17 September 1889|
Höchstädt an der Donau
|Died||17 May 1951
|Allegiance|| German Empire (to 1918)
Weimar Republic (to 1933)
|Years of service||1909–20
|Commands held||281. Sicherungs-Division|
|Battles/wars||World War I
World War II
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves|
|Other work||Police officer|
Theodor Scherer was born to a Bavarian schoolmaster in 1889.
He was commissioned into the army in 1910, and served in various machine gun detachments throughout World War I. He spent the next 15 years serving as a police officer before rejoining the army in 1935 with the rank of Oberstleutnant.
In 1940 he was given command of the newly formed Infanterie Regiment 507, which he led throughout the campaign in the West.
In October 1941, Scherer was chosen – no doubt because of his police experience – to take command of Security Division 281. These security divisions were not frontline combat formations, but were lightly equipped for ensuring the security of the areas behind the front, which often contained partisans and Red Army stragglers. Despite this modest divisional command, Scherer was to be in the right place at the right time to find fame in one of the most dramatic actions of the winter crisis of 1941 on the Eastern Front.
Cholm is a small town on the Lovat River, and one of the few areas of firm terrain in a region with more than its fair share of swampland. By January 1942 the area was under severe pressure from the Soviet counter-offensive; the area held by the Wehrmacht was gradually compressed into a perimeter barely a mile across, and by January 21 the town was completely surrounded. Inside this redoubt were a number of disparate units including elements of two infantry regiments, a battalion from a Luftwaffe field regiment, a police reserve battalion, transport units, and even some navy personnel from river craft, plus Scherer’s headquarters: in all, around 5,500 men.
This Kampfgruppe Scherer at first possessed no anti-tank guns; and artillery bombardments destroyed most of the houses, leaving the Germans without shelter in the bitter cold. The lack of cover was also important in that Russian snipers took a regular toll of German soldiers. Fortunately for Scherer, there was no flexibility to the Soviet tactics; the Germans were able to predict accurately where and when each new assault would be made, allowing them to concentrate their meagre resources in that particular sector. Crucially, they were also able to radio for supporting artillery fire from outside the pocket.
As the siege wore on, overwhelming pressure of numbers allowed the Soviets to capture and maintain a foothold in the town’s eastern outskirts. Ambushes were laid, and as the Soviet troops advanced through the narrow streets, in which their supporting tanks were unable to manoeuvre, they were scythed down or forced to withdraw in disarray.
Finally, on May 5, 1942, supported by a massive artillery barrage and Stuka dive bombers, a relief force broke through to the garrison, which by then numbered only 1,200 men still fit for action. For 107 days Scherer’s men had held off all enemy attempts to seize the town, although the Red Army had launched almost 2,000 individual assaults on the town.
For this achievement, Scherer was decorated with the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on February 20, 1942 (while the siege was still underway). Hitler authorised the ‘Cholm Shield’ in memory of the battle and Scherer was awarded the Eichenlaub.
Scherer was given home leave to have the award presented to him by Hitler in person, then in June 1942 Wilhelm-Hunold von Stockhausen replaced him at 281. In September he replaced Fürst in command of 34. Infanterie-Division. He was promoted to Generalleutnant on 1 November and the following day he transferred to command of 83. Infanterie-Division, replacing Sinzinger. This was deployed in Velikije Luki on the left flank of Heeresgruppe Mitte, with little contact to either flank. Hochbaum replaced him at 34. Infanterie.
As Scherer took over 83. Infanterie, the Russians struck with the Third Shock Army. The division was quickly isolated in the city as the Russians bypassed it and by 20 November the city was encircled. Some 7,500 men from the division were trapped in the city itself. Von der Chevallerie’s LIX Armeekorps was entrusted with a rescue mission but had no units available. Accordingly, OKH ordered Heeresgruppe Nord to relieve the city but their attempt with 8. Panzer-Division (Erich Brandenberger) failed two days later.
Further relief attempts went in with Jaschke’s 20. Infanterie-Division (Motorisiert), 291. Infanterie-Division (Werner Goeritz) and remnants of Scherer’s division outside the pocket, all under Jaschke’s command, and 331. Infanterie-Division (Beyer) with supporting elements, under Heeresgruppe Mitte’s Chef des Generalstabes, Wöhler. These attacks were halted on 12 December. The German defenders in Velikije Luki were now desperate, as the Soviets had split them into three pockets. They held for four long weeks until finally a battle group broke through to them; however this was in turn encircled. Finally the city fell on 16 January 1943 as the few survivors broke out but less than 200 men made it to the German lines.
83. Infanterie was engaged in defensive fighting under Heeresgruppe Mitte through 1943, until transferred to Heeresgruppe Nord in the autumn. It was deployed on the Leningrad front at the beginning of 1944. Heun replaced Scherer briefly in January, then permanently on 1 April that year.
Inspector of Coastal Defences
In mid-April 1944 Scherer was appointed Inspektor des Küstenschutzes beim Wehrmachtsbefehlshaber Ostland (Inspector of Coastal Defences in Ostland), under the Militärbefehlshaber, Kempf.
In mid-April 1945 Scherer was transferred from a senior staff position at 4 Panzer-Armee to take over the defence of the Schwarzen Elster river line against the Russians, near the Elbe, which was defended by XLVIII Panzer-Korps (Maximilian von Edelsheim). He was later responsible for the southern sector of the Elbe under von Edelsheim.
Scherer was killed in a car accident at Ludwigsburg in May 1951.
Awards and decorations
- Iron Cross (1914)
- Honour Cross of the World War 1914/1918
- Clasp to the Iron Cross (1939)
- Eastern Front Medal
- Cholm Shield (31 October 1942)
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves
- Mentioned in the Wehrmachtbericht (6 May 1942)
- Thomas 1998, p. 253.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 305.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 53.
- Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 – Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtteile [The Bearers of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939–1945 — The Owners of the Highest Award of the Second World War of all Wehrmacht Branches] (in German). Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6.
- Scherzer, Veit (2007). Die 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 [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 The Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 by Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Allied Forces with Germany According to the Documents of the Federal Archives] (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.
- Thomas, Franz (1998). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 2: L–Z [The Oak Leaves Bearers 1939–1945 Volume 2: L–Z] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2300-9.
Generalleutnant Friedrich Fürst
|Commander of 34. Infanterie-Division
5 September 1942 – 2 November 1942
General der Infanterie Friedrich Hochbaum
Generalmajor Adolf Sinzinger
|Commander of 83. Infanterie-Division
2 November 1942 – 1 March 1944
Generalmajor Wilhelm Heun