9th SS-Panzer-Division “Hohenstaufen” Combat Report

I. Introduction

The 9th SS Panzer Division “Hohenstaufen” was activated in the beginning of 1943 andreceived its training in France. Early in the spring of 1944, it wastransferred, and committed on the Eastern Front. After the beginning ofthe invasion, it was moved back to the Western Front. On 20 June 1944, firstelements were unloaded between Paris and Nancy and reached the area southof Auney (and) -Sur-Odan in crosscountry marches. On 28 June, the Divisionwas completely assembled and, on 29 June, launched a counterattack on eitherside of the Villers-Bocage, Noyers road. The attack did not progress properly andfinally bogged down owing to heavy losses. On 1 July 1944, it was resumedbut did not, however, fare any better than on the preceding day and wastherefore discontinued. During the following night, the majority of the divisionalforces were pulled out of the front, assembled in the sector of the II SS PzCorps, 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 thefollowing way:

a. Order of Battle of a normal panzer division of the Army, without thePanzer-Jaeger Abt (anti-tank bn), which was still being activated and equipped inGermany.

b. strengths according to T/O: troops: about 80%, with the exception ofthe PzGreRgts the actual strength of which was, at the most, 60% and they hadrather serious losses in officers, artillery: about 90%, tanks: about 70%,assault guns or Panzer Jaeger (anti-tank troops) had not yet been moved up, vehicularequipment: about 80%.

c.The Division did not receive any reinforcements, either before or afterthe Invasion, but only in November 1944 when it was being reorganized for thebattle of the Ardennes.

II. The employment of the Division as tactical reserve

My assumption of command of the Division was accomplished by 0800 on 3rdJuly 1944. During the preceding night, the last elements (ss PzGreRgt 19) hadbeen pulled out of the MLR north of Esquy and replaced by the lO SS PanzerDivision. The combat units of the Division were assembled in the area ofMaizet-Vacognes-Montigny – Division Command Post at Le Mesnil – so that they could be usedas tactical reserves of the II SS Pz Corps right behind the MLR and, ifnecessary, launch counterattacks.

For this purpose, the Division was to investigate the possibilities ofcommitment in the sectors of the 10 SS Panzer Div and the 277 InfantryDiv., determine routes of approach, and move the Artillery Regiment into such aposition that it could support counterattacks in any direction and at anytime. Within one hour after the Division had been taken over, orders for acounterattack on Maltot, Etenrille and on Baron by way of Hill 112, werereceived from the Corps by telephone, and a short time later confirmed inwriting. So the attack on Baron was to be launched at 2000 and that onEterville at 1200. Although the time was very short, the execution of this task wasstill possible thanks to the fact that the 20th SS PzGreRgt. was not too faraway and that a tank battalion, together with the artillery, could support theoperation from the positions they were in at the time. The units just mentionedreceived their orders accordingly by telephone and, after hasty assembly intoposition, were able to launch the counterattack at about 1300. Around Maltot avigorous battle developed, in which reorganized elements of the 12 SS Pz Div. whichhad 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 withincreased air activity and concentrated very strong artillery fire on Maltot. Inthese circumstances, it was out of the question to continue the counterattack onEterville by daylight, inspite of the support given by the entire CorpsArtillery, 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 transferredto the group of farm houses, one kilometer northwest of Grimbosq. Theadvanced Division CP was located in the thicket one kilometer northwest of Bully.

Concentration of the Division was greatly impeded and delayed by serioustraffic jams on roads, harassing fire from the enemy artillery directed onvillages along the routes of advance, and on road junctions, as well as bythe strong enemy air activity. In addition to that, the enemy managed at about1800 to capture height 112, which dominated the entire Corps sector. Thereuponthe mission assigned to the Division was altered by the Corps, to the effectthatonly height 112, and later Eterville, had to be recaptured.

Having changed the combat plan accordingly, the counterattack was nowlaunched at about 2100, (line of departure time). In spite of theextremely strong enemy artillery fire, our forces advanced toward Eterville ardthose operating in the area between Eterville and height 112, made goodprogress. Eterville was recaptured toward 0100. However, it was impossible to getnear height 112 because of the concentrated artillery fire maintained for hoursby all the enemy’s heavy weapons. It was not until daybreak that the woodedstrip of land- in other words, the southern edge of the plateau on this heightcould be taken. Thus the gap torn open in the MLR on the preceding day had beenclosed again and the mission assigned to the Division accomplished. Height 112was no longer defended in the same way as before, i.e. on the northern edge ofthe plateau; the Division ordered the construction of a new main line ofresistance in the southern part of the plateau, near the northern edge of the woodedstrip of land, continuing toward the west, a line which was not visible to theenemy.

In the course of the forenoon the enemy, in turn, resumed his attacks andmanaged to take Eterville once again, whereas his attacks on height 112were repelled with considerable losses. A counterattack launched immediatelyon Eterville succeeded and, by noon, the village was again in our hands. Anextremely heavy and fluctuating battle ensued aftenwards for the ruins ofEterville, which place changed hands repeatedly until, finally, it wasfirmly in our possession late in the evening of 4 July 1944. The losses sufferedduring these engagements in the rocky terrain offering almost no cover, wereconsiderable (Grenadiers about 10%), and mainly caused, of course, by theexcessively strong artillery fire, which could be countered by next tonothing from our side, since only some 700 rounds of ammunition were available forthe entire attack on 4 July. Nevertheless, the Pz Bn operating near Etervillemanaged 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 highas ours.

The complete difference between the Eastern and the Western Theaters,became evident already during the first commitment of the Division. Whileon the Eastern Front, numbers were always the decisive element in anattack, the Allied infantry on the Western Front restricted itself to theexecution of swift and short thrusts after heavy use of air, artillery,and armored forces. This employment of supporting weapons withunprecedented expenditure of ammunition was according to our conceptionsup to that time, out of all proportion to the terrain gained, which, inspite of all, was often recaptured right afterwards in a counterthrust orcounterattack. On the other hand, of course, this manner of fightingreduced the enemy losses of manpower to a minimum, whereas on our side,even the best-trained and best-equipped division was gradually battereddown in the long run owing to the shortage of armunition. If the enemy hadonly had the same amount of arrmunition, he would, incidentally, not haveachieved this success either.

During the following night of 4/5 July 1944, the Division was relieved onthe eastern sector by elements of the 12 SS Pz Div and on the westernsector by the 10 SS Pz Div. Thereupon, the divisional forces werereassembled for the same purpose and in almost the same area as on 3 July.They were also assigned the additional task of constructing preparedpositions in the rear in the line along the course of the stream and alongthe heights south of it, and occupying the line with weak forces. The PzPion Bn (armored engineer battalion) was put in charge of the constructionof this position. In addition, from each SS Pz Gre Rgt, one Grenadierbattalion was used for the task. the Artillery Rgt was ordered to moveinto such a position that all important points before the entire corpssector could be covered by concentrated fire. All other units were torepair weapons and equipment with all available means, and give their mena good rest.

On 6 July, the enemy resumed his attacks, this time along the road runningfrom Caen to Noyers. To meet this attack, the Division had to assign thePzA.A. (armored reconnaissance battalion) to the 277 Inf Div. TheBattalion managed to recapture Noyers in a counterattack and, for the timebeing, remained with the 277 Infantry Division.

Early in the morning of 7 July 1944, the enemy opened an attack on Gavrusand Bougny. Both localities were lost. An immediate counterattack by theFusilier Battalion of the 277 Inf Div was brought to a standstill in thewooded area just south of Bougy, with heavy losses. The Division had noother forces at its disposal. Thereupon, 9 SS Panter Div was alerted andordered to recapture the villages of Gavrus and Bougy and restore theprevious main line of resistance. The Division assigned the 19 SS Pz GreRgt the task of retaking Rougy, by way of Locheur, along the course of thestream, in order to reoccupy Garvus afterwards, using the same route. Thisattack was supported by an armored battalion (of about 15-20 vehicles) andby the Artillery Rgt which, however, had at the upmost some 600 rounds ofarmmunition left. Also the corps artillery was ordered to support theaction by some sudden concentrations of fire.

After hasty assembly, the counterattack was launched around 1100 and atabout 1400, Bougy was again in our hands. One hour later, Garvus was alsorecaptured despite the enemy artillery, which unremittingly pounded bothvillages and the woods around them. This inflicted high losses on the 19ss PzGre Rgt, approximately 15%, and, of course, especially on thebattalion fighting in and around Garvus. In the evening, the British againattacked the Garvus at about 1900 and- after having disabled several ofour armored cars, although without putting them out of action, managed tothrow our elements out of the village. An immediate counterattack fromBougy was repelled by the enemy who, almost undisturbed by the Germanforces owing to their lack of amnunition, continously moved upreinforcements 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 pushinginto the flank of the attacking 19 SS Pz Gre Rgt, any further fighting forGarvus became entirely meaningless for the time being. With the approvalof the Corps, the Division therefore ordered the construction of a newmain line of resistance along the wooded strip of land north of Bougy in aterrain relatively favorable for the purpose. In spite of all the effortsmade by the brave Grenadiers, and the men from the armored units, theycould not manage to completely restore the old main line of resistance.Moreover, the Division, already badly reduced on the Eastern Front, hadlost almost 1/3 of its fighting strength during the last threecounterattacks.

It is easy to figure out how long a unit can hold out in such extremelysevere conditions of fighting. Besides, it was absolutely clear that theinfantry divisions of the Corps committed to the main line of resistance,were neither adequately equipped nor sufficiently trained for the purposeof warding off enemy tank attacks. This would have resulted in furthercounterattacks of the 9th SS Pz Div, which would have been at least ascostly as the previous ones, and the execution of which would have beenmore difficult on account of the continuous lack of ammunition for allheavy 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 oftenwithout the necessary preparations and without moving the forces intoassembly positions. Therefore, it was suggested that the Division nolonger be committed as tactical reserve, but used for defense, althoughthis did not exactly come up to the combat principles of an armoreddivision. The corps approved the suggestion and on 8 or 9 July 1944, theDivision took over the sector Height 112 — Odon. Elements of the 277 InfDiv committed up to that time on that sector, remained in the main line ofresistance and were subordinated to the 9th SS Pz Div. As to the course ofthe main line of resistance and the commitment of the troops, the mainbattle line ran from Height 112 (southeast of Caen) and by the Odon Riverto just west of Noyes.

During the following days, the enemy tried time and again to attack Height112, or Height 113 or in the dip between these heights, or towards Bougyin order to effect a breakthrough by way of Evrecy. This was confirmed bywritten orders found in abandoned British tanks. By good luck — orperhaps owing to his heavy losses — the enemy did not resume his attackson the following day. Now all men available, including those of allsupply troops were set to digging trenches. Thus, the Division had theopportunity of consolidating its positions, if only in a makeshift way, asthe terrain was completely rocky, making it almost impossible to work withnormal entrenching tools. therefore, it was necesary to bring up heavyentrenching tools from the supply dumps far behind the front or from theO.T. units (Todt organization). Night after night, the Pioneer Bn was busyblasting combat posts, dugouts, and communications trenches out of therocks, and laying mine fields of all sorts in front of certain points ofthe sector which were particularly endangered. Later the enemy resumed hisattacks on the above mentioned objectives, our troops managed to repulseall of them, all though the enemy rose to three or even four attacks oncertain 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 artillerybarrages lasting for hours, his tanks and infantrymen advanced onlyhesitatingly and very carefully and having suffered some casualties orlosses, immediately turned around to have the artillery go into actionagain. Tne latter then even increased its intensity of fire, if a furtherintensification was at all possible. During those days, the enemyartillery fire reached such a pitch that veterans of the First World Warunanimously agree, it surpassed even the fire in the trenches during thetremendous battles of materiel during that war.

Nevertheless, the majority of the men, with the exception of the veryyoung, inexperienced ones, somehow got used to this fact, be it bycallousness toward the permanent danger of death, by indifference or bythe constant repetition in the pattern of the enemy artillery fire. Itmust be emphasized that it did, however, have a tremendous effect on themorale of all troops. Everybody almost automatically went by the fact thatduring certain periods, such as, 0700-0900, 1300-1500, and at night fromabout 0200 till about 0400, the enemy ceased firing, unless he planned tolaunch an attack during one of these periods. In a similar way, everymessenger, supply or ammunition driver knew exactly at what time he couldsafely pass through a village or cross a road junction, since thesetargets were regularly fired upon in a certain order of succession. It waseven possible to distinguish the particular artillery regiments, becauseas a rule whole regiments concentrated its fire on such targets (making itpossible to ascertain which of the enemy’s previously located artilleryregiments were doing the firing).

Although these concentrations were all directed, they became almostpointless after the first few days, since nobody remained in those placesany longer than absolutely necessary. This is also the reason why ourlosses decreased every day, in spite of the daily increasing artilleryfire of the enemy. However, these losses were still high and crippling forour battered divisions, although, during the last few days, they numberednot more than some 30 to 40 casualties within the entire Division (ofwhich 10% were killed). These losses were all the more insignificantconsidering the fact that, on an average, according to estimates at thetime, the enemy covered the Divisions sector with approximately 25,000 to30,000 rounds, which could be countered by 800 to 900 rounds only from ourside. Our smaller amount of ammunition could, of course, only be used whencontrolled by careful observation or only for really worthwhileconcentrations, or absolutely necessary barrages and destruction fire inthe event of enemy attacks. Counter-battery fire was almost out of thequestion, although the enemy’s superiority imperatively demanded it everyday. Only in a few cases could the Division’s Flak Bn be used for thistask, as this was constantly kept busy by the strong enemy air activity.This absolute artillery superiority caused a real direction-finderpsychosis all over the area (Peilpsychose*), but especially in the sectorof the Grenadiers who bore the brunt of the fire. This complex reached apoint where the infantryman told any artillery observer or any signal manwho tried to radio near him to change position immediately as he wasafraid the enemy would locate the radio and concentrate fire on it. In ourarmy, the technique of locating was not developed to such perfection thatthis would have been possible. I never heard either, that the enemy wasmore advanced in that respect. Generally speaking it may, finally, be saidthat the use of the artillery by the British was definitely much morepowerful and oppressive than the enemy air superiority, simply because theartillery had quite a different effect.

(*Peil Psychose: Soldiers feared the proximity of radio transmitters asenemy could detect there whereabouts, and concentrated artillery fire onthe spot detected. This fear was very widespread and took the form of acomplex so that it was called “Peil Psychose”.)

The reason why the front near Caen could be held over such a long periodof time has not only to be sought in the fact that the enemy did not atall take full advantage of his great superiority with regard to bothmanpower and materiel, but has also to be attributed to the bravery of themen defending that front, who believed in great things. A serious crisisoccurred only once on the occasion of a concentrated attack carried out byBritish armored troops with some 40 to 50 tanks late in the evening of 16or 17 July 1944, on Height 113. All day, the enemy had pounded the hillwith undiminished intensity and covered it with a smokescreen. Sometimes,the smoke was so dense that the majority of the troops felt sick andtherefore believed that the enemy was using gas. An immediateinvestigation proved that this was incorrect. Besides the physicaldiscomfort caused by this heavy smoke, the visibility was very bad, theresult of which was that the troops became rather nervous andoverstrained, as it was impossible to see what was going on ahead of thepositions. With the duration of the smoke-shell firing, the situationnaturally grew worse and worse. On the occasion concerned, the firing wasmaintained all day. At about 2100, enemy forces all of a sudden appearedwith tanks in the main line of resistance and managed to break through ona width of 400 – 500 meters just east of Height 113. Tne Grenadierscomnitted on that part of the front (about 50 to 60 men) were all takenprisoner. Our own tanks, a battalion of about 15 to 20 tanks, were locatedon the rear slope of the hill and noticed the enemy only at the very lastmoment, either on account of the dense smoke, or perhaps owing to theswift and surprising advance of his forces. During the ensuing tankbattle, 15 enemy tanks were destroyed with no losses at all on our side.Thereupon, the enemy quickly withdrew to his origional position. At thesame time, a smaller group advanced along the lane from Garvus to Evrecyunder cover of smoke, and darkness, which in the meantime had fallen. Theymanaged to break through the forward elements, but then, also, ran rightinto our tanks on the rear slope, which overwhelmed them after a veryshort 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 oftheir positions, elements of the battalion under attack, which were stillon Height 113, had the impression that the enemy had broken through withtanks and infantry and that they, themselves, were encircled. Therefore,they abandoned their positions on this height, but reoccupied them two orthree hours later, when they became aware of their mistake. The enemy hadnot noticed anything of these movements. All further enemy tank attackshad no particular success. They lacked the impetus necessary forsuccessful tank actions, although they had sufficient fire support andcould operate in terrain favorable for swift approach. Nor did the tankattacks at night, with the aid of searchlight illumination, fare anybetter, although the use of searchlights for this purpose was new for ourtroops and caused great uneasiness among them. On the other hand, the PzRegt of the Division managed to destroy 150 enemy tanks during the threeweeks they were employed in that sector. Their own losses were only fivetanks completely destroyed and about 20 partly damaged, the repair ofwhich required some time.

All slightly damaged tanks were either repaired right behind the front orby tank reserve forces in St Honorine Du Fay, a little to the rear. Theserviceable tanks, 30 to 40 on the average, in the meantime, in twogroups, controlled the whole sector.

The Pz Gren Regiments, already badly reduced, could no longer spare anyreserves. Both Regiments were even compelled to disband one battalioneach, in order to maintain at least two battalions with company strengthsof about 50 men more or less fit for action. In addition to that, all rearwardservices had been screened repeatedly, and reduced to the very minimun inorder to reinforce the Gren Regiments. The Pz A.A. (tank reconnaissancebn) was available to the Division as reserve; however, only for a fewdays. This unit was chiefly employed in the sector of the 277 Inf Div, andthen sometimes as Corps reserve, so that it was still not available. Forsuch periods, the Pz Pioneer Bn would have still been available forcommitment in the case of an emergency. However, this unit could only beused for technical engineering tasks, such as construction of positions,laying mines, maintaining roads and bridges, and so on. The necessity ofusing it as infantry was successfully avoided, in spite of manydifficulties.

After the large-scale attack on 19 July south of Caen, it became quiteevident that the enemy no longer had any intentions of breaking through inthe sector of II SS Pz Corps. Gradually, all movement stopped, and theartillery passed its point of greatest intensity. However, even duringthose days, our reconnaissance still had to restrict itself mainly toobservations of the battle field, which was thoroughly organizedthroughout 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 radiocomnunications, although our signal equipment was much inferior to that ofthe enemy.

The less likely an enemy large-scale offensive in our sector appeared, themore 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 theOrne. On the strength of this presumption, the 9th SS Pz Div was relievedduring the night of 22/23 July by the 10th SS Pz Div in the eastern — andby the 277 Inf Div in the western — part of the sector, and then pulledout. At the same time, the Division was subordinated to the I SS Pz Corpsand assembled in the area of Offjieres, where it was assigned the task ofreconnoitering possibilities of commitment in the event of an enemybreakthrough in the sector of the I SS Pz Div and, particularly, in thesector of the 272 Inf Div.

The approach march into this area had to be carried out at night in smallgroups of companies and batteries. Owing to the strong enemy artillery andair activity, only side-roads could be used, which, nevertheless, were inquite a good condition. In spite of much hindrance by the enemy artillerythe operation could be completed without any particular losses. Already on24 July 1944, the 272 Inf Div had to be reinforced by a tank battalion anda Panzer Grenadier battaiion, because the situation had taken an alarmingturn there. When, on July 25, the enemy made a new large-scale attack inthe 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 Canadianforces.

A detailed report concerning these engagements is being prepared.According to the directives of the Hist Div, Normandy Campaign, thisreport does not pertain to this serie. This report has been written frommemory and without any documents for reference. Errors are thereforepossible.

signed Sylvester STADLER
Leo Feiherr GEYR von SCHWEPPENBURG / H.D.I.E., 17 April 1947