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33rd Infantry Division (Wehrmacht)
33rd Infanterie-Division logo 1
The division's emblem
Country Flag of German Reich (1935–1945).svg Nazi Germany
Branch Heer (Army)
Service history
Active 1 April 1936 – 11 November 1940
Size Division
Commanders
Insignia

The 33rd Infantry Division (later the 15th Panzer Division and the 15th Panzergrenadier Division) was a division of the German Army during World War II.

HistoryEdit

This formation was created as the 33rd Infantry Division in 1936, it was mobilized in 1939, but did not take part in the invasion of Poland. In 1940 it participated in the invasions of Belgium and France. It was then reorganized as the 15th Panzer Division in August 1940 at Darmstadt and Landau by incorporating the 8th Panzer Regiment from the 10th Panzer Division and giving up its 110th Infantry Regiment to the 112th Infantry Division.

North AfricaEdit

The division was transported to Libya in April 1941, joining General Erwin Rommel's Deutsches Afrikakorps (DAK) with the 21st Panzer and the 90th Light Divisions. By June 15 it was deployed in reserve to the south of Bardia and took part in a successful defensive operation during Operation Battleaxe at Halfaya Pass. On November 18 British forces began Operation Crusader with the objective of relieving the besieged forces at Tobruk. The 15th was situated to the east of Tobruk, and by November 20 they joined the 21st Panzer Division in fighting the armoured forces of the British XXX Corps. With XXX Corps situated on the approaches to Tobruk, Rommel sent his panzer divisions on a rapid advance to the east, threatening the British rear. However the British continued to advance on Tobruk and by November 27, they had linked up with the fortress. The Axis forces were forced to withdraw.

Rommel halted at El Agheila on December 31, 1941 for refitting his depleted forces. By January 21 he was ready to advance again, the DAK and Italian forces began another march to the east. The British Eighth Army had drawn up in mine-fortified positions around the coastal town of Gazala, to the west of Tobruk. The 15th Panzer was deployed with other Axis armour on their southern flank, with infantrymen holding the northern part of the line. The Axis began their attack on May 26, with the DAK sweeping around the southern end of the British line. They were met by British armoured forces and took losses in tanks. Without a supply line, the Germans had to withdraw into a "Cauldron" position of the front until supplies could be moved through the minefields.

They began their breakout on June 11, advancing to the east and threatening to encircle the British. The Eighth Army was forced to withdraw, leaving Tobruk encircled once more. This time, however, the Tobruk fortifications were weaker. An attack on June 20, which included 15th Panzer, captured the town and the garrison. The Axis forces began a rapid advance to the east. Much of XXX Corps' armour had been destroyed at Gazala, so a stand at Mersa Matruh on June 26 was quickly broken. In this battle the 15th Panzer Division was held up by the British 1st Armoured Division, but the remainder of the DAK broke through to the north.

At the beginning of July the Eighth Army had reached their final defensive position before Alexandria at the rail junction of El Alamein. The DAK was understrength from its recent battles, but Rommel attempted an attack along Ruweisat with the 15th Panzer and the remainder of the DAK. Only minor progress was made, British counterattacks and mounting German losses caused Rommel to call off the attack on July 22. Another attack was attempted on August 30, with Rommel's armoured forces attacking the southern flank. The 15th Panzer Division reached as far as the Alam Halfa ridge on September 1, but failed to break through the British defences. At this point Rommel went on the defensive and began to build a comprehensive position with deep minefields. The 15th Panzer Division formed the reserve in the northern part of the front, with the 21st Panzer to the south.

With the able General Bernard Montgomery taking charge of the Allied forces, the Eighth Army underwent a steady buildup that the Axis forces could not match. By October 23, Montgomery's forces were ready and they began an attack on the northern front. Counterattacks by 15th Panzer failed to halt the advance; by November 4 British tanks had achieved a breakout.
Now began a period of steady British advance to the west, combined with the Allied landings (Operation Torch) in French North Africa on November 8. The remains of the 15th Panzer Division and the remainder of the Axis forces, were continually forced to withdraw. XXX Corps reached and out-flanked the line at El Agheila on December 17, then took Tripoli on January 23, 1943.

By February 18 XXX Corps reached the defensive line at Mareth in Tunisia and were forced to halt. The 21st Panzer Division was drawn away to the Kasserine Pass operation on February 22, so 15th Panzer held the Mareth Line with the remaining Italian forces. On March 6, with the 21st Panzer having returned, the DAK counterattacked the Eighth Army at Medenine, but were repulsed. On the 20th, the British 50th Infantry Division breached the defensive position, but they were contained by the 15th Panzer Division. However the Axis position was out-flanked in the west, so by March 27 they were forced to withdraw to the north.

The Axis forces in North Africa were forced back to their final defensive position in northern Tunisia. Adolf Hitler chose this time to heavily reinforce his forces in this theatre; forces that would have been far more effective a year earlier. But by now it was too late, the US First and British Eighth Armies fought relentlessly through the Axis defences.

By May 12, 1943, all German and Italian forces in Tunisia surrendered, including the 15th Panzer Division.

SicilyEdit

In July 1943 a new 15th Panzergrenadier Division, commanded by Generalleutnant Eberhard Rodt, was formed by redesignating the Sicily Division and incorporated remnants of the former 15th Panzer Division. It was not long before it saw action again, this time in Sicily. As the Germans retreated from western Sicily (as a result of the Allied invasion, code-named Operation Husky), they halted and began setting up defences in the vicinity of the town of Troina along Highway 120, perched high on the hilltops. This was to become a linchpin of the Etna Line. In pursuit was the US 1st Infantry Division, nicknamed "The Big Red One", commanded by Major General Terry Allen. A six-day battle ensued from August 1–6, 1943, at the end of which, fearing encirclement, the 15th Panzergrenadier retreated down Highway 120 toward Cesaro and later Messina to be evacuated from the island.

ItalyEdit

By August 17, 1943 the 15th Panzergrenadier along with the 29th Infantry, the 1st Parachute and the Herman Göring Divisions would escape across the Strait of Messina to the mainland and participate in the Italian Campaign. Beginning on September 9, 1943, the Allied invasion of mainland Italy, (code-named Operation Avalanche), at Salerno and along the beaches to the southeast, found the 15th Panzergrenadiers among the principle defenders. On September 11, elements of the British 46th Infantry Division encountered stiff resistance from the 15th Panzergrenadier and Hermann Göring Divisions around Salerno itself and to the east.

By mid-November 1943, the 15th Panzergrenadier Division had fallen back to help defend the Bernhardt Line in the vicinity of Mignano along Highway 6. On December 7, 1943, two battalions of the 15th Panzergrenadier, commanded by Captain Helmut Meitzel, held strong defensive positions in the town of San Pietro Infine and on the vitally important and strategic Monte Lungo to the southwest. Elements of the 71st Panzergrenadier Division, held the German left flank on the heights of Monte Sammucro to the north, while the 29th Panzergrenadier Division held the rear near the town of San Vittore, two miles to the northwest. The 36th Infantry Division of the US National Guard, commanded by Major General Fred L. Walker, launched flanking attacks on their right, while the 1st Italian Motorized Group attacked the left up Monte Lungo. The Battle of San Pietro Infine ensued. After ten days of intense attack and counter-attack, the Allies finally succeeded in gaining the high ground on both flanks. With the advantage lost, the 15th Panzergrenadier and its supporting units fell back to defensive positions in the vicinity of San Vittore in the early hours of December 17; they would hold these positions for the next three weeks.

Between January 20 and 22 1944, two battalions of the 15th Panzergrenadiers repulsed an ill-conceived assault by the US 36th Infantry Division, when the Allies were attempting to establish a bridgehead in the vicinity of the town of Sant' Angelo, to launch attacks on the Gustav Line near Monte Cassino.

On May 11, 1944, the Allies launched Operation Diadem which finally resulted in the collapse of the Gustav Line and the capitulation of the German defences along the Winter Line. From May 15–19, the 15th Panzergrenadiers fought a retreating battle through the Aurunci Mountains against the 3rd Algerian Infantry and 4th Moroccan Mountain Divisions of the French Expeditionary Corps, commanded by General Alphonse Juin.

North-west EuropeEdit

The 15th Panzergrenadiers fought the rest of the war on the Western Front, surrendering to the British at war's end.

CommandersEdit

DateCommander
March 1, 1938 Generalleutnant Hermann Ritter von Speck
April 29, 1940 Generalleutnant Rudolf Sintzenich
November 1, 1940 General Friedrich Kühn
March 22, 1941 Generalleutnant Heinrich von Prittwitz und Gaffron
April 13, 1941 General Hans-Karl Freiherr von Esebeck
May 26, 1941 Generalleutnant Walter Neumann-Silkow
December 6, 1941 Generalleutnant Erwin Menny
December 9, 1941 General Gustav von Vaerst
May 26, 1942 Generalleutnant Eduard Crasemann
July 15, 1942 General-Lieutenant Heinz von Randow
August 25, 1942 General Gustav von Vaerst
November 11, 1942 Generalleutnant Willibald Borowietz
July 1, 1943 Generalleutnant Eberhard Rodt
October 1943 Generalleutnant Ernst-Günther Baade
November 20, 1943 Generalleutnant Rudolf Sperl
September 5, 1944 Oberst (Colonel) Karl-Theodor Simon
October 9, 1944 General Major Hans-Joachim Deckert
January 28, 1945 Oberst Wolfgang Maucke

OrganizationEdit

1940

  • 15th Panzer Division
    • 8th Panzer Regiment
    • 104th Panzergrenadier Regiment
    • 115th Panzergrenadier Regiment
    • 33rd Artillery Regiment
    • 15th Motorcycle Battalion
    • 115th Reconnaissance Battalion
    • 33rd Engineering Battalion
    • 33rd Anti-Tank Battalion

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  • Atkinson, Rick : The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944. New York: Henry Holt. ISBN 0-8050-6289-0.
  • von Mellenthin, Major General F. W. (1971) [1956]. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War (First Ballantine Books Edition ed.). New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-24440-0. 
  • Wendel, Marcus (2004). "15. Panzer-Division". Retrieved April 2, 2005.
  • Wendel, Marcus (2004). "15. Panzergrenadier-Division". Retrieved April 2, 2005.


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