Volkssturm Small Arms

Primitiv-Waffen-Programm

As a last-ditch measure in the nearly lost war, on 18 October 1944 the Deutscher Volkssturm was mobilized – a German national militia. To arm them under conditions of depleted manpower and limited available production capacities the Primitiv-Waffen-Programm (“primitive weapons program”) was initiated. It called for weapons that were as easy as possible to produce. Walther designed the Volkssturmgewehr VG 1 rifle, Spreewerk Berlin the VG 2, Rheinmetall the VG 3, Mauser the VG 4 and Steyr the VG 5 (a.k.a. VK 98). Best known is the Volkssturmgewehr by Gustloff which was a gas-delayed blowback semi-automatic rifle.

Volkspistole

In 1944 and 1945 Nazi Germany’s declining fortunes necessitated the formation of the Volkssturm (People’s Army), composed of men too old, young, or infirm to serve in the traditional armed services. The Nazi military intended the Volkssturm as a rearguard or even as disposable buffer troops to protect its better-trained front-line troops in desperate situations. To arm the Volkssturm, the government set up a program to develop and manufacture appropriate and equally disposable weapons-the Volksgewehr (People’s Rifle) and the Volkspistole (People’s Pistol). Although cheaply made, Volkssturm weapons exhibited considerable ingenuity in design. The Volksgewehr program saw limited success in that a small number of rifles were manufactured and saw some degree of combat, whereas the Volkspistole project produced only a few prototypes before the war’s end.

This was another development of the Primitiv-Waffen-Programm (Primitive Weapons Programme). It was developed early in 1945 for arming the VoIkssturm, but got no further man the prototype model. Due to the fragmentary record-keeping in Germany in early 1945, the actual makers of this pistol are not known. The Volkspistole uses a similar system of delayed blowback to that of the Volksgewehr (see below). The barrel is freed to the frame and surrounded by a slide which forms an annular chamber around the barrel. Vents lead into this from the gun barrel so that high-pressure gas will serve to hold the slide, and thus the breech, from moving back for a short time after firing. The barrel is extended by a smoothbore tube; the purpose of this has never been officially explained, but it is possible that it would sustain chamber pressure so as to improve the delayed blowback action. The pistol is chambered for the standard 9mm (0.354″) Parabellum cartridge and uses a Walther 8-round P-38 magazine. Its estimated muzzle velocity is 380m/sec(1250ft/see)

Although the Volkspistole never achieved production, its various designers did explore new techniques and concepts that were put into practice following the war and helped set the stage for a new generation of handguns. Most records and prototypes were destroyed with Nazi Germany’s fall, but apparently three firms were involved in the project: Walther, Mauser, and Gustloff Werk of Suhl. The main criteria set by the government were that the pistol could be assembled by minimally skilled workers, was to be chambered for the standard 9mm Parabellum service cartridge, and that its construction consist of as little high-quality materials as possible. As in the case of the American Liberator, the Volkspistole was fabricated primarily with stamped, brazed, and welded sheet metal. Although the designers explored blowback, locked-breech, and gas-operating systems, their lasting contribution lay in the use of more easily and economically fabricated materials and holding expensively machined components to a minimum.

The VK 98’s action was that of a Kar 98k, but the finish was extremely crude and the sights were simply stamped from sheet metal. Some used parts salvaged from damaged weapons or previously rejected for not meeting quality standards.

Volksturm VG-5, aka VK-98

By 1945, with the Nazi Reich tottering under assaults from both East and West, desperate attempts to produce more weapons for the Volkssturm militia saw a number of designs for new weapons, many of them simple to the point of crudity. The VK 98 (Volks-Karabiner, or ‘people’s carbine’) was based on the Kar 98k, but stripped of everything but the absolute essentials. Examples vary, but most have simple half-stocks that provide a minimal handgrip while leaving most of the barrel exposed, and very simple stamped sights. All have very crude machining and stocks roughed out of wood blanks.

Volksgewehr VG 1-5

The creation of the last-ditch Volkssturm forces in October 1944 generated an additional need for weaponry. The Volkssturm were recipients of anything the Heer or Waffen-SS could dispense with, plus large quantities of innovative weaponry such as the Panzerfaust shoulder-launched anti-tank weapon. With a now-characteristic disregard for production realities, the German authorities also sought to develop a new single-shot or semi-automatic rifle specifically for the Volkssturm, and to be known, appropriately enough, as the Volksgewehr (People’s Rifle). This programme was to be known as the Primitiv-Waffen-Programm (Primitive Weapons Programme), the title giving a full sense of the exigency of the situation.

Despite the late stage of the war, numerous different German arms manufacturers actually attempted to develop the weapon, although Hitler quickly rejected all the single-shot versions in favour of magazine rifles firing the Kurzpatrone (short cartridge).

One of the frontrunners was the Gustloff VG 1-5, a boxy-looking semi-automatic rifle. On every level, the VG 1-5 was a tribute to emergency manufacturing processes, it being made from various accumulations of steel tubing, welding and pressed-steel parts. It was notable, however, for its use of a delayed-blowback operating system. A reciprocating hollow sleeve was fitted around the barrel, the sleeve also operating the gun’s bolt. When the gun was fired, gas vented through gas ports 65mm from the muzzle and pushed against the sleeve, holding it forward until the pressure had dropped to safe levels, at which point the bolt would open and the gun would reload. The principle was promising, and upwards of 10,000 VG 1-5s were manufactured. Yet the gun also had problems that the wartime situation did not allow time to resolve. It was prone to jamming from fouling, and when the gun became hot barrel expansion could jam the reciprocating sleeve. It stands as one among many acts of futile German inventiveness in the final months of the war.

Gustloff VG 1-5

The Gustloff Werk of Suhl were given the task of developing an automatic rifle. The weapon which they produced was based on a 1943 design by Barnetske, their chief engineer, and it consisted of a rifle barrel surrounded by a tubular sleeve which carried the bolt at its rear end. This was carried in a casing in which the bolt sleeve unit could recoil against a spring and in which was the trigger and firing mechanism. The tubular sleeve maintained an annular space around the barrel; in this space was the recoil spring and, just behind the muzzle,, four gasports which led from the barrel into the annular space. On firing, some of the propelling gas passed through these vents and acted on the forward end of the sleeve, resisting the rearward force being generated at the other end of the sleeve by the cartridge case forcing back the bolt. The balance of these two forces gave a delayed action to what would otherwise have been a simple blowback weapon. Feed was by a 30- round box magazine, that of the Stug44 assault rifle, and it was chambered for the short 7.92mm (0.312″) M1943 cartridge. Its weight is 4.52 kgs (10 lbs, 2 oz); length 885mm (34.8″); barrel length 378mm (14.9″); and muzzle velocity 655m/sec(2150ft/see)

1945. Semi-automatic, delayed blowback. Few made.

Cartridge: 7.92 x 33M Kurz.

Length: 34.9in (885mm).

Weight: 10lb 2oz (4.62kg).

Barrel: 14.9in (378mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 30-round box.

Muzzle Velocity: 2150 fps (655 m/s).

The Spreewerk Berlin Volkssturmgewehr VG 2 is also a manually operated bolt-action rifle with a similar rotating bolt and crude manual safety. Locking is provided by two frontal lugs which lock into the steel insert pinned inside the stamped steel receiver. The VG 2 rifle is fed from detachable box magazines, originally developed for Gewehr 43. The stock is crudely made from wood and consists of two separate parts: shoulder stock with semi-pistol grip and fore-end. Wood parts are permanently pinned to the receiver. Non-adjustable iron sights are provided for close-range shooting only, and zeroed for 100 metres (110 yd).

The State of the German Forces Late 1944

The German Army suffered from a catastrophic shortage of replacements ever since it had gone to war in Russia, but particularly from 1944 onwards. 

That the army had come to this state was in part a response to the failed attempt on Hitler’s life in July 1944, but also due to the draining losses suffered on the Eastern Front.  Since the beginning of the campaign in 1941, to the autumn of 1944, the campaign had cost the Germans in excess of 1,400,000 killed with another million missing and five million more wounded. From a strength of 3.3 million men in June 1941, the Army had been bled white, fielding as few as 2.7 million just a year later.  This situation was not to improve despite the ruthless trawling of the country for replacements.  Following the assassination attempt on Hitler, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler had been appointed commander of the Replacement Army, replacing General Fromm who had been implicated in the plot.  Instead of ensuring the regular supply of replacements to the Army units in the field, Himmler’s chaotic command saw him concentrate his efforts on rebuilding burnt out infantry divisions as a new generation of Volksgrenadier Division.  These units were based around the remnants of old divisions which had already been shattered in the fighting on the Western or Eastern Fronts. Each rebuilt division comprised three, two-battalion regiments, a theoretical strength of around 10,000 men although few ever achieved anywhere near this. Their experienced cadres were fleshed out with a collection of Hitler Youth, Luftwaffe ground staff, middle-aged businessmen from reserved occupations, recovering invalids and naval cadets.  Training was brief at best, sometimes as little as six weeks but they did receive some of the newest infantry weapons and were lavishly equipped with both light and medium machine guns.  This ensured their morale was relatively high, and if they held together under combat conditions, they could pack a powerful defensive punch.  The Volksgrenadier divisions were intended for holding and defensive operations rather than offensive action and as such lacked the mobility of the Soviet units opposed to them.

Alongside this program, Himmler also massively expanded his Waffen SS, creating a plethora of new divisions.  With the demands on the limited German manpower pool being made by Martin Bormann, who was in charge of the Volkssturm, and Himmler for his Volksgrenadier Divisions and Waffen SS divisions, the Army struggled to secure enough replacements to make good the steady losses it suffered.  That it managed to maintain a defence at all was a testament to the strength of the men and officers of the German Army at that time, despite all of its setbacks. 

The Regular German Army units had been transformed after three years of fighting in the Soviet Union.  The divisions of 1941 which had begun the invasion, well equipped and with up to 17,000 men, were a thing of the past.  The increase in the number of divisions fielded in the succeeding years had been at the expense of their strength.  By 1944 many infantry divisions no longer comprised three battalion regiments as they had originally, but instead had been reduced to just two battalions in order to concentrate their strength and cut down on support services.  The strongest units would number just 12,000 men although like their Soviet opponents, many were often considerably lower than this and were starved of replacements.  Towards the end, divisions numbering in the hundreds of men rather than thousands were all too common.  One factor which had not changed was the mobility of the German infantry divisions.  Even from the earliest days of the war, the German infantry had relied heavily on horse drawn transport to move itself across the battlefield.  The image of the German Army as a highly mechanised force which motored across Europe is inherently false.  Motorisation was largely restricted to the few panzer and panzergrenadier divisions, the many infantry using their feet, as their forebears had before them.  This was one of the major factors which hindered the Germans in their cauldron battles during the early days of Operation Barbarossa.  Quite simply, the infantry simply could not keep up with the armour and as a result many Soviet troops were able to escape from encirclement.

The panzer divisions, the pride of the Wehrmacht, had suffered equally as badly as the infantry formations and by 1944 many comprised just a single panzer regiment with two panzer battalions, plus a panzergrenadier brigade of two regiments (each with two battalions), a force of 13,000 men with around 120 tanks when at full strength. 

The mainstay of the German panzer division was the reliable Panzer IV medium tank.  Originally armed with a short barrel 75mm gun, it had been upgraded a number of times.  By 1944 it sported a long barrelled 75mm gun, had been given additional armour plating on the hull and was protected by armoured skirts against shaped charge anti-tank rounds.  The Panzer IV was a popular tank, although it was only just a match for the T-34 rather than superior to it.  In an effort to overcome the scourge of the T-34 the Germans rushed into service in 1943 the Panzer V Panther. 

This vehicle turned out to be one of the finest tanks of the war, despite its initial teething troubles.  Armed with a long barrel 75mm gun and protected by sloped armour copied from the T-34, it could knock out the Soviet tanks at great ranges.  Unfortunately it was over-engineered and often struggled in the harsh conditions experienced on the Eastern Front.

In late 1942 the heavy Panzer VI Tiger I tank entered service with the Army.  This vehicle was armed with the formidable 88mm gun which had wrought great havoc as an anti-tank weapon.  The Tiger was an effective weapon and could knock out the T-34 at distances where the Soviet tanks could not fire effectively in return. In 1944 the Tiger II appeared, a truly formidable machine, although too slow and heavy, and in too few numbers to make a real difference to the course of the battles to come.

Despite their technical superiority, the Germans simply could not produce enough vehicles to take on the masses of Soviet tanks that opposed them.  In an effort to redress this balance they increased production of assault guns.  Assault guns, grouped into brigades, were crucial anti-tank formations supporting the hard pressed infantry.  Under the command of the artillery service rather than the panzer arm, they were equipped with turretless versions of the Panzer III and IV, and the formidable little Hetzer’s which were based on the reliable Panzer 38(t) chassis.  These vehicles were considerably cheaper and easier to produce than tanks, and offered an excellent defensive capability in the place of wheeled anti tank guns.  The assault gun brigades were used widely, supplementing the infantry’s lack of anti-tank weapons in many instances. 

Fighting a war on a number of fronts had a crippling impact on the German war effort.  The demands of the Western and Italian Fronts, together with the Allied bomber offensive against the industrial heartland of the Ruhr and other areas of western Germany, and in particular the terrible damage done to the supply of fuel, drew badly needed men and weapons away from the Eastern Front.  The Allied bombing of the oil refineries and fuel storage facilities across Nazi occupied Europe had a devastating effect on the armies in the field.  From late 1943, and particularly after the Normandy invasion in the summer of 1944, German fuel production collapsed.  The operations of the Luftwaffe were severely curtailed, the most insignificant use of fuel becoming heavily monitored.  For the men at the front, air support was often just a dim and distant memory.  The greater part of the Luftwaffe had been pulled back to protect the Homeland and what few units were left at the front were desperately short of fuel.  Army units suffered too, often finding they were left immobile, with perfectly usable tanks being lost to the enemy for want of a few drops of petrol.  To counter the threat of the Allied bomber fleets, thousands of the deadly 88mm anti-aircraft guns[18] were used in air defence rather than in their ground role again Soviet armour.

Hitler’s refusal to accept a policy of flexible defence, which would have taken advantage of the space available in the east, merely exacerbated the problems the Germans faced.  His stubborn refusal to allow any form of withdrawal had seen the Ostheer smashed in a number of encirclement operations, culminating in the catastrophic defeat in Belorussia in June and July of 1944.  Through sheer necessity a defence policy was adopted by the armies at the front, which proved successful only when sufficient forces and strong defensive positions were in place. In general outline the German defensive plan meant establishing forward, main and reserve defence positions.  The forward lines were lightly manned and designed to absorb the weight of a Soviet offensive, soaking up the bombardment.  As many troops as possible would be pulled back from this position to the main defensive position in the event of an enemy attack so that their barrage fell on empty positions and vacated artillery sites.  This would ensure that the main defence line remained largely intact.  Effectively, the Germans intended the Soviets to punch into thin air at the forward position, and then they would launch their own counter attacks from the main defensive position to disrupt further attacks and derail the Soviet timetable. The Soviet tendency to undertake reconnaissance attacks before an offensive began gave the German commanders ample warning that an attack was imminent.  It was then just merely a question of timing in pulling out of the forward defence position.  Many generals became adept at judging the correct moment to do so.  This policy provided a sensible defence but experience showed that when the Germans were pushed out of their entrenched positions, their lack of mobile forces, anti-tank and armour reserves generally meant that a collapse of the front would quickly follow. 

As the war had approached the Reich frontiers in late 1944, and with the huge manpower losses suffered both in the West and East, the Germans had been forced to consider the mass employment of civilians in defence of their Homeland.  Guderian, by now Chief of the Army General Staff, had suggested the formation of a Landsturm in the eastern provinces in a discussion with Hitler in early September 1944.  Guderian’s idea had been to establish formations made up of men from reserved occupations, probably from the ranks of those registered with the SA.  Hitler initially agreed with him but just a day later he changed his mind and gave responsibility for the raising of these troops to Martin Bormann and the Nazi Party.  The Volkssturm, as this civilian defence force was named, was officially created by the Führer Decree of October 18th 1944.  Rather than just being an organisation for the defence of the eastern provinces, the Volkssturm was now to be a national defence force, and Bormann envisioned it numbering in the millions.  All males between the ages of 16 and 60 who were capable of bearing arms were liable for conscription.  Volkssturm units were organised into battalions, a battalion generally numbering around 600 men and being commanded by the equivalent of a Major, although battalions of up to 1,000 men were not unknown.  Once part of a unit many men found themselves with just a Volkssturm armband for a uniform.  Sometimes even the Volkssturm armband was not available which meant they went into combat in civilian attire only, in contravention of the Geneva Convention.  Following the disaster at Stalingrad and the continual heavy losses on the Eastern Front there had been many trawls for reinforcements for the army.  Himmler’s tenure as commander of the Replacement Army made an already difficult situation even worse.  The result was that by October 1944, when the Volkssturm was raised, it comprised mainly young Hitler Youth and the elderly; those fit enough to fight having already been called upon.

The problem of arming the Volkssturm units was also considerable.  Stocks of captured weapons were issued widely but there was no central control over their distribution.  An even greater problem was the supply of ammunition.  Many Volkssturm members were handed a foreign or obsolete rifle with just a handful of rounds apiece.  Weapons from the Great War were brought back into service to try to flesh out the firepower of the Volkssturm battalions.  Perhaps the most deadly weapon the Volkssturm employed was the Panzerfaust, which cost the Soviets many hundreds of tanks destroyed throughout the final months of the war.  Quickly manufactured and relatively easy to use, the one shot Panzerfaust comprised a hollow charge warhead propelled by a small rocket, and proved extremely effective at knocking out tanks.  Unfortunately for the user, the effective killing range of the weapon was between thirty and one hundred metres, depending on the model employed.  This meant that once a hit had been achieved, a safe retreat from any accompanying infantry or other tanks was unlikely.  Training for the new recruits was often rushed and inadequate, many men and boys having to master the use of their weapons when they entered combat for the first time.  For the older members a familiarity with military life from the First World War was common, and younger members had grown up under a Nazi regime which had militarised most aspects of their lives.

With this mixture of forces the Germans waited for the next round of Soviet attacks, attacks which would push across the eastern frontiers of the Reich and bring the war to the German people.

Himmler als Feldherr

From 20 July Himmler was appointed the commander of the Ersatzheer in place of the arrested Fromm and henceforth he was to be responsible for the raising of all new army formations – mainly infantry divisions, these to be known as Volksgrenadier. The manning, discipline and administration of these divisions was to be controlled entirely by the SS, a special Abteilung 10 being set up in the Heerespersonalamt to provide ‘SS approved’ officer replacements for these divisions: thereafter the officers could not be posted elsewhere without SS permission. The Volksgrenadier divisions remained responsible to Himmler, as were the SS divisions, even when they took to the field. The word Volk added to the divisional titles was intended to emphasize the link between these later groupings and the people, and to give expression to the ‘National-Socialist spirit’ of these new troops, in contradistinction to the old style that was tainted by the reactionary officer corps.

On 26 August all army formations that recruited foreigners were transferred to the SS and, since the SS was now raising its own SS army headquarters (SS Armeeoberkommandos) and additional corps headquarters, army general staff officers were transferred to the SS against their will to occupy technical appointments that the SS were not qualified to fill. By January 1945 candidates for army commissions could be compulsorily directed into the SS. Himmler had no wish to absorb the German Army into the Waffen SS, but he wanted to use army personnel, when absolutely necessary, to fill out the SS; for he jealously safeguarded the Waffen SS identity and exclusiveness. His intention was to have the German Army subordinated to, and controlled in its entirety by, the Waffen SS with himself at its head. The V-2 development and production programme and the control of firings and operational units was taken over by the SS immediately after 20 July.

That Himmler had Feldherr pretensions there can be no doubt; in September he became the commander at the front of all troops in the Upper Rhine, taking under his command 19 Army, Wehrkreis V and 14 and 18 SS Corps. At the turn of the year he was to take over Army Group Vistula on the eastern front. According to Goebbels, the question had been mooted, and presumably put to Hitler in late 1944, as to whether Himmler should not also be appointed as the German Army Commander-in-Chief.

Volkssturm Casualties

For a variety of reasons, German personnel losses are hard to determine with any precision. Few of these cobbled-together units kept any records of losses, German graves registration had largely ceased to exist, and sympathetic civilians buried some of those killed. To gain a sense of the intensity of the fighting in the Endphase (final stage), though, it is worth noting the latest calculations of German military deaths by Rüdiger Overmans. Through his careful and exhaustive research, Overmans has concluded that approximately 1.23 million German military personnel (including Volkssturm men, who suffered more than 50 percent of the entire losses) died in the final four months of the war. This average of roughly three hundred thousand killed monthly (compared with “only” one hundred thousand per month on the eastern front in 1944) represented the highest such German losses in the entire war. Even if one accepts his further estimate that two-thirds of the casualties in the Endphase occurred on the eastern front, that still leaves over four hundred thousand deaths during the hard fighting in the west. In the triangle of terror and destruction marked by Aschaffenburg, Ansbach, and Heilbronn, estimates of civilian deaths alone number over two thousand, with an equal number of soldiers sent to their deaths just in the region bounded by the Main and Neckar Rivers.

By throwing a mixed bag of men into battle, many with little training and all with insufficient weapons, supplies, and equipment, German commanders had sent their troops to the slaughter, in a futile attempt to offset iron with blood. No rationality or military purpose attended to this decision, for Germany was going to lose the war in any case. Rather, it illustrated the destructive will of Nazi political and military leaders, both against the enemy and their own population. In directing terror at all, Nazi authorities took little notice of the military situation and betrayed no regard for the well-being of the local civilian population. All villages and hamlets were to be used as obstacles and defensive positions, with the result that many heretofore untouched by war fell victim to the wave of destruction unleashed in the last days of the conflict. To the average citizen this meant only unnecessary and pointless terror and devastation. But to the Nazi leadership, having created a system that reveled in terror and unwilling to bring the destruction to an end, there existed another goal, yet realizable. For Hitler, the end of the Nazi regime and the end of the German people and nation were to be synonymous.

As war had assumed a life of its own, independent of the will of the people, many Germans ironically saw their own soldiers as a greater danger than the Americans. While Nazi propaganda continued to portray Volk and army, citizen and soldier, forged together and fighting side by side, civilians for the most part just wanted the war to end, while Landers numbly fought on, exhausted from their exertions, ground down by overwhelming enemy superiority, and suffering from lack of supplies. The hesitancy of the American advance, in a further paradox, ensured that more Germans, both soldiers and civilians, would be killed—by both sides—and more villages destroyed. For the civilian population, threatened by brutal Nazi measures at the end of war, trust in the regime finally came to an end. People could now see with their own eyes the senselessness of continuation of the war, for there no longer existed any possibility of winning or even defending against the enemy. At the end of this war most Germans wanted only to preserve and salvage what could be preserved and salvaged. They had already begun thinking of the future and of the task of reconstruction. An advertisement in the Windsheimer Zeitung for a local bank put it succinctly, “save in war, build in peace!”

VOLKSSTURM I

Soldiers of the Volkssturm man a trench system in the late months of the war, armed mainly with World War l-vintage rifles. The price paid by the Volkssturm for their last-ditch defence of the Reich is unclear, but the number of those killed or captured would potentially reach 175,000.

The HJ were just some of the unfortunates caught up in the final collapse of the Third Reich. For those who became combatants in the Volkssturm, they stood at the young end of a scale that incorporated thousands of individuals who had no place facing the combined might of the Allied armies.

On 25 July 1944, having just escaped assassination in the 20 July bomb plot and with Allied forces massing on Germany’s western and eastern borders, Hitler issued a ‘Decree for Total War’. He announced on 25 September that all Germans aged 16—60 who were not Jews, gypsies, criminals or members of French, Polish or Slovene minorities, and who were not already in the armed forces or RAD, would join the new ‘People’s Militia’, the Deutscher Volkssturm. The six-million-strong force would have about 10,180 battalions — limited staff personnel and rear-echelon facilities, and lack of weapons standardization, made the battalion the largest tactical unit — divided into four Aufgebote (levies):

1st Levy: 1.2 million men in 1,850 battalions (400 in frontier districts); all physically fit 20—60-year-olds without essential war work exemption, assigned to frontline battalions, quartered in barracks, liable for service outside their home district, and including all available NSDAP political officials, Allgemeine-SS, SA, NSKK and NSFK (Nazi Air Corps).

2nd Levy: 2.8 million men in 4,860 battalions (1,050 in frontier districts); all physically fit 20—60-year-olds 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-olds, plus some 15-year-old volunteers, in about 1,040 battalions; mostly 16-year-old Hitler Youths trained in the Wehrertuchtigungslager.

4th Levy. 1.4 million 20—60-year-olds unfit for active service, plus volunteers over 60 in about 2,430 battalions, for guard duty, including guarding concentration camps. The NS-Frauenschaft (Nazi Women’s League) provided rear-echelon support, and on 23 March 1945 were issued with 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, who, along with recruits from the South East, found themselves facing the Soviet forces. Troops recruited from the West were faced with the Western Allies.

Reichsleiter Martin Bormann, Nazi Head Office Chief and Hitler’s deputy, commanded the militia on the Fiihrer’s behalf. He was assisted by two chiefs of staff: Oberbefehlsleiter Helmut Friedrichs, responsible for organization and political affairs, and Gottlob Berger, SS Main Office Chief, representing the SS and Replacement Army commander, Heinrich Himmler. A staff of army officers, under Colonel Hans Kissel, was responsible for equipment, weapons and training.

Each of Germany’s 42 districts formed a Volkssturmabschnitt (Volkssturm District) under a NSDAP Gauleiter assisted by an SA general or senior NSDAP official. A district contained on average 21 Kreise (counties), each under a NSDAP Kreisleiter assisted by a Kreisstabsfuhrer, and required to raise about 12 battalions. Berger and Friedrichs achieved a good working relationship, but Bormann and Himmler frequently clashed for control of the Volkssturm, a situation exacerbated by a confused chain of command, leaving NSDAP officials and SA officers resentful of the SS’ upper hand.

Given the nature of the recruits, the Volkssturm was given an ambitious range of missions: surround and contain large seaborne and airborne landings; eliminate agents and small sabotage groups; guard bridges, streets and key buildings; reinforce depleted army units; plug gaps in the front after enemy breakthroughs, and to man quiet sectors; and crush feared uprisings by the estimated 10 million POWs and foreign workers in Germany.

A 649-man 1st Levy Battalion had a 27-man staff; companies 1—3, each with three or four platoons, containing three or four ten-man sections; and a 4th infantry howitzer company. Other levy battalions had 576 men. Each company was supposed to have three five-man Panzernahbekampfungstrupps (Tank Close Combat Squads), each with ten Panzerfauste anti-tank weapons, often manned by HJ volunteers. Each battalion received a consecutive number within its district, e.g. Bataillon 25/97 = 97th Battalion (HQ Konigsberg) in District 25 (East Prussia).

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 ‘Banvalde’ Divisions contained Volkssturm battalions, as did the Volksgrenadierdivisionen established by Himmler. Other Volkssturm recipients included 16 grenadier regiments and SS-Grenadier Regiment ‘Becker , later part of the Waffen-SS 30.Jatmar Division. Also in 1945, the army formed Festungs units from Volkssturm companies with army staffs, with the unforgiving job of manning defensive lines in the East.

Volkssturm recruits, many already working a 72-hour war-emergency working week, were given a 48-hour training programme by armed forces instructors, and were expected to master the rifle, Panzerfaust, the grenade-launcher, hand grenade and Panzerschreck, and in emergency the pistol, SMG and land mine. In fact there were scarcely enough weapons for the 1st and 2nd Levies, and many militiamen 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-defence.

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, POWS and foreign forced labourers built tank-traps, artillery and anti-tank positions, protected by earthworks and linked by trenches. Eight lines skirted the East Prussian frontier, three in Wartheland and two in Upper Silesia. Other lines faced the Czech border. By December 1944, these lines were manned by armed forces and Volkssturm units, many organized from January 1945 into fortress battalions.

In combat, the Volkssturm paid heavily for its role as last-ditch infantry. Driven from East Prussia by the Soviet offensives of autumn 1944, they became escorts to the three million refugees heading westwards along congested snow-swept roads, harassed by Polish guerrillas. About 750,000 people 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 guerrillas if captured, joined the mass retreat.

The Volkssturm’s final, epic defence was in the German capital itself. The last Soviet offensive began on 16 April 1945.The Oder Line was breached, and by the 25th Berlin defenders included 24,000 Volkssturm (18,000 of whom were ‘Clausewitz Levy’ troops of the 2nd Levy, on six hours’ standby). The fighting was desperate. Those Volkssturm who could find the courage – bolstered by the threat of SS police squads hanging them for cowardice — would assault Soviet tanks at close range with Panzerfauste, utilizing their knowledge of the city’s layout. If they secured a good hit, they might knock out the tank, but the blistering Soviet response frequently resulted in their deaths. Nevertheless, many individual Volkssturm rose to the occasion, and defended their city with a passion. In the battle for Berlin, and that of Breslau (with 45,000 defenders including 25,000 Volkssturm in 38 battalions) 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. 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 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 underequipped, fought not to preserve their state, but to save fellow Germans from a Red Army eager to exact vengeance for the brutal German occupation of the Soviet Union.

Volkssturm

In his new capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Replacement Army, Himmler was able to extend his policing powers to the military sphere. Hitler gave him full authority to ‘establish order’ in the areas behind the fighting zone and sent him, at the beginning of September, to the western border region to put a halt to the retreat of the ‘rear-lines’ troops. Within twenty-four hours, according to Goebbels, he had stopped the ‘flood’ of retreating soldiers, and the images of panic that accompanied them. The Gauleiter were instructed that all returning members of the Wehrmacht, Waffen-SS, police, OT and Reich Labour Service, as well as ‘stragglers’, were to be picked up and turned over to the Replacement Army by 9 September, 1944. Local Party leaders were to report to their District Leaders by 7 p.m. the previous evening the numbers of stragglers in their area, and they in turn would pass the information to the Gauleiter within two hours, who would then immediately inform the commander of the Defence District. Himmler was proud of his achievement in arresting the disintegration in the west, and recommended ‘brutal action’ to deal with manifestations of ‘rear-lines’ poor morale. By the middle of September, 160,000 ‘stragglers’ had been rounded up and sent back to the front.

Himmler’s decisive action was rewarded by Hitler by a further remit. It arose from a combination of the increased concern for inner security together with the need felt to provide border protection, especially in the east, following the Red Army’s inroads in the summer. Since early in the war, the Wehrmacht had been ready to conscript civilians in an emergency to support local defence operations. The police were also involved in earlier planning for militias. Himmler had in 1942 set up a ‘Countryside Watch’, later followed by an ‘Urban Watch’, made up mainly of members of Nazi affiliates not called up to the Wehrmacht, to help local police in searching for escaped prisoners of war and repressing any potential unrest from foreign workers. By the end of 1943, the ‘Urban’ and ‘Countryside’ Watches comprised in all around a million men. Some Gauleiter had then in 1943 and 1944 taken steps to form their own ‘Homeland Protection Troops’, reaching beyond Party members to include all men aged eighteen to sixty-five. These did not, however, at this stage find favour with Hitler, who sensed they would have a negative impact on popular morale.

Even so, as war fortunes deteriorated, the Wehrmacht also prepared plans for larger, more formalized militias. With the Red Army approaching the Reich’s eastern frontier, General Heinz Guderian, the recently appointed Chief of the General Staff, proposed what he called a Landsturm (taking its name from the Prussian militias which fought against Napoleon’s army in 1813), to be composed of men exempted for whatever reason from military service, who would help to strengthen border protection in the east. Guderian recommended the deployment of alarm units which would carry out guerrilla-like warfare in their own localities. Every officer would act ‘as if the Führer were present’. Guderian advocated the use of cunning, deception and fantasy, claiming that Red Indian-style action could be successful in fighting for streets, gardens and houses and that the Karl May stories about cowboys and Indians in the Wild West – much liked by Hitler – had proved useful as training manuals.

Guderian’s fanciful schemes never materialized. They were overtaken by plans for the creation of a nationwide organization under Party, not Wehrmacht, control. Some Gauleiter, encouraged by Bormann, had already in August created militias in their own regions. The leader of the SA, the Nazi stormtrooper organization, Wilhelm Schepmann, and Robert Ley, head of the enormous Labour Front, separately contemplated in early September the construction of a Landsturm for national defence, each imagining he would lead it. Hitler’s view, as the conflict between Schepmann and Ley surfaced, was that Himmler was the only person capable of building the envisaged Landsturm. Goebbels agreed, as usual, with Hitler. Schepmann would rapidly succumb to ‘the lethargy of the SA’, while if the task were given to Ley, ‘only pure idiocy would come of it’.

Quietly, however, from behind the scenes, another Nazi leader scented a chance to extend his power. With the enemy close to Germany’s borders, east and west, and a perceived possibility of internal unrest, the way was open for Martin Bormann, working together with Himmler, to devise proposals for a national militia and persuade Hitler that its organization and control had to be placed in the hands of the Party rather than be given to the ‘untrustworthy’ army, thereby ensuring that it would be subjected to the necessary Nazi fanaticism. By the middle of September, Bormann had worked out drafts, approved by Himmler, for a decree by Hitler on the establishment of a ‘People’s Defence’ (Volkswehr). Within a few days, the name had been changed to the more stirring ‘People’s Storm’ (Volkssturm). Himmler told Defence District commanders on 21 September that ‘if the enemy should break in somewhere, he will encounter such a fanatical people, fighting like mad to the end, that he will certainly not get through’.

Hitler’s decree on the establishment of the Deutscher Volkssturm, dated 25 September though actually signed next day and reserved for publication until mid-October, stipulated that the new militia was to be formed of all men between sixteen and sixty who were capable of bearing arms. The Gauleiter, under Bormann’s direction, were given responsibility for summoning the men, forming them into companies and battalions, and all attendant organizational matters. The political aspects of the new militia were left to Bormann, acting on Hitler’s behalf. This gave Bormann enormous scope for defining his remit. Himmler, as Commander-in-Chief of the Replacement Army (not as head of the SS and police), was placed in charge of the ‘military organization, the training, weaponry and armaments’ of the Volkssturm. Its military deployment, under Hitler’s directive, was in his hands, though he delegated its running to the head of the SS Central Office and General of the Waffen-SS, Obergruppenführer Gottlob Berger. The very division of controls outlined in the decree guaranteed in a fashion characteristic of the Third Reich, that there would be continuing disputes about responsibility and control. But, powerful though Himmler and the SS were, the victor in conflicts over control of the Volkssturm turned out to be Martin Bormann. His constant proximity to Hitler enabled him to fend off attempts to reduce his dominance in this new domain by playing on the unique position of the Party to imbue the ‘people’s community’ with the fanatical spirit of National Socialism in the defence of the Reich.

Militarily, the value of the Volkssturm turned out over subsequent months to be predictably low. The loss of the many men – too old, too young, or too unfit for military service – who would die in Volkssturm service would be utterly futile. The creation of the Volkssturm certainly amounted to a desperate move to dredge up the last manpower reserves of the Reich. But it was far from an admission by the regime that the war was lost. In the eyes of the Nazi leadership, the Volkssturm would hold up the enemy, should the war enter Reich territory, and help Germany win time. New weapons, they presumed, were on the way. The enemy coalition was fragile. The more losses could be inflicted on the enemy, particularly on the western Allies, the more likely it was that this coalition would crumble. A settlement, at least in the west, would then be possible. Seen in this way, time gave Germany a chance. Moreover, the Volkssturm would achieve this goal through the inculcation of genuine National Socialist spirit. It would embody the true Nazi revolution as a classless organization, where social rank and standing had no place, and through fanatical commitment, loyalty, obedience and sacrifice. It would also, it was imagined, help to raise popular morale. In reality, these Nazi ideals were far from the minds of the vast majority of those who would trudge unwillingly and fearfully into Volkssturm service, minimally armed but expected to help repel a mighty enemy. A minority, impossible to quantify precisely but including many Volkssturm leaders, were, even so, convinced Nazis, some of them fanatical. Even in the dying days of the regime, Volkssturm members would be involved in police ‘actions’ and atrocities against other German citizens seen to be cowards or defeatists. So whatever its obvious deficiencies as a fighting force, the Volkssturm – a huge organization envisaged as comprising 6 million men – served as a further vehicle of Nazi mobilization, organization and regimentation. As such, it played its own part in preventing any internal collapse and ensuring that a war, rationally lost, would not be ended for some months yet.

The Backbone of Der Deutscher Volkssturm: The Hitler Youth in WWII.

Compiled by A.M. de Quesada

In order for a regime to survive time, there must be support for it in future generations. Hitler was well aware of this and planned for it. The Hitler-Jugend (Hitler Youth) was Hitler’s tool to ensure that the younger generation would be totally loyal to the Nazi regime and that they would be willing to fight in the upcoming war. Hitler called them “the guarantee of the future.” He saw the Hitler Youth as being untainted by the Weimar Republic and believed that they were the only organization that he could trust without reservation. Seeing this trust, it is not surprising that he gave important responsibilities to the Hitler Youth during the war years. Neither are the final sacrifices in the last hours of the Reich.

 The Hitler Youth, like most of the party organizations, was formed on a military model. The members wore uniforms similar to the SA. Hitler wanted them to be “quick like greyhounds, tough like leather, and hard like Krupp steel.” In the years before the war, the Hitler Youth incorporated more military style drill in the training of its members. All boys were given firearms training, starting with small caliber rifles and then moving up to regular infantry pieces. They sent those who excelled to sharpshooter and sniper school. The services of these boy snipers were offered to the army and the Waffen-SS. The army snatched them up and placed them in reserve units. All of this military training fostered an aggressive spirit that could be realized only in actual combat. The Hitler Youth was in essence providing Germany with cannon-fodder for the war.

All military services in the world have different branches or specialties within. The Hitler Youth was no exception. In order to maintain the interest of the boys, as well as to provide needed military skills, the Hitler Youth created many special formations.

One of the largest of these special formations was the Flieger-HJ or Flying Hitler Youth. Members were distinguished by wearing Luftwaffe-blue uniforms. The purpose of the Flying Hitler Youth was to learn the basics of flying. Members spent their first two years building model gliders. They would also be taught the theory of flight. The closest they would get to a real glider was when they manned the catapult that launched an older boy in glider training. After completing the model phase, they graduated to real gliders. They would attempt to earn A, B, and finally C levels of glider certifications. The Luftwaffe supported close relationships between its personnel and those of the Flieger-HJ. This is not surprising since the Luftwaffe wanted eventually to train them as pilots for their fighters and bombers. Sometimes they would actually take up members for flights in bombers or fighters (two seaters, of course). Members who showed promise were made a future Fahnrich, or officer cadet in the Luftwaffe. This was to ensure that when the boys became old enough for military service, no other branch could take them.

 Hitler Youth members who were not interested in flying could join the Motor-HJ. When a boy reached 16, the age at which a driver’s license could be obtained, he could petition for entrance. Members had to log their driving hours like a pilot. Eighty hours a year were required for continued membership. They also had to have 105 hours of mechanic experience as well. These boys were also being groomed for their own special place in the military. A memorandum from the Reichsjugendfuhrung stated, “It is self-evident that members of the Motor-HJ will later serve in the motorized units of the Wehrmact.” Members were especially drawn to units of the SS since all SS units were fully motorized.

Other special formations included the Marine-HJ, who trained with the navy. The highlight of the naval training was a cruise on the navy’s training ship Horst Wessel. There were smaller units for future medics, a cavalry unit that was mainly for rural boys, and the Flakhelfer, a unit of anti-aircraft helpers. The older boys in the anti-aircraft units actually manned the guns. Younger boys manned the searchlights and were assigned as messengers.

In 1943, the SS decided to create a special division of the Waffen-SS comprised of Hitler Youth. This division was eventually called the 12th SS-Panzer Division Hitlerjugend. Fifty Wehrmacht officers who had been Hitler Youth leaders were transferred to the Hitlerjugend division.

Promising Hitler Youth members received orders to NCO school. In the Summer of 1943, 10,000 boys reported for basic training. Many of these boys had not yet turned 17. They were treated exactly like other soldiers with one exception; the Hitlerjugend Division received a sweet ration in lieu of the usual cigarette ration other soldiers got. The division first went into battle in June 1944 against the Canadians during the Normandy campaign. They managed to destroy 28 tanks while losing only 6 of their own. The ferocity of this division was said to be “seldom equalled and never excelled during the whole campaign.” Despite the fact that the division fought well, it paid a heavy price. After only one month the division lost 20% of its men. Forty percent were wounded and 50% of its armored vehicles were lost. By September 1944, the division was in retreat, with only 600 men left. All of its tanks were gone and there was no ammunition left for artillery support. Field Marshal von Rundstedt said, “It is a pity that this faithful youth is sacrificed in a hopeless situation.”

Hitler Youth units were heavily involved in building the defenses in Germany. In the Summer of 1944, a Flieger-HJ unit was deployed to Eastern Germany to assist in the construction of anti-tank traps. These traps were mostly big ditches. One boy assigned to the digging said that he hoped to get home soon because, “my mother will give me a mighty good thrashing. She will never believe me when I tell her that they sent us to dig trenches.” The Westwall, the German’s name for the Siegfried Line, was entirely rebuilt in 1944 by Hitler Youth.  By this time, the draft had taken many of the older leaders of the Hitler Youth. Younger boys were promoted faster and faster. On the Westwall, a 16 year old boy could be a Gefolgschaftsf?hrer in command of 800 boys. The Unterbannf?hrer in charge of the Westwall was 17 years old and in charge of over 2,800 boys. Soon, the Westwall was completed, the boys were sent home, and the Allies over-ran the Siegfried Line. The Allies were now in Germany proper. The hour of the Hitler Youth’s final sacrifice was at hand.

In October 1944, all males aged 16 to 60 were required to join the Volkssturm, or Home Guard. The recruits were usually either very young or old enough to be veterans of the First World War. These units were often trained and commanded by high ranking Hitler Youth members. One such leader who was 17 at the time remarked about his troops, “I stood in front of a platoon of the Volkssturm. Of the 45 men, only 10 were Hitler Youth members; the others were in their 40’s and 50’s. Herr Wolff, whose son had fallen as a sergeant in the Waffen-SS, was 65. I eyed them with some apprehension: undisciplined, over-aged, unfit civilians wearing black-red armbands with the inscription Deutsche Wehrmacht. I felt very self-conscious as their leader. Some were the fathers of my schoolfriends.”

The Hitler Youth members were the backbone of the Volkssturm since they had been receiving military training for ten years. The most effective weapon they used was the Panzerfaust, a type of simple but effective anti-tank bazooka that even an 11 year old could fire. Their training was such that Reichsjugendf?hrer Axmann stated in a memorandum that, “from the Hitler Youth has emerged a movement of young tank busters. There is only victory or annihilation.” Hitler Youth units would regularly ambush American infantry units. If they were cornered, they would fight to the last child. An American Lieutenant-Colonel said of an artillery unit whose oldest member was 12, “rather than surrender, the boys fought until killed.” In April 1945, 5,000 Hitler Youths were detailed to defend the Havel River in Berlin. Their mission was to hold the bridgehead until Wenck’s army could relieve them. Unfortunately, Wenck’s army existed only in Hitler’s mind. After 5 days of fighting there were only 500 boys who were physically capable of fighting. Children were being thrown into the cauldron all over Germany to fight in a war that was good as lost.

One group of Hitler Youth that was captured in Munich was given a detailed tour of a place only spoke of in whispers: Dachau. After seeing the railway cars filled with corpses, the survivors, and the crematoriums, the boys’ world collapsed. One boy said of the experience, “that night was a sleepless one. The impact of what we had seen was too great to be immediately digested. I could not help but cry.”

The war being over, the members of the Hitler Youth were back to being regular civilians. It was a hard adjustment for many to go from being high ranking officers in the Hitler Youth to schoolboys. When Alfons Heck heard that his school might reopen soon thought that “the idea of going back to school seemed preposterous. What could we learn after this?” While the adult leaders of the Hitler Youth were on trial in Nuremberg, some Hitler Youth members were on trial as well. Heck was in the French sector and was tried for prolonging the war. He was sentenced to 2 years restriction in his hometown, 6 months expulsion from the college (it was not open anyway) and a month of hard labor. One job that he was required to do was to exhume the mass grave of French prisoners. He and other Nazis were required to be de-Nazified. The French showed them films from the death camps. Heck and many others could not believe that the films were real which enraged the French. It took Heck 30 years to accept a sense of guilt for the Holocaust. I have been unable to find any account of the Americans or the British trying the members of the Hitler Youth. I believe that they simply could not comprehend the fact that the Hitler Youth members were much more fanatic Nazis than most. They probably treated the youths as misguided children.

During the post-war years, Alfons Heck realized that he, was an especially tainted citizen of the most despised nation on the face of the Earth. . . .”I developed a harsh resentment toward our elders, especially our educators . . . they had delivered us, their children, into the cruel power of a new God.” That “god” had nearly destroyed an entire generation of German children.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Heck, A. 1985. A Child of Hitler: Germany in the Days When God Wore a Swastika. Frederick, CO: Renaissance House.
Koch, H. W. 1975. The Hitler Youth. New York: Stein and Day.
____________. 1985. “Young People: For or Against the Nazis?”. History Today 35, (October): 15-21.
Peukert, D. J. K. 1987. Inside Nazi Germany. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Rempel, G. 1975. Hitler’s Children: The Hitler Youth and the SS. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

UNIFORMS AND EQUIPMENT OF THE VOLKSSTURM

Compiled by: A.M. de Quesada

UNIFORMS AND EQUIPMENT Uniform and equipment were regulated by the afore-mentioned order No. 318/44 “Every kind of uniforms and weatherproof sports and working clothing” was permitted, with emphasis on durable shoes and greatcoats. The Gauleiter was required to provide “all dispensable stocks” of uniforms, i.e., uniforms of branches, etc., of the Party. The brown (in various shades) Party uniforms were to be re-dyed into a “color usable in the field,” i.e., some shade of field-grey. Branch colors or other identifying insignia were not introduced. Common insignia for all Volkssturm soldiers was an armband bearing the inscription “Deutscher Volkssturm-Wehrmacht,” which was to be issued by the Reichsfuehrer-SS, to be worn when performing duty as a member of the Volkssturm.
Equipment was restricted to “the most necessary items.” As minimum equipment possession of a rucksack or backpack, blanket, field bag, messkit, canteen, cup, knife, fork and spoon was considered essential.
All Volkssturm soldiers, regardless of rank, were compelled to provide for their individual uniforms and equipment. The consequence was a wide variety of Wehrmacht uniforms, worn especially by retired officers, of uniforms of all branches, etc., of the Party, and of civilian garments, but with the armband as the only common identifying insignia. Any variety of clothing was the usual order of the day for training. For battle employment more uniform clothing was issued, usually consisting of re-dyed Party uniforms or of Wehrmacht uniforms – the latter often out-modelled or even no longer serviceable uniforms.
Medical service was regulated by order No. 393/44 of the Party Chancellory, dated 9 November 1944. All members of the medical service had to wear the army-style red cross armband on the left upper sleeves.

ARMBANDS
A large variety of armbands used to identify members of the Volkssturm have been identified in photographs. A black/white/red armband was the most common pattern, and probably the official one. Many different patterns were placed into actual service, probably due to supply shortages of the official pattern, and were often of local production. The usual manner of the left lower sleeve. Locally produced armbands varied in color and measurements, and were in all cases of the printed variety.
The official pattern armband was a printed black/white/red band measuring 7 cm wide. The basic band was with a 1.2 cm wide red border stripe top and bottom, a 3.5 mm wide black stripe, a 2.5 mm wide white stripe on each outer edge of a 3.4 cm wide black center stripe. On the wide black field was the inscription “Deutscher Volkssturm/Wehrmacht” in Latin capitals measuring 1.3cm high, and in two lines. On either side of the white inscription was a white national emblem of the “Reichsadler” pattern, i.e., with outstretched wings measuring 2.9 cm wide. The heads of the eagles varied, with both looking to the right, to the left, outward or inward – even without eagles. The wing pattern of the eagle also differed, e.g., rounded or straight ends.
Other variations existed. A variety of materials were used such as rayon, silk, cotton, and even linen tablecloth! Even the “Deutsche Wehrmacht” in black on a yellow field (and variants) as prescribed for wear by civilian Wehrmacht employees was also worn.

RANK INSIGNIA
Rank insignia were introduced by order No. 318/44. Rank insignia of the Wehrmacht pattern were substituted by an entirely different system of rank identification modeled after the rank system utilized by the branches of the Party. The collar insignia, identical to those in use by the SS and NSKK, took the form of a black rhomboid measuring 5×6 cm in size, bearing one to four aluminum-colored pips according to the rank appointment, and sewn onto both corners of the collar of the tunic and greatcoat. For want of collar patches (or collar tabs), the pips were sometimes affixed directly onto the collar in the same pattern as prescribed for the collar patch. Collar patches have been observed piped with a twist aluminum cord or unpiped.
The rank insignia were as follows: Volkssturmmann = no pips; Gruppenfuehrer = one pip centered; Zugfuehrer, Waffenmeister (Ordnance master) and Zahlmeister (Paymaster) = two pips diagonally near the forward lower and rear upper corners; Kompaniefuehrer, Ordonnanceoffizier and Adjutant = 3 pips diagonally as above; Bataillonsfuehrer = four pips positioned in each corner. The collar insignia were worn in a mirror image.
Medical personnel ranks were established in accordance with order No. 393/44 dated 9 November 1944 as follows: Sanitaetsdienstgrad (Medical Sergeant) = 1 pip; Bataillonsarzt (Battalion Medical Officer) = 3 pips and a caduceus of white metal to the rear of the patches.

GORGETS
Gorget “PANZERWARNDIENST” (Tank Warning Service) was a special gorget bearing the inscription “PANZERWARNDIENST” stenciled in luminous paint on a breast plate in the form of the standard Feldgendarmerie (Military Police), and with a political national emblem at the top has been attributed to Warning Organization” during the closing months of the war. The existence of western frontier of the Reich) and a specimen of the gorget found in Prague would tend to verify such an organization.

COLORS
By order No. 358/44 of the Party Chancellory, dated 30 October 1944, all Volksturm battalions recieved colors. As the colors had to be supplied by the Party, they were of the basic Party form, i.e., black swastika on a white circular field on a red field. “With regard of local traditions” and by decision of the Kreisleiter, colors of the various branches and institutions of the Party were to be bestowed, not only the colors of the local branches.
All battalion colors had to bear the black patch on the lower inner corners, displaying the number of the respective region of the battalion, e.g. “14/115,” of the district, with letters measuring 6 cm high, done in machine embroidery. The patches with the name of the local branch and respective number which were positioned at the upper inner corners of all Party colors were retained.

INSIGNIA OF “STANDSCHUETZEN” BATTALIONS
Local rifle associations known as “Standschuetzen” existed in northern and southern Tyrolia and in Vorarlberg, all provinces of the pre-1918 Austrian Empire. According to century old traditional prerogatives, the Standschuetzen were called up for the defense of their home country in case of war, and had the status of a territorial militia. For example, in 1915 after Italy declared war on Austria by attacking Tyrolia, the Standschuetzen were mobilized to defend their mountain frontiers since nearly all the regular Austrian forces were engaged on the East Front fighting the Russians. The Standschuetzen were regarded and organized as rifle clubs or associations during peacetime, and did not have any specific military training. In rememberance of the old traditions, the Volkssturm units of Tyrolia and Vorarlberg were bestowed the name “Standschuetzen,” and recieved special identification badges worn on the left upper sleeve. The Edelweiss insignia of the type worn by mountain troops was often worn on the left side of the mountain cap.
The badge was a dark green cloth diamond measuring 10.5 cm high and 7.5 cm wide. A red stylized Tirolian eagle was at the top, below which was the designation in lime green “STANDSCHUETZEN/BATAILLON/(location name)” in three lines. A white or yellow border outlined the diamond shape. The machine embroidered insignia were worn on the upper left sleeve. The following towns thus far have been found bearing the Standschuetzen distinctive – (southern Tyrolia): MERAN, BOZEN, BRIXEN, SILANDER, (northern Tyrolia): INNSBRUCK, SCHWAZ, REUTTE, KUFTSTEIN, IMST, (Vorarlberg): DORNBIRN and BREGENZ. Positive evidence exists that members of the standschuetzen wore unit insignia on the right collar and ranks insignia on the left. The unit designation was machine-embroidered in lime green on a dark green wool rhomboid. In addition to the specimens encountered, yet another has been found bearing the designation “LI/11.” It should be noted that, following standard German military practice, the Roman numeral indicates a battalion and the Arabic numeral indicates a company. It is interesting to note that the significance of the collar patches being green rather than black was due to the fact that these units were raised by the Police and not by the Nazi Party.

FREIKORPS SAUERLAND
The Freikorps Sauerland was established by order of the Gauleiter of Gau Westphalia-South even prior to the constitution of the Volkssturm, albeit by preliminary staff work and by selection of suitable cadre personnel. After official constitution of the Volkssturm, it was fully established and incorporated into the Volkssturm, comprising several battalions and, as exception of the general rule, even regimental staffs. For every district, only one battalion was raised. This and the order to accept only volunteers indicate the idea of an elite status within the Volkssturm.
All units of the Freikorps were issued field grey or brown uniforms, the latter presumbly stocks or cloth from the Organization Todt or those from the Reicharbeitdienst (“RAD”). However, other uniform parts were said to have been used. Special insignia were established by the Gauleiting consisting of a white cuff title bearing the inscription (in black?) “Freikorps Sauerland” and a sleeve insignia was sometimes worn as a decal on the left side of the steel helmets.
The sleeve badge was printed on thin white cloth. The bluish-green shield measured 6.3 cm in height and 5.6 cm in width, and was rounded below with straight lateral and upper edges, bordered by black, white and black stripes of 1 mm each. The center displayed a white circle of 4.5 cm in diameter, with a black “mobile” swastika with three blue-green oakleaves (3 x 2.7 cm) shaded in black and with white center ribs. Between the circle and the lower edge was the white, semicircular inscription “Sauerland” in Gothic letters.

HEADGEAR
The Volkssturm was to strive for unity in headdress; caps in the style of those worn by the army and political visorless garrison caps (Einsatzmuetze der NSDAP) similar to those worn by the SA-Wehrmannschaften and NSKK were most often used. A national emblem was worn on the front of the headdress. According to photographic evidence of Volkssturm personnel, the most common caps in use were the Army Mountain Troops caps that are commonly and loosely referred to as the “M-43” by collectors. Hitler Youth, Luftwaffe, Organization Todt, various Party organizations, and even civilian versions of the Mountain Troop’s cap were used as well. A combination of Army and Luftwaffe cloth and metal cap insignia were utilized. Even NSDAP insignia consisting of the Party eagle and cockade were used from the Political Leader’s visored dress caps and found on the “M-43” style and overseas caps. Volkssturm officers also used the “M-43” style caps as well as surplus Army officer’s visored field (M-34 “crusher style”) and dress caps. Pre-, Early-, and Late-war styles of the Army and Luftwaffe overseas cap were found to be extensively used as well. It is also important to note that not all “M-43” style caps and other headdress necessarily have had to have insignia, for many Volkssturm members were photographed without any insignia!
Helmets utilized by the Volkssturm came in all shapes and sizes. The most common were the Wehrmacht steel helmets from the M35 to M42 series, however, those from the Great War were used as well, such as the M1916 and M1918 steel helmets. Helmets from the civilian and civil organizations were used as well. These ranged from the Luftschutz “Gladiator Style” to fire and police helmets. Early on in the War the Luftschutz (Air Raid Warning Service) began utilizing captured enemy helmets, the most common being the French “Adrian” style and the Soviet M1936 and M1940 helmets. By the latter part of 1944 these captured stocks of the Luftschutz were later transferred to the Volkssturm to compensate for the dwindling supply of Wehrmacht steel helmets Many helmets didn’t bear any insignia except those previuosly used by another organization, such as the Luftschutz, fire/police, and Wehrmacht. Some Volkssturm formations had their unit designations painted directly onto their helmets. The shortages of war deemed that an enormous variety of headdress was worn by the Volkssturm. It can be literally said that anything was possible regarding what sort of uniform was worn.


PRIMARY SOURCES
Anordnung 277/44. “Ausfuehrungbestimmungen ueber die Bildung des deutschen Volkssturmes,” 27 September 1944.
Anordnung 318/44. “2: Ausfuehrungbestimmungen,” 12 October 1944.
DUZ. Nr. 12, December 1944.
“Erlass des Fuehrers.” 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.

Deutscher Volkssturm Area Leaders

Oberste Führung des Deutschen Volksturms
– Leiter der Parteikanzlei (Bormann) with Arbeitstab Deutscher Volksturm (Stabsführer : Friedrichs)
– Befehslhaber des Ersatzheeres (Himmler) with Führungsstab Deutscher Volksturm (Stabsführer : Berger)
Chef des Stabes Führungsstab : Oberst (later Gen Major) Hans Kissel
Inspekteur für die Schiessausbildung (Schepmann)
Inspekteur für die motor techn. Ausbildung (Kraus)

At the level of each Gau : Gaustab des Deutsch. Volksturms under the Gaustabsführer
Baden : Kreisleiter (Oblt) Maier
Bayreuth : Gauhauptstellenleiter (Major) Josef Stigler
Berlin : SA-Ogruf (Major) Günther Graentz
Danzig : ?
Düsseldorf : SA-Gruf (Oblt) Franz Bock
Essen : SA-Staf (Lt d.R.) Franz Engels
Franken : SA-Gruf (Hptm) Dechant
Halle-Merseburg : Generalleutnant Schwub
Hamburg : NSKK-Ogruf (Major) Proehl
Hessen-Nassau : SA-Staf Schädlich
Kärnten : SA-Brif Glosow
köln-Aachen : SA-Oberf Schulte
Kurhessen : Abschnittsleiter Christofzik
Magdeburg-Anhalt : SA-Gruf Heinz
Mainfranken : SA-Oberf. (Lt) Hans Olpp
Mark Brandenburg : Gauorganisateur (Oblt) Martin Koch
Mecklenburg : Forstmeister (Major) von Arnswaldt
Moselland : kom. Gauorganisationsleiter (Oblt) michael Broesl
München Oberbayern : SA-Gruf Hofmann
Niederdonau : Gaupersonalamtsleiter Willi Fahrion
Niederschlesien : Kreisleiter Paul Kupisch
Oberdonau : SA-Staf Faller
Oberschlesien : NSKK-Brif (Hptm) Luschert
Ost-Hannover : Gauorganisationsleiter Rudolf Ruchle (Btl.-kdr.)
Ostpreussen : Oberbereichsleiter Knuth
Pommern : SS-Brif Paul Eckardt
Sachsen : SA-Brif (Lt) Paul Artur Rabe
Salzburg : Gebietsführer (Hptm) Adolf Neutatz
Schleswig-Holstein : SA-Brif (Major d. R.) Köhler
Schwaben : Ortsgruppenleiter Hans Geiser
Steiermark : SA-Gruf (Hptm) Nibbe
Sudetenland : SA-Gruf (Oblt) Mayr
Sud-Hannover-Braunschweig : Gauorganisationsleiter Kaiser
Thüringen : SA-Führer Georg Feig
Tirol-Voralberg : ?
Wartheland : SS-Gruf u Genlt der Pol Reinefarth
Weser-Ems : Kreisleiter (Oblt) Helmut Seidel
Westfalen-Nord : SA-Gruf Fassbach
Westfalen-Süd : Hauptgefolgschaftführer (Hptm) Setzer
Westmark : SA-Gruf (Lt) Caspary
Wien : Major Hans Magoi
Württemberg-Hohenzollern : SA-Staf (Hptm) Dr Heinz Spies

The Volkssturm had a very simple, basic rank system and system of rank insignia:

Rank was displayed on the uniform collar in the form of black collar patches with aluminum rank pips; although due to supply shortages, the patches were sometimes omitted, with the pips directly affixed to the collar. Collar patches were worn in pairs, except for the Standschützenbataillone, where rank was worn only on the left side, while the right collar patch was a unit insignia. The two highest Volkssturm ranks (= officer equivalent) sometimes had collar patches with aluminum cord piping.

Ranks and insignia were as follows:

Volkssturmmann (= Volkssturm-man) (no rank pips)
Gruppenführer (= squad leader) (1 rank pip)
Zugführer (= platoon commander) (2 rank pip)
Kompanieführer (= company commander) (3 rank pips)
Bataillionsführer (= battalion commander) (4 rank pips)
Kreisstabsführer (= Kreis-Staff commander) (4 rank pips, same as Bataillonsführer)
Gaustabsführer (= Gau-Staff commander) (no special insignia except for the Volkssturm-brassard worn with appropriate Party uniform)

There were also two special rank designations for medical personnel:

Sanitätsdienstgrad (= medical NCO) (1 rank pip)
Bataillonsarzt (= battalion physician) (3 rank pips + an aesculapius rod behind the collar patch)

On duty, medical personnel also wore the usual Red Cross-brassard.
“Furthermore, as Bormann realized, neither armbands nor fiery fanaticism would keep Volkssturm men warm in the rapidly approaching winter. Therefore, Volkssturm officials decided to attempt to clothe its members in field gray uniforms. For similar legal reasons, these officials balked at issuing shotguns or other unorthodox weapons, preferring military firearms instead, even though this curtailed available weapon stocks.”
—Hitler’s Volkssturm: The Nazi Militia and the Fall of Germany, 1944-1945 by David K. Yelton