Shortly after the Normandy Invasion began on 6 June 1944, the SS
Kampfgruppen 1, 2, 3 and 4, composed for the most part of emergency
battalions from SS schools and replacement units, were mobilized. Only two
of these elements were actually sent to the front, however. These were
Kampfgruppe 1 (Later SS-Panzergrenadier-Brigade 49) and SS Kampfgruppe 3
(later SS-Panzergrenadier-Brigade 51). Considered sister units, the two
brigades would fight an the same sector of the critical western front in
France for a brief time. SS-Panzergrenadier-Brigade 49 was one battalion
stronger than SS-Panzergrenadier-Brigade 51, and it lasted for a few days
longer in the extremely destructive combat action. The two brigades were
designated 26. SS-Panzer-Division and 27. Panzer-Division, respectively, for a very short
time, basically to try and mislead the Allies into thinking that they were
much larger units.
The history of SS-Panzergrenadier-Brigade 51 began in March of 1944 when it was formed as SS-Kamfgruppe 3, drawing heavily for its personnel from the staff and students at the SS NCO school in Lauenberg, Pomerania. It was not fully activated, however, until after the Allied landings in Normandy. Things were arranged so that all of the individual units could be fully mobilized within 48 hours.
On 18 June, 1944, SS-KGr. 3 officially became the SS Panzergrenadier-Brigade 51 and was soon sent on its way, along with SS-PzGrn.Bde. 49 to Denmark, to guard against an Allied attack on that country and also relieve Wehrmacht forces (Primarily the 363rd Inf Div.) for use in Normandy. Once in Denmark, The 51st was stationed around Haderslev on the southeast coast of Jutland, directly opposite the 49th which was put in place between Esbjerg and Tonder on the southwest coast.
On August 4th, 1944, nine days in advance of the 49th, the 51st was ordered to proceed to the Troyes area in France, by rail. The brigade commander was Sturmbannfuehrer Walter Joeckel, with Hauptsturmfuehrer Reinel in charge of I.Btn., Hauptsturmfuehrer Hillig in charge of II.Btn., and Sturmbannfuehrer Beissal leading the SS Artillery Detachment 51. The 51st had just under 3,000 troops including 59 officers. As of 10 August 1944, it assumed the title of 27. SS-Panzer-Division, for the "benefit" of the Allies, while maintaining the 51st Brigade title for its own use. To add to the confusion, the unit was also referred to as the "Stamm Regiment" /27. SS-Panzer-Division, (i.e. the "nucleus" regiment), by official sources. The situation in regards to 49th was even more confused since it had been given the 25. SS Panzer-Divsion designation until the number 27 was settled upon!
The SS-Panzergrenadier-Brigade 51 first saw combat action on 22 of August, 1944 around Sens, when the Allies began a carefully coordinated attack. The II./SS 51 was deployed at Sens and attached to it was the rather weak I./Army Security Rgt. 199. During the course of the fighting on 23 August, the enemy pressure became too great, and to avoid being outflanked the two battalions withdrew to prepared bridgehead positions west of the Seine River near Troyes.
I./SS 51 was already in place in the northern part of the bridgehead, when II./SS 51 and I./Rgt. 199 moved into the southern section. In addition, part of II./Rgt. 199 and some Kriegsmarine Infantry units were also deployed in the bridgehead. The 51st Brigade HQ was situated in a bank building in the city of Troyes apposite the Seine bridgehead held by the rest of the unit. This separation would prove to be unfortunate in the difficult days ahead.
On 24 August 1944, the Brigade HQ sent out a motorized scouting party to investigate the situation to the south of Troyes. At Bucheres, in the vicinity of Chatillon, this group ran into a roadblock and was trapped in a partisan ambush. The CO, Stubaf Joeckel, then dispatched 3rd Co/l/SS 51 and 3rd Battery/SS Artillery Detachment 51 to open up the road and smash the partisan resistance. A fierce battle resulted that ended with the partisan forces routed and 62 of their number dead.
On the 25 August, the enemy attacked Troyes with sizable tank farces that were nearly impossible to stop. The 8th Co/SS 51, a motorized medical transport column and the entire Brigade motor transport convoy, which included armored scout cars, were overrun and captured by the Americans. It was not until evening that this overwhelming onslaught could finally be brought to a halt, but even then disaster still threatened. In the afternoon hours of 25 August, a large partisan force broke into Troyes and managed to surround the 51st HQ and Staff Company. Stubaf. Joeckel, fully cut off from his battalions, radioed them instructions to fight on independently of the Brigade HQ. Soon afterwards US troops also entered the town and it was clear that Troyes was lost. By 1630, II/SS 51 recorded that all contact with the Brigade HQ had been lost. This was because Stubaf Joeckel had ordered his staff troops to try and break out of the town rather than surrender.
In house-to-house fighting the men of the staff, staff company and engineer company, battled their way to freedom. It was a valiant and skillful effort which frankly surprised the Americans who were expecting a demoralized capitulation. The SS Engineer Co. 51, which covered the withdrawal effort, was particularly effective in the action. Its men sacrificed themselves to the fullest and all of the company's officers were lost. The successful resistance offered by the small and outnumbered 51st Brigade garrison in Troyes actually won praise from Gen. Patton in his memoirs it was to be the highwater mark of the Brigade's brief history.
In the bridgehead across the Seine from Troyes, the battalions of the 51st began to prepare to retreat during the evening of 25 August. The II/SS 51 organized its vehicles into two convoys, to be accompanied only by their drivers. The objective was to send these out ahead of the main body of troops so that they could hopefully reach Route 19 and stay out of the way of the advancing Americans. It would be easier for the SS Panzergrenadiers to fight their way out on foot. On the morning of 26 August, one of the vehicle columns was strafed by American fighter planes but took only minimal losses.
At the same time parts of I. and II/SS 51 were able to cross over the railroad bridge south of Troyes on foot and proceed in two long rows down the rail lines towards Lusigny (south of Barse), where they were supposed to meet the truck convoys. About 100 American prisoners were taken along.
Unfortunately the bulk of I.Btn. had been destroyed in bitter fighting for St. Savine and Fontvannes that raged all day on 25 August and spilled over into 26 August, so actually only a few survivors were part of the above mentioned march columns. The Brigade Staff did not have much better luck; on 28 August, part of it, including the commander, Stubaf. Joeckel, was captured by an American recce unit. The surviving remnants eventually reached the positions of the 49th, to which they were then subordinated. The I./Security Rgt. 199 fought it out pretty much to the last at Vogesen, and its commander, Hauptmann Kropf, was killed in the action.
In the face of overpowering, advancing enemy elements, the disintegrating German forces could do little else but retreat towards Verdun and Metz to the northeast. The half destroyed remnants of the 51st finally reached the security lines of the 3. Panzer-Division at St Dizier, Rembercourt and to the west of Bar le Duc. Here the survivors found themselves asigned to the badly battered 17th SS Division "Goetz von Berlichengen". II./SS 51, which had gotten through reasonably intact was made the new II.Btn./SS Rgt 37/17th SS Division, replacing the old battalion which had largely disappeared in the war of material being waged by the Allies. This marked the end of the 51st, as no other units of the brigade existed at this point.
Stubaf. Walter Joeckel