Panzer division (Wehrmacht)

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A Panzer division was one of the armored (tank) divisions in the army of Nazi Germany during World War II. 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 the Luftwaffe fielded an elite panzer division: the Hermann Göring Division.

Panzer division (1939)
Panzerdivision (1939)
— PzDiv —

Country Germany
Branch German Army
RoleArmoured warfare
Size11,792 personnel (1939)
  • 394 officers
  • 115 officials
  • 1,962 NCOs
  • 9,321 enlisted
Part of Wehrmacht
EngagementsWorld War II

A panzer division was a combined arms formation, having both tanks (German: Panzerkampfwagen, transl. 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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] 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 infantry 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. 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[4] 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 Panther (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 towed light howitzers with a mix of heavy and light self-propelled artillery (the Hummel with a 15 cm sFH 18/1 L/30 gun and the standard 105mm howitzer-equipped Wespe). The anti-tank battalion now included assault guns, tank destroyers (Panzerjaeger/Jadgpanzer), 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).







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[6]
(Invasion of Poland)
Tanks on
June 22, 1941[7]
(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).[8]

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.



Panzer divisions used pink military flags.[9][10]

See also



  1. ^ Healy, Mark; Strasheim, Rainer (2008). Prigent, John (ed.). Panzerwaffe: The Campaigns in the West 1940. London: Ian Allan. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-7110-3239-2. OCLC 184963718.
  2. ^ Mitcham (2001), p. 7.
  3. ^ Mitcham (2001), p. 9.
  4. ^ Most German divisional artillery was horse-drawn.
  5. ^ Bauer, Eddy (1962) [1947]. La Guerre des Blindés, Tome II: L'écrasement du IIIe Reich [The Tank War, Volume II: The destruction of the Third Reich] (in French) (2nd ed.). Paris: Payot. p. 8.
  6. ^ Parada, George. "Invasion of Poland (Fall Weiss)". Archived from the original on 30 June 2007. Retrieved 12 March 2020.
  7. ^ Parada, George. "Principal Tank Campaigns and Battles of World War II". Archived from the original on 19 January 2007. Retrieved 12 March 2020.
  8. ^ Stoves, Rolf (1986). Die gepanzerten und motorisierten deutschen Grossverbände : Divisionen und selbständige Brigaden : 1935-1945 [The large German armored and motorized formations : Divisions and independent brigades : 1935-1945] (in German). Friedberg, Hesse: Podzun-Pallas-Verlag. p. 19. ISBN 3-7909-0279-9. OCLC 17981740.
  9. ^ Loeser, Peter. "Flags of the Third Reich". Historical Flags of our Ancestors. Archived from the original on 2010-10-12. (See under Hermann Göring Panzer Division Flag.)
  10. ^ Davis, Brian L. (2000). Flags of the Third Reich. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing. p. 31. ISBN 978-1-84176-171-8.