4th Panzer Division (Wehrmacht)

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German 4th Panzer Division
4th Panzer Division logo 3.svg
Active 10 November 1938 – 8 May 1945
Country Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
Branch Heer
Type Division
Role Panzer
Engagements World War II
Insignia
1939 4th Panzer Division logo 3.svg
1940 and 1943–1945 (variant) 4 Panzer Division.JPG[1]
1942 4th Panzer Division logo.svg
at Battle of Kursk 4th Panzer Division logo 4.svg

The German 4th Panzer Division (4. Panzer-Division) was established in 1938. It participated in the 1939 invasion of Poland, the 1940 invasion of France, and the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. It remained on the Eastern Front, mainly under Army Group Centre, until it was trapped on the coast at Courland in the summer of 1944. It was evacuated by sea and returned to the main front in West Prussia in January 1945. It surrendered to the Soviets there at the end of the war. During the Polish campaign the division engaged in a series of massacres against the civilian population and POW's.

History[edit]

Creation[edit]

The 4th Panzer Division was formed as 7th Panzer Brigade in Würzburg on 10 November 1935, as the first unit of the second series of German fast units. On 10 October 1938, it was upgraded to full divisional status. During the Munich Crisis and the subsequent Anschluss of Czechoslovakia it was screening the border with Poland in case of a pre-emptive strike by the Allies. In August, 1939, it was attached to the XVI Panzer Corps of the 10th Army under Gen. Walther von Reichenau.

Polish Campaign[edit]

At the beginning of the Invasion of Poland (1939), the division was one of the first to cross the border in the operational area of Army Group South. Equipped with roughly 341 tanks, including 183 Panzer I, 130 Panzer II, 12 Panzer IV and 16 PzBef. The division lacked some infantry and anti-tank units.[citation needed] Polish historian Mieczysław Bielski wrote that immediately after entering Polish territory, on 1 September, the division used civilians as human shields during the battle of Mokra.[2] During that battle the division was fighting the Polish Volhynian Cavalry Brigade under Colonel Julian Filipowicz. Their tanks proved to be inadequately armoured and the Poles inflicted heavy casualties on the German formation and repulsed most of its units, which lost roughly 160 vehicles in the battle (between 70 and 100 of them, tanks), mostly to Polish-made Bofors 37 mm anti-tank guns and Kb ppanc wz.35 anti-tank rifles.[citation needed] According to the Polish historians[3] Kazimierz Leszczyński and Janusz Gumkowski, a Polish aircraft was shot down on 3 September and its crew taken prisoner. One of its passengers was brutally interrogated, tortured (German soldiers cut off his nose, ears and tongue) and then executed by personnel of the 4th Division.[4]

After supporting 1st Panzer, the division took part in the break-through of the Polish lines near Kłobuck, the Poles withdrew. Three days later, the 4th Panzer Division continued its move towards Warsaw. It reached the Polish capital on 8 September and tried to take the city by surprise. At 17.00, the forces of the 4th Panzer Division supported by the 31st Infantry Division attempted an assault on Warsaw's western borough of Ochota. The assault was repulsed and the German forces suffered heavy casualties. The following day the division was reinforced with artillery and the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler motorised infantry regiment, and began another assault towards Ochota and Wola. Well-placed Polish anti-tank guns and barricades erected on main streets repulsed this assault. On several occasions the lack of armament on the Polish side was made up for by ingenuity. One of the streets leading towards the city centre was covered with turpentine from a nearby factory. When German tanks approached, the liquid was set on fire, and the tanks were destroyed without a shot being fired. The German forces suffered heavy casualties and had to retreat. The 4th Panzer Division lost approximately 81 tanks out of 220 during the battle. After the failed assault on Warsaw, 4th Panzer Division was withdrawn westward and took part in the Battle of the Bzura, where it supported a German counter-attack.[citation needed]

Polish-Jewish historian, Szymon Datner, stated that on 18 September, in the village of Śladów, units of the 4th Panzer Division shot or drowned 252 prisoners of war and 106 civilians in the Vistula.[5] After that it was withdrawn to the Niederrhein.

French Campaign[edit]

During the Battle of France in 1940, the division came under the command of Erich Hoepner's XVI Panzer Corps, part of von Kleist's Panzer Group in the 6th Army commanded by Walther von Reichenau. After a blitzkrieg assault through Liege and Charleroi, it reached the area of Bethune, where it fought against the British Expeditionary Force in what became known as the battle of Dunkirk. However, due to Adolf Hitler's orders, it did not manage to capture Dunkirk itself. In early June 1940, the division managed to cross a large part of France in several days. By the time the cease fire was signed it had reached Grenoble almost unopposed. After several months of occupation duty in France, in late November the 4th Division was again withdrawn to Würzburg, where it was reorganized and reinforced. The 36th Panzer Regiment was detached and assigned to the newly formed 14th Panzer Division, while the 103rd Artillery Regiment was reinforced with a third battalion.[citation needed]

Eastern Front[edit]

Barbarossa[edit]

The division was moved to East Prussia and then to the area of Brześć Litewski in occupied Poland, where it was assigned to the XXIV Panzer Corps under Geyr von Schweppenburg. On 22 June 1941, it took part in the opening stages of Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union. During the first day, the division managed to drive a wedge into the Soviet positions and reached Kobryń some 65 kilometres behind the lines. The division then spearheaded one of the pincer moves to surround and destroy a large Soviet force in the battle of Minsk, where the German army took approximately 300,000 prisoners. After the battle of Homel it reached Kiev, where it fought against another pocket of resistance.

In September 1941, the division was attached to Army Group Centre, which was preparing to take part in the battle of Moscow. The assault started on 30 September 1941, the division reached Mtsensk and Tula as the southern arm of a pincer which tried to surround the Soviet capital. However, the Germans had been almost paralysed when the autumn rains set in, turning the only road to Tula into a stretch of mud. Bogged down German tanks proved an easy target for Russian bombers. With the onset of frost in early November, the Germans could use the roads again, but faced the problem of not being equipped for winter warfare, as Hitler had anticipated a quick victory in the summer. Warm clothing and white camouflage suits were lacking, and more and more tanks and other vehicles were immobilised as temperatures dropped below freezing.[citation needed]

Reserve unit, 1942–1943[edit]

On 5 December, the division was withdrawn and ordered to defend a stretch of front near Moscow against a Soviet winter counter-offensive. In a series of retreats, the division lost almost all of its tanks. A month later it had only 25 machines still operational.[citation needed] It withdrew to the Orel area, where the thaw halted the Soviet counter-offensive and the unit could be partially reinforced. Throughout 1942 it fought in the battle of Orel, a series of almost World War I-like skirmishes, assaults and counter-assaults. The first battalion of the 35th Regiment was disbanded and the remaining tanks were transferred to the surviving tank battalions. It took part in the failed battle of Kursk, after which it withdrew to the area along the Desna River. After a series of Soviet tactical pushes, the front line was finally stabilized near Bobruysk, where the division spent the winter of 1943–1944.[citation needed]

Defensive operations on the Eastern Front, 1943–1945[edit]

In the spring of 1944, the division moved to the area of Kowel in occupied Poland, where it was to support Army Group South during the expected Soviet spring offensive. However, Operation Bagration, (started on 22 June 1944), was aimed at Army Group Centre and the division was forced to withdraw, along with the rest of the German army. Assigned to the XXXIX Panzer Corps under Gen. Karl Decker, the division withdrew to the area of Warsaw, where the Soviet advance ran out of momentum at the end of July. The 4th Panzer Division took part in the Battle of Radzymin (also known as the battle of Wołomin) and on the 2nd August 1944, alongside the 19th Panzer Division, threw the Soviet III Tank Corps back to Wolomin. After which the Soviet Tank Corps suffered heavy losses and their advance halted.[6]

The division was then transported to northern Lithuania, where it was to support Army Group North. It was attached to the 3rd Panzer Army. However, the Soviet advance cut the German army group in two and the division was mostly dispersed. Some of its sub-units were cut off from the rest of German-held territory together with the 16th and 18th Armies in Livonia, where they supported the defence until the end of the war. Other units were attached to smaller, often improvised formations. They were destroyed by the Soviet offensive of April–May 1945.[citation needed]

Commanders[edit]

Orders of Battle[edit]

Fall Weiß, invasion of Poland 1939[edit]

  • Divisionstab
  • 4. Schützen-Brigade
    • Schützen-Regiment 12
  • 5. Panzer-Brigade
    • Panzer-Regiment 35
    • Panzer-Regiment 36
  • Artillerie-Regiment 103
  • Aufklärungs-Abteilung 7
  • Panzerabwehr-Battalion 49
  • Pionier-Battalion 79
  • Nachrichten-Abteilung 79

Operation Citadel, Orel 1943[edit]

(German: Unternehmen Zitadelle)

  • Divisionstab
  • Panzergrenadier-Regiment 12
  • Panzergrenadier-Regiment 33
  • II./Panzer-Regiment 35
  • Artillerie-Regiment 103
  • Panzerjäger-Abteilung 49
  • Feldersatz-Battalion 103
  • Panzer-Pionier-Battalion 79
  • Panzer-Nachrichten-Abteilung 79
  • Heeres-Flak-Abteilung 290
  • 84.Versorgungstruppen

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes
  1. ^ http://www.feldgrau.com/PzDiv.php?ID=4
  2. ^ (Polish) Mieczysław Bielski (1991). Grupa Operacyjna Piotrków 1939. Warsaw: Bellona. p. 462. ISBN 83-11-07836-X. 
  3. ^ Odilo Globocnik, Hitler's Man in the East: Hitler's man in the East, Joseph Poprzeczny 2004 page 186
  4. ^ (Polish) Kazimierz Leszczyński, Janusz Gumkowski (1961). Okupacja hitlerowska w Polsce (Nazi occupation of Poland). Polonia. p. 235. 
  5. ^ Szymon Datner, "Zbrodnie Wehrmachtu na jeńcach wojennych w II wojnie światowej", Warsaw 1961, page 53-56
  6. ^ Tucker-Jones, Anthony, Stalin's Revenge: Operation Bagration & The Annihilation of Army Group Centre, p.103, (Pen & Sword Military, 1st edition, 2009)
Bibliography