Panzer Brigades in the West, 1944

By Ruud Bruyns

Introduction

The destruction of Army Group Centre in June 1944 and the collapse of the Western Front following the Allied invasion of France in the same month caused a major drain of German manpower and material. Within two months dozens of divisions were wiped from German Order of Battle by the sweeping Russian offensives in Byelorussia and Ukraine, or bled white in the war of attrition in the Normandy countryside. During the summer of 1944 the German army was beaten both in Russia and in Western Europe and fell back in full retreat.

The German army reserves could not cope with the dreadful losses and ad hoc measures had to be taken in order to stabilise the situation. A new kind of units saw their birth that summer: infantry divisions were raised as so-called "Volksgrenadier-divisions" and new tank forces were created in the form of "Panzer-Brigades".

The appearance of Panzer-Brigades was no novelty within the German armed forces. From the beginning of the war in 1939 Panzer-Brigades were present and operational in the German Order of Battle until at least the summer of 1943. Apart from the official Order of Battle German tank forces often operated in ad hoc formations, especially after the reverse of fortunes on the battlefield required makeshift units to tackle crisis situations more often.

One of the most successful battlegroups, so-called "Kampfgruppen", was "schweres Panzer Regiment Bäke", called after the commander dr. Franz Bäke. This unit operated in Ukraine during the beginning of 1944 and managed to knock out hundreds of Russian tanks with the permanent loss of only five tanks. The success of Bäke undoubtedly inspired Hitler to create strong and well-equipped regimental sized tank units. Unsurprisingly he was one of the first commanders assigned to the Panzer-Brigades.

The philosophy behind these brigades was that smaller but stronger tank units could manoeuvre and counteract more swift than cumbersome tank divisions, which can be easily detected by enemy intelligence. Nevertheless when Hitler ordered the creation of the Panzer-Brigades in July 1944, they were rather born out of necessity than a new defence doctrine of the German armed forces.

Although the Panzer-Brigades were originally created for the severe situation on the Eastern Front - the Russians were standing before the gates of Warsaw and even threatened the German homeland in Prussia – many of them ultimately were deployed in the West. The quick advance of the Patton to Lorraine after the fall of Paris on the 25th of August forced the Germans to send reinforcements to the West to block him. This situation repeated itself after Montgomery's offensive towards Arnhem during September 1944.

Both Patton's advance in Lorraine and Monty's attack in Holland encountered resistance and counterattacks by Panzer-Brigades. In this article I wish to analyse the formation, deployment and operational performance of the Panzer-Brigades on the Western Front. The purpose of this analysis is to look how much influence Panzer-Brigades had on the battlefield, especially in the regular counterattacks during September 1944, which were undertaken to stop the Allied advance into Germany.

Formation

The creation of Panzer-Brigades happened in the aftermath of the onslaught of Army Group Centre in June 1944. Their formation was ordered on July 24th 1944 and ten brigades were planned. Hitler issued this order personally and against the advice of Heinz Guderian, inspector of the German tank forces. According to Guderian the creation of Panzer-Brigades would hinder the replacement of losses at the front and above all the necessary refitting of the worn out Panzer-Divisions.

The priority of men and equipment given to the Panzer-Brigades actually led in the long term to the weakening of the Panzer-Divisions – half the tank production of Panthers in August went to the Panzer-Brigades. The report "Refitting of tank forces in the West" late November 1944 clearly shows that the organic second battalion of the Panzer-Division's tank regiment often had to be replaced by an assault gun battalion to give the Division the full complement of tanks. This was due of the lack of valuable medium tanks, previously allocated to the Panzer-Brigades and lost in the battles fought by those brigades in autumn 1944.

Although German tank production reached a wartime peak during the summer 1944 the shortage of trained crew delayed the formation of the new units. This caused the formation of two kinds of Panzer-Brigades. The first wave, numbered 101 to 110, consisted of one tank battalion and one battalion of mobile infantry. The actual tank strength was 36 Mark V Panther medium tanks, 11 Panzer IV/70 tank destroyers and Flakpanzer anti aircraft tanks in support. The infantry was fully motorised and equipped with armoured carriers.

The second generation, numbered 111-113, had two battalions of tanks and one mobile infantry battalion. This led to an establishment of approximately 90 medium tanks and 10 assault guns, making the Panzer-Brigade appear strong, equalling an average German Panzer-Division in tank strength. But as a brigade it lacked the necessary supporting combat units, like artillery and engineers, which made the Panzer-Division into a lethal combination of weapons. It seems that with the creation of the Panzer-Brigade the Germans forgot all lessons about combined weapons and relied completely on their superior tanks.

The Panzer-Brigade was almost exclusively a Heer project, which was a rarity in a time when almost all branches of the armed forces were deploying tank forces and frontline units were raised in every branch with available manpower. There is for example only one account of a formation of a Waffen-SS Panzer-Brigade, although in 1944 they made up almost a quarter of the German tankforces. Another exceptional unit was Panzer-Brigade 150 under the command of SS-Sturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny, which was actually more a special operations unit than a battle formation. This unit therefore falls out of the context of this article.

Panzer-Brigades were raised around cores of veterans from the shattered divisions, which had been destroyed during the Russian offensive in June 1944. The commanders were of "eastern stock" which would have its consequences fighting in the West. Nevertheless the majority of the troops were drafted from reserve and tank training battalions and therefore inexperienced. A typical example of a Panzer-Brigade build up is the formation of Panzer-Brigade 105. It was formed around the approximately 950 survivors of the smashed Panzer-Grenadier-Division 18. The tank battalion was mainly made up from tank training units, who were send to a special training course for the Panther tank. The brigade received circa 50 Panther, 11 Panzer IV/70 and approximately 100 armoured personal carriers. On September 1st the brigade was hurriedly send to Belgium after just one month of training.

On paper a Panzer-Brigade was a strong and mobile unit fitting the purpose of a quick counterstrike force. Nevertheless the Panzer-Brigade had some organic deficiencies which could cause problems in operational circumstances. First of all the Panzer-Brigade had no organic reconnaissance unit, which is vital to locate the enemy before attacking. Secondly the Panzer-Brigade was lacking maintenance equipment, especially recovery vehicles. This made losses hard to sustain and it also troubled patching up damaged vehicles, because workshops heavily depended on usable parts from vehicles recovered from the battlefield.

Apart from the organic constitution the organisation of a Panzer-Brigade left much to be desired. The Panzer-Brigades were hurriedly formed, which took its toll from the basic training of the men, but above all from the training as a cohesive unit. Sometimes the component units and commanders did not meet until detrained at the staging area of the planned attack, for example in the preparation for the campaign in the Lorraine during September 1944. The only strength of the brigades was pure force of superior armour, but the shortcomings in training, formation and organisation made the Panzer-Brigade into a makeshift unit in every way.

Suprising the enemy, Panzer-Brigade 106

Panzer-Brigade 106 was made up in July 1944 from the remnants of the Panzer-Grenadier-Division "Feldherrnhalle", which was routed during the Russian offensive in June 1944, and shaped into condition near the eastern city of Danzig. Nobody less than the famous Colonel Dr. Franz Bäke commanded this early unit of the succession of Panzer-Brigades. He was supported by experienced and highly decorated commanders, but the bulk of the troops consisted of inexperienced men and due to lack of fuel there had been little practice with the tanks. The training area could suggest deployment in the East, but in early September the brigade found itself as a reserve in the First Army sector in Lorraine. It was destined for the Lorraine counterattack against Patton's Third Army later that month.

In the beginning op September the frontline in Lorraine was stretching along the river Moselle from Nancy to Thionville. The Americans tried to establish bridgeheads over the river Moselle in weak sectors of the German defence to be able to advance to the industrial area in the Saar. Although the German First Army's line of defence was thin it managed to fend off most of the American probing attempts to cross the river on 5th and 6th of September.

After this little success the commander of the First Army, Colonel-General Otto von Knobelsdorff, felt confident enough for a counterstroke on the stalled American forces. When the headquarters of Hitler gave away Panzer-Brigade 106 for 48 hours Knobelsdorff had his armoured fist with which he wanted to attack the exposed flank of the U.S. 90th Infantry Division north of Thionville. Knobelsdorff and Bäke were both seasoned officers who gained a lot of experience in Russia. They were confident that an armoured blow on the exposed flank and deep infiltration within American ranks would cause enough panic to make their units collapse and run, like the Russians would in similar circumstances.

Panzer-Brigade 106 found itself already in the sector of Luxembourg from the beginning of September. After the arrival of supporting infantry Panzer-Brigade 106 was send into action in the early morning of September 8th. There had been no beforehand reconnaissance, nor did the Germans know the exactly whereabouts of the American positions. Bäke split up his force in two parallel moving armoured columns infiltrating into the Americans position without actually knowing where to strike. The western column began to spread out just as the Americans start to spot the German intruders. Instead of fleeing in confusion when confronted with this German night attack with tanks the Americans rallied and start to counter the threat.

Now the German forces were scattered in the countryside while the Americans began to rally their forces to strike back. The American infantry was armed with numerous kinds of anti-tank weapons and closely supported by divisional tanks and artillery. Scattered American tanks fired upon the column, while infantry was taking positions at road crossings to block German movement. Now the Germans were harassed by tanks and pounded with artillery.

At dawn the net of American forces around the western column started to get tight and escape was impossible. Bäke lost control over his units as they desperately tried to escape from the deadly trap which was closing around them. Villages and dense woods formed an excellent killing ground, because the Americans could knock out the mighty German tanks from close range. The eastern column tried to come to assistance of the western column, but this move was too late as the Americans were alerted and awaiting the attack. The eastern column was ambushed, suffering heavy casualties and the attack was soon broken off.

At the end of its first day of combat Panzer-Brigade 106 was routed and had lost most of its tanks and infantry in the process. At least 750 men were taken prisoner by the Americans and 21 tanks and tank destroyers of the initial 47 were permanently lost, next to more than 60 half-track carriers – it lost three-quarter of its combat effectiveness and actually ceased to exist as an unit capable of any offensive operations.

This case showed the weaknesses in the deployment and the tactics of the Panzer-Brigades. Firstly, the attack was carried out without proper reconnaissance or knowledge about the American positions. Secondly, the Panzer-Brigade was send into battle without clear objectives. These two mistakes were the result of the wrong assumption that a night attack with tanks would suprise the Americans and made them run. This major underestimation of the morale and fighting capabilities of the American forces proved fatal, because the Americans not only had the will but also the means to counter the attack. Besides these mistakes it was not a wise decision to commit inexperienced troops of an untested unit in a night attack against seasoned and well-organised troops.

Coming to the rescue, Panzer-Brigade 112

Although Panzer-Brigade 112 was of the second wave of stronger Panzer-Brigades, it had not a favourable building up. The separate elements were hastily gathered on the training grounds of Grafenwöhr in Bavaria in the beginning September and only after one week of formation and training they were on their way to Lorraine. The entire brigade was detrained on September 10th in de vincinity of Lunéville, near Nancy. Panzer-Brigade 112 was planned for the counterattack in the direction of Reims, which Hitler was planning since August.

Just after the arrival a crisis developed south of Nancy, when elements of the French 2nd Armoured Division broke through and encircled the 16th Volksgrenadier-Division. This threat could cause the breakdown of the entire German front south of Nancy and Colonel-Generaal Blaskowitz of Army Group G ordered an immediate counterattack to save the division and restore the frontline by clearing the area from French incursions. Panzer-Brigade 112 was relieved from the reserve to tackle the situation, supported by elements of Panzer-Division 21.

On September 12th the untested Panzer-Brigade 112 headed south in two columns. The western column consisted of the 1st battalion of Panzer-Regiment 29, armed with Panther tanks, while Panzer-Battalion 2112, armed with Mark IV tanks, formed up the eastern column with the bulk of armoured infantry. They arrived in the area of the French infiltration without any obstacle or disruption, but failed to detect the French troops.

In the evening the western column arrived in Dompaire and decided to encamp and spend the night in this village, which was situated in a depression surrounded by forested hills. Lack of reconnaissance or even a hint of the whereabouts of the enemy apparently did not disturb the command, because they preferred to stay in the lower exposed village than in the surrounding forests on the high ground where they could camouflage their tanks. The inexperienced troops also turned out to be "good weather soldiers", because they did not send out any patrols nor posted any guards during the rainy night, but sought the comfort of the village houses.

Meanwhile the villagers warned the French troops in the neighbourhood of the presence of the Germans in Dompaire and their strength. The French commanding officer Langlade decided to engage the Germans. Although his force was outnumbered two by one in both tanks and men he knew that he could call in artillery and airforce. He decided to block the roads east and south to the village with his forces in the following morning and await help from the airforce. The German got a rude awakening when the village was attacked by the feared American P-47 fighter-bombers, which were called in by Langlade the evening before.

After the initial fighter-bomber attack the French closed on the village in with their tanks to engage the suprised and bedazzled Germans. A second sortie of the airforce added to their part to the confusion among the Germans, who started to grow desperate by the bombing, shelling and firing at the village from literally all sides. Lots of tanks were out of action due to hits or simply abandoned by their frightened crews. The high ground offered the French good observation view to direct fire from both the ground and the air to any German movement.

The German commander of the 1st battalion of Panzer-Regiment 29 called his colleague of the eastern column for immediate help. This help from the east could have reversed the fortunes in favour of the Germans by attacking the French troops of Langlade in the back, but French civilians came to the help once more. Langlade was timely informed by the size and direction of the relief force and set up a roadblock with all he had left, a few jeeps with machine guns and tank destroyers. This force would in a normal case be no match for two companies of armoured infantry and 15 tanks. Nevertheless the Germans did not manage to break through. Their inexperienced infantry was dispersed by bold action from the crew of the jeeps with the mounted machineguns and after the loss of a few tanks they lost the appetite to engage.

During the whole day the village of Dompaire was under fire and any attempt to break out was stopped by even more intensive fire by the artillery. In the evening the 1st battalion of Panzer-Regiment 29 was destroyed. The overall losses for Panzer-Brigade 112 were horrible. An estimate of 350 dead, 1000 wounded and of the total of 90 tanks only 21 were left. Like Panzer-Brigade 106 a few days before Panzer-Brigade 112 met his doom during the first engagement with the enemy, although they outnumbered the enemy!

The conduct of Panzer-Brigade 112 enhances the conclusion on Panzer-Brigade 106 that the brigades were send out on missions without proper reconnaissance, which was definitely a bad habit which the commanders adopted from their experience in Russia. Next to this failure the brigades were both committed to tasks which were far beyond the skill and experience of the troops. They were no match for the French colonial troops, who were professional soldiers, hardened in the harsh climate of North Africa and with at least two years of war experience. Strength in numbers could not make up the lack of operational skill in the case of Panzer-Brigade 112. The most major shortcoming of the Panzer-Brigade was the lack of any fire support from both the ground and the air. The latter was a common problem in the German army, but the Panzer-Brigade definitively missed organic artillery support.

Scary tanks, Panzer-Brigade 107

The future of Panzer-Brigade 107 was more promising than of any other Panzer-Brigade assigned to the Western Front. It was raised around the remnants from Panzer-Grenadier-Division 25. Although the brigade only received 33 Panther tanks and 12 StuG IV assault guns the unit got 9 to 12 weeks for training and organisation! The urgency of troops at the front thwarted this schedule and on the 15th of September the troops were loaded on trains heading for the West. Panzer-Brigade 107 was destined for operations in Lorraine but the major Allied airborne operation in the Netherlands required tank forces in this sector.

Undetected by Allied fighter-bombers Panzer-Brigade 107 on the 18th of September unloaded at Venlo en Roermond just over the border with Germany. A general strike at the Dutch railways prevented detraining deep into Dutch territory, which eventually would cost Panzer-Brigade 107 a lot of fuel the reach battlefield. The commanding officer, Major von Maltzahn, managed to get extra stocks of fuel from LXXXVI Corps under which he resorted. He also managed to persuade his superiors to let the Panzer-Brigade act as one unit and not waste the troops by sending them piecemeal to the front. It took the brigade two days to unload...

On the 19th of September the tank battalion was fully operational and set out on his mission: the destruction of the bridge at Son over the Wilhemina Canal, just above Eindhoven. This would cut of all airborne troops and the supply of the Guards Armoured Division, who was moving towards Arnhem. In Helmond, a town just east of Eindhoven, the Panzer-Brigade took a break, which they used to mount the German airborne troops as supporting infantry to their destination. After leaving from Helmond the Germans soon were close to their objection.

Major von Malthzahn conferred with his commanders just before the attack and decided that the tanks would take the lead. They had to move over a narrow dike, which left no space for other vehicles in the case of an ambush. The Panther tanks made good progress over the dike and in the end of the afternoon they reached the bridge at Son. They opened fire on everything that moved and soon the town of Son was full of burning trucks and confused troops. The Divisional commander of the 101th U.S. Airborne Division took swift action and put a 57 mm antitank gun into position just as the Germans approached the bridge. Within a short time two German tanks were hit, their advance was blocked and they were forced to return.

The next day the Germans tested their luck just south of Son. German infantry skirmished but was beaten off by American paratroopers and German tanks were brought in to support the infantry. The tanks managed to spread destruction on the narrow route on which the Allies were bringing troops and supplies north towards their besieged troops in Arnhem. Soon the German tanks were engaged by British tanks of the 15th/19th Hussars battalion coming from the north, who were called in for support. Soon four German tanks were burning in the face of the British overwhelming numbers in tanks and this marked the turning point of the battle. The German tanks retreated and at the end of the battle they lost at least 150 men.

Meanwhile from the south the 44th Royal Tanks Battalion of the 11th Armoured Division was coming from Eindhoven to deal with the menace of Panzer-Brigade 107. They advanced on a broad front towards the southern flank of the attacking German forces, which were in danger of being caught into encirclement from the north and south. The southern attack ended in a tanks clash, which took heavy losses both sides. Panzer-Brigade 107 managed to escape to the east but lost almost one third of its tanks in the process, some of them due to lack of fuel.

Von Malthzahn realised that the British were keen to drive his forces away from the vital bridge at Son. He also knew that the British had ssembled superior tank forces for this job, which would smash his brigade if he stayed where he was. On the 21st of September he withdrew his forces towards Helmond, where he started his advance on September 19th. The British caught up the tail of the Panzer-Brigade and a fire fight between the British vanguard and the German rearguard developed in which the Germans lost three more precious tanks.

Panzer-Brigade 107 escaped the pursuit of the British 11th Armoured Division, but it paid dearly for its first encounter with both the American paratroopers and the British tankers. Within two days it lost at least one third of its tank force and also the losses among the infantry amounted a few hundred men lost dead, wounded or as prisoners. The Panzer-Brigade managed to achieve complete surprise, but was unable to exploit it. Once located the Germans were the hunted instead of the hunters. Confronted with organised and determined resistance and a growing threat of enemy counterattacks further operations were useless. Panzer-Brigade 107 managed to scare the Allies but never dominated the battlefield.

Counter the attack, Panzer-Brigade 111 and 113

Panzer-Brigades 111 and 113 were both brigades of the heavier configuration of the 'second generation'. They also resembled the hastily build up of Panzer-Brigade 112. At the beginning of September they were considered fit for operations and earmarked for the planned counterattack against the U.S. 3rd Army near Nancy. Due to Allied air superiority the transportation by train was only possible during the night. The movement to the front also suffered from damage to the railways caused by air attacks. Finally both Panzer-Brigades arrived in the area around Lunéville on the 15th of September.

Originally Panzer-Brigade 107 and 108 were also destined to participate into the counterattack, but these troops were diverted to the northern sector of the Western Front after the British staged their ambitious airborne attack in the Netherlands. This left Panzer-Brigade 111 and 113 to clear the area east of Moselle, especially around the Marne-Rhine canal that stretched on the west-east axis south of Nancy. The expanding bridgehead over the Moselle threatened the separate the German 1st and 19th Army in Lorraine. For the Americans this bridgehead was a perfect staging area for an attack over the plains of Lorraine to the industrial Saar area outflanking the strong defence along the Moselle, including the fortresses of Metz and Thionville in the North. Not aware of each other plans both sides were concentrating tank troops in this vital area at the same time for offensive operations.

Before the planned German counterattack at September 18th the Americans were moving the U.S. 4th Armoured Division into the area of Arracourt, just north of Lunéville, to stage their attack towards the Saar, planned on the 19th of September. The U.S. 2nd Cavalry Group was meanwhile trying to wrestle Lunéville from the tenacious German defence of 15th Panzer-Grenadier-Division. On the 15th of September everything looked fine for the Germans, because American attacks were beaten off, but the next day the American troops attacked with the help of the 4th Armoured Division and the Germans had to withdraw. During the 17th the Germans were infiltrating the town again, because it was considered a vital key to the planned operations of the Panzer-Brigades against the Moselle bridgehead on the 18th of September.

The Germans had made up the following plan: Panzer-Brigade 111 would - with the help of remnants of Panzer-Brigade 112 - attack south of the Rhine-Marne canal from Lunéville towards the Moselle to cut off the Allied supply over this river. Meanwhile Panzer-Brigade 113 and 15th Panzer-Grenadier-Division would clear the area around Arracourt north of the Rhine-Marne canal. The southern attack took place under the command of XLVII Panzer-Corps and the northern attack resorted under LVIII Panzer-Corps, which were subjected to the German 5th Panzer Army under the command of Lieutenant-General Hasso von Manteuffel, a promising and relatively young officer with experience on the Eastern Front.

In the morning of the 18th of September the situation was confused in Lunéville, because the town was still contested by both sides. Still Corps-command of XLVII Panzer-Corps was under the impression that the town was well in German hands and send out Panzer-Brigade 111 to advance to the Moselle. Entering Lunéville the brigade became entangled in vicious street fighting with the 2nd Cavalry Troop, which took heavy casualties under the weight of the German superior numbers. The Americans had to withdraw but not before the reinforcements of the 4th and 6th U.S. Armoured Divisions had arrived. The German advance was effectively blocked and Panzer-Brigade made no further progress that day.

The Americans considered what the Germans planned as a major offensive as a local skirmish, part of the ongoing struggle for Lunéville. The Americans were not alarmed by the attack and meanwhile the 4th U.S. Armoured Division was preparing north of Lunéville for the attack to towards the Saar. These movements were carefully concealed from German reconnaissance. On the German side the setback of Panzer-Brigade 111 forced them to alter their plans and objectives. Now a combined attack in the Arracourt area by both Panzer-Brigades was planned to clear the area and take Nancy. Panzer-Brigade 111 would come from the south and Panzer-Brigade 113 would advance from the east, like a hammer and an anvil. For this purpose Panzer-Brigade 111 was handed over to LVIII Panzer Corps.

During the night movement through the Parroy woods towards the assembly area north of the Rhine-Marne canal Panzer-Brigade 111 got lost causing Panzer-Brigade 113 to attack alone. The attack of Panzer-Brigade 113 in the morning of the 19th of September was very promising, because although they did not know anything about the American strength they enjoyed tank superiority of at least two to one. Besides their movements were covered by autumn fog, which added an element of suprise and protected them from being spotted by the feared fighter-bombers. Nevertheless the Americans detected the German advance before the tanks could engage and prepared an ambush. This time the advantage of the fog was in American hands, because it enabled the tankers to engage the German tanks in close range. At the end of the day the Germans had lost more than 50 tanks, half the brigade's strength!

Frustrated by the failure of Panzer-Brigade 113 the German command moved in Panzer-Brigade from the south to attack the American positions around Arracourt once more the following day. The Americans were suprised by a second attack to the rear of their troops, because CCA and CCB of the U.S. 4th Armoured Division were moving northwards again to push on towards the Saar. CCA was hastily turned around to engage the Germans and manage to block their advance in the ensuing tank battle, although this time they also took heavy casualties. Panzer-Brigade 111 suprised the Americans but were unable to turn this suprise into victory due to the quick American reaction.

Meanwhile the CCB of the U.S. 4th Armoured Division was advancing north and threatened the drive a wedge between the German 1st and 5th Panzer Armies. The disappointing results of the attacks and the appalling losses of the Panzer-Brigades brought great distress among the commanders, because the attacks had no significant effect on the American forces or positions. Ultimately Hitler held Johannes Blaskowitz, commander of Army Group G, responsible and he was subsequently sacked and replaced by Hermann Balck, who was highly experienced in armoured warfare on the Eastern Front. The change of command and the movement of both Panzer-Brigades to the endangered zone in north delayed the continuation of the attack for more than 24 hours.

On the 22nd of September the Germans attacked the area north of Arracourt and they enjoyed the cover of the morning fog, like on the 19th. They bumped into American Cavalry forces, which were protecting the main force of the American forces of the U.S. 4th Armoured Division. The Cavalry was no match for the Panzers, but they held the Germans long enough for the CCA to prepare a defensive screen of tanks and tank destroyers to await the Germans.

When the Germans broke through the fog started to lift and they were exposed to the full power of the American defence consisting of tanks, supported by numerous artillery batteries and squadrons of aircraft. What followed was an inferno of fire in which Panzer-Brigade 111 was practically annihilated. From the original 90 tanks and 2500 troops only 7 tanks and 80 men survived. The commander Colonel Heinrich von Bronsart-Schellendorf fell the same day. Von Manteuffel committed Panzer-Brigade 113 to give the attack another chance, but this brigade brought no change. It was purposeless destroyed on the 22nd and 23rd of September, leaving the commander, Colonel Erich von Seckendorf, dead on the battlefield as well.

The destruction of Panzer-Brigades 111 and 113 heralded the end of both the German offensive operations in Lorraine and the Panzer-Brigades as major battle formations. There were two kinds of failures concerning the deployment of the brigades. Firstly, due to lack of reconnaissance Panzer-Brigade 111 became entangled in street fighting in Lunéville and bad co-ordination made the brigade miss their rendezvous with Panzer-Brigade 113, which could have caused the U.S. 4th Armoured Division a major defeat. Secondly, although the Panzer-Brigades harboured a lot of tanks their objectives proved far beyond their capabilities, especially the deployment of untested and inexperienced crew against the seasoned American tankers proved fatal. The one-sided armament of the Panzer-Brigades combined with the lack of fire support made their mission suicidal against overwhelming American firepower.

Aftermath

No new Panzer-Brigades were raised after September 1944 and the units in the field did not participate in offensive operations after September 1944. The Panzer-Brigade was not able to play the role of a highly mobile and powerful intervention unit, the task for which it was created, anymore. All their actions after September were basically defensive operations, usually within the framework of divisions. They were not even intended to play a role into the last major German offensive in the West, the Ardennes offensive.

During October 1944 many Panzer-Brigades were exhausted and only mere shadows of their former strength. Most of them were disbanded in the beginning of October, like Panzer-Brigades 108, 111 and 113. Others still consisted of a considerable amount of tanks and personnel and were assigned to refitting Panzer-Divisions after disbanding during October. Panzer-Brigade 105 was drafted in the 9th Panzer-Division and Panzer-Brigade 112, which still had some 25 Mark IV and 10 Panther tanks, merged with 21st Panzer-Division.

Some Panzer-Brigades managed to prolong their existence, because they proved to be valuable to local commanders, especially on Corps level. Panzer-Brigade 107 was for example committed as Corps reserve of LXXXVI Corps in the Netherlands until the beginning of November. Panzer-Brigade 106 was apparently brought up to strength after the September 1944 debacle, because it remained Corps reserve for the German forces in the Lorraine and Alsace until the beginning of 1945.

Conclusion

The Panzer-Brigades were created to deal with the mounting critical situations at the Eastern Front, especially after the collapse of large sections of the front and the staggering losses of the summer of 1944. Originally these units were designed for deployment in the East, but the lack of effective German tank forces and the urgency of the situation in the West were on the basis of the decision to move them to counter the fast Allied advance in September 1944.

In the West the Panzer-Brigades were not fit to counter the mobile and well-equipped Allied forces. Unlike the Russian infantry the Allied infantry was lavishly equipped with anti-tank weapons and was closely supported by tanks, artillery and airforces. Instead of disintegrating under the suprise and weight of a tank attack, as the Russians did, the Allied forces vigorously counterattacked infiltrating Panzer-Brigades, inflicting heavy losses in the process or even reversing the roles of hunter and hunted on the battlefield.

Although Panzer-Brigades could be an unpleasant suprise to local Allied forces they never influenced the strategic situation, nor were they ever able to dominate the battlefield. Firstly, they were confronted with superior numbers and overwhelming firepower, especially from artillery and aircraft. Secondly, the Panzer-Brigades normally lacked any organic support of artillery and reconnaissance. This made any obstacle and every enemy on the battlefield into a suprise, which had to be overcome without any back up.

The gravest mistake was the commitment of untested units consisting of predominantly inexperienced troops in an attack against battle hardened and well-organised enemy forces. The Panzer-Brigades could have been used in limited actions against enemy incursions or isolated vanguards, but not in an all-out attack penetrating enemy dominated territory. The conduct of the Panzer-Brigade on the battlefield showed how disastrous lack of mutual support can be and how quick untested units could disintegrate under enemy pressure.

Last but not least commanders carry responsibility for the failure of the Panzer-Brigades. Build up around a core of troops from the Eastern Front and destined for use on the same front most brigades were commanded by commanders from this sector. Successful and experienced commanders like Bäke completely failed their task in the West. Eastern Front habits, like attack without proper reconnaissance, were paid for with heavy losses. They also should have known that inexperienced troops were unfit for bold attacks.

The Panzer-Brigades consumed valuable men and equipment, which could have been used more effectively when assorted to build up the regular Panzer-Divisions. Now almost the complete production of Panthers during August was lost without bringing any significant loss to the enemy. At the end of September at least 300 tanks and 250 tank destroyers were wasted on the Western Front in various operations conducted by Panzer-Brigades.

If we look at the overall effectiveness of the Panzer-Brigades we can easily say that this unit was a failure from the start. Without the proper training and time for building up the unit stood no chance on the battlefield, especially against an experienced foe enjoying artillery support and air superiority. Attacks subsequently failed far from reaching the objectives and often even led to horrific losses leading to destruction. In the end the surviving Panzer-Brigades helped to bolster the defence in their sector, but posed no real threat to the Allies.

Sources

  1. DIDDEN, Jack & SWARTS, Maarten. Brabant bevrijd. Hulst : Van Geyt, 1995. 288 p. ISBN 9053270884.
  2. GABEL, Christopher R. The Lorraine Campaign, an overview september-december 1944. Fort Leavenworth, KS : Combined Arms Research Library, 1985. 46 p. -.
  3. PALLUD, Jean-Paul. After the Battle 83 : Panzer attack in Lorraine. Essex : After the Battle, 1994. p. -.
  4. ZALOGA, Steven. Campaign 75 - Lorraine 1944 : Patton vs Manteuffel . Oxford : Osprey Publishing, 2000. 96 p. ISBN 1841760897.