Surprise attack by the Waffen-SS

A German anti tank rifle on the Russian front during the summer of 1941.

On the 18th August 1941 the Germans approached town of Cherson, a strategic objective on the banks of the Dnepr, one of the major rivers crossing southern Russia. Kurt Meyer was a battalion commander with the Waffen-SS tasked with reconnaissance of the approaches to the town. He decided to attack. He was famous for his bold leadership which earned him medals, promotion and the nickname ‘Panzer’ Meyer. His account illustrates how speed and aggression by the German forces often overcame the Russian defences:

A few kilometers outside of Cherson I stood on an armored car for a long time and observed the town lying before us. Busy traffic was moving in an east-west direction on the river. Gunboats flitted back and forth. Large ferries steamed at a leisurely pace to the far bank, discharged their loads and returned to Cherson.

The city seemed close enough to touch. It enticed, it touted itself, and seemed to mock my hesitation. The company officers were watching me. I could tell by the artilleryman’s face he was looking for emplacements to support effectively what he thought was going to happen. At that moment my soldiers were, once again, sitting in the tomato fields, eating the magnificent fruit with relish. I envied them their lack of concern.

I smoked another cigarette, puffing the smoke into the shimmering air. I felt absolutely sure of myself and had no misgivings that the huge town might swallow us up. My decision remained firm. The town had to fall to a coup de main.

The Russians were expecting the attack from the direction of Nikolajew. They had prepared their defenses on that side. It was there that the Leibstandarte stood ready for the attack. (One more reason for considering the reconnaissance completed and for breaking into Cherson by the “back door”.)

We followed a country lane alongside the Dnepr up to the city and overran a Russian company building a roadblock in the outskirts. Out of sheer fright the Soviets forgot to exchange their shovels for weapons. Modern high-rises rose in front of us. Enemy machine-gun fire ripped up the earth around us. The struggle for Cherson had begun.

SS-Hauptscharfiihrer Erich touched the rim of his steel helmet with his forefinger, shouted “Move out!” to the lead section and then tore away from us at full throttle across the broad square. He disappeared down the wide street which led to the center of Cherson. The platoon followed its leader.

Armored cars swept the fronts of the houses with 20 mm cannon rounds. The muffled bang of hand grenades indicated hand-to-hand fighting. I followed the lead platoon and, suddenly, landed back by the Dnepr. The road twisted like a snake through a very old, fortified area.

From the east bank of the river lively artillery fire struck the road. Soviet sailors were fighting with the agility of wildcats. The firing forced us to dismount our vehicles and continue the fight as infantry.

Meyer’s remarkably detailed memoirs were written to further the memory of the Waffen-SS as fighting soldiers. He regarded them as unfairly tainted with association with the death squads and other elements of the SS. See Grenadiers: The Story of Waffen SS General Kurt "Panzer" Meyer

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