August - September 1944
|1. The 18 Luftwaffenfelddivision in August 1944|
|2. The 18 Luftwaffenfelddivision in September 1944 - Kampfgruppe von Tresckow|
On 1 August 1944, the division was in a mixed condition. As far as the personnel situation was concerned its troops were mostly young but inexperienced. With 10,948 Mann the division was short of 870 Mann (the large majority of which are Hilfswilligen). In material terms, the division was short of heavy antitank guns, machine guns and infantry guns, but had sufficient artillery and transport. However, an important remark has to be made here. Documents show that on 13.12.1943 the corps cut the authorized strength of the division's assets by 25%. If the original authorized strengths are considered, the division was in a much worse condition. As far as its weapons were concerned, it had a shortage of Pistolen, Machinepistolen and Karabiner.
In the second week of August the division was ordered to prepare for deployment to the front in order to check the allied advance and to protect Paris. On 12 August 1944, the division issued its Divisionsbefehl für den Marsch Nr 1 to its sub-units. It gave the following orders to its sub-units for movement during the night of 12/13 August 1944:
On 13 August 1944 Divisionsbefehl für den Marsch Nr 2 was issued. This was a more complex document giving movement orders until 17 August, while some adjustments were made to it in another document that same day:
As the above document already suggests, the division would soon be forced to cross the Somme river. To this effect, the Pionierbataillon 18 investigated crossing sites between Condé-Folie (west of Amiens) and Fouillloy (east of Amiens), more specifically covering the bridges at Bourdon, Picquigny, Saint-Saveur, Ailly-sur-Somme and Vecquemont on 14 August.
The division's story continues on 15 August with the issuing of Divisionsbefehl für den Marsch Nr 3 giving orders until 19 August as well as more details concerning the Somme crossing locations. The division crossed the Somme during the night of 17/18 August (though the Vorausabteilung probably crossed during the night of 15/16 August):
The next important document is the Divisionsbefehl für den Marsch Nr 5 of 17 August. Firstly, it cancelled the movement for the night of 17/18 August in the document above, though no changes were made to the movement planned for the night of 18/19 August. Secondly, it drew the boundary with the 49 Infanteriedivision, the dividing line being Hesdin-Poix-Beauvais with the 18 Luftwaffenfelddivision staying east of that line. Finally the Divisionsgefechtsstand was moved to an area northwest of Breteuil, starting 19/8 10 a.m.
On 17 August at 11.30 a.m. the division sends a telex to corps and army headquarters containing the Marschplanung for the division until 21 August: 17/8 (morning): Somme; 18/8 (noon): Bricquemesnil-Dommartin; 19/8 (morning): Velennes-La Faloise (it is interesting to see that these details correspond exactly with those in the above table); 20/8 (morning): Le Gallet-Noyers-Saint-Martin and 21/8 (morning): Boursinne (close to Beauvais) - Le Fay-Saint-Quentin.
The following important document is the Divisionsbefehl für den Marsch Nr 6, issued by the division on 18 August. It is again summarized in the following table. Perhaps the most important change is that the division was now seen a part of the 5 Panzerarmee. In general terms the division was ordered to eventuelly cross the rive Oise and prepare for combat action in the Bereitstellungsraum in the Senlis area:
From here on the story become extremely interesting. In a Nachtrag zum Divisionsbefehl für den Marsch Nr 6, still on 18 August, a special order was given to Verstarkter Jägerregiment 36. At this point we also find that the unit was made up of the Jägerregiment 36 with the I Bataillon/Artillerieregiment 18 attached. The unit was ordered to prepare for loading onto/transport by motorized transport in the direction of Mantes in the evening. Interestingly, the document also shows us that the I Bataillon/Artillerieregiment 18 at the time was made up of the 1st, 3rd and 9th batteries as the latter was ordered to return to its parent unit and the 2nd battery was said to join the unit later. Also, we learn that the Verstarkter Jägerregiment 36 was further supported by the the 3 (Flak) Batterie/Panzerjägerabteilung 18 since one-third of this unit was ordered to return to the division. Finally, the document states that the motorized transport woild be ready at Floxicourt, which is indeed where the unit was located on 18 August (see above).
At this point we need to switch sides briefly and discuss the American bridgehead at Mantes on the river Seine. Following its breakout from the Cotentin in the last days of July, General Patton's Third US Army had chalked up a spectacular advance. On August 15 half the XV Corps had advanced eastwards with all speed. Also heading east were the XX and XII Corps. While XII Corps had had orders to take Orleans, the other two corps had been directed to establish bridgeheads over the river Eure: the XV at Dreux and the XX Corps at Chartres. However, as the momentum of the advance was outstripping the capacity of the logistics to keep up, on August 15 Bradley, the 12th Army Group commander, was forced to limit Third Army to Dreux, Chartres and Orleans. However, on August 17 Bradley was able to remove his restriction and by the evening of 18 August the leaders of the XV Corps were near Mantes, just five kilometres from the Seine. They reached the river on the morning of 19 August when a patrol the 79th Infantry Division found a footbridge over a Dam near Méricourt which the Germans had failed to destroy properly. It would thus appear that the Germans were well informed of the American threat at Mantes, and as we have seen above the verstarkter Jägerregiment 36 was ordered to leave the division and to prepare for transport to this area.
The following important document is the Änderungen zum Divisionsbefehl für den Marsch Nr 6 issued on 18 August as well. This document confirms the above order and orders many more changes resulting from the above order which we wil not further detail here.
Rather, we go on to consider the Divisionsbefehl für den Marsch Nr 7, still issued on 18 August. In this document, the entire division was given the explicit order to head for the Mantes-Poissy sector and to defend it against the enemy coming from the south. By the earmy morning of 19 August the regiments were ordered to have reached the following locations: Velennes (JR 36), Juvignies (Vorausabteilung), Conty (JR 48) and la Faloise (JR 35). The document also gave special orders to the verstarkter Jägerregiment 36:
... bildet mit dem ihm zugeführten mot. Transportraum (220 to) eine Vorausabteilung (Führer Oberst Behrens), verlädt Regimentsstab, Inf. Teile soweit möglich, hängt an sämtliche 2 cm Flak, dazu Flakzug (Sf) und 14 Kompanie.[...]. Vorausabteilung erreicht die für die Division befohlenen Abschnitt so schnell wie möglich und verteidigt ihn (insbes. and den Seine- Übergängen gegen Feindvorgehen aus südliche Richtung. Aufklärung ist rechtzeitig über die Seine nach Süden vorzutreiben. Mit Stab Heeresgruppe B (La Roche-Guyon) is Verbinding zu halten.
The Vorausabteilung of the regiment mentioned is not to be confused with a similar such unit of the division mentioned earlier. The latter (which we now learn consists of the Füselierbataillon 18) was also ordered to the same sector. The document also orderered the main force of the verstarkter Jägerregiment 36 to follow the Vorausabteilung of the regiment. Finally, the document ordered all transport to be returned immediately, la Faloise as Meldekopf for the division on 18/19 August and, interestingly, the division's movements to have priority over all other divisions (particularly those of the 49 Infanteriedivision). In conclusion we can thus say that the entire unit involved was made up of the Jägerregiment 36, Füselierbataillon 18, 14 Kompanie and one Flakzug of the 3 (Flak) Kompanie of Panzerjägerabteilung 18, and that the unit was further equipped with 2 cm Flak guns and presumably also the division's 8 Sturmgeschütze.
The archives then contain a telex sent at 1pm on 18 August to the 67 Armeekorps. It includes a 'new' marching plan for the division for 19/20 August. The localities to be reached in the early morning of 19 August were Conty (36JR), Rogy (48JR), Selevillers (35JR) and Monchy-Saint-Eloi (Vorausabteilung). These localities correspond closely with those mentioned in the Divisionsbefehl für den Marsch Nr 6 above. For the early morning of 20 August the localities are, respectively, Froissy, Noyers, Angivillers, and an area of the southwest of Senlis. Again, these locations match those in the above document.
On 19 August the division issued its Divisionsbefehl für den Marsch Nr 8. This document first states that the enemy (in unknown strength) was advancing from Vernon to the northeast and from Mantes to the north. Secondly, the division was ordered towards the Seine with the Vorausabteilung JR 36 (commanded by Oberst Behrens and including the Füselierbataillon 18 leading. The sub-units of the division were given the following marching orders, with locations mentioned to be reached in the early morning of 20 August:
The document further ordered the artillery units to move closer to the infantry and the Panzerjägerabteilung 18 to move to a location close to the Divisionsgefechtsstand.
At 12 am on 19 August the divisions sent a telex to the 67 Armeekorps informing it that the line Velennes-Conty-La Faloise had been reached by the division and that the division's Vorausabteilung was in Juvignies. At 2.40 pm on that same day another telex was sent to the 67 Armeekorps. It provides further information on the whereabouts of the Vorausabteilung of Jägerregiment 36, which is said to have reached the Somme at 1.30 pm. Interestingly, this telex also provides the composition of this unit: Stab und Stabskompanie JR 36, 1 Batl, 1 Kp, 14/36, 2/AR 18, 3 - 2 cm Flak and 3 Flak (Sf) 3,7 cm. The Vorausabteilung of the division (Füselierbataillon 18) is said to be 40 kilometers ahead of JR 48.
A new chapter in the history of the division starts on 20 August, with the issuing of Divisionsbefehl für die Verteidigung Nr 1. This document first clarified the enemy situation:
15,00 Uhr schwacher Feind mit Panzern (Panzerspähwagen?) in und bei Mantes; Übersetzvorbereitungen mit Flosssäcken.
Schwacher Feind by Fontenay wird von eigenen Kräften angegriffen
The division was then ordered to defend the river Seine on the left (east) flank of the 5 Panzerarmee in the sector between Limay-Mantes on the right (west) and Poissy-Conflans on the left (east). At the time the division's right (west) flank was open, while the left (east) flank was to be covered by the 49 Infanteriedivision coming from the direction of Beauvais and guarding the right flank of 1 Armee. The division's regiments were also allocated specific regions:
Special orders are also given to the Vorausabteilung Behrens. the unit is tasked to put reconnaissance forces onto the southern bank of the river, the cooperation with 2/AR 18 is emphasized, and attention is drawn to guarding the open flanks of the division (between Vernon and Saint-Germain-en-Laye. In addition, details are provide for the motorized transport of the troops. Also, the objectives to be reached in the early morning of 21 August are detailed:
On 21 August we can read in the Kriegstagebuch of the 5 Panzerarmee:
Im laufe des Tages gelingt es dem Gegner auch bei Mantes über die Seine zu setzen, nach unbestätigten Meldungen dort auch Brückenbau, und den Raum südlich Vetheuil zu erreichen. Die neu herangeführte 18 Luftwaffenfelddivision erhält den Auftrag mi Teilen der ebenfalls zugeführten 49 Infanteriedivision morgen den über den Fluss gesetzten Gegner anzugreifen und ihn wieder über die Seine zurückzuwerfen.
The division was then given the order to regroup and to attack the bridgehead on 23 August focusing on the right wing, starting from Aincourt, with the aim of throwing back the enemy onto the southern bank. Elements of the 49 Infanteriedivision would also be taking part in the attack.
In order to give the attack some chance of success, some reinforcements were sent to the front. Firstly, Jägerregiment 35 was hurriedly transport to an area east of Aincourt to take part in the attack. Secondly, about 10 Sturmgeschütze of Sturmgeschützabteilung 654 with 88mm guns were also attached, as well as 2 heavy and 3 medium AT guns of the Panzerjägerkompanie Finkeldei from the 18 Luftwaffenfelddivision (and probably named after its commander).
Orders were also given to Jägerregiment 36:
... setzt den begonnenen Angriff am 23.8.44 mit Schwerpunkt dort fort wo sich der Feind im Verlaufen des Abendangriffes schwach gezeigt hat.
This interesting sentence also shows that Jägerregiment 36 had already initiated an attack on the evening of 22 August, which is indeed comfirmed elsewhere, even though according to the Kriegstagebuch of the 5 Panzerarmee the attack was supposed to have started earlier: :
Laut Meldung des Ia der 18 Luftwaffenfelddivision der für heute geplannte Angriff der 18 Luftwaffenfelddivision gegen der auf dem Nordufer der Seine gelandeten Feind aus dem Raum Sailly-Breuil um 11.00 Uhr beginnen.
Interestingly, the entry of 6 pm reads:
Durch den Ia des Heeresgruppe B lässt Feldmarschall Model gegen 18.00 Uhr mitteilen das die 18 Luftwaffenfelddivision noch immer nicht zum dem geplannten Angriff angetreten sei. Er bittet dass sofort energisch durchgegriffen wird.
Together with elements of the 49 Infanteriedivision, it attacked the western wing of the American bridgehead held by the 313th Infantry Regiment. They made some progress, but the leading troops suffered heavy losses in front of well-entrenched Americans in the sector of Fontenay-Saint-Père. However, things went somewhat easier for the battlegroups of the 49 Infanteriedivision further west and they pushed back the American force that had captured the former Heeresgruppe B headquarters at La Roche Guyon in the morning. The motorized task force had to fall back upstream, abandoning the prize it had held for just a few hours.
At 7.45 on 23 August this attacked is discussed in the Kriegstagebuch of 5 Panzerarmee:
Der gestern von der 18 Luftwaffenfelddivision angesetze Angriff erreichte etwa die Linie Fontenay - Guitrancourt - Gargenville - Rangiport. Der 49 Infanteriedivision gelingt es La Roche Guyon un den Seine-Bogen südwestlich davon wieder zu nehmen.
Of course the above regiment had the advantage of being already located in the area of the attack, unlike Jägerregiment 35, which, we remember was located to the west of Juziers (see above). Thus, this order also addressed that issue and the regiment was to be transported to the east of Aincourt for the attack, starting with I/35 and 14/35 and followed by II/35 and 13/35 im Landmarsch, with support from III/Artillerieregiment 18.
These movements also had consequences for Jägerregiment 48. Although kept in reserve for the attack, the regiment was ordered to occupy the sector vacated by Jägerregiment 35.
At 10.45 pm on 22 August the division commander issued a Gruppenbefehl to his attacking troops. Firstly, he gave an outline of the current situation saying that the enemy was exploiting the gap between the two divisions. Secondly, he confirmed that the 18 Luftwaffenfeldivision was regrouping in order to attack the next morning, mentioning that schwere Panzerjägerabteilung 654 (note the name change)(since 15 August an independent unit of 5 Panzerarmee) would be subordinated for this purpose. Interestingly, other sources also mention the participation of a handful of Tiger II tanks from 3/schwere Panzerabteilung 503, though this information is not to be found in our documents. Thirdly, the aim of the operation was nothing less than to throw back the enemy across the Seine. Finally, the 49 Infanteriedivision was said to be participating in the attack.
Overall command was placed in the hands of Generalleutnant von Schwerin. On 7 August he had been relieved of his command of the 116 Panzerdivision. The 5 Panzerarmee Kriegstagebuch has the following entry in the evening of 22 August:
Gegen Abend bitter General Gause Oberstleutnant von Kessel, Ia/F der Heeresgruppe B, der sich z.Z in der Umgebung des Gefechtsstandes des General Graf Schwerin befindet dieseim zu übermittlen er habe sofort den Befehl über die 18 Luftwaffenfelddivision und die 49 Infanteriedivision zum Eintreffen des Generalkommando I SS-Panzerkorps zu übernehmen.
On 23 August the German troops attacked against the centre and east of the bridgehead held by the 314th Infantry Regiment. One batallion each of both German regiments attacked with the support of Sturmgeschütz and Tiger II tanks. The attack was successful: the Americans were thrown back to Limay and the Germans retook Porcheville on the river bank, although the infantry suffered heavily from the overwhelming might of the massed American artillery. US guns subsequently hammered the Germans at every turn, mounting daily barrages. The results of this attack are mentioned in the entry of the 5 Panzerarmee Kriegstagebuch at 10 am on 24 August:
Beim I SS-Panzerkorps gewann der Angriff der 18 Luftwaffenfelddivision in Richtung Mantes zunächst gut an Boden, bleib dann in schweren fdl. Abwehrfeuer liegen, konnte aber in den letzten Stunden wiederum gut vorgebracht werden, sodass das Generalkommando hofft den Feind gegen Abend auf eine so kleinen zusammenzudrücken um ihm mit Artillerie vernichten zu können.
At 9 pm on 23 August I SS-Panzerkorps of SS-Obergruppenführer Georg Keppler took over the mision on the Seine and von Schwerin again assumed command of the 116 Panzerdivision.
Another German counterattack was launched on 24 August, this time on the western side of the bridgehead by Jägerregiment 35, with some Sturmgeschütz in support. The 313th Infantry Regiment had to fall back for a time, but very strong artillery response crushed the attackers and the terrain lost was soon retaken. This attack is mentioned as follows in the German records of 25 August:
Die den ganzen Tag über dauernden Angriffe des I SS-Panzerkorps gegen den fdl Brückenkopf Limay kamen infolge stärkster fdl Abwehr zu keinem grösseren Geländegewinn.
The records then contain a Divisionsbefehl für die Nacht von 24/25.8.44. The document starts by sketching the situation, mentioning that the division is facing strong resistance from the Bois de Chênay and that Jägerregiment 35 is holding a line south of the one running roughly from Vienne over Drocour to the Sailly-Fontenay road, with the other regiments further east.
The document then mentions that Jägerregiment 33 (17 Luftwaffenfelddivision) would take over the sector held by the Jägerregiment 36 (right boundary: Brueil-Guitrancourt road; left boundary: Juziers), so that the latter could take part in a later attack on the Bois de Chênay. These troops were further detailed as follows: I u. II/33, 1/48, 3/Pionierbataillon 18, and II/Artillerieregment 17.
Jägerregiment 48 (located further east) was also instructed to prepare for relocation for such an attack, but the document clearly states übernehmende Kräfte z.Z. noch fraglich.
In the meantime some elements of the 6 Fallschirmjägerdivision had joined the German forces. Also 1/SS-schwere Panzerabteilung 101 had been moved in from the northeast of Paris with 14 brand new Tiger II tanks. Some were sent westwards to the Beauvais sector, others broke down on their journey south and only a handful arrived at the assembly point south of Drocourt on 25 August.
Another assault was launched on the afternoon of 26 August. The 18 Luftwaffenfelddivision attacked the centre of the bridgehead, while the 49 Infanteriedivision pressed on the west and elements of the 48 Infanteriedivision on the east. The main attack was supported by around ten Tiger II from 1/SS-schwere Panzerabteilung 101 and 3/schwere Panzerabteilung 503, accompanied by 5 Sturmgeschütz. The Germans advanced on Fontenay-Saint-Père and managed to force the 314th Infantry Regiment out of some parts of the village, before once again the artillery hit back. Fighter-bombers were also called in and 3 Tigers were knocked out.
During the morning of 27 August the Americans recovered the lost ground. Also the 117th and 119th Infantry Regiments of the 30th Infantry Division crossed the Seine and took over the eastern sector of the bridgehead. Following a heavy artillery bombardment the three regiments of the 79th Infantry Division then went in on the left, the two of the 30th Infantry Division on the right.
At 2.45 pm on 27 August the Kriegstagebuch of the 5 Panzerarmee has the following entry:
Auch as den Brückenkopf bei Mantes greift der Gegner weiter mit stärken Kräften an. Bisher können aber noch alle Einbrüche abgeriegelt werden
On August 28 the 120th Infantry Regiment of the 30th Infantry Division joined the battle group, taking up a place in line on the right flank of the bridgehead along the Seine, while elements of the 2nd Armored Division took over the left flank. That same day the 30th and 79th Infantry Divisions launched a co-ordinated attack to expand their hold on the eastern bank by seizing and securing the Green Phase Line, the ridgeline overlooking the bridgehead.
The Germans counterattacked again in front of Sailly and two Tigers were disabled. The I SS-Panzerkorps then gave the orders to withdraw and the German forces facing the bridgehead started to fall back in the afternoon.
On 28 August the Kriegstagebuch of the 5 Panzerarmee has the following entry:
Auch aus seiner Stellung auf dem Nordufer der Seine bei Mantes und seinen Brückenkopf bei Vernon tritt der Gegner nach starker Artl-Vorbereitung gegen unsere abgekämpften Truppen zu einem grösseren Angriff an. Die Vorstösse können zunächst in der Panilleuse - Heubecourt - Gommecourt - Villers-en-Arthies - Aincourt - Lainville aufgehalten werden. Der Gegner setzt jedoch seine Angriffe mit starken Kräften laufend fort, sodass damit zu rechnen ist dass er das I SS-Panzerkorps und LXXIV Armeekorps im Laufe des Tages weiter zurückdrängen, wenn nicht durchbrechen wird.
The Americans resumed their attack on 29 August. They captured the ridge line, breaking through the German positions. On 29 August the Kriegstagebuch of the 5 Panzerarmee has the following entry:
Die 18 Luftwaffenfelddivision, fast völlig zerschlagen, steht mit einer Kampfstärke von nur noch 300 Mann bei Maudetour - Arthies - Enfer - Avernes.[...] SS-Brigadeführer Krämer höfft mit der stärk angeschlagenen 18 Luftwaffenfelddivision doch die Linie Fremainville - Condecourt - Waldrand nördl Menucourt - Oise-Bogen nördl Ham halten zu können, obgleich der Gegner in der Nacht unter Scheinwerferbeleuchtung weiter angreift. Er verhehlt aber nicht dass bei Fortsetzung dieser Angriffe des Gegner die kampfungeübten Reste der 18 Luftwaffenfelddivision und 49 Infanteriedivision durchbrechen wird.
Pressing on northeastwards with the Oise river to their right, on 31 August the leaders were past the Thérain river, 50 kilometres beyond the Seine and about 10 kilometres to the northwest of Beauvais.
On the evening of 2 September the 18 Luftwaffenfelddivision, retreating from the Seine front in the Melun area, had reached an area to the southeast of Valenciennes. The motorized units of the division built two Kampfgruppen lead by the commander of Jägerregiment 35 Oberst Schmidt and the commander of Jägerregiment 36 Oberst Behrens, as well as a special group consisting of the divisional headquarters, the headquarters of the Pionierbataillon and parts of the Versorgungstruppen, Nachrichtenabteilung and the Panzerjägerabteilung.
That same evening the division commander Generalleutnant von Tresckow was informed by General der Panzertruppen Krüger of the LVIII Reservepanzerarmeekorps that the 6 Fallschirmjägerdivision was subordinated to him. At the same time von Tresckow was given orders to take the road Bavay (France) - Gognies-Chaussée (France) - Binche (Belgium) in the early hours of 3 September and to reach the area of Gosselies (north of Charleroi). Von Tresckow then ordered General von Heyking, the commander of 6 Fallschirmjägerdivision to depart at 4 am, while Kampfgruppen Schmidt und Behrens were to be ready at 3 am. The force would be led by the special group's Panzerjägerabteilung (including 2 Sturmgeschütze) which were to depart at 7.30 pm.
The division commander himself, together with a few members of his staff, started out to reconnoitre the passage at Gognies-Chaussée at about 2 am on 3 September. However, just passed Bavay the group was held up. Other German units appeared to be using the same road, notably of the 3 Fallschirmjägerdivision, 6 Fallschirmjägerdivision, 348 Infanteriedivision, Gruppe Aulock and groups from other units. VonTresckow personally intervened and managed to get the column moving again.
At about 8.30 am von Tresckow reached Gognies-Chaussée only to discover that the road east of the town was blocked by American troops. In its drive northwards, south of Mons, the 3rd US Armored Division had cut across the Bavay-Binche road, one of the main German escape routes. Many troops had succeeded in avoiding capture during the night and morning of 3 September, but hundreds of vehicles remained jammed.
Two infantry officers present were given orders to secure the heights on both sides of the road to the west of the town. Von Tresckow drove back in a westerly direction to find more troops for this purpose, running into troops of the 348 Infanteriedivision, commanded by General Seyfert, at the western town exit. Seyfert assumed command of the operation with his own troops, joined by parts of the Gruppe Aulock under Oberst Hesse. In quick succession other parts of the 348 Infanteriedivision, 6 Fallschirmjägerdivision and the Gruppe Aulock were sent forward. Interestingly, there was no sign of the Kampfgruppen Schmidt and Behrens of the 18 Luftwaffenfelddivision. To support the attack 6 88mm guns, some anti-ank guns and 20 mm FlaK guns were also dispatched. Artillery was not available. However, it would appear the Americans attacked first and from 9 am onwards fighter bombers strafed the Germans, resulting in some FlaK guns being destroyed and leaving most vehicles burning.
By 10 am it had become painfully clear that a passage through Gognies-Chaussée could not be forced. Even worse, the column was completely immobilised and trapped, as roads to the south and north were also blocked by American troops. Still, a new attacked was ordered, which by 12 am had failed. Soon afterwards, the Americans counterattacked supported by tanks, forcing the German troops to fall back. Panic threatened, but the attack was eventually halted. Because neither General Seyfert nor Oberst Hesse could be found anywhere, von Tresckow assumed overall command.
By 2 pm the American had stopped their attack and the artillery and air force took over, systematically shooting up the German forces still stuck on the main road east of the village. Thunderbolts of the 395th Fighter Squadron (368th Fighter Group, 9th Air Force) bombed an strafed the columns of closely-packed vehicles. By evening, over 5 kilometres of the road was choked with the remains of over 600 wrecked vehicles, 400 dead horses and 300 mangled and burned corpses.
In order to try to avoid this carnage von Tresckow decided to attempt to break out to the south and at 3 pm gave personal orders to this effect to all commanders that he was able to locate. Von Trescow himself took command of a group of about 300 men. With the onset of darkness the group succeeded in extricating itself. Setting off at 9 pm the group managed to walk three kilometres in a southeasterly direction and break through the American lines in the process.
Having arrived south of Villers-Sire-Nicole, the group was split up into smaller groups of 40 men each, as it had become clear during the night that managing such a large group was wholly impracticable. Von Tresckow himself also headed one such group. In the morning of 4 September the group reached a wood and rested there. At noon this group was also further split up and von Tresckow continued with 3 officers and 7 other ranks. He had decided to break through to the east, passing to the south of Charleroi.
On the morning of 6 September the river Sambre was reached and crossed on a destroyed railway bridge at Fontaine-Valmont. In the evening at 6 September the march was continued in the direction of the river Meuse. Not being able to find a bridge that could be crossed, the small party marched further south along the Meuse towards Dinant. Five kilometres to the north of Dinant a strongly guarded pontoon bridge was found. The group managed to avoid being captured and reached Dinant by the morning of 7 September. Being unable to cross the river, the group hid in an orchard during daylight hours, only 300 metres from an American artillery battery. By now the group was being hunted down by the Belgian Resistance and was forced to move further south.
Fading daylight came to the rescue of the group and five kilometres south of Dinant, they finally managed to cross the Meuse in a boat under cover of darkness at around 10 pm. On the morning of 8 September the group was resting in a remote house when they were surrounded by about 20 resistance members. The group miraculously managed to break out and re-assemble 3 kilometres further east. They then marched for three consecutive nights. Von Tresckow and 1 other soldier were wounded, while one soldier was missing.
In the evening of 11 September the group attempted to cross the main north-south road at Baillonville but became embroiled in a firefight, which resulted in 2 soldiers missing. During the night of 12/13 September the group tried to cross the river Ourthe in various places. After several attempts, they finally succeeded in doing so near the village of Noiseux.
During the following days the group was attacked twice, once by the Resistance (13 September, near Mormont) and once by American troops (15 September near Bra), but surpisingly the group escaped unscathed on both occasions. Also, due to the densely forrested terrain, the group now mainly marched during daylight hours.
On 16 September the group reached the German-speaking area of Eupen-Malmedy, receiving help from the population there. Neverthless, the small group was still attacked by the Resistance in the evening near Grand-Halleux, but managed to escape under cover of darkness.
From 17 September onwards the group encountered numerous Germans who were hiding in the woods. Helped on by these, Von Tresckow, together with three other officers (a.o. Major von Hagenow and Leutnant Unger) and 4 other ranks finally reached the Westwall in the area of Hallschlag on around 10.30 pm on 18 September. In all, they had marched about 250 kilometres. With this astonishing achievement the history of the 18 Luftwaffenfelddivision in the late summer of 1944 was brought to an end.