Armoured Panzergrenadiers

During World War Two, the Germans had troops units which were designed for fighting alongside tanks. These were fully motorised units. Most of the German army used leg or horse transport, but these units all had motorised vehicles to ride in, so that they could at all times keep up with the tanks. These were the Panzergrenadiers. Most of these troops rode in lorries, but some were armoured panzergrenadiers and these rode in armoured half-tracked vehicles known as Hanomag Sd. 251s. In these vehicles, they could cross open ground alongside their tanks, even when that ground was being shelled and machine-gunned. German SS units were favoured with a greater proportion of the best equipment, and about a third of armoured panzergrenadiers were in the SS. Here, though, I shall be dealing with the Wehrmacht panzergrenadiers. Some of my wargaming opponents refuse to use SS troops, and I'm not keen myself.

Panzergrenadier section

The basic fighting unit in the German army was the section, and an armoured panzergrenadier section had one big difference from the normal infantry section, or the motorised panzergrenadier section: it had two machine guns rather than one. Here above we see a section. In the centre is the section commander, with binoculars, submachinegun, and a heavy five-o'clock shadow (Combat Miniatures). Section commanders were issued with binoculars. Officers had larger binoculars. I have read a few memoirs written by British soldiers, and a few times I've read of how they liked to steal German Zeiss binoculars, preferring them to the British issue.

The section has eight men in it. On the left, we see a four-man base. The two figures on the right of this are the machine gunner and his number two. The weapon is being fired over the shoulder of the number two. Although this was sometimes the practice, which would allow the firer to shoot over some obstacle, normally the MG34 or MG42 would be fired on its bipod, from a prone position. It was very difficult to fire the standard German LMG from the shoulder, and it gobbled up ammunition very quickly, so a two-man crew was necessary. Indeed, the rest of the section would have to help in ferrying ammunition for the MGs. Usually, it was as much as a section could do to keep one machinegun supplied with ammunition, but armoured panzergrenadiers would seldom stray far from their vehicles, which could carry a lot of ammunition and spare barrels. The over-the-shoulder firing pose looks very good on the wargaming table, though, is easy to recognise, and easier to pick up than prone figures.

Also on the base is a man with a Panzerfaust, which was a one-shot device for knocking out tanks and pillboxes. This was a metal tube, within which was a propellant charge which launched the bi-conical bomb on the end of the tube towards the target, and folding fins for keeping it straight in flight. The charge created a huge amount of smoke, which both gave away the position of the firer and would fill any building he was in with smoke. Anyone standing immediately behind the firer was in danger of suffering from the back-blast of the weapon. Down the shaft was a warning, painted in red, warning of this danger. On the head of the bomb, on a white square, were the instructions for use. The figure with the panzerfaust is by Irregular Miniatures, the others on the same base are by Combat Miniatures.

The last man on this four-man base has an unusual weapon - a pistol launched anti-tank gun. This nifty little gadget fired a High Explosive Anti-Tank warhead with so piffling a charge in it, that it was virtually useless. Nevertheless, impressed by their own clever design, the Germans continued making this weapon. Most panzergrenadier sections would not have one of these weapons, but I liked the figure.

The section fought as two parts, one MG team commanded by the section commander, and the other by his second. The other base has on it the other MG team, again in the over-the-shoulder pose. These figures (right) are by SHQ and are each wearing a "shelter quarters" or Zeltbahn. This was a large triangular piece of waterproofed cloth. It had a camouflage pattern printed on both sides ("splinter pattern" - darker on one side than the other), and a few uses. It was a rain cape in bad weather; it gave better camouflage to a soldier; and four of these could be joined together to make a pyramidal tent. Troops were issued with these from the start of the war, which is useful for the painter of wargaming figures, because one can paint the troops in early war uniforms, with Zeltbahn worn over the top, and they will be authentic for early war scenarios, and will look fine too for late war ones.

One man in a typical section would have a sniper's rifle, although I get the impression that he was not a specialist sniper, and that he would normally fight in the usual way alongside his section mates. Another would have a Gew. 43, which was an SLR (self-loading rifle) - a semi-automatic magazine-fed weapon. If you buy the Revell plastic German infantry box, then you will get men standing firing the snipers' rifle (with telescopic sight), and men running with the Gew. 43.

Inside one Sd. 251/1 there would be:

1. NCO section leader, SMG, binoculars.
2. First machine gunner, with pistol and MG34/42.
3. Rifleman with Kar.98, assisting No.2.
4. Rifleman with grenade launcher (range c.270 yards).
5. Rifleman with sniper rifle.
6. Second machine gunner, pistol and MG34/42.
7. Rifleman with Kar.98, assisting No.6.
8. Assistant section leader, with Gew.43 SLR, commanding Nos. 6, 7, and either 4 or 5.
9. Driver for the vehicle, SMG.
10. Vehicle crewman, SMG, who would man the front MG34/42 of the half-track.

This is ten men. The first eight would dismount to fight, and the last two would stay in the half-track. The section might have anything up to about five panzerfausts, distributed amongst those who'd find them least of a burden. Most typically, I think a section would have two or three. You may be able to see that the bases of the MG teams have small patches of cork tile showing (front right corner of both bases). When a base uses a panzerfaust, I stick a mapping pin in this cork to show that it has used up one shot.

In my games, I treat the three-man base as -1 in close combat, so the section commander usually goes with that to lend it support. The sections seem historically to have fought as two teams of four, each with one MG. The MG was the main firepower of the group, with the riflemen there to carry ammunition and protect the flanks.

Panzergrenadier platoon

Here we see a platoon. In front of the Nissen huts (vacuum mouldings by Bellona) are the four vehicles of the platoon, and in front of each, the troops who would dismount to fight. On the left, we see one 251/1 with an eight-man section, made up of an NCO commander on a base, a three-man base of rifleman and MG team, and a four-man base of sniper, rifleman, and MG team. All these have piles of bricks on their bases, showing that they are all from the same section.

Next from the left is the 251/10 command vehicle of the platoon, with its 37mm anti-tank gun. In front of this is a three-man base. On this are the deputy commander with rifle, and two men under his command: both rifle-armed messengers. In front of this base is a circular one with the platoon commander on. He has a submachinegun. The company has three platoons like this. One is commanded by an officer, the other two typically by senior NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officer). Two gunners stay in the 251/10 to man the AT gun. This vehicle also carried a "corpsman" (medic), who is not shown. The medic is not a combat soldier, and Crossfire has no rules for medics, so I have not bothered to paint up medics, even though I have suitable figures for them. Such a medic would not, I believe, wear a red-cross armband, because they were armed, and the red cross was for use by unarmed men.

Further right are the other two sections and their vehicles. These are much the same as the first section. The one furthest to the right has twigs, representing logs, on the bases, and the other has yellow rubber lichen. The bases of the platoon commander and his deputy have piles of bricks, and yellow lichen, and twigs, showing that these command all three of the sections under them.

The platoon might also have a master gunsmith in the command vehicle, and a messenger on a motorcycle or Kettenkrad. It might also have a panzerschreck team (see below).

Panzergrenadier SFMG platoon

Here is the SFMG platoon. "SFMG" stands for Sustained Fire Machine Gun. Such a weapon would be mounted on a tripod (schwere Feldlafette) for accuracy, and would be fired by a team of men which would keep it supplied with very large amounts of ammunition, in long belts. In the front row, you can see the three weapons of the platoon. The two men on the left are SHQ, as is the third man on the middle base, and the rest are Revell Afrika Korps figures, which as you can see, mix perfectly happily with the SHQ figures. Next to each SFMG is a pile of spent brass cartridges. This was made by putting a blob of PVA glue on the base, and then adding lots of tiny trimmings from some electrical flex. I'd like to say that this nice touch was my own idea, but it was given me by Tim Marshall of Canada.

Behind the three MGs are the platoon commander, with SMG, and a base with three men ferrying ammunition (figures from an SHQ pack of "SFMG on the move"). These men would be rifle-armed, but would spend most of their time running back and forth with boxes and belts of ammunition. My plan is to play the rule that this base can fight, but if it gets destroyed, then the SFMGs will become only as effective as LMGs (Light Machine Guns), for lack of ammunition.

The official strength for armoured panzergrenadiers shows five men per SFMG in 1943, and four in 1944. Motorised (lorries) German SFMG teams had six men, and foot Schützen and bicycle units had seven, including the horse holder. From mid 1944 onwards, there would be three SFMG teams with an armoured panzergrenadier company. Before this, there were four, in two sections of two.

How exactly these SFMG teams were transported is a bit of a mystery. It seems that they rode in the AA vehicles. The official November 1943 TO&E (Theoretical Organisation and Equipment - what, on paper, a unit should have), there were only two 251/17 AA vehicles in the company, each with two SFMG teams. Three 251/17 with one SFMG team in each were introduced with the July 1944 TO&E. It is difficult to imagine where all the men of two SFMG teams would fit in a 251/17, alongside the AA gun and its crew. Later in the war, more and more 251/21s would have been introduced, replacing the 251/17s, and there would be even less room for the SFMG teams. The support platoon of the company, with its AA vehicles, stump guns, and mortar carriers, somehow found room in these vehicles to transport the SFMG teams. Perhaps a team or two rode in the platoon's command vehicle: a 251/1.

Panzergrenadier panzerschreck teams

The Panzerzerstörungstrupp - three panzerschreck teams. Left to right: Esci figure with panzerschreck painted "dunkelgelb" (sand - literally "dark yellow"); SHQ figure converted from a heavy mortar loader - he has a scratch-built (Milliput and plastic rod) back pack which is a wooden rack with round holes for five rockets; Esci converted radio operator - his radio has been removed, and he too has a wooden rack on his back - you can just see the empty holes in which two rockets were once carried; another Esci panzerschreck man; another converted mortar loader; a Revell prone panzerschreck firer.

The company had three teams of two men, operating panzerschrecks. These were German versions of the American bazooka. Rather than just copy the American design, however, the Germans made a more powerful version in 88mm calibre. The loaders carried five rockets on their backs. The panzerschreck was powerful, and accurate at short range, and was designed to be reloaded a few times during a battle and fired again. The crews who used them were specialist anti-tank men, and not like the riflemen who happened also to carry panzerfausts (see above). The back-blast from a panzerschreck was huge and deadly. If the weapon was fired in the open, a broad lane a hundred yards long had to be clear of friendly troops behind the firer. If fired from a confined space such as a building, the back blast would badly injure or kill anyone in the room, including the firer. Also, the rocket in flight left a clearly visible trail of smoke and sparks, which would make it clear to everyone, day or night, exactly where the firer of the weapon was hiding.

Some lists show all three teams riding in a single vehicle: the AA vehicle in the command platoon. This may well have been a bit of a squeeze, though, and alternatively, one two-man team might have been attached out to each of the three platoons of grenadiers. So, sometimes they fought as a single Schwerpunkt (something like "focal point" or "main effort", "spearhead") of three teams, and sometimes as three single teams. The company commander would decide.

Panzergrenadier company command

Here you see the company commander, and a base of his aides. The company commander I have based on an octagonal base, and we see him here peering through a "scissors scope". This is the Revell panzergrenadier commander, and I couldn't resist using him. He wears a long leather coat. His aides are: an Esci radio operator - each radio car had dismountable man-pack radios, and one would go with the company commander; an Airfix man pointing to a map/clipboard (I think he might be from the Reconnaissance set); and two Revell figures, one with a rifle (a messenger/runner), and another lovely figure of a man using binoculars. These men would all ride in one of the radio vehicles.

In the other radio vehicle, would ride the Kompanietruppführer (the HQ platoon leader). The Kompanietruppführer monitored all communications and informed the company commander of anything important which might otherwise have been missed. If the company command vehicle was disabled the command would shift to the second radio vehicle. If the company commander died, the Kompanietruppführer would co-ordinate the company until the next in command was able to take over.

Given the way they operated, I saw little point in modelling both the company commander and his aides, and the deputy and his. Until the main commander was disabled, the deputy would stay in his vehicle during the fight, so the same figures could in a game be used for both command groups.

Panzergrenadier company

All the troops of the company. The back row is the SFMG platoon. The next row has all the four-man bases of the sections in it, and the next the three-man bases, then all the section commanders. In front of the section commanders is a row of all the platoon commanders, on circular bases, their aides, and on square bases the panzerschreck teams, shown here attached out to the sections with matching base textures. From left to right, the base textures are: light green foam shrubs/bushes; red rubber lichen bushes; cat litter rocks; twigs representing logs; piles of bricks; yellow rubber lichen; small dark green foam shrubs; sisal string reeds; plastic aquarium plant bushes. The SFMG platoon has wheat (shades of brown) sawdust flock. All the bases also have the same mix of grass flock as well, giving a unifying look to the company.

The front row has the company commander, his aides, and a square base with a two-man forward observer team for the mortar vehicles. I have found no proof that such a team existed, but the mortar vehicles did not fire direct, and all had radios, so it seems reasonable to imagine that a man or two might dismount with a radio from the mortar carriers, and go forward to observe and report the fall of shot.

The figures are a mix of Revell, Esci, SHQ, Matchbox, Airfix, Irregular, and Combat Miniatures. This mix helps to give the unit a late-war ramshackle look. The uniforms are a bit mixed too, with a few Afrika Korps bits and pieces, and a few different colours of tunic. Quite a few of the figures are in early war uniforms, partly for variety, and partly so that when I want to paint up a force for early war games, I won't have to do so much painting.

Some lists show that the third platoon of the company would be differently equipped. This would be the "Sturm" platoon, and would have thirty MP44 assault rifles, in something like three sections of eight, and an HQ of six. If these ever actually existed in the field, then they would have been very late war indeed: April 1945. Even then, the fact is that the troops liked their MG34/42s so much that they would have been very unlikely to have wanted to fight without any. The MP44 was a decent weapon, but the German all-purpose MG was considered essential.

By 1941 most or all of the armoured panzergrenadiers would have been using two MGs per section. Before this, there were units with one MG per section, and units with two. In 1940, there were four types of Schützen regiment in the panzer divisions: a & d had one MG per section (PzDiv.: 1, 2, 3 and 10), while b & c had two per section (PzDiv.: 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9). The 4th Panzer Division had one of each type (c & d). There is quite a bit of complexity which I have not detailed here, but the gist of it is that for early war games, your panzergrenadiers at this scale can have one or two MGs per section.

Panzergrenadier company vehicles

Alle zusammen. The back row is the heavy weapons support platoon, left to right: three AA vehicles (251/17 with unarmoured open back, then 251/17, then 251/21); the platoon's 251/1 command vehicle; a Kettenkrad half-track motorcycle (by Hasegawa) for the platoon's messenger rider; two 251/9 stump guns; two 251/2 mortar carriers.

The middle of the picture has the panzergrenadier infantry vehicles of the three platoons, each with three 251/1s, and one 251/10. Each platoon is painted with a different camouflage scheme, which makes things clearer for wargaming purposes. The left hand platoon is in "ambush" scheme, and the centre one is in panzer grey (making it suitable for games set in 1940).

The front row is the command platoon. Left to right: a motorcycle with side-car (would normally be a simple motorcycle, but they used whatever they had); a VW 166 Schwimmwagen (might just be an ordinary Kuebelwagen, but who wants to be ordinary?); a VW 82 Kuebelwagen (officer's personal transport, not for front line battle use); the two 251/3 command radio vehicles; one 251/17 AA vehicle; a Kettenkrad, and a motorcycle with rider (both SHQ). The motorcycle, unlike the rest of the vehicles, is mounted on a base to help it stand up, which alas also makes it a bit difficult to see.

For some reason, I have photographed the 251/21 with the support platoon, and one of the two 251/17s with the command platoon. The vehicles might well have been assigned this way, but the 251/17 models are all in the camouflage scheme of the support platoon, and the 251/21 is in the same camouflage scheme as the late-model 251/3 radio vehicle, so really should have been shown at the front. No matter.

See the section on 251 half-tracks in my model making section, for many more details on the vehicles.

There are many sources for information on what German forces had in World War Two, and they all clash. It must be remembered that units, especially later in the war, were often made up by amalgamating other units, and so they were often non-standard. Also, again, mainly later in the war, it was very common for units to be under-strength, so you can be very easily justified in fielding a company which has less than what I have shown you above.

Here's a list for 1943:

HQ platoon: two 251/3 radio vehicles; one Kuebelwagen; motorcycles and Kettenkrads; four panzerschreck teams in a 251/1.

Three infantry platoons, each with: one 251/10; three 251/1.

Support platoon: two 251/9 stummels; two 251/2 mortar carriers; three 251/1 each with a SFMG team (seems a lot of vehicles to carry so little).

(One source lists a 251/10 for the command vehicle of the support platoon in 1943, replacing it with a 251/1 in 1944.)

And here's one for 1944:

HQ platoon: two 251/3 radio vehicles; one 251/17 or 251/21; two Kuebelwagens; motorcycles and Kettenkrads.

Three infantry platoons, each with: one 251/17 or 251/21 (or even 251/1) command vehicle; three 251/1 troop carriers.

Support platoon: one 251/1 command vehicle; three 251/17 or 251//21s; two 251/9s; two 251/2s.

But here's another for 1944:

HQ platoon: one 251/17 AA vehicle; four (!) 251/1s with commander and aides in one vehicle with SMGs, and deputy commander and aides in another with man-pack radio, rifles, and panzerfausts, and two panzerschreck teams in each of the other two vehicles.

Three infantry platoons, each with: one 251/17 with a two-man MG team; one 251/10 with platoon leader and aides with rifles and panzerfausts; three 251/1 troop carriers, each carrying two two-man MG teams, and a two-man panzerschreck team, and three to five men with rifles, rifle grenades and panzerfausts.

Support platoon: three 251/17 AA vehicles; two 251/9 stummels; a 251/10 for some reason; two 251/2 mortar carriers; a 251/1 with two-man mortar control team (forward observers); four 251/1 troop carriers carrying four SFMG teams, and a commander with three riflemen aides with radio and panzerfausts.

That last one strikes me as unusually over-strength. Here's yet another list, this time for 1941:

HQ platoon: one 251/10; one 251/1. In these are carried a two-man anti-tank rifle team,; the commander and his aides with SMGs; the deputy commander and his aides with SMGs and a radio.

Three infantry platoons, each with: one 251/10 with commander and aides with rifles and rifle grenades; three 251/1 carriers with two two-man MG teams, and four to six men with rifles and rifle grenades.

Support platoon: commander and aides, with SMGs in one 251/1; a 251 with a mortar fire control team in; two 251/2 mortar carriers; two 251/1 carriers with two SFMG teams in each (says two to three-man teams per SFMG, which seems unlikely).

I'd be inclined to disbelieve the idea that so many men had panzerfausts or rifle grenades. More believable is that one man of each rifle men team had rifle grenades. Some lists list men armed solely with panzerfausts - a very unlikely thing. Here's a list for 1940 rifle platoon:

One command vehicle 251/10 with: one officer with pistol; three riflemen aides; a two-man anti-tank rifle team.

Three troop carrier 251/1 vehicles, each with: four to eight riflemen; one two-man MG team.

Early in the war, panzerfausts and panzerschrecks hadn't been developed, so anti-tank rifles were used instead, but these soon became near-useless against most tanks of the time. The same source has a list for 1941 which gives the officer the option of an SMG, and some rifle grenades to one of his aides, takes away the AT rifle and replaces it with nothing, and gives rifle grenades to one of the riflemen in each section.

I must extend my gratitude to Hauke Kueck of Germany, who aided me greatly in my research for this page.



Click here to go back to the home page