|After the Campaign against Poland in 1939, a number of new SS Divisionswere formed. The3rd SS Division was formed from the Totenkopf units that took part in thePolish Campaign and with other members of the Totenkopfverbande and the Allgemeine SS. Some portions of the 3rd SS Division were formed fromelements of SS Heimwehr Danzig which was originally SS Totenkopf Sturmbann”Gotze”, renamed “Heimwehr Danzig” and formed into Abteilung size, thenput under Heer control for combat in Poland. After Poland, portions of thisunit were used in the formation of this Division. This Division was formedat the SS training area near Dachau. The Division was transferred from thess Ubungslager Dachau (SS Training Depot Dachau) to Wurttemberg and then onto Truppen Ubungsplatz Obermunsingen. It was there that its training wasfinished, and command of the Division was given to Theodor Eicke who wasthe former head of the Totenkopfverbande.|
During the Campaign in France, the 3rd SS Division served first as a partof the Army reserve. On May 16th, 1940, the Division was ordered intobattle, and on May 19th, 1940, it was used to secure the area of Le Cateauand Cambrai. It was during this period that elements of the Division wereinvolved in actions that led to the execution of a group of Alliedprisoners. The commander of the 4th Kompanie, I Abteilung, (The unit”found” as being responsible) was Fritz Knochlein. He was hung after thewar for his part in the actions, but his actual guilt has been said to besuspect, and the trial against him seems to be have been biased.
Soon after, the Division was sent to the Coast of France south of Dunkirkwhere it took part in coastal defense operations. In the beginning of June,1940, the Division was moved to St. Pol. During the second half of theCampaign in France, the 3rd SS Division was used to secure the flanks of theadvance and to clear up resistance and collect prisoners. When theCampaign in France was over, the Division was located near the Spanishborder.
Totenkopf stayed in that location until April, 1941, when it was orderedtothe East as a part of Army Group North for the Invasion of the Soviet Union.Totenkopf saw action in Lithuania, through Latvia, through the Stalin Linein July, to North of Demyansk, to Leningrad where it was in combat fromJuly 31st to August 25th, 1941. Early in August, 1941, Totenkopf managed tocapture the city of Chudovo which was on the main Leningrad-Moscow railway.
During this period, a small but not insignificant unit, the FreikorpsDanemark, was attached to the 3rd SS Division. Alsoduring this time, the Fall and Winter of 1941, the Soviets launched anumber of operations against the German lines in the Northern sector of theFront. As a result, the Division was encircled for several months in the DemyanskPocket. The Division suffered so heavily in the Demyansk Pocket that it wasrenamed as Kampgruppe Eicke because of the losses it sustained. In April of1942, the Division broke out of the Pocket and managed to reach the area ofthe Lovat River. A portion of the Division stayed near Demyansk ondefensive operations, until the whole Division was pulled out of action forrefitting in late October, 1942 and sent to France.
While in France in 1942, the Division took part in the take over of VichyFrance, and was provided with a Panzer Abteilung and a new name, SS PanzerGrenadier Division “Totenkopf”. The Division stayed in France untilFebruary, 1943.
In February, 1943, the Division was transferred to the East as a part ofArmyGroup South. It was then that the Division took part in the massive Germancounter offensives to stop the Russian Winter offensive that had alreadydestroyed the German 6th Army at Stalingrad. The Division took part in the2nd Battle for Kharkov, and helped stop the Soviet offensive in the south.It was during this time that the Divisions commander, Eicke, was killed inaction. From Kharkov, the Division was sent into the massive battles forthe Kursk Salient, fighting in some of the most bloody and fierce combat ofthe war and the largest tank battle in all of History. The operation sooncame to a halt, and the Kursk offensive was called off. the 3rd SS Divisionwas pulled out along with the other German units, but stayed on conductingdefensive operations, helping to restore the German front once again afteranother Soviet offensive was launched after the battle for Kursk failed.The Division stayed on defensive operation in the south and central sectorof the German front for nearly a year, and during this time, in October,1943, the Division was reformed and renamed as a Panzer Division. ThePanzer Grenadier Regiments of the new Panzer Division were renamed as”Thule” (5th SS PG Regiment) and “Theodor Eicke”.
By 1944, the situation on the Eastern Front was very dire. Everywhere theSoviets were advancing. In the center of the Front, the Soviets had managedto launch what was probably the largest offensive of the entire war, sendinghundreds of units against the German lines, pushing them nearly 300 miles infour weeks. When the Soviets finally came to a halt, they were at the gatesof Warsaw. With the Soviets so near, an uprising in Warsaw took place andthe 3rd SS Division was sent in. The Division helped push the Soviets outof the city and back across the Vistula River. Around two Soviet Armieswere held back by the operations of the 3rd SS Division with the help ofthe SS Division Wiking and the 19th Panzer Division.
Next, the Division was sent south to help rescue the encircled German unitsin Budapest. Totenkopf launched an assault taking it all the way to theBudapest airport, but was pulled back in an action that was hoped wouldresult in the destruction of Soviet units to the North of the Budapest.The Division was on the verge of rescuing some 45,000 Germans trapped inthe city, and the Soviets proved stiff once again, as no Soviets units weretrapped as was hoped.
From there, the Division was pushed back West, fighting battles west ofBudapest, and then in Vienna. The Division surrendered to the Americans onMay 9th, 1945, and handed over to the Soviets.
|Obergruppenführer Theodor Eicke, 11.01.39 – 7.7.41|
Obergruppenführer Matthias Kleinheisterkamp,7.07.41 – 7.18.41
Obergruppenführer Georg Keppler, 7.18.41 – 9.19.41
Obergruppenführer Theodor Eicke, 9.19.41 – 2.26.43
Obergruppenführer Herman Priess, 2.26.43 – 4.27.43
Gruppenführer Heinz Lammerding, 4.27.43 – 5.15.43
Gruppenführer Max Simon, 5.15.43 – 10.22.43
Obergruppenführer Herman Priess, 10.22.43 – 6.21.44
Brigadeführer Hellmuth Becker, 6.21.44 – 5.8.45
* part of the division had moved to South France 10.42 (Aufstellingsstab,LXXXIII. Corps/Armeegruppe Felber).