Organisation of a Panzer Division

A row of seven large tanks lined up with their long guns pointing up at an angle, as if saluting.

A panzer division is one of the armored (tank) divisions in the Wehrmacht of Germany during World War II. This is a more restricted meaning than the German-language equivalent Panzerdivision (short: PzDiv), still used in the modern German Army of the Bundeswehr (for example the 1. Panzerdivision). In German-speaking countries, Panzerdivision is not immediately associated with the Wehrmacht as it is in English, as the German term simply means “armored division” and has no additional connotation.

Panzer divisions were the key element of German success in the blitzkrieg operations of the early years of World War II. Later the Waffen-SS formed its own panzer divisions, and even the Luftwaffe fielded a panzer division: the Hermann Göring Division.

A panzer division was a combined arms formation, having both tanks (German Panzerkampfwagen, ‘armored fighting vehicle’, usually shortened to “Panzer“), mechanized and motorized infantry, along with artillery, anti-aircraft and other integrated support elements. At the start of the war, panzer divisions were more effective than the equivalent Allied armored divisions due to their combined arms doctrine, even though they had fewer and generally less technically-advanced tanks.

By mid-war, though German tanks had often become technically superior to Allied tanks, Allied armored warfare and combined arms doctrines generally caught up with the Germans, and shortages reduced the combat readiness of panzer divisions. The proportions of the components of panzer divisions changed over time.

The World War II German equivalent of a mechanized infantry division is Panzergrenadierdivision (‘armored infantry division’). This is similar to a panzer division, but with a higher proportion of infantry and assault guns and fewer tanks.

Pre-war development 

Heinz Guderian first proposed the formation of panzer units larger than a regiment, but the inspector of motorized troops, Otto von Stuelpnagel, rejected the proposal. 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. The first three panzer divisions were formed on 15 October 1935. The 1st Panzerdivision was formed in Weimar and commanded by Maximilian von Weichs, the 2nd Panzerdivision was formed in Würzburg and commanded by Guderian, and the 3rd Panzerdivision was formed in Berlin and commanded by Ernst Feßmann.

Most other armies of the era organized their tanks into “tank brigades” that required additional organic 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 

German Panzerdivision, 1939.

These first panzer divisions (1st through 5th) were composed of two tank regiments, one motorised infantry regiment of two battalions each, and supporting troops. Some of these panzer divisions had quite a large proportion 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). Around this time, the newly organised divisions (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, the German invasion of the Soviet Union 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, the organic component of these divisions consisted of a motorised artillery regiment (of one heavy and two light battalions) and the following battalions: reconnaissance, motorcycle, anti-tank, pioneer, field replacement, and communications. The number of tanks in the 1941-style divisions was relatively small, compared to their predecessors’ composition. 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 of 1941/42, the divisions underwent another reorganisation, with a tank regiment comprising from 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 with Panzer IV and one with 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 assault guns, tank destroyers, and towed anti-tank guns. Generally, the mechanization of these divisions increased compared to their previous organization.

Since the Heer and the SS used their own ordinal systems, there were duplicate numbers (i.e. there was both a 9th Panzerdivision and a 9th SS-Panzerdivision).

Heer 

Numbered 

Named 

Tank complement 

The tank strength of the panzer divisions varied throughout the war. The actual equipment of each division is difficult to determine due to battle losses, the formation of new units, reinforcements and captured enemy equipment. The following table gives the tank strength of every division on two dates when this was known.

Unit Tanks on
September 1, 1939 
(Invasion of Poland)
Tanks on
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.
c Formed after the Polish Campaign.
d Renamed following the Polish Campaign.
e Merged into other Divisions following the Polish Campaign.

Flags 

Panzer divisions used pink military flags.

Source

Tiger IIs on the move in France, June 1944

The SS Panzer Division (German: SS-Panzerdivision, short: SS-PzDiv) was an SS formation during World War II. The table below shows the organisation structure that an “SS Panzer division” aspired to contain.

Designation (lang-en: …) Designation (lang-de: …)
Division Headquarters Divisionsstab
  • commander of the division
  • general staff officer
  • cartographical unit
  • communications unit
  • division escort
  • military police
  • Divisionskommandeur (DivKdr)
  • Generalstabsoffizier
  • Kartorgaphieeinheit
  • Fernmeldeeinheit
  • Divisionsbegleitschutz
  • Militärpolizei
quartermaster Quartiermeister (Qu)
  • Waffenzug
  • Mechaniker
  • Stabsarzt
  • Stabszahnarzt
Panzer regiment Panzerregiment (PzRgt)
I battalion I. Abteilung
  • 4 Kompanien (1–4)
  • Werkstattkompanie
II battalion
  • 5 companies (5–9)
  • workshop platoon
II. Abteilung
  • 5 Kompanien (5–9)
  • Werkstattzug
antitank battalion Panzerjägerabteilung (PzJgAbt)
3 companies of assault guns (1–3) 3 Kompanien von Sturmgeschützen (1–3)
SS Panzergrenadierregiment.svg Panzer grenadier regiment Panzergrenadierregiment (PzGrenRgt)
I battalion 4 companies (1–4) I. Bataillon 4 Kompanien (1–4)
II battalion 4 companies (5–8) II. Bataillon 4 Kompanien (5–8)
III battalion
  • 4 companies (9–12)
  • heavy infantry gun company (13)
  • anti-aircraft company (14)
  • reconnaissance company (15)
  • engineer company (16)
III. Bataillon
  • 4 Kompanien (9–12)
  • schwere Infanteriegeschützkompanie (13)
  • Flakkompanie (14)
  • Aufklärungskompanie (15)
  • Pionierkompanie (16)
Panzer grenadier regiment (as above) Panzergrenadierregiment (wie oben)
Armoured Reconnaissance Battalion Panzeraufklärungsabteilung (PzAufklAbt)
  • 2 Panzer scout companies
  • 2 Panzer reconnaissance companies
  • 1 heavy company
  • 2 Panzerspähkompanien
  • 2 Panzeraufklärungskompanien
  • 1 schwere Kompanie
Panzer artillery regiment Panzerartillerieregiment (PzArtRgt)
I battalion
  • 3 batteries
I. Abteilung
  • 3 Batterien
II battalion
  • 3 batteries
II. Abteilung
  • 3 Batterien
III battalion
  • 4 batteries
III. Abteilung
  • 4 Batterien
Rocket launcher battalion Werferabteilung
  • 4 batteries (1–4)
  • 4 Batterien (1–4)
anti-aircraft battalion Flakabteilung (FlakAbt)
  • 5 batteries (1–5)
  • 5 Batterien (1–5)
Armoured engineer battalion Panzerpionierabteilung (PzPiAbt)
  • 1 (armoured) company (on IFV)
  • 3 engineer companies
  • bridge convoy B
  • 1 (gepanzerte) Kompanie (auf SPw)
  • 3 Pionierkompanien
  • Brückenkolonne B
Armoured Signals Battalion Panzernachrichtenabteilung
  • 1 communications company
  • 1 Radio company
  • 1 Fernmeldekompanie
  • 1 Funkkompanie
divisional supply troops Divisions-Nachschubtruppe
  • 6 vehicle companies
  • 1 supply company
  • 6 Kraftfahrkompanien
  • 1 Nachschubkompanie
Panzer maintenance battalion Panzer-Instandsetzungsabteilung
  • 3 workshop companies
  • 1 (weapon) workshop company
  • 1 spare and repair part company
  • 3 Werkstattkompanien
  • 1 (Waffen-)Werkstattkompanie
  • 1 Ersatzteilkompanie
provisioning battalion Wirtschaftsbataillon
  • bakery company
  • butcher company
  • divisional food services office
  • military post office
  • Bäckereikompanie
  • Schlächtereikompanie
  • Divisions-Verpflegungsamt
  • Feldpostamt
medical battalion Sanitätsabteilung
  • 2 medical companies
  • 1 ambulance company
  • 1 medical supply company
  • 2 Sanitätskompanien
  • 1 Krankenkraftwagekompanie
  • 1 Versorgungskompanie
replacement battalion Feldersatzbataillon

The structure and organisation of the 12th SS Panzer Division “Hitlerjugend” is equivalent to the table above and served as a standard for all other “SS Panzer Divisions” during World War II. The average complement was approximately 19,000. However, only two out of 7 SS Panzer Divisions contained that strength. In the second half of the war in Europe, in particular close to the end of war, some divisions achieved only the complement of regiment sized units.

APP-6 Armored.svg

Source

Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-299-1805-16, Nordfrankreich, Panzer VI (Tiger I).2.jpg

German heavy tank battalion

A German heavy tank battalion (German: “schwere Panzerabteilung“, short: “s PzAbt”), was an elite battalion-sized World War II tank unit of the German Army (1935–1945), equipped with Tiger I, and later Tiger II, heavy tanks. Originally intended to fight on the offensive during breakthrough operations, the German late-war realities required it to be used in a defensive posture by providing heavy fire support and counter-attacking enemy armored breakthroughs, often organised into ad hoc Kampfgruppen.

The German heavy tank battalions destroyed the total number of 9,850 enemy tanks for the loss of only 1,715 of their own, a kill/loss ratio of 5.74. The 1,715 German losses also include non-combat tank write-offs.

Formation

Early formation units experimented to find the correct combination of heavy Tiger tanks supported by either medium Panzer III tanks or reconnaissance elements. In 1942 this consisted of 20 Tigers and 16 Panzer IIIs, composed of two companies, each with four platoons of two Tigers and two Panzer IIIs. Each company commander would have an additional Tiger, and battalion command would have another two.

Later formations had a standard organization of 45 Tiger Tanks, composed of three companies of 14 Tigers each, plus three command vehicles. Maintenance troubles and the mechanical unreliability of the Tigers posed a continuous problem, so often the units would field a smaller number of combat-ready tanks.

The limited number of these heavy tanks, plus their specialized role in either offensive or defensive missions, meant they were rarely permanently assigned to a single division or corps, but shuffled around according to war circumstances.

In addition to tanks, each battalion planned to include the following:
Description vehicle type 1 July 1943 1 January 1945
Flakpanzer IV Self-propelled anti-aircraft gun 0 8
Sd.Kfz. 7/1 8 ton 4 x 2 cm Flak Self-propelled anti-aircraft gun 6 3
Sd.Kfz. 251 Schützenpanzerwagen Armoured half-track 10 11
Bergepanther Armoured recovery vehicle 0 5
Sd.Kfz. 9 18 ton Zugkraftwagen Half-track prime mover 8 7
Sd.Kfz. 10 1 ton Zugkraftwagen Light half-track 8 13
Sd.Kfz. 2 Kettenkrad Gun tractor 0 14
Beiwagenkrad Motorcycle with sidecar, e.g. BMW R75 25 0
Solokrad Motorcycle 17 6
Kübelwagen Personenkraftwagen Staff car 64 38
Personenkraftwagen, zivil Civilian car 2 1
Lastkraftwagen Truck, e.g. Opel Blitz 111 84
Lastkraftwagen, zivil Civilian truck 24 34
Maultier Half-track 0 6
Kran-Kraftfahrzeug Mobile crane 3 3
Total 278 233

Organisation structure 

The organisation structure of a German heavy Panzer battalion in 1943, on example of the schwere Panzerabteilung 508, was as follows.

  • staff / German: Stab
  • staff company (three tanks) / Stabskompanie
  • 1st – 3rd Panzer company (14 tanks each) / 1. – 3. Panzerkompanie
    • company detachment (two tanks) / Kompanietrupp
    • 1st – 3rd Panzer platoon (four tanks each) / 1. – 3. Panzerzug
    • medical service / Sanitätsdienst
    • vehicle repair detachment / Kfz. Instandsetzungstrupp
    • combat train I / Gefechtstross I
    • combat train II / Gefechtstross II
    • baggage train / Gepäcktross
  • workshop company / Werkstattkompanie
    • 1st and 2nd workshop platoon / 1. and 2. Werkstattzug
    • recovery platoon / Bergezug
    • armorer detachment / Waffenmeisterei
    • communications detachment / Funkmeisterei
    • spare part detachment / Ersatzteiltrupp

Army units 

By the end of the war, the following heavy panzer detachments had been created. Early units were re-built several times by the end of the war.

Independent units attached to the German Army (Heer) were:

SS units 

Units attached to the Waffen-SS were:

Combat performance 

Kill and Loss Ratio of the Tiger Battalions (1942–1945): 
Unit Losses Destroyed Ratio
501st Heavy Panzer Battalion 120 450 3.75
502nd Heavy Panzer Battalion 107 1,400 13.08
503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion 252 1,700 6.75
504th Heavy Panzer Battalion 109 250 2.29
505th Heavy Panzer Battalion 126 900 7.14
506th Heavy Panzer Battalion 179 400 2.23
507th Heavy Panzer Battalion 104 600 5.77
508th Heavy Panzer Battalion 78 100 1.28
509th Heavy Panzer Battalion 120 500 4.17
510th Heavy Panzer Battalion 65 200 3.08
13./Panzer-Regiment Großdeutschland 6 100 16.67
III./Panzer-Regiment Großdeutschland 98 500 5.10
13./SS-Panzer-Regiment 1 42 400 9.52
8./SS-Panzer-Regiment 2 31 250 8.06
9./SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 56 500 8.93
101st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion 107 500 4.67
102nd SS Heavy Panzer Battalion 76 600 7.89
103rd SS Heavy Panzer Battalion 39 500 12.82
TOTAL: 1,715 9,850 5.74

Tank losses include losses inflicted other than by enemy tanks. Also, many tanks were abandoned by their crews due to a lack of fuel, ammunition or breakdown, especially at the end of war.

Source

German Division (World War 2)

Army hierarchy

Read about WWII here

Maus

1 Tiger Tank vs 50 T-34s – A True Story

Panther Ambush – Normandy 1944

Tiger Ambush – Normandy 1944

Jagdtiger Ambush – Ardennes 1944

Jagdtiger Ambush 1945!

SS King Tiger Last Stand: Berlin 1945

Tiger I and Stug III in the Battle of Narva (February, 1944)

About King Tiger (Tiger II)

Tiger I

 

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