Germany – Third Reich: A Fascinating and Very Rare ‘Nashorn’ Battalion’s Battle of France Iron Cross 2nd Class, Second Battle of Kharkov Iron Cross 1st Class and Italian Campaign probable Defence of the Gothic Line German Cross in Gold Winner’s Document Group to Feldwebel Burkhardt Schellhorn, 3rd Company, 525th Anti-Tank Battalion and then 3rd Company, 525th Heavy (Army) Anti-Tank Battalion, who survived the war and surrendered to the American Army in Northern Italy at the beginning of May 1945.
A fascinating and very rare document group consisting of the large official and small preliminary award certificates for the German Cross in Gold and 5 others which belonged to a former senior Warrant Officer who saw active service with a rare anti-tank unit – one of only six anti-tank Battalions which were equipped with the ‘Nashorn’, a lightly armoured German tank destroyer armed with the outstanding 88mm Pak 43 anti-tank gun.
Burkhardt Schellhorn was born on 6th April 1920, and would have been called up just prior to, or just after the outbreak of WW2, initially he would have seen service in the West, where he would have defended the West Wall against potential French or British attacks.
In May 1940 it was involved in the attack on France and the Low Countries, by this time the 525th Anti-Tank Battalion had been fitted out with the fearsome 88mm Anti-Tank Gun., serving through the French Campaign, Schellhorn would have performed an act of gallantry most likely at the penetration of the Maginot Line between 14th-16th June, which resulted in the award of the Iron Cross 2nd Class on 18th June 1940.
After a short period as part of the occupation period in France, the Division formed up in the Bouillon area before moving east to Army Group A, where during the Invasion of the Balkans in April 1940 the 525th Anti-Tank Battalion served as part of the 1st Panzer Group of the 12th Army.
The Campaign in the Balkans was a short and decisive one, with Yugoslavia and the Greek mainland effectively being knocked out of the war and occupied by early May. At this point Schellhorn’s unit was kitted out with 3.7cm Anti-Tank Guns and moved north to prepare for Operation Barbarossa the invasion of the Soviet Union as part of 17th Army, a unit within Army Group South. During 1941 the 17th Army attacked over the Bug, it was during these early days of the campaign that Schellhorn was wounded for the first time on 3rd July 1941, subsequently his unit advanced towards Zhitomir and Kiev until September when it moved towards the Belgorod area, and finally onto Poltava.
In early 1942 the 525th Anti-Tank Battalion was refitted with 7.62cm armed Marder II’s, a significant upgrade, required to counter the formidable T34 tanks that were almost impregnable to the small calibre 37mm guns the unit had previously been equipped with. In early 1942 the unit protected the Don Basin from the Red Army’s winter counterattacks. After the conclusion of the winter attacks, Schellhorn was to receive the General Assault Badge on 17th May 1942, this an unusual certificate in that it was signed personally by the 1st Panzer Army Commander-in-Chief von Kleist.
Shortly after the receipt of this award, Schellhorn was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class by the Divisional HQ of 1st Mountain Division on 27th June 1942, this for an act of gallantry during the Division initial advance from the Kharkov area towards the Don and then the Caucasus. His unit during this time continued to field Marder II tank-destroyers as well as a quantity of Bohler 47mm guns.
On 9th August 1942 Schellhorn received the Ostmedaille for his service during the previous winter. In the following months his Anti-Tank Battalion drove deep into the Caucasus alongside 1st Panzer Army. This advance was eventually countered by the Red Army’s winter counter-attack that began in late November, this offensive led to Schellhorn being wounded twice in the space of a month, firstly on 8th December 1942 and then again on 4th January 1943 as his unit retreated into the Kuban Bridgehead.
From the issue of the Silver Wound Badge on 7th May 1943 it would appear that this final wound caused Schellhorn to be transported back to Germany for recuperation. The 525th Anti-Tank Battalion had in the meantime been withdrawn and was sent to Coetquidan Training Area for the issuing of Nashorn Tank Destroyers, the unit received 5 of these vehicles in May, 15 more in June, and another 25 in July, to make a total of 40. In late July the division was sent to Southern France, and then in late August upon the fall of Sicily, the unit was moved to Italy in readiness for an invasion, and for the expected occupation of Italy upon a general Italian Surrender (this took place in early September 1943).
Initially billeted in the La Spezia area from late-August, the 525th Anti-Tank Battalion, may have been involved in some of the partisan activity that began to take place after the Italian surrender, and the resultant German occupation. In February 1944 the unit moved to the Anzio bridgehead where it took part in the attempt to destroy the allied landing there that had attempted to outflank the German defensive positions at Monte Cassino, capture Rome, and surround a large quantity of the German troops fighting against the Allies on the western side of Italy.
The Division continued to fight through the German retreat up the Italian Peninsula, the violence of some of the fighting is shown by the need to issue the unit with 5 Nashorns in May, 20 in September, 10 in October and another 10 in November. It would have been for 5 acts of gallantry, at least some of which must have been during the campaign in Italy that on 15th December 1944 Schellhorn was awarded the German Cross in Gold. It is nice to have the preliminary award certificate and a very rare official award certificate for this decoration.
Schellhorn would most likely have seen out the war with 525th Anti-Tank Battalion which ended the war as part of the Italo-German Army Group Liguria which surrendered to the Allies on 1st May 1945 along with the rest of the German forces in Italy. Little is known of his post-war life, but it was not until 10th January 2016 that he passed away.