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PANZER CREWMAN 1939-45

Specialist training

Initial driver training was given using cut-down examples of the Panzer I or Panzer II with the turret and superstructure removed. As well as the army's own instructors, considerable use was made of the facilities of the NSKK, the Party's own motor corps. Many period photographs show tanks on training exercises with the letters NSKK stencilled on the front glacis plate. Of course, prior to Germany's open rearmament, the country was prohibited from having tanks by the Treaty of Versailles, so the first Mk Is were designated as small tractors. But whether tanks or tractors, the important thing was that the trainee had the opportunity to learn the art of driving a tracked vehicle, something quite different to controlling a wheeled conveyance.

Gunnery training was undertaken at the ranges at Putlos on the Baltic. As the Panzerwaffe grew, so did the number of designated training schools and training areas. Many such sites, for example the Sennelager training area, are still in use today as Panzer training grounds.

As the war drew on, progress in tank technology was meteoric. Vehicles such as the Panther and Tiger were so complex (and because of this complexity, liable to mechanical failure) that special training was required. In each case a special training manual was produced. These excellent books, which resembled children's school text-books, were known as the Tiger Fibel or Panther Fibel (Tiger or Panther primers), and used coloured cartoon sketches to illustrate in the clearest possible fashion how particular tasks should be performed.

The most important part of Panzer training, apart from t he technical training on how to operate the vehicle itself, was on how to use the tank as an efficient fighting weapon. Again a training circular was produced, based on combat experience on the Eastern Front, and like the Fibels, it was published in a simple cartoon format. It laid down 30 rules and was aimed primarily at junior officer level. What follows is not an exact translation, but a summary of the salient points.

Having returned from the front, these Panzer crewmen from 2. SS Panzer Regiment Das Reich pose in front of their factory fresh Panzer IV with the long- barrelled 7.5-cm gun. Note the vehicle to the left still has the earlier short-barrelled version of this weapon. (Robert Noss)

1 Acquaint yourself with the terrain, and share this information with subordinates.

2 Always put subordinates 'in the picture' about the tactical situation, the mission and any other relevant information.

3 Protect your flanks as well as your front.

4 Always make constant appreciation of the changing situation.

5 Maintain strict radio discipline.

6 Lead with strength! At least two Panzers forward. The more firepower that is laid down in the first minute, the faster the enemy will be defeated.

7 When breaking from cover do so quickly and in unison. The more targets the enemy is faced with at one time, the more difficult it will be for him to control his fire, and you will have all the more firepower available to strike him.

8 During an attack, move as fast as possible. You are much more likely to be hit at slow speed. There are only two speeds - slow for firing, and full speed ahead.

9 When facing anti-tank weapons at long or medium distance, first return fire before moving against them. First, halt to return fire effectively, then commit the bulk of die company to move against them whilst leaving one platoon to give supporting fire.

10 If anti-tank weapons are encountered at close range, it is suicide to stop! Only immediate aggressive attack at full speed and with all guns firing can be successful and reduce losses.

11 In action against anti-tank guns, never allow a single platoon to attack alone, even with strong covering fire. Anti-tank guns are not deployed singly. Remember, lone tanks in Russia are lost!

12 Keep a good distance between vehicles. This divides the enemy's defensive fire. Avoid narrow gaps between vehicles at ail costs.

13 If an impassable obstacle such as a minefield or ditch is met, withdraw into cover immediately. Standing still in the open will cost you losses. Make your deliberations from the safety of cover.

14 If passing potential enemy tank positions, either pass so close that you are within their minimum range, or so far as to be outside their maximum range.

15 Do not attack enemy tanks directly, they will then know your strength and respond before you can kill them. Wait until you are in a favourable position and attack from the flanks or the rear. Pursue all retreating enemy vigorously.

16 An enemy strongpoint should be attacked from different directions simultaneously if possible. Defensive fire will be split and the true source and direction of your attack concealed. Your breakthrough will be easier and your casualties fewer.

17 Always prepare dug-in positions and camouflage against air or artillery attacks. There is no excuse for losses suffered through these causes.

18 In decisive moments, do not try to conserve ammunition. At such times it is acceptable to expend ammunition at exceptionally high rates to minimise casualties.

19 Never deploy your company in such a manner that the two parts cannot support each other. If there are two objectives, attack each in turn with your full strength.

20 Make use of supporting artillery or dive-bomber attacks immediately. Do not wait until such attacks cease. They only have suppressive, not destructive effect. It is better to risk friendly lire than rush into an active anti-tank defence.

21 Do not misuse attached arms. For instance do not use engineer troops as infantry, armoured infantry in place of tanks.

22 Protect any non-armoured or lightly armoured units attached to you from unnecessary losses until they are needed for the task for which they were attached.

23 Attached units are not your servants but your guests. Supply them with their needs and share with them. Do not just use them for guard duties!

A Panzer company line up for inspection. The photograph was probably taken in 1943; the year in which the M1943. Einheitsfeldmütze, worn by the officer taking the salute, was introduced. By the following year, the Panzer III, just visible at the end of the rows of black uniformed tank crewmen, would have been largely replaced by the Panzer IV or Panther. (Robert Noss)

24 In combined operations, work closely together and help each other. Your battle cry will be 'Protect the Infantry!' and theirs will be 'Protect the Panzers!'

25 Always concentrate on your mission and do not be diverted into attacking enemy flanking positions unless they threaten accomplishment of your mission.

26 After a victory, always be prepared for a counter-attack.

27 In defensive positions, leave only a few Panzers in static firing positions. Keep the remainder mobile so that they can be brought into play quickly and effectively. Tanks should defend aggressively.

28 In meeting exceptionally strong resistance, break off the attack. Continuing only costs more casualties. It is better to hold the enemy with minimal forces whilst you mass your strength for a surprise attack from another quarter.

29 Never forget. Your soldiers are not yours, but Germany's. Glory hunting only rarely succeeds but always costs blood. Temper your courage with judgement and cunning. Use your instincts and tactical ability. You will then earn the loyalty and respect of your soldiers.

30 The Panzer division is the modern equivalent of the cavalry. Panzer officers must carry on the cavalry traditions and its aggressive spirit. Remember the motto of Marshal Blucher: 'Forwards and through' (but sensibly).

APPEARANCE

Panzertruppe were unusual among German troops in that an exceptionally large range of special clothing was available to them. Far too much space would be required to describe each and every nuance of Panzertruppe clothing, so only a brief overview is given here. Fuller details of both uniforms and insignia may be found in several of the books listed in the bibliography. Panzertruppe uniforms may be considered under the following basic headings: parade dress; service dress; special panzer clothing; working dress; and camouflaged dress.

Parade dress

Typical parade dress for Panzer troops consisted of the so-called Waffenrock tunic with piped trousers and steel helmet The Waffenrock was a single- breasted, pocketless tunic with Swedish cuffs. It was cut from fine, field grey wool, with a contrasting, dark green woollen badge-cloth collar. The front opening of the tunic, the collar and cuffs were piped in rose pink, which was the branch of service colour of the Panzers.

The collar was adorned with aluminium braid bars called Litzen, which were mounted on a pink wool base. Smaller versions of these patches also featured on the cuff.

The rear vent of the jacket was decorated with three buttons each side and was also piped in pink. On the left breast was affixed a national emblem, either machine-woven or hand-embroidered in aluminium wire. Officer and lower-rank tunics were similar but differed in the heavier, higher quality insignia worn by officers. For NCO tanks, the upper edge and front of the collar, and the edges of the cuff patches, were trimmed with flat aluminium wire tresse.

Shoulder straps were dark green wool for lower ranks, piped in pink and with the regimental number embroidered in pink thread. NCO straps had the same braid trim as the collar. Officer straps were in blight aluminium braid on a pink underlay, and they carried the regimental number in gilt metal.

Trousers were cut from stone grey wool, were straight legged and worn tucked into jackboots. Trouser seams were piped in pink.

Even bandsmen within Panzer units wore the black uniform wherever possible. Here a trombonist from 1. SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler plays from a selection of Luftwaffe marches. (Josef Charita)

A scene from the funeral of Generalmajor Landgraf. A Panzer V 'Panther', in this case an early model D, escorts the coffin to its final resting place as the band standing under the trees to the left plays the mournful 'Ich hatte einen Kameraden'. (Robert Noss)

The steel helmet was normally worn with parade dress, although officers sometimes wore the peaked service cap. Lower ranks wore a plain, black leather belt with aluminium or silvered finish buckle, whilst officers wore a silver brocade belt, which was trimmed in green, with a circular aluminium buckle.

Manufacture of this form of dress was discontinued upon the outbreak of war.

Service dress

Basic service dress worn by Panzertruppe when not serving in the armoured vehicle, was the universal, four-pocket, field grey wool tunic and trousers. It was a uniform worn by all army troops, and only the pink piping to collar patches and shoulder straps and to the peaked service cap, indicated the wearer's membership of the Panzerwaffe. In this case, lower ranks generally wore a black leather waistbelt, which was adorned by a steel buckle that was painted dark green. Officers wore a black leather belt with a plain, double-claw buckle.

Panzertruppe serving in warm regions such as North Africa and Italy usually wore the lightweight, olive denim four-pocket tropical tunic. Alternatively, they might resort to wearing shirtsleeve order, even when in their armoured vehicles, rather than adopt the special, black panzer clothing. Panzer troops wore the small metal death's-head emblem from the collar patch of the black Panzer jacket, on the lower lapel facings of the tropical jacket Both the tropical field cap and the peaked tropical field cap may be found with the national colours cockade enclosed within an inverted soutache of Panzer pink piping. However, using the tank's sighting periscopes whilst wearing a cap with a long visor was difficult, and so most tank crews used the visorless field cap.

A fahnenjuncker oberfeldwebel (officer candidate) in black Panzer dress. The wearing of officer chin-cords on his peaked cap indicates his status. In his lapel buttonhole is the ribbon of the Iron Cross Second Class, and on his left breast the Panze Assault Badge and Wound Badge. He also wears the ribbor of the East Front Medal. (Robert Noss)

Special Panzer clothing

A smart and functional special form of dress was introduced for tank crews in 1934. It consisted of a waist-length, double-breasted jacket that was cut from black wool. The jacket was pocket less on the exterior (an interior pocket was normally provided) and had concealed buttons. It was worn in conjunction with black trousers, bloused at the ankle, and short black boots. Although a matching black field cap (and ultimately a black ski cap) was produced, due to shortages of the correct headgear in the early part of the war, the field grey version of the cap was often worn with black Panzer clothing (Panzerbekleidung).

In the early months of the war, some troops were still wearing the Panzer beret. This large, floppy, wool beret, which was worn pulled over a padded, leather- framed crash helmet, was rarely seen by 1940.

The Panzer jacket originally featured pink piping around the collar (removed in later jackets) and pink-piped, black wool shoulder straps. NCO versions had the traditional Tresse (braid) edging to the shoulder strap, but unlike other forms of jacket, no NCO tresse was featured on the collar. Officers' shoulder straps were in matt aluminium braid on a pink underlay. Collar patches were identical for all ranks and consisted of a parallelogram of black wool, piped in pink, with a small, silvered metal death's head in the centre.

A Panzer hauptmann in the cupola of his Panzer IV. He wear the popular black version of the officer's field cap and the green denim, lightweight version of the Panzer jacket. Note also the headset and throat microphone being worn. (Robert Noss)

The national emblem was worn on the left breast from 1935 onwards (prior to this date no national emblem was worn on the Panzer jacket or Panzer beret) and it came in several variations. It could be in machine-woven white thread on black; grey thread on black; aluminium thread on black; or, on some officer jackets, hand-embroidered aluminium thread on black.

Those units granted authority to wear a cuffband with their unit name wore it on the lower part of the right sleeve. For a short period, Panzer pioneers wore black and white twist piping instead of pink. Armoured cavalry units also wore black Panzer clothing but with golden yellow piping.

The black Field cap featured a grey, white or aluminium woven national emblem on black, over a national colours cockade, which was also displayed on black backing. Early caps had the cockade enclosed by an inverted soutache of pink piping, while officers' caps featured silver piping along the edge of the crown and front scalloped portion of the cap flap.

The later M1943 Einheitsfeldmütze field cap featured flaps at the side that buttoned (either with one or, more commonly, two buttons) at the front of the cap. These flaps could be folded down during cold periods to give protection to the wearer's ears and to the side and rear of his head. Though popular, this cap featured a peak that prevented easy use of the periscope visor sights in the tank's interior, so the cap can sometimes be seen being worn back to front. The special Panzer clothing was also manufactured in lightweight green denim for wear in summer months; this version had a large exterior patch pocket to the left breast.

Even the German police issued their armoured troops with a special version of the black Panzer clothing (the collar was piped in Polizei green) with appropriate police insignia. This form of dress was worn by police security units that had been issued with obsolete or captured armoured vehicles.

Working dress

A one-piece boiler suit garment was also produced for armoured vehicle crews. It could be worn over the black Panzer clothing or its lightweight denim summer equivalent. Generally no insignia was worn on this apparel, and it was often used when employed on messy maintenance work in an effort to keep the Panzer clothing in decent condition, it was also used in winter months, to add another layer of clothing in an effort to keep warm.

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