- Second World War (1939-1945)
- SS-Brigadeführer / Generalmajor der Waffen-SS (Brigadier)
- Kommandeur, 10. SS-Panzer-Division "Frundsberg", Waffen-SS
- Awarded on:
- December 15th, 1944
Harmel’s Swords’ recommendation reads as follows…
“On the 19.08.1944 the 10. SS-Pz.Div. ‘Frundsberg, under the command of SS-Brigadeführer Harmel, crossed eastwards over the Orne river in the Putanges area during the general withdrawal of the 7. Armee. It did this in cooperation with the 2. Pz.Div., elements of several Infanterie-Divisionen and countless straggler elements from all branches of the Wehrmacht. The unshakable will to resist, firmness and bravery of the Division proved enough to bring the strong, tank-supported enemy forces that were thrusting southwards from the Falaise area to a halt along the line Motabard—Ronai—Habloville. This kept the path to the east open for the forces of the 7. Armee and allowed elements of the Division itself to pull back to the Villedieu—Bailleul—La Londe area up until the morning of the 20.08.1944.
Strong enemy units had meanwhile broken through from the Truncates area towards the southeast, and after linking up with American tank forces that had pushed north from the Mortagne—Alencon area the encirclement of the remnants of the 7. Armee was completed. The enemy’s strong and concentrated attacks shrunk the ring by the hour. Heavy and ceaseless artillery fire, rolling air attacks, fuel and ammunition shortages on our own side, a failed friendly attempt at an aerial resupply and above all the knowledge of being encircled now visibly wore down the will to resist of the already hard pressed friendly units. The situation threatened to provoke a panic borne of desperation. This meant that within the pocket no orderly command by higher headquarters was now possible, and the ending of friendly radio contact resulted in the loss of contact with higher headquarters outside the pocket. The collapse of all friendly resistance inside the pocket appeared to be imminent.
In this situation Brigadeführer Harmel decided to take his weak (yet still firmly under control) remnants of the 10. SS-Pz.Div. ‘Frundsberg’ and attempt a breakthrough in a general NNE direction at the last hour. Under the personal leadership of the divisional commander, who personally went with the attack spearheads to reconnoiter the enemy situation and the potential breakthrough possibilities, the river obstacle was crossed on the morning of the 20.08.1944. In the face of strong enemy resistance, over the course of the same day a surprise thrust managed to take control of the Dives river as well as St. Lambert and Moissy. This success was thanks to the tireless, passionate actions of Brigadeführer Harmel, whose attacking officers and men took heart from his inspiring example. With this an important step was taken for the fulfillment of the larger goal here.
Despite this success Brigadeführer Harmel had to take pause, as the enemy resistance in the northwest had been so strongly reinforced that a breakthrough in this direction was no longer possible. The only hope was to try moving in an ENE direction while employing all encircled elements. Furthermore the situation had become much more grave. The enemy had continued to shrink the pocket, overrunning and scattering the security elements of an Infanterie-Division to the south. The disorderly passage over the Dives crossings by the encircled elements created major traffic jams that were hammered by strong artillery fire. The consequence was a desperate, panicked flight of thousands of leaderless soldiers, all without weapons. The total collapse of resistance once more threatened to appear. With this the possibilities for a breakout by the handful of battle-ready troop elements were rendered impracticable. The situation could only be salvaged by decisive, swift action. Despite this the senior divisional staff of a Panzer-Division located in the St. Lambert church refused to take heed for the calls to immediate action by Brigadeführer Harmel, preferring to issue further orders after reconnaissance had been collected. However the existing delays would have inevitably led to a collapse instead.
As a result Brigadeführer Harmel, given the pressure of the situation, decided to pay no attention to other orders and instead personally take control of all troop elements and soldiers that he could find in the pocket.
He now became the accepted leader of all encircled troops and the soul of the resistance. His brilliant, unshakable will to resist and faith in his own power showed itself in his speech to the SS leaders and officers of the Wehrmacht present in the St. Lambert church. He urged them to continue the fight and achieve a breakthrough under his leadership despite the circumstances. All followed him, only the aforementioned divisional staff initially stayed back. Harmel swiftly issued his orders in a small shed next to the church, which were based on his personal reconnaissance. The main points were to clear up the bridge congestion, organize Kampfgruppen, unconditionally hold St. Lambert and Moissy, and in the end prepare for a violent breakthrough on the night of the 20.-21.08.1944 in a ENE direction towards Sourdevals—Coudehard.
With a purposeful methodicalness, and extreme swiftness, the forces were reorganized and prepared for a breakthrough. Harmel appeared at all the hotspots and passed along his unbroken fighting spirit to all officers and men he encountered. He returned fleeing soldiers to their posts with a heart of iron and repeatedly made encouraging appeals to groups of fainthearted soldiers. Only the exemplary soldierly spirit from the outstanding personality of Harmel himself ensured that the positions near St. Lambert (among others) could be held under strong pressure and fierce fire long enough for the last elements of the fleeing German units to cross over the Dives river and form up in the new assembly areas east of the river during the first night hours of the 20.08.1944.
During the night the aforementioned Panzer division staff once again tried to prevent the attack movements that Brigadeführer Harmel had initiated and instead conduct reconnaissance first. However Brigadeführer Harmel decided to put his goals first and foremost, and placed himself once again at the head of the Kampfgruppen made from elements of the 10. SS-Pz.Div., Fallschirmjäger and Heer troops. Despite the absence of friendly tanks he forced his way through bitter enemy resistance in a bold and bravely led night attack, breaking through via Sourdevals and subsequently linking up with relief units of the II. SS-Panzer-Korps after a hard battle. With this the constricting enemy ring was blown open and the breakout succeeded. Along with the broken-out elements was the heavily wounded supreme commander of the 7. Armee, SS-Oberstgruppenführer Hausser, as well as the also wounded commander of the 1. SS-Pz.Div. ‘LSSAH’, SS-Brigadeführer Wisch. These men were taken back and thus avoided captivity.
During the freeing of the remnants of the 7. Armee (including those from his own Division) SS-Brigadeführer demonstrated outstanding soldierly spirit, exemplary boldness and an iron will. These qualities once again showed themselves a few weeks later when a strong enemy thrust from the south against Nijmegen was successfully repulsed. By this action a union with the air-landed enemy group at Arnhem was delayed long enough for the enemy at Arnhem to be destroyed.
In agreement with the (at the time) supreme commander of the 5. Panzer-Armee, and the current supreme commander of the 6. SS-Panzer-Armee, SS-Oberstgruppenführer Dietrich, I hereby wish to recommend SS-Brigadeführer Harmel for the award of the Swords to the Oakleaves of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross.”