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Originally created as the Trier Frontier Command, the 72nd was reorganized as an infantry division on September 19, 1939. Most of its troops were Rhinelanders and Bavarians. Sent to the West Wall during the “Phony War” of 1939–April 1940, it was not considered a very good fighting unit in the early part of the conflict. After being lightly engaged in France, it spent three months in Brittany and three months in Paris, before being sent to Romania in January 1941. The division took part in the Balkans campaign in the spring of 1941 (fighting in Greece) and then crossed into Russia as a part of Army Group South. It fought in the Crimea and in the subsequent siege of Sevastopol before being transferred to Army Group Center in September 1942. On the central sector it took part in the winter fighting of 1942–43, in the Rzhev withdrawal, and in the Battle of Kursk. Transferred back to the southern sector, it fought at Orel and Bryansk, in the Dnieper bend battles, at Kiev, and in the southern Ukraine. It was finally encircled at Cherkassy with the IX Infantry Corps. During the battle and eventual break-out attempt, General Stemmermann, the corps commander, personally assumed command of the division. When he was killed by an anti-tank shell, all order disappeared in the 72nd. Perhaps half of the division escaped. Reformed in the spring of 1944, its grenadier regiments were each reduced from three to two battalions each. The 72nd was in Poland in the summer and was officially cited for its performance in the Vistula defensive battles in August. It suffered very heavy casualties in southern Poland and was smashed in the Battle of the Baranov Bridgehead on January 12, 1945, as the Russians drove on Breslau and Silesia. It rallied quickly and was soon back in combat on the Oder, although it was now a Kampfgruppe . Most of the division finally surrendered to the Russians in Czechoslovakia on May 8, 1945, although small elements did escape through the mountains to the west.

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