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Blog topic: German Infantry in early WW2

February 12, 2015

Early German infantry WW2

Early German infantry. Photo shows infantry and artillery soldiers at the Russian border, June of 1941. A camouflaged artillery piece appears to be towed behind a horse drawn wagon. Note artillery soldiers on horses in front of wagon (near upper right of photo). Public Domain photo.

As late as May of 1940, there were still problems with the Blitzkrieg attacks in that the infantry could not keep up with the Panzer units. Except for the small number of armored divisions and mechanized infantry divisions, the rest of the German army looked very similar to the soldiers in the American Civil War with the majority of German soldiers walking or riding horses.

The Panzers were good at attacking weak points and getting in behind enemy lines, moving rapidly and capturing a lot of territory. But they were not very good at holding territory. The Panzer divisions included a relatively small portion of infantry. And if you parked a tank long enough, sooner or later the opposition would get an artillery gun or an airplane and attack the tank. Moreover, you needed infantry to hold the territory that the Panzer units had conquered, in order to repel enemy infantry assaults.

Many mechanized units were actually riding bicycles—a distinct improvement over walking, but is hardly the same as riding in a truck or armored personnel carrier. An infantry man on a bicycle could pedal 20 miles in a morning and still fight all afternoon, whereas an infantryman on foot would spend the entire day walking the 20 miles and it would probably be a 10 hour day at that.

Since the infantry just wasn't keeping up with the Panzer units, the immediate solution was to put the soldiers in trucks. But the trucks were also needed for bringing up supplies, food, ammunition, and most of all fuel. A typical German truck in May 1940 would carry ammunition and food but any empty space of every German army supply truck was dedicated to jerry cans filled with fuel to keep the tanks running.

The German army had considered this problem already and their solution was the half tracked armored personnel vehicles. And that's the latest addition to my model collection – the German armored half track, which I'll talk about in a future post. However, the problem by May 1940, was that not enough half tracks had been produced and the vehicles that were available were typically commandeered for use to tow artillery and for command vehicle use. There just weren't enough around to equip all of the German mechanized infantry divisions, which were designated the Panzer Grenadiers.

Consequently, the infantry had a difficult time keeping up with the tanks in the battle against France and the Low Countries. Although the Germans captured these areas, the operation lacked major elements of the original plan. But by June of 1941, a year later, production had continued and a significant number of Panzer Grenadier divisions were now equipped with these armored half-tracks.

~ Jon


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