The 1st Panzer Army was a World War II German tank army, which was an important armored component of the Wehrmacht field forces. Known as the 1.Panzerarmee in German, it was created on November 16, 1940. The first designation of this Panzer unit was 1st Panzer Group, or Panzer Group Kleist, since it was under the command of Field Marshal Ewald von Kleist.
From December 1940 to March 1941, 1st Panzer Group was deployed in occupied France. In April 1941, Panzer Group Kleist participated in the invasion of Yugoslavia as part of Field Marshal Maximilian von Weichs’s 2nd Army. Panzer Group Kleist spearheaded the advance of the 2nd Army into Yugoslavia, and quickly smashed the Yugoslavian Fifth and Sixth Armies before entering Belgrade. It was composed of the III, XIV and XLVIII Army Corps (mot.) with five panzer divisions and four motorized SS divisions equipped with 799 tanks. During Operation Barbarossa, 1st Panzer Group was part of Army Group South, commanded by Gerd von Rundstedt, which fought on the Eastern Front against the Red Army. Panzer Group Kleist took part in the Battle of Brody which involved as many as 1,000 Red Army tanks.
On October 6, 1941, after the Battle of Kiev, the 1st Panzer Group was reinforced, refitted, and redesignated 1st Panzer Army. After that the First Panzer Army began its thrust on Rostov. Together with the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler led by Oberstgruppenführer Sepp Dietrich, the 1st Panzer Army successfully captured the city of Rostov in November 1941, but due to lack of logistic, von Kleist ordered his Panzer Army to pull out of the city and retreat a 70 miles to prevent his men from being trapped in a Red Army encirclement.
In January 1942, Army Group von Kleist, which consisted of the First Panzer Army along with the Seventeenth Army, was formed with its namesake, von Kleist, in command. Army Group von Kleist played a major role in repulsing the Red Army attack in the Second Battle of Kharkov in May 1942. After the Battle of Stalingrad, by February 1943, it had been withdrawn west of the Don River, and von Kleist withdrew the remains of his forces from the Caucasus into the Kuban area, east of the Strait of Kerch.
The 1st Panzer Army remained attached to Army Group South until July 1944. By that time German troops had been pulled out from the Ukraine, and the Soviets were threatening Warsaw. In March 1944, the 1st Panzer Army was encircled by two Soviet fronts in the Battle of Kamenets-Podolsky Pocket. Nevertheless, a successful breakthrough was made, saving most of the manpower but losing the heavy equipment. Until May 1945, the 1st Panzer Army fought its entire time on the Eastern Front. The 1st Panzer Army was disbanded on May 8, 1945. Its last commander was General Wilhelm Hasse.
Insignia of the 1st Panzer Army