33.Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS Charlemagne (französische Nr.1)
|The 33.Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS Charlemagne (französische Nr.1)was officially formed on February 2nd, 1945 in West Prussia from the Waffen-Grenadier-Brigade der SS Charlemagne. Infact, the Division had been forming practically since the time theWaffen-Grenadier-Brigade it was offically formed from was itself formed.By the autumn of 1944 the Vichy government, along with the upper-hierarchyof its more prominent collaborationist organizations were being driven backinto the Reich borders by the advancing western Allied Armies. These variouselements were formed, along with the transitional Waffen-Grenadier-Brigadeder SS Charlamagne, into the 33.SS-Division. In the autumn and winter of1944, the newly forming elements were never more than 7,500 strong. Anumerical breakdown of the members would include former Brigade members:1,000, former LVF members: 1200, former Milice Francaise members: 2,500,former Kriegmsaine volunteers: 1,000, former NSKK and Org.Todt members:2,000, for a grand total of around 7,340 men.|
In late 1944, these assorted composite elements were assembled for trainingat Lager Wildflecken, NW of Frankfurt-am-Main. At Wildflecken, the volunteerswere sorted out and assigned to their respective units. As things transpired,Waffen-Grenadier-Regiment 57 was composed of mainly LVF veterans, whileWaffen-Grenadier-Regiment 58 was composed of former Brigade volunteers. Thedisparate elements of the Milice Francaise, and others, were distributedwidely among the battalions and various divisional support units. Trainingwas cut short in February 1945 when the Division was embarked for the EasternFront.
On the 25th of February 1945, as the train-borne elements of the33.Waffen-Gren.Div.der SS Charlemagne (seconded to Heeresgruppe Weichsel),pulled into the railhead at Hammerstein in Pomerania, armored spearheads ofthe Soviet 1st Belorussian front unexpectedly smashed into the division atits most vulnerable moment. In the rout that ensued, the outflanked Frenchmensplit-up and subsequently reformed into three wandering battle-groups thatmet varying fates. One group, commanded by General Krukenberg, made it northto the Baltic coast where they were evacuated to Denmark and sent back torefit at Neustrelitz in Mecklenberg. Another battle-group commanded by GeneralPuaud went into the vortex of the Soviet winter offensive, and the fate ofhe and his officers has never been officially determined. The third group,nearly decimated at the railhead, fought west toward the German lines, untilit too reportedly perished in early March of 1945.
At Carpin, in the wooded fastness of Mecklenberg, the remainder of the once(approx.) 7500 strong Division Charlemagne, some 1100 men, gathered to restand reform. In early April 1945, Divisions-Inspektor SS-Brif.Dr.Krukenberg, queriedhis French grenadiers, releasing the shaken and disillusioned among them fromtheir vows of allegiance. Nearly a third of the group chose to excuse themselves.The rest of the volunteers, numbering near 700 men, agreed to continue. At thattime an order from SS-FHA (ss-Führungshauptamt) AmtII/Org., detailed there-organization of the remaining French contingent. The re-establishment orderindicated that reduced support units were to be formed; 1 signals platoon, 1 pionierplatoon, 1 supply and workshop section each; the bulk of the remaining combatunits were to make up a single 3 bataillon infanterie-regimentdesignated Waffen-Grenadier-Rgt. der SS Charlemagne, with two 1945 typebataillone (numbered 57. & 58.), and one heavy support bataillon which wouldhave comprised 1 anti-tank company, 1 jagdpanzer company, and 1 light flakcompany – had the necessary equipment been available. The 400 men no longerwilling to fight as combatants were regrouped into a Baubataillon(construction battalion) and employed in the digging of fortifications.
During the night of April 23rd and 24th 1945, the unit recieved an urgent telegramfrom the Reichkanzlei in Berlin reading: “Charlemagne Div. to utilize all possibletransport for immediate operations Berlin, A.H.” SS-Brif.Krukenberg quicklygathered together a Sturmbataillon (assault-battalion) composed of thecurrently battle-ready elements of the 57.Gren.Btl., and the 6.Kompanie ofthe 58.Gren.Btl. (CO Waffen-Hauptscharführer Rostaing, to which were added the divisional Kampfschule (battle-school) element under SS-Obstf.Weber. Thesetroops set off for Berlin in two light cars and 9 heavy trucks (Lkw.) Because ofdifficulties along the way, two of the trucks and the men in them neverreached their destination which left between 300-330Officers, NCO’s, and men to enter the NW suburbs of the Reichshauptstadt atNauen, just hours before the Soviet encirclement of the city. They reachedthe Olympiastadion (Reichssportsfeld) in Charlottenburg where theyregrouped and replenished with a cache of supplies abandoned by theLuftwaffe. Krukenberg went on by car to the Reichskanzlei for furtherorders. The unit then reorganized into a reduced headquarters staff underthe command of Waffen-Hauptsturmführer Henri Joseph Fenet, with fourrifle companies (nos. 1-4), each comprised of ca.60-70 men, as well asSS-Obstf.Weber’s Kampfschule veterans. At this point the unit moved eastthrough the city to the district of Neukölln, (under constant Sovietbombardment), where Fenet and his men were tactically attached to theremainder of the 11.ss Frw.Panzer-Gren.Division Nordland whichSS-Brif.Krukenberg, (under direct orders of Berlin KampfkommandantWeidling), had just taken command of.
They were engaged immediately upon their arrival. They fought brief andbloody counter-attacks at the Hasenheide,and Tempelhof airfield,(defense sub-sector C) supported, as fuel and ammuntion allowed, by theremaining Sturmgeschütze and Tiger II’s ofs.SS-Pz. Abt.503 (assimilated into SS-Pz.Rgt.11 Hermann von Salza; withdrawingback across the Landwehr canal, and fighting through the district ofKreuzberg into the city center. Here at the U-Bahn stationof STADTMITTE, just yards from Hitler’s FHQ Reichskanzlei bunker, Dr.Krukenberg set up a last divisional command post for the Nordland Division insidea ruined trolley car lit by candles. For the determined Frenchmen, whose skillat destroying Red Army tanks in the ruined boulevards of the city-centerreportedly went unmatched, rearguard fighting continued unabated along theLeipzigerstrasse, in and around the Luftfahrtsministerium, and into thePotsdamerplatz platz, until the general order of surrender announced byGeneral Weidling on May 2nd, 1945, when some 30 surviving Frenchmenreportedly went into Soviet captivity near the Potsdamer station.
|Waffen Oberführer der SS Edgard Puaud|
SS-Brigadeführer Dr. Gustav Krukenberg
SS-Standtenführer Walter Zimmermann