1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler

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1st SS-Panzer Division LSSAH
1. SS-Panzer-Division „Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler“
1. SS-Panzer-Division Leibstandarte-SS Adolf Hitler.png
Truppenkennzeichen (unit or troop insignia)
Active 9 November 1923 – 8 May 1945
Country  National Socialist Germany
Allegiance Adolf Hitler
Branch Flag of the Schutzstaffel.png Waffen-SS
Type Armoured
Size Division
Patron Adolf Hitler
Motto
  • Meine Ehre heißt Treue
  • ("My Honour is Loyalty")
Engagements World War II:
Commanders
Notable
commanders

The Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LAH/LSSAH) founded in September 1933 was Adolf Hitler's personal Bodyguard Regiment. In 1939 the LSSAH became a separate unit of the Waffen-SS aside the SS-TV and the SS-VT. The SS-LAH independently participated in combats during the Poland campaign (1939). Elements of the LSSAH later joined the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT) prior the Operation Barbarossa in 1941.

The unit may be most known for alleged involvement by some members in the Malmedy massacre. As the unit was an elite unit used in pro-German propaganda, claims of atrocities by the feared unit also had great anti-German propaganda value.

Name development

Leibstandarte-SS.jpg
Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler.png
Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler
Junior officer followed by soldiers of the LAH during the advance in the West, May 1940
German soldiers of the SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler on a tank during the battle of Kursk (July 1943).
Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, picture folder (Bildmappe).jpg
LSSAH Panzer IV Ausf. H in Milan, Italy, September 1943
Tiger tanks of the SS-Leibstandarte in northern Italy to secure the Alpine passes and rear connecting lines
  • SS-Stabswache Berlin 17 March 1933
    • SS-Sonderkommando Berlin – 8 May 1933
    • SS-Sonderkommando Zossen – 10 May 1933
    • SS-Sonderkommando Jüterbog – 8 July 1933
  • „Adolf Hitler“-Standarte – 3. September 1933 (two battalions)
  • Leibstandarte „Adolf Hitler“ – 8 November 1933
  • Leibstandarte SS „Adolf Hitler“ – 13 April 1934
  • Infanterie-Regiment (motorisiert) „Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler“ – 12 Juni 1939
  • verstärkte „Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler“ – 1940
    • on 13 August 1940 the order was given, to increase the size of the Leibstandarte with 6,500 men (brigade size)
  • SS-Division (motorisiert) „Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler“ – 15 July 1941
  • SS-Panzergrenadier-Division „Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler“ – 24 November 1942 (with effect from 9 November)
  • 1. SS-Panzer-Division „Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler“ – 22 October 1943
    • Staff (Stab)
    • 1st SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion
    • 1st SS Panzer Regiment
    • 1st SS Panzergrenadier Regiment
    • 2nd SS Panzergrenadier Regiment
    • 1st SS Panzer Engineer Battalion
    • 1st SS Panzer Artillery Regiment
    • 1st SS Panzer Assault Gun Regiment
    • 1st SS Panzer Tank Destroyer Battalion
    • 1st SS Panzer Anti-Aircraft Battalion
    • 1st SS Rocket Launcher Battalion (added September 1944)
    • 1st SS Panzer Signal Battalion
    • 1st SS Panzer Divisional Supply Group

Commanders

  • 15 August 1938 bis 4 July 1943: SS-Oberst-Gruppenführer und Generaloberst der Waffen-SS Josef Dietrich
  • 4 July 1943 bis 20 August 1944: SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Theodor Wisch
  • 20 August 1944 bis 6 February 1945: SS-Standartenführer (as of 4 November 1944 SS-Oberführer) Wilhelm Mohnke
  • 6 February 1945 bis 8 May 1945: SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Otto Kumm

History

In the earliest days of the NSDAP, it was realized by the leaders that bodyguard units composed of trustworthy and loyal men would be a wise development. Ernst Röhm formed a guard formation from the 19th Granatwerfer-Kompanie, and from this formation the Sturmabteilung (SA) soon evolved. Adolf Hitler, realizing the potential threat that the SA had presented, in early 1923 ordered the formation of a bodyguard for himself. The tiny unit, originally formed by only eight men (and commanded by Julius Schreck and Joseph Berchtold), was designated the Stabswache (Staff Guard). The guards of the Stabswache were issued uniforms that showed their difference from the SA (despite the fact that at this stage the Stabswache still was under overall SA control). Schreck resurrected the use of the Totenkopf (skull) as insignia, which had been a symbol used by various élite forces throughout the Prussian kingdom and the later German Empire.

Soon after its formation, the unit was renamed Stoßtrupp Adolf Hitler. On 9 November 9 1923, the Stoßtrupp, along with the SA and several other NSDAP paramilitary units, took part in the failed Munich Putsch. Hitler was imprisoned and the NSDAP and all associated formations, including the Stoßtrupp, were officially disbanded.

Shortly after Hitler's release in 1924, he ordered a new bodyguard unit formed, again called the Stabswache, but this time it did not fall under SA control. In 1925, the Stabswache was renamed as the Schutzstaffel, abbreviated SS. By March 1933, the SS had grown from a tiny personal bodyguard unit to a formation of over 50,000 men. The decision was made to form a new bodyguard unit, picking the most capable and trustworthy SS men to form its cadre.

On 17 March 1933, the SS-Stabswache Berlin was formed, under the command of Josef 'Sepp' Dietrich, Hitler's personal bodyguard. Dietrich hand-picked 120 men to form the SS-Stabswache. The unit was based at the Alexander Barracks in Berlin. Later in 1933, the formation was redesignated SS-Sonderkommando Zossen and a second unit of 120 men, designated SS-Sonderkommando Jüterbog was raised. The two Sonderkommandos provided guards for the NSDAP hierarchy, functioned as training cadres for the SS, and for a short time acted as auxiliary police units.

In September 1933, the two Sonderkommandos were merged into the SS-Sonderkommando Berlin. In November 1933, on the 10th anniversary of the Munich Putsch, the Sonderkommando took part in the rally and memorial service at the Feldherrnhalle, erected in the place where many NSDAP members had fallen during the putsch. All members of the Sonderkommando then swore personal allegiance to Hitler himself. To conclude this ceremony, the Sonderkommando received a new title, Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler.

In early 1934, Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsführer-SS, ordered the Leibstandarte to be renamed Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH).

The LSSAH participated in the Night of the Long Knives.

The LSSAH provided the honour guard at several of the Nuremberg Rallies and in 1935 took part in the reoccupation of the Saarland. The Leibstandarte was also in the vanguard of the March into Austria as part of the Anschluss. The LSSAH then took part in the occupation of the Sudetenland. In March 1939, it was involved in the annexation of Bohemia and Moravia. Soon after this action, the LSSAH had several motorised components attached, including an armoured car platoon and a motorcycle unit, and was redesignated Infanterie-Regiment Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler.

In January 1939, the Leibstandarten-Ball was held at the Berlin Zoo. Sepp Dietrich had organized this high-profile gala for his men, with famous performers Hans Albers, Heinrich George, and Käthe von Nagy. The guest of honor was Heer commander-in-chief, Walther von Brauchitsch.

When Hitler ordered the formation of an SS division in mid 1939, the Leibstandarte was designated to form its own unit, unlike the other Standarten of the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT) (SS-Standarte Deutschland, SS-Standarte Germania, and SS-Standarte Der Führer). The Polish crisis of October 1939 put these plans on hold, and the LSSAH was ordered to join XIII. Armeekorps, a part of Army Group South which was preparing for the attack on Poland.

As the SS began to swell with new recruits, the LSSAH remained the pinnacle of Hitler's Aryan ideal. Strict recruitment regulations meant that only those deemed sufficiently Aryan, as well as being physically fit and fervent National Socialists, would be admitted.

Early War Campaigns

During the initial stages of the Poland campaign, the LSSAH was attached to the 17.Infanterie-Division and tasked with providing flank protection for the southern pincer. The regiment was involved in several ferocious battles against Polish cavalry brigades attempting to hit the flanks of the German advance. At Pabianice, a town near Łódź, the LSSAH fought off elements of the Polish 28th Infantry Division and the Wołyńska Cavalry Brigade in ferocious close combat.

After the success at Pabianice, the LSSAH was shifted to the area near Warsaw and attached to the 4.Panzer-Division under Generaloberst Georg-Hans Reinhardt, where it saw action preventing encircled Polish units from escaping, and repelling several desperate attempts by other Polish troops to break through. The LSSAH had proved itself an effective fighting unit during the campaign, though several Heer Generals had reservations about the high casualties which the LSSAH and the SS-VT units had sustained in combat.

The regiment was shifted to the Dutch border for the launch of Fall Gelb, and was to form the vanguard of the ground advance into the Netherlands, tasked with capturing a vital bridge over the IJssel and linking up with the Fallschirmjäger of Generaloberst Kurt Student's airborne forces, the 7.Flieger-Division and the 22.Luftlande-Infanterie-Division.

The Battle of France and the Netherlands was launched on 10 May 1940. On that day, the LSSAH covered over 75 km, securing a crossing over the IJssel near Zutphen after discovering that their target bridge had been destroyed. Over the next four days' fighting, the LSSAH covered over 215km, and earned itself dubious fame by accidentally shooting at and seriously wounding Generaloberst Student near Amsterdam. After the surrender of the Netherlands on 14 May, the regiment was used to form part of the reserve for Army Group B.

After the British armoured counterattack at Arras, the LSSAH, along with the SS-Verfügungs-Division was moved to the front lines to hold the perimeter around Dunkirk and reduce the size of the pocket containing the encircled British Expeditionary Force and French forces. Near Wormhoudt, the LSSAH ignored Hitler's orders for the advance to halt and continued the attack, suppressing the British artillery positions on the Wattenberg Heights. During this battle the regiment suffered heavy casualties.

The regiment ended the campaign on the coast near Dunkirk.

Balkans

After the conclusion of the Western campaign, the LSSAH was expanded to brigade size. Despite this, it retained the designation regiment. A FlaK battalion and a StuG Abteilung were among the formations added to the LSSAH. During the later months of 1940, the regiment trained in amphibious assaults in preparation for Operation Seelöwe. After the failure of the Battle of Britain and the cancellation of the operation, the LSSAH was shifted to Bulgaria in preparation for Operation Marita, part of the planned invasion of Greece and the Balkans.

The Operation was launched on April 6 1941. The LSSAH was to follow the route of the 9.Panzer-Division, part of General der Panzertruppen Georg Stumme's XL.Panzer-Korps. The regiment crossed the border near Prilep and was soon deep in Greek territory.

The LSSAH captured Vevi on April 10. Sturmbannführer Kurt Meyer's reinforced Aufklärungs-Abt 1 LSSAH was tasked with clearing resistance from the Klissura Pass, south-west of Vevi and driving through to the Kastoria area to cut off retreating Greek and British Commonwealth forces. Resistance from the Greek 20th Division was fierce. According to some accounts, the SS were inspired to capture the Klissura Pass only after Meyer threw a grenade at the feet of some of his soldiers.

Sturmbannführer Fritz Witt's I.Battalion was tasked with clearing the Klidi Pass, just south of Vevi and strongly defended by Australian, British and New Zealand troops. Witt's Battalion was reinforced and renamed Kampfgruppe Witt. An Australian officer wrote of the Germans' "insolence" in driving "...trucks down the main road — to within 3000 yards of our infantry", and there unloading the SS troops. The Germans were forced off the road and faced fierce resistance for more than two days. On the morning of April 12, the Germans launched a frontal assault, and by late afternoon the pass was cleared. I.Battalion LSSAH had inflicted many casualties and captured over 520 prisoners for the loss of only 37 dead and 95 wounded.

With the fall of the two passes, the main line of resistance of the Greek First Army was broken, and the campaign became a battle to prevent the escape of the enemy. On April 20, following a pitched battle in the 5,000-foot-high Metsovon Pass in the Pindus Mountains, the commander of the Greek First Army surrendered the entire Hellenic Army to Dietrich. British Commonwealth troops were now the only Allied forces remaining in Greece, and they were falling back across the Corinth Canal to the Peloponnesos. By April 26, the LSSAH had reached the Gulf of Patras, and in an effort to cut off the retreating British Commonwealth forces, Dietrich ordered that his regiment cross the Gulf and secure the town of Patras in the Peloponnesos. Since no transport vessels were available, the LSSAH commandeered fishing boats and successfully completed the crossing, despite being forced to leave much of their heavy equipment behind. By April 30, the last British Commonwealth troops had either been captured or escaped. The LSSAH occupied a position of honour in the victory parade through Athens.

Following Operation Marita, the LSSAH was ordered north, to join the forces of Army Group South massing for the launch of Operation Barbarossa.

Barbarossa

Following the LSSAH's outstanding performance during Marita, Himmler ordered that it should be upgraded to divisional status. As such, the Regiment, already the size of a reinforced brigade, was redesignated SS-Division (mot.) Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. Despite this, there was no time to refit the division to full divisional status before the launch of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, and so the new 'Division' remained the size of a reinforced brigade.

The LSSAH was attached to the LIV.Armee-Korps and held in reserve during the opening stages of the attack. In August, it was transferred to III.Panzer-Korps, part of Generalfeldmarschall Ewald von Kleist's Panzergruppe 1. During this time, the LSSAH was involved in the Battle of Uman and the subsequent capture of Kiev. During this time, the division was involved in heavy fighting, with Meyer's Abteilung particularly distinguishing itself.

In early September, the division was transferred back to LIV.Armee-Korps, preparing to launch an offensive to clear the Crimean peninsula. The operation was launched on 17 September 1941. The LSSAH was involved in heavy fighting for the town of Perekop, before advancing across the Perekop Isthmus to assault the Soviet defensive positions near the Tarter Ditch.

In November, the LSSAH was transferred back to Panzergruppe 1 and took part in the heavy fighting for the city of Rostov-on-Don, which was captured in late November. During Operation Barbarossa, the division had penetrated 960 kilometers into Soviet territory.

Heavy Soviet counterattacks during the winter meant that Army Group South had to fall back from Rostov-on-Don to defensive lines on the river Mius. The LSSAH spent the winter fighting ferocious defensive battles in temperatures of down to -40°C, with minimal winter clothing and only 150 grams of rations per man per day. Despite this, the division held. After the spring rasputitsa had cleared, the exhausted division joined in Fall Blau, partaking in the fighting to retake Rostov-on-Don, which was recaptured in late July, 1942. Severely understrength and completely exhausted, the LSSAH was pulled out of the line. The division was ordered to the Normandy region of occupied France to join the newly formed SS-Panzer-Korps and to be reformed as a panzergrenadier division.

Kharkov

The LSSAH spent the remainder of 1942 refitting as a panzergrenadier division. Thanks to the efforts of the Reichsführer-SS, along with SS-Obergruppenführer Paul Hausser, the SS-Panzerkorps commander, the four SS panzergrenadier divisions (LSSAH, "Wiking", "Das Reich" and "Totenkopf" were to be formed with a full regiment of tanks rather than only an Abteilung. This meant that the SS Panzergrenadier divisions were full-strength Panzer divisions in all but name. Also, the division received nine Tiger 1 tanks, and these were formed into 13.(schwere)Kompanie/SS-Panzer-Regiment 1.

The collapse of the front around Stalingrad and the encirclement of the 6.Armee meant that the entire eastern front was close to collapse. Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein, commander of Army Group Don, requested reinforcements to halt the Soviet attack near Kharkov. The SS-Panzerkorps was ordered east to join Manstein's forces.

Arriving at the front in late January 1943, the LSSAH was thrown into the line defending Kharkov itself as a part of Hausser's SS-Panzer-Korps. Facing them were the hundreds of T34s of Mobile Group Popov, a Soviet armoured Army sized formation which formed the spearhead of the Soviet advance. On 8-9 February, 1943, the LSSAH's SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 1 under SS-Sturmbannführer Fritz Witt, fighting alongside SS-Sturmbannführer Max Wünsche's I./SS-Panzer-Regiment 1, fought a bitter delaying action near the town of Merefa, halting a major Soviet attack. The division fought in many desperate defensive battles over the next few weeks, gradually being pushed back into the city of Kharkov itself.

Despite inflicting heavy losses on the Soviets, and rebuffing all enemy attacks, the Soviets succeeded in outflanking the corps. On 15 February, Hausser ignored Hitler's orders to hold the city at all costs and ordered the SS-Panzer-Korps to abandon the city and withdraw towards Krasnograd. Over the next week, the SS-Panzer-Korps annihilated Mobile Group Popov in a series of brilliant and hard fought battles. The LSSAH was a major participant in these battles, destroying several Soviet divisions and inflicting heavy losses.

Hausser now ordered that Kharkov should be recaptured. The LSSAH, Das Reich and Totenkopf were to form the spearhead of the attack. The attack got underway on 2 March. The LSSAH was formed into three Kampfgruppen which would attack towards and capture Kharkov. Over the next weeks, the LSSAH would take part in the ferocious battles to take the city. Kampfgruppe Meyer, under Panzermeyer's command, penetrated to Red Square before being cut off. Kampfgruppe Witt saw heavy fighting against a Soviet blocking force near Dergatschi before it also broke through into the city. Both Kampfgruppen were repeatedly cut off during the confused fighting, and it was not until Kampfgruppe Peiper, under Joachim Peiper, broke through that the defenders were finally overwhelmed. By 21 March, the battle was over and Kharkov was back in German hands, with Peiper's Kampfgruppe having penetrated as far as Belgorod.

In honour of the 4,500 casualties suffered by the Leibstandarte in the fighting, Kharkov's Red Square was renamed Platz der Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. The division was pulled back for much needed rest and refit.

Normandy

Main article: Normandy landings

The LAH's most crucial role during the Battle of Normandy would be the part it played against operation Goodwood. Launched 18 July, three strong British armoured divisions, with infantry support on their flanks, were to swing through the gap between Caen and the eastern heights. There they would have to get across the hills at Bourgibus and break through towards open ground. The operation was preceded by a three hour bombing assault by 2,500 aircraft, which knocked the German infantry senseless, rendered their MG-42's useless by the vibrations, and knocked out most of the Panzers on the ground.

Immediately afterwards the British tanks came rumbling on and seized all their primary objectives. 2.Kp./SS-Panzerregiment 1, located by the woods near Garcelles, received orders to attack the British at Soliers. SS-Obersturmführer Malkomes drove in the direction of Bourguιbus with his 13 Panthers and discovered 60 enemy tanks S-SE of the town. He attacked them, destroying 20, and took Soliers. Around 12:00 hours the entire Panther-Battalion, I./SS-Panzerregiment 1, 46 Panther, was engaged in combat with the 29th Tank Brigade of the 11th Armoured Division. The body of Leibstandarte was rushed to the front from Falaise, where it was in reserve. It immediately counterattacked around 17:00, together with 21. Panzerdivision, which halted the British offensive on the left front. The British withdrew to Caen, leaving behind 126 destroyed tanks.

At first, 19 July seemed to bring a discontinuation of Goodwood, as only some individual tanks assaults were carried out. But by 13:00 the Brits charged again, having brought up reinforcements to continue the attack. They quickly overran the forward German units and pressed on hard, a wave of tanks spearheading the attack. But when the leading Sherman/Fireflies and Cromwells approached the hill at Bourguιbus at 1600 hours, squad after squad was taken under fire and blown up; the Panthers of the Leibstandarte had taken up positions on the hill itself. Around 15:00 hours the first 12. SS-Pz. Div. HJ's elements arrived, which relieved the right front. The Brits failed to break out of their bridgehead, but Caen was now fully in their hands and their bridgehead had been expanded for 9 km. They had suffered the loss of 493 tanks, and 4,011 casualties.

Despite this victory, in the face of complete Allied numerical superiority, 5 days later the Americans saw the chance to break out of their beachhead. The weakened German defense could not keep up with the savage battle of attrition as little or no reinforcements had arrived, supplies were shot up, and movement by day was made impossible. They stormed into the open, one column headed towards Avranches, and another column making an encircling movement towards St. Lτ. Hitler, never allowing a retreat, remained true to his creed and, instead, ordered an assault to be made. Leibstandarte, together with 4 other SS-Panzer Divisions and 3 Wehrmacht Panzer Divisions went on the attack on 7 August after moving to the assembly areas on 5 and 6 August. SS-Panzerregiment 1 along with two Panzergrenadier-Battalion, one Pionierkompanie and the FlaK-Abt. were used. The weather wasn't suited for flying that day, so the attack went smoothly at first, despite the fact that the Allies knew the attack was coming. Das Reich managed to recapture Mortain, and a gepanzerte Kampguppe under Jochen Peiper managed to go as far Bourlopin, but was stopped by massive swarms of Allied aircraft. Another attempt was mounted the next day, but failed.

A report from SS-Obersturmführer Preuss, 10. Kompanie/SS-Panzergrenadierregiment 2 describes the impossible situation:

"It is true that one fighter bomber we shot down landed on a Panzer and destroyed it. Most other Panzer and Schützenpanzer, however, fell victim to this intensive air bombardment, which lasted hours. Those Grenadiere still able to fight had spread themselves out to the left and right through the terrain's many hedges. They were happy to see that the bombers swarming like bees over our heads were finding more rewarding targets than individual men. I agreed with them. I heard that Peiper had suffered a heart attack. Diefenthal (the commander of the III./2) lost his hearing when a bomb fell right next to him. Kuhlmann was unable to get the attack moving forward again. My brave messenger, Sturmmann Horst Reinicken, was killed as he tried to reach the command post of the Heer Panzerabteilung to which we were subordinated. He was trying to bring the Panzerabteilung the news that its commander and Adjutant lay dead not far from our hedge."

After that it was over with the campaign in Normandy; Leibstandarte got encircled by the Americans and British in what would be called the Falaise pocket, but by then the unit was reduced to several small Kampfgruppen. Hausser, commander of 7. Armee was told by von Kluge (commander in chief West, as successor to von Rundstedt) to withdraw II. SS-Panzerkorps (Hohenstauffen and Frundsberg), his motors and his administrative personnel from the pocket. The Führer had still not given orders to withdraw at this point, so it all depended on the will of the units themselves to get out. Leibstandarte withdrew from the pocket with Unterführers and Führers each taking the lead of a small Kampfgruppe and smashing through the ring, on 22 August, after which no combat ready tanks or artillery pieces were reported. The whole campaign caused some 5,000 casualties to the LSSAH.

See also

External links