215th Infantry Division (Wehrmacht)
German 215th Infantry Division
|Active||26 August 1939 – 9 October 1944|
The German 215th Infantry Division (215.Infanterie-Division) was a major military unit of the German Army that served in World War II.
The 215th Infantry division was mobilized in September 1939 as a division of the 3rd wave in military district V. Its personnel was composed mostly of older men, many who were veterans of the first world war, and reserve troops with limited training.
The division was almost immediately sent to the west and took up defensive positions in the dank and damp bunkers of the west-wall, in winter temperature that sunk to below freezing. After some weeks it was withdrawn into training areas behind the front for further training and reorganization and many of the older troops and junior offices were replaced by younger men. By Mid March 1940 it was returned to the front in the Saar where it set about improving defensive positions under desultory French artillery fire.
Attack on the Maginot line
In spite of the rough terrain of the Vosges mountains its chances of successful attack were elevated by the French removal of interval troops, withdrawn to meet the German breakthroughs elsewhere. The lack of interval troops meant that the German assault teams had a much higher chance of closing on the French defenses, surrounding them and blasting them out from close range. One advantage the French defenders did retain was fire from two artillery forts anquering their line in the Vosages, the Grand-Hohékirkel and Four-à-Chaux
For the assault, the 215 division formed two battle groups based on Infantry Regiments 380 and 435, reinforced with pioneers and proceeded by a heavy 2 hour long bombardment from divisional and attached heavy artillery. Dive bomber support was also available from the Luftwaffe. In the initial attack, battle group 380 captured 2 blockhouses by clambering on their roofs and dropping explosive charges into their embrasures. Utilizing the gap in the line, further casements were outflanked and attacked from the rear, by nightfall 6 blockhouses had been captured in its sector. The fortress of Four-à-Chaux consistd of six blocks of which four had artillery pieces, its 75mm gun had the longest range and covered the blockhouses to its left. It also had shorter range 81mm and 135mm weapons. These weapons poured fire on the 435th Regiment attack, whilst the further blockhouses were covered by the more distant 75mm gun turret of the Grand Grand Hohékirkel. The Germans had found the French artillery support heavy but hampered by lack of direct observation ineffective. The assault group from the 435 Infantry Regiment had similar success, so that the division was poised to exploit the breaches the following morning.
The divisions forces moved rapidly south, capturing the Pechelbronn oilfields, its primary objective, and linking up with 257 Infantry division coming from the north west.In the two days of fighting the division had captured 1460 prisoners, but casualties included 31 dead and 108 wounded.
Following the cease fire the division became an occupation unit in central France, where it remained until November 1941, when it was hurriedly loaded onto trains for transport to the east.
52nd Soviet Army began a serious of attacks against the 126th Infantry positions which, under pressure from 4 rifle divisions, and after several days of combat, gave way allowing the Soviet to threaten the supply lines into Tichvin at Grusino. The newly arriving units 215th infantry division was hurriedly rushed up in support took over a wide sector in freezing temperatures reaching under 30 °C, with deep snow, lying in places over a meter deep and soon became embroiled in fending off repeated Soviet attacks. By the start of December it was clear to the German leadership that the thrust at Tichvin was unsustainable and the units involved were out on a limb.
Overstretched fronts being manned by depleted units under increasing Soviet pressure, coupled with deteriorating weather conditions and a shaky supply situation meant that the front had to be brought back. von Leeb persuaded a reluctant Hitler, and pulled the front back to the line of the Volkov, a withdrawal that was complete by 23 December. In its short commitment east of the Volkov the division had already lost over 500 combat casualties, including 29 officers, but significantly suffered an additional 603 frostbite cases.
Once back on line of the Volkov river line, the German line stabilized, but the Soviets continued their attacks into the new year.
On 13 January 1942, after a short reorganization, the Soviet Volkov front unleashed further attacks all along the line. In the sector of the 2nd Shock army, after a heavy artillery preparation, the ground assault troops struck the juncture of the 215 and 126th Infantry divisions, causing a shaky response from the former. The front had been penetrated, but so far the German major strong points were still holding out. It took another two attempts over 8 days to finally capture the villages of Spasskaia Polist, Mosti and Miasnoi Bor, and create a narrow but deep penetration of 7–8 miles, in heavy and costly fighting for both sides.
In July the division was withdrawn from the front, and after a brief rest and refit near Tossno, was given a defensive sector on the Leningrad siege lines by Staro Panowo and Urizk. Although now positioned in a quieter area the division often had to supply battle groups to other units in 'fire-brigade' actions.
Further heavy defensive fighting developed in January 1944 when the German defensive around Leningrad finally crumbled. The division retreated through Luga and finally took up positions in the Panther line, which it defended until May 1944. Following another short refit, the division was committed again to the front, and retreated with Army Group North back through Estonia, Riga into Courland where the whole army group became trapped, and supplied only via sea. After fighting in the initial Courland defensive battles, the division was relieved and shipped back to Germany, to West Prussia. The remnant of the division finally capitulated at the end of the war in the Hela Paninsula.
- Generalleutnant Baptist Knieß 1 September 1939 – 13 November 1941
- Generalleutnant Bruno Frankewitz 14 November 1941 – 5 April 1945
- Infantry Regiment 380 (I, II, III)
- Infantry Regiment 390 (I, II, III)
- Infantry Regiment 435 (I, II, III)
- Reconnaissance Battalion 215
- Artillery Regiment 215 (I, II, III, IV)
- Engineer Battalion 204
- Anti-tank Battalion 215
- Signals Battalion 215
- Division services 215
Service and operational area
|Date||Army Corps||Army||Army group||Area of operations|
|September 1939||Reserve||7th Army||C||Upper Rhine|
|January 1940||XXIV.||1st Army||Saarpfalz|
|August 1940||XXV.||12th Army|
|September 1940||XVIII.||1st Army||Eastern France|
|December 1941||Reserve||16th Army||North||Tikhvin|
|February 1942||L.||18th Army||Volkhov|
|October 1942||11th Army|
|November 1942||18th Army|
|July 1944||II.||16th Army||Daugavpils|
|October 1944||VI. SS||Bauske|
|December 1944||XXXVIII.||16th Army|
|March 1945||XVIII.||2nd Army||Vistula||West Prussia|
- Werner Haupt,Die deutschen Infanterie-Divisionen, p63
- Marc Romanych & Martin Rupp, Maginot Line 1940: Battles on the French Frontier
- Kaufmann, J.E.; Kaufmann, H.W.; Jankovič-Potočnik, A.; Lang, P. (2011-03-23). Maginot Line: History and Guide (Kindle Location 2345). Pen and Sword. Kindle Edition.
- David M. Glantz, The Battle for Leningrad, 1941-1944, p. 170
- Walter Schelm & Dr Hans Mehrle, Die Geschichte der 215. Infanterie Division, p65
- W. Victor Madeja, Russo-German War, Autumn 1941: Defeat of Barbarossa/No 27, pp. 16–18
- Walter Schelm & Dr Hans Mehrle, Die Geschichte der 215. Infanterie Division, p70
- David M. Glantz, The Battle for Leningrad, 1941-1944, pp. 162–3
- George F. Nafziger, The German Order of Battle Ifantry in World War II, p210
- Marc Romanych, Martin Rupp & (10 Feb 2010). Maginot Line 1940: Battles on the French Frontier (Campaign). Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1846034992.
- Glantz, David M. (30 Nov 2002). The Battle for Leningrad, 1941-1944. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0700612086.
- Madeja, W. Victor (Feb 1989). Russo-German War, Autumn 1941: Defeat of Barbarossa/No 27. Game Book Marketing Co. ISBN 978-0941052825.
- Haupt, Werner (31 May 2005). Die deutschen Infanterie-Divisionen. Nebel Verlag GmbH. ISBN 978-3895552748.
- Die Geschichte der 215. Infanterie-Division. Nebel Verlag GmbH. 31 May 2005. ISBN 978-3895552700.