503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion

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s.H.Pz.Abt. 503
503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion
Tiger II's of s.H.Pz.Abt. 503 'Feldherrnhalle' posing in formation for the German newsreel
Schwere Panzerabteilung 503
Active 4 May 1942 – 8 May 1945
Country  Nazi Germany
Branch Heer
Type Armoured
Size Battalion
Equipment Tiger I (1942–1945)
Tiger II (1944–1945)
Engagements Eastern Front:

Western Front:

Insignia
Identification
symbol
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The 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion (abbreviated s.Pz.Abt. 503) was a German heavy Panzer Abteilung (a battalion-sized unit) equipped with Tiger I tanks and Panzer IIIs. In 1944, it was re-equipped with the new Tiger II. The 503rd saw action on the Eastern and Western Fronts during World War II. As with other German Heavy Panzer Detachments, it was normally not assigned to a single corp, but shuffled around according to war circumstances. Later the Panzerabteilung became part of the newly formed Panzer Corps Feldherrnhalle as the Feldherrnhalle Heavy Tank Battalion, Schwere-Panzer-Abteilung Feldherrnhalle (abbreviated s.Pz.Abt. Feldherrnhalle).

1943

The unit was created on May 4, 1942, in Neuruppin. After releasing all Panzer IIIs, the unit consisted of 45 Tiger Is on May 10, 1943.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Stalingrad, the entire German front was pushed west. Equipped with 20 Henschel Tigers and 31 Panzer III Ausf. N, the unit was deployed to Army Group Don and arrived at the front on January 1, 1943. The 503rd, along with several divisions of the 4th Panzer Army, was tasked with securing the withdrawal of Army Group A; it then retreated to Rostov. On February 11, 1943, the 503rd was transferred to Kharkov. The 503rd took part in the Third Battle of Kharkov, including in the destruction of Mobile Group Popov, the main Soviet attacking force named after Markian Popov.

The 503rd then took part in Operation Citadel, an offensive operation meant to destroy the Kursk salient. Four days before the start of Citadel, the battalion reported that 42 of their 45 Tiger tanks were operational. The unit losing three Tigers during the operation and five more during the subsequent retreat.

1944–1945

In January 1944, the battalion, together with a panzer regiment and infantry units, formed Panzer Regiment Bäke under Oberst Franz Bäke. The regiment was part of the relief force, which tried to break through to encircled forces in the Korsun Pocket with its 34 operational tanks. The battalion lost seven Tigers in total. The battalion was then trapped in Hube's Pocket, where all but seven of remaining Tigers were lost. In late April 1944, the regiment was dissolved and the 503rd was sent West for rest and refitting. During this period, the battalion was equipped with 45 new Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf.B Tiger IIs.

File:The Campaign in Normandy 1944 B8032.jpg
A Tiger I of the 503rd battalion overturned at Manneville by the bombing during Operation Goodwood.

With the Invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, the 503rd was transferred to the command of 5th Panzer Army. On the launch of Operation Goodwood, the 3rd company, which was based in Cagny, was destroyed in the preliminary Allied bombing, with impacts powerful enough to turn a 56-ton Tiger upside down. Only one Tiger was operational at the end of the day. During the first day of Goodwood, the unit reported the loss of thirteen tanks. At the end of July, the 3rd company received new Tiger II tanks, which were subsequently destroyed in the Allied aerial attacks, with only two brought back to Germany. The unit retreated to the German border. In late August the detachment was pulled from the line for a refit with Tiger IIs.

In September 1944, the refitted 503rd was sent to Hungary to bolster the forces of 6th Army near Budapest. The 503rd then took part in the Battle of Debrecen. The detachment formed the vanguard of the 23rd Panzer Division's drive to sever the lines of communications of Cavalry Mechanized Group under the command of Issa Pliyev. This enabled the encirclement and destruction of much of the Pliyev's force.

In early-November, the 503rd provided a mobile reserve for the 6th Army (Wehrmacht), re-designated as Army Group Balck. By mid-December, the German forces had been pushed back to Budapest, and the Red Army was probing the outskirts of the city. The unit took part in several failed attempts to relieve Budapest, codenamed Operation Konrad.

Commanders

Orders of battle

February 1943 - Kharkov

  • Abteilung Stab Zug (3x Tiger I ausf E, 6x SdKfz 250)
  • 1./sPzAbt 503 (14x Tiger I ausf E)
  • 2./sPzAbt 503 (14x Tiger I ausf E)
  • 2./sPzAbt 502 (14x Tiger I ausf E)

July 1944 - Normandy

  • Abteilung Stab Zug (3x Tiger I ausf E, 6x SdKfz 250)
  • 1./sPzAbt 503 (12x Tiger II ausf B, 2x Tiger I ausf E)
  • 2./sPzAbt 503 (14x Tiger I ausf E)
  • 3./sPzAbt 503 (14x Tiger I ausf E)

October 1944 - Debrecen

  • Abteilung Stab Zug (3x Tiger II ausf B, 6x SdKfz 250)
  • 1./sPzAbt 503 (14x Tiger II ausf B)
  • 2./sPzAbt 503 (14x Tiger II ausf B)
  • 3./sPzAbt 503 (14x Tiger II ausf B)

References

Bibliography

  • Lochmann, Franz Wilhelm (2009). Erinnerungen an die Tiger-Abteilung 503: die schwere Panzerabteilung 503 an den Brennpunkten der Front in Ost und West (in German). Flechsig. ISBN 978-3-88189-779-2. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help) <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>