Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf H(U) – Tauchfahig (U-Panzer / Submersible Tank)


This U-Panzer belonged to the 18th Panzer Division’s 18th Panzer Regiment. This photo was taken during the crossing of the River Bug at Patulin on 22nd June of 1941. During the preparation for invasion of England - Operation Seelöwe (Sealion), Panzer III and Panzer IV were converted into submersible tanks able to travel on the bottom of body of water at the depths of 6 to 15 meters. From June to October of 1940, 160 Panzer III Ausf F/G/H and 8 Panzerbefehlswagen III Ausf E along with 42 Panzer IV Ausf Ds were converted into U-Panzers / Tauchpanzers. After extensive tests and modifications U-Panzer were ready for action. Since Operation Sealion was never realized, Tauchpanzer IIIs and IVs were used during Operation Barbarossa (crossing river Bug at Patulin), in service with 3rd (6th Panzer Regiment) and 18th Panzer Division. It was also planned to use U-Panzers in never realized invasion on the island of Malta.

PR 18 (18 Pz): the regiment was organized on Dec 06 1940 in Wehrkreis V within the 18. Panzer-Division's framework. It had two Panzer-Abteilungen, A (I. Abteilung) and B (II. Abteilung). Later on March 01 1941 got its III. Abteilung from the II. Abteilung belonging to the disbanded Panzer-Regiment 28.

Panzer-Abteilung A (I./ PR 18): organized on Jul 26 1940 in Wehrkreis X. Its CO was Major Manfred Graf Strachwitz von Groß-Zauche und Kaminetz being Oberleutnant Ewald von Stünzner the abteilung's adjutant. On Dec 01 1940 became I. Abteilung Panzer-Regiment 18

Panzer-Abteilung B (II./ PR 18): organized on Jul 26 1940 in Wehrkreis XVII. On Dec 01 1940 became II. Abteilung Panzer-Regiment 18.

Panzer-Abteilung D (III./ PR 18): organized on Jul 27 1940 in Wehrkreis VIII. On Dec 01 1940 became II. Abteilung Panzer-Regiment 28.

Panzer-Abteilung C (III./ PR 6): organized on Jul 24 1940 in Wehrkreis III. On Dec 01 1940 became I. Abteilung Panzer-Regiment 28. Its CO was Major Wilhelm Ritter und Edler von Peter.

At Pratulin, where 17th and 18th Panzer Divisions were to cross the Bug, there was no bridge. At 04:15 hours, the advance detachments leaped into their rubber dinghies and assault boats, and swiftly crossed to the other side. The infantrymen and motor-cycle troops had with them light anti-tank guns and heavy machine-guns. The Russian pickets by the river opened up with automatic rifles and light machine-guns. They were quickly silenced. Units of the motor-cycle battalion dug in. Then everything that could be pumped into the bridgehead was ferried across. The sappers at once got down to building a pontoon bridge.

But what would happen if the Russians attacked the bridgehead with armour? How would the Germans oppose them? Tanks and heavy equipment could have been brought across only with the greatest difficulties in barges or over emergency bridges.

That was why an interesting new secret weapon was employed here for the first time….
…In the sector of 18th Panzer Division fifty batteries of all calibers opened fire at 0315 in order to clear the way to the other bank for the diving tanks, General Nehring, the divisional commander, has since described this as “a magnificent spectacle, but rather pointless since the Russians had been clever enough to withdraw their troops from the border area, leaving behind only weak frontier detachments, which subsequently fought very bravely.”

At 0445 hours Sergeant Wierschin advance into the Bug with diving tank No.1. The infantrymen watched him in amazement. The water closed over the tank. ”Playing at U-boats!” Only the slim steel tube which supplied fresh air to the crews and engine showed above the surface, indicating Wierschin’s progress under water. There were also the exhaust bubbles, but these were quickly obliterated by the current.

Tank after tank – the whole of 1st Battalion, 18th Panzer Regiment, under the battalion commander, Manfred Graf Strachwitz – dived into the river.

And now the first ones were crawling up the far bank like mysterious amphibians. A soft plop and the rubber caps were blown off the gun muzzles. The gun-loaders let the air out of the bicycle inner tubes round the turrets. Turret hatches were flung open and the skippers wriggled out. An arm thrust into the air three times: the signal “Tanks forward.”

Eighty tanks had crossed the frontier river under water. Eighty tanks were moving into action.
Their presence was more than welcome in the bridgehead. Enemy armoured scout cars were approaching. At once came the firing orders for the leading tanks: “Turret – One O’clock – armour piercing – 800 yards – group of armoured scout cars – fire at will.” From Hitler moves east. Paul Carell

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