Sustaining the German Army in the East – Replacements and Training II

To rapidly provide the necessary low-level leaders as well as specialists, the German military leadership reacted in its typical manner, namely by decentralizing the process. Instead of building up courses at home in the Replacement Army, which was already overstrained by the demands for more recruits and its own expansion, frontline units should choose men that had proven themselves in the last month under front conditions and train them right behind the front. This saved travel time, which could easily take several weeks for the men to travel back and forth, as well as administrative work. It also had the advantage of instituting a warlike training that fulfilled the demands of the frontline units. While these initial courses in winter 1942 were improvised, they were quickly institutionalized in most divisions, often in the so-called divisional combat school. The task of the combat school was described as follows:

1) The combat school’s objective is the development of independently acting, clear thinking, versatile, decisive and energetic NCOs, whose character paired with passion and technical as well as small tactical skills to convince and electrify subordinates and is example to them.

2) In addition to the use of their own weapons, all NCOs are to learn to cooperate with the heavy weapons that fight with them. Here, especially NCOs of the heavy weapons are to train in the flexible control of fire and in the rapid forming of fire concentrations. The NCOs of the Grenadier companies are to learn above all the immediate exploitation of fire.

3) Candidates for platoon- and group leaders are to drill in the technical handling of weapons and equipment, in close-combat and destroying tanks and in the giving of commands, as well as be instructed in the training of subordinates.

4) To that effect, those trained in the combat school include a) especially proven Unteroffiziere to platoon leaders, b) young, inexperienced Unterroffiziere and older good Gefreite, in special cases also Grenadiers, to group leaders, c) young, inexperienced Unteroffiziere and Gefreite of the machine gun, infantry gun and ATG companies to commanders of their weapons and group leaders.

At a divisional level, only the lowest level of leadership – the NCO – was trained. But as one can see from the tasks they were responsible for, NCOs had very different roles in the German army than in most other armies of the time, especially in tactical leadership. Officers, primarily company and battalion commanders, were trained in courses at Army or Army Group level, also a newly introduced innovation begun in winter 1942.

These two developments – the need for additional training for newly arriving recruits and the decentralized training of low-level leaders – as well as the need for training with newly introduced weapons, made training capabilities in the field units necessary. The divisional combat school was one such step, while others were taken in the field replacement battalion. It was the field replacement battalion that finally became the training facility for divisions in the east, as the following source shows:

1) Purpose of field replacement battalions:

The field replacement battalion is the ‘field training battalion’ and at the same time the personnel reserve of the Eastern army’s divisions.

With the field replacement battalion, the divisions should be given the opportunity by evaluating combat experiences to:

  1. A) train arriving replacements to become full-fledged Eastern fighters,
  2. B) train group and platoon leaders for their demands,
  3. C) Further training for the front fighters – especially through attack training – and to train specialists of all kinds.

As losses are the heaviest with the infantry and the engineers, the main task of the field replacement battalion is to train infantry and engineer replacements and sub-leaders.

To A): Newly arriving replacements, such as march companies, convalescent companies, etc., are to be trained in each division for several weeks in the field replacement battalion, as long as the combat situation allows for it, before deploying in the front. The same applies to the training of NCOs, who are supplied from the Replacement Army and are not yet suitable as a group or platoon leader as a result of their previous use. It is also not possible for the Replacement Army to fully train the replacements on automatic weapons (especially the machine gun) due to the lack of such weapons. The missing training is to be supplemented in the field replacement battalion.

To B): The formation of platoon and group leaders (sub-leader training) is of decisive importance in the present state of numerous divisions and in the continuing duration of the war. In consequence, divisional combat schools have been established in infantry divisions, light infantry divisions, and mountain divisions. The divisional combat schools are to be incorporated into the field replacement battalion. They count as a company. The commander of the divisional combat school (B-position) can be used as commander of the field replacement battalion depending on suitability.

To C): Due to the duration of the positional warfare, it is also necessary to develop the older front fighters for other types of combat. In this case ‘attack training’ is of particular importance. If there are personnel reserves (leader reserve) in the field replacement battalion, the same applies to them. The introduction of new weapons [and] the need for specialists of all kinds requires the implementation of special courses in the field replacement battalion. Furthermore, the field replacement battalion can be utilized to train the alarm units. All kinds of combat experiences can be evaluated by further trials in the field replacement battalion.

The structure of the field replacement battalion must therefore be adapted to the respective situation.

2) Training subjects:

In the case of an overabundance of subjects, the emphasis should be placed on:

Reconnaissance patrols and assault group activity

Co-operation of all infantry weapons

Close-combat training,

Anti-tank close combat,

Sniper training,

Night fighting.

At the same time, the field replacement battalion is the winter combat school of the division.

3) Structure

The field replacement battalion is to consist of the battalion staff and 2 to 5 companies. Only the command, instruction and supply personnel are fixed in the unit, while the personnel to be trained are subject to considerable changes, depending on the deployment and situation of the division. Thus, for example, the following structure may be appropriate for a division to which a march battalion had been recently added:

Staff

2 training companies for infantry training,

1 training company for heavy infantry weapons training, 1 company [at the] disposal [of the commander] (engineer training, signal training, other specialists),

1 sub-leader company (divisional fighting school)

On the other hand, it is possible that in another division, to which no march battalion or replacements were added, the field replacement battalion consists only of

1 sub-leader company (divisional combat school), 1 company [at the] disposal [of the commander] (training of specialists of all kinds),

1 company for close combat and assault group training (men removed from the front for advanced training).

4) In particular, the following is pointed out:

The training of the sub-leaders must continue independently of all combat operations.

The most appropriate officers and NCOs are to be appointed as instructors, especially to set up and get used to each other in the first training period.

Anti-gas training belongs to the basic training of every soldier and is therefore also to be pursued in the field replacement battalion.

The field replacement battalion can only fully fulfill its task of being the field training battalion of the division when the leadership does not deploy the battalion prematurely in critical situations for combat, but pursues the training as planned independent of the situation.

In addition to further training for replacements and NCOs, the Field Replacement Battalion was also not only the unit where new weapons and tactics could be tested, but also a place for the further training of men whose long stretch in the trenches had decreased their effectiveness in offensive actions. The training for newly arrived replacements in the field replacement battalion allowed for their step by step integration into frontline units, as well as for the men to adapt to conditions in the Soviet Union. When the combat situation allowed for such a period, units that carried out these programmes clearly suffered fewer losses of new men when they were again engaged in combat. But even when armed with such knowledge, German units were often forced to deploy the field replacement battalion in crisis situations or to release the replacements prematurely to the front. The demand to train NCOs independently of combat action was often impossible due to the lack of men. Interestingly, the training issues stressed did not appreciably differ from the 1941 guidelines.

In addition to filling units with individual replacements, complete units were also sent to the east. Up to mid-1943, these were mostly full divisions. A first wave of divisions was sent to the Soviet Union in the 1941/42 winter crisis to fill gaps across the front. A second wave arrived in the east in spring and early summer 1942 for the German summer offensive. This wave included many allied units. A third and final wave was sent eastward from late November 1942 on to stem the Soviet offensive in the south. After these three waves, only a few new divisions were sent eastward, mostly rebuilt units such as numerous divisions destroyed in Stalingrad. Allied threats in the Mediterranean and on the Channel coast in 1943 drew most newly formed divisions to those regions. The introduction of new troops, however, caused many problems, in some cases due to the composition of the units, while others were due to the special conditions in the east, as the following autumn 1942 report by Sixth Army illustrates:

1) The mistakes ascertained in the report of the Second Army about the formation of divisions with three hundred numbers also occurred in the divisions of the same type subordinated to the Sixth Army. In the case of future new formations, it is then necessary to avoid:

composition of almost only short-service, men classified as indispensable, numerous fathers with many children and last sons,

formation by cadre personnel mostly inexperienced in the East, including officers,

too brief and deficient infantry combat training.

It proved to be disadvantageous to order the few useful instructors to Döberitz and Jüterbog. Dispatching of a school’s instruction troop to the divisions would have been better.

Equipment with too little motorized transport capacity (only 1 small truck column), with horse-drawn bakery companies, with only one workshop platoon, with heavy military carriages instead of light commercial ones, with too many types (about 100) French motor vehicles and with horses that are too heavy, and thus unsuitable for the East;

Equipping [the unit] with horses and motor vehicles too late, so that it was no longer possible for the operating personnel to practice before employment.

2) In spite of these deficiencies, the 300-numbered divisions subordinated to the Sixth Army have proven themselves effective not only in attack, but also generally in defence.

3) In order to remedy the identified shortcomings during the winter:

  1. A) Ruthless eradication of all unsuitable leaders and an increased replacement rate of men with Eastern experiences in contrast to other divisions,
  2. B) Sustained further education during periods of relative quiet in individual and unit training up to the level of the reinforced battalion. For this, several weeks of relief for each unit. Use and training of individual battalions as instruction battalions at the company commander school of the army,
  3. C) Remedy of the deficiencies found in the supply units by modifying the table of organization, the table of basic allowances and corresponding supply.

The divisions identified as numbering over three hundred, which primarily arrived in spring and summer 1942 to support the German summer offensive, suffered heavily from all kinds of shortages, be it men or material. While a lack of instructors with experience in the east only exacerbated the problem, the leadership of experienced divisional and, in some units, regimental commanders allowed these units to perform adequately after an initial learning curve. They also profited from being transferred to the east prior to a German offensive, giving them time to settle and adapt to the conditions. Units sent eastward in the winter crisis were often hastily thrown piecemeal into battle and frequently suffered irreparable damage or were completely destroyed.

But even sending smaller units that should have been integrated into existing divisions proved very problematic, as the following report by the 5th Panzer Divisions indicates:

The I./894 is subordinated to the Panzer Grenadier Regiment 13 since 22.11.1943. The experiences made with this unit appear so serious that it is considered appropriate to make higher levels aware of them.

Grenadier Regiment 894 was formed in June 1943 for security tasks on the Atlantic coast from soldiers non-suitable for the East, men who were previously rated as indispensable, in the mass soldiers classified as fit for reduced field service (Garnisonsverwendungsfähig – Feld), and deployed in the positions on the coast at the end of July 1943. On 20 October 1943, the 1st Battalion was removed from the regiment, and newly formed after the exchange of non-suitable soldiers. From the day of formation to the day of loading to the east, the battalion had 10 days available, which for the most part still had to be used for work for establishing [the unit].

The battalion was equipped in a way that has not been seen in the East either with our own or with other units. Armament: purely MG 42, namely for each company 12 light and 2 heavy machine guns. In addition, in each company two medium mortars. Combat strength of the companies average 130 men. The equipment for the winter, from the complete winter clothing, to sleds, rescue toboggans, skis up to and including coal for heating was described as perfect.

A training of the battalion with the assigned weapons has almost not taken place at all. During the time of the use on the coast, only training on the immobile defensive weapons was carried out. Only in the reserve company was some terrain training carried out. After the formation of the battalion, a special training on the heavy machine gun and mortar was begun, which however had to be interrupted after five days as a result of transport to the east. Use, handling and maintenance of all weapons, priming and use of hand grenades, and the use of the spade invariably are almost unknown to the battalion. The principles on the use of weapons and the building of positions are also unknown to most officers and NCOs.

During the formation of the battalion, it never trained as a unit at all. Therefore, none of the leaders were trained in smooth cooperation. Because of their short affiliation with the troops, most of them hardly knew each other.

The personnel situation was as follows:

NCOs and men at march out:        800

Thereof with experiences in the East: 8%  60

Thereof with otherwise war experiences (France)  90

Without any war experience 81% 650

Officer situation at march out:      11

of which with experience in the East (mainly partisan war)  5

of which otherwise war-experienced (campaign in France)  3

of which without war experience: 3

A 46-year-old Hautpmann was appointed as the leader of the battalion, who until now had been company commander of a bicycle company, and so far had occasionally led a battalion as deputy. He had experience in bandit warfare, but all that is fundamental in the entrenchment and defence of a position is completely new to him. A Leutnant was assigned to him as adjutant, who learned about and took over the affairs of the adjutant for the first time at the end of October 1943. His wartime experiences were limited to the war against France. He had not been in the East yet. The same information applies to the special mission staff officer. Of the company leaders two had experiences in the East. However, the experience of the one limited itself to the staff activity. The third company leader was 2 months [in the Soviet Union], and the fourth not yet in the East.

Immediately prior to the start of the railroad transport, the battalion was given replacements from the class of 1925, which accounted for 16% of the total strength. These young men were all grouped together in a company. As a result of imperfect training and inexperience among the leaders and NCOs, these young replacements suffered considerable casualties within a few days, so that now only 9% are still available.

The total losses of the battalion were also comparatively high as measured by combat activity. Within 9 days, there were 180 casualties. These losses are mainly attributed to the lack of combat experience, likewise the comparatively high losses of armament, devices and equipment already in the first 24 hours.

Such a wear-and-tear of people and material would not have occurred in a veteran unit. There, men as well as weapons and equipment come into expert hands. What is lacking in training will be made good in a sound form, be it during the deployment, and weapons are issued only to those people who could operate them.

It seems more appropriate to refrain from such new formations, and to correspondingly replenish the old, combat-proven companies. Only then can such losses be avoided. We cannot afford any superfluous losses in the currently strained replacement situation.

It should also be borne in mind that there is a tradition in the old front regiments and thus the feeling of pride in one’s own troop. These are the things which, even in difficult situations, enable the troops to achieve a particularly high fighting performance.

Obviously, these conditions are completely absent in the case of such a loosely composed units as in these new formations. As a result, the fighting spirit of such a force is far less. For this reason too, such a preferred equipping [of the unit] appears to be completely out of place.

Panzer Grenadier Regiment 13 also reports that from 22.–24.11.1943, another battalion was attached to it. Here the conditions were the same as in the case of the I./894. After a deployment of 48 hours, the battalion commander reported that he had only around 250 out of 800 men still in hand! This, too, was not a result of the fighting situation, but merely the effect of the inexperience of the troops and their leaders. The troop itself is the least to blame. It is not responsible for its inexperience, and it must also be acknowledged that the good will is undoubtedly present. This good will, however, can neither replace the lack of training nor the complete inexperience of command and troops.

Once again, the source indicates that manpower deficiencies were not as damaging to the unit as was the lack of men – and especially commanders – familiar with conditions and combat in the east. In this particular case, material questions were not an issue. This source thereby reflects a larger problem that occasioned many complaints in the second half of the war, namely the uneven distribution of new equipment. Many newly formed units received new weapons and equipment while older units had difficulties in acquiring either replacements for lost or destroyed material or newly introduced weapons. This process further weakened older units. An issue not even talked about is the amalgamation of a unit trained as an infantry formation into a tank unit, despite the fact that many of these men had never before seen the inside of a tank. This was certainly a contributing factor to the decline of German Panzer units’ combat power in the second half of the war, and is a topic which deserves more research.

Even after the forwarding of replacements and transfers of full units to the east, German manpower in the Soviet Union always operated in a shortage – and it was a shortage that only worsened as the war continued. In an attempt to overcome this scarcity, the German army started to draw manpower from new sources. The most obvious means, yet often overlooked, was to shift men within the army apparatus. A well-known example of this was the tasking of Generalleutnant, later General der Infanterie, Walter von Unruh, with combing through all agencies and rear units for men to be sent to the front. Beginning in late 1942, his competencies were expanded to federal departments and Nazi party institutions. His success in creating large numbers of soldiers was moderate, but it nonetheless led to conflicts with Armaments Minister Albert Speer, because each drew from the same pool. More important was the shifting within the field army’s frontline troops, as the following order from the OKH on the enhancement of the combat power in autumn 1942 shows:

Prior to spring 1943, one cannot expect any significant replacements arriving. We must resign ourselves to this fact, and do everything we can to maintain and increase our combat strength.

Therefore the following measures must be carried out as soon as possible:

1) Complete disbanding of individual units and formations, disbanding and reduction of baggage trains;

2) Replacement of the German soldier by Russian Hilfswillige (prisoners of war) in such places which do not need to be occupied by combat soldiers. In many units this has already been carried out to a large extent, although further measures are still necessary.

3) Deployment of all hereby released German soldiers into the infantry and formation of special branch combat units.

In detail:

  1. A) Disbanding and reduction

1) The disbanding of units and formations (III. battalions […]) must be a complete one and may not be temporary. It is precisely the ‘cadre personnel’ and the baggage trains that yield gains in men.

2) Reduction of batteries to 3 guns. The fourth guns have to be parked division-wise with the least amount of German supervision and Russian support personnel. Cannoneers and drivers who are freed in this way cannot be used for filling open positions in the artillery.

3) Reduction of the baggage trains. Even where this has already been ordered and carried out, it is again necessary to examine with the strictest criteria, which parts a) can be completely disbanded, b) can be stored throughout the winter, thus freeing soldiers for combat use. I expect that commanders of all degrees will take drastic measures here.

4) As soon as the winter position is reached, approximately 50% of all horses and a large part of the motor vehicles are to be stored in the hinterland. For the care of these horses and motor vehicles, only Russian Hilfswillige and only the absolutely necessary supervisory personnel, which at the same time carries out the training of the Hilfswillige (for example as a driver of the horse, a driver, technical staff, etc.) are to be assigned to them.

[…]

5) The reduction and modification of existing tables of organization are in preparation. Correspondingly, we must now proceed. According to these, the following disappeared: about 10% in each battalion and regimental staff, 8 men per battery, all not absolutely necessary motorcycle drivers, messengers, command post clerks and drivers in each engineer battalion, the heavy machine gun group in the cavalry companies of each reconnaissance battalion, some 10% per signal battalion. In the case of supply troops, it is intended to merge all the horse drawn columns and small truck columns into large horse-drawn columns and large motor vehicle columns to save command and crew personnel.

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