10. SS-Panzer-Division "Frundsberg"
02/1943: SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division 10
06/1943: SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division 10 "Karl der Grosse"
10/1943: SS-Panzer-Division 10 "Frundsberg"
10/1943: 10.SS-Panzer-Division "Frundsberg"
|Fought in:||Russia, Normandy, Holland, Ardennes, Germany|
Surrendered to the Russians in May 1945.
The Division's first year closely paralleled that of the Hohenstaufen division, mostly being taken up by formation and training in various locations in southern and western France under Heeresgruppe D. In October 1943 the formation of a new VII SS-Panzerkorps was ordered, grouping Frundsberg together with another new formation, 17. SS-Panzergrenadier Division Gotz von Berlichingen, for whose nucleus the 10. Division had to surrender part of its artillery and the motorcycle companies from its Panzer-grenadier regiments.
"Eastern Front", 1943
In March 1944, as part of II SS-Panzerkorps, the incomplete Frundsberg was sent with Hohenstaufen to the Eastern Front to counter the great Soviet advance which had steamrolled over Army group Centre and threatened the Polish frontier, trapping German forces - including 1. SS-Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler and a battle group from 2. SS-Pz Div Das Reich - in the area around Tarnopol. Still without the PzKw V Panthers of its Panzer regiments I Abteilung, the division assembled with the rest of II SS-Panzerkorps under Armeegruppe Nordukraine, and went into action for the first time in early April. Fierce fighting achieved a breakthrough at Buczacz on 6. April, and Frundsberg linked up with their beleaguered Waffen-SS comrades of 1 Panzerarmee. Frundsberg remained in the line, seeing heavy combat on the Seret (Strypa) river and in the Tarnopol-Kovel region. Halted by units of the 1st Ukrainian Front, the division then spent some weeks in static defensive actions on the Bug River. On 12 June, II SS-Panzerkorps was withdrawn from the Russian Front and rushed west to respond to the Normandy landings, its personnel and equipment filling 67 trains.
The division arrived in France on 18 June. But the difficulties of daylight movement under skies ruled by the allied tactical air forces delayed its arrival at the Normandy front – with a strength of around 13,500 men – until 25 June. Five days later Frundsberg was thrown into actions to halt the British 2nd Army’s Operation ‘Epsom’; the division saw intense combat around the strategic Hill 122, suffering heavy casualties.
A British operation codenamed ‘Jupiter’, tasked with the recapture of high ground around Hill 122, was launched on 10 July and made some initial progress before being driven back by Tigers from the II SS Panzerkorps heavy tank battalion (schwere SS-Panzer Abteilung 102). The British threw in a further attack and took the summit once again. but at nightfall the British tanks withdrew, leaving the infantry unsupported, to be thrown back yet again by a German counterattack undercover of darkness. So great was the confusion over which side controlled what ground that at one point the British came under attack by Allied aircraft.
On 15 July, as Hohenstaufen was withdrawn into reserve, Frundsberg was left to cover the entire sector, and was driven off part of Hill 113, just north of Evrecy, by units of t15 (Scottish) Division. They were brought under heavy fire from Tiger tanks on Hill 112, and the reappearance of Hohenstaufen made the British position even more tenuous. Nevertheless, they hung on to the area they had seized on Hill 113 while the Tigers of SS-Pz Abt 102 and a battalion from SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 21 remained firmly in control of Hill 112, until finally relieved by the army’s 271. Infanterie Division. Frundsberg, having now lost well over 2,000 men since the beginning of July, was then withdrawn for a brief period of rest.
On 2 August the division was back in action, when a Kampfgruppe successfully held most of Hill 188 against a British attack and destroyed 20 tanks in the process. The next day the remainder of the division arrived, threw back the British units that had established a foothold on Hill 188, and took nearby Hill 301 to form a defense line between the two high points. Frundsberg was almost immediately ordered to disengage, and on 6 August the division was committed to an attack on British units north of Chenedolle. They seized two prominent high points, Hills 242 and 224, only to be driven back by shellfire and air attacks.
Moving thereafter to Mortain on the American front, Frundsberg was to become the corps reserve for XLVII Panzerkorps. Elements had to be committed to action near Barenton almost immediately, however, to block American probing attacks. Instead of being committed to a counter-offensive, Frundsberg found itself being pushed eastwards via Domfront and Fromentel as the Germans pulled back to defend Argentan. By 19 August the division was right in the middle of the Falaise Pocket. It was comparatively fortunate in being one of the formations which did manage to escape of the River Dives before the rapidly narrowing gap at Chambois was finally closed by the US, Canadian and Free Polish armor. The division then retreated north-east to the River Seine, crossing at Oissel between 25 and 27 August by means of two bridges it had seized, fending off attempts by other retreating units to use them until all its own troops had crossed to safety.
From the Seine crossings Frundsberg moved on to the Somme and took up positions between Bray and Peronne. After defensive fighting against the advancing British the division pulled back towards Cambrai and ultimately into Holland to a rest area between Arnhem and Nijmegan. It had been intended that Hohenstaufen be returned to Germany for a full refit, handing over its heavy equipment to Frundsberg to make up some of the latter’s combat losses but the arrival of the British 1st Airborne Division on 17 September quickly sent the division back into action. While Hohenstaufen was tasked with holding Arnhem town and blocking the advance of the British airborne troops from the west, Frundsberg was given the mission of defending the Waal Bridge at Nijmengen and blocking the Allied overland attack from the south.
In one incident a small group of Frundsbergers finds themselves engaged with British paratroopers in the opening stages of the Battle in the streets of Arnhem
“Four English paratroopers advanced against the railroad station at Oosterbeek/Laag to reconnoiter the situation. Nothing was to be seen of the Germans. They were sure of themselves. On a small hill near the railroad bridge the English patrol met curious civilians. They celebrated fraternization!.
At the same time four men from the Frundsberg Division slipped forward to the railroad embankment and, from 50 meters distance, observed the greeting between the English and the Dutch. The Four Germans belonged to a group of 13 stragglers that had reached Arnhem after an adventurous retreat through northern France. They were frightened out of their midday meal by the airborne landings, postponed their return to the old bunch and enrolled themselves in the developing German defensive effort. After receiving weapons at an issuing point, they headed of on a little bus, as ordered, to stop the British at Oosterbeek. On the way there they learned from the retreating garrison that Oosterbeek was already taken by the British.
The 13 Frundsbergers held a council of war and resolved, under the leadership of Sturmann Helmut Buttlar, to make war on their own. The major assignment was known: delay the English advance on Arnhem and the Rhine bridges. What did that leave for discussion! The group resolved that they would defend the railroad bridge.
And the action was on! Nine men stayed in the area of the railroad as security. Buttlar worked his way forward along the railroad with three other men and saw the greeting between the British and the Dutch. The Germans delayed opening fire, since they did not want the civilians to come to harm. Suddenly the Dutch spotted the German soldiers and ran, calling “The Moffen (Dutch Slang for “Jerries”) are coming” The Germans and British carefully worked toward each other, both calling on the others to surrender, but then the weapons did the talking at close range. Two English fell. Bursts from the British submachine guns whipped a hairs breadth above the four Germans lying in a shallow depression. Buttlar tossed two hand grenades and dashed behind a pile of railroad ties. Again he demanded of the English: “Hands Up!” and the answer was a burst of grazing submachine gun fire that struck down the German machine gunner. No one surrendered. Both of the remaining English fell.
Buttlar recognized what this meant. The Germans stormed along the railroad to the Oosterbeek/laag station, occupied it and, from there, controlled the approaches to the railroad bridge. As the points of Frost’s British Paratroop Battalion approached they were held off by fire from Buttlars group. Since they assumed stronger German forces, the English attack on a 400 meter front. A small group of courageous Frundsbergers held off an entire British Battalion which thus lost precious time, enabling the German forces at Arnhem time to prepare”
One of the most spectacular incidents at Arnhem Bridge involved a Hohenstaufen unit temporarily under the command of the Frundsberg Division. The armoured reconnaissance battalion SS-Panzer Aufklarungs Abteilung 9, under SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Grabner, had already crossed the Arnhem Bridge southwards when news of the Allied attacks arrived, and raced to secure the road through Nijmegen. On finding the defense of the Nijmegen Bridge well organizes, it had returned to Arnhem, and on 18 September it attempted to cross the bridge northwards again and seize the northern end, now held by LtCol John Frost’s 2nd Parachute Battalion. With a mixture of armoured cars, armoured personnel carriers and other light vehicles, Grabner rushed the bridge, only to be met with a hail of fire from the British paratroopers. Many light armored vehicles were knocked out by PIATS, and Grabner himself, leading from the front as always, was among the dead.
SS Troops ensconced on the southern bank and in brickworks near the southern end of the bridge were able to keep up suppressing fire on British movements on the northern bank. Cut off from reinforcements and running out of ammunition, the survivors of Frosts; few hundred paratroopers were forced to surrender on 21 September after three days and four nights of bitter fighting. Frundsberg units then moved to their allotted task of supporting the German defenses at Nijmegen, and later slowing the advance of the British XXX Corps armor after it cross the Waal. Considerable casualties were inflicted on the British during the stubborn German defensive fighting. Frundsberg’s Kampfgruppe Knaust and SS-Pz AA 10 stubbornly defended the town of Elst, the capture of this town would be the only hope for the British of rescuing the beleaguered 1st Airborne Division. British XXX Corps under General Horrocks viciously pounded the town and on September 25, British forces penetrated the first houses of the town. The Battle raged on the following day, the brave Frundsbergers defended the town house for house, forcing the British to pay dearly for every meter advanced. Based on the increasing pressure and the situation at Elst, General Bittrich ordered the withdrawal of Elst to a bridgehead prepared south of the Rhine. On September 25th, the order was made to send a unit composed of elements of the Dorsetshire Regiment and the Free Polish Brigade across the Rhine River in order to link up with the 1st Airborne Division at Oosterbeek. During the night, these units ferried across the river, however German forces on the north bank soon became well aware of the crossing. Kampfgruppe Harder and SS-Pz AA 10 opposed the crossing, inflicting Heavy casualties on the Poles. Out of 400 British and Poles, only a handful reached the north bank, wounded, fallen, or drowned. XXX Corps and the Polish Brigade were unable to reach the 1st Airborne Division. The remainder of the 1st Airborne Division was eventually forced to withdraw over the river by night, leaving their wounded to surrender on 29 September 1944.
"The Rhineland", 1944-1945
On 18 November the Frundsberg Division, by this time reduced to a battle group after its losses in Normandy and at Arnhem, was withdrawn to Aachen in Germany for rest and refit, During December its strength was built up once again to around 15,500 men – about 75 percent of establishment. In December 1944/January 1945 it saw action around Linnich and Geilenkirchen, and Julich north-east of Aachen. In January it was committed along the upper reaches of the Rhine as part of Heeresgruppe Niederrheim, and was earmarked for use in the reserve forces for Unternehmen ‘Nordwind’. Mid-January saw Frundsberg cross the Rhine and attack in the direction of Gambsheim. Anticipating stiff resistance the division moved very cautiously, not realizing that the US units facing them made a tactical withdrawal. On 24 January Frundsberg crossed the Moder River and captured the high ground commanding the area between Hagenau and Kaltenhaus. Despite being at near full strength after its recent refit, the division met such fierce resistance that its advance faltered, and the following day orders arrived withdrawing it from the line for immediate transfer to the Eastern Front. Luckily, it had not suffered any significant level of casualties during its brief participation in ‘Nordwind’.
"Eastern Front", 1945
On 10 February 1945 the division arrived at the front as the situation became ever more critical. It was committed to a German counter-offensive codenamed Unternehmen “Sonnenwende” on 16 February as part of III SS-Panzerkorps, and for a month saw heavy combat around Stargard and Furstenwalde, before being pulled back across the Oder into Stettin for a brief respite. It then joined Heeresgruppe “Weichsel” as part of the Army Group Reserve.
At the end of March the divisional commander Heinz Harmel, was recalled from the front for hospital treatment in Berlin. Around this time Frundsberg was ordered to move to Dresden area, but while still en route was diverted back to the front to counter a Soviet breakthrough on the Oder front.
In mid-April Frundsberg was encircled by Soviet forces near Spremberg. The division was fragmented, but despite its perilous position, orders were received from the Fuhrerhauptquartier for Frundsberg to close the gap in the German lines by immediately attacking. Harmel realized that carrying out these orders would be suicidal; he decided instead to break out the encirclement and move towards German forces massed to the south of Berlin. The break-out was achieved, but only at the cost of further fragmentation of the remnants of the division. Some did manage to reform and take up defensive positions north-west of Dresden. Harmel’s refusal to obey the insane order to attack at Spremberg led to his being ordered to report to Geneeralfeldmarschall Schorner, a fanatical Nazi, who relieved Harmel of his command. (In the circumstances this was a light punishment – at this stage in the war others had been executed for lesser “crimes”)
Under 4. Panzerarmee of Army Group Centre, the remnants of the division were led by SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Franz Roestel in the last few vain fights against the advancing Russians, but to no avail. They fell back to the Elbe, crossing near Dresden and heading south. After claiming a few Soviet T-34 tanks on 7 May the last few Panzers of the Frundsberg Division were destroyed by their own crews to avoid their capture to be used against them. The Frundsberg Division moved west to avoid capture by the Soviets, Some Frundsbergers managed to reach the relative safety of US Captors, the rest surrendered to the Red army at Teplitz-Schonau."
The 10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg earned the reputation as one of the best units of that Germany could muster during the Second World War. Thirteen Frundsbergers were awarded the Knights Cross, including Heinz Harmel. Old comrades to this day still meet regularly, and Heinz Harmel acted as a fatherly figure to each man of his unit to ensure their welfare until his death in 2000.