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SS Obersturmbannführer:

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.



During the 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 with chivalry.

Standing 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.

Meyer 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 1961.

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, 1988.

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Roel Boons

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