Germany’s reconnaissance during World War II is described in the following way:
The purpose of reconnaissance and the types of units employed to obtain information are similar in the U.S. and the German Armies. German tactical principles of reconnaissance, however, diverge somewhat from those of the U.S. The Germans stress aggressiveness, attempt to obtain superiority in the area to be reconnoitered, and strive for continuous observation of the enemy. They believe in employing reconnaissance units in force as a rule. They expect and are prepared to fight to obtain the desired information. Often they assign supplementary tasks to their reconnaissance units, such as sabotage behind enemy lines, harassment, or counter-reconnaissance.
Only enough reconnaissance troops are sent on a mission to assure superiority in the area to be reconnoitred. Reserves are kept on hand to be committed when the reconnaissance must be intensified, when the original force meets strong enemy opposition, or when the direction and area to be reconnoitred are changed. The Germans encourage aggressive action against enemy security forces. When their reconnaissance units meet superior enemy forces, they fight a delaying action while other units attempt to flank the enemy.
The Aufklärungsabteilung was the eyes and ears of the parent division. Initially, before the first campaigns of the Second World War they included horse-mounted and bicycle troops in the infantry divisions, and were equipped with motorcycle combinations (BMW R75s, Zündapps etc.), VW Kübelwagens, and light armoured cars in the more mobile motorised infantry and panzer divisions. To offer the troops better all-terrain movement capability the Aufklärungsabteilungen were later issued with the amphibious Schwimmwagens and light halftracks.
Although later in the war companies in the mobile divisions were equipped with light armour in the form of Sd.Kfz. 231 (Heavy Armoured Car) and Sd.Kfz. 222/223 series (Light Armoured Car). Later in the war Sd.Kfz. 250/9 halftracks, Panzer II Ausf. L “Luchs” and Sd.Kfz 140/1 light tanks were used. These rarely operated as whole companies, and instead worked in mixed teams gathered from various companies that included the motorcycles and the Schwimmwagens.
As with all German combat formations, the composition of the Aufklärungsabteilung varied from division to division, and from one period of the war to another. Panzer Aufklärungsabteilungen were attached to Panzer divisions, and were generally equipped with armoured vehicles, with all troops transported by halftrack, and an anti-tank gun (PaK) component was included. light tanks were also included in the detachment as the theory of reconnaissance in force was practiced.
The Abteilung had to be able to move quickly, and as its mission was reconnaissance, it was not equipped to deal with enemy medium or heavy armour, although these engagements did happen quite frequently. The addition of an anti-tank company later in the war was to deal with these engagements; still, the Abteilung’s armoured vehicles were no match for T-34s or M4 Shermans.
The breakdown of several example Aufklärungsabteilung can be found below.
Example orders of battle
SS-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 1 (Attached to Infanterie-Regiment (mot.) Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler), Mid-1941
- Stab/SS-AufkAbt. 1 Headquarters unit
- 1./SS-AufkAbt. 1 Heavy Armoured Car Company (Sd.Kfz 222 / 231)
- 2./SS-AufkAbt. 1 Motorised Recon Company (Motorcycle / Car / Truck mounted Infantry)
- 3./SS-AufkAbt. 1 Motorised Recon company (Motorcycle / Car / Truck mounted Infantry)
Panzer Aufklärungsabteilung-2 (Attached to 2. Panzer-Division) Late 1944
- Stab AufkAbt. 2 Headquarters’ unit
- 1./AufkAbt. 2 (first company) Heavy Armoured Car Company (no infantry, armoured cars only)
- 2./AufkAbt. 2 Light Armoured Car Company (no infantry, armoured cars only)
- 3./AufkAbt. 2 Light Armoured Half-Track Company (SPW 250) (Infantry on half-tracks only)
- 4./AufkAbt. 2 Light Armoured Half-Track Company (SPW 250) (Infantry on half-tracks only)
- 5./AufkAbt. 2 Heavy (support) Company (SPW 251) This company had infantry guns, Pak 40s etc.
- Supply Company
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