|SS Panzergrenadier Brigade 51|
SS Panzergrenadier Brigade 51 was a formation of the Waffen SS during World War II. It was created in June 1944, from units stationed at the NCO'S (SS-Unterführerschulen) and replacement units. By the end of August it had been virtually destroyed and the remnants were incorporated into the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division.
The SS Panzergrenadier Brigade 51 can trace its origins to the SS Kampfgruppe 3 which was formed in March 1944, from personnel stationed at the NCO school in Lauenburg, Pomerania. They were placed under the command of Sturmbannfuehrer (Major) Walter Joecke. Until the Normandy Landings 6 June 1944, the Brigade was just a paper formation, but it had been arranged that the Brigade could be fully mobilized within 48 hours if required.
SS Kampfgruppe 3 was officially renamed the SS Panzergrenadier Brigade on 18 June 1944. The Brigade's title is misleading as the Brigade was an Infantry formation and did not have an armoured unit attached.
The Brigade was posted to Denmark to relieve the garrison and allow them to move towards the invasion beaches, the main formation released was the 363rd Infantry Division. There secondary task in Denmark together with their sister brigade the SS Panzergrenadier Brigade 49 was to guard against a suspected Allied landing on the North Sea coastline. The Brigade was located in the Haderslev area southeast of Jutland.
The Brigade received orders to move to France on 4 August and the 3,000 men of the Brigade set out by rail for Troyes. In an attempt at deception they were upgraded and referred to as the 27th SS Panzer Division.
On 22 August the SS Panzergrenadier Brigade 51 saw its first action in the area of Sens, when the II/Battalion SS Panzergrenadier Brigade 51 and a Heer unit I/Battalion Regiment 199, were attacked in a carefully executed attack. Both Battalions were forced to withdraw when they were in danger of being outflanked after some heavy fighting they withdrew to new positions west of the Seine River near Troyes.
The Brigade was now located on both sides of the river with the I/Battalion to the North and the newly arrived II/Battalion and I/Battalion 199 Regiment to the South. The other units in the area were part of the II/Battalion, 199 Regiment and some Infantry units from the Kriegsmarine. The Brigade headquarters had been established in the city of Troyes opposite the bridgehead.
Waiting to establish contact with the advancing Allies, the Brigade sent out a reconnaissance party south on 24 August, on the approach to Bucheres near Chatillon they encountered a roadblock set up by the French Resistance and were forced to go to ground.
When he was informed of the situation the Brigade commander sent the 3rd Company, I/Battalion and the 3rd Artillery Battery to attempt a rescue. What followed was a fierce battle with the resistance forces who were forced to withdraw leaving behind 62 dead.
The next day 25 August, Troyes was attacked by a large American tank force of the U.S. 4th Armored Division which captured or destroyed the 8th Company, a medical detachment and the Brigade Motor Transport unit. The assault lasted all day and by late afternoon the tank assault had been turned back, but a large force from the French Resistance had surrounded the Brigade Headquarters. Soon afterwards the Americans returned and occupied Troyes and all contact with Brigade Headquarters was lost by 1630 hours.
Sturmbannfuehrer Walter Joecke gave orders that the Brigade staff, Headquarters Company and the Pionier Company should fight their way out of the town and rejoin the rest of the Brigade. Fighting house to house they fought their way free of the town, which surprised the Americans who had expected them to surrender.
The SS Pionier Company 51, covered the break out losing all its officers but they were effective and their sacrifice was not in vain. Their effectiveness in house to house fighting won praise from the American General George Patton and it was documented in his memoirs.
It was now that the majority of the I/Battalion was destroyed in bitter fighting for Sainte Savine and Fontvannes between 25 and 26 August.
At the same time on the other side of the bridgehead the rest of the Brigade was preparing to withdraw. The Panzergrenadiers would withdraw on foot and sent their vehicles on ahead in two convoys towards Route 19. One of the convoys was shot up by American aircraft on the morning of 26 August, but suffered only minor losses.
The Brigade Staff and the Brigade commander Walter Joecke were captured by an American Reconnaissance unit on 28 August.
What was left of the Brigade eventually reached the 3rd Panzer Division at St Dizier and to the west of Bar le Duc. Unable to reform the destroyed brigade they were assigned to 17th SS Division Goetz von Berlichengen.
II/Battalion SS Panzergrenadier Brigade 51, which has only suffered minimal losses was renamed the II/Battalion, SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 37, replacing the old battalion which had been decimated in the fighting in Normandy and the rest of the Brigade as used as individual replacements.
- Landwehr, Richard. Alarm Units! SS Panzergrenadier Brigades 49 and 51. Published by Merriam Press. ISBN 576381781.
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