The Deutsches Afrika Korps
(often just Afrika Korps
) 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.
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
. 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
Light Division was joined by the 15th
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
Division on the books. The 21st
Panzer Division was reformed
under its own name. The 90th
Light Division was reformed as
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.