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The story of the Charlemagne‘s battalion in Berlin is told mainly in the words of their commander and their divisional commander recorded individually several years after the events described.

SS-Major-General Krukenberg recalled:

During the night of Monday 23rd to Tuesday 24th April 1945 at about 0400 hours in the morning I received two telephone calls coming respectively from the Waffen-SS Personnel Office near Fürstenberg and Headquarters Army Group Weichsel near Prenzlau, ordering me on behalf of the OKW to go quickly to Berlin and take over command of the 11th SS Panzer Division Nordland as a replacement for General Ziegler, who had been relieved on health grounds.

As soon as I arrived in Berlin I was to present myself to General Krebs, the Army Chief of Staff, and to SS-General Fegelein, the Waffen-SS liaison officer, both in the Chancellery.

Because of previous experience, I asked authority to bring with me part of my normal staff and an accompanying detachment of about 90 men. These two requests were agreed by Army Group who laid down the route via Oranienburg and Frohnau as the best way, being still free of the enemy.

I set up the accompanying detachment with volunteers, preferably those with anti-tank experience and gave command of it to Captain Fenet, who had been decorated with the EK I [Iron Cross First Class] and promoted for his conduct in Pomerania. The place and time of departure of the column, two buses and three trucks, was fixed by me for 0830 hours on the 24th April at the southern exit of Alt Steglitz.

This was the same time that Marshal Rokossovsky’s army group (2nd Byelorussian Front) launched a new and powerful attack, gaining a foothold on the left bank of the Oder held by Army Group Weichsel, to which the Division belonged, pressing a new and last engagement for the Charlemagne. Berlin was three-quarters surrounded by the Russian army groups of Zhukov and Koniev, and its impending complete investment boded no delay.

At 0030 hours on the 24th April, I received the order by telegram to form an assault battalion with the remains of the Division and to direct this unit urgently upon Berlin, where I was to present myself at the Chancellery.

This Storm Battalion was formed from three companies of Battalion 57 (plus one from Battalion 58) and reinforced by the divisional combat school (Compagnie d’Honneur). The majority of the divisional headquarters also left with the battalion. To counter a lack of heavy weapons, the battalion was mainly equipped with automatic weapons (MG-42 or the assault rifle MP-44) as well as individual anti-tank weapons (Panzerfausts). In all probability, the remainder of the battalion would follow next day in second echelon if one could still get through.

Sgt-Maj Rostaing

Apart from this, I took with me my adjutant, liaison officer, chief medical officer, headquarters commander and several other officers.

At 0500 hours that morning the battalion, about 500 strong, left Carpin by truck for the rendezvous at the southern exit of Neustrelitz.

On its way the column passed an increasing number of vehicles and trucks, whose occupants said that Soviet tanks had been seen not far from Oranienburg. Once could not expect to enter Berlin via Frohnau for much longer. I knew Berlin and its surroundings well from civilian life. I therefore left the north-south route near Löwenberg to head for Neuruppin, reaching the Berlin-Hamburg highway near Friesack. The tracks and roads were crowded with columns of all kinds coming from Berlin.

After coming under air attack at Nauen, we then came under enemy artillery fire near Wustermark. Quitting the main road, we took a lesser road leading to Ketzin. After some six kilometres, we established that isolated enemy groups completing the encirclement of Berlin, and advancing with extreme caution, some coming from the southwest from the direction of Paretz, others from the northeast from the direction of Priort (south of Wustermark), were about to meet up with each other at the exact spot where we were!

We still had to cross the canal near the farms of Falkenrehde, just behind us on the road to Marquardt. If we didn’t, the two arrowheads would join up and lose the trap behind us.

As the Charlemagne column was about to cross the heavy sandstone bridge, three Vokssturm men mistook us for the enemy and blew the bridge. The vehicles could go no farther and would have to turn back. They managed to reach Neustrelitz, but several trucks were lost on the way and three of them returned to Carpin with 90 men, Lieutenants Fatin and Herpe, and Second-Lieutenant Verney.

At 1500 hours on the 24th April, the column that had crossed the canal, now about 300 strong, carried on, having carried across their baggage, mainly ammunition, and reached Pichelsdorf via Marquardt, Glienicke and Gatow without encountering any of the Berlin defence apart from three Hitler Youth armed with Panzerfausts and patrolling on their bicycles. The big bridges across the Havel on the strategic Berlin-Spandau road were barricaded but unguarded!

After a long and fatiguing march on foot of over 20 kilometres, the detachment reached the vicinity of the Reichs Sports Field and camped in the Grunewald Forest not far from the Pichelsdorf Bridge (Freybrücke), which the Soviet artillery was trying to hit. The exhausted men took a rest.

Captain Henri Fenet described the situation:

We reached Berlin in the depth of night, very late, coming in from the west by the last route, where the noose was slowly tightening. The crackling of machine-gun fire now mixed in with the rumbling of artillery from quite close to us. We had been marching for hours, ever since a bridge had been blown from under our feet and made us abandon our trucks. We continued, forcing the pace as the sounds of battle drew closer. Harassed, we marched like automatons, our muscles taunt with the effects of fatigue that we could feel climbing up our legs. We marched on, obsessed by the worry about arriving soon in the encircled capital, of not letting our way be barred from our last battle, all our being, all our strength going towards the goal that attracted us so powerfully: Berlin!

At last we reached it, the last ones were through. Now, stretched out under the pines of the Grunewald we thought of nothing else but sleep, but the din of the Red artillery searching for the Pichelsdorf Bridge (Freybrücke) close by kept us awake.

A violent explosion interrupted the scene. A Red aircraft had come to bring us back to the present. Its bomb landed not far from the bridge and the echo resonated for a long time in the deep valley, but soon silence and calm returned to the black night and we were able to sleep.

Krukenberg continued:

Having confiscated an abandoned vehicle, I left shortly after midnight with SS-Captain Pachur for the Chancellery, where I arrived at about 0030 hours on the 25th April. We waited about three hours in the communications room, from where I was able to inform Army Group Weichsel of my arrival. 

At about 0330 hours I was introduced to General Krebs, who told me straight-forwardly: ‘During these last 48 hours we have ordered numerous officers via the OKW, as well as units outside Berlin, to come immediately to reinforce the defence. You are the first to arrive!’

Generals Krebs and Burgdorf ordered me to report that morning to General of Artillery Weidling, commanding the LVIth Panzer Corps and at the same time ‘Commander of the Berlin Defence Area’, whose command post was in the offices of the IIIrd Military Region on the Hohenzollern-damm. SS-Lieutenant-General Fegelein could not be found for the moment.

Fenet continued:

When we awoke it was full daylight. The general returned from the Chancellery with a thoughtful expression. Briefly he brought us up to date with the situation and gave us his orders. The encirclement of Berlin had been completed during the night and until now the Russian thrust had been contained in the suburbs, except at Neukölln in the southeast, where there had been some deep penetrations, which had not unduly disturbed the command. It was there, apparently, that we would be engaged.

The general had just been given command of the 11th SS-Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Nordland, to which the French battalion was to be attached as an autonomous unit. The Nordland comprised Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes, but was much reduced in strength from the fighting in the winter and early spring, being down to 1,500 effectives.

As the men impatiently watched the Hitler Youth patrols circulating in the Grunewald Forest, our marching orders arrived and were received with pleasure. Our trucks rolled into the city. The loud rumblings of battle came from all around, the furious howling of shells smashing down haphazardly on all parts.

But in this carnival of death, Berlin still maintained an impressive calm. People were walking in the streets as normal, without haste, without panic, functioning normally, content to do so, but with an almost religious gravity.

Krukenberg resumed:

I returned to the Reichs Sport Field at about 0500 hours, then left for the Hohenzollerndamm. Still no sight of the defence forces!

I was received by the chief of staff, Colonel von Dufving, at the command post of the LVIth Panzer Corps, then General Weidling.

The encirclement of the town was completed that night, but the Russians were being held in the suburbs, except in the southeast at Neukölln, where the situation was confused. It was there that the Division Nordland was engaged.

During the afternoon the battalion embarked in trucks in the Grunewald and arrived in Neukölln singing, to the applause of the Berliners.

Once in Berlin the battalion was divided into eight-man sections, each commanded by an energetic NCO and destined to fight in isolation. Two or three of these sections were lead in action by the officers present – Fenet, Weber, etc., but, with these derisory numbers, it was no longer a matter of companies.

Far from being confident, General Weidling, nominated ‘Battle Commandant of Berlin’ 48 hours beforehand, despite his plans for an active defence, had no more than his own armoured corps, badly mauled in the recent fighting, and his nucleus, the Panzer Division Müncheberg, as well as several units such as the 11th SS-Panzergrenadier Division Nordland, the Chancellery guards and the Volkssturm, Hitler Youth and several alarm units put together by different organisations, badly trained and inapt in combat.

The southeast of Berlin formed Defence Sector ‘C’ and had been allocated to the SS-Division Nordland by Corps, but its commander, SS-Major-General Ziegler, despite an irreproachable military career, could no longer maintain the cohesion of his scattered troops in the city. He had requested his relief and I had been summoned to Berlin to replace him.

The command post of the Nordland, with which all telephone communication had been broken, was situated (at the Pneumology (Lung) Centre opposite the park) on the Hasenheide road between the districts of Kreuzberg and Neukölln. I soon found my way there and found the divisional command post completely disorganised after having been hit by a heavy calibre bomb from a Soviet aircraft.

General Ziegler was waiting to be relieved of his command, and forecast that I would not be able to hold on for more than 48 hours. The defence of Berlin was an impossible task and that was why they were looking for scapegoats in the high places. He had no more than 70 men in the front line. The remainder of the over exhausted troops were returning of their own accord, but his two grenadier regiments, with the exception of the headquarters, could only be considered at most as strong companies or weak battalions.

At noon on the 25th April, SS-Major-General Ziegler handed over the command to me and left for the Chancellery, where I saw him again on the evening of the 1st May.

I sent my liaison officer, SS-Second-Lieutenant Patzak, to get my detachment on alert at the Reichs Sports Field in the Nordland’s trucks.

Shortly after Ziegler’s departure, two or three armoured personnel carriers arrived from the front filled with wounded, looking for a hospital. Krukenberg’s French escorting personnel waiting outside the bunker tried to stop them, and when they failed to stop, one of the Frenchmen opened fire. The co-driver of the leading armoured personnel carrier returned the fire with his machine gun, presumably taking the unknown Frenchmen to be Seydlitz-Troops, wounding three or four of them.

The Division Krukenberg had taken over consisted of only about 1,500 men and 6 self-propelled guns, the divisional artillery having already been deployed in the Tiergarten in the central Corps pool, while the supply and other support elements were located in the Pichelsdorf area.

One of the first orders issued by Krukenberg, who found the organisation so lax, was to restrict movement of subordinate units without prior application for approval in writing. This order, however, only showed his lack of understanding of the current situation on the ground and could not be followed. 

Krukenberg continued:

While my adjutant, SS-Captain Pachur reorganised the command post, I set off forward on foot, encountering only Volkssturm, whose chief, a Kreisleiter, had set up his command post at Hermannplatz in a big building on the corner of Hasenheide and the Kottbusser Damm (the Karstadt Department Store), from the first floor of which he had an overall view.

According to him, the Soviets coming from the east had occupied Treptow District the day before. Previously he had posted some weak outposts as far as the Urbandamm and at Sonnenallee, but he could not count on them putting up a resistance, as they only had a few machine guns and very little ammunition. To his left he had public telephone communication with the Görlitzer Railway Station sector, whose chief, Reichsleiter Hilgenfeld, had fallen two hours previously.

After a restful night, despite an aerial bombardment close to Hasenheide, Fenets’s battalion set off at daybreak on the 26th April,for Neukölln town hall, where they were supposed to assist with a counterattack by the Nordland at 0500 hours. In fact the attack, supported by several tanks and self-propelled guns did not start until 0600 hours.

Right at the outset, while Ssgt Ollivier, commanding the 4th Company, which had been given a support task, was giving orders to his section leaders gathered around him, the company was taken by surprise by a Russian anti-tank gun. Seventeen men were killed with one blow and the numerous wounded including Ollivier and SS-WO II Fieselbrand, a section commander. officer-cadet Protopopoff assumed command of the 4th Company while the wounded were evacuated.

Captain Fenet gave his account of the action:

We held an arms inspection not far from Hasenheide Park. At 0500 hours next day we were to go into the attack with other Nordland units and chase the Reds out of Neukölln. As night fell, we set up sentry posts at the crossroads. The night was strangely calm as we went about the dark and deserted streets, the only sound being the crunching of glass shards under our boots. The Neukölln Canal (Neuköllner Schiffahrtskanal) gave us some anxiety, but that too was calm with its bridges, quays and sleeping black water. A humming sound comes through the air. Aircraft! The district was shaken for hours by the uninterrupted din of explosions that made the ground tremble and cracked the walls. Would the Reds use this deluge as cover for a night attack? Our sentries were alerted, but the Reds still did not budge that night, and after the crash of the last bombs, silence fell once more.

The companies assembled for the attack before daybreak and the columns set off in silence towards the town hall, from where the attack was to begin. The tanks were already there. On the corner of the street, an enormous Königstiger, massive on its wide tracks, extended its interminable 88mm gun, and there were some Panthers a bit further back with their fine silhouettes, then the Sturmgeschütze, assault guns with squat 70mm barrels. Their crews were quietly awaiting the departure time, a little as if they were going for a drive. We discussed the plan of attack down to minute detail. The grenadiers would advance alongside the armour, clearing the buildings and side-streets, and covering the tanks, which in turn would provide covering fire.

0500 hours. Nothing moves. The divisional attack is still not ready. 0530 hours, still nothing. Usually we do not pay much attention to such annoyances, but today this worries us. Finally, a little before 0600 hours, the order to set off arrives. The infantry advance well spaced out, followed by the tanks. The Reds fail to react for a few moments, but then their old Maxim machine guns open up with their slow and steady rhythm, followed by the anti-tank guns, which salute us with their angry barks. Our men advance as if on exercise, bounding from door to door along the walls, jumping or scrambling over the ruins, dodging the Red snipers firing from above. The tanks behind us spit fire and flames, their intervention visibly disquieting the opposition, who turn to the defensive. Their infantry only reveal themselves as apparently isolated snipers and leave the heavy arms, machine guns, anti-tank guns and mortars to hose us down. However, the enemy’s violent fire does not prevent the regular advance of the grenadiers, who continue to bound forward nimbly and quickly.

We suffer a severe blow, however. A reserve section is about to negotiate a crossroads near the town hall, believing itself under cover, imprudently bunched, when a salvo of anti-tank gun shells hit the street corner with terrible precision, riddling the unfortunate men, smashing them to the pavement or against the surrounding walls. Broken hearted, I counted 15 bodies scattered on the roadway.

Meanwhile, the volunteers continued to advance, despite strong Soviet resistance. It was now necessary to clear building after building with grenades and bayonets. All along the streets leading to the town hall one could see men reappear as they moved in bounds, arriving in bursts at the command post to refill their haversacks and pockets with ammunition, and leaving again with the same agility under the admiring eyes of the Berliners, who watched the combative ardour of the French with admiration. In practically every building one saw old men and women emerging from their cellars to find out what was happening and to see for themselves. We told them that the aim of our attack that morning was to clear the enemy out of Neukölln. ‘May you succeed’, they told us, hoping that the Reds would get to them. Often they came up to us with a cup of coffee or a glass of water in their hands. ‘Drink up; you must be thirsty!’ Others insisted that we spend a few minutes with them in their cellars to share a meal prepared from the last of their rations. All this was very kind and very moving, but we really had to get on with the job.

However, as our men advanced, liaison with units on either side became precarious. On the right and left the situation appeared quite confused, and already there was a threat to our flanks as we reduced the enemy wedge in our lines, and we had to regain contact with the units to the left and right that were still preventing the wedge from expanding. But it seemed that there was no one there but Russians. Then an order arrived from Division: ‘If the attack has not started, stop and await new orders. If not, do your best!’

What did it mean? What was happening? SS-Lieutenant Joachim von Wallenrodt, the adjutant, immediately set off for Division and returned much later with the required orders. It was bad. We were the only unit to have attacked. That morning, the 26th April, at the same time as we set off from the town hall, the Reds had unleashed the floodgates of their formidable forces on Berlin. Already the capital’s defensive belt was beginning to crack a little everywhere.

‘Just our luck!’ I said to von Wallenrodt, ‘we have just taken half a district from Ivan, and now we have to abandon it, just like Heinrichswalde two months ago! Three hours after our attack we had to quit because there was no longer any front behind or alongside us. It was infuriating!’

‘What shall we do, Captain?’ asked von Wallenrodt phlegmatically.

‘Assuredly we stay here. Should the situation stabilise itself on the flanks, we can hold on to what we have won, and if it gets worse, we shall see. For the moment we remain, and won’t let ourselves be surrounded.’

We now formed a salient within the Russian lines and progressively I had to reduce the numbers at the head in order to reinforce the flanks. The town hall became the centre of our defence and we concentrated most our forces there. We had already received reinforcement in the form of a Bann of Hitler Youth, several hundred boys of between fourteen and sixteen yeas of age, who charged with a magnificent spirit, blind and deaf to danger, uncaringly throwing themselves at the enemy, strong in their juvenile inexperience! Moreover, these youngsters fought like old soldiers! On preceding days we had seen them leaving in commandos into the suburbs to neutralise the advancing tanks, today we find them again in the street fighting alongside us, the most savage, the hardest, most murderous possible. They go ahead with their Panzerfausts, with rifles often taller than themselves, as naturally as if they were marching with a brass band and drums, unconcerned about their losses however numerous, and clearly aiming to perform as well as their elders.

Since morning the Reds have suffered heavy losses. Tanks and grenadiers have destroyed about 30 tanks, while the Red infantry, which has been reinforced by the hour, has left numerous dead and wounded on the ground, and several anti-tank guns have been knocked out. The fighting continues relentlessly.

The battalion runners tore along through the ruins, across streets swept by blasts and explosions to maintain contact with the attacking companies. Their leader, Corporal Millet, 20 years old, naturally took on the more important and more dangerous tasks. More than once since this morning we thought that we would never see him again, but always he returned, cool and calm: ‘Mission accomplished.’ During the afternoon we made a tour of all the units then returned to the town hall, on which the Reds seem to want to make a big effort by taking us in the flank.

At the moment that we enter the street to re-enter the town hall there is an explosion. Millet doubled up and fell face down, a last tremor and then he lay still. The enemy barrage continued to sweep the street and I felt a sharp pain in my left foot. I found myself without knowing how in the entrance to the town hall, from where I was taken inside. The barrage continued to fall outside. There was no time to lose, the Reds were much closer than we had thought. They were behind us, perhaps 50 metres from the town hall. Immediately, I had this dangerous sector swept clean, hobbling and cursing, because I now needed a stick and an assistant to walk. This is a fine time to get a bullet through the foot! 

After some furious fighting, man to man with bayonet duels, throwing grenades from door to door and window to window, the Reds who had tried to take us in the rear were wiped out or fled. But, following the check of this attempt, they now tried to launch a frontal attack, and this time they spared neither their fire nor their men. We had no intention of letting them get away with this. Our men and the Hitler Youth installed in the town hall fought like devils, taking advantage of a moment when the Reds seemed to hesitate and made a sortie in strength that dislocated their move completely and enabled us to clear the area.

Most of this fighting took place inside blocks of buildings, but now the tanks joined in, and T-34s arrived head to tail. Our Panzerfausts destroyed one or two, but the others continued on their way. Alerted, the Königstiger set up an ambush in a side-street and waited. Not far from it, I followed the sound of the Red tanks with my ears; the noise of the tank tracks got nearer, and I could hear their engines. They were quite close. The long 88mm barrel of the Königstiger lowered slowly, the front of the first T-34 appears, then its turret. There was a dry, violent explosion and flames and smoke surged out of the muzzle brake of the 88mm gun, which recoiled sharply, leaving the T-34 neatly immobilised. Our men covered the hatch with their rifles, but it didn’t open. With a direct hit on the turret, the T-34 was dead, completely dead.

Millet was still there, stretched out on the pavement in his camouflage tunic of brown and green dots, his blond hair dirty with dust, his red face already dulled in death. The barrage had caught him in the side and he had been killed instantly. His comrades carried his body into shelter.

Roger, 19, a big devil with black hair, a cold aspect and a fanatical soul, took his place. He enlisted at the age of 17, and to the officer who said to him a little mockingly: ‘Our kind of life is much too hard for the French,’ he replied tit for tat: ‘Not for everyone, and that is precisely why I am enlisting!’ 

He has already taken part in two campaigns without getting a scratch, but the trip to Berlin started off badly for him. The day before yesterday when the bridge was blown up in front of us, he was blown into the canal below. Completely blinded, his eyes full of dirt, he had only recovered his sight the day before.

As the afternoon progressed, our situation at the town hall became more critical. With the front line yielded back on both sides, we no longer had any neighbours and there did not seem to be much behind us. We could only hold our position through the extraordinary dynamism of our men. Cap, the little Flemish sergeant, had grabbed a machine gun and was holding a street on his own. At a rate of 1,200 rounds a minute, he was hosing down anything that moved in front of him with a precision and rapid reflex of action that visibly disconcerts the Reds. From time to time he made a rapid change of position, going behind another bit of wall, another heap of rubble, and resumed harassing the assailants. Fink, who was acting as my crutch, requisitioned a Hitler Youth in passing for this role, which was too placid for his taste, and went to rejoin Cap: ‘Let me take over for a bit, you’re going to kill yourself!’ Relieving each other from time to time, they held the street until the evening without the Reds being able to advance a metre.

For five hours we had been completely alone in front of the lines. The few tanks that still had fuel and ammunition remained with us, while the others pulled back. Cut off from the Division, we decided to stay in the town hall as long as a line of retreat remained to our lines. The Reds could cut off our retreat with 50 men, but no doubt they would not dream of it and tried desperately to attack us from the front or sides with their tanks supported by several hundred men. A wasted effort; the tanks burst into flames or had to turn back, and the infantry bit the dust as soon as they dared expose themselves. There was now an infernal din, the shelling being nourished from one place or another and we could no longer distinguish between it increasing or dwindling. At each street corner one was regularly shaken by an explosion, covered in dust, eardrums aching. If one was lucky, it was just one of our hidden tanks that had just fired, but it was more likely to be a volley from the Ivans opposite.

Towards 1900 hours the battalion runners reported that Red tanks had reached Hermannplatz, 900 metres behind us. Only two streets remained free and, no doubt, not for much longer. This time we had to leave, for once Hermannplatz was blocked, there would be no way out. I used a pause in the fighting to regroup the Hitler Youth and SS, and we pulled back with the tanks without the Reds trying to stop us. We reached Hermannplatz a little later without difficulty and found the defence there being hastily organised behind barricades of paving stones. We were just in time: the T-34s were keeping a respectful distance of several hundred yards and, several minutes after our arrival, all the arteries leading from the square to the east were in enemy hands.

The assault guns stayed close to us and started a veritable massacre of Russian tanks as they tried to encroach on the square. A bull’s eye and the dusk was illuminated with the light of all these tanks in flames, exposing one after another to a great din. The battle continued well into the night, but the Red infantry did not show themselves.

At about midnight the order came for us to withdraw. On the way we were rejoined by Labourdette and his No. 1 Company, which had remained at the disposal of the Division all day and had had to intervene to parry enemy infiltrations when the front gave way. Labourdette told me that he had just been requisitioned by the Defence Sector commander, whom he does not come under, to seal a new breach. That was none of my business, but after the long day we have just been through, I was relying on No. 1 Company, the only fresh unit remaining in the battalion, to make up my losses. I explained this to the Defence Sector commander, requesing he should at least let the last survivors of the French Division fight on together! I used the occasion to tell him of my surprise to find the defence organised in such a desultory fashion. 

Naively, I thought that the belt defence of Berlin would be formed from regular units organised like ourselves and I could not understand how the front had cracked so quickly, because in our sector we had held and would have continued holding much longer had it not been for the total absence of neighbours having allowed the Reds to encircle us. It was the turn of the person with whom I was talking to be astonished at my astonishment. If all the Berlin front was as well off for troops as our sector, we would not now be behind Hermannplatz! In fact, of properly constituted units, there were only the remains of General Weidling’s armoured corps and some SS units, which included our battalion, the Nordland Division and some Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler troops at the Reichs Chancellery, not amounting to more than 2–3,000 men when the battle began! Most of the troops were in hastily-formed ad hoc units of Hitler Youth, Volkssturm and over-age policemen. All were of good will, many, especially the Hitler Youth, were fighting magnificently, but this was not enough. Cadres were lacking, there was no artillery, hardly any tanks, fuel and ammunition was strictly rationed.

Meanwhile the situation was becoming catastrophic in our sector and, in view of the urgency, I agreed for No. 1 Company to take part in a limited operation while the rest of the battalion took several hours’ rest.

Before leaving, I recommended to Labourdette that he should not let himself become involved and to return at all costs at the agreed time. ‘You can count on me,’ he replied, but in hearing him I sensed a painful presentiment. I took him by the shoulder: ‘You must return with the lads, you must return yourself, do you understand?’

There was a brief silence. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be back,’ he said in a distant voice and a little hesitantly, as if the words were refusing to come out.

‘Right, see you soon!’

‘See you soon, Captain.’

We shook hands and he disappeared into the night with his men. I watched his silhouette fade with a pang of anguish. His attitude disturbed me. It was that of a man going into battle knowing that he would not return. But no, this was ridiculous. I shrugged my shoulders, furious with myself for letting myself think that way. My nerves were on edge, no doubt, and the fault lay with the ridiculous wound which made me walk with crutches. No, Labourdette would return. That winter he had magnificently won under fire the insignia of a Second-Lieutenant, for which the officer-cadet school had considered him too timid, having decided last autumn to go through the course once more. Timid, he certainly had been, but since Pomerania that was over. Prolonged contact with the Reds had given him confidence.

Roger interrupted my thoughts by bringing me a chair and urging me to rest. ‘Not now, Roger!’ Right now I had to find somewhere for my men to sleep for a few hours. Von Wallenrodt, who had gone off to search, had found room in the Thomas Keller opposite the Anhalter Railway Station. He would lead the battalion there and we were to meet later in the morning at the Divisional command post, which I wanted to get back to straight away. Von Wallenrodt set off with the men, while Officer-Cadet Douroux and myself vainly searched for a vehicle to take us into the city centre. The command post of one of the Nordland regiments was quite close, and there we learned that there was not a drop of petrol available at the moment, and also that the general was about to move again, but no one knew where. While waiting, we were invited to use the time to sleep in the shelter, which was also serving as a dressing station.

SS-Major-General Krukenberg noted that since the morning, the tanks and grenadiers had destroyed thirty enemy tanks and several anti-tank guns, apart from inflicting heavy casualties on the Russian infantry. His account continued:

Towards the end of the morning of the 26th, Staff-Sergeant Ollivier left the ambulance near the Tiergarten and set off to find the Fenet Battalion to resume command of the 4th Company, when he came face to face with SS-Captain Heller, an instructor at the Breslau Infantry Gun School, where he had done a course with the 10th Company of the 57th Battalion. He was immediately commandeered to command a section of two 150mm infantry guns served by recruits of the SS-Division Das Reich, two SS-corporals performing the combined roles of gun team leaders and aimers. With great difficulty, these two guns were finally deployed on an avenue controlling an important crossroads 500 metres away. The first tank appeared at the end of a quarter of an hour and was destroyed by a shot to the rear, and eight others received the same fate. But it was impossible to camouflage and difficult to redeploy, and a volley from Stalin Organs wiped out the first gun with its truck and team. Redeployed in a small parallel street, the second gun succeeded in expending all its ammunition.

Having remained until 1700 hours in a laundry used as a command post by the Heller section, Staff-Sergeant Ollivier suddenly saw SS-Lieutenant von Wallenrodt of the division enter, who then took him back to the Fenet Battalion near the Opera, where he resumed command of the 4th Company, now reduced to 20 men under officer-cadet Protopopoff. During the course of the 27th, the latter had succeeded in shooting down a Russian reconnaissance aircraft with a machine gun. There were several encounters with Russian patrols without loss.

The damage caused by the aerial bombing was so serious that it was impossible to command from this position. I therefore asked and obtained permission from Corps, which had meanwhile moved from the Hohenzollerndamm to Bendlerstrasse, to transfer my command post to Gneisenau Police Barracks, also requesting being absolved from responsibility for Sector ‘C’ and that I be allocated a more central zone for the Nordland. At the same time I also signalled the presence of two police battalions in the barracks, perfectly equipped and rested, and completely forgotten about, that were quite capable of holding the sector in place of the Nordland, which was now in the need of a complete overhaul. The Nordland was assigned to the Gendarmenmarkt area and I provisionally selected the cellars of the Opera house for my command post.

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