SS Inf. Rgt. 4 on the Eastern Front in the Winter of 1941-42

Published in „Siegrunen“ Magazine – Volume 6, Number 1, Whole Number 31, July-September 1983

Emergency Airlift to the 4th Army

After having spent more than two months in action on the Eastern Front, the SS Inf. Rgt. 4 was pulled out of the lines in November 1941 for a leisurely program of refitting. In March 1942 it was supposed to join the SS Div. “Das Reich,” which had lost most of its SS Inf. Rgt. 11 in heavy fighting on the road to Moscow. SS IR 4 was replaced as a component of the 2nd SS Inf. Bde. by the newly formed SS Volunteer Legion “Flandern,” composed of Flemish volunteers.

On 26 November 1941, the regiment began its relocation to Poland. The three regimental battalions would leave the Leningrad sector in march columns staggered a day apart on 26, 27 and 28 November respectively. In great cold and biting winds, the truck convoys made their way through a bleak, snow-covered land. The soldiers had thickly insulated their troop trucks with straw to provide some protection against the cold. The three regimental march groups passed through Pleskau, Riga, Mitau, Bischofsburg, Zichenaw and Warsaw and reached their destination at Krakow on 5, 6 and 7 December.

I. and III. Battalions were quartered in the Polish Army barracks in the “Old Town” while II. Btl. was sent to the SS- “Totenkopf” guard barracks in Krakow. The regiment was now supposed to be rebuilt into a motorized “schnell” rifle regiment, so it could be added to the “Das Reich” Division. After a short rest period, the unit’s vehicles, equipment and weapons were overhauled. Maintenance work went on at a feverish pace, and the so-called “refreshing” the regiment was supposed to be enjoying became one in name only.

SS-IR 4, which had gone into action near Leningrad armed with Czech weapons, was now resupplied with German machine guns (MG34s) and rifles. Some new replacements also arrived and a weapons training program soon got underway. The “old warriors” from the Leningrad fighting taught the new young soldiers all the tricks and shortcuts they had picked up in action. By working closely together, the old and new members of the regiment rapidly gained a firm sense of community and comradeship.

With Christmas fast approaching, half of the “veterans” with the regiment were slated to go on home leave, but developments in the “East” looked ominous. The Soviets had launched a dangerous counteroffensive before Moscow and the German lines were threatened up and down the front. The men of SS-IR 4 soon got the bad news: “All leaves are cancelled!” To say the least, this put a quick damper on the Christmas spirit. As an added precaution the whole regiment was put on readiness alert. This meant that the unit could be sent back to the front at any moment, and those orders were not long in coming:

Members of the Regiment prepare to board a Ju 52 in Krakow.

“The SS-IR 4 is to be flown to the area of Army Group Center. Infantry weapons will accompany. Heavy weapons will follow in an overland truck convoy. Each man will take only his personal weapons and equipment and only the most essential items in his clothing bag.”

The companies immediately sprang to life; officers and NCOs shouted out commands and directions. In very short order weapons were distributed, clothing bags packed and last letters to home were written. On the next day they would move out. Men that had just started out on leave returned and the last replacements came in. Each man in the regiment was issued with a new winter overcoat. By 16 December 1941, SS-IR 4 was ready to go.

The regimental units were scheduled in sequence for the transport flights. I. Btl. was to be the first to leave. On 18 December, its companies were trucked to the Krakow airfield where Ju 52 transport planes were waiting for them. But the weather proved to be too unsettled to permit a takeoff and the men of I. Btl. had to be hauled back to their barracks. The next day calm weather prevailed and they were loaded into the aircraft.

On 19 December, 1st Co./SS-IR 4 under Hstuf. von Rautenfeld was the first element of the regiment to begin its flight to the east. The pilots carefully supervised the loading of the men and their equipment since too much weight aboard created additional hazards. Each Ju 52 could hold only 20 soldiers and their accessories; therefore, it took 10 planes to carry a full strength 200-man company. Because of their weaponry, the machine gun companies took up fully 15 airplanes each.

Sturmbannführer Vitzthum, the battalion CO, along with the rest of his staff, left Krakow by air on the morning of 20 December. It would still take two more days to get the rest of the battalion in flight. The planes had to fly at particularly high altitudes to avoid contact with any enemy fighters. Far below stretched what seemed to be an endless panorama of frozen white earth.

1st Co./SS-IR 4 was the first to disembark at the Malojaroslavice airfield near the Juchnov-Moscow road, but it was not until the evening of 22 December that it could be reassembled with the other battalion companies along with 12./III. Btl. (machine guns). The 4th Co. was the last battalion unit to arrive at Malojaroslavice during the late afternoon of 22 December. It was just in time to come under mortar fire from nearby Soviet advance spearheads. Parts of 2nd and 4th Companies were sent off slogging through the snow to engage the enemy.

Machine guns were immediately put into position in the woods next to the airfield and an enemy attack group was driven off. It was quite a warm welcome for the newly arrived SS troops! The entire battalion was now readied for action. It was apparent that the Reds had broken through along both sides of the main Juchnov road. Stubaf. Vitzthum split his command into three segments, each of which was to join with Army units to help stem the enemy advance.

After dropping the troops off, the Ju 52s immediately refueled and left the threatened airfield. The soldiers were able to get a quick meal from a field kitchen and then they were rushed off to their new assignments. 1st Company drew the first mission; it was to be sent to reinforce part of the 260th Inf. Div. in the front lines. Hstuf. Rautenfeld and his platoon leaders supervised the loading of the SS men and equipment into a truck convoy which quickly left for the front.

SS IR 4 troops before the counterattack on Kolodkino, north of Juchnov.

Because of the enemy ground fire nearby, the Malojaroslavice airfield had to cease operating during the evening of 22 December. The rest of SS-IR 4 now had to be sent to other destinations. III. Battalion and the regimental staff were rerouted to Kaluga, and the various units arrived there between 22 and 24 December. The regimental CO, Ostubaf. Hinrich Schuldt and his adjutant, Hstuf. Molderings, established a command post in a small building on the edge of the city and they immediately began laying out situation maps to try and figure out where the various companies of I. Btl. had been sent. The first incoming news received at the HQ was a report that Hstuf. Heinz Herdt, the commander of 3rd Co., had already been killed in action.

II./SS-IR 4, which had been scheduled to leave Krakow on 24 December, received a two-day delay due to foul weather conditions, and did not get underway until 26 December. 5th, 6th and 7th Companies along with the battalion staff and parts of 13th, 14th and 16th Cos. landed at the Juchnov airfield, south of Orscha, on 27 and 28 December. During those two days the military situation around Juchnov deteriorated rapidly. Soviet assault troops had broken through to the south of Kaluga and to the north of Suchnitschi. In the process they managed to reach the Juchnov-Roslavl road and penetrated deeply into the interior sectors of 4th Army.

II./SS-IR 4, under the command of Hstuf. Walter Harzer, was given the difficult mission of securing and defending the area around Naro-Fominsk to the south of Juchnov, while at the same time preserving the vital supply road running to 19th Pz. Div., which was fighting for its existence against strong communist forces. The 13th, 14th and 16th Cos., which were part of the heavy weapons elements of the regiment, were ordered to proceed to the front with II. Battalion. Surprisingly, the light antitank and infantry guns assigned to these companies were also airlifted in instead of being shipped up in a transport column as previously planned. This additional firepower made II. Btl. a very welcome reinforcement to 19th Pz. Division.

During the time period from 19 December to 28 December 1941, the Special Air Transport Sqn. 600 under Maj. Zeidler did a masterful job of flying the 2,200 soldiers of SS-IR 4 with their weapons, supplies and equipment to hard-pressed Army Group Center. But noe the real epic struggle of the regiment was about to begin!

I. Battalion/SS-lR 4 at Serpuchov-Djetschino

By the early morning hours of 23 December 1941, all of the troops of I./SS-IR 4 were enroute to destinations in the area held by XIII. Corps. At 0300, with the thunder of heavy artillery fire resounding in their ears, the half-frozen men of 1st disembarked from their trucks at a small village near the frontlines. Clothing bags were tossed out and stored together in designated houses. At 0400 the troops formed up for a foot march to the front.

The platoons had to make their way down a lonely forest road in hip-deep snow. After some ground had been covered an enemy patrol caught sight of the Waffen-SS troops and promptly opened fire. The men of 1st Co. quickly threw up improvised snow wall fortifications and spent the entire day there pinned down by the enemy forces. During the night of 23 December, having suffered numerous cases of frostbite and with only frozen rations for sustenance, 1st Co. slipped back to the village where they had originally arrived. Here it was made a rear-guard company of a battalion of the 260th Inf. Division.

At about noon on 24 December, 1st Company’s “village” was surrounded by the Soviets. At 1300 the enemy began to attack and the SS troops fought back with small arms and hand grenades. The resistance was too much for the Reds and they pulled back for parts unknown. But 1st Co. was still in a bind; the wounded could not be evacuated and the soldiers in the vicinity from 260th Div. proved to be apathetic and fully demoralized.

Christmas night was a subdued one; a pine bough on the wall of the company command post served in place of a Christmas tree. Radio contact was luckily made with battalion HQ (260th Div.), and permission was granted for the trapped garrison to attempt a breakout at 2200 hours. Fortunately, scouts had already ascertained that there was a big hole in the enemy ring to the west, so a withdrawal in that direction began on schedule in a falling snow. The empty village was set ablaze as the SS men left prompting one soldier to snarl: “Now that damned place is pretty good and warm!”

In small groups, the SS men slipped through a close-by Russian-held village without firing a shot. They were given an assist by “General Vodka” as all of the Red Army troops were in a drunken stupor! By Christmas morning, 1st Co. had safely reached its reception point with 260th Inf. Division. Hstuf. von Rautenfeld reported in to the battalion commander saying; “Luck was with us. We’re very glad the Russians had enough schnapps!”

After the soldiers of 2nd and 4th Cos./SS-IR 4 finished driving off the Soviets around the Malojaroslavice airfield, they were quickly loaded into a waiting truck convoy for a trip to the “real” front. The combined company battle group came under the command of Hstuf. Ullman. Following a freezing night journey, the men of Kampfgruppe “Ullman” took up readiness positions around Vysokinitischi with orders to prepare for an attack along the road to Serpuchov.

Assisted by two assault guns, the two companies rapidly cleaned out an enemy infested woods and advanced down the road to a designated defensive line, where they halted to await further developments.

On 21 December 1941, 3./I./SS-IR 4 and 12./III./SS-IR 4 (machine guns) had landed at the Malojaroslavice airfield. The two companies were lumped together and during that night were sent to the vicinity of Vysokinitschi, traveling through Obnins- koje and Belusova on the way. This sector was held by parts of the 260th and 52nd Inf. Divs., but the front-line situation was now unclear. Siberian ski battalions had broken through the German security lines at many points.

SS IR 4 machine gun position on the Oka River near Kaluga.

SS-Hstuf. Maitre, CO of 8./SS IR 4 and later l./SS IR 4.

On 22 December, the commander of 3rd Co., Hstuf. Herdt, who was also in charge of the 3rd/12th Company battlegroup, joined his command with that of a task force from the 260th Inf. Div. in a small village near an arterial road. The Soviets began pressing in on them from three sides. In the early morning hours, 12th Co., under Ostuf. Graun, began to set up firing positions for its machine gun teams in the beleagured town. But Hstuf. Herdt was not about to yield the initiative to the Soviets; in the pre-dawn darkness he led 3rd Co. on a night march behind the enemy lines. At daybreak, the company was able to attack the Red forces from the flanks and rear and achieved a total surprise. The Russians began a hurried retreat to a small hill, but they were caught in a cross-fire by the weapons of 3rd Company. Unable to make much progress through the deep snow, the Soviets were simply slaughtered and in a short time the entire enemy battalion had been destroyed.

Flushed with success, Hstuf. Herdt now made a tragic mistake. He regrouped his company and led it over the open battlefield, which was covered with dead Russians, but otherwise barren. While moving back towards the village, 3rd Co. left itself totally exposed. As a result, it was caught between the pincers of some Red Army units coming to relieve the now nonexistent Soviet battalion. Just as their adversaries had done before, the SS men began floundering through the deep snow in their haste to escape from this new trap. A devastating enemy fire ripped apart the company, and during the attempt to reach safety fully 90 SS men fell killed or wounded. Among the dead was the CO, Hstuf. Herdt.

Pained by the stunning losses absorbed by 3rd Co., I. Battalion’s commander, Stubaf. Vitzthum, requested that its survivors be removed from the front sector. Little did he know that they would only be taken out of the frying pan and thrown into the fire! The 3rd Company’s remnants were sent farther south to join the hard-pressed 52nd Inf. Div. which was valiantly resisting the onslaught of the 49th Soviet Army. In the week of 16- 22 December, the division had lost 11 battalion commanders killed or wounded—giving some idea of what the fighting was like in its sector! On 22 December alone, I./181st Inf. Rgt./52nd Inf. Div. which was defending Strongpoint Dvoriki, lost 30 men killed and 159 wounded, and its CO was also wounded.

On 23 December, 3/SS-IR 4, now led by Ostuf. Friedrichs, along with Ostuf. Graun’s 12./SS-IR 4, were sent to help the Dvoriki defenders. The strength of 3rd Co. now stood at two officers/11 NCOs/55 men, while 12th Co. had 4/20/128. Both companies hauled along their equipment on hand-pulled sleds. Clothing bags and personal effects had been lost in a fire in the first deployment area. On 24 December the commander of Strongpoint Dvoriki, Hauptmann Werner, gave up his position and fell back with his command (which now included the two SS companies) on Roschtscha, to protect the withdrawal of 52nd Division’s heavy weapons. This proved to be a prudent defensive move. Late in the evening a radio message reached the battle- group from Lt.Gen. Rendulic: “For your heroic actions at Roschtscha, my full appreciation. Christmas greetings! Signed: Rendulic.”

On 27 December, the reinforced Kampfgruppe “Werner” with its two SS companies attacked enemy positions that were threatening the villages of Panovo and Sugurovo. This enabled the bulk of the 52nd Div. to safely retreat from the woods and fall back on Njedelnoye. While the attack proved successful, it immediately provoked enemy counterattacks which continued around the two villages until 29 December. In the evening of that day, Kampfgruppe “Werner” began pulling out towards unoccupied territory in the west. Unfortunately, the movement of the troops attracted a strong enemy attack column, and panic suddenly set in among the Kampfgruppe soldiers.

Hauptmann Werner and Ostuf. Graun desperately strove to keep the retreat orderly, and by and large they were successful. No disaster occurred and later during the night of 29/30 December, the Kampfgruppe marched out of danger and reached the village of Gontscharovka where Stubaf. Vitzthum and part of his I. Btl. had built-up a reception point. Soon afterwards, Soviet forces launched a vigorous attack against the town, but were driven off. The SS and Wehrmacht soldiers conducted a rapid counterattack that scattered the enemy troops and succeeded in reopening the Malojaroslavice-Kaluga road to heavy weapons and supply transport.

On 31 December, KGr. “Werner” traveled south via Djetshino to Mysgi, where it entered the main defensive lines for what would be a protracted stay. However, the Waffen-SS contingents were soon given other assignments. The 3rd Co. left the Kampfgruppe on 4 January 1942 and was followed a short while later by 12th Company. The 3./SS-IR 4 had gone into battle on 22 December with a strength of 150 men; after ten days of violent fighting it only had 15 men from its original complement left! The company was reformed using regular Army replacements from 52nd Inf. Div. and by mid-January it again held 3 officers/19 NCOs/67 men. The 12th Co. had likewise suffered from some attrition; it had gone into battle with 152 troops and had been reduced to 93 soldiers. However, it was able to absorb the survivors from the badly depleted 4th Co./ 181st Inf. Rgt. (Army), which brought 12th Company’s strength back up to 4 officers/23 NCOs/114 men.

The Defense of Kaluga

In December 1941 the key city of Kaluga was defended by Col. Gen. Heinrici’s XXXXIII. Corps consisting of the 31st, 131st and 137th Inf. Divisions. In the course of the month the Corps was reinforced by III./SS-IR 4, the 32nd Motorized Polizei Btl. and the Polizei Rgt. “Center.” The component parts of III./SS- IR 4 landed at the West Kaluga airfield from 22 to 24 December. Hstuf. Vogdt, the battalion CO, arrived with his staff at 1445 hours on 22 December. The following day the regimental staff with the SS-IR 4 commander, Ostubaf. “Kap’tan” Schuldt, landed. The first III. Btl. unit to be deployed was 8th Co., which was sent off on Christmas Day to take over 12th Company’s old positions.

Back in Kaluga, the regimental HQ was soon functioning near the airfield and Ostubaf. Schuldt had his first conference with the Corps’ commander, Col.Gen. Heinrici at 1100 hours on 23 December. Schuldt was ordered to deploy part of his regiment in the defense of the threatened towns that lay to the south of Kaluga, running along the Vorotynsk-Sztolpovo-Pletenjevka railroad lines. On 23 December 1941, the war diary of XXXXIII. Corps carried the following extract:

“SS-IR 4 requested artillery to oppose the enemy artillery in the Oka [River] Bend, but none was available. The motorized Polizei Btl. 32 joined in the request. Colonel Gen. Heinrici told their commanders: ‘You can only hope for a gift from the heavens.’ [Editor’s Note: i.e., snow.] At 1200 hours SS-IR 4 reported that their assigned attack south of Annenka was being carried out. The course of the attack ran as follows: 1300 hours, the regiment has broken through to Annenka and freed the supply lines to 31st Division. The attack force from SS-IR 4 was resupplied from the air. In the night hours the enemy attacked towards the west. III./SS-IR 4 stopped all of the enemy efforts in the Oka Bend, even though they were supported by all calibers of artillery.”

Early in the morning of 23 December, part of III. Btl. left the general security lines east of the Kaluga airfield to go north to help free the Kaluga-Medyn supply road. After achieving its objectives, this deployment group (apparently the same one discussed in the Corps’ war diary), returned back on the night of 24 December.

The regimental anti-tank platoon from 14th Co., led by Ustuf. Buettner, landed at Kaluga on 23 December along with its disassembled 3.7 cm PAK guns; these had to be carefully unloaded and put together. A staff officer from XXXXIII Corps met the platoon at the airfields and gave it its orders. It was being sent to Sztolpovo, about 20 km to the south. The journey to this village took about an hour to complete in a motorized convoy and the SS men found that they were the first German troops to occupy the town. A tributary of the Oka River, bordered by towering pine trees, ran next to Sztolpovo. There was a broken bridge across the river at a point about 8 km to the south.

The AT Platoon from 14th Co. was soon joined by 11th Co. under Ostuf. Rehburger, and together they formed a small battlegroup. As the day progressed, the Kampfgruppe came under increasing enemy pressure. The front to the south was wide open and Soviet formations were flowing to the west towards the Juchnov-Roslavl road.

During the night, Rehburger’s command occupied Hill 201, which was considered the key point in the Oka Bend sector, but for a time this seemed like a useless gesture. The enemy was quite content to go around the SS positions at Sztolpovo rather than do battle. In addition, Soviet artillery batteries to the south of Hill 201 began to raise havoc on 25 December when they found the range of the West Kaluga airfield. XXXXIII. Corps war diary for this day describes what happened:

”1100 hours: Since the early morning hours, the Kaluga airfield has been under enemy artillery fire. The transport planes carrying 8./SS-IR 4 were forced to land under fire. There were no losses.”

Christmas Day also saw the Soviets crossing the Oka River to the north of Kaluga and beginning to drive on the western part of the city. Enemy spearheads soon reached the Kaluga-Medyn road at Annenskaja. On 26 and 27 December, the Polizei Btl. 32 and 31st Inf. Division’s regimental reserves vigorously counterattacked this incursion and drove the Soviets back over the Oka.

Hill 201 and the Kaluga airfield were the scene of heavy enemy attacks on 25 December. The airfield perimeter was stubbornly defended by 98./SS-IR 4, which except for 8th Co., was the last regimental unit to land there. The 8th Co. (machine guns), after arriving in Kaluga, was ordered to proceed to Hill 201 and provide fire support for Kampfgruppe “Rehburger.” Hstuf. Maitre, 8th Coompany’s CO, was given instructions that said: “Hill 201 is to be held to the last man!” Fifty sleds, some with horse teams, were put at the company’s disposal. Russian farmers had already volunteered to drive them, and in many cases had put their own equipment at the disposal of the German Army! The sleds were divided up between 8th Company’s four platoons, and after being loaded with weapons and equipment, the march to Hill 201 got underway at 1400 hours in sub-zero temperatures.

Upon reaching the hill, Hstuf. Maitre reported in to Hstuf. Vogdt, III. Battalion’s commander who had taken personal charge of the area’s defense. The 8th Co. was quickly put into position. One MG platoon was placed behind 10th Co. on the left (south) side of the hill while a mortar squad was placed behind 11th Co. on the right (north) side of the hill. Other MG and mortar groups were put into reserve positions in the village of Shelybina on the east side of the hill. Still other platoons were inserted into the frontline along the Oka to the southeast and northeast of the village. The Company’s 2 cm Flak guns were deployed in the southeastern sector.

The military situation in general had become so dangerous that XXXXIII. Corps staff in Kaluga was preparing to implement a large-scale withdrawal. These plans did not sit too well with Adolf Hitler, however, and at 2030 on 25 December his personal directive arrived at Corps’ HQ: “Kaluga is to be held at all costs!” Any and all orders to the contrary were to be considered invalid. There would be no evacuation of the city; word of this arrived just as the supply troops were feverishly preparing to pull out!

With the Russians closing in from three sides and Hitler’s orders in hand, preparations for a last-ditch defense of Kaluga were rushed into action. The front lines around Kaluga were firmed up as much as possible and by the morning of 26 December contained the following elements, running from south to north: II1./SS-IR 4, 31st Inf. Div., 32nd Polizei Btl., Polizei Rgt. “Center,” 131st Inf. Div., 137th Inf. Division. After sustaining heavy losses in the course of earlier withdrawal actions, most of the companies from the infantry divisions numbered only about 35 men each.

SS-Ustuf. Metzger, CO of 10./SS IR 4 with his NCOs. He was killed on 8 July 1943 at Bjelgorod.

Regimental medical officer, Hstuf. Dr. Treutler, third from left and Ostuf. Dr. Lipok, III./SS IR 4 medical officer, second from left.

On 26 and 27 December, the defenders of Kaluga turned back all enemy attacks. The Soviets then regrouped to await the arrival of new forces. Hill 201, held by the Waffen-SS men, became a focal point of Soviet attention. At the time the Red Army Lt.Gen. Boldin declared: “The hill must first be taken, then Kaluga will also be ours.”

December 28 saw the Soviets turn the full force of their artillery fire upon Hill 201 (or Mount Olivet as it was referred to by the defenders). At 1000 hours the first wave of Red Army infantry started up the foot of the hill. It was driven back only to be immediately replaced by a new wave. Again, and again enemy mass assaults were attempted and driven off. But each time the attackers got a little bit closer to their goal. Grisly stacks of Russian corpses were soon piled up in front of the snow walls that marked the German positions. The hill defenders called for some support from 8th Company’s mortars, but only a few of these worked as the firing pins on most had frozen.

In the late afternoon a strong enemy assault troop broke through the lines of Ostuf. Metzger’s 10th Company. A reserve platoon under Ustuf. Bode quickly launched a counterattack and in rapid, violent fighting, the Soviet penetration force was wiped out to a man. In the course of the melee, Ustuf. Bode caught a mortar fragment in his lower left thigh and was removed from the action.

The Soviets next brought up some tanks. The 3.7 cm PAK guns from 14th Co./SS-IR 4 were quickly switched from the south to the north side of the hill to try and counter them. But they proved ineffective against the new Russian tank models, which proved impervious to even direct hits!

The fighting on 28 December ended with the onset of darkness, but before things had quieted down, two machine gun posts from 1st Platoon/8th Co. had been overrun by the Red tanks. But the men of 14th Co. also managed to knock out two of the tanks and capture their crews. Under the cover of darkness the wounded had to be evacuated to the field dressing station of III./SS-IR 4 which had been set up in a group of houses at Orjeshkova near the Kaluga airfield. The battalion medical officer, Ostuf. Dr. Lipok, worked throughout the night without pause to save the lives of his wounded comrades.

The next enemy attack came at 0100 on 29 December, when a communist force overran a machine gun post in the northwest part of Shelybina. In the course of the next hour the Soviets broke into the west portion of the town and simultaneously began moving up from the east side. Hstuf. Maitre was in Shelybina with his supply section when word of the breakthrough reached him. By chance, Ostuf. Haase, the wounded CO of 9th Co., was also there and the two SS officers moved to take charge of the situation. They assembled all of the battle-worthy troops that they could find and began a counterattack with Ostuf. Haase leading his group down the right side of the main street and Hstuf. Maitre and his men advancing down the left side of the street.

For the next three hours the two small groups of SS men held off the threatening Soviets. At daybreak the reserve machine gunners and mortar groups were able to join in and this spelled the end for the enemy. The Reds were forced back down the snow-covered hill and they became pinned down in a snow bank by the mortar crews. German medics tried to use this opportunity to assist some of the wounded Russians on the battlefield, but they had to give up the effort when some of the wounded they sought to help began shooting at them! The machine gun group that had earlier been overrun, now emerged unscathed from a field cellar where they had taken cover.

In the morning hours, more than 100 Soviet soldiers were flushed out of the buildings and cellars in Shelybina and taken prisoner. Another 95 enemy dead were counted on the ground. The total German losses stood at two dead and six wounded. Unfortunately, the village was on fire at both ends as a result of the stiff night fighting. In the fortified snow wall positions all around the town on Hill 201, the companies of III./SS-IR 4 anxiously awaited a new Soviet assault. It would not be long in coming, in fact the enemy artillery had begun its softening up barrage not long after daybreak.

December 29 would be the decisive day—one way or another—for the defense of Hill 201. Once again, the enemy tanks were back, leading the attack wave; they virtually rolled over the almost powerless 3.7 cm PAK guns from the southeast and broke into the positions of Ostuf. Rehberger’s 11th Company. The German defensive effort was made even more difficult by poorly coordinated artillery support. With the enemy rambling forward at will and the lines seeming on the verge of collapse, the battalion commander called for an emergency Stuka dive bomber strike.

With howling sirens, 27 Stukas soon bore down on the Soviet troop concentrations. Under persistent strafing and bombing, the communist attack broke down and the survivors fled in a panic for their original lines. What was left before the Waffen- SS positions was a jumbled field of death and carnage, marked by scores of twisted corpses. But the defenders had not gotten off easily either; they had about reached the end of their strength. The 8th Machine Gun Co. reported to the battalion command post that it had lost 35 dead and 40 wounded or more than half its strength. It had to be reassembled as a small “rifle” company. The first priority was to get first aid for the wounded. They were then loaded on sleds and hauled over the ice-bound Oka River to Szpasskoje where they had to wait for a motorized med-evac convoy to come get them and take them to the west. “Mt. Olivet” fast became known as the “Hill of Sorrows”!

In the meantime, the situation at Kaluga had deteriorated to the critical point. XXXXIII. Corps now decided to pull out of the city, Hitler’s orders or not. At noon on 29 December, Corps HQ passed on the following orders to Hstuf. Vogdt’s III./SS-IR 4:

“III./SS-IR 4 is to remove itself from Hill 201 by 30 December. It will withdraw in a body during the night hours to the Kosmatschoi-Lossva line. It will then retire into reserve. The enemy must be kept back until the morning hours of 30 December 1941.”

In the course of 29 December, Ostuf. Dr. Lipok found that he had treated some 200 wounded from the battalion and it had proved possible to evacuate only some of these for more intensive treatment. In the savage fighting for Hill 201, 180 SS men from III. Btl. had been killed, and they had to be hurriedly buried on “Mt. Olivet” in unmarked graves.

Late on the 29th, III. Btl. moved off Hill 201 towards the north (the only direction still open), where the Corps’ divisions were also relocating. By the morning of 30 December, the battalion was in temporary positions behind Hill 201, and in the early afternoon the Waffen-SS troops watched the Soviets occupy the ground they had fought so hard over. With the communists now moving towards Kaluga, III. Btl. received another assignment. The earlier, optimistic bit about “retiring into reserve” was now forgotten. The new orders read as follows:

“On 31 December 1941, III./SS-IR 4 will take over positions to the south of Kolyschevo to strengthen 434th Rgt./131st Inf. Div. and to block any enemy encroachment from the south.”

Hstuf. Vogdt’s companies just did reach their new deployment areas before the spearheads of the Soviet attack force got there. The SS men spread out along a 3 km front that ran through Kolyschevo and dug in for the fighting sure to come.

The Defense of Subovo

A look at the “big picture” gives a good indication of the desperate situation the Germans now found themselves in around Kaluga. The Red Army had torn a 45 km gap in the frontlines between Kaluga and Belev and was moving rapidly to the west. The Juchnov-Roslavl highway had been reached and captured and the communist advance forces were driving on Smolensk. The 4th German Army was teetering precariously on the brink of total disaster. The only things still propping up the front were a few strongpoints which had to be held on to at all costs. One of these key “breakwaters” was the town of Subovo to the east of Juchnov. Its defense was entrusted to II./SS-IR 4, and in a very real sense the fate of Army Group “Center” rested to an extent on the shoulders of the battalion’s soldiers!

On 27 and 28 December 1941, II./SS-IR 4 and parts of 13th, 14th, 16th Companies and the Platoon “Matzke” from 11th Co., left Krakau for the South Juchnov airfield near the town of Ogi- balovo. At this point in time, XXXXIII. Corps was engaged in heavy fighting for Kaluga. The Soviets had already cut the Juchnov-Kaluga road and once II. Btl, landed it found it could not make its way through to Kaluga as ordered. This being the case, the unit was sent to Subovo, via Gladkoje and Tschel- kanovo. Subovo was a critical crossroad town where the Kaluga- Juchnov highway intersected with the Medyn-Mosalsk road. II. Btl. was given the job of blocking any further enemy movement down the Kaluga road while at the same time keeping open a withdrawal route for XXXXIII. Corps.

The battalion was deployed in a half-circle around Subovo; the battle-tested 5th, 6th and 7th Cos. were inserted in the front lines and were joined later by Ustuf. Matzke’s platoon from 11th Co. which had been delayed at Krakau by bad weather. The regimental support units, anti-tank and artillery sections were also sent to Subovo. II./SS-IR 4’s commander, Hstuf. Walter Harzer knew what was expected of him; the town had to be held no matter what if the enemy floodtide was to be checked. He had confidence that his troops could do whatever was required of them.

While II. Btl. was going into position, Kaluga was being evacuated and XXXXIII. Corps was trying to establish a new defensive front to the north of the city. In relation to Kaluga, Subovo was about 50 km due west of it while Juchnov was closer to 75 km to the northwest of it. The thin front between Subovo and Juchnov was being held by portions of Gen. von Knobelsdorfs 19th Pz. Div., with the divisional command post at Matschalovo. To the southwest, holding blocking positions on the road to Juchnov, was the 10th Inf. Division. Both of these divisions were part of the newly brought up XXXX. Corps.

II. Btl. had hardly gotten into place before the enemy began to attack with infantry and tanks. A battle of unmitigated viciousness took shape with the Reds attacking Subovo again and again only to be thrown back each time by the SS defenders. Continuous fighting raged through the last days of December, but II. Battalion’s soldiers, led by the company commanders Loose, Zische, and Hoehmann and the platoon leader Matzke, never wavered. Without pausing to rest, they fought back like cornered tigers. In addition the PAK guns of 14th Co. and the field howitzers of 13th Co. provided superlative support for the front line grenadiers; no Russians could get through.

Ostubaf. Schuldt, Regimental CO, outside his HQ, Spring 1942.

With their progress blocked at Subovo, the Reds began to attack towards the west on either side of the town. Their efforts here were more successful and a weird configuration in the German lines began to take shape. II./SS-IR 4 found itself sitting in Subovo at the apex of a 15 km long, narrow finger that now extended into the enemy lines! The northwestern portion of the “finger” was defended by emergency battlegroups composed of supply and support troops from the 19th Pz. Div.; if they ever had to give way, Subovo would become totally isolated.

But fortunately, all positions were holding and some assault guns were brought into the “finger” to assist the defenders of Subovo. With the aid of these, special “storm” troops from II. Battalion’s companies began to launch counterattacks against the Soviet incursions on either side of them. This caught the enemy off balance and substantially improved the defensive situation. But there were set backs, the commander of the 3rd Anti-tank Platoon, Ustuf. Suhrau, was killed in an enemy mortar barrage while directing close support for a counterattack.

Back at the Führer’s Headquarters the story of the struggle for Subovo had caught Hitler’s attention. While leaning over his map table he pointed to the spot marking Subovo and turned to his Waffen-SS adjutant, Hstuf. Max Wuensche, saying: “I want the men leading the defense down there to get the Knight’s Cross!” But the Führer’s wishes never seemed to filter down through the military bureaucracy; it would be two and half years before Walter Harzer won the Knight’s Cross for his role in the battle of Arnhem.

On 9 January 1942, 19th Pz. Div. reported to XXXXIII. Corps that: “The situation in Subovo at this time is unchanged. A strong enemy threat from the southeast on 10 January is anticipated.”

On the basis of this report, much of XXXXIII. Corps began withdrawing northwards (the only direction it could go), leaving a line of infantry regiments (12th, 82nd and 432nd) behind to hold open the road to Subovo. For the next ten straight days, II./SS-IR 4 fought off the enemy on a near continuous basis. At times, Stukas had to be called for to help deal with the communist tanks. But the end was now in sight.

On 19 January 1942, the German divisions between Kaluga and Medyn began a general retreat down the Juchnov-Medyn highway. The Subovo defenders were to be the last to pull out. On this same day, II. Btl. reported the sighting of 3 enemy “Spitfire” planes with British markings and the approach of large-scale enemy reconnaissance troops. The SS unit also received orders to carry out its own withdrawal from Subovo in two stages from 19 to 21 January, a mission that was accomplished without any particular difficulty.

Hstuf. Walter Harzer, CO of II./SS IR 4.

On 21 January II. Btl. was reunited with the regimental headquarters at a spot north of Juchnov. Only Ustuf. Matzke’s platoon from 11th Co. remained in the lines, staying with the 82nd Rgt. of the 31st Inf. Division. It later took part in very bitter fighting at Kosstina with the 17th Inf. Rgt. and the platoon took heavy casualties. The survivors did not rejoin SS-IR 4 until 28 January.

In the meantime, some high level command changings had been taking place. Colonel Gen. Kuebler was replaced by Col. Gen. Heinrici as commander of 4th Army on 21 January and the CO of 31st Inf. Div., Maj.Gen. Berthold took over XXXXIII. Corps. He was in turn replaced at the helm of 31st Div. by Oberst Hossbach.

The Struggle for Juchnov

At the beginning of January 1942, 4th Army held a general defensive line that ran from Malojaroslawice through Djetschino and Mysgi to Kolyshevo before turning west to Sobova and from there to a point about 10 miles south of Juchnov. In the Malojaroslawice sector were parts of the 98th, 34th, 260th, 52nd, 131st, 31st and 137th Inf. Divs. plus I. Btl./SS-IR 4.

In the night of 1 January 1942, a strong Soviet spearhead reached Malojaroslawice itself and a fierce battle for the town began. On the following night Malojaroslawice had to be evacuated and the Germans fell back towards Burakova, reaching it on 4 January. Under intense enemy pressure the retreat continued and a new makeshift defensive line was soon strung out from Mallossovo to Iljinskoje.

With elements of the 33rd Soviet Army flooding through the Borowsk area to the west, with the aim of assaulting Juchnov from the south, the defenders of Kaluga were hard put to keep pace. I./SS-IR 4 was attached to the 260th Inf. Div. which was engaged in a fighting withdrawal through Balanina, Frolova and Mussina. From 31 December 1941 until 2 January 1942, III. /SS-IR 4 fought in support of the 31st and 131st Inf. Divs. at the corner of the front lines near Kolyschevo. Particularly bloody fighting was waged here in sub-zero temperatures. On 11 January, III. Btl. began to retreat towards the Ugra sector west of Tavarkovo; its retrograde movements were covered by segments of the 32nd Polizei Battalion.

From 14 to 18 January, III./SS-IR 4 was attached to the 137th Inf. Div. and again fought in the main defensive lines, taking heavy losses. Late on 17 January, the unit again began marching westwards, this time being driven out of its positions in Malaja/Bolshaja Rudnja by heavy enemy artillery, mortar and rocket fire that had set the town ablaze. For four straight days the battalion was on the move. The Waffen-SS grenadiers had to cross the deep snow fields on foot and averaged less than two hours worth of rest per day. By 22 January, III. Btl. had only 100 of its original 500 man complement left; the rest were dead, wounded, missing, frost-bitten or prisoners.

Through the first part of January, I./SS-IR 4 continued to fight alongside 260th Div. in the middle of the Tavarkovo-Medyn defensive line. When the 260th finally pulled out, I. Btl. covered its retreat. On 10 January, I./SS-IR 4 took up positions around Kolyschevo in a half-circle facing northeast, east and southeast. The battalion remained here until 20 January, serving as the main defensive buttress for the 260th Div. in the Kondrovo sector. On 19 January, part of the SS unit helped the division block an enemy penetration at Kondrovo, but on the 20th, the battalion began a fighting retreat that took it through Panovka, Bogdanovo, Beljeikovo and other points on the Juchnov-Medyn road.

At the same time, III. Btl. also reached the Juchnov road, where it tangled with the enemy again at Krykovo. This little engagement rated a big entry in a Soviet propaganda newspaper published for the benefit of the German Army, titled “The Truth.” In an article entitled “The Offensive of the Soviet Forces,” it was stated that III./SS-IR 4 had been “wiped out” at Krykovo, leaving 200 officers and men dead on the battlefield with the rest fleeing. The veracity of the story couldn’t quite hold water, since the battalion had only 100 soldiers to begin with during this battle!

On 21 January 1942, 4th Army issued new orders to SS-IR 4 that read:

“SS-IR 4 will be attached to the LVII. Corps (motorized). With all the strength that it can muster it is to join with the Group Meindl (paratroopers) on the Juchnov-Oschansk road facing north. It is then to outflank the enemy on the easternmost sector and commence a counterattack that will alleviate the enemy pressure on Juchnov. II./SS-IR 4 is in the Kuuschinov- kaarea to the south of Juchnov. It will be made free as soon as possible to rejoin the regiment.”

From late January to early February, the Soviets attacked towards Juchnov with everything from airborne troops to horse cavalry. On 20 January, the supply troops from II./SS-IR 4 under Ostuf. Dennstaedt struggled to keep open the main road some 15-20 km southwest of Juchnov. With a superhuman effort these men flung back Soviet airborne and cavalry forces and kept the road free for the withdrawal of German combat troops. For his courageous leadership, Ostuf. Dennstaedt would receive the Iron Cross, 1st Class.

After a month of debilitating combat, the scattered units of SS-IR 4, together with parts of various “broken” Army divisions, finally began to regroup at the North Juchnov airfield on 20/21 January 1942. After being attached to LVII. Corps, SS-IR 4 received the following orders from that command on 21 January: “Together with the reinforced elements of the Group Meindl, SS-IR 4 is to be employed in an advanced line along the Juchnov- Gschatsk road to the north to outflank and prevent further enemy movement [in that area).”

SS-IR 4 now became a subordinate element of the Group Meindl, led by Generalmajor Eugen Meindl, the 50 year old hero of the Crete campaign. The staff and I. Btl. of Meindl’s paratroop regiment had been flown into Juchnov on 15 January 1942. The other two battalions from Meindl’s regiment were fighting at different parts of the Eastern Front; one was at Schlusselberg and the other was on the Mius River.

On 22 January 1942, I. and III. Btls./SS-IR 4 were sent to join Kampfgruppe “Meindl” at Fedjukovo, 30 km north of Juchnov. At this time, II. Btl. was still in the process of disengaging from the Subova strongpoint. Kampfgruppe “Meindl” now consisted of the following elements:

I. and III./SS-IR 4
One Fallschirmjäger regimental staff and staff company
One Fallschirmjäger battalion
One Luftwaffe construction battalion
One Flak detachment
One strong, detached infantry battalion

On the evening of 22 January, I. and III./SS-IR 4 reached Fedjukova and the regimental CO, Ostubaf. Schuldt reported in at Kampfgruppe HQ to see what the situation was. III. Btl. Was immediately sent out on a mission to drive back a Soviet spearhead. Hstuf. Vogdt led the battalion in a night attack along both sides of the Fedjukovo-Kolodkino road. In a violent clash, the communist forces that were trying to seize Kolodkino were dispersed by the Waffen-SS troops.

At the same time, I. Btl. under Stubaf. Vitzthum was sent to Telejujto. to occupy that town before the Russians got there. Ostubaf. Schuldt then ordered Ostuf. Metzger and his company to launch an attack on the regimental north flank towards Nono- Derevnja. This town was taken in a dashing and daring night assault that surprised the Soviet defenders, who fled wildly to the east. While this was going on, Hstuf. Harzer’s valiant II. Btl. finally reached Fedjukovo and reported in to the regimental HQ.

On 23 January 1942, III. Btl. moved into jumping-off positions in the woods IV2 miles east of Kolodkino for an attack on Kolodesi, which was to be supported by the “88” Flak gun battery from KGr. “Meindl.” High snow drifts and temperatures hovering at -25 F precluded any quick gain of ground. Stukas had been called upon first to soften up the enemy defenses. Once they had done their job, Hstuf. Vogdt’s men went over on the attack. Slowly but surely the SS attack built up a head of steam and despite the horrible conditions, good progress was soon made. Moving forward at a quick pace, only stopping every now and then to fire their weapons, the grenadiers stormed into Kolodesi, crossed a stream, and kept on going to the village of Agaryschi. The Soviet defenders began running away to the east towards Belizy and the battle came to its conclusion.

III. Btl. regrouped in the east part of Agaryschi and counted its spoils. One hundred Russians had surrendered and another 205 were counted dead on the battlefield. Twelve artillery pieces, 20 machine guns, five anti-tank guns and large quantities of carbines were captured. III. Battalion’s losses totaled 2 dead and 26 wounded.

Kampfgruppe “Meindl” now ordered III. Btl. to attack Belizy from the west on 24 January while 98th Inf. Div. moved on it from the east. But the planned assault never materialized; the enemy defensive fire directed towards III./SS-IR 4 was too great to permit the battalion to advance on Belizy, so the unit remained in place holding Kolodesi-Agaryschi, which were actually twin villages divided by a stream. On 25 January the battalion was reinforced by Hstuf. Hoehmann’s 7th Co. from II. /SS-IR 4.

Telejuju and Novo-Derevnja were now held by I./SS-IR 4 with 10th Co. under Ostuf. Metzger defending the key point in the lines at Novo-Derevnja. II. Btl. was made responsible for defending the towns of Fedjukovo and Kolodkino and at this point in time the entire SS-IR 4 was fully committed to battle for the first time under one command.

But the enemy was now preparing to strike back. With all of the main units of KGr. “Meindl” in the front lines, the major supply route to Prisselje was left unprotected. A Soviet ski troop task force promptly broke through the thinly guarded front at Ssemenowskoje and was able to sever the Kolodkino-Kolodesi road in the sector of III./SS-IR 4 and then advance to take the town of Prisselje. This created a huge logistics mess for the Kampfgruppe, which would have to be dealt with in the near future. But for the moment, the battlegroup’s units were engaged again in a struggle for survival.

On 26 January 1942, 12th, 13th and 14th Cos./SS-IR 4, reached Fedjukovo and were quickly deployed in different supporting positions. 13th and 14th Companies along with some other regimental troops and an engineer platoon from 16th Co. had finally left Krakow for Juchnov in a motorized convoy in mid-January. The heavy artillery and anti-tank guns attached to these companies had to be transferred to horse-drawn sleds in order to reach their designated positions. The severe cold took a heavy toll on the trucks, whose motors often froze solid overnight. In the morning, fires often had to be started under the engine, which was a procedure that sometimes didn’t work.

Hstuf. Harzer presents the 180 survivors (out of 2,500) to Ostubaf. Schuldt, April 1942.

The Soviet command next directed its attention to the exposed positions of III. Btl. and on 28 and 29 January this unit was hit by strong attacks from both the east and south. The “88” gun battery stationed 12 km away at Fedjukovo was called upon to assist the battalion, although firing ranges had to be transmitted via radio. The most violent fighting raged from Chmylovka to Agaryschi where one enemy company after another was shot to pieces. At nightfall on 29 January the frustrated Soviets pounded the area with artillery fire, setting the SS held villages on fire. The German soldiers were forced to hug the ground in their snow-covered bunkers and foxholes while the temperature plummeted to more than — 30 F below zero!

On 29 January 1942, Gen. Meindl made the following report on the condition of SS-IR 4 to XII. Corps HQ:

“1. The combat strength of SS-IR 4 is only about 700 men. For the last three days, shortages in munitions and supplies have developed.

“2. [Regimental] attacks must have the support of heavy weapons, otherwise there will be an unnecessary loss of blood with no possibility of success.”

At 1930 hours a radio message from SS-IR 4 HQ reached Meindl:

“742 men are holding 10 villages. We do not have enough ammunition for our heavy weapons to preclude the possibility of a breakthrough by a mass attack.”

The early morning hours of 30 January were unnaturally tranquil in III. Battalion’s sector; but this only caused Hstuf. Vogdt’s men to prepare for the worst. Fortunately supplies were dropped to the regimental elements by air, thus helping to alleviate some of the severe shortages. But the Soviet pressure would continue to threaten the lifeline of the regiment until the town of Prisselje was retaken, so a 100 man battlegroup to be led by Ustyf. Matzke was formed to do just that.

Scouting parties observed that there was substantial enemy east-west troop movement through Prisselje, so Kampfgruppe “Matzke” had to be careful not to prematurely stumble into any Red Army troops before reaching the attack zone. At one point an enemy ski platoon passed right by the flank of KGr. “Matzke,” but failed to recognize the German soldiers for what they were!

Somewhat after 1100 hours on 30 January, Ustuf. Matzke’s troops attacked Prisselje. In bitter house-to-house fighting the enemy was pushed out and a Soviet supply column consisting of pony wagons and sleds filled with weapons and equipment was destroyed. Parts of II. Btl. and 16th Co. (engineers) rushed ahead to seize the nearby village of Novo-Uspenskaja. At 1300 hours, Gen.Maj. Meindl was able to send the following message to Corps’ HQ:

“Prisselje is in our hands; munitions for SS-IR 4 can go through!”

In the evening of 30 January it proved possible for the first time in days to transport the badly wounded SS men in Fedjukovo to the field hospital at Juchnov. But from Juchnov the railroad line to Roslavl was cut at many points by the enemy, so the most severe casualties had to be flown out in Ju 52 transport planes (70 separate flights in two days), although two large groups of the less badly wounded were sent out to the west in columns of horse pulled sleds.

SS IR 4’s surviving 20 officers (out of 300), April 1942.

Desperate Battles

On the morning of 31 January 1942, the Soviets began a massive tank-supported assault on Kolodesi-Agaryschi. One enemy contingent swiftly broke through the lines and overran the SS-IR 4 supply route about 2 km east of Kolodkino. The principal objective of the attack was the destruction of III./SS-IR 4, and within a short time this became a very likely possibility. At 1145, SS-IR 4 HQ radioed the command post of 268 Inf. Div. reporting enemy tanks advancing on Agaryschi and requesting artillery fire on Belizy. The division was unable to help with the request so Stukas were called upon. This assistance also failed to materialize and at 1155, SS-IR 4 again radioed 268th Div.: “Enemy troops with tanks entering Agaryschi.” At 1200, artillery gunners from the 98th Inf. Div. were instructed to fire upon Belizy and Loschevo, while some of the division’s infantry prepared to launch a relief attack. But it was almost too late for III. Btl.; the Reds had reached the unit’s “snow wall” defenses with a batch of new T-34 tanks.

Within minutes, III./SS-IR 4 was fighting for its life. In the eastern part of Agaryschi, 7th, 9th and 11th Companies were overrun and the survivors scattered for new cover. Ostuf. Reh- burger, commanding 11th Co. and Hstuf. Kohn, the leader of the 14th Anti-tank Co. were both killed. The Russian tanks kept moving forward and four of them advanced on three 3.7 cm antitank guns from 14th Company. The SS gunners bravely stayed in place and scored one direct hit after another on the T-34’s but with no effect! The tanks kept coming and simply plowed into the anti-tank guns, crushing them into mangled metal.

The 8th Company’s machine gun and mortar crews suffered a similar fate; the tanks simply rolled over their positions and the crewmen fled for their lives. Ustuf. Unterrainer, the battalion ordnance officer, regrouped a platoon of survivors and led them in a courageous counterattack; he was immediately killed and his men dispersed. Agaryschi had to be abandoned. The remnants of 8th, 9th, 11th and 14th Companies fell back on Kolodesi. The battalion adjutant, Ustuf. Balz, was killed in the retreat and many wounded and dead were left behind. All of the members of 8th Company’s mortar group, save one, were killed. Only Rottenführer Fregin remained alive and he was forced to lay still in the snow all day feigning death. At night he slipped through the Russian sentry posts and rejoined his unit.

At Kolodesi, which was defended by Hstuf. Hoehmann’s 7th Co., the battalion’s survivors reassembled. A steep banked, snow-filled stream bed that separated Kolodesi from Agaryschi effectively stopped the Russian tanks. An old, rotten wooden bridge was the only easy way across the gorge and this could not support the weight of the tanks. But the Red Army infantrymen were not deterred; they streamed across the stream bed and continued the attack.

The 3rd Platoon/7th Co., under Oscha. Seeger, counterattacked through the ruins of the village and flung the communist foot soldiers back across the stream. But they reassembled, and supported by the direct fire of their tanks, resumed their assault. Hstuf. Hoehmann led the defensive effort at the head of his company and as a result, was killed in action. In the west part of Kolodesi, the light artillery section from 13th Co. ran out of ammunition. The crews then spiked their guns and joined the infantry.

By 1600 hours, all of the heavy weapons belonging to III. Btl. had been silenced and the SS riflemen were down to only 5-10 cartridges apiece. They were also totally exhausted, but fortunately, so were the Reds. But a close eye had to be kept on the Soviet tanks in the west part of Agaryschi; they kept opening fire on any careless German troops. At this critical juncture, Hstuf. Vogdt, the battalion CO, radioed regimental HQ in Fedju- kovo for further instructions. He was particularly concerned over the lack of ammunition.

For the regimental commander, Ostubaf. Schuldt, there was only one solution. He sent the following directives back to III. Btl.:

“HI./SS-IR 4 will break out to the west. In the east part of the forest eastwards of Kolodino it will be joined by II. Battalion!”

Hstuf. Vogdt hurriedly prepared III. Btl. for the break out. Leading off the march would be Hstuf. Maitre with parts of 7th and 8th Companies. He was to follow the supply road to the west. Moving through deep snow in a widely spread-out group, Maitre’s column soon drew enemy fire from the nearby forests. Suddenly some white-clad Soviet advance troops came charging towards the SS force, shouting “hurrah, hurrah.” With cool deliberation, Hstuf. Maitre’s men used up the last of their ammunition as they succeeded in driving off their Russian assailants towards the south.

Behind Maitre’s group came pony drawn sleds hauling the battalion’s artillery pieces. It was slow going and the engineers from 16th Co. had to help out at times. Along the break out route, three overturned horse sleds with dead drivers were found. They had been part of a regimental supply convoy that was wiped out on 25 January. However, some artillery rounds were salvaged from the wrecked sleds. The field pieces were then set up in firing positions and fed the new-found ammunition. The Waffen-SS gunners then shelled Agaryschi until the onset of darkness, giving the Russians an unpleasant surprise and providing cover for the withdrawing battalion.

During the night, the last part of III. Btl., personally led by Hstuf. Vogdt, successfully reached II. Battalion’s positions at Kolodino. The battalion had brought out 82 wounded but had also left behind many dead and unaccounted for. On 1 February, III./SS-IR 4 was redeployed in Novo-Derewnya, except for its 10th Co., which had been attached to a battalion from the 268th Inf. Div. further to the north. A 5 cm PAK gun was sent to III. Btl. to replace its lost anti-tank cannons.

At this time, the other battalions of SS-IR 4 were situated as follows: II. Btl. in Kolodino and I. Btl. in Jeshovo. The defensive front was critically short of supplies and was being threatened all over. During a manpower check it was discovered that all of SS-IR 4’s battalions were down to company strength.

By 3 February, little had changed in the lines. I./SS-IR 4 under Stubaf. Vitzthum was still in Jeshovo, facing east. To its southeast was a 5 km gap in the lines to the positions held by III. Battalion. To the north a tenuous link-up was maintained to the 17th Inf. Div. which was located to the north of Krapivka. II./SS-IR 4 in Kolodino with the regimental HQ, was worried about the tanks that had overrun III. Battalion. No unit in the regiment had weapons that were adequate to deal with the new T-34’s, and tensions were growing as enemy assault parties kept up hit-and-run raids through gaps in the regimental positions.

Finally, on the night of 4/5 February, the loud rumbling, rattling sound of tanks on the move could be heard emanating from the woods to the east of Kolodino. Hstuf. Harzer immediately put his entire battalion on alert. At daybreak, the Red tanks and accompanying infantry began to move on Kolodino. This time fate played a kind hand: the lead tank detonated a “T”-mine and exploded and the following tanks got bogged down in deep snow. Without even firing a shot, the SS defenders watched in amazement as the enemy attack force floundered in confusion.

Then somebody gave the orders to open fire. The German field howitzers began shelling the tanks, and they stopped struggling to move forward long enough to return the fire. But once again the shells merely bounced off of the thick armor of the T-34’s. There was only one sure way to get them: by hand! Death- defying SS troopers, loaded down with Teller mines, sprang from their positions and ran towards the tanks. It was a risky business; some men were shot down but others got their pay- loads through to the tanks. But even these explosive charges were not effective enough to cripple the Soviet armored monsters. Still the explosives shook up the tank crews and got the message across that they would be better off by withdrawing from the immediate vicinity.

Whoever was running the Red Army attack was less than impressed by the cautious approach taken by the tank crews and within a few minutes they were on their way back towards the German lines. SS-IR 4’s feeble 3.7 cm anti-tank guns began blazing away but were quickly overwhelmed by the tanks; their crews headed for safer ground. The T-34’s opened up on the wooden buildings in Kolodkino and had most of them ablaze in short order. Then the Red infantry tried to move forward. From out of their foxholes in the frozen, snow-covered ground the SS men fought back furiously with their small arms, and the Soviet soldiers were soon heading back in full retreat.

But the general situation looked hopeless; the men of II. Btl. were in their last defensive positions, they had no further place to run to. In addition, the battalion had sustained high losses and the infernal tanks were still there, blazing away, seemingly unstoppable. The only thing that kept them back momentarily were the hand grenades the SS men pelted them with. At this juncture, Hstuf. Harzer radioed regimental HQ for further instructions. After hearing about the battalion’s predicament, Ostubaf. Schuldt ordered it to fall back on Fedjukovo.

All available parts of the regiment would now be used to build a blocking line between Fedjukovo and Kolodino. But in the meantime, the fighting in Kolodino continued. II. Battalion’s dressing station was repeatedly shelled by the enemy tanks (despite its visible Red Cross insignia), and almost all of the medics were killed. The battalion doctor, Ostuf. Reiner was Finally, Hstuf. Harzer issued these orders to his company commanders: “[Commence] fighting withdrawal to Fedjukovo.’’

The retreat was not an easy one. Hstuf. Buhmueller and his engineers from part of 16th Co. tried to provide cover fire for the rest of the battalion, but Buhmueller was soon severely wounded and hovered between life and death. The remnants of the escaping unit were shredded by the tank fire and all too many fatalities occurred as a result. In the evening of 5 February, II. Battalion’s 150 survivors reached the newly designated interception line, but there would still be no respite.

Regimental HQ sent a small reserve group and two new field howitzers to II. Btl. to help the unit face the enemy follow-up attack that was sure to follow on the next day. If II. Btl. could not hold now, Fedjukovo would fall to the enemy. During the night, 15 tanks and assault guns providentally turned up in Fedjukovo to support the regiment. Some of them were detached and sent to join Hstuf. Harzer’s battalion. At the same time a recce patrol reported in to the II. Btl. command post after observing the enemy elements in Kolodkino. It seems that after their great victory the Russians had stopped to celebrate and were now mostly all quite drunk.

Hstuf. Harzer digested the information and came up with one thought: counterattack! An assault troop was quickly formed and the tank commanders were given the job of supporting it. A little bit after midnight on 6 February, the bold task force started off on its mission.

In the bright moonlight of a bitterly cold night, the German tanks led the battalion back into Kolodkino. The town was quiet; its Red Army occupants were oblivious to the world, mostly dead drunk. The fatigued soldiers of II. Btl. had to shake themselves awake. Then the frightful memories of the previous day’s fighting subsided and the old battle spirit came back to them. Alongside the tanks they stormed into Kolodkino.

The tank cannons barked, the machine guns clattered and the soldiers yelled. Within minutes six enemy T-34’s went up in flames. The Soviet infantry woke up in horror, and those that could began running madly towards the east. All the while the SS men dashed into the few standing houses and began mopping up. They met little or no resistance. As the dawn broke, the whole town and the old defensive lines were back in German hands. A defeat had been turned into a success in the span of only a few hours! With the arrival of daylight, a particularly horrifying tragedy was revealed: 40 officers and men from 16th Co. (Engineers) who had been cut off and captured were found bound and shot in the head. On top of this the wounded that had been left behind were also found—they had been shot in the nape of the neck. No words were necessary; the bestiality of the communists had once again been revealed. No one had to ask themselves “What are we fighting for?”.

Situation Map of the German 4th Army December 1941 to April 1942.

In the afternoon, Oberst Greiner, CO of the 268th Inf. Div., visited Kolodkino to get an overview of the situation from Hstuf. Harzer. In the days to come, SS-IR 4 would fight alongside 268th Div. in the struggle to free the sectors to the north.

The other units of SS-IR 4 had not been left out of the action. I. Btl. (a designation in name only!) had a net strength of one officer, eight NCOs and 45 men. These 54 soldiers were still divided into two rifle and one machine gun “companies,” that were positioned around Jeshovo under the overall command of Hstuf. Maitre. To the battalion’s east were a string of three small outposts that connected it to III. Btl., while to the west a fragile contact was maintained with the 55th Inf. Regiment. The defenses were so weak that nerves were always at the breaking point. On 15 February, a Russian assault troop attacked Jeshovo; it was driven off but Hstuf. Maitre was wounded, thus leaving the battalion with no officers of its own. It now had to borrow one from the 55th Inf. Regiment.

Maitre radioed in a report of his losses to Ostubaf. Schuldt and a “Hiwi” (Russian volunteer helper) was assigned to evacuate the battalion wounded in a horse drawn sled packed with straw. The destination was the dressing station in Feldjukovo. En route the sled was ambushed by a Russian scouting party that had infiltrated into the adjacent woods. With bullets flying by his face the “Hiwi” driver vigorously applied his whip to the horse and the sled raced madly away, out of reach of the Soviets. It later pulled into Feldjukovo with the horse steaming and foaming, but the cargo intact.

III. Btl./SS-IR 4 was lucky in that it still had five officers left, though two of them were medical doctors. They were, all told: Ostuf. Dr. Lipok, Ustuf. Dr. Hampel, Hstuf. Vogdt (the CO), and the company commanders Ustuf. Matzke and Ustuf. Metzger. The battalion strength was about equal to that of one strong company. On 18 February 1942 the German attack to re-establish links to the north began. After a good “softening up” barrage from the artillery, 17th Inf. Div. led the drive towards Sacha- rovo; on its right flank was II./SS-IR 4 (Harzer) and a company from III./SS-IR 4 (metzger).

II. Btl. had the twin objectives of resecuring Jeshovo (which I. Btl. had been forced to abandon) and then attack towards Mjakota. Supported by Stukas, Hstuf. Harzer’s men attained their goals with the loss of three killed and several wounded. The enemy had been severely weakened by hunger and unbelievably heavy losses, so by the end of the month it proved possible to establish a new, and reasonably formidible, defensive line along the Ugra River. Of course SS-IR 4 had not fared too well either; in two months of non-stop action it had lost 80% of its troops but remained in the front lines!

The Ugra River Line

In early March 1942, the depleted elements of SS-IR 4 found themselves in defensive positions along the course of the Ugra River. On 6 March, in a small schoolhouse that was being utilized as the command post of III. Btl., Hstuf. Vogdt and his adjutant, Ustuf. Mathoi, both received the Iron Cross 1st Class for valor. Then a Soviet artillery shell came through the window and Vogdt was instantly killed. It was certainly the supreme irony of war, as Vogdt had survived countless hand-to-hand clashes over the previous several weeks! The loss of this formidable officer was felt throughout the whole regiment. Ostuf. Mueller now assumed command of what was left of III. Battalion.

To the south of SS-IR 4’s positions the 98th Inf. Div. held down a 12 km front with its entire troop strength of 900 men—all of the German units on this sector of the front had taken devastating losses. What ensued now was a war of attrition as the exhausted Germans and Russians pummeled each other with artillery fire across the Ugra. In the middle of March, SS-IR 4 received its first replacements of the winter: a group of young and eager Swiss volunteers. This was perhaps the only batch of volunteers from this neutral country which would be sent to a Waffen-SS unit in a “national cluster.” Within a month many of these brave “sons of Europe” would also become casualties.

On 14 April 1942, the nightmare of the Eastern Front during the winter of 1941/42 was over for SS-IR 4 when the remnants of the regiment were sent back to Germany for a well-deserved rest. After two weeks of home leave, the regiment’s soldiers reassembled in Krakow to begin the process of rebuilding the unit. Many recovered wounded and new replacements were now added. For the valiant performance of his regiment, SS- Obersturmbannführer “Kapt’n” Schuldt was awarded the Knight’s Cross.

Perhaps the ultimate compliment for the unit came from the Führer himself. On his birthday, 20 April, Hitler bestowed the name “Langemarck” on the SS-IR 4. Langemarck was the town in Flanders where in World War I, endless ranks of student volunteers had hurled themselves again and again against impregnable British machine gun positions, singing the national anthem. Before the day was done even disarmed and wounded soldiers had joined in, in an example of total dedication and sacrifice. In this manner an entire division of 18 to 20-year olds was annihilated at Langemarck, but their example stirred the entire German Army. The comparison with SS-IR 4 was obvious; from December 1941 to April 1942 the regiment’s strength went from 2500 combatants to 180! This was a casualty rate of 93%! The title of “Langemarck” had certainly been earned in blood by the men of the regiment.

Late in May, the reformed unit joined the SS Panzer Grenadier Div. “Das Reich,” which was also reforming after a hard winter’s combat at the Fallingbostel training camp. SS-IR 4 was now reorganized as a motorized “fast” rifle regiment, consisting of two rifle battalions of five companies each and a motorcycle detachment. In the course of the summer of 1942, the infantry companies of I. Btl. were broken up and used as replacements for the rest of the “Das Reich” Division. II. Btl. became the II. Abteilung of the newly authorized SS Pz. Rgt. 2 “Das Reich,” while only the motorcycle detachment remained intact. For several months it was carried on the divisional roster as the SS Kradschuetzen Btl. “Langemarck.” In 1943 this unit was dissolved and the title “Langemarck” was transferred to the 6th SS Sturmbrigade, composed of Flemish volunteers. In much difficult fighting in 1944 and 1945, they continued to maintain the honor of the name “Langemarck.”

In the winter of 1942/1943, “Kapt’n” Schuldt commanded a SS/Police battlegroup with success on the southern part of the Eastern Front. Later in 1943 he took command of the 2nd Latvian SS Volunteer Brigade which would be transformed into the 19th Latvian SS Division. Schuldt led this unit brilliantly; being further decorated with the Oakleaves to the Knight’s Cross and promoted to the rank of Oberführer. In March 1944 he was killed-in-action leading his command and was honored by the posthumous decoration of the Swords to the Oakleaves of the Knight’s Cross and a promotion to Brigadeführer. A funeral sevice was held for him in Riga, Latvia and it was well attended by both Germans and Latvians alike. Hinrich Schuldt was an irreplaceable Waffen-SS officer.

In its brief but violent existence, SS-IR 4 “Langemarck” fully proved itself as a superior military unit. The dedication and sacrifices of its soldiers speak for themselves. It was a remarkable, but in many ways typical, representative of the elite multi-national army that was the Waffen-SS.

SS Brigade „Schuldt” and the Stalingrad Relief Effort

Published in „Siegrunen“ Magazine – Volume 8, Number 2, Whole Number 44, 1987

On 19 November 1942, a massive Red Army armored offensive shattered the Don River Front to the north of Stalingrad, splintering the Italian, Romanian and Hungarian defensive forces into panic-stricken fragments. These German allies had the manpower but lacked the will and the leadership to stand up to the resurgent Red Army. In addition, their own armored forces and their anti-tank capabilities were antiquated and nearly useless. One reforming German panzer division was in reserve behind the crumbling Axis armies, but it alone was unable to stop the Soviet offensive. Even then it has been stated that one more fully equipped German armored regiment might have prevented the encirclement of the 6th Army in Stalingrad that took place on this day. But such was not the case.

With an enormous gaping hole in the southern part of the Eastern Front to fill and the large German forces in the Caucasus region being threatened, something had to be done fast. Improvisation was the order of the day, and any battle-worthy contingent that could be spared for action was given consideration for use. The Waffen-SS was not left out; it was requested to dig into its „reserve“ pool to make a contribution. Unfortunately, its three major divisions (1st, 2nd and 3rd SS Panzergrenadier), were being refurbished in France and had been tied down there longer than anticipated due to the „Allied“ invasion of North Africa and the resultant complications from that action. So they were not immediately available. And nearly every other segment of the Waffen-SS was fully engaged elsewhere on the Eastern Front. That meant that the training camps and homeland garrisons had to be combed out for experienced troops.

In early December a couple of Waffen-SS contingents had been zeroed in on. One was the „Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler“ Guard Battalion in Berlin, which was nominally listed as VII. Battalion/l.SS Pz.Gr.Div. „LSSAH“; its troops were all front veterans. Another unit that was available was I./SS-Polizei Infanterie Rgt.l from the 4.SS-Polizei Grenadier Div. that had been refitting in East Prussia. It was a veteran element as well and nearly ready for action. The idea was to combine these battalions into a regimental or brigade strength battlegroup along with troops from assorted Waffen-SS specialty training schools.

On 4 December 1942, authorization was granted to form this ad hoc „brigade,“ under the command of SS- Standartenführer Hinrich „Kapt’n“ Schuldt (a former Navy Captain). Schuldt was a natural selection for this role, as during the previous winter he had directed a number of mixed emergency groups (based on his SS Inf.Rgt.4), during a very critical situation in the central part of the Eastern Front. His success at handling makeshift forces had clearly made him the top candidate for his new position.

SS Brigade „Schuldt,“ as it was called from the start, quickly assembled a staff and staff company from reserve pools and replacement units. The VII./“LSSAH,“ with a staff, staff company and three rifle companies, became the first brigade unit, though it was not at full strength. It had to leave the equivalent of a full company behind in Berlin to continue the tradition of a „Leibstandarte“ guard troop in the German capital. The l./SS-Pol.Inf.Rgt.l was added on paper to the brigade and it was commonly designated SS-Kampfgruppe „Dietrich“ after its commander, Sturmbannführer Dietrich. This battalion would make its way separately to the brigade assembly area in Russia.

On 6 December 1942, all of the brigade elements, including a new heavy weapons company under Ostuf. Drescher which was assigned to VII./“LSSAH,“ were to begin making their way by rail to the Eastern Front. The structure and command roster for SS Brigade „Schuldt“ initially looked like this:

Commander: Staf. Schuldt

Adjutant: Hstuf. Molt

Ordnance Officer: Ostuf. Vogel

Staff Company containing the following elements:

Motorcycle Messenger Platoon from the SS Motorcycle Replacement Bn. in Ellwangen

Anti-tank Platoon from the staff troops of the Waffen-SS Commander-in-Chief for the Netherlands Combat Engineer Platoon from the SS Engineer

Replacement Bn. in Dresden Signals Platoon from the Field Command Staff of the Reichsführer-SS (Himmler)

VII. Bn./“LSSAH“:

Permanent commander in Berlin: Stubaf. Ernst Mayer, who had been rendered unfit for frontline service due to his severe battle wounds. He took over the guard company left behind.

Commander during transport: Hstuf. Beutler

Commander after arrival in Russia: Hstuf. Ott

Commander as of 31 December 1942: Hstuf. Lantscher

1st Rifle Company: Hstuf. Ott, later Ostuf. Horvath

2nd Rifle Company: Ostuf. Leiteritz; wounded during disembarkation in Russia and replaced by Ostuf. Knoesel

3rd Rifle Company: Ostuf. Blunck

4th Heavy Weapons Company: Ostuf. Drescher; this company was assembled as follows: infantry gun platoon from the staff troops W-SS C-in-C „Netherlands,“ anti-tank platoon from the same place and combat engineer platoon from the SS Engineer Replacement Bn. in Dresden.

I./SS-Pol.Inf.Rgt.l (SS-KGr. „Dietrich“)

Commander: Stubaf. Wilhelm Dietrich

Staff Company: Ustuf. Kersten, then Oberjunker Schroeter

1st Company (portion of it only): Ostuf. Tigge

2nd Company (intact): Ostuf. Waldmann, then Ostuf. Drieske

3rd Company (portion only): Ostuf. Schneider 4th Company (portion only): Hstuf. Schwarting

The first elements of SS-Bde. „Schuldt,“ consisting of the staff, staff company, 1./VII./“LSSAH“ and part of 4./VII./“LSSAH,“ arrived in the threatened city of Millerovo on 16 December 1942. The formation was assigned to Army Detachment „Fretter-Pico“ and was given orders to assemble at Meschkoff and then dig-in in the hills surrounding the town to block off a Soviet advance.

Just before midnight on 17 December, the bulk of VII./“LSSAH“ reached the railroad station in the southern part of Meschkoff. Due to the close proximity of the front the unloading of men, vehicles and equipment had to proceed with utmost haste, and this procedure was further hampered by the bitterly cold weather. To top it off, a Soviet fighter-bomber attack interrupted the „Leibstandarte“ disembarkation and caused significant damage to the train station as well as casualties to the troops. Both Ostuf. Leiteritz (CO of 2nd Co.) and Hstuf. Beutler (Bn. CO) were wounded, and early on the next day, Hstuf. Ott took charge of the unit.

SS-KGr. „Dietrich“ (Polizei Div.) had a more chaotic journey to the brigade assembly area. It had been sent by rail to Tschertkovo from where a truck convoy was to take it to Meshkoff. However, before it had even arrived at Tschertkovo, SS-KGr. „Dietrich“ had had some of its troops siphoned off for other emergency duties. The bulk of the 1st and 4th Companies along with a portion of the battalion staff had been re-routed to Zschertkovo to help stop an enemy armored breakthrough in the sector of 19th Panzer Division. This contingent led by Hstuf. Schwarting, would in fact never join the brigade but would instead link up with the 1st SS Pz.Gr.Div. „Leibstandarte“ in early February 1943 near Kharkov. Thus from SS-KGr. „Dietrich,“ SS-Bde. „Schuldt“ only received the major portions of the battalion staff and 2nd Co. along with small contingents from the 1st and 3rd Companies. Promised Flak and anti-tank troops were not initially available.

During the evening hours of 18 December, SS-KGr. „Dietrich“ reached the brigade and was sent to Nasaroff, about 6 km to the west of Meschkoff. In the meantime, V11./“LSSAH“ had already gone into action in the hills about 3 km to the northwest of Meschkoff. This was a relief attack designed to save elements of the 8th Italian Army which were in full retreat. After fighting a delaying action, the battalion disengaged and fell back on the northern part of Meschkoff at around midnight on the 18th. On the next, SS-KGr. „Dietrich“ was inserted in the main defensive lines around Meschkoff.

At noon on 19 December, a Russian armored force approached SS Brigade „Schuldt“ from the west, driving towards Nasaroff. A violent battle developed in which the SS troops were able to destroy four enemy tanks. This caused the Reds to break off the attack, but recce troops observed a massing of Soviet infantry, transported in captured Italian trucks, to the southwest. In the night of 19/20 December the situation at Meschkoff grew more serious. A pair of Russian tanks broke through the lines of Brigade „Schuldt“ and raised havoc in the rear area, destroying three trucks filled with German wounded in the process. Enemy forces were also reported in virtually all directions. Aware of the dangerous predicament facing the brigade, Army Detachment „Fretter-Pico“ gave it the go ahead to withdraw from Meschkoff.

Staf. Schuldt and Stubaf. Dietrich discuss the battlefield situation.

At midnight, Brigade „Schuldt“ pulled out of Meschkoff and began withdrawing towards Millerovo. But not far down the road a Soviet tank force put in a surprise appearance and effectively split-up much of the SS task force. Part of VII./“LSSAH,“ consisting of 1st Co., the bulk of 2nd Co. and part of 4th Co., fought its way to Millerovo under Ostuf. Dahl (ex-Polizei Division). These troops were then attached to the 3rd Mountain Div. and reorganized into two combat companies which were designated Kampfgruppe „Dahl.“ This force was then caught up in the Soviet encirclement of Millerovo along with 4,000 German and 12,000 Italian troops. The SS men were generally held in reserve for use in counterattacking enemy penetrations. The siege of Millerovo lasted until 15 January 1943 when a successful breakout was made. By 20 January, KGr. „Dahl“ had rejoined SS Bde. „Schuldt.“

While Ostuf. Dahl and his men made their way to Millerovo, the other components of Brigade „Schuldt“ began to regroup at Donskoj at 0400 on 20 December 1943. All that now remained of VII./“LSSAH“ was the battalion staff, a part of 2nd Co., 3rd Co., and engineer and heavy mortar platoons from 4th Company. After it had reassembled the brigade continued on in a southeasterly direction, passing through the Jablonovaja and Bolschoja sectors to Ssmolin on the Metschettka Creek. Ssmolin was reached at 1430 on 20 December after some 70 km had been covered in a motorized „march.“ Here the SS men were able to rest for the first time since their frontline deployment.

On 21 December, most of the brigade, except for the supply troops, was sent west to fortify the nearby village of Kijevsky. In the night of 21/22 December positions on the west/southwest part of Kijevsky were fully occupied and extended even further westward. At the same time the survivors from various dispersed Army artillery and anti-tank units were incorporated into the brigade and used to strengthen SS-KGr. „Dietrich.“ An entire emergency „march“ battalion was also latched on to.

In the early afternoon of the 22nd, an enemy armored attack was brought to a screeching halt through the destruction of four of the advancing tanks. But a neighboring Italian unit was unnerved by the incident and began an unauthorized withdrawal. As a result, SS-KGr. „Dietrich“ was ordered to extend its lines to cover the gap left by the Italians. Only 80 men were available for this task which really required the services of a full battalion!

On 23 December, Army Detachment „Fretter-Pico“ ordered SS Brigade „Schuldt“ to sever the enemy supply route near Roshek, 10 kms to the south. To do this job properly the town itself would have to be taken. In preparation for this attempt, the brigade relocated to Metschettka, 7 kms to the south. SS-KGr. „Dietrich“ was deployed due north of Ssnetschinikovo, a village about 1 km west of Roshek, while VI1./“LSSAH“ was placed to the north and east of Roshek. Staf. Schuldt personally led the assault on the town on 24 December. In a swift, decisive action, the SS troops seized Roshek, while knocking out two T-34 tanks in the process. One T-34 was captured intact along with a number of prisoners.

Following this success, Staf. Schuldt took stock of the troops still left under his command and began reorganizing the brigade units „downward“ to reflect the depletion of personnel. SS-KGr. „Dietrich“ became the new 1st Co., with the remnants of V1I./“LSSAH“ becoming 2nd Co. and the Army March Bn. 179 being used to constitute a 3rd Company. The remaining troops and heavy weapons elements were simply attached directly to the „brigade“ staff. Now only battalion size at best, Bde. „Schuldt“ was rechristened a „Group“ for operational purposes.

On Christmas Day, Group „Schuldt“ found itself attached to the XXIX. Army Corps Staff under Gen. Geier in Krassnojarovka, about 5 kms southeast of Roshek. At midnight on the 25th, a powerful Soviet armored force attacked the town. The foremost tanks were knocked out but the following ones broke into Krassnojarovka and began rambling about at will. One T-34 smashed right through a house wall and drove on into the building that housed the supply troop from what had been 3./SS- Pol.Rgt.l (KGr. „Dietrich“), interrupting the preparations for a Christmas feast. This action enraged Stubaf. Dietrich who was in the building at the time. Without hesitation he clambered up on top of the tank, flung open the turret hatch and shot all of the individual crew members with his pistol! That was one way to capture a tank intact, but it probably would never have happened if he had given it any forethought!

Fortunately, the Red infantry failed to follow-up on the armored breakthrough and when the tanks were forced to withdraw, the Germans still held the town. But Krassnojarovka was now completely surrounded and orders soon arrived for the trapped troops to break out and evacuate the town during the night of 25/26 December. There would be no more waiting around for another Stalingrad to occur!

After throwing back further Red armored onslaughts in the early morning hours of 26 December and destroying two more tanks, SS Group „Schuldt“ left Krassnojarovka and began moving to the southeast; KGr. „Dietrich“ was still motorized but the „LSSAH“ troops had to march on foot. The withdrawal route led southeast through Vodjany to Romanovsky, where the task force regrouped before marching south to Pritschensky. Due to the deep enemy inroads all over the place, resupply had to be carried out via air drops when possible. In order to secure supplies, units had to set up agreed upon recognition signs (usually Swastika flags) that were visible from the air.

SS Group „Schuldt“ reached Pritschensky at around dusk on 26 December and found it filled with milling Romanian and Italian troops from units that had largely collapsed and evaporated. XXIX. Army Corps and Group „Schuldt“ was now told to continue advancing towards the Skassyrrskaja bridgehead in the southwest where a link-up with the neighboring Army Detachment „Hollidt“ needed to be made. SS Group „Schuldt“ spent the entire morning of the 27th fighting off enemy attacks and when things calmed down in the afternoon, Staf. Schuldt again regrouped his dwindling command.

At 0300 on the 28th the march towards Skassyrskaja continued. During a rest break a pair of armored recce cars suddenly appeared, sending the surprised SS troops scurrying for cover. But the vehicles were revealed to be „friendlies“ from a German Army unit, and the alarm was soon over. Staf. Schuldt appropriated them for his use and they would later prove helpful in escaping through enemy envelopments. By now the „brigade“ had only a few functional motor vehicles and these were relegated to transporting the badly wounded and needed supplies; the soldiers were left to make their way through the deep snow on foot.

When SS Group „Schuldt“ reached Skassyrskaja on 29 December, Staf. Schuldt reported that his „brigade“ was no longer battleworthy and he left for parts unknown. It is thought that he visited the Führer HQ for new instructions, but his exact whereabouts for the next several days were not recorded. In any event, command of the „brigade“ now passed entirely over to Stubaf. Dietrich.

The brigade was outfitted with ten new field kitchens and informed that it was to proceed to a refitting area on the next day. On 30 December an advance commando arrived at the designated refitting area at Alexejev with the objective of lining up some more motor vehicles for the battle-group. The rest of the SS troops arrived at dusk after a difficult 20 km foot march. They reported that they had heard heavy gunfire emanating from the direction of Skassyrskaja behind them.

After a day of rest, the SS battle-group was attached to the 6th Panzer Div. under Gen.Lt. Raus, which was part of XVll.Army Corps/Army Det. „Hollidt,“ on 1 January 1943. SS-Brigade „Schuldt“ was considered temporarily out of commission and the entire task force adopted the interim title of SS-Kampfgruppe „Dietrich.“ To confuse things even further, SS-KGr. „Dietrich“ would remain functioning even after Brigade „Schuldt“ was reformed!

In any event, Bde. „Schuldt“/KGr. „Dietrich“ was next ordered to relocate to Kamensk and for this purpose it was given a 17 vehicle truck convoy to transport the troops. But once Kamensk was reached on 3 January, the trucks were recalled to XVII. Corps. On the 3rd, SS-KGr. „Dietrich“ reached its new reassembly area and was quickly deployed in blocking positions in the sector that ran from Makjev to Alexejev and thence to Kovylkin and Bakova. I./Pz.Gr.Rgt.l 14 was now temporarily subordinated to the battle-group. In terms of other individual units, SS-KGr. „Dietrich“ also contained the following:

Staff l./SS-Pol.Inf.Rgt.l

2nd Co./I./SS-Pol.Inf.Rgt.l

3rd Co./I./SS-Pol.Inf.Rgt.l

Mixed Improvised Rifle Co./VII./“LSSAH“

Engineer Platoon/4.Co./VlI./“LSSAH“

Infantry Gun Platoon/4.Co./VIl./“LSSAH“

Staff Co. (portion only)/VII./“LSSAH“ (Hstuf. Lantcher)

Anti-tank Detachment 518 (Oberleutnant Wilde)

In the course of 3 January 1943, the battle-group’s sick and wounded were evacuated and the resupply process was completed. The 6th Panzer Div. had been given a two-pronged mission: 1. To restore a gap in the front north of Tazinskaja left by fleeing Italian troops, the success of which operation would cut off the line of retreat of the XXIV. Red „Guards“ Tank Corps under Gen. Badanov. 2. Hold down the frontlines between Morosovskaja and Tazinskaja. The first assignment was to be carried out by an armored task force based on the armored recce detachment, while SS-KGr. „Dietrich“ and the remainder of the division took care of the latter task. In conjunction with the above, 11th Pz.Div. was to bag and destroy Soviet breakthrough forces near Tazinskaja. All operations were to be carried out with „dash and precision.“

In the meantime the portion of SS Bde. „Schuldt“ that had gotten separated from the main force during the retreat from Meschkoff in the night of 19/20 December 1942 (i.e., KGr. „Dahl“), was having its own problems in the besieged town of Millerovo. This contingent, two companies in strength, drawn from parts of VII./“LSSAH“ and l./SS-Pol.Inf.Rgt.l, came under the control of Group „Kreysing“ of 3rd Mountain Div. in Millerovo.

At 0600 on 27 December 1942, the Soviets attacked the town from all sides with substantial armored support. Numerous tanks broke through the lines, but each was eliminated in close combat. Continuous fighting raged until 0800 on the 28th when it was finally broken off. At dusk on the 29th, the Reds again assaulted Millerovo from the north, west and east, with extensive artillery backing. SS-KGr. „Dahl“ was kept busy all night long battling off enemy attack waves. It was now known that Millerovo was severed from the main German lines by three Soviet Army Corps (note: a Soviet „Corps“ was equivalent to a German division). The raging battle continued on through 30 December and an attempted relief attack by 19th Pz.Div. from the north, was thwarted by a counterattack launched by 3) Soviet divisions. On the 31st the fighting eased off but Millerovo still remained surrounded.

On 1 January 1943, the remnant of SS-Brigade „Schuldt“ which was not attached to SS-KGr. „Dietrich“ or encircled in Millerovo, reported in to the Army Brigade „Nagel“ in Donskoj. This consisted of the brigade staff company, part of 4th Co./VIl./“LSSAH,“ with two light infantry guns and six anti-tank guns, and a portion of the Polizei Mortar Bn. 15, which had 12 heavy mortars and four anti-tank guns. This was to be the nucleus for an entirely new Bde. „Schuldt,“ which was authorized to begin forming on 5 January 1943, at about the same time that Staf. Schuldt returned to the front.

„Kapt’n“ Schuldt had received a new assignment, perfectly suited to his improvisational command skills: at 0000 on 7 January 1943 he was to take command of all detached mobile combat groups attached to Army Group „Fretter-Pico“ and the strongpoint at Donskoy Krassnovka. The „new“ SS-Brigade „Schuldt“ (which to add to the confusion was also referred to as „Detachment Schuldt“!), was to be headquartered at Tarassovo and take its orders directly from the Army Det. HQ, except when it became necessary to assign it to the 304th Infantry Division.

SS Brigade „Schuldt’s“ neighbor was to be the improvised Army Brigade „Nagel“ and the boundary line between the two formations ran through the following towns:

Boundary terminating in the Donez River, then proceeding through Jelan (occupied by Bde. „Nagel“), Prognoy (Bde. „Nagel“), and Blagoschveschtschenka (Bde. „Schuldt“) to Rognalik Creek. SS Brigade „Schuldt,“ as reconstituted, now contained the following elements:

Staff, Staff Company and Signals Platoon with communications assistance provided through the Corps’ Signals officers. Attached to the staff was a Luftwaffe Observation/Signals Troop under Lt. Schreiber.

Luftwaffe Feld Bn. 100 (composed of mixed units)

4./Vll./“LSSAH“

One company from Polizei Mortar Bn. 15

6th Battery/Flak Det.43 („88“ guns)

4th Battery/Flak Det. 100 (2 cm guns)

One improvised heavy field howitzer battery

One infantry battalion comprised of soldiers dispersed from their original units

Mobile Kampfgruppe (composed of mixed units)

One infantry battalion from 304th Inf.Div. with improvised motor transport

Panzer Det. 138

Staff and 3rd Battery/Luftwaffe Flak Det.100

The „Führer“ Flak Detachment (whenever it arrived and reassembled)

In addition to the above, other units would be added as the situation dictated.

On 9 January 1943, Army Det. „Fretter-Pico“ launched a relief attack towards Millerovo along the main road from Tarasovo. SS Bde. „Schuldt“ spearheaded part of the effort and drove the enemy out of his positions at the road curve about 2 km to the west of Turoveroff, which was in turn 6 km to the south of Millerovo. Heavy casualties were inflicted upon the foe. On 11 January, SS Bde. „Schuldt“ was ordered to secure and defend Matvejevka and then reconnoiter the area to the southeast to see if a further advance was possible. Afterwards the route of advance for a 360 man replacement battalion for 3rd Mnt.Div. had to be scouted out and protected. On the next day, SS Bde. „Schuldt“ was able to report that all objectives had been secured and that the key Hill 201.3 had also been occupied.

With this accomplished the brigade was ordered back to Tarassovo to carry out recce duties around that town and from Donskoy to Kossnovka to make sure that no enemy reinforcements got through. The fighting on 11 and 12 January 1943 had not been easy and the list of casualties for SS Bde. „Schuldt“ reflected the severity of the combat. Forty-two men had been killed including the following four officers: Ostuf. Hemsiecke, 7./V11./ „LSSAH,“ Ustuf. Friedrichs, l./VII./“LSSAH“ and Obit’s Vorgel and Finster from ll./lnf.Rgt.575/304th Inf. Division. In addition, 118 soldiers including four officers (one from the „LSSAH“), had been wounded and 16 NCOs and men were listed as missing.

SS Brigade „Schuldt“ was given several new missions on the extreme south flank of the Army Detachment for 13 January. Its most important assignment was to secure and keep open the river crossing at Oreschkin and occupy a string of villages running from Djadin to Demischoff. Reconnaissance was to be conducted to the south, east and northeast of those towns. At the same time contact was to be maintained with the extreme right wing of 304th Inf.Div. near Ostaschkin. The brigade’s supply and maintenance troops were to relocate to Kamensk and the strongpoint of Donskoy was to be turned over to Bde. „Nagel“ at midnight on the 13th.

SS Brigade „Schuldt“ spent the entire day moving its forces to the assigned area. A sharp, violent clash with the Reds took place at Oreschkin, which ended with the enemy forces being thoroughly routed. Thirty Soviet dead were left on the battlefield while two prisoners and anti-tank gun were captured. Staf. Schuldt subsequently moved his HQ up to Oreschkin and by 2030 hrs. had been able to report the successful accomplishment of all the day’s assignments.

About 40 km to the south was the brigade’s old component part, SS-KGr. „Dietrich,“ which was holding down the extreme left wing of Army Detachment „Hollidt,“ but it would be more than another month before the two forces linked up again. On 14 January, SS Bde. „Schuldt“ was ordered to hold and defend Kalitvenskaja and Novy Jerochin in the Kalitvinez sector, as strong enemy attacks were expected there. At this time the brigade lost the services of Polizei Mortar Co. 15 which was detached from the formation and sent to help defend the Donskoy strongpoint. To the north a deep enemy penetration was made near Kamensk and some of the supply troops from SS Bde. „Schuldt“ were sent there to reinforce KGr. „Baer,“ effective 15 January.

January 15, 1943 also saw a successful breakout made from the Millerovo Pocket. Ostuf. Dahl’s two SS companies helped to spearhead this effort along with troops from 3rd Mnt. Div. along with several broken Italian units. Despite the very cold weather and savage fighting the Millerovo garrison was able to effect a link-up with the main German lines. SS-KGr. „Dahl“ then took up new defensive positions around Petrova (effective 21 January 1943), before rejoining SS Brigade „Schuldt“ on 23 January.

In the meantime, SS Bde. „Schuldt“ had been placed in Army Detachment reserve and saw little action for several days. On 23 January it was located in the south part of the city of Vorosschilograd, where it received the following reinforcements:

Anti-tank Det.138

Führer Flak Det. with one heavy, one medium and one light Flak batteries

I./SS-Pz.Gr.Rgt.4 „Der Führer“; stiffened by two batteries from SS Art.Rgt.2 „Das Reich,“ a platoon from 16./“DF“ (engineers), 14./“DF“ and 3rd Battery/SS Flak Det.2, all under the command of Hstuf. Hans Opificius

SS-KGr. „Dahl“ under Ostuf. Dahl

The newly refurbished SS Brigade „Schuldt“ was given an offensive assignment for 24 January: It was to advance to the northwest of Podgornoje and destroy any enemy forces that had crossed the Donez in that direction and were moving southwards. In addition the area around the towns of Sslavjanosserbsk, Ssmelyj-Novo-Grigorjevka and the terrain towards Sheltoja and Dolgoje was to be captured from weak enemy forces and held. Following all of this, combat strength recce troops were to scout the line to locate good crossing points over the Donez for motorized and armored forces.

The attack by SS Bde. „Schuldt,“ which ran due north of Hill 168.1 to the northwest of Podgornoje, met with only weak resistance. The foremost elements, I./“DF“ and Pz.Det.138, were able to achieve their objectives rapidly despite encountering strong enemy artillery fire. Enemy flank attacks from Sheltoje and Dolgoje were easily repulsed. By the end of the day, around 100 Soviets had been killed and six of their heavy field pieces had been eliminated. Brigade losses totaled one killed and six wounded. During the night of 24/25 January, brigade HQ was established in Alexandrovka, and the attached units, including I./“DF,“ were positioned in the nearby hills and villages.

Members of an entrapped SS-Polizei-Div. battle-group that fought their way free.

This night proved to be one of the coldest of the winter with strong, gusty winds and temperatures dipping to -28° C. To make matters worse, most of the soldiers had left their heavy winter clothing behind before the day’s action in a motor vehicle park. The results were disastrous. What the communists had not accomplished on the battlefield, „General Winter“ did. By morning fully 50% of the troops belonging to l./“DF“ reported on sick call with frostbite!

Be that as it may, the war went on and on the 25th, SS Bde. „Schuldt“ was ordered to relinquish its positions and attack Soviet penetrations across the Don near Skeltoje and Dolgoje. The llI./Gr.Rgt.682 was to be attached to the brigade for this operation only. Afterwards, Bde. „Schuldt“ was supposed to regroup in the southern part of Voroschilovgrad to remain again at the disposal of the Army Detachment.

Actions on this day fell somewhat short of the mark. SS Bde. „Schuldt“ was unable to regain much territory and had to spend much of the day trying to retake the high ground southeast of Sheltoje which had been seized by the Reds. For most of 26 and 27 January, the brigade simply dug in where it stood and fought off a number of Soviet attacks, which were mostly in company strength. On the 27th a significant defensive success was achieved and the brigade was able to report that another 80 enemy soldiers had been captured and more than 100 others had been killed. Numerous Soviet heavy weapons, including ten anti-tank guns, were also destroyed. The brigade was supplemented on this day by I./Art.Rgt.335 and reported that it had 15 operational armored vehicles.

Staf. Schuldt now sought to have all the parts of his brigade reunited (he was thinking in particular of the still absent SS-KGr. „Dietrich“), but was informed by Army Det. staff that the battlefield situation was still much too fluid to enable that to take place. About 300 kms to the northeast of Bde. „Schuldt’s“ positions, the first contingents of the „Leibstandarte“ and „Das Reich“ Divisions had begun to arrive from France.

On 28 January 1943, SS Bde. „Schuldt“ was relieved by Grenadier Rgt. 684 and relocated to Alexandrovka and Rodakovo to prepare for further operations. In addition, 111./Gr.Rgt.682 and l./AR 335 were removed from the brigade’s jurisdiction, while Pz.Det.138 and two Flak platoons from the Führer Flak Det. were subordinated directly to the Army Detachment. So instead of gaining strength as Staf. Schuldt had hoped, the brigade was instead further truncated. SS Bde. „Schuldt“ was ordered to relocate to Voroschiloff on the 29th and make contact with 304th Inf.Div. in preparation for an attack on Bolschoj Ssuchodol, where the enemy had constructed a small bridgehead across the Donez. After arriving in Voroschillof on 30 January, I./“DF“ was reinforced by the replacement battalion of the 304th Inf.Div., less its staff and supply section.

The planned attack on the bridgehead never developed due to an enemy breakthrough and advance on Petrovka to the northwest. SS Brigade „Schuldt“ was ordered to intercept this communist force near Shiroki while at the same time maintaining the defense of Voroschiloff.

The latter town was to be held by 3rd Co./“DF“ under Hstuf. Lex along with the engineer platoon from 16./“DF,“ under Oberscharführer von Eberstein and SS-KGr. „Dahl“ from VII./“LSSAH.“

On 1 February, the bulk of l./“Der Führer“ under Hstuf. Opficius made a desperate attempt to block off the Soviets at Shiroki, but in the end the town had to be abandoned. The focus of the fighting then shifted to Petrovka which was stoutly defended by 1st Co./“DF,“ a platoon from 14./“DF“ and part of 3rd Bttry./SS Flak Det. 2. All enemy attacks here were repulsed, and SS- Rottenführer Heider was decorated with the Iron Cross, 1st Class on the spot for destroying five Soviet tanks with his anti-tank gun. But due to another enemy penetration farther to the north, the „Der Führer“ Battalion had to be withdrawn to Vodjanoj.

On the following day, 2 February, both the 304th Inf.Div. and SS Bde. „Schuldt“ were transferred to the XXXXV1II. Pz.Corps of the neighboring Army Detachment „Hollidt,“ and on the 3rd, the brigade was attached to 6th Pz.Div. and immediately saw some heavy fighting. A full-scale enemy assault was launched against the German positions, and I./“DF“ found itself fighting for its life. Hand-to-hand combat raged in the Waffen-SS foxholes, trenches and in the nearby buildings. Only the intervention of Stuka bombers and tanks from 6th Pz.Div. managed to save the day and turn the tide. But severe losses had been sustained and a direct artillery hit on the battalion HQ had killed the commander of 4./“DF,“ Hstuf. Hocke.

SS Brigade „Schuldt,“ along with Panzergrenadiers from 6th Pz.Div., advanced to Popovka on 4 February and proceeded on to Voroschilloff on the following day. Popovka was evacuated on 6/7 February, and a new security line, manned by part of the brigade until 12 February was set up in the hills north of the town. The 12th saw a renewed Soviet offensive due south of Voroschilovgrad, and the brigade, which was in the course of needed regrouping, had to be rushed to 304th Inf.Div. of XXI.Army Corps for emergency deployment. This caused the reunion of the brigade with SS-KGr. „Dietrich“ to be postponed again.

SS Brigade „Schuldt“ reassembled in Krassnoskij on 14 February, where it was at the disposal of XXI.Army Corps. On the 15th it was sent towards Uspenka to provide support for 22nd Pz. Division. Upon arriving in its new area, Bde. „Schuldt“ was deployed in the hills 2 km to the northwest of Lutogino, and for the next few days defended this sector in fierce fighting. During this struggle, individual positions frequently changed hands several times over. The area was evacuated on 18 February and by the next day, Bde. „Schuldt“ was back under the control of Army Det. „Fretter-Pico“ in the vicinity of Adrianopol. Here the brigade was finally rejoined by SS-KGr. „Dietrich“ and a major restructuring got underway using soldiers from the 1st, 2nd and 4th SS Divisions. The brigade structure that resulted looked like this:

Comma the previously attached Army and Flak troops remained with the brigade.

Regrouping continued until 22 February when the brigade was put on alert. An enemy force in battalion strength, with heavy weapons support, had secured and fortified a ravine to the north of Utkino and the brigade was ordered to eliminate this penetration. Preparations for this undertaking got underway by Bn. „Dietrich“ but they were brought to a halt when a new emergency arose. A stronger enemy force had gotten a foothold in the Vassjukova Gorge near Baschtewitsch, and Bn. „Dietrich“ was needed to dislodge it.

The march to the new locale was a different one, hampered by heavy snow drifts and clashes with dispersed enemy troops. However, on 23 February, Bn. „Dietrich“ began its attack towards an enemy-held destroyed village at the far end of the gorge between Jelisavetovka and Schterovka. The SS troops were supported on both flanks by Army units, and had good heavy weapons backing. In a brief but violent clash the Reds were pushed out of the town and into the wild and rocky ravine. In this type of terrain the fighting was particularly difficult and both sides took high losses. Stubaf. Dietrich was wounded during the afternoon but he stayed with his men until Staf. Schuldt ordered him to leave for medical treatment that evening. Dietrich’s replacement was Hstuf. Lex from the „Der Führer“ Rgt., who had commanded the 1st Co. in Bn. „Dietrich.“

By now, Stalingrad had gone under and the Soviets were able to concentrate on driving westwards, so each day the pressure increased on the mixed and scattered German forces that opposed them. On 24 February, Bn. „Dietrich“ reported observing strong enemy units advancing towards Vodino through the Olchovka Valley. The brigade ordered the battalion to take up defensive positions to the east of Baschtevitxch to block off this advance. In the course of 24/25 February the SS troops of Bn. „Dietrich“ fought off a number of tank supported enemy probing attacks with the backing of Stuka dive bombers. The battalion was able to report the destruction of two of the three enemy tanks involved in the fight.

On 25 February, SS Bde. „Schuldt“ was reinforced by a full regiment from the 62nd Inf.Div. along with the assault gun detachment from the 19th Pz. Division. The brigade was then given a major mission to carry out using these new components. It was to seal off a gap in the lines near Jelisavetovka, with the aim of securing the hills to the east of the town. The attack was to be carried out in conjunction with an offensive operation by the now fully arrived SS Panzer Corps.

The carefully planned brigade assault began at 0700 on 26 February with a Stuka bombardment of the enemy positions. Staf. Schuldt directed the operation from the foremost element and as a result was lightly wounded at about 0900 and was forced to return to his HQ in Nitovka. At 1015 he was visited by Gen. Fretter-Pico, the commander of XXX.Army Corps, who gave him his best wishes and congratulated him on the successful development of the attack. By noon all objectives had been attained and the pursuit of fleeing Red soldiers had begun. But any serious follow-up action had to be put aside, since the regiment from 62nd Inf.Div. was now immediately withdrawn from SS Bde. „Schuldt.“

In the following days, the brigade relocated to the Debalzevo sector where it was engaged until 7 March in maintaining the link-ups between XXX.Army Corps (facing east) and III.Pz. Corps (facing north). Many small engagements were fought during this time. On 7 March the „Das Reich“ and „Der Führer“ troops that remained with the brigade were ordered to immediately return to the 2nd SS Pz.Div. „Das Reich“ (which was in the vicinity of Kharkov), via Pavlograd. This effectively reduced SS Bde. „Schuldt“ to a hollow shell, but it remained in existence until 15 March 1943, when the survivors of V1I./“LSSAH“ and I./SS-Pol.Inf.Rgt. 1 were sent by train back to the Debica SS training camp in Poland for rest and refitting.

It had been a supremely trying time and the members of the improvised SS Brigade „Schuldt“ had done all that was required of them, despite the terrible weather and the chaotic battlefield conditions. Losses were so high that all of the original intact units that comprised the brigade, ceased to exist as such and had to be rebuilt as rapidly as possible. But the heroic sacrifices and achievements of SS Brigade „Schuldt“ deserve an honorable mention in the pages of the history of the Waffen-SS.

Grenadiers from the 4. SS-Polizei-Panzergrenadier Division.

Deployment area of SS-Krg. “Schuld” and SS-Kgr. „Dietrich”
December 1942 – February 1943

The History of the SS-Standarte “Der Führer”

Published in „Siegrunen“ Magazine – Volume 6, Number 1, Whole Number 31, July – September 1983

Titles:

SS-Standarte 3/VT
SS-Regiment 3 “Der Führer”
SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 4 “Der Führer”

Abbreviation: SS-“DF”
Stationed: Vienna

A few days after the return of Obersturmbannführer Keppler’s I. Btl./SS “Deutschland” to Munich from Austria at the end of March 1938, Keppler was given the assignment of forming the third regiment of the SS-Verfugüngstruppe using a large dose of new Austrian volunteers. The new regimental unit garrison were established as follows:

Regimental Staff and I.Btl.: Vienna

II. Btl.: Graz

III. Btl.: Klangenfurt

Austrian recruits were quickly sent to each of the above locations. Over the course of the next year, each city would build new barracks facilities for their assigned portions of SS-“Der Führer.” I./“DF” was formed using personnel from II./ “Deutschland,” and its first commander was that battalion’s old commander, Sturmbannführer Wilhelm Bittrich. II./“DF” received some personnel from the “LSSAH” and its commander was Stubaf. Fritz von Scholz, who had formerly been in charge of the 8th Machine Gun Co. of II./SS-“D.” III./“DF” was formed around a nucleus of veterans from the “Germania” Rgt., and its commander was Ostubaf. Wäckerle, who had previously commanded I./SS “G.”

Both II. and III./“DF” were largely filled out with Austrian recruits. Regimental formation got underway in earnest in early May 1938, when the now Oberführer Georg Keppler assembled his cadre personnel in Klangenfurt. In a very short time a sense of inseparable comradeship developed between the SS men from the old Reich and the young volunteers from Tyrol, Steiermark, Kärnten, Vienna, Salzburg, Upper Austria and the Burgenland.

There were so many volunteers for the new SS regiment that a very rigid selection process had to be implemented. Only the absolute best of those who presented themselves could be taken in. All over Austria the SS soldiers were greeted with open arms by the civilians, who (contrary to “Allied” propaganda), were deliriously happy to be part of the Greater German Reich.

After the basics of training, the regimental commander placed great emphasis on military drilling, so the men of SS-“DF” saw no shortages of such activities. For Oberführer Keppler, the great psychological bonding between the German and Austrian soldiers took place at the Nuremberg Party Day celebrations in September 1938. At these festivities, the regiment formally became part of the SS. It received the title “Der Führer” and the regimental and battalion colors were presented. Afterwards, the Austrian SS regiment marched through the streets of Nuremberg to the strains of the “Prinz Eugen” March and the cheers of large throngs of spectators.

After returning to their garrisons, the men of “DF” undertook an accelerated program of strenuous day and night training. Late in September, the Army commander in Vienna, Gen. Kienitz, alerted the “DF” Rgt. to stand by for possible service during the forthcoming Sudetenland occupation. Since the regiment still was not fully operational, a special combat battalion composed of three reinforced companies was formed, drawing its manpower from all of the “DF” units. This battalion was assigned to serve as part of an ad hoc regiment with Gen. Schubert’s “Vienna” Div., which was supposed to occupy the Sudeten territory around Znaim.

The “Vienna” Div. began its march into Czechoslovakia on 1 October 1938, and the resulting occupation went off smoothly. The men of SS-Kampfgruppe “DF” found themselves warmly greeted by the local inhabitants. Following this diversion, the battalion returned to the main regiment and its men went back to their old units.

During the winter of 1938/1939, training for the “Der Fuehrer” Rgt. continued at a rapid pace, and the unit was transformed from a horse-drawn formation to a fully motorized one. By early March 1935, “DF” was considered to be operationally fit, except for a lack of experience in the utilization of motor vehicles. At this time, the regiment was placed in the Army’s mobilization plans for the total occupation of Bohemia and Moravia. “DF” was given the mission of occupying Pressburg (Bratislava) in southern Slovakia. Actually no long-term occupation of Slovakia was planned; the idea was to liberate this territory from Czech influence and then allow the long-suffering Slovak patriots to take over.

Collar patch

Sleeve title

Regimental shield

Georg Keppler, first “DF” commander.

Stubaf. Bittrich, first CO of I./”DF.”

Early members of the “Der Führer” Regiment.

Ostubaf. Wäckerle, first CO of III./“DF.”

First NCO training class for the Regiment in Vienna.

On the night of 14/15 March 1939, SS Rgt. “DF” assembled for its task near the bridge over the Leitha River on the Czech frontier. The forward elements were quickly placed into combat readiness positions. Back in Vienna, reports were received that “strong resistance” from the Czech Army could be expected in the “DF” sector, and this caused Gen. Kienitz to issue orders postponing the “DF” advance into Slovakia. But he was too late; the “DF” Rgt. went into motion just before dawn on 15 March, before the new orders were received.

To the east of Gänserndorf (northeast of Vienna), the regiment the Czech frontier and marched through the Little Carpathians to Boesing (Peczinok), without the slightest opposition from the “other side.” From there, “DF” prepared to secure the Waag Valley from Pressburg in the south to Jablionca in the north. A battalion was detached to link-up with an Army division to the north.

The bridge to the east of Gänserndorf was set aside for use by the regiment’s “heavy vehicle” convoy. Just as this column was getting underway, snow began to fall, and this combined with ice build effectively shut down the roads leading into the Little Carpathians. As a result, the entire heavy vehicle column had to be sent back to Gänserndorf to await improved weather conditions. In the meantime, I./”DF” managed to make contact with an Army division to the north and Oberführer Keppler established his command post in Bösing. During the course of the morning, Keppler learned that the bulk of the regimental vehicles probably would not be coming through to join the rest of the unit; news which caused more than a little consternation at the command post.

However, at about mid-day the snow stopped and the commander of the “DF” heavy vehicle convoy decided to proceed. What followed for the young, inexperienced truck drivers was a hair-raising journey along winding ice- and snow-covered mountain roads, but by evening they had caught up with the rest of the regiment without incident. By day’s end, SS Rgt. “Der Fuehrer” had fulfilled its original mission.

On 17 March, the Commander-in-Chief of the German Army, Generaloberst von Brauchitsch radioed the “DF” command post that he wished to visit the regiment. Oberführer Keppler informed him that the route through the Little Carpathians was a difficult and dangerous one, but this did not discourage von Brauchitsch. After arriving in Bösing the Generaloberst personally inspected the regimental units and spoke with individual soldiers. He praised the regiment for its successful actions and then proceeded on to the positions of I./“DF” farther to the north. For the men of SS Rgt. “DF” the occupation-march proved to be a valuable training exercise.

In May 1939, the regiment traveled in a motorized convoy to the Grossborn Training Grounds in Pomerania. It was quite an experience for many of the “DF” troopers who had never been out of their native Alpine valleys. At Grossborn, SS-“DF” underwent its most extensive military training to date, both as an entire unit and in detached elements. Emphasis was placed on marksmanship and sharpshooting along with coordinated heavy weapons supported exercises. It has been said that the Grossborn experience was the building block for Rgt. “DF’s” later successes during the war.

In June 1939, “Der Fuehrer” was named the “Guard Regiment” of Reichsprotektor von Neurath in Bohemia-Moravia, and was sent on to Prague for garrison duty. The outbreak of WWII on 1 September 1939, found “DF” still in place in the Czech capital. When France and Britain declared war on Germany, the decision was made to send SS-“DF” to the “West Wall” fortifications facing the French border. At the same time, the senior SS regiments were going into action in Poland.

By mid-September 1939, “Der Fuehrer” had reached Waldkirch, Schwarzwald, after a long march from the “Protectorate.” It was then made the motorized reserve for Gen. Dollman’s Army in the south Schwarzwald. In early October 1939, SS Rgt. “DF” was sent to the old Czech military training camp at Brdy- Wald, east of Pilsen, were it was combined with the other units of the SS-VT (except the LSSAH) to be formed into the new SS-“V”-Division under SS-Gruppenführer Paul Hausser.

Historical Boundaries of the German Reich

Published in „Siegrunen“ Magazine – Vol. V, No. 4, Whole Number 28, January 1982

By Michael Redmond

According to the popular mythology, World War II was precipitated by the attempt of the Germans under the Third Reich to invade and conquer the territory of their European neighbors, with world conquest as their ultimate goal. The reality is that after World War I, the Germans were deprived of substantial territories they had occupied for centuries, and the announced goal of the Third Reich was the recovery of those portions of the lost territories which were still occupied by German speaking populations.

Historically, Germans have contributed much to the vitality of the nations of Europe, and German boundaries once extended far beyond even the 1914 limits. Never fixed, they have oscillated backwards and forwards throughout generations. If we wish to understand rightly the historical distribution of the German political, settlement, and culture areas, we must go back to the very beginning of European history.

The earliest forefathers of the Germans were the Norsemen of the early stone age (2500-1800 B.C.). After the ice, which originally covered a large part of Europe, had worked its way back on to the mountains, the Norsemen descended into the western regions along the East Sea. For many thousands of years, they dwelt in southern Sweden, in Denmark, and northern Germany.

The Norsemen developed a high agrarian culture. They practiced husbandry, cattle raising and seafaring, setting up permanent monuments to their dead which still survive as the giant tombs of the Luneburg heath or the Oldenburg land. These early Norsemen dwelt in high gabled, wooden houses which are very similar to those of North German farmers today. The household furnishings consisted of beds, cupboards, benches, and other articles. Beautifully formed vessels and tools carved out of wood were in use. The Norsemen made their clothing out of linen materials and twill. They knew how to tan the finest leather out of animal hides. Their artistic sense was highly developed. It showed itself very clearly in their beautiful stone weapons, the dagger and the battle ax.

The Norsemen of the early stone age were energetic, well developed men of the Nordic race. They multiplied very rapidly so that a time finally came when their arable land was no longer sufficient for all. The youth, the pith of the folk, had to go forth in order to acquire new land. The Norsemen wandered away along many routes following every direction under the sun. They settled in neighboring and far distant regions inhabited by foreign races. In only a few cases was it possible for them to preserve their racial character. Frequently they mixed with the natives and formed new peoples such as the Celts, Illyrians, etc. In some cases, however, they acquired, almost unmixed, new territories and created there – as Indo-Iranians, Greeks, and Romans – the highly developed cultures of antiquity. The cultural values and the racial traits of the Norsemen were spread throughout Europe in the course of these wanderings. The unity of former times is still evident today in the languages of most European peoples. Science has grouped these people together under the name of Indo-Germans.

The culture of Europe and particularly that of antiquity, as well as all that is today based thereon, does not come therefore out of the east. Its origin lies in the north, to a considerable extent on German soil.

At the conclusion of the Indo-Germanic wanderings the Norsemen of the early stone age united to form in their homeland a people unified internally and externally, the Germans.

The bronze age (1800-800 B.C.) brought German culture to a flourishing state and also the first acquisition of land by the Germans on the continent.

The heritage of their forefathers was developed still further and to an unprecedented degree by the Germans. Land cultivation, animal husbandry, and seafaring experienced a great upward swing. Objects of use, clothing, and weapons were refined. Weapons which are objects of wonder even today were created out of gold, amber and bronze, the first metal. Fighting and sports were encouraged on all sides. Music and art also flourished to a high degree. All in all the bronze age presented such a magnificent picture of the cultural development of the Germans that it gave rise to the expression “golden age of the Germans.”

Natural catastrophes, apparently spring floods along the coast of the North Sea, suddenly produced a great need for land among the Germans. The rapidly growing people was forced to decamp and take up new land. Constantly struggling with their neighbors, they spread out unceasingly. They pushed across the Weser and Oder. By the end of the bronze age they had reached the lower Rhine in the west, the mouth of the Vistula in the east, and mountain ranges of central Germany in the south.

The iron age (800-50 B.C.) followed the golden age. It did not derive its name solely from the new material, iron, which now came into use. But the name also signified that now a real iron age had emerged fully of fighting and tussling for new land.

Nevertheless, German culture showed further progress even during this hard time. The handicrafts and especially the art of forging blossomed forth, to which the new weapons, swords, daggers and spears bear witness. The raising of horses and the building of wagons attained a high degree of perfection, thereby giving for the first time the possibility of great advances in farming.

Once again youth was forced to stride out after new land. A climatic disturbance in the western part of the East Sea region reduced the productive capacity of the greatly overpopulated land. Food for man and beast no longer sufficed. In long trains the heavy wagons of the peasants once again rolled out of the homeland. In great battles and continual fighting the young peasants were obliged to force their way into new lands. This time they spread out over an enormous area. The greatest expansion took place toward the east. From the coast of the German East Sea branches of Germans pressed across East Prussia, the interior of Poland, and southward along the rivers as far as the Black Sea. Their numbers were so weakened, however, in the course of numerous battles that they were unable to establish themselves in south Russia and were absorbed by foreign peoples. Groups of Germans from Denmark and south Sweden wandered into the region vacated along the East Sea. They spread or rather worked their way forward as far as the Sudeten. The western Germans went forth after new land too. They advanced across the lower Rhine to south Holland and Belgium and pressed on along the Rhine as far as the Rhine-Danube- Winkel. The iron age had, in this way, brought about a tremendous enlargement of the German territory. It was now bounded on the continent by the line Flanders, south Holland, the upper Rhine, Danube, Carpathians, Bug and Memel. In consequence of this great expansion the German people, up to this time unified and compact, assumed the form of numerous branches which we classify as north Germans in Scandinavia, east Germans east of the Elbe, and west Germans to the west.

The age of the Romans (50 B.C.-375 A.D.) which succeeded the iron age is replete with countless struggles of Germans with the Roman Empire which was powerful at that time. The splitting up of the German people into branches now proved to be especially disadvantageous. For all the successes of the Romans, even though they were only temporary, are traceable back to the disunited, defensive struggles of the Germanic branches. Nevertheless the Romans were unable to conquer the core of the German territory, the Germany of today. In the great and decisive battle in the Teutoburg Forest (9 A.D.) the west Germans under the leadership of Armin were victorious over a powerful Roman army. This army was completely destroyed and Germany was preserved for all time from Romanization. The frontiers of the German territory in the west and southwest remained almost unchanged. In the east, however, a powerful expansion took place once more. East Germans, Goths and Gepidae pushed out from the region between the Vistula and the Memel across Poland towards south Russia to the Black Sea and the lower Danube. Here they separated into eastern and western groups. The east Goths spread out from southern Russia to the east and north. They founded a powerful empire which, under King Hermanarich, “united all the land between the Ural Mountains, the East Sea and the Black Sea.” West Goths and Gepidae moved up the Danube and in a similar manner created a great empire between the Danube and the Carpathians which was able to withstand the onslaughts of the Romans. The Marcomanni forced their way into the territory of the Sudetens and likewise established an empire which gave the Romans a great deal of trouble. By the end of the Roman period, therefore, the Germans had taken possession of all the land between the Urals, the Black Sea, the Danube, and the Rhine.

The period of Germanic migrations (375-1000 A.D.) is the heroic age of the Germans. The invasion of Mongolian hordes from the far distant steppes of the east set the east Germans in movement. Giving way before this pressure they abandoned their old homeland and turned westward. After tough assaults they overflowed the boundary walls and streamed into the Roman Empire which fell to pieces under this onslaught. Some of the Germanic branches succeeded in winning new land out of the territory of the old Roman Empire and in building up great kingdoms beneath the southern sun. The Vandals erected an empire in north Africa, the west Goths in Spain, the east Goths and Lombards in Italy, and the Burgundians on the soil of southern France. These kingdoms could not last long however, for the Germans constituted only a thin layer of leaders above the older peoples and were gradually extirpated in the course of constant strife.

Once again, some centuries later another stream of Germanic peoples poured out over Europe. This time it was the north Germans branch, known as Normans, Vikings and Varangians. The Normans, aboard bold dragonships, pushed as far as the Mediterranean and settled down on its shores. They established states in southern Italy and in Antioch, as well as in northwestern France and southern England. While the Vikings and Normans wandered about over western Europe the Varangians pushed across the East Sea onto the continent, proceeded with their ships downstream to the Black Sea and even appeared before Byzantium, the capital of the eastern Roman Empire. In that part of present-day Russia, to which they gave their name, they established a powerful Varangian Empire. The Varangians, therefore, overran Europe from the east.

The Germanic territory had, during the period of the migrations, spread out over all Europe. The political significance of this lies, not only in the fact that for once the peoples of Europe were refreshed with Nordic-German blood and the common basis of western culture was strengthened, but also in the fact that through Germans Europe achieved unity for the first time. Whereas the Roman Empire had not pushed beyond the limits of the Rhine and Danube and did not include all of central and eastern Europe, the Germans flooded Europe from the Urals to Gibraltar, from the North Cape to Constantinople. Europe, as a cultural and spiritual unity, is therefore the work of the Germans.

The west German branches had not participated in the great migrations. They remained in their old homesteads, spreading out westward, however, over the Ardennes and the Vosges. One of the west German branches, the French, founded an empire in western and central Europe, which, after long continued struggles, also included the remaining Germanic branches on the continent. About the year 900 this empire of the French split into an eastern and western empire. From the eastern empire emerged the German Reich. Its eastern boundaries coincided with the frontiers of the territory thickly populated by Germans and extended along the line of the Elbe – Saale – Bohemian Forest – Enns. Its western limits, after fluctuating back and forth, finally followed the line separating Germans and Romans. Small territories belonging to the Romans were added to the Reich, while the northwest tip of the Germanic region remained with France.

During the succeeding centuries the branches of the Eastern Empire – Frisians, Saxons, Frankonians, Thuringians, Swabians and Bavarians – merged to form the German people, a people that blossomed forth mightily and governed the course of history throughout the middle ages. The greatest accomplishment of the German people was the winning back, during the middle ages, of the eastern territory between the Elbe and the Vistula.

After the migration of the east Germans, Slavic tribes pushed their way into this territory. They shared the land with the hardy remnants of Germanic settlers who had remained on the land.

The colonization movement was first taken hold of by the Bavarians. In the course of tough struggles with mountains and forests they spread out along the Danube to the southeast under the bold leadership of the Babenbergers. Slowly they forced their way high up into the valleys of the Alps and the Bohemian primeval forest. These regions were for the most part uninhabited so that here the acquisition of land could proceed peacefully. And, in this way, the Germans won the central and eastern Alps, the Danube region as far as Pressburg, and the southern interior of the Bohemian basin. To be sure the Bavarians in their thrust towards the south and southeast found exceptional support from the German Kaiser, since the territory acquired cleared the way to Italy. Thus the oldest settlements of the Reich came into being, the Austrian, Styrian, Carinthian and Krain districts. They have remained for all times the southern outposts of the Germans. After the dying out of the Babenbergers (in 1156) the new districts were separated from the Bavarian motherland as independent duchies. The propelling forces of the homeland were thereby cut off and the southeastern movement came to a standstill.

In the northeast, along the Elbe and Saale, special districts were set up to protect the German frontiers and to give the Reich military security. Hermann Billung administered the northern district, Count Gero the central one, and feudal counts of the King administered the one in the south, the Sorbische mark. Since there was still enough land for pasturage and cultivation within the German Reich, these special districts remained purely military areas partially populated by Slavs. So long as the German Kaiser, who was of Saxon parentage, focussed his attention primarily on the internal building up of the Reich and, therefore, on the security of the frontiers, peace and order reigned in these districts and the neighboring territories of the Slavs. When, however, Emperor Otto II suffered a defeat in Italy and, in consequence of incessant fighting in Italy, the Reich became weak, the Slavic tribes revolted in the year 982 in order to shake off the German overlordship. The German towns and settlements along the frontiers of these districts were destroyed and the Germans massacred. Only with the greatest difficulty was it possible to bring the onslaught of the Slavs along the Elbe to a halt.

After this crucial insurrection the Elbe remained the frontier toward the east for almost 200 years. However, during this period the German population increased considerably. The German soil could no longer provide for this increase. In this emergency the broad, thinly settled regions east of the Reich were remembered. The procession of the German peoples toward the east began. To be sure the German Emperors fostered the new eastward movement only in exceptional cases. They had taken a fancy to the south and now pursued the dream of Roman world domination. The Princes of the German frontier lands, on the contrary, realized the great possibilities which the east offered them. They put themselves at the head of the movement and thereby assured the success of German colonization on that side of the Elbe. The protection of German Princes was all the more necessary in as much as the Slavs interposed bitter opposition at first to the onward march of the Germans. The sword had to clear the way for the settlers at first.

Along the coast of the East Sea Henry the Lion, the Guelf Duke of Braunschweig, with the aid of his friend, Adolf of Schauenburg, won the territories of Holstein, Lübeck and Mecklenburg. For the first time the German Reich extended as far as the East Sea. Trade with lands along the East Sea was developed. Henry the Lion devoted himself to this task with particular zeal. The founding of Lübeck, later head of the German Hansa, was one of the farseeing acts of this great colonizer. After the unfortunate rift between the Lion and Kaiser Frederick Barbarossa the former’s work was destroyed because of the southern policies of the Reich. Nevertheless the regions had been so thickly settled with German peasants and urban dwellers already that, in spite of later seizures by the Danes, they henceforth retained their German character.

At the same time Albert the Bear, leader of the German Askanians, originating in the old frontier district of Geros, secured control over the lands along the Havel, Spree and Priegnitz. By negotiation and seizure, he gradually extended his territory to the limits of the district of Brandenburg, he was the first who could properly call himself Margrave of Brandenburg. His successors were inspired by the same spirit. They extended the Askanian lands across the Oder and so shaped the point of departure for the later state of Brandenburg.

South of the district Brandenburg the Wettinian Princes strove to win land back again. They built up the old Sorben district and recovered the territory of the present state of Saxony for the Germans. Besides peasants there are primarily miners and lumbermen here, people who settled the mountain ranges and the interior of the Bohemian foreland.

About this time the Sudeten territory, in which the German Marcomanni had formerly resided, also seemed to defy complete Germanization. The Dukes of Przemysl, who were friendly to Germany, called German settlers onto the land in order to further its development. Likewise, Ottokar II, King of Bohemia, a whole-hearted German, continued the Germanization of the Bohemian region. However, when he, with shrewd, political insight, undertook to build a solid front from Bohemia toward the east he was driven out of his lands by the vile, power politics of the Hapsburgs. Once again a wave of Germans moved into the Bohemian lands when, during the middle of the 14th century, Charles IV of the House of Luxemburg attempted to make the Bohemian lands the center of the German Reich. He died, however, before he could complete his work. The settlements of the Czechs had already been pushed back to little remnants of land. The Germanization of all Bohemia seemed to be assured. Then, just before the outbreak of the Reformation, the Hussite war flared up and completely destroyed the whole of German life in Bohemia. Since that time the Germans in this region were forced into a defensive position. Although Bohemia belonged to the German Reich up to World War I, that is to say to Austria, it was never possible to bring about complete Germanization. And so, a deep wedge was driven between the northern and southern regions of the German population area hindering the development of a unified German front on the east.

Whereas the land between the Elbe, Saale and Oder had in the main been acquired by warfare, the winning of Silesia and Pomerania followed a more peaceful course. The Slavic Dukes of these countries called German peasants and settlers onto the land. The German settlers came at first from cities established by Germans. The penetration of the lowlands proceeded slowly on account of the ideological opposition of those living under Polish influence. In spite of that, however, by the 13th century both of these lands were added to the German Reich, and attached to the German population area.

With the incorporation of Pomerania and Silesia the area about the Oder was completely Germanized. In the territory about the Vistula, on the contrary, the task of German colonization succeeded only in the northern parts. The opening up of the eastern territory for the Germans was accompanied by the conversion of the pagans residing there. The Poles settled along the Vistula, had already, after the first meeting with the Germans, laid aside their paganism. So long as these Polish regions were subject to the archbishopric of Magdeburg there existed no obstacle to colonization. For the first time, in the year 1000, when the religious enthusiast Kaiser Otto III founded the Polish archbishopric Gnesen, the Poles received their own Polish national church. They also became independent politically and culturally thereby. So, a second bulwark against the Germans came into being. Further penetration of the Germans on the north was checked. They were forced to follow the shores of the East Sea and leave behind them the national territory of the Poles as a standing threat on their flank.

The recovery of the East Sea region lying east of the Vistula was the work of the German Order of Knights. Conrad Massovia, a Polish Duke, called upon the German Orders for protection against the still pagan East Baltic, Prussians and Lithuanians. During the course of yearlong struggles they took possession of the whole region from Danzig to Riga. Moorlands, islands and numerous estuaries of the lower Vistula, and impenetrable wildernesses opposed them. Nevertheless, after 50 years of bloody fighting the Order overcame the Balts. The German Order of Knights that ruled over the region which is East Prussia drew German peasants and manual workers into the country, gave them land and soil and protected them from attacks. About the year 1300 the power of the Order reached its high point. Emigrants to this eastern land from all parts of the Reich built up new settlements everywhere.

The colonization of the Baltic lands situated to the north of East Prussia, in which the Order of the Brothers of the Sword took part, was more difficult. On account of the long sea journey a sufficient number of German peasants and manual workers could not be induced to go. Consequently, the Germans in these districts were confined principally to the cities, which were strengthened by Hansa merchants from Bremen, Luebeck and Lueneburg.

In the course of time, since the Order of German Knights had been weakened by internal conflicts, Poles and Lithuanians united against the Germans. As a result of this alliance the Germans were defeated in battle at Tannenberg in 1410. The Order of the Brothers of the Sword was completely driven out of the Baltic provinces and only the land around Marienburg was left for the Knightly Order of the Cross. But East Prussia was now German and remained German although for some decades it became a Polish fief under the overlordship of the Polish crown.

During the period of the decline of the German Orders the power of the German Kaiser had also sunk to a mere shadow of what it was once. The driving force of the German people was spent, the march toward the east came to a halt. Much of that which the Germans had built up in the east by blood and toil was now exposed to the onrushing flood of Slavs. Only after Brandenburg-Prussia rose out of the ruins of the Thirty Years’ War did a new power appear which devoted itself consciously and with determination to the eastern frontiers of the Germans. The Great Elector rescued East Prussia from the feudal domination of the Poles and attached it firmly to Brandenburg. The soldier king, Frederick I, devoted his whole energy to building it up economically. Frederick the Great, with the acquisition of Silesia, offered for the first time a strong united German front in the northeast. He was able also to win back the bridge to East Prussia. As a result of the first partition of Poland in 1772 he obtained West Prussia and by the third partition of Poland in 1792 Posen together with Thorn and Danzig fell into his hands. In that way the compact German population area was again united under German rule.

For more than 500 years, therefore, Mecklenburg, Pomerania, East and West Prussia, Silesia and Sudeten Germany and German Austria were to be listed as part of the German population area. In the course of a truly historical accomplishment all branches of the German people won back these territories which comprise almost one-half of the 1914 German population area. This reconquering was primarily a colonizing process and a cultivation of waste and unproductive districts by German peasants and townsmen under the leadership of its Princes and Nobles. In no case were foreign peoples deprived of culture areas. German work and German achievements alone transformed these districts into cultural areas. Out of this fact arose the claim of the German people to these regions.

The SS Medical Academy in Graz

Published in „Siegrunen“ Magazine – Volume 6, Number 1, Whole Number 31, July – September 1983

The SS Medical Academy was founded in 1937 in Berlin to train active duty medical officers for the armed units of the SS and Police. It was first established in a rented house on the Friederichsstrasse. At the beginning it had 20 SS medical officer candidates who did most of their studying at the University of Berlin. The first commander of the Academy (from 1937 to 1939) was SS-Stubaf. Dr. Jencio.

Library of the SS Medical Academy at Graz.

Ski training class from the academy.

In the fall of 1940, the institute was relocated to Graz, Austria and took over the former state institution for the deaf and dumb at Rosenbergguertel 12. A number of candidates at the academy came from the regular army, the navy and the air force. Upon graduating they would be transferred into the SS-VT, the SS- TV and the German Police. Waffen-SS candidates first had to graduate from a SS Junkerschule with the rank of Untersturmführer before they could attend the SS Medical Academy. In the early years there weren’t too many of these since the Waffen- SS officer’s corps was still in its infancy and the newly formed field units needed every available officer.

All members of the academy (including staff) were issued the cuff-title “SS-Artzliche Akademie,” to be worn while they were at the institute. Guest medical lecturers (from the University of Graz), frequented the academy, though they appeared in civilian dress. After completing an initial physician’s training course, the students moved on to a second clinical training course. After this a state medical exam was administered the those who passed were promoted to Obersturmführer and permitted to go on to other universities to study the specialty of their choice.

Lectures and discussions at the academy were held on medical subjects as well as on politics, art and related topics. Freedom of speech was permitted and encouraged. Some of the wide-ranging evening discussion groups were personally led by the head of the Waffen-SS Medical Services, Dr. Genske or by the commander of the academy.

The outbreak of war drastically affected the SS Medical Academy, and changed part of its mission to one of transforming civilian doctors into military doctors. At different times in 1940 and 1941, the first academy graduates who were continuing their training at different universities were called up to serve as combat platoon leaders in frontline Waffen-SS units. As a result, fully 12% of the academy graduates were killed in action during the war.

The academy training courses were designed to run as follows:

  • 5 semesters in preliminary training.
  • 21/2 years in clinical training.

Once these classes were completed and the medical exam was passed, and various university studies were finished, the academy graduate was expected to practice for one year at a SS hospital. It was estimated that it would take 8 to 81/2 years to turn out a properly trained Waffen-SS military physician. Of course, the academy itself never lasted that long!

During pre-clinical training there was time set aside for ambulance/truck driving instruction and sports practice. Horsemanship was also taught. For the first two semesters a fencing master was on hand to teach the rudiments of that sport. Since medical officers would be required to treat enemy and “allied” wounded, courses in the French, English, Italian and Russian languages were taught by military interpreters.

In the clinical training period, courses were held in medical techniques, troop hygiene, new medical developments and medical officer duties. During this phase the majority of trainees remained active in sports and military proficiency programs.

The academy contained the following personnel positions:

1) Commander and adjutant.

2) Two administrative officers (paymasters).

3) Two training class leaders/instructors.

4) Thirty staff employees who served as clerks, drivers, ordnance personnel and horse handlers.

5) One hundred medical officer candidates, although in general there were only about 80 on hand at any given time.

Since the number of Waffen-SS medical officers was never sufficient during the war, civilian doctors had to be called up. They received special military-medical training through a SS Medical Reserve Officer course that was held at the academy. This was perhaps the most valuable mission that the academy performed, since once finishing their course the civilian doctors were quickly placed into the Waffen-SS medical services.

The SS Medical Academy remained in Graz until almost the end of the war. It was dissolved shortly before the “Allied” occupation of the city. In recent years, half of the old academy building has once again been used as a treatment center for the deaf and dumb, while the other half has serviced the III. Surgical Detachment of the State Hospital in Graz.

Commanding Officers of the SS Medical Academy:

Commanders:

Dr. H. Jencio, 1937-1939 in Berlin
Dr. K.P. Mueller, 1939 to April 1942.
Dr. Kaether (medical lecturer)
Dr. Edmund Schlink to the end of the war.

Temporary Commander Between the Tenures of the Regular Commanders: Dr. Mittelberger, missing in Budapest, 1945.

Adjutants:

Dr. Siegfried Libau in Berlin
Dr. Ding
Dr. von Lycken
Dr. Werner Kleinknecht
Dr. Egon Skalka, himself a member of a training course at the school. Later chief medical officer of the 10th SS Panzer Div. “Hohenstaufen.”
Dr. Gottlieb Zrubecki

Training Course Instructors:

Dr. Hans Himmler
Dr. Hans Foerster
Dr. Gottlieb (lecturer)
Dr. Walter Poeschel
Dr. Philipp Reich

Administrative Officers: (All at Graz)

(Ustuf.?) Gehringer
Hstuf. Rienisch
Ostuf. Lackner

The SS Heimwehr Danzig

Published in „Siegrunen“ Magazine – Vol. V, No. 4, Whole Number 28, January 1982

By Richard Landwehr

Effective 1 April 1938, the Reichsführer-SS ordered the formation of 4 Totenkopf Standarten (Deathshead Regiments) from the Totenkopf Guard Battalions. One of these regiments was the SS-TK Standarte 4 “Ostmark” that was formed in Steyr, Austria, with a staff element and two battalions (Sturmbann) composed of 4 rifle companies (Sturm) each. The formation of III./SS-TK “Ostmark” began in October 1938 under the leadership of SS-Ostubaf. Goetze. The core personnel for this battalion came from the SS-TK Standarte 1 “Oberbayern” (Upper Bavaria) and the SS-TK Standarte 2 “Brandenburg” as well as from the SS Junkerschule (officer’s school) “Toelz.”

In June 1939 the Senate of the Free City of Danzig voted to create a “Heimwehr Danzig” (Danzig Home Defense) and Reichsführer-SS Himmler volunteered to raise and train this force. He decided to give this assignment to the III. Battalion/ “Ostmark” (also known as SS-Sturmbann “Goetze”). III./“Ostmark” therefore immediately began to relocate to Danzig from its Berlin-Adlerschof barracks, passing through the cities of Leinigsberg and Elbing on the way.

The SS-Totenkopf Standarten Anti-tank Training Company, which was formed on 1 May 1939 in Prettin, also joined III./ Ostmark” and was soon transformed into the Company “Leiner” of the Heimwehr Danzig. In the course of the formation of the Danzig SS unit, 500 volunteers from that city were added to bring it up to the strength of more than a battalion but somewhat less than a regiment. In July 1939, Heimwehr Danzig completed its final transformation with the official incorporation of III./“Ostmark.” At this time the unit contained 42 officers and about 1500 men, two-thirds of whom were “Reich” Germans and the rest “Danzigers.”

On 18 August 1939, the unit formally became a part of the armed SS and was put on dress parade for the first time in field gray uniforms with SS insignia. Also on that day SS-“HD” received its own distinctive flag incorporating the “Danzig crowns” the “SS runes” and the swastika. It was presented to Ostubaf. Goetze by the Gauleiter of Danzig.

The SS Heiniwehr Danzig was heavily engaged throughout the course of the Polish campaign of September 1939. On 1 September the unit had expelled the Polish occupiers from the Danzig post office and the Dirschau railroad station in very violent fighting. For the rest of the campaign, SS-“HD” fought on the “Westerplatte” and in the Oxhoefter Bight. By the time Poland finally capitulated, the Heimwehr Danzig had lost around 50 men killed and quite a few wounded.

SS Heimwehr Danzig Operational Areas:

SS Heimwehr Danzig Staff: 09 723
1st Rifle Company: 24 293
2nd Rifle Company: 31 292
3rd Rifle Company: 31 700
4th Rifle Company: 32 304
Machine-gun Company: 33 094
Infantry Gun Company: 33 475 (artillery)
1st PAK Company: 33 832 (anti-tank)
2nd PAK Company: 34 799 (anti-tank)
Additional staff, signals and engineer elements: 24 611

Commander: Ostubaf. Goetze (later killed near Dunkirk in June 1940 by a British sniper).

Shortly after the Polish campaign, the SS-“HD” was disbanded. The rifle companies were sent to the Dauchau SS training camp where they were used to build II. Battalion and part of III. Battalion/SS Totenkopf Infantry Regiment 3 of the new SS- Totenkopf Division. The two anti-tank PAK companies were used as the nucleus of the anti-tank detachment (Panzerjäger Abteilung) of the SS-T-Infantry Rgt. 3.

Special Insignia of the SS-“HD”:

A silver skull on a black field was worn on the right collarpatch (and in many instances on both collarpatches), and at this time could be either vertical or horizontal in format. The unit was issued a special cuff band which bore the title “SS Heimwehr Danzig” in silver thread on black.

The whole, detailed story of the SS-“HD’”s most famous battle — the struggle for the Danzig post office — will appear in a future issue of “Siegrunen.”

Riffle Company “Thier”/SS-Heimwehr Danzig during a march-past before Danzig Gauleiter Forster on 18 August 1939.

SS-Feldersatz Battalion 2

SS- Feldersatz Brigade 102

December 1944-May 1945

Published in „Siegrunen“ Magazine – Vol. 8, No. 4, Whole Number 46,
January – June 1988

At the beginning of the Ardennes Offensive which commenced on 16 December 1944, 6th l SSI Panzer Army command ordered training activities for replacement units to continue at an elevated level in the nearby Westerwald area with the stipulation that these troops would be utilized for combat duties if necessary. Because of the imminent potential of the latter possibility it was decided to combine the smaller training elements into larger structures where possible. This led to the creation of the SS-Feldersatz (Field Replacement) Brigade, II. SS Panzer Corps (which by the end of the year had been retitled SS-Feldersatz Brigade 102 to conform with the Corps’ numbering system).

SS-Sturmbannführer Hans Bissinger was named the brigade commander. Bissinger (born 25 January 1913; SS Nr. 53698), was a holder of the Iron Cross, 1st Class, who had been the commanding officer of II. Battalion., SS-Panzer Grenadier Regiment 3 „Deutschland“ of the 2nd SS Panzer Division „Das Reich.“ Brigade troops came from the replacement units of II. SS-Panzer Corps and to some extent from throughout the 6th SS Panzer Army. This led to the fact that the unit was sometimes referred to as the SS-Feldersatz Brigade, 6. SS-Panzer Armee. Serving as the nucleus element for the brigade was the SS-FEB 2 (i.e., SS-Feldersatz- battalion 2), „Das Reich,“ which had been reinforced by the „Reich“ close-combat school, the personnel of which were utilized to form a 5th Company for the battalion.

In January 1945, Stubaf. Helmut Schreiber was named to command SS-FEB 2. He was a holder of the Knight’s Cross and the German Cross in Gold (born 25 March 1917; SS Nr. 361,292), who had graduated from the SS-Junkerschule „Toelz“ in 1939. Schreiber had spent his entire career with the „Deutschland“ Regiment of the „Das Reich“ Division and had achieved great prominence while commanding 10. Company, III. Battalion, „Deutschland.” At the time Schreiber took over SS-FEB 2 he had Just recovered from a severe wounding received during the heavy fighting of the previous summer in Normandy.

On 6 March 1945, SS-FEB 2 was ordered to rejoin the „Das Reich“ Division in Hungary, but while preparations for this move were in progress, some news arrived at the headquarters of SS-Feldersatz Brigade 102 that changed everything. On 8 March 1945 a surprise American attack had seized the Rhine River bridge at Remagen and the brigade staff in Altenkirchen was ordered to immediately dispatch all combat- ready troops to the bridgehead front. SS-FEB 2, which had been in a state of high alert anyway, was literally pulled off of the trains that were to take it to Hungary, turned around and sent towards Remagen in a motorized convoy, while the rest of the brigade began mobilizing. The battalion was to come under the command of 11th Panzer Division.

Upon reaching the front sector, SS-FEB 2 was ordered to take up positions which ran along the Dattenberg-Reifert road to the south-southeast of the American bridgehead. Naturally, there were no prepared defenses in the area, so digging in commenced immediately and improvisation was the order of the day. The battalion command post was set up in the tiny village of Haehnen (all of 50 residents). The terrain in the defensive sector was hilly and rolling and gave a view of the whole bridgehead area. The SS companies were deployed in separate strongpoints along the sector front. From these positions, American vehicles could be seen crossing the Ludendorf Bridge and the construction of a new military bridge adjacent to the destroyed railroad bridge could also be observed in progress.

On 9 March 1945, American artillery spotter planes flew over the battalion’s positions and shortly afterwards the unit began receiving incoming fire, which also extended to the village of Haehnen. Casualties, including some fatalities, were instantaneous, and included some local civilians. This latter development in particular upset Stubaf. Schreiber who had hoped to somehow keep the villagers out of the conflict. He ordered the battalion medics to evacuate and treat the wounded civilians along with the Waffen-SS casualties.

By 10 March 1945 the overwhelming material „muscle“ of the enemy had amply demonstrated itself. Haehnen had been reduced to ruins and most of the battalion’s motor vehicles had been destroyed in the ceaseless American bombardment. The ground situation became even more critical when the 9th U.S. Armored Division secured a breakthrough of the German lines to the south of SS-FEB 2’s left wing. As a result the battalion was forced to adjust its lines to a point behind the Hargarten-Haehnen road. Part of the Pattenberg-Hargarten road was yielded in hard fighting, but the battalion avoided being outflanked.

During this battle two of the Waffen-SS troopers fell into the hands of the Americans and were taken to the rear where they were held captive by members of a mortar unit from the 99th U.S. Infantry Division. In the night of 13/14 March, the two SS soldiers overpowered their guards and took their weapons. An all-out pursuit developed, punctuated by sharp exchanges of fire. By the time the SS men had been recaptured, six GI’s had been killed. Now there would be no mercy for the prisoners. With their hands shackled behind their backs the SS men were knocked to the ground, shot in the back of the neck, and left to lie where they fell. They were later buried in the cemetery at Bad Hownef by some local villagers. One of the murdered men was identified later as Franz Wilke (born 12 May 1925), who originally came from the SS Flak Replacement Regiment in Munich. His comrade remains unknown.

March 14, 1945 saw an all-out attempt by the Luftwaffe to destroy the Remagen bridges. Around 100 planes were utilized for this desperation mission in what was one of the last major undertakings of the German Air Force. And it failed miserably! The disaster was caused by the enormous concentration of anti-aircraft guns on the American side which literally swept every quadrant of the skies. How any planes got through at all was a miracle in itself. Twenty-four German bombers were downed on this day in the bridgehead area. On 15 March, 21 more Luftwaffe bombers again attacked the Remagen bridgehead; six of them were brought down and the bridge remained intact.

On the ground, SS-FEB 2 was still getting pounded by the enemy artillery and fighting off American probing attacks. So far, the front sector held but manpower attrition was setting in fast with little to show for it. Stubaf. Schreiber was in radio contact with the brigade headquarters in Altenkirchen and he made several requests for the withdrawal of the battalion so it could rejoin the „Das Reich“ Division in the „East.“ All requests were denied, however, and the losses continued to mount. Ustuf. Bauer was one of those killed repelling an enemy attack on the 14th.

In the morning of 15 March, a battalion from the Engineer Training Regiment 403 under Major von Koeller arrived in Haehnen to begin relieving the increasingly battered SS-FEB 2. To the northwest of the town an American regimental task force from the 99th U.S. Infantry Division had broken through the German lines on a broad front and by 10:15 had begun to threaten Haehnen. At this time the unit change-of- position around the village was still very much underway and before anyone realized it the Americans had arrived on the scene. Bursts of wild firing in front of the SS-FEB 2 command post provided Stubaf. Schreiber with the first evidence of the enemy presence.

Schreiber and his radio man immediately rushed outside with automatic weapons in their hands. They found the Americans moving into the middle of the village. The only hope now was to make a run for it! The Sturmbannführer Joined scattered troops from the town in dashing for a stone bridge about 500 meters to the north of Haehnen. But could they make it? The Americans were in hot pursuit!

Fortunately, about 150 meters out of town, a Waffen-SS machine gun team halted and went into position – determined to buy time so that their comrades could escape. In this they were successful; Stubaf. Schreiber and the last remnants of his command reached the bridge and dug in on either side of it. But back in Haehnen the Americans were able to bag much of the engineer battalion, including its commander, who had the misfortune to be carrying the intact German battle plans for the Remagen Front in his brief case! Some Waffen-SS men were also taken prisoner in the village along with most of the teenage members of a Flak helper unit.

A very intense battle then raged for the stone bridge, continuing until 1630 hours in the afternoon, when SS-FEB 2 finally abandoned the edifice to troops from the 99th U. S. Infantry Division. The survivors of the SS replacement battalion threaded their way through the woods to Arnsau, eventually going into position on the west bank of a stream near the town. They were Joined here by Leutnant Rehfisch who had led the Flak helper detachment in Haehnen and had managed to escape the carnage.

Back in Haehnen, the bodies of six 55 NCO’s and a private who had been killed in the town on 15 March was buried by Father Detsche, a priest from Linz, assisted by some local boys. On 23 March 1945, SS-FEB 2 left its positions on the small Wied Brook to go into combat reserve to the south of Hennef. At the end of the month the remnants of the battalion left the vicinity of Bodenwoehr for Bruck. At this town a new collecting station for „Das Reich” replacements had been established on orders of the divisional staff. The officer in charge at Bruck was Hstuf. Eugen Maisenbacher (born 20 November 1914; 55 Nr. 110,198); the former commander of I. Battalion, SS-Panzer Grenadier Regiment 3 „Deutschland,“ „DR“ Division. Only enough troops turned up to permit the formation of two new replacement companies and they were quartered in the town grammar school.

However, the two new companies served as the nucleus for a new SS-Feldersatz Battalion 2 which took shape in early April, again under Stubaf. Schreiber. On 6 April 1945, the battalion was forced to withdraw from Bruck and on the 12th it became the main part of a battle-group led by Stubaf. Schreiber that was rushed to the Traisen sector in Austria. SS-Kampfgruppe „Schreiber“ was soon heavily engaged against the Red Army near Herzogenburg and St. Aegyd. After extremely costly fighting in the hilly slopes of the Dunkelsteiner Forest, the survivors were withdrawn from the front and sent to Langlois, where SS-FEB 2 was to have been reconstituted once again had not the war ended first!

Dr. Goebbels meeting with representative soldiers of various Eastern nationalities, in December 1944. First known publication. (Courtesy of Erik Rundkvist)