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Führerbegleit and Führergrenadier brigades in the Battle of the Bulge

Fuhrer Brigades

Grossdeutschland in the Battle of the Bulge
The Führerbegleit and Führergrenadier Brigades

By Wayne Turner and Phil Yates

In Wargames Illustrated 303 we feature an article by Phil and myself on the Führerbegleit and Führergrenadier Brigades during the Ardennes offensive. We have updated that article and added the Führer Panzergrenadier-kompanie and Führer Grenadierkompanie and combined it all in to one Intelligence Briefing PDF.

History

To protect him as he toured the Polish battlefield at the start of the Second World War, Adolf Hitler formed a special escort battalion recruited from Grossdeutschland (Greater Germany), the German Army’s equivalent to the Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace. As the war progressed this escort grew in strength until it reached a size of two brigades (essentially a full armoured division).

Both brigades took part in Hitler’s climactic attempt to reverse the tide of the war in the West, the Battle of the Bulge. 

Hitler’s Third Reich was riven with factions and empire building, so it is no surprise to learn that he had both an SS bodyguard, Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH), and army bodyguard, part of the Grossdeutschland regiment. When Germany attacked Poland at the start of the Second World War, Hitler (known as Der Führer, ‘The Leader’) sent LSSAH to the front and increased the strength of the Führerbegleit (Leader’s Escort) Battalion so that it could escort him on a tour of the fighting in Poland.

Grille K
Attacking an American position

In 1943, the Führerbegleit (Leader’s Escort) Battalion was tripled in size, sending detachments to fight with Grossdeutschland (now a powerful elite Panzergrenadierdivision) on the Eastern Front, and forming the Führergrenadier (Leader’s Grenadier) Battalion as an outer ring of security around his headquarters in East Prussia, the Wolf’s Lair.

Eastern Front

After the disaster of the Soviet Operation Bagration Offensive in June and July 1944, Hitler decided to expand the Führergrenadier Battalion into a four-battalion panzer brigade.

This powerful unit was intended to foil an anticipated Soviet corps-strength airborne landing to capture Hitler in the Wolf’s Lair, now only 100km (60 miles) from the front lines. 

The anticipated parachute landings never took place, but by 20 October 1944, a renewed Soviet Offensive threatened to cut off East Prussia, and capturing Goldap, just 80km (5 miles) from Hitler’s headquarters. 

Sd Kfz 251/17 AA half-tracks
Sd Kfz 251/16 flamm half-track

The Führergrenadier Brigade was sent in to retake Goldap, alongside 101. Panzer­brigade (seethe article in Wargames Illustrated 295 for more on this fascinating unit).

Two Brigades

After stabilising the situation, the Führergrenadier Brigade was withdrawn from the front and combined with the Führerbegleit Battalion to form two new brigades. 

The Führerbegleit Brigade (FBB) took the experienced first battalion as its Panzerfüsilier Battalion (mounted in armoured half-tracks) and the relatively new fifth battalion as its Panzergrenadier battalion (mounted in amphibious Schwimmwagen jeeps). These were combined with a veteran panzer battalion from Grossdeutschland that had just finished rebuilding, and two battalions of the Führer Flak Regiment (Hermann Göring) that protected the Wolf’s Lair from air attack. It later added the 200th Assault Gun Brigade (reformed after its destruction in Normandy), 828th Landsturm battalion (men aged over 45 used to guard unoccupied parts of the Wolf’s Lair), and an artillery battalion. The resulting brigade was stronger than many of the surviving panzer divisions, and drew many of its personnel from the elite Grossdeutschland division. 

This left the Führergrenadier Brigade (FGB) with the relatively new third and fourth battalions as its Panzerfüsilier and Panzergrenadier battalions, although it retained its own panzer battalion. Like FBB, they also received an assault-gun brigade, a Landsturm battalion, and an artillery battalion (entirely equipped with self-propelled guns). Their anti-aircraft complement was considerably weaker, with just three ‘88’ anti-aircraft guns to twenty four in FBB.

Grenadiers

Ardennes Offensive

The Führerbegleit Brigade was still forming when the German Ardennes Offensive began on 16 December 1944. The brigade joined the fight on 19 December when it found St. Vith strongly held and resisting attempts by the 18th Volksgrenadier (People’s Grenadier) Division to capture it.

An attempt by the Panzerfüsilier battalion and an assault-gun company to take St. Vith from the north east was foiled by the defending US 7th Armored Division the next day, and the brigade spent 21 December gathering its battalions, strung out along the muddy road back to Germany, together for a concentrated effort. Meanwhile both the Panzergrenadier battalion and a regiment from 18th Volksgrenadier Division tried to cut the road into St. Vith from the northwest without success, although another regiment broke into St. Vith itself.

Brigades in the Battle of the Bulge

Leading the Panzerfüsilier battalion himself, Oberst (Colonel) Remer, the brigade commander, attacked again at midnight, supported by two assault-gun companies, two tank companies, and the artillery, but quickly found the going impassable in the dark and a rising snowstorm. Dawn saw the attack restarted, and it was a race to cut the roads out of St. Vith before the American defenders could escape. Dawn of 23 December saw the Führerbegleit Brigade astride all roads out, despite heavy losses in the Grenadier battalion, but they were too late. The Americans had escaped, although half of their men were missing and much of their equipment lost.

The brigade pushed on westward after the retreating Americans, fighting several skirmishes with rearguards as they advanced. They soon found themselves at the rear of the retreating American column and tagged along, moving at a good pace until discovered. The resulting fight was one-sided with the Americans losing a dozen more tanks and a vital bridge.

Shermans counterattack

Christmas Eve was spent marching westward to join a different corps for an attack to the north west towards Namur on the Meuse River. The Christmas Day attack on Hotton, the first objective, had just go under way when Remer received orders to suspend the attack and move to Bastogne to close the road link opened by the 4th Armored Division, surrounding the town again. 

When they arrived on 27 December, they found the weak 26th Volks­grenadier Division barely holding its lines. The Führerbegleit Brigade launched several attacks over the next few days, but soon found itself struggling to avoid being surrounded in turn by the 11th Armored Division attacking around its left flank. Heavy fighting continued until 10 January 1945 when the order came to withdraw back to Germany.

The Führerbegleit Brigade was selected to act as the rearguard and fought a number of delaying actions until, finally on 23 December, orders came to go into reserve and reform as a full panzer division. It never reached its intended strength before it was thrown back into battle on the Eastern Front.

StuG G assault-guns

Village fighting The Führergrenadier Brigade took longer to form, and did not enter combat until after St. Vith had fallen. Its first mission was to assist the 5th Parachute Division holding the flank east of Bastogne. The brigade’s Panzerfüsilier battalion and, two companies of tanks and a company of assault guns arrived at Eschdorf and Heiderscheid, south of the Sûre River on 23 December, only to lose a company stationed forward at Grevels when the US 26th Infantry Division attacked at dusk.

Meanwhile, other elements of the 26th Infantry division attacked Eschdorf, while the lead elements of 80th Infantry Division attacked Heiderscheid in a confusing night battle that cost the brigade its commander. On Christmas Day the Germans threw a regiment from the 79th Volksgrenadier Division into the fray as they arrived, while the Americans piled on tanks and artillery to support their infantry. Another day’s hard fighting forced the Germans out of their positions.

7.5cm PaK40 anti-tank guns

The Führer-grenadier Brigade pulled back across the river, meeting up with its Grenadier battalion, hoping to hold the crossings, but were thwarted by the fast-moving 26th Infantry Division who established three bridgeheads across the river on 27 December. Fortunately for the brigade, the 79th Volksgrenadier Division was holding against 80th Infantry Division on the right (eastern) flank, leaving the brigade facing off against just one American division.

For three days the two divisions fenced, the Americans seeking weaknesses to exploit and the Germans counterattacking with the surviving tanks, backed up with rocket launchers from an army artillery battalion. By 30 December, the Führergrenadier Brigade had been pushed most of the way back to the vital crossroads of Wiltz. 

With their infantry strength almost gone, the brigade handed over its positions to the 9th Volksgrenadier Division (not before making one last counterattack to halt the Americans after they captured an entire Volksgrenadier company!), and withdrew into reserve.

Like the Führerbegleit Brigade, the Führergrenadier Brigade was redesignated as a division and reinforced before being sent east in a last-ditch attempt to halt the Soviet advance into Germany.

21cm NW42 Rocket Launchers

Hummels

In Flames Of War

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Last Updated On Thursday, May 23, 2013 by Wayne at Battlefront