The Panzer Lehr Division

Officially known as the 130th Panzer Division but more commonly known as Panzer Lehr, the division started forming up in late December 1943 in Wehrkreis (Military District) III but later transferred to the Nancy-Verdun-Luneville area of France in January 1944. As the title 'Lehr' (teach) indicates, this was intended to be an elite unit and at the suggestion of Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppe Generaloberst Heinz Guderian, was built around a cadre of personnel from both Panzertruppenschule I and II, many of whom had already seen combat on the Eastern Front, North Africa, Sicily and Italy, as well as elements of the 137th Infantry Division. Under Guderian's patronage, the division was fitted out with some of the best equipment available, including a full complement of the superb PzKw V 'Panther' tanks. He also saw to it that command was given to one of his most trusted subordinates, Generalleutnant Fritz Bayerlein who had served under Rommel in North Africa. In addition and more unusually, the division was fully motorised with all its Panzergrenadiers being transported by armoured halftracks, rather than the usual mix of halftracks and trucks.

Operational History

The division's first operational posting was to Hungary in Operation Margarethe (March – April 1944), where it absorbed the 901st Panzergrenadier Lehr Regiment, before moving back to France to await the Allied invasion. On D-Day itself, the division was near Paris under the control of the I SS Panzer Corps as part of the OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht – High Command of the German Armed Forces) armoured reserve. The division was immediately ordered forward but in doing so, suffered delays and equipment losses (mainly soft-skinned vehicles) due to the Allied air superiority over Normandy. Entering the line next to the 12th SS Panzer Division 'Hitlerjugend' near Caen, it fought several British and Canadian attacks to a standstill, even managing (with elements of the 2nd Panzer Division and 101st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion) to retake the village of Villiers-Bocage in a counterattack after it was captured by the British 22nd Armoured Brigade. This battle also saw the famous action by panzer ace SS Obersturmführer Michael Wittman.

The division was then relieved by the 276th Infantry Division and on 7 July transferred to the LXXXIV Corps opposite US forces as they prepared to breakout as part of Operation Cobra, which was launched on 25 July. It was immediately preceded by an aerial bombardment from 1,500 Allied bombers and although this caused a lot of disruption and badly hit morale, there is still debate as to the actual number of casualties and equipment losses this caused. Nevertheless, despite suffering from both personnel and equipment attrition, the division managed to hold the advance of the entire US VII Corps to less than two miles on the 25 July. By the beginning of August, the division was down to around 11,018 personnel and thirty-three operational tanks and assault guns, with another forty-four under repair but following the encirclement of German forces at Falaise, the division was split into three kampfgruppen (battlegroups) who fought their way out to re-join German forces retreating eastwards, eventually reuniting at Senlis. It then retreated into the West Wall covering Bitburg, took part in the early battles for the Siegfried Line in Luxembourg with the LXXXI Corps before withdrawing to the Saar region and then Paderborn to be rebuilt and refitted under Sixth Panzer Army. It was then transferred to the First Army and helped prevent the collapse of Army Group G in November 1944 by counterattacking US forces advancing on the Saverne Gap.

The division was then placed under the control of the XXXXVII Panzer Corps, part of the Fifth Panzer Army under General der Panzertruppen Hasso von Manteuffel which was due to take part in Operation Wacht am Rhein, more commonly known as the 'Battle of the Bulge'. However, the premature commitment of several units (including Panzer Lehr) in order to stem the advance of US forces just weeks before, led to the operation being postponed while the units involved were brought back up to strength. Even so, Panzer Lehr was still understrength (twenty-seven PzKw IV, thirty Panthers and twenty Jagdpanzer IV/70s) by the time the operation commenced on 16 December and so was reinforced by two tank destroyer battalions and an assault gun brigade. The 26th Volksgrenadier Division was meant to clear the way for the division but became bogged down. Panzer Lehr, which had been part of the Fifth Panzer Army's reserve (along with the Führer Begleit Brigade), entered the line where it besieged Bastogne (held by the US 101st Airborne Division) but could not take the town. When the offensive failed, the division relocated to the Netherlands and fought in the Battle for the Maas Line and then moved south to try to eliminate the American bridgehead at Remagen in early March 1945. By this time the division was merely a burnt out shell of its former self, being only a large battalion battlegroup in size. It then retreated into the Ruhr Pocket, surrendering to the US 99th Infantry Division on 15 April 1945.

Commanders

December 1943 – January 1944   Generalmajor Oswin Grolig
January – June 1944                      Generalleutnant Fritz Bayerlein
June-August 1944                           Generalmajor Hyacinth Graf Strachwitz
August – September 1944             Oberst Rudolf Gerhardt
September 1944                               Oberst Paul Freiherr von Hauser
September 1944 – January 1945  Generalleutnant Fritz Bayerlein
January 1945                                   Oberstleutnant Kurt Kauffmann
January – April 1945                       Generalmajor Horst Niemack
April 1945                                          Oberst Paul Freiherr von Hauser

Order of Battle

Component Units:

130th Panzer Lehr Regiment
901st Panzer Grenadier Lehr Regiment
902nd Panzer Grenadier Lehr Regiment
130th Panzer Artillery Regiment
130th Panzer Lehr Reconnaissance Battalion
130th Panzer Lehr Tank Destroyer Battalion
130th Panzer Pioneer Battalion
130th Panzer Signals Battalion
311th Army Flak Battalion
130th Divisional Support Unit

1st June 1944

Having yet to be committed to battle, on the eve of Operation Overlord (D-Day) the division was nearly at full strength, with a couple of sub-units on their way back to Normandy.

Personnel: 14,699

Equipment: 103 x PzKw IV, 79 x Panther, 31 x Jagdpanzer IV, 12 x Flak Panzer, 4 x Berge Panzer, 85 x Light APCs, 590 x Medium APCs, 26 x Armoured Cars, 12 x SPGs, 6 x Hummel and 12 x Wespe self-propelled guns (SPGs).

3rd September 1944

The losses suffered in Normandy (especially in equipment) meant that the division would never again reach the overall combat strength it had on the eve of Operation Overlord. By early September (shortly before Operation Market Garden) the division was so depleted in equipment that it could barely mount defensive operations. To make things worse, the 130th Panzer Regiment's 1st Battalion was on detached duty with the 113th Panzer Brigade for much of September.

Personnel: 11,969

Equipment: 11 x PzKw IV (with another nine in various states of repair), 6 x Panthers (with another seven in various states of repair), 11 x Light APCs, 46 x Medium APCs (with another twenty-one in various states of repair), 4 x Armoured Cars (with another one under repair).

1st November 1944

Following Operation Market Garden and the continued Allied advance into the Low Countries and Eastern France, the division spent late October and early November refitting and re-equipping.

Personnel: 12,660

Equipment: 28 x PzKw IV, 16 x Panther, 2 x Berge Panzers, 21 x Light APCs (with another eleven in various states of repair), 23 x Medium APCs (with another forty-six in various states of repair), 6 x Armoured cars (with another one under repair), 7 x SPGs (with another one under repair).

Special Insignia and Uniforms

The only special insignia associated with this division is the letter 'L' (for Lehr) which was worn on the shoulder straps of all the division's personnel. It was embroidered in the appropriate Waffenfarbe for junior ranks, stamped in white metal for senior NCOs and in guilt metal for officers. In addition, instead of the standard uniforms worn by the rest of the Heer's infantry such as the M1943 pattern, most of the division's Panzergrenadiers wore short, grey double-breasted tunics and lace-up boots, similar to the uniforms worn by the Sturmgeschütze crews. The divisional motif on its vehicles was a white, stylised 'L'.

Wargaming Panzer Lehr

Several wargames figure manufacturers, such as Black Tree Design, Crusader Miniatures, Artizan Design, Rubicon Models and Warlord Games (as part of their Bolt Action series), do an extensive range of both 28mm figures and equipment covering the German Army during the late war period of 1944 to 1945. These are available both as individual figures, vehicles or pieces of equipment (such as an anti-tank gun or artillery piece) but also in larger units, including sets that are 'themed' (such as Warlord Games’ German Offensive Force (Winter) or the German Grenadiers Starter Army). Both Warlord and Rubicon have most if not all the major items of equipment that Panzer Lehr utilised, including PzKw IV Ausf. F1 / G / H tanks, Panther Ausf. D and G tanks, Jagdpanzer IV/48 and IV/70 tank destroyers, StuG III Ausf. G self-propelled gun, Hummel SPG, Wespe SPG, SdKfz 234 armoured cars, SdKfz 251 Ausf. C and 251/1 Ausf. D halftracks. It is also worth noting, that while the majority of German infantry figures will be in the late war M1943 or M1944 pattern uniforms (as well as many having camouflage smocks or using their zeltbahn tent quarters as camouflage capes – see for example Warlord Games’ Veteran Grenadiers Squad or German Grenadiers box set), Artizan Designs actually produce a set of figures wearing the double-breasted tunic and lace-up boots entitled 'SWWB01 Panzer Lehr Grenadier Squad', which can be found here: http://www.artizandesigns.com/prod.php?prod=2030.

Bibliography

Bellis, M. (1988) German Tanks and Formations 1939-45, Crewe: Self-Published.

Dugdale, J (2000) Panzer Divisions, Panzergrenadier Divisions, Panzer Brigades of the Army and the Waffen SS in the West, Autumn 1944 – February 1945: Ardennes and Nordwind – Their Detailed and Precise Strengths and Organisations, Volume I, Part 1 (September 1944 Refitting and Re-Equipment), Milton Keynes: The Military Press.

Dugdale, J (2001) Panzer Divisions, Panzergrenadier Divisions, Panzer Brigades of the Army and the Waffen SS in the West, Autumn 1944 – February 1945: Ardennes and Nordwind – Their Detailed and Precise Strengths and Organisations, Volume I, Part 3 (November 1944 Refitting and Re-Equipment), Milton Keynes: The Military Press.

Mitcham, S. (2001) The Panzer Legions: A Guide to the German Army Tank Divisions of World War II and Their Commanders, London: Greenwood Press.

Nafziger, G. (2011) Organizational History of the German Armoured Formations 1939-1945, Combined Arms Research Library (Digital Library), archived from the original 8 December 2011, located at https://web.archive.org/web/20111208094147/http://www.cgsc.edu/CARL/nafziger/939GXPZ.PDF, as of 17 July 2018.

Wikipedia. (2018) Panzer Lehr Division webpage, last updated 16 April 2018, located at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panzer_Lehr_Division, as of 17 July 2018.

Williamson, G. (2002) German Army Elite Units 1939-45, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, Men-at-Arms Series No. 380.

Zetterling, N. (2000) 'Panzer-Lehr Division' webpage, from the German Military Organization, Combat Power and Organizational Effectiveness website, archived from the original on 16 July 2008 at https://web.archive.org/web/20080716060215/http://web.telia.com/~u18313395/normandy/gerob/pzdiv/lehr.html, as of 19 July 2018.

Author: Peter D Antill, CFDA, Cranfield University, Defence Academy of the UK

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (2 September 2019), The Panzer Lehr Division, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_panzer_lehr_division.html

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