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|357.Infanterie-Division by Erich Craciun and Jason Pipes|
The 357.Infanterie-Division was formed starting November 21st-23rd, 1943 in the area of Radom, Poland as a division of the 21st mobilization wave. The division consisted of the remaining personnel of a number of divisional units, including the 32.Infanterie-Division, 39.Infanterie-Division and 327.Infanterie-Division.
The division first saw combat on March 8th 1944 against Soviet forces around Tarnopol-Zalosce in the General-Gouvernement in modern-day Poland/Ukraine.
On March 21st 1944, the division was in the area of Jezieerna-Olejow. Following the Russian offensive on the 14th of July, the division fought delaying battles at Jezierna, Olejow, Zborow, Kabarowce and Zlosow until July 21st, 1944. During this period, the division was partially under the command of the Kampfgruppe Weiz of 96.Infanterie-Division. From July 27th until the beginning of September 1944, the division fought in the region around Stry, Zydazow and Chodorow under Kampfgruppe Kobolt under the command of the 96.Infanterie-Division.
On the 28th of August 1944, the division was strengthened by the addition of personnel from the Schatten-Division "Breslau" of the 31st mobilization wave (established on August 3rd, 1944 in Neuhammer). The entire Grenadier-Regiment 945 and the II./Gren.Regt.944 received new Feldpost numbers at this time also. Along with men of the Breslau Division, the 357th was refreshed with men from various units including Marschkompanie Grenadier-Ersatz-Batl.164 Tarnowitz*.
In September 1944, the 357.Infanterie-Division was refitted in Slovakia and later took part in the disarming of the Slovakian army after the Slovak uprising. The division fought the Slovak partisans in the Carpathian mountains during this time. From the 17th of September the division was stationed at East Beskiden (German: Ost Beskiden) at the Dukla Pass, in Slovakia.
During the second week of November 1944, Füsilier-Bataillon 357 was the first of the division to be transferred to Hungary. It was immediately thrown into battle east of Budapest. On the 20th of November 1944, the rest of the division arrived in Hungary. On the 25th, the majority of the division took up positions along the line Hatvan - Kalo - Gödöllö where it relieved the burned out 211.Infanterie-Division filling the gap in the line between the 23.Panzer-Division and the 46.Infanterie-Division.
On the 5th of December 1944, the Soviets began their assault on Hatvan. Within two weeks they were able to force a breech 100 miles wide into the German lines and reach the city of Esztergom (German: Gran). Within four days these Soviet forces made their way to Vac (German: Waitzen), north of Budapest. From the 8th of December 1944 until the 20th, the division was placed under the operational control of the 23.Panzer-Division.
The new defensive line of the 357.Infanterie-Division ran from Kartal, Fenyöharast and Hered, 10km west and northwest of Hatvan. Despite the brave resistance of the Grenadier Regiments filled mostly with young and inexperienced soldiers, Soviet tanks broke through the line after the first day of fighting. Kompanies were separated from their parent units and destroyed. Small units resisted, but the majority of the division retreated along the Vanyarei river through the towns of Verseg, Kallo and Acse.
The remaining units of the division, now renamed Kampfgruppe Rintelen, assembled in the wooded area near Waitzen and reached Gran by the end of the month. The kompanies of the Kampfgruppe were placed in defensive positions as part of the LVII.Panzer-Korps. By this time Budapest was surrounded, and on the 18th of January, 1945 German troops began an offensive to relieve th city. They made excellent progress initially but were unable to get any closer than within 20km of the city.
The 357th was withdrawn from the front during the first half of January 1945. It was sent to Neutra (German: Nitra) to refit, but by the end of the month parts of the division including Grenadier-Regiment 946 were in combat at Nagy Kalna, 50km north of Gran. Meanwhile, Soviet forces attacked the town of Komarom and occupied the so-called Gran Bridgehead, the area between the rivers Gran and Waag. From the 17th to the 24th of February, 1945 the I.SS-Panzerkorps counterattacked and pushed the Soviets back from the bridgehead. The majority of the 357th, split into two separate groups, was involved in this battle. The first group advanced from Komarom and the second from Zeliezovce. After this battle the front was quiet.
On the 16th of March 1945, the Soviets began their offensive to capture Bratislava (German: Preßurg) and Wien (Vienna). During these desparate battles the the 357.Infanterie-Division was pushed in back in the direction of these two cities. The 357th was forced to pull back 40km to Neutra and occupied defensive positions within the operational control of Panzerkorps "Feldherrnhalle".
On the 29th of March, 1945, Komarom fell to the Soviets. On the 3rd of April, Preßburg met with the same fate. Due to the increasing pressure of the Soviet offensive, the 357th was forced to give up their defensive positions and retreat. At this point, the 357.Infanterie-Division began to dissolve as a fighting unit. Some units still fought rear guard actions against the Soviet and the increasing number of partisans, but the division itself slowly fell apart and withdrew.
In the beginning of May, 1945, units of the 357th reached Moravia around the towns of Iglau and Deutsch Brod. It was there that the remainder of the division surrendered to the Soviets. Some soldiers were able to break through the demarcation line drawn between the Soviet and Americans region north of Linz, but they were later returned to the Soviets. The majority of the soldiers serving in the 357.Infanterie-Division were made prisoners of the Soviets in Czechoslovakia. These men were collected in camps at Iglau, Budweis, Prag and Deutsch-Brod and then transported to Brünn and Bratislava and transferred on to Soviet camps at Schachty, Charkov, Stalino and even Moscow.
The men that were taken prisoner in Rumania and Hungary were taken to camps in Focsani, Marmorosz and Jassy and later were transferred to the Soviet Union. According to one repatriated prisoner of war, "In den Sammellagern war die Sterblichkeit damals ungewöhnlich hoch" - In the collection camps at that time, the death rate was unusually high.
* Unteroffizier Herbert Coenenberg, Erich Craciun's Grandfather, came to 7./Gren.Rgt.945 of the 357.Infanterie-Division after fighting with 102.Infanterie-Division and being wounded. He had been recovering in a large German military hospital on the Western Front, in Metz. When the 357.Infanterie-Division took up defensive positions along the line Hatvan - Kalo - Gödöllö on the 25th of November, 1944, Unteroffizier Coenenberg wrote his last Feldpostbriefe to his wife and family. It was during the bitter defensive actions in this region, or possibly the forthcoming attempt to relieve Budapest, that the newly promoted Feldwebel Herbert Coenenberg, then just 29 years old and recently married, was listed as missing in action, presumed killed. According to records, he was put in command of a Stoßtruppe that failed to return from battle.
Gen.Lt. Wolfgang von Kluge 12.01.44 - 4.??.44
Gen.Maj. Knut Eberding 4.??.44 - 5.??.44
Gen.Maj. Norbert Holm 5.10.44 - 9.16.44
Gen.Lt. Josef Rintelen 9.12.44 - 3.??.45
Oberst Walter Krüger 3.??.45 - 5.08.45
Knights Cross Holders