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17th SS Panzergrenadier Division Götz von Berlichingen

The 17. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Götz von Berlichingen was a German Waffen-SS mechanised infantry division which saw action on the Western Front during World War II.

Formation and training

The 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division was raised near Poitiers, France in October 1943. It was formed from scratch, with the majority of its original cadre coming from replacement units and conscripts, many of Romanian extraction. The division was granted the honour-title Götz von Berlichingen. The name referred to the 15th century German knight who had, after losing his right hand in battle, worn an iron prosthetic hand. In keeping with this, the division's emblem was a clenched iron fist. They were also known informally as "LMA" division, in reference to von Berlichingen's famous quote Er kann mich im Arsche lecken! ("he can kiss my ass!"), simplified to Leck mich am Arsch ("kiss my ass"). SS-Obersturmbannführer Otto Binge oversaw the formation of the division, with the newly promoted SS-Brigadeführer Werner Ostendorff taking command in January 1944. The Götz von Berlichingen was placed under the LXXX Army Corps, a part of Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt's Heeresgruppe D.

In February 1944, the Götz von Berlichingen still lacked vehicles. On orders of the LXXX Army Corps, the division began to round up French vehicles in an attempt to complete its mobilisation. By March, most of the major combat formations were fully motorised, although only four of the six infantry batallions were (the remaining two where on bicycles). On 1 June the Götz von Berlichingen found itself at Thouars in France, with no tanks (although the tankers were fully equipped with StuG IV assault guns), only a few month's training, and below strength in officers and NCOs.

Battles for Normandy

After the D-Day allied invasion, the Götz von Berlichingen was ordered to Normandy to take part in the efforts to reduce the allied beachhead. On 11 June, the division first met the enemy in combat. The reconnaissance abteilung engaged in combat with the paratroopers of the US 101st Airborne Division near the town of Carentan.

The Americans secured the town and were advancing south by the morning of 13 June.

SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 37, supported by the StuGs of the division's Panzer Abteilung and Oberst Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte's 6th Fallschirmjäger Regiment, attacked the advancing paratroopers. In what the Americans dubbed The Battle of Bloody Gulch, the Germans routed several paratroop companies before their attack was stopped by the arrival of Combat Command A of the US 2nd Armored Division.

For the rest of the month, the division was engaged in heavy fighting for the bocage country near Saint Lô and Coutances. During this period the Götz von Berlichingen suffered heavy losses, and by the beginning of July its strength was reduced to 8,500 men. The division was in the line of advance for Operation Cobra, and suffered heavy losses attempting to halt the allied offensive. It was then ordered to take part in the Mortain Offensive, codenamed Operation Luttich. After the failure of this offensive, the division was split into four Kampfgruppes, KG Braune, Gunter, Fick and Wahl. These small units managed to escape the encirclement in the Falaise Pocket, but suffered heavy losses and remained in almost constant combat with the advancing Americans until the end of the Month, when the division was transferred to Metz for a much needed rest and refit.

Metz and the Saar

In early September, the division absorbed the 49th and 51st SS Panzergrenadier Regiments, raising the strength of its panzergrenadier contingent. However, the replacement Panzers and StuGs were arriving slowly. On 8 September, the division was put back into the line and was tasked with destroying the newly formed bridgehead over the Moselle River held by the US 5th and 80th Infantry Divisions. After heavy fighting for the allied bridgehead, the division fell back towards the Saar region and began to prepare to defend Metz itself. Over the next two months, the division saw very heavy fighting in the Saar region around Forêt De Facq, suffering very heavy casualties. On 8 November, a USAAF bomb raid hit the divisional command post. With the Götz von Berlichingens combat units in tatters and now with no command structure, Hitler authorised the division to withdraw from Metz. The remains of the division was pulled back to the Maginot Line, near Faulquemont to rest and refit. During this time, the Götz von Berlichingen was transferred to SS-Gruppenführer Max Simon's XIII SS Corps. US forces liberated Metz on 22 November 1944.

Refit and Nordwind

When the division pulled back to the Maginot Line in mid November, its strength had been reduced to around 4,000 men and 20 armoured vehicles. Throughout the early months of December 1944, the Götz von Berlichingen received resupply and reinforcement. The Panzergrenadier regiments were brought up to full strength with the addition of Volksdeutsche replacements. The quality of these replacements was far below that of the division's original cadre. Despite this, on paper, the division was back up to strength by the end of 1944. As a part of Simon's XIII SS Army Corps, the division participated in Operation Nordwind, the ill-fated last German offensive in the West. The Götz von Berlichingen, together with 36. Volksgrenadier-Division, attacked the US 44th and 100th Infantry Divisions around the town of Rimling. For this attack the division had been reinforced with a Panther tank company from 21. Panzer-Division, two company's of Flammpanzer 38(t)'s (Panzer-Flamm Kompanie 352 & 353), and schwere Panzer-Jäger Abteilung 653, equipped with Jagdtigers. The German attacks did not gain much terrain and were fought in extreme weather conditions. Contrary, losses on the allied side were high. After engaging in this heavy combat with the US 7th Army , with not much success, the majority of the divisional staff were relieved on 3 January. Replacements, in the form of Heer officers, were received on the next day. On 10 January, the divisional commander, SS-Standartenführer Hans Lingner, was captured by a patrol from the 114th Infantry, 44th Infantry Division, when his car overturned on the slippery roads. The driver was machinegunned on the spot and Lingner, his aide-de-camp Untersturmführer Jund and another of his staff brought to US lines where they were interrogated. Oberst Gerhard Lindner, one of the Heer officers recently transferred to the division, took command on January 15th. The Division remained engaged with the divisions of the XV U.S. Army Corps until Operation Nordwind ended on 25 January.

West Wall - End of the war

The Götz von Berlichingen took part in the defence of the West Wall until March 1945, when on the 18th the Americans broke through. On the 22 March, SS-Oberführer Fritz Klingenberg was killed in action. That day, the division abandoned all its vehicles and began a retreat across the Rhine into Germany.

By 1 April, the divisions strength was again reduced to roughly 7,000 men. Although greatly reduced in numbers, it was assigned to the defence of Nuremberg, and continued fighting until 24 April when it fell back to Donauwörth on the Danube. The last organized engagement fought by the division was on 29 April at Moosburg, Germany. There, the division's commanders attempted to use Stalag VIIA, the largest POW camp in Germany, as a sort of hostage to buy time to escape across the Isar River. Their effort was frustrated when the American commander of the 14th Armored Division learned of their plan, and ordered his Combat Command A to take Moosburg, capture the bridge across the Isar River, and most importantly, secure and protect the Allied Prisoners of War at all costs. The American infantry and tankers force advanced to Moosburg, and without delay attacked the defensive positions of the 17th SS in front of the town. The town fell following a brief, but ferocious battle. That same day the 14th Armored Division took over 7,000 German POWs, mostly SS. ("The 14th Armored Division and the Liberation of Stalag VIIA," On Point: The Journal of Army History, Fall, 2005.)

On 7 May 1945, the remaining division forces surrendered to US forces near the Achensee.

War crimes

While the Götz von Berlichingen was tried for 4 cases of 'Final Phase Crimes' committed during the closing days of the war, a 2005 History Channel story, D-Day: The Secret Massacre has accused the division of killing wounded American paratroopers during the early days of the Normandy battle. In the allegations, advance elements of the 17th SS Panzergrenadiers ran into scattered elements of the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the US 82nd Airborne Division near the town of Graignes, where they had been mistakenly dropped on D-Day. According to the documentary, less than 200 American paratroopers held off an entire regiment for nearly a week before withdrawing. The retreating Americans left their wounded behind under the care of the townspeople in the church. Waffen SS men executed the wounded along with several French villagers. As of 2008, there is not an independent confirmation of these allegations.

Some of the troops of Götz von Berlichingen may have been victims of war crimes themselves following their surrender in the late April 1945.

About two hundred SS grenadiers belonging to the I Battalion, 38th SS Regiment, were eventually captured by the 42nd Infantry Division. The fate of these men had been shrouded in mystery for many years. Eyewitnesses to what happened to these men were not forthcoming. Eventually, shortly after the war, some citizens of that city directed Red Cross officials to what turned out to be a mass grave which yielded two hundred bodies, all in Waffen-SS uniforms. The grave was located just west of the city. Nothing was done to identify these men or how they came to be there until 1976, when the remains of one of the corpses was positively identified as that of SS-Hauptsturmführer Kukula, the commander of I Battalion, 38th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment. Further autopsies on the other bodies soon followed, showing that many of the men in that grave had been beaten to death with blunt instruments (possibly rifle butts). Most had been shot at very close range, suggesting that a massacre had taken place.
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Commanders

Order of battle

  • SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 37
  • SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 38
  • SS-Artillerie Regiment 17
  • SS-Panzerjäger Abteilung 17
  • SS-Panzer-Abteilung 17
  • SS-Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung 17
  • SS-Flak-Abteilung 17
  • SS-Nachrichten-Abteilung 17
  • SS-Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 17
  • SS-Pionier-Bataillon 17
  • SS-Divisions-Nachschubtruppen 17
  • SS-Panzer-Instandsetzungs-Abteilung 17
  • SS-Wirtschafts-Bataillon 17
  • SS-Sanitäts-Abteilung 17
  • SS-Feldpostamt 17
  • SS-Kriegsberichter-Zug 17
  • SS-Feldgendarmerie-Kompanie 17
  • SS-Feldersatz-Bataillon 17

Notes

References

  • Gunther, Helmut - Das Auge der Division: Die Aufklärungsabteilung der SS-Panzergrenadier Division Götz Von Berlichingen
  • Munoz, Antonio J. - ''Iron Fist: A Combat History of the 17. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division "Götz von Berlichingen"
  • Stöber, Hans - Die Sturmflut und das Ende (3 Vol)
  • Gordon Williamson, Stephen Andrew - The Waffen-SS (3) : 11. to 23. Divisions ISBN 1841765910

See also

External links

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