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Unit Name
SS-Panzer-Pioneer Battalion 9
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Commander
SS-Hauptsturmführer Hans Möller
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Estimated Strength

3 Understrengthed Companies

(total strength: 60-80 men )

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Date committed to Battle
17th September 1944

SS- Hauptsturmführer Hans Möller

(Fürbringer Collection)

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SS-Hauptsturmführer Hans Möller's unit, SS-Panzer-Pioneer Battalion 9, was no different to any of the other sub units of the 9th SS-Panzer Division 'Hohenstaufen' after the retreat from Normandy. It had been harassed by partisans, hit by Allied fighter bombers and lost men and material after conducting a number of fighting withdraws since crossing the Seine. By the time the battalion arrived in Arnhem on the 6th September 1944, it was only a shell of its former self and numbered around 60-80 men with a handful of half-tracks and lorries. The Battalion was turned into an Alarmenheiten (Alarm Unit) and located in Soeren and Zilven, just outside the village of Brummen, north-east of Arnhem.

The 41 year old commander, Hans Möller, structured his alarm unit into 3 very weak companies and started to try and source weapons and equipment to strengthen his own unit. He was able to get specialist equipment like flame-throwers from higher headquarters during the 'down-time'. However he was tasked to hand over his vehicles to the 10th SS-Panzer Division as that division was reconstituting in the area and the 9th SS-Panzer Division was moving to Germany. Möller handed over 3 of his 5 half-tracks and informed headquarters that the other two were 'unserviceable'.

Order of Battle - SS-Pz-Pi Btl 9 - correct as at 17.09.1944

Stab.
Btl. Kommander
SS-Hstuf. Hans Möller
Adjutant
SS-Ostuf. Erwin Grupp

 

1st Komp.
2nd Komp.
3rd Komp.
Komp.Chef
SS-Ostuf. Erwin Linker
Komp.Chef
SS-Ustuf. Erhard Voß   
Komp.Chef
SS-Ostuf. Gerhard Engel 

 

The men of the Pioneer Battalion were excited that they were about to leave for Germany to reconstitute however events on the 17th September 1944 changed all that. Hans Möller and his adjutant, SS-Ostuf. Erwin Grupp were out walking after lunch and could see 20km away hundreds of parachutes descending over Arnhem. Möller alerted his unit and prepared to move his troops towards the fighting. He received the orders from the commander of the division, Walter Harzer, to move his troops towards the landing zones somewhere west of Arnhem.

The Pioneers climbed into the back of Lorries and moved off towards Arnhem. They arrived in the city at 1630h and were to drive on to Oosterbeek via the Utrechtseweg. They passed the St. Elizabeth Hospital and as they were driving through the outer suburbs of Arnhem they came under fire. The Pioneers quickly dismounted and took up positions either side of the road. The 1st Company was on the left side and the 2nd and 3rd was on the right. They were engaging members of 2nd and 3rd British Para Battalions trying to advance to the bridge. They set up positions on the side roads just off Utrechtseweg just east of the feature 'Den Brink'. Erhard Voß's company was on the extreme right and extended their defensive positions to the railway line where members of SS-Flak. Abt 9 had taken up position on the northern side of the tracks. Here the British had sent a fighting patrol and engaged the men of the 2nd Company. They were quickly beaten back but the company commander (Erhard Voß) had fallen in the action. It was a sad blow to the battalion and a sign to the men that this fight was going to be tough.

The 1st company sent a patrol to the south which reached the river but did not detect any enemy. At 1800h, General Bittrich arrived at Möller's command post to assess the situation when they both heard a loud explosion - the railway bridge had been detonated. Bittrich had promised more reinforcements and departed as quickly as he had arrived. Within hours men from other SS units started to arrive and pug in the gaps especially on their left flank. By the early hours of the 18th September there was a continuous defensive line that rain from the Ede-Arnhem Road south down to the Lower Rhine River. Those British airborne troops that had made it to the bridge were now cut off.

Throughout the night and into the morning the British continued to try to break through to the bridge. Hans Möller observed:

"again and again the enemy tried with great determination to break through our lines. His desperate attacks were repelled time after time with the same resolution that characterised the fighting that raged from house to house - from garden to garden, yes, even from flat to flat, man against man....the engineer battle group stood firm against all attacks..."

The pioneers fought off a number of attacks by locally superior british forces during the day and the battalion had to withdraw to strengthened positions on the Utrechtseweg just east of St. Elizabeth Hospital.

During the early hours of the morning of the 19th September 1944, the men of SS-Pz-Pi Btl. 9 heard sounds of gun fire on their left flank. The English were once again attacking the Sperrverband Spindler. As it became light Möller's group was hit head on by an attack by the South Staffs who came charging from the cover of the hospital. The attack didn't make much progress at the staffs were hit by flanking fire by SS-Flak. Abt. 9 as well as intense fire from Möller's men. The fire included Panzerfausts and flamethrowers which stopped the attack in its tracks. Möller's half-tracks also laid down accurate machine guns fire into the paratroops who were caught in the open. They were also supported by Assault guns from Assault Gun Brigade 280 who had shown up during the morning. By 1000h the attack had stopped and Möller observed that the 'British were completely exhausted, their strength overtaxed, and their confidence shaken by excessively high losses'. By midday the British had withdrawn to Oosterbeek with the Assault Guns in pursuit. The battalion spend the rest of the afternoon resupplying ammunition, removing the wounded and the dead from both sides off the street and strengthening their positions.

The 20th September saw the battalion go onto the offensive. This was done after it had received some reinforcements from the Reicharbeitsdienst, the navy and the luftwaffe. Whilst they all lacked combat experience the battalion was glad to receive them. The SS-Pz-Pi. Btl 9 led the assault down the Utrechtseweg supported by its own half-tracks and Assault Guns from the Army. The battalion formed Assault groups and would storm enemy positions which would make narrow but deep penetrations and could be exploited by support troops. However every time this was done against the elite airborne division, the unit would sustain heavy casualties and the tactic was soon stopped.

The 21st saw the men of the SS Pioneer battalion continuing to lead the assault down the Utrechtseweg. Each house defended by the British had to be taken with hand-to-hand fighting. During the day one of Möller's half-tracks and an assault gun where hit by an anti-tank gun and where knocked out. Each day was the same for the men of SS-Pz-Pi Btl 9 as they made there way slowly down the Utrechtseweg making only metres at a time. Each house, trench and strong point had to be taken resulting in heavy casualties. The British would fight for every brick and made the Pioneers pay for each assault. Another company commander, SS-Ostuf. Engel, also fell during the attacks in the afternoon on this day.

By the 24th of September, the pioneers were exhausted. However they knew if the British won this battle then Germany would be threatened. A cease fire gave the SS-Pioneers a few hours reprieve. Whilst they received ammunition, hundreds of British wounded passed their positions on the Utrechtseweg. The endless column of wounded would pass the pioneers who would sometimes offer cigarettes to those wounded who they thought really needed them. Once the cease fire had finished then the SS Pioneers went back to their positions ready for the next attacks.

The 25th was they day for the big attack on the cauldron which involved recently arrived Tiger II Tanks from schwere Panzer Abteilung 506. They were attached to units to the south of Möller and had the objective of cutting the cauldron in two along the river. Möller's battalion had to put in a supporting attack to keep pressure on the pocket. However the objectives set were not achieved by the end of the day as the British still defended their ever shrinking pocket. That night the pioneers experienced the heaviest bombardment of artillery during the battle which was fired from guns now located in the Betuwe area, north of Nijmegen. The rounds did not stop all through the night and the battalion did not get any sleep. Fortunately for the SS-Pioneers the rounds fell mainly in other areas.

The following day the SS-Pioneers realised that the British had withdrawn from their defensive positions during the night and the battle for Arnhem had been won. According to Möller's own diary, it is estimated that the battalion suffered 50% casualties during the 9 days of fighting.


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