Henri Joseph Fenet
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Henri Joseph Fenet
|Born||11 July 1919|
|Died||14 September 2002 (aged 83)|
|Unit||SS Division Charlemagne|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross|
Fenet was born on 11 July 1919 in France. Prior to World War II he studied literature at the University of Paris. At the outbreak of war he volunteered for the French Army and was commissioned as an officer with the rank of lieutenant. He was taken prisoner. Upon his release in November 1942, he joined the Milice, a collaborationist paramilitary force tasked with rounding up Jews for deportation and suppressing the resistance in Vichy France.
In July 1943 Paul Marion, the Vichy Propaganda Minister, began a nationwide recruitment for the Waffen-SS in France. The Comité des Amis de la Waffen S.S. (Committee of the Friends of the Waffen-SS) was established by the minister and proceeded to actively recruit men who were between the ages of 20–25, "free of Jewish blood," and physically fit. Roughly 3000 applied to the assorted offices in the first few months, many of them college students. The organization also spent much time trying to recruit experienced French officers, like Fenet, to the organization. In October 1943, Fenet volunteered for the Waffen-SS and was sent to the SS school at Bad Tölz. In March 1944 he received the rank of Obersturmführer (senior assault leader, equivalent of first lieutenant) in the Waffen-SS and was given command of a company of the newly formed 8th SS Assault Brigade Frankreich.
In September 1944, Fenet and his company were sent to Könitz, West Prussia, where they joined other French recruits to form a new brigade-sized formation, later known as the SS Division Charlemagne. Joining them were French collaborators fleeing the Allied advance in the west, as well as Frenchmen from the German Navy, the National Socialist Motor Corps (NSKK), the Organisation Todt and the detested Milice security police. In February 1945, the unit was officially upgraded to a division. At this time it had a strength of 7,340 men. Fenet was named the commander of a battalion, which he led until April 1945.
The unit was sent to fight the Soviet Red Army in Poland, but by 25 February it was attacked at Hammerstein (present day Czarne) in Pomerania, by troops of the 1st Belorussian Front. The Soviet forces split the French force into three pockets. In heavy fighting against the Soviet Red Army, 7 officers and 130 men were killed, while 8 officers and 661 men were wounded. Fenet's battalion was part of one of the groups that was able to break out and return to the German lines. They were evacuated by the German Navy to Denmark and later sent to Neustrelitz.
On 23 April 1945, the Reich Chancellery in Berlin ordered Brigadeführer Gustav Krukenberg to proceed to the capital. About 350 men from the remains of the Charlemagne division chose to go to Berlin. The men had been reorganized as Sturmbataillon ("assault battalion") "Charlemagne" and was attached to the SS Division Nordland.
In the days which followed, fighting was very heavy and by 28 April, one-hundred eight Soviet tanks had been destroyed in the southeast of Berlin within the S-Bahn. The French squads under the command of Fenet accounted for "about half" of the tanks. Fenet, who was now wounded in the foot, withdrew with the battalion to the vicinity of the Reich Aviation Ministry in the central government district under the command of Wilhelm Mohnke. For the combat actions of the battalion during the Battle of Berlin, Fenet was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 29 April 1945 by Mohnke. By the evening of 30 April, the French SS men serving under Fenet had destroyed another 21 Soviet tanks. On 2 May 1945, most of the surviving Frenchmen left in Berlin surrendered to the Soviet Red Army. The rest, including Fenet, surrendered to British forces at Bad Kleinen and Wismar. Fenet was handed over to the Soviet Army, who put him in a prisoner of war camp and then let him be treated for his foot wound at hospital. He was then returned to a POW camp and a short time later released by the Soviets. Fenet was arrested upon his return to France.
In 1949, Fenet was convicted of being a collaborator and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment with hard labour. He was released in 1959. After Fenet was released, he appeared in several documentary films and television programmes. He also ran a small independent auto business. Fenet died on 14 September 2002.
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 29 April 1945 as Waffen-Hauptsturmführer and commander of the assault battalion/33. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS "Charlemagne".
- Littlejohn 1987, p. 169.
- Littlejohn 1987, pp. 170, 172.
- McNab 2013, p. 328.
- Littlejohn 1987, p. 172.
- Littlejohn 1987, pp. 160, 161.
- Forbes 2010, p. 394.
- Beevor 2002, p. 352.
- Forbes 2010, p. 439.
- Forbes 2010, p. 443.
- McNab 2013, p. 330.
- Forbes 2010, p. 499.
- Van Geirt, Jean-Pierre. "Que sont-ils devenus ?" (in French). Division-Charlemagne.net. Archived from the original on 2009-04-16. Retrieved 10 November 2008.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 305.
- Beevor, Antony (2002). Berlin: The Downfall 1945. London: Viking-Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-670-03041-5.
- Forbes, Robert (2010) . For Europe: The French Volunteers of the Waffen-SS. Stackpole Books. ISBN 978-0-8117-3581-0.
- Littlejohn, David (1987). Foreign Legions of the Third Reich Vol. 1 Norway, Denmark, France. Bender Publishing. ISBN 978-0912138176.
- McNab, Chris (2013). Hitler's Elite: The SS 1939–45. Osprey. ISBN 978-1-78200-088-4.
- 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 Militaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.