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
If you missed reading the related posts, go back to May 13 May 22, and June 5.
Lieutenant Rudolf Schröter continues his report:
I had to overcome the resistance of the staff officers to get through to the general. Major-General Kegler was astounded but open to my arguments:
- Once an order had been given it must be adhered to in order to keep up the morale of the troops.
- The Army Headquarters’ radio message ‘Report situation and intentions’ unusually left open the decision. If this was not so, the message would have read: ‘Report situation. Hold Vietz.’ While it was expected that the Army would correctly use tactical language and especially stressed ‘Report situation’, it meant that it was holding open the opportunity for us to decide for ourselves in this special situation, and our decision was ‘Withdraw’.
- There had also been instances in this war in which troops had withdrawn against orders in recognition of their hopeless situation, had upheld the morale of their troops and the officers had received high decorations.
- The decisive argument, General, is in accordance with one’s own conscience. The responsible officer must, if common sense is to prevail, understand that slavish obedience in a hopeless situation only condemns him to a senseless bloodbath, which he should spare his men.
These arguments, especially the last, visibly moved Major-General Kegler. He then went briefly into an adjoining room. When he returned, he was white in the face. He asked me where I had lost my right arm, praised the discipline and commitment of my youngsters and also my objections at the conference a few hours ago. Finally the following dialogue ensued:
‘Do you think that you can withdraw the division in good order in this situation?’
‘Yes, if I have your support in doing so.’
‘Then I hereby beg you to undertake it on my staff.’
I immediately sent all the staff officers to the units, where they with the sector commanders were to stop the units and individuals retreating and incorporate them into the local defense.
Then I prepared to retake Vietz station with a platoon of my infantry and a Königstiger and while doing so a runner brought me a letter from the general. It read: ‘I have given up command of the division. Kegler, Major-General.’
I then asked a colonel to take over command of the division as a matter of seniority, which he accepted under the condition that I assumed tactical control.
The withdrawal of the division was made ready and all sector commanders summoned to an order group in Vietz at 1500 hours.
After stabilizing the situation in the town I made a reconnaissance in the amphibious jeep with the SS-sergeant-major and one of my recruits, using Major-General Kegler’s map. I discovered that:
- The road to Küstrin was not blocked by the Russians.
- There were no Russians in Gross Cammin, the nearest enemy movement being in the northerly neighbouring village of Batzlow.
I stuck to the original plan. A radio message was sent to Küstrin fortress about the division’s withdrawal. The order to withdraw was given at 1500 hours and went without problems. When I later went into Vietz with the amphibious jeep to check the enemy situation, the first enemy scouts were already feeling their way forward.
At dawn on February 4, the remains of the ‘Woldenberg’ Division began crossing the anti-tank ditch that blocked the Landsberger Chaussee at the eastern end of Küstrin. They had already come to within 10 kilometres of the town the previous day but had waited for darkness to get through the area occupied by Soviet forces.
General Busse had sent a young liaison officer to meet them, but without any instructions for Major-General Kegler. When the latter arrived in Küstrin he was promptly given orders to report to the standing court-martial in Torgau, thus becoming one of the last to leave Küstrin by the normal road. As the witnesses to the events leading up to Kegler’s court martial were now trapped in Küstrin, evidence had to be obtained from them by telephone.
To be continued with a translation of the court-martial report and verdict on my next post.