Published in „Siegrunen“ Magazine – Volume V, Number 4, Whole Number 28, January 1982
After completing a successful, if costly, defensive battle in the German-held Kurland Pocket of Western Latvia, the European volunteers of the III. SS Panzer Corps were shipped back to Germany at the end of January 1945. There was no time available to place the Corps’ units into reserve for reformation; they would have to be reinforced en route to the front. III. SS Corps was slated to become part of the new Army Group „Weichsel” (Vistula), which was forming to contain the northern spearhead of the Soviet Marshall Zhukov’s enormous assault force in the Pomeranian sector of Eastern Germany. There was only one word for the military situation: desperate. The SS soldiers would be put to their greatest test in the days and weeks ahead.
At this time, Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner relinquished command of the III. SS Corps to the Army General Unrein to take charge of the new 11th Panzer Army. Coming out of Kur-land with the 11th and 23rd SS Divisions, were the 32nd Pomeranian Infantry Division, the 215th Infantry Division and parts of the 11th East Prussian Infantry Division and the 14th Panzer Division. 125 wounded, married men with families from other units, also came along.
On the night of 28 January 1945, the remnants of III. SS Corps were pulled out of the frontlines near Preekuln in Latvia and travelled by way of Sutsas to the port of Libua (Lipaja). As the SS troops left, the lines behind them were shortened and tightened up for the remaining defenders. More than 2½ months earlier the SS Panzer Detachment 11 „Hermann von Salza”/Dvision „Nordland” had been evacuated from Kurland on 10 and 11 November 1944 after having lost all of its tanks in action. The detachment was reorganized around Landeck to the south of Danzig, but all efforts to obtain new tanks had been in vain. So shortly before the end of the year, „HsV” was sent to the SS camp at Grafenwoehr, Bavaria for reequipping. By the end of January 1945, reassembled and with new tanks, Detachment „HvS” began the journey east to join III. SS Panzer Corps in Pomerania.
On 31 January 1945, the other units of the Corps began loading onto transport ships in the harbor of Libau. The transportation officers tried to speed things up as much as possible and in the process caused some added difficulties. For instance, two trucks from SS Regiment 24 „Danmark” that had been improperly parked for embarkation rolled off the dock and into the boat basin where they were completely irretrievable.
The sea voyage to the German port of Stettin was not un-eventful; there were run-ins with enemy submarines and refugees and escapees from sunken vessels were continually being picked up. One troop ship, the „Moira,” was lost with all hands and took with it a number of soldiers from 23rd SS Division „Nederland.” It had been torpedoed by a submarine. An advance „commando” from III. SS Corps, led by 11th SS Divisional Adjutant, Sturmbannführer Bergfeld and the Corps Quartermaster, Oberstumbannführer Sporn, had been sent to Stettin in mid-January 1945 to make arrangements for the arrival of the Corps’ units.
The Pomeranian sector was in disastrous shape with the massive forces of the 1st and 2nd White Russian „Fronts” hammering away at disorganized and deteriorating half-strength German divisions. The commander of Army Group „Weichsel” was the Reichsführer-SS Himmler, whose actual military command experience was non-existent. He has been accused by many historians of hastening the collapse of the Pomeranian Front by a few weeks, but it is doubtful whether the best military minds in Germany could have done any better! Two newly reorganized SS Volunteer Divisions, the 15th Latvian and the 33rd „Charlemagne” (France No. 1), had brought into the sector near Konitz and were immediately heavily engaged. The 33rd Waffen-Grenadier Regiment from 15th SS Latvian Division soon distinguished itself by driving forward to the Netze River and linking-up with the cutoff German garrison in Bromberg.
The various replacement units of III. SS Panzer Corps had been gathered at the Hammerstein troop training grounds in Pomerania to await the arrival of their parent formations. These units included the following: SS Officer Training Group „Scheibe,” SS NCO Training Battalion „Haemel” and the re-formed 48th Dutch SS Regiment „General Seyffardt.” Due to the deteriorating military situation they had to be combined into Battle-group „Scheibe” and were attached to the emergency ad hoc Corps „Tettau.” Joining them was the SS Antitank (assault gun) Detachment 11/“Nordland,” which had been undergoing training and reequipping at Neuhammer-Queis. In the course of January 1945 all of the above elements were thrown into action against the northern flank of the 1st White Russian Front around Arnswalde and Pyritz.
Running from west to east, the Pomerania defensive front looked like this: between the Oder River and Lake Madu was the Corps „Hoernlein” containing the 4th SS Police Division (which had been brought up from the Balkans); further east around Stargard was the 37th Panzer Crops containing the 10th SS Panzer Division „Frundsberg” with a 4,000 man segment of the Belgian 28th SS Division „Wallonien” near Stettin; in the city of Arnswalde were 3,000 men belonging to „Nebelwerfer” (smoke and rocket mortar) reserve and training units — they were totally surrounded by the enemy. III. SS Panzer Corps was to move into the area north of Arnswalde. East of Arnswalde was the Paratroop Regiment 25 and the 402nd Infantry Division, while still farther to the east the X. SS Army Corps and the Korps „Tettau” took up positions in mid-February facing the Soviet right flank. Behind the Russian lines were many cutoff pockets of German resistance. Between the Weichsel and Oder Rivers were all kinds of fragments and splinters from partially destroyed German divisions that were hastily formed into battle-groups, but they were unable to withstand the intense pressure being applied by the communists.
On 3 February 1945, the newly reformed anti-tank/assault gun detachment (battalion size) of SS Division „Nordland” began fighting a „holding” action alongside an Army infantry division near Hassendorf. The new SS Heavy Tank Detachment 503 led by Sturmbannführer Fritz Hertzig reached the front lines near Arnswlade on 4 February. This was the armored component of III. SS Panzer Corps that had long been authorized but only recently assembled; it had missed all the action on the Narva and Kurland Fronts. It was joined on 5 February by SS. Escort Battalion „Gross” that had been serving as a bodyguard unit of RF-SS Himmler.
Elsewhere, the „Nordland” panzer unit, „Herman von Salza,” which had been temporarily upgraded to SS Panzer Regiment 11 (it had been hoped to add another tank battalion to the original „HvS” detachment, but due to the emergency at the front, this element was never fully formed), had been dispatched by rail from Grafenwoehr to Stettin in the last days of January 1945. Ostubaf. Kausch, led „HvS” with its contingent of 30 assault guns and Panzer V „Panther” tanks to readiness positions to the north of Arnswalde.
Here „HvS” was joined by SS Escort Btl. „Gross” to form a combined unit task force, Kampfgruppe „Kausch.” On the morning of 6 February, KGr. „Kausch” went into battle. 15 assault guns from „HvS” along with accompanying grenadiers from Btl. „Gross” drove back the spearhead of the Soviet attack force north of Arnswalde. To the east the communists managed to seize the towns of Petznick, Schlagenthin, Pammin and Stolzenfelde. Because of this new threat, KGr. „Kausch” was rushed to Reetz, northeast of Arnswalde, during the evening of 6 February. At Nantikow near Reetz, part of the SS Assault Gun Detachment 11 (now designated Kampfgruppe „Schulz-Streek”) had been cutoff and was entering into its second day of heavy fighting. In positions to the south of Reetz was another part of this unit.
Also on the morning of 6 February, 2 regiments from the still forming 28th SS Division „Wallonien,” were sent out from Stargard to take up defensive positions on a line running from Schneidersfelde to Kremzow to Repplin. The Walloons linked- up to the east with a combat-ready regiment from the 27th SS Division „Langemarck,” composed of Flemish volunteers. The „Langemarck” battle-group consisted of I. Btl./SS Regiment 66 under Stubaf. Oehms (headquartered in Zadelow), II. Btl./SS Regiment 67 under Hstuf. Rehman (headquartered in Zachan, with SS Anti-tank Detachment 27 under Hstuf. Wangemann held in reserve near Stargard. The total strength of this force was 2,000 men and the overall commander was Ostubaf. Schellong. The rest of the „Langemarck” Division (some 10-13,000) men was still undergoing training on the Luneburg Heath in northwestern Germany.
The German battle-lines soon began to stabilize along the Inha River. On 7 February, the cutoff section of SS Kampfgruppe „Schulz-Streek” at Nantikow was liberated in a bitter fight. In the process the commander, Stubaf. Schulz-Streek was wounded. He was sent to a Stargard hospital but was back at the front in two days with his arm in a cast. In the meantime, the first parts of the III. SS Panzer Corps contingents from Kurland began deploying in Pomerania. 23rd SS Division „Neder- and” reached the Gollnow area where it received a large batch of new Dutch replacements, while 11th SS Division „Nordland” was initially sent to Massow.
But the enemy drive to the north was continuing. On 8 February, elements of III. SS Corps joined Generalmajor Remer’s „Führer Escort” Division in blocking positions northeast of Reetz. SS Flak Detachment 11 was sent to Jakobshangen while II Btl./SS Rgt. 23 „Norge” was sent straight off the ship to the town of Altenwedell. It was joined by the regimental staff of SS Rgt. 49 „De Ruyter’VDivision „Nederland” near Ravenstein. Since the regiment’s 3 battalions (a new one had just been formed from Dutch SS war correspondents), were still being reassembled, the „De Ruyter” staff was left without any of its own troops. It was however ordered to take charge of various detached elements to form a new battle-group. What resulted was a force consisting of II./SS „Norge,” some Army bicycle and anti-tank companies and a police unit, under the command of the „De Ruyter” CO, Ostubaf. Lohmann and his staff. Kampfgruppe „Lohmann” was then subordinated to the „Führer Escort” Division.
9 February saw difficult, intense fighting take place to the northeast of Reetz. The town of Gross-Silber was retaken by the „Führer Escort” Division at 1500 hours, but it was lost again to the enemy later in the evening. The regrouping of the III. SS Corps troops continued. At Kienschlag in Bohemia the 16th Company/SS Rgt. 24 „Danmark” (combat engineers), completed its reformation and was rushed to Pomerania to be placed in regimental reserve. It consisted of 1 officer, 9 NCO’s and 60 men. The Dutch SS Regiment „De Ruyter” was also reforming at Kienschlag with a temporary staff under Ostubaf. Klotz. It would soon join the „Nederland” Division. Also joining „Nederland” was the greater part of the „new” SS Rgt. 48 „General Seyffardt” which had been largely destroyed on the Narva Front in July 1944. Led by Ostubaf. Scheibe, it had been in action independently in Pomerania since December 1944, when its rebuilding process in Austria reached its completion. Some parts of Regiment „GS” had become trapped in German Army enclaves along the Baltic coast.
To the south of Stargard another crisis developed. The Soviets were attempting a full-scale assault on the lightly held defensive lines of the 28th SS Division „Wallonien.” The „Wallonien” units were positioned like this: I./SS Rgt. 69 around Repplin, II./SS Rgt. 69 between Kolin and Strebelow and I./SS Rgt. 70 between Schoeneberg and Arnswalde (only about 4 km away from the latter entrapped town). II./SS Rgt. 70 along with part of SS Artillery Regiment 28 was in divisional reserve. The fighting reached its crescendo at Repplin, where I. /SS 69 steadfastly blocked and repelled the main thrust of the communist attack. After being solidly rebuffed here, the Reds withdrew a short distance to rebuild their strength. It looked ominous; another such effort might succeed in breaking through to Stargard. The „Wallonien” HQ received new orders from III. SS Panzer Corps: attack to the south and disrupt the enemy’s plans.
At daybreak on 9 February 1945, Ostubaf. Leon Degrelle personally led the assault drive of his Belgian volunteer division. The attack went forward with good success around both sides of Strebelow. In a truly dashing effort with all units fully com-mitted, „Wallonien” recaptured Heinrichstal and Karlsburg and took control of the Linden Hills. The Russians counterattacked with tanks but to no avail. The Walloons had a tactical advantage by holding the high ground. But the situation again became jittery when a counterattack by 37th Panzer Corps along the Warnitz/Damnitz railroad lines failed badly. The „Wallonien” was then forced to fall back to most of its original jumping-off points to avoid encirclements, though one company was left in place in the Linden Hills. Another Walloon company was sent towards Kruessow which the communists had just occupied. On 10 February it valiantly tried to retake Kruessow, but the enemy force was too strong and the Walloon SS attack finally had to be broken off.
The pressure on the trapped Arnswalde garrison continued to grow as the Soviets captured Hohenwalde, Schulzendorf and Kaehnsfelde, further tightening their ring around Arnswalde proper. Supplies were air dropped to the encircled soldiers. Finally the Reds seized the Arnswalde railroad station and dispatched a „surrender or else” ultimatum to the garrison commander, Generalmajor Voight. Voight sent back his refusal in no uncertain terms! His soldiers would fight to the death if need be.
For the next few days, the focal point of the fighting was around Reetz where the enemy spearheads were blocked off by troops from SS-KGr. „Lohmann,” SS-KGr. „Schaefer” (com-posed of III. SS Corps engineers and engineers from the „Neder-land” and „Nordland” Regiments under Ostubaf. Max Schaefer) and the newly reformed battalions of the SS Regiment 49 „De Ruyter.”
After a few short days of rebuilding, the bulk of the „Nord-land” Division was altered to be ready for action on 14 February 1945. Ogruf. Steiner, in his capacity as commander of 11th Panzer Army, issued orders that a full-scale counteroffensive was to begin that day with the aims of retaking the Arnswalde sector, breaking through the whole Landsberg/Varthe front and destroying as many of the Red divisions on Marshall Zhukov’s northern flank as possible.
In cold rain the SS battalions moved into their attack positions. Due to the inclemency of the weather and the slowness in getting the assault force into position, the offensive operation did not begin until the morning of 16 February. The attack was to be coordinated on a line running from south of Stargard to Reetz and to Kailies, by Ogruf. Steiner’s 11 Panzer Army. 37th Panzer Corps, led by the 4th SS Police Panzergrenadier Division and the 10th SS Panzer Division ‘‘Frundsberg,” led the assault on the west wing and rapidly gained ground to the south. In the center of the lines, 11th SS Panzergrenadier Division „Nord-land” drove towards the western perimeter of Arnswalde with 23rd SS Panzergrenadier Division „Nederland” moving to the east of the town. In close support of these divisions were the SS KGr. „Langemarck” and the 281st Infantry Division. On the east wing, the „Führer Escort” Division led by Generalmajor Remer and the „Führer Grenadier” Division led by Generalmajor Maeder attacked towards Reetz with General von Schleinitz’ 402nd Infantry Division and Generalmajor Sixt’s 5th Jaeger Division driving towards Kailies. Farther to the east contact was maintained with the Temporary Divisions „Baerwalde” and „Koeslin.”
On the day prior to the attack (15 February), most of SS „Nordland” had to fight its way to the designated jumping-off positions, which had been occupied by Soviet advance troops. Under a light morning mist the companies of the Danish II./SS Rgt. 24, passed through the security lines of SS „Langemarck” near Zachan and built a bridgehead across the Inha River. The combat engineers had to work through the night and into the morning of 16 February preparing a bridge strong enough to accommodate heavy armored vehicles. By midday on the 16th the first „Danmark” armored personnel carriers rolled over the bridge and the attack was on. II./“Danmark” spearheaded the effort supported by armor from the „Führer Escort” Division and the „Herman von Salza” SS Panzer Detachment along with assault guns from SS Anti-tank Detachment 11/“Nordland.”
II/SS 24 „Danmark” and II./SS 23 „Norge” made a simultaneous attack towards Reichenbach but II./“Norge” ran into fierce communist resistance at Schlagenthin and was unable to keep going. It was left to II./“Danmark” under the courageous Danish Sturmbannführer Per Sorensen to make the final assault on Reichenbach. Sorensen’s battalion moved forward with its 6th Company on the left and its 7th Company on the right. 5th Company was in support-reserve with 8th Company remaining in reserve and out of the battle. Good artillery support was provided by II. Detachment/SS Artillery Rgt. 11 and by the SS Artillery Rgt. 54/“Nederland.”
The advance into Reichenbach was a harrowing one for the Danish SS men; the town had been set afire and the roads were choked with dead Russians, smashed vehicles and dead horses. All over, women and children screamed to be rescued and blistering small arms fire crackled lethally through the air. Stubaf. Sorensen, as usual, personally led the foremost assault platoon and with great bravery, quickly captured the south part of the town. 5th Company moved in to lend support and its commander, Hstuf. Fendler was immediately wounded; he was replaced by Hstuf. Seyb. Within a short time all of Reichenbach had been secured and the regimental commander of „Danmark,” Ostubaf. Kruegel came up to the front. Kruegel conferred with Sorensen and ordered him to seize the woods and high ground around Reichenbach to which the enemy had retreated and then hold fast.
At 1300 hours, the Danish SS troops pushed forward. 6th and 7th Companies were able to report at 1345 hours that: ‘The attack goal has been attained; the enemy resistance has been broken.” A short time later, 5th Company also reached its objectives. The battalion and regimental command posts were hurriedly set up in Reichenbach. Only a few inhabitants of the town were still alive — many had been murdered by the Soviets. But the soldiers found barns still full of cattle; and it was noted by one keen-eyed observer that the: „cows had painfully swollen udders from being left unmilked.” Commissary troops from „Nordland’s” Maintenance Battalion were called in to evacuate the livestock.
By the afternoon of 16 February, the German spearheads were advancing to the south in all sectors. But there were set-backs. The failure of SS Rgt. 23 „Norge” to take Schlagenthin had caused SS Rgt. 24 „Danmark” to slow its advance. 37th Panzer Corps (4th and 10th SS Divisions) had successfully driven to the south point of Lake Madu with elements then turning to the east and entrapping a large number of enemy troops between Lake Madu and Arnswalde. Towards evening on the 16th, the 28th SS Division „Wallonien” received orders that it was to leave its controlling positions in the Linden Hills on 17 February, to drive forward and link-up with the German troops to the south from 37th Panzer Corps.
But the Soviet defense suddenly grew stronger. Troops from 37th Panzer Corps were unable to advance beyond the southeast point of Lake Madu. The lead attack company from the „Wallonien” under Ustuf. Capelle, advanced out of the Linden Hills, but could not make much progress and took heavy casual-ties.
At the end of 16 February, after much violent fighting in the III. SS Panzer Corps sector, many combat objectives still had not been reached. The companies of SS KGr. „Langemarck” had attacked on Division „Nordland’s” west wing and had captured Brallenthin by late afternoon but had been rebuffed at Petznick. After being repelled several times, the soldiers of SS Rgt. 23 „Norge” finally took Schlagenthin by storm, but their tardiness in achieving this accomplishment had forced SS Rgt. 24 „Danmark” to stay in place in the high ground south of Reichenbach for most of the afternoon and evening.
In the sector of 23rd SS Division „Nederland” the SS Rgt. 49 „De Ruyter” had spent much of 16 February battling futilely for possession of the town of Reetz. I. Battalion/SS Rgt. 49, headquartered in Neuglueck, had attacked along both sides of the Ravenstein-Reetz road with the support of the SS Anti-tank (assault gun) Detachment 54 under Hstuf. Aigner. Intense, concentrated enemy fire was encountered and despite superhuman efforts by the Dutch SS men, the advance was firmly bogged down in the cemetery to the north of Reetz. In sheer desperation one of the assault guns from SS AT Detachment 54 attacked madly from the west in an effort to scatter the enemy and clear a route to the city. The end results proved to be exactly the opposite. The assault gun was destroyed just outside the Arnswalder Gate, and its remains effectively blocked the approach way for the SS grenadiers!
II./SS Rgt. 49 left its positions to the north of Reetz in an effort to get the attack moving. It approached the city from the Altenwedell area but could not break the resistance of enemy defenders who clung to a row of fortified houses on the outskirts of Reetz. The Russians counterattacked with tanks that were brought across the Inha River. II./SS Rgt. 49 was then forced to break off its assault to defend itself. To the northwest of Reetz, the armored elements of the „Führer Escort” Division under Oberstleutnant Wolf had attacked the Soviet held town of Klein-Silber. This action was slowed by heavy and effective enemy anti-tank shelling. Still some progress was made. The Konraden railroad station was reached and the division’s infantrymen took Steinberg and Kreuz before being brought to a halt around Nantikow.
In the general vicinity, 281st Infantry Division began its attack over the Glambeck River and drove forward to Hill 116 and Hassendorf before coming to a halt in the evening along Reich’s Highway 104. In the same battle area, SS-KGr. „Schulz- Streek” (SS Anti-tank Detachment 11/“Nordland), reached Hill 107 to the south of Hassendorf. In the late evening the enemy attempted a counterattack to regain the lost ground, but „Nord- land’s” assault guns made quick work of this effort by destroying 22 T-34 Soviet tanks and driving back the accompanying infantrymen.
On 17 February, the undermanned and outgunned 37th Panzer Corps became hopelessly bogged down along the southern shore of Lake Madu. In the Linden Hills, Ustuf. Capelle’s company from SS „Wallonien” was fighting desperately for its life. On all sides of the hills were T-34 and Stalin tanks. On the positive side, „Nordland” was able to drive much closer to Arnswalde on 17 February and the SS Reg. 23 „Norge” was able to push out from Schlagenthin and establish a „security line” from Stolzenfelde to Marienweder.
SS Rgt. 24 „Danmark” was given a number of objectives to attain on 17 February; the most important of which were to eliminate the strong enemy forces holding Bonin, Schoenwerder and Gut Marienfelde. Actually the capture of Gut Marienfelde was transferred to I. Battalion/SS Rgt. 66/“Langemarck,” after III. Battalion/“Danmark” secured the town of Bonin. With the help of armored scout cars from the „Führer Escort” Division and 3 assault guns from the „Nordland” Division, III./“Dan- mark” led by Stubaf. Ternedde successfully retook Bonin in very difficult fighting. I./SS Rgt. 66 was not as lucky in its attack on Gut Marienfelde. The Soviets were well dug-in and put up an especially bitter resistance. One Flemish SS company got stuck in hard, costly fighting for a sheep farm. The company commander was killed early on, and by the time the company finally pulled back it had been reduced to 2 weak platoons.
Ostubaf. Kruegel was so worried about the situation in Gut Marienfelde, which endangered the flanks of his regiment „Danmark,” that in the late afternoon he ordered his troops to attack it instead of Schoenwerder. As Stubaf. Sorensen prepared his II/“Danmark” for action, a flare shot up into the sky from Gut Marienfelde; the town was finally in the hands of the „Langemarck” soldiers! Now the attack on Schoenwerder could proceed.
II./“Danmark” again led the way, quickly overrunning the first enemy positions which were poorly situated on flat, level ground some 380 yards away. Getting to the secondary defenses was a little tougher; the SS grenadiers worked their way forward by leaps and bounds — springing up and running from one patch of cover to the next. 3 assault guns from Division „Nordland” came forward and began blazing away at the nearby woods, where many enemy soldiers had taken refuge. Within 15 minutes the first Russians came flying out of the forest and into the hands of the Danes. 6th and 7th Companies were then able to make clean penetrations and seized the main Soviet bunker line intact. Inside the dug-outs were found great quantities of weapons (including machineguns), supplies and tinned meat cans, much of which was marked „Made in USA.” The bunkers were still warm as they had been insulated with animal pelts. Even laundry lines were still strung up between them. Naturally the foodstuffs were well appreciated and most of it providentially disappeared before the commissary officers could come up to appropriate it!
As the attack group moved down the main road to Schoenwerder, 2 of the assault guns fell victim to land mines and were disabled. Just outside of the town the third AG fell victim to the same fate. The enemy resistance intensified and the advance bogged down. Some „Nordland” armored cars tried to enter the town from the east but one was knocked out by a lucky shot from an anti-tank gun and the others pulled back. The Reds then sent a veritable rain of mortar shells onto the companies of II./“Danmark,” keeping the Danish SS men pinned to the ground. The regimental commander, Ostubaf. Krugel, now went up to the front to evaluate the situation.
Once again Kruegel conferred with Stubaf. Sorensen and new battle plans were drawn up for II./“Danmark.” Ustuf. Madsen’s 7th Company was to make a wild dash for the high ground and punch a hole through the Schoenwerder defenses; the other companies would follow immediately behind to expand the penetration. But darkness fell and the attack was postponed; it would succeed on the next day. In the dusk, Stubaf. Sorensen threw out a security-picket line along the Stargard-Arnswalde railroad line. A squad was sent out to make a link-up with III./“Danmark” to the east. Along the battalion’s long west flank in bushy, wooded terrain, „Danmark’s” 16th Combat Engineer Company was brought out of reserve and deployed. They held the lines reaching over to the SS KGr. „Langemarck” sector.
Elsewhere on 17 February, the siege of Arnswalde was unexpectedly lifted at 1600 hours, when 7 tanks from SS „Nordland” made a dare-devil drive through the last enemy positions. Nearby, Flemish volunteers from SS „Langemarck” had fought a day-long, vicious battle for Petznick, which at least had the effect of preventing the Soviets from moving reinforcements to the Arnswalde area. In the SS „Nederland” sector, I./SS Reg. 49 „DeR” had again started up its attack on Reetz from the cemetery, but as before, it met with no success. The city was too strongly defended and a frontal assault would not work.
Ostubaf. Lohmann, once again in command of SS Rgt. 49, switched the attack to the high ground southeast of Reetz where the bulk of the Soviet heavy weapons and artillery pieces were located. This terrain had to be controlled if an attack on Reetz was ever to succeed. II./SS Rgt. 49 was deployed farther to the north and it could offer no assistance to its sister battalion; it had its hands full just trying to hold on to the ground between Walkmeuhle and the Konraden railroad station.
To the east, battle-groups from the „Führer Escort” and „Führer Grenadier” Divisions and the 281st Infantry Division struggled to keep the attack going in the face of heavy losses and bitter resistance. An enemy tank attack at night almost captured the divisional HQ of the „Führer Escort” Division, but it was turned back at the last moment when an assault gun battalion made a last-ditch intervention.
As 18 February dawned, the situation in the sector of 37th Panzer Corps turned from bad to worse. Zhukov had thrown his „Guards” tank divisions into the battle area in the villages around Stargard, and the units of 37th Panzer Corps had been completely forced over to the defensive. In the Linden Hills, Ustuf. Capelle’s Walloon volunteer company had become completely surrounded, and rather than surrender, fought heroically to the death. The company had destroyed many enemy tanks, and the badly wounded stayed where they fell firing their weapons until their last breath. Those that could no longer function were put out of their misery with a bullet to the head. The company command post held off the swarming enemy hordes all day long, with the survivors fighting on with rifle butts and service revolvers. Towards evening the command post finally fell; Uatuf. Capelle went down bravely firing his pistol point blank at the enemy. During the night 2 wounded Walloons from the company made it to the 28th SS Divisional HQ with the story of this engagement. For his incredible heroism, Ustuf. Capelle received mention in the Wehrmacht War Bulletin and was posthumously nominated for the Knight’s Cross.
The morning of 18 February was fairly quiet in the „Nord-land” sector, although reconnaissance had picked up an enemy movement towards the Stargard-Arnswalde railroad lines during the night. A Soviet raiding party had also slipped through the lines near Gut Marienfeld and had ambushed a German supply convoy on the Reichenbach road. Ostubaf. Schellong, com-manding SS-KGr. „Langemarck” sent out a Flemish SS company to deal with the problem. In the area between Gut Marienfelde and the lines of II./“Danmark,” the Flemings were able to wipe out the enemy incursions.
In Arnswalde itself, violent fighting raged around the military barracks and the railroad station. Division „Nordland” had been able to construct an emergency corridor a little more than a mile wide, into the city. After achieving this the first priority had been to evacuate the wounded soldiers and civilians. In the evening on 18 February, General Unrein, commanding III. SS Panzer Corps, went into Arnswalde for discussions with the garrison commander, Generalmajor Voight. Assault guns from 1st Company/SS Anti-tank Detachment 11 were now added to the city’s defenses.
The battlefield situation in the SS „Nederland” sector remained essentially unchanged. An enemy flank attack supported by bombers, was halted by the „Führer Escort” and „Führer Grenadier” Divisions along with the SS Kampfgruppe „Schulz-Streek.” This latter element, which held Hill 107 to the south of Hassendorf, continued to distinguish itself by throwing back repeated enemy assaults and inflicting heavy losses. In the course of the day, SS KGr. „Schultz-Streek” knocked out 17 communist tanks and a large number of self-propelled guns while capturing 3 of the T-34s intact! It was an impressive feat and Stubaf. Schulz-Streek was awarded the Knight’s Cross for his unit’s achievements.
On 19 February 1945, the last vestiges of 11th Panzer Army’s offensive came to an end. The area from Reetz to Hassendorf was evacuated to the north. In the evening, Brigadeführer Ziegler, commanding SS „Nordland,” spoke with Generalmajor Voight in Arnswalde. The communists were pulling out all stops to try and reenvelop the city and barely 2 miles to the northeast a strong enemy tank spearhead was advancing unimpeded. It was intercepted by 3rd Platoon/1st Co./SS Antitank Detachment 11, which promptly destroyed 4 of the Soviet tanks and sent the rest packing.
On 19 and 20 February the enemy began very strong artillery supported attacks against the positions of SS Regiments „Danmark” and „Norge.” „Danmark’s” grenadiers has succeeded in taking most of Schoewerder, but parts of the town were still being contested. Only with the help of massed heavy weapons fire could the Danish SS Regiment continue to resist the foe. On 21 February, the Soviets simply decided to eliminate Schoenwerder with their own artillery barrage. The town was set ablaze, but the soldiers still hung on to their lines; only the livestock were evacuated!
Ogruf. Steiner finally came to the sad conclusion that the offensive had run its course and on the afternoon of 21 February he gave orders to begin a general withdrawal to 11th Panzer Army’s old positions across the Inha River. Steiner could take some small solace in the fact that the Arnswalde garrison had at least been liberated, but beyond that all the grand plans had come to naught. There was now no longer any doubt that the Soviet forces were simply too powerful to be confronted head-on in attack formation, even by the best European forces left to the Reich. But the grim struggle had to continue to its bitter conclusion — given the barbaric nature of the enemy, there was no alternative!
The Arnswalde units were withdrawn from the town in three marching groups at 1700, 1800 and 1900 hours on 21 February. There would be no panic and no precipitous pull-out; it would be a methodical step-by-step retreat. An SS armored battle-group under Ostubaf. Gross provided protection for the withdrawal. At midnight, Generalmajor Voight reported in to General Unrein at III. SS Panzer Corps HQ in Tornow with what remained of the Arnswalde garrison.
SS Rgt. „Danmark” covered the south flank of the retreat and was the last unit to withdraw. II. and III. Battalions finally left their positions around Schoenwerder at 2300 hours. A small task force under Ustuf. Gordon stayed behind to maintain the impression that the lines were still occupied. At 0300 hours on 22 February a flare was sent up by the regimental commander to recall Gordon’s rearguard.
In the dawn hours of the 22nd, Stubaf. Sorensen gave the orders to blow up the last bridge over the Inha River. But just before the charges were detonated, 10th Company/SS Rgt. „Norge” turned up and was allowed to cross. Then the bridge was sent flying into the air. The European SS volunteers now girded themselves for the last grueling battles for the German Reich and for what they believed to be European civilization as well. These last grim encounters will be fully covered in up-coming issues of „Siegrunen.”
For more information on the SS struggle in Pomerania see Wilhelm Tieke’s Tragödie um die Treue, the Flemish SS veteran’s association’s Lamingen Aan Het Oostfront, Volume 2, and Jos Schneider’s Their Honor was Loyalty!