This article provides an overview of the interesting variety of tactical and other markings used on SdKfz 251s (m.SPW) of the Panzer-Lehr-Division in 1944.
While several variations are illustrated below, these should not be considered by any means the complete range of types that existed. The Pz-Lehr, after all, had numerous subunits equipped with the m.SPW and, indeed, it was one of the best m.SPW-equipped units in the Wehrmacht. Readers should also understand, given the limitations in both the number and clarity of photographs available, no possibility of absolute precision as to the true design and colours used in the marking interpretations rendered below is possible at this stage. As and when further evidence becomes available, these marking designs and accompanying information will be updated. The desire at this stage as a result is to provide the reader with a general appreciation
of both the sorts of marking variations, as well as consistencies that occurred within this large armoured formation.
One of the most recently identified and certainly most vivid of unit markings thus far attributed to the Panzer-Lehr (or indeed arguably any SPW unit) is that seen on this SdKfz 251 Ausf C:
Various evidence indicates this vehicle belonged to Panzer-Grenadier-Lehr-Regiment 901.; one of two Pz-Gren-Regt's organic to the Panzer-Lehr-Division (the other being Pz-Gren-Lehr-Regt 902., a junior and invariably less well-equipped unit in comparison). The photo itself was taken in the vicinity of Le Dezert, Normandie, in the aftermath of the ill-fated German counter-attack against US forces that occurred on the 11th of July 1944
As to the true design & colouring of the disc-shaped marking, at this stage it is not possible to be sure, given the nature of the photos currently available. However, its clear the insignia carries within it a capitol S in a Frakturschrift font (similar to a G in shape):
It is believed this S denotes, in typical German military fashion, Pz-Gren-Lehr-Regt 901.s commander, Generalmajor Georg Scholze, a native of Eastern Saxony and a Jaeger veteran of the First World War. On the basis of these facts, the design of the marking at this stage is very tentatively
interpreted to depict a Saxon warrior of old the predominantly green and white design representative of Saxony (as per the Saxon cockade used in WWI), with the green also representative of both Jaeger and Panzer-Grenadier branch of service colour. The partial hexagonal shape surrounding the Frakturschrift S is also a specific design associated with Panzer-Lehr Grenadiere, which appears to represent the outline of the bow plate of a m.SPW (hence forth referred to here as bow plate outline marking). This design appears to be derived from an earlier version seen mostly in Hungary, which will be described in more detail further below.
Some other examples of what will be called the Scholze Insignia for now may be seen in the following photographs, the first having been taken in an unidentified town in Normandie, in the summer of 44:
This further example below of a 'Scholze insignia' is, in all probability, seen on a SdKfz 251/3II Funkwagen. The camouflage attired GIs belong to the US 2d Armored Division and were photographed in Pont Brocard, on the 30th of July 1944:
The image below captures a distant rear view of the same abandoned Pont Brocard 251/3 and 57mm anti-tank gunners of the 2d Armoured Division:
An enlargement of the image shows a little more clearly the distinctive armoured housing for the Sternantenna (star antenna) attached to the LH rear. Owing to the limited resolution of this distant view and the mud spattering, etc, it's difficult to be certain if the rear had any markings, but it would seem extremely likely based on other Panzer-Lehr m.SPW that markings would also be carried on the rear of this m.SPW Funkwagen:
Returning to the SdKfz 251 Ausf C captured near Le Dezert, we also see the faint presence of a tactical marking on the bow one of the more common examples seen on Panzer-Lehr m.SPW:
This same Pz-Gren tac sign is probably best known from the following widely published photo, taken on the 17th of June 1944, in Cristot, Normandie - within the British zone of operations and prior to Panzer-Lehrs transfer west to face the Americans. Cristot was within Pz-Gren-Lehr-Regt 901.'s sector:
The name Zita with which the vehicle has been christened is more likely white and could be some light hearted reference to Saint Zita, the hard working, brutalised but ultimately triumphant patron saint of maids and domestic servants. It is inconclusive whether the tactical number is red or black, or what the full sequence is, but it is believed to be a 3. Kompanie vehicle.
The Pz-Gren tac sign may also be just discernable on two of the most widely-published Lehr m.SPWs, SdKfz 251/9 Stummel thought to belong to Pz-Gren-Lehr-Regt 902. and photographed in Juaye-Mondaye, on the 10th of June 1944:
As mentioned earlier, the bow plate outline marking seen within the disc-shaped Scholze Insignia used in Normandie also appeared in an alternative (and most likely the original) design used on Pz-Gren-Lehr-Regt 901. vehicles in a parade in Budapest in March 1944; the example below being an SdKfz 251/3 Ausf C m.SPW Funkwagen:
Another, somewhat similarly camouflaged, but differently configured 251/3 Ausf C m.SPW Funkwagen seen below, was photographed much later near Jodenville, Belgium, during the Ardennes Offensive, on the 6th of January 1945. The chief difference is the Sternantenne location. This Ardennes eg also has three radios fitted, suggesting a 251/3(II) version. It would seem the camouflage paint is as fresh-looking on this Ardennes vehicle as is seen on the Budapest eg, given the sharp contrast of the secondary colour(s), indicative of a recent repainting - especially given the vintage of this Ausf C. Of particular note is the tactical number, which can be confirmed as just 98 from an original Archer/Auerbach print. Also of significance are Balkenkreuze applied to both the rear and just barely visible on the forward side plate. It should be emphasised that such crosses were exceedingly rare on Panzer-Lehr m.SPW, indeed this is the only example the author has seen to date and may have been a post-Normandie/post repaint addition:
A further example of the Panzer-Lehr bow plate outline marking is seen on an SdKfz 251/7 in Hungary in March 1944 (although this may have an alternate L design to the type drawn in the inset):
Note the small 11, which indicates the vehicle would have belonged to Pz-Gren-Lehr-Regt 901s 11. Panzer-Pioneer-Kompanie. This subunit is erroneously omitted in all published sources to date, however, original surviving Gliederung records sourced by Hans Weber establish such a unit indeed existed within Pz-Gren-Lehr-Regt 901. (but not however in its less well-equipped sister, Pz-Gren-Lehr-Regt 902.):
Further evidence of this Panzer-Pionier-Kompanie is confirmed by the following photo, showing another SdKfz 251/7, this time near Northern La Chapelle en Juger, Normandie on the 26th of July 1944. This vehicle is believed to have been captured in the wake of the controversial carpet bombing which proceeded the US Armys Operation Cobra:
Note: there has been some recent online debate over the generally accepted notion this vehicle belonged to Panzer-Lehr:
In essence it has been alleged "1134" is in fact a vehicle of 2.SS Das Reich Panzer-Division, ostensibly because the four digit number and font matches that unit, who were also in the general area and furthermore, no 11.Pz-Pio-Komp. ever existed in Panzer-Lehr.
For the record, there is no doubt an 11. Pz-Pio-Komp existed, as established by the SdKfz 251/7 "11" photo and Hans Weber's Gliederung information above. Apart from this, 1134 carries none of the variety of mostly very distinctive Balkenkreuz types routinely used by Das Reich; nor does it have any of the unique 2.SS welded field-modifications so common on their m.SPW. On the other hand, Panzer-Lehr m.SPW are invariably characterised by the absence of any form of Balkenkreuz, as well as no unit-specific welded field-mods (these units are at opposite extremes in other words). If we factor in the Panther seen near "1134" is also a confirmed Panzer-Lehr vehicle (field-mod stowage rack on engine deck), which further establishes the photo was taken in Panzer-Lehr's section of the line, there can be little doubt at all "1134" is a Panzer-Lehr vehicle.
Appreciation of this is worthwhile when considering the rationale behind the research and box art this author was commissioned to do by DML for their fictitiously-conceived 2.8cm Panzerbuchse auf Sdkfz 251/7:
It should be noted this specific m.SPW variant is not documented anywhere in photographs to date, indeed the configuration of this weapon on this type of vehicle, whilst plausible, is the product of the imagination of the model kit company. All the markings, however, are based on the variety of Panzer-Lehr types seen on this page, albeit arranged together on a purely conjectural basis, given the vehicle type is conjectural in itself. (Note the very same manufacturer subsequently released a 1/72 scale diecast collectable of the vehicle the author illustrated, which has been mislabelled as "unit unknown, Italy 1944")
Moving along to other variations of marking, below is perhaps the must subtle of styles thus far documented, once again seen on a SdKfz 251 of the 3. Kompanie Pz-Gren-Lehr-Regt 901., or 902. during the Budapest parade:
Amongst several other m.SPW with this style of marking was a relatively rare SdKfz 251/10, armed with a 3.7cm Pak. The vehicle appears to be the platoon leaders within an as yet unidentified Kompanie:
Whilst not seen on an m.SPW, the marking on this BMW R75 combination below is also included to show yet another variation in Panzer-Grenadier tactical insignia, this time seen in Normandie, in the vicinity of Juaye-Mondaye, early June 1944 (note: its quite possible this marking had a Kompanie number painted beside it, obscured by foliage):
One of at least two variations of Panzer-Pioneer insignia used by Panzer-Lehr may also be seen below on this rarely photographed Sdkfz 251 Ausf D Stuka zu Fuss, during the same Budapest parade. The marking appears to have a Kompanie number beside it, albeit it regrettably indistinct. To date no records have been found to determine which subunits were assigned these SP rocket launchers within Panzer-Lehr, however a photo found by Paul Hocking shows one numbered "33" assigned to the 3./Pz-Pio-Bat 38. of 2. Panzer-Divsion, hence the tentative
3. Komp allocation shown here:
The other variation is somewhat more sporty-looking, shown this time on a SdKfz 251/9 Stummel in an unidentified Normandie location. Note also it uses the bow plate outline marking associated with Pz-Gren-Lehr-Regt 901. in Budapest:
Its the authors present impression this bow plate outline marking was probably the original design used by Pz-Gren-Lehr-Regt 901, but eventually it evolved into the disc-shaped Sholze Insignia by the time of the Normandie campaign. If that is the case this SdKfz 251/9 would have been photographed just before the Scholze Insignia became standardised in Pz-Gren-Lehr-Regt 901. There may also be cases where both markings were used concurrently for a period.
Yet another insignia used on Panzerz-Lehr m.SPW is this fairly obscure example, seen on yet another SdKfz 251/7 somewhere in Normandie:
This marking can also be just made out on the SdKfz 251 seen below and is believed to be the Stabs marking of Panzer-Lehr-Regiment 130. This SdKfz 251 was photographed in the St-Lo area, 26th of July 1944, under the new management of the US Army's 1st Infantry Division:
Returning finally back to the Pont Brocard SdKfz 251/3, unfortunately given the low resolution of this scan, it's not possible at this stage to be certain what the tactical number is, ie was it just 91, 911 or even a four digit sequence? While there was indeed a specific set of guidelines on the application and sequencing of tactical numbers, German units often adopted variations on this theme tailored to suit their own needs, meaning prefixes like 91 may not necessarily be associated with a 9. Kompanie, 1. Zug, as face value would suggest.
In the case of Pz Lehr, the 9. Kompanie was in fact the Infanterie-Geschutz-Kompanie (IG-Komp., aka self-propelled 15.cm howitzer company), as this SdKfz 138/1 Ausf H Grille well illustrates note the use of the Pz-Gren-Lehr-Regt 901. bow plate outline marking:
As a result, if indeed the Pont Brocard 251/3 was of that subunit (normally one m.SPW Funkwagen was allocated), then this is how it may have arguably looked:
The tactical number 911 is not based on any identified sequencing within the IG-Komp., but rather on a vague indication of this number in the photograph, although the GI peering into the vehicle and the resolution of the image make it impossible to be sure at this stage. As to the colour of this tactical number, due to the nature of black and white photos and film types potentially used, it remains open to debate - red being the most likely alternative to black.
On the other hand, there are some interesting similarities between the Pont Brocard 251/3 and another m.SPW Funkwagen seen earlier in the Budapest parade:
Given this circumstance, it seems plausible to suggest the Budapest example is the same vehicle, prior to the application of the Scholze Insignia seen in Pont Brocard (a marking that by the way has only thus far been identified in use in Normandie to date)
Also of potential relevance here is the precedent of another m.SPW Funkwagen using a two digit sequence, coincidentally beginning in 9:
Furthermore, it may be observed on the Budapest example below what appears to be the possibility of a St marking adjacent to the bow plate outline marking, indicating its assignment within the Stab of either the Regiment, or one of the two Abteilungen of Pz-Gren-Lehr-Regt 901:
Factoring all of these pieces of evidence in, an alternative (and to this author possibly more plausible) appearance for the Pont Brocard SdKfz 251/3 may be something along these lines possibly:
This SdKfz 251/3 is depicted as a II version, which mounted three radios. As with the vast majority of Panzer-Lehr m.SPW, it is configured as an early-production Ausf D; characterised by the Notek headlight on the LHS fender, with its associated square-section conduit running up the body behind the front wheel and bolted to the inner fender edge. Often m.SPW of this vintage are also seen with an additional set of small Bosch or Hella brand headlights on each fender. In this event a similar conduit is mounted under the RHS fender. By at least the spring of 1944, m.SPW were leaving the factories instead with just a single large Bosch headlight on the LHS fender - initially with a square-section conduit, but which was soon substituted for a tubular version winding its way under the fender. Essentially the introduction of the large Bosch headlight helps identify (in a generic sense) a mid-production vehicle, that is up until the introduction of the revised bonnet arrangement in early 1945, so characteristic of late-production Ausf D.
In closing, special thanks go out to Lee Archer, Bill Auerbach, Frédérick Deprun, Hans Weber, Henrik Sjovall and Sam Wren for their knowledge and generous assistance in this ongoing study.
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1944 - Memoires of a Panzer Lehr Officer, J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc, 1995 (ISBN 0-921991-28-2)
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