Wednesday, November 2, 2011

9th Panzer Division

By Phil Gardocki

Formed from a light division, the 9th Panzer was one of the most active units of WWII. She participated in the invasions of France, Yugoslavia, Greece, and participated in most of the major operations in Russia. They included the first invasion, the encirclement of Moscow, the drive on Stalingrad, defending against the Soviet Operation Mars, and the largest tank battle of history, Operation Citidel. Transferred west, the 9th was sent to Normandy, and fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

Organizational History 1940

In 1939, Germany started World War Two with only six large panzer divisions. For the attack on France, this force was increased to ten divisions. To this end, the 1st through 4th light divisions, which were already motorized, were converted to panzer divisions. The light divisions were originally intended to fill the gap previously filled by the cavalry arm; that is, as a social club for most of the military-minded aristocrats. Once the tank had proven itself as the supreme weapon of the mobile battlefield, the political niceties were overruled for the expedience of upgrading the already motorized light divisions to panzer divisions. In March 1940, the 4th Light Division was selected to form units like the 9th Panzer Division and the 11th Panzer Division.
  • 18,000 men
  • 18 × Pz IV (short 7.5 cm guns) medium tanks
  • 36 × Pz III (3.7cm guns) medium tanks
  • 75 × Pz II (20mm guns) light tanks
  • 100 × Pz I (machineguns) light tanks
  • 56 assorted armored cars
  • 8 × 15cm FH18 towed howitzers
  • 12 × 10.5cm leFH18 towed howitzers
  • 4 × 10.5cm K18 towed cannons
  • 25 × 2cm towed antiaircraft guns
  • 16 × 7.5cm leIG18 towed infantry guns
  • 36 × 3.7cm Pak 35 towed antitank guns
  • 24 × 8.1cm mortars
  • 116 × 5cm mortars
  • 542 machineguns
  • 1200 Trucks
The first six panzer divisions had relied on heavy concentrations of tanks, each sporting two regiments of armor. Low tank production rates did not allow this luxury for the expansion divisions. The conversion of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Light Divisions to the 6th, 7th, and 8th panzer divisions was accomplished by the confiscation of Czechoslovakian 38t medium tanks added to the indigenous light tanks. The 9th Panzer Division was equipped by shifting assets and using new production.
While the core of a panzer division was its tanks, its true power rested on all-arms teamwork. A brigade of infantry, an artillery regiment and a full complement of support battalions, including engineers, antitank, reconnaissance, training, anti-aircraft and supply rode their vehicles to war to support the tanks. Although tank resources were slim, motorizing the other units to keep up with and support the panzer regiments was also a major problem. At best, only one platoon of infantry could be mounted on halftracks. A battalion or two of infantry in a panzer division might be mounted on motorcycles, which could keep up with the tanks during cross-country movement, but they were vulnerable to small arms fire. The rest of the infantry rode in trucks, which had difficulty accompanying the tanks off road. Most artillery was towed. What little self propelled artillery was available consisted of 7.5cm cannons mounted on Panzer I hulls. The "Sturmgeschutz" or "storm gun", turretless armored fighting vehicles were, at this time, not included in panzer divisions, instead being organized into independent companies and primarily used to support infantry divisions with their short-barreled 7.5cm guns.


While this divisional organization worked well enough in France, it was felt that the vast size of Russia would require a new model. Ostensibly, the need was to create more panzer divisions with only a minimal increase in the total number of tanks. The first five panzer divisions each gave up one of their panzer regiments to new divisions and the other new panzer divisions were entirely new. At first glance this appears to be a dilution of the tank to division ratio; in some divisions, the number of tank hulls was reduced by as much as 48 percent. Most of those reductions, however, came from the stock of panzer I & panzer II light tanks, which were replaced by a smaller number of the much superior panzer III and panzer IV medium tanks, allowing the quality and survivability of the remaining tanks to increase, a trait that was needed against Soviet tank and mechanized corps. The main benefit of the new organization was the increase in support troops for the tanks. The schutzen (rifle) brigades of the panzer divisions received equipment upgrades allowing the infantry to better support the tank attacks. More armored half-tracks were issued to the lead platoons, the new 5cm antitank guns started replacing the 3.7cm model and towed, short-barreled 15cm infantry guns were added to the regements to better support the infantry. Also, a dedicated aerial reconnaissance squadron was available for each panzer division. An additional artillery battalion to each division improved the tank to artillery tube ratio from around 12:1 down to 6:1.

  • 17,204 men
  • 24 × Pz IV(d) (short 7.5cm guns) medium tanks
  • 125 × Pz III (mostly 5cm guns) medium tanks
  • 6 × 15cm FH 18 towed medium howitzers
  • 18 × 10.5cm leFH18 towed light howitzers
  • 3 × 10.5cm K18 towed cannons
  • 4 × 15cm sIG 33 towed infantry guns
  • 12 × 5cm Pak 39 towed antitank guns
  • 24 × 3.7cm Pak 35 towed antitank guns
  • 16 × 7.5cm leIG18 towed infantry guns
  • 82 × 8.1cm mortars
  • 48 × 5cm mortars
  • 24 × 3.7cm Flak 36 towed antiaircraft guns
  • 20 × 2cm towed antiaircraft guns
  • 542 machineguns
  • 24 SdKfz 222 armored cars
  • 1,644 Trucks


The lessons of the 1941 campaign in the Soviet Union hit the Germans hard. They knew their tanks needed bigger guns and heavier armor but their production system was unable to replace their losses, let alone make major improvements. Thus, despite some changes, the 1942 panzer division was relatively unchanged from that of 1941. The schutzen (infantry) battalions were reduced to four companies but the infantry brigade picked up six self-propelled 15cm L/12 pieces to somewhat compensate. The panzerjager (antitank) batteries were still mainly a mix of towed 3.7cm and 5cm antitank guns but the panzerjager battalion added three panzerjager IIs, with a 7.5cm guns mounted on a panzer II chassis to deal with T-34 and KV tanks. Fortunately for the Germans, the Soviets were still manufacturing thousands of light tanks BT-7s, T-60s, T-70s etc, so that the German 3.7cm gunners still had plenty of targets.
  • 17,089 men
  • 28 × Pz IV (short 7.5cm guns, long 7.5cm guns later in the year) medium tanks
  • 119 × Pz III (mostly 5 cm guns) medium tanks
  • 3 × JgPz II (7.5cm guns) tank destroyers
  • 6 × 15cm FH18/40 towed medium howitzers
  • 18 × 10.5cm leFH18 towed light howitzers
  • 3 × 10.5cm K18 towed cannons
  • 4 × 15cm sIG 33 towed infantry guns
  • 6 × 15cm self-propelled sIG infantry guns
  • 24 × 5cm Pak39 towed antitank guns
  • 12 × 3.7cm Pak 35 antitank guns
  • 16 × 7.5cm leIG18 towed infantry guns
  • 82 × 8.1cm mortars
  • 48 × 5cm mortars
  • 8 × 8.8cm Flak 36 towed antiaircraft guns
  • 24 × 3.7cm Flak 36 towed antiaircraft guns
  • 20 × 2cm towed antiaircraft guns
  • 542 machineguns
  • 72 × SdKfz. 222, 231 and 232 armored cars
  • 1,524 Trucks


In 1943, the 9th Panzer Division was upgraded. It received a number of ‘Nashorn’ tank destroyers and increased numbers of 7.5 and 5cm antitank guns. The artillery received some of the new 'Wespe' self propelled 10.5cm guns. Unfortunately for the German soldiers, the division still had many Panzer III medium tanks and, while most of them had armor and engine upgrades and mounted the longer L/60 5cm gun, a surprising number still had the older 3.7cm or shorter 5 cm gun. After the Battle of Kursk, the 2/33rd Panzer Battalion was separated from the division and detached for independent army operations.
  • 15,843 men
  • 64 × Pz IV (most with the longer 7.5cm L/48 guns) medium tanks
  • 47 × Pz III (3.7cm and 5cm guns) medium tanks
  • 30 × Nashorn (88mm) self propelled antitank vehicles
  • 3 × JgPz II (7.5cm guns) tank destroyers
  • 8 × 7.5cm leIG18 towed infantry guns
  • 6 × 15cm FH18/40 towed medium howitzers
  • 9 × 10.5cm leFH18 towed light howitzers
  • 3 × 10.5cm K18 towed cannons
  • 6 × 15cm self-propelled sIG infantry guns
  • 18 × Wespe (10.5cm howitzers) self propelled artillery
  • 12 × 5cm Pak 39 towed antitank guns
  • 12 × 7.5cm Pak 40 towed antitank guns
  • 14 × 8.8cm Flak 36 towed antiaircraft guns
  • 24 × 3.7cm Flak 36 towed antiaircraft guns
  • 21 × 2cm towed antiaircraft guns
  • 88 × 8.1cm mortars
  • 30 × 5cm mortars
  • 470 machineguns
  • 96 × SdKfz. 232 armored cars
  • 1,295 Trucks


As 1943 drew to a close, the German Army started a major upgrade of their panzer regiments. Each panzer division shipped a panzer battalion home for training and upgrading. Panzer IIIs and panzer 38ts were turned in to the factories and subsequently converted into self-propelled guns and tank destroyers. The panzer battalions that were sent home were equipped with the powerful new "Panther" medium tanks. The remaining panzer battalion was usually upgraded in the field with newer Panzer IVs with long-barreled 7.5cm guns. By January 1944, and after being equipped with Panther tanks, the 2/33rd Panzer Battalion was reattached to the 9th while it was refitting in France. The rest of the panzer regiment was equipped with Panzer IV’s and the antitank units upgraded with self-propelled and fully armored "Hetzers," a conversion of the Czech 38t tank chassis. The artillery regiment was upgraded with more self propelled guns added to the towed weapons until the tank to tube ratio was 4:1.
  • 15,943 Men
  • 3 × JgPz IV (7.5cm L/48 guns) tank destroyers
  • 42 × Hetzer (7.5cm L/48 guns) tank destroyers
  • 91 × Pz IV (7.5cm L/48 guns) medium tanks
  • 90 × Pz V "Panther" (7.5cm L/70 guns) medium tanks
  • 9 × 15cm FH18/40 towed howitzers
  • 18 × 10.5cm leFH18 towed howitzers
  • 6 × Hummel (15cm howitzers) self propelled artillery
  • 12 × Wespe (10.5cm howitzers) self propelled artillery
  • 6 × 15cm self-propelled sIG infantry guns
  • 12 × 7.5cm Pak 40 towed antitank guns
  • 24 × 5cm Pak 39 towed antitank guns
  • 14 × 8.8cm Flak 36 towed antiaircraft guns
  • 32 × 3.7cm Flak 36 towed antiaircraft guns
  • 13 × 2cm towed antiaircraft guns
  • 32 × 7.5cm leIG37 and 15cm sIG 33 towed infantry guns
  • 80 × 8.1cm mortars
  • 570 machineguns
  • 48 × SdKfz. 232 and 263 armored cars
  • 1,000 Trucks
# An unknown number of these were mounted in half-track vehicles for use as self-propelled antiaircraft guns.

Operational History

As part of the 1940 campaign in the West, the 9th Panzer was assigned to 39th Corps, Army Group B and assigned to spearhead the conquest of the Netherlands. The defensive dikes and narrow causeways were no match for modern equipment, superior training, tactics and surprise. Holland fell in six days, but there was no rest for the weary, as the 39th Corps was sent to support the Dunkirk encirclement. After that pocket was reduced, the 9th Panzer was reassigned to the 14th Panzer Corps and participated in Operation Red, the subjection of the rest of France. The division ended the French campaign in Lyon, achieving the dubious distinction of covering more ground than any other division in this campaign.
After a refit and rest, the 9th Panzer Division was assigned to Army Group South, in the 12th Army’s 40th Corps. As part of Operation Marita in the Balkans in spring 1940, it was railed to Sofia, Bulgaria, and attacked into the Serbian part of Yugoslavia, before turning south into Greece.
With little time for refitting, the division was transferred east for Operation Barbarossa. The 9th Panzer initially started as part of Army Group South’s Panzer Group 1*, in 14th Panzer Corps. It took part in the advance through the Ukraine and the encirclement of Kiev. After a brief rest, it was then was transferred to the 48th Panzer Corps for Operation Typhoon, the projected encirclement of Moscow, which failed.
After a hard winter, 1942 found the 9th Panzer Division assigned to Army Group B’s 4th Panzer Army, in the 24th Panzer Corps. As such, it missed the opening rounds of the abortive Soviet offensive at Kharkov. This veteran division started the Axis summer offensive at about 80% its assigned strength. It took part in the advance towards Voronezh, before being sent south. The fighting in Stalingrad reduced the division to a cadre but it was withdrawn before the city was encircled.
Sent north to Army Group Center’s 3rd Panzer Army, the division arrived in time help defeat the Soviet Operation Mars, an attack on a protruding salient threatening Moscow. It remained with Army Group Center through the Soviet 1942/43 winter offensive. 
For Operation Citadel, the attack on Kursk, the 9th Panzer Division was assigned to Army Group Center’s 9th Army, in the 47th Panzer Corps. Despite desperate attempts to bring the panzer divisions up to strength for this offensive, the 9th Panzer only had about 60% of its tank strength, and some of that strength was the older panzer IIIs with smaller guns. This weakness was compensated somewhat by the addition of three companies of "Nashorns" ("Rhinos"), an open-top tank destroyer sporting a powerful 8.8cm L/71 gun, that were assigned to the panzerjager (tank destroyer) battalion. The failure of Operation Citadel decimated the panzer force, the 9th included, and the subsequent Soviet summer and fall offensives drove the Germans back to the Dnieper River. By that time, the 9th Panzer was reduced to only 13 operational tanks.
Sent to France in January 1944 to refit, the 9th absorbed the 155th Reserve Panzer Division, which was training and garrisoning there. It also re-acquired its detached 2/33rd Panzer Battalion, which had been upgraded with Panther tanks. By the time the Allies invaded France, the 9th was up to 80% manpower and 90% in most equipment levels.
The 9th was sent to the Normandy front, but arrived only after the Allies broke out. Caught in the Falaise pocket, it managed to break out with only 2,000 men and 12 tanks remaining on strength. It continued to fight in the Siegfried line during the fall, losing another 50% of its strength before being pulled out for a major refit.
For Operation Autumn Mist, the Battle of the Bulge, the division was back up to 80% manpower and had almost 180 armored fighting vehicles, including 22 of the heavy Tiger tanks. One of the deeper penetrating divisions in this offensive, the 9th was ruined by the lack of timely retreat orders. The division continued to function at a much reduced strength in the battles for western Germany before surrendering to the Allies in March, 1945.
* "Panzer Groups" are analogous to armies in size and scope. They were multi-corps formations with army grade generals assigned to them. Their original function was to be an Army Group asset that was to be assigned to, and subordinate to, an army. Using their mobility, they would be switched from army to army providing breakthroughs, and then the army would take over for the follow-up and mop-up operations. In practice, this did not work out. The panzer groups acted mainly as independent armies and were renamed "Panzer Armies" in late 1941 and 1942.


1 comment:

  1. I read in "reatreat to dunkirk" that the 9th Panzer suffered a serious reverse in Holland against Giraud and lost 2/3 of 150 tanks in one engagement. Any confirmation of this?