The Woldenberg Division and Himmler’s Order to Defend Landsberg
Excerpt Taken from the book ‘The Siege of Küstrin: Gateway to Berlin 1945’ by Tony Le Tissier, Publishers: Pen and Sword Books
The ineptness of Heinrich Himmler’s appointment as commander of Army Group ‘Weichsel’ is clearly demonstrated in his handling of the so-called ‘Woldenberg’ Division, a random assembly of troops taken from convalescent and training units stationed on the north bank of the Warthe, with which he expected to block the Soviet advance. Major-General Gerhard Kegler later wrote of this:
On the 30th January 1945 I received orders from Himmler to take command of the ‘Woldenberg’ Division without being given any orientation on the subject, nor the division’s task.
I had to find the division. I found the division’s command post east of Friedeberg. It had no signals unit and there were no communications with a superior headquarters. I took over command at about midday as I found this recently established ‘division’ in the course of disintegration as it retreated to Landsberg. While I was busy in Landsberg on the morning of the 31st January with the organization and deployment of the available units, I discovered that the ‘division’ had no anti-tank weapons, no ammunition or food supply arrangements and no signals unit. Neither was there a divisional medical officer. The artillery consisted of two horse-drawn batteries. The ‘division’ was not a ‘strong battle group’ nor were the troops battle-worthy.
The population of 45,000 inhabitants were still in the town and no preparations had been made for evacuation.
I received Himmler’s orders from the commander-in-chief of the 9th Army to defend Landsberg as a fortress over the telephone. Russian tanks were already north of the Warthe-Netze sector. I had the Warthe Bridge demolished. After some conscientious consideration, I decided to disobey this order [to defend Landsberg], which I considered senseless and whose compliance would serve no purpose other than great loss in human life.
Landsberg was abandoned by the ‘Woldenberg’ Division that same night. Major-General Kegler had set the withdrawal for February 1st, as the Soviet spearheads had already reached Küstrin some 40 kilometres to his rear, but his demoralized soldiers would not wait and abandoned their positions in the dark. The headquarters staff were only able to stop these demoralized units with difficulty some 3 kilometres west of the town.
Kegler reported by telephone to the 9th Army commander, General Busse, who had meanwhile established his headquarters in the Oderbruch village of Golzow. Busse demanded that Landsberg be retaken and defended, threatening Kegler with court-martial in accordance with Himmler’s orders. Nevertheless, Kegler stuck to his decision to withdraw to Küstrin by stages over the following nights. Even this, in view of the state of his troops and his open flank, was risky, and depended to a large extent upon their not being attacked as they withdrew along the northern edge of the Warthebruch on Reichsstrasse 1.
To be continued …