21st Panzer in Normandy

A recent commission involved painting a significant number of Battlefront vehicles as 21st Panzer as they existed in Normandy in 1944. This was an interesting job as not only were the vehicles not the standard German vehicles of the time but also the camouflage used appears to have been less than standard….

The division itself was a rebuild of the famous 21st Panzer of Afrika Korps fame which had surrendered in 1943 at the end of that campaign. I assume some survivors had been shipped across to Italy before the end to be used as a cadre and that there were sufficient Panzer IVs around to create at least one battalion. However it is the rest of the divisions assets which are really interesting as they appear to have recycled large numbers of French tanks and vehicles captured in 1940. These were “re-imagined” by a Major Becker using local workshops and resources much like a modeller scratch building some new creation. One example is the APC which normally would be an sdkfz 251 but here is a Somua APC

Built on the chassis of a Somua artillery tow these were used by the panzergrenadiers of the division in Normandy.

The same chassis seems to have been reused for several vehicles such as this rocket launcher

This anti aircraft vehicle with a 20mm cannon

And this anti tank jagdpanzer type vehicle with a 75mm Pak 40 fixed atop.

Major Becker appears to have been captured in Alsace in 1944 and then disappears so whether he survived or died as a prisoner I don’t know but he certainly had a way with half tracks.

He also used other items of captured French equipment especially for the mobile artillery such as these 150mm guns on Lorraine chassis

Or the 105mm version.

Both of which are reincarnations of earlier versions created under similar circumstances of necessity in North Africa by imaginative and desperate German engineers.

He also used Hotchkiss H39 tank chassis as the basis for some vehicles presumably on the principle of why the hell not? These mounted both 105mm guns as ersatz Wespe mobile artillery as below;

And as tank hunters with the Pak 40 which to my eye looks a bit like a Hetzer in outline but obviously without a lid. I imagine these vehicles probably had a limited combat life due to using poorer quality plate steel, overloaded engines and a lack of spares.

In any event they and the rest of 21st panzer were “used up” in Normandy and although remnants were still around at the start of 1945 not as a divisional force and probably having abandoned the eclectic collection of Summer 1944.

As mentioned the second element of interest for me was the camouflage. I would have lost count of the number of German AFV I’ve painted in the classic 1944 3 colour camo if I’d ever started a count. In 21st Panzer they appear to have adopted a different approach, a more ‘no dress code’ just express yourself approach. Not only does the photographic evidence show different styles between units of the same vehicles it also seems to vary within units as shown in the photograph below.

I imagine that there were several possible reasons for this. Firstly the vehicles were produced at different times, possibly in different workshops who interpreted camouflage differently. Secondly in 1943 and early 1944 when the se vehicles were being built and delivered paint for the Normandy front was probably not the highest front so local supplies of ‘near enough’ were used.

Thirdly platoon commanders were probably not particularly fussed about the paint schemes as spending time and effort was like putting perfume on a pig. Possibly all three. I somehow doubt that my favourite possible reason of artistic German commanders feeling less inhibited in France just allowing their crews to express their feelings in camouflage is unlikely….In any event to retain some sort of homogeneity I tried to use the same camouflage within a platoon but differed by type of vehicle. This gave the impression of diversity without being jarring. I hope.