By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
A while back, we issued a book called Panzer Lehr, an expansion for the Panzer Grenadier series featuring actions of the Panzer Lehr Division. Panzer Lehr, an outfit made up of combat-experienced demonstration troops from the German Army’s training schools, had a (probably inflated) reputation as a hard-fighting “fire brigade” formation on the Western Front in 1944, and seemed a good candidate to present in its own special color scheme.
Panzer Lehr, the book, includes 27 scenarios by Mike Perryman and a campaign game by John Stafford. Plus a sheet of 176 playing pieces, upgraded from the original 102 when we switched to a different source of pieces. The special pieces have the Panzer Lehr divisional symbol, and the gray-green background color I originally wanted for all German Army units in Panzer Grenadier (I still think they look better than the gray eventually used). Here’s a look at them:
While German panzer grenadier platoons followed a different table of organization than their brothers in the infantry, the differences aren’t enough to show up in game terms and we’ve usually used one piece to represent both types of unit. For the Panzer Lehr set, the panzer grenadiers are represented by the SCH (Schützen) piece, which has the same full-strength firepower but degrades slightly less after a step loss.
While Panzer Lehr performed well in combat, their performance can’t really be called out as exceptional. The battle-hardened troopers concentrated in Panzer Lehr would probably have been better employed lending that experience to the new Volksgrenadier formations being raised for the war’s climactic battles.
By 1944, most firepower from a German battalion (whether infantry or panzer grenadier) came from its mortar company. Panzer Lehr was no different. Despite the pledge to equip Panzer Lehr only with the most modern weapons available, many of the division’s support weapons were towed rather than self-propelled.
Panzer Lehr went into battle in Normandy without its own Panther battalion; 3rd Panzer Division had lent its Panther battalion so that Panzer Lehr could conduct formation exercises and the borrowed unit had just started on its way back to Germany when the Allies landed in Germany. Division commander Fritz Bayerlein frantically collected the Panthers and crews and turned them back to the front. That little detail seemed too confusing to add to the game set, so Panzer Lehr fields its own Panthers in the Lehr color scheme in this supplement.
Like other panzer divisions, Panzer Lehr’s second tank battalion had PzKpfw IV vehicles; these should have all been factory-fresh H models but appear to have included at least some older F2 models carrying the less-capable 75mm main gun and lighter protection. The game set includes both models.
A small number of Tiger tanks (both the original version and the bigger Royal Tiger) were also fielded by Panzer Lehr in Normandy in a special heavy tank company attached to the division’s panzer regiment, along with some of the tiny Goliath wire-guided explosive vehicles guided from the Tigers.
In most panzer divisions, only one battalion of panzer grenadiers was truly gepanzert, riding in half-track armored personnel carriers. The other three battalions were “Gummi (Rubber) Panzer Grenadiere,” carried in trucks instead. All four battalions rode halftracks in Panzer Lehr, adding greatly to the division’s combat power.
Panzer Lehr also fielded a double-sized company of the new Puma armored cars. This very modern design featured the same turret for the planned Leopard light tank, on the same eight-wheeled heavy armored car chassis used for the whole family of PSW234 vehicles. The long-barreled 50mm gun offered more than enough firepower to deal with enemy armored cars, but it offered little defense against real tanks.
While Panzer Lehr had towed anti-tank guns in the panzer grenadier regiments, its anti-tank battalion had the very effective Jagdpanzer IV, known as “Guderian's Ducks.” The panzer grenadiers did have self-propelled mounts for their 150mm infantry guns, small vehciles known as the Grille (“Cricket”). And of course the ubiquitous Sturmgeschütz III assault guns.
Though Panzer Lehr was intended to wield Germany’s best and latest weapons, this was not always the case. Only one of the division’s three artillery battalions was self-propelled, and a number of the towed pieces were actually captured Soviet pieces.
The book’s counters provide the first appearance of the German 150mm howitzer. This was an updated version of the Model 1913 howitzer widely used during the Great War. An outdated weapon, it was inferior to the Soviet 152mm howitzer and as a favored formation Panzer Lehr often had the captured pieces instead.
Panzer Lehr’s junior leaders consisted of hardened combat veterans, which on paper at least should have given the division an enormous advantage in battle. Some of these hardened vets had no doubt had more combat than they could stand, but others were certainly at the top of their craft. Panzer Lehr comes with its own set of very good leaders in Panzer Lehr livery; for competitive balance players should probably stick with the regular German Army leaders from the boxed games as directed by the book’s scenario special rules.
Click here to order Panzer Lehr
Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.