This book represents the first comprehensive treatment of Panzergrenadier-Division ‘Brandenburg’ published to date. Yet, it was not a book I ever intended to write. In 2011 Duncan Rogers requested that I pen an Introduction to a new edition of Edmund Bodenmüller’s Panthers to the Front! Diary of a Tank Gunner, scheduled to be released by Helion, based on my prior published works regarding East Front operations in the spring of 1945. What happened next was unanticipated…
In the course of preparatory archival research for the new Introduction, I quickly came to suspect that Bodenmüller’s unit never served with Panzergrenadier-Division ‘Brandenburg’ as claimed in his account and that the entire second volume of his published work was likely forged after his death and sold off as “original” by an unscrupulous dealer. Not only had my research brought into question the authenticity of Bodenmüller’s account, it also revealed that Panther-Battalion ‘Brandenburg’ never served with its parent division at any point during the war. The Panther Battalion was assigned to Panzergrenadier-Division ‘Kurmark’ because the pace of Soviet operations during their winter offensive of January 1945 prevented the battalion from reaching its intended parent division. Confronted with these disappointing facts, further plans to publish Panthers to the Front! ceased. There was, however, a silver lining to this story…
My archival research unearthed hundreds of pages of unpublished first person accounts by veterans of Panzergrenadier-Division ‘Brandenburg’. These accounts were deposited in the Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv in Germany by the estate of Hellmuth Spaeter after his death. Spaeter was as an officer in the division during its five-month existence and served as the official historian of the Großdeutschland Veteran’s Association after the war. What made this trove of accounts so fascinating was that they offered incredible insight into a period of military history devoid of significant primary documentation. Spaeter only used a fraction of this material when he privately published his three-volume history of Panzer-Korps ‘Großdeutschland’ in the 1950s. What he did use he often summarized or sanitized, leaving out raw, personal, yet significant detail. Perhaps most important, Spaeter had no access to the wealth of complimentary primary sources now available when he wrote his history.
While many readers of military history are familiar with the exploits of Sonderkommando ‘Brandenburg’ (Brandenburg Commandos), few recognize that the famed commando organization ceased to exist by November 1944 when it was all but incinerated in the charnel house of the Balkans. From its ashes formed the Panzergrenadier-Division ‘Brandenburg’ — a new conventional combat division that shared little beyond a name with its commando predecessor. I proposed to Duncan that based on this trove of veteran accounts, the first ever history of this late war division’s formation and combat record should be published. He saw the potential and agreed. Five years later Panzergrenadiers to the Front! The Combat History of Panzergrenadier-Division Brandenburg on the Eastern Front 1944-45 was born.
At the core of Panzergrenadiers to the Front! are veteran’s accounts derived from their wartime diaries and postwar correspondence. These accounts are often emotional, gritty, and unabashed in their view of their brutal late war combat experienced along the Eastern Front. The accounts come from nearly two-dozen veterans who represent a diverse cross-section of the division. They are as follows:
Oberarzt Dr. Braune, Troop Physician of Heeres-Flak-Artillerie-Abteilung ‘BR’
Oberleutnant i.G. Hamburg Bröker, IIb of the Division
SS-Sturmbannführer Graf von Egloffstein, commander of Fahrschwadron ‘BR’
ObergefreiterR. Felhofer of 1.Kompanie of Regiment 2 ‘BR’
Oberfeldwebel Goller, of 3.Kompanie of Regiment 1 ‘BR’
Leutnant Grosser, O1 of Jäger-Regiment 1 ‘BR’
Fahnenjunker-Unteroffizier (later Wachtmeister) Held-Kleingründlach, 2.Batterie commander in Sturmgeschütz-Brigade ‘GD’ subordinated to the Division
Leutnant Kass, commander 2.Kompanie of Panzerjäger-Abteilung ‘BR’
ObergefreiterJ. Klingenschmid of 3rd Platoon, 1.Kompanie of I.Btl./Jäg.Rgt.2
Hauptmann Herbert Noeres, Adjutant of II.Bat./Pz.Rgt. ‘BR’
Hauptmann Friedrich Müller-Rochholz, commander of Panzer-Sturm-Pionier Bataillon ‘BR’
Oberleutnant (later Hauptmann) der Reserve Eric Röseke, commander of 6.Kompanie of Jägerregiment 1 ‘BR’ until February 8th
Leutnant (later Oberleutnant) Schmalbruch, commander 3.Kompanie (mot) of I.Btl./Jäg.Rgt.2
Gefreiter Siebert-Göttingen, member of a Fahnenjunker-Kompanie as part of Kampfgruppe Spornring dispatched as field replacements for the Division
Leutnant G. Simons, company commander in II.Btl./Jäg.Rgt. 2 ‘BR’
Major Helmuth Spaeter, Ib (Quartermaster) of the DivisionHauptmann der Reserve (later Major)
Konrad (Kurt) Steidl, commander I.Bataillon of Jägerregiment 2 ‘BR’
Fahnenjunker-Unteroffizier Hans Stübling, member ofPanzer-Sturm-Pionier Bataillon ‘BR’
Further archival research yielded new relevant material, like the hundreds of original daily situation maps for Heeresgruppe Mitte, located in the U.S. National Archives. These daily situation maps were misfiled for over 40 years and accessed by few other researchers before my visit in 2014. They provide critical insight into battlefield operations along the Eastern Front from the fall of 1944 through the spring of 1945. Many images of these original maps are published for the first time in this book.
All this information was painstakingly woven together day-by-day, month-by-month, to form a complete history of Panzergrenadier-Division ‘Brandenburg’ from its initial deployment to Poland in January 1945 to the division’s disbandment in Czechoslovakia four months later. Several highlighted topics from the book are:
* The political maneuvering and tensions between Admiral Wilhelm Canaris and Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler that led to the final dissolution of the ‘ ‘ commandos and formation of a Panzergrenadier-Division of the same name.
* How the lack of coordination between Front Commanders Georgi Zhukov and Ivan Koniev adversely shaped Soviet operations and allowed 100,000 withdrawing German soldiers of Gruppe Nehring—including ‘Brandenburg’—to escape destruction on several occasions during the Soviet winter offensive.
* Formation and training of the 2nd Polish Army.
* The role of ‘Brandenburg’ in the Wehrmacht’s last operational victory of the war by defeating the Soviet 7th Guards Mechanized Corps and 2nd Polish Army in detail around the city of Bautzen.
Readers will also find themselves amidst the documented horrors of war’s end. They will bear witness to the brutality unleashed across Silesia and Saxony by Russian and Polish soldiers alike, as well as the retribution extracted by their German counterparts. Atrocity was — and still is today — a very uncomfortable reality of the battlefield that cannot be ignored.
More than just a book about a single combat division, Panzergrenadiers to the Front! provides readers with an unprecedented view into the operations that shaped the final months of combat on the Eastern Front from all sides and command levels. With over 60 images of the key towns and leaders referenced in the text and a separate book containing over 100 detailed maps, this work will be an essential reference for years to come.