Organization of the formations and units of the German Army after the start of the Russian campaign until 1945.
When the German armed forces began their invasion of Soviet Union in June 1941 with Operation Barbaorossa, the organization of units and formations, except for the Panzer divisions, was still largely the same as it had been during the Western campaign in 1940.
However, the increasingly stringent requirements of the Russian campaign forced changes in the organization of the Wehrmacht units, which reflected the military conditions of the battles on the Eastern Front.
Table of Contents
The largest organizational form of the Wehrmacht was the Army Group, whose size varied considerably according to requirements. For example, Rundstedt’s Army Group South consisted of three German armies, one tank group and two allied Romanian armies at the beginning of the invasion of the Soviet Union.
The Army, on the other hand, was a more uniformly organized combat formation. It usually consisted of three army corps with a considerable number of support troops. However, an army in an important section could also be significantly strengthened, reaching the size of up to a quarter of a million men.
In September 1943, for example, the 17th Army consisted of three army corps with a total of 11 infantry divisions.
The Corps was a flexible formation, which could consist of different types of divisions. As an ideal three divisions were aimed at, which could rarely be kept under the fighting conditions.
The largest form of organization of the Panzer troops was the Panzer (Tank) Group, which soon became the Panzer (Tank) Army. Kleist‘s 1st Panzer Army, for example, consisted of three tank corps, which together had five Panzer divisions, two motorized infantry divisions and two Waffen-SS divisions.
The Infantry division was still the most important combat unit. In June 1941 there were 175 infantry divisions in the German army. By January 1943 this number had risen to 226 and by the end of the war there were 240. Although the total number of infantrymen and infantry divisions had increased, the 1945 front units had only about half the number of a 1941 division.
From 1943, the lack of available replacements for the Wehrmacht began to become apparent, reducing the division’s TOE strength and introducing a new organization. Known as the Infantry Division 1944, this new formation had a strength of 12,772 men as opposed to the 17,734 soldiers of a division in 1939, although its firepower had actually increased.
This division consisted of three infantry regiments (about 2,000 men each), one artillery regiment (2,000 men) and the usual division services. In most of these infantry divisions 1944, the old tripartite organizational form with three battalions per regiment was abandoned and instead only two battalions each were formed, with the addition of supporting infantry guns and anti-tank guns.
The new infantry battalion had a strength of slightly more than 700 men and was usually divided into three rifle companies of 140 men each, a heavy weapons squad of 200 men and a supply unit.
The support weapons of the infantry regiment included
24 heavy machine guns,
107 light machine guns,
334 sub-machine guns,
four 12 cm mortars,
six 8.1 cm mortars,
two 15 cm infantry guns,
six 7.5 cm infantry guns,
three 7.5 cm anti-tank guns Pak 40 and
36 light anti-tank weapons (Panzerfaust, Panzerschreck).
During the first months of the war with the Soviet Union, the Motorized Infantry Divisions, which in 1942 became Panzergrenadier Divisions, consisted of two infantry regiments of three battalions each, one artillery regiment and one battalion each of reconnaissance, signals, engineers, anti-aircraft and anti-tank troops as well as the usual supporting division services.
The total strength of the motorized infantry division was fixed at 16,400 men with 2,800 motor vehicles.
In 1942, a tank battalion was added to the Panzergrenadier Division, although it became customary in the later course of the war for it to become a battalion of self-propelled anti-tank guns, assault guns or tank destroyers.
Until 1944, various minor changes were made to the organization of the 1941 divisional structure, reducing the official TOE to 14,738 men, but slightly increasing the firepower.
From the end of 1942 the German army was confronted with an increasing problem of lack of replacement for the bloody losses. Various solutions were introduced to solve or at least reduce this problem. One of these was the establishment of Luftwaffe Field Divisions from the relatively large surplus of Air Force personnel.
However, the most desperate form of organization was the Volksgrenadier divisions (‘People’s Grenadier Divisions’) as a replacement or supplement to the infantry divisions from the end of 1944. Many of these divisions were formed from the remnants of ordinary, shattered infantry divisions and their quality varied considerably depending on the proportion of experienced soldiers within the division and the allocation of sufficient equipment and armament.
Taken together, about 50 of this People’s Grenadier Divisions were set up or restored until the final German collapse.
The Volksgrenadier Division consisted of three regiments of two battalions each and one artillery regiment with 24 x 10.5 cm field howitzers, twelve 15 cm howitzers and 18 x 7.5 cm field guns. In addition, there were one anti-tank battalion, one engineers battalion and one signals battalion. With only elementary division services, it was around 10,000 men strong.
Although it was not an actual divisional organization, the period from 1942 to 1945 saw the introduction of the Kampfgruppe (Battle Group), which were spontaneous summaries of available, different units or parts thereof, and which were usually formed in situations of extreme danger.
The size of a combat group could range from just one to two hundred men to a division-like size of eight to ten thousand men with support units.
The period of its existence was usually short, either being worn out in prolonged heavy battles or being reassigned back to its original units when the crisis was resolved.
An example of such a formation is the Kampfgruppe Fretter-Pico, where these units were usually designated by the name of their commander. It consisted of the remains of two infantry divisions and was to hold a section of the new German line after the collapse of the allied Axis armies after the Soviet counter-offensive at Stalingrad.
Similar to the Battle Group there was also the Armeeabteilung (army detachment), which was however numerically stronger and usually consisted of complete formations. For example, the Armeeabteilung Hollidt was formed at the end of 1942 and had three Panzer divisions and four weak infantry divisions as well as two Luftwaffe field divisions.
The sharp knife of the German army were the Panzer divisions, which played a key role especially on the Eastern front. The number of tank divisions increased from ten divisions in 1940 to 25 by spring 1942. In the last year of war, 1945, there were 35 weak tank divisions, including one from the Luftwaffe and seven from the Waffen-SS.
The organization and equipment of these divisions changed considerably during the war to adapt to the current demands of armored warfare and the increasing shortage of men and material.
The Panzer Division of 1941-42 had a TOE strength of 15,600 men and 150 to 200 armored vehicles. It consisted of a tank regiment consisting of two or three tank battalions of three tank companies each, a tank infantry brigade with two or sometimes three regiments, an artillery regiment and the usual support units at division level, which included strong battalions of anti-tank and reconnaissance troops.
The anti-tank unit (known as the Panzerjaeger) was always an integral part of the offensive element of the Panzer Division and its importance increased as the war progressed.
Originally the battalion consisted of three motorized companies with light 3.7 cm Pak 36 or 5 cm Pak 38, which were moved by traction vehicles or sometimes on chassis of obsolete tanks. The Anti-Air Company consisted of twelve 20 mm Flak.
When the Soviet KV and T-34 tanks appeared more and more, self-propelled gun carriages with 7.5 cm Pak on chassis of obsolete tanks were introduced from 1942 onward, and then also assault guns and finally well armed and armored special tank destroyers were introduced to the anti-tank battalion.
In the German army the reconnaissance battalion was at the same time beside the actual reconnaissance job also a combat unit. Much importance was attached to reconnaissance information from the battlefield and with a strength of 1,140 men was a very mobile and heavily armed unit. Even if the organizational form was handled flexibly, the battalion could consist of three regular squadrons and a heavy squadron with armored recon cars and self-propelled guns.
In 1944 a new form of organization for tank divisions was introduced, which reduced the TOE strength to 14,727 men and rationalized the tank regiment to two battalions of four companies of 48 tanks each.
One battalion was equipped with the now slowly aging Panzer IV and the other with the new Panzer V Panther tanks.
From 1943 the artillery regiment increasingly consisted of self-propelled gun carriages. One Abteilung (section) was equipped with 12 Wespe with 10.5 cm field howitzers and 6 Hummel with 15 cm howitzers. The second section consisted of two batteries with six 10.5 cm light field howitzers and the third section of two batteries with four 15 cm howitzers each, which were moved by tractor units.
The armored infantry element consisted of two regiments, one of which was equipped with armored infantry fighting vehicles and twelve assault guns Sturmgeschuetz with 7.5 cm guns. The first battalion was completely equipped with infantry fighting vehicles, while the second was moved by lorries. Each of the regiments had a company with six 15-cm infantry guns on self-propelled gun carriages Grille and an engineer company.
Some tank divisions also had a company of Tiger tanks to further increase their fighting power. Usually, however, these heavy tanks were in independent Tiger battalions under the direct command of the Army or Army Group.
This Heavy Tank Battalion was divided into four tank companies with additional support units, among them twelve 2-cm-Flak as well as in the year 1943 still 50 Panzer III Ausf N with short 7.5-cm-KwK for close support. It had a TOE strength of 650 men and 45 Tiger tanks.
Although the Tiger also lacked the mobility, it was nevertheless an excellent tank in the defensive and from there these heavy tank battalions were used for stuffing front gaps or for the cover of tactical retreats.
The last change in the organization took place in March 1945, when the Panzer Division 1945 was introduced. The strength of the Panzer Regiment was drastically reduced to 50 tanks and the TOE strength of this division was only 11,400 men.
Since this new organizational structure was issued only six weeks before the final surrender, it is quite unlikely that any Panzer Division 1945 ever saw major actions.
Within the framework of the German principles of decentralizing armament and equipment, most of the artillery was distributed among the divisions. With the appearance of large Soviet artillery formations on the Eastern Front, the German leadership attempted to imitate the enemy by setting up an Artillery Division at the end of 1943.
This division was able to bring enormous firepower to bear on a specific target, which was of great importance in mitigating Soviet mass attacks.
The weak point of the artillery organization in the German army, however, was the lack of an advanced fire control system as was standard practice in the British and American armies. Thus it was not possible to place all artillery units within a formation under flexible and central control.
The Wehrmacht, for example, tended to distribute the available independent artillery among the individual infantry divisions, which, of course, greatly strengthened them in their own hitting power, but this only brought local tactical advantages and did not consider the entire battlefield with its decisive focal points as a whole.
The Artillery Division was planned to make up for this shortage, but the lack of appropriate equipment during this final phase of the war made it less effective than it could have been.
The Artillery Division consisted of mixed artillery regiments of three Abteilungen each, with covering infantry and anti-tank units.
Before the introduction of the artillery division, many artillery units had already been deployed outside the normal division system.
Normally this was the heavy artillery, which was divided into Independent Artillery Sections of 12 guns each, under the command of the corps or army commanders.
However, the most important artillery outside the division’s frame were the Nebelwerfer Abteilungen (rocket launcher sections), which were equipped with multi-barrel 15 cm launchers and were widely used on the Eastern front.
Germany lost the Second World War on the Eastern Front. This was not because of a lack of basic tactical and organizational capabilities, but because the power of the Soviet Union was greatly underestimated. The Wehrmacht simply did not have enough soldiers and material at its disposal against an enemy who had no serious lack of both and at the same time could endure enormous losses without collapsing.
The failure of the German High Command to mechanize the German army led to the fact that the Panzer, Panzergrenadier and motorized infantry divisions were overstretched and the infantry divisions were dependent on the feet of their soldiers and horses.
Germany lacked enough vehicles and fuel to fully mechanize the army, similar to British and Americans, but more could have been done to improve mobility. The feet of the infantrymen and the transport with horses had obvious limitations with the great distances in the Russian steppe.
TOE strength of the most important division types of the German Army 1942-1945
Approximate TOE strength of the most important division types of the field army 1942-1945:
|Infantry 1944||Volksgrenadier||Luftwaffen Field (1942-43)||Paratroopers|
|Infantry regiments||3 with 2,000 men each (2 battalions)||3 with 2 battalions each||2 with 2 battalions each||3 with 3 battalions each|
|Machine guns (MG34, MG42)||656 (90 heavy)||423 (54 heavy)||100 (64 heavy)||1,010 (80 heavy)|
|Mortars||76 (48x8.1cm; 28x12cm)||66 (42x8.1cm; 24x12cm)||56 (8x8.1cm;48x5cm)||188 (125x8.1cm, 63x12cm)|
|Light anti-tank weapons (Panzerschreck and Panzerfaust)||108||216||-||250|
|Infantry guns||24 (6x15cm; 18x7.5cm)||24 (7.5cm)||-||20 (recoilless 7.5cm guns)|
|Anti-tank guns||21 (7.5cm)||12 (7.5cm)||27 (18x5cm; 9x7.62cm)||35 (7.5cm)|
|Howitzers and guns||48 (36x10.5cm; 12x15cm)||68 (32x7.5cm; 24x10.5cm; 12x15cm)||8x7.7cm Mountain guns or 12x10.5cm mortar or 12x7.5cm gun||36 (24x10.5cm; 12x15cm)|
|Anti-aircraft guns||12 (2cm)||9 (3.7cm)||16 (2cm)||51 (39x2cm; 12x8.8cm)|
|armored recon cars||-||-||-||-|
|Self-propelled anti-tank guns (7.5cm)||14||28||-||-|
Note about Luftwaffe Field Divisions: From November 1943 the German army took control of the Air Force Field divisions and these were reorganized like usual infantry divisions 1944, with the following differences: there was only one reconnaissance company with one battalion, the artillery regiment had 75 mm field guns instead of 105 mm field howitzers and the anti-aircraft guns were in a separate battalion.
Approximate TOE strength of the most important division types of the field army 1942-1945 (II):
|Panzer 1942||Panzer 1944||Panzer-Grenadier||Heavy Panzer Brigade 1944|
|Infantry Regiments||2 with 2 battalions each||2 with 2 battalions each||2 with 3 battalions each||1 battalion + 1 Engineer company|
|Machine guns (MG34, MG42)||304 (56 heavy)||1,221 (64 heavy) + 1,543 sub-machine guns||1,101 (82 heavy)||181 (14 heavy)|
|Mortar||63 (36x5cm; 27x8.1cm)||62 (46x8.1cm; 16x12cm)||76 (52x8.1cm; 24x12cm)||14 (8.1cm)|
|Light anti-tank weapons (Panzerschreck and Panzerfaust)||36||?||63||6|
|Infantry guns||14 (2x7.5cm; 12x15cm including self-propelled guns)||14 (2x7.5cm; 12x15cm as self-propelled guns)||14 (2x7.5cm; 12x15cm as self-propelled guns)||12 (7.5cm)|
|Anti-tank guns||45 (27x3.7cm; 18x5cm)||14 (12x7.5cm; 2x3.7cm)||14 (7.5cm)||-|
|Howitzers and guns||40 (8x7.5cm; 24x10.5cm; 8x15cm)||66 (24x7.5cm; 12x10.5cm; 12x15cm; 6x15cm and 12x10.5cm as self-propelled guns)||38 (8x15cm; 12x10.5cm; 6x15cm and 12x10.5cm as self-propelled guns)||-|
|Anti-aircraft guns||12 (2cm)||92 (12x8.8cm; 6x3.7cm; 74x2cm)||71 (63x2cm; 8x8.8cm)||12 (2cm)|
|Armored recon cars||48||48||?||-|
|Tanks||134 or 201 (each battalion 5 Pz II, 44 Pz III, 22 Pz IV)||166 (88 Pz IV, 88 Pz V)||-||73 (Tiger)|
|Self-propelled anti-tank guns (7.5cm)||(anti-tank guns from above partly also deployed as self-propelled guns)||(anti-tank guns from above partly also deployed as self-propelled guns or tank destroyers)||28||-|
References and literature
The Armed Forces of World War II (Andrew Mollo)
Operation Barbarossa: the Complete Organisational and Statistical Analysis, and Military Simulation, Volume I – IIIB (Nigel Askey)
World War II – A Statistical Survey (John Ellis)
Kraftfahrzeuge und Panzer der Reichswehr, Wehrmacht und Bundeswehr (Werner Oswald)