'Hoch- und Deutschmeister' Italian Campaign Timeline
Reichsgrenadier Division Hoch- und Deutschmeister (Northern Italy - August 1943).
At the same time as the Hoch- und Deutschmeister arrived in Northern Italy, the Italian High Command's elite Alpini troops relocated to the South Tyrol region, the camaraderie with the Italians was good at this time.
The picture shows Italian Alpini officers as guests of Aufklärungs Abteilung 44 observing a firepower demonstration of Heavy Machine Guns instructed by Oberleutnant Rettschlag.
The final demonstration included Flammpanzern III.
200 Panzer III Ausf.Ms were converted, by Wegmann at Kassel, as Flammenwerfers, under the designation Ausf.M(FI) or, officially, Sd.Kfz.141/3. They were almost identical externally to the regular Ausf.M, but with a 140 mm (5.51 in) dummy gun, which concealed the flamethrower. They had additional 30 mm (1.18 in) to 50 mm (1.97 in) armour plates welded on the frontal part of the hull and glacis, because their range was quite short (limited to 60 m/200 ft at best), hence exposing them to dangerous close fire. The two coaxial and hull machine-guns were retained, but they also carried 1020 litres of inflammable oil in two tanks inside the hull. All this additional weight made them the slowest of all versions.
This picture shows a Flammpanzer III in use by the Hoch- und Deutschmeister during a firepower demonstration to the same Italian Alpini Officers. To the right of the picture is Oberleutnant Barton, C.O. 3./131 Grenadier Regiment.
Northern Italy - September 1943.
The Reichsgrenadier Division "Hoch- und Deutschmeister" receives a visit from Generalfeldmarschall Rommel in Mantua, during his assessment of German forces placed under his direct command in Italy. Rommel's divisions would secure the vital French and Italian Alpine passes, through which German units would pour into Italy.
Rommel had been posted to Italy as commander of the newly formed Army Group B following the overthrow of Mussolini. On 16 August 1943 Rommel's headquarters moved to Lake Garda in northern Italy and formally assumed command of the army group, which consisted of the Reichsgrenadier Division "Hoch- und Deutschmeister", the 26th Panzer Division and the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler.
Given the mobility required to fulfil these tasks and of some of the other units under his command he was disappointed that the "Hoch- und Deutschmeister" Division had not been upgraded to a Panzergrenadier division on being reformed earlier that year.
Rommel declared. "What good is the "Hoch- und Deutschmeister" Division to me if it is not motorised".
When Italy announced its armistice with the Allies on 8 September, his forces took part in Operation Achse, disarming the Italian forces. Despite being handicapped by its lack of mobility, within the area of the "Hoch- und Deutschmeister" Division, disarmament began throughout the night of 8-9 September 1943 with the issue of the codeword “Rosenmontag”, although on occasions the Italians offered fierce resistance. The "Hoch- und Deutschmeister" Division disarmed the XXV & XXXV Italian Army Corps, taking into custody 18 Generals, 1783 Officers and over 50,000 NCO’s and enlisted men and also acquired a large booty of war material.
Following the conclusion of Operation Achse, Hitler met with Rommel and Kesselring to discuss future operations in Italy on 30 September 1943. Rommel insisted on a defensive line north of Rome, while Kesselring was more optimistic and advocated holding a line south of Rome. Hitler preferred Kesselring's recommendation, and therefore revoked his previous decision for the subordination of Kesselring's forces to Rommel's army group. On 19 October Hitler decided that Kesselring would be the overall commander of the forces in Italy, sidelining Rommel.
Rommel had wrongly predicted that the collapse of the German line in Italy would be fast. On 21 November Hitler gave Kesselring overall command of the Italian theater, moving Rommel and Army Group B to Normandy in France with responsibility for defending the French coast against the long anticipated Allied invasion.
In the picture from left: OLt Mirfanger (Adj. StbsKp HuD), Lt. Pittinger, Generalfeldmarschall Rommel.
Note the tropical uniforms being worn by the divisional officers as well as Rommel.
Reichsgrenadier Division Hoch- und Deutschmeister (Gustav Line Italy - late 1943 - mid 1944).
Oberst R. Koschella (right), commander from 6.11.1943 to 4.7.1944 of the Reichs-Grenadier-Regiment "Hoch- und Deutschmeister" and Leutnant Schaefer, at the tactical command post of the regiment, Atina (Frosinone), 10.4.1944. (Photo courtesy of S. Vazon Colla)
Italian Lancia car commandeered as a staff car by the Hoch- und Deutschmeister Division.
Of note is the Hoch- und Deutschmeister Cross divisional symbol on the right hand wing (fender) of the car.
According to source the location is perhaps in Atina or in some village in the Comino valley, Italy 1944. (Photo courtesy of S. Vazon Colla).
Tactical command post of the Artillerie-Regiment 96 (44.Inf.Div.), Atina, Frosinone region, Italy 1944.
Hauptmann Abele (below), Kdr, I / HuD, received the Knights' Cross for the assault on Colle Abate.
N.B. by the time that this photograph was taken Abele had been promoted to Major.
Arnulf Abele was born on November 8th 1914 in Nurnberg. He went into military service as a Fahnenjunker with Infanterie-Regiment 21. From January 1936 he attended the Kriegsschule in Potsdam and in Döberitz. After this education, he returned to Infanterie-Regiment 21 on March 1st 1937. A month later, April 1st, he was appointed Zugführer and Kompagnie-Offizier with the I.Bataillon. His promotion to Leutnant followed on April 20th. August 1st he was appointed Bataillons-Adjutant with Grenz-Infanterie-Bataillon 126/Infanterie-Regiment 118. October 1st he was transferred to the Generalkommando der Grenztruppen in Saarpfalz as an Ordonnanzoffizier, where he received his promotion to Oberleutnant on August 1st 1939. This Generalkommando was reformed to XXIV.Armeekorps on September 17th 1939.
At the start of the Second World War, Abele’s unit was stationed on the "Westwall", where he was appointed as Kompaniechef with Grenz-Infanterie-Regiment 127 on January 1st 1940. With this unit, Abele took part in the war in the west from May 10th 1940. Appointed as Kompaniechef to Infanterie-Regiment 208 on February 1st 1940, he was promoted Hauptmann on April 20th 1942. His unit was put into action on the Southern part of the Eastern Front. After being appointed Kompaniechef with Gebirgs-Jäger-Regiment 218, Abele fought on the Lapplandfront. On February 17th 1943 he was appointed as commander of the I.Bataillon/Grenadier-Regiment 134, which was reformed into Reichsgrenadier-Regiment "Hoch- und Deutschmeister" on June 1st 1943.
The Battalion was transferred to the Italian Front where it was deployed near Belmonte as part of the XIV.Panzerkorps/10.Armee. On January 27th 1944 the Bataillon was ordered to close a gap in the German lines near Belmonte (specifically between the Colle Abate and Monte Castellone, in the Terelle Valley) and thereby protect the vital supply line known as the “Neumann-Weg”. The Bataillon’s promised support did not arrive, and so Abele and his men were alone in this fight.
The fighting degenerated into close combat, wherein the men of Abele’s Bataillon were reduced to throwing stones when their grenades ran out. Nevertheless, with the help of a mountain gun that prevented timely reinforcement of the French attack, the Bataillon was able to prevent an entire French regiment from capturing the Colle Abate. By the time they were relieved by the Pz.Gren.Rgt. 200 (90. Pz.Gren.Div.), Abele’s Bataillon was down to 36 men. Yet the achievements of this unit did not go unnoticed, and Abele would receive the Knight’s Cross and his promotion to Major soon followed on April 20th 1944.
Abele was taken as a prisoner of war by the Americans on September 26th 1944 south of Castell del Rio in Italy. He was released on October 15th 1946.
He went into military service again with the German Bundeswehr on December 16th 1955 with the rank of Major. He became commander of the Pi-Stab in München on January 23rd 1956, where he was promoted to Oberstleutnant on September 5th 1957.
After this he was appointed Hilfsreferent with the Heeres-Führungsstab, and subsequently he was appointed as Referent on July 1st 1964 and promoted to Oberst on December 23rd.
On March 31st 1973, Arnulf Abele retired from military service.
Abele died on July 2nd 2000 in Hopferau, Füssen.
Awards and decorations:
- Iron Cross (1939) 2nd Class (25th July 1940) & 1st Class (22nd January 1942)
- Wound Badge (1939) in Black (28th October 1942)
- Infantry Assault Badge
- Eastern Front Medal
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 12th February 1944 as Hauptmann and commander of I./Reichsgrenadier-Regiment "Hoch und Deutschmeister"
- Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany 1st Class (28 December 1972).
Colle Abate - January 1944.
Thus they looked, the men of the division at Colle Abate.
In spite of the oppressive attack of their adversary, the weather, illness and frostbite cost as many losses as the constant artillery fire.
Observation post (B-Stelle) at the BtlGefStand of I./131 at Colle Abate.
Leutnant Karl Langer, Company Commander, 4./131 Grenadier Regiment, Reichsgrenadier-Division ‘Hoch- und Deutschmeister’.
Langer had been wounded on the 7th or 8th January 1944 at Colle Abate Aquilone (a few km northwest of Acquafondata) & had been hospitalised in Rocca di Papa near Rome near Lake Albano. When the Allies had landed at Anzio/Nettuno & shelled inland nearly hitting the hospital he was in, all the patients were moved to a safer location in Cortina d'Ampezzo & at the same time as he’d recovered sufficiently from his wounds he requested a return to his unit – 4/131. Foregoing a recovery furlough in Rome or Ferentino, etc., on about the 30th or 31st of January 1944 he arrived back at the foot of Mt. Cairo in Villa Santa Lucia at night.
On his return to the line he found that besides his C.O., Hauptmann Tolkmitt, he was the only officer who still existed from Battalion I/131 before he was wounded. Tolkmitt gave him an order to take the men returning from leave and the ex-wounded men (like himself) and additionally the men from shattered units of the recently decimated 1st Battalion (a total of about 20 to 25 men) along the steep rock path to the front line to report to the 4th Hochsgebirgsjäger Battalion and to receive further operational orders there.
Once at the top, in an artillery forward position, he came across Gb.Jg. Leutnant Maiwald, with whom he had attended a war officers' training course in Nikolsburg about 2 years earlier. The site was about 2 km below Terelle, & Maiwald explained to him that the location was extremely hectic & that they’d had to fend off attacks from the left (i.e. from the Abate area), that Moroccans or Tunisians had broken through somewhere in front of him; somewhere half right ahead of him & that fresh Fallschirmjäger had arrived at the Monte Cassino Monastery, with whom he had not yet been able to establish any connection. There was a big hole in front of him (between his position & the paras in the Monastery).
Langer recalled that whilst he & his men were subordinated to Maiwald’s unit, he had also been instructed by Hauptmann Tolkmitt to make contact with Major Knuth (of IR 211) at the Monte Cassino Monastery itself and that he was also to clarify what was between the gap between Maiwald’s position and the Monastery . He also had to inform Major Knuth that his new left neighbours were the 4th Hochsgebirgsjäger Battalion. As Langer recalled : ”That's how our assignment at Colle Castellone started. Without a map, without special instruction on the terrain, I now went out with my troops in complete darkness, rifle or MPi at the ready, always ready to come into contact with the enemy. When the already rocky terrain fell off sharply, I stopped & ordered the men to take cover behind the small boulders present to wait for dawn so that we could find our bearings. From the top left (from Castellone, as we later learned), we were lying on a ‘presentation plate’ and received fire from the enemy’s infantry weapons. In order for me to complete my assignment as quickly as possible, I handed command over to Feldwebel Becker, hung my MPi on my back and ran towards the monastery, running and jumping as I went. A shot rang out as I ran & hit me exactly in the lock of my MPi hanging on my back - later I noticed that the lock was literally soldered shut rendering the MPi useless!
And now I had reached the wall of the Monte Cassino monastery and met the first defenders there. The monastery was still completely intact, but command had declared that we should not be allowed into the monastery. Why, I only found out later in a book about Monte Cassino. So they stood outside, covered, around the whole monastery. German airmen dropped food parcels. A trooper from the 211 IR led me to Major Knuth's Gef.Std, which was about 1 km away, and he was interrogating a captured American when I entered. I could still draw his face today, it was so memorising. I made my report to Major Knuth, showed him the position of my small, highly exposed group on his map, and asked for help with heavy weapons directed on Mt. Castellone to keep my fellow soldiers in their current unfavourable position safe from the enemy. Knuth agreed to this.
Then I'm back uphill, past the left corner of the monastery back to my comrades. On my return, they explained to me that in the meantime our own Nebelwerfers down in the valley had covered Mt. Castellone, with the first volley landing just behind them. Thank goodness, no losses had been incurred. Since then there has been no enemy fire from Mt. Castellone. In the evening we occupied Mt. Castellone – now enemy-free. We settled there for about 14 days; then we were replaced by the Gebirgsjäger".
Text Source: “Monte Cassino – Ein Rückblick nach 60 Jahren” – Dr. Manfred Schick (rough translation).
Photo Source= Bundesarchiv (not of Langer).
Feldwebel Bernhard Keller: with Panzerjäger Abt. 46 at Cassino.
Keller & his anti-tank gun and crew were located two kilometres north of Cassino & had to convert a building into a bunker as an anti-tank position. The Monte Cassino monastery was two kilometres south-southwest of his position. He recalled the following of that time:
“It's a good thing that we had expanded our bunker comfortably according to the circumstances. Gefreiters Matuschek, Bergmann and I were the craftsmen. Nobody could have imagined that this would be our home for four months. In the beginning it was not so hard with us. One cloudy day we had organized a piano from an abandoned country house and managed to get it to the bunker, since Gefreiter Kreisch who was our gunner had been a professional musician in piano and flute before the war.
However, since the bunker door was too small, the door frame and an old flour store along with the stairs were torn out. After the piano was in the bunker, everything was reinstalled. That's when the fun began, because Kreisch couldn't play without notes! So, we found sheets of paper from somewhere. Gefreiter Bergob from the neighbouring gun sang and Kreisch then wrote the notes down. It took some time before a certain repertoire was finally on paper. After the piano was tuned with the combination pliers, it was ready to go. "The green grotto bar" was the name of our bunker. Every evening we always had someone as a guest. Mulled wine was made with a blowtorch in a bucket. Our wine consumption was of course high! Every three days we went to our wine store, 800 m away, with 20 litre wicker bottles to get red or white. This was not so easy. Whizzing from tree to tree, when the reconnaissance plane was flying in the other direction as it was said that they would shoot even a single man with all guns.
Phosphorus shells were shot next at Via Casilina; it was under fire even at night. Sometimes there was an offensive: six hours of barrage, five minutes off then the attack came. German machine guns opened fire, another six hours of barrage, etc. The bombers always came, always 48 of them and threw down the so-called carpet. Then you could see the bombs tumbling out and I was happy when they hit over 100m away.
One day, the reconnaissance plane must have spotted us even though the gun was camouflaged and we came under fire. I don't remember how the four of us jumped into the bunker because the second volley came. The carbide lamp burned day and night in the bunker. Later, when I tried to clean my pistol, I found that shrapnel had made a deep dent in the spare magazine. A lucky escape again”.
Text Source: “Monte Cassino – Ein Rückblick nach 60 Jahren” – Dr. Manfred Schick (rough translation).
Photo Source= Bundesarchiv (not of Keller).
More to follow!