Military Organization > Nazi Germany > ​Schwere Panzerkompanie (1944-1945)

Schwere Panzerkompanie (1944-1945) 

By Brendan Matsuyama, Editor

The following was the organization of the Schwere Panzerkompanie, or "Heavy Tank Company", of the German Army from November 1944 until the end of World War II. These companies were intended to be outfitted with Tiger I or Tiger II tanks, as opposed to Medium Tank Companies which were intended to be outfitted with Panthers, Panzer IVs or Panzer IV/70 (A) tank destroyers.

They were the principle combat element of the Schwere Panzer-Abteilung (Heavy Tank Battalion).

Contents:

  1. Organization

    • 1 Company HQ

    • 3 Platoons

    • Reserve Crews

  2. Discussion

    • Tiger I vs. Tiger II Distribution​

  3. Sources

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heavy panzer company-01.png
 

Organization

  • Type: Heavy Tank Company

  • Origin: German Army, Waffen SS (Nazi Germany)

  • Time Frame: Fall of the Reich

  • Personnel: 4 Officers and 83 Enlisted

Company Headquarters (1 Officers and 16 Enlisted)

→ Tank 1 (Tiger I or Tiger II)**

  • 1× Company Leader (Kompanieführer), Hauptmann (OF-2), armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol

  • 1× Gunner (Richtschützen), Unteroffizier (OR-4) to Feldwebel (OR-7)*

  • 1× Driver (Kraftwagenfahrer), Unteroffizier (OR-4) to Feldwebel (OR-7)*, armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol

  • 1× Radio Operator (Funker), Unteroffizier (OR-4) to Feldwebel (OR-7)*, armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol

  • 1× Loader (Ladeschützen), Panzerschütze (OR-1) to Obergefreiter (OR-3), armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol

 

→ Tank 2 (Tiger I or Tiger II)**

  • 1× Tank Commander (Kommandant), Unteroffizier (OR-4) to Feldwebel (OR-7)*, armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol

  • 1× Gunner, Unteroffizier (OR-4) to Feldwebel (OR-7)*

  • 1× Driver, Unteroffizier (OR-4) to Feldwebel (OR-7)*, armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol

  • 1× Radio OperatorPanzerschütze (OR-1) to Obergefreiter (OR-3), armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol

  • 1× Loader, Panzerschütze (OR-1) to Obergefreiter (OR-3), armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol

→ Administrative Personnel

  • 1× ​Administrative First Sergeant (Hauptfeldwebel), Oberfeldwebel (OR-8) armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol

  • 1× ​Weapons NCO (Waffenunteroffizier), Unteroffizier (OR-4) to Feldwebel (OR-7)*, armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol

  • 2× Messengers—Kettenkrad (Kradmelder), Panzerschütze (OR-1) to Obergefreiter (OR-3), armed with 1 Kar98k Rifle each

  • 1× Messenger (Melder), Panzerschütze (OR-1) to Obergefreiter (OR-3), armed with 1 Kar98k Rifle

  • 2× Drivers for Cars (Kraftwagenfahrer für Pkw), Panzerschütze (OR-1) to Obergefreiter (OR-3), armed with 1 Kar98k Rifle each

→ Additional Equipment

  • 2× Kettenkrad Half-Track Motorcycles

  • 2× Kübelwagen Cars

3× Platoons (1 Officer and 19 Enlisted each)

→ Tank 1 (Tiger I or Tiger II)**

  • 1× Platoon Leader (Zugführer), Leutnant (OF-1), armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol

  • 1× Gunner, Unteroffizier (OR-4) to Feldwebel (OR-7)*

  • 1× Driver, Unteroffizier (OR-4) to Feldwebel (OR-7)*, armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol

  • 1× Radio OperatorUnteroffizier (OR-4) to Feldwebel (OR-7)*, armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol

  • 1× Loader, Panzerschütze (OR-1) to Obergefreiter (OR-3), armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol

→ Tank 2 (Tiger I or Tiger II)**

  • 1× Deputy Platoon Leader (Stellvertreter Zugführer), Unteroffizier (OR-4) to Feldwebel (OR-7)*, armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol

  • 1× Gunner, Unteroffizier (OR-4) to Feldwebel (OR-7)*

  • 1× Driver, Unteroffizier (OR-4) to Feldwebel (OR-7)*, armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol

  • 1× Radio Operator, Panzerschütze (OR-1) to Obergefreiter (OR-3), armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol

  • 1× Loader, Panzerschütze (OR-1) to Obergefreiter (OR-3), armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol

→ Tank 3 (Tiger I or Tiger II)

  • 1× Vehicle Commander, Unteroffizier (OR-4) to Feldwebel (OR-7)*, armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol

  • 1× Gunner, Unteroffizier (OR-4) to Feldwebel (OR-7)*

  • 1× Driver, Unteroffizier (OR-4) to Feldwebel (OR-7)*, armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol

  • 1× Radio Operator, Panzerschütze (OR-1) to Obergefreiter (OR-3), armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol

  • 1× Loader, Panzerschütze (OR-1) to Obergefreiter (OR-3), armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol

→ Tank 4 (Tiger I or Tiger II)**

  • 1× Vehicle Commander, Unteroffizier (OR-4) to Feldwebel (OR-7)*, armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol

  • 1× Gunner, Panzerschütze (OR-1) to Obergefreiter (OR-3)

  • 1× Driver, Unteroffizier (OR-4) to Feldwebel (OR-7)*, armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol

  • 1× Radio Operator, Panzerschütze (OR-1) to Obergefreiter (OR-3), armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol

  • 1× Loader, Panzerschütze (OR-1) to Obergefreiter (OR-3), armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol

Spare Crews (10 Enlisted)

  • 2× Vehicle Commanders, Unteroffizier (OR-4) to Feldwebel (OR-7)*, armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol each

  • 2× Drivers, Unteroffizier (OR-4) to Feldwebel (OR-7)*, armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol each

  • 2× Gunners, Panzerschütze (OR-1) to Obergefreiter (OR-3)

  • 2× Radio Operators, Panzerschütze (OR-1) to Obergefreiter (OR-3), armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol each

  • 2× Loaders, Panzerschütze (OR-1) to Obergefreiter (OR-3), armed with 1 Walther/Luger Pistol each


* Of NCOs (Unteroffizier to Feldwebel), 3 in the company were to be Oberfeldwebel and 12 were to be Feldwebel. One Feldwebel per platoon was to be a driver.

** Tiger IIs were delivered to only a handful of Heavy Tank Battalions beginning in 1944. They were concentrated in certain units. For info on how they were distributed, check the "Tiger I vs. Tiger II" section of the "Discussion" section.

 

Discussion

The Schwere Panzerkompanie (Heavy Tank Company) were Tiger I and Tiger II-equipped armoured companies within the Heer and Waffen SS during World War II (although in their mid-war infancy Panzer IIIs and Hetzers were also fielded). They were the principle combat elements of the Schwere Panzerabteilung (Heavy Tank Battalion), which were formations intended to be used in breakthroughs to punch holes in narrow, heavily defended portions of the line during offensives for medium/light tanks and mechanized/motorized infantry to exploit. They were essentially meant for relatively short and specific use before being taken off the line. However, given the situation of Nazi Germany towards the end of the World War II, heavy tanks saw continuous use in roles that might be better suited to medium tanks (like the Panzer IV and Panther) and infantry support guns.

By November 1944 (the time frame of this organization), the Schwere Panzerkompanie consisted of a Company Headquarters (Kompanietrupp), 3 Platoons (Zug) and 10 reserve crewmen (Wechselbesatzung).

The Company Headquarters held the company's command personnel, messengers, and a skeleton crew of administrative personnel (the Hauptfeldwebel or First Sergeant and a Weapons NCO). It held 2 Tiger tanks (one of which commanded by the Company Leader) with crews of 5 men: 1 Vehicle Commander, 1 Loader, 1 Radio Operator (sat next to the driver), 1 Driver, and 1 Vehicle Gunner. It should be noted that the Company HQ was intended to have a higher concentration of NCOs for its vehicle crews than the platoons. One tank (the one with the company commander) acted as a command tank while the other was a reserve tank. There were also 2 Kettenkrad half-track motorcycles, intended for use by 2 or the company's 3 Messengers, and 2 Kübelwagen light utility cars, for use by the Hauptfeldwebel and Weapons NCO presumably. 

The Tank Platoons (numbered 1. Zug, 2. Zug and 3. Zug) were the company's combat elements. Each consisted of 4 Tiger tanks under the command of a Leutnant Platoon Leader. Unlike in Medium Tank Companies, where 1 out of 3 platoons were to be commanded by a Feldwebel, all platoons in Heavy Tank Companies were to be commanded by officers (although given the general manpower situation, NCOs would have probably sufficed). The heavy tank platoons also had deputy platoon commanders designated in the TO&E, while medium tank platoons (and infantry for that matter) did not. Each tank had 5 crew members as stated earlier. Of the crewmembers, the drivers and vehicle commanders were intended to always be NCOs, while other billets had a mix of NCOs and enlisted men. The next highest concentration of NCOs was intended to be the vehicle gunners. This makes sense, given the importance of the positions for the operation of the tank and the skill necessary. The loaders were always junior enlisted, by comparison, and 3 out of 4 of the radio operators (assistant drivers) were junior enlisted. If a platoon were to do a leaders recon, the vehicle commander, gunner and driver would typically have been the crew members to participate.

 

Of particular interest for the organizations of the tank companies from Nov.  1944 was the lack of a substantial company train (Gefechtstroß) or maintenance group (Instandsetzungsgruppe) that were characteristic of tank companies as late as earlier in 1944. The train included field cooks, medical personnel, clerks, weapons personnel, the Hauptfeldwebel and several trucks. By Nov. 1944, most were moved to the battalion's supply company and the company's administrative personnel/equipment were reduced to 2 Kübelwagen light utility vehicles contained within the Company HQ, the Hauptfeldwebel and Weapons NCO. More than likely the supporting units once in the company train were concentrated at the battalion level. Given the shift from offensive to defensive operations, it is possible that the tank companies were judged as not needing the integral support personnel that would be necessary for an attack into deep into enemy territory (our guess). Early in the war, although the company train I would march with the company elements (something that could have still been done, with battalion-level maintenance groups being dedicated to specific companies anyways) when the company was deployed their trains were consolidated with all the battalion's trains under the command of a battalion-level officer. During this time, the trains were kept in the battalion's marshalling area and would be brought to the front to support their respective companies when necessary. Meanwhile, the company train II (which was under the command of the Hauptfeldwebel) were under the practical control of the battalion (or brigade/regimental depending on the unit) regardless. Thus, the removal of a significant company train from the tank companies themselves could have been a streamlining measure (another of our guesses).

Tiger I vs. Tiger II Distribution

Beginning in 1944 certain Heavy Tank Battalions—a limited number of about 10-20—began receiving Tiger IIs to replace their Tiger Is. This issuance varied battalion to battalion, with some being at full strength with Tiger IIs by 1945, some being a mix of Tiger Is and Tiger IIs, and some being basically combat ineffective with little more than a couple platoons of Tiger IIs, a hodge-podge of other vehicles, and unoccupied tank crews used as infantry.

 

There was a clear intention to concentrate the types of heavy tanks. At the beginning of the Heavy Tank Company's existence earlier in the war, tank platoons were mixed with 2 Tiger Is and 2 Panzer IIIs. By 1944, this had been done away with with homogeneous tank platoons. For the tank battalions that did receive Tiger IIs, of the ones noted in Wolfgang Schneider's "Tigers in Combat", most did not receive shipments of Tiger Is following their first Tiger II shipment.

The ideal scenario, of course, would have been a full strength battalion with 4-tank platoons of Tiger IIs in some battalions and Tiger Is in others. According to Schneider, this seems to have been the case for the 501st Heavy SS Tank Battalion which had its full complement of Tiger IIs by Dec. 1944 (it was attached to the 2nd SS Tank Division during the Battle of the Bulge). In situations where there was a mix of Tiger Is and Tiger IIs, the Tiger IIs probably would have been concentrated into specific companies. Again using the example of the 501st Heavy SS Tank Battalion, in August 1944 they fielded 1 company of Tiger IIs while every other company (including the 3 tanks in the battalion headquarters) were Tiger Is. If there were insufficient amounts of Tigers in general, the platoons would be reduced in size to 3 tanks, the number of platoons would be reduced from 3 to 2, the number of companies in a battalion would be a reduced, or a mixture of the 3. Conversely, when a battalion was overstrength, platoons could be increased to 5 tanks. This did happen, albeit on a limited scale, and was probably not ideal from a logistical point of view given as the strengthening of the one battalion would have come at the expense of an understrength one. In the field, understrength companies and battalions would often been consolidated with other Heavy Tank Battalions to form more combat effective units.

Tiger II-equipped battalions also seemed to have been concentrated at times for specific breakthrough operations. Such was the case during the Ardennes offensive (Battle of the Bulge) where 4 such heavy tank battalions were committed. One unit, the 506th Heavy Tank Battalion, was originally equipped with Tiger Is. Those Tiger Is were transferred to the 507th Heavy Tank Battalion while the 506th was reequipped with Tiger IIs for deployment to Arnhem.

Thus, the figures stated in this article should be taken with a grain of salt when it comes to practical application. Depending on the unit and time period, tank platoons could have had 3, 4 or 5 tanks (although 4 was the standard). Additionally, battalions could have had a mix of Tiger I and Tiger II companies, or even Tiger I and Tiger II platoons within the same company. 

Sources

  • "Schwere Panzerkompanie 'Tiger'" (K.St.N.1176) published 1 November 1944, republished by WWII Day by Day
     

  • Schneider, Wolfgang. "Panzer Tactics: German Small-Unit Armor Tactics in World War II"
     

  • Schneider, Wolfgang. "Tigers in Combat"
     

  • Forty, George. "Tiger Tank Battalions in World War II"

 

"The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious."

      - Marcus Aurelius

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