Knights Cross awarded: 31.03.1943
as: Obersturmbannführer Kommandeur PzGrenRgt 3 "Deutschland"
Harmel’s Knight’s Cross recommendation reads as follows…
“SS-Obersturmbannführer Harmel has been commander of SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt. ‘Deutschland’ since April 1942.
He has been a holder of the German Cross in Gold since the 26.11.1941. Harmel has been a distinguished personality in all campaigns. In the West he fought well during the storming of the Grebbe mountain in Fortress Holland, and in the Eastern campaign (1941/42) he further distinguished himself in the winter fighting around Rzhev. In this campaign Harmel proved himself in an outstanding way during the defense of the Oskol sector.
On the 19.02.1943 the Division received the order to move southwards to Nowomoskowk in order to relieve the weak German garrison there. SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt. ‘Deutschland’ received the order to attack Pereschtschepino from Otrada and form a bridgehead there. From here the SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt. ‘Der Führer’ would continue the advance towards Nowomoskowsk in the following days.
Already during the approach of the Regiment the commander displayed a particularly responsible kind of boldness. Despite continual enemy interference from both sides of the march route, the Bataillon (reinforced by a Panzer-Kompanie) under the personal leadership of the regimental commander did not cease its thrust through the night towards Pereschtschepino. Reconnaissance had reported the village to be occupied by the enemy. As such the bulk of the reinforced Bataillon launched a motorized thrust through the village and thereafter completely annihilated the totally surprised enemy that had been trapped in the resultant pocket. The enemy strength here was approximately one regiment, which alone left 1500 dead here. With this action the ordered bridgehead was created and the task of the Regiment fulfilled. SS-Obersturmbannführer Harmel utilized the momentum from this success, launching an immediate pursuit to the south of the bridgehead in order to expand it while destroying the identified enemy forces in the area. Acting on his own initiative, Harmel led his reinforced Bataillon further south while it was still dark and was able to capture Dimitrijewka-Golubowka after a hard battle. The enemy forces located here (about two battalions) were likewise annihilated.
During this fighting SS-Obersturmbannführer Harmel led from an armoured radio car in the midst of the combat despite the enemy anti-tank gun threat. He personally directed the Panzer-Kompanie and ensured the total destruction of the enemy.
Thanks to the bold, swift action of the regimental commander, as well as his success in expanding the bridgehead, the Division was able to launch a swift pursuit thrust to the south. This meant that, after hard fighting around Gumbinicha, SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt. ‘Der Führer’ was able to restore contact with the friendly elements in Nowomoskowsk on the same day. With this the mission of the Division was fulfilled.
Thanks to the brave leadership, decisiveness and dashing attitude of SS-Obersturmbannführer Harmel (which was passed on to all his subordinates), the further advance of the enemy towards the west was brought to a halt. His actions thereby enabled the subsequent attack of the SS-Pz.Gren.Div. ‘Das Reich’ against Pawlograd.
On the grounds of his outstanding soldier’s personalty and demonstrated bravery, I hold SS-Obersturmbannführer Harmel to be especially worthy of receiving the Knight’s Cross to the Iron Cross.”
Awarded Oak leaves (296th recipient) awarded: 07.09.1943 as Standartenführer
Kommandeur PzGrenRgt "Deutschland"
Harmel’s Oakleaves recommendation reads as follows…
“During the the Division’s assault against the enemy’s Mius bridgehead on the 30.07.1943, the Panzergrenadier Gruppe (with the reinforced SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt. ‘Deutschland’) was deployed on the left of the Division’s armoured group. Mission: After capturing Hill 203.9 (1 km north of the west part of Stepanowka), seize the village itself and shield the main thrust of the division (that was to take place south of here) to the northeast and east.
Already during the attack on Hill 203.9 however this attack repeatedly threatened to bog down on account of the extremely tough enemy defense from well camouflaged and in-depth defenses on the hill. This was made even stronger by a formidable minefield and heavy flanking artillery fire from the commanding Hill 213.9.
Here it was Standartenführer Harmel, fighting from the foremost line, who repeatedly inspired his men to continue their attack. Of the 16 Sturmgeschütze attached to the Regiment, 7 fell out due to mine damage in this phase alone.
After Hill 203.9 was finally occupied after an hours-long and fierce battle, Standartenführer Harmel (present in either an armoured car or dismounted with his men) swiftly ordered the reinforced I. Bataillon to attack Stepanowka without waiting for the planned catch-up of the armoured group and the bulk of the Regiment. He wanted to utilize the temporary disruption of the enemy caused by the loss of the hill to seize a foothold in the village that was by now known to be heavily occupied by the enemy. But soon after the renewed attack of the Regiment it was made clear that the defense system of the village was completely intact, and I. Bataillon was pinned down after penetrating into the first row of houses hot on the heels of the last retreating enemy elements. Despite this however the decision of Standartenführer Harmel to immediately attack meant that a breach was made in the outer defensive ring of the village, which could be used as a jump-off point for further combat in the village. If he had not done this, this penetration into the village would have resulted in far greater casualties, or even been completely smashed.
In this situation, as always, Standartenführer Harmel rolled forwards with his command vehicle. After it had driven over a mine, he mounted up onto a new tractor under heavy infantry and artillery fire until it too drove over a mine. Standartenführer Harmel placed himself at the spearhead of the I. Bataillon and fought with them in the foremost line further into the village.
The attack made only slow forward progress, as every house had been constructed like a fortress both above and below ground. The fire of the heavy weapons only had minimal effect due to the strongly constructed bunkers under the houses, which had been strengthened by the natural rock formations. Each individual man had to complete a very difficult task in the face of a much stronger, fiercer and more ruthless enemy. The strong counterattacks of the Russians against the whole line and the associated tying down of all elements of the division meant that new forces for reinforcing the village battle could not be spared. In the consequent village battle, one of an extraordinarily grim nature in which every enemy soldier chose death over surrender, it was always Standartenführer Harmel who gave new courage to his men through his presence in the forward line. His resolve, which persisted through the high losses sustained and the tremendous difficulty of the fighting, meant that the battle could finally end in victory after a 30-hour struggle.
During the night of the 31.07.-01.08.1943 Stepanowka finally fell into our hands. In the village the bulk of the 24th Guards Rifle Division was either destroyed or taken prisoner. It turned out that the village contained super-heavy mortars, anti-tank guns, artillery and howitzers of a 28 cm caliber. All of these, supported by frequent bombing raids (which included phosphorus bombs) shot into the rear of our attacking soldiers.
In Stepanowka the following (among other things) was either captured or destroyed…
- 18 T-34 tanks
- 2 armoured cars
- 3 artillery pieces (15 cm)
- 1 rocket launcher
- 12 anti-tank guns (7.62 cm)
- 8 super-heavy mortars
- 1 German assault gun
- 1 heavy howitzer (28 cm)
- 8 artillery pieces (10 & 7.5 cm)
- 3 AA guns (3.7 & 5 cm)
- 17 anti-tank guns (4.7 & 3.7 cm)
- 41 heavy mortars
- 33 light mortars
- Hundreds of MGs
- Far over 1000 rifles
- 800 enemy dead (that have been counted up until now)
- 400 prisoners
Standartenführer Harmel holds the decisive share in this success by his unquestioning devotion to duty. Furthermore the resolve of Standartenführer Harmel enabled the armoured group of the Division to launch its thrust to Hill 202.0, which in turn resulted in a deep flanking movement that eliminated countless heavy weapons. The consequences of the fall of Stepanowka were a crucial step in the swift reaching of the old main line of defense at the Mius.
In every campaign Standartenführer Harmel has proved to be a reliable fighting personality, especially during the Western campaign in the storming of the Grebbe mountain, in the East at the Yelnya salient, before Moscow, in the winter fighting around Rzhev in 1942 and in the Oskol/Moskau area in 1943.
His attacking spirit and energy have an immediate effect on his subordinates when he enters the battlefield. Whenever he appears (mostly in an armoured radio car) in the foremost line he carries forward everyone along with him.
In the recent summer fighting Standartenführer Harmel particularly distinguished himself during the breakthrough against the deep enemy defensive positions near Beresoff (north of Belgorod). In this battle his Regiment was the first to penetrate into the defenses. Here and during the later offensive and defensive battles (attack against Teterewino on the 07.07.1943 and the armour defense battles near Kalinin on the 08.07. & 14.07.1943) Standartenführer Harmel was an invigorating element of the attacking/defending spirit of the regiment through his personal example. He was always a decisive factor in the great successes of his Regiment.
On the grounds of his great bravery and decisiveness shown on the battlefields at Stepanowka, Beresoff, Kalinin and Teterewino, I hold Standartenführer Harmel to be especially worthy of receiving the Oakleaves to the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross.”
Awared Swords (116th recipient) awarded: 15.12.1944 as Brigadeführer Kommandeur 10.-PzDiv "Frundsberg"
Harmel’s Swords’ recommendation reads as follows…
“On the 19.08.1944 the 10. SS-Pz.Div. ‘Frundsberg, under the command of SS-Brigadeführer Harmel, crossed eastwards over the Orne river in the Putanges area during the general withdrawal of the 7. Armee. It did this in cooperation with the 2. Pz.Div., elements of several Infanterie-Divisionen and countless straggler elements from all branches of the Wehrmacht. The unshakable will to resist, firmness and bravery of the Division proved enough to bring the strong, tank-supported enemy forces that were thrusting southwards from the Falaise area to a halt along the line Motabard—Ronai—Habloville. This kept the path to the east open for the forces of the 7. Armee and allowed elements of the Division itself to pull back to the Villedieu—Bailleul—La Londe area up until the morning of the 20.08.1944.
Strong enemy units had meanwhile broken through from the Truncates area towards the southeast, and after linking up with American tank forces that had pushed north from the Mortagne—Alencon area the encirclement of the remnants of the 7. Armee was completed. The enemy’s strong and concentrated attacks shrunk the ring by the hour. Heavy and ceaseless artillery fire, rolling air attacks, fuel and ammunition shortages on our own side, a failed friendly attempt at an aerial resupply and above all the knowledge of being encircled now visibly wore down the will to resist of the already hard pressed friendly units. The situation threatened to provoke a panic borne of desperation. This meant that within the pocket no orderly command by higher headquarters was now possible, and the ending of friendly radio contact resulted in the loss of contact with higher headquarters outside the pocket. The collapse of all friendly resistance inside the pocket appeared to be imminent.
In this situation Brigadeführer Harmel decided to take his weak (yet still firmly under control) remnants of the 10. SS-Pz.Div. ‘Frundsberg’ and attempt a breakthrough in a general NNE direction at the last hour. Under the personal leadership of the divisional commander, who personally went with the attack spearheads to reconnoiter the enemy situation and the potential breakthrough possibilities, the river obstacle was crossed on the morning of the 20.08.1944. In the face of strong enemy resistance, over the course of the same day a surprise thrust managed to take control of the Dives river as well as St. Lambert and Moissy. This success was thanks to the tireless, passionate actions of Brigadeführer Harmel, whose attacking officers and men took heart from his inspiring example. With this an important step was taken for the fulfillment of the larger goal here.
Despite this success Brigadeführer Harmel had to take pause, as the enemy resistance in the northwest had been so strongly reinforced that a breakthrough in this direction was no longer possible. The only hope was to try moving in an ENE direction while employing all encircled elements. Furthermore the situation had become much more grave. The enemy had continued to shrink the pocket, overrunning and scattering the security elements of an Infanterie-Division to the south. The disorderly passage over the Dives crossings by the encircled elements created major traffic jams that were hammered by strong artillery fire. The consequence was a desperate, panicked flight of thousands of leaderless soldiers, all without weapons. The total collapse of resistance once more threatened to appear. With this the possibilities for a breakout by the handful of battle-ready troop elements were rendered impracticable. The situation could only be salvaged by decisive, swift action. Despite this the senior divisional staff of a Panzer-Division located in the St. Lambert church refused to take heed for the calls to immediate action by Brigadeführer Harmel, preferring to issue further orders after reconnaissance had been collected. However the existing delays would have inevitably led to a collapse instead.
As a result Brigadeführer Harmel, given the pressure of the situation, decided to pay no attention to other orders and instead personally take control of all troop elements and soldiers that he could find in the pocket.
He now became the accepted leader of all encircled troops and the soul of the resistance. His brilliant, unshakable will to resist and faith in his own power showed itself in his speech to the SS leaders and officers of the Wehrmacht present in the St. Lambert church. He urged them to continue the fight and achieve a breakthrough under his leadership despite the circumstances. All followed him, only the aforementioned divisional staff initially stayed back. Harmel swiftly issued his orders in a small shed next to the church, which were based on his personal reconnaissance. The main points were to clear up the bridge congestion, organize Kampfgruppen, unconditionally hold St. Lambert and Moissy, and in the end prepare for a violent breakthrough on the night of the 20.-21.08.1944 in a ENE direction towards Sourdevals—Coudehard.
With a purposeful methodicalness, and extreme swiftness, the forces were reorganized and prepared for a breakthrough. Harmel appeared at all the hotspots and passed along his unbroken fighting spirit to all officers and men he encountered. He returned fleeing soldiers to their posts with a heart of iron and repeatedly made encouraging appeals to groups of fainthearted soldiers. Only the exemplary soldierly spirit from the outstanding personality of Harmel himself ensured that the positions near St. Lambert (among others) could be held under strong pressure and fierce fire long enough for the last elements of the fleeing German units to cross over the Dives river and form up in the new assembly areas east of the river during the first night hours of the 20.08.1944.
During the night the aforementioned Panzer division staff once again tried to prevent the attack movements that Brigadeführer Harmel had initiated and instead conduct reconnaissance first. However Brigadeführer Harmel decided to put his goals first and foremost, and placed himself once again at the head of the Kampfgruppen made from elements of the 10. SS-Pz.Div., Fallschirmjäger and Heer troops. Despite the absence of friendly tanks he forced his way through bitter enemy resistance in a bold and bravely led night attack, breaking through via Sourdevals and subsequently linking up with relief units of the II. SS-Panzer-Korps after a hard battle. With this the constricting enemy ring was blown open and the breakout succeeded. Along with the broken-out elements was the heavily wounded supreme commander of the 7. Armee, SS-Oberstgruppenführer Hausser, as well as the also wounded commander of the 1. SS-Pz.Div. ‘LSSAH’, SS-Brigadeführer Wisch. These men were taken back and thus avoided captivity.
During the freeing of the remnants of the 7. Armee (including those from his own Division) SS-Brigadeführer demonstrated outstanding soldierly spirit, exemplary boldness and an iron will. These qualities once again showed themselves a few weeks later when a strong enemy thrust from the south against Nijmegen was successfully repulsed. By this action a union with the air-landed enemy group at Arnhem was delayed long enough for the enemy at Arnhem to be destroyed.
In agreement with the (at the time) supreme commander of the 5. Panzer-Armee, and the current supreme commander of the 6. SS-Panzer-Armee, SS-Oberstgruppenführer Dietrich, I hereby wish to recommend SS-Brigadeführer Harmel for the award of the Swords to the Oakleaves of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross.”
Postwar signed photo of Harmel measuring 3 ½” x 5”, signed on reverse plus signed note. Very desirable autograph of a Divisional Commander Swords winner
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