Aufklärungs: German Reconnaissance 2
The 1939 organisation of the Reconnaissance Battalion (Aufklärungs-Abteilung or A-A) of a Panzer division consisted of:
- A Battalion Headquarters & Staff Company
- Two Armoured Reconnaissance Squadrons (Panzerspähschwadronen)
- A Motorcycle Machinegun Squadron (Kradschützenschwadron)
- A Heavy Squadron (Schwere Schwadron)
- A Mobile Workshops, Supply and Transport elements.
The battalion headquarters incorporated the usual command and control apparatus, as well as an intelligence section (Nachrichtenzug), which was responsible for correlating the information received from the squadrons and transmitting it to divisional headquarters via a troop from the divisional signals battalion.
Each armoured reconnaissance squadron consisted of a squadron headquarters containing a radio command vehicle and a platoon of four Funkapparat (fu) Radio equipped (4 Rad) Sd.Kfz.223 cars equipped to transmit tactical information to command via coded Morse code. Servicing two light platoons of (4 Rad) Sd.Kfz.222 and (6 or 8 Rad) Sd.Kfz.231 (Sonderkraftfahrzeug or Special Purpose Vehicle) and one troop of six (8 Rad) Sd.Kfz.232 (fu) Schwerer Panzerspähwagen (Heavy armored reconnaissance vehicle) radio armoured cars equipped with Fu.Ger.11 SE 100 watt medium range transmitters.
The motorcycle machine-gun squadron typically employed BMW or Zundapp made sidecar mounts and consisted of squadron headquarters, three rifle troops each of three sections armed with two MG34s and one light mortar as integral support weapons, and one heavy troop equipped with four MG34s.
The heavy squadron contained a number of assorted elements including a light infantry gun troop, equipped with two towed Model 18 75mm light infantry guns; a Panzerjäger troop with three (later increased to five) towed 37mm anti-tank guns and one MG34; and an assault pioneer troop of three sections, each armed with MG34’s. Often an artillery observer would accompany the patrol, so that in an emergency situation, supporting artillery fire can be brought to bear.
This establishment if you will may resemble a small Kampfgruppe, however the purpose of the motorcycle machine-gun squadron and the heavy squadron was that of supporting troop, intended to alleviate the passage of the armoured car patrol (usually made up of three to four vehicles) through the enemy's defended zone by suppression with a high volume of fire. Once through this zone the cars completed their mission alone without interfere of its assigned tasks. If a water obstacle lay across the route of an armoured reconnaissance squadron, the assault pioneer troop might be attached, but such an attachment was far from popular with the armoured car crews, since the bridging vehicles were slow and their bulk rendered them unsuitable for use along certain routes. The armoured reconnaissance battalions of the motorised infantry divisions were similarly organised, but had only one reconnaissance squadron and lacked a heavy squadron.
(fu) from Groβdeutschland 1/.Kradschützen Battalion GD equipped
with Fu.Ger.11 SE 100 watt medium range transmitter waiting to be unloaded
at the railhead near Orel; Russia 1942.
The Groβdeutschland division grew and expanded several times during its own short, but illustrious history. The first full reconnaissance unit to serve GD was the 17th Motorcycle Sqaudron in orders of July 1940 and was typically made up of (4, 6 and 8 Rad) (wheeled) Armoured Cars (Note that the (6 Rad) vehicles by this time were already being phased out and replaced entirely with the more capable (8 Rad) version) along with multiple motorcycle (Krad) platoons and supporting Kfz.1 & 2 light passenger cars and VW Kubelwagens. The invasion of Russia placed a severe strain on available resources and the reconnaissance troops were no less affected than other areas of the Panzerwaffe, with many of Groβdeutschland’s battalions entering the campaign some way short of their theoretical organised strength. This, as well as the serious losses incurred during the invasion itself, but also in the appalling winter that followed, made some re-organisation inevitable.
In April 1942 Groβdeutschland reconnaissance unit was once more reorganised, expanded and designated a full Kradschützen Battalion with the light & heavy armoured cars being grouped together in the 1st Squadron, Sd.Kfz.250 half tracks entirely making up the 2nd squadron with the 3rd and 4th squadrons deploying Kubewagens (Volkswagen) and the 5th Heavy Squadron utilizing various trucks and other assorted heavy passenger vehicles.
Although light and quick the four-wheeled armoured cars often encountered off road difficulties during the extreme Russian seasonal weather. This resulted in their availability and importance steadily declining in favour of newer more capable vehicles such as the Sd.Kfz.250. This was furthermore seen as an answer to the exceedingly high losses encountered amongst the motorcycle Krad troops and coupled with the lack of basic roads in Russia ultimately lead to the Panzer division’s organic motorcycle battalions being disbanded and its personnel posted to the reconnaissance battalions. As a result of this shift and as additional half-tracks became available, (recognised as a safer method for deploying rifleman to the front) the battalion's motorcycle element was steadily reduced. The arrival of the 75mm Sd.Kfz.233 and later the Sd.Kfz.234 and other various heavy (8 Rad) models also meant that the towed weapons troops of the heavy company could also be phased out. So much so that by March 1943; with such a large proportion of the Squadrons being almost entirely made up of the Sd.Kfz.231/3 (8 Rad) series Armoured cars and combined with the 2nd Squadron fielding only Sd.Kfz.250 half tracks, the unit as a whole was re designated yet again as an Armoured Reconnaissance Battalion (Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilungen)
to reflect and in keeping with the actual makeup of the reconnaissance
unit and the overall growth of the Groβdeutschland status in to that of a full Panzer Grenadier Division.
By September 1943 the theoretical structure of the Armoured Reconnaissance Battalion GD (Pz.Aufkl.Abt.GD) had been tabulated as follows:
- Battalion Headquarters & Staff Company (Stabskompanie)
- No. 1 Armoured Reconnaissance Squadron (Panzerspähkompanie)
- No. 2 Reconnaissance Squadron (Aufkläerungskompanie)
- No. 3 Reconnaissance Squadron
- No. 4 Reconnaissance Squadron
- No. 5 Heavy Squadron
Was serviced by one Sd.Kfz.247
Command Armoured Car plus two Kfz.15 Cars and a troop of 8 (Krad) Motorcycle
mounts. The Signals platoon contained four Sd.Kfz.261 (fu) Funk Radio
cars and one Sd.Kfz.260 model and two Kfz.2 light Funk vehicles utilising
FuG.19SE30 or later FuG.12 transmitters. Also attached were three radio
sections each receiving one Kfz.15 and an Sd.Kfz.263 (8 Rad) radio command
Armoured Car and several medium size support trucks for the squadron’s
No.1 Armoured Reconnaissance Squadron was mainly equipped with the Sd.Kfz.231 & 233 (8 Rad) series plus a hand full of surviving 4-wheeled Sd.Kfz.222 armoured cars. The company was subdivided into eight three-vehicle troops - Kettenspaetrupps - and various accompanying long range Sd.Kfz.232 (fu) Funk radio vehicles provided rear link facilities for the troop commanders.
No.2 Reconnaissance Squadron
Was entirely equipped with the Sd.Kfz.250 SPW Schützenpanzerwagen (Armoured Personnel Carrier) reconnaissance half-track series. It consisted of a Squadron headquarters, three reconnaissance troops and a heavy weapons troop. The headquarters section included two Sd.Kfz.250/3 (Fu) Funkapparat radio vehicles, and each reconnaissance troop contained seven Sd.Kfz.250/1 armoured personnel carriers, subdivided into one troop headquarters vehicle and three sections of two vehicles each. The heavy weapons troop consisted of one Sd.Kfz.250/1 in troop headquarters; a close support section of two Sd.Kfz.250/8 self-propelled 75mm L/24 howitzers and one Sd.Kfz.250/1 SPW; and a mortar section of two Sd.Kfz.250/7 80mm mortar carriers and one Sd.Kfz.250/1 SPW giving the squadron theoretical unit strength of 3 officers, 164 other ranks, comprising of 85 rifles, 51 machine pistols and 48 MG’s.
No.3 & 4 Reconnaissance Squadron
Employed multiple platoons of Kubelwagen (Volkswagens) in various reconnaissance and heavy modes. Four motorcycle platoons, along with three Kfz.70 Trucks and two 80mm Mortar sections each. With the obvious lack of armoured capabilities these squadrons can be viewed as having a more secondary reserve role to the much better equipped 1st & 2nd squadrons who would often spearhead operations.
No.5 Heavy Squadron
Consisted of an assault pioneer troop, a close support troop and a mortar troop. The assault pioneers, in addition to their bridge repair role, were also responsible for demolition; this included the removal of barriers if the battalion was leading an advance and the destruction of bridges if it was covering a withdrawal. They were also specialists in certain combat techniques, and their order of battle included a section of six man-pack flamethrowers. The troop's theoretical organization contained seven Sd.Kfz.251/5 assault pioneer versions of the medium half-track, but whether these were available in sufficient numbers is doubtful, and suitably modified Sd.Kfz.250/1 would have taken their place.
The close support troop nominally consisted of six self-propelled Sd.Kfz.251/9 75mm L/24 howitzers and the mortar troop of six Sd.Kfz.251/2 80mm mortar carriers, but in practice the Sd.Kfz.250/8 and Sd.Kfz.250/7 were frequently used. The formation of the half-tracked reconnaissance Squadron (or company in other Divisions), was seen as a fundamental revision to the earlier practices of the old motorcycle machine-gun squadrons which they had by this time entirely replaced. Although incorporating their role with some 48 machine-guns and organic heavy weapons support on hand, coupled with providing Panzer-Grenadier support for the armoured Reconnaissance battalion, these had become a secondary role to its primary task of deep armoured reconnaissance.