The 2nd SS Division, “Das Reich,” was a battlefront mainstay for Nazi Germany throughout WWII—from the invasion of Poland in 1939 to the final surrender in May 1945. In between it was switched back-and-forth between east and west depending on the crisis, and it fought in nearly every major campaign, from Barbarossa to Normandy, and from Kharkov to the Ardennes.
Das Reich was the first Waffen SS division created (though the title “1st” was reserved for Hitler’s Leibstandarte). Originally named the Verfügungs Division, its regiments fought through the campaigns in Poland, the Low Countries, and France, earning the respect of Wehrmacht leaders who originally doubted the efficacy of SS units. Renamed “Das Reich” after the French surrender, its elements served as a spearhead in the Balkans campaign, achieving a daring capture of Belgrade.
In Operation Barbarossa, Das Reich fought with Guderian’s Second Panzer Group, first in the drive on Moscow, then toward Kiev, then Moscow again. Pulled out of the line after gigantic casualties, it seized Toulon in France, then was sent back to Russia, as part of the SS Panzer Corps, to retrieve the German debacle after Stalingrad. At the titanic tank-battle of Kursk, Das Reich was at the forefront.
In June 1944, as a full SS-Panzer Division, Das Reich played an infamous role in its approach march to Normandy, as the French Resistance temporarily reached a high tide. On the Allied invasion front, Das Reich not only escaped from the Falaise Pocket but was sent back into it, to retrieve other German units struggling to get out.
Das Reich fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and was then transferred to Hungary, for Hitler’s last counteroffensive of the war. Failing to retake Budapest, elements of the division were able to mount a gallant defense of Prague. When the end came, some formations were forced to surrender to the Russians while others made it to American lines. Its reputation, for better or worse, had already been established.
This lavishly illustrated book by renowned French historian Yves Buffetaut lays out the full history of Das Reich in World War II, with rare photos, informative text, and true insights into a unique combat division in modern warfare.