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I thought this article on PANZERGRENADIER TACTICS might prove of some interest, as probably the German Motorised/Panzergrenadier divisions were amongst the most versatile of the War.

Guderian always accepted that tanks
could not operate alone effectively. Despite anti-infantry weaponry-usually
machine guns-a tank was always vulnerable to small groups or even lone
infantrymen if they were determined enough. This vulnerability was increased if
the infantry had access to decent anti-tank guns or devices, but even
poorly-equipped foot soldiers could prove a real danger if they had the
requisite courage. Finnish tank-killing infantry destroyed about 1600 Soviet
AFVs/Tanks during the Winter War of 1939-40, mostly using Molotov cocktails or
even petrol filled vodka bottles. Tanks proved particularly at risk in broken
terrain, such as forests and urban areas and the Finns exploited this.

When Tanks were fighting through
defensive lines or moving through landscape that provided the enemy with good
cover, they needed accompanying infantry to go in first to clear the way or
make a breakthrough in the enemy
line so the Tanks could then exploit. Thus the Panzergrenadier might very often
have to fight like a conventional infantryman. Conversely, in a fast-moving
advance that usually characterised German Blitzkrieg tactics he might find himself carried by a
halftrack, lorry or motorcycle, or in extreme circumstances, hanging from the
tank itself, ready to dismount and engage anything that slowed the Tank.
Whenever tanks bypassed points or ‘pockets’ of stiff enemy resistance, it was
the job of the Panzergrenadier to clear up these pockets.

Although the classic image of the
Panzergrenadier is intimately associated with the SdKfz 251 half-tracked
armoured personnel carrier, there were never enough of these vehicles to equip
panzergrenadier formations to full strength. The concept of a carrier-borne attack
into the heart of the enemy’s defences accompanying the tanks was the ideal,
but the reality was somewhat more mundane. Most Panzergrenadiers were
transported in soft-skinned vehicles like trucks and motorcycles. These were
very vulnerable and thus caution was required when following tanks. There were
no half-tracks available in the Polish campaign, and later in the War very few
Pazergrenadier divisions had a full complement of
these vehicles. Even within the Panzer divisions, only 1 battalion in 2 would
be so equipped.

Therefore instead of driving into the midst of the enemy position, the Panzergrenadiers. normally debussed at a forming-up point or
start line away from the enemy’s line of sight. They then attacked in the
conventional manner of infantry supporting tanks. The key tactical advantage
was that because of their motorisation, they could be brought into battle as
soon as they were needed.

It was only at the time of Barbarossa in
1941 that large numbers of SdKfz 251s became widely available and enough to
equip full battallions of Panzergrenadiers within
a Panzer division. Now, the Germans could experiment with fighting directly
from their half-tracks. Although the SdKfz 251 provided decent protection
against small arms fire, they only had 13mm of armoured plate. Thus they became
vulnerable to even the smallest calibre anti-tank weapon and suffered
accordingly. Due to heavy losses suffered amongst half-tracks when accompanying
Tanks into the heart of a battle, the Germans fairly quickly resorted to
debussing at least 400m or so in front of enemy positions, when using the SD
KFZ 251. Nonetheless, under certain tactical conditions, the half-track could
provide a useful firing position.

At the lowest level, the basic Panzergrenadier
unit was the gruppe or squad, usually about 12 men mounted in a half-track or
often a truck. The squad was led by a squad leader, usually a junior NCO eg a
corporal, who was armed with a machine pistol and was responsible for the squad
to the platoon commander. On the move, he also commanded the vehicle and fired
the vehicle mounted machine gun, usually an MG 34/42. His rifle-armed assistant
was normally a lance-corporal and could lead the half squad if it was divided.
The squad contained 2 light machine-gun teams, each of 2 men, four rifle-armed
infantrymen and the driver and co-driver. The driver was also responsible for
the care of the vehicle and expected to remain with the transport. A Panzergrenadier
platoon was made up of 3 squads, with the
platoon HQ in a separate vehicle. The HQ troop consisted of a platoon
commander, usually a junior officer but sometimes a sergeant, a driver, a
radio-operator, 2 runners, a medic and usually some form of anti-tank gun.

When the squad was transported by a
half-track, the vehicle was mounted from the rear. The deputy squad leader was
responsible for closing the door, thus he would sit towards the rear of the
vehicle and the squad leader would sit at the

These vehicles were open-topped, and on the move it was usual for one man to
scan the skies constantly for aircraft, whilst others kept a watch on both
sides of the vehicle. When a platoon was driving together, close order, for the
convoy was usually 5-10m apart in column or even abreast in open country. In
combat, however, the gaps were extended to beyond 50m, and ragged lines or
chequered formations were used. If the whole battalion was deployed, the
preferred formation was often an ‘arrowhead’. On the whole, troop-carrying
vehicles rarely averaged more than 30km per hour road speed. Even under ideal
conditions, a panzer division was not expected to advance more than 20km in a

The SdKfz 251, drivers were prepared to
simply ignore or drive through small arms fire, but the presence of enemy
artillery or anti-tank guns usually saw them seek cover. The squad’s
machine-gunners might well engage targets on the move, as could the rest of the
squad if necessary from the sides. Often when advancing, the SdKfz 251s, could
utilise a motorised version of fire and movement, advancing, stopping and
firing to cover other half-tracks. A halted half-track provided a good firing
position but was vulnerable. As a result, it was not recommended to stop for
more than 15-20seconds in hostile terrain. The normal dismounting procedure was
via the rear of the vehicle. However, in emergencies, the squad might well jump
over the side as well as out of the back. This was often performed on the move
at slow speeds. Once dismounted, the Panzergrenadiers fought as normal infantry. Improvements in
Soviet anti-tank defences as the war advanced meant that the Panzergrenadiers often had to precede the tanks, or a mixed
force of tanks and soldiers might move forward to clear enemy defences.

One of the most important German
formations developed during the Soviet campaign was the PULK, a contraction of
Panzer und lastkraftwagen, meaning tanks and trucks. This was a hollow wedge of
tanks inside which moved the mororized infantry. The point of the wedge was
formed by the best tanks and the sides by other tanks and self-propelled guns.
When the wedge pierced the enemy defences, it widened the gap as it passed
through. The Panzergrenadiers were then able to spread out and attack remaining
areas of resistance from the flanks and rear. If the enemy’s weakest point had
not been identified, the PULK could advance as a blunt quadrangle. Once a weak
spot was found, the formation could incline left or right, its corner becoming
the ‘point of advance’.

Although the Panzergrenadiers key role
was co-operation with Tanks they could fight on their own. The very flexibility
was a vital component of their value. They could fight as infantry offensive
and defensive actions, assault vital strongpoints, seize bridges and clear
urban or wooded areas in which the Tanks were at risk. Essentially the Panzergrenadiers was part of an all-arms team. His role grew out
of the German acceptance that the Tank could not win battles alone. To quote
Wilhelm Necker in 1943: ‘The Germans at an early stage in the war and even
before the war understood the special weakness of the tank: its dependency on
terrain and the fact it cannot occupy, but can only strike hard and break
through lines. For this reason, the actual tank force was cut down to the
minimum and the division reinforced with various other units, the most
important being the Panzergrenadier.’

First German vehicle picture I saw as a child.

Fleischer, Wolfgang: “Die motorisierten Schutzen und
Panzergrenadiere des deutschen Heeres, 1935-1945.
Waffen-Fahrzeuge-Gliederung-Einsatze”, Podzun Pallas Verlag, Wolfersheim,

Riemann, Horst: “Deutsche Panzergrenadiere”,

Mittler & Sohn Verlag, Herford, 1989,

Scheibert, Horst: “Panzergrenadiere, Kradschutzen und Panzeraufklarer 1935
– 1945”, Podzun Pallas Verlag, Friedberg, ca. 1984,

Lucas/Cooper: “Panzergrenadiere im 2.Weltkrieg”,

Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart, 1.Auflage, 1981,

Redmon/Cuccarese: “Panzergrenadiers in action”, Broschur,
Squadron/Signal Publications, (engl.) Carrollton, Texas, USA, 1980,

Senger-Etterlin,F.: “Die Panzergrenadiere, Geschichte und Gestalt der

mechanisierten Infanterie 1930 – 1960″, Lehmanns Verlag, Munchen, 1961

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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