While we're on the subject of SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 and 600, perhaps some of the members here might be interested in seeing what they looked like and seeing what Drvar looks like today. The Battle of Drvar on May 25th and 26th 1944 resulted from the German attempt to capture or kill Josip Broz alias Tito whose partisan headquarters were in the Bosnian town.
This photo was taken during the heavy fighting around the church in Drvar during the initial phase in which SS assault teams, accompanied by Luftwaffe and Brandenburg interpreters and other specialists, moved to secure the town, clearing the houses of partisans and neutralising the various Allied mission HQs.
An SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 machinegun section has moved into the cloisters of the church during streetfighting in Drvar early on the morning of May 25th 1944. Note the cautious-looking Luftwaffe Kriegsberichter in the background. This is Walter Henisch, who took the photograph you will see further on. He is not wearing a helmet as this would have interfered with his ability to look through the viewfinder of his Leica camera, which can be seen in his hands. The raid on Drvar was extensively covered by SS and LW reporters. As one would say today, many photo-journalists were ‘embedded’ with the unit for the operation.
It struck me that the SS paratrooper kneeling with the automatic pistol in his hand looked familiar. I took a closer look and realised that it was SS-Oberscharführer Walter Hummel of SS-Fallschirmjäger-Bataillon 500. Hummel jumped in the first wave just after dawn.Note that he is still wearing his kneepads..
Here is Hummel’s Parachute Licence, a standard Luftwaffe-issue Fallschirmschützenschein
but issued through the Reichsführung-SS in Berlin. It’s hard to see in this scan but he still wears the SS-VT ‘1’ collar patch denoting membership of SS-Regiment “Deutschland”. The photo was taken some time before he joined the parachute battalion but after the award of the Winter War Medal so he was wearing this in 1942. There are photos of SS paratroopers in the cemetary at Drvar after the battle wearing SS-VT numbered regimental collar patches.
In the portrait on the right, which is the original (not to scale), which has been featured in several books, Hummel wears the ‘D’ monogram of his parent unit. Hummel, who is still alive, told me that this portrait was done in Neu-Strelitz in November 1944. Indeed, it bears the studio’s address on the reverse. So this was taken just after Hummel was posted to the newly-forming SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600 with the rest of the handful of SS-FJ-Btl 500 survivors to join the reserve company as cadre for the new unit.
Here is Hummel’s SS-VT driving licence, a rare document in itself. But more interesting is one of the pictures he kept after the war. In the one on the bottom lefthand side, by Henisch, we see some SS-Fallschirmjäger getting ready to move towards the church. As they have their backs to the photographer, we can’t see their faces. But the paratrooper with the belt of MG ammunition around his neck is Walter Hummel. Note the fearsome house-clearing weapon carried by his comrade, comprising several egg grenades tied around a stick grenade.
Here is a recent shot from almost the same place. The church looks much the same as it did on that warm May morning sixty years ago. It was restored after the war. Drvar was badly bombed by the Luftwaffe during the battle and then by the Allies afterwards, during which time the survivors of SS-FJ-Btl 500 and elements of the Prinz Eugen Division blew up or burnt just about any building left standing before withdrawing at the beginning of June. Drvar also suffered in the recent war.
And here is a detail from a snapshot of proud young paratrooper Walter Hummel home on leave after completing his jump course at Fallschirmschule 3, near the Serbian town of Kraljevo where SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 were garrisoned from November 1943 to June 1944. Note his ‘Deutschland’ cuff title, the cloth jump badge awarded pending delivery of the metal badge and certificate, and his paratrooper trousers and boots. A couple of weeks later, Walter Hummel would be answering his name to the rollcall after the battle in Drvar, one of the survivors.
To round this presentation off, here is another press photo of members of SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 in their Ju 52 on the way to Drvar as part of the first wave. I have dropped in a mugshot of Walter Hummel so that you can see that he is sitting there in the plane, captured in a pensive moment before the combat jump.