|Panzergrenadier Division "Großdeutschland" (Greater Germany)|
Divisional insignia of Panzergrenadier-Division Großdeutschland
|Active||Created 1942, Surrendered 1945|
|Part of||Expanded from Regiment to become Motorized Infantry Division 1942 and Panzergrenadier Division 1943.|
|Garrison/HQ||Berlin, Cottbus, Akhtyrka|
|Nickname||die Feuerwehr (The Fire Brigade)|
|Engagements||Barbarossa, Orel, Kursk|
|Generalmajor Hasso von Manteuffel|
Großdeutschland is sometimes mistakenly perceived as being a part of the Waffen-SS, but it was actually a Heer unit. It was, along with the Panzer-Lehr-Division, the best-equipped unit in the German Armed Forces (Wehrmacht), receiving equipment before all other units (including Waffen-SS units). The GD Division was annihilated near Pillau in May 1945.
The roots of the Division can be traced to 1921, and the formation of the initial guard units in Berlin that would become Infantry Regiment Großdeutschland. The Regiment saw action in France in 1940, and was attached to Panzer Group 2 in the opening phases of Barbarossa, being all but annihilated in the fighting outside of Moscow in late 1941. On the last day of February 1942, Rifle Battalion GD (all that was left of the original Regiment) was disbanded and two battalions formed a new GD Regiment out of reinforcements arriving from Neuruppin. The Regiment moved to Orel after a period in the front line, and on 1 Apr 1942, arising out of the need for new motorized formations for the summer offensives of 1942, an announcement was made at a regimental parade at Rjetschiza:
While resting and refitting near Orel, the Infantry Regiment Großdeutschland reorganized and expanded to become Infanterie-Division Großdeutschland (mot). The existing Regiment became Infanterie-Regiment Großdeutschland 1, and was joined by the newly formed Infanterie-Regiment Großdeutschland 2. Supporting units in the form of a Panzer battalion, an assault gun battalion and increased flak, artillery and engineers were added with the upgrade to divisional status.
After the reorganization, the Großdeutschland Division was assigned to XLVIII. Panzerkorps during the opening phases of Fall Blau, the assault on Stalingrad. The division took part in the successful attacks to cross the upper Don river and to capture Voronezh. In August, the division was pulled back to the north bank of the Donets and held as a mobile reserve and fire-brigade counterattack force. After the Soviet Operation Uranus, the Division was involved in heavy winter fighting near Rzhev.
In January-February 1943, Großdeutschland and XLVIII.Panzerkorps, along with the II SS Panzer Corps took part in the Third Battle of Kharkov. The division fought alongside the 1.SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, 2.SS Division Das Reich and 3.SS Division Totenkopf during these battles. After the fall of Kharkov, the Großdeutschland was again pulled back and refitted. At this time, the division was equipped with a company of Tiger 1s, an unusual addition making GD the only Panzergrenadier division to have its own heavy tanks, and the only non-Waffen SS division at that time to have its own Tigers (they were normally deployed in independent heavy tank battalions).
In June 1943, with the addition of armoured personnel carriers and Tigers the division was redesignated Panzergrenadier-Division Großdeutschland, though in reality it now had more armoured vehicles than most full scale panzer divisions.
The newly re-equipped division was attached to the German Fourth Panzer Army of Generaloberst Hermann Hoth, and was to take a major role (again paired with the SS-Panzerkorps) in Operation Citadel, the battles to sever the Kursk salient. During the buildup period, a battalion of new Panther Ausf. D tanks came under the operational control of Großdeutschland. After the launch of Citadel, the division was heavily engaged in the fight to penetrate the southern flank of the salient. The new Panthers were plagued by technical problems, suffering from engine fires and mechanical breakdowns, many before reaching the battle. The division fought on until it was pulled back to Tomarovka on 18 July 1943.
After the canceled Kursk offensive, the division was transferred back to Heeresgruppe Mitte, and resumed its role as mobile reserve. The Tiger tank company was expanded to an entire battalion, becoming the III. Bataillon of the Panzer Regiment. GD saw heavy fighting around Karachev before being transferred back to XLVIII Panzerkorps in late August. For the rest of 1943, Großdeutschland was engaged in the fighting withdrawal from the eastern Ukraine, taking part in battles around Kharkov, Belgorod, and finally on the Dnieper, ending the year fighting strong enemy forces near Michurin-Rog, east of Krivoi-Rog. It was during this period that the division earned the nickname "die Feuerwehr" (The Fire Brigade).
Großdeutschland continued fighting in the area of Krivoi-Rog early in January 1944 until it was transferred west for rest and refit. During this period, 1./Panzer Regiment 26 (Panther) joined the Panzer Regiment GD, and GD's I. Bataillon moved to France to refit and train with the new tanks; they did not rejoin the Division until after the Normandy invasion.
Over the next months, the division continued moving from crisis-point to crisis-point across the front. Panzer Regiment Großdeutschland saw action in the battles to relieve the Cherkassy pocket in late January 1944 while the rest of the division was involved in heavy fighting from the Dniester to Northern Bessarabia. On 4 March 1944 the First, Second and Third Ukrainian Fronts launched a major attack on the north, central and southern flanks of Army Group South, and GD moved to Kirovgrad, bolstering weak parts of the line until withdrawn to Rovnoye to the southwest. On 16 March the division began the move to the Dniester River, and by the end of March had entered Romania.
In April 1944, GD. as a part of LVII.Panzerkorps. fought defensive battles near Iaşi, including the First Battle of Târgu Frumos, slowly retreating to Târgul Frumos in Moldavia. Fighting in the region raged for over a month. A renewed Soviet offensive began on 2 May, aimed at breaking through GD and onto the Romanian oil fields. The defensive action at the Second Battle of Târgu Frumos was the focus of several NATO studies during the Cold War.
In mid May, the infantry and reconnaissance components of the division were equipped with armored personnel carriers (Schützenpanzerwagen) and other armoured vehicles. The Füsilier regiments were downsized from four battalions to three. The division was then sent back to the front, where it was involved in the fighting around Podul. After a brief rest in early July, the division was again committed to heavy fighting in northern Romania.
In late July, the division was transferred to East Prussia. Over the next months, Großdeutschland was involved in heavy fighting in both East Prussia and the Baltic States, suffering immense casualties in both men and materiel. The division was virtually annihilated during the battles in the Memel bridgehead.
In November 1944, while the division retained its status as a Panzergrenadier division, several attached units were expanded to divisional status, and the Panzerkorps Großdeutschland was formed.
The Corps was made up primarily of two Divisions - Großdeutschland and the Brandenburg Division, which had a lineage which was strongly linked to the Großdeutschland.
By March 1945, the Panzergrenadier Division Großdeutschland had been reduced to around 4,000 men. These escaped by ferry from the collapsing Memel bridgehead. They landed at Pillau and were put straight back into combat. By 25 April 1945, the division ceased to exist, having been completely destroyed in the battles around Pillau. Of the survivors only a few hundred were able to make their way to Schleswig-Holstein and surrendered to British forces. The majority of the men were left behind and were forced to surrender to the Russians where they often faced a fatal and indefinite amount of time in Russian Labor Camps (Gulags).
Panzergrenadier Division Kurmark had been created out of Großdeutschland remnants in early 1945 and had fought throughout the last months of the war. Men of both the Brandenburg and Kurmark units were entitled to wear Großdeutschland insignia.
Hasso von Manteuffel, 1 February 1944
As a celebration of their elite status, the Großdeutschland was permitted to wear unique insignia. An intertwined GD was displayed on the shoulder straps, and a cuff title, of the type granted to Waffen-SS units, was also distributed. Some examples of the green cuff title worn by Infantry Regiment Großdeutschland were still seen late in the war, but the most common title was the pattern introduced in 1940, with Sütterlin script on a black backing. All divisional elements were granted this cuff title. As an Army formation, Großdeutschland was ordered to wear their cuff title on the right sleeve, since the SS wore theirs on the left.
The unit became known in the West through the book The Forgotten Soldier, by the Alsatian veteran Guy Sajer (a pseudonym), who served as a volunteer. The book was first published in 1967 in France as Le Soldat Oublié. While the historical accuracy of Sajer's autobiographical work has been questioned, it nevertheless offers a vivid and moving account of the horrors of war on the Eastern Front. A more recent account was written by Alfred Nowotny, entitled The Good Soldier, which focuses on both his experiences in Panzerfüsilier Regiment GD from 1944, but also his captivity in the Soviet Union after the German surrender. Jurgen Herbst, emeritus professor of history at the University of Wisconsin, recounts his experience as a young volunteer who joined the Division in 1945 in his book Requiem for a German Past.
Divisional Staff (32 Officers, 143 NCOs and enlisted)
maps and the divisional war diary, liaison with neighbouring units, and structuring component units of the division.
On formation of GD as a Panzergrenadier Division, a 219 man Divisional Escort Company was added to Divisional headquarters. Modelled after the escort companies of Waffen SS Divisions, this unit was intended to guard divisional headquarters, serve as a mobile reserve, and was in essence a small battle group suited to all operational circumstances. It included, according to varying sources, some or all of the following:
Military Police Troop - Numbering one platoon of men, the Military Police detachment (recruited like the rest of the Army's MPs from civilian police) were equipped with light cars and motorcycles. Almost all military policemen not holding officer rank were NCOs (Unteroffizier or higher) excepting some drivers, in order to provide authority for their duties - including maintenance of discipline, but most importantly collection of prisoners and traffic control duties. GD had several hundred motorized vehicles which had to be moved over great distances both rapidly and efficiently.
Responsible for recruitment and propaganda literature. GD was fairly unique in having its own correspondents permanently assigned to the division.
As for Panzergrenadier Regiment GD, above
Reorganizations in June 1943 involved renumbering the 3.7 FlaK batteries 1 and 2, and the addition of 6 Battery
Upon expansion to a panzergrenadier Division, this battalion adopted golden-yellow waffenfarbe and cavalry traditions for all its companies.
This company was outfitted with armoured personnel carriers after Kursk.
Formed from 16th Company, Infantry Regiment GD and the 192nd Assault Gun Battalion.
Formed from IR GD Signals Company and remnants of 309th Signals Battalion
Formed from IR GD Supply Services
|Generalmajor (later Generalleutnant) Walther Hoernlein||1 April 1942 - 27 January 1944|
|General der Panzertruppen Hermann Balck (temporary command)||3 Apr 1943 - 30 Jun 1943|
|Generalleutnant Hasso von Manteuffel||27 January 1944 - 1 September 1944|
|Oberst Karl Lorenz||1 September 1944 - May 1945|
|Artillery Regiment GD|
|Oberst Georg Jauer||15 Mar 1942 - Dec 1942|
|Hauptmann Dr. Ritter|
|Panzer Regiment GD|
|Oberst Hyazinth Graf Strachwitz von Gross-Zauche und Camminetz||January 1943 - November 1943|
|Major Pfeffer (PanzerAbteilung 51, in temporary command of Pz Regt GD)|
|Oberst Büsing||(Killed in Action 8 March 1944)|
|Oberst Willi Langkeit||1 March 1944 - 1 November 1944|
|Oberstleutnant Bruno Kahl||1 November 1944 - May 1945|
|Oberst Köhler||1 Apr 1942 - 1 Dec 1942 (Killed in Action)|
|Oberst Karl Lorenz||1 Dec 1942 - 14 Dec 1942|
|Oberst Kurt Moehring||14 Dec 1942 - 14 Jan 1943|
|Oberst Karl Lorenz||14 Jan 1943 - 1 August 1944|
|Major Hugo Schimmel||1 August 1944 - August 1944|
|Major Harald Kriegk (?)||October 1944|
|Major Wolfgang Heesemann||November 1944 - Feb 1945 (Killed in Action)|
|Major Krützman||Feb 1945 - War's End|
|Oberst Eugen Garski||1 Apr 1942 - 30 Sep 1942 (Killed in Action)|
|Oberst Erich Kahsnitz||21 Oct 1942 - 3 July 1943 (fatally wounded and died of wounds on 29 July 1943 in Germany)|
|Oberst Schulte-Heuthaus||7 July 1943 - 4 Sep 1943 (Wounded in action)|
|Major Rudolf Watjen||4 Sep 1943 - 18 Sep 1943|
|Major Wack||18 Sep 1943 - 15 Oct 1943|
|Oberst Horst Niemack||16 Oct 1943 - 24 August 1944|
|Oberst Heinz Wittchow von Brese-Winiary||3 Sep 1944 - 13 Feb 1945 (Dismissed, captured 18 Feb 1945)|
|Oberstleutnant Maxemilian Fabich||13 Feb 1945 - May 1945|
The book German Army and Genocide (ISBN 1-56584-525-0) mentions the following incident, from the invasion of Yugoslavia:
Part of the photographic presentation for the book includes a photo where the GD cuff title on the officer is clearly visible. The official GD history by Helmuth Spaeter mentions only that "Draconian measures were occasionally required to halt looting by the civilian population" in Belgrade. The events of 21 April in Pancevo are not discussed directly, though many references are made to "security duties" in Yugoslavia.
The subject of Grossdeutschland's complicity in war crimes was the subject of the book by Omer Bartov The Eastern Front, 1941-45, German Troops, and the Barbarization of Warfare (1986, ISBN 0-312-22486-9). The link, however, between GD's and atrocities is never fully realized. A complete discussion is available at the GD for CM website.