Germany – Third Reich: An intriguing set of documents relating to Knights Cross winner and Holder of the Fuhrer’s Commendation Certificate Leutnant of the Reserve August Hille, II Battalion, 33rd Infantry Regiment (motorised), 13th Infantry Divisi...

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Germany – Third Reich: An intriguing set of documents relating to Knights Cross winner and Holder of the Fuhrer’s Commendation Certificate Leutnant of the Reserve August Hille, II Battalion, 33rd Infantry Regiment (motorised), 13th Infantry Division (motorised); 6th and 7th Companies, II Battalion, 33rd Panzergrenadier Regiment, 4th Panzer Division who was decorated with the Knights Cross for his role in the relief of the besieged town of Kovel in Ukraine during which he led a successful defence against 25 Russian Tanks, 17 of which were knocked out, he had earlier been awarded the Fuhrer’s Commendation Certificate during the early days of the Battle of Kursk.

A very rare document and photo group almost certainly put together by Hille himself which contains, one document, 4 pages of handwritten text in ink, 7 newspaper cuttings, a marked contemporary WW2 map of the Kovel area (North Ukraine) and 101 photos (11 of which concern the occasion when he was presented with the Knights Cross (awarded on 9.6.1944) by his Divisional Commander, Generalmajor Betzel.


Documents / Text.


  1. Six typed pages describing the advance and combat of an unidentified Battalion in the Polish Campaign 1939. It starts with 3rd September and ends with 5th October. The unit is probably the one Hille served in and was therefore II Battalion of 33rd Infantry Regiment (motorised) in 13th Infantry Division (motorised).

  2. Four handwritten pages or part of in the photo record as follows:

    a) The front page ‘Russian Campaign 1941-44’ with a number of place names listed (Krishev, Kiev, Sevsk, Bryansk, Orel, Tula, Domachevo/Bug, Rokitno/Pripyet Marshes).
    b) The second page with a summary of the period from after the end of the 1940 Campaign in France up to 20th April 1941.
    c) A half page with a lead in to the start of the invasion of Russia with comments and timings for 20 and 21 June 1941.
    d) Two pages of text covering the period from 10th January to 5th April 1944. This is the period leading up to the involvement of Hille’s Regiment in the combat round Kovel and the relief of the encircled garrison on 5th April 1944.


Newspaper Articles:


  1. ‘Assault on Orel’. An article by Oberleutnant Arthur Wollschlager (awarded the Knights Cross on 23rd January 1942 as Officer Commanding 2/35 Panzer Regiment, 4th Panzer Division) in which he describes his recollections of the assault on Orel. Hille has written in pencil the following comment ‘our Regiment took part on 4th October’.

  2. ‘The self-sacrifice of the Battalion’ by Unteroffizier Karlheinz Ulrich. This is an article which describes a heavy action, in some detail, by an unidentified Battalion and its men in freezing winter conditions. A number of places in the text have been marked in red and at the bottom of the first page has the following handwritten in red ’18.1.1942 my first wounding’. The conclusion is that this article is describing a defensive action of ‘Hille’s Battalion (II/33 Panzer Grenadier Regiment) during the winter of 1941/42 (The 7th Company in which he was serving at the time receives a special mention.)

  3. ‘The Battle round Kovel’ by Major Dr J Schafer.’ This is an informative general article describing the overall situation in the Kovel area leading up to the heavy fighting that took place at the end of March and beginning of April 1944 leading to the relief of this town and its defence. Two Panzer Division (not identified) are mentioned one of which obviously 4 Panzer Division (Hille’s Company in the 33rd Panzer Grenadier Regiment was part of this Division)

  4. ‘The Tank Cemetery at the Peaked Cap’ by Karlheinz Ulrich with a note in ink by Hille ‘extract from the V.B. dated 22.4.1944 (Volkischer Beobachter). This article provides a detailed description of the action by the 6th Company (under command of Leutnant Hille) of a Panzergrenadier Regiment in a successful defence against a heavy Russian Tank and infantry attack. It clearly describes Hille’s action in command which led to the defensive success against this heavy attack. Comment: August Hille was awarded the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross on 9th June 1944 for his outstanding bravery and leadership during this battle which took place in early April 1944.

  5. ‘Two Knights Cross Holders.’ An article which was published in August 1944 in the ‘Helmatgrusse’ (Kreis Gifhorn, Gau Osthannover) about two Knights Cross Holders – Leutnant August Hille and Oberleutant Walter Joseph. The item about Hille gives a more detailed description, than the one in paragraph 6 below, about the action which led to Hille being awarded the Knights Cross for outstanding bravery and leadership. The final two paragraphs give some details about him personally as well as his military service and the decorations which he had been awarded. The parents of Oberleutnant Joseph lived in Wittingen/Kreis Gifhorn and hence the reason why he his included in this issue of the ‘Heimatgrusse’.

  6. ‘This is Leutnant Hille, the latest Knights Cross Holder of the Armed Forces.’. A good private photo of Hille in uniform wearing his Knights Cross (RK) with a short summary about the action which led to him being awarded the Knights Cross and the man himself (personal history including Date of Birth), military service and decorations.

  7. ‘Gifhorn greets its Knights Cross Holder’. This is an article which describes the welcome August Hille received with his wife Herta when he visited his hometown Gifhorn on 9th September 1944.


Map:


A fascinating original WW2 map of the Kovel area which has been marked with the details of 4th and 5th Panzer, 342nd and 532nd Infantry Divisions and the SS-Division ‘Viking’ deployments. The dates/timings of the movement of the 4th Panzer Division are noted with the locations marked of where II Battalion HQ, 5th, 6th and 7th Companies (33rd Panzer Grenadier Regiment) actually were in position. It clearly shows that Hille 6’s Company was about 2/3 kilometres east of Dubova and to the north of Kovel at the time of the action described in details in paragraphs 4 and 5 (Newspaper Cuttings) above. It is also interesting to note that the large map is made up of two maps which were sent home through the Field Post to his wife, Frau Herta Hille in Gifhorn/Hannover, Cellerstrasse 44. The Field Post Number was 25462 (6/33rd Panzer Grenadier Regiment.)


Photographs:


This is a very rare small collection of 101 photos which have been written up throughout with dates and place names where remembered by Hille who can be seen throughout the collection at various stages of his Army service (from Gefreiter to Leutnant). The record begins in April 1941 and ends in September 1944.

It begins in with a single large (17 x 23mm) photo (contemporary copy of a WW2 newspaper photo – see the photo in ‘Heimatgrusse’ in para 5 above) with the Knights Cross handing around his neck taken just after the presentation of this high decoration to him on 24th June 1944.

There are 40 photos taken during April/May/June 1941 prior to the Invasion of Russia. 18 photos taken in June/August/September/December 1941 – summer leading into the terrible winter of 1941/42.

15 photos taken in January/February 1943. 4 of him involved with ski troops – one as a Leutnant Platoon Commander with his ski Platoon, one as an Unteroffizier building a bunker near Clinzy and 10 of a group of officers, which includes Hille, by a rail wagon on the way to the front.
There is a good record of 11 photos of the occasion on 24th June 1944 when he was presented with the Knights Cross (awarded on 9.6.1944) by his Divisional Commander, Generalmajor Betzel. This group includes the original photo which was copied for inclusion in the ‘Heimatgrusse’ – see para 5 above. This is followed by 10 of his visit to Gifhorn (his hometown) on 9.9.1944 with his wife Herta and finally 6 photos of his visit to Stadtoldendorf (his birth place on 22.9.1944).

August Hille was born on 1st August 1919 in Stadtoldendorf (Kreis Holzminden) and died in the same town on 10th March 1988. He was married to Herta, nee Wissner, who lived in Gifhorn, north of Braunschweig where the two of them had their home during WW2. His time in the German Labour Service was spent in Fallersleben (Kreis Gifhorn) before he was called up to military service in 1938, and posted to Bernburg (Salle). This town was where his Battalion (II Battalion in 33rd Infantry Regiment (motorised) and then finally 33rd Panzergrenadier Regiment) was stationed. The 33rd was a highly decorated Regiment during WW2 (17 Knights Cross, 31 German Crosses and 28 Mentions in the Honour Roll of the German Army).

Hille started his active service during the Polish Campaign in 1939, before seeing service in France in 1940, being awarded an Iron Cross 2nd Class for an act of gallantry during that campaign. Serving in the East from the outset, he was awarded an Iron Cross 1st Class in May 1942, he had received his first wound on 18th January 1942, but later was to go on to receive a Gold Wound Badge for a severe head wound. At some stage he was also to receive a Close Combat Clasp in Silver.

The details of the action surrounding his first wounding are covered in the article by ‘Unteroffizer Karlheinz Ulrich’:

The telephone order is short and matter of fact, the Major is at the equipment himself: ‘the encircled right neighbour in K is to be relieved!’ Half an hour later the Regiment calls again: ‘Come to the immediate help of the right neighbour, if need be advance up to K.’
The Major thinks this appears to be somewhat dicey. It was not to be as simple as the order ran. The Battalion had to go through the middle of the enemy in order to reach K. Heavy weapons can not be taken with them, the snow is metres deep. There is no road. If the Soviets cut off the retreat of the Battalion, it would be caught in a trap. But the right neighbour must be helped.
The march of the Battalion, which belonged to a mid-German Rifle Regiment, begins in the dawning morning. The thermometer shows 32 degrees below zero. A biting wind sweeps over the snow slopes. The Battalion finds a somewhat passable route on which the sledges can be brought with it. The village W lies half way to K. In the north the wood draws near to within a few metres from the village. In the south some hollows lead to the first houses. All is quiet in the village. It is certain that it is occupied by the enemy.
The Battalion Commander decides to take W in a surprise coup. The 8th Company moves at a gallop with its sledges on the village. There it is suddenly alive, civilians rush out from the houses and behind come the Soviets. The village inhabitants have alerted the garrison. If only this deep snow was not here! The horses are in a lather, galloping for all their worth and appearing to be scarcely making progress. After the first rifle shots, the Soviet machine-guns now also start barking. Exit! It is pointless. The Company withdraws and moves into the wood. A hollow lies to the right of the village and the 6th and 7th Companies use this cover. They work themselves forward unseen on the village and come into the flanks of the Soviets. An hour long stubborn battle among the houses begins. The enemy has withdrawn into the wood to the north of the village.

The patrol which had already been sent off at midday, in order to establish contact with our won troops in K, is not back in the evening and also during the night. It only arrives during the next morning. All are completely exhausted. Five times it has attempted in vain to reach our troops in K, five times it has bumped into the enemy and has only been able to withdraw with great difficulty. It has finally found our covering force.

The Soviets attack again from the north. The village is in flames. The Battalion has the order to remain in W and only advance towards K on the next day. The battles round W now beings again and also lasts the whole night. The Soviets are once again beaten off during the next morning. The Battalion then gets ready for the attack on K. A covering force stays behind which is weak in comparison to the enemy.

The Major knows that and it is a difficult mental battle for him. He knows that the covering force staying behind can scarcely hold the village. Nevertheless he must try and keep open the retreat route of the Battalion. Help must be brought under all circumstances to the comrades in K with the strongest force as possible.
Half way to K noise of battle rings out in the rear of the Battalion. The Major climbs onto a hill and lokos towards W. He sees through his binoculars how the Soviets are again attacking out from the wood, how even enemy tanks now roll into the village. The decision is cast, the retreat route is cut off. There is only one way: to break through to our own troops in K.

The Rifleman trudge through the snow for hours. The tracking section must be relieved every 10 metres. They are now already 2 days on the way, have not slept, have no warm food in the stomach, have lain down out there in the icy lashing wind. No sledge can follow here any more. All weapons and equipment must be carried. The Rifleman have their overcoats and left behind their blankets in order to be able to drag more ammunition. It is dark as they approach K. An attack in this countryside is not possible. The Battalion had to leave all its heavy weapons behind. So the Commander decides to stride out far to the south, to outflank K so that he really must bump into our troops which were in the southern part of the village hilst the superior enemy has established himself in the large built up area to the north. The Battalion reached the covering forces of our own troops in K during the evening.

The quartering situation is poor, all houses are filled to excess. Nevertheless the comrades, members of a Saxon Infantry Regiment, moved still closer together. They live 40 to a farm cottage. A lie down is not on. They stand crushed closer together, sleep standing up, mutually warming each other. It is also cold here because a fire is not allowed. These buildings are only separated from the enemy by a ravine. The slope is banked over there; from there the Soviet can observe every movement in this sector, against that the positions of the Soviets are not seen from here. Despite all precautions the reinforcement during the night was observed by the enemy. Because in the morning they suddenly begin to fire into the houses. Anti-tank guns, mortars and machine-guns put down heavy fire on the whole sector. The Riflemen can not leave the houses. Snipers hit out at the house entrances. Anti-tank guns and mortars have it in for the houses. A direct hit on a house had already caused heavy losses. But an evacuation from these quarters is impossible. The supply of bandages is soon used up with the badly wounded, the equipment of the Doctors and Medical Platoon had to be left behind on the sledges. The men bandage their wounded comrades with hankies, rip the sleeve from the shirt in order to stem the flow of blood from the wounds. The Doctors crawl from house to house in the heaviest fire.
Towards evening the infernal fire begins with a still greater volume. The Soviet shoots with incendiary munition. The cottages catch fire immediately. Teams are formed in order to preserve the few houses. From where do you get water with this cold? The Soviets shoot through the houses with tank munition. The shells punch through two, three timber thick walls. Outside the houses there is not a single bit of cover to be seen. What remains left to the soldiers other than stay in the log cabins. Again there are heavy losses.

The first rations and munitions come during the night. It is high time, the munition is almost used up, everyone is weakened up to fainting. The Soviets attack in the afternoon. The quarters of the 7th Company are shot to pieces, burnt down. The Company Commander is wounded by two pieces of shrapnel. The 7th attempts in vain to bring their machine-guns into position. The enemy fires with anti-tank guns on every spot of the forward slope. The Riflemen are shot out from the each position. They had to back off, there is no cover on the hill. The rest of the Companies can only prevent the Soviets making progress from the flanks. The old position must be retaken. Assault guns of the Infantry Regiment attack. The men of the 7th Company under their wounded Chief followed immediately, threw the Soviets back in the counter-attack, remain lying down behind the ruins of their houses and did not let themselves from being pushed out again for the second time despite the insane fire. It was 36 degrees below zero, they all still have no warm rations and unable to get a warming drink. Their kitchens and their quarters are burnt out, they lie in the icy cold in their ordinary overcoats. The hands clamped round the weapons, they do not want to obey the will anymore.

The Companies of the Battalion are disengaged at midnight. Rest – not yet! The Soviets press from the south, have broken through the German covering force, they must be thrown back again at all costs. And so the sacrifice of the Battalion goes on.

The Battalion is cut off in a village on the eight day. Everyone knows it. They again have no rations, the Soviets have held up the distribution of rations. When they are thrown out again on the next day, naturally there are still some left. The sledge columns of the Supply Train do not find the Battalion. It is almost impossible. But the Riflemen are aware of what needed to be done. They attack with an overwhelming momentum and punch through the Soviets. They still march for a further two days through the icy cold. The thermometer has reached 46 degrees below zero.

The Battalion is then relieved. And still once more it has to march since the vehicles coming to them are still stuck fast in the snow. They get the first warm rations for days in O. For days no washing, no shaving, feet wrapped with rags and skins, so they move to the railway station.

Was it chance which led the Battalion ten days later to the same place. The Soviets were still in W village which at that time Leutnant O with his covering force did not want give it to the enemy in order to hold the rear open to his Battalion. He did not ignore the order at the time to hold the village and died the hero’s death in the middle of his small brave band. The Rifleman now stormed against the village in a savage rage. The Soviets bitterly defended themselves but had to get out of the way, the men of the Rifle Battalion avenged the death of their comrades.’

Hille was to receive the Fuhrer Commendation Certificate as a Leutnant and Platoon Commander in the 7th Company in the 33rd Panzergrenadier Regiment for an action that took place on 7th July 1943 near Teploye. The action is covered on pages 46-47 of Paul Carell’s ‘Scorched Earth’ (Hitler’s War on Russia):

On 8th July 1943 Model employed the bulk of his 4th Panzer Division under Generalleutnant von Saucken. From the positions won by the 20th Panzer Division, it moved off against the village of Teploye.

Stukas swept over the advancing regiments. Armoured close support aircraft dived on enemy positions. The tanks of the 20th, 4th and 2nd Panzer Division moved among the grenadiers. Massive Tigers, Mark IVs and assault guns. Their guns barked, shrouding the scene in smoke and fire.

But Rokossovsky had taken preventive measures. Two rifle divisions, one artillery division, two armoured brigades, and one armoured rifle brigade had been moved in by him the previous day.

The 2nd Battalion, 33rd Panzergrenadier Regiment, fought its way through this inferno as far as Teploye and ejected the Russians from the village. They withdrew to the last line of hills.

The battalion had already lost 100 men. But the Divisional Commander did not want to give the Russians time to gather their wits. The 3rd and the 35th Panzer Regiments were lined up on the edge of the village. Armoued troop-carrying vehicles joined them. Dive bombers shrieked overhead towards the Russians main positions.

‘Now!’

On the opposite slope were the well-camouflaged emplacements of the Soviet 3rd Anti-tank Artillery Brigade. Moreover, T-34’s had been dug in. Their flank was covered by a Soviet rifle battalion with anti-tank rifles, simple but highly-effective weapons against tanks at short range. Their handling, just as that of the later German Panzerfaust, required courage and coolness.

The assault on the high ground began. The Russians laid down a curtain of defensive fire.

After a few hundred yards the German grenadiers lay pinned to the ground. It was impossible to get through the Soviet fire of a few hundred guns concentrated on a very narrow sector. Only the tanks moved forward into the wall of fire.

The Soviet artillerymen let them come within five hundred, then four hundred yards. At that range even the Tigers were sent on fire by the heavy Russian anti-tank guns.

But then three Mark IVs overran the first Soviet gun positions. The grenadiers followed. They seized the high ground. They were thrown back by an immediate Russian counter-attack.

For three days the battle raged in the field in front of Teploye. The 33rd Panzergrenadier Regiment stormed the ground. They were dislodged again.

Captain Diesener, the last surviving officer, assembled the remnants of the 2nd Battalion and led another assault. He took the high ground. He was forced to fall back again.’

Hille was to be awarded the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross for acts of outstanding bravery and leadership as a Leutnant and acting Company Commander of the 6th Company in the 33rd Panzergrenadier Regiment in the 4th Panzer Division during the very heavy combat in early April 1944 in a successful defence against 25 Russian Tanks (17 of which were knocked out). The award of the Knights Cross is covered in the enclosed article from the ‘Heimatgrusse’ in August 1944.

‘The Fuhrer awarded the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross to Leutnant of the Reserve August Hille from Gifhorn, acting Company Commander in a Panzergrenadier Regiment.

Leutnant Hille particularly distinguished himself in April in the battles round Kovel. The following report recounts his exemplary performance.

The Main-Franken Panzergrenadiers has broken into the enemy positions to the north Kovel and had seized hold of the decisive hills for the security of the town. They now lay there in a wide stretched line and awaited the counter-attack of the Soviets. The 6th Company under Leutnant Hille, pushed out the furthest to the north, lay on the most important hill.

Two days later the spell was broken; artillery and mortars, multi-barrelled launchers lay down a heavy barrage. The enemy then stormed forward at least in Battalion strength with 25 tanks against the hill. The Company had to let tanks through; it had no anti-armour weapons and an opportunity did not offer itself to destroy one of them in close combat. 11 of the steel monsters rolled over the positions of the Panzergrenadiers and attempt to shoot them out from the foxholes at close range with precision fire. Leutnant Hille and his men are able to fend off the enemy Infantry. Very heavy defensive fire met the storming earth brown waves and forced them to the ground.

The young acting Company Commander stands before a difficult decision. It is only a question of the time as to when the Soviet tanks shoot down the defenders of the hill, one after another. There is no more contact to left and right as well as the rear. There is no noise of battle to be heard in the flanks, he must accept that the neighbouring Companies have already withdrawn. The situation appears hopeless. But on the other he knows the crucial importance of his hill for the whole sector of the front, he knows how much blood if would cost to recapture the hill if the Bolshevists had once again established themselves here. There is no joke for him ‘He will hold the hill up to the last man.’

He springs from position to position in the heaviest enemy fire, always hunted by the shells of the tank guns and spurred on his men to extreme resistance. And where the young officer appears, there the faces light up, raises new hope in the hearts of the despairing combat troops, fists firmly clasp the rifle stock and hand-grenade handle. The crew of one of the most forward machine-gun nests is lost; Leutnant Hille works his way forward, throws himself behind the machine-gun and hunts the Soviets, burst on burst of fire.

Help comes to the brave company after 45 minutes of the most violent close combat. The first of our own tanks appear and now deployed a weapon of death amongst the enemy tanks; in the shortest time 17 of them are knocked out. The Panzergrenadiers heave a sigh of relief. Leutnant Hille immediately takes the lead, although he was wounded with this battle and physically very disabled, led his men forward to the counter-attack and threw back the Soviet Infantry; 60 dead Bolshevists are counted in and to the front of his positions. The brave young officer, who in an almost hopeless situation, left to his own devices, had held the important hill, was decorated with the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross.’

The Battles around Kovel are covered further in two articles, the first of which ‘The Tank Cemetery at the Peaked Cap’ states:

‘After a wet day, a just as grey morning dawned. The men of the 6th Company of a Panzergrenadier Regiment lie in their muddy foxholes, having installed themselves in a makeshift manner on the steep slope of a ravine. They shake from the cold, the uniforms are soaked through for days. Do not think of being dry, they are not allowed to make up a fire again even if it were technically possible in order to warm themselves. They once more lie in a devilish position. The ravine runs into the enemy like the point of a peaked cap, up to the point where they have carried forward the attack; the attack of their Panzer Division after the relief of Kovel.

A railway embankment runs along from the left, behind it is a small wood where the enemy was already there. A road left directly into the apex of their front approximately into the middle of the position. On the other side of the road the front formed a pointed angle as well with the road.

The Soviets sit on superelevated ground forward, left and right, the angle is so acute that the enemy can look into the positions of the 6th Company from the rear.

‘He can see directly behind us’ declares dryly and very vividly the Obergefreiter who lies there forward in the furthest point of the Peaked Cap behind his machine-gun. Nothing better marks the situation of the 6th Company. During the day one can only move in short, quick bounds, in many places one must not show oneself at all. The enemy reacts on each visible man with anti-tank guns. We have become so valuable to him.

Wet, muddy earth, wet also from above, soaking steady rain or whipping rain storms. Added to this a damp cold wind which took away the last warmth from the bones. They did not know warm food for days. The supplies can only be brought along at night and the once warm food has become cold during the journey which took hours through knee deep mud. They could not warm it up so they gobbled it up cold. Washing and shaving is a luxury which just did not take place.

Under such circumstances, a hopeless grey rainy day begins again.

A thunderous blow from all barrels, artillery of all calibres, anti-tank guns and mortars showered the small Company there forward in the Peaked Cap. It does not last long but it wraps the men in a single colossal cone of mind blowing shrapnel, clouds of earth, smoke and dirt.
And already the first Soviet riflemen emerge behind this wall of fire.


Red Verey lights rise high. The men should have fired violet but the violet Verey light munition had run out during the previous day. ‘Violet’ = tanks attacking, that is the call for this day. For in the meantime the Soviet Rifle Battalion storms toward the point as the dark colossi push forward, one behind another with mounted riflemen. They come straight along the road.

Leutnant Hille, the acting commander of the 6th Company recognises the situation. He also underestimates nothing. He is already wounded and with him numerous men of his Company. Armour piercing weapons are not to hand. Their own tanks are covering the dep open flank further to the rear. The close range anti-tank weapons are sunk in the mud. They do not detonate anymore despite the repeated attempts of the Company Commander.
What does one think of in such minutes, subsequently one did not remember anymore. A whole life can run away in front of an individual like a wild film strip. It is a concise reckoning, a conclusion before the large gate which suddenly opens up there.

Only seconds for thoughts, to get up out of the foxholes and run away in front of this large gate, nobody starts. Crucial for many of the young soldiers, who had only arrived shortly before as replacements to the Company, is the example of the Commander who with nothing more than unrivalled strong will takes the destiny of his men in his hand.

As he shouted his order, it is uncertain whether anyone understands it. In any case the men knew what the Leutnant meant ‘Stay where you are, let the tanks overrun you and engage the enemy Infantry.’

With this the first tanks are there, the caterpillar tracks grind next to the heads of the Panzergrenadiers through the muddy earth, throw clumps of earth into the shallow foxholes, often the men only saved themselves in a matter of seconds by rolling aside in front of the tracks of the Colossi. Many did not make it. The Panzergrenadiers only notice it later when everything is over. At the moment they are involved in an unparalleled fight, the Soviet riflemen are now on the spot. They can not be kept away, some machine-guns, carbines and finally only rifle butts and spades. The tanks, which had rolled through, fire from the rear into the foxholes. This frenzy can not last long. The superior strength is overwhelming.

Who saw our own tanks first, no one knows. They are in any case suddenly there, dashing up with maximum speed, without concern for themselves with the fierce anti-tank gun fire which confronted them. 17 enemy tanks on the road now swing their turrets towards the new enemy which can speak the same language. And here it showed that they are not up to an evenly matched enemy. The first tank is already already in flames, just one of the last which was on the road in the narrow pass between which also stands an impassable marsh for tanks.

Triumphant yells accompanied each shot. The men clambered onto their own tanks, showed their comrades the remnants of the enemy which attempts to disappear and with that get stuck in the marsh. All flustered fury did not help the Soviets anywhere. They are no match for the decisive onslaught of our tanks. The ‘Bears’ are once again victors of this meeting of tanks, 17 Soviet tanks are burning and exploding and that without the loss of one of ours.

The Soviets attempt to find an exit. Once again they cover our Panzergrenadiers with a hail of fire from their artillery, but the battle at the Peaked Cap is already decided.

The Panzergrenadiers recover their wounded and dead and then stand in their rebuilt foxholes in the soaking rain. They do not speak much about the hours in this morning and will also not talk much about it later. The ring of knocked out tanks round the position of the Peaked Cap speak for themselves.’

The freeing of Kovel is furthered covered in the second article:

‘At precisely 00.15 hours on 4 April 1944, the artillery bombardment began on the enemy positions preparatory to the large scale attack on Kovel. The attack would begin at 00.30 hours.

At that time a Battlegroup from 131 Infantry Division was to attack toward the east in order to cover the attack’s flank to the south. It was to occupy the wooded area south and east of Czerkasy and reach the railroad embankment near Hp. Czerkasy.

The spearhead of the assault was the 4th Panzer Division with the seconded Armoured Battlegroup Muhlenkamp (commander of SS-Pz Rgt 5) which was to attack towards Moszczona and from there advance via Dubova toward the northern edge of Kovel. Battlegroup Dorr (Obersturmfuhrer and CO Germania) with the rest of SS-Panzer Grenadier Regiment Germania was to take the wood northwest of Czerkasy in the flank of 4 Panzer Division’s attack and follow the ongoing advance. 5th Panzer Division would be employed from Smidyn against the Krilhel-Szajno line in order to cover the attack from the north.

At 03.30 hours followed a heavier barrage on Nove-Koszary by the massed artillery and an assault by Panzergrenadier Regiments 12 and 33 (4th Panzer Division). Koszary fell after heavy fighting. But the attack on Moszczona progressed slowly because 4th Panzer Division’s Panzer Regiment 35 was too weak and SS-Division Viking’s powerfully equipped II/Panzer Regiment 5 had not yet arrived. Only after a heavy Stuka attack on the strongly held wood south of Moszczona could the attack move forward. At approximately 18.30 hours this town was also taken; after destroying 50 anti-tank guns Battlegroup Dorr with two Panzer Companies was deployed via Nove-Koszary towards Moszczona. With the now assembled Armoured Battlegroup Muhlenkamp, it veered in the direction of the northwest and Kovel from where it reconnoitred to the southeast. The advance guard of 4 Panzer Division, the reinforced Panzer Grenadier Regiment 33, found itself on the Dubova hills.

On the following day, the 5th of April, the attack was to be continued at dawn. For that purpose Generalleutnant von Saucken (GOC 4 Panzer Division) had ordered Armoured Battlegroup Muhlenkamp to attack and the strongly held line of hills south of Dubova while Panzer Grenadier Regiment 33, with the help of 5th Panzer Division’s Panzer Regiment 31 which would attack from the north, would capture the enemy-occupied town of Dubova. With its flank and rear protected by 5th Panzer Division it would then go to the attack on a broad front toward the northern edge of Kovel. The attack was a success and established the long strived for contact with the fortress at Kovel. On the eve of 5 April, a reconnaissance by Panzer Grenadier Regiment 33 had established temporary contact with the forward strongpoint of Police Regiment Goltz of the fortress defences. In the course of 5 April a permanent linkup was made following 4 Panzer Division’s attack.

At 03.15 hours the attack commenced. Two spearheads, moved towards the southeast, Armoured Battlegroup Muhlenkamp to the right with the hills 2 km south of Dubova as its target, and Panzer Grenadier Regiment 33 to the left towards ‘do Dubovej’. The first goal was reached quickly after hard fighting. Now began the struggle against the enemy’s outer bastion on the northern edge of Kovel which was studded with anti-tank guns. In a running firefight with a tank column to its right. Armoured Battlegroup Muhlenkamp advanced toward the railroad loop northwest of the city with its left column noving along the Brest-Litovsk – Kovel rail line. In a bitter firefight, the anti-tank positions there were smashed while 4 Panzer Division’s attack group penetrated from the north into the northern part of Kovel.

At 16.00 hours the breakthrough had succeeded and a wide breach forced which on the following day enabled over 2,000 wounded to be evacuated to the east unmolested in the available tracked vehicles covered by 4th Panzer Division. Early in the afternoon, following the successful breakthrough, the leader of the relieving attack, Generalleutnant von Saucken, and SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer. Muhlenkamp arrived at Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS Gille’s command post to discuss further action. Kovel was free but for the time being could only be reached from the north. So on the following day the enemy’s barricade zones to the west and south were broken by individual attacks from Kovel.

On 6.4.1944, Battlegroup Dorr, which had advanced on the extreme western wing of 4 Panzer Division and had penetrated into the northwest part of Kovel, attacked westward supported by 7 (Panther) Company of SS-Panzer Regiment 5 and linked up with the leading elements of 131st Infantry Division.

On 10th April, the enemy was thrown back north of the Turya and Baphov, 6km northwest of Kovel, was captured. On the 12th an enemy tank attack from the east was beaten off by 4 Panzer Division supported by a Armoured Battlegroup from 6 Company, SS-Panzer Regiment 5. 15 enemy tanks were left on the battlefield. On 16th April, the enemy on the southwest edge of the pocket was smashed by Battlegroup Dorr and Engineer Battalion 50 (Army Troops) supported by two Panther Companies of SS-Panzer Regiment 5. A fortified line was pushed from there to the southwestern edge of Kovel.

On 20th April, a report reached the SS-Division ‘Viking’ that its commander SS-Gruppenfuhrer Gille, had become the first General of the Waffen-SS to be awarded the Diamond Cluster to the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross. After the conclusion of combat operations Gille flew to the Fuhrers HQ on 29 April to personally receive the decoration from Hitler.

On 24th April, the enemy south of Kovel on the hills near Lubliniec was attacked and driven back by Armoured Battlegroup Muhlenkamp with the Regimental headquarters of SS-Panzer Regiment 5, II (Panther)/SS-Panzer Regiment 5, 6 and 8 Companies plus the Panzer Engineer Company of the SS-Panzer Regiment 5, 2/Anti-tank Battalion 49 (4th Panzer Division) and II/Grenadier Regiment 434 (131st Infantry Division). In the course of the fighting, 51 anti-tank guns, 8 guns and 3 tanks were destroyed, the Turya reached approximately 10km south of Kovel and barricaded near Korodelec. Thus the defensive positions could be extended outward approximately 10km southeast and northwest of the city which was conclusively freed from its previously closed encirclement.’

Hille was to survive the war, and lived up until 1988 in Stadtoldendorf the town of his birth. An interesting and unusual group of documents to a Knights Cross recipient for the relief of Kovel in April 1944.