German Armed Forces Research 1918-1945
9th SS-Panzer-Division "Hohenstaufen" Combat Report (7.03.44 - 7.24.44)As written by Sylvester Stadler in 1947 / MS # B-470
The 9th SS Panzer Division "Hohenstaufen" was activated in the beginning of 1943 and received its training in France. Early in the spring of 1944, it was transferred, and committed on the Eastern Front. After the beginning of the invasion, it was moved back to the Western Front. On 20 June 1944, first elements were unloaded between Paris and Nancy and reached the area south of Auney (and) -Sur-Odan in crosscountry marches. On 28 June, the Division was completely assembled and, on 29 June, launched a counterattack on either side of the Villers-Bocage, Noyers road. The attack did not progress properly and finally bogged down owing to heavy losses. On 1 July 1944, it was resumed but did not, however, fare any better than on the preceding day and was therefore discontinued. During the following night, the majority of the divisional forces were pulled out of the front, assembled in the sector of the II SS Pz Corps, and placed at the disposal of this Corps as tactical reserve. On July 3, 1944, I took over the command of the Division, which was organized in the following way:
a. Order of Battle of a normal panzer division of the Army, without the Panzer-Jaeger Abt (anti-tank bn), which was still being activated and equipped in Germany.
b. strengths according to T/O: troops: about 80%, with the exception of the PzGreRgts the actual strength of which was, at the most, 60% and they had rather serious losses in officers, artillery: about 90%, tanks: about 70%, assault guns or Panzer Jaeger (anti-tank troops) had not yet been moved up, vehicular equipment: about 80%.
c.The Division did not receive any reinforcements, either before or after the Invasion, but only in November 1944 when it was being reorganized for the battle of the Ardennes.
II. The employment of the Division as tactical reserve
My assumption of command of the Division was accomplished by 0800 on 3rd July 1944. During the preceding night, the last elements (ss PzGreRgt 19) had been pulled out of the MLR north of Esquy and replaced by the lO SS Panzer Division. The combat units of the Division were assembled in the area of Maizet-Vacognes-Montigny - Division Command Post at Le Mesnil - so that they could be used as tactical reserves of the II SS Pz Corps right behind the MLR and, if necessary, launch counterattacks.
For this purpose, the Division was to investigate the possibilities of commitment in the sectors of the 10 SS Panzer Div and the 277 Infantry Div., determine routes of approach, and move the Artillery Regiment into such a position that it could support counterattacks in any direction and at any time. Within one hour after the Division had been taken over, orders for a counterattack on Maltot, Etenrille and on Baron by way of Hill 112, were received from the Corps by telephone, and a short time later confirmed in writing. So the attack on Baron was to be launched at 2000 and that on Eterville at 1200. Although the time was very short, the execution of this task was still possible thanks to the fact that the 20th SS PzGreRgt. was not too far away and that a tank battalion, together with the artillery, could support the operation from the positions they were in at the time. The units just mentioned received their orders accordingly by telephone and, after hasty assembly into position, were able to launch the counterattack at about 1300. Around Maltot a vigorous battle developed, in which reorganized elements of the 12 SS Pz Div. which had been forced back early that morning from Eterville and Maltot - participated, on our side.
At about 1500, Maltot was again in our hands. Tne enemy answered with increased air activity and concentrated very strong artillery fire on Maltot. In these circumstances, it was out of the question to continue the counterattack on Eterville by daylight, inspite of the support given by the entire Corps Artillery, which, however, consisted only of a few sudden concentrations. Therefore the Division ordered an attack on Baron to be launched at 2000, together with other elements. In the meantime, the CP had been transferred to the group of farm houses, one kilometer northwest of Grimbosq. The advanced Division CP was located in the thicket one kilometer northwest of Bully.
Concentration of the Division was greatly impeded and delayed by serious traffic jams on roads, harassing fire from the enemy artillery directed on villages along the routes of advance, and on road junctions, as well as by the strong enemy air activity. In addition to that, the enemy managed at about 1800 to capture height 112, which dominated the entire Corps sector. Thereupon the mission assigned to the Division was altered by the Corps, to the effect thatonly height 112, and later Eterville, had to be recaptured.
Having changed the combat plan accordingly, the counterattack was now launched at about 2100, (line of departure time). In spite of the extremely strong enemy artillery fire, our forces advanced toward Eterville ard those operating in the area between Eterville and height 112, made good progress. Eterville was recaptured toward 0100. However, it was impossible to get near height 112 because of the concentrated artillery fire maintained for hours by all the enemy's heavy weapons. It was not until daybreak that the wooded strip of land- in other words, the southern edge of the plateau on this height could be taken. Thus the gap torn open in the MLR on the preceding day had been closed again and the mission assigned to the Division accomplished. Height 112 was no longer defended in the same way as before, i.e. on the northern edge of the plateau; the Division ordered the construction of a new main line of resistance in the southern part of the plateau, near the northern edge of the wooded strip of land, continuing toward the west, a line which was not visible to the enemy.
In the course of the forenoon the enemy, in turn, resumed his attacks and managed to take Eterville once again, whereas his attacks on height 112 were repelled with considerable losses. A counterattack launched immediately on Eterville succeeded and, by noon, the village was again in our hands. An extremely heavy and fluctuating battle ensued aftenwards for the ruins of Eterville, which place changed hands repeatedly until, finally, it was firmly in our possession late in the evening of 4 July 1944. The losses suffered during these engagements in the rocky terrain offering almost no cover, were considerable (Grenadiers about 10%), and mainly caused, of course, by the excessively strong artillery fire, which could be countered by next to nothing from our side, since only some 700 rounds of ammunition were available for the entire attack on 4 July. Nevertheless, the Pz Bn operating near Eterville managed to destroy 12-14 enemy vehicles, whereas they lost only 2 tanks. Thus, it could be figured out that the enemy losses were at least as high as ours.
The complete difference between the Eastern and the Western Theaters, became evident already during the first commitment of the Division. While on the Eastern Front, numbers were always the decisive element in an attack, the Allied infantry on the Western Front restricted itself to the execution of swift and short thrusts after heavy use of air, artillery, and armored forces. This employment of supporting weapons with unprecedented expenditure of ammunition was according to our conceptions up to that time, out of all proportion to the terrain gained, which, in spite of all, was often recaptured right afterwards in a counterthrust or counterattack. On the other hand, of course, this manner of fighting reduced the enemy losses of manpower to a minimum, whereas on our side, even the best-trained and best-equipped division was gradually battered down in the long run owing to the shortage of armunition. If the enemy had only had the same amount of arrmunition, he would, incidentally, not have achieved this success either.
During the following night of 4/5 July 1944, the Division was relieved on the eastern sector by elements of the 12 SS Pz Div and on the western sector by the 10 SS Pz Div. Thereupon, the divisional forces were reassembled for the same purpose and in almost the same area as on 3 July. They were also assigned the additional task of constructing prepared positions in the rear in the line along the course of the stream and along the heights south of it, and occupying the line with weak forces. The Pz Pion Bn (armored engineer battalion) was put in charge of the construction of this position. In addition, from each SS Pz Gre Rgt, one Grenadier battalion was used for the task. the Artillery Rgt was ordered to move into such a position that all important points before the entire corps sector could be covered by concentrated fire. All other units were to repair weapons and equipment with all available means, and give their men a good rest.
On 6 July, the enemy resumed his attacks, this time along the road running from Caen to Noyers. To meet this attack, the Division had to assign the PzA.A. (armored reconnaissance battalion) to the 277 Inf Div. The Battalion managed to recapture Noyers in a counterattack and, for the time being, remained with the 277 Infantry Division.
Early in the morning of 7 July 1944, the enemy opened an attack on Gavrus and Bougny. Both localities were lost. An immediate counterattack by the Fusilier Battalion of the 277 Inf Div was brought to a standstill in the wooded area just south of Bougy, with heavy losses. The Division had no other forces at its disposal. Thereupon, 9 SS Panter Div was alerted and ordered to recapture the villages of Gavrus and Bougy and restore the previous main line of resistance. The Division assigned the 19 SS Pz Gre Rgt the task of retaking Rougy, by way of Locheur, along the course of the stream, in order to reoccupy Garvus afterwards, using the same route. This attack was supported by an armored battalion (of about 15-20 vehicles) and by the Artillery Rgt which, however, had at the upmost some 600 rounds of armmunition left. Also the corps artillery was ordered to support the action by some sudden concentrations of fire.
After hasty assembly, the counterattack was launched around 1100 and at about 1400, Bougy was again in our hands. One hour later, Garvus was also recaptured despite the enemy artillery, which unremittingly pounded both villages and the woods around them. This inflicted high losses on the 19 ss PzGre Rgt, approximately 15%, and, of course, especially on the battalion fighting in and around Garvus. In the evening, the British again attacked the Garvus at about 1900 and- after having disabled several of our armored cars, although without putting them out of action, managed to throw our elements out of the village. An immediate counterattack from Bougy was repelled by the enemy who, almost undisturbed by the German forces owing to their lack of amnunition, continously moved up reinforcements from the woods north of Garvus.
III. The employment of the Division for Defense
Once the enemy had also reached the area west of the Odon, thus pushing into the flank of the attacking 19 SS Pz Gre Rgt, any further fighting for Garvus became entirely meaningless for the time being. With the approval of the Corps, the Division therefore ordered the construction of a new main line of resistance along the wooded strip of land north of Bougy in a terrain relatively favorable for the purpose. In spite of all the efforts made by the brave Grenadiers, and the men from the armored units, they could not manage to completely restore the old main line of resistance. Moreover, the Division, already badly reduced on the Eastern Front, had lost almost 1/3 of its fighting strength during the last three counterattacks.
It is easy to figure out how long a unit can hold out in such extremely severe conditions of fighting. Besides, it was absolutely clear that the infantry divisions of the Corps committed to the main line of resistance, were neither adequately equipped nor sufficiently trained for the purpose of warding off enemy tank attacks. This would have resulted in further counterattacks of the 9th SS Pz Div, which would have been at least as costly as the previous ones, and the execution of which would have been more difficult on account of the continuous lack of ammunition for all heavy arms and the artillery.
Moreover, to cope with the difficult situations after enemy penetrations, the counterattacks always had to be launched in great hurry and often without the necessary preparations and without moving the forces into assembly positions. Therefore, it was suggested that the Division no longer be committed as tactical reserve, but used for defense, although this did not exactly come up to the combat principles of an armored division. The corps approved the suggestion and on 8 or 9 July 1944, the Division took over the sector Height 112 -- Odon. Elements of the 277 Inf Div committed up to that time on that sector, remained in the main line of resistance and were subordinated to the 9th SS Pz Div. As to the course of the main line of resistance and the commitment of the troops, the main battle line ran from Height 112 (southeast of Caen) and by the Odon River to just west of Noyes.
During the following days, the enemy tried time and again to attack Height 112, or Height 113 or in the dip between these heights, or towards Bougy in order to effect a breakthrough by way of Evrecy. This was confirmed by written orders found in abandoned British tanks. By good luck -- or perhaps owing to his heavy losses -- the enemy did not resume his attacks on the following day. Now all men available, including those of all supply troops were set to digging trenches. Thus, the Division had the opportunity of consolidating its positions, if only in a makeshift way, as the terrain was completely rocky, making it almost impossible to work with normal entrenching tools. therefore, it was necesary to bring up heavy entrenching tools from the supply dumps far behind the front or from the O.T. units (Todt organization). Night after night, the Pioneer Bn was busy blasting combat posts, dugouts, and communications trenches out of the rocks, and laying mine fields of all sorts in front of certain points of the sector which were particularly endangered. Later the enemy resumed his attacks on the above mentioned objectives, our troops managed to repulse all of them, all though the enemy rose to three or even four attacks on certain days.
With every attack repelled, the confidence of the troops grew stronger, whereas the enemy's aggressive spirit seemed to decrease more and more. Although his attacks were always preceded by heavily massed artillery barrages lasting for hours, his tanks and infantrymen advanced only hesitatingly and very carefully and having suffered some casualties or losses, immediately turned around to have the artillery go into action again. Tne latter then even increased its intensity of fire, if a further intensification was at all possible. During those days, the enemy artillery fire reached such a pitch that veterans of the First World War unanimously agree, it surpassed even the fire in the trenches during the tremendous battles of materiel during that war.
Nevertheless, the majority of the men, with the exception of the very young, inexperienced ones, somehow got used to this fact, be it by callousness toward the permanent danger of death, by indifference or by the constant repetition in the pattern of the enemy artillery fire. It must be emphasized that it did, however, have a tremendous effect on the morale of all troops. Everybody almost automatically went by the fact that during certain periods, such as, 0700-0900, 1300-1500, and at night from about 0200 till about 0400, the enemy ceased firing, unless he planned to launch an attack during one of these periods. In a similar way, every messenger, supply or ammunition driver knew exactly at what time he could safely pass through a village or cross a road junction, since these targets were regularly fired upon in a certain order of succession. It was even possible to distinguish the particular artillery regiments, because as a rule whole regiments concentrated its fire on such targets (making it possible to ascertain which of the enemy's previously located artillery regiments were doing the firing).
Although these concentrations were all directed, they became almost pointless after the first few days, since nobody remained in those places any longer than absolutely necessary. This is also the reason why our losses decreased every day, in spite of the daily increasing artillery fire of the enemy. However, these losses were still high and crippling for our battered divisions, although, during the last few days, they numbered not more than some 30 to 40 casualties within the entire Division (of which 10% were killed). These losses were all the more insignificant considering the fact that, on an average, according to estimates at the time, the enemy covered the Divisions sector with approximately 25,000 to 30,000 rounds, which could be countered by 800 to 900 rounds only from our side. Our smaller amount of ammunition could, of course, only be used when controlled by careful observation or only for really worthwhile concentrations, or absolutely necessary barrages and destruction fire in the event of enemy attacks. Counter-battery fire was almost out of the question, although the enemy's superiority imperatively demanded it every day. Only in a few cases could the Division's Flak Bn be used for this task, as this was constantly kept busy by the strong enemy air activity. This absolute artillery superiority caused a real direction-finder psychosis all over the area (Peilpsychose*), but especially in the sector of the Grenadiers who bore the brunt of the fire. This complex reached a point where the infantryman told any artillery observer or any signal man who tried to radio near him to change position immediately as he was afraid the enemy would locate the radio and concentrate fire on it. In our army, the technique of locating was not developed to such perfection that this would have been possible. I never heard either, that the enemy was more advanced in that respect. Generally speaking it may, finally, be said that the use of the artillery by the British was definitely much more powerful and oppressive than the enemy air superiority, simply because the artillery had quite a different effect.
(*Peil Psychose: Soldiers feared the proximity of radio transmitters as enemy could detect there whereabouts, and concentrated artillery fire on the spot detected. This fear was very widespread and took the form of a complex so that it was called "Peil Psychose".)
The reason why the front near Caen could be held over such a long period of time has not only to be sought in the fact that the enemy did not at all take full advantage of his great superiority with regard to both manpower and materiel, but has also to be attributed to the bravery of the men defending that front, who believed in great things. A serious crisis occurred only once on the occasion of a concentrated attack carried out by British armored troops with some 40 to 50 tanks late in the evening of 16 or 17 July 1944, on Height 113. All day, the enemy had pounded the hill with undiminished intensity and covered it with a smokescreen. Sometimes, the smoke was so dense that the majority of the troops felt sick and therefore believed that the enemy was using gas. An immediate investigation proved that this was incorrect. Besides the physical discomfort caused by this heavy smoke, the visibility was very bad, the result of which was that the troops became rather nervous and overstrained, as it was impossible to see what was going on ahead of the positions. With the duration of the smoke-shell firing, the situation naturally grew worse and worse. On the occasion concerned, the firing was maintained all day. At about 2100, enemy forces all of a sudden appeared with tanks in the main line of resistance and managed to break through on a width of 400 - 500 meters just east of Height 113. Tne Grenadiers comnitted on that part of the front (about 50 to 60 men) were all taken prisoner. Our own tanks, a battalion of about 15 to 20 tanks, were located on the rear slope of the hill and noticed the enemy only at the very last moment, either on account of the dense smoke, or perhaps owing to the swift and surprising advance of his forces. During the ensuing tank battle, 15 enemy tanks were destroyed with no losses at all on our side. Thereupon, the enemy quickly withdrew to his origional position. At the same time, a smaller group advanced along the lane from Garvus to Evrecy under cover of smoke, and darkness, which in the meantime had fallen. They managed to break through the forward elements, but then, also, ran right into our tanks on the rear slope, which overwhelmed them after a very short fire duel, or took them prisoner (two tanks and about 20 men).
On account of the din of battle to the east and west, and in the rear of their positions, elements of the battalion under attack, which were still on Height 113, had the impression that the enemy had broken through with tanks and infantry and that they, themselves, were encircled. Therefore, they abandoned their positions on this height, but reoccupied them two or three hours later, when they became aware of their mistake. The enemy had not noticed anything of these movements. All further enemy tank attacks had no particular success. They lacked the impetus necessary for successful tank actions, although they had sufficient fire support and could operate in terrain favorable for swift approach. Nor did the tank attacks at night, with the aid of searchlight illumination, fare any better, although the use of searchlights for this purpose was new for our troops and caused great uneasiness among them. On the other hand, the Pz Regt of the Division managed to destroy 150 enemy tanks during the three weeks they were employed in that sector. Their own losses were only five tanks completely destroyed and about 20 partly damaged, the repair of which required some time.
All slightly damaged tanks were either repaired right behind the front or by tank reserve forces in St Honorine Du Fay, a little to the rear. The serviceable tanks, 30 to 40 on the average, in the meantime, in two groups, controlled the whole sector.
The Pz Gren Regiments, already badly reduced, could no longer spare any reserves. Both Regiments were even compelled to disband one battalion each, in order to maintain at least two battalions with company strengths of about 50 men more or less fit for action. In addition to that, all rearward services had been screened repeatedly, and reduced to the very minimun in order to reinforce the Gren Regiments. The Pz A.A. (tank reconnaissance bn) was available to the Division as reserve; however, only for a few days. This unit was chiefly employed in the sector of the 277 Inf Div, and then sometimes as Corps reserve, so that it was still not available. For such periods, the Pz Pioneer Bn would have still been available for commitment in the case of an emergency. However, this unit could only be used for technical engineering tasks, such as construction of positions, laying mines, maintaining roads and bridges, and so on. The necessity of using it as infantry was successfully avoided, in spite of many difficulties.
After the large-scale attack on 19 July south of Caen, it became quite evident that the enemy no longer had any intentions of breaking through in the sector of II SS Pz Corps. Gradually, all movement stopped, and the artillery passed its point of greatest intensity. However, even during those days, our reconnaissance still had to restrict itself mainly to observations of the battle field, which was thoroughly organized throughout the sector and was supplemented by the Grenadiers, artillery, and tanks. Also the signal units of the Division, the Army, and the Corps, obtained quite useful results by listening to the enemy radio comnunications, although our signal equipment was much inferior to that of the enemy.
The less likely an enemy large-scale offensive in our sector appeared, the more we anticipated such an operation in the sector of the I SS Pz Corps, as contiuatian of the large-scale attack of 19 July 1944, east of the Orne. On the strength of this presumption, the 9th SS Pz Div was relieved during the night of 22/23 July by the 10th SS Pz Div in the eastern -- and by the 277 Inf Div in the western -- part of the sector, and then pulled out. At the same time, the Division was subordinated to the I SS Pz Corps and assembled in the area of Offjieres, where it was assigned the task of reconnoitering possibilities of commitment in the event of an enemy breakthrough in the sector of the I SS Pz Div and, particularly, in the sector of the 272 Inf Div.
The approach march into this area had to be carried out at night in small groups of companies and batteries. Owing to the strong enemy artillery and air activity, only side-roads could be used, which, nevertheless, were in quite a good condition. In spite of much hindrance by the enemy artillery the operation could be completed without any particular losses. Already on 24 July 1944, the 272 Inf Div had to be reinforced by a tank battalion and a Panzer Grenadier battaiion, because the situation had taken an alarming turn there. When, on July 25, the enemy made a new large-scale attack in the sector of the 272 Inf Div, and managed to achieve a deep penetration, the 9th SS Pz Div launched a concentrated counterattack east of the Orne, which was successful and prevented the breakthrough of the Canadian forces.
A detailed report concerning these engagements is being prepared. According to the directives of the Hist Div, Normandy Campaign, this report does not pertain to this serie. This report has been written from memory and without any documents for reference. Errors are therefore possible.
signed Sylvester STADLER
Leo Feiherr GEYR von SCHWEPPENBURG / H.D.I.E., 17 April 1947
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