A recent report and a number of isolated pieces of information from
various sources seem to provide a suitable opportunity for a short study of
the German light division. (In issue No. 3 of Tactical and Technical Trends a
report on the reorganization of the 90th German Light Division explained the
several features and organization of this unit.)
This study must be regarded as tentative only, since detailed information is
lacking and there is reason to believe that the light division has not
yet emerged from the experimental stage.
Light divisions were first reported in action in the summer of 1941 on
the Russian front, when von Reichenau's Sixth and Seventeenth Armies constantly
employed them in the spearhead of the attack; at times, they were the
only spearhead divisions at the head of a thrust by one or the other of these two
armies. There seems little doubt, in view of this employment, that the type
was an experimental one, entrusted to the commanders mainly responsible for it.
It is thought that the four light divisions which at first emerged on the
Russian front represented two separate types. Both were based on a two-regiment
organization, but in one case the two infantry regiments were each
reinforced by an artillery battalion, whereas in the other there was an
independent artillery regiment.
The Libyan development.
It is believed that the 90th Light Division was originally intended to be
based on the two-regiment organization. However, its development, both present
and contemplated, has been governed by the particular requirements of the
operations in North Africa.
In the form now aimed at the 90th Light Division is to revert to a
basis of three regiments. These are described as light infantry regiments,
and consist of two battalions of four companies with a regimental headquarters
company. In addition, there is an artillery regiment of two battalions only; a
tank battalion is to be added; the other divisional units all depart to a greater
or lesser extent from the organization met with in any other type of division.
The European development.
No definite information is available as to any change in structure which
the four original light divisions employed on the Russian front may have
undergone. However during the period November 1941 to March 1942, three infantry
divisions, which had suffered heavy casualties in Russia, and therefore had to
be withdrawn from the front to reform, were transferred to eastern France and
there reorganized as light divisions.
The first of these three divisions to complete conversion discarded
one of its three infantry regiments, and the two other regiments were
reorganized as "Jaeger" regiments, which may be compared with the crack rifle
battalions of the old Imperial Army. The converted regiments each consisted
of three battalions of 5 companies (3 rifle companies, 1 machine-gun
company, 1 "heavy" company) and a regimental antitank company. The artillery regiment
and all other divisional units were motorized, but the infantry regiments were
not; it must be assumed that motor transport for them would be provided, when
necessary, from the G.H.Q. pool.
The second of these divisions was given the same infantry structure of
two "Jaeger" regiments, but its artillery and other divisional units remained
on a horse basis. The third division also is believed not to have been motorized.
The progress of the experiment.
It appears, therefore, that the light division is still in the experimental
stage. For European warfare, the two-regiment organization has been approved, but
it seems probable that the reinforced regiment has been found less satisfactory
than the "normal" infantry regiment with a separate artillery regiment. As regards
motorization, however, it seems that a final decision has still to be taken.
The significance of the experiment.
The reason for the creation of the light division is apparently based on the
principle of fluidity in the employment of special troops (an outstanding characteristic
of the modern German Army), and on an increasing preference for the two-regiment division
in the spearhead force.
The Panzer, motorized, mountain, and light divisions are all based on the
same two-regiment structure. It follows that a spearhead force drawn exclusively
from these types will be far simpler to control than one which contains a
number of three-regiment infantry divisions. At the same time, tank regiments
drawn from the G.H.Q. pool can more easily cooperate with regiments, the
basic structure of which is the same as the infantry regiment of the
Panzer division, and the motorized division, which regularly works in close
cooperation with tank units.
The light division is apparently not fully motorized, because the special motor
transport battalions of the G.H.Q. pool can transport the "Jaeger" regiments
whenever necessary, and there is no need to tie up motor transport by a permanent
It is concluded, therefore, that the light division is the new type which
may in time supersede both motorized and "normal" infantry divisions. It is as
flexible and has as great striking power as the motorized division, but is less
expensive to maintain. Just as the Germans effect great economy by reducing
the divisional allotment of artillery by using the G.H.Q. pool to reinforce this
division or that as the occasion requires, so likewise they would be able to
economize in motor transport. They would also have a uniform structure in
their attacking divisions, so that all are equally adapted for cooperating with
tanks; and it may well be that the tank regiments, too may be largely transferred
to the G.H.Q. pool with similar economy.