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12th SS in Normandy


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#1 canuck

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 03:31 AM

Having just re-read Steel Inferno by Michael Reynolds I am struck by the pervasive negative views of our troops (British, Canadian, Polish) and their performance against the 12th SS. Perhaps that damning criticism is hard for me to accept given my respect for our veterans. I'd really like to hear from those of you who were there just how valid those assessments are and what your view is of Commonwealth troops vs their SS opposition. One recurring theme related to how slow our armoured units were in executing attacks and generally being non-aggressive. In their shoes, after having troop after troop of Shermans shredded by 88's, I'm somehow sympathetic to exhibiting some caution. In any event, I'd prefer the version from the guys who were on the spot to that of the historians, decades later.
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#2 Tom Canning

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 04:20 AM

Canuck -
I can understand your point but the people who were there at the time are still asleep - I was in Italy and we did not face any SS Panzer Divisions - for which I give thanks. WE only had the 1st Paras - 26th Panzers and 29th PG's to worry about. We knew the odds against winning over Panthers and Tigers !

You must keep in mind however that most books are written by people who were also NOT THERE - at the time and are dependent on after battle reports and diaries etc - After battle reports are invariably written up by an exhausted Captain after a day's fighting and he needs sleep more than paperwork..... what they ALL forget is at that time and I am thinking of Epsom - Goodwood - Blue jacket et al - There was only three British Armoured Divisions - 7th - 11th and Guards - One Canadian 4th - and the Polish Division - against EIGHT Panzer Divs with Panthers and Tigers as well as a multitude of Mk 1V's armed with the special 75mm's - so we have three British Divisions struggling against great odds in a very confined space - as Official History
now relates - the 7th were struggling as their main experience was in the wide open desert plans - the 11th was in it's first battles - the same as the Guards against battle experienced and led divisions - the 21st Panzers were it must be admitted was reorganised with young troops after their surrender in Tunisia - but their training was backed by long experience in battles.

So - don't give it too much credence and we shall see what the others have to say about that situation .

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#3 sapper

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 10:12 AM

That is what angers me so much This constant telling that the Troops were slow to get into battle... CRAP Utter Crap...... being I was, there I know that the Canadians and the British fought like tigers. But it does pay tribute to the 12 SS. Certainly the toughest of all the SS panzer's....Our traditional enemies. They fought long after they were beaten with, Fanatical zeal.

The Canadians were great fighters. And the British Infantry Divs superb. The best scrappers in the world bar none. I don't know where these tales come from. Perhaps by authors with a fixed idea? It was just the same on the market garden, we were accused of stopping for tea, can any one imagine the Guards stopping for tea. For Gods sake? I fought with the Guards as our armoured support, GREAT..

Let me say this...If I had to choose a comrade to go into a tough battle? I would choose the Canadians above everyone else.That includes Germans Americans or anyone from any part of the world.
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#4 James S

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 11:18 AM

The ground didn't much favour the attackers who didn't have a great deal of room for manouvre.

Reynolds does admire the sometimes pragmatic attitude of the senior SS and the fighting ability of the SS - having said that I can't imagine the Canadians or experienced British troops being a push over.

It is a while since I read Michael Reynolds book - but to me it was much more about the SS than it was our own.
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#5 Gibbo

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 12:02 PM

I've not read the book in question, but some authors seem bizarrely to criticise the Western Allies for making full use of their air and artillery superiority. Apparently, they should have ignored these advantages and engaged the Germans' superior tanks in close combat in difficult terrain, thus improving the Germans' chances of winning.

Funnily enough, the Germans don't seem to be criticised for making full use of their air superiority early in the war.
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#6 Owen

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 12:07 PM

- the 7th were struggling as their main experience was in the wide open desert plans


After reading their Div History by Verney I thought their time in Italy got them out of their desert mindset.

Is that another WW2 myth ?
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#7 James S

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 12:16 PM

One Allied comemtator has been quoted as saying "The Germans may not have much left , but they sure know how to use it".
The Germans did what they could in Normandy given the demands made on them and the orders which came down from on high , they probably did stay longer than they should holding a line and fighting a battle of attrittion which they could not win.

I will leave to to wiser heads than I to be critical of the troops on the ground , I just don't think that I have the right to and feel that if I did I would only make a fool of myself - the men who fought there are better placed to tell it as it was.

If mistakes were made it was further up the chain of command and it should not reflect on the men who fought on the ground.

The nature of the battle fought by the Germans dictated how our own people had to fight and whilst we had superior numbers and better logistical ability ( will someone correct me if I am wrong) we were hemmed in.
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#8 Heimbrent

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 12:32 PM

... I should much like to get some proof of the fact that Wa-SS units were actually tougher and fought till the last...?
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#9 Smudger Jnr

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 12:33 PM

I do not feel that anyone can criticise the Allied tactics, which were all based on the terrain encountered.

The Germans were always good at defending positions, which were normally known long in advance so that they could be defended well.

Just ask the likes of our veterans who experienced it first hand, such as Brian, Tom and Ron.

Attacking soldiers are always at risk of exposure when attacking well defended position and people seem to forget this.

Once opportunities arose to make progress it was taken.

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#10 Capt.Sensible

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 01:21 PM

Having just re-read Steel Inferno by Michael Reynolds I am struck by the pervasive negative views of our troops (British, Canadian, Polish) and their performance against the 12th SS. Perhaps that damning criticism is hard for me to accept given my respect for our veterans. I'd really like to hear from those of you who were there just how valid those assessments are and what your view is of Commonwealth troops vs their SS opposition. One recurring theme related to how slow our armoured units were in executing attacks and generally being non-aggressive. In their shoes, after having troop after troop of Shermans shredded by 88's, I'm somehow sympathetic to exhibiting some caution. In any event, I'd prefer the version from the guys who were on the spot to that of the historians, decades later.


I've just finished Reynolds Steel Inferno for the first time and whilst he does dish out a fair amount of criticism of allied forces, his main target is the operational and planning competancy of the 'middle management': divisional, brigade and, occasionally, battalion commanders - the farce at Villers-Bocage, for example. He does not routinely or unfairly criticise those at the sharp end, whose bravery and competance as fighting troops have been stoutly defended by our vet colleagues on the forum.

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#11 m kenny

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 04:05 PM

Reynolds is clearly smittem with the German performance in Normandy. Nothing wrong with that just something to factor in when reading his books. At times It leads him into error. He accepts German accounts above contrary opinion or fact. His account of Will Fey's claim to have destroyed 15 Shermans on August 7th ( 'Sons Of The Reich' page 72)
could have been completely refuted if he had used the 23rd Hussars Regimental History or it's War Diary. Reynolds quotes extensively from both these documents on other matters but completely ignores their version of 7th August so he can quote the claim by Fey and 'prove' German superiority.
I long ago stopped taking notice of an authors bias. I read books to get the first hand acoounts rather than an authors analysis.
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#12 Tom Canning

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 04:18 PM

Owen -
The Divisonal History of the 7th Armoured surely makes the point that while elements of the Division landed at Salerno and fought through to Naples before being split up - leaving 7th Armoured bde in Italy for the long haul - so their experience in Italy was a very short 24 days - hardly enough time to lose their Desert experience - it should also be recalled that the Div Commander was fired early on - along with the 51st Commander - ostensibly as they couldn't cope with the changes from desert to civilian country - they hadn't fought SS Panzers either !

Only the 50th TT division performed as well as they did in the Desert - Tunisia and Sicily....in the beginning that is ... they all performed very well after the initial days !

Cheers
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#13 James S

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 10:52 PM

K.
... I should much like to get some proof of the fact that Wa-SS units were actually tougher and fought till the last...?

I for one would not sell our own guys short - A fair question to ask about the SS - I don't doubt that some did fight to the last but I don't see them as being superhuman - all men are fleah and blood and ideological brain washing melts when confronted with the cold reality that tells the believer that they are in a life or death fight and the guy facing you is not the pushoverthat you have been led to believe and you are not the all conquering warrior you have been told you are.
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#14 canuck

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Posted 13 March 2009 - 03:11 AM

Agreed, the book is focused on the SS units but the point is more about the rather one sided appraisal. Clearly, when on the offensive, the SS seemed to have similar issues. Mark Zuehlke in his great book, Holding Juno, does show the other side of that coin.
Gibbo also makes a great point that I too have noticed. The Allied air and artillery superiority are very often described as if they were unfair advantages. Without them the implication is that we would have lost. The 88's, armour, Mg's, mortars, etc. on the Germans side don't get the same treatment.
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#15 sapper

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Posted 13 March 2009 - 08:35 AM

It is well recognised by the Veterans that the German equipment was far superior to ours. Their mines their guns were far better. Just look at the basic light mc gun take our Sten then compare it with the Schmeiser. There was no comparison.
Then the tanks. The Panzers were better the Tiger damn near invincible.
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#16 Paul Reed

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Posted 13 March 2009 - 08:47 AM

The more I read operational war diaries for British units in NW Europe, the more I am convinced that the real story of the British and Commonwealth contribution has yet to be written. Terry Copp has made a good start on the Canadian side, but authors like Reynolds are part of the 'Tommy was no soldier' school of thought that has a lot more to do with the German influence on NATO doctrine in the 60s-80s, and the flawed concept of the 'German warrior' which M.Kenny mentions above.
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#17 James S

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Posted 13 March 2009 - 10:02 AM

The German soldier was a good soldier ( ispeak as a reader of history , not from my own direct experience) , but he was not a superman and when the remarkable plan and insight of 1940 is set aside how much better was the average soldier than the Britsh , Canadian or American soldier ?
Something of a myth has grown up and it has endured , when they were stopped at Arras and held at Dunkirk the troops who stopped and held them were no less tired or unwashed than them.

One guy from my own side of the pond who is heavily involved with reenacting who is well read on the SS and German Army told me that he didn't read the "Allied side" as he had no interst in what they said - for him it had to be the Germans ( as that was where his interest was).
The same man insisted that he had a balanced appreciation of history but when I asked him how he achieved this he simply refused to answer and told me that I took too much of an "Allied view".
He spoke of "Victor's History" which again refers to percieved Allied friendly account of events , I don't subscribe to this arguement certaionly the German side is there but those who wish to read it and it alone are somehwat selective in what they wish to examine.

This view did come back to me when reading the "The Myth of the Eastern Front" - for me the German achievement of 1940 - 1941 is what this rather one sided view of history is built on.

Some balance is required and I would have to agree with MK in the examples given legend soon takes over.

On an equal basis Prien's attack on Scapa Flow was daring , well executed and perhaps unlucky in that the Flow was largely empty when he gained entrance but the Italian attack on Alexandria or the X -craft attack on Tirpitz are rarely mentioned.
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#18 Heimbrent

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Posted 13 March 2009 - 01:33 PM

x

Edited by Heimbrent, 09 December 2012 - 10:23 AM.

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#19 Drew5233

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Posted 13 March 2009 - 02:04 PM

Something that seems to have been overlooked is that battlefield replacements were coming from all over and all walks of life.

I listened to an Italian Vet the other day on a documentary about Cassino and Anzio who said he joined the SS after Italy was invaded by the Allies because they were the first unit he came across- I think he was a farmer.

SS units like Wehrmacht units were much depleted in western Europe from fighting in Russia prior to D-Day and were in many cases being replaced with 'joe bloggs' type soldiers no different to those in other German units. I read yesterday that some units at Arnhem were receiving reinforcements that had no battle experience and had arrived with no weapons and never even fired a rifle, that was according to a senior German Fallschirmjäger officer.

I think reputation and rumours overtake capability in these cases and before you know its like chinese whispers what you start and finish with are two totally different things.

A good modern day example of this was the SAS at the Iranian embassy (After the siege the media made them out to be superhuman) and then the Falklands. (Before I get hurled with abuse) Undoubtedly one of the best SF units in the world but not superhuman and certainly defeatable.
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#20 Heimbrent

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Posted 13 March 2009 - 03:09 PM

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Edited by Heimbrent, 09 December 2012 - 10:24 AM.

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#21 Drew5233

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Posted 13 March 2009 - 03:31 PM

Kate,

I don't doubt that for a minute. Every unit has a 'esprit de corps' in some shape or form and new members would soon be aware of that. How hard they would be prepared to fight for it is another thing.

Another thing with the SS in my opinion is what was their mindset. Like the Allies may have thought they were all murdering nazi's what did the SS think of the Allies?

Did they think it worth surrending or better to fight to the end or to run and fight another day. Maybe they felt they would be shot for past crimes commited by some SS units and because they wore the badge would be treated as murderers.

To be honest if you look under the surface there's a hundred questions you could ask and unless you speak to former SS veterans its all speculative and thats assuming they would be open, honest and frank. I know from personal experience not everyone tells the truth about previous combat situations.

ps

Interesting Thread, Cheers

Edited by dbf, 04 June 2011 - 07:49 AM.

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#22 James S

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Posted 13 March 2009 - 03:34 PM

The structure upon which 12th SS grew was an experienced NCO and officer input from LSSAH.
How they were assimilated bound to have had an effect.
I would take your point on "brainwashing" Kate what I would consider would be these youngsters were the product of the society which the Nazis had shaped - the Hitler Youth , when they were thrown into Normandy I wonder how many of the survivors viewed the idea that they would not be defeated.
Given the reality of the position they found themselves the possibility that they might not win or could be beaten must have raised its head - especially as the days rolled into weeks and the German position became more insecure.
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#23 Gerard

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Posted 13 March 2009 - 03:47 PM

Certainly when one is talking about the SS being elite troops, it may well be true up to 1942 or 43 but from then on the recruits were of a different calibre and make up. The regulations regarding entry into the Waffen SS were relaxed as the war went on and casualties made it inevitable that the stereotype of the Blond Blue-eyed Teutonic Giant was false. The widening of the Waffen SS organisation also ensured that the fighting quality was of a varying scale. There were 38 SS formations but only a small number could have been classed as "elite", indeed only a few of the formations would be classed as "Fanatical". The likes of 1st SS LAH, 2nd SS Das Reich, 3rd SS Totenkopf, 5th SS Wiking, up to the 12th SS Hitlerjugend would certainly fall into this category. Receiving the best of equipment these divisions frequently were found at the point of any localised german attack or counterattack. I have read before that because of their fanaticism the SS units were likely to suffer heavier casualties which could often mean a reduction in experience. My point though is that just because they wore the infamous "SS" runes, it didnt mean they were better soldiers than the allied counterparts.
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#24 Drew5233

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Posted 13 March 2009 - 04:06 PM

GH,

I'm sure they would have shown a similiar 'Respect' to Allied Commando's and Para's.
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#25 James S

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Posted 13 March 2009 - 04:34 PM

I don't doubt it Andy problem for GB was that in 44 she was not so very far behind Germany in that she was running out of experienced manpower for the number of demands to be met.
The 12th SS as they started in Normandy must have been one of the last SS units to have been drawn almost exclusively from the one source - the ranks of the HJ and German youth organisations.
I think they would have found that war was not the great advanture that the movie news reels presented it to be.
It would very much have fallen to the NCO and officer structure deliberately put into the division to mould , shape , assist and lead them.
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#26 canuck

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Posted 13 March 2009 - 04:36 PM

Let me say this...If I had to choose a comrade to go into a tough battle? I would choose the Canadians above everyone else.That includes Germans Americans or anyone from any part of the world.
Sapper


Sapper,
That is indeed high praise for the Canadian vets. I once heard a British officer describe Canadian soldiers as fighting wars in the same manner in which they played hockey. The rougher it got and especially in close quarters, the better they liked it!
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#27 Heimbrent

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Posted 13 March 2009 - 04:47 PM

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Edited by Heimbrent, 09 December 2012 - 10:24 AM.

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#28 Drew5233

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Posted 13 March 2009 - 05:02 PM

Another point I'd like to make is that the Waffen-SS did in fact no suffer heavier casualty rates in general than the Wehrmacht. It's what the German propaganda said during the war, and what the Waffen-SS liked to state (whatever the reasons were for this) but it wasn't actually the case. Them being better equipped than Wehrmacht units is another of those stereotypes that existed since the war which is lacking proof.


Bare in mind I am a novice at this compared to some on here who's opinions I greatly respect but I have read all the ATB's publications from D-Day upto the 18th of Sept in Op Market Garden this year(Still fresh in my seive of a head) and although I recall hints of the SS getting first dabs on new kit. It did in the main seem very balanced between the SS and the Wehrmact when allocating supplies and equipment to them and taking their turn in the line. By the time I finished Ruckmarsch I got the impression they were pretty much in it all together and any hints of us and them had disappeared.
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#29 canuck

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Posted 13 March 2009 - 05:06 PM

I long ago stopped taking notice of an authors bias. I read books to get the first hand acoounts rather than an authors analysis.

Good point! Having read accounts from both Hubert and Kurt Meyer, I could not escape the impression that their descriptions and summaries were always very self serving. While continually demeaning the quality of Commonwealth troops there was always a suggestion of "If only" that explains their defeat! If only we had those numbers, that power, sufficient fuel, air cover, artillery support, naval guns, etc., the result would have different. Actions such as the badly executed SS attacks on June 7th/8th in Rots, Norrey-en-Bessin and Putot, receive much less scrutiny.
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#30 m kenny

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Posted 13 March 2009 - 05:37 PM

It did in the main seem very balanced between the SS and the Wehrmact when allocating supplies and equipment to them and taking their turn in the line.


The SS were supplied through the normal Army channels. They stood in line like everyone else so they did not recieve any priority. Indeed there were more Army Tiger Units than SS ones. The best equiped Division in Normandy were Lehr, an Army Unit.
12th SS did not distinguish itself during the Bulge fighting.
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