The Sylwester offensives

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The main Nordwind attack by the 17. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division in the Saar Valley went badly from the start. On January 5, 1945, a few of the monstrous Jagdtigers from schwere-Panzerjager-Abteilung 654, accompanied by a captured M4 medium tank, supported the attack near Rimling. An M36 90mm GMC from the 776th Tank Destroyer Battalion carefully moved into a flanking position and at a range of 900m, put a single armor-piercing round into the side of Jagdtiger number 134, causing an internal ammunition fire which destroyed the vehicle in a catastrophic explosion, blowing off the superstructure sides.

The failure of the Ardennes offensive convinced Hitler that some new tactic had to be employed when dealing with the Allies. Instead of a single large offensive, Hitler decided to launch a series of smaller, sequential offensives. As a result, some German commanders called the Alsace campaign the “Sylwester offensives” after the central-European name for the New Year’s Eve celebrations.

The departure of Dietrich’s Sixth Panzer Army – which was soon to be renamed the Sixth SS Panzer Army – did not mark the end of the participation of Waffen-SS panzer divisions against the Western Allies.

In tandem with his plan to strike into the Ardennes, Hitler had long dreamed of pushing into Alsace and retaking the border city of Strasbourg. Army Group G was to strike south in Operation North Wind, with the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division in the lead, in order to outflank the city. The division was rebuilt after being heavily battered around Metz in November 1944 and bolstered with the delivery of 57 StuG IIIs in early December. When the attack began on New Year’s Eve, the Waffen-SS division achieved the deepest penetration of the American lines until strong counter-attacks halted it. The main assault by Sturmgruppe 1, Simon’s 13. SS-AK with the 17. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division and the 36. Volksgrenadier-Division, ran into the deep defenses of the 44th and 100th Infantry Divisions in the Saar Valley. A narrow penetration was made towards Rimling and Achen, but in general, the attack in this sector was stopped dead in its tracks with heavy casualties. Sturmgruppe 1 had very little success in bringing up its armored support due to the poor road conditions and the weather. On the night of January 3 the offensive in this sector was halted.

Panzer support in Alsace was weak, since so many units had been shipped to the Ardennes sector. The only mechanized unit earmarked for the initial Nordwind attack was 17. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division “Gotz von Berlichingen,” a formation that had been in continual combat with the US Army since Normandy, and which had been burnt out and rebuilt on several occasions. The neighboring army commanders felt that its main problem was poor leadership, and it had lost several divisional commanders and numerous junior commanders during the autumn. The field army staff labeled the current commander as incompetent. Its main armored element, SS-Panzer-Abteilung 17 Bataillon was equipped mostly with assault guns instead of tanks, with 45 StuG III assault guns, three PzKpfw III command tanks, six Flakpanzer 38(t) vehicles, and four Flakpanzer IV Wirbelwinds on hand, of which 84 percent were operational. The SS-Panzerjager-Abteilung 17 Bataillon was similarly equipped with 31 StuG III assault guns, two Jagdpanzer IVs, one Marder III and eight towed 75mm PaK 40 anti-tank guns; only 67 percent of the vehicles were operational with many of the old StuG III assault guns being worn out or damaged in combat. Their strength was later increased by 57 assault guns that arrived after Christmas, but the reinforcements had been sitting out in the open for months and only a few could be rendered serviceable before the attack. The division’s two Panzer grenadier regiments were burned out and at less than half strength in the middle of December, but some additional troops were received in the last week before the offensive, mainly of “an inferior type” of German (ethnic Germans from eastern Europe). Senior officers at AOK 1 were so unimpressed by the poor performance of the 17. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division in the autumn fighting that they wanted to strip it of its assault guns to re-equip the 21. Panzer-Division, but Berlin refused.

Three days of heavy fighting followed in which the division’s commander, SS-Standartenführer Hans Linger, was captured when he took a wrong turn near the frontline as he drove in his command Volkswagen.

General der Panzertruppe Karl Decker’s 39. Panzer-Korps had been allocated the 10. SS-Panzer-Division to spearhead a breakout from the Gambsheim bridgehead, and the Panzers had begun their transfer over the river by ferry from the Freistatt area on January 15/16 after dark. The division set up headquarters in Offendorf and planned to begin their assault with a tank attack by I./SS-Panzer Abteilung 10, equipped with about 50 PzKpfw IVs and over 40 Panther tanks. The German tank attack collided with a two-pronged American attack. Combat Command B attempted to push into Herrlisheim again from the north, while at the same time, Combat Command A launched two attacks from the south. The attacks began in the pre-dawn hours of January 17 and did not go well for either side. In the early morning fog, the German tank column took heavy losses to US tank guns on the approach to Herrlisheim and withdrew to Offendorf. The American attacks against the northern corner of Herrlisheim and against the Steinwald failed with heavy losses. The 43rd Tank Battalion moved between Steinwald and Herrlisheim, taking anti-tank fire from both locations, but managed to fight its way into Herrlisheim from the south. The tanks and their supporting infantry and engineers came under unrelenting attack by German infantry armed with Panzerfaust rockets. The battalion commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Nicholas Novosel, radioed back that “Things are hot” but radio contact then went dead. The 23rd Tank Battalion was instructed to reorient its attack towards Drusenheim farther to the north, passing through Herrlisheim in the process, but was stopped cold on the outskirts of the town by heavy fire without linking up with the infantry.

Back at Offendorf, the 3./SS-Panzer-Abteilung 10 under the regimental adjutant Obersturmbannführer Erwin Bachmann, set off again for Herrlisheim with a Panther tank company. They knocked out or captured most of the remaining Sherman tanks still in Herrlisheim; Bachmann was later awarded the Knight’s Cross for his actions that day. By the end of the day the 12th Armored Division headquarters had no idea of the fate of the 43rd Tank Battalion; the 17th Armored Infantry Battalion positions in Herrlisheim were overrun in the pre-dawn hours of January 18 and the battalion commander captured. The following day, the 12th Armored Division sent a rescue party to find any survivors from the missing 43rd Tank Battalion or 17th Armored Infantry Battalion, but they were brusquely pushed back by heavy German fire. An artillery spotter plane discovered a field full of charred Shermans south of Herrlisheim so further attacks were called off. In February, when the area was retaken by the US Army, 28 destroyed Shermans of the 43rd Tank Battalion were found in and around the town. The 10. Panzer-Division had captured more than ten Shermans and these would later serve with the division when it was sent east to fight the Red Army in February.

The 10. SS-Panzer-Division had no more luck over the next few days, beaten bloody during attempts to push out towards Kilstett on January 18. Its Panzer regiment lost 8 PzKpfw IVs and 21 Panthers during the fighting between January 17-21. The fighting on January 19 was especially costly, accounting for 22 of the 29 Panzer losses, so that evening the attacks were halted.

In a final irony, the veteran Waffen-SS general, Paul Hausser, who had recovered from his injuries received in Normandy, was placed in command of Army Group Upper Rhine for what would be the final months of the war from 29 January.

Soon the needs of the Eastern Front also resulted in Hausser losing the Frundsberg Division. The 17th SS Division was the only Waffen-SS armoured unit to remain on the Western Front until the end of the war. By 25 March, it had been reduced to some 800 men who were desperately holding the last German bridgehead on the west bank of the Rhine. The Frundsberg managed to escape across the mighty river, but the Americans caught up with the division at Nuremberg, where it tried to mount a series of rearguard actions during early April. It then surrendered to the Americans.

Confederation of the Rhine (1806-1813)

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The Confederation of the Rhine (Rheinbund) was a conglomeration of German states organized by Napoleon, who hoped that Germany would develop into a unified state with a central government and administration modeling the political institutions of France. The opportunity for such a grandiose plan emerged after the decisive defeat of Austria during the War of the Third Coalition in 1805, when Napoleon sought to dismantle the thousand-year- old Holy Roman Empire and replace it with a new German political entity that could serve as a buffer against Prussia and Austria, a market for French goods, and a source of military manpower for the Napoleonic empire.

The origins of the Confederation of the Rhine may be traced to the gradual French encroachment into Germany that began with the campaigns conducted by the Revolutionary armies on the Rhine in the 1790s. By 1795 France had full control of the west bank of the Rhine and later compensated various princes for their lost territory according to the decisions reached in the Imperial Recess of 1802-1803. When the Peace of Amiens failed and war on the Continent resumed in May 1803, the French renewed their territorial designs in the region by invading and rapidly occupying the British patrimony of Hanover in north Germany. As war loomed between France and Austria, Napoleon sought allies from among the larger German states, some of which had territory to gain and greater autonomy to acquire by siding against the Habsburgs. Bavaria was the first to throw in its lot with France, signing a treaty of alliance on 23 September 1805, followed by Baden and Württemberg on 1 and 8 October, respectively. In the aftermath of the Battle of Austerlitz (2 December), the Imperial Reichstag was abolished (20 January 1806), enabling Napoleon to create the first of a new set of minor German states to be ruled by members of his family. On 15 March he established the Grand Duchy of Berg, placing his brother-in-law, Marshal Murat, at its head.

The Confederation of the Rhine came into formal being on 17 July 1806 according to the Treaty of Paris, with Karl Theodor von Dalberg as Prince-Primate (Fürstenprimas) and with Napoleon maintaining supervisory control in his capacity of “protector” (Protektor). The original sixteen south- and west-German states of the Confederation consisted of Bavaria, Württemberg, Hesse-Darmstadt, Baden, Berg, and eleven other smaller states, all of which, according to the Rheinbund’s constitution, formally withdrew from the Holy Roman Empire, which drew its last breath on 6 August when Francis II foreswore the Habsburgs’ ancient imperial dignity and proclaimed himself Francis I, Emperor of Austria in its place. As an inducement to membership in the new Confederation-which, however, was effectively coerced-Napoleon offered an extension of territory and elevation in rank. Thus, he raised the electors of Bavaria (Maximilian Joseph) and of the Grand Duchy of Württemberg (Frederick II) to the status of kings on 1 January 1806, made the electors of Baden (Charles Frederick and Hesse-Darmstadt) grand dukes on 13 August, and offered similar titles to other minor potentates. The Grand Duchy of Würzburg joined on 23 September.

If Austria’s dominance in Germany had all but vanished as a result of Austerlitz, the same may be said to have applied to Prussia after its twin defeats at Jena and Auerstädt on 14 October 1806. Hohenzollern influence, even in north Germany, had never existed on a par with Habsburg influence in south Germany; now the utter defeat of Prussian forces in the autumn of 1806 extinguished its pretensions to occupy Hanover or exercise any vestige of leadership over its other, lesser German neighbors. Napoleon did not wait long before capitalizing on his recent military triumphs: On 11 December, by the Treaty of Posen between France and the Electorate of Saxony (Prussia’s erstwhile ally), the latter was converted into a kingdom-enlarged with territory taken from Prussia-with Frederick Augustus III assuming the throne as King Frederick Augustus I. Four days later five small duchies joined the Rheinbund, including Saxe-Weimar, Saxe-Gotha, and Saxe-Coburg. On 11 April 1807 another twelve minor states followed, including Anhalt-Dessau and Waldeck.

The second of the two historic treaties concluded at Tilsit (the first between France and Russia on 7 July; the second between France and Prussia on 9 July), forced Frederick William III of Prussia to recognize the sovereignty of the Confederation, which with Saxony now represented a third major German political entity, deliberately intended to exclude Austria and Prussia. Tilsit paved the way for further admissions to the Rheinbund: The new Kingdom of Westphalia, with Jérome Bonaparte on the throne, was created in December 1807 out of Prussian lands and territory seized from its former allies, Hesse-Cassel, Brunswick, southern Hanover, and other minor states, while Mecklenburg and several other petty principalities also joined as a result of Tilsit. In 1808, after the admission of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, and the Duchy of Oldenburg, the Confederation reached its greatest territorial extent, totaling thirty-nine states.

However high-minded Napoleon may have been with respect to the political future of the Rheinbund, in reality it never properly developed the way the Emperor had envisioned. The diet was convoked in 1806 but never assembled, and the Rheinbund became little more than a set of French satellite states serving as a recruiting ground for soldiers, largely owing to the determination of each ruler- whether king, prince, or duke-to preserve his respective independence. Indeed, so long as each state furnished the contingents required by the various treaties concluded between member states and France, Napoleon was largely content not to interfere in the internal affairs of the Confederation. On the other hand, when he did decree the cessation of all commerce with Britain as part of his Continental System, Napoleon met opposition from German merchants and encountered widespread public discontent. Indeed, trade with the enemy via North Sea German ports became so widespread that on 13 December 1810 France annexed the entire area along the German North Sea coast, including the Duchy of Arenberg, the Princedom of Salm- Kryburg, and the Duchy of Oldenburg. Napoleon’s voracious appetite for troops-initially fixed at 63,000-also caused resentment, though not on any serious scale until the Russian campaign. The ever-increasing demands on the Rheinbund to furnish contingents for the imperial French armies resulted in thousands of men serving in Spain between 1808 and 1813, in the campaign against Austria in 1809, in Russia in 1812 (in which perhaps a third-200,000 men-of the Grande Armée consisted of Rheinbund troops), and finally in the campaign in Germany in 1813.

Many Confederation states adopted the Civil Code and other Napoleonic reforms, Hesse-Darmstadt and Anhalt being particularly enthusiastic in this regard. On 15 November 1807 a constitution on the Napoleonic model was promulgated for the nascent Kingdom of Westphalia, abolishing serfdom and establishing equality before the law, equal principles of taxation, and religious freedom. A similar legal framework was introduced in Bavaria on 1 May 1808. Serfdom effectively ended in Bavaria from September of that year, and in the Grand Duchy of Berg, in December. Yet, on the whole, the political and social institutions of the various states did not model themselves on their French counterparts, and thus no uniformity existed within the various German states that would have facilitated their eventual absorption into the French Empire as Napoleon had had in mind. The Napoleonic Code was not widely embraced, and moreover no attempt was made to impose it. What influence the French did exercise in fact proved largely counterproductive, for it fueled a slowly emerging German nationalism that-manifesting itself in a particularly virulent fashion in Prussia-would find expression in 1813 as open opposition to Napoleonic rule.

Following Napoleon’s disastrous campaign in Russia, Bavaria was the first of the Confederation states to join the anti-French coalition. By the Treaty of Ried, concluded on 8 October 1813, Bavaria joined the Sixth Coalition, and within a week, at the decisive Battle of Leipzig, the Saxon and Württemberg troops defected to the Allies. The French were swept from Germany, Saxony was occupied and administered first by the Prussians and then by the Russians, and the Confederation was formally dissolved on 4 November. On the fifteenth at Frankfurt, Austria, Prussia, and Russia established a common policy toward the former members of the Confederation, which guaranteed their sovereignty pending the decision of a future postwar conference. This did not apply to states newly created by Napoleon that had not changed sides; as such, on 21 November 1813 Brunswick, Hesse-Cassel, and Hanover were restored as independent states out of the former Kingdom of Westphalia. In 1815 the Congress of Vienna confirmed the survival of many former members of the Rheinbund, albeit in many cases with altered frontiers (particularly Saxony, which was forced to cede a large amount of territory to Prussia), and placed them together in a loose association of states known as the German Confederation.

By establishing the Confederation of the Rhine, Napoleon had unwittingly placed Germany on the road to eventual unification in 1871, for by the end of its existence the Rheinbund consisted of a mere thirty-nine states, in sharp contrast to the approximately 300 duchies, ecclesiastical cities, electorates, principalities, and duchies that had existed less than a decade before. In this respect alone the brief lifespan of the Confederation of the Rhine may be seen as an important period in the development of modern Germany.

References and further reading Broers, Michael. 1996. Europe under Napoleon, 1799-1815. London: Arnold. Connelly, Owen. 1966. Napoleon’s Satellite Kingdoms. New York: Free Press. Gill, John H. 1998. “Vermin, Scorpions and Mosquitoes: The Rheinbund in the Peninsula.” In The Peninsular War: Aspects of the Struggle for the Iberian Peninsula, ed. Ian Fletcher. Staplehurst, UK: Spellmount. Partridge, Richard, and Michael Oliver. 2002. Napoleonic Army Handbook: The French Army and Her Allies. Vol. 2. London: Constable and Robinson. Pivka, Otto von. 1979. Napoleon’s German Allies. Vol. 3, Saxony. London: Osprey.

—.1980. Napoleon’s German Allies. Vol. 4, Bavaria. London: Osprey.

—.1991. Napoleon’s German Allies. Vol. 2, Nassau and Oldenburg. London: Osprey.

—.1992a. Napoleon’s German Allies. Vol. 1, Westfalia and Kleve-Berg. London: Osprey.

—.1992b. Napoleon’s German Allies. Vol. 5, Hesse. London: Osprey.

Augustus II of Poland (1670-1733)

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“Friedrich Augustus. Elector of Saxony (1694-1733); king of Poland (1697-1704; 1709-1733).” A member of the Wettin dynasty and an elector of the Holy Roman Empire (Saxony), Augustus was elected king of Poland in 1697, after deeming that Warsaw was worth a Mass, converting to Catholicism, and agreeing to permit extraordinary privileges to the szlachta, even beyond the broad powers the nobility already enjoyed. In time this deal fatally weakened the monarchy within Poland. In foreign policy, however, Augustus enjoyed an independence his Vasa predecessors never had. This was facilitated by his personal control of a separate Saxon Army of 26,000 excellent troops, along with a discrete diplomatic service and bureaucracy. Together, these resources permitted him to conduct diplomacy and even war without consulting the szlachta in Poland or the Sapiehas in Lithuania. In 1699 Augustus forged an aggressive alliance with Peter I of Russia and Fredrik IV of Denmark that aimed to take advantage of the immaturity and inexperience of the new Swedish king, Karl XII. He immediately besieged Riga, launching the Great Northern War (1700-1721). Like the other members of this rapacious anti-Swedish alliance, Augustus greatly underestimated Karl XII. He and they all paid a heavy price for that mistake: Augustus’ Polish territories were invaded by Swedish armies. He lost and fled Warsaw in early 1702. Augustus subsequently was soundly defeated and lost most of his army at Kliszow (July 8/19, 1702). After recruiting over the winter, he took to the field with a new but undertrained and poorly equipped force, only to be smashed again by the Swedes at Pultusk (April 10/21, 1703). Augustus was expelled from Poland in favor of Stanislaw I in 1704, when the “Warsaw Confederation” that opposed him was supported by armed Swedish intervention. Civil war ensued in Poland, in which Augustus had support from the “Sandomierz Confederacy” of anti-Stanislaw nobles. This drew Karl back into Poland, where he completely defeated Augustus and his Polish allies in two small but sharp battles. Early in the new year Augustus lost again at Fraustadt (February 2/13, 1706). That opened the door to a Swedish invasion of Saxony and the fall of Dresden and Leipzig. Their fall compelled Augustus to agree to the Treaty of Altranstädt (September 13/24, 1706), renouncing his claim to the Polish throne. What saved Augustus was no effort of his own but the disastrous decision by Karl to invade Russia, which resulted in decisive defeat of the Swedish army at Poltava (June 27/July 8, 1709). That catastrophe, along with Karl’s wasted years spent in Ottoman exile, permitted Augustus to reopen the Polish war with Stanislaw I. With help from Tsar Peter, Augustus was restored to the Polish throne in 1709. He held onto it through the remaining years of the Great Northern War and afterward, until his death in 1733.

The battle of Fraustadt (February 1706) was next to the battle of Narva the greatest Swedish victory in the Great Northern Wart. A Swedish army of 10 000 men commanded by Carl Gustaf Rehnsköld attacked and almost annihilated a two times larger Saxon-Russian army near Poland’s western border. The Swedish war effort in Poland was before the battle seemingly close to a complete collapse because the Swedish main army led by Charles XII had their hands full in the east. But thanks to Rehnsköld’s victory at Fraustadt and Charles XII’s encirclement of the Russian main army in Grodno the campaign instead ended in a complete Swedish triumph. Before the year was over would Saxony sue for peace and accept Stanislaw Leszczynski as Polish king. The Swedish army could thereafter direct all its effort on defeating the last remaining enemy, Russia.

The battle itself, which according to the Swedish calendar happened 3 February, but according the Gregorian calendar (used by the Saxons) 13 February and according to the Julian calendar (used by the Russians) 2 February, have often been called a Swedish variant of Hannibal’s pincer movement in the battle of Cannae 216 BC. But the battle was actually planned by Rehnsköld as a frontal attack in which the Swedish numerical inferiority would be countered by thrusting through the enemy line with cold steel weapons before the enemies superior fire power could make an impact. Circumstances in the battle resulted however in the cavalry wings moving around obstacles and attacking the Saxon’s flanks in classic Hannibal style. In any way the battle ended with a total victory for the Swedish army. Over 7 000 Saxons and Russians were killed and just as many were captured. The Swedes only lost 400 men.

“Sturmtiger” at Warsaw Uprising

A little known episode from the fighting during the Warsaw Uprising in August and September 1944, involved the operations carried out by 1000. Sturmtiger-Kompanie. A prototype of the Sturmtiger was sent to Warsaw and off-loaded at the station in Pruszków on August 15, 1944. This station was prepared for receiving and handling heavy vehicles like the Sturmtiger, the mortar “Karl” Gerät, and possibly railed artillery, and was equipped with two railway cranes with huge lifting capacity. Similar equipment was available at the station in Nasielsk where the Tiger-Battalions Schwere-Abteilung 505 and 507 were also sent, in order to then be deployed at the front outside Narwia. A second such vehicle was off-loaded on August 18. The status report from the 9th Army on August 20 (Krannhal’s op.cit. p. 378) confirms that 1000. Sturmtiger-Kompanie with two Sturmtigers was included among the units which fought in Warsaw. It was the first prototype-vehicle to arrive in Poland’s capital city, together with another such vehicle, sent out before being manufactured on a series production line, with an iron or light steel superstructure. Just such a vehicle had already been produced toward the end of 1943. This fact is confirmed by the army group Centre’s report 65004/7, with a notation written by Brigadier-General Guderian.

“To the Army Group, for the purpose of its being put to use in Warsaw: – on August 14, dispatched: one Tiger, with a 38 cm rocket firing ramp (test model), which is not suitable for use against anti-tank forces, as it is made of light steel.”

The heaviest assault guns of the Sturmtiger type were equipped with launch systems for firing 380mm calibre rockets; model Stu M RW 61, with a range of 3,600 – 4,600 metres. There were no Sturmtigers deployed along the first combat line, where these heavy vehicles weighing 65 tonnes risked falling into bomb craters, and moreover, where the use of their strong-points, or positive characteristics, was not suited to a destroyed city, with various areas often isolated by barricades. The Sturmtiger was stationed in the area around Ulica Sucha and Ulica 6 Sierpnia (now Ulica Nowowiejska), on Mokotów Field and possibly on Plac na Rozdrożu (Crossroad Square), as well.

It’s difficult to establish which targets they fired on because the heavy 380mm projectiles’ explosions have more than once been ascribed to bomb explosions resulting from railway gun shelling or, quite simply, to rocket projectiles of a different type, called Werfer – also known as “closets” or “choirs” by Warsaw’s inhabitants. At that time, the Sturmtiger was an entirely unknown entity, and the vehicles that were captured in 1945 came as a complete surprise to the allied troops.

At the end of August, a Sturmtiger, firing from the ghetto area or Kerceli Square, pounded, among other areas, Ulica Zakroczymska and the National Mint on Ulica Sanguszka in the Old Town. One other vehicle shelled resistance fighter positions in the suburb of Sadyba. On September 8-16, Sturmtigers fired on the area around Ulica Przemyslowa, Ulica Fabrycna and Ulica Naczna in Powisle. On September 8, Sturmtiger projectiles fell on insurgent positions at the Lazarus Hospital on Ulica Książęca. General von Vormann, commander of the 9th Army, made a memorably worded, harsh assessment of the Sturmtiger and its battle-fighting capabilities, “They have only factory personnel (von Vormann was referring to the first vehicle, delivered on August 15) who can’t shoot.”

Col. David Glantz – Red Army before Warsaw 1944

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SS-Obersturmführer Karl Nicolussi-Leck (Panther’s cupola), commander of 8./SS-Panzerregiment 5 of the Wiking Division, and a Sd.Kfz. 251/3 Ausf. D, during the battles east of Warsaw, August 1944. Between August 18-22, IV.SS-Panzer-Korps, comprising the Totenkopf and the Wiking Division, destroyed 98 Soviet tanks destroyed in the battles around Warsaw.

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Soviet (1st Belorussian Front’s) Actions East of Warsaw in August-September 1944.

No Eastern Front action has generated more heated controversy then Soviet operations east of Warsaw in August and September 1944, at the time of the Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis by the Polish Home Army. Western historians have routinely blamed the Soviets for deliberately failing to assist the Poles, and in essence, aiding and abetting destruction of the Polish rebels by the German Army for political reasons. Soviet historians have countered that every attempt was made to provide assistance but that operational considerations precluded such help. No complete single Soviet volume exists which recounts in detail these operations on the approaches to Warsaw. The historian is forced to reconstruct events by referring to a host of fragmentary sources. Ironically, German archival materials, in particular Second Army records and other materials (and probably the records of Ninth Army, captured by the Soviets and unavailable to Western historians), help to justify the Soviet argument.

Operational details about Soviet combat on the approaches to Warsaw can be reconstructed from fragmentary Soviet and German archival sources (see map 15). On 28 July 1994, Maj. Gen. A. I. Radzievsky’s 2d Tank Army, which had been turned north from the Magnuszew region to strike at Warsaw, with three corps abreast, engaged German 73d Infantry Division and the Hermann Goering Parachute Panzer Division 40 kilometers southeast of Warsaw. A race ensued between Radzievsky, who was seeking to seize the routes into Warsaw from the east, and the Germans, who were attempting to keep these routes open and maintain possession of Warsaw. The nearest Soviet forces within supporting range of Radzievsky were 47th Army and 11th Tank and 2d Guards Cavalry Corps, then fighting for possession of Seidlce, 50 kilometers to the east. On 29 July Radzievsky dispatched his 8th Guards and 3d Tank Corps northward in an attempt to swing northeast of Warsaw and turn the German defender’s left flank, while his 16th Tank Corps continued to fight on the southeastern approaches to the city’s suburbs.

Although 8th Guards Tank Corps successfully fought to within 20 kilometers east of the city, 3d Tank Corps ran into a series of successive panzer counterattacks orchestrated by Field Marshal W. Model, new commander of Army Group Center. Beginning on 30 July, the Hermann Goering and 19th Panzer Divisions struck the overextended and weakened tank corps north of Wolomin, 15 kilometers northeast of Warsaw. Although the corps withstood three days of counterattacks, on 2 and 3 August, 4th Panzer Division and SS Panzer Division Viking joined the fight. In three days of intense fighting, 3d Tank Corps was severely mauled, and 8th Guards Tank Corps was also severely pressed. By 5 August 47th Army forces had arrived in the region, and 2d Tank Army was withdrawn for rest and refitting. The three rifle corps of 47th Army were now stretched out along a front of 80 kilometers from south of Warsaw to Seidlce and were unable to renew the drive on Warsaw or to the Narew River. German communications lines eastward to Army Group Center, then fighting for its life north and west of Brest, had been damaged but not severed.

Meanwhile, on 1 August the Polish Home Army had launched an insurrection in the city. Although they seized large areas in downtown Warsaw, the insurgents failed to secure the four bridges over the Vistula and were unable to hold the eastern suburbs of the city (Praga). During the ensuing weeks, while the Warsaw uprising progressed and ultimately failed, the Soviets continued their drive against Army Group Center northeast of Warsaw. For whatever motive, 1st Belorussian Front focused on holding firmly to the Magnuszew bridgehead, which was subjected to heavy German counterattacks throughout mid-August, and on driving forward across the Bug River to seize crossings over the Narew River necessary to facilitate future offensive operations. Soviet 47th Army remained the only major force opposite Warsaw until 20 August, when it was joined by 1st Polish Army. Soviet forces finally broke out across the Bug River on 3 September, closed up to the Narew River the following day, and fought their way into bridgeheads across the Narew on 6 September. On 13 September lead elements of two Polish divisions assaulted across the Vistula River into Warsaw but made little progress and were evacuated back across the river on 23 September.

Political considerations and motivations aside, an objective consideration of combat in the region indicates that, prior to early September, German resistance was sufficient to halt any Soviet assistance to the Poles in Warsaw, were it intended. Thereafter, it would have required a major reorientation of military efforts from Magnuszew in the south or, more realistically, from the Bug and Narew River axis in the north in order to muster sufficient force to break into Warsaw. And once broken into, Warsaw would have been a costly city to clear of Germans and an unsuitable location from which to launch a new offensive.

This skeletal portrayal of events outside of Warsaw demonstrates that much more needs to be revealed and written about these operations. It is certain that additional German sources exist upon which to base an expanded account. It is equally certain that extensive documentation remains in Soviet archival holdings. Release and use of this information can help answer and lay to rest this burning historical controversy.

Graf Zeppelin I

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Graf Zeppelin. Flugzeugträger. Stapell.: 8.12.1938 B 676 (R IX E 7845)

Flugzeugträger "A". Baustadium Aufgen. am 14.9.1937 Deutsche Werke Kiel

Plans for a shipped-based air force started soon after Hitler became Chancellor in 1933. The first plans were limited to supplying the existing battleships and cruisers with reconnaissance seaplanes. On March 12th 1934 the first requirements the future aircraft carrier was given. Within a year the design study had been completed. The model used was the British Courageous class of carriers. On June 18th 1935 the signing of the British-German naval agreement set the future strength of the German Navy at 35% of the tonnage of the British fleet applied to all classes of ships. This opened the way for building the first German aircraft carrier. Based on British tonnage of the time, 38,500 tons, this allowed for two ships of 19,250 tons. Officials were sent to England to attend the Navy Week where HMS Furious was opened for visitors but little was learned. More successful was a German Commission allowed to visit the carrier Akagi in Japan where they were given 100 copies of the blueprints of the air deck facilities. However, the Japanese neglected to tell them that the carrier was about to be completely rebuilt and the plans were obsolete.

At the end of 1935, when the design of the carrier was mostly completed, it received the consent of the commander of the navy. On 16th November 1935 the order to build the ‘A’ carrier was given to the Deutsche Werke Kiel AG. At that time most of its resources were engaged in building other warships and its slipways were occupied by ships under construction. Therefore construction was delayed until 28th December 1936 when it was possible to lay the keel on Slipway 1, twenty days after Battleship ‘E’ – the Gneisenau – had been launched from the same slipway. The slipway construction stage took two years. The ship was launched by Countess Hella von Brandenstein-Zeppelin, daughter of Count Zeppelin, on 8th December 1938 in the presence of Adolf Hitler. Work progressed during 1939 and by August it was estimated that the first tests could be carried out in June 1940 and the ship ready for service by the end of that year. When war broke out the Graf Zeppelin was 85%-90% completed. The engines and boilers were in place, the auxiliary machinery prepared though not yet installed and the 15cm guns were in place as well but lacked armoured shields.

The order for carrier ‘B’ was placed on 16th November 1936 with the Friedrich Krupp-Germania shipyard. The laying of the keel could not have taken place until the second half of 1938, after the heavy cruiser ‘J’ had been launched, because only one slipway (VIII) could accommodate the carrier. The date, 30th September 1936, given in some sources is invalid and probably a misprint. 30th September 1938 seems the most likely date. The construction of the ‘B’ carrier was intentionally slow because of the possibility of using experience gained from trials of the Graf Zeppelin in the ‘B’ construction. The planned launching was 1st July 1940 which did not take place as the order was cancelled on 19th September 1939. The ship had been finished up to the armoured deck. On 28th February 1940 Admiral Raeder ordered the dismantling of the hull. The ‘B’ carrier was never given a name. Peter Strasser is ascribed to the carrier by some sources but is entirely speculative and it is questionable that Hitler would have approved it even if it were on the list of proposed names.

After the start of the war, works on the Graf Zeppelin continued as planned for a while, but soon delays were caused by the extensive U-Boat building programme. [Carriers were always last in construction priority. Until 19th September 1939 the priority was: battleships, submarines, destroyers, cruisers, aircraft carriers.] In October 1939 Hitler allowed only the building of small ships and the continuing construction of five large ships, the Graf Zeppelin among them. It was the German conquest of Denmark and Norway that had an adverse effect on the ship’s fate. Defence of the long the Norwegian coast required many small ships and their construction became the priority. During a conference with Hitler on the 29th April 1940, Admiral Raeder proposed stopping all work on the carrier. Even if the ship was commissioned as planned at the end of that year, equipping her with guns would take another ten months, if not longer, and the installation of the fire control system several more months. (The original fire control system had been sold to the Soviet Union. In the end the AA and 15cm guns were removed and sent to Norway to be incorporated in the coastal defence system.) During a conference in July, Hitler referred to aircraft carriers saying that Germany must have “a cruiser with a flight deck”. Ludicrous as it was to start a new project when the existing carrier was almost complete, it was Hitler’s remarks that stopped all work on the Graf Zeppelin on the 12th July 1940 and the Design Bureau to prepare a design of an ‘M’ cruiser that could carry 14 aircraft. On the same day the Graf Zeppelin left Kiel for Gdynia (called Gotenhafen by the Germans). The ship remained there almost a year until Hitler’s decision to attack the Soviet Union on 22nd June 1941. Because of the treat of Soviet air raids the Supreme Command of the Navy ordered Group North to tow the ship further west by 19th June. The carrier left at noon 19th June and reached Stettin on afternoon of 21st June. There she was moored at Hakenterasse, remaining until German forces had penetrated far enough to lift the threat of air attacks. On 10th November 1941 she left Stettin to arrive a week later back at Gdynia. She was then used as a floating warehouse for hardwood under the name Zugvogel.

By the end of 1941, the crippling of the Italian fleet in Taranto, the Home Fleet’s interception of the Bismarck and especially the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had proved that ship-based aircraft were a fully developed and dangerous weapon. The Seekreigsleitung pressed for completion and putting into service of the Graf Zeppelin as soon as possible. The final discussion took place on 16th April 1942 at Hitler’s Wolfschanze headquarters. The results were as follows:

  1. Works on the hull and engines were to be completed by summer 1943.
  2. The only available aircraft types, adapted Bf 109 and Ju 87, required upgrading of the air facilities, especially installation of stronger catapults. Design, production and testing of these would take not less than two years so it was decided to modernize and adapt the existing catapults which would take six months. This gave the earliest possible time to complete the carrier as the winter of 1943/44. From the point of view of the Luftwaffe constructing a new carrier-based aircraft was impossible before 1946.
  3. The Luftwaffe would provide the Kriegsmarine ten fighters and twenty-two bombers to be used in the reconnaissance role. Designing a torpedo-bomber was opposed by Hitler who thought such aircraft were not useful.

On May 13th 1942 the decision was made to resume the construction of the Graf Zeppelin. Along with changes to the air facilities there were other alterations considered necessary as early as 1938/39 because of the developments in naval technology. The superstructure was obsolete. The existing mast had to be replaced with a heavier one fitted with a fighter command post and radars. The bridge and fire control centre covered with fragment-proof armour. A higher funnel shield was necessary to protect the fighter command post from smoke. The alterations resulted in a significant increase in weight that needed to neutralised to keep the ship stable. Bulges were added to keep the ship upright. The secondary role was to protect the ship’s interior from torpedoes. Parts of the bulges served as oil tanks. These additions improved the manoeuvrability and range of the ship. AA protection was also upgraded. The planned air component was composed of 28 Ju 87s and 12 Bf 109s.

 

The Supreme Command of the Navy expected that work would be completed by April 1943 with the first sea test performed in August. However, the last twelve months of construction were to be carried out at the cost of cancelling VVIIC U-boats at Deutsche Werk AG Kiel. As well as the Graf Zeppelin, five other ships were to be converted to aircraft carriers. Due to the shortage of workers and lack of material, especially steel, Hitler decided to cancel the conversion of existing warships and put the workers and material into building the aircraft carriers Graf Zeppelin, Seydlitz and Potsdam. Meanwhile, due to increasing air threat, the operation to move the Graf Zeppelin to Kiel was delayed. She finally left Gdynia on 30th November 1942. On 3rd December the convoy reached Kieler Forde and the Graf Zeppelin anchored to the Heikendorf roadstead. On 5th December she was put into the Deutsche Werk floating dock where work on the bulges started immediately. At the same time work on the engines room was started to make the two inner shafts and their propulsion system operational allowing the ship to make a top speed of 25 to 26 knots. The objective was to finish the carrier in the autumn of 1943. On 30th January 1943 Hitler ordered all capital ships to be put out of service and cancel the construction of those not yet completed. Grand Admiral Raeder described it as “the cheapest sea victory England ever won” and was the direct reason for him being relieved from duty. On 2nd February 1943 the construction of the Graf Zeppelin, on which the bulges were still being installed, was stopped for good. On April 15th Deutsche Werk shipyard were ordered to prepare the ship to be moved to Gdynia. After these preparations the carrier was towed out on 20th April, its destination now Stettin. There she was anchored on one of the forks of the Odra River and camouflaged to look like a small island. The initial plan of moving the ship to Pillau was abandoned because of a lack of adequate anchor ground. The end of the carrier came soon after the Red Army entered the territory of the Reich. First all the Kingston valves were opened and the ship settled on the bottom. Then a ten-man squad prepared the ship for blowing up with depth charges. On the 25th April 1945 at 6pm the order was given. Thick smoke issued from the funnel, proof that the charges had gone off as planned.

Graf Zeppelin II

Grafzepplien

GrafZeppelin

Last photograph of Graf Zeppelin towed from Swinocijscie Poland to Leningrad. April 17. 1947.

In April 1945, Soviet troops found the carrier’s artillery had been dismantled, the installation of fire control equipment had not been finished and the electrical installations partially installed as well as the flight equipment. There was a complete engine room and the power station was fully operational. Among the explosives, ten depth charges had been set off in the engine room. Water had penetrated through small blow-holes, cracks and leakages and the ship settled on the bottom in water seven meters deep. Seepage was so slow the water in the engine room was lower than that outside the hull. By 17th August 1945 the ship had been examined by teams of the 77th Emergency Rescue Unit. The carrier lay on the bottom with only half a degree of list to starboard. On the starboard were 36 holes up 1.0 X 1.0 meters made by shells and fragments. All the turbines, boilers and power plants had been blown up damaging the nearby watertight bulkheads. One .8 x .3 meter hole had been blown in the underwater part of the ship along with a .3 meter crack. The propellers had been dismantled and placed on the flight deck to minimize electrochemical corrosion of the hull. The aircraft elevators had been blown up as well. The ship was raised by simply sealing the underwater hole and crack and pumping out the water. Ten longitudinal and twelve transverse bulkheads had to be sealed to give the ship the necessary buoyancy. Cracks above the waterline and portholes were sealed with wielded metal sheets. Due to extensive damage and time pressures damage to ship’s deck were not mended. After the repairs were completed the ship was towed to Świnoujście, the former Kriegsmarine base known as Swinemunde. On 19th August the hulk was included in the Soviet Navy as a spoil of war. At the Potsdam Conference (17th July until 2nd August) the first agreement was reached on how to dispose of captured German surface vessels. On 23rd January 1946 an Anglo-American-Soviet committee was formed to deal with these matters. All combat and auxiliary vessels were divided into three categories A, B or C. The Graf Zeppelin was given to the Soviets by lot and came under category C – ships sunk, damaged or unfinished that required over six months of repairs using the resources of German shipyards. It was the recommendation of the committee that category C ships should be scuttled in deep water or dismantled by a given date. Admiral Kuzniecov requested to repair the Graf Zeppelin for use as an experimental platform for the construction of Soviet aircraft carriers. Initially he was given approval for the Baltic shipyard in Leningrad to carry out the necessary repairs; however the authorities chose the simpler option of complying with the terms of the allied agreement. On March 17th 1947 a resolution was passed that all category C vessels were to be destroyed in 1947. The command of the Soviet Navy had managed to convince the government to run durability tests on the vessels.

From 2nd February 1947 the Graf Zeppelin was classified as experimental platform PB-101. The destruction was to be carried out in a manner that allowed the collection of experimental data and experiences. A special committee head by Vice-Admiral Rall was formed and ordered to sink the carrier while testing its resistance to aerial bombs, artillery shells, and torpedoes in two variants, static and dynamic. Static meaning that the munitions would be placed in the ship and detonated and dynamic that they would be delivered by simulated attacks. The detonation of mines at various depths and distances from the ship was also considered. Between the tests teams of scientists would be sent aboard to assess the effects of the explosions. They were allowed to conduct minor repairs to stop the ship from sinking too soon.

At 2.45 pm on 14th August 1947 PB-101, as she was now known was pulled out onto the out roadstead of Świnoujście from where she was escorted by various vessels to the five mile square designated as the test area. Due to draining of three starboard rooms in the bulges she had a 3 degree list to port. When she arrived on the evening 15/16th August if was found that she could not be anchored. One of the main anchor chain links failed and the light kedge anchor could not prevent the ship from drifting. This was to affect the final outcome of the testing.

The first tests were carried out on the morning of 16th August. First a FAB-1000 bomb was exploded in the funnel along with three FAB-100 bombs and two 180 mm shells set under the flight deck. For the second test a FAB-1000 bomb was detonated on the flight deck. For the third a FAB-250 was set off on the flight deck and two 180 mm shells on the upper hangar deck. For the forth a FAB-500 over the flight deck set on a 2.7 meter high tripod, a FAB-250 on the upper hangar deck, another on the flight deck and a FAB-100 on the C deck. The fifth and last of the series, a FAB-500 and FAB-100 detonated on the flight deck with part of the bombs set deep in holes cut in the deck to simulate penetration.

The funnel was ripped open down to the flight deck but the island was not damaged, with the shockwave failing to deform the smoke ducts. No increase in pressure in the boilers was reported and on the armoured gratings an intact spider’s web was found. Of the three FAB-100 bombs detonated on the flight deck the most damaging was the one not set in the deck. The shockwaves of those set in deck were directed down into the hangar. The 180 mm shells caused various damage, the most effective being mixed armour piercing high explosive.

After the first series of tests an air raid was carried out on the ship by 39 aircraft from the 12th Guards Mine Torpedo Division and 25 Pe-2 dive bombers. On the day of the test there were only 100 P-50 exercise bombs available in the entire 4th Fleet instead of the 156 required. Therefore only 24 Pe-2 crews could perform the bombardment. Two nine plane flights dropped their payloads on the leader’s signal, the rest individually. A white 20 x 20 meter cross had be painted on the flight deck with arms 5 meters wide. The first group dropped 28 bombs from a height of 2070 meters, the second 36 from about the same height and the third attack carried out individually another 24 bombs. Three aircraft were forced to emergency dump their ordnance. The effects of the attack on what was a ‘sitting duck’ were farcical. Of the 100 bombs dropped only six hit the target, and there were only five marks on the flight deck. (Soviet pilots claimed there were eleven hits, some of the bombs having struck already damaged areas.) The test failed to give any useful information. The P-50 bombs were too small causing 5-10 cm dents in the flight deck and blew a hole about one meter in diameter in the starboard bulge. The pilots complained about poor visibility.

Another series of static explosions followed. After the forth series the entire island was wiped out and the upper hanger seriously damaged. The effect of the fifth series was the most spectacular. A FAB-550 bomb on the flight deck blew a three meter hole and a FAB-100 bomb in the hanger demolished all the light walls and destroyed the equipment. That concluded the static tests and preparations for the testing of underwater munitions where begun. On 17th August the weather bean to worsen and the carrier started to drift towards the shoals. There was the possibility that the ship would drift into waters too shallow to sink her. Rall decided to abandon the testing and finish off the carrier with torpedoes. The planed bombardment by cruisers had been cancelled because of an accident in one of the main turrets of the Molotov. The usage of the 180mm artillery was banned in the entire Soviet Navy for the year 1947. Three torpedo boats and the destroyers Slavny, Srogy, and Stroiny were summoned. The torpedo boats arrived first. The first run by TK-248 was unsuccessful, the torpedo passing under the carrier’s keel. After 15 minutes a torpedo fired by TK-503 hit the starboard side near frame 130. The explosion destroyed the bulge but the armoured belt remained unscathed. After an hour the destroyers arrived and the Slavny hit again the starboard side near frame 180 where there was no bulge. The carrier began to list to the twice damaged starboard. After 15 minutes the list reached 25 degrees, and the ship started to trim to bow. After another eight minutes the Graf Zeppelin with a 90 degree list 25 degree trim to bow slipped below the surface. The date was 18th August 1947.

The results of the tests were kept secret and the allies only informed that she had been sunk. The gap between the summer of 1945 when she was raised and March 1947 when her fate was decided remains a mystery. The German Admiral Ruge claimed in a book that the carrier capsized while being towed from Stettin to a Russian port due to the stowage of steel sheets on the flight deck According to gossip circulating in the Baltic Fleet published by Marek Twardowski in a magazine article, in 1946 the ship was towed to a Leningrad shipyard to be prepared for service. The authorities found this a welcome occasion for the transport of heavy loot which was placed on the flight deck because the damaged elevators prevented the stowage in the hangers. Placing a heavy weight on the flight deck made the ship unstable and she capsized in the shallow fairway. Most of the goods from the flight deck fell in the water, whilst those stored below caused serious damage to the bulkheads and braces. Raising the ship was not difficult but she was no longer suitable for reconstruction and had to be sunk to cover the accident. This supports the account of Ruge but is most probably untrue.

Hitler’s Saw

World War II Interior Pages

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mg34_tr

MG-34

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MG-42

The MG-42 was designed during World War II as a replacement for the multipurpose MG-34, which was less than suitable for wartime mass production and was also somewhat sensitive to fouling and mud. It was manufactured in great numbers by companies like Grossfuss, Mauser-Werke, Gustloff-Werke, Steyr-Daimler-Puch, and several others. It is estimated that more than 400,000 MG-42s were manufactured during the war, and it was undoubtedly one of the best machine guns of World War II. It was designed to be reliable and cheap to manufacture; the design was so effective that it is still in production in more or less modified form in many countries.

Although the German Army of 1939 was not an entirely mechanized force (the German infantry was still largely foot-mobile), the hallmark of the blitzkrieg was fast-moving offensive operations characterized by speed, firepower, and sudden, overwhelming force. During these types of operations, the machine gun ceased to be a specialized weapon and became instead an integral part of the firepower needed to overcome the enemy at the point of attack. The infantry’s need for a sustained-fire weapon that soldiers could carry into battle on the attack was one of the parameters that drove the development of both the German light machine gun and the submachine gun. German tactics were built around the small team armed with light automatics. This gave a small force the firepower advantage and the ability to move rapidly and overcome opposition quickly with a large volume of self-contained automatic fire.

Such tactics demanded a new approach to the tactical use of the machine gun. Built around the interwar technological innovations by German armament manufacturers and the tactical and doctrinal transformations of the Wehrmacht, the new concept was called the Einheitsmaschinengewehr (Universal Machine Gun) or what would eventually be described as the general-purpose machine gun. The medium was too heavy and immobile to fit the new German style of warfare. In determining how to produce weapons, the Germans decided to do away with the distinctive MMG- and LMG- designs. Rather than further develop one machine gun for the sustained-fire role and another for the squad’s automatic weapon, one machine gun would be expected to fulfill all these tasks and others. Given a tripod, it would serve in the sustained-fire mode, much like a heavy at the beginning. Fitted with a bipod, it would serve as the squad’s standard automatic. The gun could also be fitted on tanks and armored cars and even aboard ships for naval air defense and on light vessels and submarines. The initial German effort to meet the general-purpose needs was the MG-34. The MG-34 entered service in 1934, the plan being to replace the collection of existing machine guns in the German Army under the one-gun-fits-all approach. The designers set out to produce the perfect weapon, demanding a higher-quality finish and precision manufacturing than was necessary. Ironically, however, the very quality of the MG-34 caused problems. Though it was superbly engineered, the resulting manufacturing process was slow, and German munitions officials anticipated that they would have difficulty replacing MG-34s lost in battle, much less produce enough to replace all the German machine guns in the Wehrmacht inventory, even with five factories working three shifts per day. Additionally, the fine tolerances made it difficult to maintain, vulnerable to poor conditions, and susceptible to stoppages caused by sand and dust.

New Production Methods

By 1937, with war clouds gathering, the German Army became concerned that enough MG-34s could be manufactured to meet the increased demand. Accordingly, three companies-Grossfuss Metal-und-Lackierwarenfabrik of Doblen, Rheinmetall-Borsig of Sommerda, and Stubgen of Erfurt-were asked to submit designs for a new gun to replace the MG-34 that would be easier and quicker to manufacture in great numbers. Rheinmetall and Stubgen submitted gas-operated designs, and Grossfuss proposed a recoil-operated design. Interestingly, Grossfuss, which had no previous experience in weapons manufacture (the company’s main line was sheet-metal lanterns), came up with a unique roller-locked breech mechanism that was both simple and resistant to dirt and dust. Ernst Grunow, a design engineer with Grossfuss, knew nothing about machine guns, but he specialized in the technology of mass production, including metal stamping and pressing. Grunow took six weeks off and attended an army machine gunner’s course in order to familiarize himself with the actual handling of such a weapon. He wanted to know what the users thought was important in a machine gun. He then returned to his office and designed a machine gun built around an earlier Mauser operating system, incorporating lessons from his stay with the machine gunners and other lessons learned during the first years of the war. The other designs were eliminated, and production began on the MG-39/41, as it was designated. By late 1941, large-scale trials were conducted, and after favorable reports all around the weapon was adopted as the MG-42 early the following year.

This design was specifically engineered for quick and cheap manufacture. The MG-42 was made from steel stampings and pressings rather than machined from solid block. It used rivets and spot welds, rather than fine finishing like the MG-34. As a result the cost of the weapon was cut significantly; more important, the manufacturing time was reduced by 35 percent. The MG-42 was to become one of the finest machine guns of all time, combining simplicity, ruggedness, and reliability with the firepower of the MG-34.

The MG-42 incorporated innovative approaches. It used a new form of delayed-blowback action, partly developed from a Polish design obtained when that country was overrun in 1939. It also had a plastic butt and pistol grip. The design also included a quick-change barrel system that permitted a well-trained gunner to exchange barrels in a matter of seconds during combat. The gun had a phenomenal rate of fire-more than 1,200 rounds per minute-far higher than any other machine gun fielded at the time. Because of its light weight, the increased rate of fire meant that accuracy was reduced. However, the Germans were prepared to accept this limitation because they theorized that a machine gunner had only a few seconds to fire at enemies before they took cover. Therefore, it was thought that the more rounds one could fire in this time, the more enemy casualties one could cause.

The MG-42 proved deadly effective and fit perfectly in the GPMG- role required by German tactical and operational concepts; it would see extensive service on the battlefields of World War II. The standard German infantry battalion employed twelve MG-42s in the schwere (heavy) role mounted on a tripod. It would prove particularly effective when the German Army was forced on the defensive late in the war. MG-42s were also used as armament on virtually every German armored vehicle, from halftracks to Panzers. Regardless of its role, Allied soldiers who faced the MG-42 will always remember the terrifying sound (“like ripping canvas”); the MG-42 was deadly and effective in the hands of German infantry.

While the MG-42 was being developed, the German Army continued work on other designs in case the MG-42 design never materialized as a viable weapon. Part of this effort was in improving the MG-34 design. The MG-34/41 was a radical modification of the MG-34 design that was no longer capable of using the spare parts provided for the original MG-34. In that sense, it was entirely new. However, by the time that the MG-34/41 was perfected, the MG-42 had arrived on the scene and proved superior to anything the German Army faced. Therefore, the MG-34/41 was abandoned, and further machine-gun development in Germany virtually ceased for the rest of the war.