Panzer-Lehr Division

 

When this division arrived in Normandy, it was probably better equipped than any other German division during the war. Its organization was1:

 

 

It was formed from various training units and was considered to be among the best divisions in the German army. Its equipment most likely surpassed any German division during the war. On 1 June it had, including the attached 316. Pz.Kp. (Fkl), 99 Panzer IV, 89 Panther, 31 JagdPz IV, 10 StuG III, 8 Tiger (five of them were Tiger II). This gave a total of 237 tanks and assault guns. The division was remarkable in other aspects too. It had all its four panzer grenadier battalions carried by armoured half tracks. Also the engineer battalion was fully equipped with armoured half tracks. Altogether the division possessed 658 operational SPW and 35 in short term repair.2

Each panzer grenadier battalion had 108 machine guns, six 8 cm mortars and 39 Panzerschreck, nine 3,7 cm guns on halftracks and eight 7,5 cm infantry guns on half tracks.3

The artillery regiment had one battalion with twelve 10,5 cm howitzers and one battalion with 15,2 cm howitzers. The I. Abteilung was in Germany equipping with Wespe and Hummel. Fuel shortages hampered it on the march to Normandy4 and by 20 June it had reached Vire5. It was renamed to be the II. Abteilung, while the previous II. Abteilung became the I.

Usually the Flak battalion of a Panzer division was authorized eight or twelve 8,8 cm Flak guns, but Pz.Lehr had eighteen.6

The division had a manpower strength of 14 699 on 1 June 1944.7

At the beginning of June the Pz.Lehr division was deployed in the Chartres - Le Mans - Orléans area.8 Despite the threat of allied invasion the Panther battalion, which actually belonged to 3. Pz.Div., was loaded on trains to be sent to the eastern front. On 5 June the first train had reached Magdeburg while the last was at Paris.9 This meant that the strongest battalion of the division was missing when the allies invaded France.

On D-Day the division received orders to march to Normandy. The Panther battalion was ordered to move back to France to join the division in Normandy. Often the journey to Normandy by Pz.-Lehr has been described as a costly and prolonged affair due to intervention of allied air power. Often it is said that the Pz.-Lehr lost five tanks, 84 SPW and towing vehicles and 90 wheeled vehicles. But according to Ritgen, who at the time was commander of the repair and maintenance company of the Pz IV battalion, this initial report was exaggerated.10 The fact that the division lost 82 SPW and 10 towing vehicles during the entire month of June supports this judgement.11

Of greater importance than the losses were the delays. The Panzer IV battalion (II./Pz.Rgt. 130) had only reached an wooded area north of Alençon on the morning of 7 June and was short of fuel.12 The II./Pz.Gren.Rgt. 902 went into action on the morning of 8 June.13 The following day the II./Pz.Rgt. 130, Pz.Gren.Rgt. 901, I./Pz.Gren.Rgt. 902 and Pz.Jäg.-Lehr-Abt. 130 were committed.14 On 10 June the Panther battalion arrived and it was sent into action the following day.15

The 316. Pz.Kp. (Fkl) did not bring its Tiger II tanks to Normandy. These vehicles were actually prototypes with technical deficiencies and it was ordered that they should be sent back to Germany. Since the rail net was damaged and the transfer of these vehicles had low priority they remained in Chateaudun. They were subsequently blown up to avoid capture.16

The Pz.Lehr division continued fighting British forces until relieved by the 276. Inf.Div. This was accomplished gradually between 26 June and 5 July. June had been a month of intensive fighting for the Pz.Lehr divisions. Casualties during June amounted to 490 killed in action, 1 809 wounded and 673 missing.17 Equipment losses included the following vehicles18:

24 Pz.Kpf.Wg. IV

82 SPW

23 Panther

76 motorcycles

1 JagdPz IV

57 Cars

2 StuG III

151 Trucks

1 s.IG. (SF)

10 towing vehicles

1 FlakPz 38 (t)

On 8 July eleven Pz.Kpf.Wg. IV were sent to Pz.Lehr as replacements.19 Eight Panthers had been sent on 28 June.20

Initially the Pz.Lehr was placed in reserve, but on 10 July it was committed on the LXXXIV. Korps sector.21

The first action against US troops was the attack in the le Désert area on 11 July. This attack was made despite considerable numerical inferiority.22 Against the odds the Germans managed to thrust several kilometers into the American defences, but when the real force ratio began to dawn upon them they clearly had to withdraw. As such the attack was a failure, which is hardly surprising given the force ratio, what is surprising is that it did gain ground at all.

Something which does not come as a surprise is that the claims of German tanks were grossly inflated. US ground forces claimed to have destroyed about 50 tanks65, while the air force claimed to have destroyed 2266. The latter figure is even said to be fully substantiated.67 Actually the Pz.Lehr Division lost 22 tanks due to all causes from 1 July to 15 July.68 That all these should have been destroyed by air power on 11 July only seems very unrealistic, especially since there are several German reports and participants stating that tanks have been knocked out by gun fire, but none has been found saying that a tank was hit by air craft. The "substantiating" methods of the allied air forces must certainly be called into question. Also it seems wholly unlikely that all claims by ground forces should have been wrong and all claims by air forces should have been correct.

Until operation Cobra the division remained in the area west and northwest of St. Lô. On 20 July the Pz.Aufkl.Abt. 130 and the II./Pz.Gren.Rgt. 902 were withdrawn for refitting.23 These were placed in the Percy area.24

On 21 July the division had the following artillery: I./Pz.Art.Rgt. 130 with 1-3. (3 lFH each); II./Pz.Art.Rgt. 130 with 4. (3 x Wespe), 5. (5 x Wespe) and 6. (2 x Hummel); III./Pz.Art.Rgt. 130 with 7. (3 x 15,2 cm H), 8. (2 x sFH) and 9. (4 x 10 cm Kan); 311. Flak-Abt. (1-3. with 6 x 8,8 cm each).25

Two days later the division had three battalions rated as "schwach" and two were rated as "abgekämpft". Also five other battalions were subordinated to Pz.Lehr. 26

During 24 and 25 July heavy bombers targeted the positions held by Pz.Lehr to pave the way for the ground units attacking within the framework of operation Cobra. The effects of this carpet-bombing have evoked much controversy.

According to the post-war manuscript by Bayerlein the division lost about 950 men 24-25 July, while other units subordinated to the division lost another 1 200 men.27 He also estimated that about 50 % of the soldiers killed and wounded during those two days were the result of the carpet-bombing.28 However most of the losses during these two days were probably mainly recorded as missing. During July the Pz.Lehr division lost 347 men killed in action, 1 144 wounded and 1 480 missing.29 It was explicitly stated that the majority of the missing were incurred due to the carpet-bombings.

Probably most casualties were not men killed or wounded by the bombing, rather they were stunned and taken prisoner when the US ground forces advanced. According to Ritgen, who at the time commanded the Pz.Kpf.Wg. IV battalion30, no Pz IV was hit by the bombardment since they had been withdrawn to constitute a reserve31. Also he asserts that only very few Panthers and tank destroyers were destroyed during the bombardment.32

Again it seems that carpet-bombings did not kill and wound large numbers of soldiers and neither does the available evidence indicate large-scale destruction of equipment. The important effect was the disruption caused and the effect on the morale of the men subjected to such an air attack. In fact the short bombings on 24 and 25 June caused almost 900 casualties on the US side.33 Probably this was not far from the losses inflicted on the Germans.

Already before operation Cobra the Pz.Lehr was seriously depleted. Casualties during June and July totaled 5 943 officers and men. During the same period 3 437 replacements and convalescents arrived at the division.34 Consequently it was short of 2 506 men compared to 1 June 1944. Since the infantry endured the vast majority of the casualties the division was almost deprived of riflemen. This meant that the tanks and the artillery constituted the backbone of the defense. However these two arms suffered from serious shortages of ammunition and fuel.35 Consequently the Pz.Lehr and its sub-ordinat-ed units, disrupted by the bombardment, could not resist the 140 000 men assembled for operation Cobra.36

There was a tank repair workshop at Cerisy-le-Selle, where about 30 tanks had been assembled for repairs. Most of these had to be abandoned on 27 July when US forces closed in.37 When the American units advanced towards Avranches the Pz.Lehr was subordinated to the 47. Pz.Korps.38

On 1 August the Pz.Lehr had a strength of 11 018 men and had 33 tanks and assault guns operational and a further 44 in workshops. Artillery was more scarce. The division only had nine howitzers ready for action.39 One reason for this was that the I./Pz.Art.Rgt. 130 had been involved in ground combat with elements of the US 3rd Armoured division northwest of Marigny on 26 July.40 The division had 391 combat ready SPW and a further 54 in short-term repair.41

The I./Pz.Rgt. 6 still had 89 % of its authorized manpower strength. The II./Pz.Rgt. 130 was less fortunate since it only had 63 % of authorized manpower strength.42

Since the division was worn it was decided that it should be refitted. A Kampfgruppe von Hauser was formed from the still combat ready parts of the division on 5 August. This included a mixed artillery battalion and a weak Pz.Kpf.Wg. IV company It was subordinated to the II. Fallsch.Korps.43

The remainder of the division, including the rear services was ordered to move to Alençon to rest and refit. These parts were to receive new equipment and replacements.44 They were subordinated to 81. Korps on 8 August.45

By 9 August the refitting units were located between 9. Pz.Div. and 708. Inf.Div. Stragglers had been returning to the division and some replacements had arrived while workshops had been able to repair some tanks and other equipment.46

A Kampfgruppe was formed from the refitting units, consisting of parts of Pz.Gren.Rgt. 902, I./Pz.Rgt. 6, Pz.Art.Rgt. 130 and Pz.Aufkl.Abt. 130. Also the I./Pz.Gren.Rgt. 11 from 9. Pz.Div. was subordinated, as was elements of Sich.Rgt. 1. This force was committed to the sector between Joublains and Conlie.47

On 12 August KGr von Hauser had disengaged and was moving towards Fontainbleau to rest and refit.48 The rest of the division soon followed. On the evening the following day Bayerlein, on his own initiative, ordered the rest of the division to follow. Early on the following day the division had already reached east of Argentan.49

However a Kampfgruppe Kuhnow was left behind. This consisted of elements from Pz.Gren.Rgt. 902, a tank company and a howitzer battery. During the night between 16 and 17 August this formation crossed the Orne river at Mesnil-Jean and joined the 12. SS-Pz.Div. the following day. It broke out of the pocket already on 20 August and the following day it assembled at Senlis, north of Paris.50

The main part of Pz.Lehr was temporarily sent into action in the Nonant-le-Pin - St. Lombard area. On 17 August it was relieved by 344. Inf.Div. and was finally moved to Fontainebleau.51

On 22 August the division had approximately ten Pz.Kpf.Wg. IV and ten Panther.52 The division received the Schn.Abt. 509, 510 and 511 to use as replacements.53

During August the division suffered 1 468 casualties.54 Together with the casualties during June and July (given above) this gave a total of 7 411 casualties during the summer 1944.

 

 

Date

Pz IV
Combat
Ready

Pz IV in
Short Term
Repair

Pz IV in
Long Term
Repair

Panthers
Combat
Ready

Panthers in
Short Term
Repair

Panthers in
Long Term
Repair

JagdPz IV + StuG
Combat
Ready

JagdPz IV + StuG
in Short
Term Repair

JagdPz IV + StuG
in Long
Term Repair

1 June55

97

2

0

86

3

0

40

1

0

18 June56

29

19

37

23

26

17

?

?

?

19 June57

24

22

37

23

26

17

?

?

?

22 June58

24

22

37

23

26

17

?

?

?

24 June59

33

9

37

30

17

19

?

?

?

26 June60

27

13

34

26

20

20

?

?

?

1 July61

36

29

10

32

26

8

28

9

1

23 July62

15

?

?

16

?

?

?

?

?

1 Aug63

15

7

20

12

6

7

6

4

?

9 Aug64

12

6

?

5

5

?

?

?

?

The figures for 9 August refer to those elements subordinated to 81. Korps.

 

 

To Main Page

 

Notes:

1

BA-MA RH 10/172.

2

Ibid.

3

Ibid.

4

KTB HGr B Abt Qu., entry 10.6, T311, R1, F7000077.

5

OB West Ia Nr. 4784/44 g.Kdos, 20.6.44, T311, R25, F7029691.

6

BA-MA RH 10/172.

7

Ibid.

8

H. Ritgen, Die Gechichte der Panzer-Lehr-Division im Westen 1944-1945 (Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart 1979) p. 100.

9

Ibid, p. 102.

10

Ibid, p. 103-6.

11

1 July 1944 status report for Pz.Lehr sent to Inspector-General of Panzer troops, BA-MA RH 10/172.

12

Ritgen, op. cit. p. 106.

13

Ibid., p. 110f.

14

Ibid., p. 112.

15

Ibid, p. 134.

16

Ritgen, op. cit. p.36.

17

1 July 1944 status report for Pz.Lehr sent to Inspector-General of Panzer troops, BA-MA RH 10/172.

18

Ibid.

19

Lieferung der Panzerfahrzeuge, Bd. ab Mai 1943, RH 10/349.

20

Ibid.

21

Ritgen, op. cit. p . 317.

22

The attacking force consisted of four depleted panzer grenadier battalions and elements of two tank battalions. Also four other battalions, three of them weak, covered the attacking forces. Against this force there were deployed 21 US infantry battalions and nine tank and anti-tank battalions. All data according to H. Ritgen, Die Gechichte der Panzer-Lehr-Division im Westen 1944-1945 (Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart 1979) pp. 150-3 and M. Blumenson, Breakout and Pursuit (Office of the Chief of the Army, Washington D.C. 1961) pp. 107-116.

23

Ritgen, op. cit. p. 161.

24

F. Bayerlein, Pz Lehr Div 15 - 25 jul 44, MS # A-903, p. 5f.

25

Gen.Kdo. LXXXIV A.K. Ia Nr. 035/44g.Kdos 22.7.44, Taktische Gliederung der Artillerie, Stand 21.7.44, T314, R1604, F001388.

26

Gen.Kdo. LXXXIV. A.K. Ia 048/44 g.Kdos. T314, R1604, F001373.

27

F. Bayerlein, Pz Lehr Div 15 - 25 jul 44, MS # A-903, p. 5f.

28

F. Bayerlein, Pz Lehr Div 24 - 25 jul 44, MS # A-902, p. 2.

29

1 August 1944 status report for Pz.Lehr sent to Inspector-General of Panzer troops, BA-MA RH 10/172.

30

Ritgen, op. cit. p. 321.

31

Ibid, p. 162-6.

32

Ibid, p. 166.

33

M. Blumenson, Breakout and Pursuit (Office of the Chief of Military History, Washington D.C. 1961) p. 236.

34

See 1 July and 1 August 1944 status report for Pz.Lehr sent to Inspector-General of Panzer troops, BA-MA RH 10/172.

35

See Ritgen, op. cit. p. 160 and also R. A. Hart, Feeding mars: The Role of Logistics in the German Defeat in Normandy, 1944, War in History 1996 3 (4).

36

Ritgen, op. cit. p 163.

37

Ibid, p. 171.

38

Ibid, p. 315.

39

1 August 1944 status report for Pz.Lehr sent to Inspector-General of Panzer troops, BA-MA RH 10/172.

40

Ritgen, op. cit. p. 168.

41

1 August 1944 status report for Pz.Lehr sent to Inspector-General of Panzer troops, BA-MA RH 10/172.

42

Ibid.

43

Ritgen, op. cit. p. 175f & 315.

44

Ibid.

45

LXXXI. A.K. Qu./Korps-Kf.-Offz./Ia Nr. 27/44 geh., 8.8.44, T314, R1592, F000471.

46

Ritgen, op. cit. p. 182f.

47

Ibid, p. 183.

48

Ibid, p. 183f.

49

Ibid, p. 184-6.

50

Ibid.

51

Ibid, p. 185.

52

Ritgen (p. 187) states that the division had about 20 Pz.Kpf.Wg. IV and Panther tanks on 22 August. Two days later 22 Pz.Kpf.Wg. IV arrived at the division (Ritgen p. 187). The same day it was ordered that the 32 Pz.Kpf.Wg. IV from the division should assemble in the area near Meaux (HGr B Ia Nr. 6504/44 g.Kdos, 24.8.44, T311, R4, F7004039).

53

Ritgen, op.cit. p. 187.

54

Ibid, p. 318.

55

BA-MA RH 10/172.

56

Pz.Lehr Div Abt. Ia, Führerbericht für den 18.6.44, BA-MA RH 19 IX/2.

57

Anlage zu H.Gr. B Ia Nr. 4103/44 g.Kdos 19.6.44, Pz.Lehr Ia Führerbericht, BA-MA RH 19 IX/2.

58

AOK 7 Ia Nr. 3293/44, 22.6.44, BA-MA RH 19 IX/2.

59

KTB HGr B Ia Anlagen, BA-MA RH 19 IX/3, frame 19f, fiche 1.

60

KTB HGr B Ia Anlagen, BA-MA RH 19 IX/3, frame 41, fiche 1

61

BA-MA RH 10/172.

62

Gen.Kdo. LXXXIV. A.K. Ia 048/44 g.Kdos. T314, R1604, F001373.

63

BA-MA RH 10/172.

64

Anlagen zum LXXXI. A.K. Ia Fernschreiben an Achilles 4, 9.8.44, T314, R1592, F000475.

65

Blumenson, op. cit. p. 138.

66

W. F. Craven & J. L. Cate, The Army Air Forces in World War II, vol 3 (University of Chicago Press, 1951). p. 206.

67

Ibid.

68

Compare figures on page 147 with diagram on page 159 in Ritgen, op. cit.