The D-Day Encyclopedia by Barrett Tillman notes the "German army raised an incredible 315 infantry divisions during World War II—a stunning total, considering that America formed only sixty-six Army infantry divisions plus six for the Marine Corps. An additional eighteen or so Waffen SS infantry divisions augmented the Heer total."
The 65th Infantry Division was one of those 315 divisions. The division was unusual in not serving on the Eastern Front at any time during its history. The 65th was formed in 1942 as a garrison and coastal defence formation. In the summer of 1943, plans to move the division to the East in the wake of Stalingrad were changed hastily as relations between Germany and its Italian ally deteriorated.
After a difficult baptism of fire on the Sangro River in the autumn of 1943, the division welcomed a new commanding general to see them through a year and a half of desperate fighting, during which time the 65th became known as The Hand Grenade Division. Their new commander, Generalmajor Hellmuth Pfeifer, led them in the counter-attacks on the Anzio beachhead, the withdrawal to Rome, fighting on the Green (Gothic) Line and at the Futa Pass, the defence of Florence, and the final retreat over the Po in the spring of 1945.
Histories of the Italian Campaign have generally said little about the operations of the division, other than to note the heavy casualties they suffered in their major battles. Surviving records, however, indicate the division was well-regarded by the German high command.
It is not known how many soldiers passed through the 65th Infantry Division or how many men were killed and wounded during its history. Their story, however, is an important part of the history of the Italian Campaign of World War II.
© handgrenadedivision.com 2019-present