SS-Hauptsturmführer Karl Nicolussi-Leck
* 14.3.1917 in Platten, Südtirol
† 30.8.2008 in Bozen, Südtirol
E.K.1 and E.K.2
Verwundetenabzeichen in Silber
Ritterkreuz on 8th April 1944 as Obersturmführer and Kp.Chef 8./SS-Pz.Rgt. 5
Deutsches Kreuz in Gold on 8th March1945 as Obersturmführer and Kp.Chef 8./SS-Pz.Rgt. 5
SS-Hauptsturmführer Nicolußi-Leck and some 150 men were sent to Germany to pick up new tanks at the Paderborn factory.
Travelling by train from Hungary to Hesselteich near Gütersloh. By then a scouting party, commanded by SS-Obersturmführer Ola Olin (Helsinki, 18.07.1917 - † Kassel, 11.01.1995) and 30 men, via several de-routations to Hannover failed to reach the collectpoint in the vicinity of Paderborn. However, they encountered the lead elements of the US 5th Armoured Division in Harsewinkel and soon the first skirmishes took place. Retreating through Versmold and Melle they reach Lübbecke and taking 3 Holz-gas trucks and continued to Minden, which is already partially in the hands of the British at that moment.
They eventually continue their retreat to Bückeburg and are told by the local people that there are several armored vehicles nearby, unused in a Wehrmacht vehicle depot. Early in the morning they collect 13 Schützenpanzerwagen (SdKfz. 250 or 251's), including 2 SdKfz. 250/9's with 2cm FlaK gun.
Reaching Hannover where 'Nico' reports to the city’s Kommandant, Generalmajor Paul Löhning. He is instructed to take up defensive positions northwest of Stöcken along Reichsstraße 6 so that he can cover both the Weser-Elbe-Kanal Bridge and the Reichsautobahn. This is where Generalmajor Löhning is expecting the US 84 Infantry Division to attack in order to take Hannover itself.
In the morning a worker at Hanomags factory informs 'Nico' that there are several brand new tanks at the factory yard of the M.N.H facility at Hannover-Laatzen.
The SS-Hauptsturmführer immediately assembles a few tank crews from the men in his group and rushes to the factory to find 7 Jagdpanthers and a Bergepanther! The only problem is they are missing a few vital parts as well as fuel. He sends out a few trucks to acquire the necessary parts as the optics, ammunition and fuel from a factory in Scheuen near Celle. The men returned that afternoon and before the day’s end the Jagdpanther’s guns have been properly calibrated and test-fired. The 'Kampfgruppe Wiking' is ready for action...
Major General Alexander Bolling, commander of the US 84th Infantry dispositioned his troops (Infantry Regiments 333, 334 and 335, reinforced by elements of a tank-destroyer battalion), ready for a direct assault on Hannover. The 11th Cavalry Group (Colonel Fierson) covers his left flank. Bolling is relying on a captured map, which shows all of the defensive positions in and around Hannover including the strengths of the units that have been employed. He is optimistic that he has little to fear in the upcoming battle for the city. He is completely unaware of the potent armored force that is now awaiting his advance.
With his powerful Kampfgruppe assembled, Nicolussi-Leck not only takes up his assigned positions but goes further and occupies Frielingen and Ricklingen – he is now in a position to withstand any attempts to take the Leine bridge at Ricklingen and to defend against attacks from Bordenau area.
Colonel Fierson’s lead elements are already in the crosshairs of 3 Jagdpanthers at the edge of Ricklingen. The crews of these Jagdpanthers are veterans who have been hardened by years of combat on the Eastern Front, always outnumbered and without adequate supplies. This was different now, sitting in their brand new tanks and well supplied, they were now fighting on German soil. Every shot was a hit, but despite the mounting losses, Col. Fierson takes up the challenge. He calls in an artillery strike on the town itself and moves up his men.
The Wiking Panzer crews soon can’t make out anything in the dust and debris and withdraw to Horst. Followd by the American forces which occupies Ricklingen. The US cavalry had won, but at a price.
The 11th Cavalry tries to continue their advance, first to the east, then northeast and finally north. All their attempts to continue the advance are stopped. Fierson has lost 20 armored vehicles, but he also knows that Bollinger cannot risk an attack on Hannover if the cavalry can’t secure the flank and the bridges over the Leine. He sends a couple of companies north to Bordenau, where the British have already captured the bridge. His men cross the Leine by Bordenau and advance to Frielingen, but once again they draw the shorter straw. The lead tanks taking fire from the remaining 4 Jagdpanther’s (then firing at maximum combat range).
Although it is not known how many armored vehicles the 11th Cavalry loses in the battle, the only Jagdpanther which was destroyed was credited with six hits before it met its fate. In addition a Schützenpanzerwagen was also lost. Fierson calls off his attack.
Major General Bollinger has redeployed his forces. The 335th Regiment is still facing east, facing Hannover itself. The 334th has come up over Ricklingen to strike southeast and the 333rd is crossing the Leine near Bordenau, in order to outflank the unexpected resistance that has been encountered.
After bringing up the 334th Regiment, Bollinger again presses ahead and tries to take the town of Horst. Three more Shermans are lost and Bollinger orders heavy artillery strikes on Horst and Frielingen. KGr. Wiking is forced to withdraw to Godshorn, Vinnhorst and later the Weser-Elbe canal. The meager forces available to defend Hannover are no match for a reinforced US infantry division and Generalmajor Loehning knows this. He asks permission to clear the city, but is ordered to fight or face court martial.
During the night Bollinger starts his attack on Hannover. First the artillery pounds on known enemy gun emplacements and positions. His men begin their attack before dawn supported by fog. The fog is thick enough to cover his advancing soldiers and with minor exceptions they make almost completely unopposed progress. The 333rd Regiment is at the far left, north of Hannover heading south (having managed to find a crossing over the Weser-Elbe canal), the 334th Regiment is in the center attacking from north-west and the 335th is attacking east (frontally). Both the 333rd and 334th pass the KGr. Wiking, both unaware of its whereabouts.
Only after the lead elements had passed, nobody noticed a single Jagdpanther at the Autobahn underpass. The second battalion passes the Jagdpanther and continue towards the state forest, at last the following units surround the Jagdpanther and captures its five men crew. There were apparently asleep, their guard being overwhelmed before it could sound the alarm. The US 84th Infantry Division took Hannover almost without a fight.
As this morning progressed, Nico realized he could not make contact with any of the German forces in and around the Hannover area and ordered his men to retreat to Hannover.
Travelling at the head of the column he ran into the chief of the fire department, who told him that the Americans were already in the city, but he would try to lead them through. At the edge of the city civilians told him that the Americans were already at the train station. After a few detours “Nico” (riding in an open vehicle) reached a square (Kröpke) and the Americans immediately ordered him and his companions to surrender. As soon as the first Jagdpanther came around the corner it opened fire with its machine gun and “Nico” was able to escape and climbs on board Ostuf. Ola Olin’s Jagdpanther. The column continues at high speed, encountering more groups of American tanks but clearing out before anyone could get a good aim on them. After leaving the Hannover area, “Nico” was determined to try to link-up with German forces further east, however, he could not know that he would not succeed...
While elements of the US 84th Infantry Division continued their advance eastward following the capture of Hannover, a German column was marching on secondary roads towards them.
If neither side changes direction, they are destined to meet in and around the Langlingen area. The German column was that of the SS-Kampfgruppe “Wiking” led by Hauptsturmführer Nicolussi-Leck, which had regrouped in Lehrte and was planning to march North and then Northeast, towards Wittingen and ultimately Wittenberge at the banks of the Elbe river.
In the town of Abbensen the Kampfgruppe met for the first time some tanks of a Panzer-Lehr division, which has managed to escape the Ruhr-kessel. This unit did not merge with the Kampfgruppe under Nicolussi-Leck. Therefore the Kampfgruppe marched via Uetze to Langlingen where they captured 2 American fuel trucks and captured approximately 50 men. Nicolussi-Leck set them free that evening.
The Kampfgruppe strenght: 9 Schützenpanzerwagen (SdKfz. 250/251), 6 Jagdpanthers and 1 Bergepanzer at this time. Contact with the enemy was not to be avoided; but sought.
Just outside of Lehrte there was a short firefight with 4 Sherman tanks, 2 were knocked out by the Jagdpanther of Untersturmführer Karl Jauss.
The Kampfgruppe made it to the forest East of Sandlingen on the morning of April 12 with all its remaining armored vehicles and over 100 men, including a growing number of stragglers. Immediate reconnaissance showed that the bridges across the Mühlengraben and the Aller near Langlingen were destroyed. A heavily armed Schützenpanzerwagen (equipped with a 20mm gun and commanded by an (now unknown) Obersturmführer), was dispatched to Wienhausen to determine if the bridges there were intact, seize and hold them until the Kampfgruppe arrived. The Schützenpanzerwagen’s crew was primarily made up of Wehrmacht troops, included a few officers and NCOs, some 12 men. At noon the Obersturmführer reached Wienhausen and discovered that the bridges were intact and already equipped with explosive charges. The Schützenpanzerwagen (SPW) took up position on the northern bank of the Aller River, under the bridge; on the outskirts of Oppershausen. The bridge was not big enough to completely conceal the vehicle, which was to have its consequences. The crew took up their positions around the bridge at 14:00h. At the same time the US 333rd Regiment arrived in Wienhausen, travelling from Bockelskamp. The American column was not visible from Oppershausen, but the noise would not have gone unnoticed. The scout cars at the head of the column slowly drove through the deserted streets of Wienhausen. When they reached the crossing leading to Oppershausen, they stopped and saw that the bridges were intact. But also noticed the rear of the Schützenpanzerwagen protruding from under the bridge. They immediately opened fire and the SPW was hit several times. The SPW crew thought that their own tanks were shooting them at, they were not expecting any American troops this far to the East.
Feldwebel Ehrbeck jumped on a bicycle and while wildly waving a white cloth, rode towards Wienhausen. By now Capt. Bradford’s 9th Company had gone into position at the outskirts of Wienhausen. As soon as the Feldwebel coverd the distance to the Americans to 150 meters, he realized his mistake and jumped off the bicycle and tried to escape on foot. He was “shot down by a rifleman”. The rest of the German SPW crew took up the firefight with Capt. Bradford’s company from across the Aller River. As this engagement was unfolding, an US artillery battalion arrived in Wienhausen and took up firing positions in order to assist Capt. Bradford, if needed. Capt. Bradford still hoped to take the bridge intact and ordered his heavy machine guns to pin down the Obersturmführer and his men so that he could get a few men close enough to disarm the charges and take the bridge.
But as the GIs approached, the Obersturmführer gave the order to blow the bridge, despite his orders to hold it for the rest of the SS-Kampfgruppe “Wiking”. Capt. Bradford then continued his attack on Oppershausen and the SPW crew. The men under the Obersturmführer fought off the American attacks for nine hours. They were opposed not only by the 9th Company, but also the 11th and the artillery battalion. Oppershausen was virtually destroyed by phosfor and mortar rounds. At least six of the Germans were killed in the fierce fighting. The fate of the remaining five, including the Obersturmführer is not known. Some may have perished in the burning houses, others may have escaped or been taken captive.
In the meantime, 1st Battalion 333rd US Regiment passed through Wienhausen and heading for Offensen, the Aller bridge at Schwachhausen and ultimately Nordburg. By now the bridges to the Northeast and Southeast of the SS-Kampfgruppe “Wiking” were either destroyed or in the hands of the Americans.
In the morning of April 13th, the SS-Kampfgruppe “Wiking” found itself deep behind enemy lines. With the US 333rd Regiment to the north and US 334th Regiment to the south, they were outnumbered on either side 20:1. Their plan was to hold out until the first wave of US troops had cleared the area and then attempt to cross the Aller at one of its crossings.
The 3rd Battalion 334th Regiment had spent the night in Langlingen, where the bridge over the Aller was destroyed. At dawn they started driving along the train tracks in a westerly direction in search of a suitable crossing. After 3km they reached the destroyed bridge across the Mühlengraben. They immediately sent their engineers to repair the bridge and also sent out patrols to establish a perimeter. The patrols quickly ran into the SS-Kampfgruppe “Wiking” in the forest and after a short exchange of fire, the entire battalion set out to clear the forested area. Nicolussi-Leck avoided being drawn into a fight where his tanks could not make a difference. Besides they were outnumbered 5:1 and there were several other US battalions near by. Nicolussi-Leck and his men broke out of the forest, heading Northwest across the railway tracks and towards the wooded area on the outskirts of Wienhausen. They reached it shortly before 11:00h.
Meanwhile the US artillery battalion was moving out of Wienhausen to take up new firing positions further East. Their path crossed that of the SS-Kampfgruppe “Wiking”. Nicolussi-Leck had his Jagdpanthers open fire at 1,000 meters, destroying 5 trucks. The artillery battalion immediately turned around and took up positions in Wienhausen again. The SS-Kampfgruppe “Wiking” passed Wienhausen to the south and headed straight for Bockelskamp. From there they engaged a US supply column and destroyed another 4 vehicles. An US jeep from Altencelle recieved fire and hit an obstacle besides the road. Its crew (Lt. Robbins and his driver) were taken prisoner. Nonetheless the end seemed in sight.
The 3rd Battalion 333rd Regiment and the 3rd Battalion 334th Regiment closed the ring around the SS-Kampfgruppe “Wiking” from the south and to the north Wiking was hold by the Aller River.
While the artillery battalion kept a steady barrage of shells raining down on the SS-Kampfgruppe “Wiking”, Nicolussi-Leck and his men searched the town for anyone who could point them to a ford in the river. A young woman, called Anna Scheller, told them she knew of a crossing place not far up the river and the Kampfgruppe headed out...
In his book by Unterstumführer Karl Jauss, the name of Anna Scheller apears earlier. Just before the breakout from the Langlinger Holz...
Perhaps a fact that Nicolussi-Leck knew about the crossing possibility.
Anna Scheller was a member of the BDM (Bund deutscher Mädchen) and was in uniform at that time. Her girlfriends stated after the war, that it wasn't a politacal act.
The Jagdpanthers had no problems crossing the river; the last two even towed a Schützenpanzerwagen behind them. Then the allied artillery fire set in again and it was pretty accurate, so the remaining tanks and SPW's made a dash for it, but all ended up getting hopelessly mired in the riverbed. Less luck for the infantry in theri SPW's, at least one soldier was killed and further 10 wounded. All the time Lt. Robbins and his driver were part of this inferno and even helped attend the numerous wounded Germans.
The SS-Kampfgruppe “Wiking” regrouped and spent the night in the wooded area East of Ostersloher Holz.
Another escape for the Kampfgruppe...
After the river crossing Robbins and Nicolussi-Leck had a conversation, while Robbins was offered a cigarette. Robbins stated after the war: "they wore their Knights Cross around their neck... They impressed me as excellent soldiers..." At one question Robbins couldn't answer, as Nicolussi-Leck wanted to know why the Americans and Germans weren't fighting the Russians together...
14th April, Nicolussi-Leck orderes his remaining troops to continue their march East and still has hopes reaching their own lines. Following the loss of so much of their equipment he ordered his men to avoid further engagements with the enemy.
He does not know that the US 84th Infantry Division, whose area of operations he was in, had already reached the Elbe River. The SS-Kampfgruppe “Wiking” cautiously moved from one wooded area to the next, making frequent stops to observe their surroundings for any signs of enemy troops. They passed Oppershausen to the north, something that was only made possible by the fact the 3rd Battalion 333rd Regiment had not yet realized that the SS-Kampfgruppe “Wiking” had already left Bockelskamp. Nicolussi-Leck and his men were headed towards a swampy area but the Schützenpanzerwagen that was finding way for the Kampfgruppe, managed to find the only available crossing within many kilometers, allowing them to continue their march towards the Elbe.
Upon reaching the wooded area of the Halzhorn, 3 km south of Hohne, they could hear plenty of motorized traffic to the South from Müden (the armoured elements of the 102nd US infantry Division) and straight ahead to the East was the impassable bog of the Hahnenmoor (Hahnen swamp). The only roads that went east would surely lead the Kampfgruppe to another encounter with the Americans, so Nicolussi-Leck decided to continue through the forest and to attempt to sneak through the open area between Hohne and Ummern to the North.
Major-General Bolling had moved his headquarters from Hannover to Hohne the day before and he was not alone in Hohne, the US 771st Tank Battalion was being held in reserve here. Given that the town was secured to the north by the Wiehe river and to the south was largely bog and woods, the 20 Shermans of the 771st Battalion secured the area by guarding the only access points, which were primarily facing South, from where no attack could be expected. And yet, suddenly the sounds of tank tracks could be heard coming from the edge of the bog.
Nicolussi-Leck had sent his 2 remaining Schützenpanzerwagen along with 3 Jagdpanthers to recon in force while the other 3 Jagdpanthers covered their advance. The Shermans waited until their opponents were only 1,000 meters away before opening fire. Both Schützenpanzerwagens and one Jagdpanther were immediately hit and caught fire. One Jagdpanther managed to break through while the rest of the German tanks opened fire on the Shermans. Even the burning Jagdpanther of Untersturmführer Schüßler, their fourth victim, continued to return fire for a short while. Using their 8.8cm guns and 8cm thick frontal armor to their fullest advantage, the remaining 3 Jagdpanthers kept up a steady barrage of shells on the 771st Battalion until they had all but suppressed the determined American defensess.
An attempt by Untersturmführer Jauß to recover the Jagdpanther of Untersturmführer Schüßler failed and resulted in the loss of their Bergepanther as well. Now with a final victory in his grasp, his tanks surrounded by the wounded infantrymen, Nicolussi-Leck ordered a withdrawal into the bog of the Hahnenmoor. The remaining Sherman tanks breathed a sigh of relief when they saw the Jagdpanthers headed to the South. One Jagdpanther was lost a short distance into the bog due to a transmission failure.
But the men of the SS-Kampfgruppe “Wiking” had not yet given up. After handing off their wounded to a local shepherd, they formed a raiding party to collect much needed fuel for their remaining Jagdpanthers. During the following night they even captured 2 American trucks and a Jeep. Driving a short distance into the bog they let their prisoners go. When the raiding party reached the rest of the Kampfgruppe they checked the contents of the trucks. To their great disappointment, the trucks were carrying flower and sugar, not the fuel they so desperately needed. Nicolussi-Leck and the last men of his Kampfgruppe, now down to about 30 men strong, knew at this moment that they would not make it back to their own lines...
Nicolussi-Leck made his final decision on the morning of April 16th. He turned to Obersturmführer Ola Olin and said: “We have flower and need bread. I will look for a baker”.
Olin knew what Nicolussi-Leck meant and shook his hand one last time. Nicolussi-Leck and his adjutant walked back the way they had come and surrendered to the Americans in Hohne. Obersturmführer Olin, now in command, ordered the 2 captured trucks driven on the nearby rail tracks and set on fire.
The remaining 2 Jagdpanthers were driven into the bog, where they would sink from their own weight, the remaining ammunition, only 10 rounds were left, was buried elsewhere.
Just 4 men carrying machine pistols and Panzerfausts occupying the only remaining vehicle, the captured US Jeep. Their plan was to try and reach the south of Germany. Their adventurous journey was ultimately successful. The rest of the men made their way on foot. The Jagdpanther that had broken through the positions of the Shermans near Hohne 2 days earlier, was finally knocked out between the towns of Süderwittingen and Ohrdorf, 5 kilometers South of Wittingen. Four of its crew of 5 perished on that 16th April while the remaining crewmember, Georg Perchtold, ultimately met his fate on the 20th April.
When Hauptsturmführer Karl Nicolussi-Leck surrendered in Hohne and told his interrogators who he was and that it was his Kampfgruppe that had been a thorn in Major-General Bolling’s f, lank(s), they did not want to believe him. They had expected to have been opposed by a tank regiment, or at least by a battalion, their opponent a Lt. Colonel, not a SS-Captain.
The SS-Kampfgruppe “Wiking” covered a total distance of 250 km in 14 days of fighting before ceasing to exist.