Published: 25 December 2010
Last Updated: 30 December 2014
Unit history by Daniel Laurent
Sub-sections by AHF staff
It was formed when Waffen-Grenadier-Brigade der SS Charlemagne (französische Nr.1) was expanded to a division by adding men from the various collaborationist organisations that had been forced out of France. It given the number 33 when Waffen-Kavallerie Division der SS (Ungarnische Nr 4) was destroyed.
Most of the French volunteers of the Sturmbrigade are sent at the Wildflecken training camp, in Franconia, where more than seven thousand men are gathered. The units of the new Brigade originate from the LVF, the Sturmbrigade and of various elements serving in the armed forces of the Reich: Todt, Kriegsmarine, NSKK, Flak. To these men already accustomed to serve in the German ranks, add two thousand francs gardes of the French Militia. The combination between these various elements will not be done easily. The legionnaires of the LVF are rather jealous of the independence that they enjoyed in Russia. As for the militiamen, they are reluctant to the idea to change their blue uniforms for the “feldgrau”.
The Brigade Charlemagne becomes Division and takes the official name of 33 Waffen-Grenadier Division der SS “Charlemagne” (Franz n°1). The training of the grenadiers lasted only three months, many specialists did not finished training and heavy equipment was not received. The new Division is nevertheless considered as operational and sent towards the forehead of Pomerania by several rail convoys as of February 17 1945.
The situation is there particularly serious for the Germans as the Soviet forces launched an offensive from the Vistule toward the Baltic coast, trying to encircle the German troops of Dantzig and Pomerania. Their target is without any doubts the city of Stettin and the Oder delta.
February 17 1945
The French volunteers will be thrown at the hinge of two Russian armies in progression. They reached Hammerstein between Stettin and Dantzig, to hundred kilometres from the sea, convoy after convoy, and are sent to the encounter of the Soviet armored units without even having had the time to group together and to receive their heavy equipment.
February 22 1945
The first elements of the regiment 57 reached Hammerstein under Hauptsturmfuhrer De Bourmont command.
February 24 1945
2 days later, the regiment 58 arrives in the city. It is then that the campaign of Pomerania will begin. More than fifty tanks are destroyed in four days. The weather is again horrendous in this February winter month. They are moving only by foot and nobody has any idea about the situation when reaching the frontline. As early as February 25, the four infantry Battalions of the new Division Charlemagne are dislocated and forced to retreat more or less in disorder, after to have undergone heavy losses. Only two resistance points remained their defenders encircled, at Bärenhutte and Elsenau, where furious fights continue. The frontline does not exist anymore. Thrown in the battle by dispersed elements, they cannot constitute a long time a continuous forehead and are quickly taken by the Russian waves. There is not radio liaison between units or with the HQ, not any artillery support, not any intervention of panzer, not any support of the aviation. Even the liaison with the other units of the sector, that should be held by Latvians volunteers of the Waffen SS, proves itself quickly impossible: Most of the Latvians units, harshly attacked, are retreating also.
February 25 1945
Sturmbannfuhrer Reybald arrives at Hammerstein with the regiment 58.
Night from 25 to February 26 1945
The HQ of regiment 57 is set at Bärenwalde. Obersturmfuhrer Artus is killed with his panzerfaust during a T34 attack. The two battalions of the regiment 57 pass to counter-offensive attack: Haupsturmfuhrer Obitz (Veteran of the LVF) succeeds in occupying without too many difficulties the village of Barkenfelde. Fenet meets the Russians that occupy Heinrichwalde. One of his companies reached the centre of the village but the Soviet troops, too numerous, threaten to encircle the entire battalion. Fenet must withdraw. Untersturmfuhrer Counil dies of a bullet in the head. Obitz is against attacked at Barkenfelde and must abandon the village after violent fights. The battalion Monneuse of the regiment 58 fresh landed joins the battalion Obitz at the railway crosstrack of Barenhütte, involving themselves in the fights immediately.
February 26 1945
Krukenberg and the remainder of the Divisional HQ are at Elsenau. The second battalion of the regiment 58, under command of Haupsturmfuhrer Berret (Veteran of the LVF) lands at last at Hammerstein and rushes for the fight. The HQ of the division is attacked by T34, Obersturmfuhrer Weber and his protection company enter in action.
Worse, the two regiments of the Charlemagne are sunk at the Barenhütte railway crosstrack under the blows of two brigades of tanks and four infantry divisions! The Charlemagne loses its co-ordination. Obersturmfuhrer Puaud holds the town of Barenhütte with three thousand men. Haupsturmfurher De Bourmont rushes to the north to reach Elsenau where is located the HQ of the division. Elsenau is lost despite the thirty two Russian tanks destroyed. The HQ retreat towards the Baltic sea, towards the north.
Night of 26 to February 27 1945
Puaud and his 3000 men succeed in escaping from Barenhütte and meet the battalion Fenet (Rgt 57) at Hammerstein then set off again together to Neustettin. There they meet Bassompierre (Veteran of the LVF and Militia), Fayard who commands the Flak (Veteran of the Sturmbrigade Frankreich) as well as about one hundred French SS, just arriving from Wildflecken. There are already 500 KIA and 1000 MIA, not mentioning the WIA.
February 28 1945
The French SS leave for Belgard for a reorganisation. However, some men were left at Neustettin, a battalion placed under the orders of a PPF militant, Obersturmführer Auphan. These three hundred SS will hold more than twelve hours and delay the Soviet advance. It is only after the Russian took over the train station that the last French SS, belonging to the Flak of Untersturmführer Fayard, will leave it.
The Division Charlemagne arrives at Bad Polzin on foot and move towards the Baltic Sea, direction Kolberg. They will walk eighty kilometres in 24 hours. The roads are frozen, the wind blows and the flurries of snows whip the men overloaded with equipment.
February 30 1945
They arrive to Belgard, Christian of the Mazière, a veteran, relates in his memory: “We had only few things with us. The armament, the food had remained in Hammerstein“. Some reinforcement arrives: the reserve Battalion of the Division coming from Greifenberg (Standartenfuhrer Zimmermann). Krukenberg and the Divisional HQ are also in Belgard.
March 2 1945
The Division is again reorganised: Haupsturmfuhrer De Bourmont commands the reserve regiment. Sturmbannfuhrer Reybald takes care of the “Regiment de marche” (Literally walking regiment) composed of two battalions, the one of Fenet and the one of Bassompierre. The two battalions include 1200 men, eight companies.
Night from 3 to March 4 1945
Körlin is the city to defend, the two regiments set up there. Mazière: “We took a maximum of light armament, rifles and sturmgewher. The heaviest one, MG 42 machine guns that, with their ammunitions, weighted 20 kilos.”
Some units lose the contact while moving towards their positions. A section of Waffen SS (Obersturmfuhrer Pinsard-Berthaz) found itself fighting along with Dutch W-SS. The four battalions engage the fight, Reybald is severly wounded (1st class iron cross). The battle leads no more to the north but to the south, towards Belgard. Mazière “The Soviet forces now arrives in number. They had begun, to the east, to test our defence: they solidly held. One press henceforth that they will attack by the southeast. The defender of Belgard, we had just learned, retreated. The French, that fought alongside the Germans there, withdrew towards Stettin, they would not come to reinforce us“. A breakthrough must be carried out, Vaugelas ahead with the HQ staff as well as the first battalion of Fenet. The two reserve battalions will follow (Bourmont and Puaud) and at last the second battalion (Bassompierre) covers the rear.
March 4 1945
At 5 a.m., the Soviet tanks are at the Kolberg suburbs. The Division Charlemagne and many German units are taken in a trap that strangely looks like the one of Dunkirk in May 1940. The position evolves dangerously during the morning of March 4. The Soviet tanks cannot push their advance to the harbour. After isolating and encircled Kolberg, they fold back themselves towards the east to reduce the pocket that formed itself in the region of Belgard and Körlin “Really, that began being worrying. It does not remain any way out beside a small corridor, to the Northwest, where the Krukenberg HQ is.“
Night from 5 to March 6 1945
Between 1 and 2 a.m., the SS of the Fenet Battalion arrive in front of Belgard. It is clear as in broad daylight. The city burns. The Wehrmacht soldiers who defend this formerly calm city are now fighting body-to-body. The streets are cluttered with corpses and abandoned vehicles, on which houses collapse. Lead by Krukenberg and Fenet, the battalion follows its road to the Southeast, in direction of the Greifenberg rear base. Behind them, the three other battalions are following.
At about 1 a.m. Oberführer Puaud decides at last to catch up with the avant-garde but at the departure from Körlin, the reserve regiment takes a considerable delay. More than two thousand men trample in the melted snow. Officers try to re-form sections and companies. The morale is not there anymore.
The 2nd battalion Bassompierre still holds Korlin. “Six hours, twelve hours, twenty-four hours. Evening is falling, nevertheless, we understood that the end approached. The Russians that attacked on all the sides at once would crush us the next day. Our group had undergone heavy losses: From 750, we were left with about 350 men“. The Battalion tried to escape through the railway Korlin/Belgard. The battalion will be dispersed, crushed despite all the energy and the courage of the LVF veterans. The Russians will capture Bassompierre on March 17.
March 6 1945
After having crossed Belgard, the men of the reserve regiment under Puaud and Bourmont command take advantage of the fog to cross a huge plain. Fog nevertheless dissipates itself very quickly. They are encircled. The column of Puaud is destroyed shortly after 8 a.m., left without ammunitions, by a Russian group of infantrymen and tanks. Oberfuhrer Puaud get a leg injury and disappear as well as of Bourmont, MIA forever. A former Waffen SS survivor of the plain relates:
“Some three thousand men were by a cold and rainy morning in a forest of pines, close to Belgard. Our group reached a plain covered with snow. The exhausted men walked in spin spaced of around fifteen meters. Suddenly, sun appeared, dissipating the mist and fire started. The Russians were there. Taken between two fires, the soldiers fell or attempted fleeing, one backward, one forward. Officers tried to muster their troops, but they fell. Russian shooting quickly concentrated. Rifles, machine guns, light canons, heavy canons, mortars took us for target, the snow flew, torn and darkened by the explosions. Too tired to run, too nervous to lie down, we walked without stopping shooting, relaying to carry the machine gun and. We managed to reach the forest. Looking behind me, I saw that the plain, white some instants earlier, became black. Enemy tanks and troops criss-crossed it, finishing off the wounded.”
What remains from the Division is the isolated troops and three battalions, one at Dantzig, one at Kolberg that is totally is encircled and the 1st battalion of the Haupsturmfuhrer Fenet, about 500 men. They walk since almost three days and reach the city of Meseritz, the column enlarged itself by the arrival of isolated soldiers, some foreigners but also French. The division that is now a battalion reorganises itself in Meseritz. The battalion is constituted of 4 companies of 200 men each – more than 300 isolated managed to reach the division – Fenet is decorated iron cross first class. For the civilians left in the towns such as the Zarnefanz (near of the plain of Belgard), Russian anger will be terrible. The inhabitants who were not slaughtered will be constrained to force labour.
March 7 1945
The French Waffen rush to Greifenberg where they thought to fight but it is impossible, the Russians are everywhere and especially go too quickly. To escape the pure and simple annihilation it is necessary to rush to the Baltic. Again fight in Gorke, again deaths, always these raped women and these elders tortured to death. The French cannot anymore do anything for the Pomeranians
March 8 1945
Birthday of Gruppenfuhrer Krukenberg. The battalion rushes to Zapten, the SS are starving and are heavily suffering of dysentery.
March 9 1945
The sea is at last in view, the battalion split up in two: a part to Horst and another to Rewahl
March 11 1945
The first Russian troops once again are signalled all over. Once again threatened to be encircled, the battalion must attempt a breakthrough towards the west, following the coast. The battalion is cut in two an avant-garde one and a rearguard, in between the two 5000 civilian refugees. The French are helped by two Kriegsmarine vessels that pound the top of the cliffs where are located the Soviet troops as well as some resistance points on the beach. Haupsturmfuhrer Roy, with some Tigers and Panther of various divisions, will hold the top of the cliffs, German paratroopers will help him notably in his task. The French open the way with all their forces, deaths again. The breakthrough will be terrible.
Dievenow is at last visible, some Whermacht and Waffen SS meets them. They cross the Oder on boats and arrive at last to Korlzow, on the island of Wollin then the next day Swinemunde, for them the bloody Pomerania battle is finished. They have just saved 5.000 civilians.
It will be noticed by THE Reichfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler “While holding during forty eight hours in Körlin, the French SS allowed the realiSation of the plan of the OKW. The sacrifice of the hundreds of disappeared comrades has not been useless.“
The reorganisation of the “Charlemagne” behind the defense line went with heavy difficulties. Many former militiamen do not want anymore to continue the fight. The morale is broken. Krukenberg relieves the French SS from their oath. 400 men will finish their war in engineers units.
The last battles
Französisches freiwilligen-sturmbataillon der SS “Charlemagne”
At the end of March 1945, a thousand survivors of the Charlemagne were grouped together close to Neustrelitz. Brigadefuhrer Krukenberg calls for volunteers More than 600 accepted to fight to the end. 300 only, under command of Haupsturmfuhrer Fenet could board the 9 trucks that Krukenberg had been able to get to drive to Berlin the last reinforcements.
Berlin April 1945, “Last Squadron of an Europe that will die” (Rock Rostaing, veteran)
April 25 1945
Henri Fenet, former lieutenant of the colonial infantry, injured twice in front of Verdun in June 1940 and again injured in Galicia in the Sturmbrigade, is commanding the Company. Some weeks ago, he succeeded pulling his battalion out of the hell of Pomerania, the famous breakthrough of Dievenow. He got from that, with the iron cross of first class, the rank of Haupsturmführer. This 25 y.o. French SS heads a small Sturmbataillon composed from 4 companies (strongly reduced) and the Honour Company of Weber. On April 25, they embark and leave for Tempelhof. The vehicles of the French SS are blocked little before the capital by a bridge destroyed by some old Volksturm having taken them for Russians. They will continue on foot
“Exhausted, we walked like robots, muscles stiffen under the effect of the fatigue that we felt climbing on our legs. We walked obsessed by the concern to arrive early enough in the capital, not to allow anyone to block the road to our last fight, all our will, all our forces directed to this goal that attracted us with all its power: BERLIN!“
It is confirmed that the Sturmbataillon Charlemagne was the last unit to enter Berlin before it was completely encircled by the Soviet forces. The walk will be long and painful, kilometres holding panzerfaust, grenades, MG42 and ammunitions. Upon arrival, the volunteers take some hours of rests in the forest of Grünewald.
Brigadefuhrer Krukenberg meets General Weidling, Commander of Berlin forces. There, he is informed that he must also take the head of the Division SS Nordland, formed of Danish Dutch, Swedish volunteers. It seems that some English were there also, but this is not confirmed. He keeps under his direct orders the Honour Company of Obersturmfuhrer Wilhem Weber. The other French troops are divided up in four strong companies of 60 to 80 men each. At Tempelholf, the Sturmbataillon helps the feldgendarmes to filter the fleeing civilians from the deserters of the German army.
SS-Obersturmfuhrer Michel, commanding the 2nd company will seriously be injured. Brought by its comrades under cover in a cellar, he will be reported MIA.
April 26 1945, 6.00 a.m.
The French Sturmbataillon is engaged in the sector of Neukölln, Southeast Berlin. Some tanks of the Nordland Panzer Regiment, including a Koenigstiger, support an attack that bumps quickly to an eager resistance from the Soviet ones. Very quickly the first Russian tanks will be destroyed despite an eager resistance. Thirty are destroyed, as well as number of anti-tank guns.
Russian artillery has just destroyed a reserve section regrouped with not enough care: 15 corpses are lying on the sidewalk and the roadway. In a single morning, half of the French SS who came Berlin are slaughtered. One counts the KIA and the WIA by dozens. The main concern, now that the French attack reveals itself a failure, is to regroup the troops, isolated by the Russian advance in the sector, for new mission. Haupsturmführer Fenet set his HQ in the town hall, injured to the foot. It has to be brought around in a chair to keep on directing his men. At midnight, he receives the order to reach the Hermannplatz. The young SS leaves behind him a group headed by one of its faithful officers, Obersharführer Hennecourt, to regroup all those that were left behind by the withdrawal. A group of Hitlerjugend fights with the French Waffen SS.
Night of April 26
The survivors of the fight are regrouped on the Alliance Platz. The 1st company of Untersturmführer Labourdette was sent in mission to Tempelhof airport. The second company lost its commander, Obersturmfuhrer Michel. The 3rd company, that counts henceforth less than thirty men, is there, with Obersharführer Rostaing, a LVF veteran. The fourth company, more numerous, in the absence of his commander Obersturmfuhrer Olliver, engaged in another sector, is commanded by an authentic Russian prince, the Standartenjunker Protopopoff.
April 27 1945
Having regrouped those of his men that were still valid, Hauptsturmfuhrer Fenet gave them some hours of rests in a brewery, the Thomas Keller, and went to the HQ of Division Nordland to receive the instructions of Brigadeführer Krukenberg. Standartenoberjunker Douraux is with him. After a stop to the medical unit, set in the basement of the Reichbank, the battalion Commander went searching for his Commander. He will found him in the basements of the Opera, located in the well-known Unter den Linden. Fenet learns that his battalion will be divided in small group of 8 men each, in charge of fighting against tanks in the streets of the capital. By day, the French SS will therefore leave their positions to reach the basements of the Opera, where units will be reorganised. Those trips will be done through the tunnels of the Berlin subway. The division HQ moves to Stadtmitte underground station, in a train lit with candles. In this Krukenberg sinister setting, Brigadeführer Krukenberg distributes some Iron Crosses earned during the fight of Neukölln.
“The men surround me, stuff my pockets with candies, chocolates and cigarettes that has just distributed. Its party time, everybody is singing“
Night of April 27 1945
The Russian tanks mass themselves in the vicinity of the Allianz Platz. Half a dozen of them succeed in launching an attack heading for the ministry of justice of the Reich, following the Wilhelmstrasse. They finally will be destroyed not far from the bunker occupied by the Führer. “It is very calm, this night end: There is nothing else than the T34 that burns next to us, astounding. Large flames dance now around the steel carcass, projecting their violent glimmer against the obscurity of the sky that the pink halo of the fires above the roofs does can’t dissipate“.
April 28 1945
Early in the morning, Weber Hennecourt attack the Russian tanks. Fight of this kind will not stop until the end Berlin battle. “Already the preceding day and the beginning of the night had been very hard. But from this morning, the battle will attain its peak point and will maintain at that level until the end. Until the last hours, we will live in an inferno, permanently pounded by the mortars, the PAK and the tanks, pestered by the infantry, having to push back several times an hour the assaults of the Russian tanks“. A true competition is now taking place between the volunteers to know who will destroy the largest number of enemy tanks. Now that everything is lost, the men of the Charlemagne take all the risks. Untersharfuhrer Eugène Vaulot destroys his fourth Russian tank by panzerfaust. Its friends occupy the outposts and await the armored enemies behind some ruined wall, not shooting till the last minute. The Soviet have to involve artillery guns and mortars, attempting to get rid of these tanks hunters that cause heavy losses. Some will finish the fight with other foreign SS volunteers. Despite his injury and the ban of his commander, Haupsturmführer Fenet joins its men on the fire line. He co-ordinates the action of the small groups that do not stop opposing the irresistible advance of the Soviet tanks. He found back Obersturmführer Weber, whose SS nickname “Cyclone” and the fact that he doesn’t speak a word of French do not prevent him to enjoy a fanntastic popularity in his company. He has just destroyed a T34 that burns few meters away. Only Russian tanks so far entered in action and the French SS did not had yet the opportunity to oppose Soviet infantry in the Berlin sector that they occupy between the Wilhemstrasse and the Friedrichstrasse. Fenet manage to join his liaison agents who relate him the terrible moments that they have just lived. After the death of Untersharführer Millet, killed April 26, his friend Riberto replaces it. He will manage an attack against a building held by the Soviet and, with other liaison agents, will eliminate a group of around fifty opponents. Few hours later, he will set off again in patrol with his friend Untersharführer Lacombe, aka Bicou, 18 y.o., the youngest NCO of the French battalion. In company of their friend Designer, a former Paris fireman, they fight with guns and grenades in the ruins of a building occupied by the Russians. Very seriously injured, Riberto will lose an eye, just as another French SS, Boural, that was wounded on Neukölnn. The latter will survive the Berlin battle and will enter into the orders after the war.
Night of April 28 1945
The French SS hear the cries of German women, raped by Soviet soldiers few dozen meters away, in the basements of the buildings.
April 29 1945
At dawn, Russian tanks attempt again to progress alongside the Wilhelmstrasse. The shooting of the French panzerfausts blocks the first ones. But the others tanks shoot back, trying to collapse the buildings where the SS are ambushed in this central part of Berlin. Vaulot destroys four new tanks, while his friend Untersharfuhrer Albert Brunet gets three. Haupsturmführer Fenet must back up, his HQ totally devastated by the shells, and retreat before the survivors of his units are encircled. In fact the Russian infantrymen begin seep in party and of other of his position. His men set fire to the buildings to cover their withdrawal. Henceforth, the French SS will now fight few dozens meters behind their preceding front line.
They hold now the Puttkammerstrasse crossroad . The HQ is installed in a bookstore that will be under fire from Soviet 120 mortars
“One of us discovered an album in colour devoted to the Spain that becomes the distraction of the shelter where, to role turn, the men will take a little rests. We leaf through it as if we searched through these sunny landscapes an antidote to our inferno visions“. Standartenjunker Protopopoff is killed by a shell in the yard building behind the HQ. The Russians launch a third armoured assault. Shells do not stop hitting, brightness whistle. The SS Rostaing is buried under gravat and we believe he is dead when he arises, white of dust, to the HQ of the battalion to receive the first class iron cross. In the evening of April 29, the French volunteers hold again and again their positions. But they count many KIA, notably among the officers, such as Standartenoberjunker Block and de Maignan, and many injured as Standartenoberjunker de Lacaze, Abacus, Frantz and Untersturmführer Berthaud. Untersturmfuhrer Labourdette disappeared in the corridors of the subway during a clash with a Russian patrol. According to the men of the 1st company, he was killed.
Night of April 29 1945
All along the night, Berlin is nothing more than a gigantic inferno. A horrendous odour of corpses in decomposition rises from the ruins. The cries of the raped women continue. “How to talk about night? The houses, the tanks that burn are our lights, and Berlin illuminates in the fire that devours it.“
April 30 1945
The dawn of April 30 set up in an astounding atmosphere. The Russians pound the remaining defenders of the capital of the Reich under rockets launched from the “organs of Stalin”. The noise becomes more and more deafening, while columns of black smoke rise in the sky. A Ukrainian prisoner announces to Haupsturmführer Fenet that the final assault will take place the 1st May. The attacks will take place all night long. The Russian infantrymen progress in the wake of the tanks. A T34 succeeds in crossing the outposts line and to penetrate about thirty meters in Sturmbataillon positions before being destroyed. Russians launch without stops new attacks in the Wilhelmstrasse and attempt to overflow the French positions. Haupsturmführer Fenet decides then to withdraw about one hundred meters to install the last French fighters in the building of the RSHA, Prinz-Albrechtstrasse. At about 6 p.m., the retreat is finished and the French SS set a final position in the basement, where the low windows provide observation and shooting posts. Very quickly, harsh engagements oppose them to the infantry.
May 1 1945
The Red Army engages the fight massively, in an apocalyptic way. Tanks are destroyed only few tens of meters behind the French lines! The sturmgewehre spit their last bullets “He did not lied, this Ukrainian! All night long and the whole morning, the storm of the red assaults cuts down themselves on us with the last violence“. The afternoon the position worsens, the building of the French Waffen SS is in flame, they must abandon it to back up about ten meters to the Sichereitshauptamt.
Night of May 1 1945
A last iron Crosses distribution will take place in the night, to the glimmer of candles found in the basements of the ministry. At the same moment, Untersharfuhrer Vaulot, familiarly called Gégène by his friends, receives the Cross of knight of the iron cross for having destroyed in solo fight his eighth Russian tank. Brigadeführer Krulenberg pronounces a small speech where he evokes the bravery of the French soldiers on all the battle fields of the world. The Brigadeführer leaves his Stadtmitte HQ around midnight. He directs towards the Northwest of the capital to attempt a breakthrough. With him, some men of the Charlemagne, such as Obersturmführer Weber and Obersharführer Appolot, who have just been proposed for the cross of knight of the iron Cross, just as Haupsturmführer Fenet. During the breakthrough attempt, Vaulot will be killed and Krukenberg arrested. Some say that Appolot was also killed during that night, but it seems that he managed to go through, see his biography at the end of this section.
May 2 1945
The last volunteers hold the basement of the RSHA up to the morning of May 2. They are about thirty, 10% only of the troops engaged some days beforehand. At dawn, while they move to the Air Ministry buildings, they become see Russian and German soldiers that seem to fraternise. There would be therefore had an order of cease-fire? Cars roll with white flags. Fenet decides to return to the Ministry of justice of the Reich to get new orders. At the head of its men, he will cross Soviet soldiers that will not attempt even to stop them. Only his officer, Standartenoberjunker Douraux, injured to the arm, will have his gun confiscated. With them, about twenty men belonging to the Waffen Fusilier Battalion der SS 15 (Latvian Volunteers) that fought in another wing of the ministry. They try a breakthrough towards for Pankow. A ventilation opening allows the last French SS to reach the underground subway. At the Stadtmitte station, they do not find any traces of the former divisional HQ. At Kaiserhof station, Fenet observes through a ventilation shaft hundreds of Soviet soldiers that clutter the devastated roadways. Everything seems finished
“As far as the look can go, Russians, vehicles with the red star that circulate in all directions. Not a single fire blow, the walls of the Reichskanzlei are mute. There has not more anyone around, everything is finished !” He decides nevertheless to head to the Potsdamerplatz station. There, they hide under the deck of a bridge, hoping to escape capture. Nevertheless the French are soon discovered by Russian patrols. They confiscate their watches then, next only, their weapons. They join a column of prisoners. Untersharfuhrer Brunet is killed by a bullet in the head by an obviously drunken Russian soldier. This young under officer had got alone 4 of the 62 Soviet tanks destroyed by the assault during the Berlin battle. For the survivors begins the captivity, then will come, at the time of return in France, the hour of the judgement and of jails.
“In this flame, our ancestors see formerly the picture of the undefeated sun. For us, men of the Waffen SS, the light would not know to extinguish itself. We know that the night and the death arrive. But we know that the sun will return. We believe that life will re-emerge” – Henri Fenet.
The defense of Kolberg
All the units of the Division Charlemagne are dislocated since the fight of Körlin. The isolated rush as they can towards a city: Kolberg. Fritzow that is not too far is the theater of violents but quick fight, French SS against the Russian tanks, once again! Kolberg is already under enemy assaults when the French arrive by small groups on April 4 1945. As early as March 7, the city is encircled, the Charlemagne account for about 500 on the 3.000 fighters but the fatigue is there, terrible. It is a Swiss, Untersturmfuhrer Ludwig, that command them under the authority of a lieutenant of the Wehrmacht, Hempel. Regrouped at the casino of the city, the heart is not anymore there: The morale of the Charlemagne is totally broken. Only 200 soldiers will fight, the 300 others will simply work to erect barricades. Some others will join units of the SS Polizei, will fight and will die with them. The French SS deliver a terrible street fight, they again attack on March 10 with all their forces alongwith their friends of the Polizei. The target, the cemetery in the suburbs of the city is reached, they will remain there an entire day. During this time, civilians and injured soldiers are evacuated by sea, defended by two Kriegsmarine destroyers. It does not remain more than a group of around fifty valid Waffen SS. The Russians are now on the beach, the fight are wild, violent and unfortunately bloody. The Germans take a decision, a sacrifice mission is ordered to allow the French SS to be evacuated. In the night of 18 to March 19 Germans die for French. Ludwig managed to get out with a handful of his men. They arrive finally to the harbor of Swinemünde on March 19 1945.
The Battalion Martin resists at Dantzig
The Waffen SS of the Division Charlemagne, isolated as early as the fight of Barenwald and of Elsenau on February 27 1945, cannot participate to the regrouping on Neustettin and will find themselves pushed in the big pocket of Dantzig. A lot of these men belong to the 1st company of the regiment 58, commanded by Obersturmfuhrer Fantin, veterans of the LVF, and to the 2nd battalion of the regiment 57 of Haupsturmfuhrer Obitz. At Schlawe, they meet Haupsturmfuhrer Martin who, with its men, just landed from a train coming from Josefstadt in Bohemia! Haupsturmfuhrer Obitz gather about 300 men of his battalion, joined by about one hundred Artillery gunners, commanded by Haupsturmfuhrer Martin. Their experiences of the LVF and of the Eastern front is highly valuable. They are now about 500 French Waffen SS. On March 4 1945, they form a kampfgruppe of a half thousand men that are at the disposal of the division SS Polizei. Obitz, badly wounded during an aerial attack, dies some days later. Haupsturmfuhrer Martin takes immediately the lead and forms an erzatz-bataillon to three companies of 120 men each. On March 6, the battalion Martin arrives to Neustadt. They take care of the defensive positions, in the north of the city, in three villages. The Russians that cannot take right away Neustadt decides to bypass the city towards the north, on the French SS. 1/3 of them succumbs to the attacks of Russian tanks. The survivors attempt to withdraw towards the east, to Dantzig. It remains about one hundred valid soldiers; the two hundred others are wounded, invalid and have not anymore armament. The time is at “rests” and a brief reorganisation. On March 20, the battalion Martin goes back up in line in the region of Gotenhafen, towards an airfield. They are with Hungarian, Latvian, Italians, Dutch, all Waffen SS. Following violent fights against the T34, the battalion is withdrawn on 1st April 1945, about one hundred French again perished in this storm. The battalion Martin is transported by sea in the island of Hela then by boat again to Denmark. They arrive on April 5 in Copenhagen but take in the evening a train for Hamburg. They will eventually join the remains of the Division at Neustrelitz.
Those of Neustrelitz
There remains about 700 Waffen SS at Neustrelitz, 300 fighters and 400 workers all under the command of Stubaf Boudet-Gheusi. After the assault of the Russian forces, the HQ of the division (What remains of it) is moved to Zinow.
April 27 1945
The survivors fight with the Soviet in several places; the battalion withdraws itself again more to the west, heading for Denmark. The Anglo-American forces are there, attacking the French SS that are blocked in Bad-Kleimen,
May 2 1945
Boudet-gheusi has the intention to surrender to the British, some SS will put civilian clothes to avoid capture and try their luck individually. At 3 p.m., contact is taken with the enemy that occupies the train station of Bublitz in Mecklemboug. The tired Charlemagne, exhausted by the continuous marche of the last days capitulates…
Those of Wildflecken
The evacuation of the Wildflecken camps is decided on March 29 1945, it is an entire regiment of French Waffen SS, about 1200 men that takes the road under the command of a Swiss officer, Ostubaf Hersche. They escape more or less the advance of the armoured Americans units that hounds them. The regiment walking day and night with almost no food crosses Thuringe and High Franconia. There an order emanating from SS Obergruppenführer Shepherd in person instructs them to join the “Alps fortress” as the regiment cannot reach the remainder of SS troops in the Mecklembourg. The regiment, less than 600 men in fact, arrives on April 14 1945 at Regensburg on the Danube and, always starving, continues its march towards the south. Nevertheless a unit of French participates in the fight on April 18 close to Wartenberg. Some others will fight for the city of Moosburg alongside the new division SS “Nibelungen“. Once again the regiment splits, a part choosing to continue the fight in Austria where they will capitulate close to Lodge. The others continue their road towards Italy and capitulate finally at Bolzano in South Tyrol. An agreement is reached with the Anglo-Americans, they shall not be handed over to the French government before a year. Charlemagne disappears. Here is the end of the 33 Waffen SS Division saga.
In the first days May 1945, 12 French Waffen SS surrendered without trying to fight to the US American army. They were from the regiment “Hersche”, tired or injured, they were not anymore able to fight however. With other German prisoners, they were held in a barracks at Bad Reichenhall (former barracks of mountain troops). On May 6 1945, the 2nd French armoured Division of Leclerc occupies the city. The French SS tried to escape by fear of reprisals. They finally are captured in a small forest, encircled by two French companies. General Leclerc will question them. Asked about their German uniforms, they replied: “And you, you have an American uniform!” Judging their attitude insolent, the General decides to execute them.
The execution will take place, on May 9 1945 near Karlstein, in a place called Kugbach or Kugelbach. Being told that they would have to be executed in the back, they refuse. It is a rather terrified and in disagreement with the order Lieutenant that must command the execution. The Waffen SS French fell by groups of four, one after the other, shouting “Vive la France”. The bodies were left on the spot in accordance with the orders. They finally will be buried, three days after, by American military officers, with names mentioned on the crosses.
December 6 1948, an investigation is opened after the request of the family of a shot one.
June 2 1949, the bodies of the SS will be transferred in the community cemetery of Sankt Zeno, at Bad Reichenhall. The common grave is located in the “Gruppe 11, reihe 3, nr 81 and 82”.
Few stories circulate about a 13th Waffen SS, who was the son of a French General, friend of Leclerc, and who have been spared the execution and sent back to his father. But this is not confirmed.
Many former French Waffen SS, captured by the Soviet Army, will die in POW camps. The one who made it back to France, including Fenet, were condemned to jail sentences for treason. Most will be liberated in the early 50’s. Unlike the Francs Gardes, they only fought the Soviet Army and, in the midst of the cold war, it wasn’t any more considered as a real treason.
Legion Volontaire Francaise (Heer) (Mar 1943 – Oct 1943)
Französisches SS-Freiwilligen-Grenadier-Regiment (Oct 1943 – Nov 1943)
Französisches SS-Freiwilligen-Regiment 57 (Nov 1943 – July 1944)
Französisches-Freiwilligen-Sturmbrigade (July 1944 – Aug 1944)
Waffen-Grenadier-Brigade der SS Charlemange (französische Nr. 1) (Aug 1944 – Feb 1945)
33. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS Charlemagne (französische Nr. 1) (Feb 1945 – May 1945)
SS-Oberführer Edgard Puaud (? Feb 1945 – 28 Feb 1945)
SS-Brigadeführer Gustav Krukenberg (1 Mar 1945 – 24 Apr 1945)
SS-Standartenführer Walter Zimmermann (24 Apr 1945 – ? May 1945)
Chief of Staff
SS-Sturmbannführer Jean de Vaugelas (1 Mar 1945 – ?)
Area of operations
Germany (Dec 1944 – May 1945)
This division was given the vacant divisional number originally assigned to the aforementioned Hungarian formation. “Charlemagne” is the French name of Karl der Große (Charles the Great, 742 – 814), King of the Francs and, from Christmas 800, Roman-German Emperor. Emperor Karl defeated the Saxons, conquered the Langobard Empire, centralized the Reich’s powers and furthered arts and sciences. His name was chosen as this French division’s honor title as he was an important historical figure for both the French and the Germans.
Holders of high awards
Holders of the Knight’s Cross (3)
– Fenet, Henri 29.04.1945 Waffen-Hauptsturmführer Kdr Sturm-Bataillon / 33. Waffen-Gren.Div der SS „Charlemagne“
– Vaulot, Eugéne 29.04.1945 Waffen-Unterscharführer Gruppenführer i. d. 33. Waffen-Gren.Div der SS „Charlemagne“
– Weber, Wilhelm 29.04.1945 SS-Obersturmführer Führer Divisions-Kampfschule / 33. Waffen-Gren.Div der SS „Charlemagne“
Order of battle
– I./SS-Waffen-Grenadier-Regiment 57
– II./SS-Waffen-Grenadier-Regiment 57
– SS-Sturm-Bataillon 58
– I./SS-Waffen-Grenadier-Regiment 57
– II./SS-Waffen-Grenadier-Regiment 57
Officers serving in the Einsatzgruppen and Concentration Camps
Concentration Camps 1
(includes officers serving in the Einsatzgruppen or Concentration Camps either prior to or after service in this unit)
The “Charlemange” cuff title was authorized for this unit.
A collar insignia depicting the sword of St. Joan to be used by former militiamen in the division was designed but probably never produced.
John R. Angolia – Cloth insignia of the SS
Georges M. Croisier – Waffen-SS (PDF)
Terry Goldsworthy – Valhalla’s Warriors: A history of the Waffen-SS on the Eastern Front 1941-1945
Dr. K-G Klietmann – Die Waffen-SS: eine Dokumentation
Richard Landwehr – French Volunteers of the Waffen-SS
Kurt Mehner – Die Waffen-SS und Polizei 1939-1945
Marc J. Rikmenspoel – Waffen-SS Encyclopedia
George H. Stein – The Waffen-SS: Hitler’s Elite Guard at War 1939-1945
Gordon Williamson & Thomas McGuirl – German military cuffbands 1784-present
Gordon Williamson – The Waffen-SS: 24. to 38. Divisions and Volunteer Legions
Mark C. Yerger – Waffen-SS Commanders: The Army, corps and divisional leaders of a legend (2 vol)
Reference material on this unit
Massimiliano Afiero – Charlemagne: I volontari francesi nella Waffen SS
Marc Augier aka Saint-Loup – Götterdammerung
André Bayle – Von Marseille bis Nowosibirsk
Charles E. Boch – Le Guet-Apens De Bad Reichenhall
Gregory Bouysse – Waffen-SS Français (2 volumes)
Christian De La Maziere – Marzyciel w hełmie: Francuz w Waffen SS
Robert Forbes – Pour L’ Europe.The French Volunteers of the Waffen-SS
Richard Landwehr – French Volunteers of the Waffen-SS
Richard Landwehr – Charlemagne’s Legionnaires: French Volunteers of the Waffen-SS, 1943-1945
Paul Martelli – On the Devil’s Tail: In Combat with the Waffen-SS on the Eastern Front 1945, and with the French in Indochina 1951-54
Christian De La Mazière – The Captive Dreamer
Christian De La Mazière – Ashes of honor
Jean Mabire – La division Charlemagne
Jean Mabire – Mourir à Berlin
Saint-Paulien – I leoni morti: La battaglia di Berlino
Tony Le Tissier – SS Charlemange: The 33rd Waffen-Grenadier Division of the SS
Jonathan Trigg – Hitlers Gauls: The History of the 33rd Waffen Division Charlemagne