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I suppose it is inevitable that military men desire to see their creations in action, so we were not averse having the SS troops enter the Polish conflict.
~ Josef 'Sepp' Dietrich[1]

The Waffen-SS, also known as the Schutzstaffel or Armed SS, was an elite military unit formed from Adolf Hitler's personal bodyguard regiment, the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler.


Early Days

The Waffen-SS's origins went back to 1923 when the Nazi Party formed a special bodyguard unit to personally protect Adolf Hitler. This guard element was selected from the already existing Sturmabteilung, or SA, but more commonly known as the Brownshirts. This unit became known as the Stabswache, or Staff Guard. But this organization's service was short-lived, and soon replaced by the Stosstrupp Adolf Hitler, comprised of Party members who's loyalty was first to Hitler himself. The Stosstrupp served as Hitler's bodyguards until his arrest in 1923 at Munich Beer Hall Putsch.[1]

Forming of the Praetorian Guard

The Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler on parade in 1936. By then the SS numbered over 2,000 members.

After his release from Landsberg Prison, he appointed his trusted chauffeur, Julius Schreck, to hand-pick eight men for a new, permanent, bodyguard unit whose loyalty was unquestionable. This praetorian guard, reportedly suggested by Hermann Goring, was to be known as the Schutzstaffel, or SS. Hitler trusted his guards completely, while the SA was falling out of favor. After Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, the SS-Stabswache grew significantly in size and influence, and became known as the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. The SS, in particular, the Leibstandarte, proved it's loyalty to Hitler in June 1934, in helping him assert his authority over the SA, then headed up by Ernst Rohm, at the so-called Night of the Long Knives, in which they murdered over 1,000 SA members, including Rohm.[1]

Official military formation

In September 1934 the SS-Verfugungstruppe, or SS-VT for short, was formed. It was officially announced to the German Parliament in 1935, and was placed under the command of Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler. Comprising three regiments, the SS-Standarte Leibstandarte, the SS-Standarte Deutschland, and the SS-Standarte Germania, were all stationed at Berlin, Munich, and Hamburg, and could come under the direct control of the Fuhrer at any given moment. In addition to these units, the SS-Nachrichtensturmbann, a signals battalion, the SS-Pioniersturmbann, an engineer unit, were formed. Also, two SS officer schools, the SS-Junkerschule Tolz, and SS-Junkerschule Braunschweig, were formed. There was no shortage of recruits for the SS-VT, as young men, aged 17 to 22, were eager to join the elite force, were they received extensive physical training, the use of weaponry, and were indoctrinated with Nazi Ideologies, and taught that all Jews, Slavs and Bolsheviks were Untermensch, sub-humans, and no mercy should be shown to these enemies of the Reich. Such indoctrination resulted in many atrocities on and off the battlefield.[1]

Final reorganization

In 1939 the Waffen-SS was reorganized for the final time into the Armed SS, or Schutzstaffel. It by now comprised three divisions in strength, the Leibstandarte was now a divisional sized unit of over 7,000 men, along with the other two divisions, the Das Reich and Totenkopf, formed the backbone of the SS, later in 1939, the SS-Polizei division would be formed just prior to the invasion of France. The Waffen-SS then numbered 23,000 strong. By 1945, it would have nearly one million active serving members.[1]

Early actions in the war

A Panzer I and Panzer II of the Leibstandarte division crossing the River Bzura in Poland, 1939.

In the Anschluss of Austria and Czechoslovakia in March 1938, the SS were able to put their training into practice with full mobilization, but because the two countries put up no fight, Austria even welcoming the German invaders, the SS saw no action. This would change in the following year, when the war commenced. The SS was born to first blood in September 1939, when the Germans invaded Poland, in this action, codenamed Fall Weiss, or Case White, the SS were responsible for several major actions, including the capture of Danzig and Warsaw. Another unit known as the SS-Heimwehr Danzig, a home guard unit, where instrumental in the capture of the city of Danzig, in which they stormed a Post Office that was being used as a military defense position by the Polish Army. The Leibstandarte were responsible for the capture of three heavily defended Polish forts along the River Bug, the capture of Polish forces at the River Bzura, and the encirclement and capture of Warsaw. Leibstandarte and Das Reich divisions were the main bodies of the SS that participated in the invasion of Poland, while the Totenkopf and SS-Polizei were held in reserve. It was Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler's intention to use the SS to invade the USSR, but The Fuhrer ordered that no such action would take place without his order. The SS were to take part in the invasion of the West first, much to Himmler's frustration.[1]

Role in the West

The SS played another important role in the invasion of the West. Even though the German Army was capable of overrunning the Low Countries, Hitler wanted more proof the SS were truly a battleworthy organization, despite Reichsfuhrer-SS Himmler's pressure to allow the SS to invade the Soviet Union. At 05:30 AM on May 10, 1940, the Leibstandarte division stormed across the Dutch border and by midday had covered over 100 km (62 miles), capturing Zarolle and securing the important crossing over the River Yssel. The Leibstandarte then turned south to meet up with elements of the SS-Verfungensdivision on the drive towards Rotterdam. After capturing the city, the Leibstandarte raced west and arrived in The Hague just in time for the Dutch surrender. Holland was captured in a day. The SS greatly impressed their Fuhrer, and were finally able to fully mobilize their units into heavier combat than what they experienced in Poland. The SS succeeded in tying up large numbers of Allied forces in Belgium and France, including the encirclement of Allied forces at Dunkirk. Hitler was indeed becoming more convinced that the Waffen-SS was certainly a unit worthy to fight the Soviets in the name of the Reich. However, Hitler wanted Greece to be captured first, in order to dominate the Balkans. Once again, this frustrated Reichsfuhrer-SS Himmler.[1]

Blitzkrieg in the Balkans

SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Fritz Klingenberg, the man who single-handedly captured Belgrade recounts his story to German radio listeners.

After the failed Italian invasion of Greece from Albania in October 1940, Hitler had the allegiance of Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia, however, the Yugoslavs overthrew the pro-Nazi government. Hitler then chose to seize Greece and Yugoslavia militarily. Among the forces sent south were two crack Waffen-SS divisions. Leibstandarte and Das Reich were the two divisions sent south to capture Yugoslavia and Greece. While the Leibstandarte's participation is highly noted in Greece, Das Reich captured Yugoslavia single-handedly. These two division were at the forefront of Operation Martia. Das Reich was even further noted during this operation when it's motorcycle recce troops, under the command of SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Fritz Klingenberg, single-handedly captured the Yugoslav capitol, Belgrade. After arriving with only ten men, he sped to the city square, were an official from the German Embassy requested that he and his men protect the Embassy from any violence from the Yugoslav public or military. Instead, Klingenberg summoned the Mayor of Belgrade to the Embassy and informed him that he was the commander of a huge task force that had surrounded the city and if it was not immediately surrendered, a massive air strike would be called down, the Mayor quickly surrendered the city him at 18:45 hours. When the panzers of Das Reich arrived, they were shocked to see the entire defense force at the city had already surrendered. For this action, Klingenberg was awarded the Knights Cross.[2]

Following the inevitably successful capture of Yugoslavia, the SS divisions turned south towards Greece and crossed the border on April 6, the Leibstandarte attacking from Romania via Bulgaria. The first major engagement between SS and Allied troops was at the Klidi Pass, defended by Commonwealth troops. The mountain regiment, supported by 88's of the artillery regiment scaled the rocky cliff face to capture the pass, taking 100 Allied prisoners. After a failed British Armour's counterattack, the Allies fell back to the Klissura pass, in hopes of stopping the SS from reaching Koritza, the headquarters of the III Greek Corps. Even though the Greek defenders were well entrenched at the pass, they were no match for the superior Blitzkrieg tactics used by the SS troops. Koritza was captured, and advanced elements of SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Kurt Meyer raced ahead to Kastoria, where concentrated Greek Artillery had repelled the initial attack by the Leibstandarte, but by the time Meyers' force arrived the Greeks were in full retreat, and quickly surrendered at the appearance of Meyers' troops. The campaign in Greece was coming to close, sooner than the hierarchy of Germany had expected. On 19 April, the Leibstandarte division was then ordered to drive south and cut off some 16 Greek divisions to the west of the Pindus range. They all surrendered to the Leibstandarte's commander, SS-Gruppenfuhrer Josef Dietrich, on 21 April, a coup which infuriated Mussolini. Despite the poor preformance of Italian troops during the campaign, Mussolini demanded his share of the glory. The surrender of the Greeks to Dietrich was then declared a mere preliminary, and a further formal surrender ceremonies were organised, in which the Italians fully participated. On 24 April, the Leibstandarte began it's pursuit of retreating British and Commonwealth forces, first south towards Mesolongion, then eastwards to Navpaktos on the Gulf of Corinth. The Germans arrived just too late, the Allies having managed to evacuate their men over the gulf to Patras.[1]

Meyer and his reconnaissance unit were out of radio contact with divisional Headquarters. Unable to receive fresh orders, Meyer dispatched a patrol across the gulf in two commandeered fishing boats. 90 minutes later, the boats reappeared, bringing with them 40 British prisoners. Meyer quickly began to ferry the rest of his battalion across the into Patras using every fishing boat that could be found. On the following morning Meyer dispatched 2 Company of his battalion with orders to strike east and make contact with Paratroop Regiment 2 of the Luftwaffe, fighting the British at Corinth. No heavy vehicles were up with the SS advance so the company commander was forced to use whatever was available. This led to the unusual sight of an anti-tank being towed by a family saloon, mortars protruding from fast sports cars, and the engineer platoon setting off in a school bus. The Leibstandarte advanced south from Kastoria as far as Olympia before it halted it's advance because the collapse of the Greek Army and evacuation of the British and Commonwealth forces to Crete rendered it unnecessary. The division then proceeded to Athens to take part in a victory parade before returning to barracks for rest and refit. Hitler was now fully convinced that the SS were worthy of fighting the Soviets. Hitler also ordered the creation of two new SS divisions, the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, and the 6th SS Gebrigs Division Nord. However, opposition by the Army to the expansion of the SS arose, as the Army believed that it diminished the Army's numbers in the national manpower pool. Hitler, unwilling to upset his Wehrmacht commanders, was persuaded by Reichsfuhrer-SS Himmler to recruit foreign nationals and ethnic Germans into the SS, who the Army previously had no claim.[3]

Operation Barbarossa

SS troops prepare to attack Smolensk in the Soviet Union in 1941.

Main article: Operation Barbarossa
For the Nazi Party, and the Waffen-SS, the campaign in Russia was to be a crusade, a crusade against those groups Nazism despised: the Slavs, the Bolsheviks and the Jews. Above all, it was to be a clash of ideologies: National Socialism versus Communism, and the Herrenvolk (Master Race) versus the Untermensch (Sub-humans). For the Waffen-SS, the military and ideological elite of the Third Reich, the war in Russia would bring spectacular victories, but it would also bring a new kind of war, one in which both sides gave and received no quarter.
~ Exscript from SS - The Blood-soaked Soil by Gordon Williamson.

In all of the eleven Wehrmacht armies deployed for Operation Barbarossa, among them were initially four Waffen-SS divisions. In Army Group South were the Leibstandarte and Wiking divisions, while the Totenkopf and SS-Polizei divisions were part of Army Group North's reserves.[1]

Army Group South's initial objective was to drive east and cut off all the Red Army units west of the Dnieper River with a force of some 46 divisions, comprising Sixth, Eleventh, and Seventeenth Armies and the First Panzer Group. The Leibstandarte was allocated to XIV Corps of First Panzer Group. Opposing them was a force of about 69 infantry, 11 cavalry, and 28 armoured divisions of the Red Army under General Kirponos and later Marshal Budyenni. The manoeuvre required the Germans to navigate 480 kilometers of terrain that was rather difficult to traverse, comprising of improperly surfaced roads of packed dirt that could be turned into deep quagmires once rain started to fall. The Leibstandarte was not, however, committed to immediate combat, after it joined First Panzer Group's reserves, and finally entered combat on July 1 when it crossed the River Vistula southwest of the town of Zamosc. By this time, First Panzer Group had driven it's to pincer formations deep into Soviet territory and III Panzer Corps, under General von Mackensen, had been cut off near Rovno. The Leibstandartes first major task was to re-establish contact with von Mackensen's Corps. Leibstandartes forward elements were soon in action against Soviet tanks. At one stage, while passing through a heavily wooded area, two Soviet tanks joined a German column, assuming they were a retreating Red Army unit. Night fell and the column came to a brief halt just short of Klevan, the Soviet tank crews realized this error and burst out the formation and sped off into the dark. Klevan was swiftly taken and the advance continued. The Leibstandartes Reconnaissance Battalion's lead elements then ran into a taste of things to come just a few kilometers east of Klevan where they found an abandoned German howitzer next to an empty, blood-soaked ambulance, a few meters away the corpses of several German soldiers, their hands bound behind their backs with barbed wire and their bodies mutilated. The Waffen-SS replied in kind, declaring the Russians "must be slaughtered ruthlessly".[1]

The armored units attached to III Panzer Corps made such rapid progress that huge gaps began to open between the widely dispersed German formations. The Soviets, attacking out of the Pripet Marshes to the north spotted these gaps and attempted to exploit them, and cut off the main German supply highway, the so-called Rollbahn Nord, thus rendering the advancing German units devoid of their supplies of food, fuel, and ammunition. The Leibstandarte's objective was to give flanking cover to the First Panzer Group as it moved towards Zhitomir and Kiev, and the SS troops soon found themselves fending off desperate Soviet attacks, often with armored support.[1]

On July 7, Leibstandarte's spearhead units smashed through the Stalin Line defenses at Mirupol and drove eastwards toward Zhitomir, encountering stiff Soviet resistance, and were bogged down by heavy rains which rendered most roads useless, forcing the Germans to strike out across country. However, by the end of that day, the main elements of the Leibstandarte had caught up with its spearhead units at Romanovka. The spearhead units could stray far ahead of the main division, as illustrated in this incident when Kurt Meyer, and his reconnaissance battalion, which was now only a handful of recce troops since he outstripped the main body his battalion in rushing ahead. He inadvertently passed through a gap between two Soviet units and Meyer and his men were suddenly surrounded by Soviet infantry. An officer stepped forward and saluted, assuming Meyer had come to surrender. The salute was returned and the two men shook hands, Meyer offering the Russian a cigarette, which was gratefully accepted. Then, using an interpreter, Meyer said that the Soviets should surrender. He then walked among them, handing out cigarettes and indicating for them to lay down their weapons. Meyer could see the Soviet officer was far from taken, and told his interpreter to play for time, as he expected the arrival of other elements of his battalion at any moment. The Soviet officer became irritated as two argued about who was going to surrender. It appeared Meyer's bluff failed when a German armored car came into view, only to be destryed by Soviet anti-tank fire. The next armored car returned fire and Meyer ordered his men to open up. A furious firefight broke out and the Soviets were overrun.[1]

The Leibstandarte captured the vital Keednov road junction just west of Zhitomir on July 8, Meyer and his battalion fighting most of the battle, in which his recce troops stormed across the River Teterev supported by 88's. The Soviets were much tougher on some occasions than the Germans anticipated, and continuously attempted to exploit the reoccurring gaps that formed between the fast German armored units and the slower infantry divisions. Hitlers staff, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, however, believed that the primary objective of Army Group South was accomplished and the main Soviet armies in the southwest were destroyed. The troops on the front lines did share this optimistic aprasle, and correctly so, as a Soviet counteroffensive was launched, once again aimed at shutting off the main supply route. Despite the Soviets being beaten off, casualties were heavy on both sides, as hand-to-hand fighting was common, while the wooded areas in which the fighting took place brought nightmares of its own during artillery barrages. The battle lines were so fluid that the combatants rarely knew who had the upper hand or who was outmanoeuvering who. However, the Leibstandarte managed to successfully exploit a temporary easing of Soviet pressure to attack and capture Shepkova on July 9.[1]

The Leibstandarte has played a most glorious part in the encirclement of enemy forces around Uman. Committed at the height of the battle for the seizure of the enemy positions at Archangel, it took the city and the high ground to the south with incomparable dash. In spirit of devoted brotherhood of arms, the Leibstandarte intervened on it's own initiative, in the desperate situation which had developed for the 16th Infantry Division on their left flank, routing the enemy and destroying many tanks. Today, with the battle of annihilation around Uman concluded, I wish to recognize, and express my special gratitude to the Leibstandarte for their exemplary efforts and incomparable bravery.
~ General Kempf complementing the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte for their actions at the Uman Pocket[1]

On July 10 Hitler unexpectedly changed operational plans in the south, the advance moving in the direction of Kiev, to a drive towards Uman to attempt to cut off and surround the Soviet armies there. Weeks of savage fighting ensued. On July 31, the Leibstandarte was allocated to XXXVIII Corps and tasked with a drive to Novo Archangelsk to close the "Uman Pocket". The Soviets launched ferocious attacks attempting to break out, sometimes with massed infantry formations and concentrated armour support and were barely beaten off. The SS troops made maximum effective use of their multi-barreled Nebelwerfer rocket launchers to swiftly destroy the Soviet armor, but still suffered heavy casualties. Ultimately the Soviet breakout attempts weakened as the SS lines held firm. When Soviet forces in the Uman Pocket surrendered, over 100,000 men from the Soviet 6th and 12th Armies went into captivity.[1]

On the northern wing of Army Group South, the Wiking division struck out from its launch point on June 29 1941 and advanced across Soviet-occupied Poland led by the Westland regiment. Spearhead units reached Lemberg on June 30 and ran into the Soviet 32nd Infantry Division. The SS troops were put under considerable pressure by the numerically superior Soviet forces and had to withstand repeated attempts to push them back. The arrival of armor from the division's reconnaissance battalion finally swung the balance in the German favor and the Soviet counterattacks were beaten back. Unfortunately for the Westland regiment, it's commander, SS-Standartenfuhrer Hilmar Wackerle was mortally wounded by a shot from a lone Soviet straggler as his command car drove past. He died soon after being wounded.[1]

The 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking was soon in action when it's lead elements made a forced crossing of the Slucz at Husyantin under intense Soviet resistance. Fighting raged on until the Heer's 1st Mountain Division arrived to relieve the battered Wafen-SS units. On July 8 Wiking drove towards Kozmin under a torrential downpour that rendered most roads muddy morasses and progress was slow. At Toratscha the divisional HQ was nearly overrun and Germania and Nordland regiments were involved in bitter fighting. The Westland regiment continued on a four-day forced march on foot through heavily wooded terrain to the River Ross. By July 23 the Wiking division was making it's way through masses of abandoned Soviet vehicles and material. The division was then temporarily attached to III Panzer Corps, while the Westland regiment was diverted south to Talnoze to aid in the closing of the Uman Pocket. From August 7 to August 16, elements from the Wiking division served alongside the Luftwaffer's elite Herman Goring Regiment, fighting around Korsun and Schandorovka to secure the northern flank of the First Panzer Group. A battle group from the Westland regiment was also dispatched to Dnepropetrovsk to help contain Soviet attacks. After the fall of Uman, First Panzer Group renewed it's advance, moving in the direction of Bobry. The Soviet defense, mainly made up of cavalry units, could not stem the German advance and were easily overrun on August 9. The Leibstandarte division moved on to Zaselye. Almost immediately after the town's capture, the Soviets launched a vicious counterattack, and for a whole week the Leibstandarte held out against the determined Soviet forces. The Soviets finally ceased the counterattack on August 17, after losing nearly 1,000 men.[1]

The Leibstandarte's next objective was to seize Cherson, a relatively large city in an industrial area. It was the first time the Waffen-SS infantry had to take a city by storm. The Soviet Naval Infantry who defended the Cherson battled against the SS troopers on every street, resulting in bitter house-to-house fighting and many casualties on both sides. By now the SS troops were becoming accustomed to the intense fanaticism the Soviets defended their homeland. Fighting raged one in Cherson until the Leibstandarte finally ousted the Russians on August 20. The Leibstandarte was rewarded with a few days rest in corps reserve before crossing the Dnieper and continuing their advance across the Russians Steppe. In the north, meanwhile, German units had established a bridgehead over the Dnieper at Dnepropetrovsk, however, were coming under heavy Soviet artillery fire by the Soviet artillery school, who's young artillery cadets were familiar with the entire district, and had no trouble pinponting their German targets. The Nordland regiment of the Leibstandarte crossed the river at the bridgehead and moved out northwards towards Mogila Ostraya, while the Westland and Germania regiments strengthened the western edge of the bridgehead and captured the Kamenka heights September 6 and 7, taking over 5,000 Soviet prisoners. A suprise Soviet counterattack was launched, attacking between the gaps in the German advance and drove into German-held territory for nearly thirty-two kilometers. The Leibstandarte rushed back across the Dnieper and eliminated this new Soviet threat. Novya Mayatschka fell to the Germans on September 9, and in a few days the Leibstandarte was passing through Novo Alexandrovka on its way east. The Fuhrer then changed his plans once again, deciding that the Soviet forces withdrawing into the Crimea posed a threat to the German southern flank, and thus had to be eliminated. The Leibstandarte attempted to take the Perekop Isthmus enterance into the Crimea by storm, but due to deep minefields and heavy fortifications, it proved fruitless. The division then moved to the eastern edge of the Crimean 'neck'. There, under the cover of heavy fog, the Leibstandarte smashed through the Soviet lines, capturing Balykov and the high ground at Genichek, and from this vantage point, observed the Soviets preparing a frantic counterattack, and planned their defenses accordingly. Once an enterance into the Crimea was secured, the Leibstandarte continued it's advance across the Russian mainland in the direction of Melitopol, capturing Rodianovka on September 18, where the division dug in and beat of a barrage of several desperate Soviet counterattacks. The division had little rest before their elite skills were in demand again, and rushed west. The LIV Corps attacked the Crimea and captured several kilometers before a savage Soviet counterattck decimated a section of their lines held by Romanian troops. The Leibstandarte arrived in time and by September 30, and soon the Soviet counterattacks ran out steam. First Panzer Corps renewed its advance eastwards.[1]

No time to disarm them; a quick hands up, gesture towards the west and we roared on again. Numbers? - who knows how many we took.
~ Exscript from the diary of a Waffen-SS grenadier about the Soviet prisoners taken during Operation Barbarossa[1]

The Leibstandarte drove eastwards for nearly 400 kilometers over difficult terrain, and reached Taganrog on October 11. The division crossed the the River Mius under heavy fire, and fighting raged for six days before Taganrog fell. Three days later Stalino was also taken. The Wiking division was withdrawn from III Panzer Corps and transferred XIV Panzer Corps, which was advancing along the Melitopol-Stalino railway line towards Wolnowacha hoping to overtake and and capture retreating Soviet units. Rain once again, however, turned roads into seas of mud, and continued for a fortnight, giving the Russians time to gather their elements. Early in November, the Westland regiment was attacked by Soviet artillery using Katyusha rockets, the psychological effect was tremendous, and complete chaos was only narrowly averted. The onset of colder weather hardened the roads once again, and the Germans were able to to move with much greater ease, that was until the full Russian winter set in. III Panzer Corps caught up with their spearhead units by mid November, and began to besiege Rostov. SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Springer of the Leibstandarte captured a vital bridge over the River Don, greatly aiding the break in the Soviet communications link, a feat which earned the Knights Cross. Rostov fell later the same day, and 10,000 Soviet prisoners were taken.[1]

Until this point in Operation Barbarossa, the Germans had only experienced the sweltering heat and terrific downpours of rain of the Russian summer. Now they were to face the worst horror of all, the Russian winter. Temperatures began to plummet, catching the Germans by complete surprise, as most of their troops were still wearing the same summer uniforms they were when the campaign begun in June. No winter clothing was available, oil began to freeze in the sumps of vehicles as did the thick lubricant in the gun mechanisms. Troops lit small fires under their vehicles to thaw them out enough to be started. The Soviets on the other hand, naturally were accustomed to the winter, and had warm clothing galore, thin gun lubricant and fur-lined oil sumps on their vehicles, and knowing that the Germans would be at a great disadvantage, began to exploit this. The situation in Rostov became untenable, and the Leibstandarte withdrew back to the River Mius. A few weeks later, the intense conditions of the weather put an end to all military operations of significant size across the entire sector. Farther north, before the winter closed in, the Wiking division had a new objective to capture Schachty, and commensed it's advance on November 5. Another unexpected downpour rendered roads useless. However, the SS troops pushed across the River Mius towards the high ground at Perwomaisk-Oktjabrisk in order to reach the road to Astachowo. This road, however, was to rendered useless and instead of trucks carrying troops, the troops disembarked and pushed the trucks through the thick mud. The division arrived at Oktjabrisk on November 7, and a battle group was immediately deployed south to cover a dangerously large gap between the Army's 14th and 16th Panzer Divisions. During this period, the Germania Regiment found itself in almost constant combat against Soviet units trying to find a weak spot in the German positions, while the division continued attempting to advance with fierce determination, and the Nordland Regiment drove northeast towards Alexandrovka. Soviet resistance hardened, and the Germans began encountering more and more T-34 medium tanks, which came as a terrible shock to German anti-tank gunners and tank crews, who had had unrivaled vehicles and weaponry during the opening of the campaign, and the 37 mm PaK 36 guns fielded by most German units were ineffective against T-34s unless at a dangerously close range.On November 23, savage counterattacks were launched against XIV Panzer Corps, forcing the Germans onto the defensive. Temperatures plummeted below minus 20 degrees celcius, and many of the SS troops were soon crippled with frostbite. The Soviet 9th and 37th Armies pushed the SS units back to the River Tusloff, were the curves in the river left a vast area to defend, and without adequate numbers, holding these postions would be impossible and the Germans were forced to fall back even farther west to positions along the River Mius, and dug in around Amwrosjewka.[1]

When Operation Barbarossa began the Totenkopf division was part of of Field Marshal von Leeb's Army Group North, specifically General Hoepner's Fourth Panzer Group. Totenkopf and the 269th Infantry Division were the principal reserve units of XXXXI and LVI Panzer Corps, a position that disgusted Totenkopf commander, Theodor Eicke. On June 22, Fourth Panzer Group smashed it's way through Soviet border positions heading to cpature the bridge over the River Dvina, a natural obstacle the Germans had to overcome. Resistance was light and Hoepner's troops covered eighty kilometers the first day, and on June 26, Fourth Panzer Group seized Dvinsk and bridge over the Dvina, almost 320 kilometers into Soviet territory. The spearhead units had however, outrun the main divisions and had to stop at Dvinsk to allow them to catch up. Due to the incredibly fast with which the Germans had advanced, large gaps had formed now between General von Mansein's LVI Corps and the northern flank of the Sixteenth Army, leaving considerable amounts of Soviet stragglers behind German lines of advance. The Totenkopf was pulled out of reserve to clean up the stragglers while moving up to Dvinsk to join the main force. Resistance stiffened as the Soviets began to reorganize and reform. On June 27, Totenkopf was moving through Lithuania and was meeting ever more determined resistance. The divisional Reconnaissance Battalion ran into a sizable force with tank support and was brought to a sudden halt. The tanks were soon pushed back, but fanatical and almost suicidal attacks by Soviet infantry continued, slowing the division's pace of advance. Despite it's invariable success in beating off these attacks, the division's progress was slowed, and it was decided to send the Panzerjager Battalion and one infantry battalion to Dvinsk with all haste to help repel the Soviet counterattacks against LVI Corps, while the rest of the division followed behind. Once Totenkopf reached Dvinsk, it formed part of LVI Corps, and shortly after XXXXI Corps arrived, followed by the Sixteenth Army. On July 2 the advance of Fourth Panzer Group resumed. Totenkopf was tasked with protecting von Manstein's flank and maintaining contact with Sixteenth Army to prevent gaps from opening in the line. The division was now moving through dense forests and progress was greatly hindered. At Dagda, the Soviet 42nd Rifle Division ambushed Totenkopf and killed over 100 SS troops. The entire division came to a halt as Soviet reinforcements arrived with tank support, and frenzied Soviet attacks began to force the division back. The situation was rescued the next day by Luftwaffe Stuka dive-bombers which decimated the Soviet tanks and artillery and the Totenkopf regained the initiative on July 4 and capture Rosenov.[1]

On July 6, the Totenkopf division smashed through the Stalin Line. The network of defenses in this sector was extensive, and the division suffered heavy losses. Despite this, by nightfall the division had forced it's way through the main Soviet lines and established a bridgehead over the River Velikaya. The Totenkopf troops came under heavy artillery fire, and Eicke himself was wounded when his command car hit a mine attempting to avoid an incoming shell. On July 12 the division moved to Porkhov as part of Fourth Panzer Group's reserve. After only a few days of rest, the division moved out again to support LVI Corps on July 17, when fierce Soviet counterattacks began once against on it's northern flank. The Totenkopf troops beat off the attackers and remained in the corps as replacement to the 8th Panzer Division which had gone into reserve. The advance continued on July 21, Totenkopf moving through the dark swamp forests west of Lake Ilmen. The Soviets by now had a new defense line called the Luga Line along the Rivers Mshaga and Luga. Totenkopf began the assault against the Luga Line on August 8. The division experienced the most laborious part of the operation, as during the day they pushed the defenders back, only to them launch a fierce counterattack at nightfall, making any form of rest impossible. Soviet losses were replaced almost immediately, but the Germans found the attrition taking a heavy toll on their numbers, and replacements took much longer to arrive then it did for the Russians. Also, partisans were operating in Totenkopfs rear areas and had tapped into telephone lines and learned the division's weak points and planned their attacks accordingly. But worst of all, Totenkopf troops had been accidentally attacked by Luftwaffe aircraft, mistaken for Soviet troops. The Soviet 34th Army attacked the German flanks in mid August, and the Totenkopf along with the 3rd Motorized Division were sent to counterattack. The two divisions worked their way around the German flank and smashed into the unsuspecting Soviets, causing utter devastation. Many soviet prisoners were taken as well as vast numbers of vehicles and equipment were captured, Totenkopfs Military Police Troops took over 1,000 prisoners itself, and the shattered remnants of the 34th Army were rounded up. Despite this being an important victory for the Germans, their numbers were significantly weakened. Totenkopf renewed it's advance on August 22, crossing the River Polist and moving towards the Rivers Lovat and Pola with no hinderance other than rounding up prisoners. This did not last however. When the division reached the River Lovat, they found that the retreating Soviets had dug in and were waiting for them, not to mention the considerable air support the Soviets had and the fact that the Luftwaffe was now temporarily operating in other sectors. All attempts to force a crossing failed, and the Soviet counterattacks became so fierce that the division withdrew to the nearby woods to hide from marauding Soviet fighters. On August 26 Totenkopf was ordered to renew it's attack and once again suffered heavy casualties attempting to seize the Soviet positions. By now the division had suffered the heaviest losses in the corps. The nest day Luftwaffe aircraft appeared once again and drove off the Soviet fighters and fighter-bombers. The divisional Reconnaissance Battalion reached the River Pola at Vasilyevschina just as the rain started to pour and the vehicles almost immediately bogged down in the mud. Before the advance could continue, the division was hit by another determined Soviet counterattack that lasted for two days. Orders came from LVI Corps command on August 30 to continue the advance across the River Pola, but the acting divisional commander, George Keppler who was standing in for Eicke, appealed to von Manstein and convinced him that the division was in no fit state to attack a line so well defended, and the attack was postponed for a few days. However, no rest came to Totenkopf troops as Soviet counterattacks continued unabated. On September 5, with the support of the 503rd Infantry Regiment, the advance resumed under more favorable weather conditions, and a crossing at the River Pola was attempted. However, before the end of the day, the rain recommnsed, as did furious Soviet counterattacks. From September 7 the rain finally stopped and the roads dried, allowing the Germans to freely move about once again. in the meantime, the Russians ensured that Totenkopfs path was littered with mines and booby traps, once again slowing progress. By September 12, Soviet counterattacks had forced the division onto the defensive. In mid September, Totenkopf was task with clearing up Soviet stragglers in the German rear areas around Demyansk. Eicke returned and resumed command on September 21, in time to hear of intelligence reports of a massive Soviet counterattack being prepared and further Soviet reinforcements were arriving. Probing attacks soon began, and the offensive commensed on September 24 as Soviet infantry with tank support poured onto the German lines. Totenkopfs anti-tank gunners managed to knock out nine Soviet tanks, while the SS Artillery fired shell after shell of high explosive ammunition over open sights. By the end of the day the SS troops just managed to force the Soviets out of Lushno. The attacks continued more powerfully than the first on September 26 and 27. The equivalent of three divisons with 100 tanks supporting were thrown at the weakened Totenkopf. Eicke and himself, his staff officers, and all of his non-combatant personnel took up arms and joined the troops in the trenches. with almost superhuman endeavour, the Totenkopf division beat off all attacks thrown at them by a force three times their own strength, and eventually, the Soviet attacks ran out steam.[1]

One episode amply demonstrates the phenomenal determination with which the soldiers of the Totenkopf division faced off the overwhelming odds. On September 24, just north of Lushno, Number 2 Battery of Totenkopf's Panzerjager battalion came under attack by strong Soviet forces Every soldier in the entire battery was killed except SS-Sturmbann Fritz Christen. Despite apparent hopelessness of the situation, Christen remained manning his gun, loading, aiming and firing by himself, knocking out six Soviet tanks. When darkness fell, he crept to other gun positions and acquired additional ammunition to replenish that which he had expended. The next day he destroyed a further seven tanks. When the division counterattacked on September 27, Christen was relieved, by now thirteen tanks and 100 Soviet troops had fallen to his gun. He was immediately recommended for the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross, and was flown to Hitler's HQ at Rastenburg and was awarded by Hitler himself. On October 8, the Totenkopf division resumed it's advance in pursuit of the retreating Russian forces towards Waldai Heights. Once again on October 16 the division ran into well constructed defenses around Samoskye, ten kilometers deep in some sections amid densely wooded areas. The Totenkopf along with the 30th Infantry Division began an offensive the following day, only to have it founder almost immediately. Soon both divisions were on the defensive in the face of ferocious Soviet attacks. The Totenkopf alone had lost nearly 9,000 men since the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, and it soon became clear that without sufficient replacements, and the onset of winter, an advance would be impossible. Totenkopf dug in around this area and spent the rest of the year fighting off partisans and Soviet attacks. Army Group Center included the Fourth and Ninth Armies and the Second and Third Panzer Groups. The Das Reich division was part of General Heinz Guderian's Second Panzer Group, along with the Army's 10th Panzer Division and the elite Grossdeutschland Regiment in XLVI Panzer Corps. Das Reich was not committed to the campaign for the first few days, but entered into action when it made forced crossings at Citva and Dukova, and covered the northern flank of the German advance along the Minsk-Smolensk road. By July 4 the division reached Beresina, and crossed over temporary bridge built by the divisional engineers. The military engineers of the Waffen-SS played an important role in the rapid advance of the divisions that cannot be overlooked. On many occasions, even under heavy fire, the engineers cleared roads of mines and other obstacles and constructed temporary bridges, without the effort of these units the rate of advance achieved by the Waffen-SS would not have been possible. On July 22, Das Reich was tasked with pushing along the Minsk-Moscow road and taking the high ground at east of the town of Yelnya on the River Desna. The Deutschland and Der Fuhrer regiments, along with the 10th Panzer Division made the assault. Deutschland made its attack without any artillery support, but by nightfall had secured the first ridge. Der Fuhrer too made good progress and pushed deep into the Soviet defenses by the end of the day.[1]

The advance continued the following day, and the Soviets were forced off the heights. However, the Germans were considerably weakened greatly. The ground was baked by the searing hot sun, and offered little or no shade. Water supplies were low as well, and Corps command realized that the troops were in no fit condition to continue the advance in the face of such stiff resistance and allowed a break in the advance for the troops to go onto the defensive temporarily. The decision gave no rest to the men really, as they almost immediately found themselves fighting off vicious Soviet counterattacks, which often pierced the Germans lines and the attackers were only driven off by hand-to-hand combat with knife and bayonet, and several spot changed hands a few times before the counterattacks finally were beaten off. As ammunition began to run low, SS gunners were told to fire only at distinct targets. The attacks soon ceased and the SS troops were relieved. In the second week of September Das Reich was moved south to guard the right flank of XXIV Panzer Corps during the assault on Kiev, still as part of Second Panzer Group. Since the beginning of the campaign in Russia, the Germans had past the north and south of the Pripet Marshes, which was a massive natural obstacle, and by September the marshes now formed a huge salient into German-held territory. Within the marshes were at least five Soviet armies comprising some fifty divisions, all to now be destroyed in a massive pincer movement. Sixth Army was to attack the southwest end of the salient and draw out the defending armies, while the Seventeenth Army with First Panzer Group in the south and the Second Army with the Second Panzer Group in the north would form the arms of a huge pincer which would close to the east of Kiev, entrapping the Soviet armies. During the drive southwards the vital bridge over the River Desna at Makoshim was to be taken by the Das Reich division with air support from Luftwaffe Stukas. On reaching the approaches of the river, the area was seen to be well defended and the division waited for it's air support, which never came. The divisional commanders decided to attack without it. Motorcycle troops from the Reconnaissance Battalion made a high speed dash across the bridge, surprising the defenders and engaging in close combat while other units at the bridge frantically cut wires to demolition charges. The bridge was captured intact. As the SS troops began to secure the bridge head against counterattacks, the Luftwaffe dive-bombers appeared and began to bomb the SS troops belatedly, killing forty. Das Reich then advanced across the bridgehead towards Priluki and Borsna and the crossings at the River Uday. Both were successfully the SS troops and the ring around Kiev was closed on September 15. Frantic attempts to break out were made by desperate entrapped Red Army units, all were beaten back. Over one million Soviet troops were killed or captured in the Kiev Pocket.[1]

Operation Typhoon

Main Article: Operation Typhoon

Das Reich's part in Operation Typhoon, the attack on Moscow, began on October 4, 1941. Along with the 10th Panzer Division, the SS troops made good progress initially, but the autumn rains reduced the roads to muddy swamps and the division was bogged down, only reaching Gzhatsk on October 9. By mid October Das Reich was on the march again, moving along the main Moscow highway and encountering fierce resistance. Temperatures had dropped dramatically and frostbite hit countless numbers of troops without adequate winter clothing. On October 18, the division crossed the River Moskva and seized the town of Mozhaisk.[1]

From late October until mid November, German offensive operations were reduced as ammunition supplies were running low and weather conditions worsened by the day. The Germans spent more time consolidating their gains while the Soviets prepared to strike back. On November 18, however, XLVI Panzer Corps was ordered to continue it's advance towards Istra and capture the town. After fierce fighting, Das Reich and the remnants of 10th Panzer Division finally captured the town and hoped to press on to Moscow itself. With every day that passed, however, the weather became worse, with day time temperatures around minus 30 degrees Celsius, and dropping to minus 50 at night. Mechanical wear and tear and the weather took their toll on the vehicles, leaving all but seven tanks of the 10th Panzer Division usless. Manpower too had been depleated so badly that both the Deutschland and Der Fuhrer regiments had to disband a one battalion each and redistribute the men.[1]

On December 4, 1941, lead elements of Das Reich's Reconnaissance Battalion actually reached the terminus of the Moscow city tramcar system before the weather forced them to pause the attack. This was to be the furtherest point reached in the attack on Moscow. Two days later, the Soviet winter offensives began. A total of around half a million Soviet troops, representing seventeen whole armies, was thrown at the exhausted German forces, and the order to retreat reached Das Reich on December 9, and the division began to retire westwards.[1]

During the first campaign on the Eastern Front the Waffen-SS had proved itself to be able to fight as good as the Army and a worthy opponent of the mighty Red Army. No one in the military hierarchy could doubt the value of the SS trooper as a fighting man, though many still had suspicions and resentment about the "political" nature of Himmler's "ideological warriors". Accusations were still levelled that the suicidal incautiousness of many Waffen-SS officers, as well as the troop's contemtuous attitude towards death led to execessive casualties in their units. What was beyond doubt, however, was that the Waffen-SS was fast acquiring a reputation for fanatical bravery which few other units were able to match.[1]

The Demyansk Pocket

Main Article: The Demyansk Pocket
By early December 1941, the German armies that had steam-rollered into the Soviet Union in June of that year had run out of momentum. Supply lines were over-stretched, the troops were exhausted and the full horrors of the Russian winter were being visited upon German soldiers who, in the main, were still equipped with little more than the summer weight clothing with which they had begun the campaign. The Red Army, although driven back to the very gates of Moscow itself, had established a reserve to the east of the Soviet capital. It's winter offensive smashed into the German lines, tearing huge gaps in the front. In the north six German divisions, including the Totenkopf, were cut off in the Demyansk Pocket.
~ Exsert from SS: The Blood-soaked Soil by Gordon Williamson

On December 5, 1941, Marshal Zhukov commensed the Soviet winter offensive, throwing the Red Army's fresh and fully equipped divisions at the German forces of Army Group Center, who by now were exhausted and suffering from the terrible winter conditions. The German line of defense began to fall apart immediately, and the generals on the front lines and suggested a withdrawal to Smolensk, but Hitler would have none of it, and ordered every soldier to stand firm, and any officer who chose to disregard this order was immediately cashiered and replaced with ones who would obey without question. Hitler's determination never to permit retreats would go on to cost the lives of many thousands of Germans soldiers in the vain defense of so-called "fortress areas" long after they had ceased to have any real strategic value. However, his inflexibility on this particular occasion did ensure there was no rout of German armies before Moscow. By the end of January the Soviet offensive began to die out, and the German front lines stabilized. In the north, however, Soviet forces were assembling for an assault of the south of Lake Ilmen. The 11th and 34th Armies, as well as the 1st Shock Army were to attack the southern shore, and the 16th Shock Army was aiming to sweep around the lower edge of Lake Seliger to join the others to complete the encirclement and annihilation of the German Sixteenth Army, and create a huge gap between Army Group North and Army Group Center through which the Red Army could flow. Intelligence and reconnaissance flights detected the massive build-up of Soviet forces. Forewarned, Army Group North spent most of December organizing defense lines between Lakes Ilmen and Seliger and along the River Lovat, and positioned the II Corps and X Corps, of which the Totenkopf division was part. During the night of January 7, 1942, under the cover of a fierce blizzard, the Soviets launched the attack along Army Group North's entire southern flank. The 11th, 34th Armies and the 1st Shock Army hit Totenkopf's neighboring divisions, the 30th and 290th Infantry Divisions and annihilated them, driving as deep as thirty-two kilometers into German-held territory in some places. By January 9, the 11th Army had reached Staraya Russa and then turned south into the rear of II Corps. In conjunction with these manuevers, the 16th Shock Army pushed it's way through the defense lines at Lake Seliger, and then turned north along the River Lovat, intending to link up with the 11th Army and 1st Shock Army. If the Soviets succeeded, the German Sixteenth Army would be trapped. At the command of the Sixteenth Army, the Totenkopf division was split up, sending sub-units to various crisis points and infuriating Theodor Eicke. The Reconnaissance Battalion along with Engineers Battalion and two infantry battalions were sent to Staraya Russa and ordered to hold the town at all costs. Two further battalions were sent to Demyansk to help strengthen the Sixteenth Army's flanks. On January 12, the situation worsened and a worried Field Marshal Leeb requested to withdraw both his corps over the River Lovat and establish a defensive line. Hitler refused, and knowing that this was a death sentence for the Sixteenth Army, Leeb requested to be relieved, and was replaced by a Colonel-General Kuchler on January 17. Within three days of Kuchler taking command, the Soviets broke through along the River Lovat, separating the German units on the west and east banks of the river, though the Totenkopf elements at Stayara Russa and the Army's 18th Motorized Division held and inflicted heavy losses on the Soviets. On February 8, the Soviet ring closed firmly around II and X Corps, entrapping the 12th, 30th, 32nd, and 290th Infantry Divisions and the remnants of the Totenkopf division. The Soviets fielded fifteen freshly equipped and trained infantry divisions, as well as several independent ski battalions and armored units. With supply lines completely disrupted, the Luftwaffe took up the responsibility of supplying the entrapped forces, while Hitler once again reiterated that no retreat from Demyansk would be contemplated. It was estimated that the daily requirement of supplies would be 200 tonnes. The Luftwaffe was initially able supply 300 tonnes. This was not to last however, and soon the Luftwaffe could not even supply half the minimum amount. Officer in Totenkopf had managed to secure adequate winter clothing for the SS troops through SS sources before the supply lines were cut. Command of all German forces fell to General Graf Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt after the Soviet ring around Demyansk closed. He order that the Totenkopf division be divided and mixed with Army units to form battle groups, much to Eicke's fury. Eicke command the larger group and was ordered to defend the extensive network of villages and their interlinking roads in the southwest sector of the pocket and hold fast in this sector to prevent the corridor driven between the German units on the western bank of the River Lovat from being widened. The second battle group was commanded by by SS-Oberfuhrer Max Simon, and was positioned along the northeastern edge of the pocket facing the Soviet 34th Army. Eicke's battle group, fighting in snow over one meter deep and temperatures lower than thirty degrees, came under extreme pressure trying to hold it's lines across the scattered villages. Soviet aircraft bombed any buildings in the villages to deny the Totenkopf troops any form of shelter. The Red Army pounded Eicke's troops mercilessly with artillery, and by February, had penetrated the German lines in some places and cut of some of the villages, encircling them in their own little pockets. At this point, the Totenkopf troops had to put up with the indignity of being attacked by their own side, as Luftwaffe aircraft strafed them while dropping supplies into the laps of the attacking Soviets, so confused the situation on the ground had become. With losses mounting dramatically, the Totenkopf troops held their ground. Eicke now feared for what remained of his fragmented division, and appealed directly to Heinrich Himmler himself, who was eventually able to procure several hundred replacements, who were ready to be flown into the pocket only to have the Luftwaffe refuse, insisting they could not spare any space on their supply aircraft to transport them. Even more fresh Soviet divisions were thrown at the German positions in bitter fighting, in which neither side gave and received no quarter.[1]

By late February Eicke's battle group number 1,460 officers and men, and by the end of the month, Eicke's sector had been widely infiltrated by Soviet forces and all contact with neighboring German units had been lost. Eicke signaled desperately to II Corps, feeling that all hope was lost and the annihilation of his battle group was imminent. The Soviets had too become desperate to crush the Demyansk Pocket before the spring thaws turned the frozen land into muddy quagmire and bogged down their own operations. Such conditions would disadvantage the attackers far more than the defenders. Himmler, meanwhile, personally appealed the dire situation of the Totenkopf division to Hitler himself, who ordered that replacements were to be flown to the front as soon as possible. These fresh Totenkopf troops arrived on March 7, and improvement in weather conditions allowed the Luftwaffe to make a substantial drop of desperately needed food, medicines and ammunition to the beleaguered defenders. By the time the Soviet attacks began to petter out by mid March with the arrival of the spring thaws, they had lost over 20,000 men trying to crush the Demyansk Pocket. The Totenkopf division had lost around 7,000 men. Manpower was not a problem for the Soviets, and their losses were soon made good. The same could not be said for the Germans, and only 5,000 replacements reached the Totenkopf division. Since the beginning of March 1942, a German relief force had been building up west of the River Lovat, under the command of Lieutenant-General Walter von Seydlitz-Kurzbach, and comprised of the 5th and 8th light divisions, and the 122nd, 127th, and 329th infantry divisions, and were to drive eastwards over the River Lovat towards the pocket, and Eicke's battle group would make a corresponding push to the west.[1]

Operation Fallreep

Main Article: Operation Fallreep

The offensive commnsed on March 21, and the Germans made significant progress for the first two weeks with the support of overwhelming air power. Then the Soviets reorganized and began to concentrate their defense, and progress slowed as they frantically attempted to keep the two German forces from linking up. Seydlitz-Kurzbach was not confident to give Eicke the order to attack west until two weeks into the offensive. The delay meant Eicke's men had to move through boggy marshlands created by the spring thaws. Despite this set back, however, the Totenkopf troops were able to cover around one mile of ground per day in the face of horrendous weather conditions and stiffening Soviet resistance, and their frenzied attacks frequently resulted in savage hand-to-hand fighting. On April 20, a company of Totenkopfs Tank-Destroyer battalion reached the east bank of the River Lovat, and was joined by the rest of the battle group the following day. On April 22, after seventy-three days, a bridgehead was secured over the River Lovat and Seydlitz-Kurzbach began moving supplies and reinforcements into what was now the Demyansk Salient. The end of the Totenkopfs ordeal was far from over, however, as Eicke's hopes of having his once mighty division pulled off the front for rebuilding and refitting was dashed when Hitler ordered that his battle group remain in position to hold the German corridor into the Demyansk Salient open as, as expected, would come under heavy Soviet attack. Eicke was given command of all SS and Army troops in the west part of the salient. The new formation was titled a 'Corps', when in reality, it's strength was little more that of half a single fully manned division. Colonel-General Busch shared Eicke's pessimism concerning the Totenkopf division, and was especially sympathetic, since he had seen first hand the shocking state of the SS troops, and appealed to Himmler personally, insisting that Eicke's now battle corps could only continue in its assigned objectives if supplied with at least 5,000 fresh troops. Himmler was only to send 3,000 troops. Even though it was not enough to raise Totnekopf back to full divisional strength, it did boost moral among the men. By May 1942, the Red Army had once again gone onto the offensive and attacked the German corridor with renewed vigor and continued to build up its forces. The continuous Soviet attacks gave the exhausted SS troops absolutely no rest, and constant attrition through the these defensive actions greatly weakened Eicke's corps, and physically exhausted Eicke himself. In mid June Eicke was ordered to take leave, and was temporarily replaced by SS-Oberfuhrer Max Simon. At the end of his leave, Eicke was ordered to report back to the Fuhrer Headquarters at Rastenburg, and was awarded the Oak Leaves to his Knights Cross by Hitler personally. Eicke took the opportunity to converse with Hitler his concern over the terrible conditions of the Totenkopf division. Hitler expressed his sympathy but refused to allow the division to be withdrawn from Demyansk just yet. He did, however, promise Eicke that Totnekopf would be relieved and fully rebuilt as a panzergrenadier division, complete with its own tank battalion, and Eicke was ordered to remain on leave until the division was withdrawn. By July Soviet against Totenkopfs positions was once again increasing rapidly. Simon urged to have the division withdrawn before it was destroyed, as, in his opinion, it was only a matter of time before Totenkopf was annihilated. On reading these reports, Eicke pleaded for the removal of his division from the front, but Hitler insisted that the remnants must hold fast and could not be released until X Corps had strengthened the salient enough to hold off further Soviet attacks. It was estimated this would take at least eight weeks. On July 17, the Soviets hit the battered SS troops again, and the attack was only beaten off by the fanatical determination of the SS troops, with heavy losses. On July 18, the Red Army took the town of Vasilyevschina, annihilating the entire Totenkopf unit to a single man. Simon was ordered to counterattack immediately, but flatly refused, and in an amazing display of insubordination to his Army superiors, declared that if the Army wanted the job done, they should do it themselves. The poor conditions of the SS troop must have been appreciated by the corps command, and Simon had no repercussions for refusing the order. The Army dispatched the 8th Light Division in replacement to the Totenkopf units for the mission, and failed miserably in ousting the Soviets, and took heavy casualties in the process. With weather conditions still appaulling, the Soviets continued to attack for days, fighting in thigh deep mud. On July 30, the Soviet troops were exhausted by the SS soldiers, and their attacks eased. The consequences of fighting for long periods what was all but swamp conditions caught up with Simon's men. The remnants of the Totenkopf division were attacked by pneumonia, dysentery, and many other diseases.[1]

Eicke was infuriated that his division was being left to languish in these conditions and once again appealed to Hitler, demanding that his division be pulled off the front to rest and be refitted, or that he be allowed to return to the front and die with his men. Hitler refused, and Eicke was ordered to take a long term convalescent leave. On August 6, a massive Soviet attack buy 11th Army and I Guard Corps hit the German corridor into the salient on the northern and southern edges and inflicted debilitating casualties once again. The SS troops were pounded with massed artillery and strafed and bombed by Red Air Force aircraft, the Luftwaffe being conspicuous by its absence. By August 12, all of Totenkopfs reserves had been expended, and all non combatant personnel, including cooks, clerks, medics and military police, had been armed and joined their comrades in the trenches. Just as the Red Army looked to overrun the Totenkopf division entirely, clouds gathered and a torrential downpour began. For two whole days, all military operations ceased on both sides on account of the weather. This did give the Germans time to regroup, and the Totenkopf 'Corps', now numbering a mere 7,000 men strong most of which were non combatant personnel, summoned enough strength to hold the Soviets at bay. Max Simon, in great despair, suggested that Totenkopf be written off as a division, as there was nothing left worth saving. On August 25, the Soviets attacked again, hitting the German corridor with the 7th Guards Division, 129th, 130th, 364th, 391st Infantry Divisions and the 30th Rifle Brigade. These Red Army units blungeoned their way into German lines, and isolated the Totenkopf elements in several pockets. Simon's command lost over 1,000 men in few hours but determinedly held it's positions, and successfully beat off the Soviets. Eicke was then allowed to return to the battered remnants of his division, but had to commute back to Germany every week to oversee preparations for it's rebuilding. Totenkopf was finally withdrawn from the front lines in the October of 1942, after German counterattacks had driven the Soviets back far enough for the salient to be considered secure and troops movements were able to made out of the range of Soviet artillery. Only 6,400 troops of the Totenkopf division survived. A special award was created for troops who served in the defense of the Demyansk Pocket. Also, several Totenkopf soldiers were decorated with the Knights Cross for their bravery during this action.[1]

The battle of Kharkov

Main Article: Battle of Kharkov
The Soviet winter offensive of 1942 struck the Germans in the southern sector of the Eastern Front like a hammer blow, destroying a number of Romanian, Hungarian and Italian divisions, as well as the remnants of the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad. The battered Axis divisions were driven back towards the Dnieper, and at the same time the Soviet 3rd Guards Tank Army smashed its way towards the southwest. All seemed lost, as the newly formed I SS Panzer Corps took the field in the depths of the Russian winter
~ Exsert from SS: The Blood-soaked Soil by Gordon Williamson

In the second week of January 1943, Hitler ordered the newly organized I SS Panzer Corps to the Eastern Front with all possible speed. The corps was made up of the Leibstandarte, Das Reich and Totenkopf divisions, all of which had been fully rebuilt and reformed as panzergrenadier divisions, reaching the highest point of their strength to date, making the corps an immensely powerful force which Hitler hoped would bring stabalization to the Eastern Front. The corps was moved to the front by road and rail, the first unit to arrive was the Der Fuhrer Regiment of the Das Reich division under SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Paul Hausser, and initially took up positions between Volokomovka on the River Oskol and Kupiansk on the River Donetz. The Leibstandarte took up positions along the Chegavayev line stretching over twelve kilometers long. The SS troops held the line as retreating Italian, Hungarian, and fragmented German units fled westwards past them. They also rebuffed several Soviet attacks throughout the first week of February, inflicting heavy losses on the Red Army units, who were shocked to run into strong Waffen-SS units. The Soviets then developed their advance towards Kharkov in a huge pincer movement, the northern arm this manueaver pushed through the German defense lines held by the Army around the northeast of Belgorod on the River Donetz, while the southern arm smashed into the line held by the Leibstandarte and the Army's 320th Infantry Division. It soon became clear that Kharkov was in danger of being overrun and a decision was to be made whether to risk the SS Panzer Corps or to evacuate and then counterattack. The later was chosen and Das Reich began to withdraw it's elements slowly westwards under blizzard conditions and waist deep snow, causing many vehicles to flounder. After enduring frequent ambush attacks by the Soviets, Das Reich found that the planned area for the division to establish new defensive lines along the River Donetz had already been taken up by Soviet forces, and the division was forced to pull back further west of Kharkov.[1]

Meanwhile, the Soviets had forced a breached between the Leibstandarte and the 320th Infantry Division, and were pushing rapidly westwards. The Soviets flanks, however, were weak and counterattack by the Leibstandarte intended to smash through the salient created by the Soviet advance and link up with 320th Infantry Division in the south. An SS battle group was organized under 'Sepp' Dietrich, and tasked with performing this three pronged manueaver. The right flank would comprise the Leibstandartes Reconnaissance Battalion led by Kurt Meyer, the center prong comprised the Der Fuhrer Regiment and the Leibstandartes Panzer Regiment, and the left flank the 1st Panzergrenadier Regiment. Meyer's force captured Merefa under the cover of an intense blizzard. The snow-covered landscape made off road movement impossible, so using the lead personnel carriers snow ploughs, the battalion entered the village and ejected the Soviet occupants after fierce fighting. The Der Fuhrer Regiment captured Borki and drove the Soviets into the salient for fifty kilometers, as well as cutting off the spearhead of VII Guards Cavalry Corp from their parent unit. The SS battle group soon lost contact with its own parent unit, however, established battle supremacy in the salient while the Germans in the north were being pushed back towards Kharkov. In the south, Soviet pressure had forced the Germans out of Zmiyov to the southwest of Merefa. Kharkov was in great danger of being surrounded. The German defense lines were no longer continuous but were now scattered strongpoints and in danger of being surrounded themselves. At Rogan, the Leibstandarte troops held fast in the face of fierce Soviet attacks. Ground around Rogan changed hands many times, an instance was when the Leibstandarte lost the airfield at Rogan to the Soviets only to regain it in a counterattack. The fighting was bitter, and losses were high on both sides. Joachim Peiper, commander of the 3rd Panzergrenadier Battalion of the Leibstandarte, was tasked with the relief of the battered 320th Infantry Division that was battling to reach German held territory before being overtaken by the Soviets. They were burdened with over 1,500 seriously wounded soldiers. Unwilling to abandon the wounded, the division was eventually overtaken and surrounded. Peiper's battalion was tasked with leading a relief column behind Soviet lines. This battalion was fully motorized and was equipped with armored half track personnel instead of unarmored trucks. Peiper's battalion crossed the River Donetz south of Zmiyov and drove eastwards for nearly forty kilometers into Soviet held territory, fending off numerous Soviet attempts to halt them. Upon making contact with the 320th Infantry Division, Peiper's battalion medics toiled all night treating the worst of the wounded. At day break the SS troops formed a protective shield around the division and escorted them towards the River Donetz and relative safety. Peiper had hoped to cross the river at Udy using a small bridge, only to find that the Soviets had destroyed the bridge and killed most of the German defenders, including many wounded. Peiper's troops threw themselves at the Soviets with fury and a furious battle ensued. The SS troops gave no quarter, and the bridge was retaken. The bridge was temporarily repaired but could only support the infantry and not Peiper's heavy armored vehicles. After seeing the 320th Infantry Division across, Peiper's battalion turned south and traveled along the banks of the River Donetz for several kilometers until finding a suitable crossing place for his vehicles. The battalion soon came to a German held crossing and made it across without loss of single one of the invaluable armored vehicles. 'Sepp' Dietrich recommended Peiper for the Knights Cross on March 7, and a delighted Hitler approved the award two days later.On February 13, Alexeyevka was captured by the Leibstandarte but was quickly surrounded there. This was now the most easterly point from Kharkov the Germans held, and the Soviets were determined to eliminate it. The SS troops managed to hold their positions for some time, but with heavy losses. During this time, Rudolf von Ribbentrop, an SS-Obersturmfuhrer and son of the German Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, was shot through the lung by a Soviet sniper. He refused to be evacuated for medical treatment, and desired no favouritism either as an officer or as the son of a high ranking dignitary, stating that he would not accepted evacuation unless all wounded NCOs and ranking personnel were evacuated first, knowing, of course, that this was impossible. This sort of solidarity shown by von Ribbentrop made him very popular with his men. He survived Kharkov, and was later decorated for conspicuous gallantry at Kursk in the following months. Meanwhile, an armored relief force under Max Wunche was fighting it's way through strong resistance to reach their beleaguered comrades. In Kharkov, Paul Hausser received orders from Hitler to hold the city at all costs. Hausser immediately shortened his defense lines, which spread far to thin thin to be effective. Hausser knew Kharkov was doomed, and ordered that all military installations were to be destroyed to prevent capture by the Soviets when the city fell. The southern and eastern defense lines of the city were coming under extreme pressure by Soviet forces, and Hausser, being a realist, was not willing to sacrifice his panzer corps for a city he knew was already lost. Kurt Meyer had, in the meantime, continued launching counterattacks against the Soviet forces fielded against him, capturing Bereka at considerable loss to the Soviets. Alexeyevka was in danger of being overrun itself, and Meyer was forced to pull back to defend it. The arrival of Meyer's troops was enough to drive the Soviets who had penetrated the German lines out of the town. Meyer realized the impossibility of the situation, and knew his battered battalion would be unable to hold off the inevitable major Soviet attack. He knew his best chance was to attack the Soviet forces forming up in the east, and he did. This move caused panic in the Soviet ranks, as an attack from the weakened Alexeyevka garrison was the last thing they expected, and they fled in disarray. Meyer's battalion was too weak, however, to exploit this success and pulled back into the town. Finally, Wunche's relief force arrived, and the German broke out of Alexeyevka and rejoin the corps. By late February 14, Soviet forces had penetrated into the suburbs of Kharkov, and after twenty four hours, had also infiltrated the SS corps' rear areas. Elements of the Das Reich division had, however, managed to inflicted heavy losses on the Soviets during a counterattack in the northwest of Kharkov, and this unexpected move had managed to halt the Soviet advance temporarily.[1]

It is already settled, Kharkov is being evacuated
~ Paul Hausser refusing orders to hold Kharkov[1]

At noon on February 15, Paul Hausser once again requested permission for his corps to withdraw from Kharkov and regroup. No reply came by mid day, and Hausser unilaterlly decided to break out. He informed Army headquarters of his intensions at 13:00 PM. Orders arrived at 16:30 PM that Kharkov must be held at all costs. Hausser bluntly replied that it was too late, as he was unwilling to countenance the destruction of his corps in a pointless attempt to save Kharkov. Hausser's forces made it out of the city in the nick of time. The German corridor linking Kharkov to German held territory was only 1.5 kilometers wide at its widest point. Hitler was utterly infuriated that his order had been completely disobeyed, his anger being sparked by the fact that his order had been disobeyed as well as by the fact that Hausser's decision was the correct one. He flew to Army Group South's headquarters at Zaporozhye and demanded an explanation from Field Marshal von Manstein. The Soviets were, on the other hand, delighted for having ousting the Fascist invaders from this strategically important city, but their own offensive was rapidly slowing. The tenacious defense by the SS troops had cost the Soviets many thousands of men, and those who had survived were exhausted. Hitler demanded that I SS Panzer Corps, to be reinforced by the imminent arrival of the Totenkopf Division, was to be used to launch a counterattack and retake Kharkov. Von Manstein, however, wished to use the I SS Panzer Corps as the upper arm of a huge pincer movement to encircle and destroy Soviet armies as they approached the River Dnieper. The lower arm was to be formed by General Hermann Hoth's Fourth Panzer Army.[1]

Hitler continued to insist that Kharkov must be retaken, and even though von Manstein argued his case with great vigor, he knew he would not be able change the Fuhrer's perspective, when suddenly news arrived that the Totenkopf Division was bogged down in an unexpected thaw, and would not make it carry out the operation as Hitler had planned. Hitler now reluctantly approved von Manstein's alternative plan and the counterattack began almost immediately, with XLVIII Corps moving out of its positions at Dnepropetrovsk to seize bridgeheads over the River Samara, and was ready to strike out against the Soviet 6th Army's rear to the north. The Soviets were caught completely by surprise by the sudden German advance and fled northwards in near panic. German morale soared as the troops got on the offensive again. Das Reich and Totenkopf began their advance out of Poltava in atrocious weather and pushed towards the southeast and too, smashed into the rear of the Soviet 6th Army. Das Reich was assigned the task of capturing the territory around Krasnograd and then to capture Peretschepino, both objectives were swiftly accomplished. On February 20, the division received it's orders detailing it's new tasks from Hitler himself, further boosting morale, and struck out against Pavlograd two days later with support from Luftwaffe Stuka dive bombers. The fully motorised division, wielding the latest weaponry, found itself facing Soviet cavalry units mounted on horseback and armed with sabres. While these characters may have struck fear into helpless infantry, they were no match for the SS troops, and were swept aside with heavy losses. Pavlograd was taken on February 24. The German advance continued at such an exceedingly rapid pace, that on on certain occasions the Germans accidently attacked their own side, one such incedent was when elements of Das Reich came under fire from tanks of Totenkopfs Panzer Regiment. Having linked up, the two SS Panzer Divisions swung to the northeast and ran parallel to the retreating Soviets, and hammered into their flanks. Certain Soviet units had run out of fuel and long columns of abandoned trucks, tanks, an other vehicles were often encountered. Unforunately for the Soviets, the Totenkopf Division had despatched it's Panzergrenadier Regiment 1 under Otto Baum, along with elements of Das Reich to cut off the Soviets retreat. What resulted was little more than a slaughter of the demoralised Soviets troops. Two whole Soviet armies had been destroyed, suffering over 23,000 killed and 9,000 captured. They also lost some 600 tanks, most of which the latest T-34 models, being either destroyed or captured. Enough T34's were captured for Das Reich to add a full tank detachtment to their panzer regiment. In addition, over 400 artillery pieces and 600 anti-tank guns were also captured. There were, however, losses on both sides. The Totenkopf Division's commander, Theodor Eicke, had been killed on February 26, when the divisional HQ lost contact with the panzer regiment. Unable to make contact by radio, and feeling concerned, Eicke called up one the divisions scout aircraft and took off to investigate. He eventually spotted elements of the regiment in a small village and ordered the pilot to land. Unaware that the adjacent village was still under Soviet control, the aircraft was meet by a storm of bullets as it landed, and burst into flames. Attempts by the panzer regiment to rescue Eicke were beaten off until the next day, when a rescue force recovered the charred remains of Eicke, his adjutant and the pilot. Eicke's death came as a great shock to men. The Totenkopfs Infantry Regiment 3, later redesignated Panzergrenadier Regiment 6, was named Theodor Eicke in his memory. The Soviet High Command, STAVKA, was unfased, and moved more troops into the sector, and an armored corps to the area south of Kharkov block any German attempts to retake the city. The Soviets, however, had walked into a trap. The Red Army units facing the Das Reich and Totenkopf divisions found that Hausser had moved the Leibstandarte into their rear, blocking their retreat. The Totenkopf and Das Reich pushed the Soviet forces towards the rapidly assembled defense lines of the Leibstandrte and crushed them. The final obstacle before the gates of Kharkov was eliminated.[1]

I SS Panzer Corps had now met up with Hoth's Fourth Panzer Army, and began the assault on Kharkov. The Leibstandarte struck out from Staroerovka on March 4 and forced a crossing at over the River Mscha at Valki. On the Leibstandartes right flank was Das Reich, which found itself struggling through atrocious terrain and made slow progress. On the Leibstandartes left was the Totenkopf, which captured Stary Mertschyk and later Olshany on March 9. By evening of the same day, the Leibstandarte had captured Peretdinaga and Polevaya. Despite it's slow progress, lead elements of Das Reich reached the outskirts of Kharkov on March 9.[1]

How pleased we all are with our success... We have thrown them back and Kharkov is German once again. We have shown the Ivans that we can withstand their terrible winter. It can hold no fear for us again.
~ Exsert from the diary of an SS grendaier of the Totenkopf Division[1]

Hausser had planned to take Kharkov in a three pronged manueaver, with the Leibstandarte attacking from the north, the Totenkopf from the northwest, and the Das Reich was to swing around the north of the city and attack down it's eastern side towards Smiyev. Instead, Das Reich was ordered to attack from the west. When Das Reich reached the city limits resistance was minimal, but soon greatly stiffened. To the north, the SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 1 under Fritz Witt battled it's way down the main Belgorod-Kharkov highway into the city. To his right was SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 2 under Theodor Wisch, and Panzermeyer was commanding the reconnaissance battalion. Meyer took his battalion off the road and through the woods north of the city and cut off any Soviet retreat along the road from Kharkov to Liptsy. While his comrades made good progress Meyer wondered, as his armored vehicles struggled through the forest, if his decision had been a good one. Soon, Meyer's vehicles were finding it impossible to navigate the narrow, now narrower, track, and vehicles had to be manhandled on more than one occasion. Meyer left his subordinates in charge and set off after the lead elements commanded by Gerd Bremer. Meyer soon found Bremer and his men taking cover in a large clearing. On the main road at the foot of the hill were thousands of Red Army soldiers with artillery and vehicles, and Meyer had little over twenty men and a few light vehicles. The Germans had to keep their heads down until the remainder of the force arrived, and messages were sent to the approaching colimn of what lay ahead. Suddenly, the experienced SS troops heard what clearly was the sound of Stuka dive bombers. The Soviets were torn apart by bombs and cannon fire. Meyer seized the moment and threw his small force into the attack. Tank support soon arrived, and many Soviets, thinking they had run into an ambush, began surrendering or unnsuccessfully tried to flee. Meyer left a few men to guard the hundreds of prisoners and took for Kharkov at full speed, seeking to maximise the element of surprise. His force reached the northern outskirts of the city with incident, and maintained a rapid advance until halting outside an abandoned brickworks on the edge of the city. Meyer returned to where he's earlier engagement had been, to find masses of prisoners, seemingly happy to out of the fighting, guarded by very few grenadiers. At day break the following morning, Meyer's battalion was fully regrouped and ready resume it's advance. On his second entry into Kharkov, Meyer's troops swiftly drove off the Soviet tanks around the brickworks. Progress soon halted due a shortage of fuel, and Meyer had his battalion dig in, choosing, of all places, a graveyard. Unknown to Meyer, his battalion was now entrenched right next to the main escape route from the city, and for the next few hours, his grenadiers had to throw back numerous attempts to overrun them. Soon fuel reached Meyer's battalion, with it came reports that the road north of the city had been cut, meaning Meyer, if needed, could not retreat. Good news came too. Fritz Witt's regiment had penetrated into the city and captured Red Square. Meyer decided that his only option was press on to the city center, and in doing this, his force met fanatical resistance from Soviet units attempting to break out of the city. At the same time, Das Reich was pushing west into the city and reached the central train station on March 12 after crushing fierce opposition. Meyer was soon joined by Joachim Peiper's panzergrenadier battalion, and together drove through the east and southeast of the city, eliminating any Soviet opposition. Once Kharkov was secured, Peiper rushed his battalion north and attack Belgorod, taking the city on March 18 and establishing contact with the Army's Grossdeutschland Division. The Totenkopf, meanwhile, had moved around the north of the city and secured the Kharkov-Belgorod highway, before turning to the southeast and capturing the crossing over River Donetz at Tshuguyev, and for the next few days, beat off attacks from fleeing Russian units out of Kharkov, and fresh counterattacks from Soviet units in the east. In these actions, the Soviet 25th Guards Rifle Division was annihilated.[1]

Kharkov had been major victory for Germany in the east, and raised the level of standing of the Waffen-SS in Hitler's eyes. Despite their success, over 11,500 SS troops were killed during the fighting. The Leibstandarte earned thirteen Knights Crosses, the Das Reich ten, and the Totenkopf six.[1]

Operation Citadel

Main Article: Battle of Kursk
By July 1943, the Eastern Front was dominated by a huge Soviet-occupied salient around the city of Kursk. Hitler was determined to destroy it. The stage was set for one of the most savage battles of World War II and the greatest clash of armour in history. Into this maelstrom were thrown the crack divisions of the Waffen-SS.
~ Exsert from SS: The Blood-soaked soil - Gordon Williamson

Paul Hausser's I SS Panzer Corps made up a mere ten percent of the massive German build up for the assault on Kursk. Hausser's corps was part of Colonel-General Hermann Hoth's Fourth Panzer Army attached to Army Group south. The SS troops, along with some 900,000 other German soldiers, as well as those of Germany's allies, were about to thrown at some fifteen Soviet armies, numbering over 1,300,000 troops defending the city of Kursk, which was surrounded by the most extensive defense system ever constructed for a single battle. The massive military movements of the Germans were all but noticed by the Soviets, who anticipated the attack, while intelligence sources provided other further information, some which was past on to the Soviets by the British.[1]

The Soviets assumed that the Germans would the northern part of the salient around Kursk, and crammed three armies into a front just eighty kilometers wide. Their assumption was wrong, and the Germans launched a powerful attack along the southern side of the salient, spearheaded by the armored formations the I SS Panzer Corps. Hoth's Fourth Panzer Army was tasked with capturing Oboyan, the left flank of the attack was covered by XLVIII Corps, and the Germans made good progress during the first day, with elements overrunning the Soviet defenses at Cherkasskoye, but losses were relatively high. Hoth decided that the Soviet reserves were best to be dealt with sooner than later to avoid putting the entire German right flank at risk of attack. After the Soviet defense lines were broken, he ordered Hausser's I Panzer Corps to strike out towards the northeast and eliminate any Soviet reserves. The SS Panzer Divisions were fully equipped with heavy Tiger units, as well as nearly 350 tanks and 200 self-propelled guns, making the Waffen-SS divisions some the most powerful units at the German disposal. The SS troops moved out at 04:00 AM on July 5, and easily passed through the first minefields which were efficinetly cleared by SS engineers. The SS Panzer units formed a huge armored wedge, or Panzerkeil, the point formed by the heavy Tiger tanks, which were in turn flanked by the new Panther medium tanks, which too were in turn flanked by the older Panzer IVs and Panzer IIIs, as well as the Sturmgescutzen, or assault guns. This formation smashed through the Soviet defenses, and by the end of the day, Hausser's force had penetrated nineteen kilometers into the salient.[1]

The Totenkopf Division advanced along the right flank of I SS Panzer Corps, and smashed into the Soviet 52nd Guards Division, annihilating the Soviet force after bitter fighting, and by the end of the first day, had taken the Soviet 69th Army's command post at Yakovlevo, capturing numerous high-ranking staff officers. The division continued it's advance the following day, pushing nearly thirty-two kilometers into the salient and crossed the main Belgorod-Oboyan road, but Soviet resistance began to stiffen, however, and progress began to slow. The Totenkopf continued it's slow but steady push the next day, penetrating into the salient forty-eight kilometers, cutting off several vital supply roads and rail links into Soviet-held territory. The division received important assistance from the Luftwaffe's ground attack units, including the Stukas of Ground-Attack Wing 2 Immelmann. By this stage of the battle, the Soviet 6th Guards Army had been split in two, but for the advance to continue the Totenkopf had to be released from its current task of covering the corps' flank. It was replaced on July 8 by the Army's 167th Infantry Division, and spent most of the day awaiting replacements. At this point, General Vatutin ordered the Soviet II Guards Tank Corps to launch a counterattack from northeast of Belgorod. The line of attack would have carried the Soviet right into the flank of the Totenkopf and the I SS Panzer Corps. However, the Soviet movements were detected and a massed air attack decimated the Soviet force before it could reach the Totenkops positions. On July 9, the Totenkopf continued to drive through numerous Soviet defense lines, which began crumbling within hours of the German onslaught. The following day the division reached the River Psel. The Soviets became increasingly alarmed at the rate of the German advance, and decided bring up the 5th Guards Tank Army and two tank brigades from their reserves northeast of Prokhorovka and destroy the German armored spearhead units once and for all. To the Totenkopfs south was the Leibstandarte, which had set off on July 5 and made good progress before meeting stiff Soviet resistance after breaching the first line of defenses. The troops of Hitler's bodyguard division, however, considered themselves the elite of the elite, and would allow no obstacle to stand in their way, and redoubled their efforts.[1]

The successes of the SS during the battle of Kursk were not without losses, though. The Leibstandarte suffered ninety-seven killed and 522 wounded the first day of offensive, and by the second day this toll rose to 181 killed and 906 wounded. Despite these losses the Waffen-SS divisions continued to advance, even while the flanking Army units became bogged down. Tank losses were serious, by the end of day three, the corps had only forty Panther medium tanks left of a starting total of 200.[1]

On July 7, the Leibstandarte pushed on once again with Teterevino and Oboyan as it's main objectives. Soon the SS Panzers pushed on to Psyolknee were the Soviets had launched a powerful armored counterattack.[1]

On the Leibstandartes right flank was Das Reich, facing determined resistance. Despite the division's assault troops having infiltrated the Soviets lines prior to the offensive, and were able to quickly eliminate the first lines of defenses, the Soviet artillery barrage that followed the initial German advance caught many of the division second wave in the open, and inflicted heavy casualties, and the panzergrenadiers had to toil forward through boggy morasses of mud caused by heavy rains, and the soft ground bogged down their heavy suppoer vehicles, leaving them to fight without any armored support. Das Reichs primary objective was to capture the village of Beresov. With support from Stuka dive-bombers, the division's troops stormed past the village and then circled around and attacked the Soviet positions from the rear. Once Beresov was secured, it was decided to exploit the success and the advance continued until the division ran into extensive minefields and their advance ran out of steam. The following day, Das Reichs grenadiers struggled through muddy quagmires and managed to break the Soviet defenses and open the main road to Lutschki, and the division's armored formations poured through the breech. I SS Panzer Corps continued it's advance northwards, with the Totenkopf in the lead, pushing aside Soviet forces to the west of Prokhorovka. Just to the east of the town, the main Soviet reserve, the 5th Guards Tank army, was preparing to launch an offensive to halt the advance SS panzer corps, when the SS corps itself arrived and disrupted the Soviet preparations. The divisions turned eastwards, with the Totenkopf on the left, the Leibstandarte in the center, and Das Reich on the right. Desperate Soviet counterattacks managed to halt the Germans to the west of the town, while the Luftwaffe pummelled the Soviets with incesant ground attacks. The Soviets knew that their best chance lay in attacking Hausser's corps before reinforcements could arrive. But on July 12 the German attack was renewed with a massive bombing raid by the Luftwaffe on any identifiable Soviet position. The SS tanks formed their effective Panzerkeil, and the air raid was complemented by an artillery barrage by SS guns. The Soviets were well aware of the destructive capabilities of the Tiger heavy tank, and knew the only chance the T-34 had was get up to point-blank range and try hit the Tiger it's thinner side or rear turret armor. when the barrage ended, the Soviet T-34s charged out at the Germans from their positions with sun behind them, blinding their astonished opponents. In the battle that ensued, many tanks were lost on both sides, with vehicles being completely blown apart, and the Soviets were known to use their thirty-ton T-34 tanks as ramming vehicles once ammunition had run out.[1]

On the left of I SS Panzer Corps, the Totenkopf was hit by two Soviet corps, the XXXI Guards Corps and the XXIII Guards Rifle Corps, and by noon the division's advance had been checked and fell over to the defensive, while Das Reich was facing likewise resistance from the II Guards Tank Corps. By the afternoon the battle was reaching it's crescendo, but the outcome was still in the balance. The Waffen-SS elements soon learned that their reinforcements, the III Panzer Corps had been halted and was struggling to make headway. Even though it would eventually batter it's way through, it would be too late to influence the outcome at Prokhorovka. Meanwhile, the Leibstandarte and Das Reich regrouped in an attempt to swing the result in their favor. The Soviets anticipated this move and committed the very last of their reserves to the battle, and the fighting raged on for the rest of the day until finally petering out as darkness fell, both sides were badly battered and utterly exhausted, and had suffered heavy losses. For the rest of July 13 to 15 fighting continued, but by now the Germans knew they had no chance of success.[1]

Hitler, in the meantime, was becoming increasingly alarmed by the events transpiring in the Mediterranean Theatre, and the Allied landings in Sicily finally convinced him that the elite Waffen-SS was in need, and suspended Operation Citadel, extinguishing any chance of even limited success. Field Marshal von Manstein argued that withdrawing the Waffen-SS from the Kursk area would be unwise, but Hitler adamantly insisted that the I SS Panzer Corps was to be withdrawn at once to strengthen the Italian Front. This action brought a final end to Operation Citadel. Some 100,000 Germans had been killed and losses of vehicles, especially armored vehicles, was a catastrophic blow to the Wehrmacht, one which it would never recover from. Further more, the initiative on the Eastern Front had too been lost, and would never be regained. The SS Panzer Corps was moved into the Kharkov area for a brief spell of rest and recovery, but before it was transferred to the West, General Malinovsky launched a counterattack against German forces in Donetz basin on July 25, smashing into von Manstein's forces against the River Mius and overrunning the German positions. The Totenkopf and Das Reich divisions were rushed south to Stalino along with the Army's 16th and 23rd Panzer Divisions and engaged the Soviets on July 30. After three days of vicious fighting, the Soviet advance was halted and the front stabalised. The situation, however, only worsened for the Germans, when another two Soviet attacks, one around Belgorod and one towards Orel, tore huge gaps in the German lines. The Totenkopf and Das Reich were once again rushed north to cover the flanks of von Manstein's forces. Only the Leibstandarte was spared, and was transferred to Italy.[1]

The Cherkassy Pocket

Main Article: The Cherkassy Pocket
In the second half of 1943, the Soviets went on the offensive along the whole of the Eastern Front. In the south, for example, they hurled 2,000,000 men, 51,000 artillery pieces, 2,400 tanks and assault guns 2,850 comabt aircraft against the weakened Germans. As 1943 came to a close, the Red Army had liberated thousands of square kilometres of previously occupied territory. In addition, it trapped 75,000 German troops, including the Waffen-SS, in the Cherkassy Pocket. It was determined to destroy them, but the Waffen-SS troops in the pocket had other ideas...
~ Exsert from SS: The Blood-soaked Soil - Gordon Williamson

Nearing December 1943, the Red Army renewed it's drive westwards out of Kiev. The Soviet advance had been halted only a few weeks earlier by the combined effort of the German Army and the Waffen-SS, but was regaining momentum. The Germans soon found themselves being swept westwards by the advancing Soviets, with Zhitomir and other towns being overrun by Soviet tide. Some German units were driven back as far as 160 kilometers before the battered divisions of Army Group South re-asserted themselves with sheer determination. Kirovgrad was captured by a combined force of General Vatutin's First Ukraine Front and General Konev's Second Ukraine Front, but only after heavy and bitter fighting against twelve German divisions, one which was the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, along with the Walloon volunteer unit, Sturmbrigade Wallonie. Despite being driven out of Kirovgrad, these units still posed a dangerous threat to the southern flank of the First Ukraine Front, and to the northern flank of Second Ukraine Front. As the Soviet armies pressed forward with their offensive, the German-held salient into Soviet territory formed around the town of Korsun. The Wiking Division's reconnaissance patrols discovered that Soviet armored units had begun to penetrate areas behind the German lines at Kanew at the northeast of the salient, and at Smela to the south. At the northwest edge of the salinet's neck, Soviet armor overran the town of Boguslaw. On January 28, 1944, reports came that elements of the Wiking division were coming under heavy attack near Olschana in the southwest of the salient, and it became clear that the Soviet's were attempting to surround the Germans at Korsun and Cherkassy. As the ring around the Germans closed, a battle group from the Wiking Division wa formed under SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Eberhard Heder, and tasked with holding open the neck out the salinet at Olschana. Heder force was made up of the divisional supply troops, who were mainly non-combatant but were training to fulfil a combat role if ever required. Reinforced by Estonian SS volunteers form the Narva Battalion and one company of SS engineers, Heder's troops held off vastly superior forces around Olschana until being ordered to withdraw on February 5. The Soviets broke through and captured the towns of Schanderoka and Kwitki and began pressing eastwards into the pocket. Having successfully cloed the pocket, the Red Army had managed to trap some 75,000 Germans . At first the Luftwaffe was able to keep the Germans supplied by air until an unexpected thaw turned the frozen ground into a muddy morass, and the ground around the only airfield in the pocket became so soft that all air operations were cancelled. Thirty-five Soviet divisons were pitted against the weakened Germans within the pocket, and under continuous pressure from this force, the pocket was whittled down in size until, by February 9, it measured only 100 square kilometers.[1]

Hitler saw the situation as mirroring image of what occurred at Demyansk two years earlier, and once again refused to allow any break out attempts, instead, he ordered the German commanding officer, General Stemmermann, to hold out until Field Marshal von Manstein could assemble relief force and fight it's way through. Stemmermann knew this was impossible, and with the consent of some divisional commanders, was prpared to accept the inevitability of surrender to the Soviets. SS-Gruppenfuhrer Gille, commander of the Wiking Division had other plans, and was determined that he and his men would not even consider surrender. It soon became clear that no German elements in the area were in fit condition to launch an offensive, and surprisingly, Hitler gave permission for a break out to be attempted, and General Stemmermann received orders to shorten his front lines and concentrate his forces towards the west of the pocket, ready to begin the break out when the order was given. The Soviets detected the German movements and assumed their defenses were crumbling and soon began to hastily announce the destruction of the Cherkassy Pocket, with particular gleefulness over the fact that the Wiking division was about to be annihilated. As part of break out preparations, the Germans destroyed all non-essential equipment and supplies. Only food, ammunition, and the clothes the Germans soldiers stood in were kept. Every man, fit or otherwise, was needed. The Wiking Division's panzer regiment, had all non tank crew members, including mechanics, cooks, and other personnel, form an infantry company armed with only small arms and grenades, a make shift formation that would suffer twenty-five percent casualties during the break out. Once again, the elite Waffen-SS troopers were positioned to take the lead role in the break out. The German knew that the moment the Soviets detected a break out was being attempted, they would close in on the bulk of the German forces at the rear of the advance and attempt to destroy it. The task of defending the rear too fell to the Waffen-SS, specifically the Belgiam Sturmbrigade Wallonie. At the head of the operation, the Wikings Germania Regiment succeeded in recapturing Schanderowka and Komarowka. The Army's 72nd Infantry Division recaptured Novaya-Buda and Chishinzy. Once Novaya-Buda was retaken, the Army troops were relieved by the Sturmbrigade Wallonie, which held out in the face of vicious Soviet counterattacks. During these defensive battles, the brigade commander, Lucien Lippert, was killed and the Belgian fascist Rexist leader, SS-Hauptsurmfuhrer Leon Degrelle took command.[1]

Field Marshal von Manstein was faced with the daunting task of leading the relief force to the concentration of German forces in the west of the pocket. The Soviets had placed two whole Guards armies between the pocket and von Manstein's force, determined to destroy the Cherkassy Pocket. Von Manstein assembled eight panzer divisons to face them, but was frustrated by interference from Army High Command, and ultimately took matters into his own hands, and ordered General Stemmermann to break out. Just as the operation was about to begin, the Germans in the pocket were struck with panic when Soviet armored formations broke through between the 57th and 88th Infantry Divisions, and within an hour, overran Schanderowka. A handful of remaining panzers from the Wiking Division turned back and attacked the Soviets in a desperate attempt to hold them off. Leon Degrelle, in his memoirs, recalled seeing the proud young tank commanders in their black uniforms standing atop their cupolas of their tanks as they rolled to calmly towards the Soviets, and certain death. This action allowed thousands of German troops to be evacuated westwards, troops who would have otherwise been killed or captured. Despite their bravery, not one Waffen-SS tank survived the engagement.[1]

The final break out began on February 16. The Wiking Division was positioned to the south, with the 72nd Infantry Division in the center, and the 112th Infantry Division in the north. The assembly area was around the town of Chilki. The Soviets were initially taken by surprise, but soon reorganized and were awaiting the Germans on the western high grounds. In order to maintain the element of surprise, the Germans did not use any opening artillery barrage, and all artillery and anti-tank guns were disabled and abandoned. Without anti-tank guns, the Germans were soon halted by Soviet armored units operating mostly T-34s, but also the newer IS-2 heavy tank. As the main body caught up with the spearhead units and ferocious battles ensued, most of which saw German troops attacking the Soviet tanks with only hand held weapons. In one incident, a battle group from the Germania Regiment of the Wiking Division destroyed twenty-four T-34s in close quarter battle with only satchel charges and Teller mines. At around midday on February 16, the battles ended as heavy snow began to fall, whipped with strong winds and inducing blizzard like conditions. Burdened with thousands of wounded and female signals auxiliaries, the Germans slowly made their way westwards under the cover of the snow, and most of the ground covered was on foot. The pocket was being crushed even further by ever mounting Soviet pressure, and within a few days over 54,000 German troops were contained in an area only some 100 square kilometers. Eventually the main German column reached the stream at Gniloi-Tilkitsch. Usually only six feet deep, the stream would have been no major obstacle, but heavy snow and rain had turned it into a raging torrent. An eighteen-ton half track was driven into the stream as a makeshift bridge. The water, however, was far more powerful than thought, and the armored vehicle was swept away. Soviet units soon closed in. The Germans abandoned everything they were carrying and attempted to swim across. SS-Gruppenfuhrer Gille made an attempt to form a human chain across the stream, with swimmers helping their non-swimming comrades. gille took his place in the chain along with his men, but even the strongest swimmers found themselves being swept away to their deaths by the powerful torrent. Thousands of Germans drowned attempting to cross the stream, though many did succeed. The ordeal was far over, however. Even after reaching the opposite bank, the soaking wet clothes of the Germans froze to their bodies under minus ten degree temperatures. The Soviets were now fully aware that a break out was underway, and began savagely bombarding the helpless Germans with artillery and rockets. The Sturmbrigade Wallonie was suffering heavy casualties as it battled to hold the pursuing Soviets at bay. At Novaya-Buda the Begian volunteers fought their way through massed cavalry before reaching Gniloi-Tilkitsch, where some 3,000 survivors hid in the nearby woods, awaiting darkness. By now the entire area was crawling with Soviet cavalry, infantry and armor. Fortunately for Degrelle's men, they were able to cross the stream without any further losses. with them they brought the body of their fallen commander, Lucien Lippert, determined his body would not fall into Soviet hands. During the fighting around the village of Potschapinzy, General Stemmermann, commander of the encircled German forces, was killed.[1]

Despite the heavy fighting, around seventy percent of the Germans encircled within the Cherkassy Pocket were saved, some 34,000 troops. The survivors of the Wiking Division regrouped near Risino. The SS grenadiers had only the battered clothes they stood in, their weapons, and some ammunition, all vehicles, armored or not, had been left behind. The survivors were all looking forward to a spell of leave in which to rest and recover, but even this was denied except for the seriously wounded, as the German situation continued to fall apart along the Eastern Front, the Wiking Division was sorely needed. SS-Gruppenfuhrer Gille was awarded the Swords, Oak Leaves and Diamonds to his Knights Cross, while Leon Degrelle received the Knights Cross, and was able to persuaded Hitler to grant the remnants of Sturmbrigade Wallonie a brief spell of leave.[1]

The Battle of Kowel

Main Article: Battle of Kowel

It was suspected that the city of Kowel, deep within the Pripet Marshes and defended by an understrength garrison would the object of Soviet attack some time soon. It was therefor decided to reform and rearm the Wiking Division at Kowel, as it would therefor give the city some degree of protection, or so the theory went. On March 16, the Germania and Westland Regiments began moving to Kowel, while Gille and his staff traveled to the city by air. The city garrison was delighted to have a Waffen-SS division as a reinforcement, but the Wiking Division was now a division only in name, as none of its heavy equipment had been replaced nor any of its manpower losses made up. Gille became alarmed when two of his regiments did not arrive on time. Soon a message arrived that the trains transporting them to Kowel had run into Soviet units. It appeared that at least four Soviet divisions had surrounded Kowel, and the two battered regiments could not fight their way through. Hitler declared that Kowel was a "Fortress City", and had to be defended at all costs as it was major road and rail junction, the loss of which would be devastating for the Germans. The Luftwaffe flew in supplies to the encircled garrison, but because Kowel had no air field, supplies were dropped in by parachute. Gille was declared "Fortress Commandant" and immediately set about training the Army garrison in close quarters combat against enemy tanks. Fortifications and minefields were also strengthened. A relief force was rapidly assembled, comprising the Germania and Westland Regiments, now fully re-equipped with tanks and other heavy equipment, as well as the Army's 131st Infantry Division and Assault Gun Brigade 190. Some 2,000 German troops had already been wounded holding off Soviet attacks, and it was clear that time was rapidly running out.[1]

German High Command therefor decided to launch an immediate counterattack along the main Cholm-Kowel railway line. The attack was to lead by 8 Company of SS Panzer Regiment 5, recently equipped with sixteen of the latest model Panzer V Panthers. This armored force, commanded by SS-Obersturmfuhrer Karl Nicolussi-Leck, would be supported by a battle group from the Germania Regiment with ten assault guns under SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Franz Hack, and in addition, the Army's 1st Battalion of Grenadier Regiment 434 under Hauptmann Bolm, along with seven self-propelled guns would also take part in the attack. The attack made good progress and the town of Czerkasy was quickly captured, and the Germans took over 300 Soviet prisoners. Colonel Naber, commander of the Grenadier Regiment 434, and nominally the commander of the whole attack force, refused to agree to pursue the fleeing Soviets, and decided that the attack force would remain in Czerkasy as darkness approached. Nicolussi-Leck, however, did not want to lose the initiative and agreed with Bolm to continue the advance at first light. The advance continued at day break and Nicolussi-Leck's tanks met little resistance, only two tanks being lost to mines and suffering some delay as engineers cleared the minefield. Bolm now received direct orders to proceed no further, but Nicolussi-Leck no intention of halting and pressed on. Soon the going got tough, as his tanks began to run into stiffening resistance while struggling over boggy ground. Losses mounted, and when his force was only two kilometers outside Kowel, he received orders to halt. Nicolussi-Leck once again disobeyed his orders, as his tanks were already engaged against Soviet units barring the west enterance into the city. The continued to attack, Pushing back the Soviet force and destroying a number of tanks and anti-tank guns in the process before entering the city itself and eventually reporting to Gille's headquarters. Although he had broken into the city, and his Panthers being a welcome addition to the defenses, the Soviet ring around the city closed again, and Nicolussi-Leck having done little than join the entrapped garrison. The remainder of the German relief force had run into serious opposition as Soviet units strengthened around the west of Kowel, the small town of Czerkasy coming under heavy pressure, and in fact, changed hands several times before another company of SS Panzer Regiment 5 arrived to swing the balance in the German's favor. It became clear that the relief force was not strong enough to break through to Kowel, and therefor Army Group Center took matters in hand and despatched LVI Panzer Corps, with its two constituent armored units, the 4th and 5th Panzer Divisions, with orders to relieve Kowel with all haste. Shortly after midnight on April 4, 1944, a massive German artillery barrage hammered into Soviet positions west of Kowel. The following attack was spearheaded by 4th Panzer Division and a battle group from SS Panzer Regiment 5. Contact was made with the German defenders the following day, and German tanks smashed through Soviet anti-tank defenses to the north of the city between Mszezona and Dobowaja the same day, and Kowel was relieved on April 6.[1]

While the wounded were being evacuated from Kowel, a battle group from the Germania Regiment, supported by 7 Company of SS Panzer Regiment 5, battled it's way through the western districts of Kowel and linked up with 131st Infantry Division outside the city. By April 10, Soviet forces on the eastern side of the city had also been cleared, their counterattacks held off by the tanks of 4th Panzer Division and SS Panzer Regiment 5. With the relief of Kowel complete, the weary Wiking Division troops were now able to take some time to rest, although brief, and complete the rebuilding process of their division. The Wiking Division had already earned a reputation for combat elan, even winning the grudging respect of the Soviets. The break out of Cherkassy and the battle of Kowel had only furthered that reputation. Twelve members of the Wiking Division were decorated with the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross for actions during these two battles.[1]

The Defence of Narva

Main Article: Battle of Narva
By early 1944 the Germans were suffering serious reverses on the Eastern Front. The Soviets had finally raised the siege of Leningrad and had driven the German armies westwards into Latvia and Estonia. In this particular sector of the front were to be found the bulk of non-German volunteer divisions of the Waffen-SS. These foreign volunteers made a stand at Narva, and in an epic defence held up the Red Army for six months.
~ Exsert from SS: The Blood-Soaked Soil - Gordon Williamson

SS-Gruppenfuhrer Felix Steiner's III (germanisches) SS Panzer Corps was principally made of the 11th SS-Freiwilligen Panzergrenadier Division Nordland and the SS-Freiwilligen Panzergrenadier Brigade Nederland. The latter was, as it's name implies, made up of Dutch volunteers, whereas the former was truly an international formation, comprising the SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 23 Norge, SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 24 Danmark and SS Panzer Battalion 11 Hermann von Salza, essentially made up by Scandinavians, Dutch, French, Estonian, Swiss and even a few British volunteers from the minucule Britische Freikorps. This force was operating in the same sector as the 15th Waffen-Grenadier Division der SS (lettische Nr 1) and 19th Waffen-Grenadier der SS (lettische Nr 2), both Latvian volunteer divisions, as well as the 20th Waffen-Grenadier Division der SS (esnische Nr 1), an Estonian volunteer unit, the Flemish volunteer unit SS-Freiwilligen Sturmbrigade Langemarck, and Leon Degrelle's Belgian Sturmbrigade Wallonien. January saw the Germans pushed back remorselessly, and by February, the Red Army was approaching the German defensive positions around the ancient Germanic city of Narva. Narva was of great significance to Nazi mythologists, as it was here that the ancient Teutonic Knights had fought against the Eastern tribes and were Bolsheviks had been repulsed on numerous occasions during the Estonian War of Independence. The panzer battalion of the Nordland Division was named after the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights who defended Narva centuries before. The III Panzer Corps had been transferred from the Leningrad Front in December 1943 to reinforce the defenses around the area along the western edge of the Oranienbaum Pocket, held by the Soviets to west of Leningrad on the Baltic coast, which was weakly defended by the Luftwaffe's 9th and 10th Field Divisions. Initially only the Nordland Division was available for action, as the Nederland Brigade was still being transferred up form Croatia. The Nordland Division comprised only some 11,500 troops, but was obliged to hold a defensive line some twenty-nine kilometers long. The Nederland finally arrived on towards the end of December and was fed into the defense lines north of the Nordland Division. The Red Army's units in the Oranienbaum Pocket had been receiving considerable reinforcements for some time, and February 14, 1944, the Soviet 2nd Shock Army burst out of the pocket smashed into the 9th Luftwaffe Field Division, and destroyed it, the few survivors fleeing in disarray. The engineer battalion of Nordland Division had been placed in the foremost part of the front near Ropscha, was all that was able to put up any form of resistance. Despite it's best efforts, the task that faced the SS engineers was all but impossible, and although the Soviets were thrown back by the determined defense on more than one occasion, such localized success could only delay the inevitable, and they were gradually pushed back. By the end of the first week of the Soviet offensive, III SS Panzer Corps had committed the very last of its reserves to the desperate defense of the line from Vitino to Klopizy, as German Army units, decimated by the savage fighting around Leningrad, fled westwards. Although a combined effort of Waffen-SS and Army forces in the south succeeded in throwing back Soviet attacks, the SS troops in Vitino itself successfully rebuffed several Soviet attacks, the Red Army made gains to north and south of the town, and the SS units were pulled back to avoid encirclement. The front was becoming increasingly fragmented, many German units found themselves having to break out of encirclement, but, even though Steiner's corps was being pushed back westwards, it was by no means a rout. On numerous occasions over confident Red Army units, assuming the Germans were in full retreat, were confronted by SS armored formations, which attacked vastly superior Soviet forces without hesitation. At Gubizany, in one incident, a force of over sixty Soviet tanks entered the town only to ousted by a small detachment of the Armored Reconnaissance Battalion 11 from the Nordland Division. The immediately attacked and destroyed nearly fifty Soviet tanks before the remainder retreated. Such localized success, however, could alter the strategic situation, and by January 26, a full scale withdrawal was underway, the Germans mounting a fighting retreat all the way back to the line at the River Luga. Field Marshal model tasked Steiner's panzer corps with the defense of north section of the line on the River Luga. Steiner was unhappy about these orders, and argued that the Soviet penetrations into the line further south had rendered the defense of entire line pointless, and that that it would be far wiser to withdraw further west to the much shorter lines running from Narva to the northern edge of Lake Peipus, and from the edge of this massive lake, an excellent natural barrier, to Nevel in the south. This would allow the Germans to concentrate their forces over a much shorter defense line, but Hitler would not agree, and Steiner was overruled. Steiner was ultimately proven to have been correct when Soviet forces smashed through the German lines at Hungerburg on the Gulf of Finland, attacking through terrain the Germans had thought to be impenetrable and had therefor defended with only weak units. Despite the determined effort of the Norge and Danmark Regiments to hold the Soviets at bay, their pressure soon began to tell. At Padoga, a local counterattack by 5 Company of the Danmark Regiment, led by SS-Obersturmfuhrer Walter Seebach succeeded in driving back the Soviet attackers, albeit temporarily. When his exhausted men return to their positions in the line, Seebach was informed that seven of his men, all who had been wounded, were missing. Knowing what their fate would be if the were captured by the Soviets, Seebach led his men out again and recovered all seven of his men. For these actions, Seebach received the Knights Cross on March 12, 1944. [1]

The Soviets soon renewed their offensive, and one by one the strong points held by the Waffen-SS were overrun. By February 1 all of the bridges over the River uga had been destroyed to delay the Soviet advance, and the Germans began to retreat towards the River Narva and establish the defense lines as Steiner had proposed earlier. In the city of Narva lay two ancient fortresses. On the west bank lay the Germanic Hermannsburg Castle, and on the east banck the Russian fortress of Ivangorod. The River Narva's main crossing was road crossing between the two fortresses, the railway crossing was further to the south. On the eastern bank, the outskirts of the city were to be defended by the engineer battalion of the Nederland Division. Between the river an dthe village of Lilienbach, SS Panzergrenadier De Ruiter was positioned, with its sister regiment, SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 48 General Seyffradt, defending the eastern approaches to the to the central part of the city. The southeastern approaches were covered by SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 24 Danmark from the Nordland Division. On the western banks of the river, Narva's northern edge wa defended by SS Artillery Battalion 54 from the SS-Freiwilligen Brigade Nederland. The main part of the city was held by the engineer battalion the Nordland Division, while the division's artillery regiment was positioned to the southern edge of the city. The southwestern approaches to the city were covered by SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 23 Norge. In addition, a number of battle groups formed from fragmented Army divisions, as well as some polizei units formed part of the defense. The German defenders came under an immediate Soviet artillery barrage upon reaching their positions, and the city of Narva was reduced to a sea of rubble. The continuous artillery bombardment made it impossible to establish a command post, and it is said that the commander of the Nordland Division,` SS-Brigadefuhrer Fritz von Scholz, set up his command post in an old civilian bus, allowing him to move it whenever the circumstances dictated. Two Soviet attempts to cross the River Narva were quickly rebuffed by Waffen-SS troops, including the reconnaissance platoon from the Norlands armored battalion Hermann von Slaza. On February 12, the Soviets did succeed in pushing a sizable force across the river near Ssiversti on the northern outskirts of the city. The situation soon became critical and all available troops were being rushed to this area.[1]

While the Germans continued to battle to throw the Soviets back, more Red Army units were pouring across the frozen waters of the River Narva just to the south. The combat engineers of SS Engineer Battalion 54 succeeded in throwing back this second attack, and the SS artillery began shelling the frozen river to break up the ice in order to prevent any more crossings by the Soviets. The arrival of reinforcements diverted from the defense of the city itself allowed the Germans to encircle and destroy the Soviet units at Ssiversti. The Soviet bridgehead on the west bank of the Narva was eliminated by a determined attack by the fresh Estonian 20th Waffen-Grenadier Division, the decisive assault led by SS-Unterscharfuhrer Harald Nugiseks, who became the first Estonian to be decorated with the Knights Cross for gallantry during this action. Nugiseks was wounded several times during the assault, but continued to lead his men. He was captured by the Soviet a few days later and survived several years in a Siberian labor camp, and lives in Estonia today. The Soviets launched another assault by landing assault troops at Merekula via ships off the Gulf of Finland in an attempt to outflank the defenders at Narva. Although the town of Merekula was soon captured, the SS troops surrounded the area and prevented the Soviets from commnesing their maneuvers. The town was then hit by Luftwaffe Stuka dive-bombers, but not before the aircraft mistakenly bombed a small part of the town still held by the Germans. The arrival of an armored force from the reconnaissance battalion of the Nordland Division allowed the Germans to launch a two pronged attack and eliminate the Soviet enclave. Some distance to the south of Narva at Krivasso, the Soviet 8th Army had established a strong bridgehead over the River Narva from which it would attack northwards towards the city. This area was held by the Army's elite Feldherrnhalle Division, along with the 61st, 170th, and 227th Infantry Divisions. On February 24, the Soviets launched an attack and swept the weak Army units aside and began moving up to engage the III SS Panzer Corps. A blocking force was rapidly assembled from the Norge Regiment and the Hermann von Salza Panzer Battalion from the Nordland Division, supported by heavy Panzer VI Tigers from the Panzer Battalion 502. The Soviets had established two bridgeheads, one at Vaivara and the other at Lipsusig. A counterattackwas launched against them, and although it made good progress, was soon bogged down after it's commander was seriously wounded. A second German force attempted to exploit the success of the first, but too ran into trouble when it's commander was killed. The Soviets struck back and fighting soon degenerated into savage hand-to-hand combat, and only the arrival of some Tiger tanks allowed the Germans to withdraw. This tenacious defense put up by the Waffen-SS troops and the Feldherrnhalle Division held the Soviets at bay for several weeks to come. In late March panzergrenadiers from the Norge Regiment managed to stabalize the area around Vaivara and recapture large tracks of territory from the Soviets. At the city of Narva, the beginning of March was marked by an increase in the intensity of the Soviet bombardment. On March, the Soviets launched particularly savage aerial bombardment that lasted for twelve hours, and was followed by an equally savage artillery barrage. Fortunately all civilians had already evacuated the city and the German defenders were hidden in well prepared bunkers and casualties, in comparison to the severity of the bombardment, were light, considerable damage was sustained by their vehicles, guns and equipment. The bombardments were followed by concetrated Soviet attacks around the bridgehead on the east bank of the Narva, held by the General Seyffardt Regiment. The Dutch volunteers put up a determined defense, and drove off numerous Soviet attacks before launching their own counterattack and driving off the Soviets in panic. SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Wolfgang Joerchel was decorated with the Knights Cross for his leadership during these actions. Another Soviet attack concentrated against the De Ruiter Regiment at the village of Lilienbach. Here the Soviet succeeded in breaking through the German defenses with armored support, only to be thrown back by a counterattack force formed from the Norge and Danmark Regiments of the Nordland Division. Despite these impressive actions of defense, it became clear that the Soviet pressure on the Lilienbach sector would soon swamp the German defenders. This indeed almost occurred when a Soviet tank force overran the defenses and began rapidly moving towards Ivangorod and the main bridge over the River Narva. The arrival of 1 Company of the Hermann von Salza Panzer Battalion, equipped with Panzer V Panthers succeeded in driving off this attack. One SS tank commander, SS-Oberscharfuhrer Philipp Wild was decorated with the Knights Cross for his fearless attacks vastly superior tank forces.[1]

On the night of March 13, De Ruiter Regiment began evacuating it's positions around Lilienbach. The Soviets detected this movement and launched a strong attack while the SS troops were still withdrawing. The regiment took serious casualties, and some companies were forced to counterattack to cover their withdrawing comrades.The regiment managed to establish a new line just to the southwest of Lilienbach, but this soon came under a Soviet attack which penetrated the German lines. Once again, a blocking force was rapidly assembled and thrown at the Soviet force. After vicious close quarters fighting, the Soviets were repulsed and the German line was stabilized. During the weeks that followed, the SS units on the Narva Front concentrated on consolidating their defenses. The skirmishes that were fought during this action were of a minor nature, merely the Soviets denying any chance of rest to come to the Germans. The unabated artillery bombardment caused a gradual increase in German casualties. On June 7 the Soviets began a concentrated attempt to eliminate the defensive positions on the southeast approach to the city, this area was held by the Danmark Regiment. Artillery bombardments and ground attacks grew in intensity until the Soviets made their attempt to storm the German positions on June 12. Despite fierce determination by the Danish volunteers, the Soviets overran their defenses and even seized the defensive strongpoint codenamed "Sunshine", but not without taking heavy losses to SS artillery. A Danish NCO, SS-Unterscharfuhrer Egon Christofferson was a squad leader in 7 Company, was alerted to the situation and quickly assembled the remnants of his company, and without hesitation, charged in to the advancing Soviets force. Fierce hand-to-hand fighting ensued and the strongpoint "Sunshine" was recaptured. Christofferson was decorated immediately with Iron Cross First Class by his commander, and this award was rapidly followed the Knights Cross shortly thereafter. The Germans soon realized that the situation at Narva may become untendable, and began constructing another defensive line some twenty-four kilometers further west. Built on high ground and giving the defenders a good field of fire, the new positions were known as the Tannenberg Line. By mid June German intelligence confirmed that the Soviets were preparing for another massive assault. It was therefor decided that the German positions around Narva would be unable to stand against such an attack, and the III SS Panzer Corps would be better off taking up defensive positions on the Tannenberg Line. On July 24 The Soviet Third Baltic Front, comprising some twenty Red Army divisions was deployed against the defenses at Narva. Even though some German units had already begun withdrawing, a rapidly executed pincer movement by the Soviets threatened to cut off the bulk of the III SS Panzer Corps. Although the Army's 11th Infantry Division held firm in the south, the 20th SS Panzergrenadier Division in the north was gradually pushed back, allowing the Soviets to swing around the back of the city.[1]

The Waffen-SS began to withdraw it's units from the east side of the River Narva as the race to escape Narva before the city was encircled began. In the early hours of July 26, SS engineers blew the bridge between Hermannsberg and Ivangorod. As the dust and smoke cleared the nearby infantry watch in horror as the bridge still stood. The engineers had already returned to their accommodation to prepare for the evacuation, and were unaware of the impending disaster. The commander of the engineer battalion, SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Gunther Wanhofer, had however, stayed behind to watch the destruction of the bridge. He now watched in horror as Soviet troops stormed onto the intact bridge. Wanhofer sped back to get his men but his vehicle broke down and he was forced make his way back on foot. Some other German troops withdrawing from the area too saw what happened and called down some mortar fire on the bridge. The accurate SS mortar teams succeeded in driving the Soviets off the bridge and back onto the eastern bank of the river. When Wanhofer returned with his men to attach more explosives to the bridge, they were met by a ferocious hail of fire from the Soviets on the eastern bank, determined to prevent the destruction of the vital river crossing. Despite the intense Soviet fire, Wanhofer and his men succeeded in placing additional charges on the bridge, and this time it collapsed into the River Narva. By this time the bulk of III SS Panzer Corps was withdrawing in stages to the Tannenberg Line and taking up its positions there. While most of its units succeeded in evacuating, the General Seyffardt Regiment was overtaken by the rapid Soviet advance and cut off from retreat. Attempts by a relief force to reach the beleaguered Dutch volunteers failed. The remnants of General Seyffardt Regiment were divided into small groups, each to attempt to reach the Tannenberg Line independently. Around only twenty percent of the regiment made it out, the rest be either killed or captured. No sooner had the Germans taken up positions along the Tannenberg Line and the Soviets hit them with full fury. The southeastern part of the line was held by the Danmark Regiment, and the Danish volunteers came into a terrible punishment as the Soviets penetrated their lines at several locations. The Soviets were eventually repulsed and the line stabalized, but only after the intervention of the Norge Regiment.[1]

The Tannenberg Line

Fortunately for the Germans, the line for the defensive positions had been chosen wisely and the terrain in the area favored their defense. German defenses were concentrated in front of a ridge of high ground running from the coast known as the Swedish Wall, and around three strategically important hills, Hill 69.9, Grenadier Hill and Orphanage Hill, which ran virtually in a straight line from west to east. In front of the Swedish wall was the engineer battalion of the De Ruiter Regiment from the Nederland Brigade, which covered the entire area south as far as the main highway to the Estonian capital Tallinn. Running roughly parallel to this highway, but further south, was the main railway line. The ground between the road and railway was held by the Danmark Regiment of the Nordland Division. The defense lines ran along the south side of the railway and were manned by elements of the Danmark and Norge Regiments and the Nordlands artillery regiment. The area around Orphanage Hill was held by the Flemish volunteers of Sturmbrigade Langemarck. A number of additional Army units, and even naval infantry took part in the defense of the Tannenberg Line, the latter were to suffer heavy casualties in the days to come. The sector held by the naval infantry was hit first by the Soviets with tank support, and the German positions were swiftly overrun. An immediate counterattack by the Danmark Regiment, which deployed motorcycle mounted troops with Panzerfaust anti-tank weapons drove the Soviets off just as swiftly and the front was restored. On the following day the Soviets launched another massive attack. A force of some thirty Soviet tanks attacked the sector held by 10 and 11 Companies of the Danmark Regiment. The Danish SS troops waited calmly for the Soviet tanks to come within extremely close range before firing their Panzerfausts. Within minutes almost half of the Soviet tanks had been destroyed and the remainder fled in terror. The success was short lived, however, as under the cover of darkness Soviet troops infiltrated the German lines, cutting off and annihilating the two companies. The whole front was now ablaze. At Orphanage Hill, SS-Sturmmann Remi Schrijnen, Flemish volunteer of Sturmbrigade Langemarck watched in horror as a huge Soviet armored formation swing around the north in an attempt to out flank his unit. Despite being wounded, he managed to move his 75 mm anti-tank gun into position. Several Soviet vehicles fell victim to his fire before the rest withdrew. Schrijnen would receive the Knights Cross, not for this action, but for another just three days later, when, after every gun in his battery had been knocked out and the entire crew of his own gun except him had been killed, he operated his single gun against a force up to thirty soviet tanks, most of which were the latest IS II heavy tanks. Schrijnen managed to destroy at least eleven tanks before his gun took a direct hit and he was seriously injured. By July 27 the situation had completely degenerated for the III SS Panzer Corps. Casualties were more severe than ever before, most units having lost anything up to half their strength, if they had not been completely annihilated, including tanks. Steiner partly made up for this shortage of tanks by concentrating his artillery at critical points. The battered SS corps was now faced by at least seventeen Red Army divisions, some of which were armored. Also, the Soviets had repaired the bridges over the River Narva, meaning that their strength increased by the hour.[1]

On July 28 the Soviet drive finally forced the Germans from Orphanage Hill, the survivors barely reaching the next strongpoint at Grenadier Hill. The victorious Soviets then turned south and smashed into the positions held by the Danmark Regiment, and only the intervention of massed German artillery units finally halted the Soviet advance. An attempt by the SS grenadiers to retake Orphanage Hill failed, however, and on July 29 the Soviets renewed their attack with artillery and aerial bombardment. A last ditch counterattack by the SS Panzer Battalion 11 Hermann von Salza with its few remaining battle worthy tanks under the command of SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Paul Albert Kausch, however, resulted in success, despite greatly outnumbered. The sheer ferocity of the attack, combined with the marksmanship of SS tank gunners saw the Germans prevail and the shocked Soviet force retreat. The last days of July were filled with Soviet attacks and successful German counterattacks. Despite having numerical superiority, the Red army was unable to oust the SS troops from their positions. On August 3 a major Soviet attack succeeded in penetrating German positions around Grenadier Hill. This attack was only thrown back by the timely intervention of a battle group assembled from the corps penal company. The disgraced Waffen-SS troops succeeded in driving the Soviets off the hill in vicious hand-to-hand fighting. Following this failure, the soviets ceased attacking and a brief spell of calm came upon the entire line as both sides regrouped their forces to continue the battle, and the only engagements fought for the next few weeks were by small raiding forces, sometimes with tank support, only proved to be a nuisance to the Germans. On August 12, however, larger Soviet attacks were launched along the German lines, but since the SS troops had had time to regroup they were successful in beating these off. These were last major Soviet attacks on the Tannenberg Line for some time, as both sides contented themselves with sporadic artillery barrages on each other's positions. On September 16 the Tannenberg front once again erupted into violence as the Soviet Third Baltic Front renewed it's drive. Unfortunately for Steiner and his men, Hitler had decided that the III SS Panzer Corps was expendable and was willing to sacrifice it in order to deny the Soviets control over Estonia. Despite Hitler's wishes, Colonel-General Ferdinand Schorner, commander of Army Group North, decided that the SS corps was not expendable, and permitted the evacuation of Army Group Narva. By the late evening of September 18, all Waffen-SS units had been pulled out of the front line and withdrawn eastwards into Estonia. The exceptional performance of the SS volunteers resulted in twenty-nine Knights Crosses being awarded to SS personnel for actions in these battles. But no amount of medals could hide the fact time was running out for the Germans on the Eastern Front.[1]


Main Article: Operation Overlord
When the Allied invasion of France took place on 6 June 1944, some of the finest Waffen-SS division were committed to the battle. However, though both the Wehrmacht and SS fought well, the Normandy fighting bled them white, and they were forced out of northern France and pushed back towards the German frontier
~ Exsert from SS: The Blood-Soaked Soil - Gordon Williamson

While German Army units formed the initial main line for defense at Normandy, the entire Waffen-SS force in France was held inland along with the Army's Panzer Lehr Division on account of the shortages of armored units available to counter the allied invasion, which Hitler was uncertain were it would take place. These SS units were the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend and 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division Gotz von Berlichingen, all of which would be dispatched to where they were to be most needed, but only with Hitler's personal approval. The Leibstandarte was located around Bruges in Belgium, enjoying a period of rest and refitting. The Gotz von Berlichingen was located at Tours to the southwest, under the responsibility of Army Group G under Colonel-General Blaskowitz. This newly formed division was still something of an unknown quantity, being untested in battle. Even though it included a panzer battalion in its order of battle, the division itself possessed no tanks, instead only assault guns. The powerful 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich located near Toulon to guard the southern French coast against invasion, the untried Hitlerjugend Division was left to in position to be rapidly deployed against any allied landings on northern French coast. It was located near Dreux between Paris and Caen.[1]

In the early hours of June 6, 1944, reports of Allied airborne landings in Normandy reached the Hitlerjugends headquarters. As no sign of an invasion fleet off the French coast had yet been seen, it was initially assumed that these landings were merely probing attacks designed to establish the state of German defenses, or as feints to draw attention away from were the real attempt might be made somewhere else. However, by 01:30 AM, reports of seaborne landings began to arrive and the division was quickly put on alert. Just after 04:00 AM the Hitlerjugend, Gotz von Berlichingen and Panzer Lehr Divisions were ordered to a state of full readiness. The Hitlerjugends reconnaissance battalion, in fact, had already been dispatched to the coast to ascertain the true state of affairs, and confirmed that the allied invasion was taking place, and therefor at 07:00 AM, the division received it's orders and set off for Lisieux at about 10:00 AM under the cover of cloud and rain. At first High Command was unwilling to allow the division to be committed to battle, but as it had already begun to move, it was allowed to continue to Lisieux, but the Panzer Lehr and Gotz von Berlichingen divisions were ordered to hold their positions. None of the three divisions were permitted to go into action until 14:30 PM when the German units along the coast were in dire straits. Upon arriving, the Hitlerjugend and Panzer Lehr Divisions were to join forces with the 716th Infantry Division and 21st Panzer Division under the banner of I SS Panzer Corps, with orders to throw the invaders back into the sea. As far as the Hitlerjugend was concerned, the considerable time and effort put into planning and preparations was well spent. The division was broken down into independent sub-battle groups, each with its own tank and artillery attachments. Under constant allied fighter-bomber attacks, the division arrived around Caen on the evening of June 6. These attacks had down little more than slow the division considerably. The first major combat formation to arrive was SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 25, which reached the outskirts of Caen at about 22:00 PM, discovering that the city had already been bombed to near desolation by allied aircraft. The regiment's commander, SS-Oberfuhrer Kurt Meyer, immediately sent out patrols and discovered that the outskirts of the city and the vital Carpiquet airfield were virtually undefended. Shortly afterwards, Meyer, received orders from SS-Brigadefuhrer Fritz Witt, the Hitlerjugends commander, that Caen and the airfield must be held at all costs.[1]

Meyer's panzergrenadier battalions would be supported by artillery from the 3rd Battalion, SS Artillery Regiment 12, and by Panzer IV medium tanks from 2nd Battalion, SS Panzer Regiment 12. Additionally, each of these battalions were accompanied by its own artillery detachment and a section half-track vehicles mounted with 20 mm Flakvierling anti-aircraft cannons. These were primarily used as mobile anti-aircraft batteries, but proved to be highly effective in the ground role. The sister to Meyer's regiment, SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 26, under SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Wilhelm Mohnke, had not yet caught up with the rest of the division, and was still somewhere on east bank of the Orne river. The other battalion of SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Max Wunche's SS Panzer Regiment 12, equipped with the powerful Panzer V Panther, was temporarily stranded on the east side of the Orne due to a lack of fuel. It was intended for Mohnke's regiment to attack on the left flank of Meyer's group. At dawn on June 7, British and Canadian units advancing inland made good initial progress, moving through les Buissons and Buron before reaching the village of Authie at noon. A Canadian infantry unit attempted to further the Allied advance to Franqueville, but ran into heavy opposition. The Canadians therefor decided to retreat to Authie and dig in, but before they could do so, they were hit by the Hitlerjugend Division. The German Panzer IVs and the Canadian M4 Shermans were armed with 75 mm guns, making them reasonably matched, despite the many other disadvantages of the Sherman. Despite losing a few vehicles to the Canadian tank crews, the ferocious German assault pushed them out of Authie. German casualties were surprisingly light in the initial phases of the attack, but as the division neared Buron and attempted to drive the Canadians out, they came within range of Canadian artillery, which began a fierce bombardment supported by other Allied tanks and self-propelled artillery. Casualties on both sides rapidly climbed, but the Germans pushed on and drove the Canadians out of Buron. In a desperate counterattack, Canadian infantry, supported by their last few tanks, succeeded in recapturing Buron. [1]

Meyer had committed his 1st and 2nd Battalions to the attack along 3rd Battalion's right flank. On the extreme right flank 1st Battalion pushed northwards for six about kilometers into the village of Cambes, and upon exiting the north of the village, it ran smack into the British 3rd Infantry Division. 1st Battalion had merely five Panzer IV tanks, but despite being outnumbered, the tanks went into action as soon as the battalion commander, SS-Obersturmfuhrer Hans siegel realized the Hitlerjugend troopers were getting bogged down. One tank suffered a mechanical breakdown almost immediately. Siegel's own tank was hit by a falling tree and the turret jammed. Two others received direct hits and were disabled, and the final tank was put out of action when it slid into a shell crater. The SS tankers were somewhat disconcerted to see the tanks of the 21st Panzer Division sitting watching the events unfold, and making no effort to assist. In addition to losing all their tanks, the battalion lost it's artillery liason spotter and thus their artillery as well. In light of these events, the battalion commander, SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Waldmuller, pulled what remained of his battalion back into the south of Cambes and dug in. From his command post in the Abbey Ardenne on the outskirts of Caen, Meyer could see that powerful Allied units were moving into the area, and he realised it would be impossible to continue his advance, he ordered his troops to dig in where they stood and prepare to defend their gains. The young grenadiers of the Hitlerjugend Division had come through their first major combat action. Casualties had been heavy, within one hour, Meyer's regiment had lost 300 men, a dozen Panzer IVs and forty-three tank crewers had been killed or wounded. During the early hours of June 8, Mohnke's SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 26 arrived just west of Meyer's battle group and closed a dangerouly wide gap of some ten kilometers. Mohnke's orders were to launch an immediate attack towards the villages of Norrey-en-Bessin, Brette-ville-l'Orgueilleuse, Brouay and Putot-en-Bessin, all of which lay around the important Bayeux-Caen road, which I SS Panzer Corps would need to use to strike out towards the coast. At around 03:00 AM, Mohnke's 1st Battalion under SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Krause, the SS men initially made good progress, but soon came under artillery fire and were forced to halt and dig in. The 2nd Battalion, under SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Siebken, had somewhat better progress at first, and despite coming under heavy Allied fire, succeeded in driving the Canadian troops of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles out of Putot-en-Bessin. A Canadian counterattack with armored support came almost immediately and the battered SS troops were forced to retreat, as they lacked anti-tank weapons. 3rd Battalion, under SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Olboeter, launched it's attack on the left flank of 2nd Battalion, with objective being Brouay. Meyer's regiment was, however, enjoying a short respite from combat. From his vantage point, Meyer could see no likelihood of any Allied attack, and thus decided to launch his own in the direction of Bayeux, taking some pressure off Mohnke's regiment. At around 22:00 PM Meyer moved off with a battle group support by Panzer V Panther tanks from his Panzer companies. This battle group made good progress until it reached Brette-ville-l'Orgueilleuse, where it came under under heavy fire, A furious battle then ensued, and the SS grenadiers succeeded in forcing their way into the villages. One Panther tank reached the building were the Canadian headquarters been set up before being knocked out. Losses on both sides were serious. Meyer himself was nearly killed when the fuel tank of his motorcycle combination was hit and he was enveloped in flames. Some of his men spotted him and doused the flames. Meyer escaped with only light burns. Max Wunche, commander of SS Panzer Regiment 12, was frustrated that the Germans were unable to oust the allies, and ordered 1 Company of his unit to skirt around the village and try to outflank it's defenders. This ended in disaster though, as several Panthers were knocked out. By June 10, any thoughts of the Hitlerjugend leading a counterattack to drive the Allies back into the sea had been forgotten, as more and more Allied men and material poured ashore. The division, along with it's companion units of I SS Panzer Corps, the 21st Panzer and Panzer Lehr Divisions were very much on the defensive. The Hitlerjugend now covered sixteen kilometers of ground in front of Caen, with the Panzer Lehr Division on it's left flank and the 21st on it's right. The Hitlerjugend was supported by corps elements and had been joined by it's own Nebelwefer battalion equipped with deadly multi-barreled rocket launchers, some of which were mounted in armored half-track vehicles. During the morning of June 11, elements of the 6th Canadian Armoured Regiment advanced towards the Hitlerjugends positions from Norrey-en-Bessin. Directly opposing them were the combat engineers of SS Engineer Battalion 12, which had only been driven back Norrey with heavy losses the previous day. This time the SS engineers would have their revenge. Well deployed in cunningly concealed positions, the combat engineers waited for the Canadian tanks, with infantry riding on their decks, come in between their positions before opening fire with accurate bursts of machine gun fire, and then attacking the tanks with grenades and magnetic charges. Tanks from SS Panzer Regiment 12 also joined the fray and one Canadian tank after another fell victim until some forty had been destroyed to a loss of only four German tanks. Also on June 11, an attack was launched by the Royal Marines 46 Commando, supported by M4 Sherman tanks from the 10th Canadian Armored Regiment. The attack made swift initial progress through the villages of Cairon, Lasson and Rosel to the west of Caen, before running into SS elements in the village of Rots. Furious close quarters fighting developed in which the Marines succeeded in ousting the SS troops form the village, but took heavy casualties in doing so. An immediate counterattack was launched, supported by Panthers of SS Panzer Regiment 12, which swiftly drove the British from the village and claimed several Shermans. However, the British attacked again with fresh armor support, and the fighting raged on through the night and into the morning of June 12. Losses were heavy on both sides. Form the next few weeks the front around Caen fell quiet as the Allies main thrust was diverted elsewhere. One particularly spectacular engagement did occur on June 13, when the German tank ace SS-Obersturmfuhrer Micheal Wittmann, serving with the SS Panzer Battalion 101, equipped with the formidable Panzer VI Tiger. The event happened when Wittmann took a small scouting force, comprising four Tigers and one Panzer IV, on reconnaissance towards the village of Villers Bocage, where he quickly spotted an advancing group of Allied armor. The resulting engagement saw Wittmann destroy twenty-seven Allied tanks and over twenty half-tracks and other vehicles, and escaping unscathed when his panzers were ambushed later. Wittmann was recommended by SS-Obergruppenfuhrer 'Sepp' Dietrich to receive the Swords to his Knights Cross with Oak Leaves, which was swiftly authorized, together with the promotion to SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer. [1]

The next day the situation turned for the worse when the commander of Hitlerjugend, SS-Brigadefuhrer [[Fritz Witt], was killed when a British warship off the coast successfully bombarded the division's headquarters. Meyer was put in command of the division, and therefor became the youngest German divisional commander in the German armed forces, at just thirty-three years of age. On June 26, a massive Allied assault was launched just west of Caen, to British corps, the XXX and VIII, intended to cut off Caen's defenders and signal an Allied break out from Normandy. The attack commensed at 07:30 AM with a massive artillery barrage and considerable air support. In the lead of the British forces was the 15th (Scottish) Division with armored support, and facing them initially was two battalions of the Hitlerjugend. Despite having taken heavy casualties to Allied bombardment, the SS grenadiers held their positions long enough to inflict considerable losses of the attackers, but due air support and numerical advantage, the Germans were eventually overrun. As pressure on the Hitlerjugend Division continued to mount, ever available soldier was thrown against the advancing Allied forces. The SS Panzer Regiment's 2nd Battalion successfully halted the British 11th Armoured Division at Gavrus on the Odon river, but the British made better progress at Mouen, and was on the edge of overrunning elements of the SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 25 when the sudden arrival of Tiger tanks turned the tables on the British. By the end of the day, the Hitlerjugend Division had successfully halted the Allied assault, albeit with horrendous losses in both personnel and tanks, some 700 men killed and SS Panzer Regiment being left with only forty-seven tanks from a starting total of 150. When night fell,both sides took advantage of the lull in the fighting and began consolidating their elements. The Leibstandarte had now arrived from it's original base in Belgium, and the decision was made to move the powerful II SS Panzer Corps, comprising the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen and the 10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg. Despite having taken a heavy battering, and suffering dreadful losses, the Hitlerjugend Division had no other option but hold the line until these fresh reinforcements arrived.[1]

In addition to the II SS Panzer Corps, elements of the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich had been moved up to the invasion front from Toulouse, having butchered the population of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane, allegedly in reprisal for partisan attacks. The first elements to arrive were formed into a battle group and placed under the command of the Hohenstaufen Division in II SS Panzer Corps. On June 27, the British offensive continued, once again with the 15th (Scottish) Division in the lead, supported by tanks from the 11th Armored Division. The British pushed back the weak SS forces and began advancing towards the low slopes of Hill 112, which dominated the area. SS Panzer Regiment 12 was tasked with holding Hill 112 and the nearby town of Fontaine. Despite being battered and greatly outnumbered, the SS tanks held the British at bay. The next day the fighting continued, and still the British were unable to drive off the Germans from this strategic location, and therefor had to satisfy themselves with consolidating their bridgeheads over the Odon river. The British had driven some eight kilometers into German held territory, yet the corridor leading back to Allied held territory was little more than three kilometers wide. On June 28, General Dollmann ordered the II SS Panzer Corps to attack the corridor and seal it off, preventing any reinforcements from getting in, and entrapping two whole British corps. The following day however, the weather cleared and Allied fighter-bombers, along with British artillery, wreaked havoc on the SS panzers. When the German attack finally did commense, it made initially good progress, slicing into the corridor. But once again the sheer number of Allied troops, along with their almost unlimited artillery and air support facing the SS troops, forced them to eventually slow and then halt. The Germans renewed their attack the following day and once again made goo initial progress, but by the afternoon the attack began to run out of steam. The situation soon became so perilous that von Rundstedt requested to withdraw from positions around Caen. Hitler flatly refused and von Rundstedt, along with his subordinate, General Geyr von Schweppenburg, were relieved of their command. [1]

On July 7, in preparation for a new ground offensive, a force of some 500 bombers of the Royal Air Force performed a bombing raid on Caen. The following day, the British I Corps began an all out frontal assault on Caen supported by a massive artillery barrage. All German resistance was crushed by evening. A desperate counterattack by some Panzer V Panthers from SS Panzer Regiment 12, with infantry support, managed only to halt the Allied advance at the very walls of the Abbey Ardenne itself. Despite Hitler's orders, Meyer decided that his only chance lay in abandoning the part of city to the north and west of the River Orne. His fresh faced youths that had confidently marched into battle a few weeks earlier were exhausted and filthy. In Meyers words, they presented a picture of deep human misery. During the night the Hitlerjugend Division withdrew over the Orne. Caen had at last fallen. Just as the division was completing it's withdrawal, the Leibstandarte arrived to relieve the battered survivors. Within just a few days, the Leibstandarte bore the brunt a new British offensive known as Operation Goodwood. after the usual ferocious aerial and artillery bombardments, the attack commensed on July 18. The Leibstandarte responded almost immediately and launched desperate counterattack with the 21st Panzer Division. Although British pressure eventually forced the Germans back, waiting for them was a line of 88 mm guns from III Flak Corps. Tank after tank fell victim to these guns, and the British lost around 200 tanks in a single day. On July 19 the British had their revenge, and annihilated an entire panzergrenadier battalion of the Leibstandarte in the town of Bras after vicious hand-to-hand fighting. On July 20 the Canadians managed to punch their way through the 272nd Infantry Division on the Vassieres ridge before being stopped by a battle group from the Leibstandarte and 2nd Panzer Division. Operation Goodwood was called off. By the second half of July 1944, the situation was nearly untenable, as elements of the Das Reich and other divisions in LXXXIV Corps began to lose ground, The constant combat attrition suffered by the Germans along with the growing strength of Allied forces within the bridgehead as reinforcements continued to pour ashore ensured that the Germans were gradually pushed back. On July 25, the Americans launched Operation Cobra, designed to break out from the Cherbourg Peninsula. Confusion reigned at LXXXIV Corps headquarters and a stream of conflicting instructions were issued. These resulted in Waffen-SS troops making long difficult marches under the cover of darkness only to receive fresh orders to move again, and these fresh orders usually came during daylight, and forced the SS troops to move in the open and subsequently take serious losses to Allied fighter bombers attacks. By the time they finally reached their objectives they discovered they had already been occupied by the Americans, and therefor had to launch furious attacks before they themselves could dig in.[1]

Operation Luttich

Main Article: Operation Luttich

The Germans struck back in early August, attacking towards the Avranches. The first wave included elements from the Leibstandarte, the Das Reich, the 116th Panzer Division and parts of the Gotz von Berlichingen. The second wave comprised the remaining elements of the Leibstandarte, as well as the Hohenstaufen and Frundsberg Divisions. The attack commensed on August 7 and ran into trouble almost immediately. The thick fog and cloud cover prevented Allied air operations, but this did not last and soon Allied fighter-bombers began wreaking havoc on German armor. The offensive fell apart and by August 9 the Germans lost the initiative. The Americans renewed the advance and the Waffen-SS was forced into a fighting withdrawal over the following week towards Falaise. British and Canadian forces continued to bear down from the north, and the Americans drove east from Mortain and Vire and north from Alençon towards Argentan. The German forces in Normandy were rapidly constricted in salient. The corridor, some thirty-two kilometers wide between Argentan and Falaise, was the only passage of escape for twenty-four German divisions trapped in what was already being referred to as the Falaise Pocket. The Hitlerjugend was holding open the northern edge of the corridor south of Falaise, while the Das Reich held open the southern edge, just east of Argentan. The Hohenstaufen Division was holding the line at the line against the British Second Army in the northwest corner of the pocket, while the Frundsberg Division held the line against elements of the US First Army in the southwest corner. By the time the order to withdraw from Normandy was given, over 20,000 German soldiers had escaped the Falaise Pocket, but in comparison some 50,000 German troops were captured, and over 5,000 German armored vehicles were destroyed. Fortunately for the Waffen-SS, the Hohenstaufen, Leibstandarte, Gotz von Berlichingen and Das Reich Divisions had been pulled back before the corridor into the pocket was sealed. The Hitlerjugend and Frundsberg Divisions did, however, take serious losses, the Hitlerjugend suffering about 9,000 casualties in Normandy, well over forty percent of its fighting strength. All of the Waffen-SS divisions that fought at Normandy had performed exceptionally well, but none more than the youths of the Hitlerjugend. The Germans were now permantly on the defensive for the rest of the War on all fronts, as Allied superiority grew by the day. None of the senior Waffen-SS officers had any doubts about the outcome of the war, but nonetheless were determined to continue fighting for the Reich, to the last breath.[1]

The II SS Panzer Corps, comprising the Hohenstaufen and Frundsberg Divisions was moved to the Netherlands for some rest and refit, specifically the area around Arnhem. Little did the Germans know this would the objective of a new Allied offensive in the near future.[1]


Main Article: Operation Market Garden

On September 17, the Germans were taken completely by surprise when airborne Allied landings took place in the Netherlands. The commander of Army Group B, Field Marshal Walther Model, immediately put his forces on the alert. The Hohenstaufen Division was despatched to halt British airborne forces that landed just outside of Arnhem, while the Frundsberg Division was despatched to halt an Allied ground attack at Nijmegen. As well as the two SS divisions, other smaller SS units and a battalion of the Dutch police were committed to the fray. British airborne forces had managed to secure the northern end of the bridge by the end of the first day. The commander of the British force, Lieutenant-Coloenl John Frost, received reinforcements during the night. The Waffen-SS troops, equipped with heavy weapons and armored vehicles, were firmly entrenched at the southern end of the bridge, and despite receiving these reinforcements, Frost was unable to capture the entire bridge. Other British units found themselves in trouble almost immediately. Elements of SS Battle Group Hohenstaufen began their advance from the north of the city, while SS Battle Group Spindler moved into the area around Oosterbeek. Troops from the 16th SS Stammbataillon under SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Krafft, were positioned between the main landing area and the city itself. The Germans soon realized that pushing Frost's forces back from the northern end of the bridge would be no easy task. A direct assault over the bridge by SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Grabner's SS Armored Reconnaissance Battalion 9, ended in disaster, as Grabner himself was killed and over twenty of his armored vehicles were destroyed and left on the bridge. The Germans withdrew as armor and artillery reinforcements arrived. Frost was left running low on ammunition and food, and the British forces intended to relieve his troops were caught up fighting the German to the west of the bridge.[1]

On September 19 two British airborne brigades attempt a push forwards to the bridge under heavy fog. The fog lifted before they reached their objective and were decimated by German artillery. To the west, elements of Major-General Stanislaw Sosabowski's Polish Parachute Brigade landed in the area between the two British airborne forces held by Krafft's 16th SS Stammbataillon and were too decimated. The disastrous arrival of the Poles were followed by a series of equally disastrous air drops of supplies to Frost men, only thirty out of 400 tons of supplies reaching his unit. By now Frost's unit was under attack by Battle Group Knaust, under the experienced Army officer, Colonel Hans-Peter Knaust. Frost had only 250 unwounded men at his disposal, and was also coming under attack by SS Battle Group Brinkmann. Despite his precarious situation, a call by the Germans for Frost to surrender was swiftly rejected. By September 20 the situation had reached a virtual stalemate. A local agreement was reached between the British and the Waffen-SS, in which the British withdrew slightly, allowing the Germans to take over the buildings in which the wounded were housed, and thereafter British and German wounded were treated alongside each other. Frost had been badly wounded and his ammunition and rations, especially water, were running critically low. At around 18:00 PM four Panzer VI Tigers from Battle Group Knaust froced their way across the bridge and met up the Frundsberg troops on the south bank. The tenacious British defenders, however, prevented any more of Knaust's armor from crossing. As the evening wore on, a temporary truce with the Germans saw 200 British wounded, including Frost, were evacuated. At around 09:00 AM the next morning the British force was divided in to smaller units and attempted to break out towards the north through the area hel by SS Battle Group Knaust. Many of these small groups were captured, but a few remained at large for a few more days, and continued to fight the Germans. Further west, British forces at Oosterbeek were faced with SS Battle Group Hohenstaufen and Battle Group Tettau under Lieutnant-General Hans von Tettau. Despite being able to contain the British, the Germans had insufficient strength to overrun them. Battle Group Knaust then took up positions at Elst, to the south of Arnhem to hold off the approaching British XXX Corps which had crossed the River Waal at Nijmegen. Arnhem was now within ranged, and XXX Corps was able to give some artillery support to their airborne troops at Oosterbeek. On September 24, II SS Panzer Corps agreed to a truce with the British and allowed the evacuation of over 700 wounded by the Germans, and a further 500 were evacuated the following day. The lives of many airborne troops were saved thanks to the efforts of the medical officer of the Hohenstaufen, SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Dr. Egon Skalka. The stalemate was finally broken by the arrival of Panzer VI King Tigers form Heavy Panzer Battalion 506. Two companies, each comprising fifteen tanks, were sent block the advancing XXX Corps, and the remainder were sent into action against the eastern flank of the Oosterbeek pocket. At this moment the order to retreat was issued by the British Second Army. At 21:00 PM on September 25, a massed artillery barrage by XXX Corps began, giving cover to while some thirty-seven assault boats of both British and Canadian engineer units crossed the River Rhine to evacuate the remaining British airborne troops. The Germans made no effort to pursue their retreating foe, and the evacuation ended at first light on September 26. After the losses suffered at Normandy, the result at Arnhem was a much needed propaganda coup, and showed once again, that even in in a weakened and battered state, the Waffen-SS was still capable of achieving victory. [1]

Operation Wacht am Rhein

Main Article: Operation Wacht am Rhein
Operation 'Wacht am Rhein' was designed to regain the initiative in the West by cutting through the Allied armies and taking the strategically important port of Antwerp. The grandly titled 6th SS Panzer Army was the main component of the German force, but when the offensive was launched even the vaunted Waffen-SS could not give Hitler the victory he so badly wanted. The end result was a costly battle of attrition the Germans could ill afford.
~ Exsert from SS: The Blood-Soaked Soil - Gordon Williamson

Placed under the command of one Hitler's favorite generals, SS-Oberstgruppenfuhrer Josef 'Sepp' Dietrich, the 6th SS Panzer Army, had been formed specifically for the Ardennes Offensive, codenamed Operation Wacht am Rhein, designed to split the Allied armies and cause total panic among the Allied forces, allowing the Germans to regain the initiative in the west. Despite most of his senior officers, including Field Marshals Gerd von Rundstedt and Walther Model arguing against this highly optimistic and grandiose scheme, Hitler was determined. 6th SS Panzer Army would include the I SS Panzer Corps under SS-Gruppenfuhrer Hermann Priess, currently comprising the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler and 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend, as well as the Army's 12th and 277th Volksgrenadier Divisions and the Luftwaffe's 3rd Paratroop Division. II SS Panzer Corps under SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Willi Bittrich comprised 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich and 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen. Finally, LXVII Corps under Lieutenant-General Otto Hitzfeld, was included into the 6th SS Panzer Army, comprising the 272nd and 326th Volksgrenadier Divisions. Additionally, a number of independent battalions of assault guns, Panzer VI Tigers, Jadgpanthers, combat engineers, artillery and other troop formations were allocated to the 6th SS Panzer Army. As well as Dietrich's powerful force, General Hasso von Manteuffel's Fifth Panzer Army, which included the Panzer Lehr Division, as well as the Seventh Army under General der Panzertruppe Brandenberger, and the Fifteenth Army were also committed to the offensive, along with other strategic reserves. Four days were allocated for 6th SS Panzer Army to attack along the Allied front between Monschau and Losheim, and race for the Meuse river on the stretch between Liege and Huy. The chosen spearhead unit for the 6th SS Panzer Army would be I SS Panzer Corps. The Hitlerjugend would attack from start points at Hollerath, Udenbreth and Losheim, heading for the northern half of the area between Liege and Huy, while the Leibstandarte attacked from Losheim and Manderfeld, aiming for the southern half. At first light on December 16, a massed artillery barrage of shells and rockets was launched all along the American front. Opposite I SS Panzer Corps were a handful of inexperienced US infantry battalions, that nonetheless put up a determined defense. In an offensive where time was of the essence, these small units succeeded in causing significant delay for the attackers. By end of the first day, the Germans had failed to achieve the decisive breakthrough that Hitler had hoped for.[1]

One of the main spearhead units of I SS Panzer Corps was Battle Group Peiper, commanded by SS-Oberststurmfuhrer Joachim Peiper. This unit comprised some 5,000 troops making up 1 Battalion, SS Panzer Regiment 1. Heavy SS Panzer Battalion 501, equipped with the formidable Panzer VI King Tigers. 3 Battalion, SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 2. 2 Battalion, SS Armored Artillery Regiment 1. A company of armored engineers and a Luftwaffe anti-aircraft attachment. Because of the difficulties expected while attacking the American positions, paratroopers had been dropped ahead of Peiper's force to clear the roads. The roads on which Peiper would conduct his attack were difficult to navigate, with many steep hills and deep gullies, and through wooded terrain suitable for defense ambushes. As Peiper advanced, he was infuriated to find the road that should of have been cleared of mines had been left untouched, and at the cost of two of his hafl-trakcs, he had to clear the road himself. After the road had been cleared, Battle Group Peiper pushed on, reaching the village of Lanzerath, Peiper found the 'spearhead' paratroopers resting, awaiting the coming of full daylight before advancing. Peiper stormed into the paratrooper command post and berated the colonel in command and demanded that he release one of his battalions to Peiper to continue the advance. Early on December 17, Peiper reached the village of Buchholz, which turned out have been abandoned by the Americans. Pressing on, he soon reached Honsfeld just before dawn broke and ran into his first opposition. A fierce battle ensued, and almost immediately Allied fighter-bombers appeared in the skies. The Luftwaffe anti-aircraft gunners swiftly drove off the fighter-bombers, but Peiper could not afford the time to clear the village of every American, and so left a few tanks behind with the paratroopers while they seized Honsfeld. Peiper's next objective was an American fuel dump at Buellingen, as the enormous delays and congested roads had left his vehicles already running low on fuel. Fortunately for the Germans, the fuel dump was taken intact, and all of Peiper's vehicles were able to fill their fuel tanks before pressing on with the advance. Schoppen, Ondenval and Thirimont were all captured by midday on December 17.[1]

Some way ahead of the battle group near Malmedy, a pair of Panzer V Panthers and some troops, had surprised an American convoy at Baugnez, and immediately opened fire. The Americans were quickly overwhelmed and a number of prisoners were taken. The prisoners were grouped into a field at the main crossroads in Baugnez and shot. Some forty surrendered and disamred Americans were killed in a hail of bullets. The incident resulted in yet another stain on the already blackened reputation of the Waffen-SS.[1]

While the Malmedy incident was in progress, Peiper himself had left the scene, racing on to Ligneuville. A captured American officer had revealed that a US divisional staff, complete with commanding general, was located in the village and Peiper was intent on capturing them. He arrived merely minutes after the Americans had fled the village, abandoning the meals they were about to enjoy. So close was their escape, that their food was still hot when the Germans captured the hotel in which they had been billeted. Peiper remained in the village for a short period to confer with SS-Oberfuhrer Wilhelm Mohnke, commander of the Leibstandarte, while his battle group continued on. without its charismatic leader, the battle group was however less aggressive. While on the road into Stavlot, a small group of American infantry men set up a roadblock in the fading daylight. As the lead tanks of Battle Group Peiper approached the roadblock they came under fire from an American bazooka. Unaware that their opponents were only a small force, the Germans withdrew out of range and halted for the night. The next morning Peiper caught up with the battle group, and after barrage from the battle group's artillery attachment, he led his men in a fierce assault on the town, sweeping aside the weak US forces. Once again the pressure of time precluded an all out hunt to clear Stavlot of all American occupiers, and Peiper left a small contingent to guard the main route through the town while he and his battle group moved on. Peiper's next objective was the small town of Trois Ponts, so named because of the three bridges crossing the rivers Salm and Ambleve at this location. A planned attack turned out to be fruitless when the Americans blew all three bridges. Peiper was forced to move to La Gleize, which he reached without incident. Pressing on into the town he discovered an intact bridge over the Ambleve near Cheneux. Shortly after crossing the battle group came under attack by American fighter-bombers and was forced to take cover in the nearby woods for several hours until the weather worsened and forced the Allies to cease their air operations. Although little damage was sustained by the actual attack, precious and irredeemable hours had been lost, and Battle Group Peiper was falling further behind schedule. Peiper pressed on to the River Lienne, but as the battle group drew near to the main crossing at Neuf Moulin, the bridge was blown before it could be secured. smaller bridges were capture to the north and south, but were incapable of carrying Peiper's heavy armored vehicles. some troops in half-tracks did manage to cross the river to scout out the opposite bank, but came under fire from American tank destroyers and were forced to retreat. With no heavy bridging equipment available to him, Peiper was forced to withdraw into the nearby woods for the night, leaving a small detachment to guard the captured bridges. At Stavlot, armored reinforcements had reached the few remain American units still occupying parts of the town, and the troops Peiper had left behind were now in danger of being cut off. Despite support arriving from the Leibstandarte, the Germans were unable to oust the Americans, and Stavlot returned into American hands. A supply convoy did manage to get through before the route was cut, however, and reached Peiper's position, boosting the morale of the SS troops. Peiper's force had by now made the most fruitful progress than any other unit in I SS Panzer Corps, and therefor SS-Gruppenguhrer Hermann Priess ordered that the Leibstandarte to concentrate it's assistance to Peiper's force. The division was unable to drive the Americans from Stavlot, despite their best efforts. The Leibstandartes 2nd Battalion, under SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Schnelle, did however manage to get through Stavlot and reach Peiper's force at La Gleize on the morning of December 20. At dawn the same day, Peiper had launched an attack against Stoumont and succeeded in driving out the American defenders.[1]

Peiper immediately sent a pursuit group after the retreating Americans, only for it to run into an American tank force, which was itself preparing to counterattack the battle group. Three Panther tanks were destroyed and the Germans pulled back rather than risk further losses as concentrated American artillery fire came down. Once again, Peiper had to forget any thoughts of continuing the advance as he began to run low on fuel and supllies, and instead focus on securing his gains. Unfortunately for the Germans, they had halted just a few kilometers away from a US Army fuel dump holding some two million gallons of fuel. Elements of Battle Group Peiper were now stretched out a considerable distance, running low on supplies, and facing US formations that were gradually increasing in size, and preparing to launch an immanent counterattack. A few small supply columns that attempted to reach Peiper were intercepted and destroyed, while further attempts to re-capture Stavlot and re-open the supply lines to Peiper's force also failed. It became apparent to I SS Panzer Corps that Battle Group Peiper may have to fight it's way out of American encirclement, but 6th SS Panzer Army's command would not consider retreat, and insisted that the Leibstandarte redouble it's efforts to reinforce Peiper's battle group. Peiper was soon being compelled to shorten his defense lines and concentrate his forces around La Gleize and the river crossing at Cheneux. American attacks increased in intensity and losses mounted while ammunition ran perilously low. The Luftwaffe attempted an airborne supply drop to Peiper's force on December 22, only to have around ninety percent of the vital supplies and ammunition land in American-held territory. La Gleize had by now been reduced to rubble by continuous American artillery bombardment. Peiper's positions were now completely untenable at this stage, and I SS Panzer Corps finally gave permission for a break out to be attempted. The lack of precluded any chance of a fighting retreat, and therefor all of Battle Group Peipers vehicles were destroyed. The SS troops moved out under the cover of darkness, stealthily, abandoning all heavy equipment and wounded. A small rearguard unit was left behind to destroy the last of the vehicles, and the battle group's medical officer, SS-Obersturmfuhrer Dittman, volunteered to stay behind with the wounded. Even though they later became involved in several small skirmishes with American units, the bulk of the battle group reached the safety of German lines on December 25. Despite the complete failure of the mission, Battle Group Peiper had come the closet to completing it's objectives, and Peiper was awarded the Swords and Oak Leaves to his Knights Cross. By December 20, the responsibility for the main thrust into Allied lines was passed by Field Marshal Model from 6th SS Panzer Army to Fifth Panzer Army, in part because of the difficulties encountered by Peiper at the head of the advance. II SS Panzer Corps was then deployed to support 6th SS Panzer Army in a new task, providing cover for the northern flank of von Manteuffel's Fifth Panzer Army.[1]

The Hohenstaufen Division had been formally committed to combat only on December 18, and took four days to struggle through the congested roads to reach the front. Attacking from Houffalize towards Manhay, the route chosen for the division was detected by the Allies and ablocking force was sent to intercept them at Baraque de Fraiture. Extreme fuel shortages along with clear weather that allowed Allied fighter-bombers to freely wreak havoc on the German convoys forced the division into a whole day of almost total inactivity, and allowed the Americans time to bring up reinforcements. Fuel supplies finally arrived on December 22, and by the early the next morning the Hohenstaufen Division was finally ready for combat. The American defenders at Baraque de Fraiture were driven out by the SS grenadiers after several hours of bitter fighting. From Manhay, meanwhile, the Das Reich Division swung left, heading for Grandmenil and sweeping aside an American blocking force with ease. Grandmenil was captured soon afterwards. The arrival of fresh US infantry, however, halted attempts to move further west, as the lead armored units outran their infantry support, and caution prevailed as the panzers withdrew. The arrival of the further US reinforcements saw a counterattack launched against Grandmenil, in which some US forces succeeded in penetrating the German lines, but only to be thrown back out by determined SS grenadiers. Subsequent attempts to take Grandmenil after dark were also rebuffed. On December 26 a renewed effort by the Germans to push further west than Grandmenil began. A two-pronged attack was launched, and coincidentally ran head first into an American attack force moving towards the town. The German arm that met the American attack force on the Grandmenil-Erezee road was halted, but not before inflicting serious damage to the American force. The second arm advanced along narrow roads through heavily wooded terrain, and made good progress until it found it's way blocked by felled trees, before coming under concentrated American artillery fire and was forced to withdraw. Later in the same day, the Americans attempted again to re-capture both Manhay and Grandmenil, and made use of massive artillery and aerial bombardments. Overwhelmed by the sheer weight of US firepower, the SS troops were forced to retreat, and by December 27, both towns were re-captured by the Americans. The Germans were then gradually pushed back to the crossroads at Fraiture. The Das Reichs companion in II SS Panzer Corps, the Hohenstaufen, had advanced along the northern flank of Das Reich via St Vith towards Poteau and Halleux and reaching as far as Villettes and Bra, where it was finally halted by the US 82nd Airborne Division. It then turned south on the opening days of the new year to take part in the effort to eliminate the American pocket around Bastogne, held by elements of the US 101st Airborne Division, where it joined the Hitlerjugend and Leibstandarte for the assault.[1]

They are colder, weaker and hungrier than we are, but they are still doing a great piece of fighting.
~ General George Patton referring to the tenacity of the Waffen-SS troops[1]

By now the Hohenstaufen Division had only thirty tanks remaining, and some of its battalions numbered only 150 or so men, little more than a company's strength. Many sub-units of the Waffen-SS, such as the Hitlerjugends artillery regiment, had been stranded along the roads during the offensive due to the lack of fuel. Although the Waffen-SS troops were in a high state of morale considering their weakened state, they were in no position to be capable of overrunning the stout US defenses. The American lines were penetrated several times by the SS troops, but they lacked the strength to carry these attacks through. On January 1, 1945, the battered remnants of the Leibstandarte were withdrawn from the front and ordered into reserve, and was followed on January 6 by the Hitlerjugend. It was obvious that the offensive was over and, with a major new Soviet offensive brewing in the east, Hitler ordered the withdrawal of the Waffen-SS divisions for transfer to the crumbling Eastern Front. The Hohenstaufen was finally completed it's withdrawal on January 24.[1]

During this offensive, one of the most infamous Waffen-SS units operated, known as SS Panzerbrigade 150. Under the command of SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Otto Skorzeny, this brigade was mostly made up of English speaking Germans, who during the Ardennes Offensive, donned American military police uniforms and operated captured American vehicles, and, in cases where captured vehicles lacked, modified their German vehicles by adding extra plating and painting Allied insignia on them, and infiltrated behind enemy lines and gathered intelligence. While there was not necessarily physical military action, they confounded Allied operations by misdirecting supply convoys and infantry defenses, as well as sabotaging allied plans. When the Americans became aware of the presence of Germans behind their lines, there was much paranoia and pandemonium as one American soldier became uncertain about the next "American" next to them. Rumors soon spread that the German commandoes were on a secret mission to assassinate General Eisenhower. These rumors were taken all too seriously and Eisenhower was kept under such a tight security schedule that even he himself complained about the restrictions. Successful as these operations may have been, they proved to little more than a nuisance to the Americans. Despite this being a cunning scheme, Skorzeny's men had broken the rules of warfare, and were executed as spies when uncovered and captured.[1]

The offensive was closed and it became exceedingly clear, that no amount of effort, by the Waffen-SS or any other Axis force, could stop the inevitable fall of the Reich.

Operation Spring Awakening

Main Article: Operation Spring Awakening
The second half of 1944 had seen disaster after disaster for Hitler on the Eastern Front. Most of his east European allies had either been overrun by the Soviets or had changed side and were now fighting against him. Hitler was determined to reverse the dire situation in the East, and chose his Waffen-SS divisions to be the spearhead of what was to be the last German offensive of World War II. However, the weather and Hitler's ludicrously inflated expectations combined to turn the attack into a rout.
~ Exsert from SS: The Blood-Soaked Soil - Gordon Williamson

The Hungarian capital of Budapest was defended by units from General Otto Wohler's Army Group South, including the 8th SS Cavalry Division Florian Geyer, 22nd SS Cavalry Division Maria Theresa, and the 18th SS-Freiwilligen Panzergrenadier Division Horst Wessel. Although Budapest was well defended, and the Red Army all but exhausted from its peel-mell advance across eastern Europe, it was only a matter of time before two whole Red Army Fronts, the Second and Third Ukrainian, were gathered to smash these defenses. Initially unable to crush the defenders between Budapest and Lake Balaton, the Soviets simply attacked northwards, bypassing the eastern edges of Budapest, and then began attacking from the northeast. After overruning the German defenders the main roads between Budapest and Vienna were cut. The Soviets then turned south along the west bank of the River Danube, isolating Budapest. On December 26, IV SS Panzer Corps, comprising the 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf and 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, was diverted from its positions around Warsaw in Poland in an attempt to relieve the beleaguered city, but the attack ended in total failure, and the Soviets own counterattack forced the Germans onto the defensive. The German garrison in the city held off all Soviet attempts to overrun Budapest, but the end was inevitable. SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Pfeffer Wildenbuch, commander of the defense forces authorized a break out on February 11, 1945. The garrison, some 70,000 men strong, was divided into three assault groups and attempted to drive out of the city to the west. The Soviets anticipated this move and opened fire with artillery and rocket launchers on the forces attempting to escape. The now completely shattered German and Hungarian units were then hit Red Army troops. Of the 70,000 men who began the attempt to break out, only 790 reached German lines. Nine entire divisions, including the Florian Geyer and Maria Theresa divisions of Waffen-SS, ceased to exist. Once Budapest was secured, the Soviets then turned their attention the German held oil fields at Nagykanizsa. This one of the very few fuel sources left at Hitler's disposal, and it's loss would be catastrophic for the Reich. A mere eighty kilometers separated the Soviets from these oil fields, and Hitler decided that only a new, powerful offensive could relied upon to throw the Soviets back over the River Danube, stabalise the situation in Hungary, and defend the approaches to Vienna.[1]

Hitler decided to entrust this operation to his finest remaining divisions, and therefor ordered the 6th SS Panzer Army to transferred from the Ardennes front and with all haste. Orders were issued to I SS Panzer Corps, comprising the Leibstandarte and Hitlerjugend, and II SS Panzer Corps, comprising the Das Reich and Hohenstaufen Divisions, to take up positions at the so-called "Margarethe" positions in Hungary. The transferral of the 6th SS Panzer Army, under Hitler's insistence, was to be performed under absolute secrecy. all identifying insignia was to be removed from uniforms and vehicles, units were given cover names and corps headquarters were not permitted to become operational until their constituent divisions were in place. The measures became ludicrous, as the commander of the 6th SS Panzer Army, SS-Oberstgruppenfuhrer 'Sepp' Dietrich was not allowed to enter the operational area until just before the offensive began for fear that his presence may be detected by Soviet spies. 6th SS Panzer Army was allocated to General Wohler's Army Group South, which was to strike south between Lake Balaton and Lake Velence. It was hoped that the combined action of Army Group south and Army Group Southeast would destroy Marshal Tolbukhin's powerful Third Ukrainian Front. The Germans had good reason to expect the ground in this region to be frozen solid, but the spring thaws had come early, and the iron-hard ground was instead a boggy morass. In this sea of glutinous mud, Dietrich's heavy panzers would simply sink all the way up to their axls, and in some extreme cases, all the way up to their turrets. Prior to the offensive being launched, I SS Panzer Corps launched a lightning attack against the Soviet bridgehead at Gran, northwest of Budapest. Despite the attack being a complete success, it forewarned the Soviets that powerful Waffen-SS units were operating in the area. Soviet high command then correctly predicted that this meant a major new offensive was immanent, and also correctly predicted it's main objective would be the land bridge between the two great lakes, and therefor began pouring reinforcements into this area. Massive new minefields and anti-tank defenses were also constructed. The Germans totally unaware of these developments because Hitler's insistence on secrecy prevented units from sending out reconnaissance patrols lest they be intercepted and the parent formations identified. In effect, the attackers were going in blind, and would suffer accordingly. The day the offensive began, March 6, snow began to fall, further compounded the already atrocious ground conditions. To preserve the element of surprise, the SS grenadiers had been dropped off some eighteen kilometers from their start points lest the sound of their trucks alert the Soviets, who were nonetheless aware of the coming attack, and well prepared. By the time the SS troops reached their start points, they were already soaking wet, freezing cold, and exhausted. Many did not reach their start points on time. This was disastrous, for with no powerful and immediate infantry attack to follow the artillery barrage, the Soviets had ample time to recover. In some cases, armored support for the SS troops had become so hopelessly bogged down that the infantry were forced to attack without it, and suffered horrendous casualties as a result. Despite these setbacks, the SS troops threw themselves upon the Soviets with their customary elan. These divisions were not the mighty formations of two earlier, and had lost most of their best soldier to combat attrition, and the replacements they had received could hope to match those they had lost. Nonetheless, even the greenest of inexperienced recruits were aware of the combat reputations of the divisions in which they fought, and gave their utmost in the uneven battle which developed. Unfortunately for them, such enthusiasm counted for little against the well equipped and highly professional Red Army units.[1]

The Hitlerjugend ran into trouble almost immediately. Moving along the right flank of the Leibstandarte, it's main objective was to capture the Sio Canal. The division hit heavily defended positions at Odon-Puzsta, and these were only the first line of Soviet defenses. Only after a full day of bitter fighting and assistance from Luftwaffe fighters did the division break through. The Das Reich arrived at its start point several hours late, thus losing the advantage of the opening artillery barrage, and was further disadvantaged when it had to attack without armored support. Despite this, the SS grenadiers stormed through the Soviet defense lines and captured several important objectives. Soviet counterattacks were launched almost immediately. German losses suffered in successfully beating these off left them too weak to continue the advance as planned. However, by March 11, the town of Simontornya had been captured and a bridgehead established over the Sio Canal, completing on of the initial objectives of I SS Panzer Corps. The Germans were however feeling the shortages of fuel and ammunition, but not worse than the loss of manpower and armored vehicles. The Germans maintained a steady forward momentum, but began to slow drastically as Soviet resistance intensified. By mid March, the 6th SS Panzer Army had only 200 operational tanks and assault guns, prompting Dietrich to request that the offensive be halted, but such a request was immediately turned down. Along the line of advance was once again Joachim Peiper of the Leibstandarte Division. Peiper achieved good progress, but due to the dreadful ground conditions, there were only a few suitable roads in the area, and the Soviets knew this, and therefor concentrated their defenses along these routes. Peiper threw caution to the wind and continued to advance along the roads, pushing back any Soviet attempts to halt him. Within four days of the offensive beginning, he had advanced some seventy-two kilometers and was within only forty kilometers of Budapest itself.[1]

Despite Peiper's success, the rest of the German force was floundering way behind schedule, when on March 18, the Soviets launched their main counterattack nad smashed into the lead German and Hungarian units. although the Germans managed to withstand the first wave, their Hungarian allies just disintergrated. By March 19 the Hungarians had vanished. A great gap now existed in the German lines, into which the Soviets pushed masses of men and tanks. General Wohler immediately called off the offensive and started to pull his units back to plug the gap left by the Hungarians. It was an exceedingly irate Peiper who grudgingly halted and retreated to defend the main Budapest-Vienna highway. The pursuing Soviets reckoned that the Germans were fleeing in disarray, but they reckoned without Peiper. The Soviet armored formations in pursuit of Peiper lost over 120 of their Iosef Stalin II heavy tanks to the Panzer V Panthers of Peiper's battle group. Nonetheless, it was Parthian shot. By now the entire German line was in danger of disintergrating. Dietrich reshuffled his divisions to cover crisis spots, but as soon as one moved, the area it vacated was almost immediately overrun. Meanwhile, IV SS Panzer Corps was attempting to hold positions to the north of Budapest, effectively the German base line for these operations. At Stuhlweissenburg, the Wiking Division had been surrounded, only to be ordered to hold the town at all costs. The divisional commander, SS-Oberfuhrer Karl Ullrich was not willing to sacrifice the lives of thousands of men to hold one town, and with the help of SS-Brigadefuhrer Sylvester Stadler, commander of the Hohenstaufen Division, he broke out of encirclement. Both men risked death for disobeying direct ordered from Hitler. During this phase of the fighting, the commander of the Sixth Army, General Hermann Balck, known for his dislike of the Waffen-SS, decided to pay a visit to the Hohenstaufen Division. On his way there, he spotted what looked like Waffen-SS soldiers fleeing westwards. On his arrival at the Stadler's headquarters, he berated the Waffen-SS as cowards and a furious quarrel erupted between the two. Stadler insisted that if it was Waffen-SS soldier Balck had seen, they were not from the Hohenstaufen Division. On his return to his own headquarters, Balck grudgingly accepted that it may not have been men from the Hohenstaufen he had seen, and simply blamed the Leibstandarte instead, without supporting evidence whatsoever. The situation soon spiralled. The conversation was soon reported back to Hitler by General Wohler, saying that if the Leibstandarte could not hold it's ground, what could Hitler expect from his other units. The result was entirely predictable. Hitler flew into a paroxysm of rage, which resulted in an amazing message being sent to Dietrich, commander of the 6th SS Panzer Army, ordering him that the Fuhrer believes the troops have not fought as the situation demanded and the SS Divisions Leibstandarte, Das Reich, Totenkopf and Hohenstaufen remove their armbands. In fact, most of the SS troops involved in the offensive had already removed their armbands in accordance with the numerous security precautions invoked prior to the offensive. Nonetheless, the insult was felt by the soldier who valued themselves the elite of the Reich and wore their insignia with great pride. Dietrich was even more disappointed when he heard through the grapevine that in Hitler's raging against the Waffen-SS, Reichfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler had not said a single word in the defense of his own troops. Although furious and saddened at the insult, Dietrich could not bring himself to blame Hitler, to whom he still owed great loyalty. He belived it was because Hitler had been greatly misinformed, and contented himself with sending an emissary to Hitler to explain the true facts. The heavily offended soldier of the Waffen-SS were not as willing to forgive. It is reported that Peiper suggested to his men that they should gather all of their combat decorations together in an old chamber pot, tie their Gotz von Berlichingen insignia around it, and send it back to Hitler. This return insult would have been specially symbolic. The original Gotz von Berlichingen, a medieval German knight, had been famed for telling the Bishop of Bamberg to "Lick my arse". Whether or not this anecdote is true, it does accurately reflect the feelings of many Waffen-SS soldiers at this stage of the war. By now Operation Spring Awakening was in complete disarray, and only a full scale retreat would save the few remaining divisions in the southern sector of the Eastern Front. By March 25 the Soviets had destroyed the German front, opening a gap some ninety-six kilometers wide in the German defenses. With the last major German offensive of World War II over, the Red Army pressed on with its final two pronged drive towards Papa and Gyor. The retreating Germans were forced to abandon hundreds of vehicles, which were either bogged down in the mud, or had run out of fuel. However, the Soviet eagerness to overrun the retreating Germans often led to a lack of caution. Even though the Germans were in full retreat, it was far from being in total panic, and determined rearguard actions were fought to cover the withdrawal, costing the Soviets many men and tanks.[1]

End of the Waffen-SS divisions

By April 2, 1945, the Red Army had swept past Lake Neusiedler and over the Austro-Hungarian border, and by April 4, the last German troops were pushed out of Hungary and into Austria. The Hohenstaufen and Leibstandarte had been so badly battered that they ceased to exist as actual divisions, but fought as small battle groups in rearguard actions during the withdrwal to Vienna. The Hitlerjugend, too, had been severely weakened, and retreated into into the mountainous region to the southwest of Vienna, in and around the Wienerwald, but was forced out this position within just a few days. Of the Totenkopf, only shattered remnants remained, not even battle worthy. The Das Reich was described in a German report as being of "average" strength, but put up a stubborn resistance to the south of Vienna before withdrawing into the city itself, where it became involved in further bitter fighting around the Florisdorfer Bridge. By this time the once mighty panzer division had only tow or three operational tanks left. Elements of the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division Reichsfuhrer-SS had also been involved the closing stages of the offensive around the Platensee. It, too, became fragmented, some elements surrendering around the River Drau, while others withdrew into Austria and were able to surrender to the Western Allies. By now it was clear that fighting would only last for at least a few more weeks, and the prime consideration of many German soldiers was to surrender to the Anglo-American Allies. Few even considered the idea of surrendering to the Soviets, Waffen-SS men in particular, especially considering the atrocities they had committed in the East over the previous four years. The remnants of the Hitlerjugend accordingly trekked some 100 kilometers westwards to surrender to the Americans at Linz on May 8. The few remnants of the Hohenstaufen and Leibstandarte Divisions surrendered at Steyr shortly afterwards. Although the last members of the Totenkopf surrendered to the Americans, their relief was short lived, as they were promptly handed over to the Soviets. Very few of these Totenkopf troops survived Soviet captivity. For the Das Reich the war was over in terms of fighting as division, but it's one reasonably intact unit, the Der Fuhrer Regiment, had one last mission before the war ended.[1]

The Czech capital, Prague, was in immanent danger of being overrun by the Red Army at the end of April. SS-Obersturmuhrer Otto Weidinger, commander of the Der Fuhrer Regiment, a highly competent soldier who carried the Knights Cross with Swords and Oak Leaves, was tasked with the evacuation all German speaking inhabitants of city, as well as considerable numbers of German wounded, whose fate the High Command assumed would be grim if they fell into Soviet hands. Weidinger fought his way into the city, encountering numerous Czech road blocks, where Czech emissaries demanded his surrender. Weidinger warned that he would deal harshly with anyone who attempted to stop him, and emissaries decided not escalate the matter and let his regiment pass. Once in the city, Weidinger was dismayed to discover, in addition to the German civilians who were to be evacuated, large numbers of female signals auxiliaries as well as a full train load of German wounded had been abandoned to their fate in a railway siding. Weidinger set about preparing his charges for transport, and once ready to depart the city, his convoy numbered over 1,000 vehicles. Ignoring the attempts by die-hard SS officers who wanted to recruit his unit for a last ditch attack against the Soviets, Weidinger and his convoy moved westwards. Once again there route was blocked, but they were able to negotiate free passage in return for handing over their weapons, which they, of course, spiked before doing so. Weidinger's mercy mission ended at Rokiczany, where surrendered to the Americans. Many think it is ironic that the final mission of the Waffen-SS in this sector of the East was a mercy mission, which resulted in saving the lives of thousands of civilians, non-combatant and wounded personnel, as opposing the wholesale slaughter that accompanied some Waffen-SS operations.[1]

The Waffen-SS will always be remembered as one of the twentieth century's most formidable, able, cunning, and ruthless fighting forces.

Notable members of the Waffen-SS


Command Structure

High Command

The Waffen-SS were commanded by Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler, but at all times, could come under direct command by the Fuhrer Adolf Hitler.

Army Groups

High Command of the SS came down from Hitler and Himmler to SS Army Group Command, headed by a SS-Oberstgruppenfuhrer (Colonel-General), a usual SS Army Group comprised of three or four Corps of Divisions.


A SS Corps Command was headed by a SS-Obergruppenfuhrer (General) or a SS-Gruppenfuhrer (Lieutenant-General).


In turn, command was handed down to the SS Divisional Command, of which a Corps comprised three to four Divisions. Divisions, made up of usually six Regiments, and was commanded by a SS-Brigadefuhrer (Major-General).


Each Regiment, comprising of two or three Battalions, was either commanded by a SS-Oberfuhrer (Brigadier) or a SS-Standartenfuhrer (Colonel).


Battalions, in turn, were made up of four or five Companies and commanded by a SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer (Lieutenant-Colonel) or, more commonly, a SS-Sturmbannfuhrer (Major).


Companies were made up of three or four Platoons, and commanded by a SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer (Captain) or a SS-Oberststurmfuhrer (Lieutenant).


Platoons were commanded by a SS-Oberstdturmfuhrer or a SS-Untersturmfuhrer (Second Lieutenant), and were made of four or five Sections, or Squads.

Sections or Squads

Sections, or Squads, comprised of ten men under the command of a SS-Scharfuhrer (Sergeant). Each Section usually had a machine gun team or mortar team, and sometimes an anti-tank team or a sniper team, each team, or Stick comprised two men, one usually a SS-Unterscharfuhrer (Corporal). These small units were arguably the most important units on the battlefield for a Blitzkrieg attack.

Ranks of the Waffen-SS

  • Reichsfuhrer-SS (Imperial Commander of the SS)
  • SS-Oberstgruppenfuhrer (Colonel-General) or Generaloberst der Waffen-SS (Waffen-SS Generals also used Army rank titles)
  • SS-Obergruppenfuhrer (General) or General der Waffen-SS (Waffen-SS Generals also used Army rank titles)
  • SS-Gruppenfuhrer (Lieutenant-General) or Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS (Waffen-SS Generals also used Army rank titles)
  • SS-Brigadefuhrer (Major-General) or Generalmajor der Waffen-SS (Waffen-SS Generals also used Army rank titles)
  • SS-Oberfuhrer (Brigadier)
  • SS-Standartenfuhrer (Colonel)
  • SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer (Lieutenant-Colonel)
  • SS-Sturmbannfuhrer (Major)
  • SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer (Captain)
  • SS-Oberststurmfuhrer (Lieutenant)
  • SS-Untersturmfuhrer (Second Lieutenant)
  • SS-Sturmscharfuhrer (Staff Sergeant)
  • SS-Hauptscharfuhrer (Sergeant-Major)
  • SS-Oberscharfuhrer (Senior Sergeant)
  • SS-Scharfuhrer (Sergeant)
  • SS-Unterscharfuhrer (Corporal)
  • SS-Rottenfuhrer (Senior Lance-corporal)
  • SS-Sturmmann (Lance-corporal)
  • SS-Oberschutze (Private First Class)
  • SS-Schutze (Private)

Arms of the Waffen-SS

Like most other military formations in the Wehrmacht, the SS had a series of Arms or Branches which made the main body of the military force. The various Arms were the following:

  • Infantry (Grenadiers)
  • Armoured Infantry (Panzergrenadiers)
  • Cavalry (Kavallerie)
  • Motor Recce
  • Transportation and Supply
  • Tanks (Panzers)
  • Artillery
  • Rocket Artillery (Nebelwefer Grenadiers)
  • Mountain Troops (Gebrigs)
  • Pioneers
  • Signals
  • Military Police (Feldgendmarie)
  • Concentration Camps
  • Medical
  • Veterinary
  • Administration

Order of Battle of the Waffen-SS


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 1.22 1.23 1.24 1.25 1.26 1.27 1.28 1.29 1.30 1.31 1.32 1.33 1.34 1.35 1.36 1.37 1.38 1.39 1.40 1.41 1.42 1.43 1.44 1.45 1.46 1.47 1.48 1.49 1.50 1.51 1.52 1.53 1.54 1.55 1.56 1.57 1.58 1.59 1.60 1.61 1.62 1.63 1.64 1.65 1.66 1.67 1.68 1.69 1.70 1.71 1.72 1.73 1.74 1.75 1.76 1.77 1.78 1.79 1.80 1.81 1.82 1.83 1.84 1.85 1.86 1.87 1.88 1.89 1.90 SS: The Blood-soaked Soil - Gordon Williamson Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SS:TBS" defined multiple times with different content
  2. SS: The Blood-soaked Soil - Gordon Williamson
  3. SS: The Blood-soaked Soil - Gordon Williamson
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