Army Detachment Steiner
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Army Detachment Steiner (Armeeabteilung Steiner), was a temporary military unit, something more than a corps but less than an army, created on paper by German dictator Adolf Hitler on 21 April 1945 during the Battle of Berlin, and placed under the command of SS Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner. Hitler hoped that the units assigned to Steiner would be able to stage an effective counterattack against the northern pincer of the Soviet assault on Berlin. In the event, Steiner realised that the forces under his command were inadequate, and refused to attack.
On the second day of the Battle of Berlin, 17 April, General Gotthard Heinrici, the Commander-in-Chief of Army Group Vistula, stripped Steiner's III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps, (the Army Group's reserve), of its two strongest divisions, the SS Nordland Division and the SS Nederland Division. He placed them under the command of General Theodor Busse, commander of the Ninth Army, as Busse had most of the other units in the III Corps. The Nordland was sent to join Helmuth Weidling's LVI Panzer Corps defending the Seelow Heights, to stiffen the sector held by the 9th Parachute Division. The Nederland Division was sent south-west of Frankfurt (Oder) and assigned to the V SS Mountain Corps, where it was destined to be destroyed in the Battle of Halbe.
Heinrici ordered the III SS Panzer Corps, reduced to three battalions and a few tanks, to scrape together whatever forces it could find to set up a screening line along the Finow Canal to protect the southern flank of the Third Panzer Army from an attack by the Soviet Marshal Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front, which had broken through the Seelow Heights' defences and was encircling Berlin.
By 21 April Adolf Hitler, ignoring the facts, started to call the ragtag units that came under Steiner's command "Army Detachment Steiner". He ordered Steiner to attack the northern flank of the huge salient created by the 1st Belorussian Front's breakout. Simultaneously the Ninth Army, which had been pushed south of the salient, was to attack north in a pincer attack. To facilitate this attack Steiner was assigned the three divisions of the Ninth Army's CI Army Corps, the 4th SS Polizei Division, the 5th Jäger Division, the 25th Panzergrenadier Division — all were north of the Finow Canal — and Weidling's LVI Panzer Corps, which was still east of Berlin with its northern flank just below Werneuchen.
The three divisions to the north were to attack south from Eberswalde (on the Finow Canal and 24 km (15 miles) east of Berlin) towards the LVI Panzer Corps, so cutting the 1st Belorussian Front's salient in two. Steiner called Heinrici and informed him that the plan could not be implemented because the 5th Jäger Division and the 25th Panzergrenadier Division were deployed defensively and could not be redeployed until the 2nd Naval Division arrived from the coast to relieve them. This left only two battalions of the 4th SS Police Division available, and they had no combat weapons. Heinrici called Hans Krebs, Chief German General Staff of (OKH), told him that the plan could not be implemented and asked to speak to Hitler, but was told Hitler was too busy to take his call.
When, on 22 April, at his afternoon conference Hitler became convinced that Steiner was not going to attack he fell into a tearful rage against his generals. He declared that the war was lost, he blamed the generals and announced that he would stay on in Berlin until the end and then kill himself. After 22 April "Army Detachment Steiner" was little mentioned in the Führerbunker.
Order of Battle
- III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps
- 4th SS Polizei Division
- 5th Jager Division
- 25th Panzergrenadier Division
In popular culture
Hitler's rage at Steiner's failure to mount the attack was made famous by a scene from the 2004 movie Downfall. The scene has been made into numerous parody videos in which new subtitles are added that typically have no correspondence to what the characters are actually saying in German.
- Eleventh SS Panzer Army, was part of Army Group Vistula and was under the command of Steiner while it was fighting east of the Oder River during February 1945. The Eleventh was assigned to OB West and reorganized (and given the command of new units) for combat against the Western Allies in March 1945. Steiner remain in command of the III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps and it remain in Army Group Vistula transferring from the Eleventh to Third Panzer Army. As Steiner also commanded the Eleventh army during 1945, it can easily be confused with Army Detachment Steiner.
- Beevor, Antony. Berlin: The Downfall 1945, Penguin Books, 2002, ISBN 0-670-88695-5
- Ziemke, Earl F. Battle For Berlin: End Of The Third Reich, NY:Ballantine Books, London:Macdomald & Co, 1969.
- Beevor p.141
- Beevor p.267-268
- Ziemke pp.87-88
- To assign units on the far side of an enemy salient from their own command to that of the local command is not unusual. For example in the Battle of the Bulge General Eisenhower reassigned the US First and US Ninth armies on the north side of the salient to the 21st Army Group (also on the north side), because it was now fighting side by side with the armies of the 21st Army Group, while its parent army group (the 12th) was on the south side of the salient with the rest of the 12th's armies.
- Beevor p.275
- Ziemke p.89
- Beevor p.298