Major Kaufmann, the 4th Panzer Army adjutant, looked at Col. Steiner’s orders, looked up at Steiner and frowned, then looked back at the orders again, head shaking. “Colonel, we have nothing to give you. All units have been already assigned and are already assembled for the coming operation.”
Col. Steiner did his best to remain calm. It simply would not do to annoy somebody as importantly placed as Kaufmann at 4th Panzer Army HQ. Steiner reflected for a moment on the increasing chaos he’d witnessed the further east he’d traveled to get here. Perhaps within that very chaos he could find a solution. “Major, I appreciate your position. But surely you can also appreciate mine. I’ve been ordered, and have traveled a long way, to form and command an independent formation to assist The Fatherland in its upcoming operation. I’ve been ordered here to help you, not hinder you. Can we work together to somehow solve and satisfy both our positions? As I traveled here I saw a great many units that seemed to have no clear idea of where they were going or what they were doing. Can we not track some of these units down and let me lead them in our struggle against the Bolsheviks?”
Kaufmann had important duties that had been interrupted by Steiner’s untimely arrival. The sooner he could get rid of Steiner, the sooner he could get back to them. True, Steiner did have valid orders and he wasn’t acting like the asses so many new arrivals to the Eastern Front turned out to be. “Very well, Colonel.” He motioned to a corner of the auditorium that 4th Panzer Army had turned into an operations center. Several enlisted men over there were sorting and shuffling through piles of paperwork. “Sergeant Marcks is reorganizing some files that got, shall we say ‘rearranged’ during a recent air raid. Tell him I’ve given you authority to look through whatever you want. If you find anything, bring it to me and perhaps we can make arrangements. Fair enough, Colonel?”
“Thank you, Major.”
Several hours, and several stacks of paperwork, later, Steiner had managed to put together a thin folder: the remnants of an obsolete Pz IVD battalion to be turned over to the Romanians; the remnants of a machinegun battalion from a fortress regiment that no longer seemed to be on the Eastern Front at all; a few trucks recently repaired and sitting at a depot apparently without orders; and so on. Not much, but it was a start, and Steiner was impatient. He was a field commander, not a paper pusher. Folder in hand, he went in search of Major Kaufmann.
For his part, Kaufmann had received a phone call while Steiner was busy in the paper pile. General Veiel himself, commander of XLVIII Panzer Korps, had enquired about Steiner’s whereabouts. Apparently, Colonel Steiner was not only expected, but also well regarded as an experienced commander recently transferred from North Africa. This impressed Kaufmann. Not so much Steiner’s reputation, but because he had not tried to throw his rank and political connections into Kaufmann’s face. The major appreciated that and resolved to show his appreciation.
As he approached Major Kaufmann with the folder, Steiner noticed a favorable change in the major’s demeanor. Kaufmann smiled as he received the folder and glanced so briefly at it that Steiner knew he hadn’t really seen it. “Ja. Ja. All of this can be arranged, Herr Colonel. Please join me for some tea in my office so I can draw up the paperwork. With luck, we can assemble your new Abteilung 110 by the end of the day tomorrow.”
Actually, the work took several days. XLVIII Panzer Korps HQ gave Steiner the authority to comb the depots and hospitals for personnel. The quality of troops which Steiner obtained varied, but all-in-all he was not displeased. A fair number of them were combat veterans. Of course, morale and esprit was somewhat lacking, but that was to be expected from a hastily assembled formation with little-to-no experience in battle together. It was Steiner’s job to improve that. Further, Korps HQ was able to provide a few units of modern fighting equipment to strengthen his abteilung. They even managed to get him a command halftrack.
By the time Steiner received his first operational orders, less than a week later, his abteilung was composed as follows:
Abteilung 110 (core = 2200 points, 87 units, 31 formations)
Medium Tank company (reduced), 8x Pz IVG
Support Tank company, 12x Pz IVD (obsolete)
Machinegun company (remnants), 3x MG42 platoons
Light Mortar battery, 6x 50mm mortars plus 3x beobachters
Flakvierling platoon, 4x 20mm(quad) AA guns
Motor-Recon company (reduced), 9x Recon gruppen plus 9x Kuebelwagens plus 6x Kuebelwagen MGs
Motor-Transport company, 10x Krupp medium trucks plus 2x SdKfz 6 prime movers plus 1x command HT
Supply section, 2x Ammo crates
In Steiner’s opinion, Abteilung 110 was largely a motley collection with very limited attacking power. Many of its formations were obsolete and weak. But it was his motley collection. He’d assembled it almost single-handedly, and now he was already taking pride in the prospect of leading it in battle. He’d done this before in the desert for the Afrika Korps, and now he was determined to do it again in the even larger and more formidable arena of the Eastern Front.