On 11 September 1942 around 300 officers, NCOs and men from the SS Flak Replacement Detachment in Arolsen were shipped off to Zhitomir where they were to form the SS Flak Detachment of the Command Staff of the Reichsführer-SS (Himmler).
This was the largest sendoff of troops from Arolsen since the “Germania” SS Rgt. left the town at the beginning of World War Two. The Flak troops were accompanied to the railroad station by a military band and large numbers of local well-wishers turned out as well. As a final touch, the troop train was decked out in bouquets of flowers.
The rail journey took the SS men through Saxony and Silesia to Cracow in the Generalgovernment, a trip that took five days to accomplish. On 20 September, Zhitomir was reached and the Flak troops were quartered in a barracks that formerly was utilized by Soviet officer cadets. At this time, the command structure of the embryonic unit stood as follows:
Commander: Hstuf. Fend
Adjutants and Ordnance Officers: Ustuf. Stern, Ustuf. Allenstein
Battery Commander: Hstuf. Hieber
Platoon Leaders: Ustuf. Gullasch, Ustuf. Weber
In Zhitomir the unit continued its training and formation process. On 2 November 1942, it was sent by rail back to Rastenburg in East Prussia, where it was situated in the vicinity of the Führer’s HQ. Extensive weapons drills and infantry training now took place. In December 1942, a “Flak Combat Troop” was formed from the detachment under Hstuf. Hieber and was sent to the Eastern Front for deployment.
In the meantime, 75 NCOs from the Police Escort Battalion “Heinrich” [a Himmler bodyguard unit?], were attached to what was left of the Flak detachment for Flak training purposes. Ustuf. Stern supervised general and heavy Flak training while the light Flak gun training came under Ustuf. Gullasch. Many more Police officers and NCOs were eventually sent to the unit for instruction. Supplementary training was provided by Luftwaffe Flak units stationed in East Prussia.
2./SS Flak Det. 16/“RF-SS” in Corsica
In January 1943 the nascent detachment was once again transferred, this time to Welhau, East Prussia, which it reached via road and rail. Here, more Waffen-SS recruits from Bruenn and Warsaw were trained. The arming and equipping of the unit was also now fully completed. The Police Flak training course was terminated at the end of February 1943 and the Police troops were given equivalent ranks in the Waffen-SS and simply kept on with the detachment. In the course of February, the unit was broken down into the following elements for future deployment:
- SS Flak Detachment Command Staff I/“RF-SS” under Hstuf. Hallman.
- SS Flak Detachment Command Staff II/“RF-SS” under Hstuf. Dr. Frank.
- Flak unit of theSturmbrigade(Assigned to the new SS- Sturmbrigade “RF-SS” and later the nucleus for SS Flak Detachment 16 “RF-SS”).
On 28 February 1943, a heavy Flak battery from the designated SS Flak Detachment Command Staff I under Ustuf. Stern was sent by rail to join the Sturmbrigade “RF-SS” in the Loudeac region of western France. On the way there it had a 12-hour stopover in Berlin and the soldiers were let out on leave — “on their honor” — for that period of time.
This battery reported in to the Sturmbrigade commander, Stubaf. Gesele on 8 March 1943 and its quarters were established in La Cheze. For the Flak troops, infantry training and instruction in the use of their weapons in ground fighting, now went on at a rapid clip. Special commandos were set up to secure the needed supplies and equipment for the Flak detachment and the first halftrack trucks used to pull the Flak guns arrived, which permitted the drivers to begin their training. Hstuf. Dr. Warninghoff soon arrived from the SS Main Office in Berlin to take over the heavy battery and in the course of March it was shifted to the town of La Motte in the same general area.
In May 1943 all members of the Sturmbrigade “RF-SS” took part in marksmanship exercises at the troop training grounds near Rennes, which were reviewed by Gen. Marcks, commander of the 82nd Army Corps. On 20 June 1943 the Sturmbrigade was placed on emergency alert and then mobilized for action. It was rushed by express train through France to Italy, crossing the frontier on the 22nd. The disembarkation area for most of the “RF-SS” Flak detachment was around Massa and Livorno, while the heavy battery was unloaded in the early morning of 22 June in St. Stefano to the south of La Spezia.
“RF-SS” Flak battery being transported in Corsica
At the beginning of July 1943 the Sturmbrigade “RF-SS” began to expand and as a consequence the Flak unit was also enlarged. The new detachment consisted of three heavy and one light Flak batteries under the overall command of Hstuf. Hieber. One of the heavy Flak batteries was sent to the island of Corsica on 1 July 1943. The men went by air in Ju 52’s from the airfield at Casalecchio while the equipment, supplies and weapons were transported on the ship “Champagne.”
The ”88” gun battery was put into position to the south of Bastia where it maintained contacts with an Italian 7.5 cm medium Flak battery. A second ”88” battery was later sent to Zerubia in the middle of mountainous country, where it proved nearly impossible to deploy for the job required of it. However, on the basis of orders issued by the Italian commandant of Corsica, most elements of the Sturmbirgade were eventually removed from the interior of the island. On 8 August 1943, 2nd Battery was relocated to Bonifacio to cover the harbor on the southern tip of the island and the channel to Sardinia.
The battery’s firing positions were located upon a steep cliff (about 70 meters above the sea), due east of the city. Third Battery, led by Ostuf. Fuersniss, was also now sent to Bonifacio from its initial positions on the Gulf of Portoveccio. The mission of both these heavy Flak batteries was to guard the harbor against sea and air attack and keep open a secure passage for the 90th Panzergrenadier Div. which had to be pulled back from Sardinia to Corsica following the Italian capitulation.
Second Battery/“RF-SS” Flak disarmed three Italian Flak batteries that were located near its positions. From 18 to 20 August 1943, Stubaf. Otto Skorzeny included members of the “RF-SS” Flak Detachment in the planning for his first Mussolini rescue attempt. However, these plans were scuttled when it was learned that the Duce had been moved by his captors. Skorzeny then carried out the successful Gran Sasso mission in September.
September 9, 1943 was a memorable day for the Waffen-SS Flak arm. On this day two Italian destroyers fired on the German transport ships that were ferrying members of the 90th Pz.Gr. Div. from Sardinia to Corsica. The gunners from 2./SS Flak “RF-SS” fired back and when the smoke and flames died down on the next day one Italian destroyer and been sunk and the other damaged beyond repair (this one would be scuttled). This unique achievement subsequently received mention in the Wehrmacht war communique.
On 11 September a large number of Italian Air Force planes that were en route to Sicily attempted an overflight of Corsica. The light Flak platoons from 2nd and 3rd Batteries/Flak “RF- SS” opened fire and immediately knocked five of the Italian planes out of the sky and followed up with a sixth one soon afterwards. The other planes of the air wing rapidly dispersed! On 15 September, the “RF-SS” heavy Flak batteries gave up their positions to units coming in from Sardinia. In the morning the entire Sturmbrigade “RF-SS” went into readiness for an attack against the hold-out Italian garrison in Bastia.
Supported by light, vehicle-mounted Flak, assault guns and close support artillery, the two “RF-SS” infantry battalions secured Bastia in a whirlwind assault. Afterwards a defensive perimeter had to be built up around the town as large numbers of Italian troops had been dispersed into the interior of the island. The “RF-SS Flak Detachment deployed a 2-cm battery in the Bastia harbor, a 3.7 cam battery at the airport and its 2nd and3rd Heavy Batteries to the north and south of the city. Several enemy air attacks on the harbor, city and airfield ensued but were driven off.
Late in September the evacuation of Corsica began. Sturm- brigade “RF-SS” was the last German unit to leave, moving out from all of its positions by 4 October 1943. The troop transport ships came under weak enemy air attacks but no damage or losses transpired. Second Battery/“RF-SS” Flak was then sent to Trieste for reformation while the Staff Battery and 1st Battery were moved into billets at Russi near Ravenna. In the course of October, 2nd Battery was sent from Trieste to Imola. On 6 October the superlative performance of the Strumbrigade “RF- SS” under the leadership of Stubaf. Gesele was specifically praised in the Wehrmacht communique.
In November 1943 the “RF-SS” Flak Detachment was sent in a motorized convoy from the east coast of Italy to Teramo and from there through the Apennine Mountains to Tivoli near Rome. Third Battery was assigned to defend a nearby air base for a fighter wing. Late in the month all motorized elements of the Sturmbrigade “RF-SS” were assembled in Rome for a last parade march past the brigade commander before the dissolution of the unit and its conversion into the “RF-SS” Division.
The “RF-SS” Flak batteries were put into position around Bracchiano and were then held in readiness for ground attacks near Cerceteri and Civitavecchio. Following this interval the batteries were transported by rail from Rome to Poncedera and were then situated near Livorno and Viareggio. The American air activity was quite lively here and many planes were shot down.
In December 1943 the entire Sturmbrigade “RF-SS” was transported to Laibach (Slovenia) for transformation into the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division. The Flak Detachment “RF-SS” was to be utilized as the nucleus for the new SS Flak Det. 16 and the 14th Flak Companies of the 35th and 36th SS Panzergrenadier Regiments. The latter two companies were organized to contain a strength of two officers/36 NCOs/160 men, but each of them frequently exceeded their limits. They were both armed with twelve 2 cm light Flak guns propelled by Italian vehicles.
”88” Flak in ground fighting
The 14./SS Pz.Gr.Rgt. 35 was commanded by Hstuf. Hipp while 14./SS Pz.Gr.Rgt. 36 had the following command structure:
Commander: Hstuf. Debus
Company Troop Leader: Uscha. Reiss
Platoon Leaders: Ustuf. Schiffman, Oscha. Kuestner, Oscha. Steiblmüller, Ustuf. Hirschfeld, Oscha. Dietz, Oscha. Reiske, Oscha. Boehnke, Ustuf. Schinner
From February 1944 until May 1945 these Flak companies saw continuous ground and air action.
During the first phase of the 16th SS Division’s formation, 1st and 2nd Batteries/SS Flak Det. 16 were placed into firing positions around a key bridge on the outskirts of Laibach which was continuously being threatened by the enemy. They promptly shot down three bombers and the pressure eased up. A 2-cm light Flak battery under Ustuf. Gullasch was attached to the SS Pz.Gr.Rgt. 36 which was sent in battle-group form to the Anzio-Nettuno beachhead in Italy in February 1944. It was promptly involved in heavy fighting.
On 8 March 1944 the rest of the “RF-SS” Flak Detachment was sent via rail to the Wiener Neustadt-Baden area near Vienna, and there the assembled officers were given a briefing on what was expected of them by the divisional commander, Gruf. Max Simon. On 29 March part of the “RF-SS” Division, including the 3rd and 4th Flak Batteries, was sent to Pyspukladeny in Hungary, to continue training.
The entire 16th SS Div. was sent back to Italy on troop trains on 20 May 1944. SS Flak Det. 16 was next deployed in the area east of Livorno and worked in conjunction with the Luftwaffe Flak Det. 264. The SS range finders helped the Luftwaffe gunners shoot down several bombers. There was a significant amount of enemy air activity here, mostly directed at the Pisa Bridge. Despite continuous “Thunderbolt” attacks, little damage was sustained by the bridge and the light Flak platoons shot down quite a few planes without taking any losses.
In July 1944 the “RF-SS” Div. was at the Cecina Front, with the SS Recce Det. 16 and the SS Pz.Gr.Rgt. 35 deployed for action in the frontlines. The SS Flak companies remained around Pisa and Massa and provided cover for the "Gothic Line.” Third Battery was used to protect vital factories. A number of “Jabo” attacks on its positions caused little damage and a few planes were brought down.
RF-SS Division emblem
On 2nd September 1944 an advance detachment from the Flak detachment travelled through partisan country to the new divisional sector at San Marcello. Some personnel and material losses were caused by terrorist ambushes. Flak firing positions were then assumed near Poretta Terme with 3rd Battery going to Vergato. The detachment was now deployed along with SS Artillery Rgt. 16 for ground-support action. Numerous losses were taken to a vicious communist band known as the “Stella Rossa” (“Red Star”) Brigade, which was subsequently wiped out by Stubaf. Reder’s SS Recce Det. 16.
In October and November 1944 the Flak detachment guarded numerous sites around Sasso-Marconi and protected another important bridge from “Jabo” attacks. There were also several ground support actions, positional changes and bridge destruction operations for the unit. Part of a Luftwaffe Flak detachment was subordinated to the “RF-SS” Flak during this time.
On 18 December 1944 the “RF-SS” Div. relocated to the Lake Comaccio region and the Flak detachment was sent to Argenta and Conselice. In January 1945, 14./SS Pz.Gr.Rgt. 36 received a consignment of six 7.5 cm anti-tank guns and was converted into the “heavy weapons” company for the regiment. The company’s strength stood at two officers, 40 NCOs and 190 men.
In February 1945 the “RF-SS” Div. was pulled out of the front sector between Ravenna and Ferrara and began a motorized march back to and across the Po River. Enemy airplanes carried out persistent harassing attacks that led to heavy losses in men and material. North of the Po the men of the 16th SS Div. were loaded onto trains bound for Hungary where they would come under the jurisdiction of Sepp Dietrich’s 6th SS Panzer Army. For the benefit of “Allied” intelligence, the “RF-SS” Div. was disguised as the “Formation Staff and Replenishment Group for the 13th SS Division,” during the course of the transfer operation. The division was soon caught up in the bloody retrograde fighting from Hungary back into Austria along the course of the Mur River.
2 cm self-propelled Flak
In May 1945, after destroying all heavy weapons and equipment, SS Flak Det. 16 marched back through the Klangenfurt- Judenburg area in Austria, headed for the “Allied” lines. It was intercepted in the small village of St. Andra by a partisan group of unknown derivation which proceeded to divest the men of their remaining sidearms. After that the SS men were released and they went into British captivity near Klangenfurt. Part of the unit was then sent to a POW camp in Sicily.
In the course of its history, SS Flak Det. 16 “RF-SS” was credited with shooting down 48 airplanes (Liberators, Lightnings, Thunderbolts and scout planes). It also sunk two destroyers, the only Flak element in the German armed forces known to have accomplished that feat! The command structure of SS Flak Det. 16 was as follows:
Commanders: Hstuf. Dr. Warninghoff
Commanders: Hstuf. Hieber
Adjutants: Ostuf. Krasowski
Adjutants: Ostuf. Rieck
Medical Officers: Ostuf. Dr. Vellguth
Medical Officers: Ostuf. Dr. Vetter
Motor Vehicle-Transport Officer: Ustuf. Thennhausen
IVa: Ostuf. Kujath
Staff Battery: Ostuf. Ertl
1st Battery (3.7 cm): Ostuf. Wirges
2nd Battery (8.8 cm): Hstuf. Dr. Warninghoff
2nd Battery (8.8 cm): Ostuf. Vysek
2nd Battery (8.8 cm): Ostuf. Stern
3rd Battery (8.8 cm): Hstuf. Fuerniss
4th Battery (8.8 cm): Ostuf. Lebsanft
Light Artillery Column: Ostuf. Hossfeld