The Panzer-Grenadier-Division Großdeutschland was an elite combat unit of the Heer that fought on the Eastern Front in World War II. The Großdeutschland was considered to be the premier unit of the German Army and as such it was one of the best-equipped units of the Heer, receiving equipment before almost all other units. It was commonly referred to simply as Großdeutschland, Großdeutschland Division, or Panzergrenadier-Division Grossdeutschland.
- Active – 19 May 1942 – 9 May 1945.
- Branch – Heer.
- Type – Panzergrenadier.
- Role – Armoured Warfare.
- Size – Division.
- Garrison/HQ – Grafenwoehr Training Area, Grafenwöhr, Bavaria.
- Military Training Area – Zielenzig, Brandenburg.
- Nickname – Die Feuerwehr – The Fire Brigade.
- Motto – Gott, Ehre, Vaterland – God, Honor, Fatherland.
- Engagements/Wars – World War II.
Originally formed in 1921, it was known as the Wachregiment Berlin and served as a ceremonial guard unit. By 1939, the unit had grown into a regiment of the Heer. The regiment would later be expanded and renamed Infantry Division Großdeutschland in 1942, and after a significant reorganization was renamed Panzergrenadier Division Großdeutschland in May 1943. In November 1944, while the division retained its status as a panzergrenadier division, some of its subordinate units were expanded to divisional status, and the whole group of divisions were reorganized as Panzerkorps Großdeutschland.
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Early War – 1939–1942
The Infantry Regiment Grossdeutschland was activated on 14 June 1939. The regiment saw action in France in 1940. It was attached to Panzer Group 2 in the opening phases of Barbarossa and was nearly destroyed in the Battle of Moscow in late 1941. On the last day of February 1942, Rifle Battalion Großdeutschland, in which that is all that was left of the original regiment, was disbanded and two battalions formed a new Großdeutschland Regiment out of reinforcements arriving from Neuruppin. The regiment later moved to Orel after, and on 1 April 1942, the former Infantry Regiment Großdeutschland was expanded to the Infantry Division Großdeutschland.
The Infantry Regiment Großdeutschland reorganized and expanded to become Infanterie-Division Großdeutschland (mot.) which stands for motorized or with mobile capabilities. The division was assigned to XLVIII Panzer Corps during the opening phases of Fall Blau, Wehrmacht’s 1942 strategic summer offensive in southern Russia. During the combined Soviet winter offensives Operation Uranus and Operation Mars, the division fought near Rzhev, where it was rendered combat ineffective.
In January–February 1943, Großdeutschland and XLVIII. Panzerkorps, along with the II SS Panzer Corps took part in the Third Battle of Kharkov. The division fought alongside the 1.SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, 2.SS Division Das Reich, and 3.SS Division Totenkopf during these battles. After the fall of Kharkov, the Großdeutschland was again pulled back and refitted.
On 19 May 1943, with the addition of armored personnel carriers and Tigers, the division was redesignated Panzer Grenadier Division Großdeutschland, though in reality it now had more armored vehicles than most full strength panzer divisions.
Mid to Late War – 1943–1945
The newly re-equipped division was subordinated to the XLVIII Panzer Corps, part of the Fourth Panzer Army, and took part in the Battle of Kursk. During the buildup period, a brigade of two battalions were equipped with the new Panther tanks. They were plagued by technical problems such as suffering from engine fires and mechanical breakdowns before reaching the battlefield. By 7 July, the division had only 80 of its 300 tanks still fit for combat. After the Kursk offensive was canceled, the division was transferred back to Army Group Center and resumed its role as a mobile reserve. The Tiger I tank company was expanded to a battalion, becoming the III. Battalion of the Panzer Regiment. Großdeutschland saw heavy fighting around Karachev before being transferred back to XLVIII Panzer Corps in late August. For the rest of 1943, Großdeutschland retreated across Ukraine, and in 1944 into Romania, where it took part in the First Battle of Târgu Frumos.
In early August, the division was transferred to East Prussia from Army Group South Ukraine. Over the next months, Großdeutschland was involved in heavy fighting in both East Prussia, including a counter-attack on Wilkowischken and the Baltic States, suffering high casualties in both men and materiel. The division was nearly destroyed during the battles in the Memel bridgehead.
In November 1944, while the division and several attached units were redesignated as Panzerkorps Großdeutschland. By March 1945, the Panzer Grenadier Division Großdeutschland had been reduced to around 4,000 men after the Battle of Memel. By 25 April 1945, the division was engaged in heavy fighting in the battles around Pillau. Around 800 men of the division were evacuated on ferries via the Baltic Sea and surrendered to British forces in Schleswig-Holstein on May 9. The rest were either killed or captured during the fighting in Pillau or surrendered to Soviet forces on May 9 on the Vistula Spit.
List of Commanders
Infantry Regiment Grossdeutschland
- Oberstleutnant Wilhelm-Hunold von Stockhausen – July 1939 – February 1940.
- Oberstleutnant Gerhard Graf von Schwerin – February 1940 – March 1940.
- Oberst Wilhelm-Hunold von Stockhausen – Mar 1940 – August 1941.
- Oberst Walter Hörnlein – August 1941 – April 1942.
Infantry/Panzergrenadier Division Grossdeutschland
- Generalmajor Walter Hörnlein – 1 April 1942 – 3 April 1943.
- Generalleutnant Hermann Balck – 3 April – 30 June 1943.
- Generalleutnant Walter Hörnlein – 30 June 1943 – 1 February 1944.
- Generalleutnant Hasso von Manteuffel – 1 February 1944 – August 1944.
- Generalmajor Karl Lorenz – 1 September 1944 – 7 May 1945.