Normandy and Falaise - April to August 1944

 

April 1944, remnants of the once powerful 2nd SS Panzer Division "Das Reich" were transferred from the muddy Eastern front to rest and refit in Southern France. The great Russian offensive of 1944 had been stalled by the spring thaw, this provided a window for the redeployment of German forces to France to prepare for the invasion of Fortress Europa.

Das Reich had been reduced to a mere 2500 men (renamed Kampfgruppe Lammerding) and this "core" of seasoned troops would form the backbone of Das Reich during its battles in France. To fill the ranks of the depleted division, 9000 replacements (mostly untrained boys - 17 and 18 years of age) joined the division which had set up a cantonment near the town of Montaubaun, just north of Toulouse. The reasoning behind this deployment was that the division would be available to intervene on either the Northern or Southern coasts of France, when an Allied invasion occured. Also Das Reich could guarantee the lines of communication between Army Groups G and B, which were constantly threatened by French Resistance attacks.

Das Reich was an important key to the defense of France since its 209 tanks and assault guns formed fully one tenth of the German armored forces in France. 2nd SS would be relied upon to strike swiftly when the Allies landed on French soil. However, much to the chagrin of Rommel and others, Das Reich was placed some 450 miles from the northern French coastline, which is where most agreed the Allied invasion would occur.

Throughout April and May, Das Reich trained in the countryside surrounding Montaubaun. The raw recruits began to resemble fighting men. Das Reich was seriously lacking in motorized transport for its infantry regiments, but the men of Das Reich tried to make due with what they had. Training was constantly disrupted by harassing Resisitance fighters and Das Reich spent considerable time and resources pursuing these partisans. In mid May, Das Reich received orders to begin a reconnaisance of the local railway and road systems in preparation for a move northward. It was also at this time that Das Reich received Panther tanks and Panzer IV's to bolster the tank regiment. This influx of vehicles brought Das Reich up to near full strength. In addition, Das Reich had a full compliment of Sturmgesch├╝tzen and both Panzergrenadier regiments were at full strength.

When the Allies landed in Normandy, Das Reich's Pz.Rgt. was commanded by Ostubaf. Tychsen, its 1st Abt. c/0 Stubaf. Rudolf Enseling, its 2nd Abt. c/o Stubaf. Kesten. It travelled from Toulouse area in SW France, arriving SW of Caen in late June. Taken from reserve during the first week in July, its strength was 26 Panthers in the 1st Abt. and 50 Pz.IV's in the 2nd Abt. The 5th and 7th Pz. Companies were attached to the 17th SS Pz-Grn.Div. along the Periers to Carentan road, the 6th Pz. company attached to I "Deutschland", the rest of the Pz.Rgt. positioned south of Sainteny.

On July 7-8 the 5th and 7th Pz. companies, that had formed a defensive line running from Les Landes to Lemonderie, were attacked by the U.S. 83rd Infantry Division. On the 9th, along a road near le Desert, a company of the U.S. 743rd Tank Battalion in pursuit of two Pz.IV's was ambushed from the flank by Ostuf. Kloskowski's 7th Pz. company. In 15 minutes, 9 Shermans were destroyed, 3 damaged (and abondoned). The next day, II Pz.Rgt. Das Reich clashed with American armor near Sainteny and Chateau de Bois Grimot. From the Periers area, I Pz.Rgt. D.R. attacked NE toward Sainteny, running into the 3rd Division. By dark, Das Reich had scored 98 armor kills in 8 days.

On the 12th, 600 meters west of Chateau d'Auxais, the 3rd and 4th Pz. companies battled U.S. armor and infantry while the 5th Pz. company was engaged near Bois Grimot. The division scored some 30 more kills by the 13th. On July 15th Sta.Ju. Fritz Langanke in Panther #231 spotted 5 Shermans coming up the road near Saint Denis. His tank cut across the road and wheeled around to fire on the Shermans, knocking out four. The fifth backed away into a thicket, but was soon sighted and destroyed. A month later Langanke gained the K.C. for this and other tank killing feats during July.

Das Reich's Pz.Rgt. had 8 command tanks, 35 Pz.IV's and 35 Panthers combat ready on July 23rd. Having retrieved his Panther #424 from the workshop on the morning of the 27th, some 10 km NE of Coutances, Uscha. Ernst Barkmann drove along the road to St. Lo in order to intercept a force of Shermans. In the melee that followed, he knocked out 9 of them. His Panther was so badly damaged by tanks and fighter-bombers that it had to return to the workshop. For the entire month of July, Barkmann scored 25 armor kills.

On July 28th, Oak Leaves holder of the K.C. Ostubaf. Tychsen, having two days earlier assumed command of the division, was killed in his VW just NE of the village of Cambry. Thus died Das Reich's greatest high level panzer commander.

Just after midnight on August 7th, the Avranches counterattack began, with Das Reich overrunning Mortain, its panzers striking further west, as well as SW toward Saint Hilaire.
 

For a detailed description of the actions of DAS REICH around Mortain, please click HERE


A week later, the attack had been completely smashed, and many German divisions began to be cut off in the Falaise pocket. On the 19th, some tanks from the 1st Polish Armoured Division took up defence positions on Hill 262 and 239, about 2 km west of Mont Ormel ridge. The next day a mixed group of Pz.IV's and Panthers advanced on Hill 239, then from its heights, shelled Hill 262 a km away, destroying 5 tanks and allowing some German units to escape the closing Falaise noose.

On the 23rd, Stubaf. Enseling received the K.C. for his leadership of the mixed panzer group during this action twelve days previously, Ostuf. Karl Kloskowski had become the third of only 6 company commanders in the whole panzertruppen to be awarded the Oak Leaves to the K.C. Duing the battle for Normandy, his company led Das Reich Pz.IV companies in kills. Ustuf. Adolf Reeb, the 7th company's leading ace, received the K.C. on August 23rd.

During 7 weeks of combat in France, Das Reich's panzer regiment knocked out over 200 Allied tanks to a combat loss of some 75 tanks, plus 30 more abandoned around Falaise as a result of mechanical problems or lack of fuel. Kloskowski left Das Reich in the fall, and Ostuf. Horst Gresiak took over command of its 7th Pz. company. Wilhelm Matzke was promoted to Hstuf. and went from command of the 3rd Pz. company to that of the 1st Pz.Abt. Ostuf. Johann Veith assumed command of the 3rd Pz. company. Ostubaf. Enseling was now c/o of the Pz.Rgt., with Stubaf. Dieter Kesten remaining as IInd Pz.Abt. c/o.
 

Information from "Das Reich Panzers", by Miles Krogfus, AFV News January 1987


 

Updated October 26, 2007

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