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After the Campaign against Poland in 1939, a number of new SS Divisions
were formed. The
3rd SS Division was formed from the Totenkopf units that took part in the
Polish Campaign and with other members of the Totenkopfverbande and the
Allgemeine SS. Some portions of the 3rd SS Division were formed from
elements of SS Heimwehr Danzig which was originally SS Totenkopf Sturmbann
"Gotze", renamed "Heimwehr Danzig" and formed into Abteilung size, then
put under Heer control for combat in Poland. After Poland, portions of this
unit were used in the formation of this Division. This Division was formed
at the SS training area near Dachau. The Division was transfered from the
SS Ubungslager Dachau (SS Training Depot Dachau) to Wurttemberg and then on
to Truppen Ubungsplatz Obermunsingen. It was there that its training was
finished, and command of the Division was given to Theodor Eicke who was
the former head of the Totenkopfverbande.
During the Campaign in France, the 3rd SS Division served first as a part of the Army reserve. On May 16th, 1940, the Division was ordered into battle, and on May 19th, 1940, it was used to secure the area of Le Cateau and Cambrai. It was during this period that elements of the Division were envolved in actions that led to the execution of a group of Allied prisoners. The commander of the 4th Kompanie, I Abteilung, (The unit "found" as being responsible) was Fritz Knochlein. He was hung after the war for his part in the actions, but his actual guilt has been said to be suspect, and the trial against him seems to be have been biased.
Soon after, the Division was sent to the Coast of France south of Dunkirk where it took part in coastal defense operations. In the begining of June, 1940, the Division was moved to St. Pol. During the second half of the Campaign in France, the 3rd SS Division was used to secure the flanks of the advance and to clear up resistance and collect prisoners. When the Campaing in France was over, the Division was located near the Spanish border.
Totenkopf stayed in that location until April, 1941, when it was ordered to the East as a part of Army Group North for the Invasion of the Soviet Union. Totenkopf saw action in Lithuania, through Latvia, through the Stalin Line in July, to North of Demyansk, to Leningrad where it was in combat from July 31st to August 25th, 1941. Early in August, 1941, Totenkopf managed to capture the city of Chudovo which was on the main Leningrad-Moscow railway.
During this period, a small but not insignificant unit, the Freikorps Danemark, was attached to the 3rd SS Division. Also during this time, the Fall and Winter of 1941, the Soviets launched a number of operations against the German lines in the Northern sector of the Front. As a result, the Division was encircled for several months in the Demyansk Pocket. The Division suffered so heavily in the Demyansk Pocket that it was renamed as Kampgruppe Eicke because of the losses it sustained. In April of 1942, the Division broke out of the Pocket and managed to reach the area of the Lovat River. A portion of the Division stayed near Demyansk on defensive operations, until the whole Division was pulled out of action for refitting in late October, 1942 and sent to France.
While in France in 1942, the Division took part in the take over of Vichy France, and was provided with a Panzer Abteilung and a new name, SS Panzer Grenadier Division "Totenkopf". The Division stayed in France until February, 1943.
In February, 1943, the Division was transfered to the East as a part of Army Group South. It was then that the Division took part in the massive German counter offensives to stop the Russian Winter offensive that had already destroyed the German 6th Army at Stalingrad. The Division took part in the 2nd Battle for Kharkov, and helped stop the Soviet offensive in the south. It was during this time that the Divisions comander, Eicke, was killed in action. From Kharkov, the Division was sent into the massive battles for the Kursk Salient, fighting in some of the most bloody and fierce combat of the war and the largest tank battle in all of History. The operation soon came to a halt, and the Kursk offensive was called off. the 3rd SS Division was pulled out along with the other German units, but stayed on conducting defensive operations, helping to restore the German front once again after another Soviet offensive was launched after the battle for Kursk failed. The Division stayed on defensive operation in the south and central sector of the German front for nearly a year, and during this time, in October, 1943, the Division was reformed and renamed as a Panzer Division. The Panzer Grenadier Regiments of the new Panzer Division were renamed as "Thule" (5th SS PG Regiment) and "Theodor Eicke".
By 1944, the situation on the Eastern Front was very dire. Everywhere the Soviets were advancing. In the center of the Front, the Soviets had managed to launch what was probably the largest offenisve of the entire war, sending hundreds of units against the German lines, pushing them nearly 300 miles in four weeks. When the Soviets finally came to a halt, they were at the gates of Warsaw. With the Soviets so near, an uprising in Warsaw took place and the 3rd SS Division was sent in. The Division helped push the Soviets out of the city and back across the Vistula River. Around two Soviet Armies were held back by the operations of the 3rd SS Division with the help of the SS Division Wiking and the 19th Panzer Division.
Next, the Division was sent south to help rescue the encirled German units in Budapest. Totenkopf launched an assualt taking it all the way to the Budapest airport, but was pulled back in an action that was hoped would result in the destruction of Soviet units to the North of the Budapest. The Division was on the verge of rescuing some 45,000 Germans trapped in the city, and the Soviets proved stiff once again, as no Soviets units were trapped as was hoped.
From there, the Division was pushed back West, fighting battles west of Budapest, and then in Vienna. The Division surrenderd to the Americans on May 9th, 1945, and handed over to the Soviets.
Obergruppenführer Theodor Eicke, 11.01.39 - 7.7.41
Obergruppenführer Matthias Kleinheisterkamp, 7.07.41 - 7.18.41
Obergruppenführer Georg Keppler, 7.18.41 - 9.19.41
Obergruppenführer Theodor Eicke, 9.19.41 - 2.26.43
Obergruppenführer Herman Priess, 2.26.43 - 4.27.43
Gruppenführer Heinz Lammerding, 4.27.43 - 5.15.43
Gruppenführer Max Simon, 5.15.43 - 10.22.43
Obergruppenführer Herman Priess, 10.22.43 - 6.21.44
Brigadeführer Hellmuth Becker, 6.21.44 - 5.8.45
* part of the division had moved to South France 10.42 (Aufstellingsstab,
LXXXIII. Corps/Armeegruppe Felber).