33. Waffen-Kavallreie-Division Der SS
03/1943: Legion des Volontaires Français (German Army)
10/1943: Französisches SS-Freiwilligen-Grenadier-Regiment
11/1943: Französisches SS-Freiwilligen-Regiment 57
08/1944: Waffen-Grenadier-Brigade der SS "Charlemagne" (French No. 1)
02/1945: 33.Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS "Charlemagne" (French No. 1)
in name only
The history of the
33. Waffen-Kavallreie-Division Der SS "Charlemagne":
This division was composed of 7340 men and was divided into two regiments. The 57th Regiment had former LVF and the 58th Regiment formed from SS Sturmbrigade and Milice personnel. The divisional commander was German SS-Brigadeführer Dr. Gustav Krukenberg, second in command former LVF, Edgar Puaud with the rank of Waffen-Oberführer. The division was placed at Wildflecken Depot station, about 40Kms away from Schweinfurt, Germany. Many Frenchmen were selected for special training and were dispatched to courses in remaining areas of the Reich. The division was provided with leftover German and Italian armament and provisions.
On 24 February 1945, two regiments of the division without divisional support were sent to the front lines near the railroad station in the village of Hammerstein.
The Division was attached to the German XVIII Gebirgs-Korps of the 2nd Army, commanded by General Houchbaum, which was part of Army Group Vistula in Pomerania. The Corps was tasked to defend a front line running from Landeck to Konitz, 45 Kms long. The Corps had already two Divisions defending the region, the German 32nd Infantry Pomeranian Division and the 15th Waffen-SS Latvian Division.
Meanwhile the Russians were already launching an offensive attack near Hammerstein-Neustettin Sector. The SS-French troops unaware what was going on went on the offensive but were immediately pull back towards Hammerstein from the Russian onslaught. Orders were immediately given to have the SS-French troops to assemble at Neustettin.
The Battle of Neustettin
By midday on the 26th February 1945, the bulk of the SS-French Division had reached Neustettin. Of the 4500 troops that formed the Division, 1000 of them including 15 officers were missing in action. Overall about 50 Russian tanks were destroyed and inflicted more then double of Russian casualties.
At Neustettin about thirty Iron Crosses were awarded.
This caused the French forces to re-organize in Neustettin with three small battle groups. By the 2nd of March 1945, the new organization consisted of the following battle groups, which consisted of two battalions:
The first group was referred as "Regiment of Marche," which had the best elements of men, under the command of Ostuf. Fenet.
The second group was mostly made up of ex-LVF and Miliciens under the command of Hstuf. Bassompierre.
The third group was a Reserve unit of two small battalion size groups placed under the command of Hstuf. Monneuse.
During the 3rd & 4th March 1945, these battle groups were surrounded. One battle group tried to escape under cover of the fog, unfortunately the fog cleared, and they were exposed to a murderous fire from the Russian artillery. Oberführer Puaud was among those missing. Another battle group, which was composed mostly of former miliciens thought that the Baltic ports were in enemy hands and attempted a fighting retreat westward. All were either killed or taken captive including Bassompierre. The third group was trapped in a pocket on the Baltic coast in Danzig. SS-Brigaderführer Krukenberg, received orders to evacuate his remaining troops via the German Navy. The remnants split into small groups and dispersed in all directions. During this withdrawal, the group of mostly LVF veterans engaged ex-German POWs of the "Seydlitz Division." This German Division fought on the Soviet side.
On the 10th March the French SS reached the Oder and crossing by pontoon bridge they broke the Soviet circle. In mid-March all that was left of the division regrouped at Neustrelitz. A regimental strength and a small battalion size of men were reorganized.
The Battle of Berlin
In Neustrelitz, Krukenberg received a telegram ordering him to reach Berlin with one battalion. He asked for volunteers, those who didn't want to continue fighting were absolved, one officer and 300 other ranks elected to call it quits.
In spite of fighting a loosing war 500 men volunteered. They eventually reached Neukolln, East Berlin. However, due to the very heavy Russian air attack 100 of them perished on their way.
In East Berlin the remaining 400 men were attached to the "11th SS Panzer-Grenadier Division Nordland". They fought with undeniable heroism and terrible losses, 30 Russian tanks were destroyed at the very beginning of the battle. Street fighting raged on, within a week it's strength had been reduced to 120 men. Every street and house was hotly contested by French SS men.
By 29 April, 60 more Russian tanks had been knockout. Such was the courage of the "CHARLEMAGNE" Division.
Three Frenchmen "Apolot" "Fenet" and "Vaulot" have received the Knights Cross to the Iron Cross during the Battle for Berlin.
Waffen Oberführer der SS
Dr. Gustav Krukenberg