Panzer Reconnaissance in Action!

The 1st Panzer Division and its sub units including the 4th Reconnaissance battalion were formed on October 15th 1935 from the 3rd Cavalry Division, and were headquartered in Weimar. Initially it consisted of two panzer regiments organized into brigades, a motorized infantry brigade, the reconnaissance battalion, divisional artillery regiment, and supporting ancillary formations.

In 1938 the division participated in training exercises with the XVI Corps, a fully motorized formation. By the start of the Polish Campaign in September 1939, the 1st Panzer Division was one of six panzer divisions in the Wehrmacht. It was deployed with the XVI Corps, Tenth Army, Army Group South, in the Upper Silesia region.

The invading force was composed of five armies and reserves (14 Infantry, 1 Panzer and 2 Mountain Divisions), all under command of General Walther von Brauchitsch. The Germans attacked from three directions - Silesia / Moravia and Slovakia, Western Pomerania and East Prussia. Colonel General Gerd von Rundstedt's Army Group South was composed of General Blaskowitz's 8th Army, General von Reichenau's 10th Army and General-Colonel List's 14th Army. In total, Army Group South had 18 Infantry Divisions, 4 Slovak Infantry Div, 1 Mountain Division, 2 Motorized, 4 Light Motorized, 4 Panzer Divisions and attacked from Silesia / Moravia and Slovakia. Army Group South had the strongest armoured formations with over 2000 tanks and 800 armoured cars.

While General Gunther von Kluge's 4th Army, part of Colonel General Fedor von Bock's Army Group North (8 Infantry, 2 Motorized and 1 Panzer Division) attacked from Western Pomerania. General Georg von Kuechler's 3rd Army, part of Colonel General Fedor von Bock's Army Group North (11 Infantry and 1 Panzer Division) attacked from East Prussia. The Army Group North had some 600 tanks and 200 armoured cars. All three attacks were directed mainly towards the capitol of Poland - Warsaw and the destruction of Polish forces west of River Vistula. In total, German forces included some 1.850.000 soldiers, over 3100 tanks and 10000 artillery pieces along with 2085 airplanes. XVI Corps, with the 1st and 4th Panzer Divisions, drove northeast into Poland, rapidly penetrating toward Warsaw. By September 16-20 they had eliminated a Polish counter-attack along the river Bzura. With the double-encirclement of the Polish Army by the panzer divisions, resistance soon came to an end, but it wasn’t all plain sailing for the Germans, as the propaganda would have us believe.

1st Panzer-Division suffered a tough defeat at the battle of Kiernozia. Initially the German Panzer attack was doing well, but when the German forces rushed deep into well-prepared Polish positions, both Panzer-Regiments of the division were dispersed and encircled by the Polish infantry inside the terrain controlled by the Polish forces. The majority of dispersed German tanks had also lost contact with both the divisional command and with other tanks including their own supporting Infantry. During the night those tanks were under constant attacks by the Polish AT guns and sappers who also set about completely destroying disabled German panzers that might otherwise have been repaired and put back into operational readiness. Germans called this defeat "Hell at Kiernozia". Interestingly the Polish Forces commonly used their 75mm field Artillery and 100mm Howitzers as direct Anti-Tank fire. This tactic proved to be very efficient during trials before the war. The Polish performed many tests and invented special tactics of fighting against tanks with Artillery pieces (75mm and 100mm guns) by direct fire. They modified many of their 75mm type 1897 and 02/26 field guns for direct fire over open sights and clearly this tactic paid some dividends – something that the Germans admired and feared the most in the Polish army during the campaign.

Things didn’t go to well either for the 1st Panzer-Division reconnaissance unit Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 4 (mot.) – When on the forth day during the opening stages to the Polish campaign the reconnaissance troop of the 1st Panzer-Division suffered its first casualties. An illustration of the fierce fighting can be seen here as an Sd.Kfz.221 skirts the outside edge of the burning Polish town of Truskolasch.

The following account describes the action: September 4th was a black day in the history of our Aufklärungs Abteilung. The reconnaissance troop leader Leutnant Metzger was conducting a reconnaissance patrol in the woods outside of Lubien. In the early hours that day he launched several attacks from the south and southwest during the course of the morning and found that strong enemy forces had occupied the woods. All of a sudden whilst navigating the southern edge of the woods he received strong enemy anti tank fire. His 8-wheeled armoured car was hit, and crewmembers Panzerschütze Beyer and Saynisch were killed instantly. Despite his own wounds and best efforts it was impossible to move the vehicle out of harms way using the rearward steering controls because Saynisch lay there and the damage was to great. Under the cover of the burning vehicle the heavily wounded troop leader and Panzerschütze Völker were able to bail out and find cover. A light armoured car from the patrol was able to recover the troop leader in spite of heavy infantry fire received from the tree line, however Panzerschütze Völker sadly died in the process. A second light armoured car, only 100m away during the recovery attempted to drive back to help, but the chassis fell into a swampy field and became stuck. But the crew, Gefreiter Schmidt, Panzerschütze Bruner, Funker Süß did not give up, and with the help of some Volksdeutschen civilians, the vehicle was freed and again able to move. They returned to the Aufklärungs Abteilung where reconnaissance battalion leader Wachtmeister Dölling provided further support for the heavily exhausted Leutnant Metzger. The three killed comrades and a heavily wounded officer will forever remain in the history of the Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 4.

Panzerschütze Günter Saynisch was one of the first reported KIA in the Aufklärungs Abteilung. Saynisch was born in December 1917 in Wuppertal-Elberfeld. He joined the RAD in 1938, but soon after he joined the Army and was assigned to 1.Schwadron, Aufklärungs-Abteilung 4 in Sonderhausen. He was trained on weapons that included the K98k rifle, P08, MP18, MG34 and 2cm KwK30 the main armament of the armoured cars (later upgraded to the KwK38 model), and became a crewmember of the Sd.Kfz.231 armoured car named ‘Köln’ - the photograph shows Saynisch beside his vehicle and his gravesite (insert- top left).

As you can see in the photo of the Sd.Kfz.231 Köln, Pz.A.A.4 made it a practice to name its vehicles after German Towns and cities. Another heavy armoured car in the troop an Sd.Kfz.232 (8 Rad), WH-261793 was named Wiesbaden.

A letter from Leutnant Lienau was sent to the parents of Saynisch describing the action that took place in Poland. Lienau was the commander of 1st Schwadron - a very young and able company leader. He later received the Knight's Cross-as the commander of Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 33 in North Africa -DAK, but it was here that he would also meet his own sad fate.

Out of the veterans of Pz.A.A.4 in Poland, three would receive Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross; Hptm. Lienau and Hptm. Bellegarde did not survive the war. The only one who survived the war was Lt. Wolfgang Darius (later promoted to Major) – seen here below in a rare picture during the Polish campaign. He would be transferred to the 6.Kompanie, Panzer-Regiment 1 as company commander and became famous as a accomplished leader who was always at the front with his boys. He was the first to report to the Division that Leningrad was in sight! Later after being injured he commanded Panzer-Abteilung 21 (20.Panzer-Division) and later
received the Knight's Cross in 1943.

Next to this Sd.Kfz.222 pictured below is Gefreiter Marquardt, who later was transferred to A.A.92 (20.Panzer-Division). These photographs from the French campaign, whilst still with Pz.A.A.4 show him at rest on the roadside, and parked inside some unknown building yard.

Marquardt soon found him self transferred to the Russian battlefields with A.A.92. The unit was equipped with captured French Panhard armoured cars as shown in this photo a common sight in the Wehrmacht at this time.

A.A.92 suffered heavy casualties in the Russian winter campaign of 1941/42 with the 2nd Kompanie losing a company commander. Seen here in a picture from the funeral march. The hard-frozen earth during the Russian winter often had to be demolished with explosives to create suitable graves.

In 1942 Marquardt was again transferred, this time to Kradschützen.Battalion.GD. Below is a picture of GD’s brand-new 8-wheeled armoured cars a waiting their first patrol with Marquardt.

These armoured cars can be seen carrying the distinctive marking of an owl (Uhu in German), associated with the commander's name Von Usedom and the Kradschutzen Hussar tradition (Usedom Hussaren).


By Simon Garner. Pictures from the Akira Takiguchi Collection.



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