Formation of the 130th:
The 130th Panzer Lehr Division was formed in Potsdam in November 1943. Then was moved to the Nancy-Verdun area in late December 1943 until January 1944. When the 130th was sent to France in early 1944. Then in the spring of 1944 was transferred to Hungry for more training and while there absorbed the 901st Infantry Lehr Regiment.. Then the 130th was moved back to France in May 1944 to await the allied invasion as part of the German Seventh Army’s armoured reserve.
It was mostly made up from training and demonstrating units, from Panzertruppenschule I and II, the Panzerwaffe’s major training units. Elements from the 137th Infantry Division were also added as staff and support troops. Due to the expertise of the demonstration and training units, the 130th was considered an elite unit from the time of its birth.
The Panzertruppenschule I and II were the first two major schools set up in World War II to train German armour officers to operate Panzers The first was located in Munster, Lower Saxony, Germany, the second was located in Wunsdorf, Germany. Officer candidates were sent here after 12-16 weeks of basic training, plus a successful 8 week course at Kriegsschule. Then they had to undertake a 16 week course to familiarize themselves with the workings of a Panzer and command field tactics. After graduation they were promoted to Oberfahnrich and put on field probation. The instructors at these schools were chosen because they had skill, had been in action, and were decorated.. Panzertruppenschule I is presently the Deutsches Panzer museum in Munster.
The unit was named Panzer Lehr because it was made up of mostly training and demonstrating units(Lehr units). On April 4, 1944 the Panzer Lehr was designated the 130th. It was given it’s name because a number of it’s units were numbered 130, and most other Panzer Division units were numbered to match the divisions number.
Units of the 130th:
Panzergrenadier-Lehr-Regiment 901: Serving as an independent unit on the Eastern front.
Panzergrenadier-Lehr-Regiment 902: Formed from previously existing Lehr units.
Panzer-Lehr-Regiment 130: Formed from previously existing Lehr units.
Panzer-Abteilung I: Tiger Battalion
Panzer-Artillerie-Abteilung I: Formed from the Fahnenjunker Artillery School (Mourmelon)
Panzer-Artillerie-Abteilung II: A newly formed unit.
Panzer-Artillerie-Abteilung III: Former 985th Motorized Artillery Battalion from Ulm.
Panzer-Aufklärungs-Lehr-Abteilung 130: Formed from previously existing Lehr units.
Panzerjäger-Abteilung 130: Former III Panzer Lehr Regiment
Equipment of the 130th:
Since the 130th was elite they were better equipped than the regular Panzer Divisions. The Panzer regiments were filled with the latest models of Panthers and Panzer IV. All four infantry battalions were mechanized compared to 1 out of 4 for regular divisions. The armoured reconnaissance battalion had a company of new Sd.Kfz 234/2 Puma’s. The Panzer regiment also had the Funklenk Panzerkompanie (316th Remote Control Panzer Company) that came with remote controlled demolitions that were controlled from the Tigers, added while in Normandy. The company was equipped with 8 Tigers(5 Tiger II ausf B’s.1).
Once stationed in France to await the impending Allied invasion, the 130th Panzer Lehr Division was one of the strongest divisions in the Germany army. The 130th consisted of 109 tanks, 40 assault guns, 612 half tracked vehicles(double any divisions), and at it’s strongest 14,634 infantry.
When reunited on August 23, 1944 the 130th contained 2830 men (750 wounded or returning from leave, 500 stragglers), 20 PxKw IV and V tanks, 6 105mm and 6 150mm self propelled howitzers, and 8 halftracks.
August 24, 1944 22 new PzKw IV’s arrived.
Seven months after the 130th’s birth it was reduced to 20 tanks
September 1, 1944 had 11 tanks, No artillery, and less than 500 men.
Later in September 1944 they were assigned to the 1st Army as an independent formation which included 1 Panzergrenadier battalion, 6 105mm howitzers, 1 engineer company, 5 tanks, a reconnaissance platoon, and a 200 man special battalion(formed from stragglers)
November 1944 the 130th was rebuilt by the 6th Panzer Army at Paderborn. They received 72 new tanks, 21 assault guns, and hundreds of soldiers. Then returned to the 1st Army.
December 12, 1944 the 130th was once again replenished with equipment. It had 30 PzKw IV’s, 23 Panthers, 14 assault guns, and 14 howitzers.
Early March 1945 the remains of the 130th included 600 men and 15 tanks(before surrender)
On June 6, 1944 the 130th lost 130+ trucks and fuel tankers, 84 Self propelled guns, halftracks and prime movers, and 5 tanks on D-Day.
On June 25, 1944 it had 66 tanks, by July 25, 1944 the combined tank and assault gun total was 50 (22% of original 230) Between June 6 and June 30 490 men had been killed, 1809 wounded, 673 missing and 435 on sick leave(total of 3407).
After July 25, 1944 General Bayerlein reported that 70 percent of the men were killed, wounded or dazed, and they had lost all of their tanks He reported that the 130th was finally annihilated. Which was not the case.
According to the post war manuscript by General Bayerlein the 130th lost about 950 men between July 24-25, 1944. He estimated that about 50% killed and wounded were from the Allied carpet bombing.
July 1944 the 130th lost 347 KIA, 1144 wounded, and 1480 missing(majority during carpet bombings)
By January 1, 1945 the 130th had lost 2465 KIA, 1475 wounded or ill.
Major General Oswin Grolig:
Commander of the 130th from December 27, 1943 until Bayerlein arrived from the Eastern front. He had also been a commander in the 25th Panzer Division.
Leutnant General Fritz Bayerlein:
A commander in the 3rd Panzer Division in Russia(1943) before he was given command of the 130th (February 10, 1944). Gerhart took over command for a short time. Bayerlein returned September 8, 1944. He was the one to lead the 130th on the western front from D-Day, almost until the end of the war. He commanded the LIII Corps in the Battle of the Ruhr Pocket where he surrendered to the Americans in April 1945. He was promoted to Leutnant general on May 1, 1944. He held the Knights Cross with Oak-leaved and Swords.
Colonel Rudolph Gerhardt:
Commander of the Panzer Lehr Regiment (August 23, 1944- January 1945). Previously commanded the 7th Panzer Regiment(1943)
Colonel Baron Paul von Hauser:
Commander of the 901st Panzer Grenadier Regiment (September 1944-1945)
Leutnant Colonel Kurt Kauffmann:
Ia (Chief of Operations) from its inception. He was promoted to Leutnant Colonel in late 1944.
Colonel/Major General Horst Niemack:
He was promoted to Major General on April 1, 1945. He was a recipient of the Knights cross with Oak-leaved and swords. He was considered a better commander than Bayerlein. He was wounded on April 2, 1945, and was in a field hospital when he was captured.
The Caen Battles:
When the Western Allies launched Operation Overlord on June 6, 1944, Panzer Lehr, as a part of the strategic armoured reserve, was held back from the fighting during the crucial first days. It was soon released, reached the front, and was committed to battle against the British and Canadians on June 8. It was placed in the front line adjacent to the 12th SS Hitlerjugend Division, where it defended Caen and fought several British offensives to a standstill. The division was involved in the heavy fighting for Hill 112 near Caen.
On June 13 an attack by the British 7th Armoured Division found a gap in the Panzer Lehr’s defences and cut quickly through the lines, and the British vanguard, the 4th County of London Yeomanry, threatening to outflank Panzer Lehr. The actions of famous Tank Ace Michael Wittmann (of the 1st SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler Division) near the town of Villers-Bocage resulted in the destruction of this unit and restored the integrity of the front line. For Wittmann’s actions in saving the Panzer Lehr from destruction, divisional commander General leutnant Fritz Bayerlein recommended Wittmann for the Swords to the Knights Cross and a promotion.
Like all German armoured units engaged in Normandy, Panzer Lehr suffered very heavy losses from Allied air attacks. By the end of June the division’s armoured component was severely depleted. Despite this, it continued to hold against the British and Commonwealth forces, engaging in heavy fighting near the town of Tilly-sur-Seulles.
During the June fighting around Caen, the division had suffered around 2,500 casualties and lost 102 tanks.
ST LO Battles:
On July 2 Panzer Lehr was ordered to pull out of Tilly-sur-Seules and head west to provide support to the divisions resisting the American advance near St. Lô. The area around St. Lô is covered with a grid of ancient hedgerows known as bocage. The bocage made it extremely difficult for armour to manoeuvre and provided superb defensive positions to the infantry on either side of the battle. Upon reaching this location the division found itself up against the US 83rd Infantry Division. After several holding battles, Panzer Lehr attacked towards Pont-Herbert, which it captured and held against several American counter-attacks.
On 11 July Panzer Lehr attacked towards the village of Le Desert, deep in the bocage. An allied air attack halted the assault, destroying 20 tanks, and the division’s remaining tanks withdrew over the Vire Canal to relative safety.
Over the next few weeks the division fought a defensive battle of attrition against the numerically superior allied forces. On July 19, St. Lô fell to the Americans. Six days later the Americans launched Operation Cobra, their breakout from the Normandy lodgement. The operation was preceded by a massive aerial bombardment by over 2000 allied bombers. Panzer Lehr was directly in the path of attack, and the division suffered heavily during this bombardment.
The seriously depleted Panzer Lehr could not hope to halt the 140,000 man assault, so on August 5, after a fighting withdrawal, it was ordered back to Alençon for rest and refitting. A battle group dubbed Kampfgruppe von Hauser was formed from the remaining battle-ready men and tanks, and this unit remained in combat. Later, when Kampfgruppe Hauser pulled back towards Fontainbleu to rest and refit, division commander Bayerlein ordered the rest of the division to follow.
Within 7 months of its formation the division was reduced from one of the most powerful divisions fielded during the war to a shattered, combat-ineffective unit with only 20 remaining tanks. After spending a month refitting in the Saar, the division was moved to Paderborn.
Operation Wacht Am Rhein:
In Early November Panzer Lehr was transferred to Hasso von Manteuffel’s Fifth Panzer Army, part of Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt’s Army Group G in preparation for the planned winter offensive, Operation Wacht am Rhein, commonly known as the Battle of the Bulge. On November 21 the fully rested and refitted Panzer Lehr was ordered out of its assembly area to counterattack the American forces driving towards the Saverne Gap. The counterattack stalled out, and Panzer Lehr was called back out of the line, much reduced in strength and with badly shaken morale.
The time spent refitting Panzer Lehr and several other units which had been committed prematurely meant that the operation had to be delayed. During the run up to the offensive Panzer Lehr was kept in reserve, along with the Führer Begleit Brigade. On December 15, the day before the offensive began, Panzer Lehr was still severely understrength, with only one of its two tank battalions ready for action. In compensation it was reinforced by two tank destroyer battalions and an assault gun brigade. The division’s armoured reconnaissance battalion was its only organic unit up to full strength.
Wacht am Rhein opened on December 16, 1944, and Panzer Lehr moved out from the start positions in the center of the German line. The 26th Volksgrenadier Division was to clear the way for the division, but they soon became bogged down and the Panzer Lehr found itself moving forward at a crawl. The situation worsened over the next two days, with the 901st Panzergrenadier Regiment being halted by the Americans along the road to Wiltz, and the 902nd encountering heavy resistance in the town of Hosingen.
On 18 December, the assault got back underway. The 26th Volksgrenadier Division had secured the bridge over the Clerf river, opening the way to the road and rail-hub of Bastogne. Panzer Lehr’s armored reconnaissance battalion raced ahead, attacking towards Wiltz before rejoining the division on the route to Bastogne. The horse drawn 26th Volksgrenadier had gotten itself mixed up in Panzer Lehr’s column, greatly slowing the advance.
On the 19th the division’s panzer regiments ran into a roadblock near Neffe, held by troops of Combat Team Cherry of the US 9th Armored Division. After initial success Panzer Lehr’s follow up attack resulted in heavy casualties. Team Cherry pulled out, and the way to Bastogne was open again. However, the majority of the division’s armor had been sent North to Margaret to support 26th Volksgrenadier, so Panzer Lehr could not advance at the speed necessary to take the town before American reinforcements arrived to secure it. By the time the division reached the town, the US 101st Airborne Division had already secured it. Panzer Lehr was then divided, with half the division left to help 26th Volksgrenadier Division capture Bastogne, while the rest of the division, including most of its armor, were to continue on to the Meuse.
Over the next few days the Kampfgruppe helping 26th Volksgrenadier, made up of mostly the 901st Panzergrenadier Regiment, wore itself out in successive attacks on the town of Bastogne. As the remainder of the division sped east it enjoyed some minor successes, including the capture of a large American convoy, but it was brought to a halt by fierce resistance near St. Hubert, and was soon drawn into heavy fighting south of Bastogne. On the 21st, Manteuffel pulled Panzer Lehr out of the fight for Bastogne and grouped it with the 2nd Panzer Division and 116th Panzer Division Windhund for an assault on Dinant and the Meuse.
Assault on Dinant:
After a day wasted reorganizing the attack, Panzer Lehr finally got underway. It fought its way through St. Hubert, and the road to Dinant and the Meuse again seemed open. On the approach to Rochefort, the next town on the road to Dinant, Bayerlein, who was leading his division’s vanguard in person, shouted to his men –
Also los, Augen zu, und hinein! (“OK, let’s go! Shut your eyes and go in!”)
The assaulting unit, 902nd Panzergrenadier Regiment, was met by a wall of fire. Nor was the advance to become any easier thereafter. On December 23, the division fought all day to reduce the town of Rochefort, suffering heavy casualties. The Americans finally withdrew their only casualties 25 men killed and 15 men wounded, after holding off an elite panzer division for a whole day.
Bayerlein later compared the defense of Rochefort to that of Bastogne. The road was again clear and Panzer Lehr resumed its advance to Dinant, but slammed in to Combat Command A of the US 2nd Armoured Division near Buissonville. On Christmas Day 1944, on the plain beside the river Meuse, Manteuffel’s three panzer divisions, together with the 9th Panzer Division from XXXXVII Corps, engaged the US VII Corps. The cloud cover had disappeared and allied air power came into play, bringing the panzer divisions to a virtual standstill. Panzer Lehr attempted several attacks, but all were halted by the overwhelming Allied air support.
Things did not go well for Manteuffel. A Kampfgruppe from 2nd Panzer, which had advanced far ahead of the main force, was cut off and out of radio contact. His divisions were forced to move only at night to avoid annihilation from the circling fighter-bombers. The majority of 2nd Panzer’s armor, under Major von Cochenhausen, had become surrounded near the town of Celles. On December 26th Panzer Lehr made two attempts to relieve them, but was turned back by the Allied fighter bombers. After another failed rescue effort by 9th Panzer, Panzer Lehr was ordered to fall back. Of the 2nd Panzer Kampfgruppe, only Cochenhausen and 600 or so of his men managed to escape on foot, abandoning almost all of the division’s armour to the advancing Allies. The Meuse would not be reached; Wacht Am Rhein had failed.
Relief of Bastogne:
The remnants of Manteuffel’s strike force were pulled back for one final attempt to take Bastogne. As Panzer Lehr began to move into its new positions the US 11th Armored Division, the spearhead of George Patton’s US Third Army, began its attack to relieve Bastogne right through Panzer Lehr’s designated positions. The few forward posts of the division were easily swept aside, and a corridor to the surrounded 101st Airborne was created. Panzer Lehr was then involved in the unsuccessful operations to close the corridor, and finally the exhausted division was pulled out of the battle. Panzer Lehr had once again been virtually annihilated.
Holland- Remagen, Ruhr Pocket:
After the failure of the Ardennes offensive, Panzer Lehr was refitted once again, though not to anywhere near the lavish standard of its earlier incarnations. Many of the veterans were dead, and the Panzer Lehr of early 1945 bore little resemblance to that of June 1944.
The division was moved north, into Holland, where it was engaged fighting Bernard Montgomery’s 21st Army Group. Panzer Lehr saw very heavy fighting, and again sustained heavy losses. When the US 9th Armored Division captured the Rhine bridge at Remagen, Panzer Lehr was sent to crush the bridgehead. The attack was unsuccessful, though the division fought well and inflicted many casualties. The Allies’ overwhelming numbers and constant air cover had reduced Panzer Lehr to a weak shadow of a division. Engaged in a fighting retreat across northwestern Germany, the division was trapped in the Ruhr Pocket and the remnants of the once powerful division were taken prisoner by the Americans when the pocket surrendered in April.