The 1st Panzer Division (English: 1st Tank Division) was an elite armoured division in the German Army, the Wehrmacht, during World War II.
The division was one of the original three tank divisions established by Germany in 1935. It took part in pre-war occupations of Austria and Czechoslovakia and the invasions of Poland in 1939 and Belgium and France in 1940. From 1941 to 1945 it fought on the Eastern Front, except for a period in 1943 when it was sent for refitting to France and Greece. At the end of the war the division surrendered to US forces in Bavaria.
The 1st Panzer Division was formed on 15 October 1935 from the 3rd Cavalry Division, and was headquartered in Weimar. It was one of three tank divisions created at the time, the other two being the 2nd and 3rd Panzer Division. Germany had renounced the Treaty of Versailles earlier in the year which had forbidden the country, among other things, from having tank forces, a treaty Germany had violated almost from the start by secretly developing tanks and operating a covert tank school in the Soviet Union.
Initially the division consisted of two panzer regiments organized into brigades, a motorized infantry brigade, a reconnaissance battalion, a divisional artillery regiment, and supporting ancillary formations. Initially the division was equipped with the sub-standard light Panzer I, with the more powerful Panzer III arriving in late 1936. Despite this the division was also equipped with obsolete Panzer II's up until 1941.
In 1938 the division participated in the Anschluss of Austria and the occupation of the Sudetenland in 1938 and the subsequent occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939. In September 1939 the 1st Panzer Division took part in the invasion of Poland, reaching the outskirts of Warsaw after eight days. After Warsaw the division was moved to support the 18th Infantry Division before returning to Germany in November 1939, after the Polish surrender.
In May 1940 the 1st Panzer Division was part of the invasion of France, Luxembourg and Belgium. It took part in the battles of Sedan and Dunkirk before swinging south to participate in the attack on the Weygand Line. It advanced towards the Swiss border and occupied Belfort before the surrender of France. During the battle of France the division suffered relatively low casualties, having just under 500 men killed in action.
The 1st Panzer Division remained in France until September 1940 when it was moved to East Prussia. It supplied a substantial amount of units to the new 16th and 18th Panzer Divisions. From 22 June 1941 it took part of Operation Barbarossa, crossing the former German-Lithuanian frontier as part of the Army Group North and the 4th Panzer Group. The division was involved in heavy fighting and, by mid-August, had only 44 of the 155 tanks it had started out less than two month earlier left in serviceable condition. It continued to advance towards Leningrad until early October when it was transferred to the Army Group Centre to take part in the advance on Moscow. The division advanced within 32 kilometres (20 mi) on Moscow before being forced to retreat during the Soviet counterattack.
The division was part of the defence of the Rzhev Salient during early 1942, initially being very short on tanks and fighting predominantly as infantry until being resupplied during Spring. The 1st Panzer Division was engaged in the defence of the supply lines of the 9th Army in the centre of the Eastern Front. It suffered heavy casualties during the defence against repeated Soviet attacks in the Winter of 1942–43 before eventually being transferred back to France in January 1943 for refitting. After month in northern France the division was send to occupied Greece in June 1943 because of the perceived thread of an Allied landing there. Instead the landing took place in Sicily and the division participated in the disarming of Italian forces in Greece when the former defected from the Axis in September 1943. The 1st Panzer Division was brought up to full strength again in October when it received a substantial number of Panther and Tiger I tanks and returned to the Eastern Front again shortly after.
The 1st Panzer Division was engaged in southern sector of the Eastern Front to serve alternately within the 1st and 4th Panzer Army as an emergency force. It was constantly thrown from crisis location to crisis location as the German front lines retreated, taking part in battles at Kiev, Zhitomir and Cherkassy. The latter battle saw the division attempting to break through to the cauldron but falling just short. By March 1944 the division had been reduced to just over 25 percent of its nominal strength. Retreating further westwards the division was part of the Kamenets-Podolsky pocket and, from there, took part in the defence of eastern Poland and Hungary. It was engaged in defensive operations around Lake Balaton and took part in the unsuccessful attempt to break through to the Siege of Budapest and once more suffered heavy losses.
The final month of the Second World War saw the division engaged in the defence of Styria. From there it retreated westwards to surrender to US forces rather than Soviet ones, successfully crossing the demarcation line between the two. It surrendered on 8 May 1945 in southern Bavaria and most of its soldiers were released from captivity soon after.
The commanders of the division:10 January 1935 – 30 September 1937: General der Kavallerie Maximilian von Weichs
10 January 1937 – 2 November 1939: Generalleutnant Rudolf Schmidt
2 November 1939– 17 July 1941: Generalleutnant Friedrich Kirchner
17 July 1941 – 1 January 1944: Generalleutnant Walter Krüger
1 January 1944 – 19 February 1944: Generalmajor Richard Koll
19 February 1944 – 25 September 1944: Generalmajor Werner Marcks
25 September 1944 – 8 May 1945: Generalleutnant Eberhard Thunert
The organisation of the division:1.Panzer-Brigade
Panzer-Abteilung I (deleted July 1941; added Jan 1943)
Panzer-Regiment 2 (deleted Oct 1940)
Schützen-Regiment 1 (renamed Panzergrenadier-Regiment 1 Jul 1941)
Schützen-Battalion III (added Oct 1939, deleted Nov 1940)
Schützen-Regiment 113 (renamed Panzergrenadier-Regiment 113 Jul 1941)
Schützen-Battalion I (added Nov 1940)
Schützen-Battalion II (added Feb 1941)
Kradschützen-Battalion 1 – Motorcycle battalion
Artillerie-Abteilung III (added 1941)
Aufklärungs-Abteilung 4 – Reconnaissance battalion
Panzerjäger-Abteilung 37 – Tank hunter battalion
Heeres-Flak-Abteilung 299 – Air defense battalion (added 1943)
Pionier-Battalion 37 – Pioneer battalion
Grenadier-Ersatz-Abteilung 1009 – Replacement infantry battalion (added 1944 or 1945)
Nachrichten-Abteilung 37 – Signals battalion