22nd SS Volunteer Cavalry Division Maria Theresia
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|22nd SS Volunteer Cavalry Division Maria Theresia|
|Active||1943 - 1945|
The 22nd SS Volunteer Cavalry Division was a German Waffen SS cavalry division which was active on the Eastern Front during the Second World War. The division was composed primarily of Hungarian Army Volksdeutsche conscripts who were transferred to the Waffen-SS following an agreement between Germany and Hungary. The division is commonly known under Maria Theresia name in publications, although there are no documents found to confirm this name so far.
Formation and Training
In December 1943, 17th SS-Cavalry Regiment from the 8th SS Cavalry Division Florian Geyer was ordered to become the cadre for a new SS cavalry division. On 29 April 1944, the SS-Führungshauptamt authorised the division to be raised, and 17th SS-Cavalry Regiment was pulled out of the line and sent to Kisbér in Hungary to rest, refit and to begin forming the new division.
While veterans from the Florian Geyer formed the nucleus of the division, the bulk of the soldiers were Hungarian Army volksdeutsche conscripts, transferred to the Waffen-SS following an agreement between Germany and Hungary. The division was organized in absolute secrecy; this led many of the new recruits to incorrectly assume that they were part of Adolf Hitler's much vaunted Wunderwaffe program.
The division was designated 22nd SS Volunteer Cavalry Division Maria Theresia. The title referred to Maria Theresa from the House of Habsburg, who had ruled Austria, Hungary and Bohemia in the 18th century. The symbol of the division, a cornflower, is emblazoned on the divisional shield. It was adopted as it was the favourite flower of Empress Maria Theresa. Some authors claim however, that the division was always referred in official documents as the 22nd SS Volunteer Cavalry Division, and there are no documents, that would officially confirm it being named Maria Theresia.
Over the next few months, the division continued its organization and training in Kisber, Győr and Budapest, equipped with mostly Hungarian weapons, vehicles and equipment. By June 1944, the divisional strength had reached 4,900. On the 22nd of that month the Soviets launched Operation Bagration. In early August OKH ordered all divisions forming up in Hungary to send kampfgruppen to the combat zone. 52nd SS Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, along with elements of the divisional artillery, were ordered to entrain for the front in Romania, while the 17th SS Volunteer Cavalry Regiment remained in Hungary to train the rest of the division.
Kampfgruppe Wiedemann consisted of SS Volunteer Cavalry Regiment 52 with attached artillery, FlaK and reconnaissance elements. The Kampfgruppe was transported from Gyula-Szolonta, Hungary to Arad, Romania, where it was attached to General der Panzertruppen Hermann Breith's III Panzer Corps, stationed in the area around Debrecen.
SS-Hauptsturmführer Wiedemann's force went into the line on 30 September, forming a defensive ring around the city of Arad along with the Hungarian 9th Infantry Division. That same day, Wiedemann himself was killed in action. SS-Hauptsturmführer Anton 'Toni' Ameiser took command, and the kampfgruppe was redesignated Kampfgruppe Ameiser.
On 2 October, the Soviet spearheads of Marshall R.Y. Malinovsky's 2nd Ukrainian Front began probing towards Arad. Kampfgruppe Ameiser held its ground, rebuffing several Soviet attacks. On 6 October, Malinovsky launched a major offensive, thus beginning the Battle of Debrecen. Hugely outnumbered, Kampfgruppe Ameiser was quickly outflanked and encircled. Secondary Soviet forces began attempts to destroy the encircled force. On 8 October, an assault by a large Soviet armoured force managed to split the pocket in two. Ameiser was in command of one pocket, and SS-Hauptsturmführer Anton Vandieken in command of the other. Vandieken's force launched an attack towards friendly lines. On the following day, the survivors swam across the Harmas river, joining German forces on the other side.
Ameiser's group found it impossible to break out to friendly lines. Ameiser ordered his men to leave behind their heavy equipment and try to break out. Over the next three weeks, Ameiser led his men on a 200 mile trek behind enemy lines. On 30 October the 48 survivors, including Ameiser himself, linked up with German forces at the town of Dunaföldvár, south of Budapest. For his actions, Ameiser was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 1 November 1944.
Operation Panzerfaust - Budapest
In mid-October 1944, pro-German Honvédség officers had revealed that the Hungarian Regent, Admiral Miklós Horthy, was negotiating a secret surrender to the Soviets. Hitler sent SS-Obersturmbannfüher Otto Skorzeny to deal with the problem. Skorzeny commandeered all available elements of the Maria Theresia to take part in Operation Panzerfaust, which began at 0600 on 15 October. In little over half an hour a German column led by four Tiger IIs, and including a number of Maria Theresia men, stormed Buda Castle and forced Horthy to abdicate. Simultaneously, Operation Panzerfaust resulted in the forced detainment of Horthy's youngest son, the pro-peace Nicholas Horthy. Pro-German Arrow Cross leader Ferenc Szálasi replaced Horthy, negotiations were broken off and crisis was averted.
The battle ready units of the division, which had been completing their final training near Kisber, were assigned to the IX SS Mountain Corps, which was deployed in the defense of Budapest. The division arrived in early November 1944 and took up defensive positions. There it was encircled along with the rest of the Axis troops in the Hungarian capital and destroyed. Only some 170 men made it out of the encirclement.
The survivors, along with those who had not been sent to defend Budapest, were used to form 37th SS Volunteer Cavalry Division Lützow, with the remnants of the Flak units being transferred to 32nd SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division 30 Januar.
- SS-Brigadeführer August Zehender (21 Apr 1944 - 11 Feb 1945)
- 52nd SS Cavalry Regiment
- 53rd SS Cavalry Regiment
- 54th SS Cavalry Regiment
- 17th SS Cavalry Regiment
- 22nd SS Artillery Regiment
- 22nd SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion
- 22nd SS Panzer Jäger Battalion
- 22nd SS Pionier Battalion
- 22nd SS Nachrichten Battalion
- 22nd SS Division Nachschubtruppen
- 22nd SS Verwaltungstruppen Battalion
- 22nd SS Sanitäts Battalion
- (Polish) Jan-Hendrik Wendler: 22. ochotnicza dywizja kawalerii SS (22nd SS Volunteer Cavalry Division) in: "Militaria XX Wieku" No. 4/2009(31), pp.74-75
- The Florian Geyer Division by Charles Trang