The Dire Situation of Panzerregiment 5 at the End of CRUSADER

At the end of CRUSADER, the German and Italian formations were very badly hit. Losses had been high, both in terms of men and material. A document from the war diary appendices of the Afrikakorps, but originating from Panzerregiment 5, shows the seriousness of the situation at the tactical level.

Panzerregiment 5 was the armoured element of 21. Panzerdivision, and it was the original armoured unit to arrive in North Africa. It was originally established as part of 3. Leichte Division, pre-war, which is why it had a lower regimental number than Panzerregiment 8 of 15. Panzerdivision.

First the personnel situation. Because of constant reinforcements, a total of 981 men since the regiment arrived in North Africa, this was not as bad as might appear at first glance. Nevertheless, once the tropical addition (for drivers for additional vehicles), the number of those so sick that they required a stay in a special tropical hospital in Germany to regain the required fitness levels, and the number of untrained reinforcements (over 50% of those received) are taken into account, the actual strength is low. Although it is likely that the regiment was painting a bleaker picture than reality – especially given that many vehicles were missing, reducing the need for drivers. The shortage of personnel implied the need to train (or receive trained) 1,700 men.

Table 1: Personnel Situation Panzer Regiment 5 – 12 Jan. 1942

Personnel Officers Civil Servants NCOs Other Ranks Total
Planned Strength

81

11

632

1,510

2,234

Tropical Addition

417

417

Real Strength

47

6

386

1,726

2,165

Missing

34

5

242

201

482

Percentage

42%

45%

38%

10%

18%

Sick

500

Untrained

477

Total Missing

1,459

Share incl Sick and Untrained

55%

Second the vehicle situation. This was nothing short of disastrous. The regiment could not even field the equivalent of a tank company at this stage. It had been hard hit in battle, and then suffered when two companies of tanks meant to supply its No. 3 and No.7 tank companies, were lost on the Italian vessels Fabio Filzi and Carlo del Greco were sunk by HM/Sub Upright on 13 December 1941, while positioning to Taranto for convoy operation M.41. So unlike Panzerregiment 8 it did not receive any tanks in this convoy.

Table 2: Tank and Vehicle Situation Panzer Regiment 5 – 12 Jan. 1942

Type of Vehicle

Planned Strength

Real Strength

Missing

Share

Tanks

Pz. II

59

11

48

81%

Pz. III

111

12

99

89%

Pz. IV

30

5

25

83%

Command tanks

6

2

4

67%

heavy M/C

192

65

127

66%

Passenger cars

121

63

58

48%

Trucks

344

89

255

74%

Personnel Transport

1

0

1

100%

Light prime movers

20

12

8

40%

Medium prime movers

6

5

1

17%

Heavy prime movers

8

5

3

38%

Tank transport trailers

10

1

9

90%

Other trailers

5

2

2

40%

Of the trucks, 132 which are not included in the real strength had been subordinated to the divisional supply command prior to the battle. The regiment expects that many of these were also lost. It further states that the vehicles are all in a very bad state and that they are soon going to be completely unserviceable because of this. A 100% re-equipping with vehicles is requested. What the list does not state is whether this included captured vehicles being kept on strength.

More importantly, the regiment also states that simply transferring new tanks to Africa would not turn the regiment into a survivable unit, since none of the required supply and maintenance could be carried out, especially the vehicle equipment of the recovery companies.

Regarding other items, almost everything had to be left in the regimental rest area of Marsa Lucch, between Tobruk and Bardia, when Panzergruppe Afrika lifted the siege of Tobruk on 7 December 1941. The regiment states that it barely managed to pull out the 700 members of the regiment in the area, using captured transport. These losses included everything related to administration, including typewriters, forms, etc.

The document closes with a plea to pull the regiment out of Africa completely for up to 3 months to enable rebuilding it at home. This can be read as a state of mind of the regimental commander, and probably the overall morale in the unit at the time. Unfortunately the temporary commander was a Major whose name I cannot decipher.

This was of course not to happen, and the regiment would continue to fight in North Africa until the very end.

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