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101st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion
101st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion (in German Schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101) was one of the Waffen-SS’s elite armored units. With the introduction of new Tiger II tanks in late 1944, it was redesignated the 501st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion.
It was created on July 19, 1943, as a part of the I SS Panzer Corps, by forming two new heavy tank companies consisting of Tiger I tanks and incorporating the 13th (Heavy) Company of the 1st SS Panzer Regiment. It was attached to 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte and sent to Italy on August 23, 1943, where it stayed until mid-October. The 1st and 2nd company were then sent to the Eastern Front while the rest of the unit stayed in the West.
With the anticipated Allied invasion of Western Europe approaching, elements of the battalion in the East were ordered to the West in April 1944. On June 1, 1944, the battalion was located near Beauvais, north-west of Paris. Of its 45 Tigers, 37 were operational and eight more were under repair. With the D-Day landings on June 6, it was ordered to Normandy where it arrived on June 12. The battalion lost 15 of its 45 Tigers by July 5, including in the Battle of Villers-Bocage.
At this time the units’ surplus crews began outfitting with the new Tiger II tanks. By August 7 the division left in Normandy had 25 Tigers of which 21 were operational. On August 8, 1944, three of their seven Tigers, committed to a counter-attack near Saint-Aignan-de-Cramesnil, were destroyed by British Sherman Fireflies, and two more were destroyed by the 27th Canadian Armored Regiment, killing Michael Wittmann. The battalion lost virtually all its remaining Tigers in the Falaise pocket and the subsequent German retreat from France.
On September 9, the remains of the unit were ordered to rest and refit with the new Tiger IIs. With this change on September 22, 1944, it was redesignated the 501st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion. On March 15, 1945, it reported a strength of 32 tanks, of which eight were operational.
I SS Panzer Corps
The I SS Panzer Corps (German: I.SS-Panzerkorps) was a German armoured corps of the Waffen-SS. It saw action on both the Western and Eastern Fronts during World War II.
Formation and Training
The corps was raised on 26 July 1943 in Berlin-Lichterfeld, with initial mustering taking place on the Truppenübungsplatz at Beverloo, in occupied Belgium. SS-Obergruppenführer Sepp Dietrich, previously the commander of the SS Division Leibstandarte (LSSAH), became the corps’ first commander.
In August 1943, the corps was transferred to Meran in Italy, where it took part in operations to disarm Italian troops. After this, the corps continued its training, being sporadically engaged in anti-partisan operations in northern Italy. By December 1943, the corps was fully formed and deemed ready for action, with its HQ being set up in Brussels in early 1944.
In April 1944, the corps was moved to Septeuil, to the west of Paris, where it was assigned the SS Division Leibstandarte, SS Division Hitlerjugend, Panzer Lehr Division and the SS Division Götz von Berlichingen. The corps was attached to 5th Panzer Army, the Western theatre’s armoured reserve.
With the launch of Operation Overlord, the allied invasion of France on 6 June 1944, the corps was ordered to Falaise. The Hitlerjugend engaged British and Canadian troops to the north of Caen on 8 June. The corps was tasked with holding the area of Caen and saw heavy fighting around the villages of Authie, Buron and the airport at Carpiquet.
After the launch of the American Operation Cobra, which destroyed the Panzer Lehr Division, the corps was ordered to take part in Operation Lüttich, the abortive counter-offensive towards Avranches. The corps was caught in the Falaise Pocket, where they fought to maintain a corridor for the trapped German forces, losing all their armour and materiel in the process. After the collapse of the front, the corps retreated to the Franco-German border.
Battle of the Bulge
In early October 1944, the corps was pulled back from the front line for rest and refit in Westfalen. Refitting was complete by early December, and it was ordered to the Ardennes region to join Sepp Dietrich’s Sixth SS Panzer Army, in preparation for an offensive codenamed Wacht Am Rhein, and the ensuing Battle of the Bulge. The corps played a major role in the battle with Kampfgruppe Peiper of the Leibstandarte forming a mobile spearhead. After several weeks heavy fighting with severely limited fuel supplies, and heavy Allied air attacks, the corps was exhausted. The offensive had to be called off. Kampfgruppe Peiper became infamous during the battle for the murder of U.S. prisoners of war in what became known as the Malmedy massacre. In the wake of the defeat, the corps along with the remainder of Dietrich’s Army, was moved to Hungary.
Hungary and Austria
The Germans launched a pincer movement north and south of Lake Balaton as part of Operation Spring Awakening on 6 March 1945. This area included some of the last oil reserves still available to the Axis. The attack was spearheaded by the 6th SS Panzer Army and included the corps, made up of elite units such as the LSSAH and Hitlerjugend SS divisions. Dietrich’s army made “good progress” at first, but as they drew near the Danube, the combination of the muddy terrain and strong Soviet resistance ground them to a halt. On 16 March, the Soviets forces counterattacked in strength, which forced the entire southern front to retreat towards Vienna. The German forces, including the LSSAH and the Hitlerjugend divisions could not hold Vienna, which fell to the Soviet forces on 13 April. The Germans units then retreated into Hungary. Thereafter, the bulk of the LSSAH surrendered to US forces near Steyr and the SS Division Hitlerjugend surrendered to US troops near the town of Enns, Austria on 8 May 1945.