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Deutsches Afrika Korps

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The Deutsches Afrika Korps (often just Afrika Korps or DAK) was the corps-level headquarters controlling the German Panzer divisions in Lybia and Egypt's Western Desert[?] during World War II. Since there was little turnover in the units attached to the corps the term is commonly used to refer to the headquarters plus its attached combat units as an organic body.

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An Afrika Korps Marching Song

"Heiss über Afrikas Boden die Sonne Gluht.
Unser Panzermotoren singen ihr Lied!
Deutsche Panzer im Sonnenbrand,
Stehen zur Schlacht gegen Engeland"

Organization of the DAK:

The DAK was formed, on February 19, 1941, after OKW had decided to send an expeditionary force[?] to Lybia to support the Italian army, which had been routed, by the British 8th Army[?]'s counteroffensive Operation Compass. The German expeditionary force, commanded by Erwin Rommel, at first consisted only of the 5th Panzer Regiment and various other small units. These elements were organized into the 5th Light Division when they arrived in Africa in February. In the spring the 5th Light Division was joined by the 15th Panzer Division, though it did not arrive until Rommel had already re-taken most of Cyrenicia[?] and gone back over to the defensive. At this time the DAK consisted of the two divisions plus various smaller supporting units, and was officially subordinated to the Italian chain of command in Africa (though Rommel had conducted his offensive without any authorization).

On October 1 1941 the 5th Light Division was redesignated as the 21st Panzer Division, still attached to the DAK.

During the summer of 1941 OKW invested more command structure in Africa by creating a new headquarters called Panzer Group Afrika. On August 15 Panzer Group Afrika was activated with Rommel in command, and command of the DAK was turned over to Ludwig Crüwell[?]. The Panzer Group controlled the DAK plus some additional German units that were sent to Africa, as well as two corps of Italian units. (A German Group was approximately the equivalent of an Army, and in fact Panzer Group Afrika was redesignated as Panzer Army Afrika on January 30, 1942.)

After the defeat at El Alamein and the Allied invasion of western North Africa, OKW once more upgraded its presence in Africa by creating the XC Army Corps in Tunisia on November 19 1942, and then creating a new 5th Panzer Army headquarters there as well on December 8. On February 23, 1943 Panzer Army Afrika was redesignated as the 1st Italian Army and put under the command of an Italian general, while Rommel was placed in command of a new Army Group Afrika created to control both the 1st Italian Army and the 5th Panzer Army. The remnants of the DAK and other surviving units of the 1st Italian Army retreated into Tunisia and were lost along with the rest of Army Group Afrika in the general surrender there on May 13.

Terminological Notes:

Strictly speaking the term Deutsches Afrika Korps refers only to the corps headquarters and its attached units, though amateur writers often carelessly use the name in reference to all the German units in North Africa before the retreat to Tunisia. The most notable of those other units were the Afrika zbV ("special purpose") Division, which was created as an infantry division and slowly upgraded to a fully motorized division, and then redesignated as the 90th Light Division; the 164th Light Afrika Division, also an infantry division; and the Ramcke parachute brigade (named after its commander). There were also eight Italian divisions under Rommel's command in Panzer Army Afrika, including two armored divisions with very inferior equipment, two motorized divisions, three infantry divisions, and one parachute division. The army was supported by a number of smaller units from both the German and Italian armed forces.

The designation Light (G. leichte) did not refer to a standardized table of organization and equipment (TOE) for the various German divisions that bore that designation. For instance, the 5th Light Division had an organization very similar to the 21st Panzer Division, whereas the 164th Light Afrika Division was at first a partially motorized infantry division and never had any tanks at all. Various German divisions in Africa occasionally reorganized or re-equipped without a change of name, or conversely were redesignated with a new name without any substantial reorganization.

Historical Postscript:

After the surrender in Africa three of the German divisions that had fought in the Western Desert were reconstituted in western Europe. The 15th Panzer Division was reformed as a Panzergrenadier[?] division, and renumbered as the 115th since there was already a 15th Panzergrenadier Division on the books. The 21st Panzer Division was reformed under its own name. The 90th Light Division was reformed as the 90th Panzergrenadier Division.

References:

Cooper, Matthew (1990). The German Army 1933-1945. Scarborough House. Chelsea, MI, USA. ISBN 0-8128-8519-8.

von Mellenthin, Major General F. W. (1971). Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Ballantine. New York. ISBN 0-345-24440-0-195.



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