The 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich was an elite division during World War II. It is considered to be one of the better fighting formations among the thirty-eight divisions fielded by the Waffen-SS.
It served during the invasion of France and took part in several major battles on the Eastern Front (particularly in the Battle of Prokhorovka against the 5th Guards Tank Army at the titanic Battle of Kursk). It was then transferred to the West and took part in the fighting in Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, ending the war with desperate fighting in Hungary and Austria.
The symbol for the Das Reich division was the wolf’s hook, or Wolfsangel. As a whole, the Waffen-SS was found guilty of war crimes in the Nuremberg tribunal, with Das Reich itself being notorious for the Oradour-sur-Glane reprisal.
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Development and History
In August 1939, Adolf Hitler placed the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH) and the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT) under the operational command of the OKH, (Supreme High Command of the German Army). Events during the Invasion of Poland raised doubts over the combat effectiveness of the SS-VT. Himmler insisted that the SS-VT should be allowed to fight in its own formations under its own commanders, while the OKW tried to have the SS-VT disbanded altogether. Hitler was unwilling to upset either the army or Himmler, and chose a third path. He ordered that the SS-VT form its own divisions, but that the divisions would be under army command.
In October 1939, the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT) regiments, Deutschland, Germania and Der Führer, were organized into the SS-Verfügungs-Division with Paul Hausser as commander. Thereafter, the SS-VT and the LSSAH took part in combat training while under army commands in preparation for Operation Fall Gelb against the Low Countries and France in 1940.
In May 1940, the Der Führer Regiment was detached from the SS-VT Division and relocated near the Dutch border, with the remainder of the division behind the line in Münster, awaiting the order to invade the Netherlands. Der Führer Regiment and LSSAH participated in the ground invasion of the Netherlands which began on 10 May. On the following day, the rest of the SS-VT Division crossed into the Netherlands, participating in the drive for the Dutch central front and Rotterdam, which they reached on 12 May. After that city had been captured, the SS-VT Division, along with other German formations, were sent to mop up the remaining French-Dutch force holding out in the area of Zeeland and the islands of Walcheren and South Beveland.
After the fighting in the Netherlands ended, the SS-VT Division was ordered to make for France. On 24 May the LSSAH, along with the SS-VT Division were positioned to hold the perimeter around Dunkirk and reduce the size of the pocket containing the encircled British Expeditionary Force and French forces. A patrol from the SS-VT Division crossed the canal at Saint-Venant, but was destroyed by British armor. A larger force from the SS-VT Division then crossed the canal and formed a bridgehead at Saint-Venant; 30 miles from Dunkirk. On the following day, British forces attacked Saint-Venant, forcing the SS-VT Division to retreat and relinquish ground. On 26 May, the German advance resumed. On 27 May, the Deutschland regiment of the SS-VT Division reached the allied defensive line on the Leie River at Merville. They forced a bridgehead across the river and waited for the SS Division Totenkopf to arrive to cover their flank. What arrived first was a unit of British tanks, which penetrated their position. The SS-VT managed to hold on against the British tank force, which got to within 15 feet of commander Felix Steiner’s position. Only the arrival of the Totenkopf Panzerjäger platoon saved the Deutschland from being destroyed and their bridgehead lost. By 30 May, most of the remaining Allied forces had been pushed back into Dunkirk where they were evacuated by sea to England. The SS-VT Division next took part in the drive towards Paris.
After the close of the Battle of France, the SS-VT was officially renamed the Waffen-SS in July 1940. In December 1940, the Germania Regiment was removed from the Verfügungs-Division and used to form the cadre of a new division, SS Division Germania. It was made up of mostly Danes, Norwegians, Dutch, and Flemish volunteers from the occupied territories. By the start of 1941, the division was renamed Reich and in 1942 “Das Reich”, and Germania was renamed Wiking.
In April 1941, Germany invaded Yugoslavia and Greece. The LSSAH and Das Reich were attached to separate army Panzer Corps. Fritz Klingenberg, a company commander in the Das Reich, led his men across Yugoslavia to the capital, Belgrade, where a small group in the vanguard accepted the surrender of the city on 13 April. A few days later Yugoslavia surrendered.
For the invasion of the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa), Das Reich fought with Army Group Center, taking part in the Battle of Yelnya near Smolensk; it was then in the spearhead of Operation Typhoon aimed at the capture of the Soviet capital. By the time Das Reich took part in the Battle of Moscow, it had lost 60 percent of its combat strength. It was further reduced in the Soviet Winter Counter-Offensive: for example, the Der Führer Regiment was down to 35 men out of the 2,000 that had started the campaign in June. The division was mauled. By February 1942, it had lost 10,690 men. By mid-1942, the division now known as Das Reich was pulled out of the fighting line and sent to the west to refit as a Panzer-Grenadier Division.
In 1943, Das Reich was transferred back from France to the Eastern Front. There it participated in the fighting around Kharkov. Thereafter, it was one of three SS divisions which made up the II SS Panzer Corps, which took part in the Battle of Kursk that summer. Das Reich operated in the southern sector of the Kursk bulge. It was pulled out of the battle along with the other SS divisions when the offensive was discontinued, giving the strategic initiative to the Red Army. The Battle of Kursk was the first time that a German strategic offensive was halted before it could break through enemy defenses and penetrate to its strategic depths. In October, Das Reich was redesignated, this time as SS Panzer Division Das Reich to reflect its complement of tanks.
Beginning on 6 June 1944, the Allied Normandy landings took place on the coast of France. At that time, SS-Das Reich was located in Southern France. The division was ordered north shortly after the Normandy landings occurred. On 4 August, Hitler ordered a counter-offensive (Operation Lüttich) from Vire towards Avranches; the operation included Das Reich. However, the Allied forces were prepared for this offensive, and an air assault on the combined German units proved devastating. Paris was liberated on 25 August, and the last of the German forces withdrew over the Seine by the end of August, ending the Normandy campaign. The U.S. 2nd Armored Division had encircled Das Reich and the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division Götz von Berlichingen around Roncey. In the process Das Reich and 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division had lost most of their armored equipment. Das Reich had about 2,650 men along with 14 75-mm. antitank guns, about 37 artillery pieces, 1 assault gun, and 1 Panther tank with two other tanks in the repair shop by September 1944. The division surrendered to the U.S. Army in May 1945.
Following the war, one of the regimental commander of the division, Otto Weidinger, wrote an apologia of the division under the auspices of HIAG, the revisionist organization and a lobby group of former Waffen-SS members. The unit narrative was extensive and strived for a so-called official representation of their history, backed by maps and operational orders. “No less than 5 volumes and well over 2,000 pages were devoted to the doings of the 2nd Panzer Division Das Reich”, points out the military historian S.P. MacKenzie.
The Das Reich history was published by HIAG’s publishing house Munin Verlag. Its express aim was to publish the war narratives of former Waffen-SS member, and the titles did not go through the rigorous fact-checking processes common in the traditional historical works; they were revisionist accounts unedited by professional historians and presented the former Waffen-SS members’ version of events. The Das Reich divisional history, like other HIAG publications, focused on the positive, heroic side of National Socialism. The French author Jean-Paul Picaper, who studied the Oradour massacre, notes the tendentious nature of Weidinger’s narrative: it provided a sanitized version of history without any references to war crimes.
2nd SS Division – Das Reich – Motorized
- SS-Regiment “Der Führer”.
- SS Regiment “Germany”.
- SS Infantry Regiment 11.
- Flak MG Battalion SS Division “Reich”.
- Kradschützen (motorcyclists) -Division SS-Division “Reich”.
- Artillery Regiment SS Division “Reich”.
- Enlightenment Department SS Division “Reich”.
- Panzerjäger Battalion SS-Division “Reich”.
- Pioneer Battalion SS Division “Reich”.
- Assault Gun Battery SS Division “Reich”
- News Department SS Division “Reich”
- Supply Troops SS-Division “Reich”
2nd SS Panzer Division – Das Reich – 1944 Western Front
- SS Panzer Regiment 2 “The Reich”.
- SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment 3 “Germany”.
- SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment 4 “The Führer”.
- SS Infantry Regiment (mot) “Langemarck”.
- SS Panzer Artillery Regiment 2.
- SS Flak Artillery Division 2.
- SS-Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung 2.
- SS-Nebelwerfer-Abteilung 2.
- SS-Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 2.
- SS-Panzerjäger-Abteilung 2.
- SS-Panzer-Pionier-Bataillon 2.
- SS-Panzer-Nachrichten-Abteilung 2.
- SS-Versorgungs-Einheiten 2.
- October 19, 1939 to October 14, 1941 SS Obergruppenfuhrer and General of the Waffen-SS Paul Hausser.
- October 14 to December 31, 1941 SS Brigadefuhrer and Major General of the Waffen-SS Wilhelm Bittrich (in charge of the leadership).
- December 31, 1941 to April 19, 1942 SS Brigadefuhrer and Major General of the Waffen-SS Matthias Kleinheisterkamp.
- 19 April 1942 to 10 February 1943 SS-Gruppenführer and Lieutenant-General of the Waffen-SS Georg Keppler.
- February 10 to March 18, 1943 SS Brigadefuhrer and Major General of the Waffen-SS Herbert-Ernst Vahl (in charge of the leadership).
- March 18 to April 3, 1943 SS Standartenführer Kurt Brasack.
- 3rd April to 1st November 1943 SS-Gruppenführer and Lieutenant-General of Waffen-SS Walter Krüger.
- December 9, 1943 to July 26, 1944 SS Brigadefuhrer and Major General of the Waffen-SS Heinz Lammerding.
- July 26 to 28, 1944 SS-Obersturmbannführer Christian Tychsen (in charge of the leadership).
- July 28 to early December 1944 SS-Oberführer Otto Baum (in charge of the leadership).
- Early December 1944 to January 20, 1945 SS Brigadefuhrer and Major General of the Waffen-SS Heinz Lammerding.
- January 20 to February 4, 1945 SS Standartenführer Karl Kreutz (in representation).
- February 4 to March 9, 1945 SS-Gruppenführer and Lieutenant-General of the Waffen-SS Werner Ostendorff.
- March 9 to 12, 1945 SS Standartenführer Karl Kreutz (in representation).
- March 12 to April 13, 1945 SS-Standartenführer Rudolf Lehmann (in charge of the leadership).
- April 13 to May 8, 1945 SS Standartenführer Karl Kreutz (in representation).