German armored warfare of World War II : the unpublished photographs, 1939-1945 / Ian Baxter.
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- ISBN: 1932033157
- ISBN: 9781932033151
- Physical Description: 224 pages : illustrations ; 30 cm
- Publisher: Havertown, PA : Casemate, 2003.
|Formatted Contents Note:||
The Panzer division -- Main battle tanks -- Light tanks -- Assault guns and tank destroyers -- Artillery -- Reconnaissance -- Panzergrenadiers -- Support vehicles.
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|Subject:||Germany. Heer > Armored troops > History > 20th century.
Germany. Heer > Armored troops > Pictorial works.
World War, 1939-1945 > Tank warfare.
World War, 1939-1945 > Tank warfare > Pictorial works.
German Armour of World War II
In October 1935 the Panzerwaffe created the first three Panzer divisions. Initially a Panzer division comprised of two tank regiments. These regiments were divided into two battalions; each battalion was made up of four companies with 32 light tanks. The entire division strength amounted to some 561 Panzers, including command tanks. By 1940 a typical Panzer division comprised the Panzer divisional staff; two tank regiments; three rifle regiment detachments consisting mainly of halftracks and cross-country armoured cars; Panzer signals; Panzer engineers; reconnaissance; artillery regiment; motorcycle battalion; flak detachment; and supply vehicles that were primarily made up of trucks and transport vehicles. The whole division was made up of captured Czech Pz.Kpfw.35(t)s and Pz.Kpfw.38(t)s, Pz.Kpfw.Is, Pz.Kpfw.IIs, Pz.Kpfw.IIIs and Pz.Kpfw.IVs, a multitude of various armoured cars, heavy guns, haulage trailers and tractors. Both reconnaissance and engineers provided bridging, and printing and meteorological office troops were attached to the artillery regiment.
With these new Panzer divisions the German Army sought not to attempt to outflank the enemy and envelop him, but to destroy his forces on the field of battle, using the weight and speed of the Panzer divisions to break through the enemy line and head for vital objectives deep within the enemy rear. The decisive weapon in this new style of warfare was, without a doubt, the massed tanks of the Panzer divisions. While the Panzers raced forward towards their strategic objectives, the rest of the division's units followed through the gap that they had created. Armoured cars, motorcycles and reconnaissance units then moved forward, while the motor rifle battalions were following closely behind the Panzers, ready at all time to deal with the least sign of resistance along the divisional sector. Motorized artillery followed, ready to give any fire support to the advancing armour or infantry units. Anti-tank guns provided protection against enemy tank counter-attack.
On mobilization in August 1939 the five Panzer divisions poised to invade Poland in September were still under-gunned and under-armoured, possessing only enough Panzers to equip three of their four tank companies. The Panzer divisions did have the edge over the antiquated Polish armoured units, but only with fire-control equipment and inter-tank radio communications were they clearly superior. The main German advantage during the inwlsion of Poland, as later in the West in 1940 and on the Eastern Front in 1941, lay not in what equipment the Panzer divisions possessed, but how they were utilized on the battlefield.
In Poland the five Panzer divisions were deployed against a brave but badly equipped, out-of-date Polish army. Their cavalry and mechanized units were clearly no match against even the lightest of Panzers. Still, out of the 2100 Panzers fielded against the Poles, 213 were lost during the three-week campaign, with 57 of them in one single day attempting to storm Warsaw. More serious than the loss of Panzers in battle though was the high rate of mechanical failure, which kept 25 per cent of the machines out of action at any one time. Nor was there any improvement by the time the Panzerwaffe unleashed ten Panzer divisions against the West in 1940. Out of the 2574 Panzers, fewer than 627 were of the heaviest Pz.Kpfw.III and Pz.Kpfw.IV types, and 1613 were the obsolete Pz.Kpfw.I and II. Nonetheless, in just five weeks the Panzer divisions, with the rest of the Army trailing behind, had roared through France to the Channel coast and a German victory was beckoning.
The Panzers had shown their worth and mastered not only the local terrain, but Allied tanks as well. Both the British and French tank crews fought courageously, but the outcome was almost always settled by the superiority of Panzer skills and techniques. By the time a German victory was sealed with an armistice signed on 22 June 1940, the Panzertruppen and their mighty Panzer divisions had become heroes among the men of the German Army. They had netted more than 250,000 prisoners in a Blitzkrieg of just 13 days and had established the importance of using armour in the forefront of battle. As a result, it became clear that the Panzerwaffe should now be considered the equal of the infantry. With the West now defeated, Hitler became more eager than ever to expand the Panzerwaffe and demanded tank production be increased five-fold.
Just weeks later, inspired by the triumph against the Allies, Hitler began hastily drawing up plans for a campaign against Russia. Guderian was dismayed, but Hitler assured him that he aimed to double the number of Panzer divisions for the coming battle. He was soon to raise the number of Panzer divisions from 10 to 21 by halving the AFV (Armoured Fighting Vehicle) strength of each division. Thus, the core of each new Panzer division consisted of a single tank regiment numbering some 150-200 machines: Hitler, intoxicated by success in the West, was now convinced that a Panzer division fielding a single armoured regiment was a strong as two regiments. This was a fatal error on Hitler's part, especially since the armaments factories were not equipped for mass production of AFVs. During the first half of 1941, they were having serious difficulty producing more than 200 vehicles each month. By early June 1941, the total number of Panzers produced for the new war against Russia was 5262, of which 4198 were frontline Panzers, and of that total, only 1404 were up-gunned and strengthened Pz.Kpfw.IIIs and IVs. It seemed quantity was now to take precedence over quality; the seeds of disaster for the Panzer divisions were already being sown.
In the third week of June 1941, the Panzerwaffe managed to field some 3000 Panzers for the army assembled to invade the Soviet Union. These vehicles were distributed among 19 Panzer divisions, 10 motorized infantry divisions, 4 motorized SS divisions, the motorized Grossdeutschland Regiment and a few independent assault-gun units. Without doubt, the mobility and striking power of the Panzer divisions and other independent formations had convinced those in command that Germany would be victorious within four months of attacking Russia. However, the vast expanses of terrain that the vehicles had to cover, and the huge logistical problems, gave the army serious difficulties, particularly when the weather changed and the Soviets put up a stubborn defence.
In theory, the advantages lay entirely with the powerful Panzer divisions. Indeed, the Panzerwaffe had initially made spectacular progress, encircling almost half a million Russian soldiers within one month, but the Panzer and motorized divisions still had the limitless expanse of the Soviet Union ahead of them - thousands of miles. As the Panzers penetrated deeper and deeper into Russia, the road surfaces became much worse, and a heavy downfall of rain quickly changed the dirt roads into a quagmire where armoured vehicles became bogged down.
By October and November 1941, the Panzer divisions were still fighting deep inside Russia. Confronted by bitter opposition, they soon also had to deal with a harsh Russian winter that none of the soldiers were prepared for. Many units were worn down to half strength, and the Panzers were down to two-fifths of their original tank strength. Food was short, ammunition and fuel for the Panzers were running out, and still no winter clothing had arrived. By the end of 1941, the battle-weary Panzer divisions were no longer fit to fight. Fortunately, no mobile operations were envisaged for the winter. Instead, while the front lines remained immobilized in the snow, most of the Panzer divisions were pulled out and transferred to France, in order to rest, reorganize and re-train.
In Germany more Panzer divisions were frantically being raised, and motorized divisions being converted into Panzergrenadier divisions. For 1942, a further three Panzer divisions, Nos. 22, 23 and 24 were raised. However, equipping the new Panzer divisions was a very slow process due to the massive losses on the Eastern Front. By the beginning of the summer offensive in May 1942, not all were yet fully equipped for action. All three newly created Panzer divisions were deployed in the south, with the best-equipped Panzer divisions being concentrated in Army Group South for the attack in the Caucasus. The new divisions had a combined strength of 495 Panzers, 181 of which were concentrated in the 24th Panzer Division.
In September 1942 a further two Panzer divisions were formed to help bolster the strength on the Eastern Front. However, by January 1943, the 14th, 16th, and 24th Panzer divisions had been lost at Stalingrad. The end in Russia seemed inevitable, but Hitler was determined to pour as many resources as possible into the badly depleted armoured force. Then came another terrible blow for the Panzer units: in May 1943 in Tunisia the l0th, 15th and 21st Panzer divisions were lost with the surrender of the German forces in North Africa. Only the 21st Panzer division would be reformed.
Throughout the spring of 1943, the Panzerwaffe had been building up its strength and by the summer fielded some 24 Panzer divisions on the Eastern Front. Four Panzer divisions were also deployed in Italy and Sicily; five Panzer divisions, including three new SS Panzer divisions, were stationed in France; and one, the 1st Panzer division, was in the Balkans. By June 1943, 21 Panzer divisions, including four SS and two Wehrmacht Panzergrenadier divisions were prepared for Operation Citadel on the Eastern Front. For this massive tank battle - the largest of World War II - the Panzerwaffe were able to put together some 17 divisions and 2 brigades with no less than 1715 Panzers and 147 StuG.III assault guns. Each division averaged some 98 Panzers and self-propelled guns, not including self-propelled anti-tank guns. It was a great achievement to muster such a force, but the Panzer division of 1943 was a mere shadow of the strength it had during the battles of 1941 and 1942. It was therefore not surprising that the armoured force was unable to break through the strong Russian defensive positions. The losses the Panzer division sustained at Kursk were so immense that the German Army took the first steps of its slow retreat back to Germany. The Soviets had managed to destroy 30 divisions, seven of which were Panzer. German reinforcements were insufficient to replace the staggering losses, so they fought on under-strength.
During the last half of 1943 and early 1944, losses to the Panzer divisions continued to escalate. So bad did losses become that they were greater than those sustained at Kursk. Both on the Eastern Front and the Italian Front, the Panzer divisions withdrew. By June 1944, when Overlord opened up the Allied second front in Europe, the Panzerwaffe had lost some 7500 Panzers and self-propelled guns in twelve months. Despite these losses, there were nine Panzer divisions stationed in France with 1673 Panzers and assault guns. On the Eastern Front there were 16 Panzer divisions with 1390 Panzers and two Panzer divisions in Italy with some 350. However, within two months of the Allied landings in Normandy, the British and American forces had virtually destroyed the Panzer divisions concentrated in the West. Most of the heavy Panzers such as the Tigers and Panthers were lost, including the majority of Flakpanzers and their heavy trucks, guns and equipment. Even after the failed Ardennes offensive in December 1944, most of the Panzer divisions continued to fight on until the last days of the war. The Panzer divisions had by then become so badly depleted that the divisions were organized into ad hoc groups. With insufficient fuel or incorrect ammunition supplies, desperation filled the ranks.
When the end for the Panzerwaffe finally came in early May 1945, it had 2023 Panzers, 738 assault guns and 159 Flakpanzers left. The numbers were almost similar to that which had attacked Russia in 1941, but the situation four years later was very different. Undermined by severe lack of provisions it was unable to withstand the two-pronged Allied attack. The Panzer division survived the war, but not as the offensive weapon that had seen it win the early campaigns of 1939 and 1940.
Excerpted from GERMAN ARMORED WARFARE OF WORLD WAR II by Ian Baxter Copyright © 2003 by Amber Books Ltd. Excerpted by permission.
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