August 31, 2014

The Winter War, November 1939 – March 1940

The Winter War


On 30 November 1939 the Red Army invaded Finland. Despite overwhelming superiority, the advances of the invaders, along the 900 mile front, were checked and the Soviet troops suffered disastrous defeats.

August 22, 2014

How the German Army Used Smoke in Combat

The German Army had made extensive and effective use of smoke for support of ground combat operations. The following examples are representative.


Smoke Screens in the Defense

(1) The advance guard in figure 1 had to find out whether the group of houses in the upper right was occupied by enemy soldiers. If it drew fire from these houses and from the grove of saplings at the upper left, smoke candles were ignited, and the advance guard returned to the woods under cover of the smoke.


Figure 1
Figure 1. 

August 21, 2014

Tank Destruction Badge

SS-Oberscharführer Adolf Peichl congratulates SS-Oberscharführer Hans Soretz


In the above picture SS-Oberscharführer Adolf Peichl congratulates Tiger commander SS-Oberscharführer Hans Soretz for the 2,000nd enemy tank destroyed by the 2. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division “Das Reich.” The incident took place on 6 November 1943 and was mentioned on Werhmacht’s Daily Report. Adolf Peichl, in his right arm, wears upper sleeve decorations for single handed destruction of enemy tanks.

August 20, 2014

German Tank Platoons Operating as Points

Whether in the attack, formed as a wedge, or in the march, formed as a column, one platoon of the tank company had to operate as point.

Composition

Platoon wedge
Platoon wedge (Keil).
The point platoon was generally made up of the platoon leader's tank and two sections of two tanks each. The platoon leader may place either the first or second section at the head of the point platoon, but he himself always stayed between the two sections in order to observe his entire outfit. However, the composition of the point varied according to the situation.

The strength of the point platoon may be increased in mountainous terrain. During the invasion of the Balkans, the point amounted to an extra-strong company and consisted of heavy tanks, assault weapons, an infantry platoon, and a detachment of engineers. A platoon of five Pz.Kw. IV's led the point. Behind them came a group of engineers, riding either on the last tanks in the point or on other tanks immediately following. After that came a platoon of self-propelled assault guns, then the platoon of infantry riding in armored personnel carriers, and finally a platoon of five Pz.Kw. III's. There were no motorcycle couriers.

August 19, 2014

August 18, 2014

Origins of the Waffen-SS

In July 1921 Hitler became the first president of the NSDAP. With the assistance of Ernst Röhm the party established its paramilitary branch. Initially former members of No. 19 Trench Mortar Company under Captain Streck were employed to guard the party’s meetings. These men formed the base of what later became the Sturmabteilung-SA.
Stabswache, 1925
1. Stabwache, 1925. From left to right: Julius Scaub, Julius Schreck,
Adolf Hitler, Hans Georg Maurer and Edmund Schneider.

August 15, 2014

Soviet Tanks in Berlin

In the battle for Berlin the Russians used massed mechanized units in street battles. However, Soviets do not recommend that tank units be sent into the city, where movement is usually restricted and channelized, barricades and obstacles easily prepared, and every building becomes a potential strongpoint and direct-fire gun emplacement, but the lessons learned during the battle of Berlin are worthy of attention.

Writing in "Red Star," an official Red Army publication, a Major N. Novskov details what was found in Berlin, the difficulties encountered, and some of the methods used to overcome the stubborn German defense.


Overview of the battle of Berlin
1. The battle of Berlin.

August 14, 2014

Why We Lost!

Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt discusses with his American captors the course of the war in the west.
Gerd von Rundstedt as a  POW
1. Von Rundstedt with his
son as POWs in Wiesbaden.

Basic German Weaknesses

The situation immediately prior to the invasion of June 1944 was not good, von Rundstedt said. He and his former Chief of Staff, General Blumentritt, recognized at least three basic weaknesses:

  • their inadequate number of troops had to cover enormous stretches of coast line, some divisions as much as 35 to 40 miles; 
  • the Atlantic Wall was "anything but a wall, just a bit of cheap bluff"; and 
  • there was no counterattack reserve or so-called "Armee centrale," a strategic army under central command to counterattack where the invasion came.
Von Rundstedt, like many other German generals, said he did not control Germany's best troops. He complained that many of his best units were sent to Italy, and he asserted vigorously that it was "madness to continue the war in Italy that way."

After the collapse of Italy, "that frightful 'boot' of a country should have been evacuated, Mussolini should have been left where he was, and we should have held a decent front with a few divisions on the Alpine frontier. They should not have taken away the best divisions from me in the West in order to send them to Italy. That's my private view."

August 13, 2014

SU 152 Animal Hunter

SU-152

The SU-152 was based on the KV-1 chassis and was fitted with the 152 mm howitzer. The new AFV went into production in March 1943 and the first regiment was formed in May 1943. It was intended as an assault gun for close infantry support, but soon it was found out that the blasting effect of its ΗΕ round could put out of action any German tank. The SU-152 was capable of direct and indirect fire.

August 12, 2014

Tigers in the Battle for Florence

After the fall of Rome, 4 June 1944, the Allied Armies advanced in central Italy. By July 23 they had reached the line: Piza – south of Florence (Firenze) – Arezzo – Ancona. On the Allies left U.S. Fifth Army was at the Arno River and had paused, while in the centre and right the British Eighth Army was further to the south. The thrust towards Florence was executed by XIII Corps; a strong formation composed of:
  • the British 6th Armoured Division,
  • the South African 6th Armoured Division,
  • the British 4th Infantry Division,
  • the New Zealand 2nd Infantry Division,
  • the Indian 8th Infantry Division,
  • the British 25th Tank Brigade.
I Fallschirmjäger-Korps, reinforced with Tigers of schwere Panzer-Abteilung 508, stood against the British and Commonwealth troops. XIII Corps commenced its advance on 21 July. For two weeks it battled its way through a series of well-sited and skillfully defended positions.


Allied advance in central Italy
1. Allied advance in central Italy, 21 June – 5 August 1944.
The NZ 2nd Infantry Division is at the center-left.

August 11, 2014

Red Army Parades in Moscow on November 7, 1941

The 7th November military parade


The 24th anniversary* of the October Revolution was unlike any other. German troops were only 70 km from Moscow and the Soviet capital was subjected to air bombardments. Stalin discussed the issue of the 7th November military parade with his advisors and despite their counsel he decided to have it. He even ordered that in the case of an aerial bombardment the dead and wounded would have to be removed fast, so as not to hamper the parading troops. The parade was opened at 8 a.m. and was uneventful. It was considered a great morale booster and displayed the steadfastness of the Soviet command. After the parade Stalin delivered his famous speech.

August 8, 2014

German Prisoners Discuss the Tiger

Two German NCOs, former members of a Tiger battalion, that were taken prisoners by the Allies, express their views on Wehrmacht’s heavy tank. 

Maintenance
Maintenance

After Pz.Kw. VI’s have had to move long distances, and before they can then go into action, a number of adjustments must be made. For example, bogie wheels must be changed. It is therefore unlikely that the tanks will often be sent directly into action after a long approach march on tracks.

Organization

Originally, it was planned that Pz.Kw. VI’s should be supported by an equal number of Pz.Kw. III’s to provide local protection. The latter would move on the flanks of the main body of the Pz.Kw. VI’s and cover them against hostile tank hunters attempting to attack them at close range. During an assault, the Pz.Kw. VI’s would attack hostile heavy tank battalions or heavy pillboxes, and the Pz.Kw. III’s would attack machine-gun nests or lighter tanks.

August 7, 2014

Aufklärungsabteilung

six-wheeled SdKfz 231
The Reconnaissance Battalion (Aufklärungs-abteilung) served as the eyes of the Panzer Division. But aside of its recon duties, it was also expected to use its mobility “to attack the flanks and rear of the enemy and achieve surprise, to deliver repeated attacks at different points, to concentrate its forces quickly, to destroy small, isolated enemy detachments, and to employ part of its strength as a mobile reserve or for counterattacks in defense.”

Personnel serving in those battalions were of the highest quality and were considered elite. The desirable characteristics of these men are described in a German manual: “Cunning, versatility, ability to grasp orders rapidly, skill at driving vehicles across any type of terrain, the offensive spirit, resourcefulness under all circumstances and especially at night, cold bloodedness, and the ability to act quickly and independently.”

August 6, 2014

Sylvester Stadler

Sylvester Stadler
Sylvester Stadler (1910 – 1995) was one of the hardened Eastern Front veterans. An Austrian, he joined the SS-Verfügungstruppe (VT) in 1933. In 1934 he was given German citizenship. In 1935 he was chosen to attend the SS officer school at Bad Tölz. Army and SS-VT units were combined to form Panzer-Division “Kempf” in East Prussia, on August 10, 1939. At the time Stadler was an SS-Hauptsturmführer and company commander at the Signals Battalion. 

After the Polish Campaign the various SS-VT units came under the command of the SS V-Division, which was established on October 19, 1939. SS V-Division took part in the invasion of Western Europe, subordinated to Eighteenth Army, and fought in Holland, Belgium and France. At the end of the campaign it had reached the Franco-Spanish borders. Stadler won the Iron Cross 1st Class for his performance during the campaign.

In January 28, 1941 the SS V-Division was redesignated as the SS “Reich” Division (mot.). By that time Stadler had left the Signals Battalion and was commanding the 5th Company of Regiment “Der Führer”. 

August 5, 2014

Sherman “Calliope”

Sherman Calliope


Sherman Calliope was a Sherman tank fitted with the T34 “Calliope” multiple rocket launcher. The T34 rocket launcher was named after the musical instrument “Calliope”, which also had lined pipes. 

August 4, 2014

12th Panzer-Division

12. Panzerdivision insignia
12th Panzer-Division came from 2nd Infanterie-Division (mot.). 29th Panzer-Regiment provided the necessary tank element. The Division took part in Barbarossa under the command of Hoth’s Panzergruppe 3. After the battle of Smolensk it was sent to Army Group North. The Division fought in the north until the summer of 1943.

In the Kursk battle 12th Panzer, along with 4th Panzer and 10th Panzergrenadier Divisions were in Army Group Center’s reserve. After Ninth Amy’s failure to breach the Soviet defenses in the Orel sector these divisions were released to Model, organized as Kampfgruppe Esebeck. In the meantime the Soviet counteroffensive had begun. After Kursk 12th Panzer took part in a series of defensive battles. In January 1944 the Division was returned to Army Group North and was trapped inside the Courland pocket. At the end of the war it surrendered to the Soviets.

August 1, 2014

Arnaville, 1944: The U.S. XX Corps Crosses the Moselle

M12 155mm self-propelled gun
In September 1944 Patton’s spectacular advance across northern France had ended. The German Army had regrouped and fought close to its home bases. Crossing the Moselle river was the first, necessary step that would lead the U.S. Third Army into southern Germany. But the river was a formidable obstacle in its own right and was defended by experienced troops. The “Red Diamond” Division was chosen for the assault. Read the story here.