Panzer Lehr Division in the Ardennes

Panzer Lehr Division symbol Panzer Lehr Division
During the Ardennes Offensive, December 1944

By Alexander Tripp

The Retreat from France
The massive carpet-bombing at the start of Operation Cobra shattered the already weakened Panzer Lehr Division. Only small pockets of resistance remained which were quickly eliminated by the attacking American units. The commander of the division, Generalleutnant Fritz Bayerlein was forced to retreat on foot.
Panzer Lehr Panzer IV/70 (V)

While Hitler ordered Unternehmen (Operation) Lüttich, the doomed attack towards Mortain and Avranches, all combat-worthy elements of Panzer Lehr Division where formed into small Kampfgruppen (Task Forces) which guarded the flanks of Unternehmen Lüttich.

The remainder of the division was sent to the rear to receive replacements and returning stragglers, enabling the formation of another Kampfgruppe.

Finally on 18 August, the division was sent to Laon, near Paris, for reconstitution, but the arriving reinforcements and tanks where just enough to bring the division to roughly 25% strength of its infantry and about 20 tanks.

The uprising in Paris triggered the dispatch of a small Kampfgruppe towards Paris, but it was unable to enter the City, and was surrounded by French resistance forces and had to break out with heavy losses. The rapid Allied advance forced Panzer Lehr Division, no longer functioning as a division, to retreat across France towards the Westwall on the German border.

There, Kampfgruppe von Hauser played an admirable part in halting the American 5th Armored Division’s penetration of the Westwall at Wallendorf, southwest of Bitburg. The strained Allied logistic situation and the decision to focus on Montgomery’s Operation Market Garden, forced the American forces to withdraw from their little bridgehead. In October an order was received to redeploy to the training area Sennelager for reconstitution. The remaining tanks and heavy weapons were turned over to 2. Panzerdivision.

Reconstitution and preparations for the Ardennes Offensive

Panzer Lehr Division was to be reconstituted as a standard ‘Panzer-Division 44’. However, a lot of the equipment required for this organisation was not available to the division at the time.

Panzergrenadier-Lehr-Regiment 901 had its staff and the first battalion mounted on armoured halftracks, the second battalion and Panzergrenadier-Lehr-Regiment 902 received trucks, mainly Steyr 1500 troop-carriers.

Panzer Lehr Panther

I. Abteilung/Panzer-Lehr Regiment 130 had been attached to Panzer-Brigade 113, while I. Abteilung/Panzer-Regiment 6, which had served the division in Normandy, returned to its parent 3. Panzerdivision, leaving Panzer Lehr with only one mixed battalion of panzers.

Replacements arrived only slowly. Trucks where in short supply and in November the division still had no tank destroyers, the artillery regiment was lacking guns and prime-movers, and the lack of fuel and experienced NCO’s hampered training.

Lorraine

Panzer Lehr Division was earmarked for the planned Ardennes Offensive, but despite strict orders not to employ the division for any reason prior to the Ardennes Offensive, the November breakthrough of Patton’s XII Corps in the Lorraine forced the OKW (German high command) to move Panzer Lehr to counter this threat to the vital Saar industrial region.

At first the German forces were successful and pushed elements of the American 106th Cavalry Group back, but counterattacks by the 4th Armored Division forced Panzer Lehr Division to fall back and establish a defensive position. The arrival of the Panzerjäger Lehr Abteilung with 21 new Panzerjäger IV/70 enabled the division to repulse all attacks on 27 November.

Unexpectedly on 4 December orders arrived for the division to immediately load up on trains and head north, just 12 days before the start of Hitler’s Ardennes Offensive.

Knocked out Panther

The Battle of the Bulge

For the Ardennes Offensive Panzer Lehr Division was attached to XLVII Panzer Korps (47th Armoured Corps) which consisted of 2. Panzerdivision and 26. Volksgrenadierdivision. Panzer Lehr Division was placed in Army Reserve and ordered to stand by to support 26. Volksgrenadierdivision and to later take Bastogne in a coup de main if possible.

26. Volksgrenadierdivision was assigned with securing bridgeheads over the Our and Clerf Rivers, and thus enabling the two Panzer divisions to breakthrough towards Bastogne. 

However, the American 28th Infantry Division stubbornly defended its positions, denying the Germans use of the vital roads leading towards Bastogne. Kampfgruppe 901 was ordered towards Consthum in order to help the Volksgrenadiers capture the village. By the morning of 18 December American resistance faded away, allowing Kampfgruppe Fallois to resume the advance, followed by Kampfgruppe 902. Leading elements of Kampfgruppe 902 reached Nieder-Wampach at about 1900 hours on 18 December. There Generalleutnant Bayerlein decided to continue on the shorter and more direct side road towards Bastogne instead of the paved, but longer main road, believing it feasible for armour. But the tank tracks churned the road into a muddy quagmire and trucks and prime movers bogged down. It was only at 0200 hours on 19 December that the main road at Magéret was reached.
Panzer Lehr in the Ardennes
Here, a Belgian civilian told Bayerlein about an American armoured force of at least fifty tanks, that had passed through Margéret only two hours earlier. Concerned about such a strong enemy force behind his lines, Bayerlein set up a roadblock and waited for the bulk of his forces to close up. In fact the enemy force was only a small detachment from Combat Command B of the 10th Armored Division. When the advance was finally resumed, precious time had been lost. At Neffe, only 2 km east of Bastogne, the Panzergrenadiers clashed with the Paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division, which had just arrived. The advance of Panzer Lehr Division was stopped again and the race for Bastogne lost. Further south, in Wardin the paratroopers were forced back in bitter house-to-house fighting, but Kampfgruppe Fallois was too exhausted to advance further towards Marvie. The Americans were able to established a strong defensive position.

Bayerlein urged an immediate attack on Bastogne with all divisions of XLVII Korps, but General von Manteuffel declined, believing that such a diversion of all corps’s forces would endanger the offensive thrust to the Meuse. All attacks on the 20 December failed and on 21 December the division was ordered to leave Kampfgruppe 901 in position southeast of Bastogne and resume the westward advance past the south side of Bastogne.

In the following days Kampfgruppe 901 supported the attacks of 26. Volksgrenadierdivision, but only small gains were achieved. 

Panzer Lehr Panther
Parts of Marvie where captured in extremely heavy fighting with the Germans holding the south and the Americans holding the north of the village.

Casualties where high and when the 4th Armored Division linked up with the defenders of Bastogne on 26 December, all notions of taking the town were gone.

Panzer Lehr Panther and Panzergrenadiers

Meanwhile, the main body of Panzer Lehr Division had moved out toward St. Hubert. Overcoming light opposition the division made at first rapid progress, but on 22 December fuel shortages delayed the advance.
By nightfall on the 23 December the division had reached Rochfort. There the advance was delayed again, as the town was defended by a reinforced battalion of the US 84th Infantry Division, which only withdrew after a night of house-to-house fighting.

Further north, 2. Panzerdivision had advanced through Humaine and Buissonville and the leading elements had reached Celles, only six miles from the Meuse crossings in Dinant before daylight on 24 December. There its leading Kampfgruppen were cut off by the American 2nd Armored Division. Panzer Lehr Division was ordered to recapture Humaine and Buissonville and reopen 2. Panzer division’s line of communication along Highway N4. While Kampfgruppe 902 was able to retake Humaine, Kampfgruppe Fallois was stopped before Buissonville by the US 2nd Armoured Division’s CCA. The Highway N4 remained blocked and Kampfgruppen von Böhm and Cochenhausen of 2. Panzerdivision were annihilated by the 2nd Armored Division on 25 and 26 December. The German offensive in the Ardennes had reached its highwater mark.

Retreat from the Ardennes and the final battles

With Kampfgruppe 901 still at Bastogne, both remaining Kampfgruppen of Panzer Lehr Division established a strong defensive positions. The divisional pioneers set about felling trees across the roads and laying mines. Panzergrenadier-Lehr-Regiment 902 received support from several Jagdpanther heavy tank-hunters of 559. Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung. Additional support came from the divisional artillery, the heavy batteries of the Volks-Artillerie-Korps and Heeres-Flak-Abteilung 311.

Although most of Panzer Lehr Division’s forces were mere shadows of their former strength, the defensive line held against several American attacks until 11 January, when a general retreat began, with Panzer Lehr Division acting as rearguard. Snow storms and ice covered roads hindered Allied pursuit. Panzer Lehr Division acquitted itself admirably during the fighting withdrawal. Finally on 26 January Panzer Lehr Division crossed the Our River towards the German side, thus ending the divisions involvement in the Battle of the Bulge.

In February 1945 Panzer Lehr Division, together with 116. Panzerdivision, mounted an unsuccessful counter-attack against the Canadian Royal Hamilton Light Infantry entrenched at the Kalkar-Goch road, west of the Lower Rhine. In March, the division fought against units from the American Ninth Army, which had just launched Operation Grenade. The weak German forces in the area were quickly forced to withdraw, and on 7 March the Panzer Lehr Division crossed the Rhine at Wesel to the east bank. Panzer Lehr Sd Kfz 251 half-track
On the same day, American forces captured the intact Remagen bridge. A Kampfgruppe from Panzer Lehr Division was rushed against the American bridgehead at Remagen, but again it could not halt the Allied advance. Panzer Lehr Division was forced to fall back and was trapped in the Ruhr pocket where it surrendered on 15 April 1945.
Panzer Lehr Division symbol Panzer Lehr Division Kampfgruppen and fielding them in Flames Of War

You can field Panzer Lehr Division during the Ardennes Offensive using the Panzers to the Meuse Intelligence Briefing.

Panzers to the Meuse...

During Operation Wacht am Rhein (Watch on the Rhine) Panzer Lehr Division was divided into a number of Kampfgruppen (Battle Groups) for the offensive. These were:
Kampfgruppe von Fallois
Commander: Major Gerd von Fallois (130. Aufklärungs Lehr Abteilung)
Units: 130. Aufklärungs Lehr Abteilung; 8th Company of 130. Panzer Lehr Regiment with Panzer IV J tanks; 3rd Company of 130. Panzerjager Lehr Abteilung with Panzer IV/70 (V) tank-hunters; 4th Battery of 130. Panzerartillerie-Regiment; one company of 130. Panzerpionier-abteilung.
Kampfgruppe von Fallois led the advance of Panzer Lehr Division.
You can field a force based on Kampfgruppe von Fallois as either a Panzerkompanie or a Gepanzerte Aufklärungsschwadron.
Kampfgruppe 901
Commander: Oberst Paul Freiherr von Hauser
Units: 901. Panzergrenadier Lehr Regiment (armoured); 6th Company of 130. Panzer Lehr Regiment with Panzer IV J tanks; II. Bataillon/130. Panzerartillerie-Regiment with towed guns; 243. StuG-Brigade (18 StuG G).
When Panzer Lehr was directed to continue to advance on the Meuse on 22 December, Kampfgruppe 901 was attached to 26. Volksgrenadierdivision to continue the attempts to take Bastogne.
You can field a force based on Kampfgruppe 901 as a Panzerkompanie, a Gepanzerte Panzergrenadierkompanie, or a Panzergrenadierkompanie.
Kampfgruppe 902
Commander: Oberstleutnent Joachim von Poschinger
Units: 902. Panzergrenadier Lehr Regiment (motorised); 5th and 7th Companies of II. Abteilung/130. Panzer Lehr Regiment with Panther G tanks; I. Bataillon/130. Panzerartillerie-Regiment with towed guns.
Kampfgruppe 902 attacked with Kampfgruppe von Fallois westwards, skirting south of Bastogne.
You can field a force based on Kampfgruppe 902 as a Panzerkompanie, or a Panzergrenadierkompanie.
Divisional Reserve
130. Panzerjäger Lehr Abteilung with Panzer IV/70 (V) tank-hunters. 559. Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung was assigned to the division for the offensive, but did not arrive at the division until 25 December 1944.


Last Updated On Thursday, January 31, 2013 by Wayne at Battlefront