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The Aufklärungsabteilung was the eyes and ears of the parent division. Initially, before the first campaigns of the Second World War they included horse-mounted and bicycle troops in the infantry divisions, and were equipped with motorcycle combinations (BMW R75s, Zündapps etc.), VW Kübelwagens, and light armoured cars in the more mobile motorised infantry and panzer divisions. To offer the troops better all-terrain movement capability the Aufklärungsabteilungen were later issued with the amphibious Schwimmwagens and light halftracks.
Although later in the war companies in the mobile divisions were equipped with light armour in the form of Sd.Kfz. 231 (Heavy Armoured Car) and Sd.Kfz. 222/223 series (Light Armoured Car). Later in the war Sd.Kfz. 250/9 halftracks, Panzer II Ausf. L "Luchs" and Sd.Kfz 140/1 light tanks were used. These rarely operated as whole companies, and instead worked in mixed teams gathered from various companies that included the motorcycles and the Schwimmwagens.
As with all German combat formations, the composition of the Aufklärungsabteilung varied from division to division, and from one period of the war to another. Panzer Aufklärungsabteilungen were attached to Panzer divisions, and were generally equipped with armoured vehicles, with all troops transported by halftrack, and an anti-tank gun (PaK) component was included. light tanks were also included in the detachment as the theory of reconnaissance in force was practiced.
The Abteilung had to be able to move quickly, and as its mission was reconnaissance, it was not equipped to deal with enemy medium or heavy armour, although these engagements did happen quite frequently. The addition of an anti-tank company later in the war was to deal with these engagements; still, the Abteilung's armoured vehicles were no match for T-34s or M4 Shermans.
The breakdown of several example Aufklärungsabteilung can be found below.
Example orders of battle
SS-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 1 (Attached to Infanterie-Regiment (mot.) Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler), Mid-1941
- Stab/SS-AufkAbt. 1 Headquarters unit
- 1./SS-AufkAbt. 1 Heavy Armoured Car Company (Sd.Kfz 222 / 231)
- 2./SS-AufkAbt. 1 Motorised Recon Company (Motorcycle / Car / Truck mounted Infantry)
- 3./SS-AufkAbt. 1 Motorised Recon company (Motorcycle / Car / Truck mounted Infantry)
Panzer Aufklärungsabteilung-2 (Attached to 2. Panzer-Division) Late 1944
- Stab AufkAbt. 2 Headquarters’ unit
- 1./AufkAbt. 2 (first company) Heavy Armoured Car Company (no infantry, armoured cars only)
- 2./AufkAbt. 2 Light Armoured Car Company (no infantry, armoured cars only)
- 3./AufkAbt. 2 Light Armoured Half-Track Company (SPW 250) (Infantry on half-tracks only)
- 4./AufkAbt. 2 Light Armoured Half-Track Company (SPW 250) (Infantry on half-tracks only)
- 5./AufkAbt. 2 Heavy (support) Company (SPW 251) This company had infantry guns, Pak 40s etc.
- Supply Company