Useful Notes: Nazis with Gnarly Weapons
"Where the German soldier stands, he remains."The Wehrmacht, the military of Nazi Germany, was established in 1935, replacing the Reichswehr. The Weimar Republic had already been covertly breaking the Treaty of Versailles, but the Nazis did it openly. Component Parts
— Adolf Hitler.
- Heer (Army)
- Kriegsmarine (Navy)
- Luftwaffe (Air Force)
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Fiction's No. 1 Mook Service: the Heer
In a one-to-one fight, the winner is the man with the last round.
— Erwin Rommel, Magnificent Bastard, Infanterie greift annote
- Leader: Walther von Brauchitsch, then the Führer himself
- Second: Hans Krebsnote
The Nazi propaganda cast Hitler...as a wrathful Jupiter, flinging the latest "miracle weapons" at his enemies like bolts of fateful lightning.Despite the common belief that German weaponry was exclusively high-tech, the average soldier in the Heer would find himself equipped with a Mauser bolt-action rifle, the Karabiner 98 Kurz, a slight modernisation of a weapon his grandfather would have been familiar with. It was a perfectly servicable rifle (although nothing special in WWII terms) and was comparable to the Russian Mosin-Nagant and Japanese Arisaka, though the Mauser action was significantly slower than that used by the British Lee-Enfield. These started to be replaced in the middle of the war with the Gewehr 43, which is a bit comparable with American M1 Garand. However, the Germans were never able to produce nearly enough G43s to outfit their armed forces, so the K98 continued to be the bulk issue rifle with the G43 treated as more of a specialist weapon. And even towards the end of the war, stocks of K98s began to run dry and the Germans had to resort to issuing whatever rifles they could find from the stocks they had captured from the enemy, such as Mosin Nagants and French Lebels. One of the most iconic German weapons of WWII was the MP-40 sub-machine gun. Near ubiquitous in war films, it wasn't quite so common in real life as it was only really useful in short ranged firefights (such as Stalingrad, where the Germans realized how useful entire squads armed with sub-machine guns are in urban settings). It was issued to paratroopers, tank crews, platoon and squad leaders. The MP-40 is also noteworthy for being specifically designed to be easy to mass produce, and for using the same ammunition and magazines as the British Sten and Lanchester submachine guns (or rather, the other way around: The British weapons were knock-offs of German designs, and the ability to use captured German magazines and ammunition was seen as an advantageous feature). Nazi Germany developed a lot of military technology that remains in use today. The idea of disposable one-shot anti-tank weapons started with the German Panzerfaust. The first widely used assault rifle, the MP43 / MP44 / Sturmgewehr 44 (StG44) was of Nazi origin. In addition, the Wehrmacht developed the Goliath tracked mine, one of the first remote-controlled weapons to be used in combat. For other stuff see below. The iconic pistol associated with Nazis is the Pistole 08, universally known as the "Luger". The pistol was actually used in World War One, but was gradually being replaced by the Walther P38 after 1938. The pistol just looks evil◊ (so does the P38◊, just that it's slightly boxier) and enough were collected as trophies by Allied soldiers to ensure continued currency. As with the K98 example above, however, despite its refinements in mass production technology there were simply not enough P38s to go around that the Luger could be removed from service (even had any of the servicemen who were lucky enough to have one been inclined to do so), so the two sidearms soldiered along side by side for the duration of the war. The P38 is also associated with another evil figure in modern culture, Megatron. Another iconic pistol is the Walther PPK; the gun that James Bond uses is also the one that Hitler used to kill himself. The MG-34 was the first General Purpose Machine Gun to be adopted by any state, and its successor - the infamous MG-42 machine gun - is actually still in use by many countries, including Germany itself, as the MG-3 (with only minor modifications). And again, despite the MG42 being specifically designed to be mass produced with metal-stampings and other shortcuts, there simply weren't enough of them to replace the MG34 (Beginning to see a pattern here?). In particular the MG34 was still favored as the machinegun for tanks because its barrel change mechanism was far better suited for being mounted in an AFV ball or coaxial mount, while the MG42 with its side-break barrel change mechanism required specialized mounts for AFVs. An interesting difference between the Heer and all other armies was that the machine-gun was viewed as the primary offensive weapon of the infantry platoon, rather than being a support weapon in other armies. This meant that German platoons had significantly more machine-guns per platoon than Allied (or even other Axis) forces, and that infantry tactics were designed around movement of these machine-gun squads and channelling enemies into their fields of fire. Allied infantry tactics used machine-guns as either purely defensive, or mostly for covering fire to allow movement of infantrymen into more advantageous positions. Paratroopers or Fallschirmjager soldiers were sometimes equipped with the FG-42 Paratroop Rifle It was one of the first selective fire weapons and had a hand in the development of modern assault rifles. It was made in limited numbers so most paratroopers would have used the MP40 instead. The iconic "potato masher" grenade (developed in WW1) was also a standard part of the German soldier's kit, and is usually displayed prominently in any visual media. While considerably larger and heavier than the standard Allied "pineapple" or "baseball" grenade, the handle meant that it could be thrown significantly farther. Perhaps the greatest innovation in personal equipment the Nazis came up with, however, was not a weapon at all. The Wehrmachtskanister, better known as the "jerrycan", might seem totally ordinary nowadays, but in 1939 it was considered so advanced and secret that German soldiers were ordered to destroy them if there was a risk of their being captured. Compared to the flimsy, leaky fluid containers used by other armies (it was estimated the British in North Africa lost 30% of all shipped fuel to leaking containers), the jerrycan was nothing short of miraculous; it could be opened and closed without the use of tools, was self-sealing without additional parts, included a pouring spout rather than requiring a funnel, couldn't be overfilled as a failsafe against heat and vapor expansion and was still cheap to manufacture despite being much more sturdy. The design proved so good that it remains in use to this day by both military forces and civilians.
— Anthony Beevor
Halftracks and Hooves
The bulk of the German Army—the dough feet of the normal infantry divisions—moved on mare's shank.On 22/6/1941 the Wehrmacht invaded the USSR with 2.7 million combat troops, 120k trucks, and 624k horses. As the war ground on the Wehrmacht became less motorised because even in May 1941 they were losing more trucks per month (2%) than they were producing (1%), the replacements also being of inferior quality. By 1943 the Wehrmacht was the least-motorised military force of the war bar the IJA and Guomindang. Perhaps the most distinctive of Nazi Germany's transport vehicles were their numerous halftracks; the Sonderkraftfahrzeug 251 series of halftracks (often simply called "Hanomags" after their manufacturer) being the most common of these. In spite of this, the majority of German supplies were still moved using horse-drawn limbers, including most light and medium field artillery pieces; only the heaviest would be moved by the giant "Famo" prime movers. It has been suggested that the reason the Germans did not resort to chemical warfare in WWII (as both sides had in WWI) was because it would shut down their entire logistical apparatus, whereas it would merely hamstring that of their (more-motorised) enemies. Despite media portrayals and poor historical research on many historians' part, the Heer was in fact composed mostly of infantry units that were increasingly reliant on horse-carts as the war went on and they were continually stripped of their few remaining trucks in favour of the mobile formations. Combat-capable infantry divisions outnumbered Panzer and Motorised divisions note by at least 5 to 1 at every stage of the war. The infantry divisions marched everywhere on foot and were supplied by horse-carts. The vast majority of the WWII-era Heer was thus almost indistinguishable from that of WWI.
— Oliver Marks
Big Kitty Cats: the Panzers
I rode a tank, held a general's rankNazi Germany always appreciated the tank's role in combined arms, building fast, relatively light tanks at the start of the war to support infantry; the Panzer I was only ever intended as a training tank and was equipped with two machine guns, while the Panzer II carried a 20 mm gun. Germany's ability to engage heavy armour was very poor right up until halfway through the war in the Eastern Theatre; in France, Rommel found the British Matildas could not be damaged at all by anything short of his HQ's giant fixed 88 mm FlaKs. In the first month of Operation Barbarossa a single Klim Voroshilov mk2 (KV 2) heavy tank held up elements of the Sixth Panzer Division (a unit of 14,000 men and 200 panzers) for over a day, and in an ambush at Krasnogvardeysk five KV-1 and T-34 tanks destroyed 43 panzers with no losses. Events like this showed a clear need for heavier hardware. The result was the up-gunning of the Panzer IV, formerly an infantry tank specifically not designed to engage armour; many obsolete hulls were turned into tank destroyers with heavier fixed main guns, and a new series of Panzers envisioned; larger, with heavy armour and powerful main guns. Despite that, the Panzer IV would remain the Heer's workhorse for the duration of the war. Eventually it became apparent that the Panzer IV was about equal in armament and armor to the American Sherman and the Soviet T-34, which was a bad thing for the Germans, since both the Americans and Soviets outnumbered them significantly by this point. Commencing the Heer's late-war policy of trying to put an 88 mm gun on absolutely everything (tanks, tank destroyers, chairs, trees, surprised farm animals, etc), the Tiger I was the first of the new heavy tanks. While it used a traditional armour scheme and was hideously over-engineered (to the point where the manual was a picture book made by the tank crews), it proved a fearsome opponent. Almost as famous, and produced in much larger numbers, was the Pz V Panther medium tank which featured thick, sloped armour, excellent firepower, good mobility and is widely viewed as the best all round tank of the war. However, the late war tanks suffered from rushed development and were never as reliable in service as their American and Soviet opponents. In addition, their high quality and over-engineering meant that Panthers and Tigers were incredibly outnumbered by Shermans and T-34s, which the Americans and Soviet could crank out in vast numbers very quickly. Another factor that limited their effectiveness was Allied air superiority. Tigers and Panthers could not risk staying in the open too long for fear of being strafed by Allied planes. By the end of the war, both the Americans and Soviets had developed tanks that were even better than the Panther, but mostly held back on deploying them in large numbers in favor of continuing the mass production of the Sherman and T-34. In late 1942, the Germans had begun development of the "Entwicklung" - "Evolution" - series of armored vehicles. This was intended to bring standardization of production; rather than have various designs competing for the same role, there would be a standard chassis for each weight class, starting with the light E-5 (intended to be used as scout tanks, light tank destroyers, and an APC) and ending with the E-100 (intended to be a super-heavy tank armed with an 128mm gun and turret from the infamous Maus). Planned to use standardized parts across the whole series, the "Entwicklungen" could have proved an antidote to Germany's terrible supply problems, but the war ended before most had even left the drawing board. A trackless chassis for the E-100 prototype was captured by the British in 1945 and scrapped after testing. Despite the great fame of the "big cats", the most successful German armored vehicle of the war, both in terms of kills and design, was the Sturmgeschütz III assault gun, which began life as a gun carrier to support infantry advances, and ended up as a tank destroyer with 20,000 kills by 1944. The design saw especial success in the hands of Germany's Finnish allies, who used them to knock out 87 Soviet tanks for only 8 losses (some of which were due to mechanical failure or destruction to avoid capture). The tank served in the Finnish and Syrian armies until the 1960s, and in Syrian, Romanian and Spanish service until the 1950s. Some may still be in use as static pillboxes on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.
When the Blitzkrieg raged, and the bodies stank.
When the Blitzkrieg raged, and the bodies stank.
—The Rolling Stones, "Sympathy for the Devil"
Wolf-packs and Pocket Battleships: the Kriegsmarine
The only thing I truly feared during the war was Dönitz and his U-boats.
- Leader: Erich Raeder, replaced by Karl Dönitz in 1942
- Second: Hans-Georg von Friedeberg
- Type II: Short-range boat. Used to patrol coastal waters.
- Type VII: Medium-range boat. The workhorse of the U-boat fleet. Many of the most well-known boats were of this type, such as U-96 (used in Das Boot).
- Type IX: Long-range boat. Used to patrol waters off of America or Africa.
- Type XIV: Supply boat, nicknamed the "Milchkuh" ("Milk Cow"). Only ten were built and all ten were sunk.
- Type XVII: The Walther-Boot: an experimental air independent submarine. Basically a Me 163 Komet underwater.
- Type XXI: The first true submarine, in that it was designed for use solely underwater. The batteries and air replenishment system gave the ability for the boat to be faster underwater than surfaced. Readied in the final months of the war, only two made wartime patrols, neither of which sunk any ships.
- Type XXIII: Another Elektroboot, meant to replace the Type II for coastal patrols. It was made operational before the Type XXI, though still too late to make a difference, and unlike its ocean-going cousin, the Type XXIII managed to damage or sink five enemy ships.
Warbirds Large and Small: the Luftwaffe
The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.
— Air Marshall Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris, RAF
- Leader: Herman Göring
- Second: Robert Ritter von Greim
Worst of the Worst: Die Schutzstaffel
Whether ten-thousand Russian females die digging an anti-tank ditch interests me only insofar as Germany's antitank ditch gets finished.
— Reichsfuehrer-SS Heinrich Himmler
- Leader: Heinrich Himmler
- Second: Hans Jüttner
Equal Opportunity Tyranny: Foreign Help
Why do you wear a German uniform?
Why do you wear an American one?The Waffen SS was a mostly-volunteer organisation with many recruits from across Europe, ranging from Germans to Austrians to White Russians to French to Scandinavians to Muslim Bosniaks and even to Indians. In some ways, a Nazi version of the French Foreign Legion. At its height, it consisted of around 1,000,000 total personnel. The reason for this being the fact Heer could not recruit men who were not German citizens for being bound by pre-war military regulations, while the SS was not - they were responsible practically in all matters to Heinrich Himmler and above him to the Führer himself. Some notable examples are here:
— General Philippe Leclerc and French Waffen-SS soldier, 1945
- The British Free Corps: Originally known as the Legion of St George, this was an attempt to raise a force of British volunteers from British POWs. This force would take advantage of the "natural tenacity of the British race" (which the Nazis admired) and be a propaganda coup, assuring the British public that a Nazi-dominated Europe would allow Britain to retain its power and influence. So, how many Brits betrayed their nation and joined up with Hitler? A terrifying 59 in all. At no single point in time did it reach more than 27 men in strength, smaller than a contemporary German platoon.
- 5th SS Panzer Division "Wiking": A genuinely elite SS Motorized Infantry (later Panzer) division, Wiking was one of the Waffen-SS's strongest battle units. Composed by foreign volunteers, from Denmark, Norway and Sweden, Finland and Estonia, the Netherlands and Belgium under the command of German officers, it first saw action during Operation: Barbarossa. It did itself well in the fighting on the Mius and around Rostov-On-Don before deploying to the Caucasus and playing a large role in the capture of Grozny. During its long campaigns, it was encircled several times but broke out each time, narrowly escaping being trapped in the infamous kessel at Stalingrad. It also helped suppress the Warsaw Uprising. After being badly mauled trying to relieve Budapest, after a week-long forced march in horrific weather conditionsnote , the division fell back through central Europe to eventually surrender to the US Army in Austria. Most of its members were repatriated and either acquitted, imprisoned, or in some cases, executed. One Viking soldier, Finnish Major Lauri A. Törni, fought also in Finnish Army, winning the highest decoration, the Mannerheim Cross, joining the US Special Forces after the war. He advanced from Private to Major in the US Army, and was killed in action in the Vietnam War 1963.
- 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division "Nordland": The Nordland was a primarily Scandinavian regiment, but anyone considered an ethnic volkdeutsch could join up, and so they did. By the end of the war, it was the most ethnically diverse Nazi formation; Danish, Hungarian, Dutch, Norwegian, Finnish, French, Romanian, Spanish, Swedish, Swiss and British volunteers and Estonian conscripts had either served in the division or been attached to it. It fought around Leningrad, but was eventually pushed back into the Courland pocket. They were rescued by sea, and redeployed to the battles for East Prussia and Pomerania. It fell back into Berlin and was destroyed. Its last seven tanks have the distinction of spearheading the breakout attempt out across the Weidammer Bridge by the Fuehrerbunker's staff. Very few managed to reach the Anglo-American lines on the Elbe.
- The Russian Liberation Army: Recruited from anti-Bolshevik Russian POWs and several other Russian emigre forces, and led by a former general of Josef Stalin's, Andrey Vlasov. Hitler disliked it intensely, and only agreed to its formation on the prompting of a desperate Heinrich Himmler. It was deployed against a Red Army attack in 1945, and whilst it had some success, Hitler's refusal to grant it modern equipment, air support, or even medical supplies meant that its effect was minimal, and the Red Army soon broke its back. Seeing that the writing was on the wall, Vlasov ordered all the army to concentrate in the South, so it could be entirely surrendered to the Western allies (who he hoped wouldn't repatriate him). In a last, desperate attempt to save themselves, the division aided the Czech resistance against the Germans, and was vital to the defense of Prague from Waffen-SS soldiers sent to level it. Afterwards, it splintered. Those caught by the Soviets were sent to Siberia or killed, those caught by the Allies were forcibly repatriated or permitted to escape by officers looking the other way, and those very few who went to Lichtenstein were granted political asylum, as the tiny principality defied the largest country on earth's demands to return them. Vlasov was hanged, according to one witness with piano wire and a hook on the base of his skull.
- 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian): Finno-Ugric peoples weren't originally high on the Aryan scale of Nazi Party, but after having seen the Finnish performance against the Soviets and the situation becoming dire in late 1943, the SS decided to raise a division of Estonian volunteers to defend Estonia from Soviet onslaught. Thousands of volunteers signed up. They were given military training and in Spring 1944 after the general conscription-mobilization was announced in Estonia on 31 January 1944 by the German occupying authorities, the cadre of the 3rd Estonian SS Volunteer Brigade, renamed the 20th Estonian SS Volunteer Division on 23 January 1944, was returned to Estonia and reformed. Additionally 38,000 men were conscripted in Estonia and other Estonian units that had fought on various fronts in the German Army, and the Finnish Infantry Regiment 200 were rushed to Estonia. Estonian officers and men in other units that fell under the conscription proclamation and had returned to Estonia had their rank prefix changed from "SS" to "Waffen" (Hauptscharführer would be referred to as a Waffen-Hauptscharführer rather than SS-Hauptscharführer). The wearing of SS runes on the collar was discontinued, and these formations began wearing Estonian national insignia instead. The Estonian troops defended their small homeland ferociously. Little love was lost between Germany and Estonia, but they all knew what was the fate of small nations under Soviet rule, and they fought successfully against twentyfold Soviet overpower, winning several battles and causing over 150,000 casualties to the Soviets. When Estonia was finally overrun, many of the SS men fled to Sweden over the Baltic sea and after the war to US and UK.
- 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS "Charlemagne" (1st French): Composed of French anticommunists, the Charlemagne was formed from Vichy French forces and the previous organization, the LVF. It had nearly 8,000 men at its largest, and has the distinction of being the last Third Reich unit to see action during WWII, as, knowing that they would face a dreadful fate if they surrendered, they continued to fight in the ruins of the Reich Chancellery. A group of just twelve managed to destroy sixty-two Soviet tanks using Panzerfausts alone, and several won the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, being awarded the decoration in a half-wrecked railway carriage that served as battalion HQ. The last French Nazis fought in the ruins of the Fuehrerbunker until 2 May, so the Soviets wouldn't capture it on May Day. They then tried to escape back to France. Most were denounced, shot on capture by French troops, or later sentenced to hard labor. One group, captured in Bad Reichenhall, was asked by General Leclerc why they wore German uniforms. The highest-ranked asked the general "why do you wear an American one?" Of those who survived, some repented, but most died in the late 20th and early 21st centuries unrepentant fascists.
- Indische Legion: A unit formed of Indian nationalists under the radical Subhas Chandra Bose, it was intended to spearhead an Indo-German land invasion of British India. Only a tiny handful ever came close to this intended purpose, being parachuted into Iran and infiltrating the Raj via Baluchistan. However, they were generally used for non-combatant duties in Europe, as Hitler did not trust themnote . Their discipline was very poor and they were hated by those troops they were billeted with, due to a combination of racism and genuine instances of larceny and brutality. Another company saw action in Italy, where they proved little obstacle to Allied forces. After attempting to escape via Lake Constance, they were captured by the French and Americans. French Moroccan troops, apparently for the giggles, shot a large number out of hand. The rest were delivered to the British, who, although they already intended to grant India independence, were still rather miffed. Most were tried for treason and executed, the last a few days before India's official independence.
- Not to be confused with the Azad Hind Fauj, or Indian National Army, the revolutionary force led by Bose after his departure from Germany and sponsored by Imperial Japan. By contrast, the INA took part in a general uprising in the Subcontinent that led to the British responding with an actual aerial bombardments on British India.
- 29th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Italian) "Italia", or Legione SS Italiana (Italian SS Legion): A volunteer unit raised among Italian veterans after the Kingdom of Italy passed on the Allies' side and Mussolini's puppet state could put back together an army. Technically an Italian unit attached to the SS, they fought with such valor at Anzio and Nettuno to earn their place among the Waffen-SS proper. They were also the main unit employed to hunt down the Italian Resistance, as the German soldiers tended to either underestimate the Italian partisans or, after the first encounter, be terrified of the surprisingly well-organized, well-equipped and ferocious partisan units. The division suffered heavy losses in 1945 due both fights against the Resistance and the Allies, and the survivors surrendered to the Americans on April 30th at Gorgonzola (the then town near Milan, not the cheese named after it).
Thunderbolts from Clear Sky: Nazi Rocketry
I aim for the stars...but sometimes I hit London.Germany was the first country to use cruise missiles (the V-1) and ballistic missiles (the V-2) in a war, against France, Britain and Belgium. On the 3rd of October 1942, a V-2 test-launch at Penemunde achieved a height of between 85 and 90 kilometers, and became the first man-made object to reach outer space. The former, sometimes known as "The Doodlebug" or "Buzz-Bomb" due to its distinctive noise, had a system where the missile would be forced into a dive after a certain number of revolutions, which also cut the engine. Once the engine stopped, people on the ground knew an explosion was imminent. The V-1 was somewhat inaccurate, generally falling short of London and false intelligence from British double agents led to this not being corrected before the V-1 sites were overrun by the Allies. They could also be shot down with anti-aircraft guns firing shells with proximity fuses, while fighter planes were able to down them, albeit with considerable difficulty. One popular, though difficult and potentially dangerous, method used by fighter pilots was to slide one of their planes' wingtips underneath a V-1's wingtip, then tilt their planes' wings until the V-1 tipped over (the V-1's rudimentary guidance system, which was basically a gyroscope and little more, could not stabilize the missile if it made too much a turn). That’s right: to defeat a V-1, make it Do A Barrel Roll. Of course the alternative (shoot it) could cause about 850 kg of high explosives explode right in front of your fighter. The latter was built using slave labour, killing far more people in its construction than its actual use (c.25,000 v. 7,000). There was no warning and no defence against these - not only did the V-2's engine cut off long before impact, the missile was traveling faster than sound when it came down. As noted in Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, this produced the very eerie effect of a large explosion followed by the whistling sound of an incoming projectile. A project that would have allowed V-2s to be launched at US cities from a sub-towed platform was tested, but never really got anywhere and probably wouldn't have been very effective anyway. In addition, the gyroscopic targeting mechanism was not very good, and British intelligence was actually able to trick the Germans into thinking the rockets were actually off-target, causing them to aim the V-2 even further away from London. When the war ended, the Allies sneered at the great cost of the V Weapons - especially compared to the actual damage they inflicted - whilst simultaneously rushing to copy them. Both the US and the USSR grabbed as much V-2 stuff as they could, brought back personnel (sometimes overlooking possible war crimes) and created the modern version of the Mad Scientist in the process. Wernher von Braun, a major player in the V-2 project, would later create the launchers that would take man to the Moon.
— Wehrner von Braun
We Have Reserves: The Volksgrenadiers
Suddenly, Germany had more divisions in 1944 than what it had when it started the war in 1939The strategic emergency and concomitant manpower shortage resulting from the losses in mid-1944 required the creation of infantry divisions that economized on personnel and emphasized defensive strength over offensive strength. The Volksgrenadier divisions met this need by using only six line infantry battalions instead of the normal nine for infantry divisions — already a common reality for many existing divisions. The units also had a higher proportion of submachine guns and light automatic weapons and thus relied more on short-range firepower than in standard German Army infantry units. Automatic weapons like the new "wonder weapon" Sturmgewehr 44 and anti-tank weaponry like the single shot Panzerfaust were also used by Volksgrenadier units. Volksgrenadier was the name given to a type of German Army division formed in the Autumn of 1944 after the double loss of Army Group Center to the Soviets in Operation Bagration and the Fifth Panzer Army to the Allies in Normandy. The name itself was intended to build morale, appealing at once to nationalism (Volk) and Germany's older military traditions (Grenadier). Germany formed 78 (!) Volksgrenadier Divisions during the war. They were organized around small cadres of hardened veteran soldiers, noncoms and officers, and then bulked out with anything the Replacement Army could supply: "jobless" personnel of the shrinking Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe, wounded soldiers from broken formations returning to duty from hospitals, older men who would have been considered too old or too unfit for the peacetime army and teenagers were recruited into the ranks. Technically, many of the Volksgrenadier soldiers would have been Child Soldiers. Most Volksgrenadier divisions had decent training and performed well in battle, especially at the Eastern Front.
— Anthony Beevor
We Still Have Reserves, Dammit!: The Volkssturm
Even the Japanese did not expect their kamikazes to ride to their deaths upon a bicycle...◊Military service has been part of German society for decades, so it was not surprising to see that most men in Germany had some military experience. In 1944, with the Red Army rapidly approaching, Hitler ordered the creation of a national militia to bolster strength. On paper, they could mobilize roughly six million men to defend the country against the Soviets. This led to the creation of the Volkssturm (People's Militia). In practice, this boiled down to rounding up anyone who was not already in the Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS in some capacity. Nazi supporters would "conscript" old men, many of whom were veterans of the First World War, and place a gun in their hands in the hopes of killing as many Soviets as possible. Boys from the Hitler Youth were also given weapons. Allied solders were shocked and disbelieving at being attacked by children, who were often fiercer than the old men due to youthful foolishness and actually believing in Nazism. Despite the forceful "conscription," the strength of six million was never attained. In addition, there was barely any standardization. For uniforms, only a few managed wear from the stockpiles, while most Volkssturm members simply wore their own clothes with Nazi armbands. Some of the WWI veterans wore their old Imperial uniforms. With the tattered remnants of the Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS, the Volkssturm comprised a good number of Berlin's defense forces. Regular army officers called Volkssturm battalions "casseroles" because they were a mixture of old meat and fresh vegetables. The Nazi commanders gave the units grandiose names, such as the "Storm Division", which "lacked the weapons to storm anything" and the Panzerjagdkompanie, "which was supposed to hunt tanks on foot" (Beevor). Nevertheless, the Volkssturm were not entirely useless; one Volkssturm officer, the elderly East Prussia aristocrat Baron von Puttkamer, formed his estate's staff into a company of Volkssturm which was instrumental in evacuating several villages in front of the Soviet advance, using their strongest members to trample the snowdrifts flat.
— Anthony Beevor
Hearts of Blood and Iron: Military Decorations
The most iconic decoration of Germany was and remains the Iron Cross, awarded for bravery. The base medal became the center of many different orders and levels of decoration.
- Order Of The Star Of The Grand Cross Of The Iron Cross: Intended to be awarded to the most successful field marshal once Germany attained the final victory. Unsurprisingly, it was never awarded.
- Order Of The Grand Cross Of The Iron Cross: Awarded to victorious generals or field marshals. Hermann Göring received the only one.
- Order Of The Knight's Cross Of The Iron Cross With Golden Oak Leaves, Swords And Diamonds: Intended to be awarded to the twelve greatest war heroes. Hans-Ulrich Rudel, the top Stuka ace, was the only recipient.
- Order Of The Knight's Cross Of The Iron Cross With Oak Leaves, Swords And Diamonds: Awarded for continuous bravery. Each of the preceding awards had one fewer items.
- Infantry Assault Badge: Awarded for taking part in three or more infantry assaults, counter-attacks, or reconnaissance missions.
- Close Combat Clasp: Awarded for achievements in close-quarters combat. Over 45,000 were awarded.
- Panzer Badge: Awarded for achievements in Panzer battles. Over 34,000 were awarded.
- U-boat War Badge: Awarded for participating in two or more U-boat patrols.
- Wehrmacht Long Service Award: Awarded at intervals of four, twelve, eighteen, twenty-five, and forty years of service in the different branches of the Wehrmacht. It took into account service in the Reichswehr and even prior to World War I, allowing a handful of the forty year medals to be awarded. There was a corresponding award for the SS, though obviously the forty year medal was never distributed (and through some loopholes, a few twenty-five year medals were made).
- Cuffbands: Worn on the right arm cuff, these indicated the wearer's unit or a campaign they had participated in. Wearing one was considered a great honor and they are still used in the Bundeswehr.
- Enlisted Ranks
- Grenadier/Fusilier (Equivalent to Private)
- Obergrenadier/Oberfusilier (Equivalent to Private in the US and British Armies, and Private First Class in the US Marines)
- Gefreiter (Equivalent to Lance Corporal in the British Army and US Marines, and Private First Class in the US Army)
- Obergefreiter (Equivalent to Corporal)
- Hauptgefreiter (Equivalent to Senior Corporal)
- Stabsgefreiter (Equivalent to Administrative Corporal)
- Non-Commisioned Officer Ranks
- Unteroffizier (Equivalent to Sergeant)
- Unterfeldwebel (Equivalent to Staff Sergeant)
- Feldwebel (Equivalent to Sergeant First Class, or Gunnery Sergeant in the US Marines)
- Oberfeldwebel (Equivalent to Master Sergeant or Warrant Officer Class Two)
- Stabsfeldwebel (Equivalent to Sergeant Major, or Master Gunnery Sergeant in the US Marines)
- Commissioned Officer Ranks
- Leutnant (Equivalent to 2nd Lieutenant)
- Oberleutnant (Equivalent to (1st) Lieutenant)
- Hauptmann (Equivalent to Captain)
- Oberstleutnant (Equivalent to Lieutenant Colonel)
- Oberst (Equivalent to Colonel)
- Generalmajor (Equivalent to Brigadier General)
- Generalleutnant (Equivalent to Major General)
- General der (arm) (Equivalent to Lieutenant General)
- Arms included Kavallerie (calvary), Artillerie (artillery), Infanterie (infantry), Panzertruppen (armoured troops), Gebirgstruppen (mountain troops), Pioniere (engineers), and Nachrichtentruppen (communications troops).
- Generaloberst (Equivalent to General)
- Generalfeldmarschall (Equivalent to Field Marshal or General of the Army; no US Marine equivalent)
- Matrose (Equivalent to Seaman)
- Matrosengefreiter (Equivalent to Ordinary Seaman)
- Matrosenobergefreiter (Equivalent to Able Seaman)
- Matrosenhauptgefreiter (Equivalent to Leading Seaman 3rd class)
- Matrosenstabsgefreiter (Equivalent to Leading Seaman 2nd class)
- Matrosenoberstabsgefreiter (Equivalent to Leading Seaman 1st class)
- Non-Commisioned Officer Ranks
- Maat (Equivalent to Petty Officer 3rd class)
- Obermaat (Equivalent to Petty Officer 2nd class)
- Feldwebel (Equivalent to Petty Officer 1st class)
- Stabfeldwebel (Equivalent to Chief Petty Officer)
- Oberfeldwebel (Equivalent to Warrant Officer)
- Staboberfelbwebel (Equivalent to Chief Warrant Officer)
- Commissioned Officer Ranks
- Leutnant zur See (Equivalent to Ensign in the US; equivalent rank does not exist in the UK)
- Oberleutnant zur See(Equivalent to Lieutenant Junior Grade in the US and Sub-Lieutenant in the UK)
- Kapitanleutant (Equivalent to Lieutenant)
- Korvettenkapitan (Equivalent to Lieutenant Commander)
- Fregattenkapitan (Equivalent to Commander)
- Kapitan zur See (Equivalent to Captain)
- Kommodore (Equivalent to Commodore in the UK, Rear Admiral (lower half) in the US)
- Konteradmiral (Equivalent to Rear Admiral in the UK, Rear Admiral (upper half) in the US)
- Vizeadmiral (Equivalent to Vice Admiral)
- Admiral (Equivalent to Admiral)
- Grossadmiral (Equivalent to Fleet Admiral)
- Enlisted Ranks
- Flieger (Equivalent to Airman Basic or Aircraftman)
- Gefreiter (Equivalent to Airman)
- Obergefreiter (Equivalent to Airman First Class or Lance Corporal)
- Hauptgefreiter (Equivalent to Senior Airman or Corporal)
- Non-Commisioned Officer Ranks
- Unteroffizier (Equivalent to Staff Sergeant or Sergeant)
- Unterfeldwebel (Equivalent to Technical Sergeant or Flight Sergeant)
- Hauptwachtmeister (Equivalent to Master Sergeant)
- Stabsfeldwebel (Equivalent to Warrant Officer Master Aircrew)
- Commissioned Officer Ranks
- Leutnant (Equivalent to 2nd Lieutenant or Pilot Officer)
- Oberleutnant (Equivalent to 1st Lieutenant or Flying Officer)
- Hauptmann (Equivalent to Captain or Flight Lieutenant)
- Major (Equivalent to Major or Squadron Leader)
- Oberstleutnant (Equivalent to Lieutenant Colonel or Wing Commander)
- Oberst (Equivalent to Colonel or Group Captain)
- Generalmajor (Equivalent to Brigadier General or Air Commodore)
- Generalleutnant (Equivalent to Major General or Air Vice-Marshal)
- General der (arm) (Equivalent to Lieutenant General or Air Marshal)
- Includes Flieger (aviators), Fallschirmtruppen (parachute troops), Jagdflieger (fighter pilots), and Flakartillerie (anti-aircraft artillery).
- Generaloberst (Equivalent to General or Air Chief Marshal)
- Reichsmarschall (Special rank created for Hermann Goering, equivalent to General of the Air Force or Marshal of the Royal Air Force)
- Enlisted Ranks
- SS-Schütze (Equivalent to Private)
- SS-Oberschütze (Equivalent to Private First Class)
- SS-Sturmmann (Equivalent to Lance Corporal)
- SS-Rottenführer (Equivalent to Corporal)
- Non-Commissioned Officer Ranks
- SS-Unterscharführer (Equivalent to Sergeant)
- SS-Scharführer (Equivalent to Staff Sergeant
- SS-Oberscharführer (Translates to ?Sergeant First Class?)
- SS-Hauptscharführer (Equivalent to Master Sergeant)
- SS-Sturmscharführer (Equivalent to Sergeant Major)
- Commissioned Officer Ranks
- SS-Untersturmführer (Equivalent to Second Lieutenant)
- SS-Obersturmführer (Equivalent to (1st) Lieutenant)
- SS-Hauptsturmführer (Equivalent to Captain)
- SS-Sturmbannführer (Equivalent to Major)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer (Equivalent to Lieutenant Colonel)
- SS-Standartenführer (Equivalent to Colonel)
- SS-Oberführer (Equivalent to Brigadier-General)
- SS-Brigadeführer (Equivalent to Major General)
- SS-Gruppenführer (Equivalent to Lieutenant General)
- SS-Obergruppenführer (Equivalent to General)
- SS-Oberstgruppenführer (Equivalent to Field Marshal or General of the Army)
- Reichsführer-SS (Special rank for the head of the entire Schutzstaffel. Equivalent to General of the Armies)
The Wehrmacht in Fiction
Where do we start? The standard soldiers of the Wehrmacht have been Mooks since (and even during) the Second World War. They're generally considered Acceptable Targets, so to speak. They can't shoot straight (contrary to their Real Life counterparts). The SS are almost always utterly evil. There have been some notable recent German works on the Wehrmacht, making them more human and providing an interesting perspective from the other side. Not to be confused with Stupid Jetpack Hitler.