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Join Date: Jun 2003
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From volume 2 of my series "Waffen-SS Commanders"
The son of salesman Eduard Kumm, Otto Kumm was born in Hamburg on October 1, 1909, where he completed his basic education in 1925. He chose a career as a typesetter and after training, secured a position which he retained until becoming a full-time SS officer.
In October 1930 he joined the SA with SA Sturm 25 in Hamburg. Kumm left the SA and joined the SS on December 1, 1931, with the 1./I./28.SS-Standarte. Completing basic training in March 1932, he moved to the 5.Sturm the following month and remained there until October 1933. Promoted to SS-Obertruppführer on November 9, 1932, and commissioned as an SS-Untersturmführer on February 15, 1934, Kumm assumed command of the III.Sturmbann in March 1934 as successor to Heinrich Jürs who left to command the 9.SS-Standarte.
During mid-August 1934 Kumm transferred to the new Political Readiness Detachment in Hamburg. The unit developed into Regiment "Germania" and Kumm's first command was of the 3.Sturm. He was promoted to SS-Obersturmführer on August 12, 1934, and, during October that year, returned to the Allgemeine-SS briefly to command the 39.SS-Standarte in Köslin. Kumm next assumed leadership of a machine gun unit, commanding the 4.Sturm from May 17, 1935, to December 10, 1936, by which time the unit had been redesignated as a Kompanie.
Promoted to SS-Hauptsturmführer on September 13, 1936, Kumm next moved to Regiment "Deutschland" as senior staff officer of the II.Bataillon until the end of January 1937. At the start of February he took over leadership of the 2.Kompanie in Georg Keppler's I.Bataillon of "Deutschland." Kumm remained in command until May 1938.
With the forming of SS-Standarte 3 ("Der Führer") on May 1, 1938, Kumm was assigned to the III.Bataillon as commander of the 10.Kompanie until replaced by Otto Baum in mid-November 1938. Kumm then took commanded of the 12./Der Führer and the regiment was in reserve during the Polish campaign. It then became a component of the initial Waffen-SS division in October 1939. During the Western Campaign, III.Bataillon commander Hilmar Wäckerle was wounded on May 13, 1940, and Kumm assumed temporary battalion command, winning the Iron Cross 2nd class on May 29th. His command became permanent on the day he won the Iron Cross 1st class (June 4, 1940) and four days later he was wounded for which he was awarded the Wound Badge in Black on June 8, 1940.
Promoted to SS-Sturmbannführer on September 1, 1940, Kumm was awarded the Infantry Assault Badge on the 10th of the following month. When Georg Keppler transferred to the "Totenkopf" Division, Kumm became the second commander of Regiment "Der Führer" on July 11, 1941. As regimental commander, he was promoted to SS-Obersturmbannführer on October 1, 1941. Kumm was also recommended for the Knight's Cross for the first time by Wilhelm Bittrich. Not approved, instead he was awarded his German Cross in Gold decoration certificate on December 3, 1941, from the following report recommendation:
"On September 4, 1941, the reinforced Regiment "Der Führer" attacked from Awdejewka toward the southwest. In fierce fighting, mainly involving the armored battalion, the regimental commander led in the taking of an important bridge near Rudnja at approximately 1350 hours. Shortly afterwards, the hills southwest of Rudnja were taken. Due to the immediate pursuit, which followed in the approaching darkness, the enemy unit was destroyed at Tschernotitschi where numerous weapons and equipment were captured.
On September 15, 1941, the regiment received orders to attack from Itschnja to capture Priluki. The regiment had to attack three times against the fiercely-fighting enemy, until the edge of Kolessniki was finally captured at darkness. Through combined and reinforced reconnaissance during the night of the 16th, the enemy withdrawal could be observed at 0100 hours. With immediate pursuit at dawn, the regiment took the northern edge of Priluki. A long enemy column was destroyed and 1,400 prisoners were taken. 18 guns, four anti-tank guns, 30 mortars, numerous cars, horse-drawn vehicles and other equipment were also destroyed or captured. This success was due to SS-Obersturmbannführer Kumm's reconnaissance despite the fact that his troops were exhausted. A Russian attack by 200 troops against the regimental headquarters was repulsed by Kumm and the messengers and staff ordnance officers. The enemy suffered bloody losses.
On September 21, 1941, the regiment, reinforced by armored units, received orders to attack against a Russian relief thrust east of Romny. With that they could surround a Russian Cavalry Division by attacking in a southward direction. Within two hours the regimental commander managed to turn his previously eastward-fighting command 90 degrees and attack in a southern direction. During fierce fighting in the village of Ssakunowo, the regiment destroyed major portions of the Russian 5th Cavalry Division. After the fighting, more than 1,000 enemy casualties were counted. Due to new march orders, the captured or destroyed equipment could not be counted.
In the days between those combats, "Der Führer" was either on the march or in combat. Due to the mud and poor Russian roads, the Regiment fought mostly on foot and during the night to continue pursuit. They took 9,466 prisoners and destroyed or captured 123 guns, 17 anti-tank guns, 40 mortars and 24 tanks. This success was possible due to the personal bravery and energy of the young regimental commander."
Regiment "Der Führer" had a normal strength of more than 2,000 men but had been reduced to 650 men between its two remaining battalions by January 1942. Kumm led this depleted command during the defensive battles at Rshew, possibly the fiercest regimental combat of the initial Russian campaign. Subordinated to the 256.Infanterie-Division, Kumm's command fought on their flank with the 161.Infanterie-Division on their opposite flank. The continuous combats were undertaken in temperatures of -54 C.
From January 25 to mid-February, Kumm's command repulsed rocket, infantry and armor attacks of unprecedented ferocity. Combats went on day and night with no established front line, and regimental headquarters participated in direct combat. An attack by 30 T-34s on February 3, 1942, against the 10.Kompanie left one wounded and frost-bitten survivor. At various times the Russians attacked with four different divisions, three tank brigades and constantly resupplied support units. On February 6, the 2.Kompanie fought to the last man and Kumm's regiment had only 226 men remaining. By February 12, 1942, Kumm had 126 men left under his command. When pulled from the front, the unit was inspected by Walter Model. Only 35 men were fit enough to stand in review for the commander of the 9.Armee. Kumm's command inflicted over 15,000 enemy casualties and the commander of the 256.Infanterie-Division wrote Himmler personally of Kumm's command as well as his personal bravery. Walter Model then recommended Otto Kumm for the Knight's Cross with the following report:
"Through a daring attack on January 22, 1942, Kumm took the dominating hilly territory north of Jachino-Klepenino. He closed the break-through gap of the enemy west of Rshew, proving himself in an outstanding manner during the following heavy defensive combat with his organization and execution of the defense. During the enemy breakthrough attempts of February 7/8 west of Rshew, executed by strong infantry and armor forces after artillery and aerial bombing preparation, Kumm succeeded after numerous enemy penetrations in preventing a full enemy breakthrough. He led operations with continuous personal decisions, especially with the holding of the regimental command post and occupying Ojengina with parts of "Der Führer." During the above mentioned defensive actions alone, two dozen tanks were destroyed under his personal leadership. He prevented, decisive for the overall situation, contact between the enemy assault force and the tenaciously-holding enemy troops encircled in Kantschalowo. His personal imperturbable bearing during the heavy artillery fire and continuous tank attacks, again and again gave the troops new fighting spirit with confidence in victory."
The Knight's Cross was approved on February 16, 1942. Walter Model personally presented the decoration to Kumm at "Reich" headquarters for the Rshew battles that Kumm still recalls as the most intense of the war. Regiment "Der Führer" was to have been disbanded but Kumm successfully fought for its being rebuilt. In the summer of 1942 it became a Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment with semi-tracked vehicles for its infantry and other added firepower. On August 30, 1942 he was awarded the Eastern Front medal.
Returning to Russia in January 1943, Kumm fought throughout the battles for Kharkov. Those combats won him the first award of the Oakleaves for "Das Reich" on April 6, 1943, from the following report submitted by divisional commander Herbert Vahl:
"On February 11, 1943, Regiment "Der Führer" received the order to attack the enemy whose excellent positions were in the hill and gorge filled area south of Merefa. The enemy had numerous heavy weapons, mainly anti-tank guns, in his positions. Our reconnaissance estimated his strength at seven battalions. The Panzer Regiment of the "Leibstandarte" was attached to "Der Führer." The order was: Push back the enemy along the rail line and village of Borkiwith tank support. After winning the first attack targets, Hills 172.3, 161.8, and 160.3, the Panzer Regiment would attack from a wide bow into the enemy's left flank to enable, with close cooperation, the removal of the enemy from its strong positions. The Regiment reached its first target and was ready in the advanced positions to attack the rail line and Borki. The enemy fired heavy barrages so a further advance seemed ill-advised. Here the tank attack had to force a decision. That didn't work when the enemy could not be forced from Dahgun and was forced to withdraw. The regimental commander, observing from a most advanced position, recognized that action was an immediate must and decided to attack without tank support. This he managed with the utmost clever use of his battalions that ejected, pursued and destroyed the enemy. The railway was taken and the enemy lost his retreat and supply line. With that, the cut-off parts of the enemy could be destroyed. Through his own decision to attack a superior strength enemy, Kumm prepared the basis for the destruction of the cut-off enemy units.
On February 16, 1943, Regiment "Der Führer" received the order to reach Jefremowka and make contact with Battle Group "Meier." The enemy was to be encircled in a pincer movement and defeated. The III.Bataillon of "Der Führer" attacked but soon realized only a portion of the enemy was withdrawing towards Jefremowka with the bulk of their units moving southeast. The regimental commander decided to diverge from his original order and to attack both Jefremowka and follow the other units to destroy them as well. The result appeared a day later when the III.Bataillon reported the destruction of an enemy regiment. The capture of 20 guns, 30 anti-tank guns, numerous mortars, machine guns and other equipment as well as enemy casualties was reported; statistics that verified the original order was diverged from and brought success from the subsequent pursuit. Additionally, during the entire attack there was a continuous struggle against snow and terrain. During the tough advance, the regimental commander, always to be found with the most exposed spearheads, applied his own personal energy in the quick recognition of the unit's situation and in his own decisions in employing units. Consequently, the Division has to thank him that all operations were successful. The performance of both leadership and troops was extraordinary."
Kumm received the preliminary document for the award from Walter Krüger during a ceremony on April 20, 1943, for all decorations awarded for the Kharkov fighting to "Das Reich." Turning over command of Regiment "Der Führer" to Sylvester Stadler in late April 1943 (who officially became full commander June 1), Kumm left for Berlin and reassignment. Promoted to SS-Standartenführer on April 20, 1943, he was given the post of Chief of Staff in the Aufstellungsstab (Formation Staff) for what became the V.SS-Gebirgs-Korps on May 1, 1943 (the Korps was actually ordered on July 8, 1943). Kumm was trained in senior staff work by corps commander Artur Phleps while the staff formed in Berlin. On May 20, 1943, Kumm was personally decorated with the Oakleaves by Hitler.
Appointed commander of the 7.SS-Gebirgs-Division "Prinz Eugen" by Phleps, he assumed command from temporary leader August Schmidhuber at the start of February 1944, having been promoted to SS-Oberführer on January 30, 1944. Kumm then led his command against Tito's partisans in Yugoslavia. As divisional commander, both Kumm and his unit were mentioned in the Werhmacht Daily Report of June 6, 1944, and he led "Prinz Eugen" during the intense battles in and around Nish that resulted in his being mentioned again in the Armed Forces Daily Report of October 10 that year.
The pressure of enemy forces necessitated the order to evacuate Nish in mid-October 1944 and to cross the Morava river. As always, Kumm crossed last with his staff, fighting the enemy forces already in the city who were attacking his men with newly-captured German artillery. Throughout Kumm's command elements, his dispersed units fought for their simple survival during that period. The divisional staff alone took 200 casualties and other elements suffered a similar percentage of losses. On November 9, 1944, Kumm was promoted to SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS.
In January 1945 the commander of the XXXIV.Armeekorps asked that Kumm be awarded the Swords to the Knight's Cross for his leadership of "Prinz Eugen." His report, that later resulted in the award's approval on March 17, 1945, reads as follows:
"As part of the operational withdrawal from the Balkans, "Prinz Eugen" had withdrawn according to plan to the Nish bridgehead. This later fighting was against greatly superior forces in the area of Leskovac-Bela-Palanka (six Bulgarian infantry divisions and one tank brigade) and Zajecar (three Russian divisions). The swift evacuation of the 700 wounded, supplies, installations such as the command headquarters and anti-aircraft guns was required. Brigadeführer Kumm's proposed route northwards through Aleksinac was already blocked north of there by strong Russian forces and could not be opened up by October 12, 1944, with a weak one battalion force at Kumm's disposal. Communication with the corps was severed so the divisional commander decided to send this motorized column west through Mramor-Prokuplje.
The Nish bridgehead had to be held right up to October 14 against the enemy exerting strong pressure. The Morava bridge, destroyed near Mramor, was repaired on the morning of October 13 and the column of some 1,000 vehicles did not fully cross until 0900 hours the next day due to bad weather. Following the motorized elements, the horse-drawn transport moved out. At 1045 hours a Bulgarian division reinforced by a tank brigade attacked the withdrawal route from the south, concentrating on the left flank around Merosina where the divisional headquarters was located. Three Luftwaffe companies that had been sent to protect the southern flank were routed.
SS-Brigadeführer Kumm immediately gathered all available men (about 40 with three light machine guns) and with them held the southern outskirts of Merosina. Portions of the II./Gebirgsjäger Regiment 13 were ordered to execute a diversionary attack from the southern outskirts of Nish but were unable to as the battalion was itself under strong attack by enemy tanks and infantry. The column of vehicles was shot to pieces by tanks, artillery and anti-tank guns. Drivers and horse-drawn vehicles were routed.
The courageous resistance of the divisional commander held up the enemy long enough for the vehicles with wounded and other parts of the column to move west and later to Pristina. By 1300 hours the enemy had blocked both sides of Merosina and had penetrated the town with infantry. Kumm then withdrew and, after expending all ammunition, fought his way through to the headquarters of the II./SS-Gebirgsjäger Regiment 13. From there he commanded the retreat of the battalion from the Nish bridgehead and the regrouping of reachable other units from the Division at Dudulajce. The withdrawal and regrouping was accomplished, but all artillery was abandoned.
Due to the lack of ammunition and heavy weapons, the divisional commander decided to avoid big battles and fight his way over the ridge of the Jastrebac mountains, through partisan bands, in order to make contact with our troops in the Ibar Valley. After an extremely hard march with 4,000 men and 1,000 horses without sufficient food, they reached the valley and camped in the Usce-Bare area. Through this daring operation, SS-Brigadeführer Kumm evaded being surrounded by a vastly superior enemy and retained troops with fighting capability."
Despite some 7,000 casualties, Kumm's command held essential bridges to allow several German divisions to withdraw from late October to the third week of November 1944. During that time, he was promoted to SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS and continued offensive operations after the successful extrication of "Prinz Eugen." Kumm was officially succeeded by August Schmidhuber on January 20, 1945. He then became the last commander of the "Leibstandarte" on February 6, 1945, as successor to Wilhelm Mohnke, actually taking physical command of the "Leibstandarte" on February 15, 1945. Having won the Swords, Kumm was formally presented the decoration personally by Sepp Dietrich on March 20, 1945, at the Veszprem headquarters of the I.SS-Panzerkorps. The actual decoration itself was not avaiable so Joachim Peiper loaned his own award for the presentation ceremony. Kumm surrendered with his divisional command to US forces on May 8.
After the war, Otto Kumm formed the basis of the Reciprocal Aid Society of Former Members of the Waffen-SS (HIAG) in Hamburg during 1950 and also wrote a detailed unit history of "Prinz Eugen." He also contributed to the official histories of the "Leibstandarte," "Das Reich" and wrote the sections of the Regiment "Der Führer" history covering his command tenure.
An extraordinarily brave, capable, highly-decorated and successful officer throughout all parts of his career, his defense during the 1942 Rshew battles was among the most intense regimental actions of the war among any combatants. Remaining active today in veteran affairs, he is the honorary head of several divisional associations. When examining both military career and post-war contributions to his troops to evaluate a divisional leader, Otto Kumm is possibly the greatest commander produced by the Waffen-SS. His leadership presence remains as does the adoration he receives from his former soldiers. Married in 1938, Otto Kumm has two daughters.
Mark C. Yerger