Wednesday, 22 April 2015

SS Charlemagne

The 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Charlemagne (1st French) and Charlemagne Regiment are collective names used for units of French volunteers in the Wehrmacht and later Waffen-SS during World War II. From estimates of 7,400 to 11,000 at its peak in 1944,[2] the strength of the division fell to just sixty men in May 1945.

They were one of the last German units to see action in a pitched battle during World War II, where they held central Berlin and the Führerbunker against the onslaught of Soviet infantry. Knowing that they would not survive should Germany be defeated, they were among the last to surrender in the brutal house-to-house and street-to-street fighting, during the final days of the Battle in Berlin.

Its crest is a representation of the dual empire of Charlemagne, which united the Franks in what would become France and Germany. The Imperial eagle on the left-side represents GermanyThe Charlemagne division was formed in 1944, combining troops serving in other French units of the German armed forces, as well as from the paramilitary Franc-Garde of the Milice. BELOW AIRFIX CONVERSIONS 

Soldiers of the Légion des Volontaires Français, when still part of the WehrmachtLVF[edit]The original French unit in the German army was the Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism (French: Légion des Volontaires Français contre le Bolchévisme, or LVF). The LVF was also known by its official German designation, the 638th Infantry Regiment (Infanterieregiment 638). The LVF was mainly made up of right-wing Frenchmen and French prisoners of war who preferred fighting to forced labor in Germany. The LVF

fought near Moscow in November 1941 as part of the 7th Infantry Division. In 1942 the men were assigned to anti-partisan duties in the Byelorussian SSR (Belarus). At the same time, another unit was formed in France, La Légion Tricolore (Tricolor Regiment) but this unit was absorbed into the LVF six months later.below WARRIOR

The LVF's French commander, Colonel Roger Labonne, was relieved in mid-1942, and the unit was attached to various German divisions until June 1943 when Colonel Edgar Puaud took command. The LVF fought well on the Ukraine front against the Soviets. In June 1944, hours before the LVF's planned departure to France, it was called into action when Army Group Centre's front crumpled under the Red Army's summer offensive. On 25 June, at the Bobr River, elements of the LVF under Major Bridoux fought for 48 hours against a Soviet assault. Attached to the 4th SS-Police Division and supported by Stukas and five Tiger I tanks, they checked a number of attacks in what is generally regarded as the LVF's most successful operation. Forty or more Soviet tanks were destroyed in front of the French position. Testimony to the ability of the LVF came from a Soviet communique which spoke of their forces being stopped by the sacrifice of "two French divisions"

Within a month, a new recruiting drive in Vichy France attracted 3,000 applicants, mostly members of collaborating militias and university students. This unit, the 8th SS Volunteer Sturmbrigade France was led by a former Foreign Legionnaire, SS-Obersturmbannführer Paul Marie Gamory-Dubourdeau. The 1st battalion, of about 1,000 men, was attached to SS Division Horst Wessel and sent to Galicia to fight the Soviet advance. In fierce fighting the battalion suffered heavy casualties.

Charlemagne[edit]In September 1944, a new unit, the Waffen-Grenadier-Brigade der SS "Charlemagne" (französische Nr.1), also known as the Französische Brigade der SS was formed out of the remnants of the LVF and French Sturmbrigade, both of which were disbanded. Joining them were French collaborators fleeing the Allied advance in the west, as well as Frenchmen from the German Navy, the National Socialist Motor Corps (NSKK), the Organisation Todt, a construction unit and the Vichy French Milice. Some sources[which?] claim that the unit also included volunteers from some French colonies and Switzerland. SS-Brigadeführer Gustav Krukenberg took actual command with Puaud (now an SS-Oberführer), as nominal French commander.

The two main infantry regiments were Waffen-Grenadier Regiment der SS 57 and 58. Veterans of the Sturmbrigade were the nucleus of Regiment 57 and the LVF formed the core of Regiment 58. The LVF also manned the artillery battalion, the headquarters company and the engineer company. The reaction of the LVF to their transfer into the SS was mixed.

In early 1945, SS-Oberführer Puaud received assurance from Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler that his men would not be sent to the western front, where they might have to fight fellow Frenchmen. He was also told that they would fight under the French flag and continue to have Catholic military chaplains. Himmler promised that France would regain its sovereignty after Germany's victory.

In February 1945, the unit was officially upgraded to a division and renamed 33. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS "Charlemagne". However, this division was severely undermanned with only 7,340 men. The Charlemagne Division was sent to fight the Red Army in Poland, but on 25 February it was attacked while deploying from the railhead at Hammerstein (present day Czarne) in Pomerania, by troops of the Soviet 1st Belorussian Front. Opposing the Frenchmen were four Red Army infantry divisions and two tank brigades. The lightly armed French troops had not re-equipped prior to their departure, and they had no radios and few maps. The only bright spot for the Frenchmen was that they managed to stop the tanks with Panzerfausts (a type of one man anti-tank weapon).

On the night of 3 March, the Charlemagne survivors were sent to defend the nearby town of Körlin with orders to "hold at all costs". At noon the next day, a strong Red Army force hit Körlin from the southwest. The French fought back desperately and were able to hold their positions throughout the day. The Division was ordered to immediately withdraw to the west, to avoid being trapped, and was broken into three battlegroups (Kampfgruppen). Only the battlegroup commanded by Krukenberg survived, as they retreated to the Baltic coast, and were evacuated by sea to Denmark and later sent to Neustrelitz for refitting. Around 4,800 men had been lost, including SS-Oberführer Puaud.

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