History of War
101ST HEAVY SS PANZER BATTALION
During the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 the Wehrmacht’s tank force – the Panzerwaffe – hitherto almost invincible, was shocked by Soviet tanks like the T-34 and Kv-series that were superior to their own. Germany responded by developing bigger panzers with hugely powerful guns able to destroy enemy tanks at huge distances, while having armour so thick they were almost invulnerable. This was the genesis of the Tiger.
Expensive and time-consuming to manufacture, only 1,347 Tiger I’s were produced as opposed to over 80,000 T-34’s, so the decision was made to maximise their effectiveness by grouping them in special battalions that would only be used at the most critical sectors of the front. These were christened schwere Panzer-abteilungen – Heavy Panzer Battalions – of which 15 would be formed by war’s end: 12 for the Heer (Army) and three for the Waffen-ss. The first to be created were the Heer’s schwere Panzer-abteilung 501 and
502 in 1942, which fought in North Africa and at Leningrad respectively.
The experiment was not a success. Blighted by mechanical problems and unsuitable terrain, several Tigers were lost, but the Nazis ploughed on and in the summer of 1943 formed the first of its armed SS equivalents: the schwere Sspanzer-abteilung 101 (101st Heavy SS Panzer Battalion). Initially intended to be grouped with smaller, faster Panzer III’S for flank protection and to then spearhead major offensives, the heavy panzer battalions faced their first major test in Unternehmen Zitadelle (Operation Citadel) in July 1943. Commonly known as the Battle of Kursk, Zitadelle was intended to swing the war in the east back in Germany’s favour after the Stalingrad disaster. The heavy battalions’ role was to smash through the Soviet defences and hand Hitler victory.
Richard von Rosen, a Tiger commander, recalled: “Panzer Marsch!… I thought we were through the defences when more than 20 antitank guns flashed… never before had we come across such a concentration of firepower.” The
Red Army was too strong and the heavy panzer battalions failed. From then on the deteriorating situation forced the Germans to use the heavy battalions in a defensive role to try and make up for their lack of numbers. The arrival of even heavier Tiger II’S didn’t make any difference as the heavies were rushed from crisis to crisis. By war’s end they’d destroyed some 9,850 enemy tanks for the loss of 1,715 of their own, a kill/loss ratio of 5.74. It wasn’t enough. The experiment had failed.
“I THOUGHT WE WERE THROUGH THE DEFENCES WHEN MORE THAN 20 ANTI-TANK GUNS FLASHED… NEVER BEFORE HAD WE COME ACROSS SUCH A CONCENTRATION OF FIREPOWER”