The march of Das Reich June 1944 in France
In 2010 we were in Oradour-sur-Glane and visited the walled remains of the original village, one of the most impressive monuments of the Second World War.
In 2014 we decided to follow the advance of the 2nd SS Panzer Division 'Das Reich' from Montauban to Normandy's invasion beaches using an excellent travel guide (Das Reich) written by Max Hastings, with many maps and a detailed description of the events in the weeks after the invasion.
(Hastings, Max, Das Reich. The march of the 2nd SS Panzer Division through France, June 1944 (London 2009)
A trip along resistance monuments, along Tulle, known by mass executions and Oradour-sur-Glane, where the population was murdered. This first episode describes the journey from Lamothe-Cassel (fig. 1) north of Montauban
A short story of 'Das Reich'
Two months before D-Day, May 6, 1944, Hitler had commanded to transfer the 2nd SS Panzer division 'Das Reich' from the Russian front to France. An allied invasion was expected and Hitler wanted to strengthen the western front. The division was under the command of Heinz Bernard Lammerding. Lammerding was on April 20, 1944 - Führergeburtstag - promoted to SS-Brigadeführer and Generalmajor der Waffen-SS. The division was hosted in and around Montauban
'Das Reich' consisted of soldiers and officers who were hardened by the struggle in Eastern Europe. In July 1943, Heinz Bernard Lammerding (Fig. 2), Chief of Staff of General Bach-Zelewski, was known for fighting partisans in Russia. Several cities and villages were destroyed totally. A part of Das Reich also assisted in 1941 in killing 920 Jews in Minsk. In 1943, Lammerding commanded a number of units of Das Reich and participated in similar actions. In January 1944, Lammerding received the command over the entire division. Undoubtedly, most soldiers and owners of Das Reich had experience in mass retribution and mass murder.
In addition to this hard core, 'Das Reich' counted 900 conscript soldiers from Alsace and the conquered areas in the East, known as 'Volksdeutsche'. The officers and non-commissioned officers were almost all convinced national socialists, which was also evident, as they grew up under the NS regime. In the Officer Corps of the Waffen SS, 'Draufgänger' (go-getters) gave the tone. Heinz Lammerding was described by the infamous war criminal Theodor Eicke as 'hart and ruthless'. One day before the invasion, Lammerding sent a proposal to the General Command for measures against Terrorists, which was accepted by the General Command as a whole. It included, among other things, that as a reprisal for killing a German soldier, ten terrorists would be hung up. Lammerding believed if he describe them as communist troublemakers and terrorists he could drove a wedge between the French people and these resistance groups.
On June 8, 1944, two days after D-Day, the 2nd SS Panzer Division 'Das Reich' began to march to Normandy, arriving fourteen days later, from Montauban. Normally, such a trip of around 750 km with about 15,000 people and 209 tanks would only have to take a few days. But the march was delayed by the French resistance, constant impediments were made and persistent bloody fights took place where the Germans reacted with executions of resistance fighters and innocent civilians. In almost every village and along the roads in the Corrèze there are monuments that remind you of this.
The main force, consisting of heavy artillery, drove north towards Souillac and Brive. First, the 1st Battalion of the 4th SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 'Der Führer' drove under the command of Major Adolf Diekmann. At the village of Gourdon, the battalion went down to Grolejac in western direction. Just outside the village of Le Port near the Dordogne bridge, there is now a hotel (http://www.hotel-dupont-jardel.com (Fig. 3 and 4) the first confrontation was in the early morning of 8th of June place between the French resistance and 'Das Reich'.
The resistance consisted of a small group of Maquisards from Grolejac and was named 3rd Section, compagnie 'The ace of hearts'. The resistance people were poorly armed: guns from the First World War, a few hand grenades and one Bren. Among them were a mason (the mayor of Grolejac), the butcher of the village and a wood trader. None of these men had combat experience. It was therefore an unequal battle. The hotel at the bridge from which the resistance fought was shot immediately by one of the tanks. The men who tried to escape the hotel through the front door were immediately shot down. The rest of the maquisards fled through the river slope into the forests. After this short delay of no more than twenty minutes, the column, barely delayed, continued the march. The fallen resistance fighters were left on the spot. Near the bridge is a monument (Fig. 5,6) that reminds of this unequal struggle.
The column was passed Sarlat-le-Canéda, where there is still a revampistic monument on the market that the French show their revenge feelings towards the Germans after the First World War. Feelings that were probably also strongly present in WO II (Fig.7).
Some time later at Rouffilac, the SS encountered a huge barricade founded by the maquisards assisted by the locals. Here too, the SS was only briefly stopped. The monument on the outskirts of this village near the Dordogne reminds the civilians and resistance fighters (Fig.8).
In Noailles a few kilometers later we again saw a monument that also recalled the fights between the Germans and the French (Fig.9).
The densely hilly Corrèze department in which Tulle is located was a collection of resistance fighters of different plumage. Ex-combatants from the Spanish Civil War, Jews in flight and many of French men and boys from all French districts who wanted to escape in 1943 the STO, the mandatory labor service (Service de Travail Obligatoire). On D-Day, more than 4,000 maquisards were commissioned by the Francs-Tireurs et Partisans FTP (F). In the month for D-Day, the Tulle gendarmerie included 78 actions, mostly from FTP (F): attacks on Germans, theft, tampering of telephone connections and train rails. This had terrible consequences for the civilian population. Partisans were seen by the Germans as franc-tireurs, armed citizens, and they did not fall under international international law and could immediately be executed.
As revenge burned out in the wide range of farms, men, women and children were shot dead by no means.
Tulle was released by the maquisards, despite the protests of the AS (the Armée Secrèt), the resistance organization driven by London by De Gaulle. On Wednesday, June 7 at five o'clock in the morning, the attack began, with 139 Germans being lost and 40 Germans injured. Tulle was partially taken, a short period on June 8th from four o'clock to eight o'clock in the evening, Tulle was almost entirely freed from Germans. However, about 50 veterans from the 95th Sicherheits Regiment under the command of a 55-year dentist from Baden-Württemberg still held a school building.
Initially, the Communist Party of the FTP (F) wanted to execute the captive and injured German soldiers, the French Vichy prefect Pierre Trouille would have prevented them from doing so. Later, the SS claimed that the resistance had deliberately reduced the appearance of demolished Germans. This would explain the reprisals of the Germans. According to later German eyewitnesses, these mutilations would be caused by an accident; An old Red Truck lorry, whose brakes refused, would have overthrown some German soldiers.
In the evening of June 8th, the exploration battalion of Das Reich under the command of Major Heinrich Wulf took Tulle without much problems again. The 50 exhausted German veterans from the 95th Security Regiment were relieved that they were finally released. On the morning of 9th June, the SS, under the command of Major Alfred Stuckler, collected 2,000 men and boys at a Tulle factory site.
After a selection, there were 120 men who, according to the SS, would be members of the maquis and had to be hung up. The executions, which lasted from four o'clock in the afternoon to seven o'clock in the evening, were carried out under the direction of Major Kowatsch, the actual hanging was done by a non-commissioned officer, Otto Hoff from Saarland. Eyewitness reports describe the terrible scenes that occurred during the executions. After 99 hangups, the SS suddenly stopped the executions. Up to today, it is unclear why. (Hastings, p. 139). Of the executions, a sketch was left, probably made by a German owner (Fig. 10).
In some reports it is stated that they succumbed to the prayers of the present priest Abbé Esopinasse. Elsewhere, it was the Vichy Secretary-General of the Corrèze, Maurice Roche (he spoke fluent German) who quitted them to stop. Author Max Hastings wrote in his book Das Reich that after the 99 hangings there was no rope left and that was why they stopped.
This was the first downturn during Das Reich's march. Out of the 99 men and boys hung up, another 149 were deported to Dachau, of which 101 did not survive the deportation. On the city boundary of Tulle there is a large monument that reminds of these executions and transport to Dachau (Fig. 11).
In Tulle, the War Museum is worth visiting. So far, it has still been unclear whether the command for these executions was given by Lammerding. According to his own words, after the war he would have found himself in Uzerche and not in Tulle, which was denied by Major Stuckler during the later processes.
After Tulle, we continued our trip with the ultimate goal of Oradour-sur-Glane where a part of 'Das Reich' killed on June 10, 1944, 642 people: 245 women, 207 children and 190 men.
This was the 1st Battalion of the 4th SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 'Der Führer', which was commissioned by Major Adolf Dieckmann - we described all the battle of this battalion with the Maquisards in Groléjac on June 8th.
Although the underlying statements differ, all the literature, in both the reminder literature, the German "excuse literature" and in the scientific, the deportation and execution of Major Kämpfe, a friend of Major Dieckmann, is considered to be the reason. After that, the statement by SS-Obersturmführer Karl Gerlach - also abducted by the Maquisards - would convince the Germans that Kämpfe in Oradour-sur-Glane would have been detained and detained. Gerlach was also abducted in the same period, but could escape.
The aire SS Sturmbannführer (Major) Helmut Kämpfe
The third battalion of 'Das Reich' under the command of Kämpfe left Limoges on the way to Guéret, northeast of Limoges. This town, like Tulle, was taken by the Maquis on June 6th. On June 8th, German troops from Montluçon took back the city with air support by German hunters. Frustrated by his unnecessary action, Kämpfe decided to return to his headquarters in Limoges on June 9, alone and for the convoy of his troops. This was not without risk.
At the height of the hamlet of La Bussière, about halfway between Bourganeuf and Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat on the D941 he encountered a coincidentally passing group of Maquisards. In a few minutes he was kidnapped and taken by the French in their truck. Because only one Frenchman could ride, they had to leave the Talbot of Kämpfe (Fouché, page 56). When the German convoy arrived at Kämpfe's abandoned car a while later, a big search and raid started, which were in vain. Until now, the fate of Kämpfe is unknown. It is assumed that he has been executed one of the following days. At Bussière where Kämpfe was cut, the farms of Pierre Mon Just and Pierre Malaguise were located. These two forty-five men, fathers of five children, were arrested but could or did not want to give information about the abduction. The farm of Malaguise was plundered and both men were shortly on the road-
edge executed. The monument along the road, which we could find after much effort, reminds us of this execution Fig. 12,13, 14).
German sources justify this act by saying that Pierre Mon Just would be a brother in law of Paul Loueyraud, the Germans claiming that he would have delivered food (Taege, page 224).
In another German report by Otto Weidinger, a Sturmbann-führer in 'Das Reich' (Weidinger, page 27), Kämpfe would be held in Oradour-sur-Glane. Two Frenchmen told the Germans in Saint-Junien that a high German ocier was held in Oradour-sur-Glane. He would still have been executed that same day. Everyone in the village would work with the Maquis and there would be high Maquis leaders in the village.
Whatever would have contributed to the German view that Oradour would be a center of the Maquis, was the statement by SS Obersturmführer Karl Gerlach. Gerlach had fallen in the hands of the Maquis in the morning of 9 June, but could escape the same evening and with great difficulty reach the German headquarters in Limoges the following morning. There he explained to Sturmbannführer
Otto Dickmann, a good friend of Kämpfe, who saw a sign with 'Oradour-sur-Glane' when entering a village. Some sources indicate that he may have seen the board of Oradour-sur-Vayres. That the Germans had gone to Oradour-sur-Glane would have been a tragic mistake.
What the motives, the reason for the massacre on Saturday 10 June may have been, will probably never come over water. Dieckmann died on the 30th of June in front of Normandy, some German sources claim he would have committed suicide by his head
to bump a bunker and he was shot dead by a sniper. In a way, it was good for 'Das Reich' that he could no longer be called for accountability. Hastings hee still approached all the remaining men of 'Das Reich' after the war to hear their story, but nobody left anything.
In mid February 1953, after many impressive testimonies, the court found that the survivors and their families were far too low and. Although imprisonment, life imprisonment and forced labor were imposed, they were not executed and eventually all charged as a free man left the courtroom. This caused great anger and indignation with the survivors and survivors. Oradour broke all ties with the French state and only after seventeen years after the state reconciliation, the museum was built and the ruins were conserved as a memory of the slaughter party. (Hébras, page 35)
After visiting the remains of Oradour-sur-Glane and the museum, we continued for a short visit to the Normandy invasion beaches, where we later returned our rental car and then returned to the Netherlands. There is much to be found about the destruction of Oradour and the murder party in Tulle on the internet, but a good start is Oradour's official website: http://www.oradour.info and http://culture.ville-tulle.fr/culture/musees-et-archives/musee-des-armes