Alfred Becker started the war in the west with his Batterie (12.) horse powered. After reaching the first Dutch artillery depot on the way of 227. ID he equipped his Batterie and the recon element of 227. ID with motorized vehicles.
Becker started to refit his Batterie with SPA’s by himself, with an arc welder. After 6 month the first armored artillery Battery of the German Wehrmacht was combat ready (without one vehicle build by a professional manufacturer). The armoured artillery vehicle was composed from Vickers Mk.6 under-carriages with 10.5cm Feldhaubitze 16.
After that Becker was transferred to Alkett to help this armour works build a SPA on a French Lorain ammo-carrier.
In 1942/3 Becker salvaged all usable tank wreckage he found in France. Now his unit was called “Baukommando Becker”. His production output (more than 1800 tanks and other vehicles) was used to form “verstarkte schnelle Brigade West”. Becker was also simultaneously commanding officer of Sturmgeschütz-Abt. 200 (later Sturmpanzer-Abt. 200).
Becker’s engineering staff set about their work and were soon pumping out a variety of innovative designs. From 1943 he started to convert the Hotchkiss H35 and 39 light tanks to mount a 7.5cm PaK40 or 10.5cm leFH16 as an assault gun. In the summer of 1943 he was given command of the 200. Sturmgeschützabteilung, part of the rebuilding 21. Panzerdivision, which he equipped with the new assault guns. By the time of the Allied invasion in June 1944 he had built the StuG abteilung up to five batteries of 10 vehicles (4x 7.5cm PaK40 and 6x 10.5cm leFH16 each). Becker was however more than just a simple engineer. In 1914 he had won the Iron Cross 1st and 2nd class, and during the fighting Poland had added the 1939 Bar to each of his crosses (commanding the 15. Batterie, 227. Artillerie-Regiment, 227. Infanterie-Regiment). For his inventive use of captured vehicles he was awarded the War Merit Cross 1st Class with Swords and by 1945 had earned himself a Knight’s Cross of the War Merit Cross with Swords.
Several hundred Lorraine artillery tractors had been captured from the French army in 1940. These tractors were designed as supply vehicles for the French army. In order to meet the need for more and more mobile antitank guns, it was decided to mount the 7.5 cm PaK 40 on the chassis with an armored superstructure. Official designation was 7.5 cm PaK 40/1 auf Geschutzenwagen Lorraine Schlepper (f). About 170 conversions were completed at Army workshops in Paris and Krefeld in 1942. They served on both the Eastern and Western fronts and had a crew of four.
Panzerjäger Lorraine Schlepper 7.5 cm PaK 40/1 (SdKfz 135) “Marder I” The tank destroyer that came to be known as the Marder I has its origins in a field conversion involving mounting an antitank gun on a captured French Lorraine artillery tractor. This conversion was led by Major Alfred Becker, and involved mounting the excellent German PaK 40/1 L/46 7.5 cm antitank gun atop the artillery tractor, which had an open cargo compartment.
Impressed with the efforts of the troops, Hitler ordered that similar conversions be carried out en masse. In order to carry this out, Baukommando Becker (Construction Battalion Becker) was formed. The new superstructures were manufactured by Alkett, and shipped to Becker’s works in Paris and Krefeld for assembly. During July 1942 104 of the vehicles were assembled, with a final sixty-six being completed in August. These vehicles would be used on both the Eastern and Western fronts for the remainder of the war, gaining fame and known commonly as the Marder I.
The relatively thin armor was proof only against small arms and splinters, and was intended to protect the gun crew from infantry, not against tanks. The gun shield of the PaK was placed outside the front of the superstructure. This arrangement permitted the weapon to be traversed 32 degrees either side of center.
The decision to mount artillery guns on captured tank chassis was forced on the military authorities, although it must be questioned as to why they were produced in such small numbers bearing in mind the vast amount of captured material that was available. However it must have been a nightmare for the workshop services as many of the types were mechanically unreliable and the supply of spare parts somewhat erratic. Occasionally, the benefits the vehicles provided in battle outweighed the problems they caused. Finally, the modified French vehicles did represent a great asset for the German units in France and other occupied countries where most of the selfpropelled guns had been deployed. Production figures:
94 – lg 15cm sFH 13 auf Gw Lorraine (f)
12 – 10.5cm leFH 18 auf Gw Lorraine (f)
48 – 10.5cm leFH 18/40 auf Gw H 39 (f)
48 – 10.5cm leFH 16 auf Gw FCM (f)
16 – 10.5cm leFH 18 auf Gw B2 (f)
Hans von Luck writes in his book PANZER COMMANDER:
21st Panzer Division lay, so it was back to La Roche Guyon, where I saw Gause (General Alfred Gause, Rommel’s chief of staff) again.
“The 21st is just back from its Hungarian expedition; it was sent there because of a suspected uprising in favor of the Russians. It’s in the Rennes area, in Brittany, but has just received orders to move to the area around Caen, the capital of Normandy. Please report there to Feuchtinger.”
It was early May 1944, when I found the division and reported my posting.
“A hearty welcome to you,” Feuchtinger greeted me. “Colonel Maempel, commander of Panzer Grenadier Regiment 125, has had to go home for health reasons. I am giving you acting command of his regiment until the official appointment comes through.”
This division, put together in Brittany in 1943, mainly from experienced units from the Russian theater of war and replacements from Germany, was in many respects an unorthodox panzer division.
General Edgar Feuchtinger, an artilleryman, had no combat experience, and none at all of panzer units. He had become known in Germany as the organizer of the military part of the so-called Reichsparteitage, the national Party rallies, and through that was very familiar with Hitler and his Party apparatus. He had apparently used this “connection” to get me into his division as Colonel Maempel’s successor.
Owing to lack of sufficient supplies, the division had mainly French war materiel, which had been found after the French campaign of 1940. This was allowed to be used, with the approval of High Command West, in order to hasten its reestablishment. To that end a “Special HQ Paris” had been created, which was responsible for organization, etc. Here Major Becker, a reserve officer and the owner of a small factory in western Germany, played a decisive part. A highly gifted engineer, with excellent links with armaments industry, and a personal friend of Feuchtinger, he had a free hand to improvise and, with the French materiel, put some of his own designs into effect.
At the Hotchkiss works near Paris, Becker discovered a vast number of tank chassis, for which he organized guns and finished armor-plating in Germany in order to create an “assault-gun” battalion. In addition, he had rocket-launchers made to his design, which were demonstrated on the Normandy coast in May 1944 to Rommel and a few army commanders and filled even Hitler with enthusiasm when he was told of them. Because of his connections, Becker’s battalion also received the latest radio equipment.
At first, we laughed at the monstrous looking assault-guns, but we soon came to know better. The assault-gun companies were trained to work closely with the grenadiers, and this was later to prove a decisive aid to our defense forces. Feuchtinger was naturally proud of Becker’s achievement and was often at his “Special HQ” in Paris, therefore, so that he could follow up Becker’s work. In addition, Feuchtinger was a live and let live person. He was fond of all the good things of life, for which Paris was a natural attraction. Knowing that he had no combat experience or knowledge of tank warfare, Feuchtinger had to delegate most things, that is, leave the execution of orders to us experienced commanders.
Such was the division with which I had to familiarize myself and of which I had to become a part. Panzer Grenadier Regiment 125, entrusted to my command, consisted mainly of various units that had been in action on the Russian front and young replacements from home: the regimental staff, I Battalion in armored half-track vehicles (SPWs), and II Battalion in trucks.
Feuchtinger put me in the picture concerning the general situation. “Our division is the only one near the coast behind the Atlantic Wall, which, here in Normandy, is not yet fully developed and manned by an inexperienced infantry division. The anticipated Allied landing is not expected in Normandy, but rather in the Pas de Calais, the shortest distance between England and the Continent. But Caen, as an important industrial city, is also a key point. That is why it was decided to move a Panzer division here by the Atlantic Wall. All the same, we have to reckon on airborne landings or large-scale commando operations, which would serve as a diversion from the actual landing.
“For that reason, Rommel considers it very important that the division should take up combat positions even in the hinterland.
“Your regiment, in accordance with the orders of Army Group B (Rommel), to which the division is directly attached, is stationed northeast of Caen, hence east of the River Orne; the other regiment, 192, north of Caen, west of the Orne. South of Caen are the panzer regiment, the artillery, and the division’s other units. For your support, you have two companies of Becker’s assault-gun battalion.