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© Phil Nix Collection

Unit Name
SS Wachbattalion III 'Nordwest'
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Commander (s)
SS-Sturmbannführer Paul A. Helle
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Estimated Strength
6 Guard Companies, 1 Heavy Weapons Platoon
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Date committed to Battle
17th September 1944
SS-Sturmbannführer Paul A. Helle
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On January the 1st 1942 the SS raised the Wachbattalion 'Nordwest' in Holland with the primary role of guarding Germans Concentration Camps located throughout the Netherlands. It was under command of the then, SS-Hauptsturmführer Paul A. Helle and at the time consisted of six companies: 1 Guard and 1 Replacement and Training company at the camp at Amersfoort, 1 company guarding Dutch intellectual hostages in St. Michielsgestel, 2 companies guarding the camp in Vught and the last company guarding a camp at Haaren.

The high selection standards that applied to other Waffen-SS unit did not apply to SS-Wachbattalion III 'Nordwest'. The soldiers of the unit were made up of Ukrainians, volunteers, soldiers with injuries that had been transferred from other units as well as Dutchmen wishing to avoid Arbeitsatz in Germany.

This didn't matter at the time as they needed personnel to guard the camps and were not required for combat duty. As a result, the medical examination of potential Wachbattalion members lacked every sense of reality and men who were found to be physically unfit for active service at the front were allowed to join the Wachbattalion. Those who were fit for service were often sent as replacement to other SS Legions fighting  at the front. This would only ensure that the unit as a whole lacked motivation and would be considered a German unit with less quality within the Netherlands.

The German Concentration Camp at Amersfoort guarded by SS-Wachbattalion III 'Nordwest'.

By June 1944, the unit had been stripped of most of the best men to supplement combat units trying to stop the allied advance through France and Belgium. After the invasion and the advance towards Holland transfers out were not permitted and the unit was prepared to be a defensive force. Leaving only half of the original 1200 men, the unit's only experience from the past two years was guarding the camps and the odd exercise. The Wachbattalion had also provided the odd Alarmeinheiten which were sent out to track down shot-down Allied Air Crew. Apart from a couple of Officers and NCOs, the SS-Wachbattalion III ‘Nordwest' was combat inexperienced going into the Battle for Arnhem. The training had been too short and were also under-equipped.

By September the southern part of the Netherlands had been liberated by the allied forces and the companies of 'Nordwest' that used to guard camps in this region had withdrawn to Amersfoort. With the immediate threat of the allied advance into Northern Holland, the Höhere SS-und Polzeiführer Rauter order the unit to be ready to combat. SS-Sturmbannführer Helle had 6 infantry companies and 1 Heavy Weapons Platoon ready for deployment (see Order of Battle below). Helle, who possessed no combat experience whatsoever, was going to have to rely on his adjutant SS-Untersturmführer Albert Naumann who had served on the Eastern Front. Naumann had been serious wounded in Russia and as a result had a permanent disabled right arm and was thus posted to the SS-Wachbattalion in the Netherlands. His other experienced officer in the battalion was SS-Hauptsturmführer Fritz Ziegler who was in command of the 2nd Company. He had not only seen action in Norway but also was a veteran of WWI.

SS-Wachbattalion III 'Nordwest' - Order of Battle (17th Sept 1944)

With the British landings outside Arnhem, the SS-Wachbattalion III 'Nordwest' was placed under the command of General Has Von Tettau and ordered to immediately move to the landing zones. The Battalion was committed piecemeal due to the lack of the unit's own integral transport. The Battalion's band was the first to arrive in commandeered lorries under the command of Drum-major Sakkel. They proceeded to conduct a recce around 1700 on the 17th September 1944 of the western woods bordering the Ginkel Heath on the Ede-Arnhem Road. The German bandsmen ran into a platoon of 7th Kings Own Scottish Borders (KOSB) who opened fire on the musicians with devastating effect.

With their leader Sakkel mortally wounded, what was left of the band retreated to the west. The 4th company under the command of SS-Hauptscharführer Ernst Bartsch was the next too arrive in the battalions transport.

They moved off at 2100h only to also run into another platoon of the 7th KOSB. The 3rd company under command of SS-Obersturmführer Karl Hink was also attacked when inserted on arrival on the right flank of Bartsch. After these failed attempts to even identify the enemy's strengths and location, the first companies inserted of the battalion were withdrawn to wait for the onset of daylight and the rest of the battalion.

On the morning of the 18th September, Helle with all his companies now in location, attacked across the Ginkel Heath. The 7th KOSB put up a gallant fight and conducted a tough fighting withdraw across the landing zones.

Even though sustaining a number of causalities, Helle was pleased with the units advance believing that the British they faced were of poor quality and had fled the battle. Rather the 7th KOSB had tactically withdrawn, running low of ammunition and supplies, against a numerically superior force and were waiting for the reinforcements of the 4th Parachute Brigade due to drop on their drop zone. This was the signal for the 7th KOSB to counter attack.

SS- Sturmbannführer Helle, probably on advice from his adjutant, had committed four companies forwarded with one company and the Heavy weapons Platoon in reserve. On the sound of enemy aircraft and the sight of paratroops on top of them, panic set in the leading companies when they were counter- attacked by the 7th KOSB from the East whilst thousands of British paratroopers descended in the rear. The 6th company on the far right flank under the command SS-Hauptscharführer Hugo Fernau was quickly captured intact. The centre right company (5th) under the command of Kuhne and the centre left company (3rd) under the command of SS-Obersturmführer Karl Hink were hit the hardest by two directions. Kuhne, with obviously no combat experience, fled his company and was found a few days later hiding in a house. Most of his company with either killed or captured. On the other hand, Hink's 3rd company with Bartsch's 4th company on the far left flank, tried to form all-round defensive positions (hedgehog) as they were attacked from all sides but were overrun by the British troops.

Helle ordered his reserve company (1st) under the command of Johannes Bronkhurst to defend a farm at Hindekamp which was situated north of the Ede-Arnhem Road. After engaging the British for a very short period, he too fled with his company heading west. The only commander who kept his cool was SS-Hauptscharfuhrer Einenkel with the Heavy Weapons Platoon. One of the only few veterans in the unit, Einenkel and his company fought a fighting withdrawal towards the north engaging the attacking airborne troops with 20mm cannon, mortars and small arms. Helle retreated his Headquarters back to the west.

With Helle moving to Ede looking for reinforcements and answers, it is most likely that Helle's adjutant, SS-Untersturmführer Albert Naumann, gathered what was left of the Wachbattalion that had not been killed, captured or deserted and manned their original jumping off positions. By the 19th September, Helle's unit was doing what most German Units on the western side of the perimeter were doing after the 4th Parachute Brigade had landed in the German rear; reorganising and preparing for the next attack. With the Regiment 'Knoche' now attacking in the north along the Wachbattalion's original line of advance, Helle's battalion was placed under command of SS-Standartenführer Michel Lippert. This was probably done to have all the SS units on the western perimeter under one command structure so it could be logistically administered as well as Lippert, with a number of years of combat experience, could keep a closer eye on the inexperienced commander and his unit.

By the 21st of September, General Von Tettau had moved his less experienced units to the rear in case of further enemy landings and his combat effective troops were to attack the British positions. Due to the fact that Helle's Battalion belonged to Lippert's Regiment SS-Unterführerschule ‘Arnheim' (considered a combat experienced unit), they too found themselves at the front preparing for their next attack on the 22nd. On the morning of the 22nd at 0900h the whole of the Western Perimeter attacked the British positions. Helle's battalion advanced left and forward of the Kourde Herberg crossroads but made only slow progress and suffered a high amount of casualties. Facing them were elements of the 4th PARA Sqn who made them pay dearly for their poor leadership in battle.

As a result of the units' incompetent performance, SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS Rauter ordered the SS-Wachbattalion III 'Nordwest' to withdraw from the Arnhem Area. Some of the personnel were integrated into Lippert's regimental command but most were later integrated into Landstorm Nederland. Lippert commented in his report: "The commander Helle was not a field officer of any experience, and had little idea of his own situation, never mind that of the enemy. I had therefore to relieve him of his command". The SS-Wachbattalion III ceased to exist on the Order of Battle for the Germans at Arnhem from the 22nd September 1944. On the orders of Gen von Tettau, Hauptsturmführer Fritz Ziegler and took command of the remainder of the battered forces of the SS-Wachbattalion III 'Nordwest'.


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