♦ The German Army in World War II ♦

Operation Barbarossa: The Order of Battle



Field Marshal von Bock, commanding HG Mitte, confers with Colonel-General Hoth, commanding 3. Panzergruppe (Bundesarchiv)


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The German Army's highest field command was the Heeresgruppe (army group), here abbreviated to HG. They usually had a geographical designation, e.g. HG Nord (North) or an identifying letter, e.g. HG A. Then came the numbered field armies, e.g. 6. Armee (Sixth Army), and the panzer groups, e.g. 1. Panzergruppe (First Panzer Group). The next echelon of command was the Armeekorps (corps), identified by Roman numerals, e.g. XXVI. Armeekorps. Corps commanding armored and motorized units included the designation motorisiert (motorized) in their titles, e.g. LVII. Armeekorps (motorisiert). The Höhere Kommando (corps command) was a reduced-strength corps headquarters employed for special purposes; e.g. LXX. Höhere Kommando. Sometimes the designation zur besonderer Verwendung (for special service) was included, e.g. LXV. Höhere Kommando zbV. Divisions were numbered and bore functional titles, e.g. 4. Infanterie-Division, 12. Panzer-Division, etc. There were also two temporary command arrangements for special missions or emergencies. The Armeeabteilung (army detachment) placed one corps in command of a second corps; the Armeegruppe placed one field army in command of another. They were usually named after their commander, e.g. Armeeabteilung Kempf, or received a letter designation, e.g. Armeegruppe G.

The “L” designation applied to 37mm and larger tank guns indicated barrel length; the longer the barrel the higher the muzzle velocity of the gun and the greater its ability to penetrate armor.

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For the invasion of the USSR, the German Army was deployed in three Heeresgruppen. In East Prussia HG Nord (North), Field Marshal Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb commanding, had two field armies and one panzer group poised to advance on Leningrad through the Baltic states. In the northern part of German-occupied Poland HG Mitte (Center), Field Marshal Fedor von Bock commanding, had two field armies and two panzer groups standing in readiness to advance on Moscow via Minsk and Smolensk. Farther south in occupied Poland HG Süd (South), Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt commanding, had two field armies and one panzer group prepared to advance into the Ukraine with Kiev and the resource-rich Donets Basin as its objectives. In Romania, a German-Romanian army group nominally under the command of Marshal Ion Antonescu was ready to advance along the Black Sea coast with Odessa and the Dnieper River line as its immediate objectives.

The German field armies each had three or four corps under command, each corps with between two and four divisions. The panzer groups were armies in effect, with two to four motorized corps under command. But military conservatism withheld from them the designation army, which would have endowed their commanders with the title Oberbefelshaber (commander-in-chief) rather than just Befelshaber (commander).

The 9. Armee (HG Mitte) was typical of the field armies deployed against the USSR. Commanded by Colonel-General Adolf Strauss, it had four corps and nine infantry divisions plus an array of non-divisional combat, service, construction and labor units. Most of the non-divisional units (Heerestruppen) were under the corps rather than the army headquarters; for instance, VIII. Armeekorps had in addition to its three infantry divisions no fewer than fourteen medium and heavy artillery battalions. An attached Kommandeur der Luftwaffe controlled an air group providing the army with short-range reconnaissance, observation, liaison, courier and flak (antiaircraft) support.

Infantry of the German Army on parade in the spring of 1941. (Photo: Bundesarchiv)

Of the major motorized formations, 1. Panzergruppe (HG Süd) was typical. Commanded by Colonel-General Paul Ludwig Ewald von Kleist, it had three motorized corps, five panzer divisions, four motorized infantry divisions (two Army, two Waffen-SS) and one infantry division. Three of the motorized infantry divisions were held under control of the group headquarters, but as with the field armies most Heerestruppen units were assigned to the corps. XXXXVIII. Armeekorps (motorisiert), for example, had in addition to its two panzer divisions six medium and heavy artillery battalions, three rocket artillery battalions, a self-propelled antitank battalion and two light flak battalions. The usual service units and Luftwaffe air group were also present.

In round numbers the German Army committed 154 divisions to Operation Barbarossa. Of them, 104 infantry, nineteen panzer, fifteen motorized infantry, one cavalry and nine security divisions were in the three army groups. Another four infantry divisions were deployed in northern Finland and two were held in OKH reserve. One of the infantry and four of the motorized infantry divisions were Waffen-SS formations. The German panzer divisions fielded around 3,500 tanks, some of which were light and some were of Czech origin.

Each army group had an air fleet (Luftflotte) in support. Luftflotte 2, assigned to HG Mitte, was the strongest of them. Commanded by Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, it had two air corps (Fliegerkorps) controlling four fighter, one fighter-bomber, three medium bomber and three dive bomber groups—each group with between 90 and 120 aircraft. There were also several reconnaissance and transport squadrons, plus a flak corps controlling six battalions of light and heavy antiaircraft guns.

In terms of troops provided, Romania and Finland were Germany’s major allies against the USSR. Both countries harbored legitimate grievances against the Soviet colossus. By the terms of the treaty ending the 1939-40 Winter War, Finland had been forced to cede a large part of its province of Karelia and various other territories to the USSR. Romania, faced with a Soviet ultimatum in July 1940, had been compelled to yield up its province of Bessarabia. Both countries now aspired to regain their lost territories by allying with Germany, though Finland styled itself a “co-belligerent” rather than a formal ally. The lightly equipped but well-trained and experienced Finnish Army was fourteen divisions strong; the initial Romanian contribution totaled around fifteen infantry divisions and cavalry brigades of varying strength and quality.

A group of Romanian Army officers in the USSR, summer 1941 (World War Photos)

Other German allies were Hungary, which without much show of enthusiasm contributed its Carpathian Army Group (actual strength about two and a half divisions) and the puppet state of Slovakia, whose Expeditionary Army Group embodied two infantry divisions and a motorized brigade. In August, the Italian Expeditionary Corps (Corpo di Spedizione Italiano) with two motorized infantry divisions and a cavalry division would join HG Süd.

In general, the German infantry divisions committed to Barbarossa were in good fighting trim. The campaigns in Poland, Scandinavia and northwest Europe had not been too costly and the lull following the fall of France gave time for some of the Army’s deficiencies to be made up. Most of the infantry divisions were at full strength or close to it, though it had not proved possible fully to standardize their organization. A fair number, for instance, had no reconnaissance battalion, having to make do with a single bicycle infantry company. Divisions of the 3rd and 6th Waves had captured Czech 155mm heavy howitzers in place of the standard German 150mm model. Four divisions of the 12th Wave were designated as Jäger-Divisionen (light divisions); they had a special two-regiment organization and a higher level of motorization than the standard infantry division. The several Gebirgsjäger-Divisionen (mountain infantry divisions) also had a special organization. Divisions of the 13th and later Waves were not committed to Barbarossa. Most of them were significantly lower in strength and largely equipped with captured weapons and vehicles. The nine security divisions were second-line formations, mostly converted from regular infantry divisions. They were configured for occupation duties and anti-partisan operations in the rear of the field forces.

As for the mobile forces, after the French campaign Hitler had decreed a doubling of the number of panzer divisions, from ten to twenty. This, however, necessitated a reduction in their authorized tank strength, since industry could not produce tanks in sufficient numbers. The Army was also compelled to keep large numbers of ex-Czech tanks in service with six of the panzer divisions, even though they were considered obsolescent by 1941. Seven divisions still had some Panzer I light tanks, armed only with machine guns (MG) and useless for any purpose but reconnaissance.

Panzer divisions equipped with German tanks mostly had a panzer regiment of two battalions with an authorized total of 134 gun-armed tanks. The 1. Panzer-Division, for instance, had 43 x Panzer II (20mm gun), 71 x Panzer III (50mm/L42 gun) and 20 x Panzer IV (75mm/L24 gun). But numbers and tank types could vary. The 9. Panzer-Division had 131 tanks: 8 x Panzer I (twin MG only), 32 x Panzer II, 11 x Panzer III (37mm/L46 gun), 60 x Panzer III (50mm/L42 gun) and 20 x Panzer IV. Divisions with Czech tanks has a regiment of three battalions, for example the 8. Panzer-Division with 191 tanks: 49 x Panzer II, 118 x Panzer 38(t) (37mm/L48 gun) and 30 x Panzer IV. The usual number of Czech tanks was 110-120 per division but two had more: 155 in the 6th Panzer Division and 167 in the 7th Panzer Division.

Panzer 38(t) tanks of the 12th Panzer Division on the move in the USSR, Summer 1941 (Bundesarchiv)

Thus in reality no two panzer divisions were exactly alike. Both the Panzer II and Panzer IV were in particularly short supply, and for the former the thoroughly obsolete Panzer I was substituted. The panzer battalion was supposed to have one medium company with 14 x Panzer IV, but in many cases one platoon (four tanks) had to be deleted. In theory, all Panzer IIIs should have been armed with the 50mm gun but thanks to the usual production bottlenecks earlier models with the 37mm gun were still present in nine divisions. In addition to gun-armed tanks, all divisions had 10-15 command tanks (Panzerbefehlswagen). These were a variants of the Panzer I and Panzer III with extra radio equipment, armed with one MG only.

The panzer divisions had two motorized infantry regiments, each with two battalions, one of which was supposed to be  a "panzer grenadier" battalion with armored halftracks instead of trucks, but only the 1. Panzer-Division had two battalions so equipped. The 10. Panzer-Division had one panzer grenadier battalion and the others had only a single company with halftracks or, in a couple of cases, none at all.

The Führer had also ordered the number of motorized infantry divisions to be doubled, but here again industry was unable to produce military trucks in sufficient numbers. The Army was therefore compelled to press large numbers of requisitioned civilian and captured trucks into service, notwithstanding the performance and maintenance penalties involved. Four divisions could not be provided with a light flak company and two lacked the motorcycle platoons that should have been present in the infantry regiments.

It was true that in some ways the firepower of the panzer and motorized infantry divisions had been improved. The panzer divisions now had more gun-armed Panzer III and IV tanks, and all had finally received a medium artillery battalion with 12 x 150mm howitzers. Most of the divisional antitank battalions had received an allotment of the new 50mm antitank gun, augmenting the inadequate 37mm ATG. But even so, the overall combat capability of the mobile divisions was somewhat less than it had been a year earlier. Their real margin of superiority over the new enemy lay in the areas of training, experience, leadership and superior staff work.

Yet even allowing for all the lingering deficiencies that beset the German Army, the first day of Operation Barbarossa, 22 June 1941, was its high-water mark. Never again would the Army achieve the peak of strength, readiness and confidence with which it went forward into battle against an enemy who would prove far more formidable than any it had yet encountered.

(See Dr. Leo Niehorster's website, World War II Armed Forces, for detailed Barbarossa orders of battle, German and Soviet.)

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Organizational Diagrams


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