3rd SS Division Totenkopf
Overview
 
The SS Division Totenkopf ("Death's Head"), also known as 3. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Totenkopf and 3. SS-Panzer-Division Totenkopf, was one of the 38 divisions
Division (military)
A division is a large military unit or formation usually consisting of between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers. In most armies, a division is composed of several regiments or brigades, and in turn several divisions typically make up a corps...

 fielded by the Waffen-SS
Waffen-SS
The Waffen-SS was a multi-ethnic and multi-national military force of the Third Reich. It constituted the armed wing of the Schutzstaffel or SS, an organ of the Nazi Party. The Waffen-SS saw action throughout World War II and grew from three regiments to over 38 divisions, and served alongside...

 during World War II. Prior to achieving division status, the formation was known as Kampfgruppe Eicke. The division is infamous due to its insignia and the fact that most of the initial enlisted soldiers were SS-Totenkopfverbände
SS-Totenkopfverbände
SS-Totenkopfverbände , meaning "Death's-Head Units", was the SS organization responsible for administering the Nazi concentration camps for the Third Reich....

 (SS concentration camp guards).

The Totenkopf division was numbered with the "Germanic" divisions of the Waffen-SS.
Encyclopedia
The SS Division Totenkopf ("Death's Head"), also known as 3. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Totenkopf and 3. SS-Panzer-Division Totenkopf, was one of the 38 divisions
Division (military)
A division is a large military unit or formation usually consisting of between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers. In most armies, a division is composed of several regiments or brigades, and in turn several divisions typically make up a corps...

 fielded by the Waffen-SS
Waffen-SS
The Waffen-SS was a multi-ethnic and multi-national military force of the Third Reich. It constituted the armed wing of the Schutzstaffel or SS, an organ of the Nazi Party. The Waffen-SS saw action throughout World War II and grew from three regiments to over 38 divisions, and served alongside...

 during World War II. Prior to achieving division status, the formation was known as Kampfgruppe Eicke. The division is infamous due to its insignia and the fact that most of the initial enlisted soldiers were SS-Totenkopfverbände
SS-Totenkopfverbände
SS-Totenkopfverbände , meaning "Death's-Head Units", was the SS organization responsible for administering the Nazi concentration camps for the Third Reich....

 (SS concentration camp guards).

The Totenkopf division was numbered with the "Germanic" divisions of the Waffen-SS. These included also the SS-Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, SS-Panzer Division Das Reich, and SS-Panzer Division Wiking.

Formation and Fall Gelb

The SS Division Totenkopf was formed in October 1939. The Totenkopf was initially formed from concentration camp guards of the 1st (Oberbayern), 2nd (Brandenburg) and 3rd (Thüringen) Standarten (regiments) of the SS-Totenkopfverbände, and soldiers from the SS-Heimwehr Danzig
SS Heimwehr Danzig
SS Heimwehr "Danzig" was an SS unit established in the Free City of Danzig before the Second World War. It fought with the German army against the Polish Army during the invasion of Poland...

. The division had officers from the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT), of whom many had seen action in Poland. The division was commanded by SS-Obergruppenführer Theodor Eicke
Theodor Eicke
Theodor Eicke was a SS Obergruppenführer , commander of the SS-Division Totenkopf of the Waffen-SS and one of the key figures in the establishment of concentration camps in Nazi Germany. His Nazi Party number was 114,901 and his SS number was 2,921...

. Through the Battle of France the division was generally equipped with ex-Czech weapons.

Having missed the Polish campaign
Fall Weiss
Fall Weiss translates as Case White following the German military's naming convention.Fall Weiss may refer to two military operations:* Fall Weiss , the German strategic plan for a war with Poland...

, Totenkopf was initially held in reserve during the assault into France and the Low Countries
Low Countries
The Low Countries are the historical lands around the low-lying delta of the Rhine, Scheldt, and Meuse rivers, including the modern countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and parts of northern France and western Germany....

 in May 1940. They were committed on 16 May to the Front in Belgium. The Totenkopf soldiers fought fanatically, suffering heavy losses.

Within a week of this initial commitment the division's first war crime
War crime
War crimes are serious violations of the laws applicable in armed conflict giving rise to individual criminal responsibility...

 had already been committed. At Le Paradis 4th Kompanie, I Abteilung, commanded by SS-Obersturmführer Fritz Knöchlein, machine-gunned
Le Paradis massacre
The Le Paradis massacre was a war crime committed by members of the 14th Company, SS Division Totenkopf, under the command of Hauptsturmführer Fritz Knöchlein...

 97 out of 99 British officers and members of the Royal Norfolk Regiment
Royal Norfolk Regiment
The Royal Norfolk Regiment, originally formed as the Norfolk Regiment, was an infantry regiment of the British Army. The Norfolk Regiment was created on 1 July 1881 as the county regiment of Norfolk...

 after they had surrendered to them; two survived. After the war, Knöchlein was tried by a British Court and convicted for war crimes in 1948. He was sentenced to death and hanged.

Totenkopf saw action a number of times during the French campaign. To the north-east of Cambrai
Cambrai
Cambrai is a commune in the Nord department in northern France. It is a sub-prefecture of the department.Cambrai is the seat of an archdiocese whose jurisdiction was immense during the Middle Ages. The territory of the Bishopric of Cambrai, roughly coinciding with the shire of Brabant, included...

 the division took 16,000 French prisoners. Whilst subsequently trying to drive through to the coast they encountered a major Anglo-French force which they had a great deal of difficulty stopping and came perilously close to panic. Totenkopf had to resort to firing artillery pieces in an anti-tank role, and were saved only by the intervention of Luftwaffe dive-bombers. It then suffered heavy losses during the taking of the La Bassée Canal. Further stiff resistance was then encountered at both Béthune
Béthune
Béthune is a city in northern France, sub-prefecture of the Pas-de-Calais department.-Geography:Béthune is located in the former province of Artois. It is situated South-East of Calais, West of Lille, and North of Paris.-Landmarks:...

 and Le Paradis. The French surrender found the division located near the Spanish border, where it was to stay, resting and refitting, until April 1941. Totenkopf had suffered heavy losses during the campaign, including over 300 officers. Replacement personnel were supplied, this time via regular Waffen-SS recruitment as opposed to coming from the camps. Flak and artillery battalions were added to its strength. Local vehicles were also commandeered from the French, many of the divisions soft-skinned transports during Barbarossa were of French origin.

Barbarossa-Demjansk Pocket

In April 1941, the division was ordered East to join Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb
Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb
Wilhelm Josef Franz Ritter von Leeb was a German Field Marshal during World War II. - Youth :...

's Army Group North
Army Group North
Army Group North was a German strategic echelon formation commanding a grouping of Field Armies subordinated to the OKH during World War II. The army group coordinated the operations of attached separate army corps, reserve formations, rear services and logistics.- Formation :The Army Group North...

. Leeb's Army Group was tasked with advancing on Leningrad
Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg is a city and a federal subject of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea...

 and formed the northern wing of Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...

. Totenkopf saw action in Lithuania
Lithuania
Lithuania , officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe, the biggest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark...

 and Latvia
Latvia
Latvia , officially the Republic of Latvia , is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by Estonia , to the south by Lithuania , to the east by the Russian Federation , to the southeast by Belarus and shares maritime borders to the west with Sweden...

, and by July had breached the vaunted Stalin Line
Stalin Line
The Stalin Line was a line of fortifications along the western border of the Soviet Union. Work began on the system in the 1920s to protect the USSR against attacks from the West. The line was made up of concrete bunkers and gun emplacements, somewhat similar but less elaborate than the Maginot...

. The division then advanced by Demjansk
Demyansk
Demyansk is an urban locality and the administrative center of Demyansky District of Novgorod Oblast, Russia, located along the Yavon River. Population:...

 to Leningrad where it was involved in heavy fighting from 31 July to 25 August.

During Autumn and Winter of 1941, the Soviets launched a number of operations against the German lines in the Northern sector of the Front. During one of these operations, the Division was encircled for several months near Demjansk in what would come to be known as the Demjansk Pocket
Demyansk Pocket
The Demyansk Pocket was the name given for the encirclement of German troops by the Red Army around Demyansk , south of Leningrad, during World War II on the Eastern Front. The pocket existed mainly from 8 February-21 April 1942. A much smaller pocket was simultaneously surrounded in Kholm, about ...

. During these kessel battles, Totenkopf suffered so greatly that, due to its reduced size, it was re-designated Kampfgruppe
Kampfgruppe
In military history and military slang, the German term Kampfgruppe can refer to a combat formation of any kind, but most usually to that employed by the German Wehrmacht and its allies during World War II and, to a lesser extent, in World War I...

 Eicke. The division was involved in ferocious fighting to hold the pocket. SS-Hauptsturmführer Erwin Meierdress of the Sturmgeschütze-Batterie (Assault Gun) Totenkopf formed a Kampfgruppe
Kampfgruppe
In military history and military slang, the German term Kampfgruppe can refer to a combat formation of any kind, but most usually to that employed by the German Wehrmacht and its allies during World War II and, to a lesser extent, in World War I...

 of about 120 soldiers and held the strategic town of Bjakowo despite repeated determined enemy attempts to capture the town. During these battles, Meierdress personally destroyed several enemy tanks in his StuG III. He was awarded the Iron Cross
Iron Cross
The Iron Cross is a cross symbol typically in black with a white or silver outline that originated after 1219 when the Kingdom of Jerusalem granted the Teutonic Order the right to combine the Teutonic Black Cross placed above a silver Cross of Jerusalem....

 for his actions during this period. In April 1942, the division broke out of the pocket and managed to reach friendly lines.

At Demjansk, about 80% of its soldiers were killed wounded or missing in action. The remnants of the Division were pulled out of action in late October, 1942 and sent to France to be refitted. While in France, the Division took part in Case Anton
Case Anton
Operation Anton was the codename for the military occupation of Vichy France carried out by Germany and Italy in November 1942.- Background :...

, the takeover of Vichy France
Vichy France
Vichy France, Vichy Regime, or Vichy Government, are common terms used to describe the government of France that collaborated with the Axis powers from July 1940 to August 1944. This government succeeded the Third Republic and preceded the Provisional Government of the French Republic...

 in November 1942. For this operation, the division was supplied with a Panzer
Panzer
A Panzer is a German language word that, when used as a noun, means "tank". When it is used as an adjective, it means either tank or "armoured" .- Etymology :...

 battalion
Battalion
A battalion is a military unit of around 300–1,200 soldiers usually consisting of between two and seven companies and typically commanded by either a Lieutenant Colonel or a Colonel...

 and redesignated 3.SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Totenkopf. The division remained in France until February, 1943, when their old commander, Theodor Eicke, resumed control.

Kharkov - Kursk

In Early February 1943 Totenkopf was transferred back to the Eastern Front as part of Erich von Manstein
Erich von Manstein
Erich von Manstein was a field marshal in World War II. He became one of the most prominent commanders of Germany's World War II armed forces...

's Army Group South
Army Group South
Army Group South was the name of a number of German Army Groups during World War II.- Poland campaign :Germany used two army groups to invade Poland in 1939: Army Group North and Army Group South...

. The division, as a part of SS-Obergruppenführer Paul Hausser
Paul Hausser
Paul "Papa" Hausser was an officer in the German Army, achieving the high rank of lieutenant-general in the inter-war Reichswehr. After retirement from the regular Army he became the "father" of the Waffen-SS and one of its most eminent leaders...

's SS-Panzerkorps
II SS Panzer Corps
The II SS Panzer Corps was a Nazi German Waffen-SS armoured corps which saw action on both the Eastern and Western Fronts during World War II.- Formation - Kharkov :...

, took part in the Third Battle of Kharkov
Third Battle of Kharkov
The Third Battle of Kharkov was a series of offensive operations on the Eastern Front of World War II, undertaken by the German Army Group South against the Red Army, around the city of Kharkov , between 19 February and 15 March 1943...

, blunting the Soviet General Konev's offensive. During this campaign, Theodor Eicke was killed when his Fieseler Storch
Fieseler Fi 156
The Fieseler Fi 156 Storch was a small German liaison aircraft built by Fieseler before and during World War II, and production continued in other countries into the 1950s for the private market...

 spotter aircraft was shot down while on final approach to a front line unit. The division mounted an assault to secure the crash site and recover their commander's body, and thereafter Eicke's body was buried with full military honours. Hermann Priess
Hermann Priess
Hermann Prieß was the commander of 3rd SS Division Totenkopf following the death of Theodor Eicke in February 1943. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords...

 succeeded Eicke as commander.

SS-Panzerkorps, including Totenkopf, was then shifted north to take part in Operation Citadel
Battle of Kursk
The Battle of Kursk took place when German and Soviet forces confronted each other on the Eastern Front during World War II in the vicinity of the city of Kursk, in the Soviet Union in July and August 1943. It remains both the largest series of armored clashes, including the Battle of Prokhorovka,...

, the great offensive to reduce the Kursk
Kursk
Kursk is a city and the administrative center of Kursk Oblast, Russia, located at the confluence of the Kur, Tuskar, and Seym Rivers. The area around Kursk was site of a turning point in the Russian-German struggle during World War II and the site of the largest tank battle in history...

 salient. It was during February 1942 that the 3.SS-Panzerregiment received a company of Tiger I
Tiger I
Tiger I is the common name of a German heavy tank developed in 1942 and used in World War II. The final official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. E, often shortened to Tiger. It was an answer to the unexpectedly formidable Soviet armour encountered in the initial months of...

 heavy tanks. (9./SS-Panzerregiment 3). This company was near full strength by the time Citadel commenced having honed their tank-killing skills during the German counterstroke to recapture the cities of Kharkov and Belgorod during the winter of 1943.

The attack was launched on 5 July 1943, after a massive Soviet artillery barrage fell on the German assembly areas. The SS-Panzerkorps was to attack the southern flank of the salient as the spearhead for Generaloberst Hermann Hoth's
Hermann Hoth
Hermann "Papa" Hoth was an officer in the German military from 1903 to 1945. He attained the rank of Generaloberst during World War II. He fought in France, but is most noted for his later exploits as a panzer commander on the Eastern Front...

 4.Panzer-Armee
German Fourth Panzer Army
The 4th Panzer Army was, before being designated a full army, the Panzer Group 4 , a German panzer army that saw action during World War II. Its units played a part in the invasion of France, and then on the Eastern Front.-Early history:The 4th Panzer Group's predecessor was the XVI Corps formed...

.

The Totenkopf covered the advance on the SS-Panzerkorps left flank, with the Leibstandarte forming the spearhead. SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 advanced in a panzerkeil
Panzerkeil
The Panzerkeil was an offensive armoured tactic developed by German forces on the Eastern Front during World War II. The panzerkeil was developed in response to the Soviet employment of the pakfront defence....

 across the hot and dusty steppe
Steppe
In physical geography, steppe is an ecoregion, in the montane grasslands and shrublands and temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biomes, characterized by grassland plains without trees apart from those near rivers and lakes...

. Despite encountering stiff Soviet resistance and several pakfront
Pakfront
The Pakfront was a defensive military tactic developed by the German forces on the Eastern Front during the Second World War. It was named after the phonetic pronunciation of the acronym nomenclature for German towed anti-tank guns, PaK...

s, the Totenkopf's panzers continued the advance, albeit at a slower pace than had been planned. Hausser ordered his SS-Panzerkorps to split in two, with the Totenkopf crossing the Psel
Psel
Psel may refer to:* Printed segmented electroluminescence , an electroluminesence based technology used in creating flexible displays and interfaces* Another name for Olshanka, a small village in Belgorod Oblast, Russia...

 river northwards and then continuing on towards the town of Prokhorovka
Prokhorovka
Prokhorovka is an urban locality and the administrative center of Prokhorovsky District of Belgorod Oblast, Russia, located along the Psyol River southwest of the city of Kursk. Population:...

.

In the early morning of 9 July, SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 6 Theodor Eicke attacked northwards, crossing the Psel and attempted to seize the strategic Hill 226.6, located to the east of the fortified village of Kliuchi. The attack was rebuffed by the defending Soviets. The failure to capture the hill meant that the drive along the north bank of the Psel was temporarily halted, forcing Hausser to also delay the Southern advance. In the afternoon, regiment Eicke managed to redeem itself by capturing the hill, but the northern advance slowed and the majority of the division was still south of the Psel, where elements of SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 5 Thule
Thule
Thule Greek: Θούλη, Thoulē), also spelled Thula, Thila, or Thyïlea, is, in classical European literature and maps, a region in the far north. Though often considered to be an island in antiquity, modern interpretations of what was meant by Thule often identify it as Norway. Other interpretations...

 continued to advance towards Prokhorovka and cover the flank of the Leibstandarte.

By 11 July, SS-Hauptsturmführer Erwin Meierdress had led his I./SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 across the Psel on hastily constructed pontoon bridges, reinforcing the tenuous position. The forces in the bridgehead were subjected to several furious Soviet attacks, but with the support of Meierdress' panzers they held their ground and slowly expanded the bridgehead, securing the village of Kliuchi. Strong Soviet opposition had severely slowed the division's advance along the north bank. In the afternoon of 12 July, near the village of Andre'evka on the south bank of the Psel, the Soviets launched a major counterattack against Regiment Thule and the division's StuG Abteilung.

SS-Brigadeführer Hermann Priess
Hermann Priess
Hermann Prieß was the commander of 3rd SS Division Totenkopf following the death of Theodor Eicke in February 1943. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords...

, the Totenkopf's commander, ordered Meierdress' abteilung
Abteilung
Abteilung is a German language word often used when referring to German or Swiss military formations...

 to advance and support the beleaguered forces. The PzKpfw IIIs
Panzer III
Panzer III was the common name of a medium tank that was developed in the 1930s by Germany and was used extensively in World War II. The official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen III translating as "armoured battle vehicle". It was intended to fight other armoured fighting vehicles and...

 (Panzer III) and PzKpfw IVs
Panzer IV
The Panzerkampfwagen IV , commonly known as the Panzer IV, was a medium tank developed in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and used extensively during the Second World War. Its ordnance inventory designation was Sd.Kfz...

 (Panzer IV) of Meierdress' unit were supported by the Totenkopf's Tiger I
Tiger I
Tiger I is the common name of a German heavy tank developed in 1942 and used in World War II. The final official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. E, often shortened to Tiger. It was an answer to the unexpectedly formidable Soviet armour encountered in the initial months of...

 company, 9(schwere)./SS-Panzer-Regiment 3. In ferocious combat with the lead units of the 5th Guards Tank Army
5th Guards Tank Army (Soviet Union)
The 5th Guards Tank Army was a Soviet Guards armoured formation which fought in many notable actions during World War II.The 5th Guards Tank Army was formed on 10 February 1942. Its organisation varied throughout its history, but in general included two or more Guards Tank Corps and one or more...

, Meierdress managed to halt the Soviet assault, destroying many Soviet T-34
T-34
The T-34 was a Soviet medium tank produced from 1940 to 1958. Although its armour and armament were surpassed by later tanks of the era, it has been often credited as the most effective, efficient and influential design of World War II...

s, but at the cost of the majority of the division's remaining operational panzers.

While the SS-Panzerkorps had halted the Soviet counteroffensive and inflicted heavy casualties, it had exhausted itself and was no longer capable of offensive action. Manstein attempted to commit his reserve, the XXIV.Panzerkorps, but Hitler refused to authorize this. On 14 July, Hitler called off the operation.

Battles on the Mius Front - Retreat to the Dniepr

Along with Das Reich
Das Reich
Das Reich is the name of:* a German SS-division, see 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich* a national socialist newspaper, see Das Reich * the main work of German right-wing intellectual Friedrich Hielscher...

, the division was reassigned to General der Infanterie Karl-Adolf Hollidt
Karl-Adolf Hollidt
Karl-Adolf Hollidt was a German commander during the Second World War.-Early life:His father was a local secondary school teacher and he was educated in his hometown of Speyer...

's reformed 6.Armee
German Sixth Army
The 6th Army was a designation for German field armies which saw action in World War I and World War II. The 6th Army is best known for fighting in the Battle of Stalingrad, during which it became the first entire German field army to be completely destroyed...

 in the Southern Ukraine
Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

. The 6.Armee was tasked with eliminating the Soviet bridgehead over the Mius River
Mius River
Mius is a river in Eastern Europe that flows through Ukraine and Russia. It starts in the Donets Range of Donetsk Oblast and flows through Luhansk Oblast, Ukraine and Rostov Oblast, Russia into the Mius Firth of the Sea of Azov, west of Taganrog...

.

Totenkopf was involved in heavy fighting over the next several weeks. During the July–August battles for Hill 213 and the town of Stepanowka, the division suffered heavy losses, and over the course of the campaign on the Mius-Front
Mius-Front
Mius-Front was a heavily fortified defensive line created by the Germans in October 1941 under direction of General Paul Ludwig Ewald von Kleist along the Mius River during World War II. By summer 1943 the Mius-Front consisted of three defense lines with total depth of the Mius defense range of...

 it suffered more casualties than it had during Operation Citadel. By the time the Soviet bridgehead was eliminated, the division had lost 1500 soldiers and the Panzer regiment was reduced to 20 tanks.

The Totenkopf was then moved north, back to Kharkov. Along with Das Reich, Totenkopf, took part in the battles to halt Operation Rumyantsev and to prevent the Soviet capture of the city. Although the two divisions managed to halt the offensive, inflicting heavy casualties and destroying over 800 tanks, the Soviets outflanked the defenders, forcing them to abandon the city on 23 August.

By early September, the Totenkopf reached the Dniepr. Elements of the Soviet 5th Guards Tank Army had forced a crossing at Kremenchug and were soon threatening to break through the Dniepr line. Totenkopf was thrown into action against the bridgehead.

In October 1943, the division was reformed as 3.SS-Panzer-Division Totenkopf. The Panzer abteilung was officially upgraded to a regiment, and the two Panzergrenadier
Panzergrenadier
is a German term for motorised or mechanized infantry, as introduced during World War II. It is used in the armies of Austria, Chile, Germany and Switzerland.-Forerunners:...

 regiments were given the honorary titles Theodor Eicke and Totenkopf.

After holding the Kremenchug bridgehead for several months, the Soviets finally broke out, pushing Totenkopf and the other axis divisions involved back towards the Romania
Romania
Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea...

n border. By November, Totenkopf was engaged fighting intense defensive actions against Soviet attacks over the vital town of Krivoi Rog
Kryvyi Rih
Kryvyi Rih or Krivoy Rog is a city in central Ukraine. It is situated in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, to the southwest of the oblast's administrative center, Dnipropetrovsk, at the confluence of the Inhulets and Saksahan rivers...

 to the west of the Dniepr.

Poland – Warsaw

In January 1944, Totenkopf was still engaged in heavy defensive fighting east of the Dniepr near Krivoi Rog
Kryvyi Rih
Kryvyi Rih or Krivoy Rog is a city in central Ukraine. It is situated in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, to the southwest of the oblast's administrative center, Dnipropetrovsk, at the confluence of the Inhulets and Saksahan rivers...

, where a breakthrough still evaded the Soviets, due in great part to the actions of Totenkopf and the Heer's
Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

 Panzergrenadier-Division Großdeutschland. In February 1944, 56,000 German troops were trapped in the Korsun Pocket. Totenkopf was sent towards Cherkassy to assist in the relief attempts. The division attacked towards the city of Korsun
Korsun
Korsun may refer to:People*Nikolai Georgiyevich Korsun , a Soviet military historian*Nikolai Nesterovich Korsun , a Soviet army officer and Hero of the Soviet Union...

, attempting to secure a crossing across the Gniloy-Tilkich river. The 1.Panzer-Division
German 1st Panzer Division
The German 1st Panzer Division was an elite armoured division in the German Army during World War II. Its divisional insignia was a white oakleaf emblem.-History:...

, fighting alongside the Totenkopf, achieved a linkup with the encircled forces.

In the second week of March, after a fierce fight near Kirovograd, the Totenkopf fell back behind the Bug River
Bug River
The Bug River is a left tributary of the Narew river flows from central Ukraine to the west, passing along the Ukraine-Polish and Polish-Belarusian border and into Poland, where it empties into the Narew river near Serock. The part between the lake and the Vistula River is sometimes referred to as...

. Totenkopf immediately began taking up new defensive positions. After two weeks of heavy fighting, again alongside the Panzergrenadier-Division Großdeutschland west of Ivanovka
Ivanovka
Ivanovka is an estate near Tambov, Russia, which used to be the summer residence of the Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff in the period between 1890 and 1917 . It was the family home of his aristocratic relatives, the Satins. Many of Rachmaninoff's earlier masterpieces were created in its...

, the Axis lines again fell back, withdrawing to the Dniestr on the Romanian border near Iaşi
Iasi
Iași is the second most populous city and a municipality in Romania. Located in the historical Moldavia region, Iași has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Romanian social, cultural, academic and artistic life...

.

In the first week of April, Totenkopf gained a moment's respite as it rested in the area near Târgu Frumos
Târgu Frumos
Târgu Frumos is a town in Iaşi County, Moldavia, Romania. it has a population of 13,619...

 in Romania. The division received replacements and new equipment, the division's panzer regiment receiving a consignment of Panthers
Panther tank
Panther is the common name of a medium tank fielded by Nazi Germany in World War II that served from mid-1943 to the end of the European war in 1945. It was intended as a counter to the T-34, and to replace the Panzer III and Panzer IV; while never replacing the latter, it served alongside it as...

 to replace some of the outdated PzKpfw IVs. In the second week of April, heavy Soviet attacks towards Târgul Frumos
Battle of Târgul Frumos
The Second Battle of Târgu Frumos, part of the First Jassy-Kishinev Offensive, was a military engagement primarily between the Wehrmacht and Red Army forces in May 1944, near Iaşi, Romania....

 meant that Totenkopf was back in action, playing a role in the decisive defensive victory. By 7 May, the front had quietened and the Totenkopf went back to the business of reorganizing.

In a battle near Iaşi
Iasi
Iași is the second most populous city and a municipality in Romania. Located in the historical Moldavia region, Iași has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Romanian social, cultural, academic and artistic life...

, Romania
Romania
Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea...

, elements of the division, together with elements of the Panzergrenadier-Division Großdeutschland, managed to halt an armoured assault by the Red Army. The assault, which in many aspects had outlines similar to those of the later British Operation Goodwood
Operation Goodwood
Operation Goodwood was an attack launched on 18 July 1944, during the Second World War, by the British army to the east of the city of Caen...

, was carried out by approximately 500 tanks.

In early July, the division was ordered to the area near Grodno in Poland, where it would form a part of SS-Obergruppenführer Gille's
Herbert Otto Gille
Herbert Otto Gille was a German general, and as a winner of the Knight's Cross with Oakleaves, Swords and Diamonds and of the German Cross in Gold, the most highly decorated member of the Waffen SS during World War II...

 IV.SS-Panzerkorps
IV SS Panzer Corps
The IV.SS-Panzerkorps was a German Waffen-SS armoured corps which saw action on the Eastern Front and in the Balkans during World War II.The Panzerkorps was formed in August, 1943 in Poitiers, France...

, covering the approaches to Warsaw near Modlin
Modlin Fortress
Modlin Fortress is one of the biggest 19th century fortresses in Poland. It is located the town of Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki in district Modlin on the Narew river, some 50 kilometres north of Warsaw...

.

After The Soviet Operation Bagration and the destruction of Army Group Centre
Army Group Centre
Army Group Centre was the name of two distinct German strategic army groups that fought on the Eastern Front in World War II. The first Army Group Centre was created on 22 June 1941, as one of three German Army formations assigned to the invasion of the Soviet Union...

 the German lines had been pushed back over 300 miles, to the outskirts of Warsaw
Warsaw
Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. It is located on the Vistula River, roughly from the Baltic Sea and from the Carpathian Mountains. Its population in 2010 was estimated at 1,716,855 residents with a greater metropolitan area of 2,631,902 residents, making Warsaw the 10th most...

. The Totenkopf arrived at the Warsaw front in late July 1944. After the launch of Operation Bagration and the collapse of Army Group Centre
Army Group Centre
Army Group Centre was the name of two distinct German strategic army groups that fought on the Eastern Front in World War II. The first Army Group Centre was created on 22 June 1941, as one of three German Army formations assigned to the invasion of the Soviet Union...

, the central-Eastern front was a mess, and the IV. SS-Panzerkorps was one of the only formations standing in the way of the Soviet attacks. On 1 August 1944, the Armia Krajowa
Armia Krajowa
The Armia Krajowa , or Home Army, was the dominant Polish resistance movement in World War II German-occupied Poland. It was formed in February 1942 from the Związek Walki Zbrojnej . Over the next two years, it absorbed most other Polish underground forces...

 (Polish Home Army), rose up in Warsaw itself, sparking the Warsaw Uprising
Warsaw Uprising
The Warsaw Uprising was a major World War II operation by the Polish resistance Home Army , to liberate Warsaw from Nazi Germany. The rebellion was timed to coincide with the Soviet Union's Red Army approaching the eastern suburbs of the city and the retreat of German forces...

. A column of Totenkopf Tigers was caught up in the fighting, and several were lost. The Totenkopf itself was not involved in the suppression of the revolt, instead guarding the front lines, and fighting off several Soviet probing attacks into the city's eastern suburbs.

In several furious battles near the town of Modlin in mid August, the Totenkopf, fighting alongside the 5.SS-Panzer-Division Wiking and the 1.Fallschirm-Panzer-Division Hermann Göring virtually annihilated the Soviet 3rd Tank Corps, which contained a division of communist Poles. The terrain around Modlin is excellent armour terrain, and Totenkopf's panzers exploited this to their advantage, engaging Soviet tanks from a range where the superiority of the German optics and the 75 mm high-velocity guns gave the Panthers an edge against the T-34s.

Budapest Relief Attempts - Hungary

The efforts of the Totenkopf, Wiking and Hermann Göring allowed Germans to hold the Vistula
Vistula
The Vistula is the longest and the most important river in Poland, at 1,047 km in length. The watershed area of the Vistula is , of which lies within Poland ....

 line and establish Army Group Vistula
Army Group Vistula
Army Group Vistula was an Army Group of the Wehrmacht, formed on January 24, 1945. It was put together from elements of Army Group A , Army Group Centre , and a variety of new or ad-hoc formations...

. In December 1944, the IX.SS-Gebirgskorps (Alpine Corps-Croatia) was encircled in Budapest
Budapest
Budapest is the capital of Hungary. As the largest city of Hungary, it is the country's principal political, cultural, commercial, industrial, and transportation centre. In 2011, Budapest had 1,733,685 inhabitants, down from its 1989 peak of 2,113,645 due to suburbanization. The Budapest Commuter...

. Hitler ordered the IV.SS-Panzerkorps to head south to break through to the 95,000 Germans and Hungarians trapped in the city. The corps arrived late December, and was immediately thrown into action.

The relief attempts were to be codenamed Operation Konrad
Operation Konrad
Operation Konrad was the German-Hungarian effort to relieve the encircled garrison of Budapest during the Battle of Budapest in January 1945. The operation was divided into three parts:...

, the first attack was Konrad I. The plan was for a joint attack by the Wiking and Totenkopf from the town of Tata
Tata, Hungary
Tata is a town in north-western Hungary, Komárom-Esztergom county, northwest from county seat Tatabánya.-Location:Tata is located in the valley between the Gerecse and Vértes Mountains, some from the Budapest, the capital. By the virtue of its location, the city is a railway and road junction...

 attacking along the line Bicske
Bicske
Bicske is a town in Fejér county, Hungary.-History:According to a document dating from 1306, Botond’s sons János and Péter were granted the permission to levy toll in the locality of Bicske as well. Bicske was written Bykche, Biccke, Bykcze, Biczke, Bitske ...

-Budapest.

Despite initial gains, Konrad I ran into heavy Soviet opposition near Bicske, and during the battle the I.Battalion, 3rd SS-Panzer-Regiment's commander, SS-Sturmbannführer Erwin Meierdress was killed.

After the failure of the first operation, Totenkopf and Wiking launched an assault aimed at the city center. Named Operation Konrad II, the attack reached as far as the Budapest Airport, before resistance stiffened. Gille's corps was ordered to fall back as part of a ruse to encircle Soviet units north of the city.

Operation Konrad III got underway on 18 January 1945. Aimed at encircling ten Soviet divisions, the relief forces could not achieve their goal, despite tearing a 15-mile hole in the Soviets' line. Although they had been on the verge of rescuing the IX Waffen Mountain Corps of the SS (Croatian), the encircled troops could not be reached and capitulated in early February.
The division was pulled back to the west, executing a fighting withdrawal from Budapest to the area near Lake Balaton
Lake Balaton
Lake Balaton is a freshwater lake in the Transdanubian region of Hungary. It is the largest lake in Central Europe, and one of its foremost tourist destinations. As Hungary is landlocked , Lake Balaton is often affectionately called the "Hungarian Sea"...

, where the 6th SS Panzer Army under SS-Oberstgruppenführer Josef Dietrich was massing for the upcoming Operation Frühlingserwachen
Operation Frühlingserwachen
Operation Frühlingserwachen was the last major German offensive launched during World War II. The offensive was launched in Hungary on the Eastern Front...

 (Operation Spring Awakening).

Gille's corps was too depleted to take part in the Operation, and instead provided flank support to assaulting divisions during the beginning of the Operation.

Totenkopf, together with Wiking, performed a holding operation on the left flank of the offensive, in the area between Velenczesee-Stuhlweissenberg. As Frühlingserwachen progressed, the division was heavily engaged preventing Soviet efforts to outflank the advancing German forces.

As the offensive stalled, the Soviets launched a major offensive, the Vienna Operation, on 15 March. Attacking the border between the Totenkopf and the 2.(Hungarian) Panzer Division, contact was soon lost between the two formations. Acting quickly, 6.Armee commander Generaloberst Hermann Balck
Hermann Balck
Hermann Balck was a career German army officer who served in both World War I and World War II, rising to the rank of General der Panzertruppe. He was a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds...

 recommended moving the I SS Panzer Corps
I SS Panzer Corps
The I SS Panzer Corps Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler or I SS Panzer Corps was a German Waffen-SS panzer corps which saw action on both the Western and Eastern Fronts during World War II.-Formation and training:...

 north to plug the gap and prevent the encirclement of the IV.SS-Panzerkorps. Despite this quick thinking, a Führer Order authorising this move was slow in coming, and when the divisions finally began moving, it was too late.

On 22 March, the Soviet encirclement of the Totenkopf and Wiking was almost complete. Desperate, Balck threw the veteran 9.SS-Panzer-Division Hohenstaufen
9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen
The 9th SS Panzer Division "Hohenstaufen", also known as SS-Panzergrenadier-Division 9, SS-Panzergrenadier-Division 9 Hohenstaufen or 9. SS-Panzer-Division Hohenstaufen, was a German Waffen-SS Armoured division which saw action on both the Eastern and Western Fronts during World War II. The...

 (The title Hohenstaufen came from the Hohenstaufen dynasty, a Germanic noble family who produced a number of kings and emperors in the 12th and 13th centuries AD. It is believed that the division was named specifically after Friedrich II, who lived from 1194–1250), into the area to hold open the small corridor. In the battle to hold open the Berhida Corridor, the Hohenstaufen bled itself white, but Gille's corps managed to escape.

On 24 March, another Soviet attack threw the exhausted IV.SS Panzer Corps back towards Vienna
Vienna
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

, all contact was lost with the neighbouring I.SS Panzer Corps and any semblance of an organised line of defence was gone. The remnants of the Totenkopf executed a fighting withdrawal into Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992...

. By Early May, they were within reach of the American forces, to whom the division officially surrendered on 9 May. The Americans promptly handed Totenkopf back to the Soviets, and many Totenkopf soldiers died in Soviet Gulag
Gulag
The Gulag was the government agency that administered the main Soviet forced labor camp systems. While the camps housed a wide range of convicts, from petty criminals to political prisoners, large numbers were convicted by simplified procedures, such as NKVD troikas and other instruments of...

s.

Totenkopf End

By the end of 1942 the division had experienced virtually a complete turnover in personnel. The high casualty rates meant by late 1943 virtually none of the original cadre were left. However, while the division's record in the brutal Eastern Front fighting to follow is quite clean, its reputation lingered. The Totenkopf division did not want to be captured by the Soviets, so they attacked the American 11th Armored Division. The Americans, who suffered heavy losses, were angered by this.
When the Totenkopf surrendered (to the Americans) they were turned over to the Soviets Linz
Linz
Linz is the third-largest city of Austria and capital of the state of Upper Austria . It is located in the north centre of Austria, approximately south of the Czech border, on both sides of the river Danube. The population of the city is , and that of the Greater Linz conurbation is about...

 in 1945. Those who were wounded or simply too exhausted to make it to Pregarten
Pregarten
Pregarten is a municipality in the district of Freistadt in Upper Austria, Austria....

 were executed by the Americans along the way (some 80 in all suffered this fate). Another story in the aforementioned book states, "A convoy of ambulances drove by and picked up the dead and wounded behind the last tank of the long caterpiller. Apparently, the wounded comrades weren't handed over to the Russians. The ambulances turned around and headed back to Linz at high speed,' page 273. The senior officers were executed by the NKVD
NKVD
The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs was the public and secret police organization of the Soviet Union that directly executed the rule of power of the Soviets, including political repression, during the era of Joseph Stalin....

, others were also executed as they were shipped to Siberia
Siberia
Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

. Only a few of them survived captivity to return to Germany.

Commanders

  • Gruppenführer
    Gruppenführer
    Gruppenführer was an early paramilitary rank of the Nazi Party, first created in 1925 as a senior rank of the SA.-SS rank:...

     Theodor Eicke
    Theodor Eicke
    Theodor Eicke was a SS Obergruppenführer , commander of the SS-Division Totenkopf of the Waffen-SS and one of the key figures in the establishment of concentration camps in Nazi Germany. His Nazi Party number was 114,901 and his SS number was 2,921...

    , 1 November 1939 – 7 July 1941
  • Oberführer Matthias Kleinheisterkamp
    Matthias Kleinheisterkamp
    Matthias Kleinheisterkamp was an SS Obergruppenführer and a Heer officer who served in both World War I and World War II. During World War II, Kleinheisterkamp commanded the 3. SS-Division Totenkopf, 6. SS-Gebirgs-Division Nord, 2. SS-Division Das Reich, III. SS-Panzerkorps, VII. SS-Panzerkops,...

    , 7 July 1941 – 18 July 1941
  • Brigadeführer Georg Keppler
    Georg Keppler
    Georg Keppler was an SS-Obergruppenführer , a Heer and Polizei officer who served in both World War I and World War II. During World War II, Keppler commanded the 2. SS-Division Das Reich, 3. SS-Division Totenkopf, I. SS-Panzerkorps, III. SS-Panzerkorps and the XVIII.SS-Armee-Korps...

    , 18 July 1941 – 19 September 1941
  • Obergruppenführer Theodor Eicke, 19 September 1941 – 26 February 1943
  • Obergruppenführer Hermann Priess
    Hermann Priess
    Hermann Prieß was the commander of 3rd SS Division Totenkopf following the death of Theodor Eicke in February 1943. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords...

    , 26 February 1943 – 27 April 1943
  • Gruppenführer
    Gruppenführer
    Gruppenführer was an early paramilitary rank of the Nazi Party, first created in 1925 as a senior rank of the SA.-SS rank:...

     Heinz Lammerding
    Heinz Lammerding
    Heinz Lammerding was aBrigadeführer in the Waffen-SS and a commander of 2...

    , 27 April 1943 – 15 May 1943
  • Gruppenführer Max Simon
    Max Simon
    Max Simon was a German SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS during World War II, who was awarded the Knight's Cross with Oakleaves. Simon was a private in the Prussian Army during World War I and was one of the first members of the SS in the early 1930s...

    , 15 May 1943 – 22 October 1943
  • Obergruppenführer Herman Priess, 22 October 1943 – 21 June 1944
  • Brigadeführer
    Brigadeführer
    SS-Brigadeführer was an SS rank that was used in Nazi Germany between the years of 1932 and 1945. Brigadeführer was also an SA rank....

     Hellmuth Becker
    Hellmuth Becker
    Hellmuth Becker was a SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS who was awarded the Knight's Cross with Oakleaves. He was also the commander of the 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf.-Early life:...

    , 21 June 1944 – 8 May 1945

Order of Battle – As of 1943

  • Regimental Headquarters
  • SS Panzergrenadier
    Panzergrenadier
    is a German term for motorised or mechanized infantry, as introduced during World War II. It is used in the armies of Austria, Chile, Germany and Switzerland.-Forerunners:...

     Regiment 5 Totenkopf (often incorrectly named "Thule") (Regiment 1 was redesignated Regiment 5 Thule on 22 October 1943, one of several redesignations.
    • I.Battalion
    • II.Battalion
    • III. Battalion
  • SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 6 Theodor Eicke (Formerly Regiment 3 Theodor Eicke)
    • I. Battalion
    • II. Battalion
    • III .Battalion
  • SS Panzer Regiment 3
    • I. Battalion
    • II. Battalion
  • SS Panzerjäger
    Panzerjäger
    Panzerjäger was a branch of service of the Wehrmacht during the Second World War which were the anti-tank arm-of-service who operated anti-tank artillery, and made exclusive use of the tank destroyers which were also named Panzerjäger...

     Battalion 3
  • SS Sturmgeschütz
    Sturmgeschütz
    Sturmgeschütz is a German word for "assault gun", usually abbreviated StuG. The vehicle was a leading weapon of the Sturmartillerie, a branch of the German artillery tasked with close fire support of infantry in infantry, panzer, and panzergrenadier units...

     Battalion 3
  • SS Motorized Artillery Regiment 3
  • SS Flak Battalion 3
  • SS Motorized Signals Battalion 3
  • SS Motorized Reconnaissance Battalion 3
  • SS Motorized Pioneer Battalion 3
  • SS Dina 3

  • SS Field Hospital 3
  • SS Combat Reporter Platoon 3
  • SS Military Police Troop 3
  • SS Reserve Battalion 3

See also

  • Division (military)
    Division (military)
    A division is a large military unit or formation usually consisting of between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers. In most armies, a division is composed of several regiments or brigades, and in turn several divisions typically make up a corps...

    , Military unit, List of German divisions in WWII
  • Glossary of Nazi Germany
  • List of Knight's Cross Recipients 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf
  • Panzer division
    Panzer Division
    A panzer division was an armored division in the army and air force branches of the Wehrmacht as well as the Waffen-SS of Nazi Germany during World War II....

  • Schutzstaffel
    Schutzstaffel
    The Schutzstaffel |Sig runes]]) was a major paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Built upon the Nazi ideology, the SS under Heinrich Himmler's command was responsible for many of the crimes against humanity during World War II...

     (SS)
  • Totenkopf
    Totenkopf
    The Totenkopf is the German word for the death's head and an old symbol for death or the dead. It consists usually of the skull and the mandible of the human skeleton...

    (the "Death's Head" symbol)

External links

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