General Historical Overview - "Großdeutschland"


Under the Versailles Treaty, in the wake of the Great War, Germany's armed forces were reduced to 100,000 men.  In the political turmoil that festered after the Armistice, many private groups were formed, and the danger of invasion from without was replaced by the very real threat of political overthrow of the new government set up to replace the monarchy.  A permanent military body was required in Berlin not just as a safeguard against Revolution, but also in times of peace to carry out ceremonial parades and guard duties.  A new unit named Wach Regiment Berlin was founded in 1921, then disbanded in June of that year, followed shortly after by the raising of Kommando der Wachtruppe (Headquarters Guard Troop) which soldiered in the capital until 1934.  Every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday the Kommando changed the guard in front of the public in a simple cermony.   On Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, however, the full Guard, accompanied by the Regimental Band, marched from Moabit Barracks, through Brandenburg Gate, and on to the War Memorial with all the pomp and ceremony of the more famous public duties at Buckingham Palace in London.

Troops for the Guard in Berlin were drawn from the seven divisions across Germany, each division represented by a company of the Guard.  Each company served a three month tour of duty, and were then returned to their parent unit.

In 1934, the unit was renamed Wachtruppe Berlin, and by 1936 the establishment was raised from seven to eight companies, with an additional headquarters company to administer the unit.  In June 1937, the unit once again became Wach Regiment Berlin.  Postings to the new unit were no longer done on divisional lines.  By 1936, the Army had expanded greatly, and individual soldiers, or small groups, were now instead used to make up the Berlin Guard Regiment, and served six month tours.  A depot company was also raised, and only 50 percent of the men were allowed to be returned to their former units at any one time.

While Germany in World War One had been more of a concept than a nation, with her forces still divided along regional lines (Prussians, Bavarians, Saxons, Wurttembergers, etc.), under Hitler, the entire nation was brought together to create not just Deutschland, but Grossdeutschland (Greater Germany), including, it was hoped, Germanic peoples in all neighbouring nations, many of whom were seperated from the German state by the Treaty of Versailles.

As Germany moved from being a politically unsettled vanquished country into a major player in world politics, State visits and conferences (and even the Olympic Games) placed the Fatherland firmly in the world spotlight.  Guards of Honour were continually furnished by the Wach Regiment Berlin, and a small detachment was formed to accompany Hitler on his foreign visits.  Drawn from the Wach Regiment, the new unit was called simply the Führer Begleit (Führer Escort).


The Wach Regiment lived a life of drill and parade square, with regimental parades every Sunday showing off all available companies and both regimental bands.  In the first week of 1939, Hitler personally ordered, as Supreme Commander of the armed forces, that the Wach Regiment Berlin be renamed Infantry Regiment Grossdeutschland.  The new unit would be permanently staffed and no longer require men seconded from other divisions, and unlike all other regiments of the German Army, which were procured, trained, and employed in locally based regiments (in a manner very similar to the British Army), recruits would be drawn from across the width and breadth of Greater Germany.  The official date for the birth of the new regiment was 14 June 1939, and the occasion was marked by a parade in Berlin.

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The new regiment was distinguished by the addition of a monogram to their shoulder straps.  While the former members of the Wach Regiment Berlin in their early days had been teased because they had no distinguishing marks on their shoulder straps (Infantry Regiments normally wore the number of their unit on the shoulder strap, in its early days the Wach Regiment wore none and so it was said that "You must be a blind regiment.") the new Grossdeutschland (sometimes written Gross Deutschland) wore a monogram with the letters "GD" intertwined.  The monogram would be proudly worn until the end of the war in 1945.   Also, small numbers of a cuff title were introduced.  Cuff titles in the German armed forces were usually the mark of an elite unit (and later would also be used as campaign awards), but the men of GD were not happy with the new insignia, as the silver and green insignia looked too much like a similar device worn by postal units.  In 1940, new cuff titles in black, like those worn only by elite Waffen SS formations, were introduced, and several versions of this title remained in use until the end of the war - always worn on the right sleeve to distinguish them from the SS, who wore theirs on the left.
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15 September 1939
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May 1940
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7 October 1940
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November 1944

(One source cites the above as being available in aluminum (officer's quality) from 1940, with the plain thread version being available in 1944)

The Regiment was embarrassed and perturbed to be reorganizing during the Polish Campaign in September and October 1939.   Many felt that their honour of bearing the title of the nation also meant they should have the responsibility of being first into action.  Higher headquarters thought otherwise, and it was not until the French campaign in 1940 that the unit was to see combat.  Placed in Panzergruppe Kleist, in Guderian's corps, the regiment participated in the opening phases of the campaign, providing troops to a special airlanding operation in Belgium while the main body of the regiment passed through Luxembourg and also into Belgium.  Crossing the Meuse and fighting at Stonne, the regiment acquitted itself well, and after the six week conquest of France, it seemed there might be peace come 1941.

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The regiment trained for the invasion of Great Britain, played a minor role in the Balkans in early 1941, then moved east to take part in the invasion of Russia.  It was on the Russian Front that Grossdeutschland would spend the rest of the war, see itself raised from the status of a single regiment to that of a division, and eventually of a corps.  At the end of the great campaign in the east, Grossdeutschland - both the military unit and the political entity - would be reduced to mere shells of their former selves.

The regiment saw action in Russia from the opening days of the invasion, and suffered as much as any other unit during the first winter for which they were horribly unprepared.  The dream of peace in 1941 was dimly remembered as 1942 opened, and by spring the Grossdeutschland, having survived the weather and Russian counterattacks, found themselves in a static front.

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In April 1942, the Grossdeutschland was raised to the status of a Division.  Infantry Regiment Grossdeutschland became Infantry Regiment Grossdeutschland 1, to be joined in the Division with Infantry Regiment Grossdeutschland 2.  Supporting units of tanks, anti-aircraft guns, artillery, engineers and assault guns were all strengthened/added with the upgrade to divisional status.  News of a summer offensive was met with renewed feelings of confidence, and soon the German Army was on the move in southern Russia once more.   In the autumn, the division was parcelled out as a reserve and counterattack force, and soon mud and eventually winter brought German offensive moves to a halt. In September 1942, in light of reorganization throughout the army, specifically the adoption of the title "Grenadier" by infantry and armoured infantry units, GD's infantry regiments were renamed.  The Infantry Regiment GD 1 became Grenadier Regiment Grossdeutschland, while Infantry Regiment GD 2 became Fusilier Regiment Grossdeutschland


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Stalingrad's fall in February 1943 marked the high water mark for German forces in Russia, and the situation on the GD front was little better, as the division held fast while shattered allied formations from the Italian, Rumanian and Hungarian armies swarmed past them in retreat.  Eventually taken out of the line in the spring of 1943, the division's status was again changed as she was rebuilt.


On 23 June 1943, the division was officially classified a Panzergrenadier Division.  The two infantry regiments became known as Panzer Grenadier Regiment Grossdeutschland and Panzer Fusilier Regiment Grossdeutschland.  Both units maintained their white arm-of-service or branch colour (waffenfarbe) rather than the new grassgreen piping of the panzergrenadiers.  Summer brought the Kursk offensive, and eventualy GD was a panzer division in everything but name; it became one of a handful of German units to have its own Tiger tanks.  After Kursk, the unit fought on the Dniepr Line, and by early 1944 was in the north, retreating into East Prussia and Latvia. grenem1.gif (1731 bytes) fusem1.gif (1726 bytes)


In November 1944, while the GD Division retained its status as a Panzergrenadier division, other units were expanded to divisional status, and the Panzerkorps Grossdeutschland was formed.   The Corps was made up primarily of two Divisions - GD and the Brandenburg Division (linked throughout its history to GD, the Brandenburg Division also began life as a small unit (specifically, a commando-style battalion) and was continually upgraded in status and responsibility throughout the war).  The Corps fought in many desperate battles in East Prussia in 1945, and eventually a few thousand survivors were all that was left to surrender in May.  Panzer Grenadier Division Kurmark had also been created out of GD remnants in early 1945 and had fought throughout the last months of the war.  Men of both the Brandenburg and Kurmark units were entitled to wear GD insignia.

Panzergrenadier Division GD was reorganized during this period as well; both the Panzergrenadier and Panzerfüsilier Regiments had their III Battalions disbanded and reorganized into the Panzer Korps Füsilier Regiment GD, a corps level unit.  The III Battalion of Panzergrenadier Regiment GD was at this time the oldest serving battalion in the GD Division.  As well, other divisional units were taken and used to form corps level units, while individuals were stripped from units across the division to use as cadres for many other units within and outside the Panzer Korps GD.  Particularly galling was the transfer, among other things, of the entire Sturmgeschütz brigade from GD to the newly forming Panzergrenadier Division Brandenburg.

Also of note are the Führer units During the war, the Führer Begleit (mentioned above as initially a 20 man detachment) was expanded to battalion status early in the war, drawing men from Infantry Regiment GD.  This Escort guarded Hitler throughout the war (in addition to escort units of the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler of the SS).  The Führer Begleit Battalion began to send detachments to the Eastern Front to gain combat experience, and eventually a Führer Grenadier Battalion was formed from this unit as well.  In May 1944, the FBB was expaned to regimental strength (drawing men from the GD replacement units), and the FGB was also expanded.  The two Führer units saw action against the Americans in the Battle of the Bulge, and by February 1945 were in the east.  The Führer Begleit units remained in the east, where they were destroyed by VE Day, the Führer Grenadier units moved to Vienna in the last weeks of the war.  They were lucky enough to surrender to US units - temporarily.  They were handed over to the Red Army and its members imprisoned for years in the Soviet Union.