With the German takeover of Austria and it’s armed forces,what was once the 4th Austrian Division was incorporated into the GermanHeer and redesignated as the 45.Infanterie-Division. In the 1939 PolishCampaign, the division was on the right wing of von Runstedt’s HeeresgruppeSud. An entry from the divisional war diary reports:
“Large-scale quickmarches were demanded of the foot troops. In lasting oppressiveheat, terrible dust and miserable thirst,the men showed in these days withbitter energy what marching performances they could give. In thirteen days400 kilometers were covered from the border to the Lubaszov area, anaverage of over 30 kilometers a day.” Total losses for the division in thePolish 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 forcrossing of the Aisne river on June 9th; a report from the war diarydescribes the crossing:
“At 05:00 our artillery suddenly opened fire. Over the river bottom at thishour there still lay heavy fog, unfortunately, which made reliableobservation impossible. The artillery had to move their fire forward,whichcompelled the infantry to open its own path over the river for the firstjump. In the process,it met a wakeful enemy,fully prepared to defendhimself, who threw a murderous fire at it. Enemy riflemen and machinegunners lay unseen in cover on the other shore,firing from bushes,trenchesand sandbag bunkers, or were posted in trees along with their machine guns.The French artillery, to provide a full measure,fired from their gunpositions all the way back to the fortifications of Rheims on all ouradvance positions with shells of all calibers up to 28 centimeters, withdestructive effect. At first it appeared that every attack would end inbloody defeat. A part of the first infantry wave fell dead or were injuredinto the Aisne along with their shot-up rubber boats,or the boats floatedon downriver out of control, with their crews dead. But the attackers didnot give up. More and more rubber boats were launched, and when one squadwas shot down, the next, tough and bitter, sprang into the boat. Othersplunged into the water fully equipped and managed to swim to the othershore. The first shock troops of 133.Infanterie-Regiment,led by LeutnantsWolfinger and Schweitzer, reached the south shore during the crossingdespite heavy losses, but met heavy enemy defense there, that wiped them outalmost completely as they stormed forward. Lt.Schweitzer died of a shot inthe abdomen.”
The now veteran 45.Infanterie-division was assigned to Heeresgruppe Mitte,2.Panzergruppe, XII.Armeekorps for the June 22nd,1941 invasion of theSoviet Union. At the very start of the eastern campaign, the division wasassigned the serious task of the taking of the fortress of Brest-Litovsk onthe 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 wouldsuffer such heavy losses in this ancient frontier fortress. Captain Praxahad prepared his assault against the heart of the citadel of Brest withgreat caution. The III/135.Inf.Reg., was to take theWestern Island and the central area with the barracks block. They hadstudied it all thoroughly at the sand-table. They had built a model fromaerial photographs and old plans from the days of the Polish campaign,when, until it had to be surrendered to the Russians, Brest was in Germanhands. Guderian’s staff officers realized from the outset that the citadelcould be taken only by infantry, since it was proof against tanks. Thecircular forest, occupying an area of nearly two square miles, wassurrounded by moats and river branches, and sub-divided internally by canalsand artificial water-courses into four small islands. Casemates, snipers’positions, armored cupolas with anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns, wereestablished, well camouflaged, behind shrubs and under trees. On 22nd Junethere were in all five Soviet regiments in Brest; these included twoartillery regiments, one reconnaissance battalion, and independentanti-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 losseswere 482 killed, including 32 officers, and over 1000 wounded.”
The magnitudeof these losses can be judged by the fact that the total German losses onthe Eastern front up to 30th June 1941 amounted to 8886 killed. Thecitadel of Brest therefore accounted for over 5 percent of all fatalcasualties.
Advancing through Byelorussia and the Pripyet marshes in the high summer of1941, the marching troops and their supply columns faced enemies other thanthe Russians. The difficulties of the advance and the supply of forwardtroops during the early phases of operations in the east are related inthis passage from the 45.Infanterie-division war diary concerning theiradvance through the Pripyet Marshes:
“It went on for four weeks, throughswamp, dirt and dust,in the direction of Gomel… This was no longer an’advance’, but literally a miserable crawling through 40 to 50 cm deepsand, bottomless morass, thick woods and overgrown brush. In places longcorduroy roads first had to be built to make any progress at all. The motorvehicles had inconceivable engine troubles, for the fine sand got intoeverything and damaged pistons and cylinders. In addition, they were muchtoo low-slung for this terrain, their chassis often hit bottom and theycould be moved only with a lot of help on both sides, often enough with abroken axle or fenders, mufflers, brake lines, etc.. torn off… The columndrivers in particular did everything humanly possible to move ahead.”
Still advancing, the division went on to fight south-west of Moscow, beforebeing pushed back by the overwhelming ‘winterized’ Siberian reinforcementsof Zhukov’s December counter-offensive. The divisional war diary reportsfrom Tula, December, 1941:
“From the border via Kiew to Jelez on the Shossna, 2100 kilometers werecovered in marching and fighting from June 22to December 8,1941. Then, during the night the temperature dropped again to37 degrees below zero…”
On December 12, 1941, OKH Generalstabschef Halder reported to FHQ that thehard-fought unit was unfit for further combat operations for lack ofsupplies. While attempting to pull back to reserve positions, itswithdrawal route was cut-off by the Soviets and elements of the divisionwere encircled and dispersed. Much of it’s horse-drawn artillery andvehicles were abandoned to the blinding snow-drifts and theadvancing Russians, with the horses either starving or freezing to death inthe frozen wastes.
Remarkably, the division managed to stay in the line throughout thewinter, and in the spring of 1942 was able to absorb and train it’sreplacement battalions while at the front in preparation for theanticipated 1942 summer offensive in the South, where it would shift toHeeresgruppe Sud, and operate beneath LV.Armeekorps of General vonSalmuth’s 2.Armee. The summer 1942 offensive would find the division on thenorthern wing of the German advance on the Volga, stalled, and caught up indefensive fighting against the Soviet Bryansk Front around Voronesh. Itwould go no further. The backlash to the Soviet November offensive whichdestroyed German 6.Armee at Stalingrad rolled north to clear 2.Armee fromVoronesh in early 1943. After escaping a brief encirclement, the remnantsof 2.Armee trekked west to reach defensive positions far west of the Don atRylsk.
By July 1, 1943 the 45.Infanterie-division would be a component of Gen.derInfanterie Freiheer von Roman’s XX.Armeekorps,itself the reserve korps ofGeneraloberst Model’s 9.Armee, for the impending Operation Zitadelleagainst Soviet forces in the Kursk salient. Committed to some of the mostbrutal fighting of the offensive as 9.Armee’s last reserve at Ponyri, thedivision suffered serious casualties,and would be severely diminished instrength by the end of July 1943. Fighting westward that autumn in thedefense of Sozh, and in the subsequent retreats of Heeresgruppe Mitte, thedivision was near collapse, but still remained at the front as the weatherturned and allowed it temporary respite from further offensive operationsby the Soviet Armies.
The 45.Infanterie-division was largely destroyed in the Soviet summer 1944offensive against Heeresgruppe Mitte. What few survivors of the divisionthat made it west, beyond the great encirclement of the Red Army, would beused to form the cadre elements for a new division,redesignated the 45.Grenadier-division.
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