History of the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen

HOHENSTAUFEN - The name of a noble German family that provided German kings and emperors In the periods 1138-1208 and 1214-1254. The earliest known member of the family was Frederick Barbarossa, Count of Buren. He died in 1094, but his son, also named Frederick, built himself a castle at Staufen near Lorsch In Swabia. This was called Hohenstaufen and Frederick decided to adopt the name himself. When Conradin Hohenstaufen was beheaded in Italy in 1268, he left no heir and the male line of Hohenstaufens became extinct. The 9th Division of the Waffen SS was almost certainly named after Frederick Barbarossa, whom the Fuhrer considered a great hero.

On New Year's Eve 1942, The Fuhrer agreed to the creation of two new divisions for the Waffen SS. These were in fact to be sister divisions, the future and fortunes of which were to be similar in many ways and for much of the war. They were both formed as armoured divisions, but originally designated as mechanized infantry Divisions, numbered the 9th and 10th, and named after two heroes of German history.

The division which was later to be called Hohenstaufen was formed in January 1943, during which month cadres were established in Berlin Lichterfelde and a formation staff began gathering various elements. This division to be was the ninth formed within the the Waffen SS, and thus the number 9 appeared before its title to simplify idenification. On February 8, 1943, those elements available for the new division were assembled at the training area (Truppenubungsplatz) Maillylecamp, east of Paris between Chalons-sur-Marne and Troyes. In February, two contingents of men for the division arrived from the LSSAH Replacement Battalion in Berlin Lichterfelde, and in mid-February, SS Brigadefuhrer und Generalmajor der Waffen SS Wilhelm ("Willi") Bittrich took command.

The shortage of available manpower was a grave obstacle to this division's formation and development. It had become so hard to recruit suitable volunteers that the SS Main Office actually forced men to volunteer, particularly from those undergoing their compulsory term in the RAD (National Labour Service). Originally, as much as 70% of the division's manpower were conscripts. Hohenstaufen was a very young division, with about 60% to 70% of its men coming from the years 1925/26 that is to say that almost three quarters of the divisions manpower were about 18 years of age. In the search for men, resort was also made to ethnic Germans, notably from Hungary.

All of 1943 was spent in France, training and preparing for action under army group D, O.K.W. Under the capable command of Wilhelm Bittrich, this formation was training in all forms of combat. As fate would have it, Hohenstaufen was especially trained for operations against air landings training which would serve members of the division well the following year at Arnhem. Hohenstaufen was placed under the 15 Army in May and sent to the Ypres area. In June, it was transferred to the Ameins area to take the place of a departing armoured division of the Army. The months of July until the end of the year were spent in further training, and in October a number of changes were made in the division's order-of-battle. The SS FHA ordered the detachment of a battery of artillery (Art., Abt.), the introduction of Panther tanks, and some other less important modifications. On the same day, the SS FHA ordered that the division be redesignated from a mechanized infantry (Panzergrenadier) division to an armoured (Panzer) division. This was mainly a change in name only, as the division had sufficient tanks from the beginning to warrant being called a "Panzer Division". On October 26, Hohenstaufen's two infantry regiments were renumbered from 1 and 2 to 19 and 20.

In early October, the IVth SS Armoured Corps (IV. SSPanzer-Korps) had been formed with SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen and SS Panzer Grenadier Division Reichsfuhrer SS, controlled by corps HQ staff (Gen. Kdo. IV. SS-Pz.Korps).

On November 12, the 15th Motor-Cycle Company of the division's second infantry regiment was detached and used as a cadre for the Reconnaissance Unit (Aufklarungs-Abt.) of the new 16th SS Mechanized Infantry Division Reichsfuhrer SS. Other elements were also detached, including the anti-aircraft company (Fla-Kp.) and a survey troop (Messbatterie). December 1943 was spent in reserve under the 15th Army, Army Group D, and Hohenstaufen was under the 1st SS Armoured Corps in January 1944. In mid-February, it was transferred to the Nimes/Avignon area, just inland from the Mediterranean coast, to take the place of the Panzer-Lehr Division (Tank Demonstration Division). At that time, Hohenstaufen was still forming, with a view of being combatready by the 1st of March. Together with its sister Division, Frundsberg it made up Paul Hausser's 2nd SS Armoured Corps, in O.K.W. reserve.

This was a grave period for the German forces in the east, and in March the situation was nearing disaster with the German 1st Armoured Army trapped in a Russian encirclement at Tarnopol. By the middle of the month, the Russians were at the Polish border and Hitler order four of his Panzer Divisions to the eastern front. These were the Waffen-SS Divisions Hohenstaufen and Frundsberg (making up the 2nd SS Armoured Corps) and the Army's Panzer-Lehr-Division and the 349th Division. Hohenstaufen moved eastwards to Poland, then from Lvoy (Lemberg) further east to Tarnopol. A counter-attack was launched, but was hindered by the mud of the spring thaw. The tanks were bogged down and severe losses sustained. On April 5, the 4th Armoured Army (in which "Hohenstauffen" was under the XXXXVIIIth Army Corps) attacked in force, with the 2nd SS Armoured Corps attacking on the flank. In a violent attack, Hohenstaufen penetrated the Russian front held by the 1st Soviet Tank Army. On the 9th, the Division's forward tanks met up with the beleageured German 1st Armoured Army, which was finally freed.

The Division was refitting in the north Ukraine in preparation for a new offensive near Kovel when the Allies landed at Normandy on June 6, 1944. On the 11th, Hitler cancelled the planned offensive in the east and ordered the transfer of the 2nd SS Armoured Corps to France. The Third Reich was now trapped on two fronts. On the 12th, after four months of service in the east, the first men of the Division left Poland under the 2nd SS Armoured Corps for France, under Armoured Group "West", Army Group B.

The Division is reported to have reached the Franco-German border on June 16. It was harrassed en route by Allied air attacks and when Paul Hausser reported the arrival of his corps on June 23, he determined that it would not be operational until the 25th. Hausser's task was to spearhead an offensive which would divide the Allied invaders. It was not to prove an easy task as the German divisions had arrived too late. The Allies had established a firm foothold, and from then on it was just a matter of time before the Germans were forced northwards and out of France.

Hohenstaufen was was in action on June 28 along the Odon River, and the following day it fought fiercely against the British troops southwest of Caen. The battle for the small town was a bitter one, but the Germans were unable to hold out and it eventually fell to the invaders. In July, the Division effectively cooperated in blocking the Anglo-Canadian offensive, particularly towards the end of the month when Hohenstaufen pushed General Dempsey's forces back at Villers-Bocage. Another action in this period was the American Breakthrough at Avranches.

By mid-August, nineteen German divisions (five of which were Waffen SS armoured divisions) found themselves trapped between the U.S. 3rd Army and the Canadian Army. This was known as the "Falaise Pocket". The only possible escape lay through a narrow gap between Falaise and Argentan, and the 2nd SS Armoured Corps (Hohenstaufen plus Das Reich. . . under the 5th Armoured Army) managed to get through to safety. By counter-attacking on August 21, the Corps managed to free a few more men, before the jaws of the pincer closed near Chambois . . . trapping some 60,000 German troops. The German forces began to retreat by August 22, on which day the 2nd SS Armoured Corps was ordered to withdraw northwards to safety across the Seine, with Hohenstaufen engaging in bitter hand to hand combat while covering the rear. This fighting was reported to have been particularly fierce near Amiens.

Hohenstaufen had fought continuously and without replacements in Normandy since its arrival there in late June until its withdrawl on August 21. The divisional commander, SS Oberfuhrer Sylvester Stadler, who had taken over upon Bittrich's promotion on June 28 to command the 2nd SS Armoured Corps, was wounded in late July, and being left behind in a hospital was temporarily replaced by SS Oberfuhrer und Oberst der Schutzpolizei, Friedrich Wilhelm Bock. FieldMarshall Walther Model, commanding the 6th Armoured Army, Army Group B, ordered the SS Armoured Army northwards to join him in Holland on September 3. The battered Division was to come under Model's orders, rest and refit for its next engagement.

Retreating northwards through France, the Division provided a battalion to defend the line along the river Meuse. Up to Rouen in the northwest above Paris, it skirted south of Brussels, crossed the Dutch border and arrived at the Veluwe area north of Arnhem on September 7.

On September 10, the order went out that the remnants of the Division, estimated at only 2,500 men or 20% of its original strength, were to be transferred to Germany for a complete refitting, handing over their weapons (including two batteries of field howitzers), vehicles and equipment to the sister division Frundsberg, which would stay at Arnhem and regroup. The men were on the point of leaving for the Reich by rail on September 17 when troops of the British 1st Airborne landed in the outskirts of Arnhem and near Nijmegen. This was part of Operation Market Garden, in which the British air landing at Arnhem took the unsuspecting Germans by surprise. It was intended to be the opening of a new offensive, which if successful, would cut all the German troops on the coast, at the V2 launching sites and the ports of Antwerp, Amsterdam and Rotterdam from their supplies from Germany. Further, it would have liberated northern Holland and by allowing the Allies to penetrate northern Germany would have shortened the war by months

Under Model's orders, SS Battle Group (Kampfgruppe) "Harzer" was formed from the remnants of the Hohenstaufen Division. On the eve of the battle, Brittrich gave the following orders:

1. Division to reconnaissance in the direction of Arnhem and Nijmegen

2. Division to go into action at once, taking the Arnhem bridge and destroying the enemy forces which have landed to the west of Arnhem at Oosterbeek.

"Immediate attack is essential. The aim is to seize and firmly hold the bridge at Arnhem." SS Battle Group "Harzer" moved on Arnhem and two battalions of the Hohenstaufen Division with two battalions of the 6th Parachute Regiment took on the Guards Armoured Division Behind Eindhoven.

On September 18, the Allies began to tire under the Axis attacks, on the 20th, the Division's Armoured Reconnaissance Unit (Pz. A.A. 9) crossed the Arnhem bridge, the northern end of which had been held by British paratroopers under Colonel Front. So ended four days of fierce fighting, with the lightly armed Allied defenders being overwhelmed by the numerically superior elements of the Hohenstaufen Division. The Waffen SS troops, some of whom had been trained against air landings by Bittrich in France in 1943, took the decidedly upper hand on the 21st, and opened an all-out attack to destroy the Ist British Airbourne Division. Many British soldiers fell into the hands of the Waffen SS on the 25th and 26th, and on the 29th the Allies surrendered. This was considered a great victory for Hohenstaufen, and especially for the commander of the Battle, Group, SS StandartenFuhrer Walter Harzer, who was awarded the Knight's Cross to the Iron Cross on the 28th of September.

Elements of Hohenstaufen were transferred to western Germany to test and be brought up to strength, and in October 1944, were located at Munster, Hamm, Paderborn, Gutersloh and probably Siegen. While in Germany, numbers were made up with Luftwaffe personal and other remnants. In October, the last remaining elements of SS Battle Group "Harzer" were reintegrated and the Division was sent to an assembly area at Munstereifel, near Aachen. There, it rested and refitted under the 6th Armoured Army in preperation for the Ardennes offensive. This Armoured Army, originally made up of SS Divisions Hohenstaufen, LSSAH, Das Reich and Hitlerjugend, later became the 6th SS Armoured Army, and was commanded by SS OberstGruppenfuhrer und Generaloberst der Waffen SS Josef Dietrich. This was to be the strongest army participating in the offensive, and it was given the task of advancing along the northern, flank of attack and to take Antwerp the Allies principle supply port.

The Ardennes offensive (Battle of the Bulge) was launched on December 16, 1944, and Hohenstaufen took part alongside the 2nd SS Armoured Division Das Reich and the Army's 560th Division under the 11nd SS Armoured Corps. The plan was for Hohenstaufen to exploit the Corps' attack, and on December 18, Hohenstaufen and Das Reich were fighting in the dense forests between Malmedy and St. Vith. The defences held and St. Vith only fell to the Germans when the LXVIth Corps (18th and 62nd Divisions) attacked from the east and Hohenstaufen and the Fuhrer Escort Brigade (Fuhrerbegleitbrigade) came in from the north. Fighting followed around Vielsalm, and Hohenstaufen was forced back, leaving the St. Vith/Laroche road clear.

At first, the overall advance was strong, and after only two days some 50 Gerrnan divisions were on the move in the Ardennes offensive. But Hitler's gamble was doomed from the beginning, and the last German offensive of the war on the western front failed. Heavy road congestion and shortages of fuel had slowed the progress of the elite armoured divisions, who rather than winning the battle had hardly a chance to take part in it. The advance petered out by January 18, 1945, at which time Hohenstaufen was under the XIIIth Corps, 6th Armoured Army, Army Group B. In February, having been badly beaten in the Houffalize bottle neck, it was in the O.K.W. reserve, and on March 3, was transferred to Hungary by rail where it came under the XXIInd Corps, 2nd Armoured Army, Army Group South.

The German offensive against the massed Soviet Forces in Hungary fared no better than the Ardennes offensive, and Hohenstaufen suffered severe losses in the area west of Budapest. By the middle of March, the offensive ground to a halt, with Hohenstaufen nearly reaching the Danube but being forced back. It was at the news of this defeat that an enraged Hitler ordered that the men of the 1st, 2nd, 9th, 12th Divisions of the Waffen SS should be deprived of their hard-won decorations and prized cuffbands. Remnants of the division were formed into two battle groups, which in April fought their way back to Austria. In Vienna, the Division was under the orders of SS Pz. A.O.K. 6, but on April 13, the 6th SS Armoured Army left the Austrian capital after feirce fighting. Hohenstaufen fought on in Austria, and in early May surrendered to the Americans near Steyr.

Bibliography: Hitler's Black Guard at War, Christopher Ailsby

 

 

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