Historical story

Achtung - Panzer!

Heinz Guderian believed that Germany could only afford a short war, because its modest reserves of strategic raw materials would soon be exhausted. That is why he developed the concept of armored forces capable of quick strikes. This is how blitzkrieg was born.

Heinz Guderian has always been considered the "father" of German armor. He was born in 1888 and during the First World War he served in the front communications battalion.

After that war, he was qualified for service in the Reichswehr (the armed forces of the Weimar Republic) and initially he was assigned to East Prussia, where he fought against Bolshevik troops, who threatened the already unstable situation on the Baltic Sea. After several years of working as an instructor at a military school in Szczecin, he joined the motorized troops. It turned out to be an invigorating injection for this not the youngest officer, but still bursting with youthful energy . Guderian, always interested in innovative technique and new tactical ideas, was finally able to contribute to the transformation of the Reichswehr into a modern army.

Heinz Guderian

[...] On the basis of his own experiences from the First World War, he came to the conclusion that in the face of the great firepower of modern artillery in a future armed conflict, conventional offensive actions would be an anachronism. He also became convinced that only a tank could become the decisive type of weapon on the battlefield. But Guderian also understood that strict conditions must be met for this to happen. An effective operation to break the enemy front line required the attacking side to act quickly and concentrate forces to strike at a selected target in order to break up the enemy's defensive group. Mobile armored forces should then capitalize on such local success and enlarge the breach in enemy lines. Developing such theoretical assumptions, Guderian and his staff members began to refine the tactics of the German armored formations - at that time only existing on paper.

Guderian wrote in his book:

In 1929 I finally became convinced that tanks would never play a decisive role [on the battlefield] if used in close cooperation with the infantry. My studies of military history, the evaluation of the great exercises in Great Britain, and our own experience with tank mockups convinced me that tanks can only benefit from their extraordinary qualities if they are followed by selected other types of support weapons on which the assistance of the tanks were dependent. Both armored units and these support units must be characterized by similar speed and maneuverability in the field. Tanks must be the spearhead, and all other troops must follow suit. You shouldn't assign tanks to infantry division units, just organize a Panzerdivisionen [armored divisions] with all the support weapons needed to fight effectively ...

However, in 1929, Guderian was faced with numerous objections, expressed by senior German military commanders who considered armored divisions a pipe dream. At that time, Germany was going through a deep economic crisis and unemployment in this country was constantly rising.

In early 1930, Guderian was entrusted with the command of the Kraftfahrabteilung 3, a Prussian unit of four companies stationed partly in Berlin and partly on the Neisse and Lusatia. Guderian immediately proceeded to modify this battalion to his ideas.

The article is an excerpt from the book German Armor 1939-1942 RM publishing.

The 1st Company (1 KP) was equipped with Daimler Benz DZVR 21 vehicles, i.e. police armored personnel carriers / armored cars introduced into service after the First World War. Motorcycle 4 KP supported 1 KP and was the only one armed with machine guns. Together, the two companies played the role of the Panzeraufklärungs-Abteilung (armored reconnaissance battalion). 2 Kp, equipped with dummy tanks, "pretended" to be a real armored company. Also, the 3rd Panzerabwehrkompanie (anti-tank company) had only mock-ups of guns.

It can be assumed that Kraftfahrabteilung 3 was the nucleus of future Panzerwaffe. This unit regularly participated in numerous military maneuvers. But Guderian repeatedly complained that most representatives of the military authorities did not take himself or the Kraftfahrabteilung seriously. tank in combat, the Guderian mockups caused only mocking laughter .

In the spring of 1931, Oberst (colonel) Oswald Lutz was promoted to the rank of general and replaced Otto von Stülpnagel as Inspekteur der Verkehrstruppen 6 (In.6 - motorized inspector). Guderian liked the fact that his new immediate superior had organizational skills and a surprisingly good understanding of technical issues for his age. General Lutz supported Guderian's ideas and together they created the organizational foundations of the future German armored forces.

Equally important, however, was the theoretical knowledge gained by Guderian and his staff.
In his book, Guderian mentioned an uncomplicated wargame:

The Reds and the Blues were at war. Each side had one hundred infantry divisions and one hundred tank battalions. The Reds assigned their tanks to infantry divisions; The "blue" separated them as units of the land army. We assumed that on a 300-kilometer front, a 100-kilometer section would exclude the actions of mechanized formations, the next hundred kilometers would prove difficult for tanks to travel, and one hundred kilometers would be suitable for attacking tanks. As for the attack, the following scenario was likely:the "reds" deployed a significant number of their tanks in more or less impassable terrain, where they could not take offensive actions. The actions of the next part of the "red" armored forces should be difficult in difficult terrain conditions. In turn, the "blue" concentrated their armored forces where they wanted to win and where the use of tanks was possible. There they could attack, giving themselves a two-fold advantage, while the rest of their tanks were to be used in other sections, to defend against possible counterattacks.
So the decision to evenly distribute the armored forces among infantry divisions will be a step back, a repetition of the primitive British tactics of 1916-1917, which ended in failure. It was not until Cambrai [in 1917] that the concentrated use of tanks ensured their considerable success ...

Oswald Lutz

After World War I, the prevailing belief was that, irrespective of the experience gained in the fighting at Cambrai, artillery and specialized anti-tank weapons would be able to hold back any advance by armored units. Among the many officers and civilian administrators in the military, in Germany and abroad, it has been the opinion that any expenditure on large armored units will be a waste of money.

Naturally, Guderian and his staff members did not agree. They meticulously analyzed the course of attacks with tanks from the end of the First World War, as well as the few available reports prepared by Ernst Volckheim (in 1918 Leutnant, i.e. second lieutenant), commander of one of the German A7V tanks. At that time, Guderian also visited many foreign armored units, incl. those belonging to the Swedish army, where he made many valuable observations.

The organizational structures he intended to create had to be different from those in the units he visited in Great Britain and France; both of these countries had considerable armored forces for those times.

In the late 1920s, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union accelerated the expansion of their armored formations. According to the content of the German document of April 1937, the tactical rules of these potential future opponents of Germany were as follows:

Since the end of the war, European armies have followed different paths in developing tactics and developing their armored forces. France strongly insists that its tank formations constitute a direct reinforcement of the attacking infantry forces. England does not integrate its tanks with the infantry as much as France. However, tanks are supposed to support other types of weapons, especially infantry. The main task of British armored units is to use any successes in battle and participate in lightning-fast operations that require speed and great operational range. Finally, Russia picked up on both of these methods:the French principle of tightly tying tanks to infantry, as well as their separate and much more independent use in combat ...

Retrospectively, the above assessment from 1937 seems extremely accurate. However, it is uncertain whether Guderian and his staff were able to anticipate and recognize such developments as early as the late 1920s, when the expansion of the embryonic Panzerwaffe was still a matter of theoretical considerations. At that time, no tanks were produced in Germany yet, and the organizational structures of future armored formations had not been established. In short, the German military had to feel in the dark. Nevertheless, dummy tanks played an important role in this period, as they allowed the German infantry to get used to operations with the use of "mechanized" units.

In 1932, In.6 organized field exercises with a large number of Kampfwagen-Nachbildung (KpfwNachBtn - tank mockup battalions). Upon completion of these important maneuvers, a detailed evaluation report was drawn up . Here is an excerpt from this document:

Proposals and conclusions formulated on the basis of joint exercises with the participation of tank mock-up battalions in cooperation with infantry and artillery forces at the training grounds near Grafenwöhr and Jüterbog. Exercise objectives:
a) Testing theories relating to the tactic of the use of tanks
b) Practicing and gaining experience in the field of anti-tank defense
c) Practicing and gaining experience in the field of interaction of tanks with other types of weapons
d) Comparison of the experience of commanders during the exercises of mobile units

Regarding a):
2) The tank is a strictly offensive type of weapon and will be used at concentrated hits [Schyszneunkt] in order to break the front. Where tanks are introduced into combat, they will temporarily be the main and most important type of weapon.
3) Tank units will receive independent combat orders, with special emphasis on firepower and tank mobility. Simultaneous use of less mobile units should be prohibited, as the tanks would lose some of their value ..
4) Due to the above, tank units will not be assigned to infantry.
5) All tanks should be banned from entering combat with forces less than those at the battalion level. A single company of [tanks] cannot be decisively successful against a known anti-tank weapon.
6) In the effective use of tanks, the greatest benefit is the use of the surprise factor. [...]
8) Introducing tanks to attack in several successive waves turned out to be the most advantageous. [...]
12) The commander of a tank battalion must be at the forefront of the led attack so that he can react quickly to the changing situation.
13) The tasks of a tank unit commander require a sharp mind and cleverness. He must make quick decisions and implement them promptly. As a rule, orders have to be issued under the influence of the current development of events. […]
14) Once the objectives have been achieved, the company or platoon commander should either resume the offensive or attack the [enemy] wings in order to take advantage of the breach. […]
17) It was necessary to provide the staff of a tank battalion with a platoon of light tanks. Such tanks are indispensable for carrying out reconnaissance and for maintaining communication with tank companies from other units. […]

Regarding d):

1) Many problems with the command of KpfwNachBtl arose due to a lack of radio equipment. […]
2) The speed of the armored forces [...] requires quick pace of action during the battle.

The article is an excerpt from the book German Armor 1939-1942 RM publishing.

After Hitler came to power, General Lutz prepared another document on August 3, 1933, in which he described the fundamental problems with which his armored forces were being organized:

Development of motorized combat formations. Other armies are equipped with modern firearms, while the strike force of our troops decreased after 1914. After 1919 [the Treaty of Versailles], the German Reichsheer had to be organized in accordance with treaty provisions, and without heavy weapons they have no offensive force. Compared to its neighbors, equipped with new and modern aircraft, tanks and heavy artillery, the Reichsheer is just a weak defensive force. And the imposed restrictions make even a possible defensive war hopeless. […] However, I think I should make some suggestions. […] They were formulated in the development program of the office of the armed forces: The most important requirement is maximum operational mobility. This is due to the fact that we must compensate for our numerical weakness. Only operational mobility will ensure freedom of action. […] In addition to making full use of the rail network and motorized road transport, this operational mobility can only be achieved through high-speed combat formations that can be used independently of other troops against enemy wings and rear. Such a task can no longer rest solely with the cavalry. [...] This task can only be performed by motorized combat units. [...] The armored forces will make a decisive breakthrough thanks to their speed and firepower, after which light divisions [in this context it is about infantry formations subordinate to the armored division - author's note] will use the achieved success. […]
In order to accomplish the above, I suggest:
1) Organizational connection of tank units with light divisions. Due to the lack of appropriate analyzes, we have to rely on the experience gained in foreign countries, which cannot be fully verified. Therefore, we must gradually expand our own formations, using foreign experiences and the actions of our Versuchverbänden (experimental units). Regardless of this, the formation of tank battalions in the future is essential.
a) 1a) Formation of seven tank battalions in regiments of two or three battalions each [...]
1b) Formation of a motorized rifle battalion
2) Forming a motorized reconnaissance battalion
3) Increasing the number of anti-tank companies
4) Increasing the tactical mobility of other auxiliary units […]
b) In order to create new tank units (including the light division), a regimental headquarters should be formed, reporting directly to Inspekteur [Lutz]. Later, this staff will be expanded to the brigade command, which will immediately begin preparations for the creation of an experimental unit in 1935. […]

It was the starting point for the formation of the first German great armored unit - 1st Panzerdivision . In October 1934, the necessary important decisions were taken and the Reich army soon received the first real tanks, armed with machine guns.

The article is an excerpt from the book "German armor 1939-1942" published by RM.