2010/02/05

Panzergrenadiere in the 2010's

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Panzergrenadiere (mechanised infantry, somewhat more rooted in German WW2 experiences than other mech infantry) are a 'kind of' infantry branch of the German army and meant to provide the infantry element to our heavy brigades (armour and mech infantry brigades; 2 Panzerbrigaden, 2 Panzergrenadierbrigaden and one Panzerlehrbrigade; -en is plural, -e is singular).




Both Panzergrenadierbrigaden and one Panzerbrigade (being a Panzerbrigade only in name) have the same structure:
HQ Company
Armour Battalion
2 Mech Inf Battalion
Recce Battalion
Armoured Engineer Battalion
Signals Battalion
Logistics Battalion

The other Panzerbrigade has an Armoured Artillery Battalion instead of the 2nd Mech Inf Bn. The fifth heavy Bde is the Panzerlehrbrigade with a unique structure (it has additional training, show and experimentation missions).


Well, that's the planned army structure, a structure of almost historical interest because there's near-permanent change.
Historically there were many more heavy brigades and the heavy brigades were larger as well. Up till if I remember correctly the 70's there was a third Mech Inf Bn in the Panzergrenadierbrigaden, for example.


The typical design for the mech infantry battalions is 2 AFV in the HQ and three companies with 14 AFV each. These units would be mixed down to company level in wartime. The 'pure' battalions of the official structure are - as elsewhere - meant for an easier, more efficient training.


Panzergrenadiere / mechanised infantry are meant to be the infantry component of combined arms warfare (Gefecht der verbundenen Waffen). That's the theory.

Now let's freak out a bit about the actually irresponsible structure that laughs at the nice theory.

(a) Neither the mech infantry battalions nor any other unit in the Bde has any organic mortars. That's outrageous and cannot be explained with our official doctrine.

(b) The Panzergrenadierbrigaden and the one identically structured Panzerbrigade have no artillery battalion, not even a company/battery. The two brigades of the 1. Panzerdivision have an artillery component, but not the other 75% of our combat brigades (2 mech inf bdes, 1 identical armour bde, 2paratrooper bdes the mountain infantry bde). The airmobile (helicopter) brigade with its light infantry regiment has no artillery either.

The combination of (a) and (b) means that the most powerful indiret fire support weapon of an entire German Panzergrenadierbrigade is a 40mm GMW (automatic grenade launcher) of less than 3 km range and it's not meant for non-line of sight use.
(a) and (b) in conjunction laugh in the face of Gefecht der verbundenen Waffen.
Actually, I think it's a good enough justification to fire everyone who bears partial or full responsbility for this.


Combined arms warfare is more than just armour and artillery or mortars; it requires today infantry, armour, artillery/mortars (I claim it requires also electronic warfare if we look at brigades like this, but that's not even close to consensus). It's necessary to have these assets organic in the formation because combined arms warfare requires much training of leaders and staffs, not just supporting attachments in the event of crisis.

Now let's have a look at the infantry component.

(c) Two battalions of each 2+14+14+14=44 IFV/SPz (infantry fighting vehicle /Schützenpanzer) Puma will have a total dismount seat strength of 2 bns x 44 IFVs x 6 infantrymen = 528. That's about as much as a single infantry battalion has.
Maybe I'm very old-fashioned, but I do somehow have the idea that a Panzergrenadierbrigade should have more infantry. In other words; the combined arms qualities of these brigades are in my opinion compromised by their weak infantry arm as well.


This opinion is based on facts:

528 infantrymen (or Panzergrenadiere) is mere theory. Units are rarely at full manning (if ever). It would come close to a miracle if they could be sent off to a crisis with more than 450 men (without cannibalizing external infantry units). The situation could improve within a few months by the addition of reservists, but keep in mind that the predecessors of the Panzergrenadiere had some of the most outrageous casualty rates of WW2. Being sent to one such unit basically meant that the soldiers had on average only a few weeks or months left before they became disabled, prisoners of war, wounded in action or killed in action.

528 seats is pure theory as well. A readiness rate may approach 90% for the first operation in a conflict if the brigade had time for repairs after the deployment march. It's not likely that more than 70-80% of the theoretical 88 IFVs would be available for a second operation considering the losses and technical failures to be expected during the first operation.
I think it's safe to assume at most 70% availability (70% of 88 ~ 62) with a dismount strength of 372 for a third operation.
That's about the point at which even a total concentration of both mech inf battalions of the brigade would likely be unable to remove a qualitatively comparable fresh infantry company from a blocking position in infantry terrain (such as a bottleneck road through woodland) in a useful time frame.

The lack of organic mortars and organic artillery would likely be compensated for by non-organic units, but their ammunition supply is still in question during mobile operations. The artillery can thus not be counted on to decide every fight in closed terrain favourably. A mech infantry bde should be able to solve the problem of a single blocking infantry company without a huge expenditure of artillery ammunitions any way. This is meant to be a major part of the difference between mech infantry and armour brigades, after all.

The assumption of a total infantry concentration is in itself already overly optimistic, of course. Some IFVs would be kept away for security, reconnaisance or other duties. It's therefore reasonable to expect even less infantry at the brigade's Schwerpunkt.


My conclusion is that there's simply not enough infantry, which in turn is in great part a consequence of the high procurement and operating costs of AFVs. The record priced Puma IFV (405 IFV for € 3.1 billion = € 7.65 million /unit) fortifies this problem. Another reason is the high cost of personnel, but as long as you cannot win in ground wars without many human close combat fighters you'll need to pay their price in your deterrence and defence preparation effort.
I think we've moved to a point far below the limit for substitution of infantry with something else (btw, substituted for by what exactly? We don't have that much of anything in our force structure!?)


What's the consequence of a weak infantry component?
Panzergrenadierbrigaden are meant to be heavy formations for independent combined arms combat in pursuit of operational level missions. Their best-suited terrain is meant to be the mixed tank-friendly and infantry-friendly terrain such as in Northern Germany and in the Northeast NATO members. An armour brigade (Panzerbrigade) is meant to be more optimised for almost exclusively open (tank-friendly) terrains and infantry brigades are meant for closed (infantry-friendly) terrains.

A mechanised infantry bde / Panzergrenadierbrigade should be the ideal compromise for actions that require a quick switch between infantry- and tank-centric combat. Tanks would lead the way in open terrain and infantry would lead the way through terrains like settlements and woods before the AFVs take the lead again.
Such infantry actions would typically look like dismounted infantry clearing a road/route through a wood or settlement for safe passage of the vehicles. An alternative would be that the infantry clears hilltops to the left and right, a classic light forces task as described by Xenophon more than 2,000 years ago.
The support by AFVs would typically be limited to one or two vehicles at bottlenecks because of the restrictions imposed by the terrain.

The infantry coponent of such a brigade would therefore be expected to repeatedly and quickly defeat an infantry force of company to battalion size over the course of one operation.

The only alternative to such a demanding requirement for infantry power in the brigade structure is to avoid defended bottlenecks.

Well, amoured recce would hardly be able to sense the difference between one platoon blocking a road through woodland and one battalion, so an infantry-weak brigade could be barred from using such bottlenecks by a flimsy platoon defence. It's actually quite optimistic to expect the armoured recce to perform such risky forms of route recce at all, especially as the old scouting concept is apparently becoming extinct in favour of a stealthy ground surveillance approach once we've lost our last Luchs recce AFVs in a few years.


What does this mean? A heavy, infantry-weak brigade (which has on top of that no organic indirect fire support to speak of) would both be mostly incapable of combined arms warfare without reinforcements AND it would be restricted to open terrain (and thus be very limited and dangerously predictable in its options) without strong infantry reinforcements.

In other words: It's a crappy formation design based on several very mislead trends.
The capability of the two heavy brigades under 1. Panzerdivision command (Panzerlehrbrigade 9 and Panzerbrigade 21, both of which have only about half the infantry strength) to function in mixed terrain regions is even more in doubt.


Let's compare this assessment of the formation suitability for combined arms warfare with the official brigade mission (quote from the website of the German ministry of defence, BMVg):
Kernauftrag der Brigade ist dabei die Befähigung zur Führung des Gefechts verbundener Waffen, zur Führung der eigenen Verbände sowie unterstellter nationaler und multinationaler Verbände und Einheiten im Einsatz.
(Core mission of the brigade is the ability to execute combined arms warfare, to lead the own formations as well as subordinated national and multinational formations and units in action.)

Core mission: FAILURE BY DESIGN


I used the Bundeswehr's formation designs as examples and punching bags. The remarks in this blog post are quite easily applicable to many other NATO armies as well, though!


The German Panzergrenadierbrigaden are woefully short of infantry and devoid of indirect fire support - and are thus incapable of combined arms warfare (Gefecht der verbundenen Waffen) with their organic assets alone. Whoever bears responsibility for their structure failed in the principal purpose of setting up a brigade; to create a powerful combined arms formation for independent missions on the operational level of war.

There's a huge gap between the PR spin and reality. I wonder how many of our legislators have know about this issue.


Sven Ortmann

P.S.: There are still some people who pretend that Panzergrenadiere should fight mounted and are thus no infantry. That view is detached from reality and a late perversion of WW2 lessons that were meant to solve very specific problems which have long since drastically changed their shape.

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11 comments:

  1. I have two questions (requests) regarding the Armored and Mechanized divisions of the Wehrmacht during WWII for us non-specialists: first, how were WWII Wehrmacht armored and Mechanized divisions composed?

    And second, how did Panzer unit compositions change over the course of the war?

    By "change" I don't mean the differences reflected in growing material production shortfalls or manpower difficulties, but how they grew in doctrinal composition.

    (For instance, what would an idealized Panzer division look like in late 1939 versus early 1945?)

    I know it's a basic question, but I think a very large portion of your avid readership are merely intelligent amateurs and would benefit from such a discussion (plus you could do more of a formal comparison to modern compositions).

    Anyway, great blog. Never miss it.

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  2. The "Schnelle Truppen" (fast troops) of 1939 were amour-heavy (2 Arm Rgt, 1 Mot Inf Rgt, Arty Rgt) armour divisions, less "Leichte Divisionen" ("light divisions"; smaller, incomplete armour divisions) and motorized infantry divisions. The regimental system was still in place.
    The accompanying infantry was on motorcycles (with sidecar) or trucks.

    The Leichte Divisionen were turned into armour divisions and the latter lost much of their tank quantity (but gained in avergae tank weight) till the operation Barbarossa in mid-'41.

    From that point on TO&E's lost much of their meaning.

    Fast troops were usually combined into "Panzerkorps" (armoured corps) to enable deep thrusts for encircling ops (single divisions were found to be too weak for this because of Soviet flank counter-attacks).

    The later, defensive warfare saw armoured divisions of any actual size thrown at points of crisis and against enemy bridgeheads to solve pressing local problems instead of doing deep encirclement moves.
    Beginning in 1941 armour divisions received some APCs (Sdkfz 251), usually barely enough for a single Panzergrenadier battalion.
    The artillery recived some self-propelled guns (10.5 and 15 cm howitzers on tracked vehicles with light armour, small traverse).

    The mid-war conclusion was that the early war armour division was too weak on infantry and too unwieldy. The brigade system (a combined arms team a bit smaller than a relatively small Soviet division) was tested at the end of the war and believed to be the best organization during the 50's re-armament.
    The Americans had come to similar conclusions with their Combat Team organization.

    I think the "lessons learned" opinions of that time are (in combination with the context) more interesting than the theoretical TO&E.

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  3. The proto-panzergrenadiers were perhaps the hammipoi of the ancient Greeks. They were infantrymen who accompanied the cavalry. The Thebans used a ratio of 1 to 1 of hammipoi to cavalry. They of course had to be light infantry in order to keep up with the horses, so perhaps my analogy to poanzergrenadiers is inept.

    http://asmalltowninlaconia.tripod.com/ASmallTowninLaconia/images/prodromus_and_hamippos.jpg

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  4. Yes, too weak in Infantry. We experienced this first hand in Iraq and the problem was only solved by using artillerymen and engineers as infantry. There must be a certain amount of infantry with tanks to protect them in built up areas and here again we had problems.

    At the end of the day the largest shortages, before, during and after a war are infantrymen. An average US Army infantry plt in Vietnam was never more than 17 people on average. This includes medics and engineers. By the end of operations 12 warm bodies (still commanded by an officer and senior NCO), the equivalent of a Marine squad, was normal.

    One solution to this world wide problem could be manning at 140 percent of infantrymen in the desired organization. And this means infantry, not a fourth or fifth plt, which always ends up creating officer and NCO slots but still has the problem of no infantrymen. We need infantry.

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  5. Sven,

    Why does Puma only carry 6 dismounts? Its exterior dimensions are larger than its counterparts. It is almost a full meter longer than a Bradley, while having comparable width and height.

    It also has a remote turret, which takes up less interior space.

    Are the dismounts just not packed in as tightly?

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  6. Passive protection requires depth (takes volume), the decoupled running gear (about 10 dB less noise in the interior) takes volume and it's reasonable to expect that the TC would not dismount because the AFV's sensors and firepower require his attention (no matter what doctrine may say after Puma's introduction).

    And the there are new, mine shock absorbing seats as well as a generally more bulky equipment.

    Even the huge Marder 2 prototype (90's) had only a dismount strength of 7.

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  7. Guderian would roll over in his grave if he saw that brigade structure.

    James:

    From what I remember a panzer division boiled down to 4 tank, 4 infantry and 4 or maybe it was 3 arty battallions.

    Plus a motorcycle infantry, engineer, recon AT and AA battallions.

    Plus some non combat battallions like signals and supply.

    The typical Panzer corps had some corps level assets like combat engineers, arty, AT and AA either regimental or battallion sized.

    Then 1 or 2 panzer divisions; 1 or 2 motorized infantry divisions and usually 1 regular infantry division.

    The only difference I know of between an idealized 39 vs 45 panzer division was that the AA battalion became a regiment to deal with allied air supremacy, plus the panzergrenadier halftracks were armed with 20mm cannon in an antiaircraft roll.

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  8. Sven,

    Understandable, but does the Puma with level A armor have any more protection than the Bradley? The Brad has a large, two-person turret occupying much of its midsection along with stowage for bulky TOWs.

    Maybe a Puma APC version is needed with seating for 8 or 9 dismounts and a simpler RWS on the roof.

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  9. The mine protection as well as some frontal shaped charge protection is included in the basic configuration.

    http://www.psm-spz.com/upload-media/datasheet_protection.pdf

    The turret seems to have a significant basket protruding into the hull and reducing seat capacity.

    http://www.psm-spz.com/upload-media/data_sheet_armament.pdf


    My suspicion is that they developed too much an advanced IFV and not enough a vehicle for mech infantry battalions.

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  10. Hi Sven,

    Rather late to the discussion, admittedly, but I can't let this one pass. It seems that there is almost never any effective countermeasure to the budget writer's axe, certainly during peacetime at least.

    Considering that late-WWII Heer armoured regiments (theoretically) contained only a single tank battalion, but two infantry battalions, and their Waffen-SS counterparts contained no less than 3 infantry battalions in each armoured regiment, and yet only a single tank battalion as well, it seems rather strange that a present-day armoured infantry brigade would feature even less infantry than a wartime armoured regiment. Granted, the requirements of mainly defensive fighting and difficulties in supplying the Armoured Force's material requirements certainly had an influence on (theoretical and of course actual) TO&E, an argument may be made that, in light of both the experience of the aforementioned as well as of offensive operations earlier in the war, strongly suggested that amoured formations would as a matter of course have to frequently engage in those operations that would ideally be left to armoured/mechanized infantry formations.

    In short, I am uncertain that there is as much of a need for a distinction between (or even such a thing as separate roles for) armoured brigades on the one hand, and armoured/mechanized infantry brigades on the other, as is conventionally supposed, even given that all infantry in armoured/mechanized formations are nowadays fully mechanized, unlike during WWII, when only a minority were. I'm not denying the potential offensive power of a brigade with two or three tank battalions, but I do wonder if such formations are really practical during a sustained conventional war. Patton himself at the end of WWII concluded that an armored regiment should contain only a single tank battalion, but two infantry battalions, with three such regiments to an armored division. Just raising an additional point, or at least consideration, on the matter.

    And I still don't get why there aren't nebelwerfer-type rocket companies organic at armoured brigade level - other than money and manpower, of course.

    Best,

    Norfolk

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  11. @B.Smitty:
    This photo should explain the interior well:
    http://www.rommelkiste.de/Fahrzeuge/Puma/puma8.jpg

    @Norfolk:
    There was much discussion about the infantry:tank balance during the 50's and 60's.
    Today's problem is that there were cuts to the TO&E of infantry battalions and infantry divisions were removed completely from the oder of battle of the Bundeswehr AFTER the army settled on a perceived optimum.

    I'd laugh if anyone claimed that the present structure would be based on best knowledge and experiences - it's obviously not.

    On the other hand we all remember the Cold War math. How many nukes, aircraft, artillery pieces and tanks? Such was the public comparison of NATO and WP forces. No-one compared qty of infantrymen like that.

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