The French volunteers of the Second World War constituted an entirely separate division in the Wehrmacht, and after that the Waffen-SS which consisted of units that were called the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Charlemagne (1st French) and the Charlemagne Regiment.
With an impressive strength of an estimated 7,400-11,000 at its peak in 1944, the numbers came down to a mere sixty, as of May 1945.
Entrusted with the protection of Central Berlin as well as the Führer’s bunker from the Soviet invasion, they were one of the last remaining German units to have faced combat.
They were also among the last remaining to surrender; and as they knew very well that they could never survive if Germany got defeated, they continued to fight till the last days of the Battle of Berlin.
The unit’s crest represented the dual Charlemagne Empire that had united the Franks – a historical event that would contribute to the formation of France and Germany.
The crest equally represents France and Germany, with the Fleur-de-Ly’s on the right representing France (or West Francia, as it was called), and the Imperial Eagle on the left representing Germany.
The Charlemagne Unit and the Defence of Berlin
As of April 1945, Krukenberg was left with only 700 men under his command, who were segregated into a single heavy support battalion with no equipment and an infantry regiment consisting of two battalions (57 and 58).
While 400 of these were sent to serve in a construction battalion, the remaining 350 opted to go to Berlin to delay the coming of the Soviet forces.
On 23rd April 1945, Krukenberg was ordered by the Reich Chancellery of Berlin himself to lead his men to the capital. Reorganized as the “Sturmbattalion Charlemagne” (Assault Battalion Charlemagne), around 330 French troops, after taking a long detour to escape the Soviet forces reached Berlin on 24 April.
It was thereafter attached to the 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division (also called “Nordland”), which greatly strengthened the division that had already lost its “Norge” and “Danmark” regiments in combat.
On 25 April, SS Brigadeführer Joachim Ziegler was relieved of his command of the Nordland Division, with SS-Brigadeführer Krukenberg simultaneously being appointed the commander of the (Berlin) Defence Sector C, which included the Nordland Division.
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