|Country Nazi Germany|
Role Armoured warfare
|Active February 1943 – May 1945|
The 9th SS Panzer Division "Hohenstaufen", also known as SS-Panzergrenadier-Division 9 Hohenstaufen, was a German Waffen-SS Armoured division which saw action on both the Eastern and Western Fronts during World War II. The division was activated on the 31 December 1942. Many of the men of the division were young German conscripts, with a cadre of experienced NCOs and staff from the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. Their first action was in March 1944 in Poland; they were then moved to Normandy in June that year. After the retreat from France, they were moved to Arnhem in September 1944, to rest and refit and became involved in the Allied parachute landings. Their next action was the German advance in the Ardennes in the winter of 1944–1945. After defeat in the Ardennes, the division was moved to Hungary, where it took part in the fighting to the west of Budapest in February and March. Falling back into Austria, the division surrendered to the advancing United States Army on 5 May 1945, at Steyr.
The 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen was formed, along with its sister formation 10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg, in France in February 1943. The division was mainly formed from Reichsarbeitdienst (RAD) conscripts. Originally, Hohenstaufen was designated as a Panzergrenadier division, but in October 1943 it was promoted to full Panzer Division status. At its formation, Hohenstaufen was commanded by SS-Obergruppenführer Wilhelm Bittrich. The title Hohenstaufen came from the Hohenstaufen dynasty, a Germanic noble family who produced a number of kings and emperors in the 12th and 13th centuries AD. It is believed that the division was named specifically after Friedrich II, who lived from 1194–1250.
After the encirclement of Generaloberst Hans-Valentin Hube's 1st Panzer Army near Kamenets Podolsky in Ukraine, Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein requested that the Hohenstaufen and Frundsberg divisions be sent to attempt to link up with the trapped force. Arriving in the east in late March 1944, the divisions were formed into the II SS-Panzer Corps and were sent into the attack near the town of Tarnopol. After heavy fighting in the horrible conditions caused by the rasputitsa ("mud season"), the division effected a link-up with Hube's forces near the town of Buczacz. During these battles, Hohenstaufen had suffered many casualties, and in late April was pulled out of the line to refit. The II SS Panzer Corps was to act as reserve for Army Group North Ukraine, performing "fire brigade" duties for the Army Group. After the Allied invasion of northern France on 6 June 1944, the II SS Panzer Corps, including the Hohenstaufen, was sent west on 12 June, to defend Caen in Normandy.
Hohenstaufen suffered losses from Allied fighter bombers during its move to Normandy, delaying its arrival until 26 June 1944. The original plan for Hohenstaufen to attack towards the Allied beachhead was made impossible by a British offensive to take Caen. The II SS Panzer Corps was instead put into the line to support the weakened forces defending Caen. Hohenstaufen was involved in ferocious fighting until early July, suffering 1,200 casualties. On 10 July, the division was pulled back into reserve, to be replaced by the 277th Infantry Division.
After the launching of another British offensive aimed at taking Caen, Hohenstaufen was again put back into the line, this time defending Hill 112, taking over the positions of the battered Frundsberg. After more heavy fighting, Hohenstaufen was again pulled out of the line on 15 July. The division's depleted Panzergrenadier regiments were merged to form Panzergrenadier Regiment Hohenstaufen. The division saw much action defending against British armour during Operation Goodwood, suffered many losses but succeeded in holding the line.
After the launch of the Canadian Operation Totalize, Hohenstaufen performed a fighting withdrawal, avoiding encirclement in the Falaise pocket, and fighting to keep the narrow escape route from this pocket open. By 21 August, the Battle of Normandy was over, and the German forces were in full retreat. Obersturmbannführer Walter Harzer was now placed in command of the division. It fought several rearguard actions during the retreat through France and Belgium and in early September 1944, the exhausted formation was pulled out of the line for rest and refit near the Dutch city of Arnhem. By this time Hohenstaufen was down to approximately 7,000 men, from 15,900 at the end of June.
Upon arriving in the Arnhem area, the division began the task of refitting. The majority of the remaining armoured vehicles were loaded onto trains in preparation for transport to repair depots in Germany. On Sunday, 17 September 1944, the Allies launched Operation Market-Garden, and the division fought in the Battle of Arnhem. The British 1st Airborne Division was dropped in Oosterbeek, to the west of Arnhem. Bittrich (now commander of the II SS Panzer Corps) ordered Hohenstaufen and Frundsberg to ready themselves for combat, but only the division's reconnaissance battalion, equipped mostly with wheeled and half tracked vehicles, was ready for action.
Bittrich ordered Hohenstaufen to occupy Arnhem and secure a vital bridge (it later became known as the John Frost Bridge). The division encountered stiff resistance from the British Rote Teufeln (Eng. "Red Devils") Parachute Regiment. The Reconnaissance Battalion, a 40-vehicle unit commanded by Hauptsturmführer Viktor Eberhard Gräbner, was sent south over the bridge to scout the area around Nijmegen. Meanwhile, Colonel John Frost's 2nd Battalion of the British 1st Airborne Division had advanced into Arnhem and prepared defensive positions at the northern end of the bridge. They destroyed Gräbner's unit, which lost 12 vehicles out of 22 in the assault and around 70 men killed, including Gräbner. This action is depicted in the film A Bridge Too Far.
After the battle of Arnhem, Hohenstaufen moved to Paderborn for a much-needed rest and refit. On 12 December 1944, the division moved south to the Munstereifel. It was to act as a reserve for Sepp Dietrich's 6th SS Panzer Army, a part of the Ardennes offensive (Unternehmen: Wacht am Rhein). The 6th Panzer Army was to attack in the north, along the line St. Vith–Vielsalm. Initially, only the divisional reconnaissance and artillery units were involved in the fighting but on 21 December, the entire division was committed. The 9th SS Division tried to breakthrough defensive positions of the 82nd Airborne Division but failed.
When the attack in the north stalled, the division was sent south to assist in the attacks on Bastogne, where it took heavy casualties from the American defenders and lost much of its equipment to Allied ground attack aircraft. On 7 January 1945, Hitler called off the operation and ordered all forces to concentrate around Longchamps, Belgium.
Throughout the rest of January 1945, Hohenstaufen was involved in a fighting withdrawal to the German border. At the end of the month, the division was transferred to the Kaifenheim-Mayen area to be refitted. At the end of February, the division was sent east to Hungary as a part of the reformed 6th SS Panzer Army under Sepp Dietrich. The division, along with the majority of the SS Panzer units available, was to take part in Operation Spring Awakening (Frülingserwachen), the offensive near Lake Balaton, which was aimed relieving the forces encircled in Budapest by the Red Army.
The attack got under way on 6 March 1945. Due to the condition of the roads, the division had not reached its jump-off position when the attack began. A combination of mud and stiff Soviet resistance brought the offensive to a halt and on 16 March a Soviet counter-offensive threatened to cut off the 6th SS Panzer Army. Hohenstaufen was involved in the fighting to escape the Soviet encirclement.
On 1 May, the greatly depleted division was moved west to the Steyr–Amstetten area. On 5 May 1945, Hohenstaufen surrendered to the Americans.