2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich

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Truppenkennzeichen (unit or troop insignia)

The SS Division Das Reich was one of the thirty-eight divisions fielded by the Waffen-SS during World War II. It is one of the most well-known and researched of all the SS divisions. Das Reich was composed of some of the best, most well-trained and battle-hardened troops in the world at the time.

It served from the invasion of France and took part in several major battles on the Eastern Front, before it was pulled back to France and took part in the fighting in Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge and the last, desperate fighting in Hungary and Austria. The symbol for the Das Reich division was the wolf's hook or Wolfsangel rune.

Name evolution

Panzergrenadiere 2. SS-Division Das Reich.jpg
Members of the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich display a captured Soviet flag in the opening months of Operation Barbarossa..jpg
1,000 enemy tanks destroyed in 35 combat days
  • SS-Verfügungsdivision (VT-Division), 10 October 1939 (three Standarten)
  • SS-Division „Reich“ (mot.), 21 December 1940 (other sources state 25 February 1941)
  • SS-Division „Das Reich“, May 1942
  • SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division „Das Reich“, 9 November 1942
  • 2. SS-Panzer-Division „Das Reich“, 22 October 1943

History

For the 1939 Poland campaign, three SS regiments ("Deutschland", "Der Führer", and "Germania") were grouped into a division, the SS-Verfügungstruppe ("Special-Purpose Troops"). After Poland, one regiment ("Germania") was sent to form another division (SS-Division Wiking), and a new third regiment was created (SS Regiment 11); this became the 2nd SS Division Das Reich. Das Reich first took part in the Campaigns in the West against the Low Countries and France in 1940, and did so as the SS-VT-Division. It first saw action in the main drive for the Dutch central front and Rotterdam. After Rotterdam had been seized the Division, along with other divisions, intercepted a French force and pushed them back to the area of Zeeland and Antwerp. Next, it was used to mop-up small pockets of resistance in the areas already captured by the Germans. The Division was then transferred to France and helped breach a stiffly defended canal line, and then participated in the drive on Paris. At the end of the Campaign, it had advanced all the way to the Spanish Frontier.

Originally, the SS-V.T.-Division was composed of three of the original four SS-Standarten. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LAH) was the other SS-Standarte, and it was developed on its own. The other three SS-Standarten were Deutschland, Germania and Der Führer. After the Western Campaign was over, the SS-V.T.-Division was reorganized. The SS-Standarten Germania was transferred out of the Division and along with the SS-Standarten Nordland and Westland, formed the backbone of a different SS-Division, Germania, which was soon to become the Wiking Division. For the loss of Germania, the SS-V.T.-Division was given a SS-Totenkopfstandarte designated as SS-Infanterie Regiment 11. Soon after, the Division changed its title from V.T. to Deutschland, and soon after that, to Das Reich.

War in the East

During the period after the fall of France, the Division was stationed in France preparing for the invasion of England. The Division was moved to Romania to take part in the Battle of Yugoslavia and Greece in March of 1941. In April, 1941, Reich took part in the successful capture of Belgrade, the Capital of Yugoslavia.

On the morning of April 12th, 1941, SS Hauptsturmführer Fritz Klingenberg and members of his motorcycle assault company approached Belgrade from Pancevo along the bank of the Danube river. Forcing a crossing, Klingenberg crossed the river and approached the city, proceeding into downtown Belgrade with only six men. Soon after entering the city, Klingenberg encountered a group of twenty Yugoslavian soldiers and without firing a shot the Yugoslavs surrendered. Receiving some reinforcements the Das Reich detachment held the city against counterattacks, and unfurled a large swastika and raised it over the embassy to declare the capture of the city. Two hours later, the mayor of Belgrade arrived at the embassy and surrendered the city to Klingenberg. It was not until the next day that a sizable German force arrived to secure the city. For capturing Belgrade, SS Haupsturmführer Fritz Klingenberg was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.

After the capture of Belgrade, the Division was moved to Poland to take part in the upcoming invasion of the Soviet Union. During the invasion of the Soviet Union, Das Reich fought with Army Group Center, taking part in the Battle of Yelnya near Smolensk, and then in the spearhead to capture Moscow. Reich came within a few miles of the Soviet Capital in November 1941, reaching the "High Water Mark" of the German advance in the Soviet Union. With the Soviet capital within sight of the Division, weather, massive losses and a major Soviet Winter Counter-Offensive pushed the Division back.

Back to the Eastern Front, 1943

Early in 1943, Das Reich was transferred back to the Eastern Front where it helped reclaim the crumbling central front around Kharkov. After helping recapturing Kharkov, Das Reich, along with many other divisions, was thrown into a massive assault into the Kursk Salient, a huge bulge in the German Front line around the area of Kursk and Byelgorod. Das Reich pushed upwards of 40 miles (approximately 64 kilometers) into the southern sector of the bulge, but was pulled out of the battle along with the other SS-Division when the offensive was called off. After a period of brief fighting, Das Reich was refit once again, this time as SS-Panzer-Division "Das Reich". In doing so, it left a portion the Division in the East titled "Kampfgruppe Das Reich", also known as Kampfgruppe Lammerding. The rest of the Division was transferred to the West to refit, and while doing so, took part in anti-partisan operations in France.

In the Winter of 1943/1944, another massive Soviet winter counter offensive managed to encircle German units in the center of the front. Kamfgruppe Das Reich was one of the units encircled by the Soviet offensive, and an assault by II. SS Panzerkorps managed to rescue the trapped elements of Das Reich. In February 1944 the Kampfgruppe was transferred to France to join the rest of the Division already stationed there. The remaining small portion of Das Reich left in the East were renamed Kampfgruppe Weidinger and was involved in the retreats through Proskurov and Tarnopol. Most of Das Reich was stationed in the southern French town of Montauban north of Toulouse gaining new equipment and freshly trained troops.

The Battle of Normandy and Fighting in the West, 1944

After the D-Day invasion in Normandy, France, Das Reich was committed to stop the Allied advance, and took part in the attempts to stop the Allies near Caen and St. Lo alongside the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend and the elite German Panzer Lehr Division. The Division recaptured Mortain, but was forced to retreat when it became apparent the Allies were going to encircle the Division along with a large number of other German units in the Falaise pocket. Thanks to the efforts of Das Reich along with the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen, a large number of German forces were able to escape the pocket and retreat to the east.

Pulled back across the Seine River and then behind the West Wall fortifications in Germany, the 2nd SS Panzer Division took part in the operations to punch through the Ardennes Forest to reclaim the port of Antwerp on 16 December 1944. Coming within 23 miles of the River Meuse, the Division was halted at Manhay on 25 December, and then slowly smashed by fierce Allied counter-attacks. Das Reich panzer commander Ernst Barkmann became famous for the creation of Barkmann's Corner, where he destroyed numerous American tanks in small skirmishes.

1945

Pulled out of the offensive, Das Reich was transferred into Germany to refit again, and to take part in the last German offensive of the war in Hungary in an attempt to break the siege around Budapest. This offensive also ground to a halt, and Das Reich spent the rest of the war more-or-less performing a fighting retreat from Dresden, to Prague and finally to Vienna. In the end, most of the Division managed to escape to the West to surrender to the Americans in May 1945.

Order of battle

1941 – 1942

  • SS Infantry Regiment Deutschland
  • SS Infantry Regiment Der Führer
  • 11th SS Infantry Regiment
  • 2nd SS Artillery Regiment
  • 2nd SS Sturmgeschütz Battery
  • 2nd SS Motorcycle Battalion
  • 2nd SS Reconnaissance Battalion
  • 2nd SS Panzerjäger (anti-tank) Battalion
  • 2nd SS Pionier Battalion
  • 2nd SS Signal Battalion
  • 2nd SS Rocket Battalion
  • 2nd SS Supply Battalion
  • 2nd SS Medical Battalion
  • 2nd SS Reserve Battalion

1944 – 1945

  • 2nd SS Panzer Regiment
  • 3rd SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment Deutschland
  • 4th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment Der Führer
  • 2nd SS Panzer Artillery Regiment
  • 2nd SS Motorcycle Battalion
  • 2nd SS Sturmgeschütz Battalion
  • 2nd SS Reconnaissance Battalion
  • 2nd SS Panzerjäger Battalion
  • 2nd SS Flak Battalion
  • 2nd SS Pionier Battalion
  • 2nd SS Signal Battalion
  • 2nd SS Rocket Launcher Battalion
  • 2nd SS Supply Battalion
  • 2nd SS Maintenance Battalion
  • 2nd SS Medical Battalion

Persons

Kommandeure der 2. SS-Panzer-Division „Das Reich“.jpg

Commanders

Knight's Cross holders (selection)