Published: 24 December 2010
Last Updated: 11 May 2013
The 16. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Reichsführer-SS was formed in November 1943 when Sturmbrigade Reichsführer-SS was upgraded to a division when volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans) were added to the units.
A kampfgruppe from the division fought the allied landings at Anzio while the rest took part in the occupation of Hungary. It fought in Italy as a unit from May 1944 until being transferred to Hungary in February 1945.
It surrendered to British forces near Klagenfurt at the end of the war.
Known war crimes
Numerous massacres of civilians during anti-partisan operations in Italy during the fall of 1944 including:
On 12 August 1944 an estimated 560 civilians were killed in Sant’Anna di Stazzema by soldiers from
II./SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 35 commanded by SS-Hauptsturmführer Anton Galler. Ten officers and NCOs were convicted in absentia to life imprisonment for this massacre in 2005.
On 19 August soldiers of the SS-Panzer-Aufklärungsabteilung under the command of SS-Sturmbannführer Walter Reder 16 killed 53 civilians in Bardine de San Terenzo in retaliation for partisan attacks. Reder was sentenced to life in prison after the war for this and other crimes committed in Italy. (1)
During anti-partisan operations 29 September until 5 October 1944 soldiers under the command of SS-Sturmbannführer Walter Reder killed an estimated 770 civilians (according to some sources up to 1.800) in the Marzabotto, Monzuno and Grizzana Morandi area. In 2007 17 former soldiers were tried in absentia for the massacre, the largest committed by German troops in Western Europe, ten were sentenced to life imprisonment and seven were acquitted.
This unit was one of those singled out in exhibit UK-66, the British report on “German reprisals for Partisan activities in Italy” at the International Military Tribunal (IMT) war crimes trial at Nuremberg:
Evidence has been found to show that a large number of the atrocities in Italy was committed by the Hermann Goering Parachute Panzer Division. Notable offenders also were 1 Paraschute Division, 16 SS Panzer Grenadier Division and 114 Light Division.
Begleit-Bataillon Reichsführer-SS (May 1941 – Feb 1943)
Sturmbrigade Reichsführer-SS (Feb 1943 – Oct 1943)
SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Reichsführer-SS (Oct 1943 – May 1945)
SS-Gruppenführer Max Simon (3 Oct 1943 – 24 Oct 1944)
SS-Brigadeführer Otto Baum (24 Oct 1944 – 8 May 1945)
Chief of Staff
SS-Obersturmbannführer Albert Ekkehard (20 Oct 1943 – 1 Dec 1944)
SS-Obersturmbannführer Karl Gesele (1 Dec 1944 – 5 Jan 1945)
Major Lothar Wolf (5 Jan 1945 – ? May 1945)
SS-Sturmbannführer Fritz Steinbeck (1 July 1944 – 1 Mar 1945)
SS-Hauptsturmführer Heinz Zabel (? 1945 – ? May 1945)
Area of operations
Yugoslavia (Oct 1943 – Feb 1944)
Italy & Hungary (Feb 1944 – May 1944)
Germany (May 1944 – June 1944)
Italy (June 1944 – Dec 1944)
Hungary & Austria (Dec 1944 – May 1945)
Dec 1943 12.720
June 1944 14.218
Dec 1944 14.223
This division was built around Himmler’s personal escort battalion, the Begleit-Bataillon Kommandostab RFSS, which was first enlarged to be the Sturmbrigade Reichsführer-SS and finally to a division. Some sources state that the division bore Himmler’s title instead of his name because SS units did only receive the names of dead persons as an honor title. A stylized rendering of Himmler’s rank insignia (a cluster of three oak leaves surrounded by a laurel wreath) was also adopted as the symbol in the divisional shield.
Holders of high awards
(includes Sturmbrigade Reichsführer-SS & 16. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division RFSS)
Holders of the German Cross in Gold (8)
– Ekkehard, Albert, 17.09.1944, SS-Obersturmbannführer, Ia 16. SS-Pz.Gren.Div. “Reichsführer SS”
– Gantzer, Ludwig, 06.01.1945, SS-Sturmbannführer, SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt. 36
– Kaddatz, Günther, 17.09.1944, SS-Hauptsturmführer, II./SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt. 36
– Landfried, Karl, 17.09.1944, SS-Hauptsturmführer, I./SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt. 36
– Saalfrank, Max, 30.12.1944, SS-Obersturmführer, 5.(s.)/SS-Pz.Aufkl.Abt. 16
– Schmidt, Manfred, 17.09.1944, SS-Hauptsturmführer, 3./SS-Pz.Abt. 16
– Simon, Max, 09.10.1944, SS-Gruppenführer u. Generalleutnant d. W-SS, Kdr. 16. SS-Pz.Gren.Div. “Reichsführer SS”
– Willer, Egon, 22.03.1945, SS-Obersturmführer, 9./SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt. 36
Holders of the Knight’s Cross (2)
-Gesele, Karl 04.07.1944 SS-Obersturmbannführer Kdr SS-Sturm-Brigade „RFSS“
-Simon, Max [639. EL] 28.10.1944 SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der W-SS Kdr 16. SS-Pz.Gren.Div „RFSS“
Order of battle
SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 35
SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 36
SS-Artillerie Regiment 16
SS-Panzer Abteilung 16
Bruno Gesche (Commander of the SS-Begleitkommando des Führers, Hitlers bodyguard unit, served with in the RFSS division in 1945 after he was removed from his command)
Gerhardus Dieters (Member of the House of Representatives of the Netherlands for the Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging)
Officers serving in the Einsatzgruppen and Concentration Camps
Concentration Camps 17
(includes officers serving in the Einsatzgruppen or Concentration Camps either prior to or after service in this unit)
The tactical marking of the division was the collar insignia used by Heinrich Himmler as Reichsführer-SS.
The “Reichsführer-SS” cuff title was authorized for this unit.
(Courtesy of N & T Global Trading)
The 2008 movie “Miracle at St. Anna” directed by Spike Lee was based on the book by James McBride and deals with the Sant’Anna di Stazzema massacre.
The 2009 movie “L’uomo che verrà” directed by Giorgio Diritti deals with the Marzabotto massacre.
StuG III of 16. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Reichsführer-SS in Italy
(Courtesy of John)
Soldiers of 16 SS passing through Rome
(Courtesy of Bundesarchiv/Wikimedia, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 Germany)
1. “Murderous Elite: The Waffen-SS and its complete record of war crimes” by James Pontolillo, page 34.
John R. Angolia – Cloth insignia of the SS
Philip H Buss – Divisional signs of the Waffen-SS (Military Advisor, vol 19, number 4)
Georges M. Croisier – Waffen-SS (PDF)
Terry Goldsworthy – Valhalla’s Warriors: A history of the Waffen-SS on the Eastern Front 1941-1945
Peter Hoffmann – Hitler’s Personal Security: Protecting the Führer 1921-1945
Steve Kane – Waffen-SS Forces in the Balkans: A checklist (in World War II Journal, Vol 7)
Dr. K-G Klietmann – Die Waffen-SS: eine Dokumentation
Kurt Mehner – Die Waffen-SS und Polizei 1939-1945
James Pontolillo – Murderous Elite: The Waffen-SS and its complete record of war crimes
Marc J. Rikmenspoel – Waffen-SS Encyclopedia
George H. Stein – The Waffen-SS: Hitler’s Elite Guard at War 1939-1945
James C. Steuard – Tactical Markings of the Waffen-SS, Part III (in AFV News Vol 3, No 3)
Gordon Williamson & Thomas McGuirl – German military cuffbands 1784-present
Gordon Williamson – The Waffen-SS: 11. to 23. Divisions
Mark C. Yerger – Waffen-SS Commanders: The Army, corps and divisional leaders of a legend (2 vol)
Reference material on this unit
Josef Paul Puntigam – Vom Plattensee bis zur Mur
Truppenkameradenschaft (Editors) – Im gleichen Schritt und Tritt: Dokumentation der 16.SS-Panzergrenadier-Division “Reichsführer-SS”