German Army (1935–1945)
1935–1945 land warfare branch of the German military
The German Army (German: Deutsches Heer, German: [heːɐ̯] (listen), lit. 'German Army') was the land forces component of the Wehrmacht,[a] the regular German Armed Forces, from 1935 until it ceased to exist in 1945 and then was formally dissolved in August 1946. During World War II, a total of about 13.6 million soldiers served in the German Army. Army personnel were made up of volunteers and conscripts.
Only 17 months after Adolf Hitler announced the German rearmament program in 1935, the army reached its projected goal of 36 divisions. During the autumn of 1937, two more corps were formed. In 1938 four additional corps were formed with the inclusion of the five divisions of the Austrian Army after the Anschluss in March. During the period of its expansion under Hitler, the German Army continued to develop concepts pioneered during World War I, combining ground and air assets into combined arms forces. Coupled with operational and tactical methods such as encirclements and "battle of annihilation", the German military managed quick victories in the two initial years of World War II, a new style of warfare described as Blitzkrieg (lightning war) for its speed and destructive power.
The Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH) was Nazi Germany's Army High Command from 1936 to 1945. In theory, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) served as the military General Staff for the Reich's armed forces, coordinating the Wehrmacht (Heer, Kriegsmarine, and the Luftwaffe) operations. In practice, the OKW acted in a subordinate role to Hitler's personal military staff, translating his ideas into military plans and orders, and issuing them to the three services. However, as World War II went on, the OKW found itself exercising an increasing amount of direct command authority over military units, particularly in the west. This meant that by 1942, the authority of the Army High Command (OKH) was limited to the Eastern Front.
The Abwehr was the army intelligence organization from 1921 to 1944. The term Abwehr (German for "defense", here referring to counter-intelligence) had been created just after World War I as an ostensible concession to Allied demands that Germany's intelligence activities be for defensive purposes only. After 4 February 1938, the name Abwehr was changed to the Overseas Department/Office in Defense of the Armed Forces High Command (Amt Ausland/Abwehr im Oberkommando der Wehrmacht).
Germany used a system of military districts (German: Wehrkreis) in order to relieve field commanders of as much administrative work as possible and to provide a regular flow of trained recruits and supplies to the field forces. The method OKW adopted was to separate the Field Army (OKH) from the Home Command (Heimatkriegsgebiet) and to entrust the responsibilities of training, conscription, supply, and equipment to Home Command.
Organization of field forces
The German Army was mainly structured in Army groups (Heeresgruppen) consisting of several armies that were relocated, restructured or renamed in the course of the war. Forces of allied states, as well as units made up of non-Germans, were also assigned to German units.
For Operation Barbarossa in 1941, the Army forces were assigned to three strategic campaign groupings:
Below the army group level forces included field armies – panzer groups, which later became army level formations themselves, corps, and divisions. The army used the German term Kampfgruppe, which equates to battle group in English. These provisional combat groupings ranged from corps size, such as Army Detachment Kempf, to commands composed of companies or even platoons. They were named for their commanding officers.
Select arms of service
Doctrine and tactics
The German operational doctrine emphasized sweeping pincer and lateral movements meant to destroy the enemy forces as quickly as possible. This approach, referred to as Blitzkrieg, was an operational doctrine instrumental in the success of the offensives in Poland and France. Blitzkrieg has been considered by many historians as having its roots in precepts developed by Fuller, Liddel-Hart and von Seeckt, and even having ancient prototypes practiced by Alexander, Genghis Khan and Napoleon. Recent studies of the Battle of France also suggest that the actions of either Rommel or Guderian or both of them (both had contributed to the theoretical development and early practices of what later became Blitzkrieg prior to World War II), ignoring orders of superiors who had never foreseen such spectacular successes and thus prepared much more prudent plans, were conflated into a purposeful doctrine and created the first archetype of Blitzkrieg, which then gained a fearsome reputation that dominated the Allied leaders' minds. Thus 'Blitzkrieg' was recognized after the fact, and while it became adopted by the Wehrmacht, it never became the official doctrine nor got used to its full potential because only a small part of the Wehrmacht was trained for it and key leaders at the highest levels either focused on only certain aspects or even did not understand it.
Max Visser argues that the German army focused on achieving high combat performance rather than high organizational efficiency (like the US army). It emphasized adaptability, flexibility, and decentralized decision making. Officers and NCOs were selected based on character and trained towards decisive combat leadership. Good combat performance was rewarded. Visser argues this allowed the German army to achieve superior combat performance compared to a more traditional organizational doctrine like the American one; while this would be ultimately offset by the Allies' superior numerical and material advantage, Visser argues that this allowed the German army to resist far longer than if it had not adopted this method of organization and doctrine. Peter Turchin reports a study by American colonel Trevor Dupuy found that German combat efficiency was higher than both the British and American armies - if a combat efficiency of 1 was assigned to the British, then the Americans had a combat efficiency of 1.1 and the Germans of 1.45. This would mean British forces would need to commit 45% more troops (or arm existing troops more heavily to the same proportion) to have an even chance of winning the battle, while the Americans would need to commit 30% more to have an even chance.
The military strength of the German Army was managed through mission-based tactics (Auftragstaktik) (rather than detailed order-based tactics), and an almost proverbial discipline. Once an operation began, whether offensive or defensive, speed in response to changing circumstances was considered more important than careful planning and coordination of new plans.
In public opinion, the German military was and is sometimes seen as a high-tech army, since new technologies that were introduced before and during World War II influenced its development of tactical doctrine. These technologies were featured by Nazi propaganda, but were often only available in small numbers or late in the war, as overall supplies of raw materials and armaments became low. For example, lacking sufficient motor vehicles to equip more than a small portion of their army, the Germans chose to concentrate the available vehicles in a small number of divisions which were to be fully motorized. The other divisions continued to rely on horses for towing artillery, other heavy equipment and supply-wagons, and the men marched on foot or rode bicycles. At the height of motorization only 20 per cent of all units were fully motorized. The small German contingent fighting in North Africa was fully motorized (relying on horses in the desert was near to impossible because of the need to carry large quantities of water and fodder), but the much larger force invading the Soviet Union in June 1941 numbered only some 150,000 trucks and some 625,000 horses (water was abundant and for many months of the year horses could forage – thus reducing the burden on the supply chain). However, the production of new motor vehicles by Germany, even with the exploitation of the industries of occupied countries, could not keep up with the heavy loss of motor vehicles during the winter of 1941–1942. From June 1941 to the end of February 1942 German forces in the Soviet Union lost some 75,000 trucks to mechanical wear and tear and combat damage – approximately half the number they had at the beginning of the campaign. Most of these were lost during the retreat in the face of the Soviet counteroffensive from December 1941 to February 1942. Another substantial loss was incurred during the defeat of the German 6th Army at Stalingrad in the winter of 1942–1943. These losses in men and materiel led to motorized troops making up no more than 10% of total Heer forces at some points of the war.
In offensive operations the infantry formations were used to attack more or less simultaneously across a large portion of the front so as to pin the enemy forces ahead of them and draw attention to themselves, while the mobile formations were concentrated to attack only narrow sectors of the front, breaking through to the enemy rear and surrounding him. Some infantry formations followed in the path of the mobile formations, mopping-up, widening the corridor manufactured by the breakthrough attack and solidifying the ring surrounding the enemy formations left behind, and then gradually destroying them in concentric attacks. One of the most significant problems bedeviling German offensives and initially alarming senior commanders was the gap created between the fast moving "fast formations" and the following infantry, as the infantry were considered a prerequisite for protecting the "fast formations" flanks and rear and enabling supply columns carrying fuel, petrol and ammunition to reach them.
In defensive operations the infantry formations were deployed across the front to hold the main defense line and the mobile formations were concentrated in a small number of locations from where they launched focused counterattacks against enemy forces who had broken through the infantry defense belt. In autumn 1942, at El Alamein, a lack of fuel compelled the German commander, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, to scatter his armoured units across the front in battalion-sized concentrations to reduce travel distances to each sector rather than hold them concentrated in one location. In 1944 Rommel argued that in the face of overwhelming Anglo-American air power, the tactic of employing the concentrated "fast formations" was no longer possible because they could no longer move quickly enough to reach the threatened locations because of the expected interdiction of all routes by Allied fighter-bombers. He therefore suggested scattering these units across the front just behind the infantry. His commanders and peers, who were less experienced in the effect of Allied air power, disagreed vehemently with his suggestion, arguing that this would violate the prime principle of concentration of force.
The infantry remained foot soldiers throughout the war; artillery also remained primarily horse-drawn. The motorized formations received much attention in the world press in the opening years of the war, and were cited as the main reason for the success of the German invasions of Poland (September 1939), Denmark and Norway (1940), Belgium, France and Netherlands (May 1940), Yugoslavia (April 1941) and the initial stages of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941). However, their motorized and tank formations accounted for only 20% of the Heer's capacity at their peak strength.The army's lack of trucks (and of petroleum to run them) severely limited infantry movement, especially during and after the Normandy invasion when Allied air-power devastated the French rail network north of the Loire. Panzer movements also depended on the rail, since driving a tank long distances wore out its tracks.[failed verification]
See also: Ranks and insignia of the German Army (1935–1945) and Army Personnel Office (Wehrmacht)
See also: List of German military equipment of World War II
Contrary to popular belief the German Army in World War II was not a mechanized juggernaut as a whole. In 1941, between 74 and 80 percent of their forces were not motorized, relying on railroad for rapid movement and on horse-drawn transport cross country. The percentage of motorization decreased thereafter. In 1944 approximately 85 percent was not motorized. The standard uniform used by the German Army consisted of a Feldgrau (field grey) tunic and trousers, worn with a Stahlhelm.
The German Army was promoted by Nazi propaganda.
- ^Though "Wehrmacht" is often erroneously used to refer only to the Army, it actually included the Kriegsmarine (Navy) and the Luftwaffe (Air Force).
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- Large, David Clay (1996). Germans to the Front: West German Rearmament in the Adenauer Era. The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN .
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- Showalter, Dennis (Jan 3, 2006). Patton And Rommel: Men of War in the Twentieth Century. Penguin. ISBN .
- Stroud, Rick (2013). The Phantom Army of Alamein: The Men Who Hoodwinked Rommel. A&C Black. ISBN .
- Tucker, Spencer C. (2009). A Global Chronology of Conflict: From the Ancient World to the Modern Middle East: From the Ancient World to the Modern Middle East. ABC-CLIO. ISBN .
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German Army Equipment of the Second World War
Uniform: Early War
Uniform: Late War
Cold Weather Clothing
Field Equipment (Feldausrüstung)
Weapons: Small Arms
Weapons: Hand Grenades
Weapons: Indirect Fire
Bibliography and Additional Information
The German Army uniform for temperate wear was a smart, practical and well-tailored piece of clothing. Once war had broken out however, soldiers in the field wasted no time in making the uniform even more comfortable to wear and as time went on, standards of dress became evermore casual. Typical variations to be seen included rolled up sleeves, open-neck collars, trousers worn outside the jackboots and equipment worn in a non-standard manner or configuration, which applied to the infantry and many of the field arms such as artillery and engineers. In addition to this, the effects of resource and materials shortages, caused modifications to the standard uniform and helmet (see below), generally aimed at making them simpler, cheaper and faster to produce. Also as the war went on, new weapons and equipment caused modifications to combat equipment when they entered service.
Uniform: Early War
The uniform variant in use at the start of the war was the M1936 pattern (see Figure 1). This had replaced the old World War I-style and Weimar Republic-style uniforms (M1920 and M1928) in the mid-1930s, when the German Army expanded massively after Hitler effectively tore up the remaining provisions of the Versailles Treaty. The Field Tunic (Feldbluse) featured four large, pleated, patch pockets (Aufgesetztetaschen - a major recognition feature), five field gray (feldgrau) painted buttons and four hooks (attached to inside straps) to help support the main belt. The garment had a turn-down collar with dark bottle green facings, a feature also seen on the shoulder straps (Schulterklappen) and behind the national emblem (Hoheitsabzeichen) over the right breast pocket. Up until very early in the war, these were pointed and featured the regimental number on them but soon after war broke out, they became rounded and the regimental number was taken off. Officers' shoulder straps were braided. In many cases, the shoulder straps and the collar patches (Kragenpatten) featured coloured piping which denoted the wearer's arm of service (for example, white for infantry, red for artillery and black for engineers). The tunic was made of field gray wool with 5% rayon and was partially lined. Officers' tunics were broadly similar but specified to be of the turn-back variety and many officers had theirs privately made in finer quality material. One of the first changes was the introduction of the M1940 Field Tunic which, while broadly similar to the M1936, had a higher percentage of artificial fibres (20%) with the dark green facings starting to disappear and six buttons instead of five.
A pale gray woollen or cotton shirt (Hemden) was worn underneath the tunic but this was replaced by field gray versions in 1941 (see Figure 3). If the weather was warm enough, the shirt could be worn on its own or alternatively, the soldiers sometimes wore the working and campaign uniform (Drillichanzug) which while originally in a pale gray colour, was produced in a dark olive or reed green after February 1940.
The trousers (Feldhosen) were made of the same material as the tunic but originally dyed a slate gray colour. This changed in 1940 when they started to be dyed in field gray. They had a very high waist, small side pockets with a slit opening, a fly front, an adjusting strap on the rear waistline, but no additional straps, pocket flaps or ankle fasteners. They were designed to be held up with braces (via buttons around the waist) and worn with jackboots
German M36 Field Tunic
Uniform: Late War
As already mentioned, during the warmer months, it was popular for soldiers to wear the dark green campaign tunic as it was lighter and cooler than the normal field tunic, or alternatively, just the shirt. In 1942, a Summer Uniform started to be produced, made up of a tunic (Drillichbluse) and trousers (Drillichhosen). The first pattern was in dark green and close in style to the Field Tunic but came with just two side hooks, similar to the Tropical Jacket. It was made initially of natural linen and then after 1943, used greater amounts of synthetic linen. The second pattern was made mainly from synthetic linen and was usually grayer in colour. The trousers were of similar materials and colours (see Figures 6 to 7).
As the war progressed, greater economies were introduced due to the ever-growing shortages of materials and labour. The first practical result was the introduction of the M1943 Uniform, made up of a tunic, trousers and shirt. The tunic became a deeper gray, had six buttons, the pleats on the pockets were removed, it was cut less full, the skirts were shortened and the dark green facings were finally fully removed. Artificial linen or cotton liners gave way to artificial silk or viscose and the materials were generally of inferior quality and became shabbier, quicker (see Figure 10). The trousers featured a lower waist, and four large belt loops to hold the main belt when worn without the Field Blouse. A small pocket for keeping a watch was fitted (with a flap) and the suspender belt buttons moved to the inside. Later versions came with ankle cords to coincide with the introduction of ankle boots and gaiters (see Figure 11). The shirt (see Figure 12) was made of aertex fabric with aluminium buttons.
The final version of the uniform (Felduniform) was the M1944. This was trialled during the summer of 1943 by units such as the Grossdeutschland Panzer Grenadier Division and approved by Hitler on 8 July 1944, entering service on 25 September 1944. It was clearly a result of the need to introduce further economies and was similar in cut and style to British battledress. It could be produced in large quantities but never replaced, only supplanted, its predecessors. It was supposed to showcase a new olive green colour but in practise, was made of whatever materials happened to be available and dyed with whatever colours were available too. In many instances they were delivered in the same mouse gray version of field gray that the M1943 field blouse had come in. It was much shorter than the other tunics, featured non-pleated breast pockets, a buckled waistband and came with self-supporting trousers, which could be worn with a belt or suspenders, had ankle pleating cords and flapped pockets. It was designed to be worn with ankle boots and gaiters.
The M1936 Greatcoat (Figure 15) was really a relic of the old Prussian military tradition of a smart long coat, unsuited to the demands of modern warfare. While made of heavy wool material, it was of knee-length, with turn-back cuffs, a half-belt at the rear, a turn-down collar and shoulder straps faced with dark green. It hampered mobility, became very heavy when soaked with water and was very stiff if it froze. It did however continue to evolve through the war (Figure 16) with economy measures meaning it lost the dark green facings but gained a deeper collar, two side pockets, a thick hood made of recycled blanket wool and many having additional lining.
Cold Weather Clothing
The Wehrmacht also issued reversible and non-reversible winter parkas (starting on the Eastern Front in autumn 1942) to combat the low temperatures in winter after testing throughout the year. They came with a pair of trousers and were made in three different thicknesses. The early versions were plain gray / white but later came camouflage versions, such as the one below, made after 1943.
Figure 20: Reversable German Parka
The German Army went to war with the M1935 pattern helmet (Stahlhelme), a model developed by Eisenhüttonwerke of Thule (Figure 21) from the M1918 pattern helmet of the First World War, and accepted for service on 25 June 1935. Originally, it was quite a complex and time-consuming item to manufacture and so it did not see widespread distribution until well into 1936. Even so, during the early stages of World War II, some reserve and second-line units still had the deeper M1918 pattern. As World War II progressed, shortages of materials and the search for greater economies led to the M1940 and M1942 patterns being introduced, all being of similar design but with an overall decrease in quality. This included changes in the manufacturing process, rougher / cheaper paint finishes, changes to the lining materials and the rolled edge being eliminated. In the field, helmets were given additional camouflage by their wearers, including being covered in mud, the use of chicken wire or nylon netting, an elastic band or the bread bag strap to hold local foliage, being painted suitable colours (such as sand for desert environments) and having camouflage pattern covers fixed to them. The latter were not standard issue and issued only to certain frontline and elite units.
Apart for the steel helmet, the German soldier could also been seen wearing a field cap (Feldmütze – see Figure 22) which was made of similar material to the field blouse. The early version was more a side cap (and was redesigned in 1942 to be more practical in cold weather), but from 1943 a new 'Standard' Field Cap (Einheitsfeldmütze – see Figure 23) was issued, which was similar in design to the Mountain Cap (Bergemütze) won by the Mountain troops (Gebirgsjäger). Officers would also be seen wearing field caps (Figure 24) which could have stiffening board put into it for a more 'formal' look.
The marching boot (Marschstiefel), more popularly known to the soldiers as the 'Dice Shakers' (Knobelbecher) and to the British as the 'jackboot', have been a feature of the German Army uniform since Bismarck's Reich. They were made of high quality, blackened cow leather with the calf portion measuring 35 – 41cm and doubled soles strengthened with 35 – 45 hobnails. The heels were reinforced with an indented iron plate on the outer rim. Officers wore similar items, but quite often bought high-quality tailor-made boots using personal means. Again, through the war, economies were introduced, the first being a reduction in the calf length to 29 – 35cm to save leather.
Later on, they were restricted in their distribution to the infantry, cyclists, motorcyclists and specialist troops (such as pioneers). Later still, they were replaced by the ankle boot (Schnürschuhe), worn with gaiters. Ankle boots had in fact been around before the war (M1937) and were mainly used for walking out dress and work wear around the barracks. They were however to become increasingly common as the war went on (from 1941 onwards) and a late-war version (M1944) became standard issue as part of the M1944 pattern uniform.
Field Equipment (Feldausrüstung)
The basic German Infantryman's webbing (the equipment by which he carries the items necessary to survive and fight), an example webbing set being shown in Figures 30 and 31, consisted of a leather waist belt with leather Y-straps that went over the shoulders. Later in the war these were supplemented by canvas webbing ones, initially supplied to troops in tropical zones, due to their cheapness and practicality. Attached to this were items such as ammunition pouches (which varied according to the weapon carried), a bayonet (Seitengewehr), an entrenching tool (Schanzzeug), a bread bag (Brotbeutel), a water bottle (Feldflasche), a gas mask container (Tragebusche) and possibly even a pistol and holster. Quite often, the gas mask was 'disposed' of, and the container used to carry personal items, extra rations and ammunition. In addition, an assault pack (Sturmgepäck) could be attached at the back using an 'A-Frame' and consisted of the Model 31 Cooking Pot (Kockgeschirr), a small bag for carrying additional equipment over which was placed a rolled up poncho with tent pole sections and pegs (Zeltbahnrolle), a blanket and (if necessary) the greatcoat rolled up and placed around the other items in a horseshoe shape and attached by straps. On the march however, the Marching Pack (Marschgepäck) could be attached to the 'A-Frame' with the greatcoat, blanket and poncho wrapped around that instead. The Marching Pack was gradually replaced from 1943 onwards with the Model 1944 Rucksack (see Figure 32), due its increased practicality.
Weapons: Small Arms
Figure 33: Mauser Kar98k
Figure 33. The Mauser Kar98k bolt-action rifle (Above), chambered for the 7.92x57mm round, which were held in an integral five-round magazine, entered service in 1935. Derived from the Gewehr M1898 rifle (the German Army's battle rifle in World War I) and post-World War I Karabiner 98b, the Kar98k was the standard German battle rifle of World War II. Kar stand for Karabiner (carbine) and the k stands for kurz (short) so the designation stands for Carbine 98 Short. It can still be found in conflicts all over the world as well as in the civilian gun market.
Weight:: 3.7 – 4.1kg (8.2 – 9lbs); Length: 1110mm (43.7in); Barrel Length: 600mm (23.6in); Muzzle velocity: 760m/s (2,493fps).
Figure 34: MP40 Maschinenpistole (Sub-machinegun)
Figure 34. The MP40 Sub-machinegun (MP standing for Maschinenpistole or Machine Pistol), chambered for 9x19mm Parabellum, operates with an open-bolt, blowback mechanism, the magazine holding 32 rounds. Introduced into service in 1940, it was a simplified version of the MP38, which itself was a development of the MP36, an SMG designed by Berthold Geipel of Erma. Over 1 million would be made during the War, but contrary to the image perceived in war films and computer games, it was generally only issued to paratroopers, tank crews as well as squad and platoon leaders (Above).
Weight:: 4kg (8.8lbs); Length: 833mm (32.8in) with stock extended / 630mm (24.8in) with stock retracted; Barrel Length: 251mm (9.9in); Muzzle velocity: 380m/s (1,247fps); Rate of Fire: 550 rounds per minute.
Figure 35a. (left) The MG34 (the MG standing for Maschinengewehr or machinegun) was designed by Heinrich Vollmer of Mauser and accepted into service in 1934, firing the 7.92x57mm cartridge. It was the standard German infantry squad support weapon for the first half of World War II, being supplanted by the MG42 (Figure 35b, right) later in the war. Used in this role, it was equipped with a bipod (but could be converted to the heavy machinegun role by putting it on a tripod) and belt-fed, although it could accept 50-round drums.
Weight:: 12.1kg (26.7lbs); Length: 1,219mm (48in); Barrel Length: 627mm (24.7in); Muzzle velocity: 755m/s (2,477fps); Rate of Fire: 900 rounds per minute (average).
Figure 36a. (Above, Left) The 9x19mm P-08 Luger semi-automatic pistol, the design of which was patented by Georg J Luger in 1898, was initially chambered for 7.65x22 Parabellum but was eventually chambered for the 9x19mm cartridge, a round that was developed specifically for it (and hence is also called 9x19mm Luger). It operated using an unusual toggle-lock action instead of the standard slide action of almost all other semi-automatic pistols and featured an eight-round magazine. Made to exacting standards, the design worked well for high-power cartridges but low-power ones could cause feeding problems.
Weight:: 871g (1.92lbs); Length: 222mm (8.75in); Barrel Length: 98 - 203mm (3.9 – 8.02in); Muzzle velocity: 350 – 400m/s (4in barrel, 9mm).
Figure 36b (Above, Right) The Walther P-38, a gas-operated semi-automatic pistol, chambered for the 9x19mm Parabellum cartridge, came into service in 1940. It became the Wehrmacht's general service pistol, replacing the expensive-to-produce Luger P-08 and used a double-action trigger design, similar to that used on the PPK. It featured an eight-round magazine.
Weight:: 800g (1lb 12oz); Length: 216mm (8.5in); Barrel Length: 125mm (4.9in); Muzzle velocity: 365m/s (1,200fps).
Figure 37. The Browning Hi-Power (Above) was a single-action semi-automatic pistol chambered for the 9x19mm Parabellum cartridge, with a magazine that held thirteen rounds. The initial design came from John Browning to satisfy a French military requirement but after Browning's death in 1926, the design was refined by Dieudonné Saive at Fabrique Nationale (FN) of Herstal, Belgium. It entered Belgian service in 1935. The factory continued to produce weapons under German occupation and so large numbers of this pistol saw service in the Wehrmacht.
Weight:: 800g (1lb 12oz); Length: 216mm (8.5in); Barrel Length: 125mm (4.9in); Muzzle velocity: 365m/s (1,200fps).
Figure 38. The Gewehr-41 (Above) was a semi-automatic rifle chambered for the 7.92x57mm cartridge. Both Walther and Mauser developed designs, with the Walther design being somewhat superior. Both suffered from reliability problems, a result of the overly complex gas system which was difficult to clean and maintain under field conditions combined with fouling caused by the corrosive propellants in the ammunition. It entered service in 1941 but was superseded by the Gewhr-43.
Weight:: 4.9kg (10.87lbs); Length: 1,140mm (44.8in); Barrel Length: 546mm (21.5in); Muzzle velocity: 775m/s (2,328fps); Rate of Fire: Semi-automatic.
Figure 39. The Gewehr-43 (Above) was a semi-automatic rifle chambered for the 7.92x57mm cartridge with a 10-round detachable box magazine. Following problems with the Gewehr-41, Walther produced a modified design in 1943, building on the experience they had with captured Soviet SVT-40 semi-automatic rifles. With a new gas system and changeable box magazine, the new rifle was smaller, lighter, easier to maintain, more reliable and quicker to reload. It started to be issued in early 1944 and over 400,000 units were produced.
Weight:: 4.1kg (9.7lbs); Length: 1,130mm (44.8in); Barrel Length: 546mm (21.5in); Muzzle velocity: 775m/s (2,328fps); Rate of Fire: Semi-automatic.
Figure 40. The StG44 (also known as the MP43 and MP44) is considered by many to be the first modern assault rifle, combining features of a carbine, automatic rifle and sub-machinegun. The StG stands for Sturmgewehr or 'assault rifle' and it was chambered for a new, intermediate calibre cartridge, the 7.92x33mm Kurz (Kurz meaning 'short') in a 30-round detachable magazine. This, along with the weapon's selective fire design, meant that while it didn't have the long range accuracy or hitting power of a normal rifle chambered for a full-power rifle cartridge (such as the 7.92x57mm Mauser) it did have good ballistic performance out to intermediate ranges and was still controllable for close-up fully automatic fire. This was in-line with Wehrmacht studies that indicated that the vast majority of infantry combat took place at less than 400m. Initial variants entered service in October 1943.
Weight:: 5.22kg (11.5lbs); Length: 940mm (37in); Barrel Length: 419mm (16.5in); Muzzle velocity: 685m/s (2,247fps); Rate of Fire: 500 – 600 rounds per minute.
Weapons: Hand Grenades
Figure 41. (Above) Various hand grenades used by the Wehrmacht. The picture on the left shows probably the best known design, known to the Allies as the 'Stick Grenade' or 'Potato Masher', in this case a Mod. 24 Steilhandgranate (top). The grenade is primed via a cord than runs down the hollow base. The picture on the right shows examples of the M39 Eihandgranate (Egg hand grenade), a design first introduced in 1939. The M39 was a continuation of the Mod.1917 Na. egg design, which was a small grenade, making it easier to carry in larger quantities and allowing it to be thrown further.
Figure 42: Panzerbüchse
Figure 42. (Above) The Panzerbüchse (literally 'Tank Rifle' – here the word büchse mean rifle, as it refers to a large-calibre rifle used in sport or hunting) or PzB 39 was a single-shot, bolt-action anti-tank rifle designed by the firm Gustloff and chambered for a proprietary 13.2x92mm cartridge. It entered service in early 1939 and saw action right the way through the war with some 39,232 rifles being made. While it had reasonable success against contemporary vehicles (it could penetrate up to 25mm of armour at 300m), the increased armour of later AFVs rendered it useless against all but the most lightly armoured or non-armoured vehicles. It was superseded by the Panzerfaust and Panzerschrek, and many were rebuilt as grenade launchers.
Weight:: 11.6kg (25.57lbs); Length: 1,620mm (63.8in); Barrel Length: 1,085mm (42.7in); Muzzle velocity: 1,210m/s (3,970fps); Rate of Fire: 10 rounds per minute (approx).
Figures 43 and 44. (Above) Designed to give infantry a portable anti-tank capability, the Faustpatrone Klein 30 (literally 'Fist Cartridge, Small') was the forerunner to the better known Panzerfaust series, introduced in August 1943. The Panzerfaust (literally 'Tank Fist') series of weapons were essentially a hollow metal tube with a shaped-charge warhead attached to it. On firing, the warhead would accelerate out of the tube, up to a speed of 100m/s (depending on the design) with stabilising fins deploying after it left the tube. They were reasonably accurate up to 100m (again, depending on the design) and could penetrate up to 220mm of armour. The 30 entered service in August 1943, the 60M in September 1944 and the 100M in November 1944.
Faustpatrone K30: Weight – 3.2kg; Effective Range – 30m; Penetration – 140mm
Panzerfaust 30: Weight – 5.1kg; Effective Range – 30m; Penetration – 200mm
Panzerfaust 60M: Weight – 6.1kg; Effective Range – 60m; Penetration – 200mm
Panzerfaust 100M: Weight – 6.8kg; Effective Range – 100m; Penetration – 220mm
Figure 45. (Above) The Panzerschrek (literally 'Tank Terror') was the popular name for the Raketenpanzerbüchse (or 'Rocket Armour Rifle'), a German development of the M1A1 Bazooka. The main variants were the RPzB 43 (issued early in 1943), RPzB 54 (issued in October 1943 and had a blast shield to protect the operator) and RPzB 54/1 (shorter but fired an improved rocked). It fired a rocket-propelled shaped-charge warhead that had, in the case of the RPzB 54/1, a range of about 180mm and could penetrate over 200mm of armour. It was the heaviest of the three versions though, at 11kg (empty).
Weapons: Indirect Fire
Figure 46. (Above) The German Leichter Granatwerfer 36 was a light, 5cm mortar used throughout World War II. Development started in 1934 by Rheinmetall-Borsig AG and it was adopted for service in 1936. By 1941, its effectiveness was seen as limited and production eventually ceased. As supplies dwindled, German troops starting using captured French and Soviet 50mm mortars but the 5cm LeGrW was always popular due to it being easily portable by two soldiers and provided a decent striking power at a range not immediately accessible to the squad or section. It weighed 14kg (31lbs), had a barrel length of 465mm (18in) and fired a 3.5kg HE shell up to 520m away.
Figure 47. (Above) The 8cm Granatwerfer (GrW) 34 was the standard medium German mortar in World War II. It had a reputation of being reliable, accurate and having a decent rate of fire. The weapon broke down into three loads (barrel, bipod and baseplate) and featured a line of the barrel for rough laying, while a panoramic sight was fitted on the traversing mechanism for fine adjustment. It weighed 62kg (136.6lbs) with a steel barrel or 57kg (125.6lbs) with an alloy barrel, had a barrel length of 1,143mm (45in) and could fire a 3.5kg HE or smoke shell, well over a kilometre, a range that could be extended to almost 2.5km (2,723yds) with up to three additional propellant charges. A shortened version, the kz 8cm GrW42 was developed for use by the paratroopers but its use became much more widespread as the limitations of the 5cm LeGrW became apparent.
Figure 48. (Above) The 12cm Granatwerfer (GrW) 42 was virtually a direct copy of the Soviet PM-38 120mm mortar and an attempt to give German troops an indirect fire weapon that had better range and striking power than the weapons available at the time. Captured Soviet weapons received the designation 12 cm Granatwerfer 378 (r). The GrW had a barrel length of about 1,862 mm (6 ft), weighed 280kg (617.3lbs) and was towed into firing position using a two-wheeled axle, which was removed while setting up the weapon. It could fire a 15.6kg (34.4lbs) shell approximately 6km (6,561yds).
Any article such as this can only hope to produce something of a 'primer' as to the wide range of clothing, equipment and weapons that became available to the German soldier during World War II. However, as general rule, as the war progressed, the quality of many items diminished as economy measures were introduced in attempts to solve shortages of materials and reduce production times, the exception being the range of weapons available, particularly anti-tank and support weapons. While the majority of clothes were of 'field gray' colour, it can be
Bibliography and Additional Information
Bell, Brian. Wehrmacht Combat Helmets 1933 – 45, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2004, Elite Series No. 106.
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki (various photos)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page (various articles)
Peterson, Daniel. Wehrmacht Camouflage Uniforms & Post-War Derivatives, London: Windrow & Greene Publishing, 1995, Europa Militaria No. 17.
Rottmann, Gordon. German Combat Equipments 1939-45, London: Osprey Publishing, 1991, Men-at-Arms Series No. 234.
Sáiz, Agustín. Deutsche Soldaten: Uniforms, Equipment & Personal Items of the German Soldier 1939-45, Newbury: Casemate, 2008.
Thers, Alexandre. Soldiers in Normandy: The Germans, Paris: Histoire & Collections, 2005, Mini-Guides Series.
Thomas, Nigel. The German Army 1939-45 (1) Blitzkrieg, London: Osprey Publishing, 1997, Men-at-Arms Series No. 311.
Thomas, Nigel. The German Army 1939-45 (2) North Africa & Balkans, London: Osprey Publishing, 1998, Men-at-Arms Series No. 316.
Thomas, Nigel. The German Army 1939-45 (3) Eastern Front 1941-43, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 1999, Men-at-Arms Series No. 326.
Thomas, Nigel. The German Army 1939-45 (4) Eastern Front 1943-45, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 1999, Men-at-Arms Series No. 330.
Thomas, Nigel. The German Army 1939-45 (5) Western Front 1943-45, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2000, Men-at-Arms Series No. 336.
Unknown. 'The German Soldier: Uniform and Equipment in Europe 1939-45' in Tamiya Model Magazine, Issue No. 1 (Spring 1985), pp. 32 – 35.
Westwood, David. German Infantryman (1) 1933 – 40, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2002, Warrior Series No. 59.
Westwood, David. German Infantryman (2) Eastern Front 1941-43, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2003, Warrior Series No. 76.
Westwood, David. German Infantryman (3) Eastern Front 1943-45, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2005, Warrior Series No. 93
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How to cite this article: Antill, P. (20 August 2010), German Army Equipment of the Second World War , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_german_army_equipment.html
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