German Army Equipment of the Second World War

German Army Equipment of the Second World War

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German Army Equipment of the Second World War

OverviewUniform: Early WarUniform: Late WarGreatcoats (Mäntel)Cold Weather ClothingHeadgearBootsField Equipment (Feldausrüstung)Weapons: Small ArmsWeapons: Hand GrenadesWeapons: Anti-TankWeapons: Indirect FireConclusionBibliography and Additional Information


The German Army uniform for temperate wear was a smart, practical and well-tailored piece of clothing. Once war had broken out however, soldiers in the field wasted no time in making the uniform even more comfortable to wear and as time went on, standards of dress became evermore casual. Typical variations to be seen included rolled up sleeves, open-neck collars, trousers worn outside the jackboots and equipment worn in a non-standard manner or configuration, which applied to the infantry and many of the field arms such as artillery and engineers. In addition to this, the effects of resource and materials shortages, caused modifications to the standard uniform and helmet (see below), generally aimed at making them simpler, cheaper and faster to produce. Also as the war went on, new weapons and equipment caused modifications to combat equipment when they entered service.

Uniform: Early War

The uniform variant in use at the start of the war was the M1936 pattern (see Figure 1). This had replaced the old World War I-style and Weimar Republic-style uniforms (M1920 and M1928) in the mid-1930s, when the German Army expanded massively after Hitler effectively tore up the remaining provisions of the Versailles Treaty. The Field Tunic (Feldbluse) featured four large, pleated, patch pockets (Aufgesetztetaschen - a major recognition feature), five field gray (feldgrau) painted buttons and four hooks (attached to inside straps) to help support the main belt. The garment had a turn-down collar with dark bottle green facings, a feature also seen on the shoulder straps (Schulterklappen) and behind the national emblem (Hoheitsabzeichen) over the right breast pocket. Up until very early in the war, these were pointed and featured the regimental number on them but soon after war broke out, they became rounded and the regimental number was taken off. Officers' shoulder straps were braided. In many cases, the shoulder straps and the collar patches (Kragenpatten) featured coloured piping which denoted the wearer's arm of service (for example, white for infantry, red for artillery and black for engineers). The tunic was made of field gray wool with 5% rayon and was partially lined. Officers' tunics were broadly similar but specified to be of the turn-back variety and many officers had theirs privately made in finer quality material. One of the first changes was the introduction of the M1940 Field Tunic which, while broadly similar to the M1936, had a higher percentage of artificial fibres (20%) with the dark green facings starting to disappear and six buttons instead of five.

A pale gray woollen or cotton shirt (Hemden) was worn underneath the tunic but this was replaced by field gray versions in 1941 (see Figure 3). If the weather was warm enough, the shirt could be worn on its own or alternatively, the soldiers sometimes wore the working and campaign uniform (Drillichanzug) which while originally in a pale gray colour, was produced in a dark olive or reed green after February 1940.

The trousers (Feldhosen) were made of the same material as the tunic but originally dyed a slate gray colour. This changed in 1940 when they started to be dyed in field gray. They had a very high waist, small side pockets with a slit opening, a fly front, an adjusting strap on the rear waistline, but no additional straps, pocket flaps or ankle fasteners. They were designed to be held up with braces (via buttons around the waist) and worn with jackboots

Figure 1:
German M36 Field Tunic

Uniform: Late War

As already mentioned, during the warmer months, it was popular for soldiers to wear the dark green campaign tunic as it was lighter and cooler than the normal field tunic, or alternatively, just the shirt. In 1942, a Summer Uniform started to be produced, made up of a tunic (Drillichbluse) and trousers (Drillichhosen). The first pattern was in dark green and close in style to the Field Tunic but came with just two side hooks, similar to the Tropical Jacket. It was made initially of natural linen and then after 1943, used greater amounts of synthetic linen. The second pattern was made mainly from synthetic linen and was usually grayer in colour. The trousers were of similar materials and colours (see Figures 6 to 7).

As the war progressed, greater economies were introduced due to the ever-growing shortages of materials and labour. The first practical result was the introduction of the M1943 Uniform, made up of a tunic, trousers and shirt. The tunic became a deeper gray, had six buttons, the pleats on the pockets were removed, it was cut less full, the skirts were shortened and the dark green facings were finally fully removed. Artificial linen or cotton liners gave way to artificial silk or viscose and the materials were generally of inferior quality and became shabbier, quicker (see Figure 10). The trousers featured a lower waist, and four large belt loops to hold the main belt when worn without the Field Blouse. A small pocket for keeping a watch was fitted (with a flap) and the suspender belt buttons moved to the inside. Later versions came with ankle cords to coincide with the introduction of ankle boots and gaiters (see Figure 11). The shirt (see Figure 12) was made of aertex fabric with aluminium buttons.

The final version of the uniform (Felduniform) was the M1944. This was trialled during the summer of 1943 by units such as the Grossdeutschland Panzer Grenadier Division and approved by Hitler on 8 July 1944, entering service on 25 September 1944. It was clearly a result of the need to introduce further economies and was similar in cut and style to British battledress. It could be produced in large quantities but never replaced, only supplanted, its predecessors. It was supposed to showcase a new olive green colour but in practise, was made of whatever materials happened to be available and dyed with whatever colours were available too. In many instances they were delivered in the same mouse gray version of field gray that the M1943 field blouse had come in. It was much shorter than the other tunics, featured non-pleated breast pockets, a buckled waistband and came with self-supporting trousers, which could be worn with a belt or suspenders, had ankle pleating cords and flapped pockets. It was designed to be worn with ankle boots and gaiters.

Greatcoats (Mäntel)

The M1936 Greatcoat (Figure 15) was really a relic of the old Prussian military tradition of a smart long coat, unsuited to the demands of modern warfare. While made of heavy wool material, it was of knee-length, with turn-back cuffs, a half-belt at the rear, a turn-down collar and shoulder straps faced with dark green. It hampered mobility, became very heavy when soaked with water and was very stiff if it froze. It did however continue to evolve through the war (Figure 16) with economy measures meaning it lost the dark green facings but gained a deeper collar, two side pockets, a thick hood made of recycled blanket wool and many having additional lining.

Cold Weather Clothing

The Wehrmacht also issued reversible and non-reversible winter parkas (starting on the Eastern Front in autumn 1942) to combat the low temperatures in winter after testing throughout the year. They came with a pair of trousers and were made in three different thicknesses. The early versions were plain gray / white but later came camouflage versions, such as the one below, made after 1943.

Figure 20: Reversable German Parka


The German Army went to war with the M1935 pattern helmet (Stahlhelme), a model developed by Eisenhüttonwerke of Thule (Figure 21) from the M1918 pattern helmet of the First World War, and accepted for service on 25 June 1935. Originally, it was quite a complex and time-consuming item to manufacture and so it did not see widespread distribution until well into 1936. Even so, during the early stages of World War II, some reserve and second-line units still had the deeper M1918 pattern. As World War II progressed, shortages of materials and the search for greater economies led to the M1940 and M1942 patterns being introduced, all being of similar design but with an overall decrease in quality. This included changes in the manufacturing process, rougher / cheaper paint finishes, changes to the lining materials and the rolled edge being eliminated. In the field, helmets were given additional camouflage by their wearers, including being covered in mud, the use of chicken wire or nylon netting, an elastic band or the bread bag strap to hold local foliage, being painted suitable colours (such as sand for desert environments) and having camouflage pattern covers fixed to them. The latter were not standard issue and issued only to certain frontline and elite units.

Apart for the steel helmet, the German soldier could also been seen wearing a field cap (Feldmütze – see Figure 22) which was made of similar material to the field blouse. The early version was more a side cap (and was redesigned in 1942 to be more practical in cold weather), but from 1943 a new 'Standard' Field Cap (Einheitsfeldmütze – see Figure 23) was issued, which was similar in design to the Mountain Cap (Bergemütze) won by the Mountain troops (Gebirgsjäger). Officers would also be seen wearing field caps (Figure 24) which could have stiffening board put into it for a more 'formal' look.


The marching boot (Marschstiefel), more popularly known to the soldiers as the 'Dice Shakers' (Knobelbecher) and to the British as the 'jackboot', have been a feature of the German Army uniform since Bismarck's Reich. They were made of high quality, blackened cow leather with the calf portion measuring 35 – 41cm and doubled soles strengthened with 35 – 45 hobnails. The heels were reinforced with an indented iron plate on the outer rim. Officers wore similar items, but quite often bought high-quality tailor-made boots using personal means. Again, through the war, economies were introduced, the first being a reduction in the calf length to 29 – 35cm to save leather.

Later on, they were restricted in their distribution to the infantry, cyclists, motorcyclists and specialist troops (such as pioneers). Later still, they were replaced by the ankle boot (Schnürschuhe), worn with gaiters. Ankle boots had in fact been around before the war (M1937) and were mainly used for walking out dress and work wear around the barracks. They were however to become increasingly common as the war went on (from 1941 onwards) and a late-war version (M1944) became standard issue as part of the M1944 pattern uniform.

Field Equipment (Feldausrüstung)

The basic German Infantryman's webbing (the equipment by which he carries the items necessary to survive and fight), an example webbing set being shown in Figures 30 and 31, consisted of a leather waist belt with leather Y-straps that went over the shoulders. Later in the war these were supplemented by canvas webbing ones, initially supplied to troops in tropical zones, due to their cheapness and practicality. Attached to this were items such as ammunition pouches (which varied according to the weapon carried), a bayonet (Seitengewehr), an entrenching tool (Schanzzeug), a bread bag (Brotbeutel), a water bottle (Feldflasche), a gas mask container (Tragebusche) and possibly even a pistol and holster. Quite often, the gas mask was 'disposed' of, and the container used to carry personal items, extra rations and ammunition. In addition, an assault pack (Sturmgepäck) could be attached at the back using an 'A-Frame' and consisted of the Model 31 Cooking Pot (Kockgeschirr), a small bag for carrying additional equipment over which was placed a rolled up poncho with tent pole sections and pegs (Zeltbahnrolle), a blanket and (if necessary) the greatcoat rolled up and placed around the other items in a horseshoe shape and attached by straps. On the march however, the Marching Pack (Marschgepäck) could be attached to the 'A-Frame' with the greatcoat, blanket and poncho wrapped around that instead. The Marching Pack was gradually replaced from 1943 onwards with the Model 1944 Rucksack (see Figure 32), due its increased practicality.

Weapons: Small Arms

Figure 33: Mauser Kar98k

Figure 33. The Mauser Kar98k bolt-action rifle (Above), chambered for the 7.92x57mm round, which were held in an integral five-round magazine, entered service in 1935. Derived from the Gewehr M1898 rifle (the German Army's battle rifle in World War I) and post-World War I Karabiner 98b, the Kar98k was the standard German battle rifle of World War II. Kar stand for Karabiner (carbine) and the k stands for kurz (short) so the designation stands for Carbine 98 Short. It can still be found in conflicts all over the world as well as in the civilian gun market.

Weight:: 3.7 – 4.1kg (8.2 – 9lbs); Length: 1110mm (43.7in); Barrel Length: 600mm (23.6in); Muzzle velocity: 760m/s (2,493fps).

Figure 34: MP40 Maschinenpistole (Sub-machinegun)

Figure 34. The MP40 Sub-machinegun (MP standing for Maschinenpistole or Machine Pistol), chambered for 9x19mm Parabellum, operates with an open-bolt, blowback mechanism, the magazine holding 32 rounds. Introduced into service in 1940, it was a simplified version of the MP38, which itself was a development of the MP36, an SMG designed by Berthold Geipel of Erma. Over 1 million would be made during the War, but contrary to the image perceived in war films and computer games, it was generally only issued to paratroopers, tank crews as well as squad and platoon leaders (Above).

Weight:: 4kg (8.8lbs); Length: 833mm (32.8in) with stock extended / 630mm (24.8in) with stock retracted; Barrel Length: 251mm (9.9in); Muzzle velocity: 380m/s (1,247fps); Rate of Fire: 550 rounds per minute.

Figure 35a. (left) The MG34 (the MG standing for Maschinengewehr or machinegun) was designed by Heinrich Vollmer of Mauser and accepted into service in 1934, firing the 7.92x57mm cartridge. It was the standard German infantry squad support weapon for the first half of World War II, being supplanted by the MG42 (Figure 35b, right) later in the war. Used in this role, it was equipped with a bipod (but could be converted to the heavy machinegun role by putting it on a tripod) and belt-fed, although it could accept 50-round drums.
Weight:: 12.1kg (26.7lbs); Length: 1,219mm (48in); Barrel Length: 627mm (24.7in); Muzzle velocity: 755m/s (2,477fps); Rate of Fire: 900 rounds per minute (average).

Figure 36a. (Above, Left) The 9x19mm P-08 Luger semi-automatic pistol, the design of which was patented by Georg J Luger in 1898, was initially chambered for 7.65x22 Parabellum but was eventually chambered for the 9x19mm cartridge, a round that was developed specifically for it (and hence is also called 9x19mm Luger). It operated using an unusual toggle-lock action instead of the standard slide action of almost all other semi-automatic pistols and featured an eight-round magazine. Made to exacting standards, the design worked well for high-power cartridges but low-power ones could cause feeding problems.
Weight:: 871g (1.92lbs); Length: 222mm (8.75in); Barrel Length: 98 - 203mm (3.9 – 8.02in); Muzzle velocity: 350 – 400m/s (4in barrel, 9mm).

Figure 36b (Above, Right) The Walther P-38, a gas-operated semi-automatic pistol, chambered for the 9x19mm Parabellum cartridge, came into service in 1940. It became the Wehrmacht's general service pistol, replacing the expensive-to-produce Luger P-08 and used a double-action trigger design, similar to that used on the PPK. It featured an eight-round magazine.

Weight:: 800g (1lb 12oz); Length: 216mm (8.5in); Barrel Length: 125mm (4.9in); Muzzle velocity: 365m/s (1,200fps).

Figure 37. The Browning Hi-Power (Above) was a single-action semi-automatic pistol chambered for the 9x19mm Parabellum cartridge, with a magazine that held thirteen rounds. The initial design came from John Browning to satisfy a French military requirement but after Browning's death in 1926, the design was refined by Dieudonné Saive at Fabrique Nationale (FN) of Herstal, Belgium. It entered Belgian service in 1935. The factory continued to produce weapons under German occupation and so large numbers of this pistol saw service in the Wehrmacht.
Weight:: 800g (1lb 12oz); Length: 216mm (8.5in); Barrel Length: 125mm (4.9in); Muzzle velocity: 365m/s (1,200fps).

Figure 38. The Gewehr-41 (Above) was a semi-automatic rifle chambered for the 7.92x57mm cartridge. Both Walther and Mauser developed designs, with the Walther design being somewhat superior. Both suffered from reliability problems, a result of the overly complex gas system which was difficult to clean and maintain under field conditions combined with fouling caused by the corrosive propellants in the ammunition. It entered service in 1941 but was superseded by the Gewhr-43.
Weight:: 4.9kg (10.87lbs); Length: 1,140mm (44.8in); Barrel Length: 546mm (21.5in); Muzzle velocity: 775m/s (2,328fps); Rate of Fire: Semi-automatic.

Figure 39. The Gewehr-43 (Above) was a semi-automatic rifle chambered for the 7.92x57mm cartridge with a 10-round detachable box magazine. Following problems with the Gewehr-41, Walther produced a modified design in 1943, building on the experience they had with captured Soviet SVT-40 semi-automatic rifles. With a new gas system and changeable box magazine, the new rifle was smaller, lighter, easier to maintain, more reliable and quicker to reload. It started to be issued in early 1944 and over 400,000 units were produced.
Weight:: 4.1kg (9.7lbs); Length: 1,130mm (44.8in); Barrel Length: 546mm (21.5in); Muzzle velocity: 775m/s (2,328fps); Rate of Fire: Semi-automatic.

Figure 40. The StG44 (also known as the MP43 and MP44) is considered by many to be the first modern assault rifle, combining features of a carbine, automatic rifle and sub-machinegun. The StG stands for Sturmgewehr or 'assault rifle' and it was chambered for a new, intermediate calibre cartridge, the 7.92x33mm Kurz (Kurz meaning 'short') in a 30-round detachable magazine. This, along with the weapon's selective fire design, meant that while it didn't have the long range accuracy or hitting power of a normal rifle chambered for a full-power rifle cartridge (such as the 7.92x57mm Mauser) it did have good ballistic performance out to intermediate ranges and was still controllable for close-up fully automatic fire. This was in-line with Wehrmacht studies that indicated that the vast majority of infantry combat took place at less than 400m. Initial variants entered service in October 1943.
Weight:: 5.22kg (11.5lbs); Length: 940mm (37in); Barrel Length: 419mm (16.5in); Muzzle velocity: 685m/s (2,247fps); Rate of Fire: 500 – 600 rounds per minute.

Weapons: Hand Grenades

Figure 41. (Above) Various hand grenades used by the Wehrmacht. The picture on the left shows probably the best known design, known to the Allies as the 'Stick Grenade' or 'Potato Masher', in this case a Mod. 24 Steilhandgranate (top). The grenade is primed via a cord than runs down the hollow base. The picture on the right shows examples of the M39 Eihandgranate (Egg hand grenade), a design first introduced in 1939. The M39 was a continuation of the Mod.1917 Na. egg design, which was a small grenade, making it easier to carry in larger quantities and allowing it to be thrown further.

Weapons: Anti-Tank

Figure 42: Panzerbüchse

Figure 42. (Above) The Panzerbüchse (literally 'Tank Rifle' – here the word büchse mean rifle, as it refers to a large-calibre rifle used in sport or hunting) or PzB 39 was a single-shot, bolt-action anti-tank rifle designed by the firm Gustloff and chambered for a proprietary 13.2x92mm cartridge. It entered service in early 1939 and saw action right the way through the war with some 39,232 rifles being made. While it had reasonable success against contemporary vehicles (it could penetrate up to 25mm of armour at 300m), the increased armour of later AFVs rendered it useless against all but the most lightly armoured or non-armoured vehicles. It was superseded by the Panzerfaust and Panzerschrek, and many were rebuilt as grenade launchers.
Weight:: 11.6kg (25.57lbs); Length: 1,620mm (63.8in); Barrel Length: 1,085mm (42.7in); Muzzle velocity: 1,210m/s (3,970fps); Rate of Fire: 10 rounds per minute (approx).

Figures 43 and 44. (Above) Designed to give infantry a portable anti-tank capability, the Faustpatrone Klein 30 (literally 'Fist Cartridge, Small') was the forerunner to the better known Panzerfaust series, introduced in August 1943. The Panzerfaust (literally 'Tank Fist') series of weapons were essentially a hollow metal tube with a shaped-charge warhead attached to it. On firing, the warhead would accelerate out of the tube, up to a speed of 100m/s (depending on the design) with stabilising fins deploying after it left the tube. They were reasonably accurate up to 100m (again, depending on the design) and could penetrate up to 220mm of armour. The 30 entered service in August 1943, the 60M in September 1944 and the 100M in November 1944.
Faustpatrone K30: Weight – 3.2kg; Effective Range – 30m; Penetration – 140mm
Panzerfaust 30: Weight – 5.1kg; Effective Range – 30m; Penetration – 200mm
Panzerfaust 60M: Weight – 6.1kg; Effective Range – 60m; Penetration – 200mm
Panzerfaust 100M: Weight – 6.8kg; Effective Range – 100m; Penetration – 220mm

Figure 45. (Above) The Panzerschrek (literally 'Tank Terror') was the popular name for the Raketenpanzerbüchse (or 'Rocket Armour Rifle'), a German development of the M1A1 Bazooka. The main variants were the RPzB 43 (issued early in 1943), RPzB 54 (issued in October 1943 and had a blast shield to protect the operator) and RPzB 54/1 (shorter but fired an improved rocked). It fired a rocket-propelled shaped-charge warhead that had, in the case of the RPzB 54/1, a range of about 180mm and could penetrate over 200mm of armour. It was the heaviest of the three versions though, at 11kg (empty).

Weapons: Indirect Fire

Figure 46. (Above) The German Leichter Granatwerfer 36 was a light, 5cm mortar used throughout World War II. Development started in 1934 by Rheinmetall-Borsig AG and it was adopted for service in 1936. By 1941, its effectiveness was seen as limited and production eventually ceased. As supplies dwindled, German troops starting using captured French and Soviet 50mm mortars but the 5cm LeGrW was always popular due to it being easily portable by two soldiers and provided a decent striking power at a range not immediately accessible to the squad or section. It weighed 14kg (31lbs), had a barrel length of 465mm (18in) and fired a 3.5kg HE shell up to 520m away.

Figure 47. (Above) The 8cm Granatwerfer (GrW) 34 was the standard medium German mortar in World War II. It had a reputation of being reliable, accurate and having a decent rate of fire. The weapon broke down into three loads (barrel, bipod and baseplate) and featured a line of the barrel for rough laying, while a panoramic sight was fitted on the traversing mechanism for fine adjustment. It weighed 62kg (136.6lbs) with a steel barrel or 57kg (125.6lbs) with an alloy barrel, had a barrel length of 1,143mm (45in) and could fire a 3.5kg HE or smoke shell, well over a kilometre, a range that could be extended to almost 2.5km (2,723yds) with up to three additional propellant charges. A shortened version, the kz 8cm GrW42 was developed for use by the paratroopers but its use became much more widespread as the limitations of the 5cm LeGrW became apparent.

Figure 48. (Above) The 12cm Granatwerfer (GrW) 42 was virtually a direct copy of the Soviet PM-38 120mm mortar and an attempt to give German troops an indirect fire weapon that had better range and striking power than the weapons available at the time. Captured Soviet weapons received the designation 12 cm Granatwerfer 378 (r). The GrW had a barrel length of about 1,862 mm (6 ft), weighed 280kg (617.3lbs) and was towed into firing position using a two-wheeled axle, which was removed while setting up the weapon. It could fire a 15.6kg (34.4lbs) shell approximately 6km (6,561yds).


Any article such as this can only hope to produce something of a 'primer' as to the wide range of clothing, equipment and weapons that became available to the German soldier during World War II. However, as general rule, as the war progressed, the quality of many items diminished as economy measures were introduced in attempts to solve shortages of materials and reduce production times, the exception being the range of weapons available, particularly anti-tank and support weapons. While the majority of clothes were of 'field gray' colour, it can be

Bibliography and Additional Information

Bell, Brian. Wehrmacht Combat Helmets 1933 – 45, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2004, Elite Series No. 106. (various photos) (various articles)

Peterson, Daniel. Wehrmacht Camouflage Uniforms & Post-War Derivatives, London: Windrow & Greene Publishing, 1995, Europa Militaria No. 17.

Rottmann, Gordon. German Combat Equipments 1939-45, London: Osprey Publishing, 1991, Men-at-Arms Series No. 234.

Sáiz, Agustín. Deutsche Soldaten: Uniforms, Equipment & Personal Items of the German Soldier 1939-45, Newbury: Casemate, 2008.

Thers, Alexandre. Soldiers in Normandy: The Germans, Paris: Histoire & Collections, 2005, Mini-Guides Series.

Thomas, Nigel. The German Army 1939-45 (1) Blitzkrieg, London: Osprey Publishing, 1997, Men-at-Arms Series No. 311.

Thomas, Nigel. The German Army 1939-45 (2) North Africa & Balkans, London: Osprey Publishing, 1998, Men-at-Arms Series No. 316.

Thomas, Nigel. The German Army 1939-45 (3) Eastern Front 1941-43, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 1999, Men-at-Arms Series No. 326.

Thomas, Nigel. The German Army 1939-45 (4) Eastern Front 1943-45, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 1999, Men-at-Arms Series No. 330.

Thomas, Nigel. The German Army 1939-45 (5) Western Front 1943-45, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2000, Men-at-Arms Series No. 336.

Unknown. 'The German Soldier: Uniform and Equipment in Europe 1939-45' in Tamiya Model Magazine, Issue No. 1 (Spring 1985), pp. 32 – 35.

Westwood, David. German Infantryman (1) 1933 – 40, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2002, Warrior Series No. 59.

Westwood, David. German Infantryman (2) Eastern Front 1941-43, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2003, Warrior Series No. 76.

Westwood, David. German Infantryman (3) Eastern Front 1943-45, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2005, Warrior Series No. 93

Germany’s Sixth Army in Stalingrad in World War II

The arrogance of Adolf Hitler and the German high command was heightened by the enemy’s stupendous losses in Operation Barbarossa. The great offensive of 1941 might not have destroyed the Soviet Union, but more than 3 million Russians were dead. Three million more were in German prison camps. Add to those grim statistics the tens of thousands murdered, or dead from deliberate starvation and mistreatment at the hands of the Wehrmacht and the SS. German flags flew over the Ukraine, Russia’s granary, and over the Donbas, industrial heartland of the Soviet Union. A third of the country’s rail network was in German hands its heavy industrial production was down by three-fourths. The Red Army had become a blunted instrument, its tanks and aircraft destroyed, its best divisions chewed up and spat out by the blitzkrieg, its winter 1941 counterattack met, then checked, by a German army at the very nadir of its own resources and fortunes.

German damage to the Soviets, however, had not been achieved without cost. More than 900,000 Germans were dead, wounded or missing — almost a third of the invasion force. As late as May 1942, some German infantry formations were at little more than a third of their authorized strength. More than 4,200 tanks had been destroyed or damaged, and an overburdened industrial system no longer had any hope of replacing all of them. Roughly 100,000 trucks and other motor vehicles were gone, as were more than 200,000 horses — the latter arguably more important than the lost machines.

Since June 1941, Nazi Germany had been at war with both the world’s largest land power, the Soviet Union, and its greatest mercantile empire, Great Britain. In December it added the biggest industrial power, the United States, to its list of enemies. Hitler understood that his Third Reich did not possess anything like the resources to match such a coalition. He did not intend to try. On December 10, 1941, he had assumed personal command of the Eastern Front. Many of the key figures of Operation Barbarossa, such as Heinz Guderian, Gerd von Rundstedt and Fedor von Bock, were relieved of command or transferred. In their places stood new men, with reputations and careers to make. Like Hitler, they viewed the winter setbacks as temporary. And in many ways he was right. A hundred thousand men, cut off in the Demyansk pocket south of Leningrad, had been supplied by air from January to the end of April 1942, and were then relieved. A month later, German and Romanian troops under Erich von Manstein completed the conquest of the Crimea, driving its last Soviet defenders literally into the sea in a series of frontal attacks. Even when they operated on a shoestring, nothing seemed beyond the German Landser — the infantry in worn field-gray uniforms, the men who crewed the tanks and manned the guns, and the junior officers and NCOs who led them.

The German army in the spring of 1942 remained a superbly tempered instrument, combining the best features of an ideologically motivated citizen army and a seasoned professionalized force. The months in Russia had pitilessly exposed weak human and materiel links. New tanks and weapons still existed mostly on drawing boards, but officers and men knew how to use what they had to best advantage. The 37mm anti-tank gun, so helpless against Russian armor that it was nicknamed the ‘army door-knocker,’ was giving way to a high-velocity 50mm piece. The Panzerkampfwagen (Pzkw.) Mk. III tank remained the mainstay of the armored divisions, but it too appeared in an upgunned version. Its longtime stablemate, the Pzkw. Mk. IV, was beginning to exchange its short-barreled 75mm gun for a high-velocity version that could match all but the heaviest Soviet armor. Nothing spectacular — but enough to enhance the conviction among the German soldiers that they had the measure of their enemies and were still able to defeat them. From highest to lowest, the German soldiers believed that their mobility, shock power, communications and above all disciplined initiative, resting on the base of comradeship and confidence fostered by the bitter fighting of 1941, would bring victory in 1942.

The losses suffered and the lessons learned during the previous year nevertheless structured planning for the next year’s campaign. Instead of three offensives moving in different directions, Hitler’s directive of April 5, 1942, projected only holding actions in the northern and central sectors. The focus for the spring campaign would be in the south, with a major drive toward the Caucasus. The objective would be the destruction of Soviet forces in the region and seizure of oil fields that were vital to the German war effort. A secondary objective was Stalingrad — not for its own sake, but in order to cut the Volga River and isolate the Russians south of the industrial city.

Despite its reduced scale, the proposed offensive was risky. It would be launched on a 500-mile front. If it gained the set objectives, it would create a salient of more than 1,300 miles. Hindering the drive was the fact that the road and rail networks would grow thinner the farther the Germans advanced. The main attack was scheduled to begin at the end of June — at best, four to five months before rain and snow would put an end to mobile operations. Even if the offensive succeeded, however, there was no guarantee that the Soviet Union would collapse. It had other major domestic sources of oil — not to mention the promise of support from its new ally, the United States, which was committed to keeping Russia in the fight at all costs.

Such wider issues were not raised among German officers, who were focusing their energy on preparations for the upcoming campaign, which was dubbed Operation Blue. German planning staffs focused on the war’s operational and tactical levels. The army’s rapid expansion since Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933 had left it so short of qualified staff officers that everybody was too immersed in details to have any energy left for evaluating the big picture.

For their part, Soviet concerns in early 1942 primarily involved buying time — time for American assistance to arrive, time to re-establish an industrial base physically transplanted east of the Ural Mountains, and time to reorganize and re-equip an army shaken by disaster. Stavka, the Soviet high command, advocated a defensive strategy. Soviet Premier Josef Stalin wanted to mount local offensives, designed in part to wear down the Germans and keep them off balance, and in part to restore Soviet domestic morale, which was far too low for the dictator’s peace of mind.

It was increasingly clear that the security and propaganda apparatus that had intimidated and inspired the Soviet people through the privations and purges of the preceding decades was by itself insufficient to counter the pressures presented by the German invasion. Only the Germans’ bestial behavior in territory they had conquered and their reluctance to consider mobilizing opponents of the Soviet regime under their flag had kept disaffection with the Soviet regime from reaching explosive proportions. Stalin expected the revitalized Red Army to provide a safety valve by winning small-scale victories. Instead, the Germans checked and threw back its ill-prepared efforts. In May, a Soviet attack briefly recaptured the city of Kharkov but collapsed when a German counterstrike surrounded and destroyed four entire armies. Then, on June 28, Germany’s Army Group South tore the Russian front wide open.

Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, who had led Army Group Center almost to within artillery range of Moscow before being relieved of command in 1941, was getting a second chance. He had 68 divisions, nine of them panzer and five more motorized. He possessed 750 tanks. The Luftwaffe provided more than 1,200 aircraft, including the close-support specialists of the VIII Air Corps under General Wolfram von Richthofen, a cousin of World War I’s ‘Red Baron.’

Bock’s order of battle included 25 divisions from German allies and client states as well. Mostly Italian and Romanian, those formations were not as well equipped, trained, led or motivated as their German counterparts. Aware of that, Bock intended that they would simply play screening roles, serving as flank guards, and occupy less vulnerable sectors. Nevertheless, their direct participation in the offensive indicated the weakness of the German army in 1942 relative to its responsibilities — and implied a promise of trouble should things not go according to plan.

For the first few weeks, the German offensive was a repeat of the lightning advances of Operation Barbarossa. German mechanized spearheads rolled forward across the steppe under an air umbrella impenetrable to a Red air force still woefully short of skilled pilots. But the ground gained was not matched by Soviet losses. Frustrated, Hitler fired Bock and split Army Group South in two. Army Group A, under Field Marshal Wilhelm List, was to turn south, take Rostov and drive into the Caucasus. Army Group B, commanded by Field Marshal Maximilian von Weichs, would thrust east and cut the Volga while screening the left wing of the offensive.

The new organization gained ground but produced no great tokens of victory. The Red Army’s abortive spring offensives had cost it more than a half-million casualties, which were suffered primarily among its best formations. Stavka’s officers argued that, temporarily at least, space must be exchanged for time. Stalin reluctantly concurred. Even after he authorized a strategic retreat on July 6, some Soviet formations were cut off by the successive German pincers. While some of the trapped Russians fought on, others surrendered with only token resistance. Enraged, Stalin issued Order Number 227 on July 28. Distributed to all fighting units, it called for an end to retreat and demanded that each yard of Soviet territory be defended. The penalty for failure to comply ranged from summary execution to service in a penal unit. During the course of the war, more than 400,000 Russians were sentenced to penal battalions and another 250,000 were sentenced to be shot for failure to obey 227.

Frustrated by a perceived lack of progress, Hitler became more deeply involved in the campaign’s operational aspects. On July 16, he diverted the Fourth Panzer Army, and with it the bulk of Army Group B’s mechanized forces, south to Rostov, hoping to encircle Soviet forces there. At the same time, he not only sustained Army Group B’s mission to drive toward the Volga but, on July 20, specifically ordered its Sixth Army to attack Stalingrad.

A week earlier, Stavka had established an independent Stalingrad Front, and on July 19 Stalin put the city on a war footing. At the time, both seemed little more than gestures. The Front’s three armies were an uneasy mixture of green troops and formations hammered in the earlier fighting. But Order 227 was more than a set of draconian threats. It was a reminder that there was nowhere else to go. The Russian people realized that not only the Soviet state was at stake. Despite the horrors of Stalin’s regime, the citizens responded, not merely by digging ditches and filling sandbags, but by reporting to work and finishing their shifts.

On August 9, German troops captured the oil producing center of Maikop but found it completely wrecked. As supplies ran low and the Red Army’s resistance stiffened, the German advance stalled on August 28 — well short of its objective, the Grozhny oil fields. Hitler dismissed the responsible commander at the end of August and began directing Army Group A himself.

Meanwhile, Army Group B found itself locked into increasingly bitter, close-quarters fighting as it clawed its way toward the Volga. Weichs initially intended to use the pincer movements that had served the Germans so well for a year. The Sixth Army from the north and the Fourth Panzer Army from the south were to break through the front and cut off the Soviet forces west of Stalingrad. Both met determined resistance in terrain that handicapped the small-unit tactical maneuvers that often gave the Germans an advantage over their numerically superior foes. When it was man to man and tank against tank, casualties were higher and advances shorter. Nevertheless, the little flags on the map tables of both sides kept moving in the same direction, toward the Volga and Stalingrad.

On August 21, the tide seemed suddenly to turn. German infantry crossed the Don River, the first waves in rubber boats. Pioneers built bridges under Luftwaffe air cover. The next day, a panzer corps moved through the breach, and on the 23rd the spearheads of the 16th Panzer Division reached the Volga. As they advanced, however, the Germans found themselves under counterattack by everything the Soviets could throw at them, including civilians with rifles and armbands, and tanks fresh off Stalingrad’s production lines. Most of them were T-34s, whose gunpower and mobility the Germans had learned to respect earlier in the summer. But the German crews were better trained and more experienced, and they picked off the green Russians by the dozens as the Luftwaffe set Stalingrad ablaze and German reinforcements pushed toward the river.

Still determined to complete his pincer movement, Weichs ordered both his armies forward, setting their junction point at the town of Pitomnik, 10 miles west of Stalingrad. Instead of staying in place to be destroyed, however, the Russians retreated into the city — whether on their own initiative or under German pressure depends on the nationality of the analyst. Convinced that this movement symbolized the end of significant resistance, Weichs ordered an advance into Stalingrad’s suburbs.

The German commander was less inhibited at the prospects of fighting in the streets of Stalingrad than his armor commanders, most of whom were dubious about committing to a fight that denied their panzers freedom of movement. Their opposition ended, however, when one panzer corps commander was relieved for recommending withdrawal in his sector. The man directly responsible for that relief had assumed command of the Sixth Army in January. General Friedrich Paulus had a good record as a staff officer and a corresponding image as a soft-shoe type rather than a muddy-boots commander. Nevertheless, he had taken the Sixth Army across the steppe, and by August 31 most of his divisions were closing on the Volga, clearing what seemed to be Red Army die-hards holding out in Stalingrad’s rubble.

At this stage Paulus and Stalin had a common perspective: Both believed Stalingrad was doomed. On August 26, the Soviet leader played his trump card. He appointed Georgi Zhukov his deputy supreme commander in chief. Zhukov typified a new breed of Soviet general: as fearless as they were pitiless, ready to do anything required to crush the Germans and not inhibited by threats, actual or implied. Arriving at Stalingrad on August 29, he insisted that further counterattacks with the available resources were futile. Stalingrad must and would be held — but in the context of a wider strategic plan.

Even as the situation around Stalingrad worsened and Zhukov busied himself with putting together a workable defensive plan, Stavka’s strategists insisted that the Red Army must not merely respond to enemy attacks, but concentrate its own strength and seize the initiative. In Zhukov’s absence, staff officers began developing plans for a winter campaign involving two major operations. Uranus involved committing large mobile forces north and south of Stalingrad, then encircling and destroying enemy forces in the resulting pocket. Uranus was to be followed by Saturn, which would cut off and annihilate whatever remained of Army Groups A and B. Mars was the other half of the plan. With all eyes focused on the south, this operation would go in against a seemingly vulnerable sector on the hitherto quiet front of German Army Group Center: a salient around the city of Rzhev. Described for years in Soviet literature as a diversion, Mars now appears to have been instead a complement to Uranus, intended like its counterpart to be followed by a second stage that would shatter Army Group Center and put the Red Army on the high road to Berlin. It was an ambitious strategy for an army still improvising its recovery from the twin shocks of Barbarossa and Blue. Its prospects depended entirely on the ability of Stalingrad’s defenders to hold out.

That critical mission was, in turn, the responsibility of Lt. Gen. Vasili Chuikov. On September 12, he was appointed commander of the Sixty-second Army, the city’s principal operational formation. On one level his mission seemed obvious: hold or die, with the threat of army firing squads and the pistols of the secret police keeping his men on the line as long as any remained standing. Chuikov, however, was also a student of tactics. The Germans, he argued, had prevailed through complex combined-arms attacks. The broken terrain of an urban warfare environment like Stalingrad worked against that kind of sophistication. The Soviet commander used that to his advantage. Rather than simply sitting back and waiting for the Germans to batter him, Chuikov ordered his troops to ‘grab them by the belt’ and engage them as closely as possible, to fight not merely street by street and building by building, but floor by floor and room by room. Such tactics would neutralize the Germans’ firepower and would deny them even the limited maneuvering space they needed for tactical initiatives. It would also cost lives, but the Soviet Union had lives to spend.

On September 14, the final German drive for the Volga began. By that afternoon Chuikov’s command post had been silenced and the fight was decentralizing to rifle-company level as German spearheads flicked toward the landing areas along the Volga that were Stalingrad’s last hope. With the fate of the city in the balance, a desperate Chuikov secured a single division from Zhukov, Aleksandr Rodimstev’s 13th Guards. That night the division crossed the Volga, clawed out a bridgehead and held it for five days. It was long enough for further reinforcements to reach the city. It was also long enough to create doubts on the German side about the wisdom of clearing the massive factory and warehouse complexes along the river that were becoming the focal points for a defense whose ferocity surpassed anything they had ever experienced.

Stalingrad became a city of rubble, smoke and ash, where seeing and breathing became chores and movement invited anything from a sniper’s bullet to an artillery barrage. In one of modern history’s great examples of leadership, Chuikov kept his men fighting by the force of his character. He offered no rhetoric and made no promises. Instead, he projected a dour fatalism that linked the fate of the city and its garrison. German generals and colonels also led from the front, hoping that inspiration would make up for lost mobility. Compelled to substitute courage for skill and lives for maneuver, however, the German army in Stalingrad was ‘demodernizing,’ losing the capacity to fight anything but a close-quarters battle of attrition.

German Chief of Staff Franz Halder warned of the risks and was dismissed on September 24. The message was clear. To meet Paulus’ calls for reinforcements in the face of mounting casualties, Weichs began stripping less active sectors north and south of Stalingrad of German formations and replacing them with Romanians and Italians. The gamble might have been justified if the German-tipped spearhead had somehow been able to recapture the initiative. Instead, the most capable German formations were being chewed up in fruitless attacks in Stalingrad. A Luftwaffe never designed for sustained operations was suffering from increasing maintenance problems. Artillery pieces were wearing out. Tanks were breaking down. The Soviets by contrast had succeeded in systematizing their reinforcement and resupply system across the Volga. More and more heavy guns were supporting the infantry.

On September 30, Hitler had announced Stalingrad’s imminent capture. Instead, it was the Germans who were pinned in place, able to drive forward only locally and episodically, with losses far out of proportion to either military or propaganda gains. As the October rains heralded winter’s approach, the Fhrer hinted at great rewards for Paulus when the city was finally secured. The Sixth Army launched its final coordinated attack on October 14. It broke into and through Chuikov’s lines, once again driving spearheads to the Volga’s banks, halting the movement of reinforcements across the river. The German plan called for an urban encirclement, a battle of maneuver and annihilation following Stalingrad’s street network. It almost worked. Chuikov, as matter-of-fact a man as ever wore a uniform, talked about an inexplicable force driving the Germans forward. It was, however, merely a last brilliant flash of the fighting power, skill and spirit that had taken the Wehrmacht across Western Europe, North Africa and into the heart of Russia. Pressed against the riverbank, the Soviets rallied and held, fighting the Sixth Army to a standstill.

On October 31, Chuikov counterattacked. His force was only a division strong and gained less than 200 yards of polluted rubble, but it thrust at the heart of six weeks’ worth of denial on the part of the Germans. Twenty of the German army’s best divisions were packed at the tip of an immense salient hundreds of miles inside Russia. The salient’s flanks were held by troops for whom ‘dubious’ was a compliment. The main supply route was a railroad that at one point ran barely 60 miles from the front line, and winter was setting in. It was at this moment that Zhukov unleashed Operation Uranus.

For a month Stavka had held its hand, building up forces in the face of Stalin’s demands for action, waiting for the rains to end and the ground to freeze. Those forces now numbered a million men, 1,000 modern tanks, 1,400 aircraft and 14,000 guns — all of it undetected by a German intelligence blinded by Soviet deception measures, and by its own conviction that the Soviets were as locked into Stalingrad as were the Germans. On November 19, a new Southwest Front, commanded by one of Zhukov’s protgs, General Nikolai Vatutin, hit the Romanian Third Army. A day later, another tank-tipped sledgehammer struck the Romanian Fourth Army on the Stalingrad salient’s southern flank. Hopelessly outgunned, the Romanians in both sectors collapsed. On November 23 the Soviet spearheads met near the town of Kalach, 50 miles from Stalingrad, in a textbook encirclement.

It took a week to complete the encirclement of the 20-odd divisions and 330,000 men caught in what soon became known as the ‘Stalingrad pocket.’ Within days, internal friction among Soviet commanders slowed the advance and stiffened German resistance. Nevertheless, by November 30 a 100-mile gap existed between the Sixth Army and the rest of the Wehrmacht.

Professionals at the time and armchair generals since have argued that Paulus erred in not breaking out immediately, with or without orders. His best chance, the argument runs, was before the Soviets could consolidate the envelopment. Weichs ordered him to cease offensive operations the same day that Uranus began. But the Sixth Army was locked in close combat with an opponent determined not to let go. Breaking contact at the front was only the first step in what would have been an incredibly complex maneuver. Even had Paulus acted to break out, there was no guarantee that the army’s fuel and ammunition reserves would be sufficient for a fighting retreat across the steppe in midwinter.

The response to the unfolding disaster among the Sixth Army’s command structure was conditioned by the decline of the maneuver-war mentality after two months of static operations. Too many of the German sergeants, captains and colonels who knew how to fight in the open were dead, or had been promoted to replace other casualties. The new hands — so far as replacements had been forthcoming — were conditioned to moving a few yards at a time, and very cautiously. When Hitler proposed to relieve Stalingrad from outside, he reinforced an attitude held by many in the Sixth Army.

The Fuhrer’s plans called for Weichs to stabilize the front and to launch the new Army Group Don toward Stalingrad. The new army group’s commander was Erich von Manstein, who since the start of Barbarossa had established a record as the Eastern Front’s specialist in difficult missions. Manstein’s command, however, was scraped together from various bits and pieces. It was not until December 12 that he was able to concentrate a half-dozen divisions for Operation Winter Storm, the projected grand advance to relieve what Hitler now proclaimed Fortress Stalingrad. Meanwhile, the garrison was dependent on supply from the air.

There is strong evidence that on November 20, alluding to the earlier success at Demyansk, Luftwaffe Chief of Staff Hans Jeschonnek told Hitler that under the right conditions Stalingrad could be supplied from the air — not Reichsmarshall Hermann Gring, as has so often been asserted. Hitler used that information as a springboard for discussions with Gring, who assured the Fhrer of the Luftwaffe’s ability to successfully conduct the mission. By that time Jeschonnek had investigated further and concluded that the Sixth Army’s bare-minimum requirements of 500 tons of supplies a day could not be met by the available aircraft. Gring ordered him to keep his data to himself.

Doomed to failure from the start, hundreds of Luftwaffe pilots and aircrews soon set off on an operation to supply Paulus’ army. In the end nearly 500 aircraft were lost to weather and to a sophisticated Soviet defense system combining rings of guns and ground-controlled fighters. Only a steadily diminishing fraction of the required supplies arrived in a pocket under constantly growing pressure on the ground from increasingly superior Soviet forces. An increasing proportion of the reduced deliveries was necessarily ammunition. When Kurt Zeitzler, Halder’s successor as chief of staff, reduced his food intake to the level of Stalingrad rations as a gesture of solidarity with the besieged troops, he lost more than 25 pounds in two weeks.

The situation soon worsened even further. Operation Mars began on November 25, under Zhukov’s personal command. Its initial successes were countered by German armored reserves, and after losses appalling even by Soviet standards, Zhukov broke off the operation in mid-December. That ended Stavka’s original ambitious plan. As Manstein’s forces began assembling and advancing, Operation Saturn was in turn modified to Little Saturn, aimed at checkmating Manstein’s breakthrough by enveloping and crushing its left flank.

Little Saturn’s preliminary stages had already absorbed much of Manstein’s projected relief force by the time the main attack began on December 16. Soviet armor destroyed the Italian Eighth Army and temporarily overran the air base at Tatsinkaia, which was vital to the German airlift. Manstein drove forward with a single panzer corps on an ever-narrowing axis of advance in steadily worsening weather. Thirty-five miles from Stalingrad, the attack bogged down against Soviet armor. On December 19, Manstein informed Hitler that it was impossible to break through to Stalingrad and sustain a corridor. He recommended that the Sixth Army break out to meet him. Manstein flew his intelligence officer into the pocket to go over details of the plan and found the Sixth Army staff unwilling to risk such an attack until spring.

Whatever Winter Storm’s odds, it was the last chance to salvage the Sixth Army. In refusing to order the breakout, Manstein and Paulus showed an absence of the moral courage that is the principal requirement of high command. Instead they temporized, deferring to Hitler’s well-known and increasingly determined refusal to ‘abandon the Volga.’ For three days the debate among the German commanders continued as the Soviets drove into the German flank and rear. Then, on December 22, the question became moot. The newly arrived Second Guards Army opened an attack that drove Manstein’s slender spearhead back toward its start line. To an officer who subsequently flew into Stalingrad as Hitler’s emissary, Paulus said simply, ‘You are talking to dead men.’

With Soviet tanks and cavalry running wild in its virtually undefended rear areas, Army Group Don fell back and the Germans’ attention focused not on the fate of the Sixth Army but on the survival of their position in southern Russia. Hitler initially refused to make reinforcements available and shorten the front by withdrawing from the increasingly untenable Caucasus salient. Manstein made the best of what he had. In a series of brilliant tactical-level ripostes between January and March 1943, he enabled most of Army Group A to escape. In doing so he confirmed his reputation as a battle captain and blunted an operation already suffering from Stalin’s determination to pursue the offensive beyond the Red Army’s capacity to sustain it.

Stalingrad, hopelessly isolated, was now expected to tie down as many Soviet forces as possible — a mission the Soviets initially sought to deny by negotiating a surrender. When Paulus refused, the final offensive began. On January 10, more than 7,000 guns and mortars began firing on every corner of the pocket within range. Tanks and infantry advanced simultaneously in all sectors, against resistance whose initial determination amazed even veterans of the earlier fighting. Even before the few remaining airfields were overrun, the Germans were living on rations measured in ounces, supplemented occasionally by horsemeat and the occasional rat. Conditions in the hospitals were beyond medieval. By January 17, the pocket had been reduced to half its size. Once again Paulus was summoned to surrender once again he refused. German die-hards fell back into the city’s ruins, using tactics learned from the Russians to prolong the end as ammunition ran out and men sought terms at bayonet point. On January 31, Paulus’ headquarters was overrun. The field marshal, newly promoted by Hitler, was lying on his bed when a Russian lieutenant burst in and captured him.

Organized resistance continued until February 2. The Soviets took longer than that to sort out their 90,000 prisoners and start them on their long march into captivity. In Germany, radio stations played the funeral march from Richard Wagner’s Twilight of the Gods. In Russia, the propaganda machine tooled up to publicize the triumph of the Soviet motherland. Stalin and his generals began plans for a new campaign to crush the invaders once and for all. And from Alsace to Vladivostok, families waited for news of their missing men. In June 1942, Nazi Germany was looking forward to victory. Six months and a million casualties later, the Reich had barely averted catastrophe.

This article was written by Dennis Showalter and originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of World War II magazine. For more great articles subscribe to World War II magazine today!

Captured Polish troops marching out of Warsaw

Captured Polish troops march out of Warsaw after the city was taken by the Germans on 28 September 1939. The Polish Army was large, but poorly equipped and thinly spread. It lacked the means to counter Germany's modern armoured forces.

But Blitzkrieg was less successful against well organised defences. The flanks of rapidly advancing mobile forces were vulnerable to counter-attack. Soviet commanders learned to blunt German assaults with successive defence lines of guns and infantry.

By 1943 the days of Blitzkrieg were over, and Germany was forced into a defensive war on all fronts.

A Visual Guide to the Fake Fleets and Inflatable Armies of World War II

The image above depicts a clever trick played on battlefields during World War II: Bobbing next to a sturdy metal tank is a rubber inflatable copy meant to fool enemies. An army could look twice as large as it was thanks to elite divisions of the military that specialized in the art of decoys and deception.

Military units within both the Allied and Axis forces practiced and deployed an assortment of peculiar, yet effective tactics, from building inflated dummy tanks to constructing wooden artillery and straw airplanes. A fleet of dummy tanks could lead an enemy to overestimate a force’s actual strength or draw an attack away from a vulnerable area, explained Gordon Rottman in World War II Tactical Camouflage Techniques.

Two U.S. soldiers examine a fake tank made out of wood. It was built on top of a German four-ton truck. NARA/111-SC-196913-001

“Decoys are extremely important in deception planning,” stated an U.S. army field manual published in 1978. Something as simple as “a log sticking out of a pile of brush can draw a lot of attention and artillery fire.”

New photos uncovered by the National Archives reveal the elaborate artistry behind building a “fake army.” The featured photos taken between 1942 and 1945 depict the variety of creative deception tactics developed by the Japanese, German, and British military.

In Okinawa, these fake straw planes were innocently sitting along the edges of the airfields near Kadena Town. They caused many American pilots to send bursts of machine gun fire into them. NARA/111-SC-205559-001

During both World Wars, artists, filmmakers, scientists, and sculptors were handpicked by the military and called upon to use their visual and creative skills to design camouflage and decoys. Beginning in World War I, artists used “dazzle camouflage” and painted battleships with odd, multicolored patterns to distract far-off enemies, while female art students designed camouflage “rock” suits that they tested in Van Cortlandt Park in New York.

A dummy 155mm gun erected in Forte dei Marmi Area, Italy. These guns were used along with flash simulators to deceive the enemy.* NARA/111-SC-233236-001

The United States recruited over a thousand men from art schools and ad agencies for the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, or “Ghost Army,” which staged more than 20 battlefield deceptions between 1944 and 1945. In England, a group of surrealist artists started the Industrial Camouflage Research Unit just after the war began in September 1939, wrote Peter Forbes in Dazzled and Deceived: Mimicry and Camouflage.

Japan’s advanced decoy techniques are well-illustrated by this view of a dummy tank found on Iwo Jima. It was constructed out of consolidated volcanic ash, which is soft and can easily be cut with a knife. NARA/111-SC-208998-001

The dummies took on many forms, including stationary structures that supplied the outline of machinery and a simulation that was mounted on a truck. Inventions could be simple and crude, such as stacking up old tires and propping up a log to simulate an artillery piece, explained Kenneth Blanks in his thesis on tactical decoys.

On the other hand, some deceptions were large-scale, such as fake roads and bridges made out of canvas and burlap. At a distance, the elaborate dummy tanks could easily be confused for the real thing. They were made of an assortment of canvas and plywood, inflated rubber, and drain pipes to form the gun. A Japanese fake tank constructed out of rubble and volcanic ash was commended for its attention to detail and artistry. Inflated tanks were not only used to trick the enemy, but also served to practice formations.

Many of the dummies were also easy to transport and assemble. An inflatable tank could be unfurled from a duffle bag, pumped with air from a generator, and completed in just 20 minutes.

Watch soldiers set up inflatable decoys in the video below:

Entire decoy airfields were made by Britain’s Royal Air Ministry. Instead of hiding the easily spotted structures, they designed dummy airfields filled with dummy planes that were imitations of satellite stations. The unit also lit oil fires, called “starfishes,” in harmless locations after the first wave of a bombing raid, making subsequent waves believe those areas were targets, explained Forbes. While preserving the real fleet, the tactic wasted the enemy’s bombs and ammunition.

This dummy plane stood beneath a shelter at Camp Chorrera in Panama. Taken in 1942. NARA/111-SC-237644-001

And these efforts proved to be extremely effective. For example, in the summer of 1940, Colonel J.F. Turner of the Royal Air Ministry organized 100 dummy airfields and built about 400 dummy aircrafts to confuse German aerial bombers. In one raid on August 4, 1940, three waves of bombs struck the decoy structures, leaving the real factory almost unscathed. Turner’s sophisticated dummy aircrafts “saved hundreds of lives and vital war production facilities,” wrote Blanks. Similarly, the U.S. military’s Ghost Army saved tens of thousands of soldiers’ lives, estimated The Atlantic.

A soldier stands next to a British dummy tank. NARA/111-SC-217854-001

This ingenious craft has since faded with time. Sophisticated surveillance technologies, such as satellites and drones, have since made ballooned tanks, straw airplanes, and other visual ruses less effective. But the decoy armies of World War II remain a captivating example of the intricate art of military deception and trickery in action.

Explore more dummy installations from World War II below.

A dummy bridge built out of canvas and burlap. It was partially destroyed by Germans who saw it above the city of Pisa. NARA/111-SC-219216-001 When deflated, these large dummy tanks are compact and easy to carry. NARA/111-SC-217851-001 Made by the British Army, this deflated rubber tank only needs 20 minutes to assemble. NARA/111-SC-216201-001 A British army engineer uses a forge pump to inflate the turret of a rubber dummy tank. The tanks were designed and used by the British to simulate tank positions in the field. Taken in Italy in 1944. NARA/111-SC-217856-001 Here, a soldier is inflating the body of the tank. NARA/111-SC-217852-001 A soldier stands next to an inflated dummy tank made of rubber. NARA/111-SC-217857-001 Two soldiers prop the tank on its side. NARA/111-SC-217853-001 British soldiers place a dummy tank into a camouflaged position. NARA/111-SC-216204-001 A fake Japanese AA gun constructed around a fish oil and acid producing factory off a beach in Japan. NARA/111-SC-213310-001 Dummy Japanese gun emplacements along the beach at Rendova Island. NARA/111-SC-18592-001 An American soldier looks at one of the German dummy tanks near Metz, France. NARA/111-SC-196519-s-001 A pole camouflaged as a gun left behind by the Nazis. NARA/111-SC-201374-001 A dummy pontoon bridge made out of wood frames covered with cloth. It took the 84th Engineers 12 hours to build the bridge across the Rhine River at Petersau, Germany. It was meant to fool the Germans into thinking there were more bridges across the river than there actually were. NARA/111-SC-222564-001

*Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled a location in Italy. It is Forte dei Marmi, not Forte dei Maimi.

World War II

World War II is appropriately called “Hitler’s war.” Germany was so extraordinarily successful in the first two years that Hitler came close to realizing his aim of establishing hegemony in Europe. But his triumphs were not part of a strategic conception that secured victory in the long run. Nonetheless, the early successes were spectacular. After the defeat of Poland within a month, Hitler turned his attention westward. He believed that it was necessary to defeat Britain and France before he could again turn eastward to the territories that were to become the “living space” for his new empire. The attack on the Western Front began in the spring of 1940. Hitler took Denmark and Norway during the course of a few days in April, and on May 10 he attacked France, along with Luxembourg, Belgium, and The Netherlands. Once again his armies achieved lightning victories Luxembourg, Belgium, and The Netherlands were overrun in a few days, and France capitulated on June 21. Only the British, now alone, obstructed Hitler’s path to total victory in the west.

Hitler determined that he could take Britain out of the war with air power. German bombers began their attack in August 1940, but the British proved intractable. The vaunted German air force (Luftwaffe) failed to bring Britain to its knees partly because of the strength of the British air force, partly because the German air force was ill-equipped for the task, and partly because the British were able to read German code (see Ultra). Yet Hitler had been so confident of a quick victory that, even before the attack began, he had ordered his military planners to draw up plans for an invasion of the Soviet Union. The date he had set for that invasion was May 15, 1941.

Although the defeat of the Soviet Union was central to Hitler’s strategic objective, during the early months of 1941 he allowed himself to be sidetracked twice into conflicts that delayed his invasion. In both instances he felt obliged to rescue his ally Mussolini from military difficulties. Mussolini had invaded Greece in October 1940, despite the fact that he was already in difficulty in North Africa, where he was unable to cut off Britain’s Mediterranean lifeline in Egypt. In February 1941 Hitler decided to reinforce Mussolini in North Africa by sending an armoured division under the command of General Erwin Rommel. When Mussolini’s invasion of Greece also bogged down, Hitler again decided to send reinforcements. To reach Greece, German troops had to be sent through the Balkan countries, all of them officially neutral. Hitler managed to bully these countries into accepting the passage of German troops, but on March 27 a coup in Yugoslavia overthrew the government, and the new rulers reneged on the agreement. In retaliation Hitler launched what he called Operation Punishment against the Yugoslavs. Yugoslav resistance collapsed quickly, but the effect was to delay for another month the planned invasion of the Soviet Union.

When the invasion of the Soviet Union finally came, on June 22, 1941, it did so with both campaigns against the British, across the English Channel and in the Mediterranean, still incomplete. Hitler was prepared to take the risk that fighting on multiple fronts entailed, because he was convinced that the war against the Soviet Union would be over by the onset of the Russian winter. The spectacular German advances during the first weeks of the invasion seemed proof of Hitler’s calculation. On July 3 his army chief of staff wrote in his war diary that the war had been won. The German Army Group North was approaching Leningrad Army Group Centre had broken through the Soviet defenses and was rushing toward Moscow and Army Group South had already captured vast reaches of Ukraine. The prospect of capturing the summer harvest of Ukraine along with the oil fields of the Caucasus led Hitler to transfer troops driving toward Moscow to reinforce those operating in the south.

Hitler’s generals later considered this decision a turning point in the war. The effect was to delay until October the drive toward Moscow. By then an early winter had set in, greatly impeding the German advance and finally bringing it to a halt at the outskirts of Moscow in early December. Then, on December 6, the Soviets, having had time to regroup, launched a massive counteroffensive to relieve their capital city. On the following day the Japanese, nominally Germany’s ally, launched their attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Although they had not bothered to inform Hitler of their intentions, he was jubilant when he heard the news. “Now it is impossible for us to lose the war,” he told his aides. On December 11 he declared war on the United States.

Though his plans for a quick defeat of the Soviet Union had not been realized, Hitler’s troops at the end of 1941 controlled much of the European territory of the Soviet Union. They stood at the outskirts of Leningrad and Moscow and were in control of all of Ukraine. To prepare for what would now have to be the campaign of 1942, Hitler dismissed a number of generals and assumed himself the strategic and operational command of the armies on the Eastern Front.

At the high point of Hitler’s military successes in the Soviet Union, members of the Nazi leadership were, with Hitler’s understanding, feverishly planning for the new order they intended to impose on the conquered territories. Its realization called both for the removal of obstacles to German settlements and for a solution to the “Jewish problem.” Nazi planners were drafting an elaborate scheme, General Plan East, for the future reorganization of eastern Europe and the western Soviet Union, which called for the elimination of 30 million or more Slavs and the settlement of their territories by German overlords who would control and eventually repopulate the area with Germans. During the fall of 1941 Himmler’s SS expanded and refurbished with gas chambers and crematoriums an old Austrian army barracks near the Polish rail junction at Auschwitz. Here was to continue, with greater efficiency, the Holocaust—the mass murder of Jews that had begun with the June invasion, when SS Einsatzgruppen (“deployment groups”) began rounding up Jews and shooting them by the thousands. The assurance of victory in the east, the heartland of European Jewry, convinced the Nazis that they could implement a “final solution” to the “Jewish problem.” Experts estimate that ultimately some six million Jews were murdered in the death factories of eastern Europe. At least an equal number of non-Jews died of murder and starvation in places like Auschwitz, including two and a half million Soviet prisoners of war and countless others from eastern European nationalities.

The success of Nazi armies until the end of 1941 had made it possible to spare German civilians on the home front from the misery and sacrifices demanded of them during World War I. Hitler’s imagination, however, was haunted by the memory of the collapse of the home front in 1918, and, to avoid a repetition, the Nazis looted the occupied territories of food and raw materials as well as labour. Food shortages in Germany were not serious until late in the war. Women were allowed to stay at home, and the energies of the German workforce were not stretched to their limits, because eventually some seven million foreign slave labourers were used to keep the war effort going.

Through much of 1942 an ultimate German victory still seemed possible. The renewed offensive in the Soviet Union in the spring at first continued the successes of the previous year. Once again Hitler chose to concentrate on the capture of the Caucasus and its oil at the expense of the Moscow front. The decision entailed a major battle over the industrial centre at Stalingrad (now Volgograd). Elsewhere, by midsummer of 1942, Rommel’s Afrika Korps advanced to within 65 miles (105 km) of Alexandria in Egypt. In the naval battle for control of the Atlantic sea lanes, German submarines maintained their ability to intercept Allied shipping into mid-1943.

By early 1943, however, the tide had clearly begun to turn. The great winter battle at Stalingrad brought Hitler his first major defeat. His entire Sixth Army was killed or captured. In North Africa Rommel’s long success ended in late 1942 when the British broke through at El Alamein. At the same time, a joint British-American force landed in northwestern Africa, on the coast of Morocco and Algeria. By May 1943 the German and Italian forces in North Africa were ready to surrender. That same summer the Allies broke the back of the German submarine campaign in the Atlantic. On July 10 the Allies landed in Sicily. Two weeks later Mussolini was overthrown, and in early September the Italians withdrew from the war.

The addition of an Italian front made the rollback of German forces on all fronts that much more likely. In the Soviet Union, German forces were stretched across 2,500 miles (4,000 km). They had lost their air superiority when Allied bombing raids on German cities forced the withdrawal of large numbers of fighter planes. British and American bombings reached a high point in midsummer when a raid on Hamburg killed 40,000 of its inhabitants. Similar air raids killed hundreds of thousands of German civilians and leveled large areas of most German cities. Shortages of food, clothing, and housing began to afflict German cities as inevitably as did the Allied bombers.

The rollback of German forces continued inexorably during 1944. On June 6 the Allies in the west launched their invasion of France across the English Channel. In the east the Soviet army was advancing along the entire 2,500-mile front. By the end of the year, it stood poised on the eastern frontiers of prewar Germany. In the west, British and American troops stood ready to attack across the western borders.

The remains of Marine Elmer Drefahl of Milwaukee who died at Pearl Harbor have been identified.

The last surviving soldier who helped liberate the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz died in Germany over the weekend.

Veterans watched the opening of the British Normandy Memorial on the anniversary of D-Day.

The sun rose over Omaha Beach Sunday morning ahead of various celebrations to commemorate the Allied troops who landed.

On National Nurses Appreciation Day, 2nd Lieutenant Agnes Woods was recognized for her efforts in the Army Nurse Corp.

German Squad Tactics & Organization in World War 2

Time to take a look a German Squad Tactics in World War 2. Two important points, first a squad rarely acted alone on the battlefield, it was used in coordination with other squads of its platoon and/or company. Second, the main source for this is the US Manual “German Squad in Combat” from the Military Intelligence Service released in January 1943. It is a partial translation of a German publication and using other sources, I could correct some small errors and inconsistencies, nevertheless take everything with a grain of salt, especially since manuals and combat realities often differ.

The German Squad

Let’s begin with organization and armament.

Structure and Armament

The German Infantry Squad in World War 2 for the most part consisted of 1 squad leader and 9 infantry men, thus a total of 10 men.
Initially all men besides the machine gunner and his assistant were equipped with the “Karabiner 98 kurz”, the German standard rifle, even the Squad leader, yet around 1941 he was issued a MP40 submachine gun with 6 magazines of 32 shots each.
The machine gunner was equipped with an MG 34 and later on with an MG42, he was also issued a pistol and an ammo drum with 50 rounds.
The assistant gunner carried 4 ammo drums with 50 shots and a weight of 2.45 kg each. Additionally, one ammo box with 300 rounds weighing 11.53 kg. He was also issued a pistol.

There was also an ammo carrier assigned to the machine gunner, whose job was to carry and supply ammunition. He carried two Ammo boxes with 300 rounds each. Unlike the assistant he was issued a rifle not a pistol.

Note that the “German Squad in Combat” indicates a pistol instead of a rifle as a weapon for the ammo carrier, but it seems that this is incorrect and is probably from an old layout, when the squad consisted of an LMG and rifle team. (Sources: Buchner, Alex and
Now, each rifleman had around 9 clips for his rifle with 5 shots each, thus 45 rounds. This was the regular amount, according to Buchner more rounds were issued in case of a combat situation. Also the second-in-command was armed the same way as regular rifleman.
Note that the men except for the squad leader were numbered, whereas the machine gunner was the “Schütze 1” or rifleman number 1, which gives a good indication of his importance.

Hence, in total the squad had 1 light machine gun, 1 submachine gun, 2 pistols, 7 rifles and several hand grenades, which were issued depending on the situation. (Sources: Buchner, Alex: Handbuch der Infanterie 1939-1945, S. 15-16 German Squad in Combat: p.1-3 Töpfer: p. 5-7 Bull: p.23-24)

Roles/Duties and Responsibilities

The roles/duties and responsibilities of each squad member were as follows:
The Squad leader was commanding the unit, he directed which targets the LMG should engage and if the combat situation permitted also the rifle fire. His responsibilities outside of combat included that the equipment of the unit was in order and that enough ammunition was available.(The German Squad in Combat: p. 1)
The Second-in-Command was his assistant and was in command during the absence of the Squad leader. His responsibilities were to communicate with the Platoon Commander and also adjacent squads, thus he was vital for the coordination. (The German Squad in Combat: p. 3)
Next is the Machine Gunner, he operated the light machine gun and was responsible for taking care of the weapon. (The German Squad in Combat: p. 2)
His assistant would help him with setting up the MG, supply ammo and assist him in combat. Usually he would be left of the gunner or to his rear. He had to be ready and close enough to support the gunner with tasks like changing the barrel or fixing jams. And in case the gunner couldn’t continue operating the LMG the assistant would take his role. He was also responsible to take care of the weapon. (The German Squad in Combat: p. 2-3)
The ammo carrier was responsible for inspecting the ammo, refilling fired ammo belts and checking for left ammunition in case of a position change. He usually stayed in the rear and in cover, but could act as a rifleman if necessary.( The German Squad in Combat: p. 2-3 Töpfer: p. 6)
The regular rifleman’s duty was to participate in combat with his rifle and bayonet. The riflemen formed the assault part of the squad. Thus, if necessary assaulting the enemy position with grenades and bayonet. Although not officially designated, they would also serve as ammo carriers to a varying degrees. Additionally, some were designated grenade carriers and/or throwers.( The German Squad in Combat: p. 2-3 Töpfer: p. 6)


Now let’s take a look at formations. The basic close order formations were the squad line or “Reihe”, the squad column or “Kette” which was basically a 90 degree turn of the previous and of course the Squad in March order. (The German Squad in Combat: p. 4)
As you can see the machine gunner with his assistants is always at the very front, he was the key member of the squad, which is also indicated by his designation “Schütze 1” or “infantry man number 1”. (base man) (The German Squad in Combat: p. 5)
These were the close order formations that were not suited for dangerous situations.

Squad Column Extended Order – Schützenreihe

Close-Order formations were abandoned if the situation changed due to terrain, hostile activity or other circumstances. The basic extended order formations were the Squad Column or “Schützenkette”and the Skirmish line or “Schützenreihe”. The squad column in extended order was not a straight line, instead the soldiers used terrain for cover, although the principal order of the line remained. Note that the second-in-command was at the end, ensuring that the squad stays together. (The German Squad in Combat: p. 5-6)

Skirmish Line – Schützenkette

The skirmish line was used if the firepower of the whole squad was necessary. In this case the riflemen move to the left and right of the machine gunner, who remained at a central position. The forward half of the riflemen moved to the right and the other half to the left. Alternatively, an echeloned right or left deployment was also possible, in this case the all men moved to the right or left of the machine gunner. The distance between the men was about 3.5 m ( 12.5 ft) (Original: 5 paces). Note that the squad leader had no fixed position in the formation.
Generally speaking, there was a standard approach for everything, like the squad line formation or how to deploy into a skirmish line. This means that any deviations from the standard must be explicitly ordered. (The German Squad in Combat: p.5- 8)


In terms of leadership the translated manual states that leading by example is essential. It is explicitly stated:
“In order to be a leader in the field, a superior must display an exemplary bearing before his men in the moment of danger and be willing, if necessary, to die for them. The weak and vacillating are then guided by his example and by his disregard of self in accepting privations and dangers.” (The German Squad in Combat: p. 10)

Squad in Offensive Combat

Now, let’s take a look at the squad in offensive actions. It is very important to note, that the squad in offensive combat would not act alone, but as an element of its platoon. Note that each platoon contained usually 4 squads. So let’s look at the different stages of offensive combat.

Stages of an Attack

The stages are as follows: development, deployment, advancing, attack and penetration. Note that most other sources use less stages and the transition from one stage to another can be quite fluent or blurry. (German Squad in Combat: p. 32-47)


The development phase is the first step in the preparation of an attack. The rifle company left their marching route and broke up into 3 platoons. Those platoons themselves separated into 4 squads. Yet, the squads remained in close formation. The machine gun and other important equipment was now carried by hand and on carts anymore. (German Squad in Combat, p 32-33)


Next was the Deployment phase, which was about organizing the troops into combat formations. Usually, the squad was deployed right after the deployment of the platoons. The squad leader may have received his orders directly from the platoon leader or acted independently based on the mission of the platoon. (German Squad in Combat, p 35-36)


Now, since the units were now in battle formations the advance phase began. The advance was ideally performed in squad column with the light machine-gun on the front. This would allow rearward supporting machine guns and other weapons to fire safely past the advancing squads.
If the squad was under effective enemy fire, the squad needed to use its own fire to support its movement by achieving fire superiority. Fire and movement should be employed, which means that one part of the squad fires to cover the movement of the other part of squad. This principle can also be used on a larger scale, where one squad covers another squad. (German Squad in Combat, p 36 Töpfer: p. 20-21)
If areas were covered by enemy artillery fire, they would have been avoided if possible, if not these areas needed to be crossed during firing pauses in quick rushes. Generally, it was recommend to use rushes, when the situation and enemy fire did permit them. (German Squad in Combat, p. 36-37)


Following a successful advance of the squad, the attack phase commenced. Although the difference is not so obvious at first, since both stages may include firing upon the enemy and also advancing. Yet, during the advance phase firing is only employed if it is necessary, whereas in the attack the firing was usually a crucial element.

Initially the fire fight was started by heavy weapons from supporting units, like artillery, infantry cannons and heavy machine guns, these weapons focus on the destruction or neutralization of strongpoints. The squad’s machine gun was also used, the riflemen depending on the situation. Yet, it is noted:
“[…] it is not the task of the riflemen to engage in fire fights of long duration in order to gain fire superiority. In the attack, in the final analysis, it is the vigorous shock power of the riflemen with bayonet which overcomes the enemy.”(German Squad in Combat, p 39-40)

Hence, at this point the squad still advanced. Generally, the squad should move as much forward without firing as possible, only if this wasn’t possible anymore it should engage the enemy. (German Squad in Combat, p, 39- 41)


The final stage is the penetration into the enemy positions. It is usually initiated around 100 m away from the enemy positions. (Töpfer: p. 21)
“In penetration, the whole group rushes or fires as a unit. If possible, the platoon leader employs several squads advancing from various directions against the objective. In this way the defensive fires of the enemy will be scattered. This form of attack is no longer carried out by the squad, but by the platoon.” (German Squad in Combat, p 42)

It is important the maximum amount of fire is provided during an assault. For this reason the LMG should be positioned to fire into the enemy position without risking friendly fire. If such a position is not attainable, the LMG should be used during the assault and fired from the hip. Furthermore, neighboring units should provide additional firepower and/or support the assault by a complementary attack from another direction.
Once the riflemen closed in on the enemy position, the designated grenade throwers on command would use their grenades and the squad stormed the position under the lead of the squad leader. (Töpfer: p. 21 German Squad in Combat, p 42-43)

Example for an Assault on an enemy position

To give you a better idea, how two squads with supporting elements would assault an enemy position, here is a little illustration, based from an original German manual from what I can tell, but the document I got it from provided no direct reference.

Here you can see the German positions on the left side and a fictional enemy on the right. Both positions are reinforced by barbed wire. There is a mortar pit with a light mortar and in the not visible rear position another light and heavy mortar are available. The mortars would attack the following areas of the enemy position. To support the attack the two heavy machine guns would be positioned on the flanks. In the center a squad with a light machine gun would fire at the enemy position. The assault itself would be performed by two assault squads that were supported by light machine guns, the first squad would directly assault the enemy position, whereas the second one would attack the rear and cut it off from reinforcements. (Töpfer: p. 21)
Once the assault was successful, the squad leader would ensure discipline and prepare for a potential counter-attack.

Chase Bank was one of many around the world that continued to work with Nazi during World War II. They also froze the assets of many European Jewish customers as a common practice to cooperate with the Third Reich.

Believe it or not, Henry Ford was an anti-Semite and was awarded a Nazi medal, designed for “distinguished foreigners” in 1938. Ford continued to sell and make cars with Russian slave labor for American and Germans during World War II.

The computer company built specialized equipment for the Germans to help them track day-to-day operations, including victims of the Holocaust.

The Viet Cong Used German WWII Weapons Against the USA – Great Pictures in Here

When the United States entered the war in Vietnam, the country’s political situation had already been extremely complicated. What started out as an anti-colonial conflict against France ended up in a bloody civil war between the USSR-backed North and the USA-backed South.

Naturally, this proxy war became the main point of export regarding weapons and war material for both sides.

Iconic WW2 STG 44 captured by the US

But while the United States decided to provide their allies in the South with relatively new weaponry, the Soviet Union saw the chance of disposing of vast numbers of arms seized during WWII from Nazi Germany.

These are from a big warehouse fire, there are also images of tons of Thompson sub-machine guns too


It also took the opportunity to get rid of its own surplus guns, which were becoming fairly outdated.

Thus it was a common sight for the soldiers of the North Vietnamese Army, better-known by its abbreviation “NVA,” and the guerrilla forces of Viet Cong to pack guns and artillery previously used on the Eastern Front during the Second World War.


It should come as no surprise that roughly two decades after the largest military conflict in modern history, there was indeed a large amount of surplus weaponry which was still very much functional, not mention deadly.

MP 40!!

AA sight on a MG-34.

Whether it was the 75mm PaK-40 (a standard German WWII anti-tank gun) or the FG 42 (one of the rarest assault rifles of the war), the NVA was receiving huge stocks of weapons and ammo which had previously seen action across Europe. Now, such weaponry was given another life in Southeast Asia.

75mm Pak 40 in firing position

Among other popular guns were some of the most iconic weapons used by the Wehrmacht: the Mg32, the MP40, and the MP38, as well as the very backbone of German infantry, the legendary Karg 98k.


An array of WW2 guns here

The South Vietnamese Army, along with the United States, confiscated a number of these weapons. They also seized some other peculiar pieces of armament, such as the StG-44, the first-ever mass-produced assault rifle, as well as handguns like the legendary Walther P38.

101st AB trooper with a P38

Among other rarities found in the arsenal of the NVA were handguns dating even before the WWII era. One such weapon was the Mauser C96, popularly called the “Broomhandle” due to its detachable rifle butt.

1966 US Army “Jungle And Guerrilla Warfare” booklet, this collection of Viet Cong firearms includes

Another Viet Cong MG-34

From top to bottom: PPS-43, MP 40, K-50M.

It is presumed that these weapons were imported from the Soviet Union as well since a limited number of Mauser pistols were part of Imperial Russia’s arsenal and were subsequently adopted by the Red Army.

Apart from the USSR, other contributors to the North Vietnamese war effort were East Germany and Czechoslovakia. Both countries held a significant amount of WWII German weapons which remained out of use after the war.

Summary of production [ edit | edit source ]

System Allies Axis
Tanks and SP guns 227,235 52,345
Artillery 914,683 180,141
Mortars 657,318 100,000+
Machineguns 4,744,484 1,058,863
Military trucks 3,060,354 594,859
Military aircraft total 633,072 278,795
Fighter aircraft 212,459 90,684
Attack aircraft 37,549 12,539
Bomber aircraft 153,615 35,415
Reconnaissance aircraft 7,885 13,033
Transport aircraft 43,045 5,657
Training aircraft 93,578 28,516
Aircraft carriers 155 16
Battleships 13 7
Cruisers 82 15
Destroyers 814 86
Convoy escorts 1,102 -
Submarines 422 1,336
Merchant shipping tonnage 33,993,230 5,000,000+
Pillboxes, bunkers (steel, concrete - uk only) 72,128,141 tonnes 132,685,348 tonnes
Estimate Concrete runways 10,000,000 tonnes

Most Battleships and Cruisers were produced before the war and many served through its entirety.

US propaganda during World War II, urging citizens to increase production.


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