SS-Panzer-Regiment 3’s 9. Kompanie had an operational life of just over two years, fighting mainly on the Eastern Front and ending World War II in Perg, Austria, on 8 May 1945. The company’s personnel then spent a number of years in American or Russian confinement; only a handful managed to escape and make it home.
During the 1950s the Russians started releasing captured German military personnel and allowed them to return home. In 1959 the first veterans meeting took place, and former 9. Kompanie soldiers spent many hours recounting their experiences. It was from this first meeting that Wolfgang Barth gathered and recorded individual reports and learned the fate of other company members. Barth permitted me to use this huge collection of records as the basis for this book. Other veterans gave me their time for interviews or questionnaires, allowing me to assemble a more coherent picture of the events during March–April 1945. Between 2010 and 2013 I visited the battlegrounds in Poland, Hungary, and Austria, where I found many old people who still remembered their own wartime experiences.
Many of the photographs in this book will already be known to the reader, but there are new ones which have never been published before, along with new details on the former soldiers and officers of 9. Kompanie. These provide insight into the operational and working life of the unit during World War II. This book is my contribution to the ever-growing field of knowledge of the Panzerwaffe from World War II and is meant for novice and aficionado alike. Any mistakes are mine alone.
The SS-Totenkopf-Division was the first Waffen-SS division to have tanks in its inventory. In November 1939, SS-Aufklärungs-Abteilung Totenkopf, the division’s reconnaissance detachment, did not possess a Panzerspähwagen (armored car reconnaissance) company, and like the rest of the Totenkopf, it was deficient in heavy equipment. SS-Gruppenführer Theodor Eicke, the division’s commander, used all of his contacts across Germany to try to find any depots that had surplus equipment he could use for his division. In November 1939, he was informed that the Skoda Works in Pilsen (considered property of the Wehrmacht during this period) had a surplus of heavy artillery guns, prime movers, and tanks. Eicke had for some time been trying to get authorization to form a schwere Artillerie-Abteilung (heavy artillery detachment) for SS-Artillerie-Regiment Totenkopf, and when he did manage to get authorization, the Wehrmacht refused to supply the much-needed heavy guns. Eicke did manage to get his hands on some of the Skoda tanks.
On 20 November 1939, the divisional command issued an order creating a Panzerkraftwagen Zug (armored vehicle platoon) for SS-Aufklärungs-Abteilung Totenkopf under the leadership of SS-Obersturmführer Hardieck, who commanded the Kradschützen (motorcycle) company. Initially, the platoon was to contain three Pz.Kpfw. 35(t) or 38(t) in order to fill in the gap that resulted from the shortage of Panzerspähwagen. On the twenty-second, SS-Obersturmführer Hardieck took command of the new formation. The crews were provided by SS-Infanterie-Regiment 2. The Panzerkraftwagen platoon was under the leadership of SS-Oberscharführer Werkmeister (who would later serve in the Panzer regiment). The personnel drove to Pilsen on the twenty-seventh, returned to Germany during mid-December 1939, and were quartered at Burgholz. On 20 December, second and third platoons were added and organized into three sections consisting of two Panzers each, giving a total strength of six Panzers. The second section was commanded by SS-Untersturmführer Zimmermann, the third by SS-Untersturmführer Rohde.
The Panzerkraftwagen platoon spent the winter of 1939–40 based in Heilbronn. It first saw action on 21 May 1940 during the campaign in France, near Marcatel, while supporting SS-Infanterie-Regiment 3. The six Panzers had the following call signs: Löwe, Tiger, Panther, Geier, Sperber, and Habicht. During the fighting, the Panzerkraftwagen platoon knocked out three British tanks, but the Panzer of SS-Oberscharführer Werkmeister was knocked out near Arras, along with Sperber and Habicht. The platoon suffered four wounded: SS-Rottenführer Lamp, SS-Sturmmann Unger, SS-Rottenführer Theissig, and SS-Rottenführer Koppl. In fact, during the course of the day, the platoon suffered five total losses in Panzers, with only one Pz.Kpfw. 10(t) remaining on strength.
On 23 May 1940, the platoon took over six French tanks (three Hotchkiss H38’s and three Souma S35’s), which had been captured in Choques by SS-Infanterie-Regiment 3. At this time, the three section commanders were SS-Untersturmführer Zimmermann, SS-Scharführer Spuhler, and SS-Unterscharführer Mark. On the twenty-seventh, the platoon, with seven Panzers, advanced along the Hinges–Le Cornet Malo road at 0300 hours and provided support to SS-Infanterie-Regiment 3 during the assault on the La-Basse Canal. The remaining Pz.Kpfw. 10(t) was knocked out in Le Cornet Malo. The day’s fighting resulted in three killed and four badly wounded, including the platoon commander, SS-Obersturmführer Hardieck. The wounded were evacuated along with the wounded infantrymen. On the twenty-ninth, the platoon lost five of its French tanks in the area of Estaines, with only one Hotchkiss H38 tank surviving. This tank remained in service with the Totenkopf up to July 1943. The establishment of a Panzerspähkompanie was ordered on 3 May 1941, with the issue of eight Panzerspähwagen.
The battery was formed on 1 June 1941. Gun commanders, gunners, loaders, and radio operators were all sent from the SS-Artillerie-Ausbildungsund-Ersatz-Regiment (artillery replacement regiment) in Munich to Berlin and quartered at the Lichterfelde Barracks. Here SS-Hauptsturmführer Toni Laackmann assumed command of the new Sturmgeschütze Batterie. Prior to taking command of the battery, Laackmann had been 11. Kompanie commander in SS-Infanterie-Regiment 3. The platoon leaders were SS-Obersturmführer Richter, SS-Untersturmführer Altermiller, and SS-Untersturmführer Weber. In July 1941, the battery was moved from Berlin to Troop Training Grounds Juterbog-Luckenwalde for continuation training on older-type assault guns.
Training started during the third week of July and ended toward the end of August 1941, when the battery received seven StuG III assault guns. The battery was loaded on 21 August 1941 in the town of Luckenwalde, arrived in Russia on the twenty-fifth, unloaded in Dno, and was incorporated into SS-Artillerie-Regiment Totenkopf. On the twenty-sixth, the 1st Platoon was attached to SS-Infanterie-Regiment 1, and the 2nd Platoon was assigned to SS-Infanterie-Regiment 3. The 3rd Platoon remained at the disposal of the divisional command. The battery would see extensive service, and after the last Sturmgeschütze had been lost, the battery’s personnel fought on as infantry. In August 1942, the battery utilized two captured Russian T-34 tanks until withdrawn from the Eastern Front and returned to France in October 1942. The remaining thirty-six personnel would be integrated with the newly formed Panzer regiment and Sturmgeschütze detachment. Upon arrival, the personnel in France were quartered at the Chateau de Nof.
SS-Hauptsturmführer Laackmann, 1 June–17 October 1941
SS-Obersturmführer Meierdress, 17 October 1941–21 February 1942
SS-Obersturmführer Richter, 21 February–22 October 1942
8 January 1942—1 StuG hit; vehicle was a complete burnt-out wreck
8 February 1942—1 StuG abandoned after the engine caught fire
7 March 1942—1 StuG blown up by the crew
17 March 1942—4 StuG’s lost during the fighting around Biakowo