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The powerful German Panzer armies of 1939-45 had their roots in the fledgling Sturm-Panzer-Kraftwagen-Abteilung that debuted in the German March offensive in 1918. Conceived and trained for the assault, it is no surprise that the first “Panzer Grenadiers” were men from the Sturm Bataillon Rohr. Shown in the article are award documents to Wilhelm Schott, a Medic from the 5th Sturm Kompagnie of the battalion.

When Germany formed her first Panzer units it seemed natural that they operate with the Sturmtruppen. After the creation of the Sturm-Panzer-Kraftwagen-Abteilung had been presented to the high command at Sedan Kronprinz Wilhelm ordered them to join up with the Sturmbataillon Nr.5 (Rohr).

By the end of January 1918 they were quartered at Pierrepont.

Together with S.B. Rohr they were to practice combining the methods of progression of the tanks with the tactics of the Sturmtrupps. The Panzer crews were also to learn how to fight like an assault trooper in case their Panzers were damaged and they were forced to fight with the accompanying infantry.

Volckheim, in his 1923 book "Die deutschen Kampfwagen in Weltkrieg" wrote.

"The Kampfwagen were an assault weapon, meant to help the infantry. Their purpose was similar to that of the Infanterie-Begleit-Batterien. Along with the infantry Stosstrupps they were to engage enemy strongpoints, machine gun nests and other points of resistance. They were to destroy obstacles and break resistance as part of the spearhead to facilitate the easier progress of the following waves of infantry. To achieve this, a coordinated progression with the assault troops was needed."

On the 23rd of February 1918 the Sturmbataillon along with the Sturm Panzer gave an exhibition at Doncourt showing how combined arms could take enemy strongpoints.

Above: German Tanks on the march in 1918.



The Sturmbataillon Rohr in the "Great Battle for France" 1918

During the March offensive the S.B. Rohr was divided into two half battalions; one
attached to the 50th Infanterie Division, the other to the 36th Infanterie Division.

The German Panzers were to make their debut on the battlefield in the sector of the
50. I.D. Due to their past training with the tanks the half battalion Hoffmann was to accompany them.

On the twentieth of March 1918 the S.B. Rohr was split up as follows:

1) Two Sturm companies, one machine gun company and the Haubitzbatterie were
attached to the 50. I.D.  

Of these:
One Sturm company, half the M.G.K. and the Haubitzbatterie were attached to
the I.R. 158 and one Sturm company with the rest of the M.G.K. were attached
to the I.R. 53. One officer and twenty men were detached as a "Tank patrol" to
accompany "Tankabteilung II", a unit equipped with captured British tanks.

2) Two Sturm companies, one M.G.K. and part of the Flammenwerfertrupp were
attached to the 36. I.D. with one officer and twenty men as "Tank Patrol" with
Tankabteilung I.

3) The remaining Sturm Kompagnie and the rest of the Flammenwerfertrupp were
held in reserve at St Quentin.


In this article we will concentrate on the attack of the 36th Division.

Right: A Map showing the sector of the 36. I.D. For a complete map of the front see HERE

Within the I.R. 128 a special Abteilung under Hauptmann Freiherr Grote was formed. Taken from the orders for the day of the assault their task was as follows:

Orders:

4) Flankenabteilung Freiherr Grote (consisting of the staff and 1st Battalion of the I.R. 128, the 4th and 5th Sturmkompagnie and 2. M.G.K. of S.B. Rohr. The Leichte Minenwerfer Kompagnie of S.B. Rohr with the 1st Zug of the 1. M.W.K./I.R. 128, the 2. Abteilung of F.A.R. 36, a section of the Flammenwerfer of the 9. Kompagnie, Garde Reserve Pionierregiment and the "Schwere Sturmpanzerkampfwagen-abteilung” were to attack the northeast extension of the "Entente Stellung" with the goal of taking the northwestern part of the village of Urvillers, this in liaison with the 1st Bavarian Infantrie Division's 1st Regiment, attacking from Itancourt and scheduled to take the rest of Urvillers.

5) Line of progression:
Boundary Right: 50m East of the Baderweg - Western Edge of Urvillers
Boundary Left: Unnamed farm - Church of Urvillers

6) Neighbouring units
Right: Garde Grenadier Regiment 5
Left: 1. bayer. Infanterie Regiment

7) Tasks

First wave: 4./ I.R. 128 with two Flammenwefer Trupps on the right and 1./I.R. 128 with three FW Trupps on the left. Each infantry section had a Stosstrupp from S.B. Rohr attached to it.
The task of the first wave was to cross through the "Joffre", "Franzosen" and "Levy" defensive lines and take the northeastern extension of the "Entente" position. Here they were to reform and push on to Urvillers. Close on their heels came fire support of the six heavy machine guns of the 1. M.G.K. I.R. 128 which followed them.

The Wing Abteilung: 2./I.R. 128 (Each section with an attached S.B. Rohr Stosstrupp and F.W. Trupp) was to attack with the first wave.

One section is to move along the edge of the "Mars la Tour" position, two others to advance just to the west of the road to La Fere. They were to head for the Potchu-Beton_Kaserne, following the Trenches until reaching the Itancourt-Urvillers road. Here they would wait at the Cornet d'Or, ready to support the attack on Urvillers.

2nd Wave:
3./I.R. 128 along with Stosstrupps of S.B. Rohr and five machine guns from S.B. Rohr. They would reach the "Levy" position then follow the front wave in support of the attack on the "Entente" position of Urivillers.

The battalion reserves were to leave the staging area 300 minutes after the jump off and move into the newly captured "Levy" position.

Sturmpanzerkampfabteilung
Along with five patrols of the 5th Kompagnie S.B. Rohr they were to leave the staging area 295 minutes (at 9:30am) after the first wave. Leaving the railway they would move through the German forward positions towards the Birkenkopf Hollow in the direction of the Pontchu farm.
They would support the Wing Abteilung and would attack either the northwest part of Urvillers or pass to the west of the village.

9) After reaching their objective of Urvillers the complete Flankenabteilung would join the Divisional reserve under Oberstleutnant von Netzer.


Above: A rare special print wound badge award document for a member of the 5th company S.B. Rohr who took part in the fighting at Verdun as well as the Tank Assault.

The Regimental history of the I.R. 128 describes the start of the action...

”With no delays, the Abteilung Grote went into action with its two waves and the wing Abteilung. They followed hot on the heels of the rolling barrage and the first trench ("Joffre") fell almost without a fight. In the second trenchline ("Franzosen") the enemy resistance increased and the advance slowed considerably. There was extremely thick fog and this disrupted the carefully laid assault plans.

The coordinated attack changed into a fight of small units, sometimes single men. Commanders were separated from their companies. Groups of men got lost in the fog or wandered around in the British barrage.

The overview was lost and the rapid rolling up of the enemy trenches and destruction of strongpoints was badly disrupted"

At 11am the 1st Battalion with attached units was still fighting for the "Levy" line.


The Panzers had also been disrupted by the fog. They delayed their jump off until about 11.30 when visibility improved slightly. It was still difficult for them to find their way and Stosstrupps went out ahead to guide them and find the correct route.

Shortly after departure the Birkenkopf Hollow came under heavy artillery fire. The shells did not cause that much damage but gas shells had been fired as well and the tank men and accompanying Stosstrupps had to advance with their masks on.

As the Panzer reached the first English point of resistance in their path the defenders took off. The German infantry, which had been held up, were now able to advance.

At 12:30 the tanks reached the heavily fortified Pontchu farm. The infantry had been held up by the defenders at the farm and from the bordering quarry which had been fortified as well. 2 tanks forced their way between the farm and the quarry, overrunning a number of M.G. positions.

They opened fire on the quarry positions from the rear at a distance of 50-100 meters using their cannon and machine guns. A large number of men from the London Rifle Regiment were captured. The Quarry and the Pontchu farm fell at 2:15pm.


The tank crews were exhausted, confined in their tanks with the heat, powder smoke and poison gas. There was a 15 minute break to allow the men to regain their breath, then at 2:30 the tanks rolled on. Along with the 2 companies of S.B. Rohr and the FW Zug they continued the attack on the "Entente" position. The determined defenders were under fire from all the machine guns and cannons that the tank crews could bring to bear. Part of the position was taken in a flank attack. The way for the infantry had been cleared. The enemy seemed shocked by its first encounter with German Panzers and the rest of the defenders soon raised their hands. Some members of the Panzer crews had joined the men of the S.B. Rohr fighting with hand grenades and flamethrowers in the flanking movement. Thirteen machine guns were captured in the action.

It was an historic moment. For the first time in history German Panzers along with infantry had attacked and taken an objective. The men of S.B. Rohr had acted as the first Panzer-Grenadiers.

After this initial success it was decided to conduct larger exercises with the Panzers and the assault divisions. Tactical and combined shooting exercises with the infantry were the order of the day.

The first action with S.B. Rohr had confirmed the advantages of the combined attack with tanks and grenadiers.

Lack of time and material meant that only a small portion of the German units could undergo any training with the tanks.


Above: A Map showing the ground covered by the 36th and 50th I.D. in the offensive.

The members od the S.B. Rohr attached to the 50. I.D. took part in the following actions.

21.3. Breakthrough to the village of Savy
22.3. Capture of Savy and Rouppy. Attacks on Etreillers, Vaux, Germaine and
Foreste.
23.3. Attacks on Douilly, Toulle, and Offoy up to the Somme canal.

After the fall of Urvillers on 21.3 the S.B. Rohr men who had been attached to the 36. I.D. took part in the attack on Essigny and in the direction of Clastres.

On the 24th.3 the battalion was reunited at St Quentin and then travelled over Rouppy to Ham where it joined the 9. I.D. With the bulk of the division it marched over Nesle to a staging area to the east of Roye.

On the 27th.3 it attacked with the Grenadier Regiment 7. The attack went through Lancourt, Armancourt and la Boissiere storming the forest line to the northeast of Montdidier and continuing into the northeastern part of the town.

On the 30.3 portions of the battalion took part in the fighting to the southwest  of Montdidier. It then fought defensively in Montdidier on the 31.3 until the 1.4. and then was sent to Billancourt near Nesle to rest.


Above: The Iron Cross 2nd Class award document to Wilhelm Schott

The battalion had lost two officers and fifty men killed and eight officers and 199 men wounded. 42 men were missing and 129 were sick.


The WW1 Tank Assault badge pictured at the beginning of the article is shown courtesy of Don Doering

To Return to the page on assault troops click HERE

 
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