Feldherrnhalle and the Battle for Hungary

The Feldherrnhalle Kampfrune (battle insignia) was authorized for use on uniform shoulder boards from June 1943 Feldherrnhalle and the Battle for Hungary
by Wayne Turner

The 13. Panzerdivision and Panzergrenadierdivision Feldherrnhalle were both in the process of rebuilding when they were hastily reinforced and thrown into the cauldron of the battle for Hungary in October 1944.

Left: The Feldherrnhalle Kampfrune (battle insignia) was authorized for use on uniform shoulder boards from June 1943.
Origins of the Feldhernhalle
The Feldherrnhalle units of the German Army have their origins in the Sturmabteilung (SA, also known at the Brown Shirts) of the Nazi Party. This paramilitary organisation acted as the strong arm of the Nazi Party until the SS subsumed many of their duties after the bloody elimination of the SA leadership in the 1934 Night of the Long Knives.

Right: The Panthers and Möbelwagens of the Feldherrnhalle.
The Panthers and Möbelwagens of the Feldherrnhalle
However, the Brown Shirts survived the elimination of their influential leaders and regained some standing in the Nazi organisation. They supplied an elite honour guard for party events known at the SA-Standarte Feldherrnhalle. This unit formed the basis for a training and recruitment organisations that provided volunteers to fight in a variety of Luftwaffe (air force) and Heer (army) units. From these origins the SA leadership worked to get a fully Brown Shirt recruited division in the field. In 1943 the reformation of 60. Infanteriedivision (mot) into the Panzergrenadierdivision Feldherrnhalle went some way to achieving this. The new division combined various regiments with strong links to the Brown Shirts into one formation, with replacement volunteers and conscripts coming through SA replacement battalions.

Panzergrenadierdivision Feldherrnhalle
The remnants of Panzergrenadierdivision Feldherrnhalle (after is destruction during Soviet Operation Bagration) and the new 109. Panzer Brigade were to combine in Miskolc, Hungary in October 1944. However, before the union could take place and the panzer brigade could arrive both units were committed to the fighting in the east of Hungary.
Below: A pair of King Tigers advances to relieve the besieged city of Budapest.
A pair of King Tigers advances to relieve the besieged city of Budapest
13. Panzerdivision ‘Feldherrnhalle’
13. Panzerdivision had its first association with the ‘Feldherrnhalle’ title on 15 May 1944 when they absorbed 1030. Grenadierregiment (mot) Feldherrnhalle. It was at this time that it was decided to make 13. Panzerdivision the second ‘Feldherrnhalle’ formation.

13. Panzerdivision was then heavily engaged in the fighting against the Soviet offensive to invade Romania. They took high casualties and were eventually evacuated to Örkény, 35 km (22 miles) south of Budapest, to begin their refit. At Örkény they joined the 110. Panzer Brigade Feldherrnhalle and the two formations were combined on 1 October 1944.
Below: The movement of the Panzergrenadierdivision Feldherrnhalle and 13. Panzerdivision ‘Feldherrnhalle’ during October - November 1944.
The movement of the Panzergrenadierdivision Feldherrnhalle and 13. Panzerdivision ‘Feldherrnhalle’ during October - November 1944
Generalmajor Gerhard Schmidhuber Generalmajor Gerhard Schmidhuber
13. Panzerdivision Feldherrnhalle
Gerhard Schmidhuber fought during the First World War, earning two Iron Crosses. He left the army after the war to go into business, but was active in the militia.

He was reactivated in 1934 and was promoted to Major in 1939 and commanded a
battalion during the Polish and French campaigns. The 14. Infanteriedivision was
converted into the 4. Panzerdivision and Schmidhuber’s battalion became a motorised unit. He continued to lead his unit through the Yugoslavian and Soviet invasions of 1941 and was promoted to Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant-Colonel) in July. In June 1942 he underwent training at the armoured school before being given command of 304. Panzergrenaderregiment. On 2 May 1944 he was made deputy commander of 7. Panzerdivision.

On 9 September 1944 he assumed command of 13. Panzerdivision and was promoted to Generalmajor (Major-General) on 1 October.

Image of courtsey of Bundesarchiv. Bild 1011-088-3743-15A
He was named in an Army report on 20 December 1944, “In the area of Budapest in tough defensive battles, Panzergrenadierdivision Feldherrnhalle under the command of Generalmajor Pape and 13. Panzerdivision under the command of Generalmajor Schmidhuber, with their officers, non-commissioned officers and enlisted men, most from the SA, distinguished themselves by outstanding courage and aggressive counterattacks.” For his leadership he was on 21 January 1945 awarded with the Oak Leaves to the Knight’s Cross.

On 11 February 1945 Gerhard Schmidhuber was killed while leading his men in the breakout from Budapest.
The Battle of Debrecen (Hungarian Campaign)
As soon as 13. Panzerdivision arrived at the front its 66. Panzergrenadierregiment hit an anti-tank gun line at Karcag on 8 October and quickly overran the position, clearing away the Soviet anti-tank gunners with ease. The Panther battalion then attacked the Soviet armoured forces assembled near Püspökladany. They crushed the Soviet tanks, making short work of the enemy vehicles with the Panthers’ powerful 7.5cm guns. This allowed the panzergrenadiers to take Püspökladany. However, Soviet pressure meant the city could not be held and the division withdrew after hard fighting on 9 October. Kampfgruppe (battle group) Panzergrenadierdivision Feldherrnhalle joined them at the front on 11 October.

By mid-October the Feldherrnhalle units were withdrawn north to defences in front or the Tisza River to cover the retreat of the German Eighth Army near Polgár. During this time Soviet mobile units made a massive push past Debrecen northwestwards towards the Tisza, out pacing their infantry supports. The Germans quickly responded on 23 October by organising a counterattack form the west with III Panzerkorps and from the north with infantry forces to cut off the over exposed armour and cavalry.
The Battle of Debrecen (Hungarian Campaign)
The attack caught the Soviets by surprise and much of the Pliev Cavalry Mechanised Group was cut off or forced to withdraw. The Soviet cavalry and supporting tanks took heavy casualties in the process. The counterattack allowed the German and Hungarian armies to complete their retreat across the Tisza River and to stabilise their line along the natural defences of the river.
The Feldherrnhalle cuff title The Title 'Feldherrnhalle'
The specific title ‘Feldherrnhalle’ refers to the Feldherrnhalle (Field Marshals’ Hall) in Munich where an attempted Nazi coup was crushed by the Bavarian state police on 9 November 1923.
It resulted in Hitler’s arrest and imprisonment.

Left: The Feldherrnhalle cuff title.
Budapest Encirclement
It wasn’t long before both divisions were back in action as the Soviets swept from the south and east across the Tisza and towards Budapest in early November. The 13. Panzerdivision counterattacked towards Ócsa on 2 November, retaking it after halting the Soviet advance. Meanwhile Panzerdivision ‘Feldherrnhalle’ fought alongside the 8. SS-Kavalleriedivision (8th SS Cavalry Division) just southeast of Budapest at Vecsés. The town fell, but was retaken by the ‘Feldherrnhalle’ and SS troops after bloody street fighting on 4 November. During the rest of November both divisions were involved in heavy fighting holding off the Soviet advance on Budapest to the north and east of the city.

Below: Panthers of the Feldherrnhalle fight off the Soviet T-34/76s.
Panthers of the Feldherrnhalle fight off the Soviet T-34/76s
By the 23 November elements of Panzerdivision Feldherrnhalle were already fighting in the outskirts of Budapest. Panzerdivision Feldherrnhalle units defending the Danube River north of Budapest was forced to retreat to the outskirts of Budapest when Soviet tanks broke through the Hungarian units on their flank and took Vác. This allowed the Soviets advancing from the northeast to eventually link up with units coming from the south and encircle Budapest.
Generalmajor Günther Pape Generalmajor Günther Pape
Panzerdivision Feldherrnhalle
Günther Pape left high school in 1927 to become a cadet in the Army. By 1938 he had been promoted to captain and was the commander of a motorised infantry company in 3. Panzerdivision. He led his company during the Polish and French campaigns. His battalion took part in the invasion of the Soviet Union and he was promoted to Major during 1941.

On 10 February 1942 he was awarded the Knight’s Cross after just days earlier earning the German Cross in gold. He was soon promoted again, out of turn because of his outstanding leadership and personal bravery, to Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant-Colonel) and command of 394. Panzergrenadierregiment on 1 September 1942. His personal qualities continued to shine through and he was promoted again on 1 March 1943 to Oberst (Colonel).

He proved himself in battle once again so that he was the 301st Soldier of the German Wehrmacht (armed forces) to get the Oak Leaves added to his Knight’s Cross on 5 July 1943. After receiving a serious wound he was transferred to command a training course at the armour school. In July 1944 he was entrusted with the leadership of the Panzergrenadierdivision Feldherrnhalle. With effect from 1 December 1944 he was promoted to Generalmajor (Major-General).

Image of courtsey of Bundesarchiv. Bild Bild 183-B16918
On 23 December 1944 he was detailed to organise the formation of Panzerkorps Feldherrnhalle and left his division in Budapest to organise the new formation. He left Oberstleutnant Joachim-Helmut Wolff in charge of the division’s troops under Generalmajor Gerhard Schmidhuber of 13. Panzerdivision Feldherrnhalle.

In 1945 Pape surrendered to the Americans. He was handed over to the Soviets because of his service on the eastern front, but they returned him to the Americans soon afterwards with no explanation. He served in the West German Army until 1966.
The Siege of Budapest
The bulk of both divisions became encircled inside the city, with only some supply and maintenance units withdrawn to the west beforehand. Among these units was the staff of Panzerdivision Feldherrnhalle, so the units inside Budapest then came under the command of 13. Panzerdivision Feldherrnhalle.

During the fighting most of the armour from the two divisions was grouped together to act as a mobile reserve and fought against Soviet assaults and breakins. The Panzergrenadiers of the divisions fought side-by-side in the northeast of the city, often counterattacking Soviet assaults and reinforcing Hungarian positions.
We won’t let them trap us. The day after tomorrow we’ll be sitting together again over a drink.

– Generalmajor Schmidhuber to his fellow officers a few hours before the breakout, in which he was killed.
Below: The Soviet tanks and infantry throw themselves and the Axis defenders.
The Soviet tanks and infantry throw themselves and the Axis defenders
At this point the fighting for the city proper began and protracted, bitter and savage street fighting became the norm. Every house, building or patch of open ground was fought over tenaciously.

Slowly the overwhelming pressure from the Soviets and Romanians told and by 17 January the Feldherrnhalle Panzergrenadiers were fighting for the city centre of Pest with their backs to the Danube River. The order was finally given to evacuate to Buda on the western side of the river.

The house-to-house fighting continued on the other side of the river with the Soviets determined to wipe out the pocket before any of the German relief attempts could breakthrough to the city. The Feldherrnhalle units took charge of the defence in the south of Buda from 18 January. The hilly suburbs of Buda proved a hard nut to crack for the Soviet assaulters.
Below: The Soviet forces grind down the Hungarian defenders.
The Soviet forces grind down the Hungarian defenders
However, by 5 February the Buda pocket had been reduced dramatically and was endanger of being split in two. On 11 February it was decided to make a desperate breakout. The largest and most successful group to make it pass the surrounding Soviets and back to the German lines was a group from Panzerdivision Feldherrnhalle commanded by Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant-Colonel) Wilhelm Schoening and Oberstleutnant Joachim-Helmut Wolff who escaped with 600 men.
I have nightmares every night because I am alive.

– Oberstleutnant Joachim-Helmut Wolff, one of the few who escaped the siege.

With the fall of Budapest many more Feldherrnhalle men would be marched off eastwards to the misery of Soviet internment and a likely death through cold, starvation, abuse, or neglect. Few would see home again.

However, the title Feldherrnhalle would live on. Even as the last men of these two division made a desperate dash for friendly lines westward, moves were afoot to rebuild the two division as Panzerkorps Feldherrnhalle.

~ Wayne.

The Siege of Budapest, January to February 1945
The Siege of Budapest, January to February 1945

Last Updated On Tuesday, January 24, 2023 by Wayne at Battlefront