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Translated by David Johnston
Translated by David Johnston
Translated by David Johnston

Translated by David Johnston

THE HISTORY OF THE PANZERKORPS GROSSDEUTSCHLAND VOL. 1

By Helmuth Spaeter An English translation by David Johnston

Copyright 1992 by J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc.

Originally published in German As DIE GESCHICHTE DER PANZERKORPS GROSSDEUTSCHLAND I In 1958, Bielefeld, Germany

English Edition published by J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc. 267 Whitegates Crescent Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada R3K 1L2 (204) 837-6080

Printed in the USA ISBN 0-921991-12-6

Typesetting - The JADA Group Printed by Publishers Press

PUBLISHER'S ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I wish to thank the following individuals who have contributed to the publishing of this book.

David Johnston - Translation George Rugenius - Proofreading Timothy Wallace - Maps Matt Reinert - GD cuffband Brian Molloy - Cover Design

I also wish to thank you the reader for purchasing this book, and all those of you

who have written to me with your kind words of praise and encouragement. It gives me the impetus to continue to publish translations of the best German books available. More excellent books are either being prepared or negotiated, thanks to your helpful proposals. These will be announced as they near completion.

John Fedorowicz

Books published by J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing

THE LEIBSTANDARTE (1 SS Panzer Division) volumes I, II, and III EUROPEAN VOLUNTEERS (5 SS Panzer Division) DAS REICH I (2 SS Panzer Division) OTTO WEIDINGER OTTO KUMM MANHAY, THE ARDENNES; CHRISTMAS 1944 ARMOR BATTLES OF THE WAFFEN - SS 1943-1945 TIGER; THE HISTORY OF A LEGENDARY WEAPON 1942-45 HITLER MOVES EAST

In preparation for publication in the coming year

PANZER ACES TIGERS IN THE MUD EASTFRONT DRAMA 1944 THE HISTORY OF THE 12 SS PANZER DIVISION HITLERJUGEND SCORCHED EARTH INFANTRY ACES DAS REICH II THE LEIBSTANDARTE IV/1

THE HISTORY OF THE 12 SS PANZER DIVISION HITLERJUGEND SCORCHED EARTH INFANTRY ACES DAS REICH II
J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc.

J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc.

J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc.

CONTENTS

Introduction 9 Part One - BETWEEN THE WAR S Chapter One — The Origins of
Introduction
9
Part One - BETWEEN THE WAR S
Chapter One — The Origins of
GROSSDEUTSCHLAND
20
Chapter Two — The History of Wachregiment Berlin
21
Chapter Three — The Infanterie-Lehrregiment
29
Chapter Four — Reorganisation of the Wachregiment
33
Part Two - WA R IN THE WEST
Chapter
On e
-
I.R.
GROSSDEUTSCHLAND
Leaves Berlin
41
Chapter Two — In the Homeland
52
Chapter Three — The Day before the Attack
55
Chapter Four — The Initial Days of the Attack
60
Chapter Five — Crossing the Meuse near Sedan
75
Chapter Six — The Battle for the Stonne Heights
Chapter Seven — Breakthrough to the Sea
85
98
Chapter Eight — To the Seine
112
Chapter Nine — Pursuit until the Cease-fire
Chapter Ten — The Armistice
126
136
Chapter Eleven — Preparations for "Sea Lion" and
"Felix"
144
Chapter Twelve —Wachbataillon Berlin and the
Führer-Begleit-Bataillon
Chapter Thirteen — The Balkan War
149
153
Chapter Fourteen — Entry into Yugoslavia — But No
Fighting!
156
Part Three - THE WAR IN THE EAST
Chapter One — The Soviet Union as a Power and Opponent of
the German Wehrmacht
171
Chapter Two — The Reinforced Infantry Regiment
GROSSDEUTSCHLAND in the Attack
in the East
174
Chapter Three — Across the Beresina to the Dniepr
Chapter Four — The Battle near Smolensk
189
193
Chapter Five — The Defensive Battle near Jelnja and Smolensk Chapter Six - The Battle
Chapter Five — The Defensive Battle near Jelnja and
Smolensk
Chapter Six - The Battle of Kiev
Chapter Seven — Forest Battle near Karachev
Chapter Eight — The Advance on Moscow
Chapter Nine - The Battles for Tula
205
223
232
238
247
Chapter Ten — The Führer-Begleit-Bataillon
261
Chapter Eleven — The I.R. GD in the Winter Retreat
1941-42
265
Chapter Twelve - The Eastern Front Soldier 1941-45
290
Part Four - BATTLES IN THE EAST 1942
Chapter One — The Infantry Division (mot.)
GROSSDEUTSCHLAND
293
Chapter Two — Preparations for the Summer
Offensive
313
Chapter Three — Breakthrough to the Don
Chapter Four — Pursuit to the Manych
319
365
Chapter Five — The Replacement Units
Chapter Six — In the Wolfsschanze
384
388
Part Five - WITH ARM Y GROU P CENTRE
Chapter One — The Defensive Battle for Rzhev
391
Chapter Two — With the Ninth Army in the Winter Battle
1942-43
436

INTRODUCTION

HISTORICAL UNDERTONES

Grenadier—Fusilier—Musketeer

In the beginning the role of the Grenadier was to throw hand grenades at the enemy. The grenades — which in the modern sense would be termed hand grenades — were hollow spheres of iron or lead, or sometimes glass, weighing two to three pounds. Because of their weight, the handling of these weapons demanded especially brawny and daring men, possessing great stamina. The Grenadier had to carry his grenades close enough to the enemy to be sure of hitting him, but also close enough to ensure that the resulting explosions did not inflict casualties on his own troops. Because of the unique nature of his fighting style, the Grenadier was especially well suited to dispersed actions such as the taking of important defensive strongpoints. Distinguished by their physical stature, strength, manly appearance and independence in action, they sought to make their outward appearance even more fearsome and impressive through distinguishing features which could identify them as elite troops even from a distance. Their most conspicuous badge was the Grenadier cap or helmet. In the same way Infantry Regiment GROSSDEUTSCHLAND, the oldest regiment in the GROSSDEUTSCHLAND Panzer Corps, was justifiably proud to bear the title Panzergrenadier Regiment GROSSDEUTSCHLAND as the new elite of the German Army. In 1940 and 1941 its soldiers earned the right to bear the title of grenadier in combat on the battlefields in the west and the east. They laid the foundation for the reputation of the division which took the name GROSSDEUTSCHLAND and from which other divisions later emerged. By this time the colourful jacket had given way to the grey field uniform; the grenadier's cap had been replaced by the functional steel helmet suited to modern warfare; instead of the long grenadier's pike, non-commissioned officers carried the short, compact sub- machine gun; the attack was carried to the enemy in fast armoured

9

personnel carriers. All of the external similarities with the Grenadiers of old had disappeared. On e thing, however, remained: the spirit of the Grenadier in the forefront of the attack. Wearing the identifying white fabric braid on their shoulder straps, they were proud to be known as Grenadiers of the Panzergrenadier-

Regiment

The Fusilier owed his name less to a style of fighting than to a particular weapon: the flintlock musket. This weapon, named fusil by the French, possessed considerable advantages compared to the matchlock musket commonly used at that time. While the earlier weapon was discharged by lighting a fuse which set off the powder charge, the flintlock musket's powder charge was ignited by a spark caused by the flint striking the steel of the pan. Consequently, a Fusilier was a flintlock carrier. He wore the Fusilier's cap which featured a metal peak. The name Fusilier first appeared in France in approximately 1640, where a cavalry regiment was the first to be equipped with the new type of musket. Later the foot soldiers were also equipped with the new weapon, and by the beginning of the Eighteenth Century European infantry, with few exceptions, carried only flintlock mus- kets. Until World War One, the third battalion of the Prussian Army's Guards and Grenadier Regiments was a Fusilier Battalion. In addi- tion, there existed the Guards Fusilier Regiment and thirteen inde- pendent Fusilier Regiments, each with three battalions of Fusiliers.

Even after the bulk of the foot soldiery had been equipped with the modern flintlock musket, the titles of Fusilier, Musketeer, and Grenadier were retained. The only differences between them were in their insignia and uniforms.

Following this tradition, the title of Fusilier was revived in April

GROSSDEUTSCHLAND.

1942 with the formation of the second

GROSSDEUTSCHLAND

Regiment. This sister regiment of the Panzergrenadier Regiment joined the GROSSDEUTSCHLAND Division as a Panzerfusilier Regiment. Just as the Grenadiers were conscious of their tradition as an elite unit, so too the Fusiliers traced their traditions back to the Guards-Fusiliers. The red fabric braid on their shoulder straps and the embroidered insignia "GD " identified them as members of the Panzerfusilier Regiment GROSSDEUTSCHLAND.

The title Musketeer can be traced back to the French word mousquet, or musket; a Musketeer is therefore a soldier carrying a musket. One of the earliest firearms, the mousquet appeared at the beginning of the Sixteenth Century, replacing the cumbersome arquebous with its three-legged support. The word mousquet goes back to the Italian moschetti, which originally meant a small type of sparrow-hawk which was used for hawking. The Musketeer, as the bearer of one of the oldest firearms, remained the general term for

10

the mass of the foot soldiery; his title is much older than that of the Grenadier or Fusilier. By 1520 the then new musket was introduced into Spain and the Netherlands by the Duke of Alba. However, with a weight of fifteen to twenty pounds, it remained a rather heavy and unwieldy weapon. The musket required support in the form of the so-called "musket- fork" in order to fire its approximately 60-gram ball. Under King Gustav Adolf in the Thirty Year's War the weight of the musket was reduced to about five pounds. In Germany in the Sixteenth Century each troop received fifty men armed with muskets, who were designated Musketiere. The Musketiere of Frederick the Great were capable of getting off five shots per minute. At first the musket was issued only to the best and most favoured marksmen. Later the weapon was also issued to the common foot soldiery, who were likewise designated Musketeers, even after the contemporary musket had been replaced by newer, technically improved weapons. As well, their uniforms continued to identify them as Musketeers at first. When, in the last months of the Second World War, the two armoured and motorised infantry regiments of the Panzergrenadier Regiment GROSSDEUTSCHLAND were joined by a third regiment of the same style, it was designated Panzermusketier Regiment GROSSDEUTSCHLAND in recognition of this oldest name for the firearm-bearing soldier. Originating from units of the Panzer- grenadier Regiment GD , after its formation the unit initially bore the title Panzerkorps Fusilier Regiment GD in order to identify it as a regiment of the Corps. As a result of the situation in the East, however, it went into action in March 1945 as Panzermusketier Regiment GD under the command of the Panzergrenadier Regiment GD.

The Artillery

By its nature the artillery is characterised as a weapon which supports the infantry in the attack or the defence. Like its sister weapon the anti-aircraft artillery, the heavy weapons of the artillery were indispensable in land warfare. The crash of artillery fire was music to the ears of the infantry. The development of artillery followed a different path from that of the infantry. The origin of the word artillery — which first appeared in the German language around 1500 — is uncertain. The ap- pearance of artillery, however, goes back to antiquity, when the Roman legions were supported in their attacks on fortified stron- gholds by catapults which flung heavy stones at the enemy. These machines were the forerunners of actual artillery.

11

It was roughly at the beginning of the Fourteenth Century that gunpowder was first used to propel stone or iron balls, often weighing several hundred pounds, from brass or iron barrels. Guns of this type were of necessity extremely heavy and were supported by a base made of timber, which meant that they were useful in siege warfare but not in wars of movement. It was not until the Sixteenth Century that lighter guns appeared which could be moved by a double team of horses and which, for example, could be attached, even if only temporarily, to the cavalry. King Gustav Adolf occasionally had light regimental artillery manoeuvre with the cavalry, and by 1675 the Great Elector already had horse-drawn artillery and mounted gun crews. He recognised the importance of this weapon and elevated the artillery to a permanent place in his army as an arm of the service. In 1759 Frederick the Great formed two mounted brigades each possessing ten six-pounder guns. The French General Lafayette, who visited Germany in 1785 and saw this new and mobile weapon, introduced it to France. Napoleon used massed artillery — often more than one hundred pieces — as a means of deciding a battle.

The introduction of breech-loading in 1848 brought a revolution in gun construction. Such weapons were introduced into the Prussian Army in 1859. A further, fundamental improvement followed around 1900 with the invention of barrel recoil, which significantly increased the cannon's rate of fire. The positional warfare of the First World War brought a tremendous increase in the artillery of both sides. The most numerous German field guns of the First World War — the light and heavy field-howitzers — remained, albeit in improved form, the most important weapons of the divisional artillery in the post-war period and into the Second World War.

The men who served the guns went from being referred to as piece servers to bombardiers. The latter were numbered among the expert

artisans who rendered their oath not to the flag or to the gun, but to the gun's load. In 1731 the bombardiers received the so-called bombardier caps, which were made from black oilcloth and featured bands which carried artillery emblems. The word cannoneer is borrowed from the French, where the term was already in use in

1411.

Like almost every other trade, the artillery too had its patron saint. The patron saint of miners was Barbara, who had stopped the firedamp. When the thunderboxes arrived, she was revered as the guardian of the artillery who commanded the lightning of battle and before whom the walls of cities collapsed. This remains so to the present day. More modern versions of the early cannon were per- manent, indispensable elements of the Panzergrenadier- Division GROSSDEUTSCHLAND. From the 400t h Artillery Battalion, which accompanied the Infantry Regiment GROSS-

12

DEUTSCHLAND in 1940, there arose in early 1942 the Panzer Artillery Regiment of the Panzergrenadier-Division

GROSSDEUTSCHLAND.

The Panzerartillerie-Regiment GROSSDEUTSCHLAND com- prised four mixed battalions, in part equipped with armoured Wespe and Hummel self-propelled guns, supported by a battery of 10-cm cannon, a mortar battery and an armoured observation battery. Whether employed in concert or individually, the artillery was the backbone of the infantry in combat on all fronts.

Assault Guns

The experiences of the First World War led to the development of assault gun units by the artillery. By 1916 it had been shown that it was necessary to provide attacking and defending infantry with direct artillery support which could eliminate the enemy's heavy weapons with direct fire. Light artillery units filled this role. Operating in the front lines in close cooperation with the infantry, without any protection against enemy counter-fire, and using weapons which were too large and lacking sufficient mobility for the role, they still achieved considerable success. As a result of this experience, in 1936 the artillery's Artiìlerie- Lehrregiment in Jüterbog developed an assault gun based on the existing Panzer III chassis. The vehicle was initially armed with the short-barrelled 7.5-cm KwK. This gun, which had been developed for the Panzer IV, was installed on the chassis of the Panzer III in a fixed, armoured superstructure. The optical-panoramic telescope, which was used to aim the assault gun's cannon, and the scissors telescope, which was employed as the means of observation for the assault gun's commander, were standard artillery equipment. As was standard practice in German tanks, VHF wireless equipment provided communication between guns. As a result of experience gained in numerous combat exercises with the Infanterie-Lehrregi- ment in peacetime, following the Polish Campaign the first assault gun battery was formed in Jüterbog in wartime formation — three platoons, each with two assault guns. (At this time the platoon leader's vehicle was not an assault gun, but an armoured, one-ton personnel carrier.)

This 640th Battery was attached to the Infantry Regiment GROSSDEUTSCHLAND prior to the French Campaign and after- wards was incorporated as the regiment's 16th Company. The assault guns soon proved their worth and made a significant con- tribution to the regiment's success in the French Campaign. In addition, the technical and tactical experiences of this first front-line

13

assault gun battery significantly influenced the development and equipment fit of all of the army's assault gun units. Following the 1941/42 campaign in Russia, this first assault gun battery was incorporated as the 1st Battery of the new

Sturmgeschützabteilung

GROSSDEUTSCHLAND.

Without any actual traditions of its own, this weapon, which developed solely from its own experience and the esprit de corps of the volunteers who streamed in from every artillery unit, subsequently played a decisive role in every theatre. The Allied nations learned from the effect of this new weapon and by war's end — and increasingly so after the war — formed assault gun units to support their infantry in attack and defence.

The Hussars

The Hussar was originally a light, quick and manoeuvrable horseman, whose duties within the unit were scouting, delivering messages and reconnaissance. His success depended on the strength and speed of his horse. His weapons were the sabre or sword, carbine and lance. Mounted troops were divided into light and heavy cavalry according to the breed of horse and the size of the riders. In the German Army the heavy cavalry consisted of the Cuirassiers, the Horse Guards and the Carabineers; while the light cavalry included the Hussars and the Cheveaulegers. In the middle were the Ulans, Dragoons and Mounted Riflemen. The Hussars thus formed the Light Cavalry Regiments. Their origins go back to the Hungarian cavalry, when the superiority of the Turks made it necessary to call upon swift, agile and skilled horsemen to carry out the roles of reconnaissance and pursuit. The term Hussar is of Hungarian origin (Husz = twenty, ar = price). From 1435 Hungarian cavalry was raised in the following way: every twenty independent estates were responsible for the cost of furnish- ing and maintaining a horseman. With the increasing significance of more daring, faster and lighter cavalry, the name Hussar gradually came into use in all armies.

The first Prussian Hussar units were formed in 1721. Frederick the Great expanded these and created the famous Hussar Corps with ten elite Hussar Regiments. The duties of the Hussar units were determined by the charac- teristics of the light cavalry. The earlier task of long-range reconnais- sance disappeared with increasing mechanization. However, short range reconnaissance remained one of the main duties of the Hussar units. In addition, the Hussars were given the task of screening their own side's offensive intentions by countering enemy patrols, as well as that of covering the flanks in a war of movement. Adjustments to

14

meet the demands of mechanized warfare brought tanks to the Hussars, enabling them to fill a modern combat role. When the GROSSDEUTSCHLAND Infantry Division was formed in 1942, the motorcycle battalion was designated as its reconnais- sance unit. The squadrons came from all parts of Germany. The titles of "squadron" and "Rittmeister" (cavalry captain) were introduced early on, as the unit had taken on the duties of the earlier Hussar units. Later, the unit was redesignated the Armoured Reconnais- sance Battalion GROSSDEUTSCHLAND, adopting the gold-yel- low badge of the cavalry. In the old cavalry spirit reminiscent of their predecessors on horseback, the Hussars of the modern war, the men of the Armoured Reconnaissance Battalion GROSSDEUTSCHLAND, carried their patrols deep into enemy territory in order to provide their head- quarters with vital intelligence information.

Tanks

The tank is a modern mechanized weapon which increasingly came to the fore in attack and defence, and which decisively influenced the entire conduct of warfare, quite apart from the tactics on the battlefield. The infamous static trench warfare of the First World War was transformed into a war of movement in the Second World War by the use of tanks, whose operations in the war's opening stages were nothing short of classic. The tank commanders also came to the fore, and Generaloberst Guderian, the creator of the German Panzer force, must be mentioned as the outstanding German representative.

With the trials in Spain in 1936 the tanks of the First World War, clumsy and possessing limited mobility, gave way to those suited for the armoured thrust which was to characterise the Second World War. Until 1942 there were four types of tank in production in Germany:

the Panzer I — weight approx. 9 tons — 3 man crew — 2 machine guns

the Panzer II — weight approx. 12 tons — 4 man crew — 1 - 2-cm KwK and 1 machine gun

the Panzer III — weight approx. 18 tons — 5 man crew — 1 - 3.7-cm or 5-cm KwK and 2 machine guns

the Panzer IV — weight approx. 24 tons — 5 man crew — 1 - 7.5-cm KwK and 2 machine guns

15

Above all it was upon the last two types that the reputation of the German Panzer Arm was built in the first two years of the war. Additional factors were the thorough training of the crews, as well

as the fighting spirit of the troops and the superior command of the

German tank units. With the beginning of the Russian Campaign in 194 1 the clear superiority of the German Panzers decreased. Al- though the Russians initially committed heavily armoured and power- fully armed but unwieldy types such as the 52-ton KV II, in the autumn of 1941 they sent the improved 44-ton KV I and the feared

26-ton T-34 into battle. It was the latter type which was subsequently

to dominate the war in the East. Without doubt the T-34 combined

qualities which came close to the ideal of the modern tank: speed, mobility and relatively strong armour combined with a favourable exterior shape (sloped surfaces). An additional advantage was the firepower of its 7.62-cm cannon and two machine guns. The Panzer

III was no match for the T-34 and the Panzer IV could deal with the

Russian tank only under favourable conditions. But just as every action results in a reaction, so the appearance of this Russian tank called every German tank-producing firm into action. This develop- ment work resulted in the Panzer V (Panther) and Panzer VI (Tiger).

The Panther weighed approximately 44 tons, carried a crew of five and was armed with a long-barrelled 7.5-cm KwK and two machine guns. The Tiger weighed approximately 55 tons, carried a crew of five and was armed with an 8.8-cm KwK and two machine guns. The Tiger II appeared towards the end of the war. It weighed 70 tons, had a five man crew and was armed with an 8.8-cm KwK and two machine guns. These German Panzer types restored the balance between the warring nations in the field of tank construction. Working as a unit, the tank crew formed a fighting team. The success of the Panzer Arm depended largely on the fighting spirit of the crews. At the beginning of 1942 the I.(Flammpanzer) Abt./Pz.-Rgt.100 was formed for the GROSSDEUTSCHLAND Infantry Division. In February it was incorporated into the Division as Panzer-Abteilung GROSSDEUTSCHLAND. This unit constituted the cadre battalion of the GROSSDEUTSCHLAND Panzer Regiment. Possessing a battalion each of Panzer IVs, Panthers and Tigers, the Panzer regiment was the sharp sword in the hands of the division's com- manders and saw action in offensive and defensive roles on the

Eastern Front as well as in the West. Even in the hopeless situations

of

the final months of the war, many enemy attacks failed in the face

of

the defence put up by the division's tanks.

16

Combat Engineers (Pioniere)

The Pionier, whose name perhaps came from the French pion (walker), or even more probably from the Italian piccone (pickaxe), was first trained and employed in France around 1500 as a builder of field fortifications; hence the present-day meaning of the name. In the Prussian Army the term first appeared in the Imperial Order of 8 January 1742 from General von Walrave, the fortress builder of Frederick the Great, which created the Regiment Pionniers, whose first assignment was the improvement of the fortress works on the Neiß. The designation Pionier in the present-day sense first appeared in 1810, when the existing mining and pontooning companies were united in a Pionier Corps. The members of the corps were called miners, sappers and pontooneers, indicating their specialised roles. The Pionier s role included the duties of close combat; he was trained not just for the technical role of a combat engineer, but also on all infantry weapons. The flamethrower was the Pionier's best means of dealing with enemy fortifications. When, in 1940, the Infantry Regiment GROSSDEUTSCHLAND

joined the fighting in the West, it was soon followed by the then 18th (Pionier) Company. But it was to be Sturm-Pionier-Bataillon 43, which was not incorporated, but which was attached to the regiment, that accompanied it in the East and West. Cooperation and joint success led, with the formation of the division, to the incorporation

of this unit as

The "Sturm" prefix was a special honour which indicated that the unit had distinguished itself in action, specifically in the storming of

the fortress of Brest-Litovsk. This tradition was enhanced by the later

all

of its actions and, with the reorganisation as Panzer-Corps GROSSDEUTSCHLAND, was carried on by its successors, the

Panzer-Pionier-Regiment and the Panzer-Corps-Pionier-Batail- lon 500 GD

Panzer-Sturm-Pionier-Bataillon

Sturm-Pionier-Bataillon

GROSSDEUTSCHLAND.

GROSSDEUTSCHLAND

in

When the Pioniers fought their last great battle at the Wolittnick railway embankment in East Prussia in March 1945, they did so as

members

of

Panzer-Pionier-Regiment

GROSSDEUTSCHLAND.

17

Evolution from Wach. Rgt. BERLIN to Pz. Korps GD, from 1937 to 8 May 1945.

Evolution from Wach. Rgt. BERLIN to Pz. Korps GD, from 1937 to 8 May 1945. Illustrated on Pages 18 + 19.

Part I

BETWEEN

THE

WARS

Chapter One

The Origins of

GROSSDEUTSCHLAND

With the above laconic announcement in the Army

the Infantry Regiment GROSSDEUTSCH-

LAND came into being. Well known in Germany at that time was the ceremonial guard in Berlin. Three times per week, accompanied by the beating of drums, the guard was drawn up on the Unter den Linden. At the stroke of twelve noon it marched through the Brandenburg Gate to relieve the guards in front of the memorial in the Schinkel Building. This guard, or " Wache` as it had been known in the local Berlin dialect for many decades, was drawn from a

company of the unit which was quartered at the Moabit barracks. Wachregiment Berlin, which was stationed there, produced the best drill soldiers in the German Army.

It was decreed that this regiment was to form the basis of the new unit. The new regiment was to represent the entire German Reich in one unit. Only with this in mind can one understand the words of the new regiment's first commander, Oberst von Stockhausen, on the occasion of the unit's naming ceremony:

In our proud name we wish to embody the greater German Wehrmacht, and we wish to do our duty like every unit of the German Army. But just as we now march at the head of parades, so to we wish, if it should someday come to that, to be able to lead the way in the attack." The choice of duties was appropriate, as the Wachregiment had already carried out similar tasks for years. But it was also a require- ment that the regiment's members all be volunteers and moreover that it be volunteers from every region of Germany that formed the the new unit.

Verordnungsblatt,

20

The members of Infantry Regiment GROSSDEUTSCHLAND and the later division have grateful memories of General Schmundt, who quite correctly was seen as the father of the new formation. As long as there was a GD unit he came to its assistance, even speaking directly to Hitler on its behalf. The introduction of the cuff title, similar to those of the SS, was undoubtedly a result of a recommendation by Schmundt. The volunteers served proudly in their unit, mindful of the traditions of their predecessors and true to the motto:

He who swears an oath on the Prussian flag, no longer has anything which belongs to himself! Proudly they served, true to the oath of allegiance they had taken to the unit that bore the name:

GROSSDEUTSCHLAND

Chapter Two

The History of Wachregiment Berlin

The Versailles Treaty of 1919, which carried the seeds of the Second World War, permitted Germany, in addition to the police, the formation of a professional army. Because of its numerical limits it was called the 100,000-man-Army or Reichswehr. It was intended strictly to be a force for maintaining order, countering internal unrest and preventing possible attacks against Germany. In the course of the creation of the Reichswehr it became apparent that it would be necessary to station a unit in the capital city of Berlin. Tasks had arisen there which could not be carried out by the police alone. The possibility of putting down attempted coups in the capital, the question of guarding military installations and command centres (such as the newly-constructed Reichswehr Ministry), the provision of honour guards for state visits, funerals, memorial days etc., as well as the necessity of having a reliable unit available, led in early 1921 (H.V.-Blatt Nr. 35 of 1921) to the formation of the Wachregiment Berlin. In order to create an operationally- ready unit as quickly as possible, whole companies and battalions were ordered to Berlin from the available regiments in Germany. The Wachregiment Berlin soon became a thorn in the side of the left-wing parliamentary group in the Reichstag, which believed that it perceived a threat in the new unit. Therefore, on 19 June 1921 (H.V.-Blatt Nr. 35 of 24 June 1921) the Wachregiment was disbanded.

21

Soon, however, as a military unit in Berlin for guard and ceremonial duties had proved indispensable, an alternative was found. The Kommando der Wachtruppe was created. Wisely, the title of battalion or detachment was omitted, since the companies which comprised the Kommando were ordered to Berlin for a period of only three months. The Kommando der Wachtruppe retained this name and form for several years. From the time of its formation the Kommando was quartered in the barracks of the famous 4th Guards Foot Regiment and the 1st Guards Field Artillery Regiment on Rathenower Straße in Berlin- Moabit. The 4th Guards Foot Regiment in particular enjoyed a great popularity among the population of Moabit. In fact, the 4th Guards became known locally as the "Moabit violets" on account of their blue shoulder straps. The barracks also enjoyed a certain degree of fame, as it was from there that the Spartakist uprising had been put down at the end of 1918. They were the only barracks that the Spartakists had been unable to storm. The units of the Kommando themselves were billeted in the barrack blocks, while the so-called Kommando-Stab — roughly comparable to a battalion headquarters — had quarters in the building at 10 Rathenower Straße. The detached units were under its financial and disciplinary control for the duration of their duty. The Komman- do-Stab itself, to which belonged a limited number of permanent staff and a music corps under Obermusikmeister Friedrich Ahlers, was under the direct control of the Kommandantur Berlin, Unter den Linden 1. The Kommando der Wachtruppe consisted of seven rifle com- panies and a machine gun company, and from time to time a battery of artillery. The companies were provided by the seven Reichswehr divisions in a specified sequence — usually for a period of three months — and following their duty returned to their divisions. The orders for troop movements were issued by the Reichswehr Ministry. The companies continued to be a part of their regiments, carried their regiment's number on their shoulder straps and retained their own structure. Nevertheless, during their duty with the Kommando they were designated 1st Company / Wachtruppe Berlin, 2nd Com- pany/ Wachtruppe Berlin and so on. This arrangement continued until 31 August 1934.

The companies went to Berlin with full combat strength and equipment and were able to carry on their training as long as they were not required for duty with the Kommando. In this way it was ensured that the companies did not fall behind in their combat training while assigned to Berlin. As a result of the practice of each division furnishing a company the Kommando der Wachtruppe mirrored the entire German Army, with men from every region of the country. Each company

22

retained its regional characteristics, which often gave rise to good- natured comparisons, but also to much welcome rivalry in routine duties. Franz Bischoff, then a member of the 7th (Bavarian) Company, described the maintenance of regional customs and practices:

"The furnishings in the halls and rooms of the companies' quarters reflected the origins of each unit. Everywhere there were slogans on the walls, pictures of home and so on, and everywhere were the respective state colours. In addition there were the unadulterated regional accents among all ranks — no one could go wrong when looking for someone from his own state. Company festivals, Christmas celebrations and other events always exhibited a regional character. When considering the maintenance of regional customs the 7th Company always comes to mind. That company's long-serv- ing company commander, Major Hofmeister, saw to it that his countrymen remained Bavarians even in the Reich capital and felt at home there. Their presentations at the well- arranged Oktober- fests, Christmas celebrations, carnival evenings and so on were always very original and entertaining. When they danced and yodelled in their Bavarian costumes it thrilled even the hearts of the Prussian guests. Another great attraction was the so-called 'Bavarian mess,' which was actually only a beer cellar. It had been set up by the company from its own resources and was simply, but pleasantly, decorated. After their duties were over, soldiers of all ranks could sit together on long, whitewashed wooden tables and exchange opinions over something to eat and a Moaß of real Bavarian beer. Officers, senior commanders and government ministers, among others, also met there frequently, taking an interested part in the enjoyable activities of their Bavarian comrades, with some even becoming regular guests. The mess was provisioned mainly from Bavaria; Geselchtes, Leberkäs, Weißwurst and Brathänd'l were flown to Berlin, while the good Ingolstädter beer came by truck directly from the brewery. On leaving this familiar, hospitable spot for home, the eyes of every soldier fell on the mural painted on the broadside of the cellar:

"Never reproach the acts of soldiers, Let them have fun — let them kiss; Who knows, how soon they will have to die."

At that time probably no one

how soon.

Each company led its individual existence according to its native customs and practices, but differences disappeared in the fulfilment of their common duties. Among their duties was the provision of guards, including the following:

23

The War Memorial Guard (Wache Ehrenmal) (Guard house in the Kommandantur Berlin)

The Reichswehr Ministry Guard (Wache Reichswehrministerium) —

the largest guard with approximately 90 men.

The Brandenburg Gate Guard (Wache Brandenburger Tor)

The Court Martial Guard (Wache Kriegsgericht) (established following a theft) The Reich President's Palace Guard (Wache Reichspräsidenten-

Palais)

The Barrack Guards (Kasernen-Wachen) on Kruppstraße (centre, south and east blocks) The Armoured Troops Guard (Wache Panzer-Truppen) Other guards included:

The Army Ordnance Office (Heereswaffenamt) (Zoo station, Landwehr Mess), The Commander-in-Chief of the Army (Oberbefehlshaber des

Heeres)

The guard at the Reichswehr Ministry usually numbered forty to fifty men. It was only during a guard parade with music that it may have reached a strength of approximately ninety men. The guard's watch went from noon to noon on the following day. The affected company was placed at readiness the day before its duty began. The famous guard parade with band took place every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. The parade route led from Moabit through the Brandenburg Gate and along the Unter den Linden to the war memorial in the Schinkel Building. The officer commanding the guard parade usually rode the white horse "Alaric." The horse, too, went on to become quite famous and is well-remembered by many Berliners. In addition to guard duties the Kommando der Wachtruppe also had to carry out the parades which were ordered "from above" from time to time. The execution of the parade demanded Prussian precision. To ensure this, the parade routine was run through over and over again in advance using models. The parade's assembly, marchpast and departure were plotted precisely on large-scale maps of the city. The commander of the 7th Company, Major Hoffmeister, proved to be an expert at assembling parades. Hoffmeister later served on the staff of the Wachtruppe, where he was responsible for that one task. In addition to the purely military duties which had to be carried out, there was always time for the soldiers to tour the Reich capital and become familiar with its attractions and to pay a visit to Potsdam and Sanssouci. With the emergence of the "Third Reich," and more specifically in the autumn of 1934, the former Kommando der Wachtruppe was redesignated Wachtruppe Berlin. With this redesignation began a

24

Map of the Wachregiment's Barracks 25

Map of the Wachregiment's Barracks

25

transformation of the unit which was to come to a temporary conclusion in 1937. The Wachtruppe Berlin consisted initially of seven companies; however, in autumn 1936 it was enlarged to eight. Moreover, in that year a headquarters company was added which consisted of a signals platoon, two bands, officer personnel and so on. At this time the unit still did not possess heavy infantry weapons, as the artillery battery had been sent to Jüterbog. Generalmajor z.V. von Keiser was acting commander until October 1935 when he was relieved by Oberst Freiherr von und zu Gilsa. The unit's duties remained unchanged. However, the rapid build-up of the new German Wehrmacht, which had been under way since 1935, brought revolutionary changes to the parade unit in Berlin. Oberst von Alten, who was named commander of Wachtruppe Berlin on 6 October 1936, was given the task of reorganising the unit as the Wachregiment Berlin. The order was given by the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, Generaloberst Frhr. von Fritsch, and was published in the H.V.-Blatt of 23 June 1937. The regiment was to retain this designation — with brief interruptions — until the end of the Second World War. At this stage the Wachregiment Berlin possessed a regimental headquarters with the attached headquarters company, as well as eight companies whose regional composition was retained. The regiment now had a cadre of officers to which belonged the com- manding officer, staff officers and the company commanders, as well as the non-commissioned officers and men necessary for internal duties such as platoon sergeants, clothing, equipment and weapons NCOs, clerks and drivers. The bulk of the regiment continued to be provided by detachments from the individual army corps. Officers and NCOs were rotated yearly and the men every six months. The regiment's duties con- tinued to demand hand-picked, dependable soldiers. The difference compared with earlier times was, primarily, that the members of the Wachregiment were under its full control with regard to discipline and promotion. Also, the soldiers of the Wachregiment carried a "W" on their shoulder straps, while the officers wore the letter on their shoulder boards. As time when on the practice of rotating entire companies was discontinued and the army corps sent individual soldiers for duty with the Wachregiment. For example, IV Army Corps sent a number of hand-picked men — four men from each battalion of the 101st Infantry Regiment in Freiburg — for duty with the 4th Company of the Wachregiment. The detached officers and NCOs were rotated, with half serving until spring and half until autumn, so that half of them always had experience with the unit. From 1938 on, the members of the Wachregiment received a penny a day as detached service pay.

26

Parades and guard duties continued to make up the majority of the regiment's service. Extracts from a memo-book show the regiment participating in the following events:

August 1938 — Horthy's visit to Berlin 10-13 September 1938 - Reich Party Day

3 October 1938 — Entry into the Sudetenland

20

April 1939 — Parade of a colour party on Hitler's birthday

28

May 1939 — Visit to Berlin by Italian Foreign Minister Ciano

All of the regiment's companies were represented in the birthday parade on 20 April 1939 except one, which was providing the barracks and other guards. Among the special parades on extraor- dinary occasions were:

The International Riding and Driving Tournament The visit by Prince Regent Paul of Yugoslavia Participation of individual companies in UFA films in Babelsberg; especially in the film Drei Unteroffiziere

On 1 October 1938 orders were issued for the formation of a Wachbataillon Wien (Guard Battalion Vienna), for which the ap- propriate implementing statutes were published in the H.V. Blatt 1938, Section C, of 15 June 1938. These indicated that the newly-formed battalion in Vienna was to act in accordance with the experience and regulations of the Wachregiment Berlin. Major Kandt and Uffz. Singer of 8th Company were sent to Vienna with a few NCOs to assist in this regard and only for the period of the batallion's initial establishment. However, they soon returned after the formation took another course. It was also in the year 1938 — about June — that the order came for each company to hold fifteen to twenty soldiers and a commen- surate number of officers on call at all times, ready to guard the supreme commander during trips outside the country. The code word for this was "Führerreise". A sealed envelope was on hand at each company for this purpose. From 12 January 1939 the task of guarding the Reich Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, at his seat of government, the Reich Chancellory, was added to the duties of the Wachregiment. This guard came to be

known as the Wache Führer.

The regiment's internal duties may be described as follows: drill took place on the barrack square on Rathenower Straße on the third day after the watch. Regimental drill took place on Saturday every week. This saw the entire regiment with its eight companies drawn up on the barrack square, with the commanding officer and his staff officers in the centre and close by the bandsmen and music platoon. The band played marches and, group by group, the regiment

27

marched in line past the commanding officer. Afterward the group leaders halted the men and rifle drill was carried out. During this time the bandsmen and music platoon practised. Drill usually lasted all morning. And then came the day which was to bring a decisive turning point for the Wachregiment Berlin. On 6 April 1939 the following order was released by the Commander-in-Chief of the Army:

In autumn 1939 the Wachregiment will be reorganised. The new regiment will receive the title Infanterie-Regiment GROSS-

DEUTSCHLAND.

The supplementary instructions given by the commanding officer at that time, Oberst von Alten, to his companies sounded almost laconic:

"Consequently, by autumn the Wachregiment will have ceased to exist in its present form. The final release of detached NCOs and men will take place in June of this year."

The order had little effect at first, as the corresponding implement- ing statutes had not yet appeared. However, appropriate prepara- tions had already been started. Those soldiers and detached personnel who were to have been released in May according to their rotation were ordered to remain with the Wachregiment until they left the Wehrmacht. At the same time word was received that the Wachregiment was to be redesignated as the Infantry Regiment GROSSDEUTSCHLAND and that beginning that autumn the regiment would be training its own recruits. The enlisted men were to continue to perform watch and honour guard duties until the new recruits were trained and ready to take over.

Otherwise the actual routine of the Wachregiment remained undisturbed by the approaching reorganisation. The only changes took place in the headquarters where the necessary planning and paperwork was begun.

It should also be mentioned that preparations were under way for the construction of new barracks in Moabit, the plans for which were already complete. The ceremonial laying of the cornerstone took place on 14 April 1939. Construction work was begun immediately; however, the barracks were never finished as work was interrupted by the outbreak of war on 1 September 1939. The order of 12 June 1939, the contents of which were already known, now arrived, resulting in the formal renaming of the former

Wachregiment

Berlin

as

the

Infanterie-Regiment

GROSS-

DEUTSCHLAND. The creation of the new regiment had begun.

28

Chapter Three

The Infantry Lehrregiment

For some time the armies of the leading military states had created dedicated instructional units. The primary task of such units was the testing and development of weapons, equipment, battle tactics and techniques. The dissemination of the knowledge gained was carried out in the form of information circulars or practical demonstrations. In 1819, in answer to the need for such a unit, particularly for the infantry, which was the largest component of the Army, the German Army set up the Lehr- Infanterie-Batailìon which was based in Potsdam, Neues Palais. The men of the battalion saw active duty in the First World War and the memorial tablet in the Olympic Village in Berlin showed that this unit alone lost 5,567 officers, NCOs and men between 1914 and 1918.

With the establishment of the Reichswehr following the First World War, a unit was formed to carry out similar duties: the Lehr-und

near

Berlin. The unit's scope was narrow, limited by the constraints faced by the Reichswehr at that time. In 1934 an infantry battalion was created from the Kommando which first took in its own recruits in October 1934. At that time the battalion was organised as follows:

Versuchs-Kommando

für

Infanterie-Waffen

in

Döberitz,

Battalion headquarters, with signals platoon, band

Commanding officer:

Adjutant:

Major Fleischhauer Obit. Masius Hptm . Gronau Hptm. Kokott Hptm. v. Rhaden, Hptm. Bloch- witz, Hptm. Grell Hptm. Einstmann Hptm. Greim

1st (Rifle) Company:

2nd (Rifle) Company:

3rd (Rifle) Company:

4th (Machine Gun) Company:

5th (Infantry Gun) Company:

It was also at about this time that the Döberitz Infantry School was created as a training school for infantry officers. The Lehrtruppe (instructional unit) was under the command of the school for its purposes, while the school was under the direct command of the

2).

The troops were housed in Döberitz on the edge of the well-known troop training grounds, which had absorbed the sweat of generations of soldiers. This was the practice field used by the Lehrtruppe for unit trials and the testing of new infantry weapons and equipment,

Inspektion für Infanterie

im

Oberkommando des Heeres (IN

29

as well as for the infantry officers and officer-cadets on courses at the infantry school. At the disposal of these courses was the Infantry Battalion of the Lehrtruppe. The uniform of this infantry battalion — there was no more precise designation at first — was no different than that of any other infantry

unit, as its soldiers wore no identifying badge on their shoulder straps

or shoulder boards. The unit's soldiers often heard the remark: "You

have no number — you must be a blind unit! Not until 1935 — probably after the introduction of universal conscription — did the formerly anonymous infantry battalion under the command of the Infantry School in Döberitz receive its proper and appropriate tile of Infanterie-Lehrbatallion and the right to wear the "L" on its shoulder straps. After the redesignation no more recruits were taken in, rather, experienced soldiers were sent on detached service from all units of the army. Entrance requirements to this special unit were strict: minimum height 1.68 metres, no criminal record and a high level of training. There was even a special OK H service manual for these enlistments.

This elite unit produced men such as Hauptfeldwebel Brönner of 12th Company, who was the best shot in the German Armed Forces as well as an outstanding athlete. The Potsdam NC O School, various machine gun battalions and other formations were set up by the Infanterie-Lehrbataillon which also provided some of the NCOs for these units.

As a result of the expansion of the new German Wehrmacht and the increasing demands being made on the Infanterie- Lehrbatail- lon, a second battalion (II. Bataillon) was created in October 1936. The new battalion was housed in the barracks in Döberitz-Elsgrund.

II Battalion was organised as follows:

Battalion headquarters with signals platoon

Commanding officer:

Adjutant:

6th (Anti-Tank) Company:

Major Jais Obit, von Selle Hptm. Reuter Hptm. v. d. Mosel Hptm. Einstmann Hptm. Greim (with mounted platoon)

7th (2-cm Flak ) Company:

8th (Machine Gun) Company:

9th (Infantry Gun) Company:

With the exception of the mounted platoon of the 9th (Infantry Gun) Company under Obit. Bohrmann, II Battalion was fully motorised. In October 1937 a third battalion (III. Bataillon) and a regimental headquarters were formed. The Infanterie- Lehrbataillon was expanded and redesignated as the Infanterie-Lehrregiment. The regimental headquarters were accommodated in the Olympic Village

30

which had been built for the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. The former II Battalion (mot.) was renamed III Battalion (mot.) and the new II Battalion was fully motorised for the training of the so-called fast units (Panzergrenadiers etc.). Commander of the Infantry School was the one-armed Oberst Hube, who demanded much of his men as well as the prospective officers attending courses. The jump from the ten-meter tower in the newly-constructed aquatic centre was just as much a matter of course — he demonstrated the dive himself — as was soldierly conduct during exercises with live ammunition. On 1 September 1939, while courses for the infantry were still running at an increasing rate in the Olympic Village to bolster the almost too rapid expansion of the new Wehrmacht, and while the Lehrregiment continued to strive to keep up with its growing responsibilities, war broke out with Poland. The majority of the German divisions marched to the East and both sides suffered their first casualties, while in the homeland more divisions were quickly raised and mobilised. Meanwhile, the Lehrregiment remained the instructional unit for the new generation of officers who would serve in the divisions then being formed. The regiment's commander, Oberst Hube, who also commanded the Infantry School, saw to it that they were well- trained. Inevitable changes and shuffling of personnel took place in the command of the Lehrregiment. I Battalion came to be commanded by Oberstleutnant Garski, who would later play a significant role in the success of the GROSSDEUTSCHLAND Regiment. II Battalion passed into the hands of Major Müller- Bülow, while Oberstleutnant Köhler, who later also became a battalion and regimental com- mander of high quality with the GROSSDEUTSCHLAND Regi- ment, assumed command of III Battalion. Two days after the beginning of the Polish Campaign, England and France declared war on Germany. The war against the two western powers initially assumed the form of positional warfare in and around the bunkers of the Maginot Line and the Westwall. Mobilised third-line German divisions occupied positions in the Westwall to prevent an incursion by the French. At first the war brought no changes to the routine of the Lehrregiment, except that many of the regiment's members were annoyed that they were unable to play a part in the success of Germany's Army in the East. This may have been the reason, perhaps also as a result of the insight of higher command authorities and of Oberst Hube, that u Sturm-Bataillon Garski"was formed in September 1939 from the Infanterie-Lehrregiment. The battalion consisted of elements of the regimental headquarters and the 1st, 3rd and 4th Companies as well as a company of engineers from a Sturm- Pionier Regiment. Commander of the unit was Oberstleutnant Garski. The battalion

31

was sent by truck over the Potsdam— Mannheim autobahn into the area of Kaiserslautern. Arriving near Altenkessel and Füllgarten, the troops dug in and built positions. The official entry for this period read:

1.9. — 10. 10. 39 Positional warfare near Saarbrücken.

There was not much fighting in the actual, and especially the later, sense; when there was firing it was just to accustom the men and to show the French that they were still there. Otherwise the training went on just as it had back in Germany, albeit under somewhat more difficult conditions. In Germany, as part of the reorganisation of the Wachregiment

Berlin into the

the guard soldiers were being trained on the MG 34 machine gun and the Panzerbüchse 38 (anti-tank rifle) for a combat role by instructors seconded from the Lehrregiment. Live firing was carried out in the incomplete excavations for the new barracks.

which was manning posi-

tions in the Westwall — the line of bunkers built on the German side — went on with its combat training. The battalion was regularly employed in the front lines. The single outstanding event from this period, which resulted in the award of the Iron Cross, Second Class to Hptm. Grell, Lt. Goeldel, Uffz. Kaufmann, Uffz. Torhauer and Uffz. Luer, was Operation Ransbacher Berg (Westwall), which is included in the official record. The decoration certificates bear the signature of the Commander-in-Chief of the First Army, General der Infanterie von Witzleben, dated 25 September 1939.

The time in the Westwall for the Infanterie-Sturm- Lehr-Batail-

lon — as it called itself — came to an end on 8 and 9 October 1939 when it returned to Döberitz—Olympic Village. Soon after its return, Obstlt. Garski announced that it was to be incorporated as III Battalion of the Infantry Regiment GROSSDEUTSCHLAND, which was then being formed. In doing so, he pointed out the associated responsibility to everyone. From then on, as an outward sign of their new unit, a white stripe was worn on their shoulder straps. All the preparations needed to carry out this order were completed. The former Wachtruppe Berlin joined with the elements of the Infanterie-Lehrregiment which had already seen some combat to

1

form

October 1939.

Infanterie-Regiment

GROSSDEUTSCHLAND,

The Infanterie-Lehr-Sturmbataillon,

the

Infanterie-Regiment

GROSSDEUTSCHLAND.

It

was

32

Chapter Four

Reorganisation of the Wachregiment

In the Moabit barracks, where the Wachregiment Berlin was housed, there was great activity. A so-called "formation head- quarters" under the direction of the future regimental commander Oberst von Stockhausen, assisted by Hptm. Beckschäfer and Major Krüger, as well as the motor-vehicle specialist Government Surveyor Dr. Nielsen and Chief-Inspector Biesinger were initiating the first steps toward the reorganisation of the unit. First of all, steps were taken to bring the companies back up to strength; requisitions were sent out for the appropriate personnel. The government surveyor concerned himself with vehicles — which gave rise to speculation that they had a motorised regiment in mind. Some of the first vehicles to arrive were initially parked in temporary shelters such as the barracks in Döberitz and in buildings on Rathenower Straß which were under renovation. Field kitchens, equipment, weapons and other articles were requisitioned so that the regiment, which had to reckon on seeing action at the front, would be ready for the field and equipped with the appropriate rear echelon units. At this time the regiment's personnel complement was as follows:

Regimental Headquarters Commanding officer Adjutant Staff Hauptmann lb Ila

Ic/mob.

Doctor

Medical Assistant

Music

IVa

Rgt. Clerk

Rgt. Bugler

Senior NCO

33

Oberst von Stockhausen Major Feyerabend Hauptmann Beckschäfer Major von Boguslawski Hauptmann Landgraf Hauptmann Dr. Iffert (also leader of HQ personnel) Stabsarzt Dr. Krummacher Sanitäter Feldwebel Speer Stab-Musikmeister Ahlers Musikmeister Grosch Stabszahlmeister Bischoff — until the Mosel (Western Campaign), then replaced by Stabszahlmeister Low, who remained until GD Division formation in 1942. Oberfeldwebel Sense Feldwebel Teubig Hauptfeldwebel Kampka

1st Company

Commander

Hauptmann Wolkewitz

Senior NCO

Hauptfeldwebel Schöttler

2nd Company

Commander

Major v. d. Lancken

Senior NCO

Hauptfeldwebel Pflug

3rd Company

Commander

Major Krüger

Senior NCO

Hauptfeldwebel Fromm

4th Company

Commander

Major von Rheinbaben

Senior NCO

Hauptfeldwebel Werner

5th Company

Commander

Major Frotscher

Senior NCO

Hauptfeldwebel Waldmann

6th Company

Commander

Major Aschen

Senior NCO

Hauptfeldwebel Fuhrmann

7th Company

Commander

Hauptmann Graf

Senior NCO

Hauptfeldwebel Manz

8th Company

Commander

Hauptmann Ewert

Senior NCO

Hauptfeldwebel Wellmann

There were no significant changes among the unit's personnel prior to the outbreak of war on 1 September 1939. An eventful day for the new regiment was 14 June 1939 when a great parade formation was drawn up on the Moabit barrack grounds. The companies stood in dress uniform, while in the background was a model of their future barracks. Around them stood other units of the German Wehrmacht, the Commanding General of III Army Corps General der Artillerie Haase, the Lord Mayor of Berlin Dr. Lippert, and Generalinspekteur Speer. Amid a hushed silence, Generalleutnant Seifert, the City Commandant of Berlin, read out the document bestowing the title GROSSDEUTSCH- LAND. After the playing of the national anthem by the band, Generalleutnant Seifert reviewed the troops accompanied by the regiment's commanding officer. The work of creating the new regiment went on; guidelines were issued for the recruiting of volunteers. These prescribed a minimum height, a good name, no eyeglasses, as well as a four- year tour of duty. A new parade uniform was designed to outwardly distinguish the regiment. The first new arrivals appeared; mostly they were still instructors, but soon volunteers began to appear as well. For example, the following men who had applied in Berlin joined 4th Comp./I.R. GD — as it was designated in abbreviated form — from 1st Comp./I2t h Inf.Rgt.:

34

Gefr. Lehmann

later Feldwebel

Gefr. Lippold

later Wachmeister

Gefr. Kalinowski

later Fahnenjunker-Ober-

Gefr. Ihle

feldwebel (KIA) later Oberfeldwebel

Gefr. Gerber

later Feldwebel

Schütze Keller

later Stabsgefreiter

Schütze Gottbehüt

later Stabsgefreiter (KIA)

It was now August 1939. Some of the companies were rearranged, company numbers changed and transfers were the order of the day.

Otherwise, nothing significant took place in Moabit. Part of 3rd Company was detached to Wach-Bataillon 63 in Zossen to guard

Wehrmacht which was accommodated

there. However, it had returned to Moabit by 9 October. Nothing more was heard of the new uniforms which had been promised for the regiment. The approaching conflict made them seem irrelevant. The cuff title which had been decreed by the H.V. Blatt of 27 June 1939, which was to be of green fabric with German script sewn in silver thread and worn on the lower right sleeve, had also not yet appeared. And then came the outbreak of war which many had expected. Even the I.R. GD — still in the midst of reorganisation and thus scarcely prepared for war — was placed on alert. Air raid trenches were dug in the barracks square, passes to the city were cancelled, uniforms were drawn from clothing stores; all civilian articles had to be sent home. There was a considerable blow to morale when word leaked out that I.R. GD would stay at home, carry on with its duties and continue its reorganisation.

the

Oberkommando

der

But on 6 September 1939, the sixth day of the war with Poland, it became known that the I.R. GD was to take part in the Polish Campaign as an air-landed unit. The regiment was immediately reorganised into a field unit. Two battalions were formed: I Battalion under Major Graf von Schwerin, who was transferred to the regiment for this purpose, and II Battalion under Major von der Lancken. The new field unit entrained at the Lehrter Station from the 7th to the 1 Oth of September. It lacked the equipment for operational use and was short on experience; enthusiasm was to make up for these shortcomings. A new weapon was received in the form of the Panzerbüchse 38. Designed as an anti- tank weapon for the infantry, this anti-tank rifle was of 2.8-cm calibre, narrowing to 2.2-cm at the front. It was accurate up to 250 metres. The infantry also received the until now secret smkh armour-piercing machine gun and rifle ammunition.

35

Trips to the front by the "Führer-Begleit-Kommando" during the Polish Campaign 1939. 36

Trips to the front by the "Führer-Begleit-Kommando" during the Polish Campaign 1939.

36

Events were to result in the cancellation of the planned air landing operation, however. The advance into eastern Poland by the Soviets made the operation unnecessary. On the 17th and 18th of Septem- ber, after the special rations had been used up by the men, they set out on the return trip to Berlin. They had spent ten days in the Sorau—Sagan area in Silesia. The 5th (Heavy) Company arrived in Berlin at approximately 21.00. It was greeted at the station by a band and was feted by the citizens of Berlin. Three "Sieg Heils " rang out and as one participant wrote, "It was well that it was night, otherwise we would have been embarrassed; we had not seen any action!" After the regiment's return to its garrison the reorganisation was resumed with a degree of urgency. I Battalion/I.R. GD was formed and fully motorised. The remaining elements of the regiment were sent to the Infanterie- Lehrregiment in Döberitz where they received their combat training. On 1 October 1939, with the Polish Campaign coming to an end, the initial organisation of the new Infanterie-Regiment GROSS- DEUTSCHLAND was as follows:

I.R. GD Commanding Officer Oberst von Stockhausen Regimental Headquarters with signals platoon and band, motorcycle platoon

I Battalio n formed from elements of the Wachregiment Headquarters with signals section 1st-3rd (Rifle) Companies 4th (Machine Gun) Company Heavy mixed Company

II Battalion formed from II Battalion/92nd Inf.Rgt. Headquarters with signals section 5th-7th (Rifle) Companies 8th (Machine Gun) Company Heavy mixed Company

III Battalion formed mainly from Inf.Lehr.Rgt. Headquarters with signals section 9th-11th (Rifle) Companies 12th (Machine Gun) Company Heavy mixed Company

37

IV Battalion formed mainly from Inf.Lehr.Rgt. Headquarters with signals section 13th (Light Infantry Gun) Company 14th (Anti-Tank) Company 15th (Heavy Infantry Gun) Company Not all of the companies had achieved their desired forms, as in the case of the 15th (Hvy.Inf.Gun) Company, which had been created from elements of the 7th Company/Wachregiment and the 13th Company/Inf.Lehr.Rgt. and was equipped with four heavy infantry guns. In September, while the Infantry Regiment GROSSDEUTSCH- LAND was still preparing for the operation in Poland, orders were issued for further honour-guard and watch duties in Berlin. While most of the former Wachregiment Berlin had been incorporated into the new GD Regiment, a small portion of the unit, amounting to no more than one hundred men, had remained behind in the capital. From then on these men, together with several additional replacement personnel, formed the Wach-Kompanie Berlin under the command of Hauptmann von Bölkow. Joining the company was the former 2nd Music Corps of the Wachregiment under Musik- meister Grosch. Various guards — such as at the government ministries — were withdrawn, as the company could only attend to the most important duties. Preparations were made for the creation

of a new battalion, resulting on 1 April 1940 in the appearance of

the

itself

did not see action in Poland, some of its members did take part. As mentioned earlier, in 1938 the former Wachregiment Berlin was given the duty of maintaining a special unit, code-named "Führer-Reise", to guard the Supreme Commander during travel outside the country. The responsibility for this task had been passed on to I.R. GD. In August 1939 a motorised section was detailed from the 7th and 8th Companies which, when alerted, was to stand ready to carry out the job of guarding Hitler. Appropriate preparations such as the assembly of vehicles and the distribution of special recognition markings with the text "Mil. Stab des Führers" (The Führer's Military Staff) had been made when, on 23 August 1939, a few days before X-Day, the unit was summoned from Moabit:

"Führer-Begleit-Kommando assemble immediately and stand ready!" Kübel passenger cars and Opel trucks were readied, loading exercises began and the vehicles were outfitted — everything hap- pening in a rather hurried fashion. Subsequently the reinforced platoon assembled on the open square of the Moabit drill grounds

Wachbataillon

the

Berlin.

While

Infanterie-Regiment

GROSSDEUTSCHLAND

38

where it was greeted by the Kommando's first commander, Oberst Rommel. In a brief address he outlined the unit's task. It was the unit of the army which was to escort and guard the Supreme Com- mander. Thus, the army took over the role of guarding the Supreme Commander and his headquarters and continued to do so until the end of 1944. The guards were provided by the Infantry Regiment

GROSSDEUTSCHLAND

which emerged from it. Two platoons were formed for this "Führer-Begìeit- Komman-

do":

Führer-Begleit-Bataiìlon

and

the

later

1st Platoon (formed from 7th Company) — Lt. Schneider 2nd Platoon (formed from 8th Company) — Lt. Rössert

The Senior NC O of this roughly company-sized unit was Hauptfeldwebel Schöttler. Other members of the unit included Lt. Grundmann, Feldwebeln Knauf, Lindner, Remsmeier and Hodes — mostly from II Platoon — and many others. The men employed in this role were hand-picked. By the end of the month, as a result of experience in the Sudetenland, the Kommando was expanded. Added were:

an anti-tank platoon with 3.7 cm Pak

a 2-cm Flak platoon with Vierlinge (quadruple guns) an armoured car platoon

a railway Flak platoon with 2-cm Vierlinge

The entire Kommando was taken over by Major von Rohden when Oberst Rommel became the first commander of the Führer-

Hauptquartier

(FHQu).

On 24 August 1939 the Rössert Platoon began the drive to Stettin and Bad Polzin. After a further move the platoon took over the task of guarding Hitler's special train in Groß-Born, where his head- quarters were located during the first phase of the Polish Campaign. The basic duties of the Führer-Begleit-Kommando were divided among guarding and ensuring the security of Hitler's special train and his headquarters and providing an escort and security for Hitler during trips to the front. Among the trips to the front was one from Groß-Born to the Tucheler Heath, where Hitler visited with his troops. Another trip to the front took place on 12 September 1939 from Oppeln, Silesia, to where the Führer-Begleit-Kommando had transferred in the meantime. It was at this time that the cuff titles appeared; they featured the title Führerhauptquartier in silver-white script on a green back- ground. Generally, however, they were not worn while on escort duties.

39

On 19 September, following a stop in Berlin, the Kommando moved to Lauenburg in Pomerania to continue its escort duties. The Führer Hauptquartier (FHQu), which had been set up in the meantime, was taken charge of by Oberst Rommel together with the

command of the Begleit-Kommando.

Also belonging to the FHQu were the three Wehrmacht adjutants, namely: the Army Adjutant to the Führer, Hptm. Engel; the Naval Adjutant to the Führer, Korvettenkapitän von Puttkamer; and the Luftwaffe Adjutant to the Führer, Hptm. von Below. Obstlt. Schmundt became the Chief Adjutant. On 21 September, following the fall of Oxhöft, near Gdingen, part of the Begleit-Kommando moved to Zoppot. The men were quartered in the Hotel Victoria where they stayed in style in single and double rooms. The guardroom was in the Japanese tea room, where, as the saying went, "You could let yourself live for a while," as did the soldiers of the platoon. Hitler stayed in the Casino Hotel, in front of which stood an honour

guard of the Begleit-Kommando.

Directly in front of the Casino Hotel in which Hitler was staying lay the Hela peninsula, which at that time was stíll in enemy hands. German warships kept up a steady bombardment of the fortifica- tions, in the course of which they occasionally passed in front of the hotel — a unique spectacle! The stay in Zoppot came to an end on 29 September and the Führer-Begleit-Kommando returned to Berlin. The unit did not rejoin the regiment, however. Instead it moved into the Hermann Goring Barracks in Berlin-Reinickendorf as a separate unit, although it was still part of the GD. There began the immediate expansion of the Kommando into a guard company under the command of Hauptmann Kolbeck, who came from the Wiener Neustadt Military Academy. A further platoon was incorporated into the company under platoon leader Leutnant Kraussold.

The following is an excerpt from the front-line newspaper "Der

Westwall-Bote":

"Following the return of the FHQu from the Eastern Theatre, the Führer-Begleit-Bataillon was formed from the units of the Wehrmacht which had provided military protection for the Führer during visits to the front. The Führer and Supreme Commander bestowed upon the battalion the standard carrying the Führer emblem and the national emblem of the Reich."

It was 1 October 1939.

40

Part II

THE WAR IN THE WEST

Chapter One

I.R.

GROSSDEUTSCHLAND Leaves Berlin

1. 10.—

5. 11. 39

Employment in the homeland war zone.

6. 11.—

9.

5. 40

Employment in the operations area of the Western Front.

The occupation of Poland was formally decided in the German- Russian Border and Friendship Pact of 28 September 1939. The respective forces occupied Polish territory up to the demarcation line between German and Russian territory which had been laid down in August. As a result, the German frontier of 1914 was pushed forward to the gates of Warsaw, and the area as far as Litzmannstadt (the old German province of Posen) was incorporated into the Warthe District. Germany and Russia had now become direct neighbours and both states were careful not to injure the interests of the other. The Germans soon stripped the East of troops except for several police and occupation units. The civilian government took over the Reich's interests in these areas. While the Allies wished to sustain the existing state suspended between peace and war, Hitler was making new plans. Emboldened by his lightning victory in Poland, he decided to attack the West as soon as possible. Hitler declared his intentions in an order from 9 October 1939:

"If it should become apparent in the near future that England and France are unwilling to end the war, I am determined to take the offensive without waiting for too much time to pass." Despite the objections of the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, Hitler had the General Staff draw up 'Deployment Order Yellow," which he issued on 29 October 1939. A-Day was fixed as 7

41

November 1939. Weather conditions, the transport situation and objections from the General Staff—which subsequently led to chan- ges in the plan (also caused by discovery of the German deployment plans by the Allies)—led to twelve postponements of the attack date by early 1940. In the barracks of the former Wachregiment Berlin, in which the now reorganised Infantry Regiment GROSSDEUTSCHLAND was quartered, there was a great deal of activity. New personnel were arriving from every direction, the companies were slowly gaining character and form and the training program — especially combat and weapons training — was accelerating, sometimes to the discom- fort of the old parade soldiers of the Wachregiment. Driver training was conducted on the streets of Berlin with the help of civilian driving instructors, while the first of the new field vehicles had begun to arrive. It was at this time that the regiment's first tactical symbol appeared: the white Stahlhelm, an idea of the regiment's com- mander, was soon to be seen on the vehicles of the regimental headquarters. Measures were taken to build the regiment's morale, rousing its fighting spirit and stimulating its esprit de corps.

Frequent exchanges took place between the I.R. GD and the Infanterie-Lehrregimentìn Döberitz, where it was already common knowledge that elements of the unit had been earmarked to fill out the I.R. GD. Whole platoons and companies of the I.R. GD were sent to Döberitz for fourteen days to learn the secrets of infantry combat from the expert personnel of the Lehrregiment. The troops were trained on new weapons and a great deal of sweat was spilled on the sand of the "back slopes" of the Döberitz training grounds. On 21 October 1939 the units of the Infantry Regiment GROSS- DEUTSCHLAND which had been formed from the Wachregiment left their barracks in Moabit, Berlin. Travelling partly by rail and partly by motor vehicle, the regiment was transferred to the Grafenwöhr troop training grounds. Although no one could have suspected at that time, the regiment was not to return to its garrison again. Two other units were on the roads of Germany at about the same time, also heading for Grafenwöhr: the Garski Battalion of the Infanterie-Lehrregiment and II Battalion of the 92nd Infantry Regiment under its Commander Obstlt. Doege. The latter unit came from the 2nd Infantry Division, which was stationed in the Greifswald area. It was to become the new II Btl./I.R. GD . Its organisation on 21 October 1939 was as follows:

II/I.R. 92 Commanding Officer:

Obstlt. Doege

Adjutant:

Obit. Brockmann

Executive Officer:

Obit. Beug

Headquarters Commander:

Obit. Pankow

42 A O

5th (Rifle) Company:

Platoon Leader:

6th (Rifle) Company:

Platoon Leader:

7th (Rifle) Company:

Platoon Leader:

8th (Machine Gun) Company:

Senior NCO:

Hptm. von Schlüter Lt. Schulz Obit, von Courbière Lt. Prachowski Hptm. Felsch Lt. Wackernagel Hptm. Toode, later Obit. Bethke Hptfw. Maritzen

The units of the new Infantry Regiment GROSSDEUTSCHLAND were organised as follows:

Regimental headquarters with signals platoon, band and small vehicle column I—III Battalions each with 3 rifle companies, each rifle company with 12 sections, each platoon equipped with 1 light mortar Machine gun companies equipped with 12 heavy MGs and 6 heavy mortars lV (Heavy) Battalion with: 13th (Light Infantry Gun) Company with 6 light infantry guns. 14th (Anti-Tank) Company with 12 - 3.7- cm Pak 15th (Heavy Infantry Gun) Company with 4 heavy infantry guns.

The regiment was transported in Opel-Blitz trucks; the 13th and 14th Companies had medium trucks for transporting personnel and guns, while the 15th (Hvy.Inf.Gun) Company was equipped with light gun tractors. The fields were already covered with snow when the units arrived, and the camp barracks — like the west camp at Bernreuth, where the 15th (Hvy.Inf.Gun) Company was billeted — were cold. The companies quickly settled in, however, and were soon engaged in combat training on the magnificent practice range. The soldiers were on the range almost daily, even though it rained heavily and the loamy soil became very soft. Weapons firing with live ammunition was a common exercise. The regiment obviously held a preferred place in the High Command's plans for the attack in the West. The oft-repeated attack exercises against fortified field positions clearly pointed in this direction. The companies were brought up to full combat strength which now amounted to 204 men, including officers. The regiment's vehicle strength was also approaching authorised levels. The 8th Company, for example, had the following on strength:

8th Company

each section

1 Opel-Blitz truck — each platoon 4 trucks.

1 Opel-Blitz truck — for the light mortar crew

1 Opel-Blitz truck — for the anti-tank rifle crew

43

TACTICAL SYMBOLS OF ELEMENTS OF THE I.R. GD 44

TACTICAL SYMBOLS OF ELEMENTS OF THE I.R. GD

44

in addition:

1 command car (Kübel) with company commander

1 rations truck

1 munitions truck

1 fuel truck

As the combat exercises were repeated at battalion level the men, despite the difficulty of the service, grew into a fighting team. Typical was 12th Section of 1st Company, which consisted of the following crew :

u

M

Section leader:

Uffz. Hodes

Section:

Gefr. Seifert, Lauer, Clauss Grenadiers Gasch, Hagen, Petri, Wolff, Späh

The training period was now coming to an end, however; plans for the attack in the West were taking shape. The regiment moved into the operations area of the Western Front. The departure order for 6 November 1939, which detailed the move into the Westerwald, arrived on the evening of 5 November. In the dark of night the companies and battalions drove through Bayreuth, Bamberg, Würzburg, Hanau and Wetzlar into the area around Montabaur. The 10th Company was involved in a tragic motor vehicle accident en route, in which Unteroffizier Töpfer was killed. Accommodations were soon arranged, mostly in private quarters. While the regimental headquarters was billeted in Mon- tabaur itself along with part of IV (Heavy) Battalion, I Battalion occupied quarters in Westerburg, with 1st Company in Wilmenrod (later Salz) and 2nd Company in Berzahn. Ill Battalion set up its command post in Wirges, while its companies were nearby, with, for example, 11th Company in Sinshahn and the 12th Company in Bannerscheid. In the Westerwald training went on despite bitter cold and heavy snowfalls. The troops practised an advance in winter conditions and spent nights in the open, even though the only winter clothing they had was their long greatcoats. 11 November is especially well remembered, as this was the coldest day, with a temperature of minus 28 degrees. For a change of routine the troops shovelled snow to keep the roads open in the rear operations area. Regular company parties as well as evenings with local residents brought a change as well as an opportunity to relax. Indeed, relations with the local population were so warm that, in some cases, they lasted beyond the end of the war. In those weeks the I.R. GD was joined by a new unit. The 43rd Sturm-Pionier Battalion was attached to the regiment for present and future duties. The battalion had already made a name for itself in Poland as the following account shows:

45

"Corps-Pi.Btl. 43, III Army Corps' Pionier Battalion, originated in peacetime from Pionier-Btl. 3, Küstrin, and Pionier-Btl. 4, Mag- deburg, and was stationed in Brandenburg, Havel. As of about February 1935 it was fully motorised. Its commander from 1 April 1936 was Major — later Obstlt. — Mahler, who was killed in action near Chemery on 15 May 1940. He was undoubtedly one of the pioniers of the idea of one day incorporating the Pionier-Btl. in

GROSSDEUTSCHLAND.-

During the Polish Campaign the battalion's 2nd Company so distinguished itself in the storming of the fortress of Brest- Litovsk that, on orders from the OKH , the battalion was awarded the name Sturm-Pionier-Btl. 43. After carrying out special assault training on replicas of Maginot Line fortifications in Dessau-Rosslau, it joined the I.R. GD in the area of Selters, Westerwald." The Christmas season was approaching and in all quarters preparations were made for the first Christmas of the war. Religious services were held in the field to prepare the troops for the approach- ing holiday. Particularly impressive was the service in the Limburger Cathedral. A special event for the regiment took place on 23 December 1939 when the Supreme Commander (Adolf Hitler), on a visit to the front, arrived in Montabaur to take part in the Christmas celebrations there. He was escorted by units of the Führer-Begleit-Bataillon, which had originated from the same regiment that was celebrating Christmas in the Westerwald. On Christmas Eve the companies and battalions joined for a common celebration. As usual with soldiers, the most important item of the celebration was the food. Here is the III Battalion's menu:

Menu:

Monday: Boiled potatoes — in open order, with rouladen as look-outs, screened by sauerkraut. Tuesday: Potatoes, meat balls in a shallow rifle pit, cucumber salad as ground cover. Wednesday: Beef — camouflaged with rice. Thursday: Complex terrain vegetables. Friday: Potatoes in fatigue uniforms and puttees (rollmops). Saturday: Beans with smoked meat in a skirmishing line ( 8 meters spacing). Sunday: Potatoes, single Bratwurst, silhouetted sharply against the horizon.

The year 1940, which began with snow and even colder tempera- tures, saw the regiment still in its quarters in the Westerwald around the city of Montabaur. Following the break for the Christmas holidays, which saw light duties on New Year's Day — at least for the 6th Company — preparations by the entire regiment for the

46

coming action were pushed ahead with new enthusiasm. Despite the snow, the 11th Company under Hptm. Krüger organised route-mar- ches to toughen the troops. On 18 January 1940 the 11th Company carried out an exercise with white- painted tanks to test the effec- tiveness of the winter camouflage. In the meantime tactical symbols appeared on all of the regiment's vehicles, consisting of the white Stahlhelm on backgrounds of various colours. The symbols served to distinguish the various units and were the result of experience in Poland. In preparation for X-Day (the attack date) the regiment, which until now had been in the rear operations area of the Western front, was moved forward. This began, in deep snow, on 29 January 1940 with

a move from the Montabaur area to the Mosel and into the Hunsrück

area. The move was carried out for the most part by motor vehicle through Koblenz-Geisfeld (near Trier) in the direction of the Hunsrück or through Koblenz along the Mosel valley. The headquarters of the I.R. GD took up quarters in Zell on the

Mosel, I Battalion in Neef on the Mosel, III Battalion in the Hunsrück villages of Biebern and Pülter, and IV Battalion in Merl and Zell on the Mosel. While the 11th Company of III Battalion had to shovel its way into the village, the more mobile 14th (Pz.Jäg.) Compan y simply drove into Merl on the Mosel in its vehicles. The villages, especially those on the Mosel, were jammed with troops and units;

it was difficult to find room for them all.

Even though the companies' accommodations were almost as basic as those in the field — the 11th Company, for example, slept on straw mattresses — they soon resumed normal duties, even though they began by shovelling snow. More and more all measures were directed towards preparing the regiment for its special role — an attack through fortified positions. Map exercises were held regularly at the regimental and battalion headquarters, with all available sources of information such as slides, maps and aerial photographs providing the necessary realism. There was also a continuous flow of fortifications maps from the northern wing of the Maginot Line and the Meuse near Sedan, as well as border fortifications on the Belgian and Luxemburg borders, which were immediately analyzed. The regiment was informed of its planned assignment in the first phase of the attack which, briefly, was to smash a breach through Luxemburg and the Belgian fortifica- tions for the tanks which were to follow. The assignment was reflected in the following teletype from the Army's Operations Department received on 11 November 1939:

47

COMMAND MATTER

Only to be Viewed by Officers!

Oberkommando des Heeres

Gen.St.d.H. Operations-Abt. (Ia) Nr. 44 485/39 g. Kdos.

H.Qu. OKH, 11. 11. 39

Secret Command Matter!

10 copies

5th

copyTeletype (with copies dispatched) To

Heeresgruppenkommando A Heeresgruppenkommando B

The Führer has issued the following order:

"A third group of fast units will be formed on the south wing of the Twelfth or in the sector of the Sixteenth Army and, taking advantage of the forest-free sector on both sides of Arlons— Tintig- ny—Florenville, will be committed in the direction of Sedan and east.

Composition:

Headquarters XIX Army Corps 2nd and 10th Panzer Divisions 1st Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler and:

Rgt. Grossdeutschland.

The assignment of this group shall be:

a) To smash enemy mobile forces which have been moved forward into southern Belgium and, in so doing, ease the tasks of the Twelfth and Sixteenth Armies.

b) To take the west bank of the Meuse near and east of Sedan by surprise attack and thus create favourable conditions for the continuation of the operation, especially in the case that the Panzer units committed by the Sixth and Fourth Armies should not have a decisive impact there."

In carrying out this order it is directed that:

1. The units be committed under a centralised command. Army

Group A will report the disposition of forces and distribution of assignments in detail.

2. The following will leave the formation of Army Group B and will be attached to Army Group A:

a) : :-: : Corps Headquarters XIX Pz.A.K. with corps units.

48

Like all of the other units in the first wave, the I.R. GROSS- DEUTSCHLAND received information concerning new fortifica- tions on the Allied side of the frontier as they were discovered by aerial reconnaissance. The steady flow of new information was processed and the bunkers and defensive positions were entered on the unit's maps. The resulting overall picture gave rise to mild anxiety, as the extent of the installations appeared to be considerable. A map exercise took place sometime in February 1940 at the H.Q . of XI X Pz.A.K. in Koblenz under the direction of its commander, General Guderian, who was slated to lead the armoured breakthrough group. Guderian informed the commander of the I.R. GD, Obstlt. Graf von Schwerin, that his regiment's role would be to smash a breach through the enemy fortifications and that his - - Guderian's — Panzers would stream forward through this gap during the night. GD would then follow the next morning. From this remark Graf von Schwerin determined that not only was GD to be given the task of piercing the fortifications, but also that of pursuing the enemy deep into the interior. He was not convinced that the Panzer units would be able to catch up during the night. Graf von Schwerin countered Guderian's reply that, according to his experiences in Poland, the infantry slept during the night and advanced no farther, with a wager of a crate of champagne that such would not be the case with GD.— In fact, the infantry got through the fortifications and reached the Meuse ahead of the Panzer units.

Special measures were taken in connection with these intensive preparations which affected the I.R. GD . Elements of III Battalion under the command of Obstlt. Garski — including the battalion's 11th Company and elements of Sturm-Pi.Btl. 43 — were transferred on 28 February by rail to Crailsheim, where they were quartered on the local airfield. These units were earmarked for a special operation bearing the name "NIWI," which was to consist of airborne landings behind the Belgian line of fortifications. No one knew any more details about the operation. Som e indication of its nature was gained when practice flights in Fieseler Storch aircraft began in the early days of March 1940. On 9 March General der Flieger Sperrle watched one of the company's exercises.

Meanwhile, on the Mosel, the regiment continued to practise, train and conduct ma p exercises. The unit's organisation was also im- proved; Regimental Order No. 49 of 4 March 1940 gave the fol- lowing instructions under heading No. 4:

Regiment Abteilung lb Effective 5. 3. 1940, all sections of the regimental H.Q . which deal with the area of supply will be concentrated in Section lb (Abteilung lb). Leader of this section: Hauptmann Gericke.

49

In April 1940 there were increasing signs that the unit would soon

see action. There were many indications that the date of the attack was not far off. On 4 April Sturm-Batterie 640 arrived and was incorporated into

IV Battalion as the 16th Company. Equipped with six assault guns

armed with short-barrelled 7.5-cm cannon, the battery represented

a considerable amount of firepower in the attack as well as the

defence, especially against tank attack. The battery had been sent to the GD Regiment at the suggestion of Oberst Schmundt, Chief Adjutant to the Supreme Commander, after the Leibstandarte SS

Adolf Hitler, the first regiment of the Waffen-SS, was promised an assault gun battery. On 10 April 1940 the commanding general of XIX Pz.A.K., General Guderian, appeared in person to assess the I.R. GD's state

of training. I Battalion, supported by heavy weapons (including the

heavy infantry guns of 15th Company), conducted live firing near Tellich. The demonstration went well, much to the satisfaction of the Panzer General. In his address to the troops Guderian stated:

"The tasks which await the regiment are great! — They will bring

it days of uninterrupted driving and fighting, without rest, without

sufficient food. A piece of army bread, some Schokacola and a canteen of coffee will have to suffice. After a victorious breakthrough following a successful battle there can simply be no halt or rest, — we must maintain our pursuit of the enemy to prevent him from settling in somewhere else! — That would only cost new sacrifices, which should be avoided as much as possible."

His words were simple and clear; the regiment and its soldiers understood them only too well. Preparation down to the last detail was the answer to Guderian's address.

River crossing exercises using assault boats of the nearby Sturm- Pionier-Btl. 43 alternated with practice assaults on bunkers with close-range weapons including, for the first time, magnetic hollow charges. The newly-arrived assault gun battery, the 16th Company, demonstrated its ability, participating in joint infantry-tank exercises. Meanwhile, the elements of III Battalion which had been detached

to Crailsheim, in particular the 11th Company, returned to the Mosel

via Baumholder, where they resumed their training activities with the regiment's other companies.

May arrived; morale in the GROSSDEUTSCHLAND Regiment was at its highest, the headquarters and operations sections were working flat out, everything was leading up to the day of the attack.

50

The French Build-up and the German attack plan as seen by the French on 9

The French Build-up and the German attack plan as seen by the French on 9 May 1940.

German preparations for the attack on 9 May 1940.
German preparations for
the attack on 9 May 1940.

51

Chapter Two

In the Homeland

In the shadow of larger events taking place elsewhere, but no less

a part of the unit, the Wachkompanie Berlin continued to carry out

its duties. It consolidated its internal structure in an attempt to once again become something like a parade unit and provided, albeit with

a limited number of sentries, security for the Berlin headquarters. On 1 April 1940 the Wachkompanie Berlin was expanded to become the Wachbataillon Berlin. This move brought some recog- nition for the work it had been quietly carrying out, and showed that, in spite of the war, the unit had important duties to perform. In Moabit the Wachbataillon Berlin continued to occupy the quarters of the Infantry Regiment GROSSDEUTSCHLAND, which was in the field, and expanded its establishment to a headquarters company and six infantry companies. The officer complement of the battalion headquarters was as

follows:

Commanding Officer:

Major von Boguslawski

Adjutant:

Hauptmann Frotscher

IVa:

Stabszahlmeister Bischoff

IVb:

Oberstabsarzt Dr. Zeidler

Band:

Musikmeister Guido Grosch

Commander H.Q. Company:

Hauptmann Kühn

This battalion tried to carry on the traditions of the regiment and there was a continuous exchange of officers, NCOs and men. Soldiers passing through Berlin while on leave and convalescents were made welcome, and the needs of the wounded in Berlin were seen to. The somewhat boring nature of the duty and the almost unchang- ing routine in Berlin contrasted sharply with the almost ceaseless

activity of the Führer-Begleit-Bataillon, a sister unit of the Wach-

bataillon Berlin and the I.R. GD. While, in autumn 1939, expansion of the battalion was going ahead at full speed — the 2nd Company had already been formed — the weeks of the Christmas season of 1939 brought little rest for the unit. The battalion, whose duties consisted of providing security for the headquarters and furnishing escorts during visits to the front, usually remained idle while the Supreme Commander was staying in Berlin. However, the 1st Watch Company received a special assignment and had to make a difficult

52

road journey from Berlin-Reinickendorf through Braunschweig, Of- fenbach, Frankfurt/Main and Kaiserslautern to Hasloch. Driving conditions were poor as the roads were covered with ice and snow. On 24 December 1939, Hitler visited the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler in its quarters in Hasloch to share in the unit's Christmas celebrations. The 1st Watch Company of the Führer-Begleit-Batail- lon provided security. The battalion also had to provide detachments for duties such as guarding special trains. Separate from these detachments was a special detachment which accompanied construction battalions of the Todt Organisation which were constructing permanent headquarters whose installations and facilities required constant supervision. The locations of these instal- lations — which were designated as "objects" — provided an initial indication of Hitler's intentions for the immediate future. The sites were therefore top secret, and for that reason alone they demanded constant guarding, even during construction. One such site was Objekt Grünberg in Hesse, which was later occupied by the Army High Command. Under construction was the headquarters in Münstereifel, designated Installation W O, cover name Objekt Felsennest. Elements of the Watch Companies were stationed there in early 1939, in rotation with guards at the

Reichskanzlei.

In about April of 1940, Oberst Rommel left his post as commander of the Führer Headquarters, which he had set up, to take command of a division (the 7th Panzer Division) before the beginning of the attack in the West. An exchange of officers took place at the same time, as some of those in the headquarters reported back to their units prior to the attack in the West. This applied in particular to the I.R. GROSSDEUTSCHLAND, which had supplied the bulk of the headquarters' officers, NCOs and men. Among these were Ober- leutnants Rössert and Schneider, who had led the 1st Platoon of the Begleit-Kommando since 1939. The two went to Neuruppin, while others reported directly back to the regiment.

After the outbreak of war had become a fait accompli in September 1939, those active and therefore immediately available units were moved to the front. In the course of mobilisation new contingents were raised, uniformed, armed and trained in weapons and combat tactics. The replacement units which remained behind in Germany had to take over important duties. With the departure of the active regi- ments these were raised at their garrisons, for the most part from cadre units, men left behind and instructors specially detached for that purpose. It was in every regiment's interests not to leave inferior units behind in Germany, and through a continuous exchange of combat-experienced soldiers they ensured that the replacements received training which approximated conditions at the front.

53

When war broke out, however, some of the recently-formed units

did not yet have such replacement units at their disposal. On e such unit was the I.R. GROSSDEUTSCHLAND, along with its sister

units the

In November 1939, at the instigation of the regiment, Infanterie- Ersatz-Bataillon (mot.) 99 was formed in Neuruppin. Approximate- ly one hundred men drawn from various Army units came to Neuruppin where they were received by NCOs of the 4th Rifle Regiment, which was the unit responsible for the formation of the new battalion. After a brief period under an unidentified commanding officer, Major Toode, previously of the 8th Company/ Wach regi- ment Berlin, took command of the battalion. As the flow of transports increased, the soldiers were trained for six to eight weeks, and those who could not meet the standards of the I.R. GD were sent back. The others were once again asked whether they definitely wished to remain with GD.

In the meantime, Hptm. Wolkewitz took over the 2nd Training Company. The basis for training incoming volunteers to the GD's standards had been established. The battalion was organised as follows:

Wachkompanie Berlin and the Führer-Begleit-Bataillon.

"See-Kaseme" 1st and 2nd Training Companies — for infantry replacements.

"Friedrich-Franz-Kaserne" Headquarters and 3rd and 4th Training Companies Heavy Train- ing Company — for heavy MG, heavy mortar, 3.7-cm Pak, light infantry gun, heavy infantry gun.

Joining 4th Company soon afterward was the Reich Youth Leader, Baldur von Schirach, who was to fulfil his compulsory military service as a non-commissioned officer candidate of the I.L.R. In doing so he provided an example for his charges, which in later years was to result in many of them entering the GD. In April 1940 a search began for volunteers for a motorcycle platoon which was being formed by the regiment, in part from the 3rd Kradschützen Battalion in Eberswalde. The first BM W motor- cycles were soon delivered from Munich. Prior to the campaign in the West, Lt. Günzel took over the new motorcycle platoon before leading it to join the regiment. The platoon caught up with the regiment shortly before the Meuse crossing and was incorporated into the regimental headquarters.

54

Chapter Three

The Day before the Attack

The German plan for the campaign against France, a modified version of "Fall Gelb" based on the Manstein Plan, foresaw the main thrust taking place through Luxembourg—Belgium toward Sedan. The decision would lay in breakthrough, not envelopment! The Meuse was to be crossed near and north of Sedan, the extended Maginot Line pierced and bridgeheads won on the west bank of the Meuse from which to continue the advance to the west. Remembering the Schlieffen Plan, the French Commander-in- Chief Gamelin expected the main thrust of the German attack to be in the direction of Antwerp. Contributing to this conviction were careful security measures on the German side, as well as rumours planted by various means in the Allied camp that the Germans were retaining a strong northern wing. In any case, it seemed highly doubtful that the Germans would attempt to send powerful armoured forces through the difficult terrain of the Ardennes. So the Allies persisted with their deployment, which saw their forces spread almost equally along the entire Eastern Front. On the German side the focus of the attack lay with Heeresgruppe A (Army Group A). The main task had fallen to the spearhead of Gen. d. Kav. von Kleist's Panzergruppe, which boasted a strength of three corps with a total of five Panzer and three motorized infantry divisions, as well as several army units including engineers and artillery. The most stalwart advocate of a concentration of armoured forces for the planned breakthrough was General Guderian, who was to play a leading role in the campaign.

Panzergruppe von Kleist was organised as follows:

XIX Pz.Corps

Gen. Guderian

1st, 2nd, 10th Panzer Divisions — with attached

XXXXI Pz.Corps

XIV Army Corps

(mot.)

Inf.Rgt.

Gen. Reinhardt 6th and 8th Panzer Divisions and 2nd Infantry Division (mot.) Gen. von Wietersheim 13th and 29th Infantry Divisions (mot.)

GROSSDEUTSCHLAND

According to the attack plan, which was based on the concepts of General Guderian, the three Panzer Divisions of XIX Pz.Corps, with the I.R. GROSSDEUTSCHLAND which was attached to the 10th

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Panzer Division, would break through the weak fortifications on the Luxembourg border and then advance westwards without delay. After piercing the Belgian frontier fortifications between Vianden and Echternach and advancing into the Florenville area, the Pan- zergruppe would wheel southwest toward Sedan and force a breakthrough of the Maginot Line. The XXXXI Pz.Corps under General Reinhardt was to follow Guderian's corps as the second blow. After clearing the Luxembourg border installations, it was to advance alongside Guderian's corps and, crossing the Meuse, break through the Maginot Line. Finally, the XIV Army Corps (mot.) was to follow as the third blow with the task of guarding Guderian's left flank near Sedan. The release of the code word for the attack did not catch GROSS- DEUTSCHLAND unprepared. The alert order came at 14.30 on the afternoon of 9 May 1940; by 18.00 the regiment's units were already leaving their former billeting area to begin the difficult night march to their jumping-off positions. The weather was extremely favourable. While the bulk of the regiment, less a planned advance battalion, drove towards the Luxembourg frontier to cross the border at Echternach as ordered, the elements of III Battalion under Obstlt. Garski earmarked for the air landing operation "NIWI" separated from the rest of the regiment before making their way to the departure airfields at Bitburg and Deckendorf. The regiment also had to release the 9th Company — less two sections — to XIX Pz.Corps as headquarters guards. At the regimental headquarters of Obstlt. Graf von Schwerin all the necessary measures were taken to ensure that the regiment's departure went smoothly. At this time the regiment was organised as follows:

Regimental

Headquarters

Commanding Officer Regimental Adjutant Staff Officer lb IVa IVb

I (Rifle)

Battalion

1st (Rifle) Company 2nd (Rifle) Company 3rd (Rifle) Company 4th (MG) Company

II (Rifle)

Battalion

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Obstlt. Graf von Schwerin Hptm. Masius Obit, von Kirchbach Hptm. Gericke Stabszahlmeister Low Stabsarzt Dr. Krummacher

Hptm. Föllmer, Obstlt. Köhler Obit. Schwarzrock Obit. Kolb Obit. Fabich, Obit. Bohrmann Obit. Hänert, Lt. Schiller

Major Föst, Major Greim, Adj. Oblt Benk

5th (Rifle) Company 6th (Rifle) Company 7th (Rifle) Company 8th (MG) Company

III (Rifle) Battalion

9th (Rifle) Company 10th (Rifle) Company 11th (Rifle) Company

12th (MG) Company

IV (Heavy) Battalion

13th (Lt.InfGun) Company 14th (Pz.Jäg) Company

15th (Hvy.Inf.Gun) Company 16th (Assault Gun) Company

Obit. Schneider Obit, von Courbière Obit. Wackernagel Obit. Bethke

Obstlt. Garski, Adj. Lt. Wentges Hptm. Westphal, Lt. Dr. Usadel Obit, von harder, Obit. Lucke Hptm. W. Krüger, Lt. Vogt, Lt. Obermeir Hptm. Grosser

Major Schneider, Adj. Obit. Teubert Obit, von Massow, Obit. Dairies Obit. Beck-Broichsitter, Lt. Hintze, Lt. Janke Obit. März, Obit. Gerbener Obit. Frhr. von Egloffstein, Obit. Wirth, Lt. Franz, Lt. Piarks, Lt. von Werlhof

Supply Column 400 - with HQ and 1st-3rd (and later 4th) Columns, and workshop platoon.

Sturm-Pionier-Bataillon 43 - CO Obstlt. Mahler, with:

Attached:

1st-3rd Pionier Companies Light Bridging Column "B"

Thus

organised,

the

reinforced

Infantry Regiment

GROSS-

DEUTSCHLAND left its former billeting area. Everyone experienced the departure differently. The commander of 14th (Pz.Jäg.) Company/IV Battalion provided the following description:

"Alert! The real thing! We had practised it so often that it came as no surprise to us. Time for packing was short. The quarters person- nel helped out. The company stood below, drawn up on the bank of the Mosel. The pay-sergeant read someone an order. Just then no one wanted to hear any more orders, rather they all wanted to get on with it. I was standing off to the side with the Hauptfeldwebel; we were deliberating over which documents from the paper war we had time to burn. We had a total of an hour left. All of a sudden a part of the regiment came rolling down the street through our village. — The advance had begun! Our battalion had miscalculated by an hour, therefore my speech was brief: 'Comrades — it's beginning! I wish each of you luck. Heil 14th Company! To the vehicles march! — march!'

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Everywhere motors were running. The regiment's heavy weapons, the flak, artillery and assault guns, rolled down the street. A platoon from my company had already left. It was driving with the advance guard. When was I to see it again? The commanding officer drove off. There was a space behind several infantry guns. That was our place. Start up! All the vehicles were bedecked with flowers." The regiment's formation at departure was as follows:

Advance detachment with elements of 5th, 7th and 8th (MG) Companies as well as 14th (Pz.Jäg.) Company. Commander: Hauptmann Felsch Advance guard II Battalion — Major Föst Sturm-Pionier Battalion 43 March Group Schneider as main body (IV Btl.) I Battalion - Obstlt. Köhler Remaining vehicles of III Battalion March route: Alf—Wittlich Süd—Dreis—Speicher—Irrel

With the beginning of the advance, the following regimental order was read to all the soldiers:

"Comrades! We are setting out against the enemy. Every officer, non-commissioned officer and Grenadier will do his duty to the utmost. Forward to the enemy! With God! Long live the Führer! Long live Grossdeutschland!

signed: Graf von Schwerin Oberstleutnant."

The GROSSDEUTSCHLAND Regiment rolled into the evening twilight — toward the enemy and its objectives. In the meantime, following the arrival of the alert order at about 14.15, the Garski Battalion set off towards the airfields at Bitburg and Deckendorf, the designated takeoff points. The battalion's advance elements reached the airfields at about the same time as Gruppe Förster, which had flown in with its Storch aircraft from Crailsheim. It was approximately 19.00. Final discussions confirmed the Stuka support. It was again emphasised that the first bombs must fall at the initial approach of the landing force in order to make use of the element of surprise. A Staffel (later two) of Stukas was allocated to the operation; no fighter support was assigned. The leader of Operation "NIWI," Obstlt. Garski, described the mission as follows:

"The Garski Battalion, consisting of about 400 men of III/l.R. GD , had been selected to be flown into Belgium in 100 Fieseler Storch

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aircraft and landed about 15 km behind the enemy's front lines. Its assignments were:

1. cut signals and courier traffic on the Neufchateau— Bastogne and Neufchateau—Martelange roads;

2. hinder the approach of reserves from the Neufchateau area, and

3. by exerting pressure from the rear on the bunker line along the border, ease the capture of the bunkers and facilitate the advance.

The force consisted of two groups which were to land near Nives and Witry. Since the aircraft had room for only two soldiers, each would have to make two trips to the landing site. According to calculations — which later proved to be correct — the arrival of the second flight would take place approximately two hours after the initial landings. Since the focal point of the operation lay in the area assigned the southern Witry group, it was allocated more resources than the northern Nives group. The northern group was to consist of a company reinforced by a heavy machine gun section and a section of Pioniers, while the southern group was made up of the battalion headquarters and a company, reinforced by a heavy machine gun section, a heavy mortar section and two sections of Pioniers. For defence against tanks, the landing force carried twice the usual number of anti-tank rifles and a double issue of smkh ammunition. As signals equipment the battalion had at its disposal one 15 watt set (for communication with XI X Pz.Corps) and two 5 watt sets (for communication between the two groups). Transport of the northern group required 42 aircraft, the southern group 56. Two aircraft remained behind in reserve and were later flown from the Witry landing site on reconnaissance and courier duties. Space and weight limitations permitted the carriage of only a basic supply of ammunition which might have been inadequate if the battalion had become involved in heavy fighting. Three JU 52 aircraft were therefore assigned to drop additional ammunition to ensure an adequate supply." The empty trucks of III Battalion rolled back to the regiment, from where they were sent on under Hptm. Grosser, commander of 12th Company.

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Chapter Four

The Initial Days of the Attack 1940

10.

5.—12.

5. 40 Advance through Luxembourg. Penetration of southern Belgian fortifications and the Arden- nes. Battle on the approaches to the Semois.

13.

5.—14.

5.40 Forcing of the Meuse crossings near Sedan and penetration of the extended Maginot Line. Main line of resistance between Frenois and Wadelin Court breached. Enemy tank attacks repulsed near Chemery and Bulson.

15.

5 --17.

5. 40

Battles for the Stonne Heights.

18.

5.--21.

5. 40

Breakthrough to the sea and creation of defen- sive front on the Somme.

22.

5.--26. 5. 40

Encirclement of enemy forces in Flanders, en- largement of the breakthrough. Battles for Boulogne and Calais.

 

a) engagement near Desvres 22. 5.

b) establishment of bridgeheads on the Aa

canal in the St. Momelin—Gravelines sec- tor. Capture of bridgeheads across the Aa canal at Holque—St.Pierre— Brouck, St. Nicolas.

27.

5.--28.

5. 40

Attack on Wormhoudt and Herzeele to encircle Dunkirk. Dunkirk shelled. Capture of heights at Crochte and Pitgam.

29.

5.-- 4.

6. 40

Battles on the Canal de la Colme. Battles for Dunkirk. Capture of Bergues.

5.

6.-- 8.

6. 40

Breakout from the Amiens bridgehead.

8.

6.--10.

6. 40

Battles of pursuit up to the Oise.

10.

6.--14. 6. 40

Breakthrough to the Seine.

15.

6.--19. 6. 40

Forcing of the Seine crossings. Capture of bridgeheads on the Losor and the Allier. — pursuit through Lyon.

The attack order in the West was issued on 9 May. It fixed the attack for 05.30 on 10 May 1940. For the Germans everything depended on the Allies not recognising the threat to their northern wing until it was too late. The spearhead of Von Rundstedt's Army Group A — tipped by Panzergruppe von Kleist — would move out of the Ardennes, cross the Meuse and head for the sea. To achieve this, the armoured forces of Guderian's corp, including the I.R. GD, would first have to press forward to the Meuse, deep into enemy territory.

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The French recognised the German offensive on the morning of 10 May 1940, but not its strength and direction. The Second, Ninth and First French Armies immediately dispatched mobile forces to slow the advance of the German troops. The cavalry of General Huntzinger's Ninth French Army advanced in three groups to the line Arlon—Bastogne. However, they were attacked by German armoured forces and thrown back across the Semois. The French continued to remain unaware of the intentions of the German command. Their mobile reserve of fourteen divisions, including four armoured divisions, stayed where it was. The Infantry Regiment GROSSDEUTSCHLAND, reinforced by artillery and engineers, reached the area around Irrel from its approach march at 02.00 and rested. The advance detachment under Hptm. Felsch which, largely formed from II Battalion, included elements of 7th and 8th Com- panies, an anti-tank platoon from 14th Company under Lt. Hintze, as well as elements of 5th Company, made ready. Departure was at 05.00. It set out for the Luxembourg frontier near Echternach, reaching it at about 06.00. The advance battalion was rolling. Feldwebel Schwappacher, with a heavy infantry gun of 15th (Hvy.Inf.Gun) Company, described the advance:

"The regiment's main force remained behind; the advance detach- ment under Hptm. Felsch pushed on alone. Two trucks with infantry were on their way; they drove in the lead. We — 'Gruppe Führer' — meaning the advance headquarters of II Battalion, who were to follow directly behind the lead vehicles, set off after them. Following close behind us was our commander, Major Föst, then Obit, von Massow of the 13th (Lt.Inf.Gun) Company, Obit. März, chief of 15th (Hvy.Inf.Gun) Company and, in support, an anti-tank platoon from the 14th (Pz.Jäg.) Company. In the meantime it had begun to get light; slowly, the outlines of the last houses of Echternach blurred and disappeared in the morning fog. Only the shining band of the road to Bollendorf showed us the way. The first inhabitants ventured from their houses. An old woman greeted us cheerfully and gave us her blessing for the coming battle. All at once shadows again loomed before us, became larger and took form — that must be Bollendorf. Desolate and empty, the buildings stared at us, then suddenly a left turn and before us was the border crossing. The Luxembourgers had tried to blow the bridge over the Saur, but had been only partially successful, so our engineers had no difficulty in repairing it immedi- ately with several planks. The inhabitants, who were looking about nervously, watched us with hostile, but inquisitive, looks. We were gripped by an odd feeling which we had never felt before: advance detachment! It was not without good reason that our group was called this.

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Our drivers had to push their vehicles hard. Forests, lakes, mag- nificent scenery and silent villages passed by. All this, together with the roar of the motors and the rattling of the tailgates, occasionally made us forget all thoughts of the advance detachment and battle. The changing scenery, the ever- prettier views of this small, well-or- dered, clean country left us with the impression of a pleasant drive in the country. Forward! Forward! The thundering song of the hot machines became louder. Quickly and fleetingly, as if in a dream, we passed through Luxembourg." The main body of the regiment followed through Medernach— Crychten—Relange. Soon it was midday. Again a brief stop; the regiment was standing before the Belgian frontier. It was 14.00. The hot sun shone down and tremendous swaths of dust hung behind the column. Overhead, major air battles were raging in the blue, cloudless sky. A sensational report from the spearhead of II Battalion soon brought the halt to an end: 'Belgian frontier barricade line un- defended!' The watchword was onward! onward! The following account was provided by a member of the leading elements of II Battalion, which were driving just behind the advance battalion:

"We reached the Belgian border and drove across. Then suddenly a cry: 'enemy tanks from the left!' We jumped down from the vehicles and took cover. Our anti-tank guns went into position, but the enemy disappeared just in time. We rattled slowly on and approached a village. All at once Major Föst shouted, 'Attert is free of the enemy!' Astounded, we looked at one another. Attert, which we had attacked in so many sand-table exercises? It was hard to believe. But on we went — like Satan's fury. We left the main road and took to the secondary roads. Shrouded in a brown-grey cloud of dust we roared onward. We could scarcely recognise one another, so filthy had we become. Soon the broad, green meadows with the black and white cows disappeared.

The village through which we now passed appeared more warlike:

wooden barricades, barbed wire and so on. All this failed to hold us

up, however. Major Föst, this old campaigner of the First World War, was a cool daredevil. He lay across the folded-down windscreen of his vehicle armed with a rifle and a spade. Pumping his hand up and down he gave the signal: Full throttle — faster! We roared down the

to the right, the first Frenchmen! They strolled

roads.

along, oblivious to the approaching danger. There were two men, it wasn't worth our while to stop and get down. We let them continue

peacefully on their way, and soon we overtook our infantry ahead.

To the right of us in the clover

field a bunch of Frenchmen were marching into position. Startled,

halt! What's up?

62

Etalle - the death of Major Föst on 10 May 1940. 63

Etalle - the death of Major Föst on 10 May 1940.

63

they stared at us; we, too, were somewhat taken aback. Should we fire? Major Föst gave the order. We got down from our vehicles and fired our first shots at the enemy. There! — one of them had been hit! One of the Frenchmen rolled in the clover, got up again and then collapsed. The rest came toward us at once with their hands raised, an entire platoon. Most of them were older men. Cautiously we drove on. On the right lay the first dead; they looked quite pale. Dead! A chill gripped our hearts, a shiver ran down our spines. We would have to get used to that sight. Again the column halted; there was the crackling and rattling of

there, our anti-tank guns had gone into

gunfire. A sharp

action. But now we must get down and move out. They greeted us with several well-aimed bursts of machine gun fire. The first houses had already been taken.

We looked around: what was this blasted place called? Ah, there

it

was: Etalle."

The report of the first serious resistance reached the regiment after

it

crossed the Belgian frontier near Upper and Lower Colpach, south

of Attert. The forces which had taken up positions in Etalle were elements of French cavalry and motorised reconnaissance units. Armoured cars had been spotted. The regiment moved up. The regiment's commanding officer drove forward as did the chief of the 14th (Pz.Jäg.) Company who reported:

"We could hear machine gun and rifle fire. Now it had really started!

I drove forward. The advance guard's trucks stood there empty, parked close together in a disorderly fashion. Several motorcars drove towards me — wounded from my advance platoon! The regiment's CO was also there, completely calm. Although it was hot, he had two coats on. 'Help the advance guard up ahead in the village.' There was no time for questions. He likely didn't know any more anyway.

Uffz. Kellermann went back to lead the platoons forward. They arrived a few moments later, running at a crouch. We halted before the village. There the machine gun fire was more audible. I went forward on foot with Kellermann. Ahead was the marketplace of Etalle. On the way we met an Oberleutnant Chrapkowski of the Pionier s wh o ha d wo n th e Iro n Cross , 1st Clas s i n Poland . H e mus t know what's going on. Together we moved farther forward. At the marketplace Chrapkowski began to run. We followed. During a breather he mentioned that we had been under fire. So that's what it sounded like! I, too, had heard sharp hissing sounds, but hadn't taken them seriously. In the village of Etalle the fighting was serious. Houses had been shot up, telephone wires hung down everywhere; on the comer sat

a bullet-riddled civilian automobile. There was a barricade up ahead

at the bridge. Rifle and machine gun fire was coming from the houses

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behind it, but there was no one to be seen. I questioned several Grenadiers, but they too knew nothing. Now and again several ran across the street. Whom were we to help? Where was the enemy? It was a real mix-up! Everything was unclear. I simply moved the platoons of my company up to the entrance of the village and brought them into position. This was the correct thing to do. We also met the platoon under Lt. Hintze from the advance guard. Enthusiasti- cally he told us of the combat. He had knocked out two armoured cars." "Remaining where you are is the best tactic." Major Föst thought so too when he arrived at the edge of the village of Etalle just behind the advance group under Hptm. Felsch. Almost in the centre of the town, the spearhead had been fired on by the crew of an enemy street-barricade. The truck-mounted machine gun opened fire on the barricade. The gunner was wounded; his comrade jumped into his place and opened fire, enabling the other gunners to move into position. The firing from windows and holes in the roofs of houses continued. Striking out through yards and gardens, Hauptmann Felsch sought a favourable spot from which to attack the barricade. Leaving two men behind in cover, he and several Grenadiers worked their way up to the barricade from the right. He could see that the enemy position was situated on a bridge. Hptm. Felsch now joined in the house-to-house fighting. The leading section on the right threw hand grenades behind the enemy barricade. The Hauptmann leapt to the left side of the street to get closer; from there he would be in

a better position to lead the attack. It was there that his faithful leader of the company headquarters personnel, Feldwebel Pitzner, was killed. Felsch was wounded in the upper thigh, but was able to reach the protection of the ditch at the side of the street. He died several days later in hospital.

Meanwhile, the commander of II Battalion, Major Föst, appeared on the spot to assess the situation. The following is a description of the situation in Etalle, this time by a member of 15th (Hvy.Inf.Gun) Company:

"We had no more time to look around; 50 meters ahead there was

a racket that took us quite by surprise. A clear, thin cry rang out for the first time on our side: 'medic'. The infantry platoon up ahead had been pinned down. Our anti-tank guns had work to do; the first French tanks were approaching. Messengers were sent back to fetch the heavy com- panies to break the enemy's resistance. Meanwhile, the enemy fire intensified. We were 30 meters away. Bullets and ricochets whirred and whistled past us to the right and left, smacking into the roofs, tearing holes in the walls of houses, smashing windows — the air was filled with buzzing and whizzing. But every effort by the enemy was in vain. We lay in good cover and

65

held our position, a hard-fought-for roadway. To the right of us was an anti-tank gun of 14th Company, which we could see clearly. There were sharp cracks from the gun as it sent shell after shell at the enemy. The enemy force was apparently a French cavalry battalion supported by light motorised forces. We built street barricades against an expected enemy tank attack from the side. The anti-tank gun fired ever faster. In the midst of the raging firefight Uffz. Podwojewski turned and fell to the ground. Then a second member of the crew collapsed. A medic rushed forward, but both men were beyond his help. The seriousness of the fighting became clear when the word went through our ranks: Major Föst has been killed!" Lt. Dr. Schreiber provided a detailed report on the death of Major Föst:

"As we moved farther forward I joined up with Major Föst. The village street made a turn and led across a bridge, on which the barricade was located. It was already in our hands and one of our anti-tank guns was dug in nearby. The French, however, were still keeping the area in front of the barricade under heavy small arms fire. We could advance no farther, so we went around to the left along the wide ditch. We — Major Föst, Lt. Schulz of 5th Company, several Grenadiers and myself — moved forward between the village and the hillside without resistance. Suddenly, halt! Fifty meters ahead of us was a French armoured car, but it had not yet spotted us. It drove into the village square to our line of advance and was knocked out with one shot by the anti-tank gun at the barricade. Up and onward. Suddenly, from behind us, a tremendous din: a munitions truck had been hit and had caught fire. Meanwhile, Major Föst had made his way to the bridge 50 meters away, over which the French armoured car had just driven into the village. The Major disappeared from my view. I worked my way forward in leaps and bounds, because bullets were still whistling about. On the bridge itself lay the Grenadiers who had been accompanying Major Föst. One of them was quite shaken up; he pointed in the direction of the village: Th e Major is lying over there! Dead!' Then an NC O came wading across the stream from the other side and repeated: the Major is dead!

Then, quite unexpectedly, a Frenchman came across the bridge:

'La guerre—finieü' Others followed." Meanwhile, the bulk of II Battalion had arrived. In the face of a flanking manoeuvre by 6th Company, the French withdrew from Etalle. The first tanks of the 10th Pz.Div. — which carried a buffalo painted on their turrets as unit insignia — also arrived. The tanks roared through the village at high speed. The I.R. GD gathered in and near the village to assemble for a further advance. It set out at about 17.00, but while crossing the heights behind Etalle it again came under enemy fire. The regiment

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immediately prepared for another attack with I Battalion on the right, Stu.Pi.Btl 43 in the centre and II Battalion on the left. While this was taking place the spearhead, with Obit. Rothermund (on a motorcycle) and Feldwebel Brönner, both of 12th (MG.) Company, drove into the village of Villiers sur Semois, where they were both severely wounded by surprise enemy fire. Rothermund died of his wounds. The regiment's attack, in which all three battalions would be employed in the front line, was to be carried out through Villiers sur Semois in the direction of Harinsart. On reaching the hills southeast of Villiers sur Semois, the regiment was met by heavy machine gun fire from the village. Neither side received artillery support during the attack, as it had not yet reached the area. Obit. Beck-Broichsitter, company commander of 14th (Pz.Jäg) Company, described the attack:

"II Battalion under Major Greim attacked as if on the exercise field.

The village of Villiers sur Semois was occupied by a strong enemy force. Five or six machine guns fired from the village in a slow rhythm. I moved forward with a platoon along a country lane. The bursts of machine gun fire hissed close by. Still under fire, the platoon was moved into position. We were all afraid, but no one said anything. We succeeded in setting up our positions without loss, and opened fire on the edge of the village with high-explosive shells. Now and then we came under heavy machine gun fire. The gun com- manders and Grenadiers performed magnificently. From the cover of a thicket I watched as, one after another, four enemy light tanks were knocked out. Our plan of attack had been correct.

The regiment's commanding officer slowly made his way to II Battalion. We saw him point with his stick toward the village. Then the bugle signal: move out!

A little later a platoon of my company became engaged in wild

house-to-house fighting. A machine gun in a church steeple was fired on with HE and armour-piercing. It soon fell silent. Assault guns of the 16th Company under Obit, von Egloffstein assisted. The CO was now quite far forward; he wanted to get a better view of the terrain so he could best decide what to do next."

It turned out that the enemy force consisted of French cavalry.

Hastily thrown into the defence of the village, it nevertheless put up an extremely tenacious, brave and clever defence. In spite of this the village was taken between 20.00 and 21.00. The regiment took up positions on the hills northwest of Villiers sur Semois for the night.

The enemy had again settled into Harinsart. In its night positions outside the enemy-occupied village, 3rd Company suffered its first dead from sniper fire: Ogefr. Köthe and Ogefr. B. Brock. Except for occasional small arms fire, the night passed relatively quietly. The regiment's first day of combat had ended. Many, many more were to follow.

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Now back to the early morning of the first day, to III Battalion which, together with its commander Obstlt. Garski, had set off for Operation "NIWI." At roughly 05.00 the first Storch took off in a westerly direction — toward Belgium . The aircraft had been positioned in a horseshoe formation for takeoff, and the wind was such that the first machines had to take off over the last. They were to land in two groups near Witry and Nives. Events were to turn out differently, however, but had little effect on the overall operation. The pilot of the aircraft carrying the commander of the Nives group, Hptm. Krüger, veered off course and landed fourteen kilometres south of his objective near the town of L'Eglise. The following aircraft landed three kilometres farther to the east near Rancimont. It was there that Krüger linked up with some of his men. The following report was made by an NC O of 11th Company who took part in the operation:

"Soon after takeoff we lost contact with the Storks flying ahead of us. We stared out at the countryside over which we were flying at low altitude. On the roads were the endless columns of our advancing army. They waved to us. Behind us were the other two machines of the platoon command flight; we signalled them and landed in Belgium — in a field. We had landed in the wrong place and amid loud cursing the three aircraft took off again. There — smoke forming ahead of us! It wasn't burning houses, but a burning Stork, and around the aircraft were our comrades. We descended and landed. There was much confusion. The ammunition was taken to a nearby wood and the road barricaded. The first brown Belgian uniforms appeared and soon the first civilians had also been detained. These informed us that we were near L'Eglise and that this was the road to Witry.

We reinforced our perimeter and set up machine gun positions. Order replaced confusion; the Oberleutnant took charge. We com- mandeered several automobiles. Among the prisoners who had unsuspectingly walked into our hands were several high-ranking officers; they were thunderstruck. Then, suddenly, our messenger Preusch arrived on a motorcycle. He had landed with the Hauptmann about two kilometres away. We were to go there immediately. A JU 52 appeared and dropped munitions containers by parachute. However, we left them where they landed; we had no time for them. Our automobile column set out. I heard the voice of Goebbels on the radio. We soon reached the Hauptmann and the prisoners were locked up in a house. Hauptmann Krüger now took command of the party. He wanted to try and reach the battalion, which he estimated was eight to ten kilometres away, by motor vehicle. But then the first shots rang out; a Belgian troop convoy had been spotted. Again the machine guns and anti- tank rifles were moved into position. And as if that were

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not enough, an enemy tank now approached, forcing us to take cover quickly. The motorised breakthrough was called off and we were forced to try and get through on foot. We took the prisoners with us. It became midday and the sun shone down damned hot on our heads. Nevertheless, the Hauptmann didn't let us slacken the pace; we had to keep going. Then the report came: the battalion is on the far slope. Outside Fauvilliers we finally met our people; we breathed easier. As we entered Fauvilliers German troops were moving through the town." The landings by Obstlt. Garski's detachment did not go according to plan either. Garski and nine men landed at about 06.00. However, it was not until roughly 09.00 that the two platoons arrived. Garski's force then occupied the village of Traimont. The third flight sub- sequently arrived at 10.00 with several mortars and anti-tank rifles. Thus reinforced, at 14.00 Obstlt. Garski occupied the village of Witry, where Belgian armoured cars were driven away by mortar fire. Radio contact was established with XIX Pz.Korps and Garski learned that east of the village Belgian Ardennes mountain troops were putting up stiff resistance. Acting quickly, Garski advanced toward the fighting, drove the Belgians from the village of Fauvilliers with mortar fire and sent several men on motorcycles to Bodange, where they made contact with motorcyclists of the 1st Pz.Div. So, despite many errors, this operation was a success, delaying the French advance by hours and opening the way west for German motorcycle units. At that time the air-landing of troops behind enemy lines, as in Operation "NIWI." was unprecedented. Obstlt. Garski made the following observations on the operation:

"Successful completion of the mission was made more difficult when the first flight of the northern detachment lost its way and landed fifteen kilometres farther south near L'Eglise. The northern detachment thus lost half its planned strength and therefore had to contend with great difficulties. The southern detachment, the focal point of the operation, consisted of only ten men for the first two hours, because contact had been lost between the aircraft of the first wave, and the main force — including the battalion headquarters, which had the radio sets, less the commander and adjutant — joined up with the northern detachment which had crossed its route. Thus, there was no contact between the southern detachment and XIX Pz.Corps until the early hours of the afternoon. Contact with the northern detachment was maintained by aircraft. Until the arrival of the detachment that had landed in error near L'Eglise, the southern detachment (Witry) was reduced to half its planned strength. Total losses suffered by the battalion in the operation were:

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9

dead

7

wounded

3

missing

The units involved brought in 82 prisoners, among them 1 Major and 5 other officers." As a result of the progress made by XI X Pz.Corps, the Panzergruppe's orders of 10 May were to stay on the enemy's heels and continue the advance toward the Meuse. The GROSSDEUTSCHLAND Regiment - as a part of the 10th Panzer Division — spent the night on the hills northwest of Villiers sur Semois screened by a thin line of pickets. The first day of the campaign against France had come to an end; while many had received their baptism of fire, it had been a day of trial for everyone. Orders for the continuation of the advance arrived during the night; the regiment was to veer to the north and march in the direction of Rossignol. It was a beautiful spring night, but one with burning villages, bawling cattle and a terrible jumble of men, vehicles and equipment. The morning of 11 May found the regiment regrouped — including the recently arrived artillery — for the continuation of the attack. The forces of the 10th Panzer Division, with GROSSDEUTSCHLAND in the front and the tanks still far to the rear, wheeled toward the north. The men moved ahead on foot, leaving the vehicles behind, as these would be slowed greatly by the numerous barricades. As a result, the advance was extremely exhausting for the troops. The commander of I Battalion, Obstlt. Köhler, was temporarily detached to take command of the 69th Infantry Regiment and was replaced by Hptm. Föllmer. The 69th Regiment's previous commander had been killed the day before.

In wide open formation, the infantry of I Battalion advanced across the slope toward Rulles. Machine guns, ammunition canisters and mortar bases weighed heavy on the men. Panting and sweating, they plodded along under the hot morning sun. Deployed on the left was II Battalion, which was moving toward Rossignol as flanking protection for I Battalion. Rulles proved to be free of enemy forces, and I Battalion continued on toward the forested area which spread out before it. The deciduous forest provided some protection from the burning sun of the late morning, but the uninterrupted series of hills that had to be climbed demanded the utmost of the men. Among them — in the 4th (MG.) Company — was Gefreiter Baldur von Schirach who, like the other Grenadiers, carried his burden and kept advancing. Passing west of Mellier, I Battalion pushed on toward the village of Suxy, which reconnaissance had reported occupied by the enemy.

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At approximately 14.00 the battalion made contact with enemy forces. The attack on Suxy developed into a perfect training school attack, supported by the regiment's heavy weapons, including artil- lery. The enemy forces — a French cavalry reconnaissance unit — suffered heavy losses while putting up a stubborn defence. Every grenadier did his utmost to ensure the success of the attack. The assault guns had a terrible effect, softening up the enemy positions with direct fire. The leader of the assault gun platoon, Leutnant Franz, reported:

"My platoon, which was attached to the I Battalion for the assault on Suxy, moved along the road in stages so that we neared the village at about the same time as the leading elements of the infantry. Then, all at once — fire from the direction of Suxy. The infantry deployed immediately. The platoon's assault guns left the road and set out in the direction of the village. We were somewhat concerned about a swampy-looking depression which lay before the village, but we got through all right. Breaking into the first rows of houses with the leading infantry, we spotted several fleeing Frenchmen. Our artillery and heavy infantry weapons fired over our heads, engaging enemy targets in the centre of the village. Little was to be seen of the enemy; however, machine gun and rifle fire whistled in from all sides. We attempted to orientate ourselves by opening the hatches, but they had to be closed immediately, as concentrated rifle fire was directed down at us from some higher point. Moving on, we felt our way forward with the infantry, who were springing from house to house, and engaged recognised and suspected machine gun and rifle positions in the village. In this way we reached the far side of Suxy. Then, in the hedgerows country opposite, we saw movement by vehicles, or was it cannon? Something appeared to be moving into position. Following brief instructions, Wachtmeister Schädlich opened fire. As we later discovered, the movement had been by a French battery which was attempting to go into position. There was not much left of it. This was the first actual combat that we had carried out in our assault guns in cooperation with the infantry. This first battle near Suxy demonstrated the possibilities and limitations of the assault guns as they were organised and equipped at that time. We amassed plenty of experience during the campaign and then had the oppor- tunity to pass it along to the artillery school, so that by the next campaign in Yugoslavia the organisation of the assault gun units looked quite different." Wachtmeister Schädlich had spotted an approaching French bat- tery, which he destroyed with only a few shots. He was decorated in the field by the regiment's commander, Obstlt. Graf von Schwerin,

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becoming the first member of IV Battalion to receive the Iron Cross, Second Class. I Battalion stormed and took Suxy, suffering only four dead and eight wounded, among them Obit. Kolb. The heavy weapons played a considerable role in the battalion's success. Ofeldw. Schwappacher of 15th (Hvy.Inf.Gun) Company reported:

"The order reached us: 15th Company forward — support I Battalion. We turned left off the main road onto a forest lane. Obit. März made his way to the regimental observation post, where he received the combat orders. 1st Platoon installed itself on a small rise and the guns were moved into firing positions. The company zero line was a white, chateau-like building at a range of approximately 2,500 meters. We could smell the fighting. A burst of machine gun fire swished overhead. We had to act quickly! One gun was moved farther forward to provide direct fire. Obit. März himself took aim. With a dull crack, the first shell whistled toward the white house. To o short! Increase 50 meters!' The next shell crashed into the gable. Shell after shell delivered greetings to the village of Suxy. To the right, our Grenadiers stormed forward and had soon reached the gentle slope. 2nd Platoon went into position in a hollow next to 1st Platoon to increase our firepower. Gen.Lt. Schaal, CO of the 10th Panzer Division, arrived and followed the attack attentively.

Our assault guns now had another opportunity to go into action. The grey monsters roared over the soggy terrain, across the hollow and up the slope on the other side. In the midst of the fighting a Leutnant of our regiment appeared up front on a motorcycle. He brought a report that the white house was in our hands and that we should cease firing. Apparently, the forward troops had no flares with which to signal us. Soon afterward the first of the battalion's wounded came back, among them Obit. Kolb of Berlin. The French had fired on the advancing infantry from the flank. The 2nd Platoon now moved its position about 500 metres and, firing over Suxy into the forest, paved the way for the advance to continue. Then 1st Platoon followed; loading and mounting up took only a few minutes. We followed Obstlt. Graf von Schwerin in the wild rush toward Suxy. We reached the slope and from there we could see the devastating effect of our shells. Soon after we were in the village. The bridge over a small stream had been blown. The 15th Company assembled and, with the others, drove into a large meadow, vehicle after vehicle, just as in peacetime. Departure was at approximately 20.00." The battle for Suxy was followed by a pursuit, if one could call it that, which made great physical demands of the men. By the time darkness fell, the regiment had advanced so near to the Semois that

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a battalion which was sent ahead during the night was able to reach the river at approximately 03.00. While this was going on, II Battalion advanced farther to the northwest through the wooded country but, due to the difficult terrain, did not arrive in St. Menard until the morning hours of 12 May. When it did arrive, II Battalion found that the leading elements of I Battalion had already reached the area. Obstlt. Graf von Schwerin was decorated with the Iron Cross, Second Class in the field by Gen.Lt. Schaal for his exemplary leadership during the battle. During the course of the evening, GROSSDEUTSCHLAND was released from its secondment to 10th Panzer Division and withdrawn through St. Menard for employment by XIX Panzer Corps. The 1st Panzer Division under Gen.Lt. Kirchner, which was attacking farther to the right, and whose III Battalion had made contact with the enemy in Fauvilliers on 10 May, reached the Semois river and took the city of Bouillon on the evening of the 11th, while the 2nd Panzer Division, which was part of the same Panzer Corps, was able to advance through Libramont. Further pursuit brought Panzer Corps Guderian up to the river Meuse, where the first serious enemy resistance was expected. While, on 11 May the French still had the impression that the main German attack was under way on both sides of Lüttich in the direction of Brussels—Antwerp, during 12 May it gradually became clear to the French high command that the greatest threat lay between Sedan and Namur — the sectors held by the Ninth and Second French Armies. Thus, the armies that were to meet the spearhead of the German attack were those whose defensive capabilities were rated the lowest, and this situation had been brought about by the French high command's inaccurate assessment of the situation.

The French Army strove to occupy positions along the Meuse, but this move was only partially complete by the evening of 12 May. By then, however, the first German Panzer units had already been reported moving fast towards the river. Everything that the French command could scrape together in the way of troops was rushed forward to the Meuse to occupy Maginot Line bunkers or reinforce the existing crews. The Germans spent 12 May clearing the east bank of the Meuse and securing their assembly areas for the crossing. That evening, General von Kleist gave the order for the crossing to take place at 16.00 on 13 May 1940. The Infantry Regiment GROSSDEUTSCHLAND was placed under the command of the 1st Panzer Division for the attack.

.o n 13 May 1940, the focus of the battle in the west will lay with

Gruppe von

."

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AIR LANDING OPERATION "NIVI" 74

AIR LANDING OPERATION "NIVI"

74

Chapter Five

Crossing the Meuse near Sedan

The three divisions of Panzer Corps Guderian — 2nd Panzer Division on the right, 1st Panzer Division in the centre and 10th Panzer Division on the left — readied themselves in the front lines. The focus of the attack was to lay in the attack sector of the 1st Panzer Division and the attached GROSSDEUTSCHLAND Regi- ment. The assignment given GROSSDEUTSCHLAND was to clear the bend of the Meuse, advancing initially as far as the Bellevue— Torcy road, carry forward the attack on the heights of the Bois de la Marfée, and subsequently push through as far as the line Chemery—Chaumont.

The regiment had been given several days of rest after advancing into the Orego area on 11 May. After recovering its vehicles, the previously detached III Battalion under Obstlt. Garski rejoined the regiment and took up positions in Nevraument. During the absence of the rest of the company, the two remaining sections of the 9th Company joined the battalion headquarters. A period of quiet began —the calm before the storm. The night of 12/1 3 May 1940 was short. Setting out at ap- proximately 03.00, the regiment's leading elements rolled through the forest in the darkness towards Bouillon. Order of march was: II Battalion, III Battalion and, in the rear, I Battalion. A participant related:

"The darkness hung like a curtain on the night of 12/1 3 May, when we were awakened after an hour's sleep by an unexpected alert. It was to be one of those uncomfortable nighttime drives - - more slow feeling our way forwards, the only comforting sign the feeble blinking of the preceding vehicle's brake lights. In the light of dawn a burning, badly ravaged Belgian city: Bouillon, with its castle of the ancient crusader perched on a rugged crag." The regiment moved into its assembly area. The approach march was carried out over jammed roads, past the foul-smelling bodies of decomposing horses and under intermittent harassing attacks by individual French bombers. After passing Bouillon, however, the route again took the regiment through a forest, although it was less dense than before. Along the sides of the road were the positions of the German artillery, whose guns were firing single rounds at French targets. Beside the guns the gunners were hurriedly digging in. In the distance could be heard the loud explosions of bombs the Stukas

75

were dropping on bunkers and fortifications on the far side of the Meuse. The regiment's column was soon under the cover of the Bois de Sedan; the approach march continued along forest roads, over hills and through valleys, always toward the southwest. Then came the signal to leave the vehicles and break out the equipment. The regiment proceeded on foot into the assembly area north of Illy. The heavy weapons scouted about for positions for their guns. All the while, the rumble of German heavy artillery could be heard in the distance. Again, a situation report by Ofeldw. Schwappacher of the 15th (Hvy.Inf.Gun) Company:

"At approximately 03.00 we crossed the Porte de France, the French border. A few kilometres farther we ran into countless heavy units which were to support us in the Meuse crossing. At every halt there immediately began a frantic breaking of branches and uproot- ing of small trees. Soon our vehicles were so well camouflaged with foliage, that not a wheel or any other part was visible from the sides or above. As we continued on we came ever nearer to the city of Sedan. We left the main road, veered left onto a narrow, bumpy forest lane and disappeared into a large wood. The trucks of the infantry companies were already there, well-camouflaged on both sides of the road. The companies and assault teams made ready for the attack which was to result in the crossing of the Meuse. We got down from our vehicles, packed our equipment on our backs and marched probably seven kilometres in the hot midday sun across open terrain. No one knew for certain, but everyone believed that we might already be close to the enemy. Carrying the equipment as we did resulted in a great deal of cursing and sweat. The guns followed behind in close order. The forest road now fell away sharply and a marshy meadow spread out before us. The area had been badly ravaged by French artillery fire; the single house that stood there was badly shot up and the garden and surrounding meadow had been cratered by countless shells. There were also barricades of felled trees and mines and behind was a blown bridge. We were forced to halt for a few moments while a makeshift crossing for our guns was fashioned from tree trunks. We worked our way through on the right. In the village through which we passed there was no sign of life; everything was abandoned, the people had fled. Again a halt. Ahead of us dense groups of our infantry and Sturmpioniere were moving across the heights. They were easily recognizable from the demolition charges on long poles and flamethrowers they were carrying.

Waves of our aircraft — mainly Stukas and DO Í7s — had been roaring overhead for several hours; there must have been several hundred in all. We watched them peel off: from medium altitude they plunged down on their targets like falcons.

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Our platoon leaders had meanwhile occupied their observation posts. We drove into firing positions and all of the ammunition was unloaded. It could begin. Scarcely were we ready, the sweat pouring from us, when we were ordered to change position, and quickly! Before the site where the Meuse was to be crossed was another line of hills, so we had to move farther forward. We loaded everything up and once again the tractors rattled off. We had to drive back several hundred metres and pass through Floing, which was under French artillery fire and well ablaze. It was quite a drive! Past the cemetery and through narrow alleys, artillery shells bursting to our right. Finally we made it. We were at a steep bank, behind which our guns went into position. Behind the bushes and shrubs were abandoned machine gun nests and fox holes, complete with mat- tresses and pillows, and beside them empty champagne bottles. The company observation post was near the memorial to the Chasseurs d'Afrique. Next to it on the left was Obit. Gerbener and beyond Ofeldw. Schwappacher. The platoons set up quickly, firing could begin. The 1st Platoon's field of fire reached from a factory to the Meuse, that of 2nd Platoon comprised the left half of the terrain. Our assignment was clear: support the infantry and destroy light field fortifications. Ofeldw. Schwappacher felt as if he were in Döberitz; plainly visible, he set up his scissors telescope and observed the enemy's move- ments. Then there was a hiss and a crash close by; the enemy had spotted the observation post. The telescope snapped and quickly disappeared — that was a close one! The observation post was set up again in a garden house. Ofeldw. Schwappacher now opened fire on the blue-windowed factory, but he was unable to get a good view of the bursts. On e shell fell quite short, almost on our own lines. The firing data were checked — everything was correct! Same range! This shell was too long. Something wasn't right. Meanwhile, the leading troops had pushed far ahead." It was approximately 15.00 and the regiment was grinding its way toward the Meuse. The unit's CO, Obstlt. Graf von Schwerin, began to pace, wearing his coat and carrying his walking stick. The objective was the northwest comer of Sedan — it was in that area that the crossing was to take place. II Battalion was in the lead, spearheaded by a section from 8th Company, followed by III Battalion. They moved down out of the edges of the wood, which ended there on the slope, across fields and meadows. The air was full of buzzing, crackling and roaring. Finally the advancing troops could see the Meuse and the opposite bank. Also there in the distance were meadows and the forest-covered heights behind. There was little to be seen of the enemy, but plenty of firing.

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The following is a report by Obit, von Courbière, commander of the 6th (Rifle) Company, which was the second to cross the Meuse:

"The battalion command post was at the head of the battalion, at a crossroads. The CO sat on a stone, around him the commanders

of

the heavy weapons. The regiment's orders had just arrived. The

II

Battalion of the GROSSDEUTSCHLAND Inf.Rgt. was to cross

the Meuse first, break through the Maginot Line and take possession

of Hill 247. — The CO's voice rang hard. The battalion's route to

the crossing point was pencilled in on the maps. At 14.00 the

battalion was to move out of its assembly area: 7th Company was

to set out from the factory on the western edge of Sedan and lead

the way across the Meuse, followed by 6th Company. The orders

were gone over again, and soon afterward the companies were on the move. They had two hours (until 16.00) to cross the ten kilometres of no-man's land and reach the Meuse. All of the equipment, ammunition, heavy machine guns and mortars had to

be carried across ploughed fields, through fields of young corn, over

hills and deep gullies. Despite the great heat the soldiers carried on:

much sweat was spilled and plenty of cursing was directed at the heavy machine guns, mortars and ammunition boxes. The terrain became more difficult until, finally, the Meuse valley lay at our feet. There, to the left, was burning Sedan, directly before us the com- pletely destroyed town of Floing, and to the south, on the far side of the Meuse, lay our objective!

Everywhere one looked there was smoke, bursting shells and bombs. The French were still quiet, the inactivity on the far side of the river seemed unreal. Had they been so hard hit already, or were they waiting for the moment when we are about to cross the river? Nothing can be seen as the French fortifications were shrouded in smoke, but new groups of Stukas continued to drop their deadly loads on them. We still had not yet reached the objective. We had to hold up so as to reach the river at the designated time. We passed through Floing; not a shot was fired, the inhabitants had fled. Dogs and cats roamed the streets, whose shattered houses were evidence of the pitiless power of war. Below, on the main street, we turned to the left and were soon at our factory. The French now recognised the danger and took up the fight, oblivious to the bombs exploding around them. The Pioniers brought their assault boats forward, but they are unable to reach the river. Despite our cover, the French are able to observe every movement from their bunkers and direct fire onto us. Assault guns moved forward, but their shells are unable to pierce the steel and concrete. Valuable time was lost until a heavy 8.8 cm Flak finally silenced the enemy. Again the assault boats were brought forward, but this attempt also failed in the face of enemy fire. A young Leutnant of the 7th

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Company, Lt. Graf Medem, and two Pioniers paid for their bravery with their lives; the wounded were brought back. Once again a heavy Flak intervened in the battle and, under its covering fire, the first elements of the lead (7th) company set out in inflatable boats across the Meuse. The crossing was a success! Quickly, as practised during the winter, the spearhead of the "sixth' followed. In the lead was the 1st Platoon with Leutnant Prachowski at its head; behind it were the company headquarters personnel with elements of 2nd Platoon and a heavy machine gun section. The rest of the company was below in inflatable boats on the Meuse. Four kilometres in the distance we could clearly see Hill 247, whose eastern slope the company was to assault. The units quickly regrouped. Then began an attack which was to become a glorious page in the battalion's war history."

There was some confusion when the leading elements of II Battalion reached the far shore of the Meuse, but order slowly returned. The enemy was now firing from his embrasures. The crossing point came under rifle fire, but only the occasional artillery shell landed. Several men were wounded by snipers and were assembled at the riverbank near the crossing point. More and more inflatable boats and now also assault boats were crossing the river. The crossing was gaining momentum, and more soldiers were arriving at the crossing point. As the companies arrived, they were ferried across the river. The enemy fire died down; the first bunkers had been destroyed or had surrendered. The Stukas continued to drop their bombs on the fortifications on the slope, often only metres ahead of the advancing German troops. It was approximately 19.00 and the sun was setting in the west. The assault by II Battalion went on, however. The commander of 6th Company reported:

"Scarcely had the lead platoon set out from the shore of the Meuse, when it came under heavy rifle and machine gun fire from the first French field positions. Just like on the troop training grounds the sections worked their way up to assault range and, after lobbing hand grenades, broke into the French positions. The first prisoners were soon making their way to the rear, hands raised. They left their weapons and equipment behind, glad to have escaped the raging inferno of this day with their lives. The advance continued with only one objective in our minds: Hill

247.

The leading soldiers disappeared into the suburb which lay across the path of the advance. There was house-to-house fighting and some prisoners were taken. Onward, onward, ever forward, we haven't reached the bunkers yet. The blue-painted window panes of the factory stared eerily at us. Flames and biting smoke gushed from the buildings, while bullets whizzed about. We crossed the Sedan— Mezière railway line and reached the Sedan—Donchery road.

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A look to the left revealed that the large road bridge had been blown; on the right were elements of 7th Company. When com- munication was established between the two company commanders it was learned that the "Seventh' was pinned down on the road by fire from several bunkers. Despite its lack of heavy weapons, 6th Company decided to attack. A quick reconnaissance revealed that a large bunker with six embrasures about 200 metres south of the road at the edge of an orchard offered good approach possibilities; a further, somewhat smaller, bunker lay about 25 0 meters behind and to the right. There was a brief conference, orders were issued to the platoon and section leaders: the company would take the large bunker first. 1st Platoon attacked from the orchard, while 2nd Platoon struck out to the left and worked its way forward from the cluster of trees. As difficult as the attack at first seemed, it proved to be a complete success. After a brief battle an NC O and two men reached the bunker. The enemy were smoked out with hand grenades; complete- ly demoralised, they came out from the bunker. The strain of the battle showed in their faces. They lined up with their backs to their bunker and raised their hands. Tirezì, shoot!, they called. When the astonished company commander asked what they meant, the French soldiers replied that they had been told that any poilu captured by the Germans in a bunker would be shot. We were quite alone, no other German troops were to be seen to the left or right. Heavy machine gun fire was coming from the Frenois manor house and grounds. An anti-tank gun kept up an unrelenting fire, but we were unable to make out its position. The first wounded called out for help. On e soldier entrusted his platoon leader with his last farewell to his mother and then closed his eyes forever. But there was no time to linger; the objective had to be reached while it was still light. We could not afford to allow the enemy any respite.

The second enemy bunker fell and we could then see the position of the anti-tank gun. On a slope at the edge of the grounds was a barn on which rested a suspicious grey shape, in which we could now clearly see an embrasure. The assault squad was redeployed while the machine gun sections engaged the enemy rifle nests. Soon we had taken this bunker too. Afterward we were able to quench our thirst — ten to twenty bottles of mineral water had been found in the bunker. By then it was 18.00. We sat down for a brief rest. During the well-deserved break, contact was established with the 1st Infantry Regiment of 1st Panzer Division which was advancing on our right. The Grenadiers set out once again. Advancing through deep bomb craters and wide barbed wire entanglements, things were looking up, until the French suddenly opened up a terrific fire from a strong reverse-slope position. Three of our men fell. Ignoring the enemy

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fire, the light mortars opened up an extremely accurate fire from close range while machine guns and submachine guns fired burst

after burst. Hand grenades whirled through the air, exploding close to the enemy; there would be no more stopping until we had reached

our objective. The first of our soldiers were in the enemy position.

Hand to hand fighting! Everyone was swept forward by the momen- tum of the assault." Hill 247 was in German hands; the way to the south had been opened. As soon as the first elements of II Battalion had reached the

first ridge, at the crossing point the engineers began constructing a bridge across the river. Meanwhile, the river crossings continued. The first vehicles (motorcycle combinations) and the first guns (3.7

cm Pak) were brought across.

Temperatures dropped rapidly as night fell over the river valley. Columns of vehicles backed up among the groups of houses on the east side of the river. General Guderian stood with two executive officers (including the author) at the crossing point and pensively watched the work.

The noise of battle had practically ceased. An occasional shot was heard, otherwise all was still. The French had been beaten. Without a moment's hesitation, the heavy weapons of the IR. GD crossed the river, as described in the following account:

"We drove up the hill around a narrow and extremely sharp curve, in which we had to unlimber, and on into Sedan. Now and then

enemy artillery shells fell in our vicinity. Ahead of us the 13th and 14th Companies paddled and were towed across the Mass in inflatable boats. We were supposed to cross, but the bridge was not

yet finished. Vehicle after vehicle waited in the darkness. Finally, at

approximately 22.30, it was ready; we rolled slowly across to the other shore, turned sharply to the right and followed the road which ran along the Meuse about a thousand metres as far as the small village of Villette. A large crater left by a Stuka's bomb forced us to turn into a meadow. Despite the darkness we could clearly make out the bank of the Meuse. We halted before the crossroads, burning, smoking houses all around us."

In the darkness III Battalion, with the headquarters, 11th Company less the Obermeier Platoon, and 12th Company less the Gruss Platoon reached Hill 247.3. The 10th Company — which had moved too far to the right — was to secure the railway bridge in Torcy on orders of the regimental commander. Elements of the 12th Com- pany were temporarily attached to II Battalion. Despite heavy enemy artillery fire, the bulk of III Battalion was assembled on Hill 247.3. The plan for the regiment on 14 May was: continuation of the attack in the same direction as before. The breakthrough on both sides of Sedan had not gone as well for

all three Panzer divisions of Panzergruppe Guderian: on the right,

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the 2nd Pz.Div. had been unable to force a crossing over the Meuse. In contrast, the 1st Pz.Div. had the entire reinforced Inf.Rgt. GROSS- DEUTSCHLAND, equivalent to an entire infantry brigade, on the far side of the Meuse, while on the left, the 10th Pz.Div. had only been able to establish a small bridgehead. During the night troops continued to roll across the bridge which had been thrown across the river near Floing, with the heavy weapons and tanks in the lead. While darkness settled over the events of the day, the 14th (Pz.Jäg.) Company under Obit. Beck-Broichsitter waited for the enemy counterattack. The battle which followed was to be recorded in the regiment's history as "The Panzer Battle near Chemery." The following is an extract from the combat report:

"During the night of 13/14 May 1940, on orders from Major Schneider (IV Btl.), two platoons of the 14th Company moved into Gloire et Villette, northwest of Sedan. Enemy artillery fire of every calibre. At dawn the two platoons drove to Frenois to offer their services to the regimental headquarters or a battalion. Nothing was known of the regiment's formation or direction of attack or the employment of the other heavy weapons. Encountered the regiment's CO, Obstlt. Graf von Schwerin, at a bend in the road about 2 km south of Frenois. He gave the following orders to the company commanders:

I Battalion's objective is Bulson. Your platoons are to take over the anti-tank role with I Battalion. Move out at once!

While searching for I Battalion, the two platoons of 14th Company were stopped by a Panzer-Oberleutnant of 1st Panzer Division. At approximately 06.00 he verbally informed the company commander of the orders given him by division:

Th e division's commander, Herr General Kirchner, is of the opinion that the village of Chemery (roughly 12 km to the south) is free of the enemy or very weakly occupied. I have been assigned to capture and hold the bridge there with several armoured cars and your two platoons. Please move quickly.' The two platoons under Lt. Hintze and Feldw. Albers were called back for the new assignment. The Panzer-Oberleutnant climbed back into his armoured car and the vehicles started their engines. The road to Chemery had been torn up by shells and bombs. The armoured cars were able to cross these obstacles immediately. However, in the twenty minutes it took our trucks to get by, contact was lost with the armoured cars. The anti-tank platoons continued on in the direction of Chemery, reaching the crossroads east of Connage at ap- proximately 07.00. While driving up, the detachment came under fire from the left, and then several French tanks appeared from the right. Both platoons went straight into position and the guns imme- diately put the enemy tanks out of action. Machine gun fire forced a French cavalry unit of approximately squadron strength, which had

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broken out of the forest 800 metres south of the crossroads, to turn back. More French tanks approached from south and southeast of Connage; they were allowed to approach to within 200 metres and then knocked out. Other French tanks attempted to go around our position and attack from the flank and rear. To counter this move, the six guns formed a hedgehog position. This was the situation when, between 08.00 and 09.00, a very excited Panzer- Oberleut- nant came and told us that the Oberleutnant driving in the armoured car ahead of him had been pinned down by heavy fire in Chemery. Several of his men had been wounded. He wanted us to take the two platoons to Chemery and get him out. The commander of 14th Company had to refuse this request as further French tanks were approaching, and moving to Chemery would mean the destruction of the two Pak platoons. This would have left a gap between two German Panzer divisions and a clear route to the Meuse bridges for the attacking French tanks. As the French tank forces involved were of considerable strength, this would have endangered the success of the, entire German attack. It was decided, therefore, that the ground which had been won would be held by the two platoons east of Connage. During the course of the battle, two 8.8 cm Flak went into position farther back and joined in the defence against the attacking French tanks. They met with no success, however, as they opened fire from too great a range. At roughly 09.00 a Hauptmann of a reconnais- sance battalion appeared with a weak infantry platoon. He was asked to take over the task of securing against the French cavalry, which he agreed to do. At approximately 10.00 the leaders of the 1st and 4th Platoons reported to the company commander that Stu.Pi.Btl. 43 was advancing along the road. Soon afterward, 14th Company received the following order from the commander of the Stu.Pi.Btl., Obstlt. Mahler:

Th e enemy holds Chemery. Stu.Pi.Btl. 43 is to take Chemery. 14th Company is placed under the command of the Stu.Pi.Btl. to support the attack by engaging tanks and machine guns. The company will be released following the capture of Chemery.' While the Stu.Pi.Btl. carried out its attack on both sides of the road, the twelve guns of 14th Company went into position on the asphalt, silencing enemy tanks and machine gun nests which had been spotted to the southwest. Just outside Chemery, Ogefr. Frauenknecht discovered that the machine gun fire was coming from a bunker which was built into the bridge which stood 500 metres west of the town. Under continuous enemy fire, he and Gefr. Bierwagen silenced the bunker with several direct hits.

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Chemery was taken shortly before 12.00. The 14th Company assembled on the road due north of the town before driving to Maisoncelle. Just as the company was moving out two Stuka attacks were made on Chemery. Wounded were Uffz. Konert, Ogefr. Hamel and Gefr. Grunzke, but the worst loss suffered in the Stuka attack was Obstlt. Mahler, who was killed. In the battle near Chemery the 14th Company destroyed forty-four enemy tanks, silenced several machine gun nests on the right flank of the Stu.Pi.Btl and silenced the bunker in the bridge 500 metres west of the town. The company did not lose a single man!" The order of battle for 14th (Pz.Jäg.) Company was as follows:

Company Commander Company Headquarters

Obit. Beck-Broichsitter Uffz. Kellermann, Observer NCO and 6 mes-

1st Platoon:

sengers, commander's driver and range finder operator. Feldw. Hindelang Leader platoon head-

1st Gun:

quarters personnel, driver, 3 messengers, observer. Uffz. Kramer

2nd Gun:

Ogefr. Giesemann

3rd Gun:

Uffz. Anding

Machine Gun Section 2nd Platoon:

Feldw. Albers

4th Gun:

Uffz. Meyer

5th Gun:

Ogefr. Höhn

6th Gun:

Uffz. Busse

3rd Platoon:

Lt. Hintze

7th Gun:

Ogefr. Mehler

8th Gun:

Uffz. Kleimann

9th Gun:

Uffz. Gräper

4th Platoon:

Feldw. Herold

10th Gun:

Ogefr. Schweickl

11th Gun:

Ogefr. Stüllein

12th Gun:

Uffz. Kläsner

Company Train:

Hptfw. Fromm

Maintenance Section

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Chapter Six

The Battle for the Stonne Heights

While the main body of the Guderian Corps continued to attack toward the northwest in the direction of Abbeville and the English Channel, Infantry Regiment GROSSDEUTSCHLAND was given the task of covering its left flank. On the afternoon of 14 May, following the conclusion of the battles against the tanks of the French 3rd Armoured Division near Bulson and Chemery, the regiment set out in the direction of Stonne to carry out its new assignment. Repeated bombing attacks by French aircraft, especially the fast Moranes, were unable to halt the advance, but they did inflict serious casualties. The following account was provided by 15th (Hvy.Inf.Gun) Company:

"Strafing attack! A Morane roared straight overhead, took a look and opened fire! We dove under our vehicles. The noise from his motor grew louder as he came nearer and nearer on his second pass. Two bombs fell. Helpless, we fired back with our rifles. Then we looked at one another: where was the explosion? Someone shouted:

it's a dud! Gefreiter Waldemar Kiedrowski, from Essen in the Ruhr, who had formerly been mess orderly in the Olympic Village, jumped up from the ditch toward one of the bombs. The sinister, khaki-yellow thing was still rolling. As Kiedrowski lifted it from the road, the bomb exploded. Gefr. Kiedrowski was no more. Gefr. Schieg lost a leg. In the meantime, the Morane crashed behind us, a victim of our machine guns. Kiedrowski was our first fatal casualty. Not a trace of him could be found; there was nothing to bury. A simple, hurriedly- erected cross marked the spot where the bomb had torn him to pieces. A few flowers hung their heads in the sun, as if they wanted to express their sorrow by doing so. But we had to carry on."

The regiment drove to Maisoncelle, east of Chemery. II Battalion continued on foot to Artaise le Vivier and went into position at the edge of the village. Powerful enemy tank forces had been reported in the Bois de Mond. The battalion quickly dug in and the attached light infantry guns moved into firing positions. Ill Battalion had been given the job of capturing the main road to the south by moving through Artaise to the crossroads two kilometres to the west. As darkness fell, the advancing 11th Company, which was spearhead- ing the battalion, came under surprise heavy machine gun fire near Point 170. There was also rifle and machine gun fire from the woods to the left and right of the road. The deep ditches and metal guard

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rails on both sides of the road offered good cover. A probing French tank was driven off. In the meantime, elements of the 12th (MG.) Company opened fire on the edge of the wood and 11th Company was able to withdraw from its dangerous position. These elements of III Battalion returned to Artaise without loss. I Battalion was still behind in the Maisoncelle area. The regimental order for III Battalion for the next day read:

"III Battalion is to occupy the wooded areas west of Artaise, and from there secure the advance road of the XIX Panzer Corps." As the force covering the left flank of the advancing XIX Panzer Corps, Inf.Rgt. GROSSDEUTSCHLAND could expect heavy fight- ing. The German penetrations against the French Ninth Army near Dinant and Charleville on 14 May were so deep that they had reached the French artillery batteries. At the junction of the French Ninth and Second Armies — which lay before the GD — the German spear- heads had reached Donchery, approximately fifteen kilometres in the enemy's rear. As a result of the rapid German occupation of Bulson and Omicourt, the French 55th Reserve Division was forced to fall back to the south and southwest. The two divisions to the east, the 3rd and 71st Reserve, were forced together as they withdrew toward Beaumont—Stonng. Their losses were considerable. On the evening of 14 May the mass of the French Second Army was holding the line Beaumont—Stonne.

The crisis facing the French Second Army was obvious. The front was threatening to collapse. On the French side they tried everything possible; every available reserve was thrown into the gap in an attempt to master the situation at the critical point at Stonne. While, on the German side, the objective at hand was to hold open the Meuse crossings and take the high ground on both sides of Stonne, that of the French were to prevent this at all costs, close their front and, where possible, throw the Germans back across the Meuse. If they succeeded, the German attack plan would fail. It was expected, therefore, that the outcome would be decided in the area of Stonne. It was there that the Infantry Regiment GROSS- DEUTSCHLAND, with its artillery and the attached Stu.Pi.Btl. 43, were situated. The following report is typical of the regiment's situation at that time:

"The village had to be secured on all sides for the night. Once again there was no rest. The ongoing lack of sleep had the greatest effect on the tactical commanders. Day and night, without pause, they had to organise their men, issue orders and lead the attack. The Grenadiers were exhausted. Despite this there was only one thought in their minds: attack! On the following morning, the 15th of May 1940, we climbed out of our holes. Our faces were pale, unshaven and dirty, our eyes sunken — and yet we were all filled with an eagerness to fight. We

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THE FRENCH SITUATION AS OF 13 MAY 1940, EVENING
THE FRENCH SITUATION AS OF
13 MAY 1940, EVENING
THE SITUATION AS OF 10:00 , 1 4 MA Y 194 0 THE SITUATION AS
THE SITUATION AS OF
10:00 ,
1 4
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THE SITUATION AS OF
1 4
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AFTERNOO N
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1 5 MAY , MORNIN G
THE SITUATION AS OF 10:00 , 1 4 MA Y 194 0 THE SITUATION AS OF

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drove into the morning mist, through burning Artaise. To the right and left lay half-finished bunkers, abandoned in haste by the enemy. We drove along a freshly-paved road deep into a wooded valley." The orders for the attack on Stonne were issued at dawn on 15 May: I Battalion was to attack the town from the north; II Battalion was to advance over Hill 208 (southeast of Artaise) in the direction of Bois de Raucourt, providing flanking cover for German tanks advancing on the left. At about 04.15, III Battalion was to take the wooded areas west of Artaise to protect the advance by XIX Panzer Corps. Hptm. Grosser, commander of 12th Company, temporarily took over command of Stu.Pi.Btl 43 and assembled the unit to hold the southern edge of the Bois de la Grand Côte, or if need be, to take it and then hold it. While I Battalion was advancing, II Battalion committed the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Companies as well as the battalion staff. On reaching the northern edge of the Bois de Raucourt, the companies were met by enemy fire from camouflaged machine gun nests. Progress by the exhausted infantry was slow. Nevertheless, II Bat- talion (5th and 8th Companies) captured its defence sector, occupy- ing the key Hill 225. At this time the regimental command post was located approximately 800 metres northwest of Stonne. By 06.00 III Battalion had occupied its designated positions in the wooded area west of Stonne and was digging in. The French kept the position under constant artillery fire. The town of Stonne was situated on a commanding hill. The steep slope to the north was unforested; at the foot of the slope were woods which could be overseen from Stonne. The inhabitants of the town could even see as far as the Meuse valley when the visibility was good. Whoever held Stonne would be able to see far into the French countryside to the south and southwest. Uffz. Günter Krupp provided the following account which describes the advance by II Battalion and, in particular, the part played by 6th Company:

"The regiment was attacking Stonne! Our company moved through the meadows to the left of the road, the sections widely spaced in a skirmishing line. The sound of battle rumbled over from the right. Ahead of us lay a large wood. The sections closed up so as not to lose contact with each other. The enemy scattered fire through the wood; shells burst with loud crashes among the treetops. The smell of horses was mixed with powder smoke. Well- camouflaged, improvised stalls stood in the woods to the left and right. Large numbers of French baggage wagons loaded with equip- ment sat abandoned in a broad clearing. Steel helmets lay scattered about; everything pointed to a desperate flight. Finally we approached the edge of the wood. Before us lay a wide meadow dotted with scattered bushes. To our right we could see the

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terrain climbing toward the hill. A path snaked its way up — the only negotiable approach. The enemy's defensive fire intensified. His situation was extremely favourable. From the hill he had a perfect view far into our rear. Initially, our battalion had orders to advance no farther. Orders were orders! — therefore we stayed put. Security detachments were set up. Enemy aircraft and artillery give us no rest." Ill Battalion remained in its positions in the forest west of Artaise and secured there. It was now midday. Following a Stuka attack, I Battalion and elements of II Battalion were able to enter the village

of Stonne. The following account was provided by the commander

of 14th (Pz.Jäg.) Company:

"It was difficult to say exactly where the front line was. There was firing from ahead, from the left and the right. It was mostly rifle fire. The thickly-wooded hill which lay before Stonne was quite eerie. The regimental command post was forward in a hunting lodge. The commander of IV Battalion (Major Schneider), the leader of the infantry gun company, Obit, von Massow and I went ahead to reconnoitre. On the way to Stonne we had to jump into the ditch at the side of the road; someone was firing at us from the cover of the forest. Pistols in hand, we climbed the wooded slope, but nothing else happened.

Moving carefully, we worked our way into Stonne. We found abandoned houses, overgrown gardens, romantic old wells, ruins of bakeries and makeshift shelters. A high water tower commanded the entire village. We walked along the village street. Individual Grenadiers from every company were running here and there. They had no orders.

A knocked-out German tank lay tipped over in a ditch. An officer

and an NCO stood next to the tank, pistols in hand. A dead crewman, his face waxy and yellowish, lay in the grass in his dusty black

uniform. Rifle fire rang out from the water tower, kicking up dust in the street. A French tank drove towards us. We leapt behind a house; the tank thundered past close by. The decisive hill appeared to lay several hundred metres farther on. We worked our way towards it through a ravine and several gardens. When we got there we found

a few men of my old mortar platoon standing around. Led by their

dashing Leutnant Schiller, they had gone a little too far forward. Enthusiastically they joined us and fell in behind. In an open planted field we came under machine gun fire from behind. We waved, thinking that it was our own people. Then they really began to fire, and we ran for our lives to some bushes fifty metres away. The fire was coming from the water tower. About 30 Frenchmen approached us, deployed for an attack. We were only ten. A mortar was hurriedly moved into position, but the sight mount could not be found. The Frenchmen approached to 400

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metres; they probably didn't suspect that we were this far forward yet. After a few mortar rounds they disappeared into a hollow. We wanted to move everyone we could find forward into position, as this was in fact the commanding hill. The way back across the planted field was no joy ride. Halfway back, in the gardens, we looked

around: several French tanks were driving straight for the other part

of the village.

The edge of the village lay under machine gun fire from the water tower. Concealed riflemen fired unexpectedly from the wooded hill behind us. A completely confused situation! By chance we ran into a couple of machine gun crews from the machine gun company. They were led by Hauptfeldwebel Spierling. We now gave up any thoughts of the strategic hill. Artillery began to fire into the village, while the infantry fire intensified. Fire swept overhead; it must be from the French tanks we had spotted earlier. A messenger was sent back to bring forward Oberfeldwebel Harold's platoon. The brave Oberfeldwebel brought his platoon forward in an

exemplary fashion and quickly sized up the situation. His three guns moved into the ravine so that they could not be seen by the enemy and waited in readiness. The enemy tanks attacked. We could see six, with infantry advanc- ing between them. A brief command and the guns were moved into position with a jerk. A few seconds more and targets were assigned

to the gun commanders, and then: crack!

The firefight lasted quite a while. The tanks were difficult to knock out. In addition, they were aided by the numerous bushes and gardens. Often the gunners could see only a small part of the whole target. At that moment, of course, the enemy machine gun fire was concentrated exclusively on the three guns. Nevertheless, the Herold platoon disabled all the enemy tanks in sight. Next to me Uffz. Anding received a bullet wound in the leg. The anti-tank guns disappeared again into the cover of the ravine. More French tanks appeared and fired over our heads. There was a low whistle and a shell smacked into the earth wall behind us. A messenger brought forward Oberfeldwebel Albers' platoon. With

a brave matter-of-factness it went into position next to Herold's.

Together, the two platoons shot up the next wave of French tanks. Platoon leaders, gun commanders and Grenadiers all put their backs to it. Most of the crews consisted of only three men. Many of the Grenadiers were wounded. The battle was a duel. Once they had opened fire, there was no question of concealment for the guns. Moreover, flight was out of the question: either the tank was knocked out or the gun was. Artillery shells burst all over the village, the fire was really heavy. The platoon leaders were constantly in action. When the situation became serious, the gun commanders could be

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seen standing half-erect at their guns. The example of their coolness under fire inspired the Grenadiers to hold on. None of them looked to the rear. Our units were very much mixed together. Here a platoon from 1st Company, there a part of the machine gun company, an infantry gun platoon and several Grenadiers from other companies. The rifle fire had a great effect on us mentally. It was our first defensive infantry battle. Many men sat in the ditches, not daring to leave cover. Gradually, the fire came closer; individual French tanks were bringing more infantry forward. In the gardens it was difficult to assess their strength. The situation became critical; the soldiers' will to fight sank under the heavy fire. All of them had been in action since 10 May and they were at the end of their strength. Beyond that, it was still oppressively hot. We were in a tough situation. Several of the Feldwebel fired round after round from their rifles; they were the old peacetime snipers. I issued the order: "Everyone fire! This village will be held!' The word spread left and right down the line. It helped. Command in the village changed hands several times. During the time my company was in the main fighting I was in charge. Oberleutnant Hanert, commander of I Battalion's machine gun company, came hobbling over from the water tower. He had been wounded in the pelvis by rifle fire. The French were attacking from the water tower! I moved forward along the ravine a short way toward the gardens to have a look. In the village itself, several soldiers were running back from the water tower. Their cries of "tanks' spread terror. The French had launched a new attack from another direc- tion. I had no idea how to get Feldwebel Hindelang's platoon forward in time. These ongoing difficulties were wearing us down. The situation was very serious. The other platoons had their hands full with the enemy on their own front. How were we to halt the new tank attack? The French fire intensified. There were fires everywhere. Dead lay in the street; a continuous flow of wounded disappeared to the rear.

The cry of 'tanks' had reached the hunting lodge. Right away Hindelang set out on his own initiative. At the last moment he came racing through the wreckage of Stonne, the Grenadiers hanging onto the vehicles, the guns bouncing to and fro. Hindelang stood on the running board of his car. Onward — as far as the water tower. They reached the end of the village. About ten French tanks were rolling toward them on a wide front. At 40 km/hr the drivers hauled their vehicles around as the French tanks opened fire. There was firing from the water tower; the guns were unlimbered in the middle of the street, several men were wounded right away. But the platoon set up its guns! The duel began. In an hour-long firefight the Hindelang platoon held on in the face of fire from attacking infantry and flanking fire from the water tower and the wooded hill. The fighting in the

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village abated. The infantry units were being worn down by the determined French attack. Assault guns provided support. Obit, von Egloffstein himself took command in Stonne. Four heavy infantry guns went into position and fired 15 cm rounds at the water tower, but it refused to fall. Losses mounted. Several of the anti-tank guns had been hit and damaged, but they kept firing. Then I met Obit. Fabich — "Maxe' — with elements of his 3rd Company. Obit. Bohrmann was also there. Hindelang was attacked by three 32-tonne tanks. Every shot bounced off them and the tracing rounds disappeared somewhere. They rolled on through the gardens. From one hundred metres one of them scored a direct hit on an anti-tank gun and raked the wreckage with machine gun fire. The gun's commander — Uffz. Kramer — and his gunner were wounded and the other member of the crew killed. Kramer crawled to the gunner and, under machine gun fire, dragged him behind a house. The fire from the three heavy tanks was threatening to wipe out the platoon. Then one of the giants turned sideways. The com- mander of the gun on the left, Ogefr. Giesemann, spotted a small, ribbed panel on its right side; apparently, it was the tank's cooling system. The panel was no larger than an ammunition box. Giesemann took aim at it and fired. A tongue of flame shot up from the tank. The young Obergefreiter was a true sharpshooter with his anti-tank gun! Both gun commanders now opened fire at the small squares on the flanks of the heavy tanks. Soon afterwards the left gun took a direct hit and was put out of action. Hindelang pulled the surviving gun back into the village. The three heavy tanks had been put out of action. The other tanks sat disabled before the village. Hindelang's decision, his holding out while under fire from all sides, even after the destruction of his other two guns, saved the Stonne defensive front on the decisive right flank. The Grenadiers of all platoons had survived a great test. On orders, in the afternoon the company left its positions in the village. It was difficult. At that time the French were only a stone's throw away in places. The men with machine guns could move out faster than those with the anti-tank gun. The fire from close range was alarming. The three of us — Ogefr. Frauenknecht, Grenadier Schmidt and I — jumped up and pulled the gun into cover. We were under steady rifle fire on the road to the hunting lodge, but we came through smoothly." The l4th(Pz.Jäg.) Company had fought courageously. Its total losses were:

Killed: 1 officer, 12 NCOs and men. Wounded: 16 NCOs and men.

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Equipment losses: 12 vehicles and 6 guns (of 12).

In its more than ten-hour battle, the company knocked out 33

French tanks. Obit. Beck-Broichsitter and Ofeldw. Hindeland were later decorated with the Knight's Cross for their exploits. While I Battalion and parts of IV Battalion pulled back from Stonne on orders from regiment and once again took up defensive positions on the wooded hill, III Battalion was moved to the regimental command post, where it received the following orders:

"Elements of I and IV Battalions are withdrawing from Stonne. Ill Battalion is to take up covering positions at the forest's edge on both sides of the regimental command post." An anti-tank front was created around the command post, rein- forced by III Battalion, combat engineers and elements of I Battalion. The main body of II Battalion remained in its positions and dug in. Elements of the 69th Rifle Regiment arrived with orders to relieve the units there. This was only partially completed , however; most of the units remained where they were, attempting to assemble in the darkness. The men were overtired; they fell to the ground where they stood and went to sleep. Few rations found their way forward. The regiment's situation was less than rosy. The French artillery fired into the forest and shells burst among the treetops, while their tanks kept up a steady fire. Exhausted, the regiment's units held out at the forest's edge. Partially outflanked, they took some fire from the sides. Wounded streamed to the rear. The regimental command post remained in the hunting lodge and it too was under artillery fire. The individual battalions reported:

II Battalion:

"At 05.00 the 6th Company reported that it was expecting an enemy tank attack. Anti-tank rifles were brought into position, but no attack followed. Instead, an enemy artillery barrage of long duration. While making contact with regiment in the morning, our adjutant Obit. Brockmann was wounded. Repeated minor artillery barrages, which were answered by Stuka attacks. Enemy artillery activity ceased at about noon."

III Battalion:

"The troops were awakened by a false alarm at about 04.00. At 04.30 the battalion was ready to march; assignment: the battalion was to occupy the old positions west of Artaise. Following a foot march without significant occurrence, the positions were occupied. A company of Panzerjäger occupied a defensive position at the edge of the forest; sporadic artillery fire. Enemy 7.5 cm batteries inflicted several casualties, especially on 12th Company and the signals section."

I Battalion:

"In position. — Obstlt. Köhler has once again assumed command of the battalion."

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In the late morning Junkers transport aircraft arrived overhead and dropped ammunition. Wounded continued to come back, some of whom assembled near the hunting lodge at the regimental command

post. Uffz. Schweiger arrived at the aid station at the hunting lodge with a serious face wound; despite his pain, Schweiger presented himself to his company commander and made a report on the position of his gun. Obit. März of 15th Company was wounded by

an artillery shell which landed near the command post. Obit. Ger-

bener subsequently took command of the company. The regiment's CO awaited reinforcements. The 64th Infantry

Regiment was approaching, trailing a great cloud of dust. The road, however, was clearly visible from the heights around Stonne. The

troops got down from their

opened fire. The regiment was unable to come any nearer and went into positions farther below. The following account describes the situation at the regimental command post:

"There was a steady flow of field ambulances along the approach road to Sedan and back. Some of the companies' vehicles were also

temporarily pressed into service to transport out the many wounded.

A tractor from the heavy infantry gun company was loaded to

capacity with wounded, among them Obit. Massow, who had been hit badly. The wounded officers and men were blood-encrusted and dusty, their faces haggard and unshaven. Many of our comrades had already been taken to the rear. There were fewer and fewer of us left. We almost felt guilty at being unwounded." On the morning of 16 May a mixed battle group from elements of Stu.Pi.Btl. 43, IV Battalion and I Battalion GD launched another attack on Stonne. Meeting only light resistance, the German force entered the village. At the moment of the relief order — therefore at the end of the battle — the main line of resistance was in the regiment's hands. Relief orders arrived early in the morning; the 29th Inf.Div. was on its way. The elements which were to relieve III Battalion were already in position by about 15.00; despite the usual enemy artillery bombardment the relief proceeded quickly. Widely separated, the relieved companies moved down into the valley. Relief of II Battalion

was delayed. The 79th Inf.Rgt. failed to arrive until late that night.

It was not until morning that all elements of the battalion were at

their vehicles. The regiment was to assemble in and near Bulson. A soldier of the 15th (Hvy.Inf.Gun) Company reported:

"By 20.00 we were ready. We roared back on a hellish drive. French artillery fire exploded to the left and right. The horror of the last days of fighting, the full depth of which we could not describe, was written across our stubbled faces. On the road we could see

then the French artillery

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evidence of how effective the French artillery fire had been here in the rear: shell hole after shell hole, shot-up trucks and motorcycles. In one of 14th Company's vehicles the driver still sat at the wheel, half his skull ripped away — a horrible sight. The wild drive continued. Artaise was burning, a torch in the night sky. A short time later we were there, driving through the streets. The heat from the burning houses was terrific. We were through in minutes, still pursued by the French artillery fire. Shells burst, tearing apart houses; sparks showered down and smouldering beams flew through the air. Then, all of a sudden, it was still. This quiet had an unsettling effect on us, we simply weren't used to it. No bursting shells or rattling machine guns; here and there a demolished house, a knocked-out tank, freshly-dug graves. We passed Bulson. Then we met the first infantry regiments. They had covered a tremendous distance on foot. We halted. The vehicles were parked and we climbed out. Deathly tired, we slumped to the ground, wrapped ourselves in our blankets and went to sleep." After days of tough combat and great stress, the company rested. This peaceful period lasted until the late afternoon of 19 May. The regimental order of 17 May had stated:

Regimental Order

1. The regiment will rest in its present location for 4 days, during

which it will remain under the command of the 10th Pz.Div. which is continuing the advance toward the west.

2. The commanding general has ordered that, in these four days,

the regiment must be brought back up to full operational effective- ness.

Following a complete recovery from his illness, the former regimental commander, Oberst von Stockhausen, returned to the regiment and assumed command. (18. 5. 1940) The battalion commanders at that time were:

I Battalion:

Obstlt. Graf von Schwerin

II Battalion:

Major Greim

III Battalion:

Obstlt. Garski

IV Battalion:

Obstlt. Köhler

On 18 May the companies were called from their rest for their first parade, where they were read the following regimental order:

"After seven days of an unprecedentedly triumphant advance through Luxembourg and Belgium into France, the regiment stands at the end of its first test in combat. At this moment I feel the deep inner need to thank

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every officer, NC O and man for his extreme devotion and true performance of duty, with which each and every one contributed to the victory. The regiment is proud of every one of its men. Committed at decisive points, the regiment has achieved every objective set for it by the high command, even when the exhaustion and over-exertion of the restless pursuit stretched physical endurance to the breaking point! Pursuit of the enemy through Luxembourg! Destructive attacking blows on the move through Belgium! Relentless pursuit to the last breath of man and horse south of Sedan! Resolute defence against counterattacks! These are the milestones of our triumphant advance! "The unprecedented forward momentum of the GROSSDEUTSCH- LAND Regiment opened the way across the Meuse for the Panzer units. If this major operation brings us victory in this war, then the regiment can know that it made the first decisive contribution!' These are the words of the commander of the 10th Panzer Division. I am proud and grateful that it was my soldier's fate to be allowed to lead this regiment in these days of victory. I thank you all! Onward with God!"

signed Graf von Schwerin Oberstleutnant

The period of quiet allowed time for leisure. Everywhere one saw soldiers walking across the meadows in bathing suits and sitting by fires; a piano was fetched from a nearby village and was played by Obit. "Maxe" Fabich of 3rd Company. Peace and quiet reigned, undisturbed even by the few aircraft which flew overhead. In the meantime, the regimental command took stock; the painful losses revealed the bloody toll of the past few days:

In the period from 10 May to 17 May, 1940:

Killed:

Officers and officials Non-commissioned officers Men

 

9

15

79

Total

103

Wounded:

Officers and officials Non-commissioned officers Men

 

30

84

328

Total

442

Missing:

Non-commissioned officers Men

 

2

23

Total

25

97

The following companies' losses were typical:

13th (Lt.Inf.Gun) Company - 22 wounded, among them the NCOs Schwanitz, Siedler and Gerdes. 14th (Pz.Jäg.) Company - 13 killed, among them Lt. Hintze, and 65 wounded.

The regiment's part in the success was also reflected in the decorations awarded for bravery. Obstlt. Garski presented Lt. Ober- meier with the Iron Cross, First Class, the first member of the regiment to receive this award. Forty-five members of his III Battalion were awarded the Iron Cross, First or Second Class for their role in Operation "NIWI" and the later fighting. The advance orders for departure arrived on 19 May, 1940, at about 21.00. The period of rest came to an end; the men had got their wind back and were ready for further action. As the regiment rested near Bulson from 17 to 19 May, the fate of the French Army in its first phase had been decided. The Wehrmacht communique of 22 May stated:

"The French Ninth Army, which was to have established and maintained contact between powerful enemy operations groups in Belgium and the Maginot Line south of Sedan on the Meuse between Namur and Sedan, has been smashed and is in disintegration." On 20 May the panzer divisions of Panzergruppe von Kleist reached Amiens and Abbéville. A battalion of the 2nd Pz.Div. reached the sea northwest of Abbéville, the first unit of the German Wehrmacht to do so. The panzer units stood poised to wheel toward the north and northeast so that their advancing left wing could break through the enemy bridgehead which had formed on his southwest front.

Chapter Seven

Breakthrough to the Sea

The GROSSDEUTSCHLAND Regiment received orders to trans- fer into the St. Quentin area and place itself at the disposal of Panzergruppe Guderian. The battalions set out at 08.00. Marching through Bulson, Mezières and Vervins, they reached St. Quentin, where they bivouacked west of the city. The advance roads were choked with columns of refugees fleeing to the east and south,

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infantry columns marching toward the west, and the supply columns

of

the panzer units which were rushing forward with the vital supplies

of

fuel. Regimental orders reached the marching columns late in the

evening: following a brief rest for rations, the unit was to reach the area of Combles, where it was to place itself at the disposal of Guderian's XIX Panzer Corps. On 21 May the regiment drove through St. Albert into the area south of Doullens where, late on the morning of the same day, it occupied a defensive position in the line Marieux—Thieves—Orville. Its assignment was to secure the right flank of the 1st Panzer Division against an attack from the north. The threat was expected to be enemy tanks from the direction of Arras; without a doubt the enemy units encircled to the north would attempt to break out. The regimental command post was located in Marieux Castle — the same building in which the British King George

V and French President Poincaré had met in 1915.

It was in this sector that the regiment encountered British and Canadian prisoners of war for the first time. Bordering the roads

were large military cemeteries from the First World War. In contrast

to the previous area of operations near Sedan, the country here was

wide and open. There were fields and magnificent beech woods, clean pleasant villages and excellent roads. The motorcycle platoon which had been formed in Neuruppin arrived under the command of Lt. Günzel and was incorporated into the Regimental Headquarters Company. On 22 May the regiment prepared for a new mission, details of which were contained in the following regimental order:

Infantry Regiment

GROSSDEUTSCHLAND

Btl. Ia

Rgt. Command Post, 22.5.40

Regimental Order

1.

1st Pz.Div. is to secure the flank and rear of 2nd Pz.Div. which is moving on Boulogne; front to the north and east.

2.

To this end the division will deploy:

Left:

Gef.Gruppe Balck

Centre: Gef.Gruppe Krüger

Right:

I.R. GD in the sector north edge Haute Foret— Zoteux

3.

Deployed in the regiment's sector (beginning from left) I Btl.

II Btl.

each with an attached light infantry gun and

III Btl.

anti-tank gun platoon. In addition, one company of Sturm- Pionier Battalion 43 will be attached to each battalion.

Boundaries for reconnaissance and security:

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THE SEDAN FRONT DIRECTION of I.R.GDs ADVANCE and ATTACK
THE SEDAN
FRONT
DIRECTION of I.R.GDs
ADVANCE and ATTACK
THE SEDAN FRONT DIRECTION of I.R.GDs ADVANCE and ATTACK 100

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(a)

left to Gruppe Krüger: Cremarest (I Btl.) — north edge Haut Foret-Bournonville (I Btl.) — Brunembert (Gr. Krüger)

(b)

between I and II Btls.: north edge of Desvres — Quesnes

(c)

between II and III Btls.: Beaucoroy — Bécourt (north) —

Blequin (II Btl.) On the south flank III Btl. is to bend its wing around and make contact with 2nd Pz.Div. — Reserve behind right wing.

4. Assignments: Prevent the enemy's withdrawal to the coast in the designated sectors. All roads in the these sectors are to be blocked. — Reconnaissance: as far as the line : Rucquellers—Bourthes— Quesnes— Escoeuilles. Forward boundary of security: due east of the Zoteux— Sacri— Quier road—east edge of the Haute Foret. Battalions are to hold back powerful mobile reserves in the rear of their sectors.

5. 14th Company (less 3 platoons), 15th (Hvy.Inf.Gun) Company and the assault gun battery will initially be located in the vicinity of Longfosse. — Opportunities for action in the three sectors are to be explored.

6. Rgt. Comman d Post: Longfosse. Btl. command posts and dispositions to be reported there as soon as possible.

7. Vehicles are to move into the sectors as soon as possible.

8. Signal communications: to I and III Btls. by wireless, to II Btl. by wire.

9. Prisoner assembly point: is to be set up in Wierre au Bolz by the headquarters of the Pi.Btl.

10. Fuel distribution from the morning of 23. 5. is expected to be in the wood southwest of La Capelle (east of Boulogne). Orders to follow.

11. Telephone lines and postal facilities are to be interrupted.

12. Further movement is to be expected on the morning of 23. 5.

verified Masius Hauptmann and Adjutant

signed von Stockhausen

This order reached the battalions in the evening hours of 22 May, and the security sectors were occupied. The night passed unevent- fully. A report by the 15th (Hvy.Inf.Gun) Company described in detail the situation on the roads:

"We were moving in the direction of Calais. On the roads were scenes of the bitterest misery; endless columns of refugees passed by. We had no choice but to force them from the roads. They stood by their high wagons in the fields and meadows. They had loaded the most impossible objects. Motorcycles, chairs, tables, beds, pots

and pans, household utensils of all kinds, crates with chickens, rabbits

all

and doves, sacks stuffed full, sofas, bundles of straw,

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thrown on the wagons in a jumble. Many objects were merely hung on the outside on the wagon racks. Behind the wagons followed cows, horses and sheep, often tended only by children, while dogs sniffed about. On the wagons with their colourful splendour sat frightened, shaking people, mostly women with small children, babes in arms and half-grown boys and girls. Only a few men accompanied this caravan of misery. Now and then they dropped everything at the sound of an approaching aircraft, until they realized that the German fliers posed no threat. Often we handed what little we had to the population. They nearly jumped for joy at the gift of a loaf of bread or a tin of meat. We thought of home, of parents, brothers and sisters, women and children." The increasing levels of air activity, especially by British and Canadian aircraft operating from England, demanded increased vigilance. Fierce air battles took place, while repeated low- level attacks often hampered the advance. Late on the morning of 23 May, orders reached GD to begin the advance towards the north at once — objective: St. Omer, in the direction of Dunkirk. The regiment neared the channel coast. The terrain was completely flat, with fields and many canals. The only raised features were man-made: roads, railway embankments and villages. Visibility was excellent; the burning port of Dunkirk was the aiming point. Large palls of black smoke hung over the city. The flat terrain offered little protection against enemy fire. After three or four spadefuls of earth the soldiers struck ground water. The many drainage ditches were filled to the brim with water. Discarded equipment lay everywhere; abandoned vehicles — mostly British — littered the roads and lanes. Bawling cattle, hungry and abandoned, roamed the countryside. There were few refugees here; most had fled to the south. The signs of battle were clearly visible in the villages. The tremen- dous effect of the German panzers was evident: at the railway station an abandoned freight train, in the wagons starving horses; many abandoned trucks, some overturned, piled high with food, cigarettes and boxes. Everything lay strewn about the road, but scarcely anyone paid it any attention. At about noon on 23 May, II Battalion GD set out on its march toward Audruicq, northwest of St. Omer. The battalion rolled forward over jammed roads, past heavy guns, through badly- damaged villages. Then, near Nortkerque, contact with the enemy:

fire whistled in from several blocks of houses. Resistance was quickly broken, however. Orders came to change direction toward Audruicq, take the village and move on toward the St. Omer canal. It was midday. In Audruicq sat the English and French; they defended themselves bitterly. During the first approach Obit. Bohrmann of 2nd Company/ I Batallion, as well as Feldw. Gabriel,

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Feldw. Blanke and Gefr. Letmoden were killed. It was all for no purpose; orders came to go around the village to the south. Then new orders came from regiment: change direction toward the north, force the crossings near St. Pierre—Brouck. It was already dark; the burning houses luridly illuminated the countryside. Dunkirk appeared as a torch against the night sky. There was the objective! With 5th and 6th Companies in the lead and 7th and 8th Companies providing security to the sides, II Battalion marched toward the bridge positions near Pont St. Pierre and St. Marie-Ker- que. There was confusion in the darkness. Ill Battalion advanced toward Hennuin. In the lead was an assault gun of the 16th Sturm- Battery, followed by three sections of 11th Company, the rest of the attached platoon from the 16th Company, an anti-tank gun and then the main body of the battalion. The first elements of the battalion reached Hennuin near midnight and the last at roughly 05.00. Some of the vehicles lost their way in the darkness and became stuck. II Battalion also arrived in Hennuin in the dark of night. It received orders to continue the advance immediately in the direction of St. Nicolas and take possession of the bridge site. The 7th Company moved forward but was fired on. It went into position on the west bank of the Aa and dug in there for the rest of the night. A member of 7th Company, Grenadier Wolfgang Müller, recalled:

"When it became dark we were split up into platoons. What would be awaiting us now? All around everything was dark. A fine Flemish drizzle sprinkled our helmets, dripping onto the tent squares we had draped about us and leaking into our tunics. Even our wool pullovers were no barrier to it, and we shivered from the cold. 'Dig in deep', advised our platoon leader, 'we'll likely be getting artillery fire.' And so we spent half the night digging our foxholes, hoping that the rain would cease and smelling the characteristic odour of meadow earth, which combined the odours of freshly-turned sod and rotting subsoil. One spade-cut, two, three, then four spade-cuts down and we could go no farther as we had reached ground water. A somewhat higher shelf was cut out on the short side for a seat and a step and then the foxhole was ready. We hunched down in our holes, lost in thought.

Then, in front of me, I heard the muffled rattling of equipment and hushed voices. 'Hans, man, they're coming!' Hans said to take it easy. We both stared into the darkness. We couldn't see a But Hans had heard the noise too. Should we fire? Don't drive the whole front crazy! If we see something, we'll fire. But as hard as we strained, we couldn't see anything in the rain- blackened darkness. The noises slowly died away. All was quiet." At that time I Battalion was on the west bank of the Aa canal facing enemy positions on the opposite side outside St.Pierre- Brouck. At the canal the Grenadiers secured both sides of the Hennuin—Aa

-i

103 no

canal bridge—St.Pierre-Brouck road. The attached 2nd Platoon/Sturm-Pionier Company prepared for the crossing to the east bank. The main dressing station was in the rear with I Battalion's train in Osthove. The wounded were treated there and then housed in a large farmhouse. Battalion Medical Officer, Dr. Alberts, described an incident which took place there:

"After a day of fighting the wounded lay in the main house of a

large farm. An English truck strayed into the village and caused quite

a lot of firing, which left the wounded feeling rather uneasy. I was

called in to prevent a disorderly evacuation of the farm, which was an ideal location. In order to settle things down, I made an inspection of the loft of the one-storey house accompanied by First-Aid Feldwebel Steinhauer and the powerfully-built Oberschirrmeister Heinke. We passed a light over the loft, which proved to be empty, as was the adjoining room which had been built into the gable-end. As we were making our way back there was a sudden burst of firing. We fired back into the darkness. Heinke was down the stairs with a leap, ready to meet anyone who should come that way. Steinhauer likewise leapt down to the main floor through the lighted square of the hatch in the floor of the loft. After firing a final few shots into the corners to keep the enemy at bay, I too raced downstairs with a mighty leap—right into the arms of the Oberschirrmeister! We were just considering a plan to smoke out the enemy, as the wounded could now scarcely be kept in the house, when a soldier came in to see what was going on.

We found out that outside were some security troops from an anti- tank unit. The men had seen our light while searching the area and, believing it to be a light signal, had opened fire. On learning the cause of the uproar the wounded calmed down again and spent a peaceful night in the house." The morning of 24 May saw the regiment's I Battalion in position

before St.Pierre-Brouck, while II Battalion was dug in on the Aa canal facing St.Nicolas. Ill Battalion and elements of II Battalion were stationed in Hennuin. An assault gun was sent up to II Battalion at dawn, where it destroyed an enemy machine gun position which commanded the approach road. The battalion sent 6th Company and elements of 8th Company across the Aa canal and established

a bridgehead on the other side. The 5th Company was unable to

take the bridge site itself because of heavy fire from enemy machine guns and anti-aircraft guns. Under sniper fire from trees and hedges, 6th Company, which was accompanied by a company of Sturm-Pioniers, made only slow progress and was finally halted. 5th Company and the 7th Company behind it hung on. Observation posts for light and heavy infantry guns were set up on the far side of the canal and fire and attack plans

104

were drawn up in preparation for the capture of the bridge site. The resumption of the attack was set for the afternoon. Gefr. Johann Neumann described the attack and the crossing by 6th Company:

"The new day dawned. Everything was still, until behind us we heard the sound of a motor growing louder. One of our assault guns was rolling forwards along the road beside us. The wide, heavy tank moved past slowly towards the canal on our left and stopped several metres from the bank. We described the target to our comrades. It was a single tree, at the foot of which was the enemy outpost. Turning its steel body slightly to align its gun on the target, the assault gun seemed to crouch like a beast of prey. Then there was a flash and a roar like thunder and a fountain of earth erupted at the tree. The assault gun fired shot after shot. The ground over there was torn up and clods of earth whirled through the air. It seemed impossible that anyone could be left alive. Then, suddenly, all was quiet; the target had been eliminated. The tank's motor roared to life. It rolled forwards on its broad tracks to the crossroads a few metres away and turned a bit to the left. Once again shells thundered from its short gun barrel. The target now was the nearest houses in the village on the other side of the canal.

In the meantime, our first sections had raced across the road. The

crossing now began using inflatable boats. The boats smacked onto the water and we leapt in. A mighty heave and we were away from the bank. It was twenty metres to the other side. Everything now depended on speed. We had to get to the other side before enemy machine gun fire could foil our plan. All the while our remaining comrades of the platoon lay along the road, their weapons directed

at the enemy, fingers on their triggers.

The boats bumped against the high bank of the canal. The platoon leader jumped out with his messenger, the section leader and several infantrymen. The first men dropped to the ground near the tree. The machine gun went into position farther out to the right. All of this happened in a few seconds. As we came nearer, we could see the completely bewildered French to one side of the tree. They were simply unable to fire. One of them tried to escape to the village, but he was shot down. In the meantime the remaining sections crossed the canal. The platoon leader deployed his platoon toward the village on a wide front. However, the enemy was well-entrenched there. The first shots whizzed toward us, but we kept advancing. House- to-house fighting broke out. It was the beginning of a very hot day!"

A small bridgehead had been established, approximately 1,000

metres deep. It was secured and set up for defence. The main body of II Battalion remained quietly on the west side of the canal. Pioniers forced a crossing over the canal for I Battalion near La Bistade. The bridge had been blown and the Grenadiers fought their

105

way forward towards St. Pierre-Brouck. The most forward security outpost lay near the railway embankment of the St. Omer— Bour- bourg line. The following account was provided by a participating member of the 15th (Hvy.Inf.Gun) Company, which had deployed a gun platoon in support of the attack by I Battalion:

"In the early hours of the morning we drove across open country toward St.Pierre-Brouck. Harassing machine gun fire from the flank was annoying, but we were pushing the enemy hard. The observation post was under enemy fire. The platoon leader and his signals people were squatting behind a meagre wall which was their only protection. As soon as a head was raised above cover, the enemy answered with rifle fire. One of our shells smashed into a house scarcely 150 metres away. The enemy guns there fell silent, but fire was still coming from a hedgerow. Through gaps in it we could see French soldiers flitting by, some even jumped into the canal. Finally, we could move forward again; in any case, at 600 metres the distance was quite small. We set up our range finder and scissors telescope in a villa and organized the observation post. However, an enemy machine gun opened fire, forcing us to take cover and dig foxholes." The main body of III Battalion remained idle in Mennuin. The companies were widely scattered in barns and houses. 10th Company under Obit. Lucke was able to take Audruicq by surprise and occupy the village. The commander of the British battalion there was captured at the entrance to the village. 12th Company moved up to reinforce the attack. The enemy commander was invited to surrender, which he did. He persuaded another officer to go to his people as a parlamentaire. As a result, 1,100 British and French soldiers surrendered, among them 14 officers. The rest, who continued to offer resistance, fell victim to the fire of the assault guns. On 25 May the GROSSDEUTSCHLAND Regiment was still in the same positions. It still came under enemy fire, sometimes from artillery, but there was no significant combat. At about 11.30, 9th Company, which had been detached to XIX Panzer Corps as headquarters guard, returned to III Battalion. Replacements arrived at midday and were assigned to the various units. Obstlt. Köhler took over command of IV Battalion. For the most part the troops rested as much as was possible. In the rear an English supply dum p was inspected, revealing many delicacies which im- proved the food rations noticeably. The 26th of May also saw no significant combat; as on the day before, it saw only positional warfare with the usual artillery fire. I and II Battalions remained in the bridgeheads across the Aa canal, while III Battalion rested in Hennuin.

106

General Guderian arrived at 14.00 and delivered an address in the Audruicq Manor park to the assembled members of III Battalion. It was in this manor park that Obit. Bohrmann (of I Btl.) and the other fallen were buried. The regiment went to the attack on 27 May with the SS- Leibstan- darte on its right. Objective: the heights in the line Crochte— Drincham, through St.Pierre-Brouck—Lynck— Looberghe. The tactical assignment was to attack and tie up powerful enemy forces and prevent them from embarking at Dunkirk. I and II Battalions, with III Battalion staggered to the rear and left as flanking cover, attacked toward the east. The advance was greatly hindered by the need to cross many canals, and made only slow progress. The enemy defended stubbornly. I Battalion pushed on to Lynck and farther to the northeast. II Battalion, which was advancing on I Battalion's left, attacked Drincham, in the course of which 7th Company made sufficient headway to enable 5th Company to get as far as the Lelaurier Station. 6th Company won Khatove, which was reported free of the enemy. The battalion's attack sustained its momentu m and Drincham was soon reached. Large numbers of the enemy sur- rendered when they realised that they were in danger of being surrounded. From Pitgam the enemy fled toward the north. Fleeing enemy batteries were fired on and disappeared in a wild gallop. By about 16.00 the companies were again on the advance. II Battalion occupied the heights east of Pitgam, where it secured positions until darkness fell. As the heavy weapons had not been needed, III Battalion likewise moved to Pitgam and secured to the north and northeast. I Battalion had become involved in heavy fighting in St.Pierre-Brouck in the morning and had suffered consid- erable losses. However, II Battalion's rapid advance brought relief and finally the entire town was captured. This day also saw the arrival of the first mail from home.

On 28 May the regiment continued its attack to the northeast. Weather was rainy and dull. As he had often done before, the enemy abandoned his field positions during the night and established himself farther to the rear. The regiment's objective: the line Pitgam—Steene, as far as the vicinity of Bergues. The new positions were reached by midday and, as ordered, the regiment went over to the defensive. Much of the terrain in front of the left side of the regiment's sector was flooded. The English put up a stubborn defence from behind the canals in an effort to cover their withdrawal to Dunkirk. The ring around the port had been closed; Reichenau's army was pressing in from the northeast. GROSSDEUTSCHLAND stood outside Bergues. The following report was made by 15th (Hvy.Inf.Gun) Company:

107

"We were outside Bergues. The light field positions near and in the town were quickly taken by surprise. On the right the 2nd Platoon went into position behind a poultry farm outside Soex. The 1st Platoon remained in the centre behind a farm. The company headquarters personnel pushed on across the railway embankment and took up position in a house. Small hedgerows, bushes and gardens provided some cover, but we were unable to escape the sharp eyes of the enemy observers in the towers and churches opposite us. We were very soon conscious of that fact. A hail of shells showered down on us. Even our assault guns took cover. The 1st Platoon engaged truck columns with great success. 2nd Platoon aligned its gun on a very narrow church steeple. The fifth and sixth shells scored direct hits. Gradually, it became dark and we began to dig foxholes."

In the afternoon approach routes were reconnoitred for a possible

attack on Bergues.

A patrol from 6th Company under Lt. Prachowski was the first to

enter the town of Bergues. Once there, the men hoisted the flag. They had gone over so as to reach the town ahead of a Silesian division which was approaching from the southeast. The patrol returned with several prisoners. The attack on Bergues planned for 29 May was called off; conditions were unfavourable as much of the surrounding terrain was flooded. It appeared, however, that the approach of Reichenau's divisions would obviate the need for the attack in any case. The battalions remained in position, widely separated. Enemy artillery, including naval guns, kept up a steady fire. The light infantry gun platoon of 13th Company received a direct hit, which killed Ogefr. David Gross—the smallest man in the company—and wounded Grenadiers Riermeyer, Brehm and Grün. A member of 8th Company described the positional warfare outside Bergues:

"We were outside Bergues. We broke out the entrenching tools and began to dig into the clay. Let the shells come! Only a direct hit could impress us now. On both sides clay. At the head and foot of the trench, clay. Beneath us clay. Over us a tent square, with the rain spattering against it. After the first hour the clay on the sides had become damned soft. Several litres of water had collected on the tent square. Bits of clay swam around in the water like goldfish. They came from the fresh shell-holes all around us, and there were more and more of them by the minute. We lay stretched out in our holes and stared up into the clouds. After the second hour there were bits of clay on our cheeks. We had moved for a moment; now there was no water on the tent square, instead there was a pool in the bottom of the hole. We propped ourselves up on our elbows and stared into the clouds.

108

After the third hour again a pool of water on the tent square. Shell fragments hissed close by. We must stay down. It was no longer wise to stay propped up on our elbows. We lay flat and stared into the clouds. After the fourth hour we moved again. The water had risen to ten

centimetres, running over the tent square. Earth from a nearby shell crater ran into our bath water. We lay outstretched and stared into the clouds.

we didn't know how much

After the fifth hour the first

longer we'd be staying outside Bergues." At about 18.00, III Battalion was taken from the GROSS- DEUTSCHLAND Regiment and XIV Army Corps and placed under the command of the 11th Rifle Brigade. The battalion travelled on foot over poor roads towards West-Cappel. At roughly 24.00 it arrived there and received orders to attack and take the chateau at West-Cappel, which was being stubbornly defended by English troops. So far the 11th Rifle-Brigade had been unable to take the chateau. Also on 30 May, heavy, well-directed artillery fire fell on the positions of GROSSDEUTSCHLAND's I and II Battalions. A platoon from I Battalion extended the regiment's front to the right to a total of 12 kilometres. Persistent British air attacks forced the troops to keep their heads down. Again and again the supply trains and heavy weapons were forced to change positions. An 8.8 cm Flak was towed into position in 13th (Lgt.Inf.Gun) Company's sector. From there it shot up the steeples in Bergues one after the other, as it was suspected that the enemy artillery fire was being directed from them. Patrols sent out by II Battalion confirmed that the town was still occupied by the enemy. II Battalion had to extend its front to the right. The battalion's 5th Company took over a sector from I Battalion after it moved farther to the right. The enemy artillery continued to fire after dark, and the Allied air forces continued their low- level attacks on the German positions.

Meanwhile, III Battalion was in position near West-Cappel. A strong patrol reconnoitred the chateau in the early morning. It discovered that the enemy had abandoned the chateau during the night. In the afternoon an attack was ordered on the channel coast between the Belgian border and Dunkirk. Ill Battalion's combat report stated:

"On the right the 110th and 111th Rifle Regiments, on the left - on the flank as usual — III Battalion, which was to break through near Feteghem and thus secure the way to the sea for the motorcycle battalion. As there were no reconnaissance results available, Lt. von Blankenburg was ordered to take a motorcycle patrol as far as the Canal de la Colme. Ill Battalion was lined up along the West-Cap-

109

pel—canal road. Part of the patrol returned along the same road. It had been fired on by enemy troops holding the canal crossing. Lt. von Blankenburg had been wounded and Feldw. Güther killed. Afterward III Battalion moved forward and, in bitter fighting, fought its way through the first houses of Benty-Meulen. In the midst of the heaviest fighting came the order from division: In the event that the bridge over the canal has been blown, halt the attack immediately. Under heavy artillery fire, the battalion remained in its positions for the night." On 31 May nothing new happened in the regiment's sector, which now ran along the Canal de la Colme between Soex—Bergues— Steene to the channel near Pitgam. The battalions secured the area. The ring around Dunkirk was drawing ever tighter. Prisoners reported that the defenders were being worn down by Stuka bombs and shells from the German heavy artillery. Ill Battalion reported nothing out of the ordinary during the morning other than harassing fire. Gefr. Herbert Günthersberg, the son of the commander, was fatally wounded on a patrol to the canal; Gefr. Jakob Kreusch was killed by artillery fire. Reconnaissance carried out at midday revealed that the enemy forces on the other side of the canal had been reinforced. The first elements of the relieving infantry of Reichenau's army began reaching the regiment's positions during the afternoon. The first patrols reached III Battalion which briefed the new arrivals on the situation. Ill Battalion remained in its positions, however. Mem- bers and liaison agents of the 484th Infantry Regiment reported to the Garski Battalion, which was slated for relief. It was rumoured that the GROSSDEUTSCHLAND Regiment was to be withdrawn and assembled in the Boulogne area for new duties. Preparations and briefings for relief and withdrawal were carried out. Warning orders were issued for this eventuality.

The battle in Flanders was nearing its end. Resistance in the Dunkirk bridgehead slowly waned; the lessening of enemy artillery fire was especially noticeable. Clouds of black smoke still hung over the port. Enemy warships were anchored at sea and smaller craft could be seen shuttling back and forth to the beaches: the British Expeditionary Force was embarking, evacuating the bridgehead. On 1 Jun e I.R. GD was still in its positions outside Bergues. The enemy artillery fire had lost some of its intensity. The impression was that the Allied artillery positions had shifted to the rear. While nothing special took place with I Battalion, two infantry regiments, the 51st and 54th, arrived at II Battalion outside Bergues. The 51st Regiment was slated to attack the town, but the planned participation by II Battalion in the operation was cancelled. Then the attack by the 51st Regiment was also put on hold.

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Prior to the arrival of the relief forces, III Battalion, under the command of Obstlt. Garski, had been idle. By 05.00 it had handed over its positions to the relieving units and all elements of the battalion had assembled in the eastern quarter of Zeggers- Cappel. Unfortunately, the continuous enemy air attacks—mostly by the R.A.F.—resulted in casualties to 12th Company of four wounded, one of whom later died. During one attack a vehicle was struck by

a bomb, killing the driver and wounding the other occupants. The scene on 2 June for the GD Regiment was almost a peaceful

one. The only enemy activity was scattered artillery fire, although a chance hit on II Battalion's command post claimed the lives of two men, one of whom was the well-liked Gefr. Lorenz, who had earned

a

reputation as a stalwart messenger. German forces were now able

to

occupy Bergues as the enemy forces had left their positions in the

town during the night. Meanwhile, the Sturm-Pionier Battalion 43, which was still attached to GROSSDEUTSCHLAND, together with elements of a rifle brigade and supported by an assault gun, launched an attack on the Canal de la Colme west of Bergues near Mille Brugghe. This attack was carried out in order to gain complete control of the canal in this sector. The advance was a success; it was also the last act of the German offensive on this front.

During the course of the day and night the regiment was relieved by other units without incident. The only attempt to interrupt the

relief was a night raid by British bombers. At 09.00 on 3 June, 1940,

II Battalion, which had been relieved by the 14th Reconnaissance

Battalion, moved to the rear into the area of Bellezeele, where it set up camp. Ill Battalion continued to rest in Zeggers-Cappel, taking on supplies and regrouping. Meanwhile, it had been learned that the

regiment was not moving to the area east of Boulogne, but to Pommier, between Dollens and Arras. Preparations were begun for departure.

Stu.Pi.Btl. 43 had been attached to the GD Regiment since before the start of the attack in the west and the men of the two units had become true comrades in arms. However, the battalion was now released temporarily by the regiment. Now seen as an experienced breakthrough battalion, it was transferred into the Zweibrücken area. The GROSSDEUTSCHLAND Regiment was withdrawn and sent

to the south. Its initial destination was the Biensvillers area. It was 4

June, 1940.

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Chapter Eight

To the Seine

The second phase of the German attack, the piercing of the Weygand Line on the lower Somme, was to begin on 5 June. The German bridgeheads at Abbéville and Amiens were to be of great significance to the attack. Panzer Corps Hoth was the first to penetrate the prepared positions of the Weygand Line south of Abbéville, driving 15 kilometres into the enemy's rear. However, in the assault launched from the bridgehead at Amiens, only the panzers were able to push into the fortified enemy positions. The rifle regiments, on the other hand, bogged down in the well-prepared positions, and it became a battle for each fortified town against mines and barricades of every description. The battle raged bitterly until the ring of hastily-erected, but well-prepared, positions was pierced. The German regiments streamed south through the gaps which had been smashed in the French line toward St.Fuscien, then Sains and further in the direction of Estreés.

The GROSSDEUTSCHLAND Regiment waited north of Amiens ready to march. Its task would be to follow up and exploit a breakthrough by pushing ahead into the enemy's rear. The regiment was moved farther forward and on the night of 5/ 6 June was on the road south of Amiens waiting to go into action. The mood was tense.

The regimental commander sat nervously in his staff car, repeatedly

and waited. The noise of battle could be heard

in the distance with the booming of the artillery and the dull thunder of the Stuka attacks. From this distance the troops could clearly follow the dive bombers as they plunged toward their targets. Lt. Stockmann of 6th Company reported:

"The advance led us through Amiens. Whole blocks of houses had been completely destroyed. The air was poisoned by the decaying bodies of horses and men. Tangled power and telephone lines hung from their poles. The few remaining French inhabitants crowded around the hastily set up food centres which were under German control and supervision. It was a horrible picture, but rising out of the field of rubble, like a vigilant guardian, was the undamaged cathedral. South of the city we drove past the former German field positions from which the attack had been launched. To the left of the road were the sad remains of a French air base, with burned-out hangars

scanning his

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The breakthrough of the Weygand Line on 6 June 1940. The symbol in the bottom

The breakthrough of the Weygand Line on 6 June 1940. The symbol in the bottom right corner indicates French positions.

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and destroyed aircraft. Scattered about the place were numerous pieces of equipment, uniforms, steel helmets, weapons and so on. Large boxes, still containing bombs, were stacked one upon the other. Now, however, they were of little use to their owners." Early on the morning of 6 June, the regiment was marched forward through St.Fuscien and Sains into the wooded area north of Estrées, where it encamped. Once again Lt. Stockmann of 6th Company:

"We halted in the meadows near St.Fuscien, which had fallen into German hands the day before. The vehicles were quickly camouflaged and machine guns set up for anti-aircraft defence. Our good friend, the Fieseler Storch, circled overhead while we ate our lunch. On the move with us were the armoured forces. Our artillery had taken up position on both sides of the Amiens—Sains road. There was battery after battery as far as the eye could see. The barrels of the big guns pointed menacingly towards the southern horizon. The artillery opened fire with a sound like thunder, the shells whistling on their way toward their targets, bringing death and destruction to the enemy. Farther forward they were joined by the medium and light guns, anti-aircraft guns and anti-tank guns.

The great battle raged only a few kilometres ahead of us. Without pause our artillery fired into the area south of Amiens, where yesterday our forces had driven a wedge into the enemy positions. At about 15.00 we launched an attack towards Estrées and the hill to the southwest (Hill 127)." The regimental order was issued to the battalions in the late hours of the morning:

Infantry Regiment GROSSDEUTSCHLAND

Btl. la

Rgt. Command Post, 6.6.40

Regimental Order for the Attack:

1. The regiment is to assemble at the south edge of the Bois de Camon for the attack against Hill 127 and the terrain to the east.

2. The battalions will take up positions as follows:

III Btl. right—the south edge of the B. de Camon. II Btl. the area Fme. east of the Bois de Camon. I Btl. behind III Btl. north section of B. de Camon.

3. Boundaries for assembly, reconnaissance and later attack:

southeast edge B. de Camon—Hill 127—south edge B. du Domont.

4. II Btl./A.R. 677 will support the assembly and attack from firing positions north of St.Fuscien; in particular, preparatory fire on enemy positions near Hill 127 and in Estrées. Two forward observers to III Btl., one to II Btl.

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5.

15th (Hvy.Inf.Gun) Company will support the regiment's assembly and attack, especially III Btl. Preparations are to be made for possible fire against Estrée.

6. 14th (Pz.Jäg.) Company will take charge of anti-tank defence, especially on the regiment's left flank during assembly and attack.

7. The rest of 13th Company will remain at my disposal at the northeast edge of the B. de Camon, and explore opportunities for action in III Battalion's attack sector.

8. I Btl./7th Pz.Rgt., which is attached to the regiment, will, in close cooperation with III Battalion, support the regiment's attack ini- tially as far as Hill 127.

9. Battle reconnaissance: by II Battalion, in the wooded areas north- east of Estrées.

10. I Btl./38th Flak Btl., which has orders to cooperate with the regiment, will support II Battalion's attack on Hill 127 with one heavy battery and a half of a light battery by covering the flank, especially toward Estrées and the forest northeast of Estrées.

11. All units are to report attack readiness!

12. Signals communication: initially wireless to II and III Battalions.

13. Rgt. Command Post: initially at south entrance to Sains, later at south edge of B. de Camon.

14. Main dressing station: Amiens-South, Rue de St.Fuscien.

15. Munitions distribution: from 7. 6. — 08.00: at vehicle column in Gardonette, approx. 8 km northeast of Amiens.

16. Fuel: immediately in Behencourt, approx. 14 km northeast of Amiens. 17. V. and G. trains: from 7. 6. — 06.00: in Gardonette.

verified correct Masius Hauptmann and Adjutant

signed von Stockhausen

The battalions set out in the heat of midday, which was especially hard on the men of the mortar and heavy machine gun sections. In some cases the advancing troops were met by French artillery fire. The march into the assembly area cost III Battalion, which was earmarked as the spearhead battalion, 10 casualties. II Battalion, whose assembly area lay at the eastern tip of the Bois de Camon, also suffered serious casualties from artillery and machine gun fire. Nevertheless, the two battalions reached the assigned areas and stood ready for the attack at 17.00. The battalions reported their situations as follows:

III Battalion - Obstlt. Garski:

"The move into the valley north of St.Fuscien followed late in the morning. While moving into the assembly area there, we came under surprise artillery bombardment which cost the battalion 10 wounded. Obit. Gruss' truck drove over a mine; however, only one man was slightly wounded. Further casualties necessitated that we fall back to

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the north. At about 17.00 the battalion, which was deployed at the

head of the regiment (II Btl. on the left), went to the attack west of the St.Fuscien—Cains road, through the Bois de Camon and south

of Cains toward Hill 127, which was the initial objective.

Because of heavy machine gun fire from the direction of Estrées, the battalion went around the hill to the west. Working closely with the attached I Btl./7th Pz.Rgt., the battalion reached the southern tip of the Bois du Domont at roughly 21.15. There the battalion came under enemy fire from the Bois de Berny. Decision: continue the advance as far as Hill 161, south of Flers. As a result of the greater distance involved and not least because of poor signals and road communications, we were out of contact with the regiment, which had meanwhile changed its intentions.

On this day (and also on 7. 6.) the battalion formed the spearhead

of the entire force attacking Amiens.

As the attack continued, enemy resistance stiffened. Following his initial surprise, the enemy noticed that the attack was not being carried forward on the flanks of III Battalion, which now suffered its first casualties from flanking fire from the Bois de Berny.

Continuing the advance, III Battalion also received fire from the

right rear from the vicinity of Rossignol (near Essertaux). Taking into consideration the approaching nightfall, the battalion commander reached the following decision: call off any further attack, dig in on Hill 161 due north of the road which runs from the north exit from Flers to the Bois de Berny. Barrage fire lay behind this line. II Battalion followed gradually and, linking up with 11th Company, secured the battalion's left flank. Tank noises were heard from 03.00

to

03.30, otherwise the night was comparatively quiet." II Battalion:

"Assembly was carried out in spite of heavy artillery fire which cost

II

Battalion alone 22 casualties. The assembly area was moved

forward about 800 metres in the direction of Estrées. A patrol determined that Estrées was heavily occupied. Decision of the battalion commander: advance past Estrées to the west and take Hill 127! II Battalion moved forward in the protection of a gully, won Hill 127 and held. Ill Battalion could be seen from the hill as it continued its advance. Estrées was screened by tanks. II Battalion's commander decided on his own initiative to carry on the attack against the Bois du Domont, the division's objective. Heavy enemy fire was suppressed by the panzers. As it advanced, II Battalion ran into heavy machine gun fire from the Bois de Bemy. Initially the battalion evaded the enemy fire and was then given covering fire by the Panzers. Since III Battalion was far ahead in the direction of Flers and could not be left on its own, the commander of II Battalion decided to continue the advance in order to cover III Battalion's flank

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to the south and southeast. The advance went smoothly and suc- ceeded in establishing contact with III Battalion's 11th Company. Neither II or III Battalion noticed that their positions lay across the Weygand Line. The French, too, seemed unaware of this. The escorting Panzers helped secure the territory that had been won; however, the noise of their motors brought down enemy artillery fire. This led to casualties in the battalion headquarters, as well as 8th and 5th Companies." The enemy forces facing the regiment consisted mostly of negro soldiers. They fought like wild animals, firing from trees, bushes and hedgerows. It was an uncomfortable, bitter battle. Following up behind II Battalion, I Battalion succeeded in entering and taking the strongly-fortified town of Estrées. Lt. Pierson was killed as the fighting was coming to an end—it was his birthday. The French had done much to improve the town as a defensive position. Holes in cellar walls served as gun ports and ridges of roofs provided high firing platforms for the negro soldiers. Lt. Stockmann of the 6th Company reported on the course of the battle west of Estrées:

"At about 15.00 we were sent to the attack against Hill 127, southwest of Estrées. The objective was to widen and deepen the wedge which had been driven to the southwest. In long rows we crossed the meadows south of St.Fuscien. In the afternoon heat the infantry's line of skirmishers, several kilometres wide, moved toward Hill 127, the day's objective. It was as if a great manoeuvre was unfolding. The French had done an outstanding job of extending their defences; every village and farm had been turned into a fortress. The cellar windows of the houses at the edge of the village had become gun ports, the hedgerows were studded with artillery pieces and anti-tank guns, and behind every bit of cover was a machine gun. Riflemen in trees and on rooftops rounded out the French defences. However, too late the French artillery opened fire on the advancing lines of infantry on the left wing. We lost only two killed and several wounded. When the shells came too close we threw ourselves to the ground. As soon as the smoke cleared we were up and moving before the next shell landed. We took our first rest in a small wood. The thick undergrowth concealed dugouts armed with machine guns. It was incomprehen- sible to us that these excellent defensive positions had been aban- doned so quickly. However, at the same time we realised something else: nothing could stand in the way of an attack carried out with sufficient force. We set out again after a brief rest. The sun burned down on us mercilessly and the equipment became a crushing burden as we marched through cornfields and woods and across meadows. There

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was plenty of cursing, but it had to be done! It was tremendous how everyone did his duty. We walked out of a small wood and crossed the road which farther to the left led into Estrées. Now came the moment that we had all been nervously awaiting: we were to advance with our panzers past Estrées towards Hill 127. It was unforgettable how the rolling giants began to move, slipped through our ranks and drove on before us. Uninterrupted machine gun and rifle fire whistled in from the flank. While our machine guns went into position and screened to the left, our advance rolled on irresistibly. Soon the first enemy targets came into sight. Most were eliminated by the panzers. The sound of enemy guns and exploding shells, which were still strewing the wide field, merged into the noise of battle. Suddenly, heavy fire began to come from the water tower which was offset somewhat on the right of the village. Shells were whizzing past our heads even before we heard the shots. But then the panzers opened fire. They poured shell after shell into the water tower and soon great holes appeared in the structure. Clouds of mortar and dust settled and were blown off to the right by the wind, and while the village lay in the golden midday sun, tongues of flame licked from the roofs of most of the houses. The first panzers had since driven up to the edge of the village. The French soldiers who had been unable to escape now began their sad walk into captivity. In the meantime, the leading elements of the battalion had finally reached Hill 127.

The whistle of incoming artillery shells was now more frequent. We received orders to dig in, but not for long. Soon we were moving forward again. Almost without pause the panzers drove on before us. For us, despite all the difficulties, there was only one thing:

onward! We continued on, unperturbed by the fire which came to life again and raked our flank. Columns of black smoke rose from the farmhouses which were scattered across the broad plain. Fortunately for us, it had become somewhat cooler as dusk fell. Our canteens had long been empty and our lips were dry and brittle. No drinkable water could be found, so we tapped a barrel of wine which had fallen into our hands. At about midnight we finally reached the hill where our advance was to halt. We had advanced far beyond the day's objective. On orders from the company commander the individual companies moved into their sectors and began to dig slit foxholes. But this was not to be an easy task. Digging in the chalky soil demanded a great deal of effort. While this was going on, heavy machine guns opened up from the Bois de Bemy, not 600 metres away, forcing us to again take cover. Our panzers had meanwhile driven into cover behind a thick copse in a gully. We got only a few hours of rest- -the morning to come would once again demand a maximum effort from everyone.

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The two of us lay in our hole. It had become cold and the dew fell on us in thick drops. The enemy artillery thundered at regular

intervals and shells burst pitilessly among us. Cries for help rang out through the moonlit night. As morning dawned it seemed somewhat quieter, but this was just the calm before the storm." Indeed, as the moon rose in the clear sky and the Grenadiers sought protection in their holes from the enemy artillery fire, medical personnel moved onto the battlefield and searched for the wounded

searched for their comrades. And the battalions

and the

recorded a high cost in human life, which in the end was reflected in the sober numbers. Losses during the attack and the night of 6/ 7 June amounted to:

III Btl. 28 killed and nearly 100 wounded. II Btl. 21 killed and close to 80 wounded.

This was a high toll in young men who bled and died, but the two battalions were the first to succeed in piercing the fortified and bitterly-defended Weygand Line south of Amiens. A stream of fresh units stood ready to pour through the gaps they had created. Victory was in sight! Even as dawn broke on 7 June, shells began to fall on the battalions' exposed positions. Soon there were more dead and wounded; the holes in the chalky ground were simply not deep enough. As the sun rose in the east the regiment was disposed as follows: elements of Stu.Pi.Btl. 43 (2nd Company) south of Ores- maux, ready for the attack against Rossignol and Essertaux— III Battalion on the hills west of the Bois de Berny (east of Flers), far to the fore due to its success of the previous evening—II Battalion north of the Essertaux—Jumel road, about 600 metres directly in front of the Bois de Berny, and I Battalion south of Estrées following the capture of the town.

During the night the enemy, which consisted mostly of negro units, rushed forward everything still at their disposal. French resistance — especially in Rossignol, but also on the northern and western borders of the Bois de Berny — stiffened significantly. They were staking everything on one card and defended desperately. For the Infantry Regiment GROSSDEUTSCHLAND it was the most difficult day and at the same time the high point of the campaign, as was recorded in the regimental report. Orders for the continuation of the attack came out at about 08.00. The direction of attack had now been changed. In addition, following units had arrived in the meantime, and the 69th Inf.Rgt. prepared to attack in the sector held by III Battalion. Ill Battalion was to be moved more to the left, toward II Battalion. The objective for the two battalions was the Bois de Berny, the enemy's key defensive

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position. If this could be taken, they would be through the enemy line. I Battalion, which lay farther to the rear, had orders to initially take the Bois de Lozières and then was to advance against the Bois de Berny. Once again we turn to the reports submitted by III Battalion for the best account of the attack, in the course of which misunderstand- ings arose and with them a change in orders for the other battalions:

III Battalion - Obstlt. Garski "04.00—artillery fire, most of which fell behind the battalion's front lines. Several casualties, especially from artillery and mortar fire. At about 07.40 the regiment's executive officer brought the divisional order for the continuation of the attack, which was to begin at 08.00. New attack sector farther to the left. The battalion was not to set out until the 69th Rifle Rgt., which was now to advance in III Battalion's sector, had arrived. Due to difficulties in the transmission of orders and as a result of a misunderstanding, several panzers rolled across the front line, beginning the attack prematurely, before the main body of the 69th Rgt., which was about 1,000 metres to the rear, had reached III Battalion. At the same time, as several in- fantrymen were observed approaching from the right rear, III Bat- talion immediately went to the attack. The attack was initially carried out in a southeasterly direction past the southwest edge of the Bois de Berny. Although the edge of the Bois de Berny was kept under fire, the enemy put up an obstinate defence from there with heavy return fire from numerous machine guns. 1st Platoon of 10th Company, which was spearheading the attack, suffered particularly heavy casualties. The battalion adjutant, Lt. Wentges, who had gone along on the attack with 1st Platoon, was wounded in the stomach and died soon afterward. Deliberation by the battalion commander: should he continue the advance, even though fire was coming from a wooded area ap- proximately one kilometre southwest of Flers into the flank of the attacking battalion? All of the battalion's heavy weapons con- centrated their fire on this section of the wood and forced the enemy to surrender. Approximately 150 prisoners were taken. The forest was cleared and the battalion regrouped in preparation for continu- ing the attack towards the southwest. Then it assembled at the south-southwestern edge of the forest while an armoured reconnais- sance was carried out against the Bois de Morienval, which was to be the next objective. However, at approximately 14.00 the assemb- ly area was struck by a surprise concentrated bombardment from numerous enemy batteries, which led to a withdrawal to the southeast. The battalion suffered very heavy casualties, including Assistant Medical Officer Dr. Snoek, who was killed. Since our own troops had not moved up on the left or right, the attack was called off.

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At about 15.20, III Battalion was relieved by I Battalion/69th Rifle Regiment and moved into positions in the northwestern section of the Bois de Berny, where it remained at the regiment's disposal. Resumption of the attack was ordered at 18.00, with II Battalion right, I Battalion left and III Battalion in reserve farther to the rear. The attack made no progress and was halted. Ill Battalion was pulled back into the valley northwest of the Bois de Berny. The rest of the battalion arrived there at approximately 24.00. Rest and quiet. New battalion adjutant Lt. Ehrmann." Also available is a report made by an NC O (name unknown, later killed in action) of 11th Company, III Btl.:

"It was 08.00. Our panzers drove up, dozens of them. They worked their way around our foxholes and positioned themselves above on the slope in order to engage the targets we called out to them. Perhaps 400—500 metres from the enemy, they lined up in the open and fired their cannon and machine guns without pause. We breathed easier, because it looked like we would be able to get up out of our holes. However, the French fire continued to fall on us. Then orders came from company that the battalion was being relieved. 3rd Platoon had already moved back. Mönicke ordered 1st Platoon to follow and link up with 3rd Platoon. Everyone stood up.

the French