♦ Panzer Divisions 1942-43 ♦

The German Army in World War II
 

 

Panzer II light tank, armed with the 20mm automatic cannon (Photo: Bundesarchiv)
 


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NOTE ON NOMENCLATURE

The German word for armor is Panzer, and this was the designation of its armored branch of service, the Panzertruppen (armored troops), and of its armored formations, e.g. 16. Panzer Division. Lower-echelon armored formations were the Panzer-Regiment and the Panzer-Ableilung (battalion). Motorized infantry elements of the panzer divisions were redesignated from Schützen-Regiment, etc. to Panzergrenadier-Regiment and Panzergrenadier-Bataillon in late 1942. The Kradschützenbatallione (motorcycle rifle battalions) were gradually merged into the Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilungen (divisional reconnaissance battalions). The Panzerjäger-Abteilung was the divisional antitank battalion. Other divisional units, such as artillery regiments and signal battalions, received the designation Panzer,  e.g. 4. Panzer-Artillerie-Regiment.

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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After the big battles and high casualties they suffered in the opening campaigns on the Eastern Front, the German Army’s panzer divisions required major refitting and rehabilitation. In late 1941, therefore a new table of organization was issued for the standardized 1942 Panzer Division.

The new panzer division embodied three major elements. The panzer regiment of three battalions had 221 gun-armed tanks: 74 x Panzer II (20mm gun), 106 x Panzer III (50mm L/42 or L/60 gun) and 30 x Panzer IV (75mm L/25). Each battalion had in addition a number of Bef Panzer III (command/signal tank with no main gun). The motorized rifle brigade had two regiments, each with two battalions; one battalion of each regiment was equipped with armored halftracks. The motorized field artillery regiment has two light battalions (12 x 105mm  howitzer each) and one heavy battalion (with either 12 x 150mm howitzer or 8 x 150mm howitzer and 4 x 105mm gun).  The artillery regiment had halftrack prime movers for its howitzers and guns, and included a flak (antiaircraft) battalion with halftrack-towed 88mm and 20mm guns.
 

Panzer IV tank, armed with the short-barreled 75mm L/24 gun (World War Photos)

The panzer divisions' armored reconnaissance battalion (Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung) was a mixed unit with a variable number of armored car companies, motorcycle infantry companies, light armored companies equipped with armored halftracks, and a motorized heavy company with support weapons. Divisions earmarked for the 1942 summer offensive mostly had reconnaissance battalions with one armored car company, two motorcycle infantry companies, a light armored company equipped with halftracks and a heavy company. Those on other fronts mostly had motorcycle infantry battalions, sometimes including an armored car company. The motorized antitank (AT) battalion (Panzerjäger-Abteilung) had six self-propelled (SP) tank destroyers and a mix of 75mm, 50mm and 37mm towed guns, depending on availability. One company of the engineer battalion had armored halftracks.

Such was the desired standard but in practice it could not be met for all panzer divisions, of which there were now 26. (This figure includes the Army's elite formation, the Infanterie-Division Großdeutschland (motorisiert), which despite its title was equipped almost on a par with the panzer divisions.) Those divisions earmarked for the 1942 summer offensive in the southern Soviet Union were brought up to about 85% of authorized strength but those on other sectors of the front were much weaker. In Army Group South, panzer regiments with German tanks mostly had the authorized three battalions. But both the Panzer IV and the Panzer II were in particularly short supply, leaving many regiments understrength. The 9. Panzer-Division, for example had only 22 of its authorized 24 Panzer IIs. In the Panzer IV companies one platoon (four tanks) had been provisionally deleted, reducing the authorized total from 42 to 30; it was hoped to restore them when sufficient Panzer IVs became available.

In most divisions the Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks on hand were a mix of models. The 13. Panzer-Division, for example, had 41 x Panzer IIIH with the 50mm L/42 gun and 30 x Panzer IIIJ with the more powerful 50mm L/60 gun. The Panzer IVs of the 3. Panzer-Division consisted of 21 F1 models with the 75mm L/24 gun and 12 F2 models with the high-velocity 75mm L/43 gun. One of the divisions earmarked for the summer offensive, 22. Panzer-Division still had obsolescent Panzer 38(t) tanks (ex-Czech, armed with a 37mm L/48 gun) substituting for its authorized Panzer IIIs.

Nor was it possible to equip one battalion in each motorized rifle regiment with armored halftracks; in many divisions only one or two companies had them. Similar shortages afflicted the AT battalion. Both 75mm and the 50mm antitank guns were in short supply, and in some divisions captured 47mm AT guns of Czech, French or Belgian origin were substituted. The SP tank destroyer was the Marder II (based on the Panzer II or Panzer III tank chassis) or Marder III (based on the Panzer 38(t) tank chassis) armed with either the German 75mm AT gun or the captured Soviet 76.2mm field gun modified to fire German ammunition. The Marders were considerably more effective than towed AT guns, but only eleven panzer divisions had them.
 

Marder III SP tank destroyer, based on the Panzer 38(t) light tank (Bundesarchiv)

After the 1942 campaign, which culminated in the Stalingrad catastrophe, the panzer divisions had to be rebuilt again. The same basic organizational template was followed but new weapons such as the Panzer IVG armed with the 75mm L/43 gun, the Panzer V (Panther) tank armed with a 75mm L/70 gun, and SP field artillery were gradually introduced. It was intended equip the antitank battalion entirely with SP tank destroyers but as usual equipment shortages prevented this and the AT battalions got whatever was available, typically a mix of SP tank destroyers and halftrack-towed 75mm guns. The 12. Panzer-Division, for instance, had one SP and one towed company in its AT battalion. In the armored reconnaissance battalion, motorcycles were gradually phased out in favor or armored cars and light armored halftracks.

By dint of extraordinary efforts the panzer divisions were rebuilt to perhaps 85% of their authorized strength in time for the 1943 summer offensive at Kursk (July 1943). The rebuilding was supervised by Colonel-General Heinz Guderian, the German Army’s leading armored warfare expert, who’d been dismissed from his command in December 1941 after disagreements with Hitler. He was brought back on active duty as Inspector-General of Panzer Troops, and it was mainly thanks to him that the Army’s mobile forces were restored to fighting trim. But Guderian warned against the Kursk offensive, which he regarded as a dangerous gamble. He argued for a strategic defensive on the Eastern Front during 1943, with the panzer divisions held in reserve. But his advice was disregarded and the panzers were committed to battle at Kursk—where the turning point of the war in the East was reached.

See Also Panzer Divisions 1935-40

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