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History of the German 65th Infantry Division

In the summer of 1942, the balance of power of the forces fighting World War II in Europe remained in German hands. The United States had still begun bombing operations on the Continent in earnest. On the Eastern Front, Sevastopol came under siege while German forces reached the Don River. In North Africa, the port of Tobruk fell and British forces were sent reeling back to the Egyptian border. The German Army required new combat formations to control its conquered territory and continue its fight against stiffening resistance. That summer the codename "Valkyrie II" heralded the creation of Infanterie Division 65 (65th Infantry Division).

Formation and Training

The 65th Infantry Division was formed as part of Mobilization Wave 20 in July 1942 at the training ground at Bitche in Alsace.1 The division's units were hastily formed and sent to the Antwerp area to complete their mobilization. Their first combat missions were guard and security duty at various Scheldt Estuary infrastructure as well as German military bases. Training was carried out at Maria ter Heide and artillery ranges at Beverloo and Waterloo. The Allied raid on Dieppe on 19 August 1942 caused a brief interruption to training. Though the 65th was far away from the action, lessons were nonetheless learned. The use of Churchill tanks on the main beach by Canadian troops caused a re-evaluation of anti-tank training among garrison troops in the west. The raid also reaffirmed Hitler's belief in the need for a strong Atlantic Wall and the use of fixed fortifications to defend the coast, rather than the Army's preferred strategy of mobile forces making heavy counter-attacks.


Soldiers of the 65th remembered Belgium with little affection due to poor facilities and inadequate supplies which even led in some cases to malnourishment.2

Order of Battle: 1942

The 65th Division was organized as a standard 1939 Type Infantry Division with two infantry regiments and appropriate supporting arms. It's training and replacement units were located in Military District 12.


65th Infantry Division Order of Battle - 1942
Unit English Translation Notes
Infanterie-Regiment 145 Infantry Regiment 145 3 battalions
Infanterie-Regiment 146 Infantry Regiment 146 3 battalions
Artillerie Regiment 165 Artillery Regiment 165 3 light battalions, 1 heavy battalion
Panzerjäger- und Aufklärungs-Abteilung 165 Anti-Tank and Reconnaissance Battalion 165 Combined anti-tank and reconnaissance
Pionier-Bataillon 165 Engineer Battalion 165 Divisional engineers
Divisions-Nachrichten-Abteilung 165 Divisional Signals Battalion 165  
Divisions-Nachschubführer 165 Divisional Supply Unit 165  
Sanitätsdienste Divisional Medical Services  


The anti-tank and reconnaissance battalion was reorganized several times. In February 1943 it was renamed Schnelle-Abteilung 165, and in July 1943 split into two units, an anti-tank battalion and a reconnaissance battalion. The anti-tank battalion had two companies, one with towed 3.7cm and 7.5cm guns, and the other with self-propelled Marder III vehicles.


Occupation Duty

The 65th moved to the Netherlands in October 1942 for occupation duty. The division spent the next eight months occupying Coastal Defence Sector A1 (Walcheren Island, North Beveland, and South Beveland). The initial supply of personnel for the 65th had an average age of 30 years, and one in four already had combat experience. The division sent drafts of men to rebuild the shattered 44th Infantry Division (Hoch-und-Deutschmeister) which had suffered at Stalingrad, and in return received large numbers of recruits from Silesia. Another activity the 65th participated in here was the creation of coastal fortifications of a wide variety of types, including bunker, gun casemates, observation positions, and other concrete constructions as part of the so-called Atlantic Wall. In the event, most were never used, though Canadian and British forces did attack Walcheren Island from both east and west two years later, long after the 65th had left the area.


In October 1942, Infantry Regiments throughout the German Army were renamed to become Grenadier Regiments, a cosmetic change meant to invoke the memory of Frederick the Great's armies and thereby improve morale. In February 1943, Artillery Regiment 165 came under hostile fire for the first time when Allied ships fired on the port facilities at Vlissingen.

To Italy

The 65th Division moved to France in the spring of 1943. In August 1943 the division moved briefly to Austria for two weeks before heading south into Italy just as the fascist government was being overthrown and Italy changed sides. The division took up coastal defence duties on the Adriatic from 10 to 22 August 1943 and then relocated to the west coast at La Spezia in September. Units of the division were on sentry duty when Italy changed sides, and soldiers watched ships of the Italian Navy sortie from La Spezia and Genoa, including the battleship Roma.

In October 1943 the division moved to the Chieti area, and then to the Adriatic coast between Pescara and Ortona.3

Baptism of Fire: the Sangro River

The 65th Division was ordered to man positions on the Winter Line. Initially stationed on the coast, the inexperienced division was shifted inland in favour of the more experienced 1st Parachute Division. The latter fought at Ortona where it battled the 1st Canadian Division at Christmastime, 1943 before withdrawing to the Arielli River. The 65th instead fought at Orsogna, giving ground to the 8th Indian Division and the 2nd New Zealand Division, but held on to the city of Orsogna before being relieved. The division had suffered enormous losses, particularly in infantry.

The division was relieved by the 334th Infantry Division in the last days of 1943, and relocated to Genoa where it was partly reconstituted. At the same time the division reorganized as a "Type 1944" Division, with three infantry regiments (145, 146, 147) of two battalions each rather than two regiments of three battalions. The reorganization increased the division's firepower (particularly in terms of anti-tank guns and infantry howitzers) while conserving manpower - a necessity brought on by the heavy loss of life on the Eastern Front. The reconnaissance battalion was gone, replaced by a divisional Füsilier Battalion which was organized along the lines of the battalions in the Grenadier Regiments. Each rifle squad in the Grenadier and Füsilier battalions was reduced from a paper strength of 10 men to 9. The towed anti-tank company of the divisional anti-tank battalion had its guns replaced by the StuG M42 (Italian designed assault gun adopted by the Germans) and in December 1944 these were in turn replaced by the Jagdpanzer 38 (a German conversion of a Czech-built tank, popularly but inaccurately known as the Hetzer).


65th Infantry Division Order of Battle - 1944
Unit English Translation Notes
Divisions-Füsilier-Battalion 65 Fusilier Battalion 65 Divisional recon, equipped as Grenadier Battalion
Infanterie-Regiment 145 Infantry Regiment 145 2 battalions
Infanterie-Regiment 146 Infantry Regiment 146 2 battalions
Infanterie-Regiment 147 Infantry Regiment 147 2 battalions
Artillerie Regiment 165 Artillery Regiment 165 3 light battalions, 1 heavy battalion
Panzerjäger-Abteilung 165 Anti-Tank Battalion 165  
Pionier-Bataillon 165 Engineer Battalion 165 Divisional engineers
Divisions-Nachrichten-Abteilung 165 Divisional Signals Battalion 165  
Divisions-Nachschubführer 165 Divisional Supply Unit 165  
Sanitätsdienste Divisional Medical Services  


The Allied invasion of Anzio caused an emergency call-out of the division, per "Case Richard" which was a pre-planned response to an Allied amphibious landing behind German lines. Grenadier Regiment 145 and 147 relocated to the Anzio area, and elements of the division went into action as "Kampfgruppe Pfeifer." The division fought for the most part west of the Anziata (the road linking Anzio to the Alban Hills) and at times had elements of the 4th Parachute Division under command. Elements of the division helped reduce the British salient at Campoleone and then participated in Operation Fischfang, the full-scale counter-offensive aimed at splitting the Anzio beachhead and pushing the Allies back into the sea. The division suffered heavy casualties due to Allied artillery and air power, and after Fischfang petered out the two Grenadier Regiments were withdrawn to rest.

On 20 March 1944 a soldier in the 5th Company, Grenadier Regiment 147 wrote to his wife:

There are now two serious, unsuccessful attacks behind us, probably a third will follow, and we have a few hours of rest right now, but today we have been replaced in the firing line and are living in a cave right behind the front. Some have fallen and are still lying outside, because we can not reach them. After five days of uninterrupted action we are dirty, unshaven and tired enough to fall over. I am the last of my company's squad and platoon leaders, all the others are dead or wounded.4

Following the failure of Operation Fischfang, representatives of the combat units at Anzio were summoned to the Wolfsschanze. A company commander in Grenadier Regiment 145 is quoted in the divisional history:

From my command post in the front line a few kilometers north of the East-West road I was ordered to the Führer's “Wolf’s Lair” headquarters in Rastenburg / East Prussia for three days. During my travel, various headquarters wanted to tell me their individual experiences and concerns to pass on. I was finally received in a suburb of Rome by the supreme commander of the 14th Army, Generaloberst v. Mackensen. From there I went by Kübelwagen to Florence and then used the leave train to Berlin. At last a night-delivery train took me to the Führer's headquarters. There were four of us from the beachhead and I was the representative of the 65th Infantry Division. You couldn’t believe what was told to us there! Some new weapons were shown, and otherwise we were questioned up and down about why the front wasn’t moving at Nettuno. To everyone we gave the familiar response: Many dogs are the rabbit's death!5

A unique circumstance occurred in February 1944 when Leutnant Heinrich Wunn participated in actions for which he was nominated (and ultimately bestowed) the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, while in the same action an enemy soldier was nominated for (and ultimately bestowed) the Victoria Cross, marking an occasion in which opposing forces nominated a soldier for their highest bravery award for the same battle. When the final Allied offensive operations at Anzio began at the end of May, Wunn found himself in charge of a defensive position. After beating back five attacks by British infantry and tanks, the British are reported to have demanded Wunn's surrender. He reported the exchange to the divisional commander. "After bloody rebuff, enemy calls for surrender of Strongpoint Wunn. My reply: Götz von Berlichingen!"6

After Anzio

The division saw further action in the fight for Rome, and later fought at Florence, the Futa Pass and the Battle of Bologna before surrendering to the Allies near the Po River in April 1945.

The division and its leadership was mentioned during Hitler's daily situation conference on 18 June 1944:7

H: How are the commanders of these units?

JODL: The 65th [Infantry] Division is good and has always been good.

Following the war, all German formations were analyzed by U.S. Army intelligence through interrogations of German officers. Ludwig Graf von Ingelheim assessed the 65th Division's performance as such in 1947:

Established in Holland in 1942, it remained there until the autumn of 1943. Relocated to the La Spezia area in September 1943, from October 1943 in the front line. Division had worked well and was one of the good infantry divisions.8

The U.S. Army's official historian of the Italian campaign, Martin Blumenson, noted that the 5th Army's wartime intelligence had a different opinion that may not have been well founded:

The units of the Fifth Army that had fought in December were tired and discouraged. There was a tendency in some quarters to downgrade the German opposition. For example, one intelligence report made much of the 'remarkable background' of the divisions in the Tenth Army - the 44th, 94th, and 305th remade after Stalingrad, the 15th Panzer Grenadier and Hermann Goering reconstituted after Tunisia, the 3d Panzer Grenadier, renumbered but the same mediocre 386th, the 29th Panzer Grenadier, a milking of the 345th, the 1st Parachute drawn from the 7th, the 26th Panzer from the 23d Infantry - 'Only [the] 65[th] is an original invention, and it may hardly be regarded as a success.' Yet the fact was that the Germans had fought resourcefully and well.9

Partisan Warfare and Alleged War Crimes

Following the retreat from Rome in June 1944, the division found the civil population increasingly war-weary and hostile. While relations with civilians had always been correct, if not warm, even after Italy defected, the divisional historian noted that a marked change occurred after the fall of Rome when the division relocated to northern Italy for recuperation.

One of the strongest partisan bands was discovered on 16 June in the Roccastrada area with 400 men. The main activity of the partisans was road closures, bridge destruction, power and phone line sabotage, abduction of political prisoners from prisons of the Italian militia, raids on individual motor vehicles, small motor vehicle columns and messengers. German authorities repeatedly admonished the Italian population by appeals not to support the partisan gangs. German units tried to protect themselves by strengthening sentries and patrols and by restricting the movements of civilians. In addition, security and hunting patrols were formed on a case-by-case basis and armed parties were used to attack the gangs. For example, following the demolition of the bridges at Frosini and Monticiano, the security group Riecher (from the divisional Füsilier Battalion) secured the sector Rosia - Torniella against partisan gangs on the road Siena - Grosseto from the 15 to 19 June.10

The 65th Division has been identified as possibly being responsible for 25 separate acts of violence in which Italian civilians were killed.11 Many of the reports lack evidence of specific perpetrators, only noting that the killings occurred in the 65th Division's area of operations. The first such incident occurred in relation to the Frosini and Moniciano bridge destruction when an Italian civilian was tried by German military tribunal for espionage, found guilty, and a sentence of death was carried out.12 Many of the alleged murders involved confirmed members of the Italian resistance movement that sprang up in northern Italy to oppose the fascist puppet state.


One of the interactions in the divisional area was the Ronchidoso massacre, Emilia-Romagna, which also included the 42nd Jäger Division, between 28 and 30 September 1944, when 66 civilians were executed.13 The Atlas of Nazi war crimes in Italy mentions that it is possible this massacre was actually perpetrated by SS troops.14


In total, five separate incidents in which Italian civilians were killed in the 65th Division's area of operations occurred in June 1944 (18 victims), three in July 1944 (22 victims), nine in August 1944 (42 victims), eight in September 1944 (125 victims), and one in October 1944 (2 victims).15 A number of these interactions were reprisals precipitated by the killing of German soldiers by partisans, including in one case the execution of a German prisoner.16

Divisional Commanders

Generalleutnant Ludwig Friederich Hans Bömers

10 July 1942 – 1 January 1943


Hans Bömers, the first commanding general of the 65th Infantry Division, was commissioned into the artillery before the First World War. He was decorated as a junior officer on the Western Front and stayed in the military after the Armistice in November 1918. He achieved the rank of Oberst by the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, and commanded the 70th Artillery Regiment at the start of hostilities. He led the 34th Artillery Regiment in the French Campaign and  moved on to senior artillery posts (Arko and Harko). After serving on the Eastern Front, acheiving the rank of Generalmajor, he took command of the 65th Infantry Division on its creation in July 1942, a post he held until New Year's Day 1943 when he left for a new assignment. He ended the war as a Generalleutnant in the Replacement Army, was held prisoner by the western Allies from May 1945 to mid-1947, and died at Braubach in 1984 at the age of 90.


Generalleutnant Wilhelm Johann Georg Rupprecht

1 January 1943 – 31 May 1943


Willy Rupprecht was born in March 1890 in Bavaria and was commissioned into the infantry in October 1910. He served with distinction in the First World War, after which he served 15 years in the Bavarian Landespolizei. He returned to the German Army in 1935, and commanded the 213th Infantry Regiment in September 1939 as an Oberst. After commanding the 327th Infantry Regiment he took command of the 65th Infantry Division for the first five months of 1943. He went on to command a Luftwaffe Field Division and later the Grafenwöhr training area with the rank of Generalleutnant. He ended the war with the 7th Army Corps.

Generalleutnant Gustav Heistermann von Ziehlberg

? 1943 – 1 December 1943


Gustav Heistermann von Ziehlberg joined his father's battalion of the 1st Pomeranian Grenadier Regiment in August 1914 and served in various officer positions, achieving the rank of Oberleutnant. He stayed in the military following the war, and in 1939 was a Major of the General Staff. His first combat command was the 48th Grenadier Regiment, which he joined as an Oberst in January 1943 during the Demjansk fighting. He moved to the Führer Reserve in April, and in mid-1943 took command of the 65th Infantry Division. He was wounded during the division's first major combat actions in December on the Sangro River, losing an arm to injuries sustained in an air raid. While he didn't return to the 65th, he remained a divisional commander following his recovery, leading the 28th Jäger Division from 28 April 1944, with promotion to Generalleutnant on 1 June. He received the Knight's Cross for leading his division out of an encirclement at Slonim during the Red Army's offensive against Army Group Centre. After implication in the Bomb Plot, he underwent two trials in September and November 1944. Stripped of all honours, titles and rank, he was shot by firing squad on 2 February 1945 in Berlin.


Generalleutnant Hellmuth Pfeifer

1 December 1943 – 22 April 1945

Hans-Hellmuth Pfeifer was born in Thuringia on 18 February 1894 and joined the Imperial Army in 1912, commissioning as an infantry Leutnant the next year. At the start of the First World War he commanded a company of the 4th Hanoverian Infantry Regiment and over the course of two years earned both grades of the Iron Cross. He stayed in the Army briefly after the war, and left in 1922 to manage a transportation company. In 1929 he took over a publishing firm as director. In 1934, he returned to the Army with the rank of Hauptmann, once again becoming a company commander. In 1937, as a Major, he moved to duties at OKW (Armed Forces High Command) and remained on staff at OKW when the Second World War began. By December he had been promoted to Oberstleutnant and placed in command of the 3rd Battalion, Infantry Regiment 185. In June 1940 he received the 1939 clasp to both the Iron Cross 2nd Class and 1st Class.


Pfeifer led his battalion through the campaign in the west, then led the entire regiment into Russia in the summer of 1941, with promotion to Oberst in October, and award of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross in November. In October 1942 Pfeifer received the German Cross in Gold. A month later he was wounded, and recovered from his injuries until July 1943. In September Pfeifer was promoted to the rank of Generalmajor.


Generalmajor Pfeifer took command of the 65th Infantry Division in December 1943. Aged fifty, he was described in the divisional history as having "indomitable energy" and of being a "military role model." Unusually for a General, he wore the Infantry Assault Badge. He changed the division's tactical insignia from the letter Z to a stylized hand grenade, insignia which it retained for the rest of the war. Pfeifer was killed a few days before the surrender of German forces in Italy on 2 May 1945.

Award Recipients


Oakleaves to the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross

  • Oberst Martin Strahammer, Commander, Grenadier Regiment 146 (11 August 1944)

  • Generalleutnant Helmuth Pfeifer, Commander, 65th Infantry Division (5 September 1944)

Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross

  • Leutnant Heinrich Wunn, 7th Company, Grenadier Regiment 147 (11 June 1944)

  • Gefreiter Johann Vetter, 14th (Anti-Tank) Company, Grenadier Regiment 147 (15 June 1944)

  • Oberleutnant Wilhelm Finkbeiner, 14th (Anti-Tank) Company, Grenadier Regiment 147 (20 July 1944)

Honour Roll Clasp of the German Army

  • Oberst i.G. Kühl, Commander, Grenadier Regiment 145 (unknown)

  • Unteroffizier Gerhard Kroczewski, 14th (Anti-Tank) Company, Grenadier Regiment 147 (15 December 1944)

  • Hauptmann Siegfried Kurzweg, Commander, 1st Battalion, Grenadier Regiment 147 (17 December 1944)

German Cross in Gold

  • Oberleutnant Adalbert Bauer, 6th Company, Grenadier Regt 145 (13 December 1944)

  • Hauptmann Klaus Behschnitt,  2nd Battalion, Grenadier Regt 146 (27 July 1944)

  • Hauptmann Max Dollhopf, 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Regt 146 (13 December 1944)

  • Oberfeldwebel Heinrich Fröhlich,  4th Company, Grenadier Regt 145 (16 June 1944)

  • Major Fritz Hereus, Anti-Tank Battalion 165 (28 April 1944)

  • Major Walter Hudezeck, Pioneer Battalion 165 (30 December 1944)

  • Oberstleutnant i.G. Klaus von dem Knesebeck, Ia, 65th Infantry Division, (7 August 1944)

  • Leutnant d.R. Wilhelm Lauterbach 2nd Company, Anti-Tank Battalion 165 (11 May 1944)

  • Feldwebel d.R. Hans Mühlsteff, 2nd Company, Anti-Tank Battalion 165 (6 August 1944)

  • Leutnant d.R Georg Ortner, 1st Battalion, Grenadier Regt 145 (16 June 1944)

  • Oberleutnant Werner Pankow,  Füsilier Battalion 165 (12 August 1944)

  • Hauptmann Lucian Reinhold, 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Regt 147 (11 May 1944)

  • Oberst Heinz Sackersdorff, Commander, Artillery Regiment 165 (26 September 1944)

  • Oberfeldwebel Paul Schimanski, Grenadier Regiment 145 (13 December 1944)

  • Oberstleutnant Hermann Suffa, Grenadier Regiment 147 (26 July 1944)

  • Oberleutnant Vinzens Urban, 3rd Company, Grenadier Regt 146 (14 February 1945)

  • Unteroffizier Karl Weintraud, 7th Company, Grenadier Regt 147 (22 December 1944)


Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross

 Honour Roll Clasp
 (on Iron Cross 2nd Class Ribbon)

 German Cross in Gold

Notable Soldiers

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau served in the 65th Infantry Division after being drafted and serving on the Eastern Front. He reportedly sang for his comrades of Grenadier Regiment 146 at entertainment evenings behind the lines.17 He was captured by U.S. troops in 1945.18

Divisional Insignia

The division adopted a kugelbaum (Ball Tree) insignia for use on vehicles, road signs, etc. When General von Ziehlberg took command in mid-1943, he changed the divisional insignia to the letter 'Z' (the first letter of his own last name). After von Ziehlberg was seriously wounded during the fighting on the Sangro River, the division adopted a hand grenade as its divisional emblem.


1942-1943 late 1943 1944-1945


The Divisional newsletter was named Die Handgranate ("The Hand Grenade"). For Christmas 1944 large quantities of a special holiday edition were printed with the idea that they should be sent back to families at home. The edition contained ruminations on the war and a short report "From the War History of our Infantry Division."19


  1. Velten, Wilhelm. Vom Kugelbaum zur Handgranate: die Geschichte der 65 Infanterie Division. Kurt Vowinckel Verlag, Neckargemund, 1974. No ISBN. The town of Bitche had been turned into a French fortress in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. It was ceded to Germany as part of Alsace-Lorraine at the end of the war. Bitche was ceded back to France in 1918 at the end of the First World War, and the fortress there was integrated into the Maginot Line. Alsace was retaken by Germany after the French Campaign in May 1940.

  2. Velten, Ibid

  3. Velten, Ibid

  4. Velten, Ibid, p.115

  5. Velten, Ibid, p.122

  6. Velten, Ibid, p.142. The name Götz von Berlichingen belonged to a medieval count and military commander. When the writer von Goethe immortalized his life in the form of a play, his name became a euphemism for the phrase Er kann mich am Arsch lecken (he can lick my ass).

  7. Heiber, Helmut and David M. Glantz Hitler and his Generals: Military Conferences 1942-1945. (Enigma Books, New York, NY, 2004) ISBN 1-929631-28-6 p.440

  8.  "Die personelle und materielle Lage der deutschen Divisionen in Italien verglichen mit der Verhältnissen auf allierter Seite" NARA file MS#D-342

  9. Blumenson, Martin. US Army in World War II: Salerno to Cassino. Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington D.C., 1993.

  10. Velten, Ibid, pp.160-161

  11. "65. Infanterie-Division" (in Italian). Atlas of Nazi and Fascist Massacres in Italy. Retrieved 20 September 2018.

  12. "Villa Montese" (in Italian). Atlas of Nazi and Fascist Massacres in Italy. Retrieved 1 January 2019.

  13. "Ronchidoso, Gaggio Montano, 28-30.09.1944" (in Italian). Atlas of Nazi and Fascist Massacres in Italy. Retrieved 20 September 2018.

  14. "Voci locali, anche se in tono molto minore rispetto a quelle di Ca' Berna, imputano invece la strage a truppe SS."

  15. Ibid

  16. Atlas of the Nazi and Fascist Massacres in Italy website

  17. Velten, Ibid, p. 176.

  18. "Lyrical and Powerful Baritone, and the Master of the Art Song". The New York Times. 18 May 2012.

  19. Velten, Ibid, p.179

Willy Rupprecht

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