Charkow, February–March 1943
On 20 February 1943, I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3, with 4(s) Panzer-Kompanie, left Poltawa for Karlovka. The march was conducted in severe winter conditions. The road surface was covered in ice. During the march, six tanks slid off the road, including the Befehlspanzer of SS-Hauptsturmführer Meierdress; it crashed into a roadside ditch. From 4(s) Panzer-Kompanie, a single truck overturned but was recovered and towed back to Poltawa for repairs. A total of thirteen tanks were reported damaged from the night’s march. I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 arrived in Karlovka during the early morning of the twenty-second. The next objective was to reassemble north of Pereschtschepino. As I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 approached the village, the Russians tried to take the road from the right side. The tanks fanned out across the open terrain, with 1. Kompanie at point as the first houses came into view.
The Russian attack was beaten back by gunfire from the tanks. The Russians lost several antitank guns. By early evening, Pereschtschepino was captured. It was here that 4(s) Panzer-Kompanie incurred its first loss: the driver of SS-Obersturmbannführer Rinner’s Tiger drowned. A second Tiger also broke through the ice; this Tiger was recovered in mid-April 1943. A section from the Panzer-Pionier-Kompanie from SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 was on hand to help with the recovery.
The 4(s) Panzer-Kompanie reported:
As the Tiger of SS-Untersturmführer Rinner exited Pereschtschepino, it had to cross a frozen river. The bridge was not wide enough, nor could it take the weight of the Tiger. Suddenly, the Tiger crashed through the ice and sank up to the turret. The WerkStatt platoon drove in to the village and set up near a wind mill. Shortly thereafter, the Berge-Staffel arrived as well. On 27 February, SS-Untersturmführer Greisinger ordered the recovery of the Tiger. It was deemed that the area was secure enough for such an attempt. SS-Untersturmführer Greisinger had inspected the area on the twenty-sixth, the same day that SS-Obergruppenführer Eicke, our division commander, was killed. SS-Brigadeführer Max Simon took over the command of the division.
The recovery of the Tiger involved five 18t Zgkw’s—four at the front and one at the rear. Once out of the river, the Tiger was inspected. It was deemed not to be a total loss, which was good news. The Tiger had to be towed all the way to Dnepropetrovsk for large-scale repairs. This was the WerkStatt platoon’s first large-scale recovery. It filled us with satisfaction on a job well done.
During the night of 22–23 February, I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 assembled south of Pereschtschepino and continued the advance in a southerly direction toward Werbki. On the twenty-third, I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 halted to take on a new allocation of fuel and ammunition and continued the advance, with 3. Kompanie at point. On the twenty-fourth, Wjasowak was attacked and captured by 0930 hours. During the fighting, two Russian antitank guns were knocked out, with the loss of one Panzer III. The battalion reassembled north of the road from Popassnoje to Pawlograd. During the night of 24–25 February, the leichte Kolonne (column) for I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 reported fighting near the village of Nageshdovka. The column was camped near Kotschereshki.
Between 25 and 26 February, I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 saw action in the areas of Zaredarovka and Strastnoj. The fighting on the twenty-sixth was especially hard because of severe weather. On the twenty-seventh, Zaredarovka was captured. During the day, the battalion reassembled along the railway line near Sacherjewski. A Panzer III from 2. Kompanie fell out because of fuel pump damage. SS-Obersturmbannführer Rinner was posted to the Stabs Kompanie of SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 as the new regimental adjutant; he was later killed on 21 March 1943. SS-Obersturmbannführer Schroder from the Stabs Kompanie of II/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 took over his platoon, with SS-Untersturmführer Kohler remaining as commander of the Half Platoon. On the twenty-eighth, SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 assembled along the road leading from Panjutina. On the last day of February, I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 had thirteen Panzers in repair.
On the last day of February 1943, the WerkStatt platoon from 4(s) Panzer-Kompanie was in Orelka. The vehicles of the WerkStatt could move only during the morning because in the afternoon the platoon was busy recovering vehicles that had become bogged down in the mud. Along the main road, there were trucks awaiting recovery every 100 meters or so. Some trucks had already been blown up. The company column was spread out over a kilometer. Over the last few days, the Tigers and the company’s support units had been trying to maintain unit cohesion while on the march. A seven-man work detail in Orelka was tasked with freeing a bogged-down Mercedes truck that had a Tiger engine loaded on the back. Luckily, there was a truck nearby with a mounted crane. The majority of the WerkStatt platoon set up in Orelka.
At the end of February 1943, Gunther Traupe of 6. Kompanie of II/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 wrote: “The adjutant of the regiment [Rinner] came over to us and said he would get a Tiger to tow us but we would have to wait—some nearby engineers just wanted to blow up our Panzer III. Anyway, we waited and waited—no Tiger showed up, but our radio operator heard an engine noise. A small Tiger [a Panzer IV] arrived and towed us away.”
Between 1 and 2 March, I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 fought in Uljanowka and the area of Jefremowka. On 2 March, a new allocation of Tiger engines arrived for the SS-Panzer-Korps. On 3 March 1943, the WerkStatt platoon spent four days in Nischni Orel. By now the engines on the Tigers and Panzer III’s needed checking, and the running gear was showing signs of damage. Also on 3 March, the Tiger company’s first action in Russia occurred. It took part in the destruction of a Russian column (regimental strength) moving west from Dmitrowka to Grushino.
Fritz Hitz reported for 3 March 1943:
We always lead with a Tiger up front, with two Panzer III’s as escorts. I was in the crew of Bieber—the gunner was Hempfinger, the loader was Hitz, the driver was Walter Gansera, and the radio operator was Theo Engels. For a while we drive counter to the front line. Hempfinger and I smoke cigarettes with some anxiety, but not with fear. We watch the fireworks as if watching a magic show, then we hear the command “Make ready, hatches closed.” I have anti-tank shells at the ready, with one round in the gun breech, as the second order is rang out.
T-34 to the front—now we are moving forward with some pace. Our big brother, the Tiger, is with us. The Russians come at us with everything they have. We looked at our gun, the 5cm long, wondering if this could cope with the Russian tanks. The gunner reported that he could not traverse the turret. He tried again. Nothing happened. We found that a machine-gun belt had gotten stuck in the turret ring. We drove at the Russians, antitank gun avoiding shells from a lone antitank gun, but the Tiger commanded by Konrad Berger took care of this. He also, I think, knocked out two T-34 tanks, but I can’t say for sure.
I shouted to the commander to go right, but then things got gloomy as a dog with an explosive pack hit our Panzer. The pack detonated, and our track was shredded. The commander reported this to the company commander. Mooslechner ordered that the loader get out and look. I dismounted and inspected the damage. In my tool kit was a hammer and my 08 pistol. Lucky for us, Konrad Berger and his Tiger provided covering fire. He was returning fire across the open terrain. I did my best trying to repair the track. It felt as if the whole company was waiting for me.
I managed to repair the track, and we got moving again. Mooslechner later announced, “Well done, Panzer 424.”
The 4(s) Panzer Kompanie reported: “A Hauptscharführer came to visit us. He had just been in a conversation with the company commander. He told us the commander’s opinion of the Tiger during its first action: ‘It was like a wolf running wild amongst a herd of sheep. The Tiger just destroyed everything we fired at,’ he said. ‘He felt unbeatable.’”
Between 4 and 5 March, I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 and other units of the Totenkopf Division assisted the Das Reich Division in encircling a Russian tank brigade and in capturing Ochotschaje. On the sixth, the Totenkopf was placed as corps reserve for the SS-Panzer-Korps. On the seventh, 4(s) Panzer-Kompanie managed to conduct some much-needed maintenance. On the eighth, the Totenkopf was taken out of reserve and sent into the area south of Walki, in the direction of Staryi Mertschik. That same day, the following occurred near Grijekowo, according to the report from 4(s) Panzer-Kompanie:
The next move was ordered for the following morning, 8 March 1943. The columns of the company had driven about ten kilometers when we hit our first obstacle. Not more than 300 meters in front of us was one of those treacherous rivers. There was no bridging equipment or bridges available that can take the weight of the Tiger, so SS-Untersturmführer Kohler decided to proceed with his Tiger. He managed to make some distance when all of a sudden he crashed through the ice. No one suspected how thin the ice was.
The crew could not get out before the Tiger went under the snowy cold water. The whole fighting compartment was flooded. The crew, including SS-Untersturmführer Kohler, were dripping. We were soaked to the skin. Kohler looked totally dejected. Then SS-Untersturmführer Rathsack arrived in his Tiger and started to cross as well. His Tiger became bogged down as the rear of the hull sank into the embankment. The engine compartment filled up with sludge and ice water, completely flooding his engine compartment. Well, the men of the WerkStatt soon set to work on Rathsack’s Tiger, which had to be pulled out and the engine compartment drained. The Tiger of SS-Untersturmführer Kohler is a different matter. A large number of nonresidential Russians are grouped together and tasked with constructing a mound that will reach the sunken Tiger. This took several days. When the mound was within reach, the WerkStatt started putting hose pipes inside the Tiger and connected them to pumps. It took a long time to drain the Tiger.
The driver of SS-Untersturmführer Kohler’s Tiger recalls this event as the “Bath of Grijekowo”:
The exact location and the names of those rivers are no longer in my memory, but it was 8 March 1943. The company lost two Tigers while trying to cross a river. A few days ago, a Tiger had broken through the ice, and its driver had drowned after he became stuck inside the tank. Now we were confronted by a river which was frozen over. The bridge could take only six tons and looked shaky, but our Tigers were needed in the Walki-Charkow area. The first Tiger that had broken through the ice had taken days to recover using ropes and pulleys. The crew had to stand on the embankment shivering, and the Tiger with the drowned driver could only be recovered at the end of April.
We at this time were the crew of SS-Untersturmführer Kohler. The gunner was Motzschnik, the loader was Hans Rex, the radio operator was Grunerth, and I was the driver. I tried the bridge at first, but it couldn’t take the weight, so we had to cross the river. We moved to the left of the bridge. Before we moved, I took out my rations—butter, liverwurst, and some bread. I pulled my pistol to my right side as I didn’t want to get stuck and I didn’t want to drown. As we moved forward, the commander spoke softly. We could hear unpleasant sounds as the ice cracked, and we could see the opposite bank of the river. If we got to the other side, we would drink schnapps, but as we got closer, there was sudden movement. The old crate lurched upward like an elevator. Immediately, I wanted to get out, but freezing water was already coming inside the tank.
The weight of the water on top of my hatch meant I couldn’t get out. I tried to move inside the interior of the Tiger, but somehow I was blocked by a five-day ration box. I was wearing thick winter clothing, and movement was difficult. I had to move into the turret space. I got past the gun when I got stuck again, and water was coming in fast. I could see a turret hatch open. I clutched my fists and pushed as hard as I could. My life was before me like a film. I was thinking about my mother, sister, and father. I kept pushing, and slowly, I got through the hatch and my head was above water. A comrade tried to reach me, but the water was freezing. He ran off and came back with a ladder, which he stretched out to me. I leaned out to the ladder and grabbed hold of it, and I was dragged to the embankment. I passed out.
When I woke up, I was in a Russian house wrapped in fur. We recovered the crate in mid-April and then towed it to Dnjepropetrowsk for repairs. We gathered our belongings and travelled to Budi. We came back to the company after SS-Untersturmführer Kohler was already back at the company. The radio operator had to spend some time in the hospital before he came back to us. Herman, Hans, and I procured some fresh produce as rations in the area of Grijekowo. This was the happiest time for me in Russia.
Fritz Hitz reported on 10 March 1943:
The company was carrying out technical service. We had full ammunition bags, a full tank with ammunition. Some comrades were in a house along with SS-Unterscharführer Hackel and gunner Hempfinger, and I keeping busy on the tank. Suddenly, some shots rang out. We saw the muzzle flash coming from a house, and everyone thought the Russians were making a raid. We returned fire and waited to see their response.
More shots rang out, and I saw SS-Unterscharführer Hackel stumble. I ran over to him and caught him under his arms as he fell. The shots had hit him in the chest. One comrade climbed into the turret and returned fire with the turret MG. Hempfinger and Theo Engels came back with a captured partisan. A bullet had gone through Hempfinger’s trousers and gotten stuck in his cigarette case. A few days later, we were mourning another comrade’s death, an Unterscharführer who had been crushed to death as a Tiger reversed into a house where he was sitting.
On the 10 March 1943, 2. Kompanie of I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 was attached to Panzer-Grenadier-Division Das Reich. The next day, the Leibstandarte entered Charkow in a surprise attack. Elements of the Totenkopf moved forward toward Chugujev and Rogan and proceeded to cut the road to the southeast. On 12 March, I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 was attached to Kampfgruppe Baum. (Baum was commander of SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 1 Totenkopf.) The Kampfgruppe moved from the area of Zurkuny in readiness for an attack on Chugujev. During the afternoon, Kampfgruppe Baum became involved in fighting for the village of Bolschaja Danilovka. Later, SS-Obersturmbannführer Baum wanted to take Chugujev in a night assault, but Russian tanks were reported in the rear area of the Kampfgruppe. The night of 12–13 March was spent securing the lines of supply and communications. I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 lost a Panzer III on the twelfth as well.
On the thirteenth, Kampfgruppe Baum advanced toward Rogan, but the advance was slowed because of severe weather and because I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 had to fight several tank duels with the Russians. On the fourteenth, Kampfgruppe Baum was slowed again, this time because it had to wait for fuel to arrive. It remained inactive for the better part of the day. On the fifteenth, Kampfgruppe Baum and I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 became involved in fighting in the northern district of Charkow, in Chugujev. This continued into the following day, when SS-Obersturmbannführer Riefkogel of 1. Kompanie of SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 led two successful counterattacks against combined Russian tank and infantry forces. The Russians lost nine tanks on the sixteenth, while I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 reported the loss of one Panzer III.
On 18 March, security for the Chugujev sector was handed over to the German Army’s 6. Panzer-Division. I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 was assigned to II/SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 2 Eicke under the command of SS-Sturmbannführer Launer. The advance on Bjelgorod was slowed yet again because of severe weather. That night, SS-Sturmbannführer Launer called a halt to any further movement. On the nineteenth, I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 and 4(s) Panzer-Kompanie saw action in Siborowka and proceeded to advance to the heights near Iwanowka, where the company commander, SS-Hauptsturmführer Mooslechner, was killed. A faulty fuse detonated a shell inside his Tiger. SS-Hauptsturmführer Biermeier, the former commander of 6. Kompanie, took over as the new Tiger company commander. On the twenty-first, SS-Obersturmbannführer Rinner was seriously wounded near Staritza during a Russian artillery barrage.
On 22 March, the Tigers remained in Ternowaya, and the next day, the company conducted maintenance. That same day, Hitler ordered that the schwere Panzer-Kompanien from all three Waffen-SS tank regiments were to reorganize with fourteen Tigers instead of nine. On 24 March, twenty Tiger crews were organized for transport to Germany to collect fifteen new Tigers. On 26 March, six tank crews departed for Paderborn to await a new allocation of Tigers. The following day, SS-Sturmann Fritz Hitz was awarded the Iron Cross, Second Class, for his actions on 3 March. The 320. Infanterie-Division started relieving elements of the Totenkopf, which was to be moved into an area south of Bjelgorod for rehabilitation. With the capture of Charkow and Bjelgorod, this was the last significant German victory on the Eastern Front.
Fritz Hiss recorded the following in his diary during this period:
21 January The former Stabs-Kompanie/Panzer-Aufklärungs-Zug of II/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 is to be retrained on the Tiger, along with crews from Panzer-Regiment Großdeutschland. We move from Angouleme to Fallingbostal in Germany.
2 February Transport from Fallingbostal to Russia.
17 February Arrival in Poltawa. We are quartered in a former Russian army barracks.
3 March First action at Isjum. The attack begins at 1515 hours and finishes at around 1750. It is our baptism of fire. Our tank is hit by a Russian shell, which causes damage to the track, but we have all survived. Radio message from the company commander, SS-Hauptsturmführer Mooslechner, giving praise to Panzer 424.
5 March Before we drive, I have to deliver a message which involves my being attacked by the Russians. I later find a bullet hole in my pants.
10 March Olschani. Our tank falls out. SS-Unterscharführer Hackl is killed by Russian partisans.
20 March Arrived in Charkow after a week. It is minus 38 degrees Celsius.
26 March Awarding of medals: Iron Cross, First and Second Classes.
28 March I was awarded the Iron Cross, Second Class. I am the first in the company to hold the Iron Cross. I was very proud of it.
1 April After a double postal delivery, the next enemy is the snow. Many men get frostbite.
13 April The company drives to Mikojanowka, but it’s still bitterly cold.
30 April Move to Gurjewski.
April–June 1943: Rest and Reorganization
On 2 April 1943, I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 was sent to Nikolskoje for reorganization. On 3 April, SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 commander, SS-Sturmbannführer Leiner, was removed from his post because of his performance during the Charkow battles. SS-Sturmbannführer Kunstmann was given command of the regiment, while SS-Sturmbannführer Bochmann became the new commander of II/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3. On 22 April, the 4(s) Panzer-Kompanie was ordered to reorganize along Kstn 1176e, dated 5 March 1943; this called for three platoons equipped with four Tigers each, with a Kompanie Trupp of two Tigers. The 4th Platoon was disbanded, and SS-Oberscharführer Berger became the new Spieß on 1 May after Spieß Bauer was sent on home leave. On 24 April, the Totenkopf Division was placed in a new assembly area west of Charkow. On 1 May, the following personnel joined the company: Krawatzky, Brieger, Glockl, Leutz, and Wagner.
On the same day, I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 was ordered to reorganize, with two medium tank companies and one light tank company, but in fact, the battalion added a fourth company equipped with Panzer IV’s (field post number 57182 and, later, after being reorganized in October 1943, 48182). On 3 May 1943, I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 moved into the area of Kosatschek and remained there for six days. On 9 May, 4(s) Panzer-Kompanie was transferred to the control of II/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 and redesignated as 9. Kompanie. The Tiger company’s Panzer III’s were handed over to 3. Kompanie. The new 4. Kompanie received a new issue of fourteen Panzer IV’s, which arrived on 1 June. 4. Kompanie was commanded by SS-Obersturmbannführer Hackl. This delivery was originally meant for 2. Kompanie. On 9 May, the following personnel joined the Tiger company: Lehmkuhl (from Regiment “Thule”), Lommer, Keller, Probst, and Schuler. Also arriving that month were Beneke and Herter.
On the 10 May, three Tigers that had been repaired in Dnjepropetrowsk were returned to service. The Tiger company moved to the new assembly area of Jushy. The move took two days. Joining II/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 in May was the newly activated 8. Kompanie, which received fifteen Panzer IV’s on 20 May. The same day, 9. Kompanie marched into the area of Budi.
On 28 June, 9. Kompanie marched into a new assembly area in readiness for Operation Citadel. Crews were quartered in Blishnitz. SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 assembled in the area of Strelezoje, Kaszjoje, and Bessonowka. By 3 July, the regiment had moved up to its jump-off point near Rakowo. SS-Hauptsturmführer Biermeier was still the company commander. SS-Obersturmbannführer Schroder was assigned to the Kompanie Trupp. The 1st Platoon was commanded by SS-Untersturmführer Kohler, the 2nd Platoon by SS-Untersturmführer Quade, and the 3rd Platoon by SS-Untersturmführer Rathsack.
SS-Sturmgeschütze-Abteilung 3 was in possession of thirty-five StuG’s, having received fourteen new replacements on 20 May 1943. SS-Panzer-Jäger-Abteilung 3 had eleven schwere PaK Sfl (self-propelled antitank guns) on strength.
Kursk, July 1943
In the early-morning hours, SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 advanced from the area of Rakowo at the start of Operation Citadel in the Kursk salient. Almost immediately, the regiment lost a Panzer III 1.5 kilometers southeast of Rakowo. 9. Kompanie was attached to I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3, which was supporting the I/SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 5 (gep) from SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment Totenkopf. The fist obstacle was a tank ditch which had to be breached by divisional engineers. The Tigers provided covering fire along with the StuG’s from SS-Sturmgeschütze-Abteilung 3. The Russians re plied with artillery and antitank fire.
As the ditch was breached, the Tigers started to move across and advance toward Hill 216.5. During the afternoon, only six Tigers were left in running order for the push toward Gonki. Five had sustained mine damage. Three StuG’s had also been put out of action by antitank fire, while four StuG’s fell out because of mine damage. On 6 July, 9. Kompanie and I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 provided support to II/SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment Totenkopf during the assault on Hill 225.9. The Luftwaffe provided close support. Later, 9. Kompanie and I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 started to move against Ternowka. Tiger 902 drove over a mine. The crew worked most of the night to repair the track.
On 7 July, 9. Kompanie saw action near Nepchajewo. Near Ssmorordino, Tiger 912 was hit by Russian artillery fire, which killed the commander, SS-Unterscharführer Richard Muller, and the gunner, Zimmermann. The next day was a dark one for the regiment, whose commander, SS-Sturmbannführer Kunstmann, was killed after his command tank was hit twice by antitank gunfire. II/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3’s commander, SS-Sturmbannführer Bochmann, took command of the regiment, and SS-Hauptsturmführer Biermeier took command of Bochmann’s battalion. 9. Kompanie was taken over by SS-Obersturmbannführer Schroder, who was killed later that day when he was hit by an antitank rifle round. SS-Untersturmführer Kohler took command of the company. SS-Unterscharführer Gockl was killed on the same day. 9. Kompanie fought in the area of Hill 209.5. Tiger 911 had to be sent back for repairs.
On 9 July, 9. Kompanie fought in the area of Lutschki and Kotschetowka. On the tenth, the Tiger of 9. Kompanie’s commander drove over a mine while two other Tigers were returned to action after completing repairs. The company saw action near Kljutschi and broke through the Russian defenses after a Stuka bombardment. On 11 July, Tiger 911 again fell out, this time because of technical damage, and had to be repaired. The company participated in defensive actions near Wassiljewka while providing support to I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3. 9. Kompanie later had to cross the Psel River on a specially constructed bridge west of Bogorodizkoje for the assault planned for the following day. On 12 July, 9. Kompanie provided support to I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 during its attack on Andre’evka and along the south bank of the Psel River. The company commander, SS-Untersturmführer Kohler, was killed near Kljutschi. SS-Hauptsturmführer Richter (Knight’s Cross winner) took command of the company. The company had four Tigers in repair. Two Tigers required four days of work, two had been returned to active service as of 1430 hours, and three others were still being repaired.
On the thirteenth, SS-Untersturmführer Schuffler arrived at the company after being posted from the II/SS-Panzer-Korps’s Tiger battalion. (Schuffler had served with SS-Kradschutzen-Bataillon 2 between February 1942 and January 1943.) The SS heavy panzer battalion (commanded by SS-Sturmbannführer Laackmann) had been transported to the Eastern Front at the beginning of July 1943, unloaded in Ljubotin, and served in the infantry role. 9. Kompanie started the day with four operational Tigers, which saw limited action around Hill 226 and along the Karteschewka road, but by the end of the day, all the remaining Tigers were put out of action. All fourteen Tigers of the company were in the WerkStatt for repairs.
On 15 July, the Totenkopf withdrew from the Psel bridgehead and took up new defensive positions along the south bank of the Psel River. On the following day, Hitler suspended Operation Citadel, despite Field Marshal Erich von Manstein’s insistence that something could still be salvaged from the attack, which would result in Operation Roland. It was meant to involve units of the II/SS-Panzer-Korps, but on 17 July, orders were issued calling for the Leibstandarte and Das Reich to be regrouped near Bjelgorod.
On the seventeenth, a plane carrying spare parts from Magdeburg for 9. Kompanie landed at Woltschenka-Charkow. The parts were to be collected from Panzer-Instandsetzung-Abteilung 545. On the eighteenth, 9. Kompanie, along with I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3, supported 167. Infanterie-Division near Iwanowskij. On the nineteenth, the Tiger company was near Lutschki. On the twentieth, orders were issued for II/SS-Panzer-Korps for Das Reich and Totenkopf to redeploy 400 kilometers to the south. The tracked elements of the tank regiment were to load in Bjelgorod and Charkow. During Operation Citadel, Totenkopf had lost (total write-offs) two Panzer III’s, eight Panzer IV’s, one Tiger, and one StuG.
On 22 July, 9. Kompanie drove to Charkow for loading and departed for the Mius front on the twenty-fourth, unloading in the area of Stalino-Rikowo on the twenty-sixth. On the twenty-ninth, 9. Kompanie collected eight Tigers from SS-Panzer-Regiment 1 in Artemowsk, which was en route to Italy. Also handed over from SS-Panzer-Regiment 1 were thirty Panzer IV’s (seventeen to 5. Kompanie and thirteen to 1st Battalion) and four Panzer III’s. The Tiger company was able to raise the 4th Platoon again, with SS-Hauptscharführer Berger in command. The 1st Platoon was commanded by SS-Untersturmführer Rathsack, the 2nd by SS-Untersturmführer Quade, and the 3rd by SS-Obersturmbannführer Schuffler. Each platoon had five Tigers while the Kompanie Trupp had two Tigers. The company support units still had a vehicle inventory of fifty-five wheeled and semitracked vehicles.
The company had moved from Budi and assembled in a wood near Bjelgorod. On 5 July, the Luftwaffe flew overhead. Around midday, the company support units fell in behind I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3. A truck from the support units followed the 1st Platoon. Later, another truck driven by Kasimir turned up, but we did lose a Mercedes fuel truck that caught fire and flew into the air due to Russian antitank gunfire. Two of our Tigers got bogged down; others suffered mine damage to the running gear; the commander’s Tiger sat in a minefield without a track while Probst, the commander, Biermeier, and the driver tried to repair the track. Quade and Rathsack along with the rest of the company moved into a wood.
The next day, the Russian air force attacked our positions. SS-Sturmbannführer Kunstmann was killed, and SS-Sturmbannführer Bochmann became the new regiment commander. Our company commander, SS-Hauptsturmführer Biermeier, is the new commander of II/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3. SS-Obersturmbannführer Schroder now leads the Tiger company, but he lasted only about half a day before he was killed as well. SS-Untersturmführer Kohler then took charge. When he was killed, SS-Hauptsturmführer Egon Richter, a Knight’s Cross winner, took command. I think Lampert was killed also, and Hempfinger was wounded.
Fritz Hitz described the 8 July action at Ternowka (Ternivka):
I was happy to get into a Tiger as a loader as I had previous experience. We got the usual command, and off we went. We saw a T-34 next to a windmill which was promptly knocked out. A few minutes later, we hit a second one. We took up a position in a cornfield, and all of a sudden there was a huge cry of Urrah! Urrah!. Russian infantry started attacking our Tiger. The Russians had been hiding in the field.
SS-Obersturmbannführer Schroder quickly gave the order: “Ludwig, MG fire!” I had to tell the boss we didn’t have a turret MG, but instead an extra Fu 8 radio system because the Tiger was a command version. Instead, I yelled at the radio operator to use the hull MG. Next, Schroder looked at me and told me to give him the machine pistol. I looked at him, knowing what was on his mind. He was going to fire on the Russians. I said, “This is madness.” He replied, “I gave a direct order.”
I found the (MP 40) machine pistol and gave it to him. he put a magazine in the weapon and opened his hatch and started firing. Ludwig and I shook our heads. I was thinking, God, what am I doing? when suddenly Schroder fell back inside the turret. His head was in pieces; he had been hit by a round from an antitank rifle. Ludwig quickly told the driver to hit the gas and reverse back and out of danger. The engine roared into life, and we pulled back from the field.
Later, when it was safe, we took Schroder out of the tank and laid him down. Schroder was a real daredevil. During the First World War, he flew planes. We buried Schroder under a tree. In my diary I said it was a great loss. Also killed that day was Gockl. I can remember Ludwig Lachner and Muller, but some other names of the crew escape me.
Karl Kuster wrote in his diary:
1 June Target practise with main gun. Also, parts of the company carried out a limited exercise.
2 June Main gun and MG target practice with elements of the company.
3 June Stand to. The company is brought to full readiness until 1500 hours, then stand down.
4 June Continuation training per company schedule.
5 June Continuation training per company schedule.
6 June Driving practice and mobile exercise with the combat elements.
7 June Training until the afternoon.
8–12 June Continuation training per company schedule.
13 June Continuation training per company schedule. Also, issue of special rations—today it’s chocolate.
14–16 June Continuation training per company schedule.
17 June Passed a radio test with grade 8.
18 June Passed a technical exam with grade 7.
19 June Took the position of radio operator in Tiger 911, which has just come back from the WerkStatt platoon.
20 June Hans Rex’s nineteenth birthday today—very nice. About 200 liters of fuel spilled into the fighting compartment of the Tiger.
21 June Very quiet day for the company.
22 June Full equipment check.
6 July At 1930 hours, shot a T-34. Tiger 902 ran over a mine. Tiger 911 provides limited support.
7 July Sixteen-hour battles east of the main road. Tiger 912 takes a direct hit from Russian artillery fire. The crew is rescued.
8 July SS-Obersturmbannführer Schroder takes over the company, but is killed thirty hours later. SS-Untersturmführer Kohler takes over, and he also is killed in Tiger 911. SS-Unterscharführer Gockl is killed as well.
9 July Repairs at the WerkStatt platoon.
10 July Forty-kilometer road march back to the company.
11 July Mine damage—had to be towed for repairs.
12 July In the WerkStatt platoon, so far SS-Obersturmbannführer Schroder, SS-Untersturmführer Kohler, SS-Oberscharführer Muller, and Boxleitner [actually Zimmermann] have been killed. SS-Obersturmbannführer Schuffler is the new company commander.
Fritz Hiss reported:
20 May The company moves by road to Budi.
27 June Motorized march from Budi to Udi into the next assembly area. We camp in Blischniz.
6 July The attack begins at 0530 in the morning with Stukas, rocket fire, and artillery. The Russians fight doggedly using antitank and machine-gun fire.
6 July As we move into the next location, we take Russian prisoners. At the same time, Russian fighter-bombers attack us.
7 July Three Tigers are damaged. Commander SS-Unterscharführer Muller and loader Zimmermann are both killed.
8 July Under enemy fire. Our Tigers are shot at. SS-Unterscharführer Gockl is killed; SS-Obersturmbannführer Schroder takes command of the company. I assume the post of loader in Schroder’s crew. During an attack, Schroder is killed by a round from an antitank rifle. It’s tough when someone that we know well is killed.
9 July The company knocks out ten T-34 tanks and a Stalin organ [Soviet multiple rocket launcher]. The Russians start using loud hailers on us.
10 July We change position and are given new assignments. The main enemy locations are Orel-Kursk-Belgorod. During the night, we drive over a mine. Our luck holds again. We are all hoping we survive this hell.
11 July Our asses are out front again during the advance. Three of our Tigers fall out due to battle damage from Russian defensive fire.
12 July SS-Untersturmführer Kohler is killed. Our company has to use visual and verbal reporting techniques.
16 July I received a letter via the military postal service today, but I’m feeling too lazy to write back home.
17 July We attack through a ravine. We come under strong Russian defensive fire from Stalin organs and suffer high losses, but we manage to recover most of our dead.
18 July We withdraw back through the ravine because we are completely worn out.
19 July Retreat from the area of Orel-Kursk. We are low on ammunition. We move back toward Charkow.
24 July At 1730 hours, we drive from our assembly area toward Charkow for entrainment to God-knows-where. What is waiting for us now?
26 July Arrived near Stalino-Rikowo.
29 July Arrived in a new assembly area. Here we collect some Tigers from SS-Pazner-Regiment 1, and I also receive the Panzer Assault Badge in Silver [for participation in three armored assaults on three different days].
The Mius Front
On 28 July 1943, the Totenkopf Division assembled in the area of Krasnaya. The following day, SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 set up its command post in Ramovsky. The line of departure was from the area of Ssneshnoje and Krasnaya. On 30 July, I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 was supported by the grenadiers of SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment Totenkopf and 9. Kompanie during its attack on Hill 213.9. Soon the attacking force encountered minefields that took toll of the advancing tanks.
SS-Hauptsturmführer Richter, company commander, reported on the Mius Front:
30 July We drive into no-man’s-land and advance toward the Russian defensive positions. Their infantry is dug in in a labyrinth of trenches. They are dug in up to regimental level. The Russian infantry only pull back at the last minute. We see bodies everywhere. We still continue to attack on Hill 213.9 per orders. The enemy positions are heavily defended with mortars and machine guns; all that opposes us is rolled over and crushed as we do on the assault.
The Tiger of SS-Hauptsturmführer Richter would later drive over a mine. Richter dismounted to inspect the damage when a mortar round exploded nearby, striking him with shrapnel in the stomach. Richter, after receiving treatment in various hospitals, was posted to the SS-Panzer-Ausbildungs-und-Ersatz-Regiment in Sennelager from 20 October 1943 to 21 March 1944. He was then posted to SS-Junkerschule Braunschweig until April 1944, when he transferred to the school at Bad Tolz. In March 1945, he took command of II/SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 95 of the 38. SS-Grenadier-Division Nibelungen. After Richter, the company was now commanded by SS-Obersturmbannführer Schuffler. Slowly, two minefields were cleared, and the attack proceeded. Then the Russians opened fire with artillery and antitank guns. The attack pressed on, with the Tigers providing covering fire for the tanks of I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3. Radio operator Gunther Groner was killed during that day as well.
Rolf Stettner of 5. Kompanie of II/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 recalls: “The new metal sheet mines had been developed by the Russians specifically for our Tigers. Previously, they had used mines encased in wood, about twenty to thirty centimeters in diameter.” For 1 August 1943, he reported: “The Panzer regiment had to close formation and push out to the right due to Russian antitank gunfire. Our Tigers pushed forward—well, what can you say? I thought they had pushed on, but next to me is a stopped Tiger.”
SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 was deployed along the road on either side on the approach to Hill 213.9. By the end of the day, the combined Panzergruppe of I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 and 9. Kompanie had reached the northwestern edge of the slopes on Hill 213.9, but eight Tigers had to be sent for repairs, mainly to the running gear, tracks, and hull. SS-Sturmmann Mathai was killed near Stepanowka. On 31 July, the attack resumed on Hill 213.9. The tanks from SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 had to fight for every meter. To keep the momentum going, the Luftwaffe provided close support with Stukas. The Tigers of SS-Oberscharführer Lampert and SS-Unterscharführer Bieber were both knocked out by antitank gunfire. SS-Oberscharführer Lampert was killed, but his crew managed to bail out. Also killed during the day’s action were Kochesser and Schweitzer.
On 1 August, the attack on Hill 213.9 resumed yet again. The day was almost a repeat of the previous day—minefields, antitank gunfire, and artillery barrages. The tanks from I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 took severe flanking fire from the Russians. Some of the crews who had bailed out fought on as infantry. The Tiger of Karl Sandler received a hit to the running gear as well. But 9. Kompanie suffered another fatality when loader Gunther Schreyer was killed. By the late afternoon, the Totenkopf could report to the II/SS-Panzer-Korps that Hill 213.9 had been captured, but at great cost.
On 2 August, 9. Kompanie and other divisional units attacked the Russians across Hill 191.3. It was during this action that SS-Untersturmführer Schuffler was badly wounded; he died later the same day from his wounds. The company was then commanded by SS-Untersturmführer Quade. 9. Kompanie also buried Kochesser, Lampert, and Schweitzer.
On the third, the Panzer regiment assembled in the area of Stepanowka-Permwomaisk. On the sixth, the Totenkopf was informed that it would transfer back to the Charkow sector. On the seventh, 9. Kompanie was located in Makajewka. A group of 9. Kompanie personnel drove out to the location where Lampert’s and Bieber’s Tigers were left from 31 July; the radio sets and codes were retrieved and the Tigers blown up. The Totenkopf manpower losses during the fighting on the Mius Front were horrendous. From 30 July to 2 August, the division lost 1,458 men killed, wounded, or missing. The Panzer regiment lost two Panzer III’s and ten Panzer IV’s. SS-Sturmgeschütze-Abteilung lost one StuG; two others were severely damaged.
Charkow, Kremenchug, and the Winter of 1943
On 8 August, 9. Kompanie assembled in Jasonowodaija for loading. The tracks were changed on the ninth, and the company was loaded onto two separate transports. The first transport had six flat cars. Each transport was commanded by an officer from the company, SS-Untersturmführer Quade and SS-Untersturmführer Rathsack. The transport travelled to Charkow via Stalino, Barwenkowo, and Krasnograd. The first transport to arrive in Charkow unloaded, and the Tigers set out for Walki on a night march. The second transport arrived on the tenth, and the next day, with six Tigers under the command of Quade, they moved in the direction of Kolomak and were used on an attack on Tschutowo in the afternoon.
On 12 August, 9. Kompanie was involved in heavy fighting near Kosliki, which resulted in one Tiger being knocked out (SS-Unterscharführer Fein’s) and four more being immobilized. Only one Tiger (Quade’s) remained in working order. Fein was killed, along with SS-Sturmmann Olitzka and radio operator Blockert; SS-Rottenführer Schlaab and SS-Untersturmführer Rathsack were wounded.
SS-Oberscharführer Baumann (tank commander) took command of the Berge-Zug from SS-Oberscharführer Biermann. Baumann had served in SS-Regiment Deutschland from October 1936 to August 1941, and he then served in various Waffen-SS departments as family and welfare officer in Ostsee, Nordsee, and Fulda Werra. He was posted to the Totenkopf on 12 October 1942 and assigned to 4(s) Kompanie on 15 November 1942. Baumann was transferred to the schwere Kompanie from SS-Panzer-Regiment 2 from 3 October to 29 December 1943. He was posted to schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 102 on 30 December 1943. Later, he served in 1. Kompanie/schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung until October 1944, when he attended the fifth SS-Panzer-Junker-Lehrgang at Konigsbruck bei Wien from 1 October 1944 to 15 February 1945 (he was promoted to SS-Hauptscharführer, Standarten Oberjunker, on 1 October 1944) and then attended the Oberfahnrich-Lehrgang at the Oberfahnrichschule at Panzer-Truppen-Schule Wischau from 20 February to 20 March 1945, when he was posted to the SS-Panzer-Ausbildungs-und-Ersatz-Regiment at Paderborn. Baumann was promoted to SS-Untersturmführer der Reserve on 20 April 1945. The following day, he was taken prisoner by U.S. forces after finishing the war as a platoon commander in 1. Kompanie/SS-Regiment Meyer in SS-Panzer-Brigade Westfalen.
Rolf Stettner of 5. Kompanie commented on 19 August 1943: “Over the headphones our regimental commander, Bochmann, orders, ‘Tigers and Panzer IV’s, free fire at 1,600-meter range. Panzer III’s move to the right.’ The Tiger has an 8.8cm gun and the Panzer IV has a 7.5cm gun, but our Panzer III’s have a 5cm gun with a long barrel with an effective range of 600 meters against a T-34. The idea is that the T-34 tanks make a move against our Panzer III’s from 5. Kompanie. Then the Tigers and Panzer IV’s can break up the Russian tank attacks from the flank.”
Fritz Hiss recorded:
30 July We went over to the attack near Stepanowka. Here comrade Mathai is killed.
31 July The Tiger of SS-Oberscharführer Lampert is knocked out, forcing the crew to bail out, but Lampert is killed. We are butchered, the earth trembles.
2 August Today we buried our comrades Lampert, Kochesser, and Schweitzer.
7 August Pulled back to Makajewka. Later, I’m driven in a 3t Zgkw to recover radio equipment and the codes from two knocked-out tanks.
8 August In Jasonowodaija for loading.
9 August Track change and transport tracks fitted for loading. The company is loaded onto six rail flat cars, each with two Tigers, and our flat car carries a field kitchen vehicle.
10 August We arrive in Charkow–Nowo Bavaria, we receive some news that Hitler is in Charkow as well.
11 August From Charkow, we drive back into the front line. In a village our Tigers set up a security screen.
12 August During an attack, the Tiger of SS-Unterscharführer Fein is knocked out and the crew killed, including my best friend, Franz Hofer, near Walki.
13 August Heavy bombardment from Stalin organs. Had a nice birthday and some gifts. Our Tiger also had a new engine installed.
18 August A quiet day.
23 August Early on, our Tiger suffers engine failure.
24 August Drove around trying to find the company.
26 August Drove into a new assembly area and then moved into the attack.
28 August Nothing special to report.
30 August SS-Untersturmführer Quade is killed after the commander’s cupola is shot off.
Eric Lehmkuhl wrote in his diary:
In mid-May, I was with Kradschützen Regiment Thule, and then I was transferred to the Tiger company, which was located in Budi. I was tasked by the company leadership to be a radio operator, but for most of June, I was a company clerk.
Between 6 and 21 July, I was on home leave. On the twenty-seventh, the company was located at the Mius Front. We were ordered to assault Hill 213.9 near Stepanowka, and radio operator Schweizer in Probst’s Tiger is killed. On 2 August, we loaded in Gorlowka (Horlivka) and unloaded in Merefa.
On 12 August, the attack began west Charkow. As a radio operator in the commander’s Tiger with SS-Untersturmführer Quade, the objective was Kosliki (Kolky). The attacked failed. We had two total losses, and three other Tigers were seriously damaged. Our Tiger was still operational, but the crew of Fein was killed and his Tiger was completely burned out. SS-Oberscharführer Lampert was killed, and SS-Untersturmführer Rathsack and SS-Rottenführer Schlaab were both seriously wounded.
August 13—further advance with Panzer-Abteilung Großdeutschland on Katschalowka. Same again on the four-teenth—heavy losses on both sides. We lost some tanks and so did the Russians.
14 August—fighting in the area of Alexejewka, Murufa, Medjanik, and Ridlo. The total distance was around forty kilometers. On the sixteenth, a further two Tigers were returned to service after repairs. Security in the area of Mertschik-Merla.
On the twentieth, thrust toward Kolontajew. SS-Sturmann Volger was killed. We linked with the Grossdeutschland north of Alexejewka. Strong Russian tanks units were present and they tried a break out in the morning, but they came under strong defensive from our guns. Gunner Lorentz knocked out two Russians tanks.
On the thirtieth, attack with two Tigers along the heights south of Kolontajew. The Tiger of SS-Unterscharführer Privatski sustained a direct hit from an artillery shell, killing the driver, Bachmann; the Tiger was a total loss. With infantry support, the heights were taken and secured some time later. During the night, we noticed strong enemy movement, including tanks. SS-Sturmmann Winter from the armory and six other men carried out re pairs on our main gun, which was defective.
At 0400 in the early-morning hours, the enemy targeted our positions. The Tiger of SS-Untersturmführer Quade was hit by an antitank rifle shell in the commander’s cupola. SS-Sturmann Winter was killed, and driver, Hilgart, was wounded; despite his wound, he managed to pull the Tiger into cover in the face of heavy Russian antitank gun fire.
Eric Lehmkuhl reported for mid-August 1943:
After the Mius Front, the company was loaded in Jassno-Wadaya and headed north by rail. Near Walki, we unloaded. The WerkStatt platoon began work on repairing our Tigers. Many of them had battle damage, much of which had to be welded using electrowelding equipment, and afterwards the Tigers got a new coat of paint. Those Tigers not requiring urgent repairs were put under the command of the regimental commander, Standartenführer Bochmann. The company was under the capable leadership of SS-Untersturmführer Quade, who has only one eye. The 1st Platoon is commanded by SS-Untersturmführer Rathsack.
On 11 August, we moved to a village, ready for deployment. Quade wanted to attack along an east-west axis as the Russians had made some gains along our front line. The situation was serious. We waited until four in the afternoon before we moved. The waiting was unbearable. The column rolled out and we drove toward some heights. As we drove down the other side, we saw the vastness of the Ukraine. Our direction was north. At a distance of 2.5 kilometers, we saw a Russian column on the move with vehicles, tanks, guns, and horse-drawn wagons all being escorted by Russian infantry.
We noticed that the Russian infantry began to fan out in order to protect the column, and before long, the Russians began laying down heavy defensive fire, but overhead we heard the sound of engines, and before long, we spotted a squadron of He 111 bombers flying over us. They carpet-bombed the Russian column. Following behind this bombardment was our infantry, who followed up with an assault, after a successful attack by the Luftwaffe. We receive an order that our tanks are not needed, so we pull back to our original start line, but as we move, we do fire a few rounds at the dispersed Russian column, mainly high-explosive rounds.
The heat is unbearable—it is 30 degrees Celsius. We try to find some shade. Our Tiger suffers from gear trouble. The repair is carried out by the indispensable Karl Frank. After an hour, he tells our driver, Franz Hilgart, to try the gears. With a painful grin, Frank smiles as Hilgart crunches his way through the gears. After a peaceful night which is only broken by the sound of ducks, the sun comes up at around five. By eight, the heat is again unbearable. We find some buckets and hose; we use these for a makeshift shower. At noon the company cook, Loibold, has cooked some roast pork, which we eat. Afterward, we all had a brief nap, not knowing that this day would end in tragedy. Quade sweeps into view in his VW Kübel. With him is our grinning comrade, Kurt Heinkal.
Quade had just finished an orders group at the regimental headquarters. Our six Tigers were to set in motion as quickly as possible. We were to head west at a distance of five kilometers. We formed up in a village, which had been cleared previously by grenadiers from Regiment Eicke. They had gone house to house. Then the order came to “close hatches.” We moved out and the crews readied themselves for the task ahead. We drove along the road heading towards another village. So far, things had proceeded without incident. As we entered the village, there was no sign of life, only chickens running around. Where was the civilian population? The silence was eerie.
If danger was brewing, we could only guess. Our infantry began moving into the village, and then we saw some brown-clad figures run into the field. We fired some bursts of MG fire, but nothing happened. Were the Russians playing games with us? Quade decided to seize the heights in front of the village. We would attack in a wedge formation. So far, things had been too easy. About one kilometer from the heights, Quade called for a halt. He tasked SS-Untersturmführer Rathsack to scout ahead and see if he can observe anything, but shortly before that, there was a flash and a bang. It was hard to describe, but the flash had temporarily blinded our driver as he looked out of the drivers vision block. Also our radio sets were knocked out. I opened the radio set and saw that the fuses had been dislodged. I quickly try to put the fuses back in place. Franz puts the tank in reverse, but he drives carefully and not too fast so that we do not throw a track. After about 200 meters, we find some cover, which means that no more antitank shells came our way. The radios are working again. It is then that we hear the bad news—an SS-Oberscharführer Tiger commander reports over the net, “One dead, head shot. SS-Untersturmführer Rathsack and his gunner are wounded.” We can see our Tigers on the right, but what about the 1st Platoon? After a few minutes, we see the flaming Tiger—it is SS-Unterscharführer Fein in Tiger 913. Quade and Hilgart rush over to the burning tank. Our infantry provide covering fire.
So far, we had only advanced 500 meters and saw no sign of the Russians. Those on foot approach Fein’s Tiger from the side since the 8.8cm ammunition might ignite. Franz Hofer dies from his wounds. Fein is found dead inside the Tiger, which had been hit on the front by a 9.2cm anti-tank shell; this round could penetrate our Tigers. Hofer was lying in front us. He was a good-hearted lad, but now the Russians are closing in on us with hand grenades. We remount our Tiger and make ready. The balance from the day is heavy: seven dead, three wounded, with one Tiger as a total loss; four other Tigers are heavily damaged by antitank rounds and need repairing. The company commander’s Tiger is still in running order; our own Tiger had been hit twice. One of them had struck just above the driver’s vision block—a little lower would have been deadly.
Not long afterward, the Russians start firing again, putting down a suppressive fire, which causes losses amongst our infantry. The Russian infantry begin to attack our positions, but they pay a heavy price. Quade’s Tiger fires into the Russian infantry. The attack stalls, and our own infantry launch a counterattack. Now we hear a howling noise from behind us and explosions on the heights: it’s our Nebelwerfer [multibarreled rocket launcher] firing. Our infantry struggle up the heights. Our contribution is small, with only one Tiger in working order. All it can do is provide covering fire. Later in the evening, we roll forward and see the antitank gun positions which had been so devastating. These guns have the same firepower as our 8.8cm; we find eight of these American guns. The Nebelwerfer fire had done this damage, totally demoralizing the Russians, who had left their positions.
Now we are standing in a field full of stumps. That night, it’s very quiet. If you looked long enough at something, you’d think it moved. In the darkness we can hear the Russians talking very loudly. We talk in a softer voice. Suddenly, a rider comes out of the darkness. We could see his shoulder epaulettes, and we can see he is an officer. During this episode, we were eating sandwiches. Franz, our driver, dropped his, and he tried stammering, “Rucki Warsch,” and gestured with his hand. The Russian rider suddenly realized the situation he was in. He turned the horse around and bolted, but our infantry fired some shots, which dropped the horse. The rider somehow got up and ran off into the darkness. We ran over to the dead horse and recovered the rider’s equipment; the saddle was made of very fine leather.
We give all the leather items to the company shoe maker, who makes some new sport shoes and boots. After some sleep, we awake around three in the morning because of a massive noise of Russian tanks on the move, seemingly all around us, but we quickly realize what is going on: an army Tiger Abteilung is moving around us, and we’re in the middle. After ten minutes, a tremendous artillery barrage opens, backed by rocket fire, shaking the ground. We move out and form up in a wedge formation just like on a training exercise. We roll forward toward another village. We see the houses on the fire with their thatched roofs, but there seems to be an antitank gun front. A Tiger on our right opens fire at a range of 1,000 meters. We do the same. This goes on for fifteen minutes. Soon after we enter the village via the main road, we move off to the right with four Tigers. We have some infantry support during the assault. We spend the night in a field again. The Russians suffered heavy losses due to trying to contend with thirty-six Tigers (III/Panzer-Regiment Großdeutschland). In the evening the comrades from the army leave us, so we have to continue any attack by ourselves with the support of our own grenadiers.
The next objective is another village located on a slope, but we will have to find our way around a swamp, but this is overcome. As we drive up to the village, which is highlighted against the night sky, we come under fire from a Russian Maxim machine gun, which is silenced by our 8.8cm high-explosive shells. The Russians fade away. We move back and refuel and take on a new load of ammunition. We also get something to eat, but before long, we are called forward again.
We move out and find the engineers whom we are meant to support. They are trying to build a bridge across a small ford, but to the north in a wood, the Russians are firing on the engineers. Our task is to assist the infantry in securing the wood and clear the Russians out. Our infantry went forward, and the Russians started firing mortars at us. This turns out to be rather unpleasant, so we change our approach; unfortunately, we get hit by two antitank gun rounds. Quade observes a T-34 at 2,500 meters and fires a shot at the Russian tank. After lunch, we come under heavy artillery fire. The shells are falling all around us, but we remain in our position. In the evening, we pull back to a village. Later, Quade returns from an officer’s briefing; he tells us that an attack is to take place at four in the morning on the village called Alexejewka, which is about ten kilometres from us. The attack that Quade outlines could force a decision for the division and 8. Armee and also encircle large units of the Red Army. Our company has three Tigers operational. We move into a field for deployment.
The attack does happen in the morning, but abruptly, the point of attack is changed. It progresses very rapidly, and by the afternoon, we are on the road to Alexejewka. In the night the Russians are trapped. We change our location. The Russians may attempt to break out, and a large portion of the force is inside a wood. We remain inside the Tiger; we can’t leave, so we try to sleep except while on guard duty. Next to us, the infantry set up an MG 42 heavy machine gun. The night is quiet, but at approximately three, we are abruptly shaken from our sleep by a scream of “Urrah! Urrah!” from the Russian infantry which are coming at us from the woods. The MG 42 opens fire. The first wave of the Russian infantry is cut down under our defensive fire. The roar of the Russian infantry dies down only to be followed by moans of the wounded. Our infantry follow up with the taking of prisoners. We soon get an order to pull back. This was our last action around Alexejewka. This was the division’s last success in the East. We are on the move again, this time to Kolontajew, where the division would be involved in a fierce defensive battle.
Eric Lehmkuhl chronicled the period from 24 August to 10 September 1943:
On 24 August 1943, we moved to Kolontajew, which is situated in a swampy area and is a paradise for geese, pigs, and vegetables—all very welcome for our cooking pot. Later, we are committed to action in the daytime. We return at night for some cold soup. If it’s possible to get through a Russian artillery barrage, then it’s possible to get through our cooking. As a result, we were quite neglected and run down. Our uniforms are smeared in oil. Our underwear is sweat-covered, and the lice make our lives uncomfortable, but we get a twoday quiet period, so we clean and wash extensively, but this happiness lasts only two days.
On the twenty-sixth, we slaughtered a pig. Our specialist, Fritz Lau, took care this. A message from the regiment arrives. We have to immediately leave. We put the pig—it’s in two halves—in a box drum. The entrails are in our wash bucket, which is stowed on the engine deck. We also had prepared a tomato salad. After about two kilometers, the heat is unbearable inside the tank, but we had to keep the hatches closed because of Russian artillery fire. We had determined that the temperature was 45 degrees Celsius in the shade. The transmission was hot—you couldn’t touch it. We sat there swimming in our own sweat inside the tank. It was impossible to wear our uniforms, which stick to our bodies. The conditions were like a drill instructor who grinds you down. Suddenly, Russian artillery fire falls around our position. We move forward. It was like being chased through a hot shower on the move.
There are heavy thuds and shaking around the tank. Normally, we would sweat from fear. In such moments we do show some fear, but it’s something we’ve been through before. We sweat from the heat. I had my hatch open to let in some air, but to my anxiety, a red-hot splinter comes flying in and hits a coffee jar marked “Unite German Coffee.” Even with the hatches closed, the Russian artillery is getting stronger. We can see from our vision block that people are wandering around out of the haze and smoke. Who can survive this barrage? We had our tanks in a field. Certainly, we are shot at, and this is followed up by an infantry attack, but now we started to hear cries and moans. What a miserable sight! The enemy had literally tried to storm our positions with infantry, but a Rottenführer comes running over to our tank, screaming for our help. Quade, our company commander, shouts back that we will come. Over the intercom comes the command “Driver march.” We set in motion exactly opposite the Russians, whose infantry were attacking our own lines.
The onboard machine gun cuts through the Russian infantry. We hear the cries of “Urrah,” but the Russians were trying to break through our lines and fought for every meter. However, the Russian attack was beaten back, but at times, it seemed like a struggle for individual survival, as the Russians would return with new forces to continue the offensive. Although we are aware of the enormous Russian casualties, the thought of victory is already gone because in those days battles like Kolontajew were repeated every day. We had three Tigers operational during the current battle. The “Fire Division,” as we called ourselves, met several times a day. We fired with all our barrels. We pushed the Russians back, but they always returned. It was a hard experience during those days, coupled with the intense heat inside our tank with the hatches closed, going from one defensive position to another.
The tank was like a sieve. We were hit at every location we went to. After a few days and carrying out at least six attacks, the Russians returned and fired at us. They sent new infantry companies into the jaws of battle. When we fired at them, they just melted away, and the losses were appalling. We were happy in our steel box, but the days at Kolontajew were not yet over. On the following morning at 0400, the Russians opened fire with all barrels in a barrage, trying to finally force a breakthrough, but the attack is aimed right through at the center of our defenses and comes to nothing. At noon, the Russians try again, but we were able to eliminate this attack. We were located on a reverse slope, so we had a distinctive view allowing us to fire round after round. This gives our infantry protection as we are firing shell after shell. Our loader, Ernst Vogler from East Prussia, wanted to open the loaders hatch and discard some empty casings. An antitank shell made of cast steel smashes to pieces inside the interior of the tank, fatally wounding Vogler. However, the fight had to continue. It was like a race against time. We have to survive several salvos from Stalin organs. We have to admire our grenadiers, who are supposed to be fighting a guards rifle division. At the right moment, our on-board MG opens fire into the brown-clad Russian infantry. They reassemble and try again, surging forward. We open fire again. MG cartridges land on my lap. Soon we are able to launch a counterattack. In the heat of the moment, I had forgotten to change the MG ammunition bag. Eventually, our attack comes to a halt. We managed to penetrate about 100 meters. At the end of a very hot day, in the evening we are able to fill up with fuel and take on a full load of new ammunition. The resupply takes several hours.
On another morning the Russians start with a mass artillery barrage. They wanted to put everything in and push us back from the front. The Totenkopf had been repelling Russian attacks for over a week, and we had become a thorn in the Russian side. However, they had managed to penetrate our front lines but were pushed back. After we took on new fuel and ammunition in the early-morning hours, in the afternoon we received an alarm and had to respond immediately. The Russians with huge reserves of men and material had taken possession of the heights at the eastern end near Kolontajew. For some reason, this was of importance, and we had to scrape some reserves together, even the sick were involved in the counter attack. We had two Tigers and conducted a mobile defense. Never again could we put a full company together. Consequently, we had to fight a serious defensive action. Slowly, we feel that the time of victory is over and that the Eastern Front is bleeding all along the front. There is huge sacrifice in men and material.
The crews of the tanks of Quade and Lachner set off on the march. Meanwhile, at the foot of the heights, something was going on. The infantry could only advance step by step. After the Nebelwerfer had intervened, our tanks and StuG’s fought off the Russian infantry pushing them back across the heights. The Russian infantry looked very demoralized after our Nebelwerfer fire, and we pushed ahead, but we could not sing our praises just yet. By evening, the Russians used heavy artillery—17.2cm guns—in a regimental barrage. They fired continuously with a hail of steel, but the “hear and see” moment passes us. We did not see anything move, but to our left we hear Lachner’s tank move off, only to get hit after a short time. Lachner reports over the radio that he had been hit by artillery fire and that the engine had been hit. The water temperature was rising.
Quade radioed back, “Do whatever you can to try to remedy the damage.” The crew of Lachner, van Kerkhom, Privatski, and the driver Bachmann had to find the problem and repair the engine under heavy fire. As the crew got out and began looking at the engine, a Russian artillery shell went off nearby. Shards killed Bachmann, who was dear to us all and a good comrade. The gunner, Privatski, managed to get the damaged tank going again and drove out of the danger zone and back to the mechanics. Meanwhile, the Russians had eased off with their artillery, but at about 1800 hours, after a short artillery burst from our own guns, we set off. We had six men, including our best weapons technician, Fritz Winter. As our recoil system wasn’t working properly, he worked on it until dusk. We saw some Russian infantry come onto view along the heights, but they quickly disappeared. To our left and right were two schwere Panzerspähwagen (armored half-tracks) from the Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung.
SS-Untersturmführer Rathsack, who had been wounded on the twelfth, remained in the hospital until the thirty-first. By 27 September, he was posted to schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 102, with which he served in the Normandy campaign as the battalion adjutant and was killed in Trun on 19 August 1944. On the thirteenth, 9. Kompanie and III/Panzer-Regiment Großdeutschland (with thirty-six Tigers) attacked Katschalowka and then reassembled for a planned advance on Alexejewka, which took place on the fifteenth.
On the fifteenth, 9. Kompanie advanced on Konstantinowka. By the afternoon, 9. Kompanie was on the road to Alexejewka. On the seventeenth, 9. Kompanie knocked out some forty Russian tanks with six Tigers while fighting in the areas of Subebowka and Karaiskasowka. On the twentieth, 9. Kompanie was involved in an attack on Kolontajew in which elements of the Totenkopf Division linked up with Panzer-Grenadier-Division Großdeutschland near Parchomowka. On the twenty-second, 9. Kompanie was involved in counterattacks in the open terrain southeast of Stepanowka, where two Tigers were immobilized by antitank gunfire. By the twenty-fifth, both Großdeutschland and Totenkopf were preparing for withdrawal toward the Dnjepr River. The withdrawal began on the twenty-sixth under extreme Russian pressure. On the thirtieth, while fighting near Kolontajew, the Tiger of SS-Unterscharführer Privatski was hit by Russian artillery fire. The radio operator, SS-Sturmmann Vogler, was killed. On the thirty-first, the Tiger company was involved in fighting along the heights south of Kolontajew. The same day, SS-Untersturmführer Quade was killed when his Tiger was hit and shrapnel struck the commander’s cupola. The company was now commanded by SS-Hauptscharführer Berger.
On 2 August, SS-Hauptsturmführer Saumenicht, commander of I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3, led a small Kampfgruppe (one Tiger, five Panzer IV’s, and six Panzer III’s) and stopped an attempted breakthrough by the Russian XXI Guards Corps that resulted in the destruction of forty-two Russian tanks. For this decisive action, Saumenicht was awarded the Knight’s Cross.
On 3 August, SS-Untersturmführer Kurt Ebeling arrived and assumed command of 9. Kompanie. He had been transferred from the heavy tank battalion of II/SS-Panzer-Korps. Ebeling had graduated from SS-Junkerschule Braunschweig and was assigned to the Tiger battalion for the II/SS-Panzer-Korps on 1 May 1943. On 3 August as well, the Tiger of SS-Oberscharführer Willi Muller was knocked out during the fighting near Kolontajew. As the crew bailed out, Muller was caught by the Russians and beaten to death. The loader, SS-Sturmmann Boxleitner, was also killed. On 4 August, an infantry Kampfgruppe led by SS-Hauptsturmführer Grams, headquarters company commander for I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3, and made up of tankless crews from I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 and 9. Kompanie saw action during the fighting for some woods. SS-Scharführer Rechlin was killed. Herbert Sachse and Fischer were wounded. Franz von Berg was awarded the Iron Cross, Second Class, for his exemplary conduct during the fighting.
9. Kompanie was attached to I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 and conducted defensive operations around Hill 136.5 and Marchailiwka. Between 8 and 9 August, 9. Kompanie saw action between Kotelewka and Subowka. As the Totenkopf pulled back to Poltawa, the rains began, turning the roads into thick muddy mire. On the twenty-first, I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 entrained in Poltawa. The battalion was due to convert and retrain on the Panther tank. The battalion returned on 24 July 1944. Fifty percent of the crews from I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 stayed behind with the Panzer regiment and acted as replacement crews for II/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3.
On the twenty-second, the Totenkopf was fighting south and west of Poltawa. On the twenty-seventh, the division had crossed the Dnjepr River near Kremenchug. A collection commando for five new Tigers, issued via Nachschub Ost, was sent to Dnjepropetrowsk. On 1 October 1943, the WerkStatt platoon set up a repair facility in Korristowka, while 9. Kompanie received a new intake of manpower. The armored reconnaissance battalion for the headquarters company of SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 was disbanded after seven Panzer III’s were lost in one action, leaving only one Befehlspanzer III.
The following joined the Tiger company:
SS-Unterscharführer Achim Nutzenberger, tank commander. (He would later serve in 6. Kompanie as a platoon leader.)
SS-Oberscharführer Neuner, former Spieß of the headquarters company of SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 Stab
SS-Rottenführer Eduard Pelzer
SS-Rottenführer Wolfgang Barth
SS-Sturmmann Walter Nahm
SS-Oberscharführer Emil Weitner, via the divisional field replacement battalion
Fritz Hiss reported:
2 September Change of position. We are eaten by lice that make a home of us; we are unshaven and covered in filth.
3 September All hell breaks loose—strong Russian artillery bombardment. SS-Oberscharführer Muller moves his Tiger to the front, but it runs over a mine. Muller is later found dead, and the loader, Boxleitner, is taken prisoner. A Panzer III drives up and attacks the Russians and recues Boxleitner. Muller had been beaten to death with shovels.
5 September Back from the front line in the afternoon, we make potato pancakes.
11 September An adjacent tank is on fire, everything around it is in flames
14 September I’m with the Zgkw driver, Heinz Mewes; we drove over to the support unit.
17 September The main supply road is quite muddy; vehicles are getting stuck and have to be pulled free by Zgkw acting like a tractor.
19 September In Poltawa. We drove into the town like a lame duck.
20 September Had to be towed by 18t Zgkw due to gear trouble.
24 September Still cannot continue along the road in which we are withdrawing due to constant Russian air attacks.
25 September Take on rations in Kremenchug.
26 September We leave our accommodation in Kremenchug in good spirits and drive toward the bridge, but as we approach, we notice there is total confusion.
28 September Arrived in Alexandria along with the WerkStatt platoon. Five new Tigers are collected in Dnepropetrovsk; rations are collected.
3 October The company along with the Tigers arrive in Protopopowka.
5 October The new Tigers are sent to the combat elements via the support unit.
6 October Standing watch on the front line.
9 October During a move on my mother’s birthday, a Russian artillery shell hits our Tiger.
10 October Withdrawal and building bunkers.
18 October Assembly and move back to the front line. The Russians make a breakthrough near Iwanowka.
21 October SS-Sturmann Josef Hodap and Rudi Grabowski are both sent to Vienna on a course.
Eric Lehmkuhl reported:
On 1 September 1943, we return to the WerkStatt. The company has no officers; SS-Hauptscharführer Berger (Spieß) is the company commander. We receive orders to move. The Russians have opened a 700-kilometer breach along the front east of the Dnjepr River. On the Dnjepr River is the Rundstedt Bridge which was built in 1941 and was blown up on 30 August. On 6 October, the Russians have reached the Dnjepr River and start to cross. On the seventh, the company assembles in Usbenskoje; on the eighth, we attack the Kereda Peninsula.
We come across the dead from the infantry, but the peninsula is captured. Again the losses on both sides are heavy. The commander during this operation was SS-Hauptscharführer Berger. Until the end of October, we remain on the defensive. We are fighting in the area west of Kremenchug, Protopopowka, Alexandria, Iwanowka, and Nikolajewka. Our Tiger has damage. The autumn mud season begins—fighting north of Krivoy Rog.
During the loading of a damaged Tiger, two stray T-34 tanks attack the station in Korristowka during the evening; they were knocked out using mines. On the following morning at 0800, some fifty Russian tanks appear. In the station units of the army are unloading; they have just arrived from the Italian Front. The tanks take enemy fire, causing panic on the road, but air support is provided by Oberst Rudel’s Stukas, which are equipped with tank-busting cannons. The Russian tanks have infantry mounted on them. All our tanks fire; the greater part of the attacking Russian tanks are set on fire and the crews bail out. Forty-seven Russian tanks are knocked out.
After several weeks of fighting, the company is worn out. We reassemble in Bobrinez. After reorganizing, we get a new company commander, SS-Obersturmbannführer Baedke. Another new officer arrives as well, SS-Untersturmführer Neff. Other new arrivals include Knevel, Heimbruch, SS-Oberscharführer Weitner, and Kriescher. We also receive some new Tigers, which have the new commander’s cupola similar to the Tiger II.
In December, we conduct some limited operations together with some cobbled-together units. The company can still operate at company level despite being worn out. Ever since the retreat from the Dnjepr, we can still fight but with limited strength.
On 3 October, five new Tigers arrive in Protopopowka. The Russians were constantly expanding the bridgehead on the Dnjepr River. On 7 October, the Tiger company was in Usbenskoje. On the eighth, the remaining operational Tigers were part of a Kampfgruppe that assaulted the Kolerda Peninsula on the Dnjepr River. One of the Tigers suffered an internal explosion which damaged the commander’s hatch; luckily, no one was injured. On the ninth, the Russians broke through near Tschikalowka, which was cleared up. On the tenth, some of the damaged Tigers were repaired. In Korristowka, the railway station came under attack by two stray T-34s as some damaged Tigers were being loaded on to rail transports. The Russian tanks were knocked out with mines. On the following day, more Russian tanks and infantry attacked the station again, but the situation was saved by the intervention of Ju-87 Stukas that mounted 3.7cm cannons.
On 15 October, the Tigers were involved in a counterattack on Saporoshje (Zaprorizhzhya). On the eighteenth, the Totenkopf is placed in reserve under XI. Armee-Korps in the area of Pawlych (Pawlych)–Onufrijewka (Onufriivka), but due to the strong rain, the road conditions were dreadful. On the twentieth, the operational Tigers were situated west of Iwanowka (Iwanowka). On the twenty-first, the Tigers crossed the Ingulez River and assaulted Russian forces near Alexandria and later Iwanowka. The Totenkopf is now classified as a full Panzer-Division [previously a Panzer-Grenadier-Division]. On the twenty-fourth, 9. Kompanie was instructed to clear a Russian penetration near Dewtschje and establish contact with some engineers. Dewtschje is cleared of Russian forces; near a wood, the Tigers come under Russian artillery fire.
Walter Nahm recorded in his diary:
1 October I have been in Snamenka overnight, standing on the platform from 0500 to 0700. I have to wait for a train. Many trains have been marshalled for the front around noon; I manage to get a train to Korristowka for some rest behind the front line. However, according to a station official, I would have to change trains along with some other comrades, as the next train is going in the direction of Pawlisch, the rest area for SS-Panzer-Regiment 3. By chance I find out that the regiment is much closer. With all my belongings, I find the headquarters company for II/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 in Protopopowka. At the office we meet up with Nutzenberger and Pelzer—great joy on both sides. I’m told that Lasch, Gutmann, and Richards are all wounded; SS-Untersturmführer Palm and Westerberg were both badly burnt. Kreuzberger was also wounded; Friedrich and Melz have both been promoted to Oberscharführer, and both got the Iron Cross, First Class. SS-Untersturmführer Lummitsch was awarded the German Cross in Gold. The tank regiment has only nine tanks available for action in the area of Kremenchug. Since the actions on the Mius Front, many of our tanks need significant repairs and new parts. The I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 was returned to Germany for conversion to the new Panther tank. The armored reconnaissance platoon had been disbanded. Nutzenberger, Pelzer, and myself are to be transferred to the Tiger company. Also present was Ehlert. In the evening we manage to get some sleep.
2 October During the afternoon, Nutzenberger is talking to the company commander, an Untersturmführer, who tells us if we are both free, he will take us immediately. We go back to our old headquarters company and collect all our things. We look around for new quarters, which we find. We also find out that the house actually has electricity.
4 October Nutzenberger tells us that the transfer to the Tiger company is still in progress.
5 October The headquarter’s company’s Spieß, SS-Unterscharführer Neuner, tells us informally that we are both a part of the Tiger company.
11 October To date, nothing new. SS-Obersturmbannführer Beiermeier is promoted to Hauptsturmführer. The company Spieß, Glashof goes on leave. Usual free time—reading, writing letters, cleaning weapons, and visiting mates. Until yesterday, very pleasant autumn weather, but then the temperature plummets. On the seventh, Nutzenberger, Neuner, Krotzenbischler, and I suddenly turn back to Alexandria. We have to report back to the area commissioner. Nutzenberger comes back and tells us that he will not be joining us at the Tiger company but instead will be joining 6. Kompanie as a platoon leader. In the evening Wolf and I, along with Spieß Neuner, are invited to dinner. We have chicken and mashed potatoes with Crimean wine and vodka.
15 October Still pretty quiet. We are quartered in a house with an old woman who makes a lot of potato pancakes. At night there’s much air activity. The lame ducks are constantly overhead making a ruckus. Today we take a truck to Kremenchug to clear out the offices for II/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 and the Tiger company. The Russians are using many artillery barrages. Our infantry are getting bombarded frequently. We search for some poultry, and we catch some chickens and slaughter them. We have a feast back at the company.
16 October The Spieß tells us we are both free from duties and we can either go to the Tiger company or we can take part in some gunnery training for the Flak platoon of the headquarters company. For us it’s clear: we want the Tiger company and change quarters in the evening.
17 October Since yesterday, last night, it’s been raining incessantly. Indeed, it’s the beginning of the rainy season. Finally, some post arrives from back home. The Russians have forced a crossing on the Dnjepr near Kremenchug with strong forces. The battalion and the Tiger company are put on alert and have to be ready for a counterattack tomorrow morning.
18 October It has become miserably cold. Standing guard at the battalion and the company. Tomorrow we plan to build a sauna.
19 October The Russians, with tanks and infantry, have broken through about thirty kilometers away along the rail line and airfield near Alexandria. Nevertheless, we have a quiet period. We have a uniform check, even on days like this. In the evening we get a visit from Nutzenberger, who would like us back.
20 October Starting today, we are officially with the Tiger company. However, we must remain with the headquarters company. There are no quarters for us at the Tiger company. The Russians are using a new type of aircraft, an American fighter-bomber [probably a P-39 Airacobra, which the Soviets used extensively for ground attack]. This type of aircraft buzzed us when we were building a sauna bath. The sound is deafening, but the bath is coming along nicely.
21 October The cold and the rain subside. The roads have almost dried up. Nutzenberger tells me that he has once again requested us back. Wolf is awarded the Iron Cross, First Class.
22 October Overnight the Russians expanded their bridgehead. It is now 150 kilometers long and 20 kilometers wide. Their direction of attack is Odessa. The one exception is Alexandria. All day we can hear the thunder of heavy artillery guns. We have a few tanks available.
On 25 October 1943, the company moved to the area of Snamenka. The following day, some of the Tigers received new engines. On the twenty-seventh, the Totenkopf assembled in the area of Protopopowka and Alexandria. The Tigers from 9. Kompanie were involved in a local counterattack east of Alexandria with the support of Ju-87 Stukas. Later, the Tigers took up positions near Golowkowka (Golovny). On the twenty-ninth, operational Tigers from 9. Kompanie traveled to the nearby Luftwaffe base just outside Alexandria to meet up with 4. Kompanie (Panther) from SS-Panzer-Regiment 2 (from 2. SS-Panzer-Division Das Reich). Tigers and elements of II/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 advanced south toward Olimpiadowka and then Malinowka, near Spassowa, where a Russian column was dispersed. On the thirtieth, further attacks were launched on Woltschanka and then toward Nowo Petrowka. On the thirty-first, the Tigers moved from the area of Wlassjewka to Graphit.
Walter Nahm described events in his diary:
23 October Guard duty at the battalion command post. Otherwise, the time is spent reading or writing—today we made potato pancakes.
24 October In the morning we have a sauna bath. In the afternoon, alarm—we pack our things, and with SS-Unterscharführer Nutzenberger, we drive over to 6. Kompanie.
25 October At two in the morning, we are at point in the advance party heading toward Snamenka. We have lunch and take up quarters. Our tanks are nearby. We get some sleep. Also with us are Buss and Sklenzky.
26 October At noon, we march to the Tiger company. The Spieß tells us there are no quarters for us, so we call in on the headquarters company, only to be told that we have to find our own quarters.
27 October In the night at three, tank alarm—Russian tanks have broken through our lines. We pack our things and head off in the direction of the Russian advance. In the early-morning gray, we make out the noise of the Russian engines, so they cannot be far away. Actually, it turns out to be tanks from a Wehrmacht tank unit. They had been driving past our positions at midnight. The Wehrmacht unit had been changing positions.
28 October In the air, there’s much activity. From Italy, the 24. Panzer-Division has just arrived and has now moved into position next to us.
29 October March orders given at four in the morning. Both the Tiger company and the headquarters company move out. The road leads us through Novo-Praga-Alexandria-Kristinowka and Protopopowka. All the roads are clogged with vehicles of all kinds. We see Panthers from Das Reich. Also along the way there are many destroyed Russian T-34 tanks and self-propelled artillery. In the evening we reach Protopopowka.
1 November To date, things have been peaceful, but in the distance we can hear the continuous sound of thunder from artillery pieces. After lunch the company Spieß comes and tells us that the company commander, Baedke, will launch a counterattack in the early-morning hours, so we go to bed early that night.
2 November SS-Unterscharführer Neuner goes on home leave. It’s six in the evening, and he leaves the company by truck. The company commander, Baedke, arrives, and Pelzer is assigned to his crew as the gunner. Wolf has to leave the Tiger because of a high fever.
3 November During the afternoon, we drive off in a Maultier [supply truck with a half-track conversion] on a trip which is about sixty kilometers long. We are consistently on the move. Along the main road, we see several knocked-out T-34 tanks and burnt-out vehicles. Wolf has still not recovered.
4 November We are still in the same location. Wolf feels a bit better but a little tender.
5 November Nothing special to report. Still at the same location. In the morning the commanders of the 8. Armee and 40. Panzer-Korps give praise to our division as we leave their commands.
7 November We leave at six in the morning. Our Tigers have not arrived. As we move along the road, we slide from the left to right. At around four in the afternoon, we arrive at our new destination.
8 November We get up early in the morning at six in the morning. It has rained all night, and the roads are just mud and slush. All vehicles make continuous efforts to move forward. Only Maultiers can move along the road, but the rain doesn’t stop.
9 November At midday, thirty men from the company assemble to receive orders from the commander.
11 November No further moves, so we go and watch the film I Love You. From the canteen, we get coffee and cake. Two of the men get champagne, so in the evening we have a little booze.
12 November Went to the cinema again in the morning. Today’s showing is Bal Pare, and it’s not a new film. The company took a new delivery of ammunition today.
13 November The day begins with some brisk shooting at around five in the morning. Wolfgang is sent off with the advance party; Rudi and Sablotny left yesterday. On the main road, the regimental commander, Bochmann, is directing traffic himself. We pull back toward Bairak. The village is very busy, and we set up a small tent and build a fire.
14 November Before daybreak, the Russians begin with a huge artillery barrage at six in the morning like a frenzied drum. Our whole front is on fire. This is certainly the intended offensive on Krivoy Rog. We make ready and load everything up on the roadworthy vehicles. We soon approach the front and see infantryman pass us. At ten in the morning, we get orders: the Tigers are to seek and skirmish with the Russians. All day Russian artillery falls in our rear area. The tank regiment knocked out sixty Russian tanks during the day; of these, twenty-eight were destroyed by the Tiger company; Wolfgang has to drive forward with a Zgkw with the combat elements.
15 November Like yesterday, great artillery fire all day from the Russians. Air activity is brisk—they cause great slaughter just like our Stukas used to do. Our Tigers expended a great deal of ammunition during the day.
16 November The company commander is with us. SS-Oberscharführer Haja is also in our quarters. In the evening we have eggnog. Four Tigers return to our location.
17 November Still located in Bairak. Toward evening a massive artillery bombardment followed by mortar fire. Fortunately, we suffer no losses. Biber is now located in our quarters.
18 November We organize some trucks so we can load all our technical equipment and tools, but the truck of the company commander has to be given back. A damaged T-34 is used as a Berge-Panzer for towing our Tigers from the front line back to Bairak. This is done three or four times during the day. The T-34 stands at the ready on the roadside, but it breaks down. None of us knows how to get it started or repair the engine, but a mechanic from the Instand-Staffel knows what to do and gets the engine started. That night we baked and roasted potatoes, because we celebrate that Biber is getting the Iron Cross, First Class. The company cook fries some eggs; Neff plays the fiddle and tells us how beautiful France is. Feldmarshall von Manstein sent the division a message: “Bravo, SS-Totenkopf, you are fantastic men”—I can add nothing further to this.
20 November At 1400 hours, I wake before Wolf. The company commander had been up since 0500. A new determined attack by the Russians; their artillery is using every known caliber up to 17.5cm. The whole earth shakes; we’ve never experienced anything like this before. The impacts are shaking the house. Someone yells at me to go to the Instand-Staffel, but my route is blocked, and I see Wolf run through the barrage over to the supply section as well. He tells them to pull back. SS-Oberscharführer Haja and Wolf try to move the T-34 Berge-Panzer, but first they remove the swastika flag off the back of the engine deck. Despite all the shells falling down around us, we manage to pull back from Bairak. We have no idea of the location of the Russian forces. Overhead their air force is busy with fighter-bomber attacks. The civilian population follows behind us, but we wait until dusk when we think it’s safe to withdraw back to Boikowka.
Wolfgang Barth recorded in his diary:
21 November Drove with ammunition and fuel to the forward combat elements. This was an easy drive. Ede Pelzer has destroyed eighteen Russian tanks as of yesterday.
22 November Afternoon, we leave along with the support units by heading toward Schewschenkowo (Shevchenkove), where we arrive in the evening. We find some very nice quarters.
23 November Overnight, a frost develops, but soon it rains again. Wolf and I spend the whole day cleaning the house. We can wash all our things and make ourselves clean; we also discovered no lice.
24 November We are both determined to replace a crew as the rains begin again. Along the main road, the mud is an incredible slush. After many hours, we finally manage to spend a night in a Tiger and sleep inside it.
25 November Awake in the Tiger. Day passes into another. Finally, it has stopped raining, and now everything is frozen, and it’s also incredibly cold.
29 November The commander’s crew all received the Iron Cross, First Class, today. After that we had to be towed, but because of the mud and slush, we don’t get very far. At a bridge we learn that a Tiger has crashed through it. We return later to aid in the recovery.
30 November We are awake. Nothing new in the evening. I nearly shot myself with a flare pistol due to being careless.
1 December Today we had to be towed by four 18t Zgkw in a drive to Dolinskaja (Dolinskaya). We had rammed fifteen horse carts loaded with T-mines [antitank Teller mines], which gave us a big surprise. When Wolf jumped down off the Tiger, he nearly shot his nose off with his MP after it got stuck when he jumped down.
2 December Had to repair our winter clothing and gear. Wolf becomes the gunner to SS-Unterscharführer Holzner, and I go to the crew of SS-Unterscharführer Heurich.
5 December Second Advent. The first snows fall. The company Spieß visits our quarters.
9 December Last few days, I’m not feeling very well, probably due to sinusitis. Wolf reports today at the crew of SS-Unterscharführer Holzner.
10 December The Russians have broken through near Kirowograd (Kirowograd). Our company is attached to the infantry. Also very strong air activity over Dolinskaja. My ear has improved and I feel a little better.
11 December My Tiger has arrived. After some time spent outdoors, I start to feel ill again, and I’m sent back to my quarters with a 39-degree [Celsius] fever. Wolf helps me pack my things. I reckon now I’m off to hospital.
12 December I feel better today, but I spend the day in bed. The artillery fire is still ongoing and never lets up—it’s a wonder no one has been lost to date. At the moment the enemy location is not known. What will becomes of us?
13 December I still have bed rest. Lots of cannon fire in the distance. The situation at the front seems temporary, and things are looking bad—we don’t seem to be pulling back and we could be encircled. We have long been ignored.
14 December SS-Sturmmann Pavlu arrives at the company. Former town commandant of Cracow, not a bad guy.
24 December The days have passed by fairly quietly. I spent the time in my quarters, but sometimes I have to do guard duty. Otherwise, things are pretty quiet. Orders are issued almost every day, which means the company has to parade almost every day as well. A few days before Christmas we have a severe frost.
On 1 November 1943, the company and the armored group from II/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 were positioned at the southern end of Graphit and moved in the direction of Balka Wlassowskaja. Several tanks were knocked out after being fired upon by a strong Russian antitank gun front. The wounded from the armored group had to be collected under the cover of darkness. On the same day, SS-Obersturmbannführer Baedke took over command of 9. Kompanie from SS-Untersturmführer Ebeling. New arrivals also included SS-Standartenjunker (SS-Oberscharführer) Hans Kriescher (joined the company on the tenth), who had just completed the first special armored course at Panzer Schule Putlos, SS-Untersturmführer Neff, SS-Oberscharführer Weitner, SS-Oberscharführer Knevel, and SS-Oberscharführer Heimbruch. On the second, the advance on Marijampol starts from Graphit. On the third, the Tigers from 9. Kompanie supported divisional grenadiers during an advance toward the heights southeast of Marijampol, during which the Russian made several counterattacks from the area of Petrowo. On the third, the advance from the area of Marijampol continued; Hill 138.8 was captured. On 4 December, the armored group from SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 had to form a separate Kampfgruppe to repel strong Russian forces near Annowka and Iskrowka. The following day, a counterattack was launched east of Kopany. The rest of the day was spent cleaning weapons and calling roll.
On 7 November, the Tigers moved into the area of Losowatka after the Totenkopf was relieved by 76. Infanterie-Division. During the afternoon the Tigers reassemble in Bairak. On the eighth, it rained all day, making movement for wheeled vehicles very difficult. Sometimes these vehicles and their drivers had to wait to be towed by tanks. On the tenth, much-needed maintenance was conducted on the Tigers. On the twelfth, the first snow fell. On the thirteenth, the Tigers redeployed from Bairak into the area of Nowo Gannowka and Batschtina. On the fourteenth, the armored group from SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 launched a counterattack on the Russian 32nd Guards Tank Brigade. The attack started from the area of Batschtina, causing the destruction of sixty Russian tanks; twenty-eight were knocked out by the Tigers from 9. Kompanie. After the engagement, the armored group, under the command of SS-Hauptsturmführer Beiermeier, withdrew back to Krassno-Konstantinowka. The Tigers took on a new allocation of fuel and ammunition. For his actions, Beiermeier was nominated for the Knight’s Cross, which was awarded on 10 December 1943.
The following personnel arrived in Dolinskaja to join 9. Kompanie during November: Sklenzky, Rettinger, and Sperner. From the Pionier company of SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 came Hoffmann, Birke, Schneider, and Werner (assigned to the Instand-Staffel). Probst, Fischer, Loidold, and company Spieß Beneke went on home leave. Bernhardt became a gunner.
On the fifteenth, another ten Russian tanks were knocked out by the Tigers from 9. Kompanie during the afternoon north of Bairak. On the sixteenth, another Russian attack is repelled east of Krassno-Konstantinowka. The encampment which quartered the crews from 9. Kompanie came under mortar and artillery fire on the seventeenth. The armored group launched counterattacks on Hill 168.2 and Hill 173.1. On the eighteenth, two Tigers were loaded onto rail transports in readiness for departure to a maintenance facility for long-term repairs, while a captured T-34 tank was used for recovery operations by the WerkStatt platoon for the recovery of six Panzer IV’s stuck in the open terrain forward of the German front lines. Between the nineteenth and twenty-first, a single Tiger and a handful of tanks were used for local counterattacks near Krassno-Konstantinowka and defensive actions near Hill 164.9. On the twenty-first, three Panzer IV’s were knocked out. On the twenty-second, the two entrained Tigers commanded by SS-Unterscharführer Vollmer and SS-Oberscharführer Weitner came under attack by a T-34. Weitner quickly placed himself in the gunner’s seat and loaded an antitank round into the main gun breach. He began to turn the turret using the turret handwheel. The T-34 got within a short distance before it slid into a ditch next to the railway embankment. Two men grabbed explosive charges and threw them onto the engine deck of the T-34. Both charges detonated, causing the stricken Russian tank to catch fire. The Russian crew bailed out. The commander surrendered; the second crew member was shot while the driver struggled to exit the burning tank; the fourth crew member remained inside the burning tank. After twenty minutes, the T-34 exploded, sending the turret up into the air. Despite Russian forces being in the area, the rail transport left, reaching Schwetschenkowo on the twenty-fourth.
On the twenty-fourth, a small reserve composed of one Tiger and three StuG’s was kept as a mobile reserve. The next day, a single Tiger and two StuG’s were used to support a small infantry combat team. On the twenty-seventh, a Tiger supported II/Grenadier-Regiment 203 during a counterattack on Owrag Baschtanka. On the twenty-eighth, a Tiger broke through a bridge while trying to cross it. The recovery took some time. Another Tiger fell out due to engine trouble. On the twenty-ninth, a single Tiger was used as an operational reserve covering Nowo Gannowka, Batschtina, and Nowo Petrowka. On the thirtieth, Grenadier-Regiment 203 and a Tiger attacked Hill 151.7.
On 1 December, SS-Untersturmführer Friedrich Schinhofen joined 9. Kompanie. Schinhofen had served with SS-Infanterie-Regiment 9 during 1941 before serving with SS-SturmgeschützeBatterie Totenkopf from 8 June to 2 December 1942. He attended the SS-Junkerschule Braunschweig and completed two courses, which ended on 1 May 1943. He had been promoted to SS-Untersturmführer on 10 March 1943 and served with 9. Kompanie from 1 December 1943 to 20 March 1944. Later, he would be transferred to schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 102 and served as the adjutant until early August 1944, when he was posted to 3. Kompanie in schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 102/502. On 9 November 1944, he was promoted to SS-Obersturmführer. He spent the few remaining weeks of the war as the battalion adjutant.
The status of 9. Kompanie on 1 December 1943 showed only one Tiger available for operational use, located near Nowo-Petrowka. Eleven Tigers were undergoing repairs in Dolinskaja, and another eleven were undergoing long-term repairs. On the third, the armored group took part in a counterattack against a Russian regimentsize force near Grigorjewka. Another attack on Hill 170.2 failed. On the sixth, the armored group remained in Nowo-Petrowka. On 7 December 1943, the armored group was involved in a counterattack on Dutschny and later took part covering the positions near Tschabanowka, supporting Grenadier-Regiment 534. SS-Oberscharführer Willy Biber was wounded during the action. On the following day, the armored group was involved in defensive operations in the area of Nowo Praga and near the Lenin Collective Farm. On the tenth, the armored group supported some infantry near Dolinskaja. On the twelfth, seven Tigers were transported back to Germany for factory maintenance.
On the fourteenth, SS-Sturmmann Rudolf Pavlu joined 9. Kompanie. Pavlu had joined the SS in 1938, rising to the rank of SS-Obersturmbannführer on 9 November 1940 after Germany occupied Poland. Pavlu was posted to the General Government and served on the staff of the Department of Works in the district of Krakow. On 15 September 1941, he became the town commandant for Krakow and served in this position until April 1943, when he requested a transfer to the Waffen-SS for frontline duty. Pavlu was quickly promoted to SS-Hauptscharführer and commanded his own Tiger tank. In June 1944, he attended the third SS-Panzer-Sonder-Lehrgang and was promoted to SS-Untersturmführer der Reserve on 20 October. In November 1944, he was posted back to SS-Panzer-Regiment 3, but he did not rejoin 9. Kompanie. At the war’s end he was taken prisoner and later efforts were made to extradite him to Poland. He escaped twice from captivity but was recaptured both times. He committed suicide in Romlinghoven, near Bonn, during the spring of 1949.
Between 15 and 24 December, 9. Kompanie spent the time organizing their Christmas function in Dolinskaja. On the twenty-ninth, tank training was conducted while the New Year was ushered in with another party, but on New Year’s Eve, SS-Untersturmführer Ebeling was severely wounded when he was hit by a bullet that struck him in the upper left arm. This wound kept him in the hospital until the end of the war. While recovering, Ebeling met his future wife at the SS-Hospital in Prague during 1945; she was a nurse on his ward. Also on the thirty-first, 9. Kompanie received a new allocation of Tiger engines.
On 5 January 1944, the Russian offensive against Kirovograd began, and the situation around Zhitomir was critical. The front line of 8. Armee had been pierced in two places. The armored group of SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 had been placed under the command of LII. Armee-Korps and attached to 13. Panzer-Division. On the sixth, the armored group, under the command of SS-Sturmbannführer Laackmann, moved to Ingulo-Kamenka. On the seventh, the armored group attacked north of Nikolajewka and along the road passing through Ribschina. Three Tigers sustained battle damage. On the eighth, the group was involved in defensive actions in the area of Fedorowka and Otradowka along with 13. Panzer-Division; it also linked up with Panzer-Grenadier-Division Großdeutschland. A new allocation of winter clothing was issued to the Totenkopf. On the ninth, six new engines for the Tigers were flown in and delivered to 9. Kompanie after being issued by A.O.K 6. On the tenth, two Zgkw 18t were handed over to the Totenkopf for recovery purposes by Berge-Panzer-Kompanie 3.
On the eleventh, the gepanzerte Gruppe (armored group) rejoined the Totenkopf Division and assembled in Bobrinez. On 12 January 1944, the Tigers underwent technical maintenance, and on the following day, the Tigers arrived in Rownoje. On the fifteenth the gepanzerte Gruppe moved into the area of Bolschaja Wyka and conducted several counterattacks near Owsjanikowska along with elements of the 11. Panzer-Division. The following day, an assault was launched from Petrowka against the area north of Owsjanikowska. The Tigers came under heavy antitank gunfire near Hill 215.6, losing four Tigers. On the seventeenth during a local counterattack, another Tiger was hit by antitank gunfire and sustained damage near Michailowka. On the eighteenth, the attack that was conducted on the sixteenth was repeated, but the results were the same. The attack started out from Petrowka but came under heavy antitank gunfire west of Alexandrowka. On the nineteenth, the gepanzerte Gruppe redeployed into the area of Nowo Ukrainka. The following day, uniform inspection and weapon cleaning were carried out.
Eric Lehmkuhl recorded in his diary:
On 16 January 1944, we attack with 6 Tigers in the direction of Petrowka (Petrovka). The attack breaks down under heavy Russian defensive antitank gun fire. The Tiger of SS-Unterscharführer Pavlu is knocked out. Radio operator Franz Nawatril is seriously wounded. On the eighteenth, we repeat the same attack but with some slight changes over the same ground, but again we have the same results—nearly all the Tigers come to grief. In February, the divisional command post is located in Bolschaja Wyska. Along our front, all is quiet; nothing remarkable happened. To our north, the 5. SS-Panzer-Division Wiking is encircled in the Korsun-Cherkassy pocket.
On 28 February, the divisional command post is in Alexejewka. Early morning, the Russians open up with a massive artillery barrage; this announces the beginning of a new Russian offensive. On 3 March, the Russian offensive is in full swing; we receive orders to move out toward Iwanowka, form a Kampfgruppe, and reinforce the units of the Großdeutschland. A signal comes from Nowo Ukrainka: SS-Obersturmbannführer Baedke will lead with four Tigers. We start out for Iwanowka via Nowo Alexandrowka in the direction of Bolschaja Wyska. Our Tiger takes a hit in the main gun from a shell. We try firing a test round, but the main gun is no longer of use. We remain at the command post in Nowo Ukrainka and recalibrate the main gun.
Baedke receives a signal from the tank regiment ordering him to return to Nowo Ukrainka since the Russians there have broken through. SS-Obersturmbannführer Baedke turns around and leads a relief assault on Nowo Ukrainka, during which he his killed after a shell hits the commander’s cupola. SS-Sturmann Mucke is killed by an artillery shell.
Between 20 and 24 January, the days are spent quietly in a village; the crews caught up with personal hygiene, washing uniforms, and cleaning weapons. On the twenty-fifth, the Russians shelled the German front lines with artillery and mortar fire, following up with infantry attacks which were beaten back with heavy defensive fire. On the same day, the Instand Staffel repaired several Tigers which were test-driven before being returned to the company. On the twenty-sixth, the company had a roll call and a winter uniform inspection. Baedke had much to complain about. On the twenty-seventh, it was announced that the town of Krakow had become the company sponsor. On the twenty-ninth, the company engaged Russian troops south of Petrowka and southeast of Wesslowka, where a Russian antitank front was destroyed. On the thirtieth, the Tigers needed ammunition and required urgent repairs because of the recent support provided to the grenadiers along the front line. On the thirty-first, one Tiger was damaged after being struck by Russian artillery fire. The radio operator, Nawratil, was wounded. Another Tiger had to be towed after breaking down, but the Tigers of 9. Kompanie did manage to knock out nine Russian tanks.
On 1 February, in the early morning, the Tigers were in the assembly area of II/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3. One Tiger had to tow a self-propelled gun; both vehicles came under Russian artillery fire near Petrowka. Over the next couple of days, the crews conducted signal, technical, and firearms training. On the sixth, the alarm was given in readiness for departure movement. The Russians occasionally shelled the company area, but this ceased in the afternoon; the crews removed the winter camouflage from the Tiger tanks. On the seventh, SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 reported that it had forty tank crews without tanks; this was reported to A.O.K. 8 as well. On the ninth, the company commander conducted a test on all the communication equipment. On the tenth, the crews carried out technical service on the Tigers. Some thirty men went on home leave the following day. On the twelfth, the company rations were running low, and the use of iron rations was being considered, but on the thirteenth, the situation was alleviated with a new allocation of rations. The crews made potato pancakes. On the fifteenth, post arrived from the home front; in some of the packages schnapps and beer were found. The sixteenth was very cold, and a heavy snow storm closed in, making matters worse. On the eighteenth, a Tiger had to recover a stuck Panzer IV in severe conditions. The snow storm had abated, but it was still very cold. On the twenty-first, three Tigers broke down and had to be towed to the regimental WerkStatt company for repairs. On the twenty-second, the front line was quiet. The crews started the engines on the Tigers and kept them running. Radio and frequency checks were conducted as well. The company support units were inspected by Baedke on the twenty-third.
On the twenty-fifth, the Tigers were deployed to observe Russian movement after an alarm was raised, but nothing was noted after the stand-down order was given and the Tigers pulled back to Bolschnaja Wyska. During the march back, a Tiger broke down and had to be towed. Both Tigers returned to the company later in the day. On the twenty-sixth, the company conducted technical maintenance, and on the twenty-seventh, SS-Sturmbannführer Laackmann assumed command of SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 after being appointed on the tenth. The twenty-eighth was a very quiet day. The crews managed to bathe and carry out personal administration.
On 3 March, four Tigers from the company were involved in a counterattack in the area of Nowo Alexandrowka after being sent to Iwanowka. The barrel of SS-Obersturmbannführer Baedke’s Tiger was hit. A test round was fired, but the test failed; the barrel was a total write-off. Baedke changed Tigers and continued the attack, during which the commander’s cupola was struck, killing Baedke. (Another report stated he was killed on the eleventh.) On the fifth, the combat-ready tanks from SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 were split and spread along the Totenkopf’s front line to provide support. On the eighth, one of these small groups was sent to assist 320. Infanterie-Division. The same day, A.O.K. 8 ordered the Totenkopf to ready to relocate to the area of Balta. On the ninth, 9. Kompanie was used to secure the eastern exit of Bolschnaja Wyska. Another mixed Kampfgruppe was sent to Iwanowka along with I/SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 5 (gep) Totenkopf, under the command of Laackmann, to assist Großdeutschland after a Russian breakthrough in the sector of the division south of Nikolajewka.
On the tenth, elements of SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 6 Eicke, along with a handful of StuG’s, were attached to Großdeutsch land while 9. Kompanie was used in defensive actions around Alexejewka and Kolhoz Gurjewka. On the following day, the Totenkopf began loading onto rail transports, but the Tigers and available Panzer III’s and IV’s were still south of Raskopana, engaging Russian tanks that had forced a breakthrough of the German lines. The same process was repeated in the afternoon, but the Russian attack was beaten back. The A.O.K. 8 leadership requested that the Totenkopf relocate to the area of Kriwoj Osero as quickly as possible.
Walter Nahm, who served in the Panzer regimental Aufklärungs Zug (armored reconnaissance platoon). He was later transferred to the Tiger Kompanie.
On maneuvers in Fallingbostal, January 1943.
The same Panzer III, but from the front.
Group photograph taken in Fallingbostal on 2 January 1943. The Kompanie’s ten new Panzer III 5cm lang (long—5 cm L/60) Ausf. L were delivered on 1 January 1943. WERDEHAUSEN
Panzer III Ausf. L of the Stabs.Kp., Aufklärungs Zug, late 1942. Wolfgang Barth served as a gunner during this period and is seen here sitting with the gunner’s double hatch open.
Portrait of Barth taken on 4 July 1943. At this time he served in the Aufklärungs Zug, Stabs.Kp., SS-Panzer-Regiment 3. The Panzerkampfabzeichen (Tank Battle Badge) in Silver is evident, awarded for participation in three separate armored assaults.
Barth and three other comrades pose for the camera, April 1943.
Rail transports being loaded in France before the departure for Russia. SCHILLING
The crews from the Aufklärungs Zug, Stabs.Kp., SS-Panzer-Regiment 3, do not, it seems, get to travel first class.
4(s) Pz.Kp. in the Krassnogrod area, February 1943. The spaced armor of the Ausf. L variant is evident. WERDEHAUSEN
Panzer III Ausf. J’s on the move. The high-velocity main gun was only effective against the Soviet T-34 frontally at close range, if at all. As for the heavy KV-1, even its side armor could only be penetrated at close range. WERDEHAUSEN
SS-Oberscharführer Rathsack throwing a snowball at Alfred Hargesheimer during the early part of 1942. Rathsack at this time was a Zug Führer in 3. Kompanie, SS-Panzer-Abteilung 2, before being transferred to SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 later in the year. RÜDIGER WARNICK
An overturned truck that had fallen through a bridge in Walki, February 1943.
Panzer III Ausf. L’s and Panzer. VI Ausf. E (Tiger) assembled after unloading in Poltawa, February 1943. The Tigers are the early-production variant.
An overturned Panzer III from 4(s) Pz.Kp. during the late winter of 1943.
A Panzer III Ausf. L from 4. Kompanie moves across the open Russian countryside. WERDEHAUSEN
Tiger 411 had broken through the ice near Pereschtschepino, while another source says this happened near Walki in March 1943.
Tigers and Panzer III’s on the move in the area of Poltawa, February 1943.
The crew of 412, a Panzer III, being utilized as a towing vehicle helping to recover a bogged-down truck, March 1943.
A Russian village looking desolate after the fighting in March 1943.
The crew of 412 getting dinner ready.
SS-Unterscharführer Lahm sits on top of a T-34/76, which is reportedly the Tiger Kompanie’s first tank knocked out near Kirowograd. Note the mix of steel and rubber-tired roadwheels—this was not due to a shortage of rubber in the Soviet Union as has often been claimed. The photograph was taken in March 1943. 4(s) Kompanie’s first actions were recorded on 3 March 1943. WERDEHAUSEN
On the move to the loading ramp in Fallingbostal, February 1943. WERDEHAUSEN
Stuck in the mud near Walki. Note the divisional “Death’s Head” emblem on the fender of the light personnel car.
In the woods near Budy, May 1943.
Entry into Charkow, 15 March 1943. A mixture of armored half-tracks, assault guns, and tank destroyers. The third of the four battles for Charkow (Kharkov) was a marked success for General von Manstein and the SS divisions involved.
Fritz Hitz, Fritz Lau, and Jupp Franz, May 1943.
Fritz Hitz stands next to an eighteen-ton “Famo” Sd.Kfz. 9 heavy prime mover from the maintenance section on the Mius Front, August 1943. The tactical symbol on the fender indicates a heavy tank company.
The Kompanie female volunteer, Magda. Charkow, May 1943.
The latest Opel Blitz Tiger under wraps, May 1943. The Opel Blitz was the standard German medium truck.
In April 1943, SS-Sturmbannführer Kunstmann took command of SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 after SS-Sturmbannführer Leiner was relieved of command. Standing in this group are SS-Sturmbannführer Kunstmann, II/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 commander; SS-Hauptsturmführer Beiermeier, 4(s) Kompanie commander; SS-Obersturmführer Schroder, platoon commander in the Tiger Kompanie; and Karl Frank, engineer from Maybach. Standing off to the side is SS-Oberscharführer Baumann.
Artur Privatzki standing in front of Tiger 933, June 1943. Privatzki is wearing the camouflaged tanker uniform particular to the Waffen-SS.
SS-Untersturmführer Quade shows where a shot from a Russian antitank rifle bounced off the Tiger’s cupola, July 1943. The Soviets used antitank rifles extensively, and they could be effective even against heavy armor if fired against visors, as in this case.
Maintenance being conducted in Makiewka, August 1943. Standing in front of the Tiger are SS-Untersturmführer Hadera and SS-Oberscharführer Biermann.
Group photograph of the supply section in the area of Bjelgorod, July 1943.
Tiger 911 on the Mius Front, with Schulze-Berg and the driver, Hoffmann. The Tiger was commanded by SS-Untersturmführer Kohler. The photograph was taken at the end of July 1943.
The Tiger of SS-Unterscharführer Gockl, July 1943.
SS-Untersturmführer Quade in Walki, August 1943.
Brand-new Tigers drive to the assembly area of Budy after being unloaded, May 1943.
A Tiger crosses a shallow stream in the area of Charkow, August 1943.
Tiger 924 under cover in the woods around Bjelgorod, June 1943.
Tiger 911 under the command of SS-Untersturmführer Kohler, May 1943.
The Tiger of SS-Oberscharführer Tassler in the area of Bjelgorod, June 1943.
On 3 October 1943, 9. Kompanie/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 took delivery of five new Tigers in Protopopowka. From the left: SS-Mann Fritz Winter, SS-Oberscharführer Peters, and SS-Sturmmann Heinz Krummel. This mid-production Tiger is covered in Zimmerit, an antimagnetic paste applied to counter magnetic and “sticky” antitank mines.
In May 1943, the Kompanie received nine new Tigers. The collection party had left on 26 March 1943. Note the narrow transport tracks, fitted when the Tigers were transported by rail.
Standing on the air intake attached to the winch of the portal crane is Josef Hodapp from the maintenance section, summer 1943.
A Tiger undergoes repairs under the supervision of the WerkStatt.Kp. from SS-Panzer-Regiment 3. The massive crane could lift up to sixteen tons and was necessary for maintenance work on the heavy Tiger. WERDEHAUSEN
The WerkStatt Zug (workshop platoon) bus in the area of Budy, May 1943.
In May 1943 near Charkow, the Kompanie personnel make time for some water sports.
One of the five new Tigers delivered on 3 October 1943. This is a mid-production version, as evidenced by the smaller cast commander’s cupola. WERDEHAUSEN
For any soldier in the field, personal hygiene is a must. This crewman is hand-washing his uniform, May 1943.
SS-Mann Rex stands in front of Tiger 911, June 1943.
The grave of SS-Untersturmführer Quade, killed on 30 August 1943 and buried in the German Military Cemetery in Charkow.
Crew of Tiger 924, area of Bjelgorod, May 1943.
9. Kompanie personnel inspect the remains of a Tiger knocked out on 22 August 1943 near Stepanowka. The Tiger has shed the righthand track and received a hit on the barrel.
SS-Unterscharführer Emil Weitner.
SS-Unterscharführer Weitner receives the Iron Cross, Second Class. FR WEITNER
Tiger 932 under camouflage netting, May 1943. BENEKE
On 29 July 1943, 9. Kompanie took over eight Tigers from SS-Panzer-Regiment 1. Here one of those Tigers has been renumbered 933.
Tiger 923 and crew during a pause in the fighting, summer 1943.
Another photograph of Tiger 924 in the woods near Bjelgorod, June 1943. Standing in front of the tank are Hoffmann and Rex.
Tiger 924, Bjelgorod, June 1943.
Repairs being conducted to the running gear by the WerkStatt Zug, September 1943.
Due to the weight of the Tiger, the workshop companies were supplied with specialized maintenance equipment, including heavy cranes.
After repairs are completed, it’s time for a test drive. Despite its size, the Tiger was very well designed mechanically and relatively easy to work on.
In the Kübelwagen is the Kompanie Spieß, SS-Oberscharführer Berger. June 1943.
A Panzer III Ausf. L and crew from the Panzer-Aufklärungs-Zug/Stabs.Kp./SS-Panzer-Regiment 3, September 1943.
A crew of a Panzer III Ausf. L from the Stabs.Kp. of I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3, September 1943. Wolfgang Barth is standing in the middle. The company still had a full complement of eight Panzer III’s during September 1943 but later lost seven during a single action. Because of this, the Panzer-Aufklärungs-Zug was disbanded on 1 October 1943 and the crews dispersed to other units within the Panzer regiment. The crew of SS-Unterscharführer Nutzenberger was sent to 9. Kompanie. BARTH
403, a Panzer III, in some slight trouble, February 1943.
Wolfgang Barth poses in front of a Panzer III Ausf. L, April 1943.
Orders group conducted by Panzer commanders from the Panzer-Aufklärungs-Zug, Stabs.Kp., SS-Panzer-Regiment 3, September 1943. The Panzer-Aufklärungs-Zug had been commanded by SS-Untersturmführer Lummitsch before he was transferred to I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3. SS-Untersturmführer Palm assumed commanded thereafter.
Crew of a Panzer III, possibly an Ausf. N with the 7.5cm L/24 main gun, pose for the camera, September 1943. Barth is sitting on the armored side skirt (Schürzen), while sitting directly behind him is SS-Unterscharführer Achim Nutzenberger, who served as a Tiger commander in 9. Kompanie for a short period before being posted to 7. Kompanie of II/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 as a Zug Führer.
A Panzer IV Ausf. G from I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 knocked out, August 1943.
Another Panzer IV Ausf. G knocked out on 10 August 1943. This Panzer IV belonged to the Panzer-Aufklärungs-Zug of I/SS-Panzer-Regiment 3. BARTH
Examining a captured Russian T-70, February 1943. Even this late in the war, the Soviets still fielded large numbers of light tanks despite their being easy prey for Panzer III’s. WERDEHAUSEN
4(s) Pz.Kp. crewmen examine a knocked-out T-34/76, March 1943. The T-34 with the 7.62cm main gun was no match for the Tiger in frontal engagements, and the Tiger’s side armor could be penetrated only at very close range.
Before the introduction of Berge-Panthers (a recovery vehicle based on the chassis of the Panzer V Panther) in large numbers during 1944, eighteen-ton prime movers were the work horse of the recovery platoons for the Tiger units. Here two such vehicles are being used to tow a Tiger back to the WerkStatt for repairs.
Tiger 923, summer 1943. The three vertical bars on the left hull front are a temporary unit marking designed to deceive Soviet intelligence prior to the Battle of Kursk in July 1943. BENEKE
Tiger 911, end of May 1943. Note the six “kill rings” on the barrel.
From the left: Lachner, van Kerkhom, and Godecke, autumn 1943. It seems that van Kerkhom has just been awarded the Iron Cross, Second Class.
Tiger 912. From the left: Kuster, Rex, unknown, and Hoffmann.
Tiger 914, commanded by SS-Unterscharführer Muller, who was killed along with loader Zimmermann after being hit by a Russian artillery round on 7 July 1943. This photograph was taken on 5 July 1943. JOHN KOSER / NARA
SS-Oberscharführer Baumann, who served in 9. Kompanie / SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 during 1943 as a Tiger commander. On 3 October 1943, he was serving in 8. schwere Panzer-Kompanie / SS-Panzer-Regiment 2. He eventually ended up commanding a Tiger I and a Tiger II in schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 102/502, 1. Kompanie. RUEDIGER WARNICK / STEPHAN CAZENAVE
SS-Untersturmführer Ebeling was posted to 9. Kompanie during September 1943 and served as a platoon leader. On 31 December 1943, he was wounded. In June 1944, he was still recovering with the SS-Panzer-Ausbildungsund-Ersatz-Regiment (a replacement unit) in Fallingbostal. Ebeling’s treatment continued right up to the war’s end. He tried to volunteer for a suicide mission but was rejected for service. He spent the early part of 1945 in the Prague Military Hospital, where he met his future wife. RUEDIGER WARNICK / STEPHAN CAZENAVE
SS-Untersturmführer Friedl Schinhofen served with 9. Kompanie from early November 1943 to March 1944. He was transferred to schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 102/502. During the Normandy battles, he was the battalion adjutant until he took command of 3. Kompanie on 8 August 1944. He remained 3. Kompanie commander until March 1945, when he again assumed the post of adjutant in the Stabs.Kp. until the war’s end. RUEDIGER WARNICK
Tiger 933 pauses for a halt in Dolinskayia. The turret number has been painted on a board and hung on the turret as the original number is now covered in whitewash. LACHNER
Soldiers from the Kompanie support units marching out for a field training exercise near Merefa, Charkow, April 1943.
SS-Unterscharführer Alois Tassler, 1943.
SS-Sturmmann Frank Sklenzky in Angouleme early 1943. Sklenzky served as a gunner in 9. Kompanie. Note the distinctive Totenkopf armband.
Two 18t Zgkw towing a broken-down Tiger, early August 1943. The Untersturmführer with his head turned away from the camera is Rathsack, who was wounded that month.
After the Charkow (Kharkov) campaign, 4(s) Kompanie personnel managed to get some much-needed rest. During rest periods soldiers catch up with their personal tasks, but here it seems that a soldier is about to get a bucket of cold water thrown over him.
On the left is Munch, and at the end is Adamiak, in front of Tiger 922 during late 1943.
Graves of three fallen comrades. In the middle is the grave of SS-Sturmmann Walter Weber.
Karl Blattmann during the winter of 1942–43. Blattmann was later wounded during the fighting for Vienna on 10 April 1945, was evacuated to an SS hospital in Prague, and was taken prisoner by the Russians.
Lachner (second from left) and Privatski standing next to the graves of fallen comrades, late summer 1943.
Four crew members of Tiger 933 pose for the camera while carrying out track repairs, December 1943.
Tiger 933 having extensive repairs carried out on its running gear by the WerkStatt.Kp. / SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 during December 1943. The interleaved and overlapping roadwheels gave the Tiger great mobility and a stable ride over soft ground as the ground pressure was low for a tank of its weight. However, this complex arrangement was difficult to work on, particularly if an inner roadwheel or a suspension component was involved.
The driver of Tiger 933, Hans-Ludwig Bachmann, takes time out for some light refreshment. Bachmann was killed in action on 30 August 1943.
Tiger 913 commanded by SS-Unterscharführer Fein, July 1943. The right track of the Tiger, it seems, was being repaired when the photograph was taken. The number of kills on the barrel of the 88 is impressive.
Senior NCO’s sit on the Kompanie commander’s Tiger with its newly applied turret number 901, May 1943.
Lachner standing on the left in front of Tiger 933, August 1943.
SS-Sturmmann Herman Mocnik standing in front of Tiger 911. Mocnik was killed during the fighting for Balta in late March 1944.
Panzer III’s (one Ausf. J and one Ausf. L) of the new 4(s) Kompanie at Fallingbostal, January 1943.
SS-Sturmmann Werner Hoberg, who was killed in action on 30 August 43 near Kalontajew.
Crew with their brand-new Panzer III Ausf. L, Fallingbostal, 1 January 1943.
Photograph taken by Lachner on 29 October 1943 at the Alexandria Air Field showing Ju 87 Stukas under going repairs. 9. Kompanie arrived at the air field in order to meet up with 4. Kompanie (Panther) / SS-Panzer-Regiment 2. 4. Kompanie was attached to SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 for about two weeks.
Panzer III and two crew members, Fallingbostal, 1 January 1943