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Volunteers from Panzerregiment 1
in the Spanish Civil War

After the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in the summer of 1936, the rebellious General Franco requested military support from both Germany and Italy. After the Wehrmacht and the Foreign Office reacted very cautiously, this was finally granted after Hitler intervened and a German expeditionary corps was set up in the fall of 1936. The main focus was on Luftwaffen units ("Legion Condor"), but a small army contingent was also set up under the code name "Gruppe Imker". The panzer unit was formed in September 1936 from volunteers from Panzerregiment 6 under the leadership of Oberstleutnant Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma (commander of II. Abteilung Panzerregiment 4), which is why it is also referred to as "Panzerabteilung Thoma" in the literature. As commander of the II. Abteilung of Kraftfahrlehrkommando II Ohrdruf, Ritter von Thoma had been instrumental in the development of the young German Panzerwaffe since the summer of 1934.


It initially had around 200 volunteers and 41 Panzerkampfwagen IA, as well as several Panzerbefehlswagen I command vehicles. The volunteers formally left the Wehrmacht beforehand, but continued to receive their pay and their period of service in Spain - usually 9 - 12 months - was credited towards their promotion age and pension. The soldiers were joined by civilian technical staff and interpreters. At the beginning of 1937, further volunteers from Panzerregiments 3, 4 and 5 followed, so that a third panzer company could be formed in the spring of 1937. The commanders of the panzer companies were Hauptmann Joachim Ziegler (Panzerregiment 6), Hauptmann Heinrich Wolf (Panzerregiment 6) and Oberleutnant Ernst Bothe (Panzerregiment 4). The two Panzerregiments 1 and 2 of the 1. Panzerdivision were initially not involved.

Panzerregiment 1 | von Thoma und Sophian Hofmann

The commander Oberst Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma (left) and his deputy (from 23.07.1938) Oberstleutnant Sophian Hofmann. Both transferred from the Kraftfahrlehrkommando II Ohrdruf to Panzerregiment 4 in 1935. While Ritter von Thoma rose to the rank of General der Panzertruppe during the war, Sophian Hofmann saw the end of the war as an Oberst without front-line service (see pages 506 and 539 of the book). Both are wearing the khaki uniform of the Condor Legion with the black beret of the panzer unit. The Condor Legion Panzer Badge can be seen on their left chests.

In May 1937, the "Thoma" unit consisted of the staff with radio stations and interpreters, an anti-tank platoon (formed from various anti-tank units under the leadership of Hauptmann Peter Jansa), a transport column, a workshop and the three panzer companies. The total strength amounted to approx. 250 officers, non-commissioned officers and men as well as civilian employees.

The primary task of the German army contingent was to train Spanish soldiers on German equipment and secondarily to build up a panzer unit that could be used in battle.

Panzerregiment 1 | Legion Condor

Panzerkampfwagen I of the "Panzerabteilung Thoma" during deployment in Spain. The vehicles initially wore the three-color paint scheme and - as can be seen here - the national Spanish flag on the front of the superstructure.

Another focus was on material tests, especially of armor steels, some of which turned out to be too soft and others too hard, so that they broke like a pane of glass, as Werner Puffe recalled after the war. Reports had to be prepared and submitted for all these test series on an ongoing basis.

Panzerregiment 1

Werner Puffe, photographed here as a Feldwebel in August 1940. He already belonged to the Kraftfahrlehrkommando II Ohrdruf and served from 1935 with the 8th company of Panzerregiment 1. You can see the Condor Legion Panzer Badge next to the Panzer Assault Badge in silver, which was awarded to him in 1940. Not recognizable is the Spanish Cross with Swords, which was also awarded to him (cf. book pages 569 and 632).

On September 5, 1937, Leutnant Hans Joachim von Falckenberg was the first volunteer from the ranks of Panzerregiment 1 to reach Spanish soil. He was deployed to various posts, including head of panzer training at the Cubas training camp.

In April 1938, Feldwebel Werner Hahn (5th Company) was transferred to Spain and served on the unit's staff.

In July 1938, Feldwebel Werner Puffe (8th Company), Unteroffizier Willi Strohmann (1st Company), Unteroffizier Eugen Kessler (7th Company), Gefreiter Richard Schödel (Staff I. Abteilung), Gefreiter August Georg (1st Company) and Gefreiter Willi Dornheim (2nd Company) followed.

Panzerregiment 1 | Willy Strohmann

Willi Strohmann, pictured here as a Feldwebel during the war. In addition to both Iron Crosses, he holds the Panzer Assault Badge in Silver and the Condor Legion Panzer Badge. He returned to the Panzer Regiment 1 after his deployment in Spain and served on the staff of the I. Abteilung.

Panzerregiment 1 | Richard Schoedel

Richard Schödel, pictured here between the campaigns in Poland and France. He also wears the Condor Legion Panzer Badge. He returned to Panzerregiment 1 after his deployment in Spain and served on the staff of the I. Abteilung.

At the end of February 1939, Unteroffizier Siegfried Gallus (6th Company) and Gefreite Walter Iwan (7th Company), Wilhelm Stange (4th Company) and Kurt Jung (4th Company) finally reached Spanish soil.

Panzerregiment 1 | FW_Kurt_Jung

Kurt Jung, photographed as a Feldwebel after the end of the French campaign in 1940, wearing both Iron Crosses, the Black Wounded Badge, the Panzer Assault Badge and the Spanish Cross with Swords. He does not appear to have been awarded the Condor Legion Panzer Badge. He fell as a Feldwebel in Panzerabteilung 160 during the tank battle near Kalatsch at the gates of Stalingrad on 02.08.1942.

This means that 12 members of Panzerregiment 1 can be traced as volunteers in "Panzerabteilung Thoma". Whether the number is complete cannot be said with certainty at present. What is certain, however, is that only a few men from Panzerregiment 1 were recruited for the mission in Spain.

The Condor Legion Tank Badge, established in 1936 and officially approved by the Commander-in-Chief of the Army Walther von Brauchitsch in 1939, was awarded a total of around 400 times. There is evidence that it was awarded to Leutnant Hans Joachim von Falckenberg, Feldwebel Puffe, Unteroffizier Ströhmann and Gefreiter Schödel. In addition, the Spanish Cross was awarded in bronze and silver.

Panzerregiment 1

Döberitz, 03.06.1939 - Generaloberst von Brauchitsch awards Spanish Crosses to the veterans of the Condor Legion. (1) The commander of the 1st Panzer Company, Hauptmann Joachim Ziegler. Ziegler transferred to the Waffen-SS during the war and became commander of the 11. SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Division "Nordland" in 1944. He was killed on 02.05.1945 during the breakout from Berlin. (2) Leutnant Hans Joachim von Falckenberg from Panzerregiment 1, at this time he was serving as a platoon leader in the Panzerlehrabteilung Wünsdorf. He returned to Panzerregiment 1 in 1939 and was killed on the Eastern Front in 1941. (3) Oberleutnant Ott-Friedrich Senfft von Pilsach from the Panzerlehrabteilung Wünsdorf. He received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross as commander of the 5th Company of Panzerregiment 5 on 27.06.1941 in North Africa. From November 1944 he was commander of the schwere Panzerabteilung 505 Tiger.


Bundesarchiv Militärarchiv Freiburg, RH 7-952


Wolfgang Puffe

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