A History of Grossdeutschland 1939 - 45
Formed in 1939 from the Wacht regiment Berlin and the infantry training battalion at Doeberitz, Grossdeutschland was raised as a full four battalion Infantry Regiment.the name Grossdeutschland (greater Germany) was chosen as the regiment drew its members from all over Germany, as opposed to specific regions as most army units did.
Although it took no part in the invasion of Poland due to forming up and re-organization, 1940 saw the first test in combat of the GD forces. The regiment fully justified the hopes of those who had raised it as an elite unit. GD also benefited greatly from time to train for the attack on France.
After the fall of France GD was refitted and bought back up to strength in Alsace and Burgundy. The unit was then to go into training for two new operations; Sea Lion and Felix. These were the invasions of Britain and Gibraltar respectively; both of these were cancelled.
1941 was a mixed year for GD, after having been expanded further with the addition of an artillery abteilung in late 1940, they were thrust into action again. The year begins with the campaign against Yugoslavia; this is a very short action with only eleven days of fighting before the Yugoslav armed forces surrendered.
The unit was then moved by rail to an area just southwest of Warsaw.
On the 25th of June 1941 GD crosses the Russian frontier north of Brest-Litovsk. It fought many major engagements along the way before it finally finished the year south of Moscow. The second six months of 1941 brought the regiment just about every experience that can befall a combat unit, from great successes to terrible losses. The unit came through the early part of the Russian campaign having built on its reputation as a valuable fighting unit. This reputation however was gained at a very high cost; up to January sixth 1942 GD lost in Russia some 4070 men.
1942 sees the expansion of GD into a full motorized infantry division. The orders concerning this re-organization emphasise GD's status as an elite unit. Only fit men of a certain minimum height with perfect eyesight and no criminal record were admitted. These men were preferably volunteers who wanted the honour of serving with the forces of GD. These new orders also saw to it that GD was the first frontline army unit to receive the latest and best equipment as it became available.
GD having nearly been destroyed twice, once as a regiment in February and as a division in early December in the Lutschessa valley. On both of these occasions the unit had been overextended - its status as an elite unit and its better than average equipment had led the high command to over estimate the units capabilities. GD was unable to carry out all the missions assigned to it and suffered horrendous casualties in the process.
In 1943 the allies growing strength is felt on all fronts. The Soviet
Army benefited enormously from two factors in its favour: firstly its
ability to rebuild completely destroyed units from its vast pool of men,
and secondly the large amounts of lend-lease material coming in from
GD however receives reinforcements in the form of additional artillery, a tiger tank unit and more armoured personnel carriers.
The demands on GD are even greater than in previous years and the unit receives hardly any rest. Constant action is the rule as various units from GD are used to reinforce weak points in the German lines.
For GD 1944 is the year of the heaviest fighting yet. Many divisions were sent home or to France for rest and refitting, but GD was not to be so fortunate. This was one disadvantage of being an elite unit, expected to do the impossible against overwhelming odds.
GD - as in the past - was continuously thrown into critical battles
and weak points in the lines. The unit earned the nickname "the
fire brigade" for its efforts in saving critical military situations.
Courage alone could not compensate for the Russian superiority in men and material and eventually Germany is threatened. Once again excessive demands were made of GD, and the division was only able to meet these at a very high cost in men and materials.
Early 1945 sees GD expanded to a full panzer korps, but this does not
help in what is rapidly becoming a desperate situation. Panzer korps
GD are shifted from battle to battle but even the most dedicated troops
cannot hold against superior numbers and firepower indefinitely, added
to this the lack of Luftwaffe air support is a critical factor in many
of the defeats to come.
lack of replacements and equipment; plus the capitulation of many of their allies leaves Germany to fight alone.
In late march 1945 the last remnants of GD reach Pillau, some 4,000 men are involved in heavy defensive fighting. Out of these only 800 are able to reach Schleswig-Holstein. With this final move GD ceases to exist as a fighting force.