Research on the German Armed Forces 1918-1945
With the German takeover of Austria and it's armed forces, what was once the 4th Austrian Division was incorporated into the German Heer and redesignated as the 45.Infanterie-Division. In the 1939 Polish Campaign, the division was on the right wing of von Runstedt's Heeresgruppe Sud. An entry from the divisional war diary reports:
"Large-scale quick marches were demanded of the foot troops. In lasting oppressive heat, terrible dust and miserable thirst,the men showed in these days with bitter energy what marching performances they could give. In thirteen days 400 kilometers were covered from the border to the Lubaszov area, an average of over 30 kilometers a day." Total losses for the division in the Polish campaign were 158 dead, 360 wounded.
Initially held in reserve at Treysa for the May, 1940 invasion of France, the division found itself heavily engaged south of La Malmaison for crossing of the Aisne river on June 9th; a report from the war diary describes the crossing:
"At 05:00 our artillery suddenly opened fire. Over the river bottom at this hour there still lay heavy fog, unfortunately, which made reliable observation impossible. The artillery had to move their fire forward,which compelled the infantry to open its own path over the river for the first jump. In the process,it met a wakeful enemy,fully prepared to defend himself, who threw a murderous fire at it. Enemy riflemen and machine gunners lay unseen in cover on the other shore,firing from bushes,trenches and sandbag bunkers, or were posted in trees along with their machine guns. The French artillery, to provide a full measure,fired from their gun positions all the way back to the fortifications of Rheims on all our advance positions with shells of all calibers up to 28 centimeters, with destructive effect. At first it appeared that every attack would end in bloody defeat. A part of the first infantry wave fell dead or were injured into the Aisne along with their shot-up rubber boats,or the boats floated on downriver out of control, with their crews dead. But the attackers did not give up. More and more rubber boats were launched, and when one squad was shot down, the next, tough and bitter, sprang into the boat. Others plunged into the water fully equipped and managed to swim to the other shore. The first shock troops of 133.Infanterie-Regiment,led by Leutnants Wolfinger and Schweitzer, reached the south shore during the crossing despite heavy losses, but met heavy enemy defense there, that wiped them out almost completely as they stormed forward. Lt.Schweitzer died of a shot in the abdomen."
The now veteran 45.Infanterie-division was assigned to Heeresgruppe Mitte, 2.Panzergruppe, XII.Armeekorps for the June 22nd,1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. At the very start of the eastern campaign, the division was assigned the serious task of the taking of the fortress of Brest-Litovsk on the Bug River. The fighting to reduce the Soviet held fortress was brutal, and the division took many casualties in the process:
"On 22nd June, the 45.Infanterie Division did not suspect that it would suffer such heavy losses in this ancient frontier fortress. Captain Praxa had prepared his assault against the heart of the citadel of Brest with great caution. The III/135.Inf.Reg., was to take the Western Island and the central area with the barracks block. They had studied it all thoroughly at the sand-table. They had built a model from aerial photographs and old plans from the days of the Polish campaign, when, until it had to be surrendered to the Russians, Brest was in German hands. Guderian's staff officers realized from the outset that the citadel could be taken only by infantry, since it was proof against tanks. The circular forest, occupying an area of nearly two square miles, was surrounded by moats and river branches, and sub-divided internally by canals and artificial water-courses into four small islands. Casemates, snipers' positions, armored cupolas with anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns, were established, well camouflaged, behind shrubs and under trees. On 22nd June there were in all five Soviet regiments in Brest; these included two artillery regiments, one reconnaissance battalion, and independent anti-aircraft detachment, and supply and medical battalions."
The 45ths divisional after-action report of June 30 1941 relates:
"The division took 7000 prisoners, including 100 officers. German losses were 482 killed, including 32 officers, and over 1000 wounded."
The magnitude of these losses can be judged by the fact that the total German losses on the Eastern front up to 30th June 1941 amounted to 8886 killed. The citadel of Brest therefore accounted for over 5 percent of all fatal casualties.
Advancing through Byelorussia and the Pripyet marshes in the high summer of 1941, the marching troops and their supply columns faced enemies other than the Russians. The difficulties of the advance and the supply of forward troops during the early phases of operations in the east are related in this passage from the 45.Infanterie-division war diary concerning their advance through the Pripyet Marshes:
"It went on for four weeks, through swamp, dirt and dust,in the direction of Gomel... This was no longer an 'advance', but literally a miserable crawling through 40 to 50 cm deep sand, bottomless morass, thick woods and overgrown brush. In places long corduroy roads first had to be built to make any progress at all. The motor vehicles had inconceivable engine troubles, for the fine sand got into everything and damaged pistons and cylinders. In addition, they were much too low-slung for this terrain, their chassis often hit bottom and they could be moved only with a lot of help on both sides, often enough with a broken axle or fenders, mufflers, brake lines, etc.. torn off... The column drivers in particular did everything humanly possible to move ahead."
Still advancing, the division went on to fight south-west of Moscow, before being pushed back by the overwhelming 'winterized' Siberian reinforcements of Zhukov's December counter-offensive. The divisional war diary reports from Tula, December, 1941:
"From the border via Kiew to Jelez on the Shossna, 2100 kilometers were covered in marching and fighting from June 22 to December 8,1941. Then, during the night the temperature dropped again to 37 degrees below zero..."
On December 12, 1941, OKH Generalstabschef Halder reported to FHQ that the hard-fought unit was unfit for further combat operations for lack of supplies. While attempting to pull back to reserve positions, its withdrawal route was cut-off by the Soviets and elements of the division were encircled and dispersed. Much of it's horse-drawn artillery and vehicles were abandoned to the blinding snow-drifts and the advancing Russians, with the horses either starving or freezing to death in the frozen wastes.
Remarkably, the division managed to stay in the line throughout the winter, and in the spring of 1942 was able to absorb and train it's replacement battalions while at the front in preparation for the anticipated 1942 summer offensive in the South, where it would shift to Heeresgruppe Sud, and operate beneath LV.Armeekorps of General von Salmuth's 2.Armee. The summer 1942 offensive would find the division on the northern wing of the German advance on the Volga, stalled, and caught up in defensive fighting against the Soviet Bryansk Front around Voronesh. It would go no further. The backlash to the Soviet November offensive which destroyed German 6.Armee at Stalingrad rolled north to clear 2.Armee from Voronesh in early 1943. After escaping a brief encirclement, the remnants of 2.Armee trekked west to reach defensive positions far west of the Don at Rylsk.
By July 1, 1943 the 45.Infanterie-division would be a component of Gen.der Infanterie Freiheer von Roman's XX.Armeekorps,itself the reserve korps of Generaloberst Model's 9.Armee, for the impending Operation Zitadelle against Soviet forces in the Kursk salient. Committed to some of the most brutal fighting of the offensive as 9.Armee's last reserve at Ponyri, the division suffered serious casualties,and would be severely diminished in strength by the end of July 1943. Fighting westward that autumn in the defense of Sozh, and in the subsequent retreats of Heeresgruppe Mitte, the division was near collapse, but still remained at the front as the weather turned and allowed it temporary respite from further offensive operations by the Soviet Armies.
The 45.Infanterie-division was largely destroyed in the Soviet summer 1944 offensive against Heeresgruppe Mitte. What few survivors of the division that made it west, beyond the great encirclement of the Red Army, would be used to form the cadre elements for a new division, redesignated the 45.Grenadier-division.
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