What is "Panzergrenadier"?
Motorization History of German Infantry and Grenadier
Many military fans in my country asked me what is "Panzergrenadier" and what is "the different between Panzergrenadier and Panzer-Division" on the Military Board of National Taiwan University Computer Center Bulletin Board System in Taiwan. I answered these questions many times based on my premature study of German Panzertruppen and every time I found something new to me. Finally Mr. von Zerneck, a military fan met in Panzer Lehr site, e-mailed me to discuss something about Grossdeutschland Panzergrenadier-Division. These discussions inspire me to create a site of Panzergrenadier to provide various information for all military fans in the net. That is why the site is here.
Let's start from beginning. Ok, what is "Panzergrenadier" exactly? As we know "Panzer" is "Armor" or "Tank" in English and "Grenadier" is a traditional term for the elite "Infantry" in Prussia Army during 18th century so general speaking "Panzergrenadier" is "Armored Infantry" in English. But there is already an "Infanterie" in German dictionary for "Infantry" in English why did German Army use "Grenadier" instead of "Infanterie"? During 1942 the German renamed all the Infanterie-Regiments to Grenadier-Regiments and later in 1943 renamed most of the Infanterie-Divisions (mot) to Panzergrenadier-Divisions for raising their morale. As we discuss in other sections we will find the German Panzergrenadier was not always "Armored". In fact most of them were "Motorized Panzergrenadiers", that is "Motorized Grenadier" with only a fascinate name of "Panzergrenadier".
The creation of the motorized infantry and panzergrenadier arms came as a direct consequence of General Guderian's revolutionary concept of armored mobile warfare. This concept necessitated the introduction of mobile infantry units which could not only accompany the panzers over difficult terrain into action, but also provide both supportive fire power and safety against enemy infantry and shell splinters under the cover of purposed designed Schuetzenpanzerwagon (rifle armored vehicle).
From the very beginning when the first experimental Panzer-Division founded in 1934 there was a Schuetzen-Brigade (rifle brigade) with one leichte Schuetzen-Regiment (light rifle regiment) and one Kradeschuetzen-Bataillon (motorcycle rifle battalion) as motorized infantry units to support two Panzer-Regiments within the Panzer-Division. The initial development of the German motorized infantry branch was not only lorried infantry, but also motorcycle equipped infantry. Because German did not have suitable armored transport vehicles at that time so those rifle units were instituted partly as motorcycle infantry and partly as lorried infantry.
The first formation of independent motorized infantry units occurred in 1937, four Infanterie-Divisions (mot) (motorized infantry division) were reorganized from Infanterie-Divisions. As a political balance between panzer and cavalry arms four leichte-Divisions were created in 1938. The motorized infantry units within leichte-Division were no longer named as Schuetzen, instead they were named as Kavallerieschuetzen (cavalry rifle). Also in 1938 Hitler appointed Guderian, now a General der Panzertruppen, Chief of Schnelle Truppen (mobile troops), with authority over the development and training of German's mechanized forces including Panzer, Schuetzen, Kavallerieschuetzen, Motorisierte Infanterie (motorized infantry), Panzerabwehr (anti-tank defense) and even Kavallerie truppen.
Polish campaign ended the short life of four leichte-Divisions which reorganized to Panzer-Divisions and all of the Kavallerieschuetzen were renamed as Schuetzen during 1939/1940. The second expansion of Infanterie-Division (mot) occurred after French campaign, a total of 8 Infanterie-Division (mot) were formed but two of them were reorganized to Panzer-Divisions. Another contribution of motorized infantry units came from the elite troops of both Heer and Waffen-SS, for example Infanterie-Division (mot) "Grossdeutschland", SS-Divisions (mot) "LAH", "Das Reich", "Totenkopof" and "Wiking" during 1941/1942. But all of the elite SS-Divisions (mot) were reorganized to Panzergrenadier-Divisions in late 1942 and finally became Panzer-Divisions in late 1943.
After defeats in both Africa and Stalingrad the once destroyed Infanterie-Divisions (mot) or Panzer-Divisions were rebuilt in 1943. These defeats also led to redesignation of the Panzertruppen in the same year, by then without cavalry forces. In June of the same year most of the Infanterie-Divisions (mot) were renamed as Panzergrenadier-Divisions and reorganized as Type 43 Panzergrenadier-Division in September. During 1943/1944 several Panzergrenadier-Divisions were raised by Waffen-SS and even Luftwaffe also raised her own Panzergrenadier-Division. In late 1944 Panzer-Brigades were created to face the collapse of Russian front, they were also occasionally known as Panzergrenadier-Brigades. In fact they were a combination of both panzer and panzergrenadier arms under the same command. Although these brigades failed to prove predict success, this organization became the cadre of Type 45 Panzer-Division in the last period of war.
The final expansion of Panzergrenadier-Divisions was contributed by reorganization of branch units from the elite "Grossdeutschland" formation in 1945. Although they fielded four Panzergrenadier-Divisions, they were no longer intact as divisions and merely as Kempfgruppe (battle group).
Strictly speaking, the Germans never fully complete the formation of panzergrenadier units because until the very end of the war they still failed to produce enough SPW to equip even a fair proportion of the panzergrenadier units. But the concept of infantry mobile warfare and the organization of the panzergrenadier units even influence the new generation of mechanized infantry until today.
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