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.
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
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.
- 1st Panzer Division
- 2nd Panzer Division
- 3rd Panzer Division
- 4th Panzer Division
- 5th Panzer Division
- 6th Panzer Division (previously 1st Light Division)
- 7th Panzer Division (previously 2nd Light Division)
- 8th Panzer Division (previously 3rd Light Division)
- 9th Panzer Division (previously 4th Light Division)
- 10th Panzer Division
- 11th Panzer Division
- 12th Panzer Division (previously 2nd Motorized Infantry Division)
- 13th Panzer Division (previously 13th Infantry Division, 13th Motorized Infantry Division; later Panzer Division Feldherrnhalle 2)
- 14th Panzer Division (previously 4th Infantry Division)
- 15th Panzer Division (previously 33rd Infantry Division; later 15th Panzergrenadier Division)
- 16th Panzer Division (previously 16th Infantry Division)
- 17th Panzer Division (previously 27th Infantry Division)
- 18th Panzer Division (later 18th Artillery Division)
- 19th Panzer Division (previously 19th Infantry Division)
- 20th Panzer Division
- 21st Panzer Division (previously 5th Light Division)
- 22nd Panzer Division
- 23rd Panzer Division
- 24th Panzer Division (previously 1st Cavalry Division)
- 25th Panzer Division
- 26th Panzer Division (formerly 23rd Infantry Division)
- 27th Panzer Division
- 116th Panzer Division Windhund (previously 16th Infantry Division, 16th Motorized Infantry Division, and 16th Panzergrenadier Division)
- 155th Reserve Panzer Division (previously Division Nr. 155, Division Nr. 155 (motorized), Panzer Division Nr. 155)
- Panzer Division Nr. 178 (previously Division Nr. 178)
- 179th Reserve Panzer Division (previously Division Nr. 179, Division Nr. 179 (mot.), and Panzer Division Nr. 179)
- 232nd Panzer Division (previously Panzer Division Tatra, Panzer Training Division Tatra)
- 233rd Reserve Panzer Division (previously Division Nr. 233 (mot.), Panzergrenadier Division Nr. 233, and Panzer Division Nr. 233; later Panzer Division Clausewitz)
- 273rd Reserve Panzer Division
- Panzer Division Clausewitz (previously Division Nr. 233 (motorized), Panzergrenadier Division Nr. 233, and Panzer Division Nr. 233, Reserve Panzer Division 233)
- Döberitz, Schlesien, and Holstein are approximately synonymous with Clausewitz.
- Panzer Division Feldherrnhalle 1 (previously 60th Infantry Division, 60th Motorized Infantry Division, and Panzergrenadier Division Feldherrnhalle)
- Panzer Division Feldherrnhalle 2 (previously 13th Infantry Division, 13th Motorized Infantry Division, and 13th Panzer Division)
- Fallschirm-Panzer Division 1 Hermann Göring
- Panzer Division Jüterbog
- Panzer Division Kempf (part Heer, part Waffen-SS)
- Panzer Division Kurmark
- Panzer Lehr Division (sometimes identified as 130th Panzer-Lehr-Division)
- Panzer Division Müncheberg
- Panzer Division Tatra (later Panzer Training Division Tatra, 232nd Panzer Division)
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.
September 1, 1939
(Invasion of Poland)
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.
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: …)|
|Panzer regiment||Panzerregiment (PzRgt)|
|antitank battalion||Panzerjägerabteilung (PzJgAbt)|
|3 companies of assault guns (1–3)||3 Kompanien von Sturmgeschützen (1–3)|
|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)|
|Panzer grenadier regiment (as above)||Panzergrenadierregiment (wie oben)|
|Armoured Reconnaissance Battalion||Panzeraufklärungsabteilung (PzAufklAbt)|
|Panzer artillery regiment||Panzerartillerieregiment (PzArtRgt)|
|Rocket launcher battalion||Werferabteilung|
|anti-aircraft battalion||Flakabteilung (FlakAbt)|
|Armoured engineer battalion||Panzerpionierabteilung (PzPiAbt)|
|Armoured Signals Battalion||Panzernachrichtenabteilung|
|divisional supply troops||Divisions-Nachschubtruppe|
|Panzer maintenance battalion||Panzer-Instandsetzungsabteilung|
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.
- Heavy Panzer battalion (German: “schwere Panzerabteilung”)
- List of Waffen-SS divisions
- Panzer division (Panzerdivision, PzDiv)
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.
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.
|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|
|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|
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
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:
- 501st Heavy Panzer Battalion
- 502nd Heavy Panzer Battalion
- 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion
- 504th Heavy Panzer Battalion
- 505th Heavy Panzer Battalion
- 506th Heavy Panzer Battalion
- 507th Heavy Panzer Battalion
- 508th Heavy Panzer Battalion
- 509th Heavy Panzer Battalion
- 510th Heavy Panzer Battalion
- 511th Heavy Panzer Battalion
- 301st Heavy Panzer Battalion (radio control)
Units attached to the Waffen-SS were:
- 101st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion renamed in 1944, as SS Heavy Panzer Battalion 501 (German: schwere SS-Panzerabteilung 501), part of I SS Panzer Corps
- 102nd SS Heavy Panzer Battalion renamed in 1944, as SS Heavy Panzer Battalion 502 (schwere SS-Panzerabteilung 502), part of II SS Panzer Corps
- 103rd SS Heavy Panzer Battalion renamed in 1944, as SS Heavy Panzer Battalion 503 (schwere SS-Panzerabteilung 503), part of III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps
- 104th SS Heavy Panzer Battalion (schwere SS-Panzerabteilung 104) was planned 22 October 1943, for IV SS Panzer Corps, but was never formed
|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|
|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|
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.
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