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!”

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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