The SS Charlemagne Division was formed in 1944 from a collection of troops serving in other French Units of the German Armed Forces as well as from paramilitatary groups such as the "Franc-Garde" of the Milice or French Police Units serving with the German Forces overseeing the occupation of France
The original French Unit serving with the German Wehrmacht was the LVF which was the Legion of French Volunteers against Bolshevism, its official title was the 638th Infantry Regiment and consisted mainly of right wing Frenchmen or French POW's who preffered fighting rather than forced labour in Germany. These POW's were the remainder of the French Armed forces who were ordered to surrender in 1940 after the occupation of France by the German Armed forces.
Other French troops were also recruited some as elements from the Vichy Phalanx and members from the French Foreign Legion who some cases still had aliegence to Vichy France
The first SS French formation came in July 1944, this was the "8th SS Volunteer Sturmbrigade France", it was formed from elements of the LVF and a recruiting drive from mainly France and French speaking Countries such as Alsace Lorraine, Luxembourg, and Belgium. The newly formed French SS Unit was despatched to Galicia to fight the Soviet advance and was attatched to the SS Horst Wessel Regiment under the command of former French Foreign Legionnaire SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Paul Marie Gamory-Dubourdeau.
The SS Sturmbrigade fought bravely and tenaciously and held their ground fighting over whelming odds and suffered heavy casualties, the 8th SS Sturmbrigade was later withdrawn and refitted/reformed into its last formation
In September 1944 the SS Charlemagne Brigade was born, it was formed with the remnants of the 8th Volunteer Sturmbrigade and the last survivors of the Wehrmacht LVF which both Units were later disbanded, the Charlemagne Brigade was commanded by SS-Brigadefuhrer Gustav Krukenberg and a former commander of the LVF Edgard Puaud now promoted to SS-Oberfuhrer.
In Febuary 1945 the Unit was upgraded to a Division and renamed the 33rd Waffen SS Grenadier Division der Charlemagne, however the Division was severely undermanned with only 7340 men. The newly formed Division was sent to Poland to fight the oncoming Red Army, unfortunately the Division was attacked while deploying for the frontline at the railhead at Hammerstein (now Czarne) in Pomerania by the advancing Soviet forces. Opposing the French SS Division were four Red Army Divions and two Tank Brigades. The Charlemagne Division were only lightly armed but managed to hold back the Soviet Tank Brigades with Panzerfausts (Bazookas).
On the night of the 3rd March 45 the remnants of the Charlemagne Div were sent to defend the nearby town of Korlin with orders to hold it all costs. A massive Red Army force hit Korlin from the Southwest and the French defended the town desperately and were able to hold their positions throughout the day although later the Division were ordered to withdraw immeadiately to the West to avoid being trapped and were broken into three battlegroups. Only Krukenbergs group survived, the Division lost 4800 men and Oberfuhrer Puaud was one of them. The survivors retreated to the Baltic coast and were evacuated to Denmark by sea and later sent to Neustrelitz for refitting.
In early April 1945 SS-Brigadefuhrer Krukenberg now commanded the remains of the SS Charlemagne Division now down to 700 men and organized into a single Infantry Regiment, officially designated Battalion 57 and 58. Krukenberg released 400 men to serve in a pioneer Battalion and the rest numbering a meagre 300 men were ordered to Berlin to conduct a delaying action against the approaching Red Army.
After fighting valiantly against unreal overwhelming odds (1000 to 1) eventually Berlin fell, the SS Charlemagne Unit were the last defenders of Hitlers bunker holding out until May 2nd 1945 to prevent the Soviets capturing it on May day.
Most Charlemagne survivors were shot on sight, the ones that did escape Berlin (approx 30 men) and made it back to France were imprisoned by the Allies. General Leclerc when presented with 12 SS Charlemagne survivors ordered them to be executed imeadiately without any form of trial, their memorial still stands to this day (see photo) .When confronted with the 12 captured Charlemagne prisoners Gen Leclerc was reputed to say "Why do you wear German Uniform" ?, one grizzled French SS veteran replied "Why do you wear an American one" ??, needless to say the Free French General was not happy at this response!!!
The SS Charlemagne Division were short lived but throughout that short time fought valiantly without a stain on their reputation or Military records ",Vive la Charlemagne".