"Death's Head emblem"
11/42: SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division "Totenkopf"
10/43: 3.SS-Panzer-Division "Totenkopf
|Fought in:||Netherlands, France, Balkans, Russia, Hungary, Bohemia|
Surrendered to the Americans in May 1945. A week later, they were turned over to the Soviet Union.
History of the 3rd SS Panzer-Divison "Totenkopf":
Having missed the Polish campaign,Totenkopf was held in reserve during the initial assault into France and the Low Countries in May 1940. They were committed on May 16th to the Front in Belgium. The Grenadiers of the division fought fanatically, suffering heavy losses.
Within a week of this initial commitment the division's first war crime had already been committed. At Le Paradis 4th Kompanie, I Abteilung, commanded by SS-Obersturmführer Fritz Knöchlein, machine-gunned 97 out of 99 British officers and men of the Royal Norfolk Regiment after they had surrendered to them; two survived. After the war, Knöchlein was tried and convicted for war crimes. He was sentenced to death and hanged.
Totenkopf fought in the later stages of the French campaign, seeing its only real action against colonial troops at Tarare. The French surrender found the division located near the Spanish border, where it was to stay, resting and refitting, until April 1941.
|Barbarossa – Demjansk Pocket:|
In April 1941, the division was ordered East to join Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb's Army Group North. Totenkopf saw action in Lithuania and Latvia, and by July had breached the vaunted Stalin Line. The division then advanced by Demjansk to Leningrad where it was involved in heavy fighting from July 31st to August 25th.
During Autumn and Winter of 1941, the Soviets launched a number of operations against the German lines in the Northern sector of the Front. During one of these operations, the Division was encircled for several months near Demjansk in what would come to be known as the Demjansk Pocket. Totenkopf suffered so greatly during these battles that it was re-designated Kampfgruppe Eicke because of its reduced size. In April 1942, the division broke out of the pocket and managed to reach friendly lines.
The remnants of the Division were pulled out of action in late October, 1942 and sent to France to be refitted. While in France, the Division took part in Case Anton, the takeover of Vichy France in November 1942. For this operation, the division was supplied with a Panzer abteilung and redesignated
|Kharkov - Kursk - Battles on the Mius: |
In Early February 1943 Totenkopf was transferred back to the Eastern Front as part of Erich von Manstein's Army Group South. The division, as a part of SS-Obergruppenführer Paul Hausser's II SS Panzerkorps, took part in the Third Battle of Kharkov, blunting the Soviet General Konev's offensive. During this campaign, Theodor Eicke, while flying above enemy lines in a Fiesler Storch spotter aircraft, was shot down and killed. The division mounted an assault to break through enemy lines and recover their commander's body, and thereafter Eicke's body was buried with full military honours. Hermann Priess succeeded Eicke as commander.
II SS Panzerkorps, including Totenkopf , was then shifted north to take part in Operation Citadel, the great offensive to reduce the Kursk salient. It was during this period that The 3.SS-Panzerregiment received a company of Tiger 1 heavy tanks. (9./SS-Panzerregiment 3).
Totenkopf , along with the Leibstandarte and Das Reich , took part in the huge armoured engagements around Prokhorovka. On July 12, advancing Soviet tank forces slammed into the Totenkopf on the collective farm near Andre'evka. In the ensuing battle, both the advancing Soviets and the defending Germans suffered heavy armor losses. Only the arrival of the Totenkopf's Tiger company averted defeat.
After several weeks of heavy fighting, the Operation was called off and Totenkopf , suffering from heavy losses in the battle, was switched to defensive operations.
Along with Das Reich , the division was reassigned to General der Infanterie Karl-Adolf Hollidt's 'new' 6th Army in the Southern Ukraine. The 6th Army was tasked with eliminating the Soviet bridgehead over the Mius River.
Totenkopf was involved in heavy fighting over the next several weeks. During the July-August battles for Hill 213 and the town of Stepanowka, the division suffered heavy losses, and over the course of the campaign on the Mius it suffered more casualties than it had during Operation Citadel. By the time the Soviet bridgehead was eliminated, the division had lost 1500 men dead and the Panzer regiment was reduced to 20 tanks.
The Totenkopf was then moved North, back to Kharkov. Along with Das Reich and Wiking , Totenkopf , took part in the battle to prevent the Soviet capture of the city. Despite the losses inflicted on the Soviet forces (over 1000 Red Army tanks were destroyed), Kharkov fell.
The division then took part in the fighting withdrawal to the Dniepr river and remained in heavy defensive fighting for the rest of the year.
In October 1943, the division was reformed as 3.SS-Panzer-Division Totenkopf . The Panzer abteilung was upgraded to a regiment, and the two Panzergrenadier regiments were given the honorary titles Theodor Eicke and Thule.
|The Retreat – Warsaw – Budapest: |
Totenkopf was involved in a fighting retreat as the Eastern front crumbled thorough the first half of 1944. It was involved in the fighting around Krivoi-Rog and Cherkassy early in the year, then transferred to SS-Obergruppenführer Herbert Otto Gille's IV.SS-Panzerkorps at Modlin , near Warsaw. The 5.SS-Panzer Division Wiking was also a part of this corps.
After The Soviet Operation Bagration and the destruction of Army Group Centre the German lines had been pushed back over 300 miles, to the outskirts of Warsaw . With the advent of the Warsaw Uprising, Totenkopf was sent in to help reclaim the city. It was then involved in heavy fighting, first against the Polish Home Army and then against Soviet units. Totenkopf eventually pushed the Soviets out of the outskirts of the city and the situation seemed stable for the time being.
At the end of 1944 Totenkopf was moved with the IV.SS-Panzerkorps south to help rescue encircled German and Hungarian troops in the Hungarian capital of Budapest as a part of Operation Konrad. After the failure of Wiking's first operation, Konrad I, Totenkopf and Wiking launched an assault aimed at the city centre. Named Operation Konrad II, the attack reached as far as the Budapest Airport, but when resistance stiffened, Gille's corps was ordered to fall back as part of a ruse to encircle Soviet units north of the city. Operation Konrad III got underway on 17 January, 1945. Aimed at encircling ten Soviet divisions, the Outnumbered relief forces could not acheive their goal, despite tearing a 15 mile hole in the Soviet's line. Although they had been on the verge of rescuing the 45,000 trapped Germans of IX.Waffen-Gebirgskorps der SS, the encircled troops could not be reached and capitulated in early February.
The division was pulled back to the west, executing a fighting withdrawal from Budapest to Vienna, the division surrendered to the Americans on May 9 1945. The Americans promptly handed Totenkopf back to the Soviets, and many Totenkopf soldiers died in Soviet Gulags.