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"In the Shadow of the Elites"
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by Major James T. McGhee

"I swear to you, Adolf Hitler, as Fuhrer and Reichschancellor, loyalty and bravery. I vow to you, and those you have named to command me, obedience unto death, so help me God."

This oath, taken by each member of the Waffen SS, summarizes their unflinching obedience and devotion to duty. Although condemned as a criminal organization following the Military Tribunal at Nuremburg, the soldiers of the "elite" Waffen SS Divisions were among the most effective of the German military formations. These formations included the 1st SS Panzer Division "Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler", 2nd SS Panzer Division "Das Reich", 3rd SS Panzer Division "Totenkopf ", 5th SS Panzer Division "Wiking", 9th SS Panzer Division "Hohenstaufen", 10th SS Panzer Division "Frundsberg", and the 12th SS Panzer Division "Hitlerjugend ".

Each of the SS divisions listed above displayed the attributes associated with those of elite organizations. Although listed among the elites, the performance of 9th SS Hohenstaufen is less publicized than most of the other SS Panzer Divisions despite its participation in some of the most significant battles of World War II. Why does the Hohenstaufen Division reside in the shadow of the other divisions, and does it deserve the title of an "elite"?

The answer to the first question may lie within a combination of many reasons. First, the Hohenstaufen arrived late onto the battlefields of Europe, seeing its first action in the spring of 1944. Second, none of the most notable Waffen SS personalities including Michael Wittmann, Ernst Barkmann, Jochen Peiper, and Kurt ‘Panzer' Meyer, about which many histories have been written, were members of the Hohenstaufen. The division's history also is void of the most publicized atrocities attached to other SS divisions including the 1st SS Leibstandarte's ties to the Malmedy Massacre, the 2nd SS Das Reich's massacre of French civilians, and the 3rd SS Totenkopf's murder of English prisoner's of war at Le Paradis and their direct ties to the concentration camps. Finally, the Hohenstaufen never develop the fanatical reputation among scholars as those who carried the name of the Fuhrer on their coveted cuff titles, as did the 12th SS Hitlerjungend (Hitler Youth) and the 1st SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler .

To answer the second question one must first define what attributes are commonly associated with the elite Waffen SS formations. The title of an elite often revolved around organizations of highly motivated volunteers chosen for their high standards of physical fitness. These soldiers received excellent training, were armed with the most modern military weapons and were led by strong, charismatic leaders. They were aggressive almost to the point of recklessness when conducting an attack and fanatical in the defense. Finally, the elite formations were able to maintain high levels of morale and camaraderie even in the face of defeat. A short history of the organization and combat performance of the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen from its conception in December 1943 to its final battle in April 1945 will show that it displayed the attributes found among the best Waffen SS divisions and earned the title of an elite.

As the tide began to turn against Hitler, with the fall of Stalingrad and the loss of North Africa, he placed a greater demand upon the men of the Waffen SS who where, "an extraordinary body of men, devoted to an idea, and loyal unto death." On 31 December 1942, Hitler agreed to the formation of two additional Waffen SS divisions, the 9th SS Hohenstaufen and the 10th SS Frundsberg . These new formations were to recruit heavily from the 1925-26 year groups, making them approximately 18 years of age. However, the recruitment of volunteers for the new divisions was disappointing. As a result, for the first time, the Waffen SS resorted to large-scale conscription. Between 70 and 80 percent of these youths who met the standards for service with the Waffen SS were conscripted.

As previously stated, one mark of the elites was their ability to attract highly motivated volunteers. This initial conscription would seem to indicate that the Hohenstaufen was not formed as an elite organization. In his book, Hitler's Elite Guard at War, The Waffen SS , George Stein records that the conscription of these youths was met with anger from "parents, ministers, bishops, and cardinals" and as a result of these complaints, the conscripts, according to SS Obergruppenfuhrer Juttner were, "to be kept in training for a month or so and then offered the choice of volunteering or being released from the SS service". He reported, "that there were three who asked to be released out of the entire two divisions. All the rest said, ‘No, we stay!'"

One motivating factor for these youths to stay in the Hohenstaufen was undoubtedly their reverence for their NCOs and Officers. From the beginning of their training, these leaders impressed upon the recruits that they were members of an elite organization. These NCOs and officers were for the most part veterans who had come from the other Waffen SS divisions. They deliberately fostered a close relationship between themselves and their men. Expected to rise from the ranks, Waffen SS officers earned the respect and loyalty of their men by leading from the front and never asking them to do anything that they would not do themselves. For many, this bond between brothers in arms was "the most memorable aspect of service in the Waffen SS".

From the beginning of 1943 through March 1944, the Hohenstaufen conducted an intensive training program at multiple locations in France. Created primarily as a motorized reserve for the Western Front, the training of the Hohenstaufen included special training to counter airborne landings by paratroops. The training emphasis for the Hohenstaufen was very similar to the other elite divisions. It was a rigorous training program that emphasized sport, physical fitness, and above all, field craft.[7] SS veteran Friedrich-Karl Wacker remembers,

"Our training was indeed hard, especially in the divisions that were formed later in the war, such as the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen, 10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg and 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend . These were the last divisions that were able to make use of the relative peace in the West for their training, before the D-Day invasion in June 1944. However, it was very intensive. They all received the most up-to-date and modern equipment but, because they were so well equipped, a great deal was expected of them when they went into action."[8]

At the beginning of November, 1943 the Hohenstaufen was reorganized as a panzer division. With the designation of a full panzer division, the Hohenstaufen received the most mobile and powerful weapons available. In addition to the standard small arms, mortars, flak batteries, towed artillery, and heavy machine guns, they were equipped with Panzer IV's, formidable Panzer V "Panthers", half tracked personnel carries called shutzenpanzerwagen (SPW) some armed with anti-tank guns or rockets, and mobile artillery platforms such as the 10.5cm "Wespe" and the 15cm "Hummel".[9]

Proclaimed ready for combat at the end of March 1944, the 9th SS Hohenstaufen was ordered to the Eastern Front to help restore the front and relieve the German 1st Armored Army surrounded at Tarnopol. They were motivated, well trained, superbly equipped, and although they lacked combat experience, were led by veteran NCOs and officers who were returning to face an old enemy. "The young soldiers watched their Unterfuhrer (NCOs) and officers and listened to them, for these, mostly old soldiers of the Eastern Front, knew Russia and, with their war experience, formed the steel framework of the units."[10]

The young soldiers of the Hohenstaufen received their baptism of fire on the Eastern Front. But like so many others before them had found, the weather was their most formidable enemy. Melting snow and sudden rains turned the roads into a morass, nearly impassable by most wheeled vehicles and extremely difficult for even the tracked SPWs. These road conditions placed a severe stress on both men and machines. A 35-kilometer march could take as long as 14 hours to complete.[11] The road conditions took away the Hohenstaufen's greatest advantage, mobility.

A second problem facing the division was their inability to concentrate their forces. Committed to the relief attack before the entire division arrived at their debarkation station, the units of the Hohenstaufen were committed into the attack piecemeal. They were not provided time to adequately concentrate their forces or conduct proper reconnaissance. Rushed to the front over terrible roads, "They arrived for the relief attack practically straight from the march and ‘with their tongues hanging out"[12] The following description of the roads presents the difficulties faced by those committed on the Eastern Front during the spring thaw. "The highway consumes the material of the vehicles and gnaws at the strength of the driver. The mud of the spring penetrates every seam and crack, mixes with the oil of the machines, and wears the hinges and bearings."[13]

The German attack to relieve the garrison at Tarnopol began too late and was in the end a failure. Only a few of the German 1st Armored Army's beleaguered defenders were able to break out of the pocket. On the Eastern Front, the SS grenadiers of the Hohenstaufen learned that good training and equipment, experienced leadership and high morale were not enough to ensure victory.

During the final days of April 1944, the Hohenstaufen was withdrawn to act as a mobile reserve for Heeresgruppe Nordukraine in anticipation of a renewed Russian offensive. On 6 June 1944, while the Hohenstaufen was refitting in the Ukraine, allied forces began the invasion of Normandy, and opened a second front in the West. The great invasion for which the young SS division had been organized and trained started without them. Within six days, the Hohenstaufen received new orders and began entraining their equipment for a movement back to France. The order signed by Field Marshall Model remarked, "I am certain that you will accomplish your new missions in the spirit of our slogan, ‘No soldier in the world is better than the soldiers of Adolf Hitler!'"[14]

The Hohenstaufen arrived in Normandy with the II SS Panzer Corps and its sister division, the 10th SS Frundsberg on 23 June. Originally, the Corps was to counterattack the British and Americans near Bayeux in order to drive a wedge between the two armies. For this planned counter attack, the Heavy SS Panzer Abteilung 102 arrived to support the II SS Panzer Corps. This unit was armed with the nearly impregnable heavy Panzer VI "Tiger" tanks. The "Tigers" outclassed every Allied tank on the Western Front in terms of firepower and armor. Given their tank's superiority, the well-trained panzer crews arrived full of confidence.

The planned counter attack never materialized. The allies won the build up of troops of men and material and began expanding their beachhead. A war of attrition began in which the grenadiers of the 9th SS Hohenstaufen became involved in a deadly pattern of attack, defend, and counterattack.

The battles in Normandy were far different than those on the Eastern Front. Both the terrain and the enemy they were facing brought many new challenges. Much of the terrain in Normandy was often crisscrossed with fields surrounded by thick hedgerows. Called the bocage, the countryside severely restricted the maneuver of tanks and armored vehicles and limited their fields of fire. Once again, the terrain took away the maneuver and firepower advantages of a panzer division. However, what it did provide was limited protection and concealment from the allied fighter-bombers that dominated the skies over Normandy. Historian George Stein writes, "In the West the SS troops had to face what they bitterly called the Materialschlacht . Against heavy naval fire, unending streams of tanks, fully motorized infantry, superior artillery, and above all crippling attacks from the air, even the determination of the SS troops came to nothing."[15]

The 9th SS Panzer division was involved in the brutal fighting around the city of Caen and perhaps most notably the brutal battles to seize and hold the critically important heights along Hill 112. Here, the men of the Hohenstaufen tested their training, equipment, and their believed superiority as soldiers against the material strength of the Allies. In preparing for an attack against Hill 112, given the name "Calvary Mountain" by the Germans, a member of SS Panzer Abteilung 102 reported, "They began to dig in up there and showed no desire to fight. We waited impatiently for a chance to test our strength against theirs."[16]

The morale of the Hohenstaufen remained high as they tenaciously defended the heights and inflicted heavy casualties on the Allies. The number of Allied tanks destroyed by the Hohenstaufen from their first engagement on 28 June through 1 July included 62 Churchill II and III's, and British Shermans. However, the attacks had not achieved any tactical success and casualties for the division were also high at over 1,800. The Division commander, Standartenfuhrer (Colonel) Stadler, who assumed command on 3 July, reported the following regarding the fighting in Normandy, "With every attack repelled, the confidence of the troops grew stronger, whereas the enemy's aggressive spirit seemed to decrease more and more. Although his attacks were always preceded by heavily massed artillery barrages lasting for hours, his tanks and infantrymen advanced only hesitatingly and very carefully and having suffered some casualties or losses, immediately turned around to have the artillery go into action again. The latter then even increased its intensity of fire, if a further intensification was at all possible. During those days, the enemy artillery fire reached such a pitch that veterans of the First World War unanimously agree, it surpassed even the fire in the trenches during the tremendous battles of materiel during the war."[18] The complete superiority of the Allies gradually reduced the combat effectiveness of all the Waffen SS divisions in Normandy. The 9th SS Panzer Division was no exception. "The best German Divisions were bled white and Germany's youth died! All of the courage, all the bravery were not equal to the overwhelming material superiority of the Allies."[19] The 9th SS Division having sustained such high casualties could no longer be considered a full division. Its two regiment's were combined into one called Panzer Grenadier Regiment "Hohenstaufen".

At the end of July, the Americans began "Operation Cobra" and broke through the German lines along the Perriers - St. Lo road. The breakthrough threatened to surround the German Armies in Normandy. The Pzr. Gdr. Rgt. "Hohenstaufen" fought fanatically against British attacks during the first weeks of August. With the assistance once again of Tiger Abteilung 102, they inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. Tieke writes that against the strong English attacks of 11 August, the grenadiers of the "Hohenstaufen" "stood like a rock".[20] However, their defenses and those of the remaining German formations in Normandy were not strong enough to prevent the threatened encirclement. The Hohenstaufen was ordered to escape and on 18 August managed to avoid being encircled. Its remnants, 30% of its authorized strength, prepared a defensive line to protect the northern flank and help keep open the escape corridor out of the "Falaise Pocket".

The battle of Normandy was lost and the Waffen SS Divisions had paid a terrible price in both men and equipment. The Regiment "Hohenstaufen" had been defeated but not destroyed as a fighting unit. Its officers were able to maintain good order, discipline, and conduct an organized retreat. By the end of August, a general retreat to the West Wall was unavoidable. On 2 September, now Kampfgruppe "Hohenstaufen" fought a successful defensive action at Cambria destroying over 40 enemy tanks.[21] The division arrived in their new assembly areas on the 8th of September near the city of Arnhem. From here the survivors were expecting to reorganize and receive replacements and equipment.

The 9th SS Panzer Division had been in involved in constant combat for over two months. Their personnel strength had been bled down from 18,000 to approximately 6,000, which included severe shortages of officers and NCOs.[22] On 10 September, the Hohenstaufen was ordered to turn over its remaining operational vehicles to its sister unit, the remnants of SS Panzer Division Frundsberg. Two grenadier battalions and an artillery battalion were also transferred. This left the Hohenstaufen with only a cadre of approximately 2,500 men. These men along with their remaining equipment were ordered back to the homeland for reorganization. Before their departure was complete, the British 1st Airborne Division began landing east of Arnhem as part of Operation Market Garden. The remaining grenadiers of the Hohenstaufen , instead of finding themselves on trains back to their homes, found themselves once again in the middle of a great battle.

The reader is reminded that the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen had been specially trained to counter airborne landings as part of their preparation to defeat the Allied invasion of France. Immediately upon notification, the quick reaction companies of the Hohenstaufen organized themselves for action. Their orders were to conduct reconnaissance in the cities of Arnhem and Nijmegen and to defeat the British paratroopers landing east of Arnhem near the town of Oosterbeek. Seemingly impossible, the reconnaissance battalion led by Hauptsturmfuhrer (Captain) Graebner, who at the time of the airborne landings was receiving the Knights Cross for his actions in Normandy, was able to assemble 40 armored vehicles and have them ready for action within two hours.[23]

The quick assemblage of the Hohenstaufen was a direct reflection of the exceptional capabilities of the SS leadership and discipline of the SS grenadiers. An SS officer reflected, "These soldiers were thinking about their families, as everything had virtually been packed for the move to Siegen. The mood was resigned – ‘here we go again!' They were inevitably disappointed at first, but the officers and NCOs were able to overcome this and get the soldiers quickly into action."[24]

SS Obersturmbannfuhrer (Lieutenant Colonel) Spindler exemplified the exceptional leadership qualities of the officers of the Hohenstaufen. At 34 years old, Spindler was the greatly respected commander of the armored artillery regiment. During "Market Garden" he commanded 16 separate ad hoc units. His command, designated Kampfgruppe Spindler, and the sperrlinie or blocking line he created on the western approaches into Arnhem during the night of 17-18 September was according to historian Robert Kershaw, "to affect the outcome of the battle of Arnhem decisively."[25]

The fighting in and around Arnhem was different than what the Hohenstaufen encountered in Normandy. The British paratroops were scattered, lightly armed and possessed no armor. Despite good weather, the Allied fighter-bombers did not provide the British paratroopers with adequate air support. An SS trooper remembers, "It was a wonderful sunny day. Morale was high. There were no "Jabos" like there were in Normandy – we felt we could win!"[26]

The fighting in and around Arnhem was brutal and often fought at very close quarters among the gardens, hedges, and buildings of Arnhem and Oosterbeek. Again, the advantages of mobility and firepower that the available panzers brought to the battlefield were limited. Urban combat is routinely a war of attrition and for many German units fighting in Arnhem including the battle groups of the Hohenstaufen; casualties may have been as high as 50%.[27] After nine days of fierce fighting, the remnants of the British 1st Airborne Division retreated across the Rhine. Of the 10,000 British Paratroopers who jumped or glided into "Market Garden", less than 2,100 escaped. Approximately 1,500 were killed, 2,200 were wounded, and the rest were taken prisoner.[28] Operation Market Garden had failed and the soldiers of the Hohenstaufen had won a well-deserved victory. The commander of Kampfgruppe Hohenstaufen, Standartenfuhrer Walter Harzer was awarded the Knight's Cross to the Iron Cross for his unit's actions. It was the last great victory of the war for any of the elite Waffen SS Divisions.

On 1 October 1944, the Hohenstaufen was transferred to Western Germany to be brought back to division strength. The young SS men, who had trained so diligently in France the year before, had been decimated through the battles of Normandy and Holland. Those who survived were elite veterans, battle hardened through those difficult challenges. These men formed the backbone of the reorganized 9th SS Panzer Division. Replacements arrived from the SS replacement units and many of the original volunteers returned from hospitals after having been wounded in Normandy. Approximately 30% of those who arrived were former Luftwaffe personnel.[29] These men were mostly from staff organizations, Flak units and ground personnel. They were neither trained nor highly motivated to join a front line combat unit such as an SS Panzer Division. The burden fell once again on the young SS officers and NCOs to motivate and train these recruits to perform their missions within the division. "The greatest efforts of our young Komapanie Chiefs were, according to Obersturmfuhrer (1st Lieutenant) Steinbach, required in the correct psychological handing of these men that were coming to us. The transfer to the Waffen SS at first made them shudder, but our warm-hearted and comradely style, our nose for recognizing that here we had to do with valuable men, soon made them part of us."[30]

The division was brought back up to 80% of its authorized strength by the end of October. The real problems were training and the receipt of new equipment. Special accelerated training programs were created but there was a shortage of experienced trainers. Equipment arrived slowly never reaching above 70% of the authorizations.[31] By the beginning of December however, the division was out of time. Hitler had ordered a new offensive in the Ardennes. The Hohenstaufen along with the SS Divisions Leibstandarte, Das Reich, and Hitlerjugend were organized into the 6th SS Panzer Army. This formation was to spearhead the last great German offensive in the West.

The Hohenstuafen moved by rail to their assembly areas on December 12. It had only been two months since the decimated battle groups of the Hohenstuafen had been pulled off the front lines for reorganization. "It's reconstitution as a Panzer Division, albeit weaker than planned, in such a short time and in the face of Allied heavy bombing campaigns, must be considered as nothing short of remarkable."[32]

The Ardennes offensive, later to become known as the Battle of the Bulge, began on 16 December 1944. The Hohenstaufen was initially held in reserve waiting to exploit the planned breakthrough. Initial progress of the attacking divisions was good but the attack soon stalled due to the severe congestion along narrow roads through the heavily wooded Ardennes forests. Severe shortages of fuel brought many formations to a halt. The elite Panzer Divisions that Hitler had placed so much hope in were unable to maneuver and most never had a chance to engage the Americans and were soon pushed back.

The Hohenstaufen joined the offensive on the 18th of December. They fought in the dense forests around the towns of St. Vith and Bastogne. The difficult terrain, poor weather conditions, shortages of fuel and the Allied material superiority in both artillery and airpower once again proved lethal. By the beginning of January the situation was extremely unfavorable for the Hohenstaufen. The commander the 20th Regiment writes, "Through unfavorable circumstances (inadequate training of the men and serious shortages of supplies, in particular clothes and shoes) I have very high casualties; mostly due to artillery and, whenever the weather clears, from Jabos . Yesterday, I received 200 replacements, unfortunately, almost all old men from the Ukraine, some of whom neither speak nor understand German."[33]

The Ardennes offensive failed to achieve its objectives of seizing the port of Antwerp and dividing the Allied armies. The Hohenstaufen like the other divisions that took part was forced to retreat. Once again, the elite Waffen SS Divisions had failed to achieve their objectives. Although no records of the Hohenstaufen's casualties exist, Tieke estimates that they may have been as high as 30%.[34] One of the most notable losses was SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Spindler, the artillery officer whose kampfgruppe had played such a decisive role in the victory at Arnhem. The fighting in the Ardennes had once again tested the men of the Hohenstaufen . "Despite their overall defeat, the men of the 9th SS Panzer Division had nothing of which to be ashamed."[35]

On January 16th, the 6th SS Panzer Army was ordered to withdraw from the fighting in the Ardennes and begin immediately to prepare for another offensive. This time the target would be the city of Budapest and the oil fields of Hungary. Three days earlier, an attack by the SS Totenkopf and SS Wiking Panzer Divisions had failed to relieve the German garrison surrounded at Budapest. Hitler called a halt to the operation and ordered the SS Panzer Divisions of the 6th SS Panzer Army to refit. The German High Command ordered that the divisions complete refitting by the 30th of January.[36] The 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen conducted a fighting retreat back to the Reich until they were relieved on 25 January.

The leadership of the Hohenstaufen Division and the other SS Divisions, after sustaining heavy casualties and huge losses of equipment during the Ardennes offensive, were once again reorganized to conduct a major offensive; this time against the Soviets in Hungary. Replacements consisted mostly of untrained Luftwaffe and Navy personnel.

The Hohenstaufen began its attack as part of Operation Spring Awakening on the morning of 6 March 1945. The attack followed a short artillery barrage and was conducted without the time to conduct a reconnaissance of the area. The weather was poor with temperatures being just above freezing. The snow fell, but the most significant hurdle to overcome was the muddy road conditions. The nemesis, which had been so instrumental in the failure of their attacks towards Tarnopol almost one year earlier, once again returned to defeat them. Like each time before, the Hohenstaufen was unable to take advantage of their mobility. Standartenfuhrer Stadler remembers, "A massed Panzer attack is simply impossible. The entire landscape has turned to softened mud in which everything sinks. Obersturmbannfuhrer Telkamp, a prudent panzer commander, led the most advanced Kompanie personally and had to determine that his Regiment could not be committed because the heavy vehicles sank into the mud. After two panzers had disappeared in the filth up to their turrets, the attack on a broad front by the advancing Grenadiers could only still be supported by one panzer company from the only highway in the attack sector. Since the Russians expected our attack, the Regiment soon received heavy defensive fire from all weapons. Under these circumstances, the attack only went forward with difficulty."[37]

The attacks advanced slowly and the combat strength of the Hohenstaufen division melted away. Russian counterattacks put the division on the defensive. Despite the overwhelming material superiority of the Russians and the increasing casualties, the grenadiers of the Hohenstaufen maintained their morale and discipline, and fought off each attack. Again, Stadler reported, "The Russians attacked all day long in battalion and regimental strength from their well constructed positions. Since they knew the terrain well, the support by artillery, heavy mortars and tanks was targeted and effective. Scarcely was an attack repulsed when the Russians appeared again in another place. The Hohenstaufen kept up its high morale, as it, under the given circumstances, was able to hold of all the attacks and make them extremely costly for the enemy. Unfortunately, our own losses were equally high."[38]

Two of the defining factors of an elite formation are its ability to maintain its morale and conduct a fanatical defense in the face of defeat. In Hungary, the Hohenstaufen sealed their status as one of the elite. Wilhelm Tieke describes the action, "On March 22, 1945, the 9th SS Panzerdivision, under its commander, Oberfuhrer Stadler, fought to the point of self sacrifice. It served to hold a reception position for the forces fighting their way out of the area of Stuhlweissenburg. In relation to this, the history of the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking reads: ‘It must be remarked at this point that the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen played a decisive part in the fortunate breakout of Wiking . Contrary to orders, Stadler had pushed his front as far forward as possible to the northern part of Lake Balaton in order to hold the sector open for the Division.'"[39]

Operation Spring Awakening was a death march for the elite Waffen SS Divisions. The 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen conducted an orderly retreat back into Germany and finally surrendered to the Americans on 8 May 1945. Over the past year, the division had fought in many of the most significant battles of World War II. The familiar names of Normandy, Caen, Hill 112, Falaise, Arnhem, St. Vith, and Bastogne, all appear in the unit history. They fought in the bocage of France, along the dikes of Holland, in the forests of Belgium and the mud of the Eastern Front, and yet the reputation of the original elite divisions overshadows that of the Hohenstaufen .

The Hohenstaufen had fought as well as any Waffen SS formations from April 1944 to May 1945. The conditions under which they fought prevented them from conducting large-scale maneuver warfare so familiar in the histories of the SS divisions that participated in the invasions of France and Russian, and their demonstrated power of the mighty panzer formations during the maneuver battles of Kharkov and Kursk. Regardless, the combat performance of the Hohenstaufen was nothing short of commendable. The division has earned its place among the elite Waffen SS Divisions. [1]

Regimental Composition of the Hohenstaufen Division Edit

19.SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 20.SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 9.SS-Panzer-Regiment 9.SS-Artillerie-Regiment 9.SS-Aufklarung-Abteilung 9.SS-Panzerjäger-Abteilung 9.SS-FLAK-Abteilung 9.SS-Pioneer-Abteilung 9.SS-Panzer-Nachrichten-Abteilung 9th SS Divisional Support Units


The division's original 1.SS and 2.SS Panzergrenadier-Regiments were renamed as the 19.SS and 20.SS Panzergrenadier-Regiments on 10.23.43.

Combat report of the 9.SS-Panzer-Division "Hohenstaufen" 7.03.44 - 7.24.44 Edit

As written by Sylvester Stadler in 1947 / MS # B-470

History I. Introduction

The 9 SS Pz Div "Hohenstaufen" was activated in the beginning of 1943 and received its training in France. Early in the spring of 1944, it was transferred, and committed on the Eastern Front. After the beginning of the invasion, it was moved back to the Western Front. On 20 June 1944, first elements were unloaded between Paris and Nancy and reached the area south of Auney (and) -Sur-Odan in crosscountry marches. On 28 June, the Division was completely assembled and, on 29 June, launched a counterattack on either side of the Villers-Bocage, Noyers road. The attack did not progress properly and finally bogged down owing to heavy losses. On 1 July 1944, it was resumed but did not, however, fare any better than on the preceding day and was therefore discontinued. During the following night, the majority of the divisional forces were pulled out of the front, assembled in the sector of the II SS Pz Corps, and placed at the disposal of this Corps as tactical reserve. On July 3, 1944, I took over the command of the Division, which was organized in the following way:

a. Order of Battle of a normal panzer division of the Army, without the Panzer-Jaeger Abt (anti-tank bn), which was still being activated and equipped in Germany.

b. strengths according to T/O: troops: about 80%, with the exception of the PzGreRgts the actual strength of which was, at the most, 60% and they had rather serious losses in officers, artillery: about 90%, tanks: about 70%, assault guns or Panzer Jaeger (anti-tank troops) had not yet been moved up, vehicular equipment: about 80%.

c.The Division did not receive any reinforcements, either before or after the Invasion, but only in November 1944 when it was being reorganized for the battle of the Ardennes.

II. The employment of the Division as tactical reserve

My assumption of command of the Division was accomplished by 0800 on 3rd July 1944. During the preceding night, the last elements (SS PzGreRgt 19) had been pulled out of the MLR north of Esquy and replaced by the lO SS Panzer Division. The combat units of the Division were assembled in the area of Maizet-Vacognes-Montigny - Division Command Post at Le Mesnil - so that they could be used as tactical reserves of the II SS Pz Corps right behind the MLR and, if necessary, launch counterattacks.

For this purpose, the Division was to investigate the possibilities of commitment in the sectors of the 10 SS Panzer Div and the 277 Infantry Div., determine routes of approach, and move the Artillery Regiment into such a position that it could support counterattacks in any direction and at any time. Within one hour after the Division had been taken over, orders for a counterattack on Maltot, Etenrille and on Baron by way of Hill 112, were received from the Corps by telephone, and a short time later confirmed in writing. So the attack on Baron was to be launched at 2000 and that on Eterville at 1200. Although the time was very short, the execution of this task was still possible thanks to the fact that the 20th SS PzGreRgt. was not too far away and that a tank battalion, together with the artillery, could support the operation from the positions they were in at the time. The units just mentioned received their orders accordingly by telephone and, after hasty assembly into position, were able to launch the counterattack at about 1300. Around Maltot a vigorous battle developed, in which reorganized elements of the 12 SS Pz Div. which had been forced back early that morning from Eterville and Maltot - participated, on our side.

At about 1500, Maltot was again in our hands. Tne enemy answered with increased air activity and concentrated very strong artillery fire on Maltot. In these circumstances, it was out of the question to continue the counterattack on Eterville by daylight, inspite of the support given by the entire Corps Artillery, which, however, consisted only of a few sudden concentrations. Therefore the Division ordered an attack on Baron to be launched at 2000, together with other elements. In the meantime, the CP had been transferred to the group of farm houses, one kilometer northwest of Grimbosq. The advanced Division CP was located in the thicket one kilometer northwest of Bully.

Concentration of the Division was greatly impeded and delayed by serious traffic jams on roads, harassing fire from the enemy artillery directed on villages along the routes of advance, and on road junctions, as well as by the strong enemy air activity. In addition to that, the enemy managed at about 1800 to capture height 112, which dominated the entire Corps sector. Thereupon the mission assigned to the Division was altered by the Corps, to the effect thatonly height 112, and later Eterville, had to be recaptured.

Having changed the combat plan accordingly, the counterattack was now launched at about 2100, (line of departure time). In spite of the extremely strong enemy artillery fire, our forces advanced toward Eterville ard those operating in the area between Eterville and height 112, made good progress. Eterville was recaptured toward 0100. However, it was impossible to get near height 112 because of the concentrated artillery fire maintained for hours by all the enemy's heavy weapons. It was not until daybreak that the wooded strip of land- in other words, the southern edge of the plateau on this height could be taken. Thus the gap torn open in the MLR on the preceding day had been closed again and the mission assigned to the Division accomplished. Height 112 was no longer defended in the same way as before, i.e. on the northern edge of the plateau; the Division ordered the construction of a new main line of resistance in the southern part of the plateau, near the northern edge of the wooded strip of land, continuing toward the west, a line which was not visible to the enemy.

In the course of the forenoon the enemy, in turn, resumed his attacks and managed to take Eterville once again, whereas his attacks on height 112 were repelled with considerable losses. A counterattack launched immediately on Eterville succeeded and, by noon, the village was again in our hands. An extremely heavy and fluctuating battle ensued aftenwards for the ruins of Eterville, which place changed hands repeatedly until, finally, it was firmly in our possession late in the evening of 4 July 1944. The losses suffered during these engagements in the rocky terrain offering almost no cover, were considerable (Grenadiers about 10%), and mainly caused, of course, by the excessively strong artillery fire, which could be countered by next to nothing from our side, since only some 700 rounds of ammunition were available for the entire attack on 4 July. Nevertheless, the Pz Bn operating near Eterville managed to destroy 12-14 enemy vehicles, whereas they lost only 2 tanks. Thus, it could be figured out that the enemy losses were at least as high as ours.

The complete difference between the Eastern and the Western Theaters, became evident already during the first commitment of the Division. While on the Eastern Front, numbers were always the decisive element in an attack, the Allied infantry on the Western Front restricted itself to the execution of swift and short thrusts after heavy use of air, artillery, and armored forces. This employment of supporting weapons with unprecedented expenditure of ammunition was according to our conceptions up to that time, out of all proportion to the terrain gained, which, in spite of all, was often recaptured right afterwards in a counterthrust or counterattack. On the other hand, of course, this manner of fighting reduced the enemy losses of manpower to a minimum, whereas on our side, even the best-trained and best-equipped division was gradually battered down in the long run owing to the shortage of armunition. If the enemy had only had the same amount of arrmunition, he would, incidentally, not have achieved this success either.

During the following night of 4/5 July 1944, the Division was relieved on the eastern sector by elements of the 12 SS Pz Div and on the western sector by the 10 SS Pz Div. Thereupon, the divisional forces were reassembled for the same purpose and in almost the same area as on 3 July. They were also assigned the additional task of constructing prepared positions in the rear in the line along the course of the stream and along the heights south of it, and occupying the line with weak forces. The Pz Pion Bn (armored engineer battalion) was put in charge of the construction of this position. In addition, from each SS Pz Gre Rgt, one Grenadier battalion was used for the task. the Artillery Rgt was ordered to move into such a position that all important points before the entire corps sector could be covered by concentrated fire. All other units were to repair weapons and equipment with all available means, and give their men a good rest.

On 6 July, the enemy resumed his attacks, this time along the road running from Caen to Noyers. To meet this attack, the Division had to assign the PzA.A. (armored reconnaissance battalion) to the 277 Inf Div. The Battalion managed to recapture Noyers in a counterattack and, for the time being, remained with the 277 Infantry Division.

Early in the morning of 7 July 1944, the enemy opened an attack on Gavrus and Bougny. Both localities were lost. An immediate counterattack by the Fusilier Battalion of the 277 Inf Div was brought to a standstill in the wooded area just south of Bougy, with heavy losses. The Division had no other forces at its disposal. Thereupon, 9 SS Panter Div was alerted and ordered to recapture the villages of Gavrus and Bougy and restore the previous main line of resistance. The Division assigned the 19 SS Pz Gre Rgt the task of retaking Rougy, by way of Locheur, along the course of the stream, in order to reoccupy Garvus afterwards, using the same route. This attack was supported by an armored battalion (of about 15-20 vehicles) and by the Artillery Rgt which, however, had at the upmost some 600 rounds of armmunition left. Also the corps artillery was ordered to support the action by some sudden concentrations of fire.

After hasty assembly, the counterattack was launched around 1100 and at about 1400, Bougy was again in our hands. One hour later, Garvus was also recaptured despite the enemy artillery, which unremittingly pounded both villages and the woods around them. This inflicted high losses on the 19 SS PzGre Rgt, approximately 15%, and, of course, especially on the battalion fighting in and around Garvus. In the evening, the British again attacked the Garvus at about 1900 and- after having disabled several of our armored cars, although without putting them out of action, managed to throw our elements out of the village. An immediate counterattack from Bougy was repelled by the enemy who, almost undisturbed by the German forces owing to their lack of amnunition, continously moved up reinforcements from the woods north of Garvus.

III. The employment of the Division for Defense

Once the enemy had also reached the area west of the Odon, thus pushing into the flank of the attacking 19 SS Pz Gre Rgt, any further fighting for Garvus became entirely meaningless for the time being. With the approval of the Corps, the Division therefore ordered the construction of a new main line of resistance along the wooded strip of land north of Bougy in a terrain relatively favorable for the purpose. In spite of all the efforts made by the brave Grenadiers, and the men from the armored units, they could not manage to completely restore the old main line of resistance. Moreover, the Division, already badly reduced on the Eastern Front, had lost almost 1/3 of its fighting strength during the last three counterattacks.

It is easy to figure out how long a unit can hold out in such extremely severe conditions of fighting. Besides, it was absolutely clear that the infantry divisions of the Corps committed to the main line of resistance, were neither adequately equipped nor sufficiently trained for the purpose of warding off enemy tank attacks. This would have resulted in further counterattacks of the 9th SS Pz Div, which would have been at least as costly as the previous ones, and the execution of which would have been more difficult on account of the continuous lack of ammunition for all heavy arms and the artillery.

Moreover, to cope with the difficult situations after enemy penetrations, the counterattacks always had to be launched in great hurry and often without the necessary preparations and without moving the forces into assembly positions. Therefore, it was suggested that the Division no longer be committed as tactical reserve, but used for defense, although this did not exactly come up to the combat principles of an armored division. The corps approved the suggestion and on 8 or 9 July 1944, the Division took over the sector Height 112 -- Odon. Elements of the 277 Inf Div committed up to that time on that sector, remained in the main line of resistance and were subordinated to the 9th SS Pz Div. As to the course of the main line of resistance and the commitment of the troops, the main battle line ran from Height 112 (southeast of Caen) and by the Odon River to just west of Noyes.

During the following days, the enemy tried time and again to attack Height 112, or Height 113 or in the dip between these heights, or towards Bougy in order to effect a breakthrough by way of Evrecy. This was confirmed by written orders found in abandoned British tanks. By good luck -- or perhaps owing to his heavy losses -- the enemy did not resume his attacks on the following day. Now all men available, including those of all supply troops were set to digging trenches. Thus, the Division had the opportunity of consolidating its positions, if only in a makeshift way, as the terrain was completely rocky, making it almost impossible to work with normal entrenching tools. therefore, it was necesary to bring up heavy entrenching tools from the supply dumps far behind the front or from the O.T. units (Todt organization). Night after night, the Pioneer Bn was busy blasting combat posts, dugouts, and communications trenches out of the rocks, and laying mine fields of all sorts in front of certain points of the sector which were particularly endangered. Later the enemy resumed his attacks on the above mentioned objectives, our troops managed to repulse all of them, all though the enemy rose to three or even four attacks on certain days.

With every attack repelled, the confidence of the troops grew stronger, whereas the enemy's aggressive spirit seemed to decrease more and more. Although his attacks were always preceded by heavily massed artillery barrages lasting for hours, his tanks and infantrymen advanced only hesitatingly and very carefully and having suffered some casualties or losses, immediately turned around to have the artillery go into action again. Tne latter then even increased its intensity of fire, if a further intensification was at all possible. During those days, the enemy artillery fire reached such a pitch that veterans of the First World War unanimously agree, it surpassed even the fire in the trenches during the tremendous battles of materiel during that war.

Nevertheless, the majority of the men, with the exception of the very young, inexperienced ones, somehow got used to this fact, be it by callousness toward the permanent danger of death, by indifference or by the constant repetition in the pattern of the enemy artillery fire. It must be emphasized that it did, however, have a tremendous effect on the morale of all troops. Everybody almost automatically went by the fact that during certain periods, such as, 0700-0900, 1300-1500, and at night from about 0200 till about 0400, the enemy ceased firing, unless he planned to launch an attack during one of these periods. In a similar way, every messenger, supply or ammunition driver knew exactly at what time he could safely pass through a village or cross a road junction, since these targets were regularly fired upon in a certain order of succession. It was even possible to distinguish the particular artillery regiments, because as a rule whole regiments concentrated its fire on such targets (making it possible to ascertain which of the enemy's previously located artillery regiments were doing the firing).

Although these concentrations were all directed, they became almost pointless after the first few days, since nobody remained in those places any longer than absolutely necessary. This is also the reason why our losses decreased every day, in spite of the daily increasing artillery fire of the enemy. However, these losses were still high and crippling for our battered divisions, although, during the last few days, they numbered not more than some 30 to 40 casualties within the entire Division (of which 10% were killed). These losses were all the more insignificant considering the fact that, on an average, according to estimates at the time, the enemy covered the Divisions sector with approximately 25,000 to 30,000 rounds, which could be countered by 800 to 900 rounds only from our side. Our smaller amount of ammunition could, of course, only be used when controlled by careful observation or only for really worthwhile concentrations, or absolutely necessary barrages and destruction fire in the event of enemy attacks. Counter-battery fire was almost out of the question, although the enemy's superiority imperatively demanded it every day. Only in a few cases could the Division's Flak Bn be used for this task, as this was constantly kept busy by the strong enemy air activity. This absolute artillery superiority caused a real direction-finder psychosis all over the area (Peilpsychose*), but especially in the sector of the Grenadiers who bore the brunt of the fire. This complex reached a point where the infantryman told any artillery observer or any signal man who tried to radio near him to change position immediately as he was afraid the enemy would locate the radio and concentrate fire on it. In our army, the technique of locating was not developed to such perfection that this would have been possible. I never heard either, that the enemy was more advanced in that respect. Generally speaking it may, finally, be said that the use of the artillery by the British was definitely much more powerful and oppressive than the enemy air superiority, simply because the artillery had quite a different effect.

(*Peil Psychose: Soldiers feared the proximity of radio transmitters as enemy could detect there whereabouts, and concentrated artillery fire on the spot detected. This fear was very widespread and took the form of a complex so that it was called "Peil Psychose".)

The reason why the front near Caen could be held over such a long period of time has not only to be sought in the fact that the enemy did not at all take full advantage of his great superiority with regard to both manpower and materiel, but has also to be attributed to the bravery of the men defending that front, who believed in great things. A serious crisis occurred only once on the occasion of a concentrated attack carried out by British armored troops with some 40 to 50 tanks late in the evening of 16 or 17 July 1944, on Height 113. All day, the enemy had pounded the hill with undiminished intensity and covered it with a smokescreen. Sometimes, the smoke was so dense that the majority of the troops felt sick and therefore believed that the enemy was using gas. An immediate investigation proved that this was incorrect. Besides the physical discomfort caused by this heavy smoke, the visibility was very bad, the result of which was that the troops became rather nervous and overstrained, as it was impossible to see what was going on ahead of the positions. With the duration of the smoke-shell firing, the situation naturally grew worse and worse. On the occasion concerned, the firing was maintained all day. At about 2100, enemy forces all of a sudden appeared with tanks in the main line of resistance and managed to break through on a width of 400 - 500 meters just east of Height 113. Tne Grenadiers comnitted on that part of the front (about 50 to 60 men) were all taken prisoner. Our own tanks, a battalion of about 15 to 20 tanks, were located on the rear slope of the hill and noticed the enemy only at the very last moment, either on account of the dense smoke, or perhaps owing to the swift and surprising advance of his forces. During the ensuing tank battle, 15 enemy tanks were destroyed with no losses at all on our side. Thereupon, the enemy quickly withdrew to his origional position. At the same time, a smaller group advanced along the lane from Garvus to Evrecy under cover of smoke, and darkness, which in the meantime had fallen. They managed to break through the forward elements, but then, also, ran right into our tanks on the rear slope, which overwhelmed them after a very short fire duel, or took them prisoner (two tanks and about 20 men).

On account of the din of battle to the east and west, and in the rear of their positions, elements of the battalion under attack, which were still on Height 113, had the impression that the enemy had broken through with tanks and infantry and that they, themselves, were encircled. Therefore, they abandoned their positions on this height, but reoccupied them two or three hours later, when they became aware of their mistake. The enemy had not noticed anything of these movements. All further enemy tank attacks had no particular success. They lacked the impetus necessary for successful tank actions, although they had sufficient fire support and could operate in terrain favorable for swift approach. Nor did the tank attacks at night, with the aid of searchlight illumination, fare any better, although the use of searchlights for this purpose was new for our troops and caused great uneasiness among them. On the other hand, the Pz Regt of the Division managed to destroy 150 enemy tanks during the three weeks they were employed in that sector. Their own losses were only five tanks completely destroyed and about 20 partly damaged, the repair of which required some time.

All slightly damaged tanks were either repaired right behind the front or by tank reserve forces in St Honorine Du Fay, a little to the rear. The serviceable tanks, 30 to 40 on the average, in the meantime, in two groups, controlled the whole sector.

The Pz Gren Regiments, already badly reduced, could no longer spare any reserves. Both Regiments were even compelled to disband one battalion each, in order to maintain at least two battalions with company strengths of about 50 men more or less fit for action. In addition to that, all rearward services had been screened repeatedly, and reduced to the very minimun in order to reinforce the Gren Regiments. The Pz A.A. (tank reconnaissance bn) was available to the Division as reserve; however, only for a few days. This unit was chiefly employed in the sector of the 277 Inf Div, and then sometimes as Corps reserve, so that it was still not available. For such periods, the Pz Pioneer Bn would have still been available for commitment in the case of an emergency. However, this unit could only be used for technical engineering tasks, such as construction of positions, laying mines, maintaining roads and bridges, and so on. The necessity of using it as infantry was successfully avoided, in spite of many difficulties.

After the large-scale attack on 19 July south of Caen, it became quite evident that the enemy no longer had any intentions of breaking through in the sector of II SS Pz Corps. Gradually, all movement stopped, and the artillery passed its point of greatest intensity. However, even during those days, our reconnaissance still had to restrict itself mainly to observations of the battle field, which was thoroughly organized throughout the sector and was supplemented by the Grenadiers, artillery, and tanks. Also the signal units of the Division, the Army, and the Corps, obtained quite useful results by listening to the enemy radio comnunications, although our signal equipment was much inferior to that of the enemy.

The less likely an enemy large-scale offensive in our sector appeared, the more we anticipated such an operation in the sector of the I SS Pz Corps, as contiuatian of the large-scale attack of 19 July 1944, east of the Orne. On the strength of this presumption, the 9th SS Pz Div was relieved during the night of 22/23 July by the 10th SS Pz Div in the eastern -- and by the 277 Inf Div in the western -- part of the sector, and then pulled out. At the same time, the Division was subordinated to the I SS Pz Corps and assembled in the area of Offjieres, where it was assigned the task of reconnoitering possibilities of commitment in the event of an enemy breakthrough in the sector of the I SS Pz Div and, particularly, in the sector of the 272 Inf Div.

The approach march into this area had to be carried out at night in small groups of companies and batteries. Owing to the strong enemy artillery and air activity, only side-roads could be used, which, nevertheless, were in quite a good condition. In spite of much hindrance by the enemy artillery the operation could be completed without any particular losses. Already on 24 July 1944, the 272 Inf Div had to be reinforced by a tank battalion and a Panzer Grenadier battaiion, because the situation had taken an alarming turn there. When, on July 25, the enemy made a new large-scale attack in the sector of the 272 Inf Div, and managed to achieve a deep penetration, the 9th SS Pz Div launched a concentrated counterattack east of the Orne, which was successful and prevented the breakthrough of the Canadian forces.

A detailed report concerning these engagements is being prepared. According to the directives of the Hist Div, Normandy Campaign, this report does not pertain to this serie. This report has been written from memory and without any documents for reference. Errors are therefore possible.

signed Sylvester STADLER
Leo Feiherr GEYR von SCHWEPPENBURG / H.D.I.E., 17 April 1947

References Edit

  1. http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/wwii/articles/9SSHohenstaufen.aspx

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