Panzer IVs travelling along a canal, 1940

Panzer IVs travelling along a canal, 1940

Panzer IVs travelling along a canal, 1940

Here we see two short-gunned Panzer IVs using a shallow canal to make progress through a small town somewhere in Belgium. The exact model of tank is unclear and some details do appear to have been airbrushed over.


The Tauchpanzer

Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf H(U) – Tauchfahig (U-Panzer / Submersible Tank)
This U-Panzer belonged to the 18th Panzer Division’s 18th Panzer Regiment. This photo was taken during the crossing of the River Bug at Patulin on 22nd June of 1941. During the preparation for invasion of England – Operation Seelöwe (Sealion), Panzer III and Panzer IVwere converted into submersible tanks able to travel on the bottom of body of water at the depths of 6 to 15 meters. From June to October of 1940, 160 Panzer III Ausf F/G/H and 8 Panzerbefehlswagen III Ausf E along with 42 Panzer IV Ausf Ds were converted into U-Panzers / Tauchpanzers. After extensive tests and modifications U-Panzer were ready for action. Since Operation Sealion was never realized, Tauchpanzer IIIs and IVs were used during Operation Barbarossa (crossing river Bug at Patulin), in service with 3rd (6th Panzer Regiment) and 18th Panzer Division. It was also planned to use U-Panzers in never realized invasion on the island of Malta.

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The Tauchpanzer was developed in mid-1940 for the proposed invasion of England (Sea Lion). The Pz Kpfw III were modified and provided with a submersion kit. Air-intakes were fitted with locking covers, and the exhaust was fitted with non-return valves. The cupola, gun mantlet and hull MG were sealed with waterproof fabric covers. An inflatable rubber tube surrounded the turret ring. While submerged, the tank drew air through a pipe from a float carrying a snorkel device and radio antenna which remained on the surface. A gyro-compass was used for underwater navigation. The Tauchpanzer could operate in depths of up to 15 metres. A vessel with a hinged ramp was used to disembark the Tauchpanzer at a suitable distance from the shore. With the cancellation of ‘Sea Lion’, the Tauchpanzer were no longer required in quite the same form. At Milowitz near Prague, in the spring of 1941, most of the tanks were modified to make them suitable for river crossing, with a fixed snorkel pipe attached through the commander’s cupola.

From July 1940, four sections of volunteers from existing Panzer regiments were trained on the Island of Sylt, and the Tauchpanzer were to be ready for operations at Putlos by 10 August. In mid-October, three of these sections were attached to the 18th Panzer Division, and the remainder went to the 6th Panzer Regiment of the 3rd Panzer Division. On 22 June 1941, the Tauchpanzer of the 18th Panzer Division crossed the River Bug at Patulin.

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At Pratulin, where 17th and 18th Panzer Divisions were to cross the Bug, there was no bridge. At 04:15 hours, the advance detachments leaped into their rubber dinghies and assault boats, and swiftly crossed to the other side. The infantrymen and motor-cycle troops had with them light anti-tank guns and heavy machine-guns. The Russian pickets by the river opened up with automatic rifles and light machine-guns. They were quickly silenced.

Units of the motor-cycle battalion dug in. Then everything that could be pumped into the bridgehead was ferried across. The sappers at once got down to building a pontoon bridge.
But what would happen if the Russians attacked the bridgehead with armour? How would the Germans oppose them? Tanks and heavy equipment could have been brought across only with the greatest difficulties in barges or over emergency bridges.

That was why an interesting new secret weapon was employed here for the first time….
…In the sector of 18th Panzer Division fifty batteries of all calibers opened fire at 0315 in order to clear the way to the other bank for the diving tanks, General Nehring, the divisional commander, has since described this as “a magnificent spectacle, but rather pointless since the Russians had been clever enough to withdraw their troops from the border area, leaving behind only weak frontier detachments, which subsequently fought very bravely.”

At 0445 hours Sergeant Wierschin advance into the Bug with diving tank No.1. The infantrymen watched him in amazement. The water closed over the tank. ”Playing at U-boats!” Only the slim steel tube which supplied fresh air to the crews and engine showed above the surface, indicating Wierschin’s progress under water. There were also the exhaust bubbles, but these were quickly obliterated by the current.

Tank after tank – the whole of 1st Battalion, 18th Panzer Regiment, under the battalion commander, Manfred Graf Strachwitz – dived into the river.

And now the first ones were crawling up the far bank like mysterious amphibians. A soft plop and the rubber caps were blown off the gun muzzles. The gun-loaders let the air our of the bicycle inner tubes round the turrets. Turret hatches were flung open and the skippers wriggled out. An arm thrust into the air three times: the signal “Tanks forward.”
Eighty tanks had crossed the frontier river under water. Eighty tanks were moving into action.

Their presence was more than welcome in the bridgehead. Enemy armoured scout cars were approaching. At once came the firing orders for the leading tanks: “Turret – One O’clock – armour piercing – 800 yards – group of armoured scout cars – fire at will.” From Hitler Moves East–Paul Carell

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During September and October 1940 volunteers of the 2nd Tank Regiment in Putlos were formed into Tank Battalion A and trained for Operation Sea Lion, the invasion of Great Britain. Two other special formations, Tank Battalions Band C, were being raised at the same time and the same place. These units later formed the 18th Tank Regiment of the 18th Panzer Division and adapted the Pz Kpfw III and IV for submerged wading. The following measures were taken. All openings, vision slits, flaps, etc, were made watertight with sealing compounds and cable tar, the turret entry ports were bolted from the inside and air intake openings for the engine completely closed. A rubber cover sheet was fixed over the mantlet, the commander’s cupola and the bow machine gun. An ignition wire blew off the covering sheet upon surfacing and left the vehicle ready for action. Between the hull and the turret there was a rubber sealing ring which, when inflated, prevented the water from entering. The fresh air supply was maintained by a wire-bound rubber trunk with a diameter at about 20 cm, 18 metres long. To one end of this tube was fitted a buoy with attached antennae. The exhaust pipes were fitted with high-pressure non-return relief valves. When travelling submerged sea water was used to cool the engine and seepage was removed by a bilge pump. The maximum diving depth was 15 metres. Three metres of the air tube’s 18 metre length was available as a safety measure. These submersible tanks were to be launched from barges or lighters. They slid into the water down an elongated ramp made of channel plates. Directing was achieved by radio orders from a command vessel to the submerged vehicle. Underwater navigation was carried out by means of a gyro compass and the crew was equipped with escape apparatus. The submerged machines were relatively easy to steer as buoyancy lightened them. After Operation Sea Lion was abandoned these vehicles were eventually used operationally during the Russian campaign in 1941 for the crossing of the River Bug.

A short intelligence report on German tanks modified for submersion, from Tactical and Technical Trends, July 29, 1943.

GERMAN SUBMERSIBLE TANKS The delays and difficulties involved in the transport of tanks across the rivers of Eastern Europe have no doubt forced the Germans to consider very seriously all possible devices for enabling their standard tanks to cross such water obstacles under their own power.

By the summer of 1941, the weight of the PzKw 3 had already been increased by the fitting of additional armor, and it must have been clear that future developments in armor and armament would necessarily involve still further increases in the weight of this tank. While the trend towards increased weight was in many ways disadvantageous, it was definitely helpful in overcoming one of the major difficulties hitherto encountered in adapting standard tanks for submersion, namely the difficulty of obtaining sufficient track adhesion.

It is therefore not surprising that the Germans, in the early stages of their campaign in Russia, were actively experimenting with standard PzKw 3’s modified for submersion. These experiments met with a certain degree of success, and under-water river crossings are reported to have been made with these modified tanks under service conditions. The measures employed, according to a Russian source, included the sealing of all joints and openings in the tank with India rubber, and the fitting of a flexible air pipe, the free end of which was attached to a float. The supply of air for the crew as well as for the engine was provided for by this flexible pipe. The maximum depth of submersion was 16 feet and the time taken by trained crews to prepare the tanks was about 24 hours.

In April 1943, a PzKw 3 Model M examined in North Africa was found to be permanently modified or immersion, if not submersion. There was no mention in the report on this tank of a flexible pipe with float, but this may have been destroyed, since the tank, when examined, had been completely burnt out.


Time-Travelling Underwear. and other Military Stuff! (WW2 shenanigans!)

1940, The 7th Panzer Division suddenly finds itself naked, seriously.

Everything from the Tanks, Clothing, Guns, Food, Ammo, Miscallenous Stuff (Diaries, Manuals, Toilet Paper, Helmets) and Heck even the Cofee just dissapeared!

All that stuff ends up going back in time.

1904, All the things from the future end up One Mile West of Paris, neatly organized

What sort of equipment did the 7th Panzer Division have during 1940?

What sort of important mindblowing information could the French learn/discover from the future stuff?

How would France react to the things from the future and the fact they are German?

When they learn about it, how would Germany and the rest of the world react to this event?

How much of a technological progress could France achieve before 1914? 1936?

Would World War 1 still happen? If so how different would it be?

How does this event change the rest of history?

Sufficient Velocity

Bringer of Bigatons

Moonreaper666

You mean the Panzer IIIs German Tanks, vastly superior to the piece of crap Renaults?

I think they had a few Panzer IVs as well

Get a few French people than understand German and translate!

German helmets which were superior to the crap the cheese monkeys used in WW1?

France had obselete troops during most of WW1. This is a literal godsend!

Sufficient Velocity

Bringer of Bigatons

You mean the Panzer IIIs German Tanks, vastly superior to the piece of crap Renaults?

I think they had a few Panzer IVs as well

Get a few French people than understand German and translate!

German helmets which were superior to the crap the cheese monkeys used in WW1?

France had obselete troops during most of WW1. This is a literal godsend!

I'm not really being serious mind you, but that kind of is the meme around French forces (minus the Foreign Legion, of course).

Moonreaper666

I'm not really being serious mind you, but that kind of is the meme around French forces (minus the Foreign Legion, of course).

Could the French have tanks and submachine guns ready before WW1?

Does France prepare more/better when WW1 comes?

Would the French share their gift with UK? Russia? America?

Do more people die in WW1 or less?

Sufficient Velocity

Bringer of Bigatons

Could the French have tanks and submachine guns ready before WW1?

Does France prepare more/better when WW1 comes?

Would the French share their gift with UK? Russia? America?

Do more people die in WW1 or less?

Ok, if you insist that I be serious then. yes, they could have made them.

There is nothing stopping them from making something tank like. It will be horribly underpowered but it will be at least somewhat viable. They now at least have the idea.

They could also make submachine guns that would probably work quite well, now that they have the idea. They could even directly copy the German versions. The real question is would they.

Unless they find a date on some of the equipment, they are liable to believe it comes from over a hundred years in the future, not a bare 30. IIRC, the French of the time were pretty notoriously conservative. They could have easily been more prepared for the problems of machine guns and artillery, but they didn't really fit into their notions of warfare. They already believe they are king shit of the hill, and are well and truly prepared for the kind of war they want to fight. Their leadership may very well laugh at the concept of the tech they are seeing. Take SMGs, for example. A little testing should show how effective they can be, but the French are liable to focus on the tiny bullets and lack of range, because that is what they understand. They would be concerned about the logistics of weapons that fired so quickly (I've heard, though perhaps it is a myth, that French troops in WW1 were only given a few bullets a day), and truly believe that a machine gun should fire a big bullet. They are liable to hand all of the gear over to scientists and forget about it. They might be a bit farther along than in the OTL by the start of the war, but I doubt you would see mass fielding of tanks and SMGs.

Moonreaper666

Ok, if you insist that I be serious then. yes, they could have made them.

There is nothing stopping them from making something tank like. It will be horribly underpowered but it will be at least somewhat viable. They now at least have the idea.

They could also make submachine guns that would probably work quite well, now that they have the idea. They could even directly copy the German versions. The real question is would they.

Unless they find a date on some of the equipment, they are liable to believe it comes from over a hundred years in the future, not a bare 30. IIRC, the French of the time were pretty notoriously conservative. They could have easily been more prepared for the problems of machine guns and artillery, but they didn't really fit into their notions of warfare. They already believe they are king shit of the hill, and are well and truly prepared for the kind of war they want to fight. Their leadership may very well laugh at the concept of the tech they are seeing. Take SMGs, for example. A little testing should show how effective they can be, but the French are liable to focus on the tiny bullets and lack of range, because that is what they understand. They would be concerned about the logistics of weapons that fired so quickly (I've heard, though perhaps it is a myth, that French troops in WW1 were only given a few bullets a day), and truly believe that a machine gun should fire a big bullet. They are liable to hand all of the gear over to scientists and forget about it. They might be a bit farther along than in the OTL by the start of the war, but I doubt you would see mass fielding of tanks and SMGs.

Diaries, including Rommel's. Everything that is on the 7th Panzer Division and the men, including their clothes!


Part II: Blitzkrieg


One of the last Blitzkrieg-style German offensives on the Eastern Front. Kursk, summer 1943.

This famous German word literally means “lightning war”. However this was not describing a tank tactic, but rather a whole combined arms strategy, and was put in practice with a master principle: “Strike by surprise, strike fast and strike hard”. This was also a means seen by some third Reich geopoliticians to win quick and “cheap” wars without having to enter a long, proactive war of attrition that Germany could not afford at this time. This strategy involved several steps:

  • Strike by surprise: The Blitzkrieg is triggered before the breaking of diplomatic relationships.
  • Military airfields are the first to be attacked most of the enemy air forces have to be destroyed before even taking off.
  • Strike fast: Paratroopers or glider-airborne commandos seize by night all the bridges, com centers and other valuable targets.
  • A “fifth column” disguised as regular soldiers of the enemy forces creates confusion and havoc behind enemy lines
  • Strike hard: At noon, the ground assault begins. A spearhead of tanks followed by mechanized infantry, closely supported by the air force.
  • The mechanized spearhead makes a breakthrough and deep penetration in enemy lines. The main forces, still intact, are outflanked, outmaneuvered and surrounded.
  • Following this mechanized fast assault, regular troops arrive with artillery, to deal with the last resistance pockets.

These steps required very well -trained and well-equipped (mechanized, supplied and well-armed) infantry and tank units, flexibility, a fast decision-making process and a perfect communication capability at all times and at all operational levels. Terror was another way to obtain capitulation, by pressuring the civilian population while bombarding major cities. These principles were formulated and refined in England under the name “Germany and a Lightning War” and in Germany by “Die Deutsche Kriegsstärke” written by Fritz Sternberg. Both contain the word “blitzkrieg” and the great lines of this kind of offensive were expressed not in military detail but more as economic studies.

This kind of offensive however, proved so successful that, in time, a myth emerged of German invincibility, which was not to prove true in the long run. Although both Allied camps -west and east- had to push forward an immense industrial capacity and large numbers of men to win, the Allies also learned to use almost similar tactics to forge their own successes. US General Patton for example, showed probably the best Allied version of it, being instrumental in the rapid breakthrough from Normandy to the Rhine. From then on, the “Blitzkrieg” maintained this fast-moving, combined-arms flavor. The terms were still the preferred ones by the general media when relating the allied offensive to liberate Kuwait from the Iraqis in 1990.


Army Groups A, B, and C

Rommel’s division, along with the 5th Panzer Division, would be the nucleus of XV Panzer Corps, which was part of the Fourth Army commanded by Field Marshal Gunther von Kluge. In addition to the XV Panzer Corps, Fourth Army had three infantry corps, the II, V, and VIII. The 5th and 7th were the only panzer divisions in the entire Army. Fourth Army itself, along with Twelfth Army and Sixteenth Army, was part of Army Group A, led by Field Marshal Fedor von Bock. It was the principal German strike force, the Schwerpunkt, for Fall Gelb.

Army Group B to the north would advance through Holland and Belgium in a feint to convince the Allies that the main German drive was in the north, while Army Group C to the south would demonstrate against the fortifications of the French Maginot Line. In contrast to Army Group A, Army Group B had but three panzer divisions, while Army Group C had none at all.

Operation Fall Gelb began on May 9 with the Germans blazing across France.


Invasion of France [ edit | edit source ]

In early 1940 the LSSAH was expanded into a full independent motorized infantry regiment and a Sturmgeschütz (Assault Gun) battery was added to their establishment. ⎖] The regiment was shifted to the Dutch border for the launch of Fall Gelb. It was to form the vanguard of the ground advance into the Netherlands, tasked with capturing a vital bridge over the IJssel, attacking the main line of defence at the Grebbeberg (the Grebbeline), and linking up with the Fallschirmjäger of Generaloberst Kurt Student's airborne forces, the 7.Flieger-Division and the 22.Luftlande-Infanterie-Division.

Heinrich Himmler inspecting a tank of the 1st SS Division, Metz, September 1940

Fall Gelb—the invasion of France and the Low Countries—was launched on 10 May 1940. On that day, the LSSAH crossed the Dutch border, ⎖] covered over 75 kilometres (47 mi), and secured a crossing over the IJssel near Zutphen after discovering that their target bridge had been destroyed. Over the next four days, the LSSAH covered over 215 kilometres (134 mi), and earned itself dubious fame by accidentally shooting at and seriously wounding Generaloberst Student at Rotterdam. After the surrender of the Netherlands on 15 May, the regiment formed part of the reserve for Army Group B.

After the British armoured counterattack at Arras, the LSSAH, along with the SS-Verfügungs-Division, was moved to the front to hold the perimeter around Dunkirk and reduce the size of the pocket containing the encircled British Expeditionary Force and French forces. Near Wormhoudt, the LSSAH ignored Hitler's orders for the advance to halt and continued the attack, suppressing the British artillery positions on the Wattenberg Heights. During this battle the regiment suffered heavy casualties.

After the attack, soldiers of LSSAH's II.Batallion, under the command of SS-Hauptsturmführer Wilhelm Mohnke, were mistakenly informed that their divisional commander, Sepp Dietrich, had been killed in the fighting. In what is known as the Wormhoudt massacre, about 80 British POWs of 2nd Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment were murdered in retaliation for the supposed death of Dietrich. Although it is unarguable that the massacre occurred, Mohnke's level of involvement is impossible to know, he was never brought to trial. ⎖]


Extra Pay

They may not have been the ones to make the sky blue, but Congress loved the infantry, too.

Between the time it was created in 1943 until 1948, recipients of the Combat Infantryman Badge (and eventually the Combat Medical Badge) were awarded an extra ten dollars a month pay. When adjusted for inflation, that’s about $146 a month.

Since infantrymen never change, we all know where that $10 went. (Image courtesy of the National Archive)


Forces involved [ edit | edit source ]

Belgian forces [ edit | edit source ]

Belgian soldiers in a trench, circa 1940

The Belgian Army could muster twenty-two divisions, ⎫] which contained 1,338 artillery pieces but just 10 AMC 35 tanks. However, the Belgian combat vehicles included 200 T-13 tank destroyers. These had an excellent 47 mm antitank gun and a coaxial FN30 machine gun in a turret. The Belgians also possessed forty-two T-15s. They were described as armoured cars but were actually fully tracked tanks with a 13.2 mm turret machine gun. The standard Belgian anti-tank gun was the 47 mm FRC, towed either by trucks or by fully tracked armoured Utilitie B-tractors. One report states that a round from a 47 mm gun went straight through a Sd.Kfz. 231 and penetrated the armour of the Panzer IV behind it. [ citation needed ] These Belgian guns were better than the 25 mm and 37 mm guns of respectively the French and the Germans. ⎬]

The Belgians began mobilisation on 25 August 1939 and by May 1940 mounted a field army of eighteen infantry divisions, two divisions of partly motorised Chasseurs Ardennais and two motorised cavalry divisions, totaling some 600,000 men. ⎭] Belgian reserves may have been able to field 900,000 men. ⎮] The army lacked armour and anti-aircraft guns. ⎭] ⎯]

After the completion of the mobilisation, the army could muster five regular army corps (including the I Corps) and two reserve corps consisting of twelve regular infantry divisions, two divisions of Chasseurs Ardennais, six reserve infantry divisions, one brigade of Cyclist Frontier Guards, one Cavalry Corps of two divisions, and one brigade of motorised cavalry. ⎰] The Army also had two anti-aircraft artillery, four artillery regiments, and an unknown number of fortress, engineer, and signals force personnel. ⎰]

The Belgian Naval Corps (Corps de Marine) was resurrected in 1939. Most of the Belgian merchant fleet, some 100 ships, evaded capture by the Germans. Under the terms of a Belgian–Royal Navy agreement, these ships and their 3,350 crewmen were placed under British control for the duration of hostilities. ⎱] The General Headquarters of the Belgian Admiralty was at Ostend under the command of Major Henry Decarpentrie. The First Naval Division was based at Ostend, while the Second and Third divisions were based at Zeebrugge and Antwerp. ⎲]

A Fairey Fox of the Aéronautique Militaire Belge

The Aéronautique Militaire Belge (Belgian Air Force - AéMI) had barely begun to modernise their aircraft technology. The AéMI had ordered Brewster Buffalo, Fiat CR.42, and Hawker Hurricane fighters, Koolhoven F.K.56 trainers, Fairey Battle and Caproni Ca.312 light bombers, and Caproni Ca.335 fighter-reconnaissance aircraft, but only the Fiats, Hurricanes, and Battles had been delivered. The shortage of modern types meant single-seat versions of the Fairey Fox light bomber were being used as fighters. ⎳] The AéMI possessed 250 combat aircraft. At least 90 were fighters, 12 were bombers and 12 were reconnaissance aircraft. Only 50 were of a reasonably modern standard. ⎴] When liaison and transport aircraft from all services are included, the total strength was 377 however only 118 of these were serviceable on 10 May 1940. Of this number around 78 were fighters and 40 were bombers. ⎵]

The AéMI was commanded by Paul Hiernaux, who had received his pilot's license just before the outbreak of World War I, and had risen to the position of Commander-in-Chief in 1938. ⎳] Hiernaux organised the service into three Régiments d'Aéronautique (air regiments): the 1er with 60 aircraft, the 2ème with 53 aircraft, and the 3ème with 79 aircraft. ⎶]

French forces [ edit | edit source ]

The SOMUA S35 tank was considered one of the most modern types in French service at the time

The Belgians were afforded substantial support by the French Army. The French 1st Army included General René Prioux's Cavalry Corps. The Corps was given the 2nd Light Mechanized Division (2 e Division Légère Mécanique, or 2 e DLM) and the 3rd Light Mechanized Division (3 e DLM), which were allocated to defend the Gembloux gap. The armoured forces consisted of 176 of the formidable SOMUA S35s and 239 Hotchkiss H35 light tanks. Both of these types, in armour and firepower, were superior to most German types. ⎷] The 3 e DLM contained 90 S35s and some 140 H35s alone. ⎷]

The French 7th Army was assigned to protect the northernmost part of the Allied front. It contained the 1st Light Mechanized Division (1 re DLM), the 25th Motorised Infantry Division (25 e Division d'Infanterie Motorisée, or 25 e DIM) and the 9th Motorised Infantry Division (9 e DIM). This force would advance to Breda in the Netherlands. ⎸]

The third French army to see action on Belgian soil was the 9th. It was weaker than both the 7th and the 1st Armies. The 9th Army was allocated infantry divisions, with the exception of the 5th Motorised Infantry Division (5 e DIM). Its mission was to protect the southern flank of the Allied armies, south of the Sambre river and just north of Sedan. Further south, in France, was the French 2nd Army, protecting the Franco-Belgian border between Sedan and Montmédy. The two weakest French armies were thus protecting the area of the main German thrust. ⎹]

British forces [ edit | edit source ]

The British contributed the weakest force to Belgium. The BEF, under the command of General Lord Gort VC, consisted of just 152,000 men in two corps of two divisions each. It was hoped to field two armies of two Corps each, but this scale of mobilisation never took place. The I Corps was commanded by Lt-Gen. John Dill, later Lt-Gen. Michael Barker, who was in turn replaced by Major-General Harold Alexander. Lt-Gen. Alan Brooke commanded II Corps. Later the III Corps under Lt-Gen. Ronald Adam was added to the British order of battle. A further 9,392 Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel of the RAF Advanced Air Striking Force under the command of Air Vice-Marshal Patrick Playfair was to support operations in Belgium. By May 1940 the BEF had grown to 394,165 men, of whom more than 150,000 were part of the logistical rear area organisations and had little military training. ⎺] On 10 May 1940, the BEF comprised just 10 divisions (not all at full strength), 1,280 artillery pieces and 310 tanks. ⎻]

German forces [ edit | edit source ]

Army Group B was commanded by Fedor von Bock. It was allocated 26 infantry and three Panzer divisions for the invasion of the Netherlands and Belgium. ⎼] Of the three Panzer Divisions, the 3rd and 4th were to operate in Belgium under the command of the 6th Army's XVI Corps. The 9th Panzer Division was attached to the 18th Army which, after the Battle of the Netherlands, would support the push into Belgium alongside the 18th Army and cover its northern flank.

Armour strength in Army Group B amounted to 808 tanks, of which 282 were Panzer Is, 288 were Panzer IIs, 123 were Panzer IIIs and 66 were Panzer IVs ⎽] 49 command tanks were also operational. ⎽] The 3rd Panzer Division's armoured regiments consisted of 117 Panzer Is, 128 Panzer IIs, 42 Panzer IIIs, 26 Panzer IVs and 27 command tanks. ⎽] The 4th Panzer Division had 136 Panzer Is, 105 Panzer IIs, 40 Panzer IIIs, 24 Panzer IVs and 10 command tanks. ⎽] The 9th Panzer, scheduled initially for operations in the Netherlands, was the weakest division with only 30 Panzer Is, 54 Panzer IIs, 41 Panzer IIIs, 16 Panzer IVs and 12 command tanks ⎽] The elements drawn from the 7th Air Division and the 22nd Airlanding Division, that were to take part in the attack on Fort Eben-Emael, were named Sturmabteilung Koch (Assault Detachment Koch) named after the commanding officer of the group, Hauptmann Walter Koch. ⎾] The force was assembled in November 1939. It was primarily composed of parachutists from the 1st Parachute Regiment and engineers from the 7th Air Division, as well as a small group of Luftwaffe pilots. ⎿] The Luftwaffe allocated 1,815 combat, 487 transport aircraft and 50 gliders for the assault on the Low Countries. ⏀]

The initial air strikes over Belgian air space were to be conducted by IV. Fliegerkorps under General der Flieger Generaloberst Alfred Keller. Keller's force consisted of Lehrgeschwader 1 (Stab. I., II., III., IV.), Kampfgeschwader 30 (Stab. I., II., III.) and Kampfgeschwader 27 (III.). ⏁] On 10 May Keller had 363 aircraft (224 serviceable) augmented by Generalmajor Wolfram von Richthofen's VIII. Fliegerkorps with 550 (420 serviceable) aircraft. They in turn were supported by Oberst Kurt-Bertram von Döring's Jagdfliegerführer 2, with 462 fighters (313 serviceable). ⏂]

Keller's IV. Fliegerkorps headquarters would operate from Düsseldorf, LG 1. Kampfgeschwader 30 which was based at Oldenburg and its III. Gruppe were based at Marx. Support for Döring and Von Richthofen came from present-day North Rhine-Westphalia and bases in Grevenbroich, Mönchengladbach, Dortmund and Essen. ⏁]


Hitler's Last Desperate Offensive in World War II

In early 1945, the Führer launched his final offensive operation—in Hungary.

This transfer was part of an overall restructuring of the Third Ukrainian Front. From the night of the 9th Tolbukhin’s reserve Twenty-Seventh Army became responsible for the sector between Lake Valencei and the Sarviz canal. Meanwhile, General Gagyen’s Twenty-xixth Army remained responsible for halting what Tolbukhin considered the main threat: I SS Panzer Corps and I Cavalry Corps between the Sarviz canal and Lake Balaton. To this end Gagyen was reinforced with a tank regiment, a self-propelled artillery brigade and two anti-tank regiments, and the main weight of the Third Ukrainian Front’s close air support effort was retargeted to his sector.

Preparing the Counteroffensive

While the 9th had been a good day for the men of I SS Panzer Corps on the west side of the Sarviz canal, Dietrich and his senior commanders were acutely aware that the left flank of the corps was becoming dangerously exposed. The II SS Panzer Corps still had not reached Sarkeresztur and only the difficulties of crossing the Sarviz River and canal were preventing the Russians from attacking the flank of the German penetration. Marshal Tolbukhin, however, was not slow to recognize the operational opportunities offered by this situation, and on the same day he requested the release of one reserve army to his control and the use of another. Moscow refused, saying that these armies were earmarked for the forthcoming general offensive and that he would have to make do with what he had.

In fact, the Supreme Soviet Command went further and, on this same day gave both Tolbukhin and Malinovsky revised missions. The Third Ukrainian Front was to continue to defend south of Lake Balaton with two armies but was to be prepared to launch a major attack north of Lake Valencei with two reserve armies, one of which Tolbukhin had just requested. The aim of this attack was, as Dietrich had feared, to strike the rear of the Sixth Panzer Army. Malinovsky’s Second Ukrainian Front was to join in the attack after one or two days, with two armies attacking westward along the south bank of the Danube. Later, the armies north of the Danube and south of Lake Balaton were to join in the offensive. The initial attack by Tolbukhin was to be made as soon as the Sixth Panzer Army’s offensive had been halted. This was expected to be on the 15th or 16th.

The strength of the Soviet position derived from their early knowledge of the forthcoming German offensive and their ability to formulate and develop an overall strategy to deal with it both before and during the fighting. The fact that they were facing reverses in one area did not distract them from their long-term aim, and the albeit serious situation on the west side of the Sarviz was seen as an opportunity rather than as a setback. The similarities between the Balaton offensive, the Mortain counterattack in Normandy, and the Battle of the Bulge are obvious—the difference being that the Americans had no prior warning and had to react to events rather than preplan them.

“Fighting Continued at Night”

On March 10, the terrible weather and ground conditions ensured that progress west of the Sarviz was slow. The Hitlerjugend continued its painful advance toward Ozora and, after capturing Mezöszilas by 9 pm, moved on during the night to capture Igar, four kilometers northwest of Simontornya. In the sector of I Cavalry Corps, the 3rd Cavalry Division managed to seize a bridgehead over the Sio, five kilometers west of Mezökomarom, and the 4th Division encircled Enying.

On the same day, the 23rd Panzer Division, despite heavy antitank and artillery fire from the east side of the Sarviz canal, closed up to Saregres. By nightfall it had taken over from the Leibstandarte on that flank and this allowed the SS division to concentrate for its attack on Simontornya and the subsequent crossing of the Sio canal. The I SS Panzer Corps was now some 25 kilometers ahead of II SS Panzer Corps, and the threat of a Soviet counterattack into its exposed flank appeared ever more likely.

The appalling ground and weather conditions and stiff Soviet resistance prevented any further progress in the II SS Panzer Corps sector on the 10th. The Soviet Study says: “Cruel fighting took place around Hill 159 where artillery played a significant role in the destruction of the enemy. Unable to achieve success with frontal attacks, the enemy tried to outflank the objective however, this maneuver was frustrated by tanks and SP guns in enfiladed ambush positions. Fighting continued at night.”

The lack of progress by Bittrich’s corps is hardly surprising. Apart from the adverse ground and weather conditions, II SS Panzer Corps was now up against the major part of six infantry divisions (with two more sited in depth farther east), albeit most of them seriously understrength, and significant elements of two armored formations. Nevertheless, on the 11th Das Reich launched an attack described by General Otto Weidinger, the overall commander, as “right out of the textbook.” It was successful and by mid-morning had reached an important hamlet lying six kilometers southeast of Sarkeresztur known as Heinrich Major. At the same time, on the right flank a vineyard immediately northeast of Sarkeresztur was captured, effectively cutting off Aba.

On the same day, I SS Panzer Corps had even more success. Panzergrenadiers of the Leibstandarte spent the day clearing the important ridge lying just to the north of Simontornya, and at the same time the Hitlerjugend captured the road junction 1,500 meters south of Igar. This secured the jumping-off positions for the final attack on Simontornya, which was to be carried out the following day. Meanwhile, on I SS Panzer Corps’ left flank the 23rd Panzer Division penetrated into Saregres but was unable to clear it. Army Group South’s hopes of launching an attack across the Sarviz in this area in support of II SS Panzer Corps were proving overly optimistic.

German Armor Losing Momentum

March 12 saw the status quo more or less continue on II SS Panzer Corps’ front. The only real success seems to have occurred at Aba, which was cleared by the 44th Panzergrenadier Division. The attack in the Heinrich Major area was continued but cost several tanks and self-propelled guns. Later in the day, two Soviet counterattacks were repulsed, the second being supported by 10 tanks, four of which were claimed destroyed.

The Leibstandarte’s attack on the town of Simontornya on March 12 was launched from the high ground north of the Sio canal. Fierce house-to-house fighting lasted all day, but by last light Simontornya north of the Sio was largely in German hands with only a few pockets of resistance remaining.

Another somewhat surprising success on the 12th came in the I Cavalry Corps’ sector, where the 3rd Cavalry Division managed to cross the Sio canal and secure a bridgehead to the west of Mezökomarom while the 4th Cavalry Division closed up to Balatonszabadi. Nevertheless, despite these gains there was little doubt that the Sixth Panzer Army’s offensive was losing its momentum. The II SS Panzer Corps had been decisively halted, and Priess’s Corps was now up against five infantry divisions backed by a cavalry corps. The fact that these divisions were understrength was relatively unimportant, for the ground they were holding was ideal for defense and totally unsuitable for an attacking armored formation.

Undetected by German intelligence, the buildup for the forthcoming Soviet offensive was proceeding rapidly on the 12th. The movement of the Sixth Guards Tank Army with some 500 tanks to an assembly area just west of Budapest was completed, and a second attack army was moving in behind the army defending the sector immediately to the north of Lake Valencei. The scene was being set for the final destruction of the Sixth Panzer Army.

Fighting Off Soviet Counterattacks

From March 13-15, II SS Panzer Corps remained in a defensive posture with the Hohenstaufen still in front of Sarosd and Das Reich in a half circle around Sarkeresztur. The Deutschland Regiment and elements of the 44th Panzergrenadier Division were just to the north of the small town, and the armored group continued to beat off repeated attacks on its positions at Heinrich Major. Numerous requests to withdraw from this exposed salient, less than three kilometers wide, were rejected.

The 14th was mainly sunny, and the temperature climbed, drying the ground. On the 15th, Das Reich continued to beat off repeated Soviet counterattacks. Strength returns on this day show the Hohenstaufen with 35 Panther tanks, 20 Mk IVs, 32 Jagdpanzers, 25 Sturm-geschützes and 220 other self-propelled weapons and armored cars. Forty-two percent of these vehicles were, however, under short- or long-term repair. Das Reich had 27 Panthers, 22 Mk IVs, 28 Jagdpanzers and 26 Sturm-geschützes on hand. Figures for self-propelled weapons, armored cars, and vehicles under repair are not available.

The most surprising thing about these figures is that the Hohenstaufen had six Panthers and eight MK IVs more than when it started the offensive and was only two Jagdpanzers and one Sturmgeschütze worse off, and Das Reich was down only seven Panthers, two Mk IVs, one Jagdpanzer, three Sturmgeschützes, and 38 armored cars and self-propelled weapons—the latter despite the fighting at Heinrich Major. Two things are clear from these figures. First, the repair and resupply system was working well, and second, the appalling ground conditions had prevented the deployment of the majority of the armored vehicles.


Illustrations


SA FRC 47 mm (1.45 in) mounted on a Carden-Loyd Mk.VI tankette. This early experiment was unsuccessful, as the hull was too light to cope with the muzzle blast and recoil of the gun. Only six were so converted. They were passed, in 1938, from the Chasseurs Ardennais to the Cycliste Frontiere regiment, and placed in fixed ambushing positions between Vivegnis and Lixhe (Meuse river western banks), firing some rounds on the Germans on 10-11 May 1940.


Vickers T13 Type 1, first version of this prolific tank-hunter (32 units delivered). The gun was partially protected, and could be fully traversed only when the driver compartment armored panels were folded. Unknown unit (unicorn), Cyclist Frontiere unit, central plains near Liege, May 1940.

Vickers T13 Type 2, 3rd Lanciers (1DC), May 1940. The panels were folded, which left the crew unprotected, but the gun had full traverse. Only 21 Type 2s were produced (23 from other sources).

T13 Type 3 of the elite Chasseurs Ardennais with the famous Ardennes wild boar insignia, Albert Canal, 10-12 May 1940. Over 255 units seem to have been delivered until May 1940, but far fewer were actually serviceable in time.

Beutepanzerkampfwagen T13(b) of the German feldgendamerie. The camouflaged livery is as seen from a photo probably taken in 1943 (photographer unknown)


T15, presumably of the 2nd Lanciers, Gembloux area, May 1940, courtesy of Georges Coninckx.


T15 of the Chasseurs Ardennais, recognizable by their Ardennes wild boar emblem. The gun had no protective mantlet.


Watch the video: Panzer IV - The German Tank Dominated the Battlefields in the 1940s