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Monday, March 30, 2015

A Unit Through the War in Flames of War: 654 Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung – Part 3

In this third and final installment tracing 654. Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung through World War II in Flames of War, we look at the unit in the Late War period (Part 1 covers Early War, while Part 2 covers Mid War). Fortunately actually fielding the unit is far easier in Late War as there are numerous lists covering its deployment. After surrendering their Ferdinand tank destroyers after the battle of Kursk and the Soviet counteroffensives, the unit spent the next several months in rear areas training while their new mount, the Jagdpanther tank destroyer, was readied. The first eight of these vehicles didn’t arrive until March 4, 1944, and training in the new vehicles began immediately.

Deliveries of the new vehicle were slow, and the unit was deployed to Normandy with only its eight original vehicles reaching the front by the end of June. The remainder of the unit’s 25 vehicles didn’t arrive at the training camp until the first of July, and by the end of the month the unit was in some sort of order.  The unit also received a few Panther tanks as command vehicles. Finally fighting as a unit, and despite the mechanical fragility of the new vehicle, the unit took a heavy toll on Allied armor destroying over 40 Allied tanks near Caen fighting alongside units like 276. and 326. Infanteriedivision as well as a part of Kampfgruppe Schnepf. However, despite their best efforts, the lines in Normandy couldn’t hold, and the unit was forced to abandon most of its vehicles at the Seine in the general retreat.

Atlantik Wall has a dedicated list covering 654. Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung along with several other lists which can take the unit as a support choice. This gives the player a great deal of flexibility in fielding the force.

Opposing the Normandy Breakout  – 654. Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung – July through September, 1944

Schwere Panzerjägerkompanie – Atlantik Wall p. 136
·         Compulsory:  As required by list – if you want to model the early battles before the entire Abteilung is outfitted with the Jagdpanther, take the Panther A option as HQ – for the later battles stick with the Jagdpanther (early) tank destroyers.
·         Historical Flavor: 
o   Any of the support options for this list are fine as the list is specifically designed to represent 654. Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung. It’s up to you if you want to try and stay historical in your support choices (as in when the unit would be supporting an infantry division or other unit)

Grenadierkompanie – Atlantik Wall p. 140 – or Pionierkompanie – Atlantik Wall p. 144
·         Compulsory:  As required by list – in this case rather than taking the unit itself, you’d be using the unit to support an infantry company from units like 276. and 326. Infanteriedivision
·         Add 654. Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung:  Add the Jagdpanther Platoon on page 137

Now that you can truly base a list around the unit, there are some fun modeling projects you can do with the unit. You’ll need the version of the Jagdpanther with zimmerit to properly model 654. Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung at this time. Unfortunately the boxed set of three Jagdpanthers with zimmerit (GBX41) is no longer available and Battlefront instead recommends the new plastic Jagdpanther (which is flat out wrong and isn’t a substitution for the early model because the plastic Jagdpanther is a late version without zimmerit, among other important cosmetic differences).  That means you have to go the fairly expensive route of picking up several Jagdpanther (GBX22) sets with the ruined building. Which is a nice little terrain piece in its own right, but it add unnecessary expense if all you want is a few of the right Jagdpanthers. Hopefully you’ll be able to find some in the secondary market or at your Favorite Local Gaming Store!

As the first production Jagdpanthers went to 654 Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung, the unit had a mix of the monobloc and two-piece barrels. If you’re modeling the unit early on, be sure to take the opportunity to fix-up the barrels of the Jagdpanthers so they have that distinctive monobloc look. I did that on my Jagdpanthers for 559 Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung a while back. If you get the version of the miniature with the plastic barrel (or pick up the Plastic Panther Sprue (GSO199) and use it for the gun barrels (and tracks – do yourself a favor and use the plastic tracks – they are excellent!).  For the Normandy campaign, the unit’s vehicles were generally painted in a 3 tone “wide-band” camouflage scheme. The unit used the standard national markings on the sides and to the rear of that a normal 3-digit vehicle number in red with white outline.  The Panthers appear to have been in a band scheme as well (though the red and green are separate in artist’s renderings) – and at least one was number 002 (red with white outline), I believe the other was 001. There may have been one Jagdpanther in overall dark yellow, but that is unconfirmed. 

Operation Nordwind

Through October 654. Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung was in a period of rebuilding, but by November 20th, the unit was back up to strength. Hitler committed the unit to Operation Nordwind.  For this battle, 525. Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung and its Hornisse tank destroyers were attached to the unit. The fighting in Alsace was a vicious back-and-forth affair, but by the end of the action, the unit had destroyed over 100 Allied tanks. After Nordwind, the Hornisse were removed, and the unit continued serve as a fire brigade for the next several weeks, but by February 8, 1945 the unit Jagdpanthers had once again been lost.

I had the privilege of writing up the German lists and history for the Bridge at Remagen book, and it includes a list designed specifically to represent the unit during the Nordwind offensives. The list is pretty much a standalone list with no other lists that can choose it in support, but it does allow you to field the unique combination of Jagdpanther and Hornisse as combat platoons in the same army.

Operation Nordwind and the Aftermath  – 654. Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung – December 23, 1944 through February 8, 1945

654. Schwere Panzerjäger-Kompanie (Nordwind) – Bridge at Remagen p. 54

·         Compulsory:  As required by list.  You’re free to include or skip the Hornisse platoon – either way is accurate, though the Hornisse were detached before the unit lost all of its Jagdpanthers.
·         Historical Flavor: 
o   Any of the support options for this list are fine as the list is specifically designed to represent 654. Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung

Modeling this particular version of the unit is in some ways the most difficult of the three eras when the unit is equipped with Jagdpanther because Battlefront makes no miniature (and has never made miniatures) that are 100% appropriate for the vehicles used by the Abteilung during this time frame. By and large the vehicles are all Jagdpanthers without zimmerit – generally in a wide or narrow band style camouflage marked with national crosses and three digit vehicles numbers (red with white outline) as before. The unit appeared to get a fairly scruffy whitewash before the Nordwind offensive.

The new Panther/Jagdpanther Platoon (Plastic) (GBX84) is really a “final production” version of this vehicle rather than the “mid” production version of the vehicle. The mid production vehicle didn’t have the raised cooling fan on the engine deck, and used the earlier style exhausts (which come in the kit – you’ll probably want to put the rounded shield over the middle portion of the exhaust). They also all had the stowage bin to the left of the hull rear hatch (as viewed from the rear). The gun cleaning rod tube was relocated from the side to the back of the engine deck (which is easy to do as it is a separate piece in the kit). If you want a 100% accurate representation, steal one of the engine deck screens from the Panther hull and donate it to the Jagdpanther once you’ve shaved the raised one down. The required stowage box is on the sprue with the tracks.  One can’t rule out that some earlier versions were also in use, so feel free to mix and match a little bit.

Ruhr Pocket to the End

The unit ended the war in the Ruhr pocket being deployed to the area in late February, 1945.  Initially the unit fought as a part of Schwere Panzergruppe Hudel. Unfortunately recreating the army during this period is hard to accomplish at modest point values as to best represent the force you’ll want to take a 512. Schwere Panzerjäger Platoon (reluctant trained – the confident veteran company did not fight with the Kampfgruppe), Schwere Panzer Platoon, or Schwere Tiger I E Platoon in support.  Any of these choices will eat up a lot of points, so you may have to pare back your compulsory choices.  Fortunately the RT list only requires one 654. Schwere Panzerjäger Platoon, making the list at least mathematically viable. Historically the Kampfgruppe was supported by infantry and a few militia (represented by the Volkssturm options). 

By mid-March, the unit had been detached from the Kampfgruppe and reassigned to support 11. Panzer Division. By this time, the only armored support platoons that are representative would be the Panzer Platoon. The infantry choices, again, appear to all be reasonably valid for this short period of time between March 16 and 18. 

On March 19, the 654th was released from 11. Panzer Division, and was essentially on its own. To best represent the force during this period, the only armored formation that should be taken in support would be the Panzer platoon, though one could argue with the withdrawal of 11. Panzer Division, any armored assets apart from the unit’s own Jagdpanthers would be rare.  On April 15, 654. Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung had expended its last in a desperate bid to stop the American advance. With its fighting strength reduced to effectively zero, the unit surrendered ending its participation in the Second World War. 
The Bridge at Remagen book has a list for this incarnation of the force on page 55 for the various desperate battles in the Ruhr pocket. Writing this list was particularly challenging because formations were being created, disbanded, redeployed, and recreated at a dizzying rate.

Ruhr Pocket – February 21 – March 10, 1945 – in transit – technically attached to 5. Panzer Armee

Ruhr Pocket - Schwere Panzergruppe Hudel – March 11-15, 1945 – Remagen p 55.

·         Compulsory:  RV 654. Schwere Panzerjägerkompanie HQ + one RV 654. Schwere Panzerjäger Platoon
·         Historical Flavor:  512. Schwere Panzerjäger Platoon (RT), Schwere Panzer Platoon or Schwere Tiger I E Platoon
·         Not appropriate for this time period:  Panzer Platoon
·         Appropriate Support:  Any allowable by list

Ruhr Pocket – Attached to 11. Panzer Division – March 15-19, 1945 – Remagen p 55.

·         Compulsory:  RV 654. Schwere Panzerjägerkompanie HQ + one RV 654. Schwere Panzerjäger Platoon
·         Historical Flavor:  Panzer Platoon
·         Not appropriate for this time period:  512. Schwere Panzerjäger Platoon (RT), Schwere Panzer Platoon or Schwere Tiger I E Platoon
·         Appropriate Support:  Any allowable by list

Ruhr Pocket – During the collapse of the Pocket – March 19 – April 15, 1945 – Remagen p 55.

·         Compulsory:  RV 654. Schwere Panzerjägerkompanie HQ + one RV 654. Schwere Panzerjäger Platoon
·         Possible, but unlikely:  Panzer Platoon
·         Not appropriate for this time period:  512. Schwere Panzerjäger Platoon (RT), Schwere Panzer Platoon or Schwere Tiger I E Platoon
·         Appropriate Support:  Any allowable by list

Modeling the unit during this timeframe is fairly easy – though some fun can be had with it. Most of the vehicles will be new production late Jagdpanthers, pretty much what you get in the Panther/Jagdpanther Platoon (Plastic) (GBX84) box. Photographic evidence suggests some will have the stowage bin on the hull rear, others won’t. Most of these vehicles have the gun cleaning rod at the back of the engine deck and will have the cylindrical exhausts as provided in the kit. Interestingly, at least a few still retained the “side pipes” even with the cylindrical exhaust. There is also photographic evidence of at least one early production Jagdpanther, with zimmerit, a two-piece gun barrel, and the gun cleaning tube moved to the rear of the engine deck that served with the unit during this time. This vehicle had likely been factory refurbished and sent back to the front alongside the new-production vehicles.  In general all of the vehicles were in a three tone scheme – though some vehicles carried the vehicle number below the national insignia, and at least one vehicle carried the national insignia on the front of the vehicle. Below is an extant color photo of one of the vehicles from this time period knocked out near Winterberg – bear in mind the color isn’t going to be “true” by modern standards, but it gives you a good idea of what these awesome vehicles actually looked like. Granted this one is a bit worse for wear!.

Thus ends the combat history of 654. Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung from its humble beginnings as a towed 3.7cm anti-tank gun battalion, through its use of the Ferdinand and later Jagdpanther tank destroyers. A unit with such a long and diverse combat history provides many opportunities for the Flames of War player to experiment with units and unify the three game periods. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this series – let me know if you have any other units you’d like to see in the comments – and no, the next one WON’T be Grossdeutschland, but I’d love to actually do that one some day!


  1. Thank you for this series into combat history the 654.sPzJgAbt and how to field it in FoW. How about at some point take a look at 653.sPzJgAbt, the sister unit. The late late war period is a bit different in the ways of FoW than 654., and IMHO the list options in Nuts! doesn't cover the very last months well enough.

    Also for the part 2 of 654. and time with Ferdinands you said there isn't a list but could you just use the pdf list for 653. and tweek the support platoons a bit? I know that the pdf is rated Late War but the timeframe is awfully close to Kursk and Mid War period.

    1. I'm seriously considering doing that unit as well. I wrote the original PDF for the unit on the Eastern Front. I'm kind of waiting on that one until the Berlin book comes out to see if they make the cut there. I'd like to follow the Elefants through the end of the war even though they weren't technically a part of the 653rd anymore, and the last Elefants did participate in the defense of Berlin. I think the rest of the 653rd could be done.

      As for making the Elefant list work for a Kursk representation - wouldn't work for a lot of reasons. Wrong time period (Kursk is decidedly MW), wrong support choices, and a host of other issues. Hopefully we'll see some MW lists start showing up on Flames of War digital one of these days.

  2. Great read man, appreciate all of the hard work!