Map: Victory in the West, 1940
In Operation 'Yellow', Army Groups 'A' and 'B' with Luftwaffe support, smash across the Meuse and in ten days outmanoeuvre the Western Allies whose armies, including a British Expeditionary Force of nine divisions, serve a French commander-in-chief - General Gamelin, replaced 19 May 1940 by General Weygand.
Schmidt and Hoepner (Fourth Panzer Army) 10 May with two panzer corps (1) and (2) allotted to Army Group 'B', lead a decoy offensive into Holland and Belgium where airborne operations under General Kurt Student aim to reduce key defences astride the Army Group axis of advance.
Von Kleist and subordinate Guderian (First and Second Panzer Armies) 13 May attack west across the Meuse at Sedan-Montherme (4), (5), (6) initiating the main armoured movement of Operation 'Yellow' - a westward thrust by two panzer and one motorized infantry corps under Panzer Group von Kleist (K) - the vanguard of Army Group 'A'.
Von Kleist leads German Twelfth Army (List), but under pressure from superior headquarters, limits subordinates to a narrow range of action. Despite this, the panzer group pushes ahead until Hitler's nervousness at the danger to the resulting panzer 'corridor' and technical considerations finally halts the armour.
Hoth (Third Panzer Army) 13 May starting from a Meuse crossing at Dinant - (3) - also strikes west, reinforcing von Kleist.
A total of ten panzer divisions, six and two-thirds motorized infantry divisions support Army Groups 'A' and 'B'. The panzer force is swiftly regrouped for phase two of the battle - Operation 'Red' commencing 5 June 1940.
Schmidt (1) XXXIX PzK: 9th PzDiv; SS Verfugungs Div; After 13 May LSSAH
Hoepner(2) XVI PzK: 3rd, 4th PzDivs; 20th InfDivMot; SS Totenkopf
Hoth (3) XV PzK: 5th PzDiv; 7th PzDiv
(K) Reinhardt (4) XXXXI PzK: 6th PzDiv; 8th PzDiv
(K) Guderian (5) XIX PzK: 1st PzDiv; 2nd PzDiv; 10th PzDiv; Inf Regt Mot-Gross Deutschland
(K) Von Wietersheim (6) XIV MotK: 2nd, 13th, 29th InfDivs Mot
Hoth (7) XV PzK: 5th, 7th PzDivs; 2nd InfDiv Mot "
Von Kleist Gr (8) XIV PzK von Wietersheim: 9th, 10th PzDivs; 13th Inf Div Mot, SS Verfugungs Div, InfReg Mot-Gross Deutschland. After 12 June SS Totenkopf Div XVI PzK Hoepner: 3rd, 4th PzDivs; Reserve LSSAH
Guderian Gr (9) XXXIX PzK Schmidt: 1st, 2nd PzDivs; 29th InfDiv Mot
XXXXI PzK Reinhardt: 6th, 8th PzDivs; 20th InfDiv Mot
German Army Von Brauchitsch: 120 infantry divs, 16% mobile divs, 2,574 tanks
A Grs 'A', 'B' Von Runstedt 45% divisions; von Bock 29Vs divisions
Luftwaffe Kesselring 2nd Air Fleet-A Gr 'B'; Sperrle 3rd Air Fleet-A Gr 'A': 2,750 aircraft
Panzer break-through: France, 1940
Striking west across the Meuse at Sedan and Montherme, Panzer Group von Kleist (K) - two panzer and a motorized corps - is responsible for the main armoured movement of Operation 'Yellow'. Weak opposition is concentrated in French Second and Ninth Armies deployed along the west bank of the river.
Orders issued to the leading divisions, especially 1st Panzer Division at Sedan, illustrate the high level of air support required to give effect to Blitzkrieg; Panzer Group von Kleist (First Panzer Army) leads the offensive commencing 0530 hours 10 May 1940, when five panzer, three and a half motorized divisions strike through the Ardennes to the east bank of the Meuse, ready to smash all opposition and establish a west bank bridgehead.
Guderian (Second Panzer Army) 13 May 1940. Arriving at Sedan with three panzer divisions XIX Panzer Corps leads von Kleist across the Meuse in mid-afternoon; timed for 1600 hours, the assault is initiated by panzer grenadier/ engineer battle groups of 1st Panzer Division. Simultaneously downstream at Montherme, Reinhardt's XXXXI
Panzer Corps, attacking westwards with two panzer divisions, also secured a foothold on the west bank, while von Wietersheim's XIV Motorized Corps waits in reserve to follow through when called.
Hoth (Third Panzer Army) 13 May precedes the main effort by von Kleist at Sedan with XV Panzer Corps providing flank protection at Dinant. Hoth wins a Meuse crossing with two panzer divisions on the morning of the same day and prepares to drive west; Rommel (7th Panzer Division) in the lead.
Hoepner (Fourth Panzer Army) 19 May. XVI Panzer Corps redeployed from Army Group 'B' with two panzer divisions joins Hoth to form a Gruppe reinforcing the main armoured effort. N.B. On 24 May, 9th Panzer Division joins Kleistgruppe from Rotterdam.
Allied counter-attacks - 17 May. A French armoured contingent under General de Gaulle pushes north-east from Laon. On the 21st, a scratch British armoured force led by General le Q. Mattel strikes south around Arras. These attacks create concern in higher German headquarters, but
do little to stem the tide of armour which on reaching the coast at Abbeville 20 May, swings north-west and by the 24th, co-operating with Army Group 'B' closing on Ypres, is shepherding the BEF and other Allied troops into a coastal pocket around Dunkirk.
But Hitler's nervousness puts a brake on operations; the thought of danger to an over-extended panzer force operating in unsuitable terrain and the need to conserve armour for the next phase of the offensive-Operation 'Red' - is enough to halt armoured progress at the Aa canal. Slow-moving infantry catch up in forced marches while the Luftwaffe unsuccessfully attempts to finish off defenders besieged in Dunkirk. 330,000 British and French troops evacuated from Dunkirk port and beaches by an armada of small ships, escape to England in Operation 'Dynamo'.
Chapter I Battle of France
Hitler had always fostered dreams about major military campaigns to defeat the Western European nations as a preliminary step to the conquest of territory in Eastern Europe, thus avoiding a two-front war. However, these intentions were absent from Führer-Directive N°6. This plan was firmly based on the seemingly more realistic assumption that Germany's military strength would still have to be built up for several more years and that for the moment only limited objectives could be envisaged. They were aimed at improving Germany's ability to survive a long, protracted war in the West. Hitler ordered a conquest of the Low Countries to be executed at the shortest possible notice. This would stop France from occupying them first, and prevent Allied air power from threatening the vital German Ruhr Area. It would also provide the basis for a successful long-term air and sea campaign against Britain. There was no mention in the Führer-Directive of any immediate consecutive attack to conquer the whole of France, although as much as possible of the border areas in northern France should be occupied. While writing the directive, Hitler had also assumed that such an attack could be initiated within a period of at most a few weeks, but the very day he issued it he was disabused of this illusion. It transpired that he had been misinformed about the true state of Germany's forces. The motorised units had to recover, repairing the damage to their vehicles incurred in the Polish campaign, and ammunition stocks were largely depleted
Similarity to Schlieffen Plan
On 10 October 1939, the British refused Hitler's offer of peace; on 12 October, the French did the same. Franz Halder, the chief of staff of the German Army (Generalstabschef des Heeres), presented the first plan for Fall Gelb ("Case Yellow") on 19 October. This was the pre-war codename of plans for a campaign in the Low Countries: the Aufmarschanweisung N°1, Fall Gelb ("Deployment Instruction No. 1, Case Yellow"). Halder's plan has often been compared to the Schlieffen Plan, which the Germans attempted to execute in 1914 in the opening phase of the First World War. It was similar in that both plans entailed an advance through the middle of Belgium, but while the intention of the Schlieffen Plan was to gain a decisive victory by executing a rapid encirclement of the French Army, Aufmarschanweisung N°1 envisioned a frontal attack, sacrificing a projected half million German soldiers to attain the limited goal of throwing the Allies back to the River Somme. Germany's strength for 1940 would then be spent; only in 1942 could the main attack against France begin.
Hitler was disappointed with Halder's plan and initially reacted by deciding that the German army should attack early, ready or not, in the hope that Allied unpreparedness might bring about an easy victory. This led to a series of postponements, as commanders repeatedly persuaded Hitler to delay the attack for a few days or weeks to remedy some critical defect in the preparations, or to wait for better weather. Hitler also tried to alter the plan which he found unsatisfactory, without clearly understanding how it could be improved. This mainly resulted in a dispersion of effort; although the main axis would remain in central Belgium, secondary attacks would be undertaken on the flanks. Hitler made such a suggestion on 11 November. On 29 October, Halder let a second operational plan, Aufmarschanweisung N°2, Fall Gelb, reflect these changes by featuring a secondary attack on the Netherlands.
Hitler was not alone in disliking Halder's plan. General Gerd von Rundstedt, the commander of Army Group A, also disagreed with it. Von Rundstedt recognised that it did not adhere to the classic principles of the Bewegungskrieg ("manoeuvre warfare") which had guided German strategy since the 19th century. A breakthrough would have to be accomplished that would result in the encirclement and destruction of the main body of Allied forces. The most practical place to achieve this would be in the region of Sedan, which lay in the sector of von Rundstedt's Army Group. On 21 October, von Rundstedt agreed with his chief of staff, Generalleutnant Erich von Manstein, that an alternative operational plan had to be arranged that would reflect these basic ideas, making Army Group A as strong as possible at the expense of Army Group B to the north.
Developed by German Generalleutnant Erich von Manstein, the plan greatly modified the original 1939 versions by Franz Halder of the invasion plan known as Fall Gelb. One way to look at the Manstein Plan was that it was the German Army's answer to the French Army's Dyle Plan. Originally, in Aufmarschanweisung N°1, Fall Gelb, the German Army planned to push the Allied forces back through central Belgium to the Somme river, in northern France, not unlike the first phase of the famous Schlieffen Plan of the First World War. However, on 10 January 1940, the Mechelen Incident took place: a German aircraft carrying documents containing parts of the operational plans of Fall Gelb crashed in Belgium, thus prompting another review of the invasion plan. While Fall Gelb was revised by Halder, not fundamentally changing it in Aufmarschanweisung N°3, Fall Gelb, Von Manstein was able to convince Hitler in a personal meeting on 17 February that the Wehrmacht should attack through the Ardennes forest, followed by a strategic drive to the coast. Whilst von Manstein was formulating new plans in Koblenz, Generalleutnant Heinz Guderian, commander of the XIX Army Corps, Germany's elite armoured formation, happened to be lodged in a nearby hotel. At this moment, von Manstein's plan consisted of a move directly north from Sedan against the rear of the main Allied forces in Belgium. When Guderian was invited to contribute to the plan during informal discussions, he proposed a radical and novel idea. Not only his army corps, but most of the Panzerwaffe should be concentrated at Sedan. This concentration of armour should subsequently not move to the north but to the west, to execute a swift, deep, independent strategic penetration towards the English Channel without waiting for the main body of infantry divisions. This might lead to a strategic collapse of the enemy, avoiding the relatively high number of casualties normally caused by a Kesselschlacht ("annihilation battle"). Such a risky independent use of armour had been widely discussed in Germany before the war but had not been accepted as received doctrine. The German General Staff, however, doubted such an operation could work. Von Manstein's operational idea won immediate support from Guderian. Guderian understood the terrain, having experienced the conditions with the German Army in 1914 and 1918.
Von Manstein wrote his first memorandum outlining the alternative plan on 31 October. In it he carefully avoided mentioning Guderian's name and played down the strategic part of the armoured units, in order to not generate unnecessary resistance. Six more memoranda followed between 31 October 1939 and 12 January 1940, each becoming more radical in outline. All were rejected by the OKH, the German Army's headquarters, and nothing of their content reached Hitler 
Details of the Plan
Von Manstein, chief of staff of Army Group A, had originally formulated his plan in October 1939 in Koblenz on instigation of his superior General Gerd von Rundstedt, who rejected Halder's plan, both because of professional jealousy and because it wouldn't lead to a decisive victory over France. Von Manstein's first thoughts were rather traditional, envisaging a swing from Sedan to the north to obliterate the Allied armies in a classical Kesselschlacht or annihilation battle. When discussing his intentions with Lieutenant-General Heinz Guderian, commander of Germany's elite armoured corps, the latter proposed to turn it into a more "Fullerite" strategy by avoiding the main body of the Allied armies and swiftly advancing with the armoured divisions to The Channel instead, to cause a collapse of the enemy by catching him off guard and cutting off his supply lines. It was thus Guderian who introduced the true "Blitzkrieg" elements to the plan, while Von Manstein had at first many objections against this aspect, especially fearing the long open flank created by such an advance. Guderian managed to convince him that the danger of a French counterattack from the south could be averted by a simultaneous secondary spoiling offensive to the south, in the direction of Reims. Guderian before the war had generated much interest for the theories of John Fuller, though never fully endorsing them.
When Von Manstein first presented his ideas to the OKH, he didn't mention Guderian's name and made his classical swing to the north the main effort, while a limited number of armoured divisions protected the left flank of this movement, acting in a classical cavalry strategic reconnaissance rôle. These changes didn't reflect a change of mind on his part, but were thought necessary by him because the original conception was too radical to be acceptable and many conservative generals considered Guderian himself as too radical also. His views were flatly rejected by Halder and Walther von Brauchitsch however. Reformulating them in a more radical sense didn't help and late January Halder managed to remove Von Manstein to the east by having him promoted commander of XXXVIII Army Corps. Von Manstein and Halder were old rivals: in 1938 Von Manstein had been the successor of chief of staff Ludwig Beck but had been removed from this position when the latter fell into disgrace with Hitler because of the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair. On 1 September 1938, Halder, not Von Manstein, had replaced Beck.
However two officers of Von Manstein's staff, Lieutenant-Colonel Günther Blumentritt and Major Henning von Tresckow, were outraged by Halder's behavior. Late January they contacted Hitler's personal Army attaché, Lieutenant Colonel Rudolf Schmundt (an old acquaintance of von Tresckow) when he was visiting Koblenz, who informed Hitler of the affair on 2 February. Hitler, having found Halder's plans unsatisfactory from the very beginning, ordered on 13 February a change of strategy in accordance with Von Manstein's ideas, even after having only heard a rough outline of them. The general was invited to the Reichskanzlei in Berlin to explain his plans in person to Hitler on 17 February, during a working lunch in the presence of Alfred Jodl and Erwin Rommel. Though Hitler felt an immediate antipathy against Von Manstein, for being too arrogant and aloof, he speechlessly listened to his argumentation, becoming very impressed by Von Manstein's logic. "Certainly an exceptionally clever fellow, with great operational gifts, but I don't trust him", Hitler remarked after Von Manstein had left.
Halder now had to make a fourth main version of the attack plan, Aufmarschanweisung N°4, Fall Gelb. Von Manstein would not be further involved in the planning process, returning to his command of the Army Corps. This new plan conformed to Von Manstein's proposal in this respect that Army Group A would provide the central thrust of the invasion through the Ardennes in southern Belgium. After crossing the Meuse River between Namur and Sedan, Army Group A would then swing northwest towards Amiens, while Army Group B executed a feint attack in the north to lure the Allied armies into the trap. However in many ways the plan was fundamentally changed by Halder. It no longer envisaged a simultaneous secondary attack to the south. Also, the "Blitzkrieg" elements were largely removed. The river crossings were to be forced by infantry and there would be a long consolidation phase during which a large number of infantry divisions would be built-up in the bridgeheads. The armoured divisions should then advance in a coherent mass together with the infantry divisions. There would thus not be an independent deep strategic penetration by the German armor.
Executing the Plan
In reality however, Guderian and the other panzer generals, Rommel among them, would simply disobey orders and advance to The Channel and further to the coastal French towns of Calais and Dunkirk as fast as they could without waiting for the infantry, only temporarily halted by Hitler's orders on 17, 22 and 24 May. The effects of the Manstein Plan were devastating for the Allied armies, as they were effectively encircled by Army Groups A and B, thus sparking a desperate evacuation from Dunkirk. The losses in the north and resulting lack of mobile reserves led to the defeat of the remaining French forces and Germany's complete victory over France.
This resounding success came as a complete surprise even to the Germans, who hardly had dared to hope for such an outcome. Most generals had vehemently opposed the plan as being much too risky; even those supporting it had mainly done so out of desperation, because Germany's geostrategic position seemed so hopeless. Count Ciano later in the war observed that "victory has a hundred fathers, but defeat is an orphan", and Fall Gelb would have no lack of sires. The two most prominent among them would be Hitler himself and Halder. Because Hitler hadn't liked Halder's original plans, he had suggested many alternatives, some of them bearing some resemblance to the Manstein Plan, the closest a proposal made by him on 25 October 1939. Soon Nazi propaganda began to claim that the victory was a result of Hitler's military genius; Hitler praised Von Manstein with the words "Of all the generals, with whom I spoke about the new attack plan in the West, Manstein was the only one who understood me!". Halder after the war claimed he was the main inventor, supporting this with the fact that he had begun considering to change the main axis to Sedan even before 13 February — indeed as early as September 1939 — and that Von Manstein's original proposal was too traditional.
The Manstein Plan is often seen as either the result of, or the cause of a mid-twentieth century Revolution in military affairs. In the former hypothesis, expounded by Fuller and Basil Liddell Hart immediately after the events, the Manstein Plan is presented as a natural outcome of deliberate changes in the German military doctrine during the twenties and thirties by men as Guderian or Hans von Seeckt implementing Fuller's or Liddell Hart's ideas. Thus an explicit "Blitzkrieg-doctrine" would have been fully established by 1939 of which the Manstein Plan was but the most spectacular implementation and the Invasion of Poland an earlier application. The doctrine would have been reflected in the organisation and equipment of the German Army and Airforce and would have been radically different from the obsolete doctrines of France, Britain and the Soviet-Union — except for the contributions of some farsighted individuals in these countries such as Mikhail Tukhachevsky and Charles de Gaulle and of course Fuller and Liddell Hart themselves. That the earliest plans by Halder or Von Manstein and the final plan by Halder did not conform to this doctrine is then seen as an anomaly, to be explained by special circumstances. 
In the latter hypothesis, promoted by Robert Allan Doughty and Karl-Heinz Frieser, the Manstein Plan is instead a return to the classic principles of the 19th century Bewegungskrieg but now radically adapted to the full potential of modern technology by a sudden and unexpected departure from established German doctrine through the Blitzkrieg-elements provided and executed by Guderian. It claims that the influence of Fuller and Liddell Hart in Germany was limited and much exaggerated by the two writers and that no explicit true Blitzkrieg-doctrine can be found anywhere in the official pre-war German army documentation. It finds further support in the fact that German tank production had no priority and that the plans of the German war economy were at first based on the premise of a long protracted war, not on the expectation of swift victories. The hypothesis allows for a gradual implementation during the thirties of technological advances in a shared moderated Bewegungskrieg doctrine used in all major powers prior to 1940, with more subtle differences between the nations. The Invasion of Poland would then not yet be a true Blitzkrieg campaign, but a classic annihilation battle instead. The lack of Blitzkrieg elements in the official German plans for Fall Gelb is seen as the normal and expected outcome of this situation. Only after the sudden success of the radical execution of the Manstein Plan by Guderian would Blitzkrieg have been adopted as an explicit doctrine, in this view making Operation Barbarossa the first deliberate Blitzkrieg campaign. Guderian himself, who in both hypotheses plays a key rôle, presented the situation in his postwar book Erinnerungen eines Soldaten (literally "Memories of a Soldier" but translated under the title Panzer Leader) as basically conforming to the second hypothesis, with him being a lone voice struggling against the resistance by a reactionary majority of the German officer corps.
Summarizing the Plan
It is not uncommon in the literature to call the Manstein Plan Operation Sichelschnitt and this had led to the misunderstanding that this was the official name of the entire plan or at least of the attack by Army Group A. The official name however was Aufmarschanweisung N°4, Fall Gelb as issued on 24 February 1940 and the suboperation through the Ardennes had no special designation. Sichelschnitt is nothing but a literal German translation of "Sickle Cut", a catchy expression used after the events by Winston Churchill. After the war it would be adopted in the writings of the German generals.
On 10 January, a German Messerschmitt Bf 108 made a forced landing at Maasmechelen, north of Maastricht, in Belgium (the so-called "Mechelen Incident"). Among the occupants of the aircraft was Luftwaffe Major Hellmuth Reinberger, who was carrying a copy of the latest version of Aufmarschanweisung N°2. Reinberger was unable to destroy the documents, which quickly fell into the hands of the Belgian intelligence services. It has often been suggested that this incident was the cause of a drastic change in German plans, but this is incorrect; in fact, a reformulation of them on 30 January, Aufmarschanweisung N°3, Fall Gelb, conformed to the earlier versions.
Adoption of Manstein Plan
On 27 January, von Manstein was relieved of his appointment as Chief of Staff of Army Group A and appointed commander of an army corps in Prussia, to begin his command in Stettin on 9 February, a move instigated by Halder to reduce von Manstein's influence. Von Manstein's indignant staff brought his case to Hitler's attention. Hitler had, without any knowledge of von Manstein's plan, suggested an attack focused at Sedan but had been persuaded to forget the idea as it was too risky. On 2 February, von Manstein's plan was brought to his attention. On 17 February, Hitler summoned von Manstein, Generals Rudolf Schmundt (the German Army's Chief of Personnel) and Alfred Jodl, the Chief of Operations at the OKW (the German armed forces' supreme command), to attend a conference. Hitler sat and listened, abandoning his habits of interrupting and launching into monologues. In the end, he agreed to all of von Manstein's suggestions. The next day, he ordered the plans to be changed in accordance with von Manstein's ideas. They appealed to Hitler mainly because they offered some real hope of victory. Hitler recognised the breakthrough at Sedan only in tactical terms, whereas von Manstein saw it as a means to an end. He envisaged an operation to the English Channel and the encirclement of the Allied armies in Belgium, which, if carried out correctly, could have a favourable strategic outcome.
Halder had no intention of deviating from established doctrine by allowing an independent strategic penetration by the seven armoured divisions of Army Group A. Much to the outrage of Guderian, this element was at first completely removed from the new plan, Aufmarschanweisung N°4, Fall Gelb, issued on 24 February. However, Halder went through an "astonishing change of opinion". Halder was criticised in the same way he had attacked von Manstein when he first suggested it. The bulk of the German officer corps was appalled by the plan, and they called him the "gravedigger of the Panzer force".
Even when adapted to more conventional methods, the new plan provoked a storm of protest from the majority of German generals. They thought it utterly irresponsible to create a concentration of forces in a position where they could not possibly be sufficiently supplied, while such inadequate supply routes as there were could easily be cut off by the French. If the Allies did not react as expected, the German offensive could end in catastrophe. Their objections were ignored. Halder argued that, as Germany's strategic position seemed hopeless anyway, even the slightest chance of a decisive victory outweighed the certainty of ultimate defeat implied by inaction.
Infantry Division (Wehrmacht)
Infantry is the branch of an army that fights on foot. Infantrymen are land-based soldiers who are specifically trained for the role of fighting on foot to engage the enemy face-to-face and have historically borne the brunt of the casualties of combat in wars. As the oldest branch of combat arms, they are still the backbone of modern armies. Infantry units have more physically demanding training than other branches of armies, and place a greater emphasis on discipline, physical strength, fitness and spontaneous sustained aggression. The infantryman himself, with or without his personal weapon, is considered a weapon system.
Infantrymen are easily distinguished from soldiers trained to fight on horseback (cavalry), in tanks, or in technical roles such as armourers or signallers. Rudimentary infantry skills such as basic individual movement techniques, shooting positions and field craft are fundamental to the training of every soldier. Infantry can access and maneuver in terrain inaccessible to vehicles and tanks, and employ infantry support weapons that can provide firepower in the absence of artillery. Their combat insertion techniques include, airborne, air assault, amphibious and by land.
Since the end of the Second World War, the infantry has become a very small part of the Western world's armies. Typically between 5% and 30% of an army's personnel are trained infantry. Despite this number they may still represent one of the largest individual arms; with the exception of logistics and supply. Infantry numbers are vastly reduced from pre-WWII levels. For instance, in the United States Army of 2009, there were only approximately 49,000 Infantrymen out of about 565,000 active duty enlisted personnel The Marine Corps has another 10,000-20,000 Infantrymen. This means that there are fewer than 70,000 Infantrymen in the entire US military. The US Air Force and Navy do not have infantry assets. The Russian Navy on the other hand employs a small number of troops with less than 2,000, trained as Naval Infantrymen. This Naval Infantry functions similar to the US Marine Infantry which traditionally assault land objectives from water born assault platforms.
These lower infantry numbers reflect the greatly increased lethality, degree and type of training afforded to modern Infantry regiments. Western armies have increasingly complex technology based weapons systems which increases the technical and logistics demand on infantrymen in Western armies.
German Infantry Divisions
The 1939 German infantry division bears an amazing similarity to the German infantry division of 1918. The infantry battalions had shed a rifle company and the infantry regiments had acquired an infantry gun company. The cavalry squadron was reduced to a platoon. The pioneers sent their mortars to the infantry battalions' heavy companies and acquired a third pioneer company. The artillery was fundamentally unchanged.The divisions still contained a Feldersatz (replacement) battalion, and the signals command had become a full battalion organized with two full companies, one radio and one telephone.The support units remained surprisingly similar as well, though the tail became heavier in terms of transportation columns. Germany began World War II with the infantry divisions it had developed with the lessons ofWorldWar I. These lessons, however, would soon be replaced by new ones, and the process of reorganizing the infantry division to meet new conditions began afresh.
After the beginning of World War II the German line infantry divisions underwent two major organizational changes, the Type 44 division and theVolks Grenadier division. There were a number of different types of divisions organized - Jager divisions, mountain divisions, Sperr divisions, garrison divisions and security divisions - plus a wide variety of training, reserve and recruit divisions.These were, however, specialized divisions and not intended to fight in the field. Their organizations, though covered in this and successive volumes, are considered separately since they were not part of the line division.
The first major organizational change in the line divisions from the 1939 organization occurred with the introduction of the "Neues Art" or Type 44 division. The principal changes were that in the Type 44 division the number of battalions in the infantry regiments was reduced from three to two and that the reconnaissance battalion was replaced by a fusilier battalion.The second major change was the organization of theVolks Grenadier divisions in 1944. Here the principal change was the name. There were only a few structural changes, but the types of equipment did vary.The artillery regiments added a 75mm field gun battalion, one of the infantry battalions was mounted on bicycles, and the German equivalent of the bazooka, the Panzerfaust or Panzerschreck, was introduced widely into the infantry organization.
The German infantry was called up in thirty-five waves. Each wave had a slightly different equipment allocation from the preceding waves, though they generally followed the structures indicated below. The largest variations occurred amongst those waves called up in the winter of 1941/42. The losses of equipment on the Russian Front were so heavy that the Germans were unable to re-equip the divisions in the field and provide sufficient equipment to bring the new divisions up to full theoretical organizational strength, so compromises were made. As a result of this, the infantry support gun companies often lacked the 150mm sIG-and were equipped solely with 75mm lelG. Artillery regiments were organized with fewer battalions and equipped with guns other than those indicated in the theoretical structure.
As time progressed, the Panzerjager companies also underwent major changes.The 37mm PAK 36 was found to be inadequate and was soon upgraded to the 50mm PAK 38.This, in turn, was supplanted by the 75mm PAK 40. As tank warfare became more intense, the Germans pressed into service the famous French 75mm as the 75mm PAK 97/38 and large numbers of captured Russian 76.2mm guns as the 76.2mm PAK 36(r) and 76.2mm PAK 39(r).
Throughout the war the infantry was heavily reliant upon horse power. Very few of the infantry division's elements were ever mechanized, though a few units did slowly accumulate more and more vehicles. The Panzerjager battalions were generally the first to be fully motorized, and on occasion they had tracked gun carriages. Several terms appear in German organizational states that relate to this.The first is "(motZ)", which means that the unit was fully motorized.The second is "(tmot)", or partially motorized.The term "mixed mobility (tmot)" appears as well, which indicates that the unit had a combination of motor vehicles and horse-drawn vehicles.
With the exception of the addition of the 75mm artillery battalions in the Volks Grenadier divisions, the artillery regiments did not change during the war. Each battery usually had four 105mm or 150mm howitzers, though some were authorized six. Only occasionally was captured equipment pressed into use in the infantry on an "official" basis. Indications are that most of the captured heavy artillery equipment was transferred to the various coastal artillery units.
In the following discussion of units, the generic term "support units" will be used repeatedly. This should be understood to consist of the reconnaissance, schnelle, Panzerjager, pioneer and signals battalions as well as the commissary, medical, quartermaster and other administrative units. These units usually had the same numerical designation. For example, the 1st Division contained the 1st Reconnaissance, 1st Panzerjager, 1st Pioneer and 1st Signals Battalions, as well as the 1st Butcher and 1st Field Bakery Companies, etc. There are exceptions to this numbering system, and they are noted; however, the phrase "1st Division Support Units" will normally be used to cover the smaller formations in the division that are not part of the infantry or artillery regiments.
When Germany began making preparations for war she called up her infantry in six waves. The first wave was the standing army. The remaining five waves were drawn from various sources, including the Landwehr division, reserves and new drafts. The 6th Wave was interesting in that its equipment was mostly of Czechoslovak origin.
In early 1940, as the war with France approached, Germany began to expand her infantry force again. The 7th Wave was organized by stripping the Feldersatz (replacement) battalions out of the divisions and converting them into battalions of the line regiments in the newly forming divisions. The 8th Wave was one of the first waves organized for this campaign. It was organized in January/February 1940 by drawing the battalions from the existing divisions and expanding them with new drafts. The 8th Wave was followed by the formation of the "Oberrhein" divisions in February 1940. These were position divisions designed to garrison the upper Rhine valley.
The 9th Wave was formed on 10 March 1940 by absorbing the Landesschutzen divisions into the regular army. The 9thWave also organized the 100th, 200th, 300th and 400th Ersatz Divisions on 1 June 1940. They did not last long and were disbanded on 1 August that year. The 10th Wave began forming from new drafts in May 1940, but the campaign ended before they could be drawn into service. Because Hitler hoped for a peaceful digestion of France and saw little prospect of a land conflict with Britain, the organization of the 10th Wave divisions was stopped.
After the French campaign, the 1 Oth Wave divisions, which had not yet fully formed, were disbanded and the 27 regiments of the 9th Wave and the twelve of the Oberrhein divisions were used to organize Landesschutzen regiments, the remaining divisions being disbanded or reassigned.
On 21 July 1940 Hitler ordered the formation of the llth Wave.These divisions were built by detaching one-third of the infantry and artillery of several divisions and expanding that cadre into a full division with new drafts. In November and December 1940 a similar expansion occurred as further divisions had one-third of their infantry and artillery stripped from them to form the new divisions of the 12th, 13th and 14th Waves. Some of these divisions were formed by detaching one-third of two existing divisions and joining two of those thirds, plus new drafts, to form the new division. The 12th Wave was called up on 12 August 1940, the 13th in October 1940 and the 14th also in November 1940. In those "waves" where Feldersatz battalions, line battalions, or major portions of the divisions were detached, the parent division rebuilt those formations that were detached from new recruits and cadres drawn from the remaining structure.
The 15th Wave was called up in April 1941.These divisions were used as occupation divisions until they were later converted to field use. There were four 16th Wave infantry brigades, the 201st through 204th.They did not last long and were soon absorbed into other formations. It was at this time that the 416th Garrison Division and the 250th (Spanish Blue) Division were organized, along with a number of other "foreign" units. They were not part of any wave.
The 17th Wave was called up in December 1941, after the winter began, in order to mitigate the Russian disaster. The divisions were known as "Walkure" divisions. In January 1942 the 18th Wave began forming the "Rheingold" divisions. The 19th Wave began forming on 17 February 1942.
The 20th Wave was ordered formed in June 1942 as a general expansion of the Army. The war was going reasonably well, but the demands of the Russian Front required more infantry to hold the conquered ground. On 20 September 1942 an OKH order directed the formation of three garrison divisions for the West and soon two further such divisions were ordered formed. These units were not part of any "official" wave. Shortly afterwards, on 15 October 1942, the infantry regiments were all renamed as "grenadier regiments". The Krimhilde divisions were formed in November 1942.
The Stalingrad disaster came to a close in early 1943. With the collapse of the German Sixth Army, a total of thirteen divisions were destroyed. All these divisions were re-formed and continued the fight until the end of the war.
In May 1943 the Brunhilde and Gisela Divisions were formed. These were reserve formations. In June, July and September seven garrison divisions were formed in France.
On 2 October 1943 the organizational order that established the "neuer Art (nA)" division was issued and began the process of a reorganization of the entire infantry component of the German Army. This process initiated a massive movement of grenadier regiments between divisions. The transfers appear to have begun in August and continued through December 1943.
The 21st and 22nd Waves were organized in November and December 1943. They were formed from new drafts and cadres drawn from active divisions. Most of these new divisions were formed in the relative quiet of France, where they also served as garrison divisions.
On 8 December 1943 an order was issued by the General Staff of the Army that raised Army Panzerjager battalions and Panzerzerstorer battalions. These battalions were formed by stripping companies from the Panzerjager battalions of the infantry divisions; for example, the 721 st Army Panzerjager Battalion was formed by taking the Staff/173rd Panzerjager Battalion, 2nd Co/198th Panzerjager Battalion, 2nd Co/125th Panzerjager Battalion and 3rd Co/9th Panzerjager Battalion. A total of 54 infantry divisions were affected by this order. A duplicate order was issued on 6 January 1944 that repeated the same assignments.
The 23rd (February 1944) and 24th (April 1944) Waves were a series of training and "shadow" divisions.These were not field formations, but an effort by the Wehrmacht to develop a basis for future expansion and when the war was at its climax. They were followed by the organization of the 70th Division, sometimes known as the "Stomach" Divi-
sion, because its soldiers had high numbers of men with stomach problems who otherwise would not have been in the Army.
The 25th Wave was a salvage operation. It began in February 1944 when large numbers of formations had been destroyed in battle and were available to form cadres. The 26thWave (ordered on 30 March 1944) was another series of shadow divisions formed in May and June of 1944. The 27th Wave was called up in June 1944 as regular line divisions. In May 1944 five divisions were destroyed in the Crimea, but only three were re-formed.The 28thWave was another series of shadow divisions called up in July 1944.
The 29th Wave was a series of "Sperr" or barrier divisions formed in July 1944. Their organization was significantly lighter than that of the regular divisions. They were the immediate forerunners of theVolks Grenadier divisions. The infantry support companies were equipped with obsolete 37mm PAK 36 instead of the 75mm leIG and 150mm sIG. Instead of a fusilier battalion they had a fusilier company. What was normally a Panzerjager battalion was replaced by a company of Sturmgeschutzen.The light artillery battalions had anti-tank batteries, indicating that the Germans were frequently having their artillery overrun by Russian armor. The pioneers and signals were reduced from battalion to company strength and the support troops were significantly reduced in numbers.
The 30th Wave were Type 44 divisions organized in August 1944 from the debris of savaged divisions from the Eastern Front. In August 1944 the 31st Wave was also called up and a number of shadow divisions were organized. In September 1944 the 32nd Wave was called up and the famous Volks Grenadier divisions were organized. Their organizational differences have already been discussed. The 32nd Wave had two parts, the 1st Rate divisions and the 2nd Rate divisions.The 1st Rate went immediately into the line. The 2nd Rate started life as five named divisions that were later numbered 584th through 588th.These divisions, plus the 583rd, were renamed and took the numbers of older, now disbanded divisions. In October 1944 a number of reserve and security divisions were rebuilt and organ-ized.for operations in the field as nine new infantry divisions.
On 10 December 1944 a new division organization was established and every infantry division was ordered to reorganize into a Type 45 division. However, the 1st Infantry Division escaped this reorganization, as did the 21 Oth, 230th, 270th, 374th, 280th and 295th Infantry Divisions, which were in Norway and retained their special make-up.
The 33rdWave was called up in November 1944 and began forming on 9 January 1945. The divisions were established as Type 45. The 34th Wave was called up in March 1945 and was yet another series of shadow divisions. They were particularly weak divisions, having only two infantry regiments of two battalions each and an artillery battalion. Shortly afterwards, beginning on 31 January 1945, a series of named divisions was organized. These five divisions had no wave number, though they probably should have had one.
The last wave was the 35th. It was ordered up on 29 March 1945 and was organized from the Reichsarbeits-dienst (RAD), which was a labor force, and from the Army Fuhrernachwuchs-Schulen. The war was collapsing and
Germany's ability to field any new force capable of serious combat was essentially nil. A few feeble units were actually fielded, but these accomplished nothing and soon vanished into the various POW camps or over the hill.
The following is a list, by year and wave, of the divisions and their related "waves":
4th Wave 5th Wave
6th Wave Conver sions
Order of Battle
The German Infantry - The Soldier
For all soldiers in an infantry division there was the same field uniform. Ranks were distinguished only by their insignia. The only exceptions were riders and drivers (who will be dealt with briefly).
The field-gray uniform consisted of long gray cloth trousers, which were stuck into nail-studded jack-boots. The gray-green buttoned field jacket had two shoulder flaps, two breast and side pockets (over the right breast pocket the army eagle emblem was sewn on), and was equipped with two hooks in back to make the heavy belt more secure to wear. In the collar of the field jacket there was originally a built-in tie, later usually replaced by a neckcloth. On the upper left sleeve were the insignia of rank, on the lower right sleeve the insignia of activity. In the inner lining at the front of the field jacket was a large packet of bandages, with a small one in the right breast pocket. The field cap (or Schiffchen), with a small rosette in the Reich colors of black-white-red, served as a head covering. The underwear consisted of long white underpants, a collarless white shirt, and gray woolen socks with white rings to indicate their size. Foot wrappings were often used inside the boots as well.
Two other important things belonged to the uniform. In the left breast pocket of the field jacket was the service book. To a degree, it was the detailed personal document of the soldier. On the inside of the cover was his photograph with signature, on the first page were his army number, identification disc and list of promotions, on following pages a brief description, the address of his next of kin, clothing and equipment information, data on his weapons training, inoculations, wounds and hospital treatment, salary and special allowances, decorations, and furloughs of more than five days.
The other special item was the oval identification disc that hung on a string around his neck. It consisted of two separable aluminum halves, with his name and the number of his field post or replacement troop stamped on. When a soldier died, one half was broken off and turned over to the burial officer or division chaplain, who then passed it on.
In his trousers and jacket pockets the soldier kept the personal belongings that were important to him, such as letters, photos of family members, etc., plus various useful things such as writing and eating implements, handkerchief, matches, paper, candles, string, pocket knife, can opener, smoking articles, etc.
Winter clothing consisted at first of a field-gray cloth coat, a thin woolen vest, woolen gloves and body belt, a woven cap to pull on over his head, or earmuffs and a scarf.
This field uniform was retained to the end of the war. The only change made, as of June 1943, was the replacement of the "Schiffchen" cap with the uniform field cap with a peak, like the cap of the Afrika Korps.
An urgently needed change was made in the winter clothing, though too late, as of the winter of 1942/43. There was now a winter battle suit of thick, warm cloth, with jacket and trousers cut so that they would fit over the normal field uniform and could be worn with either side out (the one side white, the other in spotted camouflage colors), plus a fur cap and felt boots, plus pull-down padded trousers and fleece-lined jacket. For motor vehicle drivers, sentries and such, there were also sheepskin or fur coats.
Any additional clothing was carried in a knapsack and clothing pack on the transport truck: white fatigue jacket and trousers, laced shoes, spare underwear, washcloths, handkerchieves, sport and swimming clothes, running shoes and a woolen blanket, which were issued according to need and situation.
With this uniform and clothing, which were replaced at certain intervals according to use and condition, as well as availability, the soldier was in the field for nearly six years, in summer as in winter, in the west or east, north or south, on the very extended fronts.
As for special uniform pieces, riders and saddle drivers wore riding breeches with leather patches and riding boots with spurs. Motorcycle and other motor vehicle drivers had a long rubber raincoat that could be buttoned over the knees when driving.
The field dress of officers differed very little. They also wore riding breeches and boots, the usual field jacket with silver shoulder patches and lapels, a field cap creased at the front, with a black leather peak and rosette with insignia of rank. The shoulder belt that was still part of the uniform in the 1939 Polish campaign was eliminated by the 1940 western campaign, the wide brown belt was usually blackened and the shoulder flaps often covered, in order to make the officer as unrecognizable to the enemy as possible after already heavy losses.
Among the standard equipment was a black leather belt, with a buckle that bore the eagle emblem and the motto "Gott mit uns" (God with us), as well as a sliding leather holster for side arms. On either side of the belt buckle were two black leather three-section bullet pouches (with further divisions internally), each of which could hold 30 bullets. On the right rear of the belt, the musette bag was fastened with two loops and a hook. It held the daily ration of cold food, a small round bakelite container for butter or fat, rifle-cleaning tools, spare ammunition, and at first also the "iron ration", consisting of a small bag with 500 grams of hard zwieback in small pieces and a 200-gram can of meat. It could be eaten only under orders in cases of the most extreme need, which soon proved to be unrealistic after the beginning of the eastern campaign. Fastened to the musette bag by a strap was the felt-covered three-quarter-liter field flask with a field cup carried over it.
At the left rear of the belt, in an open leather carrier, hung a short spade, to which the side arms were attached. The hand spade was also used as a weapon in hand-to-hand combat, and was used in trenching tasks such as digging shelter pits and foxholes, as well as digging cooking pits, knocking off branches and such (A folding spade that could also be used as a cutter by having a small roller on the handle did not prove practical).
On the left side too, the Model 30 gas mask was carried on a thin cloth belt over the right shoulder. In front, diagonally over the breast, there was until about the end of 1940 the gas shield, an oil-saturated, folded light cloth with which the soldier was to cover himself in a gas attack. For gas protection there was also a packet of Losantine tablets for use against the chemical warfare agent Lost. But the gas shield and Losantine were no longer used after 1940, since they had proved to be impractical and unnecessary.
The weight of the belt with all the pieces of equipment and contents that the soldier had to carry on the march and in battle is noteworthy. The weights were: belt 0.25 kg, two bullet pouches with 60 rounds 2.06 kg, musette bag (empty) 0.24 kg, bread 0.50 kg, small meat can 0.65 kg, one small fat can 0.15 kg, field flask (full) 1.07 kg, spade 1.11 kg, side arms 0.65 kg, gas mask 1.93 kg, in all over 8 kilograms.
Before battle, the field cap was exchanged for the dull gray steel helmet (Stahlhelm), which otherwise usually hung on the front of the belt over one of the two bullet pouches. The steel helmet was the standard Model 35 with two shield-shaped emblems, the colors of the Reich on the right and the service insignia on the left side. The steel helmet was made of smooth sheet steel, 1.1 to 1.2 mm thick, and was made in five sizes; it weighed 1.34 kg. Later in the war the application of the two symbols was eliminated; the use of camouflage covers made these emblems superfluous anyway.
But that did not complete the marching and fighting equipment.
There was also the assault kit.  This consisted of a leather harness that was attached to the belt at the front by two straps at the left and right and became a wider strap in the back that was likewise attached to the belt. To this harness there could be fastened, on the soldier's back: the two-part cooking utensil with lid and folding handle of aluminum (capacity 1.5 liters), with three eating utensils. If the cooking pot was not used to hold food, then it contained a cloth bundle of washing and shaving implements. Also fastened to the harness was the tent square, folded around the cooking utensils; along with the field flask and cooking utensils, this was one of the most indispensable pieces of equipment.
The tent square (Zeltbahn), with a weight of 1.27 kg, was of triangular form, measuring 202 x 202 cm on the sides and 240cm along the bottom, and was made of waterproof fabric. The front and back sides had camouflage coloration, with irregular brown and green angular spots and green lines running through them, one side somewhat lighter, the other darker. On each side there were twelve double buttons and just as many buttonholes, opposite each other, so that several tent squares could be buttoned together. Four tent squares, along with four tent poles and eight tent pegs (one pole and two pegs were also carried on the soldier's harness), made the customary tent for four men, but larger tents could also be made, using eight or more tent squares. The tent square also served to cover foxholes. In the middle of every tent square was a double attached, buttonable and unbuttonable cutout that provided ventilation for the tent in summer. But if one stuck his head through this opening, one could wear the tent square, buttoned around him in various ways, for good weather and rain protection. But the tent square did not offer just covering and protection from the weather; not the least of its uses was as an improvised stretcher for carrying injured men away from the front lines.
Field uniform, clothing and equipment remained essentially unchanged until the end of the war.
A few further remarks as to camouflage. At first the individual soldier had nothing for this purpose but his tent square, which could be used to provide camouflage. In the Polish and western campaigns steel helmets were camouflaged by stretching rubber bands or straps around the helmet and sticking small twigs, bunches of grass and the like in them. Helmet camouflage was later improved by pulling a camouflage net or cover of tent material over the helmet.
For the eastern campaign a white winter camouflage was urgently needed. Here the troops had to help themselves during the first Russian winter, covering their helmets with pieces of white cloth and their uniforms with white bedding. White snow jackets, snow coats and camouflage covers were provided later. The reversible winter battle dress, white and spotted, that subsequently became standard provided full camouflage.
Every soldier was armed with a 98 k rifle, a bayonet and hand grenades (see also section on "Light Infantry Weapons" for greater detail).
The bayonet, as a belt weapon, belonged to dress as well as combat uniforms for all servicemen and non-commissioned officers up to the rank of sergeant and were also carried by mounted soldiers.
The Rifle Squad (Schützengruppe)
The rifle squad, the smallest unit of the infantry, with its white distinguishing color (waffenfarbe), consisted of the squad leader and nine riflemen, and thus had a strength of 1 officer and 9 men (the former division between light machine-gun troops and rifle troops no longer existed). During the course of the war, this strength naturally dropped, often to six or five men.
When the war broke out in 1939, the squad leader was still armed with a rifle, then as of 1941 with a machine pistol (MPi). Among his equipment were two pouches, each with 3 MPi magazines (32 rounds each), which were carried on either side of his belt, plus 6 x 30 binoculars, message bag, flashlight, marching compass and signal whistle. The squad leader, at first always a non-commissioned officer, in the later years of the war sometimes an experienced Obergefreite ("Backbone of the Army") or a tested Gefreite, was not only the leader of his men but also their defender, responsible for them day and night, handling all great and small needs and problems, a fixed point in all critical situations and a comrade among comrades. If he proved himself as a soldierly and human example on good and bad days alike, then the whole group was good; if he was not, then his men usually failed as well.
Gunner (Schütze) 1 of the group was its "sharpest-shooting" man. He carried and operated the light machine gun (IMG 34, later IMG 42) with its detachable parts and a 50-round belt. Also part of his armament and equipment were a Type 08 pistol (later a 38 pistol) with one 8-round magazine, the machine-gun tool kit, with spare parts and cleaning tools on his belt, and sunglasses. Gunner 1 fired offensively and defensively, with the gun supported on a bipod either in front or in the middle, and during an attack or penetration, with the bipod folded up, he fired the IMG from the hip.
Gunner 2 carried, on a carrying strap, the first ammunition supply of four 50-round ammunition drums (weighing 2.45 kg per drum) as well as an ammunition box with 300 rounds (weighing 11.53 kg), plus a sheet-metal barrel protector with two spare barrels. For short-range defense he also carried a pistol. Gunner "zwo" (2) was Gunner 1's assistant with the IMG. He supported the machine-gunner by supplying ammunition, changing a barrel or breech, and by removing hindrances. If Gunner 1 fell, he took the firing position behind the gun himself.
Gunner 3 was the ammunition gunner for the IMG. He was armed with a rifle and had the job of carrying two full ammunition boxes of 300 rounds each on either side, hanging on a strap. Early in the war he also had to handle the machine-gun tripod, unloaded from the army truck, in case of danger from the air, but later this was not used. But as the strength of the squad decreased, the role of Gunner 3 was eliminated. The ammunition boxes were then divided among the squad and had to be carried by individual soldiers in turn.
The remaining six men of the squad, including the deputy squad leader (Gruppenftihrer), were all shooters, armed with rifles. In the two belt supported ammunition pouches they carried 45 rounds, in clips of five rounds each, and in battle 15 more rounds from the truck. In addition, each man carried two or three hand grenades. Stick grenades (so called "Potato Mashers") were carried on the front of the belt or stuck into the boot tops, while hand grenades were carried in the musette bag or the trouser pockets.
Thus the firepower of the squad added up to one light machine gun, one machine pistol, two pistols, seven rifles and a number of various grenades.
The rifle squad was the smallest combat unit. In an attack it "developed" into the "rifle row" and "rifle chain" formations, normally with a distance of ten paces from man to man, which could also be increased depending on enemy action. An experienced battle group went into an attack spread out, supported each other mutually with fire, especially with the light machine gun, and penetrated enemy positions tightly grouped while firing the machine pistols and machine gun, throwing hand grenades, and shouting. Their battle cry provided much moral support and in numerous cases caused the enemy to give up his defense early. The squad could also handle small tasks such as guarding, scouting, etc.
The squad was not just a battle unit, but also a unit sworn to accept its fate; every member knew every other member inside and out, shared his joys and sorrows, and developed a true camaraderie that - as with all other units - has maintained unbroken to this day.
The Rifle Platoon (Schützenzug)
The rifle platoon was the next higher unit, consisting of the platoon leader, platoon troop, four squads (later fewer), light grenade-launcher troop and drivers, with a strength of 1:6:43 men. The platoons were originally led by a Leutnant (as leader of the first platoon in the company, he was the company officer), and an Oberfeldwebel or Feldwebel.
The platoon leader's armament and equipment consisted of a machine pistol with two magazine pouches, 6 x 30 binoculars, message case, compass and flashlight.
The platoon troop that led the platoon consisted of the platoon troop leader (Unteroffizier), and three messengers (originally one was also a bugler), all armed with rifles. Later the third messenger was also given a telescopic sight that could be attached to his rifle for sharpshooting. One medic, armed with a pistol, also belonged to the platoon troop. His equipment consisted of a belt attached medical kit, plus a water bottle (similar to but larger than a field flask), and on his back a medical pack with supplies to treat minor wounds or injuries, marked with a large red cross. The red cross armband, worn on the left arm until 1941, was usually done away with after the eastern campaign began, since the Russians often disregarded the red cross sign, and the medics, with their noticeable armbands, suffered high losses as a result.
The platoon troop also carried amongst themselves, wire cutters, flare pistol, signal flags and a small flashing light for optical communication (Blinkgerät). The signal flags and flashing light were soon dropped, as they did not prove useful in combat. Especially important, and regarded as indispensable until the war's end, was the flare pistol. With its white and variously colored flare and signal bullets, it served to light up the terrain briefly at night, aided in communication and contact, helped to indicate recognized enemy targets, aided in directing fire, etc. The flare pistol was not a weapon in the usual sense, but it could also be used successfully in close combat for direct fire against enemy gun positions, bunkers, etc.
The rifle squads, four in number, have already been described. The light grenade launcher troop with its troop leader and gunners 1 and 2 carried the troop's high-angle fire weapon, the 5-caliber light grenade launcher 36. The troop leader carried a rifle, binoculars, message case, three leg brace for the launcher, and in combat an ammunition box with ten grenades. Gunner 1, armed with a pistol, had the bottom plate, Gunner 2, likewise armed with a pistol, had the barrel of the launcher - both were carried on their backs. The launcher gunners also each carried two ammunition cases by hand. The grenade launcher was set up on its three legs and either aimed at a target or "zeroed in" with a few shots. This happened approximately in the following manner: Gunner 1: "Feuerbereit" ("Ready to fire"), troop leader: "350 (meters) - one round - frei (fire!)"; gunner 1: "Abgefeuret" ("Fired") Troop leader: "40 to the right - 50 shorter - one round - fire!"; gunner 1: "Abgefeuret."
The firepower of the rifle platoon consisted of 5 machine pistols, 4 light machine guns, 11 pistols, 34 rifles and one light grenade launcher.
For these weapons, a primary ammunition supply of 1048 machine pistol and pistol rounds, 4600 machine gun rounds, 2040 rifle rounds, about 60 hand grenades and 50 launcher grenades had to be carried into battle.
To every platoon there belonged at the beginning of the war a two-horse wagon (HF 1) with a driver; on the march, the light machine guns, the grenade launcher, tripods, hand grenades, tools, long trenching tools, tripwire, gun-cleaning tools, means of camouflage, and especially the ammunition not carried by the men could be transported. When they went into battle, the command "Equipment off!" ("entfaltete!") was given and the machine guns and grenade launcher, including the ammunition to be carried with them, were unloaded and taken over by the appropriate gunners. A new four-horse wagon made of steel, with rubber tires, introduced along with HF 1, could be used well on smooth roads (for example, in the western campaign), but was much too heavy for the bad roads and lanes in the eastern campaign, and was omitted after 1941. In place of it, the troops usually made use of one or two of the wagons native to that area, which could get through almost everywhere in spite of mud and dirt. In place of the wagon, some platoons had a one-horse infantry cart, driven by a driver, with a second cart in tow. In the first cart were the machine guns with their ammunition and equipment, in the second cart the grenade launcher, ammunition, equipment and grenades. When combat operations were about to begin, the wagon or cart joined the company's supply train, which was commanded by the company's Hauptfeldwebel.
In combat the platoon "unfolded" into a wide wedge, with three squads in front and one following them, or to a pointed wedge with one squad in front and three in back. The platoon leader and platoon troop always followed in the middle, from where the platoon leader could give his signals to the groups by voice, whistle, hand signals or messengers. The platoon was capable of handling larger combat tasks such as shock-troop operations and the like.
The Rifle Company (Schützenkompanie)
The rifle company consisted of:
- Company Chief, mounted (usually a Hauptmann or Oberleutnant as regulation leader of the company, during the war also a Leutnant who, as company leader, was entrusted with the leadership of a company for a shorter or longer time on account of a shortage of company chiefs).
- Company troop
- 3 rifle platoons (schiitzenzuge)
- 3 antitank rifle troops (panzerbiichsentrupps)
- Supply train
- Commissary unit I
- Commissary unit II
- Pack train
The full battle strength added up to 2:21:178 men, the fighting strength to 176 men. Their armament consisted of 16 machine pistols, 12 light machine guns, 44 pistols, 130 rifles, 3 antitank rifles, 3 light grenade launchers, one saddle horse, 12 to 18 draft horses depending on their vehicles (see below), 8 bicycles, 1 motorcycle, 1 motorcycle with sidecar and 3 trucks.
To the company troop there belonged: 1 company troop leader (Feldwebel) with a machine pistol, 4 messengers (one originally also a musician), 2 messengers with bicycles, 1 groom with a bicycle, all with rifles, 1 medical non-commissioned officer with a bicycle, 1 medical soldier, with pistols. Along with the usual equipment, the company troop also had ten small ground panels (red and white cloths, 1.5 meters long). Laid out to form symbols and letters, they were intended to make communication with their own aircraft possible (for example, marking the front line, etc.). These cloths could only be laid out after several aircraft had appeared. So that enemy aircraft could draw no conclusions from these signs, they were to be removed immediately after their own planes were gone. In addition they could be laid out only at places in the terrain where they could not be seen by enemy ground forces.
with one troop leader (non-commissioned officer) with bicycle and three Panzerbuchsen to be served by two men each, with pistols (the Gunner 1 operated the Panzerbuchse, the Gunner 2 was the ammunition gunner with ammunition pouches on his belt for two bullet holders of ten rounds each). Generally there was one Panzerbuchse crew for each platoon.
To the supply train there belonged:
I Hauptfeldwebel with pistol and bicycle, one supply train leader (Gefecht-strossfiihrer) with rifle and bicycle, one weapons and equipment noncommissioned officer with pistol, 3 two-horse wagons with wagon drivers or 3 one-horse infantry carts, each with a driver, and one four-horse combat wagon with one wagon driver and one saddle driver, one large four-horse field kitchen (150-liter kettle) with one wagon driver and one saddle driver, plus two field cooks and two orderlies, all with rifles.
To the commissary unit I (V I train):
belonged one quartermaster sergeant (Unteroffizier) as leader with bicycle, one soldier, one two-horse mess wagon with wagon driver, all with rifles.
The commissary unit II (V II train) consisted of one commissary Un-teroffizier, one motorcycle driver with solo cycle, one 3-ton truck with driver and assistant, all with rifles.
The pack train included: one pay clerk (Unteroffizier) as leader, one pay clerk's assistant, one tailor, one shoemaker, one saddler, one motorcycle driver with cycle and sidecar, 1 3-ton truck with driver and assistant for company papers, spare clothing and tools, one 3-ton truck with driver and assistant for the soldiers' packs (knapsack and laundry), all soldiers with rifles. 
In mobile warfare the supply train and V I unit were directed by the battalion staff, the V n and pack trains by the regiment. In stationary warfare and times of rest, the trains were usually 3 to 5 kilometers behind the company sector or in the company's billet area.
The company, especially when strengthened by the heavy weapons of the battalion (see also section "The Infantry Battalion"), was capable of fighting alone, what with its strength and weaponry. In an attack it "took shape", like the platoons, in a pointed and wide formation and was thus assigned "attack sectors" by the battalion, while in defense it was assigned "defense sectors." The company could be deployed, for example, as a "shock company" to penetrate enemy positions, combined with motorized units as a spearhead, assigned to handle obstacle sectors or defend support centers, etc.
Just a word about the soldiers in the trains, who were often described unjustly, even by members of their own companies, as "baggage handlers"; despite all later "combing-out actions", they were absolutely necessary.
First of all, there was the company Hauptfeldwebel, recognizable by the two "Kolbenringe" ("piston rings") on the sleeves of his jacket, in peace as in war the "mother of the company", concisely and fondly called the "Spiess" ("spear") by the men. He was "in charge" in the company's rear zone and relieved the company chief or company leader, busy with fighting, of all possible matters that were not directly concerned with battle. Thus he commanded not only all the company trains, but also supervised the activity and work of all supply-train personnel and was in charge of discipline and order in the rear zone; in particular, after a long stay he immediately set up the company writing room in a suitable building, to serve particularly for service communications with commanders and home. The Hauptfeldwebel made sure that, even in war, the services of the company handled all necessary concerns as smoothly as possible. Thus he oversaw all the paperwork, including regular reports, arriving orders, promotions, arrivals and departures, inventories, reports and such. All communications from home concerning members of the company, death reports, inquiries from civil authorities, penal orders, etc., went through him, and he also sent the sympathy letters written by the company chief to the families of fallen soldiers. The "spear" examined and distributed the mail, and not the least of his jobs was maintaining a strict rotation for fervently desired furlough passes. He made sure of a fair division of no less desirable marketed goods, kept an eye on the food supplies and looked for the men who were sent back to the trains from up front, easing their lot by making a sauna or bath available, or even a small company building with tables and benches, plus straw sacks to sleep on. And if it became necessary, the "spear" also went forward to the fighting company to take the place of a platoon leader who was out of commission.
The Fourier and Verpflegunteroffizier were responsible for the correct and complete obtaining of rations, fodder and such goods, and for their storage and distribution.
The tailors, shoemakers and saddlers always had more than enough work, mending torn and worn clothing, equipment, horse tack and the like, until new supplies could be distributed.
The pay clerk and his assistants were in charge of the whole process of paying the company. He paid the soldiers' salaries whenever and however he could, even in the front lines, received payments, and was also in charge of the other payments, such as from sale of goods, company purchases, etc.
The medical non-commissioned officers and soldiers went to the battalion's troop dressing station. In times of immobile war or quiet, they set up a dispensary or field hospital in a suitable building in the company zone, where minor wounds, illnesses or convalescence could be taken in and cared for, treated and cured under the guidance of the battalion surgeon.
A few words now about the drivers, who always took care of their horses, often making up for a shortage of fodder by dangerous "hunting trips" into the country; along with the battalion foddermaster and blacksmith, they kept the horses in good condition, and drove their carts and wagons, often under terrible conditions, enemy fire and air attacks, over rough terrain, muddy roads, through deep snow and, when necessary, across country to follow the fighting forces everywhere.
Most important, though, was the field kitchen with its two cooks and their staff, jokingly-crudely called "kitchen bulls" ("Küchenbullen") by the soldiers. There was truth in the familiar saying, "An army marches on its stomach." The physical condition as well as the mood of the whole troop depended on its daily bread. Good field cooks were often true masters of their art and trained accordingly. The dinners that they conjured up out of their kettles out of the raw materials brought by the V-I and V-II trains from the division distribution centers may not have been banquet dinners, but they were ample and nourishing food, as was recognized with thanks by all the soldiers. Usually casseroles, it might also, depending on the place, time and opportunity, consist of several dishes, such as soups, roasts with gravy, potatoes and salad, prepared in special containers.To these hot field-kitchen food, when available, such things as fruit, chocolate, and dessert were added. The field cooks, along with the quartermaster sergeant, also distributed cold food in the morning and evening as well as special rations. The food provided in the usual way was, when possible, enhanced with fresh products from the country, obtained by purchase or trade - another duty'of the Hauptfeldwebel Commandeering was always strictly forbidden (re rations, see also section "Administrative and Supply Services").
The rations intended to be the morning, midday or evening meal could, naturally, not always be delivered at the regular times on account of the fighting. For this reason the field cooks had to be movable and able to improvise. While in times of quiet, every soldier in the assembled company came forward with his own utensils and field flask to get his food, in times of action the food was brought close to the front. In darkness the field kitchen was driven to a known, designated place, as protected as possible, to which the company's food gatherers (three to four men per group) came to get the warm and cold food for the following day; one man per group took about six full cooking pots for his comrades, a second had the field flasks filled with coffee or tea and slung on himself, and a third carried the cold food in a tent square or sack. Such a distribution of food was not without danger. The clearly audible rattling of the utensils, the flashes of flashlights and such often drew enemy fire.
The role played by food and the field kitchen for the soldiers is seen in the fact that, in the extended retreats later in the war, entire units were often shattered and torn apart. What reception lines, officers and military police could not accomplish - various field kitchens became gathering places for more and more soldiers, who could then be formed into units again.
Naturally, there were times of hunger and deprivation often enough, when supply problems or critical situations brought rations to a stop. But no soldier starved as long as he was with the troops (with the exception of the Sixth Army's defeat in the Stalingrad basin). And it probably would have been almost impossible for half-starved German soldiers to have marched forward and back for thousands of kilometers through all of Europe in campaigns that went on for years.
And this too is certain - unlike almost all other armies (with the exception of the Red Army), there was only a single food supply in the whole German Army, for officers and men alike - they all ate from the same food from the same field kitchens.
When things got rough somewhere and the enemy had penetrated far into the lines, then the supply-train soldiers, insufficiently trained and experienced in warfare, had to take up arms too. Then it was said later in one or another battle report:
". . . With quickly assembled back-line units, supply-train soldiers and such, the enemy advance could be stopped ..." Medals were seldom given for it. 
Light Infantry Weapons
Among the light infantry weapons were:
- Side Arms
- Stick Grenade 24 and Hand Grenade 39
- Pistol 08
- Flare Pistol 38
- Rifle 98 k
- Self-Loading Rifle 41
- Light Machine Gun (IMG) 34
- Light Grenade Launcher (IGr.W.) 36
- Antitank Weapons (Panzerbiichsen) 38/39 and 41.
The short side arms, carried in a leather scabbard on the belt, consisted of a 26-cm one-bladed bayonet in a sheet-steel sheath, weighing 650 grams. The bayonet, attached to the rifle in combat, had long since lost the importance it had in World War I as a hand-to-hand weapon. This results from the fact that the Wehrmacht no longer provided bayonet training. To be sure, the bayonet was carried as the soldier's "side arms" to the end of World War II, but more for other purposes than for use in battle. Storm attacks and hand-to-hand combat with fixed bayonets were exceptions.
Stick Grenade (Potato Masher) 24 and Hand Grenade 39
The stick grenade, likewise stemming from World War I and subsequently improved, was first available when the war began. It consisted of a hollow wooden staff with a pull-out string, fuse and detonator, and the canister of thin sheet steel with the powder charge. The stick grenade had to be activated before use by unscrewing the safety cap on the stick end and inserting one of the detonators brought along in small cases.
To increase the shrapnel effect, a ribbed steel reinforcing cover was put around the canister as of 1941.
Weight 500 grams
Length 36 cm
Diameter (canister) 5.98 cm
Charge 165 grams of black powder
Delay 4 seconds
Range up to 25 meters/ depending on launcher
Shrapnel effect 15- to 20-meter diameter
The stick grenade could not qnly be launched individually, but also as a concentric charge, for example, in bunker fighting, or as an extended charge to blow up wire obstacles and the like.
In the concentric charge, 5 or 6 hand-grenade canisters were lashed in place around a central grenade with a stick, and the latter's detonator set off the entire bundle. In the extended charge, several hand-grenade canisters were fastened to a board, strong branch, etc., at about 15-centimeter intervals, with a stick grenade at the end. Here a long cord was tied to the trigger button to detonate it.
As of the spring of 1940, the stick grenade was complemented by the hand grenade. Compared to the stick grenade, it had the advantages of an already primed trigger button, was almost 50% lighter, easier to throw, and not as big and awkward to carry, so that the soldier always could take a few hand grenades along in his musette bag, coat or trouser pocket, close at hand.
Weight 298 grams
Length 7.6 cm
Diameter 5.0 cm
Charge 225 grams of black powder
Delay 4.5 seconds
Range similar to stick grenade
Shrapnel effect similar to stick grenade
The hand grenades were close-combat weapons especially suited to targets in or behind cover. They worked mainly through their shrapnel effect, but also by air pressure in a 3- to 6-meter circle, as well as affecting morale by the loud noise of their detonation. In an attack they were thrown just before the last storming and penetration, and were used defensively against storm attacks. They were also especially suitable for fighting in buildings, towns and trenches. Both grenades were used until the end of the war.
This pistol was introduced into the German prewar army in 1908, proved itself excellently during World War I, and became widely known under the name "Parabellum." It was a semi-automatic self-loading pistol with a knee-joint which worked as a recoil self-charger. Aiming was done by notched backsight and foresight; firing was single-shot. It was a robust reliably functioning weapon with great durability, and would, for example, shoot cleanly through a steel helmet at a distance of up to ten meters.
The ammunition per man consisted of one magazine in the pistol and a spare magazine in the leather holster. The 08 pistol was not manufactured after 1942, and was to be replaced by the 38 pistol, which was not introduced everywhere.
Caliber 9 mm (pistol ammunition)
Weight (unloaded) 870 grams
Length 22.3 cm
Range up to 500 meters
Best range 25 to 50 meters
Exit velocity (Vo) 320 meters per second
Rate of fire 10 to 20 shots per minute
Weight of bullet 12 grams
Bullet feed magazines of 8 bullets
The 08 and later 38 pistols were the standard weapons carried for close combat and self-defense by heavy weapons crews, "functionaries", medical personnel, officials and the like. Officers generally had various types of 7.65 mm caliber pistol which they had purchased.
Flare Pistol 38 (Leuchtpistole)
The 38 flare pistol was a single-shot pistol with a smooth barrel, stiffly bolted and tipping forward, without a safety catch, sights or a magazine. It was carried on a strap, as was its-leather ammunition container, and was nicknamed "Klavier" (piano) by the soldiers because of its stepped design to make the individual cartridges easier to grasp.
Weight 745 grams
Length 42.5 cm
Weight of cartridge 70 to 150 grams (depending on type)
Cartridge feed one cartridge per firing
The ammunition consisted of flare and signal cartridges which made different-colored lights. The light cartridges began to take effect only after covering 25 meters, their maximum height was 80 meters, and their light lasted from 6 to 15 seconds. In the daytime, in good weather, they could be seen up to 2.5 kilometers; at light details could be seen in a 100-meter diameter. When a parachute flare was used, the light lasted for up to a minute.
The most commonly used light and signal cartridges for day and night, and their meanings (when not otherwise ordered and agreed on) were:
Light cartridge, white, and parachute light cartridge - To illuminate the terrain at night.
Signal cartridge, white - "Here is our front line" or "here are our units"
Signal cartridge, red, single fired or double star toward the enemy -"Enemy is attacking" or, "enemy is there" or "barrage fire ordered"
Signal cartridge, green, single or double star - "Lift the fire"
Multi-star cartridge, white, red and green - Usually to signal cooperation with heavy weapons, artillery, for storm action, disengagement, etc.
Signal cartridge, violet, and smoke cartridges - "Tank warning" or "enemy tanks are attacking here"
Whistling cartridge - "Gas alarm"
There was no soldier in an infantry division, indeed in the whole Wehrmacht, who had not held the 98 k Rifle in his hand, had not been trained to use it and fire it, even if only on the firing range. And, for hundreds of thousands of soldiers it was their main weapon during the entire war - the 98 k rifle, was also known in jest as "The Soldier's Bride", but was also referred to as a "shootin* iron" by the soldiers themselves.
The 98 k (kurz: short) rifle was developed as an infantry handgun from the 98 rifle or carbine of World War I. It was similar to the old 98 rifle and differed essentially in having a barrel that was 14 cm shorter, a bent bolt lever, and a ring for the carrying strap on the side of the butt and butt plate. Like its forerunner, the rifle was a repeater, made for clips that held five cartridges, which were pushed into the box magazine by hand and locked in by the bolt lever via a turning cylinder lock. The sight consisted of a foresight with a V notch and a sliding sight that could be set from 100 (fixed sight) to 2000 meters.
Caliber 7.92 mm
Weight 3.9 kg
Overall length (barrel length) 1.11 m (59.4 cm)
Maximum range 2700 m
Effective range 400 to 500 m
Initial velocity (V0) 755 m/sec
Rate of fire up to 10 rounds per minute
Cartridge weight 23.7 grams
Cartridge feed Charger (frame), 5 cartridges
The rifle could also be used as a sharpshooter's rifle. For that purpose the Zf 41 telescopic sight with small (2.5-fold) or the Zf 42 with great (fivefold) magnification could be screwed onto the rifle.
The 98 k rifle was the uniform weapon for the great majority of soldiers, who could use it as the occasion demanded, in shooting at targets, from the hip, firing grenades or rapid fire. Of course the rifle was primarily a firearm, but with its heavy wooden shaft, it could also be used as a thrusting and, with a bayonet, a cutting weapon.
The rifle was an absolutely reliable weapon for any good rifleman, and was retained until the war ended without any modifications. Then even the development of this, the most famous of repeater rifles, came to an end. There was no successor type.
Self-Loading 41 Rifle
With this self-loading rifle, which came out in two versions that were scarcely different, the attempt was made to equip the troops at least partially with a rapid-fire rifle. In this case it was a gas-pressure self-loader with support-flap locking and hammer bolt, air-cooling, a shaft like the 98 k rifle with a somewhat shortened foreshaft, and a box magazine for ten rounds (single shots) inserted from the bottom.
Caliber ' 7.92 mm
Weight 4.3 kg
Overall length (barrel length) 1.14 m (55.8 cm)
Sight 100 to 1200 m
Effective range to 550 m
Initial velocity (V0) 776 meters per second
Rate of fire 10 rounds in 12 seconds
The two rifle types, which were supplied the troops from the spring of 1942 on, were not as successful as had been hoped. They were not effective enough, often jammed, and were too expensive to produce. Cleaning the gas-pressure system was also difficult for the individual soldier. Therefore only a limited number of rifles was produced, and were usually issued as special weapons, equipped with telescopic sights, for sharpshooters.
Machine Pistol 40
For a long time, the German authorities could not decide whether or not to continue to develop the 18 machine pistol, also known as the MPi Bergmann, which had appeared during World War I, and put it into general use. In the western campaign in 1940 there were only three of them per company, one for each platoon leader. Only in 1941 did the MPi 40, a slightly improved versipn of the already developed MPi 38, reach the troops. The two models are almost identical. This machine pistol was a firearm made - for the first time - of stamped sheet metal and, as a recoil loader with a heavy spring breech, could be used only for sustained fire. It was usually fired with its shoulderpiece swiveled out, but could also be used with it folded in. The sight consisted of a fixed sight for up to 100 meters and a flap sight for 200 meters. Ammunition feed took place from a staff magazine mounted at the bottom.
Though most of its characteristics were good, the machine pistol had one serious fault. It was very susceptible to dampness, dirt and coldness, which often caused it to jam. In addition, its safety catch was not reliable enough, and often led to accidents. Even if it was set down on the ground a bit too hard, a loaded weapon could fire. The troops remedied that by making the safety a little firmer by adding a small belt. Then too, the spring of the straight magazine, with a full load of cartridges, lost its strength rather quickly, which in turn led to many jammings at decisive moments. This could be cured only by putting fewer cartridges in the magazine.
Caliber 9 mm (pistol ammunition)
Length, shoulderpiece in 63.5 cm
Length, shoulderpiece out 88.9cm
Maximum range 300m
Effective range 200m
Initial velocity (Vo) 381 meters per second
Rate of fire 400 to 500 rounds per minute
Cartridge weight Same as 08 pistol
Cartridge feed Staff magazine with 32 cartridges
Despite these weaknesses, which were later corrected, the MPi 40, along with the rifle, remained a standard weapon of the infantry, with which platoon and squad leaders in particular were armed. It was a short-range weapon particularly suitable for close combat town and forest fighting. This machine pistol was issued in great numbers. The extent of production can be seen in the fact that in March of 1945 there were 48,300 of them manufactured.
Light Machine Gun 34
The 34 light machine gun, introduced to replace the earlier 08/15 machine gun used in World War I, was a gas-pressure recoil charger with air cooling. The sight range extended from 200 to 2000 meters, the IMG was set up for single shots and sustained fire, the latter meaning that - to keep on target - only quick successive bursts of 3 to 6 rounds could be fired. The folding bipod could be used in forward position for far and medium ranges, and in central position for close ranges, with a wider traverse. Ammunition feed was provided by metal belts with 50 rounds each or from metal drums (belt drums), also of 50 rounds. With the belt drum attached to the feed of the MG, the gun was immediately ready to fire (the empty belt automatically rolled up in the drum). Since the same ammunition was used as in the 98 k rifle, it could be exchanged from one weapon to the other if need be. The cartridges were inserted into the belts by hand, and on command, special ammunition (such as tracer bullets) could be inserted at intervals.
Gunner 1 usually fired in a lying position in moving warfare. When the situation required, the gun could also be fired standing up or over the shoulder of Gunner 2, who then held the bipod firmly.
Set on a telescopic tripod (aerial tripod - weight 6.9 kg), the IMG -equipped with a panoramic sight - could also be used as an anti-aircraft gun. These unhandy AA tripods, brought along in a platoon's equipment vehicle, were used rarely and soon dispensed with altogether. It was quicker and simpler to fire the MG at low-flying enemy planes from the shoulder of Gunner 2.
This weapon too had its weaknesses. When firing, the barrel became hot very quickly and thus had to be changed. When changing the barrel, though, one had to be particularly careful not to burn one's hands. It was impractical that in doing this, the lid of the MG had to be opened, the breech uncovered and the hot barrel removed with asbestos gloves or metal hooks, which was naturally quite difficult at night. In addition, the MG was very sensitive to dust, sand, snow, etc., and very expensive to produce.
Caliber 7.92 mm
Weight 12.1 kg
Length (barrel length) 1.22 m (59.6 cm)
Sight 200 to 2000 meters
Maximum range 3000 meters
Effective range to 1500 meters
Initial velocity (V0) 755 meters per second
Rate of fire 800 to 900 rounds per minute
The light machine gun provided the primary firepower of the rifle companies. Their light weight and low structure allowed their use in the front lines, in all battle situations, by just one shooter.
Light Grenade Launcher 36 (Leichter Granatwerfer)
The light grenade launcher consisted of two parts and was a muzzle loader with a smooth bore, mounted on a small baseplate. Aiming was done in a simple manner, when Mortarman 1 - sighting along a white stripe on the barrel or using two aiming rods - moved the launcher crudely into firing position. A fine adjustment was made by using the elevation and traverse controls, while a clinometer handled angles. The distances were marked on the left side of the holder as gradations on a line. Firing was done by an equally simple trigger lever.
For the light grenade launcher, only one basic charge was available, already within the grenade. Only explosive grenades with percussion caps could be used as ammunition. These grenades scattered a great number of small bits of shrapnel in a circle of some 20 to 30 meters, which was sufficient to put enemy troops out of commission.
Caliber 5 cm
Total weight 14.5 kg (barrel 5.6 kg, base 8.9 kg)
Maximum range 550 meters
Minimum range 50 meters
Most effective range 300 meters
Elevation 42 to 85 degrees
Traverse 17 degrees to left and right
Initial velocity (V0) 75 meters per second
Rate of (effective) fire 6 grenades in 9 to 10 seconds
Ready to fire 2 minutes
Weight of grenade 900 grams
Flight time of grenade ca. 13 seconds at ca. 200 meters
Crew 2 men
The light grenade launcher was intended to be effective at ranges between those of hand grenades and heavy grenade launchers. It was comparatively easy to transport and use, but was not durable. Since its effect against well-covered and built-in targets was meager, it was used gradually less and less. The rifle grenade later took its place (see also section "New Infantry Weapons").
Antitank Rifle 39 (Panzerbüchse)
The 38/39 "Panzerbüchse" antitank rifle was a weapon similar to a rifle, with folding bipod, shoulderpiece and pistol-like grip with trigger, which could be used by one man and carried by hand or over the shoulder. It was a single-shot weapon with which armor-piercing shells were fired.
The first version had been introduced to the troops as Antitank Rifle 38. Within one year, though, it was replaced by a refined version, Antitank Rifle 39, which was similar but 3.18 kilograms lighter. The antitank rifle was not semi-automatic, thus its recoil was stronger and its loading process slower. Instead of a cylinder breech like the 98 k rifle, it had a vertical-block breech. The strong recoil pushed the barrel back when firing and opened the breech. The single shell could be inserted by the shooter now, whereupon the breech locked itself and was ready to fire again. The ammunition was kept in a ten-round shell container on the side, near the grip.
Caliber 7.92 mm (special shell)
Overall length (barrel length) 1.27 m (1.09 m)
Sight distances to 600 meters
Effective range under 200 meters
Initial velocity (V ) 1210 meters per second
Rate of fire 10 to 12 rounds per minute
Penetration 30 mm at 60-degree angle at 100
meters, 25 mm at 300 meters
Special ammunition (see also section "Ammunition").
The antitank rifles, intended for use by rifle companies against tanks, had already proved to have too-meager penetration (except against light enemy tanks) when the war began. Since they could not accomplish anything against the Soviet tanks from the beginning of the eastern campaign, they quickly went out of use. Further types were not developed.
Heavy Antitank Rifle 41
On the other hand, the heavy 41 antitank rifle had nothing in common with the other antitank rifles, even in terms of appearance. It was a special development in the manner of a small cannon on a short, simple special mount, with (or without) a small shield, muzzle brake and two cast spoked wheels with rubber tires. The conical barrel, narrowing toward the mouth, was especially striking. Traverse and elevation aiming gear was lacking; aiming was done by using a sight. Antitank shells (full shells with hard cores) were used as ammunition. The heavy antitank rifle could also be disassembled for transport in five loads.
Caliber 2.8 cm, tapering to 2 cm
Weight 227 kilograms
Barrel length 1.71 meters
Arc of traverse 90 degrees at 0-degree elevation,
30 degrees at 45-degree elevation
Initial velocity (Vo) 1043 meters per second
Shell weight 130 grams
Penetration 55 mm at 30 degrees at 400 meters
Crew 2 men
Since the development of other antitank (Pak) weapons went on, the heavy 41 antitank rifle was only a type of stopgap solution for the infantry, and only a small number of them, 183 in all, were made. The numbers of these medium-performance and fully insufficient antitank weapons supplied to the troops in the army added up to the following:
Weapon 9/1/1939 4/1/1940 6/1/1941
Panzerbüchsen 38 & 39 568 1118 25,298
Panzerbüchse 41 - - 183
Light and Heavy Panzerfaust
The infantry's constant plea for an effective, portable one-man antitank weapon, so as not to be compelled constantly to defend themselves in close combat against masses of enemy tanks in the east and west, and also to be independent of the numerically insufficient and not always or universally available heavy antitank guns of the Panzerjager, was answered much too late.
Such a weapon finally reached the troops, introduced in small numbers as of September 1943: the so-called "fist cartridge", popularly known as the "Panzerfaust." This was followed by additional larger and more effective versions. The Panzerfaust was developed in 1943 on the hollow-charge principle and was actually nothing more than a hollow-charge grenade at the end of a steel pipe, with a high penetration effect, that could easily be carried, operated and prepared for firing by a single man.
The Panzerfaust weapons were used for antitank action at an effective range of 30 to 80 meters. They consisted of two parts - the oversize "head" with the hollow-charge shell at the front, to be fired, and the long barrel of steel. In the shell were an impact fuse that automatically became live after flying two meters; in the front of the barrel were the wings of the shell and, behind them, a propellant charge of 186 grams of black powder in a cardboard case (with which the barrel always remained loaded) as well as empty space for delayed-action apparatus and igniter. On the barrel was a folding sight, under the barrel a simple trigger.
Before firing, every Panzerfaust had to be made live like a hand grenade, by removing the "head" and loading a propellant charge and igniter. Then the sight was folded up, the safety catch moved forward to "released" and the lever marked with "fire" (the trigger) pulled. On firing, the black-powder charge in the barrel was ignited. A part of the resulting gas pressure drove the shell out the barrel by its winged end, while the other part of the pressure escaped backward out the open end of the tube and thus eliminated most of the recoil (thus a recoilless weapon). This plume of fire, shooting one to two meters out of the end of the barrel, was the weapon's great disadvantage, for it could be lethal to a distance of three meters. Thus a Panzerfaust user had to be especially careful that nobody was standing behind him, and also that no walls, earthworks, trees, etc., were in the way, which could have caused danger for him. Finally, of course, the plume of fire and heavy smoke betrayed the shooter's position, which required a quick change of position after firing.
Aiming at a tank was done as with other weapons, by backsight notch and foresight. In practice, all firing positions - standing, kneeling or lying - were possible. The Panzerfaust could be fired only once.
There were four variations of the Panzerfaust:
At first, in 1943, the Panzerfaust 30 "small" appeared (fist cartridges 1 and 2), which were almost identical, though version 2 had a higher weight. The overall length was 1.03 meters, the weight 3 kilograms, the barrel diameter 4.5 cm, sight 30 meters, penetrating power 14 cm of armor at 30 meters. Fist cartridge 2 weighed 5.1 kg and penetrated 20 centimeters.
Since the penetrating power and range of both types were still too little, an improved Panzerfaust 60 "large" followed in 1944, with a length of 80 cm, weight 6.1 kg, barrel diameter 5 cm, sight markings 30, 60 and 80 meters, penetrating power 20 cm of armor at 60 meters.
Since this type's performance was not fully satisfactory either, the Panzerfaust 100 was developed, length 1.15 meters, weight 6.8 kg, barrel diameter 6 cm, sight markings up to 150 meters, penetrating power 20 cm of armor at an initial velocity of 40 meters per second. For the Panzerfaust 60 and 100 the hollow-charge shell had a diameter of 15 on and a weight of 3 kilograms.
The Panzerfaust soon became the most frequently used means of antitank warfare and, thanks to its simple operation and great effect, remained very popular among the soldiers from mid-1944 to the end of the war. The Panzerfaust was mass-produced after its introduction; here are some production statistics:
As of 1944, much smaller numbers of another antitank weapon were introduced, bearing the designation "Raketenpanzerbüchse 42." This "rocket antitank gun" was a recoilless weapon from whose barrel fin-stabilized hollow-charge projectiles with rocket propulsion were fired -the infantry's only rocket weapon. The improved model, the "Panzerschreck" ("tank terror"), became known to the soldiers as the "Ofenrohr" ("stovepipe") and was likewise a portable weapon with a barrel, a trigger apparatus below, and a small shield to the left of the barrel. Unlike the Panzerfaust, this weapon had to be loaded from the rear and operated by two men. Since it likewise gave out a heavy plume of fire from the rear, it too was no ideal weapon.
Weight 9.5 kilograms
Length 1.64 meters
Shot weight 3.3 kilograms
Initial velocity (V0) 130 meters per second
Range to 400 meters
Penetrating power 15 cm armor at 60-degree
By enlarging the caliber to 10 centimeters and lengthening the barrel to two meters, the range was increased to 500 meters. But sure targeting, especially on moving tanks, was only possible up to 200 meters.
On November 9, 1918—with his country in revolt and his battered army on the verge of defeat—German Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated, and the Second Reich passed into history. Early the following morning, he boarded his gold and cream-colored private train at Spa, Belgium, and crossed into neutral Holland, to begin his exile. As a final indignity, the Supreme War Lord of Imperial Germany had to give up his sword to a Dutch customs official. Thus ended the reign of the House of Hohenzollern, after 507 years and 19 generations. The Second Reich was replaced by the democratic Weimar Republic; the Imperial Army was replaced by the Reichsheer. After the armistice, the Reichsheer withdrew into its bases, organized itself, and began preparing for the next war. During the Weimar era (1919–33), the army developed and existed apart from the rest of German society. Its Officers’ Corps deliberately separated it and, to a large degree, isolated it from the rest of Germany.
It had its own ideas, legal code, traditions, culture, and manners.
To a great extent, it also formed its own society. Certainly the Officers’ Corps and its elite General Staff constituted an exclusive brotherhood of their own. As a rule they viewed the Weimar Republic— to which it felt very little loyalty and less subordination—with illconcealed contempt. They were literally a world apart from the rest of Germany and preferred it that way.
The legacy of the Reichsheer dates back to the days of Prussia and the rise of what became the House of Hohenzollern in the early fifteenth century. Prussia became, as Baron Friedrich von Leopold von Schroetter remarked, ‘‘not a country with an army, but an army with a country.’’ Under Frederick Wilhelm I, the Prussian Army became the best-trained and best drilled army in Europe, although he avoided using it, despite a great many opportunities. His son, Frederick II (1712–86)—known to history as Frederick the Great—used it with great success, expanding his kingdom beyond its East Prussian and Brandenburger heartlands and into Silesia, which he took from the Hapsburgs. It was Frederick who established the reputation of the Prussian Army as the best in Europe, based on harsh discipline, obedience, and the courage of its men, especially its officers. Under Frederick, it fought the first and second Silesian wars, the Seven Years’ War, and the War of the First Partition of Poland. Unfortunately for Prussia, however, Frederick’s successors, Frederick Wilhelm II and III (his nephew and grandnephew), lacked his skills, strength of will, and intelligence. As a result, the army stagnated and was finally crushed and humiliated by Napoleon in the Jena campaign of 1806.
Following the Napoleonic Peace of Tilsit (1807) and the harsh Treaty of Paris (1808), the Prussian Army was built anew under the ‘‘reformers,’’ led by General Johann von Scharnhorst. Scharnhorst shifted the emphasis of Prussian military thought and doctrine from a volunteer army obsessed with iron discipline and rigid drill to a conscripted army, stressing technological expertise, operational planning, tactical flexibility, and a highly trained and dedicated professional Officers’ Corps. He and his young assistants, including Count Wilhelm Anton Neidhardt von Gneisenau and Karl von Clausewitz, founded the Landwehr (the national militia), the Prussian General Staff, and the War Academy, and lay the foundations for a tradition of military excellence that endured until 1945.
Scharnhorst died of wounds he suffered in the Battle of Luetzen in 1813, but the army he created helped smash Napoleon at Leipzig and Waterloo. Although the aristocratic military reactionaries were by no means a thing of the past after 1815 (thanks to their influence with the king), the Prussian Army continued its quiet, steady development under the supervision of the General Staff until it had, in effect, institutionalized the idea of professional military excellence at all levels of the army. General Staff training was especially vigorous. Entrance into the War Academy in Berlin (where the officers of the General Staff were trained) was by competitive examination, and well over three-quarters of the applicants were eliminated at the beginning. Of the 150 officers who succeeded in gaining admission each year, only about 50 completed the course, which was gradually expanded until it was three years long. The survivors were then assigned to the Great General Staff in Berlin for two years of additional training in topographical mapping, map exercises, and war games. Following this assignment, they participated in the annual Staff Ride, under the personal supervision of the chief of the General Staff. Finally, the top three or four candidates were chosen to wear the distinctive red trouser stripes of permanent members of the General Staff. They could look forward to more rapid promotions and better duty assignments than their contemporaries, and these candidates usually spent most of their careers alternating between positions with the Great General Staff (Grosser Generalstab), housed in a red brick building in the northeast corner of the Tiergarten, near the center of the government sector of Berlin, and assignments with the field forces (Truppengeneralstab).
By the 1860s, the great majority of Prussia’s senior commanders had developed through this process. The king was, of course, still the official supreme commander of the army, but by now his role was largely nominal: the chief of the General Staff was the real leader of the German Army. From 1813 until 1871, the Prussian Army enjoyed a string of unbroken
successes. After the Napoleonic Wars, it smashed the Revolution of 1848, overran Schleswig-Holstein in the Danish Wars of 1848 and 1864, crushed the forces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the Seven Weeks’ War of 1866, and—to the surprise of the entire world—humiliated France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71. As a result, Otto von Bismarck (the ‘‘Iron Chancellor’’) was able to unite Germany and make Wilhelm I the first kaiser (emperor) of the Second Reich (empire) at Versailles in 1871. The Prussian General Staff was generally considered the best-trained professional military body in the world between then and 1914. It was copied and emulated by a great many countries during that era, including the three formerly independent German states that retained the right to keep their military establishments
in time of peace: Bavaria, Wuerttemberg, and Saxony. (Even these were forced to recognize the hegemony of Berlin, however, and were subordinate to the Prussian General Staff in time of war.)
If the Prussian General Staff was considered to be a model for others to follow, German diplomacy after Wilhelm II ascended to the throne in 1890 was not. He sacked Bismarck and maneuvered the Reich into a strategic corner by 1914, when it faced the prospect of a two-front war without a single strong ally. General Count Alfred von Schlieffen, chief of the General Staff from 1891, recognized Germany’s dangerous position as early as 1894 and devised a plan to deal with it. The famous Schlieffen Plan was based on the concept of a rapid mobilization and, making maximum use of railroads, called for concentrating the bulk of Germany’s combat power on the right flank of the Western Front. Six of the Kaiser’s eight armies would then overrun neutral Belgium and part of the Netherlands, debauch into France, and capture Paris before the British or Russians could decisively intervene.
The Schlieffen Plan probably would have worked had Schlieffen himself directed operations in 1914, but he died on January 4, 1913.
Appropriately enough, his last words were: ‘‘Strengthen the right wing.’’ This advice his successor General Helmuth Johann Ludwig von Moltke, known as ‘‘Moltke the younger,’’ did not follow. When World War I broke out, he attacked through Belgium with 55 divisions,
instead of with the 71 planned by Schlieffen. Moltke also dispensed with the 16-division follow-up force his predecessor had envisioned.
Then, once the campaign had started, Moltke grew nervous about Russian advances into East Prussia, so he withdrew two corps from the main advance and sent them to the East. They arrived in Prussia after Paul Ludwig von Hindenburg, Erich Ludendorff, and Max Hoffmann had won the Battle of Tannenberg, and the Czar’s forces were in full retreat. Even so, the French government fled from Paris before French General Joseph J. C. Joffre halted the German offensive on the Marne.
This defeat ruined Germany’s prospects for a quick victory and doomed the Reich to a long war of attrition. Moltke the younger was replaced as chief of the General Staff on September 14, 1914, by General Erich von Falkenhayn, the minister of war of Prussia. When Falkenhayn was unable to break the stalemate on the Western Front, Wilhelm replaced him with the Hindenburg-Ludendorff team in August 1916. Ludendorff, the First Quartermaster-General, received the title Feldherr (literally, ‘‘warlord’’) and was called the ‘‘National Commander.’’ He scored a number of important successes, most notably the defeat of Russia; however, he exhibited a flaw common to German General Staff officers before and since: untrained in geopolitics or international affairs, and uneducated in politics, he had too much faith in the invincibility of German arms and too little grasp of what was practical or possible on the larger scale. As a result, his Great Offensive of 1918 failed, and he was replaced by General Wilhelm Groener in late October 1918. Less than three weeks later, Germany sued for peace.
The military clauses of the Treaty of Versailles attempted to reduce the German armed forces to the status of an armed police and coast guard force by limiting the German Army to 100,000 men, including 4,000 officers. So that it could never again wage offensive warfare, it was forbidden to have tanks, aircraft, poison gas, or field pieces larger than 105 millimeters. To ensure that no significant reserves were created, privates and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) had to enlist for 12 years, and officers were required to commit themselves to 25 years’ service. The General Staff, the War Academy, and the cadet academies were banned, a yearly personnel turnover of more than 5 percent was prohibited, and even its ammunition supply was limited to prevent stockpiling for a major war. The German Navy was similarly restricted. It was authorized 15,000 men (including 1,500 officers) and a fleet of six obsolete battleships, six light cruisers, 12 destroyers and 12 torpedo boats, with a reserve of two battleships, two cruisers, four destroyers, and four torpedo boats. It was forbidden to have submarines, a fleet air arm, or naval guns larger than 280 millimeters (approximately 11 inches). Both branches of the service were subject to inspections by the International Control Commission.
The Law of the Creation of the Provisional Reichswehr passed the Reichstag on March 6, 1919, but it was only a stopgap measure, still leaving the army more than twice the size permitted by the treaty and lacking a permanent organizational structure. President Ebert assigned the task of submitting recommendations concerning the organization of the postwar army to a commission headed by Lieutenant General Hans von Seeckt.
His recommendations were accepted with only minor modifications and became the basis of the new Reichswehr (Reich Defense Force or Armed Forces). The nominal commander-in-chief of the Reichswehr was the president, but actual authority was normally exercised by the defense minister.
The Reichswehr consisted of the Reichsheer (army) and Reichsmarine (navy). The former played such a predominant role (Germany was traditionally a land power) that many came to consider the Reichswehr and Reichsheer as being identical. The tiny navy amounted to little until after the rise of Adolf Hitler. Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was not allowed to have an air force.
Because the treaty forbade the army or navy to have a commander-in-chief, the Weimar Republic’s defense ministry accepted Seeckt’s recommendation and created the Heeresleitung (army command), initially headed by a 48-year-old Wuerttemberger officer named Walter Reinhardt.
Under the Army Command came the Personnel Office, the Waffenamt (Armament and Equipment Office, or Ordnance Office), the Truppenamt (Troop Office), and the Army Administrative Service.
The real power in the army was the Troop Office, which was, in reality, a clandestine General Staff. It was headed by General von Seeckt, a highly cultured Pomeranian nobleman. Known in the army as ‘‘the Sphinx with a Monocle,’’ he was short, thin, neat, and dainty in his appearance. The son of a Prussian general, he was born in Schleswig in 1866, and was commissioned second lieutenant in the elite 1st (Emperor Alexander) Foot Guards Regiment at the age of 19. He became a member of the General Staff in 1899 and soon established a reputation as a brilliant staff officer. When World War I broke out, he was chief of staff of the III Corps and distinguished himself in the Soissons breakthrough.
As a result of these successes, he was named chief of staff of Field Marshal August von Mackensen’s newly formed 11th Army on the Eastern Front and played a major role in the Battle of Gorlice, one of the most spectacular German victories of the war. For his part in this campaign, Seeckt was awarded the Pour le Merite (the ‘‘Blue Max’’).
Later, he served as chief of staff of the Austro-Hungarian 12th Army and as chief of staff of the Turkish Army. During the war, Seeckt rose from the rank of lieutenant colonel to lieutenant general and proved that he was an extremely able officer who understood political problems; nevertheless, he was never given the chance to return to the Western Front, due to the animosity of Ludendorff. This worked to his advantage after the armistice, however; after serving as military advisor on the Treaty of Versailles and heading the reorganization commission, he rebuilt the General Staff (under the cover name Truppenamt) and established the organizational foundation that Hitler’s generals would later expand into the most feared army of its time.
Seeckt’s Troop Office was the chief planning agency for the army and consisted of several departments, including T 1 (operations), T 2 (organization), T 3 (statistics and intelligence), T 4 (training), and T 7 (transportation). These departments were further subdivided into office
groups (Amtsgruppen), branches (Abteilungen), and sections (Gruppen).
The lowest level of the General Staff was the Referat (desk). Each of these subdivisions dealt with various tasks, including a number forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. Group L of the operations department, for example, handled Germany’s clandestine air forces and kept up with developments in aviation and military aviation, while special section T 3V handled matters relating to the secret Red Army/Reichswehr agreements and so forth. This organization was flexible and could easily be expanded to serve a much larger army.
The level of command below the Army Command was the Gruppenkommando (Group Command). There were two of these field army–level headquarters: Group 1 in Berlin controlled all units in northern and eastern Germany, and Group 2 in Kassel controlled those in the south and west. Under these commands came the true functional heart of the German Army: the Wehrkreise (military districts).
Each Wehrkreis was a corps-level territorial command that was responsible for recruitment, mobilization, supply, administration, logistical support, and all territorial and military-political (or military-civilian) matters within its area. Later, when the German Army took the field, the Wehrkreise also assumed responsibility for training as well.
Initially, there were seven military districts, all designated by Roman numerals. Wehrkreis I, headquartered in Koenigsberg, controlled the district of East Prussia, which was cut off from the rest of Germany by the Polish Corridor. Wehrkreis II, headquartered in Stettin, controlled
northern Germany and included Pomerania, Mecklenburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, and Luebeck. Wehrkreis III in Berlin directed Brandenburg, Silesia, and the Greater Berlin area. Wehrkreis IV in Dresden included Saxony and Anhalt. Wehrkreis V (Stuttgart) included Hesse, Thuringia, Baden, and Wuerttemberg. Military District VI (Muenster) consisted of Hanover, Westphalia, Brunswick, and Oldenburg; and Wehrkreis VII in Munich was responsible for Bavaria.
In addition to directing the military activities in their territories, each Wehrkreis commander was also the commander of an infantry division, which bore the same number as the Wehrkreis, although the two commands were technically separate. As divisional commander, the general was responsible for the training and operations of his division.
The Wehrkreis commander thus had two jobs and was responsible to two bosses. As a corps-level district commander, he was directly responsible to the Army Command in Berlin. As division commander, he was responsible to the Group Commander for operations, administration, and supply. Wehrkreise I through IV were subordinate to Group Command 1, and Wehrkreis V, VI, and VII reported to Headquarters, Group 2, in Kassel. When the Nazi-era military expansion began in 1935, the Wehrkreise commanders gave up their divisions and became true corps commanders in every sense.
Each infantry division consisted of three infantry regiments, an artillery regiment, and reconnaissance, signal, engineer, and anti-tank battalions, as well as smaller medical, supply, administration, service, and veterinary units. Each division had approximately 12,000 men, although this figure increased to the 15,000–17,000 range after 1935.
From then until the fall of 1941, it was not uncommon for a division to control 20,000 men, counting temporarily attached smaller units. Until 1935, each German infantry division had two deputy commanders: the Artillieriefuehrer and the Infanteriefuehrer (artillery commander and infantry commander, respectively). These men were normally major generals who commanded the divisional units of their branches, as well as any units attached to them by the division commander.
These men frequently functioned as battle group (Kampfgruppe) commanders in the many divisional maneuvers. The most important officer on the divisional staff was the Ia (the chief of operations), who was, in effect, divisional chief of staff (although this term was used only at the corps level and higher). When the division went to the field, the staff usually divided into three separate operational groups: the Fuehrungsabteilung (operations staff), the Quartermeister (the supply staff), and the Adjutantur (personnel staff).
The Fuehrungsabteilung (which included the intelligence officer [Ic] and his staff) was the most important. Directed by the Ia, it formed with division’s tactical nerve center and was known as the division’s command post (CP).
The supply headquarters (Quartermeister) was headed by the Ib (chief supply officer or divisional quartermaster). Physically separated from the CP, it included the IVa (chief administrative officer), IVb (chief medical officer), and V (motor transport officer), each of whom directed his own section. Most of these officers were not members of the General Staff; as a general rule, only I-type officers (the Ia, Ib, and so on) were General Staff graduates.
The personnel group (or Adjutantur) was the third staff grouping. Generally some distance to the rear, it was directed by the IIa (chief personnel officer or adjutant). He supervised the IIb (second personnel officer), the III (chief judge advocate), and the chaplain (IVd), as well as various other units needed to keep a staff headquarters and divisional rear area functioning normally, such as security detachments, construction engineer units, labor battalions, and replacement units.
The basic combat unit of the infantry division was, of course, the infantry regiment. In the Reichswehr era, each infantry division had three such regiments, and each infantry regiment had three infantry battalions, numbered I, II, and III. Each battalion controlled four companies: I Battalion had the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th companies; II Battalion controlled the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th companies; and III Battalion directed the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th companies. All of these were infantry (rifle) companies, except the 4th, 8th, and 12th, which were the battalion-heavy weapons companies and included heavy machine-gun and mortar platoons. The 13th and 14th companies were the infantry cannon and anti-tank companies and were directly subordinate to the regimental commander.
The Reichsheer also had three cavalry divisions, which consisted of six small cavalry regiments and one artillery battalion each—a total strength of 5,300 men. The commanders of the cavalry divisions were junior in rank to the Wehrkreise commanders, had no territorial responsibilities themselves, and were subordinate to the district commanders in times of emergency. Most of the time, however, they were directly under the command of their Group Headquarters. Group 1 controlled the 1st Cavalry Division (headquartered at Frankfurt-am-Oder) and the 2nd Cavalry at Breslau. The 3rd Cavalry Division at Weimar came under
the jurisdiction of Group 2.
Before the 100,000-man army could be established, tens of thousands of officers and hundreds of thousands of other ranks had to be involuntarily discharged from the service. Generals Reinhardt and von Seeckt disagreed on the type of officer to be retained. Reinhardt wanted to keep primarily frontline soldiers; Seeckt wanted to keep as many General Staff officers as possible. This issue was by no means settled on March 12, 1920, when the Kapp Putsch rocked the foundations of the Weimar Republic. It was sparked when the government in Berlin, acting on the orders of the Allied Control Commission, tried to dissolve the Freikorps—right-wing paramilitary organizations that the Weimar government had been using to suppress Communist revolts.
At 1 A.M. the following morning, with the rebellious Ehrhardt Naval Brigade marching unopposed on the capital, Gustav Noske, the defense minister, met with the leaders of the Reichsheer in his office in the defense ministry. Present were Generals Reinhardt, von Seeckt, Burghard von Oven, and Baron von Oldershausen; Admiral Alfred von Trotha; and six field-grade officers, including Major Kurt von Hammerstein, the son-in-law of General Baron Walter von Luettwitz, the senior rebel military commander. Noske wanted to use force against the Putschists, and he was backed by General Reinhardt, the chief of the Army Command. Reinhardt, however, was tolerated by the Officers’ Corps, rather than respected by it. He had liberal views, was a true believer in the Republic and its ideals, and had made too many compromises with the democratic politicians to suit the officers of the old school; in addition, he lacked seniority and had not even reached general rank until December 1918, when he became war minister of Prussia. The real power in the military lay with Hans von Seeckt, who solemnly declared: ‘‘Troops do not fire on troops.’’ In other words, Seeckt would not risk a civil war, even if it meant allowing the insurrectionists to capture Berlin and overthrow the regime. Of those present, only Noske, his personal adjutant, and Reinhardt voted to use force to protect the government. Noske, President Ebert, and the bulk of the cabinet were forced to flee into the night; the Putsch was only defeated because the government called for a massive general strike, which brought the life of the country to a halt and forced Wolfgang Kapp (the civilian leader of the Putsch who was largely a figurehead for Luettwitz) to ‘‘resign’’ on March 17. He then fled to Sweden.
In the aftermath of the attempted coup, General von Seeckt was left as the unchallenged leader of the defense establishment. As soon as the Putsch collapsed, he personally replaced General von Luettwitz as commander of Group 1. He quickly removed the commanders of Wehrkreise I and II from their posts for supporting the coup. Seeckt also played a role in forcing the resignations of Noske (March 24) and Reinhardt (March 25). Reinhardt was forced to retire because he could not get troops to obey his orders in a crisis situation and because he had ordered German troops to fire on other German troops. General von Seeckt replaced him as chief of the Army Command the very day he resigned. Seeckt would be the undisputed dictator of the German armed forces for the next six critical years. He had a unique opportunity to build an army in accordance with his own ideas, and he took full advantage of it.
Hans von Seeckt considered the mass armies of 1914 obsolete. They were, he said, unmaneuverable, poorly trained, and far too expensive. The next war, he predicted, would be won by smaller, mobile armies with superior training and equipment. He attached the greatest value to training and also emphasized the importance of mechanization, motorization, and air power. Overruling the recommendations of his own personnel staff, he insisted that at least 180 of the officers of the new Reichsheer be former Air Service officers.
To man the new ‘‘100,000 man army,’’ and especially the 4,000 man Officers’ Corps, General von Seeckt and his colleagues had the pick of the best of more than 270,000 German officers who had survived the Great War. Their selections were based on high professional accomplishments and demonstrated efficiency; intelligence and high standards of educational achievement; ‘‘correctness’’ in both professional and private life; a strong sense of tradition and generally promonarchist political views; and a desire to isolate the army from the politics of the Weimar Republic. General Staff officers received preference in selection over non–War Academy graduates, and younger officers were preferred to older ones.
Seeckt and his staff drew their officers from three general categories: (1) General Staff officers; (2) Freikorps veterans; and (3) the junior officer ranks of the pre-1914 Imperial Army. Their selections were extremely important in the history of Nazi Germany and World War II, because the officers they selected led Hitler’s army groups, armies, corps, and air fleets from 1939 until the very end. Some officers fell into all three categories, but most did not. The old Imperial Army had been devastated by the war. Of the 22,112 officers on active duty when the war began, 11,357—more than 50 percent—were killed in action before the armistice.5 As a general rule, the new army was disproportionately dominated by the aristocrats. In February 1927, for example, 25 of its 42 generals were noblemen; 45 of its 105 colonels were nobles; and 162 of the 724 officers assigned to the defense ministry were nobles. The cavalry was especially dominated by ‘‘the vons’’: 265 of its 596 officers were aristocrats.6 Only 0.74 percent of the general population was of noble birth.
One type of officer not often retained was the Einjaehrig-Freiwilliger. Typically, these were 17 or 18 year olds who served at the front for a time and then underwent a hasty officers’ basic course at an officers’ training school. They were jeeringly called ‘‘90-day wonders’’ by enlisted men (but seldom to their faces, because they enjoyed some of the same rights as the most senior Prussian general—such as that of boxing an enlisted man’s ears anytime they felt provoked. An ‘‘ear boxing’’ in the Prussian Army was designed to burst an ear drum.)
Many of these volunteer officers entered the Freikorps after the war, joined the provincial police in the early 1920s, and ended up back in the army in the 1930s, typically as a major. A great many of them served as regimental officers during World War II, and quite a few became generals. The fact that officers of this caliber were not seriously considered for retention in the Reichsheer is an indication of the high quality of the candidates available to General von Seeckt in 1920. This is also why the German Army viewed the police as a potential source of reserves throughout the 1920s and 1930s.
Seeckt would not tolerate prima donnas in his army. ‘‘The form changes, the spirit remains,’’ he said when he set up the Truppenamt. ‘‘It is the spirit of silent, selfless devotion to duty in the service of the Army. General Staff officers have no names.’’ For him, it was intolerable for officers to meddle in politics (although he periodically meddled in them himself). ‘‘Great achievements, small display; more reality than appearance’’ became a motto of the General Staff officer.
After the initial selections, the decision on which officers to choose for the regimental and company-level appointments usually fell to the colonel involved. As one might expect, this man almost invariably selected candidates whom he believed to have outstanding leadership
potential, largely because it was in his own best interests to do so. About 400 exceptionally talented NCOs and Feldwebel-Leutnant (sergeant-major-lieutenant or acting second lieutenant) received permanent commissions in this way.
Once an officer was selected for the Reichsheer, his rate of promotion was very slow, as is still typical in a small army. For example, Erwin Rommel, who later earned distinction as the ‘‘Desert Fox’’ in World War II, entered the Reichsheer as a captain in 1919, having been promoted the year before. He was not promoted again until 1932, when he had 14 years’ time in grade. Kurt Student, a future colonel general and ‘‘father’’ of the German parachute branch, was a captain from 1917 until 1929. Hans Jeschonnek, a future Generaloberst (colonel general), was a lieutenant for 17 years. Most other junior officers were promoted with equal slowness. Some future World War II generals, in fact, served full 12-year enlistments without ever receiving their commissions.
Examples of these include Major General Ludwig Heilmann, future commander of the 5th Parachute Division; General of Schutzstaffel (SS) Willi Bittrich, commander of the II SS Panzer Corps in the Battle of Arnhem; and SS Major General Helmuth Becker, commander of the 3rd SS Panzer Division ‘‘Totenkopf.’’
The postwar intake of potential officers was very small; therefore, the standards they had to meet were very high. Preference went to those under 21 years of age with a higher education. They served 15 months in their regiments as enlisted men and, if still considered suitable, took their Fahnenjunker examination. Prior to World War I, other officer candidates (those coming straight out of schools or universities) entered the ranks as Fahnenjunkern (officer cadets). They ate in the officers’ mess (but were not allowed to speak unless spoken to) and could sleep in private accommodations after six weeks’ service. Then they went on to a war school (Kriegschule). The procedures were similar during the Reichswehr era, but the standards were much higher. If the Reichsheer candidate passed his Fahnenjunker exam, he was promoted to Faehnrich (senior officer cadet or officer candidate) and sent to the corporals’ course at the infantry school at Dresden, regardless of his branch. Then he took the officers’ examination. If he passed, he was promoted to Oberfaehnrich (roughly equivalent to ensign or senior candidate) and joined the officers’ mess of his regiment. After a certain period of time, he was accepted or rejected for the rank of second lieutenant by a vote of the officers of the regiment. This was usually just a formality; if the colonel wanted a Oberfaehnrich commissioned, it would be almost unheard of for the officers to reject him. In any case, the entire process took between four and five years from the date of the candidate’s enlistment.
Twice a year the recruitment of enlisted men took place. A successful volunteer had to be single, between 17 and 21 years of age, with no criminal record, and in excellent physical condition. The choice concerning who to accept was left to the company, battery, or troop commanders, who functioned as their own recruiting officers. They thus had a great deal of interest in only choosing the best men available.
Most of the recruits had political views identical to those of the officer selecting him, which meant they were conservative, nationalistic, and often pro-monarchist and anti-republican. Men from rural areas were generally preferred to city dwellers, because they were usually in better physical condition and tended to be more conservative.
Their training and discipline was strict but generally fair and without the abuse and brutality of the Kaiser’s day. The fact that the NCOs were more closely supervised and of a generally higher quality than those of the Imperial Army were the major reasons behind this change.
Like their officers, enlisted men and NCOs could not marry without official permission. This permission usually was not granted until after a soldier’s 27th birthday. The soldier’s commanding officer investigated and usually interviewed the prospective wife. Once he was satisfied that she was morally unstained and came from a respectable family, he would forward the application with a recommendation for approval.
Final approval had to come from the defense ministry, but an officer’s recommendation was only very rarely reversed.
Under Seeckt’s supervision, the army became a state within a state, but it was also a highly professional body of dedicated men, all trained to assume command of the unit above their own. Despite the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, it was an army capable of extremely rapid expansion, should an emergency arise; that, indeed, was the cornerstone of its existence, which is what its members longed for. Its sergeants were trained to be platoon leaders, its lieutenants were fully qualified as company commanders, and its captains were perfectly capable of commanding battalions. Its field maneuvers and training problems were the best in the world, and its men became so good at staff study and war games they almost turned them into arts forms. Even in this highly skilled collection of soldiers, however, the General Staff officers stood out. (Seeckt clandestinely reintroduced General Staff training almost as soon as the Allies outlawed it.) By 1933, for example, all officers who reached 10 years service were required to take the Wehrkreis exam, which measured their professional ability. Only those in the top 15 percent were considered for General Staff training. Of those selected, only about a third passed the rigorous course and became General Staff officers.
Their training, of course, could not be conducted at the Kriegsakademie (War Academy), which had been closed in March 1920, under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. Under Seeckt and his successors, it was carried on in the Wehrkreise and by special courses held by the Truppenamt. Other than that, however, little had changed. The course was just as rigorous as it had ever been.
No officer in the Reichsheer considered it in any way wrong or dishonorable to circumvent the hated Treaty of Versailles; indeed, the treaty was so onerous that its violation was considered a patriotic act.
This view was held not only by the army, but by much of the civilian population as well. Even relatively liberal chancellors, such as Gustav Stresemann and Dr. Wilhelm Marx (of the People’s Party and the Catholic Center Party, respectively), were not adverse to secretly breaking it. Seeckt and his men became experts at hiding stockpiles of equipment and ammunition, although the Inter-Allied Control Commission occasionally caught some of them red-handed. At the Rockstroh Works in Heidenau, Saxony, for example, the Commission discovered 600 howitzers, along with 342 breechblocks and other components of howitzers, in November 1921. Beneath the floor, in good condition, were five howitzer rifling machines, which were important in the construction of guns.
But the Commission only unearthed a fraction of the armaments that the Reichsheer hid for possible use in a future crisis. Even so, Seeckt felt the need to establish training bases for the two skill areas he felt would be most needed in a future war: mobile (especially panzer) operations and military aviation. For this reason, he advocated an alliance of convenience with the other piranha nation of Europe: the Soviet Union. Seeckt thought it entirely possible to set up tank and aviation schools in Russia, far from the prying eyes of the Allies. After extended negotiations, he was able to establish a major German flying base at Lipetsk, north of Voronezh, in 1924. It had two runways and a large complex of hangars, repair shops, administrative and living quarters, and service facilities, including a modern hospital.
The Reichsheer was thus able to keep abreast of advances in military aviation, to conduct experiments in land-ground communications and close air support, to test new equipment, and to produce skilled pilots, observers, and aerial gunners (who could later train others), as well as technical and support personnel. The fact that the Luftwaffe (the German Air Force) had a trained nucleus of professionals in 1935 was largely due to the efforts Seeckt had made in the early 1920s.
General von Seeckt was also able to secure Soviet agreement to allow the Germans to open a tank school at Kama (near Kazan), but it did not open until 1929, because Germany could not manufacture or purchase the necessary tanks, and the Red Army refused to supply them.
His attempts to acquire facilities for the manufacture of poison gas were unsuccessful.
The beginning of the end of the Seeckt era started with the election of Paul Ludwig von Hindenburg to the presidency in 1925. Seeckt and Hindenburg had never gotten along particularly well, and, with the elevation of the old field marshal, Seeckt was no longer the undisputed authority on military affairs within the government. Also, the bright, intellectual, and conceited chief of the Army Command made the less astute Hindenburg uneasy.
In the fall of 1926, Prince Wilhelm (the eldest son of the Crown Prince) took part in the maneuvers of the 9th Infantry Regiment, which was garrisoned at Potsdam and had inherited the traditions of the Prussian Foot Guards. A newspaper got wind of the story (which was secretly leaked to the press by Colonel Kurt von Schleicher) and learned that Wilhelm had even appeared in uniform. Naturally the left-wing and moderate politicians and press wasted no time in calling for the general’s head. On October 1, Seeckt met with the defense minister, Dr. Otto Gessler, and told him that he knew nothing about the matter. A few days later, however, he was forced to admit that this was not true. This latest revelation infuriated Dr. Gessler, who asked for Seeckt’s resignation on October 5. Seeckt probably would have survived the storm had he told Gessler the whole truth on October 1. This civilian defense minister stood a little in awe of high-ranking officers in general and of Seeckt in particular, and he had both stood up for and covered for Seeckt before. This latest outrage, however, was too much for him.
Hans von Seeckt was succeeded as chief of the General Staff by Wilhelm Heye (1920–22), Otto Hasse (1922–26), Wilhelm Wetzell (1926–27), Werner von Blomberg (1927–29), Baron Kurt von Hammerstein (1929–30), and Wilhelm Adam (1930–33). His successors as chief of the Army Command were Colonel General Wilhelm Heye (1926–30) and General Kurt von Hammerstein (1930–34). After Seeckt retired, the higher levels of the army became increasingly dominated by Lieutenant General Kurt von Schleicher, who became especially influential after General Groener succeeded Dr. Gessler as defense minister on January 20, 1928. Although Schleicher brought the army into politics to a greater degree than Seeckt would have ever allowed, he and his cronies did very little to change the basic structure established by Hans von Seeckt. It survived intact until 1935, and, in an expanded form, until early 1945—almost until the end of the Hitler regime.