By Bruce Robertson
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Extra resources for Beaufort Special
10 On 5 December, the Soviets launched a major winter counteroffensive that continued for three months. The next day, the Reich Division, having lost 7,000 men and down to about 35 men per riﬂe company, received orders to withdraw behind the Istra River and take up a defensive position. On 8 December, Hitler halted Typhoon. Three days after being redeployed on the tenth, however, another heavy enemy attack left the Reich encircled. This necessitated a further withdrawal of thirty-ﬁve kilometers in knee-deep snow and icy cold to a defensive location west of the Rusa River.
The last major town before Kiev, Zhitomir fell to the 13th Panzer on 10 July. Reinforced by the 14th and 25th Panzer Divisions the next day, it then drove on to reach the River Irpen within ten miles of Kiev. By 17 July, Kleist’s armor was in front of Kiev, with the Leibstandarte having suffered 683 casualties in three weeks of ﬁghting. On being relieved by the Sixth Army on 24 July, Kleist continued his advance southward along the line of the Bug River. Now placed under the command of Gen. Werner Kempf’s XXXXVIII Corps and ﬂanked by the 11th Panzer on the left and the 16th Panzer on the right, the Leibstandarte spearheaded the drive on Uman.
Over army objections, Hitler insisted on equipping them with Mark IV tanks, at ﬁrst in battalion strength and later in regiment strength of two battalions, one eventually with Panther tanks. In November 1942, they even received Tigers that had just entered service in September. With one panzer and two panzergrenadier regiments, Waffen SS divisions were also bigger than ordinary German army divisions. In April 1943, the Leibstandarte had 21,000 men, and in October, along with the Das Reich, Totenkopf, Wiking, Hohenstaufen, Frundsberg, and Hitlerjugend, it was redesignated as an SS panzer division.