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NIGEL THOMAS, colour plates by STEPHEN ANDREW
During the Blitzkrieg period 143 infantry divisions were formed, their quality depending on the 'Wave' (Welle), to which they belonged. In addition to the 35 well-established peacetime 1st Wave divisions (1-46 series), there were divisions of elderly veterans or untrained reservists or recruits hastily assembled from occupied Poland and Czechoslovakia, as well as the nine Replacement Divisions (Ersatzdivisionen) of the 10th Wave (270-280 series). Each infantry division (Infanteriedivision) of 16,977 men was made up of three infantry regiments plus divisional support units: one four-battalion artillery regiment; a reconnaissance battalion, with mounted, bicycle and support squadrons; an anti-tank battalion; an engineer battalion; a signals battalion; and divisional services - up to ten motorised and horsedrawn transport columns; a medical company, a motorised field hospital and veterinary company; a Military Police Troop and a Field Post Office.
Guderian on the day of his promotion to General der Panzertruppen and his appointment as Commander of Mobile Troops, 20 November 1938. He is wearing the M1935 officers' service uniform with a particularly good example of the M1935 peaked cap. Note the First World War bravery and Wehrmacht long-service awards. (Brian Davis Collection)
An infantry regiment with 3,049 men (Infanterieregiment) had three infantry battalions, a 180-strong infantry gun company and a 170-strong anti-tank company. A battalion (Bataillon) of 860 men had three rifle companies and a 190-strong machine gun (actually a support) company. A 201-strong rifle company (Schützenkompanie) had three rifle platoons, and each 50-strong rifle platoon (Schützenzug) was composed of a platoon staff, a light-grenade-launcher team and four rifle sections, each section (Schützengruppe) having ten men.
All units of a motorised division (Infanleriedivision(mot.)) were armoured or motorised, and in early 1940 motorised divisions were reduced to two motorised regiments, giving a divisional total of 14,319 men. A mountain division (Gebirgsdivision) had 14,131 men with two 6,506-strong mountain regiments, plus support units and services, all with mountain capability.
A 14,373-strong armoured division (Panzerdivision) had an armoured brigade (two regiments of 1,700 men divided into two battalions) and a 4,409-strong motorised rifle brigade (rifle regiment and motorcycle battalion), the remaining support units and the services being armoured or motorised.
A 10-11,000-strong light division (Leichte Division) had between one and four 638-strong armoured battalions and one or two 2,295-strong motorised cavalry regiments, before reorganising as Panzer Divisions 6-9 in October 1939 - January 1940. The 16,000-strong 1 Cavalry Division (1.Kavalleriedivision) had four 1,440-strong mounted (Reiter) regiments (each with two mounted battalions), a cavalry (Kavallerie) regiment (one mounted, one bicycle battalion) and a bicycle battalion, other support units and services being mounted or motorised.
15 March 1939. Reconnaissance troops in field uniform, wearing the regulation M1934 rubberised greatcoats, ride a BMW R12 745cc motorcycle combination through the streets of the conquered city of Prague. They carry minimal field equipment appropriate for this unopposed invasion. Note the dejected appearance of the local citizens. (Brian Davis Collection)
In 1937 Germany was divided into 13 military districts, numbered I-XIII, and from 1939 these were the bases of the Replacement Army. The depots, schools and training units of a Wehrkreis (district), manned and equipped initially one, and later as many as five, corps, for the Field Army, keeping them supplied with a continuous stream of reinforcements. As Germany expanded its territory at its neighbours' expense to form Groβdeutschland (Greater Germany) the existing districts were expanded and six new ones formed from August 1938 - October 1942. They provided conscripts for the war-effort, many of whom were not ethnic Germans or even sympathetic to the German cause.
An Oberst im Generalstab relaxes in his garden. He is wearing undress uniform with Kolben collar-patches and M1935 adjutants' aiguillettes for General Staff officers, the M1935 field tunic and the M1938 field cap. Germany, 1939. (Brian Davis Collection)
German strategy combined two concepts: the traditional 'Decisive Manoeuvre', developed by Prussian General von Moltke in the 1850s, and the 'Armoured Concept', usually known as Blitzkrieg, proposed by Heinz Guderian in the late 1920s. Both required rapidly mobilised forces to attack on consecutive fronts, mounting a concentrated surprise attack on one front, defeating the enemy in a few days or weeks, before regrouping to attack on the second front, thus avoiding a costly defensive two-front war which Germany would inevitably lose.
'Decisive Manoeuvre', used infantry to attack the enemy's line of retreat, trapping it in pockets. Blitzkrieg, however used concentrations of tanks, mechanised infantry and Luftwaffe dive-bombers to punch a hole in the enemy line, and penetrate into rear areas to destroy the enemy command centre, forcing a total collapse in enemy morale. The Polish and Scandinavian campaigns were conducted according to the principles of 'Decisive Manoeuvre', while the Western Offensive was Blitzkrieg.
Both strategies demanded that Germany be the aggressor, a position in line with the Third Reich's xenophobic and expansionist ideology. Germany had the vital advantages of surprise and of choosing the time, place and conditions of the battles. Its opponents pinned their hopes on neutrality, diplomatic skills and static frontier defences. They were psychologically unwilling to fight, and reluctant to prepare for war.