History

The French, Scandinavian and British Last Defenders of Berlin

Despite tens of thousands of books, features in periodicals, newsreels, movies and comment, the most important stories relating to World War II are unknown. Why, because the events put Germany’s foreign defenders in a good light.

By Christmas 1944 the war was effectively over. The only thing that kept the blood flowing was the Allied armies resolve to concede nothing but Unconditional Surrender. The multi-national armies defending the Reich faced the combined armies of three world empires. Thus, troops of many nationalities fighting for Germany had no choice but to fight to the death.

Little known is the fact that Berlin, the capital and fulcrum of the Third Reich was largely defended not just by German troops and civilians but by foreign volunteers, especially Scandinavian, French and British troops.

The French 33 Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS Charlemagne and Charlemagne Regiment are names used for units of French volunteers in the Wehrmacht and later Waffen-SS during World War II. 

The Charlemagne Division was formed in 1944. From 7,340 at its peak in 1944, the strength of the Division fell to just sixty men by May 1945. It is impossible to set out individual examples of extreme and selfless valour displayed by the foreign volunteers of the Waffen-SS; honour has to be therefore collective. The Divisions’ defence stretched the length of the Eastern Front throughout which they were confronted by the overwhelming numbers of the American and British supplied Red Army.

At the Bobr River on 25 June elements of the LVF under Major Bridoux fought for 48-hours against a Soviet assault.   Attached to the 4th SS-Police Division and supported by Stukas and five Tiger tanks the French troops stopped several attacks. Testimony to the ability of the LVF came from a Soviet communiqué which spoke of their entire forces being stopped by the sacrifice of just two tiny French divisions.

On February 1945, the unit was officially upgraded to a Division and renamed 33-Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS Charlemagne.  The division was very much under strength and was ordered to confront the Red Army now in Soviet Occupied Poland. 

On February 25, 1945, the Division was attacked whilst repositioning from the railhead at Hammerstein (Czarne) in Pomerania under assault by troops of the Soviet 1st Belorussian Front.  Opposing the French defenders were four British supplied Red Army infantry divisions and two tank brigades.  The depleted French division had neither maps nor radios. Ever resourceful they used what they could lay their hands ion including captured Allied captured weapons. Most of the Red Army tanks were destroyed by Panzerfausts in the hands of the French, British and Scandinavian defenders.

On the night of March 3, 1945 the Division’s survivors were ordered to defend Körlin.  Their orders made it clear that the town was to be defended at whatever cost.  At noon the next day a powerful Red Army force struck Körlin from the south-west.   Fighting ferociously the French troops were able to hold their positions throughout the day and ordered to withdraw to the West to avoid their becoming trapped.

The French Division’s survivors were divided into three battle groups only one of which was to survive the ensuing carnage.   One battle group was placed under the command of SS-Brigadeführer Gustav Krukenberg.  

As the Division’s depleted ranks fell back under the onslaught survivors eventually reached the lands bordering the Baltic Sea from where they were evacuated.   During the heroic retreat to the West the Division lost nearly all of its troops numbering about 4,800, men in all.

By early April 1945, SS-Brigadeführer Gustav Krukenberg was down to only 700 men organised into a single infantry regiment with two battalions (Battalions 57 and 58).  There was one battalion minus its equipment. The remaining troops, numbering approximately 300, volunteered to defend Berlin and would conduct a delaying action against the Red Army. Between 320 and 330 French troops arrived in Berlin on April 24 1945. It was just one week before the German Chancellor was to forfeit his life and that of his wife Frau Eva Hitler.

Such was the French troops fighting spirit and charisma the beleaguered population of Berlin thought the troops were an advance guard of further French Divisions sent to defend their city against the Red barbarians.  Sadly the desperate people of the doomed city were wrong on two counts. The depleted and exhausted Charlemagne Division troops were all that remained.   And, Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt had already agreed to allow the Red Army loose on the ruined German capital.

On arrival in Berlin the French SS troops strengthened the ranks of Scandinavian Nordland Division.  Their Norge and Danmark Panzergrenadier Regiments had also been decimated in the fighting.   Together these defensive forces made up the strength of a battalion.  Brigadeführer Krukenberg was appointed commander of (Berlin) Defence Sector C on April 25.   This command included the Nordland Division.

It is said the troops noted that their first night in Berlin was unnaturally quiet. They heard people dancing and laughing but there were no sounds of fighting audible.   They made their way through the city’s ruins from West to East Berlin and then on to a brewery near the Hermannplatz.  

It was here that the fiercest fighting took hold. They were joined by youthful members of the Hitler Youth aiming and firing their Panzerfausts at Soviet tanks approaching Berlin’s Tempelhof Aerodrome.   Soon, some members of the Sturmbataillon joined the Hitler Youth in Red Army tank hunting sorties. The counter-attack ran into an ambush set by Soviet troops using a captured German Panther tank. The regiment lost half of the available troops in Neukölln on that first day defending Berlin.  

The troops were later to mount an incredible last stand at Neukölln Town Hall.  Given that Neukölln was heavily penetrated by Soviet combat groups, Brigadeführer Gustav Krukenberg gathered his men to fall back from their holding positions.

The Brigadeführer moved his headquarters into the opera house.  As the Nordland Division fell back towards Hermannplatz the French SS and about 100 Hitler Youth attached to their group destroyed 14 Soviet tanks with their Panzerfausts.  

One of the defenders’ machine gun positions situated by the Halensee Bridge managed to hold up Soviet advances for 48 hours. The steady Soviet advance into Berlin followed a pattern of massive and sustained shelling.  

On April 27 1945, after a spirited but futile defence, the remnants of Scandinavia’s Nordland were pushed back into the Zitadelle sector. The embattled and war-weary infantrymen discovered that Brigadeführer Krukenberg’s Nordland headquarters was now a railway carriage in the Stadtmitte U-Bahn station.Fighting was extremely heavy. By April 28 1945 it is believed that 108 Soviet tanks had been destroyed in the south-east of Berlin within the perimeter of the S-Bahn.

Sixty-two of the Red Army tanks were destroyed by the efforts of the French troops of Charlemagne Sturmbataillon under the command of Henri Joseph Fenet. The commander’s battalion was given the area of Neukölln, Belle Alliance Platz, Wilhelmstrasse and the Friedrichstrasse to defend.

Commander Henri Joseph Fenet was now badly wounded in the foot. For the success of the battalion during the Battle in Berlin Henri Josep Fenet was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross on April 29, 1945, by Brigadeführer Mohnke. 

A day earlier the Red Army began a full-scale offensive into the city centre sector. Fighting was intense and Sturmbataillon Charlemagne was caught up in the centre of the battle zone around the Reich Chancellery. Unterscharführer Eugene Vaulot, had destroyed two tanks in Neukölln, used his Panzerfausts to claim six more Soviet tanks near the Führerbunker. He was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross by Brigadeführer Krukenberg during a candlelight ceremony on a subway platform on April 29 but failed to survive the intensity of the fighting.

‘As tank battles, sniper activity and hand-to-hand fighting engulfed the German capital there were also defending soldiers of the British Free Corps. Anthony Byers of Effingham in Surrey says: 

‘As a National Serviceman in Berlin, I met a Russian officer who was impressed by the fighting spirit of eight British soldiers.   They held up an entire Russian regiment for almost two days until they ran out of ammunition.  Only two survived to surrender and they were promptly shot by the understandably irritated Russians, who had lost almost 100 men and three tanks.

‘The Russian officer said that had SS Unterscharfuhrer Cornfield and a soldier he named as Pleed been fighting the Germans they would have deserved the Victoria Cross. He told me:   ‘I hope you British invented a good story for their families, for a brave soldier is still a brave soldier even when a traitor to his country.’ ~ Book Heroes of the Reich

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Art related books: Sculptures of the Third Reich: Arno Breker and Reich Sculptors, Volume I , Sculptures of the Third Reich: Josef Thorak and Reich Sculptors, Volume II, Sculptures of the Third Reich: Porcelain and Reich Sculptors Volume III, Art of Adolf Hitler: Ultimate Album of the Fuhrer’s Artworks, The Red Brigands, Ransacking the Reich by Michael Walsh.

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5 replies »

  1. I heard a story of a few Frenchmen fighting for the Reich being captured by Free-French forces and treated horribly. a General had supposedly asked the French Axis soldiers why they were wearing German Uniforms, whereupon the Axis soldier asked the General way he was wearing an American Uniform. They were then executed on the spot.

    Liked by 2 people

    • What you write is true……………… millions died unnecessarily or otherwise suffered, civilians and troops, not due to the war but because of the Allies determination to reduce populations and redistribute territory. It was their war ~ not Germany’s.

      Liked by 1 person

      • When one realizes the Roosevelt White-House was a bastion of Zionist and Communist intrigue and Winston Churchill had always worked for those people; it isn’t hard to understand how things turned out for Germany. It is just truly unfortunate that the European peoples around the world didn’t see through the mendacious propaganda

        Liked by 2 people

  2. The father of a good friend who belonged to Waffen SS Panzer Division Wiking told me in the early 80’s ‘the Charlemagne Panzer-Grenadier Division was a tough bunch. He then laughed and said, ‘so were we.

    Liked by 2 people

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