The 3. Panzer Division Totenkopf was an SS panzergrenadier division of the Wehrmacht during WWII. The 3. SS Division was first formed in 1939 and soon became infamous because of the fact that a large majority of the first members of the division were actually previous guards of the German concentration camps and executioners. Furthermore, many of the early commanders of the Totenkopf Division were men who had served in the campaign in Poland in the month before the division was formed in October.
The first divisional commander of the Totenkopf division was Theodore Eicke and he commanded from 1939 to 1941. Following Eicke were commanders Matthias Kleinheisterkamp and Georg Keppler who only commanded the 3. for a very small time in 1941. Replacing them would be once more commander Theodore Eicke on his second and last turn of commanding the 3.
He served from 1941 to 1943. The reason why Eicke did not serve longer was because he was actually killed during one of the battles of Kharkov as his plane was shot down over the battlefield. Next on the 3. SS Panzergrenadier Division's roster of commanders was Herman Priess who served for two months in 1943. Picking up where he left off was commander Heinz Lammerding who again served only for a month in 1943. Max Simon however served for five months in 1943. When he left, Herman Priess once again took up the position serving from 1943 to 1944. The final commander of the 3. Division was Hellmuth Becker who served from 1944 to 1945.
The 3. SS Panzergrenadier Division consisted the 5. and 6. SS Panzergrenadier Regiments along with the 2. Infanterie Regiment. Also included were the 3. SS Pioneer Battalion, 3. SS Panzerjäger Battalion, 3. SS Flak Battalion, 3. SS Panzer Battalion, and several other units within the division.
The division was originally held in reserve during Germany's advance on the low countries in 1940 but was then brought into combat in Belgium. The division was then moved to France and more precisely Cambrai where they took thousands of stunned French prisoners. Like many other divisions, after the French campaign, the 3. SS Panzergrenadier Division was moved to Eastern Poland in preparation for Operation Barbarossa. When the invasion began, the division advanced onto the Soviet city of Leningrad. In fact, the 3. SS Division was one of the divisions that was encircled in the Demyansk Pocket or Battle of Demyansk. After the battle, the Totenkopf Division was sent back to France in order to be refitted with replacement troops and it was eventually sent back to the Eastern Front as part of Army Group South in early 1943. The Totenkopf Division continued to fight along the Eastern Front in places such as Romania until 1945 when they finally surrendered to Soviet forces.