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Panzergrenadier '66: Germany’s 1st IFV Infantry Units

Updated: Sep 16, 2023

New video on the first 15 years of West German Panzergrenadier units, with a focus on their HS.30 (Schützenpanzer, lang, Typ 12-3) infantry fighting vehicle and their unit organization squad to division during the 1960s.


Check out my shop for some new mugs and a poster featuring Germany’s first Panzergrenadier company on an infantry fighting vehicle.

Ten years after the end of the Second World War, the Bundeswehr was created anew. Unlike the largely horsedrawn and footbound Wehrmacht, West Germany’s new army would be largely mechanized and motorized.

Something that set the Germans apart from most of the rest of NATO was the early pursuit of the infantry fighting vehicle concept. An autocannon-armed infantry carrier with a degree of protection and lethality beyond a mere armored personnel carrier. While the IFV they adopted was deeply flawed, the accompanying structure was very different from their American contemporaries on the M113.

This video is going to cover the first 15 years of West German Panzergrenadiers and their initial infantry fighting vehicle, the HS.30. Much of it will be based on some German publications I was able to afford thanks to my Patrons.

The first Bundeswehr organization was Army Structure 1 adopted in the mid-1950s. This structure was based on brigade sized Battle Groups or Kampfgruppen subordinate to divisions, 3 divisions to a corps. Although the organization wasn’t fully implemented or manned before its replacement in the late 50s and early 60s.

Army Structure 1 was based on the American system of the time, which for Armored Divisions was based on semi-flexible, brigade-sized Combat Commands. American and German Armored Divisions had 3 Combat Command or Battle Group HQs respectively designated Alpha, Bravo and Charlie. Although some German divisions didn’t get their C Battle Group until 1958, and some didn’t form one at all.

These Battle Groups had a permanent HQ and controlled battalions directly under the division. In Armored Divisions, 3 Panzergrenadier and 3 Panzer battalions plus support in theory, but usually less. In reality Battle Groups were often split up to form new units in the early days and thus took a hit to operational readiness.

But the Panzergrenadiers of the 1950s did not have infantry fighting vehicles. During the Army Structure 1 period, they were primarily motorized in ¾-ton trucks. Only the training battalion at Munster had 32 American M39 armored utility vehicles, an artillery tractor and multipurpose armored personnel carrier based on the M18 Hellcat.

The M39 wasn’t really a fighting vehicle. It was designed and used for more supporting roles, like towing anti-tank guns, hosting command posts, ferrying ammo, and evacuating the wounded.

During the Second World War, the Germans were doctrinally more aggressive with their half-tracks than the Americans. To the Americans, the half-track was more or less a truck with superior cross country mobility. Infantry would dismount to fight as the rule. For the Germans, because most Panzergrenadiers were actually truck-mounted and the enemy had competent anti-tank weapons, in practice they would usually have to dismount a terrain feature away before closing with the enemy. But the armored half-track-mounted Panzergrenadiers doctrinally fought mounted by default, and only fought dismounted when forced to by terrain or the enemy.

Military History Visualized notes in one of his videos on the Panzergrenadiers that German infantry were discouraged from seeking cover being tanks because they drew fire. This was the exact opposite of American doctrine, which often portrayed tank attacks on line with infantry following close behind in columns. This allowed the Germans to use mortars and machine guns to separate American tanks from their infantry support. Tanks were also constrained to a walking pace in the attack using American methods.

This different mindset led to a logical divergence between the Americans and Germans post half-track. To really oversimplify things, the American full-tracked M59 and M113 APCs were doctrinally like half-tracks, but with better cross-country mobility and overhead protection. American mechanized infantry could fight mounted out of their hatches, but this was more to provide security during movement and less so during the attack. But the Germans required something more to properly fight mounted.

That led to the Schützenpanzer, lang, Typ 12-3, colloquially known as the HS.30, short for the designer Hispano-Suiza. The HS.30 was a full-tracked infantry fighting vehicle with a low profile and a 20 mm autocannon. This armament gave the HS 30 the ability to suppress and destroy enemy infantry, light vehicles, anti-tank weapons, and low flying aircraft that could threaten the tanks. The squad’s MG3 general purpose machine gun, an update of the MG42 chambered in 7.62 NATO, could also be mounted over the driver’s hatch to provide additional forward facing firepower, although this would be lost on the dismount.

The HS30 was introduced a decade before the BMP-1 entered East German service. Although the BMP-1 would have more longevity with East Germany, and even the reunified Bundeswehr. Why?

Because the HS30 had significant flaws. According to a Spiegel exposé, its Rolls Royce petrol engine (the same used on the FV432 Mk I and the Stolly) was underpowered for its weight, ventilation and cooling of the engine were poor, ergonomics for repair in the field were poor, the suspension was too hard (which forced them to limit the vehicle’s speed to prevent breakage), the gearbox was not durable, the tracks were too weak, and the steering brakes frequently overheated. Tactically, because of issues with the engine, the troops had to dismount by going out the top hatches, which would be dangerous on the move because the tracks protrude past the side armor.

Hispano-Suiza rebutted that some of these problems were caused by changing requirements from the German government, as it was originally intended to be a 10-ton vehicle but ended up being a 14.6 ton vehicle. At the same time, the government was implicated in corruption for introducing an immature and inadequately tested vehicle and taking bribes.

But regardless of the reasons, West Germany was left with just one-fifth the number of IFVs it intended to procure, and they were subpar. This would be the Panzergrenadiers’ premiere infantry carrier of the 1960s.

In 1959, the initial American-inspired structure was replaced by Army Structure 2. This structure was based on brigades with organic battalions, converted from the flexible Kampfgruppe HQs. Brigades, which would have maneuver and support battalions, would in turn form divisions.

There were essentially three variants of Panzergrenadiers in the same brigade. One battalion was mounted on the HS 30 infantry fighting vehicle. Another was on the American M113 armored personnel carrier, and the third was motorized on Unimog 404 1.5-ton trucks as a surrogate for training purposes. Although some units had more of the motorized variant.

Starting with the HS30 units, the base was the Panzergrenadiergruppe. Each vehicle carried 8 soldiers. The Squad Leader, Gunner, Driver, and 5 additional troops. Among the squad’s key weapons were the MG-3 machine gun and, from about 1966, the Swedish Carl Gustav 84mm recoilless rifle, the so-called “heavy Panzerfaust”. The lighter Panzerfaust 44 was actually adopted before the Carl Gustav, but at this time wasn’t used in Panzergrenadier squads.

Both Carl G and MG3 were crewed by 2 soldiers, although the Carl Gustav seems to have been more optional, probably used in the anti-tank defense. Most of the squad members were equipped with the new G3 battle rifles, although interestingly in this photo they have G1s, the West German variant of the FN FAL. This was briefly in service with the Army before the adoption of the G3, and went on to serve with the Border Guards thereafter.

The gunner and driver were equipped with the MP2, a version of the Uzi submachine gun. The Uzi served in the vehicle crew role until being replaced by the MP7 in the 2000s. I’ve also seen veteran accounts online that under Army Structure 3 in the 70s, the Carl Gustaf team could also use the MP2 when they took it out, and that the distribution of weapons depended on the leadership’s decision. Although I’m unsure if that applied in the 1960s.

The next level up, the Panzergrenadier Platoon consisted of 5 HS30 infantry fighting vehicles. In 1965 or 1966, an M40A1 106mm recoilless rifle, known as the light gun, was added to the roof of one of the IFVs to give the platoon a responsive anti-tank capability. This squad was one-man smaller, and included 2 sharpshooter rifles which would’ve been the G3 ZF with an optic. Dienhardt refers to them as the Sharpshooter Group.

A Platoon Troop also acted as a platoon headquarters.

The company in turn had 3 Panzergrenadier Platoons and a Command Group with the Company Troop and Company Sergeant’s Troop. Of note, only two of the platoons were led by an officer. The third was led by a non-commissioned officer.

The Company Troop was the tactical command element of the Company, including an infantry fighting vehicle for the Company Commander, a quarter-ton Munga jeep, and 3 motorcycle messengers. There was no second officer other than the Captain commander.

The Company Sergeant’s Troop meanwhile was essentially the company’s rear echelon, equivalent to a company train in the U.S. It was led by the Kompaniefeldwebel, equivalent to a First Sergeant or Company Sergeant Major. It included another quarter-ton jeep, Unimog S404 command post, and a 5-ton truck. Small tidbit, the nickname for the MAN 630 5-ton cargo truck was “Emma”. Comment below what lady name we should give to the American MTV 5-ton.

The Schutzenpanzer variant Panzergrenadier Battalion included 3 of these infantry companies, a staff and supply company, and a heavy company.

The heavy company went through a bit of an evolution. Initially, it was meant to have a Company Command Group, an 81mm mortar platoon with 7x mortar carriers, a 120mm mortar platoon with 6x mortar carriers, and a Tank Destroyer platoon with 5 M41 Walker Bulldog light tanks. However, in the mid-1960s, the 81mm mortars were taken out and the M41 tank platoon was traded out for two Tank Destroyer Platoons, each with 4 of the Kanonenjagdpanzer, a casemate 90mm gun platform.

The other major type of Panzergrenadiers were mounted on the American M113 APC, designated as a Mannschaftstransportwagen as opposed to a Schützenpanzer.

Their platoons included a Platoon Troop and 3 Panzergrenadier Squads on their respective M113s. The squads were larger, with 12 personnel. They had one Carl Gustav and two machine guns, one for mounting on the M113 and one for the dismounted squad. And based on photos of a squad lineup, it seems like only one man, the driver, had an MP2 submachine gun.

The platoon’s sharpshooters were also contained in the Platoon Troop, mirroring the later Marder 1 platoon. The rest of the company was largely the same though, except with an M113 in the Company Troop instead of an Schutzenpanzer.

This was considerably more dismounted infantry than in the Schutzenpanzer variant, useful for operations in complex terrain and the defense. Although the M113 lacked the suppressive qualities of the HS30’s 20mm autocannon, the anti-tank capabilities of the 106mm recoilless rifle, and its protection. But, the M113 was amphibious unlike the HS30, and probably the better vehicle overall.

At the battalion-level, the M113 Panzergrenadiers were roughly the same as the SPz, but with a different mix in Heavy Company. Theirs had an 81mm mortar platoon with the 6 of the Hotchkiss Short Schutzenpanzer mortar carriers, a platoon of 6 towed 120mm mortars pulled by Unimogs, a Tank Destroyer Platoon with 5 M41 light tanks, an anti-tank guided missile platoon with 6 quarter-ton jeeps and Cobra ATGMs, and a Cannon Platoon with 7 of the Hotchkiss Schutzenpanzers for their 20mm autocannons.

And lastly, the Motorized company was structured more like the IFV variant, but with Unimog 1.5-ton trucks in lieu. In some units they were referred to as a training formation.

If a war were to occur during the 1960s, the motorized battalions would have acted as light infantry for operations in urban and wooded terrain. In fact, it was an acknowledged issue that Army Structure 2 lacked infantry strength, and when Army Structure 3 rolled around in the 70s, some of these motorized Panzergrenadier units were converted into Jager Battalions. Although others were converted to the Marder 1 IFVs.

To round this video out, brigades and divisions.

Panzergrenadier Brigades included a Staff Company, Scout Platoon, 3 Panzergrenadier Battalions (one of each variant previously discussed, and sometimes 2 of the motorized variant), a Panzer Battalion with 54 tanks (depending on the brigade, M47 Pattons, replaced by M48A2 Pattons throughout the 60s, and in some units the new Leopard 1), a Tank Destroyer Company, an Armored Engineer Company, Field Artillery Battalion (initially with M44 155mms or M7 Priests depending on the unit, and from about 1966 with M109 self-propelled howitzers), and a Supply Battalion. Other types of units came and went, like anti-aircraft batteries and NBC defense companies, but this was the core. There were also slight variances between brigades.

At the division-level, Panzer Divisions had 2 Panzer Brigades and 1 Panzergrenadier Brigade, while Panzergrenadier Divisions had the opposite. They also had an Artillery Regiment and divisional troops. Although in some cases, brigades were planned to be formed in the 1970s, so some divisions did not have their full complement of units.

A lot of this would change in the 1970s with Army Structure 3, but that might be a future video.

If you want more Cold War content, check out this video on the evolution of American Mechanized Infantry units in the 1980s. I’ll see you over there.

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