Part II

The Combat History of SS-Panzerjäger Abteilung 12 in Normandy

1

Organization, Equipment and Training of SS-Panzerjäger Abteilung 12 (6 February–9 July 1944)

The initial negotiations concerning the SS Division to be created from the young members of the National Socialist youth organization, the Hitlerjugend, commenced in February 1943 between the representatives of the Waffen-SS and the organization. Upon their joint recommendation, on 24 June Adolf Hitler issued an order for the division to be set up in the Beverloo training facility north of Brussels.

The officers and NCOs for the new unit were reassigned from its patron division the 1.SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division “Leibstandarte”; the enlisted men consisted mainly of German young men born in the first half of 1926, who had received military training. Later, 50 officers were also reassigned to the division from the Army, some of these officers having been members of the Hitlerjugend.

The main body of the unit was formed by the Panzergrenadier system, and was composed of the I.SS-Panzer Korps together with the “Leibstandarte”. Because Hitler wanted the Korps to consist of two armoured (Panzer) divisions, at the end of October 1943 they began the reorganization of the Divisions “Hitlerjugend” and “Leibstandarte” into armoured divisions. At the beginning of January 1944, “Hitlerjugend” consisted mainly of young soldiers who had only completed 18 weeks of training.

On 6 February 1944, by the order of Oberstgruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS Josef (Sepp) Dietrich, SS-Panzerjäger Abteilung 1 of the “Leibstandarte” separated from the strength of its army and was reassigned to the 12.SS-Panzer Division “Hitlerjugend”. The unit of three officers, 39 NCOs, 83 enlisted men and 13 Eastern non-combatant personnel, commanded by Obersturmführer Karl aus der Wiesche, was loaded in at Volochisk railway station. The next day the train departed from the Eastern Front. The Abteilungsführer of the new Panzerjäger Abteilung, Sturmbannführer Jakob Hanreich, remained for the time being at the Division “Leibstandarte”.

The road led via Tarnopol, Lemberg, Krakow, Liegnitz, Dresden, Leipzig, Frankfurt, Koblenz, Trier and Metz to Leopoldsburg. Before reaching its destination, the train crashed on 12 February 1944 between Spincourt and Arrency, due to which two soldiers were killed, and eight were wounded (four of them were transported to hospital in Verdun). 17 trucks of the consignment were irrevocably damaged. The train could only continue its journey on 15 February, after two days of repairs.

The train arrived at Leopoldsburg on 16 February and unloaded. Following this, the soldiers marched to reach their assigned quarters. The Abteilungsstab was located in Merhout, the 1.Kompanie in Qostham, the 2.Kompanie in Quadmecheln, and the 3.Kompanie in Gestel.1

On 20 February, 110 trainees of the tank destroyer NCO training course in Hilversum were reassigned to SS-Panzerjäger Abteilung 12. The trainees had previously been stationed with SS-Panzer-Aufklärungsabteilung 12 as a Panzerjäger-Lehr-Kompanie.

The strength of the Abteilung was increased considerably when 315 enlisted men from SS-Panzer Regiment 12, 23 enlisted men from SS-Panzer-Pionier-Bataillon 12 and 100 enlisted men from each of the two Panzer-Grenadier-Regimenter of the division arrived.

The table of order and equipment of the fighting Kompanien of SS-Panzerjäger Abteilung 12 was, at that time, planned according to the directive no. 1148/b. (K.St.N. 1148b).2 This system indicated three Kompanien, each equipped with 14 Nashorn selfpropelled heavy anti-tank guns.

However, for the time being, the unit did not have any combat vehicles. In order to commence training as quickly as possible, two men were sent to Olmütz on 20 February to bring along two Marder III tank destroyers equipped with 7.5cm anti-tank guns. The two vehicles arrived at the Abteilung on 2 March.3

On 29 March Sturmbannführer Hanreich returned with eight enlisted men from the Eastern Front and took over the command on 4 April from the deputy commander, Hauptsturmführer Hermann Tirschler, who became Chef of the 2.Kompanie.

Meanwhile on 30 March an order was received to relocate SS-Panzerjäger Abteilung 12 into the area of Nogent-le-Roi. The troops departed on 2 April at 0545 hours by train to reach their new station via Brussels, Amiens, Rouen and Vernon, arriving on 5 April, at 2230 hours.

The command post of the Stab of the Abteilung was placed in Coulombs, the quarters of the Stabskompanie was in Nogent-le-Roi. Quarters area of the 1.Kompanie was Villiers-le-Morhier, that of the 2.Kompanie was Chaudon, and that of the 3.Kompanie was Villemeux [-sur-Eure].4

On 14 April the last consignment arrived from the Eastern Front together with parts of the Stab and most of the 3.Kompanie.

However, at the beginning of May SS-Panzerjäger Abteilung 12 had to send off 367 of its enlisted men to the 1.SS-Panzer-Division. With this, the number of personnel of the Abteilung was less than the 516 stated in the table of order and equipment, and the 3.Kompanie had to be reduced to the level of a Kompanienstab.

There were also changes in the order of battle of the Abteilung. Now the unit planned to be equipped with Jagdpanzer IVs and towed 7.5cm anti-tank guns instead of the previously planned tank destroyers. The 1. and 2.Kompanien and the Abteilungsstab waited for 10-10 Jagdpanzers. The 3.Kompanie became the Unterabteilung, and was equipped with towed anti-tank guns.

The strength of each of the Jagdpanzer Kompanien consisted of 3 officers, 44 NCOs and 72 enlisted men. Apart from the vehicles their armament consisted of 29 pistols, 59 rifles, 31 sub-machine guns and 2 machine guns. Each Kompanie was equipped with 26 vehicles and four motorcycles with sidecars.5

The prototype of the Jagdpanzer IV was finished in December 1943 in the assembly halls of the Vomag (Vogtländische Maschinen-Fabrik AG).

At the beginning of the standardized production, a 7.5cm PaK 39 gun with L/48 calibre barrel was built into the Jagdpanzer. Traverse ability of the gun was 20°, its elevation was -5° + 15°. 79 shells could be loaded for the primary weapon; its armament, besides the 7.5cm gun consisted of two 7.92 machine guns (with 600 rounds of ammunition altogether).

The weight of the vehicle was 24 tons with gun mantlet armour of 80mm thickness, 60mm sloped glacis plate armour and 30mm sloped side armour. The Jagdpanzer was able to move with a maximum speed of 40 km/h on road, meaning its operational range was 210 km.

The crew of a Jagdpanzer consisted of four men (commander, gunner, loader, and driver).

There were 769 Jagdpanzer IVs built between January and November 1944 along with 26 armoured recovery vehicle versions.6

The first Jagdpanzer IVs were sent to the Panzerjäger Abteilung of the Panzer-Lehr-Division in March 1944, and were deployed during the occupation of Hungary. However, the first real combat in which this type was deployed occurred in Italy, within the ranks of the Panzer Division “Hermann Göring”.

The first 10 Jagdpanzer IVs, assigned to SS-Panzerjäger Abteilung 12 on 26 April 1944, arrived on 24 May, after four weeks of transport to the train station of Nogent-le-Roi. At that time, there were no muzzle-brakes on the guns and the Jagdpanzers were handed over without spare parts. One of the vehicles departing for the quarters area had its brake-system fail after unloading. It was repaired by SS-Panzer Regiment 12 and took them three days.

Five of the ten Jagdpanzer were given to the 1.Kompanie and five to the 2.Kompanie. Because the division command ordered shooting practice to be held, special training was delayed.

There were also engineering problems with the new Jagdpanzer. On 3 June the Jagdpanzer IVs used for training the drivers were showing signs of constructional failures, as after having travelled 300 km it was impossible to change to third gear. This problem was, however, fixed by the Panzerjäger Abteilung workshop platoon.

One day later an Unterscharführer was sent to Plauen, to the Vomag factory manufacturing the Jagdpanzer, in order to bring equipment7 necessary for modification of the vehicles.

At dawn on 6 June, at 0245 hours, SS-Panzerjäger Abteilung 12 was informed by the division that from midnight on considerable airborne activity was going on in the sector of the 711.Infanterie Division. At the same time alarms were raised and march alert was ordered for all units of the 12. SS-Panzer Division. The Allied forces had launched Operation “Overlord”.

At 1300 hours in the afternoon the 12.SS-Panzer Division departed to its appointed deployment sector without, however, SS-Panzerjäger Abteilung 12, SS-Werfer Abteilung 12 and SS-Panzer-Feld-Ersatz-Bataillon 12. These three units remained in their previous sectors and were securing there.8

While the division was engaged in heavy fighting around Caen, the Panzerjäger Abteilung resumed its training for the now inescapable deployment.

On 9 June the Jagdpanzers of the 2.Kompanie (its new Kompanie Chef was Obersturmführer Johann Wachter) trained with tank guns and machine guns. The tank guns were not in operational condition, due to, after examination, to construction problems of the sighting optics or the improper adjustment of the guns.

The two Marder III tank destroyers that remained in the strength of the Abteilung were to be directed to the divisional command post on 16 June. En route, the two vehicles became out of order due to constructional problems, so two days later they returned to the unit. The workshop platoon repaired them; however, one of the two tank destroyers departing on 19 June was again rendered immobile.9

On 20 June the division ordered that SS-Panzerjäger Abteilung 12 was to prepare one of its Kompanien for deployment and dispatch it to the fighting units. The commander of the Abteilung, Sturmbannführer Hans-Jakob Hanreich appointed the 1.Kompanie for this task; at the same time, he ordered that shooting practice would be held for all Jagdpanzers on 22 June.

On 21 June ten men from the unit departed for Breslau to bring along the Jagdpanzer IVs assigned for the unit. Three men were sent to Magdeburg in order to take over an armoured recovery tank (Berge-Panzer).10

On 22 June the missing 11 Jagdpanzer IVs (from the 21 stated in the table of organization and equipment) were allocated at last to the Abteilung.11

The same day, the shooting practice for the vehicles was started again at 0930 hours. The Jagdpanzers were defective with high explosive shells, but they were excellent at shooting with armour-piercing shells.

The guns were still not equipped with muzzle-brakes. Officers of the Panzerjäger Abteilung were travelling in France to and fro to find these muzzle-brakes, and the necessary number of vehicles, fuel, ammunition and supplies for the coming deployment. So far they had not had much success. It was a comfort, though only small, that on 23 June the unit was informed that the equipment necessary for modifications to the Jagdpanzer IVs was at the Panzerjäger Abteilung of the 2.Panzer Division in Bremoy.

In the evening of 26 June, the only Marder III tank destroyer (commander: Unterscharführer Elsässer) of the Panzerjäger Abteilung already at the frontline as reserve at the Divisionsstab, received orders to report to the 15./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 25. However, the tank destroyer did not find the Kompanie because it had withdrawn in the meantime.

Thus the lone Marder III received new orders. Now it had to report to the 9./SS-Panzer Regiment 12. The tank destroyer found the Kompanie, the right flank of which it was to secure. However, due to another engine failure it was again rendered immobile. The armoured Kompanie retreated because of the extremely heavy Allied artillery fire. The crew of the Marder had to follow them on foot. The Marder was eventually towed by a Panzer IV tank on 29 June to SS-Panzerjäger Abteilung 12 to which the Marder was to be handed over as ordered by the division. The crew, apart from the missing driver, went back to SS-Panzerjäger Abteilung 12.

On 2 July the other Marder III, which had also been stationed as reserve at the divisional command post, was also reassigned to SS-Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 12, then its crew returned to their original unit.12

From 1030 hours on 6 July the 1./SS-Panzerjäger Abteilung 12 (Kompanie Chef: Obersturmführer Georg Hurdelbrink) was appointed for deployment again, and carried out shooting practice with six Jagdpanzer IVs. During the practice 30 high explosive shells were fired. The results were satisfactory as the guns were properly adjusted and the muzzle-brakes had also arrived at last.

At 2330 hours the orders of the division arrived, according to which the 1.Kompanie was to go to the frontline.

During the morning of 1 July Sturmbannführer Hans-Jakob Hanreich discussed the details of departure and march with the Kompanie Chef of the 1.Kompanie. The Kompanie could only move at night, or during the day when the sky was cloudy, this way reducing the possibility of meeting Allied fighter–bomber aircraft. The Kompanie’s first intermediary aim to reach was Acon on the Dreux–Verneuil road. Large distances were to be maintained between the Jagdpanzers in order to prevent concentration of the vehicles during an air raid.

The column, consisting of eight Jagdpanzer IVs and one fuel truck of the 1./SS-Panzerjäger Abteilung 12, departed at 1500 hours towards the frontline.13

The next day four Jagdpanzers had already reached Acon, but three were stuck on the road because of minor failures. The eighth tank destroyer had to go to the workshop platoon.

On 9 July a Jagdpanzer IV (commander: Untersturmführer Helmut Zeiner) became out of order again. In the evening Sturmbannführer Hanreich followed the 1.Kompanie, which he found after midnight, 4 km northwest of Falaise.14

1 Vojenský Historický Archiv, Praha (Military History Archives, Prague), Tätigkeitsbericht der SS-Panzer-Jäger-Abteilung 12 “HJ” ab 6. Februar 1944, p.1.

2 Vojenský Historický Archiv, Praha (Military History Archives, Prague), Tätigkeitsbericht der SS-Panzer-Jäger-Abteilung 12 “HJ” ab 6. Februar 1944, p.3.

3 Vojenský Historický Archiv, Praha (Military History Archives, Prague), Tätigkeitsbericht der SS-Panzer-Jäger-Abteilung 12 “HJ” ab 6. Februar 1944, p.4.

4 Vojenský Historický Archiv, Praha (Military History Archives, Prague), Tätigkeitsbericht der SS-Panzer-Jäger-Abteilung 12 “HJ” ab 6. Februar 1944, p.6.

5 See K.St.N. 1149 (1.2.1944)

6 Peter Chamberlain and Hilary Doyle, Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two, London: Arms & Armour Press, 19992 pp.102–103.

7 Vojenský Historický Archiv, Praha (Military History Archives, Prague), Tätigkeitsbericht der SS-Panzer-Jäger-Abteilung 12 “HJ” ab 6. Februar 1944, p.10.

8 Vojenský Historický Archiv, Praha (Military History Archives, Prague), Tätigkeitsbericht der SS-Panzer-Jäger-Abteilung 12 “HJ” ab 6. Februar 1944, p.10.

9 Vojenský Historický Archiv, Praha (Military History Archives, Prague), Tätigkeitsbericht der SS-Panzer-Jäger-Abteilung 12 “HJ” ab 6. Februar 1944, p. 11.

10 Vojenský Historický Archiv, Praha (Military History Archives, Prague), Tätigkeitsbericht der SS-Panzer-Jäger-Abteilung 12 “HJ” ab 6. Februar 1944, p.12.

11 Nevenkin, p.905.

12 Vojenský Historický Archiv, Praha (Military History Archives, Prague), Tätigkeitsbericht der SS-Panzer-Jäger-Abteilung 12 “HJ” ab 6. Februar 1944, pp. 16–17.

13 Vojenský Historický Archiv, Praha (Military History Archives, Prague), Tätigkeitsbericht der SS-Panzer-Jäger-Abteilung 12 “HJ” ab 6. Februar 1944, p.18.

14 Vojenský Historický Archiv, Praha (Military History Archives, Prague), Tätigkeitsbericht der SS-Panzer-Jäger-Abteilung 12 “HJ” ab 6. Februar 1944, p. 19.

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