Early history of the German Panzerwaffe

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One of the first known photographs of the Austro-Daimler Panzerautomobil. The driver is a Daimler employee, c. 1904

The early history of the German Panzerwaffe (English: Armoured Arm) begins with the Schwere Kampfwagen-Abteilungen of the Imperial German Army in the First World War, was refined, mostly in secret, by the Reichswehr and led to the innovative developement of the Panzer Branch of the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS (Panzertruppe der Wehrmacht und Waffen-SS) after 1935, but also to the Assault Artillery Branch (Sturmartillerietruppe der Wehrmacht und Waffen-SS) in World War II. The German word for armor is Panzer, and this was the designation of its armored branch of service, the Panzertruppe (armored troops/branch), and of its armored formations.

Heinz Guderian ist often considered the father or founder of the Panzer or tank weapon, but this is not absolutely correct. Especially Ernst Volckheim, but also General der Artillerie Alfred von Vollard-Bockelberg, Oswald Lutz, the first General der Panzertruppe and early promoter of the Kraftfahrtruppe as well as Inspekteur der Verkehrstruppen, Panzer consultant (Panzerreferent) Ludwig Ritter von Radlmaier and others, had a significant influence on the development before him.


Powered by two Daimler engines, the Sturmpanzerwagen A7V model (Abteilung 7 Verkehrswesen) was first demonstrated in the German spring offensive of 1918. Internally, the Sturmpanzerwagen was cramped and noisy. it required a crew of 18 to man the machine to full potential. With the 57 mm main gun at front, internal operators had access to two 7.92 mm machine guns at the rear along with a further four along the sides - two to a side. Each machine gun needed two personnel per gun - a firer and an ammunition re-supplier. The engine sat in the lower-middle of the design with the main gear components resting under the rear. A crew of two operated the front 57 mm main gun, one to aim and fire while the other loaded it. Two drivers sat in the upper center budge area operating a steering wheel and lever controls. Stowage was allotted for individual crew weapons in the form of rifles. During final design, a rear-facing cannon was removed and the number of machine-guns was increased to six. Grab ropes were provided throughout as the design had plenty of headroom space for the average soldier, though travel made for an uneasy and overall bumpy ride. The A7V was in many ways superior to enemy tanks (all-around armor protection for the crew was second to none), but far too few were built and introduced far too late. At its peak, the Allied command could muster over 6,000 armored vehicles, the Germans in November 1918 only 200. By the time of the arrival of the Sturmpanzerwagen, the Germans had already successfully developed their own brand of armor-piercing projectile as well.
The project to design and build the first German tank was placed under the direction of Hauptmann der Reserve Joseph Vollmer, a leading German engineer, automobile designer and manufacturer. He was chosen to design the World War I German tanks A7V, and the Großkampfwagen (K-Wagen). The K-Wagen was a German super-heavy tank, two prototypes of which were almost completed by the end of World War I. The vehicle originally weighed 165 tons but this was reduced to a more practicable 120 tons by shortening the length. The K-Wagen was to be armed with four 77 mm fortress guns and seven MG08 machine guns and had a crew of 27: a commander, two drivers, a signaler, an artillery officer, 12 artillery men, eight machine gunners and two mechanics. At the beginning of the project the incorporation of flamethrowers was considered but later rejected. The K-Wagen never became operational as under the conditions of the Armistice Germany was forbidden to possess tanks. One of the tanks, "Ribe", was complete at the end of the war, but it never left the factory and was scrapped under the watchful eyes of the Military Inter-Allied Commission of Control.
Sturm-Panzer-Kraftwagen-Abteilung with British Beutepanzer on the Western Front, 1918
Near the end of the First World War it was clear that the A7V was too slow in action and slow to build. Therefore, it was decided that a lighter tank was required which could spearhead assaults and which could be mass-produced, and was called the Sturmpanzerwagen "Oberschlesien". Thirteen companies bid for the contract and in the middle of 1918 construction of a design by Captain Klaus Müller was assigned to the Oberschlesien Eisenwerk of Gleiwitz, which had partially completed two prototypes by October 1918. It was a radical design for a fast-moving, lightly armored assault tank. The Oberschlesien included a track which was placed under the tank and only wrapped around half of it. The design sacrificed armor for the sake of speed and only required a 180 hp engine for the 19-ton body, giving it a projected ground speed of 14 km/h (8.7 mph). The tank featured such advanced features as a main cannon mounted on top of the tank in a central revolving turret, separate fighting and engine compartments, a rear-mounted engine and a low track run. Neither the ordered test models nor the improved "Oberschlesien II" already planned were finished before the end of the war.
Kama tank school
The groundbreaking but complex Neubaufahrzeug „PzKpfw Nb.Fz.“ would become the basis of medium tank buildig in Germany. Even with all its faults, the Neubaufahrzeug provided insight into tank designing that was valuable for the next German medium tank project, the Begleitwagen ("accompanying vehicle"), which would enter service as the Panzer IV. The first German Panzerkampfwagen to be mass-produced after the WWI would become the light tank Panzerkampfwagen I, the Sonderkraftfahrzeug (Sd.Kfz.) 101. The small, vulnerable light tank, along with its somewhat more powerful successor the Panzer II, would soon be surpassed as a front-line armoured combat vehicle by more powerful German tanks, such as the Panzer III, and later the Panzer IV, Panzer V, and Panzer VI; nevertheless, the Panzer I's contribution to the early victories of the Wehrmacht during WWII was significant.
German Panzer troops during training, 1935
German Heer tank commandant (Panzerkampfwagen IV) with the Panzer cap (Panzerschutzmütze) on the war front; the exact name of the cap introduced in 1934 and discontinued in 1941 was "protective cap for motor combat troops".
Rommel's 7. Panzer-Division in the designated staging area on 10 May 1940 (Battle of France)
Uniform of a Panzer-Kommandant of the Waffen-SS
General der Panzertruppe Erwin Rommel, commanding general of the Deutsches Arfika Korps (de) and supreme commander of the Panzer-Armee „Afrika“ (de)
Captain Alfred Ziemann, recipient of the Knight's Cross, with a NCO from heavy tank destroyer (Panzerjäger) battalion 93 in front of a "Nashorn" tank destroyer.
Various German Panzer badges; from left to right: Panzerkampfabzeichen des Heeres for 25 kills, Panzertruppenabzeichen der Legion Condor, Panzerkampfabzeichen des Heeres in Bronze and the Kampfwagen-Erinnerungsabzeichen (KW) of WWI; on top: Tank Destruction Badge, awarded to individuals of the Wehrmacht, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and so on who had single-handedly destroyed an enemy tank or an armored combat vehicle using a hand-held weapon.
The History of the Panzer Troops 1916-1945

Early in the history of war, attempts were made to use armored vehicles for war purposes. In ancient warfare, the chariot was used both for long-range combat by archers and for close combat to overrun enemy lines. When besieging fortresses, the covered, mobile battering ram was used. In this way, the attacker was able to bring the battering ram to the fortress wall, protected from arrows by the defenders.

Around 1900, the German engineer Franz Klotz, who worked for Škoda in Pilsen (Austria-Hungary), developed a “tank bell” and had it patented. The armor was to be mounted on a chassis so that it could move vertically. If this vehicle was engaged in combat, the armor should be lowered to ground level and the enemy should be attacked with machine guns. The armor was then raised again to a height of about 30 centimeters above the ground and the journey continued.

In 1903, H.G. Wells' short story The Land Ironclads appeared in Strand Magazine. The story, which is not set in any specific country, is about a static warfare in which movement seems impossible - until the opponent uses bicycle cavalry and land-based armored war machines that crush enemy infantry and are even capable of digging wide trenches overcome. Wells thus conceived the concept of this modern war machine years before the tank was invented. However, its war machines are considerably larger than the tanks were and are more reminiscent of small, land-based armored cruisers. It is noteworthy that the gunners in Wells tanks already work with a kind of joystick and have sights with automatic aiming.

One of the world's first all-wheel drive armored vehicles with all-round armor was manufactured by Paul Daimler, German designer and eldest of Gottlieb Daimler's five children from his first marriage. The Austro-Daimler company in Wiener Neustadt developed the first wheeled armored vehicle over three years of secret work. In March 1906, this vehicle was presented to the public for the first time and then presented in action during the autumn maneuvers of the army command. The armoured reconnaissance car (Panzerspähwagen) had four-wheel drive with solid rubber tires and off-road gearing in order to be able to climb steep slopes. It was fully armored and fitted with a hand-rotating dome with two machine guns. A reconnaissance trip was part of the presentation of the performance. In just one day, the wheeled armored vehicle covered a distance of around 160 kilometers on mostly poor road conditions. From 1907 to 1922, Paul Daimler was technical director of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim with plants in Berlin-Marienfelde and Sindelfingen (from 1915).

The first tracked vehicles to have utility were the Holt-Caterpillar tractors. A simple circulating chain ensured that the purely civilian devices could move better on uneven or difficult ground than vehicles with tires or spoked wheels. In 1912, Australian engineer and inventor Lancelot de Mole submitted plans for an armored full-track vehicle to the French War Office. However, at that time the plans were completely ignored.


In the fall of 1914, the Allies began to consider how a powerful motorized weapon could be used to get the front, which had been frozen in trench warfare, moving again. In early 1915, British officer Ernest Dunlop Swinton set about developing an armored fighting machine. His plans were initially rejected by the General Staff and the Secretary of War, Lord Kitchener. Swinton used his political influence and was able to push through a test of a test vehicle. This failed. In this situation, the then Navy Minister, Winston Churchill, took the initiative: he called the tank design (Mark I) a land ship and thus fell under the purview of the Royal Navy. Churchill formed the Landships Committee from naval officers and civilians. Beginning 17 September 1915, Lieutenant Walter Gordon Wilson built the final prototype, later called mother. As the project took shape, the committee was given the code name Committee for the Provision of Tanks in December 1915; hence the English term tank, which is still in use today.

The first tanks were used by the British armed forces in World War I from September 1916. They were simply armored vehicles armed with either machine guns or cannons. At the beginning of WWI, the term "tank" was still common, which is still used in English and Russian-speaking countries. The German military scientist George Soldan wrote a decade after the end of World War I:

“The term 'tank' was a clever disguise; the impression should be given that they are large mobile fuel tanks. For this reason, the moral success of the 'Sturmwagen' [assault wagen], which had hitherto been unknown to our troops and suddenly emerged from thick fog and headed towards our front, was a considerable one. It offered something completely new with apparent inviolability.”[1]

The first tanks only reached low speeds in the field because their engine power was still low; their own infantry could easily follow. Their main use was that they could clear a path for infantry through extensive barbed wire entrenchments and machine gun positions. Only the faster vehicles, known as cavalry tanks, such as the Whippet, were able to break through a gap in the enemy defenses and advance into the rear. The armor was vulnerable to guns, hand grenades and flamethrowers. Deep shell craters and wide trenches ("tank ditch") could already represent an insurmountable obstacle for the tanks. Many tanks failed due to technical defects.

The German Supreme Army Command (Oberste Heeresleitung) was initially of the opinion that the tank was at best a "shock weapon" which, although capable of giving its own side a psychological advantage, could not achieve any resounding success in the long term. This assessment was based not least on the shortcomings of the tanks of the time. Therefore the Germans concentrated on anti-tank weapons. It was only later that the value of armored weapons was recognized. At that time, the German war economy lacked the necessary resources. At the turn of the year 1917/18, the army command sent the “1. German tank department" for tactical training for the storm and training battalion in Beuveille. Their shortcomings became apparent on the training ground there. The first German tanks were relatively slow and cumbersome. On 1 February 1918, Colonel Hermann Meyer, chief of field motor vehicles (Chef des Feldkraftfahrwesens), conducted a preliminary inspection of the department. Therefore only about 20 examples of the German combat vehicle A7V were produced. Many of the captured Allied tanks (Beutepanzer) were reused by the Germans in their own ranks. The first battles between tanks took place during the First World War.

German heavy assault tank detachments (WWI)

In September 1917, the War Ministry ordered the formation of the first assault armored vehicle detachments. Since only 20 A7V tanks were produced, only three detachments of five tanks each could be equipped with them. Five tanks remained in reserve. In January 1918, the Supreme Army Command (OHL) authorized the Feldkraftfahrchef to set up further A7V departments. However, the corresponding combat vehicles were missing, and so from March 1918 six more detachments, equipped with British captured tanks Mark IV, were set up.

The tactical training of the crews of the A7V, which was made up of various branches of service (infantry, artillery, motorized troops), was initially carried out in Beuville by the "Storm Battalion Rohr" – an elite unit that used very successful and, for the time, advanced training and deployment methods for developed the assault. The Sturm-Bataillon Nr. 5 was commanded by Hauptmann (promoted on 22 March 1912) Wilhelm „Willy“ Martin Ernst Rohr, promoted in 1918 to Major. After the demonstration of the "Sturmpanzer-Kraftwagen-Abteilung" in front of General Erich Ludendorff on 25 February 1918, the formation of three StPzKrW-Abteilungen with a total of 20 A7V became final. In parallel, the formation of armored car detachments with captured tanks was accelerated. The technical driving training of the crews was carried out in the cross-country driving school (Geländefahrschule) in Berlin.[2]

The assault armored vehicle divisions were directly subordinate to the Supreme Army Command. They were assigned to the respective armies for use. During the assignment, they were subordinate to the responsible commanders of the motor troop in disciplinary and technical terms. Replacement troop part of all departments, except for the Bavarian Department No. 13, was the Prussian Motor Replacement Detachment No. 1 (Kraftfahr-Ersatzabteilung Nr. 1) in Berlin. In mid-August 1918, at the instigation of the OHL, the merger of the previous combat vehicle detachments was ordered. The previous designation "Sturmpanzerkraftwagen" was changed to "Kampfwagen". According to the new organization, the previous assault vehicle detachments (Sturm-Panzer-Kraftwagen-Abteilungen) were to be combined into heavy tank detachments (Kampfwagen-Abteilungen) into three companies with a total of 15 heavy tanks (A7V or Beute).

The number of personnel differed depending on the fighting vehicle used. In April 1918, the A7V units had a budget of seven officers, 42 non-commissioned officers and 129 enlisted men, i.e. a total of 178 soldiers. The material available was: five A7V, three cars and seven trucks. Due to the lower manning of the British Mark IV, the loot departments had a slightly lower personnel budget of 142 men, more precisely: seven officers, 36 non-commissioned officers and 99 enlisted men. The departments were equipped with five Mark IVs, three cars and eight trucks. As a result of the end of the war, the planned formation of a Württemberg and a Saxon assault armored car division did not take place. In November 1918, the combat vehicle departments were transferred to Wiesbaden and then dissolved.

  • Schwere Kampfwagen-Abteilung (A7V) Nr. 1
    • With the decree of the Ministry of War of 29 September 1917, the assault tank motor vehicle department No. 1 was set up. On 8 January 1918, the association reported that it was ready to be transferred. The first commander was Captain Walter Greiff, his successor was Captain Thofehrn. The first German use of tanks took place on 21 March 1918 as part of Operation Michael near St. Quentin.
  • Schwere Kampfwagen-Abteilung (A7V) Nr. 2
    • After the defensive battle of Cambrai on 31 August 1918, the Schwere Kampfwagen-Abteilung Nr. 2 had no fighting vehicles left. So in September 1918 it was merged with Schwere Kampfwagen-Abteilung Nr. 1 into one detachment. The detachment experienced its last combat mission in an offensive operation near Cambrai on 11 October 1918.
  • Schwere Kampfwagen-Abteilung (A7V) Nr. 3
    • The unit was set up in December 1917 as Sturm-Panzer-Kraftwagen-Abteilung No. 3 and was mobile from 26 February 1918. On 9 June 1918, they took part in the Battle of the Matz. At the beginning of October 1918, the unit received the new designation Heavy Combat Vehicle Division (A7V) No. 3. After offensive operations on 7 October 1918 near St. Etienne, no combat vehicle was operational.
  • Schwere Kampfwagen-Abteilung (Beutepanzerwagen) Nr. 11
  • Schwere Kampfwagen-Abteilung (Beutepanzerwagen) Nr. 12
  • Schwere Kampfwagen-Abteilung bayer. Nr. 13 (Royal Bavarian Army)
  • Schwere Kampfwagen-Abteilung (Beutepanzerwagen) Nr. 14
  • Schwere Kampfwagen-Abteilung (Beutepanzerwagen) Nr. 15
  • Schwere Kampfwagen-Abteilung (Beutepanzerwagen) Nr. 16
  • Bayerischer Armee-Kraftwagen-Park Nr. 20
    • The Bavarian army motor vehicle park was set up in May 1916 as a stage motor vehicle park no. 20 in Munich. Until January 1918, he was subordinated to the k.u.k. Army, where it looked after the vehicle fleet of the allies deployed on the Italian front. Between 18 January and 3 February 1918, the park was moved to Charleroi in Belgium to set up a special facility for tanks and tracked trucks and to restore captured enemy tanks. It was the central tank repair facility on the Western Front. Here, captured enemy tanks were combined, tested and mostly made roadworthy again or cannibalized to obtain spare parts. By 31 March 1918, more than 50 British tanks had accumulated in this way in the total activity of the army motor pool in the West. A7Vs were also serviced and repaired in Charleroi. After the armistice, the park returned to Munich, was demobilized and finally dissolved on 21 November 1918.
Kommandeur der Sturm-Panzerkraftwagen-Abteilungen

By order of the Ministry of War of 17 May 1918, the chief of field motor vehicles (Chef des Feldkraftfahrwesens) was asked to nominate a commander of the assault armored vehicle departments in the field (Kommandeur der Sturm-Panzerkraftwagen-Abteilungen). He had the disciplinary powers of an independent battalion commander and was in charge of all assault armored vehicle divisions. On 28 May 1918, Captain Friedrich Bornschlegel was appointed as such.


The German word Beute means "loot" or "booty". In the aftermath of the German spring offensive on the Western Front, the first tank-to-tank battle was between Mk IV tanks and German A7Vs in the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux in April 1918. During World War I, so many British tanks (mostly Mark IVs with a crew of 12) fell into the hands of the German armed forces that they far exceeded the number of tanks they produced themselves. Assembly camps and repair workshops were set up and tank squadrons with the captured tanks were set up. The tanks were provided with the Iron Cross as a national emblem and some were given a new camouflage finish. These formed four tank companies from December 1917. Some of these had their six pounders replaced by a German equivalent. By the end of September 1918, a total of 170 enemy tanks in working condition had been captured. At that time, 35 of these were reported operational. In comparison, only 20 of the company's own A7V were built.

On 21 October 1918, just under three weeks before the end of the war on 11 November for the Central Powers, all three Panzer departments and the captured tank departments were transferred from Charleroi to Erbenheim and dissolved on 17 November 1918. Some of the A7V were then used by the Freikorps.

Employment regulations

General Erich Ludendorff of the German Army High Command signed the Regulations for Employment of the Assault tank Detachments by order in 1918. These were classified "Secret! Not to be taken into the front line."

I. General
1. The Assault Tank Detachments are placed under direct command of The Supreme Army Command and are allocated to the armies for combat action. The detachments are part of the motor transport branch and during assignment to an army disciplinary and technically are placed under the responsible commanders of the motor transport branch.
II. Tasks
2. On Attack, the main task of the tanks is to support the advance of the infantry by
a. demolishing enemy obstacles by over-rolling,
b. silencing of the enemy troops, above all those manning strong-points and machine gun pits,
c. repulsing enemy counter attacks.
Appearing unexpectedly at a thinly-occupied sector, they are to pave the way for the infantry breakthrough by pushing ruthlessly through and turning the enemy's flank. At sectors of major combat where strong enemy artillery fire is to be expected the use of tanks will only be possible in extremely favourable circumstances.
3. In defence the tanks serve as a mobile reserve under the command of the local leader for
a. repulsing enemy breakthroughs,
b. supporting the counter attacks of the infantry,
c. silencing enemy tanks.
III. Preparatory measures
4. Most stringent concealment is necessary to ensure an unexpected appearance of the tanks as basic requirements of success. This means:
a. Total concealment of the tanks until they come into action in front of their own troop's positions and concealment against enemy air observation, therefore:
b. All movement by night only, covered assembly in dense forests, at farm yards, etc., or under camouflage, obscuring the track marks before dawn with rakes and harrows, avoiding all unnecessary noise while on the move, i.e., exhaust valves, gaskets not tight, unlocking compressor taps when inspecting the engines, covering all unavoidable noises by artillery fire or machine guns.
5. Exact terrain reconnaissance by the CO of the detachment and thorough briefing of the vehicle commanders on the terrain has to precede each action. Inconspicuous behaviour to cause no attention. Doubts on practicality of action such as unsuitable terrain will be announced by the CO to the local command as soon as possible.
6. Lanes of advance have to be ordered and marked avoiding surfaced roads. All obstacles on these lanes have to be cleared away.
7. Preparatory exercises of the infantry assigned for the attack with the tanks have to be executed far behind the lines in order not to jeopardise concealment.
IV. Details of Employment Attack
8. Conduct is directed by the order for the attack This has to contain:
Starting position, Time of departure, Lane control
Advance (map),
Order of march,
Deployment to combat formation, Distance between tanks.
Co-operation and communication with infantry.
Conduct in case of counter attack and after mission accomplished,
Technical directions,
Place of Commanding Officer,
Place of assembly for crews of disabled tanks
9. Permanent close contact with the infantry is of the highest importance. The tank may be able to achieve a break-in, but it is not able to hold the ground. For this the infantry is needed and for this reason it must follow closely behind the tanks. During the advance, the place of the tanks depends on the type of mission. In most cases the tanks will be close behind the first wave of assault troops. On difficult or heavily shelled terrain, sections of engineers have to be assigned to them in order to overcome particularly difficult spots or to mark tank traps. In order not to disrupt the lanes of advance unnecessarily, it may be appropriate to omit the tank lanes during the preparatory shelling. The distance between the vehicles depends on the terrain giving due regard to cover against enemy shelling. By skilful employment of smoke bombs and smoke shells, the tanks have to be concealed from the enemy for as long as possible, even on the advance.
11. After the mission has been accomplished the tanks drive back to cover in order to avoid destruction by unnecessary exposure to the artillery If this is impossible during daylight, the vehicles have to be hidden in folds of the ground and be camouflaged with branches and soil. The tanks try to avoid heavy enemy shelling under cover of smoke bombs; also, playing 'dead' may be temporarily useful.
12. Immobilised vehicles have to be thoroughly demolished if their recovery is impossible. Weapons and serviceable components are to be removed. Crews of immobilised tanks join in the infantry action. According to the situation, they either join the advance as an assault party or they form strong-points with their machine guns in order to repulse enemy counter attacks. Staying close to the tank is to be avoided as it will draw enemy fire.
V. Defences
12. The tasks of the tanks in defensive action are laid down under paragraph 3. Here also total concealment until commitment is of special importance. The conduct of counter attacks is regulated according to paragraph 9.
VI. Place of the Commanding Officer
13. The Commanding Officer of the detachment takes part in the attack in one of the tanks and directs the movement of the detachment by signals. In defence, he chooses his place in such a way that he can survey the course of the action and direct his vehicles by signals. Independent action of the tank commanders will often be necessary in both cases because of the difficulties of communication.
VII. Communications
14. Communication between vehicles and CO, between vehicles and infantry as well as between vehicles takes place according to special orders by light signal Blinkertrupp, coloured signal discs and carrier pigeons, and if necessary by special liaison teams of the assault infantry.[3]


When the First World War ended in November 1918, the German army had a total of 200 tanks. Of these, only 20 were made in Germany, the rest were British and French captured tanks. Britain and France had manufactured more than 6,500 tanks from 1916 to 1918. The Germans, on the other hand, had given priority to the construction of Unterseeboote as a supposedly decisive weapon. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles banned the German Reich from using both submarines and tanks. Nevertheless, some German military officers soon became intensively involved with tank issues.

Theoretical beginnings 1924 to 1927 In the first few years after Versailles, dealing with tanks and the principles of their use was only possible in Germany on paper. German officers therefore took up the ideas from abroad and discussed them in their own military journals from the mid-1920s. One of the first of these German tank specialists was Lieutenant Ernst Volckheim, an officer in the Motor Vehicle Inspectorate. In 1924, he published several essays on the development, armament and use of combat vehicles. The writings of British tank specialist John Frederick Charles Fuller exerted the greatest influence on German tank advocates. Fuller, albeit without backing from the British Imperial General Staff, called for tanks to operate separately from infantry in combat. In contrast, the French military specialists saw tanks primarily as an accompanying weapon for the infantry.


The officer corps of the Reichswehr could number no more than 4,000 men in total. Conscription, now eliminated, was to be replaced with twelve-year enlistments. This was to ensure that the German Army could not train large numbers of men in brief periods, a trick that the Prussians had used against Napoleon’s similar treaty terms a hundred years before. The treaty also eliminated the German General Staff and nearly all military schools and academies in the country. The Reichsmarine was to be shrunk to 15,000 men, possessing six old battleships, six light cruisers, twelve destroyers and twelve torpedo boats. The German military was also to give up all the modern technologies of war: submarines, aircraft, poison gas and tanks were all explicitly banned under the Versailles Treaty. Hans von Seeckt, who led the Reichswehr through the stormy period from 1920 to 1926, developed a new vision of the Reichswehr in the aftermath of the Treaty. It would serve as its guiding light until 1933.

In 1923, he added sections on air warfare, tanks and armored cars, chemical warfare and modern communications. Lacking access to these types of equipment handicapped his efforts at training specialized mobile forces. Nonetheless, all of the major maneuvers from 1921 to 1926 included the simulation of tanks, aircraft and antiaircraft formations. Aircraft, for instance, were simulated by motorcyclists who were allowed drive around the maneuver grounds unhindered but not to converse with anyone. In terms of armored warfare, von Seeckt thought that the tank was too slow for a mobile offensive and, as WWI showed for all sides, required considerable infantry and artillery support. Nevertheless, while Germany could not build or buy tanks, he established a Motor Troops Inspectorate, which was headed by young officers with considerable experience with armored vehicles from World War I. Using “paper panzers” – automobiles with wood and sacking added to give the rough appearance of a tank – these officers playacted the role of armored formations in maneuvers and training.

In the German Army Journal Militär-Wochenblatt, 1924 and 1925 saw a spate of publications about poison gas and gas warfare. Some of the more farsighted publications included a back-and-forth between future SS armored officer SS-Obersturmbannführer Dr. Ing. Wilhelm "Wim" Reni Brandt (1900–1941) and Lieutenant Ernst Volckheim about the use of gas warfare in conjunction with tanks. Yet the publications and interest in gas warfare faded over the course of the 1920s. By 1933, gas warfare had little place in German operational doctrine and was mentioned in training manuals almost exclusively in the context of defense against gas attack.

Kama tank school (Kazan / Kasan)

Hans von Seeckt, Chief of Army Command, had favored cooperation with Sweden, but Sweden did not want to meet all German demands. Inspired by the Berlin Treaty of 1926, von Seeckt gave the go-ahead for negotiations with the Soviet Union. From October 1926, Colonel a. D. Hermann Thomsen (later General der Flieger), head of the branch office of the German Army Office called "Zentrale Moskau" negotiated with the chief of the military reconnaissance service of the Red Army Jan Karlovich Berzin.

The treaty was for the Panzerschule / Kampfwagenschule Kasan ("Kama") was signed on 2 October 1926 and would have three heads (Stationsleiter): Oberstleutnant a. D. Wilhelm Malbrandt (1875–1955) (code name "Direktor Markart"), 1 October 1929 Major a. D. Ludwig Ritter von Radlmaier (code name "Direktor Raabe") and on 1 May 1931 Major Josef Harpe (code name "Direktor Hacker"). All German personnel (instructors, technicians and course participants of the Organisation "Kama") had to officially retire from the Reichswehr (a. D. / außer Dienst) and were reinstated upon return. The Soviet Union made the site available, Germany bore the construction costs and enabled Soviet officers to take part in the training.

The Soviet side expanded the facility from October 1926 to July 1929 with up to 400 craftsmen in accordance with the contract. Existing buildings were repaired, new buildings and workshops were constructed. In contrast, initially only a few German representatives, including Wilhelm Malbrandt in particular, were present in Kama. The facility was not actually put into operation until 1929. The first course began in March 1929, and more followed between 1930 and 1933. German and Soviet participants were taught simultaneously; a translator was always present.

The representatives of the "Red Army" gave the German officers and technicians a free hand and worked with them almost as "friends", as which they were also coded. However, the participants in the courses were not welcomed off-site. Among the later generals of the armored forces of the Wehrmacht, the following officers took part in the courses there between 1927 and 1933: Wilhelm Josef Ritter von Thoma, Richard Koll, Wolfgang Thomale and the various division commanders Theodor Kretschmer, Johann Haarde, Ewald Kräber, and Viktor Linnarz, just to name a few here.

Major General Werner von Blomberg (later Reich Minister of War) spent a few days in Kazan in 1929 in his capacity as Chief of the Troops Office. The head of the motorized troops, Major General Lutz, traveled to Kazan in 1932, accompanied by his Chief of Staff, Lieutenant Colonel Heinz Guderian, to see for himself the level of training of the officers posted there.

The inspectorate of the traffic troops, in cooperation with various companies in the armaments industry, also sent German engineers and technicians to Kazan, who were to be given the opportunity here to develop their own designs. This group of people included the senior engineers Baumann and Dr. Mertz and engineer Engel, who, among other things, designed and had the prototypes of the combat vehicles "P I" and "P II" built. German engineers were also involved in the construction of the later legendary "T 34".

The Germans put a lot of effort into testing radio equipment, recognizing early on that communication and coordination would be a crucial factor in tank tactics. Although there were no bans on radio technology in the Versailles Treaty, the practical use of the technology in a tank was difficult. The German broadcasting and telecommunications company C. Lorenz supplied the radio technology for the tests in Kama and employees of the company were present in Kama on site. Lorenz later became the supplier of radio technology for the Wehrmacht. Radios in German tanks were initially crucial in the Second World War when fighting French and Soviet tanks, some of which were technically superior and dependent on inefficient flag communication.

The German instructors at Kama divided cadet lessons between theory and practical training. On the theoretical side, students took three courses: tactics, radio technology, and tank mechanics.143 Given the lack of expertise in all three areas (because of limitations imposed by Versailles) most of the instructors by 1932 were actually former students who had already spent a year or two at Kama and “having mastered one area of knowledge or another, were then classified as a teacher.” The tank mechanics course, first taught by Captain Hans Pirner, focused on memorizing the varieties of tanks, the models of engines, and ammunition types.145 Pirner and his successors also lectured on the form and function of tank components. Krupp’s Johann Hoffmann taught the tank mechanics courses at Kama in 1932 and 1933. Krupp personnel were actually hired as military instructors at Kama. These individuals were entirely separate from the engineering work conducted by other Krupp employees. They wore Soviet uniforms and participated in maneuvers, showing how deeply intertwined the Reichswehr and the major German arms manufacturers truly were. Hoffmann described being an instructor there:

I had a regular teaching hall, and daily, once in the morning and one in the afternoon, I taught theory there; in addition, one morning a week I held a so-called “workshop lesson;” that is, I offered hands-on instruction with the vehicles we had there. There were car parts there that I often used as models, engines that were cut-open and rear axle gears, which I then explained and discussed with the students.

Tactics class, first taught in 1929 by Friedrich Kühn,[4] centered on lectures, discussions and sand table exercises on the platoon and company tactics of armored units. There was a heavy emphasis on simulations and war gaming, placing officers in the position of a tank commander, usually at the company level. Subjects included “infantry-tank coordination,” “leading tanks in attack against fortifications,” “antitank defenses” and the different roles of infantry support and long range tank groups.150 Required reading included Ernst Volckheim’s work, as well as French and British field manuals and reports. An electrical engineer named Burkhardt had been put in charge of the radio technology courses in 1929, but Harpe transferred him to the workshops to spend more time modifying radios for tank use. Burkhardt was replaced by two other instructors, who lectured on the principles and practicalities of radio communication.

Initially, German and Russian students took these classes together. Neither side wore insignias or rank, both to prevent espionage and also to foster an atmosphere conducive to open dialogue and learning. Klaus Müller described the mood of the courses as remarkably “free from restrictive bureaucracy, which meant the possibility of achieving real success in the most serious work...” As the size of classes grew – with more than 100 Russian cadets arriving in 1932 from the Leningrad Armored Warfare School – academic courses increasingly divided along national lines. German instructors continued to teach both groups of students, however. Students also took their “practical” lessons together. To ensure continued good relations between the groups, the two groups of cadets ate together at least once a week in the mess hall. At first, the Russian students at Kama were hopelessly unprepared for the German style of training. N. Yeroshchenko, a Red Army regimental tank commander who attended the courses at Kama in 1931, wrote to Tukhachevsky that the “weak tactical training of the majority of our students forces us to organize last-minute coaching sessions aimed at improving the most basic tactical skills: writing orders, reports, drawing diagrams, etc.” German instructors helped them with these skills. Instead of offering firm conclusions, the German courses instead emphasized initiative, independence and quick thinking. For instance, in one course, Russian officers, upon arriving to the classroom, would be handed a card with a tactical situation and directed to a corner of the room. The officer then had five to six minutes to “assess the situation, make a decision and write orders” to address it. There were numerous other simulations, either in the field, on a map, or on a sand table in the tank tactics classes. These usually involved all of the students at once. While academic courses could be taught in classrooms, the real purpose of the unique facility at Kama was to provide hands-on experience in tank combat for officers, as well as an opportunity to test new prototypes.

In May 1929, the first tanks, prototype German light and heavy tanks based upon specifications drawn up by Oswald Lutz and Hans Pirner, arrived at Kama. The arrival of these vehicles enabled, beginning in June 1929, the first formal tank instruction. Practical lessons centered on driving, shooting and unit maneuvers. Two former cadets offered shooting lessons for machine guns and tank cannons out on the “Polygon.” The Russian students proved enthusiastic to add an element of realism to their training exercises – they dressed up the shooting range dummies in Polish and Czech uniforms. Less effort was invested in safety at the range. Klaus Müller wrote that it was very embarrassing when a Russian first year cadet, loading a Söda Machine gun….[5] accidentally stepped on the foot trigger; both drums, with 1000 rounds, emptied… In an adjacent factory two workers were hit by the errant rounds- one in the shoulder and one in the thigh.

The result of this selective borrowing and intensive technical testing by two different militaries was superior technology for each side. This convergence also occurred between branches of the German military, and to a lesser degree, within the Red Army. In the United States, Great Britain and France, fights over funding and the quest for administrative independence hampered efforts to develop effective combined arms doctrine. But deep in Russia, with limited supplies and support, German aviators (Lipetsk fighter-pilot school), chemical and biological weapons scientists, engineers, and officers all had to share resources. They frequently traveled to each other’s facilities and integrated their testing together. German pilots participated in air support experiments at both Kama (the tank testing grounds) and Tomka (the chemical weapons laboratory). German tank crews and engineers also traveled to Tomka to work on the development of a “chemical tank” capable of spraying chemical agents. While many of their attempted innovations did not succeed, others did: the use of air-cooled aviation engines in tank prototypes led to the adoption of Maybach 12 piston engines in German armored vehicles. The reason such convergence is important is that it reinforced the German operational doctrine developed in the early 1920s known as Verbundenen Waffen [Combined Arms]. The close coordination of armored vehicles, artillery, infantry and aircraft proved tremendously effective in the Second World War. This doctrine evolved in part because of the nature of the German enterprises in Russia.[6]

To fully grasp Kama’s importance to the German Army, it is useful to trace the lineage its vehicles after 1933, when the facility closed. As the Panzer I s first rolled off the assembly line, the Wa Prüf 6, flush with the financial backing of the newly established Third Reich, drew up designs for the two chief combat tanks of the future. The Panzer I was intended for training and to satisfy the immediate needs of the Wehrmacht as it rearmed. But in the long term, it did not fit neatly into the operational concepts of mobile warfare that had developed by 1934. Oswald Lutz, Heinz Guderian, Ernst Volckheim and other tank advocates reached the conclusion that two new types of tanks would be necessary to meet Germany’s military needs. One design would be thinly armored (relatively speaking) and faster, engineered for penetrating enemy lines and operating in the enemy’s rear. This would be Germany’s primary battle tank. The other vehicle would specifically be designed to support infantry and battle enemy artillery and tanks, and as such would have heavier armor and slower speeds. The two concepts would evolve into the Panzer III and Panzer IV, respectively. Both prototypes were commissioned by the Wa Prüf 6 on 11 January 1934. The future Panzer IV was named the Begleitwagen, or support vehicle. Its purpose was to “battle enemy armor and protect the light vehicles from antitank defenses and artillery.” Krupp and Rheinmetall were assigned initial contracts to develop prototypes.

Kama convinced Guderian and Lutz that the light tanks were at best a “stopgap,” as they would struggle against other tanks as well as existing antitank defenses. Increasing performance of medium tanks further meant that there was not as big a difference in speed and range as had been theorized in the early 1920s. Thus Germany shifted towards the design of medium tanks. However, the light tank (the LaS) was ready for production while the medium tank was not. Seeking immediate rearmament, the two men sought a comprise, and decided to order many of the LaS while waiting for the readiness of a new medium tank. Through all of these technical experiments, the confidence of the German army in armored warfare was greater in 1933 than it had been prior to Kama. School director Ludwig von Radlmaier wrote that Kama had vindicated Ernst Volckheim: the tank was no longer an auxiliary weapon. Liquidation of station began on 20 July 1933. Three transports on 11 August, 19 August and 4 September 1933 brought the Germans and their property / material from Kazan back to the German Reich.

Kama operated at full capacity for only four years: 1929–1933. Yet it played a powerful role in shaping the leadership of both militaries’ armored forces. By 1933, Kama had graduated 187 Soviet and 30 German officers. The German alumni would play a central role in the development of mobile warfare. The country’s top theorists – Volckheim, Pirner, Radlmaier, Harpe, Lutz and Guderian – all either lived at Kama or visited. Engineers who worked at Kama, like Erich Woelfert, Johann Hoffmann and Georg Hagelloch, designed the principal combat tanks of World War II. Important technical developments, such as the three-man turret, were made at Kama. And technicians conducted important work on the tank radio. Kama also had an equally profound role in the development of the Reichswehr’s human expertise. Of the thirty German students who completed the full curriculum at Kama, seventeen reached the rank of General Major – a divisional commander in the Wehrmacht – or above. Most of those who did not reach so high a rank died in combat between 1939 and 1942, usually while serving as battalion commanders in Panzer divisions. As intended, they shaped armored doctrine after departing from Kama. The leadership of the Germany’s Panzer forces was hugely influenced by the cooperative facility.


From May 1925 the organization of the Inspection for Weapons and Equipment 6 (Inspektion für Waffen und Gerät 6) of the Reich Ministry of Defense began to develop armored combat vehicles. This was done in secret, since such developments in Germany were forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. One of the vehicles planned at the time was the Großtraktor, which bore a certain resemblance to the rhomboid tanks of World War I, but would have a main turret, a rear turret and a machine gun in the bow hull. The companies Daimler, Krupp and Rheinmetall were each commissioned to develop and build two prototypes. The vehicles were tested from 1929 in the Kama tank school in the Soviet Union. Following a report by Lieutenant Colonel Heinz Guderian, at that time Chief of Staff of Inspectorate 6 of the Army Weapons Office (HWA), Generalleutnant Lutz, the Inspector of the Motor Vehicles, ordered the further development of the high-horsepower tractor into a new-build high-horsepower tractor (Großtraktor-Neubaufahrzeug) in 1932, grand tractor of course being code in order to keep it secret.

The Neubaufahrzeug (new construction vehicle; “Nb.Fz./PzKpfw Nb.Fz.”) was the code name for a multi-turret German armored fighting vehicle whose development began in 1932 on behalf of the Army Office (Heeresamt) in Köln at both the Krupp and Rheinmetall companies. Five vehicles, some of which were different, were manufactured and later used up in World War II. The "new vehicle" project has received a relatively large number of names from the departments and companies involved. One has to consider that in 1932 the highest level of secrecy was still required and some engineers did not know that the developed component was intended for an armored fighting vehicle. The names "main tractor", "large tractor new-build", "middle tractor", "middle tractor new construction vehicle" and "new construction vehicle" are documented for the project.

After 1935 the documents call the last 3 tanks “Nb.Fz. improved". Lieutenant Colonel Ernst Volckheim, commander of the Panzer-Abteilung z. b. V. 40 (Tank battalion for special purpose 40) in Norway in 1940, used the designation "Neubau-Panzerkampfwagen IV" in his report (three Neubaufahrzeuge were assigned to his unit). In the battle report they are called "Panzer IV (Neba)". In the August 1939 issue of the August 1939 issue of Die Panzertruppe, the term "Geschützkampfwagen" is also used. In his summary report, Volckheim stated that the Panzerkampfwagen IV Neubau had proven itself excellently in combat in mountainous areas. Their various weapons allowed all-round defense. The tanks also coped well with all path and road conditions. However, it would have been desirable if the replenishment had worked. So there was a repeated lack of rollers, V-belts and brake pads.

The innovative tanks were not mass-produced because multi-turret tanks were ultimately considered too complicated. However, the experiences from this development project provided important insights into the technology and the possible uses of future tank types, especially for the development of the most built German tank of the Second World War, the Panzerkampfwagen IV.[7]

Ernst Volckheim

Main article: Ernst Volckheim

It was the work of Ernst Volckheim which paved the way for a refinement of German armored principles. He had been one of the first armored officers in the German Army, serving in the first tank-on-tank combat at the Battle of Villers-Brettoneux in 1918. Retained after the downsizing of the Reichswehr, he was assigned to the Motorized Inspectorate in 1923.38 He began teaching armored warfare courses in 1925. Between 1922 and 1928 he wrote three books on armored warfare, founded a journal called Der Kampfwagen [The Combat Vehicle] and penned a number of influential articles in the Reichswehr’s weekly journal, the Militär Wochenblatt. His journal, which appeared in six volumes between October 1924 and March 1925, had only one coauthor: Heinz Guderian, the famed future Panzer commander and writer. Their articles spurred broad interest in tanks among the German officer corps. Among Volckheim’s more prescient arguments were that improvements in technology would reverse the relationship between tanks and infantry; at some point in the future, infantry would become auxiliary to armored vehicles, which would be the decisive arm. In addition, he argued against the status quo at the time by positing that it was the armor and gun of the tank, rather than its speed, which were its decisive elements. This meant that instead of endorsing the production of many light tanks which had high speeds and maneuverability, the German army should focus on producing medium tanks that were fast enough to encircle enemy forces, but heavy enough to defeat opposing tanks and artillery if necessary. A sign of Volckheim’s immense importance to the development of German armored doctrine, his work Der Kampfwagen in der heutigen Kriegsführung [The Tank in Today’s Warfare] was assigned as the primary textbook for all armored officers beginning in 1924.

It should be noted that Volckheim’s writings were far more innovative and imaginative than Guderian’s early work, contrary to what the latter would later say about his role in the development of German armored doctrine. Guderian’s role would come later, with the maneuvers of 1934, his advocacy for tanks with Adolf Hitler and the publication of Achtung- Panzer! in 1937. Besides his writing, Volckheim would personally train many of the future Wehrmacht’s armored officers: he served in Russia at the secret Panzerschule of the Reichswehr "Kama" as an instructor of armored warfare. In that position, he would train a number of young officers, including Klaus Müller. By 1926, advances in armored technology in France, Great Britain and the United States seemed to be justifying Volckheim’s arguments. Around him, a new generation of armored warfare advocates began to develop. Hauptmann a. D. Dr. techn. Friedrich "Fritz" Heigl (1895–1930), one of the other early theorists, penned ”Taschenbuch der Tanks,” a “pocket” guide to armored tactics and technology which would become assigned reading in both Germany and the Soviet Union; Stalin had a personal copy. But there remained considerable hesitancy within the Reichswehr towards the adoption of the tank, particularly among cavalrymen who made up 30 percent of the German Army’s combat strength. The attitude towards armored warfare had visibly shifted by 1927, as previously skeptical officers such as von Fritsch and von Blomberg began to treat “tank units as operationally independent units instead of as infantry support weapons.”

James Corum has argued, correctly in my opinion, that Volckheim was the impetus behind many of the technological and doctrinal changes in German armored warfare between 1922 and 1933. Guderian, among others, read his work closely. The two men were the only two contributors to Der Kampfwagen during its short existence. Volckheim, in his association with the Motorized Inspectorate, may have also assisted Hans Pirner, another influential figure, in drawing up specifications for future combat vehicles. Pirner, for instance, required that all tank prototypes built between 1922 and 1926 come with a space reserved for a mobile radio, even though no mobile radio had yet been developed. Such foresight played a huge role in the German superiority in armored operational capability in 1939.

Their changing valuations of tank technology, until May 1929 when the testing of the first German prototypes began at Kama, were dependent on consumption of intelligence reports regarding foreign tank construction and visits to foreign maneuvers. Until 1926, Allied inspectors hindered the work of Germany’s major arms manufacturers on forbidden technologies. Both Soviet and German theorists heavily emphasized mobility in war during this period. One reason for this was the shared experience of the Eastern Front in World War I. Whereas France (and the military establishment in Great Britain, to a lesser degree) had endured trench warfare and developed defensively minded tactics in the interwar period, Russia and Germany had fought highly mobile, encirclement-oriented battles on the Eastern Front during the First World War. During the 1920s, they drew similar lessons from that shared experience. The degree to which tanks could fulfill the functions envisioned by theorists – penetration and encirclement – depended largely upon technical performance issues. As a result, during the years of Kama’s operation (1927 to 1933) the evolving dialogue about the use of tanks in combat continued to be driven in large part by changes in technology. It was during those six crucial years that the major theorists of armored warfare could actually experience, drive and test armored vehicles for the first time since World War I. By the end of the period at Kama, even staunch anti-armored officers such as Ludwig Beck were beginning to recognize the value of the tank. When he wrote the two-part Truppenführung (1933, 1934), the new military manual, he included a clear role for the tank:

The objectives for tank attacks are primarily the enemy’s infantry (especially his heavy weapons, artillery batteries with their observation posts, command posts, reserves, tanks, and rear services and their installations….During pursuit operations, tanks are assigned aggressive missions and deep objectives….In combat an armored unit should be committed against the flanks and rear of the enemy, or committed to breaking through the enemy lines…. One or more tank

regiments can be grouped with other motorized units and support troops into a combined arms armored force….Armored units and their attached light motorized groups frequently will be required to operate out of contact with rear communications.

Heinz Guderian

Main article: Heinz Guderian

Between the wars, Heinz Guderian was a lecturer in tactics and military history at the officers' school in Stettin for a number of years. Guderian wrote in his book:

“In 1929, I was finally convinced that Panzers could never play a decisive role if they are closely deployed with the infantry. My studies in military history, the evaluation of the large exercises in Great Britain and our own experiences with dummy tanks persuaded me that Panzers can exploit their extraordinary performance only if all associated support weapons, on whose assistance the Panzer relied, would be able to follow. Both speed and cross-country mobility of the respective forces have to be on a similar level. The Panzer must lead all other forces have to follow. We must not deploy Panzer within infantry divisions, and must establish Panzerdivisionen, which include all the support weapons required for a successful combat…”

However in 1929, Guderian had to fight against many reservations uttered by senior German military leaders, who deemed such units as Panzerdivisionen as a dream. The Reich was surviving despite a severe economic crisis as the rate of unemployment increased. From 1932, he succeeded Generalmajor Lutz as head of the secret tank school (Panzerschule) Kama in the Soviet Union as a major and was a driving force behind the development of the German tank force. In addition, Guderian is considered the inventor of two very important tactical concepts of the German armed forces in World War II, without which the Blitzkrieg would not have been possible:

  • Just a few years after WWI, Hans von Seeckt, the then chief of the army command of the Reichswehr, developed the regulations for the “combined arms leadership and combat”. This was replaced in 1933 by a regulation by General Ludwig Beck on troop leadership. But Heinz Guderian had a decisive influence on the tactical interpretation. The "combined arms battle" was the combination of different types of weapons to maximize the battle value. The interaction of tanks and motorized or mechanized infantry, supported by the Luftwaffe, was particularly important. Together they pushed forward at high speed and protected each other. In addition, the Germans relied heavily on air support for ground offensives during World War II. Guderian is known for the words: "You hit someone with your fist, not with your fingers spread."
  • "Leadership from the front" was the positioning of the commander at the most effective point on the front line. This had the advantage that a commander could better follow the course of the battle and pass on instructions directly to subordinates. In addition to Heinz Guderian, the later Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel practiced this leadership from the front with great success. The high speed of the tank attacks carried out repeatedly overwhelmed the enemy. It was able to risk exposed flanks when making deep advances into enemy territory. During the Battle of France, the French in particular were simply not fast enough to effectively exploit such temporary gaps in the German lines. A major disadvantage was that the own communication suffered under the management from the front. During the Battle for France, even the High Command of the Wehrmacht (OKW) did not know at times exactly where individual armored divisions were located.

From 1935, Heinz Guderian built up the first three armored divisions for the Wehrmacht on Hitler's instructions. At the same time he was given command of the 2nd Panzer Division. In 1936, he was promoted to major general. He retained direct command of the 2nd Panzer Division until 31 January 1938. The expansion of the armored forces then accelerated more and more: At the beginning of the Second World War, the Wehrmacht already had six armored divisions.

In 1937, Generalmajor Guderian published a book about motorized warfare called “Achtung – Panzer!” In it he first traced the development of armored cars and trench warfare in the First World War. Building on this, he dealt with the developments of the interwar period. He also pointed out the now anachronistic character of cavalry: horses simply didn't stand a chance against machine guns. Instead, Heinz Guderian advocated the concentrated use of tanks, infantry and the Luftwaffe. Finally, he promoted the expansion of German armored forces and outlined proposals.

Heinz Guderian and his Panzer units were already involved in the Anschluss of Austria and the liberation of the Sudetenland. During the Poland Campaign from 1 September 1939, he commanded the XIX. Army Corps of Army Group North under the command of Fedor von Bock. At this time, the formation was comprised of two motorized infantry divisions and one armored division. On the first evening, the XIX. Army Corps built an important bridge over the River Brahe, forming a bridgehead on the eastern bank. The Polish army attempted what was then known as the Battle of the Tucheler Heide. The battle of arms lasted until 5 September 1939 and ended with a heavy defeat of the defenders. Heinz Guderian was then again very successful with rapid advances of the tanks. On 6 September 1939, Adolf Hitler arrived to personally congratulate him. A few weeks later, Heinz Guderian was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.

After the occupation of Poland, Denmark and Norway were conquered in April 1940. Both campaigns were carried mainly by other branches of arms. But as early as 10 May 1940, the western campaign marked the beginning of the next heyday for German armored forces. Moreover, the attack on France was militarily much more demanding than the attack on Poland. In order to avoid years of trench warfare, Erich von Manstein had drawn up a very risky, but above all completely unexpected plan of attack: strong armored formations were to advance through the impassable Ardennes and then via Sedan to the Channel coast. This "sickle cut" cut the supply line of the French main force in Belgium. Heinz Guderian was at the heart of the action as commander of three armored divisions. Guderian formed the left wing of the attack wedge of Army Group A. Hermann Hoth's corps was on the right wing.

During the attack on Sedan and the way across the Meuse, he belonged to the 1st Panzer Army (Panzergruppe „von Kleist“) under the command of Ewald von Kleist, whose instructions Guderian consistently ignored. The "fast Heinz" advanced at breakneck speed and risked open flanks in favor of the Blitzkrieg. These were later closed by advancing infantry. For this reason, von Kleist relieved Heinz Guderian of his command on 16 May 1940. The commander of the army group Gerd von Rundstedt in turn canceled the dismissal and reinstated Guderian. After the Battle of Dunnkirchen, Heinz Guderian's corps was expanded into a Panzer Group. They encircled remaining French formations in the Maginot Line (de).

After the western campaign, Heinz Guderian was promoted to Generaloberst and was actually supposed to lead the victory parade in Paris. But the next job took him east: preparations for the Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union began. The task was rapid advances into the heart of the Soviet Union: first to Minsk, from there to Smolensk and then on to Moscow. Heinz Guderian was able to encircle large Soviet units several times.

The Germans never perfected the technique “combined arms leadership and combat”, as the Russian campaign and the Battle of Kursk demonstrates. Infantry tended to lag far behind the fast-moving armored columns. By 1944 – particularly after the battles in the hedgerows in Normandy – the US had developed a more integrated system of tank-infantry-artillery-aircraft coordination. At the same time, Luftwaffe support for the German Panzer divisions steadily decreased due to it's blood toll in the struggle against allied bombing terror.

Further reading

  • Ludwig Alfred von Eimannsberger: Der Kampfwagenkrieg, Verlag J. F. Lehmann, München 1934 (General of the 1st Bundesheer and General der Artillerie z. V. of the Wehrmacht 1938–1943)
  • Edwin Erich Dwinger: Panzerführer, 1941
  • Ferdinand Maria von Senger und Etterlin: [8]
    • Die deutschen Panzer 1926–1945, Bernard & Graefe
    • Taschenbuch der Panzer. Jg. 1. 1943–1954; Taschenbuch der Panzer. Jg. 2. 1943–1957; Taschenbuch der Panzer. Jg. 3. 1960; Taschenbuch der Panzer. Jg. 4. 1969
      • further volumes until 1979/1983; also in English as Tanks of the World, Bernard & Graefe, 1990
  • Maxwell Hundleby & Rainer Strasheim: The German A7V Tank and the Captured British Mark IV Tanks of World War I, Haynes Publishing Group, 1990
  • Vom Daimler bis „Leopard“, 1997 (Archive)
  • Markus Pöhlmann: Der Panzer und die Mechanisierung des Krieges – Eine deutsche Geschichte 1890 bis 1945, Verlag Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn 2016
  • Mitch Williamson: Early Reichswehr Mobile Force Doctrine, 2019
  • Ian Ona Johnson: Ernst Volckheim, Heinz Guderian, and the Origins of German Armored Doctrine, in "The Journal of Military History", Volume 87 (2023), Nr. 1, p. 145–168

External links

Left: A new Kampfpanzer "Leopard" 2 A7V of the Bundeswehr for the Panzerbataillon 393, September 2021; right: KF51 "Panther" under development by Rheinmetall, 2023; KF is short for "Kettenfahrzeug", i.e., tracked vehicle.

In German


  • Surviving Panzer II tanks—A PDF file presenting the Panzer II tanks (PzKpfw. II, Luchs, Wespe, Marder II tanks) still existing in the world
  • Surviving Panzer III tanks - A PDF file presenting the Panzer III tanks (PzKpfw. III, Flammpanzer III, StuIG33B, SU-76i, Panzerbeobachtungswagen III tanks) still existing in the world
  • Tiger survivors — Photos of surviving Tiger tanks (Tiger I, Kingtiger, Jagdtiger and Sturmtiger)


  1. George Soldan: Der Weltkrieg im Bild – Originalaufnahmen des Kriegs-Bild- und Filmamtes aus der modernen Materialschlacht. National-Archiv, Berlin 1930, p. 21
  2. Panzermuseum Munster
  3. A7V Mephisto the Devil's Chariot
  4. Friedrich Kühn would rise to the rank of Major General and command two panzer divisions in combat in Yugoslavia and Russia. He was transferred from command of the 15th Panzer Division in June 1942 and promoted to head the Wehrmacht’s Tank and Motorized Equipment Inspectorate. He was lucky – the 15th Panzer Division was encircled and destroyed at Stalingrad only a few weeks later. He fell in an air raid in 1944.
  5. The Söda machine gun, later known as the MG S2-100. Nicknamed for the design bureau where it was conceived – Rheinmetall’s Sömmerda facility – the Söda machine gun was one of the first post-World War I machine gun designs drawn up by German military industry. As production within Germany was forbidden under the Treaty of Versailles, it was mass-produced in the town of Solothurn across the Swiss border; SWISS CONNECTION: RHEINMETALL AND STEYR IN SWITZERLAND
  6. Ian Johnson: The Faustian Pact: Soviet-German Military Cooperation in the Interwar Period, Dissertation, The Ohio State University, 2016
  7. History of the Panzerkampfwagen Neubaufahrzeug (PzKpfW NbFz V / VI)
  8. Ferdinand Maria Johann Fridolin Ritter und Edler von Senger und Etterlin (1923–1987) was the son of General der Panzertruppe Fridolin Ritter und Edler von Senger und Etterlin; Rittmeister of the Wehrmacht and adjutant of General der Panzertruppe Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg with Iron Cross, Close Combat Clasp, Tank Destruction Badge and German Cross in Gold; Dr. jur. (1951); General of the Austrian Bundesheer and Supreme Commander of NATO Forces Central Europe.