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44. Infanterie-Division
German 44th Infantry Division
44th Infanterie Division Logo.svg
Active 1 April 1938 – 8 May 1945
Country Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
Branch Heer
Type Division
Role Infantry

World War II

The 44th Infantry Division was formed on 1 April 1938 in Vienna. It first saw combat at the start of the war in the Invasion of Poland, and also the following May in the Battle of France.

After a 9-month period of coastal defence the division was transferred East, and on 22 July 1941 the division invaded the Soviet Union as part of Army Group South. It remained in the east after the failure of operation Barbarossa, reverting to the defensive for the winter and proved to be a bailiwick against the Soviet winter offensives near Izum and Karkov. Refurbished the division participated in the German summer offensive, and was subsequently destroyed with the 6th Army at Stalingrad in January 1943.

The division was rebuilt in Belgium when Hitler ordered the Stalingrad divisions should be reconstructed. By the summer of 1943 it was back up to strength and was sent to fight in Italy, where it was heavily engaged at Monte Cassino. After it withdrew up the Italian peninsular Withdrawn to refit, instead the division was sent to Hungary to oppose the Soviet advance. The division joined the efforts to recapture Budapest with the 6th SS Panzer Army, and was subsequently nearly destroyed near lake Balaton. The remnants of the division retreated into Austria, near its home station, until the final days of the war.

Combat History


In late August 1939 the 44th Infantry division was transferred to Moravia, previously part of Czechoslovakia, and assembled opposite the Polish border and attached to XVII Corps, part of 14th Army.[1] 9 days later, in the early hours of 1 September 1939, after a short artillery preparation, infantry waded the Olsa River into Polish territory. Soon the first prisoners were taken and the first casualties suffered.[1] The war, which, for the 44th Infantry division would last from its first day in September 1939, to its last in May 1945, had started.

The ethnic Germans, Volksdeutsche, in the border regions greeted the invading troops with some enthusiasm,[1] gifts of milk and fruit were picked up by the soldeirs along the roadside.[2]

The 14th army pushed its forces rapidly towards Krakaw and Tarnow against light resistance from the Polish Army of Krakow[3] By 6 September the division entered Krakow and captures undamaged bridges across the Weichsel without a fight.[4]

The division continued its rapid advance, crossing the San river and pushing into eastern Poland towards Lviv (Lemburg). Here on the 19 September in and around the small town of Jasniska, 14 km north west of Lviv , the division fought its toughest battle of the campaign, with the 131st Infantry regiment losing 58 men, including 2 company commanders.[5]

The last Polish troops surrendered on 6 October 1939 and by the middle of the month the 44th Division was back across the demarcation line deployed along the river San. The 44tth Infantry Division had lost 121 killed, 270 wounded and 44 missed, brought in 300 Officers and 25000 men as prisoners and marched 540 kms, a daily average of 29 km. [6] After the end of the Polish campaign , the division returned to its home station until it was moved to central Germany as OKH reserve, and finaslly shifted west for the start of the Campaign against France.

France 1940

In the May 1940 attack on France, the 44th division was in OKH reserve near Hameln.[7] Assigned to 6.Armee on May 15, it advanced behind the main spearheads, until on 29 May the division was given a defensive sector on the Somme near Peronne, protecting the southern flank of the German breakthrough. Here it remained for some days while the drama around Dunkirk unfolded to the north.

On 5 June the Germans resumed their offensive to the south attacking the Weygand line. French tactics had changed, now using a strong-point system based around fortified villages, and organised in greater depth and backed by reserves. Attacking across the Somme the division found resistance tough, particularly from the 7th North African division which held firm to its positions for nearly 2 days [8] Here the newly promoted commander of Inf Reg 132, Oberstleutnant Karl Eibl was awarded the Knights Cross for the capture of the area around the village of Chuignolles. But to the right of the 7th and, the 19th French Division, had its defenses penetrated by 3rd and 4th Panzer Divisions so by the end of the second day of the attack the French units in front of the 44th division were forced to withdraw.[9] By the 8th June with its forces unraveling the French 7th Army had the XIV Panzer Corps that had attacked out of Armiens in its rear, and was forced to withdraw in the direction of Paris, with the German units pushing hard.[10]

The 44th division had suffered considerable loses during the attack on the Weygand line, but with the 7th Army withdrawing, the way was now clear, and it advanced towards Paris. On 13 June 13 the French declared Paris an open city and retreated their forces behind the Seine, and on 14 June the 44th Division crossed the Seine just to the east of the French capital. The division continued to push rapidly to the south until the declaration of the French surrender.

The 44th Infantry Division suffered 1,730 casualties in France.[11] This was followed by coastal protection duties in La Rochelle area until End of March 1941.

Invasion of the soviet Union


On 22 June the soldiers of the 44th Infantry Division crossed the river Bug in rubber boats and ferries and created a bridgehead which they quickly expanted to a depth of 5 miles.[12] Overcoming the remaining resistance at the border the division advanced eastwards and caught up with the fighting at the closing phases of the tank battles near Dubno. The 34th Tank Division, belonging to 8th mechanised corps, had after 2 unsuccessful days trying to recapture Dubno, lost much of its tank strength and the German 57th Infantry Division had cut into its rear.[13] Over the course of the next 3 days the 44th Division helped squeeze the 34th and 12th Tank divisions forces out of existence, the 131st Regiment's heavy infantry gun company knocking out at least 1 52 ton KV II,[14] until orders were sent to the encircled Soviet forces to fight their way out by whatever mean necessary [13] The tide of the Soviet counter-attacks was receding, and the mechanised Corps withdrew where they could to regroup, their tank forces seriously diminished.[13] The German command now regarded the situation at Dubno as straitened out, but the effort had delayed 1st Panzer Group units and the 44th, 111th and 299th divisions would be stalled for some days greatly hampering the follow up of infantry behind III Panzer Corps advance.[15]

III Panzer Corps had meanwhile struck out towards Kiev driving a 40 km wide wedge between the Russian 6th and 5th Armies. Kiponus, the front commander orders both Armies to counterattack and close the gap. The 5th Army in the north was in better shape, had the protection of the Pripet marshes to its rear and still had 3 Mechanised Corps under command. Using these it lunged southward cutting the supply road behind the panzer spearheads. The 44th Infantry was ordered to help clear the road and get traffic moving again and on 14 July it clashed with 9th Mechansed Corps on the xx Zhitomir road. The Russian unit, claiming to have inflicted considerable damage on the Germans [16] were forced gradually back towards the north east


The Russians had been working on the defences in front of Kiev since the German invasion began, and mobalised an additional 50,000 citizens to dig anti-tank ditches. Their fortified zone was well outside the city and stretched for 80 km, consisting of a serious of bunkers, obstacles and ditches, backed up by fortress machine gun battalions.

German armour reached the outer zone but did not attempt to attack, and were relieved by the infantry of XXIX Corps. By the close of July the Corps had assembled 5 infantry divisions, and on 1 August, launched a direct assault on the Russian defences aiming to take the city. The 2 central divisions of the Corps smashed through the fortified zones and reached the suburbs of Kiev.


Soviet bunker in the 44th Division sector

The 44th Infantry Division on the right flank only got as far as the outer bunkers and before being hit by counter arttacks from the 175th Riffle Division. The Russian command desperately threw in militia battalions and airborne troops and forced the German centre back also. By 11 August, XXIX Corps' attack had run out of steam Both sides had suffered heavy losses, and a stalemate ensued. Meanwhile, aided by the 9th Panzer Division, the 6th Army had finally closed up to the Dnieper north of Kiev and formed a bridgehead on the east bask. Army engineers quickly built a pontoon bridge across the river, over 900m wide at this point,[17] and 6th Army began filtering its Infantry across. Meanwhile far to the east, tanks of 1st and 2nd Panzer groups met, forming a huge cauldron and encircling elements of 5 Soviet Armies. The German command needed to break up the pocket as quickly as possible and trap and destroy the Soviet Armies inside it. The 44th Infantry Division is ordered to leave the siege lines outside of Kiev and cross the Dnieper by the pontoon bridge, from where it is hurried forward to block Russian forces fleeing eastward trying to escape the German trap.

In the last days of September the fighting in the cauldron concluded, and the division resumed its advance eastwards, hindered now more by the arrival of the autumn rains, which turned the roads to mud, than Soviet resistance. By November the division arrived in the area of Achtyrka, west of Kharkov [18] where it went into the Army Group reserve.


During the winter of 1941/1942 the division was assigned a defensive sector south of Karkov, still under command of the 6th Army, on the Army boundary with 17th Army to the south.

By January, 1942 Stalin wanted to capitalise on the success of the counter offensives around Moscow, and expanded the scope of the Soviet winter operations to include northern and southern sectors of the front.[19] As part of this effort Southwestern and Southern Fronts conducted the Barvinkove-Losowaja Operation with 6, 57 & 38 Armies. German defences in the sector along the Dornets river, west of Izyum, consisted of disconnected all round strong points rather than a continuous line and the The attack commenced on 18 January, hit a week section of the German line along the Dornets river, west of Izyum, and ripped away German defences on along a 60 mile front.[20] After a week the Russians had driven 100 km into the German line, and now as well as its eastern front, the 44th division positioned on the northern edge of the breakthrough with its southern flank along the frozen Donets wide open, except for some hastily assembled reserves rushed to the area by 6th Army.[20] The 44th bent its right flank back, basing its defence a string of small communities readied for all round defence, most notably Balakleja. The Russian command, eager to expand its success and threaten Karkov, ordered the 38 Soviet Army to attack, and it launched a series of furious frontal assaults attempting to dislodge the German defenders. Unable to budge the 44th Divisions defences, the Soviet 38th army regrouped and tried again in March, but with much the same result. The stubborn defence of the 44 Division contributed greatly to the 6 Army's ability to stabilise the situation and a grateful German command awarded both 131 and 134 Regimental Commanders the Knights Cross [21]

The divisions exploits were reported back in Berlin when a newspaper article reported between 16 January and 7 February the division had repulsed 142 separate Russian attacks, claiming 6600 dead in front of their positions, 1300 prisoners and the capture or destruction of 27 tanks, 14 guns and much other equipment.[21]

Operation Blue, the summer offensive, began on 28 June with the attack of 4th Panzer Army but the start of 6th Army was delayed for several days by heavy rain which turned the roads into quagmires. Finally starting on the last day of June, the infantry, 'behaving like armour', achieved instant success and penetrated 20 miles into Russian defences on the first day.[22]

The armoured divisions, in spite of sporadic fuel shortages forged ahead leaving the infantry to follow as fast as they could, which was as fast as a man could walk. In 18 days the division covered over 300 miles. Dust hung in the summer heat as columns of infantry and their mostly horse drawn guns and supplies laboured eastward across the open Steppe and through vast fields of sunflowers.[23] The 6th Army drive, lacking in armour, was slowing and Russian resistance increasing when 44th division came up hard against Soviet 62nd Army defences in the great bend of the Don.

Finally getting spearheads along the Don from the north and the south, 62nd Army was trapped near Kalash. 44th Division, holding what was now the western side of a pocket, pushed inwards and in four days helped round up the surrounded Soviets giving 6th Army a victory and netting 50.000 prisoners.[24]


Stalingrad - Preparations for Operation Uranus

By September 1942 the division took up defensive positions protecting the long left flank of the 6th Army in Stalingrad. The division had developed a 'cleaver system' of defensive positions on the high banks of the Don which allowed an 'excellent view' of the Russian hinterland and the daily movement of troops and materials suggesting a build up of forces opposite the XI corps and the Rumainian 3rd Army to their left. [25]

19 November dawned to freezing fog, and the sound of heavy artillery fire coming from the divisions left flank, it was clear the Russians had opened an offensive against Rumanian forces to the north. By midday on the same day, rumours reached the division of a breakthrough. Manoilin, one of the supply bases for the division had already been attacked by Russian armour. [26]

An attack against this sector had not been totally unexpected by the German command, and the previous day the 6th Army as authorised the 44 Infantry to release the 132 Infantry Regiment from its defensive positions along the buffs overlooking the Don, for commitment elsewhere. The regiment was already short of men, so it dissolved one battalion (III/132) and distributed its men to the other two. [27]

On 19 December the regiment was issued movement orders to secure Verkhne-Buzinovka, 25 miles behind the Divisions front line, and arrived there to find Russian forces already threatening weak German service elements in the area.

Out on a limb and already outflanked by Soviet units which captured Kalash on the 4th day of Operation Uranus, the division abandoned its former defensive positions and began to retreat across the steppe to the bulk of 6th Army in and around Stalingrad. Its movements were hampered by a 'catastrophic' fuel situation and the decision by 6th Army to move many of the divisions horses to the west out of the combat zone.[28] On 26 November it crossed the Don at Luchinsky, where engineers blew up the army bridge behind it, and two days later the 44th division reached its place in the new perimeter of 'fortress Stalingrad'[29] as laid down by the 6th Army planners.

The Soviets were quick to test the defences, mounting infantry attacks supported by armoured groups of up to 60 tanks.[30] On 4 December the main line of resistance was over run in an attack forcing 6th Army to commit what meagre reserves it could rustle up. A battle group from 384 Infantry Division, 12 tanks from 16 Panzer Division and a handful of assault artillery managed to restore the old positions the next day.[31]

Probing attacks continued through the month and the failure of the air bridge into the pocket meant that shortages were now beginning to bite, the artillery was limited to 5 shots per day and the bread ration was cut to 200g per day, then to 100 and finally on 26 Decemnber to 50 grammes.[32]

The combat strength of the infantry battalions were rapidly sinking, not only through combat but the cold and illness were also taking their toll, as well as the persistent herrasing mortar and artillery fire. To keep up numbers artillerymen and even construction workers were turned into infantry [33] as well as soldiers from disbanded units and Romanians. As the fighting continued through December and into January an increasing number of support personnel were used in the front line. By 2 January all the horse meet had been eaten and the physical condition of the troops, with only thin soup and little bread was rapidly deteriorating while replacements combed from the service units were found to be willing but lacking in basic infantry training[34]


Ju 52 approaching Pitomnik Airfield in Stalingrad. The 44th Infantry Division defended the approaches in January 1943

On 10 January the Russian unleashed their attack on the pocket, 65th and 21st armies sent waves of brown clad infantry, supported by tanks, and overwhelmed the 44th divisional defenses on the first day. By the 12 January the western potrubance of the pocket, the karpovka nose was eliminated. In driving snow, groups of fighting troops managed to with draw to the frozen river line of the Rossohka, but each backward move led to the abandonment of heavy guns and equipment and an increase in frostbite cases.[35]

The division was defending the approaches to the Pitomnik airfield, but its troops were unable to dig into the frozen ground, and unable to halt the Soviet advance, and continued to retreat. The vital lifeline of the 6th Army fell on the 14 January.

The remnants of the division were pushed back into the ruins of Stalingrad itself. Now only a single gun was left to the divisional artillery and the infantry regiments formed battle groups with their few remaining men mixed with variety of other combat and service troops, and equipped with only rifles and a few light machine guns. All the other heavy weapons had been abandoned in the retreat or were useless through lack of ammunition.[36]

On 27 January, General Deboi the divisional commander, joined the 131 battle group to 'be with the infantry' at the end.[37] Finally with no more food or ammunition resistance ended, the surviving officers joined their last troops in surrender, and the 44 Infantry Division ceased to exist.


On 25 July 1943 Mussolini was removed from Office by King Victor Emmanuel and replaced as Prime Minister by Marchal Badoglio [38] The Same day Marshall Badoglio called the German ambassador in Rome and informed him of Mussolini resignation. [39] Although the Marshall publicly declared a continuation of the war and the pact with Germany Hitler immediately suspected that Badoglio would seek to make peace with the Allies. The German military forces in Italy remained week, most combat capable combat units were fighting in Sicily, with very little on the mainland, capable of dealing with a swift Italian defection.[40]

Captured Italian soldiers parade through Bolzano.

Hitler recalled Rommel to Berlin ordered him to take on the problem of securing German Iinterests in Northern Italy and to use his newly set up Army Group B headquarters to control the new forces that would soon be moved into the area.[41] Orders for these troop movements soon began to be issued, but to get the troops into the theatre, first the vital communications rout through the mountains had to be secured. On 26 July, Field Marshal von Rundstedt, at OB West Headquarters was ordered to move 2 divisions immediately to secure the Alpine passes, the 305th went towards Nice and the 44th towards the Brenner pass.[42] Divisional units of the 44th Infantry Division began arriving in Innsbruck, Austria on 27 July,[43] and by the months end ith was on the boarder at the Brenner pass. Its admission into Italy proper, however, now became a matter of political debate between the higher political and military establishments of Italy and Germany.[42]

The new Italian leadership did not want more German units to enter the country, as they saw, rightly, that this would enable the Germans to take control. However, they were not ready to openly oppose the Germans at this time and they could not deny the logic of the German argument, that more military units would be needed to repel the Allied armies, so even though at first the local Italian commander was instructed to refuse the division entry, permission was eventually granted.[42] The 44th quickly took control of the rail line as far as Bolzano, and by the next day infiltration of Army group B units was in full swing. [42]

On 8 September Badoglio announced an armistice between the Italian Forces and the Allies on Radio Rome [44] The Italian defection, long foreseen by Hitler who had instructed the OKW to develop contingency plans to deal with it. Operation Achse would see the disarming and disbanding of the military of the former German ally, and the take over of the Italian State by Germany, using force if necessary. [45] But, in the event, little force would be required as the Italian Armed forces, lacking any clear leadership began to dissolve and capitulation ensued. The 44th Division, still in the South Tyrol, quickly seized the Italian XXXV Corps Headquarters in Bolzano, and a huge haul of prisoners, including 1783 officers, amongst which were 18 Generals, and 50,000 men.[46]

With the Italian Miletary no loner policing its territory, Yugoslavian partisan activity flared up in Istria and Carniola. This area had mixed populations of Italians, Slovaks and Croatians, and Carniola, part of Yugoslavia in 1939, had only recently been annexed by Italy in 1941. OKW ordered Army Group B to safeguard vital interestes and communications routs in the area, and Romel dutifully complied. Tasking II SS Panzer Corps to lead, and utalising the considarable forces at the disposal of Army Group B,several sweeps were conducted from late September to mid November, claiming success and the killing or capturing of thousands of partisans and capturing of much materiel. [47]

The Bernhardt Line

In November 1943 Kesselring saw Hitler in Berlin. He told the German leader that he believed the Allies could be held south of Rome at the winter line for six months. Shortly after Kesselring was given overall command of the armies in Italy, and Rommel relinquished his command of Army Group B and transferred to France to build the Atlantic wall [48] Now with access to an extra eight and a half divisions, including the 44th Infantry Division, Kesselring had the additional forces he needed to attempt to fulfil his promise to Hitler. He wanted to relieve his mobile divisions to rebuild their strength and use them as a mobile reserve against likely landings behind the German line [49]

Meanwhile, the American led 5th Army had broken out of the Salerno beachhead, joined with the British 8th Army, which had entered the boot of Italy from Sicily and were pushing German forces northward as they fought delaying actions through successive defensive lines. Kesselring wanted to delay their advance as long as possible to gain time to build up the defences of the Gustav line, also called the winter line. The 44th Infantry Division would bolster these efforts and was ordered to entrain and move south to the front.[50]

At the end of November 1943, 44th HuD units began to arrive and the most advanced battalions were sent forward to relieve units of the 26th Panzer Division, which was to be redeployed.[51] The division took over its new positions including numerous protected shelters, pill boxes, and mortar positions built on reverse slopes, on a series of high mountain peaks dominating the road to St Elia and the Rapido valley. Also in its sector was the village of Lagon, whose sturdy houses had been fortified. These positions were soon under attack by the US VI Corps, which pushed its units into the mountains, attempting to draw German reserves away from the main effort that would occur further to the south, in the Mignano Gap.[52]

In spite of the inherent defensive advantages of mountains terrain and the harsh winter weather, the soldiers of the 44th division soon realised that they were not correctly equipped for either winter or mountain warfare. They had the wrong clothing and their horse drawn supply units were found to be useless in the mountain trails. The division quickly had to swap some of its wagons for mule trains, and some artillery for mountain guns.[53] Moreover it was now inserted into major combat, for the first time since it was rebuilt, against a well resourced enemy, who had plenty of support from artillery, armour and air power. Indeed several units had already suffered attacks from Allied fighter bomber, known as 'jobo's', upon retraining north of Cassino and on the way to the Bernhardt line.[53]

Map of US Plans for Attack, 5th January 1943 on German position in front of the Gustav line

The US 45th Division objectives was to be the village of Lagon and several of the peaks that dominated the village and the road to St Elia. Key to these was peak 769, and several days of combat around peak 769 followed, between elements of the 179th US Infantry Regiment[54] and 2 Kompanie 131 Regiment,[55] with attack followed by counter attck, and the summit changing hands. Finally the Americans secured the summit for good and the 2/131 withdrew from its last positions on the reverse slopes with only 12 men and one officer remaining in the company. On 9 December the US Division also managed to get troops into Lagon but after house to house fighting, failed to dislodge the defenders from I/134, and the village would remained in German hands for another 2 weeks.

When the 5th Mountain division became available, the 10th Army replaced the 44th Division in the mountains and shifted it south to cover the more likely approach to the Luri valley, at the M gap. It would cover a wide sector with its units interspersed with those of the 29th Panzer Grenadier division. The defence was based on a serious of low hills on either side of highway 6, with the landscape rising dramatically on its left flank to the 1270m high, mount Majo. The US Fifth Army had used the short lull in operations since mid December to freshen its forces, and plan for the renewed attack which would be amply supported by amour, artillery and air power. The attack would use a task force from 1st armoured division, plus some British support on the left, 2 regiments of the 34th US Infantry Division, the 168th and the 135th, on the right and some special service troops on the high peaks of Mount Majo. The 1 st special Service regiment had a battalion of specifically trained mountain troops, and these were used to cross the inhospitipal and difficult terrain and seize the summit of Mt Majo on the first day of the offensive, 4 January. The summit was in the sector of the 44th's 132 Infantry Regiment, who mounted repeated counterattacks but failed to regain the lost ground and suffered badly from the hands of American artillery. The US 93rd Armoured Field artillery Battalion, who fired 8500 rounds in 3 days in support of the Special service troops. Having the weakened defenders the Special Service troops then went on to secure the neighbouring peaks. With the high peaks secured the US forces launched their drive along highway 6. The attack started well when forces from 168th lead battalion were ambushed by elements of III/132 under Lt Prandlwho captured 2 officers and 68 men. The Americans, however, put this early setback aside, and broke into the village of V with the 135th US regiment, and after 2 days of difficult house to house, captured it, taking 170 prisoners from the 44th division in the process.

The US forces then pressed on to the ridge behind the village, La Chinia, one of their major objectives, and still held by the III/132. The German battalion hung on to its defences for another 2 days but were finally forced off the summit. Following the pattern of earlier clashes, it then lost heavily to US artillery whilst counterattacking, and was reduced to company size, and its rtemnants eventually had to be placed under the command of the II/132. The 44th Division had suffered heavy casualties and had everywhere been driven from its defences. von Senger, the korps commander, then brought up fresh forces to slow the Allied advance and allowed the 44th to fall back into the Gustav positions in and around Cassino for a few days rest and replenishment. [56]

File:Map of 1st battle of Cassino.jpg

1st Battle of Cassino


British 10 Corps were the first to attack the Gustav line proper, in the coastal sector, and with some sussess, nessatating Kesselring to commit his mobile reserves down from Rome to stop them. This allowed the US VI Corps to land successfully and virtually unopposed at Anzio on 22 January 1944 and form a beach head. With the Anzio landings in full swing and but the British drive now almost completely stopped, General Clark, commander of the US 5th Army needed to keep the pressure up on the Gustav line to prevent the Germans shifting reserves back to Anzio. A crack in the Gustav line, together with the threat of the Anzio beachhead would render the whole of the German defensive position south of Rome untenable. The attack by the 36 US infantry division across the Rapido in the Luri valley was a costly failure, so General Clark now lunched Juins French expeditionary force, and the US 34 US ID against the Cassino Massif itself. The French would attack from the village of St Elise at the head of the Rapido, across the Belmonte valley and up and onto Mt Belvedere and beyond that Colle Abate, which, at 919 m high, dominated the whole area. The US division would attack across the flooded Rapido, capture the hills beyond, wheel left and take the town and monastery hill.

German dispositions

The renewed Allied attack would crash strait into the 44th division defences around Cassino. The division had 3 battalions of 132nd Infantry Regiment positioned in prepared positions along the Rapido valley, and 2 further battalions of 131st Infantry Regiment in the village of Cairo and on Mt Belevedre. Units of 71st Division 191st Infantry Regiment were under command in the Belmonte Valley, linking into 5th Mountain Division on the left flank. Most of the 143rd Infantry regiment was in reserve, rebuilding after heavy loses in the Bernhardt line fighting.

The 34 Division attack

Thick minefields and rows of barbed wire had been laid in the marshes and on the gently rising ground at the base of the mountains to prevent the passage of tanks or foot troops. A chain of bunker positions, stronger than any encountered before, had been built, some reinforced with concrete, some with railroad ties from the ruined station at Cassino, but all of them dug and blasted out from the rock of the Cassino hills. Not content with natural fortifications the enemy had installed portable steel pillboxes, half-buried in the ground, each containing a machine gun. Every man and every weapon had shelter from artillery fire. In support of their infantry positions, emplacements were prepared for self-propelled guns which could mount the trails on the northwest side of a hill without being observed by us, fire a few rounds, and disappear. A large concentration of gun positions had been constructed close to the hills behind Cassino and close to Highway 6 where they had good protection from our counter-battery fire.

The Story of the 34th Infantry Division Book I • Louisiana to Pisa,
Chapter XIII • CASSINO • Storming[57]

Attacking across the Rapido, infantry from the 34 US division, 133 Infantry Regiment found the river in its upper reaches fordable, but the flooded banks, compounded by German minefields caused its armoured support to bog down.[58] The infantry that managed to get across were met by accurate artillery and heavy weapons fire from German 132 IR units, who protected by deep bunkers, had been shielded from the US artillery preparation, so that they were forced back to their starting positions. The next night the 34 division tried again but with the same result.[58]

For the first 4 days the American attack stalled at the river line, the infantry unable to capitalise on their gains until 29 January US 168 Infantry regiment units, found a week spot, managed to get tanks across in greater numbers.[58] Working in tandem the American tanks suppressed the German bunkers allowing the infantry to over run the German positions in the valley and push onto to the low hills, taking the village of Ciaro,[59] and capturing the staff of 1 battalion 131 infantry regiment into the bargain.[60]

On 1 February the Italian Barracks at the base of the hills, still in the hands of the 44 Division was stormed by troops of US 133 infantry Regiment and the area was finally cleared by the Americans on the following day after fierce fighting. [58]

So, at the beginning of February the positions of the 132 Infantry Regiments in the Rapido were mostly over run and its battalions decimated, It was clear to von Senger, the Korps commander that the 44 Division could not hold on its own. Its Divisional reserves had already been committed against the French, and fresh forces would be needed to bolster its sector around Cassino. These fresh forces were soon to arrive, the 211 Infantry Regiment went into Cassino town, and the first 2 battalions of 90 Panzer Grenadier Division arrived shortly after, followed by the first of the Parachute units that would become synonymous with the Cassino defence. On 2 February General Baade, commander of the 90 Panzer Grenadiers took over the vital Cassino sector and the 44 Divisions 132 Regiment was withdrawn to rebuild. [61]


In the autumn of 1944 the Soviet 2nd Ukrainian Front broke through the Transylvanian Alps and into the central Hungarian plain and by the end of October had already reached the Danube river below Budapest. The Danube, with high water levels from recent rains and swampy banks was potentially a major barrier,[62] and could have acted as a formidable break to the Soviet advance, and a considerable defensive asset if the Axis powers had forces enough to man it. But bulk of German major formations in the country were falling back into northern Hungary to protect the capital, and Army Group F, given responsibility for lower Hungary had little with which to stop the soviet advance, except some hastily scrapped up reserve formations. The Soviet 57th Army, reached the river and quickly threw 2 bridgeheads across at Mohács and Baja[62] Army Group F, too weak to do much about it, could only erect a fragile screen around the Soviet bridgeheads, and call for reinforcements.

The 44th Infantry division had just settled into its refreshment area around Udine, in Italy, when this latest crises on the eastern front led to the OKW issuing orders on 7 November for its transfer to Hungary. The division hurriedly boarded 60 trains[63] heading for Pecs in lower Hungary.

The Soviet 57th Army continued a slow build up on the west bank, bucking off counter-attacks, including some by the newly arriving 44 division, until Tolbukhin, the 3rd Ukrainian Front commander, finally committed substantial additional forces. 57th and 4th Guards Armies launched a drive in the last week of November that crashed through the thin German defences heading for both ends of lake Balatine.[64] Pecs (Funfkirchen) fell on 30 November and German resistance started disintegrating, with the 44th Divisions northern neighbour, 31SS Division, 'flooding westwards' [65]

2nd Panzer Army, after receiving considerable reinforcements, managed to stabilise the front, anchored on lake Balaton and forwards of Nagykanizsa, one of the last sources of oil available to the 3rd Reich. By the first week in December the 44th was seen as having only limited defensive capabilities,[66] and its fighting spirit's were strongly diminished.[67] , but the now static front remained quiet for several weeks allowing the 44 division to recuperate, rebuild its strength and absorb replacements.

After the ebb and flow of the failed German relief attempt of Budapest, Soviet forces still controlled a sizeable area on the west bank of the Danube at the confluence of the Gran, just north west of Budapest. The German command viewed this bridgehead as a major threat as it was an ideal jumping off position by the Russians for a further drive towards Vienna and to seal it off would require substantial forces, forces that were needed elsewhere.[68] To eliminate the Gran bridgehead, Army Group South would utilise the considerable strength arriving in the area, to mount operation Southwind, with II SS Armoured Corps attacking in the southern sector and Panzer Corps Feldherrnhalle in the north. The 44 HuD, already in transit to the area would attack with the northern group, with the heavy tanks of Feldherrnhalle armoured group attached, Tiger IIs from 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion.[68]

Tiger II's of s.H.Pz.Abt. 503 'Feldherrnhalle', attached to the 44th division during the elimination of the Grad bridgehead

On 17 February the attacked kicked off in the pre dawn darkness, and by the second day the 44 HuD had gone halfway to the Danube. In 4 days of fierce fighting the Soviet bridgehead was cleared bar 2 villages on the west back. The Germans reorganised their forces and the 44 division helped the SS Lah to clear the last resistance from the village of Kemet in savage house to house fighting.[69] Southwind was over and declared a success, the 44th reported the destruction of 6 tanks, the capture of 43 guns as well as much other equipment.[70]

Army Group South now turned to new offensive plans. Ordered by Hitler to regain control of areas of central Hungary up to the Danube river, operation Operation Spring Awakening (Frulingserwachen) aimed to recapture ground that already had seen much fighting during the Budapest relief attempts. The main thrust would occur north of Lake Baleton, conducted by 6 SS Pz army, with secondary thrusts to the south.

The lead up to the attack did not go smoothly, the inadequate road network, exacerbated by poor staff work, caused difficulties for the attack formations whilst forming up,[71] 44th division units became entangled with the 9 SS Panzer Division and the whole of the II Panzer Corps start kicked off one day late and in driving wet snow [72]

On 7 and 8 March the Panzer divisions of I SS Panzer Corps had cut 20 miles into the Soviet Defenses [72] but progress in the 44th sector was slow and it edged forward in several days of hard and costly fighting.[73] By 13 March it had lost almost 500 casualties, but still lagged well behindthe mobile divisions, and Tolbukhin began to launch as series of counter-attacks backed up by tanks.[72]

With the German offensive all but halted the Soviets resumed their general offensive on 16 March to the west of Budapest. Attacking across the Vertes Mountains, a sector held by relatively weak Hungarian forces, German reaction was sluggish. Their best divisions still tied up in Springwatch and Hitler was loathe to give up his offensive aspirations in Hungary just yet. He vetoed the transfer of 16SS division from the 2nd Pz Army, or the 352nd Infantry Division from the 6th Pz Army to the threatened sector, Army Group South was ordered to defend 'every inch' with what it had.[74] The Russians, initially slowed as much from the difficult terrain as the opposition, emerged from the mountain passes, having brushed aside the Hungarian defences and the few reserve German battalions and picked up tempo. Their timings were good, the difficult road conditions of the earlier part of the month were improving daily as the ground started to dry out. [74]

By 20 March the Grman hard won offensive gains of Operation Spring Awakening were being surrendered as units of the 6 SS Panzer Army were finally shifted to oppose the Soviet breakthrough, and the bulge that had been forced into the Soviet lines was deflating like a punctured balloon.[74]

The position of the German offensive units still east of lake Balentine was precarious. The Soviet 9th Guards army had already covered half the distance between lakes Valence and Balentine,[75] their only possible escape route, and another strong push would put it on the northern shores of lake Balentine and the 44 and panzer divisions of 6 Panzer Army would be trapped. The 6th Panzer Army was now struggling to stay in exsistance, and to keep an escape route open, 3 and 23 Panzer divisions had managed to withdraw and were holding the soviets off at Veszprem, but 1 Panzer division, 5 SS Viking and 44 were still in the sack, with Soviet forces both in front and behind and attacking both ways.[76]

Late on 22 March the 3 German divisions assembled at Jeno, a town midway between lakes Velance and Balaton and 12 km from safety. The Soviets could not quite get their forces to meet and a narrow gap still existed, through which the Germans intended to break out, but the Soviets had brought up anti-tank guns into blocking positions and could sweep the entire corridor with artillery, mortar and machine gun fire.[77] The German units created mixed columns, with the few remaining tanks in the lead, followed by armoured infantry, the divisional commands, artillery, supply units and rearguards, with more infantry on the flanks.[78] In the darkness the columns set off and during the night, fought their way through, finally reaching friendly lines at dawn. Disaster had been averted but for the 44 th the cost had been heavy, the division commander, van Rost, was killed along with some of his staff, when the armoured half-track he was travelling in, was struck by an anti-tank shell and destroyed.[79] Overall 65 officers from the division, had in 2 days fighting been killed, captured or badly injured,[80] and the infantry had suffered severe loses overcoming the Soviet blocking positions.[81]

Intact but badly mauled, the division fell rapidly back towards Radkersburgf on the Austrian frontier.[82]

Service and Area of Operations

Date Korps Army Army Group Operational Area
September 1939 XVII 14th Army South Krakau-Lemberg, Poland
December 1939 OKH-Reserve Einbeck, Germany
January 1940 6th Army B
June 1940 XXXI 7th Army France
July 1940
September 1940 C
November 1940 VI D
January 1941
March 1941 LIX
April 1941 XVII 17th Army B General Government
May 1941 6th Army A
June 1941 South
July 1941 XXIX Zhitomir
August 1941 LV Kiev
September 1941 XVII
October 1941 LI Karkov
November 1941 LV
January 1942 LI
August 1942 B Stalingrad
September 1942 XI
December 1942 VIII Don
January 1943
April 1943 in formation 15th Army D Belgium
June 1943 LXXXXIX
July 1943 Gruppe Feuerstein (LI. Geb. AK) B North Italy
August 1943 Gen.Kdo. Witthöft
September 1943 II SS Istria
November 1943 XIV 10. Army C Cassino
January 1944
May 1944 LI
October 1944 z. Vfg. Apennines
November 1944 LXXXXVII Udine
December 1944 LXVIII 2. Panzer Army F Fünfkirchen
January 1945 South
February 1945 FH (IV) 8th Army (Wehrmacht)|8. Armee Gran
March 1945 z. Vfg. Lake Balaton
April 1945 I. Kav. 2. Panzer Army Radkersburg, Graz
May 1945 XXXXIII 8. Armee NW Linz


Flag of the Grenadier Regiment 134

The unit was established on 1 April 1938 shortly after the annexation of Austria from elements of the Austrian army.

The organisation followed the typical structure of pre-war infantry division, with 3 infantry regiments of 3 battalions each, and artillery regiment of 3 battalions, and antitank, reconnaissance, pioneer, signals battalions and division services. The usual establishment called for around 15.000 men.[83]

In January 1940 the Feldersatz Battalion was detached and became the 3rd battalion, 443rd infantry regiment, 164th infantry division, part of the 7th Wave of 14 divisions.[84] The German Army continued to expand, in February 1940 the 10 divisions of the 8th wave were created. The 44th gave up 2nd battalion 143 Infantry Regiment which became 1st battalion 523rd Infantry Regiment, 297 Infantry Division. The battalion was replaced.

In September 1940, one third of the division was detached to form the 137th Infantry Division of the 11th wave. The German Army formed new divisions by detaching one-third of two existing divisions, then raising the remaining parts from new recruits. In this manner only one-third of the two old and one newly created divisions were new recruits.

Like all the divisions lost in the Battle of Stalingrad, it was reformed using other formations and usually a cadre of specialists who had been evacuated by air before the 6th Army's surrender.

On 17 February 1943, the division was reformed with the 887th and 888th Grenadier Regiments in Belgium. On 1 June 1943, the 134th Grenadier Regiment was added, and the division renamed Reichsgrenadier Division Hoch und Deutschmeister, along with the 80th Panzerjager, 46th Pioneer, 64th Signals, and 44th Divisional support units.

From August to November 1943, schwere Panzer-Kompanie/Tigergruppe Meyer, equipped with eight Tiger I tanks,[85] was attached to the division for the disarmament of Italian formations in northern Italy After a brief rest it was transferred to Hungary and fought the Red Army while retreating into Austria. It managed to avoid capture by the Red Army and surrendered to US forces at Hohenfurth on 10 May 1945.

Strength and losses

Summer 1942, rebuilding an attack force for Operation Blue

On the first May 1942 the average infantry division in Army Group South was 2400 understrength and lacking about 50% of their infantry[86]

Loses at Cassino

The 132 Infantry Regiment had been particularly hard hit in the defence of the Rapido valley, and the hills behind it. Its battalions had been 'bled white' and were sometimes down to platoon strength.[87] For example when relieved the I/132 had only a dozen men in each company left and no company officers, the only offices in the whole battalion were the battalion commander and his adjunct.[88] The 8/132, when relieved by a paratrooper unit on the Cassino Massif was down to only 9 men[88] Von Sengerund E noted that battalions in the front line were led by very young officers commanding around 100 men.[89]

General Clark, commander of the 5th Army claims the division was "practically eliminated",[90] and the 5th Army records show that 1303 men were captured from the 44th Division between 16 January and the end of March, with 540 from the 132 Intantry Regiment alone.[91] Nevertheless, although the attrition of front line infantry soon eat away at a divisions combat strength to a point where it would be no longer effective, the overall headcount could remain little changed and over ten thousand men[92]

The low numbers reported of German battalions often excluded service and support elements, such as supply, medical, communications and even staff troops, who servered as a base, together with the few surviving combat troops around which infantry battalions could be quickly rebuilt. As a case in point, the decimated units of 132 Infantry Regiment were withdrawn from action at the beginning of February, refreshed and the regiment was able to go back into line in March with all three battalions deployed in the new divisional sector, around the village of Terrel.

Commanding officers

after recreation

  • Generalleutnant Dr. Franz Beyer, 1 March 1943 – 1 January 1944
  • Generalleutnant Dr. rer. pol. Friedrich Franek 1 January 1944 – 1 May 1944
  • Generalleutnant Bruno Ortner 1 May 1944 – 25 June 1944
  • Generalleutnant Hans-Günther von Rost 25 June 1944 – 23 March 1945
  • Oberst Hoffmann 23 March 1945 – 8 May 1945


  • Infantry Regiment 131
  • Infantry Regiment 132
  • Infantry Regiment 134
  • Artillery Regiment 96
  • Reconnaissance Battalion 44
  • Field Replacement Battalion 44
  • Anti-Tank Battalion 44 (Motorised)
  • Pioneer Battalion 80
  • Signals Battalion 64
  • Divisional Supply Troops 44


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Dettmer, Jaus, Tolkmitt, Die 44. Infanterie Division, Einsatze 1939 - Polenfeildzug, p 18-33
  2. Richard Hargreaves, Blitzkrieg Unleashed: The German Invasion of Poland, 1939, p 135
  6. The-German-Infantry-Handbook-1939-1945 & Die 44. Infanterie Division
  8. Chapman, Why France fell p 244
  9. Chapman, Why France fell, and Die 4. Panzer- Division 1938 - 1943 map on p147
  10. Map - Lage West 8 June 1940
  11. See Quoted origin of reference: Militärgeschichtliche Mitteilungen des Militärgeschichtlichen Forschungsamtes, 2002
  12. Kamenir , Bloody triangle p 80
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 David M Glantz, The Initial Period of War, p 282
  14. Dettmer, Jaus, Tolkmitt, Die 44. Infanterie Division p 60
  15. The Halder war Diary, p 437
  17. Dettmer, Jaus, Tolkmitt, Die 44. Infanterie Division, p 70
  18. Die 44 infantry p xx
  19. Ziemke, Moscow to Stalingrad p 156
  20. 20.0 20.1 Ziemke, Moscow to Stalingrad p 158
  21. 21.0 21.1 Dettmer, Jaus, Tolkmitt, Die 44. Infanterie Division p 83
  22. Ziemke, Moscow to Stalingrad, p 336
  23. Dettmer, Jaus, Tolkmitt, Die 44. Infanterie Division, p 92-95
  24. Moscow to Stalingrad p 384
  25. Carrel, Hitler's war on Russia p 575-6
  26. Stalingrad ein ruckblick auf 60 Jahren p 13
  27. Small unit actions during the German campaign in Russia
  28. Antony Beevor, Stalingrad, p 251
  29. Stalingrad: An Examination of Hitler's Decision to Airlift" Airpower Journal, Vol. 11, No. 1 (Spring 1997), pp. 21-37. Joel S. A. Hayward
  30. Dettmer, Stalingrad ein Ruckblick nach 60 Jahren, p 45
  31. Dettmer, Stalingrad ein Ruckblick nach 60 Jahren, p 24
  32. Dettmer, Stalingrad ein Ruckblick nach 60 Jahren, p 33
  33. Antony Beevor, Stalingrad, p 354
  34. Dettmer, Stalingrad ein Ruckblick nach 60 Jahren, p 34
  35. Carrel, Hitler's war on Russia p 621
  36. Dettmer, Stalingrad ein Ruckblick nach 60 Jahren
  37. Dettmer, Stalingrad ein Ruckblick nach 60 Jahren, p 44
  38. Whittam, John (2005). Fascist Italy. Manchester University Press. ISBN 0-7190-4004-3.
  39. ,Irving, David (1977) Hitler's War ISBN 978-0340167472 p 545
  40. Saxon, Timothy D. The German Side of the Hill p 120
  41. ,Irving, David Hitler's War p 549
  42. 42.0 42.1 42.2 42.3 Sicily and the surrender of Italy, chapter XV
  43. Dettmer, Jaus, Tolkmitt, Die 44. Infanterie Division
  44. Sicily and the surrender of Italy, chapter XV Dissolution of the Rome Berlin axis p 512
  45. Sisily and the Surrender of Italy, Chapter XXIV The Italian Decision
  46. Dettmer, Jaus, Tolkmitt, Die 44. Infanterie Division, p 116
  48. need ref
  51. Selerno to Cassino, In the Winter Line pp 258
  52. FIFTH ARMY AT THE WINTER LINE Phase I The Right Flank p 30
  53. 53.0 53.1 Ellis, Cassino, p 24
  54. FIFTH ARMY AT THE WINTER LINE Phase I The Right Flank see Map 10
  55. Monte Cassino, Ein Ruckblick nach 60 Jahren pp 30
  56. von Senger Uno Etterlin, Neither Fear Nor Hope p
  57. The Story of the 34th Infantry Division
  58. 58.0 58.1 58.2 58.3 Salerno to Cassino, Chapter XXI Attack on Cassino
  59. Fazendin, The 756th Tank Battalion in the Battle of Cassino, 1944, p84
  60. Schick Monte Cassino, 60, p119
  61. Ellis ,Cassino, p 122
  62. 62.0 62.1 Erickson, The Road to Berlin p 435
  63. British Intelligence in the Second World War: Volume 3
  64. Glantz, Art of War symposium, From the Vistula to the Oder p 161
  65. Pencz, For the Homeland: The 31st Waffen-SS Volunteer Grenadier Division in WWII p 105
  66. Madeja, Russo-German War no 34 p 70
  67. Pencz, For the Homeland: The 31st Waffen-SS Volunteer Grenadier Division in WWII p 118
  68. 68.0 68.1 Maier, Drama Between Budapest and Vienna p 131
  69. Maier, Drama Between Budapest and Vienna
  70. Agis, Das Ende am Plattensee p 113
  71. Maier, Drama Between Budapest and Vienna, p 169
  72. 72.0 72.1 72.2 Ziemke, Stalingrad to Berlin, Parry & thrust-- Vienna
  73. Maier, Drama Between Budapest and Vienna, p 196
  74. 74.0 74.1 74.2 Maier, Drama Between Budapest and Vienna p 263
  75. Agis, Das Ende am Plattensee p 163
  76. Stoves, 1. Panzer-Division 1935 - 1945 p 758
  77. Erickson, The Road to Berlin p 510
  78. Agis, Das Ende am Plattensee p 210
  79. Agis, Das Ende am Plattensee p 307
  80. Agis, Das Ende am Plattensee p 258
  81. Stoves, 1. Panzer-Division 1935 - 1945 p 764
  82. Agis, Das Ende am Plattensee p 348
  84. Nafziger p89
  85. see and also (German text)
  86. Halder
  87. Die 44. Inafantrie Division p 126
  88. 88.0 88.1 Cassino 60 years p 178
  89. von Senger Und Etterlin, Neither Fear Nor Hope p 195
  90. Calculated Risk: The Memoirs of a Great Commanding General of WWII
  91. The Fifth Army Part IV Cassino & Anzio p 227
  92. von Senger Und Etterlin, Neither Fear Nor Hope p 196


  • Nafziger, George F. (31 Mar 2000). German Order of Battle: Infantry in World War II. Greenhill Books. ISBN 978-1-85367-393-1. 
  • Dunn, Walter Scott (Feb 2009). Second Front Now - 1943: An Opportunity Delayed. ISBN 978-0-8173-5547-0. 
  • Chapman, Guy (1969). Why France fell;: The defeat of the French Army in 1940. Holt, Rinehart and Winston. ISBN 978-0030724909. 
  • Kamenir, Victor (1 Dec 2008). The Bloody Triangle: The Defeat of Soviet Armor in the Ukraine, June 1941. Zenith Press. ISBN 978-0760334348. 
  • Glantz, David M. (April 2009). To the Gates of Stalingrad. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0700616305. 
  • Earl F. Ziemke, & Magna E. Bauer (Mar 1989). Moscow to Stalingrad: Decision in the East. Hippocrene Books. ISBN 978-0880292948. 
  • Friedrich Dettmer, Otto Jaus, Helmut Tolkmitt (2004). Die 44. Infanterie-Division. Reichs-Grenadier-Division Hoch- und Deutschmeister 1938–1945. Nebel-Verlag. ISBN 3-89555-177-5. 
  • Ellis, John (2003). Cassino: The Hollow Victory - The Battle for Rome, January-June, 1944. Aurum Press Ltd. ISBN 1854109162. 
  • von Senger Und Etterlin, Frido (31 Dec 1989). Neither Fear Nor Hope. Presidio Press. ISBN 978-0891413509. 
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