Crew of Panzerkampfwagen IV ausf H (SdKfz 161) of 3.SS Panzer-Division "Totenkopf" ("Death's Head") attached to the IV.SS-Panzerkorps at rest at a forest's edge. Note the Panzerschurzen (side armor) and the man accessing the side hatch of the turret. The Totenkopf was initially formed from concentration camp guards and men from the SS-Heimwehr Danzig ("Home resistance Danzig"). The division was officered by men from the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT), of whom many had seen action in Poland. From June 21, 1944, the division was commanded by Brigadeführer Hellmuth Becker. In several furious battles near the town of Modlin in mid-August, the Totenkopf, fighting alongside the 5.SS-Panzer-Division Wiking and the 1.Fallschirm-Panzer-Division Hermann Göring virtually annihilated the Soviet 3rd Tank Corps, which contained a division of communist Poles. The terrain around Modlin is excellent armour terrain, and Totenkopf's panzers exploited this to their advantage, engaging Soviet tanks from a range where the superiority of the German optics and the 75mm high-velocity guns gave them an edge against the T-34s. Later, IV.SS-Panzerkorps attempted to relieve the city of Budapest in December 1944 but were stymied by tough Russian resistance and poor coordination with other German units. By May 1945, they were within reach of the American forces, to whom the division officially surrendered on May 9. The Americans promptly handed Totenkopf back to the Soviets, and many Totenkopf soldiers died in Soviet Gulags.
Caption ©2007 MFA Productions LLC
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