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All About 2.SS-Panzer-Division Das Reich…

2.SS-Panzer-Division Das Reich
SS-Panzer-Division symbol.svg
The Wolfsangel
Active 1939 – 1945
Country Nazi Germany
Branch Flag Schutzstaffel.svg Waffen-SS
Type Armoured
Motto Meine Ehre heißt Treue
(„My Honour means Loyalty”)
Engagements World War II

  • Battle of France 1940
  • Operation Barbarossa 1941
  • Operation Typhoon
  • Battle of Kursk 1943
  • Normandy 1944
  • Battle of the Bulge 1944
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Oberstgruppenführer Paul Hausser
(19 October 1939 – 14 October 1941)

The SS Division Das Reich (germ. 2.SS-Panzer-Division Das Reich) was a Waffen-SS division during World War II. It is considered to be an elite formation amongst the thirty-eight divisions fielded by the Waffen-SS.

It served during the invasion of France and took part in several major battles on the Eastern Front (particularly in the Battle of Prokhorovka against the 5th Guards Tank Army at the titanic Battle of Kursk). Afterwards, it was transferred to the West and took part in the fighting in Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, ending the war with the last, desperate fighting in Hungary and Austria.

The symbol for the Das Reich division was the wolf’s hook or Wolfsangel rune. As a whole, the Waffen-SS was found guilty of war crimes in the Nuremberg tribunal, with Das Reich itself being notorious for the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre.

Contents

History

Early war and the SS-VT – 1939/1940

In August 1939 Adolf Hitler placed the SS-VT under the operational command of the OKW. Thus, at the outbreak of hostilities, there were four SS armed regiments: Leibstandarte,Deutschland, Germania, and the new regiment from Austria ,Der Führer (although Der Führer was not yet combat-ready). Events during the Invasion of Poland raised doubts over the combat effectiveness of the SS-VT. Their willingness to fight was never in any doubt; at times they were almost too eager to fight. The OKW reported that the SS-VT had unnecessarily exposed themselves to risks and acted recklessly, incurring heavier losses than Army troops. They also stated that the SS-VT was poorly trained and its officers unsuitable for command. In its defence the SS-VT insisted that it had been hampered by its order fighting piecemeal instead of as one formation and improperly equipped to carry out what had been required of it. Heinrich Himmler insisted that that the SS-VT should be allowed to fight in its own formations, under its own commanders, while the OKW tried to have the SS-VT disbanded altogether. Hitler, unwilling to upset the Army and Himmler, chose a different path. He ordered that the SS-VT form its own Divisions but the Divisions would be under Army command.

In October 1939 the DeutschlandGermania and Der Führer were reorganized into the SS-Verfügungs Division; the Germania regiment was then sent to be the cadre in the formation of another division SS Division Wiking, and a new third regiment was created (SS Regiment 11); together with the existing two regiments in the SS-Verfungungs Division they took part in the Campaigns in the West against the Low Countries and France in 1940, first seeing action in the main drive for the Dutch central front and Rotterdam. After Rotterdam had been captured, the Division, along with other divisions, intercepted a French force and forced them back to the area of Zeeland and Antwerp. They were next used to mop up small pockets of resistance in the areas already captured by the German advance. The Division was then transferred to France and helped breach a stiffly defended canal line, and then participated in the drive on Paris. At the end of the campaign, it had advanced all the way to the Spanish frontier.

War in the east – 1941

USSR, June 1941

During the period after the fall of France, the Division was stationed in France preparing for the invasion of England. The Division was moved toRomania to take part in the Invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece in March 1941. In April 1941, Reich took part in the successful capture ofBelgrade, the capital of Yugoslavia. On the morning of 12 April 1941, SS Hauptsturmführer Fritz Klingenberg and members of his motorcycle assault company approached Belgrade from Pančevo along the bank of the Danube river. Forcing a crossing, Klingenberg crossed the river and approached the city, proceeding into downtown Belgrade with only six men. Soon after entering the city, Klingenberg encountered a group of twenty Yugoslavian soldiers, and without firing a shot the Yugoslavs surrendered. Receiving some reinforcements the Das Reichdetachment held the city against counterattacks, and unfurled a large swastika and raised it over the embassy to declare the capture of the city. Two hours later, the mayor of Belgrade arrived at the embassy and surrendered the city to Klingenberg. It was not until the next day that a sizeable German force arrived to secure the city. For capturing Belgrade, SS Haupsturmführer Fritz Klingenberg was awarded the Knight’s Cross.

After the capture of Belgrade, the Division was moved to occupied Poland to take part in the upcoming German invasion of the Soviet Union. During the invasion of the Soviet Union, Das Reich fought with Army Group Center, taking part in the Battle of Yelnya near Smolensk, and then in the spearhead to capture Moscow. The war in the Soviet Union was going well but the cost to the Waffen SS was extreme, Das Reich had lost 60 percent of its strength and was still to take part in the Battle of Moscow, and was decimated in the following Soviet offensive; the Der Führer Regiment was reduced to 35 men out of the 2,000 that had started the campaign in June. With the Soviet capital in sight of the division, weather, massive losses and a major Soviet Winter Counter-Offensive pushed the division back.

Das Reich captured enough T-34s to form the III/Battalion SS Panzer Regiment 2

Rest and refit – 1942

After a period of very bloody losses for the Division, Das Reich was pulled out of the fighting and sent to France to refit as a Panzer-Grenadier Division. Part of the division was left in the east, and they were titled Kampfgruppe Ostendorf. Ostendorf was to rejoin the division in June 1942.

In November 1942, portions of the division took part in an attempt to prevent the scuttling of the French Fleet at Toulon. Soon after, the division was retitled again, this time to SS-Panzer Grenadier-Division Das Reich.

Back to the Eastern Front – 1943

Early in 1943, Das Reich was transferred back to the Eastern Front, where it helped reclaim the crumbling central front around Kharkov. After helping to recapture Kharkov, Das Reich, along with many other divisions, was thrown into a massive assault into the Kursk Salient, a huge bulge in the German front line around the area of Kursk and Byelgorod. Das Reich pushed upwards of 40 miles (approximately 64 kilometers)  into the southern sector of the bulge, but was pulled out of the battle along with the other SS-Division when the offensive was called off. It was soon sent back to halt the Soviet counterattack Operation Rumyantcev. Along with the 3rd SS Totenkopf, Das Reich launched an counterattack against 2 soviet tank armies, which had achieved a dangerous breakthrough. During the following battles the both SS division destroyed much of the soviet armor. Up to 800 soviet tanks were destroyed. Further Soviet reinforcements stopped the German counterattack.

Das Reich Tiger tanks, Kursk 1943

After a brief period of fighting, Das Reich was refitted once again, this time as SS Panzer Division Das Reich.. In doing so, it left a portion of the Division in the East titled Kampfgruppe Das Reich, also known as Kampfgruppe Lammerding. The rest of the Division was transferred to the West to refit, and while doing so, took part in anti-partisan operations in France.

In winter 1943/1944 another massive Soviet winter counter-offensive managed to encircle German units in the center of the front. Kampfgruppe Das Reich was one of the units encircled by the Soviet offensive, and an assault by II SS Panzer Corps managed to rescue the trapped elements of Das Reich. In February 1944 the Kampfgruppe was transferred to France to join the rest of the Division already stationed there. The remaining small portion of Das Reich left in the East was renamed Kampfgruppe Weidinger and was involved in the retreats through Proskurovand Tarnopol. Most of Das Reich was stationed in the southern French town of Montauban north of Toulouse, gaining new equipment and freshly trained troops.

The Battle of Normandy and fighting in the West – 1944

When ordered to the Normandy battle front, Das Reich was delayed by fifteen days through a concerted programme of sabotage organised by SOE and the French Resistance. This delay was critical to the success of the D-Day advance.

After the D-Day invasion in Normandy, France, Das Reich was committed to stop the Allied advance, and took part in the attempts to stop the Allies near Caen and Saint-Lô alongside the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend and the elite Panzer-Lehr-Division. Das Reich panzer commander Ernst Barkmann became famous for the creation of Barkmann’s Corner, where he destroyed numerous American tanks in small skirmishes. The Division recaptured Mortain, but was forced to retreat when it became apparent the Allies were going to encircle the Division along with a large number of other German units in the Falaise pocket. Thanks to the efforts of Das Reich along with the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen, a large number of German forces were able to escape the pocket and retreat to the east.

An armored SdKfz 251 half-track of the 2.SS-Panzer division „Das Reich” and the corpse of a German soldier near Mortain 1944.

Pulled back across the Seine River and then behind the West Wall fortifications in Germany, the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich.took part in the operations to punch through the Ardennes Forest to reclaim the port of Antwerp on 16 December 1944. Coming within 23 miles (37 km) of the River Meuse, the Division was halted at Manhay on 25 December, and then slowly smashed by fierce Allied counter-attacks.

The end – 1945

Pulled out of the offensive, Das Reich was transferred into Germany to refit again, and to take part in the last German offensive of the war in Hungary in an attempt to break the siege around Budapest. This offensive also ground to a halt, and Das Reich spent the rest of the war more or less performing a fighting retreat from Dresden, to Prague and finally to Vienna. In the end, most of the Division managed to escape to the West to surrender to the Americans in May 1945.

Achievements

The 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich. was honored with 69 Knight’s Crosses, 151 German Crosses in Gold and 29 Honor Roll Clasp recipients. It also boasted three Swords and 10 Oak Leaves to the Knight’s Cross holders. Cumulatively, more high award-winners served in its ranks than any other division in the Waffen-SS.

Its Panzer Regiment (2nd SS Panzer) collected 20 Knight’s Crosses and 17 German Cross in Gold during 111 weeks of combat, destroying 1,730 tanks and assault guns, for the loss of 500 panzers.

War crimes

The division is infamous for the massacre of 642 French civilians in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane on 10 June 1944 in the Limousin region. Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann, commander of the I Battalion, 4th panzer Grenadier Regiment (Der Führer) that committed the massacre, claimed that it was a just retaliation due to partisan activity in nearby Tulleand the kidnapping of Helmut Kämpfe, although the German authorities had already executed 99 people in the Tulle murders, following the killing and maiming of some 40 German soldiers in Tulle by the Maquis resistance movement. There is some suggestion that the German authorities wanted to prosecute Diekmann for the massacre although he was not relieved of his command and was killed in action, before he could stand trial. In 1953 the French authorities held a trial, but very few of the accused perpetrators were found guilty.

Commanders

  • Obergruppenführer Paul Hausser, 19 October 1939–14 October 1941
  • Brigadeführer Wilhelm Bittrich, 14 October 1941–31 December 1941
  • Brigadeführer Matthias Kleinheisterkamp, 31 December 1941–19 April 1942
  • Gruppenführer Georg Keppler, 19 April 1942–10 February 1943
  • Brigadeführer Herbert-Ernst Vahl, 10 February 1943–18 March 1943
  • Standartenführer Kurt Brasack, 18 March 1943–29 March 1943
  • Gruppenführer Walter Krüger, 29 March 1943–23 October 1943
  • Brigadeführer Heinz Lammerding, 23 October 1943–24 July 1944
  • Obersturmbannführer Christian Tychsen, 24 July 1944–28 July 1944
  • Oberführer Otto Baum, 28 July 1944–23 October 1944
  • Brigadeführer Heinz Lammerding, 23 October 1944–20 January 1945
  • Standartenführer Karl Kreutz, 20 January 1945–29 January 1945
  • Gruppenführer Werner Ostendorff, 29 January 1945–9 March 1945
  • Standartenführer Rudolf Lehmann, 9 March 1945–13 April 1945
  • Standartenführer Karl Kreutz, 13 April 1945–8 May 1945

Order of Battle

1941 – 1942

  • SS Infantry Regiment Deutschland
  • SS Infantry Regiment Der Führer
  • 11th SS Infantry Regiment
  • 2nd SS Artillery Regiment
  • 2nd SS Sturmgeschütz Battery
  • 2nd SS Motorcycle Battalion
  • 2nd SS Reconnaissance Battalion
  • 2nd SS Panzerjäger Battalion
  • 2nd SS Pionier Battalion
  • 2nd SS Signal Battalion
  • 2nd SS Rocket Battalion
  • 2nd SS Supply Battalion
  • 2nd SS Medical Battalion
  • 2nd SS Reserve Battalion

1944 – 1945

  • 2nd SS Panzer Regiment
  • 3rd SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment Deutschland
  • 4th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment Der Führer
  • 2nd SS Panzer Artillery Regiment
  • 2nd SS Motorcycle Battalion
  • 2nd SS Sturmgeschütz Battalion
  • 2nd SS Reconnaissance Battalion
  • 2nd SS Panzerjager Battalion
  • 2nd SS Flak Battalion
  • 2nd SS Pionier Battalion
  • 2nd SS Signal Battalion
  • 2nd SS Rocket Launcher Battalion
  • 2nd SS Supply Battalion
  • 2nd SS Instandsetzungs Battalion
  • 2nd SS Medical Battalion

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