1. Organization and Strength of Panzer-Regiment 5for the Campaign
After the mobilization, the 1st Battalion gave up its 3rd Company and the 2nd Battalion its 7th Company to help form a tank training and replacement detachment, PanzerErsatz-Abteilung5.'
After those two companies were detached, the regiment had six tank companies at its disposal for the start of the campaign in Poland on 1 September 1939. The chart on the next page illustrates the numbers and types of tanks on hand.' The Panzer I's and II's bore the brunt of the fighting, with the Panzer III's and Ii"s providing a reinforcing role.
For the campaign, the Panzer-Lehr-Abteilung was attached to the regiment, forming a 3rd Battalion.' Since the last peacetime commander of the regiment, Oberst Nehring, was summoned away to perform his mobilization duties as Chief-of-Staff of the XIX. ArmeeKorps (mot), the regiment was commanded during the campaign by the commander of the Panzer-LehrRegiment, Oberstleutnant Conze.4
Oberstleutnant Conze led the regiment in Poland.
Prior to the start of the campaign, the vehicles of the regiment Were marked with large white crosses to serve as nationality markers while at the Gi o13-Born Training Area. The crosses proved to be disadvantageous, since they offered the enemy a good aiming point for his antitank weapons. As a result, the crosses were blackened out later by most of the crews.
2. Combat Operations from 1 to 21 September 1939
The German head of state appealed to the armed forces at the start of the war on 1 September 1939 as follows:'
To the Armed Forces!
The Polish state has turned down the peaceful negotiation of neighborly relations that had been sought by me; instead, it has appealed to weapons.
The Germans in Poland have been persecuted with bloody terror, driven from hearth and home. A number of border violations-unacceptable for a major power-have proven that the Poles are no longer willing to honor the borders of the Reich. In order to bring this insanity to an end, no other
means are left to us except to now use force against force.
The German Armed Forces will conduct the fight for the honor and right to survive of the newly resurrected German people with tough decisiveness.
I expect that every soldier will fulfill his duty to the utmost, conscious of the great, perpetual tradition of German soldiery.
Remain conscious, always and everywhere, that you are representatives of a National Socialist Greater Germany!
Long live our people and our Reich!
Berlin, 1 September 1939
The 3. Panzer-Division, under the command of Generalleutnant Freiherr Geyr von Schweppenburg, was part of the XIX. Armee-Korps (mot) of General der Panzertruppen Guderian. In addition to the 3. PanzerDivision, the corps consisted of the 2. InfanterieDivision (mot),' the 20. InfantericDivision (mot)' and the 23. Infanterie-Division (corps reserve).' As already mentioned, the Chief-of-Staff was Oberst i.G. Nehring. The mission of the division and, hence, the tank regiment, was the elimination of Polish forces in the corridor that existed between Germany and its eastern province of East Prussia.
The 3. PanzerDivision, having the most combat power of the corps, was employed as the main effort, spearheaded by the 3. Panzer-Brigade, consisting of the regiment and its sister formation, Panzer-Regiment 6 The division initially advanced into the area of the Tuchel Heath.
The attack started around 0445 hours on 1 September. The commanding general moved along with the regiment in a Schutzenpanzerwagen' that had been converted to a command and control vehicle.to
The regiment was employed on the right, with Panzer-Regiment 6 on the left. Together, they took the objective of the day, the Brahe River, which flows from the south to the north through the Tuchel Heath, by noon. It was a scorching hot day. By doing so, the 3. Panzer-Brigade, to which the divisional reconnaissance battalion, Auf ddrungs-Abteilung3 (mot), had been attached, was 30 kilometers deep in enemy territory, driving a wedge into the enemy field army. Attacks by a Polish cavalry brigade charging on horseback with drawn sabers were bloodily repulsed. Guderian ordered the division to cross the Brahe that same afternoon and, by evening, a bridgehead had been formed on the far side of the river.
A Panzer II of the 2nd Battalion after the fighting of 2 September.
A critical situation arose for a short while on the morning of 2 September as the result of Polish counterattacks, but the situation could be mastered. The attack east was then continued. The lead elements of the regiment ran into enemy artillery positions and eliminated them. Despite brave Polish resistance and not inconsiderable friendly losses, the 3. Panzer-Division broke open the front of the Polish field army in the corridor time and again.
The regiment advanced as far as Graudenz by 4 September, advancing along the sandy soil and through dark woods. The city was only a few kilometers from the frontier with East Prussia along the Vistula. That meant that the encirclement of the Polish forces in the northern part of the corridor was only a question of time. The division was subjected to
strong Polish counterattacks through the afternoon of 4 September, with enemy forces numbering upwards of 20,000.
Command of the 3. Panzer-Brigade was transferred to Generalmajor Stumpff that same day due to the sudden illness of Oberst Roth enburg.
The other divisions of the corps had caught up in the meantime, and they undertook the task of completing the encirclement of the Polish corridor army. It was the first pocket battle of the Second World War, and Panzer-Regiment5 had played a major role in its success.
Starting on 7 September, the formations of the 3. Panzer-Division were moved into the eastern portion of East Prussia so as to conduct a new thrust south from there. Three hundred and eighty kilometers were covered in the space of three days. The units marched under nice weather through Marienwerder, Deutsch-Eylau, Allenstein and as far as the training area at Arys. Guderian requested that his corps swing wide out to the east of the 3. Armee, so as to take the Bug River at Brest-Litowsk and thus enveloping the enemy field armies in eastern Poland. The recommendation was approved by the German Army High Command.
A Polish tank knocked out on the way to BrestLitowsk. It is a World War I-era Renault Fr 17/18 light tank.
Firing position of the division's Artillerie-Regiment 75. The artillery piece is a 15-cm sFH 18.
During the night of 10-12 September, the lead elements of the division crossed the frontier between East Prussia and Poland with the objective of taking Brest-Litowsk. After crossing the Narew, the division stormed south, encountering little resistance.
The tanks interdicted the Brest-Litowsk- Bialystok rail line on 12 September, stopping all rail traffic. The advance on Brest-Litowsk was continued the following day.
The regiment, along with the reconnaissance battalion and a battery of artillery (3./Artillerie- Regiment 75) were east of the city by the afternoon of 14 September in an effort to encircle it. The infantry followed and closed.
On 15 September, the division attacked the fortress from the east. Working together with the 20. Infanterie-Division (mot) advancing from the north, the lead elements of the 3. Panzer-Division entered the city. While the motorized infantry division fought for the citadel, which did not fall until 17 September, the 3. Panzer-Divisionwas pulled out of the fighting so as to continue advancing south along the Bug. This time, the regiment and the reconnaissance battalion
formed the spearhead of the division. Impeding the advance was the fact that the unimproved road network had been softened up the previous few days by rain.
When the armored cars of Aufkliirungs-Abteilung 3 (mot) encountered energetic resistance towards noon on 16 September, Hauptmann Schmidt's 2nd Company was brought forward to attack by the battalion commander, MajorWendenburg. Schmidt had 19 operational tanks. Combat engineers mounted the vehicles. Moving rapidly, the tanks entered the enemy positions, breaking the resistance. Horse columns were scattered, vehicles went up in flames and antitank guns were destroyed. The advance was continued during the night of 16-17 September. The marshy terrain and thick woods slowed down the advance. The 4th Company took over the lead.
As it turned first light on 17 September, the 1st Battalion was in the Wlodawa area along the Bug, 70 kilometers south of Brest-Litowsk. The battalion blew up rail lines and bridges there, which cut off the enemy from withdrawing across the Bug. At that point, fuel ran low and the 1st Battalion had to transition to an all-round defense. The division's motorcycle infantry battalion, Kradschutzen-Bataillon 3, then entered Wlodawa from the north. The city fell that morning. After an unsuccessful immediate counterattack, the Poles withdrew to the thick woods to the south of the city. Patrols from the 4th Company were feeling their way farther south, when fuel arrived that afternoon. With the fuel, the entire 1st Battalion could move out again.
Fuel has arrived. The tanks top off using 20-liter fuel canisters.
On 18 September, the division was far ahead of the other formations of the corps. It had covered the most ground of all German divisions during the campaign. At noon on 18 September, the attack was continued in the direction of Chelm, which was also attacked at the same time from the south by the lead elements of the X1711. Annee-Kwps. The attack to take Chelm encountered strong resistance. Only patrols from the motorcycle infantry battalion succeeded in reaching the outskirts of the city. By then, the division had offensively advanced some 300 kilometers south since crossing the East Prussian border. Contrary to what was reported in the Armed Forces Daily Report, the forces of Heeresgruppe Nord and Heeresgruppe Sud" did not link up at Chelm.'2 The 3. Panzer-Division issued orders to pull back to Wlodawa. On 17 September, the Soviet Union had attacked Poland from the east. As a result, all of the German forces east of the Bug pulled back to the west in accordance with the secret protocols of the German-Soviet Union Non-Aggression Pact.
After the division had assembled in the Wlodawa area, it started pulling back to Brest-Litowsk on 21 September. On 22 September, there was a combined German-Soviet parade. Following that, the division marched back to the area around Bartenstein in East Prussia, reaching it on 23 September. On 26 September, the divisions of the corps were released from attachment and the corps reverted to being strictly headquarters elements without assigned forces."
Isolated fighting continued against Polish remnants until 5 October before the fighting was finally over.
3. Lessons Learned
The success registered during the campaign in Poland was due in decisive measure to the armored forces that Guderian had created. The fighting in Poland had been the fledgling force's baptism of fire. From a warfare perspective, it meant the dawning of a new era. What had been hinted at in the Great War had become certainty: The decisive role on the battlefield had transitioned from the infantry to the armored forces.
The massive success of the German forces in only four weeks against a numerically equal opponent and with minimal friendly losses was unique in the history of warfare.14 It was mostly due to the Panzertruppe, in conjunction with the Luftwaffe. The latter had rapidly established air superiority and then supported the
armored forces on the ground, enabling their rapid movement.
The doctrines established for the Panzertruppe had proven themselves: The armored forces reached their full potential when theywere cut loose from the foot-marching infantry, consolidated in large-scale formations and then attacked long-range objectives. All other branches needed to be represented in those armored formations, however, since the tanks were in need of their support. It was also important that those other branches be able to keep pace with the tanks when moving cross country.
Exploiting its firepower, armor and maneuverability, the Panzertruppe was in a position to effectively attack the enemy in his deep flank and rear, ultimately enveloping him. As a result, it was capable of being employed in a decisive manner at the operational level.
In the fighting that destroyed this Panzer I, Panzerschiitze Bader of the 2nd Battalion was killed.
Although the Panzertruppe had acquitted itself well in the campaign, it had not encountered armored forces to any great extent. Finally, it was determined that the tank regiments needed more armored vehicles outfitted with main guns as opposed to machine guns or automatic cannon. Above all, the Panzer I had proven to be too weak.
The average age of those killed in the campaign was 24. When looking at casualty lists, it is also striking how high the percentage of noncommissioned officers and officers was, almost one third.
4. The Beginning of October 1939 to the Beginning of May 1940: Between the Campaign in Poland and the Campaign in the West
On 1 October 1939, the 3. Panzer-Division left its assigned billets in East Prussia. Deserving officers, noncommissioned officers and enlisted personnel received the Iron Cross, which had been reinstituted on 1 September, as a reward for their bravery. The first wound badges were also issued. At the time, the Tank Assault Badge did not yet exist.
The tanks and other tracked vehicles were loaded on ships at Pillau and shipped home that way to help reduce wear and tear." The regiment returned to its peacetime garrisons and was enthusiastically greeted by the local populace. As with the other garrisons of the division, a victory parade was held on 5 October in Wiinsdorf. This was followed by several changes in command. The division commander, von Schweppenburg, transferred command to Generalmajor Stumpff, the former commander of the 3. Panzer-Brigade, for health reasons. The new commander of the 3. Panzer-Brigade was Oberst Kuhn, the former commander of the Armor School.16 Oberstleutnant Conze, who had held acting command of the regiment during the campaign in Poland, handed over the reins of command to Oberst Freiberr von Funck on 15 October. Von Funck had previously
been the military attache at the German embassy in Lisbon."
Panzer lit and IV's after the campaign in Poland. For the most part, efforts have been made to eliminate the large white crosses.
An obituary notice taken out in a local newspaper by the acting commander of the regiment, Oberstleutnant Conze, for one of his officers who had been killed in the fighting. The text reads: "Leutnant Ernst von Krause was killed in the struggle to liberate German soil in the east in an aggressive tank attack along the Brahe on 2 September. His upbeat and jaunty manner and his exemplary comradeship will never be forgotten by the regiment. Conze. Oberstleutnant and Acting Commander of a Tank Regiment."
On 29 November, the troop elements of the 3. Panzer-Division left their garrisons again. This time, they headed west. The division occupied an assembly area in the Osnabriick-Glandorf-Warendorf area. The troop elements were largely billeted in farm houses; the tanks were in concealed positions in barns or farmyards. For Christmas 1939, married personnel were allowed to take leave; single men had to remain with their units.
In February 1940, the division found itself on the march again. It crossed the Rhine at Duisburg and reached its operational area for the Western Front, with assembly areas around Krefeld and Viersen. The time was spent in combat training at the Trar Training Area, plus drill and ceremonies, gunnery training and firing, formations, night marches, test alerts and maintenance.
In expectation of the campaign in the West, intensive training was conducted in water crossings with vehicles. In this case, a Panzerbefehlswagen III crosses a creek by means of the bridge from an armored bridge layer.
Between the campaigns: Lieutenants in the regiment. From the left: Leutnant Steinbrecher, Leutnant Fricke (killed in action in Africa in 1942) and LeutnantZorn.
September 1939: Tanks of the regiment cross the Bug.
2 September 1939: The tank regiment in the attack in the Graudenz area.
The regiment moves out. The vehicle in the foreground is a Panzerbefehlswagen III
Attack on a farmstead defended by Poles.
The light tank platoon of the regimental headquarters during a break in operations. Note the Polish border marker one of the men is holding.
Mobile command post. The commander of the 2nd Battalion, Majorvon Wilcke, is sitting at the table.
5 September 1939: The Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces visits the XIX Armee-Korps (mot). GeneralmajorRommel, who was the commander of Hitler's security detail at the time, is seen with the map in the crook of his left arm.
Adolf Hitler among the soldiers.
A Panzer IV of the 4th Company crosses a body of water.
A wheeled vehicle (Kfz. 4) of the regiment with a twin machine gun for antiaircraft defense.
A PanzerI in an assembly area. Note the field vegetation and the improvised quarters.
Commanders in conference with Guderian: Oberstleutnant Conze is to the viewer's far left and Oberst Stumpff, the commander of the 3. PanzerBrigade, is wearing the full Panzer uniform.
The regiment deployed for the attack.
A Panzer II of the regimental headquarters in a Polish village.
A burned-out PanzerIVof the 8th Company.
Gravesite for the crew of 824, a PanzerIV
Panzerschiitze Arnold Grassnick of the 5th Company, who was killed in action on 18 September.
APanzerlof the company bears his name, a custom that was frequently followed in the early war years.
On the way home.
The harbor at Pillau at the beginning of October 1939. The regiment's tracked vehicles are loaded on to transport ships.
5 November 1939: The regimental band holds a concert for the wounded from the campaign in Poland. The text reads: "Sunday, 5 November, 1600 hours (4 o'clock). Charitable concert for the benefit of the wounded of the tank regiment in Poland at the Flower Gardens in Oberschoneweicle. Performing: The music corps and choir of Panzer-Regiment 5. Directing: StabsmusikmeisterTaege. The entrance cost of 50 Pfennige will be given exclusively to the wounded. The rapid end of the war in Poland is especially thanks to the advancing armored forces, in addition to the magnificent performance of the Luftwaffe and other forces. Those who remained at home can especially thank the wounded by attending the charitable event in large numbers."
Winter 1939-1940: Soldiers of the regiment in a garrison in Hamm.
Spring 1940: The regiment moves by rail to the western frontier, with the local populace offering support.