At the beginning of the Ardennes Offensive which commenced on 16 December 1944, 6th SS Panzer Army command ordered training activities for replacement units to continue at an elevated level in the nearby Westerwald area with the stipulation that these troops would be utilized for combat duties if necessary.
Because of the imminent potential of the latter possibility it was decided to combine the smaller training elements into larger structures where possible. This led to the creation of the SS-Feldersatz (Field Replacement) Brigade, II. SS Panzer Corps (which by the end of the year had been retitled SS-Feldersatz Brigade 102 to conform with the Corps’ numbering system).
SS-Sturmbannführer Hans Bissinger was named the brigade commander. Bissinger (born 25 January 1913; SS Nr. 53698), was a holder of the Iron Cross, 1st Class, who had been the commanding officer of II. Battalion., SS-Panzer Grenadier Regiment 3 "Deutschland" of the 2nd SS Panzer Division "Das Reich." Brigade troops came from the replacement units of II. SS-Panzer Corps and to some extent from throughout the 6th SS Panzer Army. This led to the fact that the unit was sometimes referred to as the SS-Feldersatz Brigade, 6. SS-Panzer Armee. Serving as the nucleus element for the brigade was the SS-FEB 2 (i.e., SS-Feldersatz- battalion 2), "Das Reich," which had been reinforced by the "Reich" close-combat school, the personnel of which were utilized to form a 5th Company for the battalion.
In January 1945, Stubaf. Helmut Schreiber was named to command SS-FEB 2. He was a holder of the Knight’s Cross and the German Cross in Gold (born 25 March 1917; SS Nr. 361,292), who had graduated from the SS-Junkerschule "Toelz" in 1939. Schreiber had spent his entire career with the "Deutschland" Regiment of the "Das Reich" Division and had achieved great prominence while commanding 10. Company, III. Battalion, "Deutschland.” At the time Schreiber took over SS-FEB 2 he had Just recovered from a severe wounding received during the heavy fighting of the previous summer in Normandy.
On 6 March 1945, SS-FEB 2 was ordered to rejoin the "Das Reich" Division in Hungary, but while preparations for this move were in progress, some news arrived at the headquarters of SS-Feldersatz Brigade 102 that changed everything. On 8 March 1945 a surprise American attack had seized the Rhine River bridge at Remagen and the brigade staff in Altenkirchen was ordered to immediately dispatch all combat- ready troops to the bridgehead front. SS-FEB 2, which had been in a state of high alert anyway, was literally pulled off of the trains that were to take it to Hungary, turned around and sent towards Remagen in a motorized convoy, while the rest of the brigade began mobilizing. The battalion was to come under the command of 11th Panzer Division.
Upon reaching the front sector, SS-FEB 2 was ordered to take up positions which ran along the Dattenberg-Reifert road to the south-southeast of the American bridgehead. Naturally, there were no prepared defenses in the area, so digging in commenced immediately and improvisation was the order of the day. The battalion command post was set up in the tiny village of Haehnen (all of 50 residents). The terrain in the defensive sector was hilly and rolling and gave a view of the whole bridgehead area. The SS companies were deployed in separate strongpoints along the sector front. From these positions, American vehicles could be seen crossing the Ludendorf Bridge and the construction of a new military bridge adjacent to the destroyed railroad bridge could also be observed in progress.
On 9 March 1945, American artillery spotter planes flew over the battalion’s positions and shortly afterwards the unit began receiving incoming fire, which also extended to the village of Haehnen. Casualties, including some fatalities, were instantaneous, and included some local civilians. This latter development in particular upset Stubaf. Schreiber who had hoped to somehow keep the villagers out of the conflict. He ordered the battalion medics to evacuate and treat the wounded civilians along with the Waffen-SS casualties.
By 10 March 1945 the overwhelming material "muscle" of the enemy had amply demonstrated itself. Haehnen had been reduced to ruins and most of the battalion’s motor vehicles had been destroyed in the ceaseless American bombardment. The ground situation became even more critical when the 9th U.S. Armored Division secured a breakthrough of the German lines to the south of SS-FEB 2’s left wing. As a result the battalion was forced to adjust its lines to a point behind the Hargarten-Haehnen road. Part of the Pattenberg-Hargarten road was yielded in hard fighting, but the battalion avoided being outflanked.
During this battle two of the Waffen-SS troopers fell into the hands of the Americans and were taken to the rear where they were held captive by members of a mortar unit from the 99th U.S. Infantry Division. In the night of 13/14 March, the two SS soldiers overpowered their guards and took their weapons. An all-out pursuit developed, punctuated by sharp exchanges of fire. By the time the SS men had been recaptured, six GI’s had been killed. Now there would be no mercy for the prisoners. With their hands shackled behind their backs the SS men were knocked to the ground, shot in the back of the neck, and left to lie where they fell. They were later buried in the cemetery at Bad Hownef by some local villagers. One of the murdered men was identified later as Franz Wilke (born 12 May 1925), who originally came from the SS Flak Replacement Regiment in Munich. His comrade remains unknown.
March 14, 1945 saw an all-out attempt by the Luftwaffe to destroy the Remagen bridges. Around 100 planes were utilized for this desperation mission in what was one of the last major undertakings of the German Air Force. And it failed miserably! The disaster was caused by the enormous concentration of anti-aircraft guns on the American side which literally swept every quadrant of the skies. How any planes got through at all was a miracle in itself. Twenty-four German bombers were downed on this day in the bridgehead area. On 15 March, 21 more Luftwaffe bombers again attacked the Remagen bridgehead; six of them were brought down and the bridge remained intact.
On the ground, SS-FEB 2 was still getting pounded by the enemy artillery and fighting off American probing attacks. So far, the front sector held but manpower attrition was setting in fast with little to show for it. Stubaf. Schreiber was in radio contact with the brigade headquarters in Altenkirchen and he made several requests for the withdrawal of the battalion so it could rejoin the "Das Reich" Division in the "East." All requests were denied, however, and the losses continued to mount. Ustuf. Bauer was one of those killed repelling an enemy attack on the 14th.
In the morning of 15 March, a battalion from the Engineer Training Regiment 403 under Major von Koeller arrived in Haehnen to begin relieving the increasingly battered SS-FEB 2. To the northwest of the town an American regimental task force from the 99th U.S. Infantry Division had broken through the German lines on a broad front and by 10:15 had begun to threaten Haehnen. At this time the unit change-of- position around the village was still very much underway and before anyone realized it the Americans had arrived on the scene. Bursts of wild firing in front of the SS-FEB 2 command post provided Stubaf. Schreiber with the first evidence of the enemy presence.
Schreiber and his radio man immediately rushed outside with automatic weapons in their hands. They found the Americans moving into the middle of the village. The only hope now was to make a run for it! The Sturmbannführer Joined scattered troops from the town in dashing for a stone bridge about 500 meters to the north of Haehnen. But could they make it? The Americans were in hot pursuit!
Fortunately, about 150 meters out of town, a Waffen-SS machine gun team halted and went into position - determined to buy time so that their comrades could escape. In this they were successful; Stubaf. Schreiber and the last remnants of his command reached the bridge and dug in on either side of it. But back in Haehnen the Americans were able to bag much of the engineer battalion, including its commander, who had the misfortune to be carrying the intact German battle plans for the Remagen Front in his brief case! Some Waffen-SS men were also taken prisoner in the village along with most of the teenage members of a Flak helper unit.
A very intense battle then raged for the stone bridge, continuing until 1630 hours in the afternoon, when SS-FEB 2 finally abandoned the edifice to troops from the 99th U. S. Infantry Division. The survivors of the SS replacement battalion threaded their way through the woods to Arnsau, eventually going into position on the west bank of a stream near the town. They were Joined here by Leutnant Rehfisch who had led the Flak helper detachment in Haehnen and had managed to escape the carnage.
Back in Haehnen, the bodies of six 55 NCO’s and a private who had been killed in the town on 15 March was buried by Father Detsche, a priest from Linz, assisted by some local boys. On 23 March 1945, SS-FEB 2 left its positions on the small Wied Brook to go into combat reserve to the south of Hennef. At the end of the month the remnants of the battalion left the vicinity of Bodenwoehr for Bruck. At this town a new collecting station for "Das Reich” replacements had been established on orders of the divisional staff. The officer in charge at Bruck was Hstuf. Eugen Maisenbacher (born 20 November 1914; 55 Nr. 110,198); the former commander of I. Battalion, SS-Panzer Grenadier Regiment 3 "Deutschland," "DR" Division. Only enough troops turned up to permit the formation of two new replacement companies and they were quartered in the town grammar school.
However, the two new companies served as the nucleus for a new SS-Feldersatz Battalion 2 which took shape in early April, again under Stubaf. Schreiber. On 6 April 1945, the battalion was forced to withdraw from Bruck and on the 12th it became the main part of a battle-group led by Stubaf. Schreiber that was rushed to the Traisen sector in Austria. SS-Kampfgruppe "Schreiber" was soon heavily engaged against the Red Army near Herzogenburg and St. Aegyd. After extremely costly fighting in the hilly slopes of the Dunkelsteiner Forest, the survivors were withdrawn from the front and sent to Langlois, where SS-FEB 2 was to have been reconstituted once again had not the war ended first!
Dr. Goebbels meeting with representative soldiers of various Eastern nationalities, in December 1944. First known publication. (Courtesy of Erik Rundkvist)