The History of the Hoch- und Deutschmeister
After the destruction of the 44th Infantry Division in the caldron of Stalingrad, the Reichsgrenadier-Division Hoch- und Deutschmeister was reconstituted from the remaining officers and non-commissioned officers who had survived or been evacuated from Stalingrad. To bolster the morale of the re-formed unit and to assure continued Austrian dedication to the Reich, Hitler instilled the prestige, long history, and traditions of the Hoch-und Deutschmeister to the entire 44th Infanterie Division - especially within the Infanterie Regiment 134.
The Infanterie Regiment 134 was the direct descendant of the Imperial Austrian Infanterie Regiment 4, known as the Infanterie-Regiment Hoch- und Deutschmeister. Where the pre-Stalingrad 44th Division boasted the Austrian Rot-Weiss-Rot ( Red – White – Red ) Babenberger shield, the post-Stalingrad Hoch-und Deutschmeister crest was the venerable cross of the Teutonic Knights with the additions of a Reichs eagle, swastika and banner reading “Stalingrad“.
The cross of the Teutonic Knights dated back to the time of the first crusades. In 1190 AD, the Deutsche Ritterorden (German Knightly Order) was founded. The knights were trained as medical as well as religious warriors. Their valorous deeds and excellent training were very important in the campaigns of colonization and Christianization of the lands east of Prussia. However, after Hochmeister Albrecht von Brandenberg left the Catholic faith during the Protestant Reformation, the knightly orders decayed and virtually disappeared. A new order designated the Hoch-und Teutschmeister was founded in circa 1530. Shortly thereafter the first wars with the arch enemy of Christian Europe, Turkey, began. Despite the religion-based wars raging, the German knightly orders were unable to rebuild and take a significant role in the defense of what is now Austria, Czech Republic, Germany and Poland. The time of the knightly orders had ended.
In 1696 Franz-Ludwig, Count Palatine of the Rhein, Duke of Neuberg, authorized the Hoch- und Teutschmeister regiment which was to be composed of three battalions of foot each of which would have four companies. This is considered to be the formal birth of the Hoch- und Deutschmeister.
The regiment was commanded by the Austrian General Prince Eugen against the Turks in the battle of Zenta which crippled Turkish power in Europe. The HuD took a prominent role in the victory which may well be considered its true baptism of fire. The regiment later achieved notoriety for its role in the storming of Belgrade in 1717 and the attack on Kolin in the Seven Years War in 1757.
In 1769, the Austrian military began to number regiments. The HuD was granted the Number 4. Under Emperor Josef II the regiment was named the home regiment for Vienna and recruitment was concentrated there. The people of Vienna thus referred to the Regiment as the "Wiener Edelknaben" which literally translates to "Vienna Pages." The sons of the best families of Vienna sought positions in the Regiment as a means of further establishing themselves in Viennese society. Members of the regiment even included Dukes from all over Austria, as well as Imperial princes.
In wars against the Turks, the Hoch-und Deutschmeister helped conquer Belgrade in 1788 and Cetin in 1790. In the wars with Napoleonic France that followed, the Hoch- und Deutschmeister was in more than 90 battles in 25 years. In the Wars of Liberation, the HuD fought Napoleon at San Michele (1813), Mincio (1814), Valeggio (1814) and finally marched its banner triumphantly through the streets of Napoleon’s capital, Paris, in 1815.
Following over thirty years of peace, the HuD was again instrumental in protecting the empire. In 1849 the unit helped crush the Hungarian revolt against Hapsburg rule as part of General Radetzky's army, for whom the famous Radetzky March is still played in Vienna. Disaster struck in the Austro-Prussian war of 1866, as the unit was obliterated along with much of the rest of the Austrian Army at the disastrous battle of Koeniggraetz that shattered Austrian hegemony in Germany. In the 65 years between the Prussian War and the outbreak of the First World War, the HuD enjoyed a productive time home in Vienna. The unit’s renowned band wrote its two famous marches: "Hoch- und Deutschmeister Marsche" and "Deutschmeister Marsche" and the regimental band became known throughout the world as it toured the globe. As a part of the 1904 St. Louis Exposition the band was invited to perform and then conduct a tour of the United States. The tour was a resounding success and the regiment's bandmasters, Colonels Ziehrer and Wacek were widely regarded as being among the finest bandmasters in the world.
In the First World War, the Hoch- und Deutschmeister was deployed on the Eastern Front against the Russians. This resulted in enormous losses to the regiment. In their very first skirmish on June 27, 1915, the Regimental Commander, Oberst Freiherr von Holzhausen, was slain. On July 7th the Russians launched a staggering offensive on Austrian lines. The HuD took tremendous casualties, losing over half of the regiment’s officers and men. The date of 07/07 is to this day the regimental memorial day.
After Russia left the war in 1916 with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the HuD was rebuilt and transferred to the Italian front where it ended the war. Though the Empire was defeated, numerous communiqués and citations noted that the Hoch- und Deutschmeister had discharged all its duties with great devotion and honor. With the end of the war came the end of the Hapsburgs. The Austrian Empire was divided into the various countries that, for the most part, make up the map today. The new Austrian government ordered that the HuD regiment be absorbed into the Austrian Army, known as the Volkswehr, where it lost most of its status as an Imperial regiment of honor.
With the Anschluss with Nazi Germany in 1938, the 4th Regiment Hoch-und Deutschmeister was integrated into the newly formed Deutsche Wehrmacht as the 134th Regiment of the 44th Infantry Division.
The new 44th Infantry Division incorporated most of the old Austrian 4th Division, including the Hoch- und Deutschmeister. Infantry Regiment 134 was formed from Infantry Regiment 4 Hoch- und Deutschmeister and Infantry Regiment 13 Karl Herzog von Lothringen. The 44th was stationed almost entirely around Vienna; the 134th was the core of the Viennese establishment. The first and second regiments of the Division were stationed in Vienna with the headquarters unit while the third regiment was in Hainburg, a short distance outside of Vienna. In December 1938, the Hoch- und Deutschmeister received its first conscripts from the Viennese population.
Basic training of the units of the HuD was not fully completed when the mobilization of 14 March 1939 was begun. On 15 March 1939, the occupation of the remainder of Czecho-Slovakia began. The 44th Infantry Division marched without resistance through Bohemia and Moravia all the way to the new border with Hungary.
After further advanced combat training, the HuD marched to the eastern frontier of the Czech Reichsprotektorate in the area of Friedek-Mistek. The division was restored to a peacetime status for only a short time before the wartime mobilization of 24 August 1939. By 27 August 1939 all the units were assembled again and preparation for the assault on Poland began. Units of the 262nd Infantry Division were brought up in support of the 44th.
The HuD was assigned to Army Group South during the drive into Poland. The 44th passed through Teschen, Bielitz, Krakau, Turnow, Debica, Jaroslau and Niemirow . At Niemirow the Polish resistance had tapered off and the 44th was divided, with part headed for the City of Lemberg (Lvov) and part swinging north of Lemberg. The HuD had pressed so far east that it was in the Soviet sphere of influence. The Soviet Union joined the fight against the Poles on 17 September 1939. During the Polenfeldzug (Polish campaign) the HuD marched and fought an average advance of 29 km per day!
Following the Polish defeat, the HuD was held in reserve in the Austrian mountain regions of Harz and Weser during the winter of 1939 / 1940. The failure at securing peace with England and France and the obvious battle coming in the spring gave the officers much work to accomplish with the newly battle-hardened division. They were not so hopeful that the campaign in the West would go as easily as the Polish operation and quickly worked to prepare the troops for what was sure to be a hard-won fight for the French homeland.
When the governments of France and Great Britain refused Adolf Hitler's peace offer of 6 October 1939, it became clear a widening of the war in the west would come. The troops of the 44th Infantry Division assembled again for combat at Pfingsten in April 1940. The announcement of X-Day (10 May 1940) ended the careful training and time in the comfortable winter quarters in Harz and Oberweser. After rail transport to the Eifel (from 13 May 1940), the campaign began with long road marches unmolested by the enemy starting in the border area between Mayen and Andernach and following Panzergruppe Kleist in the Somme sector between Amiens and Peronne.
The beginning of June found the men of the regiment at the bridgehead over the Somme river preparing to assault the Weygand Line. This breakthrough resulted in the heaviest losses of the campaign. On the night of 6 June 1940, the French forces withdrew from their positions on the river to behind the city of Avre. Strong enemy forces, especially artillery, were destroyed by aerial bombardment from the Luftwaffe near Pont St. Maxence on the Oise. The destruction of the highway bridge over the Oise failed to aid the enemy in holding a new line of resistance. The Commander of 2nd Battalion, Infantry Regiment 131, Major Raucheisen, was in place on the far side of the river, establishing and holding a bridgehead. For his outstanding actions he was awarded the Knight's Cross to the Iron Cross. The pursuit led westwards towards Paris and along the Loire southwest towards Orleans.
The advanced detachment from 2nd Company, Antitank Battalion 46, under Lieutenant Noak, took the town of Beaugency on the bend of the Loire without losses. Therefore, he too received the Knight's Cross. The Armistice of 24 June 1940 ended the pursuit at approximately ten kilometres northeast of Poitiers. In July 1940, the Division took up coastal defensive positions in the area of La Rochelle and Rochefort. The unit practised with newly improvised sea transports for Operation Sealion which was to be the invasion of the British Isles. But with the poor performance of the Luftwaffe against the British Royal Air Force, Operation Sea Lion became doubtful and the division was repositioned to western Poland at the end of March 1941 in preparation for Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union.
The Campaign in Russia 1942/1943
As a result of Soviet breakthroughs on both sides of Izyum on 18 January 1943, a salient of almost 100 km in depth was formed in the German front lines. It would be necessary to reduce this salient through a pincer attack in May of that year before the offensive of Army Group South could move toward Stalingrad and the Caucasus. Before the attack could begin, Soviet General Timoschenko launched his own assault north and south of Kharkov toward Dnepropetrovsk in order to totally cut off the southern German wing.
During the difficult defensive battles around Kharkov, it became necessary to temporarily attach Infantry Regiment 131 to the 71st Infantry Division northeast of Kharkov. On 10 June the whole 44th Infantry Division began the assault eastwards from their winter positions towards Grakovo. During the battle for Volchansk, the Soviet winter positions were penetrated and enemy armored counterattacks defeated, with the enemy conducting a fighting withdrawal from the Oskol sector. The Division pursued by long marches in stifling summer heat and dust to inside the bend of the Don River. Grim resistance by the Soviet forces inside the bend in the Don led to the battle of encirclement around Kalatsch from 7 to 11 August 1943 with the 44th Infantry Division making the assault in the area southwest of Surovinko.
While the bulk of the 6th Army continued the assault eastwards over the Don to Stalingrad, the 44th Infantry Division established security positions on the Don northwest of Stalingrad on both sides of Ssirontinskaya. Here the enemy was able to maintain a bridgehead on the southern side of the Don River. The establishment of positions in the forests and thinly settled areas along the Don was very difficult.
On 22 November the Division joined the cut off Stalingrad forces south of the Don near Kalatsch. But these positions were soon cleared as a withdrawal eastwards was ordered into the pocket. The Division's positions were then southeast of Vertyatchi and Peskovatka on the western front of the newly formed Fortress Stalingrad. Even with icy cold temperatures, inadequate rations and ammunition supplies, the line held against enemy breakthrough attempts through December 1942 to the beginning of January 1943. The build-up of Soviet forces resulted in an overwhelming Soviet offensive beginning on 10 January. The last pockets of resistance fought on in the western suburbs of Stalingrad until the unequal fight found its end on 28 and 29 January 1943.
When the remainder of the 44th Infantry Division laid down their arms on 28 and 29 January 1943, less than 13% of their original numbers were left alive or off casualty lists. The 44th Infantry Division was no more. Those parts of the Division remaining outside of the pocket, mostly rear echelon supply and services troops belonging to the Division and the troops returning from furlough and convalescence leave, became replacements to help form a new defensive front west of Stalingrad. For that purpose, they joined with the nearby 2,000 man strong.
The Reconstitution of the Division and Designation as "Reichsgrenadier Division Hoch-und Deutschmeister" kampfgruppe formed from furlough returnees under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Fels. Due to its singular performance and achievement, a decision had been made by the German High Command in Berlin that the first division to be reformed from the 6th Army would be the 44th Infantry Division. In virtue of this, a German High Command directive was issued consolidating the remaining parts of the division along with the group of collected furlough returnees around the area of Antwerp in March. When the troops arrived, they found the initial headquarters organization already in place along with the framework of the new troop organization.
The arrival of reinforcements into the ranks of Grenadier Regiments 887 and 888 essentially made up the complement of the men of the division. Grenadier Regiment 887 became Grenadier Regiment 134, while Grenadier Regiment 888 became Grenadier Regiment 132. Each regiment then gave up a battalion to form Grenadier Regiment 131. Into each of the regiments was put a battalion of battle-hardened personnel to mold the units together and to help carry on the traditions with the new members of the 44th Infantry Division.
The special designation of the Division as Reichs Grenadier Division Hoch-und Deutschmeister was performed in a solemn ceremony before the troops on parade for the unit activation. The troops were then delegated to the Training Camp Maria-ter- Heide near Antwerp, Belgium. Here, the Division was brought up to strength in personnel and equipment. In spite of its name, the newly formed 44th Infantry Division was like it predecessor a horse-drawn Infantry Division. However, constant alerts for the defense of the English Channel Coast helped prevent any feeling of being rear-echelon troops ever coming about. As a consequence of the fall of Mussolini on 25 July 1943, the division was alerted and entrained for Italy. The division’s first units reached the area around Innsbruch between 27 and 29 July 1943 in preparation for their advance into Italy.
First operations in South Tyrol and Istria 1943
After the division assembled in the Innsbruck area, the german High Command ordered the formation of the battle group “Feurstein” to hold the Brenner Pass open for the German army as a means of retreat should it become necessary. On 1 August 1943, the "Marschgrüppe Boelke" marched over the Brenner Pass with elements of the Grenadier Regiment 132 and the Reichsgrenadier Regiment HuD, as well as the 1st Co. Panzer Jäger Abteilung 46. They followed the "Marschgrüppe Harrer" with elements of Grenadier Regiment 132.The majority of the division was misdirected by rail to the Bozen. The division's security area now stretched from Brenner to Trient. The soldiers, either billeted in the towns or in field bivouacs, were warmly welcomed and well treated by the people of South Tyrol.
The time in South Tyrol was occupied with security duties and advanced training. The weather was right for the troops to be issued tropical uniforms. The small joys in the life of a soldier come never to small. At the same time the Italian High Command directed elite units to South Tyrol. The relationship with the allied Italian soldiers was good and comradely. However, this all ended with Italy's capitulation on 8 September 1943. The orders by German High Command to disarm the Italian Army had been prepared weeks in advance and then put into action.
The Reichsgrenadier-Regiment H-uD disarmed two Italian Army corps, captured 18 generals, 1783 officers and well over 50,000 noncommissioned officers and enlisted men. After accomplishing the disarming of Italian units, the division marched to Verona, and then traveled by truck and rail to its new area of operations near Venice, The majority of the division was then committed to anti-partisan operations in the area of Gärz-Laibach along with Italian / Austrian border. The elements engaged in anti-partisan operations had the mission to systematically comb the area from Gärz in the north to Fiume in the south to destroy the large numbers of Italian, Croatian, and Slovenian partisans.
The patrolling of this terrain was very difficult. The steep, narrow, hilly and curvy roads posed a great challenge to the drivers of heavy trucks and cost even the mule trains there last effort. The final phase of the anti-partisan operations ended in November 1943 in Laibach, where the division billeted.
The Allied landing on Sicily on 10 July 1943 and further landings on the southern coast of Calabria, in Tarent and Salerno, had the division deployed to the south as a key unit in the defense of the Italian mainland. The HuD became one of the units carrying out the fighting retreat through the center of Italy by way of the Gustav and Gothic lines. The HuD joined in with Luftwaffe General Kesselring’s Hermann Göring Panzer Division and Fallschirmjäger regiments in the fight to hold off the inevitable Allied advance.
Following the allied capture of Rome in June 1944 the HuD were deployed to Hungary in an effort to hold Budapest from the advancing Soviet forces. As Budapest fell in March 1945, the division was then redeployed, not to defend its homeland in Austria, but to the eastern provinces of Germany in the vain attempt to hold back the Soviet advance on the Reich itself. In April 1945, most of the division was able to fall back to western lines where they surrendered to US and British forces. But a great many troops of the division were unable to escape Soviet forces and were taken prisoner and never to return.