The 1st Panzer Army (German: 1. Panzerarmee) was a German tank army which was a large armoured formation of the Wehrmacht during World War II. When originally formed, the 1st Panzer Army was named Panzer Group Kleist (Panzergruppe Kleist) and was activated on November 16, 1940 with Field Marshal Ewald von Kleist in command.
It was deployed in occupied France until 1941. In April 1941, Panzer Group Kleist took part in the invasion of Yugoslavia as part of Field Marshal Maximilian von Weichs's Second Army. Panzer Group Kleist performed brilliantly in Yugoslavia, quickly smashing the Yugoslavian Fifth and Sixth Armies before entering Belgrade.
In May 1941, Panzer Group Kleist became Panzer Group 1 (Panzergruppe 1), which was attached to Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt's Army Group South at the beginning of Operation Barbarossa. At the start of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, Panzer Group 1 included the III, XIV and XLVIII Army Corps (mot.) with five panzer divisions and four motorized divisions (two of them SS) equipped with 799 tanks. Panzer Group 1 served on the southern sector of the Eastern Front against the Red Army and was involved the Battle of Brody which involved as many as 1,000 Red Army tanks. On October 6, 1941, Panzer Group 1 was enlarged to the 1st Panzer Army following the fall of Kiev, with von Kleist still in command. After that the First Panzer Army began its thrust on Rostov. Together with the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler led by Oberstgruppenführer Sepp Dietrich, von Kleist reluctantly made the attack on Rostov. His 1st Panzer Army successfully captured the city in November, but the Red Army recaptured it eight days later.
In January 1942, Army Group von Kleist, which consisted of the First Panzer Army along with the Seventeenth Army, was formed with its namesake, von Kleist, in command. Army Group von Kleist played a major role in repulsing the Red Army attack in the Second Battle of Kharkov in May 1942. Army Group von Kleist was disbanded that month. The First Panzer Army, still under von Kleist, which had been attached to Army Group South earlier, became part of Army Group A under Field Marshal Wilhelm List. Army Group A was to lead the thrust into the Caucasus during Operation Blue and capture Grozny and the Baku oilfields (current capital of Azerbaijan). The First Panzer Army was to spearhead the attack. An initially successful attack was led, with Rostov, Maykop, Krasnodar, and the entire Kuban region captured.
However, in September 1942, Army Group A's offensive was stalled in the Caucasus, and List was sacked. After Adolf Hitler briefly took personal control of Army Group A, he appointed von Kleist to command it on 22 November 1942. As von Kleist took command of Army Group A, Colonel-General Eberhard von Mackensen took the reins of the First Panzer Army. In December 1942, as the German Sixth Army was already being crushed in the Battle of Stalingrad, the Red Army launched a successful offensive against Army Group A. The First Panzer Army was ordered to evacuate through Rostov in January 1943, before the Soviets could cut it off in the Kuban. By February 1943 it had been withdrawn west of the Don River, and von Kleist withdrew the remains of his forces from the Caucasus into the Kuban area, east of the Strait of Kerch.
In January 1943, von Mackensen's First Panzer Army became attached to Army Group Don under Field Marshal Erich von Manstein. The month after that, von Manstein redeployed the First Panzer Army together with the Fourth Panzer Army to counter-attack Soviet penetrations along his northern flank. The First Panzer Army contributed to the success of the Third Battle of Kharkov in March 1943. In October 1943 Soviet forces crossed the Dnieper River between Dnipropetrovsk and Kremenchug. The First Panzer Army counter-attacked along with the Eighth Army, but failed to dislodge the Soviets. At the end of that month, as the Red Army closed in on Kiev, von Mackensen was replaced by Colonel-General Hans-Valentin Hube.
The First Panzer Army remained attached to Army Group South from March 1943 to July 1944. By that time German troops had been pulled out from the Ukraine, and the Soviets were threatening Warsaw. In March 1944, crisis hit the First Panzer Army as it was encircled by two Soviet fronts in the Battle of Kamenets-Podolsky pocket. A successful breakthrough was made, saving most of the manpower but losing the heavy equipment. That same month Hitler, who insisted his armies fight an inflexible defense to the last man, dismissed von Manstein. In October 1941, when the First Panzer Army had been formed, it was a large army consisting of four corps, several infantry, panzer, motorized, mountain, and SS divisions, along with a Romanian army and some Italian, Romanian, Hungarian, and Slovak divisions. By the spring of 1944, the First Panzer Army had shrunk considerably, consisting of only three corps, two infantry, four panzer, and one SS division. After July 1944 it withdrew from Ukraine and Poland before fighting with Army Group A in Slovakia (Battle of the Dukla Pass).
During its existence, from October 1941 to May 1945, the First Panzer Army spent its entire time on the Eastern Front. In the spring of 1945, the First Panzer Army's main task was to defend the Ostrava region in the north of Moravia, which was at the time the last large industrial area in the hands of Third Reich. There the First Panzer Army was facing the advance of 4th Ukrainian Front from north-east (Ostrava-Opava-Operation, 10 March – 5 May 1945) and have lost most of its heavy and medium tanks. At the same time however the Panzer Army was flanked by the 2nd Ukrainian Front from the south (Bratislava-Brno Operation, 25 March – 5 May 1945). German defensive lines finally collapsed in the early hours of Prague Offensive. The staff of First Panzer Army, along with other commands subordinated to Army Group Center, surrendered to the Soviets on 9 May 1945 in the area of Deutsch-Brod, while the remnants of its Panzer-units were scattered and captured all the way from Olomouc to Vysočina Region. Its last commander was general Walter Nehring, who abandoned his staff and fled south to the American captivity.Field Marshal Paul Ludwig Ewald von Kleist (5 October 1941 – 21 November 1942)
Colonel-General Eberhard von Mackensen (21 November 1942 – 29 October 1943)
Colonel-General Hans-Valentin Hube (29 October 1943 – 21 April 1944)
Colonel-General Erhard Raus (21 April 1944 – 15 August 1944)
Colonel-General Gotthard Heinrici (15 August 1944 – 19 March 1945)
General of Armored Forces Walter Nehring (19 March 1945 – German surrender)
Generalmajor Kurt Zeitzler (creation – 24 April 1942)
Generalmajor Ernst-Felix Fäckenstedt (24 April 1942 – 15 March 1943)
Generalmajor Walther Wenck (15 March 1943 – 15 March 1944)
Generalmajor Carl Wagener (15 March 1944 – 5 November 1944)