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The term panzer division (German: Panzerdivision) as commonly used in English language refers almost exclusively to the 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 divisions, and even the Luftwaffe fielded a panzer division, the Herman Goring Division. 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.
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 artillery, anti-aircraft, signals, etc. However, the proportions of the components of a panzer division changed over time.
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. 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. 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
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. Many of those units still had quite a large amount of Panzerkampfwagen I in them, a tank that was never intended for combat. 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 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 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 Army Group South, one for Army Group Centre, 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.
- 1st Panzer Division
- 2nd Panzer Division
- 3rd Panzer Division
- 4th Panzer Division
- 5th Panzer Division
- 6th Panzer Division (previously 1st Light Division)
- 7th Panzer Division (previously 2nd Light Division)
- 8th Panzer Division (previously 3rd Light Division)
- 9th Panzer Division (previously 4th Light Division)
- 10th Panzer Division
- 11th Panzer Division
- 12th Panzer Division (previously 2nd Motorized Infantry Division)
- 13th Panzer Division (previously 13th Infantry Division, 13th Motorized Infantry Division; later Panzer Division Feldherrnhalle 2)
- 14th Panzer Division (previously 4th Infantry Division)
- 15th Panzer Division (previously 33rd Infantry Division; later 15th Panzergrenadier Division)
- 16th Panzer Division (previously 16th Infantry Division)
- 17th Panzer Division (previously 27th Infantry Division)
- 18th Panzer Division (later 18th Artillery Division)
- 19th Panzer Division (previously 19th Infantry Division)
- 20th Panzer Division
- 21st Panzer Division (previously 5th Light Division)
- 22nd Panzer Division
- 23rd Panzer Division
- 24th Panzer Division (previously 1st Cavalry Division)
- 25th Panzer Division
- 26th Panzer Division (formerly 23rd Infantry Division)
- 27th Panzer Division
- 116th Panzer Division Windhund (previously 16th Infantry Division, 16th Motorized Infantry Division, and 16th Panzergrenadier Division)
- 155th Reserve Panzer Division (previously Division Nr. 155, Division Nr. 155 (motorized), Panzer Division Nr. 155)
- Panzer Division Nr. 178 (previously Division Nr. 178)
- 179th Reserve Panzer Division (previously Division Nr. 179, Division Nr. 179 (mot.), and Panzer Division Nr. 179)
- 232nd Panzer Division (previously Panzer Division Tatra, Panzer Training Division Tatra)
- 233rd Reserve Panzer Division (previously Division Nr. 233 (mot.), Panzergrenadier Division Nr. 233, and Panzer Division Nr. 233; later Panzer Division Clausewitz)
- 273rd Reserve Panzer Division
- Panzer Division Clausewitz (previously Division Nr. 233 (motorized), Panzergrenadier Division Nr. 233, and Panzer Division Nr. 233, Reserve Panzer Division 233)
- Döberitz, Schlesien, and Holstein are approximately synonymous with Clausewitz.
- Panzer Division Feldherrnhalle 1 (previously 60th Infantry Division, 60th Motorized Infantry Division, and Panzergrenadier Division Feldherrnhalle)
- Panzer Division Feldherrnhalle 2 (previously 13th Infantry Division, 13th Motorized Infantry Division, and 13th Panzer Division)
- Fallschirm-Panzer Division 1 Hermann Göring
- Panzer Division Jüterbog
- Panzer Division Kempf (part Heer, part Waffen-SS)
- Panzer Division Kurmark
- Panzer Lehr Division (sometimes identified as 130th Panzer-Lehr-Division)
- Panzer Division Müncheberg
- Panzer Division Tatra (later Panzer Training Division Tatra, 232nd Panzer Division)
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.
September 1, 1939
(Invasion of Poland)
June 22, 1941
(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.
- p.7, Mitcham
- p.9, Mitcham
- Most German divisional artillery was horse-drawn
- Achtung Panzer.com - Polish Campaign accessed May 21, 2008
- Achtung Panzer.com - Operation Barbarossa accessed May 21, 2008
- Flags of the Third Reich—see under Herman Goering Panzer Division Flag:
- 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
- Georg Tessin, Verbände und Truppen der deutschen Wehrmacht und Waffen-SS 1939–1945, Band 1 Die Waffengattungen-Gesammtübersicht, Osnabrück: Biblio Verlag, 1979. ISBN 3-76481-170-6
- Davies, W. J. K. (1977) . German Army Handbook 1939–1945 (Second U.S. ed.). New York: Arco Publishing. ISBN 0-668-04291-5.
- Guderian, Heinz (2001) . Panzer Leader (Da Capo Press Reissue ed.). New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-81101-4.
- von Mellenthin, Major General F. W. (1956). Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War (First Ballantine Books ed.). New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-24440-0.
- Mitcham, Samuel (2001). The Panzer Legions: A Guide to the German Army Tank Divisions of World War II and Their Commanders. Westport: Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-313-31640-1.
- Parada, George (2004). "Panzer Divisions 1940-1945", achtungpanzer.com
- Jentz, Thomas: Panzertruppen - The Complete Guide to the Creation & Combat Employment of Germanys Tank Force 1933-1942, Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 978-0887409158
- Niehorster, Leo: "1st Panzer Division In accordance with the 1939/40 Mobilization Plan", www.niehorster.org
- "Visualization of a German Tank Division 1939", www.youtube.com
- British Armoured formations of the Second World War
- US Armored Divisions
- Mechanised corps (Soviet Union)
- Deep operation
- Maneuver warfare