by Richard Murphy

logo-inf-291


Generalmajor Kurt Herzog was put in charge of 291. Infanterie Division as they began forming in Insterburg (South-east of Königsberg) in February 1940.

Created with cadres from previously existing units, Samuel W Mitcham reports in Hitler’s Legions that they played a "minor role" in France three months later, but no other source mentions them in the West. During the continued expansion of the Heer in the Autumn the division lost 3 Btns. of Infantry (I /504th, I /505th & I /506th.) and one of Artillery (III /291st.) to the newly raised 306. Infanterie Division, but these units were replaced before the division was assigned to Heeresgruppe Nord in early 1941 as 18. Armee’s reserve as they prepared for the launching of Barbarossa (Herzog was promoted to Generalleutnant at the begining of February 1941.). The "Elch" (Elke) division managed to advance 44 miles in the first 34 hours of the campaign in the Baltic States, but after being assigned the mission of clearing the Baltic coast, was temporarily stopped in their tracks at the naval base of Libau where Soviet Marines and 67th Rifle Division repelled their first attempt to rush the town on 25th June. Resorting to point blank artillery fire, Herzog’s men finally overran the town after four days of fierce fighting and continued advancing up the Baltic Coast before reaching the Latvian capital of Riga which was already under attack from the East by Philipp Kleffel’s 1. Infanterie Division, the following day.

After helping secure Estonia during July and August, the division was deployed on the right wing of XXXVIII Korps’s ring around the Oranienbaum Bridgehead in early September and broke through the Soviet first line of defences around Leningrad at Popsha before turning north and taking Peterhof, on the Gulf of Finland, sealing in the Coastal Army (The remnants of about 12 divisions, later re-named 2nd Army.). After this success, the front settled down into static positions that changed very little for almost two years, but, following his receiving the Knights Cross in mid-October, there was little time for Herzog and his men to catch their breath as they were shifted to 18th Armee’s front along the Volkhov River to reisist continued efforts by the Russians to break through to besieged Leningrad. The division was finally withdrawn from the front in late December, but only had a few days rest before Andrei Vlassov’s 2nd Shock Army launched a massive offensive at the begining of January aimed at the thinly held line at the junction of 61. Infanterie Division and 21. Infanterie Division. Herzog ordered the commander of his 505th Inf. Regt., Oberst Lohmeyer (Who had led the initial charge through Lithuania in the opening days of Barbarossa and the first attempt to take Liepaja.) to seal the breach but he was killed in action by a Soviet mortar bomb within hours and replaced by Oberst Hosse, who suceeded in throwing the Russians back, but it was only a question of time before they made another probe somewhere else. "A matter of time" was ten days, the breathrough was slightly to the south, and it was the 291st that stood in their way, but, despite atrocious weather, Herzogs men stood firm long enough for the Polizei Division and 58. Infanterie Division. to cut off the Russian penetration, though fighting within the pocket went on until late June, by which time Werner Göritzhad arrived to replace Herzog as CO (This post was originally a temporary (Stellvertretend.) one, but Goeritz’s position was confirmed as permanant at the begining of August). The division was still licking it’s wounds after defeating Andrei Vlassov’s 2nd Shock Army’s penetration of the front over the Volkhov River, and, despite the renewal of the offensive by the Russians in the Mga sector, just to the north of their positions, they were kept on the relatively quiet sector north of Novgorod until January 1943, when they were shifted to LIX Korps sector on the junction of Heeresgruppe Nord and Heeresgruppe Mitte. During that Winter the divisions three Infantry Regiments lost one battalion each, except for one company from each which was, initially, formed into a Ski battalion, but this unit was later converted to bicycles. Shortly after Goeritz, who had been promoted to Generalleutnant on 1st January, won the DKiG in mid February 1943, the 506th Gren. Regt. (All three had be retitled "Grenadier" by this time, but exactly when is unclear.) was disbanded and its two remaining battalions split between the two remaining regiments.

In August I /291st Art. Regt. was disbanded and the Panzerjäger Battalion was detached and used to build the 664th Schwerer Panzerjäger Btn., though the unit still appears in their Order of Battle for September, when the whole Korps was shifted to the crisis laden Heeresgruppe Süd as the Red Army approached Kiev. Despite being unable to prevent the capture of the Ukrainian capital Goeritz was awarded the Knights Cross three days before the city fell in early November. Remaining in defensive positions around Korotsen over the Winter he handed command over to Oskar Eckholdt in mid-January 1944. The division was reinforced by the recreation of 506th Gren. Regt. from 141. Reserve Division’s 1st Res. Gren. Regt. in February but was all but annhilated by the Russian 3rd Guard Tank Army near Shepetovka in early March as Eberhard Rauss’s entire Panzerarmee was split in two, with Friedrich Schulz’s Korps thrown back to the south-east into 1. Panzerarmee’s area. This proved to be more of a curse than a blessing as the Russian pincers closed around Hube’s command forcing them to launch a desperate breakout attempt to the West in March, inflicting heavy losses on the division, however, the continuing crisis as the Russians pushed on into Poland precluded any chance of anything more than a short respite, though I/ 506th and I /291st Art. Regt. were rebuilt and 291st Pzjgr. Btn. recreated (The original had been detached in August 1943.) in April, the same month as Eckholdt was promoted to Generalmajor. By June they were back on 4th Panzerarmee’s front, with XLII Korps as they fell back through south-east Poland, but Eckholdt was severely wounded whilst the division was temporarily attached to XLV Korps in mid-July and replaced by Arthur Finger. He didn’t hold any further commands. The severley understrength unit rejoined XLII Korps in August and remained with them until over-run and destroyed by 1st Ukrainian Front near Czestochowa (Tschensotchau) soon after the Russians resumed their offensive in mid-January 1945. Promoted to Generalmajor at the begining of October 1944, Finger was killed in action on 27th January. Some remnants were incorporated into the 6. Infanterie Divisions 37th Gren. Regt. whilst the rest were used to augment 17. Infanterie Division in March.

Commanders

General der Artillerie Kurt Herzog (7 Feb 1940 - 10 June 1942)
Generalleutnant Werner Göritz (10 June 1942 - 15 Jan 1944)
Generalmajor Oskar Eckholt (15 Jan 1944 - 10 July 1944)
Generalmajor Arthur Finger (10 July 1944 - 27 Jan 1945) (KIA) (1)

Operations Officers (Ia)

Hauptmann Christian Müller (8 Feb 1940-5 Jan 1941)
Major Wilhelm von Roeder (5 Jan 1941-10 May 1943)
Oberst Walther Freiherr von Uckermann (May 1943-1944)
Major Friedrich-Karl Walters (1944-Apr 1944)
Major Helmut Eger (Apr 1944-Aug 1944)
Major Eduard von Schuh (1 Aug 1944-30 Sep 1944)
Oberst Wilhelm Hess (30 Sep 1944-20 Nov 1944)
Oberstleutnant Lothar Orlik (20 Nov 1944-1945)

Area of operations

Germany (Feb 1940 - May 1940)
France (May 1940 - June 1941)
Eastern front, northern sector (June 1941 - Mar 1943)
Eastern front, southern sector (Mar 1943 - Jan 1945)
Eastern front, central sector (Jan 1945)

Holders of high awards

Holders of the Close Combat Clasp in Gold (5)
- Bindseil, Alfred, 15.05.1944, Unteroffizier, Gruppenführer i. d. 6./Gren.Rgt. 505
- Klaes, Mathias, 31.10.1944, Stabsgefreiter d.R., 1./Gren.Rgt. 505
- Körner, Nikolaus, 07.02.1944, Unteroffizier, Gruppenführer i. d. 12./Gren.Rgt. 505
- Kujawa, Paul, 31.10.1944, Unteroffizier d.R., Sanitäter i. d. 6./Gren.Rgt. 505
- Skowasch, Ewald, 06.09.1944, Unteroffizier, Gruppenführer i. d. 8./Gren.Rgt. 505
Holders of the Commendation Certificate of the Commander-in-Chief of the Army (4)
- Garrecht, [first name not listed], 10.10.1941 (407), Oberfeldwebel, Zugführer i. d. 1./Pi.Btl. 291
- Lohmeyer, Karl, 03.07.1941 (031), Oberst, Kdr. Inf.Rgt. 505 (2)
- Welz, Wilhelm, 27.05.1944 (3379), Major, Kdr. Pi.Btl. 291
- Westphal, Gustav, 14.08.1942 (1170), Oberfeldwebel, Zugführer i. d. 14./Inf.Rgt. 505
Holders of the Commendation Certificate of the Commander-in-Chief of the Army for Shooting Down Aircraft (3)
- Breihold, [first name not listed], 18.11.1941 (26), Gefreiter, 4./Fahr-Kolonne 291
- Göbel, [first name not listed], 10.12.1941 (53), Unteroffizier, Stabskp./Inf.Rgt. 505
- Müller, Rolf, 28.10.1941 (9), Gefreiter, Stab II./Inf.Rgt. 504
Holders of the German Cross in Gold (55)
Holders of the Honor Roll Clasp of the Heer (10)
- Buschmann, Paul, 05.10.1944, Oberleutnant, 13./Gren.Rgt. 506
- Hinz, Herbert, 25.05.1944, Hauptmann, II./Gren.Rgt. 505
- Knopf, Artur, 17.06.1944, Hauptmann, Füs.Btl. 291
- Menke, Karl, 14.08.1942, Oberleutnant, Stabs.Kp./Inf.Rgt. 506
- Miether, Wolfgang, 25.09.1944, Oberleutnant, Füs.Btl. 291
- Müller, Heinz, 25.05.1942, Leutnant, 5./Inf.Rgt. 504
- Papin, Horst, 25.10.1944, Oberleutnant d.R., I./Gren.Rgt. 506
- Pohlenz, Traugott, 05.11.1944, Major, IV./Art.Rgt. 291
- Sauerwald, Peter, 27.02.1944, Fahnenjunker-Oberwachtmeister, 1./Art.Rgt. 291
- Strupat, Fritz, 17.03.1944, Unteroffizier, 9./Art.Rgt. 291
Holders of the Knight's Cross (15)
Unit-Level Commendation Certificate of the Commander-in-Chief of the Army for Shooting Down Aircraft (1)
- 1./Artillerie-Regiment 291
-- Date/Place of Downing: 25.09.1941 bei Ssaschino
-- Award Date: 28.10.1941 (10)

Nicknames

Elch-Division (Moose Division)

Order of battle (1940)

Infanterie-Regiment 504
Infanterie-Regiment 505
Infanterie-Regiment 506
Artillerie-Regiment 291
Divisionseinheiten 291

Order of battle (1944)

Grenadier-Regiment 504
Grenadier-Regiment 505
Grenadier-Regiment 506
Artillerie-Regiment 291
Divisionseinheiten 291

Footnotes

1. Generalmajor Arthur Finger was killed 27 January 1945 by Soviet tank fire near Tschenstochay Poland.
2. One of 40 soldiers cited in the Wehrmachtbericht or Armed Forces Communiqué but not named in the newly established Honor Roll of the German Army due to a change in award policy made effective 8 Aug 1941 (and beginning with award # 74). The soldiers in question, did, however, receive the Commendation Certificate.

Sources used

French Maclean - Quiet Flows the Rhine: German General Officer Casualties in World War II
Samuel W Mitcham - Hitler’s Legions
Georg Tessin - Verbände und Truppen der deutschen Wehrmacht 1933-1945

Reference material on this unit

Werner Conze - Die Geschichte der 291. Infanterie Division 1940-1945
Erich Gliesche - Sturmbataillon: Die 291. Infanterie Division im Raum Welikije Luki
Georg Gundlach - Wolchow Kesselschlacht der 291. Infanterie Division
Kandt & Vogelsang - Die 291. Infanterie Division (Elch Division) von 1940 bis 1945 im 2. Weltkrieg

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