Alfred Becker

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Alfred Becker
Becker, Rommel and Feuchtinger.2.jpg
Major Alfred Becker
Born 20 August 1899 (1899-08-20)
Krefeld, German Empire
Died unknown
Allegiance
Service/branch Army
Rank Major
Unit 21st Panzer Division
Commands held Paris Baukommando Becker
Battles/wars World War II

Alfred Becker (20 August 1899 – unknown) was a engineer and artillery officer in the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany during World War II. A mechanical engineer, he instituted a program of converting captured vehicles and weapons into usable instruments for the German army.[1]

Becker converted the Hotchkiss plant near Paris into a vehicle modification and fabrication center which converted large numbers of captured French equipment to mobilize German guns, rocket launchers and mortars. In addition to creating the conversion program in France, Becker commanded a motorized assault gun battalion of the 21st Panzer Division.

World War II[edit]

At the start of the war Becker was called up to serve in the 227th Infantry Division with which he served in the Battle of France.[citation needed] In July 1940 following the victory in France, the 227th Division performed occupation, security and coastal defense duties along the Normandy coast near Le Havre.[2] Using his engineering and manufacturing skills and the men from his battalion, Becker mobilized a complete battery of self-propelled artillery, making use of the under-carriages of the Vickers Mk.6 to motorize twelve of the battalion's 105 mm leFH 16 howitzers, and six of the 150 mm sFH 13, along with twelve more munitions carrying versions of the Mk.6.[1]

Paris Baukommando Becker[edit]

Becker at his construction site near Paris

Some use had already been made of undamaged French armoured vehicles, either as training vehicles or sent abroad to equip various Axis allied nations or used in police units. French tanks, built with a small, one-man turret mounting a small caliber gun, were of little value in 1942 for combat against such weapons as the Russian T-34. Their primary use to the German army up to this point had been as trophies, a symbol of their victory over France.[citation needed] Though lightly armoured and under-gunned by the combat standards of the day, these were fully tracked vehicles, a feature which Becker believed could be usefully exploited. In addition to the wrecked and captured French and British tanks, Becker also had access to a large number of soft-skinned half-tracked vehicles such as the SOMUA MCG and the smaller Unic P 107.[3]

Marder Is in France, 1943

From 1942 through 1943 Becker salvaged all the usable tank wreckage that could be found in France. Some 1,800 armoured fighting vehicles were created at his Baukommando Becker (Construction Unit Becker), which produced a variety of innovative designs. From July to August, 1942, Becker converted 170 armoured vehicles into the Marder I,[4] a 75 mm self-propelled anti-tank gun. A further 106 chassis were converted into self-propelled artillery pieces, with 94 conversions to carry the 150 mm howitzer, and 12 more to carry the 105 mm. In addition, he produced 30 artillery observation vehicles using this same chassis.[5]

During this time, Becker's old unit, the 227th Infantry Division, was engaged in heavy fighting near Leningrad during the Red Army's main offensive at Sinyavino Heights and the south shore of Lake Ladoga.[6] From August through September 1942 the division suffered heavy casualties in what was called the Battle of Lake Ladoga.[2] In 1943 Becker began conversion of the Hotchkiss H35 and H39 light tanks, which had carried a 37 mm gun. He refit them to mount a 7.5 cm PaK40 anti-tank gun or 10.5 cm leFH16 howitzer assault gun.[7]

In the spring of 1943 Albert Speer and his entourage paid a visit to General Feuchtinger, Major Becker, and the Matford factory which was one of the facilities involved in the conversion work. Film taken at this time show the visitors examining a French FCM tank and a French Somua halftrack, both converted to carry the 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun. They also examined a Somua halftrack fitted with the Reichenwerfer, a rack of 32 French 81 mm mortars, and a Renault UE Beobachtungspanzer.[8] Over the course of 1943 a number of other high ranking German officers visited Baukommando Becker, including Gerd von Rundstedt, and in August 1943, Heinz Guderian.[8]

Schnelle Division West[edit]

Becker stands by during presentation of one of his Vielfachwerfers, mounted on an armourized French SOMUA MCG.

Edgar Feuchtinger was appointed commander of a forming unit called Schnelle Division West (Fast Division West). The "schnelle" divisions were conceived to be highly mobile units that would be stationed in France to serve as a rapid response force. Being highly motorized, they were to be able to cover a great deal of ground to reach any point of invasion. "Schnelle" divisions were to be more completely motorized than were panzer divisions.[9]

In 1943 German industry was already hard pressed to produce the arms and vehicles needed to replace losses on the East front.[10] As vehicles were in short supply, Feuchtinger turned to Becker, whom he had known from before the war, to generate the equipment needed to motorize his unit.[11] The brigade was equipped with captured French built tanks, which were undergunned by 1943 standards. Becker produced a great many vehicles for Schnelle Brigade West, soon to be expanded into a division. In the summer of 1943 Feuchtinger gave Becker command of the Sturmgeschützabteilung 200, a part of his rebuilding 21st Panzer Division. Becker equipped the unit with his conversion assault guns.[12] In addition, he provided the division with rocket carrying armoured half-tracks, and produced the armoured carriers that motorized one of the two infantry regiments of the 21st Division.[11] This unit was motorized with armoured Unic P 107s that had been produced at Baustocommando Becker.[13] By the time of the Allied invasion in June 1944, Becker had built his assault gun battalion, the StuG abteilung 200, up to five batteries of 10 vehicles each: four 7.5 cm PaK40 tank destroyers and six 10.5 cm leFH16 self-propelled howitzers.[14]

In early 1944, Becker's combat unit, Sturmgeschütz Abteilung 200, moved to its new deployment area near Mauron in Brittany. The unit's headquarters were in the town of Voves, south-east of Chartres.[8]

Battle of Normandy[edit]

In the Battle for Normandy the 21st Panzer Division was the only mechanized unit near the area of the invasion, and was the only one with an opportunity to realize Rommel's intentions and meet the invaders at the beach. A number of problems in command and control resulting from Hitler's excessive desire to manage the army resulted in the division failing to go into action on the night of June 5/June 6 when their area was inundated with British paratroopers from the 6th Airborne Division. Becker's assault guns proved effective in Normandy. Both the 105 mm howitzers and the 75 mm Pak 40s were effective anti-tank weapons. Allied troops commonly mistook the 7.5 cm PaK40/1 auf Geschuetzwagen Lorraine Schleppers to be armed with 88s.[10]

In Operation Goodwood, Becker's command came under intense aerial bombardment.[15] The vehicles of the 1st Battery were annihilated utterly in the bombardment, but the remaining battalions survived. Blocking the advance of the tanks of the Guards Armoured Division were Becker's 3rd and 5th Batteries.[10] For his inventive use of captured vehicles he was awarded the War Merit Cross 1st Class with Swords. In 1945 he was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the War Merit Cross with Swords.[citation needed] After reaching the Rhineland, Becker was captured towards the end of December 1944 in Alsace.[1]

Military Awards[edit]

Gallery[edit]

References[edit]

Citations
  1. ^ a b c Restayn, Jean Kommando Becker. German Military Magazine (in German)(see External Links)
  2. ^ a b Mitcham (1985) p. 279
  3. ^ Lefèvre p. 196
  4. ^ "Marder I (Panzerjaeger Lr S 7,5 cm Pak 40/1 on French chassis), Catalog of Enemy Ordnance". U.S. Office of Chief of Ordnance. 1945. 
  5. ^ "Ammunition carrier (on French Lorraine chassis), Catalog of Enemy Ordnance". U.S. Office of Chief of Ordnance. 1945. 
  6. ^ Glantz
  7. ^ Bernage p. 57
  8. ^ a b c U.K. Collections, film archive, Alfred Becker
  9. ^ Mitcham (1997) pp. 43-46
  10. ^ a b c Keegan p. 209
  11. ^ a b Luck p. 167
  12. ^ Keegan p. 202
  13. ^ Fowler p. 12
  14. ^ Buffetaut p. 22
  15. ^ Bernage p. 70
  16. ^ Patzwall & Scherzer 2001, p. 30.
Bibliography
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