In the Shadow of the Elites: The 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen
Why the Germans fought so hard at Arnhem
"In the Shadow of the Elites: The 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen"
"I swear to you, Adolf Hitler, as Fuhrer and Reichschancellor, loyalty and bravery. I vow to you, and those you have named to command me, obedience unto death, so help me God."
This oath, taken by each member of the Waffen SS, summarizes their unflinching obedience and devotion to duty. Although condemned as a criminal organization following the Military Tribunal at Nuremburg, the soldiers of the "elite" Waffen SS Divisions were among the most effective of the German military formations. These formations included the 1st SS Panzer Division "Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler", 2nd SS Panzer Division "Das Reich", 3rd SS Panzer Division "Totenkopf ", 5th SS Panzer Division "Wiking", 9th SS Panzer Division "Hohenstaufen", 10th SS Panzer Division "Frundsberg", and the 12th SS Panzer Division "Hitlerjugend ".
Each of the SS divisions listed above displayed the attributes associated with those of elite organizations. Although listed among the elites, the performance of 9th SS Hohenstaufen is less publicized than most of the other SS Panzer Divisions despite its participation in some of the most significant battles of World War II. Why does the Hohenstaufen Division reside in the shadow of the other divisions, and does it deserve the title of an "elite"?
The answer to the first question may lie within a combination of many reasons. First, the Hohenstaufen arrived late onto the battlefields of Europe, seeing its first action in the spring of 1944. Second, none of the most notable Waffen SS personalities including Michael Wittmann, Ernst Barkmann, Jochen Peiper, and Kurt ‘Panzer' Meyer, about which many histories have been written, were members of the Hohenstaufen. The division's history also is void of the most publicized atrocities attached to other SS divisions including the 1st SS Leibstandarte's ties to the Malmedy Massacre, the 2nd SS Das Reich's massacre of French civilians, and the 3rd SS Totenkopf's murder of English prisoner's of war at Le Paradis and their direct ties to the concentration camps. Finally, the Hohenstaufen never develop the fanatical reputation among scholars as those who carried the name of the Fuhrer on their coveted cuff titles, as did the 12th SS Hitlerjungend (Hitler Youth) and the 1st SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler .
To answer the second question one must first define what attributes are commonly associated with the elite Waffen SS formations. The title of an elite often revolved around organizations of highly motivated volunteers chosen for their high standards of physical fitness. These soldiers received excellent training, were armed with the most modern military weapons and were led by strong, charismatic leaders. They were aggressive almost to the point of recklessness when conducting an attack and fanatical in the defense. Finally, the elite formations were able to maintain high levels of morale and camaraderie even in the face of defeat. A short history of the organization and combat performance of the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen from its conception in December 1943 to its final battle in April 1945 will show that it displayed the attributes found among the best Waffen SS divisions and earned the title of an elite.
As the tide began to turn against Hitler, with the fall of Stalingrad and the loss of North Africa, he placed a greater demand upon the men of the Waffen SS who where, "an extraordinary body of men, devoted to an idea, and loyal unto death." On 31 December 1942, Hitler agreed to the formation of two additional Waffen SS divisions, the 9th SS Hohenstaufen and the 10th SS Frundsberg . These new formations were to recruit heavily from the 1925-26 year groups, making them approximately 18 years of age. However, the recruitment of volunteers for the new divisions was disappointing. As a result, for the first time, the Waffen SS resorted to large-scale conscription. Between 70 and 80 percent of these youths who met the standards for service with the Waffen SS were conscripted.
As previously stated, one mark of the elites was their ability to attract highly motivated volunteers. This initial conscription would seem to indicate that the Hohenstaufen was not formed as an elite organization. In his book, Hitler's Elite Guard at War, The Waffen SS , George Stein records that the conscription of these youths was met with anger from "parents, ministers, bishops, and cardinals" and as a result of these complaints, the conscripts, according to SS Obergruppenfuhrer Juttner were, "to be kept in training for a month or so and then offered the choice of volunteering or being released from the SS service". He reported, "that there were three who asked to be released out of the entire two divisions. All the rest said, ‘No, we stay!'"
One motivating factor for these youths to stay in the Hohenstaufen was undoubtedly their reverence for their NCOs and Officers. From the beginning of their training, these leaders impressed upon the recruits that they were members of an elite organization. These NCOs and officers were for the most part veterans who had come from the other Waffen SS divisions. They deliberately fostered a close relationship between themselves and their men. Expected to rise from the ranks, Waffen SS officers earned the respect and loyalty of their men by leading from the front and never asking them to do anything that they would not do themselves. For many, this bond between brothers in arms was "the most memorable aspect of service in the Waffen SS".
From the beginning of 1943 through March 1944, the Hohenstaufen conducted an intensive training program at multiple locations in France. Created primarily as a motorized reserve for the Western Front, the training of the Hohenstaufen included special training to counter airborne landings by paratroops. The training emphasis for the Hohenstaufen was very similar to the other elite divisions. It was a rigorous training program that emphasized sport, physical fitness, and above all, field craft. SS veteran Friedrich-Karl Wacker remembers,
"Our training was indeed hard, especially in the divisions that were formed later in the war, such as the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen, 10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg and 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend . These were the last divisions that were able to make use of the relative peace in the West for their training, before the D-Day invasion in June 1944. However, it was very intensive. They all received the most up-to-date and modern equipment but, because they were so well equipped, a great deal was expected of them when they went into action."
At the beginning of November, 1943 the Hohenstaufen was reorganized as a panzer division. With the designation of a full panzer division, the Hohenstaufen received the most mobile and powerful weapons available. In addition to the standard small arms, mortars, flak batteries, towed artillery, and heavy machine guns, they were equipped with Panzer IV's, formidable Panzer V "Panthers", half tracked personnel carries called shutzenpanzerwagen (SPW) some armed with anti-tank guns or rockets, and mobile artillery platforms such as the 10.5cm "Wespe" and the 15cm "Hummel".
Proclaimed ready for combat at the end of March 1944, the 9th SS Hohenstaufen was ordered to the Eastern Front to help restore the front and relieve the German 1st Armored Army surrounded at Tarnopol. They were motivated, well trained, superbly equipped, and although they lacked combat experience, were led by veteran NCOs and officers who were returning to face an old enemy. "The young soldiers watched their Unterfuhrer (NCOs) and officers and listened to them, for these, mostly old soldiers of the Eastern Front, knew Russia and, with their war experience, formed the steel framework of the units."
The young soldiers of the Hohenstaufen received their baptism of fire on the Eastern Front. But like so many others before them had found, the weather was their most formidable enemy. Melting snow and sudden rains turned the roads into a morass, nearly impassable by most wheeled vehicles and extremely difficult for even the tracked SPWs. These road conditions placed a severe stress on both men and machines. A 35-kilometer march could take as long as 14 hours to complete. The road conditions took away the Hohenstaufen's greatest advantage, mobility.
A second problem facing the division was their inability to concentrate their forces. Committed to the relief attack before the entire division arrived at their debarkation station, the units of the Hohenstaufen were committed into the attack piecemeal. They were not provided time to adequately concentrate their forces or conduct proper reconnaissance. Rushed to the front over terrible roads, "They arrived for the relief attack practically straight from the march and ‘with their tongues hanging out" The following description of the roads presents the difficulties faced by those committed on the Eastern Front during the spring thaw. "The highway consumes the material of the vehicles and gnaws at the strength of the driver. The mud of the spring penetrates every seam and crack, mixes with the oil of the machines, and wears the hinges and bearings."
The German attack to relieve the garrison at Tarnopol began too late and was in the end a failure. Only a few of the German 1st Armored Army's beleaguered defenders were able to break out of the pocket. On the Eastern Front, the SS grenadiers of the Hohenstaufen learned that good training and equipment, experienced leadership and high morale were not enough to ensure victory.
During the final days of April 1944, the Hohenstaufen was withdrawn to act as a mobile reserve for Heeresgruppe Nordukraine in anticipation of a renewed Russian offensive. On 6 June 1944, while the Hohenstaufen was refitting in the Ukraine, allied forces began the invasion of Normandy, and opened a second front in the West. The great invasion for which the young SS division had been organized and trained started without them. Within six days, the Hohenstaufen received new orders and began entraining their equipment for a movement back to France. The order signed by Field Marshall Model remarked, "I am certain that you will accomplish your new missions in the spirit of our slogan, ‘No soldier in the world is better than the soldiers of Adolf Hitler!'"
The Hohenstaufen arrived in Normandy with the II SS Panzer Corps and its sister division, the 10th SS Frundsberg on 23 June. Originally, the Corps was to counterattack the British and Americans near Bayeux in order to drive a wedge between the two armies. For this planned counter attack, the Heavy SS Panzer Abteilung 102 arrived to support the II SS Panzer Corps. This unit was armed with the nearly impregnable heavy Panzer VI "Tiger" tanks. The "Tigers" outclassed every Allied tank on the Western Front in terms of firepower and armor. Given their tank's superiority, the well-trained panzer crews arrived full of confidence.
The planned counter attack never materialized. The allies won the build up of troops of men and material and began expanding their beachhead. A war of attrition began in which the grenadiers of the 9th SS Hohenstaufen became involved in a deadly pattern of attack, defend, and counterattack.
The battles in Normandy were far different than those on the Eastern Front. Both the terrain and the enemy they were facing brought many new challenges. Much of the terrain in Normandy was often crisscrossed with fields surrounded by thick hedgerows. Called the bocage, the countryside severely restricted the maneuver of tanks and armored vehicles and limited their fields of fire. Once again, the terrain took away the maneuver and firepower advantages of a panzer division. However, what it did provide was limited protection and concealment from the allied fighter-bombers that dominated the skies over Normandy. Historian George Stein writes, "In the West the SS troops had to face what they bitterly called the Materialschlacht . Against heavy naval fire, unending streams of tanks, fully motorized infantry, superior artillery, and above all crippling attacks from the air, even the determination of the SS troops came to nothing."
The 9th SS Panzer division was involved in the brutal fighting around the city of Caen and perhaps most notably the brutal battles to seize and hold the critically important heights along Hill 112. Here, the men of the Hohenstaufen tested their training, equipment, and their believed superiority as soldiers against the material strength of the Allies. In preparing for an attack against Hill 112, given the name "Calvary Mountain" by the Germans, a member of SS Panzer Abteilung 102 reported, "They began to dig in up there and showed no desire to fight. We waited impatiently for a chance to test our strength against theirs."
The morale of the Hohenstaufen remained high as they tenaciously defended the heights and inflicted heavy casualties on the Allies. The number of Allied tanks destroyed by the Hohenstaufen from their first engagement on 28 June through 1 July included 62 Churchill II and III's, and British Shermans. However, the attacks had not achieved any tactical success and casualties for the division were also high at over 1,800. The Division commander, Standartenfuhrer (Colonel) Stadler, who assumed command on 3 July, reported the following regarding the fighting in Normandy,
"With every attack repelled, the confidence of the troops grew stronger, whereas the enemy's aggressive spirit seemed to decrease more and more. Although his attacks were always preceded by heavily massed artillery barrages lasting for hours, his tanks and infantrymen advanced only hesitatingly and very carefully and having suffered some casualties or losses, immediately turned around to have the artillery go into action again. The latter then even increased its intensity of fire, if a further intensification was at all possible. During those days, the enemy artillery fire reached such a pitch that veterans of the First World War unanimously agree, it surpassed even the fire in the trenches during the tremendous battles of materiel during the war."
The complete superiority of the Allies gradually reduced the combat effectiveness of all the Waffen SS divisions in Normandy. The 9th SS Panzer Division was no exception. "The best German Divisions were bled white and Germany's youth died! All of the courage, all the bravery were not equal to the overwhelming material superiority of the Allies." The 9th SS Division having sustained such high casualties could no longer be considered a full division. Its two regiment's were combined into one called Panzer Grenadier Regiment "Hohenstaufen".
At the end of July, the Americans began "Operation Cobra" and broke through the German lines along the Perriers - St. Lo road. The breakthrough threatened to surround the German Armies in Normandy. The Pzr. Gdr. Rgt. "Hohenstaufen" fought fanatically against British attacks during the first weeks of August. With the assistance once again of Tiger Abteilung 102, they inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. Tieke writes that against the strong English attacks of 11 August, the grenadiers of the "Hohenstaufen" "stood like a rock". However, their defenses and those of the remaining German formations in Normandy were not strong enough to prevent the threatened encirclement. The Hohenstaufen was ordered to escape and on 18 August managed to avoid being encircled. Its remnants, 30% of its authorized strength, prepared a defensive line to protect the northern flank and help keep open the escape corridor out of the "Falaise Pocket".
The battle of Normandy was lost and the Waffen SS Divisions had paid a terrible price in both men and equipment. The Regiment "Hohenstaufen" had been defeated but not destroyed as a fighting unit. Its officers were able to maintain good order, discipline, and conduct an organized retreat. By the end of August, a general retreat to the West Wall was unavoidable. On 2 September, now Kampfgruppe "Hohenstaufen" fought a successful defensive action at Cambria destroying over 40 enemy tanks. The division arrived in their new assembly areas on the 8th of September near the city of Arnhem. From here the survivors were expecting to reorganize and receive replacements and equipment.
The 9th SS Panzer Division had been in involved in constant combat for over two months. Their personnel strength had been bled down from 18,000 to approximately 6,000, which included severe shortages of officers and NCOs. On 10 September, the Hohenstaufen was ordered to turn over its remaining operational vehicles to its sister unit, the remnants of SS Panzer Division Frundsberg. Two grenadier battalions and an artillery battalion were also transferred. This left the Hohenstaufen with only a cadre of approximately 2,500 men. These men along with their remaining equipment were ordered back to the homeland for reorganization. Before their departure was complete, the British 1st Airborne Division began landing east of Arnhem as part of Operation Market Garden. The remaining grenadiers of the Hohenstaufen , instead of finding themselves on trains back to their homes, found themselves once again in the middle of a great battle.
The reader is reminded that the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen had been specially trained to counter airborne landings as part of their preparation to defeat the Allied invasion of France. Immediately upon notification, the quick reaction companies of the Hohenstaufen organized themselves for action. Their orders were to conduct reconnaissance in the cities of Arnhem and Nijmegen and to defeat the British paratroopers landing east of Arnhem near the town of Oosterbeek. Seemingly impossible, the reconnaissance battalion led by Hauptsturmfuhrer (Captain) Graebner, who at the time of the airborne landings was receiving the Knights Cross for his actions in Normandy, was able to assemble 40 armored vehicles and have them ready for action within two hours.
The quick assemblage of the Hohenstaufen was a direct reflection of the exceptional capabilities of the SS leadership and discipline of the SS grenadiers. An SS officer reflected, "These soldiers were thinking about their families, as everything had virtually been packed for the move to Siegen. The mood was resigned – ‘here we go again!' They were inevitably disappointed at first, but the officers and NCOs were able to overcome this and get the soldiers quickly into action."
SS Obersturmbannfuhrer (Lieutenant Colonel) Spindler exemplified the exceptional leadership qualities of the officers of the Hohenstaufen. At 34 years old, Spindler was the greatly respected commander of the armored artillery regiment. During "Market Garden" he commanded 16 separate ad hoc units. His command, designated Kampfgruppe Spindler, and the sperrlinie or blocking line he created on the western approaches into Arnhem during the night of 17-18 September was according to historian Robert Kershaw, "to affect the outcome of the battle of Arnhem decisively."
The fighting in and around Arnhem was different than what the Hohenstaufen encountered in Normandy. The British paratroops were scattered, lightly armed and possessed no armor. Despite good weather, the Allied fighter-bombers did not provide the British paratroopers with adequate air support. An SS trooper remembers, "It was a wonderful sunny day. Morale was high. There were no "Jabos" like there were in Normandy – we felt we could win!"
The fighting in and around Arnhem was brutal and often fought at very close quarters among the gardens, hedges, and buildings of Arnhem and Oosterbeek. Again, the advantages of mobility and firepower that the available panzers brought to the battlefield were limited. Urban combat is routinely a war of attrition and for many German units fighting in Arnhem including the battle groups of the Hohenstaufen; casualties may have been as high as 50%. After nine days of fierce fighting, the remnants of the British 1st Airborne Division retreated across the Rhine. Of the 10,000 British Paratroopers who jumped or glided into "Market Garden", less than 2,100 escaped. Approximately 1,500 were killed, 2,200 were wounded, and the rest were taken prisoner. Operation Market Garden had failed and the soldiers of the Hohenstaufen had won a well-deserved victory. The commander of Kampfgruppe Hohenstaufen, Standartenfuhrer Walter Harzer was awarded the Knight's Cross to the Iron Cross for his unit's actions. It was the last great victory of the war for any of the elite Waffen SS Divisions.
On 1 October 1944, the Hohenstaufen was transferred to Western Germany to be brought back to division strength. The young SS men, who had trained so diligently in France the year before, had been decimated through the battles of Normandy and Holland. Those who survived were elite veterans, battle hardened through those difficult challenges. These men formed the backbone of the reorganized 9th SS Panzer Division. Replacements arrived from the SS replacement units and many of the original volunteers returned from hospitals after having been wounded in Normandy. Approximately 30% of those who arrived were former Luftwaffe personnel. These men were mostly from staff organizations, Flak units and ground personnel. They were neither trained nor highly motivated to join a front line combat unit such as an SS Panzer Division. The burden fell once again on the young SS officers and NCOs to motivate and train these recruits to perform their missions within the division. "The greatest efforts of our young Komapanie Chiefs were, according to Obersturmfuhrer (1st Lieutenant) Steinbach, required in the correct psychological handing of these men that were coming to us. The transfer to the Waffen SS at first made them shudder, but our warm-hearted and comradely style, our nose for recognizing that here we had to do with valuable men, soon made them part of us."
The division was brought back up to 80% of its authorized strength by the end of October. The real problems were training and the receipt of new equipment. Special accelerated training programs were created but there was a shortage of experienced trainers. Equipment arrived slowly never reaching above 70% of the authorizations. By the beginning of December however, the division was out of time. Hitler had ordered a new offensive in the Ardennes. The Hohenstaufen along with the SS Divisions Leibstandarte, Das Reich, and Hitlerjugend were organized into the 6th SS Panzer Army. This formation was to spearhead the last great German offensive in the West.
The Hohenstuafen moved by rail to their assembly areas on December 12. It had only been two months since the decimated battle groups of the Hohenstuafen had been pulled off the front lines for reorganization. "It's reconstitution as a Panzer Division, albeit weaker than planned, in such a short time and in the face of Allied heavy bombing campaigns, must be considered as nothing short of remarkable."
The Ardennes offensive, later to become known as the Battle of the Bulge, began on 16 December 1944. The Hohenstaufen was initially held in reserve waiting to exploit the planned breakthrough. Initial progress of the attacking divisions was good but the attack soon stalled due to the severe congestion along narrow roads through the heavily wooded Ardennes forests. Severe shortages of fuel brought many formations to a halt. The elite Panzer Divisions that Hitler had placed so much hope in were unable to maneuver and most never had a chance to engage the Americans and were soon pushed back.
The Hohenstaufen joined the offensive on the 18th of December. They fought in the dense forests around the towns of St. Vith and Bastogne. The difficult terrain, poor weather conditions, shortages of fuel and the Allied material superiority in both artillery and airpower once again proved lethal. By the beginning of January the situation was extremely unfavorable for the Hohenstaufen. The commander the 20th Regiment writes, "Through unfavorable circumstances (inadequate training of the men and serious shortages of supplies, in particular clothes and shoes) I have very high casualties; mostly due to artillery and, whenever the weather clears, from Jabos . Yesterday, I received 200 replacements, unfortunately, almost all old men from the Ukraine, some of whom neither speak nor understand German."
The Ardennes offensive failed to achieve its objectives of seizing the port of Antwerp and dividing the Allied armies. The Hohenstaufen like the other divisions that took part was forced to retreat. Once again, the elite Waffen SS Divisions had failed to achieve their objectives. Although no records of the Hohenstaufen's casualties exist, Tieke estimates that they may have been as high as 30%. One of the most notable losses was SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Spindler, the artillery officer whose kampfgruppe had played such a decisive role in the victory at Arnhem. The fighting in the Ardennes had once again tested the men of the Hohenstaufen . "Despite their overall defeat, the men of the 9th SS Panzer Division had nothing of which to be ashamed."
On January 16th, the 6th SS Panzer Army was ordered to withdraw from the fighting in the Ardennes and begin immediately to prepare for another offensive. This time the target would be the city of Budapest and the oil fields of Hungary. Three days earlier, an attack by the SS Totenkopf and SS Wiking Panzer Divisions had failed to relieve the German garrison surrounded at Budapest. Hitler called a halt to the operation and ordered the SS Panzer Divisions of the 6th SS Panzer Army to refit. The German High Command ordered that the divisions complete refitting by the 30th of January. The 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen conducted a fighting retreat back to the Reich until they were relieved on 25 January.
The leadership of the Hohenstaufen Division and the other SS Divisions, after sustaining heavy casualties and huge losses of equipment during the Ardennes offensive, were once again reorganized to conduct a major offensive; this time against the Soviets in Hungary. Replacements consisted mostly of untrained Luftwaffe and Navy personnel.
The Hohenstaufen began its attack as part of Operation Spring Awakening on the morning of 6 March 1945. The attack followed a short artillery barrage and was conducted without the time to conduct a reconnaissance of the area. The weather was poor with temperatures being just above freezing. The snow fell, but the most significant hurdle to overcome was the muddy road conditions. The nemesis, which had been so instrumental in the failure of their attacks towards Tarnopol almost one year earlier, once again returned to defeat them. Like each time before, the Hohenstaufen was unable to take advantage of their mobility. Standartenfuhrer Stadler remembers, "A massed Panzer attack is simply impossible. The entire landscape has turned to softened mud in which everything sinks. Obersturmbannfuhrer Telkamp, a prudent panzer commander, led the most advanced Kompanie personally and had to determine that his Regiment could not be committed because the heavy vehicles sank into the mud. After two panzers had disappeared in the filth up to their turrets, the attack on a broad front by the advancing Grenadiers could only still be supported by one panzer company from the only highway in the attack sector. Since the Russians expected our attack, the Regiment soon received heavy defensive fire from all weapons. Under these circumstances, the attack only went forward with difficulty."
The attacks advanced slowly and the combat strength of the Hohenstaufen division melted away. Russian counterattacks put the division on the defensive. Despite the overwhelming material superiority of the Russians and the increasing casualties, the grenadiers of the Hohenstaufen maintained their morale and discipline, and fought off each attack. Again, Stadler reported, "The Russians attacked all day long in battalion and regimental strength from their well constructed positions. Since they knew the terrain well, the support by artillery, heavy mortars and tanks was targeted and effective. Scarcely was an attack repulsed when the Russians appeared again in another place. The Hohenstaufen kept up its high morale, as it, under the given circumstances, was able to hold of all the attacks and make them extremely costly for the enemy. Unfortunately, our own losses were equally high."
Two of the defining factors of an elite formation are its ability to maintain its morale and conduct a fanatical defense in the face of defeat. In Hungary, the Hohenstaufen sealed their status as one of the elite. Wilhelm Tieke describes the action, "On March 22, 1945, the 9th SS Panzerdivision, under its commander, Oberfuhrer Stadler, fought to the point of self sacrifice. It served to hold a reception position for the forces fighting their way out of the area of Stuhlweissenburg. In relation to this, the history of the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking reads: ‘It must be remarked at this point that the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen played a decisive part in the fortunate breakout of Wiking . Contrary to orders, Stadler had pushed his front as far forward as possible to the northern part of Lake Balaton in order to hold the sector open for the Division.'"
Operation Spring Awakening was a death march for the elite Waffen SS Divisions. The 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen conducted an orderly retreat back into Germany and finally surrendered to the Americans on 8 May 1945. Over the past year, the division had fought in many of the most significant battles of World War II. The familiar names of Normandy, Caen, Hill 112, Falaise, Arnhem, St. Vith, and Bastogne, all appear in the unit history. They fought in the bocage of France, along the dikes of Holland, in the forests of Belgium and the mud of the Eastern Front, and yet the reputation of the original elite divisions overshadows that of the Hohenstaufen .
The Hohenstaufen had fought as well as any Waffen SS formations from April 1944 to May 1945. The conditions under which they fought prevented them from conducting large-scale maneuver warfare so familiar in the histories of the SS divisions that participated in the invasions of France and Russian, and their demonstrated power of the mighty panzer formations during the maneuver battles of Kharkov and Kursk. Regardless, the combat performance of the Hohenstaufen was nothing short of commendable. The division has earned its place among the elite Waffen SS Divisions.
1. George Stein, The Waffen SS 1939-1945, (New York: Cornell University, 1966), 283.
Fey, Will. Armor Battles of the Waffen SS, 1943-45 . Translated by Henri Henchler.
Kershaw, Robert. It Never Snows in September: The German View of Market-Garden
Reynolds, Michael. Sons of the Reich: II SS Panzer Corps in Normandy, Arnhem,
Stadler, Sylvester. "Combat Report of the 9.SS-Panzer-Division: Hohenstaufen" 7.03.44-
Stein, George. The Waffen SS 1939-1945. New York: Cornell University, 1966.
Tieke, Wilhelm. In the Firestorm of the Last Years of the War . Translated by Frederick
Williamson, Gordon. Loyalty is My Honor: Personal Accounts from the Waffen SS .
Written by Major James T. McGhee. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Major James T. McGhee at: email@example.com.
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"THE DAILY TELEGRAPH"
Why the Germans fought to the death, Desire for revenge, and fear of peace drove on the defending troops, reports Robert Kershaw
By Robert Kershaw
17 September 2004
The Daily Telegraph
(c) 2004 Telegraph Group Limited, London
People often ask why the Germans fought so hard at Arnhem. After all, the Wehrmacht's elite western divisions had been smashed by the Allies in Normandy. SS Corporal Wolfgang Dombrowski, a veteran of one of those units, the 9th SS Hohenstaufen Panzer Division, which was licking its wounds in a quiet place two hours' drive behind the front at the Dutch town of Arnhem, recalled: "We believed the war was probably over." His battalion of 870 men by now numbered 60, with two armoured half-tracks from an original compliment of 140 vehicles. "It seemed impossible a front could be built out of these disparate fleeing elements," he said. Fritz Fullride, an officer in the unit, told friends: "The West Front is finished. It is exactly like 1918." So why did the Germans resist so fiercely for a lost cause at Arnhem? Mr Dombrowski remarked: "Life's deeper issues did not concern us too much.
We were prepared to fight on." German units often consisted of a core of veterans, wounded several times in many campaigns, serving with teenagers and partially disabled troops. One veteran remembered that in each platoon there would be a "Veruckte [Crazy] Helmut". These were men so blighted by the loss of loved ones to Allied bombing or the Soviet advance that they resolved to fight to the last. If there were doubts over Hitler's leadership after debacles both in east and west that summer, they had been neutralised by the Allied call for unconditional surrender which confirmed a gut reaction they had to fight on. That demand blurred the distinction between Nazi and anti-Nazi. German soldiers, aware of the misery and privation they had visited on the lands they had invaded, suspected the Allies, and especially the Russians, would inflict the same and likely worse. So they chose to fight. "Enjoy the war while you can," a common joke in the ranks went, "because the peace will be terrible!" So it was when SS Captain Hans Moeller, walking with his adjutant during the sunny afternoon of Sept 17 1944, saw "fluffy clouds" in the vicinity of Arnhem. There were too many to be flak or cirrocumulus clouds. They were parachutists. Totally surprised, his unit, the Kampfgruppe Moeller, received the order: "Follow the sounds of shooting; that is where the front is!" Oosterbeek, a suburb of Arnhem, had been described by occupying German soldiers as "wealthy looking homes with gardens and houses neatly laid out". But then, said Moeller, "the streets became death zones where the dead and wounded could not be retrieved". His battalion blocked attempts to relieve Lt Col Frost at the Arnhem Bridge. The battle was "a free-for-all conducted without mercy". German reinforcements were sent by train, lorry and foot and poured in during the battle. They were primarily Reichsarbeitdienst (military labourers), sailors and Luftwaffe ground crews. "These replacements had no combat experience whatsoever," Moeller pointed out, "and were totally inexperienced in street fighting." As Iraq demonstrates today, fighting in cities dissipates superior technology and combat power to primeval one-on-one contests. "They helped us a lot," said Moeller, but suffered horrific casualties. Mr Dombrowski, who served in Moeller's battalion, remembered only seven men left of a unit that formed up 874 strong two years before. He was prematurely aged. As a teenager he had already lost virtually everyone he had bonded with in his short life. The battle was full of incongruous parodies for the German soldier. Despite savage melees of "man against man with knives and bayonets" described by Moeller, "the pause to hand over the wounded really emphasises what a nonsense war is", said Mr Dombrowski. SS veterans recounted a story of two paratroopers attacking them through intense gunfire armed only with knives. What impressed them was that one was deliberately drawing fire to enable the other to close in. To save German blood 110 artillery pieces were used against the 1st British Airborne Division at Oosterbeek to finish the battle. When, during the night of Sept 26, 2,400 of 9,000 survivors from those that had landed north of the lower Rhine were evacuated across the river the Germans involuntarily allowed it. They could not comprehend why the British would give up their bridgehead after expending so much blood. "We had fought non-stop for 10 days and nights," said a surviving NCO. "Coffee and Benzedrine had kept us awake." Such were the comments of the victors, not the vanquished. Mr Dombrowski said: "After it was all over we were as exhausted as the British - we slept and slept."
Col Robert Kershaw is a military author who has produced several books, including an acclaimed German view of Operation Market Garden entitled "It Never Snows In September", recently republished by Ian Allan. He is a Colonel, late of the Parachute Regiment, currently serving at the Nato headquarters in Brussels.
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