2nd Panzer Division (Wehrmacht)

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German 2nd Panzer Division
2nd Panzer Division logo3.svg
Active 15 October 1935 – 8 May 1945
Country Nazi Germany Nazi Germany Germany
Branch Heer
Type Division
Role Panzer
Engagements World War II
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Heinz Guderian
Rudolf Veiel
Hans-Karl Freiherr von Esebeck
Arno von Lenski
Vollrath Lübbe
Heinrich von Lüttwitz
Franz Westhoven
Adolf von Nostitz-Wallwitz
Henning Schönfeld
Meinrad von Lauchert
Oskar Munzel
Carl Stollbrock
Insignia
1939–1940 2nd Panzer Division logo3.svg
1940–1945 (variant) 2nd Panzer Division logo2.svg
1940–1944 2nd Panzer Division logo.svg
1944–1945 Ww2 GermanDivision Panzer 2-c.png

The 2nd Panzer Division (2. Panzer-Division) was created in 1935, and stationed in Austria after the Anschluss. It participated in the campaigns in Poland (1939) and France (1940),[1] and then returned to Poland for occupation duties (1940–1941). It took part in the Balkans campaign (1941) and then transferred to the Russian Front in September 1941. It fought with Army Group Center in the battles of Moscow (1941) and Kursk (1943). After heavy losses on the Russian Front it was sent to France for rehabilitation (1944). It fought in Normandy and was almost completely destroyed in the Falaise Pocket (1944). It was rebuilt once more and fought in the Battle of the Bulge (1944) and in the defense of the Rhine (1945), surrendering to the Americans at war's end.

Division history[edit]

Construction[edit]

The 2nd Panzer Division was created by the Wehrmacht in the city of Würzburg on 15 October 1935 from two armoured regiments, the 3rd Panzer Regiment and the 4th Panzer Regiment under the control of Oberst Heinz Guderian.

During the Anschluss of Austria by the Third Reich, assisted by Nazi elements within Austria, the division was sent to form a part of the garrison in the Austrian capital of Vienna. At the outbreak of the Second World War the division was bolstered by a contingent of local Austrians, up to the point where the division was nicknamed the Vienna Division.

Invasion of Poland[edit]

Map showing the deployment and planned advances for the invasion of Poland. 2. Panzer Division was moving towards the northeast from Slovakia, to take Cracow and continue to Warsaw through the Vistula valley.

In early September 1939, at the beginning of the war, the 2nd Panzer Division took part in the invasion of Poland as a part of the XII Panzer Corps, of the 14th Army (Wehrmacht), Army Group South. Based in newly formed Slovakia, the objectives of the division initially were the taking of the city of Krakow, where it came against the improvised and well coordinated by Stanislaw Maczek Mechanized Division (made out of largest Polish tank unit, 10th Cavalry Brigade and light but usually highly mobile infantry of the Border Protection Corps and the local police). Throughout the campaign it suffered heavy losses, particularly on 18 September in a bitter tank battle.

On the other hand, during the campaign, soldiers of the 2nd Panzer Division committed atrocities against prisoners of the Polish Army. On 5 September, some Polish soldiers who were apprehended near Toporzysko-Bystra were removed from their unit and executed under the assumption that they were attempting to flee.

Battle of France (Fall Gelb and Fall Rot)[edit]

German armoured advance (including 2nd Panzer Division) through the Ardennes between 10 and 16 May 1940, as part of the Battle of France

In January 1940, the 2nd Division was reassigned to the Western Front, around the area of Eifel. In May, the unit took part in the Battle of France as a part of the XIX Army Corps (Germany) under the command of Heinz Guderian, their former commander. The panzergruppe of which the division formed a part was under the command of Ewald von Kleist. The division helped the push through the Ardennes and was involved in fighting in Belgium and the Mosel River valley. On 17 May, along with the 1st Panzer Division they managed to hold the banks of the River Oise, spearheaded an attack on Moy, and took the town of Peronne in the Somme on 19 May; arriving in the town of Abbeville on the 20th. Later they would form the armoured element which flanked the British Expeditionary Army and forced their extraction from the European Continent in Dunkirk, while engaging the French 2nd Armoured Division led by General Charles de Gaulle who would carry on to lead the Free French forces. The invasion was typical of newly developed Blitzkrieg tactics used by the German army which utilised armoured elements under the support of the Luftwaffe.

After a rest of a week to conduct repairs and to regroup the unit, the 2nd Panzer Division advanced along the River Aisne into the interior of France. At the end of the campaign in the last months of 1940, the Division lost its 4th Panzer Regiment which was used as the basis for the soon-to-be-formed 13th Panzer Division.

Romanian Garrison and Operation Marita[edit]

A New Zealand prisoner stands behind the command vehicle of Hermann Balck, commander of the 3rd Panzer Regiment of the 2nd Panzer Division, Greece 1941.

In April 1941 the 2nd Panzer Division was sent to Romania, with the mission of protecting the country, and perhaps more importantly the resources from Ploesti, from Soviet influence and sidestepping the Romanian authorities, all the time positioning for a possible invasion by Germany into the Soviet Union. Meanwhile an alliance was formed with Bulgaria and this assured protection from the south.

The division was reassigned to the XVIII Mountain Corps (Germany) of the 12th Army on 6 April 1941 to play a role in Operation Marita, the invasion of Greece. The German army pushed through the south of Yugoslavia, taking the important city of Strumica and then carrying on southward towards the Greek border, where they made contact with the 19th Motorised Infantry (Greece) in the area of Lake Dojran. On 9 April the division took the city of Salonika. Eventually on the same day they forced the surrender of the 2nd Greek Army which was on the east of the River Vardar.

The division, together with the 5th Mountain Division, the 6th Mountain Division and the 72nd Infantry Division, formed an attack group with the mission of securing the advance into the south of Greece. After the 6th Division had taken Verroia and formed a spearhead, on the other side of the River Haliacmon, the 2nd Panzer Division crossed the river, taking Katerini on 14 April. During an attack on 15 April, the area around Mount Olympus was taken. On the 16th, New Zealand troops that were part of the Anzac force came under attack in the Platamon Valley. After determined resistance, the Germans broke through, taking Larissa on 19 April. Here they captured a large British supply depot, which the 2nd Panzer Division made immediate use of to allow them to push the attack without waiting any further.

After the final resistance was broken at the Valley of Thermopalyae, the 2nd Panzer Division entered Athens together with the 6th Mountain Division.

In September 1941 the Division lost some of its units when they were reassigned to the 22nd Panzer Division.

Russian Front (Operation Barbarossa)[edit]

Before the campaign, the Division had to recover from losses suffered from wear, as well as their heavy weapons, which had been sunk in the Mediterranean by Allied submarines; it was shipped by sea to Italy, to be redirected from there by heavy railway to the east. After they had recovered, in October 1941, 2nd Panzer Division was sent to the Eastern Front, reinforcing Army Group Centre in their progress towards Moscow. They became an active component of the XL Panzer Corps of the 4th Panzer Army. During the Battle of Moscow, vanguard elements of the Division reached the outskirts of the city reaching 9 km from the centre of Moscow; some of its units even claimed to have sighted the domes of the Kremlin in the distance.

After being on the defensive, the Division was forced to withdraw following a counterattack of the Red Army in the winter of 1941, taking part in various battles defensive as a component in the 9th German Army during the first months of 1942 .

In 1943 the 2nd Panzer Division took part in Operation Citadel, fitted in the XLVII Panzer Corps of the 9th German Army of Army Group Centre. The German offensive was stopped by the Soviets, who began pushing the German army back. The 2nd Panzer conducted a fighting retreat where it suffered heavy losses.

France and the Battle of Normandy[edit]

As a result of combat fatigue and wear, the Division was sent in late 1943 to France, specifically to Amiens in the Somme, for its restructuring and reorganization. It remained in the area to deal with a hypothetical invasion of France by Allies.

However, when there was the invasion of Normandy by the Allies on June 6, 1944, the 2nd Panzer Division was not sent immediately to Normandy but remained in the Somme due to the erroneous assumption that there was to be a second Allied landing in the region of Calais; an idea fostered by the British through their use of double agents for exactly this purpose. Due to this, to damage and delays caused by the action of groups of partisans and allied air raids, the Division did not reach the front in Normandy until July. When it arrived, it clashed with British troops of the 50th Infantry Division and the 7th Armoured Division. Having participated in various battles and confrontations, it took part with its last 25 tanks in the failed counterattack at Mortain. It was later enclosed in the Falaise pocket, but managed to escape at a high cost in material and human casualties. However, the defense of the position was crucial in not allowing the Allies to close the pocket until a high number of German soldiers had escaped.

Germany[edit]

Completely dismantled, the Division was sent to Bitburg in Germany to be reorganized again, absorbing the few remnants of the 352. Infantry Division. Due to the shortage in material resources which afflicted the Third Reich, was significantly reduced its complement of tanks, some of their companies with only assault guns. although a battalion received Panzer V Panther tanks.

Battle of the Bulge[edit]

Image of troops from the United States Army during the Battle of the Bulge which shows the weather conditions in which the two armies fought, including the 2nd Panzer Division.

After the rest period the Division was sent again to the Western Front, being attached to XLVII Panzer Corps, 5th Panzer Army which was preparing an offensive in the area of the Ardennes, Belgium. By the start of the battle, it was well-equipped, with 103 tanks and assault guns. During the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 - January 1945, the 2nd Panzer Division attacked towards the crucial road junction of Bastogne. However, the town's defences was quickly reinforced by the veteran 101st Airborne Division. Various attacks directed against the town failed, and the 2nd Panzer Division had lost precious time in trying to take down Bastogne's defenders. When it was diverted to the Meuse on December 18, in accordance with the original plan, the division was unable to break reach the river. American reinforcements to the area threatened its flanks and to cut it off from its supply line. Eventually, the vanguard of the division came to reach within 4 km the Meuse River where on the 24 December they were stopped by the British 3rd Royal Tank Regiment. It was forced to retreat by fierce counterattacks conducted by American forces as well as the lack of gasoline for the German mechanized forces.[2]

Finally, most of the 2nd Panzer Division was surrounded by the U.S. 2nd Armored Division on Christmas Day, with very few tanks of the Division able to escape back to German lines. Strikes by ground-attack aircraft hindered attempts by the 2nd Panzer Division to retreat back to friendly lines in large formations.

Battle of the Rhine[edit]

Now operating at an extremely reduced effectivness, the 2nd Panzer Division took part in the Spring of 1945 in the Battle of the Rhine. In this, the Wehrmacht tried to halt the passage of the Allies across the River Rhine, and the Division assisted as a component of the XIII Army Corps, of the 7th German Army, Heeresgruppe B.

The final fate of the unit was to defend the city of Fulda in April 1945, along with the rest of the XII Army Corps of the same 7th Army, and surrendered to the American forces on 7 May. It was considered one of the finest units of World War II.

Commanders[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ During the French campaign, this division was the first German division to reach the English channel on May 20, 1940. See "The History of World War II", edited by Peter Young, Orbis Publication,1983, vol. 2, p.156.
  2. ^ Battle of the Bulge 1944 2: Bastogne Steven J. Zaloga p81-84

References[edit]

  • Pipes, Jason. "2.Panzer-Division". Retrieved April 2, 2005.
  • Wendel, Marcus (2004). "2. Panzer-Division". Retrieved April 2, 2005.
  • "2. Panzer-Division". German language article at www.lexikon-der-wehrmacht.de, with photos. Retrieved April 2, 2005.
  • "Unteroffizer Franz Eschner". English language autobiographical notes from a veteran of 2nd Panzer Division, with photos. Retrieved April 2, 2005.
  • Szymon Datner (1974). Zbrodnie Wehrmachtu (Crimes of the Wehrmacht)

External links[edit]