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Additional Panzer Reserves
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
February 2014

Germany’s dictator, Adolf Hitler, appears to have hatched the idea of a massive armored counter-offensive against the advancing Western Allies sometime in August 1944. Once the weather grew poor enough to inhibit the Allied advantage in air power, up to 40 divisions would strike at a key point in the line in hopes of shattering the Western alliance.

By November, the Ardennes region of Luxembourg and eastern Belgium had been selected as the target, and up to 40 divisions were said to be assigned to the attack. Through substantial efforts, the German Army and Waffen SS re-trained and re-equipped a number of their armored formations, but the 40-division target was never reached.

Other units were diverted to the feint known as Operation Nordwind, covered in our Alsace 1945 game. Some were locked in combat on other sectors of the front and never withdrawn for re-fitting — and the resources for such an effort, in manpower and equipment, would have been difficult to find in any case. And finally there would have been the question of fuel: if the Germans had somehow diverted more panzers to Alsace, where would they have found the gasoline to move them forward?


Former camp guards of the “Death’s Head” Division in combat in Hungary, 1945.

Nevertheless, gamers like their variants, and for today’s we’ll look at the divisions that went into action at the same time that the Battle of the Bulge was taking place. The two divisions of the IV SS Panzer Corps had fought against the Soviets near Warsaw in the late months of 1944. They had been in continuous combat for many months by this point, and were badly worn down. Both divisions left the line in December and went to Hungary, receiving fresh drafts of replacements and new equipment to bring them up to at least their full paper strength.

These two units, 3rd “Death’s Head” and 5th “Viking” SS Panzer Divisions, fought surprisingly well in western Hungary though they failed to relieve the siege of Budapest. Hitler’s diversion of two such divisions to a secondary theater, while Germany was rolling the iron dice in Belgium and watching the Red Army roll toward Berlin, has been rightly criticized as a poor military decision. And as the Law of Unintended Consequences proves, other problems flowed from this move. When the Germans opened an offensive on the south bank of the Danube, the Soviets countered with one of their own on the north bank, aimed at taking the vital bridge at Komorn.

To hold Komorn and keep the two SS divisions supplied in their offensive, the Germans had to commit the Army’s 20th Panzer Division out of the reserve. This unit had been nearly destroyed during the Soviet summer offensive, and by August its remnants were in East Prussia for re-fitting and re-training. Smaller armored units were absorbed, replacements and new equipment assigned, and by winter the division was considered fit for combat. It was not assigned to the Ardennes offensive, however, but instead went to Hungary to defend Komorn. There is fought very well, holding off the Soviet 8th Guards Tank Army.


This would have surprised the Americans. A T-34 of the “Death’s Head” Division in Hungary, 1945.

While the Hungarian operation helped hasten the end of the Thousand-Year Reich’s 12-year lifespan, there were factors in its favor. The offensive placed the two initial assault divisions close to their source of fuel at a time when gasoline was in short supply. German ability to transport two mechanized divisions into the tightly-packed assembly areas east of the Ardennes, and to handle the additional burden on their already-stretched logistics, is also questionable. While the attack in Hungary sucked in a third full-equipped panzer division, this unit had not been assigned to the Ardennes anyway and likely would have fought somewhere on the Eastern Front against a Soviet breakthrough.

The divisions withdrawn from the Western Front in September and October had gone through a long period of re-training in manuever areas. This made them much more effective when they returned to combat; many historians let alone game designers overlook the need for continual training, especially by troops and units with long periods in action. As shown in our Sinister Forces book, the Waffen SS was not so much a branch of the armed forces as a collection of the armed feudal followers of various Nazi power centers. The five SS panzer divisions “favored” with rest and retraining all had politically powerful patrons: the Adolf Hitler Life Guards had their connection to the Nazi leader’s personal bodyguard; the Reich, Frundsberg and Hohenstaufen divisions all had their origins in the original “Special Purpose Troops” that became the Armed SS, and finally the Hitler Youth Division sprang from the party’s youth organization. The “Nordic” volunteers of Viking and the camp guards of Death’s Head had either never had a top-level patron in the former case, or lost theirs in the latter. Thus the two SS divisions in our variant are slightly weaker than the other SS panzer divisions, but the Army division is quite strong.

As a variant for Alsace 1945, all units of 3rd and 5th SS Panzer Divisions, the Army’s 20th Panzer Division and 502nd Heavy Tank Battalion AND the IV SS headquarters enter play as 25 December reinforcements in the Wacht am Rhein South scenario, and as 1 January reinforcements in the Nordwind scenario. Victory conditions remain the same in all scenarios.

You can download the new counters for this variant here.

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