heavy casualties on Konev’s lead units. The two main Soviet thrusts, by Konev and Zhukov, linked on April 24 just south of Berlin. Soviet troops entered the outer suburbs two days later.

Army Group Vistula totally collapsed overnight on April 28–29, and the fight for Berlin was effectively over. It had been waged and won outside the city. A few more days of fighting remained as hundreds of thousands of krasnoarmeets moved through broken urban neighborhoods and the rubble of earlier Allied bombing to blast away the last resistance from a few thousand fanatics. Through it all Hitler brooded in his “leader bunker” beneath the rubble, under the Reich Chancellery. In the end even he stopped ordering mirage armies to counterattack this street or district, or to break out from some Baltic envelopment and fight through to Berlin. He instead ordered total demolition of the city and of Germany, of all its infrastructure and facilities, just as he had ordered Warsaw destroyed in 1944. The German nation, Hitler pronounced without a shred of self-awareness or irony, had proven “unworthy” of his greatness and failed the test of his social-Darwinist view of war and history. At last, a Führer order was countermanded: his court architect and minister for armaments and munitions, Albert Speer, finally disobeyed the man he had followed for over a decade into utter moral and physical ruin. Speer secretly called and circulated to stop the wanton destruction of the means of survival for any German who lived past the end of the war. Other top Nazis deserted their Führer in different ways, with several seeking to contact the Western Allies in vain hopes of negotiating a truce. Hitler condemned them all, married his mistress, then killed himself on April 30. That same day Soviet soldiers tore down the Swastika flag from the Reichstag roof and raised their own in its place. Two days later the last resistance inside Berlin ended. The tiny garrison that remained made an offer of surrender. It was accepted, and a formal ceasefire went into effect at 3:00 P.M. Berlin time. The garrison survivors and hundreds of thousands more Germans taken captive outside the city were marched to the east, most into years of captivity and forced labor.

The SS and the Secret Weapons



Himmler visits the Peenemünde rocket research site, June 1943. Behind him is SS-Sturmbannfuhrer (SS-Major) Wernher von Braun in his SS uniform.

In summer 1943 it looked as if the SS would succeed after all in moving beyond the hiring-out of prisoners and a modest amount of production to becoming involved in a promising major armaments project, namely, in the development and production of the so-called A4, the first ballistic missile.

Militarily, the A4 with its conventional warhead of 1,000 kilograms of explosives, was of relatively little value; the much cheaper and technically less advanced Luftwaffe competitor, the flying bomb, Fi 103, could carry almost the same amount of explosives. However, from a technical point of view neither the Fi 103 nor the A4 represented a reply to the Allied bomber fleets, which in a single attack could drop thousands of tons of explosives with increasing accuracy on their planned targets. It was presumably Himmler’s penchant for exotic, utopian-type projects that made him so enthusiastic about the Army’s idea for a rocket. Moreover, he was probably also tempted by the thought that, with the help of prisoner labour, he would at last be able to get hold of a major armaments project.

Himmler’s interest was aroused after Hitler had given his basic approval to the A4 rocket programme in November 1942. On 11 December he attended a rocket trial launch at the Peenemünde testing ground; he was not put off by the fact that the trial ended with the rocket exploding four seconds after take-off. On the contrary, he supported the head of the project’s attempt to gain an audience with Hitler, though without success. In March 1943 he had the military commander at Peenemünde dismissed. There were doubts about his reliability because of his alleged links to the Catholic Church, and vague accusations were made, which later turned out to be without foundation. Himmler installed a successor who could be relied upon to toe the line. This example shows how he was prepared to use his police powers ruthlessly when bent on gaining an advantage. On 28 June Himmler was received at Peenemünde by Wernher von Braun wearing the uniform of an SS-Hauptsturmführer. The visit went off satisfactorily: Himmler appointed von Braun Sturmbannführer and backdated the promotion to the day of his visit.

In the meantime the A4 special committee of the Peenemünde test facilities responsible for rocket production had decided to request KZ inmates from the SS for the envisaged manufacture of the rockets, and this was approved in June.250 However, when a British air raid on Peenemünde in August 1943 caused some damage, Himmler suggested to Hitler that rocket production should be placed entirely in his hands. The A4 rocket was to be produced underground with the aid of KZ prisoners— the SS had already agreed to a request from the A4 Armaments special committee—and the development programme could be carried out at a testing ground of the Waffen-SS in Poland. Hitler approved this proposal and Himmler assigned the responsibility to Hans Kammler, the head of Department C (Buildings) in the Business and Administration Main Office. A cave system near Nordhausen in Thuringia was selected as the production site, the so-called Mittelwerk, where in autumn 1943 an autonomous concentration camp was established named Mittelbau. On 20 August Speer and his deputy Karl-Otto Saur met the recently appointed Interior Minister, Himmler, to discuss the details. The following day Himmler summed up the main result of the meeting in a note to Speer: ‘I, as Reichsführer-SS, […] am taking over responsibility for the production of the A4 equipment.’

This statement was, however, a little premature, for while Hitler had ordered that Himmler should support Speer with this work, he by no means wished to give him responsibility for the production process. Himmler, however, did not allow himself to be put off: in March 1944 von Braun and two of his leading colleagues were arrested and imprisoned for several weeks. They were accused of making comments in which, among other things, they had criticized the conduct of the war and emphasized the importance of civil space exploration. Braun’s army superior managed, however, to get the technical director freed, albeit only on a temporary basis. According to von Braun, Himmler’s aim in doing this was to gain control of the development work on the rocket, though he was to prove unsuccessful. In spring 1944, however, Himmler’s man Kammler became heavily involved in the transfer of German aircraft production underground; Mittelwerk became the model for this. On 4 March 1944 Göring appointed Kammler his ‘Representative for Special Building Work’, whereupon, supported by the SS and with the aid of KZ prisoners, he set about transferring aircraft production underground in mines, tunnels, and so forth. This meant that the SS had in fact at last managed to get a foothold in Luftwaffe armaments production, but at a time when German planes could no longer compete with those of the Allies.

In the following months of Himmler’s appointment as commander of the Reserve Army, also saw to it that Wehrmacht armaments were merged on the level of personnel and organization with the SS. Thus the A4 rocket project seemed finally to have fallen into his hands. On 6 August 1944 he gave Kammler, the Head of department C in the Business and Administration Main Office, complete authority to ensure the ‘most rapid’ deployment of the A4.38 Kammler did as he was told, and on 6 September the first raid on London using the A4 (or V2, as it was also called) took place. In all more than 3,000 V2s were to be launched, more than half of which landed on the British capital.

Himmler claimed to be convinced that the V rockets would bring about a turn in the war. At the end of July he had declared in a speech to the officer corps of a new grenadier division: ‘I know that we still have crises and shortages to get through. We should not forget, however that V1 and the V2, V3, and V4 to come are not a bluff [ . . . ].’ He had, he said, news from London according to which the constant bombardment of the city in the previous weeks with V1s (the ‘doodlebug’ flying-bombs developed by the Luftwaffe) had already led to 120,000 deaths, which ‘absolutely matches the numbers of V1s we have sent over and for which I have precise figures. For we know more or less what effect they have and thus we can work out ourselves the numbers of dead.’ It remains Himmler’s secret how he could claim to know the damage done by a weapon whose impact on southern England could not be verified by the German side. At any rate, the figures he gave were almost fifty times larger than the actual number of victims.

The drive with which Himmler in his new capacity attempted to expand his power in all directions did, however, meet with resistance. When, on 23 August 1944, Goebbels suggested to Hitler that, as part of the measures to promote total war, Himmler should be put in charge of all the district headquarters of the Wehrmacht, Hitler’s reaction was negative: ‘But the Führer fears that Himmler is so overloaded with work that it will get too much for him and the same tragedy will befall him as befell Göring. He too had so many offices that he lost track of them.’ Himmler’s work would have to be ‘concentrated’. As Goebbels explained further, Himmler had ‘tried once more to take charge of the entire A4 programme, which the Führer had categorically rejected. To do this Himmler would have had to build up a new apparatus without being in a position to dismantle the existing apparatus. So nothing is going to change here.’

In the end, in January 1945 Himmler was forced to give up not only the A4 programme but also armaments as a whole, having been put in charge of them in the meantime as commander of the Reserve Army. Thus the miracle weapon, the capabilities of which had been completely overestimated, had been placed once and for all beyond his grasp.

12th SS Panzer Division in the Ardennes



Subject: German soldiers riding in tank during the "Battle of the Bulge" Belgium 1944. Photographer- U.S. Army Public Domain Merlin-1141002



SS Colonel Hugo Kraas was born in Witten/the Ruhr in 1911, the eldest of seven sons. He studied to be a teacher but had to drop out and go to work when his father died. He joined the Brownshirts in 1934 and transferred to the army in 1935. Later that year, he joined the Waffen-SS and began officer training at the SS Junker School at Brunswick. He graduated and was commissioned in 1938, and was assigned to the Leibstandarte. He advanced rapidly and fought in all of the campaigns of the LAH, serving as a platoon leader in the 14th Antitank Company (Panzerjaegerkompanie) (1938-39), a platoon leader in the 15th Motorcycle Company (Kradschuetzenkompanie) (1939-40), a company commander in the 1st SS Reconnaissance Battalion (1940-41), acting commander of the 1st SS Recon (1941-42), commander of the I/2nd SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment (1942-43), and commander of the 2nd SS Panzer Regiment. He assumed command of the 12th SS Panzer Division on November 15, 1944, and led it for the rest of the war, fighting in the Ardennes, Hungary, and Austria. He surrendered to the Americans and was released from the POW camps in 1948. He was promoted rapidly: 1st lieutenant (1939), captain (1940), major (1942), lieutenant colonel (1943), colonel (1944), Oberfuehrer (January 30, 1945), and major general (Brigadefuehrer) (April 20, 1945). He died in Schleswig an Herzversagen on February 20, 1980. His younger brother, Boris Kraas, was an SS major and commander of the 3rd SS Tank Destroyer Battalion “Totenkopf.” He was mortally wounded in Hungary on February 13, 1945.

Major General Walter M. Robertson was in charge of both the 2nd and 99th Infantry Divisions, while Major General Leonard T. Gerow, the commander of the V Corps sorted out logistical problems, reinforcements, and organized the defense of Elsenborn Ridge. He also had to guard against the possibility that Colonel Peiper (who was somewhere beyond his right flank) would turn north. (One of Peiper’s reconnaissance companies did push to within 600 yards of the 2nd Division’s Command Post before it was driven off by an infantry battalion.)

Colonel Wilhelm Viebig’s 277th Volksgrenadier Division had been given the task of capturing the twin towns, but its mission exceeded its strength. Strangely enough, Sepp Dietrich, the least capable of the senior German commanders, realized this even before the battle began. He appealed to Hitler to let him lead the advance with his armor. The Fuehrer overruled his former bodyguard and insisted that the infantry spearhead the attack. This decision not only led to heavy losses in the inexperienced people’s grenadier units but also resulted in unnecessary traffic congestion and massive traffic jams.

It is interesting to speculate what might have happened had Dietrich gotten his way. The Panthers and SS panzer grenadiers would almost certainly have gained more ground than the inexperienced infantry and quite possibly would have captured the vital Elsenborn Ridge before the Americans manned it. Had they done so, the battle would have developed much differently than it did, and the northern shoulder of the German offensive might not have been blocked. Without the infantry clogging the roads with their horse-drawn vehicles, the Germans might have been able to get their fuel trucks to their panzers, 6th Panzer Army’s advance might not have stalled out, and Army Group B’s offensive might not have been channelized so quickly, despite Eisenhower’s incredibly rapid reaction. From there, anything is possible, but history is full of interesting “might have beens.”

Robertson, the soft-spoken, highly competent commander of the U. S. 2nd Infantry Division, executed a brilliant retrograde, leap-frogging his battalions back toward the twin towns of Rocherath and Krinkelt, in spite of attacks from the 277th and 12th Volksgrenadier Divisions. Losses on both sides were severe, and a great many American vehicles became stuck in the mud and had to be abandoned. The U. S. 394th Infantry Regiment was smashed by the 12th Volksgrenadier, and a battalion of the 38th Infantry Regiment was “practically annihilated” by the 277th VG.

General Robertson nevertheless pulled it off, partially because the inexperienced men of the U. S. 99th Infantry Division fought much better than anyone expected. Dietrich, for example, threw the veteran 12th Volksgrenadier against it near Losheimergraben, an important road junction on the southern flank of the V Corps line. The 12th was considered the best infantry division in the 6th Panzer Army, and it was well led by Major General Gerhard Engel, Hitler’s former adjutant, but it could only gain a quarter of a mile against the stubborn 99th, which turned it back in heavy, close-quarter fighting.

Early in the afternoon, because of the heavy casualties in his assault divisions, Dietrich decided to commit armor in the form of SS Colonel Hugo Kraas’s 12th SS Panzer Division against Robertson’s northern flank, although a breakthrough had not yet been achieved. Most of the tanks of the SS Panzer Division “Hitler Youth” were promptly bogged down in the mud, but the young panzer grenadiers managed to push the Americans back, and the entire V Corps position was in danger when night fell. During the night of December 17-18, tanks from the 12th SS (now extricated from the mud) broke through the U. S. line and pushed into Krinkelt, only to be expelled by a hasty counterattack. The following morning, Tigers from the 12th SS pushed into Rocherath, only to be repulsed by artillery fire from Elsenborn Ridge, by bazooka fire and men hurling antitank mines, and by Americans who poured gasoline on the tanks and then set them on fire. The 12th SS Panzer Division “Hitler Youth” lost 67 of its 136 tanks in the first three days of the battles for Krinkelt and Rocherath. The fighting was fierce and, because the American soldiers had heard that the SS were shooting captives, few prisoners were taken by either side.

American casualties were also heavy. The U. S. 393rd Infantry Regiment of the 99th Infantry Division, for example, lost 1,357 men, the 394th Infantry Regiment lost 1,198 men, and the 395th Infantry Regiment lost 422 men. The Table of Organization and Equipment (TOE) strength of a U. S. infantry regiment was 3,163 men. The 1st Battalion of the 393rd was especially hard hit and lost 72 percent of its men.

By nightfall on December 18, however, General Robertson had completed his complicated maneuver, and Army Group B had ordered Dietrich to abandon his tank attacks on the twin towns. During the night of December 18, despite the protests of General Priess, he swung the Hitler Youth Division to the south, in an attempt to reach the Malmedy road. This maneuver also failed because the U. S. 1st Infantry Division had arrived by now and blocked this route.

With the 12th SS Division withdrawn from his front, Robertson completed the withdrawal to Elsenborn Ridge on December 19 with few difficulties. Meanwhile, Hodges had again reinforced Gerow, this time with the veteran U. S. 9th Infantry Division, one of the best units in the American army. Losses had been high but, with the 1st, 2nd, 9th, and 99th Infantry Divisions on and around Elsenborn Ridge, the northern shoulder of the front was secure.

By December 19, Courtney Hodges’s 1st U. S. Army had 208,000 men and hundreds of tanks and guns moving south, into the Ardennes. 1 On the northern wing of the 5th Panzer Army, LVIII Panzer Corps had made fairly good progress, but was now being slowed by the U. S. 3rd Armored Division. In the meantime, Dietrich’s 6th Army tried to expand its road net by pushing Gerow’s U. S. V Corps off Elsenborn Ridge. They were butting their heads against a stone wall. The Germans advanced through the deep draws leading to the ridge in an effort to dislodge the deeply entrenched U. S. 99th Infantry Division. They were met by a huge concentration of artillery fire. The American artillery battalions fired 10,000 rounds on December 21 alone. When the Germans retreated, they left behind 47 tanks and tank destroyers.

Meanwhile, the veteran U. S. 9th Infantry Division reinforced Elsenborn Ridge.

On December 21 and 22, the 12th SS Panzer Division “Hitler Youth” rejoined the struggle for the ridge. It lost 44 tanks and an estimated 1,200 men in attacks against the U. S. 1st Infantry Division near the village of Butgenbach while, to the south, Otto Skorzeny’s 150th Panzer Brigade made one last effort to take Malmedy on the 21st. It was unsuccessful. Skorzeny had 3,500 men and was facing the U. S. 30th Infantry Division, which had four infantry battalions, supported by artillery, tank destroyer, and combat engineer battalions, and was well dug in.


With the destruction, the spearheads of the 2nd Panzer Division, Hitler’s last great offensive in the west, had failed. The Fuehrer, as usual, refused to recognize this fact; he ordered that Bastogne be captured at all costs. On December 27, the Fuehrer Begleit Brigade arrived in the Bastogne sector, having been delayed by fighter-bombers and fuel shortages. It was ordered to launch an immediate attack–without benefit of reconnaissance. Naturally, the attack failed. (There are cases in history in which attacks succeeded without reconnaissance but not many of them.)

Hitler reacted as he normally did–he changed leadership, although this time he did not fire anybody. He placed Lieutenant General Karl Decker’s XXXIX Panzer Corps, which was just up from the Eastern Front, in charge of the siege, and ordered him to take the town, no matter what.

Decker tried. On December 28, in a terrible snow storm, he attacked with the 26th Volksgrenadier Division, the Fuehrer Begleit Brigade, the 115th Panzer Grenadier Regiment (of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division), and the 901st Panzer Grenadier Regiment from the Panzer Lehr. Patton (who now controlled the VIII Corps) reinforced the garrison with the U. S. 6th Armored Division, CCA of the U. S. 9th Armored Division, and the U. S. 35th Infantry Division (Major General Paul W. Baade). Before the Siege of Bastogne was over, the 9th and 12th SS Panzer and the 340th Volksgrenadier Divisions also joined the fighting. On the other side, Patton committed the 11th Armored and 87th Infantry Divisions to the battle.


On January 7, 1945, the critical Baraque-de-Fraiture crossroads (Parker’s Crossroads) was lost, and the German generals were acutely concerned that the U. S. 1st and 3rd Armies might soon link up and sever the bulge near its base, trapping much of the 5th Panzer and 6th Panzer Armies. Even Hitler recognized the danger. On January 8, he gave Model a rare authorization to withdraw. The next day, he tacitly admitted defeat by ordering Dietrich’s 6th Panzer Army out of the Ardennes. He also issued an order to withdraw the II SS Panzer Corps (including the 1st SS, 2nd SS, 9th SS, and 12th SS Panzer Divisions, plus the two Fuehrer brigades and two Werfer brigades) to the rear of Army Group G for rehabilitation. For them, the Battle of the Bulge was over. Most of the withdrawing divisions were in very bad condition. The 9th SS Panzer had only six infantry battalions left and they had an average of only 160 men each. Only 30 of its tanks and assault guns had survived the battle. The 12th SS was in even worse shape: it had 26 tanks and assault guns left and only 120 men in its average panzer grenadier battalion.