Waffen SS-Grenadier-Sturmbrigade Brigade Frankreich
- Published: 26 January 2011 26 January 2011
- Last Updated: 07 April 2012 07 April 2012
Further to an approval from Hitler in June, Pierre Laval signs on 22 July 43 a decree creating the French Waffen SS.
Recruitment started in several places. First, the Ersatzkommando Frankreich der Waffen SS located 24 avenue du Recteur Poincaré and also 28 de la rue La Boétie in Paris. Other recruitment centers, attached to the Kommandos der Ordnungspolizei are opened in Rennes, Marseille, Limoges, Poitiers, St Quentin, Rouen and Angers (19 rue de la préfecture). The French workers in Germany as well as the POW are authorized to apply
Before incorporating the LVF into the Waffen-SS, individual Frenchmen, many of German heritage had successfully enlisted in SS formations. From the very start of the occupation, these men served under the "Totenkopf," "Das Reich" and "Wiking" Divisions.
University students were prominent among the volunteers in Paris but in fact workers will account for 39% of the total. In South East France, 66% of them are below 25 y.o.
The crusade against bolchevism is the main motivation of those volunteers. Another main point: They refuse to fight on the French territory.
With the exception of Jews and former convicts, any French can apply as long as they are fit for the military instruction - Age: 17 to 40 y.o. Minimum height: 1.62 m
By August 1943, 800 candidates were drafted into the Waffen-SS and sent to a training camp at Sennheim (Cernay in French) in Alsace. 200 more will joint within the next month. Far from the expected Division! On Adolf Hitler order, the SS-FHA (SS Fuhrungs-Hauptamt) reduces on 16 September 1943 the unit to an SS Regiment (Franzosisches SS-Freiwilligen Grenadier Regiment).
Within the Waffen SS, no difference is made between the volunteers. They all enjoy the advantages given to the German Waffen SS. The exact conditions, salaries, advantages and pension scheme are available, in French, at www.division-charlemagne.com as well as a copy of the funding decree. In November 1943, 20 French Officers were sent to the SS training camp at Bad Tolz and 100 NCO's to the SS school at Posen Treskau. The volunteers received German Waffen-SS uniforms.
Training was typical SS, i.e. tough. But the best elements are immediately distinguished. The French SS were first not really welcomed by the other trainees, Germans and Scandinavians, but their physical and moral capacities quickly overcome this handicap.
Training ends up on 20 December 1944. On 6 January 44, 900 French SS depart from a Paris railway station after their last break at home. Joseph Darnand was there to welcome them. Only 20 of them were missing…
Those SS are to be considered as the sole “true” French Waffen SS. They will remain the sole to have received the full SS training, both from a political and military point of view. They were all volunteers. The elements of the LVF, NSKK, Milice and so on who joined later didn’t received this specific training and, for many of them, where not really enthusiastic to wear the SS runes.
In March 1944, 1538 SS along with trained Officers and NCO's were assembled as a complete formation at the Waffen-SS training camp located at Beneschau near Prague.
Order of battle:
Kommandeur of the Sturmbrigade: Pierre Cance
Headquarter officer: Obersturmfuhrer Croisile
Ordinance officer: Untersturmfuhrer Scapula
1st Platoon : De Tissot
2nd Platoon: Gaultier
3rd Platoon: Fenet
4th Platoon Michel
On 30 June 1944, the unit was designated as the "8. Freiwilligen Sturmbrigade Frankreich." Other sources referred to the brigade number as 7th, nevertheless the French unit was commonly referred as the "SS Sturmbrigade Frankreich."
There, the legal record reached the HQ and a last selection is operated. For the criminals, about 20, Concentration Camps in a section reserved to the former SS. The undercover agents infiltrated by the French resistance are executed.
In July 1944, the Sturmbrigade was ordered to form an emergency battle group. The 1st battalion under the command of SS-Haupsturmführer Pierre Cance was selected for the Eastern Front. Henri Fenet was in charged of the 1st Company.
Traveling by train, the Sturmbrigade will ride across Slovaquia, Hungary and Poland before eventually reaching the front. On their way, they came across several other military convois, generating surprises everywhere: French Waffen SS!
In early August the 1st battalion was sent to reinforce the battle group of the "18th SS Division Horst Wessel." This division was engaged at Mielec in the bend of the Vistula Front
The Dundoukamy battle, 8-15 August 1944
8 August 1944:
In Dundoukamy forest, the 3rd company of l'Obersturmführer Fenet, equipped with Panzerfaust, reached first the front line.
9 august 1944:
The first loss for the French Waffen SS: The young Sturmann Delattre killed in a village where he was commanding a Kampfgruppe
10 Augustt 1944:
The 1st and 2nd Companies reached the frontline
The Untersturmführer Leon Gaultier is severely wounded while reaching his position. He will be replaced by Bartolomei, called by his men “le vieux Bartho”, the old Bartho.
The fight is tough. 3 plattons commanders are wounded: Mulier, Pinsard-Berthaz, Hag. The Strumbrigade manage to stabilize the frontline.
11 August 1944:
Digging in, the Sturmbrigade consildates its positions and crush some Soviet patrols attempting to infiltrate the lines
12 August 1944:
The Horst Wessel, including the French Sturmbrigade, counter attack. Target: the railway line Cracovia / Sanok. The Russians retreats, the German/French assault often leading to body fights.
13 August 1944:
The Strumbrigade Frankreich buries its dead comrades.
14 August 1944:
Heavy artillery attack against the French lines. No success.
The Standarten Oberjunker Peyron is killed by a schrapnel. The first high ranking officer to fall. He is buried in the Wollika village.
15 August 1944:
Eventually, the Battalion Cance retreats as instructed. Losses: 10% KIA or wounded, i.e. 120 men on 1200.
The Viskola battle
20 August 1944
The SS unit reached its newly assigned sector, 100 Km Northwest of Sanok, on the Viskola River. The fights are more and more terrible. News are extremely bad. The lines left and right of the Frankreich are demolished, the French risk to be encircled.
Some Panzers are also involved; fights are extremely hard bear the Radommysl village as well as in its cemetery. Henri Kreutzer, with his French PAK group and few Germans, i.e. 30 soldiers all in all, must hold this crucial point to salvage the French Waffen SS from a complete encirclement and destruction.
Stukas attacks are instrumental in the position maintenance. KIA and WIA are numerous. The Russians, after realising that they were facing Waffen SS, concentrate their attacks on the demoralised Wehrmacht units. Oberjunker Kreutzer will keep his position up to the end, but will be wounded by a shrapnel and get an Iron cross. He will survive the war.
21 August 1944
The 3 Grenadier Platoons retreat across the forest.
Noël de Tissot and his men lost their way and try to take refuge in a village but met Russians troops there. Violent fights at dawn, de Tissot is killed and his body will disappear. The sole Platoon to make it is the 3rd, Obersturmführer Henri Fenet, but the section Laschett, encircled, had to surrender nearby Mokré village. They will finish the war in the Russian Tambow camp. Laschett will die of starvation early 1945. On this 21 August 1944, all Platoons had 75% loss, KIA or MIA.
22 August 1944
Haupsturmführer Cance managed to gather isolated groups and the survivors of the 2nd Platoon, about 100 men. Their task is to keep a crossroad at Mokré for 12 hours more. Everybody must fight now. Pioneers, secretaries, drivers, and telephonists. Cance leads by example and is in the front line with a machine gun. Russians are announced at 10 Km, but at the rear of the Kampfgruppe! The Sturmbrigade is once again encircled. The village become an inferno, permanently bombed by Russian artillery. The wooden houses are burning, thick black smoke everywhere. The remnant of the Brigade start retreat at night but confusion is there and several units are completely isolated.
23 August 1944
Obersturmführer Fenet and his men of the 3rd platoon, isolated, are fighting with a Wehrmacht unit at Debica. Oberjunker Chapy gathers isolated elements of the 1st and 3rd Platoons, creates a Kampfgruppe and defends Dubrowka. Lambert still holds Mokré with isolated men and remnant of the 2nd Platoon. Haupsturmführer Cance, MP40 in hand, fights with his men the whole day and will be evacuated after his 3rd wound. His ordinance officer Scapula is killed as well as Le Marquer and the German liaison officer Reiche. Lambert is killed in Mokré at the end of the day; a shrapnel reached his heart.
24 August 1944
Survivors are gathered in the Tarnow forest. The Sturmbrigade is almost destroyed. It is left with only 10% of its men, 140 Waffen-SS still able to fight. It lost 130 KIA, 50 MIA and 660 WIA. These men fought with great courage, earning praise from the commander of the 18th SS Division, SS-Oberführer Trabandt. The first Battalion is « cité à l'ordre de la » division SS Horst Wessel.
The French Waffen SS leave Galicia for Schwarnegast, near from Dantzig. The 2nd Battalion will soon joins them from Neweklau.
SS-Haupsturmführer Pierre Cance (1907-1988) is promoted SS-Sturmbannführer but will be removed from the Combat units by the future commander of the Division "Charlemagne", SS-Brigadeführer Krukenberg (1888- 1980). Cance will be serving at the Neweklau SS-Junkerschule and keep contact with Joseph Darnand who is his former commander at the French Milice.
It is said that Cance will get from Darnand the mission to help former French miliciens to desert the Waffen SS. He tried to « purchase » men for millions of marks to Krukenberg! Cance was planning to purchase a boat to escape with his miliciens in Sweden. Krukenberg refused sharply and instructed Cance to report to the SS Hauptamt in Berlin. That story by several sources but not really confirmed.
Cance managed to escape from Berlin before the Red Army encircled it. He will be captured by the British in Northern Germany in May 45 and transferred to France. Condemned to death by a French tribunal, he will eventually be freed on October 17, 1950, i.e. after only 5 years.