17 February 2023
Das Fahrzeug kaput ist.
Words by Chris Swan. Photos by The Editor & Wargames Atlantic.
This originally appeared in issue 474 of Miniature Wargames Magazine, which included a free sprue for Panzer Lehr Figures. Check availability and pick up your own in the store, or by clicking here.
The release of Panzer Lehr figures by Wargames Atlantic provides gamers with a new set of 28mm multi-part hard plastic World War II German figures but in different uniforms from those normally seen on late war figures. They have been modelled wearing the double-breasted Sturmgeschütz jacket and baggy trousers worn by the Panzer Lehr panzergrenadiers and by Panzer and vehicle crews instead of the standard field blouse, trousers and boots normally worn by the German army. This allows the figures to depict both Panzer Lehr panzergrenadiers and dismounted vehicle crews (along with arms modelled with a variety of weapons the box also contains arms with spanners and petrol cans to add to your modelling options.)
So, looking at the free sprue of figures provided with this issue 474 magazine gave me an idea for a different type of scenario as well as making me take a fresh look at the history of Panzer Lehr.
The Division was formed 30th December 1943 from training and demonstration troops (the word Lehr means “teach”) and although in April 1944 the division was officially designated as the 130th Panzer Division it is usually referred to as the Panzer Lehr Division. Its initial crews and troops were drawn from several elite training and demonstration units, with most of the original cadre coming from Panzertruppenschule I and Panzertruppenschule II which were the Panzerwaffe’s key training units. These men were experienced and highly trained as most had seen combat in North Africa, Sicily or Italy or on the Eastern Front and many had been decorated for valour. Thus from its very beginning Panzer Lehr was considered to be an elite unit.
At its formation the Division was well equipped with the Division’s panzer regiment having over 200 tanks and assault guns listed as 10 Panzer III, 9 StuG III, 97 Panzer IV, 86 Panthers and 6 Tigers as well as 31 Jagdpanzer IV, whilst its armoured reconnaissance battalion had a company of the new Sd.Kfz 234/2 Puma armoured cars.
In addition, unlike other Panzer Divisions, it was fully equipped with halftracks to transport all of its panzergrenadier regiments. (The other Panzer Divisions only had enough half tracks to carry their first panzergrenadier regiment with the remaining battalions carried in trucks, or in some cases, on horse drawn be vehicles)
The newly formed Panzer Lehr was initially ordered to move from Germany to the Nancy–Verdun area of France in January 1944 to complete its training but on 6th March 1944 it was sent to Vienna and then on 19th March it took in Operation Margarethe, the German occupation of Hungary. It returned to France on 15th May 1944 to await the Allied invasion where it formed part of the German armoured reserve and was committed to the Normandy battles on 8th June where, together with the 2nd Panzer Division and the 10st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion, it formed part of the defence of Caen against the British and Canadians. It was also heavily involved in the Battle of Villers-Bocage which resulted in the British falling back their start lines after two days of inconclusive combat. On 17th June the Division was withdrawn from the area before being committed to heavy fighting near the town of Tilly-sur-Seulles.
However, the Division’s almost continual use in combat throughout June meant that it took a lot of damage, not only from the battles but also from Allied air attacks, and by the end of the month Panzer Lehr had suffered nearly 3,000 casualties and had reportedly lost 51 tanks and assault guns, 82 halftracks and 294 other vehicles leaving only 36 Panzer IV tanks, 32 Panther tanks and 28 Jagdpanzers operational.
SAINT-LO & OPERATION COBRA
On 7th July, the Division was ordered to head west to provide support to the divisions resisting the American advance near Saint-Lô and on 10th July it launched a counterattack against elements of the American 9th and 30th infantry divisions around the village of Le Dézert. During the ensuing combat American M10 tank destroyers reportedly knocked out 30 of the Panzer Lehr’s tanks and forced the remainder to withdraw over the Vire Canal. Over the next two weeks, the Division fought a defensive battle of attrition but on 19th July Saint-Lô fell to the Americans.
Then on 25th July the Americans launched Operation Cobra, their planned breakout from Normandy. At this point Panzer Lehr reportedly only had 2,200 combat troops remaining with just 12 Panzer IV and 16 Panthers fit for action and 30 tanks in various states of repair behind the lines. Operation Cobra was preceded by a massive aerial bombardment by over 1,500 allied bombers and during it Panzer Lehr suffered over 1,000 casualties and lost at least 14 assault guns and 10 tanks. By 27th July the German defences has been penetrated and Panzer Lehr was described by German High Command as being “effectively annihilated.” In fact Panzer Lehr was still fighting and as of 1st August it still had 33 tanks and assault guns operational and a further 44 in workshops. So on 17th August after a fighting withdrawal it was ordered back to Alençon and thence to Germany for rest and refitting.
PANZER LEHR REBORN
In the 7 months since its formation the Division had been reduced from a proud. well equipped Panzer Division to a unit with only 20 operational tanks but after spending a month in the Saar, the Division was moved to Paderborn where it received 72 tanks, 21 assault guns and hundreds of replacement troops. However, as with the rest of the German army, the new crews and troops may have been trained but they were not of the same quality as the veterans who had formed Panzer Lehr. Many were young or lacked experience or would have been considered unfit for military service earlier in the war.
In early November 1944, Panzer Lehr was transferred to Field Marshal Walter Model’s Army Group B in preparation for the planned winter offensive usually referred to as the Battle of the Bulge. However, on 21st November, the partially refitted Division which only had 34 Panzer IV and 38 Panther tanks combat ready was ordered to counterattack American forces which were driving towards the Saverne Gap and the ensuing combat led to more losses for the Division.
The German winter offensive, code named Wacht am Rhein by the Germans, was finally launched on 16th December 1944 but Panzer Lehr was still severely under strength, with only one of its two tank battalions operational giving it 27 Panzer IV and 30 Panthers along with 20 Jagdpanzer IV/70’s ready for combat, whilst its panzergrenadier regiments were only at 80 percent of their operational strength. It In fact, only the Division’s armoured reconnaissance battalion was up to full strength but the Division was allocated an additional two tank destroyer battalions and an assault gun brigade to make up for its lack of numbers.
During the offensive Panzer Lehr was actively involved in all of the major actions including the battle for Bastogne, the assaults on Dinant and St. Hubert before fighting all day on 23rd December to capture the town of Rochefort before going on to recapture Humain.
Then Panzer Lehr was moved to new positions to counter the US 4th Armored Division who were the spearhead of George Patton’s US Third Army which was attacking to relieve Bastogne. They led the German counter attack which failed and the Division was finally pulled out of the battle having suffered heavy casualties and been virtually destroyed as a fighting force.
THE FINAL DAYS
After the failure of the Ardennes offensive, Panzer Lehr was again refitted before being moved north into the Rhineland, where it fought the Anglo-Canadian 21st Army Group during Operation Veritable and sustained more heavy losses. By 15th March 1945 Panzer Lehr had only 6 Panzer IVs, 29 Panthers and 14 Jagdpanzer IVs left but when the U.S. 9th Armored Division captured the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen it was sent to block the American advance. In an unsuccessful attack in the face of overwhelming allied ground and air superiority it took so many casualties that it was reportedly reduced to little more than a battalion in strength with just 300 men and 15 tanks or armoured vehicles remaining.
It then staged a fighting retreat across north-western Germany but became trapped in the Ruhr Pocket and the remnants of the Division finally surrendered to US 99th Infantry Division on 15th April 1945. The Division had been in existence for just over 16 months during which time it had been in almost continual combat in France, Belgium and Germany and although it had to be rebuilt on several occasions it retained its fighting spirit until the very end.
BUSTED: THE SCENARIO
‘Das Fahrzeug kaput ist’ (in English: the vehicle is broken!) is a scenario utilising your free sprue
I wanted to use the figures on the sprue to create a different type of scenario from the normal ‘two patrols fighting each other’ and inspired by the uniforms of the figures and the spare arms with spanners I decided make up some dismounted crew members from an armoured vehicle along with a couple of Panzer Grenadiers. Such crews could be armed with both pistols and SMG’s whilst the Panzer Grenadiers had access to the normal bolt action rifles, SMG’s, Machine Guns and grenades.
My scenario is set in somewhere in northern France in the late summer of 1944 abut could equally be set in March 1945 just before Panzer Lehr’s surrender.
During the retreat an armoured vehicle has broken down and its crew are trying to repair it whilst a couple of panzer grenadiers who had hitched ride stand guard. The type of vehicle is unspecified to allow you to use whatever you have to hand, so it could be a tank, an assault gun, armoured car or a half track. Whatever you use in the scenario the vehicle is immobilised and having used up its store of ammunition in combat it cannot use any of the armament it carries.
The vehicle stands in the court yard of an abandoned and semi ruined farm where the crew are busy repairing it and trying to get it mobile when the two panzer grenadiers spot enemy soldiers moving towards the farm. With little option left the crew grab their weapons and join their comrades to defend their ride home and their lives.
From the free sprue I made up the vehicle’s officer armed with an SMG, a veteran crew member who has an SMG and a stick grenade taken from one of the Panzer Grenadiers as well as two crew members with pistols and spanners. One of the figures comes without the full equipment kit and I simply trimmed the straps off of the other three crew figures as panzer crews did not normally wear such kit unless fighting in a ground roll. I also made up two Panzer Grenadiers armed with rifles, one of whom also has grenades.
For their opponents I chose to use a sprue of six US Infantry I had to hand but they could easily be replaced with a patrol of commonwealth troops or even a group of, say, French Resistance Fighters (also available from Wargames Atlantic): I just used what I had to hand. I made up my US Infantry with two armed with SMGs, one with a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) and the others with Garands or M1 Carbines.
The rules I used for the game were my own Quick on the Draw rules with additions for pulp games set in the 1920’/1930 and 40’s as the game is best played in a pulp/ comic book style. So – as an example – SMG’s can be fired from the hip or one handed, grenade pins are pulled out by using your teeth and you may shout ‘Dakker, dakker, dakker’ when firing automatic weapons or yell ‘Take that Schweinhund!’ when playing (entirely optional! Ed.). The rules can be downloaded for free from the magazine’s web site but any set of one to one combat rules which covers automatic weapons and grenades can be used.
The game is best played on a 4’ by 4’ table with the ruined farm and its outbuildings set in 6 inches in from one table edge and the whole complex covering an area no larger than 12 inches deep by 18 inches wide. Players should feel free to use whatever buildings they have to create the farm complex but the key point is that the disabled vehicle sits in the court yard of the farm and can be seen from the road leading to it. The rest of the table should have plenty of cover in the form of wooded copses or orchards, fields and hedge rows thus providing the US patrol with plenty of cover to reach the farm. One possible layout is shown below
The Germans begin in the farm complex with the four crew members gathered around the vehicle trying to repair it: remember they were not aware of the oncoming attack and so should be placed randomly around the vehicle. The Two Panzer Grenadiers may be placed anywhere in the farm complex where they were supposed to be watching the road but were in fact watching the repairs before the enemy soldiers were spotted. This means that members of the US patrol may begin the game closer to the farm than expected. (See Special Rules)
The characters are all inspired by Hollywood/Pulp arch types seen in so many old black and white war movies and pulp magazine and war comic stories and are armed accordingly, rather than how they might have been armed in reality. Although they are designed for use with my rules the character’s profiles can be used to suggest how they might be used in other rule sets.
THE GERMAN CREW
THE US PATROL
The Germans want to drive off the US patrol so they can complete their repairs and drive off.
The US Patrol wants to kill or capture the Germans.
The Crew’s Reaction: On the first phase only the two Panzer Grenadiers are armed so the four crew members must stop their work, react, and grab their weapons before they can act. This requires them to pass a Reaction Roll – so when their first card is drawn from the Action Pack roll their Order Dice to see what they do:
US Random Location: Due to the two Panzer Grenadiers loss of concentration whilst watching the vehicle repairs some the members of the US patrol may have got close to the farm before they were spotted. Before phase one starts place the US figures on the table edge furthest away from the farm and then roll 1D10 to see how far each member of the patrol had moved before they were spotted.
Optional Rule: Of course the crew might decide to carry on trying to repair their vehicle so that they can escape. The player controlling the Germans may assign either 1 or 2 crew members to carry on the repair work whilst the others try and drive off the Americans.
If this option is chosen then the repairs take ½ 1D10 uninterrupted turns to complete. At the end of this time the crewman assigned to the repairs must roll their Reduced Order dice to see how successful they were (the work is classed as a Difficult Task). If a second crew member is assigned to assist in the work the outcome may be rerolled.
So there you have it: a quick game to use your free figures. Of course they can be used in other World War II settings from 1943 onwards by building your sprue up as panzergrenadiers who were in combat across much of northern Europe (as you will have seen there are plenty of weapon options on the sprue to use) or as armed dismounted vehicle crews (many crews fought dismounted at Arnhem, for example). Whatever options you chose have fun making up some figures from your free sprue for your games.
So, will the Germans succeed in driving off the Americans and then drive away in their vehicle? Or will the Yanks stop them in their tracks: only you and the Gods of the Dice will decide! Happy Gaming.
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