9.SS-Panzer-Division "Hohenstaufen"

Divisional History

Written by Josef Weiss

Formation & Eastern Front Action

On New Year’s Eve, 1942, Adolf Hitler affirmed the creation of two new elite additions to the Waffen-SS; the 9. SS-Panzergrenadier Division “Hohenstaufen” and the 10. SS-Panzergrenadier Division “Frundsberg”. The designation “Hohenstaufen” was officially appointed in a Divisional Order on March 19, 1943. It was a homage to one of Germany’s ancient noble families, a dynasty of the Holy Roman Empire which provided several kings and emperors between the years 1138 and 1254. 

With the inspiring name of “Hohenstaufen”, the organization of the Division augmented quickly. The cadre of officers were comprised of men from the Germanic Waffen-SS divisions and, for the most part, had been battlefield proven. The struggle at the time was actually fielding enough enlisted ranks. The German armed forces had been fighting on 1 to 2 fronts for the better part of 7 years and after the massive loses suffered on the Eastern Front, there were few men of the correct ages available. Due to this shortage, the Waffen-SS forced large numbers of men to ‘volunteer’. Nearly 70 percent of these recruits were 18 year old conscripts from the Reichsarbeitdienst (National Labour Service).

By February 1943, enough troops had been mobilized to move the Division from the parade grounds at Berlin-Lichterfelde to a proper training area at Mailly-le-Camp, east of Paris. Hohenstaufen would pass through various regions of France as they trained and mobilized. Thorough combat training was stressed, including defense against airborne assaults, a feature that later greatly helped this Division in the defense of Arnhem. By October 1943, the Division was upgraded to a full Panzer Division status and was renamed 9.SS-Panzer-Division “Hohenstaufen”. By late March of 1944, Hohenstaufen, along with its sister Division ”Frundsberg” were deemed combat ready, which was just in time for a Soviet Offensive, which brought Russian Forces to the front door of the Polish border. 

Hitler was still extremely reluctant to release his 2 newly formed divisions to the Eastern front this early on in their formation. The Führer soon realized, however, that he had  virtually no choice due to the scarce reserve formations under Heersgruppe (Army Group) Süd, which provided zero relief for the nearly encircled, 1. Panzerarmee under General Hube. Hohenstaufen arrived on the Eastern Front by Train, and on April 5th, participated in a German counter-attack against the First Soviet Tank Army in the Tarnopol region. By the 9th of April, Hohenstaufen along with other elements of the II.SS Panzerkorps, broke through Soviet lines at Buczacz, and made contact with the 6th Panzer Division. This, essentially, freed the entire 1. Panzerarmee from encirclement.  Anecdotal evidence from a Hohenstaufen veteran from 12.Kp./Pz.Gren.Rgt 19 cited that during this action, the Soviets attacked in waves of ten deep, but only the first 5 or so lines were wielding weapons. 

Throughout the rest of April and May, the main body of 9.SS-PzD, acted as a reserve force for Heersgruppe Norduktraine, attempting refitting. It was not until June 12th, that Generalfeldmarschall Model, under direction of the Führer himself, passed on the order that Hohenstaufen, along with the rest of the II.SS Panzerkorps will be immediately transferred to France to help aid in the defense of the Normandy area. 

Normandy / Falaise Gap

With a massive committment of men and material, the Allied invasion of France began on June 6th, 1944. The first British and American landing waves succeeded in setting foot on the Contentin Peninsula, Calvados Coast, and the mouth of the Orne River. By June 20th, the entire 9.SS-Panzer-Division was inland of the French border and moved to the south of Anuay-sur-Odan, to their staging area. At this point, the Division was composed roughly of 18,000 men, 170 tanks, 21 self-propelled guns, 287 armoured halftrack personnel carriers, 17 armoured cars, 18 armoured artillery pieces and 3,000 or so other miscellaneous vehicles.

The only German chance to smash the Allied landings in Normandy lay in immediate unit attacks by mechanized armoured forces. Hitler’s intention for II.SS Panzerkorps Division’s Hohenstaufen and Frundsberg was, due to their hardened combat status from experience on the Eastern Front, to spearhead a major counterattack on Bayeux. This would effectively drive a wedge between the English and American forces and then roll them up from their flanks and destroy them. Before this counterattack could be executed, the English struck first.

The British operation, codenamed ‘Charnwood’ was a major offensive in an effort to capture the city of Caen. This prompted a new plan of attack for II.SS Panzerkorps: Hohenstaufen and Frundsberg were ordered to attack both sides of the Odon River toward the northeast in order to destroy the southeastward approaching enemy and clear the Villers-Bocage – Caen Highway. Hohenstaufen engaged British forces between June 28th-30th between the Odon River and the Villers-Bocage until heavy RAF saturation bombing forced Hohenstaufen back to the Divisional Command Post at Le Mesnil. By July 10th, the Allies launched another offensive, codenamed ‘Jupiter’. One of the main objectives of ‘Jupiter’ was to capture a notable area between the Odon and Orne rivers known as ‘Hill 112’. Hill 112 was of strategic importance because who ever held that territory, held the ground beyond the bridge over the Odon. It was at Hill 112 that Hohenstaufen would yet again come across heavy British forces, specifically the British VIII Corps. Hohenstaufen’s defense of the high ground at Hill 112 was rigorous and stubborn, with massive losses on both sides. The British 43rd Division lost more than 2,000 men in the first 2 days of fighting alone. At the end of this confrontation Hohenstaufen, along with the rest of II.SS Panzerkorps successfully held the high ground between the Odon and Orne in a battle that continuously shifted from attack to defense

It was around this time that Field Marshall Montgomery came to the realization that directly attacking elite SS armoured formations, like Hohenstaufen, was an exercise in futility. In the next Allied offensive, Monty targeted a depleted and exhausted 326th Infantry Division, which was one of the weakest of the front line German Forces, at Beny-Bocage. The depleted Infantry Division, supported by Jadgpanther Assault guns managed to temporarily halt the British from capturing the town of Vire. This bought them enough time to mobilize a counter-attacking force. By August 1st, Hohenstaufen was brought in, and a Divisional counterattack took place trapping multiple British Divisions beyond Preles, south of Beny-Bocage. Nearly a week of intense fighting ensued which inevitably ended up in the Allied capture of Presles, but at a high price with no resources to continue their assault any further.

With the confusion of German Forces repeatedly having to ‘band-aid’ certain areas of their various front line forces, as per the example of Hohenstaufen acting as a supporting unit for the 326th Infantry Division, the Allied forces were able to take advantage of this and gain the upperhand. By August 17th, Allied Forces succeeded in surrounding the remains of  15 German Divisions inside of an area 20 miles long and 10 miles wide. This encircled zone became known as the Falaise Pocket. Among the forces trapped there was Hohenstaufen. All together the amount of besieged troops numbered around 100,000 men. The only possible escape was through a small gap between Falaise and Chambois, beside the Dives River. The Allies were very much aware of this narrow opening and thus heavy fighting ensued. By August 18th, the pocket had shrunk to as small as 5 miles by seven miles. Hohenstaufen played a pivotal role in keeping this gap open so that German forces could keep a steady flow of retreating forces passing through. Finally, on August 21st, Hohenstaufen alongside the 12.SS-Panzer-Division “Hitlerjugend” and other mixed German forces made one last assault on the gap, allowing additional German forces to successfully retreat. However by 16:30 that day, by direct order of SS-Obergruppenführer Wilhelm Bittrich,  II.SS Panzerkorps was to pull back which, in turn, meant the end for any remaining German forces still within the pocket. When the Allies completed their encirclement, there was between 50,000-60,000 troops still left within the pocket. Having suffered heavy losses during the defense and retreat from the Falaise Pocket, Hohenstaufen pulled back across the Seine River into Belgium and neighboring Holland with the intention of extensive refitting and reorganization. The 9.SS-Panzer-Division had performed well in France, despite losing almost 20% of its original strength.

Defense of Arnhem

Due to the mauling Hohenstaufen had received in Northern France and during its subsequent retreat, the Division required extensive reorganization and resupply. By September 7th 1944, the Division had reached the Velwue area, north of Arnhem.  However 3 days later, on September 10th, official orders came down from OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht) that Hohenstaufen would be sent back to Germany for rest and replenishment, while its sister Division Frundsberg, would stay and refit in Holland. This also came along with an additional order that all working weapons and vehicles be relinquished from 9.SS forces and be turned over to Frundsberg. This did not go over so well with Divisional leadership of Hohenstaufen and, subsequently, only partially carried out by the troops. In some noted cases, the tracks were simply unhooked from fully usable SPW’s (halftrack’s) and Panzer’s so that troops could deem those vehicles ”In need of repair” and thus not needing to be turned over.

On September 13th, the Divisional transfer to the Reich began, starting out with all specialist and technical officers, Division staff, and supply personnel.  The remaining combat capable unit’s would remain in Arhem and assemble into Kampfgruppen (improvised combined arms formations), until all rear operating personnel were transferred first. These Kampfgruppen could, in the event of a crisis, be ready for service with short notice and commit to the front, if needed. Hohenstaufen’s combat capable units, including SS-Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 9, were officialy redesignated as SS-Kampfgruppe Hohenstaufen. However, on September 17th, just as the main body of Hohenstaufen were due to set off on the journey back to the Father Land, the skies above  Arnhem filled with British Parartoopers. The stage was set for, what would turn out to be, the largest Airborne operation of the war; Operation Market Garden.

Market Garden was intended to be a lightning fast assault on vital bridges deep within German held territory. 3 Airborne Divisions, the 101st, 82nd, and the 1st (British) were to drop deep into occupied Holland and would be responsible for capturing 3 vital bridgeheads. Then the British XXX Corps, would be complimenting the attackson the ground and manage to cross all 3 bridges, over the Rheine River and into Germany. Most of SS-KGR Hohenstaufen would exclusively engage in battle with the 1st Airborne Division, as it was their objective to capture the Arnhem Bridge, which Hohenstaufen was tasked in defending, as well as the surrounding areas. 

SS-KGR Hohenstaufen would battle British paratroopers throughout the following week, at Oosterbeek, Arnhem and areas in between. The Brits managed to set up a strong hold on the south side of Arnhem Bridge, but after days without reinforcements breaking through from the Nijmegen Bridge, capitulation was imminent. By September 20th, SS-Pz.Aufkl.Abt. 9 made a decisive assault on the Arnhem Bridge, and succeeded in pushing the lighly armed British paratroops back from their positions. The following day saw a determined push by elements of Hohenstaufen to wipe out the British 1st Airborne Division. This assault drove the Brits who were still occupying Arnhem all the way back into Oosterbeek, where they had been days before. Ths time however, they became encircled as additional men of SS-KGR Harzer managed to cut their retreat short. On September 25th, after a valiant effort from the British 43rd Wessex Division who were less than five miles from Arnhem, Hohenstaufen’s strong defensive blocking line proved too much for them to break through to their comrades at Oosterbeek. A few Allied troops managed to escape but by the end of the week on Friday, September 29th, the remaining British forces surrendered. Over 6,000 soldiers were taken prisoner, an overwhelming victory for Hohenstaufen and the rest of the defensive forces. News of this Allied defeat was received with great joy by Hitler, who awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross to SS-Kampfgruppe Hohenstaufen’s commander SS-Standartenführer Walter Harzer.

Refitting & Ardennes Offensive

 Before Hohenstaufen went under intense action during the defense of Arnhem, the unit was already in desperate need of a refit. Afterwards, it was even worse. In early October 1944 ,they were moved to Bad Salzuflen, Westphalia, for rest and reorganization as part of the 6th SS Panzer Armee, under command of SS-Oberstgruppenfuehrer Josef ‘Sepp’ Dietrich. As part of the reorganization, SS-Kampfgruppe Harzer was incorporated into Hohenstaufen along with extra men sourced from the Luftwaffe and other various battle-scarred units. While the refit was underway, the Division was trained in night-fighting manuevers as well as how to operate with the other elems of the 6.SS-Panzer-Armee. On December 12, 1944 Hohenstaufen, along with the rest of 6th SS-PA was moved to Bad Muenstereifel, near Aachen in readiness for its next operation in the Ardennes. 
 

Hitler’s last offensive on the Western Front was a push through the Ardennes Forest in Belgium. This was initially named Unternehmen ‘Herbstnebel’ (Operation Autumn Mist), but then renamed ‘Wacht am Rhein’ (Watch on the Rhine). This eventually became known as the infamous Battle of the Bulge. The OKW did their best to dissuade Hitler from moving foward with this operation but he could not be reasoned with. His hope was that his forced could inflict enough of a mauling on the Allies for them to agree to a peace deal. This would avoid Germany being invaded from the west and would allow his armies to focus on fighting back the Soviet Red Army. Hitler used all of his reserve troops and resources on this offensive, so it was clear if this operation failed, the war was effectively all over for Germany. The operation was commanded by Generalfeldmarschall Walther Model, commanding Armeegruppe B. Hohenstaufen, along with the rest of the 6.SS-PA was tasked with taking control of the bridges over the Meuse River near Liege, and then the city of Antwerp. This was the Allies’ principal supply port, and so of major strategic importance. 

The Ardennes Offensive, which began at 05:30 on December 16th, started with a massive artillery barrage from just about every piece the German’s could lay their hands on. In the early stages of the offensive, only parts of Hohenstaufen were engaged, including SS-Panzer-Aufklaerungs-Abteilung 9. The rest of the Division after the capture of St. Vith. For most of its time in the Ardennes, Hohenstaufen fought alongside the 2.SS-Panzer-Division and the 560th Division. 9.SS got further than any of the other SS Divisions, but even still, only reached Salmchateau, not even half way to their objective. 12.SS-HJ had stalled and 1.SS-LAH had ran out of fuel. One of the major weaknesses of Hitler’s plan was that it relied on the Panzer Divisions capturing American fuel dumps as they advanced. When this failed to happen, they had no reserve supplies to keep them moving. 

With the entire German advance of the operation effectively halted, this gave the Allies an opportunity for a counter-attack, with the possibility of full encirclement. By December 31, Hohenstaufen had to withdraw from their positions and turned them over to the 12. Infanterie Division so as to be able to move south to help in a final desperate assault on the strategic crossroads town of Bastogne. Despite a heavy onslaught, the American forces stood their ground, and when the weather improved and the fog cleared, massive Allied air bombardments took place. This turned the final, all or nothing, attack on Bastogne into a retreat. Hohenstaufen then saw some brief action in the area of Longchamps, Belgium before it was pulled off the front line on January 8th. Overall, the Ardennes Offensive was a disaster. The roads through the forests between Malmedy and St. Vith were too dense for the passage of heavy armour. On top of that, the Americans wasted no time blowing up the major bridges in the area. This meant that the heavy armour had to travel further than expected, which resulted in major fuel shortages. Progress was much too slow for the operation to succeed, and it gave the Allies enough time to organize a robust defense. When the offensive came to a complete close, German losses totaled roughly 100,000 killed, wounded or captured. They also lost the majority of their, already dwindling, resources and had very little left over to aid in the eventual defense of their homeland. 

Final Action in Hungary / Austria & Surrender

After the collapse of the Ardennes Offensive, Hohenstaufen was sent to the Kaufenheim-Mayen area for a refit. There the division enjoyed a brief spell of rest and rehabilitation, but since the 6th SS Panzer Armee was listed as a OKW reserve, it was soon called back into action. This time the Division was sent, yet again, to the east. Two SS-Divisions, the 8th SS Calvary Division ‘Florian Geyer’ and Hungarian 21st SS Cavalry Division ‘Maria Theresa’, had become encircled in Budapest by the advancing Red Army forces. The 6th SS PA was needed to help break them out. 

They were moved to Falubattyan at the end of February, but terrible weather conditions and poor roads prevented them from getting through to the Danube river in time to be of any help to their besieged comrades. The Russian forces put up stiff resistance around the town of Sarosd, and then struck back decisively, severing the Germany supply lines to the north of Lake Velencei on March 16th.  All the German units in the area fared badly, but Hohenstaufen suffered particularly heavy losses. This forced the 6th SS PA to retreat, but when Hitler was was given this news, he went into one of his furious tirades, claiming that the men had not tried hard enough. 

He ordered the 1st, 2nd, 9th and 12th SS Panzer Divisions to surrender their prized cufftitles. One story has it that some men did, indeed, remove their bands. They placed them into a chamber pot, along with a severed arm, and sent the whole ensemble back to Berlin; the rest simply ignored the order. Once again the remnants of Hohenstaufen fought a rearguard action, allowing many other German units to get away. Many of these battles were extremely heavy, and as they were pushed back eventually all the way to the Reichsschutzstellung (Reich protective position, which was a defensive barrier on the south-east of the Reich near Radkersburg. 

Following Hohenstaufen’s fighting retreat from Hungary, the Division had been formed into two seperate Kampfgruppen, still under the 6th SS-PA. After fierce battles with the Soviets in Vienna and were ordered to mvoe to Amstetten to help delay the American advance. After this, they were moved to the Enns-Steyr-Amstetten area on May 1st, where they surrendered to the Americans as part of capitulation of all German forces. They marched into captivity, with their heads held high, on May 8th.

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