Kurt Meyer

Kurt Meyer ( Jerxheim , Brunswick , Germany , 23 of December of 1910 – Rhine , 23 of December of 1961 ) was the youngest German military of the Waffen-SS in showing the degree of brigadier general ( SS-Brigadeführer or Generalmajor der Waffen SS ) during World War II . He was known by his colloquial nickname “Panzermeyer” or “Schneller (swift) Meyer”, for his endurance and intrepid character. While most of the German Army officers had extensive combat experience, Meyer was one of the few officers to fight on all fronts except africa (although he was on the verge, since the transfer of his Unit was annulled last moment). From the Anschluss and the Polish campaign to the Russian front, through the Balkans and Greece, to end up fighting the Allies on the Western Front, Meyer stood out as an exceptional leader and tactician, much appreciated by peers, subordinates and superiors. He received all the decorations awarded by the German Armed Forces until the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with oak leaves and swords. Although denounced for alleged war crimes on the Eastern Front and in the fighting near Caen in June 1944 (being prosecuted and condemned by the latter), he was also recognized as a knight by numerous British officers captured. This recognition earned him the support of many former enemies to achieve his freedom.

Biography

Kurt Meyer was born in 1910 in Jerxheim , now Lower Saxony . He was the son of a sergeant major of the German Imperial Army . He studied in a school of Jerxheim and to subsist it carried out varied sporadic offices in the city of Schwerin since its condition was very modest.

In 1929, he was accepted into the police corps and sent to the Police Academy in Schwerin to be formed as a Landespolizei Mecklenburg .

Being in the academy, Kurt Meyer suffered a serious accident when wanting to make a joke to one of his companions falling of standing from a height of two floors; The landing left him with multiple fractures. Due to the physical resistance to the blow received and its early recovery Panzermeyer is nicknamed for its similarity with the resistance of a tank.

Trajectory in the SS

The 1 of September of 1930 , he joined the NSDAP and in 1931 requested enrollment in the forces SS of Himmler , where he accepted the 15 of September of 1931 . Already in 1932 shows the degree of Untersturmführer (second lieutenant or second lieutenant) and is admitted in the select rows of the then Motorized Regiment SS Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler , that after that campaign would happen to conform a major unit, denominated 1st Division SS Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH). In 1936 he is promoted to SS-Obersturmführer ( lieutenant ) and receives the control of the Company Antitank or Panzerabwehrkompanie . Meyer requests the command of the Exploration Company, but it should wait for her another time. His personality is restless and predisposed to action is transmitted to the men at his command, reason why the change of the denomination of his Company by the one of Panzerjägerkompanie or “Caza-tanks” does justice to his style of leadership. To the control of this subunit Meyer participated in the Anschluss in Austria and soon in the Invasion of Czechoslovakia under the orders of Heinz Guderian .

In 1939, during the Invasion of Poland , the Meyer unit ( Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler ) was one of the spearheads of the units that operated under the orders of General Gerd von Rundstedt . The 7 of September of 1939 , Meyer was denounced for being involved in the murder of 50 Jews in Modlin retaliation and submit a subordinate to a court martial for contempt of his orders. In this first experience of combat Kurt Meyer begins to stand out by its temeridad and the exercise of a leadership characterized by the presence in the most high place of the battle next to its men.

On September 25 he is awarded the Second Class Iron Cross for remaining in command despite being wounded in combat.

During the Invasion of France , Holland and Belgium, Meyer received command of the LSSAH exploration unit, which had been increased in its effective strength and means to Motorized Division level. “Schneller” Meyer then had the opportunity to form the new Exploration Battalion taking with him several of the non-commissioned officers and officers who had served with him in the Panzerjägerkompanie during the previous operations. Its Battalion, made up of elements of motorcyclists ( Kradschützenkompanie ) and light armored vehicles constituted the spearhead of the Blitzkrieg on the front of the LSSAH. Always on the front line, and usually mounted on a motorcycle or climbed on the side of one of his light exploration vehicles, Meyer led the LSSAH forward at full speed, taking the French troops by surprise again and again, capturing huge numbers Of enemy elements based on surprise, the firepower of their weapons and the power of their engines. During the conquest of France Meyer was decorated with the Iron Cross of the First Class and promoted to SS-Sturmbannführer (equivalent in the Wehrmacht to major and in other countries to commander ). 1

During the campaign the Balkans Meyer, still in command for the 15th Reconnaissance Battalion of the LSSAH (Aufklärungsabteilung), receives orders to occupy the Kleisoura step the 13 of April of 1941 to cut the withdrawal of Greek and British city Of Kastoria . The untiring action of the Meyer Unit (marching reinforced with Combat Engineers, self-propelled anti-tank artillery, infantry guns and some armored vehicles), launched at full speed by the complicated mountain roads, allowed the Allied forces to remain continuously out of balance , Hindering their defensive operations in the high mountain passes. Enormous numbers of allied arms and troops fell to Panzermeyer, whose motorcycles appeared behind the enemy lines at the most unexpected times, or whose intrepid men climbed walls seemingly inaccessible to fall unexpectedly on the defenders. By the conquest of the main steps of mountain Meyer later received the Cross of Gentleman of the Iron Cross the 18 of May of 1941 (opportunity in which it had to appear before Adolf Hitler). Although his personal action had already gained him a place in history books by capturing more than 12,000 men with only his Exploration Battalion, he would still be the main protagonist of one of the most reckless actions of German military history and world. Without any respite from the persecution of the British and Greek troops, which retreated in disorder to Greece, Meyer forced the fall of the ports of Corinth and Patras with the handful of advance troops he personally led. From there he witnessed with disgust the escape of large numbers of British troops in various transports, which crossed unharmed the Straits of Corinth in their retreat towards the Peloponnese. Against all standards, he seized several small fishing boats and embarked a small group of men and weapons of support, ordering them to cross the strait (sea conditions were not the best for navigation) and make a bridgehead for The rest of the Battalion. His men, cut to size Meyer, did not hesitate to fulfill the unorthodox task that was granted. While waiting anxiously to hear from the distinguished platoon on the other side of the strait, Meyer was beginning to regret the decision made when his direct boss, the LSSAH Commander, Sepp Dietrich , arrived in his position . Despite being an equally reckless driver, Dietrich severely rebuked Meyer for the decision he made, but when the boats began to return loaded with British prisoners he allowed his subrodine to continue with the improvised standoff operation, crossing himself into the following travels. In a few hours the LSSAH Exploration Battalion and Dietrich himself were in the Peloponnese making British vehicles to operate and capturing large numbers of Allied troops surprised by the appearance of the Germans in their rear. Dietrich apologized to Meyer shortly afterwards in front of his men, recognizing that although he had made an unorthodox decision and the risk assumed had been very high, the result had shown Meyer was right. The forces in the Peloponnese fell in record time.

File: Panzermeyer.jpg

Panzer Meyer, photographed during operations in the Balkans

Shortly afterwards the LSSAH would be sent to the Eastern front, participating in the development of the Operation Barbarroja like tip of lance of the Group of Armies South. Once again the Meyer Unit stood out for its decisive action by opening the way to the invasion troops who sought to conquer Kiev. True to the precept of his master Heinz Guderian who proposes to use the motor (and its speed) as a weapon, the motorcyclists and light vehicles of exploration of Meyer were launched in a fast race by the roads of Ukraine, marking the direction to the machinery Of the entire Southern Army Group. Without stopping to fight the mass of dismembered units of the Red Army that retired before the rupture of the front by the armored wedges of the Blitzkrieg, Meyer went deeper and deeper into enemy territory, managing to capture disproportionate numbers of troops with the forces at their disposal . While this form of driving put him in complicated situations more than once, he left no doubt about the effectiveness in combat. Tirelessly, after the fall of Kiev, Meyer was at the head of his Unit gaining bridgeheads and intervening personally in the capture in a bold assault of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol , on the Black Sea , taking prisoner to a complete division of Soviet soldiers. For this action, Meyer received the German Cross in Gold. His men would later lead the advance and conquest of Rostov and would be one of the fundamental elements in the defensive operations of the crude Russian winter of early 1943. Meyer had to be removed from the front by Suffered dysentery in late 1942, but returned in time to participate in the bloody defensive operations of winter 1942-1943.

When he returned to the front, Meyer was faced with a dark scene. The Waffen-SS divisions had been grouped as the SS-PanzerKorps under the command of Paul Hausser . Under pressure from huge masses of fresh armored units of the Red Army, the divisions of the Waffen SS proved to be the spinal cord of the southern front, especially as the Romanian and Italian units collapsed. The German losses in the winter offensive were enormous and Hitler’s order to defend Rostov and Kharkov at all costs only facilitated the success of the Soviets. Only the exceptional quality of the German driving, and especially the reckless action of Hausser’s men (among them Meyer), allowed to avoid the total annihilation of the front. Disobeying the command of the Army Command, Hausser ordered to leave Kharkov to reduce the front, but maintained at all times an operational strategy based on a mobile defense, that not only absorbed the impact of the tide of Soviet troops that penetrated the front, Despite the casualties and numerical disparity, SS units conducted powerful counterattacks that not only caused huge losses to the Soviets (unheard of in military history), but finally led to the stabilization of the front and left the way open To the recovery of Kharkov. 2

The 13 of March of 1943 , the General of the SS Paul Hausser ordered the recapture of the city of Kharkiv . Meyer, in command of his units of reconnaissance, was once again at the forefront of penetration of the defensive ring of the city, realizing a daring infiltration by the rear of the Russian defenses. In coordination with other elements of the LSSAH in charge of Joachim Peiper began the bloody third battle for the city of Kharkov , in which Meyer managed to capture the entire staff of a Soviet division in Jeremejewka and Aleksandrowka . Meyer was denounced by the Soviets for alleged reprisals against villagers around Kharkov, but Red Army troops were so ruthless with the townspeople who had been in the possession of the Germans (those who were alive were immediately accused Of collaborators), that the denunciations on the Eastern front were seldom seriously considered. On the other hand, Meyer enjoyed among his subordinates an incomparable esteem, and an ascendancy that emulated Erwin Rommel himself. His cheerful and optimistic character, the amiable and comradely treatment of all the hierarchies and their presence in the places of greater risk made of Meyer a model leader of the style of driving that advocated the German army. For his actions in the winter campaign of 1943 Meyer received the Oak Leaves of the Knight’s Cross.

In January 1943, Hitler ordered the formation of the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend , Great Combat Unit that would frame the young members of the Hitlerjugend, Hitler Youth , commanded by high-level officers of the LSSAH. Meyer hoped to command this division, but the command was given to his comrade and friend Fritz Witt , possibly for having a more serene and reflective personality, more appropriate for those levels of conduction. Many of his closest LSSAH comrades, both non-commissioned officers and officers (including the intrepid tanker Max Wünsche ), were also assigned to the training of young volunteers and the command of their newly formed units in Belgium . Meyer was given command of the 25th SS Panzergrenadiers Regiment and promoted to the rank of SS-Standartenführer (colonel), and was very impressed with the attitude of the volunteers. He was very enthusiastic about the new training and training methodologies adopted to transform the boys into soldiers, since the usual formalities in the Waffen SS were not suitable for youngsters of such young age (the average was 16 /17 years).

Allied propaganda disqualified the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend through propaganda that emphasized the alleged childish character of its members. On the contrary, the intensive training of volunteers (despite not having all the means and organic weapons required) allowed the formation of a Division with a spirit of camaraderie, cohesion and will to fight that would rarely be emulated in the Military history The Allies, and especially the Polish and Canadian troops that formed the core of the invasion force, were about to face their toughest battle.

From mid-March and early April 1944, the Division was moved to the outskirts of Caen , Normandy. During this transfer, and in retaliation for the train attack in which part of the Division was traveling, 86 people qualified as partisans were assassinated by unidentified members of the same, in what was known as the Ascq massacre. Continuous and demanding training throughout the area consolidated the Division’s men as a strong unit, as well as providing them with in-depth knowledge of the terrain throughout the area of ​​operations.

The 6 of June of 1944 , in the development of Operation Overlord the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend immediately went into action, with Kurt Meyer and his regiment the first to fight the forces in his sector. On June 14, Fritz Witt dies as a result of the enemy artillery fire and Meyer, being the highest ranking officer, assumed command of the Division.

Despite the terrible casualties of aviation and allied artillery (the Luftwaffe was virtually absent from the skies over the next two months , and from the disproportionate numerical and allied advantage on the Caen front, Meyer’s men fought With ferocious ferocity for more than 60 days without any relay and practically without replacement of troops and arms, causing terrible losses in the British, Polish and Canadian units. The young members of the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend , despite having suffered 60% of casualties at the time of their final withdrawal were largely the cause of the delay of the allied operations of the entire front.The unprecedented casualties suffered between officers and non-commissioned officers were indicative of the type of leadership that the German forces wielded, and the main reason for their success against so unequal enemy. from 4 to 9 July, Meyer defended with unusual ferocity the runway Carpiquet , rejecting intermittent attacks allied with a high share of casualties, until the imminence of being Trapped in a pincer movement, ordered his decimated division to retreat tactically to take a defensive position in the Falaise area .

On August 1 was promoted to Oberführer (in the SS is equivalent to brigadier general, but there was no equivalence in the Wehrmacht). In the course of fierce hand-to-hand combat, both day and night, and under the pressure of enormous numbers of enemy armor, the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend and many other large German units on the western front were surrounded in what Was known as the Falaise bag . Resisting the pressure of Anglo-American forces from the North and West and from Patton from the East and South, the nearly dismantled German units (reduced by more than 50% of their men and almost unshielded or heavy support weapons) attempted to break Of the fence to escape towards the West, beyond the Seine. Meyer organized the remnants of his force into balanced combat equipment to be able to operate independently and carried the greater weight of the effort to break the fence and keep it open to enable the flight of the large number of fenced forces whose survival was vital to allow The continuity of war and defense of Germany. With the fundamental and strong support of the armor of his old comrade Max Wünsche and some surviving Tigers of the 101st SS Armored Battalion, they managed to open a breach in the enemy lines and facilitate the escape of the fence allied with most of the depleted German Divisions encircled in The Falaise bag .

In September 1944, while Meyer was conducting motorcycle exploration around the Belgian town of Durna , he was surrounded by a company of Belgian partisans, captured, and handed over to the Americans. Despite wearing the camouflaged uniform of the SS was not recognized as such at first, reason why could survive the capture although suffering a strong beating and theft of personal belongings, including their marriage alliance, money and (Waffen SS men were usually executed by Allied and Partisan soldiers, who did not distinguish between Gestapo and SS combat units). While his men gave him for dead and was promoted retroactively to Brigadeführer on September 1, Meyer went through several points of meeting of prisoners and managed to go unnoticed, until an officer of the German army who collaborated with the allies he was reported to the authorities Who commanded the prison camp where he had finally been confined. Identified as a high ranking officer of the Waffen SS, he was taken to England. There he passed several places where high-ranking prisoners were nucleated, until the prosecution of charges of war crimes began.

Judgment, prison and final life

Although he never faced charges of alleged acts of violence against the civilian population directly or indirectly attributed to him on the Eastern Front, he was prosecuted for several acts classified as war crimes allegedly perpetrated in the course of the fighting The city of Caen in June 1944, while still serving as commander of the 25th Panzergrenadier Regiment of the 12th SS Panzer Hitlerjugend Division (Fritz Witt was still alive and in charge of the Division). Among these charges, the one of greater weight was to have given the order to summarily execute to eight Canadian prisoners. The process began on 10 December 1945 in the city of Aurich , Germany . Meyer defended his position through lengthy interrogations conducted by the group of appointed judges, among whom the President of the Court assumed one of the Canadian commanders he faced in Normandy, General Harry Wickwire Foster . The process was carried out with several irregularities, especially with regard to the personal involvement in the facts by the president of the court and the dubious veracity of the evidence and witnesses presented by the prosecution. On the other hand, the presence of none of the witnesses requested by the defense, who were in allied military prisons, was not facilitated. While there was strong rumors from the beginning of the trial that Meyer’s trial had a firm death sentence long before it began and that the trial was no more than a montage to justify its use as a scapegoat, Development of the process meant to everyone present the feeling that the German general would end up being dismissed or, in the worst case, would suffer a mild sentence. Throughout the trial Meyer defended his position through skillfully appointed military counsel, demonstrating that not only had he not been present at the scene when they happened, but that Canadian officers who were captured by troops under his command testified Having had personal contact with the accused and received a gentlemanly treatment in the combat. In spite of this, and to the general surprise of all, the judges were issued against him, condemning him to death.

Thanks to the intervention of influential personalities of the German justice system, his case was reviewed before giving effect to the sentence, jumping into view the irregularities mentioned above. One of the weighty arguments that allowed him to appeal the conviction successfully was the fact that the events were perpetrated by subordinates who acted independently. One of the judges, General Christopher Vokes , not only acknowledged the shortcomings of the process, but acknowledged that similar situations had been perpetrated by allied troops (including Canadians in the same fights by the city of Caen ; To the spirit of the law decided to commute to Meyer the sentence of death by the one of life imprisonment.

Meyer spent five years in Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick , Canada , where he perfected his English language skills. In 1950, following a request for pardon, he was transferred to a German jail in Werl where he fulfilled a total of 10 years of imprisonment. Due to his good behavior and to requests of recognized personalities German and numerous officers of the Canadian army that fought against Meyer and manifested their personal admiration by the defendant, Meyer was released the 6 of September of 1954 . Panzermeyer was welcomed into his village as a hero by a huge self-muffled crowd, reuniting with his family (wife and five children) after a fifteen-year absence at home.

Meyer, already released, supported the Waffen-SS veterans in an aid organization for SS ex-combatants called HIAG . He worked as a beer distributor in Hagen and finally settled in the region of Rhineland . In 1956 he wrote a book with his memoirs called Grenadiers in which he passionately enunciates and describes the actions and role of the Waffen-SS during the war.

Meyer died in Rhineland, during the celebration of his 51st birthday, on December 23 , 1961 and at his funeral 15,000 people attended. 3

References

  1. Back to top↑ Kurt Meyer
  2. Back to top↑ Bio by Kurt Meyer
  3. Back to top↑ Kurt Panzermeyer