The German Army
The campaigns of the German Army between 1939 and 1945 seem to hold a mysterious thrall over military history. There are a plethora of books devoted to every facet of the Wehrmacht during the period; quite frankly, I find it a little disturbing just how many there are. But if I'm going to do this site, and try to do it properly, they need to be examined yet again.
The heights from which the German Army fell between September 1939 and May 1945 are truly spectacular. By 1942, Nazi Germany had invaded nine sovereign democracies and occupied swathes of Communist Russia. The Afrika Korps was also threatening to cut a path to the vast oilfields of the Middle East. Yet within two years Germany would be fighting a defensive war on three disparate fronts, and have seen thousands of its own civilians perish in allied air raids which it was believed impossible for the Reich to suffer.
On reflection, I wonder whether the fall is so surprising. Following the lightning war of 1939 and 1940, an air of invincibility permeated all levels of Germany, aided by Nazi doctrine. The swift fall of so many nations was seen as proof of German superiority, and that's when the real rot set in; complacency. German industry had never really mobilised for 'total war' during the early years, but it was on a higher footing than her enemies. The crushing of Belgium and Holland, Denmark and Norway were all too easy. But even larger nations like Britain and France were ill-prepared for war. Even Russia, who suffered more than any at the hands of Nazi Germany, initially offered no real opposition. The German Army stood almost motionless as regards the development of new weapons up until 1942. Her surviving enemies did not. New tanks and planes and anti tank guns poured out of allied arsenals. Thankfully too late, the Germans attempted to catch up. In the last two years of the war, new and groundbreaking weapons were introduced which influenced many post-war designs. But efforts were spread too thin, anything which seemed interesting was pursued, no matter how fanciful or farfetched. Precious resources were drained in a profusion of projects. And the most irreplaceable resource, German manpower, had already been squandered in the snows of the Eastern Front.
The image of the German Army in the last twelve months of the war in Europe troubles me. It is sometimes portrayed as an army on the verge of collapse, bereft of manpower and equipment, almost destroyed by its exertions in the East. If that is an accurate description, then why did it take the allies almost a year to overcome them? What forces opposed the eighty odd American, British and Canadian Divisions in the West, and the five hundred plus Russian in the East; seven men and a bicycle mounted machine gun? The German Army did not disintegrate overnight. Its men suffered a terrible attrition, but the Army had already reached gargantuan proportions. The exact number is hard to define, but over five hundred Divisional formations were maintained. Much is made of the parlous state of these units, but was it any worse than that of the allies they faced?
The German Army in the last few years of the war resembles an old heavyweight boxer. It was tired, out of condition, and found itself challenged by younger and keener opponents. But it still had the ability to land a terrible blow, and while it no longer had the advantage of mobility, if it was able to connect with accuracy, the results could be devastating.
The price paid by the German Army is staggering. Perhaps three million men died during the campaigns of conquest and the nightmare of retreat into Germany itself. The Fatherland was virtually flattened, over three quarters of a million civilians perished. As a nation, Germany practically ceased to exist. Her eventual salvation and redemption was, with true irony, accomplished only in partnership with her former foes.
The German Army deployed a wealth of different formations, each with their own idiosyncrasies. They are best explored in the many books devoted to them. For sanity's sake, the Battalions covered here are the more usual Infantry, Panzer Grenadier and Parachute units, plus the Volks Grenadier. There is also a brief description of the Divisional units in which they served.
The German Infantry and Grenadier Battalion
The Armoured Panzer Grenadier Battalion
The Motorized Panzer Grenadier Battalion
Other German Motorized and Mechanized Infantry Units
The Panzer Battalion
The German Parachute Battalion
German Divisional Organisations
Published works and Websites