Panzer Division Müncheberg

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Panzer Division Müncheberg
PzDMunch.svg
Active 8 March 1945 – 9 May 1945
Country Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
Branch Heer
Type Division
Role Panzer
Engagements World War II
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Werner Mummert

Panzer-Division Müncheberg was a German panzer division which saw action on the Eastern Front around Berlin during World War II.

Formation[edit]

Panzer-Division Müncheberg began forming on 8 March 1945 in Müncheberg, Germany. The majority of the division's staff and panzer troops were drawn from the 103.Panzer-Brigade, which had been dissolved three days before. Major General of the Reserve (Generalmajor der Reserve) Werner Mummert, the commander of the 103rd Panzer Brigade and a highly decorated veteran, was placed in command of the division.

Despite its being severely understrength and an ad-hoc formation, the Müncheberg Division eventually received small amounts of the latest in supplies and equipment, including several Panther (Type G) tanks equipped with Sperber Infrared (IR) systems, as well as a company of Panzergrenadiers equipped with Sperber IR systems.

In addition, the division received several of the superheavy Jagdtigers, as well as several Tiger II Ausf. Bs, and the last five Tiger 1 Ausf. Es to be sent to the front. By 12 March the division's strength was still only 6,836 men. On 18 March the men from an infantry battalion of the 1.SS-Panzer-Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler were used to bolster the division's strength.

As the advancing Soviet forces neared Müncheberg, the partly formed Müncheberg Division was ordered to move east as the mobile reserve for Infantry General (General der Infanterie) Theodor Busse's Ninth Army. The Ninth Army represented a significant part of Colonel General (Generaloberst) Gotthard Heinrici's Army Group Vistula (Heeresgruppe Weichsel).

Panzer-Division Müncheberg arrived at the front in Cottbus on 22 March.

Baptism of fire – Küstrin[edit]

The town of Küstrin lies roughly 70 km to the east of Berlin. Adolf Hitler had declared that the town was to be a fortress (Festung). Unlike other so-called fortress towns and cities, Festung Küstrin actually was a fortress. Frederick the Great had been imprisoned there by his father in the 1720s. The forces of Marshal Vasily Chuikov had reached the outskirts of Küstrin on 31 January and had immediately been committed in efforts to secure a bridgehead across the Oder. Bridgeheads were established to the north and south of Küstrin, but the Soviets could not consolidate their bridgehead until Küstrin was captured. The Soviets, hesitant to attack the well defended fortress, began attempts to surround Küstrin and thereby render it impotent.

Despite repeated Soviet attacks, the narrow strip of land between Busse's 9. Armee and Küstrin, dubbed the Küstrin Corridor was kept open. On 22 March, as the Müncheberg reached the front, a major Soviet effort to sever the corridor went into action. The Soviet plan was complicated, consisting of an inner and outer encirclement. The inner encirclement succeeded quickly, and the corridor was cut. Müncheberg went into action on 22 March alongside General der Panzertruppen Karl Decker's XXXIX.Panzerkorps. Over the next three days, Müncheberg, together with the 25.Panzergrenadier-Division was to claim 200 enemy tanks destroyed. Despite this, by 25 March the outer encirclement was completed, trapping several German units including a platoon from the Müncheberg.

On 27 March, the Germans launched a counter-offensive aimed at re-opening the Küstrin Corridor. Müncheberg was subordinated to XXXIX.Panzerkorps for the attack. Despite inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy, the corps was unable to break through to the city. A Soviet counter-attack hit the 20.Panzergrenadier-Division and soon the attack was in disarray, with elements of the 20.Panzergrenadier falling back in a disorganised rout. The Soviet artillery caused heavy casualties among the retreating Germans.

After the failure of the Küstrin counter-attack, the exhausted Müncheberg was pulled out of the line to be refitted.

Seelow Heights[edit]

During this refit period, a panzergrenadier company and a company of Panther ausf Gs were sent to Panzertruppenschule II at Wünsdorf to be refitted with the Sperber-IR equipment. The formations were returned to the division on 7 April 1945. By now, the Müncheberg was dug in at the 'Hardenberg Positions' on Seelow Heights.

The IR equipped company, I./29.Panzer-Regiment under the command of Oberleutnant Rasim, together with the supporting IR capable panzergrenadiers under Hauptmann Steuer, launched a night attack towards Soviet troops entrenched on the Reitwein Spur. This was one of the first uses of Infrared in combat and the attack, although limited, was a resounding success.

On 16 April Marshal Georgi Zhukov launched a massive assault across the Alte Oder aimed at capturing Berlin. From this date until the end of the war, Müncheberg was in constant combat. Zhukov, launching his attack at night, had set up searchlights which were to illuminate the German positions in the pre-dawn darkness. Instead, they silhouetted the advancing Soviet tanks and men, and enabled the entrenched Germans to hold the heights for several days. The division, equipped with several self-propelled 8.8 cm and 12.8 cm anti-tank guns, caused heavy casualties on the advancing Soviets in what was to be known as the Battle of Seelow Heights.

Over the next few days, Zhukov threw thousands of troops and tanks against the entrenched Germans, who managed to rebuff each assault. On 19 April the 9.Fallschirmjäger-Division, on the Müncheberg's right, finally cracked and the entire front collapsed. On 20 April, after holding the line for eight days, Müncheberg, together with its neighboring formation 11.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Division Nordland fell back into Berlin itself.

Berlin[edit]

See also Battle in Berlin

The division halted for a ferocious rearguard action in the village of Müncheberg, inflicting more heavy losses on the advancing Soviets. Despite this, the Soviet advance did not slow and the division was pushed back into Berlin itself. The remnants of the Müncheberg were positioned in the north-eastern sector of Berlin, north of the River Spree. By this stage, the division retained roughly a dozen tanks and about thirty halftracks.

On 25 April, General der Artillerie Helmuth Weidling, the recently appointed commander of the defence of Berlin, ordered Mummert to take command of the LVI Panzer Corps, command of the Müncheberg being handed over to Colonel (Oberst) Hans-Oscar Wöhlermann, the artillery commander (ArKo) for the city. On 26 April Müncheberg, along with Nordland, was ordered to attack towards Tempelhof Airport and Neukolln. With its last ten panzers, the Müncheberg at first made good progress against the surprised Soviets, however fierce defensive fire and several local counter-attacks soon halted the advance.

Around noon on 26 April Wöhlermann was released from command and Mummert was reinstated as commander of the division. The following is from the diary of an officer with the Müncheberg Division and describes the evening of 26 April.

"Scarlet night. Heavy artillery fire. Uncanny silence. We get shot at from many houses. Foreign workers, no doubt. From the Air Ministry comes news that General Erich Bärenfänger has been relieved of his post of commander of the Berlin garrison. One hour later we hear that General Weidling is our new commander. General Mummert takes charge of the Tank Corps . . . "

On 27 April, very early in the morning, Hitler ordered the flooding of the Berlin underground to slow the advancing Soviets. Hitler's order resulted in the drowning of many German soldiers and civilians who had taken refuge in the tunnels. The diary of the officer with the Müncheberg Division went on to describe the flooding.

"New command post: Anhalter subway station. Platforms and control rooms look like an armed camp. Women and children huddle in niches and corners. Others sit about in deck chairs. They all listen for the sounds of battle . . . Suddenly water starts to pour into the station. Screams, sobs, curses. People fighting around the ladders that run through the air shafts up to the streets. Masses of gurgling water rush over the stairs. Children and wounded are abandoned and trampled to death. The water overs them, rises three feet or more and then slowly goes down. The panic lasts for hours. Many are drowned. Reason: On somebody's orders, engineers have blasted the locks of the canal between Schoeneburg and Mockern Bridges to flood the tunnels against the advancing Russians. Meanwhile heavy fighting has been going on above ground level. Change of position to Potsdamer Platz subway station in the late afternoon. Command post on the first floor, as tunnels still under water. Direct hits on the roof. Heavy loses among wounded and civilians. Smoke pours in through the shell holes. Outside, stacks of Panzerfists go up in the air. Another direct hit, one flight below street level. A horrible sight: Men, soldiers, women, and children are literally glued to the wall."

As the division was engaged in desperate fighting in Wilmersdorf, the encirclement of Berlin was completed and the remnants of the Müncheberg were trapped. The diary of the officer with the Müncheberg Division also described the "flying courts-martial" prevalent at this time.

"Flying courts-martial unusually prominent today. Most of them very young SS officers. Hardly a decoration among them. Blind and fanatical. The hope of relief and the fear of these courts bring men back to the fighting. General Mummert refuses to allow any further courts-martial in the sector under his command . . . He is determined to shoot down personally any courts-martial that appears . . . We cannot hold the Potsdamer Platz and move through the subway tunnel to Nollendorferplatz. In the tunnel next to ours, the Russians are advancing in the opposite direction."

On 30 April, Hitler committed suicide. The Müncheberg, 18th Panzergrenadier Division along with a few Tiger IIs from schwere-SS-Panzer-Abteilung 503 were engaged in heavy fighting near the Westkreuz and Halensee train stations and on the Kurfurstendamm. By 1 May the division had been pushed back to the Tiergarten and was fighting to defend the Zoo Flak Tower, the shelter of thousands of civilians. The Müncheberg's last operating panzer, a Tiger 1, was abandoned on the Unter den Linden straße a hundred metres from the Brandenburg Gate.

Mummert was determined to lead the survivors of his division in an escape to the west, through the suburb of Spandau. Ignoring Weidling's calls for a cessation of hostilities, Mummert ordered the breakout attempt to get underway. Late in the day he went missing during heavy fighting, surfacing years later in a Soviet Gulag. The remnants of 18th Panzergrenadier joined the escape attempt, and both divisions attempted to battle their way to the west and surrender to the Americans. By 3 May the divisions had reached the Charlottenbrücke crossing the Havel River in Spandau. The bridge was under heavy Soviet artillery fire, but the few survivors of the Müncheberg attempted to cross the carnage of the bridge. Those who made it across the bridge found that they were surrounded by the Soviets, and on 5 May the division, which was now the last organized formation in Berlin, disintegrated.

Several small groups of men had managed to reach the Americans, but the majority of the survivors faced an uncertain fate in Soviet captivity.

Commanders[edit]

Orders of battle[edit]

March 1945 – Küstrin counterattack[edit]

  • Panzer-Regiment Müncheberg – Oberstleutnant Kuno von Meyer
  • Panzergrenadier-Regiment 1 Müncheberg – Oberst Goder
  • Panzergrenadier-Regiment 2 Müncheberg – Oberstleutnant Werner Rodust
  • Panzer-Artillerie-Regiment Müncheberg – Oberstleutnant Martin Buhr
  • Panzerspäh-Kompanie Müncheberg
  • Panzer Pionier Kompanie (mot) Müncheberg
  • Feld-Ersatz Bataillon Müncheberg
  • Panzer Nachrichten Kompanie Müncheberg
  • Panzer Versorgungstruppen

April 1945 – Battle of Berlin[edit]

  • Panzer-Regiment Müncheberg
    • I./Panzer-Regiment Müncheberg
    • II./Panzer-Regiment Müncheberg
  • Panzergrenadier-Regiment 1 Müncheberg
  • Panzergrenadier-Regiment 2 Müncheberg
  • Panzer-Artillerie-Regiment Müncheberg
  • Panzerspäh-Kompanie Müncheberg
  • schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung (mot) 682
  • Heeres Flak Artillerie Abteilung (mot) 301
  • Panzer Pionier Kompanie (mot) Müncheberg
  • Feld-Ersatz Bataillon Müncheberg
  • Panzer Nachrichten Kompanie Müncheberg
  • Panzer Versorgungstruppen

External links[edit]

 

  • Hein Johannsen: "Werner Mummert: Das Leben eines sächsischen Offiziers", libergraphix, ISBN 978-3-95429-001-7
  • Jürgen Thorwald: Das Ende an der Elbe, Bertelsmann, ohne ISBN