♦ Motorized Infantry Divisions 1939-41 ♦

The German Army in World War II
 

 

Truck column of a motorized infantry regiment with motorcycle troops in the lead, Poland, September 1939 (Photo: Bundesarchiv)
 


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NOTE ON NOMENCLATURE

Motorized infantry divisions of the German Army were titled Infanterie-Division (motorisiert). Lower-echelon motorized infantry elements were the Infanterie-Regiment (motorisiert), the Infanterie-Bataillon (motorisiert) and the Kradschützen-Batallion (motorcycle rifle battalion). The Aufklärungs-Abteilung (retitled Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung in early 1940) was the divisional reconnaissance battalion and the Panzer-Abwehr-Abeiling (retitled Panzerjäger-Abteilung in early 1940) was the divisional antitank battalion. Other divisional units, such as artillery regiments and signal battalions, had motorisiert appended to their titles, e.g. 72. Artillerie-Regiment (motorisiert)—often abbreviated to (mot).

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In 1939 the German Army’s order of battle included four motorized infantry divisions. These were standard 1st Wave Infantry Divisions with all elements motorized. Their official establishment was 16,445 men as against 17,734 for the standard division, a difference accounted for by the lower manpower requirements for motor vehicles versus horses. The motorized infantry divisions were intended to operate alongside panzer divisions under a motorized corps headquarters. However, only one motorized corps was so organized during the Polish campaign; it embodied a panzer division and two motorized infantry divisions.

Experience gained in Poland disclosed certain shortcomings of the motorized infantry divisions. First, they were not as mobile as the panzer divisions, relying as they did on wheeled vehicles with marginal off-road performance. Second, with three regiments—nine battalions of infantry—they were unwieldy, taking up too much road space and causing bothersome traffic congestion. The latter problem was solved by removing one infantry regiment and one field artillery battalion from each division, but the mobility problem proved intractable. The obvious solution was to replace the trucks with tracked or half-tracked vehicles, especially for the infantry. But during the war German industry never succeeded in producing the necessary vehicles in sufficient numbers—and the panzer divisions had first call on those that were produced.

In Western Europe with its well-developed road net the mobility problem was not so serious, and the motorized infantry divisions gave a good account of themselves in the 1940 campaign. But the USSR was a very different proposition. There good roads were relatively few and the climate—extremely cold and snowy in winter, wet and muddy in spring and autumn—frequently brought all motorized movement to a halt. The long distances to be covered and the generally primitive conditions on the Eastern Front also increased wear and tear on vehicles of all types, especially trucks hauling supplies and troops for long distances over poor roads.
 

Command flag, 16. Infanterie-Division (mot.)

At the beginning of the Russian campaign (22 June 1941) the motorized infantry division had the configuration shown in the accompanying diagram. To bolster its infantry contingent, a separate motorcycle infantry battalion had been added. This battalion was similar to the standard motorized infantry battalion, with motorcycles replacing most trucks and a heavy company with 2 x 75mm infantry guns (IG), 3 x 37mm  antitank guns (ATG) and a pioneer (combat engineer) platoon added. The divisional antitank (AT) battalion now had 9 x 50mm ATG and 24 x 37mm ATG, plus an flak (antiaircraft) company with 2 x quadruple 20mm antiaircraft guns (AAG) and 8 x single 20mm AAG, all self propelled. The regimental AT companies, however, still had to make do with the 37mm ATG. This gun was quite ineffective against the Red Army's medium and heavy tanks, as indicated by the derisive nickname given it by the troops: "the infantry's door knocker." Even the more powerful 50mm ATG was no more than marginally effective against KV and T34 tanks. Thus the Germans frequently found it necessary to bring up a 105mm gun or howitzer from the division artillery to deal with such heavy armor.

The standard artillery regiment for motorized infantry divisions now had two light battalions, each with 12 x 105mm howitzer, and one medium battalion with 12 x 150mm howitzer. Two divisions, however, had a medium artillery regiment with 8 x 150mm howitzer and 4 x 105mm gun. All howitzers and guns were halftrack towed.

The armored reconnaissance battalion, a key unit of the division, had an armored car company, a motorcycle infantry company, and a heavy company with 2 x 75mm IG, 3 x 37mm ATG, and a pioneer platoon. The battalion was well provided with long- and short-range radios to facilitate communications both internally and with higher headquarters. Being equipped with wheeled vehicles, however, its mobility proved inadequate for the Eastern Front. It was therefore planned to replace the wheeled armored cars and motorcycles with variants of the SPW 250 light armored halftrack. But these new vehicles were never produced in sufficient numbers fully to refit all armored reconnaissance battalions, so the wheeled armored cars had to soldier on.
 

The German Army's standard cargo truck, the Opel Blitz. There were never enough of them (Bundesarchiv)

Ten motorized infantry divisions were available by June 1941 and thanks to the aforementioned equipment shortages they were not identically organized. The divisions' two motorized infantry regiments were supposed to be equipped with the standard four-wheel-drive military truck, the Opel Blitz, but these could not be produced in sufficient numbers. Thus three divisions received trucks captured from the British and French armies, notwithstanding the associated logistical and maintenance problems. The light flak company was present in the AT battalions of only three divisions—the others received it later—and two divisions lacked the motorcycle infantry platoons specified for their motorized infantry regiments. Full standardization was never really achieved, since when divisions were refitted or new ones were raised, they got whatever weapons and equipment were available at the time.

The battles in Russia from June to December 1941 took a heavy toll of the whole German Army, with particularly severe losses among the mobile divisions. Thousands of vehicles of all types were destroyed or abandoned in the snow during the crisis produced by the Red Army’s winter counteroffensive, and when the fighting finally died down the motorized infantry divisions were motorized in name only. By the spring of 1942 the Army on the Eastern Front was 75,000 vehicles short and OKH (Army High Command) estimated that new production and captured or requisitioned civilian vehicles could replace only half that number in time for the 1942 campaign. It would be necessary, OKH added, to strip the ordinary infantry divisions of most of their motor vehicles so as to provide for the panzer and motorized divisions earmarked for the planned summer offensive in the southern USSR. Motorized units stationed in the northern and central sectors of the Eastern Front had also to give up a proportion of their vehicles. All these measures enabled the motorized infantry divisions allotted to Army Group South to be restored to fighting trim by the spring of 1942, though at the expense of those stationed elsewhere.

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Organizational Diagrams

 

 

               


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