German Motorised and Armoured Reconnaissance units, 1939 to 1945
Capable Reconnaissance units would prove to be an indispensable part of any Armoured Division during the Second World War. During the course of the conflict the German Army operated a large variety of both organisations and vehicles to undertake the role. As ever with the Panzer arm, there were numerous contradictions and adjustments made in terms of units and equipment, and sadly this study cannot claim to capture them all. There was though a general form to the evolution of such units, which is outlined in this section.
German Infantry Divisions also included a Reconnaissance element of varying size, from a single Company on bicycles to a more robust Battalion with support weapons up until the mid-war period. Unfortunately, practically none of the KStN tables for these units now exist, so this section will concentrate on the Reconnaissance units of the Panzer and later Panzer Grenadier Divisions.
A key source in understanding German organisation, especially for the early war years, is the work undertaken by Dr Leo Niehorster, whose website can be found at the below link. It is a true must for anyone trying to understand the vagaries of Panzer Division structure in the opening years of the war.
For the first half or so of the war, the Panzer Divisions operated a Motorised Reconnaissance Battalion, that is it was reliant on wheeled vehicles and motorcycles throughout. During late 1942 and into 1943 the Reconnaissance Battalions in Panzer Divisions were equipped with more armoured vehicles, mostly halftracks, with a handful of light tanks also found in certain units. The restructuring of the former Motorised Divisions as Panzer Grenadier Divisions during 1943 saw a different Motorised Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion appear, still though based on wheeled vehicles. These divergent organisations are dealt with separately via the below links.
As the war progressed, there was a tendency for the German Army to use its Reconnaissance units as additional infantry, especially in the Infantry and Grenadier Divisions. The situation was not quite so bad in the Panzer and Panzer Grenadier Divisions, though in the latter formations the Reconnaissance Battalion was in many respects a Motorised Infantry unit. Likewise, in the Panzer Divisions proper, halftrack mounted infantry formed a sizeable part of the Reconnaissance Battalion, and could be assigned roles usually intended for the Panzer Grenadiers.
German Motorised Reconnaissance units
German Armoured Reconnaissance units