|INSTAHLGEWITTERN-IN THE STORM OF STEEL||
These photographs describe the crossing of the Dnieper River by 29.Infanterie Division (mot.) on July 10-11, 1941. The division was leading Panzer Group 2 (or Panzer Group Guderian) in its efforts to split the Soviet forces defending against German Army Group Center, and thus lay the groundwork for destroying those forces in detail. GT 74 and GT 75 illustrate the building of the prefabricated metal foundation for a bridge, being assembled by soldiers who were likely members of the division's Pionier-Bataillon (mot.) 29, and particularly the battalion's Bruecken Kolonne (or "BrueKo").
In GT-76 (above) the commander of Panzer Group 2 (or Panzer Group Guderian), Generaloberst Heinz Guderian, is shown "observing the bridge" presumably during its construction. While I have an idea about the identity of the officer standing on Guderian's left, I am not certain of his name. Perhaps a visitor can identify him for me. General Lemelsen, the commander of XLVII.Panzer Corps, is said to be shown in GT-77 below, but because of the size of the image it is not possible to confirm that identification.
The caption to GT-79 above also indicates that General Lemelsen is the principal subject of the photograph. There are other officers of substantial rank shown in the photograph as well, but again the image is unfortunately so small as to make identification of them problematic.
GT-81 and GT-82 both have the same caption, "Reconnaissance tanks advancing". Technically, the vehicle is an assault gun, a StuG III Ausf.D, a purpose-designed and built weapon based on an early version of the PzKw III, and mounting a short-barrelled 75mm gun, a StuK L/24. At this stage of the war the StuG III Ausf.D was used as an infantry support weapon, and this one most likely belonged to the division's reconnaissance battalion, Aufklaerungs Abteilung (mot.) 29.
GT-85 depicts a StuG III Ausf.D, perhaps one of the same vehicles illustrated in GT-81 and GT-82 above. This one, however, seems to have been too much weight for the pile of lumber (which a few moments before probably formed a bridge) lying underneath it. One wonders why anyone could have been so incautious as to send the vehicle over such a structure in the first place, and perhaps more importantly, how the Aufklaerungs Abteilung managed to extricate it from this predicament.
The Soviet vehicle shown in GT-88 above is either a BT-5 or BT-7, a so-called "fast tank" developed for the Red Army in the 1930's and intended to create and exploit great gaps in the enemy's lines. Unfortunately for Soviet tankers, the BT series mounted a 45mm cannon (a third version, the BT-5A, featured an 76mm howitzer) whose good qualities were counterbalanced by the vehicle's relatively thin (and in the case of the BT-5, riveted) armor plate. The Germans captured vast numbers of these tanks in 1941, but owing to their limitations used the vehicles almost exclusively with security forces rather than in panzer divisions themselves. Having in mind the fact that German panzer divisions were chronically obliged to resort to the use of captured foreign vehicles to fill out their orders of battle, their failure to utilize the myriad captured BT series Soviet tanks for this purpose is a telling commentary on the shortcomings of these tanks.
The weapon illustrated in GT-89 is a 105mm leFH 18 field gun, developed during the interwar period and widely utilized in the Wehrmacht until the introduction of the 105mm leFH 18(M), which was distinguished from its predecessor by greater range and the presence of a muzzle break. The principal drawback of these guns was their very substantial weight, which caused many of them to become total losses during the spring of 1942, when German towing vehicles could not extricate them from the soggy ground into which these weapons sank during the post-winter thaw.