The division that would become famous later as 90th Light Division started its life as a formation of odds and sods, thrown together quickly out of whatever was available while a much more important war raged in the east. During Operation CRUSADER, on 27 November, it was renamed 90th Light Africa Division (90. leichte Afrika-Division), and it was under this name that it would acquire a fighting record that made it well respected by its enemies. But before that, it would be very severely depleted in the two weeks from the start of Operation CRUSADER, so much so that it did not play a combat role in the January counteroffensive in 1942, although it did participate in the advance.
The division had originally been formed in June 1941 for service in Africa. It lost some elements to enemy action during transport across the Mediterranean, and had other elements added to it after arrival. In the end it was a hotchpotch, and lacked vital supply, signals, and logistics elements which would have been standard in ordinary divisions, making it much less combat-capable than the name implies. The lack of motorization was going to be a real problem during the retreat from Tobruk, and probably contributed to the decision to take the division out of the line and send it to Agedabia in early December, two weeks before the general retreat.
The division was also very weak indeed in artillery (one of its two assigned artillery battalions came from the artillery regiment originally formed for 21st Panzer). Nevertheless that did not matter too much, since it was meant for stationary use on the Tobruk siege front, where it would be responsible for the break-in planned for late November, with all the support (and it was plenty) of the heavy artillery of Arko 104 at its disposal.
Unknown command post, probably Tobruk-Belhamed sector, November/December 1941. Rommelsriposte.com collection.
A few remarks about the structure of the organisation, which was peculiar in other aspects as well. It is worth noting that the infantry companies had very high firepower when it comes to light machine guns, including many captured Empire weapons. With the exception of the 3rd battalion 347th Infantry Regiment (III./I.R.347) the rifle companies had double the firepower of the standard rifle company. It is no wonder that the account of the 2nd Battalion The Black Watch of their attack against the siege front on 21st November speaks of the heavy volume of automatic weapons fire they encountered, and that the ridge where it came from became known to them as “Spandau Ridge” (“Spandau” in this case not referring to the Berlin suburb, but the German army light machine gun, a term originating in World War I).
What is also noticeable about the order of battle is the lack of balance in the infantry companies. The companies in the 155th Regiment are very well equipped for firepower, especially by the standards of the typical German infantry company at the time. With heavy mortars, a lot of machine guns, and two light infantry guns, any strongpoint defended by such a company would have been a serious obstacle to an attack. The companies in the 3rd battalion 347th Regiment are a bit less well equipped, but are still doing okay. On the other hand, the companies in the 3rd battalion 255th Regiment, and especially all companies in the “Afrika” Regiment 361 are much weaker, and according to the war diary, most of the heavy weapons of the regiment seem to have been stuck in Naples when CRUSADER started.
The order of battle below is from the NARA records, and dated 11 November 41. Many thanks to my friend James for getting it.
The interpretation of the hand-written/-drawn OOB would not have been possible without the explanation of the symbols on Dr. Leo Niehorster’s OOB site at this link.
Afrika Artilleriebatallion 361
The Artillerieabteilung did not join the division prior to CRUSADER. It arrived on two Italian navy armed merchant cruisers (Citta di Genova and Citta di Tunisi). See this older entry. Its men were then stuck in Benghazi and without guns. They never joined the siege front.
An interesting question has arisen about the guns of “Afrika” Artillery Battalion 361 – the drawn order of battle clearly shows mountain guns, presumably 7.5cm Gebirgskanone 36, although it is also possible that an older type would have been used for this cinderella formation. But information I recently was made aware of by a fellow researcher shows that captured Russian field guns, presumably the Feldkanone 36(r).
I have my doubts that the first issue of guns to the “Afrika” Artillery Battalion 361 was of this type, but if anyone knows for sure, or has pictures that can clearly be dated to CRUSADER or before, I’d be very grateful. Following CRUSADER, the number of captured Russian guns in the desert became substantial, as this Intelligence Bulleting shows.
Order of battle: Division z.b.V. “Afrika”
Motorised Signals Platoon
259th Motorised Mapping Detachment
155th Rifle Regiment (Schützenregiment 155)
Staff with Signals, Despatch Riders, Engineer Detachments (all motorised)
Three Infantry battalions
Each battalion with:
staff (signals, engineers);
three rifle companies with 18 light MGs, 6 light anti-tank rifles, 2 8.1cm mortars and 2 7.5 cm light infantry guns each; and
one support company with 8 heavy machine-guns and 6 8.1 cm mortars.
3rd Battalion 255th Infantry Regiment (III./I.R.255)
Three rifle companies with 18 light MGs, 6 light anti-tank rifles, no mortars, no heavy anti-tank rifles; and
one support company with 8 heavy machine-guns.
3rd Battalion 347th Infantry Regiment (III./I.R.347)
Three rifle companies with 15 light MGs, 6 light anti-tank rifles, and 2 8.1cm mortars; and
one support company with 12 heavy MGs and 6 8.1 cm mortars.
“Afrika” Regiment 361
Two Infantry battalions
Each battalion with;
three rifle companies with 18 light MGs; and
one support company with 2 heavy machine-guns.
605th Anti-Tank Battalion (Panzerjägerabteilung 605)
Staff with Signals Platoon (motorised)
Three companies with 5 light MGs and 9 4.7cm ATGs (Czech) on Panzer I chassis, each.
Staff platoon with 3 armoured MG carriers (captured) attached.
One platoon motorised with 6 VW un-armoured cars Kübelwagen.
One platoon armoured cars (tracked? Probably an error)
Artillery Regiment 155 (Artillerie Regiment 155)
2nd Battalion 155th Artillery Regiment (II./A.R.155)
Staff with motorised signals and survey platoon
Three batteries with 2 light MGs and 4 10.5 cm light Field Howitzers 18, no prime movers
“Afrika” Artillery Battalion 361 (Afrika Artillerieabteilung)
Staff with signals platoon
Two batteries with 2 light machine guns and 4 7.5 cm mountain guns each, no prime movers
Engineer Battalion 900 (motorised) (Pionierbatallion 900)
Staff with 1 heavy anti-tank rifle and 1 3.7 cm ATG
Two motorised engineer companies with 12 light MGs each.
Light engineer column (motorised)
Happy to see news on this blog…
Well, this order of battle caused me a bit of troubles. I would be very happy to see the exact document from which it is made.
All my documents are showing a bit different things in november 41 for artillery. Perhaps it is a project planned for the Tobruk’s assault ?
As far as I knew, there is no artillerie bataillon in Wehrmacht, the 361 Artillerie-abteilung is coming from the reinforced 361. afrika-regiment (according to a gliederungen specially made in 41, with 2 battalions and an artillery abteilung of 2 batteries of Gebirgsgeschutze – source Anlage zu gen.St./Org. Abt. (I), Nr 1526/41 “Kriegsgliederungen des verstarkten deutschen Afrika-Regt”). But my documents (coming from NARA) showed that in reality in november 41, this artillerie abteilung was formed with three normal Field batteries (10,5cm le.F.H. 18).
I have also these datas (be carefull, that’s “soll” not “ist” : Stab afrika regiment 361 : 46 Pkw and 12 Lkw, each battalion : 11 Pkw and 20 Lkw, and the arty abteilung : 21 Pkw and 20 Lkw)
I have also a 300. Infanterie-battalion (with 5 companies of Schutzen, n°2 – 6 – 10 – 12 – 13 ??? another mystery…).
It is interesting to note that the 155. Schutzen-regiment was formed from three separates battalions assembled in Afrika (III./ 241 became I. bat, III./ 258 became II. bat and the III./ 268 became the III.Bat. according an order n°7281 of 4.9.41).
and also note these “soll” datas, for each Schutzen battalion : 2 Pak 3,7cm, 1 sPzB, 10 Pkw and 15 Lkw.
Hope this will help your huge work,
As always, this is very helpful. Very good especially to see the confirmation for the lack of prime movers in the artillery battalion, since those trucks would have been busy hauling ammunition.
The original is a printout from the war diary of 90th Light, which James took when we visited NARA in January this year. I am afraid I did not take down the roll number, but it should be easy to find.
I translate Abteilung as battalion, since that’s what they were. 🙂
All the best
The 300th unit is not a Schuetzen Battailon, but Oasen. Those Kompanie numbers are the oasis companies.
Best wishes, David.
Not sure to agree you when you translated Abteilung to Battalion… That’s completely different. An Abteilung, like Kampfgruppe, Raggrupamento for italians, or “demi-brigade” for french are specifical units, which cannot be translated…
Artillery Abteilung were NOT battalion.
For the number of Pkw and Lkw, remember it is only “soll” numbers, and that reality must be a bit different. But you are right as the tactical sign for these three batteries of le.F.H. 18 shows no motorization.
Your work is a beginning of explanation of the presence in the Panzergruppe Afrika of two Gebirgsbatterie (the 363. and 364. ones)… That’s very helpfull.
PS : the second part of my article on Arko 104 in Sidi Rezegh Battles is published since the end of july. Did you get it ?
I am afraid I have to correct you there. Abteilung was the term for battalion-size units in the following arms:
Artillery (Abteilung, Beobachtungsabteilung, Heeresküstenartillerieabteilung, etc.)
These were battalions in English language. Trust me on this. My grandfather was in Beobachtungsabteilung 26 and 30, and they definitely were battalions. It is just that the arm of service did not use the term Batallion.
An artillery Abteilung (battalion) consisted of three Batterien (companies), just like in most other armies.
An Abteilung was not an ad-hoc formation like a Kampfgruppe, and it was much smaller than a démi-brigade, too. The Wehrmacht kept some of the old nomenclatura, e.g. a Hauptmann in an Aufklärungsabteilung would be called a “Rittmeister”, regardless of whether he was on a horse or an armoured car. It is very confusing.
Ps. I haven’t got it yet, I have been on holidays but will order it soon.
I don’t want to argue against you as we are friends (my remark was only to help you as usual, This traduction is frequent with english people). So I will reply by PM not to borrow readers (I need only time).
It is not only a matter of size or tradition.
To get back to the main topic, The composition of Div. z.b.V. Afrika is reinforced by others units (sometimes organics Corps units), Perhaps to help it to make the breach in Tobruk’s defence perimeter for 15. panzer-division ?
I am sure you have more information on the initial planning for assault against Tobruk.
Last word, as this division was at first devoted to a “siege”, static mission, I am really surprised to see an Aufklarung Kompanie (as far as I can remind, the 580. Aufklärung-Kompanie came only at the end of 41, But I must check my document to verify this point – perhaps you have documents giving us its arrival date ?).
I am happy to discuss this here, since I think this will be helpful to other readers.
But in order to make this more productive, please continue commenting under the new post:
I agree with you that Div. z.b.V. was a special purpose (no surprises there) vehicle for the assault on Tobruk, and that its order of battle reflects that it was expected to receive very significant support from other parts of the Panzergruppe, especially artillery.
Regarding the reconnaissance, note that this is quite weak, and may well have been established by the division (auf dem Befehlswege – i.e. on its own account), because they felt the need to have some mobile recce capability themselves.
Regarding the Mountain Guns, I am beginning to wonder if (all or part of) the 7.5cm guns in Schuetzenregiment 155 may not have been mountain guns taken from the Afrika Artillerieabteilung? If the OOB is correct, the regiment would have had 18 of these guns, which is an odd number, but it is also possible that they had taken their (normally) 6 IG18 7.5cm infantry guns, plus three batteries (12 guns) from the Afrika Artillerieabteilung?
I’ll have another close look at the OOB.
All the best
the roll number is included on that paper I wrote on that serves as an ad-hoc index to each roll/formation. I can return to NARA if you need additional data on this unit.
My understanding is that a German Abteilung is similar to a US Task Force, ie battalion sized, with a specific mission in mind (eg recon). But as you mentioned, the Abteilung is a permanent formation, unlike the temporary Task Force.
Hi James – thanks again. I have that paper… somewhere… still trying to sort out where everything went in the move. The frame number is 636, and it is whatever roll the 90th Light Anlagen are on. I’ll dig it up eventually. 🙂
All the best
Found the paper. It is T-315, Roll 1155, 90.ID papers, Frame 636.
All the best
I like to know more about the 300. Infanterie-battalion (with 5 companies of Schutzen, n°2 – 6 – 10 – 12 – 13 ??? another mystery…).
How as 300 Oasis organized and equipped?
I read that the battalion was lost in frontier defensive postion fell in late Dec and was never reformed?
I may have some info on those guys, if I have a moment this evening I’ll post it. You can find some info on http://www.lonesentry.com – search for ‘Oasis’.
All the best
Thansk Andreas for great link. I look foward to you future post on this subject
Hi Ken, 4.5 years on…
All the best
Thanks again Andreas fro remembering me . Merry Christmas to you and your family
Pingback: Oasen Bataillon z.b.V. 300 « The Crusader Project
Pleasure, and the same to you and yours!
All the best