Brief history of the Waffen-SS Panzer Division 'Das Reich'By the time that SS Division 'Das Reich' had been withdrawn from the frontline in Russia in March 1942 for rest and refit as a Panzer division, it had already suffered over 20.000 casualties in Russia alone.
The divisions own origins date back to 1933 when the Standarte 'Deutschland' had been formed. A second was formed the following year under the name of 'Germania' and finally a third in the March of 1938 in Vienna with the title of 'Der Führer'. In 1936 both 'Deutschland' and 'Germania' had been expanded to Regiment size with three battalions each and became known as the SS-VT = SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-Special purpose troops). In 1939 'Der Führer' became part of SS-VT. In September 1939 all three regiments took part in the invasion of Poland. The SS-VT distinguished itself well.
After the invasion of France in 1940, 'Germania' was transferred from the SS-VT to join other ethnic Germans forming a new SS division 'Wiking'. The SS-VT was reinforced by a battalion from the 'Totonkopf' and re named 'SS-Division Reich'.
In 1942-43 the division saw action throughout Russia fighting with army group centre on the push towards Moscow. On return to the front at the beginning of 1943 it had been fitted out as a full-fledged Panzer division and re named 'Das Reich'. After again seeing action in the recapture of Kharkov, and at Kursk 'Das Reich' was again sent for refit in the Bordeaux region of France. After 5 months of refit and training the division was marched north on June 6th this time to the St. Lo area of Normandy. It faced the American divisions that had landed at Omaha and Utah beaches. Retreating slowly through France after failing to stem the allied advance it retired behind the Westwall in the September.
After yet another refit the division took part in the Ardennes offensive as part of the 6th panzer army where it formed part of the north flank. 'Das Reich' fought through St. Vith and on into Bastogne where the American 101st put up a heroic defence of the town. The offensive was finally halted when clear skies brought hordes of allied fighter bombers down on the German forces. 'Das Reich' was cut off and a large amount of men fell into captivity. Hastily refitted again the division was finally sent to Hungary, fighting a steady delaying action against the Russians, retreating slowly into Austria it defended Vienna. On the 7th May the majority of 'Das Reich' entered American captivity. It was the end of one of the greatest fighting divisions in history. The 2nd SS Panzer Division 'Das Reich' had lost almost 70% of its personnel and all of its equipment.