The 33rd Waffen-Grenadier-Division
der SS Charlemagne (französische Nr. 1) and Charlemagne
Regiment are collective names used for units of French
volunteers in the Wehrmacht and later Waffen-SS during the World War II.
The Charlemagne division was not a
single military unit but succession of groups of collaborating
French volunteers (though the exact nature of "volunteering"
has been disputed). The first unit was the Légion
des Volontaires Français (Legion of French Volunteers
or LVF), mainly composed of right-wing Frenchmen and
released French soldiers who preferred fighting to forced
labour in Germany.
It fought near Moscow in November 1941 but its commander,
Colonel Roger Balonne, was later relieved of his duties
and in 1942 the men were assigned to anti-partisan duties
in the Byelorussian SSR (Belarus).
They were briefly joined by La Légion Tricolore
(Tricolor Regiment) but this unit lasted only six months
in 1942 and was later absorbed into the LVF.
The unit (without a French commander)
was attached to various German divisions until June
1943 when Colonel Edgard Puaud took command. The LVF
fought on the Ukraine front against the Soviets in 1944.
In the meantime, in July 1943, a new
recruiting drive had begun in Vichy
France. It attracted 3000 applicants, mostly members
of collaborating militias and university students. This
unit (Französische SS-Freiwilligen-Sturmbrigade)
was sent to Galicia to fight the Soviet advance and
suffered heavy casualties. It was later absorbed into
the LVF. In late 1943 the surviving LVF/Sturmbrigade
volunteers were inducted into the Waffen-SS Französische
SS-Freiwilligen-Grenadier-Regiment (Waffen-SS French
SS-Volunteer Grenadier Regiment.)
In September 1944 this unit was renamed
Waffen-Grenadier-Brigade der SS Charlemagne, with the
addition of French collaborators fleeing the Allied
advance in the west, as well as Frenchmen from the Horst
Wessel brigade and Organisation Todt. Others came from
the Vichy French Milice and other collaborationist organizations.
Some sources claim that the unit included also volunteers
from French colonies and Switzerland. SS-Brigadeführer
Gustav Krukenberg took actual command with Edgard Puaud
(now Oberführer der SS) as nominal French commander.
In February 1945 the unit was officially
upgraded to a division and renamed 33.Waffen-Grenadier-Division
der SS Charlemagne. However, the unit was severely undermanned
with only 7340 men. The division was sent by train to
fight against the Red Army in Poland,
but on 25 February it was attacked while deploying from
the railhead by troops of the Soviet 1st Belorussian
Front and was broken into three battlegroups. Only the
units with Krukenberg survived, as they retreated to
the Baltic coast, were evacuated by sea to Denmark and later sent to Neutrelitz for refitting.
In early April 1945, Krukenberg, now
commanding only 1100 men, released those who were disillusioned
from combat service; about 700 men chose to remain.
The other 400 men were formed into a construction battalion.
On 24-25 April 1945 elements of the
unit were ordered to Berlin and placed under the command of SS-Standartenführer
Walter Zimmermann, reaching the city before the Soviet
encirclement. They fought in the Battle of Berlin until
2 May 1945, when thirty survivors surrendered to the