The Other Panzer Division in Afrika – 10th Panzer Division

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The 10.Panzer-Division was also ordered to Tunisia in response to the Allied landings in French North Africa. The bulk of Panzer-Regiment 7 landed in Tunis in the period from 27 November to 5 December 1942. Ships carrying most of the 5.Kompanie and 8.Kompanie were sunk on 3 December 1942. In total, 2 Pz.Kpfw.lI, 16 Pz.Kpfw.lIl, 12 Pz.Kpfw.lV, and 3 Pz.Bef.Wg. were lost in transit out of the original 21 Pz.Kpfw.ll, 105 Pz.Kpfw.lll, 20 Pz.Kpfw.IV and 9 Pz.Bef.Wg. shipped with Panzer-Regiment 7.

In addition to the Panzers sent to Tunisia with the units, from 1 November 1942 to 1 May 1943 a total of 68 Pz.Kpfw.III and 142 Pz.Kpfw.lV had been shipped to North Africa as replacements, of which 16 Pz.Kpfw.III and 28 Pz.Kpfw.lV were reported as having been sunk in transit. But these reinforcements were insufficient to deal with the combined tank strength of the American and British forces. Worn down by attrition (only 44 Pz.Kpfw.lIl, 25 Pz.Kpfw.IV and 1 Tiger were reported as operational in the last strength report compiled on 4 May), the last of the Panzer units had surrendered in Tunisia by 13 May 1943.

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The 10th Panzer Division was first formed on 1 April 1939 in Prague, as a composite unit made up of previously established units throughout Germany. Many of these units were transferred from the 20th Motorized Division, the 29th Motorized Division, and the 3rd Light Division. By fall of 1939, the division was still forming, but was nonetheless committed to the 1939 Invasion of Poland before the process was complete. For that reason, the 10th Panzer Division remained in reserve for most of that campaign. It was moved from Pomerania in August into Poland, where it was hastily given control of the 7th Panzer Regiment, the 4th Panzer Brigade and several SS units.

The division completed its formation by winter of 1940. It consisted of the 10th Rifle Brigade with the 69th and 86th Rifle Regiments, the 4th Panzer Brigade with the 7th and 8th Panzer Regiments, and the 90th Artillery Regiment.

Once complete, the division was sent to France to participate in the Battle of France. Committed to the XIX Motorized Corps, the 10th Panzer Division was committed to the southern axis of the fight, with the 1st and 2nd Panzer Divisions as well as Infantry Regiment Großdeutschland. It advanced through Luxembourg broke through the French lines at the Muese River near Sedan, all the way to the English Channel in its first engagement. At Sedan, the division remained briefly in reserve to protect the German bridgehead across the river from French counterattack. From there, the division pushed allied forces from the ports in the Flanders region, before engaged in mopping-up operations in western areas of France after the French surrender. Following this, the division engaged in occupation duty and training in France.

In March 1941, the division was recalled to Germany, and moved to the border with the Soviet Union in June of that year in preparation for Operation Barbarossa. Once the operation was launched, the division fought in engagements at Minsk, Smolensk, Vyasma, and the Battle of Moscow. It remained in the region during the Russian winter offensive of 1941-1942, holding Juchnow, near Rzhev, against repeated Russian counterattacks from January to April 1942. By 1942, the division had suffered massive casualties and losses, forcing it to be withdrawn to rebuild.

The division was sent to Amiens, France for rehabilitation. Here, it was reorganized, eliminating the brigade headquarters because the division had been so badly mauled it no longer needed them. In 1942, the division was rushed to Dieppe, where it played a minor role in countering the Dieppe Raid by Allied forces. Once the Allies landed in North Africa, the 10th Panzer Division was placed in occupation duty in Vichy France, and rushed to the African Theater in late 1942 as soon as transport became available. It landed in Tunisia and participating in the Battle of Kasserine Pass and several of the other early battles with units of the United States Army, newly committed to the war. In December 1942, the division, now a part of Fifth Panzer Army, consolidated defenses around Tunis, and the battle-weary troops were able to form a line against the advancing allied forces.

The division remained fighting during the early months of 1943. At that time, when the Axis line collapsed in May 1943, the division was trapped. It surrendered on May 12 and was never rebuilt.

Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg (right)

Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg

In September 1942, the Chief of the General Staff of the O.K.H., Generaloberst Franz Halder, a close friend of von Stauffenberg, was succeeded by General der Infanterie Kurt Zeitzler. von Stauffenberg did not think much of him but Zeitzler highly respected von Stauffenberg and considered him ‘a good future corps and army commander’. Such promising officers were rare and therefore, von Stauffenberg was promoted to Oberleutnant on January 1st, 1943. Shortly after, without consulting von Stauffenberg himself, he was transferred to the post of chief of operations (Ia) of the 10. Panzerkorps in North-Africa. Zeitzler officially declared: “I wanted him to gain experience as a staff officer and troop commander in order to prepare him for his future task as commander of a corps and an army” The decision for his transfer was also made based on the wish to get the outspoken and explicit officer away from the eastern front where he caused increasing unrest. The supreme command wanted to save him from the claws of the SS and SD. von Stauffenberg regretted the necessity but he told his new divisional commander that the German soil was gradually becoming too hot for him.

On February 15th, von Stauffenberg, full of energy, officially embarked on his task in the Afrikakorps. At that moment, the 10. Panzerdivision was in combat near Sidi-Bourzid and the Casserine Pass where the freshly arrived American 2nd Corps got their baptism of fire. For the Americans, the operation ended in disaster but after Major-general George Patton had assumed command, the Germans were driven back.

On April 7th, the same day British-American troops from the west made contact with General Montgomery’s 8th Army (Bio Montgomery), von Stauffenberg assisted in the organization of the German withdrawal to the Tunisian coastal town of Sfax. His staff car zigzagged through a long line of trucks and soldiers when the column was attacked by a number of American P-40 fighter bombers. Numerous vehicles and soldiers were hit. As his driver wound his way through the wreckage, von Stauffenberg stood upright in his car, giving directions when he was targeted by the .50 machineguns of the P-40s. His hands raised above his head, he jumped out of the car but at that moment he was hit by the bullets. He was found later on, semi conscious, lying beside his overturned and burnt out car. He was gravely injured: both eyes were damaged by bullets and his right arm was all but shot away, just as two fingers of his left hand. One of his knees was hit and shrapnel lodged in his back and in his legs. He was rushed to the nearest field hospital in Sfax were he was immediately operated upon. The remains of his right hand were amputated just below his wrist, as well as his left ring finger and little finger. His left eye was also removed.

As Montgomery was approaching Sfax, von Stauffenberg was transferred to the hospital in Cartago. En route, the ambulance frequently came under fire from Allied aircraft. The physicians feared the worst and von Stauffenberg was flown to Munich. He was running a high fever, his entire body was bandaged and his chances of survival appeared slim. While in hospital, the Oberleutnant was being visited by many high ranking officers, including Zeitzler. Many family members came by as well, such as his wife, his mother and his uncle Nikolaus Graf von Üxküll-Gyllenband. von Stauffenberg talked to him about his growing awareness he had been spared to fulfill a certain task in his life. Because of this mission, his will power to recuperate was extremely strong. He was discharged from hospital as early as July 3rd.

von Stauffenberg regained the sight in his right eye and he taught himself to write again with his three remaining fingers, albeit arduously. From then on he wore a black patch over his left eye but later on, he had an artificial eye made. He also had deep scars in his face and his hearing was impaired. Despite his handicaps, von Stauffenberg did not consider himself disabled. After a bit of practice, he managed to dress himself again with his three fingers and his teeth only. He could hardly recall what he had done with all of those ten fingers when he still had them, he remarked jokingly.

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