|4th SS Polizei Panzergrenadier Division|
The 4th SS Polizei Panzergrenadier Division (4. SS-Polizei-Panzergrenadier-Division) or SS Division Polizei was one of the thirty-eight divisions fielded as part of the Waffen-SS during World War II.
The division was formed in October 1939, when thousands of members of the Ordnungspolizei (Orpo) were drafted to fill the ranks of the new SS division. These men were not enrolled in the SS and remained policemen, retaining their Orpo rank structure and insignia. They did not have to meet the racial and physical requirements imposed for the SS. Himmler's purpose in forming the division was to get around the recruitment caps the Wehrmacht had succeeded in placing on the SS, it also provided a means for his policemen to satisfy their military obligation and avoid army conscription.
The first commander was Generalleutnant der Polizei (Major-General) Karl Pfeffer-Wildenbruch, a career police commander who had been a general staff officer during World War I; simultaneous with his appointment he was also commissioned as an SS-Gruppenführer. The division was equipped largely with captured Czech materiel and underwent military training in the Black Forest combined with periods on internal security duties in Poland.
The division, at this time an infantry formation with horse-drawn transport, was held in reserve with Army Group C in the Rhineland during the Battle of France until 9 June when it first saw combat during the crossing of the Aisne river and the Ardennes Canal. The division was engaged in heavy fighting and after securing its objectives, moved to the Argonne Forest, where it came into contact with the French and fought a number of actions with their rear guard. In late June 1940, the division was pulled out of combat and transferred to the reserve of Army Group North in East Prussia.
In January 1941, administrative responsibility for the division passed from the police to the SS-Führungshauptamt (SS operations office), the materiel and training headquarters for the Waffen-SS; its personnel however, remained policemen, not members of the SS.
During the invasion of the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa), the division was initially part of the reserve within Army Group North. In August 1941, the division saw action near Luga. During heavy fighting for the Luga bridgehead the division lost over 2,000 soldiers including the commander, Arthur Mülverstadt. After a series of failed attacks in swampy and wooded terrain, the division, along with army formations, fought its way into the northern part of Luga, encircling and destroying the Soviet defenders.
In January 1942, the division was moved to the Volkhov River sector, and on 24 February it was transferred to the Waffen-SS; its personnel changing their police insignia to that of the SS. The formation was involved in heavy fighting between January and March which resulted in the destruction of the Soviet 2nd Shock Army during the Battle of Lyuban. The remainder of the year was spent on the Leningrad front.
In February 1943, the division saw action south of Lake Ladoga and was forced to retreat to a new defensive line at Kolpino where it was successful in holding the Red Army, despite suffering heavy casualties.
It was at this point that units of the division were transferred to the west to retrain and upgrade to a Panzergrenadier division; leaving a small Kampfgruppe (battlegroup) in the east and a Dutch Volunteer Legion, the Niederland, to make up the numbers. The Kampfgruppe was disbanded in May 1943, when the division became operational. The division was sent to Greece where it engaged in Nazi security warfare in the northern part of the country.
Main article: Distomo massacre
The division remained in Greece until August 1944 before being recalled to face the advancing Red Army at Belgrade. It again suffered heavy losses.
While in Greece, the division committed war crimes and atrocities against the civilian population under the guise of "anti-partisan" warfare. In particular they were responsible for the Kleisoura massacre and the Distomo massacre; the latter being one of the worst atrocities committed by the Waffen-SS during World War II. On June 10, 1944, for over two hours, troops of the division under the command of Fritz Lautenbach went door to door and massacred Greek civilians as part of a "retaliation measure" for a Greek Resistance attack upon the unit. A total of 214 men, women and children were killed in Distomo, a small village near Delphi. According to survivors, SS men "bayoneted babies in their cribs, stabbed pregnant women, and beheaded the village priest."
Elements of this division committed atrocities in the mountains of central Greece ("Ρούμελη") during May and June 1944 that resulted in the destruction of Sperchiada and the massacre of 28 civilians in Ipati. The division later participated in Operation Kreuzotter (5–31 August 1944), an attempt to eradicate Greek People's Liberation Army (ELAS) bases from the same mountains. The operation was a military failure, but resulted in the killing of 170 civilians and the partial or complete destruction of dozens of villages and cities.
The depleted division was moved to a front line north in Pomerania. Hitler assigned it to Army Detachment Steiner for the relief of Berlin. They were supposed to be part of the northern pincer that would meet the IV Panzer Army coming from the south and envelop the 1st Ukrainian Front before destroying it. Steiner explained to General Gotthard Heinrici that he did not have the divisions to perform this action and the troops lacked the heavy weapons needed, so the attack did not take place as Hitler had planned. Moved to Danzig, the SS-Polizei Division was encircled by the Red Army and was shipped across the Hela Peninsula to Swinemünde. After a brief rest, what remained of the division fought its way across the Elbe river, in order to surrender to the Americans near Wittenberge-Lenzen.