History of the German W.W. II Volkssturm

July 17, 2009 0 Comments

Der Deutscher Volkssturm:
Organization and Military History of
The German People's Militia


Compiled by A.M. de Quesada, August, 2000

ORGANIZATION
Of all the measures taken to mobilize speed the last manpower resources of the German nation, the most extreme was the creation of the Volkssturm designed to supplement the defense of the homeland. The Deutscher Volkssturm was constituted in September 1944. The organization may be considered a territorial militia which was formed and called to arms only for training purposes or for employment whenever a local area was threatened by the enemy. It was used to reinforce the Wehrmacht by "total commitment of all German people," as the constitution decree dictated. Although formation and training to the Volkssturm was not under the responsibility of the Wehrmacht, but rather under the auspices of the NAZI Party (NSDAP), for employment in combat all Volkssturm units came under the full operational command and control of the army. Under the status of forces as determined by the Geneva Convention, the Volkssturm was a legal irregular defense force that was neither part of the Wehrmacht nor the army, but rather an independent fighting force controlled by the Party.

Since the summer of 1944, as the Allied and Soviet armies were approaching the boundaries of the Reich by coordinated offensives on the east and west, the German High Command pondered desperately how to mobilize the last available reserves of manpower. The fighting power of the infantry units had decreased alarmingly following the increasing losses on the field of battle resulting from battle casualties and a growing number of captured. The vital necessity to strengthen especially the infantry was certainly an important point of all military planning. Finally, the "Deutscher Volkssturm" was constituted by "Decree of the Fuhrer" dated 25 September 1944, and published on 20 October 1944 (RGB1 I 1944, Page 253). A public proclamation by Hitler announcing the formation of a German Volkssturm was broadcast by the German Radio on 18th October 1944, the date of the anniversary of the Battle of Leipzig in 1813. Consequently, all organization orders were issued by the "Chancellery of the Führer," and not by the Wehrmacht authorities. By order No. 278/44 dated 27 September 1944 the Party Chancellery ordered the formation of security crews within the Volkssturm to man some of the fortifications, to be rallied by the Gauleiter responsible for the construction of field fortifications."

In short, the Volkssturm's mission was to surround and contain large seaborne and airborne landings; to eliminate agents and small sabotage groups; to guard bridges, streets and key buildings; to reinforce depleted Army units; to plug gaps in the front after enemy breakthroughs, and to man quiet sectors; and to crush feared uprisings by the estimated 10 million prisoners-of-war and foreign workers in Germany.

As a result of the constitution decree all German males between the ages of 16 and 60 who were capable of bearing arms were compelled to serve in the Volkssturm "to strengthen the active forces of our Wehrmacht and especially to conduct inexorable fighting at all places where the enemy intends to set foot on German soil." The six-million-strong force would have about 10,180 battalions - limited staff personnel and rear-echelon facilities, and lack of weapon standardization, made the battalion the largest tactical unit - divided into four levies (Aufgebote):
1st Levy: 1.2 million men in 1,850 battalions (400 in frontier districts); all physically fit 20-60 year old's without essential war work exemption, assigned to front-line battalions, quartered in barracks, liable for service outside their home district, and including all available NSDAP political officials, Allgemeine-SS, SA,. NSKK and NSFK.
2nd Levy: 2.8 million men in 4,860 battalions (1,050 in frontier districts); all physically fit 20-60 year old's with essential war work exemption, usually organized in factory battalions, quartered at home, liable for service within their home county.
3rd Levy:600,000 16-19 year old's, plus some 15 year old volunteers, in about 1,040 battalions; mostly 16 year old Hitler Youth trained in the toughening-up camps (HJ-Wehrert chtigungslager).
4th Levy: 1.4 million 20-60 year old's unfit for active service, plus volunteers over sixty, in about 2,430 battalions, for guard duty, including guarding concentration camps. On a side note, The Nazi Women's League (NS-Frauenschaft) provided rear-echelon support, and on 23 March 1945 were issued firearms.

Not all planned battalions were formed, but at least 700 did see combat, the vast majority of these recruited from the frontier districts in the East - Danzig-West Prussia, Mark Brandenburg, Lower and Upper Silesia, East Prussia, Pomerania, Wartheland; the South-East-Lower Danube, Styria, Sudetenland, all facing Soviet forces; but also in the West - Essen and Westmark, facing the western Allies.

Responsibility for recruitment, organization and command of the Volkssturm was locally vested in the Gauleiter who had to utilize the "most capable organizers" of all branches, institutions and installations of the Party (including the SA, the SS, the NSKK and the HJ) to form and train the Volkssturm. Established prerogatives of the Armed Forces in military matters, as well as control of training, were repudiated. However, all Wehrmacht authorities were required to render all necessary assistance for training and armament. Considering the rapidly decorating military situation in the months following the summer of 1944, this was probably the most logical direction to take since the Wehrmacht's recruiting and replacement organization was already taxed to the limit. The Party, with its tightly knit organizational and control network, was better suited to meet the demands, and for "combing out" the country to mobilize every eligible Volkssturm draftee. Unfortunately for the military, there were still reserves of personnel hoarded at all levels of the Party organizations.

SA Chief of Staff Wilhelm Scheppmann was appointed as inspector of Rifle Training and NKSS-Korpsführer Erwin Kraus was to be inspector of Motor Technical Training. Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Replacement Army (Befehlshaber des Ersatzheeres, BdE) was made responsible for the military organization, instructors, equipment and armament of the Volkssturm. Reichsleiter Martin Bormann was responsible for recruitment and political leadership, as well as all political and organizational execution orders were proclaimed on behalf of the "Führer" by the "Head of the Party Chancellory," namely Bormann. The constitution decree expressly confirmed the status of soldiers during battle employment for all members of the Volkssturm. Therefore, all members of the Volkssturm were classed as 'Soldiers under the Army Code' for the duration of their service which was to take place locally wherever a given area was threatened. Orders issued in this proclamation did not effect the affiliation of the Volkssturm members to other organizations. Service in the Volkssturm had priority over duty in all other Party organizations. The Volkssturm was to be sent into the field according to Hitler's instructions issued by the Reichsführer-SS. All military by-laws concerning this decree were issued by Reichsführer-SS Himmler and all political by-laws by Reichsleiter Bormann. As far as the Party was concerned the creation of the Volkssturm served a dual purpose. Firstly it strengthened the defenses of the Reich, although in fact in many instances it proved to be more of an incumbrance, and secondly with the plot against Hitler's life still very fresh in the Party's mind it kept a large part of the population so thoroughly under military control that any incipient revolt against the Party at this late stage would have had a hard time thriving. Although each Gauleiter was charged with the leadership, enrolment and organization of the Volkssturm within his district, the largest Volkssturm units tended to correspond to the next smallest territorial sub-division of the Party organization - the Kreis. Through the card index system carefully kept by each Political Block Leader, the Party was well aware of the possible service potential of every male in Germany. However, the value of this levy 'en masse' was little more than an expression of the national will.

The first regulations were issued by Order No. 277/44 of the Party Chancellory, dated 27 September 1944. Party officials had to organize the Volkssturm on the basis of the local organization of the Party , i.e. districts and local branches, to be formed into companies and battalions. For all organizational matters the Gauleiter had to appoint an assistant as "Gaustabsfuehrer" (Region Staff Leader). Of special interest are the criteria for the selection of leader personnel:
"...4. The Party officials will commission battle-experienced political leaders, members of the formations of the Party, police officers or other fellow countrymen. Selection will be made under the following aspects: faith to the Fuhrer, resoluteness and soldierly skills."

The Armed Forces were denied any influence in this vital point. One of the unfortunate aspects of this principle would be that experienced retired officers occasionally served in the ranks, subordinate to inexperienced and often incompetent political leaders. The part time military training of the members of the Volkssturm, now designated "Volkssturm Soldiers," was conducted once a week with the proviso that "normal work...would not be interrupted, if possible." Their status as combatants was expressly confirmed. Moreover, it was ordered to instruction, the most important parts of the text of the "Hague Rules of Land Warfare" were even added as an annex of the order.

More details were regulated by the "2nd Executive Order" No. 318/44 of the Party Chancellory, dated 12 October 1944. The Kreisleiter, also, had to appoint assistants, ranked as "Kreisstabsführer" (District Staff Leaders). For leaders of the Volkssturm units, "reliable and resolute National Socialists," if possible with front experience as infantry soldiers, had to be selected. It was pointed out that units must be organized along the lines of the "local organization of the NSDAP" and that "the comradeship of local branches, as far as possible also of blocs and cells, should be preserved." This principle certainly highlights the influence, surveillance and control by the Party.

As a military organization, the Volkssturm units were composed of squads, platoons, companies, and battalions. Larger units and higher echelons were not formed, and regarded unnecessary as employment of the Volkssturm units was planned and executed under tactical control of army echelons. A 649-man 1st Levy Battalion had a 27-man staff; Companies (Kompanien) 1-3, each with three or four Platoons (Zuge) containing three or four 10-man Sections (Gruppen); and a 4th Infantry Howitzer Company. Other Levy battalions had 576 men. Each company was supposed to have three five-man Tank Close Combat Squads (Panzernahbek mpfungstrupps), each with 10 Panzerfaust anti-tank projectors, often manned by Hitler Youth volunteers.

Rank designations followed the organizational pattern as follows:
Volkssturmmann (Individual Combatant)
Gruppenführer (Squad Leader) - Appointed by company commander
Zugführer (Platoon Leader) - Appointed by battalion commander
Kompanieführer (Company Leader) - Appointed by Kreisleiter
Bataillonsführer (Battalion Leader) - Appointed by Gauleiter

All appointments were temporary until final appointment took place after proof of competence.

The basic organization and equipment of Volkssturm battalions was identical to army infantry battalions. Specialist Volkssturm units were designated Combat (Kampf-, in East Prussia Einsatz-) Battalions; Emergency Battalions (Bataillone z.b.V.) recruited from non-frontier districts for Eastern Front duty; and Pioneer (Bau) or Reserve (Ersatz) Battalions. Transportation Detachments (Volkssturm Transportstaffeln), motorized with civilian trucks, and construction units (Schanzeinheiten) were formed of men unfit for fighting. There also existed several Artillery Battalions. The Volkssturm was prohibited from serving outside the Reich, but at least four battalions were formed from Germans living abroad - 400 and 402 in Denmark, 605 and 610 in Bohemia-Moravia. A medical service was formed in November 1944, with a medical officer and medical orderly per battalion; and in January 1945 a Tank Warning Service (Panzerwarndienst) in frontier districts. In East Prussia a "Volkssturm Nightfighter Squadron No. 1" (Nachtjagdstaffel I) was formed by members of the NSFK using light aircraft. However, actual combat missions of the squadron was not reported.

During 1945 Volkssturm units helped form Army 'Gneisenau' formations within the Replacement Army. In January 26 'Baden' battalions joined Upper Rhine Infantry Regiments 1-15, later grouped into the 805th and 905th Divisions and 1005th Brigade of the 19th Army - nicknamed the 19th Volkssturm Army. The 303rd, 309th, 324th, 325th, and 328th and 'Burwalde' Divisions contained Volkssturm battalions, as did the People's Infantry Divisions (Volksgrenadierdivisionen) established by Himmler; 16 Grenadier (Führernachwuchs) Regiment, numbered 1233-42, 1246-50, 1256, formed from Officer Cadet Schools; and SS-Grenadierregiment 'Becker', later part of the '30.Januar' Waffen-SS Division.

Also in 1945 the Army formed 3000-series Fortress (Festungs-) units from Volkssturm companies with Army staffs, to man defensive lines in the East. There were 11 four-company Machine-Gun Battalions (3095-3105); two Infantry Battalions (3460, 3470); three-battalion Artillery Depot Regiments (3132-4); 25 Artillery Depot Battalions (3117-26, 3135-9, 3158-60, 3163-6, 3176, 3177, 3184); two Artillery Battalions (3086-7) and some Engineer Barrier Companies and Engineer Demolition Companies. Volkssturm battalions served in town garrisons cut off by the Soviet advance, notably in Breslau (38 battalions), Frankfurt-an-der-Oder (3), Kuestrin (4), Kolberg (2), Posen (1), and Schneidem hl (2).

Volkssturm recruits, many already working a 72-hour war-emergency week, were given a 48-hour training program by armed forces instructors, and were expected to master the rifle and Panzerfaust, the grenade-launcher, hand grenade and Panzerschreck anti-tank weapon, and in emergency the pistol, sub-machine gun and land mine. In fact there were scarcely enough weapons for the 1st and 2nd Levies, and many militia men were sent into battle unarmed. The 3rd Levy was not issued weapons, and the 4th Levy were expected to use hunting rifles or captured firearms. Troops were often only issued a trench-spade for self defense.

The Gauleiters on the Eastern Border began to establish a series of defensive lines during the pause in the fighting after July 1944. Thousands of local men and women , Hitler Youth, RAD conscripts, prisoners-of-war and foreign laborers built tank traps, artillery and anti-tank positions, protected by earthworks and linked by trenches. Eight lines skirted the East-Prussian frontier: 'Memel', 'Inster-Angerapp', 'Hohenstein', 'Ortelsburger Wald', 'Heilsberg', 'Deime', 'Frisching' and 'Masuren'; there were three in Wartheland - 'A' (East), 'B' (Center), 'C' (West), and in Upper Silesia 'Berthold' and 'B-1'. Other lines were manned by armed forces and Volkssturm units, many organized from January 1945 into Fortress Battalions.

The "Decree on Status of the members of the German Volkssturm," dated 1 December 1944 (RGB1 I 1944, P. 343) regulated obligations and rights, and also welfare and care. It also constituted separate "Penal Jurisdiction of the Volkssturm." Volkssturm soldiers were on equal status with the soldiers of the Wehrmacht in every aspect except for clothing and personal equipment, which they had to provide themselves.

Two further orders, both dated 24 February 1945 (RGB1 I 1945, p. 34) and retrospectively executed per 18 October 1944, subjected all members of the Volkssturm in training and battle to Military Penal Laws and a separate "Special Jurisdiction in Penal Matters." Newly instituted "Courts of Justice of the German Volkssturm" replaced the Reich Court-Martial (Reichskriegsgericht) and Field Court-Martials (Feldkriegsgerichte) of the Wehrmacht, and newly appointed "Judges of the German Volkssturm" were set in place of the judges of the Wehrmacht Judicial Corps. The Volkssturm judges were commissioned, on proposal by the Gauleiter, by the Head of the Party Chancellory and the Reichsführer-SS in mutual agreement, and were subjected immediately to the latter for disciplinary actions. No mention was made of special uniforms or insignia of the Volkssturm judges, so it may be assumed that they retained their usual vestments of judges, or the party uniform if they were so entitled. The reasons for a separate jurisdiction probably stemmed from the all-present influence of the Party, mistrust of the Wehrmacht, and the acknowledged dissimilarities between regular and militia units. Consequently, by order No. 40/45 of the Supreme Command, dated 16 March 1945, separate "Disciplinary Regulations for the German Volkssturm" were issued which bestowed disciplinary authority also to the Gauleiter.

The fighting ability of these Volkssturm units was practically nil. Lack of adequate weapons, ammunition and time for proper training, with units receiving only a few days and with some only a few hours instruction had its effect on morale. The desertion rate was high, both to the Allies and with many of the members drifting home when the opportunity presented itself. Fanatics did exist within the ranks and these tended to be members of the Hitler Youth. Enthusiasm for the Volkssturm was almost non-existent even amongst the Volkssturm themselves and especially from the regular troops and the civilian population. Opinion was that if the German Army could not stop the Allied advance into Germany what hope did the civilian Volkssturm have! There was no remuneration for service in the Volkssturm, except when a member was taking part in actual combat. This together with the lack of a complete official uniform caused a great deal of disgruntlement throughout the Militia. Many of the members felt that they were assuming the duties of soldiers but with none of the privileges.

COMBAT RECORD
On 16 October 1944 the Soviet 3rd Byelorussian Front attacked East Prussia and occupied Goldap, Gumbinnen and Nemmersdorf before the German 4th Army, with eight Volkssturm battalions in the 170th Infantry Division, forced them out. On 12 January 1945, 156 Soviet divisions in five army groups (1st Baltic, 2nd-3rd Byelorussian, 1st Ukrainian Fronts) launched a general offensive into Germany against German Army Groups A and Mitte (50 divisions) .Smashing through the makeshift defense lines in Wartheland into Danzig-West Prussia, East Prussia, and Silesia (where Hitler had appointed the respective Gauleiters as National Defense Commissioners (Reichsverteidigungskommissare) in the vain hope that they might stiffen resistence) the Red Army had breached the concrete 'Pomeranian Rampart' (Pommernwall) and reached the River Oder by 1 February.

A belated general evacuation was ordered, and three million civilians joined convoys of wagons, escorted by Volkssturm, heading westwards along congested snow-swept roads harassed by Polish guerillas. About 750,000 died from exposure, were killed by overtaking Soviet or Polish forces, drowned on evacuation ships in the Baltic sunk by Soviet air or submarine attacks, or caught in the Dresden air raid of 13/14 February 1945. Some Volkssturm soldiers, aware of the Soviet writer Ilya Ehrenburg's encouragement to Red Army troops to butcher all Germans, still stood their ground to buy time for the escape of the refugees; others, afraid of being shot as guerillas if captured, joined the mass retreat. Although the armband bestowed armed forces status under the 1929 Geneva Convention, the lack of uniform allowed personnel in the West to avoid capture by posing as civilians, whilst rendering those in the East liable to summary execution as guerillas by trigger-happy Soviet troops.

By 24 February German forces had halted the Soviets along the Oder-Neisse line and were still holding out in about twenty pockets - Fortresses - behind Soviet lines, including Kuestrin, Kuenigsberg, Posen (now Poznan) and Breslau (now Wroclaw). On 15 January, Emergency Battalions were ordered from inner German districts for the front. Hamburg, Hessen-Nassau, Magdeburg-Anhalt, Mecklenburg, Pomerania, Schleswig-Holstein and South Hanover-Brunswick battalions dug in near Stettin (now Szczecin); Bayreuth, Franconia, Halle-Merseburg, Kurhessen, Saxony and Thuringia battalions near Frankfurt-an-der-Oder. In February 16-year old Hitler Youths, many of them veterans of the anti-tank squads, were withdrawn to begin military training, further weakening the Volkssturm battalions.

The final Soviet offensive began on 16 April 1945. The Oder Line was breached; and by the 25th Berlin was defended by 41,000 troops including 24,000 Volkssturm (18,000 of whom were 'Clausewitz Levy' troops of the 2nd Levy, on six hours standby). Breslau, with 45,000 defenders including 25,000 Volkssturm in 38 battalions, finally surrendered on 6 May - Battalion 21/41 and two Hitler Youth 3rd Levy battalions distinguished themselves in the fighting.

On 8 February 1945 the Western Allies, in three army groups, began their advance into western Germany, defended by German Army Groups B, G and H. On the 12th the local Volkssturm was mobilized and sent to man the Westwall, but they showed none of the desperate determination of their comrades in the East. Many ignored the call-up; others surrendered at the first opportunity or threw away their armbands and hid in the woods, or returned home. The Westwall was quickly breached and on 7 May the Western Allies met Soviet forces in central Germany.

Hitler deceived himself into believing that a huge civilian army, led by militarily inexperienced Nazi officials, could have stave off Germany's defeat. The Volkssturm's ultimate failure, however, should not blind us to the bravery of many of its members who, though unfit, untrained and under equipped, fought not to preserve the Nazi state but to save fellow Germans from a Red Army eager to exact vengeance for the brutal German occupation of the Soviet Union. The fact should be stated that due to the fierce bravery, many Volkssturmer earned aircraft and tank destruction awards, War Merit Crosses, wound badges, the 1st and 2nd Iron Crosses, and the highest decoration of them all: The Knight's Cross.

ORDER OF BATTLE
Each battalion received a consecutive number within its district, e.g. Battalion 25/97 = 97th Battalion (HQ Knigsberg) in District 25 (East Prussia). Another example of the coding is as follows: "21/43/1" which would translate to Gau Niederschlesien, Volkssturm-Battalion 43, 1st Company. Some Volkssturm formations had their unit designations painted directly onto their helmets. Unofficially, Tirol-Vorarlberg battalions also received traditional Rifle Association Battalion titles, e.g. 'Standsch
tzenbataillon Bregenz'; and in Westphalia-South elite battalions, one per county, were grouped unofficially into 'Freikorps Sauerland' Regiments. Given are Volkssturm District names (NSDAP District names were identical) and their corresponding numbers:
1-Baden; 2-Bayreuth; 3-Berlin; 4-Danzig-Westpreussen; 5-Düsseldorf; 6-Esse n; 7-Franken; 8-Halle-Merseburg; 9-Hamburg; 10-Hessen-Nassau; 11-K
rnten; 12-K ln-Aachen; 13-Kurhessen; 14-Magdeburg-Anhalt; 15-Mainfranken; 16-Mark Brandenburg; 17-Mecklenburg; 18-Moselland; 19-München-Oberbayern; 20-Niederdonau; 21-Niederschlesien; 22-Oberdonau; 23-Oberschlesien; 24-Ost-Hannover; 25-Ostpreussen; 26-Pommern; 27-Sachsen; 28-Salzburg; 29-Schleswig; 30-Schwaben; 31-Steiermark; 32-Sudetenland; 33-S d-Hannover-Braunschweig; 34-Thringen; 35-Tirol-Vorarlberg; 36-Wartheland; 37-Weser-Ems; 38-Westfalen-Nord; 39-Westfalen-S d; 40-Westmark; 41-Wien; 42-Wuerttemberg-Hohenzollern.

PRIMARY SOURCES

Anordnung 277/44. "Ausf hrungbestimmungen ber die Bildung des deutschen Volkssturmes," 27 September
Anordnung 318/44. "2: Ausführungbestimmungen," 12 October 1944.
DUZ. Nr. 12, December 1944.
"Erlass des Führers." 25 September 1944.

RECOMMENDED READING
Angolia, John R. and Adolf Schlicht.
Uniforms & Traditions of the German Army, 1933-1945, Volume Two. San Jose, CA: R. James Bender Publishing, 1986.
Davis, Brian Leigh.
Badges&Insignia of the Third Reich. Poole, UK: Blandford Press, 1983.
Davis, Brian Leigh.
German Army Uniforms and Insignia, 1933-1945. London: Arms and Armour Press, 1992.
Davis, Brian Leigh.
German Uniforms of the Third Reich, 1933-1945. New York: Arco Publishing, Inc., 1980.
Davis, Franklin M.
World War II: Across The Rhine.Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1980.
Dollinger, Hans.
The Decline and Fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. New York: Bonanza Books, 1967.
Halcomb, Jill and Wilhelm P.B.R. Saris.
Headgear of Hitler's Germany, Volume 1: Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine. San Jose, CA: R. James Bender Publishing, 1989.
Kissel, Oberst Hans.
Der Deutscher Volkssturm 1944/45. Franfurt, Germany: 1962.
Newton, John, Series Editor. The Third Reich: Descent into Nightmare. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1992.
Ryan, Cornelius. The Last Battle. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.
Simons, Gerald. World War II: Victory in Europe. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1982.
Thomas, Nigel and Carlos Caballero Jurado.Wehrmacht Auxiliary Forces. London: Osprey Publishing Ltd., 1992.
Whiting, Charles. Siegfried: The Nazis' Last Stand. New York: Stein and Day, 1982
Whiting, Charles. World War II: The Home Front: Germany. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1982.


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