Panzer division

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A panzer division (German: Panzerdivision) was an armored (tank) division in the army branch of the Wehrmacht and of Nazi Germany during World War II. The panzer divisions were the key element of German success in the Blitzkrieg operations of the early years of the war. Later the Waffen-SS formed panzer division units, and even the Luftwaffe fielded a panzer division, the Herman Goring Division.

A panzer division was a combined arms formation, having both tanks (German Panzerkampfwagen, "armored fighting vehicle", usually shortened to "Panzer") and infantry as organic components, along with the usual assets of artillery, anti-aircraft, signals, etc. However, the proportions of the components of a panzer division changed over time.

The term Panzerdivision is still used in today's Heer of the Bundeswehr (for example 1. Panzerdivision). It is not automatically associated with the old Wehrmacht units in German speaking countries.

Pre-war development[edit]

Heinz Guderian first proposed the formation of panzer units larger than a regiment, but this was rejected by the inspector of motorized troops Otto von Stuelpnagel.[1] After his replacement by Oswald Lutz, Guderian's mentor, the idea gained more support in the Wehrmacht, and after 1933 was also supported by Adolf Hitler. On 15 October 1935 the first three panzer divisions were formed.[2] The 1st Panzer Division was formed in Weimar and commanded by Maximilian von Weichs, the 2nd was formed in Würzburg and commanded by Guderian and the 3rd was formed in Berlin and commanded by Ernst Feßmann.

Most other armies of the era organized their tanks into "tank brigades" requiring additional infantry and artillery support. Panzer divisions had their own organic infantry and artillery support. This led to a change in operational doctrine: instead of the tanks supporting operations by other arms, the tanks led operations, with other arms supporting them. Since the panzer divisions had the supporting arms included, they could operate independently from other units.

World War II[edit]

German Panzer Division, 1939

These first panzer divisions (1st through 5th) were composed of two tank regiments and one motorised infantry regiment of two battalions each, plus supporting troops. After the invasion of Poland in 1939, the old divisions were partially reorganised (adding a third battalion to some infantry regiments or alternatively adding a second regiment of two battalions). Divisions newly organised around this time (6th through 10th) diverged in organisation, each on average with one tank regiment, one separate tank battalion, one or two infantry regiments (three to four battalions per division). By the start of Operation Barbarossa in 1941 the by then 21 panzer divisions had undergone further reorganisation to now consist of one tank regiment (of two or three battalions) and two motorised regiments (of two battalions each). Until the winter of 1941/42 supporting troops organic to these divisions consisted of a motorised[3] artillery regiment (of one heavy and two light battalions), and one each reconnaissance, motorcycle, anti-tank, pioneer, field replacement, and communications battalions. The number of tanks in the 1941 style divisions was comparatively small, but all other units in these formations were fully motorised (trucks, half-tracks, specialized combat vehicles) to match the speed of the tanks.

During the winter 1941/42 another reorganisation of these divisions became necessary, each tank regiment now composed of one to three battalions depending on location (generally three for Heeresgruppe Süd, one for Heeresgruppe Mitte, other commands usually two battalions). Throughout 1942 the reconnaissance battalions were merged into the motorcycle battalions.

By the summer of 1943, the Luftwaffe and Waffen-SS also had panzer divisions. A renewed standardization of the tank regiments was attempted. Each was now supposed to consist of two battalions (one Panzer IV, the other Panzer V). In reality the organization continued to vary from division to division. The first infantry battalion of the first infantry regiment of each panzer division was now supposed to be fully mechanised (mounted on armoured half-tracks (Sd.Kfz. 251). The first battalion of the artillery regiment replaced its former light towed howitzers with a mix of heavy and light self-propelled guns (Hummel, Wespe). The anti-tank battalion now included both assault guns and tank destroyers in addition to towed anti-tank guns. Generally the mechanization of these divisions increased compared to their previous organization.

Since the Heer's Wehrmacht and SS used their own ordinal systems, there were duplicate numbers (i.e. there was both a 9th Panzer Division and a 9th SS Panzer Division), which occasionally led to confusion amongst their opponents.

Heer:

Numbered[edit]

Named[edit]

Tank complement[edit]

The tank strength of panzer divisions varied throughout the war. Battle losses, formation of new units, reinforcements and captured enemy equipment all mean that the actual equipment of each unit is rarely known. The following table gives the tank strength of every division on two dates when this was known.

Unit Tanks on
September 1, 1939[4]
(Invasion of Poland)
Tanks on
June 22, 1941[5]
(Invasion of the USSR)
1st Panzer Division 309 145
2nd Panzer Division 322 N/Aa
3rd Panzer Division 391 215
4th Panzer Division 341 166
5th Panzer Division 335 N/Ab
10th Panzer Division 150 182
Panzer Division Kempf 164 N/Ae
1st Light Division / 6th Panzer Division 226 245d
2nd Light Division / 7th Panzer Division 85 265d
3rd Light Division / 8th Panzer Division 80 212d
4th Light Division / 9th Panzer Division 62 143d
Panzer Regiment 25 225 N/Ae
11th Panzer Division N/Ac 143
12th Panzer Division N/Ac 293
13th Panzer Division N/Ac 149
14th Panzer Division N/Ac 147
16th Panzer Division N/Ac 146
17th Panzer Division N/Ac 202
18th Panzer Division N/Ac 218
19th Panzer Division N/Ac 228
20th Panzer Division N/Ac 229
a Did not participate in Operation Barbarossa, transport ships sunk while carrying the Division (1941).

b Arrived on the Eastern Front after Operation Barbarossa.
c Formed after the Polish Campaign.
d Renamed following the Polish Campaign.
e Merged into other Divisions following the Polish Campaign.

Flags[edit]

Panzer divisions used pink military flags.[6][7][8]

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ p.7, Mitcham
  2. ^ p.9, Mitcham
  3. ^ Most German divisional artillery was horse-drawn
  4. ^ Achtung Panzer.com - Polish Campaign accessed May 21, 2008
  5. ^ Achtung Panzer.com - Operation Barbarossa accessed May 21, 2008
  6. ^ Image of typical Panzer Division standard:
  7. ^ Flags of the Third Reich—see under Herman Goering Panzer Division Flag:
  8. ^ Davis, Brian L. Flags of the Third Reich Oxford, U.K.:2000 Osprey Publishing Page 31 Panzer Division Standard is shown as being colored pink

References[edit]