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GRENADIERS 










GRENADIERS 

The Story of Waffen SS General 
Kurt "Panzer" Meyer 


Kurt Meyer 


STACKPOLE 

BOOKS 



Copyright © 1957 by Schild-Verlag, Zweibrucken, Germany 
English edition copyright © 2001 byj. J. Fedorowicz Publishing, Inc. 

Published in 2005 by 
STACKPOLE BOOKS 
5067 Ritter Road 
Mechanicsburg, PA 17055 
www.stackpolebooks.com 

Originally published as GRENADIERE by Schild-Verlag 

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof 
in any form or by ally means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, 
recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission 
in writing from the publisher. All inquiries should be addressed toj. J. Fedorowicz 
Publishing, Inc., 104 Browning Boulevard, Winnipeg, MB, R3K 0L7, Canada. 

www.jjfpub.mb.ca 

Printed in the United States of America 
10 9876543 
FIRST EDITION 


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

Meyer, Kurt, 1910-1961. 

[Grenadiere. English] 

Grenadiers : the story of W'affen SS General Kurt “Panzer” Meyer / Kurt Meyer ; 
translated by Michael Mende and Robert J. Edwards, 
p. cm. 

Includes index. 

ISBN 0-8117-3197-9 

1. Meyer, Kurt, 1910-1961. 2. World War, 1939-1945—Personal narradves, 
German. 3. World War, 1939-1945—Campaigns. 4. Waffen SS—Biography. 5. 
Generals—Germany—Biography. I. Mende, Michael. II. Edwards, RobertJ. III. 
Tide. 

D811.M48513 2005 
940.54T 343092—dc22 


ISBN 978-0-8117-3197-3 


2004027567 



Table of Contents 


Preface .vii 

Editors’ Notes .xi 

Poland .1 

From Prague to the Western Front.9 

Operations against Rotterdam .14 

Into France .17 

The Formation of the Reconnaissance Battalion at Metz.33 

The Balkans.35 

Into Greece .46 

The Crossing to Peloponnesus.56 

The Struggle against the Soviet Union .71 

From Sasselje to Cherson .89 

From the Dnepr to the Don.Ill 

The Winter War: 1942-43 . 157 

The Fighting for Kharkov.160 

The Counterattack .175 

The 12. SS-Panzer-Division “Hitleijugend” .210 

The Invasion .215 

The Final Fighting around Caen .254 

From the Evacuation of Caen to the Falaise Pocket.269 


v 
























VI 


GRENADIERS 


The Employment of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division “Hitleijugend” 
from the End of the Invasion to the End of the War 
by Hubert Meyer.333 

Imprisonment in England .343 

Back to Germany.351 

The Trial .356 

On Death Row.373 

From Dorchester to Werl .392 

Afterword .401 

In Memoriam by Hubert Meyer .406 

Rank Comparisons .424 

Index .425 













Preface 


I often fought alongside Waflfen-SS formations as an armor commander; 1 
found I could rely on them. 

The 12. SS-Panzer Division “Hitleijugend” mentioned in the second 
part of the book was under my operational control during five hard weeks 
on the Normandy invasion front. Its commander was the author of this 
book, Kurt Meyer, Generalmajor der Waffen-SS. At the end of the war we 
spent several months together in a camp at Enfield in England. 

In December 1945 I was flown to Kurt Meyer’s Canadian court-martial 
at Aurich. 1 was the sole German soldier allowed to be a witness in his 
defense. Some of his comrades and I were also given the opportunity to be 
with him for a short period of time after he had been sentenced to death. 

After his sentence had been commuted to life imprisonment, I got in 
touch with him and his wife as soon as possible. We remained friends until 
his far too premature death. 

As a result, I knew Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Kurt Meyer and his 12. 
SS-Panzer-Division “Hitleijugend” rather well. I knew them in good times 
and, even more, in the bad ones. 

The book Grenadiers chronicles the fighting of the Waffen-SS units dur¬ 
ing the Second World War under the command of Panzermeyer—as the 
author was known to his troops—in Poland, France, the Balkans, Russia, 
and on the Normandy invasion front. The courage, comradeship, chivalry 
and patriotism of the troops described are also representative of the mili¬ 
tary discipline, the selfless devotion, and performance of all other Waffen- 
SS Divisions and, indeed, the entire German Army. 

Kurt Meyer wrote this book after his release from nine years of prison. 
It was important to him to memorialize through this book those soldiers of 
his who were still living—and who looked up to him as a father figure— 
and to the dead of all of the divisions of die Waffen-SS and the army. 

The 12. SS-Panzer Division "Hitleijugend”, to which a portion of this 
book is dedicated, fought in Normandy for ten long weeks, mostly as the 
Schwerpunkt of the counterattack against Montgomery's army groups’ con¬ 
tinuous assaults and massive material advantage. The division was nearly 

vii 



SS-Oberstunnbannfuhrer Kurt Meyer in the spring of 1943. An official portrait 
alter his award of the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross. ro<.uJu<iiB>m»i 









Preface 


IX 


destroyed. Its performance was always more than could be expected of it. 
Such exceptional accomplishments would have been impossible if the sol¬ 
diers had been drilled to zombie-like obedience. The young soldiers were 
trained to act on their own iniuative, thanks to the exemplary training that 
had grown out of the practical experience of war. Behind all this was a love 
for the Fatherland. 

The success of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division “Hideijugend” was frequently 
due to the personal intervention of its thirty-four-year-old commander. His 
analydcal skills, coupled with a sixth sense for danger and his ability to 
make the correct decision, enabled him to intervene personally at the right 
place and time. His determination and personal example gave the sol¬ 
diers—and not only of his division—the strength to persevere and to coun¬ 
terattack. He suffered the deaths of his soldiers as if they were his sons. 

Kurt Meyer’s courageous bearing as he stood before the victors’ court- 
martial at Aurich at the end of 1945 far exceeded mere warrior mentality, 
as did his composure when he listened—unjustly condemned—to his death 
sentence. I take my hat off to the courage then required and the chivalry of 
the Canadian General who did not sign this sentence but commuted it to 
life imprisonment. I also take my hat off to our Kurt Meyer who remained 
the same German officer in the death cell and in prison amongst criminals 
that he had been on the battlefield. 

An additional heavy burden was his anxiety over his wife and five chil¬ 
dren, who had to survive just on social security benefits during his nine 
years in prison. 

Neither during this time, nor after his release, did Kurt Meyer feel any 
hatred. With the help of his old comrades he soon built a new life for him¬ 
self. In spite of his wounds, illness and imprisonment, he also felt obliged 
to support the reputation of his fallen comrades and their widows and chil¬ 
dren as well as those who survived. That is how this book came into being. 
Consequendy, he shouldered the burden of being the first spokesman for 
the HIAG [Editor’s Note: Hilfsgemeinschaft auf Gegenseitigkeit der Ange- 
horigen der ehemaligen Waff'en-SS = Waffen-SS Mutual Aid Society]. 

Nine hundred thousand soldiers served in the thirty-six Waff'en-SS 
Divisions. About four hundred thousand were killed or are missing. Of the 
survivors, every second one had been wounded, often several times. These 
numbers speak for themselves. If one adds the families, the former mem¬ 
bers of the Waffen-SS total several million German citizens. In the long 
run, no democracy can do without the willing participation of so many 
people without severe problems. They had clearly proven their willingness 
to sacrifice themselves for Germany. 



X 


GRENADIERS 


As the first spokesman for the HIAG, Kurt Meyer led his old comrades 
by his example and words in a deeply felt involvement in our democracy. 
His involvement stemmed from his former love of fatherland, coupled 
with the insights he had won during and after the war. He did this 
although the former members of the WalTen-SS and their families do not 
receive the same state benefits as other Gentian combatants of World War 
II. Even today, Kurt Meyer’s widow receives no pension. 

After 1945 a flood of hatred was poured on die Waffen-SS. The things 
that were said about this component of the Gennan Ai med Forces do not, 
in the main, stand up to detailed inspection. Not only foreigners, but also 
many of our own populadon, lump the soldiers of the Waffen-SS with the 
members of the SD and those of the Allgemeine SS. This book has also 
been written to set truth against libel. In this way the contribution of the 
Waffen-SS may be seen objectively. Furthermore, the book will show the 
children of the Waffen-SS soldiers their fathers’ deeds in an undistorted 
manner. They will be proud of their fathers’ courage, constancy, decency, 
and their love of the fatherland. They also will read about the terror of war. 

In Panzermeyer our German soldiers lost an armor commander of 
exemplar)’ courage, chivalry and responsibility. His human stature, proved 
before his judges, in prison, and after his release, is an example to our 
people, whom he loved all his life. 

Heinrich F.berbach 

General der Panzertruppe a.D. 



Editors’ Notes 


Readers who read the original English edition published in 1994 will note 
a number of changes to the text in this edition. In addition to reviewing 
the original translation alongside the the most recent German edition of 
the book, the entire style has been changed from British English to Amer¬ 
ican English to benefit our North American customers, who make up the 
bulk of our readership. 

Modern American Army terminology is generally used wherever an 
equivalent term is applicable. In cases where there may be nuances where 
we think the reader might enjoy learning the German term, we have 
included it with an explanation. 

In cases where the German term is commonly understood or there is 
no good, direct English equivalent, we have tended to retain the original 
German term, e.g., Schwerpunkt (point of main effort), Auftragstaktik 
(mission-type orders), etc. Since most of the terms are repeated several 
umes, we have not included a glossary. 

There is a rank-comparison table at the back of the book listing Ger¬ 
man Army, Waffen-SS and US Army equivalents. 

Unit designations follow standard German practice, i.e., an Arabic 
numeral before the slash (e.g., l./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1) indicates a 
company or battery formaUon. A Roman numeral indicates the battalion 
within the regiment. 





Poland 


“Achtung! Panzer, Marsch!” 

We had been standing, waiting for this moment, our eyes glued to the 
faces of our watches. Now it started to turn crazy. 

The vehicle motors roared in the dawn. We increased speed, faster 
and faster, up to the border. I listened intently in the half-light. The first 
rounds would start their death-dealing flight any moment, opening up our 
way east. The hissing, wailing and shrieking was suddenly above us, 
enhancing the perception of our own speed that we were sensing with 
every nerve. During the approach we caught a brief glimpse of our assault 
groups as they dashed towards the frontier barriers and destroyed the 
obstacles with demoliuon charges. Machine-gun fire lashed down the 
street and short fiery flashes of exploding grenades illuminated our target. 
The armored cars entered the village of Gola at top speed. Infantry assault 
troops captured the bridge over the Prosna—it had already been prepared 
for demolition—and it fell into our hands undamaged. In a few minutes 
the village was occupied. The Polish soldiers crawled out of their positions, 
baffled and dazed, and approached us with their hands raised. They could 
not believe that, barely ten minutes after it had started, the war was already 
over for them. 

I was suddenly standing in front of the corpse of a Polish officer. A 
round to the throat had killed him. The warm blood was spurting from the 
wound. Yes, this was war! This initial sight of death impressed grim reality 
onto my brain with great clarity. 

But it was time to move on! Uprooted trees and smoldering houses 
made it difficult to advance. We could hardly see. Ground mist mingled 
with the smoke of destruction. 

I could not stay with the regimental staff. I moved forward to the out¬ 
skirts of Gola and followed the reconnaissance patrol. Of course, as the 
company commander of the SS-Panzetjager-Kompanie, I had completely 
different duties. An enemy tank attack was not expected and my company 
had also been dispersed among the individual battalions. This kind of war¬ 
fare didn’t suit me and so I secretly followed the tanks. Since 1934 I had 
been following the development of the tank as a weapon at Doberitz- 


1 



2 


GRENADIERS 


Elsgrund and later at Wunstorf-Zossen. Now I suddenly saw myself in a 
dead-end occupation as a Panzeijager. 

Whirled up dust was still hanging in the air as I came across two of our 
heavy armored cars and a motorcycle platoon just beyond Chroscin. The 
armored cars moved slowly into the fog. Visibility was less than 300 meters. 
Suddenly, the eerie silence was broken by the whiplash round of a Polish 
antitank gun. The first armored car rolled to a smoking halt. Its wheels 
had hardly stopped when the second one was also destroyed. Both 
armored cars were about 150 meters in front of the antitank gun. The 
position was well camouflaged and difficult to find. 

Round after round penetrated the vehicles; machine-gun bursts swept 
down the street, forcing us to take cover. We heard cries from the Panzer- 
aufklarer trapped in the armored cars and were forced to watch without 
being able to go to their aid. Each time a round penetrated the armored 
car’s interior the shrieks of our mortally wounded comrades grew louder. 
We tried to reach the armored cars to help our comrades who had scram¬ 
bled out to escape the antitank gun’s field of fire, but it was impossible. 
Hostile machine guns hammered down the street. The machine-gun fire 
mowed down the Panzeraufklarer who managed to get out of the armored 
cars. The moans in the vehicle grew weaker. I was lying behind a pile of 
gravel. Spellbound, I watched blood dripping from the fissures in the first 
vehicle. I was paralyzed. I had not yet seen a live Polish soldier, but my 
comrades were already lying dead, right in front of me. 

Polish cavalry came galloping out of the smokescreen. They were 
charging directly towards us, and wouldn’t be stopped by the fire from my 
machine pistol. It was only when the motorcycle platoon opened fire and 
brought down some horses that the fierce cavalry troop galloped back into 
the fog. Artillery was engaging the hill in front of us, while a battalion of 
Panzergrenadiere assaulted the enemy positions. The young grenadiers 
were moving like they were in a training area. They could not be stopped 
either by machine gun or artillery fire. The batdefield looked deserted, 
however, innumerable soldiers were advancing towards the enemy. 

1 watched astonished as the attack was carried out almost noiselessly in 
front of me. Panzergrenadiere dashed forward with mechanical precision. 
As their attack gathered momentum, the Poles were swept from their posi¬ 
tions. The attack rolled on irresistibly; it could not be stopped either by the 
enemy or the difficult terrain. Each of these fabulous soldiers was con¬ 
vinced about the justice of this war and had no scruples about giving his life 
for the rights of his people. Still, no cheers rang out over the battlefield. 
The faithful young soldiers earned out their duty' and made unequalled sac¬ 
rifices with earnest expressions. For these men the war against Poland was 



Poland 


3 


no war of aggression but the elimination of a scandalous injustice. They 
wanted to expunge the rape of the German people at Versailles. Their 
strength came from the purity of their aspirations. These were no ordinary 
soldiers, nor were they political mercenaries, risking their lives for their 
people’s future. 

These young people belonged to the elite of the nation. They had 
been selected from thousands of volunteers and had been intensively 
trained for four years. The Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler” (mot.) con¬ 
sisted of men who had just reached their nineteenth year at the outbreak 
of war; the noncommissioned officers were about twenty-five years old. 
These young men obviously had had no influence on the political events of 
1933. In 1933 they had been mere schoolboys who had sought ideals and 
wished to serve those ideals with devotion. How have they been repaid, 
with what infamy were diey tortured, and how are they being treated even 
now? But on 1 September 1939 the Panzergrenadiere could not have 
known that they were to become scapegoats for spiteful politicians. They 
were soldiers, fulfilling their duty according to the traditions of the Pruss¬ 
ian soldier. 

At about 1000 hours the town of Boleslawez surrendered to the tem¬ 
pestuous assault after fierce street fighting. Enemy artillery fire rained down 
on the town, causing casualties among the population. By nightfall we were 
near Wieruszow and were planning the following morning’s attack. The 
Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler” (mot.) was attached to the 17. Infanterie- 
Division and had to defend the right flank against a Polish cavalry brigade’s 
attack. 

The approaching darkness hid the day’s destruction. The battlefield’s 
misery was only visible in the illumination of nearby fires. The horizon was 
marked by burning hamlets and the thick smoke wallowed over the vio¬ 
lated earth. We sat silently behind the remains of a wall trying to make 
sense of the first day’s battle. We gazed earnestly into the glow of a former 
farmhouse and listened to parts of Hitler’s historic speech. “I have decided 
to solve the question of Danzig and the Polish Corridor, and to find a way 
to make sure that a change in the relations between Germany and Poland 
will make peaceful coexistence between us possible.” His words echoed in 
our ears for a long time. 

The regiment was employed at the Warthe River as part of the 17. 
Infanterie-Division, and advanced towards Pabianice. On 7 September, at 
around 1000 hours, we reached the outskirts of Pabianice and received 
orders to establish a blocking position to the south along the ridge run¬ 
ning through Rzgow-Wola, Rakowa and Lodz. Stronger enemy forces with 
antitank weapons had occupied Pabianice. The attack of the I./Panzer- 



4 


GRENADIERS 


Regiment 23 had just been repulsed by the Polish defenders. Damaged 
and destroyed tanks were on the battlefield. They had been rendered com¬ 
bat ineffective by Polish antitank rifles. 

The regiment took over the mission of the tanks and immediately car¬ 
ried out an assault. The 1. and 2./Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler” (mot.) 
broke into the town and the battalions followed up. This violent attack 
forced the Poles to withdrew to the town center. Strong Polish counterat¬ 
tacks were then made against the regiment’s exposed flank. 

The firing positions of the II./Artillerie-Regiment 46 were desperately 
defended against persistent attack by Polish infantry. The frontline was 
everywhere. The Polish units came flooding back from the west attack 
without thought for casualties. The regimental command post suddenly 
became the focal point of the attack. All of the clerks and drivers fought 
for their lives. The Poles approached the command post through a potato 
field and, as the foliage offered excellent cover and camouflage, we could 
not see them until they came within grenade range. We could not stop the 
enemy infantry from winning more and more ground. 

I leapt to my feet and fired, standing, into the field. This was the only 
way to hit the Poles. On my right a grenadier from the 13. Kompanie was 
firing at them as if he were on a firing range, round after round. Our “tar¬ 
get shooting” did not last long. Suddenly, I found myself back at the bot¬ 
tom of the trench, thrown there by a bullet grazing my shoulder. My 
neighbor had been killed with a bullet wound in the neck. Never again 
would I try to stop an attack standing up for all to see. The attacks contin¬ 
ued with determination on both sides and only in the late afternoon was 
the momentum of the Poles broken. Hundreds surrendered and started 
the long march into captivity. Meantime, the XVI. Armee-Korps had 
advanced to the gates of Warsaw and was grappling with the Polish units 
defending the city, as well as those fleeing eastwards from the west. The 
Commanding General, General Hoepner, greeted the spearhead of the 
regiment at Nadarzyn. We would be attached to the 4. Panzer-Division. 

The Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler” (mot.) received orders to secure 
the Kaputy-Oltarzew-Domaniew line and block the enemy retreat from the 
west towards Warsaw. 

While on the march, the I./Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler” (mot.) was 
ordered to change direction northwards towards Oltarzew. Motorized 
infantry followed the motorcycle troops and armored cars. They vanished 
into the night. 

General Hoepner felt confident of the outcome of the war in Poland, 
but he predicted heavy fighting for the XVI. Armee-Korps. He thought the 
Polish forces still west of Warsaw would make every attempt to break 



Poland 


5 


through our blocking positions. After a few kilometers, it became obvious 
to us that the oncoming night would bring us some hard fighting. We had 
to work our way through the suburbs of Warsaw to reach die main street. 
Loud sounds of fighting could be heard from Oltarzew. The I./Leibstan- 
darte SS “Adolf Hitler” (mot.) had reached the main line of retreat and 
was fighting strong enemy forces. On the road the columns had driven 
into each other and it was completely jammed. They were totally destroyed 
overnight. Hundreds of dead were lying in the rubble. Artillery, weapons 
and ammunition covered the road. The merciless fighting lasted until the 
morning, and both sides waited, exhausted, for daylight to reveal the true 
situation. 

First light showed a grim situation. Not only had Polish soldiers been 
killed on this straight road but boxed-in refugee columns had also been 
shot to pieces. Dead and wounded horses hung in their tack awaiting the 
coup de grace. Women and children had been blown apart in the fury of 
war. Whimpering children clung to their dead mothers or mothers to their 
children. The wounded crawled out from under the rubble and cried for 
help. The field dressing station was soon overflowing. Poles and Germans 
worked together to relieve the suffering. Not a shot was heard. The war 
had been suspended. The refugees were bitter; they were from Posen and 
had been incorporated into the column to provide protection for the Pol¬ 
ish troops. 

This night had revealed the naked face of war to us for the first time. 
There was no longer any difference between soldier and civilian. Modern 
weapons destroyed them all. I did not see a single German soldier laugh¬ 
ing on the “death road” at Oltarzew. The horror had marked them all. The 
September sun shone brightly on the blood-covered road and changed the 
destruction into a flytrap. More than 1,000 prisoners were ordered to 
remove the rubble. Six hundred were sent over to the enemy lines with the 
message “Warsaw has fallen.” 

A single antitank gun destroyed an enemy armored train; the explod¬ 
ing ammunition cars flew into the air with a loud crash and destroyed the 
train completely. In the next two days, strong enemy attacks ran into posi¬ 
tions held by the lI./lnfanterie-Regiment 33, the II./Panzer-Regiment 35 
and the regiment. Their attacks were in vain. 

In vain, I asked the commander for different duties so I could take a 
more active part in die fighting. I was fed up with commanding a company 
that was scattered around the regiment, platoon by platoon. I reminded 
the commander at every opportunity that I was a tank and motorcycle 
man, and felt totally superfluous in my present position. But it was no use; 

I remained a Panzeijager for the present. 



6 


GRENADIERS 


During the night of 12-13 September a strong enemy unit penetrated 
the positions of the II./Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler” (mot.); a total 
breakthrough seemed imminent. Early in the morning we received a mes¬ 
sage that the 6./Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler” (mot.) had been overrun 
and the company commander killed. I had always felt very close to him; we 
had belonged to the same regiment since 1929. We found the message of 
an impending breakthrough incredible. We simply did not believe that the 
enemy could break through our defensive positions. 

I received orders to go and find out if there was any truth to the 
report. I leapt into the driver’s seat of a motorcycle/sidecar combination 
accompanied by SS-Obersturmfuhrer Pfeifer, and we vanished in the direc¬ 
tion of Blonie. Pfeifer died a soldier’s death some years later commanding 
a company of Panther tanks. We moved out at speed along the “death 
road” to get past the insects as quickly as possible. The horse carcasses 
stank dreadfully. 

A few hundred meters outside of Swiecice 1 saw two Polish soldiers and 
a member of the 6./Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler” (mot.) crouching 
behind a small bridge. The behavior of the three soldiers seemed so pecu¬ 
liar to me that I braked sharply, jumped off the machine, and walked 
towards the group kneeling in the ditch. It was only when I was standing 
on the edge of the ditch that I understood the reason for the German sol¬ 
dier’s strange behavior. He was a prisoner of the Polish soldiers and was 
looking at me flabbergasted, as 1 had walked alone towards the group. 
Damnation, was I ever lucky again! Only Pfeifer’s machine pistol had pre¬ 
vented the Poles from advancing me into the great beyond. It was true, the 
company had been overrun; the company commander was lying dead in a 
trench a few hundred meters away. Pfeifer and I worked our way further 
towards Swiecice and soon found our fallen comrade. He had been shot 
through the chest. Seppel Lange died an exemplary soldier; we would 
never forget him. 

The enemy units that overran us were destroyed during the day; the 
front line was reestablished to its former position. 

The Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler” (mot.) and the 4. Panzer-Division 
were employed in the Bzura sector to stop retreating portions of the Polish 
Army from crossing the river. The Poles attacked with great stubbornness 
and proved repeatedly that they knew how to die. It would be unjust to 
deny the courage of these Polish units. The fighting on the Bzura was des¬ 
perate and intense. The best Polish blood was mixed with the river water. 
The Poles’ losses were terrifying. All their attempts to break through were 
broken by our defensive gunfire. 



Poland 


7 


Polish strength was broken on 18 September, and we were ordered to 
attack the fortress at Modlin. Heavy fighting developed in the forest area 
south of Modlin. The I./Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler” (mot.) was 
attacked and surrounded by superior forces. 

At 0700 hours on 19 September Generalleutnant Reinhardt ordered 
an attack to relieve I./Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler” (mot.) and break 
through to the Weichsel River. The attack was supported by the Il./Panzer- 
Regiment 35. 

The deep sandy roads made movement very difficult and wheeled 
transport could only advance very slowly. Again the fighting was bitter and, 
although the Polish situation was hopeless, they did not consider surren¬ 
der. They fought to the last round. 

During the attack we discovered the remains of SS-Obersturmfuhrer 
Bruchmann and an SS-Unterfuhrer of the l./Leibstandarte SS “Adolf 
Hitler” (mot.). Both had been captured after being wounded during the 
encirclement and had been badly mutilated. Bruchmann had been a pla¬ 
toon leader in my company and married only two weeks before the out¬ 
break of war. 

The battle for the old fortress at Modlin started with a heavy artillery 
barrage and Stuka attacks. We experienced the destructive impact of our 
dive-bombers for the first time and could not understand how the Polish 
garrison could withstand such a storm of fire. Contrary to our expecta¬ 
tions, the Polish units in Modlin resisted stubbornly and defied every 
attack. In fact the fortress only fell during the final phase of the campaign. 

On 25 September Adolf Hitler visited the front, to include the 
15./Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hider” (mot.) at Guzow. 

Infantry divisions relieved the armor and motorized formations 
around Modlin. The mobile forces were readied for the attack on Warsaw 
that started with a bombing attack and concentrated fire on the fortifica¬ 
tions and military strong points. The main bombardment of the city only 
started on the evening of 26 September. The Poles did not consider sur¬ 
rendering. It would be a fight to the finish; there were still 120,000 Polish 
soldiers fighting in the city. 

The Poles only offered to surrender the city on the afternoon of 27 
September. In the afternoon all fighting along the front ceased. The cam¬ 
paign for Poland was over. On 28 September the capitulation was signed 
by the Commander-in-Chief of the Eighth Polish Army and Generaloberst 
Blaskowitz. We listened to the generous conditions in astonishment. The 
officers were to keep their swords, and the noncommissioned officers and 
soldiers would only be held as POWs for a short time. 



8 


GRENADIERS 


Very soon, on 1 October, the Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler” (mot.) 
received orders to move west. We were all convinced that we would be 
marching to the banks of the Rhine. We were wrong. We reached Prague 
on 4 October and were allowed to stay in the golden city for a few weeks. 
The regiment received a tremendous reception from the German popu¬ 
lace in Prague; thousands cheered us as we arrived in Wenceslas Square. 
Freiherr von Neurath, the venerable Reichs Protector, said words of praise. 

I reported once more to the regimental commander in Prague and 
pleaded earnestly for another duty appointment. My experiences in 
Poland had left me dissatisfied, and I was afraid that 1 would remain com¬ 
mander of the SS-Panzeijager-Kompanie of the regiment for the rest of 
the war. I must have gotten through to him because, at the end of October, 
I took over command of the SS-Kradschutzen-Kompanie (motorcycle com¬ 
pany). That meant I would be at the spearhead of the regiment. Although 
I had long wished for that appointment, I was sorry to leave the SS-Panzer- 
jager-Kompanie. I had formed it in 1936 and felt attached to my SS-Panz- 
eijager. Still I was very pleased to know that I was allowed to take a platoon 
leader and several SS-Unterfuhrer with me. In addition, my dependable 
driver was also allowed to accompany me to the 15./Leibstandarte SS 
“Adolf Hitler” (mot.). 

At last 1 was in my element. We trained hard daily. The motorcyclists 
participated enthusiastically and gave me all their support. My slogan— 
“The engine is our best weapon”—was fully accepted and obeyed by the 
lads. In the space of a few weeks I had won the trust of my new company 
and I knew I could rely on every single Kradschutze. We awaited further 
developments on the Western Front with interest. 



From Prague to the Western Front 


The Blitzkrieg in Poland had made the soldiers hope the politicians could 
end this ill-fated war and a campaign against the Western Allies might be 
avoided. Our “pipedream” was rapidly shattered when we heard that the 
Allies had rudely rejected Adolf Hitler’s peace offer at the beginning of 
October. From then on, it was obvious to the soldiers that a decision could 
only be achieved by the sword. 

The question of how the military defeat of the Western Allies could be 
brought about occupied the thoughts of the youngest grenadier as well as 
the most experienced troop commanders. All agreed that to remain on 
the defensive would not result in a military decision. Seen from the sol¬ 
dier’s point of view, only a major offensive would force a military decision, 
if a political understanding were impossible. 

In November we moved into the Koblenz area and came under the 
command of General Guderian. We used the experiences gained from the 
Polish campaign and trained the soldiers in their new tasks. Planning and 
exercises and maneuvers followed in quick succession. The enthusiasm of 
the soldiers under my command encouraged me anew. Neither the hard 
training nor the icy weather of the winter could dampen their zeal. Train¬ 
ing continued under the slogan—“Sweat saves blood. Rather dig a ten- 
meter trench than a one-meter grave.” 

My company was billeted in empty buildings in Bad Ems. The rough 
terrain there was very suitable for our training, as we knew that our 
advance would be through the Ardennes forests with.Guderian’s corps, 
and we would find terrain problems similar to those in the Westerwald 
region. 

Guderian inspected each and every company. His planning exercises 
were of special interest to us. All his opinions served as great guidance for 
us. He said, “The tank engine is your weapon, just as much as its main 
gun”. Under this very experienced armor commander we prepared our¬ 
selves for the inevitable attack in the West. 

On 24 December 1939, Adolf Hitler visited us in Bad Ems. He talked 
to the regiment and told us of the trust he put in us. He hinted we would 


9 



10 


GRENADIERS 


soon be marching across the battlefields that were drenched with our 
fathers' blood, fighting for a lasting peace and a strong Europe. 

In February 1940 we were placed under Heeresgruppe von Bock and 
moved to the Rheine area. This sudden move came as a surprise; we would 
rather have stayed with Guderian. 

The move to Rheine started a new phase in our training. We were 
attached to the 227. Infanterie-Division. Our orders, as a motorized unit, 
were to cross the Dutch frontier, breaking through the frontier defenses, 
and advance to the Ijssel line. These orders would require the troops to 
move at top speed so they secured the many road bridges over the canals, 
and especially over the Ijssel, undamaged. We pracdced river and canal 
crossings continuously. Soon we had explored every possible combat situa¬ 
tion and felt confident in mastering our task. 

My unit was quartered at Salzbergen and I was staying at the vicarage. 
It was there on 1 May that I got to know the well-known Bishop Graf von 
Galen, who would plead for my life a few years later and would draw my 
judges’ attention to the principles of Christian-based justice. Graf von 
Galen insisted upon giving my company his blessing. 

With the approach of the favorable season, the day we were to be 
employed drew irresistibly close. For days we had been waiting for the 
codeword, “Study Anton”. On 9 May 1940 the code was given and opera¬ 
tional readiness established. At 0205 hours, the next code—“Danzig”—was 
given. It was the final order to attack the Dutch frontier fortifications. We 
left Salzbergen in the dead of night and moved silently into the darkness. 
The people were standing on both sides of the road and waving. They 
wished us luck and a speedy and healthy return. 

The final attack preparations were complete at 0400 hours. Once 
again I collected my young Kradschiitze around me to remind them of the 
combat fundamentals. At the dawning of the day—that fateful 10 May—I 
promised my soldiers that an officer of our Kampfgruppe would always be 
in the front, thus affirming the leadership principles that we had been 
preaching. In the presence of my soldiers I shook hands with all my offi¬ 
cers to lend emphasis to my promise. 

The attack started at 0530 hours sharp. An assault party ambushed the 
outpost near De Poppe and took the surprised Dutchmen captive. The 
bridge fell into our hands undamaged, the assault party had cut the dem¬ 
olition cables. 

Over our heads a countless stream of Ju 52s was flying westwards. 
Comrades of the 22. Luftlande-Division and Fallschirmjager-Regiment 1 
flew towards their objective. Fighters whirled through the air like hawks 
and plunged on dieir designated targets. 



From Prague to the Western Fromt 


II 


It was as if we were in the grip of a fever. Hardly had the frontier bar¬ 
rier been lifted and the bridge immediately behind it secured, then we 
were sweeping down the smooth asphalt road like race-car drivers. Max 
Wunsche, the platoon leader of the 1st platoon, raced ahead of his men 
and pulled them forward with his enthusiasm. I moved after Wunsche’s 
platoon, and was surprised that we had met no resistance. Our advance 
towards Oldenzaal and Hengelo continued with utmost speed. The con¬ 
crete tank traps and bridge barricades were undefended. Some bridges 
were only slightly damaged by explosives; we could bypass diem. 

Bornerbroek w r as reached without a shot being fired. The Dutch pop¬ 
ulation stood by die road and watched the rapid advance of our troops. 
Enemy combat engineers had blown up the bridge leading over the canal 
just beyond Bornerbroek. We had hit the first enemy resistance. The canal 
was crossed in minutes. Barn doors and other materials were used for 
bridging. Speed was of the essence. All motorcycles were sent in pursuit of 
the enemy’s demolition party to prevent it from destroying the next 
bridge. SS-Obersturmfiihrer Kraas, platoon leader of the second platoon, 
took up die pursuit of the enemy combat engineers. Meanwhile the 
temporary bridge was solid enough to allow the crossing of the motorcycle- 
sidecar combinations as well. Antitank guns w r ere towed by the motorcy¬ 
cles. The wild chase continued. Unfortunately, the armored cars had to 
stay behind. They were providing security for the pioneers who were work¬ 
ing in exemplary fashion and were busy throwing an assault bridge over 
the canal. 

Unfortunately we could not prevent the enemy demolition party from 
causing damage. The bridges already prepared for demolition were blown 
up. But these demolitions could not seriously hamper our progress. We 
advanced on Zwolle without great delay. 

At about 1130 hours the advance guard was waiting on the outskirts of 
Zwolle, which meant it was eighty kilometers deep into enemy territory. 
The lead platoon (led by Reuss) moved towards the railway embankment 
directly south of the town and then decided to dismount behind a road 
embankment and proceed on foot. What a surprise the next minute 
brought! The wonderful chestnut trees along both sides of the road had 
been cut down to block entry into the town. But what use was the best 
obstacle if combat-ready soldiers did not guard it? 

North of the barricade, only a few hundred meters away, we saw 
machine gun and antitank pillboxes and—wonder of wonders—the 
defenders were calmly sitting in their shirt-sleeves on top of the pillboxes 
and having lunch. They were enjoying the May sunshine that had clearly 
seduced them into leaving their somber bunkers. 



12 


GRENADIERS 


The tree barricade stopped us from breaking straight through to the 
line of bunkers and taking the Dutch by surprise. Surprise fire on the 
crews sitting on top of the bunkers took care of the fortifications and 
allowed the grenadiers to cross an area free of cover. 

Before the Dutch even knew what was happening our Kradschutzen 
have reached the bunkers and disarmed the defenders. The trees could 
only be removed with difficulty. Armored cars were dragging the gigantic 
trunks off. The removal of the barricade was taking too long for my liking. 
The enemy could not be allowed to come to his senses. We had to take 
advantage of the element of surprise. Without a moment’s hesitation I 
jumped into a Dutch vehicle and moved out quickly into Zwolle with SS- 
Obersturmfuhrer Wunsche and SS-Grenadier Seelenwinter. SS-Oberschar- 
fuhrer Erich accompanied us on a Dutch motorcycle. I intended to take 
the town commander unawares and make him agree to a ceasefire. 

Dutch soldiers were standing transfixed on the street as we shouted at 
them and pointed towards the tree barricade. They threw down their 
weapons and went towards the barrier. The further we went into the city, 
the more uncomfortable I felt about this “excursion”. I would have liked to 
turn back, but it was too late, we had to play this game out to its end. 

The sound of firing at the bunkers had not reached the center of town. 
Hubby and wife, out enjoying the beautiful May day, were scattering like 
frightened hens threatened by a hawk’s shadow. Despite the extremely 
uncomfortable situation, we had to laugh at the Dutch reaction. An impos¬ 
ing civic building in the city center and the sight of a number of uniformed 
people coming and going made us try fate there. We moved right into the 
middle of the crowd. Amidst the squealing of brakes the car seemed about 
to overturn. In a split second we pointed our weapons at bewildered men in 
uniform. The Dutch stood transfixed. A respectable elderly gentleman in 
civilian clothes introduced himself as “the Queen’s representative” and told 
us that he would order the Dutch troops in Zwolle to cease resistance. He 
kept his promise. Not another shot was fired in Zwolle. 

With several captive officers we hurried back to the tree barricade. 
Zwolle was ours but, unfortunately, we could not prevent the destruction 
of the large bridges over the Ijssel. Both bridges had already been blown 
up in the early hours of the morning. 

I nearly had a stroke when I reached the dismanded barrier—my men 
and some Dutch youths were amusing themselves on a carousel with 
hardly anyone on guard. 

Meanwhile, the III./Leibstandarte SS “Adolf HiUer” (mot.) had forced 
a crossing over the Ijssel 800 meters to the south of the destroyed railway 
bridge at Zutphen. It was attacking Hooen. Under the command of 



From Prague to the Western Fromt 


13 


SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Trabandt, the village was taken at about 1400 hours. 
Four officers and 200 men of the “Gendarmes” Regiment had been taken 
captive. Our own losses were negligible. The missions of the regimental 
Kampfgruppen had been fulfilled. The Ijssel had been reached and par¬ 
tially crossed. My Kampfgruppe had only a single wounded man to show 
for it. Kradschutze Fleischer had been shot through the leg at die tree bar¬ 
ricade. 

During the night our regiment was detached from the 227. Infanterie- 
Division and placed under the operational control of the 18. Armee. The 
commander of the 227. Infanterie-Division, Generalmajor Zickwolf, recog¬ 
nized the regiment’s fast and successful advance. As the first officer so hon¬ 
ored in this campaign, SS-Obersturmfiihrer Kraas received the Iron Cross, 
1st Class from the hands of the general. Kraas advanced about sixty kilo¬ 
meters beyond the Ijssel with his reinforced platoon and took seven offi¬ 
cers and 120 men prisoner. 



Operations against Rotterdam 


After the fighting on the Ijssel line, the regiment received orders to 
advance to Geertrnidenborg via ‘s-Hertogenbosch and establish contact 
with the 9. Panzer-Division. After skirmishes with Dutch infantry we 
reached Geertruidenborg late in the afternoon of 13 May. Contact with 
the 9. Panzer-Division was established. 

Next morning at 0400 hours we started our advance on the bridge 
across the Meuse near Moerdijk. As a result of the paratroops’ efforts, the 
bridge had fallen into German hands intact. 

Parachutes were dispersed in the broad meadows on both sides of the 
bridge embankment. Many a brave paratrooper had been killed in front of 
the numerous pillboxes, but the element of surprise had also won here. 
The enemy did not have a chance to destroy this all-important bridge. The 
way into Fortress Holland was open. 

The 9. Panzer-Division had advanced to the port of Rotterdam and 
made contact with the 1 l./Luftlande-Regiment 16. A company had been 
set down near those bridges by gliders and had defended them against 
continuous Dutch attack. 

The regiment’s mission was as follows: “The reinforced Leibstandarte 
SS “Adolf Hitler” (mot.) in conjunction with the 9. Panzer-Division and fol¬ 
lowing behind it will push through or bypass Rotterdam to relieve the sur¬ 
rounded airborne troops in the area Delft/Rotterdam and then continue 
towards Gravenhage (den Haag).” 

The regiment prepared to attack south of Katendrecht. Preparations 
were complete by 1300 hours. 

Rotterdam was to be attacked at 1440 hours after softening up by 
artillery and Stukas. 

My advance guard had been deployed ahead to the port of Rotterdam 
and was positioned near a big Dutch passenger liner. The ship had been 
burning since 10 May. Its cargo consisted of American cars. 

At 1400 hours word got around that the Dutch were negotiating a 
capitulation. The negotiators were General Student, Oberstleutnant von 
Choltitz of the 22. Luftlandedivision and the Dutch Colonel Scharro. Dur- 


14 



Operations against Rotterdam 


15 


ing the parley General Student was shot in the head and taken away seri¬ 
ously wounded. 

It had yet to be confirmed whether the surrender demand would be 
accepted by the Dutch high command. 

At 1525 hours the corps issued orders not to attack Rotterdam. Gen¬ 
eral Winkelman was expected as representative of the Dutch high com¬ 
mand. I watched from the bridge with a group of officers as several waves 
of He 111 bombers approached Rotterdam. Dutch antiaircraft guns fired 
at the planes. The ceasefire was broken. We tried vainly to attract the 
pilots’ attention by firing red flares in order to stop the attack. We were 
standing in the middle of their target area. We believed we could prevent 
the attack up to the last moment but, as we heard later, the pilots could 
not see our flares through the haze. The dense clouds from the burning 
ship threw a pall over the city. As we heard the whistle of falling bombs we 
vacated the bridge and hurried into nearby cellars. That was it. The attack 
could no longer be stopped. Rotterdam was a sea of flame. The last bomb 
fell at 1545 hours. 

We looked at the raging fire in horror and experienced the enormous 
violence of a bombing attack for the first time. The fire in front of us was 
building up into an impenetrable wall. The streets were almost impassable. 
Our doubts about negotiating the streets of the burning city were dispelled 
by an order to move out immediately. My advance guard was supposed to 
make contact with troops of the 22. Luftlandedivision at Overschie. 

We approached the maze of blocked streets and searched for a route 
to Overschie, pushing deeper and deeper into burning Rotterdam with 
our faces covered. People were fleeing towards the port area to escape the 
inferno. 

My motorcyclists were moving through the narrow streets as if pos¬ 
sessed by the devil. Shop windows exploded about our ears. Burning deco¬ 
rations and clothed mannequins presented an unearthly picture. The 
further we moved into the city the emptier the streets. There were soon no 
Dutch to be seen; the blazing incandescence had driven them all away. 

Two heavy armored cars were moving through dense smoke clouds 
and their taillights showed the way. There was no room for mistakes; it was 
impossible to stop. The heat was unbearable. After we had passed through 
the shopping quarter and reached a tree-lined avenue, I ordered a short 
break to let the motorcyclists catch up with us. Soot-caked, with singed 
hair, but laughing faces, the last section came out of the burning city. 
Behind us things were closed off tighter than a drum. The fire had formed 
a convincing barrier for us. We could not turn back, so—onward! 


16 


GRENADIERS 


We moved cautiously towards Overschie in the protection of a canal 
embankment and were met by infantry fire. The drawbridge over the canal 
had been raised and proved an effective barrier. We quickly blew up the 
bridge-operating mechanism. A heavy vehicle pushed on the bridge and it 
descended slowly. The road to the north lay before us. But how did this 
straight stretch of road look? Plane after plane sat there on the broad con¬ 
crete road, destroyed, shot up, or burnt out. They were the transport air¬ 
craft of the 22. Luftlandedivision which had used the road as a runway 
when they could not use their designated landing zones. They had fallen 
victim to the Dutch artillery. The air-landed troops had held out against all 
enemy attacks for three days. The fighting was especially fierce in Over¬ 
schie. We worked our way forward down both sides of the road. Dutch 
machine gun and rifle fire failed to stop us. We searched Overschie in vain 
for survivors of the 22. Luftlandedivision. Apart from traces of batde and 
dead comrades we could not find any German soldiers. 

Only after advancing further towards Delft did about ten soldiers and 
a Leutnant come running towards us. The young officer threw his arms 
around my neck in exhaustion. At about 2100 hours we reached Delft and 
made contact with elements of the surrounded 22. Luftlandedivision. The 
regiment took 3,536 Dutch prisoners on 14 May. 

The disarmament of Dutch troops in Gravenhage and Scheveningen 
was completed on 15 May without enemy resistance. The regiment took 
163 officers and 7,080 soldiers captive. With the occupation of the Ministry 
of War, the war in Holland was over for us. 



Into France 


The regiment moved into northern France by way of Arnhem and Namur 
and, near Valenciennes, it tackled French troops for the first time. 

The regiment’s mission was to prevent a French breakthrough to the 
south. All enemy attempts at a breakthrough were frustrated by our sol¬ 
diers’ defensive fire. The width of our regiment’s allocated front was about 
thirty kilometers. 

Near the old fortress of Les Quesnoy a freshly harvested field gave me 
a supernatural feeling. A few hours before, thousands of French must have 
been camped here. Now not a single French soldier was to be seen. But 
innumerable French helmets were lying in the great field as if arrayed for 
a parade. The neatly arranged helmets, so it seemed to me, expressed the 
helplessness and weariness of the French Army. It was an army without 
spirit and drive. It no longer consisted of “Verdun Soldiers”. It was fighting 
without faith in its cause and goals. 

The battles of World War I were still firmly embedded in the French 
soldiers’ minds. They believed in their Maginot Line and therefore in the 
invincible force of the greatest defensive line on earth. France not only 
had the Maginot Line but also a superior tank force. The Allied armed 
forces had more than 4,800 tanks at their disposal. This quantity of armor 
was faced at the beginning of the attack by 2,200 German tanks and 
armored cars. The reason for the rapid breakdown of the French was 
surely due to their old-fashioned leadership principles. 

On 24 May the Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler” (moti) came under the 
operational control of Panzergruppe von Kleist and was apportioned to 
the 1. Panzer-Division. A few days before the rapidly advancing Panzer¬ 
gruppe von Kleist had reached the scarred batdefields of the Somme from 
World War I. The division, having advanced to the Channel coast by way of 
Cambrai, Peronne, Amiens, and Abbeville, was ready to take Boulogne, 
together with the 2. Panzer-Division. On 24 May the 1. Panzer-Division was 
positioned on the Aa canal at Holque and had orders to attack Dunkirk. 
Within the framework of this operation our regiment was attacking Watten 
to lend more weight to the attack of the 1. Panzer-Division. 


17 



18 


GRENADIERS 


I brought the advance guard up to the canal and on to Watten Hill in 
a night march. Watten Hill is seventy-two-meters high, which was enough 
in this flat marshland to command the surrounding area. The hill was east 
of the canal; the bridges over the canal were destroyed and its bank was 
defended by English and French troops. Under these circumstances a sur¬ 
prise attack on the hill was impossible. It could only be taken by a deliber¬ 
ate attack. That night, the III./Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler” (mot.) 
made ready for the attack on the hill. 

Shordy before the start of the attack, the crossing of the canal was for¬ 
bidden by an order from Hitler. Dunkirk was to be left to the Luftwaffe. All 
offensive operations by Panzergruppe von Kleist were immediately brought 
to a halt. We were left speechless by this order, because we were now out in 
the open on the west bank of the canal. We sighed with relief when we 
heard of Sepp Dietrich’s decision to go through with the attack despite 
Hitler’s order. After effective p re para to 17 fire, the lO./Leibstandarte SS 
“Adolf Hider” (mot.) succeeded in crossing the canal and entering the out¬ 
skirts of Watten east of the canal. Stubborn resistance by the English and 
French hindered the progress of the units that had made the crossing. 
Only the attack of the III./Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler” (mot.) finally 
brought the high ground into our hands. 

The hill was crowned by castle ruins that afforded us excellent obser- 
vadon to the east. We were standing on the ruins when suddenly the Com¬ 
manding General of the XIV. Armee-Korps appeared and demanded an 
explanation from Sepp Dietrich for advancing on his own. Sepp Dietrich 
answered: "The area west of the canal is in full view from Watten Hill. 
Those bastards were able to look right down our throats. That is why I 
decided to take the hill.” General Guderian approved Sepp Dietrich’s deci¬ 
sion. A few seconds after this conversadon we were all lying in the dirt and 
having to crawl for our lives. Enemy machine gun fire forced us to take 
cover. The dexterity with which the tank veterans Dietrich and Guderian 
disappeared behind the ruins was amazing. 

In the face of this “ambush”, Guderian ordered a continuation of the 
attack in the direction of Wonnhoudt-Berques. For the duradon of this 
attack our regiment w'ould be attached to the 20. Infanterie-Division 
(mot.). On our right Infanterie-Regiment 76 was attacking; on our left it 
was the reinforced Infanterie-Regiment “GroBdeutschland”. 

The start of the attack on 27 May was delayed because the bridging of 
the canal was not completed in time. At 0745 hours there was an enemy 
attack from a small patch of woods two kilometers east of Watten Hill that 
was repulsed by our artillery. At 0828 hours the regiment went on the 



Into France 


19 


attack and rapidly gained ground. At 1000 hours the regimental command 
post came under heavy enemy artillery fire that continued into the early 
afternoon. 

In Bollezelle the I./Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler” (mot.) met with 
strong resistance and, in addition, came under heavy fire from the sector 
belonging to Infanterie-Regiment “GroBdeutschland”. Infanterie-Regi- 
ment “GroBdeutsch-land” was lagging behind and it could only deal with 
this threat to our battalion’s flank after some time had passed. 

The Kradschutzen waited in readiness for the result of the attack. 
Once Bollezelle had been taken, it was planned to shoot my advance 
guard like an arrow from a tightly drawn bow and seize Wormhoudt from 
the English by surprise. 

I could not bide my time and tried to get a hand’s-on view of the situa¬ 
tion in the area of the I./Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler" (mot.). A solo 
motorcycle seemed to me the “right horse” for this purpose. Shelling on 
the crossroads forced me into racing along the road at top speed. Knocked 
down telephone wires laying on the road turned my racecourse into an 
obstacle course. Suddenly I felt a jerk and could only just begin to perceive 
that I was flying past a tree like a rocket. From that point on I couldn’t 
remember a thing. 

Someone must have picked me up and brought me to the regimental 
command post. The not-so-friendly voice of Sepp Dietrich called me back 
to reality. In accordance with his orders I was promptly packed onto a litter 
and received doctor’s orders not to get up on any account. The crash had 
given me a concussion. Some time later I heard in my dazed condition that 
my unit was beginning to move and saw the Kradschutzen moving off in the 
direction of Bollezelle. The deep growl of the BMW 7 machines was music to 
my ears. My crash was a thing of the past—I had to lead my troops. 

Without anyone noticing me, I jumped up from the stretcher onto the 
road and scrambled onto a dispatch rider’s machine. I quickly reached the 
lead elements of the company. Questioning glances from Wunsche, the 
leader of the spearhead, greeted me but he did not have the opportunity 
to ask questions. I thundered up to the lead platoon and raced towards 
Bollezelle. My troops followed me; they had no idea that I had just gotten 
up from a stretcher. 

We were met with rifle and machine-gun fire from the outskirts of 
Bollezelle. Mortar fire landed on either side of the road. A halt was not 
recommended under these circumstances! So—we moved out at top speed 
towards the town’s entrance. The machine seemed to be flying over the 
cobblestones; I knew that only a few seconds were necessary to cross the 



20 


GRENADIERS 


danger zone and that my men were following me without hesitation. To 
the left of the road I saw a machine-gun emplacement. It could no longer 
fire at our lead elements. A small hut denoted the limit of its field of fire. 
At full throttle we flew past the first houses. A small barrier consisting of 
farm machinery was being constructed beyond a slight bend in the road. 
Without firing a single round, Erich's group succeeded in disarming the 
French at the barrier. 

Behind us the Kradschutzen fired into the gardens to their left and 
forced the surprised defenders to give up the fight and gather in the 
street. Fifteen officers and 250 enlisted personnel set off down the road to 
captivity. We had two casualties to report. SS-Unterscharfiihrer Peters was 
killed and SS-Oberscharfuhrer Erich was shot through the thigh during 
the approach. Our bold stroke was a success, but I had to delegate my 
advance guard to the second-in-command for a couple of days and obey 
doctor’s orders. 

On 28 May the regiment, the 2. Panzer-Brigade and the 11. Schutzen- 
Brigade went into the attack on Wormhoudt. At 0745 hours the tanks 
started to move taking the grenadiers with them. Heavy enemy artillery fire 
attempted to stop our tanks. The enemy was superior to us in artillery. He 
was also strong in infantry. Just in the sector of the II./Leibstandarte SS 
“Adolf Hitler” (mot.) two enemy regiments were identified. 

I was at the regimental command post and was not allowed to leave 
without permission. My Kradschiitzen were waiting for things to develop in 
Wormhoudt. They would be employed after the town was taken. The ring 
around Dunkirk was becoming tighter and tighter. 

Sepp Dietrich and Max Wunsche moved to the I./Leibstandarte SS 
“Adolf Hitler” (mot.) to get a clear picture of the situation. At 1150 hours 
a dispatch rider returned with the disastrous message that Sepp Dietrich 
and Max Wunsche had been cut off on the eastern outskirts of Esquelberg 
on their way from the I. to the II./Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler” (mot.). 

The 2./Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler” (mot.) tried to free its com¬ 
mander from this critical situation but was prevented by heavy machine 
gun and artillery fire. The attack of the 15./Leibstandarte SS “Adolf 
Hiller” (mot.) was also repulsed by English defensive fire. A reinforced pla¬ 
toon of the 6. Kompanie of the 2. Panzer-Brigade under the command of 
Leutnant Corder lost four tanks and was unable to cross the open ground. 
Leutnant Corder and Feldwebel Cramel were killed a couple of hundred 
meters outside of Esquelberg. 

Sepp Dietrich’s encircled position was clearly visible. It w r as fifty meters 
in front of the enemy’s position. His car was positioned at a road barrier. 



Into France 


21 


The staff" car was burning and, from the ditch, thick smoke clouds were ris¬ 
ing. The fuel had leaked into the ditch and the dry grass had started to 
burn. While all this was going on, Dietrich and Wunsche were lying in a 
narrow culvert, covered with mud from head to toe to protect themselves 
from the fire. 

Five Panzer IVs and a platoon of Panzer IIs advanced to the outskirts 
of Esquelberg. Those tanks to the left of the road advanced through a park 
that was stubbornly defended by the English. When they pulled back, the 
English ignited the fuel they had poured on the park paths so that further 
forward movement of the tanks became impossible. The regiment’s entire 
sector was under heavy enemy artillery fire. The III./Leibstandarte SS 
“Adolf Hitler” (mot.) succeeded in breaking through to the southeastern 
part of Wormhoudt at about 1500 hours. 

The commander was finally freed from his predicament at 1600 by an 
assault team from the I./Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hider” (mot.) com¬ 
manded by SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Ernst Meyer. Unfortunately, the leader 
of the assault troops, the courageous SS-Oberscharfiihrer Oberschelp, was 
killed. Oberschelp was the first noncommissioned officer of the regiment 
to receive the Iron Cross, First Class during the Polish campaign. 

The II./Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hider” (mot.) pushed irresistibly on 
against the toughest of enemy resistance. They were defending tenaciously. 
Our grenadiers dashed from house to house and, at about 1700 hours, 
diey succeeded in reaching Wormhoudt’s market place. The enemy's coun¬ 
terattacks were repulsed. During a surprise advance by enemy tanks, the 
commander of the II./Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hider” (mot.), SS-Sturm- 
bannfi'ihrer Schiitzek, was wounded. Two tanks were shot up in flames; the 
regiment captured eleven officers and 320 enlisted personnel. A great 
many guns and vehicles and ammunition were seized in Wormhoudt. At 
2310 hours the regiment recommenced its attack with tank support and 
forced the English to retreat. During the night six English officers and 430 
enlisted personnel were taken captive. 

By dawn the regiment had advanced to the Ost Cappel-Rexpoide road 
without meeung serious resistance. The enemy forces facing the regi¬ 
ment’s sector were completely scattered and tried to escape to the north, 
leaving all equipment behind. 

The roads to the north were completely blocked. Endless columns of 
English trucks, tanks and guns left them useless for any other traffic. The 
amount of equipment left behind was enormous. The English retreat had 
taken on the aspect of uncurbed flight. At 1545 hours, the XIV. Armee- 
Korps ordered the attack broken off" and immediate preparedness to 



22 


GRENADIERS 


move. The Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler” (mot.) came under the opera¬ 
tional control of the 9. Panzer-Division and was to pursue the enemy flee¬ 
ing to Dunkirk. At 1800 hours this order was cancelled for reasons 
unknown. Once again we watched the English and remained inactive. We 
were not allowed to continue the attack. We had to watch the English evac¬ 
uating Dunkirk and see them vanish across the Channel. How the war 
would have turned out, had Panzergruppe von Kleist been allowed to con¬ 
tinue the planned operation against Dunkirk and had taken the British 
Expeditionary Force capuve, can scarcely be imagined. 

The fighting against the English had ended; we did not participate in 
the final phase of Dunkirk. The regiment came under the command of 
Armeeoberkommando 6 and found itself in the Cambrai sector on 4 June. 

The battle of the Somme had started and the Somme position had 
undergone heavy attacks that led to various breakthroughs. The regiment 
stood by to be directed towards Amiens or Peronne via Bapaume. The 
enemy had brought up fresh forces. Their orders were possibly to stop the 
deep breakthrough designed to hinder the retreat of those French forces 
fighdng in the northern part of the front line and to buy time to construct 
a new' line behind the Oise. But it was also possible the enemy would try to 
escape to the south during the night. 

It was therefore intended to attack with four divisions and break 
through in a southwesterly direction on 8 June. The regiment was placed 
under the operational control of the 3. Panzer-Division. The attack started 
out on schedule. The breakthrough was forced. On 9 June we were sud¬ 
denly transferred to the XXXXIV. Armee-Korps sector and received orders 
to advance towards Soissons, Villers Cotterets, and then in a southeasterly 
direction. By the time my Kradschiitzen crossed the Aisne to the west of 
Soissons they were dead tired. But there was no time for sleep. We were 
supposed to move through the forest of Villers Cotterets during the night 
and then advance to La Ferte Milon. 

Deepest night surrounded us as we entered the dark forest and moved 
slowly along the road that had been severely damaged by mines and 
bombs. Infanterie-Regiment 124 was bivouacked along both sides of the 
main road in the forest of Doxauiale. Soon we passed the last outposts and 
moved into no-man’s-land. French stragglers willingly gave themselves up. 
They mostly belonged to the French 11th Division. The rustling of the tall 
beeches disturbed us. We expected to encounter the enemy at any 
moment and each sound seemed to proclaim his presence. 

This movement through the woods must have been a special experi¬ 
ence for Sepp Dietrich. It was there, during the First World War, he took 
part in his first tank action and destroyed his first enemy tank. 



Into France 


23 


About 0400 hours we reached Villers Co tie rets and took a number of 
surprised Frenchmen captive. The whole situation already bore die stamp 
of impending collapse. Scattered units of the French 11th Division offered 
only token resistance. 

At 0500 hours we advanced in the direction of La Ferte Milon and, in 
the forest 4 kilometers south of Villers Cotterets, we took prisoner some 
more members of the 11th Division. A short distance from La Ferte Milon 
the leading elements came under hostile infantry fire. The village was then 
quickly taken. 

The I./Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler” (mot.) succeeded in entering 
Chateau-Thierry with its first attack and advanced as far as the destroyed 
railway bridge. Chateau-Thierry, a fateful town for the Germans, had been 
evacuated by the French, but heavy artillery fire was falling on the deserted 
streets, turning the sleepy town into a rather uncomfortable place. 

On 11 June my advance guard moved through Brumets and 
Coulombe towards Montrenil and broke through several of the enemy’s 
lines of resistance. I could not restrain my grenadiers. The dash for the 
Marne started. At 0530 hours on the next day we raced through Montrenil 
and surprised the French during their wake-up call. They eagerly threw 
away their weapons and congregated on the main street. At 0904 hours we 
reached the Marne at St. Aulge. Our heavy weapon fire destroyed enemy 
columns on the south bank before we handed our position over to the 
II./Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler” (mot.) and set out to pursue still fur¬ 
ther the already beaten enemy. 

Although we had fulfilled our objectives by reaching the northern 
bank of the Marne, the II./Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hider” (mot.) forced a 
crossing at St. Aulge to create a bridgehead and so enabled an attack 
against the railway embankment in the bend of the Marne. At 1850 hours 
Moey was taken, the embankment was reached and the attack pressed. By 
creating this bridgehead, further operations over the next few days were 
made easier and the enemy was prevented from deploying defensively in 
the bend of the Marne. 

During the night the regiment was relieved and, once again, came 
under the 9. Panzer-Division. At 1245 hours of the memorable 14 June we 
listened to a special broadcast: “German troops have been marching into 
Paris since early morning .. .” Soldiers of the 1 I./Leibstandarte SS “Adolf 
Hitler” (mot.) rushed into the village church at Etrepilly and started the 
bells ringing. Silently we stood on the advance route and listened to the 
solemn peal. Nobody cheered, there was no toast of joy, no bonfire. 
Deeply moved, we acknowledged this fact and our eyes followed the Stuka 
squadrons flying over the Marne, carrying death to the south. On the 




24 


GRENADIERS 


evening of the same clay one of my best noncommissioned officers died a 
soldier’s death. SS-Hauptscharfiihrer Schildknecht was killed, an example 
to his whole platoon. 

We continued south through Montmirail and Nevers, with orders to 
form a bridgehead across the Allier near Moulins. The road bridge was 
blown up by the French in front of our eyes. The detonation happened at 
the same time as a Leutnant of Schutzen-Regiment 10 was trying to reach 
the other bank. He was flung into the torrent of the Loire together with the 
bridge. In contrast to the road bridge, we succeeded in taking the railway 
bridge. It had been set on fire, but we were able to form a bridgehead, die 
fire being unable to destroy the iron structure of the bridge. The enemy 
offered only token resistance, although the French high command still had 
some 70 divisions available for battle. But the French army no longer 
wanted to fight. We only met isolated pockets of determined resistance. 

On 19 June I received orders to reconnoiter the route from Moulins 
to Gannat via St. Pourcain. At dawn, my advance guard was moving 
through the tree dotted, undulating landscape, clearing the road with gun¬ 
fire. The fleeing French units repeatedly tried to form lines of resistance to 
gain time and space for their retreat. These attempts didn’t bother us any 
more. We had only one aim: To gain ground to the south. The flanks had 
become unimportant. We moved down the roads like a fire-spitting 
dragon. Halting was taboo. Firing was only conducted from moving vehi¬ 
cles. The advance was beginning to look like a wild hunt. 

About 1030 hours we crested a small rise and looked down on St. 
Pourcain. I was moving with the spearhead and saw French soldiers eagerly 
endeavoring to erect a roadblock at the entrance to the town. The area on 
either side of the road was open, without cover, and it sloped down for 
about 800 meters in the direction of St. Pourcain. This unfavorable terrain 
prohibited an infantry attack on the town. I therefore decided to surprise 
the French and overrun them by a lightning attack on the obstacle. For 
this surprise attack I chose a lead element under the command of SS- 
Obersturmfiihrer Knittel. I ordered the rest of the advance platoon to fol¬ 
low 100 meters behind and give covering fire to the leading element. 

The French still had no idea that we were already so close to St. Pour¬ 
cain. They were calmly collecting all kinds of things to block the entrance 
to the town. 

The first motorcycle-sidecar combination then swept over the hill and 
down the road like lightning, firing as it went. The remaining motorcycles 
followed at top speed. The armored cars followed on either side of the 
road and fired their 20 mm rounds in front of the advancing motorcycles. 


Into France 


25 


Mortars were firing on the town. Within a few seconds all hell broke loose. 
I rushed after the lead element and saw startled soldiers running, panic 
stricken, from the houses into the street. Wildly gesticulating officers tried 
in vain to force their soldiers to fight. The surprise was too complete and 
an effective defense was no longer possible. Only single rifle rounds whis¬ 
tled over our heads. Within a short time the obstacle was breached and a 
gap made for our passage. A 75 mm field gun was positioned at the bar¬ 
rier. The gun crew did not have time to fire, our lead elements had been 
too quick. 

The initial surprise was gone and it was no longer advisable to con¬ 
tinue with a mounted attack. We pushed along both sides of the road dis¬ 
mounted. As we turned into the main street we encountered lively 
machine gun fire that made us more cautious. But we could not lose any 
more time; the attack had to be executed as quickly as possible to stop the 
demolition of the bridge that was at the far end of the town. 

The advance-guard platoon leapfrogged towards the bridge. The 
French prisoners ran back trying to leave the danger zone. Fifty meters 
from the bridge the assault-group leader, SS-Obersturmfuhrer Knittel, was 
shot in the thigh and had just enough time to roll behind a big elm tree 
before pieces of the bridge flew around our ears. As soon as the smoke 
cloud began to clear we were greeted with lively infantry fire. The other 
bank was somewhat higher and afforded an excellent defense. Under 
these circumstances we remained in the line we had secured and I asked 
the following battalion to bypass St. Pourcain and try to capture the bridge 
over the Sioule about twelve kilometers to the south. 

Meanwhile, beyond the demolished bridge, the enemy was feeling 
secure and had no idea that complete destruction was already on the way. 
At 1420 hours the commander of the advance-guard company of the 
III./Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler” (mot.), Jochen Peiper, sent a message 
that the crossing of the Sioule had been accomplished. In addition, an 
enemy company with all its equipment had been captured as it was retreat¬ 
ing towards Gannat. The III./Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler" (mot.) was 
quickly thrown across the river and sent to attack the French in St. Pour¬ 
cain. The battalion attacked the French rear and was able to finish the 
fight without great loss. 

My advance guard left St. Pourcain and chased the enemy towards 
Gannat. By 1600 hours Gannat had already been taken without a fight and 
we reconnoitered towards Vichy. 

Strong barriers made from trees on the Gannat—Vichy road pre¬ 
vented us from carrying out this task before nightfall. Shortly before reach- 




26 


GRENADIERS 


ing Vichy we surprised a heavy artillery unit that had halted. Its ancient 
trucks were unable to climb the steep hill. The guns must have been relics 
from the First World War and were surely not fit for use. They had proba¬ 
bly led a peaceful existence in some depot up to then. 

The motorcycle company succeeded in disarming the French without 
loss and sent them marching back to Gannat. A demoralized French offi¬ 
cer was standing on the road looking mournfully at the guns. I saw tears 
running down his cheeks. He stuttered: “For shame! The soldiers of Ver¬ 
dun would not have let that happen.” 

We found the bridge over the Allier intact and established contact 
with German troops at Vichy. On 19 June, seventeen officers and 933 
enlisted personnel were captured. All the prisoners looked worn out and 
demoralized. 

On 29 June the II./Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler” (mot.) advanced 
on Clermont-Ferrand and seized 242 planes of different types on the air¬ 
field. Eight tanks, innumerable vehicles and other equipment fell into the 
hands of our troops. In addition, the battalion captured a Major General, 
286 officers and 4,075 enlisted personnel. 

A French captain captured at Pont du Chateau after the start of the 
attack volunteered to be a parlementaire. Despite his white flag, he was 
shot and killed by French troops when he reached the French lines to ask 
die so-called “open city” to surrender. 

On 23 June the advance guard set out in die direcdon of St. Etienne 
and, two kilometers north of La Fouillouse, came under brisk fire from a 
road obstacle. The obstacle was located behind a small outcropping and 
was therefore difficult to engage. A 37 mm antitank gun was prepared for 
firing. It was planned to push it round the outcrop to fire at the obstacle. 

The lead element had moved into the undergrowth on both sides of 
the road and was trying to see beyond the far side of the obstacle. I moved 
up along the ditch with the second section and had just passed the anti¬ 
tank gun’s position when lively shooting started and a tank rolled out from 
behind the obstacle. It moved around the outcrop, firing. We pressed our¬ 
selves into the bottom of the ditch like rabbits and gazed at the advancing 
mass of steel. Spellbound, we watched the tracks as they came closer and 
closer to the edge and looked as if they were just about to slide down into 
the ditch over the masonry border. Finally, the tank stopped even with us 
at the apex of the bend. 

Tank and antitank gun confronted each other, twenty meters apart. 
The antitank gun fired first and, after the ringing impact, we heard the 
shrill whistle of the ricocheting round. Nor did the second round pene- 



Into France 


27 


irate the armor. The steel plates were too thick for the 37 mm rounds. We 
watched as the tank rolled direcdy towards the antitank gun and scored a 
direct hit on the crew. Only a few meters before reaching the gun's posi¬ 
tion, it turned around and retired behind the barrier. We were relieved to 
see that the second round had jammed the turret and the gunner could 
not aim his weapon properly. Unfortunately, three Panzeijager from the 
antitank gun crew were killed. They were the last of our men to die in the 
French campaign of 1940. 

From the lead element’s position, I could see six enemy tanks in all 
positioned behind the obstacle. They were First World War veterans, which 
had been built for the planned 1919 offensive, but never saw action. The 
tanks were forced away half an hour later by our 150 mm rounds. The 
road to St. Etienne was open. Next morning the I./Leibstandarte SS 
“Adolf Hitler” (mot.) entered the town and took several hundred French 
captive. 

At 2145 hours we heard a truce between Italy and France had been 
signed. The fighting in France had ended. Was this the end of the war? 

We were concerned to hear of the arranged demarcation line and we 
had to withdraw from occupied territory on 4 July. Our regiment was then 
attached to Armeeoberkommando 12 and, in the early hours, set out for 
Paris. We were to take part in the planned parade. 

In spite of the defeat the French army had suffered, the French popu¬ 
lation was quite friendly. Shortly before we reached Paris we heard of the 
sinking of the French fleet by British battleships in the port of Dakar. This 
action touched the French very deeply. Never before and never again have 
I seen so many people crying as that time in France. Churchill’s deed was 
not regarded as an act of war but as a crime. 

Paris was surrounded by a strong cordon from Division von Briesen. 
The city center could only be entered with permission and a pass from 
headquarters. 1 took the opportunity to see the sights of Paris with my 
Kradschiitzen. Because the planned parade for the Ftihrer was first post¬ 
poned and then finally cancelled, the regiment left Paris and marched 
towards Metz. 

I asked Sepp Dietrich’s permission to leave twenty-four hours earlier 
so that 1 could show the blood-soaked battlefields of Verdun to my soldiers. 
Permission was given and consequently there were some one hundred sol¬ 
diers at Fort Dounaumont on 28 July 1940. 

Together we climbed through the casemates that, twenty-five years pre¬ 
viously, had been taken by Hauptmann von Brandis and Oberleutnant 
Haupt and their courageous Brandenburg grenadiers. Deeply moved, we 




28 


GRENADIERS 


stood before the great caseinate, the gate of which was walled up, and 
behind which innumerable German soldiers were taking their final rest. 

The scarred area around the destroyed Fort Donaumont told an 
unambiguous tale. Line after line of craters, a scene from a lunar land¬ 
scape. The thin layer of grass was unable to hide the suffering of this tor¬ 
tured earth. Communication trenches cut through the landscape like 
deeply furrowed wrinkles. 

Between Fort Donaumont and the charnel house we discovered the 
grave of a fallen comrade, who had lost his young life only a few weeks ago. 
With bared heads we stood by this forlorn grave and gazed at the innu¬ 
merable graves to our left. Thousands of wooden crosses could be seen in 
front of the charnel house. Words lost their power. The invisible regi¬ 
ments, whose former existence was signified by the crosses, needed no 
interpreter, they spoke for themselves. 

From the charnel house we walked slowly up the mount of Vaux and 
tried to picture those enormous efforts of the German and French soldiers 
who lost their lives on this hill in June 1916. We climbed up to the shat¬ 
tered hilltop of the fort and tried to follow the route of Leutnant Kiel who, 
on 2 June 1916, advanced towards the fort’s center by the way of the east¬ 
ern trench with about forty grenadiers. We soon gave up. In this churned 
up earth nothing could be found any longer. 

At this place, man’s destructiveness had changed the face of the earth. 
In our imagination we saw the dark shadows of the advancing grenadiers, 
dashing through the roaring barrage and breaking through a battered gap 
in the outer trench wall. We imagined how the combat engineers put 
incendiary charges into the firing embrasures and incapacitated the crew 
in the armored turret. Today the armored cupola lay destroyed at our feet; 
its power had been broken. 

As 1 described the plight of the French fort’s garrison to my soldiers I 
seemed to hear the roaring thunder of the French artillery that tried to 
chase the German grenadiers off the hilltop. In the dark corridors of the 
fort we found scorch marks on the walls and ceilings of the vaults and rec¬ 
ognized the effects of the German flamethrowers. Shaken, we stood by the 
cistern which was partly responsible for the downfall of the French garri¬ 
son and sensed the agony of the French soldiers who suffered from 
unbearable thirst. But the Germans on the fort were in the same position. 
The owner’s sweat and blood clung to each water bottle that passed 
through the storm of steel into the fort. 

The visit to this historic place had turned my comrades into a 
silent audience. Without uttering a single word they surrounded me as I 


Into France 


29 


told them of the heroic battles of 8 June 1916. On that day the French 
attacked in seven waves, one after another, to recapture the fort. But the 
exhausted Germans fought like madmen. They were not prepared to sur¬ 
render the fort. 

At twilight we followed the route of the twenty-one soldiers and two 
German officers who passed through the French barrage and reinforced 
the forlorn group of defenders. These men were the remnants of two Ger¬ 
man companies. All the others remained on the battlefield. 

In the shadow of the all-concealing night our vehicles moved east¬ 
wards. The visit to the battlefield had left us circumspect. Verdun had 
taught us that, in spite of two campaigns behind us, we had not yet experi¬ 
enced our fathers’ appalling deprivations. 





Tin* first fighting in Poland. 






“Dei schiK-lle Meyer" in July 1940 in France. Note ihe Army officer cap which 
lias been impressed into SS service by Meyer. 











Officers of SS-Aufklarungs-Ableilung 1 in 1940. Left to right: Hugo Kraa-s, Max 
Wunsche, Hermann VVeiser, and Kurt Meyer. 



August 1940: Fort Alversleben (Metz). Taken after the “Leibstandarte" received 
die Fuhrerstandarte from Adolf Hitler. Left to right: Sepp Dietrich, SS-Sturm- 
bannfuhrer Keilhaus, SS-Untersturmfuhrer Ritz, and Panzermeyer. 


The Formation of the 
Reconnaissance Battalion at Metz 


On 29 July we occupied Fort Alversleben at Metz. The fort lies west of the 
Moselle and commands a view far down the beautiful Moselle valley. 

In the fort we discovered old batteries with Krupp cannon from the 
turn of the century. Even the appropriate ammunition was stored next to 
the guns, neatly arrayed. The inventory report originated from the Pruss¬ 
ian gunners who had to surrender their guns to the French in 1918. 

With a lot of effort and work we succeeded in making the fort fit for 
billeting troops. The fort was to become a training ground for the newly 
established SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung of the verstarkte [reinforced] Infan- 
lerie-Brigade Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler”. 

I was entrusted with its formation in August. As a nucleus of units 1 
had at my disposal the former 15. (Kradschutzen-)Kompanie, the Panzer- 
Spah-Zug [armored car platoon] and the Kradmeldezug [motorcycle mes¬ 
senger platoon] of the former regiment. I was allowed to select additional 
personnel from the Motorcycle Replacement Battalion at Ellwangen. 

I did not have to search around Ellwangen for long. The young Krad- 
schutzen wanted to join combat units and were glad to leave their home 
barracks. Splendid, healthy young men surrounded me as soon as 1 asked 
for volunteers. These were young men who had just turned 18 and had 
been soldiers for six weeks. Within a few days the new battalion in Metz 
was complete and started an intensive training program. Nothing was too 
difficult for our young comrades. They eagerly followed their instructors’ 
orders and welded themselves into a steel-hard team. The old battlefields 
of St. Privat, Gravelotte, and Mars la Tour became the training area for the 
Kradschiitzen and the Panzeraufklarer. 

In the years since the defeat a lot of nonsense has been written about 
the composition of the Waffen-SS. 1 think it is necessary to give the reader 
a survey of the origins and sociological composition of the unit at this 
point. As an example, I quote from the records of the 2. (Kradschutzen-)/ 
Aufklarungs-Abteilung Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler”. The men practiced 
the following professions prior to their enlisunent: 


33 



34 


GRENADIERS 


1. Technical professions: 42.73% (Their fathers: 10.9%) 

2. Skilled trades: 21.69% (Their fathers 39.03%) 

3. Self-employed: 14.16% (Their fathers: 26.08%) 

4. Fanning: 6.41% (their fathers 8.76%) 

5. Unskilled: 15.01% (their fathers: 18.23%) 

The average age of the soldiers was 19.35 years. The noncommis¬ 
sioned officers were 25.76 years. The average age of the entire company 
was 22.5 years. In all, the members of the unit had 452 siblings. All regions 
of the Reich were represented. It may be said with complete justification 
that these troops represented a cross-section of the German people and 
were neither a unit for bigwigs or mercenaries. 

Forty-eight officers, noncommissioned officers and men were killed 
from within this splendid company during the six months from 10 July to 
31 December 1941. A further 122 were wounded during the same period. 
In the tough defensive fighting at Rostow in December 1941 the company 
was reduced to platoon strength. 

Where do today’s public figures pluck the courage to call these faithful 
and self-sacrificing young men party soldiers? These young men fought for 
Germany and certainly did not die for a party. 

* 


In the autumn of 1940, I was detailed to a staff officer course at 
Miihlhausen in the Alsace. The Chief Instructor was excellent, the com¬ 
mander of the 73. Infanterie-Division, Generalleutnant Bieler. During this 
course I got to know a couple of colleagues, Oberst Hitzfeld and Major 
Stiefvater, with whom 1 would later share some serious moments in Greece 
and Russia. 

During this time the units were training for Operation Sea Lion and 
carried out amphibious landing exercises. The Moselle River was the 
favored place to train. Under secret conditions, the training was switched 
to mountain warfare. We rode our motorcycles at breakneck speed across 
the steep slopes of the Moselle Mountains. The area surrounding the fort, 
with its high walls and trenches, looked like a circus. We even practiced 
scaling up and down cliff faces with motorcycles and antitank guns. By the 
spring we considered ourselves to be a well-trained unit, ready for employ¬ 
ment. The teamwork with the heavy weapons functioned as smoothly as a 
chronometer. Generaloberst Blaskowitz found words of high praise for our 
efforts. General von Kortzfleisch expressed himself similarly as we were 
inspected in Metz for the last time. The unit was ready for action and 
awaited orders. 


The Balkans 


During the First World War the German people fared badly on their south¬ 
eastern flank. In the autumn of 1916, at the same time as we were making 
the bloodiest of sacrifices in the west on the Somme, in the east against 
Bruisow, and in the south on the Isonzo, the Allied Powers completed the 
encirclement of Germany as a result of Rumania’s mobilization. For two 
long years the Central Powers fought the Allied Army of Salonika in the 
rugged mountains of Macedonia. Not until the autumn of 1918 did the 
Allied forces under General Franchet d’Esperey succeed in breaking 
through the German defense. With twenty-nine Allied divisions he 
advanced to the Danube, thus sealing the fate of our allies. 

Which role the Balkans were to play could only be guessed at in the 
spring of 1941. One fact was that Winston Churchill again held a decisive 
influence on British strategy. In his time he had organized the Gallipoli 
landings and then the Salonika operation. 

In the spring of 1941 London held a Balkan expeditionary force in 
readiness in the Mediterranean and, subsequently, landed it in Greece. In 
the middle of February, Foreign Secretary Eden and General Sir John Dill, 
the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, spent time in Athens to discuss the 
deployment of British troops in Greece 

In January the initial German units of Armee List marched into Ruma¬ 
nia. The soldiers were regarded as a training cadre and the population 
gave them a warm welcome. 

We also received marching orders at die beginning of February. 
Nobody knew where the move would lead. We crossed the Rhine near 
StraBburg and then moved through the magnificent southern German 
landscape into Bohemia. Passing Prague, we moved direcdy south and next 
morning saw the silhouette of Budapest. Continuing through the Puszta, 
our train approached the Rumanian frontier. We got to know the Transyl¬ 
vanian Saxons and their beautiful country in the Hungarian-Rumanian 
border area and were received with overwhelming hospitality and cordial¬ 
ity in Kronstadt, Hermannstadt and many other imposing settlements of 
the Teutonic Knights in the Carpathians. 


35 




36 


GRENADIERS 


Our troops were billeted in the Campulung district. This formerly 
tranquil small train station took on an entirely different aspect with lively 
activity reigning everywhere. In the very first hour of our road march I had 
an experience that cast its shadow far into the future. A Rumanian Lieu¬ 
tenant-Colonel was cursing the bad road conditions and asked me to drag 
his small car out of the mud. A lady, obviously in pain, was sitting in the car 
as the Lieutenant Colonel drove away. I quickly forgot the incident. 

In 1943, however, while in Doberitz-Krampnitz a Rumanian Colonel 
came up to me and greeted me warmly. He repeatedly told his comrades 
that I was the savior of his wife and son. It took a long time for me to real¬ 
ize what he meant. When the car was stuck, his wife was on the way to a 
maternity home and was in labor. He reached the maternity home just in 
time for her to give birth to a son. Naturally, we celebrated our reunion in 
Germany. 

After a few weeks stay in Campulung we set out on our march south to 
Bulgaria along deeply rutted and muddy roads. The tank tracks cut deeper 
and deeper into the road and the repair columns worked ceaselessly. Bare, 
broad expanses with hardly any high ground or wooded areas could be seen 
on either side of the road. From time to time we passed through impover¬ 
ished villages, with a well, a few mud huts pressed deep into the earth, a few 
windswept fences and nothing else. Then one morning we saw the wide, 
earth-brown ribbon of the slowly flowing Danube. South of the Danube, ris¬ 
ing dirough the haze and mist, towered the mountains of Bulgaria. 

The sun shone down unmercifully as we rolled into Bulgaria across 
the bridge built by our combat engineers. The Bulgarians give us a festive 
welcome. Many First World War memories were reawakened and Bulgar¬ 
ian peasants showed us their German decorations with pride. The march 
over the notorious Schipka pass was unforgettable. The dangerous hairpin 
bends were negotiated with elan as recovery teams stood by. When all else 
failed, the Bulgarians lent us their draught-oxen. 

The long columns rolled inexorably southwards, past Sofia and into 
the Struma Valley. The jagged mountains threatened to crush us. The driv¬ 
ers just managed to move their heavy vehicles along the narrow mountain 
roads. A sea of dust lay on the roads. These roads, with their potholes, 
steep descents and sharp bends that demand the utmost of the vehicles, 
had been witnessing enormous quantities of traffic for many days. A traffic 
jam about twenty kilometers long developed in the Struma Valley and was 
an especially serious botdeneck. 

The combat and construction engineers built a new road, continu¬ 
ously grading, dynamiting, and bridging. The danger of a bottleneck was 
soon over; the columns crossed the valley quickly and disappeared into the 


The Balkans 


37 


feeder valleys. The towering mountain ranges, hidden canyons and wide 
valleys effectively hid the enormous troop contingents. Large amounts of 
fuel, ammunition and other supplies were stockpiled by the roads. The 
approach march was over. The assault companies were ready. 

Meanwhile, anti-German circles stirred up by the English had taken 
over in Belgrade. A revolt during the night of 26-27 March overthrew the 
government and Prince-Regent Paul was forced to leave the country. As a 
result, the Balkan situation changed dramatically. On the eve of the Bel¬ 
grade coup Hitler had already decided to remove the Yugoslavian threat to 
our flank. 

Besides Generaloberst von Kleist’s Panzergruppe 1 and Generaloberst 
Graf von Weichs’ 2. Armee which were moving against Belgrade and north¬ 
ern Yugoslavia, Feldmarschall List was leading the 12. Armee against south¬ 
ern Yugoslavia (Skopje) and Greece. The 12. Armee had sixteen divisions 
at its disposal, in addition to the Infanterie-Regiment (mot.) “GroBdcutsch- 
land” and our regiment. 

Hitler ordered the attack against Yugoslavia on 6 April, following the 
conclusion of a non-aggression and friendship pact between the Soviet 
Union and Yugoslavia on 5 April. 

A hot spring day neared its end. The heat in the Struma Valley was 
almost unbearable. Because of the events in Yugoslavia we were moving 
north to Kustendil, which lies right on, the Bulgarian-Yugoslavian border. 
The 9. Panzer-Division had already reached the border town and had 
orders to advance on Skopje and, if possible, take this important junction 
in a coup de main. We were to follow the 9. Panzer-Division almost as far as 
Skopje, then turn south and head for the Greek border via Prilep. 

My reinforced battalion was formed in a square before me. Darkness 
surrounded us as I told my comrades the essential details of our impend¬ 
ing operation. They listened silently as I explained the mission of our 
advance guard and indicated expected problems. I also thought it appro¬ 
priate to remind them of the fierce battles that our fathers fought during 
the First World War in the black mountains of Macedonia and in the occu¬ 
pation of Monastir, the city which cost no end of blood and which was our 
first objective. We wanted to take it swiftly and by surprise. At these words I 
sensed, for the first time, the boundless trust that united me with my men. 
I could lead them into hell, and they would follow. 

The night was muggy, little was said and most of the men were smok¬ 
ing. Each man liked to be alone with his thoughts just before an operation. 
The silver sickle of the moon cast a ghostly light on the men crouched 
beside their motorcycles. The steep, bare slopes of the mountain rose omi¬ 
nously before us out of the first light of dawn. The white road snaked up it 




38 


GRENADIERS 


in steep curves, and we knew that pillboxes and dragons teeth awaited us at 
the summit. 

The advance guard of the 9. Panzer-Division set offal dawn on its way 
west across this natural frontier. At an elevation of 1,200 meters they came 
across the Yugoslavian fortifications. The heavy weapons spoke their first 
words. The 88 mm antiaircraft guns and the heavy antitank guns shattered 
the enemy pillboxes. The fortifications were turned into a smoking sham¬ 
bles within a few minutes. It was an unearthly picture. Far to the east a 
blood-red sun arose and, in the valleys, the morning mist boiled with dense 
dust clouds. Red tracer rounds arced in short, fiat streaks from the frontier 
mountains into the receding dawn. Machine guns lashed at the pockets of 
resistance, rattling down the valley. Suddenly, enemy planes appeared. 
Coming low over the mountains they struck at the valley road and attacked 
Kustendil. The roads were filled with columns of troops as bombs fell on 
the town. Thank God, the losses were few but, unfortunately, SS-Ober- 
sturmbannfuhrer Mohnke, commander of the II./Infanterie-Brigade Leib- 
standarte SS “Adolf Hitler” was seriously wounded. SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer 
Baum took over die battalion. 

We were getting closer and closer to the border and finally reached it 
in the late afternoon. The 9. Panzer-Division had broken through the fron¬ 
tier fortifications and was advancing deep into Yugoslavia. The armored 
spearhead rolled towards Skopje, fighting along the way. We moved down 
from the heights past destroyed frontier barriers, roadblocks and well-posi¬ 
tioned pillboxes. We encountered innumerable prisoners, among them 
many Batschka and Banal Germans who welcomed us with loud shouts and 
shook our hands. Carcasses of dead horses, already bloated by the southern 
sun, lay in the ditch. Living horses trotted over the fields or stood apatheti¬ 
cally by the side of the road. The rough landscape took on a different char¬ 
acter. The mountains receded. Their snowy silhouettes remained behind 
us. We found friendly knocked-out tanks and fresh graves outside of Kuma 
Nowo indicating a fierce battle for the town. Darkness sank quickly over 
the line of march. We would soon have to reach the large road junction 
south of Skopje. From that point onwards we were to take the lead and 
strike southwards via Prilep. 

We reached the last outposts of the 9. Panzer-Division shortly after 
midnight and prepared to enter no-man’s-land. Before the advance-guard 
platoon, under the leadership of SS-Untersturmfuhrer Wawrzinek, moved 
out, I briefed the platoon once more on our situation and wished my com¬ 
rades all the best. I sent the platoon into the darkness with the words: 
“Boys, the night belongs to the good soldier!" 


The Balkans 


39 


The motorcycles forged on, slowly at first, then ever more quickly. It 
was reminiscent of the Dutch campaign. I soon found out that Wawrzinek 
had personally taken the lead and, without much ado, scrambled to the 
south. But these were not the smooth asphalt roads of Holland and France. 
Our advance had to cross narrow mountain paths and ravines. The road 
rose steeply. After a short while the first rounds whistled over our heads. 
The enemy was crouching somewhere in the mountains and trying to halt 
our advance. I was moving behind the lead section. A short call sufficed to 
get it moving again. Onward, ever onward. Our goal: Win ground to the 
south and take advantage of the enemy’s confusion. 

We came under fire below a small hill outside a village. Armored cars 
supported the already attacking Kradschutzen and fired their tracers into 
the enemy. Kradschutzen combed the village. Over a hundred bewildered 
Yugoslavs were die consequence of our battalion’s first engagement. The 
enemy officers were cursing their tactical outposts in the mountains. They 
listened incredulously to our interpreter’s explanation that the fire from 
their outposts did not bother us and that we simply continued our advance 
to the south. Half an hour later everything w'as over. 

The Kradschutzen pressed on. The men could not be restrained. On 
we went! In a breakneck move past the slopes and through ravines we sur¬ 
prised an enemy battery on the move. In a couple of minutes the excite¬ 
ment was over. Creaking and groaning, the guns tumbled into the ravine. 

At dawn we arrived at Prilep and made contact with the advance guard 
of the 73. Infanterie-Division. The commanding officer of the battalion was 
Major Stiefvater with whom I attended a training course at Muhlhausen. 
Stiefvater had advanced directly from east to west and reached Prilep with¬ 
out great loss. 

We granted ourselves a sorely needed rest. It looked like it could have 
gotten hot that day. We had a long-range objective and advanced on the 
important town of Monastic A light rain drizzled in the early dawm. It 
mixed with the dust and changed it to gray, glutinous mud. Anxiously, we 
gazed into the fleeing shadows of night. The road now led out onto a 
plain, with only the outline of a high mountain visible to the right. From 
behind an outcrop we looked out at the Zrna River and caught sight of a 
substantial bridge with steel arches—it had not yet been blown. 

Some enemy trucks and horse-drawn carriages were approaching the 
bridge. I only saw the bridge—nothing else interested me. It had to fall into 
our hands intact. Automatically two armored cars dropped out of the line 
of march and fired their 20 mm rounds at the far approaches to the bridge. 
The lead elements raced to the bridge as if possessed by the devil. 




40 


GRENADIERS 


Horse-drawn carriages and motor vehicles collided in a tangle, each 
one wanting to get across first. The lead elements were only 100 meters 
away. Stray shots winged past us. I already saw myself in possession of the 
intact bridge, but then, just before we reached our goal, a muffled bang 
echoed across the river valley. The bridge lifted into the air before my eyes 
and collapsed in on itself. Enemy horses, soldiers and vehicles were thrown 
into the air and then disappeared into the swirling waters of the Zrna. 
Clattering machine gun fire chopped into the wreckage. 

First horrified, then angry, and finally, coldly assessing the situation, 1 
approached the wreckage. The commander of the 2./SS-Aufklarungs- 
Abteilung 1, SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Kraas was beside me. The situation was 
quickly assessed and a decision made. The enemy was not to be allowed 
any time to rest! He had to be hunted down. 

We were lucky! The iron structure projected above the water and 
could be used as a foundation for a temporary bridge. Grenadiers clam¬ 
bered across the wreckage and secured a small bridgehead. Combat engi¬ 
neers and anyone else who was free gave a hand to lug over the beams and 
other building material. Solo motorcycles were taken over the river and 
reconnoitered in the direction of Monastir. The combat engineers con¬ 
structed a new crossing, as if they were in the training area. The bridge 
grew before our eyes and, soon afterwards, the first heavy armored cars 
crossed the river. The advance continued. 

The 2. Kompanie was put back in the lead. A railway line to Monastir 
ran to the left of the road on which we were advancing. Behind its embank¬ 
ment were crouching enemy riflemen who were trying—in vain—to delay 
our rapid progress. The armored cars merely let a few machine-gun rounds 
fly against the enemy lying behind and on the embankment. All the others 
had their eyes directed to the front. We wanted to take Monastir in a coup 
de main; everything else was irrelevant. The railway embankment got closer 
and closer to the road, crossing it a few hundred meters ahead of us. The 
lead section halted and the grenadiers leapt into the ditches on either side 
of the road. They opened fire on the occupants of a linesman’s shack. An 
enemy machine gun spat its ammo down the road. The cottage was seen as 
a pocket of resistance. The 50 mm antitank gun took up position under 
enemy fire and fired a couple of rounds at the walls. The building burst 
asunder with a crash. 

It was only then that I noticed the enemy on the embankment had 
become more active, emboldened by the halt of our spearhead. Machine- 
gun fire lashed down from the embankment and there was nothing else to 
be done but take out the opposition on the embankment. The matter was 



The Balkans 


41 


speedily resolved under covering fire from the armored cars. The survivors 
fled into the marshy ground beyond the embankment. 

I was just about to jump onto the motorcycle of SS-Unterscharfuhrer 
Weil when renewed fire from some Yugoslavs forced us to the ground 
again. My map board was shot up; its remains lay at the edge of the ditch. 
Enemy rounds pumped into the grass and tore up the soggy earth around 
us. A gurgling noise compelled me to look at Weil. He was squirming at 
the bottom of the ditch, his lower jaw hanging—shattered. 

We couldn’t allow ourselves to get hung up there! The enemy could 
not be allowed to nail us down outside the gates of Monastic and rake us 
from those towering heights. I shouted to the lead elements. The Krad- 
schutzen leapt like acrobats onto their motorcycles and dashed on. The 
leading elements pulled the remainder of the battalion like a magnet as it 
tore along the rain-soaked road. It had been raining all day; at that point, 
the sun began shining through patchy cloud cover. 

Resistance stiffened; tracer bullets whistled venomously towards the 
sheltering haystacks and turned them into gigantic torches. Monastic was 
ahead of us. We could see the city sprawling between the mountains. On 
the right-hand slope I saw an enemy battery that was just moving into posi¬ 
tion. Onward! No time for firefights! We had to get into the city. We 
wanted to jump down the defenders’ throats. We were intoxicated by the 
speed! Our machine gun bursts raked the enemy on either side of the 
road. In front of us was a half-finished roadblock. Fire! Bursting rounds 
from the armored cars and hand grenades flew through the air. The sur¬ 
prised and totally dazed defenders dove for cover. 

We didn’t advance on a broad front as the enemy expected. Instead 
we were like a flexible, lightning-fast dagger thrust—the battalion moved 
into town in column. It was only the artillery that wasn’t with us. It was set 
up and fired its heavy rounds over our heads. 

I saw neither the minarets nor any other buildings—only machine-gun 
nests, defended houses and determined enemies. The battalion bored 
deeper and deeper into the town. I had lost my maps but I knew where the 
barracks were. We wanted to reach them because it was there that we 
would find the strings that directed the enemy movements. 

The troops formed up on the square scattered as soon as the motorcy¬ 
cles came roaring around the corner. Enemy fire was hitting us from all 
the windows, roofs and vegetation. The armored cars proved their worth. 
Their weapons dusted down every suspicious-looking corner and forced 
the enemy riflemen into cover. Two heavy infantry guns took up position 
under the covering fire of the armored cars. They were less than 200 




42 


GRENADIERS 


meters from the barracks into which they fired their 150 mm rounds. The 
result was convincing. Within twenty minutes Monastic was no longer 
being defended with the exception of a pocket of resistance at the train 
station. It was engaged by a combat-engineer element in a fight that was 
over within the hour. 

Our advance had proved what we had learned during years of train¬ 
ing: The motor is a weapon. 

In the course of the next few' hours apathetic prisoners were brought 
in and disarmed. An entire artillery battalion fell into our hands without a 
shot being fired. But the battle had to be carried forward; we had no time 
to rest. 

Serbian forces were positioned at Lake Ochrida and had occupied the 
Javat Pass, twenty kilometers west of Monastic We knew a strong British 
force had come up from the south and pushed into the Fiorina area south¬ 
east of us on the Greek border. I was hard pressed to make a decision on 
our next move. We were alone in Monastir and could not reckon on sup¬ 
port for the next twenty-four hours. I had to advance in two directions and 
also hold Monastir with the staff, artillery and trains drivers. 

Kompanie Kraas got the job of forcing the Javat Pass with a reinforced 
company and making contact—via Ochrida—with the Italians who were in 
the mountains west of Fiorina. Kompanie Schroder was ordered to recon- 
noiter the British lines and to stay in contact with the enemy. If possible, 
the British were to be prevented from leaving the Klidi Pass. Both com¬ 
pany commanders looked at me in astonishment as they received these 
orders. Hugo Kraas shook his head in disbelief. 

The situation was not too bad for Schroder. He had a large area in 
which to maneuver and, with the roads being in good condition, he could 
exploit ever)’ opportunity for reconnaissance. The companies moved out. 
My Kradschutzen, Panzetjager, Pioniere and Grenadiere moved past me 
laughing. They moved into the darkness, into uncertainty. The headquar¬ 
ters staff set up for defense and monitored the radios. 

We remained in constant contact with the companies and monitored 
the reports from the armored cars. We knew every move that was made. 
Within a few minutes Kraas attacked a battery positioned in an orchard 
west of Monastir. It was still waiting for orders to fire. The complete battery 
marched off to captivity. 

By midnight Kraas had advanced through several villages and was at 
the foot of the Javat Pass. Reconnaissance reported the pass was occupied 
and a well-developed defensive position had been constructed along the 
ridge. Enemy reconnaissance patrols were taken prisoner. The attack on 
the pass was to take place at dawn. 


The Balkans 


43 


Schroder made good progress and soon reported from Fiorina and 
Vevi. The company had a bizarre experience between those two villages. As 
the old saying goes, all cats are gray when the candles go out. Schroder 
gave the following account the next morning. 

I dispatched several reconnaissance patrols from the road junction 
and slowly followed the first one that was reconnoitering towards Fiorina. 
Before long, two reconnaissance cars loomed up out of the darkness com¬ 
ing towards us. Unsuspecting, we continued to move on. I thought they 
were our own cars. We realized our error only a few meters ahead of them. 
The two English reconnaissance cars stopped in front of us then moved 
slowly on. They didn’t know who was next to them either. They must have 
taken us for Serbs. Relieved, I moved the company forward a few hundred 
meters and awaited the return of the English armored cars. A half hour 
later they fell victim to our obstacle on the road. We could tell the enemy’s 
intent from the captured maps. Australian troops had occupied the high 
ground and closed the valley with extensive minefields. 

Schroder remained in contact with the British and continued his 
aggressive patrolling. Our infantry guns and mortars must have deceived 
the enemy concerning our true strength. He did not advance beyond his 
own obstacles. 

Kraus’ attack on the Javat heights began early in the morning. The road 
led steeply into the mountains so a surprise attack was out of the question. 
Hairpin bends alternated with steep curves. Steeply dropping precipices, 
barren ravines, overhanging cliffs and bare, treeless expanses completed 
the picture. The pass was more than 1,000 meters high; it bordered on 
insanity to risk an attack there with only a reinforced company. But surprise 
was on our side. No one had suspected such a rapid advance and absolutely 
nobody could have conceived that a single company might risk an attack on 
the pass. 

I went forward to Kompanie Kraas before dawn. I was anxious and 
wanted to experience the attack myself. We passed a war memorial from 
the First World War just north of Monastir. There, on the heights, innu¬ 
merable German soldiers slept in foreign soil. 

The sun broke through as we heard the first sounds of fighting. 

We could clearly see the impact of the heavy infantry guns. The 150 
mm rounds must have had a terrifying effect in the mountains. The 20 
mm tracers rose into the mountains like pearl necklaces. I came across the 
heavy' guns and vehicles in the valley. Only the armored cars could accom¬ 
pany the company in the attack. 

The Kradschutzen become mountain troops. During the night they 
had climbed up the pass along both sides of the roads and were in front of 




44 


GRENADIERS 


the positions on the ridge. Several of the positions had been bypassed and 
were attacked from the rear. With considerable ,lan, the company com¬ 
mander led his soldiers onto the ridge and rolled up the Serbian positions. 
The psychological effect of the heavy guns had been of considerable unex¬ 
pected benefit. The heavy-caliber rounds created a hellish noise. 

I had attached myself behind an armored car and participated in the 
last fighting for the high ground. Gruppe Tkocz eliminated the last pocket 
of resistance. I found Hugo Kraas behind a small chapel and congratu¬ 
lated him on his success. A few hundred prisoners lay, stood and crouched 
in front of us. An entire battery had surrendered. The result was beyond 
our comprehension. Our battalion in this formidable position would have 
been able to resist an attack by regiments. The enemy battalion com¬ 
mander gave us an explanation. He said, “When my men heard yesterday 
evening that German troops had already reached Monastir and w r ould 
appear in front of our positions tonight, their will to resist was consider¬ 
ably weakened. The fact of having to fight German soldiers in itself 
unnerved my battalion. Your “bomb throwers” [meaning the heavy 
infantry guns], did the rest.” 

From the highest peak we looked down on shimmering, blue Lake 
Ochrida and brighdy illuminated Fiorina. The city had to be ours before 
the enemy noticed his battalion in the blocking position on the high 
ground had surrendered. We had no motorcycles available, but a number 
of armored cars was ready to roll into the valley and surprise the enemy. 
While we slowly groped down around the serpentine bends, Kompanie 
Kraas assembled and awaited its vehicles. We reached the valley floor with¬ 
out encountering the enemy and dashed towards the city. I was in the 
armored car of Bugelsack, this SS-Oberscharfuhrer was the leader of my 
best reconnaissance team and had an excellent nose for sniffing out the 
situation. 

The fleeing Serbs rushed from the road and sought cover in the under¬ 
growth. Others threw away their weapons and moved towards the pass. At 
that point, it was impossible to stop; we had to enter die city and take 
advantage of the confusion. Bursts of machine-gun fire cleared the road. 
The surprise was complete. Within a few minutes we were standing on the 
Kirchberg and firing red flares into the sky. Kompanie Kraas dashed into 
the city soon after and sent out reconnaissance teams towards the moun¬ 
tains west of Lake Ochrida to make contact with the Italians. Contact was 
made in a few hours. The first mission of the reconnaissance battalion was 
carried out quickly, successfully and without excessive casualties. I was 
proud of my men, and knew that I could stake everything on them. 


The Balkans 


45 


I reported the latest success of my battalion to the commander of the 
Leibstandarte in Monastir and accompanied him to Kompanie Schroder 
where we met the commander of the I./Infanterie-Brigade Leibstandarte 
SS “Adolf Hider”, SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Witt. His battalion received orders 
to take the key British positions defending the Klidi Pass thus enabling the 
breakthrough of the brigade and the 9. Panzer-Division. New Zealanders 
and Australians were deeply entrenched on the mountain slopes of the 
Klidi Pass. The enemy had had time to develop an impressively extensive 
defensive system. 

Their artillery observers could observe far out across the plain over 
which our troops would approach. Monastir was the floodgate of the Klidi 
Pass, and the pass was the Yugoslavian gate into Greece. The enemy had 
every advantage on his side. A deep minefield in the pass ruled out an 
armored attack. It was our infantry that had to take the heights in hard 
fighting. 




Into Greece 


A sunny summer day turned into a rainy, changing mountain evening, and 
later into a freezing night. Snow covered the slopes. The men of the 
I./Infanterie-Brigade Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler” faced a vastly supe¬ 
rior enemy. They were dug into makeshift trenches, awaiting the attack. 

It happened at dawn on 12 August. The screaming of heavy shells 
broke the silence. The heavy antiaircraft guns started to destroy identified 
pockets of resistance and the Sturmgeschutze rolled forward. I was stand¬ 
ing at a scissors telescope, watching the attack of the 1./Infanterie-Brigade 
Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler” under the command of SS-Obersturm- 
fuhrer Gerd PleiB. 

There was still a hail of fire coming down the mountain; the entire 
summit was veiled in smoke and the air smelled of earth and sulfur. All of 
a sudden, the artillery fire ceased. The infantry leapt up and worked their 
way up the mountain. The heavy Sturmgeschutze climbed the slopes from 
the bottom of the valley. We watched the guns advance in amazement. 
They climbed higher and higher, and then joined the fight. Nobody 
thought it possible to use them, but now they were up there giving valu¬ 
able assistance to the infantry. 

Completely shaken by the impression German shelling had made on 
them, British prisoners came down the mountain. They were tall, strong 
fellows and formidable opponents. Our infantry advanced deeper and 
deeper into the defensive system. Combat engineers pushed into the mine¬ 
field to clear a path for the armor. But, even there, the infantry had a hard 
job throwing the British out of their positions. Only then could the engi¬ 
neers clear the mines. Shaken, SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Witt stood in front of 
the mortal remains of his brother Franz. His younger brother was trying to 
negotiate the minefield and was torn apart by the mines. 

PleiB was now leading from the front and was fighting just below the 
summit. The assault guns could no longer provide assistance, only men 
counted there. We could not hear the crash of the hand grenades but 
could see the clouds of smoke from their detonations. Nests of riflemen 
were taken in hand-to-hand combat and the summit stormed. 


46 


Into Greece 


47 


The brave men of Kompanie PleiB had defeated the opposition. More 
than 100 prisoners, 20 machine guns and other equipment was taken. Gerd 
PleiB himself had been wounded, but he stayed with his grenadiers. The 
gateway to Greece had been kicked open. The fighting continued. The 
I./Infanterie-Brigade Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler” attacked the with¬ 
drawing enemy at a furious pace. Enemy tanks were destroyed by antitank 
and assault guns. Enemy planes tried to halt our advance, but their bombs 
did not have the desired effect. 

SS-Hauptsturmfiihrer Fend, commander of an 88 mm battery, had 
been taken captive and spent the night in a British column. At dawn our 
infantry freed him. Additional New Zealanders started the way into captiv¬ 
ity. Early in the morning the southern exit of the pass was taken. Strong 
British and Greek forces tried to turn the tables and push the Germans 
back into the pass. The British had a large number of tanks at their dis¬ 
posal and seriously threatened our spearhead. The I./Infanterie-Brigade 
Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler” had already reached open country and our 
assault guns were still in the mountains, a dangerous situation. The first 
enemy tanks were already in the midst of the lead company when, sud¬ 
denly, SS-O be is t u rm fii h re r Dr. Naumann appeared with two 88 mm guns, 
opened fire and put an end to the nightmare. Tank after tank flew into the 
air or came to a smoking standstill. The attack was quashed in fire, death, 
and ruin. 

While the 9. Panzer-Division pushed south, my reconnaissance battal¬ 
ion dashed on in the direction of Lake Kastoria. The shadows of night were 
already encircling us when we recognized the threatening, dark mountains 
of the Klisura Pass. Our objective was Koritza, headquarters of the Greek III 
Corps, but before this was the Klisura Pass, a mountain that presented a 
great obstacle, if only from the standpoint of being able to negotiate it, 
even without opposition. Rising to almost 1400 meters, the summits seemed 
to be pressing down on us. The advance was rapid; two of the ridges 
extending in front of us were taken in the next thirty minutes. 

Broad and massive, the mountain lay before us, the road wound 
upwards in a series of tight curves. There was no longer any way back; to 
turn around would have been physically impossible. To the left the terrain 
steeply sloped away into sheer, inaccessible ravines while, to the right, the 
vertical cliffs towered up. Small mountain villages appeared dead and 
deserted. In the last village the inhabitants gazed at us fearfully. Their faces 
were both questioning and expectant. A terrific tension filled us. The 
smell of sulfur filled the air. Cliffs stood out from the mountain like mock 
pillboxes. 




48 


GRENADIERS 


The next ridge appeared in front of us in tiers. The road bore slightly 
to the right and then had to bridge a narrow but deep ravine. We maneu¬ 
vered carefully towards the bend. At any moment we expected a hail of fire 
or the rocks to be blown down on us. We felt as though we were walking 
on hot coals. The spearhead halted. The men took cover and moved into 
firing position. What was happening? There was still no firing. Full of ten¬ 
sion, I ran up front. Before us yawned a void in the road. The bridge 
across the ravine had been blown; the massive stone span was in a heap of 
rubble on the ravine floor and formed a low saddle. 

We were surprised to see that the obstacle was undefended, with no 
sign of any enemy positions. We worked our way forward cautiously 
towards the broken span; the ravine was perhaps fifteen meters wide and 
could easily be crossed by foot soldiers. It was impassable for motorcycles, 
however. The leading platoon was ordered to secure the far side of the 
bridge and cover the building of the intended provisional crossing. The 
grenadiers had hardly reached the rubble of the bridge when machine- 
gun bursts flew around our ears. 

We could make out the enemy emplacement to our right on the 
mountaintop. The muzzle flashes of the machine guns indicated where 
their positions lay. Grenades came whisding through the air and exploded 
in the ravine behind us. Mortars tried to drive us away from the obstacle. 
My battalion had gotten itself into a very unpleasant position—it could nei¬ 
ther advance nor retreat. There were no alternatives. We were on the only 
road leading across the mountains and into the rear of the Greek III 
Corps. 

The conquest of such a massif was really a job for mountain troops, 
not for an armored reconnaissance battalion—but those reflections were 
overcome by events. There were no mountain troops available, so we had 
do the job, and we would do it, even if we had to sell our souls in the 
process! Both motorcycle companies would assault the enemy’s position at 
dawn, while I continued along the road with the drivers, the staff, and the 
armored car company faking the main attack. The heavy weapons and 
artillery would only be available later. 

Meanwhile, darkness had fallen. Weak harassing fire continued to play 
over the obstacle occasionally. The engineers bored holes for explosive 
charges to flatten out the rough approaches to the old bridge. Minutes 
later, masses of earth and rocks tumbled down into the ravine on top of 
the remains. My swift reconnaissance battalion then became a labor battal¬ 
ion. Strong grenadiers hauled boulders over and hurled them down on to 
the remains of the bridge, a living conveyor belt passed stone after stone 
into the sheer abyss. Shortly thereafter, the first antitank gun crossed into 


Into Greece 


49 


the bridgehead. Our bridge was holding. Just after the new bridge had 
been finished, the two motorcycle companies began to scale the massif. 
Kradschutzen had become Gebirgsjager! The grenadiers had to climb 
some 800 meters before engaging the enemy pockets of resistance. Both 
companies advanced like storm troopers. Separated from each other by 
the ravine they had to fend for themselves. Although on separate routes, 
they had a common objective: The peak! 

We were then facing the enemy; the men’s tiredness blew away. Nerves 
were tense, all adventurous instincts aroused. My Kradschutzen were confi¬ 
dent. They knew they would be successful. They used traditional tactics for 
rough terrain, passing one another, groping stooped from boulder to 
boulder. Kompanie Kraas also disappeared out of the ravine to the right 
and climbed up the mountain; it has the longest distance to cover. I took 
charge of the section that was to advance along the road. We were about 
30 strong and had a few armored cars, antitank guns and a section of 88 
mm Flak with us. 

The road snaked higher and higher and we had no contact at all with 
the other companies. All was quiet. Nothing broke the stillness of the 
night, not a single round. The moon had vanished behind the mountains 
and the night became darker and blacker. According to the map, we had 
reached the big bend that had to lead around the last rock face and into 
the enemy’s rear. The enemy’s position had to be high above us. Our con¬ 
cept was to move around his flank and cut off his retreat. 

The road curved around the mountain and continued some 400 
meters in a northerly direction before it bent due west again into a group 
of farm houses. Near these houses the road crossed the crest of the moun¬ 
tains and then sloped down to Lake Kastoria. I dared not advance any fur¬ 
ther. I had the feeling there was something wrong. We needed to wait for 
first light. 

It was windy and cold on the crest; we pressed close to the rock wall. 
Naumann’s platoon manhandled an 88 mm Flak into position so it could 
take the farm buildings and the ridgeline under fire. 

It had gradually become bitterly cold. Since we had neither coats nor 
blankets and were soaked through with sweat, we suffered a lot. We were 
shivering with cold. Sleep was out of the question. If we could only have 
had a smoke! A radio car moved up slowly. Under its cover I had a smoke 
and studied the map again. The longer I looked at it, the worse my shiver¬ 
ing became. At first I thought my teeth were chattering because of the 
awful cold but then I realized I was very frightened. The more time passed, 
the tenser I became. I could no longer stand being in the car. The radios 
with their endless “beep, beep, beep,” got on my nerves. 



50 


GRENADIERS 


Outside I shied away from talking to a man, I was worried he might 
hear my teeth chattering and realize I was afraid. We all crouched silently 
behind the rock wall staring into the dark. Were my young comrades also 
afraid? I couldn’t tell. SS-Kradschutze John, from the l./SS-Aufklarungs- 
Abteilung, arrived with a report from his unit. His company, unknown to 
the enemy, was just below its position, waiting for dawn. John had a bullet 
graze on his head. Yet he seemed unafraid. He gave me a short clear 
report, and was then given a drink from the medic’s canteen. 

It got lighter. We could soon make out the silhouette of the village. 
The attack by all three groups was to start with the firing of the 88. I 
crouched behind the gun and tried to penetrate the darkness with my 
binoculars. The closer it got to the time to open fire, the more I believed 
in the success of the attack. It simply had to succeed. I counted on my 
opponent having learned his lessons in the military academy and antici¬ 
pated which measures he might take in this case. From all that the Greek 
commander had learned, he would expect me to advance along the road 
with my motorized unit. That was why I would attack him across the two 
ridges, and only conduct a feint down the road. 

The outlines of the houses could be seen as the shadows faded. 
Pressed to the ground, I gave Naumann the order to open fire. Within a 
few seconds we found ourselves in a witch's cauldron. The 88 fired round 
after round into the ridge on our right; mortars and infantry guns let loose 
their rounds which then hailed down on the defenders. High above us the 
Kradschiitzen stormed the enemy defenses. I could not see the two motor¬ 
cycle companies attack but I could hear their furious machine-gun fire and 
the crashes of their grenades. 

The commander of a heavy field howitzer battery informed me he 
could no longer support the companies without endangering our person¬ 
nel. The guns were positioned along the mountain road, one behind 
another. But, because the road was so narrow, they could not dig in their 
trail spades. The commander refused to accept responsibility. This sort of 
nonsense was the last thing I needed. Angrily I ordered him to open fire. 
We had to do it. The heavy rounds roared over the first ridge and smashed 
into the enemy’s positions on either side of the little mountain village. 

Enemy machine-gun fire hacked and sprayed down the road and into 
the rocks above us, bringing stones rolling down the slope and crashing 
among us. There was nothing to do but to go forward. We rushed the first 
bend in leapfrog fashion and took cover a few meters further on behind 
the rock wall. At the next bend we would be direcdy below the enemy posi¬ 
tion 100 meters above the road. I collapsed, exhausted, behind a block of 
stone and gasped for breath. Our forward movement was hampered by 



Into Greece 


51 


having to leap from one scrap of cover to the next in order not to give the 
enemy snipers an aiming point. 

Above us we heard screams and the raging sounds of batde. Elements 
of the 2./SS-Auklarungs-Abteilung 1 had broken into the enemy’s posi¬ 
tions on the first ridge. We dashed on. At the final big bend we encoun¬ 
tered some men who had become separated from their company above by 
a crevasse. Among them was SS-Untersturmfuhrer Wawrzinek who gave me 
a brief report on the operation on the ridge. From the statements of pris¬ 
oners, we were up against a reinforced infantry regiment on the left wing 
of the Greek defenses. It had the mission of holding the Klisura Pass for 
the retreat of the Greek III Corps from the Albanian Front. They were 
pulling back to avoid capture by German armored forces and continue the 
fight for southern Greece in conjunction with the British forces. The 
Greek plan could not be allowed to succeed. Not only had the retreat to 
be prevented, but it also had to be turned into a catastrophe. We had to 
cross the mountains and block the valley beyond Kastoria. 

We moved along the road. Suddenly the ground in front of us heaved 
upwards. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Where the road had been, there was a 
vast crater at that point. The road had plunged into the ravine. Sweat left 
bright tracks on our faces. We were terrified. Were we also to fly into the air 
in the next few seconds? A hundred meters further on the mountain shook 
anew and, after the dust settled, there was yet another hole in the road. 

We hid behind the rocks not daring to move. Nausea almost choked 
me. I yelled at Emil Wawrzinek to press the attack. But good old Emil 
looked at me as if he doubted my sanity. Machine-gun fire splashed against 
the rocks in front of us; our lead element was only about ten men strong. 
Damn it! We certainly couldn’t remain there, while craters were being 
blown in the road and machine-gun fire was pinning us down in the rub¬ 
ble. But 1, too, was crouching in full cover and fearing for my life. How was 
I to order Wawrzinek to move first? In my distress, I felt the smooth round¬ 
ness of an egg grenade in my hand. I yelled at the group. They all looked 
at me thunderstruck when I showed the grenade, pulled the pin and let it 
roll it behind the last grenadier. I had never seen such a unified leap for¬ 
ward. As if bitten by a tarantula we dashed around the rocks and into the 
fresh crater. The paralysis was broken; the grenade had done it. We 
grinned at each other and dashed forward into fresh cover. 

On top of the ridge the companies had penetrated deeper and deeper 
into the Greek positions. The 88s were surrounded by clouds of dirt and 
shell bursts from Greek mountain artillery, but Neumann’s section contin¬ 
ued firing. The antiaircraft rounds prepared the way for us, burying the 
pockets of resistance under heaps of rubble. 




52 


GRENADIERS 


We were just below the summit. The sweat was burning my eyes. I 
could observe the fighting through a film of dust and dirt. We rushed the 
ridge like madmen. The Greeks scrambled out of their positions holding 
up their hands, no longer defending themselves. Their line of retreat was 
already under fire from the 2./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1, whose machine 
guns fired from the highest point directly into their positions. We broke 
the mountain battery's resistance with hand grenades. We had forced the 
crossing of the mountains. My grenadiers had achieved what others 
thought impossible and what, even today, was considered insanity. Klisura 
Pass belonged to us! There was no time for a break. Only pursuit would 
bring us the fruits of victory. 

Our combat engineers blew masses of rock into the craters on the 
road. The artillery changed position and fired into the fleeing enemy. 
Whole columns pulled out to the west, onto the plain. The resistance of 
the Greeks who, here and there, bravely held their positions to the last 
breath, was broken. Over a thousand prisoners were taken, including the 
regimental and three battalion commanders. It was only then that the vital 
importance of the position became clear to us. From the pass we could 
look directly down onto the Greek Army’s line of retreat at which all our 
weapons fire was then directed. 

I wanted to push on after the fleeing enemy but, once more, the 
steeply descending road exploded around our ears. Precious time was lost 
in filling up the craters. The 2./SS*Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 tentatively 
moved down the road and into a small village. It had been evacuated. I 
wanted to regroup my battalion there and then push on along the main 
Greek line of retreat. I was waiting for the l./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1. 
The young soldiers appeared shortly. Their faces told me everything. On a 
blood-soaked shelter-quarter they carried the remains of their company 
commander. Rudolf Schroder lay before me, his chest torn to pieces. He 
had achieved a unique military success. As leader of the first assault group, 
he was killed in the initial breakthrough of the enemy defensive system. 

We reached the plain in the late afternoon and reconnoitered towards 
Kastoria. I wanted to see the lay of the land and followed a reconnais¬ 
sance section. We slowed the pace before reaching a small bridge. Beyond 
it was Hill 800, commanding the approach to Kastoria as well as the route 
of the retreating Greek III Corps. No movement was to be seen on the 
bridge; it had not yet been demolished. Suddenly, machine-gun fired 
opened up on us. Franz Roth, the war correspondent, began screaming. A 
bullet had split open his skull. He was returned to his colleagues in the 
rear with a bloody head. 



Into Greece 


53 


The 2./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 reached the bridge as night fell, 
forming a small bridgehead. The company reconnoitered north of Lake 
Kastoria and met stiff resistance. The attack on Hill 800 southwest of Kas- 
toria started at daybreak. 

Again the shells howled over us and bored into the masses of stone, 
but the Greek artillery was stronger. The bridge collapsed under a direct 
hit. We lay there dumbstruck and pressed hard into the filth at the bottom 
of the ditch. The intensity of the artillery fire told me that a surprise 
assault would not succeed. What was required was a deliberate attack. At 
about midday the attack was repeated with the support of heavier artillery 
and the III./Infanterie-Brigade Leibstandarte SS “Adolf Hitler”. The bat¬ 
talion moved out to envelop from the left and was intended to push on to 
the Greek’s main line of retreat in the course of the afternoon. To elimi¬ 
nate the strong Greek artillery and help reduce the enemy positions on 
Hill 800, a Stuka unit was called up to support my battalion. 

The operation was executed with a precision second to none. The 
Stukas struck die enemy positions like birds of prey, flying in wide curves 
around the mountain, and then diving, screaming, into the depths. They 
began their descent into Hell with full bomb loads. There were crashes 
and flashes on the heights and within the massif. Giant mushrooms of dust 
and rubble shot into the sky, merging into each other and drifting as a 
dark haze across the lake. In the scorching light of the sun, a thick veil cov¬ 
ered the mountain, showing the devastating effect of our bombs and 
artillery shells. All hell had broken loose up there. 

When the first bombs fall, the Kradschutzen stormed out of their 
trenches and ran across the open field with lungs wheezing. The excellent 
firing of the 88s completed the work of the Stukas and artillery. It would 
be a long time before the Greeks recovered from the Stuka attack. By then 
it was too late. The 2./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 climbed up the moun¬ 
tain and had a firm foothold in the tumble of rocks. 

The rest of the battalion dashed into Kastoria over the temporarily 
repaired bridge. Unsuspecting Greek companies and batteries withdraw¬ 
ing from the mountains were so surprised that they did not fire a shot and 
marched willingly into captivity. One of their batteries continued to fire 
and was shot to pieces. The armored cars roared past the Greek columns 
into the center of Kastoria. Chaos was complete. In the market square the 
local priest greeted me. I will never forget his brotherly embrace. For 
hours afterwards I still stank of garlic. 

At twilight, my brave comrades took over the security of the northern 
approaches. Greek units were still coming from there, haring fought 




54 


GRENADIERS 


against Italian troops. It was raining steadily. A heavy thunderstorm com¬ 
bined with the thunder of shells and bombs. We were at the end of our 
strength. We fell asleep right where we stood. The extent of our success 
was only clear the following morning. During the previous twenty-four 
hours the reconnaissance battalion had taken 12,000 prisoners and cap¬ 
tured thirty-six guns. I was awarded the Knight’s Cross for this perform¬ 
ance by my brave grenadiers. 

The fight against the trapped Greek Army continued. The Leibstan- 
darte, after overcoming considerable difficulties, forced the Metsovon Pass 
and the capitulation of sixteen divisions. The surrender was signed on 21 
April in Larissa. Late in the afternoon of 24 April, while in Joanina, I was 
ordered to pursue the defeated British forces. My comrades had just spent 
their first quiet night since the start of the Balkan Campaign. They were 
shaken awake from their dreamless sleep. Their fuel tanks were filled to 
the brim from fuel cans taken from a Greek depot. Nobody had bothered 
to gather up the Greek machine guns positioned in front of the Ali Pasha 
mosque in the old Turkish fortress or, for that matter, the untold moun¬ 
tains of weapons in the town. 

The Greek soldiers, who were still coming out of the Albanian moun¬ 
tains, left their weapons leaning against the walls of the houses, shaved off 
their dark beards, strode into the nearest bakery and, coming out with 
loaves of fresh bread, a bundle of leeks and, if they were lucky, a few fish 
threaded on a stick, wandered off to the south. 

W T e overtook them. This act of overtaking once more vividly drew our 
attention to the difference between the paths of the victors and the van¬ 
quished. These men, be they uniformed herdsmen, fishermen, farmers, 
shopkeepers or officers, had really shown us in great numbers a conduct 
that demanded our respect, but their returning home was chaos. They 
poured through the valleys and down the slopes in a thousand rivulets. 
The war ended in hopeless confusion, even if you saw the occasional 
colonel sitting erect in his saddle with a trumpeter by his side. This was dis¬ 
integration. 

On, on we went. We were going to have to bump into the British 
sooner or later. Without stopping, the battalion asked brief questions in 
every village and town. Whoever was able to cut himself a slice of bread 
while on the move, smeared some fat drippings on it and, until it had all 
been eaten, held his hand over it so he didn't swallow a coating of dust 
and dirt along with it. 

Only once, on the Gulf of Arta, did I allow a short halt. I found the 
orange groves too seductive. The men filled their helmets with the aro¬ 
matic fruit; we wanted to taste them to prove we were in the South! In a 


Into Greece 


55 


narrow mountain pass stood a pitiful Greek Army nag, a white horse, with 
blue shadows showing between its ribs. Lost and unharnessed, at the end 
of its patient strength. It didn’t stir; it stood as a monument to the collapse. 
Every vehicle and motorcycle made a detour around it. It was a war vet¬ 
eran, an overworked, pitiful creature. 

Further south, we moved past a gurgling mountain river and saw the 
disarmed soldiers in it enjoying the cool water. But we, covered in dirt and 
sweat, were not allowed to enjoy a single drop. We saw thousands lying in 
the shade of the olive trees. Instead we had to concentrate on fuel levels 
and the bends in the road. We had to avoid the potholes and hang on tight 
as we jolted over the ruts. We could certainly remember the miserable Pol¬ 
ish roads, but this road was the devil’s “cheese grater” which seemed intent 
on completely flogging us to death. Evening and night arrived and we still 
had not reached our objective. British stragglers and demolition squads 
were rushing away in front of us. Greek farmers told us the British were 
scattering nails by the bundle on the roads to delay our advance, and they 
did not seem to be entirely wrong. The young drivers swore; the old drivers 
showed tliem a trick or two when yet another flat had to be repaired. We 
took a short break in a one-horse town; the battalion had to close up. 

The hunt continued at dawn. The trail led steadily south, up hill and 
down dale, through deep gorges. Ruins of classical Greece greeted us. 
Somebody mentioned Lord Byron, who was killed here while fighting the 
Turks in 1824. But we did not have any time to think about history. Meso- 
longion appeared in front of us. The Isthmus of Corinth would soon be 
reached. We would then be able to nab the British. Carefully, the spear¬ 
head moved its way toward the town and into the narrow streets. Ajubilant 
Greek population welcomed us. The last British troops had only just left 
the town and were on the eastbound coast road, disappearing in the direc¬ 
tion of the Isthmus of Corinth. 




The Crossing to Peloponnesus 


We had survived the 250-kilometer move through mountainous country 
and stood opposite the dark mountains that towered over Peloponnesus. 
We had no radio contact with die regiment. We were alone. 

English reconnaissance planes flew above us and circled the harbor of 
Patras on the other side of the gulf. We could make out ships in the har¬ 
bor and saw a British destroyer turning away to the south. We followed the 
tracks of the English demolition pardes and advanced toward die Isthmus 
of Corinth. But this sort of thing was no longer to my taste. This kind of 
pursuit had become uninteresting to me. Yawning craters in the road 
reduced our speed. I thought I was most likely to gain lots of experience in 
road building but that I wouldn't nab any more British. The mountains on 
the other side attracted my attention more and more. On the coast road 
on the far side the British units were rolling from Corinth to Patras to 
reach the evacuation ships. I had to get there! But how was the gulf to be 
crossed? 

I was standing on the mole at Navpaktos, a small, poor harbor with 
defensive towers from the Middle Ages, when a dive-bomber formation 
attacked the harbor of Patras. Clouds of smoke and explosions shot into 
the air from the convoy of ships. I caught sight of a telephone. It was still 
connected, it worked and Patras was answering! Startled, I replaced the 
handset back down on the ancient apparatus. 

But I was fascinated by the idea of crossing the gulf and spoiling the 
British plans. I sent for an interpreter and asked him to call the Greek 
commander in Patras and request a situation report. The commander was 
still under the influence of the dive-bomber attack and answered all ques¬ 
tions readily. Within a few minutes I had a precise report on English troop 
movements between Corinth and Patras. I told the commander to send a 
liaison detachment to Navpaktos. 

Before long I observed a little motorboat on course to Navpaktos. The 
devil then proceeded to take over. Another Stuka squadron howled over us 
and repeated the attack on the British ships in the harbor. The discom¬ 
forting aspect of this was that the town commander thought I had ordered 
the attack. On top of everything else, the pilots attacked the boat carrying 


56 


The Crossing to Peloponnesus 


57 


the liaison officer on their return flight. The boat immediately made a 
180-degree turn and an insulted Greek officer reported by telephone that, 
under the circumstances, nobody wanted to make the trip across the gulf. 

Sweat dripped onto my map. The entries had been out of date for a 
long time. Where were the English? On the left wing, following the con¬ 
quest of Thermopylae, our troops must either have reached Athens or 
advanced further south to the Isthmus of Corinth. Therefore the British 
had either to defend Peloponnesia or make for the ports. I imagined Ger¬ 
man paratroops would land on the Isthmus to block the narrows near 
Corinth. 

Had the British taken notice of our speedy advance? Had their recon¬ 
naissance worked well? Were destroyers standing by to prevent an 
attempted crossing? Nobody could give me an answer. My soldiers and offi¬ 
cers watched me expectantly. They saw me standing on the mole, estimat¬ 
ing the distance over and over again. More than 15 kilometers of water 
separated us from the Bridsh line of retreat. The next day, at the latest, the 
Isthmus of Corinth would be bitterly contested and I wanted to participate 
in that fight. I wanted to get across. 

The moment had come: I w'ould no longer act in accordance with the 
traditional conventions of war and when all responsibility rested in my 
hands. I w'ould cross the Gtdf of Corinth with the forces at my disposal. 
Whether that was a daring or a foolhardy move would only be revealed in 
the next few hours. My comrades were enthusiastic but practical objections 
were soon raised: The artillery could not support a landing; the distance 
was too great. Engineers drew my attention to the height of the waves and 
the miserable fishing cutters. The objections accumulated, but I had made 
my decision. The surprise attack had to succeed. 

Two miserable fishing cutters were found in the harbor. Their crews 
were brought to the spot. The 2./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 had to 
attempt the reconnaissance. Strong arms lifted the heavy BMW' motorcy¬ 
cles and heaved them into the boats. The first boat took five bikes with 
sidecars and fifteen men. On the next cutter we put an antitank gun and 
some bikes. The mission: “Block the road and, in case of emergency, hide 
in the mountains.” 

Then the cutters left the harbor. I took my leave of Hugo Kraas and 
SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Grezech. Those who remained christened the Krad- 
schutzen a “suicide patrol”. A joker shouted: “Look out, mine on the port 
bow!” Everybody laughed. A young soldier shouted back: “What do you 
mean, a mine? This skiff isn’t even worth a grenade!” The cutter started to 
pitch heavily. Breakers sprayed over me. Machine gunners were in position 
at the bow. The antitank gun was ready for firing. 




58 


GRENADIERS 


All boats on this side were directed to Navpaktos. Soon the rest of the 
company was loaded onto boats. The first cutters could scarcely be made 
out any more. Two tiny points danced on the waves. 

I stood on the marina again and watched the dark points on the water. 
A red flare was supposed to signal the failure of the mission and the exis¬ 
tence of strong enemy forces. That’s what 1 had agreed upon with my men. 
My eyes were burning. Soon, I was unable to make anything out anymore, 
but I didn’t dare to put down my binoculars. By the time I was no longer 
able to see the boats, my clothes were soaked in sweat. We had been stand¬ 
ing, waiting on the shore, for an hour. The tension had reached its peak. 
After an hour and a half two dots came back into view. Were they our 
boats? Had we been successful or were the boats bringing back shot-up 
bodies? They came closer and closer. Soon the outlines could be made out 
clearly and we could also see movement. A circle of half-smoked cigarettes 
lay around me as I stuck the next one between my lips. I calmed down and 
began to trust in the success of our operation. 

Suddenly, a dust-covered staff car stopped on the shore and agitated 
officers jumped out of it. I recognized my revered commander, Sepp Diet- 
rich, and reported my decision and the course of the operation so far. Dur¬ 
ing my report, I started to notice the old daredevil gasping for breath and 
scrutinizing me from head to toe. Then a storm broke over me: “Are you 
crazy making such a goddamned decision? You should be brought before 
a court martial! How can you treat my soldiers that way?” I dared not reply 
in the face of this flood of undoubtedly justified reproof. I stood at the old 
harbor wall with my tail between my legs and wished for the world to end. 
Embarrassed silence all around. Only my men smiled at me surreptitiously, 
just as if they wanted to say: “Get a grip, don’t be bothered about his ass 
chewing. He might be right, but take us across the gulf now so we'll have 
something to do again!" 

Meanwhile, the cutters had come closer and, with binoculars, one 
could make out details on board. Both boats were full of men. There were 
more men coming back than 1 had sent over. 1 did not dare to say it aloud, 
but it was true. Both boats were bringing back captured English soldiers. 
Sepp Dietrich looked at me, turned and went. No more words were spoken. 

I had no more reason for delay. Loaded boats sailed toward the 
returning ones. Tensely I awaited the report from the other side. What had 
happened over there? A SS-Rottenfuhrer reported: 

After an hour in those tiny shells the mighty mountainous coast of 
Peloponnesia stood out in front of the mast. Now came the ultimate test. 
All binoculars were searching the shore. 800 meters out, 700 meters, 600 
meters, 500 meters, surely a machine gun would start chattering over diere! 


The Crossing to Peloponnesus 


59 


Some forms could be seen between the houses and on the shore through 
our binoculars and with the naked eye. We no longer thought about any¬ 
thing. We lay flat in the boat, held our rifles and machine guns at the ready 
and we prepared to jump up as soon as we had touched land. We vaulted 
out and ran toward the houses. And, just at the very moment that we were 
running, a brown armored car appeared around a bend in the road about 
fifty meters away, revolved its turret and aimed the barrels of its weapons at 
the beach. We who had landed were paralyzed at first but then we waved at 
the armored car in a friendly way. Standing on the shore in shirtsleeves and 
without headgear we looked just like bandits. The Tommy vehicle growled, 
revolved its turret again and moved off. 

What had happened? Didn't the guy recognize us as Germans? We 
stood among the first houses and clenched our eyelids—and some other 
parts. We stared back at the other part of Greece and saw nothing but 
water and, away over there, steep, bleak mountains. We had to act. We 
knew they were waiting. To the foot of die first range of the Peloponnesian 
mountains was only just over 100 meters, with only a railway track and a 
country road between the shore and the foothills. We ran up to the road 
and secured our eastern flank from where the English had come. We had 
scarcely reached the road when we again heard the sound of an engine. 
The platoon leader ordered us into full cover. Civilians, wine growers and 
fishermen, had already come out of their houses by then. 

When they saw the foreign soldiers suddenly disappearing between 
boulders and bushes they also threw themselves to the ground in fear. We 
heard our hearts drumming in our chests out of excitement. 

Round the bend came an English dispatch rider with a truck behind 
him. They moved down the road without a concern since the armored car 
had already checked the area out. We let them approach until we could 
read their license plate, until the shield bearing the feather crested knight’s 
helmet, the sign of the 4th Hussars, was above us. Then we jumped up and 
shouted: “Hands up!” The brakes squealed. The Englishmen’s heads 
snapped up and they jumped down from the truck. The dispatch rider’s 
feet were searching for the gravel. One Tommy cried out, his submachine 
gun flew into the ditch. “Hands up! Hands up!” They let their weapons fall 
and raised their arms. Then one of our men ran round the bend and 
shouted: “Another truck is coming!” In a fraction of a second an SS man 
got into the first truck and moved it across the road. The prisoners were 
quickly moved behind the houses. The second vehicle approached, again 
with a dispatch rider in front. Surprise and amazement were repeated. One 
Tommy was able to get out: “Germans?” Indeed the Germans were already 
there. Within a few minutes we had taken more than forty prisoners with 



60 


GRENADIERS 


three officers among them. They told ns that they were on the way to Patras 
harbor. None of them realized that we had already crossed the gulf. Their 
unit was still fighting near Corinth.” 

Give me boats! All the small boats were assembled. The whole battal¬ 
ion had to cross during the coming night. My faithful driver, Erich Peter- 
silie, had hung the last bottle of sparkling wine in the waters of the harbor. 
I clamped it under my arm and went to see Sepp Dietrich, who was having 
a conversation with the English officers. I invited the Englishmen to join 
us in a glass. We sat in the shade of a leafy tree. Before I could say a word, 
an English officer raised his glass and drank to the health of his sister 
whose birthday it apparently was. I’m sure we didn’t look like a scholarly 
crowd during that round of drinking. 

I took my leave and jumped into one of those damned skiffs. Half an 
hour later I was as sick as a dog. I didn’t think this nutshell we were in 
would reach the other side, but it got us there. I greeted Kompanie Kraas 
suffering from complete exhaustion. In accordance with orders, the com¬ 
pany had obtained vehicles and reconnoitered as far as Corinth. SS-Sturm- 
bannfuhrer Grezech had established contact with the tow'n commander of 
Patras and ordered the larger boats to Navpaktos. The last Englishmen left 
the area of Patras and withdrew to the south. 

Air reconnaissance in the afternoon reported an enemy regiment 
advancing between Corinth and Patras. The affair was getting interesting. 
The off-loading was completed with flying hands, so that the ships could 
return to the far shore as quickly as possible. As for heavy weapons, we had 
some antitank guns and a light armored car at our disposal. We prepared 
a “welcome” for the English. But the reported regiment did not arrive; per¬ 
haps it had already changed direcdon to the south, into the mountains. 

Through the intelligence service, we learned about our paratroop 
operauons near Corinth and that Fallschirmjagerregiment 2, under the 
command of Oberst Sturm, was deployed there. Contact with the para¬ 
troops had to be established immediately. The 2./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 
1 received the order to clear the south coast of the Gulf of Corinth of the 
enemy and advance to link up with the paratroops. The l./SS-Aufklarungs- 
Abteilung 1 occupied Patras and reconnoitered south. The companies set 
off in captured and confiscated cars and motorcycles. An elegant limousine 
towed an andtank gun and mortars stuck out of a sports car. The combat 
engineer platoon was in a bus and gave the impression that the whole war 
was no longer any of its business. 

Although the mass of our vehicles was sdll on the northern shore of 
the gulf, the battalion was nonetheless motorized and underway on the 
roads of Peloponnesia. I wasn’t sadsfied with its speed. I overtook the 


The Crossing to Peloponnesus 


61 


2./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 and sped toward Corinth. My instinct told 
me die British had already cleared ofT to the south. Our limousine 
bounced furiously along a washed-out coastal road. The little fishing vil¬ 
lages lay sleeping and deserted in the brooding heat. Leaving a small vil¬ 
lage, just at a bend, I spotted a car disappearing off the road and racing at 
full speed toward a farmstead. We were even with them at that point. My 
comrades shouted: “Tommies!” I stepped on the throttle and the car accel¬ 
erated like a rocket. I snatched another glance at the “Tommies” and rec¬ 
ognized a German submachine gun. The last man was looking for cover 
behind his car when I spotted a German paratrooper helmet. The para¬ 
troops also recognized us and lowered their weapons. They took us for 
British and had also taken cover. A few minutes later my company arrived 
and established contact with Fallschirmjagerregiment 2. Oberst Sturm ini¬ 
tiated the pursuit south. 

We turned round immediately and sped back to Patras again. The 
shades of night had fallen. In the meantime, the III./Infanterie-Brigade 
“Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler” had also made the crossing and started its 
pursuit south. There was a train engineer in that battalion. He stoked up a 
railway engine in Patras and hauled the battalion southward. In the com¬ 
mand post that day I encountered a now friendly commander. Everybody 
was silent while I reported to him about establishing contact. With a grin, 
he gave me his hand and said in his Bavarian dialect: “Hey, Kurt, yesterday 
I thought you had gone crazy. Now I take it back. It was brilliant. Come on, 
tell me how you got that crazy idea." 

In the background, I saw my adjutant already making fresh entries on 
our map and looking at his watch again and again. I had hardly given Sepp 
Dietrich the information he wanted when he gave me a new mission. The 
battalion had to reassemble immediately and reconnoiter toward Kalumata 
via Pyrgos, Olympia and Tripolis and continue the pursuit. 

My comrades were lying in ditches to both sides of the road and sleep¬ 
ing like dead men. More armor and vehicles had arrived in the meantime. 
The battalion was ready for operations once more. Just before dawn the 
move south began. Countless British vehicles lined the road. They had to 
be abandoned because of a lack of fuel. Our booty was very welcome. We 
even found the little Bren gun carriers intact. The Greek people in Pyrgos 
greeted us with wine and tropical fruit. I interrupted the advance in 
Olympia and took my soldiers into the stadium. The mayor of Pyrgos led 
us through the classical arena and, likewise, didn't forget to show us the 
memorial to Heinrich Schliemann [German archaeologist]. For more 
than an hour we wandered around the rubble-strewn grounds admiring 
the wonderful mosaics and impressive construction of this historic site. 




62 


GRENADIERS 


In Tripolis we linked up with units of the army that were bottling up 
the English in the southern harbors. SS-Untersturmfuhrer Thede, the 
leader of an armored reconnaissance patrol, returned from Kalumata and 
reported: “The enemy was collapsing between fire and water.” The batde 
in Greece was over. 

The road led us through Patras and Corinth to Athens. In Athens we 
were supposed to participate in a parade held by Feldmarschall List in 
front of the palace. Moved by so many impressions, we crossed the deeply 
cut Corinth Canal and, that same evening, stood on the Acropolis. Many 
comrades, never having learned anything of classical antiquity, were aston¬ 
ished by the technical achievements that had been accomplished two and 
a half thousand years before. The classicists among us felt invigorated and, 
perhaps for the first time there on the Acropolis and Propylnea, were able 
to establish a true relationship with classical antiquity. For diem the visit to 
ancient Hellas reunited them with their youth. They were seeing places 
which they had never visited before. Surrounded by a mysterious power, 
we gained strength from the Hellenic inheritance and were prepared to 
march toward further sacrifice for our homeland. 

A Greek soldier stood guard over the memorial to the Unknown Sol¬ 
dier. Brave men were honored there who had sacrificed their all for their 
country. We moved via Thermopylne, Larissa and the Klidi Pass past burnt 
out wrecks of armored vehicles and fresh grave mounds, through Monas- 
tir, Belgrade and Vienna to the area east of Prague. In Gaya we regained 
our senses and started servicing our weapons and equipment. We had no 
idea of what awaited us. The troops were in a fever pitch. New equipment 
arrived and better weapons were issued. The experiences of the Balkan 
Gampaign were analyzed and intensive training began once more. 

Everything we did was governed by speed. We had learned that only 
the swiftest will gain victory and that only die most agile soldier will survive 
the fight. 

The camaraderie of my battalion was like the comradeship of a big 
family. An iron discipline was the backbone of the community. We 
approached further training imbued with these values and forged an 
instrument upon which I could play all the symphonies of batde. Company 
commanders and platoon leaders mastered the tricks of the keyboard with 
finesse. And my young comrades had become soldiers whom I could lead 
on a loose rein and with few words. They were not uniformed dummies 
held together by slavish zombie-like obedience. No, before me stood 
young individuals who believed in themselves, their own values and their 
own abilities. 




After the awarding of the Knight’s Cross to Gerd PleiB, Sepp Dietrich, and 
Frit/ Witt. 



Struggling through the klistira Pass with a Sd.Kfz 222 armored car. 







1941 in Greece. This photo appeared on the cover of Illustrurtn lieobachtervnlh 
the heading of “Heavy Artillery to the Front” and must he considered one of 
the most famous Waffen SS images, vujotr sirann 








The end of the campaign in Greece 1941. Left to right: Keilhaus (Operations 
Officer), Heinrich Himmler, Kurt Meyer (commander, SS-Aufklarungs- 
Abteilung l),Surkau (I./SS-Artillerie-Regiinent 1). Mertsch (II./SS-Artillerie- 
Regiment 1 ). inujAws h»m>ih 


































Posing with the commander of the “Leibstandarte,” SS-Obergruppentiihrer 
Sepp Dietrich, jam so«nii«» 








Military cemetery for “Leibstandarte” soldiers at the KJidi Pass. 



Map of southern Russia, the scene of the bold reconnaissance operations con¬ 
ducted by Meyer and his SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1. 






































Map of western Russia, the next theater of war for Kurt Meyer after the cam¬ 
paign in the Balkans. 

















The Struggle 

against the Soviet Union 


The news of the attack against the Soviet Union struck us like a bolt of 
lightning. In Gaya, we heard Adolf Hider’s broadcast justifying his decision 
to do away with the worldwide threat of Bolshevism forever. With a gloomy 
foreboding that we might suffer the same fate as our fathers who fell victim 
to a war on several fronts in 1914—18, we prepared for the crudest war that 
soldiers had ever had to fight. 

On the morning of 27 June 1941, the battalion marched east through a 
jubilant populace via Olmiitz, Ratibor and Beuthen. On 30 June we crossed 
the Weichsel near Annopol and reached the Russian border near Uscilug at 
0800 hours. 

Meanwhile, our forces had already advanced far to the east. The Leib- 
standarte, now officially redesignated as a division, was attached to Heeres- 
gruppe Stic! (Feldmarschall von Rundstedt), which had the task of 
advancing towards Kiev with motorized units and destroying the Russian 
forces west of the Dniepr. For this task the Heeresgruppe had at its dis¬ 
posal twenty-six infantry divisions, four motorized infantry divisions, four 
[ager divisions and five panzer divisions. Luftfiotte 4, under Generaloberst 
Lohr, supported the advance of the Heeresgruppe against a strong force 
led by Marshal Budjonny. Budjonny was going into battle against Feld¬ 
marschall von Rundstedt with forty infantry divisions, fourteen motorized 
divisions, six armored divisions and twenty-one cavalry divisions. 

The Russians fought tenaciously and obstinately over every inch of 
ground. There was bitter fighting over the entire front as we reached Roll- 
bahn Nord at Luck on 1 July. On 2 July we received orders to advance on 
Rowno via Kievan and there to establish contact with the III Armee-Korps 
(General von Mackensen). It was reported the III Armee-Korps was sur¬ 
rounded at Rowno. Strong enemy formations were attacking our forces’ 
extended flanks from the Pripet marshes. 

This enemy situation was something completely new to us. Slightly 
confused, I looked at my maps to inform my men about the situation. The 


71 






72 


GRENADIERS 


old criteria no longer applied. Where was the clear division between friend 
and foe? Far ahead, the Panzer-Divisionen of the III Armee-Korps were 
fighting east of Rowno. Infantry units were fighting a few kilometers in 
front of us, and Russian forces were fighting to the north and south of us. 
After unsuccessful attempts to give my comrades a clear picture of the 
position, I summed up the situation with the following: “As of today, the 
enemy is everywhere!” I did not yet realize, as I was passing the word to my 
men, how closely it summed up the situation. 

A couple of kilometers east of Luck, next to a railway line, we came 
across the last outposts of an infantry battalion. Dense smoke clouds 
showed us the location of a destroyed Russian tank. Dark forests were on 
either side of the road along which we were moving eastwards. We had to 
hurdle a distance of sixty kilometers to reach Rowno. Would we reach our 
objective in time and would w'e be able to give our comrades of the 25. 
Infanterie-Division (mot.) tangible assistance? Calmly, I gave the lead ele¬ 
ments the signal to start the move into the coming night. In the lead was 
Fritz Mon tag. Montag was a veteran of the First World War and was the pla¬ 
toon leader of a motorcycle platoon in the l./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1. 

At first slowly, then more swifdy, the spearhead moved towards the 
dark forests. I wanted to shout out: “Stop! What I preached to you isn’t 
true! The engine isn’t your friend. Move slowly, or you will drive to your 
death!” But my lips wouldn’t open. They were pressed together to protect 
themselves from the air stream. Squinting my eyes, I followed the lead ele¬ 
ments of the column boring further and further into the forest. 

Destroyed Russian tanks were on both sides of the road. Trucks and 
horse drawn vehicles were abandoned beneath the trees. At one place, we 
found twelve camouflaged Russian T-26s. They were without fuel, deserted. 
Ready for combat, the battalion moved past a large area of heath that 
extended north. Suddenly, I saw the lead platoon disappear in front of me 
and the 20 mm cannon of an armored car fire at some bushes. Four or five 
of these “bushes” then moved towards us and started firing at a distance of 
about 150 meters. Well-camouflaged Russian tanks were attacking the line 
of march. In the twinkling of an eye, everyone took cover in the ditches 
and watched the duel between our armored cars and the enemy tanks. A 
few antitank guns entered the fray and put an end to the uproar. After a 
few minutes we resumed the march. The burning tanks illuminated the 
night sky to our rear for a long time. At 1930 hours we exchanged the first 
rounds with the Soviets. In order to make sure we would accomplish the 
mission, I sent combat reconnaissance south, with orders to advance on 
Kievan via Olyka and wait for the battalion at Kievan. 



The Struggle against the Soviet Union 


73 


Extreme darkness surrounded us when we reached Stovek and moved 
further east. Shordy after midnight, I saw a truck crossing the road in front 
of me and more vehicles in a lane in the forest. Russians! Within a few sec¬ 
onds, the machine-gun fire of the Kradschutzen was sent in their direc¬ 
tion. Several enemy trucks burned like torches and high flames 
illuminated the junction. The forest exerted an unearthly influence. The 
darkness had an oppressive effect and enormously increased the tension. I 
felt insecure, the battle was too mysterious for me and, above all, I had not 
yet had adequate experience with the Soviets. Hour after hour we moved 
through the darkness. More than 30 kilometers still separated us from 
Rowno. A couple of kilometers before we reached Kievan—right outside 
of the woods which we then, thank God, had behind us—we halted and 
the battalion closed up. 

We could hear the noise of heavy fighting coming from Kievan. Flares 
rose up and pointed out the location of the fighting to us. Just as I was 
about to push onwards through Kievan, there was a fearful outcry behind 
me. Amidst grenade detonations, men swearing, grating tank tracks and the 
tumult of breaking iron and steel, I could make out the shape of a tank in 
the column. To my horror, I saw the tank steering its course over the motor¬ 
cycles, tearing to the left across the road and disappearing into the dark¬ 
ness. Hardly had we recovered from this surprise, than the same game was 
repeated a little further back in the column. Two enemy tanks had slipped 
into our line of march in the darkness and only noticed their error during 
the halt. For our part, we had confused their shadows with our own prime 
movers and thus had moved through the forest in the company of the Rus¬ 
sians. Additional tanks were observed to the left of the road. 

The combat reconnaissance patrol I had deployed towards Olyka had 
made contact with part of the III./SS-Infanterie-Regiment 1 and was under 
heavy pressure from strong Russian forces. The 12./SS-Infanterie-Regi- 
ment 1 called for help, as the Russians had surrounded it. We thus had to 
relieve the threatened units and continue the advance towards Rowno 
after daybreak. We turned quickly and established contact with the heavily 
pressured unit. The Russians were fighting for the road. In the meantime, 
it had become light and we could identify a long column of abandoned 
trucks. Enemy infantry were positioned in front of us in the fields of tall 
corn and had tried to overrun the 12./SS-Infanterie-Regiment 1. So far the 
enemy had been unsuccessful. The company was reinforced in the nick of 
time by an armored car. 

Without losing any time, we returned through the forest to Kievan. The 
village was taken and the advance on Rowno continued. The road ran dead 



74 


GRENADIERS 


straight in a southeasterly direction. A couple of kilometers outside of Kie¬ 
van, the road descended and then rose again slowly outside of Broniki. On 
the horizon, clouds of smoke rose straight into the sky. I moved behind the 
advance-guard platoon and scanned the terrain with my binoculars. I 
thought I could make out an abandoned gun on the slope. Amidst the 
fresh green of the young grain, I spotted a couple of bright patches. The 
gun was a leichte Feldhaubitze 18, which was abandoned and in firing posi¬ 
tion. It made a depressing impression on us. For the first lime we had 
found an abandoned German weapon on the battlefield. A few steps away 
from the gun there was a looted ambulance. Its doors were wrenched open 
and blood-smeared. Silently we observed die devastated area. Neither living 
nor dead soldiers were to be found. We moved slowly up the rise. 

The prominent bright patches grew more and more distinct; we could 
make out a large and a small patch very clearly. I let my binoculars fall, 
rubbed my eyes and took up the binoculars again. My God! Was that really 
possible? Could that which I had just seen really be true? The last couple 
of hundred meters were traversed quickly. The advance-guard platoon dis¬ 
mounted and ran with me to the bright patches. Our steps slowed down. 
We came to a standstill. We dared not go further. Steel helmets were held 
as if in prayer. Not one word desecrated this place. Even the birds were 
silent. The naked bodies of a brutally butchered company of German sol¬ 
diers were before us. Their hands were fastened with wire. Widely staring 
eyes gazed at us. The officers of this company had met an end that was 
perhaps even more cruel. They lay a couple of meters away from their 
comrades. We found their bodies torn to pieces and trampled underfoot. 

Still, not a single word was spoken. Death’s majesty spoke here. Silendy, 
we filed past our murdered comrades. 

My soldiers stood facing me. They were expecting me to give them an 
explanation or guidelines for their future conduct in Russia. We looked at 
one another. I searched the eyes of each and every soldier. Without a 
word, I turned and we moved out towards an unknown fate. 

Up until 7 July, we fended off attacking Russians again and again north 
of Rowno. The enemy was suffering severe losses, our own were minimal. 
At 1400 hours we received orders to secure the flank of the 11. Panzer-Divi¬ 
sion and reconnoiter to the northeast from Miropol. At noon the next day, 
we were engaged with strong enemy forces in the forest areas north of 
Romanov. Enemy artillery was laying down harassing fire. Through the 
activities of reconnaissance units and enemy deserters we identified a 
motorized battalion with several tanks and some batteries. Towards the 
evening, we lost a 20 mm antiaircraft gun to a direct hit. The wounded 
crew was evacuated. 



The Struggle against the Soviet Union 


75 


The situation had become critical on Rollbahn Not'd in the meantime. 
The Panzer-Divisionen of the III Armee-Korps had advanced further in the 
direction of Zhitomir and Kiev and the 25. Infanterie-Division (mot.), 
which was charged with securing the extended flank of the corps, was 
being attacked by strong enemy forces from the north. Rollbahn Nord, the 
lifeline of the corps, was threatened. So we received orders on 9 July to 
attack the enemy north of Romanov, advance north through the forest 
areas and establish contact with Kradschutzen-Bataillon 25 near Sokolov. 

After a thorough artillery barrage, I wanted to carry out a motorized 
attack in order to immediately advance into the depths of the Russian 
defenses and take advantage of surprise. The 1. (Kradschiitzen)/SS-Aufk- 
larungs-Abteilung 1 positioned itself for the attack behind a small rise. 
Fritz Montag took point again. The company commander, my old and 
trusted comrade Gerd Bremer, repeated his operations order once more 
and went to his vehicle. I had forbidden the company to engage the 
enemy or reduce speed before reaching the forest’s edge. It was supposed 
to thunder at full steam through the enemy and leave everything else to 
the following battalion. Two 88 mm guns had been emplaced on either 
side of the road. They had the mission of opening fire as soon as the com¬ 
pany set off and laying down covering fire in front of it. They would 
“shoot” the company forward. 

At exactly 1730 the guns started roaring and smashed the forest on 
both sides of the road. The engines of the bikes howled; the bikes and 
sidecars with the men perched on them looked like beasts of prey. Pressed 
fiat on the bikes, my comrades rushed down from the rise and raced 
towards the detonations of the rounds and the hammering of the enemy 
machine guns. Within a few seconds the company had reached the edge of 
the forest and disappeared. Peter stomped on the accelerator and rushed 
after the company. The artillery fire was still ranged on the edge of the 
woods. Not a round was fired at us. Small scruffy horses chewed on their 
bits. Escaping Russians ran north on both sides of the road. But then what 
happened? The company came to a halt. It started to fight with the fleeing 
Russians and with isolated pockets of resistance. 

The company began to advance like infantry and wasted precious 
time. This could not be allowed to happen! We had to reach the cross¬ 
roads a few kilometers further north and deny the Russians an orderly 
retreat out of the forest to the left of our line of advance. Angrily, I moved 
to the front to get the whole thing moving again. The armored cars and 
assault guns cleared the way for the Kradschutzen. Within minutes, guns, 
prime movers and trucks were captured. The one thing not to do w r as 
stop—-just continue to move and take advantage of the enemy’s confusion! 




76 


GRENADIERS 


Exhausted Russians approached us, weaponless and crying. At first I 
couldn’t understand their cries, but then I heard: “Ukrainski, Ukrainski! “ 
They were as joyful as children and hugged each other around the neck 
again and again. The war was over for them. 

The crossroads were reached at 1815 hours. Columns fleeing east were 
overtaken and disarmed. The Russians only defended themselves occa¬ 
sionally. They were completely unnerved by the battalion’s lightning-like 
advance. Hundreds of prisoners were assembled along the road and count¬ 
less small arms and other weapons were captured. The enemy had been 
caught in a situation favorable to us. Their units had just started a with¬ 
drawal. Unfortunately, we lost a light armored car to antitank fire during 
this engagement but, thank God, we only had one wounded comrade dur¬ 
ing the whole operation to complain about. Although we had adapted our¬ 
selves to the Russian style of combat and felt absolutely superior, I thought 
it wise to disengage and spend the night in a cleared area in the woods. 
Our division was still engaged elsewhere and could only reach us by dawn. 

The forest was alive. We heard the Russian columns pulling away east¬ 
wards. They were the last units of the Stalin Line. They were looking for a 
way east between our lines of advance and along forest firebreaks and 
paths down which one could hardly move. We laid by our weapons ready 
for the fight and awaited the new morning. The rustling of the tall 
spruces mixed with the distant thunder of a few friendly guns somewhere 
to the east. 

The sun was beneficent and the Lord presented us with a wonderful 
summer day. Reluctandy, I gave the order to move north. The l./SS-Aufk- 
larungs-Abteilung 1 took point again and was waiting on the road, ready to 
move off, as I gave the order to Bremer for the breakthrough to the Roll- 
bahn. Overtaking my car, the men waved smiling at me as they stowed away 
the last remnants of breakfast. What would the new day bring? 

I gave the commander of the 2./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 (Kraas) a 
few quick instructions and followed the advance-guard company. It had a 
lead of about five minutes. Dark spruce forests extended along both sides 
of the road, interrupted every couple of hundred meters by firebreaks. We 
covered ground quickly. Apart from my command car (a converted 
medium-sized armored signals vehicle) a couple of dispatch riders made 
up the party. Heinz Drescher, my excellent interpreter, and I sat on top of 
the armored car as we crested a small rise and were able to survey the 
route for a few kilometers. In the distance, we could see the last bikes dis¬ 
appearing around a bend. The main body of the battalion would be fol¬ 
lowing in a few minutes; it was waiting for the artillery to join the column. 
Silently we looked ahead and enjoyed the beautiful, sunny day. It was 



The Struggle against the Soviet Union 


77 


astonishing how quickly one forgot the murderous struggle during an 
operation and considered even a few quiet minutes as a godsend. The 
heavenly silence was interrupted by an event that was perhaps the most 
interesting experience of all my years at the front. 

To my great surprise, I saw a Russian antitank gun in a firing position 
as I rode past. Behind it were the tense faces of some Russians. I wanted to 
cry out but 1 suppressed the cry and let my car roll on for about another 
200 meters before I stopped it. The dispatch riders were briefed about the 
gun and I led two officers and four men into the forest to mop up the “for¬ 
gotten” antitank gun from the rear. Like redskins on the warpath we crept 
through the tall heather and bilberry bushes from tree to tree. I observed 
the gun through the trees. The crew was no longer to be seen. Had the 
Russian gunners escaped? Had they abandoned their gun? My machine- 
pistol was gripped in my fists at the ready, my finger on the trigger. My eyes 
were still directed at the gun emplacement. I heard the breath of Drescher 
behind me. I did not dare to turn around. Step by step we moved closer to 
the gun. 

“Stoi! Stoi! Rooki verkh!” 

Grimacing Russians gazed at me. I was standing in the middle of a 
Russian company. The whole time my comrades and I had been sneaking 
through a gap between two Russian platoons. The blood threatened to 
stop flowing through my veins. Countless rifles were being pointed at us. 
Spellbound, I looked at the circle surrounding me. Force would no longer 
achieve anything here. With subdued voice, I called to my comrades: 
“Don’t shoot.” The muzzles sank. An athletic, good-looking officer stood 
ten meters in front of me. I went towards him. He also scrambled past his 
comrades and moved in my direction. Not a sound could be heard. The 
Russian soldiers and my comrades watched the encounter. We stopped two 
meters away from each other, took our weapons into our left hands and 
saluted almost simultaneously. Then we took the last step and shook hands. 

Up to then, I had had no sensation. I felt neither beaten nor victori¬ 
ous. As we were straightening up from our slight bow, we declared each 
other prisoner. The Russian laughed as if 1 had cracked the best joke of 
the year. His big, blue eyes beamed at me cheerfully, while I put my hand 
in my pocket and held a pack of cigarettes out to him. He politely waited 
until I had also stuck a cigarette between my lips, then he struck a match. 
We both behaved as if we were alone on a broad plain and as if the war 
were a long forgotten event. The Russian only spoke broken German and 
I spoke no Russian. I called Drescher and was able to whisper to him: “We 
have to gain time!” Drescher and the Russian then began a long palaver 
about which side should lay down its weapons. 





78 


GRENADIERS 


While this was going on, I moved from Russian to Russian and offered 
cigarettes. With a grin, the young soldiers wrangled cigarettes out of my 
pack and held them under their noses before shoving the butts between 
their lips. They enjoyed sniffing their cigarettes. I clasped the shoulders of 
each of the individual Russians in a comradely fashion, indicating they 
should lay their weapons on the forest floor. But, in the twinkling of an 
eye, the pack was empty. Only then did I realize that I was relatively far 
away from Drescher and standing alone among the Russians. I was happy 
as soon as 1 rejoined the group around Drescher. From the officer’s into¬ 
nation I realized his patience would soon run out. Very slowly I crept ever 
closer to the forest’s edge to cause Drescher and the Russian to continue 
their negotiations outside the woods. I was waiting for the approaching 
battalion. It had to appear at any moment and end this nightmare. 

The three of us stood at the forest’s edge and 1 tried once more to 
explain to the Russian that his unit was surrounded and that our armored 
spearhead had already reached Kiev. He then shook his head energeucally 
and got Drescher to tell me that he was an officer and not a dunce. At that 
moment, there was a bang on the road and I saw a light armored car in 
flames. The Russian antitank gun had hit it from a range of about twenty 
meters. Thick clouds of smoke rose straight into the sky. Since I knew all my 
vehicles always moved well dispersed in order to have good fields of fire, 
the next one would arrive at any moment. Its turret would be appearing 
over the rise any second. The Russian was vigorously demanding that I lay 
down my machine pistol. I asked Drescher to explain to him that I could 
not understand the last sentence and he should show me what he meant. 

The Russian looked at me in disbelief and set his wonderful, tele¬ 
scopic-sighted automatic weapon down on the road. He shouldn’t have 
done that. Quick as a flash, I stood on the weapon and pressed my shoul¬ 
der against his. We then both stood like statues between the Russians on 
one side and my comrades on the other side of the road. 

All my soldiers had snuck over to our side of the road. From the 
depths of the forest came the exhortation: “Russki, Russki!” A fanatical 
voice was issuing a call to action. More and more Russian rifles were being 
pointed at me and 1 pressed myself even closer to the officer. Even 
Drescher had taken cover in a ditch. At that moment a shadow passed over 
me. I did not dare to look but, nevertheless, I saw that it was the wingman 
to the original armored car. I heard the brakes grinding. He slowly pulled 
up to me. Everything happened at sizzling speed. The calls of the commis¬ 
sar left no doubt that the fireworks would start at any moment. A last 
glance into my opposite number’s eyes. He sensed what was coming. 
Calmly he returned my look. Then 1 roared out: “Fire!” 



The Struggle against the Soviet Union 


79 


The 20 mm high-explosive rounds and bursts of fire from the armored 
car slammed into the forest. My comrades threw grenades across the road 
and I jumped into a ditch like a shot. The Russian commander was lying 
on the road. The war was over for him. 

Grenades came rolling across the road as we tried to make ourselves 
scarce but it was impossible. A small bridge barred the way. The armored 
car has to advance a couple of hundred meters as the Russian antitank gun 
had changed its direction of fire. It was getting uncomfortable. We were 
expecting the Russians to attack across the road at any moment. At that 
moment something happened I would never forget. Our youngest dis¬ 
patch rider, Heinz Schlund—later the German 1500-meter champion— 
jumped up, ran towards his motorcycle combination, leapt into the saddle 
and disappeared. I watched him drive to the armored car, shout a couple 
of words to its commander and then return to us. He waved at me. I 
jumped up and landed crossways between saddle and sidecar. We then 
sped off towards the battalion. 

Hugo Kraas had already got the 2./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 to dis¬ 
mount and was leading the attack at that point. The heavy weapons, mor¬ 
tars and infantry weapons were quickly deployed. The fighting was hard. 
The Russians fought for every tree. But it was no use. The engagement was 
over in fifteen minutes. 

I sought out the Russian commander and found him with some bullet 
holes in his chest. He was buried in the same grave as my fallen comrades. 

* 


After fighting at Marshilievsk we reached Rollbahn Nord. Units of the 
25. Infanterie-Division (mot.) and supply units of the 13. and 14. Panzer- 
Divisionen were moving along it. Among the Russian dead in Marshilievsk 
was a Commissar Neumann. We wondered whether he might have been a 
German. Kradschutzen-Bataillon 25 was involved in hard fighting north of 
Sokolov and was asking for our help. I put a couple of assault guns at its 
disposal that would soon bring relief to the battalion. 

Our battalion took over a covering-force sector east of Sokolov, roughly 
twenty kilometers wide. The traffic on the Rollbahn was interrupted at 
about 1455 hours. Enemy forces had crossed it west of Sokolov and had 
thus cut the entire supply route to die III Armee-Korps. Our battalion’s sec¬ 
tor was under harassing fire. Our headquarters was located under a mag¬ 
nificent oak 100 meters south of the Rollbahn. Machine-gun fire swept 
through the thick foliage of the tree so the green leaves fluttered to earth. 




80 


GRENADIERS 


Peter “found” a plate of rice pudding for me that I ate with great gusto in 
the protection of the thick trunk. Only then, hours after the incident with 
the Russian commander, did I find time to think about the incident. Sud¬ 
denly the rice had lost its taste. I got goose bumps all over. 

At dawn, heavy artillery fire ranged in on the headquarters. The com¬ 
panies reported enemy concentrations in the forested areas north of the 
Rollbahn. Our artillery and heavy weapons tried to eliminate the identified 
enemy concentrations. But the enemy was not to be discouraged. I was 
worr ied about my Kradschiitzen, since the sector was unusually large and 
there were no available reserves. The armored car company swept back 
and forth along the Rollbahn to keep the gaps in our defenses covered. It 
looked like it would be a hot night. I moved over to the sector’s right wing 
once again to visit the two motorcycle companies. The 1 ./SS-Aufklarungs- 
Abteilung 1, with its right wing on the Tenia bridge, was exposed to espe¬ 
cially heavy attacks. Both companies had dug themselves in well. My 
Kradschiitzen had burrowed into the earth for the first time in this war. 

My vehicle was under machine gun and rifle fire along the whole 
stretch. The rounds hammered on the armor plate and ricocheted— 
“singing”—into the surroundings. The battalion staff dug itself in and 
everyone, from cooks and clerks to the last driver, was in position and 
awaited the night. 

At 2330 hours the expected Russian attack began. A terrific hail of 
steel rained down on our sector. The repulsive scream of “Urrah, Urrah!” 
congealed the blood in our veins. Those nerve-wracking shouts were some¬ 
thing new to us. Flares illuminated the darkness. Tracer rounds created 
colorful paths in the night. The Russians had pushed through to the Roll¬ 
bahn and the attack only collapsed as a result of flanking fire from several 
armored cars. 

Another attack followed around midnight. Its main effort was directed 
against the l./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1. The Russians penetrated the 
position and eliminated two machine-gun nests but were wiped out by 
spades and bayonets in hand-to-hand combat. The old positions were 
retaken. The enemy artillery fire became more intense. A heavy rail-gun 
battery plastered the road junction south of Sokolov and the battalion 
headquarters east of the junction. 

The motorcycle companies had run out of ammunition and were 
urgently requesting resupply, but how were we going to get ammunition to 
the right wing? There were no routes to the right wing behind the front 
line and the Rollbahn was the demarcation line between the Russians and 
us. Only the road separated the fighting elements from one another. I 



The Struggle against the Soviet Union 


81 


heard Kraas’ voice in my headphones once more and could see terrific 
fireworks in his sector to my right. The l./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 and 
the heavy mortars were also screaming for ammunition. The shouts of 
“Urrah! Urrah!” came right at me as the Russians attacked our headquar¬ 
ters. The 20 mm antiaircraft platoon fired high-explosive rounds at the 
attacking Soviets and concentrated its fire especially on a line of bushes on 
the far side of the road. The attack collapsed with high casualties for the 
Russians at that location. 

After the last attack was beaten back, my armored car was loaded to 
the brim with ammunition and SS-Sturmfuhrer Grezech and Peter dashed 
along the contested road. Peter had removed the camouflage cover from 
the left-hand headlight and moved down the road with blazing lights. The 
vehicle was hit several times during the move but the companies were sup¬ 
plied with ammunition. 

Without luck, I asked for reinforcements. The battalions could only be 
expected by noon at the earliest. They were only just disengaging from the 
fortified line near Miropol. Once again, heavy enemy artillery fire rained 
down on the right wing of the sector. The heavy rounds of the 150 mm 
railway guns shattered the woods in the sector of the l./SS-Aufklarungs- 
Abteilung 1 and, at about 0100 hours, the third storm of Russians broke 
over us. A few minutes later the flank company requested help. The 
enemy had penetrated the position in depth and the fighting was hand-to- 
hand. Demented creatures were fighting for their lives. It was every man 
for himself. 

I couldn’t take it any longer. I tore the headphones off, jumped into an 
armored car and rushed off. Without looking to the left or right, the driver 
raced through the Russian attack groups crossing the Rollbahn between the 
gaps in our defenses. We were moving without lights and could therefore 
only see shadows bounding across the road. The brakes squealed as the car 
took a left-hand bend in the road and then disappeared behind a small 
farm building. The Kradschutzen were just fending off the last Russian 
attack. It collapsed deep within their defenses. The attacking forces were 
completely annihilated. 

The men’s screams mixed with the hammering of the machine guns 
and the hollow bangs of grenades made any communication impossible. 
Kraas and I crouched behind the remains of a wall perhaps twenty meters 
south of the road and tried to pierce the mists of the dawning day. Heavy 
Russian mortar fire was falling on the whole sector. Several Kradschutzen 
dragged a badly injured comrade into cover and tore open his uniform 
jacket to render first aid. I bounded over and saw my old comrade Grezech 




82 


GRENADIERS 


lying mortally wounded in front of me. His eyes were closed and his chest 
rose and fell almost imperceptibly. I shouted at him, called his name—1 
wanted to call him back to life, but all was in vain. Death had already 
assumed his dominion. His lips were twitching as if he wanted to entrust 
me with a final farewell to his wife and children. His eyelids lifted slightly, 
so that his eyes were visible, but they could see no more. His head slowly 
fell to the side. A round in his heart had ended his life. 

SS-Hauptscharfiihrer von Berg—a veteran Spieli in first the 14. and 
then the 15./SS-Infanterie-Regiment 1—was in die first foxhole. He was a 
platoon leader in the l./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1. A round to the chest 
had torn him from our midst. Jupp Hansen, von Berg’s longstanding 
friend, was crying for help. His screams were choked by blood. A round to 
the lung got him. He was pulled into cover, lying on a shelter quarter. Jupp 
recognized me, wanted to speak, but couldn't manage it any more. He 
died some hours later. 

The new day illuminated a macabre landscape. Burnt areas, craters, 
uprooted trees, mangled equipment and blackened farm ruins bore silent 
witness to an insane night. A 1-ton prime mover was in front of me. During 
the night it was a glowing aiming point, at this point it was a smoking 
wreck. Thin smoke blew across the roadside ditch. The driver was sitting 
upright behind the steering wheel. His uniform had been burned from his 
body; only black ashes concealed his charcoaled chest here and there. The 
blackened skull with its empty eye sockets was still facing in the direction 
of travel. I wanted to scream, to curse die whole insanity of war, but I tum¬ 
bled into the next hole and returned the fire of a Russian who was lying 
behind a bush not fifty meters away on the other side of the road. Glanc¬ 
ing at the prostrate, clawing humanity around me, the bloody fields of Ver¬ 
dun appeared before me in my thoughts. My comrades and Russian 
soldiers lay dead in die foxholes; they had killed each other. The survivors 
threw out the dead; they wanted to live and were looking for cover. 

Daylight had arrived. There was no longer a single living Russian to be 
seen; the battlefield was empty. Before us were flower-strewn meadows and 
rippling grain fields. Not a shot disrupted the silence of the morning. My 
comrades sat up, initially with care and then without circumspection. The 
first one stood up, lit a cigarette, and took a look in the enemy’s direcdon. 
Everyone looked at the standing Kradschutze in fascination. Nothing hap¬ 
pened. Shouts of encouragement flew from hole to hole. Life had us in its 
grip again. It was asking for its share. 

I shook Hugo Kraas by the hand. During the night, he was the back¬ 
bone of the defense. His eyes blinked nervously. His hand shook and his 



The Struggle against the Soviet Union 


83 


words sounded bitter. Both of us had lost more comrades in the last two 
days than during all the previous campaigns put together. 

The radio reported we would be relieved by the III./SS-Infanterie-Regi- 
ment 1, which was supposed to take place by noon. Just as we wanted to 
return to battalion headquarters, SS-Untersturmfiihrer Baumhardt asked 
me to investigate the vegetation 150 meters north of the road. He noticed 
movement there only a short while before. Peter steered towards the vege¬ 
tation and wanted to circle it at a distance. The circle around the vegeta¬ 
tion became smaller and smaller, but I couldn’t spot any enemy. Peter then 
moved really close. I was standing in the turret. As if from nowhere, a Rus¬ 
sia officer leapt up. With one bound he was standing on the front slope of 
our vehicle and fired. Completely taken aback by his tremendous speed, I 
fired my pistol and crouched down. The vehicle stopped; it didn’t stir. 1 
roared at Peter. There was a bang, the vehicle heaved to and fro and 
moved on in fits and starts. Peter tried to throw an egg grenade into the 
vegetation but it promptly rolled under our vehicle. Peter never repeated 
his close-combat tactics. 

On reaching the I./SS-lnfanterie-Regiment 1, we landed in a firefight 
which could not shake the battalion. The grenadiers under the command 
of Fritz Witt did not waver. This battalion had also formed itself into a 
strong, unshakable fighting team. In the roadside ditch, I recognized an 
old comrade whom 1 had trained at [uterbog in 1934. Quasowsky, a fellow 
more than 1.9 meters tall, had a severe wound in his leg. A grenade frag¬ 
ment had shattered his foot. With his pocketknife, the East Prussian made 
the final cut and severed the foot from his body. 

The relief in place was executed without interruption. SS-Hauptsturm- 
fuhrer Hempel was killed a short time later; he had been a good friend of 
Grezech. We put our dead to rest beneath the thunder of Russian artillery. 
The eulogies were drowned by the noise of roaring engines. The Rollbahn 
was open again. The columns rolled eastwards. 

We marched to Kopylovo by way of Zhitomir and fought outside the 
gates of Kiev together with the 13. and 14. Panzer-Divisionen. Our battal¬ 
ion was relieved by the reconnaissance battalion of an Infanterie-Division 
and freed up for other missions. 

While Panzergruppe Kleist had been advancing on Kiev via Zhitomir, 
parts of the 6. Armee had been attacking the Russian forces near Uman by 
way of Vinnitsa. The 17. Armee crossed the Bug on a broad front and 
advanced further east. The divisions of the III Armee-Korps employed 
against Kiev were then replaced by units of the 6. Armee and turned south¬ 
east. 



84 


GRENADIERS 


At about 0300 hours on 30 July we paused on the southern outskirts of 
Zibermanowka and secured the right flank of our division, which was 
attacking. By 0500 hours we had reached Leschtschinowka, held by strong 
enemy forces. The 2./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 bogged down outside 
the village and was pinned by heavy artillery fire. The l./SS-Aufklarungs- 
Abteilung 1 was also under heavy fire. Around noon, Russian forces tried 
to break out to the east. Enemy tanks sped through the Kradschutzen and 
tried to ram or overrun the antitank weapons. A disengagement of the 
motorcycle company proved impossible due to the artillery fire. 

SS-Untersturmfuhrer Baumhardt was killed in action during the 
extremely bitter fighting. He was a platoon leader in the 2./SS-Aufk- 
larungs-Abteilung 1. The company commander, SS-Hauptsturmfiihrer 
Kraas, was wounded. SS-Obersturmfuhrer Spaeth assumed temporary com¬ 
mand of the company. A grenade fragment tore off the lower jaw of one of 
our youngest comrades, SS-Kradschiitze Husmann. His comrades evacu¬ 
ated him while risking their own lives. 

In a surprise attack, a Russian company was taken prisoner by some 
armored cars. The company had orders to keep the bridge near 
Laschtchewoje open. 

On 31 July, the battalion was placed under the operational control of 
the XXXXVIII Armee-Korps and was given the mission of reaching Nowo 
Arkhangelsk and closing the Uman pocket. Nowo Arkhangelsk was 
reached exactly at noon without a fight. The village was located on both 
sides of a small river which cut through the town from north to south and 
which could not be forded by tanks due to its steep banks. 

On reaching the first houses we came under lively artillery fire from 
the west. Northwest of the town, I noticed a German battery, some armored 
cars and motorcyclists disappearing to the northeast. Those German forces 
must have assumed we were Russians. We tried unsuccessfully to communi¬ 
cate with the German unit by flares. They could not be stopped and disap¬ 
peared. As we later determined, it was Aufklarungs-Abteilung 16. It had 
disengaged from the enemy in error and consequently caused us a great 
deal of extra effort. 

In the town we came under rifle fire and had to fight our way through 
to the bridge. There we found an abandoned armored car of Aufklarungs- 
Abteilung 16. The bridge had been damaged by mines. In our rear, the 
l./SS-Infanterie-Regiment 1 reached Nowo Arkhangelsk and cleared the 
southeastern part of the town. I then felt considerably more comfortable. 
We could rely on Fritz Witt. The I./SS-Infanterie-Regiment 1 and SS-Aufk- 
larungs-Abteilung 1 had been joined in “marriage.” We always got along 
well together. 



The Struggle against the Soviet Union 


85 


Towards 1800 hours the town was completely in our hands. However, 
apart from my armored cars, there were no reserves available. As darkness 
fell, the Russians attacked the battalion positions on the northeastern out¬ 
skirts of the town with strong infantry forces and eight tanks. Our 37 mm 
antitank guns opened fire at pointblank range. But what was going on? 
The tanks weren’t bothered in the least! They continued their advance 
into the Kradschiitzen. Shells ricocheted all over the place. We all could 
have done well without that bullshit! Thank God, the Kradschiitzen were 
among the buildings and were thus able to evade the tanks. Russian 
infantry also penetrated our lines and pushed our company back. The 
tanks had made a deep impression on my soldiers. I hoped this wouldn’t 
turn into a rout! 

I wondered if our gun on the bridge would have better luck. I leapt 
onto a Sturmgeschutz and raced off to the bridge. There I encountered 
Montag's platoon, which wanted to position itself on the near side of the 
river. 1 couldn’t believe my eyes! The motorcycle companies came rushing 
onto the bridge and wanted to get to the near bank. A couple of words 
were enough to restore some order to the situation. The companies 
turned round and threw out those Russians that had already infiltrated. 
Four Russian tanks fell victim to the assault gun and a 47 mm antitank 
gun. 

At 0330 hours there was a hefty infantry attack that collapsed under 
the fire of the Kradschiitzen. A Russian assault force had penetrated into 
the town along the brook from the south. However, the bridge, which had 
been protected by our combat engineers, was not in danger at any time. At 
dawn the enemy troops that had penetrated were either wiped out or cap¬ 
tured. All further attacks were repulsed with high enemy casualties. 

The encircled Russian forces in the pocket were constricted ever more 
tighdy. The pressure on our positions became ever greater. On 2 August a 
Nebelwerfer-Abteilung and a 21 cm mortar batter)' were attached to us. 

From a low rise I observed heavy enemy troop movements in an east¬ 
erly direction. Several columns of mixed weapons were disappearing into 
the woods five kilometers away from the positions of the l./SS-Aufklarungs- 
Abteilung 1. Obviously, the enemy wanted to risk another breakout to the 
east at nightfall. Harassing artillery fire fell on the entire battalion sector. 
More and more columns disappeared into the patch of woods. The slender 
trees covered thousands of men. Infantry, cavalry and artillery were seeking 
cover from view in the forest’s shadows. Didn’t they realize we could follow 
every movement? The Russian officers were leading their men and them¬ 
selves to their deaths. Those assembled forces could not be allowed to 
attack; they had to be smashed first. We would not be able to stand up to 



86 


GRENADIERS 


these masses in the dark; they would overrun us and gush through like 
dammed up water through a sluice gate. The Uman pocket would have 
had a hole in it. 

All the battalion’s heavy weapons, the Nebelwerfer-Abteilung and the 
21 cm mortar battery had the mission of laying down destructive fire on 
the patch of woods. 1 reserved the order to open fire for myself. Up to that 
point the Nebelwerfer had remained an unknown factor to us. We had no 
idea of the weapon’s effects. The hands of the clock ticked on. 1 was wait¬ 
ing patiently for the most favorable moment. The stream of Russian sol¬ 
diers had not yet dried up. There was starting to be a bulge from the 
inside of the pocket to the outside. The moment had come; the night 
announced its arrival. The outlines of the woods could only just be made 
out. Everybody was waiting tensely for the order to fire. 

Fire! Hell opened its mouth. 

Above us there was a horrible howling. Thick smoke trails arced over 
us and disappeared between the dark trees. Fiery rockets whizzed towards 
the enemy without interruption and exploded in death and destruction. 
The heavy mortar rounds rolled through the air like freight trains and 
complemented the hissing of the rockets. The forest burst asunder like an 
anthill beneath the feet of a prehistoric monster. Men and animals strug¬ 
gled for their lives but still ran to their deaths. Galloping horses, wildly 
running away along with carts and guns, collapsed under the fire of our 
armored cars’ automatic weapons. The waning sun glided over a field of 
death. Men breathed their last or remained forever crippled. Animals 
awaited the coup de grace. Thousands marched into captivity. 

1 no longer wanted to see or hear any more. The butchery disgusted 
me. Russian and German doctors went to great pains over the tormented 
humanity. We saw Russian women in uniform for the first time. I admired 
their attitude; they behaved in a better manner than their male counter¬ 
parts. The women worked throughout the whole night to ease the suffer¬ 
ing. 

After midnight, all hell broke loose! The cry of “Paratroopers!” echoed 
through the position. And, indeed, I cotdd see big four-engined transport 
planes above us and hear the rustling of parachutes. The parachutes fell to 
earth all around us. This was an extremely grave situation. We had no 
reserves. We awaited the descending paratroops with our peashooters 
ready to fire but nothing happened. After a few minutes the first report 
arrived and the first parachutes were brought over. The enemy has been 
dropping ammunition, food and fuel for the encircled troops. 

In the afternoon our sector was taken over by the 297. Infanterie-Divi- 
sion. The battalion was pulled back to the center of the town. During the 



The Struggle against the Soviet Union 


87 


following night, trains, vehicles and ammunition haulers suddenly sped 
across the bridge. Enemy infantry had infiltrated the artillery park. The 
battalion immediately launched a counterattack and captured several hun¬ 
dred Russians. 

The fighting for Uman was over. The greater parts of the Russian 6th 
and 12th Armies were effectively destroyed. Both army commanders, 317 
tanks and 858 guns had fallen into German hands. 

Panzergruppe 1 was freed up again and was deployed southeast to cut 
the lines of communications of the Russians fleeing in front of the 11. 
Armee. On 9 August, the battalion received orders to reconnoiter in the 
direction of Bobry. For many hours we moved through deep dust and clay 
to the southeast. Russian cavalry shadowed our advance at a respectful dis¬ 
tance, without giving us the opportunity of getting rid of this vigilant com¬ 
pany. At dawn on 10 August, I saw the cloud of an explosion on the 
horizon to the right of our line of advance. An armored car of Aufk- 
larungs-Abteilung 16 had encountered a mine. 

Before long, we captured a Russian mine-laying detail. The detail was 
made to unearth the recendy buried mines under protest and complaint. 
The prisoners belonged to the Russian 12th Cavalry Division that was mak¬ 
ing a fighting withdrawal to the east. I led the battalion directly east 
through tall grain and cornfields and then headed south. We were sud¬ 
denly to the rear of the enemy’s rearguard. Our Kradschutzen destroyed 
several armored cars, trucks and antitank guns. The Russian armored cars 
burned like tinder. The thick clouds of smoke rose straight into the sky. In 
pursuit of the fleeing Russians, the advance-guard platoon encountered 
strong field fortifications that were excellently laid out and only spotted at 
the last moment. During the fighting around a small rise, one of our best 
noncommissioned officers was killed. The ever-cheerful “Bubi” Burose 
died at the head of his squad. The platoon leader, SS-Untersturmfuhrer 
Wawrzinek, was wounded. 

The objective of the attack of the 16. Panzer-Division was the harbor of 
Nikolajew. We were given the mission of covering the left flank of the divi¬ 
sion against attacks from the east. General Hube led his division across die 
Ingul and then advanced along the east bank of the river to the south. By- 
doing so, he cut off the way east for many Russian units. 

On reaching the bridge at Kirjanowka our battalion came under lively 
artillery fire from the southwest. That meant the enemy was behind us and 
was trying to prevent the crossing of the Ingul using artillery' fire. But that 
fire couldn’t prevent us from executing our mission. Each vehicle dashed 
across the bridge individually and attempted to close up with the force. 
Neither personnel nor vehicles were lost. 




88 


GRENADIERS 


The 16. Panzer-Division had shot like an arrow through the retreating 
Russians and was positioned with its spearhead outside of Nikolajew. In 
ceaseless movement we also cut through the enemy’s retreat and reached 
the extended village of Sasselje by way of Nowo Poltawka. The five-day 
advance led us through many a critical situation and a lot of skirmishes with 
withdrawing units of the Russian Army. We had not learned to fear the 
enemy but we were certainly beginning to respect the endless spaces. 



From Sasselje to Cherson 


The extended village was bordered on the west by two lakes and could be 
easily defended from this side. The last Russian forces had left Sasselje 
around midday, heading east. They belonged to the 162nd Infantry and 
the 5th Cavalry Divisions. The church had been used as a grain store and 
movie theater. The staircase in the belfry had probably gone up in smoke 
in the chimneys of the village elders. Red banners hung down from the 
ceiling. A decrepit, toothless man introduced himself as an orthodox 
priest and asked for permission to hold services. Tears ran down his fur¬ 
rowed face as the villagers entered the plain room and he gave the first ser¬ 
mon for many years in a shaky voice. The older people listened piously to 
his words. Younger people, curious but slightly embarrassed, stood on the 
square in front of the church. 

During the night the sound of heavy fighting raged to the west. The 
16. Panzer-Division was attacking Nikolajew. At dawn 1 stood in the church 
tower and gazed out over the typical southern Russian countryside. Huge 
fields extended in all directions and deep, dusty tracks ran toward the vil¬ 
lage like a spider’s web. 

On all the tracks dust clouds could be seen and, near the neighboring 
village of Nowo Petrowka, enemy planes were taking off and landing. As 
expected, the Russians had surrounded the battalion. We no longer had to 
be told what would happen, should Nikolajew be held for a prolonged 
period and enemy forces attempt to advance deep into the flanks of the 
16. Panzer-Division. The thick dust clouds to the west- and east told us 
enough. The heat would be on! 

The motorcycle companies had moved into position on the outskirts 
of Sasselje and were busy with their morning wake-up call when heavy 
enemy forces were observed to the east. At the same time, an enemy col¬ 
umn rolled toward Sasselje from the west. The Russians had no idea that 
Sasselje had been occupied since the previous day and so they moved 
straight into a trap set by our engineer platoon and some armored cars. A 
dam, which separated the two lakes, was the Russians’ undoing. Without 
resistance, without firing even a single round, countless Russians were 
taken prisoner. 


89 






90 


GRENADIERS 


The tower became my command post. I was able to observe the 
enemy’s movements and take timely measures from there. More and more 
Russians appeared from the direction of Shuwanka and disappeared into 
the huge cornfields. The corn was as tall as a man and offered superb con¬ 
cealment and an outstanding means of approach. Company after company 
disappeared into the waving corn to spread out for the intended attack on 
Sasselje. I watched this development calmly because only a narrow patch of 
corn reached as far as the village. Apart from that, we had an open field of 
fire for at least 400 meters. Across such a distance any attack had to choke 
in its own blood. 

On the horizon enemy batteries were going into position. Mounted 
messengers galloped across the black earth. In front of us were numerous 
targets for our artillery, but we had to conserve our ammunition. Our lines 
of communication were endlessly long and ammunition had become pre¬ 
cious. We awaited the moment when each round would successfully fulfill 
its bloody task. Small black dots moved toward us through the ripening 
fields. From time to time, the sun struck bare metal, flashing brightly 
through the shimmering air. The dots moved closer and closer. They no 
longer resembled ants but could clearly be recognized as Russian infantry. 
Their battle order was good. They advanced in a widely dispersed forma¬ 
tion. Teams of men drew antitank guns; the horses remained behind. I 
considered the situation carefully, like a chess player, and got ready those 
weapons that would prove deadliest to the enemy. 

The Russians advanced upright but cautiously. No German soldier 
could be seen on the outskirts of Sasselje. The village had to appear to be 
unoccupied to the Russians. Only the heavy platoons of the motorcycle 
companies remained in position. All the other units awaited the order to 
attack north and south of the village. I did not want to merely repulse the 
attack, but to destroy the Russian unit! The moment arrived at 1100 hours. 
Fire struck the Russians from all weapons and tore horrible gaps in their 
lines. Mortars and infantry guns attempted to eliminate the enemy guns 
with precision fire. The attack waves went to ground. They then jumped 
up and ran forward to their deaths. Commissars and officers attempted to 
get the attack going again, but I only saw individual Russian soldiers run¬ 
ning forward; the majority remained on the ground as though nailed 
there. 

The moment had come for the Kradschutzen and armored cars wait¬ 
ing on the flanks. They advanced east and then turned in and pushed the 
Russians toward our position. By midday 650 prisoners had been taken 
and more than 200 dead counted. According to prisoner statements, the 
commander of the 962nd Rifle Regiment shot himself after shooting some 



From Sasselje to Cherson 


91 


of his officers. Because that regiment was said to have comprised only 900 
rifles, it was rendered completely combat ineffective as a result of those 
losses. 

During the next few hours we were attacked several times by the Red 
Air Force. In the afternoon intense enemy artillery fire was directed on the 
village. The fire came from the west. Although we had expected the attack 
from both directions, reality nevertheless took us by surprise. With light¬ 
ning speed the front line was switched, and we occupied prepared posi¬ 
tions west of the village. In contrast to the first attack, motorized forces 
carried out this one. Some amphibious tanks and armored cars formed the 
Russian spearhead. A direct hit struck our battery position and an ammu¬ 
nition truck exploded. Once more we let the Russians get close and run 
into our fire. 

The amphibious tanks were the first victims to fly into the air. The 
familiar smoke clouds covered the battlefield while our armored cal's and 
fast Panzeijager moved out and shot up the wildly and chaotically scatter¬ 
ing columns. One Panzeijager came to a smoking halt. Red flames shot out 
of its interior and engulfed the driver before he could be saved. The sur¬ 
vivors jumped into the glow. They pulled their comrade out of the burning 
hell and smothered the flames on his body. My ears were ringing with the 
screams of the badly burned driver. I looked away from the group and 
pointed my binoculars to the southwest. Thick clouds of dust announced 
the arrival of more columns, which were trying to force a way through to 
the east. Like panthers, our armored cars and Panzeijager pounced on the 
columns and shot up the vehicles into flaming wrecks. They tried to scatter 
in all directions but only a few managed to flee. The majority of Lite attack¬ 
ers had to trudge down the road to captivity. 

During the situation report I heard the wailing of the injured and the 
heartrending cries of our burned comrade. He lay on the stretcher and 
begged for me to give him the coup de grace. His hands lay crippled on 
his charred body. The hairless head, swollen lips and blackened trunk 
were a single, continuous wound; the lower part of his body was protected 
by his trousers during the fire and was therefore not that badly affected. I 
was too ashamed to speak words of comfort. In such a situation, comfort 
was a barefaced lie. My soldiers watched me keenly. Again and again the 
young soldier begged for relief. The doctor held out no hope; he scarcely 
knew where to give the pain-killing injection. A helpless shrug was all the 
doctor could manage. A blood-curdling scream drove me away from the 
field dressing station. I was unable to make my farewell. I could not even 
lay my hand on his brow. One last glance and I rushed away. With the 
departing of the day our comrade also departed this life. 



92 


GRENADIERS 


We held Sassejje against all Russian attacks until 17 August and recon- 
noitered deep to the south, as far as Snigirewka. Snigirewka Station was 
reported clear of the enemy at 1900 hours. The town itself was heavily occu¬ 
pied by the Russians. SS-Untersturmfuhrer Thede’s armored car received a 
hit from an antitank gun. Thede was reported missing when the rest of the 
crew linked up with the Kradschutzen. Thede had learned of the birth of 
his first son only hours before. The 16. Panzer-Division succeeded in cap¬ 
turing the harbor of Nikolajew and pushing the Russians back to Cherson. 
In the harbor the astonished grenadiers found a 36,000-ton batdeship that 
had not yet been run down the slips. 

On 18 August our battalion received the mission of reconnoitering in 
die direction of Cherson, about sixty kilometers from Sasselje on the lower 
Dnepr. Since 1918, it had developed into a considerable industrial city. 
However, only a tiny, wretched village was marked on our maps. Well before 
sunrise we began the march south. Hours later the glowing red face of the 
sun pushed up over the Dnepr and wanned our stiff joints. Dust clouds fol¬ 
lowed our rapid advance. A group of Kradschutzen moved in front, covered 
by two armored cars. The rest of 1st Platoon and my command vehicle fol¬ 
lowed the cars. The advance-guard leader was SS-Hauptscharfuhrer Erich 
upon whom I could rely unhesitatingly. 

After a short move we encountered a Russian column, which was look¬ 
ing for a river-crossing site. We disarmed it and marched it off in the direc¬ 
tion of Sasselje. Russian trucks were captured and incorporated into our 
own column. The prisoners were glad that their war was over and obeyed 
orders willingly. On both sides of our line of advance we discovered huge 
vineyards and tomato and cucumber fields which all gave the impression 
of being well tended. It was not long before the whole battalion was 
devouring tomatoes. Fruit orchards covered the western slopes by the bank 
of the Dnepr, but the fruit was not yet edible. Our southerly progress con¬ 
tinued unabated. My men grinned at me whenever I passed them or they 
brought me radio messages. As old hands they had, of course, noticed for 
some time that we were not reconnoitering, but heading for some “mon¬ 
key business’’. 

In Wehrmacht reports such actions were termed a coup de main, but 
this so-called coup de main was far from being either a child of impulse or 
the idea of some reckless commander. No! The coup de main was, in most 
cases, an operation planned long beforehand by a responsible commander 
who had situational awareness and was gripped by the intent of achieving 
great success through level-headed planning, bold daring and swift action. 

The prerequisites for this type of warfare were, apart from military 
abilities, outstanding human qualities. The commander must possess the 



From Sasselje to Cherson 


93 


absolute trust of the soldiers under his authority and he must, in the truest 
sense of the word, be the leading soldier of the unit. A coup de main 
could not be ordered from above! Higher headquarters lacked the ability 
to make the “on-the-ground" factual and intuitive judgment calls. The pre¬ 
requisite for a coup de main is vested solely and completely in the person 
of the military leader. 

Often a swift action seems to be the reckless operation of a commander 
particularly favored widr luck, but reality has a different aspect. Such a com¬ 
mander literally puts himself in his opponent’s position. He is aware of the 
reversals and defeats, which strike the enemy. He knows the physical and 
mental strain that his opposite number is under; his strengths and weak¬ 
nesses are well known to him. He does not rely on intelligence reports from 
higher echelons. They only provide the framework for the current opera¬ 
tion, not a whit more. He prepares his own estimate of the situation. From 
a thousand bits of information he pieces together the picture of his enemy. 
He knows how to read the operational terrain like a book. Long submerged 
instincts are reawakened. He sees and smells the enemy. Prisoner faces 
reveal more to him than page after page of interpreter interrogations. He is 
not a superior officer but someone who leads by example! His will is the 
will of the troops. He draws his strength from his grenadiers who believe in 
him and would follow him to Hell. 

The skyline of Cherson could be made out on the horizon. Grain silos 
towered over the Dnepr. The western area of the town was f ull of tall chim¬ 
neys. Tall, shady trees beckoned in front of us. The sun had scorched us. 
We looked forward to water and shade in the town. 

A few kilometers outside of Cherson 1 stood on an armored car for a 
long time and observed the town lying before us. Busy traffic was moving 
in an east-west direction on the river. Gunboats flitted back and forth. 
Large ferries steamed at a leisurely pace to the far bank, discharged their 
loads and returned to Cherson. The city seemed close enough to touch. It 
enticed, it touted itself, and seemed to mock my hesitation. The company 
officers were watching me. I could tell by the artilleryman’s face he was 
looking for emplacements to support effectively what he thought was 
going to happen. At that moment my soldiers were, once again, sitting in 
the tomato fields, eating the magnificent fruit with relish. I envied them 
their lack of concern. 

I smoked another cigarette, puffing the smoke into the shimmering 
air. 1 felt absolutely sure of myself and had no misgivings that the huge 
town might swallow us up. My decision remained firm. The town had to 
fall to a coup de main. The Russians were expecting the attack from the 
direction of Nikolajew. They had prepared their defenses on that side. It 




94 


GRENADIERS 


was there that the Leibstandarte stood ready for the attack. (One more 
reason for considering the reconnaissance completed and for breaking 
into Cherson by the “back door”.) We followed a country lane alongside 
the Dnepr up to the city and overran a Russian company building a road¬ 
block in the outskirts. Out of sheer fright the Soviets forgot to exchange 
their shovels for weapons. Modern high-rises rose in front of us. Enemy 
machine-gun fire ripped up the earth around us. The struggle for Cherson 
had begun. 

SS-Hauptscharfuhrer Erich touched the rim of his steel helmet with 
his forefinger, shouted “Move out!" to the lead section and then tore away 
from us at full throttle across the broad square. He disappeared down the 
wide street which led to the center of Cherson. The platoon followed its 
leader. Armored cars swept the fronts of the houses with 20 mm cannon 
rounds. The muffled bang of hand grenades indicated hand-to-hand fight¬ 
ing. I followed the lead platoon and, suddenly, landed back by the Dnepr. 
The road twisted like a snake through a very old, fortified area. From the 
east bank of the river lively artillery fire struck the road. Soviet sailors were 
fighting with the agility of wildcats. The firing forced us to dismount our 
vehicles and continue the fight as infantry. 

A row of houses protected us from view from the east bank of the 
river. Forced close to their walls, we fought for each house down both sides 
of the street. Erich fought like a lion; the blond soldier from Schleswig- 
Holsteiner jumped, roaring, from doorway to doorway, setting the tempo 
of the attack. Machine-gun fire struck sparks from the pavement. The 
attack came to a standstill. The gunfire was an almost insurmountable bar¬ 
rier in front of the lead elements. 

But there was no standstill for Erich. He knew we had to reach the 
harbor to prevent a planned defense by the Soviets. He was laying behind 
some steps, his legs drawn up to his body, holding die grip of his machine 
pistol tight in his strong hands. He shoved his helmet to the back of his 
head and called out, “First platoon: Move out; cross the road. Ready. Go!” 
1 watched the young soldiers leap up, dash across the street, and dive to 
the pavement as if they had been fired from a gun. Their concerted dash 
outwitted the enemy machine gunner; after a short time he fired no more. 

We reached a small square. Sailors were positioned among the orna¬ 
mental bushes and tried to check our advance. While jumping, 1 suddenly 
saw Erich pitch onto the flagstones. The machine pistol clattered with a 
metallic ring over the rough paving. Erich buckled; his hands sought some¬ 
thing to grab on to. He was scratching in the dirt of the street. Grenadiers 
drug their platoon leader over to the wall of a house and shouted for a 
medic. A round to the head had torn open his skull. I wanted to say a few 



From Sasselje to Cherson 


95 


words and squeeze his hand but he could hear no more; it was his last bat¬ 
tle. A few days later he closed his eyes forever after having dictated a letter 
to his wife. In Erich the company had lost one of its best noncommissioned 
officers and I had lost one of my most loyal soldiers. 

The struggle increased in ferocity. Russian guns fired down the street. 
Fuel dumps burned. Dense smoke clouds and explosions swirled high into 
the air. An entrance gate offered cover. I threw my full weight against the 
gate, but it did not give. It had been bolted shut. Rounds hammered on 
the paving and the ricochets whizzed off. I thought the jig was up. I ran 
down the street pursued by the fire of the sailors. A small kiosk offered 
some cover. Rounds split the thin wooden walls. It was being sawn to pieces 
by the machine-gun bursts; a chain saw couldn’t have done it better. 
Pressed flat to the ground, I awaited the outcome of the firefight between 
the Soviets and the men of 1st platoon. Once again I was between the 
lines. In a few minutes the situation was cleared up and the advance on the 
harbor continued. 

The Soviets withdrew into the harbor district. Two large ferries were at 
the jetty and taking on fleeing people. We worked our way ever closer. 
Whistling mortar rounds tried to hinder the pace of our move on the har¬ 
bor, but we were not to be stopped. House after house fell; street after 
street was taken. Hob-nailed boots rang out on the pavements of this 
important town on the Dnepr. 

Our machine guns fired on the ships quayside. They were only light 
weapons but their effect was devastating. Without regard for the people 
still streaming onto them, the hulks got underway and pitched at full 
power toward the eastern bank. People hung on to the ships’ sides like 
bunches of grapes as they moved ponderously and awkwardly away from 
the quay. A 50 mm antitank gun engaged a motorboat. The boat drifted 
off to the south, burning. Ships of all conceivable types tried to reach the 
safety of the far shore while Russian artillery covered their withdrawal. 
They fired at die harbor with no consideration for the stragglers remain¬ 
ing on the quay. Oil and fuel drums flew into the air and burning people 
leapt to their deaths, disappearing in the suction of the strong current. 

Russians came tearing at us out of this inferno and others sought safety 
in the Dnepr’s torrent. A prime mover moved through the dense smoke of 
the burning drums with an 88 mm Flak gun and occupied a favorable firing 
position. Scarcely had the gun unlimbered when the first round burst forth 
from the barrel and exploded in the bowels of one of the big ferries. The 
gun was standing in a hail of fire in full view of the Russian artillery. Ammu¬ 
nition, vehicles and fuel that had been left behind burned, exploded and 
whirled around the gun standing alone on the quay. Horses sought an 



96 


GRENADIERS 


escape route and went gurgling under in the brown flood. A large barge 
drifted, rudderless, toward the bank and ran aground. Russian soldiers 
tried to swim to the safe bank. Only a few succeeded in their flight; the 
majority of them drifted toward the sea. 

I heard SS-Obersturmfuhrer Dr. Naumann yelling as he was directing 
the second gun of his platoon into a firing position. He roared through 
the raging of the conflict and rushed over to the first gun. My God! At that 
point I could see the danger, but the grenadiers at the gun apparendy did 
not notice it, being occupied with the firefight. The gun slowly rolled 
across the quay and plunged into the Dnepr. As if by a miracle, all the sol¬ 
diers were successfully rescued, but our gun has disappeared. That was a 
bitter loss. 

The firing in the harbor slackened off; only a few rounds howled over 
us and exploded somewhere further to the rear in town. The link up with 
the Leibstandarte—attacking from the northwest—was achieved at 1600 
hours. The fighting for Cherson was over. With the extinguishing of the 
flames in the harbor, the job of rebuilding and maintaining the city was 
already started. Rubble was cleared away; the civilians came out of hiding 
and the first children sought contact with German soldiers. On 22 August 
Regiment Hitzfeld relieved our battalion. The 73. Infanterie-Division had 
reached the Dnepr and made preparations to cross it north of Cherson. 











V 




background is his knocked-out armored car. 






Destroyed Russian vehicles on the Rollbahn (lines of communica¬ 
tions). 



.Assault troop leader Bergemann fell while trying to destroy this T-34. 







Russia, summer 19-11. Left to right: Kurt Meyer (commander, SS-Aufklarungs- 
Abteilung 1), Sepp Dietrich, Walter Staudinger (commander, SS-Artillerie- 
Regitnent 1), and Max Wunsche (Divisional Adjutant). j(m snc-imm 



1530 hours, 31 July 1941. Kurt Meyer receives orders to attack Laschtschewoje. 
From the left: SS-Stumibannfiihrer Meyer, SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Lehmann 
(hidden), and SSObergrup|>enfuhrer Sepp Dietrich. r> ik«> ijhmaw 











Russia, summer 1941. Kurt Meyer washes down Russian dust and takes a much- 
needed break. r.««jaui> Him** 











IFV 



The I./Nebel-Lchrregiment fires on the forest northwest of Nowo-Arkhangelsk. 




Russia, summer 1941. Meyer at a command conference. r.«.i« kw.sbimur 







Awards ceremony in Russia, summer 1941. Left to right: Sepp Dietrich, Max 
YVfmsche, and Meyer. 



Russia, 26 September 1941. Kurt Meyer with Walter Staudinger, commander of 
SS-Artillcric-Rcgiment 1. on the Perekop Peninsula. K<«jij\uuni\uni 















Bubi Burose has destroyed a Russian armored car north of Cherson. 







t 



An 88 mm Flak of Batterie Fendt engaging ground targets at Mariupol. 



Russia. 13 October 1941. Kurt Meyer speaking at the grave of his driver, Peter. 


J»-w Ij Uss 







Russia. 18 October 1941. Sepp Dietrich and Kurt Meter. Jim snixumm 



On the Ssambek Front, Russia, winter 1941—42. Left to right: Keilhaus, Sepp 
Dietrich, and Meyer, jam s«u» 




From the Dnepr to the Don 


The constant fighting up to that moment had made unheard-of demands 
on our battalion and exacted severe casualties. The losses presented a 
poignant picture of the troops’ need for rest and refitting. Officers and 
men had done their utmost to achieve their assigned missions. The battal¬ 
ion was already feeding off itself and was in urgent need of an overhaul. 
Above all, we lacked direly needed replacements of men and equipment. 
The Leibstandarte was pulled out of the frontline and was to be refitted 
within a week. We were glad of diis break and enjoyed those few sunny rest 
days like a gift from God. All our wishes were satisfied. We slept late into 
the day and luxuriated in the peace and quiet, but concerns quickly set in. 

We soon became aware there would be no question of refitting. The 
maintenance facilities really tried to conduct the servicing of weapons and 
equipment and repair the vehicles, but their efforts were only a drop in 
the bucket. There was a lack of repair parts. The battalion equipped itself 
with captured vehicles. Personnel replacement was also long in coming. 
Day after day slipped past without the arrival of the eagerly anticipated 
replacements from Germany. The result of this “refitting” was that serious 
problems had to be addressed among the leaders. Up to that point in time 
we had had the attainable objective of the Dnepr in view. We had been at 
full strength as we neared that objective and fought with total dedication 
for its attainment. 

We were no longer a fully operational force. The formations could 
only field a fraction of their former strength. It didn’t take too much effort 
to calculate how long it would be before our proud battalion would cease 
to be combat effective. What would happen when we forded the Dnepr 
with this battered battalion and pushed east? What were our objectives? 
Could we still reach it before the onset of winter? We were talking about 
the Don, the Volga and the Caucasus. The interminable vastness of Rus¬ 
sia’s expanses oppressed us. We began to think in Russian: “Nitchewo!" 

1 led my advance-guard battalion back to the Dnepr on 8 September 
and crossed the river on 9 September at 1630 hours. The bridgehead had 
been forced by the 73. Infanterie-Division, under General Bieler. We slowly 
crossed a swaying pontoon bridge over the wide, muddy waters. Assault 


111 




112 


GRENADIERS 


guns and tanks were brought over individually on ferries. The crossing- 
area commander pressed an order from the LIV. Armee-Korps into my 
hand and simultaneously informed me that 1 was attached to the 73. Infan- 
terie-Division upon crossing the river. The commander was expecting me 
southeast of Berislaw. Accompanied by a few dispatch riders, I moved 
slowly to his command post. Along the roadside were the fresh graves of 
fallen German and Russian soldiers. The traces of battle were engraved in 
the face of the earth. In view of the expected night operation, I let my sol¬ 
diers go to the river and wash up. 

I found the staff of the 73. Infanterie-Division in an orchard. I received 
the mission of breaking out of the bridgehead to the south—advancing on 
Nowaya Majatschka by way of Britany—and establishing an all around 
defensive position for the night. Oberst Hitzfeld's regiment was to be our 
neighbor on the left. 

Right after die general’s first words I gave one of my dispatch riders the 
signal to tell the battalion to get ready. He raced back to the battalion to 
start the preparations for the march. In the course of receiving the order, I 
gave another messenger the signal for the battalion to get underway. He 
dashed off and delivered the march order. A few minutes later I saw my 
company commanders already waiting for me. They were chatting with 
Major Stiefvater. After a detailed briefing. General Bieler offered me a cup 
of coffee and asked: “When can you move out?” He followed my glance 
with astonishment as I pointed to the waiting company commanders and 
an approaching dust cloud and answered: “Herr General, the battalion is 
already on the move.” I will never forget his startled expression. 

A sunken dirt road slowed our pace. We soon left the last outposts of 
the 73. Infanterie-Division behind us and were moving into the darkness. 
Bremer was in front. Slowly, inching carefully forward, we rolled into the 
night with engines throttled down. Pitch-black darkness swallowed us up. 
We made contact with the enemy at 2100 hours, four kilometers north of 
Nowaya Mojatschka. A Russian outpost was surprised without a fight. The 
Soviets gave the impression of total exhaustion and readily gave up infor¬ 
mation. According to their statements, Nowaya Majatschka was held in 
strength. After eight days of rest I felt unsure of myself. I was out of touch 
with my opposite number. We had been led into a situation in which we felt 
like strangers and, for that reason, we advanced hesitandy. I awaited the 
new day. The bright morning light would afford us the necessary security. A 
tight “hedgehog" defensive formation constituted our “fortress”. I sat in the 
radio truck and talked with a Russian officer about the probable courses of 
action his commanding officers might take. The town of Perekop and the 



From the Dnepr to the Don 


113 


term “tartar ditch” cropped up again and again in the conversation. The 
prisoner was convinced that the “tartar ditch” was being held and defended 
by the Soviets. 

The night was still, not a shot rang out. This calm was eerie. A couple 
of rounds would have revealed where the front was. As it were, we felt as 
though we were completely surrounded by Soviets. Moist dew clung to the 
dry blades of grass as the first dim gleam announced the new day. I was 
strained and tense as I tried to penetrate the dawn and fix my gaze on 
Nowaya Majatschka. The outlines of the town emerged slowly from the sur¬ 
rounding darkness. My Kradschutzen perched on their vehicles and 
awaited the order to attack. Regiment Hitzfeld attacked Nowaya Majatschka 
from the north at 0400 hours. The peace and quiet was over. The noise of 
battle filled the air and drove all exhaustion from our bones. The infantry¬ 
men of the 73. Infanterie-Division advanced in the gray early morning light. 
The shells that came smashing down could not stop the men as they 
steadily worked their way toward the town. In the disappearing morning 
mist we could make out the enemy fortification system. It was well inte¬ 
grated into the terrain west of the town and outstandingly well constructed, 
as always with the Russians. They were masters of the art of building field 
fortifications. 

The attack of the 73. Infanterie-Division was gaining ground and so 
the time had come to attack the fortified system. If the Soviets withdrew 
from our attack, they would only run into the arms of Regiment Hitzfeld. 
We prepared ourselves for the attack behind a thick hedge. The Soviets 
had not yet noticed us and their artillery was making every effort to thwart 
the infantry division’s attack. We had to cover two kilometers to get to the 
enemy positions and the terrain offered no cover of any kind. Far and 
wide there was no woodland to be seen, apart from our windbreak. The 
Nogai Steppe lay before us—flat as a board, cracked, hard, and sporting 
only steppe grass. 

I observed the movements in the Russian frontline with the company 
commander of the l./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 and realized that a hasty 
attack by my battalion would shatter the Soviets completely. Furthermore, 
our attack would also considerably benefit the division’s advance. I consid¬ 
ered which attack formation would cover the no-man's-land without loss 
and at the greatest possible speed. 

The shimmering expanse of the steppe tempted me to think about 
the cavalry charges of days gone by. The Devil was tempting me at that 
moment. Why wouldn’t a charge by my Kradschutzen lead to success? I 
didn’t dare voice my thoughts; I still considered such a charge to be mad- 


1 14 


GRENADIERS 


ness. Yet, while common sense and instinct battled for the final decision, I 
could already see my Kradschutzen roaring like the Devil across the steppe 
and piercing the enemy positions in my mind. 

My soldiers watched me silently as my gaze roamed over the steppe 
again and again, estimating the distance. I let my binoculars fall and 
probed Bremer's eyes. How would he react, after assessing die situation, if 
I ordered his Kradschutzen to charge? Did he already suspect that some¬ 
thing extraordinary was in the offing? His gaze was frank and his face 
betrayed no surprise when I expressed my intention to charge the enemy 
with motorcycles and armored cars. My “greyhounds” received the order 
coolly and as a matter of fact. 

Artillery and heavy infantry weapons took up position. Kradschutzen 
deployed across a broad front behind the protection of the hedge. 
Armored cars moved forward into predetermined gaps so as to be able to 
give unhampered covering fire. Gripped by feverish excitement, I climbed 
into my vehicle and thrust my arm vertically into the air. There was no 
turning back! The spell was broken; the uncertainty had disappeared. Our 
armored car rolled slowly out from under cover. We were in the Russian’s 
line of sight. 

The first enemy rounds had to come crashing down. I perched, 
hunched over in our armored car, and looked ahead. My good-old Erich 
changed gear; we started moving faster and a dust cloud swirled into the 
air. We moved between the two motorcycle companies. The Kradschutzen 
clung to their machines like monkeys. After moving a hundred meters I 
could no longer make anything out. Shadows swooped and darted in front 
of us. The attack became a race. Would it be a race toward death? 

Russian rounds howled over us and exploded where we had been a 
few seconds previously. The artillery fire spurred us on even more strongly; 
the speed increased. We had to outmaneuver the Russian fire control sys¬ 
tem and break into the Soviet lines like the Devil incarnate. 

Gripped by the intoxication of speed, stirred to the marrow of our 
bones by the roaring of the engines, we sought out the enemy through 
squinting eyes. Our objective was over there—where our artillery was ful¬ 
filling its deadly task, where the blood of Russian soldiers was already irri¬ 
gating the soil. The scene of destruction spurred us on. We rushed toward 
death as if possessed. 

Four soldiers occupied our armored car but only one was recogniza¬ 
ble. He sat behind the wheel and drove with a sure hand. The rest of us 
hung at the sides like Cossacks ready to open fire or disappear into fox¬ 
holes at a moment’s notice. Nothing would shake Erich. East Prussian 
sangfroid triumphed over death and destruction. Did he actually realize 



From the Dnepr to the Don 


115 


that he had already been leading our proud battalion for minutes, and 
that it was he who was propelling it forward? His speed defined the pace of 
the attack and he raced toward the objective like a race driver. 

The first Russians suddenly appeared. Terrified faces stared at us. They 
threw their weapons away and ran off to the west. We advanced through 
the defense system, past foxholes, past smashed soldier bodies and helpless 
wounded. Countless Soviets ran headlong westward and were rounded up 
by our combat engineers. 

Russian artillery, however, still remained emplaced somewhere. We 
could not break off our frenzied hunt! Enemy trucks attempted to escape 
but burned up in the 20 mm cannon fire of our armored cars. We moved 
past unlimbered guns and pushed on past No way a Majatschka, heading in 
the direction of Staraya Majatschka. The tension slowly eased. There was 
no form of life to be seen around us any longer. The steppe lay there as if 
dead. On the other hand, the terrain behind us resembled an anthill. 
Friend and foe alike gave first aid to the wounded. 

A handshake with Oberst Hitzfeld, a short orientation on die situation 
with the 73. Infanterie-Division, and the advance east continued. Five hun¬ 
dred thirty four Soviets were taken prisoner in the charge. Our losses were 
two soldiers killed in action and a noncommissioned officer and two 
enlisted personnel who died of wounds. The attack was a complete success 
but, nevertheless, never again did I order a motorized charge. 

We positioned ourselves outside of Kalantschak in the darkness, 
attacked the town using the element of surprise, and took it. An enemy 
armored car went up in flames and 221 Russians trudged their way into 
captivity. Reconnaissance patrols reported the area up to ten kilometers 
east of Kalantschak clear of the enemy. 

At midnight 1 received an order from the infantry division to break 
through the Perekop Isthmus with a coup de main and await further 
orders south of the Ishun Straits. In the course of various campaigns, I had 
often received orders and missions that had nothing in common with the 
fundamentals of classical military leadership, but this order surpassed 
them all. Were my responsible superiors really of the opinion that a coup 
de main on the isthmus could open the gates to the Crimea? My company 
commanders looked at me in somewhat of a daze as 1 passed the order to 
them and briefed them on the situation. 

The Crimea was separated from the mainland by the “Bad Sea”. This 
so-called sea was a few hundred meters wide and was usually impassable. It 
was an insuperable obstacle even for assault boats due to the low water lev¬ 
els. Three approaches led to the Crimea: The neck of land from Perekop 
in the west, the railway crossing at Saljkoff in the center, and the narrow 



116 


GRENADIERS 


access route at Genitschesk in the east. The Perekop Isthmus was a few 
kilometers wide and was bisected across its whole width by the “tartar 
ditch”, which was up to fifteen meters deep in places. The terrain was as 
flat as a pancake and was bisected by a few dry waterbeds. These steep and 
often deep cuttings were called “Balkas”. They afforded the battalion its 
only cover. Hard by the northern side of the “tartar ditch" was the old, for¬ 
tified town of Perekop. A railway line ran through Perekop to the south. In 
view of those favorable defensive opportunities and the fact we had taken 
prisoners from three separate enemy divisions in the last few days, nobody 
believed the Isthinus was going to be an easy obstacle to hurdle. 

On 12 September, around 0430 hours, my battalion moved out for 
Perekop. We established contact with the advance-guard battalion of the 
73. Infanterie-Division under Major Stiefvater at 0455 hours. StiefVater 
joined my battalion. The distant horizon slowly emerged from the half- 
light of dawn. The steppe glowed in the most magnificent colors. No other 
human form was to be seen; only my soldiers moving forward in leapfrog 
fashion. SS-Untersturmfiihrer Montag led the advance-guard platoon, SS- 
Unterscharfuhrer Westphal, the point. I followed, nervously scanning the 
horizon for signs of movement. Neither man nor beast cotdd be seen. 
Only the play of colors from the sun gave the plain a wondrous appear¬ 
ance. South of Nowo Alexondrowka I sent von Biittner’s platoon to recon- 
noiter along the coast to Adamanij. The terrain north and south of the 
“tartar ditch” had to be observable from there. 

I suddenly picked out several riders on the horizon who wheeled 
around on the spot and then disappeared in the direction of Preo- 
brashchenko. Their fleeting appearance electrified us. Preobrashchenko 
was behind a low rise and only a few individual houses were visible. Keenly 
alert, we scanned the horizon while moving through the stillness. We were 
spaced at intervals of several vehicle lengths. We had the feeling that the 
peace might be shattered at any moment by screaming mortar rounds. 
The Soviets had to make use of this favorable defensive position. The eerie 
calm promised battle. No fleeing Russian, no madly dashing horse team, 
no rushing motor vehicle indicated flight or even retreat. The steppe was 
empty. Not a soul could be seen far and wide. This fact alone pointed to 
tight command and control on the part of the enemy command. 

My soldiers were again hanging from the sides of the vehicles; even the 
riders of the lead platoon sat sideways on their machines. I stood on the 
running board of my armored car. My vehicle followed in the main body. 
My watch showed 0605 hours as Westphal’s section moved slowly up to the 
houses of Preobrashchenko. A huge herd of sheep blocked the enU'ance to 



From the Dnepr to the Don 


117 


the town; it took off towards the steppe. A bang destroyed the silence. 
Sheep spun through the air. The animals ran madly for their lives, climbing 
over each other to get away but blowing themselves into the air. In turning 
away, the sheep had strayed into a minefield. The bleating of the tortured 
beasts filled the air, mingling with the dull thud of exploding mines. 
Crouching, ready to jump and trembling with excitement, we awaited the 
flickering flash of Soviet weapons. We ran alongside the vehicles, wanting to 
get inside the town and establish a firm hold there. Still not a round was 
fired; only the mines completed their deadly task. All that remained of the 
big flock of sheep was a twitching, bloody heap and a couple of animals 
dragging themselves laboriously away. 

Then it happened! Then came the long awaited voice of the front! 
Rounds whizzed over us and exploded among Stiefvater’s march group. 
They streamed toward the rear, at first individually and then in great 
swarms. I rushed forward, wanting to reach the first building and have a 
look in the direction of Perekop. After a few bounds I dove into the dust 
amid the hail of bursting shells. A dark monster had moved around the 
slight rise and was firing right into us. Just a few hundred meters ahead of 
us was a fire-belching dragon, sowing death and destruction among our 
ranks. An armored train, bristling with weapons, had positioned itself 
across the route of the battalion. 

I gave the signal to pull back. The Kradschutzen wheeled around on 
the spot and raced back on a broad front while armored cars fired at the 
train and withdrew behind a smokescreen. A 37 mm antitank gun hurled 
its rounds at the armored train and, a few seconds later, flew into the air 
itself. The shattered steel of the gun carriage smothered my soldiers’ cries. 

We were bombarded with fire from five heavy and two light batteries. 
Only dust clouds were to be seen behind us. I heaved a sigh of relief. 
There were no burning tanks or vehicles to be seen. I crept forward a few 
more paces and could make out deeply echeloned field fortification with 
trenches and barbed-wire entanglements. The armored train puffed away 
in the direction of Perekop. 

I could see Russian infantrymen in their foxholes only fifty meters away, 
their machine guns rattling and forcing us even closer to the ground. We 
had to get clear of this or start the path into captivity. It was then the turn 
for our rounds to hiss over us and force the Russians into cover, although 
we had to press ourselves into every fold in the ground as well. 

Wounded soldiers lay around me; SS-Unterscharfiihrer Westphal had 
lost an arm; SS-Rottenfuhrer Stoll was a few meters away from me, groan¬ 
ing in pain. Helmut Belke was uninjured. Stoll’s motorcycle combination 



118 


GRENADIERS 


was still usable; its engine roaring amid the machine-gun clatter. Belke 
shouted something to Stoll, pointed to the machine and worked his way 
toward Stoll. I took care of SS-Untersturmfuhrer Rehrl. All aid was in vain; 
shrapnel had torn open his back. When he gasped I could see the rise and 
fall of his lungs. The roar of an engine announced Stoll’s rescue. Belke 
carried the wounded soldiers to safety in defiance of the Russians. He 
made the trip three times, risking his life for the sake of his comrades. 
Three times he returned with a groaning cargo. One more comrade was 
still lying wounded in the steppe grass. Like us he was in the blind spot of 
the slight elevation. Soldier “G” was a reservist, married and the happy 
father of two small boys. 

He crouched in the shallow depression, his blond mop of hair 
smeared with blood. The words came groaning from his lips: “Get out of 
here. It’s no use—I’m done for.” I tried to console him but in vain. Several 
machines came roaring up to fetch the rest of the advance party. I couldn’t 
keep my eyes off “G”, his clenched fist gripped the butt of his pistol. Slowly 
he raised the weapon and pulled the trigger. His body slumped forward 
and lay still. He was thrown by the horrified Kradschutzen onto one of the 
vehicles, which had pulled up in the meantime. We all reached the battal¬ 
ion position despite artillery and infantry fire. 1 shakily related the experi¬ 
ence to Doctor Gatternig and only then heard that Comrade “G” had 
suffered the loss of his manhood. Rehrl died while the doctors were work¬ 
ing to save him; the power of mere human beings no longer sufficed. 

We established a position four kilometers west of Preobrashchenko 
with Stiefvater's detachment and awaited the arrival of the 73. Infanterie- 
Division. Von Buttner’s platoon reported Adamanij clear of the enemy at 
0650 hours. The terrain south of Perekop, including the “tartar ditch”, 
could be readily observed. Von Buttner reported strong field fortifications, 
barbed-wire obstacles, dug-in guns and tanks. Half an hour later I verified 
the accuracy of his report. An advance through the isthmus could only be 
achieved by several divisions with heavy artillery' support. 

I reported by radio to the 73. Infanterie-Division that a coup de main 
on the isthmus was impossible and, in addition, an orderly would deliver 
an after-action report and a thorough estimate of the situation. 

Therefore, I was thunderstruck around midday to receive the order to 
continue the advance on the isthmus. I refused to lead my comrades to 
their certain deaths, referring to my first report and to the extremely 
strong fortifications in the strip. Division ordered me to report to the divi¬ 
sional commander in person. After a trip lasting several hours I reached 
the commander in a small village northeast of Kalantschak. I was expecting 



From the Dnepr to the Don 


119 


an unholy ass-chevving due to my refusal to carry out the order and so I was 
not a little surprised when General Bieler greeted me in an extremely 
friendly fashion and agreed with my estimate of the situation. 

During the evening I briefed Oberst Hitzfeld on our battalion’s sector 
and then led the battalion to Tschaplinka where new orders were awaiting 
us. Enemy dive-bombers and artillery accompanied us as we disengaged 
from the front. 

At Tschaplinka I received orders from Sepp Dietrich to push forward 
into the central neck of land near Saljkoff and, if possible, take it by sur¬ 
prise. Meanwhile, it had already become 1600 hours and we would have to 
operate in the approaching night. My young soldiers were already perched 
on their machines as I reached the battalion and, five minutes later, we 
moved off into the glimmering steppe. We passed through Wladimirowka 
at 1750 hours and received fire from the “Rhinoceros” Peninsula as a 122 
mm battery attempted to stop our advance. We roared east without loss. I 
wanted to exploit the daylight and put as many kilometers as possible 
behind us before the onset of darkness. We spent the night in Gromowka 
without enemy contact. 

At 0430 on 15 September the 2./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 stood 
ready to move out as the lead company. Hot coffee steamed in the hands 
of my soldiers as I weighed the situation with SS-Obersturmfuhrer Spath 
and evaluated the most recent reconnaissance findings and prisoner state¬ 
ments. Air and ground reconnaissance reported well developed field forti¬ 
fications, which ran in a semi-circle around Saljkoff rail station. A 
breakthrough, piercing the fortifications, seemed impossible. We had nei¬ 
ther the requisite forces nor the appropriate weapons at our disposal. 

Apart from that, the aerial rconnaissance photos showed guns in con¬ 
crete emplacements south of Saljkoff which commanded the narrow cross¬ 
ing point. Thick fog lay over the steppe and visibility was less than 20 
meters. That last factor gave me the idea of using the fog to advance right 
under the noses of the enemy battery gun barrels and into the defensive 
circle around Saljkoff. I was convinced that the fortifications nearest the 
shore were not as strong and it would never occur to anyone that a motor¬ 
ized unit could be so crazy as to assault a fortified defensive system two to 
three hundred meters in front of the muzzles of emplaced batteries. The 
fog would hold for another hour at the most. The last wisp would disap¬ 
pear by 0700 hours at the latest. It was imperative to have taken the cross¬ 
ing by then. 

I quickly explained my intent to the lead company and shook SS-Ober- 
sturmfuhrer Spath’s hand. Spath was moving with the point platoon. SS- 


120 


GRENADIERS 


Obersturmfuhrer Dr. Naumann’s 88 nun guns, including the one that had 
been recovered from the Dnepr, were incorporated into the march col¬ 
umn behind die lead company. He was to fire on the bunkers south of the 
crossing point. 

The motorcycles, armored cars, prime movers and guns rolled slowly 
into the impenetrable wall of fog. In a few seconds the gray nothingness 
had swallowed them up. Pete swore aloud as he started up our armored 
car and pushed into the damp wall. My adjutant, the small but wiry SS- 
Obersturmfuhrer Weiser, looked out to the right to try to identify the bank 
of the Siwasch. ft was important that we moved close to the shore of the 
“Bad Sea”. Although we were, at the most, fifty meters from the bank, we 
couldn’t make it out. 

After twenty minutes we stumbled upon a road junction from which a 
whole lot of tracks led off in all directions. A soldier approached us out of 
the fog and we assumed Spadt had left behind a guide to make the route 
clearer for us. I called out to the figure, asking: “Where do we go from 
here?” The fellow nearly fell over backwards when he heard my voice. We 
had no idea where he had run off to. He disappeared in a fraction of a sec¬ 
ond, as if from the face of the earth. Only later did we determine we had 
passed within a 150 meters south of a Russian outpost. 

We pushed further and further toward the crossing point. It didn’t 
take too long before we could make out the causeway. The fog lightened. 
It was time to act! Was the fortune of war to smile upon us or would we 
have to pay a high price for our brazen deed? We gazed silently into the 
wall of fog. To our right, water was splashing against the low bank. A few 
hundred meters south of us, beyond the flat Siwasch, the dark Crimean 
coast rose out of the fog. However, what was to the north? Where was the 
enemy? Step by step the move continued to the east. The tracks of the 
prime movers ground into the sand, their engines scarcely audible. Every¬ 
thing was as tense as tense could be. I pointed to the south and drew the 
attention of the 88 mm gunners to the reported bunker installations. 

Everything was still quiet. Were we advancing toward death once 
more? Would the coup de main of Preobrashchenko be repeated? 

A dull rumbling interrupted the morning’s stillness. Was that going to 
be another armored train? Suddenly the spell was broken. As soon as it 
fired we recognized the sharp crack of one of our 37 mm antitank guns. 
Simultaneously, we heard the bark of our 20 mm cannon and the angry 
clatter of Gentian machine guns. The 2./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 had 
reached the Isthmus of Saljkoff and stopped a logistics train carrying 
weapons and equipment. The 37 mm had knocked out the locomotive. We 
had penetrated the defensive system better titan we had thought and could 



From the Dnepr to the Don 


121 


actually roll up the positions from the rear. At 0855 hours the train station 
was firmly in our hands. By doing that we had smashed the Russian defend¬ 
ers’ command post and interrupted their lines of communication. The 
Soviets’ confusion was indescribable; they were simply unable to believe we 
were there. The Russian artillery from the emplacements south of the strip 
only opened fire after being fired at by our own 88s. 

The fog had disappeared and protected neither friend nor foe. Bre¬ 
mer advanced north and penetrated the outskirts of Nowo Alexjewka. SS- 
Obersturmfuhrer Dr. Naumann rushed an 88 into a position from where it 
could knock out a few enemy guns. Thanks to the decisive action of the 
crew, the objective of silencing the Russian guns was attained. Unfortu¬ 
nately, in the process, Dr. Naumann had been severely wounded. He was 
brought to safety with the aid of an armored car. We had completely shat¬ 
tered the defensive ring north of the isthmus. However, it was impossible 
to cross it. Dug-in emplacements with thick barbed-wire obstacles and 
minefields necessitated the employment of heavy artillery and infantry for¬ 
mations. The battalion succeeded in taking several hundred prisoners 
belonging to the 871st and 876th Rifle Regiments. The 276th Rifle Divi¬ 
sion was defending the isthmus. We captured eighty-six new Ford trucks, 
twenty-six tracked prime movers, two 47 mm antitank guns and several 
ammunition cars loaded with 122 mm shells from the supply trains, which 
came from Melitopol, that were intent on reaching Sevastopol. 

We were very happy to capture the train; it wasn’t long before we were 
equipped with Russian Ford trucks. Our own vehicle inventory was sadly 
depleted; the lack of motorcycles had made itself felt. I was relieved to 
hear a few hours later that we had only lost one soldier, his life taken by 
shrapnel. The unorthodox conduct of the engagement had made our suc¬ 
cess possible. 

We were relieved in place by the II./Infanterie-Regiment 1 “Leibstan- 
darte” (mot.) during the night. The vehicles were topped off and checked 
over at all possible speed for the next operation. Our new mission: “Take 
Genitschesk immediately and block the route across the third neck of 
land.” 

By 0500 hours we were once more sitting on our machines, moving 
into the sun. A short time later we caught sight of the Sea of Azow for the 
first time. The surface lay before us like a mirror. One large and five 
smaller ships steamed toward the east and soon disappeared below the 
horizon. 

We reached Genitschesk around 0630 hours. The outskirts of town 
were silent with not a soul to be seen. Was this quiet part of the Russian 
defender’s tactics or was this harbor town simply undefended? A section of 



122 


GRENADIERS 


Kradschiitzen cautiously approached the houses but, despite their expec¬ 
tations, encountered no resistance. We then dashed full steam ahead into 
the eastern part of the city and the harbor district. The situation there 
looked different. A column of trucks was attempting to escape in the direc¬ 
tion of Melitopol. Enemy infantry ran into the closest houses in panic and, 
somewhat later, marched off into captivity. 

An explosion in the harbor announceed the demolition of the bridge, 
which connected Genitschesk with the mainland. The 2./SS-Aufklarungs- 
Abteilung 1 saved a footbridge over the channel from destruction through 
its prompt seizure. During the storming of the bridge, the company com¬ 
mander, SS-Obersturmfuhrer Spath, was killed by a round to the head. 
The loss of officers had taken on dangerous proportions. Nearly all the 
original company commanders and platoon leaders had been killed or 
wounded. The 2./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 received its third leader, SS- 
Obersturmfuhrer Bottcher. 

From the steep bank at Genitschesk we could see far to the south over 
the spit of land and observe all movements. Consequently, I was not a little 
surprised when the Soviets suddenly attacked us from the south, present¬ 
ing themselves like targets on a range. 

Company after company moved slowly but steadily toward our steep 
embankment and into certain death or captivity. It was a mystery to me 
why the Soviet commander was carrying out this attack. We allowed the 
enemy infantry to get within about two hundred meters of us before our 
machine guns reaped a bloody harvest. The result was horrific. Within 
minutes coundess brown dots covered the sparsely grassed area whilst oth¬ 
ers staggered toward our positions with arms raised. 

The Russian mortar emplacements were engaged by the superior fire¬ 
power of our 88 mm Flak. By 0900 hours the attack had been called off 
and the 1 ./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 moved out over the footbridge on 
a reconnaissance to the south. My intention was to set up a bridgehead 
and push on across the narrow strip as far as possible. Unfortunately, that 
reconnaissance came to a halt after only three kilometers. Field fortifica¬ 
tions and coastal batteries emplaced in concrete formed an insurmount¬ 
able obstacle and die fire which emanated from them, together with a few 
bomber attacks, caused some casualties during the night. 

At about 2100 hours on 17 September the battalion was relieved by 
the IIl./SS-Infanterie-Regiment 1 “Leibstandarte” (mot.) and received the 
mission of reconnoitering to the north and seeking a link-up with von 
Boddin’s advance-guard battalion of the XXX. Armee-Korps. During the 
night the battalion received six officers and 95 men as replacements. The 


From the Dnepr to the Don 


123 


first replacements in Russia made an excellent impression and integrated 
rapidly into the battalion. In a few days the young soldiers had become 
“veteran warriors”. With the customary nightime aerial nuisance raid, we 
left Genitschesk and moved in the direction of Melitopol. We felt our way 
north over sunken, sandy roads and thick scrubland and soon made con¬ 
tact with von Boddin’s battalion positioned south of Akimowka, which was 
occupied by strong Russian forces. 

Von Boddin and I had a lot of acquaintances in common in beautiful 
Mecklenburg, where we had both spent some memorable years. A typical 
cavalryman, von Boddin had changed his uniform at the beginning of the 
Thirties and worked with General von Seeckt in China until he was 
recalled to service in the German Army. He was a dashing, almost impetu¬ 
ous officer, a bom commander of an advance-guard battalion: Swift in 
decision, bold in venture and decisive during the attack. He was killed in 
January 1942 in the fighting at Eupatoria in the Crimea, murdered by 
treacherous partisans. 

The two advance-guard battalions fought south of Melitopol until 21 
September, awaiting the arrival of the 72. Infanterie-Division. A further 
advance on Melitopol and to the north of the town could not be executed 
due to a lack of infantry. We had outdistanced the rest of the XXX. Armee- 
Korps by 200 kilometers. 

On 21 September I received the order to disengage from the enemy 
and lead the battalion back to Kalantschak. The unit withdrew almost 200 
kilometers in twelve hours and stood ready for the assault on the Crimean 
Peninsula on 22 September. 

During the long movement across the Nogai Steppe I felt the terrify¬ 
ing emptiness of the open spaces for the first time. We moved west for 
hours without encountering even a single German soldier. Granted, the 
rapidly moving advance-guard battalions had pushed through the area and 
were hammering their way forward far to the east, but German troops did 
not hold sway over this region. The yawning emptiness of the steppe had a 
depressing effect on us. How were we to operate to the east? Which units 
would be employed against the Crimean forces? 

We began to look beyond the context of the immediate fighting and 
looked for an operational goal for the Eastern Army. No one believed the 
formations on hand were sufficient to hold the front during the winter 
months. The units were battered and in urgent need of refitting. 

We were attached to the LIV. Armee-Korps and, after the brave 73. 
Infanterie-Division succeeded in taking Perekop by storm and overcoming 
the “tartar ditch” on 26 September, we were to cross the isthmus rapidly 



124 


GRENADIERS 


and drive deep into the withdrawing enemy. The battalion stood ready for 
the operation in the late afternoon, four kilometers north west of Perekop- 
skij Bay. 

The fighting proceeded with extreme intensity and bitterness on both 
sides and, only on 27 September, did a battalion of the 72. Infanterie-Regi- 
ment enter Armyansk. Neidier did the fighting on 28 September provide 
conditions for the use of motorized formations. 

The Soviets attacked again and again with strong forces and plentiful 
tank support. At 0430 hours the battalion was attached to the 46. Infan- 
terie-Division and moved up to a position three kilometers northwest of 
Perekop. The positioning of the battalion north of the “tartar ditch” was 
called off at 0905 hours. There were no opportunities for employment in 
the area of operations of the 46. Infanterie-Division and the battalion 
returned to the control of the Leibstandarte at 1100 hours. 

The Soviet defenses on the isthmus south of Perekop collapsed only 
after ten days of grim fighting. The neck of land was not pierced until 28 
September. That cleared the way through to the Crimea. On 29 September 
the pursuit of the beaten Soviets began, culminating in the heroic assault 
on the fortress of Sevastopol on 1 July 1942. While die LIV. Armee-Korps 
was doggedly fighting for ever}' meter of ground south of Perekop and the 
Armee-Oberkommando was planning to set the Leibstandarte in pursuit 
following the successful breakthrough, things happened on the Eastern 
Front between the Sea of Azow, Melitopol and the Dnepr which demanded 
the immediate redeployment of the division. 

The Russians had established a front based on the line indicated 
above and, following the arrival of two new armies, the 18th and the 9th, 
had begun to attack the XXX. Armee-Korps and the Rumanian 3rd Army 
with a total of twelve divisions. The attacks on the XXX. Armee-Korps col¬ 
lapsed when they met stiff resistance but, further north, in the Rumanian 
3rd Army sector, the Rumanian 4th Mountain Brigade was overrun, creat¬ 
ing a grave breach in the front. 

Because of this new situation we were hurled north on 29 September 
and, together with the the advance-guard battalion of the 4. Gebirgs-Divi- 
sion, had the mission of attacking and eliminating the enemy where he 
had broken through the line at Balki. Working together with units of the 
Gebirgs-Korps, the breach in the Rumanian line was completely cleared 
and we inflicted heavy losses on the Soviets. 

Beyond a doubt, the sudden emergence of two new Russian armies 
near Melitopol had caused the German High Command many hours of 
consternation but, as a result of the way they executed their operation, the 
Russians had presented Heeresgruppe Sud with a unique opportunity. As a 



From the Dnepr to the Don 


125 


consequence of the Soviets’ costly massed attacks, they lacked the forces to 
prevent a breakout by Panzergruppe von Kleist from the Dnepr bridge¬ 
head. Panzergruppe von Kleist commenced the offensive to the southeast 
on 1 October, threatening to cut the lines of communication of both Russ¬ 
ian armies and, in conjunction with the XXX. Armee-Korps and the 
Rumanian 3rd Army, to eliminate them. The pursuit by the Sea of Azow 
had begun. 

From 2 to 4 October Abteilung von Boddin, the Panzeijager-Abteilung 
of the 72. Infanterie-Division and our battalion fought together against 
strong enemy forces in the area of Jelissawetowka. The Soviets suffered 
heavy casualties in these engagements. They ran up against our superior 
weapons and more mobile battalions time after time without heeding the 
losses they incurred. The steppe naturally offered our advance-guard bat¬ 
talions immense advantages and led their far superior infantry forces into 
unpleasant situations. 

On 5 October our infantry divisions attacked the deeply echeloned 
positions between Melitopol and the Dnepr. A deep antitank ditch 
extended across the whole width of the attack sector and was stubbornly- 
defended by the Soviets. Minefields and wire entanglements hindered our 
forward progress. 

Our battalion was assigned the mission of taking the crossing over the 
Molotschnaja River and keeping the bridge open for the following infantry. 

Once again we were positioned behind the attacking infantry battalion 
and awaited the signal to commence operations. Our great infantry liter¬ 
ally had to thread their way through the many minefields. The mines were 
encased in wood and could not be located with detectors. Around noon 
the infantry had crossed the antitank ditch and, in so doing, had cracked 
the enemy’s main line of resistance. A crossing point through it was 
quickly created for my battalion. 

Feverish with anticipation, Bremer’s l./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 
was positioned at the head of the column behind my armored car. The 
Soviets were withdrawing. We could see individual batteries changing posi¬ 
tions to the rear. Our time had come. We had to push through the retreat¬ 
ing enemy and create an insurmountable barrier out of the Molotschnaja 
Bridge. 

The hunt began! Accompanied by all our best wishes, the lead platoon 
shot off like an unleashed grayhound. Bremer and I followed the whirling 
dust. Only sporadic mortar rounds attempted to slow our pace. The battal¬ 
ion advanced through the withdrawing enemy and, at 1230 hours, moved 
through Federovvka, where the first limbered batteries were overtaken and 
several hundred prisoners captured. We could observe the Russian with- 



126 


GRENADIERS 


drawal for as far as the eye could see. The whole front had started to move. 
We encountered antitank fire front a maize field and lost our lead 
armored car to a direct hit. The Kradschutzen wiped out the enemy anti¬ 
tank gun. The prime mover of our lead antitank gun fell victim to a mine. 
The pace of the hunt quickened. We moved as if on thin ice. After all, the 
fleeing Soviets had made abundant use of their effective mines. 

Before us was the town of Terpenje, which was, bisected from nordt to 
south by the river. The land fell away to the east. Thousands of Soviets 
raced wildly alongside us on their horse teams and tried to reach the cross¬ 
ing ahead of us. The made for the river on a broad front. We reached the 
first houses of Terpenje. The ground fell away sharply and encouraged us 
to increase our tempo. Distraught Soviets leapt into die houses and sought 
cover. At a bend in the road, guns, vehicles and wildly thrashing horses 
were gathered in a confused throng. Machine-gun fire was received. I 
caught sight of the bridge. 

Several columns of Russians accumulated on the riverbank, trying to 
reach the safety of the far side by crossing through the water. 20 mm 
rounds from the armored cars whisfled into this chaos and colored the 
waters of the river red. We had got between the Soviets like a whiplash. 

The lead platoon neared the bridge, firing to both sides. The tumult 
could hardly get any worse. A dense river of escaping men flooded over 
the bridge. To the left and right of the crossing, men and horses fought 
for their lives. Only another fifty meters separated us from the bridge. The 
crowding, heaving, shoving and rushing came to a gruesome end. Just as 
the lead platoon was steering for the bridge approaches with 20 mm can¬ 
non cutting a bloody swath in the living mass on the bridge, I saw men, 
horses and vehicles fly high into the air, hang for a moment with girders 
and support beams in die mushroom cloud of an explosion and then dis¬ 
appeared into the mud of the river. The enemy had blown up the bridge 
without regard for his own losses. 

I stood at the site of the explosion with the bitter taste of sulfur in my 
mouth and desperately sought a way across the river in order to prevent 
the consolidation of the fleeing Soviets. Although our fire dominateed the 
terrain on the far side of the river, we observed a small range of hills three 
kilometers away where the Russians were establishing defenses. We had to 
get across; the fluid front could not be allowed to stabilize. 

A few meters to the right of the bridge we discovered a ford. The 
Kradschutzen of the 1 ,/SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 had already reached 
the far bank and established a small bridgehead. A detonation cloaked an 
armored car in smoke and flames. It had run over a mine on the approach 
to the ford. Only then did we notice the Russians had mined the area 



From the Dnepr to the Don 


127 


around the bank and a number of Soviets had fallen victim to their own 
mines. I alerted Bremer to the mines and directed their elimination 
before any more forces crossed the river. Bremer, standing a few meters in 
front of me, suddenly gesticulated, pointed wildly at my feet and cried out: 
“Look—there, there—you’re standing on one!” He was right. I was stand¬ 
ing on one of those hellish spots and, at any moment, could trigger off an 
explosion with a slight shift of body weight. We cleared this inhospitable 
area with the utmost speed. 

By 1500 hours it was possible to lead the enure battalion across a tem¬ 
porary bridge to the far bank and we succeeded in establishing a bridge¬ 
head three kilometers wide. We had been joined by Witt’s battalion. The 
pursuit would be continued in the early hours of the morning. 

With relief I heard we had only lost four soldiers and only one injured 
soldier had succumbed to his wounds. The Soviets had sustained huge 
losses in terms of men and equipment. The prisoners could scarcely be 
counted by the frontline troops. During the night the battalion’s sector 
was hit by harassing fire, indicating by its nature a further disengagement 
by the Soviets. 

From prisoner statements, operations so far and the results of combat 
reconnaissance during the night, I suspected a headlong retreat by the 
Soviets. The pressure of Panzergruppe von Kleist, which had moved out of 
the Dnepr bridgehead and was advancing in a southeasterly direction, was 
probably making itself felt within the Russian command. While it was still 
night, I drew back the outposts and prepared die battalion for the coming 
day. My soldiers knew we wanted to drive a rapier thrust deep into the 
enemy’s retreat and, perhaps for days on end, we would be dependent on 
our own resources. Thrust and parry would alternate with one another 
including, perhaps, brutal and ruthless stabs in the back. We wanted to 
confuse the Soviets, wreck their plans and deal them a fatal blow. 

At the first glimmer of morning, 1 looked at my sleeping soldiers, 
hunched or curled up by their motorcycles, guns and tanks, protecting 
their bodies from the cold night with shelter quarters. It was getting to be 
cold in Russia and we had no winter equipment. As always, whenever I 
faced a decision and held the power of life and death over my soldiers, my 
whole hody trembled and 1 chain-smoked cigarette after cigarette. The 
time before the first exchange of fire, before first contact with the enemy, 
weighed heaviest on me. But when the forces clashed and I was standing in 
the midst of the melee it was as if this pressure had evaporated. 

Our combat engineers moved forward. Heavy demolition charges 
hung from their arms and bowed their powerful backs. A few hundred 
meters in front of us was the crossing over the antitank ditch. It had been 



128 


GRENADIERS 


blown up during the night. We had to blow the ditch walls into the ditch 
itself to flatten out the steep sides and use the masses of loose earth as a 
way across. Kradschiitzen stood by to dash across the ditch. The mortars 
and artillery had been ranged in. 

The hands of my watch crept inexorably on and, keeping pace, night 
fell back to let in the light of day. Vegetation and trees emerged from the 
darkness. Sporadic Russian rounds crashed into the bridgehead. The roos¬ 
ter crowed his morning greeting from the Akkermen collective farm. 
Morning had broken. I moved to my armored car with stiff strides and 
climbed onto the rear deck. From there I could look out over some vege¬ 
tation far across the antitank ditch and watch the advancing engineers. 
Armored cars silenced a few enemy machine guns. The weak enemy rear¬ 
guard was overcome and the crossing of the ditch was achieved. As 
expected, the Russians had withdrawn during the night, so we would prob¬ 
ably cnot encounter stronger forces for at least two or three hours. 

That day the 2./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 had been placed in the 
lead. I had a few misgivings since the company had a new commander 
who, up to then, had been teaching tactics at the Junkerschule at Braun¬ 
schweig and who looked upon my unorthodox fighting methods with 
skepticism. I gave SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer “L” another good talking to and 
told him not to halt without my orders. He was to advance at the greatest 
possible speed in the prescribed direction. I moved with the lead company. 
After a short engagement, the enemy rearguard at Schiroki was overrun 
and we reached Astrachhanka at 0845 hours. The prisoners that had been 
taken up to then belonged to the 35th, 71st and 256th Regiments. They 
were hastily retreating in a southeasterly direction. We pushed into the 
area of operations of the 30th Division. 

An interesting, indeed impressive, tableau was spread before us. As far 
as the eye could see, Russian units were running, riding and galloping to 
the east. A horse-artillery unit raced down a slope with its guns bouncing 
around. It was attempting to get into firing position in order to give us a 
proper welcome and frustrate our further advance. Mortar fire was already 
landing uncomfortably close to our battalion, but the retreat was degener¬ 
ating into a wild flight and slipping away from its commanders. It would 
have been senseless to begin a firefight with the Russian rearguard and 
lose valuable time. 

I gave SS-Hauptsturmfiihrer “L” the order to continue the advance 
with unabated speed and not worry about the threat to our flank. My 
order and the accompanying signals to my young soldiers added fuel to 
the flames. The Kradschutzen landed among the Soviets like a tropical 
storm and slashed the fleeing masses apart with their machine-gun fire. 



From the Dnepr to the Don 


129 


Heavy armored cars fired past the flanks of the Kradschutzen and pro¬ 
vided cover. Assault guns fired their rounds at distant targets. Enemy 
ammunition trucks flew into the air with a crash and artillery batteries 
formed confused throngs with their horse teams and guns. In the back¬ 
ground, two old Soviet planes flew over the wide steppe like singed moths. 
They did not dare approach within range of our 20 mm cannon. 

In a few seconds Bremer stood by me. I pointed to the enemy artillery 
positioning itself and the lead elements of the battalion disappearing into 
a dustcloud. Words were unnecessary. What we had learned through long, 
laborious work in the training areas and at the sandtable was coming to 
full fruition at that point. Widely dispersed, the company raced towards 
the firing guns. The flanks of the company tore into the emplacement like 
wolfpacks and silenced four 122 mm cannon and two 7.62 cm guns. 
SS-Obersturmfuhrer Hess and Wolf were severely wounded in the hand- 
to-hand fighting. Countless Russians moved westward with their hands in 
the air. 

As far as the eye could see the Soviets were stampeding in wild flight. 
Bremer rampaged like a loosed hunting dog, leading his company toward 
the densest throng. Guderian’s words again proved true: “The engine is a 
weapon." Our lightning speed had literally unnerved the Soviets. I fol¬ 
lowed the lead company and stormed through approaching Russians with 
my dispatch riders. The main body of the battalion followed at a five- 
minute interval. In front of us was a collective farm. Fruit plantations and 
tall deciduous trees surrounded the farm buildings. Even as I approached 
this small group of buildings, I started to have doubts. I could see no 
movement at all. Neither Soviet soldiers nor civilians were to be seen even 
though the 2./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 had just moved through the set¬ 
tlement; the dust still hung in the air. What was going to happen? 

Peter had his foot on the pedal and wasn’t concerned about my reser¬ 
vations. After we passed the first building I shouted: “Step on the gas! 
Move out!” The buildings to the left and right were crawling with Russians. 
In a farmyard I noticed a Russian radio center with its aerial still up. Evi¬ 
dently we had moved right through a Russian command post whose elimi¬ 
nation the 2./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 wanted to leave to the rest of the 
battalion. Bearing my orders in mind, the 2./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 
had roared straight through the collective farm. 

Remembering the unpleasant experience on “Rollbahn Nord” I 
attempted to catch up with the advance-guard company with utmost 
speed. The main body of the battalion would have no problem with smok¬ 
ing out the Russian staff. We were relieved when our armored car reached 
the open steppe that, it should be noted, had taken on an undulating 



130 


GRENADIERS 


character. To our right to the southeast the Russian flight continued. To 
the half right behind us we could hear the sounds of fighting from Bre¬ 
mer’s company. There was still nothing to be seen of the lead company. 
The new company commander had really adapted himself quickly to our 
style of fighting. The Kradschutzen had to be intoxicated by the speed. 

In a small hollow was the village of Inriewka. The village was extended 
along the road. It was as if this village had died as well; at a fork in the road 
we found a 20 mm Flak that had had minor mechanical problems. It soon 
got going again. The gun commander wanted to take the eastbound road 
even though the southbound road was actually the right one. 1 only suc¬ 
ceeded in direcung the gun down the right road with some difficulty. The 
soldiers still wanted to tell me something and kept pointing to the east. 
Furious over the delay, I gestured to them to move down the southbound 
road as ordered and at full speed. The gun commander shrugged his 
shoulders in resignation and followed my vehicle. The route ran parallel to 
a windbreak hedge that was perhaps five meters thick and consisted of veg¬ 
etation and individual trees. Small rises broke up the monotony of the 
landscape. 

In a hollow we encountered a group of armed Soviets who had been 
marching south and who suddenly stopped as if rooted to the spot. Angrily 
I indicated to the Soviets to throw down their weapons and start heading 
north. At the same time, I was complaining to my adjutant because the 
2./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 had not even disarmed the Russians. We 
had scarcely moved out of the hollow when I spotted more Russians cheer¬ 
fully tramping away to the south, carrying their rifles with them. Some offi¬ 
cers were still carrying their map cases. At that point I really lost my 
temper and cursed the commander of the 2./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1. 
Of course, we needed to move fast but not at the expense of not disarming 
prisoners. The last section needed to be given that task. 

In front of us and off to the right were thousands of Soviet infantry¬ 
men and countless artillery batteries streaming away over the slopes and 
ridges. We had penetrated about thirty kilometers into the flood of fleeing 
Russians. It would soon be time for the battalion to close up and then risk 
the final assault on the bridge at Stanitsa Nowospasskoje. The retreating 
swarms would have to mass together in front of that bridge. There we 
could harvest the fruits of our operation. Herman Weiser, my trusty adju¬ 
tant, nodded his head in agreement as I informed him of my decision. 

A few hundred meters ahead of us was the Romanowka collective 
farm. The windbreak hedge ended and the land rose perhaps four or five 
meters to the left. In place of the hedge, a small stream flowed to the 
south and, directly in front of the farm, formed a small marsh. I couldn’t 



From the Dnepr to the Don 


131 


make out the left-hand side of the village; I was able to observe a row of 
buildings to the right, extending away to the south. The farm road was at 
least twenty meters wide. To the west of the farm, on the ridgeline of a 
small mass of hills, the Soviet flight continued. I had never seen such a 
mass flight before. 

Another fifty meters and we reached the first houses of Romanowka. 
In the meantime it had already approached 1445 hours and the sun was 
beating down on us mercilessly. A stormy atmosphere hung over the coun¬ 
tryside and over the panic-stricken masses fleeing from us. On the long 
farm road the heat shimmered between the houses. As in the other vil¬ 
lages, there was not a sign of life to be seen. The escape route skirted the 
village. 

A shrill shout from Weiser hit me like a whip. Peter halted. A shadow 
flitted across the wall to our left front. 1 saw Weiser firing his pistol into the 
comer of the wall and, with his other hand, throwing an egg grenade into 
the same spot. Damn! I noticed a Russian antitank gun in firing position 
and a line of Red Army soldiers lying in die corner. I leapt out to the right, 
bounded across the street, dove over a dung heap and gazed into the ter¬ 
rified eyes of two Russians lying behind their machine-gun position; they 
had obviously only just woken up. We lay opposite each other and waited 
for the first move. 1 did not dare look at the road. A direct hit had torn 
apart the crew of the 20 mm Flak. The scream of a soldier segued into 
moaning. Peter shouted my name and looked for me. He had to be 
behind me and to my half left. 1 heard the grinding of tank tracks on the 
other side of the road. A second shell tore into the Flak. 

I had to act quickly if I wanted to leave that dung heap alive. The two 
Russians were still gazing at me, spellbound. They must have thought we 
were attacking the village with a large force and their last hour had 
arrived. They disappeared like a pair of rabbits when I gestured to them to 
beat it. Almost simultaneously with the two Red Army soldiers and in one 
bound, I leapt past the destroyed gun and pressed myself against a small 
slope where I found Drescher, the messenger, and Peter. Weiser had disap¬ 
peared. Drescher claimed that Weiser had leapt into the house to the left. 

Only then was it clear to me why we had encountered armed Russians 
en route. The lead company had taken the wrong direction at Inriewka 
and I had promptly overtaken it, thus getting myself into this tricky situa¬ 
tion. If only the main body of the battalion would appear soon! 1 yearned 
for SS-Hauptsturmfiihrer Fenn and his 88s. Hopefully the Russians 
wouldn’t counterattack; otherwise it was curtains for all of us. 

I almost fired at Hermann Weiser. How did he get onto the roof? He 
kept pointing excitedly over to the left. Did he want to draw our attention 



132 


GRENADIERS 


to the tank? We were exceptionally lucky that the slope was protecting us 
from the tank’s field of fire. I edged a little higher until I spotted a small 
aircraft at the end of the village. The crate was parked on the collective- 
farm green. Had we ended up in a headquarters again? 

The minutes became hours. To our right the Russians were still racing 
away over the hills. We pressed ourselves closer to the ground. The tank 
changed its position. The sound of its tracks came closer, then receded 
once more. A staff car shot out of the first farmyard at full speed, turning 
into the bend so sharply that it tipped onto two wheels. At first we were 
dumbstruck by the car’s sudden appearance but then we fired at it with all 
our weapons. A great dust cloud was all that remained. 

At last we heard the sound of tracks behind us. A section of 88s came 
racing up. Our position and the destroyed 20 mm Flak were orders 
enough for the grenadiers. With an elegant slew, the driver swung the 
prime mover around so the gun was immediately in position and could 
open fire. A few seconds later the high-explosive rounds screamed down 
the road. SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Fend attempted to destroy the plane on 
the green, but it was not quite as easy as it had seemed. The gunners could 
not identify the target and the 88 was ill-suited to the task. The staff car 
reached the plane and, a little later, the tired bird flew off. It circled wide 
above the collective farm and disappeared over the horizon. 

The 88 worked miracles. Our spirits returned and the paralysis of the 
last half hour was shaken off. How wonderfully the rounds whizzed past us! 
What soothing music for soldiers who considered themselves already dead 
and buried. The heavy tank broke out through the back gardens. We 
couldn’t engage it as the slope was blocking our view. Infantry guns were 
brought into position; an antitank gun was moved up and fired into the 
fleeing columns together with the 88. Finally, I had a platoon of combat 
engineers at my disposal. I could use them to make a small advance into 
the village. I wanted to know what was going on there! 

We entered the first house without a fight. Weiser came up excitedly 
and led a group of combat engineers to a cellar entrance. In amazement I 
saw Russian officers emerging from the dark portal. Weiser led me into the 
building and reported: 

Suddenly, to our left, I noticed a Russian tank. The crew was busy 
with its lunch. Before I could even let you know about my discov¬ 
ery, we were confronted by the antitank gun. I didn’t know what 
to do. I fired at the crew as I jumped and threw an egg grenade at 
them. 1 don’t know what happened to the Russians: I only wanted 




From the Dnepr to the Don 


133 


to make myself scarce as quickly as possible, to find somewhere 
safe. I tore open the house door and found myself standing in 
front of a number of high-ranking Russian officers who were dis¬ 
cussing things round a map table. My appearance had a terrifying 
effect. The Russians leapt headfirst out of the window; I vaulted 
up the stairs in sheer terror and saw you behind the dung heap. 

On the other side of the house countless Russian soldiers and offi¬ 
cers were running away. A few senior officers climbed onto a tank 
and took off. We’ve definitely taken out a higher headquarters! 

Before I inspected the spoils I took to task the commander of the 
2./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 who had appeared in the meantime. His 
guilt-ridden countenance spared him a thorough dressing down and he 
went about executing new missions eagerly. Weiser’s whoop of joy called 
me into the building. Peter was already wearing a Russian general’s litevka. 
There were innumerable maps laying on the table and in the next room 
was a complete radio installation. We had stormed into the headquarters 
of the Russian 9th Army but, unfortunately, the commander had escaped 
in the plane with an air force general, both saved by the staff car. Among 
the prisoners were a few staff officers and the air force general’s secretary. 
They all behaved in a correct and soldierly manner and only at the inter¬ 
rogation did we discover that we had overrun the staff of the Russian 30th 
Infantry Division at collective farm “X”. The 9th Army was rushing, panic- 
stricken, in die direction of Rostow. 

Proud of this unusual success, I sent a corresponding report to the 
division and was thunderstruck when the radio operator gave me division’s 
answer: “What’s all this boasting?” A bucket of ice-cold water could not 
have had the same shattering effect. Somewhat sobered, I sent a staff offi¬ 
cer and the secretary to the division. 

A short while later my radio operators started to transmit orders in 
Russian over the air. We were trying to draw the Russians into a deter¬ 
mined defense. We wanted to give Korps Mackensen the opportunity of 
closing the pocket. But the Soviets couldn’t be stopped. Their wild flight 
continued. 

Bremer’s company was asking for assistance. They had become deci¬ 
sively engaged during the pursuit. We had to wait for the next day and the 
infantry coming up behind us. For the first time we were unable to inven¬ 
tory the spoils. All around us were abandoned guns, prime movers and 
horse teams. Countless prisoners moved westward and many Russians had 
been killed. We suffered three dead, twenty-seven wounded and one miss- 



134 


GRENADIERS 


ing soldier. Just before the onset of darkness Witt’s battalion arrived and 
completed the clean-up of the village. Bremer reached the battalion at 
midnight. 

With the I./SS-Infanterie-Regiment 1 (mot.) to our rear we continued 
the advance on 7 October with orders to take the harbor town of Berd- 
jansk. We moved out past the forward outposts in the cold autumn mist. 
The 1/SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 was in the lead. Russian guns, armored 
vehicles and tanks marked the line of retreat. In Neu-Stuttgart we encoun¬ 
tered weak enemy forces that retreated as quickly as possible to the east. In 
the main street of Neu-Stuttgart we found countless Russian civilians who 
had been shot. Some of the victims with severe bullet wounds crawled 
towards us, imploring us to help them. Unfortunately, I never found out 
why the Soviets slaughtered those civilians. 

The collective farm at Andrejewka was taken after a short but ener¬ 
getic fight, and we continued the pursuit at full speed. Strong enemy 
artillery columns were racing away over the low hills ahead and on our 
right flank. Two cannon batteries were cut off so quickly that the Soviets 
did not even have time to defend themselves. By 1000 hours we could no 
longer count our prisoners and booty. The day w r as the spitting image of 
the one before, and we could not push the pace any faster. 

We were then moving through rolling countryside. A few kilometers 
ahead was a small river flowing south into the Sea of Azow near Berdjansk. 
If the Soviets were to organize their retreat they wotdd have to hold the 
west bank of the river and engage our forces so their fleeing troops could 
be led in an orderly manner to the Mius or even as far as the Don. They 
had to fight for time and space and we could not allow them either. Their 
hard-pressed units had to be wiped out while they were still on the move. 
The speed of the German units had to secure victor). They could not be 
allowed to enter into any more long, drawn-out engagements. 

According to conventional wisdom, our units should no longer have 
been combat effective. None of the units were at full strength any more 
and could only deploy a mere fraction of their original fighting power. 
Even the lowliest soldier knew we had to effect a crossing at Nowospasskoje 
at headlong speed and, above all, prevent the destruction of the bridge. 
Once again it was a question of minutes. 

The advance-guard platoon of the l./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 swept 
around a low hill and was able to look down on Stanitsa Nowospasskoje. 
The village was in a depression. The riverbed was eroded and the banks on 
both sides were almost vertical. A modern concrete bridge spanned the 
river. Infantrymen, motor vehicles, artillery' and a few tanks were streaming 
over die bridge. Horses waded dirough the water and attempted to climb 



From the Dnepr to the Don 


135 


the far bank. The entire depression was a heaving mass. But, sharp to the 
right of us along the heights, shattered units were running eastward and 
then pushing over the bridge or trying to ford the river to relieve the pres¬ 
sure on the bridge. It was intended for the l./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 
to exploit the confusion and then take the bridge with a coup de main. 

From the depths of the column Kradschiitzen, armored cars and Panz- 
eijager roared down the smooth slope on a broad front into the midst of 
the Russians. The fleeing Soviets had no notion of putting up any defense. 
They streamed down the slope and into the riverbed in wild panic. Horse- 
drawn batteries, unit trains vehicles and infantrymen formed a jumbled 
throng. Horses waited patiendy in the water, unable to scale the other bank. 
Still more men crossed the river to escape certain capture, but they were 
running to their deaths! From countless barrels came rounds that sowed 
death among the fleeing mass. The panic became greater and greater. 
Command and control by the Soviets had become impossible. Men raced, 
trampled and stampeded for their lives. The l./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 
thrust into that confusion and, firing from all barrels, rushed up to the 
bridge. Several armored cars cleared the bridge by fire from the heights. 
Only the dead and dying remained. 

Suddenly I saw the first platoon shoot ahead as if bitten by a tarantula. 
It leapt through a hedge from its still moving machines and disposed of 
the crew of a Russian heavy antitank gun. The gun was just going into posi¬ 
tion. A few more seconds and the crossing would have become a bloody 
affair for us as well. 

With fire support from the 2./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 and the 
armored cars up on the hill, the l./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 attacked 
with speed and was soon at the eastern outskirts of the village. I advanced 
down the main street with the company and wresded with the decision of 
whether to continue the advance on Mariupol. Due to the fast retreat, the 
situation demanded we advance further on Mariupol and attempt to force 
larger Russian units on to the coast of the Sea of Azow. The retreat was 
being conducted in a southeasterly direction, that is, toward Mariupol. Why 
then should we have wasted valuable time with the seizure of Berdjansk? 
The town would inevitably fall when Mariupol fell further to the east. 

I stood with several soldiers deep in the study of a map. We were 
beyond the last houses of the village, intending to go over to the wind¬ 
break hedge which was preventing us from observing the land ahead of us. 
Franz Roth, the war correspondent, was with us when Franz called out as if 
stung. He pulled me behind the hedge and none too gently. Franz was 
unable to utter a word and was literally beside himself. He wanted to start 
“shooting” with his camera. Not twenty paces ahead to the left was a mon- 



136 


GRENADIERS 


ster of a tank that looked like it was going to start up or fire at any second. 
The street emptied in the twinkling of an eye. 

SS-Unterscharfuhrer Bergemann grabbed a demolition charge and 
worked his way under covering fire through a small orchard to knock out 
the tank. We followed this man’s progress with baited breath. The tank 
didn’t move. The engine was also silent. Had the monster suffered a 
mechanical problem? 

Bergemann got ready for a sprint, took a deep breath and shot off 
towards the tank. Any moment and the charge would be flying onto the 
vehicle’s rear deck; the next second destroying the engine. It had to hap¬ 
pen any second. A round broke the tension. I saw Bergemann fall and the 
charge roll in the sand a few meters from the tank. A pistol round from 
the tank had dealt our comrade a fatal blow. The Russian tank remained 
undamaged after the explosion. An assault gun moved into position and 
hurled round after round at the steel giant from a distance of barely 
twenty-five meters. Nothing happened; the rounds didn’t penetrate. The 
Russians appeared invincible. The gun commander, Iseke, shook his head 
in resignation and cursed a blue streak. His weapon had found a worthy 
opponent. We eventually succeeded in destroying the first T-34, whose 
acquaintance we had just had the pleasure to make, with burning fuel. 

During the firefight with the T-34 I stood in the garden of a small cot¬ 
tage with a few soldiers and climbed a small rise to get a better view. The 
rise in the ground was apparently either a potato pit or the improvised veg¬ 
etable store of the Russian housewife. A hole in the straw led into the inte¬ 
rior of the pit. We had been standing on the rise for quite a while when, 
suddenly, my loyal Pat dove furiously into the hole and tugged at a Russian 
coat. The dog had found more than a dozen Russians in the pit. We looked 
at each other quite nonplused as die Russians scrambled out of their hiding 
place carrying hand grenades, sub-machine guns and other weapons. We 
discovered once more for ourselves that soldiers needed an uncommonly 
large amount of luck not to fall prey to the many hazards of war. 

My intendon to continue the pursuit to Mariupol could not be carried 
out at the moment as incoming radio traffic ordered the seizure of Berd- 
jansk. Once again the l./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 took the lead and 
moved over the hills to the Sea of Azow. Several batteries were taken by 
surprise and disarmed without a shot being fired. Cold wind whistled 
around our ears as a spotter plane flew over the column and dropped a 
message attached to a smoke canister in front of the armored cars. It read: 
“Only weak forces in die city. An enemy column ten kilometers west of 
Berdjansk. Several parallel enemy columns moving in the direction of Mar¬ 
iupol east of the town.” 




From the Dnepr to the Don 


137 


1 received the message eight kilometers north of Berdjansk. Cold, 
hunger and fatigue were forgotten. The enemy had to be wiped out while 
still west of Berdjansk. He could not be allowed to reach the town ahead of 
us! A couple of words to Peter were enough to send our light armored 
vehicle racing past the company like a race car. Dust clouds hung behind 
us but ahead we could already see the shimmering surface of the sea. Gerd 
Bremer and the lead elements received the signal: “Follow me!” 

The town could not be identified from the north. It was direcdy on 
the coast beneath the steep cliffs. Peter slowed down as soon as we spotted 
an airfield from which the last aircraft was just taking off and disappearing 
to the east. We carefully felt our way up to the first houses. A motorcycle 
section was moving ahead of us. The street was totally dead, not a soul to 
be seen. Potholes and a rough road surface forced the Kradschiitzen to 
move slowly. 

1 gave the signal to pass them and crossed the town as quickly as possi¬ 
ble. At that point, we were the first vehicle in line and soon had a lead of 
more than 100 meters. We were already moving back to the west, hot on 
the heels of the Russian rearguard. We moved ever deeper into the “ghost” 
town. Intersections attracted us like magnets. The nose of the armored car 
edged around a corner and then “sniffed” out the situation down the 
street. Our vehicle then took a swift bound and stopped at the next comer. 
We moved like this from street to street, setting the pace for the Krad- 
schutzen. 

1 crouched behind the turret and put a death grip on my carbine 
while Peter prepared to move on to the next corner. Not a sound was to be 
heard, not a window was open, no movement to be seen. Before the 
armored car disappeared around the corner I looked back to check if the 
Kradschiitzen were still following. The armored car suddenly jerked back 
and I found myself lying on my side in the street. Bullets cracked around 
my ears; horses reared up and galloped down the street. Wildly shooting 
Cossacks sprang to their feet and dashed into the nearest houses. An offi¬ 
cer jerked his heavy Nagant up and fired. At that very moment I heard 
Peter’s voice behind me, “Sturmbannfiihrer, I just got him!” He was right. 
The Nagant fell to the road. Riderless horses galloped west and wounded 
Cossacks pressed themselves against the walls of the houses. 

Our unarmed command armored car had encountered a Russian cav¬ 
alry troop. Even greater haste was required if we were to surprise and elim¬ 
inate the column west of town. Bremer raced off to the outskirts of town 
like greased lightning and waited there for further orders. The column 
came nearer and nearer, completely oblivious to our presence. We could 
already make out every man and vehicle. It had to be the remnants of a 



138 


GRENADIERS 


reinforced infantry regiment that had been engaged in fighting on the 
shore south of Melitopol and was trying to regain contact with its main 
body. 

Meanwhile, the battalion had gone into position on both sides of the 
road and was awaiting my order to attack. I had time. I waited until the col¬ 
umn had disappeared into a depression and was in the process of ascend¬ 
ing the near slope. Minutes dragged by in expectation of things to come. 
The Kradschutzen perched on their machines and enjoyed the last diags 
on their glowing cigarettes. At that point, the enemy lead elements were 
only 300 meters away and moving without a care. Somehow, I was feeling 
sorry for that Russian unit. They had covered their comrades’ retreat and 
had then been left on their own. Before the decimated Russian unit knew 
what had happened the motorcycle companies and armored cars had 
raced down both sides of the column and encircled it without much of a 
fight. More than 2,000 Soviets were taken prisoner with their weapons and 
equipment. Two batteries were captured. We had one loss from 7 October: 
The brave SS-Unterscharfuhrer Bergemann lost his life in the engagement 
with the tank. 

After taking the enemy column prisoner we established contact with 
the advance guard from Abteilung Boddien. I went over to the battalion 
myself and congratulated Boddien on the award of his Knight’s Cross. 
His battalion occupied Berdjansk while we moved back to Stanitsa 
Nowospasskoje and got ready for further pursuit in the direction of Mari¬ 
upol. For the first time in quite a while we had the privilege of taking a 
break under the protection of die infantry; the III./SS-Infanterie-Regi- 
ment 1 covered to the east. Mail from home arrived at midnight; it was 
brought forward by our efficient logistics officer, SS-Stunnbannfiihrer Wal¬ 
ter Ewert. He sought to use every opportunity to help the line troops and 
get a general idea of their needs. We owed him a debt of gratitude. 

All too quickly it was daylight again. I heard the engines starting up 
and the clatter of kitchen utensils, but I couldn’t find the energy to lift 
myself from where I was sleeping. Peter didn’t give up trying to aw'aken 
me, however, until I was standing in the middle of the room putting a hot 
mug of Muckefuck (ersatz coffee) to my lips. 

The deep roaring of the Sturmgeschutze and the higher-pitched 
sound of the motorcycles drew me out onto the village street. The engine 
noise was music to my ears. In order to even out the requirements on the 
units, we chose a leapfrog advance by the lead elements. The advance- 
guard platoon, reinforced by armored cars and antitank guns, roared off at 
top speed ahead of the main body and awaited its approach at prearranged 
points. The battalion followed the lead elements at a constant speed. 




From the Dnepr to the Don 


139 


The terrain was very hilly and treeless; newly planted orchards could 
only be seen in the built-up areas. For the first twenty minutes we moved 
along the broad, dusty road without encountering the enemy. Neither 
abandoned equipment nor Russian stragglers indicated that this was the 
route of a military retreat. 

We had been moving into the light of a new day since 0500 hours. We 
were expecting defensive fire at any moment, but we only encountered 
enemy resistance at about 0745 hours at Mangusch. The l./SS-Aufk- 
larungs-Abteilung 1 attacked from the line of march and advanced right 
through the town. It was difficult to get an idea of how Mangusch was laid 
out. It straddled a fold in the land across both sides of our line of advance. 
While advancing through the town, I spotted enemy infantry between the 
houses and in the gardens. But we didn’t have the time to mop up the 
town completely. We had to get to Mariupol. A larger objective was draw¬ 
ing us on. Our following infantry would be charged with eliminating the 
remaining enemy elements. The battalion rolled on without stopping. The 
firefight was initiated from moving vehicles. 

Two kilometers east of Mangusch the leading elements discovered 
well-constructed Soviet field fortifications. This was the outer defensive 
ring around Mariupol. It could no longer be fully garrisoned as a result of 
the swift advance of the German forces, but it did afford a strong rear¬ 
guard the opportunity of defending itself stubbornly. 

The position ran along a ridge across the line of march and com¬ 
manded the approach march completely. We once again chose an other¬ 
wise unconventional form of attack. We intended to race up the ridge 
under the covering fire of our artillery and heavy infantry weapons. The 
advance-guard company had orders to initiate the engagement only from 
a point 500 meters to the rear of the position and then work back toward 
the Soviet defenses. The follow-on units, with the help of the assault guns, 
were to roll up the enemy position to the sides. 

The order was passed around orally and through dispatch riders. I was 
with Bremer as he was preparing for the sprint over the ridge and into the 
unknown with my old fighting companions. The assault guns rumbled for¬ 
ward behind the company; rounds landed among the ranks of the defend¬ 
ers and forced them down. The position on the ridge was reached in a few 
seconds, penetrated by the lead elements and then rolled up on both sides 
by the follow-on units. 

The advance-guard platoon leader, SS-Untersturmfuhrer Schulz, was 
wounded during the advance. The Soviets recovered from their surprise 
fairly quickly. Bitter fighting was going on, especially to the right of the 
road. A young, spirited commissar was spurring his unit on again and 



140 


GRENADIERS 


again. It was not only his yelling that fired up his men, but also his bold 
example that kept them coming on. I shall never forget the last image I 
had of this man—pulled up to his full height, throwing his last grenades at 
Mahl’s section. He then solemnly dropped the last one to the ground in 
front of him and covered it with his body. A quick lift and shudder of the 
body, a fall of the shattered remains—that was the end of a fanatic. 

Two batteries that had not opened fire during the advance were taken 
at Mangusch. Unfortunately, the younger brother of our fallen comrade, 
Erich, was killed during this operation. 1 had transferred him to the trains 
to protect him. More than 300 prisoners were brought in from the newly 
won position and several batteries were taken as booty. The prisoners 
stated they had had orders to withdraw toward Rostow. So—onward! There 
was no time to lose. The Soviets had to be hit while on the move. 

At 0930 hours I was standing at the highest point to the right of the 
road looking at Mariupol. It was a few kilometers ahead of us. The road 
led dead straight to the town. No one could be identified. At the edge of 
the town we could observe a road obstacle and the coming and going of a 
few armored vehicles. But what else was happening? A long column was 
marching into the tow'n from the northeast. The Soviet column was several 
kilometers long. Enemy artillery sheered off from the column and took up 
position against us. We could also see a Soviet march group west of the 
town. Russian troops were withdrawing along the Berdjansk-Mariupol 
road. According to the map, both columns would have to use a single 
bridge in Mariupol if they wanted to continue their retreat east. 

I intently observed the snaking columns for a few minutes without 
being able to come to a decision. The huge city with its enormous steel¬ 
works, shipyards and airfields and the soldiers that the town was ceaselessly 
soaking up did not fail to impress me. The eastern Soviet column 
stretched back to the horizon off to our left. The dark line rolled inex¬ 
orably towards the town. Wasn’t it presumptuous to even consider attack¬ 
ing such a mass with less than 1,000 soldiers? 

Aircraft started up and flew off to the east. Wasn’t that a direct chal¬ 
lenge to us to risk the attack despite all our misgivings? Didn’t the depar¬ 
ture of the planes imply the abandonment of the town? As always at such 
moments of decision I went to the lead element and listened to the voices 
of my young soldiers. If a plan was “bad”, if it did not look as if it promised 
success then my “point men” looked at me with indifference or fumbled 
around with their weapons. If, however, there was the slightest chance of 
success, I then sensed their willingness to attack and felt their unspoken 
trust which led me to give the order to attack. 



From the Dnepr to the Don 


141 


The leader of the advance-guard elements was Sepp Mahl, a comrade- 
in-arms from my old 15./SS-Infanterie-Regiment 1. Sepp had taken over 
the platoon from his wounded platoon leader. He nodded to me, made a 
dismissive gesture and puffed nervously at his cigarette. The company 
commander, Gerd Bremer, looked at me calmly. 1 could always see in his 
eyes that he would follow me to the ends of the earth. Nowhere did I see 
doubt or even the hint of being uncomfortable with what was going on. 

My soldiers were waiting for the order to continue the pursuit. Their 
instinct and the experience gained in many engagements led them to 
believe they would be successful. Their confidence, their fraternal trust 
and belief in their own powers drove me forward. Fear of my own cow¬ 
ardice drove me onward! 

The clock showed 0945 hours as the first Russian rounds burst uncom¬ 
fortably close and the lead elements moved out. Artillery and an 88 mm 
Flak battery engaged the enemy batteries and disturbed the traffic on the 
airfield. During the advance I noticed field fortifications on both sides of 
the road right at the edge of Mariupol. Bursts of machine-gun fire clat¬ 
tered away over us and mortar rounds slammed into the black earth far 
behind us. Our advance could not be halted. The Kradschutzen raced 
towards the town down both sides of the road. A road obstacle had not 
been completed; the defenders fell to the fire of the Sturmgeschutze. Only 
a few hundred meters away, to the left of the road, enemy aircraft started 
up and disappeared low over the rooftops. They were flying eastwards. 
None of the planes attacked us. Perhaps the Soviets did not have any time 
to load ammunition? 

In contrast to other Soviet towns, high, multi-story buildings were on 
the outskirts of Mariupol. As there had not even been a single tree or a 
small cottage up to then, the sudden change was intimidating, even 
oppressive. 

The lead elements halted after the initial high-rises and started to 
advance like infantry. I also wanted to jump from my armored car and take 
full cover. The high walls threatened to crush us. I was then dragged back 
out of my thoughts as Peter tore into a round plaz.a. SS-Hauptscharfuhrer 
Fritz Biigelsack was suddenly to our left. Streetcars were moving towards 
us. Trucks, prime movers, horse teams and thousands of people enlivened 
the large circular plaza. Our armored car was suddenly in front of a fire 
department ladder truck that had got itself stuck in the confusion. 

Explosive rounds from Bugelsack’s armored car ripped the vehicles 
apart. The machine-gun fire from die Kradschutzen echoed gruesomely 
over die square. Burning soldiers leapt from the ladder truck and ran 



142 


GRENADIERS 


across the broad plaza like torches. A fuel drum had been hit and the 
explosion had set dozens of men on fire. A panic-stricken mass of human¬ 
ity stormed into the side streets, trampling anything in its way underfoot. 

Out of breath, we continued to advance and block the roads. We were 
yelling and screaming. Rounds from our assault guns then began to land 
in the overcrowded streets. The columns pushing into the town were 
ripped apart. All semblance of order in the Soviet columns had been lost. 
We swarmed through the streets like locusts and tried to reach the road to 
Rostow. 

The square was strewn with smoking wreckage. There were only wail¬ 
ing or dead men to be seen. The mass of the Soviets had disappeared. A 
comer building became the command post from which the fighting could 
be continued. Bremer pressed on in the direction of Taganrog. At 1310 
hours the 1 ./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 was in Sartana two kilometers 
east of Mariupol. A strong enemy column was fleeing down the main road 
towards the east. 

We got the following reply from division when we announced the fall 
of Mariupol: “Must be a mistake. You can only mean Mangusch." It was no 
mistake, however. The city had been taken through a dating assault by a 
handful of German grenadiers whose speed had triumphed over inertia 
and indecision. The day’s success has to be reckoned against a wounded 
officer, a noncommissioned officer and four men. Four soldiers were gone 
forever. The following infantry took over mopping-up operations in the 
city and established outposts far out to the east. We inspected the huge 
Azow Works with astonishment. It extended several kilometers along the 
coast and was equipped with modern manufacturing plants. The works 
had fallen into our hands unscathed. 

The “Battle on the Sea of Azow” had ended with the fall of Mariupol. 
More than 100,000 Soviets had been taken prisoner; 212 armored vehicles 
and 672 guns had been captured. 

From 10 to 12 October the battalion was engaged in fighting between 
Mariupol and the Mius sector, a few kilometers west of Taganrog. At 0430 
hours on 12 October the battalion attempted to establish a bridgehead 
over the Mius and seize the existing bridge by means of a coup de main. 
We moved into the Russian bridgehead from the south and were caught in 
terrific fire from the enemy artillery shooting from the east bank of the 
Mius. The 1./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 was forced to the ground 700 
meters from the bridge and had to stick it out under enemy fire until dark. 
The main body of the battalion succeeded in disengaging itself from the 
Mius without loss but the lead elements took a vicious battering from the 
Soviets. 





From the Dnepr to the Don 


143 


More than twenty men and five officers were wounded. Among the 
wounded were also two of the battalion’s doctors. I look my loyal “Peter”, 
SS-Unterscharfuhrer Erich Petersilie, back in the twilight. Shrapnel had 
struck him down; the first driver to be killed at my side. At the time 1 had 
no idea that another seven would be destined to die at my side in the 
course of the war. 

In the gray light of dawn of the next day we stood by the graves of our 
fallen comrades. We lowered four shelter-quarter-wrapped bodies into for¬ 
eign soil. Silent men stood at the graveside and took their leave. The firing 
of Soviet heavy guns came booming across from Taganrog as their shells 
screamed overhead searching for our own artillery. 

The dispatch rider section, Peter’s closest comrades, Weiser and the 
rest of the staff waited for my eulogy. I was choked with emotion, unable to 
say a word. The tears ran down my face. A few wild flowers fell into the 
dark grave; I saluted Peter and then turned away. I subsequently wrote to 
his mother. 

The battalion was engaged in clearing up the west bank of the Mius 
until 16 October and followed Witt’s battalion. It had established a bridge¬ 
head at Koselkin. On 17 October the battalion advanced south as part of 
the attack on Taganrog and made its way into the harbor without much 
fighting. Witt’s battalion was attacking on our left while Frey’s battalion was 
storming the town further to the north. The infantry was attacking the 
northern outskirts of Taganrog with incredible decisiveness and pene¬ 
trated into the city. Unfortunately, Frey’s battalion came under fire from 
two Soviet armored trains. They tore open terrible gaps in the lines until 
they were wiped out by 88s. More than eighty soldiers died in the fire of 
those trains that bristled with weapons. 

During the assault on Taganrog we were able to observe the Soviets’ 
systematic destruction of a city for the first time. Factories and public 
buildings flew into the air, one after another. Thick clouds of smoke indi¬ 
cated the Soviet line of retreat. Up to then, we had onlyseen huge heaps 
of grain burning; at Taganrog we had a practical demonstration of the 
“scorched earth” policy. Fleeing ships were sunk in the harbor. Not one 
Russian thought of rescuing his fellow countrymen from drowning. The 
Russians only sailed out and brought the survivors to shore at Drescher’s 
insistence. A monument to Peter the Great stood on the steep coastline 
and looked down on the sinking ships. 

It was cold. Icy winds swept across the sea and heralded the onset of 
winter. We could make out the snow-capped mountains of the Caucasus off 
to our right. The giants glistened, majestic and undisturbed by the raging 
of humanity. We were freezing; our uniforms hung in rags. Winter cloth- 



144 


GRENADIERS 


ing was not available. The unit’s offensive elan was not yet broken, but we 
were searching for an objective to the advance. A vast, unoccupied country 
with no communications network lay behind us. The rail lines ran from 
north to south. We thought about defense for the first time. 

In cold rain and on churned-up roads we moved in the direction of 
Rostow on 20 October. The axis of advance was occupied by the 14. 
Panzer-Division which, along with the 13. Panzer-Division, the 60. Infan- 
terie-Division (mot.) and the Leibstandarte, belonged to Korps Mack- 
ensen. I looked indifferently at the remains of a former Russian battalion 
on the rearward slope at Ssambek. I could not read the map anymore. The 
letters swam before my eyes. Faintness and sickness tormented me to such 
an extent that I had to ask the divisional commander to be relieved. Four 
months of fighting in Russia had been enough to force me to my bed. I 
was no longer fit for combat. SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Kraas assumed tempo¬ 
rary command of the battalion and led it into extremely hard fighting. 

I returned to Taganrog in the dark and was admitted to the field hos¬ 
pital with jaundice and nauseating dysentery. An epidemic of dysentery 
raged then and dangerously weakened the front. There were no more 
German regiments and divisions. The Eastern Front was only being held 
by the weak remnants of once strong fighting units. The German 
grenadier was embarking on the hardest battle of his existence—he was 
bled dry and unprepared. He could see the approaching disaster with 
wide-open eyes but did not waver for one second in the fulfillment of his 
duty. He believed in the necessity of his sacrifice. 

1 left the field hospital some weeks later. I was rather shaky on my legs, 
but I reported back to the unit. I was transferred to die officer reserve by 
the commander without much ceremony and had to remain with the divi¬ 
sional staff. The Leibstandarte had moved into a defensive position west of 
Rostow. It was working closely with the 13. and 14. Panzer-Divisionen and 
was parrying every Soviet thrust. The area of operations of the III. Armee- 
Korps was a broad, desolate landscape without trees or vegetation. Icy 
winds swept across the bare fields, and a severe cold had frozen the 
ground as hard as stone. It was impossible to dig a foxhole or even an 
acceptable position. The weather had become our most ferocious enemy. 

My battalion was integrated into the defensive lines and was fighting 
against the Russian 253rd Infantry Division, newly raised in the Caucasus 
in August and commanded by Colonel Ochatzky. It recruited its men from 
the Kuban Cossacks who were not friendly to the Soviets. 

The battalion had become even weaker in my absence; the lack of offi¬ 
cers was making itself particularly felt. The 2./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 
was being led by SS-Obersturmfuhrer Olboeter. He had been wounded, 




From the Dnepr to the Don 


145 


but refused to leave his company, however. The 3./SS-Aufklarungs- 
Abteilung 1 was afflicted with severe cases of diphtheria that weakened the 
power of the battalion even further. SS-Obersturmftihrer von Buttner was 
wounded near AJexandrowskij on 1 November. 

I visited my old comrades at Alexandrowskij on 2 November in the 
company of the divisional commander and was witness to the presentation 
of the Knight’s Cross to Gerd Bremer. I watched with satisfaction the unre- 
strained joy of the Kradschutzen at Bremer’s award. The company had 
earned this recognition. 

Frost was followed by rain. Water stood in the foxholes and in the 
deep ruts of the roads and trickled endlessly into uniforms. Motor vehicles, 
guns and tanks sank into the mud. The grenadiers waded knee deep 
through the muck. Supply had become almost impossible and could only 
be achieved by using horse-drawn vehicles. Motor vehicles moved at a 
snail's pace. The consumption of fuel and loss of equipment was dispro¬ 
portionate to what was achieved. An army was sinking into the mud. Losses 
due to illness mounted endlessly. A period of biting frost began in the mid¬ 
dle of November. We had to hack the frozen-in vehicles out of the mud 
one by one and keep the engines warm through auxiliary equipment. We 
were a crippled army. 

At the time 1 was wiutess to a very serious briefing at the command 
post at Lachanoff. It concerned the importance of oil. Generaloberst von 
Kleist, General von Mackensen, Sepp Dietrich and some oil experts were 
present. They were convinced that the Russian oilfields at Baku had to be 
captured in order to continue the war. The capture of Rostow was an 
absolute necessity and a prerequisite for doing that. 

The lesser-ranking soldiers listened in silence while production and 
consumption figures were quoted and oil-production requirements were 
discussed. We lacked the necessary data and experience to be able to pass 
a useful judgment in that domain. 

From the military viewpoint, however, things looked different. Every¬ 
one warned against an attack on Rostow, pointing out the high losses in 
the units and, additionally, the fact that the force was simply not opera¬ 
tionally ready. The divisions had been bled dry, inadequately equipped 
and, for a winter campaign, inexcusably poorly supplied with winter uni¬ 
forms. Fur coats and hats had been procured from Mariupol with great dif¬ 
ficulty. German forces could not be distinguished from Russian units at 
100 meters. The state of health among the troops was wretched. The unit 
commanders were judging the situation with complete accuracy when they 
said: “We will attack, we will take Rostow and chase the Soviets over the 
Don, but we will never be able to successfully defend the captured city.” 



146 


GRENADIERS 


In the middle of November 11 soldiers of the II./SS-Infanterie-Regi- 
ment 1 were found in the slime of the septic tank of the GPU building at 
Taganrog. They had fallen into Russian hands in September and, accord¬ 
ing to statements from the civilian population, had been thrown into the 
pit alive. 

The attack on Rostow was ordered on 14 November, with the Schwer- 
punkt assigned to the Leibstandarte. The attack would start on 16 Novem¬ 
ber. The attack had to be postponed, however, because not enough 
armored vehicles were operationally ready as a consequence of the severe 
frost. My battalion attacked down the Sultan-Saly road and immediately 
came under very heavy defensive fire in heavily mined and fortified ter¬ 
rain. Every inch of ground was wrested in unprecedented hardship at a 
temperature of minus 30 degrees Celsius. The road to Rostow was won by 
sheer obstinacy. 

My soldiers were fighting without me for the first time and were 
engaging in perhaps their toughest battle. The struggle raged with great 
fury along the entire front around Rostow. The strongly fortified and heav¬ 
ily mined terrain exacted a bitter sacrifice from the attacking divisions. 
Gerd Pleifi, the brave leader of the l./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 lost 
both legs and died while being evacuated to the field hospital. Fritz Witt 
fought alongside his grenadiers from the front. Generaloberst von Mack- 
ensen presented a shining example of real Prussian soldierly bearing as he 
proceeded to stamp his way fully erect through the heavy snowdrifts and 
accompanied the Leibstandarte’s attack. 

Grenadiers and generals made the assault shoulder to shoulder on the 
icy fields outside of Rostow. Attacking T-34s overran the light antitank guns 
of the 60. Infanterie-Division (mot.) and threatened to force a break¬ 
through, but then stood burning in the fire of our 88s. Tears of rage ran 
down the faces of the gunners of the light antitank guns; they were power¬ 
less against the steel monsters. The German antitank gun had become a 
museum piece; its caliber was no longer sufficient to knock out the enemy 
heavy tanks. 

The grenadiers and the tankers continued the attack relentlessly and 
with admirable toughness and stormed into fiercely defended Rostow on 
21 November. The l./SS-Infanterie-Regiment 1 succeeded in capturing an 
intact bridge over the Don and establishing a small bridgehead. The com¬ 
mander of that company, Heinz Springer, was wounded for the sixth time 
during that operation. The company numbered no more than twelve 
rifles. 

The conclusion of the Battle of Rostow was announced in the follow¬ 
ing order: 




From the Dnepr to the Don 


147 


The Commanding General of the III. Panzerkorps 
Corps headquarters, 21 November 1941 
Corps Order of the Day. 

Soldiers of the III. Panzer-Korps! 

The Battle of Rostow has been won. 

The corps moved out for the offensive before noon on 17 
November with the mission of capturing Rostow and a bridge 
over the Don. The mission had been successfully executed by 20 
November. 

We captured more than 10,000 prisoners plus—at last count— 
159 guns, 56 armored vehicles, 2 armored trains and large 
amounts of other equipment. 

Soldiers of my corps! We can all be proud of this great, new 
and successful team performance in which each individual sol¬ 
dier added his own well-measured share. 

Neither icy wind, biting frost, poor winter clothing and equip¬ 
ment nor the darkest moonless night, neither tank, rocket 
artillery, thousands of mines nor the field fortifications—con¬ 
structed weeks in advance and whose huge dimensions we had all 
seen—nor, least of all, the Red Army soldier himself could halt 
our triumphant advance. 

As a result of the carefully and skillfully prepared deep sur¬ 
prise advance to the east by the eager Leibstandarte—supported 
by the aggressive tanks of the 13. Panzer-Division and soon 
accompanied by the highly skilled 14. Panzer-Division—the 
enemy defense was lifted off its hinges on his northern front. The 
enemy was no longer successful—despite furious counterattacks, 
particularly against the 14. Panzer-Division—in preventing the 
two courageous formations from penetrating into the northern 
outskirts of the large city of Rostow and pushing as far as the Don 
and its bridges. 

The fleeing enemy remnants attempted to save themselves by 
crossing the Don. The aggressive I./SS-Infanterie-Regiment 1 of 
the Leibstandarte—a unit accustomed to victory—even suc¬ 
ceeded in taking the Rostow railway bridge intact. 

At the same time, in a decisive attack executed far to the east 
and southeast, the 60. Infanterie-Division (mot.) successfully cov¬ 
ered the deep, open flanks of the corps and took Aksajskaja, 
while elements of the 13. Panzer-Division pursued the retreating 
enemy from the west with swift resolve. 


148 


GRENADIERS 


Additionally, all corps units as well as the air force units—in 
particular our wonderful and never-failing reconnaissance 
pilots—contributed a considerable share to our success! We have 
cut through the Russians’ only effective connection with the Cau¬ 
casus once and for all. 

We now have to hold what has been won in order to open the 
door to new victories as soon as the Fuhrer orders them. 

We also extend our Sieg-Heil to him! 

Signed: von Mackensen General der Kavallerie 

Victory had been won but catastrophe was already looming large. The 
corps was thoroughly over-extended and much too weak for a long 
defense of the objectives gained. Units that had been decimated and bled 
dry were attacked by superior Soviet forces without respite. 

My battalion was fighting under the command of SS-Hauptsturm- 
fuhrer Kraas on the Donez. The Donez separated from the Don near Ros- 
tow and formed the most northerly water course in the Don Delta. The 
battalion’s security zone was eight kilometers wide and had to be defended 
by slightly less than 300 soldiers. This figure included drivers, radio opera¬ 
tors, members of the staff and all officers. There were no more trains, 
everyone who could fight was in the frontline. 

While the Soviets assailed the German front again and again northeast 
of Rostow, hoping to achieve a breakthrough, they hurled newly raised divi¬ 
sions across the ice-covered Don in rapid succession, attempting to overrun 
the weak German forces. The German soldiers’ performance in this hard 
fighting almost reached the limits of human capacity. Widely scattered sec¬ 
tions lay on the steep, iced-over banks of the central Donez and gazed 
towards the south over the frozen plain and the Don. Only with difficulty 
and the help of demolition charges could shallow holes be ripped into the 
solid earth for use as cover. Protective clothing was taken from dead sol¬ 
diers and even from dead Soviet soldiers to ward off the deadly frost. 

The Soviets had been putting out feelers against our weak security 
front for three days, indicating impending major activity. My comrades 
viewed these things without fear and without getting worked up; they car¬ 
ried out their duties almost fatalistically. The few officers circled their sec¬ 
tors like sheep dogs taking care of the soldiers entrusted to them. I met 
Hugo Kraas and Hermann Weiser in a small cottage where they were eval¬ 
uating the statements of a deserter from the Russian 65th Cavalry Division 
and preparing their units for upcoming defensive engagements. 

The position of SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1, weakly held but defended 
by hardened soldiers, was attacked at 0520 hours on 25 November and 




From the Dnepr to the Don 


149 


bombarded by every caliber of Russian artillery. The losses from this bar¬ 
rage were nil: Where nothing stands, nothing can be destroyed. But then 
my soldiers’ blood threatened to freeze in their veins! Out of the gray light 
of dawn came masses of Russian infantry who rushed the position singing 
and yelling. The foremost ranks had linked arms, thus forming a continu¬ 
ous chain which stamped across the ice in time to the wild singing. Mines 
tore great holes in the ice cover, forcing the Soviets to break their chain. 
But the mines could not stop the roused mass rushing my comrades like a 
machine. The Soviets were caught by our fire in the middle of the river 
and laid out on the ice like ripe corn under the swing of the scythe. 

My soldiers lost faith in God and mankind as the succeeding Russian 
units came clambering over the fallen Red Army soldiers and continued 
the assault. The attack was being carried out by the Russian 343rd and 31st 
Infantry Divisions and the 70th Cavalry Division. Three newly-raised divi¬ 
sions on the attack against a few hundred men spread across 8,000 meters 
and practically alone, each left to his own devices and having to cope with 
this mass! 

Two battalions of the Russian 1151st Rifle Regiment had penetrated 
the sector of the 2./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 and were inside the posi¬ 
tion, threatening to break up the whole front. The 177th and 248th Rifle 
Regiments attacked the center of the battalion’s sector and were close to a 
breakthrough there as well. 

A counterattack in the sector of the 2./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 
needed to be launched at once, but there was no one available for that 
urgent task at that moment. The Soviets attacked the entire front with undi¬ 
minished intensity, threatening to unnerve the handful of men behind 
their machine guns. The Russian assault seemed like a tidal wave surging 
out of the Caucasus, breaking against the steep banks of the Don and there 
losing its impetus. The first rays of sunlight that peeped from behind the 
thick clouds illuminated a gruesome picture. As far as the eye could see the 
Don and its tributaries were strewn with dark dots, some of which were 
moving painfully while others were being slowly covered with snow. The 
attack had been repulsed with heavy losses along its entire length. Thou¬ 
sands of Soviets lay in the terrain and waited for night. Riderless horses gal¬ 
loped south, their shrill neighing sounding like the call of death. 

The enemy forces that had broken into the sector of the 2./SS-Auf- 
klarungs-Abteilung 1 were completely wiped out by an immediate counter¬ 
attack. Six officers and 393 Red Army soldiers were taken prisoner. Three 
hundred and ten dead Russian soldiers were counted in that company’s 
sector alone. According to prisoner statements, the attack was intended to 
cut Rostow off from the west. 


150 


GRENADIERS 


The attacks continued unabated on 26 and 27 November and without 
consideration for the huge losses incurred. It was a mystery how men 
could allow themselves to be led like lambs to the slaughter so willingly. 
Despite the masses of dead lying stiff and shattered on the ice, fresh for¬ 
mations joined the battle and rushed to their destruction. The Russian 
attack on 27 November commenced at 1600 hours with a barrage from 
guns of all calibers—in particular from rocket artillery—and the last attack 
was repulsed in the area of operations of the l./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 
1 at 1950 hours. Weak enemy elements penetrated the company’s position 
and were sealed off. The counterattack was fixed for 28 November. 

The battalion’s losses were bitter because they cost us the core of the 
unit and affected the noncommissioned officers and officers. The battalion 
adjutant, SS-Obersturmfuhrer H. Weiser, assumed command of the 2./SS- 
Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1. SS-Obersturmfiihrer Olboeter was wounded once 
again. The last attack on the 2./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 hit the left 
flank in particular and was repelled with fearful losses there for the Rus¬ 
sians. The attacking Russian unit had been raised in June in Krasnodar as 
the 128th Infantry Division and had been employed for the first time. The 
battalion that attacked the left flank had more than 450 men at the begin¬ 
ning of the assault. In the attack across the Don, 135 soldiers from that bat¬ 
talion were killed and more than 100 wounded were taken as prisoners. A 
further thirty-seven prisoners fell into our hands unwounded. 

The unit’s immense achievement can only be gauged by one who had 
felt the paralyzing effect of the biting frost and the psychological burden 
as a result of fighting for days on end. I saw soldiers lying behind their 
machine guns with tears of despair running down their faces as, with 
hands flying, they poured full belts of ammunition into the attacking 
masses. Olboeter, the acting company commander, led his Kradschutzen 
in an immediate counterattack without his boots. They had been cut from 
his feet shortly before the attack. Both his feet had been seriously frostbit¬ 
ten. 

The individual warrior proved victorious in this fighting. Left com¬ 
pletely to his own resources—at the most, a second soldiers was at his side 
on the machine gun—he fought the hardest battle of his life without 
supervision, orders or others to provide an example. 

The wounded were patched up as best as possible in the bitter cold 
and transported to Taganrog on trucks. The piercing screams of pain from 
our wounded soldiers were harder to bear than the most dangerous attack. 
We could figure out when the front line would have to collapse in on itself. 
The daily losses wouldn’t permit a prolonged defense. 



From the Dnepr to the Don 


151 


The fighting continued into the hours of darkness. The area of the 
breakthrough near the 1 ,/SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 was mopped up 
with the help of some Sturmgeschutze and was effectively eliminated by 
0900 hours. More than 300 dead remained behind in the positions. Pris¬ 
oners dragged their wounded companions with them. Even after this 
costly fighting the Soviets continued their attacks. The enemy only with¬ 
drew at about 1400 hours to a position 2 to 3 kilometers away; he con- 
standy increased his employment of artillery. 

The fighting along die rest of the front had proceeded under similar 
conditions and had gravely weakened the defenses. The danger of a break¬ 
through at any point in the front around Rostow could not be denied and 
had already been expected for several days by higher headquarters. We 
were all in agreement the front line had to be shortened if we were to 
avoid a catastrophe which, under the circumstances, would cause the 
whole front to cave in. There were no reserves behind us. The steppe was 
empty. Only deep snowdrifts and telegraph poles broke up die monoto¬ 
nous snowy wastes. The best defensive options were available in the Mius 
sector behind us. It was only there that we could hope to stop the far supe¬ 
rior Russian forces and prevent a breakthrough. Advance parties had been 
dispatched for some time to establish passage points to the rear. Any with¬ 
drawal had to stop there on the Mius; the position had to be manned to 
the last round. A further retreat across the snow-swept steppe would have 
brought about unimaginable losses in men and equipment. 

At the same time the heavy fighting on the Don had died down some¬ 
what and been repulsed with bloody losses for the Soviets, superior Soviet 
forces renewed the attack in the sector of the 60. Infanterie-Division (mot.) 
and broke through the weak German front to the north of Rostow. The 
Russians had also broken through on a broad front between the 1. Panzer- 
armee and the 17. Armee. The 17. Armee withdrew behind the Donez. 
The front was wavering! Hard and bitter fighting went on up as far as 
Leningrad. The German Army of the East was no longer prepared to with¬ 
stand such tremendous superior strength. The icy cold, the totally inade¬ 
quate clothing and die terrible losses, as well as the lack of replacements of 
men and equipment, made successful operations simply impossible. We 
were fighting for our very lives! 

In the afternoon the III. Panzer-Korps ordered the evacuation of Ros¬ 
tow and an incremental withdrawal to the established defensive line on the 
Mius. In extremely fierce fighting, the Leibstandarte succeeded in evacu¬ 
ating Rostow without great loss and, with the help of the 13. Panzer-Divi¬ 
sion, in occupying the established defensive positions. I participated in the 



152 


GRENADIERS 


withdrawal with the divisional staff. We were happy the order for the evac¬ 
uation of the city and the shortening of the front had been given. That 
decision had prevented a disaster of the first magnitude. As a result, the 
order from the Fuhrer’s Headquarters not to eracuate Rostow on any 
account and to defend the captured positions to the last round hit us like 
a bolt from the blue. 

It would have been impossible to execute that order. It showed in an 
horrific way that the bitter gravity of the situation at the front was not 
appreciated. At that moment the units were stumbling through the dark 
night scarcely able to keep themselves on their feet because of the cold. 
Deep snowdrifts, a biting east wind and the feeling of boundless isolation 
made life a torture. 

All this was a mysteiy to me. How could such an order have been 
issued? The order was disregarded and the retreat to the Mius sector pro¬ 
ceeded. Feldmarschall von Rundstedt, General von Mackensen and others 
deserved the thanks of the units. They had preserved the lives of coundess 
soldiers as a result of their decision and prevented the collapse of the 
Southern Front. It must also be mentioned that Sepp Dietrich condemned 
the “hold fast" order in the strongest terms and defended the decision of 
the III. Panzer-Korps as the only one that had been possible. I don’t 
believe I’m wrong when I assert that he placed himself unambiguously at 
Feldmarschall von Rundstedt’s side during those grave hours. As a result of 
his orders, Feldmarschall von Rundstedt was replaced by Feldmarschall 
von Reichenau. 

Meanwhile, the Russian divisions had been attacking our defenses with 
undiminished strength. Breakthroughs were the order of the day and 
could only be eliminated with extreme effort. 

My battalion was on the left flank of the Leibstandarte and maintained 
contact with the 60. Infanterie-Division (mot.). The units succeeded in 
holding the position through close cooperation with one another during 
the fighting and establishing strongpoints with the aid of Russian volun¬ 
teers. Unit strength had sunk so low that commanders had proceeded to 
use anti-Bolshevik Russians in the frontline units. It did not surprise me 
therefore when I visited my soldiers that I almost came across more Rus¬ 
sians than Germans in the positions. The volunteers hailed from either the 
Caucasus or the Ukraine. Their enthusiasm knew no bounds and it was for 
this reason that they were completely and utterly accepted by our soldiers. 

In December I lost one of my best comrades during an artillery bar¬ 
rage. Our efficient interpreter, the brave Heinz Drescher, was one of the 
most capable officers in the battalion. He always lived and fought as an 




From the Dnepr to the Don 


153 


example to others. He found his final rest beside Gerd PleiB on the railway 
embankment at Taganrog. 

Shortly before Christmas 1 had the incomprehensible luck of being 
allowed to fly home. I flew from Taganrog in a Ju-52 with a few comrades 
via Uman to Lemberg and boarded a train there. Within eighteen hours I 
was standing, shabby and ragged, at the FriedrichsstraBe Train Station and 
having my first telephone conversation with my loved ones. Sadly that 
happy time passed much too quickly and the moment of taking leave 
approached with giant strides. 

On 30 December I received orders to report to Adolf Hitler on 1 Jan¬ 
uary. The tickets were delivered to me from the Reich Chancellery. Bitter 
cold reigned in Germany. I took leave of my wife at the Zoo Train Station 
in Berlin and climbed into the ice-cold train. My travel companion was the 
Japanese Ambassador who was also traveling to East Prussia and who, on 
the basis of previous experiences on the special train, had provided him¬ 
self with cognac. It did not take too long before we were trying to relieve 
the cold with firewater. 

I was met by comrades at Korschen and taken to the Fiihrer’s Head¬ 
quarters through the deep East Prussian forest. We were checked at several 
barriers and announced by telephone at the last barrier. Personnel of 
Panzergrenadier-Division “GroBdeutschland” performed the security duty. 
The headquarters consisted of a number of bunkers and the usual wooden 
barracks—all outstandingly camouflaged—which disappeared under the 
tall trees. The billeting and messing were appropriate for the circum¬ 
stances. Doubtlessly, expediency and simplicity were the force behind the 
planning of the camp. 

SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Pfeifer received me and informed me of the rea¬ 
son for my being there. I inferred from Pfeifer’s words that Adolf Hitler 
was concerned about the situation at the front and wanted to have reports 
from the frontline. 

Adolf Hitler made a simple and energetic impression. In amazement, 
I determined he possessed an excellent knowledge of weapons and he was 
very accurately informed on the advantages and disadvantages of different 
types of armored vehicles. Above all, however, I was completely astounded 
that he was familiar with my battalion's operations and wanted to have 
questions on tactics answered. On the basis of the battalion’s previous suc¬ 
cesses, it had been reinforced with a lightly armored grenadier company 
and a heavy infantry weapon platoon. 

I did not mince my words with regard to the facts about Rostow and 
reported on the superhuman demands that had been made of the units. I 




154 


GRENADIERS 


made a special effort to point out the inadequate supply of replacements. 
Generaloberst Jodi reinforced my words and referred to reports from 
other formations. I got the impression from the conversation that the situ¬ 
ation of the .Army of the East preyed heavily on Adolf Hitler’s mind and he 
was anxious to intervene with a helping hand. 

1 flew back to Mariupol on 3 January with Oberst Zeitzler in a He 111. 
In Mariupol I transferred to a Storch that was to take me to Taganrog. On 
the way we flew over the smoking wreck of a shot down Ju-52. To spare me 
the trip to divisional headquarters, the pilot landed in the vicinity of the 
command post and I climbed on a horse-drawn sled that was passing by. 
Thoroughly frozen, I landed back at my unit after a 16-day absence. 

That same night I relieved Hugo Kraas as acting commander of the 
battalion and stumbled through the posiuons for the first time in the gray 
light of dawn. I was home again. From the start of the Russian campaign 
through 15 December 1941 my battalion has registered the following casu¬ 
alties: 


Killed: 

6 

officers 


9 

noncommissioned officers 

Wounded: 

79 

enlisted personnel 


20 

officers 


33 

noncommissioned officers 


308 

enlisted personnel 

Missing: 

1 

officer 


2 

noncommissioned officers 

7 enlisted personnel 

Replacements received: 

11 officers 


1 

noncommissioned officer 


186 

enlisted personnel 


During the same period of time 112 officers and 10,142 men of the 
Russian Army were taken prisoner by SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1. 

The position went right through the village of Sambek and was on the 
forward slope of a long ridge. Flooded meadows extended in front of us, 
their covering of ice broken only by some willow bushes. The Russians 
were in their own positions across from us. In some places they were only 
100 meters away. The front had become quiet. Apart from reconnaissance 
and artillery, no operations were being conducted. Given the situation, I 



From the Dnepr to the Don 


155 


considered it superfluous to conduct patrols and, consequently, I had no 
losses for weeks on end. The positions continued to be worked on ener¬ 
getically; in particular, deeply echeloned minefields were laid. 

The earthworks were constructed with the help of the local popula¬ 
tion. The Russians were fed and given medical treatment by our forces. I 
refused to drive civilians from their homes and chase them into the snowy 
waste. The consequences would have been inevitable losses. The consider¬ 
ation shown the populace contributed, without question, to the good rela¬ 
tionship between the civilians and the troops. It was thus no wonder that, 
in next to no time, the battalion had the best-developed positions of the 
sector and was visited by officers from neighboring units. It was practically 
domestic in our bunkers. 

Early in the year I learned something that I do not want to withhold 
from the reader. One day my driver, Max Bornhoft, set a plate with small 
pieces of meat in front of me, explaining that they were pigeon thighs that 
he had “procured” through “good connections” in Taganrog. I had my 
doubts as I started to eat the delicacy. I told Max that while everything 
tasted excellent, none of it had ever flown through the air as a pigeon. 
Well, Max didn’t keep me guessing for long. He said quite dryly: “No, the 
things didn’t fly, they jumped! You’ve been eating frogs legs!” 

Following the disappearance of the frost, a period of mud set in which 
made the supply of the troops almost impossible and prohibited any offen¬ 
sive action. How was the war to be continued? That question was of burn¬ 
ing interest to us. A defensive solution was unthinkable, and the Army of 
the East lacked the forces for a large-scale offensive. The divisions that 
would be used for an offensive were still in their positions. They only had 
cadres available to reconstitute and refit themselves. We were afraid of 
being pulled out of our posiuons one day and having to go into the attack 
with improvised units. 

After the 1. Panzer-Armee and elements of the 17. Armee had elimi¬ 
nated the Russian units which had broken through to the south of 
Kharkov, we were pulled out of our winter posiuons at the end of May and 
transferred to the Stalino area. It was there that the units raised during the 
winter were also supplied to us and the replacements integrated with the 
old “warriors”. Live-fire exercises quickly returned my battalion to top 
form. It was then better equipped than in 1941 and, with the experience 
of the previous fighting, it had become a worthy opponent. The morale of 
the unit was good. Soldiers of all ranks had gained an unshakeable trust in 
their own powers and in their officers through their super-human per¬ 
formance, through offensive and defensive operations as well as through 
the battle against permanent enemy superiority. 



156 


GRENADIERS 


In a surprise move at the beginning of June, the Leibstandarte was 
detached front the offensive forces and transferred to France to await pos¬ 
sible Allied landings. My battalion was transferred to the Caen area and 
the staff billeted at Bretteville sur Laize. It was not long before Normandy 
no longer had any secrets for us. All possible situations were exercised with 
and without the troops and, as a result, a state of training was achieved that 
could be measured confidently against that of the best peacetime units. 

In the fall we prepared for deployment in North Africa, but fate 
decided differently. The tragedy of the 6. Armee in Stalingrad called us 
back to Russia. Only luck had saved us from the destruction in Stalingrad. 
Our neighboring divisions from the fighting in 1941-42 were fighting 
their last fight. Others expected our help. We left France with the greatest 
of speed and moved east once more. Our objective was the front east of 
Kharkov. 




The Winter War: 1942-43 


In November 1942, the biggest offensive that the Soviet High command 
had ever mounted began along the great curve of the Don. The following 
impressions were gained: 

The enemy had staged an array of men and equipment, especially 
tanks, that was hitherto unseen. The offensive was operauonal in nature 
and planned according to German command and control fundamentals. 
The Soviet offensive was similar to the workings of a clock in its precision 
and phasing: 

— Breakthrough on the Don at Sserafimowitch; simultaneous break¬ 
through at Krasnoarmeisk south of Stalingrad. As a result, two 
Rumanian armies were eliminated and the 6. Armee in Stalingrad 
was also eliminated within a short time by total encirclement. 

— That was followed by an attack to the west by the two army groups 
assembled to the west and northwest of Stalingrad. The Soviet 
“Southern Front” then moved out on both sides of the Don, attack¬ 
ing in the direction of Rostow and the southern Donez area. In the 
process, the lines of communication which ran through Rostow to 
the German Army of the Caucasus were severed. 

— The Soviet “Southwestern Front” then launched an offensive 
between the Stalingrad-Morozowsk rail line and the line Kan- 
temirowska-Starobelsk. It had the northern Donez as its objective. 
The Italian and Hungarian armies northwest of the first point of 
breakthrough on the Don were threatened on the flank and to the 
rear by that attack group. As a result of these threats, both armies 
vacated their strong positions without putting up any appreciable 
resistance. Their avoidance of contact with the enemy eventually 
resembled flight. The “Southwestern Front” crossed the Don north¬ 
west of Stalingrad. 

— After the “Southern Front” reached the lower Donez and the 
“Southwest Front” reached the Oskol, the southern wing of the 
“Voronezh Front” joined the attack to the west. 

— The sector assigned to the VII. and XIII. Armee-Korps, which pro¬ 
jected far out to the east after the retreat of the flanking Hungarian 


157 


158 


GRENADIERS 


army, was caught in a pincer attack on the northern and southern 
flanks. The two German corps were encircled after the linking up 
of the two Soviet attack groups at Kastomoje. 

— Following that, the entire “Voronezh Front” moved west. It broke 
through the Tim position, which had been established in great 
haste by Armeeoberkommando 2. In the course of further attacks 
to the west Kursk and Rylsk were taken. 

— The southern wing moved out of the Livny area against the right 
wing of Panzer-Armeeoberkommando 2, which was in the process 
of withdrawing. The northern wing moved out of the area north¬ 
east of Orel on Orel itself. 

The strategic objective of the Russian winter offensive and its phasing 
were clearly discernible. The entry of individual army groups were syn¬ 
chronized so that the German defensive line—running generally to the 
northwest—was rolled up and cut off by each army group. 

The operation ran according to plan from Stalingrad to the heights of 
Orel. The expected results occurred almost automatically, at least insofar 
as the Italian 8th Army and the Hungarian 2nd Army were concerned. 
The German frontline was torn open across a breadth of more than 500 
kilometers between Slawjansk and the area nordi of Kursk. The armies of 
two Soviet army groups marched inexorably westward. 

The operational objective—the collapse of the German Eastern 
Front—seemed to have been achieved in the southern sector. 

The Russian High Command announced the Dnjepr to be the next 
offensive objective. It took no account of the exhausted troops, of growing 
supply problems, and the losses and casualties suffered during the course 
of the offensive. It seemed to be of little concern to the Russians that only 
parts of their artillery had kept up with the rapid advance and that rifle 
units were almost totally filled by civilians. Artillery was hardly used and 
unit strengths were maintained by untrained and poorly equipped civilians. 

On the other hand, the Soviet Army’s strong numerical superiority was 
established as a result of the loss of five German and allied armies. It was 
intended for the masses of troops to triumph over the far inferior numbers 
of defenders in the further course of operations. 

The decisive factor, however, was that the Soviet High Command did 
not recognize the culminating point of its offensive. The culminating 
point had been reached on the Donez. Logistics and air force ground 
organizations had to fail over great distances in the face of the inevitable 
difficulties of a winter campaign; combat power had to wane after offen¬ 
sive fighting covering several hundred kilometers. 



The Winter War: 1942-43 


159 


The superiority of German command and control, as well as that of 
the combat units, was consequendy able to bring about a decisive result for 
friendly forces despite great numerical inferiority. The SS-Panzer-Korps, 
consisting of the 1. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division “Leibstandarte”, the 2. 
SS-Panzer-Grenaclier-Division “Das Reich” and the 3. SS-Panzer-Division 
“Totenkopf”, played a decisive part in this turning point. 



The Fighting for Kharkov 


By the end of January 1943 the Russians had reached a line on the Donez 
from Woroschilowgrad to Starobelsk to Waluiki and the upper Oskol and 
were closing up their units for a further advance to the west. With regard 
to friendly forces, the 320. Infanterie-Division was at Sswatowo; the 298. 
Infanterie-Division was reforming at Kupjansk after having been severely 
battered during the withdrawal; elements of Panzer-Grenadier-Division 
“GroBdeutschland” were securing the area to the west of Waluiki; and, in 
the Korotscha area, Korps z.b.V. Cramer was assembling together parts of 
the shattered German and Hungarian units coming from the upper Don. 

Great gaps yawned between the units. The German general assigned 
to the Italian 8th Army was in command of this area. At the time the 
SS-Panzer-Korps with its corps elements, the main body of Panzer- 
Grenadier-Division “Das Reich” and strong elements of the 1. SS-Panzer- 
Grenadier-Division “Leibstandarte” had already arrived in the Kharkov 
area. The Leibstandarte established itself on both sides of Tschugujew to 
defend the Donez. The intention of the OKH to employ the SS-Panzer- 
Korps in a concentrated counterattack following its regrouping was 
thwarted by a swift Soviet advance. A breakthrough into the corps area had 
to be prevented. Elements of Panzer-Grenadier-Division “Das Reich” were 
moved forward to cover the area west of Waluiki. 

Deep snow and heavy frost restricted the forward movement of the 
units. We had been offloaded east of Kharkov and the battalion had orders 
to set up a bridgehead at Tschugujew and establish contact with the 298. 
Infanterie-Division. Over the course of the years we had got into the habit 
of not debating orders that seem impossible to execute or even care about 
the overwhelming superiority of the enemy. Normal standards no longer 
existed in the conduct of this war. The performance expected of the Ger¬ 
man soldiers was simply phenomenal. It did not surprise us when the Leib¬ 
standarte was expected to defend a ninety-kilometer front (!) and break 
the offensive of the Russian 6th Army! 

Thick planks creaked under the weight of armored vehicles moving 
carefully across the long wooden bridge over the Donez at Tschugujew. I 
was leading my battalion into old Russian positions from the winter fight- 


160 


Fighting for Kharkov 


161 


ing of 1941-42. They stretched along the Donez and spared my soldiers 
from digging positions in the frozen earth. Groups of decimated Italian 
units approached us across the snowy wastes. Isolated German trains ele¬ 
ments with wounded German soldiers and half-starved horses approached 
from the direction of Kupjansk. The retreating men dragged themselves 
silently over the bridge. They were no longer fit for battle. 

The battalion had to cover a front of about ten kilometers and, in addi¬ 
tion, two companies had to support the disengagement of the 298. Infan- 
terie-Division at Kupjansk. The 298. Infanterie-Division was fighting a 
desperate action against superior Russian forces and was withdrawing to the 
town. The 2./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1, under the command of SS-Ober- 
sturmfuhrer Weiser, was fighting north of Kupjansk at Dwuretschnaja and, 
at the last moment, hammered its way through to Kupjansk. The German 
front line no longer existed. The worsening situation continued inexorably. 

Established strongpoints were outflanked on both sides, cut off from 
their lines of communication and overwhelmed by superior forces. High 
barricades of snow lay across the deeply furrowed landscape making cross¬ 
country operations simply impossible and forcing the units onto the only 
usable road. The artillery bogged down on the rises; it could not be moved 
with either prime movers or horses. The road was as smooth as glass. 

A look at the divisional situation map and an on-site visit to the units 
of the 298. Infanterie-Division led me to the conclusion that the division’s 
position had become indefensible and it would collapse within twenty-four 
hours at the latest. The Russians would attack my battalion in a few days 
and attempt to seize the crossing at Tschugujew. Kompanie Knittel 
remained with the 298. Infanterie-Division It was to fight a rearguard 
action with its armored vehicles along the road until it could be received 
back into the battalion east of the Donez. I returned to the battalion at 
dusk and found numerous German stragglers who had reported to the 
battalion and were happy to have linked up with a German unit. 

The situation became ever more threatening. Soviet forces were forg¬ 
ing ahead towards the Donez, threatening to cut off units fighting east of 
the river from their lines of communication. I was worried about Kom¬ 
panie Knittel which was still busy with the 298. Infanterie-Division. Mean¬ 
while, we had improved our position with all means available at our 
disposal and organized it for all-round defense. By chance, our weaponry 
had also undergone an appreciable improvement. A train on a siding pro¬ 
vided us with a dozen 75 mm antitank guns and six heavy infantry guns. 
The shortfall in personnel strength was made good with stragglers. 

The 3./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 succeeded in disengaging from 
the Soviets on the Kupjansk-Tschugujew' road and reached the battalion 



162 


GRENADIERS 


without serious casualties. The 298. Infanterie-Division was fighting its way 
westward through deep snow drifts and icy winds south of the road, having 
lost all its artillery on trackless open ground. At the moment all contact 
with the division had been cut off. 

I moved in the direction of Kupjansk with two escort armored vehicles 
to orient myself on the enemy situation. A biting snowstorm was whipping 
against our faces when I discovered an ox-drawn sled a few kilometers 
ahead. We slowly approached the rig. The two armored vehicles stopped 
and provided cover. Was the sled a trap? 

On it was SS-(Jnterscharfuhrer Kruger who, despite his wounded con¬ 
dition, had succeeded in dragging himself onto the sled and giving the 
Russians the slip. I heard from Kruger that there were more stragglers 
from the 298. Infanterie-Division in the surrounding area. Within half an 
hour we had found about twenty members of the division in the huge 
snowfields on both sides of the road. I had seldom seen such grateful men 
as these. They had already given up their lives. The endless shroud of snow 
would have covered them forever during the night. 

We observed the shadows of Russian tanks slowly working their way 
west to the left and right of the road. The tanks avoided the road, snaking 
across the deeply furrowed landscape, obviously trying to take our bridge¬ 
head in a pincer movement and crush it in their armored jaws. 

As a result of these observations the antitank defense was appropri¬ 
ately echeloned and the Panzeijager got ready. The clash would have to 
happen in the next twenty-four hours. Would we be able to stand fast 
against the storm or would we have to give way to superior force? 

My soldiers were filled in on the situation down to the last little detail 
and also familiarized with the intended conduct of the fighting. It was my 
intention to deal a crushing blow to the Soviets without putting ourselves 
at risk. These Red Army soldiers—drunk with victory—were going to 
deliver their own death sentence. While the antitank guns occupied posi¬ 
tions on both sides of the road, the swift Panzeijager and the Stur- 
mgeschutze were positioned on the flanks of the battalion. I was in contact 
with all the units, either by radio or telephone. The units could respond in 
fractions of a second and were convinced of their power—they had not 
been gripped by fear of the Russians. 

In the dawn of the new day the white expanse of snow lay glistening in 
front of our position and the sun heralded a magnificent winter day. The 
land sloped uphill in front of us for about 1,500 meters, offering an 
attacker neither cover nor concealment. Woe be to the attacker if he acted 
as I expected and led his infantry down both sides of the road. In that 
event the long slope would become the deathbed for countless Russian sol- 




Fighting for Kharkov 


163 


diers. We were positioned in the shadows of tall trees and could only be 
spotted at the last moment. To ensure complete success, I gave the order 
to hold fire, opening fire only on my command. Well prepared, we awaited 
the fight. 

From the observation post high above the west bank of the Donez, the 
Russian vanguard was already being reported. The artillery also remained 
quiet. It was intended for the Soviets to believe they had eliminated the 
last German combat unit—the 298. Infanterie-Division—east of the Donez 
and that only weak forces from that division were at the bridge. 

Around noon the Russians to the left of the road moved against the 
bridgehead. At first they waited on the ridge, looking down on the Donez 
and the wooded bank; they then got going again and advanced in attack 
formation. On the extreme Soviet right flank I could see two KV-IIs which, 
if they didn’t change course, would run straight into a nest of antitank 
weapons. Their fate was already sealed. 

The spearhead of the attack hesitatingly approached our positions. 
Not a single round had been fired up to that point. Everything was quiet. I 
was unable to observe Bremer’s sector but was kept constandy informed by 
the company. More and more Russians came over the ridge and stamped 
down the slope. The entire slope was swarming with small dark dots. Now 
and then the spearhead stopped and listened intently. It heard nothing, 
discerned no movement and then stamped on towards the west. 

And what was our situation? My soldiers were crouching in their holes 
and awaited the order that would get them going: "Fire!” They were freez¬ 
ing. They had been exposed to ice, snow and frost for days on end and 
held their weapons close to them with numb fingers. They would throw 
diem down on the encrusted snow in the next few seconds and join batde 
with the Soviets. 

I heard the range being counted off from the left flank in my handset. 
The phone was never silent. The artillery sent its coordinates. Bohr called 
out on the wire: “Another 500 meters!” A few minutes later it was only 200 
meters separating the Russians from the 1 ./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1. 
The company requested permission to fire. I refused to give the order. 
Bodi Russian tanks were moving down the slope to reach the spearhead of 
the attack. 

The voice of Bohr, who was the acting commander of the l./SS-Aufk- 
larungs-Abteilung 1 in place of Bremer, came over the receiver: “Another 
100 meters!” The voice became anxious because I was still not reacting at 
seventy-five meters. The tanks had moved to within about 150 meters of 
the position when, on the word “Fire”, death and destruction smashed into 
the Soviet ranks and one of the tanks was knocked out by an assault gun. 



164 


GRENADIERS 


The harvest of death was grisly. The rear elements of the Russian units 
soon ceased any movement as well. They had fallen into a deadly trap; the 
slope was their downfall. 

What was the purpose of our successful defense to the east of Tschugu- 
jew, however, when the front was wavering along several hundred kilome¬ 
ters! On 8 February a crisis was developing on both flanks of the defensive 
front outside of Kharkov. Two Russian armies were enveloping the flanks. 
To the south, the 320. Infanterie-Division had been ordered to pull back 
too late and had been fighting its way slowly back since 5 February. It was 
out of contact and moving over deep, snow-covered tracks. 

The Russians were probing the Leibstandarte’s front and had found 
the southern flank at Smijew. Between our flank and that of the 320. Infan¬ 
terie-Division was a forty kilometer gap. The advance there threatened the 
southern defense of Kharkov at Merefa. A small Kampfgruppe with tanks 
from the Leibstandarte was rushed towards Merefa and given the mission 
of blocking the road to Kharkov. 

Our northern flank was also threatened. A weak corps was fighting 
northeast of Belgorod and had already been outflanked. The operational 
encirclement of Kharkov had begun and could not be prevented by the 
forces available. At the same time the Soviet High Command was prepar¬ 
ing an advance into the northern flank of the Donez basin. Apart from the 
attack on the front from Belgorod to Kharkov, our opponent’s intent was 
to cut the German lines of communication in the Donez basin between 
Slawjansk and the Sea of Azow in a coup de main. The Russians then 
hoped to eliminate the German forces there. 

The fatal blow was to move through Lozowaja and Pawlograd to Dne- 
propetrowsk and Saporoschje. Five armored and three rifle corps were 
positioned north of Slawjansk for this operation. The Soviet 1st Guards 
Army would flood into this area following the evacuation of Izyum. It 
would move southwest without meeting any resistance; the Soviet 6th 
Guards Army would join the attack on the right flank after the 320. Infan¬ 
terie-Division had been cut off. If this operation were to succeed, then 
Heeresgruppe Slid would be cut off from its lines of communication, the 
Dnjepr up for grabs and the road to the Western Ukraine open. 

After an advance, contact was successfully made with the remnants of 
the 298. Infanterie-Division and the survivors were ferried over the Donez. 
A gloomy atmosphere reigned over the units at the bridgehead. It was 
obvious that our position had already been threatened deep on each flank 
and the units had to be pulled back beyond the Donez. 

The enemy was positioned in front of the entire Donez front. It was 
moving between the right flank of the Leibstandarte and the 320. Infan- 



Fighting for Kharkov 


165 


terie-Division with such strong forces that desperate measures were 
needed. The situation was forcing us to either attack the enemy forces 
assigned to the southern envelopment of the city—which would result in 
the evacuation of Kharkov—or the tight concentration of all our forces 
around the city for an all-round defense—which would be tantamount to 
an encirclement. 

On 9 February the battalion received orders to disengage from the 
Donez and prepare to attack south of Kharkov at Merefa. The disengage¬ 
ment from the enemy proceeded without loss or difficulty. We were happy 
to be on the move again and hear the sounds of our motors. We pushed 
west over laboriously cleared forest tracks through deep snow and across 
dilapidated bridges, reaching the area of Merefa at midnight. 

It was only there that I learned of the gravity of the situation and that 
the SS-Panzer-Korps was facing complete envelopment if it carried out the 
order to defend Kharkov to the last round. Execution of the order would 
mean annihilation of the corps and, above and beyond that, would let the 
Russians get to the Dnjepr. There was no other formation behind the SS- 
Panzer-Korps that could be committed against the Russian onslaught. The 
corps commanding general, General Hausser, decided to move south with 
three Kampfgruppen to eliminate the threat to the right flank and prevent 
the encirclement of Kharkov. 

Deep snow made the approach march for the attack difficult but, in 
the small hours of the morning, everything was ready to go. My Kampf- 
gruppe was positioned on the right flank of the attack group and had 
orders to drive towards Alexejewka. That mission meant we had to push 
through about seventy kilometers of enemy-infested territory and strike 
one of the Russian force’s main routes of advance. I took my leave of the 
divisional staff, moved over to our lead elements and quickly briefed the 
battalion on its mission. 

Every soldier knew what was expected of us and that difficult days lay 
ahead. My soldiers listened carefully to every word as I outlined the 
extremely critical situation and told them about the dangerous advance we 
were going to make. I expected to see anxious faces, but no one seemed 
amazed at the mission. My young soldiers stood in front of me with red 
faces and hands buried deep in their pockets. I had known all the officers, 
including those of the attached units, for a long time, most of them for 
years. The noncommissioned officers and the junior enlisted personnel 
were devoted to me and the young replacements formed a close commu¬ 
nity. I could dare such a “ride” through the Russian hordes without hesita¬ 
tion with such a group of men. Our strongest weapon was the comradeship 
and absolute loyalty which bound us together and made us self-confident. 


166 


GRENADIERS 


The Kampfgruppe was positioned to attack on the snow-covered road 
south of Merefa. The road sloped gendy downward in front of us and dis¬ 
appeared after a few hundred meters between the houses of the setdeinent. 
Two knocked-out Schwimmwagen of the 2. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division 
“Das Reich” were in front of the village. They had probably belonged to a 
destroyed patrol of die division. There was no movement to be seen. A strip 
of woodland extended along the road off to the right behind the village; 
not a soul was to be seen there either. Next to me was the advance-guard 
leader, SS-Obers turmfuhrer Schulz, who had participated in the drive on 
Rostow with me. SS-Obersturmfuhrer von Ribbentrop was the commander 
of the first armored vehicle. 

We did not dare to advance in a dispersed formation. The deep snow 
made all cross-country maneuvering almost impossible and a time-con¬ 
suming business. Fuel consumption would have climbed to absurd propor¬ 
tions. We had to stay on the road to maintain our tempo and exploit the 
element of surprise. Schulz had orders to move through the village under 
the covering fire of the armored vehicles and await the battalion in the 
small patch of woods. On no account was he to halt in the village or 
engage in a firefight. I wanted to confuse the enemy with a rapid advance 
by the advance-guard platoon and lead the Kampfgruppe south at break¬ 
neck speed. 

Schulz climbed onto the back seat of a motorcycle combination and 
thrust his arm into the air. He waved to me and then shouted, “Let’s go!” 
to the driver. Within a few seconds the first section had disappeared 
between the houses and the rest of the platoon was racing behind the lead 
element. 

Max Wertinger, my new driver, had heard about our past operations 
and tore into the village. The assembled Kampfgruppe followed directly 
behind us. At that point, things in the village started to get lively! The Sovi¬ 
ets came rushing out of the houses and got mixed up in our march col¬ 
umn but only a few started to fight. The bulk of the Red Army soldiers 
tried to reach the patch of woods. To our left was an antitank gun with full 
crew ready to fire. It fell to the fire of the column. Beyond the next bend 
was SS-Obersturmfuhrer Schulz in the snow. Despite my warning, he had 
jumped from the motorcycle and returned the Soviet’s fire. A bullet to the 
chest ended his life. SS-Oberscharfuhrer Sander moved back and picked 
up his fallen platoon leader. A grave was later blown into the frozen earth 
for him. 

Dive-bombers circled above us and flew westwards; they had left the air¬ 
field in Kharkov. They waggled their wings as a sign of their solidarity and 
attacked the enemy columns with their on-board weapons. We learned 




Fighting for Kharkov 


167 


from prisoner statements that we had cut through the vanguard of the VI 
Guard Cavalry Corps and had moved straight across the corps sector. We 
thrust into the westward advancing columns like a dagger. A severe snow¬ 
storm set in on the afternoon of 11 February presenting us with deep snow¬ 
drifts and making forward movement all but impossible. We had to clear 
the way with shovel and spade. The blizzard held us in its grip with fright¬ 
ening strength. Our vehicles were nose to tail. It was impossible to overtake. 
The “road” had become a deep trench in the snow. The armored vehicles 
pushed through the snow like ploughs. We chewed our way through the 
glistening white wall meter by meter. The enemy still only appeared as shad¬ 
ows. Both sides were battling the omnipotent weather. 

In the twilight we were in front of a wide hollow. 1 was considering 
whether we should risk leading the Kampfgruppe into the snow-bank filled 
valley. According to the map the valley had to be 1,000 meters wide and 
perhaps fifty meters deeper than the surrounding countryside. A village 
was on the other side of the obstacle; we had to reach it if we did not want 
to get completely snowed in. Some men on skis were sent out to reconnoi- 
ter. Wunsche and I were with the outposts awaiting the return of the 
patrol. When it returned we would know whether we could move through 
the snowscape. 

We were crouching behind a snowdrift when a sentry pointed straight 
ahead excitedly and whispered, “Tank!” He was right! We then heard the 
deep roaring of the engine. The tank had to be climbing the slope a few 
hundred meters in front of us. Our lead tank was quickly warned. The 
gunner was sitting at the trigger ready to fire. We awaited the Soviet tank 
in silence. There it was; I could see it! It came slowly up the slope. Max 
Wunsche whispered, “Jesus, he’s turning his turret right towards us! Can’t 
you see the gun?” 

Suddenly a sentry laughed out loud. Before us was a huge Siberian ox 
whose head we had turned into a tank turret and whose horns we had 
taken for a gun barrel. The thick snow flurries had played a funny joke on 
us. We laughed heartily despite the bitter cold. 

An hour later we had chased the Red Army soldiers out of their warm 
hootches and occupied the village. It was only 1800 hours but pitch-dark 
night surrounded us and allowed us to identify neither friend nor foe. The 
vehicles rolled in slowly. The darkness prohibited any type of orientation. 
We were sitting in the middle of the Russian VI Guard Cavalry Corps. Our 
artillery and the combat trains were cut off from the main body of the 
Kampfgruppe. An enemy thrust had split the column of march into two 
halves. The artillery had set up an all round defense. I learned by radio 
that the enemy’s attack elements were already twenty-five kilometers to our 



168 


GRENADIERS 


west and engaged in attacking Krasnograd. Krasnograd was being covered 
by SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment “Thule” of the 3. SS-Panzer-Division 
“Totenkopf”. It had been thrown quickly into the breach to thwart the 
enemy advance. The main body of that division was still entrained between 
France and the Dnjepr! 

Two reinforced regimental Kampfgruppe were fighting desperately 
east of Kharkov. The German defenders of Smijew were no match for the 
Russian mass attacks, which were strongly supported by armored forces. 
Our own thin lines at Rogan held out against extremely heavy attacks 
pressed by new forces that were continuously being introduced to the bat¬ 
tlefield. There was no longer anything human about the fighting. It was 
brutal and accompanied by crazy methods. The Soviets had perpetrated 
horrific acts of violence against captured soldiers at the Rogan airfield. 
Fifty murdered soldiers were found there after an immediate counterat¬ 
tack. Ten had their eyes put out and one had his genitals cut off. With few 
exceptions they showed severe burns. Ten men were almost completely 
burned to a cinder. 

Following the seizure of Belgorod, an enemy army also advanced deep 
into the area northwest of Kharkov. By 13 February the Kharkov defensive 
front’s left flank was extended from Russkije Tischky-north of Russkoje- 
Jemzow Rail Station-Feski. The SPW-Bataillon of the Leibstandarte, under 
the command ofjochen Peiper, succeeded in establishing contact with the 
320. Infanterie-Division east of Smijew and in eliminating enemy forces 
south of Wodjanoje. The remnants of the 320. Infanterie-Division were 
totally exhausted and gave a wretched impression. More than 1,500 
wounded had survived the march of misery through the dreadful snow¬ 
storms and were immediately transported by the corps to the rear and 
taken care of. The starving division was fed by the Leibstandarte. 

The Soviet flood continued further west and neared Dnjepropetrowsk. 
The entire southern front was in danger. As a result of this development, I 
received orders to push forward in the direction of Alexejewka and block 
the line of advance to the west. 

The blizzards were still raging on the Kharkov front, whipping the 
snow into the optics of our tanks as we advanced east. Russian forces and 
my Kampfgruppe moved past each other. At midday a reconnaissance 
plane circled us and dropped a message attached to a smoke canister. We 
had been surrounded by the advancing Soviets. We reached Alexejewka 24 
hours later and went over to an all-round defense. At that point we were 
the eastern-most formation on the Kharkov Front. 

Would the Kampfgruppe be able to complete its mission? It was all by 
itself—no artillery, tanks or combat trains. The town was large; it extended 



Fighting for Kharkov 


169 


some distance along both sides of the road. While on terrain reconnais¬ 
sance we encountered a Russian patrol and opened fire at a distance of 
barely five meters. The blizzard had prevented us from seeing anything. SS- 
Obersturmfiihrer von Ribbentrop collapsed a few steps to my right. A 
round through the lung had thrown him to the ground. I was happy with 
von Ribbentrop’s situation the next morning. He refused to allow himself 
to be evacuated to safety in a Storch as long as a single wounded soldier was 
to be found in the pocket. We were completely surrounded. The Soviets 
flooded past us on both sides of the town. 

I was happy to hear Max Wunsche’s situation report. He was forcing 
his way through to us bringing, in addition to his armor, the artillery and 
combat trains. Hopefully he would arrive in time; we needed fuel and 
ammunition urgently. 

On the morning of 13 February the SS-Panzer-Korps received the 
order from the Fuhrer through the Armee-Abteilung to hold Kharkov at 
all costs. Following that, a further shortening of the defensive front around 
Kharkov was carried out during the night of 13 February in order to pull 
reserves out of the front line. The new line ran through Lisogubowka- 
Bolschaja Danilowka. However, by the evening of 13 February, the corps 
had already reported that the new line could only be held until 14 Febru¬ 
ary, as the city was already surrounded. At midnight the Armee-Abteilung 
ordered all depots to be blown up as well as military installations and those 
useful to the war economy. 

In the morning the Soviets succeeded in breaking through the thin 
line of strongpoints north of Satischje. An enemy armor attack consisting 
of forty tanks at Rogan also led to a breakthrough. A thrust on the tractor 
works at Lossewo was also feared. We lost Olschany as well. That allowed 
the Russians to keep the Poltawa—Kharkov main supply route under fire. 

The Soviets incessantly attacked the southern- and eastern-most points 
of the Kharkov defense line and threatened to overwhelm us in Alexejewka. 
We knocked out several antitank guns and inflicted grave losses on the 
enemy infantry in the course of an immediate counterattack in the direc¬ 
tion of Bereka, but our ranks were also thinned. SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Knit- 
tel, commander of the SPW-Kompanie, received his fourth wound on this 
occasion. Night attacks were especially dangerous since we could not see 
the encroaching enemy and had to be sparing with the ammunition. 

The enemy penetrated the village during the night of 13-14 February 
and pushed us back to the middle of the village. The fighting had reached 
its climax. The soldiers were fighting with the courage bom of desperation, 
but it was not long before there were no longer any withdrawal options. In 
the middle of this hopeless situation, however, events changed with great 


170 


GRENADIERS 


rapidity. Assembled close together, the armored cars developed an enor¬ 
mous firepower as they fired explosive rounds into the attacking Soviets. 
The straw-thatched houses went up in flames. We were positioned in the 
middle of a wreath of fire and firing out of the darkness into the brightly lit 
ranks of the Russians. The momentum of the Russian assault had been bro¬ 
ken. Our immediate counterattack threw them right out of Alexejewka and 
returned us to our old positions. 

At around this time Regiment Witt attempted to force a breakthrough 
from the north towards us and establish contact with the Kampfgruppe. 
However, the regiment encountered such strong Soviet formations north 
of Bereka that it could not force its way through in the direction of Alexe¬ 
jewka. We could see new Red Army preparations to the east and west of 
the village as the day dawned. If both attacks had been unleashed at the 
same time our fate would have been sealed. 

1 walked the position and spoke to nearly every soldier. Everyone was 
crouching together to form a strongpoint. A ring of machine guns sur¬ 
rounded the antitank guns. I was met by gallows humor as I greeted my 
young soldiers. In no way did we feel defeated. The Russian superiority 
hardly bothered us, but the lack of fuel, our immobility and the impend¬ 
ing lack of ammunition brought us close to desperation. 

We had been promised a supply drop for the previous forty-eight 
hours but had not yet seen a single plane. The weather conditions made 
such supply impossible. 1 sent a situation report once more and requested 
ammunition urgently. At the same time Abteilung Wunsche was gnawing 
its way ever closer to Alexejewka. Would Wunsche reach us in time? 

I was shaken as I stood in the schoolroom among my wounded sol¬ 
diers. They knew what was happening and begged me not to allow them to 
fall into Russian hands. My eyes sought Dr. Gatternig. We knew the fate of 
wounded German soldiers who fell into the hands of the Russians. We 
remembered the grisly end of the German field hospital at Feodosia in the 
Crimea. It had fallen into Russian hands for a time. The wounded had 
been thrown naked out of the windows and then had water poured over 
them. More than 300 corpses had been found frozen solid in the hospital 
courtyard after the immediate counterattack. 

Dr. Gatternig shrugged his shoulders, shook his head and turned away. 
The voices of my soldiers were tearing my heart from my body. What was I 
to do? The young men looked at me with relief when I gave the order to 
provide the wounded with pistols. I would rather stand in the middle of a 
hail of fire than have to hold another conversation like that. 

The clouds hung low in the sky. We heard the sound of engines. From 
the howling of the engines we could assume that we were being searched 



Fighting for Kharkov 


171 


for. Suddenly we spotted the shadow of a He-111. Would it bring our salva¬ 
tion? A few minutes later the shadow was direcdy above us again; it was fly¬ 
ing directly over Alexejewka. Supply containers fell from the sky but, 
unfortunately, only a few remained intact. The majority burst under the 
impact of the fall. 

At that point I abandoned all hope. The available fuel was quickly 
apportioned among a few assault guns and armored cars. If we were to per¬ 
ish then we wanted to storm across the steppe in our armor and leave a bad 
taste in the mouths of the Russians. They wouldn’t take us without a fight. 

After finishing a final situation report in which I reported the impend¬ 
ing demise of the Kampfgruppe, I took leave of the soldiers who were fol¬ 
lowing our fate with maps in hand and listening to the humming of the 
radio. 1 looked into the faces of my soldiers in astonishment. Their expres¬ 
sions seem relaxed, almost curious. There was not one face that showed 
the distorted features of fanaticism. They followed my words solemnly. I 
identified the attack objective and climbed into my armored vehicle. 
Would this be out last attack together? 

We pushed slowly out from the center of the village—past ruins and 
our comrades’ graves—to the outskirts of the village. A few hundred 
meters in front of us Red Army soldiers ran back and forth. They were able 
to allow themselves this freedom of movement as we had no artillery at our 
disposal and were also low on ammunition. The Soviets did not appear to 
believe a counterattack was possible. In the meantime, it had become 
noon. The snowstorm has eased off; a few rays of sunshine slipped shyly 
past overhead. What would the Russians to our rear do when we attacked 
to the east? 

Our armor was positioned on the road that led right through the mid¬ 
dle of the assembled Russians. I intended to roar down that stretch of road 
at full speed and hit the Soviets, leading our armor right into the heart of 
the enemy position. We could only be successful if we moved into the Sovi¬ 
ets like a thunderbolt and won ourselves at least 24 hours respite. 1 hoped 
to be able to deal with the Soviets to the west of Alexejewka during those 
twenty-four hours and thought that Wunsche would be able to break 
through by then. My little Cossack, a Russian volunteer who had accompa¬ 
nied me since Rostow and was loyally devoted to me, pointed to a pack of 
Soviets in the background. The dark dots could be seen everywhere. We 
were sitting right in the shit! 

Only a few seconds then separated us from our start into the great 
unknown. Our driver shifted the clutch, fiddled with the accelerator and 
the engine's noise grew deeper. The armored vehicle slowly set off. The 
Stunngeschutze pushed forward along both sides of the road and left the 



172 


GRENADIERS 


ruins of the village behind. Our movement accelerated. Schiitzenpanzerwa- 
gen and armored cars raced ahead of the assault guns, which were provid¬ 
ing covering fire for the more lightly armored vehicles. We were the lead 
vehicle. Speed was our weapon against the Russians. Bursts of machine-gun 
fire hammered against the armor. I could only see the unending road 
ahead and tried to increase speed. Tracks whirled clouds of snow into the 
air looking like the wake of a destroyer plunging through the waves. We cut 
through the Russian attack waves in a wedge formation and burrowed deep 
into their ranks. Heavy mortar fire was being laid down on the road ahead 
of us. Straight on through! There was no stopping at that point! We had to 
destroy the attack position or we would all meet the devil. 

A particularly hard blow against the armor plate tensed every muscle 
in my body. The smell of burning filled my nostrils. A second blow clashed 
into the armored vehicle with incredible force and brought it to a stand¬ 
still. Our driver, SS-Rottenfuhrer Nebelung, started screaming wildly. 
Flames climbed around my body. I flew out of the turret and lay with 
Michel, the Cossack, in the deep tracks left by the vehicle. The screams 
from the car drove me crazy. 1 worked my way along the rut intending to 
help our driver. He must have caught his thick winter clothing on some¬ 
thing inside the vehicle as his hatch was open. I was suddenly held firmly 
by the leg. Michel tugged me back and cries: “Back! Commander more 
important for unit! Back! I get comrade!” The Cossack sprang onto the 
burning vehicle, pulled die driver out and rolled him in the snow. Mortar 
and machine-gun fire landed around us. We crawled back down the track 
pressed close to the ground. We were picked up by advancing soldiers. 

It was only then that I determined we had totally smashed the Soviet 
attack position and Soviet infantry was fleeing in all directions. Unfortu¬ 
nately we were not able to exploit that success as our fuel was running low 
and another Soviet assault group was positioned for attack to our rear. 

After we returned to our jumping-off position we ascertained that 
Michel had a load of shrapnel in the back of his neck and that our driver 
had not suffered any serious injury apart from minor bums. The sound of 
fighting to our rear, that is, to the west of Alexejewka, transformed our 
mood into one of happy excitement. The sound could only mean Max 
Wunsche’s advance had been successful. And so it was. The Panzer- 
abteilung had gnawed its way through heavy enemy forces, bringing us 
ample ammunition and fuel. We were completely operational once again 
and, on the orders of division, fought our way back the next morning. 

During the fighting back to the west we got to know a new phase of this 
inhuman war. It was impossible to distinguish Soviet soldiers from harmless 
civilians. For the first time soldiers were ambushed in towns and in the 




Fighting for Kharkov 


173 


countryside without being able to identify enemy units. We became nerv¬ 
ous. The locals did not dare to betray the concealed Red Army soldiers. 
The Soviets’ enthusiasm and the atUtude of the population demanded spe¬ 
cial watchfulness on our part. My old comrade, Fritz Montag, who had been 
given acting command of the headquarters company, drove into a mine¬ 
field and lost both legs above the knee. He was brought to me fully con¬ 
scious in a motorcycle sidecar. A few days later he was buried in Poltawa at 
the side of General von Briesen. The fighting had taken on a treacherous 
character. 

In the meantime, the situation around Kharkov had become cata¬ 
strophic. Despite all common sense, the town was to be held. Since the 
requests of the SS-Panzer-Korps to abandon the town had been refused— 
with reference being made to the Fuhrer’s order of 13 February—the com¬ 
manding general was determined to issue the order himself to withdraw 
the units in order to prevent their encirclement and free them for the nec¬ 
essary counter-offensive. 

Enemy units that had broken through the eastern section of the front 
from the southeast pushed into the suburb of Ossnowa during the evening 
of 14 February. SPW-Bataillon Peiper, which had been employed for the 
immediate counterattack, grappled hard with the Russians in night fight¬ 
ing without being able to clear the area of the constantly reinforced 
enemy. In the town itself civilians commenced armed encounters. In-tran¬ 
sit columns came under fire from the houses. 

In this situation the Armeeabteilung ordered the attack group of the 
SS-Panzer-Korps to halt its attack south on 14 February and hold the cap¬ 
tured terrain. The corps was to release troops for the defense of the city 
and send an armored formation to Walki to retake enemy-occupied 
Olschany. It was not feasible for this order to be executed since the moving 
up of the forces necessary for these missions would take two days with the 
road conditions as they were. 

The Commanding General once more briefed the situation that 
evening to obtain the order for the evacuation of Kharkov. During the 
night of 14-15 February the enemy penetrated the rear of our formations 
in the northwestern and southeastern parts of the city. An armor battalion 
from the 2. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division “Das Reich” succeeded in inflict¬ 
ing heavy losses during an immediate counterattack on the enemy in the 
northwest. The enemy’s forward advance wits halted temporarily. The SS- 
Panzer-Korps once more reported the seriousness of the situation to the 
army. No decision had been made by noon of 15 February. 

It was at that last possible moment that, at 1250 hours on 15 February, 
the commanding general gave the order for the 2. SS-Panzer-Grenadier- 



174 


GRENADIERS 


Division “Das Reich” to evacuate its position and fight its way through to 
the Udy sector in order to prevent the encirclement of one and a half divi¬ 
sions. With armor support, the formations succeeded in pulling back 
through Kharkov and southeast of the city in the nick of time. 

This decision was reported to the Armeeabteilung at 1300 hours. The 
commanding general joined the fighting units. An army order arrived at 
1630 hours once again demanding defense at all costs. The commanding 
general’s answer: “It’s settled. Kharkov is being evacuated!” 

General Hausser’s decision had saved thousands of lives or spared 
them many years of captivity. Furthermore, it allowed the formation of a 
shorter main line of resistance, for which the available forces were quite suf¬ 
ficient. Further enemy penetration at its present pace could be halted by a 
deliberate defense. The rearguard of the 2. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division 
“Das Reich” fought its way back through the city on 16 February. 




The Counterattack 


The operation could have been considered a success just by the fact that 
the encirclement of one and a half divisions had been successfully pre¬ 
vented through the abandonment of Kharkov and we could then conduct 
our defense along a considerably shortened front line. The decisive signif¬ 
icance of this decision lies in the freeing of the majority of the SS-Panzer- 
Korps for the resumption of the attack to the south to link up with 
Heeresgruppe Sud to which the Armeeabteilung had been attached. 

The situation on the northern edge of the Donez Basin had developed 
in the following manner: The enemy had outflanked Heeresgruppe Sud at 
Slawjansk with General Popov’s massed armored and infantry units and 
was steadily advancing on the Dnjepr via Pawlograd and Nowomoskowsk. 
Enemy reconnaissance units were already pushing as far as Dnje- 
propetrowsk and Saporoschje with their left flank on Krassnoarmeiskoje. 
We had hardly any fighting formations with combat power at our disposal 
on the Dnjepr. Gruppe Steinbauer, assembled from personnel on leave 
and remnants of units, was dislodged from Dnjepropetrow.sk to Nowom¬ 
oskowsk and secured the western outskirts of the latter. The enemy already 
occupied the eastern part. The 15. Infanterie-Division was unloading in 
Dnjepropetrow.sk and had moved a regimental Kampfgruppe forward to 
cover Sinelnikowo. 

The left wing of the Soviet 6th Army, which had strong elements posi¬ 
tioned opposite the Leibstandarte’s front line, had already begun a 
southerly envelopment of the SS-Panzer-Korps and has crossed the Krasno- 
grad-Nowomoskowsk road heading west with the leading units of several 
divisions. Elements of the force had already turned northwest. Further 
forces were aiming for Dnjeprroserschinsk. Immediate countermeasures 
were a matter of life and death for Heeresgruppe Sud. 

Following the evacuation of Kharkov the two SS divisions could be 
redeployed. The 2. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division “Das Reich” assembled 
on the corps’ right wing in the Krasnograd area and moved out to the 
northwest on 19 February to oppose the enemy pressing in from the east. 
During the gradual withdrawal of its left flank, the 1. SS-Panzer-Grenadier- 
Division “Leibstandarte” remained on the previously established front line 


175 


176 


GRENADIERS 


in support of Korps RauB. It supported “Das Reich” in its advance with 
local counterattacks. 

Our units could breathe again. The days of retreat were over at last 
and the hour of the counterattack had finally arrived. The seriousness of 
the situation and the significance of the upcoming fighting was clear to 
every man. 

My Kampfgruppe received orders to relieve the SPW-Bataillon of 
Peiper at Jeremejewka and to disrupt any further Soviet advance. We 
advanced through the positions held by Bataillon Kraas. It was occupying 
widely dispersed sU'ongpoints along the front line. The battalion had a 
front of at least five kilometers to hold. We solved the problem by elimi¬ 
nating Soviet forces that had broken through the strongpoints during the 
day and establishing fire-spewing hedgehog defenses in the evening. 

I linked up with Jochen Peiper ten kilometers in front of the actual 
front line. He had taken the village of Jeremejewka after a fierce fight and 
was to hand over the resulting forward bastion to me. Several destroyed 
T-34s served as windbreaks against the cold snowstorm blasting constantly 
from the east for our forward outposts. Jochen Peiper briefed me on the 
situation and drew my attention to the heavy troop movements east of 
Jeremejewka. It seemed the Soviets were preparing for the attack. 

We turned Jeremejewka into a strongpoint in the icy cold. I intended 
to lead the armored elements of the Kampfgruppe in lightning raids from 
there against the advancing Soviets. We spotted strong Russian formations 
moving to the south of our position in the direction of Krasnograd and 
only leasing weak outposts against us. We could observe the line of march 
in great detail from our forward observation posts and were able to plot 
their exact positions. A reinforced Russian regiment pushed past us and 
was feeling its way towards Krasnograd. It presented only a weakly guarded 
Hank to us. It was a direct challenge to us to attack. 

The Kampfgruppe rolled south at first light the next day; it left the 
strongpoint in the hands of the artillery, trains and the Panzeijager. We 
departed the strongpoint undetected by the enemy. The misty weather 
favored out intentions. The artillery was laying down harassing fire on 
known attack positions east of Jeremejewka to deceive our opponent about 
our true intentions. 

Our column could barely be identified among the masses of snow. 
Each vehicle was covered with white camouflage, and the soldiers were 
wearing snow parkas or white winter uniforms. We snaked our way quickly 
through the undulating terrain. 

The Kampfgruppe halted behind a low rise. Enemy columns were 
moving incessantly westwards. A village that extended along the road took 




The Counterattack 


177 


in the Soviet column and hid it from our view. About 1,000 meters still sep¬ 
arated us from the Soviets. Should we chance it and storm down the gendy 
sloping road? The Red Army soldiers had been marching westwards for 
nearly twenty-four hours. Would their superiority be too great? Would we 
run into a screen of antitank weapons? I stood at the head of the Kampf- 
gruppe with Wunsche, the commander of the tank battalion, and the com¬ 
pany commanders of SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1, searching for a suitable 
method of attack. I considered speed to be our best weapon, just as I had 
at other places. It was my intention to advance into the middle of the Sovi¬ 
ets with a company from SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1. Some tanks would 
cover the company. It would cut the march column in half and roll it up 
towards the west. 

A section in Schwimmwagen volunteered to act as the lead element. 
The young soldiers knew what they were up against. It was almost certain 
mines covered the flanks of the enemy march column. 

Everything was ready to go in a few minutes. The wheels spun in the 
snow and slowly began to grip. They got faster, reached the highest point 
and then roared up to the outskirts of the village at full speed. The cross¬ 
ing of the open ground had to be accomplished at such speed that the 
enemy had no time to take countermeasures. The vehicles raced down the 
slope like a raging storm. Tanks moved left and right of the road and 
hurled their rounds at the Soviets. Heavy' mortar fire reinforced the effect 
of the tanks. 

I found myself with the lead company, hanging sideways from a Kubel- 
wagen as the first Schwimmwagen flew into the air and my soldiers were 
left lying with shattered limbs. The second car took the lead without a sec¬ 
ond’s hesitation or braking. It, too, was immediately torn apart. The com¬ 
pany flew across the locations of the detonations like an arrow. Our 
comrades had paved the way for us in the truest sense of the word, and we 
had broken through the mine barrier. The torn-off limbs of both drivers 
were lying in the snow, as were the less wounded riflemen. Their squad 
leader had lost both his legs. We couldn’t help them, but the company that 
followed looked after them. 

The Soviets abandoned the village street in great haste and rushed 
into the houses or sought salvation in flight towards the south. Our 
machine guns felled them on the white snow-covered fields. Their accom¬ 
panying artillery was either overrun by our tanks, pushed aside or shunted 
together into a tangle. The destruction we had wrought was indescribable. 
A few tanks fired round after round into the eastward-marching column. 
They forced it into wild flight that was further accelerated by the advanc¬ 
ing tanks. 


178 


GRENADIERS 


The column was smashed by the charging tanks as if by a giant fist. 
Once again, speed revealed itself to be a terrible power. There were hardly 
any Russian antitank guns that succeeded in unlimbering and taking up 
position. The grinding tracks and the weight of the tanks crushed most of 
them. We had pushed right through the extended village within the space 
of a few minutes and the route of the enemy advance had been turned 
into a road of misery. Shattered steel mingled with the flesh of Siberian 
oxen that were serving as draft animals for the antitank guns. 

The hunt to the west continued from the outskirts of the village. The 
Soviets had been taken completely by surprise. They did not understand 
how death could reach out to them from behind. Almost without resist¬ 
ance, the column fell victim to the onslaught. 

A damaged tank was located between the last few houses of the village. 
It had been knocked out by a Russian antitank gun that was positioned no 
more than 150 meters away in a fruit garden. Infantry were already in the 
process of eliminating the gun when a burst of machine-gun fire landed 
between us. In a flash we took cover on the far side of the tank. Franz 
Roth, the ever-ready war correspondent, did not make it, however. He had 
received a round in the chest. We pulled him to cover and then took him 
to a small house where Dr. Gatternig immediately attended to him. Roth 
died a few days later in a field hospital. He had been one of our best photo 
correspondents. 

The next village went up in flames from the tracer ammunition. The 
Red Army soldiers ran for their lives and died from the machine-gun fire. 
The pursuit continued as far as the next village and sent the Soviets into 
wild flight. Equipment and weapons were left behind in a mountain of 
debris. The danger to our southern flank had been eliminated temporar¬ 
ily. At the onset of darkness we returned, tired, to our strongpoint. The 
elimination of the Russian march column had cost us two dead and several 
severely wounded soldiers. The speed of the operation, the exploitation of 
the ability to maneuver and the employment of firepower had brought us 
success. 

Additional enemy forces had occupied attack positions east of Jereme- 
jewka according to battlefield observation reports. We had to believe they 
would be attacking very soon. 

In the meantime, the 2. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division “Das Reich" had 
attacked to the south with three attack formations. It destroyed strong 
enemy concentrations south of Krasnograd. The attack won ground and 
was continued during the night of 20 February. The lead elements, com¬ 
posed of armor, advanced during the night to the south. Round after 
round impacted into the flanks of the enemy columns, which were cross- 



The Counterattack 


179 


ing the road to the west. Pursuit formations relieved one another until the 
leading elements of the division reached Nowomoskowsk on 20 February 
at 1400 hours. There they established contact with the outposts of Gruppe 
Steinbauer. 

The Luftwaffe supported the attack groups with Stuka sorties on the 
enemy pockets of resistance and caused the massed formations heavy casu¬ 
alties. The enemy formations, which were already west of the Krasnograd- 
Nowomoskowsk road, started streaming back. Further to the south, 
however, large enemy formations were following the German lead ele¬ 
ments that had halted outside of Nowomoskowsk. 

Pawlograd was designated as the next attack objective for the 2. SS- 
Panzer-Grenadier-Division “Das Reich”. The reason was the advance of 
strong Soviet forces on the bend of the Dnjepr south of Dnjepropetrowsk 
via Sinelnikowo. After hard fighting, the division was able to link up with 
the XXXXVIII. Panzerkorps east of Pawlograd. 

Independent of what was happening south ofjeremejewka, it was time 
to advance into the Soviet assembly areas at Nischij Orel and launch a pre¬ 
emptive strike against them. I had reservations when I briefed the unit 
leaders on my decision. Max Wunsche was on fire, however. I intended to 
move the tank battalion with a SPW-Kompanie and two companies of 
mounted infantry far to the north. Those forces would then turn to the 
east and penetrate into the assembly areas from the rear. The reconnais¬ 
sance platoon had already scouted and marked the route. The movements 
were to be orchestrated in such a manner that we would appear in the 
enemy’s rear at dawn. At the same time, all of the trains drivers and any¬ 
thing else that had legs—supported by artillery—would launch a feint and 
divert the Russian’s attention to the west. 

In the deep of night vehicle after vehicle was positioned nose to tail 
and waited for the lead elements to move out. We moved out into the 
darkness slowly. Armored vehicles were located at the turning points and 
showed us the direction while, at the same time, providing cover. The rum¬ 
ble of the tanks could scarcely be heard in the high snow. We snaked our 
way forward to our objective as if on 1,000 cat paws. 

We had moved too quickly. We waited for the right time between two 
villages (we had bypassed all villages). The tanks drew up. Close to one 
another we waited for the first shimmer of daylight. Were we in the right 
position? Did we make a mistake somewhere and get lost? Had the enemy 
already seen us? A lot of “What ifs” occupied my time. Eventually I thought 
I could make out the outline of a tank behind me. It was about 100 meters 
behind the lead elements. This meant there was enough light to launch a 
surprise attack. The moment had come. Radio traffic started. I gave the 


180 


GRENADIERS 


artillery in Jeremejewka their fire mission and everyone tensely awaited the 
first rounds. Their impact would indicate whether we had approached the 
right place. 

Yes, we had! Our howitzers hammered the Russian positions off to our 
right. Dazzling flashes flickered across the snow. The 20 mm tracer rounds 
from our armored cars identified the objective. Machine-gun and rifle fire 
rattled along the entire front and mortar rounds thudded in the village. 
The forward artillery observer concentrated the fire and trained it on our 
intended penetration point. We were to the side of the impacting rounds 
and able to observe their effect precisely. We could recognize the enemy 
artillery by its muzzle flashes. The batteries were not quite 400 meters 
away. The Soviets had not spotted us yet. 

The moment had arrived! The tanks pushed into our opponent’s deep 
flanks along a broad front and opened fire at very short range. The enemy 
antitank guns did not manage to fire. They were deeply echeloned and ori¬ 
ented towards Jeremejewka. What was the point of emplacing them that 
way? The Russian antitank officer had given no thought to his rear and 
flanks. The infantry dismounted and leapt into the houses, fetching out 
the surprised Soviets. Direct hits from tanks stuck several trucks with “Stalin 
organs” on them. A hazardous fireworks display rose heavenwards. The 
trucks literally disintegrated. Tiny bits of them came crashing down on us. 

A tank company reconnoitered to the east and encountered an enemy 
artillery battalion in the process. Combat engineers blew the guns up. The 
street and house-to-house fighting was short and painless. It was as if paral¬ 
ysis had hit the Soviets. They had not expected our advance. The Russian 
divisional commander died as he fled. We found his remains in an fruit 
garden. We worked our way forward from house to house. SS-Obersturm- 
fuhrer Bohr, Bremer’s executive officer, collapsed a few meters ahead of 
me. A round to the stomach threw him to the ground. 

While breaking into a larger building a soldier warned me about the 
roof-top snipers who fired at us through the straw roofs. As he dove 
through the door the good soldier collapsed, shot through the head. The 
house went up in flames. A staff officer ran straight into our arms. He was 
the Russian division’s chief of staff. Within half an hour the village was 
ours. Our artillery performed magnificently. The barrage slammed down 
in front of us like an all-shattering fist. No wonder, the forward observer 
was right with us and, as a result, also in the middle of the enemy. 

We rolled up about two kilometers of the enemy positions, completely 
scattering the Russians. Black dots fled wildly across the vast snow fields. 
Enemy antitank guns were crushed under the weight of our tanks. All the 
guns were oriented west, but the deathblow came from the east. 




The Counterattack 


181 


Dense, choking smoke lay over the village as the last rounds whistled 
through the morning and ended the fighting. Field ambulances rolled 
westwards. Our fallen comrades lay before me on shelter halves as we took 
our leave. They were later distributed among the tanks. We left no one 
behind. Their peace would not be disturbed. In the past we discovered 
that if ever we gave up a sector, the Russians plundered and destroyed the 
graves. 

The Russian staff officer made a good impression, showing an exem¬ 
plary attitude. We had to leave our cottage in a hurry as the straw roof had 
caught fire and burned like tinder. The lieutenant colonel readily 
answered all questions which were not direcdy connected with the current 
operation. He had been transferred to frontline duty only a few days pre¬ 
viously and had just ended a course at the Frunze Academy in Moscow. 
Before sending him over to the division we took leave of each other and 
he said: “We will win die war against Germany with America’s help. You are 
losing now—but, one day, we shall all be friends. We will continue the 
struggle together and achieve the final victory.” 

At about 1500 hours the last tank wound up back at Jeremerewka. 
Deeply moved, I took my leave of SS-Obersturmfuhrer Bohr. He already 
bore the mark of death as he departed from the battalion: “May 1 return to 
die battalion?” He left us forever on the trip to the field hospital. 

The fearsome cold crammed us together in the few remaining build¬ 
ings and only the most indispensable sentries had to endure the conditions 
outside. My soldiers suddenly give vent to a cry of jubilation and mobbed 
me like savages. My hand ached under the pressure of theirs. Completely 
astonished, I heard from the battalion I had been awarded the Oak Leaves 
to the Knight’s Cross. 

After the initial surprise 1 left the cottage and sought my fallen com¬ 
rades. There was not a sound to be heard. The front was silent. Only in the 
distance were there bright flashes. I could hardly make out the gravesite. 
There was neither cross nor stone to mark the last resting places. The 
snow had been trampled down hard and scarcely stood out from the sur¬ 
roundings. Our comrades were not to be disturbed. We wanted to protect 
them from grave desecrators. Snowflakes fell from the sky and covered the 
grave that looked like a deep wound. The gloomy site disappeared. The 
good Lord covered the scars. I could not feel happy about the decoration. 
Beneath me rested the soldier who had warned me about the treacherous 
rooftop snipers that morning. Without his warning I would, perhaps, have 
been lying by his side. 

1 was ordered to the Fuhrer’s headquarters and, twenty-four hours 
later, I flew from Poltawa to Winiza. The headquarters was distinguished by 



182 


GRENADIERS 


its simplicity. The first thing 1 did was request a telephone call to my wife 
in Berlin. The call went through in a few minutes and I experienced the 
great joy of being able to speak to my wife and our children. 

After I finished the call I was led to Adolf Hitler who greeted me 
heartily, presented me with the decoration and asked me to take a seat. 
For more than an hour I heard of the efforts being made on the home 
front and the battlefield. The tragedy of Stalingrad seemed to weigh heav¬ 
ily on him as his thoughts kept returning to the 6. Armee, but I found it 
revealing that he did not censure any officer for his conduct in Stalingrad. 
Hitler was seriously concerned about the continuous air raids on Germany, 
and 1 had the feeling that the population’s suffering was a particularly 
grave burden. Hitler made a good physical impression; his voice was calm 
and his comments on the situation at the front were realistic and most per¬ 
tinent. He did not put forward any prognoses, but he knew that the war 
would hist a long time. He saw Churchill as his worst enemy. 

We remained together undisturbed for an hour, and 1 had the oppor¬ 
tunity of giving him an unvarnished report from the front. At the same 
time I pointed out the shortages in arms and equipment. Adolf Hitler did 
not interrupt me. He listened to it all patiently, making the occasional note. 
After the meal together I sat with General Stief and some others discussing 
the course of the war and its further prosecution. (Some weeks later Stief 
requested me to visit him, apparently to discuss a few questions. I was 
unable to accede to his request since, by that time, I had been detailed to 
the School of Armored Warfare. General Stief was later hanged in connec¬ 
tion with the 20July Plot.) 

1 was back in Poltawa a mere forty-eight hours later and climbed into a 
Storch which took me to divisional headquarters. In the meantime, the 
conduct of the fighting had taken a more favorable turn. 

As a result of the advance of the 2. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division “Das 
Reich" to the south from Kras nograd, we had defeated strong enemy forces 
and broken up their spearhead formations. Considerable forces remained 
in position east of the Krasnograd—Nowomoskowsk road, however. We 
needed fresh forces to eliminate that enemy threat and establish contact 
with the Leibstandarte northeast of Krasnograd. To that end the urgently 
awaited 3. SS-Panzer-Division “TotenkopF’—which had detrained in the 
Poltava area in the meantime—was attached to the SS Panzer-Korps. It had 
been assembled in the Pereschtschepino area. 

The 3. SS-Panzer-Division “TotenkopF’ moved out to the southeast to 
attack on 22 February. It advanced in three attack groups in the area 
between the Ssamara and the Orelab sectors. The enemy advance-guard 
elements positioned there were eliminated, but the enemy was still capable 




The Counterattack 


183 


of further attacks. The main body of the Soviet 1st Guards Army was just 
starting its approach march; our opponent still seemed to be of the opin¬ 
ion that defenders who had suddenly switched to the offensive wotdd soon 
run out of steam. The Russians were also bringing up fresh forces to the 
area in front of the Leibstandarte. Elements of the Popov Group had 
already been cut off by the 1. Armee operating to our right. However, five 
enemy armored corps were still advancing west in front of the 4. Panzer- 
armee. 

The milder weather which set in around 20 February favored offensive 
operations. Most roads were free of snow and this considerably increased 
the mobility of motorized units. It was important not to let those enemy 
forces that were escaping to the northeast off the hook. Instead, they had 
to be fixed and defeated. 

The attacking German divisions made advances on a narrow front and 
established strong flank protection along feeder roads. The enemy was 
thrown from the villages he was clinging to in rapid thrusts. These offen¬ 
sive strikes were well supported by the Luftwaffe. His line of march—always 
directed to the southwest—was cut. 

Our units took Losowaja at 1400 hours. Despite that, our lines of com¬ 
munication and, correspondingly, the army’s left flank, remained under 
the threat of those battered enemy forces that remained cut off from their 
own lines of supply in the Samara and Orel sectors. These enemy units 
had been given orders to retreat and regroup around Orelka, Losowaja 
and Panjutina and were breaking through to the east and northeast in 
small, armor-reinforced groups. Other enemy units positioned off the 
major avenue of approach for the enemy moved north out of the area 
south of Pawlograd the following day. One of those formations—sup¬ 
ported by armor—struck the corps command post at Juijewka on 28 Feb¬ 
ruary. Another strong formation attacked the command post of the 15. 
Infanterie-Division at Orelka shortly thereafter. 

We achieved our first objective on 27 February. Assault Group Popov 
was robbed of its attacking power, squeezed out of its bridgehead by and 
large and prevented from attaining its own objectives. 

Meanwhile, the Leibstandarte had solved its defensive mission by 
going on the offensive. Despite the large width of the division's sector, its 
assault groups had inflicted heavy losses on the enemy by constantly attack¬ 
ing first one flank and then the other. By doing so, it had stopped the 
enemy advance on Poltawa. 

The enemy had been regrouping in front of the Leibstandarte’s right 
flank since 28 February. The Soviets had pulled two armored corps and 
three rifle divisions of the Soviet 3rd Tank Army out of the area between 


184 


GRENADIERS 


Ljubotin and Walki in order to throw them against the SS-Panzer-Korps, 
but we had been unable to discover their assembly area. 

We began a new phase of our own attack. The avenue of advance was 
switched to the northwest; the first objective was the line of high ground 
between Bereka and Jefremowka. The terrain in front of the SS-Panzer- 
Korps was well known as a result of the fighting in February. It was 
intended for the right wing of the army to reach the Donez, while the SS- 
Panzer-Korps was to take the high ground at Jefremowka. The Leibstan- 
darte would link up with Armee-Abteilung Kempf on the east flank of the 
front’s salient. 

The 2. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division “Das Reich” advanced on 1 
March along the Krasnograd-Oktjabrskij road. It continued the advance 
on 2 March toward the high ground northeast of Paraskoweja. It’s objec¬ 
tive: The heights at Starowerowka. On 2 March Bereka was taken by the 
XXXXVIII. Panzer-Korps. 

The 3. SS-Panzer-Division “Totenkopf” pushed north in the region of 
Orel, though severely impeded by the condition of the road network. It 
took Lissowinowka on the evening of 1 March. It then turned northwest 
on 2 March to eliminate enemy units reported to be in the Nischnij Orel- 
Jeremejewka area. Kampfgruppe Baum encountered fierce resistance east 
of Nischnij Orel. From the reports on 2 and 3 March it could be deter¬ 
mined that the division’s left flank east of Jeremejewka had encountered 
enemy forces moved into the area from the north. This made it clear that 
the enemy had not succeeded in determining the direction of our 
advance. He had marched his regrouped units right between the elements 
of the attacking SS-Panzer-Korps and the Leibstandarte’s defensive front. 
As a result, the right wing of the 3. SS-Panzer-Division “Totenkopf” was 
turned inward. The division slammed into the enemy while he was still 
assembling. 

The enemy tried to evade the pincer movement by making strong 
counterattacks to the southeast and northeast and later attempted to 
improve his position by dispersing his forces into smaller formations. That 
was futile. The main body of the enemy was eliminated by the 3. SS-Panzer- 
Division “Totenkopf’, the southern wing of the Leibstandarte attacking to 
the east and elements of the 2. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division “Das Reich”. 
The three divisions were engaged in concentric attacks during three days 
of hard fighting. Stukas supporting the attack scored tremendous successes 
against the encircled enemy. 

Individual columns which had taken flight were routed during the 
pursuit. They made our rear areas unsafe for a few' days but were com- 




The Counterattack 


185 


pletely annihilated in independent actions. The commanding general of 
the Soviet XV Guards Armored Corps was found dead only a few hundred 
meters from the command post of the SS Panzer-Korps. 

Ochotschaje fell to the 2. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division "Das Reich” on 
the evening of 4 March after hard fighting. The Leibstandarte had gone 
into the attack from the northeastern sector of its position at Starowerowka 
and linked up with the 2. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division “Das Reich”. The 3. 
SS-Panzer-Division “Totenkopf" completed its destruction of the encircled 
enemy on 5 March, achieving its greatest victory. Enemy personnel losses 
were high and the pocket was crammed with immense quantities of 
weapons and vehicles. The bulk of two armored corps and three rifle divi¬ 
sions could be considered as destroyed. The Soviet 3rd Tank Army was 
decisively weakened as a result of the Battle of Jeremejewka. 

The 1. SS-Panzer-grenadier-Division “Leibstandarte”, which was once 
again attached to the SS-Panzer-Korps, closed up on the line it had reached 
after the capture of Stanitschij and reorganized for the attack. By 5 March 
it was in position next to the 2. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division "Das Reich” at 
Karawanskoje. It was positioned along the line Stanitschij-Winnikoff-Nikol- 
skoje-Krut Balka. On the same day the 3. SS-Panzer-Division “Totenkopr 
was also freed up and reattached to the corps. 

The road conditions favorable to an attack had worsened considerably, 
and die layer of snow in the northern part of the area we had reached was 
still deep, slowing operations. Was the attack to continue? Should Kharkov 
be retaken? Or should the elimination of the enemy forces in front of 
Armeeabteilung Kempf be continued? 

In any event, neither course of action was taken. Instead, the next 
objective was to be the Mscha sector. The SS-Panzer-Korps moved out 
against the Mscha sector on 6 March with the 2. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Divi- 
sion “Das Reich” on the right, the 1. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division “Leib¬ 
standarte” on the left and the 3. SS-Panzer-Division “Totenkopf’ behind 
the left wing. The 2. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division “Das Reich” expelled 
the enemy from Nowaja-Wodalaga after hard fighting. The SS-Panzer- 
Grenadier-Division “Leibstandarte” penetrated the line Moskalzowa- 
Ljashowa-Gawrilowka, and one of its battalions established the first 
bridgehead at Bridok. The difficult terrain delayed our neighbor to the 
right who, nevertheless, established his right wing outside of Taranowka 
and captured Borki. 

The 2. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division “Das Reich” reached the Mscha 
sector during the night of 7 March, and the SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division 
“Leibstandarte” expanded its bridgehead. The weather warmed up, and 



186 


GRENADIERS 


the night frosts were no longer hard enough to keep the ground frozen. 
The state of the road network—fluctuating between snow and mud— 
became ever more critical. Men and equipment were pushed to the limit 
by the demands made upon them. 

On the other hand, the Russians revealed clear signs of weakness. The 
fighting between the Donez and Dnjepr had inflicted heavy losses upon 
them. They took pains to throw fresh troops at the SS-Panzer-Korps but 
the forces were insufficient. 

The same quandary remained: Attack northwest and roll up the enemy 
units in front of Armeeabteilung Kempf or attack Kharkov? Once again the 
problem would be resolved through continuation of the attack to the 
north. On the morning of 6 March I was on the left flank of the Leibstan- 
darte with my Kampfgruppe. I had received orders to attack northeast and 
simultaneously protect the division’s left flank. Deep snow made any 
advance difficult. The road was invisible under the masses of snow, and we 
could only guess where it was as we crept slowly up to a low rise from which 
we could guarantee a good observation point to the northeast. 

A broad field of snow was in front of us. A small, defended village was 
500 meters off to the right with Soviets going about their business casually 
with no inkling of our location. We could make out the low buildings of 
another village in the background, and it was this village that I decided was 
the initial objective of the attack. The distance was about ten kilometers. I 
ordered a company of tanks from Wunsche’s battalion to eliminate the 
first village. Mounted infantry accompanied it. The tanks would roar up to 
the village under an artillery barrage and remove the threat to the flank of 
the Kampfgruppe. I wanted to attack the far village with the main body of 
my forces, thus pushing through and into the Soviet rear zone. 

The unit commanders informed the men about the situation and our 
intentions. The artillery and mortar battalions reported they were ready to 
open fire. My soldiers scoured the horizon for enemy movement. I leaned 
on the radiator and wanned my hands on the engine. The hands of my 
watch moved slowly forward. We stubbed out our cigarettes. Tank hatches 
slammed shut and reports of “Ready" rang in my ears. 

Only seconds separated us from the drum roll of the artillery. I raised 
my arm and looked once again at the companies, then brought my arm 
down as the first rounds were fired. The tank company pushed slowly, 
creakingly and ponderously off towards the village and moved to engage 
the enemy under the howling of our Stukas. Plane after plane struck pre¬ 
determined targets from low altitude. The enemy was forced to the 
ground under the rain of bombs and on-board weapons. As the last bomb 
fell our first tank was already entering the village. 



The Counterattack 


187 


Meanwhile, the Kampfgruppe had moved out and was trying to reach 
the objective at full throttle. The snow was showing itself to be a far greater 
obstacle than the defenders, however. High snowdrifts towered up in front 
of the front slopes of the tanks. Over time it formed a hard and strong 
wall. The tanks pressed forward ponderously. After a short time I realized 
we were without infantry support as the Schiitzenpanzerwagen and the 
Schwimmwagen were stuck in the snow. The packed snow was lifting the 
vehicles out of contact with the ground and threatening to destroy our 
plan of attack. My armored car was wedged between two Tigers and we 
were only burrowing forward slowly. We had to halt for a while in a small 
hollow to let the infantry catch up. The soldiers climbed onto the tanks as 
the light reconnaissance vehicles were not up to coping with the drifts. We 
then took off again! To our left rear the Russians defending the first village 
were fleeing and falling victim to our weapons. 

Antitank fire struck our lead elements as we approached to within 
range of the second village, but the Tigers disposed of the enemy antitank 
weapons. The right-hand tank company under Jurgensen moved forward 
swiftly, exploiting the cover of some fruit gardens and was about to out¬ 
flank the village. 

Our armored car received a hit from a 47 mm antitank gun which, 
however, did not cause serious damage. Unfortunately, we could not iden¬ 
tify' the firing position. We were then within 200 meters of the village and 
were looking for a point to enter. Machine-gun fire hammered on our 
armor plating. The lead Tiger encountered a mined obstacle and remained 
on the spot with a thrown track. T-34s emerged and joined the fight. We 
had to get into the village! Suddenly, there was a tremendous explosion in 
the armored car and I found myself lying in a rut looking at my driver sit¬ 
ting, headless, at the wheel. A direct hit had torn a massive hole in the 
armor plating. SS-Unterscharfuhrer Albert Andres staggered, dazed into 
cover. With horror I noticed that he only had one arm left. 1 couldn’t even 
see a stump among the remains of cloth and splintered bone. 

Kompanie Bremer entered the village and fought its way down the 
street. Unexpectedly, we ran past a Russian tank. It was knocked out with a 
satchel charge. It was only after a few minutes that I noticed I had appro¬ 
priated SS-Oberscharftihrer Sander’s machine pistol. I had left my ow'n 
weapon behind in the armored car. Sanders gratefully took back his 
weapon and I ran around with a Russian rifle. 

The village was ours within the hour and we immediately set up a 
hedgehog perimeter. The shortness of the days made it seem advisable to 
spend the night in the village. We lay my driver, Ernst Nebelung, to rest in 
the twilight. 


188 


GRENADIERS 


Liaison officers from Panzer-Grenadier-Division “GroBdeutschland” 
reported the operations of their division to our left. I was happy we had a 
veteran formation to our north. 

An amazing thing happened during the night to SS-Oberscharfuhrer 
Bugelsack. Good old Fritz felt the call of nature and accordingly sought 
out an appropriate place. Happy to find a corner of a building protected 
from the wind, he began the important business. "But the best laid plans 
of mice and men ...” Fritz was not alone. Opposite him sat a Russian lieu¬ 
tenant who trained a submachine gun on him without a word and watched 
the “affairs of state” for some time. We suddenly heard the cry of a desper¬ 
ate man and, in the beams of our flashlights, there was Fritz with his 
trousers around his ankles and pointing excitedly but speechlessly at his 
adversary. We had rarely had such a good laugh. It was also possible the 
Russian had never had a cigarette that tasted as good as the one Fritz 
Bugelsack handed him. 

The following morning found us attacking Walki which was some ten 
kilometers distant. Russian tanks and antitank guns tried to slow our 
advance but we outflanked those pockets of resistance and eliminated 
them by attacking from the rear. During the attack on Walki’s last strong- 
point, SS-Oberscharfuhrer Reimling's vehicle received a direct hit. Reim- 
ling had been decorated with the Knight’s Cross only a few days previously. 
Once again we had lost a brave comrade. 

After some hard fighting I reached the Mscha River in Walki with 
Kompanie Weiser. The bridge was intact, but I didn’t trust the Russians 
and ordered the attack to proceed across the ice on the river. The bridge 
had to have been mined. The company positioned itself behind small 
houses and sheds and hugged the river bank while preparing for the 
attack. From lime to lime I spotted a Russian head over on the far bank. 
Our tanks waited in the background and were supposed to cover our 
sprint across the ice. Kompanie Bremer had gotten hung up further to the 
rear. I feverishly considered how best to get to the other side and take 
Walki without employing artillery and mortars. The sound of tank tracks 
rattled through the town. The Russians were moving their T-34s. 

My young soldiers looked at me as if to say: “Look, buddy, you got us 
into this crap. Now you’d better think about getting us out again!” It 
seemed a great joke to them that 1 was lying there like a chained dog, 
unable to reach the bone on the other side and vainly licking my chops. 
But then I knew what to do! The company raced across the ice and occu¬ 
pied the other bank as if shot from a gun. I dashed over the ice along with 
the company headquarters section. Grossing the ice was almost effortless. 
The Russians didn’t fire a round but sat petrified behind their weapons 



The Counterattack 


189 


and gave up. What had inspired the mad dash? Well, it went something 
like this: “Listen up! The first one to get to the other side gets three weeks 
home leave. Move out!” 1 had never seen such a concerted move before or 
since. 

Then things began to move by leaps and bounds. Our tanks crossed 
the bridge that had been secured in the meantime. They advanced along 
the streets and, along with substantial help from the infantry, ejected the 
remaining Russians. We overwhelmed an enemy artillery battalion while it 
was still emplaced and took in several hundred prisoners. A few kilometers 
east of Walki we encountered Peiper’s SPW-Bataillon advancing on Walki 
from Bridok. Combat reconnaissance found the mutilated bodies of four 
of our comrades. They had been laid side by side and deliberately crushed 
under the tracks of a tank. 

While my battalion pushed on to the north, Jochen Peiper reached 
the railway junction of Schljach where we linked up once more on 8 
March. On the same day the Leibstandarte pushed forward as far as the 
western outskirts of Kharkov. Despite extensive antitank defenses and 
enemy counterattacks, our attack could no longer be halted. We wanted 
Kharkov back. 

The 3. SS-Panzer-Division “Totenkopf”, which was echeloned to our 
left, took Stary Mertschik and its reconnaissance element reached 
Olschany. The advance of the 2. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division “Das Reich” 
was seriously hampered by the difficult terrain on the right. Additionally, 
the threat to the flank from a strong enemy presence east of Rakitnoje- 
Ljubotin resulted in the commitment of strong divisional forces to the 
east. 

On 9 March we reached the Udy sector and took Olschany. Armee- 
abteilung Kempf was also advancing rapidly on its right wing. The final 
decision was dictated by the development of the situation. There could be 
only one objective: Kharkov. That evening the Leibstandarte’s advance- 
guard had already reached Peressetschnaja and Polewaja. 

The SS-Panzer-Korps decided to attack the city on 10 March. The 
orders went out on the evening of 9 March. The attack was to proceed 
down three attack corridors with the Leibstandarte attacking from the 
north and northeast and a simultaneous strike by the 2. SS-Panzer- 
Grenadier-Division “Das Reich” from the west. It fell to the Leibstandarte 
to block the road to Tschugujew; the 3. SS-Panzer-Division “Totenkopf’ had 
the mission of covering to the northwest and north against the enemy in 
front of Armeeabteilung Kempf and any other enemy forces brought up. 

In the process of the attack, Witt’s regiment reached the major 
Kharkov-Belgorod road and pushed on towards the northern entrance to 



190 


GRENADIERS 


Kharkov, where it encountered Herce resistance at the airfield. The enemy 
had taken the opportunity to construct defensive works with the help of 
the civilian population. I linked up with Fritz Witt on the road and heard 
that he intended to attack the airfield and then move on to Red Square. 
On Witt’s right was SS-Infanterie-Regiment 2 of the Leibstandarte, com¬ 
manded by SS-Standartenfuhrer Wisch. It was also making good progress. 
In coordination with Witt I proposed to lead the Kampfgruppe through 
the woods north of Kharkov and block the Kharkov-Liptzy road. 

Kompanie Bremer was once again in the lead. We moved a few kilo¬ 
meters in the direction of Belgorod and then turned east into the woods, 
which were covered in deep snow. The path ended at a collective farm and 
we spotted a Russian patrol disappearing to the east. There was no ques¬ 
tion of turning back. I wanted to negotiate the woods and thus penetrate 
into the eastern part of the city by surprise. 

A footpath led into the tall spruce woods. It ran past a small lake and 
then turned due east. A patrol soon discovered a number of sleds with har¬ 
nessed draft oxen pulling antitank and other guns. We no longer had any 
misgivings. Wherever sled teams could go so could tanks and other vehi¬ 
cles. 1 ordered Bremer to move off to the east and await further orders at 
the edge of the woods. 

The lead section, led by SS-Unterscharfuhrer Stoll, disappeared 
between the tall spruces and left behind a veil of snow spray. Two assault 
guns followed and it was not long before they were bogged down on a 
slope. They slipped sideways and threatened to slide onto the ice of a 
frozen lake. With the help of the company, they inched past that danger¬ 
ous spot. To eliminate further risk, the path had to be improved with 
utmost speed. In a few minutes hundreds of Kradschutzen and tankers 
were there to construct a negotiable detour. The rock-hard frozen earth 
was attacked with shovels, picks and axes. We made progress! In a short 
time the march column was moving again. 

Bremer had already followed the lead section. Enemy riders observed 
us from snowed-over sections of the woods. The path grew increasingly 
smaller. The vehicles created a path over young spruces and birches. An 
eight-wheeled armored car followed us. The further we advanced into the 
woods, the more doubts plagued me. Had I maneuvered the Kampfgruppe 
into a hopeless situation once again? We could only move east. It would 
have been impossible to turn around. Not a single vehicle was capable of 
turning. Thick stands of spruce extended far into the woods on wither side 
of us. I thought about Greece and the crossing to Patras, about the assaults 
in the southern sector of the Eastern Front and about the hard fighting we 
had waged in the last few weeks. Despite hopeless situations we had contin- 



The Counterattack 


191 


tied to fight, only to win in the end in spite of it all. And that’s the way it 
was on that day. No one would seriously consider that a motorized forma¬ 
tion was advancing through snow-encrusted woods. A cadet at the academy 
in peacetime who had proposed such a solution would have been sent back 
to his unit. The decision seemed crazy. Despite that, I believed we would be 
victorious. As it turned out, I was able to grab the Soviets by the throat 
when they were completely unprepared. Frederick the Great said in such 
situations: “The more tricks and subterfuge you use, the more advantage 
you will have over the enemy.” 

Max Wertinger was only able to advance our Kubelwagen slowly 
through the narrow corridor. The snow drifted into the vehicle even after 
only slight contact with the branches. It was an unpleasant trip. It started 
to get lighter in front of us. We had advanced through the woods and had 
reached a cleared area that allowed us to leave the narrow passage. 

In amazement, I saw that Bremer had turned his vehicles around and 
had taken cover. The section was in position. I sneaked up to Bremer and 
pressed myself instinctively into the ground as soon as I was able to cast a 
glance down the slope in front of us. Infantry, artillery and a few tanks 
were moving in the direction of Belgorod. I was not looking at a unit moti¬ 
vated by panic; on the contrary, this was a well-disciplined formation which 
was executing its movement in a tactical manner. 

That morsel was too big for us. It would take hours before our Kampf- 
gruppe would have crossed the woods and be ready for operations. We had 
to be content that we would not be discovered at this place. A Soviet attack 
would cause our Kampfgruppe to be caught in a bag. Our superior offen¬ 
sive strength and firepower could not be brought to bear. As already men¬ 
tioned, however, turning around was out of the question. The unit had to 
close up and wait for a favorable moment to be employed. Perhaps the next 
day would offer a better opportunity. It would be night in an hour anyway. 

At that point we consisted of four Schwimmwagen, a Kubelwagen and 
an eight-wheeled armored car; in all we had twenty-three-soldiers with four 
machine guns and individual pistols and rifles. This group of German sol¬ 
diers observed a Russian march column from a distance of approximately 
800 meters that consisted of thousands of Soviets and which had all types 
of weaponry with it. The terrain sloped gently down to the road and then 
climbed gently up on the other side. While this side of the slope was cov¬ 
ered with stands of trees, the far side opened up to an expanse of snow to 
the east which offered no cover. We did not stir in our positions. Observa¬ 
tion posts would warn of approaching vehicles. 

Suddenly we heard the rousing sound of Stukas behind us. We still 
could not see the aircraft, but they were coming from the west which meant 



192 


GRENADIERS 


they had a full load of bombs. Would they attack the Russian column mov¬ 
ing in front of us? Off to our left was the village of Bolschaja Danilowka. 

The thundering motors were then above us. Shadows whisked across 
the expanse of snow. We left our protective cover and stood like people 
attending the theater who were being offered an especially interesting 
presentation. 

The Stukas flew over the column, described a great curve to gain 
height and came flying back from the south. Their bombs and cannon 
rained death and destruction down on the Soviets. Sleds raced up the 
slope and tanks were ripped apart by the bombs. All trace of order van¬ 
ished in a few seconds. The horse-drawn vehicles careened away into the 
open countryside and the far slope was strewn with countless black dots as 
the infantry fled for its life. The unit was no longer under the command 
and control of its leaders. 

I stared at that jumbled mass of humanity as if electrified. I grabbed a 
signal pistol from my vehicle and fired a red flare into the air. Bremer 
understood immediately. Stoll’s section leapt into its vehicles and raced 
down the slope. The signals armored car hammered its machine-gun fire 
into the Soviets and provided covering fire for us. We tore down the path 
shouting and yelling—in contravention of all conventional rules of war¬ 
fare—our horns and sirens making a hellish din. W'e were attacking the 
Soviets! Red flares were still climbing high into the air. The Stukas had rec¬ 
ognized us; they rocked their wings and stormed into the fleeing mass, 
sweeping the road clear with their guns. 

We reached the road. The Soviets threw up their arms. Stukas rushed 
past a few meters above our heads and flew round us in an endless chain. 
They provided covering fire and protected us. They howled along the road 
again and again preventing the Russians from bringing in troops. Our first 
armored vehicle came down from the edge of the woods and its rounds 
whistled away to the north. Stoll’s section moved out with the first tank. 
Three additional tanks and Max Wiinsche reached the road. We were 
advancing in both directions at that point. The Russians had to have the 
impression that this was a planned and well-thought-out attack. We 
couldn't allow them to come to their senses. Hundreds of captured Soviets 
gathered in an orchard. 

We could not stop at that point; instead, we had to exploit the effects 
of the Stuka attack and continue the advance in the direction of Kharkov. 
Stoll’s section, the signals armored car and a few' dispatch riders roared off 
to the south towards the Soviet units. The advance was covered by two 
tanks, one on each side of the road. Our friends, the Stukas, took their 
leave; they had no more ammunition. The full consequences of our wild 




The Counterattack 


193 


ride were then apparent. The sky was quiet again and the nerve-shattering 
howling was no longer above us. We had torn through the Soviet column 
in a couple of laughable vehicles. 

Tank rounds whistled over us and exploded further south. Russians 
who tried to reassemble on the road after the bombers left fell to our 
machine-gun fire. Soviets ran for their lives once again. An enemy radio 
station was left of the road and the operators fell to our gunfire. Officers 
ran into the cover of a farmhouse; we destroyed their signals vehicle with 
hand grenades. Fire and dense smoke showed our way. Onwards, ever 
onwards! I was afraid to stop. Our only strength was in movement. Our 
tremendous speed, the cutting machine guns, the grenades thrown during 
our move and the bark of our tanks’ guns had seen to it that the Soviets 
had cleared the road in great haste. 

Our advance came to a halt in a brickworks just to the north of 
Kharkov. Just in the nick of time I noticed a good half-dozen enemy tanks 
in the gardens on both sides of the road. To our left a tank crew was busily 
engaged in removing the camouflage covering from a T-34. Machine-gun 
fire drove them back. The firing brought the remaining tank crews out of 
the houses. No one had counted on a German advance reaching that 
point. Despite that, it was starting to get dangerous for us. Stoll was just 
able to jump into another vehicle as his own had stopped. I saw the driver 
disappear into a haystack. We had to go back. The first tanks moved into 
firing positions. 

We had to get out of there right away or we would come under fire 
from the Soviet tanks. We had advanced more than seven kilometers to the 
south and increased the Soviets’ uncertainty. A Russian major with a stom¬ 
ach wound sat behind me. He really wanted to return with us. I admired 
the man; during the whole return trip I didn’t hear a word from him 
about his pain. Dr. Gatternig put the first dressing on his wound. 

When we returned we found a mass of prisoners at Bolschaja 
Danilowka guarded by just a few soldiers. They were happy with their lot. 
Not a single one attempted to escape. 

By midnight a considerable part of the Kampfgruppe was still missing 
but, during the hours of darkness, they closed up in dribs and drabs. The 
whole unit had assembled by 0500 hours and the entire Kampfgruppe was 
ready for operations. 

As soon as the first gray light of the new day appeared we advanced 
once again in the direction of Kharkov. This time, however, it was more 
slowly. We rolled south, carefully scanning the terrain round us. Far to the 
right we could see attacking Soviets employed against the airfield. They 
were attacking Witt’s regiment. In front of us we spotted attacking Soviet 



194 


GRENADIERS 


infantry that was laying as if nailed to the ground by machine-gun fire. We 
soon arrived at the brickworks again and found Stoll’s driver uninjured. 
Bruno Preger had spent the night sleeping in the haystack. 

The enemy tanks were still in firing positions. Five T-34s fell victim to 
our tanks and were soon ablaze. A Panzer IV received a direct hit and 
burst completely asunder. The same enemy tank that had destroyed it also 
scored a direct hit on my own vehicle from a range of less than fifty 
meters. It immediately killed my driver, Max Wertinger. The leader of our 
signals platoon, SS-Obersturmfuhrer Heinz Westphal, also fell to the 
round; Helmut Belke was wounded and I lay unhurt beneath Max 
Wertinger’s body. The Russian tank succeeded in escaping. 

We fought our way forward, house to house. An enemy antitank crew 
was killed by a falling lamp post. Our tanks dominated the battlefield. Late 
in the afternoon of 11 March we were standing in the eastern part of 
Kharkov, having reached the road to Staryj. 

At the moment of our victory a dangerous crisis surfaced. Our tanks 
had only a small amount of fuel left and cotdd no longer be employed. 
They were assembled in a large graveyard and formed a “hedgehog” 
defensive position, creating a safe bulwark in the middle of Kharkov. From 
there we sent our feelers out along the Kharkov-Tschugujew road and 
attempted to block the Soviet’s main line of retreat. 

I had not had a report from the 2./SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 for 
some hours; it had been cutoff at the Kharkov Creek by enemy forces. 
Kompanie Bremer was fighting for its life and Olboetter was repelling 
enemy counterattacks from the east. In the cemetery we were having to 
defend ourselves against Soviets trying to break out. By the onset of dark¬ 
ness SS-Hauptscharfuhrer Bruckmann had succeeded in bringing up fuel 
vehicles but, at the same time, he reported the road had been sealed off by 
enemy forces. (A few days later they were eliminated by elements of the 3. 
SS-Panzer-Division “Totenkopf”.) 

Witt’s regiment had broken into the town with a surprise attack from 
the north; it punched through to Red Square in heavy street fighung and 
had set up defensive positions for the night. 

On 12 March the Kampfgruppe advanced several blocks and then 
blocked the road to Tschugujew once and for all. It was then the Soviet’s 
turn to attack us. They wanted to overwhelm us. We were pressed together 
in a small area. Two platoons of Kompanie Weiser were cut off on the first 
floor of a school and defended themselves desperately against the Russian 
assault troops who had forced their way into the ground floor. An immedi¬ 
ate counterattack under the command of Wunsche contributed to the elim- 



The Counterattack 


195 


ination of the Russian assault troops. Once again the entire Kampfgruppe 
had been surrounded and was struggling in desperate fighting. A circle of 
burning buildings pinpointed our position in that sector of the city. 

By the onset of night I no longer had much hope that we could hold 
out until the following morning. The enemy was within hand-grenade 
range. While moving through our position, we suddenly spotted a tank 
that had pulled up right against the school building. We were less than 
twenty meters away from it when the tank commander leaned out of the 
turret trying to establish contact with soldiers on the ground. He died 
from Weiser’s pistol round. The tank pulled away on rattling tracks with 
the top half of its dead commander’s body hanging out of the turret. 

On the night of 12 March the 2. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division “Das 
Reich" broke through the antitank ditch on the w'estern outskirts of 
Kharkov and thus opened the way through to the city. The division arrived 
at the main train station on 12 March. 

The enemy tried to break out of the encirclement en masse. He man¬ 
aged a stubborn resistance and dispatched new forces from northeast of 
the city in a relief attack. Jochen Peiper beat his way through to us with two 
SPW, thus establishing contact with the remainder of the division. His 
escort SPW was knocked out by a T-34, but he succeeded in bringing the 
men out to safety. We fought grimly and determinedly for each house until 
14 March. By about 1800 hours we had captured the last two sectors of the 
city in the east and southeast. The tractor works fell on 15 March. 

That same morning the 3. SS-Panzer-Division “Totenkopf” reached 
and blocked the narrows at Tschugujew after successful armor engage¬ 
ments to the north of Rogan. This blocking position had to be held over 
the next few days against strong enemy attempts to break out as well as 
counterattacks from the east. We were successful in either eliminating or 
capturing the bulk of the enclosed enemy forces and capturing all of his 
equipment. 

With that, the decisive counterattack against the Russian winter offen¬ 
sive was completed, contact reestablished between the sectors of Heeres- 
gruppe Sud, a considerable part of the Russian offensive strength 
destroyed and the rest badly beaten. In the pursuit against the enemy with¬ 
drawing to the east and north in the following days, the banks of the 
Donez were taken and, rounding out the victories of the SS-Panzer-Korps, 
Jochen Peiper captured Belgorod on 18 March. It was there that the link¬ 
up was established with Panzer-Grenadier-Division “Grolkleutschland”. 
“GroBdeutschland” had been advancing from the west. In the past few days 
it had destroyed 150 Soviet tanks in heavy armor fighting. 



196 


GRENADIERS 


The battle of Kharkov had been concluded victoriously despite con¬ 
siderable losses. In the great battle between the Donez and the Dnjepr the 
Gentian grenadier had emerged victorious over the eastern hordes. 

Shortly before the summer offensive, I had to permanently take leave 
of the faithful grenadiers whom I had led for many years. I will never for¬ 
get the departure from my comrades. I was ordered to report to the 
Armor School and then transferred to the 12. SS-Panzer-Division “Hitler- 
jugend.” 





Russian campaign, 19-12. I a-I t to right: Gerd PleiB, Theodor Wisch, Sepp Diet- 
rich, and Meyer. 



Russia, 1942. A dinner among senior Waff'en SS officers. Left to right: Paul 
Hausser, Sepp Dietrich, H. Gille, and Kurt Meyer. 






Russia, 15 June 1942. Kurt Mover and officers of the Rumanian Cavalry Corps. 


R<m4* JAMS* lit SHIM 






The winter lighting of 1943. 







A briefing just prior to operations. Left to right: SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer 
Meyer (commander, SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1); a platoon leader in SS- 
Pan/er-Regiment 1; SS-Standartenfuhrer Dr. Besuden (division surgeon); SS- 
Oberstunnbannl'uhrer Witt (commander, SS-Panzcr-Grenadicr-Regiment 1); 
and SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Wunsche (commander, l./SS-Panzer-Regiment 1). 



Russia, Fchruan 1943. Pan/.ermeyer and Sepp Dietrich in Kharkov. j<m s<»nuw« 



Kharkov, February 1943. 
Just before the award 
of the Oak loaves to 
the knight’s Cross. 

J».\* la ki s\ 








Vinitsa. 25 February 1943. Meyer receives congratulations from Adolf Hitler on 
receiving the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross during his one-day visit to the 
Fuhrerhauptquartier. RnnjMiu bim.u 







Kharkov, March 1943. A soldier of the “Lcibstandarte" renames the 
central square in honor of his division. j<«r somum* 




Berlin, March 1943. A reception for Waffen SS Eastern Front fighters. Left to 
right: Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Kurt Meyer (“Leibstandarte”), Hugo Kraas (“Leib¬ 
standarte”) , Hermann Buchner (“Totenkopf"), and Heinz Macher (“Das 
Reich”). jt» [ t m 



At the March 1943 reception. Max Wunsche is promoted. 






Kharkov, end of March 1943. Kurt Meyer presents Hermann Weiser (com¬ 
mander, 2,/SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung I) with the Knight’s Cross. To Meyer’s 
right is SSSturmbantiftihrer Dr. Hermann Besuden (division surgeon). ji«u mv. 



Kharkov, March 1943. 
Meyer, shortly after the 
award of the Oak Leaves 
to the Knight's Cross 
(195th recipient). 

JosT StJisriiwM 




Russia, spring 1943. Kurt Meyer and Max Wiinsche. j».« 1.1 



March 1943. Meyer, shortly after receiving his Oak Leaves. His rank was that of 
SSObersturmbannfuhrer. un|ir.r vmnuuk. ru.hi- k.h.hij\u>.%bim>i:« 








Kharkov. 2H May 1943. A Group photo of LAH officers attending the celebra¬ 
tion of Sepp Dietrich’s birthday. Left to right: Kurt Meyer, Hugo Kraus. Sepp 
Dietrich, Albert Frey. Hermann Weiser, Rudi Sandig. Bernhard Krause, and 
Georg Schonberger. Also: Alfred Gunther (directly behind Dietrich) and 
Hubert Meyer (behind Sandig). Ruu>j.u<uiitMit* 



Kurt Meyer in a playful mood at the birthday festivities. Left to right: Wilhelm 
Mohnke, Walter Ewert, Dr. H. Besuden, and Teddy Wisch. Rcwii |wi> binou 









Two more photos from the 28 May 1943 birthday celebration. rix.hj.vmi", bimhu 












Before leaving for his assignment to the 12. SS-Panzer Division “Hitleijugend,’ 
Meyer reviews his SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 1 for the last time. **« 







SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Kurt Meyer, spring 1948. Official photo 
after his award of the Oak Leaves. Rujaj\H»iir\un 




The 12. SS-Panzer-Division 
“Hitleijugend” 


It had to be a unique occurrence in the history of warfare that a division, 
especially one with as complicated an organization as a modern armored 
division, should consist entirely of young men aged seventeen and eight¬ 
een, except for officers and senior noncommissioned officers. 

Anyone in Germany who understood anything about military matters, 
the rearing of young people or leading them was of the opinion that the 
employment of such a formauon could only lead to catastrophe in the first 
few days. The young soldiers would not be able to withstand the physical 
and mental pressure of modern attrition warfare. That opinion was shared 
even more decisively by our opponents of the time. And it really was not 
just enemy wartime propaganda when leaflets and radio broadcasts spoke 
of a “Baby Division” whose insignia was purported to be a baby bottle. 

The deeds of these young men in action and the performance of the 
12. SS-Panzer-Division “Hitleijugend” gave lie to the critics. 

It therefore appears important to me that I briefly discuss the estab¬ 
lishment of the division, to satisfy both general and historical interest. 

When “total war” was declared after the catastrophe of Stalingrad a 
plan was put forward to raise a volunteer division of young men who were 
fit for military service. They were to be a symbol of the readiness of Ger¬ 
man youth to make sacrifices and an expression of their will to persevere. 
These young men of seventeen and eighteen were fit for service as a result 
of accelerated paramilitary training. By proving its worth, such a volunteer 
division would also promote the inclusion of youths in other German divi¬ 
sions to compensate for the huge losses of manpower caused by the Russ¬ 
ian campaign and also increase German military strength significantly. 

Youth leaders believed that the usual methods employed in training 
soldiers could not be applied to these young men. They therefore wanted 
to allow the testing of new methods in this special division. That would 
take place under their supervision. 

Following a discussion between Reichsjugendfuhrer Axmann and 
Adolf Hitler, the corresponding orders were issued in June 1943 by Hitler. 


210 


The 12. SS-Panzer-Division “Hitleijugend' 


211 


The Hitleijugend was to call for volunteers and prepare them in pre-mili- 
tary training camps. They were then to be transferred to the newly raised 
division of the Waffen-SS. The 1. SS Panzer-Division “Leibstandarte” was 
tasked to provide the cadre for the division. In conjunction with the “Leib¬ 
standarte”, the new division, to be known as Panzer-Grenadier Division 
“Hitleijugend”, was to form the I. SS-Panzer-Korps. The activation was to 
commence immediately. 

While the Hitleijugend began its recruitment and training, the selec¬ 
tion of the cadre from the “Leibstandarte” took place. That division had 
suffered heavy casualties in the fighting retreat from Kharkov and the sub¬ 
sequent retaking of that city. It was preparing for Operation “Zitadelle”, 
the elimination of the Russian salient near Kursk. 

The commander of SS Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 1, the 35-year-old 
recipient of the Oak Leaves to the Knights’ Cross, SS-Standartenfuhrer 
Witt, was given command of the division. He took with him a few officers 
and a portion of the noncommissioned officers and the technical experts 
from his regiment. Their place in the regiment was filled by personnel 
levies against SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 2. The other formations of 
the division had to provide cadre personnel in a similar manner. 

This transferred nucleus formed only an incomplete skeleton. It lacked 
company commanders, platoon leaders and squad leaders to an extraordi¬ 
nary degree. In many cases, young platoon leaders had to be given com¬ 
pany command. Later, about fifty regular army officers who had at one time 
been Hitleijugend leaders were transferred to the division. In order to get 
the necessary squad leaders, selected youth were sent for training at the 
noncommissioned officer school at Lauenburg as soon as they were gradu¬ 
ated from the military training camps. A few weeks after the beginning of 
basic training, additional suitable young men were chosen for a three- 
month noncommissioned officer course within the division. 

When the first 10,000 youths arrived at Beverloo camp in Belgium dur¬ 
ing the course of a few weeks in July and August, preparations for them had 
not yet been completed. They could not be given uniforms right away. Nev¬ 
ertheless, their training began at once. Gradually, the individual units were 
formed according to the tables of organization and equipment. These 
assignments were completed during September. As a result of much effort, 
the formation was converted into a Panzer-Division. 

Lip to that point SS-Panzer-Regiment 12, whose formation had taken 
place at Mailly-le-Camp at Reims, had four Panzer IVs and four Panthers 
for training purposes. Half of these had been “procured” clandestinely in 
Russia. SS-Panzer-Artillerie-Regiment 12 had no more than a few light field 
howitzers at its disposal. Almost all transport vehicles were still missing. 


212 


GRENADIERS 


Captured Italian vehicles were issued during November and December. 
Vehicle strength then reached almost 80 percent of authorized levels. 
Simultaneously, the first prime movers and armored vehicles arrived. 

The command and control relationships of the division were compli¬ 
cated. In matters of training, the division was under the purview of General 
der Panzertruppen West, Geyr von Schweppenburg. Tactically it reported 
to the 15. Armee. 

After basic training, for the most part, was complete, unit training 
began at the start of 1944. Following the transfer of SS-Panzer-Regiment 12 
to the area of Hasselt in Belgium, larger exercises with tanks took place. 
The emphasis was on combined-arms operations. In February the I./SS- 
Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 took part in a live-fire exercise in the pres¬ 
ence of the Inspector General of Armor Troops, Generaloberst Guderian. 
In March, the Commander-in-Chief West, Generalfeldmarschall von Rund- 
stedt, was present at a combined-arms exercise. In both cases the level of 
training was commended. 

Staff coordination was tested in numerous radio exercises. One of 
these took place under the aegis of the corps in the area of Dieppe. Dur¬ 
ing the exercise so many difficulties arose with the completely unsuitable 
captured Italian vehicles that orders finally came from the highest author¬ 
ity to replace them with German military vehicles. 

A portion of the young men had already reported to other branches of 
the service and other divisions; a few had been more or less “persuaded” by 
requests for volunteers. The majority, however, had come to the division 
with all die enthusiasm of youth. They were burning to prove themselves in 
action. This enthusiasm and esprit had to be maintained as a bedrock value 
or, where it was missing, it had to be awakened. As the young men were still 
developing, the principles and forms of training had to be somewhat dif¬ 
ferent from those which a unit used to train and educate older recruits. 
Many established principles of military training were replaced with new 
ones which, when all was said and done, had dteir origin in the German 
youth movement which came into being at die turn of the century. 

There was no obvious superior-subordinate relationship recognizing 
only orders and unconditional obedience. The relationship between offi¬ 
cers, noncommissioned officers and other ranks was that between those 
who were older and little more experienced and those who were new. The 
officers’ authority existed in the fact that they were role models and men¬ 
tors to the young soldiers. They strove to emulate the close relationship of 
a family inasmuch as that was possible in the circumstances of the war. 

The young men were trained to accept responsibility, have a sense of 
community, be prepared for self-sacrifice, not be afraid to make decisions. 



The 12. SS-Panzer-Division “Hitleijugend” 


213 


show self-discipline and be a team player. If they had already shown those 
qualities, they were further developed. The leadership of the division was 
convinced the young soldiers would achieve more if they understood and 
supported the purpose of their mission and their role in it. It was therefore 
standard operating procedure to develop all orders based on a detailed 
assessment of the situation. 

During their training, drill and ceremonies were avoided. Everything 
focused on combat training and this took place under the most realistic 
battle conditions possible. Physical toughening was achieved through 
sport; forced marches were disapproved of and considered unnecessary 
and harmful. Based on input from General der Panzertruppen Geyr von 
Schweppenburg, advanced techniques of marksmanship were developed. 
These took place exclusively in the field. There were no marksmanship 
exercises conducted on traditional garrison ranges. 

On order of the Inspector General of Armored Troops, a detachment 
from the division worked alongside officers of the School of Armored War¬ 
fare at Bergen in developing a new gunnery manual Panzergrenadiere, 
which appeared in the spring of 1944. The Inspectorate oflnfantry turned 
it down. Based on input by General der Panzertruppen von Schweppen¬ 
burg, special emphasis was placed on visual camouflage and noise disci¬ 
pline as well as signals security, maintaining secrecy and live-fire day and 
night close-combat training. The division received a signals intelligence 
platoon for monitoring enemy radio traffic. It later performed very well 
for the division. Based on guidance from General der Panzertruppen von 
Schweppenburg, more and more situations were practiced during tactical 
leadership training which concerned offensive operations against air¬ 
landed troops. 

Because the young men were still growing and undernourished at 
home, they received additional rations from the Feldersatzheer above and 
beyond the normal allocations. They developed well physically. No ciga¬ 
rettes were issued to those under eighteen; they received sweets instead. 

There can be no reason to believe that the division had any priority in 
the issuance of weapons and equipment; that should be clear from the 
above. Everything had to be fought for the hard way. The organization of 
the division, like all Panzer-Divisionen of the Waffen-SS, differed from the 
Panzer-Divisionen of the army only inasmuch as there were three battal¬ 
ions in the Panzer-Grenadier-Regimenter instead of two. In contrast to the 
Panzer-Lehr-Division, it only had one SPW-Bataillon. 

On the basis of the training and instruction which was given in accor¬ 
dance with the fundamentals outlined here—of course, not all of that was 
given equally well—the soldiers entered the fray animated by the thought 


214 


GRENADIERS 


that their employment would be decisive for the defense of Germany and 
for its final victor)'. They were imbued with a belief in the rightness and jus¬ 
tice of the German cause. The young soldiers went to war superbly trained. 
There were few divisions which had been trained as well. As a result, their 
employment was fully justified. 



The Invasion 


At about 0700 hours on the morning of 6 June 1944, the division received 
employment orders from the I. SS-Panzer-Korps. It was placed under the 
operadonal control of Rommel’s Heeresgruppe B and was ordered to 
assemble in the area around Lisieux. It was to report directly to the 
LXXXI. Armee-Korps in Rouen. This order had a calamitous effect. Previ¬ 
ously prepared approach routes were not used. The only thing that mat¬ 
tered was getting the division close to the coast. It was not clear how the 
division was to be employed. 

This involved a lot of lost time in comparison to the pre-planned 
deployment straight to the combat zone from assembly areas. The division 
was unsuccessful in attempting to change the new orders with die original 
corps to which it had reported. There was no telephonic contact with 
Heeresgruppe B. 

The march order (including the assembly areas) was prepared imme¬ 
diately and arrived at the formations between 0930 and 1000 hours. The 
reinforced SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 march serials moved out 
around 1000 hours; the reinforced SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 
around 1100 hours. Bodi SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25, which was col¬ 
located with the II./SS-Panzer-Regiment 12, and SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regi- 
ment 26, which was collocated with the I./SS-Panzer-Regiment 12, were to 
relocate to the area east of Lisieux. For the time being the divisional staff 
stayed east of Tillieres, where it had radio communications. Only a report¬ 
ing point was established at Lisieux. 

At about 1500 hours, the division received a telephonic order from 
Heeresgruppe B via the I. SS-Panzer-Korps to assemble in the area east of 
Caen and prepare for a counterattack. The division was first put under the 
operational control of the LXXXIV. Armee-Korps in St. Lo; later it came 
under the I. SS-Panzer-Korps. 

At 1600 hours, sixteen hours after the first enemy report, the rein¬ 
forced SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 was given employment orders. 
The regiment was to attack the area from the western outskirts of 
Carpiquet-Verson-Louvigny. On its left flank, the reinforced SS-Panzer- 
Grenadier-Regiment 26 was to assemble in the area from St. Mauvieu- 


215 



216 


GRENADIERS 


Cristot-Fonteney le Pesnel-Cheux. SS-Panzer-Pionier-Bataillon 12 was to 
attack in the area around Esqay; SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 12 at Tilly-sur- 
Seulles. The support units were to stay east of the Ome around the Foret 
de Grimbosq and in the Foret de Cuiybis, moving west only after nightfall. 
Divisional headquarters was moved to the northern edge of the Foret de 
Grimbosq. 

The time had come! The soldiers mounted their vehicles. Dispatch 
riders roared down the streets on their motorcycles; the combat vehicles' 
engines were bellowing. How often had we experienced the moment of 
moving out? In Poland, in the West, in the Balkans, in Russia, and now 
again in the West. We, the old soldiers, faced the future with anxiety. We 
knew what was in front of us. In comparison, the magnificent young sol¬ 
diers looked at us with laughter in their eyes. They had no fear. They were 
confident; they had faith in their strength and the will to fight. 

How would these young men turn out? Enemy fighter planes were 
above us. They were diving on the march column, tearing flourishing life 
to pieces. The tanks were racing across the fiendish road junctions in leaps 
and bounds. Von Buttner’s reconnaissance company was far in front. I was 
waiting for reports from the front. If only we had a clear picture of the 
enemy; up until then, everything had been shrouded in fog. 

My experienced driver moved forward, careful as usual. Dark clouds 
were rising in the west. Caen, the town from which William die Conqueror 
started his victorious journey across the Channel, had been destroyed. 
More than 10,000 men and women were beneath the smoking rubble. The 
town had become a vast cemetery. 

On the Caen-Falaise road we encountered French refugees; a bus was 
ablaze. Heartrending cries greeted towards us. We could not help; the door 
was jammed and barred the way to freedom. Mangled bodies hung out of 
the broken windows barring the way. What horror! Why those burning civil¬ 
ians? But we could not allow ourselves to bunch up! We could not stop! We 
had to press ever onwards to gain ground. The woods attracted us like mag¬ 
nets; more and more fighter planes were above us. We were hunted relent¬ 
lessly but could not afford to take cover. The march had to go on! 

A string of Spitfires was attacking the last platoon of the 15./SS- 
Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25. Rockets and other weapons were reaping a 
grizzly harvest. The platoon was moving down a defile; evasion was impos¬ 
sible. An old French woman came running towards us shouting: “Murder! 
Murder!” A soldier was lying on the road, a jet of blood shooting from his 
throat. An artery had been cut; he died in our arms. The ammunition in 
an Schwimmwagen exploded with a loud bang; the blast shot flames high 



The Invasion 


217 


into the sky, and the vehicle was torn to pieces. In a couple of minutes the 
wreakage was pushed aside—there was no stopping, we had to continue! 

Darkness arrived. The 15./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 had 
crossed the Caen-Villers-Bocage road. I was waiting impatiently for the 
I./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25. The constant air attacks had slowed 
the pace dramatically. Finally Waldmuller reported the arrival of the bat¬ 
talion, and I was informed the air attacks had not caused excessive losses. 
At about 2300 hours a liaison officer from the 21. Panzer-Division reached 
me. That division was fighting near Troarn and north of Caen. The divi¬ 
sional commander, Generalleutnant Feuchtinger, was expecting me at the 
command post of the 716. Infanterie-Division. I left immediately. Low-fly¬ 
ing German bombers were flying across the road. They were met with 
intense defensive fire as soon as they reached the area of the invasion fleet. 
A few trucks were burning on the road. It was a hellish trip. 

Caen was a sea of flames. Agitated people were wandering through the 
rubble; streets were blocked and burning smoke was rolling through the 
town. Beautiful churches were converted into heaps of rubble, the work of 
generations was transformed into a sea of ashes and ruin. 

All of that had occurred despite the fact there wasn’t a single combat 
unit in the city. Allied bombers had killed French civilians and destroyed 
cultural facilities forever. Seen from a military point of view, the destruc¬ 
tion of Caen was an egregious error. 

The bunker was situated in a quarry, dug deep into the earth. 
Wounded soldiers of the 716. Infanterie-Division and the 21. Panzer-Divi¬ 
sion were in the passageways, groaning in pain. Doctors and medics were 
working feverishly; ambulances were being loaded to U'ansfer the wounded 
to the rear. 

At 2400 hours I was standing before the commander of the 716. Infan¬ 
terie-Division, Generalleutnant Richter. This division had experienced the 
full firestorm of the Allied attack and, after 24 hours, it had virtually ceased 
to exist as a fighting unit. It was still conducting a defense from strong- 
points, but communications between the regimental and battalion and 
divisional command posts no longer existed. Nothing was known about 
which positions had been overrun. 

The commander briefed the situation to me. The silence was broken 
by a ringing telephone. One of the regimental commanders, Oberst Krug, 
reported from his bunker asking for further orders. He stated: “The enemy 
is standing on the top of the bunker. I have no means of engaging him, 
nor any contact with my units. What should I do?” An icy silence settled in 
the bunker. Everybody looked at the divisional commander. The tone of 



218 


GRENADIERS 


the man’s speech was shocking: “I cannot give you any further orders; do 
what you have to do. Goodbye!” 

The 716. Infanterie-Division had been destroyed in the truest sense of 
the word. It did not exist anymore. It had fought bravely, but the enemy’s 
superiority in men and equipment was too great. The 716. Infanterie-Divi¬ 
sion had been attacked during the night of the 5-6 June from 2300 hours 
until dawn by the Royal Air Force. Following that, the entire 8th U.S. Air 
Force in England was employed in the sector of the division. More than 
1,000 American aircraft attacked the coastal defenses in the half hour pre¬ 
ceding the Allied landings. 

After the Royal Air Force had stopped its bombing, the naval forces 
started their bombardment: five battleships, two monitors, nineteen cruis¬ 
ers and seventy-seven destroyers and two cannon boats let loose with every¬ 
thing they had. Once the invasion forces had landed, their owti artillery 
joined in. Finally, naval rocket ships fired their salvos into this inferno. 
(The rockets ships had been specially built for the invasion.) 

Despite this enormous destructive fire of the naval guns and the 
bombing, the bunkers that remained held out until late in the afternoon. 
But the human spirit was powerless against such masses of steel; the soldier 
had to bow before the weight of the onslaught. The sector of the 716. 
Infanterie-Division had been transformed into a moonscape; only the 
occasional defender had escaped the firestorm. 

After the dramatic events in the bunker of the 716. Infanterie-Division, 
the commander of the 21. Panzer-Division gave a run down on its deploy¬ 
ment. He stated: 

I did not learn about the invasion until I heard a report just after 
midnight on 6June that airborne and air-landed troops had been 
employed in the vicinity of Troarn. Since I had received orders 
not to move, I could not do anything for the time being other 
than order the division to stand-to. I waited impatiendy for orders 
all night, but not a single order was received from higher head¬ 
quarters. Since I was aware that my armor division was the closest 
to the enemy area of operations, I finally became convinced at 
0630 hours that I had to do something. I ordered my tanks to 
attack the British 6th Airborne Division, which had dug itself into 
a bridgehead across the Ome. I thought it was the most immedi¬ 
ate threat to the German positions. 

Right after I had made my decision, I was informed by Heeres- 
gruppe B that I had been attached to the 7. Armee. At 0930 I was 
informed that I would start receiving my orders from the IV. 



The Invasion 


219 


Armee-Korps and, finally at 1000 hours, I received my first opera¬ 
tion orders. I had to stop my tank attack against the British 6th 
Airborne Division and turn westwards to support the forces 
defending Caen. 

After I had crossed the Orne, I moved north towards the coast. 

By that time the enemy—consisting of three British and three 
Canadian divisions—had made good progress and gained control 
of a strip of land about ten kilometers deep. The fire of the Allied 
antitank guns put 11 tanks out of acdon just after 1 had started. 

My Kampfgruppe managed to get past those guns and reach the 
coast at Lion sur Mer at 1900 hours. 

The 21. Panzer-Division, the only armored formation immediately 
available which could have decisively influenced the course of the inva¬ 
sion, was robbed of its combat power in the initial phase of the fighting. 
Instead of moving like lightning into the massed concentration of landed 
enemy forces, the division was condemned to be burnt out in dribs and 
drabs. It had remained inactive around Caen until 0630 hours, only attack¬ 
ing the air-landed division at Troarn. The enemy main effort was not at 
Troarn, however. It was north of Caen. Elements of the division were not 
employed north of Caen until the afternoon. 

In the hands of an experienced tank commander—like Rommel in 
1940 and many commanders after him—the 21. Panzer-Division would 
have been able to create a difficult situation for the Allies, provided the 
commander had led the attack from the front, advancing in his own tank. 
Guderian’s proven rule—Klotzen nicht kleckern!—had been flagrantly dis¬ 
regarded. 

The command post of the 21. Panzer-Division was still at St. Pierre sur 
Dives, about thirty kilometers away from the coast. During the night of 6-7 
June the divisional commander was out of communications with his units. 
Shortly after midnight, he informed us the Allies might have already 
reached the airfield at Carpiquet. However, he didn’t have any specific 
information. 

SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 immediately launched combat 
reconnaissance. At 1300 hours Carpiquet, Rots and Buron were reported 
clear of the enemy. Buron was held by scattered elements of the 716. 
Infanterie-Division. Les Buissons had been occupied by Allied troops. The 
left flank of the 21. Panzer-Division was on the railway line as far as 
Epron; there were no German units west of Epron at the moment. The 
western outskirts of Caen and the airfield at Carpiquet were not defended. 
The unit which was supposed to defend the airfield had left its well- 



220 


GRENADIERS 


constructed positions in panic on 6 June; it had consisted of Luftwaffe 
ground personnel. 

The reinforced SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 was moving along 
the Villers Bocage-Caen road. It was briefed on the situation by liaison offi¬ 
cers. The battalion commanders were ordered to report to the temporary 
regimental command post just west of Caen at the rail and road junction. 

There was a pessimistic mood in the divisional bunker. It was time to 
leave. Shortly before I left the bunker, I was summoned to the telephone. 
Our divisional commander, Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Witt was at the 
command post of the 21. Panzer-Division at St. Pierre and asked for a situ¬ 
ation report. I explained the situation the way I was told by the command¬ 
ers of the 716. Infanterie-Division and the 21. Panzer-Division. The 
commander did not interrupt me and said at the end: 

The situation necessitates speedy action. First of all, the enemy must 
be denied Caen and the Carpiquet airfield. It can be assumed that the 
enemy has already assembled his units and they are prepared to defend 
insofar as they have not deployed for further attacks. Therefore, it would 
be wrong to commit our divisional units as soon as they arrive. The only 
possible option is a coordinated attack with the 21. Panzer-Division. 

Therefore, the division will attack the enemy in conjunction with the 
21. Panzer-Division and throw him into the sea. The attack will start tomor¬ 
row at 1200 hours. 

I quickly took my leave of the two commanders and left the bunker 
with those accompanying me. There were still some wounded in the pas¬ 
sageways; the majority had already been evacuated. The streets of Caen 
were devoid of people, neither soldiers nor civilians could be seen. Only 
combat engineers could be seen at places where rubble was blocking the 
roads. There was no sign of life other than the combat engineers. Caen 
was a dead city. The revolting smell of fire hung heavily in the streets. 
Smoldering beams and houses were showing us the way. We were quiet, 
nobody said a word—we were thinking of the fires burning back in Ger¬ 
many. Individual aircraft were flying over us; the light bulbs for the aerial 
photographs bathed the deserted streets with flickering light. Where was 
our Luftwaffe, for God’s sake? 

Our command post was beside the main road; it was in a little country 
house surrounded by taller, older trees that provided aerial concealment. 
That was essential if you wanted to live to see the next day. It was a mess 
inside the house. It must have been abandoned within the space of a cou¬ 
ple of minutes by Luftwaffe troops. They had probably belonged to the air¬ 
field defense unit that had abandoned the area so quickly. 



The Invasion 


221 


The commander of the I./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 reported; 
he was quickly briefed on the situation. A short handshake told all. We 
were about to start a difficult journey. 

The battalion dismounted and its vehicles disappeared in the dark. No 
vehicles moved through the city; all of them turned south. 

Battalion after battalion arrived. In the meantime, it had become day. 
The sky started to become busy again. There was no sense in looking for 
concealment from the aircraft which were constantly overhead. 

The soldiers waved at me. They were moving forward to their baptism 
of fire in a calm manner. They showed no self-pity. They were determined 
to prove themselves. Relendess attacks by fighter-bombers and naval guns 
hit the approach routes. Nevertheless, the assembly areas were reached in 
time. 

I set out for our forward command post at the Ardenne monastery. 
Erich, my driver, had already traded in our Kfz 15 for a smaller Volkswagen 
Kubelwagen in order not to provide too obvious a target, but this precau¬ 
tionary measure was not of much use. We would hardly start moving when 
we found ourselves in a ditch. Machine-gun bursts from the fighter- 
bombers tore up the earth around us. Back into the vehicle—and after a 
couple of hundred meters an elegant leap back into the ditch! It almost 
drove us crazy, but Erich soon learned how to handle it. He set off like 
greased lightning and, as soon as a fighter-bomber started its dive, he 
stepped on the brakes so hard that the car almost overturned. In that way 
he got me to the monastery. I was happy to have solid walls around me. 
The monastery was an old ruin with a large orchard, surrounded by high 
walls of rough stone. Two church towers dominated the countryside, 
affording excellent observation. 

One of the towers had already become an observation post for the 
heavy artillery battalion. Bartling reported the artillery was ready to open 
fire. The Panzergrenadiere had reached their deployment positions. The 
II./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 was right in front of me. I saw the 
combat reconnaissance element disappearing into the bushes. The heavy 
infantry weapons had taken up their firing positions and, in the meantime, 
the machine guns and 20 mm Flak were firing at the fighter-bombers. 

Everything was ready, but where were the tanks? Could they reach the 
front? Was it not madness to expect tanks in the face of these fighter- 
bomber sorties? Instead of the tanks so desperately longed for, however, 
the commander of a mortar battalion reported. I was happy to hear that 
he had plenty of ammunition. The battalion established positions on the 
northern outskirts of Caen. 



222 


GRENADIERS 


In the meantime it had become 1000 hours, and the first tanks 
appeared. The relentless fighter-bomber attacks had considerably hin¬ 
dered their approach march. The commander of the battalion reported 
fifty Panzer IVs were operational. The rest were somewhere along the 
approach route and would arrive during the course of the night. I then 
felt considerably better. Our attack would have inevitably been condemned 
to failure without tank support. 

If only we could eliminate that damned naval gunfire. The heavy shells 
were roaring above our heads like express trains, digging themselves into 
the rubble of the town. The fighter-bombers hardly bothered us anymore; 
we knew we would continue to have that plague above us constantly from 
then on. 

I climbed a tower, so as to have a look at the terrain. I thought I might 
be able to see the coast. What a surprise! The terrain as far as die coast was 
spread before me like a sandtable. There was intense activity on the coast. 
Ship after ship bobbed on the water; countless barrage balloons protected 
this armada from air attack. The latter measure was unnecessary; the Luft¬ 
waffe appeared not to exist anymore. 

Enemy tank formations were forming up west of Douvres. The whole 
expanse looked like an anthill. And what was going on behind us—smok¬ 
ing rubble, empty roads and burning vehicles. The Caen-Falaise road was 
straight as an arrow for kilometers on end, but there wasn’t a single indi¬ 
cator of German combat power. It was waiting under cover somewhere; it 
could only dare to move forward during die night. 

Fighter-bombers attacked the monastery without causing any damage. 
The soldiers swore at the fighter-bomber plague. 

But what at that moment? Was I seeing clearly? An enemy tank was 
pushing through the orchards of Contest! It then stopped. The com¬ 
mander opened his hatch and observed the terrain. Was he blind? Didn’t 
he realize he was only 200 meters from the Panzergrenadiere of the II./SS- 
Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 and the barrels of our antitank guns were 
directed at him? Obviously not. He calmly lit a cigarette and looked at its 
smoke. Not a single round was fired. The battalion maintained excellent 
fire discipline. 

I then saw what was happening! It had become clear. The tank had 
been sent forward to provide flank cover. Enemy tanks were rolling 
towards Authie from Buron. My God! What an opportunity! The tanks 
were moving right across the front of the II./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regi- 
ment 25! The enemy formation was showing us its unprotected flank. I 
issued orders to all battalions, the artillery and the tanks: “Do not fire! Fire 
on my command only!” 



The Invasion 


223 


The commander of the SS-Panzer-Regiment 12 had positioned his 
command vehicle in the garden of the monastery. Wire was quickly laid to 
the tank and the enemy situation relayed from the tower to all the tanks. 
One company was in the monastery grounds and another on the reverse 
slope south of Franqueville. 

The enemy commander only seemed concerned with the airfield; it 
was right in front of him. He already controlled it with his weapons. He 
did not realize that destruction awaited him on the reverse slope. As soon 
as his tanks crossed the Caen-Bayeux road he would run into the tank 
company of the II./SS-Panzer-Regiment 12. Only a few meters separated 
the iron monsters from each other. 

We were staring spellbound at this spectacle! Wunsche, commander of 
SS-Panzer-Regiment 12, quietly transmitted the enemy tank movements. 
Nobody dared raise his voice. 

I was thinking of Guderian’s principle—Klotzen nicht kleckern!—and 
the divisional plan of attack but, in this situation, I had to use my own ini¬ 
tiative. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 was still east of the Orne and the 
I./SS-Panzer-Regiment 12 could not move because of the lack of fuel. It 
was thirty kilometers east of the Orne. Fuel could not be supplied because 
of the intense air activity. Decision: As soon as the leading enemy tanks 
passed Franqueville, the III./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 would 
attack with the tank company positioned on the reverse slope. Once the 
battalion reached Authie, the other battalions would then join the fight. 
Objective: The coast. 

The commander of the 21. Panzer-Division was briefed on the situa¬ 
tion and asked for support. An unbearable pressure rested on us at that 
point. It would have to happen soon. The enemy spearhead pushed past 
Franqueville and started across the road. I gave the signal for the attack to 
Wunsche. The last thing I heard was: “Achtung! Panzer Marsch!” The ten¬ 
sion faded away. 

There was the report of guns and muzzle flashes at Franqueville. The 
lead enemy tank was ablaze, and 1 watched the crew bailing out. More 
tanks were torn to pieces with loud explosions. Suddenly, a Panzer IV 
started to burn; a blast of flame shot out of the hatches. Ganadian infantry 
tried to reach Authie and continue the battle from there, but it was in 
vain. The Panzergrenadiere of die III./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 
were keen not to allow the tanks to outdo them. The wanted to enter 
to Authie. They had just reached it, when the I. and II./SS-Panzer- 
Grenadier-Regiment 25 began to attack. The enemy had been struck deep 
in his flank at that point. We took Franqueville and Authie through ener¬ 
getic offensive action. Contest and Buron had to follow. The enemy 




224 


GRENADIERS 


forces seemed to be totally surprised. Neither side’s artillery had fired up 
to that point. 

The attack proceeded quickly. Prisoners were collected and marched 
to the rear with their hands in the air. The III./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regi- 
ment 25 advanced on Buron; the II./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 
had already pushed through Contest and was engaged with enemy tanks. 

I jumped on a motorcycle and went over to the Ill./SS-Panzer- 
Grenadier-Regiment 25. 1 encountered the first wounded. They were 
going to the aid station in the monastery. About 50 Canadians were stand¬ 
ing with their hands up, guarded by some Panzergrenadiere in the 
orchard at Gussy. I let them lower their arms and ordered their immediate 
evacuation to the monastery. The village of Cussy had the pallor of death 
about it, but just beyond the last farm it was more lively than I would have 
liked. I had scarcely reached open ground when Canadian “greetings” 
were flying around my ears. The tanks at the southern outskirts of Buron 
were trying to fire at me, but it was not so easy—I dashed across the fields 
like lightning. 

At that point they got me! 1 no longer know how I got to be lying next 
to a Canadian soldier. Smoke and explosions surrounded me without 
interruption. The Canadian and I were in a bomb crater. We watched each 
other nonplussed. We kept close to the crater’s edge, not letting each 
other out of sight. We were in the middle of Canadian artillery fire and 
ducked especially low when the heavy rounds from the naval guns came 
roaring over. My motorcycle was laying on the path through the field; it 
was just a heap of wreckage. 

1 don’t remember how long I laid in that damned hole. I could see, 
however, that the Panzergrenadiere were just about to enter Buron. Tanks 
were burning on both sides of the village. 

I could not stay in the hole forever—I took off, jumping in leaps and 
bounds towards the IIl./SS-Panz.er-Grenadier-Regiment 25. The Canadian 
disappeared in the direction of Cussy. Fire covered Buron at that point. A 
dispatch rider came roaring down the path; he recognized me, stopped, 
and we both raced off. 

I encountered Milius between Buron and Authie. He was proud to 
report his battalion had high morale. His losses had been slight up to diat 
point. Extremely heavy fire was then falling on Buron. One could no longer 
identify the village. Smoke, explosions and flames marked its position. The 
enemy artillery had concentrated all its strength on Buron and smashed it 
widi enormous masses of steel. I had never experienced such concentrated 
artillery fire before. I had to think of Verdun. One company of the III./SS- 
Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 was in the midst of the artillery concentra- 



The Invasion 


225 


lion. The rest of the companies were advancing towards Buissons. Milius 
followed his lead company. 

I moved to the Il./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 on another 
motorcycle. There was only light fire falling on Contest. The battalion had 
left the artillery fire behind and continued to attack in a northerly direc¬ 
tion. Scapinie, the battalion commander, was killed at the head of his men. 
A direct hit put an end to his soldier’s life. 

While with the I./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25, I noticed with 
some trepidation that the 21. Panzer-Division was not supporting the 
attack and that its tanks were stationary at Couvre Chef. As a result, the 
regiment’s right flank was open, and the enemy tanks were probing the 
flank of the I./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25. That battalion was in the 
midst of a dangerous crisis. 

Hesitating for the moment, our Panzergrenadiere remained prone. 
Suddenly 1 noticed one, then several, turn and run back to Malon. Giving 
orders wouldn’t help the situation; something else had to be done. I ran 
towards the young soldiers and pointed in the direction of the enemy. 
They stopped, watched me and then returned to their former positions. A 
Panzer IV moved into an antitank ditch and became stuck. The enemy 
tanks were then coming into range of the antitank platoon. The first Sher¬ 
man halted, smoking; the next turned in circles and was ripped apart in a 
few seconds. Our own tanks appeared and finished things up. 

Back to the regimental command post! There were 150 prisoners 
standing around in the courtyard of the monastery. They belonged to the 
Canadian 9th Brigade, which was part of the Canadian 3rd Infantry Divi¬ 
sion. The prisoners were either from the North Nova Scotia Highlanders 
or crews of the 27th Tank Regiment (Sherbrooke Fusiliers). I had a con¬ 
versation with some of the officers and then climbed up into the church 
tower again. 

The forward observers were continuously calling new fire missions and 
directing battery fire. I could see no movement on the battalion’s left flank. 
Only the reconnaissance company of SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 
had arrived in the combat zone. The battalions had been so delayed by air 
attacks that we could not count on the regiment being employed. 

SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 12 still had no contact with the enemy on 
the division’s left flank; it reconnoitered in the direction of Bayeux. 

While the division’s chief ordnance officer, SS-Obersturmfuhrer 
Meitzel, was briefing me, we noticed a lot of enemy movement west of the 
Muc. Armored forces were pushing ahead towards Bretteville. The Muc 
was a little brook with vegetation on its banks; at Rots the banks become 
higher, thus creating a natural antitank obstacle for an attack from west to 




226 


GRENADIERS 


east or vice versa. An 88 mm Flak battery in the area of Franqueville was 
covering the sector. 

Excitedly, I observed the dust clouds west of the Muc. Tank after tank 
was rolling over the high ground towards Bretteville. There were no Ger¬ 
man troops in that sector that could stop the enemy’s advance. Enemy 
tank forces were thus rolling right into the approach-march area of SS- 
Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 if they continued their advance along the 
Caen-Bayeux road. There were only a few scattered infanuymen of the 
716. Infanterie-Division in Bretteville itself. The way was open deep into 
our flanks. 

As we later determined, the observed units were the Canadian 7th 
Brigade with units of the Regina Rifles and the Canadian Scottish Regi¬ 
ments. Under those circumstances, the attack of the SS-Panzer-Grenadier- 
Regiment 25 had to be stopped immediately. It would have been 
irresponsible to continue the attack with open flanks and against the unbe¬ 
lievable field and naval artillery fire. The attack was called off, and the 
l./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 was withdrawn as far as the 21. 
Panzer-Division. The division ordered that the recaptured territory be 
defended until reinforcements arrived. 

In the monastery orchard our wounded comrades were being cared 
for; the young soldiers were laying side by side and cheered each other up. 
Canadians were next to German soldiers. The doctors and medics didn’t 
look at the uniforms. There was nothing that separated them at this point. 
The only thing that mattered was saving lives. 

It had become impossible to evacuate the wounded. The fighter- 
bombers were attacking every ambulance. The regimental doctors reported 
to me that the medical company attached to the regiment was no longer 
fully operational. Fighter-bombers had attacked the medical company while 
on the march and destroyed some of the vehicles carrying medical equip¬ 
ment. Unfortunately, some of the medics were killed. 

The Red Cross no longer offered any protection. To distinguish the 
medical vehicles even more, all ambulances were painted snow white, but 
that measure also proved to be useless. A temporary military hospital was 
established with the assistance of French doctors. The French took special 
care of the severely wounded Canadians. Under the protective cover of 
night the wounded and prisoners were moved to the rear. 

The first day’s combat losses were painful. Besides the commander of 
the II./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25, some of the company com¬ 
manders were killed or injured. The III./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 
25 suffered heavy' casualties at Buron under the heavy artillery fire. The 
tank battalion had lost six Panzer IVs, two of them totally destroyed. 



The Invasion 


227 


The enemy losses were considerably higher. According to Lieutenant 
Colonel Mel Gordon, the Canadian 27th Tank Regiment had lost twenty- 
eight Shermans and the North Nova Scoda Highlanders lost 245 men in 
all: Killed, wounded and captured. The attack of SS-Panzer-Grenadier- 
Regiment 25 had halted the enemy’s operadons against Caen. Unfortu¬ 
nately, it was not possible to continue the attack on 7 June. 

A deliberate attack by the 12. SS-Panzer-Division and the 21. Panzer- 
Division on 7 June would have been successful and the bridgehead north 
of Caen would have been crushed, had it been left in the hands of the 
respective unit commanders. However, the divisions were held back and 
could only be employed after being released by the Oberkommando der 
Wehrmacht. Both of the divisions could have operated together north of 
Caen on 6 June. During the course of the night, SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regi- 
ment 26 arrived in its sector. The threat to the flanks had finally been 
ended. 

The I./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 had been stopped during its 
attack on Norrey and could not advance any further. The attack of the 
l./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 on the right bank of the Muc, which 
was supposed to establish contact with SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25, 
broke down in the face of flanking fire from Norrey. 

An attack by the II./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 from the direc¬ 
tion of Le Mesnil and Patry led to the encirclement and elimination of 
three companies of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles at Putot en Bessin. The 
Canadian 9th Brigade ordered the Canadian Scottish Regiment to 
counterattack; suffering heavy losses, it pushed the II./SS-Panzer-Grenadier- 
Regiment 26 back to a position just south of Putot. The III./SS-Panzer- 
Grenadier-Regiment 26 was in defensive positions along the railway 
embankment at Bronay. 

The Panzer-Lehr-Division, under the command of Generalleutnant 
Bayerlin, reached the front on 8 June at Tilly. The division had already suf¬ 
fered severe losses on its approach march. More than forty armored vehi¬ 
cles carrying fuel and ninety trucks had been destroyed. Five tanks, four 
prime-movers and four self-propelled guns had also been destroyed. Those 
were serious losses for a unit which had not even seen action. 

Shortly after midnight, SS-Obersturmfuhrer von Ribbentrop reported 
to me at the command post. Von Ribbentrop had been injured in the 
shoulder two weeks before the invasion by fire from a low-flying aircraft; 
he stood in front of me with his arm in a sling. He had taken off from the 
military hospital and was looking for his tank company. Since I already 
knew von Ribbentrop from earlier operations, I did nothing to send him 
back to the hospital. 




228 


GRENADIERS 


I visited the battalions during the night and inspected the individual 
positions of the companies. I was struck dumb by the positive attitude and 
spirit of the soldiers. We, the old soldiers, had been deeply impressed by 
the events of the day. The artillery fire and enemy air attacks had affected 
all of us. Not so the young soldiers. For them, it was the baptism of fire 
they had expected. They knew that many hard days and weeks lay ahead of 
them. Their attitude deserved respect. 

Important enemy documents were found during a search of the bat- 
defield at Authie and Franqueville. All the signals instructions were recov¬ 
ered from the first enemy tank that had been knocked out. 

Towards evening on 8 June, Canadian carriers coming from Putot 
moved over the mined bridge at the outskirts of Bronay directly in front of 
the barrel of an antitank gun posiuoned there. One of the vehicles burned 
up with its passengers and crew; the other one was undamaged. A first lieu¬ 
tenant and his driver were dead. In that vehicle a valuable map was found; 
it detailed all enemy positions on both sides of the Orne with exact details 
of weapons, down to mortars and machine guns. Instead of the actual 
names of places and terrain features, animal names were used which 
began with the same letter. For example, the Orne was called the 
“Orinoco.” Terrain unsuitable for tanks was highlighted. 

A notebook was found on a dead captain with notes concerning the 
operadons order for the invasion. It also contained information concern¬ 
ing the conduct of operations and the rules of engagement concerning 
civilians. 

The codenames and signals instructions were used by the enemy for 
two more days, allowing our own signals intelligence platoon to monitor 
and evaluate the enemy signals traffic. 

On the afternoon of 8 June I made a trip around the regimental sec¬ 
tor with the divisional commander, visiting the I./SS-Panzer-Grenadier- 
Regiment 26 afterwards. Low-flying aircraft were on our tail. I was glad 
to bring my commander back to my command post in one piece. SS- 
Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 then received orders to relieve the pressure 
on the I./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 by attacking Bretteville- 
rOrgueilleuse from the east. It would be joined in the attack by the 
recently arrived Panther company of the I./SS-Panzer-Regiment 12 and 
the 15. (Aufklarung)/SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25. The attack was 
planned for the following night. Day attacks had become impossible given 
the Allied air supremacy. 

The Panthers advanced from Caen towards Franqueville and the front 
shortly before nightfall. That made their way slowly toward the front. The 
tank commanders had been briefed in detail; the company commanders 



The Invasion 


229 


and platoon leaders had reconned the ground during the afternoon and 
knew every fold. The tank company was positioned to move in a wedge for¬ 
mation. The Panzeraufklarer climbed onto their vehicles. I moved from 
vehicle to vehicle, saying a few words of encouragement to the young sol¬ 
diers. 

The company commander, von Buttner, my adjutant for many years, 
suddenly reminded me of a promise I made to the 15. (Aufklarung)/SS- 
Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 during combat training at Beverloo in Bel¬ 
gium. At that time, I told the company: “Boys, the reconnaissance company 
is always the spearhead of the regiment. You bear a lot of responsibility. I 
promise you that I will be in your ranks to witness your baptism of fire.” 
The time had come; the company was going to its baptism of fire. Conse- 
quendy, I had to accompany them. 

My old friend and comrade, Helmut Belke, arrived with a motorcycle 
combination. He had constantly been by my side as a dispatch rider, a 
squad leader and section leader since 1939. He has accompanied me 
across all the battlefields. In the sidecar was Dr. Stift. I jumped on the rear 
seat and directed Helmut to the Caen-Bayeux road. On our right tank 
engines were rumbling. The grenadiers had mounted up; they were taking 
cover behind the turrets. The young soldiers were waving to me. They 
were slapping each other on the back and probably remembered my 
promise. They pointed to my motorcycle and shook their heads. My “ride” 
appeared to cause them some concern. 

The commander of SS-Panzer-Regiment 12, Max Wunsche, wanted to 
accompany the Panther company. He had also been fighting at my side 
since 1939. We knew each other; there was no need for discussion. A look, 
a signal, and the tanks were rolling into the night. 

To the left of the road was an 88 mm battery in firing position. After a 
few minutes we had left the last outposts behind. The tanks were rolling 
ahead at full speed off the right-hand side of the road. There were no 
obstacles and the tank drivers could put the pedal to the metal. A motor¬ 
cycle section and the artillery forward observer’s vehicle were following a 
few hundred meters behind me. 

The engine was our strongest weapon. It was time to move out! The 
speed increased, only the outline of the tanks could be seen. I wanted to 
be through Rots before nightfall. That was what had been arranged with 
Wunsche. The first buildings in Rots appeared. The tanks were behind us, 
to the right. It was like sitting on a volcano, but Helmut continued to drive 
on. indefatigably. We were barely clinging to the bike so as to be able to 
get off the road as quickly as possible. We waited for the tanks at the out¬ 
skirts of the village. They arrived in a few minutes. The first section of the 



230 


GRENADIERS 


reconnaissance company dismounted and moved ahead on the ground. 
The village was clear of the enemy and we pushed quickly through. 

The Panthers had to move one behind the other through the village. 
As soon as they had the village behind them, they resumed the wedge for¬ 
mation. Two Panthers went roaring down the road towards Bretteville. The 
rest pushed ahead on both sides of the road. In the darkness, I was only 
able to see the red-hot exhaust stacks of the tanks. Norrey was already just 
behind us to the left. We would have to encounter the Canadian outposts 
in the next few seconds. Bretteville was only a few hundred meters in front 
of us. 

Crack! Crack! The report and muzzle flash of guns could be seen on 
the road. The two lead Panthers were firing round after round from their 
guns. They cleared the road with their fire and roared into the village at 
top speed. That was the way we had fought in the east, but would these sur¬ 
prise tactics achieve the same for us in Normandy? 

All the tanks were firing into the village at that point; enemy machine- 
gun fire responded. We had positioned ourselves right behind the second 
Panther. It was getting too uncomfortable on the road for my taste. We 
moved to the right and worked our way forward along the ditch. 

I tripped over a dead Canadian. A small armored carrier was smoking 
along the road embankment. As we moved on, I heard somebody groan¬ 
ing. A wounded man was on the road over to our left; machine-gun bursts 
were ripping down the street. Additional Panthers with Panzergrenadiere 
mounted on them were pushing into the village. 

We advanced along the ditch in a series of bounds. I reached the 
wounded man. He was lying on his back, groaning and in pain. My God, it 
was von Buttner! The reconnaissance company commander had been shot 
in the stomach. 1 felt for and found the severe wound. BPttner recognized 
me and squeezed my hand. As an old frontline soldier he knew diis was his 
last battle. “Tell my wife I loved her very much!” came from his lips, slowly 
but clearly. 1 knelt by his side as the doctor dressed his wound. Helmut 
Belke was covering us, kneeling a few meters away. 

I heard a sound from the other side of the road; a shadow ran across 
it. Friend or foe? Belke fired as he dove and hit a Canadian in the head; 
Belke also fell at the side of the road. My companion for so many years did 
not stand up; he had also fought his last battle, killed by a round to the 
stomach. I tried to give him hope, but he would hear none of it: “No, no I 
know what this means. This is the end. Please tell my parents!” 

Panzergrenadiere were storming past us. SS-Oberscharfuhrer Sander, 
son of the mayor of Dessau, clasped Helmut’s hand. Sander was also killed 
in action a few hours later. Tears were running down my face; the old com- 




The Invasion 


231 


rades were thinning out. I jumped on the motorcycle in order to regain 
contact with our forces. A few seconds later I was in flames; the fuel tank 
had been penetrated and was burning like a torch. The Panzergrenadiere 
dragged me off and smothered the flames with dirt. 

There was firing from all directions in the village. We had reached the 
center, but the lead tank had been hit. The command post of the “Regina 
Rifles” had been overrun. The surprise attack was successful, but where 
were the Panzergrenadiere of SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26? We could 
not hold out there on our own, and we were too weak to capture all of 
Bretteville. With heavy heart I decided to withdraw the units at dawn to the 
high ground east of Rots. The result of the operations up to that point was 
that Montgomery had not achieved his objective. According to the opera¬ 
tion plan, Caen should had been taken by the Allies on 6 June. 

At about midday the I./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 assumed the 
Rots sector. SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Wiinsche was wounded during the 
night attack and SS-Obersturmfuhrer FuB, platoon leader in the recon¬ 
naissance company, was missing. Von Biittner’s successor was killed in the 
early afternoon. The 15. (Aufklarung)/SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 
had lost two company commanders in twenty-four hours. 

I encountered the divisional intelligence officer at the regimental 
headquarters. We were both aware that the German High Command 
would have to act rather quickly if the Allied bridgehead were to be 
destroyed. Until then all the Panzer-Divisionen had been committed as 
soon as they had reached the combat zone. None of them had been able 
to carry out a deliberate attack. Practically all the Panzer units were already 
forced onto the defensive; the urgently needed infantry divisions were 
positioned east of the Seine and remained inactive. Day by day we were 
becoming weaker and the Allies stronger. 

During the afternoon the Commander of Panzergruppe West, General 
Geyr von Schweppenburg, arrived at the command post. The general 
knew our division quite well; he had frequently inspected it during train¬ 
ing. Our shortcomings and strong points did not go unnoticed by him. He 
expressed his appreciation to us for all we had done. 

We climbed up to the observation point in the Ardenne monastery. 
The general asked for my opinion of the situation. I explained my regi¬ 
ment’s situation in a few words and expressed my fears that the war would 
be decided in the next few days. Von Schweppenburg looked at me quickly 
and said; “My dear Herr Meyer, the war can now only be won by die politi¬ 
cians.” 

Von Schweppenburg told me he had decided to mount an attack with 
the 21. Panzer-Division, the 12. SS-Panzer-Division “Hitleijugend” and the 


232 


GRENADIERS 


Panzer-Lehr-Division. He wanted to break through to the coast with those 
divisions. It was intended for the Panzer-Lehr-Division to assume the St. 
Manvieu-Putot-Bronay sector; SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26, which 
would be freed up by that action, was to be inserted in the sector east of 
the Muc. The planned date of the attack was the night of 10-11 June. I 
thought a night attack with those forces promised success. In any event, 
the attack had to start very early, so that we would be inside the enemy’s 
positions by daybreak, thus negating the heavy naval gunfire. A daylight 
attack seemed hopeless to me because of the Allied artillery and air supe¬ 
riority. The preparations for the deliberate attack began immediately, but 
the difficulties were enormous. Ammunition and fuel supplies could only 
be brought up at night. For example, the ammunition had to be brought 
up from the woods north of Paris. 

The sector in front of SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 was quiet; the 
enemy had probably received too much of a shock on 7 and 8 June to 
undertake additional attacks on Caen. There was a constant series of 
defensive and offensive operations in the sector to our left. The Panzer- 
Lehr-Division had taken Melon and was holding that sector. 

* 


I had already been told at the outset of the invasion that the Allies did 
not take the Geneva Convention very seriously and the divisions that had 
already landed had taken few prisoners. On the morning of 9 June I found 
a group of German soldiers on the railway line south of Rots. They had 
obviously not been killed in action as they were all laying next to the road 
and all had been shot through the head. They were soldiers from the 21. 
Panzer-Division and the staff of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division “Hitletjugend”. 
The incident was immediately reported to the division which, in turn, 
passed it back to corps. 

The regimental commander of Panzer-Artillerie-Regiment 130 
(Panzer-Lehr-Division) became a British prisoner of war together with a 
battalion commander, Major Zeifiler, Hauptmann Graf Clary-Aldringen, 
and about six noncommissioned officers and enlisted men on the morn¬ 
ing of 8 June. They had been captured by armor from the British “Inns of 
Court” Regiment, which had penetrated behind the German lines. 

After the German officers had refused to voluntarily act as human 
shields, the badly injured Oberst Luxemburger was fettered by two British 
officers, beaten unconscious and, in that blood-covered condition, tied to 
a British tank as a shield. After receiving orders from their superiors, the 



The Invasion 


233 


British tanks fired on Major ZeiBler, Hauptmann Graf Clary-Aldringen and 
the other soldiers as they moved off'. 

Hauptmann Graf Clary was found by members of SS-Bataillon Siebken 
and brought to the battalion command post. The British tank on which 
Oberst Luxemburger had been tied as a shield was hit by a German anti¬ 
tank gun; he died two days later in a military hospital. Hauptmann Graf 
Clary received first aid from SS-Sanitater Kloden. 

On 7 June, a notebook was found on a Canadian captain with notes 
about the orders given before the invasion. Besides the tactical instruc¬ 
tions, there were also instructions on how to fight. It read: “No prisoners 
are to be taken.” The notebook was given to the Commander-in-Chief of 
the 7. Armee, Generaloberst Dollmann, by the Operations Officer of the 
12. SS-Panzer-Division on 8 June. The officers and men of the Canadian 
3rd Division, who had been interrogated by the 12. SS-Panzer-Division, 
confirmed they had received orders from their superiors not to take any 
prisoners. A soldier stated that they were not supposed to take prisoners if 
they were hindering operations. 

During Bernhard Siebken’s war crimes trial in November 1948, Oberst 
i.G. Meyer-Detering, the Intelligence Officer to the Commander-in-Chief 
West, Feldmarschall von Rundstedt, stated: “Right at the onset of the inva¬ 
sion, I twice received documents captured in the Canadian Army sector on 
the eastern flank of the invasion front which showed that no prisoners 
were to be taken.” 

At the same trial Oberstleutnant i.G. von Zastrow, who was the intelli¬ 
gence officer to the Commanding General of Panzergmppe West, General 
Geyr von Schweppenburg, stated that he obtained information at that time 
of crimes committed by Allied troops in violation of the Hague Declara¬ 
tion on Land Warfare and of the Geneva Convention. He then told about 
one incident when a number of German soldiers had been shot by Cana¬ 
dian soldiers after they had already been taken prisoner. 

Furthermore, Oberstleutnant von Zastrow gave evidence concerning a 
Canadian captain. This captain had been taken prisoner during the course 
of the fighting in the Somme area. Because he belonged to the same unit 
in which the orders were found at the beginning of the invasion and where 
crimes had been committed, von Zastrow accused him of those violations 
of international law. When asked directly whether he had heard about the 
shooting of German prisoners, the captain answered: “I wasn’t involved in 
the invasion; I’ve only been serving with the unit as a replacement for a 
short time. I had heard about atrocities, however. But then very strict 
orders were issued that any such incidents would be punished.” 



234 


GRENADIERS 


I outline these incidents here, because they illustrate how the Allies 
conducted their fighting and because they decisively influenced my own 
personal destiny. I want to briefly cover the subject of “war criminals” here 
before it is again covered later. 


* 


The preparations for the deliberate attack were in full swing. There 
were only a couple of hours available to accomplish the only hammer blow 
available against the bridgehead. If this blow were not successful there 
wouldn’t be another chance to drive the Allies into the sea. After the 
attack ended the three Panzer-Divisionen would be burnt out and not able 
to repeat such an operation. 

After the orders of Panzergruppe West had been issued in the pres¬ 
ence of the Commander-in-Chief of Heeresgruppe B, Feldmarschall Rom¬ 
mel, the Panzer-Lehr-Division reported an enemy breakthrough from the 
west. Shortly after that report the operations staff of Panzergruppe West 
was virtually annihilated by a carpet-bomb attack. Panzergruppe West lost 
its Chief of Staff, General Ritter und Edler von Dawans, the operations offi¬ 
cer, and a number of other officers. During that attack, we also lost our 
liaison officer, SS-Hauptsturmfiihrer Wilhelm Beck, a tank company com¬ 
mander who had participated in every engagement since 1939. He had 
been awarded the Knight’s Cross for his part in the recapture of Kharkov. 
The signals battalion was put out of action. The commanding general, who 
was lightly injured, escaped with a few men. He was out of action until 26 
June and, as a result, there was no coordinated counterattack during the 
next few days. The armor units had to revert to the defensive as a result of 
the increasing daily pressure of the English armored divisions. 

On 11 June, the front came to life on the left flank of SS-Panzer- 
Grenadier-Regiment 25.1 immediately went to the I./SS-Panzer-Grenadier- 
Regiment 26 and found Bernhard Krause at his battalion’s observation 
post. Together we watched an attack on the positions of SS-Pionier-Batail- 
lon 12 on the high ground north of Cheux. The ground was prepared by 
all calibers of weapons and was converted into a smoking, smoldering mass 
in a couple of minutes. We were looking through a scissors telescope and 
could not see any movement, no matter how hard we tried. The fire then 
started to fall on the rear slope of the hill and slowly shifted towards the 
village of Cheux. Canadian infantry jumped out of the ditches and from 
behind vegetation and attacked the engineer’s position with tank support. 



The Invasion 


235 


Bernhard Krause reacted immediately. In a short period of time he 
had directed his heavy infantry weapons at identified targets and the fire 
fell into the midst of the attackers. This flanking fire was not without 
impact. The enemy infantry bogged down on the forward slope of the 
high ground and suffered considerable losses. Some of the attacking tanks 
had entered the battalion’s minefields and were disabled. The Canadian 
“Queen’s Own” Infantry Regiment and the 1st Hussars Tank Regiment had 
to pull back to their original positions. They did not repeat the attack. 

On the way back to the command post of SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regi- 
ment 25, I passed through Le Bourg-Rots in order to get a quick look at 
Bretteville and Norrey and meet up with SS-Hauptsturmfiihrer Pfeifer. 
Pfeifer had been Hitler’s adjutant for a long time and was then command¬ 
ing a Panther company. His successor at the Fuhrer’s headquarters was 
then SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Giinsche, who had been the commander of the 
III./SS-Panzer-Grena-dier-Regiment 25. 

Between St. Mauvieu and Rots, I was fired on from the direction of 
Norrey. Machine- and antitank guns were trying to hit me, but my good 
old BMW was a poor target. I moved quickly on to Rots, but what was 1 to 
encounter there? Was I dreaming? Weren’t those enemy tanks moving only 
50 meters in front of me. Indeed they were! The two Shermans slowly 
moved out of the town and halted on the left-hand side of the road. The 
barrels were directed at my motorcycle! It would have been no use to turn 
round. I would not have been able to do that. So there was nothing left to 
do but to move right on through them! I accelerated to get past the two 
tanks; perhaps 1 could slink away into the wood on the right. 

Suddenly there was a bang off to my right behind me. I saw the first 
tank rocking on its tracks and a crewman leaping out of the turret as if he 
had been bitten by a tarantula. Following my instincts, I rolled to the right 
into a ditch and took cover. Before I find out what was going on, the sec¬ 
ond tank exploded. Immediately my companion and I dashed towards the 
rear and took cover again. Only then did we realize what had actually hap¬ 
pened. We had raced past the last defensive outposts just at the very 
moment they were trying to fire at the two tanks. Our troops could not 
want us. Good old Pfeiffer was in his Panther about 100 meters away from 
the first enemy tank. He had blasted both of them into the next world. SS- 
Hauptsturmfuhrer Pfeiffer died a solder’s death twenty-four hours later, 
when he was fatally wounded by shrapnel. 

At the dressing station of SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 I again 
found a lot of wounded. The constant arrival of wounded, without any 
fighting taking place, gave us all pause to think. The conduct of operations 



236 


GRENADIERS 


was such that the Panzer-Divisionen were being decimated by naval gunfire 
and low-flying aircraft without being able to conduct offensive operations. 
It couldn’t—it mustn’t—go on like that! The Panzer-Divisionen had to 
regain freedom of movement. 

On 11 June, the II./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 was attacked by 
the Canadian “Queen’s Own Rifles” Regiment, reinforced by the 1st Hus¬ 
sars Tank Regiment and supported by strong artillery. The attack was 
repulsed. The battalion held its ground. The enemy lost twelve tanks while 
we forfeited three during those operations. Units of the Canadian 8th 
Brigade, supported by the British 46th Royal Marine Commando and 
tanks, attacked Rots. Several enemy tanks were destroyed. The village was 
evacuated under superior enemy pressure. 

A threatening situation had developed near Tilly-sur-Seulles on the 
right flank of the Panzer-Lehr-Division. On orders of the I. SS-Panzer-Korps, 
the last reserve of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division, the divisional Begleitkom- 
panie, was attached to the Panzer-Lehr-Division and deployed on its right 
flank, where the situation was stabilized. 

The situation on the Caen front became ever more threatening on a 
daily basis. The Schwerpunkt of the fighting had moved to our neighbor 
on the left, the Panzer-Lehr-Division. The enemy managed to break 
through to Caumont at Balleroy. The 7th Armoured Division was pushing 
forward to Livry; the encirclement of the I. SS-Panzer-Korps started to 
loom large. 

I was ordered to the division. There I met the commanding general of 
the I. SS-Panzer-Korps, Generaloberst der Waffen-SS Sepp Dietrich. Diet- 
rich provided an overview of the entire situation on the invasion front and 
frankly told us that there were no more reserves and he no longer believed 
a deliberate attack was possible. He railed: “They want to defend every¬ 
thing . . . but with what? Those who defend everything, defend nothing.” 

This axiom was originally formulated by Frederick the Great as: “Small 
minds want to defend everything; clever people keep their eyes on the 
main objective.” 

I visited the regiment’s battalions with the onset of nightfall. Wald- 
muller had nestled down by an antitank ditch and was pleased in a wicked 
way that all of the British salvoes were being received by the village behind 
his command post. It had been cleared of troops. The soldiers grinned as 
I groped my way through the positions. Forward outposts had been estab¬ 
lished in knocked-out enemy tanks—the poor guys could only be relieved 
after dark. There was continuous reconnaissance patrol activity by both 
sides. The left flank of the British 3rd Division was in front of the I./SS- 
Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25; next to it was the Canadian 3rd Division. 



The Invasion 


237 


The advance guard of the 7th Armoured Division reached Hill 213, 
two kilometers east of Villers-Bocage, on the morning of 13June. 

The commander of the 2./SS-schwere Panzer-Abteilung 101, SS-Ober- 
sturmfuhrer Michael Wittmann, who had already destroyed 119 tanks in 
Russia and been decorated with the Oakleaves to the Knights Cross, had 
moved in front of his company to conduct terrain reconnaissance. He 
encountered a column of enemy tanks near Hill 213. The enemy was com¬ 
pletely unprepared. He hesitated for a few moments and was undecided 
whether he should withdraw or attack the superior enemy forces. His unit 
had taken heavy losses through bombing attacks during the past few days. 
He knew every single tank was important and that he could not act care¬ 
lessly. He had to attack or the advance guard of the 7th Armoured Division 
would drive into the rear of the Panzer-Lehr-Division. If a breakthrough of 
the German front succeeded, the defense of Caen would be lifted off its 
hinges. 

He stood by himself as the 22nd Tank Brigade under its commander. 
Brigadier Hinde, moved into Villers-Bocage meeting no resistance. 
Because of this unexpected development, the lead armor element care¬ 
lessly rolled further along the road to Caen towards its objective, Hill 213. 
The motorized infantry company that followed took a break on the road. 
At that point, the thunder of a main gun cut through the morning silence. 
The lead vehicle stood there burning and, at a distance of 100 meters, a 
Tiger came roaring out of the woods. It turned onto the road, rolled along 
the line of the half-tracks and fired them all up, one after another, in quick 
succession. That was followed by a dozen armored vehicles of the regi¬ 
mental headquarters and the artillery observers and a reconnaissance pla¬ 
toon, that happened to be behind the row of vehicles. A 75 mm round 
from a Cromwell tank, fired at point-blank range, bounced off the Tiger 
without effect. Within a few minutes the road was like an inferno. Twenty- 
five tanks were in flames, all victims of this single Tiger. 

In the meantime, the enemy tanks providing cover on Hill 213 were 
attacked and destroyed by Wittmann’s remaining Tigers. Wittmann's tank 
was hit on the tracks and disabled. The crew dismounted and fought its 
way back to the company. Villers-Bocage was evacuated by the enemy, who 
pulled back to Livry. Wittmann was decorated with the Swords to his Oak- 
leaves of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. At that point, his kills totaled 
138 enemy tanks and 132 antitank guns. 

Formations of the British 49th Division attacked the positions on the 
left flank of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division. The attack was repulsed, the posi¬ 
tions held. The division asked corps for permission to withdraw from the 
salient in the sector south of Putot and Bronay to a line from St. Manvieu 


238 


GRENADIERS 


through Fontenay to Tilly. Electronic intelligence established the enemy’s 
intention to eliminate this salient by attacking it. The corps refused to 
grant permission. 

The Allied bridgehead became stronger hour by the hour. By 18 June, 
500,000 soldiers with 77,000 vehicles had been landed in France. We were 
still waiting for reinforcements and for the Luftwaffe support which we 
had been promised. But we waited in vain. Our Panzer-Divisionen were 
bleeding to death in their positions. No major decisions were made; the 
fighting was limited to tactical “repair work.” 

On 16June, 1 was urgently requested to come to the division's com¬ 
mand post. The divisional operations officer, Hubert Meyer, was on the 
telephone and indicated the matter was urgent. I could not get any details 
out of him. I rushed immediately to headquarters. Tall trees that had been 
shot to pieces still obscured the road. The ripped-open roofs on both sides 
of the road demonstrated the intense enemy naval gunfire, which had 
ceased about half an hour before. I sensed nothing good. I found the staff 
in a state of uproar. 

The faces of the soldiers told me everything. The chief-of-staff came 
forward and reported: “The divisional commander was killed in action half 
an hour ago. On order of the corps, you are the acting commander of the 
division.” We stood there speechless, but in our handshake there was an 
obligation and mutual promise: Our actions would honor our comrade 
Fritz Witt and his work all the more! 

1 sought the patch of grass on which Fritz Witt was laid to his final rest. 
I stood in front of what used to be my comrade. I could not look into his 
face; it didn’t exist anymore. 

Fritz Witt had been killed because he made sure the soldiers were the 
first ones into the trenches. When he leapt in, a round hit the ground 
immediately in front of the trench and killed him on the spot. The loss 
had affected us to the marrow. Fritz Witt was revered by all ranks of the 
division. He had close friendly relations with most of the officers in both 
peace and war. The death of the commander probably bonds the division 
even more closely together in its cohesiveness and increases its will to con¬ 
front the enemy all the more. 

SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Milius assumed command of my regiment; 
he had been the commander of the III./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 
25.1 gave his battalion to SS-Hauptsturmfiihrer Fritz Steger. The divisional 
command post was moved to Verson. 

Late in the evening, the chief-of-staff gave me a detailed report on the 
situation of die division. The division’s casualties were considerable and, in 
some cases, irreplaceable. First of all, the large number of officer and non- 



The Invasion 


239 


commissioned officer casualties had reached the danger point. Most of the 
company commanders and platoon leaders had already been killed in 
action or were wounded. The Panzergrenadier-Bataillone had, on average, 
the combat strength of two companies. There was no immediate prospect 
of receiving replacements for these losses. 

In such a situation, one could calculate the day the division would 
finally be annihilated. Continuous enemy artillery fire, together with the 
fighter-bomber and bomber sorties, devoured our division. The British 3rd 
and 49th and the Canadian 3rd Infantry Divisions and several tank 
brigades were fighting in the sector of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division. 

There was no doubt among the staff of the division that the enemy 
would attempt to pinch off the frontal salient on the left Hank of the divi¬ 
sion within the next day or so in order to secure a favorable jump-off posi¬ 
tion for the expected offensive. 

At dawn I visited the positions of the II. and IIl./SS-Panzer-Grenadier- 
Regiment 26 and the SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 12. I established their new 
positions. The mood among the grenadiers was good. Bernhard Siebken, 
the commander of the II./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26, who had lost 
a finger, accompanied me through his sector. He was unwilling to leave the 
battalion and didn’t take the loss of his finger too seriously. 

Burnt-out enemy tanks were at Putot and Bronay. Bremer’s reconnais¬ 
sance battalion had captured some enemy tanks and incorporated them in 
the defense. The battalion had suffered considerable casualties and 
needed to be pulled out of the lines as quickly as possible. 

The corps granted permission to withdraw the front to positions south 
of the Muc. The SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 12 was withdrawn from the 
lines and placed into the divisional reserve. 

In die sector of the Panzer-Lehr-Division, intensive offensive operations 
were being conducted by the British. The British 50th Infantry Division and 
several tank brigades relentlessly attacked the positions north of Tilly. 

In the early morning hours of 18 June, the earth trembled on both 
sides of Cristot as the British 49th Infantry Division threw itself at the 
deserted positions on the left flank of SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26.1 
stood next to the commander of the III./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 
26, and we watched the rounds plough up the terrain which had only been 
evacuated the day before. We congratulated ourselves on our early with¬ 
drawal. 

Cristot was occupied fairly quickly by the forces of the 49th Infantry 
Division. After a short time, the attack on Fontenay continued. The earth 
shook. The lO./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 fighting in front of us, 
was covered by masses of steel. In a very short time more than 3,000 




240 


GRENADIERS 


artillery rounds exploded on its positions. The company was fighting des¬ 
perately on the northern edge of the Parc de Boislonde. The tall trees were 
uprooted and flung into the defenders lines. A wave of tanks followed the 
barrage. The tanks fired round after round into die woods. Enemy infantry 
closely advanced behind the tanks and the company’s smashed positions 
were overrun. Some of the company’s strongpoints continued fighting, but 
they were soon silenced. Our artillery was not in a position to halt the 
attack. Units of the 49th Infantry Division pushed through to the soudiem 
edge of the woods, but they were stopped there by the 9./SS-Panzer- 
Grenadier-Regiment 26. 

Under the battalion commander’s leadership, the 9./SS-Panzer- 
Grenadier-Regiment 26 attacked the British, supported by a brief barrage 
from our artillery. It advanced to the northern edge of the woods, break¬ 
ing into the old positions. Fighting hand-to-hand, it rolled up the position 
and pushed the English back towards the north. The patch of woods was 
firmly in the hands of the III./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 again. 
But the victory did not last long. Concentrated artillery fire and well-aimed 
fire from the tanks inflicted heavy losses on the company. The survivors of 
the company were pushed back to the northern edge of Fontenay. 

The division’s front was stable but the losses had reached critical pro 
portions. There was no divisional reserve to speak of. From electronic intel¬ 
ligence we concluded there would be a new attack by strong enemy forces 
against the left flank of the division. In the sector of the brave Panzer-Lehr- 
Division, Tilly had been lost. It had been fighting for Tilly for days. 

In the early hours of 21 June, I left the divisional command post and 
moved to the sector of SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26. I met its com¬ 
mander, SS-StandartenfCihrer Mohnke, in the command post of the 
III./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 in a farm north of Fontenay. The 
ruins of the farm were surrounded by high hedges; wounded lay behind 
an earthen wall and were waiting for evacuation. Dead comrades were 
buried in the orchard. Thick ground mist cloaked the destruction. Tanks 
and antitank guns had taken up firing positions behind the hedges, and 
the crews were bus)' camouflaging their weapons. Enemy harassing fire fell 
on the entire sector of the regiment, but especially on the Rauray-Fonte- 
nay road. 

After a short conference I carefully moved close to Fontenay, accom¬ 
panied by Dr. Stift. The outskirts were blocked by nibble and acrid smoke 
mixed with the thick mist. Suddenly, two Panzergrenadiere of the II./SS- 
Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 appeared in front of us. They had mess tins 
and rations in their hands and wanted to find the rest of their section. We 



The Invasion 


241 


crossed the village’s main street and crept northwards. In front of us was 
the patch of woods that had been so hody contested. 

Climbing over dead English bodies, I reached the positions of the 
15./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26. Panzergrenadiere with emaciated 
faces were crouching in foxholes and shell craters. There were no officers 
left: They were all dead or wounded. The dead company commander was 
brought back during the night by a patrol. What a wonderful relationship 
must have existed between the company commander and his soldiers. 
Even his remains were not allowed to fall into enemy hands. 

The attitude of the young soldiers was incomprehensible to us. Briefly 
they told me about the recent fighting and their operations. Their heroic 
fight was self-evident to them. They talked about the enemy without 
hatred; they repeatedly emphasized the enemy’s outstanding morale. 
There was also a feeling of bitterness in their comments when they spoke 
about overwhelming enemy equipment. Again and again 1 heard: “Damn 
it, where would we be now if we had the enemy’s equipment?” We still 
hadn’t seen a single German plane in the sky. 

The young Panzergrenadiere asked me to leave as it was growing light 
and the enemy artillery fire was growing heavier every minute. We were 
caught by a heavy barrage in the middle of the village. I leapt behind some 
stone stairs and waited for this unpleasant early morning greeting to pass. 
One of my companions lay on the street with smashed limbs; a direct hit 
had torn him to pieces. We dashed through the village pursued by the 
heavy artillery fire falling on Fontenay and were glad to leave the mins. 
The artillery fire was also falling on the sector of the Ill./SS-Panzer- 
Grenadier-Regiment 26. Was it the overture to the expected offensive? 

The battalion command post was only about a hundred meters away, 
but the distance seemed endless. We finally reached it by dashing from 
one bit of cover to another. 

In the meantime, daylight had arrived and the first reports had come 
in. Fontenay was under attack from the direction of St. Pierre and Cristot. 
Enemy tanks were moving over the low earth bank and starting to push 
toward Fontenay. A tank engagement began. Our camouflaged Panthers 
with their superior guns had the advantage. Burning enemy tanks were scat¬ 
tered over the battlefield. If only we had more ammunition! Our artillery 
had to fire sparingly; supply had become almost impossible. 

Telephone contact with the division’s staff remained intact so the 
operations officer was able to tell me that all was quiet on the division’s 
right flank. 1 stayed with the battalion until late afternoon and experi¬ 
enced first hand the unit’s indescribably good morale. All the attacks on 


242 


GRENADIERS 


Fontenay were repulsed in hard fighting. The British 49th Division could 
not shake the foundation of our defense on the left flank. 

I moved back to the divisional headquarters with the onset of dark¬ 
ness. The burning front presented a ghostly picture. The remnants of 
some trucks were smoldering on the Caen-Villers-Bocage road. They were 
supposed to be bringing ammunition to the front. Fighter-bombers 
relieved them of the responsibility. The ammunition exploded some kilo¬ 
meters behind the front. 

I saw worried faces during the situation update. Without talking about 
it openly we knew we were approaching a catastrophe. The static type of 
fighting in the murderous bridgehead north of the Orne would inevitably 
lead to the destruction of the Panzer-Division deployed there. Faced with 
the enemy’s enormous naval and air superiority, we could predict when 
the front would collapse. The tactical “fixing" along the battlefield had 
cost us the irreplaceable blood of our best soldiers and was destroying pre¬ 
cious equipment. We were already feeding on ourselves. Up to that point 
we had not received a single replacement for our wounded or killed sol¬ 
diers or a single tank or artillery piece. 

After a few hours of sleep, we were dragged back to reality by the noise 
of the front. Calls of alarm arrived at divisional headquarters. The British 
49th Division, supported by heavy artillery fire, was attacking the right 
flank of the Panzer-Lehr-Division. The woods west of Tesel-Bretteville had 
already been lost and the momentum of the British 49th Division had not 
yet been broken. 

With a sense of foreboding, I moved to the IIl./SS-Panzer-Grenadier- 
Regiment 26 in Fontenay. The division’s left flank was in danger. Heavy 
fire was falling on the whole battalion sector. You could hardly recognize 
Fontenay. Screaming rounds were tearing the last buildings to pieces. Each 
attack on the village had been repulsed until that point. Communications 
with the companies was broken. The smoke of exploding projectiles 
obscured the view. It was impossible to determine the main defensive line. 
The artillery fired barrage after barrage. 

The village was like a simmering cauldron. Heavy rounds drilled deeply 
into the earth and left smoking craters behind. Based on an old soldier’s 
saying—“A round does not hit the same crater twice”—I jumped into a 
crater and watched the enemy tanks attack Fontenay. Firing continuously, 
feeling secure, the steel colossi were moving slowly towards the rubble of 
Fontenay. Our antitank guns were destroyed by the insane artillery fire. 

The Panzergrenadiere held their Panzerfauste tightly. Man against 
tank! What a contrast! And what a heroic spirit this contrast revealed! The 
first tank was smoking by that point. I could see how the soldiers were leap- 



The Invasion 


243 


ing onto the vehicles. The enemy artillery was firing over our heads. The 
commander of the I./SS-Panzer-Regiment 12 jumped into my crater and 
reported an immediate counterattack by a tank company. The tanks were 
about 100 meters behind us and were moving out. Tank rounds were spit¬ 
ting over our heads. The lead enemy tanks were fighting the Panzer- 
grenadiere in the rubble, and the tanks further back had not yet noticed 
our tanks. The counterattacking company had to cross the Fontenay- 
Cheux road to get better firing positions. The tank-versus-tank engage¬ 
ment started. There were casualties on both sides. Thick, black, oily smoke 
rolled over the battlefield. I wanted to see the soldiers in Fontenay, so I 
dashed along behind the company commander’s tank. 

Battle-weary soldiers waved to me. They yelled out humorous com¬ 
ments, their eyes shining. It mystified me where these young soldiers were 
getting the strength to live through such a storm of steel. They assured me 
again and again they would defend the rubble to the last round and hold 
their positions against all comers. The company commander’s tank 
received a hit. It turned a few meters to the left; the hatch flew open, 
smoke gushed out of the turret, and the company commander forced him¬ 
self through the hatch. He staggered towards us, stumbled and collapsed. 
The Panzergrenadiere pulled him behind the remains of a wall. We then 
realized that SS-Obersturmfiihrer Ruckdeschel had lost an arm. The bleed¬ 
ing stump was bound up and a medic summoned. 

That attack was also repulsed. The III./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 
26 had held firm in its positions and was preparing itself for the next British 
assault. The fighting continued to rage in the sector to our left. The enemy 
spearhead was already in Juvigny by the afternoon and, therefore, deep in 
the flank of the division. I had just arrived in Rauray with the commander 
of SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26, SS-Standartenfuhrer Mohnke, when 
the chief of staff informed me about the situation of the Panzer-Lehr-Divi¬ 
sion and pointed out the danger of a British breakthrough. 

The corps ordered the employment of one of the tank battalions of 
the division at about 1400 hours to eliminate the penetration in the right 
flank of the Panzer-Lehr-Division. There were only the exhausted rem¬ 
nants of SS-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 12 available for infantry support during 
this counterattack. The Panther-Abteilung and that part of the reconnais¬ 
sance battalion still available for operations immediately launched the 
counterattack. 

The attack moved off via Tessel and Bretteville after a short barrage by 
friendly artillery towards a patch of woods one and a half kilometers to the 
west. We threw the enemy out of the woods by the onset of darkness but 
did not reach our old main line of defense. The enemy lost several tanks. 



244 


GRENADIERS 


The brave III./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 had suffered heavy casu¬ 
alties during the course of the fighting and was withdrawn to positions 
north of Rauray. 

That evening the corps ordered the deployment of our last tank bat¬ 
talion to restore the situation in that sector the next morning. The Panzer- 
Lehr-Division was to be assisted at all costs. 

1 vainly asked for that order to be rescinded. The chief of stafTs 
graphic situation report that friendly reconnaissance had identified the 
staging of strong enemy forces—especially armor—in the sector of SS- 
Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 did not influence the corps to change its 
order. My remark that an enemy tank attack was expected at any moment 
and the II./SS-Panzer-Regiment 12 was in very favorable defensive posi¬ 
tions was also dismissed. And so it was that on 26 June there was not a sin¬ 
gle tank in the divisional sector. 

The men of SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 waited in their foxholes 
throughout the night, exhausted by the intense defensive fighting of the 
recent past. They were waiting for the next attack. Thick, humid fog lay 
over the hedges and fields. 

Morning dawned; everything was still quiet. Max Wixnsche and I were 
at Rauray, watching the last tank roll into its jump-off position. It became 
lighter and lighter. It wouldn’t be much longer at that point before the 
dance of death continued. The German batteries then fired their barrages. 
Low-flying British planes roared overhead and fired their rockets into Rau¬ 
ray. The hell of attrition warfare had begun. 

The first tanks rattled forward, tracks clanking. The attack initially 
gained ground but was stopped by an English counterattack. A bitterly 
contested tank-versus-tank engagement started. The impenetrable 
hedgerows didn’t allow our tanks to take advantage of their longer range. 
The lack of infantry' proved to be especially disadvantageous. Intense 
artillery fire made coordination enormously difficult and effective com¬ 
mand and control virtually impossible. 

We could hear nothing east of Rauray. The entire fight had shifted to 
the west where the tanks pounded each other stubbornly. The tell-tale 
columns of oily smoke hung in the sky again. Each column indicated a 
tank’s grave. I was uneasy because of the situation in the sector of SS- 
Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26. There wasn’t a single artillery impact to 
the right of Rauray. It had started to rain, thank God. That meant we were 
protected from the fighter-bombers. 

But what happened then? The earth seemed to open and gobble us all 
up. All hell had been let loose. All that remained of Rauray were fragments 
of smashed trees and buildings. I laid in a roadside ditch listening to the 



The Invasion 


245 


noise of battle. There was no let up to the artillery barrage. The fog mixed 
with the smoke of the bursting shells. I couldn’t make out anything. All 
telephone lines had been destroyed and communications with divisional 
headquarters and units at the front no longer existed. A runner from the 
II./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 ran up to me and shouted: “Tank 
after tank on the battalion’s right flank!” His message was swallowed by 
bursting shells. My ears tried unsuccessfully to analyze the sounds of batde 
and all I heard was the permanent spitting, cracking and booming of the 
bursting shells, mixed with the noise of tank tracks. 

This was the offensive I had expected! The cornerstone of the Ger¬ 
man front in Normandy was at stake. Caen, the target, was to be smoth¬ 
ered by an enveloping attack. Caen was to be Montgomery’s prize, 
bringing about the collapse of the German front. We all stared spellbound 
at the murderous spectacle. Fiery steel hurtled over us and drilled into the 
ground. 

I shouted for Wunsche. Runners crossed the road and vanished into 
the green hedgerow. Wunsche was at my side a short time later. I didn’t 
need to give that experienced soldier a lengthy explanation. We had lain 
side by side too often; he knew me and knew what I wanted. 

I outlined my estimate of the situation in a few words to Wunsche: 

The enemy is trying to break through in the sector of SS-Panzer- 
Grenadier-Regiment 26 with massed tank forces in order to capture Caen. 
1. The attack on Juvigny is to be called off immediately. 2. Rauray will be 
held at all costs and is the cornerstone of the defense. 3. You are responsi¬ 
ble for Rauray. 

I moved towards Fontenay once again and, after a few hundred meters, 
encountered elements of the III./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26. 
Enemy tank fire covered the road. It was impossible to move any further 
north but there was no need to feel my way forward. The battlefield was 
spread out in front of me. I could take in everything and found my judg¬ 
ment confirmed. This was the expected offensive. Tanks and half-tracks 
were advancing into SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26. The barrage rolled 
over the earth like an enormous steel roller, crushing everything that lived. 
Only rarely did I see movement from the brave Panzergrenadiere. They 
held their ground stubbornly, fighting with the courage born of despair. 
Flashes of dazzling destruction from Rauray hit the oncoming tanks. British 
tanks were burning north of Rauray. 

In front of us were two Tommies on the ground who had been carried 
slightly too far by the momentum of their attack. They had been disarmed 
and were told to climb quickly on my vehicle. A wounded Tommy was 
passed onto the dressing station at Rauray. 



246 


GRENADIERS 


I moved like mad towards Verson. My place was at the divisional com¬ 
mand post. The concentrated enemy artillery fire was shifted south with 
increasing intensity. It was already impacting in the Colleville area. Our 
own artillery hammered the attackers relentlessly. 

I reached the divisional headquarters in a few minutes. The chief of 
staff was still holding the telephone handset in his hand and reported: 
“That was our last conversation with the engineer battalion commander.” 
The commander had reported: “Enemy artillery has destroyed my antitank 
defenses. The battalion is being overrun by British tanks. Individual posi¬ 
tions are still holding out in and around Cheux. Enemy tanks are trying to 
crush my dugout. Where are our tanks? I need a counterattack from the 
direction of Rau. ...” At that point, the line was cut. Radio communica¬ 
tions had also been destroyed. 

There was also an urgent report from the I./SS-Panzer-Grenadier- 
Regiment 26. The battalion was being attacked by strong forces. All attacks 
on St. Mauvieu had been repulsed up to that point. More reports arrived 
in rapid sequence. The whole front line was erupting. 

Nothing else could be done for the time other than concentrate divi¬ 
sional artillery fire on those enemy units that had broken through. The 
only available resources were the divisional Begleitkompanie and the deci¬ 
mated reconnaissance company of SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25. 

I concentrated everything on defending Verson. Monitored radio traf¬ 
fic and prisoner statements tolcl us that an armored division and two 
infantry divisions, each reinforced by an armored brigade, had mounted 
an attack across a five-kilometer front. Those formations hadn’t been 
employed yet; that meant they were fully rested. These fresh divisions with 
about 600 tanks were attacking three friendly battalions with diminished 
combat power. The enemy’s main strengths were his enormous artillery 
reserves and masses of armor. 

The danger of a breakthrough was obvious. My chief of staff desper¬ 
ately pointed out the hopeless situation. The corps gave only one answer: 
“The positions must be defended to the last round! We have to fight for 
lime. The II. SS-Panzer-Korps is on its way to the front.” 

As so often in the past, command and control was being exercised 
from a tactical perspective and not strategic considerations. Important 
decisions were not made. Mobile defense had been abandoned. We had 
no other choice than to sell our lives as dearly as possible. 

The sky seemed to adapt itself to what was happening on the ground; 
torrential rain accompanied our every step. 

Northeast of Verson, I could see countless British tanks from the posi¬ 
tion of the divisional Begleitkompanie. They were advancing towards 




The Invasion 


247 


Grainville. The front had been penetrated and only odd pockets of resist¬ 
ance hampered the enemy flood. 

My God! The division had to stop the attack. It had to prevent this 
deep breakthrough and fight for time for the German High Command! 

Once again I raced over to the divisional command post and tried to 
get through on the line to Wunsche. It worked! Our brave signals soldiers 
had just repaired the line. How often had these men raced through Hell? 
What nameless heroism hid behind the phrase “wire dog”! 

Max Wunsche reported strong tank units on both sides of Rauray. 
Eve 17 attack on Rauray up to that point had been fended off with heavy 
enemy losses. The divisional linchpin stood unshaken. I returned to the 
Begleitkompanie a few minutes later. All command and control had 
become impossible. At that point, I could only be a soldier among soldiers. 
The eyes of the grenadiers lit up I when they noticed me moving from sec¬ 
tion to section. These soldiers were unshakeable. They would not waver or 
give way. 

Soon there was no piece of ground where a round had not exploded. 
Enemy tank rounds exploded in our lines. Our defensive area was rein¬ 
forced by two tanks and an antitank gun. We clasped the few remaining 
Panzerf”uste tightly to our bodies. 

A Panzer IV exploded and two Shermans were burning in front of us. 
The masses of enemy armor gave me the willies. Didn’t it border on mad¬ 
ness to try to stop this army of steel with a handful of soldiers and a few 
guns? It was too late to speculate; there was only one thing left to do— 
Fight! 

Two Shermans pushed closer down a defile. Some grenadiers lay fever¬ 
ishly in wait with their Panzerfauste behind the blackberry bushes. They 
seemed to be one with mother earth. 

I held my breath, and the exploding rounds had suddenly lost their 
terror. Spellbound, we watched the soldiers as they got ready to jump. The 
lead tank advanced further and further down the sunken road with the 
covering tank rolling slowly behind him. It rolled past at that point; the 
second tank was as far as our soldiers. The gun barrels were pointed at Ver¬ 
son, but they would never fire again. A soldier rushed at the second tank 
like an arrow from a well-strung bow. His Panzerfaust smashed into the 
Sherman’s side while he was still jumping. The tank rolled on a few 
meters, then stopped, smoking. The lead tank had also been halted; it lost 
its tracks on mines. Two survivors surrendered. 

We breathed freely for a moment in relief. It w r as an uplifting feeling 
to see these steel monsters destroyed by individual courage. The incident 
of the two tanks was forgotten a few seconds later, however. 







248 


GRENADIERS 


The reconnaissance company fought for its life off to my right; I could 
no longer identify its position. Wild artillery fire whirled the muddy earth 
high into the air. The antitank gun was still in position; it fired round after 
round into the British 11th Armoured Division’s column of tanks. A new 
barrage converted the gun into a heap of scrap metal. There were no more 
serviceable antitank weapons. Tank rounds had shredded the company. 
The first foxholes were overrun. Here and there soldiers were trying unsuc¬ 
cessfully to destroy the tanks with Panzerfauste but in vain. The accompa¬ 
nying infantry warded off every attack on its tanks. 

I vainly tried to obtain artillery support. The specter of “lack of ammu¬ 
nition” had been plaguing us for a long time. A couple of German artillery 
rounds were not enough to check the onslaught. The British tank attack 
continued. 

I felt a burning emptiness in my heart for the first time and cursed this 
endless slaughter. What was happening at that point had nothing to do 
with war—it was outright murder. I knew every single one of these young 
soldiers. The oldest was barely eighteen. The boys had not learned how to 
live but, by God, they knew how to die! 

Grating tank tracks ended their young lives. Tears ran down my face; I 
started hating the war. 

The rain poured relentlessly down. Heavy clouds moved way above the 
tortured earth. The British tanks were rolling towards our position at that 
point. Escape was impossible. We had to stay. Our hands gripped the shafts 
of our Panzerfauste; we did not want to die without defending ourselves. 

A new sound suddenly mixed into the hellish concert. A lone Tiger 
was giving us room to breathe. Its 88 mm rounds gave the Shermans an 
unmistakable command to halt. The British turned away; they called off 
their attack in the direction of Mouen. 

We found two British tanks on our return to the divisional command 
post; runners had destroyed them with their Panzerfauste. The wrecks 
were less than 200 meters from the command post. The staff had dug in 
for an all-around defense. 

The heavy fighting had caused high and irreplaceable losses. A break¬ 
through could not be prevented unless we had new units. Our own corps 
held out the prospect of reinforcements from the II. SS-Panzer-Korps for 
the next day. The corps was very keen that the command post be moved 
further to the rear. I refused this request. Hubert Meyer supported me. In 
such a critical situation the place for the commander was up front. 

I was informed by the I./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 that it had 
been under continuous attack since morning. There was little of the bat¬ 
talion's combat strength left. In the course of the night, remnants of the 





The Invasion 


249 


battalion fought their way back to Carpiquet airfield. Young SS-Unter- 
scharfuhrer Emil Durr destroyed two enemy tanks with hollow charges 
during the night. The tanks had been in the Chateau garden. When the 
hollow charge fell off the second tank, he went back to the tank and held 
the primed charge in place. The tank was destroyed, and he was fatally 
wounded. He was posthumously awarded the Knight’s Cross. His deed 
opened the escape route for the rest of the battalion. 

The British had still not stopped their attack. I could hear our tanks 
firing from the direction of Grainville. One Panzer IV company , under 
the command of SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Siegel, covered the change of posi¬ 
tion of the II./SS-Panzer-Artillerie-Regiment 12. The British had already 
broken into a battery position. The battalion was pulled back through the 
Salbey sector. The artillery battalion commander—Midler—was killed in 
hand-to-hand fighting. 

Time had lost meaning for us. We worked on a situation map by the 
glimmer of candlelight and prepared new defensive positions. I waited des¬ 
perately for reinforcements. 

At midnight I had a pleasant surprise. Michel, my loyal Cossack, was 
suddenly standing in front of me, grinning from ear to ear. 1 had sent him 
on leave for a few days. He brought me a letter from my wife telling me of 
the conception of our fifth child. Michel had been stopped at a movement 
control center. He was suspected of being a Russian, but who could ever 
stop my magnificent Michel? In response to my question: “How did you 
get here?” He replied “Skedaddled!” 

The enemy renewed its infantry and armor attack in the direction of 
Grainville as it was getting light. Kompanie Siegel had fended off four 
attacks by 0900 hours. Several burning enemy tanks littered the country¬ 
side. Unfortunately, Siegel’s tank was knocked out and he sustained severe 
burns to his face and hands. Our own tank advance towards Cheux failed 
because of the strong enemy antitank screen. Although the attack was 
unsuccessful, a group of twenty men from SS-Pionier-Bataillon 12, under 
the command of SS-Stunnbannfuhrer Midler, was rescued by the lead ele¬ 
ments and saved from certain capture. It was all that was left of the battal¬ 
ion. 

Muller was standing in front of me a few minutes later. His deep, 
sunken eyes told all. He no longer had an undamaged bit of uniform on 
him. His knees were bloody and lacerated; his face was hardly recognizable 
under the dust. One arm was in an improvised sling. 

He relayed the drama of his battalion in a few short words. After an 
enormous artillery barrage by 600 guns against the left wing of the divi¬ 
sion, the battalion was overrun by tanks of the British 2nd Armoured Divi- 



250 


GRENADIERS 


sion. The battalion fought until it was annihilated. Only a handful of men 
survived the murderous fight. 

Midler himself defended his command post against all the enemy 
infantry attacks, but he was powerless against the masses of tanks. By mid¬ 
day he and a few men were encircled in his command post. Some tanks 
were firing into the earth bunker while others were trying to crush it, with¬ 
out success. The engineers had built an ingenious bulwark. It defied all 
attempts to destroy it. 

A captured combat engineer was finally sent into the bunker to ask his 
comrades to surrender. He preferred to stay there and share his comrades’ 
fate. The attack continued past the command post after demolition 
attempts had badly shaken the bunker and it looked like a mass grave. The 
survivors finally fought their way to our lines at about midnight. They were 
found completely exhausted at Le Haul du Bosq, after having decided to 
take a short break. 

During the course of the day Rattray was lost. The Il./SS-Panzer- 
Artillerie-Regiment 12 had exhausted its ammunition. The enemy man¬ 
aged to create a bridgehead over the Ordon at Buron in the afternoon. 
Our radio intelligence intercepted the inquiry: “Do you still insist on a 
quick operation against Verson?” The enemy was obviously well informed 
about the location of the division’s command post. We did not hear the 
reply. All available men from the divisional staff were then employed at 
Fontaine. 

A stranger reported to me as I entered the divisional command post. 
He introduced himself as a civilian official from the Reich Foreign Minis¬ 
ter’s staff and asked me to give him precise information on the situation. 
The minister could no longer understand the constant withdrawals! 

Before I could digest this, tank rounds crashed into our ruin. Enemy 
tanks were in front of our command post once again. Our command post 
was empty in no time. Everyone was crouching in a trench with his Panzer- 
faust, waiting for further surprises. I never saw 1 the alleged messenger from 
the Reich Foreign Minister again! What could he have reported to his 
superiors? 

The situation became more and more critical by the hour. The British 
had managed to establish another bridgehead at Garrus. The enemy was 
feeling his way slowly but surely south. Up to that point we had only been 
able to employ outposts of SS-Panzer-Regiment 12 and patrols of SS- 
Panzer-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 12. Two tanks were destroyed at close quar¬ 
ters by a Nebelwerfer battery when they tried to overrun the rocket 
regiment that had been attached to us. 



The Invasion 


251 


It was obvious that Montgomery intended to cross the Orne at St. 
Andre and then perhaps advance to the Falaise-Caen road. The hotly con¬ 
tested town of Caen would fall into his lap like a ripe plum through such a 
maneuver. We hoped to spoil his plan. We had to hold out for a few more 
days. The II. SS-Panzer-Korps was moving up. It had been pulled out of the 
Eastern Front. 

SS-Panzer-Regiment 12 received the order to occupy Hill 112 and pre¬ 
vent a breakthrough to the Orne bridges. A battered tank company was all 
that was available for that task. 

Some tanks and the remnants of the 15. (Aufklarung)/SS-Panzer- 
Grenadier-Regiment 25 secured the area near Fontaine. The divisional 
command post was transferred from Verson to Caen. The sector encom¬ 
passing Verson, Hill 112 and Evrey was assumed by the II. SS-Panzer-Korps 
on 28 June. 

Four SS-Panzer-Divisionen were at our disposal at that point. They 
were divisions in name only, however. None of them had the combat 
power of a division any more. The 9. and 10. SS-Panzer-Divisionen were 
involved in offensive operations in Poland, when they received the order 
for deployment in Normandy. They had rolled into the batde of attrition 
for the west from the mud of Poland. The 1. SS-Panzer-Division “Leibstan- 
darte” reached the front on 28June. This division was also only a shadow 
of its former self. It had been pulled out of Russia two weeks before and 
was supposed to be refitting in Belgium. It was not up to strength, either in 
equipment or personnel. The commanding general of the II. SS-Panzer- 
Korps, General der Waffen-SS Paul Hausser, was supposed to carry out the 
counterattack on 29 June using those forces. During the night the divi¬ 
sions moved into the assembly areas. 

There was calm in the sector of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division. The posi¬ 
tions around Carpiquet were improved by the survivors of the I./SS-Panzer- 
Grenadier-Regiment 26. 

We were awakened by heavy fire from the battleships on the morning 
of 29 June. Caen was under fire once again. Fighter-bombers hung like 
hornets in the clear sky and hurled themselves down at every vehicle. 
Around 0700 hours I was lying on the road in Verson, a fighter-bomber has 
set an artillery vehicle on fire and exploding ammunition was flying in all 
directions. The street was too narrow to pass around it, and we had to wait 
for the vehicle to burn out. If only we could get out of that one-horse-town! 
We sat like a rat in a trap among the old walls of the village. An ambulance 
was on fire. We could not rescue the wounded inside. We watched them 
burn up before our eyes. 




252 


GRENADIERS 


Enemy artillery fire explored the ground around Verson and Hill 112. 
Shordy afterwards a massive barrage hit Hill 112. Would the British antici¬ 
pate our plans and attack before we did? With an uncomfortable feeling, I 
watched tanks of the Briush 11th Armoured Division climb the slope south 
of the Odon and take Hill 112 in a pincer movement. The summit could 
no longer be identified. The impact of heavy gunfire was tossing the Nor¬ 
man soil around, meter by meter. There was no longer any doubt. The 
British had launched a pre-empuve attack. Our divisions were engaged in 
their assembly areas by rolling artillery fire and enemy bombs. 

The II. SS-Panzer-Korps lost Hill 112. The British 11th Armoured Divi¬ 
sion’s tanks had seized the key to further operations against the Orne 
bridges. The whole area could be observed from Hill 112. No movement 
escaped British observation. It was not long before we noticed a fire direc¬ 
tion center on top of the hill. The heavy artillery battalion of SS-Panzer- 
Artillerie-Regiment 12 fired on the British forward position on the hill. 
Our field of view was magnificent. We were north of the hill and could 
observe the entire slope from the Odon to the summit. 

The sector in front of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division was remarkably quiet. 
There was only die usual naval gunfire on the road intersections. The tank 
accompanying me received a direct hit. A second 380 mm round killed the 
attending doctor. 

Late afternoon brought with it the certainty that the deliberate attack 
of the II. SS-Panzer-Korps could not succeed. It was impossible to gain 
ground against this superior artillery fire, not to mention the absolute air 
supremacy. The attack was bound to fail because of the impossibility of the 
demands and the insufficient means at our disposal. 

During the night, we made preparations for the all-round defense of 
Caen. We could count on the British breaking through west of the city. In 
the middle of these preparations orders arrived from the II. SS-Panzer- 
Korps to resume the attack on Hill 112 and the British 7di Armoured Divi¬ 
sion. 

Nothing surprised us anymore. Max Wunsche quickly joined me and 
received orders for the attack. His tanks and the remainder of SS-Panzer- 
Aufklarungs-Abteilung 12 had to execute the attack. We started to treat 
our tanks with kid gloves. We had received no replacement tanks up to 
that point and our strength melted away daily. The constant use of piece¬ 
meal tactics enraged me. Where had happened to the days of the big 
armor offensives? 

Concentrated fire hammered Hill 112 at dawn. Our tanks pushed 
close to the hill in the light mist and took cover before the final assault. It 



The Invasion 


253 


would start in a few minutes. Wunsche and I smoked a last cigarette. A 
handshake—and the dance began! 

According to standard practice, the tanks advanced forward to the for¬ 
merly tree-covered hill, firing their high-explosive rounds into the chaos. 
The enemy artillery tried to smash the assault with intense fire, but it failed 
and the hill fell into our hands once more. 

We soon reached the summit and cut off the withdrawal of a British 
company in Bren Gun Carriers. They were captured. Burning tanks were 
from both sides of the hill. There was hardly a square meter of earth on 
the hill that had not been ploughed up by shells and bombs. 

The conquest of Hill 112 gave the II. SS-Panzer-Korps some respite. 
Directed artillery fire from the hill had been eliminated. 



The Final Fighting around Caen 


During the recent fighting the British VIII Corps, consisting of the Scottish 
15th, the British 43rd and 49th Infantry and 11th Armoured Divisions, had 
lived off the marrow of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division. SS-Panzer-Grenadier- 
Regiment 26 had been reduced to the combat strength of a weak battalion. 
SS-Panzer-Regiment 12 had also suffered severe losses. SS-Panzer-Aufk- 
larungs-Abteilung 12 had only a mixed company at its disposal, and SS- 
Panzer-Pionier-Bataillon 12 was as good as annihilated. The division had 
lost one battalion of its artillery regiment through naval bombardment and 
constant fighter-bomber attacks. 

The 12. SS-Panzer-Division could no longer be considered fully opera¬ 
tional. The remnants had, at best, the combat power of a Kampfgruppe. 
Despite the enormous stress and heavy losses to which the young soldiers 
had been exposed during the previous fighting, the formation was consid¬ 
ered a fully operational Panzer-Division and charged with the defense of 
Caen. 

The British VII Corps was poised on the deep flank of the 12. SS- 
Panzer-Division. Montgomery’s pincer movement was clearly identifiable. 
Even a layman could see that the next target for the Allied attack would be 
Caen. To avoid the risk of being separated from the division and stranded 
outside the encirclement, the divisional command post was moved to the 
middle of the town. I wanted to share the fate of my soldiers. 

The chief of staff and I did not have any illusions. We knew that exe¬ 
cuting the Fiihrer’s order—“Caen is to be defended to the last round”— 
meant the end of the division. We wanted to fight. We were prepared to 
give our lives, but the fighting had to have a purpose. I bristled at the 
thought of allowing my young soldiers to bleed to death in the city’s rub¬ 
ble. The division has to be preserved for a more flexible form of combat. 

There was only minor activity in the divisional sector, but Canadian tac¬ 
tical battlefield reconnaissance was very noticeable. Reconnaissance patrols 
were constantly checking Carpiquet and the western edge of the airfield. 
There was an impression within the division that the Canadians were plan¬ 
ning an attack on Carpiquet to break open the front north of Caen. 


254 



The Final Fighting around Caen 


255 


Carpiquet was an old Normandy farming village with houses built out 
of dressed stone. The village follows the shape of the terrain and forms a 
long funnel bordered by the Caen to Bayeux railway line on one side and 
the airfield on the other. The entire length of the village was visible from 
the observation post at Ardenne. 

I went to visit Carpiquet’s defenders. The streets and farmsteads were 
empty of people. The roads were still negotiable, with rubble only block¬ 
ing the way here and there. The empty village seemed eerie. I found the 
“defenders” at the western outskirts. About fifty Panzergrenadiere had 
taken refuge in some abandoned trenches and bomb dugouts left by the 
former defenders of the airfield. These fifty were the survivors of the I./SS- 
Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26. The rest of the battalion had occupied the 
far side of the airfield. The entire strength of the defense was between 150 
and 200 soldiers. 

The defenders of Carpiquet no longer had any tank destroying 
weapons at their disposal. This battalion’s antitank guns had been 
destroyed a few days previously. There were minefields, however, to its 
front. The Panzergrenadiere knew their mission. The platoon leader and 
his soldiers were to withdraw, fighting a delaying action, to the eastern out¬ 
skirts of Carpiquet and tempt the attacking Canadians to enter the village. 
There were 88 mm guns positioned in ambush positions just to the east of 
Carpiquet. Furthermore, the outskirts of the village were within the fields 
of fire of positioned tanks. 

As a result of the previous fighting, it was no longer possible to rein¬ 
force the infantry forces in this sector. The only option for defense was the 
concentration of all heavy weapons. Our artillery and mortars had already 
zeroed in on the village. 

Lively Canadian radio activity was reported following my return to the 
divisional command post. Evaluation of it led to the conclusion that enemy 
forces were assembled at Norrey and St. Manvieu. The radio traffic 
increased significantly on 3 July. 

To take advantage of the possibility of wrecking the enemy attacking 
units’ preparations and, at the very least, of inflicting severe damage upon 
an enemy presumably assembled in a very confined space, the concen¬ 
trated fire of the artillery was directed into this area at 0600 hours. We hit 
their assembly areas with good effect. 

While the rockets howled over the airfield, leaving their long, fiery 
trails behind them, I scrambled over the rubble of the airfield buildings to 
find Bernhard Krause. Bernhard had chosen a bomb dugout as his com¬ 
mand post. From there he could observe the airfield and Carpiquet. 



256 


GRENADIERS 


I encountered the forward observer of Werferbrigade 7 in the bunker. 
A few grenadiers were about 75 to 100 meters ahead of us. Five tanks were 
positioned in the ruined airfield buildings. They had to be completely 
under cover; the fighter-bombers were very active in this area. Bernhard 
Krause had hardly started to report on the fighting for St. Mauvieu when 
there were crashes and shrieks all round us. We crowded together in the 
bunker entrance. The bunker shook as the 38 and 40 cm rounds from the 
battleships exploded nearby. 

The Canadian 3rd Infantry Division had moved out to attack. Carpi- 
quet and the airfield were the targets. What a huge expenditure of 
resources to destroy a handful of soldiers! 

The concentrated artillery fire smashed any intention to defend. 
There were probably several artillery regiments involved. The naval rounds 
spun entire hangars into the air. The village could not be identified at the 
moment. Thick clouds of smoke lay to the west. Above us the Typhoons 
were looking for their victims. Their rockets could hardly be heard above 
the explosions of the heavy rounds. The forward observers seemed not to 
be affected and remained at their scissors telescopes; they were requesting 
final protective fires. 

The Canadian 8th Brigade, reinforced by the Winnipeg Rifles and 
supported by the Fort Gary Horse Tank Regiment, threw itself at the rem¬ 
nants of Krause’s battalion. The artillery fire shifted. Pale faces gazed at 
me. Nobody said a word. We could only hear the voices of the forward 
observers. Enemy tanks were rolling forward out of Marcelet. The haze was 
very thick. Our artillery rounds landed among the advancing tanks, but 
the fire scarcely seemed to disturb them. They rolled slowly towards us. 
The grenadiers were waiting in their bomb dugouts for the order to 
occupy their firing positions. Everyone had taken cover during the bar¬ 
rage. The first of the enemy infantry was starting to appear out of the 
woods. Our artillery fired at the edge of the woods, inflicting heavy casual¬ 
ties on the Winnipeg Rifles. 

We were still crouched under cover and only our tanks had started to 
retaliate. Our tanks could not be identified; they were seemingly covered 
by rubble of the airfield buildings. We could hardly endure the tension 
any longer as we listened to the noise of battle and awaited the first burst 
of fire from our forward machine-gun posts. I spotted flamethrowers being 
employed offensively at the western outskirts of the village. Mounted on 
small tanks, they were advancing under cover of the Shermans. One of 
them was caught in the minefield and was ablaze. 

The fifty Panzergrenadiere at Carpiquet were under attack by three 
infantry battalions supported by tanks. The fighting in the village was bitter. 



The Final Fighting around Caen 


257 


Rubble obstructed the progress of the enemy tanks. A tank assault across 
the airfield failed as the area was covered by our well-camouflaged tanks 
and a battery of 88s. Only a few minutes had passed. The Winnipeg Rifles 
advanced hesitandy, not seeming to trust the empty batdefield. They moved 
slowly towards the first airfield building. At that point they were still about 
150 meters from the hall. They had left the protective woods and were 
exposed on the airfield at that point. Then we heard the “voice" we had 
been waiting for: “Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat". Our MG42 mowed the enemy down. 

I jumped into a corner. The soldiers dashed out of die bunker. Not a 
word was spoken - they all leapt up and ran to take up their old positions. 
Infantry fighting was the order of the day. With their sleeves rolled up and 
eyes directed to the front, they loaded and fired their weapons automati¬ 
cally. 

The attackers must have sustained heavy losses. The momentum of 
their attack had been broken and their tanks had started to take cover. 
Bataillon Krause had also taken casualties. The wounded were dragged 
into the bunkers and taken care of. Things were not going well on the far 
side of the airfield. The Canadians were gaining ground and fighting was 
already taking place in the middle of the village. Our artillery had been 
concentrating on the western part of the town. I telephoned the chief of 
staff and prepared him for the loss of Carpiquet, but I had no worries 
about the southern part of the airfield. The remnants of the I./SS-Panzer- 
Grenadier-Regiment 26 would be able to hold their positions. The battal¬ 
ion commander was once again the backbone of the defense as so often in 
the past. Bernhard Krause was the premier grenadier of his battalion. He 
spoke to his soldiers like a father in his deep, quiet voice. There were no 
unpleasant surprises to expect from this section of the batde line. 

I took my leave and worked my way over to the demolished hangars 
on the eastern edge of the airfield. Erich Holsten was waiting for me there. 
In a few minutes we were back at the divisional command post and we 
breathed easier again. It really wasn’t much fun to move through enemy 
artillery fire in a Volkswagen. 

Our signals intelligence section was working superbly. Those guys had 
earned some praise. As a result of their monitoring we were well informed 
about enemy movements. This was especially true in the fighting for Carpi¬ 
quet. The commander of the de la Chaudiere Regiment reported the cap¬ 
ture of the town by radio to his brigade from the center of town. He was 
ordered to return but our artillery and mortar fire held him fast. Every 
time that he announced his departure another bombardment followed. 

Only about twenty of the Panzergrenadiere who had defended Carpi¬ 
quet so obstinately were still fit for action. Not a single noncommissioned 



258 


GRENADIERS 


officer had survived. The survivors had taken over as security for the 88 
mm battery that was positioned just to the east of Carpiquet. SS-Bataillon 
Weidenhaupt attempted a counterattack on Carpiquet during the night of 
4—5 July but failed. The enemy in Carpiquet suffered considerable losses 
through several high-explosive and napalm barrages. Even during the 
offensive launched against Caen on 8 July, the enemy at Carpiquet 
remained on the defensive. We held the airfield until 8 of July. 

After the enemy had failed to enlarge the Odon bridgehead and 
break through to the Orne, he had also failed in his attack from the west 
to take the airfield. We therefore assumed that he would then try to col¬ 
lapse the cornerstone of the German defense by a frontal attack and drive 
deep into the Normandy countryside. We prepared ourselves for the final 
fighting for Caen. 

After having visited all the units in their positions during the past few 
days and spoken extensively with enlisted personnel, noncommissioned 
officers and officers about the continued defense of Caen, I was certain 
that the town would become our brave division’s coffin. Defense of the 
town was no longer possible. The force ratios were too unequal. The weak¬ 
ened German forces were incapable of a defense in depth and there were 
no readily available reserves. 

The division alerted the corps in no uncertain terms that the worn-out 
divisional forces were insufficient to hold their ground against such supe¬ 
rior enemy forces. The corps could not place any additional forces at our 
disposal, however. 

We made all necessary preparations to meet the expected attack as 
effectively as possible but had no answer to the question: What would hap¬ 
pen if airborne troops were dropped to the rear of the division and 
entered the undefended part of the city? 

The division was convinced that the offensive against Caen wotdd be 
initiated by an airborne operation south of the town with a simultaneous 
advance from the Odon bridgehead via the Orne in the direction of the 
Caen-Falaise road. A complete breakthrough of the German frontline 
could not be prevented and the road to Paris would then be open. 

On the evening of 7 July we realized that the next twenty-four hours 
would decide the fate of Caen. About 500 Lancaster and Halifax bombers 
joined the attack during the late evening and dropped 2,500 tons of 
bombs on the town’s northern outskirts. The close-flying aircraft forma¬ 
tions suffered negligible losses from our Flak, but we also had no casualties 
to report. The units themselves not been affected by the attack. However, 
the streets of Caen were blocked and the civilian population again had to 
make a dreadful sacrifice. The hospitals were overflowing. 




The Final Fighting around Caen 


259 


It must be said here that there was friendship and a willingness to help 
each other in the relationship between the German forces and the French 
population. Up to that point there had been no rancor or animosity on 
the part of the French. They looked at the rubble of their homes in confu¬ 
sion and with a shaking of their heads, unable to comprehend the destruc¬ 
tion of their town. They knew that Caen had not had any German units 
within its walls on that day or on 6June. During all the fighting in the area 
the units did not have to detail a single soldier for security duties. The 
French took care of discipline and order themselves. 

The air raid seemed to be the prelude to the main assault. Every last 
soldier was at the ready. The artillery stood by for orders to lay down a cur¬ 
tain of fire in front of our own lines. We waited. The phones were silent. 
We stared tensely out into the night and waited for the enemy ground 
force to attack. Minutes passed without the silence being broken. It was 
inconceivable, but true. The Allies had made no attempt to exploit the 
tremendous bombing operation. 

I visited the commanders once again to determine the effect of the 
bombing raid for myself and found, with astonishment, that I had overes¬ 
timated its impact on morale. The troops hated the fighter-bomber attacks 
far more than the mass bombardment of those cumbersome juggernauts. 
Indeed, the front line was so sparsely manned that a bomber attack 
couldn’t cause much damage. Two thousand five hundred tons of bombs 
had merely succeeded in overturning a few SPW. 

The troops were expecting a big attack and readied themselves for the 
inevitable. We had no false illusions as to the outcome of the fighting. The 
corps was again informed of the division's hopeless situation. I waited for 
the already dawning day with anxious misgivings. Hubert Meyer had fallen 
asleep at the map table. What an excellent chief of staff I had found in 
that comrade! 


* 

Artillery fire of unimaginable intensity from both ground and naval 
forces fell on the front line of the 12. SS-Panzer Division. Our cellar shook 
at all its corners. Plaster and dust settled on the candlelit map. Our 
artillery and mortar formations laid down final protective fires. We had 
been “procuring” ammunition for days and were trying to give tangible aid 
to die heavily engaged infantry. Fighter-bombers were throwing themselves 
at our artillery positions and attacking every vehicle on the roads. The 
Ome bridges were continuously under attack. 



260 


GRENADIERS 


The first reports came in. All battalions were heavily engaged in defen¬ 
sive fighting. The enemy was attacking with strong tank support across the 
entire front. Our neighbor to the right, the 16. Luftwaffenfelddivision, was 
not equal to the task. It was shattered by a renewed bombing attack and this 
improvised division’s will to resist collapsed under the weight of the 
enemy's destructive power. The British 3rd Infantry Division pushed into 
the Luftwaffe division’s lines and soon threatened our division’s deep flank. 

Four dazed battalions defended our division’s sector while the enemy 
attacked with the British 59th and Canadian 3rd Infantry Divisions, which 
were reinforced by brigades of tanks. 

The Schwerpunkt of the attack seemed to lie with the 59th Infantry 
Division in the sector of the I./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25. Further¬ 
more, this battalion was under attack by elements of the British 3rd 
Infantry Division. The battalion lost almost all of its company-grade offi¬ 
cers in the first hour of the attack. SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Waldmuller, the 
battalion commander, positioned himself in the midst of his unit and was 
the heart of its resistance. The l./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 was 
screening the right flank, and its fire was disrupting the relatively easy 
advance of the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division into the sector of the deci¬ 
mated Luftwaffe division. 

The brave I./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 stood like a breakwa¬ 
ter on the battlefield. Unshaken, despite the enemy’s enormous superior¬ 
ity in men and equipment, it warded off every attack. The enemy failed to 
overrun the battalion in this first assault. 

The II./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 also put up a heroic resist¬ 
ance; its antitank guns having long been destroyed by artillery fire. It only 
had Panzerf’uste at its disposal. All of its company commanders had also 
been killed. SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Dr. Tiray had destroyed three Sherman 
tanks by himself and was killed while trying to dispatch a fourth. 

The III./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 was under attack by the 
Canadian 3rd Infantry Division, fighting in the ruins of Buron and Authie, 
where the battle was especially hard and bitter. The Canadians had not for¬ 
gotten that their advance was halted at Buron and Authie on 7 July, and 
they had had to pay a heavy and bloody price. The Panzergrenadiere of 
the battalion clung to the ruins, fighting fiercely for every inch of ground. 

I did not understand why the Canadians did not continue their attack 
from the direction of Carpiquet. We had only an 88 mm battery and the 
remnants of the I./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 opposite Carpiquet. 
That battalion had been bled white. An energetic thrust from there 
towards the Orne Bridge in Caen would have sealed the fate of the 12. SS- 



The Final Fighting around Caen 


261 


Panzer-Division within a few hours. The division’s only immediate reserve 
was a newly arrived tank company with 15 Panthers. 

Urgent reports from the front started to stack up. The 16. Luftwaffen- 
felddivision seemed to had been swept off the face of the earth. Our divi¬ 
sion immediately sent part of the II./SS-Panzer-Regiment 12 and the 
divisional Begleitkompanie to secure the area at Cabaret to the northeast 
of Caen. The l./SS-Panzer-Regiment 12 was fighting at the northern out¬ 
skirts of the city. 

Fighter-bombers continuously attacked the Orne bridges and the 
approach roads south of Caen. Any movement into Caen had become 
impossible. We could not evacuate our wounded or receive supplies. The 
roads had become death runs. The bombers roared through the sky once 
more from the north, aiming for the town. We could hardly believe that 
this tormented town was to suffer yet again. 

The enemy expenditure of men and equipment in capturing the town 
was scarcely imaginable. The gods only know why this unoccupied town 
was being razed to the ground. With the exception of the staff of the 12. 
SS-Panzer-Division, which had only been there for the past couple of days, 
there had been no formations in the town. The first wave of bombers 
made for the bridges, causing fires south of the Ome. The town center was 
once again blanketed with bombs. Caen was enveloped in flames, smoke 
and ashes. 

We suddenly saw the last wave of bombers heading for the garrison 
church and releasing its bombs. I jumped through the cellar entrance of 
our command post and threw myself into the farthest corner of the cellar. 
A tremendous noise shook the vault and the candles went out. I couldn’t 
breathe. I could barely see my hand in front of my face through the dense 
dust cloud. Hubert Meyer called out to me and more voices could be 
heard. Suddenly a soldier screamed out: “We’ve been buried alive, we’ve 
been buried alive!” The young soldier could only be calmed down with 
some effort. The outside concussion had hurled him through the open 
door into the cellar. 

The garrison church, only fifty meters from the command post, had 
been completely destroyed. A big crater was all that we could see at that 
point. Stone blocks had whirled through the air, falling on the camouflage 
netting under which were our radio vehicles, thus destroying all our radio 
communications. We soon overcame this disruption to our communica¬ 
tions network. The civilian population had suffered heavy losses once again. 

A few minutes after the bombing, the commander-in-chief of the 5. 
Panzer-Armee, General der Panzertruppen Eberbach, appeared at the divi- 



262 


GRENADIERS 


sional command post. General Eberbach was General Geyr von Sell we |> 
penburg’s successor. 

He had managed to get through in die lull between bombing raids on 
the Orne bridges. The commander-in-chief expressed his appreciation for 
the division’s performance. He was still unaware of the catastrophe regard¬ 
ing the 16. Luftwaffenfelddivision. General Eberbach immediately recog¬ 
nized the seriousness of the situation and ordered the commitment of the 
21. Panzer Division in the Luftwaffe division’s sector. A reinforced battal¬ 
ion of the 21. Panzer-Division was all that crossed the Orne that day. 

Alarming reports arrived while the commander-in-chief was still with 
us. The enemy had broken through between the II. and Ill./SS-Panzer- 
Grenadier-Regiment 25, that is, between Galmanche and Buron. He had 
taken Contest and his weapons were controlling the approach to the 
Ardenne monastery. 

The II./SS-Panzer-Regiment 12, with the exception of those units 
employed east of the railway in the sector of the 16. Luftwaffenfelddivision, 
was immediately committed into a counterattack. It threw the enemy back 
but could not retake Contest. The enemy’s tank superiority halted the 
counterattack. 

General der Panzertruppen Eberbach took his leave. I was convinced 
he would do everything to prevent further deaths in the rubble of Caen. 
The fighting continued with the same intensity. It was a mystery to me why 
the Canadians and British were advancing so hesitandy. Their enormous 
tank superiority was hardly fulfilling its potential. Instead of pushing their 
tank formations quickly and deeply into our defenses and creating a bridge¬ 
head over the Orne, they were only using tanks to support their infantry 
operations. 

With the exception of the extremely agile and well-led artillery, the 
attacker lacked momentum and initiative on the batdefield and was con¬ 
ducting the assault on Caen along tactical principles employed in World 
War I. You could only afford to conduct such warfare against an army that 
had already been bled white. 

The commander of the 16. Luftwaffenfelddivision, Generalleutnant 
Sievers, appeared at the command post of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division and 
asked for a briefing on the situation. He had been out of contact with his 
units for some hours. The report hit him hard. He immediately went to 
the northeastern outskirts of Caen to make his own, on the spot, assess¬ 
ment. He tried to reassemble his scattered division and form a stable front. 
The fighting morale of his units was too far gone for that, however. The 
steamroller trundled on. Slowly but steadily, the battlefield was being 
turned into a cratered landscape. 




The Final Fighting around Caen 


263 


During the afternoon the enemy took Gruchy. After a long and bloody 
fight, the 16. (Pionier)/SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25, which had 
defended it, was entirely wiped out. The brave engineer company, under 
the command of SS-Obersturmfuhrer Werner, was annihilated. The only 
one from the company I ever saw again was a runner. The engineers died 
in their positions. 

After seesaw fighting, Authie and Franqueville were lost. During 
an immediate counterattack, the commander of the Ill./SS-Panzer- 
Grenadier-Regiment 1, SS-Obersturmfuhrer Weidenhaupt, was wounded. 
The rest of the battalion brought the enemy’ attack to a halt north of 
Ardenne. 

The division’s situation was extremely serious. The three battalions of 
SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 were on their own, almost encircled and 
fighting bitterly in Malon, Galmanche and Buron. Wire communications 
had been destroyed. The only means of communication was the radio. 
The division’s front was stretched to the breaking point; reserves were no 
longer available. Only the fifteen Panthers of von Ribbentrop's company 
were on the reverse slope just north of the town. 

I couldn’t stand it any more! 1 wanted to see the situation for myself 
and make the necessary decisions in the middle of the fighting. The 
Fuhrer’s order not to give up Caen could no longer be executed. We could 
hold out for perhaps a couple of hours longer, but there wouldn’t be any 
survivors from the division. I straggled against allowing the division to be 
destroyed. Hubert Meyer supported my intention to leave the destroyed 
town to the Allies without further fighting and to withdraw the division to 
the eastern bank of the Orne. 

Erich Holsten had saddled his swift “horse". Our good Volkswagen was 
ready to go. Michel, my loyal Cossack, was already sitting in it when I got 
in. We all knew we would have a wild ride ahead of us. In a few minutes we 
reached von Ribbentrop’s Panther company. The foremost tanks were 
already in action against Shermans in Contest. 

In front of us was the Ardenne monastery. The entire complex was 
under artillery fire and the tall towers no longer existed. Their stumps 
stretched accusingly towards the sky. On the reverse slope I suddenly felt 
worried and took the wheel. In this situation, there was no stopping or 
turning. Impacting rounds had torn up the trail to the monastery; bomb 
craters covered the battlefield. 

We had scarcely left the last high ground behind when rounds flew 
around us. The tanks in Contest had taken us under fire. Cold sweat came 
out of every pore as the vehicle virtually flew over the ground. If only the 
dammed chirping of enemy machine guns had not been there! Only a few 



264 


GRENADIERS 


meters lay between us and the ruins. We did it. Direct fire could no longer 
reach us. 

The monastery’s orchard looked like an inferno. Round after round 
exploded in front of the regimental command post. We hesitated for a few 
seconds before we set out for our final dash. Taking advantage of a pause 
in the shelling, we rushed toward the building. Dead soldiers were scat¬ 
tered around the vicinity of the headquarters. While leaping out of the car, 
I recognized the body of the commander of the headquarters company. 
Shrapnel had killed him. 

We stumbled gasping into the old building to find the commander of 
SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 in the cellar. He was wounded and speak¬ 
ing to SS-Hauptsturmfiihrer Steger, the commander of III./SS-Panzer- 
Grenadier-Regiment 25. The radio was the only means of communication 
with the battalions. The ceiling seemed to be moving above us, even 
though it was deeply embedded in the earth and was supported by enor¬ 
mous arches. We heard a continuous booming. I spoke to SS-Hauptsturm- 
fuhrer Steger in Buron. He reported most of his battalion had been killed 
in action and enemy tanks were outside the village. He requested urgent 
help. All available tanks were sent to Buron in order to break a hole in the 
encirclement. The attack failed. From the church tower I observed the see¬ 
saw tank engagement. Both sides sustained heavy losses. 

Enemy tanks pushed towards Ardenne from Authie. Von Ribbentrop's 
company destroyed three tanks in the defense of die regimental command 
post. The burning tanks were 100 meters west of Ardenne. 

More and more wounded dragged themselves into the monastery’s big 
cellar. Medics performed superhuman feats in saving their wounded com¬ 
rades. My long-time fighting comrade, Dr. Erich Gatternig, worked tire¬ 
lessly to overcome the misery and the pain. One could hardly stand the 
wailing in the old vaults. The stream of wounded did not stop. 

We couldn’t give up the fight! We had to wait for night to evacuate our 
wounded comrades under the cover of darkness and give our forward ele¬ 
ments a chance to break out. 

I sat in a Panther and was moving towards Cussy. Gussy was being 
defended by the battery commander of the l./SS-Flak-Abteilung 12, SS- 
Hauptsturmfuhrer Ritzel. This small town was only a heap of rubble. 
Three burning Shermans were in front of the battery’s position. The bat¬ 
tery’s losses were high. One gun had been put out of action by artillery 
fire. SS-Hauptstunnfiihrer Ritzel served as a gunner on a piece. He prom¬ 
ised me he would do everything to hold the position until nightfall and 
thus enable the evacuation of the wounded from Ardenne. 






The Final Fighting around Caen 


265 


Soon after that, I was back in the monastery. Enemy infantry and tanks 
had broken into Buron at that point. I could not identify’ Steger’s com¬ 
mand post due to the smoke and explosions. Flamethrower tanks were rag¬ 
ing around the positions of the III./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25. 
Burning Panzergrenadiere jumped into the air and then collapsed. 
Flamethrower tanks were the most feared weapons. Because the small 
Bren Gun Carriers only worked under the covering fire of their big broth¬ 
ers, they were very difficult to engage. 

Enemy tanks overran Steger’s command post and the battalion staff 
ceased to exist. The fighting only continued in the western part of the vil¬ 
lage. SS-Standartenfuhrer Milius, commander of Panzer-Grenadier-Regi- 
ment 25, was given orders to evacuate the monastery after moving out the 
wounded and occupy positions on the outskirts of the city. It was my inten¬ 
tion to withdraw the remnants of the division to the eastern bank of the 
Orne during the night. 

The enemy target practice at our Volkswagen started again. Erich Hol- 
sten drove and I clung on to the side. With a lot of luck, we reached the 
rubble of the city. After my return from Ardenne, I reported the critical sit¬ 
uation to the corps and urgently asked for permission to withdraw the 
remnants of the division to the eastern bank of the Orne. I left no doubt 
that Caen could not be held without the remnants of the division bleeding 
to death. The corps turned down the request. The Fuhrer had ordered 
that the town had to be held at all costs! All protests and my reference to 
the senselessness of further sacrifices achieved nothing. We were to die in 
Caen! 

I flew into an enormous fury when I thought of the brave soldiers who 
had been fighting day and night for four weeks and who were to be need¬ 
lessly sacrificed. I refused to carry out the untenable order and started the 
evacuation of the city'. The heavy weapons immediately occupied new posi¬ 
tions on the eastern bank of the Orne. After the onset of darkness, the bat¬ 
talions were withdrawn to the edge of Caen. The way had to be cleared for 
them by the employment of a small group of tanks. The Ill./SS-Panzer- 
Grenadier-Regiment 25 had some 100 enlisted soldiers and noncommis¬ 
sioned officers left. All of the officers had been killed, wounded or missing 
in action. 

The battlefield had become quiet. We were happy the Canadians were 
inactive. Had they continued their attack at night, the division would have 
been completely annihilated. The Canadians entered the Ardenne 
monastery and prevented the continued evacuation of the wounded. Soon 
after midnight, SS-Standartenfuhrer Milius requested artillery fire on 




266 


GRENADIERS 


Ardenne in order to gain some breathing space. As this measure was the 
only option for forcing a way clear to our wounded comrades, I give per¬ 
mission to the rocket battery to Rre two salvos at the monastery. Our 
observer in Ardenne directed the Rre. The enemy withdrew. After all the 
wounded had been evacuated, the monaster)' was abandoned. 

SS-Standartenfuhrer Milius reported the evacuation of Ardenne at 
midnight. The survivors had occupied new positions at the edge of the city. 
The crews of the 88 mm battery at Gussy died at their guns. SS- Haupt- 
sturmfuhrer Ritzel died in hand-to-hand fighting at his battery position. 
Their heroic fight enabled the evacuation of their wounded comrades. 

Shortly after midnight, I assembled all the commanders and told them 
of my decision to evacuate the town during the course of the night and 
occupy new positions east of the Orne. The commanders were relieved. 
They unanimously supported the intention of the division to evacuate 
destroyed Caen without fighting. 

At 0200 hours I was searching for the I./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regi- 
ment 25 on the northern outskirts of Caen. The rest of the battalion had 
to fight its way through enemy forces, leaving a bloody path behind them. 
The battalion’s losses were shocking. SS-Obersturmfuhrer Schunemann’s 
platoon was defending itself in a group of farmhouses. It was impossible 
for the Panzergrenadiere to break through to the rear. According to radio 
intercepts, this lost band was still fighting forty-eight hours later. It was 
then annihilated in a fighter-bomber attack. 

I found the survivors of the I./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 in a 
bomb dugout at the edge of the city. The soldiers, totally exhausted by the 
fighting, had fallen into a deep sleep. The officers had taken over guard 
duty. Stragglers stumbled into the bunker and collapsed into whatever 
small space there was left. What luck that the English and Canadians were 
not in pursuit! The soldiers of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division were at the end 
of their physical endurance. They had fought for weeks in the front line 
without replacements and had suffered the hammer blows of modern 
attrition warfare. 

They had gone to war weeks before with fresh, blooming faces. At this 
point, camouflaged, muddy steel helmets cast shade on emaciated faces 
whose eyes had, all too often, looked into another world. The men pre¬ 
sented a picture of deep human misery. But it was immaterial; they 
couldn’t be allowed to rest any longer. They had to defend the eastern 
bank of the Orne. Waldmuller received his new orders and tore his men 
out of their leaden sleep. Every Panzergrenadier had to be woken individ¬ 
ually. They staggered drowsily out of the bunker and hung their ammuni¬ 
tion around their necks once again; the heavy machine-gun belts dragged 




The Final Fighting around Caen 


267 


the half-awake soldiers forward. Swearing, they hitched themselves to two 
heavy infantry guns and turned back towards the burning town. Two Ger¬ 
man tanks guarded the northern approaches. 

During my absence, the chief of staff had vainly tried again and again 
to obtain permission from corps to evacuate Caen. The corps finally 
ordered the evacuation of the city around 0300 hours. 

Because the withdrawal had already started and the heavy weapons 
had already occupied their new firing positions east of the Orne, the evac¬ 
uation could be carried out quiedy and undisturbed by the enemy. 

New positions were occupied in the sector stretching from the Caen 
railway station to the bend in the Orne at Fleur sur Orne. The men were 
exhausted and unable to begin improving the new positions. After cross¬ 
ing the Orne and reaching their new positions, the soldiers fell into a deep 
sleep, relying on their comrades guarding the northern outskirts of the 
city. 

In the morning, the 2./SS-Flak-Abteilung 12 left its position on the 
western outskirts of Caen, overlooking Carpiquet. Even there, only a few 
hundred meters east of Carpiquet, there was still no enemy contact. At 
0440 hours the division stall left Caen and established its command post at 
Carcelles. The relief of the division by the 272. Infanterie-Division was 
expected. The new command post lay hidden between some ancient 
beech, oak and elm trees. A neat Norman mansion, dreamily sheltered in 
the park, offered us peace and quiet. Unfortunately, we did not have any 
opportunity for rest. At least I was able to enjoy a couple of buckets of 
water and scrubbed myself from head to toe. 

By 0800 hours I was again visiting units in the southern part of Caen. 
The soldiers and officers lay like corpses in the gardens on the bank of the 
Orne. They had sunk into a death-like sleep. The units had reached the 
end of their strength. 

It was only in the afternoon that enemy reconnaissance patrols felt 
their way towards the city. At midday the last outposts of the 12. SS-Panzer- 
Division and the 21. Panzer-Division had crossed the Orne. After the com¬ 
mander of the III./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26—Olboetter—had 
crossed the Orne, the last bridge was demolished. Towards evening the 
first rounds were exchanged across the Orne. Three Allied divisions had 
taken the northern part of Caen. 

On 11 July the division was relieved by the 272. Infanterie-Division. 
This was carried out without enemy interference. The enemy had only 
conducted reconnaissance patrols in the division’s sector. It was only for 
that reason that the completely exhausted formations were able to estab¬ 
lish defensive positions. 



268 


GRENADIERS 


From the start of the invasion to the evacuation of Caen on 9 July, the 
division had suffered heavy losses of men and equipment. More than 20 
percent of the soldiers had been killed in action and more than 40 per¬ 
cent reported as wounded or missing. The military esprit of the young sol¬ 
diers cannot be better summarized than by the words of a former 
opponent: “The 12. SS-Panzer-Division, which defended this sector, fought 
with a toughness and intensity which was not encountered anywhere else 
during the enure campaign.” 




From the Evacuation of Caen 
to the Falaise Pocket 


After the bloody fighting around Caen the 12. SS-Panzer-Division was 
transferred to the area around Potigny, north of Falaise, for refitting. SS- 
Panzer-Artillery-Regiment 12 and SS-Flak-Abteilung 12 were attached to 
support the 272. Infanterie-Division. 

As a lengthy refitting in an area close to the front was out of the ques¬ 
tion, the staffs of the SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regimenter were moved to the 
area around Vimouthiers. They had the mission of creating provisional 
companies out of the replacements who were arriving and those wounded 
who were again fit for duty. 

The remnants of the Panzer-Grenadier-Bataillone were consolidated 
into two Kampfgruppen. Some Panzerkompanien were transferred to the 
Le Neubourg area for refitting. There was little in the way of recuperation. 
We worked feverishly on the units’ combat readiness and planned and 
implemented resupply. 

I was ordered to report to the 1. SS-Panzer-Korps. Erich Holsten had 
left me a few days before in order to have an operation. The young soldiers 
wanted to give me a long-time comrade as Erich’s successor. They formed 
the idea of hasing Max Bornhoft transferred from SS-Panzer-Aufklarungs- 
Abteilung 1 to our division. He had assisted me from 1940 to 1943. The sur¬ 
prise inaugurated by my magnificent soldiers wits complete. Accompanied 
by a hail of greetings from the runners, Max and I shook hands. We were 
sitting side by side again after exactly one year’s separation. 

Fighter-bombers hunted us on the journey to the I. SS-Panzer-Korps. 
The dead-straight road from Falaise to Caen was permanently patrolled by 
fighter-bombers and was only used by a few dispatch riders. Logistics traffic 
was non-existent. The formations could only be supplied by night. 

The I. SS-Panzer-Korps had moved its command post into a densely 
vegetated and wooded area south of Bretteville sur Laize. 1 reported to the 
commanding general of the corps. I was more than an hour late. Suddenly, 
in complete surprise, I was standing face-to-face with the commander-in- 


269 



270 


GRENADIERS 


chief in the west, Feldmarschall von Rundstedt. The commander-in-chief 
and Sepp Dietrich were sitting in the shade of a tree and had harsh words 
regarding the continuous interference from the Oberkommando der 
Wehrmacht. 

The elderly Feldmarschall expressed his gratitude to the 12. SS-Panzer- 
Division. He noted with regret the division’s irreplaceable losses and again 
expressed his admiration for the young soldier’s professional bearing. In a 
few words he compared the youth of Langemarck with the youth of Caen. 
He said: “Your soldiers had the passion of the young regiments of Lange¬ 
marck but they are far superior to them in training, especially in that they 
are led by veteran officers and noncommissioned officers. It is terrible that 
these trusting youths are being sacrificed in a hopeless situation.” 

During lunch, I listened with astonishment to the Feldmarschall and 
Sepp Dietrich openly condemning the conduct of the war in Normandy. 
During the course of the conversation it became apparent that there was 
agreement between the commander-in-chief, the commanding general 
and myself on the impossibility of the present situation. 

On 17 July the division was alerted; the enemy had broken through 
the positions of the 272. Infanterie-Division between Maltot and Vendes. 
The enemy was repulsed with a counterattack and denied a breakthrough 
to the Orne. About fifty prisoners were taken during the operation. 

During the early afternoon, I was surprised to be ordered to the I. SS- 
Panzer-Korps to report to Feldmarschall Rommel. The Feldmarschall 
expressed his recognition of the division and regretted he could not visit 
us due to lack of time. At the end of the visit, he asked me for an evalua¬ 
tion of the situation. I replied: 

A British offensive south of Caen can be expected in the near 
future. The objective of the attack will be to smash the right 
wing—the critical point of the front in Normandy—to enable 
them to advance into the heart of Fiance. The units will fight and 
the soldiers will continue to die in their positions, but they will not 
prevent the British tanks from rolling over their bodies and march¬ 
ing on Paris. The enemy’s overwhelming enemy air supremacy 
makes tactical maneuver virtually impossible. The fighter-bombers 
even attack individual dispatch riders. Redeployment of the small¬ 
est units, let alone the formauon of a Schwerpunkt, cannot be exe¬ 
cuted without serious losses because of continuous air coverage. 

The road network is under their control day and night. A few 
fighter-bombers are enough to delay or even stop movements. 




From the Evacuation of Caen to the Falaise Pocket 


271 


Herr Feldmarschall, give us an air umbrella, give us some fighter 
units! We are not afraid of the enemy ground forces; we are pow¬ 
erless against the massed employment of the air force, however. 

It would have been better not to have made that last request. I saw that 
I had touched on a sensitive area. The Feldmarschall said excitedly: 

Who are you telling this to? Do you think I move around the 
countryside with my eyes closed? ... I have written report after 
report. I was already pointing out the destructive effectiveness of 
the fighter-bombers in Africa . . . But the higher-ups know better, 
of course ... They don’t believe my reports any more! ... Some¬ 
thing has to happen! . .. The war in the west has to end! . . . But 
what will happen in the east? 

The Feldmarschall and I walked back and forth for a few minutes 
before he bid me a fond farewell. Sepp Dietrich asked the Feldmarschall 
to be careful and avoid the main road. He suggested his big car be 
exchanged for a Kubelwagen. The Feldmarschall waved away the sugges¬ 
tion with a smile and drove away. He was attacked and wounded shortly 
afterwards at Foy de Montgomery. 

South of the Orne were Faubourg de Vaucelles and Colombelles, sub¬ 
urbs of Caen. They were modem industrial complexes surrounded by 
housing areas for the workers. Immediately south of those housing areas 
were the rich, fertile fields of Normandy. They stretched as far as the old 
town of Falaise, the birthplace of William the Conqueror. 

The terrain between the two towns climbed slowly but steadily and 
reached a height of 200 meters on both sides of Potigny. The heights were 
covered with woods and allowed a view to the north. Immediately south of 
the range of hills the Laison River cut through the countryside. Caen and 
Falaise were connected by Route National 158, a straight road that bent 
slighdy at Potigny. Scattered woods lined both sides of the road. 

It was Montgomery’s intention after Caen’s capture to break out of the 
bridgehead and reach the heights between Falaise and Caen. In order to 
realize this plan, the British VIII Corps with three armored divisions and 
the Canadian II Corps with two infantry divisions and a tank brigade were 
staged. The attack was to be supported by the US 8th Air Force and the 
2nd Tactical Air Force. 

Opposing these superior forces were the 272. Infanterie-Division (with¬ 
out a single tank or heavy antitank gun), the badly battered 21. Panzer-Divi- 



272 


GRENADIERS 


sion with remnants of the 16. LuftwafFenfelddivision and elements of the 1. 
SS-Panzer-Division. The two Kampfgruppen of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division 
were in reserve at Potigny. 

The German leadership expected the enemy’s big offensive south of 
Caen in the near future. The attack at Maltot was only viewed as a diver¬ 
sionary maneuver. In order to oppose an enemy breakthrough to the east, 
one Kampfgruppe of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division was moved to the vicinity 
of Lisieux. 

I visited the commander-in-chief of the 5. Panzerarmee on the evening 
of 17 July. General der Panzertruppen Eberbach was convinced that the 
expected attack would take place during the next few hours. All units in 
the Caen sector were put on alert. 

In the early hours of 18 July the earth south of Caen started to trem¬ 
ble. The Allied air force had launched the offensive with die dropping of 
7,700 tons of bombs. Fighter-bombers attacked the artillery positions and 
the roads immediately behind the front. The first bombs tripped the alarm 
in the Kampfgruppe. The Panzergrenadiere leapt onto their vehicles and 
rubbed the last sleep from their eyes. They didn’t ask questions. There was 
hardly any conversation. They prepared themselves silently for the next 
fight. We had no illusions. Officers and men knew the futility of fighting. 
They awaited their operations orders in silence but with a will to fulfill 
their duty to the bitter end. 

The Kampfgruppe was employed on both sides of the Cagny-Vimont 
road in the sector of the tenaciously fighting 21. Panzer-Division. The 
enemy tanks were halted at Frenouville and all further attacks were fended 
off with heavy enemy losses. The rest of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division had to 
take over the sector of the 21. Panzer-Division on both sides of the Cagny- 
Vimont road during the following night. 

In the neighboring sector, the 1. SS-Panzer-Division destroyed more 
than 100 tanks of the British 11th Armoured Division. Jochen Peiper had 
saved the day again with his Panthers. Montgomery’s large-scale offensive 
had not achieved its aim. The high ground, which had been his objective, 
was still under the defenders’ control. 

The fighting being conducted resembled exactly that of the previous 
fighting in Normandy. Magnificent planning and enormous amounts of 
equipment followed by a hesitant tank attack with no momentum or drive. 
Up to that point, British tank units had only occupied broken terrain. 
Where was the spirit of the Light Brigade at Balaclava in the Crimean War? 
The enemy tanks crawled across the terrain like turtles; their massed 
power was not exploited. 




From the Evacuation of Caen to the Falaise Pocket 


273 


The division’s positions were improved as quickly as possible. The 
enemy did not continue his attacks in our sector. On 20 July I visited the 
division’s positions with the commander of SS-Panzer-Aufklarungs- 
Abteilung 12.1 reconnoitered a fail-back position on a line from Vimont to 
St. Sylvain. The new position was immediately dotted with strongpoints. 
We could no longer allow ourselves the luxury of a continuous defensive 
system. The division’s combat strength was, at best, that of a reinforced 
regiment. 

I returned to the divisional command post at about 1900 hours and 
was informed about the attempted assassination at the Fiihrer's headquar¬ 
ters. (It is not correct that we were informed by a military office in Paris, as 
was later maintained. We were informed by neither side. The information 
came exclusively from radio news reports). 

The attempt had no influence on the relationship between the Army 
and Waffen-SS units. There was no difference of opinion among the com¬ 
bat units. The terrorist act was rejected equally by all units. The soldiers 
had no sympathy for the 20 July conspirators. They were longing for an 
end to the war and were themselves searching for ways and means to end 
the futile struggle. However, at no time were they ready to break their sol¬ 
dier’s oath. 

Early on the morning of 21 July, the commander of Kampfgruppe 
Waldmuller reported that Feldmarschall von Kluge had almost driven 
beyond the frontlines in the sector of the Kampfgruppe and was inspect¬ 
ing frontline positions. Feldmarschall von Kluge was trying to form his 
own impression of the state of his forces and had chosen the 12. SS-Panzer- 
Division for that purpose. 

The Feldmarschall familiarized himself with the situation and agreed 
with my assessment. He expressed his gratitude for the admirable soldierly 
bearing of our young soldiers and announced we would be relieved by an 
infantry division soon. 

Von Kluge revealed himself to be very open minded and was com¬ 
pletely candid with me. He considered the situation in Normandy to be 
very critical. He sharply criticized the static defense of the shattered Nor¬ 
mandy countryside. The Feldmarschall stayed at command post for a few 
hours and spoke to the commander-in-chief of the 5. Panzer-Armee, Gen¬ 
eral der Panzertruppen Eberbach, as well as to the commanding general 
of the I. SS-Panzer-Korps, Sepp Dietrich, and to the commander of the 21. 
Panzer-Division, Feuchtinger, who had all arrived in the meantime. After 
inspecting the front, von Kluge sent a comprehensive report on the true 
situation to Hitler. 



274 


GRENADIERS 


During the previous week the enemy had conducted raids in the divi¬ 
sion’s sector. Radio intercepts gave us reason to expect an attack along the 
road to Vimont. Generalmajor Peltz, the commander of all combat aircraft 
on the Western front, unexpectedly visited the division in order to coordi¬ 
nate Luftwaffe and ground troop operations for operations against the 
enemy’s front line. The fighter units had to take off from airfields in Hol¬ 
land and Belgium. There were no forward air controllers available to direct 
the aircraft. Communications could only be achieved via signal flares. The 
formations had to reach the front flying at low altitude. We had major con¬ 
cerns whether suCh measures could be accomplished. 

A few days after this reconnaissance, the first operadonal sortie of 
twenty to thirty machines followed. The units could hardly believe that 
German aircraft had finally appeared almost two months after the inva¬ 
sion. The machines flew in over the front at about fifty meters. Unfortu¬ 
nately, the second wave dropped its bombs in the middle of the positions 
of the I./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25. Generalmajor Peltz and I had 
the pleasure of laying beneath our own rain of bombs. Luckily, there were 
no casualties. The operation was never repeated. 

The division was relieved by the 272. Infanterie-Division during the 
night of 4—5 August for refitting in the area east of Falaise. However, due to 
the latest developments, the order was withdrawn and the division was kept 
on standby north of Falaise. We awaited major reinforcements in vain and 
only received a Panzetjager-Kompanie that was only pardally motorized. 
The Panzer-Grenadier-Regimen ter did not receive a single man. 

On a visit to the I. SS-Panzer-Korps, I noticed with trepidation that all 
of the Panzer-Divisionen that had been employed east of the Ome were 
now west of it. The 2., 116. and 21. Panzer-Divisionen, as well as the 1. and 
9. SS-Panzer-Divisionen, were all assembled west of the Orne. 

The remnants of my division—with about fifty combat vehicles—were 
the only armor forces east of the Orne. That meant that the two Kampf- 
gruppen of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division were the only operational reserves 
east of the river. That exposed the German front south of Caen and 
caused great concern. In the event of a renewed Allied attack, the eastern 
flank of the German front would inevitably cave in and open the way to 
tlie interior of France. With only fifty combat vehicles left, it was impossi¬ 
ble to hope that we could stop the three armored divisions and three 
infantry divisions of the English and Canadians. We foresaw the collapse of 
the German eastern flank and prepared ourselves for our last fight. 

The British 59th Division successfully forced a bridgehead over the 
Orne at Thury Harcourt on the evening of 6 August. Kampfgruppe Krause, 




From the Evacuation of Caen to the Falaise Pocket 


275 


in conjunction with elements of the 89. Infanterie-Division, was immedi¬ 
ately ordered to eliminate the bridgehead. 

Moving out from St. Laurent, it managed to clear the Foret de Grim- 
bosq of the enemy but was pinned by concentrated artillery fire as it left 
the wooded terrain for the open countryside that sloped gently to the 
Orne. The enemy had excellent observation positions from the heights of 
the west bank. 

I went to Kampfgruppe Krause early on 7 August and found its com¬ 
mand post in a forester’s house in the Foret de Grimbosq. Wounded sol¬ 
diers of the 89. Infanterie-Division and the Kampfgruppe lay in the shadow 
of high trees waiting for their evacuation. Enemy artillery fire was falling 
on the road and the edge of the woods south of Grimbosq. 

Despite the enemy’s enormous artillery superiority, we were successful 
in entering Grimbosq and reducing the enemy bridgehead. Again, the 
losses were frightfully high. On returning to Krause’s command post I 
rarely saw a single unwounded soldier. The artillery fire was devastating in 
the woods. Before the bridgehead could be entirely eliminated, events 
took place which rendered the operation secondary and caused the imme¬ 
diate withdrawal of Kampfgruppe Krause. 

The Allies were aware of the switch of the Panzer-Divisionen to the 
western sector and, apart from the fifty combat vehicles of the bumt-out 12. 
SS-Panzer-Division, there were only two infantry divisions south of Caen. 
What was more obvious than to smash the weak German eastern flank and 
push on towards the south via Falaise? By doing so, they would encircle and 
destroy the German armies in Normandy in a big pincer movement in con¬ 
junction with the American forces. 

On 4 August Montgomery ordered the Canadian 1st Army to launch 
an attack in the direction of Falaise to speed the collapse of the German 
Army. The commanding general of the Canadian II Corps, Lieutenant Gen¬ 
eral Simonds, was charged with the execution of this task. Simonds was the 
youngest commanding general in the Canadian Army and, without doubt, 
a very able and chivalrous opponent. He had commanded an armored divi¬ 
sion in Italy for a short period and was an excellent planner and tactician. 
He was probably the Canadians’ most distinguished staff officer, but I dare 
not judge whether he was an equally able combat commander. 

The fighting south of Caen clearly demonstrated that the Canadians 
did not have a dashing armored commander at their disposal. Further¬ 
more, that battle was conducted with enormous superiority in troops and 
equipment. At no time, however, did the unit commanders dare to make 
instant decisions or take advantage of favorable situations. The combat 
commanders lacked the initiative to seize a chance when offered and lead 




276 


GRENADIERS 


their tanks into the depth of the enemy’s rear. The Canadians slugged their 
way south—hesitant, with trepidation and waiting for orders from “above”. 

General Simonds had the following forces at his disposal for Opera¬ 
tion “Totalize": 

British 51st Infantry Division 

Polish 1st Armored Division 

Canadian 4th Armoured Division 

Canadian 2nd Infantry Division. 

Canadian 33rd Armoured Brigade 

Canadian 2nd Armoured Brigade. 

Canadian 3rd Infantry Brigade (reserve). 

General Simonds intended to smash the German defense with these 
forces and reach the town of Falaise. According to General Crerar, com¬ 
mander -in-chief of the Canadian 1st Army, 8 August 1944 was to become 
an even blacker day for the German Army than 8 August 1918 had been 
east of Amiens. 

General Simonds’ plan was to attack in darkness without artillery 
preparation and break through the defensive strongpoints using long, 
dense tank columns. The accompanying infantry was to follow in special 
armored vehicles and attack the assumed second line of defense. The 
night attack included the use of a large British night-bomber formation. 
The second phase of the attack was to be launched in the early afternoon 
with ati operation by the American 8th Air Force to open the way for the 
tank armada. The third phase was to end in the late afternoon with the 
encirclement of Falaise. 

The concentrated power of the Canadian II Corps assembled accord¬ 
ing to plan late in the evening of 7 August. The tanks were closely packed 
together and were, in and of themselves, a deadly spear in the hands of the 
Canadian commanders. In all probability, such a concentrated tank force 
could simply not be stopped. It would utterly crush our defense into the 
ground. 

The Canadian deployment would seem to have guaranteed victory 
over the German eastern flank in Normandy. Crerar’s words were justified. 
The God of War, however, had decided differendy. Despite the enormous 
accumulation of equipment, it was the human who remained victorious. 
The advancing tank squadrons were stopped by a group of men who were 
not afraid to look death in the face. The Canadian II Corps’ objective was 
reached eight days later than planned. The rubble of Falaise only fell into 
Canadian hands on 16 August. 

How did it look on the German side that 7 August? Opposing the 
seven major Allied formations of several hundred tanks and hundreds of 




From the Evacuation of Caen to the Falaise Pocket 


277 


heavy bombers and fighter-bombers was the 89. Infanterie-Division. That 
division had neither tanks nor heavy antitank guns or any mobile reserves. 
The artillery was horse drawn and could be hopelessly out-maneuvered. 
East of the Orne only the two Kampfgruppen of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division 
were available as a reserve. Kampfgruppe Krause was, however, involved in 
the attack on the bridgehead at Thury Harcourt on 7 August and, as a 
result, was about twenty kilometers away from the area of the Canadian 
offensive. The 12. SS-Panzer-Division, together with the schwere SS-Panzer- 
Abteilung 101, the corps' Tiger battalion, had about fifty tanks at its dis¬ 
posal, nothing more. Moreover, the other infantry formation in the area, 
the 85. Infanterie-Division, was on the move. Its lead elements had only 
reached the area around Trun. It could not be expected to be employed 
until 10 August at the earliest. 

The division gave an extensive situation report to the corps following 
my return from the Thury Harcourt bridgehead. It urgently warned 
against the withdrawal of the last tanks south of Caen. I had also found out 
that my two Kampfgruppen were also to be turned towards the west. 

* 


A continuous booming and rumbling north of Bretteville announced 
the anticipated Allied offensive shordy before midnight. Air attacks ham¬ 
mered the positions of the 89. Infanterie-Division and created a fiery glow 
in the sky. The front was on fire! 

The first bombs automadcally tripped the alarm for the units. Recon¬ 
naissance units moved north and tried to contact the engaged regiments 
of the 89. Infanterie-Division. Hour after hour passed in gloomy expecta¬ 
tion of the coming day. The giant hammer blows of the enemy bombers 
told us more than any mortal could. The drumming of the bombs and 
shells drew our attendon. There was no point in wanting to escape this 
hellfire; its throat had already opened to receive us. 

I raced towards Bretteville with some dispatch riders before daylight to 
obtain an overview of the previous night’s events. For a split second I 
delighted in the lovely green of the woods and thought about the weeks 
we spent on that quiet wooded road in 1942 during the division’s refitting. 
The sound of the front pulled me back to reality. Death and destruction 
allowed no memories of happy times; the rumbling battle sounded like a 
dull roaring of the drums of destruction. There were no blaring victory 
fanfares to be heard. 

I talked to Mohnke in Urville and received the first reports on the 
night’s events. The positions of the 89. Infanterie-Division had been over- 


278 


GRENADIERS 


run; the division was as good as destroyed. Only a few individual strong- 
points were still intact; they were like islands in the stream of batde, giving 
the attacking Canadians a hot reception time and again. 

There was no communications whatsoever with the units up front and 
the surviving pockets of resistance fought on independently. There was no 
cohesion to the defense; they had to rely on their own resources. Our 
brave soldiers stood like rocks against the wild flood of the Canadian tank 
armada and forced it to halt again and again. 

A lucky coincidence was that I knew the terrain in great detail. I had 
been there with my old reconnaissance battalion in the fall of 1942, and we 
had conducted plenty of exercises. I knew, therefore, that the high ground 
at Potigny dominated the terrain and the Laison sector was a natural tank 
obstacle. The Canadian attack had to be halted north of Potigny or the fate 
of the 7. and 5. Armeen would have been sealed. I moved towards Bret- 
teville sur Laize with the clear intention of holding the Laison sector. 

Bretteville was impassable. The bombs had blocked the streets with 
nibble. We moved across open fields to try to reach Cintheaux that way. 
Cintheaux was a large estate and was located right on the Caen-Falaise 
road. There were hardly any movements to be seen on the main road. And 
who would have been moving around anyway? The 89. Infanterie-Division 
was north of Cintheaux. There was a huge gap from there south to Falaise. 
The Allied objective, which they desired so passionately, was spread out in 
front of them undefended and unoccupied. 

I found a platoon of Panzeijager from Kampfgruppe Waldmiiller at 
Cintheaux. With foresight, Waldmiiller had already moved the platoon 
there during the night. The place was under artillery fire. 

I couldn’t believe my eyes. Groups of German soldiers were running 
south in panic down both sides of the Caen-Falaise road. I was seeing Ger¬ 
man soldiers running away for the first time during those long, gruesome 
years of genocide. They were unresponsive. They had been through hell- 
fire and stumbled past us with fear-filled eyes. I looked at the leaderless 
groups in fascination. My uniform stuck to my body; the heavy burden of 
responsibility made me break out in a sweat. I suddenly realized that the 
fate of Falaise and the safety of both armies depended on my decision. 

I stood up in the Volkswagen and moved in the direction of Caen. 
More and more confused soldiers approached me fleeing southwards. I 
vainly tried to stabilize the collapsing front. The appalling bombardment 
had unnerved the units of the 89. Infanterie-Division. Rounds landed on 
the road, sweeping it empty. The retreat could only continue off to the 
sides of the road. I jumped out of the car and was alone in the middle of 
the road. 






From the Evacuation of Caen to the Falaise Pocket 


279 


I slowly approached the front and addressed the fleeing soldiers. They 
were startled and stopped. They looked at me incredulously, wondering 
how I could stand on the road armed with just a carbine. The young sol¬ 
diers probably thought I had cracked. But then they recognized me, 
turned round, and waved to their comrades to come and organize the 
defense around Cintheaux. The place had to be held at all costs to gain 
time for the Kampfgruppen; speed was imperative. 

1 reached Mohnke’s headquarters after a bombing attack. He was sit¬ 
ting on top of a radio vehicle in the rubble and looked the worse for wear. 
His head was in his hands; he could not hear. The dispatch riders had suf¬ 
fered casualties. 

While with Mohnke, I saw the commander-in-chief of the 5. Panzer- 
Armee, General der Panzertruppen Eberbach. The General had come to 
see for himself the effects of the earlier Allied attacks and make decisions 
based on personal observation. The commander-in-chief gave me full free¬ 
dom of action and agreed with my estimate of the situation. In the mean¬ 
time, Hubert Meyer had directed Kampfgruppe Waldmtiller to Bretteville 
le Rabet. From there it could be employed based on the situation. 

I issued the following orders: 

1. Kampfgruppe Waldmuller, reinforced by the I./SS-Panzer-Regi- 
rnent 12 and the remnants of schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101, 
counterattacks to seize the high ground south of St. Aignan. 

2. Divisional Begleitkompanie, reinforced by the l./SS-Panzer- 
jager-Abteilung 12 (with self-propelled antitank guns) advances 
through Estrees and takes the high ground west of St. Sylvain. 

3. Kampfgruppe Krause, reinforced by the Il./SS-Panzer-Regi- 
ment 12, disengages from the enemy, occupies the high ground 
west of Potigny and defends the area between Laison and Laize. 

(At that point involved in the attack against the enemy bridge¬ 
head at Grimbosq.) 

4. Divisional command post at Potigny; I will be with Kampf¬ 
gruppe Waldmuller. I met Waldmuller north of Bretteville le 
Rabat and we moved to Cintheaux together to orient ourselves. 
Wittmann’s Tigers were already east of Cintheaux, hidden 
behind the hedgerows. They had not engaged in the firefight 
up to that point. 

Cintheaux was under artillery fire. The open terrain did not seem to 
be receiving any fire, however. From the northern outskirts of the village 
we saw the dense columns of tanks north of the road to Bretteville sur 



280 


GRENADIERS 


Laize. The tanks were clumped together. It was the same south of Garcelles 
and at the edge of the woods southeast of it. The massed tanks almost took 
our breath away. We could not understand the Canadians’ behavior. Why 
didn’t that overwhelming tank force pursue the attack? Why did the Cana¬ 
dian command give us the time and opportunity to take countermeasures? 
The much-feared fighter-bombers were missing. The systematic use of the 
fighter-bombers alone would have destroyed the remnants of my division 
on Route Nationale 158 and forced a breakthrough for the Canadian II 
Corps. Nothing could have then prevented the Canadians from taking 
Falaise that evening. Only the gods know why that did not happen. 

Waldmuller and I knew we couldn’t let the enemy tank squadrons run 
up against us. The enemy tanks could not be allowed to conduct another 
attack. Enemy armored divisions stood ready to attack down all of the 
roads. The attack could not be launched. We had to try to gain the initia¬ 
tive. 

I decided to defend Cintheaux with those forces already employed 
and to launch an attack east of the road with lightning speed and all avail¬ 
able units. By doing that, I hoped to disrupt the enemy’s intent. I desig¬ 
nated the woods southeast of Garcelles as the objective. Because a large 
quarry made a tank attack south of Cintheaux unlikely, I had no fears 
there. We had to risk the attack to gain time for the Laison sector. The 
attack was planned to start at 1230 hours. 

During my last conference with Waldmuller and Wittmann, we 
observed a lone bomber flying over us a couple of times dropping flares. It 
seemed to us that it was some sort of flying command post and I ordered an 
immediate attack to get the units out of the bombing zone. I shook Michael 
Wittmann’s hand once again and indicated to him the extremely critical sit¬ 
uation. Good Michael laughed his youthful laugh and climbed into his 
Tiger. One-hundred-thirty-eight enemy tanks had fallen victim to him. 
Would he increase that count or would he become a victim himself? 

The tanks rolled out rapidly to the north. They crossed the open ter¬ 
rain at speed and used folds in the terrain to engage the enemy. The tank 
attack helped sweep along the Panzergrenadiere. They approached the 
attack objective widely dispersed. I was at the northern outskirts of 
Cintheaux; the enemy artillery was laying down a barrage on the attacking 
tanks. Michael Wittmann’s Tiger raced into the enemy fire. I knew how he 
operated in such situations; Keep going! Don’t stop. Move through the 
muck and create some breathing room for yourself. All of the tanks 
advanced through the steely inferno. They had to prevent the enemy from 
attacking. They had to throw off his timetable. Waldmiiller followed with 
his Panzergrenadiere. The magnificent soldiers followed their officers. 



From the Evacuation of Caen to the Falaise Pocket 


281 


A machine-gunner cried out to me in the all-destructive artillery fire. 
He pointed to the northwest. Speechless when confronted with the over¬ 
whelming power of the Allies, I observed an endless chain of large four- 
engined bombers approaching us. The ironic remarks of a few soldiers 
allowed us to forget the great danger for a fraction of a second. A young 
soldier from Berlin cried out: “What an honor for Churchill to send us a 
bomber for each one of us!” Actually, he was quite right. More bombers 
were approaching than we had soldiers lying on the ground. 

There was only one way to save ourselves at that point: Get out of the 
estate and move out into the open terrain! As fast as lightning, the defend¬ 
ers of Cintheaux left the estate and waited for the discharge of the bombs 
in the green fields north of it. We had been right: Village after village was 
being flattened. It did not take very long before large fires sent flames sky¬ 
ward. We noted with pleasure that the American bomber fleet had also cov¬ 
ered the Canadians. Based on an error of the pathfinder, the bombs were 
also landing on the attack groups. General Keller, the commander of the 
Canadian 3rd Infantry Division, was put out of action. Severely wounded, 
he was forced to leave his division. 

The final bomber w'aves flew over the vigorously attacking Kampf- 
gruppe Waldmuller without dropping a single bomb on an armored vehi¬ 
cle. The aircrew had engaged the targets they had been assigned without 
worrying about the situation that had changed in the meantime. Appar¬ 
ently the Canadian armor divisions were fighting without air-force liaison 
officers and, therefore, were not able to influence the attacking bombers. 

At that point it became clear to me why the leading elements of the 
Canadian ground troops had not continued their attack and we had 
received die necessary time to take countermeasures. Not realizing the true 
nature of the situation, the attacking divisions had stuck to the timetable of 
the Canadian II Corps. As a result, they were cheated out of a victory. A 
tank battle cannot be led from a map table. The responsible commander 
must be with the forward-most elements of his attacking troops in order to 
make decisions appropriate to the situation and deliver decisive blows. A 
tank attack broken into phases is similar to a cavalry charge in which a feed 
break for the horses has been planned. 

The employment of the American 8th Air Force was not able to effect 
the counterattack. Kampfgruppe Waldmuller had approached the patch of 
woods and was engaged with Polish infantry. The grim duel of tank against 
tank was being conducted between the vehicles of the Canadian 4th 
Armoured Division and the Tigers of Michael Wittmann. Occasionally, the 
Tigers could hardly be recognized. Very flexible artillery fire was being 
directed against the Tigers and the Panthers. 



282 


GRENADIERS 


In the meantime, we had reoccupied our old positions at Cintheaux. 
The estate was being attacked from due north and lay under the direct fire 
of Canadian tanks. Flanking fire from a few of Wittmann’s Tigers helped 
to keep the Shermans away from Cintheaux. We observed strong enemy 
movements one kilometer in front of us. They were headed in the direc¬ 
tion of Brettville-sur-Laize. Attack after attack collapsed in front of us. We 
had incomparable luck. Our opponents did not launch a single concen¬ 
trated attack against us. The divisional Begleitkompanie reported its loca- 
uon as west of St. Sylvain. It was fighting the lead elements of the Polish 1st 
Armored Division and had destroyed several armored vehicles. The Poles 
no longer attempted to move out of the woods at Cramesnil. Later on we 
discovered that this was the first operadon of the Polish 1st Armored Divi¬ 
sion. 

The fighting had lasted several hours. Wounded were collected south 
of Cintheaux. They were evacuated under fire from the enemy. Late in the 
afternoon I discovered that neither the army nor the corps were in a posi¬ 
tion to send reinforcements. A few Tigers were a possibility. I was hoping 
Kampfgruppe Krause had reached the Potigny sector in dme and had set 
up a blocking position. At that point I had not received a single report 
from Krause. 

Combat reconnaissance reported the loss of Brettville-sur-Laize in the 
late afternoon. The Canadian 2nd Infantry Division, under the command 
of Major General L. Foulkes, had overwhelmed the scattered elements of 
the 89. Infanterie-Division there. A deliberate defense of the village had 
been out of the question. The defenders had neither antitank weapons 
nor artillery at their disposal. 

The fighting north and east of Cintheaux lasted until it got dark. It 
was pracdcally a miracle the overwhelming superiority hadn’t overrun us a 
long time ago. Our armored vehicles cut through the heavy earth like bat¬ 
tleships. Their main guns must have taught a little respect to the enemy 
attack units. 

The Canadian 4th Armoured Division, under the command of General 
Kitching, had not been able to overrun a lost band of German grenadiers. 
Cintheaux was still in the hands of a dozen nameless soldiers. After 
Brettville-sur-Laize was lost, the enemy was deep on the flanks of Kampf¬ 
gruppe Waldmuller and the heroic defenders of Cintheaux. 

As a result, the 12. SS-Panzer-Division decided to bring the Kampf¬ 
gruppe back to the Laison sector under the cover of darkness and hold 
that position until the 85. Infanterie-Division arrived. The defenders of 
Cintheaux and the armored vehicles of Kampfgruppe Waldmuller were 
able to disengage themselves from the enemy without difficulty. The tanks 



From the Evacuation of Caen to the Falaise Pocket 


283 


covered the withdrawal and were staged in the woods at Chateau Quesnay 
by the division. 

I linked up with the commander of the 89. Infanterie-Division just 
south of Cintheaux. The general had probably experienced the most 
demanding day of his career. It was difficult for him to understand how his 
division consisted of only a few scattered elements at that point. We left the 
village of Bretteville-le-Rabat together shortly after midnight. Together 
with the tanks providing cover, we were the last German soldiers to leave 
the engagement area of 8 August. 

When I got to the command post, Hubert Meyer reported to me that 
Kampfgruppe Krause had only been able to disengage from the enemy 
late in the afternoon of 8 August and was only then reaching the position 
it had been ordered to occupy. 

The enlisted soldiers and the officers presented a piuful picture. The 
soldiers had been continuously engaged in hard fighting since 6 June and 
were at the end of their tether. Emaciated bodies sought a few hours of 
sleep on the hard Norman soil. 

We had talked about the inability to win the war during the previous 
weeks and had cursed the conflict with all of its terribleness for humanity. 
Why didn’t we call it quits? Why did we continue the senseless struggle? 
Full of despair, we sought an answer to those questions. 

The soldiers and the officers could see how things were going to turn 
out. Despite that realization, however, no one thought about laying down 
his arms or trying to get out of harm’s way. The political goals of the Allies 
were seen as much more terrible than the most gruesome death. Death 
had long lost its power to terrorize. We saw in death a portion of God’s cre¬ 
ation and, as a result, release from all worries. We continued to fight in 
good conscience. Even in that hopeless situation, we believed we had to 
fulfill our duty to our homeland. 

By the light of a candle I wrote a birthday greeting to my daughter. 
She would turn one-year old in a few days. 

The division issued the following orders for the defense of the Laison 
sector: 

1. Kampfgruppe Krause defends the high ground north of Maiz- 
iares and Rouves, to include Hill 132. 

2. Kampfgruppe Waldmiiller defends the sector from Hill 140 to 
Hill 183 on the Falaise-Caen road. 

3. The III./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 (Olboetter) defends 
Hill 195 (two kilometers northwest of Potigny) and collects all 
scattered soldiers of the 89. Infanterie-Division. 



284 


GRENADIERS 


4. All tanks of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division and schwere SS-Panzer- 
Abteilung 101 are to be staged in the woods at Quesnay under 
the commander of SS-Panzer-Regiment 12 (Wunsche). 

5. Divisional artillery occupies positions south of the Laison to 
effectively support the enure division. 

6. Divisional Begleitkompanie remains under divisional control at 
Potigny. 

7. Divisional command post 1 kilometer east of Pougny below 
Tambeau de Marie Joly. 

Gruppe Olboetter had established itself in a defensive position in the 
afternoon of 8 August on Hill 195. It had reinforced itself considerably with 
stragglers from the 89. Infanterie-Division. The artillery was also in posidon 
by 2200 hours the same day. The commander of SS-Panzer-Regiment 12 
reported the assembly of the tanks at Quesnay at 0300 hours. No report 
had yet been received from Kampfgruppe Waldmuller or the divisional 
headquarters company. 

I climbed the high ground at Tambeau de Marie Joly and listened as 
dawn broke. The Laison sector was still quiet. The beautiful countryside 
was still peaceful. I observed the opposite high ground with binoculars. 
Green grain fields lay sleepily on the reverse slope. Slim spruces waved in 
the first beams of sunlight on the hilltops. Even the glittering dew on the 
grass shone in such a wonderful way as to make me forget the war for a few 
moments. The sun broke through and the first morning greeting came 
from the throats of a thousand tiny birds. 

However, the silence was misleading. Although I could see no move¬ 
ment, I knew that Tigers and Panthers were poised in position to destroy 
young human lives in the Quesnay woods. The exhausted bodies of my sol¬ 
diers were lying somewhere in the grain fields at that moment awaiting the 
enemy attack. On my right were the slim barrels of an 88 mm battery on 
the reverse slope; they also awaited their victims. 

Maybe the barrels of guns and mortars were already aiming at the divi¬ 
sion’s exhausted soldiers from the other side. Perhaps the enemy tank 
squadrons’ engines were purring into life at that second and the first firing 
orders were being given to exdnguish our lives! Yes, the silence was mis¬ 
leading; the dance of death would soon start. 

A small armored car moved out of the valley and slowly moved towards 
Hill 140. It soon reached the highest point of the crest. It was a captured 
English armored car that was being used to pass reports. A whiplash crack 
tore the morning silence as the armored car was fired at by an enemy tank 




From the Evacuation of Caen to the Falaise Pocket 


285 


from its position in the trees. I watched the encounter breathlessly. The 
armored car accelerated southwards and raced across the field at break¬ 
neck speed. The ground fell away and soon it was out of the tank’s field of 
fire. I witnessed this confrontation in complete surprise. I was faced with a 
puzzle. How could that enemy tank have been on the hill? Thinking some¬ 
thing was wrong, I dashed to the telephone and called Wunsche. 

Wiinsche had already alerted his tanks and was waiting for the return 
of SS-Obersturmfuhrer Meitzel who was supposed to establish contact with 
Kampfgruppe Waldmiiller. Meitzel reported: “There are no German forces 
on the hill. There are enemy tanks on the high ground.” 

An icy shock went through my bones. If the report were true, then all 
of Kampfgruppe Waldmuller and the divisional Begleitkompanie were lost. 
That couldn’t be true. One thing was certain, however, neither of them 
had reported up to then. 

Meitzel moved back in his armored car to gain a more accurate pic¬ 
ture of the enemy. As soon as he crossed over the ridge, his car received a 
hit. He was thrown out of the open turret. He was quickly surrounded by 
enemy infantry and captured. 

Reconnaissance soon clarified the situation. An enemy combat team 
had occupied the high ground and dominated the Laison valley with its 
weapons. That menace had to be eliminated at once if we were to hold 
dial sector for the rapidly approaching 85. Infanterie-Division. The Laison 
sector offered the only option for defense north of Falaise. The situation 
called for rapid action. The high ground had to belong to us once again! 

With the exception of Kampfgruppe Krause, which was not even at 
company strength and was in position east of Hill 140 and Hill 183, not a 
single German soldier was on the range of high ground. Furthermore, the 
main Caen-Falaise road was only covered by a couple of tanks. Once again, 
Falaise was inadequately defended. 

Wunsche shouted a few words to his veteran tank crews and pointed to 
Hill 190. It was our intent to attack with some Tiger tanks from the west 
and with fifteen Panthers from the east. While the Tigers slowly left the 
woods and approached the ridge, the Panthers ratded down the valley road 
towards Krause’s sector so that they could wheel inward there. During the 
movement of the two tank groups, the hill came under artillery and mortar 
fire. Our only 88 mm battery waited for targets in vain. The enemy tanks 
wouldn’t venture beyond the ridge. Two Tigers took up firing positions 
even with one another. They had snuck through the undergrowth unno¬ 
ticed by the enemy and were on his flank. The first 88 mm rounds slammed 
out of the barrels. Two Shermans exploded noisily. The enemy hammered 




286 


GRENADIERS 


at the Tigers they had spotted. Five Tigers took part in the engagement and 
pinned the enemy. The Tigers had chosen to pin the enemy with fire; they 
exploited their greater firepower. More and more enemy tanks were burn¬ 
ing, sending telltale smoke into the sky. 

I was with the Tiger section and suddenly saw Jurgensen’s first Pan- 
titers. The enemy tanks were cornered at that point. Death and destruction 
hit them from the east. Pinning them through superior firepower would 
guarantee us success! Each thicket and perilous spot was peppered with 
gunfire. The entire ridgeline was systematically covered. Smoke cloud after 
smoke cloud merged together. We could hardly believe that each cloud rep¬ 
resented a tank's grave. The lack of foot soldiers prevented us from pene¬ 
trating into the tree-encrusted northern slope of the ridge. Two bicycle 
companies of the 85. Infanterie-Division were expected at any moment. 

At that point we could see fighter-bombers in the heavens. Did they 
want to attack us or did they have other targets? I was concerned for the 
tanks. They were in the open. They looked like targets on a range. In a 
flash, they were above us. They aircraft described a curve and then dove 
on the Canadian combat team. They were above us like lightning, made a 
banking turn and attacked the Canadian battle group. Not a single aircraft 
attacked a Tiger or a Panther. The hill was covered in the smoke of 
exploding tanks in a few moments. Tigers and Panthers took advantage of 
the chaos and took possession of the ridge. The ridgeline looked like a 
tank cemetery. 

I saw two half-tracks break out of the woods and race towards the 
north at around 1100 hours. One Tiger in my vicinity opened fire, but the 
vehicles were able to get away. Fire could not be opened against the vehi¬ 
cles until they were far away due to the thick vegetation. According to pris¬ 
oner statements, one of the half-tracks carried the wounded Lieutenant 
Colonel A. J. Hay of the Algonquin Regiment. The Canadian combat team 
commander, Lieutenant Colonel D. G. Worthington, had been killed in 
action that afternoon. 

The tanks pushed onto the trails in the woods with the bicycle compa¬ 
nies of the 85. Infanterie-Division, which had just arrived, and increasingly 
pressured the Canadian positions. At that critical juncture and taking 
advantage of the air attack, SS-Obersturmfuhrer Meitzel suggested to his 
captors that they surrender. Meitzel had broken his arm when thrown out 
of his armored car. He was with tire Canadians in the center of the inferno 
on the northern edge of the ridgeline. The Canadians had bandaged 
Meitzel and treated him chivalrously. His first suggestion was politely 
rejected. However, when the air attacks and the artillery fire caused more 
and more casualties among the Canadian infantry, the offer was accepted. 



From the Evacuation of Caen to the Falaise Pocket 


287 


Meitzel led twenty-one Canadian soldiers and two officers into the 
positions of Kampfgruppe Krause. He reported at division headquarters 
around 1500 hours with the 23 Canadians. Among the prisoners was a 
Captain J. A. Renwick of the 28th Tank Regiment (British Columbia Regi¬ 
ment). I talked with Renwick for about half an hour about the madness of 
the war. He made a good impression. He said nothing about the fighting 
that was occurring then. Based on prisoner interrogations and the ques¬ 
tions posed to Meitzel while he was a prisoner, the following picture of the 
situation was formed: 

Our own counterattack in the afternoon of 8 August had brought the 
enemy’s attack to a standstill. He then set up defensive positions with the 
Polish 1st Armored Division at St. Sylvain and the Canadian 4th Armoured 
Division at Cintheaux. To regain the initiative, die Canadian 4th Armoured 
Division had launched a night attack on Hill 195 northwest of Pofigny 
using the 28th Armoured regiment (British Columbia regiment) and two 
infantry regiments of the Algonquin Regiment. The narrow area between 
the Laison and Laize was to be opened as a result and a swift breakthrough 
to Falaise enabled. As a result of faulty navigation during the night, the 
combat team took unoccupied Hill 140 instead of Hill 195. 

Meitzel was asked about the “big asphalt road” they had been looking 
for in vain. The enemy tank group had passed Gruppe Waldmiiller, which 
had dislodged itself from Cintheaux to occupy Hill 140. Waldmiiller had 
been pushed eastwards and waited for darkness to reach our lines. The 
divisional Begleitkompanie, which had been passed by the Poles, was in a 
similar situation. 

During the night the survivors of the Canadian combat team fought 
their way through to the Polish 1st Armored Division. The 28th Tank Regi¬ 
ment left forty-seven knocked-out tanks on the batdefield, all of which had 
been knocked out by the guns of the Tigers and Panthers. We did not lose 
a single tank. 

Our defensive accomplishments during the previous forty-eight hours 
had cost us heavy losses even though they were far smaller than those of 
the enemy. We discovered on 9 August that our brave comrade Michael 
Wittmann had made his last tank attack. Moving ahead of his tanks, he 
and his loyal crew destroyed some Shermans east of Cintheaux. He then 
led his tank section forward. His impetuous tank attack had probably 
dampened the momentum of the Canadian 4th Armoured Division’s 
attack and had bought some time and space for the defenders along the 
Laison. Michael Wittmann died the way he had lived—brave, inspirational 
and, as always, an example to his soldiers. He displayed a true Prussian atti¬ 
tude to duty until his death. The flames of his Tiger marked his last fight 


288 


GRENADIERS 


and the end of a good comrade and soldier. However, the spirit of this 
brave officer lived on in his young tankers who fought and died with the 
same bravery as their old commander until the end of the struggle. 

Kampfgruppe Krause had suffered critical losses in the fighting for the 
Thury-Harcourt bridgehead. It only had the combat power of a weak 
infantry company. 

In the course of the night, Kampfgruppe Waldmuller and the divi¬ 
sional Begleitkompanie reached our lines and assumed their sector. Kampf¬ 
gruppe Waldmuller also only had the strength of a weak company. If only 
the 85. Infanterie-Division could take over the sector. We survivors of the 
12. SS-Panzer-Division could hardly keep going any longer. A further attack 
on the part of the Canadians would lead to a catastrophe; we were no 
longer able to fight. The past ten weeks had sucked the marrow from our 
bones. Completely worn out, the soldiers sank to the ground to find some 
sleep. But that night also brought us no rest. 

A firestorm raced over Hill 195 and swept through Olboetter’s posi¬ 
tions. Tracer rounds from the supporting tanks hit the attacking enemy 
infantry. The dull cracks of hand grenades mixing with the defenders’ 
angry cries shook us out of our leaden sleep. The Argyll and Sutherland 
Highlanders Regiment was attacking Hill 195. When I reached the hill 
Olboetter was in the middle of his soldiers, leading them in a counterat¬ 
tack. The enemy had broken into the widely dispersed positions and was 
just about to capture the entire hill. The Panzergrenadiere attacked the 
enemy spearheads in shock-troop fashion and threw them back into the 
darkness. 

The high ground could be held with the assistance of the tanks that 
were providing cover. The enemy was made to suffer heavy casualties. By 
dawn he was exposed to flanking fire from the tanks positioned in the 
Quesnay woods. His attack on this key terrain failed. A few could hold out 
against many there. 

The attack that had failed on Hill 195 was continued a few hours later 
by the Polish 1st Armored Division at Maizieres. The Polish armored divi¬ 
sion attempted to cross the Laison at Cond, by bypassing Kampfgruppe 
Krause. 

The tank spearhead had been halted by a single antitank gun the pre¬ 
vious day. Nine Polish tanks remained in front of the German antitank 
gun; their burning wrecks glowing until the morning. One unfortunate 
direct hit also killed the crew of our antitank gun. 

After the destruction of that single antitank gun, the way was open for 
the Polish division. There were simply no more troops available to prevent 



From the Evacuation of Caen to the Falaise Pocket 


289 


the crossing of the Laison. But the Poles also lacked the momentum 
needed; they withdrew to the north. 

The tanks on Hill 195 had to be switched to the division’s right flank 
in a great hurry to attack the flank of the Polish advance. Half a dozen 
tanks raced east along the concealed road. Would they make it in time? 

We were lucky. A freshly arrived self-propelled Panzeijager-Kompanie 
under the command of SS-Obersturmfiihrer Hurdelbrink made contact 
with the Polish spearhead. It was the company’s first contact with the enemy 
using the newly issued Jagdpanzer IV. Forty Polish tanks were destroyed in 
short order. SS-Obersturmfuhrer Hurdelbrink himself knocked out 11 
tanks. The breakthrough had been prevented. 

The division’s right wing was relieved by elements of the 85. Infanterie- 
Division during the course of 11 August. Kampfgruppe Krause could finally 
be moved out of its positions. Before Kampfgruppe Waldmuller was able to 
hand over its sector, the Canadian 8th Infantry Brigade attacked the tank 
group in the Quesnay woods. That attack was also repulsed with heavy 
losses for the Canadians. On 12 August the 12. SS-Panzer-Division was able 
to hand the Potigny sector over to the 85. Infanterie-Division. 

Some one hundred young soldiers, completely exhausted and shat¬ 
tered by the previous fighting, had resisted an overwhelming superiority in 
men and materiel. Two fresh armored divisions and one infantry brigade 
were unable to break the seventeen- and eighteen-year-old soldiers’ will to 
resist or overrun them. 

In postwar literature, the failure of the Canadian II Corps was attrib¬ 
uted to the presence of defensive positions in depth and sizable Flak for¬ 
mations from the III. Flak-Korps under Generalleutnant Pickert. This 
argument is not true. Yes, a “position” consisting of foxholes had indeed 
been prepared on a line running from St. Sylvain to Bretteville-sur-Laize. It 
was to be used as a fail-back position by the 89. Infanterie-Division in the 
event of a planned withdrawal. However, the course of the fighting on 8 
August must show, even to the layman, that the use of this prepared “posi¬ 
tion” was not possible. Who might have occupied that “position”? Perhaps 
a few hundred men from Kampfgruppe Waldmuller? This so-called “posi¬ 
tion” did not influence the course of the fighting in any way. There were 
simply not enough troops to occupy it. 

Furthermore, it must be noted that the units of the III. Flak-Korps 
were scattered along the entire Normandy front and its guns were mainly 
used against the enemy bomber formations. Not a single gun from the III. 
Flak-Korps was employed against enemy tanks within the 12. SS-Panzer- 
Division sector from the beginning of the invasion to the Falaise pocket. I 




290 


GRENADIERS 


saw the last battery of the corps on the morning of 8 August south of Bret- 
teville-sur-Laize. The battery then went into position west of Falaise. The 
88 mm guns could, without doubt, have rendered good service in the anti¬ 
tank role, but they were under Luftwaffe command and not that of the 
combat divisions. 

Complete success was denied to the Canadian II Corps because the 
leadership of the two divisions conducting the assault was inexperienced 
and used its tanks piecemeal and indecisively. An experienced tank com¬ 
mander would have led the Canadian 4th Armoured Division to victory on 
the first day of Operation “Totalize.” The piecemeal attacks of 9 and 10 
August were as incomprehensible as the hesitant advance on 8 August. 

Our division occupied a blocking position between Perri.res and 
Falaise. Some Tigers of schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 502 were placed 
under the operational control of the 85.1nfanterie-Division and employed 
on both sides of Potigny. 

The situation on the western flank of the Normandy front was not 
entirely known to me, but it seemed inevitable that the front would have to 
be pulled back to the Seine in short order. The commander-in-chief in the 
west had neither the troops nor the materiel to conduct a delaying action. 
It was impossible to operate against modern armored divisions with bumt- 
out horse-drawn infantry divisions. 

Wherever it had not yet occurred, the headquarters and cadre of the 
burnt-out elements of the division, as well as the logistical elements, were 
moved to the areas around Evreux and Bemay. Preparations were made to 
move the combat-support elements to the eastern bank of the Seine. 

The survivors of Kampfgruppe Waldmuller were incorporated into 
Kampfgruppe Krause. The division’s combat strength on 13 August con¬ 
sisted of the following: 

20 armored fighting vehicles (including Panzeijager) 

1 platoon of Panzergrenadiere in SPW 
1 armored reconnaissance section 

300 dismounted Panzergrenadiere 
1 88 mm Flak battery with 4 guns 

1 37 mm self-propelled Flak battery with 9 guns 

1 20 mm self-propelled Flak company (14./SS-Panzer-Grenadier- 

Regiment 26) 

3 batteries of heavy field howitzers 
1 battery of 10 cm guns 

The artillery’s change of position had to take place in leapfrog fashion 
due to the lack of prime movers. No ammunition had reached the division 







From the Evacuation of Caen to the Falaise Pocket 


291 


since the day before, and its firepower cold not be used to maximum 
advantage. 

The division’s total strength was 500 junior enlisted personnel, non¬ 
commissioned officers and officers. 

We all knew that the fighting would only end with death or capture, 
but nobody was ready to stop fighting. The thought of the call for Ger¬ 
many’s unconditional surrender formulated by the Allies at Casablanca 
kept us motivated to continue fighting. Germany’s war was surely lost but 
the front had to be held. The Allies had to be convinced that the absurd 
decision to demand an “unconditional surrender” would not pay off and a 
different basis for negotiating a peace had to be found. 

My comrades were not fanatics; they wanted to live and, if possible, 
return home in good health. No, no, it was not that fanaticism so often 
claimed by the enemy that compelled us to fight on! We did not throw away 
our weapons because we still believed we had to fight for our homeland. 

The division received an approximate picture of the current situation 
during 13 August. The position of the German armies had become unten¬ 
able. There was a large pocket of decimated German divisions between 
Argentan, Falaise and the high ground from Trun to Chambois. The threat 
of complete annihilation was clearly visible; the jaws of death had already 
been set loose. The only usable withdrawal route went via Trun and wound 
up the hill in sharp bends. However, the road was no longer in any condi¬ 
tion to take all the troops and guarantee their escape. The hastily thrown- 
together infantry divisions with their horse-drawn equipment were the 
greatest obstacle to still-mobile armor formations. The catastrophe contin¬ 
ued to develop. 

We finally got some sleep during the night of 13-14 August. That was 
the last quiet night with their companions for a lot of my comrades. The 
muffled noise of fighting raging in the west kept us awake for a long time, 
but nature eventually took its course. 

On the morning of 14 August Wunsche, Krause,. Olboetter and I 
moved to the sector northwest of Falaise to draw up the new positions. Hill 
159 north of Falaise controlled the sector and we immediately occupied it, 
setting up a series of strongpoints. Other prominent terrain features east 
of Hill 159 as far as the Dives River characterized our “front.” 

We did not trust the Canadians’ “peaceful” behavior and started to 
reinforce our strongpoints at once. Based on an estimate of the entire sit¬ 
uation and the lay of the land, the Allied attack had to be between Jort and 
Falaise. The Canadians were the northern claw of the encircling pincer; 
the southern claw was formed by the Americans at Argentan. The death 
struggle of the two German armies would begin as soon as the two claws 



292 


GRENADIERS 


met. It was with this certainty in mind that I prepared the soldiers and offi¬ 
cers of our once so proud division for the final battle. I was not surprised 
when my brave comrades accepted my judgment as self-evident. They had 
just lived through this crisis and knew exactly what the result would be. 

We experienced the same old story at about 1400 hours. Hundreds of 
Halifax and I^ncaster bombers turned the position of the 85. Infanterie- 
Division into a cemetery. More and more bombers and fighter-bombers 
attacked and dove on the 85. Infanterie-Division, breaking the backbone 
of the defense. Artillery and anutank defenses were destroyed by the 
bombs or blinded by smoke. The ground attack against the 85. Infanterie- 
Division was executed by the Polish 1st Armored Division, the Canadian 
4th Armoured Division and the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division. 

The Canadian II Corps’ tanks lined up in parade-ground formation— 
tank next to tank. They waited for their commanders’ signals; they 
intended to break a way through the defense zone for the Canadian Corps 
with steamroller tacdcs. It was a mystery why the Canadians had chosen 
such an inflexible battle formation. Instead of leading their tanks close to 
the enemy in a dispersed formation, affording the opportunity to use the 
effect of their guns and maneuverability to smash the positions and make 
a swift and deep advance into the enemy rear, those steel monsters rolled 
clumsily and sluggishly over the terrain. Precious time was lost as the tanks 
crossed the Laison area, since they could not negotiate the marshy terrain 
in their clumsy battle formation. 

The Canadian divisions—well equipped and outfitted with modern 
equipment—were still north of their objectives on the evening of the first 
day of die attack. Even during diat phase of the operation, the Canadian 
armor was used as infantry support. Neither the enormous firepower nor 
the speed of the formations was effectively used. 

The Canadian leadership failed to use imaginative planning. Not one 
of the Canadian attacks showed the genius of a great commander. Their 
planning always got stuck in the tactics of attrition warfare. The successful 
elimination of the defending German divisions was never exploited with 
an effective breakthrough. As soon as the attacking spearheads encoun¬ 
tered an enemy outside the main engagement area, the lead elements lost 
their momentum and started to dissipate their energies in small, piece¬ 
meal operations. The course of the fighting confirmed my observations. 

The first wave of Canadian tanks ran up against the sparsely-occupied 
line of resistance north of Falaise late in the afternoon. The attack of the 
Canadian 4th Armoured Division and the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division 
got bogged down in front of the remains of our once powerful division. 



From the Evacuation of Caen to the Falaise Pocket 


293 


The attack of two divisions failed because of the fighting spirit of 500 sol¬ 
diers. Hill 159 remained in the possession of a handful of German soldiers. 

I moved to all the strongpoints along our front during the night and 
explained the situation of our two armies to the young soldiers. At that 
point, they knew they were holding the northern flank of a big funnel and 
their holding of the position made the withdrawal of exhausted units pos¬ 
sible. 

At dawn, twenty to thirty men from the 85. Infanterie-Division reached 
the positions on Hill 159 and voluntarily joined in the defense. That group 
had marched through the enemy outposts during the night. We 
approached some stragglers who had a wounded man with them in a 
Kubelwagen. They shook our hands. 

The Canadians continued their attack and, within a short time, Hill 
159 was on fire. Round after round impacted into the earth and eviscerated 
it. Our tanks had been dispersed in ambush positions. They were waiting 
for the dark shadows which would soon come out of the dark wall of smoke 
and dust. The first enemy tanks were burning. Enemy infantry was nailed to 
the ground by well-aimed bursts of machine-gun fire. Did we still have any 
nerves; could we still be recognized as human beings? Our eyes wandered 
again and again into the wall of shellfire. We did not hear the bursting, 
exploding and repulsive howling of the rounds anymore. Each movement 
in the wall took our breath away, however. Would there be a mass of tanks 
suddenly appearing out of the wall of fire? Would yesterday’s spectacle to 
be repeated? Would we be lying under creaking tank tracks in the next few 
moments? Nothing of the kind happened. The enemy tanks kept their dis¬ 
tance and didn't overrun us. They stopped in front of Hill 159. 

The enemy attacked repeatedly at Jort and Perri.res, trying to force a 
crossing over the Dives. The few tanks that were still operational were 
thrown at the most threatened points and brought the attack to a standstill. 

The III./SS-Panzer-Artillerie-Regiment 12 contributed in no small part 
to our success. It had found a small ammo dump at Falaise by chance and 
no longer had to be thrifty in its employment of ammunition. The posi¬ 
tions north of Falaise remained in the hands of German soldiers. 

It was still long before sunrise, but we expected new enemy attacks east 
of Falaise. We didn’t understand the enemy. Why did he waste such an 
enormous amount of bombs and rounds on the poor remnant of the 12. 
SS-Panzer-Division? His vastly superior numbers of tanks only had to run 
over us at full speed to finish us off. But nothing happened. Each attack 
was repulsed until the afternoon. During the operations around Hill 159, 
the commander of the II./SS-Panzer-Regiment 12, SS-Sturmbannfiihrer 




294 


GRENADIERS 


Prinz, was killed. Once again I was witness to the last battle of a warrior 
friend. Prinz had been with me on all fronts since 1940. He was a victim of 
the artillery bombardment. 

Fighter-bombers dove on the little patch of woods at Bois du Roi, 
unleashing their rockets into the long-destroyed woods. Some tanks east of 
Hill 159 fell victim to the Typhoon attacks. I met Max Wunsche between 
Versainville and Hill 159. He informed me of the hopeless situation on the 
hill. Enemy tanks were racing towards us. Their rounds exploded on the 
road; Max Wunsche disappeared. I felt a burning hot pain; blood ran 
down my face. I dove head first into a little hedge; shrapnel had opened 
up my skull. 1 looked dizzily at the road. Our Kubelwagen had disappeared 
and Max Bornhoft was no longer to be seen. I was alone but at no time did 
1 feel deserted; I knew my comrades would not abandon me. 

The tanks moved closer and closer. I crawled along the ditch to get 
out of the enemy’s axis of advance. The Shermans were in acuon against 
some tanks occupying a good position on the reverse slope. This had to be 
Max Wunsche’s work. Tank rounds screamed overhead. 

I did not believe my eyes; Max Bornhoft had returned. Under the cov¬ 
ering fire of the tanks, he was racing down the road to get me. I desperately 
waved at him. The road could be observed along its entire length and ran 
across the enemy’s front. Rounds exploded all round Max but that didn’t 
dissuade him. The steering wheel remained firmly in his hands. I was wait¬ 
ing in the ditch, ready to leap into the car. We were back on the reverse 
slope like lightning. Wunsche welcomed me. He had directed the tanks’ 
fire. I continued the fight with a half-shaved head and a couple of stitches. 

Hill 159, so fiercely defended, fell in the afternoon; the survivors 
moved back to the Aute sector. SS-Obersturmfuhrer Hauck, leader of an 
armored reconnaissance patrol, reported an attack by the Polish 1st 
Armored Division at Jort. The Poles were trying to force a crossing of the 
Dives again but, up to that point, all their attacks had been repulsed. Units 
of the Canadian 2nd Infantry Division entered Falaise late in the after¬ 
noon. The 6th Brigade, commanded by Brigadier H. Young, had finally 
managed to overrun the city of William the Conqueror. The fighting in the 
ruins of the totally destroyed city continued. 

The division moved out of the blocking position after nightfall and 
retired to the Aute sector; the new line ran from Morteaux-Damlainville to 
Falaise. 

The seventeenth of August began with further attacks on Jort by the 
Polish 1st Armored Division. The 3./SS-Flak-Abteilung 12 was practically 
destroyed. The commander, SS-Untersturmfuhrer Hartwig, was mortally 
wounded; the rest of the battery was driven back eastwards. 







From Ihe Evacuation of Caen to the Falaise Pocket 


295 


The enemy crossed the Dives and advanced southeast. From that point 
on the Polish 1st Armored Division did not have a cohesive combat forma¬ 
tion in front of it. The road to Trun and Chambois was open to the Poles. 
The Falaise pocket could be closed. 

SS-Obersturmfuhrer Hauck’s recon section was eliminated late in the 
afternoon. He was wounded and captured, but he managed to escape and 
report to the division about the threat of the enemy’s strong tank forces 
pushing deep into our right flank toward Trun. 

About sixty soldiers of the division were still locked in a hard grim 
fight in Falaise. These men, exhausted after having been in continuous 
combat since 6 June, were fighting the Canadian 6th Infantry Brigade. 
Two Tigers were the backbone of the defense, but the soldiers already had 
the mark of death on them. Late that evening, two grenadiers who had 
been selected by lot—none of the comrades wanted to leave the group— 
brought the last report and messages from the brave band. They died 
shordy after midnight in the rubble of the Ecole Superieure. 

The rest of the division conducted a desperate defense along the line 
Dives-Necy (eight kilometers southeast of the Falaise-Argentan road). In 
Necy two damaged Tigers prevented the British 53rd Infantry Division’s 
armored spearhead from advancing. On 19 August, at about 0200 hours, 
the two Tigers were destroyed. SS-Obersturmfuhrer Meitzel and the other 
survivors were captured; all the Tiger crewmen had been wounded. 

During the night of 18—19 August we got rid of the last radio transmit¬ 
ter and all non-essential vehicles. We only retained some Kubelwagen, 
SPW and prime movers. The divisional command post at Necy was overrun 
by enemy tanks and infantry shortly before sunrise. My messenger col¬ 
lapsed, taking a round in the stomach. We took the young soldier with us. 
Making use of the dim light of dawn, we fought our way south with the rest 
of Kampfgruppe Krause and occupied a new line southeast of the railway 
tracks. 

During the night Kampfgruppe Wunsche’s staff drove into advanced 
enemy elements. Most of it was wounded and taken prisoner. Max Wun- 
sche and two other officers were eventually captured six days later. We 
stumbled on into misery, numb to the inhuman tragedy in the pocket. 

Towards midday, the commanding general of the LXXXIV. Armee- 
Korps, General Elfeld, and his chief of staff, Obersdeutnant von Kriegern, 
appeared at our command post. Our division no longer had any commu¬ 
nications with higher headquarters. The staff of the 85. Infanterie-Division 
(Generalmajor Fiebig) had been detached from the corps. That left Gen¬ 
eral Elfeld with only the remnants of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division to com¬ 
mand. 






296 


GRENADIERS 


The misery around us screamed to high heaven. Refugees and soldiers 
from the defeated German armies looked helplessly at the bombers flying 
continuously overhead. It was useless to take cover from the bursting shells 
and bombs. Concentrated in such a confined space, we offered once-in-a- 
lifetime targets to the enemy air power. The wooded areas were full of 
wounded soldiers and the sundered bodies of horses. Death shadowed us 
at every step. We stood out like targets on a range. The guns of the Cana¬ 
dian 4th Armoured and Polish 1st Armored Division could take us under 
open sights. It was impossible to miss. 

By chance we found the command post of the 7. Armee in an orchard 
one kilometer southwest of Trun. The commanding general and I went to 
the army headquarters. The roads were impassable. They had been 
blocked by motorized units and the horse-drawn trains of the infantry divi¬ 
sion. Burning vehicles and exploding ammunition—newly impacting 
rounds landing among them—marked the course of the road. 

We ran, stumbled and jumped by stages towards the headquarters. 
The area was under constant artillery fire. Swarms of fighter-bombers had 
masses of targets. We found the staff of the 7. Armee in a ditch behind a 
farm. Our respected Generaloberst der Waffen-SS Hausser was sitting on 
the edge of a trench studying a map. With the commander-in-chief were 
his chief of staff, Oberst von Gersdorf, Oberstleutnant i.G. von Kluge and 
Major i.G. Guderian. 

An exploding ammunition vehicle tossed its “greetings” on over to us; 
Oberst von Gersdorf was wounded. The issuing of orders continued. The 
Oberst remained at the side of the general. General Hausser gave the 
order to break out in the coming night. 

The Panzergruppe of the 1. SS-Panzer-Division was to force the break¬ 
out at daybreak at Chambois, and the 3. Fallschirmjagerdivision was to 
break out at St. Lambert after midnight. Initially, it was not to use its 
weapons. The remnants of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division were to hold the 
northwest edge of the pocket until midnight and then join the 3. Fallschir¬ 
mjagerdivision. We said goodbye to the commander-in-chief with a final 
handshake. He looked at us gravely with his one good eye; he had lost the 
other one in the batde for Moscow. 

We ran through the hail of rounds again and took cover in a quarry. 
Countless soldiers were lying crowded together in the shadows of the steep 
walls. They were waiting for the protection of night to jump out of hell. 

A direct hit struck a group of infantry next to us; several soldiers were 
mortally wounded. A Feldwebel lost his right leg above the knee. We 
quickly pulled him closer to the wall; cries for a medic were lost in roaring 
shell fire. 




From the Evacuation of Caen to the Falaise Pocket 


297 


We encountered the commanding general of the II. Fallschirmjager- 
korps, Meindl, and the commander of the 3. Fallschirmjagerdivision, Gen- 
eralleutnant Schimpf, in a cottage. The paratroopers discussed the coming 
night’s breakout with us. Two Tigers were to support the 3. Fallschirmjager¬ 
division. 

We reached our command post in complete exhaustion. Command 
and control of the division during the breakout was not possible. The roads 
were completely jammed and there were no means of communications any 
more. The division formed into two groups. Those motorized units that still 
existed were to break out behind the 1. SS-Panzer-Division via Chambois. 
That group was to be commanded by the divisional artillery commander, 
Drechsler. The divisional staff, joined by General Elfeld and the rest of 
Kampfgruppe Krause, were to follow the 3. Fallschirmjagerdivision. I subdi¬ 
vided our group into several sections so they could act independendy if 
need be. Guns for which there were no more prime movers were blown up 
at midnight. 

At midnight I had assembled all that were still in the pocket around a 
group of farm buildings. A liaison party was with the 3. Fallschirmjagerdi¬ 
vision. Because the reconnaissance unit did not return and no noise of 
fighting was heard from St. Lambert, we assumed the paratroopers’ break¬ 
out was a success. We started to move. 

General Elfeld, Oberstleutnant von Kriegern and Hubert Meyer fol¬ 
lowed with the lead element. I went in the direction of Chambois. We had 
to march cross-country if we were to make progress. The few roads and 
trails were impassable, hopelessly blocked. Enemy artillery brought down 
harassing fire. There were fires flaring and the bright colors of exploding 
ammunition at all points of the compass. Exhausted soldiers wandered to 
and fro; the confusion in the pocket made orientation impossible. 

We were west of Chambois by dawn and linked up with the Panzer- 
gruppe of the 1. SS-Panzer-Division which was just about to launch an 
attack. We joined in as infantry. I jumped on the back deck of a tank and, in 
order to get on board, I grabbed the belt of a comrade lying behind the tur¬ 
ret. I let go in horror; he was dead. He had been killed by shrapnel. Anti¬ 
tank, tank and artillery fire impacted among the attackers. I had no means 
of communication. The tanks hesitated and withdrew under enemy fire. 

We reassembled behind some willow bushes next to the eroded bed of 
the Dives. The riverbed was about two meters deep and three to four 
meters wide. We were witness to a horrible tragedy. Galloping horses tum¬ 
bled with carriage and riders into the ditch. The horses and men struggled 
in the mud of the almost waterless brook. Agitated men climbed over the 
wrecks, and were then torn to pieces by Canadian artillery rounds. 



298 


GRENADIERS 


Several hundred prisoners lay helplessly under the fire of their own 
guns. They could not leave the pocket. 

After crossing the Dives, I assembled the infantry element between 
Chambois and Trun. The entire area was covered with dead and dying Ger¬ 
man soldiers. The enemy was on the slopes and fired continuously into the 
pocket. Most of the victims belonged to the support units of the infantry 
divisions who had remained in the pocket with their horse-drawn trans¬ 
port. Leaderless, they ran for dteir lives. 

General Elfeld and Oberstleutnant von Kriegern were missing. They 
were not at the rallying point. To restore order in the now swollen group, 
I got the men to assemble under cover of a farm. While nearby columns of 
unarmed soldiers made their way towards the enemy to get out of the caul¬ 
dron, a lot of officers and soldiers without weapons joined my group. Only 
those who managed to find weapons were allowed to come with us. Most 
of them complied. 

I knew every tree and bush between Trun and Chambois. Units of my 
regiment had been stationed in both villages before the invasion. I took 
the lead; Bernhard Krause led the other half of our group. We were prob¬ 
ably 200 strong all together. 

Hubert Meyer, SS-Obersturmfuhrer Koln and my loyal Michel were by 
my side. We had to bound across the Trun-Chambois road. Enemy tanks 
were racing up and down the road. The tanks we had had in the pocket 
could not cross the Dives and could not assist. Its bed was too deep. 

Countless dead soldiers were lying behind the bushes and walls of the 
orchards. They had all run into the waiting weapons of the Canadian 4th 
Armoured Division. Would we be able to break through that iron ring of 
encirclement? The enemy had occupied the high ground and was firing 
down into the roads and fields. 

Michel took the white bandage from my head. The brave Cossack 
from Dnjepropetrowsk said: “Bandage not good; I make new later on!” In 
his opinion, the white bandage would give me away. 

I jumped from cover to cover with pistol in hand. The ditches were 
filled with dead. They must have been overrun by tanks. Looted vehicles 
stood in the fields and behind the hedges. We worked ourselves closer and 
closer to the slope. Machine-gun fire whistled above us. We had landed 
between two tanks! They were about 150 meters apart and were firing into 
the pocket. A Bren Gun Carrier was moving back and forth off to our 
right. Suddenly, it disappeared and we dashed eastwards between the two 
tanks like a shot from a gun. 

Machine-gun fire raked our lines, but we could not be halted. We 
overran the Canadian infantry in a few seconds. It all happened in almost 



From the Evacuation of Caen to the Falaise Pocket 


299 


complete silence; only the whistling projectiles and exploding rounds over¬ 
head could be heard. We would have to break through the enemy block¬ 
ing position soon. I could not go on. The sweat burned in my inflamed 
eyes; the head wound had reopened, but it was impossible to halt. We had 
to get through the enemy. 

Suddenly there was a Sherman tank thirty meters off' to our right. 
Hubert Meyer yelled at me. I had practically run into the tank’s weapons. 
We ran, leaping and jumping over the ground like weasels, the hedgerows 
protecting us from being seen. I could not go on anymore; the last few days 
had taken too much out of me. Hubert Meyer took over command and 
motivated everyone to continue. Soon all had passed me. SS-Obersturm- 
fuhrer Koln and Michel remained with me. Machine-gun fire flew around 
our ears. Tears were running down Michel’s face; he couldn’t get me out of 
there fast enough. He encouraged me like a mother does a child. Repeat¬ 
edly I heard: “Commander, come! Commander, come! Only a few hundred 
meters to go. Please, commander, come!” 

We ran alone across a field; I had given up trying to keep under cover 
or running doubled over. I stumbled slowly eastwards and fell into a ditch. 
My comrades were lying there waiting for me. We scrambled across the 
road and struggled up the ridgeline that ran from Cliambois to the north¬ 
east. We gazed speechlessly into the pocket behind us and cursed the men 
who had so precipitately sacrificed two German armies. 

We had discussed shortening the front at the Seine ever since the loss 
of Caen. We thought that a pre-emptive evacuation of western France to a 
position on the Seine would have been possible. Behind the Seine the 
infantry divisions that had been so carelessly sacrificed might have been 
able to prove their worth and the Panzer-Divisionen might have had time 
to get refitted. 

We marched along the ridgeline; we were subjected to intermittent 
shell fire there. In complete ignorance of the situation, we didn’t expect to 
link up with our units until we were across the Seine. In the area south of 
Vimouthiers we encountered outposts of SS-Panzer-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 
2 of the 2. SS-Panzer-Division “Das Reich.” At the command post of SS- 
Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment “Deutschland" we were told that the regiment 
and other formations were taking part in an attack against Chambois to 
open the pocket. The initial attack with small forces failed but, on 21 
August, it was successful. The way was opened for numerous motorized and 
non-motorized formations to escape. I was able to give a useful situation 
report to the regiment before the attack. 

Part of the division’s motorized group managed to escape the pocket 
on the afternoon of 20 August; additional elements followed the next day. 




300 


GRENADIERS 


The artillery had lost several of its heavy guns; the 37 mm battery managed 
to fight its way out almost intact. The commander of SS-Nachrichten- 
Abteilung 12, SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Pandel, was killed trying to save a valu¬ 
able signals vehicle. 

The battle for Normandy was over. 

German soldiers had once again accomplished the seemingly impossi¬ 
ble. They did not deserve the terrible defeat of the Falaise Pocket. Officers, 
noncommissioned officers and junior enlisted personnel had carried out 
their duty to the very end. The defeat could not be blamed on the front¬ 
line soldiers. The bitter cup had been served to them by gamblers at the 
map table. The performance of the German soldier in Normandy would 
be immortalized forever in the history books. 

Our former enemy’s judgment speaks for itself: “The only guys who 
really earned medals in this war,” a rifleman said, “were those SS guys. 
Everyone of them deserved a VC. They were a bad bunch of bastards, but 
were they ever soldiers! They made us fellows look like amateurs.” 

“The fighting record of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division in Normandy was 
probably excelled by few divisions, either Allied or German.” 

* 


I have already frequently mentioned that the Canadian commanders 
were very hesitant and would only attack with vastly superior forces. That 
applied especially to the Canadian Operations “Totalize” and “Tractable." 
During those operations the Canadians not only lost the initiative on the 
battlefield but also lost a great chance to eliminate the smashed German 
armies completely. 

After 4 August the Canadian II Corps only fought against the 12. SS- 
Panzer-Division. Our division had hardly the strength of a battalion. Pre¬ 
cious time had been lost. A single Canadian division would had been 
sufficient to hold the northern flank of the pocket and exert pressure on 
the concentrated German troops. The three remaining divisions—includ¬ 
ing among them two extremely well-equipped armor divisions—could have 
closed the pocket at Trun and Chambois on 16 August at the latest. Our 
units would not then have been in a position to break through such a ring. 

Had the Canadian command done this the battle of the Ardennes 
would, in all probability, not have taken place. The Panzer-Divisionen 
which were the decisive formations in that offensive could not had been 
refitted in such an astonishingly short time had the core of veteran per¬ 
sonnel not succeeded in breaking through the blocking positions between 



From the Evacuation of Caen to the Falaise Pocket 


301 


Trim and Falaise. In my opinion, that escape can be traced back to hesi¬ 
tant and indecisive Canadian leadership. 

I believe the Allies drew the same conclusion concerning the leader¬ 
ship of the Canadian 4th Armoured Division when they carried out a 
change of command. But the fault must not lie with Brigadier Kitching 
alone. The Canadians could not have been unaware of the nature of their 
opponent. Their intelligence was good and air reconnaissance was con- 
standy overhead. 

The commander of the advance-guard battalion, Major D. V. Currie, 
was awarded the Victoria Cross, which he fully deserved. Major Currie had 
advanced as far as St. Lambert sur Dives on 19 August, thus effectively 
blocking the only escape route from the pocket. That battalion’s perform¬ 
ance was outstanding. Its dead and living soldiers deserve our respect. 

* 

I reported to the I. SS-Panzer-Korps on the afternoon of 20 August 
with that part of the division that had broken through. We were greeted 
with joy and thanks; They had thought we were dead. I could not help but 
cry when I rendered my report. Thousands of my comrades were resting in 
the soil of Normandy. 

The situation briefing indicated there was no stable front west of the 
Seine and no defense lines existed to the east of it. The prospects were cat¬ 
astrophic, and we could only put our trust in the Westwall. 

I enjoyed hearing that those elements of the division that had been 
pulled out earlier for refitting had fended off the enemy along the line 
Laigle-Verneuil-Dreux and thereby prevented the formation of a new 
pocket west of the Seine. Those formations had acted entirely on their 
own. SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Gerd Bremer was decorated with the Oakleaves 
to the Knight’s cross for that. 

The division’s headquarters staff reached Louviers via Le Neubourg. 
From there it would assume command of the elements of the division that 
were still operational. The rest of the division was involved in mobile rear¬ 
guard actions with American tank formations advancing northwards from 
Dreux and Verneuil. Meanwhile, the troops who had escaped from the 
pocket crossed the Seine below Rouen. The staff had crossed the Seine at 
Elbeuf without suffering any losses. 

I reported to the Commander-in-Chief West, Feldmarschall Model, in 
Rouen. The Feldmarschall harbored no illusions about the situation and 
talked about needing thirty-five to forty divisions if the front were to be sta- 


302 


GRENADIERS 


bilized. Because we all knew that forty divisions were not available, we 
turned again and again to the Westwall. 

One improvised divisional Kampfgruppe held Elbeuf until 26 August. 
After the evacuation, the Kampfgruppe defended the loop of the Seine 
south of Rouen at the Foret de la Londe, thus allowing our forces to dis¬ 
engage from the enemy. 

Our soldiers fought Canadian units for the last time in the Foret de la 
Londe. They held up the Canadian 2nd Infantry Division until 29 August. 
The Kampfgruppe, under the command of W. Mohnke, finally withdrew 
that afternoon. 

After a two-day stay in the Beauvais area, the division was moved to the 
area around Hirson. Refitting so close to the front was impossible. We 
marched over World War I’s blood-soaked fields under the cover of dark¬ 
ness, taking the same roads we raced down in 1940 when we were heading 
west. Our march column looked miserable; the convoys rolled through the 
night with each operational vehicle towing several others. 

In Hirson the division was attached to the General der Panzertruppen 
West, General Stumpf, who was personally briefed about the division’s per¬ 
sonnel and equipment situation. General Stumpf told me the news of the 
award of the Swords to the Oak Leaves of my Knight’s Cross. 

The division started to reconstitute itself at once and re-equip the dec¬ 
imated units. Equipment was supposed to be issued from Verdun and 
Metz. The losses in men and equipment were frightening. The combat ele¬ 
ments had lost more than 80 percent of the manpower with which they 
had started the campaign. The combat-support elements had also suffered 
unusually high casualties through enemy air action. 

The division had lost more than 80 percent of its tanks in combat and 
during the withdrawal. About 70 percent of its armored cars and SPW, 60 
percent of its guns and 50 percent of its vehicles were lost. Those enor¬ 
mous losses could not be made good in a few days, but we had no other 
choice—the division had to be combat ready as soon as possible. 

We did not like the area around Hirson nor the overall situation. The 
combat-support elements and those units not ready for combat were imme¬ 
diately transferred east of the Meuse. By 31 August the Americans had 
reached Soissons and Laon and were advancing northeast. A Kampfgruppe 
from the division delayed them on the Thaon until the night of 1-2 Sep¬ 
tember. In the meantime, Gruppe Mohnke had arrived at the division. 

Because the division was threatened in its rear, it pulled back to the 
northeast and occupied a blocking position at Anor. We had to fight for 
time to enable the infantry to cross the Meuse. During the move to that 




From the Evacuation of Caen to the Falaise Pocket 


303 


position, the commander of the III./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26, 
Knight’s Cross holder Erich Olboetter, was wounded while driving over a 
mine laid in the road by partisans. Both his legs were ripped off; he died 
during die night in the military hospital at Charleville. In Erich Olboetter 
I had once again lost an old warrior friend who had constantly fought at 
my side since 1939. He was an aggressive soldier and an ideal commander. 

During the night of 1-2 September we held the blocking position at 
Benumont together with the remnants of the 116. Panzer-Division. The 
division pulled back to Florennes via Philippeville under enemy pressure. 
Shortly before reaching Florennes, the commander of the Il./SS-Panzer- 
Grenadier-Regiment 26, SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Heinz Schrott, was killed by 
perfidious partisans. 

The “glorious” fight of the so-called partisans was nothing more than 
mean, common murder. The originators of partisan war were the real war 
criminals of that war. They acted against all humanity and appealed to the 
basest of insdncts. I had never previously experienced partisan warfare; nor 
had I felt the frequently claimed French or Belgian hatred. On the con¬ 
trary, I was always able to observe good relationships between the units and 
the population of the occupied territories. This observation was especially 
valid for the population of Normandy which had faced so much suffering. 

The so-called partisans only raised their heads when they did not have 
to fear for their own bodies and lives. They did not fight; instead, they 
treacherously murdered individual members of the German Army. Seen 
from a military point of view, the actions of the partisans did not have any 
influence on the German conduct of the war. The population that was not 
involved suffered the most harm as a result of the retaliations of German 
troops. It was not the advocates of partisan warfare, a violation of interna¬ 
tional law, who suffered. The hatred between the nations was stirred 
according to a plan. It was deepened for a long time through the criminal 
activities of the partisans. Nor can one deny that the Allies actively pro¬ 
moted communism in Western Europe with their partisan policy. Without 
the perfidious actions of the “brave” partisans there would have been no 
cause for “war crimes trials.” 

We crossed the Meuse at Yvoir on 4 September to occupy a defensive 
position beyond that sector. The division assumed the sector Godinne- 
Houx. The 2. SS-Panzer-Division assumed the sector on both sides of 
Dinant. 

The combat strength of the division was roughly 600 infantry; it was 
divided into two Kampfgruppen. Tanks were no longer available; the 
remaining tanks were in Luttich being repaired. There was no ammunition 



304 


GRENADIERS 


available for the heavy field-howitzer battery. One 88 mm Flak battery was 
deployed at the crossroads northwest of Spontin in a ground-support role. 

The Americans immediately tried to cross the Meuse at Godinne and 
Yvoir. They were repulsed with heavy losses. However, diey succeeded in 
creating a bridgehead at Houx. They advanced into the woods and estab¬ 
lished positions there. During the counterattack the bridgehead was 
reduced and was supposed to be eliminated before the onset of darkness 
on 6 September. 

I covered the entire front and discussed the further defense of the 
Meuse with Milius and Siebken. Our vehicles were often shot at by the par¬ 
tisans in the woods. There were no casualties on our side, but we found six 
soldiers of the Luttich security battalion murdered; they had been shot 
while resting. A reconnaissance patrol was fired on between Spontin and 
Dinant. The culprits were not found. 

During the night of 5-6 September the Americans managed to cross 
the Meuse at Namur and repair a bridge that had not been properly 
demolished. The local commander of Namur fled to the east without 
informing his neighboring units, thus leaving the way into the heart of the 
Meuse defenses open to the Americans. A reconnaissance patrol of SS- 
Aufklarungs-Abteilung 12 encountered an American advance-guard battal¬ 
ion on the Namur-Ciney road around 1100 hours. 

I was on the way back from Siebken’s command post when this bad 
news arrived. It seemed unbelievable to me, but the report was confirmed 
by another patrol at 1115 hours. The units were alerted at once and 
received orders to withdraw behind the Ourthe. The withdrawal could 
only be conducted at night. Speed was of the essence! We were pressed for 
time! The Americans would be at Dumal soon, and it would be only a mat¬ 
ter of minutes before they reached the crossroads there. The operations 
staff would have to use those crossroads, if it wanted to escape from the 
Americans. 

In an instant the operations staff was racing towards Dumal. I led the 
group down a steeply sloping field to reach Dumal through a patch of 
woods. Just before reaching Dumal, Hubert Meyer requested me to turn 
over the spearhead to SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Heinzelmann. I waved Heinzel- 
mann past us and his vehicle overtook us just as we approached die first 
houses in Dumal. The town lay in a deep defile; to the left of the road was 
a 1.5 meter wall around which the road curved to the east. As always, I was 
standing in the vehicle and trying to get a look “on the odier side of the 
hill.” As a result, 1 was able to see over the obtrusive wall to the main road 
to Namur. I shouted a warning to Heinzelmann, but it was too late! One 



From the Evacuation of Caen to the Falaise Pocket 


305 


round tore the lead vehicle apart, and the first American tank came around 
die comer firing. 

The situation changed in the blink of an eye. It was no picnic attack¬ 
ing a tank column with a couple of Volkswagen. We could not turn round. 
I looked at the tank as it rolled slowly forward. From my own experience in 
similar situations, I assumed the tank commander would use this unique 
opportunity to overrun the operations staff or eliminate it by fire. There 
was nothing left to do but get off the road as soon as possible! 

I leapt over a gate and a wire fence that separated the courtyard from 
the garden. What an unpleasant surprise, however! I was in a terrible trap. 
I could not escape behind the row of houses; the buildings had been built 
into the ascending high ground and also surrounded by a high wall. If I 
tried to climb it, I would present myself as a perfect target to the Ameri¬ 
cans. 

The first thing I had to do was find a place that offered concealment. 
A chicken coop was the only option, so off I went! A body flew over the 
wire. Max Bornhoft saw me before I had disappeared. At that point, both 
of us were in the trap. At least the chicken coop offered some conceal¬ 
ment from the enemy’s view for the time being. We hoped to find our way 
back to our comrades after nightfall. 

There was loud shouting from the road as the population cheered the 
Americans. The tanks rolled past. I heard an excited exchange of words in 
a nearby house and heard the name Koln. I never saw him again. SS-Ober- 
sturmfuhrer Koln has been listed as missing in action ever since. 

By then it had become 1400 hours; a light rain drizzled on to the 
chicken-coop roof. I could no longer take it. I had to know what was hap¬ 
pening on the road. I crawled to the wire fence on my stomach. I had 
barely reached the corner of the coop when I experienced one of the most 
hair-raising moments of the war. 

Some partisans came to the fence and talked to the farmer. They prob¬ 
ably wanted to know if he had seen any German soldiers on the farm. The 
farmer shook his head. With gritted teeth I was only a couple of meters 
from the partisans. They leaned on the fence and were visually searching 
the hill. Would these be my last minutes on earth? I gripped my pistol 
firmly; they wouldn’t get me without a fight. A nettle bush was my conceal¬ 
ment. 

Shouts and fired rounds attracted the fellows to the neighboring farm¬ 
house. A comrade’s life had met its end. We felt somewhat better. The 
farm had been searched, after all, and perhaps the rain would keep the 
curious away. The minutes became hours. We were pleased about the 





306 


GRENADIERS 


weather. Suddenly, we were dumbfounded. The chickens were gathering 
in front of the coop and wanted to enter it. But they didn’t want to share 
their quarters with us. They wanted us out. The story could not end well, 
so what had to happen happened. The little old fanner stayed at the fence, 
wondering what was going on. He then attempted to shoo his poultry into 
the coop. The critters were stubborn, however. They wanted to have their 
“empire” all to themselves. 

Being curious, the fanner stuck his head into the coop. He should not 
have done that because, before he could open his mouth, he found him¬ 
self sitting on an old barrel in the darkest corner. At that point, he had 
become the third man in the barrel. He looked at our pistols in terror. We 
could have done without our visitor. The situation had become more com¬ 
plicated. With our luck, the farmer’s wife would soon be joining us. She 
would certainly soon miss her lord and master and go looking for him. 

We decided to release the old man. He promised to keep his mouth 
shut and not to contact the partisans. He shuffled away quickly. Of course, 
we did not take his promise at face value. The old fellow had barely disap¬ 
peared, when we climbed over the high wall and prompdy landed outside 
the headquarters of the partisans. 

I had not counted on that surprise. It couldn’t get much worse than 
that. The partisans were housed in the church boiler room and a young 
fellow was standing in the cellar door enjoying his first American cigarette. 
Heavily armed partisans were coming up the cellar steps. We jumped, 
crawled, and dashed across the cemetery like weasels. The old graves and 
headstones protected us from being discovered. 

We reached the compost heap in the comer of the cemetery. Because 
nothing else occurred to me at the moment, I covered Max with old 
wreaths and asked him to keep an eye out on the entrance to the church. 
I intended to hide behind some vegetation. 

A shout echoed across the cemetery; it told us we were in a very dan¬ 
gerous situation. While still turning around I was looking down the muz¬ 
zles of the weapons of two policemen on the church steps. The police were 
startled; they had not seen Max as yet. I raised my pistol like lightning and 
indicated I was about to fire. The police took cover. I had to get away! I ran 
to the southern edge of the cemetery and again found myself looking 
down the muzzle of a carbine. Its owner was standing in a doorway and 
took off when I ran direcdy towards him and threatened him with the pis¬ 
tol. We were surrounded. The old man had alerted everybody. I jumped 
over the cemetery wall, landing in the village street which was some four 
meters lower. Max was gasping for breath behind me. 



From the Evacuation of Caen to the Falaise Pocket 


307 


Jesus! It was unbelievable how agile you could become if your life was 
at stake. The street inclined up the slope. My lungs seemed ready to burst. 
Rounds were whistling around our ears. I heard a scream from Max. I 
turned and fired a couple of rounds. Max was lying in the road. He had 
been shot. My rounds had forced the “brave freedom fighters” to take 
cover. I turned towards the way out of the village. Just in time I saw two 
more partisans pulling guard there. Where could I go? I saw a small door 
held in place only by a large stone. I took cover behind it unnoticed. 

I sat in the corner of a stable in complete exhaustion, peering through 
the cracks in the door. The partisans appeared in a few moments running 
excitedly up and down the road searching every bush. My disappearance 
could not be explained and they started blaming each other. 

In a loud voice, one of the partisans demanded I leave my hiding 
place and surrender. He promised to hand me over to the Americans and 
respect “international law.” I did not respond to his request. 

My pistol seemed to become heavier and heavier in my hand. At one 
time we swore that we would never be captured alive. The grim experi¬ 
ences in Russia had made us do that. The time had come! There was a 
round in the chamber and a last one in the magazine. Should I fulfill my 
oath? Was it only valid on the Eastern Front? Weren’t these completely dif¬ 
ferent circumstances? Minutes passed. I looked at my pistol again and 
again. 

I thought of my family and the unborn child. It was difficult, very diffi¬ 
cult, to make a decision. The partisans were standing only a couple of 
meters away from my hiding place. I studied their faces. Some had embit¬ 
tered, brutal features, others seemed quite harmless, maybe they had only 
been given their weapons a few moments before. 

The leader of the group asked me to give up again. A boy of about 14 
stood next to him. It was obviously father and son. The little rascal had a 
carbine. 

The boy suddenly pointed excitedly at the door and at the stone that 
had rolled to one side. He understood. It was dry where the stone used to 
be, so it must have been moved only a few minutes ago. The father asked 
me to give up again. 

A round was fired through the door, and hand grenades were being 
called for. Two more rounds splintered the door and forced me further 
into the corner. 

I called out to the father: “My gun is aimed at your boy! Will you keep 
your promise?” At once he pulled the boy to him and repeated his prom¬ 
ise to treat me properly. 




308 


GRENADIERS 


It was over. A counterattack by my comrades was my only hope. I threw 
the pistol’s magazine into one corner and the pistol into another. What a 
horrible feeling it was being taken prisoner! 

I slowly opened the door and walked toward the parusan leader. Some 
of the fellows moved to attack me; several pistols and carbines were pointed 
at me. Not a word was said. I took no notice of the threatening weapons. I 
looked into the father’s eyes. With a wave of his hand he forced his com¬ 
panions to lower their weapons. They obeyed grudgingly and accompanied 
us to the church. The partisan leader told me he had been in Germany 
during World War I as a worker and had had only good experiences. He 
therefore had no reason to lead a gang of murderers. However, he said it 
was sometimes difficult to stop the young men from carrying out murder 
and manslaughter. 

Max was still lying in the road; he had suffered a very unpleasant bul¬ 
let wound in his thigh. We carried him into the police station where he 
immediately received an anti-tetanus shot. The village doctor was excep¬ 
tionally friendly. He told us he hoped we would soon be able to return 
home. 

The two policemen then took two pairs of handcuffs from their pock¬ 
ets and put them on my wrists. I almost fell to my knees in pain. The cuffs 
were practically pinching off my hands. They cut ever deeper into my flesh. 
They look at me expectantly; the partisans were also gaping at me. Those 
two must have often carried out this torture in the past. It was apparent 
they were waiting for me to cry out in pain. Max looked on and said: “The 
bastards!” 

The ringleader returned to the room and gave the order to march me 
off. We stumbled across the cemetery and arrived back at the boiler room, 
the partisan’s base of operations. Max was put on a straw mattress. In 
astonishment, I watched the two policemen open the boiler door and pull 
out their civilian clothes. They left soon thereafter clothed as partisans. I 
secretly cursed the German field-police unit that had been stationed next 
to the church. The fellows must have been asleep at the wheel; frontline 
troops were paying the price for their incompetence. Max was in severe 
pain. He asked me again and again to contact his father should I survive. 
He had little hope for himself. 

The hours passed slowly in the cellar. The partisan leader brought 
some bread for us. He was worried; he knew’ there were German troops 
west of the village and they would probably pass through Duma! during 
the night. I listened to every noise. I understood from the partisans’ con¬ 
versation that the Americans had moved on towards Dinant and there 
were no Americans in Durnal at the time. A very quiet partisan guarded 



From the Evacuation of Caen to the Falaise Pocket 


309 


us. If only he wouldn’t be so careless with his pistol. Every time I tried to 
make Max more comfortable, he shouted and waved his pistol at us. The 
young man was terrified. I found out why a few hours later. 

The partisans departed suddenly at midnight and only left our guard 
with us. Before leaving, they moved a heavy table between the guard and 
us. It divided the room into two. The pistol was pointed at me all the time. 
Sometimes I got the feeling he wanted to kill me. 

Vehicles moved through the village: Were they German or American? 
We did not have to wait long for an answer. After another hour I heard 
rounds being fired and the explosion of ammunition. Ammunition whizzed 
through the air. It was probably a German vehicle that was burning. 

By dawn the noise was all around us. We could tell the distinct differ¬ 
ence between German and American machine-gun fire. We listened anx¬ 
iously to the noise of battle. Our guard became more and more restless; 
his pistol was permanently pointed at me. He even refused to give Max 
some water; he was afraid to turn his back on us. 

The windowpane was suddenly shattered by machine-gun fire and the 
Americans asked us to surrender. That was an interesting turn of events! 
Terrorized, the guard threatened us with his pistol from a corner. I had to 
shout at him to open the door and stop the wild shooting of the Americans. 
The Americans continued to fire. Our partisan opened the door at last and 
called to them. Machine-gun fire slammed against the church wall, and the 
first American charged down the cellar steps. 

In astonishment, I watched our guard receive a rude kick in the ass. 
He flew into the corner. The partisan turned out to be a deserter from Lor¬ 
raine. He was upset because the Americans were treating him like a bum. 

My astonishment vanished quickly; a submachine gun was pointed at 
my stomach. At the same time, a second American shouted: “Don’t resist! 
My buddy wants your medals as a souvenir.” Powerless with rage, I allowed 
my Knight’s Cross to be stolen. It had been with me since April 1941. 

The second American spoke fair German; his mother had been born 
in Germany. He said to me: “For God’s sake, don't tell them who you are. 
Your soldiers are being treated badly in the rear!” I didn’t understand the 
meaning of his words until twenty-four hours later. 

We climbed the steps and ran into German machine-gun fire in the 
cemetery. I saw the firing position in the woods, barely 150 meters from 
the church. We lay between the graves and waited for a break in the firing. 
Before I really knew what was going on, my watch and rings were stolen. I 
had fallen into the hands of gangsters. 

My money was stolen from me behind the church and another GI 
took custody over me. Angry that there was nothing left to steal, he hit me 




310 


GRENADIERS 


in the back with the butt of his weapon. After a few meters he had had 
enough. As we passed two frightened women standing in their front doors, 
I received another blow to my back. I stumbled a few steps and turned to 
receive a full blow to the side of my head with the stock of the weapon. I 
collapsed to the ground. As I fell I heard the protests of the women. 

Further blows drove me to my feet and I staggered across the street. 
The cries of the women resounded in my ears. A few steps further on the 
gangster shoved me into a litde garden. Blood clogged my eyes and poured 
out of my left ear. I couldn’t think any more. I saw a large currant bush in 
front of me, into which I was shoved. So that was going to be the end of the 
road for me! An image of my family passed quickly in front of my eyes. The 
official report wotdd be “missing in action.” My real end was to be mur¬ 
dered and then dumped into an unmarked grave! 

1 looked at the man with burning disdain while he raised his carbine. I 
no longer saw him at all; I was already in the next world. In astonishment I 
saw the carbine drop; he left me with a “Damn” and took off. 

My rescuer was the young lieutenant whose mother was German. He 
intervened at the last moment and stopped the soldier’s act of violence. 

The lieutenant tried to excuse the behavior of the soldier. He said it 
was the armchair warriors’ irresponsible propaganda campaign that was 
responsible for the brutalities. So as not to stain his vehicle, I sat on a 
fender. The windscreen was red with my blood in a few moments. The 
blood was blown onto it as we moved. We stopped at an American supply 
column after a short ride. There I was handed over to the leader of the 
column with instructions to take me to a hospital. 

The column was comprised of about twelve trucks and staff cars. Each 
was equipped with a machine gun. All the vehicles had a driver and two 
assistant drivers. I observed how well the soldiers were resupplied with an 
astonishment mixed with jealousy. An advance-guard task force composed 
of a tank battalion and an infantry battalion had assembled as if it were 
about to go on a parade. Tank after tank and vehicle after vehicle were 
staged closely together in an open area. The formation was resupplied 
without any ground or air defensive measures in place. 

Five Tigers attacking out of the woods would have destroyed this 
entire group. But there were no Tigers between the Meuse and the Ger¬ 
man border. There were only battle-weary men in this zone. They were 
wandering around, smashed by fate. Would the Americans be halted at the 
Westwall? I didn’t think it possible. 1 knew there were no more functional 
divisions and, furthermore, the Westwall was incomplete and had long 
been neglected. 



From the Evacuation of Caen to the Falaise Pocket 


311 


In truth the Ruhr lay undefended in front of the Allied spearheads 
and nothing could prevent Montgomery from occupying Germany’s 
weapons forge. One powerful drive by ten to fifteen Allied Divisions into 
the northwest area would break the backbone of German resistance and 
end the war in a few weeks. The conflict for Europe had been lost. 

The groans of an injured comrade brought me back to reality. He was 
in a neighboring vehicle with an abdominal wound. I suddenly saw a hand 
waving in the third vehicle; it was Max in a fuel truck. The empty cans 
formed his sick bed. About sixty German prisoners had been gathered in 
the meantime. Some paratroopers, about fifteen soldiers from my division 
and members of a security battalion were distributed among the trucks. 

The column started off towards Namur late that afternoon. I carefully 
observed tracks through the grain fields. Would an escape attempt be suc¬ 
cessful? It was obvious that I had thoughts of escape. I nudged a young 
paratrooper and indicated my idea. He nodded his agreement and moved 
closer to the edge of the vehicle. 

The Americans were careful. Each vehicle was covered by the loaded 
machine gun of the vehicle following and, in addition, an American with a 
submachine gun sat on each cab. As a result, only a road with numerous 
bends that passed through wooded terrain could be considered for an 
escape. We had no such luck; we arrived in Namur sooner than we 
thought. The best chance of escaping was gone, but the thought of escap¬ 
ing stayed with us. We wanted to be free again. 

There was much activity in Namur. The bridge over the Meuse had 
been repaired by die American engineers without a great deal of difficulty. 
The population either watched us indifferently or had a threatening man¬ 
ner. Our column moved through the middle of the town and stopped in 
front of a big building, which I later discovered was the prison. It was close 
to the railway stafion, and we were surrounded by curious civilians. Women 
pointed to me. I was completely splattered with blood and made a pitiful 
impression. 

I saw r Max Bornhoft being lifted from the truck and carried into the 
building after a few minutes. Partisans and policemen received him at the 
entrance. The onlookers surrounded the group. Then the unbelievable 
happened; a shot rang out and turned the civilians into a raging mob. The 
road came alive with jeering, cheering and the clapping of approval. With¬ 
out warning and in a fraction of a second, my companion of so many 
years—a brave soldier and good comrade—was murdered by a cowardly 
and mean animal. The accompanying Americans shook their heads over 
this murder lust and chased away the cowardly bullies. 












312 


GRENADIERS 


The column moved off again. So, that was how imprisonment looked 
like after twenty-four hours as a prisoner! The brutal murder of bleeding, 
wounded soldiers! Oh, what naive fellows we had been a half an hour 
before we had just seen what had happened. 

Our journey ended in a police-station yard. The station was in the cen¬ 
ter of Namur, and I clearly remember the entrance gate. Near the entrance 
there was an old Gothic church. 

It was dark when we passed through the gate. Partisans guarded the 
entrance. That was a bad sign. The vehicles had hardly departed when we 
w'ere shouted at by the young slavering fellows and ordered to fall in line. 
Those comrades who were the last to dismount were struck with a hail of 
blows from rifle butts. 1 stood to the right and saw an American talking to 
the partisans while pointing to me. The partisans nodded their heads and 
asked me to follow them. They took me to a Feldwebel who bandaged me. 
While that was going on, I heard cries of pain from my comrades. A parti¬ 
san group was beating a group of soldiers. I asked: “What was going on? 
Why the beating?” The sergeant told me they were sorting out the Walfen- 
SS and Fallschirmjager and intended to kill them! Then rounds rang out 
across the yard, and about twenty German soldiers were murdered on that 
7 November 1944 in Namur. They did not die at the hands of Belgian sol¬ 
diers but at the hands of fired-up adolescents who displayed their red 
scarves like important decorations. 

At about 2200 hours I was taken through the empty streets between two 
partisans. Our steps sounded hollow in the dead of night. The sound 
resounded in my ears like the dull roll of drums of death. Once again I sus¬ 
pected my end was near but, this time, I was wrong. One of my companions 
suddenly started talking. He offered me an American cigarette and asked 
how much pain I was in. ‘You know,” he said, “it is really amazing you can 
still walk with your fractured skull. We have orders to take you to a doctor, 
and we’ll be there in a few minutes.” 

It looked like the Americans had told the Belgians I had a fractured 
skull. I was to be medically treated on the orders of an American officer. 
The “fractured skull” had to be traced back to the constant bleeding from 
my left ear. Well, I hoped die story would end well. I knew, of course, that 
1 didn’t have a fractured skull, but I did not know why 1 was bleeding. I was 
told later that the American had broken one of my blood vessels. 

After a few hundred meters I was led into some sort of school. The 
partisans and youths shouted: “SS, SS . . . ?” My escorts replied: “No, he is 
an Oberst of the 2. Panzer-Division. The Americans wanted us to take him 
to a hospital.” The youths mistrustfully pushed me into an ambulance and 
1 was taken to a Catholic hospital. On the way, I was told by a seminarian 



From the Evacuation of Caen to the Falaise Pocket 


313 


and by one of my escorts that SS men and Fallschirmjager were being shot 
at once. 

1 listened to that monstrous statement almost with indifference. Many 
a young soldier had died at the hands of the murderers, without himself 
having killed anybody. After all, many of my soldiers had only just been 
transferred to the division during last few days. Hardly 18 years old, they 
had become victims of an incited mob. 

Once again I saw my end in front of me. It could only be a short time 
before I was identified. I feverishly thought how I could get rid of my Sol- 
dbuch. I could not leave it in the ambulance; it would have been found in 
a few hours at the most. 

I was brought into an operating room and had to lie down on a plank 
bed. A very friendly, German-speaking nun administered to me. The semi¬ 
narian and the nun were siblings. The partisans saw me for the first time in 
the candlelight and watched me with interest. They had their suspicions. 
The camouflage jacket seemed familiar to them and identified me as a 
member of the Waffen-SS. 

It was high time for me to get rid of my treacherous Soldbuch. But 
how? Those fellows were watching me like hawks. At the last minute I 
asked the nurse to let me relieve myself. After a short hesitation, she gave 
me permission and I staggered a few doors on. One of partisans accompa¬ 
nied me. The pay book disappeared with lightning speed. I realized too 
late, however, that the pipes were broken and that my identification would 
only be delayed for a few hours. The doctor decided I should be put to 
bed first and X-rayed tomorrow. I staggered into a ward rather weak at die 
knees and was put to bed with the help of the partisans. The loss of blood 
had exhausted me. I really was at the end of my rope. 

My filthy jacket was taken from me by the partisans, and I watched 
them going through the pockets looking for my papers. Would 1 continue 
to have luck in the future? It did not take long, and 1 was asked where my 
pay book was. It all depended on how convincing my reply was. I opened 
my eyes slowly and responded in a firm voice; “Americans”. For a fracdon of 
a second I didn’t dare to breathe. Then I saw my guards were satisfied with 
my response. They shook my hand and disappeared. I was given a fresh pil¬ 
low in the middle of the night because I was still losing a lot of blood. I fell 
asleep in exhaustion and dreamt of my part of Germany. I remained in the 
hospital for two weeks. The doctors treated me excellently. The nuns 
secredy gave me cigarettes and also bought me a snack occasionally. I felt 
better day by day and I sensed I would not be in the hospital much longer. 

My thoughts turned feverishly to escape. 1 was on the third floor and 
the only escape was dirough the window. I would have to find some sheets 



314 


GRENADIERS 


and try to make a rope. I was moved to the Albert Barracks before I could 
carry that out, however. 

The barracks were near the railway station and were used by paramili¬ 
tary units. I did not like die fact I was the only prisoner and was kept alone 
in a deserted room in the corner of the barracks. My new lodgings were 
hardly suited to escape. High walls and stringent security obstructed my 
path to freedom. My solitary confinement ended after forty-eight hours. 
The partisans sent me a fellow sufferer in the afternoon. Leutnant 
Aumuller was caught north of Namur trying to reach the German border 
with a group of German infantry. They had fought their way through the 
woods and fields of northern France and Belgium for more than three 
weeks. Dependent solely on the assistance of the locals, they had marched 
hundreds of kilometers only to be caught just short of the border. 

We worked together to try and improve our situation. Up to that point 
we had endured miserable conditions. The heating problem was swiftly 
solved. We took the chairs, tables and wardrobes apart and burned them 
in the fireplace. However, the rations could not be improved so simply. We 
were given the same soup every day. 

An addition to our family arrived two days later. Leutnant Wagner, a 
platoon leader in an infantry division, was the third man to join us. Wag¬ 
ner, like Aumuller, had moved east for weeks only to be captured on the 
Meuse. He was what we had been lacking. He had somehow managed to 
hide a few hundred Francs which would help us improve the menu. 

It was our intention to engage the guards in conversation so as to 
enlist them for our purposes. We were pleased that a former Belgian mili¬ 
tary cadet, who had been in a German prisoner of war camp until 1943 
and who had been released on the intervention of the king, became our 
best ally. He had been a career Belgian soldier and acted accordingly. 
Showing disgust, he confirmed that German soldiers had been murdered. 
The red partisans had been responsible for that. 

A Russian prisoner, who had been captured in 1942 and managed to 
escape from a Belgian mine in the spring of 1944, helped our friendly Bel¬ 
gian in supplying us. In due course two legitimate freedom fighters, who 
fought for their country out of true idealism and had also spent a long 
time imprisoned by the Gestapo, joined our helpers. 

We could only maintain our physical strength with the help of these 
men. Of course, even they could only obtain some bread, potatoes, carrots 
and fruit. Indeed, they did not have much food themselves and were 
dependent on receiving rations. However, the decent, upright attitude of 
those Belgians helped us over many a difficult moment. There was heavy 
fighting around Aachen around that time and we thanked our caretakers 
for eveiy bit of news with all our hearts. 




From the Evacuation of Caen to the Falaise Pocket 


315 


The former Red Guard soldier was not very happy when he heard of 
Germany’s critical military situation, especially on the Eastern Front. He 
did not view a Russian victory with eagerness. That simple Russian soldier 
seemed to understand more about Russian intent than the fathers of the 
Casablanca Treaty. In any event he had a sounder instinct than Sir Samuel 
Hoare, whose response to a warning letter from Franco, the Spanish Head 
of State, on 25 February 1943 was: 

I cannot accept the theory that Russia will present a threat to 
Europe after the war. In the same way, I reject the thought that 
Russia could start a political campaign against Western Europe 
after the end of hostilities. 

You argue that communism represents the greatest danger to 
our continent and that a Russian victory would enable them to 
triumph over the whole of Europe. We have a completely differ¬ 
ent view. 

After all, would a nation be able to rule Europe completely 
on its own after this war? Russia will be preoccupied with its 
reconstruction and would be dependent to a large measure on 
the help of the United States and Great Britain. Russia does not 
hold the leading position in the fight for victory. All military 
efforts are completely equal in the achievement of the Allied vic¬ 
tory. After the war, large American and British armies will occupy 
the continent. They will be composed of first-class soldiers. They 
will not be worn out and exhausted like the Russian armies. I 
dare predict the English will be the most powerful military power 
on the continent. British influence on the continent will then be 
equally as strong as in the days after Napoleon fell. Supported by 
our military strength, our influence over the whole of Europe 
will be felt and we will participate in the reconstruction of 
Europe. 

Thus spoke Sir Samuel Hoare, one of the leading British politicians. I 
believe that the course of history has confirmed the fears of our Russian 
caretaker. His fears have been proven justified. Russia had become the 
dominant power in Europe, not England. 

Each bomber squadron following its low T -altitude course over the high 
ground along the Meuse carrying its deadly bomb load towards the burn¬ 
ing homeland convinced us to hatch escape plans. However, no possible 
route to freedom could be found. We were guarded too closely. 

One day the Belgians brought us pieces of German uniforms from old 
German stocks in order to add to the clothes we had. I received a field 


316 


GRENADIERS 


blouse and a coat. At that point we were more-or-less protected against the 
cold, but we looked more like a band of robbers than German soldiers. 

At the beginning of October, two Americans appeared under the com¬ 
mand of an MP major and we were put in a truck. Our guard was very 
strong; again, we could not consider trying to escape. 

We arrived at Reims that evening at a police station that the MPs were 
using. The cells were filled with rampaging Negroes. They were dnink with 
victory. The next morning we moved across the battlefield of Reims fur¬ 
ther and further to the west. Up to that point we had been occupying our¬ 
selves with plans to escape and noting the key terrain features. Starting 
then, however, we sat depressed in the comer of the vehicle and observed 
the huge Allied supply depots in astonishment. There were unbelievable 
amounts of ammunition, fuel and stores. Supply depot after supply depot, 
kilometer after kilometer. Between them were airfields and additional 
depots with reserve artillery and tanks. The traffic on the roads and in the 
camps moved as if it were peacetime. No trace of camouflage or defense 
precautions could be seen. We were looking at a rich man’s house. Did the 
Americans understand, as they stood on the borders of Germany, how 
great their superiority in weapons and equipment was? 

We moved through Compiegne late in the afternoon. It was a long way 
from the Compiegne of 1940 to the Compiegne of 1944. The road in 1944 
led to a large prison camp. Where would it lead from there? 

The camp made an enormous impression on us. Barbed wire as far as 
we could see. Before we could reach the interior, we had to pass through 
two exterior gates which were guarded by bored American troops. We were 
immediately brought before the camp commander who questioned us 
closely and individually. I was registered as Oberst Meyer of the 2. Panzer- 
Division. My pay book was treated as misplaced by the Americans in 
Namur. The camp commander turned out to be an old Berliner whose law 
office was on the Kurfurstendamm and who had emigrated to America in 
the 1930s. 

After a wide-ranging discussion, I was designated as assistant to the 
camp commandant and asked to supervise the officer’s camp. I was given a 
small room with Wagner and Aumuller, and we were happy to have a little 
area to ourselves. As a matter of top priority, we carried out a thorough 
reconnaissance the next morning. The camp was divided into three sec¬ 
tions and held several thousand men. As a camp assistant I could move 
from section to section looking for comrades without difficulty. 

I met a Feldwebel from the 1. Fallschirmjagerdivision during my first 
tour of the enlisted men’s camp. He lets me into the camp secrets. It was 
swarming with spies and traitors. Caution was the watchword! 





From the Evacuation of Caen to the Falaise Pocket 


317 


It did not take us long before we had all parts of the camp infiltrated 
with our people. Food for escape attempts was organized systematically 
and distributed to different barracks. We were even the happy owners of a 
compass. Leutnant Wagner had managed to keep it despite all searches. 
Everything revolved around the method of escape. Even bandage material 
was obtained. A Fallschirmjager doctor had joined our group and wanted 
to attempt an escape with us. 

One day a few hundred prisoners arrived from the Aachen battlefield 
and brought us the latest news from Germany. Among the prisoners were 
some soldiers from the Leibstandarte who told me about what had hap¬ 
pened to my division. I was shattered when I heard of the murder of my 
loyal comrade Waldmuller. SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Waldmuller had become 
a victim of the Maquis on 9 September at Basse Bodeux, ten kilometers 
northwest of Vielsalm. They had stretched a wire across the road. 
Wallmiiller and his driver had been jerked off their motorcycle. Both were 
seriously injured and subsequently drowned like rats in a water-filled ditch. 
Brave SS-Obersturmfuhrer Hauck had driven onto a mine which was deto¬ 
nated from ambush and had suffered serious burns. 

According to further information from the soldiers, the 12. SS-Panzer- 
Division was being refitted in an area around Plettenberg in Saueriand. At 
that point, our escape attempt went into high gear. We were aware that if 
our plan were to succeed we had to work with tine woodcutting detail. Time 
was of the essence; we expected to be evacuated in a few days to make room 
for new arrivals. 

I had a most interesting if quite unpleasant conversation with the 
camp commandant on 7 November at about 1700 hours. I met him in the 
corridor of our barracks and I was astonished when he pulled me into a 
corner just like a comrade and started the fallowing conversation: Herr 
Oberst, I have a big favor to ask you. I’m in a very unpleasant situation." 
Completely surprised, 1 promised him my help, but I had no idea what 
had happened. “Herr Oberst, this is really incredible!-According to the 
latest reports I had just received, a senior SS officer was in the camp. It 
would be a very big disgrace for me if I really did have this fellow in my 
camp!” 

Well, it had happened! Thank God, the light was so bad that the 
recently coined American could not see the color of my face. Surprise was 
total. My tongue lay like lead in my mouth. I didn’t want to answer right 
away. I had to win some time. I had to stay calm, very calm! After taking a 
deep breath, I promised the commandant my cooperation and asked the 
name of the SS officer and what he looked like. The reply was something 
like this: “Well, I don’t know his name. I don’t know what he looks like, 




318 


GRENADIERS 


either. I only know that he is smartly saluted and everybody grins when he 
goes through the camp." 

Reassuring him that I would follow the matter up, I calmly said good¬ 
bye and disappeared to my room. There was no lack of surprise when I 
told Wagner and Aumuller that I had just promised to search for myself 
and hand myself over to the camp commander! 

We quickly agreed to mount the escape attempt the next day. Leut- 
nants Aumuller and Wagner and Feldwebel Miiller would also take part. 
On 8 November we reported as woodcutters at the camp gate. We would 
initiate the long way back to Germany from the woods at Compiegne. 

We were out of luck. Very few woodcutters were needed. We crept 
back to the barracks with disappointed faces. I was summoned to the camp 
commandant at about 1100 hours. 1 said a few words of farewell to my 
acquaintances and followed the MPs. 

The commandant was sitting behind his desk playing with his night¬ 
stick. He had a determined expression on his face. The expression on his 
face told me everything. 1 immediately noticed that he was not absolutely 
certain, however. 1 had to keep calm! 

Military policemen as tall ;is trees stood at my side. Their nightsticks 
were held loosely in their hands. It took a serious turn! The newly coined 
American shouted at me: "Take your jacket off! Remove your shirt!” 1 
stood there with die upper part of my body naked. “Raise your arms!” My 
God! The color of the camp commandant's face changed. He gasped for 
breath and gripped his desk tightly. He angrily stammered a couple of 
curses in English before he asked me about the origins of my blood group 
symbol. 

Only then did do I realize why I had to strip. I really had not thought 
about that treacherous tattoo. I really had to gain lime to find a plausible 
answer. I only responded at the second request. I replied with a question. I 
politely asked the camp commandant for an explanation. This nearly 
drove the good man crazy. He continued to shout at me and claimed I was 
an SS pig and was the wanted senior SS officer. 

The time had come for me to act. I looked at the camp commandant 
and said: “You are mistaken. Although the Waffen-SS introduced the 
blood-group markings, the army Panzertruppe started using it as well on 
its tank crews after it had proved so useful with the Panzer-Divisionen of 
the Waffen-SS. You must come to terms with the fact that all students at the 
Panzertruppenschule were sent back to their units with the tattoo." 

This explanation worked like a bombshell on the MP’s. I was allowed 
to put my clothes on again and leave the room. The camp commandant 
remained sitting in his chair, exhausted by the confrontation. 







From the Evacuation of Caen to the Falaise Pocket 


319 


The whole camp was turned upside-down half an hour later. The MPs 
were looking for radio sets. The inmates had planned an escape for 9 
November and had requested an airdrop of weapons for that evening. We 
had to laugh at the imagination of the Americans. 

We were suddenly ordered to assemble in march order. The transport 
to evacuate us had arrived. Within an hour we had marched through the 
town and climbed on board a waiting freight train. Wagner and Aumuller 
were with me in the same car. Wagner immediately sat on the floor and 
started to cut a hole in it. He started cursing up a storm. The car had been 
constructed out of hard wood, and he could hardly make an impression on 
it. We would not be able to open up the floor. The two of them remained 
undeterred. They wanted to escape. 

I heard my name being called just before departure. I was asked to 
leave the train and to climb into a waiting jeep. They had gotten me after 
all. 

We quickly returned to the camp. I was really surprised when 1 recog¬ 
nized a Leutnant in tramp’s clothing in front of the administration build¬ 
ing. He was getting ready to go on a little outing in the vicinity 7 of the camp 
with some Americans. He looked away shamefacedly but in vain. My shout 
of “Miserable bastard!” reached him. That was the first cowardly creature I 
had encountered in German uniform. He was the camp’s spy and had, in 
fact, been a young Leutnant in an infantry division. 

The camp commandant forced me to stand against the wall in such 
away that only my fingertips touched it and my feet were about 1.2 meters 
away. Every time I moved I received a light blow with a rifle butt in my 
back and was mockingly ordered to maintain discipline. Everything even¬ 
tually comes to an end and I was soon taken to a special room. There I was 
constantly guarded by two Americans with drawn weapons. 

I was taken to Paris via Compiegne at some ungodly hour the next 
morning and, from there, to an airport west of Paris. By 1400 hours I was 
sitting in a plane watching the old batdefields of 1940 passing below me. 
We left the continent at Dunkirk and only then did I accept my destiny 
and forget all thoughts of escaping. The war was over for me. Europe lay 
in ruins behind me, bleeding from coundess w'ounds. The Channel passed 
below and misty England appeared in front of me—the England that 
wanted to liberate Europe but, in truth, tossed it in the clutches of the 
Communists. 





Kurt Mover in Antwerp on 14 November 1943. |*~i *munu 





The swearing-in ceremony of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division “Hitlerjugend.* 









A divisional exercise is observed from a prime mover by (from the right): Feld- 
marschal! von Rundstedt, SS-Stunnbannfuhrer Hubert Meyer, SS-Obergrup- 
penfiihrer Sepp Dietricli. SS-Oberfiihrer Fritz Witt, and SS-Standartenfuhrer 
Kurt Meyer. ii> »«t Mnn 



France, summer 1941. Left to right: Wilhelm Mohnke, Max Wunsche, Kurt 
Meyer, and Gerd Bremer. 








Normandy, first days of June 1944, just before die invasion. Kurt Meyer driving 
the divisional commander, SS-Brigadefiihrer Frit/ Witt, in a motorcycle with 
sidecar. Behind Meyer sits the regimental surgeon, SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Dr. 
Erich Gattemig. |<>m suiximru 





A delivery of food to the invasion front. 



House-to-house fighting in Normandy. 






Normandy 1944. Panzertneyer in a tailor-made jacket and cap of 
Italian camouflage material. j<m * iixtmu 






Normandy 1944. Kni t Meyer as commander ol SS-Panzer-Grenadier- 
Regiment 25. j<ki sucam* 







Thirty-seventh birthday celebration for the divisional commander on 27 May 
1944 in Tillieres. First row, third from left: Sehurer (divisional ordnance offi¬ 
cer); Springer (adjutant); Kurt Meyer (commander, SS-Panzer-Grenadier Regi¬ 
ment 25); Witt; Mohnke (commander, SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26); 
Schroder (commander, SS-Artillcrie-Rcgiment 12): Rothemund (adjutant). 
Second row: von Reitzenstein; Mantliey (divisional engineer); Pandel (com¬ 
mander, SS-Nachrichten-Abteilung 12); Wfmsche; Buchsein (divisional staff 
officer); and Schuch (divisional headquarters commander). Third and fourth 
rows: Weiser (corps adjutant); Krause (commander, I./SS-Panzer-Grenadier- 
Regiment 26); Urabl (commander, SS-Feld-Ersatz-Bataillon 12); Bremer (com¬ 
mander, SS-Panzer-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 12); Dr. Kos (divisional commissary 
officer); Muller (commander, SS-Panzer-Pionier-Bataillon 12); Waldmuller 
(commander, I./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25); Siebken (commander, 
II./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26); Kolitz (commander, divisional trains); 
Hanreich (commander, SS-Panzeijager-Abteilung 12); Ritzert (commander, 
15./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25). nmurr Mm* 










From the left: SS-Standartenfuhrer Kurt Meyer, SS-Brigadefiihrer Frit/ Witt, 
and SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Max Wiinsche in the Ardenne Abbey, beginning 
oi June 1944. in nun m«t« 



A corps artillery battalion, schweres SS-Artillerie-Bataillon 101, supports SS- 
Panzer-Grenadier-Regintent 25 at the beginning of June 1944. Third from left, 
the battalion commander, SS-Stunnbannftthrer Steineck; SS-Sturmbannluhrer 
Hubert Meyer; Pan/.ermeyer; SS-Oberstttrmfuhrer Bernhard Meitzel; and SS- 
Hauptsturmfuhrer Gunter Reichenbach. hi mm Mon 



Summer 1944. Kurt Meyer as SS-Standaricnfiihrer and commander 
of SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25. ji» i .<«» 












Commander conference at the divisional command post in Caen-Venoix on 13 
or 14 June 1944: SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Max Wunsche, SS-Brigadefuhrer 
Frit/ Witt, and SS-Standartenfuhrcr Kurt Meyer, iinum Mm* 



Normandy, July 1944. A bunker is built at die divisional command post in 
Airan. Standing in the middle, from the left: SS-Oberfuhrer Kurt Meyer, divi¬ 
sional commander. General (Luftwaffe) Peltz, corps commander of a Luftwaffe 
field corps; SS-Stunnbannftibrer Siegfried Muller, commander of SS-Panzer- 
Pionier-Baiaillon 12; and SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Hubert Meyer, divisional opera¬ 
tions officer. Hi iuk[ Mm* 










Allied ground offensives in June and July 1944, including the massive "Good- 
wood" operation. 










The end of the Normandy Campaign: the closing of the “Falaise Gap,” August 
1944. 








The Employment of the 12. 
SS-Panzer-Division “Hideijugend” 
from the End of the Invasion 
to the End of the War 

by Hubert Meyer, Former Divisional Chief of Staff 


It was a heavy blow to the division to lose its commander, especially since 
his fate was uncertain. The men had not just heard-tell of him; instead, all 
of them had seen him at some point wherever there was fighting being 
conducted, particularly in difficult situations. 

Those members of the divisional staff and the staff of SS-Panzer-Regi- 
ment 12 who had survived the clash with the Americans at Spontin without 
being wounded hid in a patch of woods at the outskirts of the village until 
darkness. They were called on to surrender by the partisans who suspected 
that they were there. No one dared to enter the woods, however. The sol¬ 
diers heard the American columns moving through the village and being 
enthusiastically welcomed by the civilians who came out of their hiding 
places. They also heard firing towards evening between their comrades 
hiding in the village and the partisans. They feared their divisional com¬ 
mander was in the village but, of course, did not know exactly where he 
was. They were not in a position to intervene with only two or three pistols 
among them. 

The group of nine men marched east during the night. They didn’t 
have a map; their only navigational aid was a compass. At first they went 
cross-count 17 , then along a railway bed. They wanted to link up with their 
comrades. 

They encountered an outpost of Kampfgruppe Siebken after mid¬ 
night. It had been able to pull back under the cover of darkness. A patrol 
had been sent to Spontin; it reported the village clear of the enemy. A civil¬ 
ian said that a senior German officer with a decoration around his neck 


333 




334 


GRENADIERS 


had lain injured in the street and was taken away by the police. We could 
only hope that the commander was still alive. 

The operations officer assumed command of the remnants of the divi¬ 
sion, along with the staff of SS-Panzer-Aufk 1 arungs-Abtei 1 ung 12. The 
Kampfgruppe of SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 remained committed 
under army command. The rest of the division was pulled out and trans¬ 
ferred to the Saar for refitting. The division was a shell of itself. The field 
replacement regiment under the command of SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer 
Krause was brought up from Kaiserslautern. It had been pulled out of the 
lines earlier. The remnants of SS-Pan/.er-Regiment 12 came from the Liit- 
tich area. All the armored fighting vehicles were issued to the units 
employed along die Westwall. 

The personnel roster showed that of an original total strength of 
20,000 men (including reserves) in the division, about 10,000 men, includ¬ 
ing twenty-one unit commanders, were lost. 

The artillery was practically without guns. There were virtually only 
light infantry weapons left, and the vehicle complement had shrunk to a 
quarter. The situation offered little hope, but nevertheless, training and 
refitting started at once. Panzergrenadier replacements arrived from their 
own replacement battalion and replacements for the other branches of 
service arrived from the respective replacement units. We received men 
from the Kiiegsmarine, Luftwaffe ground personnel and even flight crews 
from the Luftwaffe. They had hardly any infantry training and their inte¬ 
gration into the formations was not easy. 

In place of the missing II./SS-Panzer-Regiment 12, which remained at 
the training area, schwere Panzeijagerabteilung 560 was attached to the 
division from the Army. SS-Brigadefiihrer Kraemer assumed temporary 
command of the division, however, he was transferred to the 6. SS-Panzer- 
Armee at the end of November as its chief of staff. SS-Oberfiihrer Kraas 
then assumed temporary command of the division in his place. 

During the Allied airborne landings in the Arnhem area, a Kampf¬ 
gruppe of company strength had to be detached temporarily. It returned 
to the division after a few weeks. In the meantime, the division had moved 
to the area around Sulingen on the lower Weser to be ready in case of an 
Allied landing on the coast. At the end of November it was moved to the 
area west of Cologne. It seemed the formation was being held as an opera¬ 
tional reserve for the sector of the front east of Aachen; in reality, it was 
being trained and prepared for the planned offensive in the Eifel. 

The division was moved to the Eifel under low cloud cover and in 
snowstorms in tw'o night marches on 13—14 and 14—15 December. It was 
staged in the area east of Sistig and organized into three pursuit groups. 




The Employment of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division “Hitleijugend' 
from the End of the Invasion to the End of the War 


335 


Despite insufficient training and a shortage of vehicles and equipment, the 
division held a firm hope that it could help change the situation in the 
next operation. It was ready to give its utmost. 

The division received the following order: 

After the forward divisions break through the American lines, the 
division will move out on two separate march routes in two Kampf- 
gruppen to pursue the enemy. On the first day it takes at least one 
crossing over the Meuse directly south of Luttich. The 1. SS- 
Panzer-Division is employed to the left of the division; the right 
flank is open. 

The following information was briefed about the enemy: 

The American 99th Infantry Division was deployed in the front line in 
a loose series of strongpoints across the division’s axis of advance. Friendly 
reconnaissance had repeatedly managed to penetrate the enemy defensive 
system by several kilometers. The American 2nd Infantry Division, which 
had suffered considerable casualties on the Saar front, was in the Elsen- 
born training area. It was not fully combat ready. The American 1st 
Infantry Division was in the Verviers area for refitting. It was likewise not 
combat ready. 

The offensive started on 16 December 1944. The 272. Volksgrenadier- 
Division and the 3. Fallschirmjager-Division started the attack in the 6. SS- 
Panzerarmee sector after an enormous surprise artillery barrage. The 
barrage hit few enemy positions because of inadequate reconnaissance. 
For the most part the 272. Volksgrenadier-Division came into contact with 
the enemy only after the paralyzing impact of the artillery fire had ended. 

The attack soon stalled in the difficult wooded terrain east of Krinkelt. 
Part of the division had to pull back to its original positions. 

To get the attack rolling again. The I./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 
25 was placed under the operational control of the 272. Volksgrenadier- 
Division but no progress worth mentioning was made. The enemy sent 
reinforcements to the Schwerpunkt of our attack. All of SS-Panzer- 
grenadier-Regiment 25 and SS-Panzeijager-Abteilung 12 were attached to 
the 272. Volksgrenadier-Division on 17 December. They reached the 
stream 5 kilometers east of Krinkelt by evening. 

The reinforced SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 was returned to the 
command of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division on 18 December. In the heavy 
fighting, during which 200 Americans of the 99th Infantry Division were 
taken prisoner, SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 penetrated as far as the 
outskirts of the woods east of Krinkelt. The I./SS-Panzer-Regiment 12 was 




336 


GRENADIERS 


ordered to attack Krinkelt. It entered the town towards evening despite 
fierce enemy resistance. Prisoners were taken from the American 2nd 
Infantry Division. In the meantime, the 1. SS-Panzer-Division had managed 
to take Biillingen against weak enemy resistance by taking advantage of a 
breakthrough in the 3. Fallschirmjager-Division sector. It had advanced 
further west towards Stavelot. As a result, the attack at Krinkelt was not 
continued and the division was moved up via Schmittheim, Manderfeld 
and Biillingen. When SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 arrived south of 
Biillingen on 20 December, the enemy had reoccupied the town. The 
I./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 retook it. 

On 21st December SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 and schwere 
Panzerjager-Abteilung 560 started to attack Butgenbach through the But- 
genbach estate. A Panzeijager company entered the estate, but the 
attacked stalled in the murderous defensive fire. The company was pulled 
back. A new attack was launched on 21-22 December. After initial success, 
it too bogged down due to the artillery fire after it had become light. The 
estate was defended by elements of the 26th Infantry of the American 1st 
Infantry Division, which had been brought up from Verviers. 

Another attack on Biitgenbach—down the western side of the estate— 
was made with and controlled by elements of the 272. Volksgrenadier-Divi- 
sion on 23 December. At the same time, the remaining formations of the 
12. SS-Panzer-Division were assembled in the area around Amel. The III. 
(gep.)/SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 entered Butgenbach. The suc¬ 
cess could not be exploited, and the battalion was pulled back to its origi¬ 
nal position. There were heavy losses. 

On the 26 December the entire division was moved to the Samroe 
area, five kilometers northeast of Laroche. There it was placed under the 
operational control of the II. SS-Panzer-Korps. It was given the mission of 
breaking through the enemy-occupied forest north of Samree to Durbuy 
and then forcing a crossing over the Ourthe. The attack started after 
nightfall on 28 December. Elements of SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 
managed to advance as far as Sadzot, where they encountered units of the 
American 75th Infantry Division, which had just been deployed there. 

Enemy tanks had already appeared; our own tanks could not be 
moved up through the woods. The attack, which had not been very prom¬ 
ising from the start and which had been ordered despite our serious and 
energetically voiced misgivings, was called off and the units pulled back. 
For the third time the division had had the misfortune of being employed 
with too weak a force against a freshly deployed enemy and, once again, 
far too late. 




The Employment of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division “Hitleijugend” 
from the End of the Invasion to the End of the War 


337 


The division was moved to the area north of Bastogne on New Year’s 
Eve and came under the control of the 5. Panzerarmee. Moving from Bas¬ 
togne, the enemy had broken through the German positions northeast of 
the town. The 12. SS-Panzer-Division was to reestablish the front with a 
counterattack. The enemy spearheads were thrown back by the I./SS- 
Panzer-Regiment 12 south of Bourcy during the night of 1-2 January' 1945. 
The division, whose combat power had shrunk to a quarter of its author¬ 
ized strength, started an attack on Bastogne on 2 January. However, the 
neighboring formations did not participate in the attack in accordance 
with the operation orders. Despite that, Margerite was successfully taken 
on 5 January after heavy fighting and with heavy losses. 

Hill 510 west of Margerite was taken in a difficult night attack by SS- 
Panzer-Pionier-Bataillon 12 and the five remaining serviceable tanks of the 
I./SS-Panzer-Regiment 12 on 3-4 January. It was soon lost, however. The 
enemy, which comprised the American 26th Infantry Division and the 
American 9th and 11th Armored Divisions, wanted to prevent us by all pos¬ 
sible means from gaining observation points overlooking Bastogne. The 
operations south of Bourcy and at Margerite and Hill 510 could be consid¬ 
ered as an excellent showing by the exhausted division, which had been 
bled to death. Feldmarschall Model paid high tribute to the division. 

The Ardennes offensive had failed. The division was pulled out and 
moved to an area west of Cologne in a series of moves between 10 January 
and 6 February. 

It is not the purpose of this chapter to analyze why the self-sacrificing 
operations of the units involved did not lead to the desired success. Doubt¬ 
less they gave their best, but they were forced to operate out of character 
by conducting frontal attacks in bogged-down situations in order to 
attempt to change the outcome of the fighting. Starting from a disadvan¬ 
tage, they had the further bad luck of being committed every time against 
a fresh and numerically superior enemy. 

The division was entrained between 2 and 6 February in the area west 
of Cologne and moved to Hungary. Replacements joined their units at the 
railheads. Some of them were wounded from military hospitals, some 
Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe personnel who were insufficiently trained for 
ground combat. Final integration into their units could only be carried out 
after reaching Hungary. The men from the Kriegsmarine and the Luft¬ 
waffe, some of whom already had combat decorations, had to fight with 
the division without any training. It is not intended to demean those men 
when one states that the combat power of the division was not increased in 
proportion to the numbers received. 




338 


GRENADIERS 


The division arrived in the Raab area between 7 and 16 February; it 
was made out to be training and construction units. Along with formations 
already positioned in Hungary, the 6. SS-Panzerarmee was to eliminate the 
Russian and Bulgarian formations west of the Danube or throw them back 
across it. The establishment of a shorter and more easily defended front 
would have freed up forces for the Oder Front and secured the oilfields 
west of Lake Platten. The destruction of the Russian bridgehead across the 
lower Gran was a precondition for die planned operation. 

The I. SS-Panzer-Korps was given that mission. The 12. SS-Panzer-Divi- 
sion, elements of SS-Panzer-Regiment 1 and Grenadier-Division “Hoch 
und Deutschmeister” were employed. Starting 14 February, the 12. SS- 
Panzer-Division moved with organic means and army assistance to the area 
around Ersekujvar via Kisber and Komorn. The division moved up to its 
attack position southwest and south of Kolta during the night of 16-17 
February. The division was employed as follows: On the right the armored 
Kampfgruppe and SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25; on the left, SS- 
Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 (minus the SPW-Balaillon). The division 
started its attack around noon in the misty weather. The area north of 
Kobolkut was reached by nightfall; fierce enemy resistance was encoun¬ 
tered there. The infantry division on our left made little progress; its attack 
bogged down nordi of Bart. 

The enemy counterattacked with tanks from Kobolkut during the 
night of 17-18 February and tried to throw back SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regi- 
ment 26. They were repulsed with heavy losses, however. Towards noon on 

18 February the armored Kampfgruppe and SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regi- 
ment 25 attacked from the northwest. They advanced along the railway 
line, entered Kobolkut and took it. Meanwhile, the Kampfgruppe of SS- 
Panzer-Regiment 1 had reached the area north of Muzsla. 

The attack was continued along the road from Kobolkut to Muzsla on 

19 February. Muzsla was taken at about 1100 hours. The commander of 
SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26, SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Kiause, was 
killed in action during an artillery barrage. During the course of the 
afternoon SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 and elements of Grenadier- 
Division “Hoch und Deutschmeister" took Parkany; SS-Panzer-Grenadier- 
Regiment 26 took Ebed on die Danube. 

The division was moved to the area north of Bart on 20 February to 
eliminate the rest of the bridgehead in a night attack. The attack was stalled 
by heavy defensive fire from Bart and Beny and could not be continued 
successfully on either 22 or 23 February. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 
was therefore ordered to attack Beny during the night of 23-24 February. 




The Employment of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division “Hitleijugend' 
from the End of the Invasion to the End of the War 


339 


After heavy fighting around the strongly fortified railway embankment west 
of the town, the regiment, supported by tanks and the SPW-Bataillon, was 
able to take Beny at 0730 hours on 24 February. It then advanced on the 
Gran. Bart was also taken on 24 February. By doing that, the Gran bridge¬ 
head was completely eliminated. It was the division’s last successful major 
operation. Some units had suffered critical losses and the casualty ratio 
among the officers was again disproportionately high. 

The division moved via Komorn and Bankesy into the area north of 
the junction between Lakes Platten and Velence between 25 February and 
3 March. It assembled for an attack on the night of 4-5 March. The 1. 
Kavallerie-Division was on the right and the 1. SS-Panzer-Division on the 
left. The II. SS-Panzer-Korps assembled to the left of the I. SS-Panzer- 
Korps. Once again SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 was on the right and 
SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 on the left. The armored Kampfgruppe 
was supposed to follow SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 as soon as the 
terrain conditions permitted it. The ground was still partly covered with 
slush. There had been a surface thaw, but the soil beneath the surface was 
still frozen. 

SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 attacked Tmdin-Puszta at 0445 
hours. SS-Untersturmfuhrer Rechers and a few men of the II./SS-Panzer- 
Grenadier-Regiment 26 only penetrated the defensive system, which con¬ 
sisted of five lines of trenches, in the afternoon after heavy losses. 
Tmdin-Puszta was taken with the support of tanks and a SPW on 6 March 
at 0500 hours. Around 1100 hours Major-Puszta was finally taken; a coun¬ 
terattack was repulsed. The area 4 kilometers north of Deg was reached on 
7 March after breaking through an antitank belt. The commander of SS- 
Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26, SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Kostenbader, was 
killed during an air attack. 

Deg was taken during the night with the help of tanks and Panzer- 
jager. Several positions were overrun that night by tanks and SPW. The 
retreating enemy was pursued well into the night through Meszezilas and 
Igar. The enemy tried vainly to regain his positions on 10 March. All his 
attacks were driven off. 

The division assembled on 11 March to attack Simontornya and across 
the Sio. Tanks of the 12. and 1. SS-Panzer-Divisionen entered the town at 
the same time. The Panzergrenadiere reached the canal at 1430 hours. 
The I./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 did not manage to cross the 
canal until the evening and then form a small bridgehead on the south 
bank, which was immediately subjected to energetic counterattacks. The 
bridgehead was enlarged on 12 March when Hill 503 was taken. All the 





340 


GRENADIERS 


counterattacks on 13 and 14 March were repulsed. The 1. SS-Panzer- 
Division relieved SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 in the bridgehead on 
15 March. 

The Russians had started their counter-offensive north of Lake 
Velence in the meantime. The division was pulled out of the Sio sector and 
moved to StuhlweilJenburg. The Russians had broken through the Hun¬ 
garian sector of the front and penetrated the 3. SS-Panzer-Division 
“Totenkopf” sector in depth. As soon as the divisional units arrived they 
were deployed in the Totenkopf sector to halt the enemy. The enemy had 
broken through at Moor and it took some effort to contain him. 

It was extremely tough to move the division into the mountains when 
it was insufficiently equipped with vehicles and the road network was satu¬ 
rated. The division pulled back via Dudar to the Margaetethen Position at 
Zirc on 21-22 March, but it was impossible to fight there as the enemy had 
already overrun positions to the south and north of the division without 
meeting any resistance. The division fought its way back to the Raab Posi¬ 
tion by 27 March, being repeatedly outflanked and threatened in the rear 
by the enemy. We reached the unoccupied Reich Defense Line on 30 
March. The enemy had already overrun the neighboring sectors. With dif¬ 
ficulty, we managed to break through the enemy encirclement at Oden- 
burg on 31 March. The division reached the Vienna Woods at Hirtenberg 
on 2 April and formed a defensive line under considerable adversity. 

The combat-support units established combat units. With their help, 
the front was eventually stabilized. (SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 had 
only about sixty Panzergrenadiere left in the front lines at the time.) The 
front east of Altenmarkt was held until 21 April, but we had to pull back 
through the mountains via Rohr to the Tradigist area after being out¬ 
flanked by the enemy on our left. According to prisoner statements, the 
enemy was establishing defensive positions there to await the Americans. 

The division disengaged itself from the Eastern Front on 5 May in 
order not to be exposed to the danger of surrendering to the Russians. It 
marched into captivity on 8 May. Two kilometers from the demarcation 
line formed by the Enns, the divisional commander, SS-Brigaclefiihrer 
Hugo Kraas, had the division march past him for the last time. The dwin¬ 
dling remnants drove past him to an uncertain destiny. They were disci¬ 
plined and maintained a soldierly bearing despite the attempt to humble 
them by disarming them. They ignored the order of die Americans to dis¬ 
play a white flag on each of their vehicles. 




The Employment of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division “Hitleijugend” 
from the End of the Invasion to the End of the War 


341 


An explanation concerning the question of cuff titles is perhaps in 
order. It was true that all SS-Divisionen of 6. SS-Panzerarmee fighting at 
Lake Platten were instructed to remove their cuff tides on orders of Adolf 
Hider. The commander-in-chief, SS-Oberstgruppenfiihrer and General der 
Waffen-SS, Sepp Dietrich, did not pass on the order. In any event the units 
were not wearing cuff utles at the time for deception purposes. The order 
came into being in the following way: 

During the Lake Platten offensive, the Army Group Commander, Gen¬ 
eral der Infanterie Wohler, encountered a Nebelwerfer crew from the 
Leibstandarte moving to the rear. He called them to account. The gun 
commander reported he had lost contact with his unit because his vehicle 
had broken down and he was now looking for it. During the course of a 
telephone conversation with the Chief of the Army General Staff, General 
der Infanterie Wohler justified the failure of the offensive by stating even 
the SS could not hold the line and was pulling back. That conversation was 
briefed during the evening Fuhrer conference, which led to the order to 
remove the cuff titles. 

SS-Oberstgruppenfuhrer Sepp Dietrich sent a staff officer to the 
Fuhrer Headquarters to report the true situation, conditions and behavior 
of the units and to ask for the order to be rescinded. Adolf Hitler regret¬ 
ted having giving the order on the basis of an incorrect report and can¬ 
celled it. 

That is what actually happened. All other accounts are based on false 
information or propagate an agenda. I am rendering this account of the 
facts only for the sake of the truth. There are still attempts to falsify true 
events to the disadvantage of the surviving soldiers of the former Waffen- 
SS, the dead and their surviving dependents. 

* 

Further material provided by Hubert Meyer in 1993 concerning the 
division’s losses: 

On 1 June 1944, the division had a strength of 20,540 officers, non¬ 
commissioned officers and enlisted personnel. Losses up to October 1944 
officially amounted to 8,636 soldiers, but a total loss of 9,000 is closer to the 
truth inasmuch as some of the casualty lists were incomplete. The division's 
strength was about 11,500 men after the operations in the west. The bulk of 
the division was moved to Germany to be refitted at the beginning of Sep¬ 
tember 1944. Only a Kampfgruppe remained committed. It was composed 




342 


GRENADIERS 


of the remnants of three Panzer-Grenadier-Bataillone with about 150-200 
men each; the remainder of SS-Panzer-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 12; the Divi¬ 
sion’s Begleitkompanie; two combat engineer platoons; a mixed battery 
with 200 rounds of ammunition; ten Nebelwerfer with 251 rounds; a 75 
mm antitank gun; and, a single 88 mm Flak. All the tanks and Panzeijager 
were handed over to those Panzer-Divisionen still in acdon. 




Imprisonment in England 


The aircraft glided easily through the mist and crossed the English coastal 
cliffs at Dover. We were soon circling over an airfield south of London and 
floadng down onto our designated landing strip. So, This was England! I 
stood freezing on the runway and waited for the next thing to happen. It 
seemed the Paris to London connection was not working well. It was only 
after a few telephone calls that a car came to collect me and take me to die 
interrogation camp. I was amazed during the ride that there was no bomb 
damage to be seen and the outskirts of London gave an impression of 
absolute tranquility. We moved quickly to the camp through well-main¬ 
tained streets with brightly lit houses. 

A strange silence hung over the complex as I was accompanied 
through the door and taken to an isolated room. A heavily armed English¬ 
man stood guard. I was presented with a questionnaire which I filled in at 
once so as not to be bothered anymore. A fellow dashed through the door, 
shouting hysterically, and stood in front of me with his fists twitching. His 
eyes were hidden behind dark glasses. He shouted at me and flung my 
overseas cap into the corner in an attack of false rage. The young man was 
too keen to make an impression to seem genuine and played his assigned 
role very badly. I was moved to solitary confinement. 

I was given some bread through the door the next morning and after¬ 
wards taken out for some fresh air for twenty minutes. It was impossible to 
identify my fellow prisoners during the exercise; large shelter halves had 
been hung to separate us and prevent our seeing each other. After a few 
days on my own I was glad to be taken to interrogation again. 

A newly coined American (ex-German) awaited me and started a dis¬ 
cussion about the German military situation and about the peace 
prospects for Europe after the German surrender. In his opinion, Europe 
was moving towards a rosy future under English leadership. When I tried 
to explain to him that I did not share his opinion and that the .Allies were 
going the best way to destroy the old Europe forever and open the doors 
to communism, he stopped the discussion. He almost became angry about 
my comparison of Russian and Allied soldiers. He bade me farewell and 
informed me of my transfer to the so called “Generals Camp.” 


343 




344 


GRENADIERS 


Up to that time I had never known about my departure until the 
moment before the time had come to go. This time I was told in advance 
and also that I would be meeting my commander-in-chief. General der 
Panzertruppen Eberbach. I spent my last hours in the interrogation camp 
eagerly anticipating meeting my former commander again. 

I arrived at the Generals Camp at Enfield late that afternoon. It was a 
manor house surrounded by high barbed-wire fences. A dozen German 
generals and staff officers were already living there. General Ritter von 
Thoma was the camp leader. Von Thoma had been captured in North 
Africa and was highly thought of by the English. Relations between him 
and the guards were excellent. 

After having reported to the camp leader, I was taken to my room and 
met General Eberding there. He commanded the 67. Infanterie-Division, 
which had defended itself so fiercely on the islands of the Scheldt and was 
forced to surrender in the battle for Breskens. In gratitude, I shook hands 
with my old commander-in-chief. General der Panzertruppen Eberbach, 
and met Generals von Schlieben, Ramke, von Choltitz and F.lfeld (who 
had been reported as missing ever since Chambois). 

Our discussions on the first evening not only touched on the condi¬ 
tions in the camp but also the new political developments in Germany. 
The last topic was brought up repeatedly by Oberst Wildermuth who later 
became a minister in the German government. I sensed that one group of 
gentlemen did not understand the reality of the change that had 
occurred. They held on to their dreams and thought that captivity was only 
something temporary. Others had lost all their illusions. Their world was 
in ruins and they did not know what was to replace it. 

The most disagreeable thing during the entire time there was the con¬ 
stant drone of enormous bomber formations. We had to stand by help¬ 
lessly as death flew overhead on its way to Germany. 

The availability of some books was greeted with gratitude and we all 
took much pleasure in playing chess. It was played for hours and tourna¬ 
ments were organized. There were, of course, some newspapers in the 
camp; one in particular was recognized as being especially insidious with 
lies, inventions and propaganda against Germany. We were thus all the 
more pleased when that paper emphasized the “miracle” of the German 
Army during the Ardennes Offensive in December, especially after the 
enormous strains of the last few years and the continued good morale 
shown by the German soldier. 

The offensive came as a complete surprise. We knew our Army’s con¬ 
dition and the enemy’s strength. It was incomprehensible that my magnif¬ 
icent division had once again fought as a division after losing more than 




Imprisonment in England 


345 


10,000 men, including twenty-one unit commanders. The outcome of the 
offensive under such circumstances was inevitable and could only end in a 
further bloodbath for the German Army, considering the enemy’s large 
materiel superiority. 

I was taken to London for several days of lengthy interrogation in the 
spring of 1945. It took place on the orders of the Canadians and under the 
supervision of Major General Barker. Besides Barker, the participants were: 
Lieutenant Colonel Boraston, Lieutenant Colonel Page and Lieutenant 
Colonel MacDonald. Colonel Scodand from the London District Prisoner- 
of-War Cage was also present. 

Colonel Scotland later gained a dubious reputation with regard to his 
treatment of German prisoners. Among odier things, he was not ashamed 
of slapping the face of the brave General der Fallschirmjager Ramcke. The 
propaganda ballyhoo concerning Scotland knew no limits and stamped 
him as a hero of the British Secret Service. It is still maintained today that 
Scotland served as a German General Staff Officer on the staff of Feld- 
marschall Kesselring during the war. As a result, he was able to deliver 
important material to the Allies. That was, of course, a fairy tale, but it is 
still believed throughout the world. As it happened, Colonel Scodand later 
once went to see the so-called War Criminals’ Prison at Werl. On that occa¬ 
sion, he was promptly asked by the Feldmarschall about his experiences on 
his staff. An icy silence was the only response. 

In contrast to General der Fallschirmjager Ramcke, I was well treated 
by Colonel Scotland. He showed me some of the sights of London on the 
way back to the camp and also gave me some tobacco. 

My interrogation first touched on purely military or political ques¬ 
tions, and then turned to the events in Normandy. From the way the ques- 
uons were formulated, I soon understood that these gentlemen wanted to 
make me responsible for all events on the battlefield. I was to be singled 
out as a scapegoat. 

During the operations north of Caen the Allied propaganda machine 
ran at full speed and presented my division as a gang of fanadcal young 
Nazis. The evidence for the press campaign had to be delivered and prepa¬ 
rations for the “festival” of revenge made. 

I decided to answer in the negative any question about my division, 
which was still fighting at the time, that could bring it even the slightest 
amount of grief. 

I was returned to my camp on the third day of interrogadon and trans¬ 
ferred to a camp at Windermere two weeks later. We traveled through the 
countryside for many hours in an express train and only reached Winder- 
mere late in the afternoon. A car then took us to the idyllically situated 




346 


GRENADIERS 


Camp Number 7. It was surrounded by mountains and served as a vacation 
retreat for a large company before the outbreak of war. After going 
Utrough the outer gate we were led through two more wire fences and then 
stood before the old manor house. We were registered individually. Our 
personal details were verified and a search of our belongings undertaken. 

A newly coined Englishman who had spent a long time in Berlin rum¬ 
maged in my baggage as if he had found a gun runner. My meager belong¬ 
ings were strewn across the room. He took my print, “The Knight, Death 
and the Devil”, out of its frame and threw the totally destroyed picture 
back into the box. 

After that process Oberst Bacherer took me to his room and put me in 
the picture as to camp procedures. Oberst Bacherer was made camp leader 
by the English unul he was replaced by Oberst Wilk, the defender of 
Aachen. I was very pleased to hear from Bacherer that Max Wunsche was in 
the camp and expecting me. My impending arrival had been announced 
several days previously. I noted with great pleasure that the officers’ spirit 
was unshaken and they viewed the future with optimism. 

As I left Bacherer’s room to look for my assigned area, I was com¬ 
pletely surprised to find myself in front of a group of officers. They had 
gathered without Bacherer’s knowledge to welcome me to the camp. Max 
Wunsche came towards me beaming with pleasure and told me of his 
experiences South of Falaise and his capture. 

There were officers of all branches of service in the camp, and we con- 
standy hatched pranks against our dear guards. Two comrades were sitting 
in a dark cell at that moment because they had made an escape attempt. 
Unfortunately, they were only able to enjoy their freedom for a few days. 
They were soon recaptured and subsequently put in confinement for two 
weeks. 

I was summoned before the camp commandant at the end of April. 
The manner in which I was summoned didn’t bid good. Comrades Wun¬ 
sche and Lingner were also summoned with me. To my astonishment, the 
commander was not present; instead, I was shouted at by a uniformed fig¬ 
ure who obviously had no idea how a soldier in uniform should behave if 
he did not wish to become a laughingstock. 

Dr. Otto John, later President of the Office for the Protection of the 
Constitution, erstwhile wanderer between two worlds, gave himself the 
honor of being a henchmen for England. He was bursting with venom as 
he shouted at me: “Don’t leave this camp without permission. If you 
should attempt to escape your dead body will be brought back to camp. 
Regardless, you will never see your family again.” 



Imprisonment in England 


347 


Had that pitiful creature sensed with what disdain I listened to his 
hateful claptrap, he would surely not had paraded through the camp like 
a peacock spreading his tail. Instead, he would have sunk into the earth 
with shame. 

I was told at the same time that I was no longer allowed to join the 
group walks, but I could only move around under escort. The same order 
applied to my two comrades, Wunsche and Lingner. 

The English directive didn’t affect me, nor did the rumors going 
around the camps. Kapitanleutnant Eck, who was a camp assistant, and the 
camp doctor, Dr. WeiBpfennig, drew my attention to the fact that the 
English considered me a candidate for the death sentence. Neither com¬ 
rade knew that he himself was listed as a “war criminal" and a few months 
later would pay with their lives in Hamburg. 

We were isolated like three black sheep during our next walk and made 
to feel like common criminals. Two Tommies marched us out through the 
camp gates and we climbed up into the nearby mountains. As soon as we 
were out of sight of the camp they slung their submachine guns over their 
shoulders and barely paid attention to us. 

We had a pleasant surprise the next time we were escorted out for a 
walk. Admiral Huffmeier suddenly stepped forward from the main group 
of our comrades as asked to be taken out w ith us. He gave his reason: “I’m 
a German officer and wish to be treated in exactly the same way as my com¬ 
rades.” Admiral Huffineier’s action gave us a lot of pleasure. Regrettably, 
he was only allowed to do that a few times. The Tommies did not like such 
proofs of comradeship. 

One day I met my old commander, Generalleutnant Pflieger, in whose 
battalion I received my first training in 1929. It was both a pleasant and sad 
reunion. Most of our comrades were no longer with us. 

We followed the fighting in our country with heavy hearts. It was 
incomprehensible that they still fought on and offered resistance against 
the Western Allies. We somehow believed in the possibility of the peoples 
of Europe changing their minds and preventing the military occupation of 
eastern and central Germany by the Red Army, but we were mistaken. Des¬ 
tiny took its course and let the Asiatics up to the Elbe and into the heart of 
Europe. 

The complete collapse of Germany struck us to the core. We had been 
waiting for it to happen for weeks, but it still hit us all deeply. The reports 
about the horrible events in the Russian Zone practically drove us crazy. 
We had had no news from our families for months. None of us could say 
for certain where his family was and whether it was still alive. 




348 


GRENADIERS 


Was our fifth child alive? Was it the boy, we had longed for, or did I 
now have five daughters? Our senses reached out to Germany day and 
night, but all the worrying was of no use. We could get no answers. Our 
lives were confined more and more; soon everything only took place 
behind barbed wire. The walks stopped. A new international law came into 
effect—the victors’justice. 

Feldmarschalle von Kleist and Sperrle arrived at the camp and we 
were shattered to hear the first eyewitness reports from a dismembered 
Germany. The debates about the end of the war, the political mistakes, the 
insufficient preparation and the lack of weapons on all the battle fronts 
went on endlessly. The failure of our leadership was discussed with much 
bitterness. Most of the officers rejected the assassination attempt of 20 July 
1944. I didn’t find a single one who was for the perpetrators. 

I had an especially pleasant surprise at the end of May. An Oberst 
arrived from another camp in southern England. He had been with my 
brother-in-law, an OberleuUiant in the Luftwaffe, and therefore he had the 
last news of my family. 

I had had no communication with Germany since August and I knew 
nothing of the whereabouts of my loved ones. The continual worry over the 
well-being of our wives and children was the hardest thing to live with. Our 
own misery hardly affected us; we had been too hardened by war, but our 
families’ misery almost threatened to break us. It is therefore impossible to 
describe how much I was touched by the few words of the Oberst. A single 
sentence made me the camp’s happiest inmate. It was: “I bring you greet¬ 
ings from your brother-in-law. He wanted me to tell you that your family 
escaped to western Germany and your son was bom on 15 February.” 

I was transferred in June, with some one hundred comrades, to Camp 
Number 18 at Featherstone. The transfer was a pleasant interruption to 
our paralyzing captivity. We were put into buses and driven all through 
England. The new compound was on the Tyne and served as an encamp¬ 
ment for the Americans. It consisted of countless barracks divided into 
compounds. They were surrounded by virtual walls of barbed wire. 

The entire complex left a bleak impression. Our welcome did not 
please us either. The buses had barely halted when a gang of wildly gestic¬ 
ulating uniformed men met us. They ordered us to leave the buses and 
trot towards the reception blocks. The behavior of the newly naturalized 
Englishman—originally from Berlin—was anything but gentlemanly. The 
guards, armed with nightsticks, surrounded us like a pack of wolves waiting 
for their victims. 

We were led through a barracks to be checked once again. After 
the “filtering” process, we didn’t have to worry about our baggage any 




Imprisonment in England 


349 


more. All those things we had acquired with difficulty and which we had 
paid for out of our own pay were gone. We were then allowed to go to our 
barracks. 

We realized during the next twenty-four hours that we were no longer 
prisoners-of-war in our guards’ eyes. We were treated like criminals. We 
were classified for the first time and from then on were considered to be 
white, gray, or black Nazis. I found myself in the best of company. Fallschir- 
mjager, U-Boot officers and about twenty WafTen-SS officers were classified 
along with me as black Nazis. Surrounded by that company, captivity 
became endurable. We immediately started organizing advanced training 
courses and quickly arranged educational activities. Oberst von Viebahn 
deserved especial praise for his service on our behalf. 

We received a new commandant in the summer who instituted wel¬ 
come changes. The old commandant had been replaced after our com¬ 
plaints to the Red Cross representative. Life behind barbed wire became 
easier to bear. Lieutenant Colonel Vickers not only allowed us certain lib¬ 
erties out of humanitarianism but also understood how to tame the resdess 
spirits and keep alive hopes of an early return home. 

I was surprised in the middle of September to receive orders to get 
ready to leave in half an hour. General Kroh and Max Wunsche went with 
me to the gate. The commandant told me that I had been summoned to 
the London District Prisoner-of-War Cage and had to start the uip at once. 

It was a beauuful summer day as I traveled to London in a special com¬ 
partment accompanied by a captain and two noncommissioned officers. 
The journey was very entertaining for me. It did not last long and my three 
musketeers were sound asleep. Everything went well until we reached Lon¬ 
don; we even held the same views on political matters. The good relation¬ 
ship changed very quickly when I was handed over in London. A sergeant 
who had once lived in Berlin greeted me with hate-filled eyes and forced 
me to give him my shoelaces and my belt. The fellow took obvious pleasure 
in watching me climb the stairs. I can still hear him saying: “He will soon be 
finished.” 

I was taken to the fourth floor, then down a long corridor to the room 
at the end. There was already a comrade from Austria there. The poor 
man had been in Italy until recently and was skin and bone. The treatment 
in the Italian prisoner-of-war camps must have cost the lives of a lot of 
comrades. 

I came across more comrades next morning. We were allowed twenty 
minutes of fresh air. My neighbors were Generale von ManteufTel and 
Schimpf. After a few' days, Schimpf had figured out a way so we could com¬ 
municate between the cells. 






350 


GRENADIERS 


I experienced such a surprise one day I thought I was hallucinating. 
Glancing through an open door I saw Meitzel, who had been reported 
missing, and Haupunann Steger, who had been reported killed in action. I 
made contact with all my comrades in less than 24 hours and they told me 
that the Canadians intended to put me on trial as a war criminal. After 
hearing that my last doubts as to the nature of my interrogadons were 
removed. I prepared myself for the expected trial. 

Hundreds of questions rained down upon me in a short time, all of 
which I answered most readily. The chief interrogator was Lieutenant 
Colonel B. J. S. MacDonald; he was assisted by C. S. Campbell. I got to 
know Major J. J. Stonborough as an able translator who underpinned the 
work of his superiors with his clever questioning. The latter supposedly 
came from Vienna and, perhaps precisely because of that, was one of Mac¬ 
Donald’s most eager assistants. I knew from Meitzel that Major Stonbor¬ 
ough had already condemned me to death and made his view public in 
the Canadian POW camps. My death had thus been decided before the 
first day of trial. 

When no doubts remained that I would be tried, I asked for permis¬ 
sion to talk to Oberst von der Heydte and my old commander-in-chief. 
General der Panzertruppen Eberbach. Permission was granted after a few 
days. 

Up to that point I had answered any question which might have 
incriminated my division in even the slightest way in the negative. I didn’t 
see any reason to the give the “victors” an opportunity to try German sol¬ 
diers. The victor had no right to pass sentence on the defeated! Even a 
neutral country was barely in position to be able to do that. Was there any 
human being who understood the reality of the battlefield and believed 
that only beasts fought on one side and angels on the other? All of us had 
stood in the melting pot of murderous batde, and men on both sides 
failed under the pressure of events. 

The defeated were tried by special laws and special courts, not because 
the crimes with which they were charged were proven, but because they 
“were considered to be proven." These judgments were only the result of 
the victors’ feelings of hatred and revenge. The “war crimes trials” were 
one sided and only carried out against Gentians. They thus ran counter to 
any normal sense of justice. 




Back to Germany 


One nasty November morning, I was handcuffed without prior warning 
and taken to an airfield. We drove through waking London in silence and 
flew over the Channel to Germany without a word being said. I had no 
idea where we were heading but the lay of the land fairly quickly showed 
where we were. We flew above Ostfriesland at an altitude of a hundred 
meters. Straight-as-an-arrow roads, calm canals and lonely windmills 
greeted us. An airfield suddenly appeared out of the mist. A big crowd of 
soldiers, journalists and photographers awaited the “beast” of Caen. Had 
the story not been so terribly serious 1 would have loved to have a hearty 
laugh. That assembled mass of journalists, security personnel and planted 
spectators spoke highly for the prosecutor, Lieutenant Colonel B. J. S. 
MacDonald, as the propaganda chief for the planned “circus.” 

I was the last to leave the aircraft, accompanied by the whirring of 
recording equipment. I was met by two officers on the steps. 1 saluted these 
two gentlemen in the traditional fashion. It was not returned. As fast as 
lightning, I was chained to the taller of the two when my hand came down. 
Major Arthur Russell assumed command of the “escort party,” and I 
climbed into an armored vehicle that was standing by with Captain W. H. J. 
Stutt. We were accompanied by armored cars and motorcycle riders on our 
journey down the blocked-off and barricaded roads towards Aurich. There 
was something operetta-like in the entire procedure. That came home 
when I discovered that Captain Stutt kept his hand in his right-hand pocket 
for the entire trip. I could see the outline of a senice revolver. 

We soon reached Aurich where I was taken to the former Naval Signals 
School barracks and a body search was carried out at once. That procedure 
left nothing to be desired in terms of unpleasantness. The “visitation” was 
carried out in front of the prosecutor and some officers. 

Special measures had been taken for my accommodations. Two cells at 
the end of a long row were separated by a thick iron door, making them 
an especially secure section. One cell was equipped for interrogation; the 
other was to be my “home”. The cell had been specially “modernized” for 
me. The “bed” was constructed from such heavy wood that it was impossi¬ 
ble to move. It had just been completed by a German master carpenter. It 


351 




y 


352 GRENADIERS 

was made without the use of nails and brackets. Two blankets completed 
the furnishings. A large square hole had been cut into the door and a 
guard had his head permanently stuck through it so as to keep me con¬ 
stantly under watch. 

There could be no doubt at that point I was not only in captivity but 
“locked up”. I had hardly made myself familiar with my cell when 1 was 
again chained to Captain Stutt and taken to the regimental headquarters 
of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles. I was guarded by three men. The staff was 
housed in the training center. The reasons for my arrest were finally given 
to me at that point. Lieutenant Colonel R. P. Clark stood in front of me 
and read out the charges and had them translated by an interpreter. 

The bill of indictment contained two main points. They were: 

The accused, Generalmajor Kurt Meyer, an officer of the former 
Waffen-SS, part of the armed forces of Germany, now in the cus¬ 
tody of the 4th Battalion of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Canadian 
Army, Occupation Force, Canadian Army Overseas, is accused as 
follows: 

1. That Meyer committed war crimes in the Kingdom of Belgium 
and the Republic of France, during the course of the year 1943 
and prior to 7 June 1944, as commander of SS-Panzer- 
Grenadier-Regiment 25, in violation of the laws and customs of 
war, by inciting soldiers under his command and advising them 
to refuse pardon to Allied soldiers. 

2. That Meyer had committed war crimes in Normandy by being 
responsible, as commander of SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 
25, for the killing of seven prisoners-of-war in the proximity of 
his command post in the monastery of Ancienne Abbaye 
Ardenne. 

I then knew what I was accused of and why I was supposed to be tried. 
1 felt a certain relief having received that information despite the hardly 
pleasant situation. I then knew how I could prepare myself for the accus¬ 
ers’ charges and refute them with corresponding evidence. 

The handcuffs were snapped around my wrists again and, as we 
marched away, our steps echoed hollowly from the empty building’s long 
walls. I was sized up by a few curious Germans who were working for the 
Canadians in the barracks complex. 

1 was back in my cell in a few minutes, trying to make friends with the 
soldiers guarding me. I was successful. The young soldiers had fought 
against my division and behaved in a truly comradely manner towards me. 




Back to Germany 


353 


At this point I would like to say that the Canadian soldiers and officers 
always treated me properly. I was never once mistreated. The difference 
between front-line soldiers and armchair warriors was obvious. Unfortu¬ 
nately, one of the young soldiers was replaced after a few days because he 
constantly supplied me with newspapers. 

Captain F. Plourde from the North Shore Regiment and Captain Wady 
Lehmann, visited me late that afternoon. Captain Lehmann introduced 
himself to me as the defendant’s interpreter. Captain Plourde had been 
assigned as deputy defense counsel. It was not known who would be the 
chief defense council. Colonel Peter Wright, who was to defend me ini¬ 
tially, refused the task. He thought that I had been prejudged, and a fair 
defense was not possible. Colonel Maurice W. Andrew from the Perth 
Regiment was later designated as defense counsel. The last named three 
gentlemen stood up for my interests in a very soldierly and conscientious 
manner. 

I discussed the charges and the prosecution evidence with Captains 
Plourde and Lehmann on the first evening of my detention in Aurich. I 
also told them who I wanted as defense witnesses. Based on the available 
material—especially the witness statements for the prosecution—neither 
of the gendemen thought I would be convicted. 

That opinion, by the way, was also shared by my guards. I often heard, 
“If you are going to be sentenced then so must our officers. The same 
things happened on our side and it’s not right just to hold the loser 
responsible.” But in 1945, no value was placed on the opinions of front¬ 
line soldiers; they had done their duty and had to keep their mouths shut. 
Armchair strategists, paid re-educators and other parasites had the floor. 

Close confinement in the cell and the permanent guard gradually got 
on my nerves. I had to perform even the most intimate functions under 
the eyes of other people. Thank God the soldiers had different ideas about 
human dignity than their superiors obviously had. I felt especially dis¬ 
turbed by the continuous strong light. But remedial measures were taken 
in due course, and the light was directed into a corner. 

I finally had the opportunity to make contact with my wife. I had no 
idea at all where my family was and how they were surviving. I asked Cap¬ 
tain Lehmann to send a few words to my wife. He had my family traced to 
Offleben near Helmstedt where they were living with my mother. 

I waited restlessly for Lehmann’s return so I could finally find out how 
my loved ones were. He stood in front of me two days later. With great 
pleasure he extended greetings from my wife and showed me a photo¬ 
graph of my first son. A small blond boy was laughing out at me; tears ran 
down my face. Captain Lehmann had brought my wife and my second 




354 


GRENADIERS 


daughter with him and quartered them in a hotel. The Canadian Army 
had ordered that to be done. 1 was very thankful to those responsible for 
that example of sincere humanity. 

Captain Lehmann gave me a disturbing report about my family’s living 
conditions. My wife and her five children struggled from Ludwigslust to 
Heide during the first days of May. She was subjected to several attacks by 
low-flying aircraft near Liibeck and two children were lost from sight. The 
family was only reunited by chance when she reached Heide. Heide was 
overcrowded, and my wife and children lived in a single room with straw 
on the floor until September, when my mother was able to take them into 
her home. 

Meanwhile, stupidity had joined heardessness. In Offleben some 
“democrat elites” had risen to the top who were busily engaged in trying to 
send my children to glory. As a first step, those “heroes” refused my chil¬ 
dren ration cards and the so-called residence permit. I owe it to acquain¬ 
tances, many miners among them, that my family survived. 

Yesterday’s enemy, Captain Lehmann, cleared up the situation 
through his personal intervention. The office of the District President in 
Helmstedt was obliged to issue the necessary instructions to the “gentle¬ 
men” in Offleben. 

Captain Lehmann told me that I could see my wife the next day. Sleep 
was out of the quesdons—forbidden newspapers helped me pass the night. 

During the following morning’s exercise period I was able to greet my 
comrades. They stood at the windows and waved at me. I also become 
aware of the presence of Generale von Schweppenburg and Eberbach. 
The fact that proven comrades were nearby was a great reassurance. 

The great moment came in the afternoon. The minutes passed slowly. 
1 paced up and down in my cell, waidng for Captain Stutt, who was sup¬ 
posed to take me to the visitor’s room. Suddenly, while turning around in 
front of my barred window I saw a jeep and a woman and a small girl 
climbing out of it. They become indisdnct as my eyes misted over. I recog¬ 
nized my wife and daughter. They were led into the training center. 

Captain Stutt came for me a short while later. The cold metal of hand¬ 
cuffs was felt around my wrists again and we marched off. I walked quickly, 
my pulse racing. Stutt opened the door and pushed me in front of him but 
that politeness was for naught. After all, we were chained together. I nod¬ 
ded towards my wife with a helpless gesture and waited impatiently for my 
chains to be loosened. Finally, I was free! 

We walked towards each other silently, speechlessly and forgot about 
our less-than-enjoyable surroundings. Our daughter looked at me, laugh¬ 
ing and crying at the same time. Time had lost its power; yearning, fear 




Back to Germany 


355 


and desperation disappeared. We had been united again and felt strong. 
Our faith was greater than we dared admit. Unfortunately, time passed too 
quickly. The allotted twenty minutes were far too short, of course, to dis¬ 
cuss anything more than the most pressing of matters. Only the knowledge 
that, we were henceforth allowed a visit every other day, made the parting 
easier. 1 laughingly observed the snap of the lock on my handcuffs. Our 
first visit had ended. 

Colonel Andrew finally reported as my defense counsel. I was happy to 
know that at least one Canadian soldier was on my side as a defender after 
having been told that no German lawyer was prepared to defend me. I 
only found out later that, in fact, no German had been asked. 

Colonel Andrew was a lawyer and had served in the Canadian Army as 
a reserve officer. (Although his desire to defend me properly was genuine, 
he nevertheless said goodbye quickly after the sentence was pronounced 
and left me alone with Captains Plourde and Lehmann.) 

We went through the charges point by point and determined which 
counter-arguments and witnesses for the defense would be used. Unfortu¬ 
nately, we came off second best. My most important witnesses were only 
“found” long after I had been sentenced, even though they were in West¬ 
ern custody and could have been reached easily. I only saw witnesses at 
Aurich whose whereabouts I had personally provided to the Canadians. 
The main witnesses for the defense, Dr. G. and Dr. St., were only interro¬ 
gated by the prosecution in March 1946. 


The Trial 


The proceedings against me were opened at exactly 1030 hours on 10 
December 1945 in the former Naval Signals School. I virtually had to run a 
gaundet of journalists before reaching the courtroom. They were trying to 
take a photograph of the branded beast to satisfy people’s curiosity. 
Whether they succeeded in presenting the desired picture to their readers 
is beyond my knowledge. I was no longer affected by those scribes’ imper¬ 
tinent curiosity. I was already standing in front of my judges. My whole 
existence rested on the duel between me and the prosecutor. 

The chains were removed from me shordy before entering the court¬ 
room. My hands were free, as free as my heart. I entered the room as a sol¬ 
dier and not a depressed defendant. Determined to prove myself in front 
of the tribunal and also demonstrate proper bearing as an example to my 
soldiers, I approached the bench through the courtroom audience. 

Myjudges—five generals—were sitting in front of me. 1 looked for and 
found the eyes of General Foster, who had been my opponent on the bat¬ 
tlefield in 1944. He had been designated President of the Court to pass 
judgment on me. What a strange encounter between two soldiers! The vic¬ 
tor was now chosen to administer “justice” over the vanquished after they 
had fought each other with every fiber of their being for months on end. 

The selection of the President and his cojudges was an impossibility 
according to international law. All of the gentlemen had fought against me 
and were thus involved in the case. I thought I saw understanding and sym¬ 
pathy in Foster’s eyes. In any event, I felt I was standing in front of a soldier 
and not a civilian in uniform. After the usual formalities had been dealt 
with, the individual charges of the prosecution were read out. After that the 
prosecution was given the floor. 

The prosecution tried to prove that I had issued written orders for 
murder in the autumn of 1943 during training in Belgium. As proof of that 
assertion, he gave the court a photocopy of the infamous “order”. When 
that “exhibit” was put on the judges table, I did not know what to think. 
Was it stupidity or impudence which made the prosecution regard that 
“order” as an “item of evidence”? The presentation of that scrap of paper 


356 





The Trial 


357 


was an insult to the judges who were to decide the authenticity of the 
“order”. The following nonsense was presented to the court. 

Exhibit T3 

12. SS-Panzer-Division “Hitleijugend" 

Secret Orders 

1. Behavior towards the civilian population in occupied territo¬ 
ries: If the member of the populace looks at a SS soldier in a 
disdainful way or expectorates on him, the person in question 
can be beaten and arrested. If interrogation leaves the impres¬ 
sion that the person arrested is hostile to Germans, he should 
be executed in secret. 

2. If somebody tries to get information about weapons or ammu¬ 
nition, he will be arrested and exposed to severe interrogation. 

If the interrogation leaves the impression that the person 
arrested is hostile to the Germans, he will be executed for espi¬ 
onage. Soldiers who give information about security will receive 
the same sentence. 

3. Guards will not leave their posts, nor are they allowed to eat, 
drink, sleep, smoke, lie dowm or put their weapons down while 
standing guard. The soldier who quits his post before being 
properly relieved or who reveals the challenge and password to 
the civilian population will be sentenced to death. The chal¬ 
lenge and password is the most important part of guard duties. 

4. Behavior at the front: SS units will not take any prisoners. Pris¬ 
oners will be executed after interrogation. SS soldiers will not 
surrender and must commit suicide if they have no other 
choice. Officers have stated that the English do not take any SS 
soldiers prisoner. 

5. Information about enemy troop movements will be transmitted 
as quickly as possible. Written information will be learned by 
heart at the same time. As soon as a soldier gets into danger, all 
papers have to be burnt or eaten. He will carry nothing but his 
dog tag. The strictest silence has to be kept in all matters. Trai¬ 
tors will be executed, even after the war. 

6. Observers who return from the front with information and 
their accompanying officers will not use the same route they 
took to the front. 




358 


GRENADIERS 


Where had that absurd nonsense come from? The prosecution gave 
the following explanation: 

SS-Schutze F. Tobanisch was a member of the 15./SS-Panzer- 
Grenadier-Regiment 25 and deserted from his unit in April 1944. 

He later joined the Belgian resistance movement. Tobanisch is a 
Czechoslovak. He stated that the order was read aloud in front of 
the assembled company and all soldiers had to confirm what they 
had heard with their signature. Furthermore, the company first 
sergeant warned everyone against revealing the contents and 
directed the company to memorize what had been read. The wit¬ 
ness dictated the order from memory to the Belgian resistance 
movement. The Belgians then wrote it down in Flemish, and I had 
the “order” translated into English. 

The “proof’ was a photo copy of an English translation based on the 
Flemish transcription of a German-Czech oral statement. 

It was only with difficulty that I managed to keep a straight face when 
that heavily weighted “evidence” was presented. How could one call that 
scrap of paper “evidence”? But it looked official. A large sheet of paper 
had been photocopied and indeed gave the impression of a document. 

The “order” was a mixture of undigested memories of training pro¬ 
vided by platoon leaders and company commanders and malicious defama¬ 
tions. It is absurd to assume that during training it was said “SS Soldiers will 
not surrender and will commit suicide in the most extreme situation.” 
Such instructions would have undermined the unit’s morale. Furthermore, 
it must be mentioned that the unit was not allowed to carry out the inter¬ 
rogation of prisoners. It had not been instructed on how to do that. 

With regard to the signature, I must say that every German soldier had 
to confirm in writing that he had been comprehensively instructed by his 
company commander about desertion and spying. That signature was also 
obtained from Tobanisch. No other confirmation was asked of unit mem¬ 
bers. I had the impression that the prosecution had no doubts as to the 
true character of Exhibit 3 and knew pretty well that the nonsense written 
had emanated from the fantasy of a deserter and murderer. (Tobanisch 
had murdered a German officer.) But what importance did MacDonald 
attach to the truth? He had conducted interrogations in Europe and 
America for a whole year to bring about my downfall. 

I now had to go down. Proof of his efficiency had to be shown. He put 
Exhibit 3 forcefully on the table and, in so doing, could not help throwing 



The Trial 


359 


a triumphant look at me. “Witness” Tobanisch was not available to the 
court and could “not be found.” 

I had to say that I had litde hope for a fair trial after the first act of the 
“hearing of the evidence”. I waited tensely for the second act. The next wit¬ 
ness for the prosecution was SS-Panzergrenadier Alfred Hazel of the 
15./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25. He also came originally from 
Czechoslovakia and became a soldier in 1943 as an ethnic German. In con¬ 
trast to Tobanisch, Hazel was a brave soldier who was wounded in the 
attack on Bretteville in June 1944 and captured three days later. Hazel was 
a tall, solidly built fellow who had turned 19 during the trial. 

As I already indicated, MacDonald had driven or flown from camp to 
camp to collect evidence against me. MacDonald had found Hazel in Hull 
(Quebec) and sent him to Aurich as an interesting witness against me. 
Immediately after Hazel’s arrival in Aurich, he was visited by MacDonald 
and once again his attention was drawn to the importance of his state¬ 
ments. MacDonald had gained such a good impression of Hazel that he 
decided to use him as the first witness against me, to condemn me from 
the start. Hazel had explained in his statements in Canada that I had said 
in Belgium in 1943: “There are no prisoners from my regiment!” 

MacDonald described the appearance and examination of Hazel in 
court as follows: 

When I asked him about his earlier statements, Hazel was sitting 
on the witness chair. He replied in an evasive manner; the color of 
his face changed and he slipped further and further into his chair. 

He made excuses; suddenly, he couldn’t remember anything. In 
the end he denied that Meyer had ever said such words. 

I was completely speechless about the behavior of that witness, 
especially as he gave evidence so readily in Canada. I envisioned 
other witnesses retracting their statements. 

Dismayed by that start, I looked around the room and suddenly 
I saw the reason which had led to the failure of the witness. Meyer, 
who sat diagonally opposite the witness, fixed Hazel with such a 
penetrating stare, the likes of which I had never seen before. One 
could virtually see sparks shooting across the room. The unfortu¬ 
nate witness sat on the chair in panic, like a bird caught by the 
hypnotic stare of a venomous snake. The physically powerful fig¬ 
ure had lost all strength; he had evaporated like dew in the heat 
of the sun. It was an astonishing demonstration of the enormous 
disciplinary power which that officer still had over his former sol- 



360 


GRENADIERS 


dier and of the fear which his presence created. I decided to use 
an old tactic and positioned myself between Meyer and Hazel. But 
it was of no use; the court was not inclined anymore to attach 
much credibility to his statements. 

I had a surprise the next day which did much to enlighten me. My 
defense counsel asked to be allowed to speak and informed the court that 
Major Stonborough had been caught the previous day trying to influence 
Hazel in his statements. Stonborough had talked insistently to Hazel for 
more than ten minutes and had shouted at him angrily. The court asked 
Stonborough to leave the courtroom and allocated another interpreter for 
a few days. 

What had I really said and what really happened between Hazel and 
me in the courtroom? 

During the exercises on the training area at Beverloo in Belgium we 
officers naturally used every opportunity to impart our experiences to the 
soldiers that were entrusted to us. The unit was being prepared for fight¬ 
ing on the Eastern Front. It would have been a crime to leave these young 
soldiers guessing about what was waiting for them on the Russian steppes. 
It was simply an act of comradeship to impart our bitterly won experiences 
to them. We had to tell them about the horribly butchered soldiers who 
had had the misfortune to fall into Russian hands. My words to these 
young soldiers at Beverloo were: “Men, no one from my regiment will be 
captured. Believe me, it is better to fight on to the bitter end!" 

MacDonald’s courtroom observations do not need to be commented 
on. 1 can, however, tell Mr. MacDonald one thing: I have never met any 
former soldiers from units I led before or during the war who was afraid of 
me or who ever crawled away in fear. No, Mr. MacDonald is mistaken! I was 
a soldier among soldiers, and I never trained or led by fear. My soldiers 
respected me, but they were never afraid. I wish Lieutenant Colonel Mac¬ 
Donald could see the comradeship which I am permitted to experience 
again and again today, ten years after the end of the war. 

In the next few days former prisoners presented evidence about their 
experiences during the fighting and after having been taken prisoner. 
Lieutenant Colonel Charles Petch, commander of the North Nova Scotia 
Highlanders, stated, among other things, that A and C Companies had 
been overrun by the III./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 and that only 
one officer and twenty-three men and one officer and twenty-five men 
respectively had come back. All other soldiers had either been killed in 
action or been captured. Major Learmont, along with twenty survivors of C 
Company, had been taken prisoner by the III./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regi- 




The Trial 


361 


ment 25 in Buron. He had seen Private Mexcalfe, who belonged to his 
company, shot after being captured because he still had a hand grenade in 
his pocket. On the way to the rear, the prisoners came under Canadian 
artillery fire and Private Hargraves received a leg injury. He was not able to 
walk and was shot by a German soldier. 

All those events occurred right at the front and during the young sol¬ 
diers’ first days in combat. They had just gone through hell; heavy naval 
shells had thinned their ranks and fighter-bombers had continuously 
strafed the batdefield. The irregularities mentioned above happened dur¬ 
ing the first minutes of that bloody struggle and were committed by indi¬ 
vidual soldiers. They did not happen because their commanders wanted it 
that way or ordered it, but because the enormous burden was simply too 
much for the young soldiers. That’s why they simply cannot be con¬ 
demned according to the legal code alone. It is of course easy to condemn 
the perpetrators, but only real combat soldiers had that right. They knew 
from their own experiences how long it was until somebody was “normal” 
again after the fighting. The members of A Company also had similar 
experiences. For example, Private Richards was fired at, then bandaged by 
a medic and taken to rear. He also admitted in court that he was supplied 
with water by the German soldiers. 

In the end, I was accused of having ordered the shooting of seven 
Canadian soldiers on 7 June at our forward command post. That accusa¬ 
tion was based on the statements by a Pole named Jesionek made in the 
spring of 1945 in Chartres so as to be able to join the Polish army in Italy. 
Jesionek originally came from Upper Silesia and entered the Waffen-SS in 
1943. His father was in a German prison at the time. Jesionek stated the 
following; 

On the morning of 8 June I was near the forward command post of 
SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 because my vehicle had hit a mine. My 
comrades and I were not wounded. At about 1000 hours a German led 
seven prisoners into the monastery yard. 

Jesionek followed the prisoners into the inner yard and claimed to 
have heard the soldier report to the regimental commander. In reply, I am 
supposed to have shouted at the soldiers and have said; “What are we sup¬ 
posed to do with these prisoners? They only eat our rations.” Then 
Jesionek claimed 1 had spoken to one officer and loudly ordered: “No 
more prisoners are to be brought here in the future!” 

He claimed to have seen the prisoners individually shot by a German 
noncommissioned officer. 

The Pole’s infamous accusations hit me hard, of course. At that point 
I had to prove my innocence; it was no longer incumbent on the court to 




362 


GRENADIERS 


prove me guilty. I was considered guilty from the start. It was up to me to 
prove the contrary. 

The witnesses I requested were not available. It was said at the time: 
“The witnesses cannot be found; we do not know whether they are still 
alive.” It was interesting, however, that these men emerged immediately 
after the sentence was pronounced and were at the prosecution’s disposal. 

I do not want to bore the reader with the question and answer game. 
In total, more than 4,000 questions were asked. Instead I will let a Cana¬ 
dian journalist,who later wrote an extensive report on the trial, speak. 
Among other things, he wrote: 

Although Jesionek was never unsure about in the main points—he 
had been interrogated countless times and therefore knew his 
story word for word—he did not make identical statements in dif¬ 
ferent versions of his story. For example, he said in Chartres he 
had heard Meyer giving the direct order to shoot the seven Cana¬ 
dians. In another version, Jesionek failed to mention the explicit 
order. His evidence did not match that of other witnesses in many 
details. 

He said he saw Meyer in the monastery church at about 1000 
hours in the morning. Meyer stated that he had been out touring 
the front at that time and he only returned towards midday. At 
that point, he climbed the tower at once to observe the combat 
zone. Two German officers were able to confirm that. 

Jesionek said that Meyer was wearing a long vulcanized rubber 
coat in the monastery church, but Meyer said that he wore only 
his usual camouflage uniform his division wore at the time. 

Jesionek’s statements about his platoon’s and his vehicle’s posi¬ 
tions on the day in question contradicted other witnesses state¬ 
ments. The entire contents of Jesionek’s story was questionable. 
Everything hinged on the door through which he claimed to have 
seen the seven Canadians marching to their deaths. A sixteen-year- 
old French youth, Danielle Chevre, who lived in the abbey, stated 
that the door was obstructed by an air-raid shelter. 

There, where Jesionek claimed to had seen seven corpses in a 
pool of blood, and where they were found about ten months later, 

Le Chevre and two or three of his friends had seen nothing which 
might have attracted their interest. 

Jesionek had mentioned a number of steps beside the doorway, 
but Monsieur Jean-Maris Vico, who had also previously lived at the 




The Trial 


363 


abbey, said that he had built these steps himself in July 1944, an 
entire month after Jesionek claims to have seen them. 

Furthermore, Jesionek claimed that he had seen my loyal Cossack with 
the prisoners. That assertion could be refuted immediately. The Russian 
was not in France at all during the time in question but was on leave in 
Germany. Jesionek’s statement that my driver, Bornhoft, was present was 
also an easily proved lie. Bornhoft only joined the 12. SS-Panzer-Division 
after I had assumed command of the division. 

It was equally nonsensical to claim that he and his Schwimmwagen 
crew got into one of our minefields and was, therefore, a witness to the 
events in the monastery. Eve 17 soldier knew that there would not have 
been much left of a Volkswagen after hitting am antitank mine. Jesionek 
tried to explain that the consequence of hitting that mine was neither the 
wounding of the passengers nor the total destruction of the vehicle. 
Jesionek’s wild story was even too much for the judges. His statements were 
examined by the court and dismissed. 

Jesionek’s examination concluded the case for the prosecution. My 
defense counsel. Lieutenant Colonel Andrew was allowed to speak. 1 
decided to make my statement under oath. That same day the Canadian 
Forces magazine “The Maple Leaf” published the following article: 

For Canadian troops. 

Tuesday, 18 December 1945 
Volume 5, Number 32 

The Maple Leaf 

The atrocity stories did not worry Panzer-Meyer. Panzer-Meyer, the 
former SS Major General, appeared calm in front of the court, 
although his cold, blue eyes twitched nervously. He sat erect as the 
prosecution finished its case against him. 

He was attentive during the first week of his trial but showed lit¬ 
tle emotion as he followed the statements which tried to prove 
that his former regiment was a gang of young, fanatical murderers 
who took pleasure in shooting Canadian prisoners-of-war. But 
even witness accounts of the atrocities which his men had com¬ 
mitted were unable to change his iron countenance. He arrives in 
court every day accompanied by two officers of the “Winnipeg 
Rifles.” He stops close in front of Major General Foster, the presi¬ 
dent of the court, bows briefly and is then requested to take a seat. 



364 


GRENADIERS 


That act is not without drama if one remembers that not much 
longer than a year ago Major General Foster and Major General 
Meyer faced each other in combat as commanders. At the time 
General Foster commanded the 7th Infantry Brigade of the 3rd 
Division. It was defending Bretteville while under attack from 
Major General Meyer’s units. 

With the exception of General Foster, whom he respects, Meyer 
pay’s little attention to members of the court. 

Frau Meyer, who brought her daughter, Ursula, with her to 
Aurich, attended some of the hearings last week. Her husband 
usually looks to see if his wife is there as he enters in the morning 
and afternoon. 

Although Meyer wears a simple soldier’s gray-green uniform, it 
is hardly necessary to see his golden general’s epaulettes to realize 
that he was a senior officer. It is incorrect to describe him as arro¬ 
gant or a despot; instead, he is a man used to giving orders but 
not receiving them. It therefore comes as no surprise to hear that 
he was known as a daredevil, a hard-fighting commander and a 
strict superior in all theaters of the war. 

This is, in short, the man accused of bearing the responsibility 
for the shooting of Canadian prisoners-of-war. On the eve of the 
opening of the defense, he faces the prosecution coldly and with 
apparently unshakeable confidence. 

Colonel Andrew opened my defense at 1400 hours on 18 December. 
He asked me to take the stand. I had to describe the entire course of the 
fighting on 7 and 8 June once more and establish my actual whereabouts 
and activities at each moment. 

Colonel Andrew made an enormous effort to refute the far-fetched 
“evidence.” He was able to substantiate a great deal but could not do away 
with the “documents.” The “murder order” was on the table and that 
which was on the judge’s bench in black and white indeed had to be true! 

Colonel MacDonald’s cross-examination started after a day-long exam¬ 
ination by Colonel Andrew. The cross-examination lasted a day and a half. 
Hour after hour passed in uninterrupted cross-examination. Several ser¬ 
geants had to write down each question and answer in short hand. I sat 
alone. Hundreds of eyes watched my every movement and every expres¬ 
sion on my face. I was unable to relax for a moment. 

A group of men with total authority, spurred by honor and profes¬ 
sional ambition, against one man deprived of his rights. Questions and 
more questions; The unit’s training program; the content and meaning 




The Trial 


365 


of talks I had given years ago; about the character of conversations held in 
front of French fireplaces etc. An annihilating barrage designed to bring 
about one person’s downfall, to break his spirit and destroy him. Annihi¬ 
lating fire from behind the front line—no grenades or violent combat, 
but destruction simply using malicious words, distorted statements and 
questions, confusing allusions and distorted pictures from the past. That 
was how MacDonald tried to force a victory over me, but I refused to 
capitulate. 

I was not to be defeated by the advocate’s war. MacDonald then tried 
to catch me in a lie: During the initial interrogations I had denied finding 
the dead Canadians in the monastery but that I later confirmed they had 
been found. He tried with real gusto to present me as a liar and even 
denounce me as a conspirator. That armchair strategist could not under¬ 
stand that during the last months of the war and right up to the trial, I had 
no cause to incriminate any German soldier. I had never accepted the arbi¬ 
trary Allied military tribunals as legal courts of justice. To me, they were 
and remained “victors tribunals.” 

MacDonald wrote at the time: 

Meyer’s behavior was polite most of the time and of straightfor¬ 
ward demeanor. However, after the first day’s cross-examination, 1 
insisted on an explanation of his statement in which he denied all 
knowledge of finding dead Canadians. When I placed that ques¬ 
tion Meyer lost his composure and stared at me intently. I then felt 
the hypnotic influence that the first witness must have also felt. 

I do not know whether Meyer learned that technique as a 
Prussian officer or as a civilian but I do know that I became dizzy 
under the astonishingly intense and fearful fire of his gaze. I had 
no experience in such matters and had to act quickly to overcome 
it. Meyer asked to have a portion of his earlier statement repeated. 

I pointed out that he only wanted to gain time. His look had 
reached its most intense stage when he answered (answer 3190): 

“I do not need any time to give you the answer.” I replied: “And 
your intense looks cannot influence me, you can be assured of 
that.” I then read out the requested statement. Meyer then looked 
out at the courtroom as if a veil had fallen over his eyes. 

I don’t want to waste words on a grown man’s childlike fantasies—per¬ 
haps the good Lieutenant Colonel was overworked—but I can confirm 
one thing: I was so surprised by his reproach that I truly doubted his sanity. 
That’s why I threw a questioning glance at the courtroom. 




366 


GRENADIERS 


Further witnesses were interrogated following my cross-examination to 
support my statements or to provide a different perspective. Several offi¬ 
cers were able to shake a lot of MacDonald’s explanations. Above all, they 
were able to confirm that I stayed with the forward-most units most of the 
time and, as was self-evident, had no time to occupy myself with interro¬ 
gating captured prisoners. 

SS-Hauptsturnfuhrer Steger tried all means available to him to prove 
that it was highly unlikely I told people not to take prisoners or even take 
revenge on unarmed soldiers. Steger had been a Wehrmacht officer and a 
company commander in SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 since October 
1943. He made the following statement to describe my character and to 
negate allegations of atrocities against me: 

An American bomber was shot down by German fighters during 
our training period in Belgium. Some of the crew escaped by 
parachute and landed on the training area at Beverloo. The then 
Oberst Meyer at once ordered that the injured Americans be 
given medical attention and then taken to the military hospital. 

One unwounded American got the opportunity to warm up in the 
mess and to have a cup of coffee with some of the regiment’s offi¬ 
cers. Meyer talked with the American for about an hour. The pris¬ 
oner was later handed over to the military police. 

The captured American’s attitude so impressed Meyer that he 
immediately dictated a special order presenting the American as a 
splendid soldier and a model for his own regiment. The special 
order was read out in front of the assembled companies of SS- 
Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25. I had learned a lot from Meyer as 
an officer. I respected him for his qualities of leadership. Meyer 
was respected by his soldiers and was popular with them. He never 
demanded more than he was himself prepared to give. 

General der Panzertruppen Eberbach was the next witness. He said: 

I must emphasize that as a soldier I deeply regret all atrocities 
committed and 1 condemn them sharply. Whoever the perpetra¬ 
tors may be, they have stained our soldiers honor and I feel no 
pity towards them. I consider wholesale condemnation wrong, 
however. The 12. SS-Panzer-Division “Hitleijugend” was, on the 
whole, no worse than any division of the Army. In my opinion, the 
atrocities committed in its sector may be linked to just a few per¬ 
petrators. Incidentally, a quarter of the division’s officers were 




The Trial 


367 


from the Army. The Waffen-SS did not have enough of its own 
officers available to staff that formation. Those Army officers were 
men of impeccable character who had the choice of leaving the 
division and who would not have stayed had the division’s behav¬ 
ior been dishonorable. 

1 knew the Hiderjugend Division from an inspection tour 1 
made in March 1944 and, furthermore, it was attached to me in 
Normandy from 6 July 1944 to the end of that month. That unit’s 
performance was always above average for the entire period. I had 
a particularly good impression of the men, as well as the officers. 

My predecessor in Normandy was General der Panzertruppen 
Geyr von Schweppenburg. Being a Catholic and a career army 
officer, he was anything but a friend of the SS. He also judged the 
division’s performance, attitude and discipline to be above all 
other divisions. Its success ratio was threefold that of the 21. 
Panzer-Division. In my experience, a division that was not solid to 
its core could not continue such a performance for long. 

It is for that reason that I’m convinced that the atrocities were 
only the actions of individuals. The Canadians were brave soldiers 
but rough fellows. It was reported to me repeatedly that they took 
no prisoners or shot captured German prisoners. I also had a writ¬ 
ten report with regard to that. Incidentally, I read similar state¬ 
ments in an Allied brochure while in captivity. 

Meyer had been a member of the Mecklenburg state police 
from 1929-34 and subsequently transferred to the Leibstandarte. 
He was primarily a career soldier. Meyer is married to a wife whose 
character makes a perfect impression. He has four daughters and 
a son. Meyer was an unusually good soldier. He was most caring 
towards his men, who respected and loved him. He was also an 
excellent trainer and good tactician. His personal braver)’ was 
beyond praise. He far from hated the Canadians. It would have 
been entirely out of character for him to kill prisoners or issue 
such an order. General der Panzertntppen Geyr von Schweppen¬ 
burg and I concur in that judgment. 

Concerning the Facts of the Case 
First of all I wish to emphasize that the 12. SS-Panzer-Division 
“Hitleijugend” captured and turned over the most prisoners of 
any formation while under my operational control. I could call 
Generale Geyr, Schack, Obstfelder, Schimpf and Sievers to con¬ 
firm that the “Hideijugend” Division had a good reputation for 





368 


GRENADIERS 


discipline. Furthermore, there were no rumors about atrocities or 
unnecessary harshness. 

During the fighting there was an appalling case of rape involv¬ 
ing a member of the division’s signals battalion and the girl con¬ 
cerned died. Meyer had the man court-martialed and the 
perpetrator was sentenced to death. The sentence was carried out 
in the presence of the local mayor and a French priest. It would 
have been nice if the Allies had exercised such strong measures 
against their own soldiers in Germany in such cases. 

One has to admit that a commander who wields such a strong 
hand over a subordinate in such circumstances could not possibly 
be the man who either encourages or even tolerates atrocities on 
other occasions. Meyer was always level-headed in even the most 
difficult of situations. Based on my experiences in war, that was 
the measure of a good character. 

The shooting of Canadian prisoners is supposed to have taken 
place during the first twenty-four hours of the invasion. At that 
time Meyer was still a regimental commander. The execution of 
the prisoners is supposed to have happened in the vicinity of the 
command post. Meyer was hardly ever at the command post; he 
stayed at the front with his units. 

On hearing of the incident he started an investigation and 
transferred the regimental adjutant to the front where he was 
killed in the next few days. Although there was no direct evidence 
against the regimental adjutant, he was still incriminated as the 
shootings occurred when he had most likely been at the com¬ 
mand post. 

The investigation was further hampered by combat operations 
and the heavy losses that had taken place in the meantime. No 
clear evidence as to the culprit arose. Shortly thereafter Meyer was 
appointed divisional commander in place of the fallen General 
Witt and was so occupied by the continual heavy fighting that he 
was unable to take an active part in the investigation, much as he 
would have liked to. 

I do not believe Meyer to be capable of such a deed or of com¬ 
plicity in it as it was not in his character. I especially want to 
emphasize that Meyer was too good a tactician to allow such an 
event to occur. As an officer fully trained in tactics Meyer knew 
with certainty that with our total lack of air support or any other 
means of intelligence gathering, we were entirely dependent on 
prisoners’ statements for information about the enemy. He knew 






The Trial 


369 


how decisively important it was to furnish higher headquarters 
with the latest enemy reports by sending prisoners quickly to the 
rear. Meyer was much too intelligent not to have realized that. 
According to Canadian statements, no further shootings occurred 
after Meyer took over command of the division. Had he been 
guilty of the shootings which had already taken place, one would 
assume that such incidents would have occurred more often dur¬ 
ing the time he led the division. 

The trial was adjourned until 27 December because of the Christmas 
holidays. I was taken to my cell in handcuffs to experience my thirty-fifth 
birthday in a miserable environment of searchlights and iron bars. It was 
announced that my brave wife, who had witnessed the trial day after day, 
was to visit me on 24 December. 

I was afforded an unforgettable experience on 23 December. Cana¬ 
dian soldiers brought me birthday greetings from my comrades, at least 
those who were in Aurich as witnesses. I was even given a small picture as a 
birthday present. That little pen and ink drawing of a North German land¬ 
scape could not, of course, remain in my cell. A Canadian soldier passed it 
on to my daughter. 

On the morning of 23 December I suffered the odious chains around 
my wrists and greeted God’s wonderful world with profound joy. Beneath 
the tall trees and in the fresh air I forgot my impending fate. I recalled my 
thirty-five years with pleasure, happy that I was able to experience them as 
a fulfilled man. Each guard post made the effort to impart a little pleas¬ 
antry, but I had my greatest surprise that evening. 

After darkness fell there was an entirely unscheduled rattling of keys 
in the cell corridor. The sound of doors being opened echoed through the 
gloomy building. Suddenly some officers appeared in front of my cell and 
harshly requested me to step into the corridor. I was once again in chains 
before I was completely awake and being trotted off into the darkness. Two 
noncommissioned officers walked ahead with loaded submachine guns 
and the same “guard of honor” followed me. 

Rather than going the usual way, we walked across the yard and sud¬ 
denly found ourselves in front of the officers’ quarters. My accompanying 
guards were stationed at the doors and windows to guard them from the 
outside. Not a single word had yet been spoken, and I had no idea what lay 
ahead or what this melodrama meant. 

Sensing nothing good I allowed myself to be led into a well-lit room. 
An officer came towards me unlocked the cuffs at my wrist and let the cold 
steel fall to the tiled floor. Speechless with surprise I tried to get to the bot- 




370 


GRENADIERS 


tom of the officer’s mysterious behavior without success. Two other officers 
present introduced themselves and asked for my word of honor not to 
attempt an escape, to which 1 agreed. 

Next I was asked to use the bathroom to wash up. After I had done 
that the gentlemen led me to a door, opened it and propelled me into the 
room. I thought I was dreaming. Before me was a festively decorated table 
that could hardly bear the weight of the food and drink it was carrying. 
Candlelight gave the room a tridy festive touch. I took one hesitant step 
towards about half a dozen officers who were standing in front of me. 

Suddenly they broke into “Happy Birthday.” My enemies had arranged 
a birthday party for me. I allowed die sight to touch me in silence and was 
unable to prevent the tears streaming down my face. The change from 
prison to birthday party simply overwhelmed me. 1 was especially deeply 
touched when the officers introduced themselves as unit commanders of 
the Canadian 3rd Division. These were the same men against whom I had 
fought from June to August 1944 and whose comrades 1 had allegedly 
been guilty of shooting. 

We spoke freely that night, extensively discussing the whole problem 
of war crimes. The result of the conversation was what these gentlemen 
told me: “If you are found guilty and the sentence is endorsed by the world 
and by history, then the Canadian Army will have no generals tomorrow. 
They would all have to follow in your footsteps.” 

It was interesting to hear about my prosecutor’s remarks when he 
drowned his anger in whisky at the bar after the daily proceedings in court. 
The field officers did not have a good opinion of Colonel MacDonald. We 
decided to end the “party” at midnight. Shortly afterwards my cell door 
slummed shut again. I was a prisoner once more. 

On 24 December I had the great fortune to be allowed a visit from my 
wife and my daughter Ursula. We were allowed to sit hand in hand for 
almost thirty minutes and talk about the children. My wife said goodbye to 
me with dry eyes. My daughter was looking forward to a Christmas party to 
which the Canadians had invited her. 

The trial continued on 27 December and at 1615 hours the judges 
rose to announce their first verdict. After exactly three hours of delibera¬ 
tion Major General Foster announced the following verdict: “Major Gen¬ 
eral Meyer, the court has found you not guilty of the second and third 
indictments. Please resume your seat.” 

That meant that the court did not hold me responsible for events dur¬ 
ing the fighting or for the related shootings. Furthermore, it absolved me 
of Jesionek’s accusations. The court was convinced that I had not given the 
orders for the shootings on 7 or 8 June. The trial continued on 28 Decern- 



The Trial 


371 


ber with statements from General der Panzertnippen Eberbach and my 
wife. The “Maple Leaf” wrote the following: 

The most dignified of all defense witnesses appearing for Meyer 
on the last day was his dainty, blonde wife Kate. She fought to con¬ 
trol her emotions. Her slim, pale face showed the strain of the 
fourteen-day trial. She told the court about her happy marriage 
with the former General, what a good husband and father he was 
and how her five small children loved their father. “I can say no 
more than that we were very happy,” she said at one point, forcing 
a nervous smile to play round her lips. She left the picture of a 
proud and brave woman behind her. 

Captain J. A. Renwick of the 28th Tank Regiment, who was captured 
on 9 August 1944, made the following statement: 

I was captured by soldiers under command of the accused and 
taken to his command post. Meyer interrogated me and showed 
me a copy of the “Maple Leaf’ which contained General Crear’s 
accusations that Canadian prisoners-of-war had been shot. Meyer 
said that that was not the way to wage a war. Nor could he under¬ 
stand why Canadians were fighting Germans. I had die impression 
that he was a very capable officer who knew what he was fighting 
for. I was not threatened or bullied while I was there. His behavior 
was extremely proper and always that of an officer and a gende- 
man. 

Captain Renwick’s examination concluded the hearing of evidence 
and I received permission to say a few words in conclusion: 

I heard many things during these proceedings that were a com¬ 
plete surprise to me. These excesses were in no way perpetrated 
by young soldiers. I am convinced that the culprits may only be 
found among soldiers who had been brutalized in many aspects 
by the experiences of five years of war. I made the effort, as a com¬ 
mander, to train my young soldiers and mould them into worth¬ 
while people. To that end I did not shy away from passing the 
most severe sentences against officers and men. I take overall 
responsibility for everything that I ordered, tolerated or encour¬ 
aged. Whether a commander can be held responsible for the 
actions of individuals will be your decision. I await your judgment. 






372 


GRENADIERS 


The court withdrew to deliberate at 1120 hours and I was led into a 
side room. The officers accompanying me expected me to be sentenced to 
a year of prison to satisfy the outraged public. My counsel was of the same 
opinion and did not deem it necessary to ask my wife to leave the court¬ 
room. He felt that she could listen to the judgment without a problem. 
Thank God, I succeeded in getting my wife to leave the courtroom. 

At exactly 1145 hours, diat is, only twenty-five minutes later, the court 
returned. You could hear a pin drop. The president, having obvious diffi¬ 
culty in controlling his emotions, delivered the judgment: 

General Kurt Meyer, the court has found you guilty of the first, 
fourth and fifth points of the indictment. You are hereby sen¬ 
tenced to death by firing squad. That sentence will only become 
binding on confirmation. These proceedings are closed. 

My prosecutor described that moment as follows: 

Meyer stood erect as the judgment was passed. With gritted teeth 
and a grim look, but showing no other emotion, he bowed 
slighdy, turned sharply and marched out of the room. 

The trial was over. 

Only after I had left the courtroom did it become clear that I had 
been sentenced on the basis of the so-called “Secret Orders” of the Czech 
deserter held responsible for the shootings in the monastery. With impo¬ 
tent fury—despising all Pharisees—I stalked through the waiting reporters 
and inquisitive crowd into my cell. 



On Death Row 


The bars on the windows threw long shadows on the wall as I looked at the 
photographs of my children and tried to imagine their life without me. At 
the same time my wife was hearing about the death sentence. Captain 
Lehmann had promised me that he would break the bad news himself and 
not to leave it to chance. 

So that was how my life was to end. A volley would crack out in a sand¬ 
pit somewhere and my body would disappear into a nameless grave! The 
knowledge of my impending death did not depress me. I was no longer 
alone. I stood once more in the midst of the fight and surrounded by com¬ 
rades. It was too dark to see the bars when a voice called to me: “General, 
don’t be afraid, we are fighting for your life!” 

What an irony of fate—my enemies had become my friends! 1 thought 
about God the most that night. We communed with one another, and I 
awaited the bright morning with renewed strength. Death was not without 
its importance. On the contrary, the flame of life burned very brightly and 
the knowledge that my hours were numbered was not easy to bear. How¬ 
ever, there was no abyss to be crossed. I was living in the presence of the 
Creator with the knowledge that death was part of His creation. I prayed 
during the long night for the sU'ength to meet death as a man. 

I was handcuffed again early in the afternoon of 29 December and led 
to the visitors’ room. My wife was waiting for me. I was terrified of that 
meeting. How much had that fateful blow affected my wife? She had wor¬ 
ried about me for years on end only to greet me at that point as one 
marked for death. I showed gratitude to the Canadian officer who removed 
the handcuffs so I could enter the room unshackled. 

My wife came forward without tears, but the facade dropped as our 
hands touched. Her tears fell on my awards. I gave them to her to give to 
my son. Our daughter Ursula smiled at me through her tears and told me 
of my son’s arrival. I had never been so proud of my wife as at that time. 
Despite her boundless grief, she knew how to give me the strength to 
return to my cell. 

Colonel Andrews bade farewell and asked me to petition Major Gen¬ 
eral Chris Yokes, the commander of the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division, 


373 



374 


GRENADIERS 


for pardon. I rejected that proposal. Colonel Andrews and I separated as 
soldiers; for us the war was now in the past. 

As a result of pressure from Captains Lehmann and Plourde and the 
request of my wife, I handed in a petition for clemency. I did it to do my 
duty to my family. The petition was handed in on 31 December and had 
the following text: 

Sir, 

As I write this petition, I think with pride about the reputation 
of my units and on my reputation as a soldier. I think about my 
wife, who has been a faithful companion to me and a good 
mother to our children. She will now have to bear the responsi¬ 
bility for rearing our five children by herself. 

I think about her above all else as I use this last opportunity to 
write to you—not on my account, but instead for my children 
who will be deprived of a father. I am lobbying for the reputation 
of my units and for my reputation as a soldier. 

In this last appeal to you I wish to leave aside all of the formali¬ 
ties that are otherwise found in the courtroom and speak to you 
man to man and as soldier to soldier. 

Two soldiers have accused me of having encouraged my men 
not to take prisoners. That accusation is false. The statements 
were made by two deserters of Polish and Czech nationality. One 
of them did not appear before the court, because he cannot now 
be found. Another witness, likewise a former member of my regi¬ 
ment and a Czechoslovak citizen, renounced his earlier testi¬ 
mony and emphatically the contents of the so-called “Secret 
Order.” 

Of all the men in my division who are now prisoners-of-war in 
England, Canada or the United States only three were prepared 
to appear against me as a witness. If one were to ask the hun¬ 
dreds who had belonged to my unit about the accusations against 
me, I am convinced that their statements would contradict what 
was said by a few, so much so that one could not believe them. 

The facts prove that from the first day forward my unit took in 
large quantities of prisoners. A former officer, who had returned 
home and had been released from the army, voluntarily came 
back to Germany to testify on my behalf. 

The former Commander-in-Chief West told the court that my 
division had brought in three times as many prisoners as any 
other combat formation. 




On Death Row 


375 


I wish to emphasize that rny soldiers were trained in accor¬ 
dance with international agreements and I fulfilled my duties as 
an officer to the best of my abilities. 1 tried to accomplish my mis¬ 
sion as well as could be expected from a soldier, but my mission 
was difficult and my responsibilities went well beyond the norm. 

The fighting during the invasion in Normandy demonstrated 
that the morale of my regiment was good. They had been com¬ 
mitted to battle in a short period of time and were bombed heav¬ 
ily on the way to the front by low-flying fighter-bombers. We were 
the lead elements of the division. Our sector was unusually wide. 
Our left flank was exposed and we had to count on the employ¬ 
ment of paratroopers or air-landed troops at any moment. 

My young soldiers—seventeen- and eighteen-years old—fought 
for three entire months without being relieved or having the 
hope of being relieved and without having had a single night of 
good sleep. After die initial phase of the fighting, the division 
had between 3,000 and 4,000 casualties. The sector assigned to it 
became larger instead of smaller. 

If my soldiers could withstand such ground and aerial attacks 
for a quarter of a year, then the majority of them must have been 
good and well-trained men. 

I can only reiterate that I never encouraged my soldiers not to 
take prisoners! That happened neither during the training 
period before the invasion -when we still didn’t know where we 
were going to be employed—nor during the fighting after the 
invasion. No oral, secret or any other type of order nor the exam¬ 
ple provided by my behavior or attitude gave any impression 
whatsoever that prisoners could be killed. 

I cannot understand why I am being made responsible for the 
actions of some members of my command. Responsibility can be 
direct or indirect, and it follows that a commander cannot be 
held responsible to the same extent for individual actions of one 
of his soldiers acting on a momentary impulse, as perhaps for the 
actions of one of his staff officers in his immediate vicinity. Does 
that responsibility also not depend on the degree to which the 
situation and the general environment are normal or abnormal? 

Can a commander of young, inexperienced troops—who are 
being employed for the first time under unexpected and abnor¬ 
mal conditions in far too large a sector with exposed flanks, under 
permanent artillery fire and air attacks, with inadequate supplies 
and no hope of reinforcement or support and continuously 







376 


GRENADIERS 


threatened by paratroopers and air-landed troops—be made as 
responsible for individual actions of his troops as a commander of 
experienced troops on a quieter front under normal conditions 
who has complete control over his units and has the opportunity 
of being able to observe, lead and control them better? 

I want to stress once again that, if abuses happened, they hap¬ 
pened during the first days of the fighting, when conditions were 
chaotic and remnants of coastal units were still in my sector. They 
happened at a time when I was a regimental commander and not 
authorized to control troops besides my own. 

Following my appointment as a divisional commander, when I 
received full command authority over the divisional sector, the 
situation became more bearable and no further abuses occurred. 

I have turned to you. Sir, a soldier with considerable combat 
experience, in the hope that you will understand under what 
conditions I fought and the situation in which I consequently 
find myself. 

Although I have been found guilty as charged, I only consider 
myself responsible to a certain degree. I have never felt myself to 
be so guilty and responsible that the death penalty would be justi¬ 
fied. That is still my opinion. 

I therefore request a revision of the judgment passed on me to 
bring it in line with the degree of responsibility and guilt which 
actually still applies today. 

Aurich 

31 December 1945 

Captains Lehmann and Plourde came to see me late in the evening 
and informed me of the results of my petition. General Vokes rejected the 
petition with the following comment: “I have considered this appeal and 
cannot see my way clear to mitigate the punishment awarded by the court.” 

Both officers expressed their astonishment that the general had made 
the decision so quickly. He had read the petition and immediately wrote 
the rejection. In all probability there was no longer any chance of a rescue; 
execution seemed inevitable. 

By questioning the guards I gradually became aware that 1 would prob¬ 
ably be shot during the next eight days. From another quarter I was told 
that my execution squad was already training hard in Oldenburg and was 
shooting at beer coasters. 



On Death Row 


377 


A couple of days later I was told that the time had come for me to take 
my final farewell of my family and that my dependants were already wait¬ 
ing for me. Despite the utter bitterness of the hour I felt a profound pleas¬ 
ure. I was looking forward to meeting my boy. I was finally going to get to 
know my son. Would I ever see him again after that first encounter? My 
wife held my son out to me. The little fellow grabbed my golden epaulettes 
and held them dghdy, shouting with joy. I was not a stranger. He came will¬ 
ingly into my arms. My daughter Irmtraud sang a Christmas carol to me 
and our oldest daughter Inge comforted me with the words: “Father, you 
can’t really die. Look, our boy will be just like you some day. I will always 
look up to him.” 

Oh, how happy these children made me! Our eldest had just turned 
ten-years-old, but what a reliable friend she already was for her mother. I 
was also allowed to say farewell to my mother. She was going to bear the 
entire responsibility for caring for my loved ones. My wife and my mother 
had grown in stature during those last few minutes. Time passed enor¬ 
mously quickly. A last word, a short embrace and a trembling smile ended 
our last meeting. My life had come to its end. 

I waited for my execudon during the next few days. I noriced, with 
astonishment, that death held no fear for me. Had the horrible experi¬ 
ences of war brought that about? Every morning, when the doors rattled 
and I heard the guards' voices, I quickly glanced again at the photographs 
of my loved ones—each hour could be my last. 

I found out I was supposed to be shot on 7 January 1946. The English 
wanted to interrogate me once again on 6 January about the fighdng at 
Dunkirk in June 1940. The English interrogator greeted me with the 
words: “You can finally tell us everything. You’re going to be shot, after all!” 
The good man was most distressed he had to go home having achieved 
nothing. 

While I was awaiting my execution the fight to prevent my death got 
underway outside. Captain Lehmann advised my wife to look for a German 
lawyer who might do something, perhaps organize a peUUon. I was unaware 
of their efforts. My wife was a stranger in Aurich. She did not know a lawyer 
and was penniless. 

She went from place to place and was met by closed doors. In her help¬ 
lessness, she chanced on Emdener StraBe 11. That chance discovery was 
our good fortune. In the same house in which Bismarck once resided was 
the lawyer, Dr. Schapp. He was from the Friesian district of Germany and as 
tall as a tree. Like all his fellow countrymen, he had an almost fanadcal 
sense of justice. Dr. Schapps’ first step was a personal petition for clemency 





378 


GRENADIERS 


addressed to the Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian occupation forces, 
Major General Vokes. General Vokes answered Dr. Schapps’ private peti¬ 
tion on 6 January and a first, if admittedly faint, ray of hope began to shine. 
Major General Vokes’ letter was as follows: 

Dear Sir, 

Your letter dated 3 January 1946, addressed to the district 
president of Aurich, concerning the matter of Major General 
Kurt Meyer, who has been sentenced to death by the military gov¬ 
ernment, has been forwarded to me and is gratefully acknowl¬ 
edged. 

I have taken notice of every detail but am compelled to inform 
you that I have the duty and responsibility for ensuring the rele¬ 
vant Canadian laws in the matter are respected and applied. I am 
sure you will fully understand my situation. 1 can therefore do 
nothing else but express my acknowledgement for the moderate 
nature of your petition and to thank you for basing written to me 
so extensively on the matter. 

Dr. Schapp made the following note on that correspondence: 
“Answer polite; position not clear, but neidier is it a clear rejec- 

- • N 

Uon. 

The running battle with death continued. The Aurich Red Cross col¬ 
lected signatures. President Hollweg, acting as the highest member of the 
Reformed Church of the diocese of Hanover, forwarded a petition of 
clemency to General Vokes with a copy to the military chaplain at the 
headquarters of the forces of occupadon, the Reverend Wilson. 

At that moment Captain Lehman arrived with anodier message of 
doom. My petition had been rejected. He only told my wife at first as he 
was afraid that Dr. Schapp might be discouraged and give up all further 
attempts. However, to the contrary, our fanatic for jusdce really got going 
then. He tried to persuade Marahrens, the Protestant Bishop of Hanover, 
and the Catholic Bishop of MPnster, Clemens August Graf Galen, to sup¬ 
port my case. 

My mother immediately traveled to see the Bishop of Hanover with a 
letter from Dr. Schapp, but the bishop regretted he was not in a position 
to support a former SS Officer. One of Dr. Schapp’s assistants went to 
Munster. The aged Graf pointed at the wastepaper basket which was 
already overflowing with all manner of petitions, but he allowed my case to 
be presented. Suddenly, he pulled out the typewriter. A few minutes later 



On Death Row 


379 


Dr. Schapp’s assistant was on his way back to Aurich bearing an important 
document. Graf Galen wrote: 

According to information provided to me, Generalmajor Kurt 
Meyer has been sentenced to death because his subordinates 
committed crimes which he neither ordered nor tolerated. As a 
representative for the Christian understanding of justice, accord¬ 
ing to which each human being is responsible only for his own 
actions and can only be punished for the same, I accordingly sup¬ 
port Generalmajor Meyer’s petition for clemency and ask the 
sentence be commuted. 

Clemens August Graf Galen 

Meanwhile, General Vokes decided to fly to London to get the advice 
of his colleagues. He spoke on 9 January with General J. C. Murchie, 
Brigadier Orde, Lieutenant Colonel Bredin and Mr. John Reid of the For¬ 
eign Office who happened to be in London. General Vokes expressed his 
dislike of the death sentence and was of the opinion the sentence should 
be altered. He then flew back to his German headquarters and, on 13 Jan¬ 
uary, commuted the death penalty to a life sentence. 

He argued his decision as follows: “I did not feel the “degree of respon¬ 
sibility” established at the trial warranted the extreme penalty.” 

The doors rattled especially loudly on the morning of 13 January and 
there was a certain unease in the corridor. Several people stopped in front 
of my cell door. The door was opened and two Canadian officers entered 
the cell. I no longer had any doubts; my last hour had arrived. I listened 
completely unemotionally as one of the officers started to read something 
out to me. I presumed he was telling me the sentence had been approved. 
My eyes wandered over my family photos again and again. The text being 
read no longer interested me. Suddenly I listened more carefully as the 
words “life sentence” and “Canada” resounded in my ears. It took me a long 
time to understand fully what I had heard and assimilate the new situation. 

My reaction was extreme. I was barely alone when I sank onto my plank 
bed a totally defeated man. I did not expect that turn of events. The 
thought that I was to spend my whole life behind bars was a crushing 
prospect. Hours had passed before I was able to come to terms with the 
new situation. The will to live started to make itself felt again. By afternoon 
1 was already making plans for the period after my eventual release. I simply 
could not imagine finishing my life behind bars. I was allowed to see my 




380 


GRENADIERS 


wife once again on 14 January. As a token of farewell she brought me the 
first spring flowers from home. 

On 15 January I was sitting in a “Dakota” in chains flying from Bad 
Zwischenahn to Odiham, Hants, England. My escort. Major L. M. Foumey, 
took me directly to Reading from the airfield. I entered the musty build¬ 
ings of a civil prison for the first time. It was the same penal institution in 
which Oscar Wilde had been imprisoned decades ago and where he wrote 
his famous ballads. It was serving the Canadians as a military prison and 
housed some hundreds of deserters and other perpetrators. The discipline 
matched the conditions. Loud commands echoed through the building 
the whole day. Marching feet made even the heavy cell doors tremble. Dur¬ 
ing my first exercise period behind the prison’s red walls I moved back 
and forth beside the walls in the company of a sergeant. 

It did not take long to find out that a nearby building contained the 
gallows and that we were walking over the remains of the executed. In 
accordance with English custom, the executed were buried under the 
prison pathways. (The same custom had been observed in Hameln.) 

After a short time the institution was returned to civil use, and I was 
taken to a barracks near .Aldershot. Hundreds of deserters were also housed 
there. My accommodation in the camp was good; I was even allowed to 
have my own small garden and enjoy the sun. The guard was composed of 
veteran soldiers who had all fought against my division. Their behavior was 
proper, and they always comported dtemselves in a military manner. Those 
fellows even had so much understanding of my situation as to set up a tele¬ 
phone call to the Irish Republic so as to give me an opportunity to hear a 
German voice and talk a bit wifli a young lady. They had done that without 
my asking for it. It w r as also there in the camp that I heard about the reac¬ 
tion of the Canadian public to my pardon. The news reports were simply 
incredible. The demand to drown me in Halifax Harbor was nowhere near 
the worst proposal for sending me to the other world. 

My transfer to Canada was announced at the end of April 1946, and I 
was put into a Canadian uniform at the same time. As night fell, I left the 
camp for Southampton, where I was led onto the troop transport “Aqui- 
tania”. The “Aquitania” was the sister ship of the “Titanic”. 

I was led into the bowels of the ship and locked in a cell. But that 
didn’t last too long. Not even the ship’s officers had any idea who their pris¬ 
oner really was. I still remember a humorous event. We were playing cards 
in the salon w r hen an older officer came over and said: “Men, don’t make 
such a racket; let the German sleep a bit.” Everyone quieted down in accor¬ 
dance with his request; the poor fellow didn’t even realize that he was look¬ 
ing at the German General’s cards. 



On Death Row 


381 


The journey was very interesting and full of change. The ship was a so- 
called “love boat". It was taking a large number of wives and children of 
Canadian soldiers who had married in England. Nobody noticed the “Nazi 
beast” walking around on deck instead of sitting in his dark cell. 

Some miles from the Canadian coast I was locked in the cell and 
warned of the attitude of the incited population. Thousands of people 
were on the pier as the ship docked. The joy of the women at seeing their 
husbands again was indescribable. Someone gave a welcoming speech and 
music droned through the enormous arrival halls. 

General Foster, my counterpart in Normandy and my judge at Aurich, 
was standing at the gangway as 1 was led on deck. In order not to cause any 
commotion I was asked to leave the ship without escort and get into the car 
waiting nearby. And so it happened I stepped onto the soil of the American 
continent disguised as a discharged Canadian soldier. The Chilians did not 
notice the “Nazi beast” leave the ship although all eyes were directed to the 
gangway. After a short evening drive through the streets of Halifax we 
arrived at an old fort, part of the former defenses. We were quickly issued 
with road rations and the seating plan was arranged. I sat with two officers 
and one sergeant while three sergeants followed in a second car. We drove 
off quickly and left Halifax behind us. 

Dark forests engulfed us. I noticed with astonishment that intense 
snowstorms raging in the countryside had caused heavy damage. Many a 
telegraph post was lying by the ground. It was probably still very cold there 
even by 1 May. I was told during the trip that our destination was a prison 
near Moncton in New Brunswick. We drove for hours on end through the 
dark night across the Nova Scotia peninsula. The night was so cold that 
the convoy commander ordered a halt, and we jogged up and down the 
road to warm ourselves up. It would have taken litde effort to sneak off 
into the bushes and disappear. But why should I risk an escape? In all actu¬ 
ality, I had become stateless. Where could a German soldier turn in 1946? 
My escort’s behavior was proper in every respect. I was treated as an officer. 

The bright lights of Dorchester prison appeared at about 0400 hours. 
The building’s massive walls and towers dominated the Bay of Fundy. The 
enormous mass of stone and steel created a forbidding atmosphere. No 
one spoke a word and we drove up the hill in silence. I felt like a spectator 
at my own funeral. 

The cars ground to a halt in front of the main gate. A bell alerted the 
guard who opened the outer gate. Between the outer gate and the interior 
one of the complex we had to pass through a couple more gates. In front 
of the last one, the sergeants said goodbye in a traditional soldierly man¬ 
ner. The two officers also saluted in parade-ground fashion. Having taken 



382 


GRENADIERS 


leave of my three escorts with a handshake, 1 stood face-to-face with my jail¬ 
ers. The difference was obvious. I realized within the first few seconds that, 
from then on, I was only to be a number in an army of nameless men. Nei¬ 
ther the warden of the institudon nor his senior assistants uttered a single 
word to me. As far as they were concerned, I no longer had the right to be 
treated as a human being. I was led to a special room and a couple of old 
rags were thrust into my hands for clothes. I was only able to keep my 
orthopedic shoes with difficulty. 

After that spectacle I went for a long walk through the prison and got 
an initial crushing impression of degrading imprisonment. Cell after cell; 
they looked like cages for beasts of prey but, instead, they contained men. 
There was no longer any private life. The cells were not closed by doors but 
by bars. The prisoners were never allowed to experience refreshing dark¬ 
ness; their cells were always illuminated. A repulsive smell wafted towards 
me. We passed through some grilled gates and then I was given to under¬ 
stand that the hole in front of me was my cell. “Here’s your new home!” 
With the ironic words of the assistant warden ringing in my ears, I was sud¬ 
denly standing behind bars. I fell down on my plank bed in exhaustion. 
However, having made the decision not to throw in the towel under any 
circumstances, I stretched out my limbs. 

I was awakened by my neighbors early in the morning. They were dis¬ 
appointed I couldn't give them any news from Montreal. It was only later 
that I was informed that my fellow prisoners were told I was transferred 
from Montreal to Dorchester. Before long I was taken to a big washing and 
changing room filled with a great number of prisoners where I had to 
shower and then sit down on a barber’s chair. I innocently took my seat. 
The barber, a prisoner of course, made painstaking inquiries about the 
duration of my sentence without sensing, however, to whom he was talk¬ 
ing. The duration of the sentence made no impression on him. He had 
been sentenced to twenty years because he had killed his uncle. I was glad 
when I was rid of my beard and no longer felt the blade of his razor at my 
throat. I awaited my haircut with my eyes closed; suddenly, however, it was 
as if I were electrified. The fellow had gone right over my scalp with a large 
pair of scissors and very calmly cut all my hair off. Two officials sneered at 
me. My hair fell in the dirt, and I was trembling with rage. After that, the 
number 2265 was painted on my chest. My name had been replaced with a 
number. 

My left-hand cell neighbor turned out to be a professional criminal 
who had been “lodged” in penal institutions in the USA and Canada with 
short interruptions since 1917. He had been sentenced to life imprison- 




On Death Row 


383 


ment because he burned seven people alive. My right-hand neighbor was a 
sex offender. The bastard had raped his own daughter. 

I will never forget the disgrace inflicted on me behind Dorchester’s 
gray walls. I was forced to note with horror that schools of crime flourished 
even in highly developed western countries. Young offenders who, of 
course, never normally shared a roof with hard-boiled criminals, were only 
educated in prison to become criminals. 

1 was given a job in the well-equipped library after four weeks. I got to 
know an excellent man, the department head, Mr. J. E. L. Papineau, who 
was an Air Force officer and came to understand the war from all sides. 
His gendemanly behavior was exemplary. Newspaper propaganda against 
me was still running at full course and babbling complete nonsense. Tub 
thumpers from the Canadian servicemen associations claimed to be speak¬ 
ing for frontline Canadian soldiers. I had it confirmed once again to me 
that the common soldier holds a completely different opinion from that 
propagated by official spokesmen. The less people knew about the real 
events, the louder they asked for my head. 

I received my first greetings from home in the summer. My family was 
making it by hook or by crook. It was supposed to exist on 119 Reichsmark 
in social security. The thought of their misery was almost impossible to 
bear. Once more I must express my deeply felt thanks to the chivalry of Dr. 
Wilhelm Schapp. In pure charity he did not shy from any sacrifice to pre¬ 
serve my family for me. Among other things, he took on all my wife’s hos¬ 
pital costs. She had collapsed completely and was suffering from a serious 
heart problem. My family’s well being rested on my mother’s shoulders. 

One day followed the other with no change in my situation. They took 
their course with mechanical precision. I want to spare my reader descrip¬ 
tions of the horror of captivity as there are hardly any Germans of my gen¬ 
eration who don’t know about that misery or who did not experience it 
first hand. 

I had some revealing conversations with church representatives over 
the years of my imprisonment. Whether bishop or simple priest, they all 
spoke freely and fell on their swords for me. I still remain in contact with 
some of these gentlemen even today. 

Representadves of the Catholic Church made the strongest impres¬ 
sion. They presented their views without fear and understood how to com¬ 
mand respect. 

I gained a friend in Major James R. Miller from the Eastern Command 
in Halifax. Miller was a military chaplain on General Foster’s staff. He came 
to visit me every fourth week and also stayed in contact with my family. I 



384 


GRENADIERS 


don’t know to what extent I am indebted to him, but I do know that he did 
not avoid any effort to improve my situation. He was often called to Ottawa 
to report on my situation. He conducted himself as a true Christian, his 
Christianity consisted of deeds. He was not a man for unctuous speeches. 

A couple of years had passed in the meantime and feelings had calmed 
down. The newspapers were publishing the other side’s words by then and 
allowed an open discussion. 1 therefore read with astonishment one day 
that Army and Air Force officers were petitioning for my freedom and 
objecting to the sentence passed on me. General Foster frequently sent his 
regards, while other officers tried to give my children some pleasure. 

I got to know a truly wonderful person in Fritz Lichtenberg from 
Moncton. Herr Lichtenberg emigrated in 1911 and made a new life in 
Canada as a building contractor. His home was only a couple of kilometers 
away from the prison. He persistently fought for permission to visit me. 
One day the time came. After a long wait we stood face-to-face and blurted 
out words of welcome in German. The joyful welcome threatened to over¬ 
whelm us. Herr Lichtenberg showed me photographs of my children and 
also told me about the latest goings on in Germany. That man’s loyalty to 
Germany touched me deeply. He proudly declared his love for Germany, 
just as we had learned as children. 

I was allowed to see that magnificent man every fourth week in the 
company of Major Miller. It was not long before he brought me news that 
a lawyer’s office in Halifax had taken over the task of working for my 
release. I hasten to add that Canadian officers made available a not incon¬ 
siderable amount of money for that purpose. 

The Canadian lawyers made tremendous efforts to convince the gov¬ 
ernment of the intolerability of the sentence, but the political atmosphere 
was still stronger than justice. 

The arguments in the press continued. All parties and organizations 
participated in that discussion. The discussion didn’t center around the 
human interests of a prisoner and his family, but about the “holy princi¬ 
ples” of Nazi prosecution. Ralph Allen, editor of “Maclean’s Magazine”, 
joined that “media war” on 1 January 1950 and published the following 
article: 

Has Canada given a just hearing to her only war criminal? A war 
correspondent w r ho was present says no, but Panzermeyer is still 
serving a life sentence. 

The man who sat in the middle of the judge’s bank spoke very 
slowly, almost regretfully, as if he were thankful for the breaks in 



On Death Row 


385 


what he was saying: “The judgement of this court is death by firing 
squad. The sentence becomes final once approved. These pro¬ 
ceedings are now closed.” 

The man standing in the middle of the room was as rigid as in 
a vice. He took one step backwards, bowed slightly, waited a sec¬ 
ond for the officers accompanying him and then turned to the 
left. As he stalked out of the room he held his head a fraction of 
an inch higher than usual and his tense face was a fraction of a 
shade paler than usual. His steps echoed in the silence like a dis¬ 
tant, ghosdy roll call, directing our attention towards an awful past 
and an unknown future. 

The death penalty has not been carried out in Kurt Meyer’s 
case. 

And now, four years after the sentence had been passed down 
by a Canadian military' tribunal, neither the extent of Meyer’s 
responsibility for the past nor the significance of its meaning for 
the future has been clearly established. 

The inconsistencies of justice, injustice and doubt in that highly 
bizarre, disputed and possibly most important trial in the history of 
Canadian law are not as loud today as they were when Major Gen¬ 
eral Vokes, then Commander of the Canadian occupation forces in 
Germany, unleashed an international storm by commuting the sen¬ 
tence to life imprisonment. However, disagreement with that deci¬ 
sion is no less deeply rooted. There are hundreds of thousands of 
Canadians who believe that Meyer should not be in prison. 

Summarized briefly, the facts of the case are as follows: 

As the commander of SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25 of the 
12. SS-Panzer-Division “Hitleijugend,” Meyer commanded Ger¬ 
man soldiers who shot prisoners-of-war during the first bloody 
days after the Allied landing in Normandy. 

He is the only enemy officer who was interrogated according to 
Canadian war crimes statutes of August 1945. Those statutes 
attempted to lay down guidelines under which enemy war crimi¬ 
nals could be sentenced for their actions between 1939 and 1945. 

Working through the United Nations War Crimes Commission, 
all Allied nations passed similar statutes soon after the war in 
Europe had ended. Meyer’s trial in December 1945, presided over 
by a Major General and four Brigadiers in Aurich, Germany, was 
the first trial of a German combat soldier or commander under 
such statutes, Canadian or otherwise. That was why it had such 





386 


GRENADIERS 


importance attached to it beyond the fate of individuals or the 
laws of a nation. 

What are the main facts? The one fact at the heart of the mat¬ 
ter is the question of guilt. Was Kurt Meyer guilty? 

Was he found guilty according to a process and a legal code 
which could serve future generations of Canadians as a useful and 
practical guide without challenging its legacy of Anglo-Saxon jus¬ 
tice? Did he have a just hearing? Was he interrogated according to 
the rules of impartiality? Were these rules applied impartially by 
the courts which examined him? 

As a reporter who witnessed Meyer’s trial, I say: No! I returned 
to Canada and said no to all these questions and to everyone who 
would listen. It was not, perhaps, a miracle that there were not yet 
many who wanted to listen at all, considering the mood of the 
population four years ago, when memories hurt like open wounds 
and revenge had not been taken for all offences. 

I have just come from Ottawa where I checked the files of the 
trial and that’s why I still say: No! Under the accumulated dust, 
the protocol still seems to say what it seemed to say four years ago 
in the courtroom in Northwest Germany in between bouts of 
uproar and silence in the courtroom. Among other things it 
seems to say: 

That, under cover of Canadian laws, Meyer was interrogated 
according to rules which contradict the most fundamental and 
precious principles of Canadian law. 

That, although the words of the laws were in line with the fun¬ 
damental principle of the innocence of the accused, they never¬ 
theless contained a flexible clause which presumed him guilty 
until he could prove his innocence if it was once proven that 
crimes were committed (not necessarily by him, on his orders or 
with his knowledge or approval). 

That the court assumed itself to be authorized in such cases 
and held it for permissible, to “construct” its own guidelines dur¬ 
ing the course of the trial without restriction and often to the dis¬ 
advantage of the accused. 

That the main witness against Meyer, without whose evidence 
the case for the prosecution would have been weakened to the 
point of non-existence, completed his first statement against 
Meyer under threat of death. 

That the same witness had been interrogated at least eight 
times outside the proceedings and that, under the elastic guide- 



On Death Row 


387 


lines of the trial, the prosecution lawyers were allowed to present 
parts of each of his eight statements and bring him into the wit¬ 
ness box twice. 

That the same witness very often contradicted himself despite 
months of preparation and checking of minor as well as major 
points of the evidence. 

That most of the incriminating details of his evidence could 
not be substantiated by any other witness but could, at least par¬ 
tially, be disproved by half a dozen witnesses. 

Should somebody ask die question whether jusdce has been 
done to Meyer? I do not believe the answer would be yes. 

In the small, paneled courtroom Kurt Meyer showed up under 
the gloomy floodlights of examination like a documentary film 
which told the story of National Socialism from its birdi to its ruin. 

The dead legions marched again. The supermen stalked the 
face of Europe with undiminished glory, and an old comrade 
wanned and praised them with a voice fall of pride—at times close 
to tears—for what might have been. 

Kurt Meyer, an unknown eighteen-year-old police cadet, had 
hitched his wagon to the star of National Socialism. When he was 
transferred to the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler in 1939, he had 
party number 316714 and SS number 17559. 

When the Wehrmacht struck in 1939, Meyer was at the sharp 
end of die spear. His reputation as a soldier was unique and, with¬ 
out question, deserved. There was a special name for the new type 
of warfare—Blitzkrieg. There was also a special name for the 
young commander who rode with his dashing troops: Schneller 
Meyer. The places he visited still remember that schneller Meyer. 

After operations in Poland, Holland, Belgium, France, Ruma¬ 
nia, Bulgaria, Greece and Russia, schneller Meyer became the 
commander of a Panzer division in Normandy. He received his 
third wound and eleventh award. 

He spoke well and readily in court about his campaigns. Like a 
lonely voice calling over a wide, unspanned abyss he spoke up 
again and again for his vanished comrades and the forbidden 
creed of “blood and iron.” 

Once he bent forward insistently and repeated parts of the 
address he once delivered to the young fanatics of the 12. SS- 
Panzer-Division: 

“We are now in Normandy. In our fists are the weapons of the 
German people. German workers forged these weapons with the 



388 


GRENADIERS 


sweat of their brows, not so that we may throw them away in cow¬ 
ardice but that we may fight. Should the Allies ever cross the 
Channel, their elimination won’t be accomplished by the much 
vaunted V-weapons. Do not swallow the nonsense in the newspa¬ 
pers! Know the facts! Our enemy’s elimination can only be forced 
through our attack.” 

And on another occasion: 

“At the end of the war each prisonor should be in a position to 
prove he did not go into captivity willingly.” 

The trial had no scene more dramatic than the moment when 
Meyer, in a touching and yet somehow frightening manner, sud¬ 
denly forgot his surroundings and directly addressed his wife. 
Frau Meyer had come to Aurich with one of her five small chil¬ 
dren to be close to her husband. Most of the time she sat alone at 
the back of the room. A silent character, surrounded by unending 
grief. She had been allowed to visit her husband briefly but always 
with a guard close by and with instructions that Meyer was not 
allowed to say anything which could be considered as guidelines 
for the rearing of his children. 

One day the prisoner stood ready to explain the principles he 
applied to the training of his soldiers. When he started, his blue 
eyes appeared to alternate between the hard and the affectionate, 
whenever they caught hold of the eyes in the tenth row. 

At times, he would speak with pride and certainty, at other 
times with tenderness and solicitation. The tortured, helpless face 
of his wife would then beam and come alive. 

“The discipline of my young soldiers was good,” he said. “It was 
based on the principles of a healthy family life. Due to their youth, 
our leaders had to find new ways to train these soldiers. There was 
a close comradeship between officers and men. The parents were 
involved to a large extent in their training. Alcohol and tobacco 
were prohibited for the younger soldiers.” 

Meyer paused, then he started again in a milder fashion. 
"Behaviorally, the ideal of motherhood was held high for these sol¬ 
diers: A mother fights, lives, sacrifices and suffers for her children. 
She lays the foundations for a proper life in society. 

“My soldiers had complete religious freedom. I told them: ‘God 
cannot be proven, but we have to believe in Him. A human only 
becomes a human if his conscience makes him feel responsible to 
God. A soldier who does not believe in God cannot fight; he lacks 



On Death Row 


389 


the last reservoir of strength which can only be gained by the 
deepest of faith. Their guidance for fighting was the ideal per¬ 
spective of the military profession: I am nothing; we are every¬ 
thing.”’ 

Meyer was prosecuted by Lieutenant Colonel MacDonald and 
defended by Lieutenant Colonel Andrew, both lawyers in civilian 
life. Each one pursued the case with cunning and diligence. Both 
of them as well as the officers of the court found themselves con¬ 
siderably hampered in working with laws which were foreign to 
their experience and Canadian tradition. They were the laws of 
the victor; freshly coined and never tested by a single precedent. 

It was inevitable that the prosecutor asked for and received 
advantages over the defender he would never have asked for or 
expected if the new laws had been in accordance with the basic 
tenets of Anglo-Saxon law. 

The statutes state that the court may consider all testimony or 
each deposition which appeared to be authentic, provided the tes¬ 
timony or deposition appeared to the court to be of use to either 
prove or disprove the prosecution’s case, irrespective of the fact 
that such testimony or disposition would not permissible as evi¬ 
dence in a field court martial. 

The statutes state that the testimony of a defendant or a witness 
who is present at the proceedings, regardless of whether the testi¬ 
mony has been sworn or has been rendered without a prior warn¬ 
ing, is permissible at any time as evidence. 

The statutes state that if it has already been proven that person¬ 
nel of a unit have committed w r ar crimes, the commander of the 
unit or formation can be found responsible for these crimes, that 
is, unless he can prove he is not guilty. 

Furthermore, these special extensions to the traditional Cana¬ 
dian legal code and die war crimes statutes conclude with a clause 
which in 21 words says that anything is possible. 

Section 17 states: “In cases not foreseen by these statutes, a 
course must be taken which promises to show that justice has 
been done.” 

During his cross-examination, Meyer made a passing comment 
that, at the beginning of the Normandy campaign, he had come 
across the bodies of half a dozen German soldiers laying at the 
side of the road under conditions which gave reason to believe 
that they had been captured and then shot by enemy troops. 



390 


GRENADIERS 


The Canadian Brigade commander in the area in question at 
that time was the president of the court. Major General Foster. 

The court listened attendvely to Meyer’s proven testimony 
about the shooung of German prisoners by Canadian troops 
under Foster’s command, but when the prosecutor announced he 
would call witnesses to disprove that, the court said that would not 
be necessary. 

General Foster said: “I do not believe the court has any ques- 
Uons in connecdon with that parucular incident.” 

Officially, Kurt Meyer’s case is closed. Meyer is serving a life sen¬ 
tence in Dorchester. 

There is no procedure whereby the death penalty can be 
imposed a second time. The one procedure by which the sen¬ 
tence of life imprisonment may be further mitigated is a pedtion 
to the throne. Why not just leave the matter alone, the way it is— 
over and forgotten? 

The laws by which Kurt Meyer was condemned are not based— 
as all such laws must be—on the solid foundation of rules and 
clearly ardculated principles, but on the unobtainable prerequi¬ 
site of human omniscience. 

If the Kurt Meyer trial was unjust, then the greatest injustice 
was not against Meyer himself. It was the ulumate, all-surpassing 
injustice against a whole series of precepts which, if we deny them 
to our enemies, they can also be denied against us. 

That article, of course, stirred up a hornets’ nest. The arguments for 
and against me raged for weeks in the Canadian press. Canadian lawyers 
worked on extensive legal briefs during that period and came to the con¬ 
clusion I was sentenced unjusdy. The full text of those briefs has never 
been published. 

I was informed in a roundabout way in the spring of 1951 that my 
release was close and that my stay in Canada would only last a few more 
days. I simply could not believe it. The news came as too much of a sur¬ 
prise. Only when I was sworn to secrecy did I dare believe I was about to be 
released or at least transferred to Germany. I waited for the words of relief 
day after day, week after week, but I waited in vain. As chance would have 
it, a special report by a major Canadian newspaper fell into my hands 
some time later. The report read: 



On Death Row 


391 


Meyer’s Transfer Planned 

The petition to pardon German general Kurt Meyer , who is being 
held at Dorchester prison, has been temporarily deferred, as we 
discovered today. 

The petition for release, reversal of the judgment and return to 
Germany had been drawn up by his lawyers. 

The government had been favorably disposed to granting the 
petition until an avalanche of protests reached Ottawa from veter¬ 
ans and other organizations and individual persons from all parts 
of Canada. It was said that the government had been prepared to 
transfer Meyer to Germany and reduce his sentence, on the 
grounds that the act for which he was accused—responsibility for 
the death of Canadian prisoners in France—had also been done 
by Allied soldiers and the United States had already released simi¬ 
larly accused persons. 

It looks as though he will remain in Dorchester for some time 
to come. “The case has obviously come to a dead end” said one 
government spokesman. 



From Dorchester to Werl 


When I made my way to my cell on 17 October 1951,1 was totally surprised 
to hear the chief warder ask me for my hat size. I was completely puzzled 
and unable to tell him. Shordy thereafter I was taken to the warden who 
informed me, in the presence of several civil servants, that I would be leav¬ 
ing the institution at dawn and flown to Germany. 

I had a sleepless night, my mind filled with mixed feelings. My past 
experiences gave me little cause to be happy. I no longer had faith in any¬ 
thing. The hours passed slowly. Thank God, I was able to read. Our cells 
were always lit up. Winston Churchill’s memoirs, the very volume in which 
he explained why he issued the order to destroy German air-sea rescue air¬ 
craft, shortened my night. The hands of my watch indicated 0500 hours 
when I had been pacing up and down my cell for more than an hour. 
Nobody showed up. The other inmates and I received our morning coffee 
at 0630 horn's. Following that, I was led to my work place. With a feeling of 
boundless disappointment, I looked out over the wide bay and dreamed of 
thundering engines. White sails gleamed in the distance and disappeared 
towards Nova Scotia. Their majestic appearance renewed my dreams of 
freedom. 

Relief came at midday. I was briefly told that thick fog had prevented 
the planned takeoff from Moncton and that I would be driven to Nova Sco¬ 
tia to fly to Germany from there. 

Strict security was observed due to the expected “media frenzy”. I was 
led to the waiting car through a side door. I had been put into Canadian 
uniform once again and was driven away in the company of two officers. 
The warden and other gendemen took their leave with a handshake—in 
contrast to my arrival. 

Our route crossed through huge, undeveloped country for hours on 
end until we reached the airport at 2000 hours and swept across the run¬ 
way shortly afterwards. The aircraft was a North Star, used as a supply plane 
to Korea. The heavy bird rose after a short takeoff and rushed away to the 
north. Canada’s last farewell was a stream of glittering lights. It was only 
then that I believed I was returning home. I regretted I was unable to say 


392 


From Dorchester to Werl 


393 


goodbye to my friends. I would have liked have said farewell to Fritz Licht- 
enberg and James Miller. I will always remember their kindness. 

The only other passengers in the gigantic plane were two officers and 
some sergeants. We had a large dinner as soon as we had reached the 
open sea. That was a pleasant surprise that did me a lot of good. We had to 
stop over in Newfoundland because of the danger of icing. The flight con¬ 
tinued after about two hours. 

It did not take long, and everybody was fast asleep. My escort behaved 
properly in all respects. They were combat soldiers who had fought against 
me. I was told confidentially at midnight that the bomb had already gone 
off in Canada and that a variety of spokesmen had demanded my return. 
The press did not have to worry about sensadonal headlines any more. 

I was slightly disappointed by the flight as I could hardly see anything 
except clouds and fog. On our approach to England we saw some troop 
transports taking the Canadian 27th Infantry Brigade to Germany. When I 
had been taken to Canada in 1946, the Canadian forces followed soon 
after and were demobilized. It was different at that point. People wanted 
to defend the freedom of the Western World in Germany and incorporate 
German troop formations into NATO. 

Did the planners really believe that Europe could be defended by 
force of arms? There was no defending Germany nor the rest of Europe, 
only the destruction of Europa. 

The flight to Buckeburg continued after a short layover in England. 
We got into thick fog over Holland and received instructions to land in 
Wunstorf instead of Buckeburg. Wunstorf was easier for landing and bet¬ 
ter equipped. So that was how I saw Germany again! My homeland’s first 
greetings were patches of fog, the odd light and flashing searchlights. 

The plane began its approach in complete darkness and seemed to 
hover in the fog. We were unable to make out a single thing. Suddenly the 
plane received a stiff jolt, reared up and then crashed its full weight down 
on its landing gear. All the loose objects in the plane, flew around our 
heads. The plane slid forward a couple more meters and then came to a 
halt with a worrying list. The bird had gone beyond the runway and 
promptly landed in the neighboring potato field. The proud bird was now 
lying in the furrows without an undercarriage. 

1 was glad to have the soil of Germany under my feet again. The fog 
had upset the apple cart. The gentlemen who had been expected to 
receive me at Buckeburg had to be directed to Wunstorf. 

The RAF officers there asked me into their mess, and it was not long 
before our conversation turned to the fighting in Normandy. They had all 





394 


GRENADIERS 


operated over Caen, and I found their reports of great interest. For exam¬ 
ple, I heard they had an enormous respect for the infantry’s defensive fire 
and that it had destroyed many a plane. 

By the time the British officials who were to escort me to Werl reached 
Wunstorf around midnight, a few bottles were standing in a corner. They 
had been emptied in a toast to my forthcoming release. The transition 
from my cell to an officer’s mess had taken its toll. 

All these impressions had to be assimilated. It was not at all easy to get 
used to normal life again, especially for someone like me who had kept his 
own company for six years. 

Not knowing what would be awaiting me, I walked to the waiting vehi¬ 
cle in order to finish the last leg of the trip to Werl as soon as possible. The 
driver opened the door, and I was virtually struck dumb—a former SS- 
Oberscharfuhrer from my old division, who then earned his living by driv¬ 
ing the English commandant at Werl, was standing in front of me. Well, 
things were certainly looking up! 

We drove slowly down the Autobahn to Werl. I had read a lot about 
Landsberg in Canada, but 1 knew nothing about Werl. I was immediately 
taken to the cell block and led to my cell on the fourth floor once the 
heavy gates had closed behind us. Out of curiosity, I quickly glanced at the 
names on the cell doors. The first name I saw was Kesselring; that was fol¬ 
lowed by von Falkenhorst, von Mackensen, Gallenkamp, Simon and von 
Manstein. I breathed a sigh of relief to be among soldiers once more. 

Werl’s commandant was the former commandant of Camp No. 18 in 
England. He had sent me to London in 1945. In contrast to his successor, 
Colonel Meech, Vickers was an understanding commandant. 

I received my first word of welcome from my lawyer, Dr. W. Schapp, in 
Aurich. I was extremely pleased about his telegram; it went beyond the 
usual call of duty. I was allowed to meet my wife a few days later. We had 
not seen each other for six years and had only lived on sparse information 
in censored letters. Those six years had not passed without leaving their 
mark, but the time had not drawn us apart. I was happy to hear of our chil¬ 
dren’s’ development and that a healthy family was waiting for me. 

Colonel Vickers told my wife that he was prepared to grant me ten 
days leave of absence on my word of honor as soon as the usual formalities 
could be completed. 

He kept his word. I was allowed ten days leave at the end of November. 
I speedily donned a borrowed suit to leave that unfriendly building as 
quickly as possible. I was worried the special leave might be withdrawn 
through unusual circumstances. So, off I went! There was no time to lose. 



From Dorchester to Werl 


395 


For the first time, I marched out without chains or escort and with my 
old uniform under my arm onto the soil of Germany. 

I arrived home late that evening and stood without a word in front of 
my grown-up daughters. They were taller than I. Those few days passed 
quickly, especially since many old comrades visited me unexpectedly and 
also because the local people made a great effort to make my leave pleas¬ 
ant. 

Canadian officers unexpectedly descended on our apartment one day. 
They had been visiting the inner-German border and wanted to say hello to 
my family. My leave struck their accompanying reporter, Douglas How, like 
a bombshell. Parliamentary inquiries and a considerable storm throughout 
the Canadian press resulted from his report. It took a long time for the 
Canadian public to calm down concerning the incident. 

Meanwhile, efforts were being made in Canada as well as in Germany 
to petition for my freedom. In Canada, it was my good friend Fritz Licht- 
enberg, well supported by Canadian officers. In Germany, Dr. Schapp and 
his wife worked relendessly for my release. 

In June 1953 Dr. Adenauer participated in a Silesian pilgrimage to Werl 
which commemorated a similar event in Annaberg, Upper Silesia. Dr. Ade¬ 
nauer had received permission to visit war criminals at the same time. I sud¬ 
denly and unexpectedly found him standing in my cell, shaking my hand 
and promising to do everything possible to put an end to my captivity. 

Following a proposal by Brigadier Sherwood Lett, the Canadian gov¬ 
ernment reduced my life sentence to fourteen years. That decision was 
announced to the Canadian citizenry on 15 January 1954. I was only offi¬ 
cially informed of that measure fourteen days later. The Canadians had for¬ 
gotten to inform the English of that act of leniency. Campbell MacDonald 
made die following announcement on radio station CFRA in Ottaw'a: 

Former General Kurt Meyer will leave prison a free man some 
time this year, possibly on 7 December. He is presently behind 
bars in a German penal institution to which he had been sent 
from Canada. 

As long as he was in Canada, he lived as a prisoner in Dorch¬ 
ester Prison in the province of New Brunswick. His transfer from 
Canada to West Germany two years ago was the first step towards a 
possible release. 

Today’s announcement was no real surprise to anyone familiar 
with the case. Generalmajor Kurt Meyer owes his freedom to the 
relendess efforts of a German-born Canadian citizen who became 



396 


GRENADIERS 


convinced a number of years ago that Meyer had been unjustly 
imprisoned. The name of that man is Fritz Lichtenberg. He is an 
entrepreneur and leads a quiet life in Moncton. 

He gave all that up to provide the necessary financial means to 
get Kurt Meyer out of Canada, back to Germany and finally out of 
prison. He had thrown down the gauntlet. He started by proving 
that the judgment was a perversion of justice and that Kurt Meyer 
had become a victim of circumstance because of the very fact that 
he was on the losing side in die last World War. You will remember 
that Generalmajor Meyer had been tried by a Canadian military 
tribunal and sentenced to death as a war criminal. 

Why had he been sentenced to death? 

Because he was the commanding general of the troops in Nor¬ 
mandy at a time when Canadian prisoners were shot. That was in 
1944. 

We want make the details of his charges absolutely clear. He 
was in no way accused of having given his men the order to shoot 
the Canadians. The evidence during his trial showed that he had 
no knowledge of these shootings. He was only charged with hav¬ 
ing been the commander in the area where the Canadians had 
been shot. 

The sentence was death by firing squad! 

Here in Canada the sentence was in accordance with the will of 
the people. The war was still fresh in Canadian memory. They 
were incensed that captured and defenseless Canadian soldiers 
had been shot in cold blood. The sentence satisfied their need for 
revenge. Kurt Meyer served as a scapegoat. 

Then came the shock! 

A Canadian general, red-haired Chris Vokes, reviewed the evi¬ 
dence and commuted the death penalty to life imprisonment. 

The result was a cry of rage and indignation from the Canadian 
public. 

What the civilian population did not understand and probably 
still does not understand today is the fact that the shooting of pris¬ 
oners had not been exclusive to the Germans. I’m firmly con¬ 
vinced that among those men who are listening to me this 
evening, Canadian veterans of the First and Second World Wars, 
there are some who either participated in the shooting of German 
prisoners themselves or are certain in the knowledge that their fel¬ 
low soldiers shot one or several prisoners between the forward 
and rear areas. 



From Dorchester to Werl 


397 


German prisoners were shot by Canadians during the last war 
in Italy, France, Belgium, Holland and certainly in Germany. They 
were killed because, at the time, they were a hindrance. They were 
in the way. They were only more mouths to feed, more bodies to 
be dealt with. That’s why they were killed. 

The soldiers felt justified because somehow, in some confused 
way, they believed that the fighting endowed them with a God- 
given right to take such action. 

They believed that in that way they were putting paid to the 
enemy for the bombing of London and the deaths of their com¬ 
rades on the battlefield. 

It is neither pleasant nor easy to talk about these things. They 
are a nightmare now that the sun is shining. We were happy we 
had peace. But one man is still in prison—Generalmajor Kurt 
Meyer. And his crime was no greater than that of some Canadian 
General, whose men did to Germans what Kurt Meyer’s troops 
did—without permission, without his orders and certainly wholly 
without his knowledge. 

Neither am I trying to excuse what some Canadian troops did, 
but these things happened and we would be hypocrites if we did 
not admit it. 

General Chris Vokes, commander of the Canadian Forces of 
Occupation, knew exacdy what he was doing when he commuted 
Meyer’s death sentence to life imprisonment. It is highly probable 
that he knew fully that the reverse could have occurred if we had 
lost the war instead of the Germans. 

And so Kurt Meyer came to Canada and the Dorchester penal 
institution. Life was difficult. The guards put pressure on him. 
They made that proud general scrub the floor again and again. 

All that while the German-bom Canadian citizen, Fritz Lichten- 
berg from Moncton, was trying to accomplish Meyer’s release. He 
gave up his life of retirement and went back into business. He vis¬ 
ited Meyer in prison, spoke to him, collected evidence and flew 
here to Ottawa to present the case to Canadian officials. 

He finally achieved success two years ago. 

The Canadian government decided to transfer Meyer to an 
.Allied penal institution in West Germany. It was then only a ques¬ 
tion of time before Meyer’s sentence was commuted. Today, the 
Minister of Defense, Mr. Claxton, announced in the House of 
Commons that the life sentence had been commuted to 14 years 
imprisonment 




398 


GRENADIERS 


With time off for good behavior, the general could expect to be 

a free man again late in the summer of 1954. 

I have nothing to add to MacDonald’s comments; he hit the nail right 
on the head. Humans, not angels, fought on both sides. 

Meanwhile, conditions in Werl had changed fundamentally. Colonel 
Meech believed that he had to treat us like criminals and that he could 
ignore his assistants’ experience and well-intended advice. His orders, 
which proved he had no experience, made him the most-hated man in the 
prison within a short period. He tried to reintroduce the tone of the imme¬ 
diate post-war years and failed to recognize that the times had changed. 
The consequences of his work were several suicide attempts. We found our 
best allies in his assistants. Our English guards showed themselves to be 
much more understanding than their German colleagues or superiors. 

Among the German personnel, the unsophisticated men—the former 
enlisted men and frontline soldiers—stood head and shoulders above the 
rest. They stood up for their imprisoned comrades with all their heart and 
soul. Regrettably, I can not say the same of their unknown German superi¬ 
ors. They seemed to care less about the well being of their fellow country¬ 
men. 

Colonel Meech was no soldier. He was a civilian in uniform who had 
experienced the war as a home-front warrior. He finally managed to create 
even greater isolation for the so-called war criminals. He practically estab¬ 
lished a prison within a prison for us. A building complex within the penal 
institution became our “home” and completely separated us from the out¬ 
side world. Even the German guards were removed. They were replaced 
solely by British officials. 

Obviously, we were tempted to play tricks on Mr. Meech and to get out 
of his satanically devised isolation. My comrades were therefore afforded 
great pleasure when they heard I had been able to see my wife for more 
than two hours almost under Mr. Meech’s nose. 

Mr. Meech is still lord and master of Werl today, in the summer of 
1956. My comrades still long for freedom behind its drab walls. There are 
no longer any important men buried alive there. Corporals, noncommis¬ 
sioned officers and minor officers cry out for freedom, but their appeal to 
reason and justice has continued to remain unheeded. Time passes them 
by remorselessly. 

My release was fixed for 7 September, 1954. I could hardly imagine 
what freedom would be like and waited impatiendy for my hour of release. 
How would I be able to adapt to the changed environment? That thought 
occupied my thoughts day und night. The 7th of September was the 10th 



From Dorchester to Werl 


399 


anniversary of my capture. I had been separated from my family for 15 
years. 

My oldest daughter was then four years old. A young woman of 19 was 
expecting me at that point. I wondered whether I would succeed in win¬ 
ning the hearts of my children or whether I would first have to struggle a 
long time for their love? Those thoughts tortured me during the last few 
weeks of my ten-year-long captivity. My hunger for life was dampened by 
the fear of freedom. 

The last months behind barbed wire were especially bitter. Time 
seemed to stand still. I had the greatest inhibitions about taking leave of 
my comrades. It was not pleasant to say goodbye to comrades whom you 
knew were bound by law to sit in their lonely cells for many more years. 

I will never forget the handshake of a former corporal who was still 
awaiting his freedom. His children’s big eyes always seemed to ask: “Why 
did you come without our father?” 

Then the time came on the evening of 6 September. The time of my 
release had arrived and my parcel lay ready on the table. 

A number of comrades had assembled in front of the main gate of the 
penal institution, despite the early morning hour, to welcome me and 
accompany me home. The British found the demonstration of loyalty 
unwelcome. They therefore preferred to release me in secrecy through a 
side door and take me to a hotel in Werl. 

I was overwhelmed by the impressions which surrounded me at that 
point. I can only to describe them in part here. Comrades had also been 
expecting my arrival at the hotel. My wife came towards me, beaming with 
joy and led me to my fatherly friend, Fritz Lichtenberg. Good old “Uncle 
Fritz” had come to Werl from Canada so that he could personally take me 
into the circle of my waiting children. 

I was especially touched by the bouquet of flowers from the Vice Presi¬ 
dent of the North-Rhine Westphalia Red Cross association, Frau Else 
Weecks. She eased the misery of the inmates and their families out of pure 
charity and the desire to help. She was justifiably called the “Mother of 
Werl” by the war criminals. 

Heinz Trapp, a comrade from the 1. SS-Panzer-Division quickly drove 
me to Friedland, where the release formalities were completed. I was able 
to meet my mother and friends in the repatriation camp before 1 contin¬ 
ued the journey to my children. 

I was only a few minutes away from my children by nightfall and fid¬ 
geted restlessly back and forth in the car. We reached the small village of 
Niederkruchten, where my family was staying, shordy after 2200 hours. But 
what was going on? We could suddenly go no further. It was black with 



400 


GRENADIERS 


people ahead. The fields on both sides of the road were packed with cars. 
A triumphal arch, as was customary for festivities in the Rheinland, wel¬ 
comed me. The police tried to explain what awaited me, but I could only 
understand a couple of words. The sound of drums made comprehension 
impossible. 

I could hardly take in what was happening. Only the sight of the famil¬ 
iar faces of my old soldiers and officers made me realize I was being wel¬ 
comed ceremoniously. The local population had formed a long lane of 
torchbearers to light the way to my children. 

Deeply moved, I listened to a neighbor’s words of welcome and those 
of a representative of the homecoming organization. When they were fin¬ 
ished, I finally embraced my girls and my boy. 

Not even the thought of the long journey from Saarbrucken had dis¬ 
suaded the only survivor of my command tank, the one-armed Albert 
Andres, from coming to shake my hand. I was deeply grateful to my com¬ 
rades who had rushed to Werl for the welcome. Those were men with 
whom I had marched across Russia’s icy steppes and through Normandy's 
hail of steel. We had been separated for ten long years, but we had still 
remained comrades. The misery of that terrible war had bonded us for 
ever. I speak out in that circle of comrades—the manual laborers, mechan¬ 
ics, white-collar workers and farmers of today: “Believe me, the years which 
lay behind me have left no hatred towards our erstwhile enemies. Let’s not 
talk about the past but work for the future. We have to secure the future 
for our children and build a strong, vital Europe.” 

I was home at last after fifteen years in the wilderness. 



Afterword 


This book was written following the grim experience of war and not 
intended to glorify either individuals or units. My account was written to 
advance the cause of both the living and dead soldiers of the former Waf- 
fen-SS. 

Those men were soldiers! They fought at the side of all branches of 
the Wehrmacht and were continuously employed at all the hot spots of the 
front. Of the thirty-eight Waffen-SS divisions comprising 900,000 soldiers, 
300,000 were killed in action and 42,000 are considered to be missing. 

In contrast to the propaganda advanced by certain parties, there was a 
totally comradely relationship between the men of the Waffen-SS and the 
Army. 

The claim that units of the Waffen-SS divisions were assigned as exter¬ 
mination units is misleading and defamatory. 

Nothing can or should be glossed over in the interests of accurate his¬ 
torical reporting. Things happened during the war which were a disgrace 
to the German nation. The former soldiers of the Waffen-SS are man 
enough to know what were war crimes and to detest them as such. 

It would be silly to reject all the events with which we were charged by 
our former enemies as propaganda inventions. They obviously made prop¬ 
aganda out of them and exaggerated them in a grotesque and totally 
incredible manner. They were the victors, after all, and we had no rights as 
the losers. But crimes did happen. It is irrelevant to discuss the number of 
victims; the fact it happened is incriminating in and of itself. 

Nor does it help to present a counterclaim against our former ene¬ 
mies. We know that they committed a long list of inhumane actions, caus¬ 
ing enormous grief and the death of millions with their expulsion of our 
people from our eastern provinces and with the carpet-bombing of our 
cities. The Allies must cope with that evil themselves. We cannot take on 
the task of weighing the grief or judging. The final judgment of what hap¬ 
pened in our time rests on the truth. We do not know whether that truth 
will ever be known. 


401 



402 


GRENADIERS 


The Waffen-SS is now incriminated with events in the concentration 
camps because leading individuals of the government have placed special 
formations in the same category as frondine troops. By doing so, they have 
rendered a bad service to our units and have thrown thousands of excel¬ 
lent young people into indescribable misery. 

The world took revenge on the soldiers of the Waffen-SS after 1945 in 
a way which does the victor no credit. Our young soldiers had to suffer 
inhumanely for events for which they were neither responsible nor had 
any opportunity to prevent. 

The soldiers had neither more nor less knowledge of the events in 
Germany than the majority of the German people. For example, I never 
saw a concentration camp either from the inside or the outside. Soldiers 
who were constantly engaged in fighting and who received fourteen days 
of home leave a year—if they were lucky—could not possibly be held 
responsible for poliucal crimes. Especially if one considers that these men 
were, for the most part, between eighteen and twenty-two years old. 

The young men volunteered because they were convinced that there 
was an especially good esprit de corps within Waffen-SS divisions and they 
were led in accordance with that attitude. There was no question the divi¬ 
sions consisted mainly of volunteers. The volunteers were idealists who, 
true to their upbringing and the traditions of their fathers, were prepared 
to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. They did not volunteer for 
easy duty but to fight for their homeland. 

The units were subject to hard discipline and educated along good 
Prussian military lines. The Waffen-SS was taught by officers of the old 
Imperial Army, the Reichswehr and the provincial police up to the out¬ 
break of war. 

However, we all made the effort to set old-fashioned ideas aside. That 
applied especially to combat training. New tacfics were relentlessly sought 
and found. The men pressed for a revolutionary change in training and 
leadership, above all in the relationship between officers and men! In 
doing that they followed a development which had already started during 
the last years of World War I under the pressure of increasing total war. It 
had taken form in special frondine detachments and, later, the Freikorps. 
It is clearly the path being taken in future military establishments. 

The Bundeswehr confirms that that type of leadership, indoctrinadon 
and training were right. The reforms undertaken by the Bundeswehr that 
one can take seriously already belonged, for the most part, to the funda¬ 
mental principles of training in the Waffen-SS. 

The Wehrmacht’s performance should indeed be reason enough to 
properly judge its training methods and understand that blind obedience 



Afterword 


403 


and lockstep methods of instruction were the exception. Could any army 
have held out against the demonstrably proven Allied superiority for six 
years had the training methods and the interpersonal relationships 
between officers and men not been the best possible? 

The authority of the officers in the Waffen-SS wasn’t based solely on 
the obligatory and omnipresent iron discipline. Nor was it in any way 
founded on individual commanders being supported by their immediate 
superiors. It was the tme authority of real leadership and was thus based on 
the fact that these men were exemplary human beings and soldiers. Some¬ 
thing emanated from them which, on its own, created unconditional obe¬ 
dience. They were, first and foremost, comrades to their men. They were 
bound to them, for better or worse, unto death. By doing that, they gained 
the complete confidence of every single soldier. 

It was a matter of course that before each decisive combat operation 
the troops were familiarized with the situation and the importance of their 
mission within the context of that situation (as much as time would allow). 
As a result, even the youngest soldier could contribute to the operation, 
aware of his own responsibility for mission success. He could see a clear 
meaning for his own role, even if it had to be his own sacrifice. Often 
enough that pronounced sense of responsibility reflected back to the unit 
leader and helped him overcome any inner crisis. A look full of expecta¬ 
tion and encouragement, a bit of gallows humor and manly composure 
was, without doubt, a wonderful comfort. 

That is precisely the essence of a true warrior community—that the 
factor which binds the men to their leader was also effective in binding the 
leader to his men. If a nation has to fight a total war against half the world 
for its mere existence, then such a community comes about on its own. 

All that glistened in the Waffen-SS was not gold. However, the fact that 
there was such an exceptionally high loss rate in officers of all ranks con¬ 
firms the opinion of a young soldier who said: “Our officers were not supe¬ 
riors but warriors.” The heavy toll of blood which the Waffen-SS had to pay 
during the war still does not seem to be enough today to concede that the 
members of that formation were soldiers. That recognition has been 
denied them by civilians. 

Our erstwhile enemies emphasize our men’s fighting spirit in their lit¬ 
erature and pay high tribute to the divisions of the Waffen-SS. No soldier 
of the former Wehrmacht who had fought alongside Waffen-SS divisions 
would condemn them. It was never my experience that Waffen-SS divisions 
were unwelcome at the front. They were greeted with open arms. 

The creation of the Waffen-SS and the Luftwaffe and Navy Field Divi¬ 
sions was a mistake from a military point of view. There can and must only 



404 


GRENADIERS 


be one armed force. The existence of several specialized armies means a 
dangerous weakening of military strength. 

It is, however, illogical to make the men themselves responsible for the 
existence of the former WafTen-SS. That responsibility must be carried by 
those politicians who failed during those years of internal political strife 
and who are using the strongest of language against our former soldiers 
today. Perhaps these gentlemen may one day remember that, at the time 
when the political dice were being thrown, the future soldiers of the Waf- 
fen-SS were not even old enough to vote and that the youngest boy des¬ 
tined to enter the armed forces was then only six years old. 

The soldiers of the former WafTen-SS do not desire a return to the 
past. The wheels of history cannot and must not be reversed. They support 
the government and are represented in all the Federal Republic’s political 
parties. There is no uniform political opinion among the former soldiers 
of the Waffen-SS. They reject all radical, short-lived and erratic groups. 
They stand for democracy. This is exacdy why they are fighting for their 
rights. 

Any man who knows war—and we really did get to know it—does not 
wish for another war! Furthermore, wars are rarely started by soldiers but 
almost always by politicians. It is the soldiers who then have to make the 
greatest sacrifices. We know, better than anybody else, that our nation can¬ 
not bear to make any further blood sacrifices, that its children must 
mature in peace and tranquillity to become a strong new generation! 

* 

At this point I must also acknowledge and thank those Canadian offi¬ 
cers and men who left no stone unturned during my long captivity in fight¬ 
ing for my freedom. I also thank my brave soldiers and officers who took 
care of my family in time of need and who are continuing to forge those 
bonds today. 

And finally, above and beyond all the worries arising from our mem¬ 
bership in our former units, a last word about that which lights a flame in 
all our hearts: Germany! 

We, who, when all is said and done, sacrificed ourselves in battle not for 
a political party but for our homeland, know that our Germany existed 
before 1933 and also continues to exist after 1945. As die fatherland’s poor¬ 
est sons are also the most loyal at the hour of danger—as the blue-collar 
poet Karl Broger once said—so do we also feel an obligation to our nation, 
even though the state has not yet fulfilled its commitment to us. 



Afterword 


405 


We must stand united to fight for the emancipation and freedom of 
our comrades convicted of war crimes and put an end to the slander. Those 
in prison cannot defend themselves. Those who lie in countless graves no 
longer have a voice. However, their dependents, especially their children, 
still live. Their future is our responsibility. 

Let us therefore lift our voices again and again, moderate in tone but 
conscious of the responsibility. I am convinced that the hour will come 
when we will be heard! 

If that should happen and if the history of warfare has been enriched 
by the campaigns described herein and by the spirit and vitality of our 
unforgettable army, then this book has fulfilled its purpose: 

A memorial to the grenadiers of the Waffen-SS. 




In Memoriam 


by Hubert Meyer 

former chief of staff of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division “Hitlerjugend” 


Panzermeyer was an exceptional military leader, a personality with a 
unique character and strong charisma. Any reader of his account will tes¬ 
tify to that even without encountering that man in wartime or having 
known him at all. The question automatically arises as to how that person¬ 
ality developed and how his comrades perceived him. 

My description of Panzermeyer’s life until 1937 is based on informa¬ 
tion provided by other people. After 1937, it is based primarily on own 
experiences. We were together in the kind of situations in which any man 
reveals his innermost soul. I therefore know how Panzermeyer really was as 
a leader and as a man. I want to relate it here. 

I started my service on 2 May 1937 as a young platoon leader in the 
lO./SS-Infanterie-Regiment “Leibstandarte” after having been graduated 
from the Junkerschule at Bad Tolz and finishing the platoon leader’s 
course. Having previously served in SS-Infanterie-Regiment “Deutschland,” 
I knew almost none of the roughly eighty officers of that 17-company regi¬ 
ment. 

One of the first officers I noticed was the commander of the 14./SS- 
Infanterie-Regiment “Leibstandarte,” SS-Hauptsturmfiihrer Kurt Meyer. 
He appeared to me to be a man of exceptional vitality who inspired his 
company with his unique spirit. 

Much emphasis was placed on sports. The men were not meant to 
become athletes but agile, skillful, enduring and fearless. Among other 
things, that involved the entire company jumping into the swimming pool 
from the ten-meter board with the company commander in the lead. One 
or two of the other platoon leaders sometimes complained under the pres¬ 
sure of such demanding service. At the s