||This article needs additional citations for verification. (October 2007)|
11 December 1916|
|Died||4 January 1945
|Buried at||Zentralfriedhof Vienna[Note 1]|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves|
Hubert-Erwin Meierdrees (11 December 1916 – 4 January 1945), usually referred to as Erwin Meierdrees, was a German Waffen-SS officer and panzer ace who served with the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, SS-Verfügungs-Division before joining the SS-Panzer-Division Totenkopf, which he served with until his death in January 1945. Meierdrees was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub). The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership.
Early Life - Hitlerjugend - SS 
Meierdrees was born in Wesel in Rhenish Prussia into a middle class family. His father was a Customs Tariff Secretary. When the Nazi Party came to power in 1933, Meierdrees was still in school. He joined the Hitlerjugend when all Scout organizations were dissolved and replaced by the Nazi-run organization. As soon as he was old enough, Meierdrees applied for NSDAP membership, which he was granted on 4 April 1934 (Nr.3 601 911). Soon after, he applied to join the SS, to which he was admitted on 1 August 1934 (Nr.265 243). He was posted to the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, the SS' élite guard formation, serving as an enlisted man.
In April 1938, Meierdrees was given the opportunity to attend the SS-Junkerschule (the SS officer training school) at Braunschweig. He performed well during the intensive study and training, showing particular interest in the artillery and panzer parts of the course. On 20 April 1939, he graduated as an SS-Untersturmführer (Second Lieutenant) specializing in artillery. On 1 May 1939, he was posted to command of a platoon in the 13th (Infantry gun) company of the newly formed SS-Standarte Der Führer.
In mid 1939, Adolf Hitler authorized the formation of an SS-Verfügungs-Division, comprising all three SS-VT Standartes, SS-Standarte Deutschland, SS-Standarte Germania and SS-Standarte Der Führer (The Leibstandarte was to form its own unit). Meierdrees was assigned to command of an artillery battery SS-Verfügungs-Artillerie-Regiment under SS-Sturmbannführer (Major) Herbert Otto Gille. The Polish Crisis of August 1939 put these plans on hold, and the SS-Standarten were deployed for action during the upcoming offensive, Fall Weiss. The SS-Verfügungs-Artillerie-Regiment was subordinated to Panzer-Division Kempf, based in East Prussia.
Early War Campaigns - Totenkopf 
On 1 September 1939, the Invasion of Poland began, sparking the Second World War. Meierdrees fought with the Panzer-Division Kempf through the campaign, seeing heavy action in the initial battles for the Mlava Position. At the conclusion of the campaign, Panzer-Division Kempf was disbanded, and the SS-VT formations began forming into the SS-Verfügungs-Division, to be commanded by SS-Gruppenführer Paul Hausser. For personal bravery in combat during the Polish campaign, Meierdrees was awarded the Iron Cross second class.
On 20 October 1939, Meierdrees was transferred to the staff of I./SS-Totenkopf-Artillerie-Regiment, part of the now forming SS-Division Totenkopf commanded by SS-Gruppenführer Theodor Eicke. Meierdrees served with the Totenkopf during the Invasion of France. As a member of the artillery regiment's staff, Meierdrees did not see any frontline combat during the invasion, but did gain valuable experience in the running of an artillery battalion. On 12 June 1940, Meierdrees secured a combat command. He was placed in charge of a platoon of StuG IIIs in the artillery regiment's assault gun unit, SS-Sturmgeschütze-Batterie Totenkopf. He saw a little action during the mopping up of the last French forces. On 9 November 1940, Meierdrees was promoted to SS-Obersturmführer (First Lieutenant).
Barbarossa - Demjansk Kessel 
The Totenkopf was assigned to Army Group North for Operation Barbarossa, the plan for the invasion of the Soviet Union. On 22 June 1941, Barbarossa began and the Totenkopf began its advance. Initially, Army Group North did not assign the Totenkopf any real frontline combat, but it was soon thrown into action. Meierdrees, as a StuG platoon commander, led his assault guns aggressively and was soon building a reputation as a highly skilled armour commander. Meierdrees' unit saw heavy action during the assault towards Leningrad, the objective of Army Group North. By December 1941, the Germans had breached the Stalin Line and were at the gates of Leningrad.
Several strong Soviet assaults launched at the height of winter caught the exhausted Germans off guard. The Totenkopf managed to hold its section of the line near Demjansk in ferocious fighting. By early January 1942 Totenkopf's position was located in a salient which protruded into the Soviet lines. The Soviets, hoping to sever the German supply lines and encircle the forces around Demjansk, launched ferocious attacks at the flanks of the salient. During this period, Meierdrees and the remnants of the StuG Battery performed fire-brigade missions, halting all Soviet attempts.
On 15 January 1942, the Soviets launched a major attack which threatened to sever the main highway at the town of Bjakowo. Meierdress, seeing the threat, formed an ad-hoc Kampfgruppe (battle group) from his StuG battery (down to less than 100 men) and assorted engineers, SS-police troopers and Artillery reconnaissance troops which were located in and around the town. With his kampfgruppe, Meierdrees held the town against repeated assaults by much larger forces.
Heavy Soviet attacks further to the south, launched on 8 February, sliced through the flanks of the Demjansk salient, trapping Totenkopf and five other divisions, over 100,000 men, in a kessel (pocket).
The Totenkopf, exhausted from the winter fighting, was severely understrength. Meierdrees' kampfgruppe, down to only 30 men, continued to hold the line at Bjakowo, now the closest point to friendly lines. For his actions during these battles, Meierdrees was awarded the Iron Cross, first class.
On February 18, Meierdress was seriously wounded. After Meierdrees' incapacitation, Totenkopf's SS-Sturmbannführer (Major) Franz Kleffner took over the command at Bjakowo. On February 19, he led the survivors in an assault which resulted in a breakthrough to the main force, an action for which Kleffner won the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. On 21 February, Meierdrees was flown out of the pocket in a Fieseler Fi 156 Storch.
Severely wounded, Meierdrees was sent back to an SS Field Hospital, where it was feared that he would die. By early March, his condition had stabilized. On 13 March 1942, Meierdrees was awarded the Knight's Cross in recognition of his courage and resourcefulness while encircled near Bjakowo. The SS newspaper, Das Schwarze Korps published a story on his actions.
Recuperation - Transfer to the Panzerwaffe 
In late March, Meierdrees was discharged from the hospital, but was deemed unfit to rejoin the division, which was still heavily engaged in the Demjansk Pocket. Instead, he was posted to the Waffen-SS artillery replacement regiment, SS-Artillerie-Ersatz-Regiment. On 20 April, he was promoted to SS-Hauptsturmführer (Captain). Meierdrees remained with the regiment, training replacements in the use of StuGs. He showed a skill and enthusiasm for training the young artillerymen.
Due to Wehrmacht internal power struggles in the 1930s, although StuGs were armoured fighting vehicles, they came under the command of the artillery, with the remainder of the Panzers being controlled by the Panzerwaffe. In October 1942, the Totenkopf was pulled out of the line and moved to France to be reformed as a panzergrenadier division. Meierdrees, having shown skill in the command of StuGs, was given the opportunity to take the Panzer commander's course at Panzertruppenschule II at Wünsdorf. He accepted the offer and on 14 November, he graduated and was posted back to now reformed SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Totenkopf as commander of I. Abteilung of SS-Panzer-Regiment 3.
With help from Heinrich Himmler and Paul Hausser, all SS Panzergrenadier Divisions were to receive a full panzer regiment, rather than the usual abteilung (detachment). This meant that SS Panzergrenadier Divisions were Panzer divisions in all but name. In December 1942, the situation in Stalingrad meant that the division was needed in the east. It was entrained and sent to the region around Kharkov, where it would form a part of SS-Obergruppenführer Hausser's SS-Panzerkorps.
Battles for Kharkov 
The division arrived at the front in late February 1943, and, together with the SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler and SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Das Reich was thrown into action in Generaloberst Erich von Manstein's counter offensive to retake Kharkov. Earlier in January and February, the Das Reich and Leibstandarte had seen heavy fighting in defence of the city, inflicting some losses on the Red Army. Despite the best efforts of the SS-Panzerkorps, the Red Army was still advancing on the SS-Panzerkorps' flanks. Fearing encirclement, Hausser disobeyed Hitler's orders and authorized a full withdrawal from Kharkov.
The Totenkopf arrived in time to take part in the counteroffensive. The Soviet spearhead was formed by Mobile Group Popov. The SS-Panzerkorps was divided into a number of smaller Kampfgruppes, and Meierdrees' Abt formed the nucleus of one of the Totenkopf's kampfgruppes, providing flank defence to the main assault by elements of the Leibstandarte. During the battle, the Totenkopf's commander, Theodor Eicke was shot down and killed while performing battlefield reconnaissance. In the desperate fighting to retake the city, Meierdress performed well, his unit inflicting some casualties on the enemy, and playing a major role in the annihilation of Mobile Group Popov, taking part in the recapture of Belgorod.
The attack was launched on 4 July 1943, after a massive Soviet artillery barrage fell on the German assembly areas. The SS-Panzerkorps was to attack the southern flank of the salient as the spearhead for Generaloberst Hermann Hoth's 4.Panzer-Armee.
The Totenkopf led the advance on the SS-Panzerkops western flank, Meierdrees' Abt, together with II./SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 under SS-Hauptsturmführer Fritz Biermeier, advanced in a panzerkeil (wedge) across the hot and dusty steppe. Despite encountering stiff Soviet resistance and several pakfronts (groups of anti-tank guns), the Totenkopf's panzers continued to advance, albeit at a slower pace than had been planned. Hausser ordered his SS-Panzerkorps to split in two, with the Totenkopf crossing the Psel River northwards and then continuing on towards the town of Prokhorovka.
By July 10, the Totenkopf was in a position to cross the Psel in force, then all three SS Panzergrenadier Divisions could strike towards Prokhorovka. Elements of the Totenkopf's SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 6 Theodor Eicke had finally forced a crossing of the Psel and established a weak bridgehead.
By July 11, Meierdrees had led his Abt across the Psel on hastily constructed pontoon bridges, reinforcing the tenuous position. The forces in the bridgehead were subjected to several furious Soviet attacks, but with the support of Meierdrees' panzers they held their ground and resumed the division's advance northwards. In the afternoon of 12 July, near the village of Andre'evka on the south bank of the Psel, the Soviets launched a major counterattack against the Totenkopf's SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 5 Thule and the division's StuG Battalion.
SS-Brigadeführer Hermann Priess, the Totenkopf's commander, ordered Meierdrees' abteilung to advance and support the beleaguered forces. The PzKpfw IIIs and PzKpfw IVs of Meierdrees' unit were supported by the Totenkopf's Tiger I company, 9(schwere)./SS-Panzer-Regiment 3. In ferocious combat with the lead units of the Soviet 5th Guards Tank Army, Meierdrees managed to halt the Soviet assault, destroying many Soviet T-34s, but at the cost of the majority of his remaining operational panzers.
On 14 July, Hitler called off the operation.
Battles on the Mius Front 
On 22 July, the Totenkopf was entrained for the Mius-Front, where Generaloberst Holldit's reformed 6.Armee was under heavy Soviet attack and close to collapse. The Leibstandarte, which was heading to the Italian front, left its vehicles behind. These were used to partially refit both the Totenkopf and the Das Reich.
Upon arrival at the Mius-Front, Totenkopf and Das Reich were immediately thrown into action. In the rocky ravine-crossed terrain, Meierdrees led the understrength SS-Panzer-Abt in several ferocious counterattacks which prevented several breakthroughs. By late June, Totenkopf and Das Reich had succeeded in stabilising the front to some extent.
The launch of the Soviet Operation Rumyantsev on the southern flank of the Kursk salient meant that the Totenkopf and Das Reich were sent back north to deal with the threat to Kharkov. Meierdrees' now exhausted abt was ordered into the line near Belgorod, where it was engaged in a ferocious defensive battle in an attempt to stem the tide. The divisions halted the advance of Rumyantsev, and it seemed as if the line would be stabilized. However, strong Soviet forces soon outflanked the two divisions and forced them to fall back to Kharkov. The threat to the divisions' flanks was too great, and on 23 August the Totenkopf and Das Reich abandoned the city, narrowly avoiding encirclement. Despite the best efforts of the two SS-Panzergrenadier divisions, on 23 August Kharkov had fallen. Army Group South began a fighting withdrawal to the Dnieper.
Meierdrees continued to lead the abteilung in constant fire-brigade actions, preventing breakthroughs and flanking maneuvers as the slower formations of the Totenkopf fell back. By early September, the totenkopf reached the Dniepr. Elements of the Soviet 5th Guards Tank army had forced a crossing at Kremenchug and were soon threatening to break through the Dniepr line. Totenkopf was thrown into action against the bridgehead, with the panzer regiment leading many attacks. In late September, Meierdrees was seriously wounded in combat against the bridgehead. He was evacuated to an SS-Field Hospital where he recuperated. As this was his fifth serious wound, he was awarded the wound badge in gold. In recognition of his actions in Kharkov, Kursk, the Mius and the retreat to the Dnieper, Meierdrees was awarded the Oakleaves to the Knight's Cross. These were personally awarded to him by Adolf Hitler on 5 October 1943.
Retreat to Romania 
After his recovery, Meierdrees was posted to the SS-Panzer-Ausbildungs-und-Ersatz-Regiment, helping train new panzertroops who would be dispersed as replacements to the SS panzer divisions. In January 1944, he was deemed ready for active service and was sent back to his old command with the Totenkopf, arriving on 20 January. On 30 January, he received a promotion to SS-Sturmbannführer (Major).
The Totenkopf was engaged in heavy defensive fighting east of the Dnieper near Krivoy Rog. The Soviets had been attempting to capture Krivoi-Rog, which formed a linchpin in the German lines, since November 1943. Meierdrees assumed control of his old abteilung, and immediately led them into battle against Soviet probing attempts towards the city. In February 1944, 56,000 German troops were trapped in the Korsun Pocket. The Totenkopf was sent towards Cherkassy to assist in the relief attempts. Meierdrees led his panzer troops in attacks towards the city of Korsun, attempting to secure a crossing across the Gniloy-Tilkich river. The 1.Panzer-Division, fighting alongside the Totenkopf, achieved a linkup with the encircled forces.
After a fierce fight near Kirovograd the Totenkopf fell back behind the Southern Bug River, in the second week of March, taking up new defensive positions. During this period, Meierdrees performed his usual task of fire-brigade commander, dealing with threats as they arose. After two weeks of heavy fighting alongside the Heer's Panzergrenadier-Division Großdeutschland west of Ivanovka, the German lines again fell back, withdrawing to the Dniestr on the Romanian border near Iaşi.
In the first week of April, Totenkopf gained a moments respite as it rested in the area near Târgul-Frumos in Romania. The division received replacements and new equipment, Meierdrees' abt receiving a component of Panthers to replace some of the outdated PzKpfw IVs. In the second week of April, heavy soviet attacks towards Targul Frumos meant that Totenkopf was back in action, playing a role in the decisive defensive victory. Meierdrees' Panzers were the main force employed by the Totenkopf in efforts to halt the soviet spearheads. By 7 May, the front had quieted and the Totenkopf went back to the business of reorganising. Meierdrees' abt was again brought up to strength. In early July, the division was ordered to the area near Grodno in Poland, where it would form a part of SS-Obergruppenführer Gille's IV.SS-Panzerkorps, covering the approaches to Warsaw near Modlin.
Battles around Warsaw - Operation Konrad I 
The Totenkopf arrived at the Warsaw front in late July 1944. After the launch of Operation Bagration and the collapse of Army Group Centre, the central-Eastern front was a mess, and the IV. SS-Panzerkorps was one of the only formations standing in the way of the Soviet attacks. On 1 August 1944, the Armia Krajowa, rose up in Warsaw itself, sparking the Warsaw Uprising. A column of Totenkopf Tigers was caught up in the fighting, and several were lost. The Totenkopf was not involved in the suppression of the revolt, instead guarding the front lines, and fighting off several Soviet probing attacks into the city's eastern suburbs. Meierdress' panzers played a major role in these defensive victories.
In several furious battles near the town of Modlin in mid August, the Totenkopf, fighting alongside the 5.SS-Panzer-Division Wiking and the Fallschirm-Panzer-Division 1 Hermann Göring failed to arrest the Soviet 3rd Corps. Meierdrees' abt, now totally equipped with Panthers, fought in this battle. The terrain around Modlin is excellent armour terrain, and Meierdrees exploited this to his advantage, engaging Soviet tanks from far range.
The efforts of the Totenkopf, Wiking and Hermann Göring allowed Germans to hold the Vistula line and establish Army Group Vistula. In December 1944, the IX. SS-Gebirgskorps was encircled in Budapest. Hitler ordered the IV. SS-Panzerkorps to head south to break through to the 45,000 Germans and Hungarians trapped in the city. The corps arrived late December, and was immediately thrown into action.
The relief attempt, codenamed Operation Konrad I, was a joint attack by the Wiking and Totenkopf from the town of Táta attacking along the line Bicske-Budapest. Meierdrees' abt. was to form one of the Totenkopf's spearheads.
The operation got underway on 1 January, and the unexpected attack resulted in large gains for the Germans. Meierdrees' unit fought their way towards the city, destroying many Soviet tanks. Despite this initial success, the Red Army reacted quickly, and on 3 January defence had solidified near the town of Biscke. On 4 January, Meierdrees' unit was subjected to a ferocious enemy counterattack by a large Soviet armoured force. Meierdrees' Panther, after knocking some armour, was hit, and exploded. While his loader and driver escaped with serious wounds, Meierdrees and his gunner were killed in the explosion. Despite two subsequent offensives, the German garrison at Budapest was never reached and the survivors surrendered on 12 February 1945. The defeated Germans capitulated soon. It was, however, proved that the Germans were no match for the Red Army's assault.
- Wound Badge in Gold
- Panzer Badge in Silver
- Iron Cross (1939)
- 2nd Class (15 November1939)
- 1st Class (15 January 1942)
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves
- Krätschmer 1999, p. 269.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 534.
- Fellgiebel 2000, pp. 306, 498.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 73.
- Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939-1945. Friedburg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 3-7909-0284-5.
- Krätschmer, Ernst-Günther (1999). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Waffen-SS (in German). Coburg, Germany: Nation Europa Verlag GmbH. ISBN 3-920677-43-9.
- Scherzer, Veit (2007). Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.
- Knight's Cross Holders Database (German language)
- Axis History Factbook
- Feldgrau - The History of the German Armed Forces in WWII
- Axis Biographical Research