♦ Infantry Division Reconnaissance Battalions

The German Army in World War II


Mounted troops of an infantry division reconnaissance battalion, circa 1940-41 (Bundesarchiv)

● ● ●

A key component of all German Army divisions was the Aufklärungs-Abteilung (reconnaissance battalion), and it was much more than a scout unit. German tactical doctrine held that reconnaissance meant fighting for information. The primary mission of the reconnaissance battalion was to gain contact the enemy, then simulate a full-scale attack so as to compel him to deploy his forces—this to reveal his composition and strength while buying time for friendly units to react. The reconnaissance battalion could also be employed as the divisional reserve, often with additional units attached. To carry out these missions, it had to be both mobile and well armed.

In the Type 1939 Infanterie-Division, the standard reconnaissance battalion consisted of a headquarters section with two light armored cars, a bicycle infantry company, a cavalry company, a motorized heavy platoon with support weapons and a signal platoon with radio and telephone sections. Three of the signal sections were motorized and two relied on pack horses. The signal platoon was a key element of the battalion, whose ability to communicate with the division headquarters and other units was essential to its effectiveness.

 A few infantry divisions of the first four mobilization waves (Aufstellungswellen) had only a cavalry company but the intention was to provide all divisions with a full reconnaissance battalion when resources became available. Thus most of the divisions that lacked them eventually acquired one, but thanks to equipment and personnel shortages some elements, such as the infantry gun platoon, were sometimes omitted. It should also be noted that most infantry regiments included a cavalry platoon that could serve as an additional scout unit if necessary.

Troops of a bicycle infantry company in Russia, 1942 (Bundesarchiv)

Reconnaissance battalions of the 2nd and 3rd Waves had a second bicycle infantry company in place of the cavalry company. The bicycle was a cheap and relatively effective mobility multiplier in western and central Europe, where the road network was well developed. An additional advantage was that bicycles required little specialized training; most recruits already knew how to ride one. The bicycle used by the German Army was purpose built, incorporating carrying clips for the troops’ weapons and equipment. Farther east, however, where surfaced roads were sparse, cavalry was more useful. But horses were far more expensive to acquire and maintain than bicycles, and it took considerable time to train a cavalryman.

The bicycle infantry company had three rifle platoons and a heavy machine gun (HMG) section. Each platoon had 3 x light machine guns (LMG); the HMG section had 2 x HMG and was mounted on motorcycles. Bicycle platoons of the 1st Wave divisions also had a 50mm mortar. The cavalry company was similarly armed except that it had no mortars and all personnel were on horseback.

The heavy company of the reconnaissance battalion was motorized and it consisted of a headquarters section and two platoons: one with 2 x 75mm infantry gun (IG) and one with 3 x 37mm antitank guns (ATG). As noted above, however, not all these elements could be provided to every division. Thus the reconnaissance battalions of the 4th Wave had no armored car section or heavy company headquarters element, the IG and ATG platoons being attached directly to the battalion headquarters. Subsequent waves had only a bicycle infantry company, which sometimes was independent and sometimes was placed in the divisional antitank battalion. Only with the 11th Wave was a return made to a full reconnaissance battalion.

A 75mm light infantry gun in action (Bundesarchiv)

Thus by 1941 there was no longer any pretense of a standard infantry division reconnaissance battalion. Newly raised divisions got whatever was available at the time, most often a bicycle infantry company. And with the advent of the Type 1944 Infanterie-Division, the infantry reconnaissance battalion disappeared from the table of organization. In its place was provided a so-called Füsilier-Bataillon with three rifle companies and a heavy company. It was virtually identical to the standard infantry battalion except that one rifle company was mounted on bicycles to provide a reconnaissance capability. The heavy company had 6 x HMG, 6 x 81mm mortars and 4 x 120mm mortars. Only the 120mm mortar platoon was motorized. Thus the fusilier battalion lacked the mobility of the old reconnaissance battalion. Nonetheless it was tasked with the reconnaissance mission—which it was but marginally capable of carrying out.

In the Volksgrenadier-Division the fusilier battalion was deleted and replaced with a bicycle fusilier company. Basically this was a VG infantry company with a heavy weapons platoon and an IG platoon added. Though fairly mobile, it lacked the firepower of the fusilier battalion and could serve only as a scout unit.

Given the great importance that the German Army placed on reconnaissance, the demise of the infantry division reconnaissance battalion was yet another indicator of how acute the manpower shortage had become by 1944. Bit by bit, the specialized capabilities on which the Army’s tactical superiority rested had eroded away: a major contributor to Germany’s defeat.

● ● ●

Organizational Diagrams 




Copyright © 2020 by Thomas M. Gregg. All Rights Reserved

BACK to WAR ROOM Front Page