|Thegermanarmy.org - The German Army 1657-1945||
|The Birth of the German Mechanized Foreces 1935- 1945|
|The era of the dummy tanks
Germany's mechanized troops did not spring into being fully formed like Pallas Athena from the forehead of Zeus. On the contrary, their evolution was a long-drawn-out story of deprivation under the restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles, and they had to contend - and contend still - with the opposition provoked in our own camp through their sheer novelty and unfamiliarity.
Under the old War Ministry (Reichswehrministerium), the Inspectorate of Mechanized Forces (Inspektion der Kraftfahrtruppen) was the only organ of the army responsible for the concept of mechanization as a whole, and consequently of maintaining the tradition of the weak German tank forces of the World War. In addition to the work of mechanizing the army in general, the efforts of the Inspectorate extended in two directions. The first was to explore the business of transporting troops by truck. A number of exercises were arranged to this end, beginning with the Harz Exercise of 1921. This was directed by the current Inspector, Major-General von Tschischwitz, and concerned the movement of a single battalion. In later years a number of reinforced battalions and regiments were put through a large number of trials - lengthy cross-country marches, and shorter ones in the course of manoeuvres - and in the process the Inspectorate learned a great deal about how to prepare and manage large-scale transport by truck.
The second direction involved the setting up of a core of tank troops, albeit under conditions of the greatest difficulty. The Allies permitted us to have nothing more than the so-called 'armoured trucks for the transportation of personnel' — by which the French and British understood a goods truck with a sheet iron superstructure. After long negotiations they finally permitted the armoured vehicle depicted in Plate 31, which had vertical sides and no traversible turret or permanently mounted weapons. By devising a chassis with 4-wheel drive and rear steering we were able to build a vehicle which had a certain value for dealing with internal disorders in Germany, and, as we shall see, was usable in training. The armour proved to be too heavy for the chassis, without being proof against the rifle-calibre armour-piercing round, and we were so short of resources that we were unable to build even the limited number of vehicles allowed by the terms of that disgraceful treaty. All the same we put it to use in the first of
our officer training courses, when the machine saw service in a number of small-scale exercises, especially in reconnaissance work. We acquired some useful lessons as a result. Here, indeed, was the first spark of inspiration for developing the motorized forces into a proper tank arm, and it was never going to be extinguished.
Since the Treaty of Versailles forbade us to manufacture tracked vehicles, we had the idea of building multi-wheeled vehicles which would have a certain amount of cross-country mobility. We accordingly began to devise a number of 8- and 10-wheeled machines. However it was specified at the same time that the vehicles must be amphibious, which led to some very complicated and bulky machines that were subject to a great number of teething troubles. In spite of efforts extending over several years it proved impossible to build vehicles of this kind that could be of any use in war.
The same period saw the first projects for tanks with caterpillar tracks. Development went ahead slowly, however, because the emphasis in the training of the mechanized troops had to shift to logistic transportation.
A later Inspector, General von Vollard-Bockelberg, recognized how inefficient it was to keep on training all the diverse elements of the mechanized forces as a single body-tanks along with motor-cycles, columns of trucks, ambulances and so on. Instead he instituted a separation of functions, though the work inevitably had to proceed under conditions of the greatest secrecy, on account of the restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles.
Mock-ups were mounted on Hanomag chassis, and several companies of 'tanks' were formed, and duly went through their paces with this forbidden weapon under the astonished gaze of the other troops on exercises. Clumsy though they were, they showed the need for effective anti-tank weapons, and kept alive a debate of sorts concerning tank operations and anti-tank defence.
Motor-cyclists were concentrated in a Motor Cycle Rifle Company (Kraftradschützenkompagnie), and in the manouevres of 1928 they were used for the first time in association with the existing 'tanks' and mechanized infantry.
Courses were held for the officers of the mechanized forces, and they extended beyond technicalities to the actual tactics, and the co-operation of the mechanized forces with the other services. It was not long before limited numbers of officers of those arms were also admitted to the courses.
In this and the following years the officers of the Kraftfahrlehrstab ( Motor Transport Instructional Staff ) not only established uniform tactical and technical principles within their own branch of the service, but engaged in detailed discussions which laid down the guidelines for a rebuilding of the German tank forces - or at least as far as this was possible through theoretical studies and our practical exercises with the mock-ups. In later years the Kraftfahrlehrstab became the foundation of the Kraftfahrlehrschule (Mechanized Forces Instructional School) of the new army.
General von Stülpnagel continued the work of organizing and training along the lines that had been pioneered by his predecessors. The motorized detachments were reinforced by a number of motorized squadrons comprising one company each of motor-cyles, armoured reconnaissance vehicles, 'tanks' and anti-tank troops. Inevitably they were all still equipped with dummy vehicles and wooden guns.
On 1 April 1931 the former chief of staff, General Lutz, was appointed Inspector of Motorized Forces. His earlier career had been in the technical branches, and during the war he had functioned as commander of the motor transport of one of our armies.
On instructions from army command, General Lutz conducted two sets of three exercises each on the respective training areas of Grafenwohr and Juterbog. The purpose was to train a dummy tank detachment in working with a reinforced infantry regiment, and to gain some experience of antitank defence. These six exercises provided a useful stimulation for the later build-up of our tank forces in general, as well as helping to set the specifications for our future tanks and given the immediate impetus for a number of design projects. Foreign literature and machines underwent careful examination, as a means of tapping the experience of the other countries that had been constructing tanks for the last sixteen years. All the same our later prototypes were not immune from developmental problems, because one cannot replace long experience of building real tanks by imitation or work on the drawing-board.
In the autumn of 1932 four motorized reconnaissance detachments and a composite motorcyle battalion took part for the first time in the large-scale exercises. The organization stood up very well, and the efforts of our new forces and their officers earned considerable applause. This cheered us no end, and we pushed ahead with the work of development.
However there remained one obstacle - the fact that our military and political leadership lacked the nerve to free itself from the Versailles restrictions. As far as our own arm was concerned this decisive step was accomplished almost overnight, when executive power was transferred to Adolf Hitler on 30 January 1933. The armour plates of our 'mock-ups' became visibly stronger, and were now proof against the attentions of the street urchins who used to amuse themselves by boring holes through them. The wooden guns were banished. The reconnaissance detachments were increased to four companies each, anti-tank detachments were organized in three companies, and we began experiments with motorized infantry and tanks.
By 1 July 1934 the experimental work had attained such dimensions that it became necessary to set up a special Command of the Tank Forces (Kommando der Panzertruppen), which was entrusted to its first commanding general, Lieutenant-General Lutz, the former Inspector. The task of the new command was to continue the experiments with the mechanized forces, and explore and test the tactical structures that might put these new formations to the most effective use. In the autumn of 1935 the various cogitations and practical exercises culminated in large experimental manoeuvres at Munsterlager, of which the most important result was the decision to establish three panzer (armoured) divisions. These were formed on 16 October 1935 under the overall authority of the Armoured Forces, and command of the individual authorities was entrusted respectively to Lieutenant-General Baron von Weichs, Lieutenant-General Fessmann and myself. The tank and anti-tank forces, the motorized infantry and the reconnaissance detachments as a whole were constituted as a new arm of the service under the designation of Motorized Combat Forces (Kraftfahrkampftruppen). We shall now turn to the individual branches.
Armoured and motorized reconnaissance
The purpose of reconnaissance is to provide the commander with an accurate assessment of what the enemy is doing; in effect information of this kind furnishes the basis for command decisions. Reconnaissance is categorized according, to the means of collecting intelligence into aerial reconnaissance, ground reconnaissance, signals intelligence (telephonic, wireless and so on), information obtained through spies and other means. The various agencies of intelligence are complementary, and, if one fails, another must take its place. Military reconnaissance is further subdivided into the operational, tactical and combat levels. Operational reconnaissance is a long-range affair which is at the service of the high command, and is carried out primarily through the air forces. However the air forces are unable to determine unconditionally whether such and such an area is occupied or not. Good enemy camouflage, night and fog, bad weather, extensive mountains and forests and large built-up areas can all render reconnaissance difficult or downright impossible. Aerial reconnaissance is incapable of keeping up a constant surveillance, or of maintaining contact with the enemy. Aerial reconnaissance has undeniable advantages - its difficulty of interception, its speed and its great range - but it cannot dispense with the need for good ground-based reconnaissance.
It it is to be of any use, intelligence must reach the commander with the minimum of delay, and speed and security are at a premium. That is why the horse has been replaced by the motor vehicle, and especially for operational and tactical reconnaissance. By definition the scouts must keep ahead of the forces who are supposed to follow them. Mounted reconnaissance is therefore suitable only for infantry divisions, and even here there is a growing demand for motorized reconnaissance, because of improvements in the cross-country mobility of vehicles.
Motorized ground reconnaissance is carried out by armoured reconnaissance vehicles. Operational reconnaissance demands considerable range and speed on the part of the vehicles, considerable combat power in terms of armament and armour, and long-range wireless apparatus. Since operational reconnaissance is conducted mainly on roads, the preference is for wheeled vehicles, which are given a measure of cross-country mobility by multi-wheel drive and rear steering. In closer contact with the enemy, reconnaissance is accomplished by light armoured vehicles or motor-cycles. Halftracks or wheel-track convertibles are suitable for tactical reconnaissance, which calls for greater cross-country mobility, and combat reconnaissance is answered mainly by tracked vehicles. Most of the armoured reconnaissance vehicles have armoured-piercing guns.
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