world war ii: schutzstaffel

Paneurópsky charakter Waffen SS. Údaje o počtoch ne-nemeckých dobrovoľníkoch v radoch Waffen SS sa v rôznych zdrojoch líšia. Celkové počty sa pohybujú medzi 320 000 a 500 000 mužmi. Zo západoeurópskych národov boli najpočetnejší Holanďania a Francúzi, z balkánskych Rumuni, z východoeurópskych a ázijských Lotyši, Estónci, Maďari, Ukrajinci či rôzne etniká z oblasti Kaukazu. V radoch Waffen SS je doložených aj niekoľko Američanov, Írov či Lichtenštajnovcov.

The pan-European character of the Waffen SS. Data about the number of non-German volunteers in the ranks of the Waffen SS are differ in different sources. Total numbers are moving between 320,000 and 500,000 men. From the Western European nations were the most numerous - Dutchmen and Frenchmen, from the Balkan - Romanians, from Eastern European and Asian - Latvians, Estonians, Hungarians, Ukrainians and various ethnic groups from the Caucasus. In the ranks of the Waffen SS it is also documented several Americans, Irishmen and Lichtensteinmen.

In April 1944, the LSSAH’s Tiger Company was transferred to the SS Heavy Panzer Battalion 101. This battalion was assigned to the I SS Panzer Corps as a corps asset, and was never permanently attached to any division or regiment. By this point, Wittmann was in command of the battalion’s second company and held the rank of SS-Obersturmführer (first lieutenant). On 7 June, following the Allied Invasion of Normandy, the battalion was ordered to move from Beauvais to Normandy. The move, covering roughly 165 kilometres or 103 miles, took five days to complete.

Due to the Anglo-American advance south, from Gold and Omaha Beach, the German 352nd Infantry Division began to buckle. As the division withdrew south, it opened up a 7.5-mile (12.1 km) wide gap in the front line near Caumont-l'Éventé. Sepp Dietrich ordered the Heavy SS-Panzer Battalion 101, his only reserve, to position itself behind the Panzer-Lehr-Division and 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend. This position would protect the open left flank, which was developing. Anticipating the importance the British would assign to the high ground near Villers-Bocage, Wittmann’s company was positioned near the town. Late on the 12th, Wittmann’s company arrived in the area of Villers-Bocage. Nominally composed of 12 tanks, Wittmann’s company was 50 per cent understrength due to losses and mechanical failures. During the night, the area came under heavy naval artillery fire. Fearing his force had been spotted, Wittman relocated his company three times.

The following morning, the lead elements of the British 7th Armoured Division entered Villers-Bocage. They had been given the objective of exploiting the gap in the front line, seizing Villers-Bocage, and capturing the nearby ridge (Point 213) to attempt to force a German withdrawal. The British arrival surprised Wittmann, as he had not expected them so soon. He later stated:

“I had no time to assemble my company; instead I had to act quickly, as I had to assume that the enemy had already spotted me and would destroy me where I stood. I set off with one tank and passed the order to the others not to retreat a single step but to hold their ground.”

At approximately 09:00 Wittmann’s Tiger emerged from cover onto the main road, Route Nationale 175, and engaged the rearmost British tanks positioned on Point 213, destroying them. Wittmann then moved towards Villers-Bocage engaging several transport vehicles parked along the roadside, the carriers bursting into flames as their fuel tanks were ruptured by machine gun and high explosive fire. Moving into the eastern end of the town he engaged a number of light tanks followed by several medium tanks.[30] Alerted to Wittmann’s actions, light tanks in the middle of the town quickly got off the road while medium tanks were brought forward. Wittmann, meanwhile, had accounted for a further British tank, two artillery observation post (OP) tanks followed by a scout car and a half-track. Accounts differ as to what happened next. Historians record that, following the destruction of the OP tanks, Wittmann briefly dueled without success against a Sherman Firefly before withdrawing. The Tiger is then reported to have continued eastwards to the outskirts of the town before being disabled by an anti-tank gun. Wittmann’s own account, however, contradicts this; he states that his tank was disabled by an anti-tank gun in the town centre. In less than 15 minutes, 13–14 tanks, two anti-tank guns and 13–15 transport vehicles had been destroyed by the Heavy SS-Panzer Battalion 101, the vast majority attributed to Wittmann. Wittmann would however play no further role in the Battle of Villers-Bocage. For his actions during the battle, Wittmann was promoted to SS-Hauptsturmführer (captain) and awarded Swords to his Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. Several destroyed vehicles line the side of a tree and hedge lined road. A destroyed gun, twisted metal and debris occupy the foreground. The wreckage of the British transport column, and an anti-tank gun, that Wittmann engaged.

Historians and Wittmann’s superiors are generally impressed by his achievements on the day. Historian Stephen Badsey has stated that the ambush Wittmann launched has cast a shadow over the period between D-Day and 13 June in historical accounts. However, German tank commander and historian Wolfgang Schneider is not as impressed. In analyzing Wittmann’s actions at Villers-Bocage, he called into question Wittmann’s tactical ability. Schneider claims “a competent tank company commander does not accumulate so many serious mistakes”. He highlights how Wittmann dispersed his forces in a sunken lane with a broken down tank at the head of the column thereby hampering the mobility of his unit. The solitary advance into Villers-Bocage, was heavily criticized as it breached “all the rules”. No intelligence was gathered, and there was no “centre of gravity” or “concentration of forces” in the attack. Schneider argues that due to Wittmann’s rash actions, “the bulk of the 2nd Company and Mobius 1st Company came up against an enemy who had gone onto the defensive”. He calls Wittman’s “carefree” advance into British-occupied positions “pure folly”, and states that “such over hastiness was uncalled for”. He concludes that, had a properly prepared assault, involving the rest of his company and the 1st Company, been launched far greater results could have been achieved. Finally, Schneider, comments that “thoughtlessness of this kind was to cost [Wittmann] his life … during an attack casually launched in open country with an exposed flank.