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The 33.Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS Charlemagne (französische Nr.1)
was officially formed on February 2nd, 1945 in West Prussia from the
Waffen-Grenadier-Brigade der SS Charlemagne. In
fact, the Division had been forming practically since the time the
Waffen-Grenadier-Brigade it was offically formed from was itself formed.
By the autumn of 1944 the Vichy government, along with the upper-hierarchy
of its more prominent collaborationist organizations were being driven back
into the Reich borders by the advancing western Allied Armies. These various
elements were formed, along with the transitional Waffen-Grenadier-Brigade
der SS Charlamagne, into the 33.SS-Division. In the autumn and winter of
1944, the newly forming elements were never more than 7,500 strong. A
numerical breakdown of the members would include former Brigade members:
1,000, former LVF members: 1200, former Milice Francaise members: 2,500,
former Kriegmsaine volunteers: 1,000, former NSKK and Org.Todt members:
2,000, for a grand total of around 7,340 men.
In late 1944, these assorted composite elements were assembled for training at Lager Wildflecken, NW of Frankfurt-am-Main. At Wildflecken, the volunteers were sorted out and assigned to their respective units. As things transpired, Waffen-Grenadier-Regiment 57 was composed of mainly LVF veterans, while Waffen-Grenadier-Regiment 58 was composed of former Brigade volunteers. The disparate elements of the Milice Francaise, and others, were distributed widely among the battalions and various divisional support units. Training was cut short in February 1945 when the Division was embarked for the Eastern Front.
On the 25th of February 1945, as the train-borne elements of the 33.Waffen-Gren.Div.der SS Charlemagne (seconded to Heeresgruppe Weichsel), pulled into the railhead at Hammerstein in Pomerania, armored spearheads of the Soviet 1st Belorussian front unexpectedly smashed into the division at its most vulnerable moment. In the rout that ensued, the outflanked Frenchmen split-up and subsequently reformed into three wandering battle-groups that met varying fates. One group, commanded by General Krukenberg, made it north to the Baltic coast where they were evacuated to Denmark and sent back to refit at Neustrelitz in Mecklenberg. Another battle-group commanded by General Puaud went into the vortex of the Soviet winter offensive, and the fate of he and his officers has never been officially determined. The third group, nearly decimated at the railhead, fought west toward the German lines, until it too reportedly perished in early March of 1945.
At Carpin, in the wooded fastness of Mecklenberg, the remainder of the once (approx.) 7500 strong Division Charlemagne, some 1100 men, gathered to rest and reform. In early April 1945, Divisions-Inspektor SS-Brif.Dr.Krukenberg, queried his French grenadiers, releasing the shaken and disillusioned among them from their vows of allegiance. Nearly a third of the group chose to excuse themselves. The rest of the volunteers, numbering near 700 men, agreed to continue. At that time an order from SS-FHA (SS-Führungshauptamt) AmtII/Org., detailed the re-organization of the remaining French contingent. The re-establishment order indicated that reduced support units were to be formed; 1 signals platoon, 1 pionier platoon, 1 supply and workshop section each; the bulk of the remaining combat units were to make up a single 3 bataillon infanterie-regiment designated Waffen-Grenadier-Rgt. der SS Charlemagne, with two 1945 type bataillone (numbered 57. & 58.), and one heavy support bataillon which would have comprised 1 anti-tank company, 1 jagdpanzer company, and 1 light flak company - had the necessary equipment been available. The 400 men no longer willing to fight as combatants were regrouped into a Baubataillon (construction battalion) and employed in the digging of fortifications.
During the night of April 23rd and 24th 1945, the unit recieved an urgent telegram from the Reichkanzlei in Berlin reading: "Charlemagne Div. to utilize all possible transport for immediate operations Berlin, A.H." SS-Brif.Krukenberg quickly gathered together a Sturmbataillon (assault-battalion) composed of the currently battle-ready elements of the 57.Gren.Btl., and the 6.Kompanie of the 58.Gren.Btl. (CO Waffen-Hauptscharführer Rostaing, to which were added t he divisional Kampfschule (battle-school) element under SS-Obstf.Weber. These troops set off for Berlin in two light cars and 9 heavy trucks (Lkw.) Because of difficulties along the way, two of the trucks and the men in them never reached their destination which left between 300-330 Officers, NCO's, and men to enter the NW suburbs of the Reichshauptstadt at Nauen, just hours before the Soviet encirclement of the city. They reached the Olympiastadion (Reichssportsfeld) in Charlottenburg where they regrouped and replenished with a cache of supplies abandoned by the Luftwaffe. Krukenberg went on by car to the Reichskanzlei for further orders. The unit then reorganized into a reduced headquarters staff under the command of Waffen-Hauptsturmführer Henri Joseph Fenet, with four rifle companies (nos. 1-4), each comprised of ca.60-70 men, as well as SS-Obstf.Weber's Kampfschule veterans. At this point the unit moved east through the city to the district of Neukölln, (under constant Soviet bombardment), where Fenet and his men were tactically attached to the remainder of the 11.SS Frw.Panzer-Gren.Division Nordland which SS-Brif.Krukenberg, (under direct orders of Berlin Kampfkommandant Weidling), had just taken command of.
They were engaged immediately upon their arrival. They fought brief and bloody counter-attacks at the Hasenheide,and Tempelhof airfield, (defense sub-sector C) supported, as fuel and ammuntion allowed, by the remaining Sturmgeschütze and Tiger II's of s.SS-Pz. Abt.503 (assimilated into SS-Pz.Rgt.11 Hermann von Salza; withdrawing back across the Landwehr canal, and fighting through the district of Kreuzberg into the city center. Here at the U-Bahn station of STADTMITTE, just yards from Hitler's FHQ Reichskanzlei bunker, Dr. Krukenberg set up a last divisional command post for the Nordland Division inside a ruined trolley car lit by candles. For the determined Frenchmen, whose skill at destroying Red Army tanks in the ruined boulevards of the city-center reportedly went unmatched, rearguard fighting continued unabated along the Leipzigerstrasse, in and around the Luftfahrtsministerium, and into the Potsdamerplatz platz, until the general order of surrender announced by General Weidling on May 2nd, 1945, when some 30 surviving Frenchmen reportedly went into Soviet captivity near the Potsdamer station.
Waffen Oberführer der SS Edgard Puaud
SS-Brigadeführer Dr. Gustav Krukenberg
SS-Standtenführer Walter Zimmermann