20th Panzer Division (Germany)
The 20th Panzer Division was formed on 15 October 1940 in Erfurt, Germany. As part of Adolf Hitler's plans to double the number of Panzer Divisions, the 19th Infantry Division and a number of other units were cannibalized for men and material, and then restructured into the 20th Panzer Division. Their home station was in Gotha; it was primarily made up of Hessians. It fought exclusively against the Soviet Union between June 1941 and May 1945.
The division's first combat action was in Army Group Center where it participated in the opening stages of Operation Barbarossa and remained in the front echelon of attack during the series of advances on Minsk, Smolensk and took part in Operation Typhoon, (the failed attack on Moscow). From there, it remained on the central front until July 1943. As part of the northern spearhead commanded by Walter Model during the battle of Kursk, men from the 20th were involved with clearing anti-tank mines on the night of 4 and 5 July, as well as being part of the first wave of attack the following morning. The rest of 1943 was spent in a long retreat between Orel, Gomel, Orsha, and Vitebsk.
At the beginning of 1944, along with the rest of German forces on the Eastern front, the 20th Panzer Division spent a hard winter of defensive fighting in the Polotsk, Vitebsk, and Bobruisk areas. In May, it was rushed to the southern sector of the front to participate in operations in the area around Cholm. Having suffered heavy losses during the Red Army's Operation Bagration, the division was sent to Romania for refitting in August 1944. In October, the division was sent to East Prussia, then Hungary in December. It then made a fighting withdrawal through Breslau, Schweinitz and Neisse in Silesia (now part of Poland). The division was transferred to Görlitz (east of Dresden on the German frontier with Poland). On 19 April 1945, the division was involved in a counteroffensive west of Görlitz in the direction of Niesky, but disengaged three days later and retreated west. It counterattacked again in the Bautzen area, succeeding in relieving the local garrison at heavy cost to Soviet forces. By 26 April 1945, the division was situated northwest of Dresden, however by 6 May it was forced to retreat south across the Czechoslovakian border. Some divisional elements surrendered to the Soviets near Teplice-Sanov (northwest of Prague), whilst the rest, including elements of Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 20. managed to surrender to the Americans at Rokycany, (between Prague and Plzeň); but they were soon handed over to the Soviets. 27 soldiers of the 20th Panzer Division were awarded the Knight's Cross.
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