German Reconnaissance in 1940

I have often looked at the reconnaissance battalion, or Aufklärungungs-Abteilung, of a German Panzer Division in 1940 and wondered how they could be used in Spearhead. This short article outlines my current thoughts.

Most obviously the various companies of the battalion could be allocated out in support of various fighting battalions. Yet, my mind kept returning to deploying the battalion as one unit, or at least the majority of the battalion. Is there anything sensible way it can be used?

Undeterred, and without a clear view on a solution, I embarked on building the battalion for my early war expansion, a portion of which is shown below in what must be a propaganda photo.

Now, of course the Spearhead TO&E outline a generic organisation in 1940. We have two armoured car companies, an infantry company on motorcycles and a heavy weapons company all as follows.

Reconnaissance Battalion, with:
Battalion Staff Company:
HQ: 1-231 Armoured Car
2-Armoured Car Companies:
3-221 Armoured Cars, 1-231 Armoured Car
1-Motorcycle Recon Company:
3-Motorcycle Stands (Rifles)
1-Heavy Weapons Company:
1-IG 75/12 with tractor
1-PAK 35 with tractor
1-Engineer Stand (Flamethrower/Rifles) in truck

The first point of note is the armoured car companies, one of which is illustrated above.

The bulk of these comprise Sdkfz 221 armoured cars which are lightly armoured and mount a machine gun. Clearly they are unable to engage armour, though neither are the British Matilda I infantry tanks. The heavier 231 armoured cars do at least have a capability to do engage enemy armour, at least to a limited extent. All have woeful direct fire factors against enemy infantry, which is not uncommon in the earlier war. Clearly these companies are only really of use to uncover enemy and then bypass them, with perhaps an ability to overrun enemy infantry foolishly in the open. To assist with this they have a good turn of speed being able to move 12” per turn. If you are using the Scenario Generation System, and it’s points system, the Sdkfz 221s are at least inexpensive.

In contrast the motorcycle company has a good turn of speed and combines this with good fire factors against enemy infantry. These clearly have an ability to hold ground and perhaps pin enemy infantry, though not for long as there are just three platoons. Below, the motorcycle company.

The final company is the Heavy Weapons Company. This comprises a 75mm infantry gun platoon, a PAK 35 and an engineering platoon. Unfortunately the heavy weapons can be towed or manhandled at much reduced rates unless moving on roads. As a result this company will almost certainly be left well to the rear when advancing. However, all could be valuable if they can somehow keep up. Below, a portion of the Heavy Weapons Company with light trucks.

As we tend to use the Scenario Generation System as a basis for our scenarios my initial focus was on using the battalion as an option in my attack list. In 1940 these options have a points budget of just 40 points. Here is my understrength Aufklärungungs-Abteilung.

Reconnaissance Battalion, with:
Battalion Staff Company:
HQ: 1-231 Armoured Car
1-Armoured Car Company:
2-221 Armoured Cars, 1-231 Armoured Car
1-Armoured Car Company:
3-221 Armoured Cars
1-Motorcycle Recon Company:
3-Motorcycle Stands (Rifles)

You can see it is missing the heavy weapons company, as well as one Sdkfz 221 and one Sdkfz 231. With these elements removed the battalion comprises 10 stands and comes to 40 points, once the German modifiers are applied and rounding is completed.

Now, how do I use it? Well I consider such a formation only useful in certain situations, and then only in an attack or encounter list. Tactical situations include an open battle, where the enemy flanks are open, or where a fast moving force can potentially seize ground or uncover enemy positions before a reserve is committed. Most importantly it would only be used to move quickly and not used to fight the enemy.

As mentioned previously I have currently utilised the battalion twice. The first was in an encounter where the battalion conducted a deep flank march. Here it flanked an enemy battalion which was also engaged frontally. This combination surprised the enemy and for a time the momentum of the attack caused confusion. As the engagement progressed the infantry elements engaged enemy infantry but the armoured cars looked set to face British Matilda tanks. My maxim of not engaging the enemy but sweeping past them was quickly implemented, at least by the armoured cars who pressed on causing more of a distraction.

In the second outing the battalion was used to uncover possible enemy positions, pending the commitment of my reserve. Moving quickly forward I hoped the battalion would either uncover an ambush or seize a village that in turn would form a block to a likely enemy armoured entry point. Interestingly, the battalion seized the village and triggered the commitment of the French armoured reserve. Now aware of the enemy armoured strength I was able to commit my main Panzer reserve with far greater insight.

Both encounters have highlighted the value of the reconnaissance battalion. Of course I still have to work out how best to use the heavy weapons company. The increase in size will prevent it being used as an option in the Scenario System, but will give it additional teeth. With more battles in France during 1940 likely there should be plenty of opportunities.

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