|Shortly after the Normandy Invasion began on 6 June 1944, the ssKampfgruppen 1, 2, 3 and 4, composed for the most part of emergencybattalions from SS schools and replacement units, were mobilized. Only twoof these elements were actually sent to the front, however. These wereKampfgruppe 1 (Later SS-Panzergrenadier-Brigade 49) and SS Kampfgruppe 3(later SS-Panzergrenadier-Brigade 51). Considered sister units, the twobrigades would fight an the same sector of the critical western front inFrance for a brief time. SS-Panzergrenadier-Brigade 49 was one battalionstronger than SS-Panzergrenadier-Brigade 51, and it lasted for a few dayslonger in the extremely destructive combat action. The two brigades weredesignated 26. SS-Panzer-Division and 27. Panzer-Division, respectively, for a very shorttime, basically to try and mislead the Allies into thinking that they weremuch larger units.|
The history of SS-Panzergrenadier-Brigade 51 began in March of 1944 whenit was formed as SS-Kamfgruppe 3, drawing heavily for its personnel fromthe staff and students at the SS NCO school in Lauenberg, Pomerania. Itwas not fully activated, however, until after the Allied landings inNormandy. Things were arranged so that all of the individual units couldbe fully mobilized within 48 hours.
On 18 June, 1944, SS-KGr. 3 officially became the ssPanzergrenadier-Brigade 51 and was soon sent on its way, along withSS-PzGrn.Bde. 49 to Denmark, to guard against an Allied attack on thatcountry and also relieve Wehrmacht forces (Primarily the 363rd Inf Div.)for use in Normandy. Once in Denmark, The 51st was stationed aroundHaderslev on the southeast coast of Jutland, directly opposite the 49thwhich was put in place between Esbjerg and Tonder on the southwest coast.
On August 4th, 1944, nine days in advance of the 49th, the 51st wasordered to proceed to the Troyes area in France, by rail. The brigadecommander was Sturmbannfuehrer Walter Joeckel, with HauptsturmfuehrerReinel in charge of I.Btn., Hauptsturmfuehrer Hillig in charge of II.Btn.,and Sturmbannfuehrer Beissal leading the SS Artillery Detachment 51. The51st had just under 3,000 troops including 59 officers. As of 10 August1944, it assumed the title of 27. SS-Panzer-Division, for the “benefit” ofthe Allies, while maintaining the 51st Brigade title for its own use. Toadd to the confusion, the unit was also referred to as the “StammRegiment” /27. SS-Panzer-Division, (i.e. the “nucleus” regiment), byofficial sources. The situation in regards to 49th was even more confusedsince it had been given the 25. SS Panzer-Division designation until thenumber 27 was settled upon!
The SS-Panzergrenadier-Brigade 51 first saw combat action on 22 of August,1944 around Sens, when the Allies began a carefully coordinated attack.The II./SS 51 was deployed at Sens and attached to it was the rather weakI./Army Security Rgt. 199. During the course of the fighting on 23August, the enemy pressure became too great, and to avoid being outflankedthe two battalions withdrew to prepared bridgehead positions west of theSeine River near Troyes.
I./SS 51 was already in place in the northern part of the bridgehead, whenII./SS 51 and I./Rgt. 199 moved into the southern section. In addition,part of II./Rgt. 199 and some Kriegsmarine Infantry units were alsodeployed in the bridgehead. The 51st Brigade HQ was situated in a bankbuilding in the city of Troyes apposite the Seine bridgehead held by therest of the unit. This separation would prove to be unfortunate in thedifficult days ahead.
On 24 August 1944, the Brigade HQ sent out a motorized scouting party toinvestigate the situation to the south of Troyes. At Bucheres, in thevicinity of Chatillon, this group ran into a roadblock and was trapped ina partisan ambush. The CO, Stubaf Joeckel, then dispatched 3rd Co/l/SS 51and 3rd Battery/SS Artillery Detachment 51 to open up the road and smashthe partisan resistance. A fierce battle resulted that ended with thepartisan forces routed and 62 of their number dead.
On the 25 August, the enemy attacked Troyes with sizable tank farces thatwere nearly impossible to stop. The 8th Co/SS 51, a motorized medicaltransport column and the entire Brigade motor transport convoy, whichincluded armored scout cars, were overrun and captured by the Americans.It was not until evening that this overwhelming onslaught could finally bebrought to a halt, but even then disaster still threatened. In theafternoon hours of 25 August, a large partisan force broke into Troyes andmanaged to surround the 51st HQ and Staff Company. Stubaf. Joeckel, fullycut off from his battalions, radioed them instructions to fight onindependently of the Brigade HQ. Soon afterwards US troops also enteredthe town and it was clear that Troyes was lost. By 1630, II/SS 51recorded that all contact with the Brigade HQ had been lost. This wasbecause Stubaf Joeckel had ordered his staff troops to try and break outof the town rather than surrender.
In house-to-house fighting the men of the staff, staff company andengineer company, battled their way to freedom. It was a valiant andskillful effort which frankly surprised the Americans who were expecting ademoralized capitulation. The SS Engineer Co. 51, which covered thewithdrawal effort, was particularly effective in the action. Its mensacrificed themselves to the fullest and all of the company’s officerswere lost. The successful resistance offered by the small and outnumbered51st Brigade garrison in Troyes actually won praise from Gen. Patton inhis memoirs it was to be the highwater mark of the Brigade’s briefhistory.
In the bridgehead across the Seine from Troyes, the battalions of the 51stbegan to prepare to retreat during the evening of 25 August. The II/SS 51organized its vehicles into two convoys, to be accompanied only by theirdrivers. The objective was to send these out ahead of the main body oftroops so that they could hopefully reach Route 19 and stay out of the wayof the advancing Americans. It would be easier for the SS Panzergrenadiersto fight their way out on foot. On the morning of 26 August, one of thevehicle columns was strafed by American fighter planes but took onlyminimal losses.
At the same time parts of I. and II/SS 51 were able to cross over therailroad bridge south of Troyes on foot and proceed in two long rows downthe rail lines towards Lusigny (south of Barse), where they were supposedto meet the truck convoys. About 100 American prisoners were taken along.
Unfortunately the bulk of I.Btn. had been destroyed in bitter fighting forSt. Savine and Fontvannes that raged all day on 25 August and spilled overinto 26 August, so actually only a few survivors were part of the abovementioned march columns. The Brigade Staff did not have much better luck;on 28 August, part of it, including the commander, Stubaf. Joeckel, wascaptured by an American recce unit. The surviving remnants eventuallyreached the positions of the 49th, to which they were then subordinated.The I./Security Rgt. 199 fought it out pretty much to the last at Vogesen,and its commander, Hauptmann Kropf, was killed in the action.
In the face of overpowering, advancing enemy elements, the disintegratingGerman forces could do little else but retreat towards Verdun and Metz tothe northeast. The half destroyed remnants of the 51st finally reached thesecurity lines of the 3. Panzer-Division at StDizier, Rembercourt and to the west of Bar le Duc. Here the survivorsfound themselves asigned to the badly battered 17th SSDivision “Goetz von Berlichengen”. II./ss 51, which had gottenthrough reasonably intact was made the new II.Btn./ss Rgt 37/17th ssDivision, replacing the old battalion which had largely disappeared in thewar of material being waged by the Allies. This marked the end of the51st, as no other units of the brigade existed at this point.
|Stubaf. Walter Joeckel|