The pretorians of the Führer

(To Mario Veronesi)

The SS Division Panzer Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, was undoubtedly the most important division of the Waffen-SS during the Second World War, distinguishing itself since the 1939, on all fronts in which it was engaged.

When Hitler assumed the office of Chancellor, the 30 1933 of January, he was aware that he could not fully rely on the traditional elements of the Reichswehr and the police to protect him. For this he issued instructions for the formation of a new armed unit of the SS, whose only function was to escort him and protect him on every occasion. The task of forming this unit was entrusted to Sepp Dietrich (1892-1966). In March 1933 Dietrich had selected one by one, 120 SS volunteers to become the nucleus of a new guard, called: "SS Stabswache Berlin". In May the "Stabswache" was enlarged and reformed, taking the name of "SS Sonderkommando Zossen", with tasks of surveillance and armed police. The following month, three new companies were recruited, called "SS Sonderkommando Jüterbog Adolf Hitler Standarte".

On November 9, on the tenth anniversary of the failed putsch in Munich, Standarte took the oath of allegiance to the Führer, and had the new name "Leibstandarte-SS Adolf Hitler or LAH". The 30 Jun 1934, the Leibstandarte, and the unit of the "Landespolizeigruppe General Göring", took part in the first noteworthy activity, contributing to the failure of the putsch attempt by Ernst Röhm (1887-1934) leader of the SA, participating in the assassination of many enemies of Hitler in the so-called "Night of long knives". The 2 July shootings ended, and the first task of the Leibstandarte came to an end: Hitler's orders had been executed to the letter and this was an increase in rank to all members of the Leibstandarte who had played an active role in the Röhm affair.

At the beginning of October the 1934 was decided that the Leibstandarte should be motorized: a rare privilege in an era when most of the Reichswehr divisions still moved on horseback. At the beginning of the 1935 the number of LAH personnel had reached the 2.551 men, becoming a real regiment, and thus becoming a full-fledged military corps. On the first of March 1935 the 5 ° company, commanded by the SS-Hauptsturmführer Wilhelm Mohnke (1911-2001), invaded Saarbrücken to obtain the return of the Saar region to Germany. Three years later, in the 1938, the Leibstandarte played a leading role in the annexation of Austria. After occupying Linz, he reached Vienna where he took part in the celebrations of the meeting of the two countries. In October he also took part in the Sudeten occupation. Following the invasion of Poland, in September 1939, the Leibstandarte took part in the taking of Warsaw and the encirclement of Bzura, but suffered serious losses that were severely criticized by the army.

When the French campaign began in May of the 1940, the Leibstandarte had no difficulty crossing the Netherlands and securing the control of many important bridges as far as Rotterdam. It was hardly engaged near Wormhoudt, and after the lightning crossing of the Seine, it ended the war at the height of Vichy. At the end of the French campaign, LAH remained in France to prepare for the imminent invasion of England, reaching the status of brigade.

In the spring of 1941, she was transferred to Romania to take part in the invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece. Aggregated at the 40 Army Corps, the brigade was severely engaged, not only against Greek troops, but also against the British and New Zealand troops. After suffering heavy losses at Klivi's pace, the LAH's reconnaissance battalion, commanded by the SS-Sturmbannführer Kurt Meyer (1910-1961), took Klissura's step, of crucial strategic importance, making about 11.000 prisoners. On April 20 General Tsolakoglou surrendered to Sepp Dietrich and a week later Athens fell into German hands. At the end of the month the Balkan campaign was over.

Reached the division rank, the LAH was aggregated to the 54 ° corps of the south armada group in the following "Operation Barbarossa". Engaged in the advance towards the Crimea, it was subsequently deployed in the Kiev area, later reaching the Dnepr and Mius line and taking part in the clashes in the Rostov area.

In May of the 1942 the Leibstandarte was withdrawn from the front and transferred to France to be reorganized and transformed into a Panzergrenadier division, although the equipment was the same, if not superior to that of real armored army divisions. Also in France he took part in the French occupation of Vichy in November and the takeover of Toulon.

In 1943 he returned to the Eastern Front, participating, together with the "Das Reich" and "Totenkopf" divisions, to the reconquest of Kharkov and to the defense of the Donetz river line.

In July, always with the other two divisions chosen by the Waffen-SS took part in the operations against the salient of Kursk, except to be then transferred at the end of the month in Italy to face the crisis generated by the landing of the allies in Sicily and the fall of Mussolini . In Boves (Cuneo) the 3 battalion of the 2 ° regiment Grenadieren operated the first anti-partisan retaliation in Italy, making 24 civilian victims and igniting 350 houses. The 1 battalion of the same regiment, installed in the towns of the Piedmontese shore of Lake Maggiore, carried out the first massacre in Italy of Jewish citizens. It was the first in Italy and the second in terms of number of victims (at least 57 confirmed) after that of the Ardeatine graves. The command is installed at the Hotel Beaurivage in Baveno.

In Meina the best known episode: sixteen Jewish guests of the Albergo Meina (photo) were first identified and held for a few days in a room and then, in two successive nights (22 and 23 September), killed and thrown with ballast in the lake , a few hundred meters away from the village. Some bodies emerged after the first day and were recognized by locals. The owner of the hotel, Alberto Behar and his family, of Turkish nationality, even if Jews, could be saved for the direct intervention of the Consul of Turkey, then neutral country. The daughter of the hotelier, then thirteen-year-old Becky Behar, gave testimony of this massacre, with a written first and then on numerous occasions and public meetings. In the 2007 was made the film "Hotel Meina" by Carlo Lizzani which is formally inspired by the book of the same name by Marco Nozza.

Reequipped and reorganized in Milan in a real armored division, renamed 1a "SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler", was transferred again to the eastern front, fighting in the areas of Kiev and Krasnopol, to then take part in the liberation of the Korsun bag. At the end of these operations, in March 1944, the division had to be relocated from the front to be sent to the Netherlands, where it was reorganized again.

After the landing of the Allies in Normandy, the division was sent to the front, and after very hard fights in the area of ​​Caen and Mortain, it was almost completely destroyed in the Bag of Falaise; the remains were withdrawn in Germany, participating in the battle of Aachen. In December 1944, as part of the "1 ° SS-Panzerkorps" took part in the Ardenne offensive, after the first successes, the advanced elements of the division, grouped in the "Kampfgruppe Peiper", reached the banks of the Meus.

It was one of the most dramatic and important episodes launched by the armored forces of the Waffen-SS under the auspices of the oberstgruppenführer Joachim Peiper (1915-1976) veteran of the eastern front, known for its ruthless efficiency, penetrated deep into the American lines, overcoming weak resistance and sowing panic in the rear and also in American commands. The 18 January 1945 LAH was transferred to Lake Balaton in Hungary, to try to free the forces trapped in Budapest, (Operation Frühlingserwachen - Spring Awakening).

After some initial successes, the operation ended in complete failure; the Panzer-Division suffered heavy losses and, hindered even by the ground almost impracticable for the spring thaw, they could not move forward. Following the failure of the offensive After the defeat, the Germans were no longer able to counter the Soviet armies, which entered Vienna in April. The division withdrew to Austria, where in May it surrendered in part to the Americans, and partly to the Soviets.


SS-Oberstgruppenführer Josef Sepp Dietrich (17 March 1933-4 July 1943)

SS-Brigadeführer Theodor Wisch (4 July 1943-20 August 1944)

SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke (20 August 1944-6 February 1945)

SS-Brigadeführer Otto Kumm (6 February 1945-8 May 1945)

(photo: web)