The Waffen SS is well known for it's courage and effectiveness on the battlefield. Through rigid recruiting , innovative training and strategic concepts, and ideological resolution, the Waffen SS became an elite force who often held it's own against superior numbers on the battlefield.
The Waffen SS was originally comprised of three groups, the Leibstandarte SS , the SS-Totenkopfverbande, and the SS-Verfugungstruppe which would later become the 2nd SS Dv. Das Reich. The 3rd Regiment Deutschland would eventually fight many fierce battles under this division.
Felix Steiner and Paul Hauser would eventually become known as key figures in the Waffen SS and the Deutschland Regiment's evolution due to the ideological, strategic, and combat training they provided early on but also as commanders on the field of battle.
SS Oberstgruppenfuhrer und Generaloberst der Waffen SS Paul "Papa" Hauser is credited with turning the fledgling SS-Verfugungstruppe into a highly organized well trained force well before taking command on the field at the outbreak of WWII and is credited with many key victories throughout the war.
SS StandartenfuhrerFelix Steiner believed in the creation of highly mobile , well trained, elite troops ,both physically and mentally, to fight within the battle-group and emphasized teamwork rather than mindless obedience on the field of battle. He also worked to promote brotherhood and break down the rigid division between ranks. Officers and NCO's were encouraged to talk and mix with their men and in sport activities would compete as equals. Off duty they addressed one another as kamerad rather than by rank.
Gottlob Berger also had a key role in the expansion of the Waffen SS. At the outbreak of war, the Waffen SS was comprised of about 28,000 men but due to his nationwide recruiting and the success in Poland , the ranks swelled to over 150,000 enlisted.
OPERATION FALL WEISS
The invasion of Poland was Himmler's chance to shine and show off his elite. His Waffen SS forces were to take part , but much to his irritation, Hitler broke up the Waffen SS divisions and attached them to the Army as subordinates. Nonetheless they got to see their first real combat. The SS-Leibstandarte and SS-Verfugungstruppe had combat roles while the SS-Totenkopfverbande played a key role in the "social plan".
The Deutschland Regiment saw it's first action near Mlava under the command of SS Standartenfuhrer Felix Steiner. They were to take a series of well fortified Polish bunkers with the support of Stuka dive-bombers and the 7th Panzer Regiment preceded by artillery barrage. Following the artillery barrage, they set into motion. The Stukas never showed and the stiff Polish resistance quickly knocked out 36 of the Panzers sending the rest fleeing to regroup. The Deutschland Regiment advanced anyway and made it to within 100 metres of their objective before being ordered back.
After regrouping, the Deutschland Regiment helped drive the Poles back to Rozan where the Poles set up in 4 old Czarist Russian strongholds. Before they could besiege the old forts, the Polish Cavalry showed to counterattack. Temporarily driving the Deutschland Regiment back, the 7th Panzer Rergiment showed to beat off the counterattack, and in concert
with the Deutschland Regiment, overran the old forts.
At the end of the Polish Campaign, the German Army still showed little respect to the Waffen SS calling them "reckless" although acknowledging the SS commanders as competent. This "recklessness" didn't go unnoticed by Hitler who didn't see their actions as "reckless" but "courageous". Through this baptism by fire , the Deutschland Regiment got the experience it once lacked.
Operations FALL GELB and FALL ROT the invasion of Western Europe
The “Deutschland” 3rd Panzergrenadiers Regiment as part of the 2nd Panzer Division “Das Reich” was officially formed on October 10, 1939. The SS-VT Deutschland, Germania, and Der Fuhrer Regiments where then consolidated by Oberstgruppenfuhrer Paul Hauser to form the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich. After the invasion of Poland was complete the newly formed division was moved to Western Germany for training in preparation for operation Fall Gelb code name Case Yellow for the invasion of Low Countries and Northern France. In April 1940 the German Armed Forces Command (OKW) launched an assault on Denmark and Norway in the belief it would deprive the British of possible bases. The German plan to invade the Low Countries and Northern France involved the use of three Army Groups.
On May 10, 1940 Fall Gelb began with the Deutschland regiment’s armored car platoon to form part of a reconnaissance detachment known as the “Grave Group” their task was to capture the bridges at Nijmegen, Hatert, Heuman, Malden, and Neerbosch. Despite resistance from the Dutch Army the task was accomplished in two days. For his attack on Walcheren Island Hausser selected two battalions from the Deutschland Regiment to use against the island garrison. The first and third battalion had to close ranks to approach the island, it was the men of the third battalion that had to navigate through mine field covered with barbed wire. As a participant in the assault on Walcheren Dam, Paul Schurmann of the 9th Company 3rd Battalion, Deutschland Regiment, described the intensity of the fighting. “I see one man fall,” he recalled, “then two on the right and then another comrade who lies face down. Some men were using their teeth to tear open field dressings to bandage their shattered arms or chests.” Meanwhile, “more and more of our machineguns ceased firing, with their crews silent, bloody and pale behind the weapons”. Despite a punishing counter attack the SS battalions pushed forward to reach their objective. With fire from the Dutch Army and British navy gun fire only 17 men were lost with 33 wounded. Satisfied with the amount of damage they had inflicted on the Deutschland Regiment the Dutch evacuated the Island on May 16, 1940.
Enemy troops did not let the division to enjoy any relaxation after their swift invasion of Holland and Belgium it was now off to invade France. By May 24, 1940 the Deutschland Regiment had marched into France advancing to Merville as part of the Dunkirk pocket but ran into a fresh line of British defenses at Lys Canal on May 27, 1940. Oberstfuhrer Felix Steiner commander of the Deutschland Regiment hurled his 3rd Battalion at the British defenders, driving them out of the area so later that day his two other battalions could form bridgeheads for other German forces. After the battles at Lys Canal and the Nieppe Forest the Deutschland regiment was allowed to rest for a shot period before resuming hostilities against retreating British unit on May 31, 1940 capturing the remaining forces waiting to be rescued at Dunkirk.
The next day fresh replacement arrived restoring the division to full strength. June 1, 1940 was also the start of operation Fall Rot or Case Red the plan by the OKH to conquer the rest of France. On June 5, 1940 Deutschland Regiment advanced along a wide swathe of territory stretching from the Atlantic coast to the River Aisne. Although the French Army still had at least 60 divisions deployed south of the River Somme, it was greatly outnumbered and was vulnerable to air attack. Because of these disadvantages defenses were quickly overrun. With the Weygand Line quickly broken, the Deutschland regiment made steady progress to the south. On June 14, 1940 troop marched unopposed into the city of Paris.
With the collapse of French moral the Deutschland Regiment pressed on it march across France. Near the town of Angouleme a large column of French infantry and field pieces mistook the regiment for British soldier and were easily subdued. Steiner commander of the regiment went to the mayor of Angouleme warning him that they were ready to destroy the city if it was not surrendered and any resistance took place. Knowing the reputation the regiment had the mayor complied with this ultimatum. Collective, the SS units has taken 33,000 prisoners and lost only 33 men during the sweep through south-western France.
On June 25, 1940 operation Fall Rot came to a favorable end when a new French government formally agreed to a peace treaty imposed by the Axis powers. For the men of the Waffen SS, the fighting in Western Europe had served as yet another opportunity for them to show their mettle in combat. SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Fritz Witt of the 1st Battalion, Deutschland for bravery and leadership was awarded the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross as well Felix Steiner for his effective command of the Deutschland Regiment.