Losses of 15. Panzerdivision during CRUSADER

I am in the fortunate position to have a copy of the whole of 15. Panzerdivision’s war diary for the period thanks to a fellow researcher. At the end of it, there is an overview of the losses suffered by the division during CRUSADER and the counter-offensive. It is quite instructive, especially in terms of officer losses, which seem very heavy to me.

Overview of Losses of the Whole Division
Time Period Killed Wounded Missing Comment
18 Nov to 31 Dec 435 (43) 1,361 (52) 1,820 (35) Main battle, loss of Tobruk, retreat to Agheila
1 Jan to 12 Jan 2 5 1 Establishment in Mersa el Brega Position
13 Jan to 20 Jan 1 4 (2) 9 (1) Static Defense in Mersa el Brega Position
21 Jan to 26 Jan 11 (2) 41 (4) 1 Counter-Offensive towards Msus
27 Jan to 2 Feb 8 (1) 23 (2) 7 Battle for Benghazi & the Jebel
3 Feb to 10 Feb 4 4 Move up to the Gazala line
Halfaya Pass 280 (3) 1./SR104
11 Feb to 20 Feb 23 (1) 48 (1) 15 (1) Static Defense in Gazala Line
Total 480 (47) 1,486 (63) 2,137 (40) Total for division 4,103 (150)

Number in brackets officer casualties, contained in total number.

Of particular note is the very small number of officers in the battalion lost at Halfaya when the position surrendered on 17 January 1942. In total the division lost six battalion commanders, one regimental or battalion commander (Lt.Col. Zinke – maybe someone can confirm his command?), and its General Officer commanding, killed, wounded or missing.

Of further note is the very high share of officers killed, compared to those wounded, or missing (10%/4%/2%). Probably something about officers leading from the front.

On 10 February the unfilled positions compared to war establishment in the division amounted to 6,201 (159 officers). The discrepancy could be due to sick/evacuated, and maybe the division was a bit understrength before the start of the battle. On 11 February the division reported a ration strength (this includes sick and those on holidays, as well a subordinated units drawing supplies from the division I believe) of 5,354. If this number is combined with the understrength figure, we arrive at a war establishment of 11,555, which is probably not unrealistic, and of which 54% were not present. Indeed, on 11 November the division reported a ration strength of 12,160.

Five Knights Crosses seem to have been awarded for the battle, to Colonels Menny and and Crassmann on 26 December 41, Captain Wani on 6 January 42, First Lieutenant Struckmann on 21 January 1941, and posthumously to Major Fenski on 2 January 42 (he fell on Totensonntag).

6 thoughts on “Losses of 15. Panzerdivision during CRUSADER

  1. Most edifying, esp. re officer casualties. Confirms my impression that “leading from the front” wasn’t just Rommel’s style, but was very widespread in German Army, all theatres, throughout the war. Of course this facilitates information processing, but there is a cost. I think the total # of German Generals, Divisional and higher, KIA in WW II was around 100; compare to US: Pacific – 1 (Buckner, Okinawa), ETO – 1 (Rose, early ’45). Remarkable difference in leadership styles. Also an indicative photo I found in (US) FIELD ARTILLERY J. XXXI/4, Apr. ’41, p. 215. Caption reads: “Germans attacking British positions along the Lys. British machine guns firing in bursts from hedge in background. Note German division commander (v. Briesen) with map under his arm.” I mean, the guy is standing there, bolt upright in the middle of his troops, taking notes. This post also brought to mind that scene in Schmidt’s book, With Rommel, with a group of officers receiving orders just before the Tottensonntag attack: some artillery fire comes in, a couple are hit and collapse, S. suggests they might…want…to…take…cover…and is told “A German officer does not lie down!”

    • My comment was somewhat in jest. I’d be interested to see the casualties in other armies before drawing conclusions regarding lower ranks. Certainly from my reading of British army narratives, battalion commanders were expected to take a fair bit of danger as part of the job package.

  2. Off-topic, but something I just noticed from your links: 112 Sq. site is gone; this was one of many “Geocities” sites that disappeared when that sub-net went under. However, most are recoverable at the Web Archive if one has the URL. Can you e-mail me the URL or post at the link here? Thanks, DL.

  3. Hello, I am trying to get information on an Albert Dressel killed in Stalingrad 1944. 3.Pz Abw .Abt. 160 service number 162 I believe? I have what I think is his dog tag or identity disc. Can any one confirm this? Thank you Bill Miller

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