1st Panzer Army
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(1st Panzer Army)
(Panzer Group Kleist)
Insignia of the German First Panzer Army
|Active||1 March 1940 – 8 May 1945|
|Field Marshal Ewald von Kleist|
Panzer Group Kleist was the first operational formation of several Panzer corps in the Wehrmacht. Created for the Battle of France on 1 March 1940; it was named after its commander Ewald von Kleist. After the successful invasion it was deployed in occupied France, being renamed into Panzer Group 1 in November. In April 1941, Panzer Group 1 took part in the invasion of Yugoslavia as part of Field Marshal Maximilian von Weichs's Second Army.
In May 1941, Panzer Group Kleist became Panzer Group 1 (Panzergruppe 1), which was attached to Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt's Army Group South at the beginning of Operation Barbarossa. At the start of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, Panzer Group 1 included the III, XIV and XLVIII Army Corps (mot.) with five panzer divisions and four motorized divisions (two of them SS) equipped with 799 tanks. Panzer Group 1 served on the southern sector of the Eastern Front against the Red Army and was involved the Battle of Brody which involved as many as 1,000 Red Army tanks. On October 6, 1941, Panzer Group 1 was enlarged to the 1st Panzer Army following the fall of Kiev, with Kleist still in command. The army captured Rostov, but was forced to retreat eight days later.
In January 1942, Army Group Kleist, which consisted of the First Panzer Army along with the Seventeenth Army, was formed with its namesake, Kleist, in command. Army Group Kleist played a major role in repulsing the Red Army attack in the Second Battle of Kharkov in May 1942. Army Group Kleist was disbanded that month. The First Panzer Army, still under Kleist, which had been attached to Army Group South earlier, became part of Army Group A under Field Marshal Wilhelm List. Army Group A was to lead the thrust into the Caucasus during Operation Blue and capture Grozny and the Baku (current capital of Azerbaijan) oilfields. The First Panzer Army was to spearhead the attack. An initially successful attack was led, with Rostov, Maykop, Krasnodar, and the entire Kuban region captured.
However, in September 1942, Army Group A's offensive was stalled in the Caucasus, and List was sacked. After Adolf Hitler briefly took personal control of Army Group A, he appointed Kleist to command it on 22 November 1942. As Kleist took command of Army Group A, Colonel-General Eberhard von Mackensen took the reins of the First Panzer Army. In December 1942, as the German Sixth Army was already being crushed in the Battle of Stalingrad, the Red Army launched a successful offensive against Army Group A. The First Panzer Army was ordered to evacuate through Rostov in January 1943, before the Soviet forces could cut it off in the Kuban. By February 1943 it had been withdrawn west of the Don River, and Kleist withdrew the remains of his forces from the Caucasus into the Kuban area, east of the Strait of Kerch.
In January 1943, von Mackensen's First Panzer Army became attached to Army Group Don under Field Marshal Erich von Manstein. The month after that, von Manstein redeployed the First Panzer Army together with the Fourth Panzer Army to counter-attack Soviet penetrations along his northern flank. The First Panzer Army contributed to the success of the Third Battle of Kharkov in March 1943. In October 1943 Soviet forces crossed the Dnieper River between Dnipropetrovsk and Kremenchug. The First Panzer Army counter-attacked along with the 8th Army, but failed to dislodge the Soviet forces. At the end of that month, as the Red Army closed in on Kiev, von Mackensen was replaced by Colonel-General Hans-Valentin Hube.
The First Panzer Army remained attached to Army Group South from March 1943 to July 1944. By that time German troops had been pulled out from the Ukraine. In March 1944, crisis hit the First Panzer Army as it was encircled by two Soviet fronts in the Battle of Kamenets-Podolsky pocket. A successful breakthrough was made, saving most of the manpower but losing the heavy equipment. That same month Hitler, who insisted his armies fight an inflexible defense to the last man, dismissed von Manstein. In October 1941, when the First Panzer Army had been formed, it was a large army consisting of four corps, several infantry, panzer, motorized, mountain, and SS divisions, along with a Romanian army and some Italian, Romanian, Hungarian, and Slovak divisions. By the spring of 1944, the First Panzer Army had shrunk considerably, consisting of only three corps, two infantry, four panzer, and one SS division. After July 1944 it retreated from Ukraine and Poland before fighting with Army Group A in Slovakia (Battle of the Dukla Pass).
During its existence, from October 1941 to May 1945, the First Panzer Army spent its entire time on the Eastern Front. In the spring of 1945, the First Panzer Army's main task was to defend the Ostrava region in the north of Moravia, which was at the time the last large industrial area in the hands of Third Reich. There the First Panzer Army was facing the advance of 4th Ukrainian Front from north-east (Ostrava-Opava-Operation, 10 March – 5 May 1945) and had lost most of its heavy and medium tanks. At the same time however the Panzer Army was flanked by the 2nd Ukrainian Front from the south (Bratislava-Brno Operation, 25 March – 5 May 1945). German defensive lines finally collapsed in the early hours of Prague Offensive. The staff of First Panzer Army, along with other commands subordinated to Army Group Center, surrendered to the Soviet forces on 9 May 1945 in the area of Deutsch-Brod, while the remnants of its Panzer-units were scattered and captured all the way from Olomouc to Vysočina Region. Its last commander was general Walter Nehring, who abandoned his staff and fled south to surrender to the American forces.
- Generaloberst Paul Ludwig Ewald von Kleist (creation – 21 November 1942)
- Generaloberst Eberhard von Mackensen (21 November 1942 – 29 October 1943)
- Generaloberst Hans-Valentin Hube (29 October 1943 – 21 April 1944)
- Generaloberst Erhard Raus (21 April 1944 – 15 August 1944)
- Generaloberst Gotthard Heinrici (15 August 1944 – 19 March 1945)
- General der Panzertruppe Walter Nehring (19 March 1945 – German surrender)
Chiefs of the general staff
- Generalmajor Kurt Zeitzler (creation – 24 April 1942)
- Generalmajor Ernst-Felix Fäckenstedt (24 April 1942 – 15 March 1943)
- Generalmajor Walther Wenck (15 March 1943 – 15 March 1944)
- Generalmajor Carl Wagener (15 March 1944 – 5 November 1944)
- George M. Nipe (2012). Decision in the Ukraine: German Panzer Operations on the Eastern Front, Summer 1943. Stackpole Books. ISBN 0811711625 – via Google Books.
- Battistelli 2012, p. 11
- Mitcham 2006, p. 258
- Ziemke 2002, p. 17.
- Ziemke 2002, pp. 18-19.
- Ziemke 2002, p. 19.
- Ziemke 2002, pp. 3-4.
- Ziemke 2002, p. 71.
- Ziemke 2002, p. 85.
- Ziemke 2002, p. 86.
- Ziemke 2002, pp. 94-96.
- Ziemke 2002, pp. 184-185.
- Ziemke 2002, p. 280.
- Ziemke 2002, p. 282.
- Ziemke 2002, p. 286.
- Ziemke 2002, p. 359.
- Raus 2003, p. 353.
- Barnett, Correlli. Hitler's Generals. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1989.
- Battistelli, Pier Paolo (2012). Panzer Divisions: The Blitzkrieg Years 1939-40. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 9781472800824.
- Mitcham Jr., Samuel W. (2006). Panzer Legions: A Guide to the German Army Tank Divisions of World War II and Their Commanders. Stackpole Books. ISBN 9781461751434.
- Ziemke, Earl F.; Bauer III, Magna E. (1987). Moscow to Stalingrad: Decision in the East. Washington D.C.: Center of Military History, US Army. ISBN 9780160019425.
- Ziemke, Earl F. (2002). Stalingrad to Berlin: The German Defeat in the East. Washington D.C.: Center of Military History, US Army. ISBN 9781780392875.
- Raus, Erhard (2003). Panzer Operations: The Eastern Front Memoirs of General Raus, 1941–1945. Cambridge: Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-81247-7.