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2ND SS PANZER DIVISION "DAS REICH"

Author: The German War Machine
Editor: The German War Machine
Date of publishing: November 2015
First published in english: Novembrer 2015

The 2nd SS Panzer Division "Das Reich" was an elite division during World War II. It is considered to be one of the better fighting formations amongst the thirty-eight divisions fielded by the Waffen-SS.
It served during the invasion of France and took part in several major battles on the Eastern Front (particularly in the Battle of Prokhorovka against the 5th Guards Tank Army at the titanic Battle of Kursk). It was then transferred to the West and took part in the fighting in Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, ending the war with desperate fighting in Hungary and Austria.
Early war and the SS-VT – 1939/1940
In August 1939 Adolf Hitler placed the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler and the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT) under the operational command of the OKH - Oberkommando Heer, (German army supreme headquarters). Thus, at the outbreak of hostilities, there were four SS military regiments: Leibstandarte, Deutschland, Germania and the new formation from Austria, Der Führer (although this unit was not yet combat-ready). Events during the Invasion of Poland raised doubts over the combat effectiveness of the SS-VT. Their willingness to fight was never in any doubt; at times they were almost too eager to fight. The OKW - Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (Supreme headquarters, German armed forces) reported that the SS-VT had unnecessarily exposed themselves to risk and acted recklessly, incurring heavier losses than Army troops. They also stated that the SS-VT was poorly trained and its officers unsuitable for command. In its defence, the SS-VT insisted that it had been hampered by its fighting piecemeal instead of as one formation and improperly equipped to carry out what had been required of it. Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, insisted that the SS-VT should be allowed to fight in its own formations, under its own commanders, while the OKW tried to have the SS-VT disbanded altogether. Hitler, unwilling to upset the army and Himmler, chose a different path. He ordered that the SS-VT form its own Divisions but that they would be under Army command.
In October 1939 the Deutschland, Germania and Der Führer regiments were organized into the SS-Verfügungs Division  and took part in the Campaigns in the West against the Low Countries and France in 1940, first seeing action in the main drive for the Dutch central front and Rotterdam. After that city had been captured, the Division, along with other German formations, intercepted a French force and forced them back to the area of Zeeland and Antwerp. The SS men were next used to mop up small pockets of resistance in the areas already captured by the German advance. The Division was then transferred to France and helped breach a stiffly defended canal line, and subsequently participated in the drive on Paris. At the end of the campaign, it had advanced all the way to the Spanish frontier.
The symbol for the Das Reich division was the wolf's hook, or Wolfsangel. As a whole, the Waffen-SS was found guilty of war crimes in the Nuremberg tribunal, with Das Reich itself being notorious for the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre.

Fig Adolf Hitler, Chancellor of Germany
On the morning of 21 March 1918, soldiers in the British 5th Army received an unpleasant surprise when an artillery bombardment began and pummelled their forward positions in an area near the Somme River. While German gunners hurled shells onto this section, small groups of elite, light infantry commandos crept past the British Army's front line, hidden by the morning fog and clouds of gas remnants. Armed with light machine-guns, portable mortars, flame-throwers, grenades and other weapons, these company and battalion-size units were known as the Sturmtruppen (storm troops) or Stosstruppen (shock troops).
When the artillery barrage ended, the storm battalions struck, using their weapons to disrupt communication and supply lines within the 5th Army and open wide gaps within the forward zone of the British defence network. This surprise action enabled General Oskar von Hutier and his 18th Army to advance 11.2km (7 miles) by the end of the day. Less than a week later, his forces seized the French rail centre- of Montdidier and opened a gap 16km (10 miles) wide between the British and French armies. Thanks in part to the Stosstruppen, the German Spring Offensive of 1918 had a promising beginning, and seemed as if it might break the long stalemate that had prevailed along the Western Front during World War I.
Further Success
On 9 April, another group of shock troops under the command of General Ferdinand von Quast routed a division of Portuguese soldiers during an assault on the Belgian rail centre of Hazebrouck. This operation enabled Quast and his 6th Army to advance 4.8km . (3 miles) into enemy territory before being checked by the British 1st Army. Later in the month, the Germans occupied Passchendale Ridge, and it seemed possible that they might achieve a breakthrough in Flanders.
On many earlier occasions, military commanders had used infiltration tactics to achieve decisive victory in the war. In September 1917, Hutier seemed to have perfected the effective deployment of storm troopers when he used them to capture the port of Riga from the Russians. A month later, General Otto von Below crushed the Italians at Caporetto using similar units. Late in November, a successful counterattack by Stosstruppen commandos enabled the Germans to recapture Bourlon Wood near Cambrai. Suitably impressed with the results of these actions, General Erich von Ludendorff ordered Hutier and Below to use storm battalions on a large scale to inaugurate Operation 'Michael', the great spring offensive of 1918.
Ultimately, the spring offensive failed due to miscalculations made by Ludendorff, its chief architect, and the insufficient number of German forces available that were needed to exploit the initial successes achieved by the storm battalions and other units. In effect, it was the last bolt fired from the German war machine aimed at achieving a victory in World War I. Its failure ensured that the growing numerical superiority of the Allied armies would eventually force Germany into suing for an armistice and accepting the termsvimposed by its enemies.
Felix steiner
Despite this unfavourable outcome, the effective deployment of the storm battalions gave some of the younger and more innovative members of the German officer corps the inspiration to construct a new military organization that would employ similar methods of mobility and infiltration against enemy forces. If this feat could be accomplished, they might be able to prevail when future conflicts engulfed Europe. One such officer was Second Lieutenant Felix Steiner, a decorated soldier who was disillusioned by the futility and waste of the static trench warfare he had experienced on the Western Front. In the aftermath of the war, he and other young reformers would develop an organization that would eventually be known as the Waffen-SS, the personal army of Adolf Hitler and his Nationalsqzialistishe Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers Party, or NSDAP).


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