Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Panzer Grenadier-Division Grossdeutschland

By Phil Gardocki

The Bodyguard for the German People" was formed in late 1939, from the ceremonial unit, the Watch Regiment Berlin, the Motor Regiment Grossdeutschland started its life as a unique unit, and maintained that status for the entirety of its history.

Organizational History 1940

The name  Grossdeutschland means "Greater Germany." Contrary to the Wherkreiss system, men assigned to this unit were from all over Germany. This was a high prestige placement as Grossdeutschland provided the personal body guards for Hitler. Also, almost everyone transferring from Grossdeutschland to the regular army received an immediate promotion. It was considered by the High Command to be an elite unit before it ever saw combat. May, 1940, Grossdeutschland rode to war with the following organization:

  • 4,788 Men
  • 6 Sturmgeschutz IIIb’s
  • 6 7.5cm le.I.G. 18's
  • 4 15cm s.I.G.’s
  • 12 3.7cm PaK 35's
  • 18 8.1cm Mortars
  • 27 5cm Mortars
  • 178 Machineguns
  • 177 Trucks

It was standard practice for independent regiments to have their own personal artillery battalion. This artillery battalion was a little light with only 7.5cm guns, but this was offset by 4 15cm infantry guns and a private company of Sturmgeschutz.
For the campaigns of 1941,Grossdeutschland  was reinforced with a battery of 15cm field howitzers, two batteries of 10.5cm light field howitzers, and an abundance of anti-tank guns - 48 in all; 12 PaK-38 and 36 PaK-35 guns. This was heavily over gunned when you consider that the standard infantry division of the time had only 24 guns - mostly smaller PaK 35’s.

  • 7,350 Men
  • 7 Sturmgeschutz IIIc’s
  • 4 15cm F. H. 18's
  • 2 15cm s.I.G.’s
  • 4 7.5cm le.I.G. 18's
  • 12 3.7cm Flak 36's
  • 8 10.5cm le.F.H.18's
  • 18 8.1cm Mortars
  • 39 5cm Mortars
  • 12 5cm PaK 38's
  • 36 3.7cm PaK 35's
  • 4 Armored Cars
  • 244 Machineguns
  • 250 Trucks

A new regiment, named Fusilier Regiment Grossdeutschland, was formed in Germany, and in April, 1942 and was dispatched to Orel to join the now renamed Grenadier Regiment Grossdeutschland. The combined regiments formed the Grossdeutschland Motorized Division. The Fusilier Regiment Grossdeutschland, had no combat experience, and there was much friction between the two formations. Although two regiments of motorized infantry was typical for motorized rifle divisions, what was not standard was the addition of a panzer battalion, an 8.8cm antiaircraft battalion, 96 antitank guns, 24 15cm guns, and a flame throwing company of Panzer III’s.

  • 18,597 Men
  • 10 Marder III's
  • 14 Flammpanzer III's
  • 21 Sturmgeschutz IIIe’s
  • 28 Panzer III's
  • 6 15cm Nebelwerfer 41's
  • 12 10.5cm le.F.H.18's
  • 4 10cm K18’s
  • 20 15cm F. H. 18/40's
  • 4 15cm s.I.G.’s
  • 21 8.8cm Flak 36's
  • 24 5cm PaK39's
  • 24 7.5cm PaK 40's
  • 48 3.7cm Flak 36's
  • 75 5cm Mortars
  • 84 8.1cm Mortars
  • 635 Machineguns
  • 2 Cars
  • 24 Armored Cars, Sd. Kfz. 231's
  • 24 Half-tracks
  • 800 Trucks
After the third battle of Kharkov, Grossdeutschland was pulled out and refitted. That refit included the addition of a 3 Battalion Panzer Regiment, including a Panther battalion and a Tiger company. On paper the full strength would come to 250 tanks and assault guns, but this fictional strength never saw action. Another departure from standard organization was the full battalion of the Grenadiers that was upgraded with halftracks. Most panzer divisions had only a single company equipped in armored carriers, the rest of the force was truck borne. With the addition of the armor the division was renamed Panzergrenadier Division Grossdeutschland, with the regiments being renamed Panzergrenadier Regiment Grossdeutschland and Panzerfusilier Regiment Grossdeutschland. Operation Citadel saw an elite, well equipped division fielded. 
  • 20,468 Men
  • 13 Tigers
  • 48 Panzer IV’s
  • 46 Panthers
  • 14 Flammpanzer III's
  • 30 Sturmgeschutz IIIf’s
  • 10 Marders
  • 8 10.5cm le.F.H.18's
  • 9 3.7cm Flak 37's
  • 16 15cm F. H. 18/40's
  • 18 Wespes
  • 21 8.8cm Flak 36's
  • 24 5cm PaK38's
  • 72 3.7cm Flak 36's
  • 75 5cm Mortars
  • 84 8.1cm Mortars
  • 713 Machineguns
  • 2 Cars
  • 800 Trucks
  • 192 Half-tracks
Much has been said about the Panthers disappointing debut. Despite two rebuilds of each tank, they still presented many problems. The fuel pump leaked, which caused several to catch on fire while unloading in the rail yards. The engine linkages were not up to snuff with such a heavy machine. But not all problems were mechanical. And, as noted by Guderian, "The tactical employment of a new type of Panzer does not release the commander from using the proven principles of Panzer tactics…" and "It is false to pull out other heavy weapons where Panthers were employed, only because Panthers are there. It is correct to create a Schwerpunkt, (Spearpoint) concentrating the other weapons, Artillery, Engineers, Air force and Panzer Grenadiers." By the 2nd day of Operation Citadel, Grossdeutschland only had 40 operational Panthers. And this after absorbing the 10th Panzer Brigade's 2 Panther Battalions, which had 100 Panthers each! By July 10th, only 10 Panthers were operational.

  • 19,112 Men
  • 96 Panzer IV’s
  • 96 Panthers
  • 44 Tigers
  • 4 Panzer III's
  • 30 Sturmgeschutz IV’s
  • 32 Hetzers
  • 6 Whirlwinds
  • 75 Sd. Kfz. 222's
  • 6 15cm Hummels
  • 9 5cm Mortars
  • 9 15cm F. H. 18/40's
  • 12 10cm Wespes
  • 12 16 cm Nebelwerfer 42's
  • 12 8.1cm Mortars
  • 15 10.5cm le.F.H.18's
  • 20 12 and 8.1cm Mortars
  • 21 8.8cm Flak 36's
  • 24 5cm PaK39's
  • 72 3.7cm Flak 36's
  • 835 Machineguns
  • 1 Car
  • 48 Sd. Kfz. 231 and Sd.Kfz 10 half-tracks
  • 600 Trucks
  • 312 Half-tracks

Later in the year, the division had its Tiger tank company upgraded to a battalion. In January 1944, Grossdeutschland’s Panther Battalion transferred west for training, but this battalion was replaced with the 26th Panzer Battalion, so there was no real change in the TOE. Also, in May, the PanzerFusilier Regiment Grossdeutschland had one of it’s Battalions upgraded with halftracks, but the number of companies in each battalion was reduced from 5 to 4.

Operational History

In September, 1939, Grossdeutschland was assigned to be airlifted into Poland, but this was canceled due to the speed of the campaign. So, Grossdeutschland’s first campaign was in France, 1940. Assigned to Guderian’s XIX Panzer Corps, Grossdeutschland led the attacks over the Meuse River, the encirclement of Dunkirk, the deep drive south, before ending the campaign in Lyon. The unit sustained almost 30% casualties in this campaign.
In 1941, even though assigned to Army Group Center’s Panzer Group 2, Grossdeutschland was sent into Yugoslavia, where it took Belgrade. Reassigned back north, Grossdeutschland, participated in the Battles of Minsk, Yelnay, Kiev, and Moscow. Between battles and weather, by early 1942, 2 of its 4 battalions were dissolved to reinforce other units.
Assigned to Army Group South, and expanded to a motorized division, Grossdeutschland was assigned to the 48th Panzer Corps, and participated in the Drive on Stalingrad and Voronezh.  In September, 1942,  Grossdeutschland was shipped to Army Group Center and deployed in the Rzhev sailient near Moscow.  When the Soviet's launched Operation Mars, the   Grossdeutschland faced the 22nd Army and the 3rd Mechanized Corps, both elements of the Kalinin Front.  After Mars, Grossdeutschland was shipped south and rebuilt for the summer offensives.
Grossdeutschland was upgraded to a Panzer Grenadier division, and still deployed to the 48th Panzer Corps, which was assigned to the 4th Panzer Army to participate in the reduction of the Kursk Salient, as part of Operation Citadel. On July 5th, 0500, after many delays, Operation Citadel was launched. Grossdeutschland, assigned it's Fusilier Regiment to support the 10th Panzer Brigade to its left while the 11th Panzer Division operated on its right. The Tigers of Grossdeutschland lead the attack into the southern part of the Kursk Salient. The breech was affected, and by 0900, Grossdeutschland was on the outskirts of Cherkasskoyle, which was defended by the 67th Guards Rifle Division – a typical Guards Rifle Formation, reinforced by two anti-tank regiments of the 6th Guards Army. The Soviet defenses held most of the day, but the position was finally outflanked by Grossdeutschland, and once a penetration was achieved Grossdeutschland was reinforced by elements from the 11th Panzer Division, causing the 67th Guards Rifle Division to withdraw or be cut off and destroyed, Cherkasskoyle fell to the Germans late that the day.
On the July 6th, storms and flooded conditions slowed Grossdeutschland. During the night Panthers from the 10th Panzer Brigade reinforced Grossdeutschland. The Soviet 2nd line of defense was strongly held and fighting was at times hand to hand against entrenched tanks, and antitank guns. By July 7th, the 6th Guards Army was in retreat, and Grossdeutschland, in conjunction with the 3rd and 11th Panzer divisions, was attacking the Soviet 3rd Mechanized and 31st Tank Corps, both elements of the 1st Guards Tank Army. The objective for the Germans was the town of Syrtsevo. On July 8th, Grossdeutschland, along with 3rd Panzer Division and 332nd Infantry Division, engaged the dug in forces ot the 6th Tank Corps.  The Soviets launched a counterattack with the 40th Army and elements of the 3rd Mechanized Corps, which failed. The remains of the Soviet forces fled back to Syrtsevo pursued by Grossdeutschland and the town quickly fell. Grossdeutschland attempted to take the crossings of the river Pena by exploitation and the Soviets sent in 40 T-34’s and M-3’s to stop them delaying the Germans for 3 hours. 
July 9th saw more fighting, with the 4th Panzer Army pushing back the 6th Guards, and 1st Guards Tank Army. Grossdeutschland was down to 100 operational tanks and assault guns. It continued fighting on July 10th managed to push back Soviets. By the end of the day Grossdeutschland captured the Pena Bridge, along with a critical high ground surrounding it. This was the high water mark for the 48th Panzer Corps and Grossdeutschland in Operation Citadel only engaging in minor holding actions until the general withdrawal order came down on July 18th.
After Citadel was cancelled, Grossdeutschland was temporarily assigned to Army Group Center and fought a number of defensive battles against the Soviet operations Kutuzov and Rumantsyev. By August, Grossdeutschland was back with the 48th Panzer Corps where it remained for the rest of 1943. The year ended with a long series of retreats toward Belgorod, and then the Dnieper River where it became known as "The Fire Brigade."
January 1944 brought no respite for Grossdeutschland as it continued a series of defensive battles in the Ukraine. Reassigned to the 57th Panzer Corps, Grossdeutschland retreated into Romania, attempting to defend the Polesti oil fields. Because of the destruction of Army Group Center, Grossdeutschland was pulled out of the line and railed to East Prussia where it fought in the Baltic States. Organizationally Grossdeutschland was paired with the Brandenburg Division, into Panzerkorps Grossdeutschland.

In 1945, Panzerkorps Grossdeutschland was trapped in Memel and largely destroyed. About 4,000 men of Panzer Grenadier Division Grossdeutschland escaped by ferry, and found their way west, and surrendered the colors of Grossdeutschland to the British in Schleswig-Holstein.
At what price honor? The official motto of Grossdeutschland was "Our honor is the fulfillment of our duty." For the five years Grossdeutschland was in combat in the most difficult campaigns that Germany fought. Its soldiers accrued more awards than any other unit, and sustained over 50,000 dead doing it.



  1. Some interesting omissions from the article; the Panthers at Kursk were under the operational control of GD, but were not from the Panzer Regment GD. I believe it was Abt 51 and 52 were doing combat trials of the PzKpfw V - GD's own Panther battalion was destined to spend a fair amount of time out of the line in the East when it came time to refit, IIRC at the time of the Normandy invasion? It was not uncommon to swap out single battalions from panzer regiments to accomplish these refittings.

    Another omission is the accusation of war crimes, notably at Pancevo in Yugoslavia. GD is considered mostly a "clean" unit, and is probably accurately described as having a better record than Waffen-SS formations of equal combat reputation - but Omer Bartov for one has studied the division in detail and has found some disturbing elements of the division's record. Certainly the postwar antics of Otto-Ernst Remer haven't helped anyone's image.

    But, not to be too critical of a single page article which hits the highlights of GD's complex operational history. The great thing about history is all the layers under the surface.

  2. Grossdeutschland division was key unit why Zhukov was so terrible badly beaten by Model during Operation Mars.

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