Creation and Campaigns of the 9th SS-Panzer-Division Hohenstaufen.
Designations, commanders, formation in 1943, first action Russia in spring 1944 and in Normandy from June.
9th SS-Panzergrenadier-Division (February 1943)
SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Hohenstaufen (March 1943)
9th SS-Panzer-Division Hohenstaufen (October 1943)
- SS-Gruppenführer Wilhelm Bittrich (February 1943 – July 1944)
- SS-Oberführer Thomas Müller (July 1944)
- SS-Oberführer Sylvester Stadler (July 1944)
- SS-Oberführer Friedrich-Wilhelm Bock (August – October 1944)
- SS-Brigadeführer Sylvester Stadler (October 1944 – May 1945)
The formation of the division was ordered at the end of 1942 and the personnel was recruited from former members of the Hitler Youth. Of these, up to 70 percent were drafted conscripts and only the other young soldiers were volunteers.
The boys were led and trained by battle-tested veterans of the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte-SS-Adolf Hitler, who were originally stationed in Berlin-Lichterfelde.
The first division commander was SS-Gruppenführer ‘Willi’ Bittrich, one of the most capable, higher battle commanders in the Waffen-SS.
Originally set up as a Panzergrenadier Division, the unit was expanded into a Panzer Division during its deployment and training in October 1943. This brought the division another battalion with the excellent Panther tank in addition to that with Panzer IV.
The new division, together with another new unit, the 16th SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Reichsführer SS, was organized into the IV SS-Panzer corps and also had to hand over some personnel as cadres for the latter.
After various relocation within France at the end of 1943, the division was finally stationed on the Mediterranean coast and was not to see any deployments together with the Reichsführer SS division.
After the 9th SS-Panzer-Division Hohenstaufen had been declared ready for action, it was merged with its sister association 10th SS-Panzer-Division Frundsberg into the 2nd SS-Panzer corps, which was led by the experienced tank veteran SS-Obergruppenführer Paul Hausser.
|9th SS-Panzer-Division Hohenstaufen||Units|
|Stab (staff)/ 9. SS-Panzer-Division Hohenstaufen||-|
|SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt. 19||I-III(Regiments) with infantry guns, anti-aircraft and engineers companies|
|SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt. 20||I-III - as Rgt.19, but II.(armored) 20 with APCs|
|SS-Panzer-Regiment 9||I-II (I with Panzer V ready in June 1944)|
|SS-Pz.Artillerie-Rgt. 9||I-IV (I temorary with SP guns)|
|SS-Pz.Aufkl.Abt. 9||Armored car plus 4 Panzer Recon companies (with APC)|
|SS-Pz.Nachrichten-Abt. 9||telephone and radio companies, light messengers column|
|SS-Pz.Jäger-Abt.(Sfl.) 9||4 anti-tank companies (tractors and SP guns) from 1944|
|SS-Pz.Pionier-Btl. 9||1 and 2 engineers (motorized.), 3 armored tank engineers (with APCs)|
|SS-Pz.Flak-Abt. 9||3 x 8.8 and two mixed anti-aircraft batteries (motorized with tractors)|
|SS-(Pz.) Di.Na.Fü. 9||Battalion of Economy, Supply, Repair and Medical|
|SS-Feldfersatz-Btl. 9||5 replacement companies, division combat school|
Eastern Front 1944
In the meantime, the 1st Panzer army on the eastern front was encircled by the Red Army in the area around Tarnopol. Russian troops were already threatening the Polish border.
Therefore, Hitler decided to move four fresh divisions to the area in order to try to break through to the trapped German troops. Two of these divisions belonged to the new SS-Panzer corps.
With a total strength of just under 20,000 men, Hohenstaufen was transferred to Poland in March 1944 and placed under the command of the 4th Panzer Army. From Lemberg, the division marched to Tarnopol to fight under the horrible conditions of the Russian spring thaw. This made the use of heavy weapons very difficult and the division suffered great losses.
On 5 April 1944, the two Panzer divisions of the II SS-Panzer corps – Hohenstaufen and Frundsberg – attacked on the flank of the 4th Panzer Army. The young soldiers followed their battle-proofed NCOs officers and officers into battle and achieved a breakthrough in the lines of the Soviet 1st Tank Army. On 9 April, the 9th SS-Panzer-Division Hohenstaufen succeeded in establishing contact with the enclosed 1st Panzer army through a gap through the Soviet lines.
The division’s first deployment on the Eastern Front was short-lived, however, as the Allied invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944 prompted Hitler to send the II SS Panzer Corps back to the West. From the Ukraine, where the two SS tank divisions were prepared for a counteroffensive near Kovel, they were loaded onto the railway in Poland on 12 June.
During the transfer to the invasion front the division was supplemented by the part of the tank regiment, which became operational with its Panther tanks in the meantime at Mailly-le-Camp.
However, the troop transport trains of Hohenstaufen suffered considerable losses by allied fighter bombers, so that the tanks had to be unloaded from the railroad far before the front. The vehicle columns of the division could reach the invasion front only during the darkness over roads.
The more or less fresh and operational SS-Panzer corps, led by a general of the caliber of a Paul Hausser, would probably have had a greater influence on the invasion battle if it had been deployed earlier.
By the time the SS tank units arrived at June 25, however, when the Allies had already built a strong bridgehead in Normandy and at the same time had a crushing air superiority, this possibility had evaporated.
Hohenstaufen was deployed on 28 June against British forces which fought along the river Odon and southwest of Caen as part of the British offensive operation ‘Epsilon’.
While the division was ready for action at Noyers on 29 June, some of its units were caught in a violent combination of heavy artillery fire and the fire of large Allied warships off the coast.
The bombardment was so violent that the German soldiers thought they had been bombarded by carpet bombing from Avro Lancaster bombers, which were used in this area.
Considerable damage had occurred and up to 20 percent of the vehicles of the Hohenstaufen Division had been destroyed.
In the following battles the soldiers of the division destroyed 62 enemy armored vehicles at a loss of 31 of their own. However, it was easier for the Allies to replace their losses.
When the British offensive slackened, the German troops started a counterattack. After a concentrated artillery and mortar fire by both SS tank divisions, the key position of Hill 112 was taken. In the opinion of General Hausser, the side who holds 112 is the one who dominates Normandy.
The arrival of the II SS-Panzer corps with the 9th and 10th SS-Panzer-Division had been sufficient to bring the British offensive to a standstill. However, the strong artillery, warship and fighter-bomber support of the Allies prevented the full exploitation of the success of the German counterattack.
By 2 July Hohenstaufen had lost about 81 tanks and 22 self-propelled guns since their arrival in this sector. However, some of them failed due to mechanical problems rather than enemy action and could later be recovered and restored.
At the end of June the division commander of Hohenstaufen, General Bittrich, replaced the commander of the II Panzer corps, Hausser. The new division commander, SS-Oberführer Stadler, was wounded at the end of July and SS-Oberführer Bock temporarily took over the command until his return in October.
The first week of July was relatively quiet for the division, but on 11 July it was thrown into battle again to hold Hill 112. The stakes at this altitude repeated themselves endlessly for both sides: lost, conquered and lost again. In the end, the hill was a devastated no man’s land, where no natural cover was left.
Until mid-July, the division was around Bougy, between Caen and Evrecy, and was attacked by British tanks near Gavrus on 16 July. During the fights for Bougy and for the Hill 113 there, the soldiers of Hohenstaufen knocked out 48 allied tanks for only five of their own losses on this day.
Nevertheless, the losses for Hohenstaufen were high over the entire period and up to the end of these hard missions the division had lost about 50 per cent of its infantrymen and had only 38 tanks left.
The division then had the good fortune to be replaced and to take a short rest as part of the German Western Armored Group’s reserve. While Hohenstaufen waited for replacements and reinforcements, her sister division Frundsberg held the front line.
On July 18th, however, a division battle group was formed again to counterattack together with infantry divisions of the Wehrmacht and parts of the Frundsberg division the recapture of some villages south of Caen, which had been lost to a new British offensive code named ‘Greenline’.
A platoon of tanks of the Hohenstaufen Division got into the middle of the British positions during a nightly reconnaissance mission. Taking advantage of the enemy’s surprise, the German tanks rolled through the startled enemy until their ammunition was almost used up and retreated back to their own lines under the cover of a smoke screen.
Early August saw the breakthrough of General Patton’s 3rd US Army at Avranches and Mortain at the western end of the bridgehead, which took place along with another British offensive. This British operation ‘Bluecoat’ pushed from Villers-Bocage towards Vire. Its aim was to engage the still strong German tank divisions and prevent them from being used against the American breakthrough.
So the weakened units of the II SS-Panzer corps should carry out another counterattack. On the way to their starting positions the troops of Hohenstaufen were attacked again by allied fighter bombers, which falsely reported more destroyed German tanks than the ground troops.
Despite these losses, the division was still able to deploy 72 medium battle tanks, supported by some 30 heavy Tiger tanks. These succeeded in stopping the entire British VIII Corps with over 500 tanks.
While the German troops tried to eliminate the British front bulge, Hohenstaufen recaptured the village Chenedolle with the support of a battalion of Nebelwerfer rocket-launchers. Although 39 British tanks were destroyed, the furious battle continued and by nightfall the place was back in the hands of the British, despite renewed German attacks on it.
It is estimated that during the ten-day fighting in this area the division was responsible for over 5,000 men and 130 tanks of British losses. Ultimately, however, the Allied numerical superiority and firepower decided the battle and on the night of 13-14 August Hohenstaufen was forced to begin the retreat across the Orne River.
The division withdrew to the northeast, from the Argentan area through Trun to Vimoutiers, in order not to be trapped in the Falais pocket. The survivors arrived there on August 18. There were only about 5,500 men of all ranks left, which was about a third of the original strength.
Especially the infantry had suffered considerably and the two Panzergrenadier regiments were together only less than 500 men strong.
The total losses in just over eight weeks of fighting in Normandy cost the division 5,000 killed soldiers alone.
In the Falais pocket, about 60,000 German troops from 10 divisions were trapped between the closing tongs of the 3rd US Army, which advanced north toward Argentan, and the 1st Canadian Army, coming south from Falais.
When the Allied Forceps finally closed at Chambois on August 21, the II SS Panzer Corps was ordered to attack again in the direction of Falais to allow the enclosed German troops to escape.
The Hohenstaufen units involved in the attack were far too weak to break through the Allied lines. However, some other Waffen SS divisions managed to break through to the enclosed troops so that a good part of them could escape.
The II SS-Panzer corps then continued its retreat to the northwest, with Hohenstaufen experiencing fierce battles as the rearguard. At that time both divisions, Hohenstaufen and Frundsberg, had less than 20 tanks at their disposal.
The mass of the division crossed the Seine safely at Duclair, although some of its members were killed by low-flying strafing aircraft.
The survivors of the division who were still operational were grouped into a new battle group, which retreated via Amiens to Cambrai. There, the Battle Group fought a fierce battle against American tank troops and reported having destroyed over 40 tanks before retreating north. To be safe from attacks by enemy fighter bombers, they carried allied flags with them.
With the enemy close on their heels, the remains of the 9th SS-Panzer-Division Hohenstaufen withdrew further north through Belgium, passed Mons and Brussels before crossing the Dutch border.
There they reached the area around Arnhem between 7 and 9 September 1944. The remains of the division were placed under the command of the 6th Panzer Army of General Field Marshal Walter Models Army Group B.
Part II will follow shortly !