Meyer embodied the
conception of the fanatical Nazi who would fight to the death for his
beloved Führer. Few German officers could claim more combat experience
than Meyer, who had begun his service with the SS in 1933 as a member
of Hitler's elite bodyguard. In 1939, he fought in Poland, and in 1940,
in Holland and France. As a regimental commander he played leading role
in the Greek campaign. According to his interrogation report, when Hitler
invaded Russia he was at the forefront of the drive to the east.
"For three years he fought in Russia reaching almost
the furthest point to be achieved by German forces, deep in the
remote Caucasus. Three times he was completely encircled by Russian
forces, during the retreat, and fought his way out with a handful
of survivors...To him the battle of Caen-Falaise was magnificent
in the best Wagnerian tradition. As he described his actions and
those of his men, it seemed as though he liked to consider himself
as Siegfried leading his warriors to their deaths.
Interrogation of SS Major General Kurt Meyer, n.d. ,German Generals Collection.
Liddell Hart Papers, King's College, London.
rigours of World War Two there emerged a generation of young Waffen-SS
commanders whose powers of leadership were unmatched in the German Army.
The author Gerald Reitlinger depicted these leaders as the SS Generals
of legend, starry-eyed, youthful and fanatical. They were personified
by such men as Kurt Meyer. Like his peers, Meyer was vastly different
from the butchers who led the Einsatzgruppen and Concentration Camp guard
units. Throughout his combat career he fought hard, fought well, and fought
approximately 178cm, broad shouldered, and athletic in build, Meyer combined
an innate cool recklessness (Draufgängertum) with the ideological fanaticism
of the political soldier. Born in Jerxheim on 23 December, 1910, his father
was a NCO in the Kaiser's Army and died of wounds suffered in World War
One. Following elementary school, Meyer studied to be a merchant, thereafter
finding employment for brief periods in the late 1920s as a miner and
factory worker. In 1929, he joined the Mecklenburg police force, with
which he served until May, 1934. Meyer joined the SS in October, 1931,
and entered its premiere division, the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, in
the spring of 1934. In the pre-war LAH, he served in its anti-tank company
(Panzerjägerkompanie), first as a platoon leader and later as its commander.
fought with distinction in Poland, and was transferred to command a motorcycle
company in the West and the reconnaissance battalion of the Leibstandarte
in the Balkans and Russia. He was a daredevilish rider, and would break
some eighteen bones and suffer four concussions before the war's conclusion.
It was in France that Meyer first demonstrated his instinctive grasp of
the techniques of modern mobile warfare. His keen tactical sense and mental
flexibility earned for him the sobriquet "Schnelle [Speedy] Meyer"
(He was also to be called "Panzermeyer").
In Greece, he spearheaded the assault
on the Klissura Pass against a well-defended enemy. Meyer, finding himself
and his soldiers suppressed by heavy machine-gun fire, had to throw a
grenade at their heels to force them into the open. This questionable
action nevertheless resulted in over a thousand prisoners for the loss
of only six Leibstandarte troops killed and nine wounded. A day later
Meyer captured another 11,000 prisoners. His unorthodox methods were further
tested in the East, where he and his troops sometimes ventured far behind
enemy lines and then blasted their way out. By early 1943, this foolhardy,
albeit highly effective, style of combat had already earned him the Iron
Cross first and second class, the Knight's Cross, and the Oak Leaves to
the Knight's Cross.
Following the completion of a training
course for regimental commanders in August, 1943, Meyer was transferred
to the Hitler Youth Division (12th SS). Following the death of Fritz Witt
on 14 June, 1944, he took command of the 12th SS, becoming the youngest
division commander in the German armed forces. Meyer's defence at Normandy
bolstered his legendary status. The teenage soldiers of his unit continuously
frustrated the efforts of the Commonwealth invaders. Meyer's military
career ended abruptly with his capture by partisans in September, 1944.
After Germany's capitulation, he was captured and put on trial for the
murder of Canadian prisoners-of-war. His death sentence was commuted and
Meyer was released in poor health in 1954. He died on his birthday in
Kurt Meyer was a classic example of the
aggressive and ruthless Waffen-SS officer. He was a first rate leader
who pushed his troops (and himself) to their limits. In a periodic review,
he was characterized by Sepp Dietrich, the commander of the LAH, as a
passionate soldier, which he certainly was. During his interrogation by
the Canadians shortly after the war, Meyer viewed the struggle in Normandy
as "magnificent in the best Wagnerian tradition. As he described
his actions and those of his men, it seemed as though he liked to consider
himself as Siegfried leading his warriors to their death."
After the war, a Canadian war correspondent,
Jack Donoghue unexpectedly had an interview with Meyer:
He kept the conversation
along military lines, however, when he spoke of the Normandy campaign.
Looking at my wartime ribbons he said, "I see you were in Northwest
Europe. One thing has always bothered me. Why did you attack me frontally
at Verriers Ridge?" This battle had taken place July 25, 1944, shortly
after I arrived in Normandy. I told Meyer I didn't really know the answer,
but I had seen the terrain where the battle took place and assumed the
Canadian Corps Commander Lieutenant Gerneral Guy Simonds felt he must
take the ridge; otherwise, his line of communication would be dominated
by Meyer's troops.
"Had you bypassed me on the ridge,
you'd have cut off my supplies and I would have had to surrender,"
he said, "It was tragic. We just slaughtered those poor boys!"
Those were his exact words. He was right. The Black Watch of Montreal
in that one day suffered 123 fatal casualties.
Taken from "The Edge of War"
by Jack Donoghue, Detselig Enterprises Ltd., Calgary, Alberta, Canada,