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Sturmpanzer IV “Brummbär” – Deployment By Wolf Höpper

Deployment history
On 19th April 1943 it was ordered that a Sturmpanzer Abteilung had to be established by May 20th 1943. The initial Kriegsstärkenachweis (K.St.N., war strength report) No. 1150 called for a staff company of two command tanks.

Brummbär

Each of the three combat companies was to deploy 13 Sturmpanzer IV, according to K.St.N 1175, dated November 1st 1941. But after their special status was recognized by Hitler, new K.St.N were issued, No. 1156, 1160 and 1164.

Initially the staff company was intended to field 3 Panzer III command tanks, but this was later changed to 3 Brummbär. Each company would consist of 3 platoons (each 4 Brummbär strong) plus 2 for the company commander and his second in charge.

Although the K.St.N. called for Panzer III command vehicles, even later in the war, they were never issued to any of the established formations. Therefore the planned strength of a Brummbär Abteilung amounted to 45 Sturmpanzer IV.

Brummbär

StuPz Abt 216
(Assault Tank Batallion 216)

On 19th April 1943 the Panzer-Ausbildungs- und Ersatzabteilung 5 (tank training and replacement battalion) in Neuruppin received the order to raise an assault tank battalion. Knights Cross holder Major Bruno Kahl was given command of the new unit.

At the beginning of May 1943 the whole unit was moved to Amiens, France. Here they received their 45 Brummbär and started to exercise, train and familiarize themselves with their new equipment.

 

Brummbär

The unit employed a very different numbering system, in which the battalions staff vehicles were numbered I, II and III, the companies vehicles were consecutively numbered from 1 to 14 (1st company), 15 to 28 (2nd) and 29 to 42 (3rd). They also received 6 Panzer IV ammunition carriers.

On June 8th 1943 they were integrated as the III. Abteilung of the just established s.Pz.Jg Rgt 656 under Oberstleutnant Dr. Ernst von Jungenfeldt. The staff of this regiment was drawn from Panzer-Regiment 35. Besides the Brummbars were two wireless controlled panzer companies (Funklenkpanzer Kompanie) 312 and 313 of Funklenk-Abt. 301 integrated into the regiment. They had 72 Borgward BIV demolition charge carriers available.

 

Ferdinand of s.Pz.Jg Rgt 656

After the plans for Operation “Zitadelle” were finalised, the battalion was moved between June 11th and 17th from Amiens through Chalons-sur-Marne, Epernay, Bad Kreuznach, Frankfurt/Main, Cottbus, Warsaw, Brest-Litowsk, Minsk, Brjansk, Karatschew to Orel. The final destination point was the train station Smijewska, 35 km south of Orel.

The whole s.Pz.Jgd regiment was assigned to XVI. Panzer Corps under General Harpe. Starting July 1st they moved towards their jump-off areas. On July 3rd they were stationed near the Orel-Kursk railway.

 

Operation “Zitadelle”

In July 1943 the battalion received 10 replacement vehicles, which were numbered 46 to 55, which were also not using the 3-digit standard used by other armoured formations.

For July 4th the s.Pz.Jd.Reg 656 had the following vehicles available:

Type Available Operational Repair
SdKfz 250/5 5 5
SdKfz 251/8 3 3
SdKfz 301 (assigned to 3rd company/sPzjgd Abt 653) 72 72
StuG III 10 10
Command Pz III L/42 5 5
Command Sturmpanzer IV 3 3
Sturmpanzer IV 42 39 3
Ferdinand 89 83 6
Pz III L/42 12 10 2
Pz III L/60 7 7
Pz III 7.5 cm 3 3
Pz II 3 35

 

A Sturmpanzer IV from the 3rd Company

The initial assembly area of StuPzAbt 216 was as the second echelon behind the 292nd and 86th Infantry Division. The attack was aimed against height 257.7, nicknamed “Panzerhöhe” (tank height). This point marked the corner stone of the Soviet defensive system around Malo-Archangelsk and Olchowatka. This area was defended by the Soviet 29th Rifle Corps with 15th and 81st Rifle Division as the first line of defence. The corps 307th Rifle Division was positioned as a reserve right behind the other two divisions.
Parts of  StuPzAbt 216 were assigned to assist sPzJgdAbt. 653. For the attack on Ponyiri on July 5th, the dispersed companies are reunited and attack in conjunction with 292nd Infantry Division. They take Perwoje Ponyiri and advance towards the small city itself. Although the enemy resistance starts to weaken, Major Kahl reorganizes his forces. In the morning some of the Sturmpanzers intend to attack in concert with their own infantry and Ferdinands of the sPzJgdAbt 654 (6 vehicles from 2nd company). But the attack is postponed to the next day. On 9th July, 0600 hours, the battlegroup attacks under command of Major Kahl. 
Although the infantry and panzers attack constantly, the battle is ultimately a failure. During the ensuing defence against the Russian counteroffensive at the Orel area, parts of StuPzAbt 216 are surrounded at Wassiljewka, but are relieved by the Ferdinands of sPzJgd Abt. 654. Although the combination Ferdinand/Brummbär during combat situations proved to be a great success, many commanders were not satisfied with the obvious supply problems.

The area was heavily mined and the Borgwards, intended as mine sweepers, proved a failure. Another factor for this failure was the constant strong Soviet artillery bombardment.

Ferdinand

12 BIV were lost due to Soviet artillery. Also the intended marking of the cleared mine areas by pioneers was not accomplished. Therefore many Ferdinands and Sturmpanzers were damaged because they simply drove into un-cleared areas. The main reason was that the relatively light BIV didn’t leave clear track signs on the dry and sun-baked ground. On July 5th 28 BIV were lost in the area of  I/sPzJgd.Reg 656 and another 11 with II/sPzJgdReg 656.

On July 24th the regiment had the following vehicles at their disposal:

Type Available Operational
Ferdinand 54 25, 4 of that only partially
Sturmpanzer IV
41 189

Mid Production Sturmpanzer IV “Brummbär”

During the operation and the following defensive fighting at the Orel area, the Ferdinands and Sturmpanzers were divided and mixed into small panzer battle groups.

Constant Defence

At the beginning of August 1943 the unit, still designated III/s.PzJgd.Reg 656, was transferred with the rest of the regiment to Brjiansk and on August 25th, after a Führer order, to Dnjepropetrovsk. Here some long due maintenance and repair works were undertaken at the nearby tank plant at Tritosnaja.

This break didn’t last too long. The repair facilities were moved to Nikopol. The fighting parts of the unit were transferred to the bridgehead of Saporoshje. On September 10th the regiment was ordered to attack the Soviets at that point with all available forces. For that purpose two battlegroups were established, group North under Major Baumunk with the s.PzJgd Abt. 653 and Group South under Major Kahl with the Sturmmpanzers. During that time, Kahl’s 2iC became Major Horstmann, who resumed command during September. At beginning of September the regiment still had 50 Ferdinands available.
After s.PzJgdAbt. 654 had suffered great vehicle losses during “Zitadelle“, their remaining 19 Ferdinands were transferred on 25th August 1943 to s.Pz.Jgd.Abt. 653. The personal is moved to Orleans for refit/retraining. Later here they received their Jagdpanthers. So after that the regiment only had two battalions available for the upcoming combat actions. A transfer of the remaining regimental units is proposed by Hitler, but the idea later aborted, since the situation at the Eastern Front was worsening. Although the regiment was transferred to Brjiansk, the repair companies detected several severe problems that complicated their maintenance ability.

Brummbär

Nonetheless, 10 vehicles were repaired at Brjiansk before the transfer to Dnjepropetrovsk. Additionally StuPzAbt. 216 received two independent repair companies (No. 545 and 552). They prove very helpful in the coming months. By September 2nd 15 Ferdinands and 25 StuPz had been repaired.

The regiment was assigned directly to the XXXX Panzer corps under General Henrici as a mobile reserve. He had 6 divisions at his disposal: 123rd, 125th, 294th, 333rd and 335th Infantry Division, 16th Panzergrenadier Division.

The following list gives the regimental distribution/actions amongst the employed divisions:

Date Number and Assigned Unit
Oct. 1st 8 at disposal of XXXX Panzer Corps; 6 to 16th PGD
Oct. 2nd 3 vehicles to each 333rd and 123rd ID
Oct. 5th Combat action around Wassiljewski
Oct. 7th Combat action at 16th PGD with 20 vehicles
Oct. 9th 6 Ferdinands defending against enemy penetration near Saporoshje-Krugilik, 19 vehicles available
Oct.10th 9 Ferdinands fighting at Krinitschnyj; A group of Ferdinands was dispatched to 125th ID
Oct.11th 14 vehicles operational, 4 in short term, 30 in long term repair condition
Oct.15th Assigned to s.PzAbt. 506, establishment of combat group North at Marjewka and South at Shirokoje with 16th PGD
Oct.16th 15 operational, 5 in short term and 28 in long term repair


On the other side, the 3rd Guards, 8th Guards and 12th Army along with two tank corps and one complete air army under General Malinowskis 3rd Ukrainian Front stood ready to liberate Saporoshje and gain control of the dam. For the first time the Soviets employed complete artillery divisions to maximize their artillery preparation on the intended breakthrough areas.

On the morning of October 10th, 0400 hours, the Soviets attack. Following a gigantic bombardment the infantry, supported by tanks, attack. They are repulsed.

Even on the second and third day of the fighting, the Germans only loose minimal ground, but maintain their overall cohesiveness. The old fashioned Stukas provide great support for repelling the Soviet attacks on October 11th.

The front situation deteriorated and of the 40 available Ferdinands nearly all and two thirds of the Sturmpanzers were under repair. But nonetheless they continued their defensive actions and managed to repulse the Soviet attacks. For example on October 10th near Nowo Alexandrowna the battlegroups were able to destroy 48 Russian tanks.

On October 13th a breakthrough is finally achieved by the Soviets. The German front is in great danger of collapse. Eight T-34 and two rifle regiments are already 5 kilometres behind the main front line, when Brummbär of StuPzAbt 216 arrive and knock out 3 of the enemy tanks. After the infantry is shelled by the 15cm guns, they start to retreat.

Brummbär

he situation worsens. The Soviets attack constantly with their superior numbers and the German losses are felt daily. General Henrici therefore demands in a phone call with the commander of 1st Panzer Army, Generaloberst von Mackensen, the blasting of the dam, but this demand is denied, however he prepares it for destruction.

October 14th the Soviets achieve another deep penetration towards the dam. This time combat groups of 16th PGD and Grenadier Regiment 421 (125th ID) are able to seal off the attack.

The bridge and dam are finally blown up, after the German units retreat, during the night of October 14th/15th.

The regiment was withdrawn before that, on October 13th, crossing over the Dnepr.19

The whole Panzerjäger Regiment destroyed the following enemy equipment from July 5th to November 5th

582 tanks
344 anti-tank guns
133 artillery pieces
103 anti-tank rifles
3 aircraft
3 armoured cars
3 assault guns

Brummbär

Their next combat mission saw the StuPzAbt 216 in the Nikopol area. The Abteilung, along with the regiment, arrived there on November 13th. The fighting lasted from November 20th to 27th. The villages Marjewka (20th Nov) and Katerinowka (23rd Nov) were culminating points in these battles. During the tank battle of Koschasowka/Miropol (26th/27th Nov), the regiment (3 Ferdinands!) destroyed 54 Russian tanks and 10 anti-tank guns within a few hours. Leutnant Franz Kretschmer in his Ferdinand attributed to 21 of them. Altogether the Soviets lost 112 tanks during that battle.
On November 22nd the first battalion (Ferdinands) attack towards Scheftschenko and destroyed 9 Soviet tanks. The third (StuPzIV) also destroyed 5 tanks within two days.

This success has to be estimated even higher, when the dispersion of the regiment is examined closely. The regiment was divided amongst three different Corps:

– 14 with LVIIth Army Corps near Kriwoj Rog, of that 6 Ferdinands were assigned to 11th PD. They successfully hinder the Soviets from capturing that economically vital city.
– 4 vehicles are detached to XXXth Army Corps
– 3 vehicles are assigned to XVIIth Army Corps.

As several veterans accounts, combat reports, etc. indicate, the regimental vehicles, Ferdinands and StuPz IV, were often intermixed, and the tasks accordingly divided: The Ferdinands engaged the tanks and the Brummbär shelled the accompanying infantry.

The balance for November 29th although gives the following strength:

I/656: 4 Ferdinands fully operational, 8 on short term repair, 30 long-term repair, and 4 total losses.
III/656: 2 StuPzIV’s fully operational, 43 long term repair.

Thereafter the StuPzAbt 216 was split from the regiment and transferred back to St. Valentin, near Vienna, Austria. The Ferdinands were withdrawn December 10th to St. Pölten, Austria.

Between December 1943 and February 1944 the St. Nibelungen panzer plant was able to repair all of the Brummbär. From that point, the StuPzAbt 216 was finally a fully independent unit.

Brummbär

New Fronts – Italy 1944

During spring 1944 the StuPzAbt 216 raised a 4th company and received 5 Panzer II for reconnaissance purposes. During February the battalion had a strength of 57 StuPz IV and 5 Pz II. But this 4th company was deleted in September the same year and transferred to Döllersheim, Germany to provide the core of the newly established StuPzAbt 219.

In the morning of 22nd January 1944 the American VI Corps landed at Anzio and Nettuno (Operation “Shingle“).

The Flak platoon of the staff company s.PzJg Abt 653 was transfered to StuPzAbt 216 on February 6th and remained with that unit the end of the war.

To repel the invasion a panzer combat group under Panzer Stab 69 (regimental staff from panzer regiment 69, Oberst Schmidt), LXXVI Panzer Corps, was set-up

Besides the StuPz Abt 216, the following units were collected:

Ist/PzReg 4 (ca. 76 Panthers, detached from 13th PD being reequipped in France)
sPzAbt 508 (Tiger Ie under Major Hudel)
1st/sPzJgd Abt 653 (11 Ferdinands)
IInd/PzReg 26 (Pz IV and Pz V)
Fernlenk Pz Abt 301 (Borgward IV C and 30 StuG III)

In Italy they were first assigned to 14th Army, Army Group C.

The second German attack started on 28th February 1944 at 0400 hours against the American bridgehead after the first attack, lasting from 16th to 18th February, was repulsed by the American troops.

During the fighting at Anzio, the StuPzAbt 216 was employed near Aprilia, height 92 at Cisterna and in the woods surrounding the beach head They often worked in conjunction with the other tank formations, especially the Tigers of s.PzAbt 508, and provided strong anti-infantry support.

Brummbär in Italy

April 7th 1944 the battalion was transferred to the Pisa area, where they received new Sturmpanzers and personal. They also participated in the defence of that area.

At the end of May the unit was fighting around the Rome area at the Via Aurelia and Via Cassia as support for II/Fallschirm Regiment.

After this hard fight, they were forced to retreat with the rest of the German forces. The path followed the line Civita Castellana, Nepi, Orbetello, Rocecastarada and the Bolsena Lake to Sienna. The remaining StuPz IVs fought south of the Arno riverbank.

Late Production Sturmpanzer IV

The End

After the long retreat, the Abteilung was replenished completely at Reggio Emilia and Piacenza. From the end of July 1944 until New Years day 1945 the unit had to defend against partisan attacks.

In January 1945 the StuPzAbt 216 was taken over by Hauptmann Schewe as new commander.

January 1st 1945 the battalion had a strength of 43 StuPz, one Pz II, one 2cm quad AA gun, two 2cm single barrel AA guns and two Italian 2cm AA guns.

StuPz Abt 217 (Assault Tank Battalion 217)

In April 1944 the establishment of StuPz.Abt 217 was ordered, and executed during May/June 1944  at the training ground Grafenwöhr, Germany.

The following employment of the Abteilung during the Normandy fighting was written by Niklas Zetterling (“Normandy 1944, German Military Organization, Combat Power and Organizational Effectiveness”. ISBN 0-921991-56-8), with publication permission granted by Mr. Zetterling to the author.

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